Saturday, 31 December 2011

Bring on the North

In the 'bit' between Christmas and New I was lucky enough to stay in one of the Falstone Barns in Northumberland.
Flastone is a small village at the bottom of the Kielder reservoir.

The surrounding countryside is beautiful and offers plenty of walks for every type of person. As it was December when I was there the weather was changeable but there were enough clear spells to make the most of the footpaths and scenery. Kielder reservoir itself is lovely. About a 20 minute drive from Falstone but well worth it. You can take a walk around the waterside and enjoy the evergreen forest which surrounds it.

When you visit that part of the country you have to be aware that not much is around in the way of amenities. But believe me that's not a problem when you find out how many pubs are in the surrounding area. In Falstone the local pub is called the Blackcock Inn. It wasn't open during the day but perked up around 7:30pm. It's a really friendly pub with an open fire and a pool table. You can't ask for much really. I did manage to drink the place out of Whisky Mac but I don't hold a grudge. Literally 2 minutes down the road and round the corner is a pub called The Pheasant which is another traditional country pub. The food is superb, the fire is warm and the locals are friendly.

Breathtaking views, no phone signal, great pubs and great accommodation. Falstone is a winner.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Welsh Weekend

It may seem like a crazy idea going to West Wales in the height of winter, but believe me it was the best thing I could have possibly done. The time leading up to Christmas is always hectic so there is nothing better than getting away form it all. I went to New Quay on the Welsh Coast and stayed at a Bed and Breakfast called The Hungry Trout. Friendly staff, massive breakfast and warm rooms. All you need for a Welsh retreat. New Quay thrives on tourism throughout the summer so going in winter the place looks quite different to the post card pictures.

The beach was quiet, half the shops were closed for the winter and the boat trips had stopped. But one thing that never closes or justs up shop is the breath taking Welsh Coastline. You can access coastal paths extremely easily and walk for miles. I must have covered a fair distance over my weekend taking me along cliffs, through fields and down to the beaches. I even took off my shoes and went in the sea for a little paddle! My feet were like two ice blocks when I came out of the sea but I was glad I did it in that weird kind of way. I also ventured to Aberaron where I treated myself to good portion of fish and chips. Lovely stuff.

The fresh sea air and good food meant the whole weekend was a success. There wasn't even that much rain which I was quite surprised at. There is something magical about waking up to the sound of the waves crashing against the beach. When ever I look out to the dark ongoing sea, I'm always inspired and reminded there is lots to see and do in this world. Diolch Cymru.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


I spent a weekend in Devon in Widecombe in the Moor. It's one of the most picturesque villages I've visited. Surrounded by wild Dartmoor ponies, damp grass and rising mist, it's certainly a place you can get lost in. The great thing about Widecombe is that you can access some great walking routes on the moors. The surrounding tors can all be seen above the mist and you can navigate yourself round a 6 mile circular route back into the village. With two pubs to choose from when you arrive back, you are spoilt for choice.

Friendly local the Rugglestone Inn is a cracking place to rest tired feet and refresh thirsty bodies. If you are looking for a typical country pub, this is it. A crackling fire, cosy wooden seating and a home cooked menu you'll want to order everything of. But I think the best thing about a trip to Widecombe is the lack of phone signal. Peace, quiet and nothing else. Bliss.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

John Barrowman Magic

I went to watch John Barrowman in concert at the Oasis in Swindon. It was a bit random as I have never watched Torchwood and I've only seen one episode of Tonight's the Night. What did I expect from a Barrowman concert? A very camp night. What did I get? A very camp night!

The Oasis hall was packed full, I was say about four thousand people in all. The majority of the audience were women in their 60s or 30 something women accompanied by a very embarrassed other half. It's a shame John Barrowman is gay because he is certainly one for the ladies. The audience were beside themselves every time there was a wiggle of he bum or a cheeky look their way. Apart from all the jumping about on stage, the continuous gay jokes, Barrowman certainly does have a set of pipes on him. He filled the room with his powerful voice which could cope with the cheesiest of pop songs to a soft meaningful ballad.

