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What's this blog all about?

Hi, I'm Nicola - welcome to a blog 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. 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.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Trinity Buoy Wharf has that San Francisco feeling

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. Nerdy, laid-back San Francisco is on most people's bucket list - and now I've found a London version, Trinity Buoy Wharf which mixes big views of the Golden Gate Bridge (I mean the Millennium Dome) and an artists' colony on the River Thames.

Double take at the taxi.
I’ve been promised a trip to India and if the weather holds, Cyprus too.
World travel via London's DLR.
But I’m not going to be caught out by this cynical use of creatively named tube stops as I attempt to travel around the world without leaving Britain.

Luckily the area between East India Dock and Canning Town has a very distinct vibe, and on this sunny February Sunday there’s a definite San Francisco feeling. I’m guessing as I haven’t been to SF, but my husband Pete has and today he's playing tour guide - on a mission to get the rest of his family down to the River Lea mouth so we can stare at the site of the old Thames Ironworks, which is the birthplace of his much-loved football team, West Ham. It's also the inspiration for their club badge, a pair of hammers. Last time he visited, five years ago, he said it felt derelict - just big views of the Thames and a red leather sofa abandoned near a sign about the Ironworks.

Now it's known as Trinity Buoy Wharf, and billed as East London's most exciting arts quarter. Even without the monday-friday folk it does have a distinctly arty feel.

Snapping the photographer as she poses her dad (by a giant red herring).
From the DLR aim for the Thames path with its great view of the Millennium Dome and then turn left through an orchard, and then over a bridge past a huge reed-edged pond that used to be a well-used East India Dock Basin, and is now a bird sanctuary and then a gate that exits on to a rather unpromising looking lane. It’s awash with litter and used laughing gas canisters. But look up once you pass the taxi with an iron tree emerging from its roof and there’s graffiti everywhere. My 14 year old takes over her dad’s camera and starts taking endless portraits that could be used on Tumblr.

Once a busy wharf, now a wildlife reserve East India Dock Basin has stunning views towards Canary Wharf.
Further down the lane - also known as Orchard Place, or Bog Island - there are history boards about this part of Bow Creek. It used to be a very isolated, poor village populated by three main families. In the late 19th century the school had 160 children, of whom 100 had the same surname, Lammin. There’s still a little school on the peninsula, Faraday School which has a fenced sports ground on the top floor of the building. In those days if you wanted something you'd have to head to Poplar, now you've got Canary Wharf and several new housing developments - even islands - springing up.

The views from the lighthouse are fantastic - birds, millennium dome, London &
far further afield - and all come accompanied by non stop musical bowls.
Arts centre
Trinity Buoy Wharf by Bow Creek and the River Lea is now an artists mecca. For starters there’s Container City, old shipping containers now used as studios. There is also the Royal Drawing College and a depot for the ENO (English National Opera) and a 1000 year longplayer piece of music playing in converted Bow Creek lighthouse…. (it began in 2000 and is only due to end in 2999). Find out more here.
Bow Creek Cafe does a good veggie and traditional all day breakfast.
We found two places to eat – Fat Boys Diner which does American fast food well; and Bow Creek CafĂ© which is a sweet find where you can sit indoors or out with a view of the muddy Lea joining the Thames. There are braziers, piles of logs, pots of thyme on the wooden tables, hand-painted chess boards and fairy lights creating a definite ambience. We also spotted several music stands and stools, perhaps an invitation to just get jamming. The food here was tasty, homemade and good value. 

London changes so fast – just like San Francisco – but fortunately in this area it’s not just yuppy apartments (£300,000+ for a one bed, ow) there’s also plenty of things to look at and suitably laid-back, sunny places like Bow Creek Cafe to chill just like you are a Californian nerd (or East London artist).

Verdict: go visit, take your time, and then revisit once you've got your bearings.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

An eye-popping trip to Little Holland in E17

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. This post takes a quick peek at Walthamstow Village, E17 which over the past year has been transformed so much it's now known as Little Holland. Here's why...

Four cafes, a newsagent, Spanish deli, antiques shop and pub
make the heart of Walthamstow Village a nice place to linger.
Little Holland turns out to be just an enjoyable six mile cycle from my house, in what used to be traffic-blighted, rat-run ridden Walthamstow Village. 

For the past decade I haven’t been to Walthamstow much – it’s nice, but my two friends who used to live there decided to move to country towns a while back. Each time I visited them I remember thinking, this place is fab but there’s a huge amount of traffic on these cute little streets.

But that’s all changed.

The reservoirs and sewage works along Coppermill Lane, which leads
to Blackhorse Road, are a good place to spot giant birds.
Thanks to a £30 million grant the residential area around Walthamstow Village has been modal calmed – which means that cars no longer have priority. Cyclists are still allowed along the roads and pedestrians in many places have become king.  It seems so much nicer now – you can hear passers-by talking, kids are scooting around safely along what used to be pavements half-blocked by vehicles parked erratically. I remember my NCT mum friend having to wheel her buggy into the road frequently in order to get along the pavement! Now she’d love it – there’s room to walk hand-in-hand and the rat runners are just about gone.

