Going Underground!

People have always been fascinated by what lies beneath their feet.

It was in 1864 that Jules Verne wrote about a Journey to the Centre of the Earth and that creative tale, which sees an explorer descending down an Icelandic volcano, is still popular today.

The equally fascinating and frightening Time Machine from the literary mind of HG Wells takes a voyage to the future and finds a whole sub species living underground – producers and slaves for those living a better life on the surface.

The Time Machine is a social commentary, written at a time when many of the UK’s poorest families survived on jobs underground, mining coal, tin and lead in extremely unhealthy occupations.

Today in the UK there are more people working underground in tourism than there are in mining – this an earthy fact I picked up on the road visiting a wide range of subterranean tourist attractions that used to be the work place for tens of thousands.

For my Underground Days Out project, I travelled from the tip of Cornwall to northern Scotland and dozens of places in between, searching for the best things people can do on a trip below the surface which, let’s be honest, is the best way to spend a rainy day.

The result was a wonderful trip through British history and the book, Underground Days Out is published by Conway, a division of Bloomsbury, in March 2019.

Exploring the rich mining heritage of our country is one aspect. There is a trip down a coal mine where you experience a descent down a shaft in the mining cage, while earlier bronze mines provide a fascinating glimpse into how early humans used to trade with settlements across the seas.

Going back even further, Out Underground spaces teach us how people lived in prehistoric times. Early remains found at Kents Cavern, Torquay, or Creswell Crags in the Midlands reveal secrets of the past and rare cave paintings in the case of the latter.

Further back still, cave formations made 350 million years ago make awesome viewing.

A journey beneath Edinburgh’s streets unveils the squalid conditions people lived in during the 18th Century.

And as I ventured beneath towns such as Ramsgate and Stockport I found huge areas that provided terrified townsfolk with shelter during Hitler’s bombing raids.

Churchill planned the D-Day from underneath London and pulled off the Dunkirk evacuations from beneath Dover’s White Cliffs.

Zoom forward forty years from World War Two and people were petrified of a more severe kind of bombing as the Cold War brought a terrifying chill.

Bunkers in Essex, York and Scotland were among a network of underground refuges should a nuclear attack have been launched, and these are the most disturbing destinations I found in a year of subterranean travel.

When I emerged into the sunlight to finish the 50 chapters in the book, I’d been on an epic voyage into Britain’s natural and social past.

The book is now ready to hit the shops in the spring and can be pre-ordered.

I’ll be highlighting some of the trips beneath the surface in future blogs, so get ready to explore Britain’s underground heritage.

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Falling in Love With Autumn

As the days grow shorter and temperature edges towards the chillier end of the spectrum, the criteria for those looking for a decent walk in the countryside changes. Gone are the long, idyllic summer evenings where you can head out for a decent stroll after work; what’s needed at this time of year are routes that a crisp and concise. Just like an autumnal day itself, then. The most obvious thing to include in a countryside walk is a visit to deciduous woodland, where the spectacular show of colour is proudly put on by the nation’s leaves and changes on a daily basis.

Autumn is a special time, reminding me of family walks in fabulous places when the kids were younger. Autumn is the time we’d head into one of our favourite woods and watch for a little mouse that would appear from a nearby wall to get the food people left. Autumn means the candy luscious treats of Halloween, and the smokey traditions of Bonfire Night.  Autumn is a time I pay an annual visit to Silverdale, near Morecambe, to catch falling leaves in the hours before Lancaster’s fireworks display.

But Autumn also brings mental health challenges from those who suffer from SAD, myself among them. It can be a massively disorientating and threatening time of year as darkness encroaches on the end of the working day and practically all free time during the week is under the cover of darkness. It’s crucially important to keep active during these weeks; exercise is well known for reducing levels of anxiety and depression, while getting out into beautiful scenery can boost levels of enjoyment.

The Autumn section of Year Round Walks in the Peak District keeps all this mind. I’ve tried to produce five walks for the season that you can complete in the shorter hours and be given some seasonal vigour by the charming, golden tree canopy. One of my favourites hits the lovely village of Bradfield. It’s such a lovely, quiet and quaint place that I really like to visit. Over the last few months I’ve been popping to Bradfield around once a week. It’s a great place to get inspiration. If you see me there, you can inspire me by buying me a coffee!

 

Year Round Walks in the Peak District contains 20 seasonal walks and is available now.

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Baking in Bakewell

Britain is in the grip of a heatwave at the time of writing, with sweltering temperatures triggering sales of ice cream, beer and BBQs. Summer is well and truly here, and there’s no sign of any rain until the school holidays begin! Great summer days need great summer walks, complete with a cracking picnic spot. In my new Peak District Year Round Walks, I have researched and written up simple instructions for five walks within each season.

One of the summer-inspired chapters of the book takes in the delightful town of Bakewell and visits nearby Chatsworth House. On a long, bright day, this provides a great family day out. The walk can be combined with a visit to the famous country house, a stroll around its ornate gardens, and there’s plenty for kids to do in the farmyard and adventure playground. The walk in the book calls in at Bakewell, too, giving you the chance to grab a famous Bakewell Pudding and sit a while by the river. The route covering Bakwell and Chatsworth is just one of the summer walks – check out my blog on Dovedale and visit the famous stepping stones across the river.

