The town of Rye in East Sussex is exactly what I’d imagine the whole of the UK looked like if I hadn’t lived here all my life. Consisting of historic buildings, chocolate box views and what can only be described as ‘quaint’ shops (even though I loathe that word), this is definitely the tourist board’s gold standard version of the British Isles. A former Cinque Port and part of legacy-rich ‘1066 Country’, it combines maritime heritage with the feel of an Agatha Christie village.
There’s something about watching photogenic fashion tribes that conjures up a David Attenborough or Bruce Parry voice-over inside my head. Something that says I’m in the presence of a species fundamentally different to my own, no matter how much I might want to understand them or imitate them. Ultimately there’s a little bit of fear in not knowing what their next move might be, or whether they’re about to bare their claws. Welcome to London Fashion Week, where the beautiful and the strange gather.
Whereas 2012 was all about home-grown Olympic pride and cities of culture in Slovenia (Maribor) and Portugal (Guimarães), 2013 was an altogether more complex and crazy year in the world of travel. I’ve picked out some of the highlights, from misguided tweets to far-flung Boris bikes…
PR was Bigger and Bolder
It’s safe to say that 2013 raised the bar in terms of travel PR stunts, with companies increasing their budgets and teaming up to create even better incentives for their competitions, aimed at bloggers or Joe Public. This was the year we saw My Destination’s BBB (Biggest Baddest Bucket List) winners crowned; we also witnessed BA’s Race The Plane challenge on Twitter, Lastminute.com’s search for a spontaneity champion, and Saga’s 50 day challenge for a 50-year-old travel writer. As for what 2014 holds, we’ll just have to wait and see, but I’m sure there will be some really creative ideas coming from competing PRs, possibly crossing into SEO as well as social media. These guys are at the top of their game right now.
Once upon a time, before the arrival of Starbucks and Pret a Manger, there were local coffee shops peppering the British high street, each with their own distinctive style… Now and again, when I’m not shamelessly stocking up stamps on my Caffe Nero loyalty card, I try to make the effort to seek out the smaller companies, many of which focus on high quality coffee and a huge range of speciality teas, catering to an audience that wants more than a one-size-fits-all approach.
On a recent trip to Bristol, a city which is something of a mecca for independent businesses (and formerly the home of Carwardine’s coffee, where my mum once worked), I decided to boycott the recognisable chains and discover the best locally-endorsed places to grab a drink. Three very different shops stood out for me, and I hope some of them will stand out for you.
Saucy seaside postcards might look a bit tame these days when compared to today’s pop culture references (Miley Cyrus’ twerking and sledgehammer licking antics, anyone?) but, back in the 1950s, the tongue-in-cheek images produced by artist Donald McGill were seen as risque and even borderline offensive. Most of the British public – readily stereotyped as sexually repressed and a bit dull – couldn’t get enough of his work and they lapped up the puns, however the heavy-handed censors of the 1950s weren’t far behind.
Funnily enough, I arrived at the College of Psychic Studies, on the first day of the Open House London initiative (a.k.a. legitimate house and public building snooping), through a set of unforeseen circumstances. Well, unforeseen to the staff at Open House London, who failed to anticipate the crowds of 18,000 people wanting to roam the gutteral insides of Battersea Power Station before it’s refurbished. Not like that would be a big deal to the general public or require any kind of sensible ticketing system whatsoever… anyway, I digress in my bitterness.
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 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.