Category Archives: Uncategorized

Hit the North is evolving

Times change and Hit the North has to move with them.

That’s why this blog will be changing its look, feel and focus in the weeks to come as part of my new WordPress site.

Stay tuned for further details and thanks for listening.

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Behind the scenes: on assignment in the Alentejo

Hit the North has been out country. The Alentejo region of Portugal, since you ask, on assignment for Wanderlust magazine.

The feature, combining wildlife spotting in the Vale do Guadiana Natural Park and hiking the Rota Vicentina, will be out probably in the autumn.

It wasn’t the smoothest assignment at times but I think I found a good angle in the end. Let’s just say that, after much searching, I found the quintessential example of rural village life.

Look out for the full story but, by way of a preview, here are some images from the trip.

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Wales Coast Path Blog for Visit Wales

Hit the North has been moonlighting.

The reason for silence on this forum has been that I’m working a guest-blogger contract for Visit Wales, walking sections of the soon-to-be-launched Wales Coast Path in advance of the May 5th inauguration.

You can read the first post about North Wales here.

The second post from Ceredigion is here.

And the latest post from the Llyn Peninsula is here.

There are two more posts to come, so please join me for the hike and post your comments here, at the Visit Wales blog, or own my Twitter.

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First look: on assignment in northern Ireland

Hit the North has been tied up of late.

I’ve been working on a project in northern Ireland and spent much of last week in Belfast and along the Causeway Coast; more here.

It’s a supplement for the Daily Telegraph and a follow up to the piece I wrote for the Sunday paper earlier this year – read it here.

The supplement comes out on December 31 but, by way of a preview, I’ve been looking at a few key themes:

Personal stories around the Titanic Festival next April, marking the centenary of her doomed maiden voyage.

Folk legends and mythology along the Causeway Coastal route via the new project at the Giant’s Causeway for September 2012.

And interviews with people working in the arts and festivals across Belfast, including the 50th anniversary of the Belfast Festival at Queens.

Looks out for more in the weeks to come.


Filed under Travel, Travel writing, Uncategorized

Hit the North is away

Hit the North is away at the World Travel Market down south next week. Normal service resumes afterwards.

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Eurostar is on the wrong track – again

* Update 27/10. Eurostar have now been in touch to discuss compensation. Anyone else resolved this issue? Please post your update below.

* Update: Tues, 25/10. It’s one week on now from the great Eurostar PR disaster. In the aftermath, I was promised an official response to this blog from Eurostar. I was also told that customer relations would be in touch to discuss.

But so far: nothing. Is this yet another example of Eurostar handling the situation badly? Has anyone else had a follow up from the Eurostar team?

Or does Eurostar simply not give a %^& about its customers?

Please post your comments below.

Original post: 18/10/11

It happens to us all. The travel-chaos nightmare when flights/trains/boats are delayed or cancelled, leaving you feeling drained, bewildered and frustrated.

It happened to me last night aboard the 17.04 Eurostar from London St Pancras to Brussels Midi. It was hell.

Major delays

Short version: a ten-minute delay just outside the tunnel past Ashford, Kent, turned into a three-hour delay.

During this time, in coach eight we were offered water and biscuits.

We were eventually sent back to London, arriving around 11pm – some six hours after setting out.

The queue for Eurostar customer services to request hotels and taxis and looked like this:

Radio silence

The most frustrating thing about this experience – apart from the disruption and loosing work due to blown meetings – was the lack of information from Eurostar staff.

Passengers became increasingly irate as we were kept in the dark about the situation.

Should we cancel meetings? Arrange new connections? Contact loved ones? Nobody would tell us anything.

I turned to Twitter for information (check my increasingly irate feed from last night).

We soon established that it was a suicide on the line, all trains were cancelled and a Burger King in Kings Cross was far more likely than moules frites in Ghent that night.

But where was the official source? Eurostar communications only posted info on the website at 20.00 UK time; the incident was reported to have occurred at 17.50pm.

And where is the emergency action plan? After all, this isn’t the first time there’s been a major incident on the high-speed line to Europe. Remember last Christmas?

Have Eurostar learnt nothing from all this? Seems not.

Lucky me

I was one of the lucky ones. I was traveling on tickets booked through Railbookers and, while Eurostar floundered, their representative swung into action, booking me a hotel for the night.

I dropped off my bag by 11.30pm and walked across the road to a late-night bar.

I saw families with huge bags and small kids spilling out of the Eurostar terminal, trudging down the Euston Road to find hotels. They looked ashen.

I thanked my lucky stars my two daughters were tucked up safely in bed at home and steadied my nerves with a pint of Guinness.

Learning points

So what do we take away from this sorry scenario?

Of course, force-majeure events happen to anyone who travels regularly and it was simply my turn (again, after the ash cloud).

But why is Eurostar not learning from its mistakes. Surely it could have avoided yet another PR disaster?

For me, the lesson is clear: book tickets through a specialist operator or agent, not Eurostar direct.

