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

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

  • THE OUTCAST DEAD OF CROSSBONES GRAVEYARD

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

  • STAYING IN UNIVERSITY ROOMS

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

  • 24 HOURS IN TOWER HAMLETS, LONDON

    Want to visit the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and all of the other attractions in the area without having to travel back and forth across London? Why not stay right in the centre of it all and visit the historical highlights, stay in a hotel with the very best views in London, enjoy a meal at an 18th century traditional pub and try a late night river cruise. Here is our tried and tested planner for 24 hours in the historical heart of the city. The Tower of London is the most popular paid tourist attraction in the whole of the UK, receiving around 3,000,000 visitors a year, which puts it on most visitors 'must-see' lists. Instead of traipsing across London and rushing to fit everything in, spend the night instead; take your time to explore and get to see the area when everyone else has left for the day and the whole place is yours. Watch the sun set behind Tower Bridge, see it rise over the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf, sit on a bench by the river and watch the world walk by or explore St Katherine's Docks, described by some as a part of the countryside in the city. Above all, slow down and get to know the area like a local. What to do Free Things to do Where to Stay Where to Eat What to do in Tower Hamlets Tower of London No visit to the area is complete without a trip to the Tower of London, that incredible castle founded nearly 1000 years ago and steeped in British military and royal traditions. You can explore under your own steam or do a tour with a Yeoman Warder, popularly known as Beefeaters, who wear the distinctive red Tudor outfits. You can visit the sparkling Crown Jewels, see where the famous and infamous were executed, watch the Tower ravens flying over your heads, visit Traitors' Gate and explore the ramparts. As you are staying close by you can comfortably visit either in the morning or later in the day to avoid the crowds, and even go to the morning Opening Ceremony or the Ceremony of the Keys at night. This evening ceremony is 700 years old, only costs £5 a person and is a real privilege to watch. Book your ticket below for the Tower of London - either chose a straightforward entrance ticket, one which includes a guided tour with a Beefeater or one which includes the Opening Ceremony. We recommend using Get Your Guide to book your tickets as you cancel up to 24 hours in advance, which you can't do if you book directly with the Tower of London. The price remains the same. Tower Bridge This iconic bridge, which so many visitors mistakenly refer to as London Bridge, is known across the globe as a symbol of London. You can climb up the stairs to admire the views from the walkways and descend to the engine rooms to see the immaculate steam punk engines. If you time your visit right you can even do a behind the scenes tour into the depths of the underground bascule. Read about a visit to Tower Bridge >> HMS Belfast Anchored on the south bank of the Thames, HMS Belfast is the only remaining British ship which was used on D-Day. HMS Belfast had a long history both before and after the war, and today it is open to visitors who can scramble up and down the ladders, sit in the Captain's chair, explore the depths of the ship and learn all about life on board. It is a fascinating site to visit and is very popular with children as there is a lot of hands on things to do. Monument to the Great Fire of London This monument was built five years after the Great Fire of 1666, a single column of 61 feet with a spiral staircase leading up to a viewing platform at the top topped with a copper urn with flames coming out to symbolise the fire. It was designed by famous architect Sir Christopher Wren who rebuilt so much of London after the fire, including St Paul's Cathedral. Underneath is a small laboratory which was once used for scientific experiments. This monument is in Pudding Lane where the fire started and nearby you will find plaques to the fire and other memorials to the devastation caused by that inferno. You cannot book tickets in advance to climb to the top of the monument, just show up between 9am - 6pm. River Cruises There are a wide variety of river cruises available from Tower Millennium Pier as it is the start and end point for so many of them. You can do a straightforward cruise with commentary, an afternoon tea, dinner and dancing or a sunset cruise. You can also just do your own cruise using the Uber boats - such as this one I did recently for under £10 which ended with the sun setting through Tower Bridge, something I will never forget. You can even do one of the RIB boat tours of the Thames from here; a high speed journey down the Thames which will leave you clinging on to the handrails and screaming with laughter. All of the below river trips leave from Tower Millennium Pier which is the nearest pier to the Tower of London and Tower Hotel Free things to do in Tower Hamlets St. Katherine's Docks Right behind the Tower Hotel (see below) are St Katherine's Docks, once commercial docklands which themselves stood on the 12th century church and hospital of St Katherine's by the Tower. Badly destroyed by the German bombs in World War II, the site was derelict for some time until it was redeveloped from the 1970s. Today it is filled with flats and businesses, a mixture of old and new with cobbled stones, pretty planting and of course, the marina which is filled with boats. It has a unique charm and has been said to be like the countryside in the city. Boats can only enter the marina through a lock designed by engineer Thomas Telford in the 1820s, and you may find yourself having to wait to cross the narrow bridges as the locks fill and the boats pass below you. Tower Hill Memorial Opposite the Tower of London is Tower Hill, home to a large part of the famous London Wall, a kids' playpark and a garden memorial to the men of the Merchant Navy who died in both World Wars. The main part of the WWI memorial was designed by Lutyens and is based on a Doric temple. It is large, imposing and strangely peaceful. Behind it are some gardens with a lawn, statues and benches. St. Dunstan in the East St Dunstan was a church built around 1100 which was badly damaged during the Great Fire of 1666. Rebuilt by Wren, it was severely damaged during the Blitz in 1941, with only Wren's tower and steeple surviving. The ruins were left as they were, one of the very few places you can still see the damage done by the Luftwaffe, and today there is a very pretty garden amongst the bombed out shell of the church. It is open the public, you can just wander in, find a bench to sit on and watch the locals enjoy their lunchbreak or the Instagrammers take thousands of photos. The Sky Garden 41 Fenchurch Street, better known as the Walkie Talkie, is one of the new skyscrapers in the city, at the top of which is the Sky Garden. This is free to visit, although you have to book your visiting time, and gives some incredible views across the rest of the city. There are restaurants and a bar in the garden, although it really is not much of a garden. That being said, the views are good and if you can book a timeslot for when you are in the area, it is worth doing just for them alone. Where to Stay when visiting the Tower of London There are several hotels in the immediate area, but none I could find that are independently owned, meaning that you have little choice but to stay in one of the multinationals. Seeing as you have no choice, the best place to stay is the Tower Hotel, thanks to its prime location right on the river next to both the Tower and the Bridge. It is an unsightly building, a brown 1980s monstrosity which is a little dated and has reception staff who are incapable of cracking a smile, but once you are in there, it has the most incredible views over the river which completely make up for its shortcomings. The huge picture windows are an utter delight and it is easy to spend hours just sitting there, both day and night, watching the ebb and flow of the magnificent River Thames; its traffic, wildlife and visitors. The hotel is clean and comfortable, has a couple of restaurants including one with fire pits which are great for a chilly evening, and a Fitness Centre. It is right next door to both the Tower of London, Tower Bridge and St. Katherine's Docks, a pretty place of cobbled stones, smart boats, a wealth of restaurants and a small supermarket if you don't want to eat out. Tower Pier is less than five minutes walk away, putting you within easy reach of the whole of the transportation network across the city as well as the assorted river cruises which are on offer. Where to Eat when visiting Tower Hamlets Just behind the Tower Hotel is St. Katherine's Docks, a picturesque and historic marina which is home to homes, businesses, restaurants, shops and pubs. The one which stands out the most is The Dickens Inn, an 18th century, thatched roof, balconied pub of several stories with a beer garden overlooking the water. It is a traditional pub of wooden walls and floors with an abundance of flowering baskets and twinkling lights. It was built in the early 1700s as a warehouse which was later shifted lock, stock and barrel 70 metres east from its original location to make way for a housing estate. It is now the focal point of the marina and provides an elevated spot from which to watch the happenings below you. The food is traditional British pub food with burgers, pizza and the like, with beers on tap and occasional live music. It is popular with locals and tourists and was a great spot for food and a night on the beer. The Dickens Inn is open 12 - 11pm. There is no need to book. How to get around when visiting Tower Hamlets Nearest tube station: Tower Hill (7 mins walk) Nearest train station: London Bridge (10 mins walk) Nearest Pier: Tower Millennium Pier

