Category: Travel Writing

Why my op-ed travel feature seemed to touch a nerve with dog owners

It has recorded 191 comments by the time I write this.

Some supportive, some hostile. Many are knee-jerk reactions and include some venting of personal bias.

But I’ve enjoyed reading them all.

After all, it’s great as a writer to have a dialogue with readers — even if they are insulting you.

What did surprise me, however, was one of my regular travel features that has never attracted animated such debate.

I’d clearly touched a nerve.

So it is that my op-ed feature for Telegraph Travel, playing up a pantomime take on the way some dog owners will sneer at young children while letting their pets run amuck, will probably be my most read story of the year.

Here’s a sample:

The thing that grates most of all for me, personally, is not the dogs — many are well behaved and offer valuable companionship — but the vitriol that some dog owners heap upon families who dare to take small children out for lunch.

The hysterical hypocrisy of dog owners can be quite staggering, sneering at kids while taking the high-handed view that waiters and fellow diners should all pander to every whim of their prized, pampered pooch.

Read the full feature here and join the debate. All comments are welcome — no, really.

Why my postcard from Llandudno has a taste of seaside nostalgia

It was a weekend of seaside nostalgia.

We took a trip to Llandudno last weekend to write a postcard from the North Walian resort for Telegraph Travel.

But it was also something of a personal journey.

I used to go to Llandudno on family holidays as a child — that’s me aged around five with my mum on the prom at the North Shore [pictured above].

This time I was back with my own two daughters for a UK seaside break after our original holiday plans were cancelled under lockdown.

But how would an old-school seaside resort shape up for two Tick Tock teens?

Here’s a taster of my story:

The collapse of air bridges has led to the North Wales coast enjoying a post-lockdown bonanza.

We find Landudno’s pebbly North Beach busy with rockpool paddlers, despite some rather menacing clouds over the Great Orme, and the cafés along Mostyn Street bustling with al-fresco diners seeking Cymru-sur-mer vibes.

“People are hungry for good food they don’t have to prepare and clean up afterwards,” says Michael Waddy, Executive Chef at the Empire Hotel.

Read the full story here.

A preview of Life on Board at the Merseyside Maritime Museum

 

[Photo: National Museums Liverpool]

  • National Museums Liverpool opened its new gallery Life on Board today, an opening delayed from March by Covid-19, as part of a wider re-opening of its museums, including the new Linda McCartney Retrospective exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery. My preview ran today in Telegraph Travel and the below is my original copy filed before lockdown. 

I’m standing in front of a little piece of maritime history.

With its miniature sun loungers, palm trees and umbrellas, plus mini-me figurines taking a dip in the pool, the 3.5m replica model of the Arandora Star, the ship torpedoed in 1940 while carrying prisoners of war to Canada, had been in storage for years after wartime bomb damage.

But the 1936 exhibition model of this Blue Star passenger liner has been lovingly conserved over 400 hours of restoration work and now takes centre stage in a new maritime gallery opening in Liverpool later this month.

Life on board, the new permanent gallery at the Merseyside Maritime Museum in Liverpool’s Albert Dock [pictured above], explores the history of travel by sea from the 18th century, via the interwar heyday of the ocean liners as floating palaces, to the current day.

Liverpool was a hub for Transatlantic crossings at the turn of the 20th century with the numerous shipping companies operating out of port city, including White Star Line (later merged with Cunard Line).

The Museum also hosts galleries devoted to the stories of the Lusitania and Liverpool connections to the Titanic story.

The gallery has been over a year in the planning and takes a case-study-led approach to exploring Liverpool’s seafaring heritage, putting human stories at the forefront of the exhibits with text and audio testimonies to illustrate.

Of the 250-odd exhibits, some have been brought out of storage, while a small number are new acquisitions for the opening.

“Our cruise story as a city is rooted in heritage but it also remains an integral part of our living history,” explains Michelle Walsh, the museum’s curator of maritime history and technology.

“We look at the modern revival of interest in cruising by setting it in the heritage context of Liverpool as a cruise port.”

ESSENTIAL EXHIBITS

The exhibition is arranged thematically, as opposed to in chronological order, starting with stories of the Merchant Navy before moving onto the Lines and Leisure section, which shines a spotlight on the golden age of cruise of leisure travel.

It was during the 1920s that the introduction of Tourist Third Cabin Class opened up cruise travel to a wider audience, making the voyage on board an integral part of the overall journey.

The era also saw architects and artists employed by shipping companies to remodel the liners with fashionable Art Deco stylings.

Interspersed amongst the exhibits are some hands-on interpretation for families with younger children, such as learning how to tie a reef knot, and getting your own temporary tattoo as a means to explain the superstitions behind the artwork favoured by sailors.

The gallery also incorporates the museum’s Archives Centre, featuring National Museums Liverpool’s vast collection of maritime and slavery records.

“Liverpool has always been a very outward-looking city, gazing out to the horizon,” says Michelle, who spent her own honeymoon on an Alaska cruise with Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL).

“I believe this outward mentality is a reflection of our rich maritime heritage as a city.”

Key exhibits in the gallery include a series of on-board outfits worn by passenger Gertrude Walker, left to the museum by surviving family on Merseyside, to reflect the experience of women travelling by sea in the early 20th century.

