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My travel blogs continue this week and I’ll be focussing on the wonderful British coastline in the coming summer months – looking at the places I’ve selected for my Around the Coast in 80 Days book, which is now out through Bloomsbury. There’s a podcast linked to this blog, featuring an interview with Beth Pipe – author and broadcaster on Lake District Radio.
We’re heading up to the north west of England in this blog, to the edge of the Lake District and a place that combines the majesty of the fells with the glorious scenery of Morecambe Bay. The Edwardian beauty of Grange over Sands is overlooked by many, but it’s a cracking place to spend some time – and that’s why it’s got its own chapter in my Around the Coast in 80 Days book. Not only is Grange itself a great place to spend a sunny afternoon, there are stunning walks to tick off from the town and the birthplace of one of my favourite puddings is just a stone’s throw away.
The name is a little deceptive. There are no sands at Grange where you can take a walk or enjoy a picnic. You won’t be going for a paddle in the sea here, but you can enjoy a lovely stroll along a promenade that has the most delightful views of Morecambe Bay and the Lake District. Grange-over-Sands is a lovely, quiet retreat. Stepping off the train at Grange’s renowned Victorian station is like drifting back in time. The slow pace is infectious, the tea rooms so tempting and the Edwardian architecture is typically elegant. If you’re not sure when to visit Grange-over-Sands, look up the date of the Edwardian Festival in early June for a special historical trip.
Grange-over-Sands has a beautiful railway station, full of artistic Edwardian splendour that makes a real impression when you arrive. Some reckon that the town’s clock tower – built in 1912 – even trumps the railway station. But it’s the railway station that the town has to thank for its development – it was just a small hamlet before the Furness Line arrived and today the railway is still important for commuters and tourists. To make it even better, you have to pass through Carnforth to reach Grange – another beautiful station that was the famous setting for classic British film Brief Encounter.
There’s only one racecourse where winners take home a coveted portion of sticky toffee pudding – and that is, of course, at Cartmel. Just a couple of miles from Grange-over-Sands in the middle of the peninsula sticking out into Morecambe Bay, the small village of Cartmel has made a name for itself as the maker of fine Lakeland deserts and the organiser of great race meetings. Only a handful of race days take place at Cartmel each year so you’ll have to plan your visit. But when they happen, thousands of people converge near the coast to enjoy a day at the races. Each Cartmel race meeting takes place over three days with a rest day in the middle so organisers can get tidied up and visitors can enjoy some time visiting the coast and Lake District fells. And if you haven’t tasted one of the marvellous Sticky Toffee Puddings from Cartmel you must make this a priority.
It’s perhaps one of the most under-rated places on the coastline of the country; there’s plenty to keep you entertained up here in the north west. And plenty of other coastal gems can be found in Around the Coast in 80 Days.
We’re heading down to the south west of England for my latest travel blog – visiting the underground world of Wookey Hole and discovering the incredible historical treasures it houses. Wookey Hole – one of the country’s top attractions – is one of 50 brilliant days out in my new book, Days Out Underground: 50 Subterranean Adventures Beneath Britain. And I’m so pleased to be able to say that I’ve teamed up with the family-friendly Wookey Hole to provide a 20% discount on admission prices when you buy a signed copy of Days Out Underground before Christmas 2019. And that’s not all, because when you get the book you will also get discount codes for some of the other attractions in the book too! To get your copy and your discounts off admission, head on over to my website and your own copy right now!
A well-established family day out in the Mendips, the astonishing cave network at Wookey Hole is just one attraction on a long list of activities offered to visitors. The ticket to Wookey Hole enables you to go on a 40-minute guided tour underground to kick off your day, followed by a series of smaller attractions such as a paper-making counter, mini-golf, soft play area, 4D cinema experience and a mock-seaside zone complete with penny amusements and a hall of mirrors. It’s the stuff of dreams for a family with young children on a wet day of the holiday.
After entering the Wookey Hole attraction, you’re directed up the hill to the cave entrance. Expect a small wait here at busy times and be prepared for a pirate wanting to take a family photo. When it’s time to enter the cave, the first thing you come face to face with is the model of the witch who was said to have made a home here. The legend of the witch is something the tour guide plays on for spooky effect, setting up the story and rounding it off with visions of flowstone and stalagmites that have formed into the shape of a witch’s head and dog.
Cave-aged Cheddar cheese is a local delicacy and available in the shop here and elsewhere. There’s a whole passageway in the cave dedicated to this process, with shelf upon shelf of cheese lined up, dated and monitored. Blue Peter came here to investigate the cheese-making process, but they are not the only filming crew to show an interest in the underground landscape at Wookey Hole. When Tom Baker played Doctor Who, he filmed an episode which featured these rocky passageways and chambers beneath the Mendip hills. His dreaded nemesis in the Wookey Hole caves was none other than the Cybermen. Hopefully there won’t be any of them lingering around on your visit.
