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  • SLOW TRAVEL INNOVATORS ACROSS THE WORLD

    Slow Travel is just a part of the recent, sweeping changes in the tourism industry. Sustainable, ethical and conscious travel is becoming popular across the globe, and many local travel operators are changing the face of tourism in various innovative and unique ways. Tourism is no longer just about visiting a country, using its resources, displacing the locals and leaving the place in a worse state than when you found it: visitors can now take an active role in meeting locals and assisting them in their own projects, whether its environmental, educational or cultural. This leads to a much more rewarding experience for the visitor, which is what Slow Travel is all about. Here we look at some of the Slow Travel Innovators from across the globe, and will add to this list as we discover more. Justice Tourism Foundation, Uganda Justice Tourism Foundation provides transformative, immersive slow travel experiences for culturally, socially and environmentally conscious travelers with a purpose and passion to explore Uganda in a meaningful and impactful way. Their engaging and immersive travel experiences go way beyond the tourist scene allowing you to explore the country in-depth while simultaneously engaging with local communities in an authentic, sustainable and responsible way. The company has an impressive mission statement: To provide ethical, engaging, transformative, immersive and creative slow travel experiences for culturally, socially and environmentally conscious travelers with a purpose and passion to explore Uganda in a meaningful and impactful way that facilitate genuine cross-cultural connection and learning opportunities, inspiring compassion towards fellow human beings. To create equitable opportunities for indigenous communities and to increase the social, economic and environmental benefits to ensure a balance between the environment, wildlife conservation and sustainable development programs among the indigenous communities living around the protected area of Kibale National Park in western Uganda. To utilize responsible travel to promote and support grass-roots community projects and benefit host communities. Endeavor to be a responsible tourism role model and collaborate with others to innovate and inspire ethical travel best practices. WE DO TOURISM BASED ON JUSTICE, EQUITY AND DEVELOPMENT Find out more about Justice Tourism and the amazing work they do on their website >> IHTC India ihctindia specialises in tours for couples and small groups, with each tour catering to a maximum of 10 people. Accommodation is predominantly in family operated hotels, forts, palaces, havelis and boutique hotels, full of character where each has implemented eco-friendly features including solar energy, recycled paper, organically grown food and rainwater harvesting structures. They work closely with local schools, colleges and shopkeepers to encourage and be hands-on maintaining clean water systems and cleanliness around religious places & monuments. Guests are encouraged to buy locally, not from manufacturers and sellers who exploit children. Ihtc has a wide variety of tours across every part of India. They include horse safaris, Wellness Camps in the Valley of Flowers, the Himalayas or at a Bamboo Retreat, as well as epic tours across the country; visiting historical sites, temples, museums, animal sanctuaries and small villages. Ihctindia is one of India's most innovative inbound tour operators that for two decades has provided impeccable services with great warmth. It has won the best inbound tour operator award in the Heritage & Culture categories from ITC Washington DC USA for year 2019-2020. The proprietor has been designated as Brand Ambassador of African Tourism by African Tourism Board, Pretoria South Africa. He is a founding member of World Tourism Network, Honolulu, Hawaii. Lux Life, the prestigious British magazine had shorted-listed ihctindia for its Global Excellence Award, 2020. Let us take you on a journey through the Landscapes, Culture, Heritage & Spiritual essence of this diverse Country Find out more on the ihtc India website >> It's July! IT's July is a completely innovative way of making new friends when you travel and really getting to meet the locals. It operates as a 'matchmaking' service for families, helping you to meet families with similar interests and similar aged children across the globe, meaning you can explore a new place with people who already know it really well, seeing a new place in ways you could never manage as a tourist. IT’S July enables families to make empowered connections with like-minded families anywhere in the world. The company was founded in the midst of the COVID pandemic with the mission to enable families to connect, discuss mutual interests, and establish new friendships through meaningful interactions. They are active in over 40 destinations worldwide, with thousands of families joining every month. Families can open a family profile, find family matches anywhere in the world, chat with them about anything, and set up to meet in real life. You can use it wherever you are - at home or away - to make new family connections. The focus is on sustainable travel, reducing your eco-footprint and of course, Slow Travel, and is a great way to move beyond mere tourism to really get to see a new place with a deeper understanding of the place and the people who live there. Find out more on the IT'S July website >>

  • THE CHRISTMAS TREE FESTIVAL AT ST.THOMAS'S CHURCH, SALISBURY

    This annual festival has run for the past 18 years and is the informal start of Christmas celebrations in Salisbury. The church is filled with Christmas trees and is open to the public for a week at the start of December, completely free to visit. Local choirs and bands perform festive favourites, a small café is open at the back of the church, and the whole event raises thousands of pounds for local charities. St. Thomas's Church is at the very heart of Salisbury: originally a place of worship for those who built the cathedral, it has remained an integral part of the city. Founded by Bishop Poore in 1219 as a small wooden building, it was soon rebuilt in stone and has undergone many changes over the years. It has some wonderful medieval paintings on its walls, most famous of course being the recently restored Doom Painting, the largest and best preserved in the UK. The Christmas Tree festival in St. Thomas's is one of the oldest in the UK, with the first one taking place in 2004. Although it comes a week or so after the switch on of the Christmas lights across the city, for many it is the Tree Festival which heralds the arrival of the festive season. The church is transformed into a small forest of trees, each one created by a different group; a charity looking to raise awareness, a community group who have made a tree to highlight their work, or a small business to advertise their services. Each tree is wildly different; there are some traditional trees but there are also many where creativity has flourished, and the trees are often made from and decorated with an eclectic assortment of objects. Arranged down the aisles, the nave, the Lady Chapel, even the High Altar, the trees fill the church with vivid colours and twinkling lights. Music is provided by an assortment of local groups - school choirs, brass bands, orchestras, singers, pianists, pipers and hand bell ringers, who all perform underneath the Doom Painting in front of the chancel. There is no obligation to sit and listen during their performances, although many do, but there are plenty of other people wandering around admiring the trees with the gentle hubbub of chatter as the backdrop. There is a small café open in the vestry at the back of the church. Although a church's vestry is usually a space for the clergy to change and have their offices, in St Thomas's it is known as 'The People's Vestry' and is an open space for everyone. Serving coffee, tea and cake, it is open for much of the tree festival and seems to do a thriving trade throughout. Visiting the Christmas Tree Festival The festival is free to visit. As you enter you are handed a printed programme which tells you about every tree on display. Each tree is numbered and so you can see who created it, what they've called it and the idea behind it. Many of the trees have further information underneath them so you can read more about what the organisation does. The trees are all very popular with kids, who love not just the lights and colours but the often whimsical decorations. You can stay as long as you like. Many people take their time to wander around, have a cup of tea, sit to listen to the music, and on the way out you return your programme and put a donation in the box. All of the money donated is split between local charities - in 2021 they made £13,000 to go to charities, and I suspect it is more and more each year, due to the popularity of the event. In 2022 they had maps next to the organ where you could put a sticker to show where you came from and although there was the expected heavy concentration of people from the local area, there were others from the far flung corners of the globe. Visiting at different times of day gives you a different experience. Visiting on a weekday morning has a far more peaceful and contemplative atmosphere, with the trees standing out vividly in the bright sunlight, the ornaments far more visible. Visiting towards the end of the day as darkness falls means that the lights from the trees overshadow the decorations, but give a wonderful luminous and festive effect. At weekends of course it is far busier, leading to a very jolly and cheery atmosphere, with young faces looking entranced by the lights and colours. The whole event is an enriching and rewarding experience, and even the hardiest of Scrooges would find it impossible to leave without feeling thoroughly festive. Visiting the Christmas Tree Festival Follow their website for dates of the next one Feeling festive in Salisbury? Try a Twilight Tower Tour of the cathedral

