Monthly Archives: February 2010

Straight talking at Travellers’ Tales

I spent the weekend preparing the nice and nasty sandwiches. It’s a delicate recipe, served up to people needing some positives to cushion all the negatives, based around a judicious double-decker design of good, bad, bad, good.

Or, more bluntly, a shit butty.

The reason? I was at the Travellers’ Tales festival at the Royal Geographical Society, volunteering at the travel writing workshops run by the British Guild of Travel Writers.

This year's event at the RGS

Shattered illusions

Potential, hopeful and wannabe travel writers booked 30-minute slots to talk about getting into freelance writing and the state of the industry, and to show us examples of their work for a critique.

For some, the illusion-shattering pep talk from a grizzled freelancer probably came as a rude awakening.  Structural change. Reduced fees. Moving it all online. You get the picture.

But amongst the reality checks, I did try to proffer some constructive advice. Most of all, if you want to start building a portfolio of work, don’t chase the assignment to a luxury spa in the Maldives, or a wildebeest-stalking safari in the savannah. Simply look to your doorstep.

Expert views

Elsewhere at the festival Jan Morris reeled off anecdotes to a reverential crowd and Fergal Keane, the man behind the much-celebrated Letter to Daniel, offered an update of what the young Daniel did next. There’s an audioBoo of his intro here.

The event's photo exhibition

But it was the Last Frontiers panel of Simon Reeve, Martin Hartley and Hilary Bradt that resonated with my shit-butty prognosis for the future of travel writing.

Hilary summed by saying that travel frontiers are often not always the far-flung destinations but the unusual experiences and characters we encounter in our own backyards.

Maybe some of the best Travellers’ Tales are right under our very noses. We tend to look far and wide for inspiration, but forget that the Eureka moment can also be located in the short and narrow.

Your feedback

What do you think? And was the advice that myself and my Guild colleagues offered on the day of real constructive help? We’d love to know.

Post your comments below.

* Update: More views from Travellers’ Tales at Tourist vs Traveller here.

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Manchester Airport’s new mile-high club

Manchester Airport has been claiming firsts of late, notably the introduction of full-body scanners and faster security clearance thanks to the revamp of Terminal One amongst them.

I blogged about the latter in the previous incarnation of Hit the North here.

The latest wheeze is to invite interested parties to develop the world’s first converted control tower into a leisure and entertainment facility. The elevated 110sqm space lies at the heart of Manchester‘s Terminal 1 and the new sky bar would boast 360-degree views.

Air travel has lost its appeal in recent years with the glamour of the terminal sapped by queues, charges and hassle. Not to mention the whole green issue.

So would a mile-high martini before take off entice you back to the airport? Or has air travel had its day? Over to you.

Manchester Airport Terminal One

Control Tower, Terminal One

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A word about Wordsworth

It’s a big year for our William: 240 years since the birth of Cumbria’s literary poster boy and 160 years since his death.

Wordsworth's grave, Grasmere

Cumbria Tourism is promoting a programme of events to mark Wordsworth’s contribution to British literature, proving that not only is Cumbria open for business, there’s also never been a better time to visit.

How apt as Cumbria strives to recover from the floods of November 2009 that his words will be resonating around the fells on St George’s Day this year – his birthday.

“The rain came heavily and fell in floods; But now the sun is rising calm and bright…” (Resolution and Independence)

I’ll be blogging more about Cumbria and Wordsworth in the months to come but, as a taster, here’s my latest feature as a wordle.

Wordle: Wordsworth

Plus there’s a link to it here and you can read more in the April issue of Heritage magazine.

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When Hilton gets it right – and wrong

It’s not often I share a guest list with mutton-as-lamb D-listers or orange-hued WAGS. I’m grateful for such small mercies in life.

But a few days ago I joined Coleen McCloughlin, assorted cast members of Hollyoaks and the non-original Sugarbabes at the opening of the new Hilton Liverpool hotel.

It was an event marked by the Hilton Rocks party, a rush on leopard-skin prints at Primark and a night of tumbleweed blowing across the tanning parlours of Merseyside.

John Terry would have been in his element.

On the night the paps got their pictures and the Liverpool Daily Post got their front-page lead for Friday. But, for me, Hilton got this one wrong.

Image problem

Hilton is a bit dull, right? It’s safe and corporate and gets away with charging £15 for 24 hours of WiFi access because most people staying are on company expenses.

The £55m Liverpool property is all shiny and new but, when check into your room, and it’s clearly just another Hilton. So I can’t blame the management for trying to inject a frisson of excitement into their opening night.

But Liverpool has far more to offer than WAGs and wannabes. From the Unesco World Heritage-listed waterfront to the cultural powerhouses of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and FACT, there’s plenty to celebrate about post-Capital of Culture Liverpool.

After all, 15m people attended a cultural event or attraction during the city’s year in the international spotlight. So why pander to the lowest common denominator?

As one of the partygoers told me on the night, “It’s all, well, a bit tacky, isn’t it?” And he’s one of the investors.

Different brands

The new Novotel Liverpool opened around the corner from the Hilton before Christmas and opted to generate interest with quirky features, such as TV diners in the restaurant and offbeat meeting rooms, not a glitzy launch followed by a long, soul-searching hangover.

The new DoubleTree by Hilton, Chester, the £28m redevelopment of the Hoole Hall Hotel, came under the Hilton franchise last year and is one of the few DoubleTree properties in the UK.

Ever since it has been quietly garnering plaudits for its less corporate, more refined take on the Hilton brand. The hotel feels quietly professional, not flashy and needy.

The Steakhouse Bar and Grill opens at the DoubleTree in a couple of weeks with a menu by Marco Pierre White. Marco will be heading north in March for the big opening (watch this space), but I’m sure the famously surly chef would have little truck with perma-tanned hangers on gurning for the paparazzi flashbulbs.

In the cold light of the day the fact remains: the best hotels are the ones that don’t have to try too hard.

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