A visit to Wookey Hole is worth setting a full day aside for, and there’s no shortage of things to do for all the family. To find out more about this and other great days out, order your copy of Day Out Underground now – and get it signed to you or a loved one on my website!
It’s time for another journey beneath the surface of Britain to discover another cracking day out for people of all ages. The National Coal Mining Museum, not far from junction 38 of the M1, is awesome place to go – not least because it’s free to get in and even the brilliant underground tour only cost a few pounds. It’s one of 50 underground adventures in my Days Out Underground book. To order a signed copy, visit my website or drop me an email. Of course, it’s also available to buy in bookshops and online.
Caphouse Colliery may have produced its last coal in the 1980s, but the legacy of the mine lives on thanks to this quaint and charming museum that gives an insight into the life of miners and their families. At the heart of its success are the former miners who still make the daily journey down to the coal face. Today they descend 140 metres into the ground to guide tourists around the notoriously difficult working conditions rather than to blast coal from the bowels of the Earth. The humour and camaraderie shared between these guides – all decked out in their orange coal-mining gear, complete with hard hat and lamp light – is the really priceless quality of the underground tour here. It’s a friendly journey underground, made heart-warming and genuine because these are the real deal rather than history buffs who have brushed on their coal mining knowledge.
Tours to the coal face can be booked in advance, but most people sign up for the trip when they arrive. Head to the museum’s shop and you’ll be allocated a time. There can be up to 31 trips organised on busy days, so you’re unlikely to have to wait a long time. If you have 30-45 minutes, now’s the time to wander around the museum’s exhibits and soak in area’s mining history. Exhibits here explain the origins of mining at Caphouse and cover the highs and lows of mining through the years. The exhibition keeps returning to the theme of social struggle, a theme which has gone hand in hand with mining over the centuries.
It has to be experienced to be believed. Descending into the earth inside one of the cages used by the miners is a truly awesome experience. For the miners who work here, I couldn’t help thinking how strange it was that their former place of work had become a tourist attraction where people looked back to the fairly recent past. It’s not just about going underground, of course. All aspects of the job are covered in the museum and surrounding buildings, from the tradition of being in a brass band to the showers where they washed at the end of a shift. On your tour you’ll see how people mined in the days when kids went to work underground, right up to the modern machinery used in the final days before the pit closed.
I’d love to hear your experiences of travels underground – Do leave comments! And if you’d like a copy of the book, with 50 underground adventures and loads of amazing pictures, visit my website and order a signed copy or visit Amazon. My next travel guide – Around the Coast in 80 Days – is out next April and can be pre-ordered now.
Other nearby trips:
Time for another blog about a day out underground, featured in my book that contains 50 great things to do beneath Britain. If you would like a signed copy for yourself, or a gift for somebody you don’t like, then please get in touch via my website and I’ll get one sent out.
The Pennines are amazing – such a super place to go walking, admire the views and enjoy visiting local villages. But if you’re travelling from east to west – or the other way round – across England, they can be a major headache. Even today, the journey via rail or road leaves a lot to be desired, largely because it’s expensive putting decent infrastructure in when the terrain is tricky. And the same was true back in the 1700s when canals were the big, new thing. Fortunately, there were some mighty ambitious engineers who set about creating a tunnel that was the longest, deepest and highest in the country. Yes, that’s right – the longest (in length), the deepest (underground) and the highest (above sea level).
Many engineers in the late 18th Century were obsessed with canals. They were the new form of transport. Faster than the packhorses they replaced, there was money to be made in these pioneering water channels. Textiles mills in this part of the world needed coal and wool transporting regularly and efficiently. Canals were the modern way of moving raw materials. A little thing like the Pennine hills wasn’t going to stop determined engineers and industrialists, so they hammered and blasted their way through to create a 3.1-mile tunnel.
When you first see Standedge Tunnel, it looks tiny. A small hole burrowing into a large hill. From a distance it doesn’t seem like a boat can fit through it. As you get closer, your sense of perspective increases and you come to fully appreciate the sheer scale of achievement that swallows boats in its darkness and lets them emerge on the other side of the Pennines. It’s a monumental journey that the boats make, heading into the side of the hill for a slow, two-hour trip before seeing daylight again. The distance covered makes this the longest canal tunnel in the country. It’s the highest because of its lofty position in the Peak District and it’s the deepest because of the mass of rock sitting above the water.
A visit to the tunnel makes for a great day out. Make sure you book on to one of the boat tours so you can actually venture inside and see all the different types of brickwork and get a sense of how incredible an achievement this was. The best tours involve going right through to the other side and either walking back with a guide over the hills or getting a taxi back to the starting point.
