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    In this Somerset walk, the long way round doesn’t mean the wrong way round. If you crave the idea of a walk where you’re unlikely to meet anyone else, you’ll find all the headspace in the world along this long but gentle walking route across West Moor. This is a metaphorical circular route, because the ancient droves that you’ll follow are as straight as Roman roads, and so you’ll actually be walking all four sides of a square. You might get the feeling that you’re heading in the wrong direction, but actually you’ll be getting it just right. The Levels here are divided up like a geometry lesson, straight droves run side by side with deep ditches, and the towers of historic village churches inhabit the horizon. Flocks of lapwing rise up and down like waves, and the piercing white pinpricks of swans and egrets stand out a mile. There’s still quite a bit of flood water in this landscape, and reeds and long grasses are tightly woven through and over the bars of gates and knotted into the hedgerows, the witness marks to the flow of an inland tide. It’s normal here, and the visiting birds enjoy rich pickings during their annual migration. This area is home to RSPB Greylake, Swell Woods, Ham Wall and West Sedgemoor to prove the point. Two huge Somerset cranes landed with heavy skill, sending up an alarm of lapwings, before walking sedately like two elderly gentlemen, around the edge of a marsh. Every now and again, the droves are broken up by low clusters of trees. Their branches dip into the dark water and create a network of reflections, as silent and still as the patience of the herons that wait for something to move. Burrow Hill plays a guiding role when it comes to navigating the droves. You might be walking away from it for a mile, waiting for the next intersection, but it’s always in sight. A highlight in this flat landscape. The clump of trees at the top, the flock of sheep grazing beneath them, and the apple orchards at the base, are as iconic of Somerset as the Levels. There’s a bench at the very top. All you need is a bottle of pressed apple juice from the Burrow Hill Cider Farm as refreshment. If you’re not pressed for time, and have a picnic to go with it, a deceptively strong Somerset cider will celebrate the tradition of this beautiful area in true local style! Three hours from start to finish takes in a landscape that seems as infinite as it is ancient. Tudor farmhouses dressed in a camouflage of hamstone and lichen seem timeless. Migratory birds have been coming here forever. Visiting for just a few hours is just a tiny moment in time but for that moment, time stops still. Find out more about walking in Somerset >> Read more about Anna on her author page >>