  • PORTHCURNO BUNKER - THE TOP SECRET WWII BUNKER

    A section of the Museum of Global Communications in Porthcurno, Cornwall, now includes a visit to the underground top secret bunker that hid the Telegraph Station in WWII where Allied communications were protected by armed guards and bomb-proof doors. Thousands of miles of undersea cables from all around the world already came into the country at Porthcurno, and in 1939 it was decided to protect them by sending them underground with heavy security. The Museum of Global Communications opened in 2010, as it was here in 1870 that the first undersea telegraph cable reached the UK, leading to decades of this quiet unassuming town becoming the focal point of all overseas communications. In the days before telephones, the quickest way to communicate when separated by a distance was telegraphy, electrical pulses transmitted down a copper wire, and soon Porthcurno was the central hub for all such global communications. In the early days of the war it was considered unwise to have the installations on the surface where they were vulnerable to German attacks, so they were moved underground. Tunnels were dug to a large bunker which could continue to operate unseen by enemy eyes. The bunker is a large room filled with equipment, reached by stone stairs going down from one of the solid doors. It includes an authentic telegrapher’s workshop and a fully automated relay station. It is a strange experience to view all the machines, clocks, cables, cabinets and desks - now silent, obsolete and static - and to imagine the hub of activity during those hectic war years when so much depended on the ability of the staff to operate the systems and ensure the fast and accurate dispatch of vital information. There is plenty of explanation on display boards for the technically minded to understand the working and detail of the work that took place here. The Regenerator System enabled signals to be received, strengthened and sent on automatically and quickly. Messages coming in to Porthcurno were sent on to Electra House in London, the HQ of Cable and Wireless. Via this network, governments coordinated their policy, newspapers received the latest news from the Front, and families at home exchanged messages with men fighting overseas. They also had links to the vital world of spying as many signals went to Bletchley Park for decryption. The staff here were working in shifts for 24 hours a day and had to maintain secrecy about their roles in keeping Britain safe. In fact, when work started on this large underground bunker under the granite hill in 1940, the locals were told that a shortcut to the local pub was being built - although how many of them actually believed that must be debatable. The impact of the war on locals is dramatically apparent with the focus of the main room being on the unexploded 500lb bomb hanging from the ceiling which fell on a nearby farm in May 1941. The other 8 bombs all exploded although missed their target - presumably the Telegraph Museum - and no one was hurt. Apparently a bomb squad arrived to defuse it and 16 year old Walter Williams wanted to keep the casing, bartering 3 dozen eggs in return for his souvenir now displayed here. The human story of those working on Communications is told in some glass cases through artefacts and letters. It appears that the Chairman of Cable and Wireless cared very much about his staff, recording any deaths of telegraph workers, and also using the organisation to help civilians where he could e.g. setting up a Children’s Free Telegram service allowing children to communicate more easily with their parents. As you move through the bunker there is a door leading to the original escape stairs - 120 steps hewn through the solid granite to the cliff above, giving a covert way out should the tunnels be overrun. You can take a hard hat and climb to the top to find a signpost at the top, showing distances to some of the places from where cables came. Other smaller rooms, once workshops, sleeping and washing accommodation, now house other displays. You can discover the work of the Telecom Girls, the difficulties of working on a cable ship, laying and repairing the undersea cables, the origins of GCHQ, the radio communications of SOE. Blinking as you emerge into daylight, you have just a momentary sense of how it must have been for the staff, doing a vital job for the war effort in the bowels of the earth, knowing that your place of work was targeted by the enemy, yet having to return day after day. It’s a humbling experience after a very worthwhile visit. The bunker is part of a more comprehensive visit to the whole of the museum which details the history of the telegraph and communications. Visiting Porthcurno Bunker Address: Eastern House, Porthcurno, Penzance TR19 6JX Large car park available There are several buses from Penzance and other local towns and villages going directly to the Museum Open: Daily 10am - 5pm Prices: Adults £10, Students £9, Under 18 £6.00, Families £30 Concessions available for NT, English Heritage and people arriving by bus Tickets can be used for a year Facilities: Café and facilities available on site

