Category: Hit the North

Dark Chester: a walk through the shadows of our dark-tourism history

We took a walk on the dark side a few days ago.

It was the inaugural outing for my new Dark Chester tour [pictured above], a walking tour through the shadows of Chester’s 2000-year-old history.

Think Horrible Histories meets Inside Number Nine with a dash of the Uncanny podcast.

In other words, an evening storytelling stroll with tales of plague, persecution and poltergeists.

For some more background, read this blog I penned for the British Guild of Tourist Guides:

Chester: take a walk on the dark side.

This first tour was an exclusive event for the Chester Heritage Festival, which runs until July 27 with lots of free activities, as well as paid-for tours.

As well as leading the tour, I also worked with the Heritage Festival team to livestream stories from two of the tour stops.

You can watch the livestream from Chester’s Roman Amphitheatre here.

The livestream from The Bear & Billet is here.

Plus I had some great initial feedback, including this comment:

 

The plan now is to take Dark Chester weekly.

So join me. Let’s take a walk on the dark side.

How to step behind the scenes at Jodrell Bank science centre, Cheshire

Sir Bernard Lovell became the father of modern cosmology long before Professor Brian Cox started pondering the wonders of the universe.

I went to walk in Lovell’s footsteps recently at the Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre [pictured above], the observatory and science park in rural Cheshire.

Last weekend saw the opening of the new site’s new First Light Pavilion, the dome-shaped building mirroring the shape and scale of the all-seeing-eye telescope.

It hosts the permanent exhibition, The Story of Jodrell Bank, a social-history journey in six chapters from the lo-fi origins of the site to the present day.

Featuring archive material and personal memorabilia from the Lovell family, it celebrates the way Jodrell Bank crosses over from science to heritage.

The new exhibition complements the activities in the other pavilions, which focus more on the science behind stars, explaining concepts such as pulsars, quasars, and the Big Bang amongst others.

“We have a perception that science is only found in laboratories and often highly regulated, but Sir Bernard Lovell always celebrated the beauty of science.”

“He understood that science is an integral part of our heritage and culture,” says Professor Teresa Anderson, Director of the Jodrell Bank Centre for Engagement at The University of Manchester.

More www.jodrellbank.net

Read the full story in i Travel, How to step into outer space in rural Cheshire

Why you should raise a glass to English Wine Week in Herefordshire

I’m inspecting neat, newly flowering rows on a sun-dappled day in the English countryside.

But I’m not strolling in the gardens of a stately home. Instead, I’ve come to a vineyard in the rural heartland of Herefordshire to witness an unlikely trend: the rise of quality English wines.

No, really. The patchwork-quilt landscape, best known for its autumn cider harvest, is now home to a group of wineries helping to fuel the boom in English wine tourism.

Who would have thought that our home-grown vino could have gone from quirky curiosity to award winner?

But the start of English Wine Week (June 18) is set to confirm the trend with 195 wineries, producing 9m bottles of English wine per year, according to 2021 figures from Wines of Great Britain.

Furthermore, wine tourism increased by 57% in 2020, reflecting a boom in domestic visits to wineries and sales direct from the cellar door.

 The growth reflects the way climate change has enabled some grape varieties to flourish in new parts of England, but also a better understanding generally of techniques,” explains Julia Trustram Eve, Head of Marketing at Wines of Great Britain.

Sparkling wines (64% of the market) still dominate but confidence is growing in still wines — especially linked to food pairing.”

Award winner

The coming of age of English wine means places like the Wye Valley in the Welsh Marches come become our answer to the Route des Grands Crus in Burgundy. Jamie McIntyre, the owner of the Wythall Estate Vineyard, is poised, corkscrew in hand.

“The Wye Valley is the perfect showcase for English wines, driving through the countryside in an open-top car and stopping off at wineries,” he says.