    From slow travel on New Brunswick's Fundy Trail Parkway to Indigenous projects which deepen our connection to the natural world, there are genuine reasons to journey across the Great White North in 2023. Tailor-made tour operator Frontier Canada has outlined five holidays to book, the list including an opportunity to combine The Yukon with neighbouring Alaska - the Canadian province and the U.S. state both marking historic anniversaries this year. This August will mark 25 years since the first section of New Brunswick's Fundy Trail Parkway was completed, its 19-mile stretch of road hugging the province's southern coastline and the Bay of Fundy, and winding its way through over 6,300 acres of woodland. The Fundy Trail Parkway is one of the longest stretches of remaining coastal wilderness areas between Florida and Labrador, the hiking mecca now a major attraction in Atlantic Canada. Straddling two UNESCO sites, including the Fundy Biosphere Reserve and Stonehammer Global Geopark (the first in North America), the parkway's stellar scenic views have been compared to Australia’s Great Ocean Road, and the Cabot Trail in neighbouring Nova Scotia. Slow travel at its best, the route includes 21 lookouts, 14 observation decks, five tidal-swept beaches, 19 hiking trails, and four waterfalls. Officially opened in 2020, the new Walton Glen Gorge observation point saves you a once strenuous hike, and leaves you with what is probably the most spectacular view in the province. Created by a series of volcanic eruptions, the 550-million-year-old gorge is 1,000 feet across, 525 feet deep and features a waterfall. Finished in 2021, the latest connector road, which runs all the way to the Fundy National Park, integrated four natural attractions, including the Fundy Trail Parkway, Fundy National Park, Hopewell Rocks and Cape Enrage - the World Class Signature Coastal Area named the Fundy Coastal Drive. 10-night Discover New Brunswick from from £2,190pp (two sharing) including all accommodation, car hire and return flights. In February 2023, Gwaxdlala/Nalaxdlala (or Lull Bay and Hoeya Sound) became the first designated marine refuge in the Northern Shelf Bioregion Marine Protected Area Network - with the Mamalilikulla First Nation assuming stewardship of their traditional territory. Situated on the coast of British Columbia, the area is home to a unique sponge and coral reef, estuaries and salmon-bearing streams. A vital ecosystem for more than 240 marine species, the site is also of high cultural significance for the Mamalililkulla people. The all-day marine adventures at Knight Inlet Lodge visit the same location on their full-day Marine and Whale excursions, the property owned and operated by five First Nations, including the Mamalilikulla themselves. Having lived in harmony with nature over thousands of years, Indigenous conservation is seen as the key to reviving wildlife and marine life. By rebalancing the ecosystem, travellers are also able to enjoy richer experiences, and in viewing the destination through an indigenous lens make a deeper and more authentic connection with both people and place. Grizzly cubs and juvenile Bears are best sighted from May through August, with small boats allowing you to observe them along the estuary shoreline. For peak bear viewing and spawning salmon season book from September through mid-October. The summer is the best time to view whales, Humpbacks and Orcas, along with pacific white-sided dolphins and seals. Full-day Marine Tour available on longer stay packages (4, 5 and 6 nights). A conservation donation is included in the cost of the holiday. Six-night Bears of Knight Inlet Lodge from £4,095pp (two sharing) including all accommodation activities and return flights. 2023 marks 125 years since the Yukon was incorporated into Canada, and a second anniversary marking the discovery of gold in the territory has been extended through 2023. Dawson City is inseparable from the Klondike Gold Rush (1896 - 1899), and a highlight of any trip is a visit to the Dredge 4, the largest wooden-hulled dredge in North America located at one of Canada's National Historic Sites. The Yukon's stark natural beauty is best seen at your own pace on a self-drive. Revel in the panoramic views off the aptly named Top of the World Highway, savour the raw beauty of Kluane Lake (once called the most beautiful lake in the world), gaze at the snow-capped mountains and glaciers of the St Elias Mountains and drive through the Kluane National Park and Preserve: home to ice fields, clear lakes, forests and 17 of Canada’s 20 tallest mountains, the park is a paradise for hikers, kayakers and paddle boarders. 10-night Klondike Explorer from £2,639pp (two sharing) including all accommodation, car hire and return flights to Whitehorse via Vancouver. With neighbouring Alaska also celebrating 100 years since the founding of the Alaska Railroad, it is the perfect time to hit the tracks and holiday across America's Last Frontier by train. Climb aboard the Alaska Rail Explorer and enjoy stunning window music and wildlife sightings from your glass domed carriage. Delve into Alaska's Native heritage in Anchorage, go wildlife cruising in Kenai National Park, hike across trails and tundra in Denali National Park and pan for pay dirt in Fairbanks - the once gold boom town doubling as a spectacular Northern Lights viewing hotspot. Eight-night Alaska Rail Explorer from £4,035pp (two sharing) including all accommodation, train as per itinerary, some excursions and a flight from Fairbanks back to Anchorage, and return Flights to Anchorage via Seattle. Many people come to Nova Scotia to sample its delicious maritime fare, in fact, the province is home to two seafood-centric culinary trails: the Lobster Trail and the Chowder Trail. With its melting pot of cultural influences, including Acadian, Gaelic, African Nova Scotian and First Nations people, you can also expect to find many culinary threads underpinning the dishes in Canada’s Ocean Playground. A province that is rapidly becoming known for its sparkling wine, the Benjamin Bridge Winery in the Annapolis Valley is an example of how culture is influencing Nova Scotia's offerings, the winery aiming to reveal the identity of the Gaspereau Valley (which lies in the cradle of the larger Annapolis Valley) to the world through its collection. One of its recent signature wines is based on a collaboration with the Glooscap Nation. Launched on National Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2022, the Glooscap First Nation ✗ Benjamin Bridge Rosé is described as a wine of peace and friendship. It also honours the fact that the winery is set on Mik’maq land, with half of the profits going back into the First Nation’s community. In addition, Benjamin Bridge co-hosts its annual Beyond Terroir event with the Glooscap Nation every September. The occasion features food stations hosted by Mi’kmaq knowledge holders and guided tours through the vineyard, with guests being given the opportunity to sample food and drink pairings prepared with ingredients from the vineyard’s garden and local producers. Seven-night Glimpse of Nova Scotia from £1,875pp (two sharing) including all accommodation, car hire and return flights.