 

The wonderful parkland at Chatsworth is a fantastic place to explore, whether it’s gazing at ancient trees, meandering to Edensor village or gazing at the hunting tower. It is a truly inspiring landscape, worked on by Capability Brown and with many of his features surviving to this day. He straightened the river flowing past the house and added many of the trees that are still planted around the grounds to improve the quality of the view. He also moved the village of Edensor to its present location, so that the houses could no be seen from the windows of Chatsworth. But it is the actual house that commands the most respect and dominates the parkland as soon as it comes into view. In the early 20th Century, alterations to tax collection and a wave of social change put a lot of pressure on grand country houses such as Chatsworth. Unlike many similar houses, Chatsworth has survived as the family home of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire through 16 generations of the Cavendish family. Today, it generates money from allowing visitors into the house, garden and farmyard, where there is a great playground for children. The house is extremely popular at Christmas, when each year it is decorated with a different theme and opens its doors to coach parties and family day trippers from all over the country. There are many splendid rooms to look at inside, but if you don’t fancy entering the house make sure you give it a good examination from the outside. There are many important people who have been here and shared the view, including Queen Victoria. You can absorb the history of this country house as you wander through the park.

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Summer in Dovedale

 

We’re moving forward to another season, and so there’s the opportunity to try out five great walks in my new Peak District Year Round Walks Book. We’ve already enjoyed spring and the chances of a bluebell walks that it throws at us, but now it’s time to get down to picnics and paddling in rivers. There are wonderful spots for this all over the National Park, but a particular favourite is Dovedale. The walk from Dovedale sets off from Ilam Hall, a great National Trust property with a fantastic cafe, and meanders over the hills before dropping down into Dovedale itself.

No visit to Dovedale would be complete without a hop over the famous stepping stones that have made this place picture-postcard perfect since the 19th Century. Like many occasion when people have altered the countryside landscape, the stepping stones did not have an instant appeal but over the decades they have become strongly associated with this quaint, beautiful valley. In truth, you don’t have to go over the stepping stones to get to the other side because there is a bridge a little further down the valley towards Ilam. But where’s the fun in that? In the summer months, it’s quite normal to see people queueing for some time until it’s their turn to head across. People can only make the journey across the River Dove in single file and so there can be a fair bit of congestion at either side, but it’s something you just have to do! Storms leading to rising river levels and flooding have swept away the stones and led to significant damage. There have been times when the popular tourist cross-river route has had to be closed off. But it’s always been worth investing money to get the stepping stones renovated and the picturesque scene back to its best. The fossil-laden stepping stones are one of the main reasons this remote dale has the high number of visitors that it does.

Here are some “must-do” recommendations for a day out in Dovedale.

  1. Get involved at the National Trust cafe at Ilam Hall. Treat yourself to a cream tea, and debate whether it’s jam or cream on top.
  2. Enjoy an ice cream at the entrance to the Dovedale trail – there’s some amazing flavours going on there!
  3. Queue up to take a trip across the famous stepping stones. And don’t fall in. Everybody will be watching.
  4. Annoy everybody waiting to cross the stepping stones by taking time to crouch down and see the ancient fossils in the limestone rock. These are amazing. Take your time.
  5. Save time for a paddle in the river on a cool, summer day.

@peternaldrett 

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Langsett – it’s on the level

Not everybody wants to head up to the highest hills when they go out for a walk at the weekend or on one of our wonderful summer evenings. In my new guide to the best things to do in the Peak District throughout the year, I’ve mixed up some of the more challenging routes with some of the easiest. But they all have one thing in common – they’re a rewarding adventure!

There are five walks for each season in Year Round Walks in the Peak District, and we’re well and truly into the ones that make spring extra special. In a previous blog, I described the benefits of heading to Hayfield for the bluebells. Here, I’m suggesting a day at Langsett Reservoir to enjoy the smell of fresh pine and see the ferns emerging on the moorland. It’s largely on the level, save for a small climb to sample the peaty moors. On a warm day, it’s a delight to feel the breeze from the water. And if the rain should come, the trees offer some shelter. It’s ideal for stretching you legs in spring.

There’s also some Tour de France nostalgia to get immersed in. When the opening stages of the Tour de France were held in Yorkshire during the summer of 2014, few would have thought the legacy would be so long-lasting and profound. They were a very special couple of days in these parts of Yorkshire, with thousands of people lining the streets before the best long-distance cyclists in the world hurtled by at break-neck speed. Langsett featured on Day 2 – the final day in Yorkshire before the event moved to London, and then France. The cyclists hurried down the A616, turning off near here at Midhope before going over the hills to Bradfield and finishing off in Sheffield city centre. Years later, the villages in these parts are still immensely proud of their involvement on that fabulous, busy day, when festivals were held every few miles along the route and a significant number of families gained a lust for cycling that still endures. As you drive along the route it’s possible to see some of the words of encouragement painted onto the road, and the trademark yellow bikes are still visible, maintained. At Langsett, look out for the sign at the bar of the pub featuring a crest made up of different Tour de France jerseys. The most prominent feature for miles around, though, is Bank View Café on the main road close to the starting point. To celebrate the biking event, the café was painted white and covered with red spots to match the “King of the Mountains” jersey given to the rider who tackles the climbs triumphantly. It’s a very popular spot for cyclists to stop off at and have a break, including those not so great at getting up the demanding Peak District inclines.

