I recently visited the fair city of Bruges (or, to give it’s Flemish name, Brugge) in Belgium. While on paper there was nothing grand or seemingly important about this four day break in a historic city, for me personally it meant a lot. Why? Because it was the first time I’d ever travelled abroad by myself. It has been something I’ve wanted, nay, known deep down I was capable of for a while but I never had the courage to take the leap.
So as something a bit different I’ve created a video of my travels in the historic city. View and enjoy!
I had the best time in Bruges by experiencing all the city has to offer and more (a highlight not showcased in the video was a very moving moment when I had an organ recital all to myself in one of Bruges’ many churches. I’d been wondering around the church and about to leave when a volunteer started playing. I sat in the pews and was almost brought to tears by the beauty of the music and the environment.)
For anyone considering similar I say simply this. Do. It.
(View part one of my parent’s visit to London here.)
I met my parents in near the same spot as we’d parted the night before, outside a quaint little Starbucks housed in a building originally built to mark the Queen’s silver Jubilee in 1977. Not that we thought much of the buildings intended significance as we walked over the commemorative plaque in the entranceway. We took our large Americanos and admired the unusually peaceful view of the marina. Yards away Monday morning commute was in full flow, but here we were settled from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It reminded me of how days off should be spent, sunglasses in hair, enjoyable company and a mouthful of guilt-free cake for breakfast.
After coffee I led the way over Tower Bridge, stopping briefly to let Mum take photos on her camera phone. Given the frequency I utilise the tourist trap crossing the leisurely tourist stroll pace felt very much at odds with the route march, shopping on shoulder, approach I took every other day. Further along the South Bank I diverted Mum and Dad through Borough Market for an idea of how one of the main city markets looked and worked which in the same manner as St Katherine’s and Tower Bridge, was welcomed more positively for the lack of humans first thing in the morning.
West and West we went, ambling along the Southern promenade of the Thames until we reached the Tate Modern. I’d forewarned my parents about the type and medium of the exhibitions on display at this popular art gallery, but regardless they were keen to experience it for themselves. Who would I be as a local and tour guide if I ignored the requests of my guests?
Given my Father’s occupation in the Horological sphere, a trip to the worldly famous (or a least that’s what the advert said) film screening ‘The Clock’ was a must. A 24 hour film comprised of the artist painstakingly going through footage to get clips of every minute of every hour. The viewership spoke for themselves, at midday on a Monday the film screening room was about a third full, people sat in rows in front of a large cinema screen. I gestured for Mum and Dad to do the same as we walked in but they decided to remain standing on the back wall nearest to the door. We watched clips for 12:35, 12:36 and 12:37 before Dad decided he’d had enough and walked out, myself and Mum following.
“They’re all watching that film so seriously!” Dad said with amazement as we waited for the lift to arrive. “Did you see them in those chairs?”
“But don’t you see how that could be art?” I said in defence. “That someone has spent hours, months or years even trawling through footage to find a clip of that exact minute. There can’t be two 12:35s in place of zero 12:44s. The investment of time is worth something surely?”
Dad mumbled something under his breath which I took to meaning he respected but rejected my view. In a later room he made similar remarks about some lengthy pieces of brown leather that were hung from the ceiling. He defied how anyone could view this as art.
“Well what do you interpret art as being then?” Mum challenged as we moved across into a room covered floor to ceiling in printed mantras.
“Something of meaning, something of value and something I can’t do.” He gestured to the confined room we stood in, his finger ironically coming to point at one statement which read ‘stupid people shouldn’t breed’. “This is not art.”
“Well I quite like it in a weird way” Mum countered. Her acknowledgement in the face of Dad’s strong reservations surprised me, it was as if they were different people with different views. Unnerving.
After the Tate we retraced our steps and stopped off for lunch at a historic pub called The Anchor. Historic in that it’s rich history included visitations from Samuel Pepys and Edward Jenner and owned by The National Trust, modern in that it was being managed by the Greene King pub chain. Meters away from a shrine room dedicated to Jenner, city folk were chinking glasses on the rooftop terrace to celebrate successful business meetings.
“Does anyone do any work around here?” Dad commented as he reflected on the number of people he’d seen in coffee shops earlier in the day.
“It’s how they do things here,” Mum said flippantly. “It was in a copy of The Telegraph a few weeks ago, even interviews take place in coffee bars nowadays.”
For the second time in as many hours I held my tongue and sipped on my pint of cider. Was Mum becoming Londonised?