    Attracting the finest and most distinguished historians, academics, leading thinkers, and writers from the UK and abroad, The Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival is now firmly established as one of the must-attend events of the festival summer. Taking place on a 70-acre farm just outside Salisbury in Wiltshire, it blends inspiring literary talks, discussions and panels with eye-catching and entertaining living history and historical experiences. With so much uncertainty in the world, history has never been more relevant. The Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival, one of the UK’s most successful and popular summer events, returns this year from 26th June to 2nd July. This unique festival, which takes place in the Chalke Valley Wiltshire, looks set to attract huge crowds of all ages, with every visitor keen to soak up the sights, sounds and smells of the past, and eager to learn more about the history of years gone by, whilst improving their understanding of what is happening in the world today. For the first time this year, the entire programme will be themed, enabling visitors to find the talks and events they are interested in more easily, and to also encourage a little curiosity too. The six distinct themes are: Environment, Conflict, Politics, Science and Exploration, Sport and Society and Culture. Find out why the Festival is our favourite of them all >> Over the course of a week, the festival will host over 200 talks and panel discussions on leading issues of the past, present and future. These will take place across five fabulous venues: the 750-seater main tent, the 350-seater second tent, the Outdoor Stage, Speaker’s Corner - where speakers can talk in a more informal setting - and new for 2023, the Stove Tent, an intimate 100-seater in the round, with a central wood-burning stove - just perfect for cosy later-night events, a little live music and some atmospheric story-telling. Visitors to the Chalke Valley History Festival will, as always, be spoilt for choice. Household names such as Simon Sebag Montefiore and Antonia Fraser will be taking to the stage in the speaker tents, whilst some of the most talented and vivacious historians, raconteurs and actors will be entertaining the crowds with a blend of inclusive hands-on activities and demonstrations. Just one of the big draws in the programme will be former Prime Minister John Major who will be talking about politics, both past and present. The BBC’s International Editor, Jeremy Bowen, will also be making his festival debut when he discusses the making of the modern Middle East, and Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee is bound to fuel debate as she examines the true state of class in Britain. James Holland, Chair of the festival, said: “This is a more integrated programme than ever before, and one that reflects the extraordinary times in which we’re living. We want everyone who comes here to have a brilliant time, and to enjoy themselves, because there’s such an incredible range of things to see and do. But we also hope they’ll be able to learn a great deal as well, and that our events will help people to contextualise what’s happening in the world right now.” Each day around the festival site, throughout the day and evening, performance artists will be sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge about their chosen subjects. Back-to-back entertainment, for all the family, will include Edwardian Adventurer Adam Schuch-des-Forges who will be regaling the crowds with his alter ego’s hilarious (mis)adventures from the Golden Age of Exploration. Dr Kate Vigurs, who became a huge festival-favourite last year, will be capturing the audience’s imagination again, this time with some astonishing women’s stories from history. Meanwhile, over in the speaker tent, ground-breaking writer Peter Frankopan will discuss his major history of how a changing climate has dramatically shaped the development and demise of civilisations across time. Having received a standing ovation in 2022, the festival is delighted to welcome back Bill Browder who returns to talk about Russian money-laundering, state-sponsored murder and surviving Vladimir Putin’s wrath. For those who are keen to learn more from World War II veterans, two remarkable ladies will be sharing their memories on the stage this time: Betty Webb will be recounting tales of her codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, and Olga Henderson will explain what life was like as a child in a prisoner of war camp. Visiting the Chalke Valley History Festival: Your Questions Answered >> Huge living history encampments will be constructed around the festival site, and these will range from the Iron Age through to the Cold War. The Medieval encampment will be the centrepiece of the festival and is not to be missed. There will also be live music every day, special activities for children and families, as well as everything you’d expect from an English summer festival set in the glorious rolling chalk landscape of ancient Wessex: delicious locally-sourced food and drink, lots of shopping, more books to buy than you can shake a stick at, camping under the stars, and just the occasional crack of musketry, the thunder of hooves or the boom of cannon fire. The Chalke Valley History Festival is where history comes to life and where memories are made. The full programme, and more detailed information about what’s in store this year, will be unveiled in due course. Find out more and book your tickets >> Tickets will go on sale to the general public on Tuesday 25th April.