  • VISITING THE MUSEUM OF BRANDS - 200 YEARS OF CONSUMER HISTORY

    The Museum of Brands in London's Notting Hill provides a fascinating insight into British history. A walk through their Time Tunnel shows you the development of how we have become targets of consumer culture from the genteel yet often untruthful advertising of the Victorian age to the far more blatant advertising of today where we are so bombarded with branding that it has become a central part of our society. Located on Lancaster Road in Notting Hill, the Museum of Brands announces its presence as you would expect - with bold colourful advertising on its walls to draw you inside. The bright red of an Oxo tin, the vivid yellow of Colman's Mustard and intense blue of Walkers crisps leave you in no doubt what the museum is about - even though the names have been changed, the branding is instantly recognisable. The museum was started by Robert Opie, a consumer historian who collected packaging from an early age when he realised how quickly it was changing. Several incarnations later we now have the Museum of Brands which gives you an understanding not only of the rapid evolution of branding, but its context within wider British society. The main feature of the museum is the Time Tunnel, a chronological walk through objects, not just brands but some of the main consumer objects which changed society. The arrival of the stamp, the hoover, the radio, TV and fridge all led to consumer revolutions which had a dramatic impact on the brands we needed and the brands we bought - each innovation now so familiar that we don't give a second thought to just how much it changed us and the way we live. The Museum of Brands opens our eyes to what we take for granted, and just how integrated consumerism has become in our society. The tunnel itself starts in the Victorian era, when goods were first mass produced. Items could be transported across the country thanks to the new railways, and promoted thanks to the new methods of communication - the earliest items on display are from Queen Victoria's Coronation and her wedding, when souvenirs were made in bulk and shipped by train to the masses. There are some early Valentine's cards too; ornate, colourful and intricate, they were the first produced images to be sent across the country after the introduction of the Penny Post. The Great Exhibition of 1851, with its focus on culture and industry, led to an increased interest in consumer goods. Visitors learnt about British products and their perceived superiority - consumerism became the fashion and as well as the exhibition selling products, people could buy souvenirs such as ceramics, cards, paints and ornaments. These include the most wonderful paper telescopic views of the grand opening of the event. Though now flimsy and fragile, you can still look through a hole and see layer upon layer of miniature illustrations making up the whole scene. Over 150 years old, they still hold the power to fascinate and I loved them. An early form of advertising is a wonderful poster from 1856, detailing a day of celebration for the end of the war in Crimea, with food including a whole roasted sheep and plum pudding, with entertainments such as pony racing, 'grinning through a horse collar' and 'racing on one leg', with the day culminating with a 'general illumination' of the upper windows of the hamlet. To modern sensibilities it seems so very tame yet must have been quite something at the time. Magazines start to appear; Pen and Pencil, Life in London, The Penny Satirist, all with detailed illustrations and many covered in adverts. The aptly named Modern Society from 1889 has a front page of nothing but adverts - for Cadburys cocoa, tea, and Pears soap complete with a recommendation from Lille Langtry, socialite, actress and the first celebrity to ever endorse a commercial product. The prevalence of illnesses such as cholera led to an increased awareness of the need for sanitation and hygiene products, and the Victorian obsession with personal hygiene becomes obvious as you move through the displays. There are delightful pots of black and white toothpaste powder, dainty bottles of perfume, boxes of soap and all manner of adverts for 'cure-alls', as well as treatments for bed bugs and lice. There is a colourful display of Victorian chocolate boxes, which were introduced in 1868 by manufacturers such as Cadburys and Fry's. Customers could choose a variety of chocolates and then select the lids which were created in Bavaria where the best colour printing was done. On display are albums of the huge choice of decorative lids which shopkeepers could choose from based on what they thought their customers would like. They are beautiful, really elaborate, but as the box size increased over the years, the designs diminished and now we all just buy our chocolates in identical, simplistic and boring packaging. By 1888 cigarettes could be produced more cheaply than previously and by World War I they replaced the pipe as the most popular method of smoking. On display are packets of early Woodbines, Bryant & May matches as well as early cigarette machines. Although predominantly a male habit, much of the advertising consists of female faces, perhaps one of the earliest times that women were objectified to sell products to men. Innovations in production and packaging led to an increased range of foodstuffs and some recognisable labels start to emerge - Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce, Rose's Lime Cordial and the once famous Peak Frean biscuits. A hugely famous British brand of biscuits founded in 1857 the company was bought out by Americans who dismantled the business and they are now no longer available in the UK - although the name is used in other countries. These decorative biscuit tins were sold in the run up to Christmas yet they are a far cry from the bland tins we get our Christmas biscuits in now. Throughout the Time Tunnel and alongside the adverts and products are children's toys, more evidence of how consumer society changes through time with a a look at the interests of its youngest members. There are jigsaws, originally known as 'dissected puzzles' until the invention of the mechanical jigsaw, train sets, dolls in prams, optical illusions, building blocks and the most wonderful miniature cooking range, complete with brass saucepans, the whole thing far superior to any of the plastic pink cookers that little girls are fobbed off with these days. The Coronation of Edward VIII saw the mass production of souvenirs on a far greater scale than any seen before and the transition into the Edwardian era is accompanied by the rise of Art Nouveau as a design aesthetic. The new fascination with aviation, motoring and exploration as popular activities is reflected in the promotional material of the time. The introduction of branded petrol led to the arrival of famous Shell adverts and the new postcards were used for promotional purposes, with several Shell postcards in the display. World War I saw the rise of patriotism, tins being decorated with army generals and flags. Some goods changed their packaging to save on the raw materials and children's toys also reflect the changes with the appearance of military board games and books, toy tanks and soldiers. After the war the designs never really returned to their glory days, they became simpler; more minimalistic with blocks of colour, fewer intricate details and a less embellished font. There is a tin of sweets called Jazztime Toffees, decorated in the new style; blocky and with an illustration of an open motor car. They are called 'week-end sweets', the new phrase which had just been introduced for Friday - Sundays. The radio arrived and in the museum they have a magnificent set on display, complete with a huge receiver and metres of cabling. The popularity of the wireless led to the arrival of the Radio Times, a publication which is still in print today Another vast exhibition, this time the British Empire Exhibition of 1924, led to manufacturers bombarding the visiting public with their goods, along with the now expected plethora of souvenirs, which included a lot of branded products. In the 1930s, Art Deco spread across the country and we see the arrival of some familiar favourites - Quality Street, Chocolate Orange, Mars Bars, Smarties and more appear in the displays. There is a replica 1930s chemist shop which has a mix of the old fashioned drawers for holding herbs as well as shelves filled with brands. By the 1930s, branded products were overtaking those made in house by pharmacists, and their way of business changed forever. We also get a glimpse inside a drinks cabinet, filled with tins of Cheeselets and cocktail canapes as well as bottles of whisky and liqueurs. A young Princess Elizabeth appears on the scene, her face on the latest batch of magazines. As we move into World War II, the focus returns to all things military, with planes, bomb shelters, and uniforms. Adverts became public announcements, exhorting people to join the Land Army or telling them that 'Careless talk costs Lives'. Women's magazines show them in dungarees or uniform and at work, rather than lounging around elegantly enjoying a life of leisure. Packaging became increasingly simplified and basic, often with just text and little colour, if any, a sign of the austerity and priorities of the time. Souvenirs were produced in abundance for VE Day, another Royal wedding, the Olympics held in London in 1948, Festival of Britain 1951 and the Queen's coronation. There is a recreation of a 1950s grocer's shop filled with tins, the shop's last hurrah before the arrival of the supermarkets which soon saw the traditional grocers eradicated. With the first TVs came the first TV commercial in 1955, and the shopper knew what she wanted before stepping foot in the shop, no longer needing a grocer to make suggestions or decisions. Brand names became larger so they could be easily found amongst their competitors by shoppers who were unfamiliar with finding what they needed. As the tunnel moves into the 1960s, we see the arrival of not just brands but also slogans and images we recognise - 'Have a break, have a Kit Kat', or the 'cup and a half of milk' being poured into Cadburys Dairy Milk. After Eights appear on the scene, which used to have red boxes for assortments as well as the green ones we are still so familiar with. New products include ready meals, slimming food and children's food with TV characters on the packaging. Pop culture begins with a vengeance and the faces of familiar celebrities look out at you from album covers as well as the products they were paid to promote. By the 1980s it all starts to become horribly familiar. There are board games on display which I still have in my cupboard, there are magazines such as Smash Hits which I remember the covers of, and plenty of Charles & Di souvenirs. Many of the brands wouldn't look out of place on shelves today. I walked quickly through the 90s and early 21st century, it all far too close to home for me to think of it being in a museum, although I did enjoy seeing the leaflets for the 'amazing' new Millennium Dome. It was a fascinating glimpse into consumer culture and I spent about 90 minutes in there as there was just so much to look at. Its not just the products; they mix it well with information about the main events of each era, fashion, household goods, royal events, publications and more. There are other developments which stand out, an obvious one being what is considered beauty in women. In older advertising they are fresh faced, rosy cheeked rather plain women in bonnets, by the 1960s they are wearing revealing outfits with bunny ears and plastered in make up. The objects are laid out really photogenically, and I wasn't the only one taking endless photos of absolutely everything. There are also aural accompaniments to the displays, moving from the clopping of horse and carriage to the sounds of old radio shows, 60s pop and more. At various points on the display cases were QR codes to take you to the sound tracks of the era on your phone, some of which I have listened to since leaving and which give you a real sense of the atmosphere of the time. After the Time Tunnel is a large exhibition room which takes a different approach to brands, focusing on just a few of them and showing their evolution over time. Products include those such as Dettol and Imperial Leather which have barely changed, to Windowlene which has had a dramatic change to enable it to stand out on the shelf. It was fascinating to see the evolution not just in design but in packaging, with manufacturers always looking to reduce costs as well as make opening and storing things much easier for the consumer. There is a also a display of 150 years of decorative biscuit tins sold in the run up to Christmas, which just left me feeling cheated by modern manufacturers who won't make an effort for us, and an exhibition of the top brands. The Grocer magazine always publishes the top brands for the year based on sales and for the year 2022 they show the changes as we recover from the pandemic, with sales of loo roll going down but on-the-go food increasing. There are further displays on brands who attach themselves to a 'woke' issue and the successes and failures thereof. A further room has an exhibition on shopping lists as well as the evolution of Johnnie Walker as a product. A visit to the museum ends in the café which has a large garden. The garden is a lovely space, filled with well established trees, plants and a few tables and chairs amongst the foliage. There is even a swinging bench and a pond. The building was once a hospice used by the Terence Higgins Trust and in the garden you can still see dedications and memorials to the people who spent their final days there. Even on a chilly November day, it was a verdant, quiet spot to enjoy. The Museum of Brands is the perfect place for those like me who are interested in social history and it is certainly the ideal place for anyone studying marketing and consumer habits. I would also anticipate that kids would enjoy it as there are so many toys from across the ages. It is definitely worth a visit and is a museum I would highly recommend. Visiting the Museum of Brands Nearest tube station: Ladbroke Grove Opening hours: Monday - Saturday 10am - 6pm, Sunday 11am - 5pm Ticket Prices: Adult £9 Buy your ticket: Exhibitions at the Museum of Brands On now: Woven Cities: The unveiling of London’s Woven Crest 19 November 2022 to 05 February 2023 Cost: Included in general admission Visitors will be able to see three beautifully designed woven crests, created by Holland-based designers 75B. The tapestries are created to celebrate cities from around the world through popular brands and icons that resonate with daily life. On display will be the London Woven Crest, alongside crests from Amsterdam and Rome. Visitors will be invited to collectively draw up their own tapestry as a craft activity. Coming up: Toys, Tech and Tamagotchis: Christmas Bestsellers of the 20th Century 25 November 2022 to 6 January 2023 Cost: Included in general admission A new display featuring the top-selling Christmas toys of the 20th Century. Toys will include Star Wars, Simon, Atari Video Computer System and Bratz dolls. Children are invited to explore our Time Tunnel by helping us fill our pretend Christmas Stocking, ready for Santa’s collection, before creating their very own Christmas tree decoration out of recycled packaging. Connecting with Diverse Audiences 7 February 2023 Cost: £5/£10 Tomasz Dyl, Managing Director, and Founder of awarding winning marketing agency GottaBe! will be speaking about creating more inclusive marketing communications for brands. In recent years we have seen a rise in representation in marketing communications but Tomasz and his team argue there is another step brands need to take to real achieve inclusivity and equity.

  • CURRY RIVEL TO NORTH CURRY: ON THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW

    This walk explores a hidden off-shoot of the main Somerset Levels, between Curry Rivel and North Curry, on the very western edges of this water and willow landscape. It’s a long walk, and the footpath from the edge of Curry Wood and down to the Levels is not so much off the beaten track as off-piste. With a sense of direction and in awe of the rich grazing meadows where huge oak trees stand proud, you’ll be back on track on the road to Oath, next to the farmhouse home of RSPB West Sedgemoor. From Oath, you can look back at the ridge that you’ve just scrambled down, and as you turn into North Drove, ahead as far as the eye can see. All good walks start and end with the good fortune of local hospitality. The Firehouse at Curry Rivel is open for morning coffee and the free village car park next to it is the ideal place to leave the car behind, with the promise of an early evening drink on the way back. The October day is still long and still warm. The clouds are high and the water is a mirror image. The horizon is far away and the road is straight and narrow. There’s a train strike – the main line slices across this landscape from Langport to Taunton - and so it’s silent, setting a scene that plays out along any of the ancient drover’s tracks across the Somerset Levels. If you had a list of all the features that belong to the Somerset Levels, you’d be able to tick them all off along the way here. Roads as straight as any Roman contribution, waterways and drainage ditches that reflect the sky and catch images of the clouds, bullrushes, reeds and fields of willow. The wild flag irises were gone but will be back in the Spring. It’s when you get halfway along the drove, the furthest point from road and rail, houses and humans, that the sense of wildlife opens your eyes. Families of swans, the heavy slow-motion dipped flight of herons, bright white egrets, a lone buzzard in the silver branches of a dead tree, tiny fish and the ripples of tiny insects above or below the surface of the water – darting so fast that it was impossible to tell. Then, the first incredible glimpse of a West Somerset crane heading to its very specific West Sedgemoor nesting ground, and then, in an amazing broad daylight second that seemed much longer, an otter crossing the track from one deep ditch to another and slipping out of sight as it if had never been there. A distant walker, starting like a pinprick in the distance, slowly grew and grew to life-size. His three-legged dog hopped by energetically, and his comment on learning that our destination was North Curry for lunch at the pub (‘have a nice evening there’) wasn’t in truth the first inkling that this was no stroll in the park! It isn’t a difficult walk but it’s easy to estimate the horizon as two miles, or four or six. It was six of course and the pub was closed. A bit of research beforehand had produced the North Curry Community Café and that was as good as finding treasure. The friendliest of volunteers, the most delicious and restorative of fruit cakes and the comfort of a good old pot of tea worked their collective wonders. For future reference, and for a shorter walk, you can peel off North Drove to Stoke St Gregory, where there’s an equally lovely community shop and café. Suitably fortified and rested, seasoned walkers won’t think twice about going into reverse and retracing their steps to the Firehouse. Not so on this occasion, though. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was weak to use a classic excuse or blame it on the dog who was definitely looking reluctant. Part and parcel of a community café is the conversation, and with the last crumbs of the cake, the offer of a lift back to Curry Rivel was on the table – it would have been rude to say no!