What was also overwhelming was how much he involved his family in the performance. The big screen behind the band had selections of holiday pictures, family moments and prized memories caught on camera. It may be all part of the show but Barrowman seemed to open up his child hood and his dreams to all of us. Mum and Dad Barrowman were actually in the audience and got on stage for a little part of the show!

I have to hand it to Barrowman, love him or hate him, he is good at what he does. He entertained from the minute he stepped on stage until his closing song. John ended with Gloria Gaynor's classic 'I am What I am' which sums up his character completely. Most of the audience were on their feet by this point joining in with the lyrics. What seemed like half of Swindon came to watch him and they all left smiling.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Swindon's Hooter

The Great Western Railway works has brought many things to Swindon. Industry, wealth, people and probably the most important thing, memories. For those who used to work on the railways, the sound of the hooter is something they will never forget. This hooter used to blast across Swindon as a call to work. The sound used to cut across the town and the countryside to ensure employees of the works were ready to get into work.

The hooter blasted at several other points during the day, letting people know it was time to start lunch, finish lunch, stop work and so forth. It was the sound of the town right up until 1986 when the twin brass hooters blew for the last time.

Graham Mack is a presenter on BBC Wiltshire. With the help of local people he is on a mission to get the hooter blowing again. Graham isn't from Swindon but just wants to learn more about what made the town what it is today. When it comes to the hooter it's all about local knowledge. Many of Swindonions have been on the case to help track down the whereabouts of the hooter and the possibility of rekindling the sound of the railways.

My family have lived in Swindon for generations. My Grampy worked on the Railways and my Grandma worked at Wills Cigarettes. They both remember the hooter so I thought I'd pay them a visit to find out more...

Swindon GWR Hooter by bribriwilliam

I think there are many people,not just in Swindon, like my Grandparents Colin (91) and Sybil (86) Humphries, that would like to hear the hooter again. It will bring the memories of the railway back to those who worked in Swindon decades ago. But it will also bring a sense of appreciation and identity to a younger generation that know little about Swindon's industrial past.

I'll keep you updated as to whether Graham ever gets the hooter blowing again.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Royal Bassett

Thousands lined the streets of Wootton Bassett to watch the Princess Royal deliver the letters patent to the town. The police were expecting between 15,000 and 20,000 people but I don't think the crowd even reached 5,000. Even though the numbers were less than predicted the atmosphere was buzzing all the same. Rows of service men and women turned out to honour Wootton Bassett becoming Royal. The Prime Minister David Cameron was present along with all the local usual suspects.

Big screens all along the street enabled most people to get a view Princess Anne in her cream outfit making the town officially Royal. The big screens also played poems written by local school children.

Poem for Wootton Bassett by bribriwilliam

Flags were flying, hands were clapping and smiles were in abundance. Everyone I spoke to seemed to enjoy the ceremony and felt Wootton Bassett deserved the Royal title.

Local businesses did a roaring trade cashing in on the extra footfall in the town. Others have already changed their branding to include the Royal prefix and town signs and bus stops have all been renamed too. With repatriations no longer coming through the town, has the Royal name closed it's military legacy?It will be interesting to see what happens next in Bassett's journey.

Monday, 10 October 2011

A Sprinkling of Italy

About two weeks ago I started on an Italian journey with a close friend. I've been to Italy a few times at the end of September, beginning of October and I've always found the weather to be perfect. This trip was no exception.

First stop, Pisa. I had no pre conceived ideas about the Tuscan city and really did not know what to expect. What I found was beautiful. Pisa has an understated charm about it which I love. It's not grand, it's not arty in fact it's very plain except for the lopsided tower that draws in millions of tourists each year. The Leaning Tower is at the heart of the city. At first sight it was a lot smaller than I had imagined but mesmerizing all the same. If I looked at the tower for too long I felt really disorientated which was very bizarre.

Florence was the next city. Just a short train ride away lies the heart of Tuscany. The beat that keeps the wine, music and romance flowing through the region. Florence is undoubtably a glorious city. Amazing architecture and grand art work all oozing Italian flare. Every street you turned down there was something interesting to look at or wonderful food to smell. All my senses were engulfed with the Italian charisma I love so much. Great coffee, smart leather bags, pizza, wine, gelato and tradition.

