Category: Travel Writing

Telegraph Chester story — My view

Did you read the Daytripper feature in the Telegraph this weekend [pictured above]?

Don’t bother if not.

I read it and couldn’t help wondering if the writer had actually spoken to anyone who lives in, or even knows Chester at all?

It’s sad to see the same tired, old clichés trotted out like a flagging mare at Chester Races.

Especially when Chester was recently voted one of Britain’s ten favourite cities by Telegraph readers — ahead of Lincoln and Oxford.

There’s a zoo — well, who knew? And there’s a hilarious anecdote about shooting a Welshmen within the city walls. Hold the front page.

It seemed to me that this article completely missed the real story in Chester right now.

There was nothing about the rise of the Chester indies, the high number of independent business owners now bringing new choice and variety to eating, drinking and shopping around the city.

No reference either to the revitalised Chester Market with its Friday-night foodie events.

Nor to the work that local MP Chris Matheson and creative community project GFN Chester have done to launch the Hunger Games promotion this week to champion local eateries.

There was also nothing about Storyhouse and its work to bring the Woman of the World festival to Chester this April. In fact, there was no reference to Storyhouse at all.

Surely anyone walking round the city with their eyes open would find it hard to miss the erstwhile Art Deco cinema converted into our new arts centre-library.

This was, at best, ill informed and lacking in proper research.

I’m tired of writers coming from London, casting a withering eye over the city and clearing off again having added nothing to the conversation.

Especially as I know how much hard work goes on behind the scenes to #makechester.

From individuals ploughing their heart and soul into a local business like Meltdown or Covino (amongst many others) to publications like Tortoise and Amble speaking up for non-chain Chester, this is a radically different place to the city l left in the Nineties to go to university.

I’ve already tweeted the writer with some suggestions for what he should have done on his visit.

#NotOurChester

All you need to know about a summer festival at sea that beats Glastonbury

My first article of 2019 was published in Telegraph Travel this weekend, focussing on a new indie-music festival at sea [above]. Here’s the full text.

We’ve seen classic rock at sea and turned the amps to 11 for some heavy metal sur mer — think Spinal Tapmeets Carry on Cruising.

But the latest music-cruise alternative to Glastonbury is one for the post-Britpop indie fans.

Stuart Murdoch, lead singer and songwriter with Scottish indie stalwarts Belle and Sebastian, is setting sail next summer with the Boaty Weekender, a four-day cruise around the Mediterranean in collaboration with theme-cruise specialists, Sixthman.

“We thought we had missed the boat — excuse the pun — as we failed years ago to organise a tour of the UK by boat. But we always liked the idea of setting up the equipment then retiring to our cabins,” he says.

“Having a captive audience puts a nice pressure on the band to host the event.”

Summer sailing

The curated festival at sea, running August 8-12, leaves Barcelona with two day sat sea before a port day in Cagliari, Sardinia.

The passengers will have the run of the 11 bars, 15 dining experiences, casino and spa aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Pearl.

“I’ve never taken my family on a cruise but I’m always happier traveling by sea — it’s in the blood,” says Murdoch, whose father was the chief engineer on the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries off the west coast of Scotland.

“Some of my earliest childhood memories were at sea, taking livestock around the Hedrides. I still love that sense of being far away, even if I’m just one hour from Glasgow.”

The band will headline each day with an eclectic line-up of supporting bands across five stages, including Mogwai, a reunited Camera Obscura and Django Django amongst others.

“We’ll be playing a sail-away gig to some 2,500 people on deck as we leave Barcelona,” says Murdoch, whose lyrics are known for their literary references and shades of rainy-day-Glasgow melancholy.

“It’s like organising a huge party for a bunch of friends, so I guess we should steer away from some of our more introspective back catalogue,” he adds.

“We’ll keep it upbeat for that party vibe.”

Shore excursions

It’s also a family affair with father-of-two Murdoch planning to replace the deck quoits with meditation workshops, a daily film matinee screening the band’s favorite films and a host of family-friendly activities.

Guests booking the first 350 staterooms will be invited to an intimate performance of Belle and Sebastian’s fourth album, Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant, never before performed in its entirety.

“We’re building a University Challenge-style set for quiz teams, plus there’s going to be indie karaoke. I don’t normally partake but I got up to sing at my kid’s school recently,” he smiles.

Maneater by Hall and Oates is now my tongue-in-cheek, go-to karaoke number.”

Belle and Sebastian formed in Glasgow in 1996 and the Boaty Weekender marks the 20-year anniversary of the Bowlie Weekender festival the band previously curated at the Pontin’s holiday camp in Camber Sands.

If successful, more Nineties indie kids could be combining nostalgia for their favourite bands with a family holidays at sea on further voyages.

Pre-sale tickets are now available with prices from £979pp, based on two sharing, in an interior cabin, including meals and activities.

And if the Med turns unusually choppy next summer? Murdoch is unfazed.

“The intimate play through of our fourth LP requires an orchestra, so whatever happens,” he says, “the string section will keep playing as the plaster crumbles around us.”

The Boaty Weekender

 

 

How to see Durham in a new light

Recognise the image above?

It’s the cathedral city of Durham, host of the bi-annual Lumiere Festival.

The UK’s largest outdoor light festival returns in November 2019, celebrating its tenth anniversary of transforming the historic city into a nocturnal art trail.

I was there this week, writing a series of articles for a paid-content supplement in The Times.

My stories take a cultural angle to mark the tenth anniversary of the festival — read more on December 29.

It was also my last job before signing off for the Christmas break. And a reminder why Sir Walter Scott was moved by a visit to the city to pen these festive words:

Grey towers of Durham! Yet well I love thy mixed and massive piles.

Why 2019 is the best time to discover Ruskin’s Cumbria

I started the year with an assignment in the Lake District and I was back this weekend for probably my last freelance job of 2018 — a feature for Discover Britain magazine.

This time it was Coniston water [pictured above] and a visit to Brantwood for a preview of events to mark the bicentenary of the birth of John Ruskin in 2019.

Ruskin was a hugely influential figure but has fallen out of fashion compared to the Romantic Poets.

Next year is a chance to put his legacy back on the map of the Cumbrian fells.

Inspiring landscape

While the Romantics were busy crafting purple prose about the beauty of the Lakes, a new movement of artists was also discovering Cumbria.

JMW Turner, Gainsborough and, later, Constable all journeyed north in search of those quintessentially brooding Lakeland vistas.

Most importantly, it is the Victorian polymath, John Ruskin, who picked up the mantle and took the Romantic Movement forward to a new era.

Lakeland home

When Ruskin moved to Brantwood House, the elegant, stately home on the peaceful eastern shore of Coniston Water, the Lakes Poets had waned.

Wordsworth had become increasingly disillusioned with what he saw as the invading hordes and Coleridge, a victim of ill health and opium addiction, had settled into a steady decline.

But Ruskin, the artist, writer and social reformer, took their ideas, blending them with his patronage of Turner and his friendship with Charles Darwin.

His ideas would inspire a new generation of thinkers, writers and activists, Ghandi and Tolstoy amongst them.

Brantwood Director, Howard Hull, explains:

Ruskin evolved the ideas of the Romantics. His vital role was taking the notion of nature as an inspiration to the human spirit and reconciling it with the scientific world.”

Accommodation at Badger’s Cottage, Coniston, provided via The Coppermines & Lakes Cottages Ltd.