Sunday, 31 May 2009

Summit up in Snowdonia

Tense times in North Wales with the imminent official opening of Hafod Eryrithe new £8.3m visitor centre atop Mount Snowdon. First Minister for Wales, Rhodri Morgan, is due to cut the red tape on June 12th.
   But the project is a whole 12 months late, required a last-minute cash injection and has been blighted by the legendarily severe Snowdonia weather. All the building materials had to be hauled up to the summit at 3,560ft by train. Not easy in a 100mph gale.
   Worse still, the Snowdonia National Park Authority still seem to be rather tetchy about the words of Prince Charles, who famously described the original 1935 summit  building as "the highest slum in England and Wales". Ouch.
   They refuse journalists entry the building and seem rather keen to avoid any publicity at all. I suspect, then, they didn't take kindly to the piece in the Independent last Monday, even if it takes a generally positive view.
   Ray Wood, a local photographer, who has charted the development since the original building was demolished in 2005, does a better job at assessing whether they'll make the June 12th deadline with his Snowdonia Summit blog.
   I went up Snowdon last week to get an exclusive preview of Hafod Eryri for a piece that will appear in this Saturday's Daily Express.
   Wednesday was a wash out with winds up to 69mph and black sheets of rain (the picture, above left, was taken at 8.30am and says it all). But I went back up on Saturday, a glorious day of Simpsons-blue sky and panoramic views across to Ireland. 
   I took the Snowdon Mountain Railway up as far as Clogwyn station and walked the rest. My knees are still throbbing. At the top there was a bunch of irritable people who wanted to use the bathroom and buy a cup of tea before the walk down. Several claimed they didn't know the centre wasn't yet open. More information needed.
   Did I make it inside the building? What is it actually like? And why is a hen party from Kent cracking the bubbly on the doorstep two weeks before the burly security workmen actually allow the first punters to spend a penny in the grey-slate bathrooms? Oops, that's blown it.
   I'll post the link here on Saturday with all the answers.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

A new manifesto

It's time to make a fresh start. I've been blogging for a few months now about day-to-day life as a jobbing travel writer. The posts have attracted followers, plaudits, critics and downright outrage in equal measure. From this week, I'm changing the focus.
   I'm going to be taking a more niche approach, blogging specifically about domestic tourism in England's Northwest, where I live, and Wales, where I've worked a lot over the last few years.
   The idea came to me while walking home through the streets of Chester after a recent press conference. There are so many good places to talk about in terms of tourism around the Northwest, such as Peckforton Castle picture above right, but not many writers talking about it. So I will. 
   This is not a PR-sponsored blog. I'm making no money from it. It's about my subjective take on regional tourism as I see. That said, I'm happy to hear from anyone with ideas worthy of coverage that other outlets have may have ignored.
   It's also an outlet to showcase some links to stories that have grabbed my attention and to highlight some links to my stories about the region published in newspapers and magazines. Here's one to get the ball rolling: my piece about the Cheshire Food Trail in the Observer.
   What's not changing is my enthusiasm for your comments, praise, criticism and general feedback. Post, please, post.
   Time to hit the North. As in, get your arse over here.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Travel in the best possible taste

I've been staying close to home this week. No, not skiving off. I may only have travelled as far as my backyard, that is the city of Chester, but I was still working.
   First I spent a day judging the small hotel category in the annual Visit Chester & Cheshire Tourism Awards. Three places made the shortlist: Peckforton Castle with its fairy-tale ambiance, Nunsmere Hall (that's it pictured left) with its manicured grounds and Inglewood Hall, a conference centre reborn as a business hotel. 
   Want to know which one won? Catch the results on June 5th at the awards dinner. Want to know how I chose the winner? Listen into travel talk the Duncan Barkes programme on City Talk this Friday from 10.15am to find out more about the criteria for assessing the finalists. 
   Later in the week I went to the opening of the Taste Cheshire Food Trail, a series of seven routes across the county, featuring over 60 businesses united by the common pursuit of fine food and drink. 
   I had a sneak preview of the only walking trail, a three-mile circuit around the ancient Roman city, taking in local highlights such as the gourmet Cheese Shop and tucked-away deli-restaurant Joseph Benjamin.
   The six other routes are car based and stretch as far afield as Macclesfield, Northwich and the Wirral. All seven are documented in a A5 booklet available from tourist offices and participating businesses along the routes.
   Can Cheshire sell itself as a must-visit destination on the strength of its local produce this summer? Well, from what I've seen so far, this could cook up a storm.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Make a one-night stand

I've decided to put my money where my mouth is. I've blogged previously about the way tourist boards are failing to grasp the clear opportunity for domestic tourism this summer. I've also read a lot about the rise of the so-called 'nano break', the one-night holiday. This trend for shorter breaks, identified in a survey by, comes in response to economic current conditions. 
   I can only really comment on this if I've experienced it first hand. So I'm going to. This weekend, I'm off walking in the Derbyshire Peak District, tackling the slopes of Kinder Scout with a couple of old friends. We will be camping and paying our own way. 
   Will it rain? Will it be cost more than a week in Turkey? Will I survive my first night under canvas since an unfortunate incident at the Glastonbury Festival with some strong liquor, a lost tent and a sense of bewilderment induced by the headline set by Spiritualised? Maybe.
   But, most of all, is a nano break the new weekend break? Or is an extended sojourn the new two weeks in the sun?
   This week we learnt that 34-year-old Ben Southall from Hampshire, UK, has landed a six-month contract as the caretaker of Hamilton Island on Queensland's Great Barrier Reef. It's a role described as "the best job in the world" in a clever publicity campaign by Tourism Queensland and is expected to boost Queensland's image around the world after several years of lacklustre visitor numbers. At latest estimates it generated over £50m in publicity. Strewth, mate. 
   Ben's main qualification? He can ride an ostrich.
   I'll be discussing both of these topics on the Duncan Barkes programme on City Talk this Friday. Email me with you comments or questions and I'll get them on air.
   Tune in Friday from 10.15am. And follow both myself and Duncan on Twitter.