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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.

Friday, 29 March 2019

Country Living - and mum - at Alexandra Palace

Here's a recommended trip - visit the Country Living show whenever you can. Here's a review of #clfair spring fair 2019 at Alexandra Palace. Words by Nicola Baird (see www.nicolabaird.com for more info about my books and blogs). 

Living the dream: at the Country Living show
(c) Around Britain No Plane
We’ve found something we love doing, mum and me – a trip to the Country Living show.

Each year there are two big shows – at spring and Christmas in a range of venues. This year the spring 2019 Country Living show is at Alexandra Palace, so despite having gone to loads of these shows at the Business Design Centre in Islington, it feels very different and we both love it. I’m really proud of my mum as she’ll be 80 in a few weeks’ time but she’s happy to take a train to London and then switch to the mainline stopping at Alexandra Palace station. We manage to sync arrivals and then use the Country Living courtesy bus (find it just outside the train station and also Wood Green tube) to whisk us up London’s most scenic hill to the show.

Ali Palace was built as a people’s palace and is a regular meeting point for very different tribes. Inside there’s a clear Egyptian theme with a striking palm court entrance. 

Loads of stalls at the Country Living show at Alexandra Palace.
(c) Around Britain No Plane
My last Ali Palace visit was with my husband and two daughters for the musician Frank Turner’s last night of his Be More Kindtour. It is thus very exciting when Mum and my first stop chatting to an exhibitor at Country Living’s show is at a needlework stall boasting a “Be Kind” design hanging at the exact spot where my daughters were dancing in a rather sticky-floored the mosh pit. This sunny March spring day the light streams in from the glass roof and huge round stained glass windows revealing a squeaky clean, covered floor. Much better! Unfortunately I don’t think a sewing kit is a dream gift for my soon-to-be 21-year-old daughter (instead I buy several fab £1 flower garlands for both girls that will surely be a festival hit from Elin Syensson on poppydaisy.com (A48) and my mum does the honourable grandparent thing and gets one for her 9-year-old grandchild) .The Frank Turner gig was back in February so is old news anyway… Now it’s all about the next four days, from 28 -31 March, Ali Palace is taken over by Country Living gentility. 
The main tribe on the first day are older women (so much so that I feel in the younger demographic). I’m sure Country Living magazine didn’t start out like this, but that’s how it seems today. You do after all need a house to fill with many of the delights on offer – furnishings, stoves, garden furniture. But what Mum and I are interested in is it worth the planning (2 letters, 3 phone calls, a couple of emails!) and schlep to this year’s show. The answer is a definite yes. 

So cute - holiday draw.
(c) Around Britain No Plane
I live in London, but grew up in the countryside and adore being in homes that have a country feel – crafts, d├ęcor, perhaps a bit of shabby chic but definitely the chance to have-a-go at making and repairing things. If that’s something you love too, then a trip is recommended, ideally with a patient friend or someone who knows you well (a relative!). Mum and I are soon cooing over the Cherolais- and Tercel-cross lambs (triplets or orphans) fed on the hour which do their gorgeous lamby job (sleep, eat, bounce, repeat) extremely well thereby helping their owners from Kirkwood, Lockerbie tempt us to stay at www.realfarmholidays.co.uk in Scotland. Believe me, we are both tempted… (W17)

The makings of a star.
(c) Around Britain No Plane
Opposite is a stall with some very splendid chickens (W19) who seem to be happy to be stroked and are in no way phased by the Brass Band playing in the courtyard.

The main hall (I’m still thinking of Frank’s gig) is rammed with fab stalls run by ladies (mostly) who are keeping artisan skills alive. Show favourites this year include Annie Sloan who specialises in chalk paint, Carved Angel’s jams, Love Beauty & Planet’s vegan bath bombs and Sophie Allport’s bone china mugs – the rabbit designs are perfect for Easter. 

There are seedballs, bee talks, live music, stall holders to talk to and a whole food court with tasty bits to try from flavoured olive oils to brownies.

And from Mum and me an involved discussion about how to use the pre-made screen print designs on sale. I can see this will be my summer obsession.