    Butser Ancient Farm, on the Hampshire/Sussex border, is in a beautiful green valley filled with historic buildings. These have been constructed by archaeologists who experiment with how such buildings would have been built and maintained using only ancient methods, tools and technologies. It hosts a wide range of events throughout the year, one of which is a celebration of Imbolc, the pagan festival to celebrate the start of Spring. Butser Ancient Farm Butser is in a truly idyllic location: off the beaten track in a bucolic valley, where few signs of modern life intrude - even the nearby A3 seems not to impinge on the peace. For over 50 years it has been a place for experimental archaeologists to test out theories about the ancient world and the site is currently home to reconstructed buildings from the Stone Age through to the Anglo Saxons. Primarily a centre for education and research (they are currently running an insulae hypocaust non-stop for 10 days in their Roman villa to see how well it works and heats), it is also open to the public for assorted open days, workshops and special events. The biggest event in their annual calendar is Beltain, the Celtic festival to celebrate the start of summer, when a giant Wickerman is burnt as the grand finale, but the farm also honours the other focal points of the ancient calendar - Samhain, Lammas and Imbolc. Imbolc Imbolc is considered to be the start of Spring and traditionally takes place on the 1st - 2nd February. Its origins are somewhat murky, but it is interconnected with St Brigid's Day and even with the American Groundhog Day. For the Celts, the day marked the beginning of Spring, being halfway between the Winter solstice and Spring Equinox. It was a time when food supplies were running low in those agricultural communities, with winter stores nearly exhausted, and they looked ahead to the arrival of the warmer weather, longer days and the promise of new crops and livestock. St. Brigid's Day The time became one of performing rituals to ensure a steady supply of food for the year ahead, and was considered important enough by the early Christian church to adopt it as one of their own religious days, (just as Yule became Christmas and Samhain became Halloween), and they attached it to St Brigid, or St Bride, the mother saint of Ireland. Imbolc became Candlemas, a celebration on 2nd February to commemorate the purification of Mary after she had given birth. The church also borrowed from ancient Rome, who honoured the goddess Juno Februata (the Roman goddess of fertility and purification) by carrying burning candles in February, so the day became all about celebrating the feminine, birth and new beginnings. Imbolc and Groundhog Day The forecast for the weather ahead was of vital importance to farming communities, whose lives would depend on it. The Romans used hedgehogs to foretell what would lie ahead - it was said that if a hedgehog looked out of his den during hibernation on 2nd February and saw his shadow, it would mean that there was a clear moon and therefore six more weeks of winter. This tradition passed to the US via the Pennsylvania Dutch who emigrated there and finding no hedgehogs, used the ground hog instead. If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come winter, have another flight. If Candlemas bring clouds and rain, Go winter, and come not again. So although there is no direct link between Imbolc and Groundhog Day, they are interwoven with their relationship of Candlemas and its origins in the Romans and Celtic traditions, and these days people do seem to claim a direct connection between the two. St Brigid's Day Traditions Rites and rituals for St Brigid's Day varied across the British Isles: a sheaf of corn from the last harvest would be dressed and carried from house to house by young girls, women would make a bed called the Cradle of Bride, others would make a Brigid's Cross and hang them around the house for good fortune or leave a cloth outside the house to be blessed by Brigid as she passed by overnight, which would then keep the wearer safe. There seem to be as many traditions connected to her as there are origin stories for the day. Imbolc at Butser Ancient Farm Although Butser is closed to the general public during the winter months, they open for a few events during this time, one of which is Imbolc. With only a limited amount of tickets, spaces sell out fast for an afternoon of storytelling around an open fire in their Iron Age roundhouse. It was a bitterly cold day with a heavy grey sky when I arrived at Butser. I joined a small crowd and we looked around some of the roundhouses before making our way to the largest of them all, with skulls at the entrance and grey smoke billowing out of the thatched roof. The audience was mostly adults, all dressed for the cold in thick coats and stout boots, but I still saw the odd pixie hood and cape in amongst the padded jackets - for some this is a part of their belief system rather than a novel trip into the past. Welcomed in from the cold by cheerful staff, there was a small bar area selling tomato soup with crusty bread along with an assortment of meads, wines and soft drinks. Hay bales were arranged in semi-circles and covered in animal skins to make them warm and comfortable. In the centre was a blazing open fire, its grey smoke filling the conical ceiling. Lanterns which hung from the wooden beams provided a soft glow of orange light, and discreet lights hidden behind the upright beams highlighted the thatch roof, but it still took a while for eyes to adjust to the smoky darkness. People arrived, settled on the hay bales, many had brought their own cushions and blankets, and soon the roundhouse filled with the sound of chatting and an air of expectation. The storyteller, a man with a friendly, open face and dressed in a dark woollen cape, rang a small bell and then very quietly, began to beat a wooden hand drum. It took the audience a while to notice but eventually the chattering ceased and soon the only noise to be heard was the hissing of the fire and the slow, steady beat of the drum. He walked around with his drum chanting, "Take me to the old ones, take me to the hidden ones," and told us that he was a bard of the woodlands, words were his coracle, and everything he was about to tell us was absolutely true... He started to talk, about the hedgehog who came out of his home to see the sun, how Imbolc is a part of the ancient agricultural calendar, when it marked the tentative first rays of the sun, the first ewes would start to lactate, the first of the lambs would start to arrive, the hesitant first steps of spring and new beginnings, explaining that magic was interwoven into the farming community. He explained how Imbolc is the Festival of Brid, a slave girl from the 5th century who became the Abbess of Kildare. He said that when we tell a story we become a part of it, but before he would tell his stories we had to open the circle and bring in the four stages and the four elements. He asked for four volunteers, one to stand at each compass point holding an object, and we all had to stand facing each direction in turn as he spoke about what each point represented, moving from birth to old age, ending each of his incantations with the words,' Blessed Be'. He then asked us if we were ready to enter the well of memory and story, and he began. He told the story of the Tuath De, a supernatural race in Irish mythology from when time was measured by the nights of the moon not the days of the sun, a time before the first fire had ever been lit and when it was, Brid swallowed it. He talked of seven ancestral queens who guarded the way, of howling wolves, women of power in a time of giants, spirits and creatures. He talked about thresholds and twilight, the flow of life, wild woods, druids, how the Milky Way was formed from the thigh of the goddess Boinn and was called the Way of the White Cow and of the mantle of Brid which spread over the land of Ireland. He said how today it is the meaning of words which hold the power but back then it was the sounds of the words, and the Celtic words tripped lightly off his tongue. He spoke rhythmically and melodically, sometimes in verse, sometimes to the back drop of his drum but always holding everyone's complete attention. Not a sound could be heard as the fire, the drum, his mellifluous voice lulled us all into a soporific haze as we were transported to the ancient world of Irish mythology. Towards the end he talked again about Imbolc and how time is irrelevant to tales of mythology; even in this Age of Science, traditions stay so long as there is someone to honour them - this year in Ireland is the first ever bank holiday for Brid, which shows they are just as relevant today. The stories are still important and when we connect with the ancestors, we also connect with our descendants, and wrap the mantle of Brid around a new generation. There was an extended period of silence when he walked amongst us softly beating his hand drum and all that could be heard was the crackling of the fire and the beat of the drum. We were all hidden in the dark, with layers of wood smoke hanging above us. Many people had their eyes closed and it felt primal, elemental, almost religious, which I think for some there it was. When he rang the small bell at the end, it was like breaking a spell. He then repeated the earlier ceremony where we all stood to face the four points of the compass, to close the circle that had been opened at the beginning. He ended by talking about the overlap between pagan and Christian, how all beliefs from across the globe are encompassed by these ancient tales, how there is no need to label beliefs but to find the commonality amongst them. Butser is about exploring and knowing how the ancients lived and it is the same with story telling: we enter into their mythological landscape. For nearly two hours he had kept us all captivated by his tales and taken us to another world where the mythological had temporarily become reality, where we had hung on the rhythms and cadence of his voice, just watching the glowing fire and its embers occasionally rising up to join the grey smoke swirling above our heads. When we emerged back into the bleak grey day it was with a feeling of hope for the coming of Spring. I had half expected to see snowdrops fighting their way through the soil and trees unfurling their leaves as I left the roundhouse, but sadly it was not to be. As we left, many of us wandered through the gift shop and I just couldn't help but pick up some mead to take home to celebrate the event. I left the farm covered in the earthy scent of wood smoke and with a head filled with mythical tales. Imbolc at Butser Check their website for the date or sign up to their email newsletter to be notified when tickets go on sale. The excellent, magical storyteller was Jonathon Huet from Walk with Trees - he does most of the Celtic festival/ turning of the year events at Butser Wear boots or wellies as you will get muddy Take a blanket if you feel the cold