  • GREENHAM COMMON PEACE GARDEN - THE STONE CIRCLE MONUMENT TO PEACE

    Many will be familiar with the protests at Greenham Common which began in 1981 when thousands of women gathered to campaign for nuclear disarmament, camping around the fences of the military base where nuclear missiles were held at RAF Greenham in Berkshire. Many women spent years at the camp, some were there on and off for 19 years, and there is now a memorial garden to them and the magnificent work they did. Hidden between a modern industrial estate and a roundabout on a busy road near Newbury is the Peace Garden, all that remains of the camp which dominated the protest movement and the news of the 1980s. It can be hard to find, tucked behind trees and up a road which says it is private, but it is well worth the effort as it is a beautiful garden with a circle of standing stones around a campfire, representing the women who would huddle around a fire for warmth and camaraderie in those turbulent days of the Cold War in the 1980s. A Brief History of the the Greenham Common Peace Camp RAF Greenham had been an airforce base near Newbury since the early days of World War II. in 1943 it was given to the US Airforce as a base for their operations during the war, remaining in their hands as the threat of the Cold War intensified in the years afterwards. In the early 1980s, Margaret Thatcher agreed that it could be used as a base for nuclear weapons, intending to keep their presence a secret from the public. People of course found out, and in 1981 a group of women from Wales marched to the base to protest nuclear missiles on British soil. Various protests followed with thousands of women from across the country joining them. They chained themselves to the fences, 30,000 women encircled the entire base holding hands, they dressed in black and mourned for their children's futures, cut the fence, danced on the missile silos and caused mayhem for the authorities with many other non-violent strategies. Women stayed around the camp near the various gates, living in encampments of tents and old caravans. They would gather around braziers and fires for heat, coping with conditions of physical hardship as well as being ridiculed and bullied by locals and the police. For many though it was a time of liberation. Women would talk freely in the absence of men, something less common in the 1980s than it is now, and many found support and solidarity dealing with issues normally kept hidden - domestic violence, abuse and assault. There were countless arrests and countless court cases, but they stuck with it and became famous across the world for their dissent and firm belief that nuclear missiles were unacceptable. In 1987 the INF Treaty was signed by the USA and USSR, when intermediate range missiles were banned. The women had achieved their aim. Some women stayed on, fighting for the land to be returned to its previous common ownership. The nuclear missiles left in 1991, with the last American departing in 1992. In 2000 the remaining fences were removed, and the area is now Greenham and Crookham Common, an open landscape of heather and wildlife. The Peace Garden The Greenham Common Peace Garden was built on the site of 'Yellow Gate', the main entrance to the RAF base and where many of the women lived and protested. There were several gates to the site, the women named them after colours, with each one having a slightly different focus and group of protestors. The last protestor left the site in 2000, and just two years later this garden was established on the site. The garden was designed by Roderick Griffin and incorporates the four elements of fire, earth, water and air. Planting is with native British plants and included an oak sapling from the equally controversial Newbury By-pass which destroyed much of the surrounding countryside in the late 1990s. There are seven standing stones transported from Wales, representing the Welsh women who marched from Cardiff in 1981 and started the whole movement. They stand tall and defiantly, each a rough hewn grey stone, unmovable and unyielding, each one a different shape and size yet together they form a cohesive whole circle. Inside the stone circle is a sculpture by Michael Marriott of towering flames, rusted with age to a burnt orange, representing the campfires. Around the circle are low benches of both stone and wood, and you can sit on these around the fire, completing the circle and joining in the fellowship and strength of the sisterhood of those brave women who fought so hard. Near the stone circle is a garden dedicated to Helen Thomas, the only activist who was killed during the protests. Standing in a safe zone to cross a road, she was knocked down by a police horse box returning from a gymkhana in Oxford. There is still debate over the circumstances surrounding it. Containing another sculpture by Michael Marriott, it is a stone and steel spiral with a fountain in the middle and the words, 'You can't kill the spirit' engraved around the edges. These are from a protest song which was sung regularly by the women at the Peace Camp: You can't kill the Spirit She is like a mountain Old and strong She goes on an on and on She is like a mountain... There is a bench around the circle with a dedication to Sarah Hipperson. Sarah Hipperson spent 17 years at the Peace Camp, joining when she was in her mid-50s and imprisoned 20 times over the subsequent years for her non-violent protests against nuclear armament. She was one of the last four women to leave the camp and lived to see it returned to public use as the Greenham and Crookham Common. The garden may now be very much off the beaten track and hidden on the edges of an industrial estate, but step inside and down the winding gravel path to a place of female solidarity, strength and unity, when they took on powerful, male dominated aggression, and won. Visiting the Greenham Common Peace Garden Address: 48 Main St, Thatcham RG19 6HP w3w: declares.chose.tonal The garden is open at all hours and is free to visit. There are no facilities on site.

  • A VISIT TO THE ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE

    The architecture of the Royal Courts of Justice is designed to impress the humble citizen with the power and might of the civil law of the United Kingdom, to portray the central idea that wrongdoers will be punished and that victims will be vindicated. All this is emphasised by taking a free tour – self-guided with a helpful leaflet - or as a paying member of a group with a Blue Badge Guide. N.B. Photography is not allowed inside the building and the Royal Courts of Justice refused permission for me to use the photos which they have on their site so you'll have to use your imagination! On entering the visitor could be forgiven for thinking that they had strayed into a cathedral by mistake – the height and scale of the Great Central Hall with its soaring arches, ornate stonework, mosaic marbled floor, stained glass windows and statues all give the impression that justice must come from God, that the workings of the law are mysterious yet absolute. Indeed, George Edmund Street, who won the commission was an ecclesiastical architect, and had worked with Sir Gilbert Scott, the English Gothic revival enthusiast, so the expectation of the Victorian committee who appointed him was that the resulting building would be majestic and powerful. With 1000 rooms, 35 long corridors and 35 million pieces of stone it is undeniably grandiose and imposing. It was completed by 1882 and opened by Queen Victoria, with William Gladstone the Prime Minister also present. Originally with 19 courts, the later expansion and the addition of the Rolls Building mean that there are now 132 courts available. No criminal cases are tried here – although appeals against criminal sentences may be heard in the High Court. Instead, the Chancery Division deals with trade and industry disputes, insolvency and personal disputes over trusts, wills and probate. The King’s Bench Division handles large commercial disputes, claims of personal injury, medical negligence, libel and slander. The Family Division deals with divorce, the care of children and some domestic violence cases. Serious national inquires are also heard here e.g. the inquiry into the death of Princess Diana, involvement in the Iraq War and recently the tragic event of the Grenfell fire. Any member of the public has the right to listen to a court case in the Public Gallery (except Family Courts) as long as it is not being held in camera. The tour begins in the Great Central Hall and it was somewhat surprising to learn that it was still permitted, by tradition, to play Badminton here on occasions as shuttlecocks cause no damage to the stonework. But here you find the business of the day – the Daily Cause Lists identify the cases being heard and in which court and which judge is presiding. On a normal working day the whole area is filled with barristers and clients discussing the progress of their cases. They work with the statues of eminent men looking down upon them – Lord Russell of Killowen the first Roman Catholic judge, Sir William Blackstone, who wrote Commentaries on the Laws of England and George Edmund Street, the architect. A small glass cabinet displays presents from abroad given to members of the judiciary – who are not permitted to accept them personally. This vast building is incredibly expensive to run, so these days you are likely to find it raising money by being featured in films such as Skyfall and Mission Impossible, and it has also been used for London Fashion Week. The guide then conducts a tour of the building up above the Great Central Hall. The visitor learns that the police force here is headed by the Tipstaff – the only person authorised to make an arrest within the Royal Courts of Justice. He has a metal tipped staff (hence his name) – now used for ceremonial occasions. Rarely, if someone objects violently to the progress or verdict in a case, they can find themselves arrested and conducted to a cell. The 14 cells are also there to house convicted appellants until they are required in court. Visitors walk past the various courtrooms and see exhibitions of wigs and hats. Wigs have been in use since the reign of Charles II – when wigs fell out of fashion for the general public the judiciary retained them for solemn identification and to command respect. Made of horsehair they used to have to be powdered regularly to get rid of “critters” within, but apparently more acceptable modern methods have cured the problem! The tour includes the Painted Room, prepared for Queen Victoria, with marble columns and the walls strikingly dramatic in red and green, with much of the Queen’s insignia portrayed as well as the coats of arms of the four Inns of Court – Inner Temple, Middle Temple, Lincoln’s Inn and Gray’s Inn. Next door is the Bear Garden, so called because Victoria is reputed to have described the noise made by barristers and their clients as “like a Bear Garden”, referring to the noise coming from bear pits on bear-bating nights. Nearby is the office of the King’s Remembrancer – the oldest continuing job in the judiciary. His/her job today is largely ceremonial but involves regularly updating the King on how the Acts of Parliament that he has signed into law are working in practice. The tour ends in the museum which has a small display of legal costumes – the longevity of traditional dress is symbolic of the continuity of the legal system. There are full court dress and regalia in cases, professional robes designed to remind the wearers of their duty and the public of their position at court. Here too is one of the old black caps worn by a judge pronouncing the death sentence and the original transcript of the trial of Guido Fawkes in 1606 after the failure of the Gunpowder Plot. The visitor emerges from the building into the noise and bustle of The Strand somewhat awestruck, glad to have been there as a spectator only, but very conscious that justice is there to be done and can be seen to be done. Visiting the Royal Courts of Justice Address: Strand, London WC2A 2LL Nearest tube station: Temple A self-guided tour is free and probably better than a guided one which costs £14+. As the tour side of the business is partnered with a multi-national corporation, they really don't need any additional income!

