How much of an island can you see in a day? This was my challenge as I headed over to the Isle of Wight, determined to cram in plenty of cultural sights and loads of postcard-worthy views during my trip ( thanks to Red Funnel ferries for getting me there!). Armed with a hit list of places to visit, and a car to get around, I had nine hours to spend soaking up the atmosphere.
I’ve been to the island a couple of times as a child, so it wasn’t totally new to me, and this did affect where I chose to spend time. Having ticked off Blackgang Chine, Shanklin, Godshill Model Village and Osborne House years ago, I had to be ruthless and cut them from my schedule, in favour of experiencing something a bit different. As I stepped ashore at 10am, I knew I wanted to see a mixture of nature, history and the arts, with a dose of island quirk.
For the morbidly curious (that’d be me), the words ‘death’ and ‘tour’ in the same sentence are like music to the ears; throw in the word ‘debauchery’ and I’m easy like Sunday morning. So, when the kind people at Insider London offered me the chance to experience one of their quirky tours, this option immediately jumped out from the list.
As it happened, I couldn’t have made a better choice, because Death and Debauchery is the ultimate experience for anyone with an anatomical fixation, an interest in social history or a desire to know about the grimier side of life in one of the world’s most famous cities.
Having been pretty ill in recent weeks (to paraphrase Gok Wan in the new Activia ad, I haven’t been ‘feeling good on the inside’, though it’s nothing Activia and Gok can fix), this weekend it was time for a cheering up treat, in the form of a visit to Britain’s only bone chapel. There’s nothing like checking out 700-year-old skulls to help you put your own health issues into perspective… or to act as a nice distraction.
St. Leonard’s Church is in Hythe, which is a fairly nondescript town in Kent. Strangely enough, there’s no specific reason for its bones to be on display – no devout monastic order at work (as in the case of the Capuchin Crypt in Rome), no prominent case of severe overcrowding in the churchyard (as was the case at Les Innocents in Paris, later forming the backdrop to Andrew Miller’s novel, Pure). Nobody really knows why the bones are stacked so neatly and not interred in the ground, which just adds to the intrigue for me. I’m also relieved that they haven’t been discarded or removed by over-zealous authorities at some point.
Having visited north Cornwall regularly for more than a decade, it’s fair to say that I know the place pretty well. However, the majority of tourists seem to think that the county consists mainly of Newquay and the Eden Project, but there’s far more to it than that. Here are your more laid back and often less crowded alternatives in the land that the locals call Kernow, from Lusty Glaze to Padstow and beyond, where you can genuinely relax.
Our first stop is just a stone’s throw from Newquay – in fact, you can walk there in a few minutes along the coastal path, before traipsing down the narrow steps to the beach, complete with cafe/restaurant and beach huts. Fact fans should note that it featured in an edition of Blue Peter, where the finer points of lifesaving were discussed in a digestible, child-friendly manner, obvs. More obscure fact fans should also note that I once went in the sea here on Christmas Day and it wasn’t as cold as I’d anticipated.
The other night I fulfilled one of my long-term travel goals: to take a Ripper tour around Whitechapel and see where the shocking murders of 1888 took place. I’m not a fan of horror in the entertaining sense (stick me in front of a slasher film and I will develop psychosomatic symptoms of distress within a few minutes), but the case of Jack the Ripper is terrifyingly real and gives an insight into the harshness of East End London life.
Maybe it’s because he was never caught, and because there are so many theories surrounding his true identity, I’m left with plenty to mull over, and a tour seemed like the ideal opportunity to match the history with the streets themselves.
This year I’ll make my fifth trip to the Fringe Festival and my seventh trip to the city – Edinburgh, I’m unashamedly under your spell. It’s not just the Fringe that draws me in (I’ve been here in rainy October and still found plenty to do), as there’s always something new or unseen to discover. It’s constantly changing, with a buzzing art scene and some really tempting vintage shops, not to mention the art exhibitions, in particular the Printmakers’ Studios in the Old Town.
Yesterday, whilst at a Travel Massive meet-up, I took part in what can only be described as an awesome photo project which is set to go viral. The brainchild of Mario Cacciottolo, a BBC journalist based in London, Someone Once Told Me has a simple aim: to document those words of wisdom (or anger, or affection) that have stayed with you and been etched into your brain. Having six years of experience under his belt, Mario is a great photographer with an eye for detail, but he admits it wasn’t always this effortless. “When I first started, I had this really old camera from communist Germany and I didn’t even know what an aperture was,” he says candidly. He soon learned the ropes, posting one photo a day on his website for five years, which built a huge back-catalogue of personal experiences and memories brought to life under the lens.
We can’t always be having adventures in far-flung countries, as much as it pains me to say it, or we’d all be digital nomadic explorers. But we’re not, or at least, I’m not. So, how do you quench your travel thirst in between ticking another place off your Trip Advisor map, aside from doing practical things like catching up on sleep and, of course, getting yourself a kick-ass career? Here are a few of my suggestions.
1. Go to your local supermarket and find the ‘Beers of the World’ section. Then rejoice.
I was introduced to this quirky cafe by my cousin, who lives in Dalston and has a sixth sense for undiscovered gems when it comes to culture and eating out (she also introduced me to an amazing Turkish food chain called Tas, with baklava to die for). We headed over to the brilliantly-named Tina, We Salute You, for a seriously good coffee and some breakfast, and weren’t disappointed.
Even if the menu wasn’t worth talking about, you can hardly miss the unusual decor – I’ve never seen so many noses in my life, let alone mounted on a wall – as the cafe hosts art exhibitions which change every eight weeks. This means you never know what you’re going to find on the walls, which makes a change from the enforced kookiness of the artwork in Starbucks or Costa.