    The ordination of Boy Bishops was a medieval tradition in which a choir boy would become Bishop from St. Nicholas Day (6th December) until Holy Innocents Day (28th December), wearing the Bishop's vestments, leading prayers and preaching the sermon, in a complete role reversal. Although the practice was banned in the 16th century, a few cathedrals re-introduced a version of it in the 20th century, of which Salisbury is one. Photograph © Salisbury Cathedral/Finbarr Webster The Boy Bishop Tradition Like many traditions established centuries ago, the origins and purpose of the Boy Bishop is unknown, with some believing its purpose to be teaching humility to the powerful Bishops, teaching responsibility to the boys, or a form of a 'Switch the Ranks' which takes place in many other formal organisations such as the military or gentry, which have clear divisions of superiors and inferiors in terms of status, who will reverse roles for a day of merriment. The Boy Bishop tradition probably started in Europe, but had reached Salisbury by the early 14th century, with the ceremony first recorded in the statutes of Salisbury Cathedral in 1319 where, 'it is ordered that the boy bishop shall not make a feast.' It is possible that Salisbury was the originator of the tradition in this country, as other major cathedrals have no record of the ceremony until the late 14th and 15th centuries. Boy bishops originated at a time when the Catholic Church held a great deal of power and influence in European society, with the position of Bishop being highly prestigious and held by wealthy and powerful men. The Church also believed in the importance of humility and the idea that even the youngest and most innocent could serve a spiritual purpose and as a result, the tradition of boy bishops possibly emerged as a way to celebrate the innocence and purity of youth while also serving as a reminder of the humility and service that was expected of those in positions of spiritual authority. What is standard across the board though is that the Boy Bishop is inaugurated on 6th December, which is the feast of St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children. St. Nicholas was an early Christian Bishop during the Roman era, and his habit of secret gift-giving led to the tradition of St Nicholas on the continent, and Father Christmas in the UK and USA. To become a Boy Bishop, a young boy would be chosen from among the choir or community and given a special ceremony in which he was ordained. Originally known as Episcopus Choristaram (Chorister Bishop), he was expected to be corpore formoses (beautiful in body) and to possess claram vocem puerilem (a clear childish voice). His reign would last up to the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which is celebrated on December 28th. Once ordained, the boy bishop would be given all of the same rights and privileges as a regular bishop, including the ability to officiate at mass and administer the sacraments. In Salisbury it is thought that the Boy Bishop also had the power to dispose of prebends during his brief reign, although he would usually be guided in this by the clergy. The boy bishops would choose friends to take the role of canons in his staff, together they would dance, sing and lead processions through their local towns, leading to accusations of the practice being flippant and sacrilegious. The tradition of the Chorister Bishop was formally abrogated on the continent in 1431, but continued in the UK until Henry VIII became Head of the Church, and he decided that the levity and frivolity which was attached to the practice was not befitting his new role. Issuing a Proclamation in 1542, it concluded, "And whereas heretofore dyvers and many superstitious and chyldysh observauncies have be used, ... as upon Saint Nicholas, the Holie Innocents, and such like, children be strangelie decked and apparayled to counterfeit Priests, Bishops, and Women, and to be ledde with songes and dances from house to house, blessing the people, and gathering of money; and boyes do singe masse and preache in the pulpitt, with such other unfittinge and inconvenient usages, rather to the derysyon than anie true glorie of God, or honour of his sayntes." The practice was resurrected in Salisbury in the 1980s, but now the realm of the Chorister Bishop lasts for less than an hour, for the duration of the Evensong service nearest St Nicholas. These days it is just as likely to be a girl chorister, as Salisbury Cathedral was the first English cathedral to introduce female choristers (in 1991) and this has extended to the role of Chorister Bishop. Attending the Chorister Bishop Ceremony in Salisbury Cathedral Anyone can attend the Evensong service which takes place on the Sunday evening nearest 6th December, around 4.30pm. If you get there early enough you can get a seat in the quire so you can see everything that takes place. The procession leads in as normal led by the Bishop of Salisbury, and Evensong continues as normal, but during the reading of the Magnificat, when the line, "He hath put down the mighty from their seat: and hath exalted the humble and meek" is read, the Bishop relinquishes his robe, mitre and ring, while the Chorister Bishop is helped into his robes by his revenue of friends, and ascends into the Cathedra, the Bishop's throne. From here he leads the prayers and gives a sermon. In the ceremony I attended, where Rory Law took on the role of Bishop, he spoke with much maturity and clarity about how it is the children who are expected to clean up the mess of the adults, ('twas ever thus) and about young, inspirational leaders such as Greta Thunberg, Malala and Tent Boy who are leading protests against environmental destruction, overpopulation, deforestation and so much more. At the end of the service the procession files out, with the bishop looking somewhat defenestrated without his mitre. It is a rather lovely event to attend. In the depths of winter it is dark outside, the cathedral is softly lit, the choir sounds as melodic as ever and there is an air of excitement amongst the congregation, many of whom are probably friends and relatives of the Chorister Bishop and his young retinue. The service itself is conducted with much solemnity, but just after the procession out, I saw the Boy Bishop and the Bishop having a giggle about the event, probably with relief that all had gone smoothly. After the service, have a look for the 'Boy Bishop's tomb'. It was thought that if a Boy Bishop died while incumbent, he would be buried with the full accoutrements due a bishop, and in the cathedral is a small tomb with the image of a bishop on the lid. For many years this was thought to be the tomb of a Boy Bishop, but recent research has determined that it is probably some of the internal organs of an adult bishop, probably Bishop Poore, the bishop who moved the cathedral from Old Sarum and founded the cathedral in its current location. The Salisbury Cathedral website will have details about the ceremony towards the end of each November. Read our definitive guide to Salisbury Cathedral Find out more about tombs and memorials within Salisbury Cathedral Sources and further reading: Hymns and Carols of Christmas The Tudor Society St. Nicholas Centre