After leaving Florence by train, six hours later we arrived in Sorrento. I stayed just outside of the centre of Sorrento which I am very glad about. The main square is pretty but overwhelmed by packs of Americans and British. You did have to walk very far without hearing an English accent complaining about the weather. Sorrento is a strange place. You have to pay to use any of the beaches, but in fact they are not really even beaches. More like a bit of sand with a jetty to sunbathe on. It was not quite what I had imagined but it's pretty all the same. Luckily after a disjointed conversation with an Italian man in a coffee shop my friend and I were pointed in the direction of 'La Conca'. A beach about 4 miles from downtown Sorrento. No charge and no Brits (apart from myself and my friend!). It was lovely. Crisp blue water and grey volcanic sand topped off with sunshine. Thank you Italy.

Italy isn't all about sunshine, sea, coffee and pizza. The history of the country is mind boggling. How buildings, streets and ornaments have survived hundreds of years is beyond me. I still can't get over how smart the Romans were and how much we owe to their engineering genius.
I couldn't go to the Sorrento region without visiting Pompeii. What I had in my head was not what confronted me as I stepped through the gates of this massive archeological site. The sheer size of the place was just staggering. I had no idea how much of the city had been preserved when Mount Vesuvius took hold of it. Walking round the site is like walking round a ghost town (all be it with a few hundred tourists in). But you can easily find yourself alone looking at the inside of what once was a bedroom, living room bathroom. It was as if my Year 8 history class had sprung to life. The preserved bodies look unreal. Like they were put there just to make everything seem a bit more real because you find it hard to take everything in. It is eerie but worth it.

Rome was the final stepping stone of my Italian tour. Here there is what seems an archeological site on every corner. From the Colosseum to the Vatican Rome holds wonder and delight which can keep you occupied for hours. I did lots of walking in Rome. Along the river, through the streets, in the parks and in the shops. The city has a lot to offer and I believe in foot is the best way to experience it. You stumble on the unexpected and unique. Even though I have been to Rome before, it still has a sense of excitement and intrigue which I hope it will never lose.

Monday, 19 September 2011

This is England

There is nothing quite like a warm summers day eating fish and chips at the sea side. I recently visited Whitby in North Yorkshire which was fabulous. Not only is it a pretty seaside town it boasts historic interest too. The small harbour and sandy beaches are overlooked by St. Mary's Church and St. Hilda's Abbey. By walking up the 199 steps to the church you are welcomed by a panoramic view that is straight off a post card. Inside the church you are treated to most eclectic building I think I've ever been into. Architecture from all eras, balcony's, triple decker pulpit and box pews. Magnificent to say the least. From it's 11th century beginnings, it's kept and built on it's religious bonds. You can circle the graveyard and spend many a moment breathing in the sea air whilst imagining a time gone by.

From a spiritual journey to a material one. Whitby also showed me the loveliness that is Whitby Jet. All around the town you can find Whitby Jet Jewellery in all shapes and sizes and prices. From small antique shops to those who carve it on site, Jet is the Gem of Yorskhire.

I only visited for the day and I was surprised by its mix of traditional sea side appeal and it's metropolitan bars and cafes. A good mix of ice creams, candy floss, olives and gin.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Unfair Fare

As a regular user of trains I am saddened my Young Person's Railcard will run out soon. For years I've enjoyed reduced fares and to be honest, it hasn't been until recently that I've really made use of the discount.

Over the years the journeys I have taken have been 1 hour long...maybe 3 hours at a real push. Having the rail card benefitted me, but even if my train fare was normal price I could probably have afforded it. Now, that concept has gone. Over the last few months I've been traveling to Newcastle quite a lot. An epic 5 1/2 hours on the train if I'm lucky. With a rail card and booking massively in advance I have managed to buy a return journey for around £65, at the most £80. I believe these prices to be a distant memory.