Candles may not be new, but this range from
Home County Candle allows you to pick
a candle inspired by your favourite county. Looking forward
to the soon-to-com Lake District version. And they have
soy wax and wooden wicks. Very special.
(c) Around Britain No Plane
I make two purchases: slightly shamingly, these are both stalls run by men. The first is from the wonderful Home County Candle Co, (D20) launched in Feb 2018, which is tapping into the local pride gene and offers candles from Hertfordshire, Essex, Surrey, Kent etc. Oli tells me that the Hertfordshire candle was the first of the range – it’s bluebell and jasmine scented – and was inspired by the flowers growing at the Ashridge Estate near Tring. With a birch wick, that slightly crackles as the soy wax burns, I’m won over and part with £20. Back home I untie the garden twine around the brown paper box, peel back the gold-star paper and find my perfect candle nestled in straw. It’s just lovely and I’m lucky that my Mum insists she is allergic to candles, else that would have been her Mother’s Day present (it’s on Sunday 31 March) and not the box of Daelmans stroopwafels she requests (F21). To be fair, these are a delicious choice.

The busiest stall at the show on Thursday seems to be Richard Argent’s www.footballcartoonhistories.co.uk (H31a) where women are buying Essex man Richard’s witty prints of our menfolk’s first loves, their football club. Surely the perfect gift for significant birthdays, godsons, sons, etc? Obviously, women like football too but at the Country Living show the visiting tribe are seasoned gift-givers and it’s always good to find something that’s perfect for the hard-to-buy-for man… in my case, my husband.

I loved chatting to the stall holders. Rosie whose That Girl In Green (H19) stall was bursting with sustainability ideas and items for sale such as cushions, fashion, alternatives to clingfilm. Really wish her a great show.

Both Mum and I were impressed by a man demonstrating plug-in massagers. So, tempted that I’m thinking of sending my husband back to the show to buy them. The theory is that use the massager and you won’t need to go to a physio. And maybe we also need the warrior trolley which has a little seat attached? This is a place where ideas you'd never thought turn into must-haves within seconds.

David Jaggs did a very memorable Bright Eyes.
(c) Around Britain No Plane
It was now about 1pm and we decided we needed a sit down and sandwich. We decide there is a real trend for pre-cut screen printing blocks this year while www.DavidJaggs.com plays moody classics on his classical guitar. It’s at this point that we both reckon the Alexandra Palace venue is perfect – there’s more space, there are loads of places to sit down and everyone’s mood seems buoyant.

Discussing tactics at the hook-a-duck stall where you can
win tickets for future Country Living shows. (c) Around Britain No Plane
Mum adds to our happiness by hooking a pink rubber duck which secures her a free ticket to the Country Living winter show and she can choose London, Harrogate or Glasgow. She’s even more pleased with this when I mention that this is where I found her xmas present…

Clare Gogerty talks about her passion for  mindful adventures
promoting her book Beyond The Footpath. (c) Around Britain No Plane
We move on, enjoy more stalls, pass the stove sponsors, and then listen to an interesting talk Clare Gogerty at the Good Life Theatre talking about her soon-to-be-published book, Beyond the Footpath: mindful adventures for modern pilgrims (£14.99). Clare leans on her hazel thumbstick explaining about the ways of walking purposefully. It’s quite spiritual and I check if mum thinks this approach could be translated to her walk with the warrior trolley down to the Co-op. “I was just thinking that too,” is her answer, leaving us both giggling. I do note the title down on my list of books I definitely want to share with my book group.

Summing up
The Country Living show is a wonderful way to spend time with my mum - any mum! The time goes so fast it feels that we leave early – Mum to find the train home and me to teach riding at Trent Park Equestrian Centre which is only a few tube stops away at Oakwood on the Picadilly line. We don’t leave empty-handed either: gifts in the goody grab bag include waffles to taste, Belvoir Elderflower presse, Sensodyne toothpaste (thank you!)  and a vegan shower gel from Love Beauty & Planet. 

  • ·     Country Living show is open until end of the day Sunday 31 March. 
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