Before long all three of us were polishing up our plates and having to think of what we’d been trying to ignore all morning; that eventually my parents were going to have to get back to Paddington to catch the last pre-peak train back to the Cotswolds. Before that though there was just enough time to showcase of the City’s most iconic buildings.
“And there is Saint Paul’s Cathedral” said as we began walking across the pedestrian bridge.
“Isn’t this the bridge that wobbled when people walked across it?” Dad asked.
“Well yes, but that was when they opened it originally, it’s long past that time now and perfectly safe to cross.”
“I’m not stopping on this bridge. I don’t like bridges like this.” Mum announced as she started walking across the bridge. At first she clutched the handrail but realising that fellow tourists hogged the bar for selfies she opted instead for the London commuter approach, to storm down the middle without even pausing to look at the view. She waited patiently on the secure concrete bankside for myself and Dad to catch up and end our conversation about something so trivial I cannot remember what it was about.
“And there is Saint Paul’s” I repeated. Dad was, at first, disappointed there wasn’t the time to go in, replaced by disgust when I told him the ticket price.
“The outside is fine enough.”
Briefly stopping on a bench in the cathedral grounds we observed an Asian bride and groom having staged wedding photos done in one of the doorways, Mum and I hissed at Dad when he accidentally-purposely walked through one of their photo set ups, and then we moved on. By the time I’d shown them the restaurant location for the Channel Four reality series First Dates (which oddly got a better reception than the cathedral) we had to head back to Paddington station via the Central and Bakerloo Tube lines.
“You didn’t have to come with us back to the station,” Dad said, “we’d have been fine on our own.”
Mum looked at me from the seat almost directly opposite. She shook her head subtly so Dad wouldn’t notice and mouthed “no”. As well as seeing them off safe I had no issues with staying with them that bit longer. After all, on my day off I hardly had any other pressing engagements to attend.
I waited with my parents at the station until their platform was announced and then walked them up to the train doors where their seats were ready and reserved for them.
“Thank you so much for showing us round London these past couple of days,” Mum said. “I don’t think we’d have managed without you.”
“We’d have been fine with my map reading skills!” Dad quipped from behind.
“Thank you anyway. We’ll definitely have to visit you again.”
“We are really proud of you, you know?” Dad said as he stepped forward. “What you’ve achieved and what you’re doing, you don’t know how much it means to your Mother and I to see you doing so well for yourself here. And Wapping is such a nice place to be living. We’re just very happy for you.”
“Thanks Dad” I said, trying to not dwell too long on the sentiment for fear of breaking a tear or two. Instead I gave each of them a big hug and told them I loved them both and that I’d text as soon as I got back to the flat and that I’d visit home very soon.
They hopped onto their carriage and I turned on my heel back down the lengthy marble platform. The old-fashioned door slammed and, in just as cold and brutal a manner, our physical connection was cut.
Half an hour later I arrived at my eastward flat as they were speeding in a westerly direction outside Slough. I was wondering what to do with myself when my phone lit up with a familiar notification. A half smile on my lips, I reignited the familiar bond once again.
Art has always had a place in my life, my youth filled with gallery visitations and parents doing what any middle England-class family does, giving their children cultural direction. This Renaissance painting of Jesus is beautiful, this 1980s dollop of paint is tripe.
The route to modern art acceptance wasn’t by any means easy, collectively I’ve probably spent hours sitting in front of sculptures and paintings, refusing to move on until I saw something beyond the physical. At times I’d use the description for clues, but eventually I’d be able find that tiny door that opened my understanding. And when I found that opening it would change everything. Like a weird kind of Object Sexuality speed date, I’ve approached art with little interest and five minutes later found myself deeply moved by the story it speaks. Nowadays I find myself having to contain my emotion or else run the risk of having family or friends disown me for being a posh snob in High Street brand pyjamas, but whenever I’m alone my inner deep thinker comes alive. And those are the times I get truly inspired.
The 250th Summer Exhibition at The Royal Academy of Arts, London
The Summer Exhibition at the Royal Academy is a yearly event where people submit art
they feel is worthy for display and, for the most part, worthy of a buck or two (as Michael Randy’s installation puts it ‘everything must go’). Less look, but don’t touch, more touch but then buy. This year’s coordinator was Grayson Perry, a popular artist well-known for his down-to-earthiness, ceramic works and cross-dressing. Promotional images showcased rooms where art hangings filled every inch from ankle to ceiling as if the organisers took immense pride in the clutter as if to say “come visit an exhibition so aspirational that the artists will take whatever space we offer!” While I’d not had the Summer Exhibition on the top of my London ‘to do’ list when I relocated here, once I’d seen it advertised I just knew I had to go.