The former are the ones to keep their heads while all around are loosing theirs.

And that matters.


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Looking at Durham in a new light

I hadn’t been to Durham in years. I’ve been twice now in the space of a couple of months.

But why Durham? Newcastle gets all the cultural headlines – the Turner Prize exhibition opens at Baltic from October 21. Alnwick Castle gets all the film fans; Lindisfarne the pilgrims.

But Durham? Well, it’s a bit like my home town of Chester: historic, picturesque but, ultimately, a bit staid. Isn’t it?

The Journey by Fenwick Lawson

Lighten up

Actually, no. Durham hosts the UK’s biggest light festival, Lumiere, from November 17 to 20.

The four-day public-art installation brings some 30-plus installations, created by artists from across the globe (including the UK’s Tracy Emin), to public spaces around the city.

One of the highlights this year is a repeat of Crown of Light, projecting the story of the Lindisfarne Gospels (returning to Durham in 2013) against the 11th-century stone canvas of Durham Cathedral.

Wise words

There’s more public art across the city. My favourite was tucked away on a walking trail from the historic centre to Durham University’s Botanic Garden.

Amongst the autumn-turning leaves of maple, oak and cherry, the tranquil grounds reveal the Kindersley Engraving, a stanza of verse by the Newcastle-born modernist poet Basil Bunting.

The Kindersley Engraving, featuring words by Basil Bunting

His advice?

Words! Pens are too light. Take a chisel to write.

Black gold

The man from the Telegraph was around Durham recently, too, talking a bit too much about coal and not enough about change.

From my visit, exploring the past to reflect the future was the key to appreciating Durham in a new light.

It’s like Jacki Winstanley of open-air museum Beamish told me: “We need to know where we came from to understand where we’re going.”

Read my story in the Express in November.

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Talking up a storm at Gladstone’s Library

“Life is short. Live it up.”

That was Nikita Khruschev’s best-known aphorism and my starter for ten last week when I attended the second Conversation Dinner at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, North Wales.

The concept, modelled on a project from the School of Life, is simple: three courses, changing table after each, and a set of pre-compilled questions to accompany each course and inspire discourse.

It is, according to the residential library’s warden Peter Frances, “An attempt to remember the lost art of conversation.”

The starter

Over chilled gazpacho, Robert, just retired, lead the charge on the issue of ‘What is the best age to be and why?’ When I revealed to the all-boys table my concerns about an upcoming and somewhat landmark birthday, he came over all paternal. I was quite touched.

I also learnt that a man is not considered an independent man until the age of 55 in Japan. So 15 years to go.

The Mains

The mains of grilled sea bass and new potatoes was served with a frisson of theology thanks to my companions on the next table.

Debating ‘If you could travel in time, where would you go?’, Andrew, a vicar from The Wirral, was keen to go back and see Jesus preach to satisfy his own scepticism.

I was tempted to do the back-to-the-future routine but my companions were less sure.

“What if,” says theology lecturer, Geoff, “you find your own tombstone.”

The desert

The more reserved desert-course table pondered the limits of compassion over lemon syllabub. Could we feel compassion for Colonel Gaddafi? We couldn’t agree.

But Barbara did chip in that, “No matter where you are in the world, just like this dinner, everyone brings something to the table.”

The coffee

By the time we retired for coffee to the resident’s lounge, a statue of Mr Gladstone himself looking around the room approvingly, the conversation was flowing freely.

We had covered why Facebook is a curse, why Belfast is the place to be next April (check the reference, Titanic fans) and why my golden period is still ahead – not behind me.

Most of all, I’d been amazed at how easily people opened up, divulged their inner-most thoughts and spilled the beans about their personal circumstances to a group of complete strangers. I couldn’t help but join in.

As I headed off into the North Wales night, I vowed to make Khruschev’s words my new mantra.

News of forthcoming dinners will be posted here.

Details of newly refurbished accommodation here.

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The Flaming Lips at Jodrell Bank: photo blog

It was a night of Pulsar Astrophysics and psychedelia, headlined by The Flaming Lips.

We started with a touch of cosmology, the study of the origin and evolution of the Universe.

And did some experiments: infra-red sensors and recreating sound of the Big Bang.

Then Wayne Coyne turned up in his giant space bubble and we went to say hello.

By sunset I was turning into a robot while the crowd cheered, “Science, science, science.”

But the Lovell Telescope, our eye on the sky since 1957 and now bidding to become a Unesco World Heritage Site, was gearing up for action.

The Flaming Lips were about to take to the stage. That is, after Dr Tim O’Brian did his Brian Cox audition.

But it was the encore that really stole the show. Science meets psychedelia.

Here’s a taster.

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Piel Island, Cumbria

PaddlingSea shellsPiel CastlePaddlingBeach artTom the ferryman
Sand castlesGrey sealsBoat tripFootprintsThe latest baroness

Piel Island, Cumbria, a set on Flickr.

Coming soon to Hit the North, an audience with Cumbrian royalty.

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