Category: Journalism

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.

Why the hidden-treasure town of Nantwich should be your next staycation

Spring finds me driving the rural backroads of south Cheshire.

I’m here on assignment for Telegraph Travel, writing a postcard from Cheshire as part of a series of articles by writers around the UK.

Each one is about an under-the-radar destinations for UK staycations with a sprinkle of celebratory stardust.

My journey took me to Nantwich, the historic market town, and the Combermere Estate on the Cheshire-Shropshire border.

I also visited the new Three Wrens gin distillery, where I met distillery dog, Rocky [pictured above].

Here’s a taster of my article:

The historic market town of Nantwich has all the history of county-hub Chester, albeit on a smaller scale.

The jumble of cobbled streets and half-timbered houses have hosted Norman lords, survived medieval fires, and been occupied by the Parliamentarian forces during the mid 1600s when Nantwich defied Chester, coming out against Charles I during the Civil War.

The Market Hall has been singing the praises of Cheshire Cheese since the town’s genteel Victorian era.

“I think visitors appreciate the slow-travel tranquillity of South Cheshire while being surprised by the quality of its local produce,” says Sarah Callander-Beckett, the owner and current lady of the manor at Combermere Abbey.

“This region is steeped in rural heritage but has moved with the times to offer high quality and an individual experience.”

Read the full story, The charming Cheshire town that hasn’t yet been ruined by WAGs.

Winter light festivals? I think it’s time to pull the plug.

My final feature of the year was an opinion piece following a recent visit to Durham.

Here’s a sample of the story:

The light-festival idea is nothing new, of course.

Lyon first came up with the bright idea in 1999 and the Fete des Lumieres has become a major visitor attraction (it runs December 8-11 this year).

Blackpool illuminations, too, have a long history of providing ‘electric sunshine’, brightening up Lancastrian nights since 1879.

But I’ve had enough of light-festival overkill. Turn off, tune out, just drop it, folks.

Read the whole feature via Telegrpah Travel, It’s time to pull the plug on overrated winter light festivals.

How the Normandy town of Cherbourg became home to an icon of French cinema

Finally for autumn, a snapshot of my first overseas assignment in 18 months: Cherbourg.

It’s a classic of French cinema.

A film that evokes dewy-eyed nostalgia for a more innocent age and one that firmly put a historic port town in Normandy on the map.

Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, the 1963 musical romance staring a young Catherine Deneuve, started a local obsession with colourful parasols.

Today, giant umbrellas are installed around town squares in summer and cruise passengers, arriving at the Art Deco cruise terminal, make a beeline for the umbrella-adorned facade of a luxury-brand store that now dominates the central harbour.

The umbrellas of Cherbourg may have started as an art-house hit, but the film has spawned an international umbrella brand to rival Burberry.

The town’s self-guided cinema trail, meanwhile, harks back to the golden age of the experimental nouvelle vague.

It’s based around key locations from the film, each marked with a clapperboard-style plaque. The most famous is the hardware shop featured in the film, located at 13 Rue du Port (pictured above).

The film won director Jacque Demy the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival 1964 and made stars of its young leading couple, Catherine Deneuve and Marc Michel.

Read my feature in the May issue of France Magazine.