  • SLOW TRAVEL IN NÎMES – THE HOME OF ROMANS, GASTRONOMY AND CROCODILES

    In the Occitane region of southern France, Nîmes is a city known for its cultural heritage, Roman monuments, warm climate and beautiful architecture. Easy to reach by public transport and ideal for the sole traveller, Nimes is the perfect place for a weekend break away from it all. Contents 1. Exploring Nîmes 2. Historical Nîmes 3. Cultural Nîmes 4. Nîmes By Night 5. Outside Nîmes 6. Gastronomic Nîmes 7. Where to stay in Nîmes 8. Where to Eat 9. When to Visit 10. How to Get There 11. Is it worth going to Nîmes? Nîmes is really easy to get to, with direct flights from the UK, a train station, a comprehensive bus network and main roads approaching from all sides. Last September I was astonished to find flights from London for just £14 each way, and had no hesitation in booking my trip out there. I arrived in Nîmes airport, which is outside the town in the nearby village of Saint-Gilles, early in the morning and slightly nervous about how I would get to Nîmes from there. However, I found the shuttle bus easily, hopped on, sat right at the front for the best view, and was soon on my way to the city. A short drive through semi-rural areas, with lots of vineyards, olive trees and distant hills saw the bus arriving outside Nîmes train station, a rather bleak area of concrete and bus stops. Knowing I had to get to the other side of the train station, I decided to just walk straight through it, in the hope I wouldn’t end up on a platform to somewhere else. I emerged rather uncertainly into a beautiful wide boulevard stretching away into the distance, with the sound of water running through a small channel the whole way up it, trees lining the road and the sun beating down on the golden stone around me. I don’t think I have ever beamed with delight on arrival in a new city before, but I truly did this time. Walking up the boulevard dragging my wheelie case behind me, I headed for a park I could see at the end, so absorbed in the sights around me that I overshot my hotel and had to head back. Dropping off my bag, I set out to explore the city. EXPLORING NÎMES Nîmes is just made for exploring. For my four days there, I had no need of any buses, taxis or anything other than foot power to explore the city, which conveniently has all of its major features within a short walk of each other. A mixture of wide open boulevards and narrow pedestrian side streets, beautiful tall buildings with wrought iron balconies filled with plants, huge old wooden doorways that look like they must open on to beautiful and mysterious things, this is what I consider to be France at its finest. Streets are filled with cafes full of locals sitting in the shade with a pastry and a coffee, and shops line the edges with some beautiful displays that entice you to spend money on things you know you can’t possibly fit in your hand luggage. The old town is filled with narrow passageways that you follow with anticipation, wondering what you will find around the next corner. Many open up onto large courtyards, filled with cafes, fountains, churches or small, hidden away public gardens. Greenery tumbles down from balconies where washing flaps in the breeze, random old carvings are embedded in walls, the sound of water, or chatter, or church bells permeates your ears. The aspect I liked best about wandering through the old town was that whichever way I took, however lost I tried to get myself, it wasn’t long before I ended up seeing the Arena at the end of the passageways, those ancient arches becoming familiar to me and helping me to anchor myself within the city. HISTORICAL NÎMES Nîmes is awash with the legacy of the Romans, which is one of the reasons the city is such an interesting place to explore. I took an English speaking walking tour of the city, which is always an excellent way to see what a city has to offer, learn more about the history as well as to find your way around and get your bearings. The tour focused on the Roman sites within the city and took us to some amazing places. The Arena is the obvious starting point for any such tour. This 2000 year old amphitheatre is at the heart of the city and is still very much in use. There are regular events such as pop concerts, French bullfighting and festivals held here, when the stone walls once again ring out to the sound of a crowd, just as they would have done in Roman times. The amphitheatre can be visited with a guided tour or an audio tour and you can walk through the ancient passageways and learn all about this astonishing building. The Maison Carrée is another incredible Roman monument. A temple with the best preserved exterior in the world, this gleaming white building is in a modern day forum where the Roman one once was. A few foolhardy teenagers climb the steep terraces at the side and sit nonchalantly watching the visitors take endless photos and exclaim with delight over the façade. Inside, the temple has sadly been gutted and now is just a space to show a film for tourists about the history of the city. It is the exterior which is so impressive, with its carved pediment, columns and intricate ceiling, and really is essential viewing for anyone in the area. There are several cafes around the square from which to sip a drink in the sun and admire its beauty. The Jardins de la Fontaine are another area of the city with a Roman heritage. In this beautifully landscaped gardens are the remains of the Roman sanctuary which was built around the source of the spring in Nîmes, and where you can see the source itself, with bubbles fizzing to the surface while two dignified swans glide by. The Temple of Diana sits nearby, a romantic looking ruin of thick walls and part of a barrel vaulted ceiling that was once actually a library and then a monastery, now tumbling down in a haphazard fashion, with nature doing its best to reclaim the area. The remains of the Roman sanctuary were uncovered when the gardens were created in the 18th century, and you can see the channel they built from the source, funnelling the water around a small island which held the sanctuary and an altar. Today the island has neo-classical statues and balustrades, all of which lend a very cultured air to the already immaculate landscaped gardens. A walk up the sweeping neo-classical steps and through the Mediterranean landscaped area of the Jardins leads you to the Tour Magne, the Roman tower which was once part of the city walls. Built on top of the original Iron Age tower, you can pay to enter and climb up the new spiral staircase inside to see some incredible views over the city. Other Roman sites in Nîmes which are definitely worth a visit are the Castellum Aquae and Porta Augusta, which are both Roman ruins that are open air and just by the side of a pavement. To see such remarkable monuments in a city, free for all to view is refreshing, when you know full well that in other countries they would be covered up with a roof and visitors charged to have a look. Not much is left of the Castellum Aquae (water castle), but it is lucky there is any left at all, as the wall behind it was built for a 17th century citadel that narrowly avoided being built on top of it. The Castellum is far more exceptional than it looks, being one of only two left in the world, and is where water would arrive in the city from the aqueduct and be divided out into the rest of the city. Now it is home to a small colony of cats and well worth a visit on your city tour. Porta Augusta is equally as impressive, being the main entrance to the city from the Via Domitia. With two large central gates for horses and carts, and two smaller side gates for pedestrians, it is still easy to imagine how it may have looked as an imposing entrance to those entering Roman Nemausus for the first time. CULTURAL NÎMES Nîmes is not just about the Romans, there are plenty of other cultural sites on offer. I spent a delightful few hours at the Musée des Beaux Arts, Museum of Fine Arts, right in the centre of town. With a wonderful Roman mosaic as the centrepiece of its huge atrium, the museum contains many works of art and sculptures. Laid out in rooms with plenty of space against walls of soothing colours, with the requisite seating in the middle from which to contemplate the art, this was a very peaceful way to spend some time surrounded by high culture. The Musée de la Romanite is right next to the Arena, a large modern building covered in glass panels like a mosaic, wrapped around to emulate the folds in the cloth of a toga, something I had my doubts about until I saw it one evening with the light creating deep shadows in the ripples. The museum tells the story of Nîmes from the Iron Age, through the Romans and Medieval times, right up to a look at how the ‘Romanness’ of Nîmes has an impact on them today. It is a beautifully designed contemporary building and has a huge array of artefacts. Everything is available in several languages and I spent a fascinating few hours here. There is a small café on the ground floor, but up on the top is a fantastic restaurant, La Table du 2, where I sat next to the balcony, eating delicious food and drinking wine with a view over the Arena and rooftops in the distance. It was shady, peaceful and a truly civilised way to end a visit to such a fantastic museum. The Contemporary Art museum, Le Carrée d’Art, is next to La Carrée Maison, designed by esteemed architect Norman Foster and opened in 1993, it is a modern building which provides a stark contrast to the Roman temple opposite. Nine floors in total, most of which are underground, it houses the local municipal library, and city archives as well as the Museum of Contemporary Art. It also holds free exhibitions of modern art, one of which I visited and spent some time admiring the work and watching a video about its creation. There is a restaurant near the top where you can sit in the shade and eat a good meal while watching the crowds below and admiring the sun glinting off the temple façade opposite. There are several other museums in Nîmes, such as the Musėe de Vieux Nîmes which contains items of ordinary life in the city long after the Romans, with a history of their famous textile industry and regular temporary exhibitions. It is small but well worth a visit, particularly if you have bought the Nîmes city pass, meaning the cost of the visit is included. Nîmes has a cathedral and several churches, all of which are free to visit when they are open. The Cathedral of Notre Dame et Saint Castor is good for a quick visit. It is thought that this stands on the site of the Temple of Augustus, with the original cathedral occupying the site since 1096. It was seriously damaged during The Wars of Religion and was mostly rebuilt in the 19th century, now being a mixture of Gothic and Romanesque style, with a part-Roman frieze above the entrance. Dimly lit and with its own relic, it has a Baroque chapel behind the chancel and modern internal doors of gold spotted glass which are worth a look. The Church of Saint-Baudile was built in 1877 and inspired by French Gothic architecture. Saint Baudile was the first apostle of the church in Nîmes. Take the time to visit the Mairie or City Hall, which has a pretty courtyard and an excellent map of how Nîmes looked in the Middle Ages. At the top of the staircase, four huge stuffed crocodiles hang from the ceiling. These were donated or bought by the city between 1597 and 1703, in recognition of the symbol of the city, a crocodile chained to a palm tree. These four crocodiles are a part of Nîmes life - as its the town hall where everyone must have their civil marriage ceremony, getting married is known to the locals as ‘going under the crocodiles’. Crocodiles and palm trees are everywhere in Nîmes; on logos, in studs in the pavements, gates, doorways, there are crocodile fountains, confectionary, ornaments and souvenirs; they are pervasive. The reason for this is that the first coin minted in Nîmes had a crocodile chained to a palm frond on one side - the palm represented victory, the crocodile signified Egypt, and it commemorated the victory of the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, when the Egyptians were conquered. The symbol became the emblem for Nîmes in 1535, when the city was awarded a new coat of arms by Francois I, based on the coin. It was updated in 1985 to the more modern logo that it is today. The War Memorial is near the Arena, in the Square-11-novembre-1918. Commemorating World War I, World War II, the Indochina Wars of 1946-1954 and Algeria (1954-1962), it is a large monument with a round floor inlaid with mosaic in homage to the city’s Roman heritage. This is worth going to have a look at; it is very moving and yet very pretty, with the colourful tiles blazing in the sunshine. Water is a very important feature of Nîmes and one that is inescapable as you wander around the city. There are fountains everywhere, from random spouts that appear up in the middle of a courtyard, to a huge fountain in the park near my hotel, the Fontaine Pradier, which had statues representing the four rivers that flow into the region. There is a lovely tree-lined canal that runs right through the city, and narrow water feature canals that run the length of whole roads. Wherever you walk, it feels like you are not far from the sound of running water, and it brings a uniquely calming and cordial air to the city. NÎMES BY NIGHT Nîmes at night is something special, and I did an evening walk each evening after eating out, to see the monuments illuminated against a dark sky. Maison Carrée is a must at night as it looks stunning, the gleaming white against black was a very impressive effect. The Arena looks fantastic too, and with red lights on the ground in the area outside it, they clearly show you where the old Roman walls ran, giving you a good idea of how this amazing building was very much just fitted in to the edges of the old Roman town. The centre of town feels very safe at night, even though I was a woman on my own, and I didn’t have any concerns. The streets were busy with some thronging cafes, full restaurants and plenty of families dining out. The running water of the canals and other water features provided a congenial backdrop to the happy chatter and I felt that this would be a very romantic place for couples who visit. The narrow canal that ran the whole length of the boulevard my hotel was on, lit up each night, and I would lean over my hotel balcony to listen to the flowing water, watching the colours changing and reflecting in the stream. OUTSIDE NÎMES My only excursion out of the city was to the Pont du Gard, a Roman bridge that supported the 50km aqueduct that supplied Roman Nemausus (Nîmes) with water. A UNESCO heritage site, it was a fascinating place to visit and the sense of history from visiting such a momentous ancient building is palpable; it dwarfs you as you walk its length on the foot bridge below, the golden arches with their well weathered edges, the ancient graffiti carved into the stone, the views over the garrigue that lines the valley. A walk to the top of the valley to admire the bridge from above takes you through the garrigue, Mediterranean scrubland that grows on the limestone rock of this area of France, and the scent of rosemary, thyme and lavender fill the air as you climb, to be rewarded with views over the river, the bridge and acres of rural landscape. It really does feel special and is most definitely a place that should be on everyone's French bucket list. It is easy to get to by car, although public transport is also available, and with a good museum and a very nice restaurant, Les Terrasses, it was an excellent afternoon out. GASTRONOMIC NÎMES Like much of the south of France, Nîmes has a rich culinary tradition. Restaurants and cafes line the pavements, with specialist food shops, delicatessens and markets providing much local flavour. A traditional culinary delicacy of the region is brandade, a salted cod and olive oil paste that is often eaten on croutons, bread or potatoes. I visited the delicatessen, La Nîmoise, which specialises in this delicacy and tried several of the types on offer. I was very uncertain what to expect but actually really liked it, finding it not too fishy and with quite a subtle taste. If I hadn’t been travelling hand luggage only, I would have bought some to take home. It is definitely worth trying this if you visit Nîmes, the locals all love it and it features on many menus around the city. I visited the food market in Les Halles, having been advised to have a look, but not really knowing what to expect. How could a market be anything special? Well, I quickly changed my tune within a minute of stepping through the doors. The large windowless hall may have pipes and harsh electric lights running across the ceiling, but the stalls are picturesque, filled with a wealth of colour with food of every type you could imagine. Locals queued up by the stalls, squeezing dark green avocados, prodding giant tomatoes, brandishing bunches of plump radishes, chatting to the stallholders who carefully selected the items they were pointing to. One stall was surrounded by mounds of potatoes, with strings of chilis and garlic hanging above them, the stallholder barely visible behind the tower of food. There were stalls with seafood and fish resting on trays of crushed ice, others with piles of gutted rabbits and other meats, all perfectly pink behind their glass casings. Others had rows and rows of every cheese imaginable, pale mounds of grey, white and yellow, shaped like logs, or cones, or pats. There was plenty of pre-prepared food on offer, with massive pans of paella, salads, lasagnes, gratins and dauphinoise dishes, all freshly prepared in little wooden trays. I saw vats of olives, pickled garlic, spices, beans, salts, herbs and oils, even cream, with one stall displaying huge bowls of deep purple raspberry coulis next to bowls of silky chantilly cream. This market is a foodie paradise and I walked around it several times, staring in amazement and frankly, jealousy. I thought of the supermarkets in my hometown, their anemic looking produce all wrapped up in plastic and covered in bar codes, and I was utterly envious of people who can walk across a leafy town to choose their fresh food, from people they know and can chat to. The market is attached to the La Coupole des Halles, a standard shopping mall. Don’t bother with that, it looks like every mall you’ve ever been to. The food market is on the bottom floor of it through some doors and just spend your time there instead. WHERE TO STAY I stayed in the Apartcity hotel and I have to say it was ideal (there are two Apartcity Hotels in Nîmes, I stayed in Nîmes Arènes). A wonderful location, just opposite the Arena and a park, a short, straight walk to the train station and the bus to the airport, with a bus stop right outside the building, it’s on a quiet wide tree lined road which has the water feature running the length of it, providing relaxing water sounds when you open your windows. My balcony overlooked all of it and I would spend time just people-watching from on high, every morning watching the unhurried morning commute of pedestrians as they walked slowly towards the centre of town. Wi-Fi is included, there is underground parking, a breakfast room, sauna and spa centre. The rooms come with a small kitchen area which include a fridge, hob, microwave, utensils and even a mini dishwasher. With high ceilings, floor to ceiling windows, large bathrooms and both French and English pillows on offer, it was the perfect place to stay. WHERE TO EAT There are some fabulous restaurants in Nîmes with a wide range on offer. It is impossible to walk down a street without their being a choice of where to eat, and I enjoyed some really good food everywhere I ate. I found a lot of it was reasonably priced too, especially compared to some of the other areas of France I have visited. I particularly enjoyed my meal at La Bodeguita, which was lit up with coloured lights and eclectic artwork on the walls. I had an excellent salad that came with a type of cold tomato drink which was delicious, and followed that with the most enormous profiterole I have seen. Sadly it defeated me and I wasn’t able to finish it. Right outside the restaurant was a lovely water feature that looked amazing in the dark, so replete with food, wine and chocolate, I sat in the warm night and admired it for quite some time. Nîmes also has plenty of what I consider to be quintessentially traditional French cafes. Filling up the pavements and surrounded by greenery, my favourite was one on the corner by the Arena, where I had a wonderful lunch admiring the Arena and people watching. The waiter may have been secretly horrified that I only ordered a starter, but it was plenty for me as it came with bread, and sitting in the shaded sun eating fresh salad and drinking wine was a real pleasure for someone about to get back on a plane to a very cold and wet UK. WHEN TO VISIT I visited in September, which meant it was hot but not unbearably so. The skies were blue, the trees were still green and the autumnal sun gave a delightful glow to the city. In the summer months, temperatures can get into the 40s, and combining that with large crowds may make it less of a pleasant experience. The only months it gets cold there is December to February, so I would say that Spring and Autumn are the best times to visit. The city hosts a wide variety of events, all of which sound fun, including some where everyone dresses in togas and Roman games take place in the Arena, so it would be a good idea to see what is on when you are making your decisions. HOW TO GET TO NÎMES The airport just outside of Nîmes is served by many airlines from a number of European cities. From the airport there is a bus, called a navette in French, that leaves about 20 minutes after the arrival of each flight and goes directly to the Nîmes train station. Exit the airport from its one door, turn right onto the one road outside and walk a short distance, maybe 20 yards. You will see the bus parked next to a taxi rank. You pay €6.80 on board, and fortunately the drivers speak some English. Ask the driver for a timetable, as they have printed copies which will tell you the time of your bus back for your return journey. There are no stops to worry about as it goes direct. When you get off the bus, walk into the train station and out the other side - Nimes is laid out like a postcard in front of you. Train - You can get to Nîmes train station direct from the St.Pancras terminal in London. Journeys take anywhere between 6-11 hours with just one change in Paris. Book early enough and tickets cost around £60. If you leave it too close to your departure date, they can cost well over £200. Coach - A coach from central London to Nimes, with once change in Paris, will take about 21 hours but cost only about £30. Car - Autoroute A9, A54 and the N106 all go directly into the city. IS IT WORTH GOING TO NÎMES? If you’ve read the rest of my article, I think it will be obvious that I will give a resounding yes to this question. It is a city of high culture, incredible history, and beautiful surroundings, all under the Mediterranean sun. Nimes is a very vibrant city, and despite its incredible history, it has a very young feel to it, probably because it is a university town. Money is being heavily invested in the town, with older buildings undergoing restoration, with few closed shops and derelict buildings compared to many other places. There is a very unhurried atmosphere, with no packed pavements or people rushing around frantically. Even during rush hour, people sit on the benches, chat with friends and take their time. I’m sure it’s a different matter on the outer roads, but in the town centre it just seems so calm. It really is the perfect place for a long weekend away, and I would particularly recommend it for couples or solo travellers. Without any hyperbole or exaggeration, Nîmes is the best city I have visited in France, not just for its climate and cultural offerings but for its beauty and its relaxed and convivial atmosphere. I felt like I was living in a delightful cultural bubble for three days, and I can’t wait to return.