  • THE CHURCH OF NOTRE DAME DE FRANCE IN LONDON

    An exquisite little church in Soho in the heart of London, built originally for the needs of the Francophone community in the mid 19th century, this building offers an excellent visit to anyone investigating the varied churches of our capital city, particularly those interested in contemporary art. French roots in England began with the invasion of William the Conqueror and, despite wars between England and France persisting into the early 19th century, the commercial and cultural ties remained strong and over the centuries there was a steady influx of French citizens. In the 17th century London welcomed the Protestant refugees, the Huguenots, feeling from Catholic persecution. Catholics escaping the French Revolution in the 18th century also found refuge and peace here. By the mid 19th century many thousands of French citizens had made London their home, many of them crowded around Leicester Square and constituting what was known as “the French colony”. It was for them that Notre Dame was founded. In 1861 Cardinal Wiseman, Archbishop of Westminster, asked the Marist Fathers to establish their mission here and put Father Charles Faure in charge of the project. Father Faure purchased the circular building already existing near Leicester Square and the building was transformed into a church, opening its doors in 1868. The church and community flourished, but in 1940 during the Blitz a direct hit from German bombs left the church and crypt a heap of rubble, broken planks and twisted beams. After much fundraising and hard work the new church reopened for worship in 1955. The building was deliberately light and modern in design and the decoration was to include contemporary religious art rather than focus on the traditional accumulation of statues, candelabra, stained glass, many confessional boxes, heavy wooden or stone furniture. And this is how it is today. As you step in you are immediately struck by the lightness and airiness of the building. The dome above allows brightness in, the walls are white, the whole impression is of openness and welcome. All the traditional Catholic elements are here when you look, such as the Stations of the Cross which are in small discreet tiles around the walls, but there is none of the “heaviness” often associated with older churches. A circular balcony provides more space, thus not cluttering the interior of the church but adding to the sense of radiance that permeates this building. Above the main altar is displayed a large tapestry completed in the Aubusson workshops designed by Dom Robert, monk, theologian and a lover of nature. On an azure blue background a young woman in a white dress, symbolising purity and wisdom, stands in the middle of verdant scenery surrounded by animals. In a side chapel consecrated to Mary is a mosaic by Boris Anrep depicting the Nativity. And behind it are glorious paintings by Jean Cocteau showing three episodes of Mary’s life - the Annunciation, the Crucifixion and the Assumption. The newest addition is a painting of the Flight to Egypt by Timur D’vatz, unveiled in 2015, continuing the church’s principle of support for contemporary religious art. Today the church continues to serve the Francophone community in London, many now coming from Mauritius and other African countries and Asia as well as France itself. It has a role in supporting the homeless as well as refugees and asylum seekers, but it welcomes all visitors to view its splendid building and its modern art, and is definitely somewhere for the Slow Traveller to appreciate and enjoy. The church isn't easy to find but is well worth it Visiting the Church of Notre Dame in London Address: 5 Leicester Place, London WC2H 7BX Nearest tube: Leicester Square

  • ST.CLEMENT DANES - LONDON CHURCH OF THE RAF

    This little church on an island in The Strand has much to offer the visitor. It’s an architectural gem in its own right but, as the Central Church of the RAF, it houses the national Books of Remembrance and is a focus of worship for all RAF servicemen. A haven of peace in the busyness of central London, it is the perfect place for the Slow Traveller to take some time out. Outside the church stand two statues of the RAF’s wartime leaders – Hugh Dowding and Arthur “Bomber” Harris. The one of Harris was controversial due to his order for the bombing of Dresden, Hamburg and other German cities, which led to staggeringly high losses of life in appalling circumstances. No statue was originally erected for him and when, eventually, Faith Winter was commissioned to design it and it was unveiled by the Queen Mother in 1992, there were huge protests - the statue and plinth were sprayed with red paint and the word “Shame”. It remains a focus for debate, with one side seeing Harris’s orders as a war crime, and others arguing that it was a legitimate response to the Total War initiated by the Nazis and that the war would have lasted longer and with greater loss of life without his actions. The church probably acquired its unusual name in the 9th century when Danish settlers with English wives were allowed to live in the area, taking over a small church dedicated to St Clement, Bishop of Rome at the end of the 1st century. The church became known as “St-Clement-of the-Danes”, soon abbreviated to St Clement Danes. Famous parishioners include John Donne in the 16th century and Dr. Samuel Johnson in the 18th century. William Webb Ellis, credited with inventing Rugby Football in 1823 was Rector here from 1843 – 1855. The church building survived with various alterations including by Sir Christopher Wren in the 17th century and the steeple in elegant diminishing stages added by his pupil, James Gibbs, in the early 18th century. However, in 1941 the church received a direct hit from an incendiary bomb during the Blitz. Within minutes the church was ablaze as the bell tower and Gothic steeple acted as a funnel for the flames and the building was totally devastated. Only the outer walls and bell tower remained. It’s a particularly sad story as the Rector, William Pennington-Bickford, died some days later from a broken heart, and his wife, Louie, took her own life a short while later, jumping from an attic window. The church remained boarded up and abandoned for a further 15 years. After the war the RAF were looking for a central London church so it was agreed that, if the RAF could raise the funds and rebuild the church to Wren’s original designs, the church could be dedicated and used in perpetuity as a place of worship and a national Memorial of Remembrance. A huge fundraising campaign followed, the church was rebuilt, and Queen Elizabeth attended the reconsecration in 1958. The interior is light and spacious following Wren’s original design, with a barrel-vaulted roof and tall semi-circular arched windows, featuring galleries along both sides supported by Corinthian columns. Inlaid into the floor of the church in are over 1000 unit badges made of Welsh slate that have made up the RAF over the years. Standards of past RAF squadrons adorn the walls and there are memorials to individuals and to groups. A memorial to the Polish Air Force is in the North aisle. There are ten Memorial Cabinets with the names of RAF personnel who have died in service as well as a Memorial Book containing 16,000 names of US airmen who died while based in the UK. Happily, the pulpit ornately carved by Grinling Gibbons in the late 17th century was stored for safe keeping in St Paul’s during the Blitz and so was able to be repositioned here intact in 1958. There is a great sense of how air force communities came together in comradeship and remembrance after the Second World War. Much of the church furniture has been gifted – the lectern by the Royal Australian Air Force, the altar from the Dutch embassy, the font in the crypt by the Royal Norwegian Air Force, the Paschal Candle by the Royal Belgian Air Force. The magnificent organ was donated by the Unites States Air Force. The little crypt is light and airy and is used for services as well as housing some of the artefacts and relics from its extensive history. It was used as a burial place for nearly 300 years until 1853. In 1956 all of the bones were cremated and the ashes interred under the South Stairs, with the coffin plates from the 18th and 19th centuries put up on the walls. Standing inside or near to St Clement Danes on the hour is certain to bring a smile as the “bells of St Clement’s” ring out Oranges and Lemons. The origins of the rhyme are obscure but, no matter, to hear the bells is a charming moment. According to a tradition established in 1920, every March the children of St Clement Danes Primary School attend a short service and afterwards each one is presented with an orange and a lemon. The Strand is a particularly boisterous and busy part of central London – a brief excursion into the RAF church is a very peaceful and rewarding experience. Visiting St Clement Danes Address: Central Church of the Royal Air Force, Strand, London WC2R 1DH Nearest tube: Covent Garden