    May 2020 was the 80 years anniversary since troops of the British Expeditionary Force were evacuated from Dunkirk, fleeing from the Germans as they advanced across Europe. Operation Dynamo as it was called, saw 338,000 men picked up from the harbours and beaches of Dunkirk and taken back to England in a hastily assembled flotilla which ranged from naval destroyers to fishing boats and pleasure craft. Dunkirk today is a thriving town, with many visitors looking to see the sites of what Churchill described as ‘a miracle of deliverance’. DUNKIRK'S DARK PAST When the Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939, the British sent troops from the BEF, British Expeditionary Force, under the command of Lord Gort, to France where they assembled along the Belgian-French border. Here they remained until the 9th May 1940, mostly digging field defences or on rotation to serve on the Maginot Line in what has become known as the ‘Phoney War’. The Maginot Line was an impressive fortification that ran along French borders with Italy, Switzerland and Luxembourg in an attempt to prevent the Germans invading. There were weaknesses however, including the Ardennes Forest, which French Commanders had believed to be impenetrable. It was not, and it was through the forest that the Germans attacked. On the 10th May they invaded Belgium and the Netherlands, and on the 12th May they invaded France. By the 19th May, the British discovered that the French flanks had weakened and they had no reserves, so they immediately started planning withdrawal of all their troops. Gort chose Dunkirk (Dunqkerque in French), as it had good port facilities and a 10 mile stretch of beach on which to assemble the troops. Planning began on 20th May and it was Churchill who suggested assembling small vessels to join naval ships in collecting troops. The BEF continued engagements with the enemy but they were trapped along with the remains of the Belgian Army and three of the French armies. The evacuation was planned by Admiral Ramsay at Dover Castle, and on the 26th May he ordered the start of Operation Dynamo, named after the room it was planned in – the dynamo (electricity) room. Ramsay and Churchill thought they’d only have time to extract about 30000 of their troops but luckily Hitler delayed the advance of his panzer regiments by three days, worried about marshy ground in the area and waiting for reinforcements. This order gave the troops time to set up a perimeter around the area, with the order to ‘fight to the last man and the last round’. The troops retreating up the corridor were told 'it's every man for himself - make for Dunkirk’. The soldiers on the perimeter knew they were forfeiting their own chances of escape, and contemporary reports say they approached it stoically. Most were killed or captured, with many being shot by the Germans once they had been taken as prisoners of war, although some did manage to be evacuated at the end. For the troops waiting on the beaches and harbour, they may have avoided tank attacks but the Luftwaffe bombardment was fierce, with troops coming under heavy fire. The harbour became blocked by sunken ships, shallow waters meant they had to use smaller boats to take them to larger boats and there was a huge amount of death and destruction. In total, 700 boats took part in the evacuation, most commanded by naval officers but many by civilians. The smallest boat to take part was the Tamzine, an 18ft fishing boat which is now in the Imperial War Museum. Read a first hand account of Dunkirk from John Hamilton, a speaker at the Chalke Valley History Festival. VISITING DUNKIRK TODAY When staying recently in Calais for a week's holiday, we took a day trip to Dunkirk to see what remained of the biggest evacuation of World War II. It's an easy place to get to, albeit with a slightly complicated road system, so have Google Maps on standby for when the SatNav gets confused! DUNKIRK WAR MUSEUM Our first port of call was the Dunkirk War Museum, located in Bastion 32, a 19th century fortification which was the Headquarters for French and Allied forces during the Battle of Dunkirk and the evacuation. It was with some relief that we finally drove into the large, free car park, able to get off the baffling roads and explore the museum. It is a fabulous museum, with a huge amount of artefacts all really well presented, and clear information boards in English that really helps to tell the story and increase the understanding of the events that happened there. The Museum starts with the background of the city, from before the war to the actual evacuation and beyond. Dunkirk was a prosperous city in the 1920s, until the economic crash of the 1930s, with the information boards explaining the rise of Hitler and why the French were slow to rearm. A 12 minute film, which plays alternately in French then English, shows footage from the evacuation, which really brings it all to life and puts the exhibits in context. After this, you can wander through the various rooms to see all of the artefacts. Many of these were from the huge amount of items left behind after the evacuation, and some have been found at sea, slowly rising from the seabeds over the years. What is particularly interesting is how it tells a lot about the evacuation from the French point of view. The French were rescued after the English had gone, and as the Germans advanced closer and closer, the evacuation became far more dangerous and turbulent, with the ports so full of shipwrecked boats that it was almost impassable. Over 130,000 French soldiers were rescued after the BEF had gone, taken to Dover with many of them repatriated to Cherbourg within a day to keep fighting, eventually being captured or demobilised in the Armistice of 22nd June. It's an excellent museum, clearly very popular as it was full of people, many of them English, and I highly recommend a visit. Just opposite the museum is a new monument to the events of 1940, with a huge hourglass called 'Le Sablier', which was constructed in 2017. The hourglass is to represent the trickle of men leaving the coast of France, as well as a reversal of fortune, with defeat turning into victory. Right behind this is what is left of the fortress, once so huge