Monthly Archives: November 2010

Online Travel Journalist of the Year

Funnily enough I was awarded Online Travel Journalist of the Year at last night’s Travel Press Awards.


This is me getting a nice big paperweight from Francine Sheridan, LAX Los Angeles World Airports.

It was quite noisy so I couldn’t hear what they said, but the judges (thanks judges) liked my work with the Guardian, especially a special live Q&A for travellers stranded by the eruption of the Ejyafjallajökull volcano, as well as blog posts and use of social media.

The event was at Paramount at the top of Centre Point, one of London’s most iconic buildings. The views of London at night, especially St Paul’s and the City, were magnificent.

By the way, if you’re not in the US, you may have missed my recent appearance on Entertainment Tonight, talking about my specialist subject, the upcoming Royal Wedding.

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Brompton World Championships

Brompton bikes are – sorry Boris – the commuter’s friend. In fifteen seconds – ten if you’re quick – you can be off down your chosen road, quick as a whippet. When correctly liveried in jet black they’re the heir apparent to London’s black cabs. Best of all, they’re astonishing fun to ride and almost

All that said, Sleek racing machines they are not. Try riding one downhill. London, having largely a flat centre, rarely exposes the high-speed flaw of a Brompton. Without the big gears of a road bike, a descent renders the rider into a fine approximation of road runner, all whirring legs and benign expression.

The annual World Brompton Championships is slightly different to the full-scale component. Firstly, the race is a free-for-all. Anyone can enter provided they have the requisite folding bike. The race takes place over two laps of a winding, undulating course through the grounds of Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire, adjacent to the town of Woodstock. And anyone entering must be dressed in, what else, a jacket and tie.

Having bored many of my friends into submission about the wonders of Brompton entering felt like a natural step. Plus the Evenlode, an interesting and previously unexplored tributary of the Thames, flows close by. It may have been early October but the prospect of a dip in a river and a dash on the Brompton was too good to resist.

So it was that I found myself standing in pouring rain next to four Belgian dressed in dicky-bows with plastic ducks dangling from their helmets. Muddy pools of water were forming around the brown and cream brogues I had on to compliment the 1940s pinstripe suit I was wearing. At the sound of the horn the 99 other riders in my pen and I hopped over the rope and ran over, Le Mans style, to where our Brompton’s sat in geometric order. I had to push and shove to get to mine, and promptly forgot how to assemble the bike. I swore a bit and fiddled and eventually got going, onto the road and into a howling gale.

The next thirty minutes were some of the most enjoyable cycling I can remember having. OK, so I overtook plenty of people, especially on the second lap, and that’s always fun. But the buzz is slightly lessened by whizzing past someone on a purple Brompton, dressed as a purple princess complete with purple wand. The real joy was the sense of English silliness of riding a small-wheeled wonder in the rain, on a twisting course through the estate of a country pile. In a suit. In the pouring rain.

And then it’s all over too quickly. My time of 30 minutes won’t rip up any trees, but it felt very swift on a bike with wheels only slightly larger than a seven-inch single. I wonder if they’ll let me ride the hundred-mile sportive in my brogues next year?

An Oxfordshire village

Warborough, just down the road from Dorchester in Oxfordshire, is not really on the way to anywhere. It’s not in the Cotswolds, nor is it located by the steadily-widening Thames which rolls by at Standlake. It’s not even on one of the sweet tributaries to Old Father Thames, like the Evenlode Or the Windrush, which meander through the county offering wild swimmers the promise of a dip in idyllic – if possibly not deep enough – fresh river water.

Maybe that’s why it’s managed to escape anyone’s attention this long. For this is a perfect English village, dating back millennia, A small slice of Eden hiding in the bullrushes away from the modern world.

To describe the place is to make bricks and mortar Ray Davies’ Vision of England immortalised and satirized in the 1969 classic The Village Green Preservation Society, and to offer a case study for WG Hoskins’ History of the English Landscape. I’m no local historian, by the way, so apologies if my observations are inaccurate in any way. I was distracted, you see.

Let’s start with the village green, Warborough’s open heart and gateway to fields and, beyond, the Thames valley and Vale of the White Horse. on the way here you might pass the picture postcard pub and what looks like a tithe barn. Replace goalposts and swings with strip-mined fields and pasture and you could have stepped back centuries. there’s nought more modern in the churchyard, where a Norman/early Gothic tower looms over a typically higgle-piggle house of worship. the Parish church has seen off the Wesleyan Chapel nearby, a reminder of a great revolution in faith from the nineteenth century that seems scarcely conceivable now.

Pub, fields, barn, green. Add ancient houses and no tourists whatsoever and you have a well-kept secret that makes for a lovely detour if you’re south of Oxford with time to tarry.

Everton away

Old turnstiles gathering dust, Bullens Stand

Rush preventative turnstile

Pitchside punning

 

Happy travellers