Even over the last 6 months I have seen the prices increase. Because of timings and not wanting to spend more than 6 1/2 hours on a train, most return tickets are about £100, including the railcard saving. Not good. Without the railcard saving? We are talking about £150. I feel a bit sick just thinking about it. Spending that much money just to travel in my own country. For the same price I can get return flights to Amsterdam or Paris.

In fact, I'm traveling to Newcastle this weekend and it's cheaper to fly than get the train. I try and be environmentally friendly but when I'm spending nearly one hundred pounds on rail fare something has got to give. And there are benefits of flying that make the journey far more peaceful.

I know I definitely get a seat on a aircraft which is more than can be said for trains. It's a direct flight. I'm less likely to be running late if I take a plane. When my railcard eventually does run out, I can see myself becoming quite familiar with Bristol Airport.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Horse Time

I've recently been looking into the Horse Racing Industry and what a fascinating sport it is. Behind football it's the second most popular sport in the U.K but how utterly different they are. I went to visit Seamus Mullins at his stables in Wiltshire to find out just what a horse trainer does.

It was a real insight into the rigorous training the horses go through. You see a jockey ride a horse at the races, but it's the stable lads and lasses that go out everyday with the horses keeping them in good shape. It takes dedication, care and passion to work at a stables.

At the races there is such importance placed on betting. When you to watch football you support a team and you go for the match. Yet in horse racing it seems to be you only like the winner as they will win you money. And of course it's the prize money that keeps the trainers, jockeys and stable staff going.

There are many contentious issues in horse racing at the moment. The rise of online gambling means there is less money going into the Horse Racing levy pot. Some sites register off shore so the money they make doesn't come back into the U.K or indeed the industry.

Another factor is cost. Prize money has fallen by about 10% yet the cost of feed, insurance and just day to day costs have risen. It seems increasingly hard to make the books balance. Even though racing is popular, the industry need to work hard to bring new audiences in if the sport is to have a prosperous future.

Some might say the industry needs an image change. It's widely known the use of the whip puts a lot of people off from going to the races. The BHA are mid way through a review of how the whip is used. Currently there are strict regulations for jockeys and the whip they do use has been partly designed by the RSPCA. But there are still jockeys, including well known names like Frankie Detorri , that over use the whip and get suspended. The charity Animal Aid still lobby's for the whip to be banned and the BHA still say the whip is not cruel and used for safety purposes only. We'll have to see what the result is of the BHA report which comes out in autumn.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Freedom of Information

As a journalist I like find original news stories I can work on. I often submit a Freedom of Information request to get the ball rolling. It's nothing fancy, it's not particularly hard to submit a request, as long as you are very clear about the information you want it's actually quite straight forward. Well it should be.

I've been working on a story for a few months now which has required numerous FOI requests to several different organisations in the South West. In about 3 days I sent about 15 in total, hoping that I would receive the responses at a fairly similar time. How wrong I was.

The Information Commissioners Office states "public authorities should aim to respond fully to all requests within 20 working days" I wish that was the case.

Only about half of the organisations I contacted were able to give me the correct information within the 20 working day time limit. Some places did contact me to rearrange another deadline as they couldn't gather all the information they needed within the time frame. That I don't mind. They consulted me, we discussed the issue and an extension was agreed.

The other places that hadn't answered my request I started to chase about one week after the 20 working days had passed. Much to my horror some organisations had simply 'forgot' about my request. They had acknowledged my request, given me a date when I should expect a response but neglected to actually to do anything. Bravo. Other excuses I heard were 'the email must not have been passed on' or 'I'm not sure who's dealing with it'.

The best outcome was this... One organisation puts all its Freedom of Information requests and responses online so the public can look at them. I could see mine. There was the request date and there was the response date. To my surprise the response was actually there. I click on the response icon and I can see a letter that's for me and I can see the Excel Document that I need. Unfortunately I can't access it as no one has actually bothered to send the response to me. It was only after several emails and phone calls that I actually got the information sent to me so I could look at it properly, days after it went up online. I'm frustrated to say the least.

I don't make up stories, I don't exaggerate the facts, all I want to be is fair and accurate in my reporting. Yet I find this increasingly difficult when I struggle to extract the most basic information from people. Even if they have got nothing to hide, it makes you think they have because it really is (sorry for the cliche) like drawing blood from a stone.

