All posts by Ferne Arfin

Ferne Arfin is a London-based travelwriter, book author and editor. She has been writing about travel since 2002 and her work about the UK, USA and France has appeared in major metropolitan newspapers in the UK and USA, as well as in magazines, travel books and online. She is the author of the novel Tunnel of Mirrors.
Puffin

England’s Best Place To See Nesting Seabirds Just Got Better

You don’t have to be a birdwatcher to be impressed by the sight of the 250,000 sea birds that gather to nest and breed on the Bempton Cliffs in East Yorkshire. From April to October, visitors can witness the annual spectacle as the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) Bempton Cliffs Reserve, overlooking the North Sea, plays host to thousands of noisy gannets, guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars and puffins.

The reserve is favorite for families and novice birders as its six, safe clifftop viewing platforms (two of which are wheelchair and pushchair accessible) make it easy to get close enough watch the birds and learn about their differences and behaviors.

In spring 2015, the opening of new seabird center at the reserve made it easier to to enjoy the birds and learn more. It includes an exhibition area and large TV screens with live images from the cliffs. So if it’s too cold or windy for you, if you’re not comfortable with heights – or frankly, all the noise and smells, you can still get a good view.

If you get the birding bug while visiting, the center’s shop boasts the best selection of…READ MORE

Photo by Pete Hewitt courtesy of RSPB Bempton Cliffs

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

Put Magna Carta into Your UK Itinerary

My latest article on About.com United Kingdom Travel

On June 15, 2015, the world marks the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, considered by many to be the foundation of modern democracy and civil liberties.

Find out more about Magna Carta and what it means to us here.

If you are interested in history, politics, law or civil rights, you may want to visit a copy of the Magna Carta or add a few landmarks associated with the famous document, and the Barons’ Rebellion that led to it, to your travel plans.  Luckily there are quite a few scattered around England.  When King John put his seal to Magna Carta, copies were sent to every corner of the realm. Four of those original 1215 copies still exist.

Almost as soon as he sealed the Great Charter – as Magna Carta is also known, King John tried to renege on the agreement so there are later editions, some…Read more

11 Common Travel Mistakes to Avoid in the UK

For About.com United Kingdom Travel

It’s your first trip to the UK and you’ve been looking forward to touring at your own pace, renting a car and driving the quiet country roads, visiting the quaint villages you’ve seen in everything from travel brochures to Miss Marple mysteries. But first you want to spend a few days enjoying the bright lights, big city treats of London. So you pick up your rented car at the airport and drive into London.

Big mistake. Here’s five reasons why:

  1. Traffic on London streets moves at about 4 miles per hour or less during the daylight hours. You could spend a lot of time in traffic jams.
  2. There is no place to park near the major attractions. If you are lucky, you may find a parking meter near some attractions – but there are probably about 10 parking meters per thousand private resident parking spots. And Central London street parking, if you find it, can cost between £4 and £8 an hour.
  3. It’s expensive. A congestion charge of £12 a day is assessed on every car entering Central London. Add to that…Read More

Oh My Aching Feet! 6 Cures for Sore and Tired Tourist Tootsies

from About.com United Kingdom Travel

Espadrilles at famous Casa Hernanz in Madrid. Lovely but painful after a day on your feet.
Espadrilles at famous Casa Hernanz in Madrid. Lovely but painful after a day on your feet.

Oh My Aching Feet! 6 Cures for Sore and Tired Tourist Tootsies

 

The UK is full of “walking cities”.

Locals will tell you that the best wayto see London, York, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Bristol, Lincoln, Cambridge, Oxford and dozens more popular cities is on foot. Then there’s slogging through enormous museums or around charming – but huge- street markets and discount shopping villages. And don’t forget a five mile hike or two in the Lakes, the Peaks or the South Downs. If, by the end of a day or two your feet aren’t screaming for mercy, then you are not doing your proper job as a tourist.

It’s easy to forget those hard working puppies when you are planning itineraries, organizing spending money and packing. But spare a thought for your feet. If you don’t. they’ll exact a nasty revenge….  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.