  • LONGSTOCK WATER GARDENS IN HAMPSHIRE

    A peaceful and tranquil area, these Water Gardens owned by the John Lewis Group are a great place to visit, a hidden delight in the scenic Hampshire countryside which are the perfect place for the Slow Traveller to spend a quiet afternoon outdoors. Until the 1870s this piece of land was just a watery copse when an area was excavated for gravel with which to build local roads and create the drive up to Longstock House, creating the main lake. The land was then bought in 1914 by Reginald Beddington who began to design a water garden, tapping his streams into the River Test for his water supply. In 1946 John Spedan Lewis, already the owner of a large estate in Leckford, bought nearby Longstock House and set about creating these magnificent Water Gardens across both sites. The whole estate now spans over 2,800 acres and is staffed by John Lewis employees. It took six years to establish them, as the ground was so waterlogged that each island had to be dug out by hand. His aim was that they should look natural rather than formal. It gave him great satisfaction to sit in the (still existing) summer house with a phone line and secretary and run the John Lewis business from such an exquisite setting. When he died in 1963 the Gardens were given to the John Lewis Partnership with the proviso that they were to be maintained and enjoyed by all members of the Partnership. The approach is along narrow leafy lanes from Stockbridge, hinting at the tranquillity and beauty that awaits you. Once through the entrance to the gardens you can feel an immediate sense of serenity. The water of the lakes is crystal clear, the paths weave away invitingly through the lush vegetation and tall trees. Small islands are linked by bridges. The planting is designed to have interest and colour for all seasons – rhododendrons, irises and azalea for Spring, bright primulas and all varieties of hostas as summer approaches. The lakes attract water birds such as herons, moorhens and kingfishers. There are many wildflowers to attract insects. These gardens are judged amongst the finest in the world by the International Water Lily Society as they have over 40 different waterlilies. You can easily while away an hour or so here and come away refreshed and calm, but also invigorated by the experience. VISITING LONGSTOCK GARDENS How to get to Longstock Gardens By car: A30 from Stockbrige to village of Longstock then follow brown tourist signs. Continue past the Farms Shop and Nursery and the Water Gardens are on the right. There is plenty of free parking opposite the entrance. Public Transport There is no regular bus service to the Water Gardens. When are the Water Gardens open? Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 12pm and 1.30pm – 3.30pm, Sunday 11pm – 1.00pm. How much does it cost to visit the Water Gardens? Adults: £10 Under 3: free Tickets must be pre-booked. Are there any facilities at the Water Gardens? No, but the Leckford Farm Estate is less than a mile away with a large restaurant, loos, a Farm Shop and Nurseries.

  • VISITING RAF COSFORD

    The RAF Museum is home to over 75 historic aircraft, but you don’t have to be a military aviation expert to enjoy RAF Cosford: there is plenty here for the more casual visitor, especially one interested in the history of the air force and the role it has played in world events since the Great War. There are plenty of aircraft on show outside as you approach the first hangar, including a Catalina flying boat and a Lockheed Neptune. Once inside there is a brief history of the RAF’s first 100+ years, beginning with the formation of the Royal Flying Corps in 1914 through its emergence as the RAF in 1918 to its role in the present day. This hangar then offers the visitor, for £5 each, the chance to “experience all the thrills and exhilaration of powered flight”. There is the opportunity to fly in a Spitfire in a virtual reality setting, and also the 4D experience of flying with the Red Arrows. There were rather terrifying sounds emerging from this attraction (happily the vibration and clunks of machinery rather than the cries of the “airborne” occupants) but it was proclaimed “amazing” by those emerging, even if they looked a little shaken. You could also experience a Typhoon Simulator and/or the Paradrop VR – a journey “flying” under a canopy which takes the brave passenger over cities, mountains, deserts and through outer space. The second hangar displays some of the early combat aircraft – including a Great War Sopwith Pup – before moving on to the Battle of Britain aircraft. There is plenty of information about the “Few” and, as you would expect, a Submarine Spitfire – this one being the world’s oldest surviving Spitfire, taking its first flight on April 1939. There is detail about how the Dowding Defence system operated to get fighter planes into the air during the crucial months of 1940. A Hawker Hurricane is exhibited – Hurricanes in fact shot down 60% of enemy aircraft, more than all the air and ground defences combined. A German dive bomber, the Junkers Ju 88, is also on display in this hangar as well as a Messerschmitt, the Me410. A de Havilland Mosquito and other aircraft also come from this era and the only Boulton Paul Defiant in the world is here. There is a Yokosuka Ohka single-seat rocket-powered suicide attack aircraft of the type used by the Japanese in their suicide missions against American shipping in the Pacific. Display cabinets include some artefacts and leaflets from the Home Front as well as mascots once carried by the airmen. The Cold War hangar is full of interest. The aircraft are interspersed with small hubs which explain much of the background to the planes that were operational during this period from 1946 to 1990 when the spectre of nuclear war haunted the world. The story begins with the development of the Manhattan Project and the early testing of atomic bombs. All three British V bombers are on show here – Vulcan, Victor and Valiant and the English Electric Lightning suspended vertically. You may be lucky, as we were, and encounter a veteran looking at the display who is willing to share knowledge and experience. Standing beside the Vickers Valiant XD818 was the navigator plotter who had been a member of the crew that had tested a hydrogen bomb over Maiden Island in 1957. One hub explains the concept of MAD – Mutually Assured Destruction - another gives the story of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament showing the Aldermaston marches and the protests by the women of Greenham Common. One gives graphic detail and pictures about the 13 Days of tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1963. There is information about the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, and a hub concentrating on the Space Race between east and west. Any visitor who may have less interest in the technicalities and specifications of the planes will surely appreciate the successful placing of these aircraft in their political and historical context. This museum is amazingly good value. It is supported by the Ministry of Defence and therefore free, although all donations are welcome. Any costs entailed are for the carpark or the flight “experiences”. There are several knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers on hand to answer questions. Exhibitions are regularly changing – for example a Falklands Exhibition is running in 2022, and there are often air shows in the summer months. There is an imaginative play area if you have young children with you. Visiting RAF Cosford Lysander Avenue, Cosford, Shropshire, TF11 8UP 01902 376200 Entrance to the Museum is free. By car: Easy access from the M6 southbound at Junction 12, northbound at Junction 10a. Only 30 minutes from the centre of Birmingham or 10 minutes from Telford. Not all SATNAV systems recognise the postcode so WV7 3EU is an alternative. The car park costs £5. By rail: Cosford is on the Birmingham to Shrewsbury Line with ½ mile walk to the Museum. By bus: 891 from Wolverhampton and Telford By bike: The Museum is on National Cycle Route 81 from Wellington to Albrighton Facilities available on site include a café and licensed restaurant