but gradually destroyed over the years until just this tiny area remains. DUNKIRK BEACHES A walk across the large bridge will take you to the where the action all took place - the Dunkirk beach. It is a huge golden sandy beach, sadly marred by a huge industrial complex right on the water's edge. There are some dunes still here, although not many, and it is very hard to equate this place with the events that happened here 80 years ago. Families are sunbathing, splashing in the water, wandering up and down the concrete promenade which is full of cafes, bars and ice cream shops. The blue sea stretches into the distance and it just feels impossible to imagine the horrors experienced by all those that were here. OPERATION DYNAMO MEMORIAL The Memorial to the Allies, just before you get to the beach, is made from cobblestones from the original harbour quayside and was created in 1962 to commemorate the courage of the soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice and held off the German advance long enough so that others could escape - the men on the perimeter. The memorial reads 'The glorious memory of the pilots, sailors and soldiers of the French Army and their Allies who sacrificed themselves in the Battle of Dunkirk, May June 1940'. PRINCESS ELIZABETH PADDLE STEAMER We drove back into the main part of town, on a mission to find the Princess Elizabeth paddle steamer. Built in the late 1920s as pleasure craft travelling between Southampton and Cowes, she was transformed into a minesweeper for World War II. She took part in Operation Dynamo, evacuating 1673 soldiers in four journeys back and forth, including 500 French soldiers. After the war she went through various incarnations as a casino, restaurant and pub in England, before returning to Dunkirk in 1999. Now a floating restaurant, we were keen to climb aboard for tea - it describes itself as Restaurant/Tea Room. Sadly, one look at the menus outside sent us fleeing, as tea did not appear to be an option, but meals starting at €20 per course, did. Unwilling to pay over €100, we reluctantly went to the MacDonalds which is opposite. It does look like a wonderful ship though, and if you have the time and money, I would guess that it is a great place for a meal. DUNKIRK MEMORIAL Our final destination in the town of Dunkirk itself was the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Memorial to all who died at Dunkirk, and many of their graves. A little way out of town, we found the huge town cemetery, which has French World War I graves, local graves in the wonderful flamboyant French style, and then the English section. Unveiled in 1957, the memorial is a small but dignified building, with an avenue of stone pylons leading away from it, all of them carved with the names of those who have no known grave. Next to it, there are countless graves of the ones who were able to be buried, and walking up and down the rows, seeing how they all died within a week of each other, really helped to bring home the horrors of the evacuation. Next to the World War II graves lie the graves of all of the World War I soldiers who died at Dunkirk. It is really quite heart breaking, and shows just how contested this area of land has been in the last century alone. OUTSIDE DUNKIRK The beaches of Bray-Dunes and Zuydcoote still have shipwrecks that are visible at low tide. The Crested Eagle at Zuydcoote. Photograph ©️ Mike Bennett We visited two further Operation Dynamo beaches, Zuydcoote and Bray-Dunes, which are a short drive away from Dunkirk, to try to see the famous shipwrecks on the beaches. Although I thought I had cleverly checked the tide times on Google, as they are only visible at low tide, I had clearly been misinformed, and when we arrived, the beaches were at full tide and our luck was out. What we got instead was more golden sandy beaches and typical seaside activities. Great for sunworshippers, not so good for us. If you do go to visit the wreck of the Crested Eagle, which was wrecked during Operation Dynamo, then I think this is the best website to use to check tide times, and I wish I had used it instead of just relying on Google. WORMHOUDT MEMORIAL One place I really wanted to get to, but we had run out of time, was the site of the Wormhoudt Massacre. Thirty minutes drive south, Wormhoudt is near the Belgian border. In May 1940, as the BEF were retreating towards Dunkirk, two British Infantry divisions were holding the road to delay the German advance, to give their comrades the chance to leave. After fierce fighting and running out of ammunition, the British surrendered in expectation of being captured and taken as prisoners of war. Instead, they were forced into a barn and shot in cold blood. 90 men were killed, with a few survivors who played dead and who were later able to tell people about the massacre. A replica barn has now been built as a lasting memorial, and a small museum opened for visitors. HOW TO GET TO DUNKIRK Situated on the coast, and on the French/Belgian border, Dunkirk is an easy place to get to. It can be included as part of a road trip around northern France, or as a day trip if staying in the Pas-de-Calais region. It is also accessible as a day trip from the capitals, with a train from Brussels taking two hours, or three from Paris. Ferries go directly from Dover to Dunkirk with DFDS, who have regular sailings on their fleet. The journey only lasts for two hours and is an enjoyable way to travel, with restaurants, shops, and great views. If you book Priority Boarding then the travel time can be reduced as you will be one of the first off the ferry, maximising your time in Dunkirk. IS IT WORTH VISITING DUNKIRK? My short answer to this is yes, it is definitely worth visiting for a weekend, but do your planning carefully if you want to see the shipwrecks, or if you plan to use public transport rather than driving. If I were visiting again, I would find a central hotel for a night, then spread the places out over a two day visit and include the local art museums and churches as well. Visiting Dunkirk is really an essential for anyone with an interest in war history, and feels like a fitting tribute and a way to keep the memory alive of the events, and the men who sacrificed so much.