On the day I of visitation I entered the first gallery and found myself immediately stunned. The summary online had forewarned that art would be in abundance, but some things don’t translate until you physically see it. The second sensory overload came from the volume of people. Never in my life had I attended an exhibition where so many others were present in such a small space. Initially I found these two elements a shock to the system, so quickly manoeuvred to a piece of art further away from the entrance door.
I took an early interest in a pencil drawing that depicted hundreds of couples undergoing a kind of mass marriage in a non-descript Asian country. But where was the description and artist? I flicked through my little list of works book and found the title, Love at First Sight, the artist and the sale price nothing else. No detail, no description, nothing. I looked down at the guide, unable to believe that what I was holding was just price list. Around me people flicked through the books without concern so I gathered that my reaction was a result of being a Summer Exhibition newbie.
The lack of information coupled with the volume of art and human traffic put my interpretation skills to the test. For some there was little to read into (even Trump and Miss Mexico by Alison Jackson made me blush) and a great deal of hangings presented dry humour or political satire. Two striking examples of these values came out in both a sculpture by Carl Godfrey that mocked new housing estate signs and David Shrigley’s Untitled grouping which parodied the devaluing of news.
From Grenfell to Brexit, British politics had a significant influence in all the galleries this year. A portrait of Nigel Farage hung below a painting of someone throwing up, Scream hung next to Vote to Love by Banksy, valued at £350 million (a random figure to pick *cough*).
That’s what I enjoyed most with this exhibition. It’s controversial, it’s mixed, it’s now. It’s not the political feelings and sentiments from hundreds of years ago, or even of a few decades ago, it’s real-time interpretations of people trying to make sense of the world around them. And regardless of whether art is left-wing or right, people on both sides enjoyed what they saw before them. People who clutched price lists and nothing more, others that consumed ample quantities of wine from the in-exhibition bar and debated which pieces to buy (or cursing themselves on missed chances). Everyone chuckled at a high hung piece that bluntly stated “RICH PEOPLE SMELL”. Left wing, but oddly unifying.
The human reaction to creativity has always fascinated me, how as individuals we engage with bits of framed canvas or random objects laid out for subjective review. I was at different exhibition in Bath Spa about a year ago when I overheard a room steward talking to a young couple about modern art.
“When it comes to modern art the most offensive thing you can do is not have an opinion. Love or hate, if something has created an emotion then the artist has done what they set out to do.”
In most galleries the average footfall is much more reduced and scattered, you barely hear more than the odd comment here and there. But at the Summer Exhibition there’s a buzz in every room, the taboo of silence when absorbing art has been thrown out the window and buried beneath the statue of Joshua Reynolds in the courtyard. For instance Harry Hill’s anatomical sculpture Welcome, Come on in and Close the Door (right) reminded me of the game Operation, yet it caused strong verbal reaction in a great many other viewers. Even the most far removed of works can be too realistic for some.
All Things Considered
The 250th Summer Exhibition was a fantastic display of talent, creativity and brashness. As Punch cartoons were to our predecessors, the vibrant creations on display represent an evolution of satire to now become items people are prepared to pay hundreds, if not thousands, for. It was clear that Perry’s influence in the banana-yellow Gallery III created an almost competitive spirit among the subsequent galleries to outdo the last with the overall aim to formulate a spectacle completely different and memorable to anything staged by its rivals. And you know what? It worked.
Ps…A Dash of Alice
Because there is always humour to be found in the most lifeless of things, here are a selection of images that inspired me to come up with funny straplines.
(From the model architecture exhibit room – Gallery VI)
The 250th Summer Exhibition runs until 19th August 2018 at the Royal Academy of Arts, Piccadilly, London. To find out more visit their website here.
Been curious as to my whereabouts these past few weeks? Sat at home wondering what coffee shop I’m loitering in or whether, quite possibly, I’ve melted into a sticky puddle on the Tube? Well now I’ve come out the other side I can fill you in on exactly what I’ve been doing.
Snapshot summary: shut up in freezing cold rooms with the same people, ferried about the country in bright t shirts to separate ‘us’ from ‘them’. After 15 days pushed onto a large stage in front of important people to perform a corporate dance. For the winners, glory, for the losers, vending machine coffee. Scaring hashtag memories and bursting inboxes for all.
Make sense? Lets take it back a step or two.
In the beginning…
Cast your mind back to mid June. That crazy time when the temperatures were seasonally normal and people scoffed at England’s chances in the World Cup. Myself, alongside all those on two of my organisation’s career development streams were called into a room and informed that for the first three weeks of July we were to come off our day jobs and work on another sub-project titled “Innovation”. In true project style, the title Innovation remained as clear at ditch water to all but the organisers so what followed was a more detailed brief. Simply put, in teams we had between then and the 26h July to produce a new, innovative, solution to a problem being experienced currently by our organisation.