  • JARDINS DE LA FONTAINE, TEMPLE OF DIANA AND THE TOUR MAGNE – NÎMES

    The Jardins de la Fontaine in Nîmes are landscaped neo-classical gardens built around the source of the water spring. The Jardins de la Fontaine (Gardens of the Fountain) in Nîmes are said to be the first European public garden, and one of its finest. Started in the 1740s at the behest of King Louis XV, the King of France, they were laid out on the site of the Source, the ancient spring which has been described as the birthplace of Nîmes. Created by Jacques-Philippe Mareschal, the kings military engineer and the Nîmes architect Pierre Dardailhon, the original plan was to provide a landscaped setting for the source, but in the course of the works, the ancient sanctuary and other remains were discovered. Some were left untouched, such as the Temple of Diana, others were covered over, such as the theatre, which remains under a grassy slope. Others were used as the basis for further developments, such as the basin around the source itself. The shape of the pool, with its semi-circular steps and the channel to the pool with the central island are all based on original Roman features that were discovered during the works. The source had been in use before the Romans arrived in Gaul, with the local Celtic tribe, the Volcae Arecomici worshipping and holding their assemblies in the area. Their god, Nemausus was probably the guardian spirit of the spring, which was venerated and considered to have healing properties. The tribe surrendered voluntarily to the Romans in 121 BC, and the Romans encouraged the continuation of their beliefs, using their standard tactic of building on existing beliefs and traditions and Romanising them, integrating the indigenous spiritualism with a worship of the Imperial Cult, to colonise the locals to becoming a part of the Roman Empire. The Romans built the pool around the source, with a channel that led to a nymphaeum, which is a pool or basin that hosts the sacred source. The central platform held an altar to Augustus, with an Augustun frieze found around the platform’s base. A large number of dedications were found to both Nemausus as well as Emperors. The roman site was abandoned in the Middle Ages, until it was rediscovered during work on regulating the flow of the spring. The nymphaeum is now decorated with statues, vases, balustrades and other ornamentation, and in the centre is a statue which represents Nîmes. Since the gardens were originally created, many additional spaces have been added, and the symmetrical walkways and avenues of trees are now joined by paths through a landscaped Mediterranean garden with pines, oaks, cypresses and other plants. There is a rock garden, grottoes, a Montgolfier pool with aquatic plants and a Mazet garden, with the whole area spanning 15 hectares. The Jardins also contain two well preserved sets of Roman ruins, the Temple of Diana and the Tour Magne. THE TEMPLE OF DIANA The rather romantic looking ruins of the nominal Temple of Diana are near the source and were once part of the Roman sanctuary around the spring. Once thought to have been a temple ordered by the Emperor Hadrian for his guardian’s wife, Plotina, it is now widely believed to have been a library, as it has a basilica floor plan and is of a similar design to the Celsus library in Ephesus. The date of construction is unknown, but it is probably Augustun, along with much of the rest of the sanctuary, with its façade rebuilt in the 2nd century AD. With a large cella, or inner chamber, and a barrel vaulted roof, the walls are inset with 12 niches, which are too small for statues but just the right size for scrolls. The back wall leads into three small extension rooms. The cella is flanked by two lateral corridors which used to lead to a higher floor. During the Medieval period, from the 10th to the 16th century, the building was used as part of a monastery and became the Chapel of the Fountain for Benedictine monks, who built around the temple and adapted it. They abandonned it during The Wars of Religion. In 1570, the Venetian architect Palladio described it and made several sketches of it, when it was included in his book, The Four Books of Architecture, but in 1600 there was a fire, the roof collapsed, and much of the building was destroyed. Painted by artists such as Hubert Robert in the 18th century, it was made an official Monument Historique in 1840, and has enjoyed popularity with locals and tourists since then. TOUR MAGNA The Tour Magne, (Great Tower), is a Gallo-Roman tower that stands at the highest point of the city in the Jardins de la Fontaine. Originally a dry stone, almost cone-shaped tower, built by the local Celtic tribe in the 3rd century BC, it reached about 18m high, and was part of the Iron Age defences of the oppidum, being part of the ramparts of the settlement. When the Romans conquered the area, they took this structure that already held significance for the locals, and incorporated it into their city walls, adjusting the alignment of the walls to include it. They doubled the height to 36m and built their tower around the existing one, so that it was fully encompassed. It was octagonal in shape and consisted of three storeys, and was accessed by a large ramp held on arches, which now looks like it has been chopped off and most of which has disappeared. The tower was in use until the population moved off the higher ground and into what is now the central area of Nîmes. In the 12th century, a local gardener read the prophecies of Nostradamus and reading that a huge treasure would be found in an ancient building in Nîmes, he got permission from King Henri IV to excavate the tower. With no thought to preservation, he managed to destroy most of the original Iron Age tower inside the Roman one, as well as damaging much of the Roman one, with the top level falling off. It was later used in defence against the British in the 100 Years War. In the 1800s, the building was used as part of an optical telegraph system, with a contraption installed at the top to enable semaphore, its high position making it ideal for this purpose as it could be seen from afar. This didn’t last long, as the advent of the telegraph system rendered it obsolete. Today the tower has a modern tower installed inside it, to enable people to reach the top. With incredible panoramic views over the Jardins de la Fontaine and the city, it is a popular place for tourists. VISITING THE JARDINS DE LE FONTAINE AND THE TEMPLE OF DIANA Opening hours 1 to 30 September from 7.30am to 8pm 1 October to 1 March from 7.30am to 6.30pm 2 to 31 March from 7.30am - 8pm 1 April to 31 August from 7.30am - 10pm 30 June to 17 September: the lower part of the garden is open to the public on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 7.30am to midnight . Ticket Prices Entry to the Jardins and Temple of Diana is free of charge LA TOUR MAGNE Opening Hours January, February, November and December: 9.30am - 1pm and 2pm - 4.30pm March and October: 9.30am - 1pm and 2 - 6pm April, May and September: 9.30am - 6.30pm (closing from 1 - 2pm to in September) June: 9am - 7pm July and August: 9am - 8pm Last admission: 30 minutes before the closing. Ticket Prices Adult: €3.50 Child and Concessions: €3 Under 7's go free