  • ERDDIG - AN UNUSUAL VISIT TO A STATELY HOME

    Erddig is an unusual National Trust “stately home” visit because the emphasis is not upon the “stately” but upon the ordinary working life of an estate - with particular emphasis on the role and welfare of the servants. Don’t expect portraits, elaborate furniture, lush drapes – although there are some – this is much more about the people who lived and worked here, masters, mistresses and employees alike. There are few glittering treasures “acquired” from overseas adventures – instead what you see is more homely and understated and the entire estate has the sense of authenticity from the moment you arrive. Erddig Hall was originally constructed in the 1680s and was bought by a wealthy London lawyer, John Meller in 1716. He extended the house and in 1733 passed it on to his nephew, Simon Yorke. This began an unbroken line of ownership which lasted for nearly 250 years. Thus you have continuity of family tradition and custom which is reflected in the atmosphere of the house. The last Yorke died in 1978. The visit begins, appropriately enough, with a servant’s workshop – the carpenter’s realm - where there is a comprehensive array of joiners’ tools. Some belonged to Thomas Rogers who only escaped being press-ganged into the Navy during the Napoleonic Wars because the existing owner, Simon Yorke II, paid his ransom. He retired at the age of 90 in 1871. The outlying workshops house many of the essential items that enabled the estate to function – in the Midden Yard are farm carts, the smithy, the saw mill and a carriage collection. In the Stable Yard the visitor sees stables, the tack room and a fine array of vintage bicycles and cars. Inside the house on the ground floor you get to wander through the laundry, bakehouse, kitchen and scullery and butler’s pantry. Below stairs was the servants’ domain and, for me, the focus of the visit, because of the clear respect and affection that the Yorkes had for their many employees over the years. On the walls of the corridor are poems designed to praise the characters, achievements and loyalty of the servants – blacksmiths, carpenters, coachmen, gardeners, nurses and cook-housekeepers – accompanied in the early days by portraits (itself very unusual) and in latter years by photographs. This tradition began in 1793 and was carried on by successive Yorke owners, and the poetry comes across with humour and warmth. A small example is the tribute to the gardener dated November 1912: When those who view our gardens ask Who undertakes this arduous task Of managing that spacious ground And that which is within it found; To such we joyfully confess In him a treasure we possess, And, tho’ but recent on the scene, He a great power for good has been. Documents and records of gifts by the staff to the Yorkes suggest that the feelings were generally mutual. Erddig must have been a better place to work than many such wealthy estates. The house also has a unique collection of furniture, textiles and wallpapers and a small chapel to seat both owners and servants. However, the heart of the house seems to be in the downstairs areas rather than the more elaborate state rooms. You get the feeling that the estate owners themselves liked to be outdoors, and prized their farmland, outdoor workshops and gardens more highly than their indoor areas. And perhaps that they felt more at home with their household staff, skilled workers and craftsmen, than they did entertaining their equals. The gardens of Erddig and the various walks around the estate are a delight. The 18th century walled garden has been fully restored and extended. There are formal areas including the Victorian Parterre, the extensive lawns, the rose garden, the avenue of pleached lime trees and the trained fruit trees. Further afield you can discover the fish pond, canal and screen and the moss walk. An unusual feature is the “cup and saucer” a cylindrical cascade, a weir, which rapidly drops the water level of the nearby stream through an internal waterfall. There are very attractive strolls through the woods and wild flower areas. Erddig fell into decline in the mid 20th century and the last owner, Philip S Yorke, had no heir and decided to hand over the house and state to the National Trust in 1973 on the condition that nothing was to be removed from the house and that it was to be dedicated “to the enjoyment of all who may come here and see a part of our national heritage preserved for all foreseeable time”. And, happily, this is indeed the experience of a visit to Erddig. Visiting Erdigg By car The address is Wrexham, LL13, 0YT, but it is recommended that you follow the brown signs from the A525 Whitchurch Road or the A483. By bus Route 2 from Oswestry and through Cefn Mawr ro Wrexham, Route 4 from Penycae, Route 5 from Llangollen. Stop at Felin Puleston, Rhostyllen and walk 1 mile through Erdigg Country Park. By train Take a train to Wrexham Central (1.7 mile walk) or Wrexam General (1.9 mile walk). Walk on the footpath on Erddig Road. Opening hours The gardens usually open at 10.00am and the house at 12:30pm. Prices The visit is free to NT members Adult: £9.00 Child: £4.50 There is a café and there are facilities on site.