    John Hamilton was one of the speakers at the 2019 Chalke Valley History Festival and astonishingly, it was his debut as a public speaker. Why had no one found him before? At 101 years old, totally sound in mind and body, he was an inspiring and engaging speaker. Andrew Cumming, who introduced us to this amazing man, told us he had met John in the gym, where John works out for two hours for five days a week. John added that exercise was indeed the key to his good health: he had given up golf at 88 and reluctantly, squash, on the advice of his doctor – who happened to be his opponent in the game. His early life seems horrific to contemporary eyes. With parents working abroad he was sent to live with a stranger in Weston-super-Mare at the age of 4, on to board at a prep school, and subsequently to Clifton where he suffered fagging and bullying. A friend of the family found him a job as a junior clerk in a London shipbroker’s office: work he clearly found tedious and unfulfilling. Acutely aware of events in Germany, he joined a TA Anti-Aircraft regiment, and twelve days after the outbreak of war, found himself sleeping on a palliasse in a farmhouse in northern France. He then proceeded to tell us of his experience of Dunkirk with the pragmatism, modesty and composure which seems common to so many veterans of the wars and continues to impress and move those of us who were not there, and could not know the extent of the horror they experienced. From October 1939 to May 1940 there was “nothing to do” as they sat idly but with apprehension through the Phoney War period. On 10 May 1940 the Germans threw the full force of Blitzkrieg at the French attacking through the Ardennes. As the French army fell back, Lord Gort, commander of the BEF, made the decision to evacuate the troops. “Calais had fallen to the Jerries,” John said, “the only place left was Dunkirk.” His unit was ordered to Dunkirk. The roads were so crowded with fleeing civilians, troops on the move and abandoned equipment that it took two days to reach the sand dunes near Dunkirk. (In this context he poured scorn on the recent 2017 film Dunkirk which showed the town to have intact streets and standing houses when he knew personally that Dunkirk was utterly devastated by the time the BEF arrived. He recommends the 1958 film instead which he said was much closer to the truth). When they got there, they set up their guns. Attacked by Stukas, which he described as a terrifying gun plane which dives from 5000 feet at 370mph, with the only chance to hit it is when it finally flattens out. In the chaos that followed John was proud to say that his unit were able to shoot down three Stukas, but he knew they were helpless against such overwhelming force. The queue to get to the water's edge was half a mile long and he recalled watching the panic and struggle as men on the beach fought to get on a mere handful of lifeboats dispatched from a ship, many of them drowning in the attempt. Later arrivals who tried to jump the queue were forced back by an officer who drew his revolver and threatened to shoot. The sand dunes, he explained, were a safer place to be than on the open beaches. To enable the evacuation, a perimeter had been established, 25 miles long and 8 miles deep. “My God,” he said, “they sacrificed everything.” Although the evacuating troops had to contend with bombers, they did not have to worry about short range weapons, thanks to this fighting perimeter. He remembered a padre coming to his unit as they sat waiting fearfully. “Would you boys like a service?” he asked them. So they prayed fervently for all those defending the perimeter, saving the lives of those on the dunes and beaches by enabling the evacuation to take place, men who in the end suffered the most – some through being taken prisoner but most through their deaths. Together they sang ‘O God, Our Help in Ages Past’. In a loud clear voice, John recited verbatim the first verse of this hymn for us, words that so evidently resonated with him 79 years after he sang it on the beaches of Dunkirk. At the water’s edge he volunteered to carry wounded men on stretchers to the breakwater. He recreated for us the terror of the Stukas with their 250lb bomb load screeching down at them at 370mph. “God, it was frightening”, he said, wiping his hand across his face as if an attempt to, even now, to erase the memory. He narrowly avoided the fate of others who were buried in sand nearby as a bomb hit, and was able to board a trawler which took them out to HMS Whitehall waiting at sea. This destroyer took them to Dover from where they boarded a train for Aberystwyth. Ten days rest was all that was allowed after this traumatic experience before he found himself recalled to duty. He seemed quite startled as the audience rose to their feet in a standing ovation. But it was a fitting tribute to him, and to those who both lived and died in one of the most remarkable events of British history.


    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 >>


    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


    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:


    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!


    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.


    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


    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.


    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.

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