Category Archives: Travel

A research trip to Manchester

Funny – in a way that’s not at all – that it should be when I leave my home in London, for a research fellowship in Manchester, that I come closest to a major terrorist attack.

9/11 was a continent away; likewise the Paris attacks while I was in the States. During 7/7 I was working a temp job on an industrial estate in Chessington, pretty far out of London. While I had to coordinate workers travelling in and out of the city and had friends caught up in the transport chaos, I wasn’t physically that close to it. The most recent ‘attack’ in London was hardly major. And though I remember the last time Manchester was bombed – the IRA bombing of 1996 – I was only a teenager then, living in North Wales, and only had vague memories of shopping near what was now the bomb site with my family.

This morning my sleep was interrupted by sirens and surprisingly late activity (for a Monday) in my hotel. I didn’t hear an explosion and the sirens barely disturbed me – in London I live opposite a fire station, so falling asleep to the sound of emergency vehicles was so familiar I didn’t really register that anything out of the ordinary might be going on.

This morning I learned the news from facebook, and tuned into the BBC for confirmation. I rode down in the lift with three young girls – one of them wearing an Ariana Grande t-shirt. I don’t know if they were due to stay in the hotel, or if they were taken in and given a room and food as many of the local hotels have done, for concert goers who couldn’t then get home. Outside, helicopters hovered over the city. The road by my hotel was cordoned off, so I took another route to work, along with a large number of Mancunians, all disrupted, but getting on with their lives.

When I’ve spoken to anyone this morning we haven’t repeated the ‘score’ of the terrorists – any dead or wounded. We’ve spoken about people pulling together – the taxi drivers, the nearby hotel workers, the local residents bringing food and coffee – and getting on with it. This is how we win. Even if terrorism is the new normal (again), and no matter which city you’re in it’s possible you’ll come close to it, we get on with our lives.

And Manchester is a city that, I think, is strong enough to take what’s thrown at it. I’ve only been here a week, so I may be speaking out of turn, but I’ve been impressed. It feels like a confident city. There’s culture evident in its theatres and art centres, and a buzzing northern quarter of cool restaurants and bars. The museum of Science and Industry is an inspiring testament to how Manchester is and has always been at the forefront of scientific discovery and technological industry. And everyone I’ve met has been friendly and hard-working. If anyone was thinking of visiting, you really should – it makes for a great city break.

I’m really sorry this happened in Manchester, but I’m pretty convinced it’s not going to stop the city going from strength to strength. And now I’m going to get on with my day.


May Roadtrip: The Eastern Shore

At this point in the road trip we had planned to do something like my birthday roadtrip in reverse. Travelling from the historic triangle area we drive down to Newport News and took the amazing bridges to gain the Eastern shore. This peninsula, east of the Chesapeake, is split between Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, which meant we drove through three states in just a few hours. The Eastern Shore is the main holiday destination for people living in DC and the surrounding area, and lots of people have holiday homes there; apparently in high season there are queues hours long on the bridge from Annapolis. Though we had visited Ocean City before, we had visited in the winter, and we were now keen to experience this area in the summer.

Unfortunately, May in 2016 was not very warm, and the bad weather we had experienced in Shenandoah continued as we drove up to Chincoteague island… We stopped here briefly for a snack of oysters, but then drove straight through to our destination – Bethany Beach – as it really wasn’t the weather for sightseeing.

Happily the next morning dawned bright and sunny, and a sighting of dolphins made for an exciting first day at the beach. Though none too warm, it was certainly a day for windy walks on the beach and playing in the waves. We relaxed in Bethany that day, enjoying our beach-side hotel, the short but sweet boardwalk and the holiday-feel of the place. We drove up to Rehoboth, just to see what we might be missing, but on balance decided we preferred Bethany – and we definitely preferred both to the rather soulless strip that is Ocean City.

As with all my nature photos – you really have to zoom in!


Our full day of relaxing by the sea, the sea-air and an excellent meal of seafood combined to make sure we woke the next morning refreshed and rested, ready for the (relatively) short drive home.

Related post: Birthday Road Trip: Dogfish Head and Ocean City

May Roadtrip: The Historic Triangle (again)

Shenandoah turned out to be a washout this time. The weather closed in and by morning there had been a power outage and the kitchen was getting by on what seemed to be a temperamental generator. Happy at least to have seen a bear(!), we returned to the road and headed for the Virginia historic triangle (Williamsburg, Jamestown and Yorktown).