While we understood the aims and objectives of the Innovation Project as a whole, what we struggled with more was the idea of being removed from the business for three whole weeks. As you can imagine our day managers were less than thrilled but conveniently had been briefed in a separate meeting in a different building. Their ‘feedback’ pinged into inboxes just as we were being put into teams.
After brief conversations within our separate units, team names and compulsory hashtags were provided to those in charge. Given at the time none of us expected these to go any further than a internal communication or the organisation’s corporate social page, my group went for team “All Change” alongside #WeAreStrange. The hashtag in particular was done in good humour at the organisation of the Innovation Project. A week or so after that we were assigned a topic to base our separate projects around. For my team it was “how might we better identify member* needs of the future?” (*member being another way of saying our financial customers’) And with that we were all set off into the big world. It was now mid-late June and we knew that in a few weeks we’d be presenting an idea, a solution, a product to senior executives.
Late June – Another presentation on presentations…
Enter Capgemini, one of our organisation’s third party suppliers and soft skills trainers for the duration of the Innovation Project and organisers of several weeks of WebEx talks and dynamic team building sessions. On the whole these were good, it only took an hour a week to listen to the online video conferences and they required zero preparation (unless you had a question). Unsure of who did or did not know me, my signature intro ended up being “hi this is Alice, Alice Bennett here” but otherwise I held up my strong cool-kid reputation. Admittedly given my London location I often couldn’t attend meetings in person, but instead dialled in to noisy boardrooms only to question the benefit of me hearing fragments of ten different people instead of my team mates.
Other than these sessions our day jobs carried on as normal. All of us manically working away in the background to get what we could completed, tidied up or handed over for someone else to cover whilst we were away. It really did feel as if we were leaving our current teams for some shiny prospect that none of us could quite explain without making it look like we were going to be paid to do nothing for three weeks. Like parrots our default justification was “it’s development”.
July – week 1
Admittedly I was off in Majorca for the first formal week of tech training, led by second supplier IBM. Although I was off enjoying the sun I felt a bit sorry for the two remaining team mates who had to go through a tough five day boot camp into all things tech related from coding to the Cloud. As the heatwave blistered on outside, within the walls of the hotel the teams were shut away in ice cold rooms, spaces that were so chilly I later heard tales of people bringing cardigans and jumpers to keep warm.
Getting over holiday blues and how Britain could possibly be so hot still, the day after I landed back in Birmingham I was off again up north to Manchester. Here all the teams spent three days with, you guessed it, another third party supplier. Cisco is very proud of its innovation labs up in the northern powerhouse city, so was keen to show us what a dedicated innovation space looked like. But before that we had to settle into our hotel accommodation and be presented with our team t shirts. Remember what I said before about assuming the team name would go no further than that? Well I learnt a very painful lesson that evening about making assumptions…don’t. So now everyone had brightly coloured t shirts with a team name and hashtag printed boldly across the front and back. And we had to wear them the next day. And we had to walk halfway across Manchester to get to Cisco’s offices. Coincidentally management had long gone to bed by the time we realised all of this.
Day one in Manchester and we spent most of the day sitting on bean bags, because the stereotypes of creative spaces aren’t reinforced enough nowadays.
On this day we learnt more about what Cisco were doing at the MI-Idea labs and we met with start-ups to understand the personalities, mentalities and ideas that fall under the umbrella term.
On days two and three in Manchester IBM were back again to teach us how to unpick and create our own chatbots and visual recognition (VR). We found these sessions to be a lot quicker and easier to pick up and in no time at all Mike in my team was formulating his own Gareth Southgate chat bot and I looking into the boundaries of VR. I also posted several witty social media posts such as…
We started Wednesday’s session earlier than planned so we could rush back to Swindon in time for the England vs Croatia match. That evening both our bodies and souls were crushed. It would take several days for us to regain ourselves.
On Thursday all of us reunited in the conference suite, alongside the corporate graduates, to be briefed on another project we were to start working on. So now we had both an Innovation and Charity project to work on. As you can imagine we were so very, very, happy that day. So happy.
Friday was the first day were our teams all got together in separate rooms and started thrashing out ideas to tackle our theme. After so much time travelling or being lectured or learning or fighting off angry day job managers, the strain showed on everyone. We were all ready for the weekend.