Wythall’s vineyard, set in the grounds of the 16th-century family estate, is just two miles outside the historic market town of Ross-on-Wye. It grows four varieties, based on German stock, across its four acres, producing around 4,000 bottles per year.

The Fruhburgunder grape produces Wythall’s Pinot Noir (£30 per bottle), which won Gold at the Independent English Wine Awards 2022.

Wild rabbits scamper through the vines and fallow deer emerge gingerly into the sunlight in the fields beyond as Jamie takes me on a tour of the vineyard.

He tells me afterwards, as we taste the wines in the wood-paneled dining room, the glasses embossed with the family crest that dates from the 1500s:

“The snobbery around English wine has gone. It’s no longer a blind spot for wine drinkers.”

Jamie’s wines are served alongside pints of local Butty Bach at The Hostelrie gastropub in the nearby village of Goodrich, close to medieval Goodrich Castle.

I match a dinner of monkfish and chorizo, followed by a plum compote with cold custard, with a glass of Jamie’s Sparkling Rose in the garden on a sun-kissed summer evening.

New varieties

The next day, I visit the Coddington Vineyard [pictured above], which along with Wythall and Frome Valley Vineyards, features in a series of new, self-guided wine walks of Herefordshire.

I follow an undulating five-mile route from the Church of St James, located in the village of Colwall, then cross Coddington’s vineyard for lunch before climbing Oyster Hill, the Malvern Hills and the town of Ledbury on the horizon.

Coddington is one of the more mature wineries in the region with three varieties, including two still whites and a sparkling Pinot Gris.

“You only get good wine from good grapes,” explains owner Peter Maiden, showing off his neatly pruned rows of Ortega, grapes derived from German Riesling stock.

“There’s a lot of coordination between sugars and acid.”

 The vines start to bud in May and will be in full flower for English Wine Week with harvest time bringing a frenzy of activity to the tranquil rural site come October.

“It’s a labour of love but very satisfying,” says co-owner Sharon Maiden.

“Given longer summers and milder winters, our wines increasingly benefit from a fruity, floral flavour that make them uniquely English.”

I agree, and having stocked up at the cellar door, I’ll be embracing home-grown wines from now on.

After all, how better to celebrate The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee weekend than raising a glass of new-generation English wine.

How to spend a Roman-heritage weekend in Hadrian’s Wall country

My latest assignment took me to the wide-open spaces of Northumberland.

I was there researching a feature for Discover Britain magazine about events to celebrate the 1900 years since the Romans started building Hadrian’s Wall [pictured above].

The Wall, built over seven years from 122AD, comprised a series of a gates or milecastles every Roman mile (0.92 miles), to control the troublesome frontier of northern England. It used some 800,000 cubic metres of hand-carved stone, gouged laboriously from local quarries.

But this trip wasn’t just about Roman heritage. I was interested in the way that two icons of British history hail from the Northeast.

As well the 1900 Festival this year along the length of Hadrian’s Wall, there’s also a major art exhibition coming to a gallery in travel-hub Newcastle.

The Lindisfarne Gospels, the Anglo-Saxon manuscripts on loan from The British Library, will return to the Northeast for the first time in many years.

Julie Milne, Chief Curator of Art Galleries, including the Laing Art Gallery, says:

“The shiver-down-spine moment for me was when I first saw The Gospels close up. I’m fascinated by the intricacy of the artwork, especially given the hard conditions under which they were produced.”

Back on the Roman-heritage trail, I later visited the Great North Museum, where the Hadrian’s Wall Gallery includes an evocative set of Roman tombstones [pictured below] amongst the exhibits.

Most of all, I learnt how, far from a remote outpost of a dwindling empire, the Northeast of England is a hotbed of historical interest.

The events that connect the Wall and the Gospels this year offer living testimony to Northeast England’s crucial part in British history.

Read my feature in the August/September issue of Discover Britain.

The Lindisfarne Gospels are at the Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle, from September 17. 

More travel information here.