This was a repeat trip for us (we visited in 2014) and for R’s mum too, who had visited back in the early 1990s when R was young. We all enjoyed the canon demonstration at Yorktown, and the audience participation at Colonial Williamsburg; R and I were drafted into a militia and marched down the main street to be inspected by a General. We were due to march on Yorktown at dawn the next morning, but I’m ashamed to say we deserted at that point as we had already been to Yorktown and wanted to visit Jamestown Settlement.


When we had visited in the autumn of 2014 we had visited Historic Jamestowne – the actual site of the colony and the museum of the archaeological findings. However, the archaeology of Jamestown was only really uncovered in the late 1990s, and before this the place to visit was the Jamestown Settlement, which is a mock-up of what they believed the colony might have looked like, built in 1957 for tourists. It includes a mocked up Powhatan Indian town, and historic ships. This time, we visited the mock up, but were pleased to see that you can just make out the real site of Jamestown across the river.


If you ever want to visit the historic triangle a useful place to stay is the (Marriot) Courtyard Williamsburg Busch Gardens Area. There’s also a surprisingly good restaurant, The Whaling Company, in walking distance. However, if I ever return here with kids I’m definitely going to be looking at staying in Colonial Williamsburg itself.

Related posts:

May 2016 Roadtrip: Back to Charlottesville and Shenandoah

We kept coming back to Charlottesville in 2016. We had spent some time there in the December drizzle, and had stopped off for dinner on our way back from Asheville. This roadtrip we decided to head there for brunch and visit Monticello in (we hoped) the sunshine.

It turned out that we were visiting on UVA’s graduation day, so things were busy, and parking was a challenge. Luckily we were there pretty early for brunch, and managed to get a table at the charming Pigeon Hole, on their porch in the early morning sunshine.

At the college itself all the chairs were set out ready for the outdoor ceremony. I hope the weather held for them, as it was about to turn on us…


Importantly, the sunshine held out for our visit to Monticello. This time we could see some of the views – and could even see the house from the end of the lawn.


It was then time to head to Shenandoah, and drive that familiar-to-us Skyline Drive to Big Meadows lodge, where we were staying that night. And here, just before the bend to the lodge, in our last month in the States, we finally saw a bear!

You may need to zoom, but it is a bear I promise!


Related posts:

March-April 2016

As Spring gradually came to DC, R and I got the chance to explore more of North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia. First there was a conference in Asheville I just had to go to, and this time it was R to tag along. I wrote about this road trip, and the craft beer, at the time: Conference in Asheville? Roadtrip!

Then in April we finally made it to Great Falls Park, which is so close to DC that I don’t know why we didn’t go sooner.


We walked along the Virginia side of the Potomac. The Billy Goat trail on the Maryland side is apparently the better hike, but from where we were standing it looked rather like a long, stationary queue of people, so we were pleased with our choice.


Apart from the breath-taking scenery, there’s also a lot of interesting history in the park. It was the site of one of Washington’s pet projects – a canal to bypass the falls and make the Potomac navigable all the way to the Ohio River Valley, which began construction in 1785. The remains of a lockkeeper’s cottage and various earthworks can still be seen.

The Park is also home to an abandoned village, which was part of the reason I wanted to visit. I’d read an article on ghost towns in the US (there’s an idea for a road trip!) and discovered that were some close to home in Virginia (see for a list). There’s not much left of this town, which declined in 1828 after the company building the canal went out of business. But the remains – foundations here, a hearthstone and chimney remnants there – as they appear in the undergrowth take you back to another time.

We also made it to Harpers Ferry in West Virginia – another town that was significant in Washington’s plan to use the Potomac to improve transport and trade with the more western parts of America (it was also connected to DC by the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in 1833). We marvelled at the awesome natural beauty of this confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah river, which had in turn inspired Harper, Washington and Jefferson.


This was also the place that Lewis and Clark kitted themselves out for their mission to map the United States; they bought weapons and had a collapsible iron boat constructed at the US Armory and Arsenal. And as if that wasn’t enough history for one little town, this was also the place that John Brown, the radical abolitionist, was captured and executed after his raid on the arsenal. The John Brown museum trod a careful line, posing the question, was John Brown a terrorist, but never really condemning him as such. There was also some interesting treatment of his daughter who accompanied him to Harpers Ferry and looked after him and his men as he planned his attack.


Our visits in April were made even easier as it was National Parks Week, which meant that both weekends we benefited from free entry. So if you’re planning a trip to the States this year, you might like to aim for the weekends of 15-16 and 22-23 April.

Related posts: Asheville roadtrip