In the final week of formally being off project team All Change started to do that, change. We had a concept but how that would look on paper and how we could make it work for our organisation was a tougher challenge. It’s one thing to say your idea is innovative, but if that idea is a dancing unicorn handing out red velvet cake to customers then it’s not likely to be as well received compared to something that is crazy but works.
For our team this final week featured a lot of competitor research (which isn’t easy – turns out corporations don’t like to make their finances public) and trying to pin people down for answers. In any other situation you wouldn’t expect a specialist to have a free enough diary to meet, say, the next day however in our bubble project time wasn’t a luxury. We quickly learnt that saying “we have to meet tomorrow because we’re presenting next week” made no difference at best and at worst got them asking us questions instead of our team asking them. Quick emails from their side did the job just as well. Alex pulled together a great presentation and our mentor Steve was a star in helping and showing us how to build a mobile app prototype, an essential part of making our idea tangible to the panel and creating a stand out presentation.
Throughout this week there were touch points with our project sponsors, the wider project leads and general chit chat with the third party suppliers who operated in a facilitate, support and provide external perspectives on our idea. On the Friday we delivered a dry run through of the presentation to a dummy panel of persons whose role was to provide initial feedback. As a team we were quite happy with the response and readily took on board the tweaks and minor adjustments which the presentation needed.
Despite all the craziness we made time for this ‘official’ team photo:
Back in day jobs = craziness = do not disturb = reminding team members we’re alive
Adjusting Innovation presentations = making time for research = making time for team rehearsals = trying to find rooms with phones (so I can dial in) = travelling back and forth from London to Swindon = shattered but ready
Thursday 26th July
Team All Change were fourth on the agenda after introductions and then the first presentation by Acta non Verba.
As we went up onto the main stage with all the big wigs, managers and colleagues of our organisation in front of us, we felt a little nervous. I’d never seen Claudia look so uncomfortable, bouncing on one foot to another as Alex set up his laptop with the presentation. “You’ve got this” I reassured her as we walked to the other side of the stage.
We not only smashed that presentation but completely owned it. All that was missing was internal fireworks or fire itself (the budget was there for health and safety checks).
We did good for a team which had #WeAreStrange printed across our backs (or yeah, the t shirts just had to be compulsory attire on the day of the final presentation, didn’t they? Cool-kid cred reduced to minus figures in seconds.)
After post presentation questioning and celebratory complimentary coffee we returned to our table in the conference suite and listened to the other three groups deliver their problem statement solutions. As each group watched the other in turn we were all amazed by both the quality and complexity of what had been designed and tested in such a short space of time. These weren’t “have you considered setting up a Google docs account?” or “have you thought about getting Amazon in to fix this?” It goes to show that if you give people resource and a free space then the ideas that can formulate are without limit. What is that saying about a man and a fish pole?
During the panel’s deliberation time I sipped on my coffee and wondered how anyone could pick out winners when all the presentations and contents were so good but so different. To me it felt a little bit like comparing chalk and cheese.
After a lot of heated discussions, the three winning teams were as follows:
Most viable (i.e. something the business could start doing straight away) – The Dream Team
People’s Choice (voted for by the audience) – Semper Progrediendi
Most Innovative – ALL CHANGE!! Yeeesss!
I wish I could say we won a pile of cash or a mini break to Paris, but instead we were happy to accept a framed certificate and team photo where we all looked good.
After all the excitement and the close of the main event at 1pm there was only a little time to take lunch and crash. After that for most it was a case of taking off t shirts and getting back into the day job. I personally kept my t shirt on, firstly because I missed the memo about everyone bringing a change of top (and I don’t think my company is about to relax its uniform policies that much) but also because by that point I was beyond embarrassment. Enough people had seen me strutting about the office in heels, pencil skirt and black jacket like some product rep for a new health drink. I didn’t care anymore. Like the presentation I’d been part of several hours beforehand I was happy, if not a little proud to own the look on that day. And when friends outside of the challenge pointed to my top with a smile and a laugh all I had to do was turn on my heel and lower my jacket.
“Well, we are strange”
“Aren’t you hot in that black jacket?”
“You cannot begin to imagine.”
After all that you are probably wondering what All Change’s big, award-winning innovation idea was or indeed the ideas of the four other teams. Well, I guess you’ll just have to watch this space to find out… #WeAreStrange #SimplyInnovating
(A big thank you to everyone involved in the Innovation Project, including organisers, facilitators, educators and panellists. Of the third party providers there are far too many of you to name individually so I hope that in thanking Capgemini, IBM and Cisco will suffice. You guys know who you are, especially the person who thought bright t shirts were a good idea…)
There are two options as to when the Mallorca (English spelling Majorca) holiday began. The first possibility is when I caught India eating salsa at 3am as we finished loading the cars up with the suitcases, the scrambled logic being the dip was due to go past its sell-by whilst we were away. I looked at her in disbelief as she continued to eat table spoons of the stuff.