  • LA MUSÉE DE LA ROMANITÉ – NÎMES

    Opened in 2019, the modern Museum of Romanity in Nîmes brings together all of the archaeological finds from this area, and has a wealth of Roman artefacts. The recently opened museum dedicated to the history of Nîmes is in an ultra-modern building right next to the Arena. Designed by leading architect Elizabeth de Portzamparc, its exterior is covered in 7000 sheets of square printed glass, intended to represent the mosaic tiles so commonly used in the Roman world. The rippling effect is to emulate a toga, wrapped around the building, and designed to accentuate movement, creating the effect of folds in cloth, which look as if they ripple and change as the sun shines and the city is reflected in the glass. Outside the museum and free for all to access, is a huge 17m high atrium, with the corner of a pediment high up on the wall and with two columns on the sides. These are original pieces from the Roman sanctuary by the source, which formed the entryway to the font from which the town of Nîmes has sprung, and where both the Gauls and Romans built religious buildings. Used once more as a gateway, this time to the archaeological garden at the back of the museum, these are visible from much of the museum and act as a backdrop to a visit here. Beyond the atrium is a large garden, planted in sections, with perennial plants from the Iron Age, Romans and Medieval times, all around the remains of one of the Roman walls of the town, and the base of a small tower. The walls were built in the 1st century BC and were punctuated with up to 80 towers, of which the best preserved is the Tour Magne in the nearby Jardins de la Fontaine. Once inside the museum and after purchasing your ticket, you head up the sweeping concentric staircase to the first floor. The museum itself is laid out in chronological order, with brightly lit gateways to take you from one time period to the next. Each section is introduced with a map, putting Nimes in context to the world around it, showing the dynamics at play across Europe and how Nimes fits into the wider picture. The first section is Pre-Roman (Gallic) and starts when Nimes was no more than an oppidum, a small fortified town, which was founded at the end of the 6th century BC. The settlers were attracted by the spring and built a 30 hectare settlement surrounded by ramparts with a large watchtower, which was later used by the Romans for the Tour Magne. With roads, farms, burial enclosures, the residents would trade with other oppida in the area, including the areas colonised by the Greeks. With no alphabet of their own, they used the Greek alphabet to write their Gallic words. There are some incredible inscriptions in Gallo Greek on funeral steles, from the Greek colonies which settled on the shore of southern France. One, found near the source, talks of the mother spring, Nemasus and shows the importance of the spring long before the Romans arrived. One particularly good exhibit is a mockup of an Iron Age residence, modelled on the remains of a house which was found nearby and which has been dated to the 5th century BC. When it was excavated, it was found that the wood and clay roof had been suddenly destroyed, collapsing in on the building below and preserving all of its contents in situ for future archaeologists to find. The main building was divided into two. The largest was used as a store room, and was full of pots for storing wheat and other supplies to keep the family going through the leaner months, as well as a millstone for preparing the food. A smaller living room had a hearth and was for resting and eating. This opened up onto a courtyard and small outhouse, the outlines of which are drawn on the floor for visitors to see the size and scale. The VR machine can be moved around to see how the outside living area would have looked when the hut was in use, following the outline on the floor which show visitors where the walls and outhouses were located. The pots inside have been painstakingly reconstructed and their contents revealed a great deal about the inhabitants who had had to abandon their property so quickly, as remains of grains, grapes, animals and more reveal details about their lives. Some of the amphora contained wine from the Marseille region, showing that the family traded with the coastal regions. What really brings this scene to life is a VR machine, that the visitor can move around, to see how it would have looked at the time, with goats in the stable, people cooking and working, and it gives a really good sense of how they would have lived. One rather macabre exhibit dates from the 3rd century BC from the ancient settlement of Cailar, where archaeologists found a large open space inside the settlement, containing 50 human skulls and weapons such as swords, lances and shields. This was testament to the Gaulish practice of cutting off the heads of their enemies on the battlefield, and taking them home to put on display. The museum moves us through time, with the influence of the Romans becoming stronger and more present. Grave goods from a wealthy tomb show a prevalence of foreign objects, with companion ceramics made in southern Italy, and two beautiful bronze wine jugs from the Naples region. They are exquisite. A small ladle accompanied them, to dole out the wine. The museum also has the original coin from which Nimes has themed itself for centuries. A small coin, displaying the heads of Agrippa and Augustus on one side, and a crocodile and palm frond on the other. The palm is the palm of victory, the crocodile representing the conquest of Egypt at the Battle of Actium in 31BC, when Anthony and Cleopatra were vanquished. This decisive battle saw the transition from Roman Republic to Empire and the start of Augustus’ reign as Caesar. NEM COL written on the coin signifies that Nemausus had received colonial law. These symbols are still of great significance to the Nimois, and although the palm frond has now become a palm tree after some redesign over the years, the symbols can be found throughout the city, from decorative studs in the pavements, to bollards, public fountains and even in their confectionary. There are some rather lovely funeral stones from gladiators, who would have fought in the Arena. Gladiators were buried separately to the rest of the citizens, considered somewhat beneath the rest of them, so they had their own cemeteries. It is believed that Nimes had its own gladiator school, and although no concrete evidence for this has yet been found, inscriptions do point to there being one. It is possible to tell the type of gladiator by the code used on the inscriptions of the gravestone. For example, RET shows that the person was a Retiarius, a gladiator who fought with a net and trident, the lowliest of the gladiators who wasn’t even able to wear a helmet. MUR shows they were a Murmillo who fought wearing a helmet with a fish on the crest. In 2006, a large excavation was carried out on a strip of land, the Avenue Jean Jaurès, that was 400m long and 17m wide, as the city planners wanted to build an underground car park. This land was next to the Jardins de Fontaines and had been a promenade since the 18th century, preserving underneath it an amazing array of Roman remains. The archaeologists found paved streets, crossed with alleyways, houses with floors covered in mosaics, frescoes, statues and monuments. This was clearly a wealthy residential area of the city and produced some incredible finds. One find was a rectangular fountain of 12m², with a statue of Neptune lying next to it, probably fallen off a central plinth. A small hole at the base would have held a lead pipe for the water to flow from. This statue is now on display in the museum, and had consisted of 90 separate pieces when it was found. There is a short video of the archaeologists intensive work to reassemble it for exhibition in the museum. There is a stunning mosaic, dating from the end of the 2nd century BC, the Pentheus Mosaic, which is the star exhibit of the second floor of the museum, and has an elevated viewing platform to enable the visitor to look down on it. With medallions of theatrical masks, birds and personifications of the seasons, the central panel shows Pentheus being killed by his mother who mistook him for a wild animal, when she was under the influence of the cult of Bacchae. This is the only representation of this myth that has ever been found as a mosaic, as they were usually frescoes, and the style of mosaic was more common in northern Africa rather than Gaul, making this a rare find. On the wall of a separate area is an amazing Roman fresco from a private house, contained within a small room in the museum so the visitor can imagine how it would have looked in its original setting, with the correct room height and size. Multimedia graphics show how the whole would have looked, and then highlights the details in the images, to explain what they are and allow for a closer look. It is skillfully done and is absorbing to watch, standing in the semi-darkness looking at the fresco and seeing the details that you probably wouldn’t otherwise have noticed or understood their relevance. A Roman tombstone with a projection of people digging a grave by torchlight. Projections on the stone help the visitor to understand its purpose. This one is a gravestone. An inscription on a stone with a projection of Roman soldiers on it. This wording on this stone is of religious significance. The Museum has 75 mosaics in its collection, only 15 of which are currently on display, as well as over 1000 Latin inscriptions, making it the most important collection of Latin inscriptions outside Italy. A small handful of these are on display, a mixture of milestones, honorary, religious and funerary stones, some with small projections on them to show what their purpose was and to help the inscriptions to come alive. The museum then moves to the Medieval period, from the 10th – 15th centuries. In the latter part of this period, people had built inside the Roman Arena, with houses, two churches and even a castle inside its walls. These were all removed in the late 1700s, but some of the Medieval cornices, reliefs and blocks still remain and are now on display in the museum. There are a series of videos explaining how the Jardins de la Fontaine were developed in the 18th century, and how the Temple of Diana became a monastery after the Roman era. The last section of the museum is a look at the legacy of the Romans and how it has had an impact on more contemporary life. There are some incredibly detailed models of the Roman monuments, all made from cork by a local craftsmen, which were displayed at the Universal Exhibition of 1839. A planted roof terrace on the top of the building gives 360° views over the rooftops of the city, and is a peaceful place to walk or rest. The Arena is right next door, and in the distance, the Tour Magne can be seen on a hilltop. The museum has a cafe on the ground floor and a restuarant on the floor beneath this roof terrace. Called La Table Du 2, it serves meals prepared by a top chef and has indoor as well as outdoor seating. It is worth booking a table here for after your visit, to enjoy a meal with views over the Arena. VISITING LA MUSÉE DE LA ROMANITÉ Opening hours Open every day except Tuesday 1st April – 3rd November: 10am – 7pm 4th November – 31st March: 10am – 6pm Closed on some public holidays Ticket Prices Adults €8 Children aged 7-17 €3 Under 7’s visit for free Family tickets available Guided tours are available for an additional fee Good to Know The site is wheelchair and pushchair accessible. There is plenty for kids to do in the museum, with a wealth of interactive exhibits. One very popular item is a screen that dresses you in a toga, or with a Roman hairstyle, with people standing on a designated spot and seeing their image with the extra adornments. It is popular with visitors and looked to be great fun for all ages. The augmented reality exhibits are equally as fascinating, and the many screens and projections make this an ideal place for children. They can also do trails around the museum which can be picked up at the ticket desk.

  • MAISON CARRÉE – NÎMES

    The Maison Carrée is probably the best example left of a Roman temple, with a near perfect façade. 26m long, 15 m wide, 17m high and built of local limestone by Roman architects, the temple is a fine example of Vitruvian architecture. The temple is believed to have been built possibly around 19BC, commissioned by Marcus Agrippa during the reign of Augustus. Agrippa was the son-in-law to Augustus, and his two sons, Lucius and Gaius Caesar, were heirs to the Imperial Throne. The temple was re-dedicated in about 4-7 AD to the two sons, both of whom died at a young age, Lucius of a sudden fever at the age of 19, and Gaius of a sudden illness at the age of 24. Foul play was suspected in their deaths, with their step-mother a prime suspect as she wanted to promote her son Tiberius as the next successor, a plan in which she ultimately succeeded. Bronze letters had been affixed to the front of the temple. These were unfortunately removed in the Middle Ages, but in 1758, a local scholar, Jean-François Séguier, was able to recreate the wording, based on the holes left behind from where the letters had been affixed. “To Gaius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul; to Lucius Caesar, son of Augustus, Consul designate; to the princes of youth”. The Imperial Cult would have been worshipped at the temple, as part of the process of the Romans integrating the locals into becoming part of the Roman Empire. The temple is a classic example of a Tuscan style, with a high podium of 2.85m that has a single cella (inner chamber of a temple) at one end and a deep porch and steps at the other. Although it has been called Maison Carrée (Square House) since the 16th century, it is in fact rectangular. Carrée used to mean any rectangle that had 4 right angles. The porch is supported by free standing Corinithian columns, the cella is decorated with engaged columns (ones that are partially built into the wall). The fluted columns have design traits that were used from the Augustus period onwards. The capital was decorated with two rows of acanthus leaves, taking up two thirds of the bell shape – before this era it had only been a half. The decorated frieze is again covered with acanthus leaves, with the waves of foliage ending in bouquets. The architrave is also Corinthian, being divided up into three parts, separated by mouldings. There are noticeable stylistic differences in the mouldings, showing that although the whole design was planned, each team had differences in how they executed their work, and patterns vary from one block to the next. The cornice holds the roof, with ornate moulding projecting to ensure the rain doesn’t run down the walls. Decorations include rosette panels, egg and dart mouldings, ornate brackets, Greek key patterns and lion heads. The ceiling of the pronaos, or porch, is early 19th century, and the huge wooden door was built in 1824. Inside, the cella is completely empty, as the building has had many uses over the centuries, being in constant use from the 11th century. In the 11th century a chapel was added to the northern side, until it was destroyed in the Wars of Religion. In the 16th century it was a private house and subsequently changed owners several times. It was used as a hostel, stables and was even considered being used as a tomb. Until 1789 it was used as a church by Augustinian monks, becoming a depot and granary after the Revolution. For some time it was the headquarters for the prefecture of the Gard region, and the city archive until 1823, when it became a museum. The temple would have once sat in the heart of the economic, political, social and administrative heart of the Roman city, as a part of the forum. The Maison Carrée stood in the south eastern corner of the forum, facing another building which was probably the curia, the gathering place of the local senate, as the remains of marble decorated meeting rooms have been found in the Rue Auguste. The forum was a large square lined by porticoes and public buildings. It was built in two phases: the first was in the end of the 1st century BC with a public square, the latter with the construction of Maison Carrée. Archaeological excavations in the 1990s unearthed foundations of other buildings, two rectangular buildings where the Carrée d’Art now sits, as well as a residential area older than the forum. In 1923, when Norman Foster designed the Carrée d’Art opposite, he also opened up the square to create a modern day forum. Bronze circles in the ground now mark the location of the porticoes. The temple was restored in 2006 and returned to the gleaming white colour it once would have had, and is now a major tourist attraction. Inside, visitors can only watch a film about the history of the city, as all of its beauty is on the outside. It is surrounded by cafes and shops and is once again an integral part of the city. VISITING MAISON CARRÉE Opening hours January, February, November and December: 10am – 12:30 and 2pm – 4.30pm March and October: 10am – 6pm April, May and September: 9.30am - 6.30pm June: 9.30am - 7pm July and August: 9.30am - 8pm Ticket Prices Adults €6 Concessions and ages 7-17 €5 Children aged 7 free Entry is included with the Nîmes Pass.

  • THE HISTORY OF DENIM AT THE MUSÉE DE VIEUX NÎMES, FRANCE

    The Museum of Old Nîmes is near the cathedral, Notre Dame et Saint-Castor de Nîmes, in a central part of town. Housed in a 17th century Bishop’s Palace, this museum is a small one but well worth a visit, to see a side of Nîmes that came after the Romans. Set up in the 1920s, it was established to preserve artefacts from regional life in the city using everyday objects. The first room, a large room with a mosaic floor, is full of textiles from the region, as Nîmes was famous for its textile industry. A heavy wooden cupboard is filled with old, beautifully stitched covers spilling out, and nearby a chaise longue is draped in printed cotton with an Indian style pattern. This is a particular type of material, the origin of which dates back to the 16th century. The port of Marseille was starting to import many goods from the Indies at this time, including bright floral cotton. Known as Indiennes of Provences, this material maintained its colour due to the use of unalterable dyes, and swiftly became very popular due to its uniqueness – Europe at the time was used to wool and hemp for the poorest, silk and velvet for the richest. Local merchants began to copy the style, many of whom settled in Nîmes with its thriving textile industry. Using engraved wooden planks and copper patterned boards, originally used to produce the designs on playing cards, they created their own patterns which included sunflowers, lavender, mimosa and other southern France imagery. The room also has examples of the silk shawls for which Nîmes was once so well known. By the end of the 17th century, Nîmes was the third largest textile manufacturer, after Paris and Lyon, and their goods were exported across Europe. The next room takes us to the development of denim, the fabric that changed the face of the textile industry for ever. Using a combination of blue and white thread weaved in such a way that a diagonal pattern is formed, with only blue showing on one side and white on the reverse, serge de Nîmes was a material appreciated for its hard wearing properties. In America in 1870, a company run by Levi Strauss imported the material. A tailor called Jacob Davis had been asked to produce a pair of trousers that would survive vigorous activity for a local woodcutter, and made some from the denim he had in stock. He added rivets to reinforce the pockets, and soon was unable to keep up with demand from labourers in the region. He went into partnership with Levi Strauss, and the rest is history. The museum displays some of the earliest types of denim that were made in the region, along with its more modern variations, showing how it has changed since becoming a mass produced product. A large grand room, The Great Lounge, with is filled with typical Nîmes and Cevennes furnishings, including ceramics, pottery and a rather impressive bird cage. There is an annex which has three huge dowry chests in dark, carved wood with some elaborate scenes. The museum has regular temporary exhibitions, and while I visited there was one on 19th century tattoos. Based on photographs and studies conducted by the doctor of the local prison, Charles Perrier, this was a surprisingly fascinating look at early tattoos. Some are drawn with surprising finesse for the era, but the majority are rather basic drawings that yet prove to be very revealing, an in-depth look at what criminals chose to keep permanently drawn on their bodies in 1897. It was fascinating, and showed that although the quality of tattoo art may have improved over the years, the subject matter often remains the same It is a small museum, but well worth a visit to get a gentle look at old Nîmes. The museum is close to the cathedral, which is free to visit, so take the time to have a look at this too. Nearby is a large modern waterfall in a quiet square, or there is a larger square filled with cafes in which to sit in the sun and watch the world go by. Around the back of the museum, and free for all to enter, is a courtyard garden, Surrounded by cream stone walls, with a jasmine covered fountain in the centre, and huge blue pots providing a splash of colour, this is a lovely place to find some quiet shade for a while. The museum is included in the Nîmes City Pass. VISITING MUSÉE DE VIEUX NÎMES Opening Times Tuesday – Sunday: 10am – 6pm Ticket Prices Adult €5 Child and concessions €3

