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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog begun in 2012 about family travel around the world, without leaving the UK.

I love travel adventures, but to save cash and keep my family's carbon footprint lower, I dreamt up a unique stay-at-home travel experience. So far I've visited 110 countries... without leaving the UK. Join me exploring the next 86! Or have a look at the "countries" you can discover within the UK by scrolling the labels (below right). Here's to happy travel from our doorsteps.

Around 2018 I tried a new way of writing my family's and my own UK travel adventures. Britain is a brilliant place for a staycation, mini-break and day trips. It's also a fantastic place to explore so I've begun to write up reports of places that are easy to reach by public transport. And when they are not that easy to reach I'll offer some tips on how to get there.

See www.nicolabaird.com for info about the seven books I've written, a link to my other blog on thrifty, creative childcare (homemadekids.wordpress.com) or to contact me.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Winchester pleasures: cathedral, pubs and easy to use guided maps

Ways to enjoy Winchester - one time capital of Britain - by foot or bike. Words by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Sun, sunglasses and the great Winchester Cathedral
to explore. (c) aroundbritainnoplane
BASICS: Winchester
One hour from London, heaps of museums and green space. It's already popular with tourists, the University of Southampton has a campus here and it's a good place to wander.
Easy journey? Yes. Winchester - 60 mins from London Waterloo (train has trolley service)
Ticket - weekday off peak £36.40 return
History? Knock out from the train station
Highlight? Head to the High Street (pedestrianised) then right towards Cathedral close. Or down to King Alfred's statue and the ruins of Wolvesey Castle.
Wish list? Rent a bike and explore the Viaduct Way.

It’s Monday and I’m in Winchester on business. It doesn’t feel right: the sun is beating down and every other shop seems to be a café or pub with tempting outdoor sitting. Soon we are drawn into Greens Bar, 4 Jewry Street, with the pretty floor tiles reminding us that this used to be the Matisse Café, where the staff are fabulously friendly. Then during the search for cheap sunglasses I meet a man cheerfully selling Royal Wedding editions of the Big Issue, near the Buttercross who promises that he’ll be over to Windsor for the big day. It's a friendly city.

I’ve only been to Winchester once before – crazy, as it is just one hour by train from London – and that was a December mini-break when the Winchester shoppers were again distracted by eateries, but these were pop ups around an ice rink in the gardens by the cathedral.

But now that Winchester Tourism Information Centre has sent me a new link to all the things you can do here, I’ll be exploring it again. One lovely idea is to take a self-guided walk around various Winchester locations. The sunset tour, approx one and a quarter miles, looks a lovely route passing St Giles Hill, The Weirs and the Abbey Gardens. 

Memorial to Jane Austen in Winchester
Cathedral. (c) aroundbritainnoplane
There are also routes for church lovers, history watchers and the literati with Winchester links. I like the look of the tour for Jane Austen fans which takes you to her old home, now a museum, in Chawton, Hampshire. 

You can also find Jane Austen's grave stone and a memorial brass in the cathedral without leaving Winchester. Forgotten what she looks like? Then scrutinise a tenner.

Winchester is famous for being one of England’s former capitals and home of King Alfred the Great (who burnt the cakes). It’s a medieval city which has plenty of green space and is dominated by the amazing cathedral built around the time of Henry VII. Inside, as well as Jane Austen’s grave, you can find a tomb to a fly fisherman - little known fact fly fishing was developed on the River Itchen which flows through the city. 

My favourite spot was the hole in the wall where pilgrims queued up, then crawled into so they could see St Swithin, the former Bishop renowned for curing boils, various nasties and even making dropped eggs whole again. And that was before his posthumous miracle working reputation.

Entry to the cathedral is £8.50 (adult no discount). It’s a breathtaking building inside (and you can always go in for free if you join one of the many daily services). Once you've paid for your ticket, you can get value for money simply by joining an hour-long guided tour, possibly climb the tower stairs for a huge view of Winchester, or just wander with a floorplan until one of the many cathedral guides take pity on you and give you a guided insight to their little patch. We struck lucky and saw the alter screen in a way that turned exquisite carvings into the stories of the saints - all pointed out with a torch beam of green intensity. 

I really should have known by now that St Peter carries the keys of heaven and St Paul carries a sword. But I got the chance to learn that St Swithin’s special object is a bridge.  It gets you thinking about what object symbolises your lifestyle – reusable bag? Coffee mug? Pen? Or more likely mobile phone which certainly achieves miracles. For example, you can ping on to this link and explore more of Winchester’s great outdoors at bit.ly/2jKkRYy 
(supplied by the Tourist Info Centre).

WHAT’S ON10 June: Cycle at Winchester Criterium & CycleFest
Winchester’s city centre streets will close for cycling, racing, and family activities. The 1 km circuit race weaves through Winchester's city centre. First event is the Family Cycle Ride at 9.45am (Registration).  Cyclists start at the top of the High Street, wind their way past the cathedral, then climb the long uphill to the finishing line.

