Category Archives: Travel Writing

Another Chelsea Morning – With Apologies to Joni Mitchell

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning and the first thing that I saw…

…was a pair of well dressed ladies in red and pink silk and chiffon day dresses worn with stilletto heels and architecturally impossible hats.  Helped by a gent in full formal morning suit, tails and dove grey vest, they are moving folding chairs, a portable lawn marquee and a box with his top hat from a blue Maserati Ghibli to a Porsche Cayenne hatchback.

They disappear around a corner.

Next comes a supermarket delivery van, double parking as normal to drop off someone’s groceries.                                                                               And behind it, a Kensington & Chelsea Enforcement vehicle – aka a big, flatbed tow truck. The driver of the tow truck must be hung over because he thinks he can pass the double parked delivery van with its big, sticky-out wing mirror.

Something’s gotta give.

Re-enter the well dressed party of three, bearing square, blue chiller bags from Carluccio’s Al Fresco and heading for the Porsche Cayenne.

Just in time to see it taken out – as well as the Maserati and the sticky-out wing mirror -by the K&C tow truck. So much for their Closing Day at Royal Ascot outing. Might as well comfort yourselves with the champagne now.

And, from the likely insurance bill, so much for the tow truck driver’s job too.

Just another Chelsea morning, folks.

Read guest reviews and find a boutique hotel in Kensington and Chelsea on TripAdvisor.

 

 

A Café for Windsor Castle at Last!

Windsor Undercroft
The 14th-century Undercroft at Windsor Castle will be developed into a visitor cafe as part of the £37 million Future Programme developments at Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyrood House. Royal Collection Trust / (c) Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2016

April 5, 2016 – The Royal Collection Trust, the charity that makes the UK’s Royal Palaces available to the public, has just announced it will spend £37 million in the next two years on improvements to Windsor Castle and the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh. The plan, rather unimaginatively to be known as  Future Programme, will:

  • add more welcoming entrances and learning centers to the palaces,
  • open up previously unseen and private areas of Windsor Castle,
  • create themed pathways through the castle and palace, offering visitors more choice and
  • create the first ever café for visitors in Windsor Castle….Hallellujah!

If I seem overly excited about the prospect of a café in the stony Undercroft of the castle, pictured above, it’s because it is about time this long overdue and much needed facility was added.

Starve, Die of Thirst or Just Leave

Windsor Castle is huge and fascinating; the sort of place most people can easily spend a whole day visiting. Unfortunately, it has never had any place to take a break, to relax, to look over your  brochures or your pictures and to fuel up for your next foray into a gallery, exhibition or series of fabulous rooms.

The most the Queen ever offered members of the public was the chance to buy a bottle of water and, in winter, to stand outdoors on the windy castle hill to drink it.  The alternative was to leave the castle at lunch time, try to find something besides a Big Mac in the unpromising retail precincts of Windsor town, and then return to the castle to continue your visit – permitted with your ticket but inconvenient and unrewarding.  So the prospect of a casual café by 2018 is very encouraging.

Appropriately, the Undercroft, where the new cafe will be located, was used for centuries as the refectory where the royal household staff took meals. We hope there will also be some space for families and groups to bring their own packed lunches.

Works Getting Underway

Designs for Future Programme are getting underway now and construction is set to begin in 2017 with completion planned for 2018. Windsor Castle and Holyrood  will both remain open to the public as normal during the works. Financing for the £37 million project is coming from admissions to the castles, palaces and houses in The Royal Collection as well as associated retail sales.

Book a Windsor, Bath and Stonehenge Tour with Rail Europe

Find out More About Visiting Windsor at About.com United Kingdom Travel:

Windsor Castle under a moody sky.
Photo by Craig ccl

 

Short Breaks in UK Landmarks

My Latest for About.com United Kingdom Travel

© Ferne Arfin
© Ferne Arfin

Step Across a Threshold into The Past

 Step across a threshold into the past. Don’t just imagine staying in a medieval house; rent a quirky, restored landmark from the Landmark Trust.

Imagine a getaway in a historic landmark that’s all yours for a few fantastic days. You might spend a while living like a medieval knight – the steward for a local nobleman, perhaps. You could host family and friends at your grand country house in the Regency/Georgian style. Or maybe you’d fancy locking yourself away in a solid fortress by the sea while outside the waves crash and seabirds call.

