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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.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

This changes everything: history makers

Is there a bit of England you are passionate about and why? Looking at the new Historic England publication, A History of England in 100 Places, is a wonderful way to explore. Words by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs).

Recommended: new book from Historic England.
Growing up in a rural corner of east Hertfordshire has left me with a sentimental longing for an undulating patchwork of wheat and barley fields criss-crossed by footpaths and bridleways. In the valleys are small rivers, though another county might write them off as streams. On the top of long slow inclines are mixed hornbeam woods and they're there in the valleys too. Thinking back to the 1970s (when the golf course hadn't been built) I can see again the gamekeeper, who lived next door. He was both hero - whistling his young pheasants up for corn - and agent of horror, hanging his most recent kill on the animal gibbet in a very dark part of home wood. But thanks to him I learnt how to whistle, and confidently ID any larder of dead moles, kestrel, vixen, stoats. Two valleys away there were sheep - you could hear them bleating on the wind, In the opposite direction there were smaller turfed fields and several dairy herds.

Wandering the hedgerows you could have been in the 19th century, or 18th maybe. It wasn't hard to move far further back in time and imagine the Romans' kilns on the valley the other side of Caley Wood, as so many bit of pottery turned up in the autumn plough. Nearby was an old beamed farm house with a tower that the gentry used to watch the hunt where a 20th century bit of redecorating helped uncover Tudor wall paintings.

Another neighbour found a Saxon arrow head on his plot, then brought it to the pub for everyone to see.

Mine was an outdoors childhood in a very small corner of England which many generations have clearly lived in and loved. It's amazing how certain places just tug at your heart.

As an adult I've opted to live in London, because the city is far easier to get around and easier to find paid work. But holidays have mostly been spent exploring Britain, thinking as much about who used to live there back in the day, as what's on offer to enjoy now. That's why I love this new publication by Historic England, A History of England in 100 Places, which cherry picks 100 fascinating places where "irreplaceable" history has happened. Not so much the growing up, more the changes that move life forward.

In all 4,000 people nominated a swathe of the places they love best and then 10 experts  (TV history gurus/celebs including Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and Mary Beard) whittled down a short list. Lists are meant to spark conversation, but for once this isn't a bucket list of places you must see, which would obviously include Stonehenge and Windsor Castle (as the book does). Instead it's picking out places where momentous things happened which changed the way we live.

At the book launch guests could also look around the
V&A sculpture court. An amazing place for a party.
At the very glam launch party - held in the V&A - one of English Heritage's researchers told me his favourite entry was the Brown Firth research laboratories in Sheffield where stainless steel was accidentally invented. Key note speaker included Tristtam Hunt, the former Labour MP, who now runs the V&A. He was shameless in loving the Middleport potteries entry from his old constituency in Stoke-on-Trent.

I was fascinated by the story of the Euston Arch (the entrance to Euston station) which was pulled down in an act of vandalism in 1961, and is now rubble in a bit of River Lea infill. But it was a wake up call to conservationists about the need to organise better.

And because it's a people's choice, there are chapters which retell the things that working people have had to endure, instead of the super rich. That's how I found out that sad-looking, boarded up Farfield Inn was blasted by the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864, a failed reservoir which killed 240+ people and flattened 600 houses. Ultimately this changed the way reservoirs were built and began a debate about corporate responsibility, but it's not yet a well-known story. 

Also find out about the first railway bridge, built in 1825 for Stockton & Darlington railway which was founded to serve the coal industry. Skerne Bridge is just  a single stone arch in the centre of Darlington, but it's so beloved by locals that they nominated it for every single category.

I sense that this book is going to work hard in my family. It will sit on the kitchen table and be something we argue over deciding on which places to visit, ideally without crowds. Virtual travel is always fun, but I think this book's focus on people and place may even inspire us to actually go to see what the fuss is about. All in all a perfect book with its mix of tourism, English heritage and populist vote. My only regret is that Hertfordshire gets such poor coverage - it's really a beautiful county with more stories in the landscape than even the Brothers Grimm could recall.