Pollution-eating cycleway near Walthamstow tube (which also
boasts Brompton bike hire and commuter cycle storage). This pavement
allegedly locks nitrogen oxides - one of the pollutants
from car exhausts. They've had smog-eating pavements
in the Netherlands since 2013.
£30 million seems like a huge amount, but across the UK apparently only £1-2 per person is spent on cycling and walking -  even though a Parliamentary committee recommended it should be more like £10 per person.

In comparison in Holland it’s around £20 per person. No wonder more Dutch people cycle!

Islington cyclists on a tour of Walthamstow. The 12-mile round trip
can be made on a multitude of quiet routes including the edge of Walthamstow
Marshes near Coppermill Bridge.
Congratulations to Waltham Forest cyclists for achieving this. If you live in an area that could be made more like Holland, then have a look at theWaltham Forest cyclists’ website for top tips and FAQs about how to create quiet ways, village centres and improve road safety.

The first cowslip I've seen in 2016 - out in February at
the Islington Ecology Centre (the start and finish point
of Islington Cyclists ride to view Mini Holland).
The route from Islington to Walthamstow is blessedly flat (there is one hill near Springfield Park), just like Holland. And the day I did this ride the wind was blessedly behind us - may that be your experience on any long ride.

Islington Cyclists Action Group want quietways across the borough - and if they succeed, that will be another step towards making London a little more like Holland. I'm all for going Dutch if it means you can use roads more safely and hear what people are saying...

Monday, 1 February 2016

How Green Lanes offers a convincing taste of Turkey

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. This post sees me exploring just 10 minutes from my home. Nice to discover I really don't have far to go further than Green Lanes to find Turkey & if that isn't enough then it's off to Somerset House for the free exhibition of Nobel-prize winning Orhan Pamuk's Museum of Innocence which offers a taste of his novel and 1970s Istanbul.

Turkish convenience stores - and this is a bit of a star - often offer lots of
good quality raw ingredients. Brilliant place to get spices too.
“Where do you like best on Green Lanes?”

I’ve been asked this before, often actually, once someone knows that I live quite close to this amazing street. Problem is, I never go there. I live about 10 minutes cycle ride away so there’s no excuse and after 11 years living nearby I really must do go and explore.

Green Lanes is not handsome. It's car choked and feels polluted,
but it has some excellent Turkish cafes, shops and restaurants.
So at the weekend I take the dog for a walk in a different direction. Arsenal are playing so the traffic is thick and clogged. Harringay apparently has no separate cycle lanes and you'd think it was where the car is king, but around Green Lanes there are also a lot of pedestrians trying to fit on to the pavements. Near the Harringay overground there’s a shopping centre which most people must walk to and from – judging by the branded bags being carried away from Argos, Homebase, Sainsbury’s and Poundland. But the shopping centre is probably Green Lanes’ lowpoint.

Close to the Harringay overground is the first of two Kofali Hot Nuts shops. Here you can buy a sack of walnuts or sunflower seeds. Or for £1.70 buy a more diminutive-sized mix that’s poured into a paper bag. It’s hard to resist the honey roasted combinations or to avoid picking at them as you walk down the road enjoying the window displays in the many independent shops. You can find shimmering long dresses, over the top jewellery, wonderful displays of vegetables and fruit, amazing bakeries displaying huge celebration cakes and countless cafes where lamb is spinning, dishes of peppers, tomato and onions are ever warm and flat bread wraps – filled with cheese, spinach, tomato, onion combinations – are rolled out and baked in front of your eyes. I bought the best wrap I’ve ever eaten for just £2.50.

Turkish delights
Try the renowned Gokyuzu for fresh salads, flat bread, pide (like pizza), kebabs, rice and many other tasty Turkish choices. Or limit what you can have by a tiny amount and opt for halal and soft drinks at the popular Diyarbakir. Eat up and keep ordering: this is Green Lanes, it’s not going to be pricey. 

You should hear many people speaking Turkish.

Recently a friend compared the range of skirt lengths – long niquab; modest but with a hijab/scarf or crazily short – around Holloway Road’s Nags Head as being very similar to the streets of Istanbul. If that’s right then a walk along Seven Sisters Road then left down to Green Lanes could give you a very convincing taste for Turkish travel.

Two spots along this short section of Green Lanes aren’t well known, but are also worth seeking out. Firstly there’s a gorgeous pocketpark parallel to the railway line. It’s often shut, so check the opening times (open mon-friday and the last saturday of the month). It’s a magical place for spring flowers, so promise yourself a little wander there in March or April. 

Inside the Salisbury on Green Lanes.
A 5-min stroll from Railway Fields' green space you can find the Grade II listed Salisbury pub (opened in 1899). This is a magnificent space around an old oak bar. The ceilings are high, there are snugs and several roaring fires – it’s so big you feel like you have the place to yourself. My husband particularly liked the large choice of real ale (he picked Two o’clock ordinary). For any beer lover this is a real treat. You can pick up a £2.50 filled flat bread before you hit the beers, or enjoy the pub’s popular Sunday-lunch menu (check any details on tel: 020 8800 9617).