The Landmark Trust, a charity that celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015, gambled that a lot of people would like to take their fantasy vision of historic Britain literally by staying in a lovingly restored and domestically scaled piece of it.

Since their foundation, they’ve acquired and restored manor houses, castles, follies, towers, forts and cottages – just under 200 in England, Scotland, Wales and the Channel Islands …

Read more at About.com

London’t Top 5 Shopping Spots for Christmas

My Latest for the Heathrow Express

London’s Top 5 Shopping Spots for Christmas

  • 12 Nov 2015
  • Things to do in London

Each month we ask a London expert to give us their Top 5 for the best in the capital’s shopping, dining, nightlife and more. With the holiday season fast approaching we asked travel journalist and inveterate shophound Ferne Arfin to pick her favourite shops for gift inspiration.

1. Boxpark

Shopping - Boxpark 448x250

What’s it like? Forget pop-up shops. Shoreditch claims the world’s first pop-up mall, set up in a double layer of recycled shipping containers. About 30 compact shops and 15 food and drink outlets occupy the site, each decorated to enhance its tightly curated merchandise and target “tribe” – from a minimalist outlet selling nothing but hip wrist watches to a fragrant branch of a Parisian perfumer where you can drop £50 on a single scented candle. Dip into one mini-shop after another for moderately priced one-offs from international designer start-ups, jewels, kitchenwear, clothing and trendy street style.

Who to shop for? All the Gen Z’ers and Post Millennials on your list

Why I love it: It’s bursting with energy and after shopping, the urban views from the bars and cafes on the upper level are smashing.

How to find it: 2-10 Bethnal Green Rd, London E1 6GY. 020 7033 2899

READ MORE At Heathrow Express Travel

German, Victorian or Dickensian – The UK’s Best Christmas Markets

My latest article on About.com United Kingdom Travel

As November and December nights draw in, the best Christmas markets spring up all over the UK. Think flickering candlelight, the smell of evergreens, the aroma of holiday goodies.

Glowing market booths and stalls fill to bursting with tempting, exotic goods. Visit one of these for original gifts, delicious foods, mulled wine and entertainment.

Check out 18 of the best holiday markets all over Britain.

Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market

Birmingham stages one of the biggest and longest German Christmas Markets outside of Germany. The West Midlands city is twinned with Frankfurt, and the Frankfurt traders go all out to bring real German gemütlichkeit to Britain. It spreads across most of the city’s important squares and continues for more than a month. Alongside the German Market, a Christmas crafts fair highlights regional producers and artisans as well as more exotic gifts from Asia and Africa. Add in ice skating, a big wheel and a jewellery market and Birmingham is a very festive place indeed for most of the winter.

  • When: 10am to 9pm, Nov 12 to Dec 22 (in 2015).
  • Where: Victoria Square, Centenery Square and New Street

Find a place to stay in Birmingham, England

READ MORE

Featured photo by Guy Evans, Creative Commons

Riverside museum

The Riverside – A Big Splash on the Glasgow Waterfront

My latest article on About.com United Kingdom Travel

Glasgow’s Riverside Museum of Transport and Travel is wonderful. It’s tremendously entertaining even if you always thought that walking around a museum looking things on wheels and rails wasn’t your cup of tea.

Believe me, I know. I have dutifully slogged after enthusiastic pals in transport museums hoping they’d soon tire of marveling at double decker buses so the ordeal would be over.

The Riverside has nothing whatsoever in common with those experiences.

It is simply sensational.

It begins with the building

Award-winning, Iraqi-born British architect Zaha Hadid met the museum’s requirement for a column-free, flexible display space with a deceptively simple structure (actually one of the most complex structures built in the UK when the museum opened in 2010). It flows between the city and Glasgow waterfront on the River Clyde like a giant wave….READ MORE

Photo by Ferne Arfin

View from Kirkstone Pass ©Ferne Arfin

Ten Steps to a Perfect UK Tour Itinerary

If you’re a free spirit and an independent traveler, planning your touring itinerary in advance might seem dull. What about spontaneity?

Yet, without the framework of a plan, you are more likely to have confusion and stress than spontaneity; without at least a loosely organized plan, you can end up using up all your energy rushing from one place to another on motorways with no time to enjoy anything. Or you might waste precious time seeing a boring attraction when the one you would have really enjoyed was just five minutes down the road – if only you’d left time visit it.

These ten steps will allow you to plan a touring vacation that suits your style and leaves your free spirit plenty of space to fly.