  • SARUM LIGHTS: RENAISSANCE AT SALISBURY CATHEDRAL

    The innovative Sarum Lights is returning to Salisbury Cathedral this week, an immersive show which fills the ancient medieval walls with sounds, lights and imagery, this time with the theme of the Renaissance. Created by Luxmuralis, a company which specialises in large scale installation artworks, it is a spectacular show which provides a whole new way of looking at the cathedral. Sarum Lights first debuted at Salisbury Cathedral in 2020, its walls filled with lights and music commissioned to celebrate 800 years since its founding. Visitors shuffled through in silent amazement, seeing the history of their city projected onto the medieval walls both inside and out, immersed in lights, colours and sound. The event proved to be a huge success and swiftly sold out. Last year saw Sarum Lights II: Heaven and Earth, and this year the theme is Renaissance, that time in history which marks the transition between medieval and modernity, a time of great change in society, culture and politics, which was also characterised by a creative explosion in literature, architecture and of course, art. Many will start their visit to Sarum Lights by watching the display on the west front, which starts with the slight scribble of an artist, rough painted lines which slowly transform into the stunning art of the Renaissance, snippets of which people may recognise. There are few complete works of art in the projection, it is mostly sections and parts of them which form a kaleidoscope of imagery through which the colours and faces of the era emerge - huge Renaissance eyes looking at you as they rise and fall over the west wall in a myriad of the rich reds, golds and blues of the art of that time. It is all accompanied by a soundtrack of atmospheric music, what I thought of as 'Renaissance Chillout', as above you the clouds race across the night sky and the moon and stars occasionally make a fleeting appearance. The normally monotone and silent grounds of the cathedral close at night are transformed into something vibrant, illuminated and entrancing. Inside the cathedral, the nave falls under a single image, emerging from the far end and growing in stature to encompass the whole area. It is most unusual to see the nave without any seating in it, just the font part way down, but the empty space is filled with colours, lights and images in abundance, many of them of maps, writing, and architectural plans highlighting the other cultural arts which were reborn during the Renaissance. The light bounces off the marble memorials, round the pillars and flashes off the recumbent tombs, focusing your attention on details that you may well miss on a normal day time visit. The north and south transepts are also filled with imagery and standing at the crossing of the nave and the north and south transepts gives you a visual down each path where you feel truly immersed in the experience, with the different images, colours and sounds reaching a crescendo as they surround you entirely. The Mona Lisa, da Vinci's Vitruvian Man and other iconic images flash to the sides of you, while in front is the huge kaleidoscope of colours, texts, drawings and patterns spreading across every surface. I spoke to Peter Walker, the artist behind Luxmuralis, to find out more about the installation and what the thought processes were behind its creation. Peter is a sculptor and artist, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, who has years of experience in large scale installations. He told me that the whole installation can take several months to put together, compiling the artwork and setting it to the musical compositions of the other creative half of Luxmuralis, David Harper, a composer who has worked in both film and theatre. They curate the imagery of the show to suit the space it is being displayed in, as although the show is debuting in Salisbury Cathedral, it will soon tour around other venues in the UK. Peter explained that the pictures are carefully chosen, "I don't like things to be proscriptive but there is a message in there for people to find if they know the artworks. They are picked to lead into one another ... we are creating a new artwork with them. This type of artwork is the stained glass window of the time, a new way to take people around buildings like this. In a fast moving world it stimulates the brain in the same way stained glass windows used to, it's just in a contemporary way for the modern audience." The Renaissance (French for re-birth) was selected as a theme as it replicates where Peter feels we need to be as a world culture - we need change and a rebirth of ideas. We need to think again and it is art, culture, science and religion which can drive this forward because we live in such a heavily commercial world. This sentiment is echoed by Revd Dr Kenneth Padley, the Canon Treasurer of Salisbury Cathedral. He told me that the Renaissance theme is very timely after the pandemic as just as in the 15th and 16th centuries, we need to celebrate life and to look at it anew. Churches are about breaking down the myth of science versus religion, "science is the language which God talks, and art is the creative expression of that." The cathedral itself is integral to the experience. As Peter explained, "We have a strange fixed idea of faith, yet it is actually very complex. These buildings have seen hundreds of years of history, philosophy, thought and change and they are still a part of that. Putting artwork on the cathedral walls adds to that discourse." Revd Dr. Padley agrees, as Salisbury Cathedral has a strong association with art, particularly modern art, which goes back some decades, from the installation of the modern stained glass east window in the 1980s, to the recent exhibition of Grayson Perry tapestries which were displayed in the cathedral over the summer, the first time they were ever displayed in a religious setting. "Modern and contemporary art stretches people's thinking and can encompass the whole of the building. It tells a story using the big themes of creativity and modernity." The display is not just about the cathedral but also the participants. Peter explained, "We often say one third of the installation is the building, one third is the art and then we need the public to come in and fill it in. Walking through the light; it goes on your body, your clothes, the people in front of you are immersed in it and you are really part of that." There is no need to know anything about the Renaissance to enjoy the experience. Some of the visitors may enjoy spotting works of art they recognise, others will look at it just for the beauty of being immersed in the light and colour, an appreciation of being a part of the palette. Everything is on a loop so people can take as long as they want to just stand or to walk through it. Visiting Sarum Lights is a unique and unforgettable experience and I very much hope that it will become a regular feature in the cathedral's event calendar. It takes place when the days are short and the nights are long, providing much needed light and vitality to an otherwise dark and gloomy time in the year. As the Rev Dr Padley said, "Sarum Lights works well as a prequel to the Christmas themes of light and darkness - it is a pivotal time of year with the winter solstice when the light declines and hope starts to grow. The cathedral is there to welcome people from the whole community." Sarum Lights Renaissance runs from 8th - 12th November Book tickets on the Salisbury Cathedral website>> Find out more about Luxmuralis >> My thanks to Peter Walker and Revd Dr. Kenneth Padley for talking to me about the installation.

  • THE ROYAL ARTILLERY MUSEUM AT LARKHILL

    The contents of the Royal Artillery Museum are currently in storage across three sites in the UK while they wait for a new site to be built near Larkhill in Wiltshire, the HQ of the Royal Artillery. Some of the collection is in storage in Larkhill, which is occasionally opened up to the public. Heritage Open Days are great opportunities for visiting places and buildings that are generally closed to the public, with the additional advantage of being free - although donations are always welcome. One such is the Royal Artillery Museum or, more accurately, as our guide described it, the Royal Artillery Storeroom. These three hangars on Wood Road, Larkhill, are temporary storage for the smaller items of the collection while it, along with the Library and Archives, search for a new site within a range of 5 kilometres of the Headquarters of Royal Artillery. It’s a fascinating tour as it combines the history of the existing site, the story of the Royal Regiment and the development of some of its smaller hardware through the ages. From the outside the three hangars seem exceptionally dull – standing somewhat broodingly and unobtrusively among what is now the leafy residential quarters of Larkhill’s army officers. However, you quickly learn that these hangars are themselves hugely significant, now Grade II* listed, as the oldest surviving aircraft hangars in Europe. They have been here since 1910, built for the Larkhill Flying Ground when the War Office – somewhat reluctantly - agreed to use this area of Salisbury Plain to test out the new, and rather dubious, machines designed for aerial observation in warfare. From 1910 – 1914 this site operated as a military airfield and played a significant part in the birth of military aviation in Britain. After 1914 it was no longer used as an airfield. Instead, military encampments filled the site as Salisbury Plain became part of the training programme for soldiers destined for the trenches of the Great War. In 1916 the School of Artillery moved from Shoeburyness to Larkhill and in 2007 the HQ of the Royal Artillery moved entirely from Woolwich to Larkhill. The museum began in 1778 when George III decided there should be a repository of military machines for training. The focus of the collection was always education and technical understanding, and it is still the case today. The first hangar contains “small” items – anything up to the 25 pounders - from the 1700s to World War II. It is cleverly designed within in its limited space to show the development of 250 years of artillery. There were constant challenges as the technology evolved – the need to balance greater firepower with increased battlefield mobility, to improve accuracy while lengthening the range and speeding up the rate of fire. There is a field gun from the late 1700s of the type used in the Napoleonic Wars, much along the lines of old medieval cannon, loaded from the muzzle. An early 19th century gun introduced the rifle bore and was loaded from the breech thus improving range and accuracy. Further pieces show the change to a metal rather than a wooden carriage and the invention of a pneumatic recoil system which returned the barrel to the original firing position. Rather poignantly, there are three field guns from the Great War in a row – French, German and British. By 1936 the guns were almost entirely mechanised and there are pieces from WWII which our guide noted would still be largely recognisable by the gunners of Wellington’s army. Also in this area is a 13 pounder – the type now used by King’s Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, on ceremonial occasions. This one is a gun carriage which has been used for the funerals of royalty. There is also a “pack gun” – an artillery piece that can be dismantled and reassembled in the field – the particular piece on display was dropped at Arnhem in 1944. There are some interesting display cases – our guide stressed that this is a living collection with donations regularly being made from ex-gunners, their families and various institutions. One case dedicated to Viscount Allenbrooke contains keys from Hitler’s bunker in Berlin and part of the map table from the Potsdam Conference of 1945. In the second hangar there is a somewhat makeshift screen erected among the boxes and packing cases storing some of the many items that can’t yet be displayed. Here you can see very early slides of these hangars and the aircraft that – astonishingly, given their flimsy structure - flew from them. From here in 1912, sadly, two pilots, Captain Eustace Loraine and Staff-Sergeant Richard Wilson, crashed nearby while flying a Nieuport monoplane. They have the unhappy distinction of being the first members of the newly formed Royal Flying Corps to lose their lives while flying on duty. The Airmen’s Cross memorial to them is now part of the Stonehenge Heritage site. There are more guns stored here, some of them Indian and Asian guns, some captured guns including a triple bore field gun captured at Malplaquet in 1709. King Thibaw’s Burmese Dragon Gun from the end of the 18th century is particularly impressive – its barrel designed to instil fear in the enemy rather than fire at them. Napoleon III’s present to Queen Victoria is a large artillery piece, demonstrating the high status and power of artillery in the 19th century. A huge army of volunteers works behind the scenes at this museum – answering historical or regimental inquiries, dismantling, cleaning and reassembling equipment, cataloguing and archiving new material. Several work as guides – all of them enthusiastic, knowledgeable and informative. It may take a further 4 – 5 years before the new Royal Artillery Museum opens its doors – but, in the meantime, these three historic hangars and their staff are doing an excellent job of keeping the story of the British Army’s artillery alive. Visiting the Royal Artillery Museum As the museum is currently in storage, you can only see it on their open days. Follow them on Facebook and Heritage Open Days to see when the open days are coming up.

  • CARL HONORÉ ON SLOW TRAVEL

    Award winning writer Carl Honoré is often referred to as the Godfather of Slow, with his 2004 best-selling book In Praise of Slow introducing the world to the Slow Movement. He has recently turned his attention to Slow Travel, writing a wonderful children's book to open their eyes to the possibilities and adventures that can be had when you travel slow. We are honoured that Carl has written an article exclusively for us at Slow Travel. Bedtime stories are meant to be read at a gentle pace. But I was way too fast to slow down with the Brothers Grimm. So I zoomed through the classic fairy tales, skipping lines, paragraphs, entire pages. My version of Snow White was so fast it had just three dwarves in it. “What happened to Grumpy?” my son would ask. My wake-up call came when I caught myself ogling a collection of 'one-minute bedtime stories'. Think Snow White in 60 seconds. Thankfully, I never bought the fast fables. I did the opposite: Reader, I slowed down. And I'm not alone. Across the world, people are waking up to the folly of turning every moment into a race against the clock. They're fed up with rushing through life instead of living it. And they find that slowing down is the best way to do everything better and enjoy it more. This is especially true for travel. Too often, travel is ruined by the four horsemen of the modern apocalypse: Stress. Impatience. Distraction. Busyness. When you move too fast through the world, you miss the small details and fine grain that make each place thrilling and unique. You visit places without really experiencing them – and then return home more tired than when you left. When you slow down, travel levels up. You start noticing things. You connect with people. You experience the world in all its richness and wonder. When you slow down, you create Proustian memories that last a lifetime. That's why the Slow travel movement is growing…fast! Let's get one thing clear up front, though: traveling Slow does not mean doing everything at a snail's pace. That would be absurd. Sometimes a little speed and adrenaline are just what the doctor ordered. A Slow vacation can feature yoga on the beach or swinging in a hammock. But it can also include bungee jumping and white-water rafting. What matters is not how fast the activity is but how you approach it. Because Slow travel is ultimately a mindset. It means being present, curious and alive to the moment. Plugging into local culture. Treading lightly on the planet. Sometimes it just means stopping and staring. Slow Travel is a godsend for children. It opens the mind. Makes you stronger and happier. Teaches you about the world and yourself. Brings you closer to other people. Many of my fondest childhood memories come from the Slow traveling we did as a family: Biting into a juicy peach plucked from a tree in the Okanagan Valley. Swimming in the clear, warm waters of the Indian Ocean. Racing my little brother up the Eiffel Tower. I wrote It's The Journey not the Destination to introduce children and parents to the joys of Slow travel. To inspire them to see the world as a giant playground to explore and savour in your own time. That's why the 40 voyages in the book are all on slower forms of transport: bike, boat, train, your own two feet. When you stop dashing to your destination, getting there becomes part of the fun. Like walking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Or gliding down the Mississippi River in a steamboat. Or cycling round the Baltic Sea en route to regal Riga. I hope It's The Journey will also show children that the best voyages often happen in your imagination, that you can travel anywhere on a magic carpet of words and pictures. Even if you never cycle the Silk Road or paddle round the Galápagos Islands, reading about such adventures can drop you right in the middle of them. Slow travel can even ennoble the most humble journey. Starting with your local park or even your own garden. Because when you travel 'Slow', when you show up with a calm and curious mind, any journey can be a balm for the soul and a banquet for the senses. In my own family, we are firm fans of Slow travel. So much of our highlight reel was minted by spending time together in new places. And though I have done many memorable things with children all over the world, my happiest memories are made up of simple, slow moments: lingering over a lazy meal, playing in the pool, gazing up at the stars. And don't worry about kids getting bored without a packed schedule. What bores children is rushing around on someone else's timetable. Mae West once said: "Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly." This is true of bedtime stories: Trust me, Snow White is way better with all seven dwarves. And it's definitely true of travel. You can read more from Carl on his website Read our review of It's the Journey not the Destination