  • WATCHING THE CEREMONY OF THE KEYS AT THE TOWER OF LONDON

    One of the oldest ceremonies in the world, the military nighttime ceremony is shrouded in tradition and mystery, with tickets to watch it often selling out in minutes of becoming available. It is worth trying though, for the chance to watch this ancient ritual playing out within the impenetrable walls and cobbled streets of the famous Tower of London. A Brief History of the Ceremony of the Keys The locking of the Tower of London began in 1340 when King Edward III arrived at the Tower and was able to just walk in completely unchallenged. He imprisoned the Constable of the Tower for dereliction of duty and insisted that the Tower should be locked every sunset and unlocked every sunrise. By the time the unpopular Mary I was on the throne in 1555 she was worrying about her security and she insisted there should be no less than 21 yeoman, nine to patrol during the day and six at night. She also supplied detailed instructions as to how the keys should be locked away at night: ‘And it is ordered that there shall be a place appointed under Locke and key where in the keys of the gates of the saide Tower shall be laide in the sight of the constable, the porter and two of the Yeoman Warders, or three of them at the least, and by two or three of them to be taken out when the[y] shall be occupied. And the key of that locke or coffer where the keys be, to be kepte by the porter or, in his absence, by the chief yeoman warder.’ The only time the ceremony changed again was in 1826 when the Duke of Wellington fixed the evening ceremony to the exact time of 10pm, as sunset was just too vague and the guards were often being locked out overnight. Watching the Ceremony of the Keys Having tried unsuccessfully for several years to get tickets, I was triumphant to finally get some for an evening in late August when I could also get to the capital. It was with some excitement that we arrived at the main gate to the Tower of London at 9pm, waiting patiently in a line of about 20 people for admittance. On the dot of 9.25pm, a Yeoman Warder came out to speak to us and we all shuffled through the gates, waiting by the Middle Tower until everyone was gathered together. Our Yeoman Warder introduced herself as Emma Rousell, who is only the third female warder in the whole history of the Yeoman Guards. Dressed in the Tudor bonnet and famous red coat, she talked us through the rules of the event, ensuring we all turned off phones and put away cameras, before leading us to Traitors' Gate where she talked us through the ceremony, what it meant and what would happen. She struck the perfect balance between humour and the solemnity of the occasion, adding in a few lighthearted quips amongst all of the information, impressing on us the importance of what was going to happen but still keeping everyone amused and interacting with the few young kids who were there, looking slightly bemused at being part of a crowd of people standing on the cobbles at night in the dim light coming from the lanterns above us. As she talked to us, four guards, The Escort of the Keys, marched up behind her and waited in the archway of the Bloody Tower before us. The guards on duty in the Tower rotate between the Grenadier, Coldstream, Scots, Irish and the Welsh Guards. The Irish Guards were on duty for our visit, looking immaculate in red tunics and tall bearskin hats, three of them carrying machine guns. The fourth guard was empty handed. From the Byward Tower marched the Chief Yeoman Warder carrying a candle lantern in one hand and a bunch of keys, the Queen's Keys *, in the other. Wearing his bright red watchcoat and black bonnet decorated with red, white and blue ribbons to represent the flowers that warders used to wear on their heads to ward off medieval smells, it could have been an image from centuries ago, as he walked up the cobbled street through the pools of soft yellow light from the lanterns glowing on those stone walls, bats flitting overhead. Joining the escort of four guards and handing his lantern over to the empty handed guard, they marched back to lock up the gates of Middle Tower and Byward Tower. On their return to the archway of the Bloody Tower, a sentry who had been guarding an area to the right of us, approached them with his gun aimed at them and shouted: Sentry: "Halt! Who comes there?" Chief Yeoman Warder: "The keys". Sentry: "Whose keys?" Chief Yeoman Warder: "Queen Elizabeth's keys". * Sentry: "Pass Queen Elizabeth's Keys. All's well". The Chief Yeoman Warder and escort then marched through the archway where they joined the Tower Guard, those who are on duty defending the tower, on the steps before us. Emma motioned our group to follow quietly behind her, where we stood silently in the shadow of the White Tower, which was illuminated from below and looking dramatic against the dark night sky. The clock struck 10 and a bugler played the Last Post. The soldiers were then all dismissed, marching off over the top of the steps. Emma then told us we could ask questions and get our cameras out for photos. There were a lot of questions as you would expect and she answered them all with knowledge and humour. It felt like a real privilege to have a female warder as our guide and we asked more about her, learning of her 32 years of service in the RAF and how she felt about living within the walls of the Tower. Overall it was a marvellous experience and one we all enjoyed. To be witness to something so ancient which has been carried out every night for 600 years felt really special and emerging afterwards into London by night really added to the significance of the occasion. * They are now the King's Keys. We watched the ceremony just two weeks before the Queen died. What happens at the Ceremony of the Keys - the Practicalities: Ticket holders are asked to wait at the main entrance to the Tower for 9:25 pm. At the allotted time, a Yeoman will open the gates, provide a brief introduction and check your names off a list. After a quick bag search, you walk through to the Middle Tower. Here, the Yeoman Warder will go through some basics such as the ban on photography, turning all your phones off and staying completely silent throughout the ceremony. You then go through to Traitors' Gate, standing with your backs to it. The Yeoman Warder explains the ceremony with a brief history and what will happen. The ceremony then unfolds in front of you. After the first bit, the Yeoman ushers you through the gate to the Bloody Tower where you watch the second part of the ceremony and listen to the Last Post. The soldiers are then dismissed - once they are gone you are allowed to take photos. The Yeoman Warder then answers any questions you may have and escorts you back out of the Tower, the way you came in. The end time is about 10.15pm. There is no access to anywhere else within the Tower. Facilities: There are no loos, seating, cafés or water taps. You cannot leave halfway through or arrive late. This is a military event, not a tourist attraction. Getting tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys Tickets are released on the website. There is no waiting list and there are strict rules about how many you can buy and the names of the people on the tickets. The HRP ticket booking page has full details >> How much is a ticket for the Ceremony of the Keys? The cost is currently just £5 per person. Is there a dress code for the Ceremony of the Keys? There is no official dress code, but ensure that it is respectful and also that you are comfortable, as you cannot sit down anywhere and you will be doing some walking on the cobbled streets inside the Tower. Make sure your clothing is weather appropriate. What time is the Ceremony of the Keys? Be at the gate for 9.25pm.