Gertrude’s diary recorded the daily routine of first-class travel on the transatlantic ships. Meanwhile, a set of decorative glass panels from the Cabin (first) Class Dining Room of the Mauretania II, marked with signs of the zodiac, highlight the Art Deco influence on design rom the era.

One of Michelle’s favourite exhibits, however, is an architectural design model of the lime-green mid-ship lobby, or the ‘rotunda’, aboard the QE2, which illustrates how ship design evolved with the swinging Sixties.

Built on the Clyde, the QE2 made her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on May 2, 1969.

“With so many items in storage, including over 2,000 ship models, it has been very hard to make the final selection,” explains Michelle as we admire an 1917 events programme from the RMS Orduna, which lists on-board activities, such as a potato race for ladies and cock fighting for men.

“Once you start delving, there are so many important stories to tell.”

FUTURE GROWTH

Today Liverpool’s cruise industry is again booming with plans for a new Liverpool Cruise Terminal scheduled to open in 2022/3, handling up to 3,600 passengers per ship visit.

With the gallery open, those passengers will be able to disembark near Liverpool’s Three Graces, incorporating the landmark Liver Building, and stroll along the waterfront to the museum to visit the new gallery.”

“As a teenager in Eighties Liverpool, the dock was all silted up and the cruise traffic had long since drifted away to Southampton,” says Michelle.

“But the return of the big ships has rekindled a huge sense of pride in our cruise history.”

Large numbers of people now flock to the quayside to welcome visiting ships in port.”

“As curators, we’re always there, too,” she laughs. “Basically, we’re all just massive ship geeks.”

More info here.

Behind the scenes as Chester Zoo prepares to re-open to visitors

Preparations for post-Covid visits to Chester Zoo.

The moment the gates swing open on Monday morning is one staff feared they would never see.

“We were three weeks away from closing down,” says Jamie Christon, Chief Operating Officer, pulling up the collar of his Chester Zoo fleece against a sudden downpour.

“I went through the four stages of grief in 48 hours. Then,” he smiles, “we decided to fight.”

Chester Zoo found itself threatened with extinction on June 1 when the government ordered it to remain closed indefinitely — despite having put measures in place to make visits Covid secure.

The subsequent fundraising campaign secured over £3m in a week to ensure the zoo, founded in 1931 and home to 135,000 animals, could be saved.

The public support contributed to the announcement by Boris Johnson this week that English zoos could re-open within a partial easing of lockdown measures.

“We had been haemorrhaging money since closing on March 21,” says Jamie. “It costs £0.5m per month to feed the animals alone.”

Fresh start

Mandatory online tickets (including those for members) are now on sale, although visitor numbers will be limited to 3,000 per day — compared to an average of 10,000.

But, while all three wildlife areas, plus the nature reserve, will be open, visitors will notice changes to comply with social distancing.

So, what to expect? I’ve come to Chester Zoo for a preview.

Beyond the gates, I find a series of 2m markers leading to self-scanning ticket booths and the first of 30 hand-sanitisation units on site.

A pressure-value system will operate at the entrance to manage numbers, Jamie explains, so ticket holders are advised to avoid the 10am opening queue.

Walking around the 128-acre site, we inspect some of the pinch-point measures installed at the more popular attractions, such as the elephant and giraffe enclosures.

New protective screens, regularly deep cleaned, stand between visitors and animals and stand-off markings on the floor indicate the line to stand behind.

Footsteps illustrate the viewing points behind the line to maintain social distance between visitors.

The new rules will take some getting used for both the visitors and animals. When we approach the Humboldt Penguins, splashing playfully in their giant tank, a couple swim over curiously.

“Some species, such as the penguins and giraffes, are very social animals,” explains Jamie.

“The eerie quiet of the zoo during lockdown has been disconcerting for us all.”

Day trip

If you’re making a day of it, then 12 kiosks are opening for take-away snacks and all the toilets will be open, albeit with queueing outside likely until a traffic lights system is installed.

The picnic benches have been strategically placed at 2m intervals.

All inside habitats and the gift shop will, however, remain closed for now. Some sections of the play areas for children are still roped off and the ATM is closed.

We finish our tour outside The Oakfield pub, the restored former family home of zoo founder George Mottershead.

It’s also closed, although the beer garden may open in coming weeks as Government regulations evolve.

It may be a while, however, before visitors are allowed back into the cosy library room to admire the archive of Mottershead family photographs over a pint of Deuchars IPA.

Despite the clear markings, the main challenge, I find, will be enforcing social distancing.

This task falls to some 100 furloughed staff who have returned to work, many retraining as welcome staff with a “friendly but firm” brief to ensure visits remain safe.

Looking ahead, there are plans to extend the opening hours to include two weekday evenings until 8pm, plus cheaper afternoon-only tickets as visitor numbers are slowly increased.

The zoo will also run more of the virtual-tour days that proved so popular online during lockdown.

Picnic time

Jamie will be there to open the gates on Monday morning and is hoping for blue skies, the re-opening ensuring the zoo’s conservation work in 40 countries worldwide can now continue.

“My advice is to bring a picnic and make use of the new outdoor spaces. We’re delighted to welcome people back,” says Jamie, who is planning a much-needed UK staycation for the autumn.

“After all, people power saved our zoo.”

Read more at Telegraph Travel.