  • CHOLERA, CORONAVIRUS AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS: SALISBURY'S SECRET HISTORY OF CONTAGION

    To many people, Salisbury has only ever been famous for its middle-England attractions - a pleasant medieval town just off the A303 between London and the summer delights of the West Country. Known for having the tallest spire in England, its proximity to Stonehenge, people wearing barbours and voting Conservative for the past 100 years, Salisbury has always personified sleepy middle-England. All of that changed in 2018 when two Russian agents visited the city, spread Novichok on a door handle and unleashed a chain of events which saw the death of a resident, severe illness in others and the city shut down and in turmoil for months. The peaceful town was thrust into the international limelight, with news crews arriving from around the world, helicopters circling overhead, half of the city boarded up and politicians talking more about the city in a week than they had done in the city's lifetime. Visitors stopped coming and school children were taught to never pick anything up from the ground unless they had dropped it - an edict which is still in place four years later. For many, it was the first time they had heard of Salisbury, and to them it will forever be associated with Russian chemical weapons, but the city actually has a history of contagions which goes back to long before the Russians arrived with their wretched poison. Salisbury and Cholera: a press blackout, an unsung hero and the creation of Salisbury Museum Cholera arrived in England from the East in 1831, a bacterial disease spread through contaminated water which causes acute dehydration and diarrhea. There were several cholera epidemics across the country, and in Salisbury cholera reached its peak in 1849, when 1300 people were treated at the infirmary and 192 people died in the city in the space of just 2 months, more than any other English city of the same size. The reason for this was the water courses which ran through the city. When Salisbury was built in the 13th century, it was constructed on a chequers system with five streets running east to west and six streets running north to south. The River Avon ran southwards and hatches could be opened so that the water would then flow west to east through specially constructed channels along the centre of most city streets and then feed back into the Avon. These provided water and drainage to most of the city. Salisbury acquired the name of the English Venice, but by the 17th century they were just filthy, disease-laden open sewers. Celia Fiennes (1685) described the streets of Salisbury as, “not so clean or so easy to pass in”, and Daniel Defoe went further, commenting in 1748 that, “the streets were always dirty and full of wet, filth, and weeds, even in summer”. A programme of improvement had been started in 1737 of moving the channels to one side, making brick beds for them, and bridges for pedestrians. Although this may have removed some of the visible unpleasantness, it did not tackle the unseen contamination. At the time, it was unknown that cholera was transmitted through infected water, and the residents of Salisbury in 1849 could not understand why the disease seemed to be no respecter of class, with the wealthy residents of the Cathedral Close as likely to fall ill as the poorest living in the slums. In fact nine residents of the Close died, including Dr. Richard Brassey Hole, who worked at the Infirmary during the epidemic. He died at the age of 30, and there is a plaque to him in Salisbury Cathedral. The local paper, The Salisbury Journal, took it upon itself to hide the true nature of the epidemic. They first reported the outbreak in July 1849, saying that '20 grains of opiate of confection and a little peppermint water’ would cure it, as well as staying calm, because fear of the disease could cause it. Only a week later, they reported that the disease was 'thankfully abating'. However, data collected by Thomas Rammell for the subsequent inquest showed that the number of deaths was continuing to climb, and a local glazier recorded making 60 coffin plates in just a week. The lists of people who had died continued to grow in the Journal, but with no cause of death attributed. By August however, the game was up, and the national newspaper, The Times, reported the correct number of deaths and that the wealthy were fleeing the city. The Journal confessed its omission, saying that they believed the subject was 'too painful' for its readers. It was another resident of the Cathedral Close, surgeon Dr. Andrew Bogle Middleton, who determined that the disease was being spread through the water courses. ‘Salisbury, which receives . . . all the waters of Wiltshire' has suffered five times its usual mortality, and that ‘the localities which have suffered most severely in this part of the country are situated on the banks of rivers. Wilton, Salisbury, Downton and Fordingbridge are instances of this and these cases confirm the theory of the propagation of the disease by the rivers’. Middleton believed so strongly that the epidemic was due to the canals, that he undertook to introduce a new system of water-supply and drainage. His proposals were met with fierce opposition, and the Mayor would not allow the Board of Health inspector, Thomas Rammell, to hold his inquiry in the Guildhall, where inquiries had always been held. It was eventually held in the Assembly Rooms, and provided a detailed, grisly account of Salisbury's inadequate sanitation. The results of Rammell’s enquiry were published in 1851, endorsing everything that Dr. Middleton had said, and gradually the channels were drained, sewers were built and a piped water supply established. The last channel to be filled, in 1875, was the deepest one in New Canal. This is commemorated by the Blue Plaque which is on the wall of the building which was once the Salisbury Assembly Rooms (but is now Waterstones), in New Canal. In 1864, Middleton presented his paper, “The Benefits of Sanitary Reform as Shown at Salisbury in Nine Years Experience Thereof” to The British Association for the Advancement of Science” at Bath in 1864 (which you can read here). Middleton's insistence that cholera was spread through water, and his determination to remove all of the open water courses in the city, predates the official and famous discovery of the transmission of cholera by John Snow in London, who worked out the connection between a water pump handle (which you can see in the Museum of London) and an epidemic in 1854. On a side note, and for the benefit of historians, when the water channels were filled in, centuries worth of discarded and lost detritus was removed from the water by the workmen. It was Dr. Middleton who wrote a letter to the Salisbury Journal suggesting Salisbury should have a museum. The letter was answered by 95 year old Dr. Fowler, who funded and worked with Dr. Middleton to set up the museum in 1861, with the Drainage Collection being the start of it all. It has over 1300 items, some of which are on display in the current museum. Dr. Fowler also has a blue plaque, on the outside of the old St. Ann Street Museum, but without Andrew Middleton it might never have happened. There is a plaque and a stained glass window dedicated to Andrew Middleton in Salisbury Cathedral. Salisbury and the Coronavirus (Common Cold) In 1942, the Red Cross set up a field hospital in Salisbury suburb Harnham as a blood transfusion centre for allied troops. After the war in 1946, the Common Cold Unit was set up by the Medical Research Council on the site of that former military hospital. Under the direction of Dr. Andrewes, research into the coronavirus was carried out. Volunteers would stay for up to a fortnight, with it being sold to them as a different type of holiday. They lived in fully equipped flats with three hot meals a day, books and board games and sports facilities on site: many would return year after year. Infected with a cold virus on their arrival unless they were part of the control group, they were closely monitored for all sorts of symptoms including nasal stuffiness, face ache, extra hours in bed and how many tissues they had used. (You can find details on all of the forms they were sent when they registered) Significant advances in research were made and they proved that over 100 different viruses and rhinoviruses were responsible for the common cold. In 1965 they discovered the coronavirus which they named as such because the virus particles had what looked like a crown on them. They also studied transmission and infection rates and research conducted there was also integral to later work on HIV. The unit closed in 1989 and a housing estate was built on the site. A plaque (photo coming soon) at the entrance commemorates the 20,000 volunteers who helped with the research, the medical staff and nurses who cared for them. Salisbury and Chemical Weapons: A secret biological warfare centre The infamous Porton Down, a highly secretive research base just outside Salisbury, was opened in 1916 to test chemical weapons as a response to the German use of chlorine and mustard gas during World War I. From a few small farm buildings and huts back then, it is now a vast 'science park' near the village of Porton. Over the years their remit changed to include research on all sorts of chemical and biological weapons, much of which is top secret. Highly controversial and subject to all sorts of rumours and conspiracy theories, many of which were later proved to be true, the base holds some of the world's most dangerous pathogens including Anthrax, Sarin gas, Ebola and of course, Novichok. It is not a place that can ever be visited, hidden behind secure fencing in the middle of Porton Down, and even people who work there are kept in the dark about all but their own projects. It is just something that the people of Salisbury accept as a sinister but quiet presence on their doorstep. Salisbury and Chemical Weapons: Novichok On 4th March 2018, many of us locals were listening to local radio, Spire FM, and heard a news headline of two people found fitting and frothing on a bench in a Salisbury shopping centre. Initially we thought it might be drug addicts, that one of the awful new drugs had found its way to our peaceful city. As the days progressed however, we soon became aware that it was much bigger than that, that former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, who had been living peacefully in Salisbury, had been targeted by Putin and his henchmen for being a double agent working for MI6 many years before. Helicopters started circling overhead, news crews appeared, parts of the city were being closed down and boarded up. Word spread of a major incident at the hospital, that others were contaminated by the mystery poison. We all avoided the city centre and wouldn't let our kids go there, with the new edict being drilled into them 'if you didn't drop it, don't pick it up' by schools and parents alike. There were people in white hazmat suits and masks everywhere, conspiracy theories spread rapidly - were the scientists at Porton Down testing their chemical weapons on the local population, was it a 'false flag' operation and just how many Russian ex-spies were living amongst us? Local pub The Bishops Mill was boarded up as was Zizzi's restaurant, the bench they had been found on was completely removed, the duck and swan population of the city vanished entirely, apparently killed in case they transmitted the contagion (four years on they still haven't returned in the same numbers as before). Just when things seemed to be settling down, the news broke about the death of a resident who had unwittingly sprayed Novichok on her wrists from a perfume bottle found in Elizabeth Gardens or maybe from a skip in the town centre. More areas were boarded up, with the park off limits for months and months. CCTV footage showed the two Russian spies who had brought such carnage to our city; they were paraded on Russian TV saying they were tourists who had just visited the cathedral, quoting the height of the spire as if to prove it. Salisbury has become famous across the world for this latest incident in its history of contagion. You can see people posing outside the window of the restaurant where the Skripals dined, taking selfies on the spot where the bench once sat and even asking where they can find the house where it all started (we don't tell them). You can however visit some of the other sights connected with all of Salisbury's unique history which are on the map below. Sources: https://salisburyhealthcarehistory.uk/harvard-hospital-common-cold-unit/ https://www.balh.org.uk/_resources/presentation/ten-minute/salisbury-in-the-age-of-cholera-notes.pdf https://www.balh.org.uk/_resources/presentation/ten-minute/salisbury-in-the-age-of-cholera.pdf https://salisburymuseum.wordpress.com/2021/04/27/more-on-ab-middleton-by-volunteer-mary-crane/ https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_England_showing_prevalence_of_cholera,_1849_Wellcome_L0039174.jpg https://www.jstor.org/stable/2338615?seq=1