Isn't this the era of transparency for public organisations and indeed for journalists? I'm working on it, believe you me, I'm working on it.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011


Amsterdam is a city I've always wanted to go to. I've been to Europe on quite a few occasions and Amsterdam has never been on the itinerary until this year. One specific trip to this famous place and it disappoint.

Even though the weather was pretty bad 75% of the time, there still was enough to keep me amused and happy. The unique start to the trip started off with my accommodation. Cheap and cheerful and by no means normal. I decided to stay on a house boat that was owned by a lovely chap called David. Although it was not on the central canals it provided a much needed sanctuary after busy days walking around soaking up the Amsterdam atmosphere and alcohol. That phrase really did sum up my trip. A few days of pottering around markets, galleries and museums. Mixed in with brewery tours, distillery visits and coffee drinking.

This may seem terribly British but one of my highlights was the Heineken Experience. Not only did you get to smell and taste all the lager ingredients but you also could be brewed. Yes, brewed! There was a great virtual ride which let you see the process of how the beer is brewed and bottled. Because of a moving platform, special effects and music you were transported through all the motions and became a bottle of beer. It sounds a bit naff but it actually was a really clever and lateral way to liven up an otherwise boring story. Well done Heineken and well done to the 1.5 litres of free beer! Definitely worth a visit.

If you want something slightly less shallow here is always the Anne Frank and Van Gough Museums. Be warned, they are very popular so there is pretty much always a queue. One thing you never have to queue for is charisma and excitement. That is everywhere you go in Amsterdam. There was always a little path or a canal walk that caught me eye that I wanted to wander down. Four days wasn't quite enough time to discover all of what the city had to offer but I made the most of it.

A visit to Amsterdam isn't complete without a trip to the red light district. If you can see past the boozy Brits and the American backpackers it's a really interesting place. Sex shows, hookers, porn shops, sex museums, it caters for all kinds of tastes all along the pretty canals. In some ways it's quite sad going there. I'm as guilty as others but I believe tourists have made it into a seedier place than it really is. Too much of a good thing. The tourism excess has blighted another one of Amsterdam's pulls; it's liberal laws about drugs. Soon tourists will no longer be able to smoke cannabis in coffee shops in a bid to clamp down on 'drug tourism'. Just another sign of how the city is changing.

Despite the changes, the beer is still good and the cheese is great! Well worth a visit and I would certainly go back. I couldn't leave Amsterdam without some tulip bulbs. I have no idea how they will grow in England. I'll plant them in Autumn so I can bring my Amsterdam memories to life. They'll be a constant reminder of what a brilliant time I had in Holland.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Castle Combe Racing

The 2011 season of racing has started at Castle Combe Circuit just outside Chippenham in Wiltshire. The new season has welcomed some new buildings at the former RAF base. A new drivers area, shop and rooftop viewing platform has been added. A few spruce ups here and there in time for the first televised race at Combe for over 50 years. Motors TV an internet TV streaming site have been covering some of the races and what races they've been! There is no shortage of entertainment in the Formula Ford class. The pressure is already on reigning FF champion Marcus Allen as he failed to finish in the first race. One driver that's hoping to beat him in the championship is Steven Jensen from Bristol. I caught up with Steven on the final pre season testing day.

Castle Combe by bribriwilliam

It seems practice has paid of for this West Country Boy. After an appalling start just after Easter, Jensen has managed to bring his title race under control by winning 2 races on May 2nd. Marcus Allen finished very closely behind but the battle has only just begun. There is a lot more to come and I'm sure the boys will be fighting it out for the rest of the season....

I've also been keeping up to date with this years Formula One Grand Prix and noting down my thoughts on a F1 internet site. Check out my articles on Vital F1.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Devizes to Westminster

The Devizes to Westminster Canoe Race is a kayaking marathon which begins in the sleepy Wiltshire town of Devizes and finishes in the one of the busiest capitals in the world. 125 miles of water, boats, locks and fisherman. They are just some of the many challenges each paddler faces during this epic sporting journey.