That was when I thought the holiday had began.
The other potential opener occurred in the check-in queue of East Midlands airport. After waiting for approximately 45 minutes the elderly gentleman in front of me started spontaneously vomiting. Someone further down the queue rushed to hand over a napkin seconds before the same passenger began throwing up again. Everyone started shouting at the man to stand still but the baffled passenger continued to wheel his vomit-coated case through the mess and around the tape barriers. Forget human consideration, people were terrified that this solo passenger was going to be on their flight. Dad meanwhile was running around the terminal and having no luck in finding someone to help and the cleaning crew were standing around the mess as if it would evaporate by itself. Then another woman collapsed, and another. It was 4:30am, I was stood in an irritable queue next to a pool of someone else’s vomit. The whole plane had to board in 15 minutes and I had not a drop of caffeine to run on. Miracles bloody well do exist.
The Bennett holiday had begun.
This year it was an all-inclusive trip to the sunny island of Mallorca, Spain. For the benefit of the jury, here is a balcony photo.
Compulsory scenic surrounding location shots (nature reserve and Alcudia)
While I knew we were in Spain over the course of the week I did have a few questions I wanted to take up with the local trade of commerce. For instance, I’m quite sure this is factually inaccurate:
I don’t think the feminists were consulted on this, the upcoming sequel to ‘The Land Before Time‘:
And then I realised the tourist board were in on the con too.
To take this back a little, we were holidaying in the north, less developed, area of the island and just up the road from several historic towns including Alcudia.
There are two sides to Alcudia, the newer part of the town that formed around the busy port and is now home to a number of tourist tat shops commercial outlets and bars. The historic town is located several miles inland and a short hop away on public buses (which run every 15 minutes during the main season). Because we’re suckers for culture and architecture we spent more days roaming the streets here than we did anywhere else during our stay. To say the place has charm would be a vast understatement, the main town has so few cars going through it the place is practically pedestrianised (and not a yellow line in sight!) as demonstrated by this reckless selfie.
We went in on day for the market on Tuesday and were amazed by the range of products one could buy be you a local or a tourist.
Even India thought I was being weird for photoing underwear. Even India.
The main tourist square great for people watching…
…And had great light for selfies (because I’m pretty sure that’s how the early settlers designed the place).
After a few bevvies and a scoop or two (or three) of ice cream it was time for a wander around. Going in and out of shops I discovered some awesome tunes but due to data allowance I chose to record the clip. Common practice for me when abroad and also a weird thing to play back.
It looks like hidden camera footage from Watch Dog.
There was also a very nice old church in the centre.
I cam away with a lot of questions to put to religious leaders, chiefly how come Mary’s been dead for several millennia but still has amazing hair whereas all the Herbal Essence products in the world do stuff all for me.
And why do us Brits keep jet-setting around the world when clearly in Mallorca the place to go on holiday is Bournemouth as demonstrated in this local tourist agent window.
Speaking of culture, India on art everyone.
Speaking of unculture, back at the hotel I was giggling over squiffy mini croissants and eating gummy sweets with large glasses of wine.
Also much to my amusement came the ‘lost in translation’ moments, including the night we ate a local child’s pet.
And the dumping of random ingredients in water to infuse it including cinnamon sticks, carrots and potatoes.
The use of potatoes in water was followed by a ten minute lecture where we had to remind Dad that you can’t eat raw potatoes, even if you’re certain you ate them as a child.
On the night of the England vs Columbia game us three got the night off. We stuck him in a chair with a whiskey and he was content all night long (well…ish – we all remember that game).
Tell you what, the Spanish commentators don’t half get passionate about their football World Cup
On another night we played mini golf.
And if all else failed we just sat about the pool with our sangria and watching the resident duck fly in for a swim. That or laugh at my failing to grasp the English language when I go the words flamingo and flamenco mixed up “flamenco shorts AND t shirts, that is a bold move.” “Well it would be if it actually were flamenco dancers…”
The facilities and entertainment at the hotel was pretty good actually even when the entire complex had a power cut one night.
It was in the evenings I was also reminded of how classy we all are as a unit when we want to be. For instance I still don’t understand why Mum hasn’t been called back to present on Gardener’s World…
Dad also started doing reckless things like turning the Jacuzzi on in the evenings and keeping it running when performances were taking place yards away.