  • THE OUTCAST DEAD OF CROSSBONES GRAVEYARD

    Not far from the high rises going up near the Shard is a nondescript piece of land in Southwark, walled off with softening bricks and an iron fence covered in streams of ribbons. A small rusting plaque with a picture of a goose is attached to one of the walls, saying that local people have created a memorial to the 'outcast dead' who were buried in this plot of land. This is Crossbones Graveyard, where 15,000 people were buried in unconsecrated ground - the paupers, prostitutes and children who all lived and died in terrible conditions in this now prosperous but once desolate area of medieval London. The Shard towers over Southwark, the tallest building in the UK and home to businesses, restaurants, a 5 star hotel and the highest viewing gallery, The View from the Shard. Here tourists can drink champagne and admire the views for miles across the city, oblivious to what lies at their feet. This area was once one of the most lawless parts of London where paupers, debtors and unfortunate women lived and worked. Southwark was home to the pleasure grounds of London with theatres, bear baiting, prostitution and licentiousness all banned within the city but permitted here. Scurvy, cholera, syphilis ran rampant and life was hard and short. Many of these outcasts were buried in what is now called Crossbones Graveyard, a fascinating and eclectic garden which is open to visitors. A Brief History of Crossbones Graveyard In the 12th century the Bishop of Winchester was granted ownership over part of the Hide of Southwark on the south of the River Thames, an area known as the Liberty of the Clink. Outside the city boundaries, both physical and legal, the Bishops of Winchester held enormous power across the south of the country and this was the part of the diocese where they had their London base. They built Winchester Palace, which you can still see the remains of today, and the notorious prison, known as The Clink, ruling their area with a rod of iron and making as much money as they could from it and its inhabitants. Henry II instigated 39 rules signing into law his Ordinances Touching the Government of the Stewholders in Southwark Under the Direction of the Bishop of Winchester. These were all a way of extracting as much money as possible from residents, but also offered the women some degree of protection, leading to them becoming known as 'Winchester Geese'. Laws included: 5) Quarterly searches of every brothel must be carried out to ensure no woman is imprisoned there against her will. If any such woman is found, Bishop's officers must escort her safely out of the Liberty. 11) No brothel-keeper to knowingly accept a nun or another man's wife as one of his whores without permission from the Bishop's officials. Fine: 12 pence. 30) No brothel-keeper to accept any whore he knows is pregnant. No whore to work while pregnant. Fine: 20 shillings (for the brothel-keeper); 6 shillings and 8 pence (for the whore). 32) No brothel-keeper to let any whore work on his premises if he knows she has "the burning sickness" (possibly gonorrhoea). Fine: 20 shillings. For all his protection however, the women were still not permitted to be buried in holy ground, they were to be used for financial gain and then discarded in unconsecrated land. The area was notorious for its overcrowded slums, with deadly illnesses widespread, and women did not survive such conditions for long. By 1598 the land was referred to as the 'Single woman's graveyard'. During the Protectorate, Cromwell closed down the theatres, bearpits and brothels in the area and in 1708 the land was leased to St. Saviour's Parish, who later that century built charitable schools on part of the land. By the end of the 18th century, body snatching was rife with men digging up bodies and taking them away for medical experimentation. By this time, the burial ground was for all of the paupers resident in the area, not just the 'single women'. In 1845, a Mariane Gwilt complained to the Board of Health: “From the windows of the room called the School room we have all this sickly Summer almost daily witnessed the most distressing sights; our remonstrances are vain – in the bone house with its open grating which is not more than eight or ten yards from five of our windows we have during these last fatal six weeks had sometimes as many as from three to nine bodies lying in their shells [coffins] at a time for days (as many as ten days) in the aforesaid one house close under our windows. ... On another occasion three or four weeks since the body of a man who had drowned himself at Blackfriars Bridge was brought down here and allowed to lie in its shell ten days when the body was washed with a mop and pailsful of water and the shell again washes out and all the filthy liquid and shavings and grass thrown under our windows his clothes lie there at this time I am writing and whilst he lay’d there the bodies of two children who had died of the Cholera was left in this dead house…”, [Graveyard London and forgotten burial grounds. Robert Bard 2008:116)]. The site was closed to burial in 1853, having been described as being 'completely overcharged with dead'. The final body was that of Sarah Fleming aged 36, who was buried on 31st October 1853. A year later, Brookwood Cemetery opened, with the introduction of the London Necropolis Railway taking bodies and mourners out to Surrey for burial. Over the subsequent years, the burial ground has fought off several potential developments including a funfair, warehousing, housing and full scale construction. The schools were demolished in 1930 and it wasn't until 1991 with the expansion of the London Underground that archaeological excavations were conducted by the Museum of London, who removed 148 skeletons which they said was just 1% of what was there. You can see some of what they found on their website; bones all riddled with syphilis, cholera, scurvy, rickets, osteoarthritis and dental decay. All burials were in coffins lying east to west and facing upright, which showed that attempts had been made to respect the dead, despite the contempt from the church. In 1996 a local writer, John Constable, who knew nothing about the history of that site, said he had a 'vision' in which the secret of the Crossbones were revealed to him. He felt compelled to walk to the area, once he got there he started singing: And well we know how the carrion crow doth feast in our Crossbones graveyard He researched the site, uncovered its history and this led him to write a series of plays called the 'Southwark Mysteries', which have been performed across the area including in The Globe and Southwark Cathedral. Every year a drama was performed on the site where John Constable (in his shamanistic persona of John Crow) performed rituals to honour the 'Goose and her Outcast Dead', until 2019 when he retired to Glastonbury. In 2004 he established the Friends of Crossbones to campaign against all of the threats of development and in 2011 they were able to lease the land to keep it safe from building and to open it as a public garden. In 2015 on the Feast Day of St Mary Magdalene, the land was finally consecrated and received the Church's blessing in an Act of Regret, Remembrance and Restoration. The public garden was created by bringing in soil so that no bones were disturbed and any that had previously been uprooted were reburied in a special ceremony. The garden is run by volunteers and is only open when they are available. A Visit to Crossbones The garden is an eclectic jumble of memento mori amidst a profusion of plants. Skulls, shrines and statues are scattered throughout the grounds, painted wooden discs of women's faces hang on small trees, small coffins filled with twigs are insect homes and huge bushes of rosemary for remembrance compete with delicate poppies growing through the cracks. Apple trees, firs, hollyhocks, towering thistles all haphazardly fill the garden, there is no formal planting here, creating a haven for wildlife in this incredibly urban location, one where you can see the trains passing overhead. A large sculpture emerges from the flowers, coated with oyster shells found amongst the rubble, leftovers from old meals, now the food of the wealthy but once the food of the poor. The iron fence along the west side of the garden is covered with ribbons and strips of coloured cloth, much of it faded from the sun but still all defiantly fluttering in the breeze. Posters and banners hang around the edges and handwritten scraps of paper overlap each other, some with a photo, others just a scrawled name, as people add dedications to their own, more recent, 'lost souls'. A weathered statue of the Virgin Mary is surrounded by untied chains with padlocks open; a woman set free. On the walls, the ground, amongst the trees and plants are jars of candles and flowers, coins, little statues of geese, skulls, skeletons, hearts, feathers, pretty stones; a whole assortment of offerings which individually mean something to the person who put them there, collectively they form a garden of remembrance from every belief system you can think of. A crow has been painted on a rusting sheet of corrugated iron, near it is a small wooden plaque saying, 'For all suicides' with some hand written names written into the wood below. Everything is in varying stages of decay, layer upon layer of fading colours, crumbling wood, disappearing names, as they all return to the land, the monuments as temporary as the people they commemorate. The garden seems to be an ever changing spectacle, with new additions arriving all the time. A relatively recent addition is the entrance way, a wooden covered pergola which winds round to near the centre of the garden, known as The Goose's Wing. "In Remembrance of the Winchester Geese, the paupers, infants and outcasts of the Borough and Bankside whose mortal remains are buried here." La Catrina is another recent arrival - a statue donated by a Mexican Ambassador. La Catrina is the key symbol of the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations, and is a central part of Mexican imagery and culture. In recent years, La Catrina imagery has spread out of Latin America across the globe, being included in James Bond films and can now even be found as Halloween decorations in British supermarkets. The statue sits in an enclave, a delicate veil hanging over it, fitting in perfectly with the varied memorials from across the globe. My personal favourites were the Japanese Mizuko Jizo, which translates as water-child Buddhas. These are small statues which look like babies, representing a dead baby or fetus lost through miscarriage. For many parents, losing a child early on means that they get no funeral, no rite of passage, no acknowledgement even of their loss, and these Mizuko Jizo are there to represent that loss. In Japan they are given red knitted bonnets to wear and offerings such as bottles of baby milk, and the ones in Crossbones are no different, each wearing a hand-made small hat, shawl or necklace. Their peaceful and serene little faces peer out from the vivid green ivy which has been allowed to wrap around and climb up them, making a very picturesque setting for these tiny statues. As so many miscarriages go unnamed and unacknowledged, Crossbones seems like the perfect place for them. It is a wonderful, peaceful place; a place of history, sadness and solace and above all, singularity, I don't think there is anywhere else in the country quite like it. I was a born a Goose of Southwark by the grace of Mary Ovarie* whose bishop gives me license to sin within the Liberty. In Bankside stews and taverns you can hear me honk right daintily, as I Unlock the hidden door, unveil the secret history. I will dunk you in the river and then reveal my mystery For I am the Mistress Southwark am the daughter of eternity and in me the broken man shall be made whole. Poem from The Southwark Mysteries by John Constable *You can read about Mary Ovarie on our article about the nearby Ferryman's Seat Visiting Crossbones Graveyard Address: Union St, London SE1 1SD w3w: shirts.twig.window They usually open between 12-2 on certain days each week but this can vary considerably as it is only open when volunteers are available. Look on their website - you can always email them for confirmation to see if they will be open if you are making a special journey to see it. The site is free to visit but please do leave a donation.

  • STAYING IN UNIVERSITY ROOMS

    In recent years, universities have cottoned on the fact that when their halls of residences are empty of students during the long university holidays, they can rent those rooms out to travellers as budget holiday accommodation. They are the perfect places for Slow Travellers who get centrally located rooms, a cheap price and the knowledge that they making good use of empty space rather than contributing to an increase in hotels or the socially damaging Airbnb's which can decimate neighbourhoods. At Slow Travel we have stayed in several of these, and here we rank our favourites. How it works Students, particularly first years, tend to stay in university accommodation, otherwise known as Halls of Residence. These are only ever for one year, and as universities have shorter academic years than schools, this leaves their Halls empty from June - October or thereabouts, after one year has moved out and the next year is yet to move in. Occasionally the universities will use the rooms for summer schools or conferences, but most of the time the rooms sit empty. With the infrastructure already in place, it is easy for them to rent these out to holiday makers. They work just like a normal hotel, with many providing a full breakfast, and as most student accommodation these days has en suites, they are far more comfortable than you probably expect. Some rooms will be a modern magnolia painted room with a basic bed, desk and shelves, others can be a self-contained flat with a kitchen in a venerable and ancient institution - it all depends on the university. You can find which universities rent out rooms with a basic google search, or look at UniversityRooms.com. Some even advertise on Booking.com. Advantages of University rooms They are cheap and can cost as little as £30 per night for a room with an ensuite Most big cities have universities or colleges, and the student accommodation tends to be in the centre - giving you access to all of the main attractions of the city by foot, no cars or public transport required. All rooms tend to have desks, shelves and plenty of power points for laptops They can give you a unique way of experiencing the place you are staying in, seeing sights that other visitors will not get the chance to see. This is particularly beneficial in places like Oxford and Cambridge, where you can explore the college you are staying in, usually a beautiful and ancient building with extensive grounds. You are making good use of empty space and not putting any additional burden on the infrastructure of a city. Many of these halls use their additional income to keep prices low for the students. Disadvantages of University Rooms Obviously not all cities/towns have universities so you are limited as to where you can go using them. You are very unlikely to find a TV in your room, but there many be a common room where you can watch one, and they will certainly have the power points required for laptops. They are no-frills accommodation - don't expect luxury, silk sheets or bathrobes. The paintwork will be chipped, the beds may be iron single beds with simple duvets and pillows, the walls may be thin. They rarely provide parking, as first year students do not take cars to university with them. Some will not allow children to stay in the rooms. As far as I am concerned, the advantages far outweigh any disadvantages, and the slight thrill of never quite knowing what you are going to get makes a trip far more exciting than just staying in some bland hotel. St. John's College, Cambridge Absolutely the best accommodation we have stayed in, even compared to hotels. The college is over 500 years old and has extensive grounds of immaculate manicured lawns, walled gardens and a river running through it. St. John's is home to the Cambridge Bridge of Sighs, one of the most recognisable landmarks in the city, and as a staying guest, you get to be one of the few people who can walk over it. We had a two bedroom flat with a small kitchen and views over the city on one side and the college on the other. One of the rooms had a fireplace, a small blackboard, armchair and all sorts of nooks and crannies. We were in easy walking distance to other colleges, restaurants, museums and other attractions of the city. The porters were just how you imagine college porters to be, and one morning we even saw the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, walking past us on his way to a service, black gowns billowing out behind him. We absolutely loved our stay there. What you get: Breakfast included, free Wifi, bar on site Book your stay: St. John's College, Cambridge >> St. Hugh's College, Oxford Alma Mater of ex Prime Minister Teresa May, Emily Wilding Davidson and Amal Clooney, St. Hugh's may not be a traditional Oxford college with a quad, but is nonetheless one of the largest colleges in the city with extensive grounds. Unusually for Oxford, parking is possible on site. Rooms can be in the older parts of the building where you share a bathroom, or in the more modern part which gives you an en suite. There are 14 acres of gardens which even have a croquet lawn. Breakfast is included in the price. Located in the north of the city it is best to get a bus, but it is only a 15 minute ride to the centre with all of its many attractions. The rooms are simple but have everything you need. What you get: On site parking, breakfast included Book your stay: St. Hugh's College Oxford >> Bankside House, London School of Economics The best thing about Bankside House was its location - just behind the Tate Modern, on the banks of the Thames and central to all of the major London attractions. There are countless shops and restaurants within an easy walk and it was also just a short walk to Waterloo which suited us perfectly for trains. The room was basic and the walls paper thin, but it had everything we needed - except a fan. We stayed in the middle of a heatwave and you can't open the windows more than an inch, so we did suffer a bit with that, but otherwise it was fine. They serve a huge buffet breakfast in the dining room each morning where you can have a fully cooked breakfast as well as fruit and pastries. There is a room where you can leave luggage before you check in or after you check out which is guarded by an attendant and which was really helpful. What you get: Breakfast included, luggage storage Book your stay: LSE Bankside House >> University of Bath, Somerset The Bath halls we stayed in the centre of town no longer seem to be open to the public, but they do still open several of their halls on their Claverton Down campus. The campus is 200 acres of landscaped grounds and also includes a fitness centre which you can use for an additional cost. It is just a five minute bus journey to the city - the University runs its own bus service which departs every 20 minutes. The city is packed with restaurants, shops and of course the world famous attractions such as the Roman Baths, Pump Rooms, Bath Abbey, Sally Lunn's Restaurant, Jane Austen's House, The Crescent and many more. You can get everything from a single room with shared shower to a thirteen bedroom house with all sorts of variations in between. Some rooms even have balconies overlooking the pretty grounds. What you get: Parking, Wi-Fi, Restaurant Book your stay: University of Bath >> Other Colleges Although not all cities or towns have universities, it is still worth looking to see if you can find something similar. For example, Salisbury has a theological college within the walls of its famous Close, just a few steps away from the cathedral. You don't need to be on one of their courses or theologically minded, you can just book to stay in their rooms. Prices are very reasonable, particularly if you are happy to share a bathroom, and you get the unique opportunity to actually stay inside the Close with views over medieval rooftops or the cathedral. What you get: A comfortable room, Wi-Fi included Book your stay: Sarum College >> There are plenty more university rooms to stay in across the UK, have a look to see what you can find. Many won't open their bookings until it's near the summer holidays so if you can't find anything at first, try again a few months later.