There are several different categories which you can compete in. You can decide to tackle the 125 miles over four days or you can try to complete it all in one sitting. Whatever the race, it's certainly not for the faint hearted. There is also an under 18's category where you paddle the race in four days and camp after each stretch of the journey is complete. So after the hard work of racing at 7 mph along the waterways for 6 hours, you then have to spend the night in a tent. Not the most comfortable way to finish a day, but it is all worth it in the end. I joined the Devizes Canoe Club's Junior members on their final training session before the big race. Junior Kayak coach Ed Dobson took me out on to the water to give me a taster of how the club have been preparing.

This was Ed's fourth year of taking part in the DW race, but for many of the children in the club it was going to be their first attempt. The glorious weather that was predicted for the race signaled trouble. Much of the training has been done through out the winter where temperatures have dropped below -5 degrees. Facing sunshine and warm temperatures of 25 degrees plus was something no one had planned for. What amazed me when I was out on the water is just how small racing kayak's are. They are very slender and the smallest amount of motion can set it off balance. This is what I found out in my second part of training with Ed.

From my taster session with the juniors I understand just how hard the race was going to be not only on their bodies but on their minds too. Having to get up and know you have about 30 miles of distance to cover must be a struggle. I watched the members of the junior team begin their race in Devizes all smiles and laughter. 125 miles later that turn into satisfaction, relief and exhaustion. Ed and his partner came 3rd in their class and completed it all in under 18 hours. A great achievement.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Running with Dogs-It's not as easy as it sounds

In a few weeks time I'll be walking the Sarsen Trail for BBC Wiltshire and the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust. It's a 26 mile walk, run or bike ride from Avebury to Stonehenge. But another option is to complete the Cani X course...what's that I hear you cry? Well it's running with a dog or a few dogs. The dog is attached to you by a waist harness and a special lead which is a bit like a bungy cord. It has it's own special course along the Sarsen across Salisbury Plain-but to find out just how Cani X works, I signed up to a race in Bagshot.

Running with Dogs by bribriwilliam

It was unlike anything I have ever done before. I borrowed a dog for the day from a lovely chap called Ian from Swindon who has competed at the European Cani X Championships-so I had a dog that was well rehearsed in running whilst dragging a human along behind them!

My dog was a 9 year old black Labrador called Maisy who was fantastic. As we were waiting for our start time I had to hold Maisy back as everytime she heard "3,2,1..." she bolted like she had just seen a rabbit. Maisy was desperate to get running and get around the course, and when we did it was the weirdest feeling. As our countdown came I felt nervous that I was going to be pulled over by Maisy but luckily I managed to hold my balance and survive as she flew from the start line pulling me behind her.

It was a hot day and the 6km cross country course was demanding for me and the dog. I did feel sorry for Maisy as there were some points where I really felt she was actually pulling me along. It was like I had no control over my legs, they just did what Maisy wanted as she was up front. I'm not a natural runner so having Maisy with me made me determined to finish the race and do her proud. I couldn't stop because she was with me every step of the way. As the weather was so sunny I did pause and let Maisy have a much needed gulp of water about half way round the track. It seemed to give her a new source of energy which I welcomed as my finish was really strong because of her.

I felt so proud of Maisy and myself when we finished. This is really why dog's are a mans best friend.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Across The Pond: New York

New York, what a wonderful city. It's my second time to New York and I like it more and more. There is always something to discover and new things to see. This time around I made the most of Central Park. Going on the swings, seeing all the art work and just relaxing in the green haven in the middle of the big city. I had my hair cut in Harlem which was grand. I really like Harlem because it's such a contrast to elsewhere in Manhattan. I feel a bit more relaxed in Harlem and not part of the tourist rat race which can be overwhelming when you are scurrying up and down broadway. There are the usual sights of New York, the Empire State, Madison Square Garden, Ground Zero, Wall Street, $1 pizza, bagels and coffee...lovely stuff!