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Days Out Underground is published by Bloomsbury and available in the usual outlets. If you would like a book signing for yourself or for a gift, please visit my website and drop me an email. www.peter-naldrett.co.uk.
Liverpool is a city on the rise and visitors flock to the city to enjoy the redeveloped waterfront, Beatles history and Premier League football. One of the less-known attractions in Liverpool is beneath the city’s streets and is the third chapter in my Days Out Underground book. The Western Approaches is a fabulous way to spend a few hours, getting to the heart of an key operation in World War II. We’re used to this kind of historical attraction being in London, so to find an operation room like this in the north of England – perfectly preserved – is a real treat.
Everything to see at the Western Approaches is below street level, so you head down a slope and negotiate some stairs straight away. Signs inform you when you’re passing through the thick, reinforced wall and ceiling into the protected bunker. The level of preservation in the Western Approaches control centre is astonishing. It’s almost like you’re walking into a film set, but this is the real thing. After the war, this place was sealed up and left as it was, keeping the operations frozen in time for school groups and families to marvel at.
The entire monitoring operation at Western Approaches was dependent on radio transmissions passing sensitive information in and out. This relaying of secrets was driven by electricity and some of the first things to look at are associated with the power supply. But Liverpool was one of the worst hit cities during the German bombing raids and the city’s electricity source was not always guaranteed. Planners made it a priority to provide a back-up generator and, with a huge amount of irony, used a diesel-powered engine seized from a German U-boat for this purpose.
Visitors are free to wander around the Western Approaches HQ at their leisure, reading the many information boards to get a better idea of what life was like beneath war-torn Liverpool. Access was not always this straight-forward, though. Signs posted on doors restricted entrance to many areas, while other painted instructions insist on ‘silence’. During the war there was not just the one checkpoint looking at identification papers, but several placed all over the building. This allowed a closer look at the movement of staff and, crucially, controlled who was going in and out of the Operations Room. The key cupboard was strictly monitored, and guards took their role very seriously. The whole aim of security at Western Approaches was to make sure classified information remained secret. Staff at the time knew how data collected in these underground passages could affect thousands of lives out to sea and influence the fate of millions on land.
Next time you’re bound for Merseyside, factor in some time to get underground in Liverpool and find out how the battle of the Atlantic was fought beneath the city’s streets.
Nearby Underground Days Out you may well enjoy…
By Peter Naldrett, author of Days Out Underground.
The anniversary of the iconic Abbey Road album has seen a surge in Beatles programming on the TV and radio this week. One of the best ways to get involved with Beatles history is to enjoy a trip to the stunning Beatles Story in Liverpool’s historic Albert Dock. With a subterranean element recreating the famous Cavern Club, it’s one of my favourite Days Out Underground.
Occupying the Britannia Vaults in the basement of the dock building, Liverpool’s world class Beatles attraction provides a link between the city’s industrial past and the musical history it’s well known for. Leave the posh eateries at street level and descend the stairs to embark on an underground magical mystery tour about Liverpool’s most famous sons. Getting tickets online beforehand could save you from a queue at the door and secure the all-important audio guide around your neck a little faster. The experience benefits so much from the electronic guide, which not only has a wide range of spoken information but also shows pictures and plays a selection of videos. It plays a pivotal role in introducing the story of the Beatles to you, starting with the school days of the original four – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best, who was famously replaced by Ringo Starr. But don’t rely on the headphones entirely for this visit. There are so many other things to see and listen to, you’ll want to discuss them with other people in your group. There’s far too much to warrant going around in silence.
Save plenty of time for the large room at the end of the story, when the post-1970 careers of The Beatles are put centre stage. Their achievements are relayed through displays, music and videos. Each of the Fab Four have their own seated area where you can relax and indulge in McCartney belting out Live and Let Die, Lennon’s political protests, Harrison’s wonderful My Sweet Lord and Starr narrating Thomas The Tank Engine. Solo career moments you may have forgotten about are also explored here, including Ringo Starr’s movie appearance in The Magic Christian and Paul McCartney’s film, Give My Regards to Broad Street.
At the end of The Beatles Story, the Fab4 Café is a great place to reflect on what you’ve just seen and maybe enjoy a Beatles-themed bun with a drink. Large murals on the wall remind you exactly where you are. Before you exit to street-level, the Fab4 Store has a huge range of souvenirs, from T-shirts and Christmas decorations to bags and bears.
Spending a weekend in Liverpool is an ideal way to immerse yourself in Beatles culture. If you have not been there for a few years, it’s worth a visit to see how this great northern city has been transformed. Make sure you pose for a photograph with the Beatles in the statue close to the Mersey in front of the Liver Building.
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