Top Tips for a Langsett day out:

1: Make time for a stop in the cafe

2: Arrive early to ensure a car parking place near the start of the reservoir walk

3: Bring a camera – there are amazing views from the moors and through the pine forest

4: Pack binoculars to check out the local bird life

 

 

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Niagara Falls – Worth the Hype?

 

It’s not even all that big, they told me. Hardly the most impressive natural sight you’ll see. A bit of a cross between Las Vegas and Blackpool. Don’t get too excited.

Having breathed in all the advice before my trip to Niagara Falls, I wasn’t getting my hopes up too high. People had warned that it would be a let down. I decided to still pay a visit to the famous waterfall on my visit to Canada – you just have to, don’t you. It’s too big a thing to overlook. But I was more than prepared to move swiftly onto other areas.

I needn’t have listened to any of the nay-sayers. Standing next to Niagara Falls – in roughly the same spot that Superman rescued the kid who fell in during Superman 2 – the sheer amount of water cascading over the edge was mesmerising. The sound of a million bathtubs a second pouting over was ferocious, the sight of curving Horseshoe Falls genuinely hypnotic.

Visitors should go with an understanding of what they’re going to see. This is not one of the top ten biggest waterfalls in the world and neither is it a natural wonder in the middle a pristine environment. This has been a concrete jungle for decades, a huge physical feature surrounded by expensive hotels and cheesy visitor attractions. But as long as you pin your expectations at a reasonable level and don’t go expecting a wilderness with bears catching salmon in the plunge pool, you’re likely to get a lot out of a trip to the falls.

Here’s my top five tips for a fantastic trip to Niagara Falls.

  1. Avoid the peak season. Ok, so you might not get a trip on the iconic Maid of the Mist and you might have to deal with snow on the ground and chilly temperatures. But there are advantages to being here in February and March, mainly that hardly anybody else will be. You won’t have to jostle for position when viewing the falls and if you’re lucky you’ll get to see the rare sight of the frozen falls.
  2. Book a falls view room. Pay a little bit extra and upgrade so you can see both the Canadian Falls and American Falls. The room price isn’t that much extra, but don’t get sucked in to buying food and paying for parking at your hotel as this is a real rip off. You’ll be able to park for $5 a little way down the street and there are plenty of cheaper places to snack than the hotel restaurant.
  3. Take the plunge and buy the Niagara Adventure ticket. It takes you down to the tunnels behind the falls, there’s also a 4D cinema experience and free transport on the buses for two days. You’ll also get to go to a really nice butterfly house, too.
  4. Hire a car and head for Niagara on the Lake. It’s a quaint town and you’ll follow the river from Niagara Falls all the way there until it empties into Lake Ontario. On the way, there are plenty of wineries to stop at, where you can sample the local sweet varieties and the icewine speciality.
  5. Embrace the cheesyness of Niagara. The main town is particularly ‘out there’ but it’s worth having a walk along Clifton Hill just to stare. I mean, it’s not often you see a huge Frankenstein sticking out of a Burger King tucking into a massive Whopper.
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Spring into a bluebell walk!

Spring is finally here! In the Peak District, patches of snow are still lingering about but the bulbs are making headway as they push on through the remnants of winter. We’ll soon be arriving at one of the most joyful times of the year, when woodlands are transformed by the fabulous bluebells that bloom and create a carpet of colour. In this blog over the coming weeks I’ll be looking at some of the best places in the Peak District to explore – all from my new Year Round Walks book. One of the main places you want to head for over the next couple of months is Hayfield, on the park’s western fringe, where you’ll find the aptly named Bluebell Wood.

Tackle this walk in April and May and there’ll be thousands of bluebells flowering, so take your camera and allow plenty of time to stop and wonder. The spring wonder takes place in a nature reserve you’ll come across after only a few meters from the car park for the Sett Valley Trail. It will provide lasting memories. Accessibility is the key in Bluebell Wood; the path for the public has been upgraded in such a fashion that it’s possible for pushchairs and wheelchairs to get all the way around. Duckboards to negotiate the trickiest surfaces have been made out of recycled plastic to ensure they it lasts as long as possible and isn’t sat in a landfill for years to come. Although the main reason people come here is to experience the festival of bluebells that lasts a few weeks in the spring, there is plenty to see during the rest of the year. Stoats, mice and weasels live in the wood, with badgers and deer also passing through. Wild flowers include wood anemone and marsh marigolds, while the many tree species include oak, maple and willow. It’s a superb place and a real highlight of the walk.

Find out more about the walk and other places to visit in the spring in Peak District Year Round Walks, which is out now through Countryside Books. https://countrysidebooks.co.uk/collections/year-round-walks/products/peak-district-year-round-walks?variant=5219976216612

@peternaldrett

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