Anytime tour Viaduct Way
Once a freight and passenger railway, Viaduct Way is now part of the National Cycle Route Network Route 23. It passes the Victorian Guildhall, City Mill, Bishop's Palace, and old railway embankment then continues along the River Itchen, famous for its trout, moorhens, and wild flowers.  You can rent bikes from Bespoke Biking, a social enterprise set up to get more people cycling in Winchester, see https://bespokebiking.com or call 01962 441962 which is on the lower floor of the Brook’s Shopping Centre. All sorts available including tagalongs (good for kids) and tandems (good for stories).

Let me know your tips for Winchester visits.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Why I'm going to visit an open farm on Sunday 10 June

How helping out on a friend's flower farm in north Yorkshire has inspired me to visit more British farms. Words by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Tour de Yorkshire bunting and bikes along the route.
I’ve been run ragged by deadlines so when there’s a break in my schedule, I asked my friends in Yorkshire if I could come and stay for the weekend to do some of their outdoor chores. Over the years their home has been a huge solace to me – a muddy or verdant playground depending on the season. Whatever the weather, most trips involve very dirty boots.

My friend, Fleur, is flower-crazy and has recently set up a business flower farming. What used to be a pony paddock is now a cut flower farm. There are neat rows of beds dug across the field; trees and hedges planted to break the wind's force and a rabbit fence that really works.

Which is why on a hot Saturday morning she's got me standing in one of the compost bays pitching well rotted compost into a wheelbarrow. My mission is to feed the delphinium, the peonies and two other massive beds of what will be cut flowers. I think the difference between people who know plants, and people like me who don’t really, is that they see stems and think it’ll grow better if given food (aka compost) whereas my default position is that my plants probably need watering. https://fleursgarden.com

Over the course of the weekend I turn two compost bays, to heat the pile up, and cart more than 40 barrows of muck around the garden. I also help her husband planting more yew hedge and then we repair any of the compost bays that need patching up. It’s hot, but sociable work when Richard's there. Most of the time I'm on my own listening to the bird song, spotting abandoned pheasant eggs, enjoying the green vista or avoiding digging up toads.

Fleur's Garden compost bays, made from palettes, near
her neighbour's chicken farm.
But it’s that first hour, trying to pace myself that I remember as next door’s farmer of hens and ducks comes out with her pull-along egg trolley laden with eggs to drop off at her honesty egg shed. We get talking, and not just about the wonderful weather (it’s 21C in north Yorkshire in May, hotter than Ibiza). The topic up here is how to find reliable, hard workers and the impacts Brexit is already having on farming.  I sense she is very impressed by my work ethic as she learns that I’m planning to battle with compost for the weekend and not even stop to see the Tour de Yorkshire phalange flash past. At least that’s the impression I’m trying to give. I desperately want my friend’s farming neighbour to think that British women can be good workers. 

And in the midst of my attempt to people-please I suddenly realise that it’s a long while since I heard a farmer’s views on any platform other than TV’s Country File (a family habit). Because Brexit is set to have such a huge impact on farming, it’s a shame that we don’t hear enough detail about what farmers are up to on more media channels. Which is why open farm Sunday on 10 June is something to look out for. Run by LEAF an organisation trying to deliver more sustainable food and farming (leaf stands for Linking Environment and Farming) it’ll be a good way to find out more about British farming.  This is how LEAF explains the role of the modern British farmer:
As well as producing nutritious food, farmers also grow crops for medicines and clothes, as well as crops used for fuel and building homes.  Farmers care for over 70% of our countryside, manage vital resources like water and soil, maintain miles of footpaths and hedgerows and provide homes for wildlife.
Most Open Farm Sunday events are free and farms of every type and size take part offering a range of activities – in fact there is something for everyone to enjoy with loads to see, do and learn.  On LEAF Open Farm Sunday you can learn more about how your food is produced as well as….discover why worms are so important for the soil, why there wouldn’t be much fruit and veg without bees, and how farmers look after animals like cows, sheep and pigs, and care for wildlife too. You can also see science in action, including how farmers use the latest technology to farm sustainably and maybe take a peek inside a state of the art tractor.  On many farms you will be able to take a farm walk or guided tractor and trailer ride, follow a nature trail and of course, talk to the people that make this all happen, the farmers!

Fleur's Garden is a flower farm. Early May, when
frosts are no longer feared, is the time planting
can start.
Farmers are fascinating when they talk about what, and how, they farm and feel confident enough to share with someone they may never meet again their rationale for doing these things. My London friends often complain that they are stuck in a like-minded ghetto, so a trip to a farm might be an eye-opener. It always is for me.

  • To find farms are opening near you on the 10th June visit www.farmsunday.org.
  • If you are in the Leyburn-Bedale area of North Yorkshire (bigger towns are Northallerton and Darlington) do go and see Fleur’s Garden. If you're getting married or want flowers for a party or special flowers for a grave you can contact her and spend a day in her garden cutting all the flowers you want. https://fleursgarden.com. You'll need to email first, fleur@fleurbutler.co.uk