Next thing you know the selfie stick is being waved about like nobody’s business and we all start adopting weird signature poses.
India with arms, Dad with scary smiles, Mum looking very chilled and me…well me reminding myself why I’m single.
The next morning we ventured further along the coast to Port de Pollenca with it’s scenic docks and it’s random home wares which were also rather pricey.
And because we hadn’t taken a family selfie for five minutes naturally my stick was out again.
At the end of the week we left knowing that the 32C temperatures were little above what was being experienced in Britain (i.e. no smug points to be had there) but we returned having had an enjoyable and chilled week away from our varying stresses of real life. I have racked up a mega awesome playlist of Spanish songs on my Spotify playlist, discovered cream of coconut liqueur (which is the best) and saw a Spanish version of Poldark from the coach as we headed back to Palma airport. Based on all three I’ve decided that I need to move to Mallorca and join Alcudia’s local police force (in the words of mum “you don’t get Aiden Turner working as a special police constable in the UK”).
That said before all of that came a two more pressing tasks:
A) How do we get Dad on the plane?
And B) how do we stop ourselves having so much fun on the free bar?
The Cotswolds are a beautiful part of the world. Rolling green hills, golden stone brickwork and chocolate box villages make it one of the most desirable tourist destinations within the UK. It’s also a large region notoriously hard to pin point.
According to this map Swindon and Evesham are in the Cotswolds which frankly is the funniest thing I’ve seen all day.
Who better placed to review North Cotswold attractions than someone raised in a border village? After all, no one goes on holiday to spend hours in tourist information centres.
‘North Cotswold Triangle’ shown on map above.
10 Things you Simply must do in the North Cotswolds
1. Chipping Campden
This little market town marks the most northern point of the region and typifies a lot of the features you’d expect to find in a place that made its wealth in the wool industry.
Chipping Campden has been able to retain vibrancy in its little independent shops, pubs and coffee houses spread along the main high street and having attended secondary school in this sleepy town I can certainly vouch that it’s worth a couple of hours of anyone’s time. During school holidays you can park in the school’s car park or, if you can’t park along the street, there’s a small pay and display car park in the centre.
Fun fact: Chipping Campden is home to the design studio of popular silverware brand Robert Welch.
2. Walk the Cotswold Way
Linked to the above, Chipping Campden is one town that sits on this popular walking path. On this one I won’t compete with the multitude of books and websites (there’s plenty of information out there) but I would encourage anyone visiting the area to tackle a shortened route or section.
3. Broadway Tower
Representing the highest point and one of the most iconic Cotswold symbols, Broadway Tower gives the best views for miles around. Don’t be fooled by the title though, this charming folly is located a short drive away from the market village of the same name, that said the hillside has considerably developed in recent years enabling visitors to linger a little longer and treat themselves to stylish interior buys and coffee in the converted barn.
If views aren’t your thing there’s also an underground nuclear bunker on site which is open to the public on weekends during the summer period (April – September). Closed in 1991 but restored to its 1980 appearance, it’s one for Cold War era fans.
Worth noting that this site gets busier during peak times (e.g. summer and weekends) and while fairly substantial the car park does fill up. Given the hillside bumps that sit alongside the tower, sheep are sometimes let lose to keen the grass trim resulting in lots of ‘little presents’. For both reasons sensible footwear is recommended.
Top tip: You can pay to go into the tower itself where a brief history of the area and exhibitions are presented. At time of writing tickets for adults are £5. My advice? Save the money and invest in coffee and cake at the tea shop.
4. Cotswold Lavender
In many of the fields near Broadway Tower you’ll find the purple shrub growing in large quantities, spoils of which go into making the popular scented products sold by the Cotswold Lavender company. When the lavender is in season a visit to the farm is an experience for all the senses.
In a rush? If the lavender is in full bloom make the effort to drive down the country lanes that cut through the crops. The intensity of fresh flowers combined with a gentle breeze is something you won’t forget in a hurry.
5. Go for a drive (and give the sat nav a rest)
Take a map and a basic idea of where you want to go and just drive. There are some beautiful Cotswold lanes and undiscovered hamlets to be found across the North Cotswolds and, better still, the roads are all of solid quality and easy enough to spot (even if they’re not always signposted well).
If you want to really experience the Cotswolds you have to avoid the well trodden path. Everyday large numbers of coaches take visitors (from the UK and overseas) on day visits to the main destination towns. Popular towns are popular for a reason and in peak season it’s not uncommon for individuals to come away feeling disappointed with the experience they get at such places. My advice? Ditch the crowds and gain a unique experience by going for a scenic drive. Who knows, you may even discover a location or pub you go back to later on.