  • A VISIT TO HEELIS, HEAD OFFICE OF THE NATIONAL TRUST

    Heelis was built in 2005 as the head office for the UK's largest charity, the National Trust. Located in the midst of all the railway heritage of Swindon in northern Wiltshire, it is thought to be one of the greenest office buildings in the country. Occasionally open to the public for open days and tours, it is a fascinating building to visit and a glimpse of just how environmentally friendly, sustainable and efficient workplaces can be. Heelis was created when the National Trust decided to consolidate their four offices around the country to reduce costs and improve efficiency across the company. The Trust is the largest charity in the UK, founded in 1895 and responsible for the care and upkeep of historic buildings and precious landscapes. It owns over 600,000 acres of land, 780 miles of coast and more than 500 buildings which include stately homes, chapels, pubs, barns, factories and more. With over 10,000 employees and 53,000 volunteers, a lot of work is required to run such a large and diverse company. The building was designed by Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, British architects renowned for their sustainable and social design, who say they 'design with empathy for the human condition, with science for sustainable outcomes, and with art for crafting beautiful places.' This is certainly applicable to Heelis, which is truly innovative in all aspects. It was built on the site of an old foundry in the midst of Swindon's railway heritage, home to Great Western Railway and once one of the largest railway engineering complexes in the world. Although many of the original buildings have been repurposed, the railway heritage is still prominent in the area, and Heelis was designed with recognition of its unique location. Heelis gets its name from Beatrix Potter, one of the first people to donate land to the National Trust: Heelis was her married name. It was built with natural resources and all of it can be dismantled and repurposed - even the bricks are in lime mortar so that they can be re-used. It was designed with two foundations, walls which will absorb the heat and 1554 solar panels. The double-glazed windows are thicker than standard ones and they open at night to purge the building so there is a complete change of air. Apparently the staff refer to this aspect as 'cardigan culture', as everyone has to wear a cardigan for the first hour of the morning while the place warms up. There is very little aircon used inside the building; instead there are a mixture of windows you can open and large vents which open automatically. Protected by mesh, they allow air to circulate throughout the building keeping it at a constant temperature and were in fact manufactured by staff from the original foundry which was on the site. Both lighting and heating are controlled by a computer which updates every 15 minutes, automatically adjusting the temperature and turning off lights in rooms which are no longer in use. The building references the historical aspects of the company in several ways. One is with its use of Tudor style light wells which allow natural light to filter throughout the building. There is a grand wooden staircase made of oak from Trust properties, and a slatted wood feature which uses 11 types of national tree, all of which fell in the Great Storm of 1987. Wood was used by the Tudors to absorb noise, as were tapestries, and a series of tapestries hang in the atrium by the staircase. Made in 2005 by textile artist Eleanor Pritchard who wove them on a handloom, each tapestry displays a different aspect of the Trust. Seaside, woods, gardens, farms and buildings are all represented, and you can see her inspiration boards on display. There are two internal gardens within the building which provide light, air and natural beauty for the staff. One is a kitchen garden which so many of their older properties have, and this supplies all of the garnishes for the staff meals from the in-house café. Apparently one year it also supplied some very tasty rhubarb fools too. The other garden is a breakout garden, used for when staff just want some fresh air or time to themselves. The garden has a pathway shaped like a two railway lines meeting at a turntable. It is not just the environmental and historical aspects of the building which are unique though, as its design has an impact on the way that people work within its walls. Even before Covid the Trust was moving towards using technology to bring staff together from their separate locations, meaning that far less was being spent on transportation costs. Staff there now work two days a week in the office, the rest from home, and there is a complete hot desk policy in operation. Some desks are supplied with computers, other just with the terminals required to plug in laptops and headsets, but each desk is kept totally devoid of personal possessions with a direct 'Clear by Night' policy to ensure that it always stays that way. Although phones are used, they are permanently silenced and the offices are said to be a peaceful place. Each desk has a view so that the occupant can focus on the long distance to rest their eyes, and is also in the sightline of a pretty picture of one of the properties to look at. Photocopiers and printers are kept in special pods away from the desks so that people need to walk to collect their documents, and across the offices the number of photocopying machines has reduced from 250 to 6, saving the Trust a huge amount of money. These pods also house all of the recycling and waste bins, saving the cleaning staff from having to empty hundreds of separate desk bins each night. There are six kitchen pods throughout the building, each with a dishwasher, fridge, food waste disposal and special taps which dispense hot water for teas and coffees and cold water for drinks. All mugs are identical, a uniform white so that there are no garish designs and so that everyone uses the dishwashers rather than handwashing them, which is discouraged for hygiene reasons. There are plenty of separate conference rooms where people can separate off for small groups and private conversations, as well as large open spaces. One large open space is known as the 'Town Hall' and is where senior management and the Directorate meet regularly as part of the decision making process, another called 'Brownsea' is a flexible space used for training. There is a space for meditation and private prayer and a few areas of comfortable seating and low tables, even a few deckchairs, where staff can relax and unwind. Heelis also has an extensive archive as they keep a copy of every magazine, handbook and publication, as well as a development kitchen where they test new recipes, and a café. Before the pandemic the café used to be open to the public, but is currently just for staff. There are plans to re-open it to the public again at some point in the future. A visit here is fascinating not just for the sustainable architecture but for the innovative way of working in a corporate office, and it is sure to inspire envy in those of us stuck working in windowless boxes overflowing with coffee cups and years worth of corporate clutter. It shows how streamlined, people friendly and calming an office environment can be if designed with a new approach to how businesses can function as well as an awareness of what staff need to perform their best. Visiting Heelis Keep an eye on the website for open days and tours dates

  • CARL HONORÉ AND SLOW TRAVEL: IT'S THE JOURNEY NOT THE DESTINATION

    Carl Honoré, widely referred to as the Godfather of Slow thanks to his seminal book, In Praise of Slow, has recently published a book for children all about Slow Travel. A beautifully illustrated hardback book, it suggests over 40 slow adventures by boat, bike, foot and train and includes trips such as walking the Great Stones Way in the south of England or trekking the Inca Trail in Peru. Carl Honoré is the author of several books for adults, not just about Slow but also how to make the most of our longer lives in his book, Bolder. Now he has turned his attention to writing for children with 'It's the Journey not the Destination', which was published in September 2022. It is more than just a simple picture book as it introduces the concept of Slow Travel to a whole new generation, hopefully for whom Slow will become the only way to travel, so we can rid the world of the current trend to visit as many places as possible in as short a time as possible, to the detriment of both the environment and indigenous cultures. The book introduces Slow Travel to its young readers as a way to experience the richness and wonders of the world, taking time to notice the details, the people, the sounds, aromas and flavours as a 'banquet for the senses'. Carl says in the introduction that he wants the book to 'fire your imagination and inspire you to explore the world at your own pace' and it certainly does that. Each set of double pages is a different adventure with 40 in total, divided up into journeys on foot, by bike, by boat and by train. Just a brief outline of each route is provided - this book isn't intended to help actively plan a trip, it is inspiration to get the mind immersed in the possibilities of what you could encounter along the way. The illustrations provide simple and beautiful depictions of the sights you could see on each adventure, but it is the vivid written text which I found the most evocative. Locations are described with a focus on the smaller details that adults would probably miss but which would be a priority for kids; the colours, smells, weather, the people you may meet on the way. A river running through a rainforest is described as 'tumbling 90 metres into a pool of blazing turquoise fringed by emerald flora', a beach next to a Hawaiian mountain range as 'Green mountains huddled together like bowling pins, their peaks kissed by clouds'. It is expressive, powerful and pregnant with the possibilities for adventures and exploring the world. The text is also surprisingly in depth, filled with facts and little nuggets of information for its readers: why something was built, who by, how old something is. He has managed to find a slow connection in many of these journeys - an Odyssey on the Aegean Sea based on Odysseus taking 10 years to make just a short journey, seeing sloths in Tenorio Volcano Park who are 'masters of slowness', the giant tortoises on the Galapagos who take more than three hours to walk a kilometre and spend most of their time napping. It is not just about exploring rural environments and wildernesses though. A bike ride through Los Angeles, Amsterdam from a canal boat, the Orient Express through the cities of Europe; all are covered with the small details to look out for and the joys to be found on the way that may be far removed from the natural world. The book is a gentle, unhurried exploration of slow journeys across the globe and is a wonderful addition to any child's library, immersing them in the sights, sounds and smells of Slow Travel. At the end of the book, Carl outlines ways to travel Slow, the important aspects of it being given as delightful examples: 'dawdle in the pool, daydream in the shade, marinade in deep thought, master the art of people-watching, keep a light schedule' amongst others, all of which crystalise the essence of Slow Travel for children. The whole book made me want to hit the open road, rucksack on my back and just a vague itinerary in my hand, to experience the joys of slow journeys. Carl recently wrote in his newsletter to followers: "... travel is a form of magic. It opens the mind. Makes you stronger and happier. Teaches you about the world and yourself. Brings you closer to other people. Travel creates Proustian memories that last a lifetime." And the best way to travel is slowly. When you move too fast through the world, you miss the small details and fine grain that make each place thrilling and unique. You visit places without really experiencing them – and then return home more tired than when you left. When you slow down, travel levels up. You start noticing things and remembering them later. You connect with people. Your senses come alive, opening you up to new sounds, aromas and flavours. When you travel slowly, you experience the world in all its richness and wonder." At Slow Travel, we couldn't agree more.

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