…Read more

Claws and Effect

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In calm weather, Smith Island rises almost imperceptibly from the featureless waterscape of Chesapeake Bay. The island ferry churns up the surface and ospreys perched on channel markers size us up.

For miles, a pale ripple of marsh grass, bedded in rich mud is all that separates sea and sky. Then a distant gathering of trees, followed by the glint of a steeple, signals we are about to arrive.

On a map of Maryland, Smith Island looks like a net tossed on the water. Only 900 of the 8,000 acres of marsh and hummock are habitable.

British settlers first came here in the 1600s, arriving from Cornwall and Wales via Virginia, to farm soil that, even then, barely poked through the surface of the water.

PICT0031Their descendents – Marshes, Evans, Marshalls, Bradfords and Tylers – turned to the bay for their living as time and tides changed the land to waterlogged marsh.

About 300 year-round residents, most of them members of the original families, live in three hamlets. Ewell and Rhodes Point share one landmass. Picket-fenced Tylerton sits on its own islet.

Another chunk of Smith, separated from the rest by a channel called Big Thoroughfare, is a wildlife refuge, home to a nesting pair of peregrine falcons, hundreds of varieties of resident and migrating shore birds, muskrats, otters, terrapin and rare swimming foxes.

The islanders are traditional Chesapeake watermen. Working with tools that haven’t changed much in a hundred years, they harvest crab in summer and oysters in winter.

We’d heard they spoke a unique Elizabethan dialect and that their lifestyle had not changed much in a hundred years, either. The “Elizabethan” is probably a bit of a stretch, though a distinctly West-Country twang colours their accent, along with the occasional archaic turn of phrase.

What is unique, however, at least for a community only a couple of hours from Washington DC, is the way island life is tied to the cycles and rhythms of nature.

From May to September, mating instincts and prevailing currents draw millions of blue crabs to the Chesapeake. The females shed their shells and for about five hours – until they harden again – become Maryland’s valuable delicacy, softshell crabs.

Artist Pauli Zmolek, our hostess at the Chesapeake Sunrise guesthouse, greets us at the dock of the Smith Island Marina and sets the tone – relaxed, casual and friendly.

She introduces us to her huge, always open, “help-yourself” kitchen, an important asset on an island with only one restaurant and a couple of general stores.

Later, Tim Marshall ferries us to the wildlife refuge to hunt for ancient arrowheads. Basking terrapin scuttle away as we splash across the tide-washed mud.

“Nothing much seems for sale here except fat, juicy crab cakes so good that we agree to search no further for meals while we’re on the island.”

Marshall knows everything about the island and its history. In his private museum, hundreds of arrow and spearheads, left by Native Americans, are arranged and identified – some more than 13,000 years old.

Within about 10 minutes, he’s found us three more. At sunset we stuff ourselves silly at Rukes, a sort of general store and crab shack.

Nothing much seems for sale here except fat, juicy crab cakes so good that we agree to search no further for meals while we’re on the island.

Next day, I wake to a dawn chorus of watermen stacking crab pots into a wide-beamed, shallow-draught boat outside my window.

Following the sound of running water, I find Big Eddie Evans preparing “floats” in his shanty, waiting for the “peelers” that he says are running late this year.

Peelers are female crabs ready to shed. The whole Evans family pitches in, checking the floats for softshells every three to five hours, round the clock.

A Smith Island softshell will be on a New York restaurant table less than 24 hours after it has peeled, Evans brags. A 13th-generation Smith-Island waterman himself, Evans says his son and grandson have followed him into the trade.

But he sees the end in sight. Stricter regulations and declining catches are taking their toll. “It’s getting harder and harder to make a living on the water,” he says. “I figure it won’t last more than another generation.”

It’s possible the island itself won’t last much longer. The Chesapeake has taken more than 1,200 acres in the past 100 years. In the meantime, though, the Smith Islanders welcome visitors with old-fashioned dignity and grace.

Smith Island basics

Getting there
British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) flies from Heathrow to Philadelphia, Washington-Dulles and Baltimore .

The drive to Crisfield takes three hours; ferries leave at 12.30 daily.

Staying there
Chesapeake Sunrise (001 410 425 4220; www.smith island.us) has cosy rooms . Charters and fishing parties can be arranged. The Inn of Silent Music in Tylerton (425 3541; www.innofsilentmusic.com) is more sedate and formal.