Word of Warning: the unique experience will also mean a lack of mobile phone reception and make sure the tank is full of fuel before setting off (petrol stations are not a common sight in the rural Cotswolds).
6. Hidcote Manor Gardens (The National Trust) and/or Kiftsgate Court Gardens (Privately Owned)
My family home is quite literally at the bottom of the hill so I’d be foolish to not give a mention to these world famous gardens, both of which are neighbours. That said, having spent my entire life living in the shadow of Hidcote my opinion on the gardens themselves are a bit mixed (personally I think there’s a touch of Emperor’s New Clothes about them). I do however respect their popularity and historic value and would always encourage people in the area to visit either Hidcote or Kiftsgate (or both) because they are a big deal and a ‘must do’ if holidaying.
Hidcote is free to National Trust members, Kiftsgate has an admission fee. As per a lot of attractions these gardens get busy so my advice would be to go early and on a nice day (if it rains there is little to no shelter).
Hidcote Manor Gardens
Kiftsgate Court Gardens
Whilst not located within the parameters of The Cotswolds, Stratford brings with it a different vibe compared to that of its rural neighbours. As well as being home to Shakespeare Stratford also has a rich history dating back hundreds of years. A quick google search will provide you with several days worth of activities.
Depending on where you’re holidaying in the region Stratford is only a short drive away and worth exploring to get a comparison. It’s also home to a number of high street shops and well known eateries during the day and stylish wine bars and dining at night.
Top Tip: Don’t kid yourself into thinking the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) will have a multitude of same day performance tickets available. The majority of tickets sell out months in advance so book them at the same time you book your accommodation. Also check out ‘Stratford ArtsHouse’ – a venue that has come leaps and bounds in recent years. This small theatre pulls in a number of touring comedians and plays.
8. Bourton on the Water/Broadway/Stow on the Wold etc.
Granted these places do get busy but there’s a reason for that. Heavily photographed and easily accessible, any of the above towns will be found on number of visitor check lists. Each town has their own history and charm, for example Bourton is frequently referred to as ‘the Venice of the Cotswolds’. Avoid these places like the plague on August weekends/bank holidays, but otherwise they’re worth a visit if you’re seeking souvenirs and wanting to experience the pure essence of what the Cotswolds are all about.
Bourton on the Water
9. Batsford Arboretum (near Moreton in the Marsh)
If you’re visiting the North Cotswolds in Autumn and not considering this as a destination then think again. Batsford is home to a large number of tree species and is coincidentally the country’s largest private collection of trees and shrubs. That aside, it’s also a great place for photography, wandering and (if kids or big kids are present) running around and letting off steam.
10. Snowshill Manor (The National Trust)
Located near Broadway, this National Trust property houses the collections of Charles Wade who bought the property in 1919.
The random but fascinating treasures held in this house define both the owner and period and show an early 20th Century interpretation of what the modern day rich do when money is no object. If you don’t dwell too heavily on the wealth being sourced from slave plantations in the West Indies then you’re in for an insightful experience. Each room provides a different exhibition of artefacts, it’s history within history.
Top Tip: during peak periods entry to the house is administered on timed tickets. Visit the property first before lingering in the gardens. The property itself is also a short walk away from the coffee shop/entrance which is worth noting before you set off.
(11. Stanway House and Gardens)
Stanway is probably the best kept secret of the North Cotswolds, if not the entire Cotswolds. Only open two afternoons a week in the Summer (Tuesday and Thursday), this fully functioning family home will provide a truly different experience to anything you’ll see at a National Trust property.
Volunteers run every element of public-facing operations, from collecting tickets and acting as room guides, to running the tea shop in the converted stables. Inside is an explosion of old vs new, antique tables and tapestries coupled with modern day invoices and weekly food shops. The garden outside displays a dramatic jet fountain which rises to 300 feet (making it the highest jet in England).
Wonderfully eccentric and undiscovered to the majority of tourists (but well known by locals), this is the attraction that none of your friends or family will have visited.
And there you have it…
…some starting points for things to do in this Cotswold pocket. Of course there are a many number of other places to visit in the region (for example Bourton has a record-breaking model village and Chipping Norton is also a popular go-to destination). However I hope this list gives you a feel for the range of attractions and culture us Cotswoldians are proud to have as our own. If you want a taste of the Cotswolds (and beyond) then the North is certainly your best bet to get all you need from a relaxing mini break.
Think I’ve missed off a notable attraction? Add your comments below!
Useful Links (please note that all direct to external websites)