Turkey may not be in the EU, but if you can get to London's Green Lanes you can enjoy experiencing something of what it would be like teleported to that mesmerising country. As I mentioned at the start - and if that's not enough then go on to Somerset House for author Orhan Pamuk's 13 vitrines representing the characters in the Museum of Innocence (until 3 April), press release here.

Monday, 18 January 2016

In praise of microadventures - in Cookham

This blog is about family travel around the world without leaving the UK. We do this in a bid to be less polluting and tackle climate change while at the same time keeping a global outlook. This post takes my family to a pub-crammed village famous for inspiring artist Stanley Spencer and Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame. It may be Berkshire, but for some art lovers it could be as satisfying a day trip as heading to Paris.

Stick den in Quarry Wood. Clearly kids enjoy playing out around Cookham.
Big adventures are fun, but they are often hard to organise, and can be expensive. Of course you don’t have to cycle the Alps to have an adventure. You can have them in the UK, but as so much of British outdoor life is weather dependent getting a party together (especially of mixed ages) to do something on a set day you can all make can be easily spoilt by grey skies, a stiff breeze and a downpour.

And so micro adventures were born.

The name appears to come from Alastair Humphries, see his website here

Mistletoe seems to decorate a tree
by the Thames Path.
Instead of going on mega trips occasionally - he was 24 when he decided to ride around the world by bike (which took four years!) - he goes on little ones, often & usually camps out. I love the concept of often. I need my adventure quotient topped up, ideally outside. But for me one exciting walk a week is enough, but I also try to keep bigger adventures on the go in case I lose inspiration. At the moment my family is finishing off the New River Walk (approx. 30miles from Hertfordshire to London along a stream that is neither new, nor a river). We just do a short stage when we fancy. I’m also planning to walk a lot more of the Thames Path.

Perhaps a micro adventure can just be going somewhere different, or going somewhere you know well and really exploring it in a different way?

Alastair’s website is all kids in sleeping bags roughing it without tents – you can do that in a garden too, it doesn’t have to be a super glamorous overseas location. His current challenge is to get people to commit to spending one night a month under the stars for a year. It’s a lovely idea and you’d learn so much from it. I'm thinking about it... but rather suspect that I won't.

Alastair is super creative (he funds his blog by asking people to shout him a coffee – the £2.50s add up and as a result he’s got a fab site). His adventures are incredibly varied and I am sure would be happy to spend a day climbing a tree to really develop a sense of what that particular oak is really like, and which little critters and birds visit it.

A sunken (or green) lane crossing the woods on the Berks/Bucks border.
My micro-adventures tend to focus on taking the dog for a walk in the woods. There is nothing I like better. Although if you can throw in an art gallery and a nice cosy pub I’ll be extra happy. So visiting Cookham in Berkshire (the train from London goes to Maidenhead, then you change for the 10 min ride to Cookham) was perfect.

I followed a 7-mile walk through Quarry Wood and up steep Winter Hill then down a chalk hillside for a last one and a half mile stroll along the River Thames back to Cookham and the Stanley Spencer art gallery.

One of the houses Stanley Spencer lived and worked in, in Cookham.
Cookham, or “village in heaven” as the crabby but talented Stanley Spencer called it. His art is full of portraits of the locals and local scenes. I love the way flowers twine themselves into his pictures and the majority are making Cookham the ultimate destination.

In the Stanley Spencer gallery - it's a good use of an old chapel.
To improve a micro-adventure it helps if there are options for all your party. So my husband, Pete, went on the Stanley Spencer guided walk around the village, my teen daughter turned up late for a quick tour of the gallery and then met me and Pete in the pub. We stayed on for tapas and another cheeky drink while she took the earlier train back to London for a David Bowie tribute gig…

Kenneth Grahame's home - now a prep school - has a lovely Dutch gable.
My family wanted to talk about Spencer - his art and wives. I managed that, and was also happy to talk over my route which had included a quick detour to see the house that Wind in the Willows author Kenneth Grahame lived in while writing the book. Behind is Winter Hill’s thick wood, very obviously the model for his book’s scary Wild Wood - home of Badger and those evil weasels who go on to take over Toad Hall. The house is now a prep school, Herries.

There are at least six pubs in Cookham, and all seemed to serve food (there's also the Teapot Tea shop in the high street which had delicious looking cakes). We tried the lovely old Bel & the Dragon, an old coaching inn. But a glass of white wine cost £9!! So for the next round we went to the Old Swan Uppers where for £7.50 I got a half of good beer, an even better glass of wine and a packet of crisps. Both were dog friendly, and both had lovely staff and roaring fires.

  • Walk route was in Country Walks near London by Christopher Somerville. I used the 1994 edition, but this links to a much newer version. Somerville is my favourite walk guide -his routes are great because you don't have to have your nose in the book. It does help if you can bring an OS map too though.