After a 8 mile hike around Manhattan Island my friend and I stopped for pizza and beer in a small eatery which turned into a big night. First of all the pizza we ate was mad! There was pizza with crisps (potato chips as they call them) on, then a salad pizza and just all these weird toppings which was interesting! $2 beer made it a pleasant place to stop and rest our feet, little did we know we'd be playing pool and watching a local punk band a few hours later! We randomly got talk to a guy who introduced himself as 'Jimmy Fingers' which we just took as some Americanism which we didn't understand. But Jimmy was on his way to a gig and invited us along so off we went. My friend and I were probably the most animated people in the place but nonetheless it was good to get out and have some fun.

After the band we found an American Pool bar and showed those yanks just how bad two slightly tipsy English girls were at playing pool! One thing that really strikes me about Americans is how friendly they are. They seem always happy to help a stranger and welcoming to most people which is really refreshing compared to our British stiff upper lip. I hope one day I can return the kindness to travelers I meet in this country.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Across The Pond: West Chester

God Bless America! I've recently come back from a trip to the states and I'd forgotten what America is like. It's a place of extremes, dreams and coffee machines. For my part I mainly stayed in a little place called West Chester just outside Philadelphia which is a ordinary home grown town. Big cars, big roads and lots of people that will randomly stop and speak to you about nothing in particular-but hey that's America!

One of my favourite places in the town was a micro brewery called Iron Hill. All the beer they serve is brewed right there on site and you get to taste whatever one you want before you order. Usually when I think of American beer, I think bud, or cools or some other weak, watery tasting drink but this trip to America opened my eyes to the underground beer scene which was fantastic. Most artisan beers started at about 4% and just went up which means you only need a steady few to be on your way! Iron Hill have a house brew called 'Vienna Red' which was lovely. It has a malty flavour which isn't too strong and it's not too fizzy which makes it smooth and refreshing to drink. I can easily polish off a pint of that.

But it wasn't just the beer scene that is exciting around West Chester. I visited a place called 'Va La Vineyards' which was sumptuous. For $10 you could go and have a three wine tasting session which was accompanied by local cheeses and lovely bread and oil. The Va La barn is rustic but classy and the wine is first class. I really enjoyed a light white wine called 'La Prima Donna'. It was crisp, clear and light but retained a lovely fruity spring flavour. With the sun setting over open countryside, a jazz pianist playing for tips and a glass of white, it couldn't get much better. Being at the Va La barn seemed to show how pockets of America are so different. I couldn't help feeling that some areas are yearning to be more european but doing in it in a very american will be interesting to see what has changed when I next visit the land of dreams.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Northern Force

In my latest adventure to the Northern lands I went to a little bit of water heaven just outside Newcastle. The High Force waterfall is in the Pennines and the landscape surrounding it is spectacular. The dark frown of the sky was brightened by the gushing sight of High Force. The spray and mist created from the shear mass of water flowing over the rocky crag was captivating. The luring water glistens and mumbles, inviting you to stay at the waterside just that little bit longer. It's an impressive natural beauty and at 70 metres, High Force is England's highest waterfall.

Whenever I go near a waterfall I can not help but think of my relative Captain Matthew Webb who died trying to swim across the Niagara Falls. Webb was also the first man to swim across the English Channel. He made lots of money out of his love of swimming and the dare devil inside him. I blame him for my reckless side and always wanting to jump in any river or ocean I see!

Water truly is captivating and "Nothing great is easy".

Monday, 17 January 2011

Do you remember the first time?

It seems silly that I have travelled half way around the world but have never visited Scotland. So this year my news year’s resolution was to rectify this, and I did…

I flew to Edinburgh on a dark, drizzly January night, but the spark of the Scottish capital brightened my day. From the moment I arrived in the city, the imposing architecture and the might of the surrounding landscape overwhelmed me. Sublime.

The skyline is dominated by church towers, mountains and of course Edinburgh Castle. I ventured towards the Castle along the Royal Mile. As I walked I passed numerous charity shops, students, tourists and those native to the city, I got a real sense of the unique tapestry that makes up the city. From the soot covered buildings to the faint sound of bagpipes everywhere you go; there’s a part of Edinburgh for everyone.

After a 30-minute tour of the castle I had learnt lots about Scottish history, Margaret’s Chapel, The Stone of Destiny and the labyrinth of cells underneath the castle itself. The castle’s use throughout history and the strong military background which carries on today.

Of course there is more to Edinburgh than the castle but it’s a pretty good place to start if you want to explore the city. Of course, a 5 minute walk from the bottom of the Royal Mile is Holyrood Park, the home of Arthur’s Seat. I think this park was my favourite part of Edinburgh. I love the fact that you can walk a few minutes from the centre of the city to the looming hills of Holyrood. As I walked about the gale force winds nearly knocked me off my feet once or twice, but the view was worth the struggle. A sharp intake of clear Scottish air as I reached the top, I was ready to embrace the working class beauty that lay before me. Edinburgh, I miss you already.

Monday, 10 January 2011

It's a Dog's Life

The weekend reunited me with one of God’s greatest creatures, the dog. How did it happen? Well a series of zig zags, jumps and cartwheels…It all started when I had to go and talk to a man at Swindon and District Animal Haven about the new “enriched cages” that are replacing conventional “battery cages” for chickens next year. I met John Warwick on a muddy January day at his farm just outside Wootton Bassett near Swindon.

We discussed the EU legislation that is coming in next year. Chickens that are cage farmed for eggs will have a bigger area to live. The worry is that Europe will be flooded with cheap eggs from outside the EU and run British farmers out of business. No one can predict the future so we’ll jus have to wait and see what happens.

So John and I talked it over for a few minutes and then my mum and I bought some chickens from him, which was all very nice. Then I noticed the dog kennels and innocently asked whether I could come and walk some of them one day…to which he replied “you can have one for the weekend if you like”. To which I said yes immediately and thus my love affair with Bruno the black Labrador begun. Bruno is in the rescue centre because his owner is a homeless man who is trying to become free from drugs. In order to do this he is spending some time in a kind of halfway house to try and clean. Unfortunately no dogs allowed, so Bruno goes into care himself.

Bruno is a lively 6 year old dog with a wonderful temperament. Bruno will sit, lie and give you his paw on command. I took him to Savernake forest and he was quite happy running around in the fresh crisp air without a care in the world. I gave him a good old clean and brush and he was as good as gold. I couldn’t believe how lovely this dog was. From how he led his head on my lap whilst I was driving him places to how he snuggled up on my chair with me as we watched television…bliss.

True love never runs smoothly or goes according to plan and I of course I had to give Bruno back because he already has an owner. Most of the dogs at the rescue centre don’t so Bruno is one of the lucky ones. But it was I who was the lucky one, picking up Bruno to get my dog fix and having a wonderful weekend.

Monday, 3 January 2011

January Rant

January 2011. It seemed like only a few moments ago I was beginning 2010-but hey ho, time flies when you are having fun?

So what does 2011 bring? V.A.T increase, train fare increase, temperature decrease, holiday increase, age increase and budget decrease. A mixed bunch really. The January sales offer nothing new, although I did pick up a bargain £3 dress from Next so I can’t complain! The train fare increase is just ridiculous. I can’t believe how much some of the fares are going up by. I wouldn’t mind if the trains were actually on time, fast and nice but they aren’t! Luckily I’ve recently brought a few train tickets so I would miss the train fare increase and thank goodness I did. This is my last year of having the delightful young persons rail card, I don’t think I’m quite ready for full price travel yet.

According to the ‘young persons’ rail card I cease to be young this year as I hit 26. I didn’t think it was that old until I told my sister I didn’t want kids until I was 35 to which she said “oh you’ll be a geriatric mum then”. Great. So technically 26 is middle aged and at 35 I’ll be loosing my mind and dribbling. A brilliant thought and start to 2011. Hurrah.

One thing I can look forward to is a well-earned break as America calls in a few months time. It will be good to go back to the old U S of A and spend dollars that I don’t have.

I don’t usually set myself New Years Resolutions as I don’t keep them, so don’t see the point. I just try and set goals that I can achieve. One of which is to be able to wear my £3 dress this time next year!

Happy New Year one and all. See you anon.