English wildlife and nature to get more protection

nature
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again–on a good day there’s no country more beautiful than England. Fans of hiking, nature, and wildlife have a real treat with England’s wild places, and those places just got a boost to the tune of £7.5 million ($12 million) in additional funding.

The government has selected twelve Nature Improvement Areas where nature will be protected and improved. Some spots like the salt marches along the Thames need cleaning up, while peat bogs will be restored after the recent drought in order to preserve their unique habitat and keep them from emitting their locked-up carbon if they dry out. Threatened wildlife such as the Duke of Burgundy butterfly and farmland birds will see their habitats improved under the new scheme, which will be a plus for the many wildlife enthusiasts who journey out into the English countryside every year.

These regions will not be fenced off from visitors. In fact, the improvements will encourage sustainable public use. It’s certainly a nice change in attitude from this time last year, when the government proposed selling off the nation’s forests to private investors, only to be forced to back down after a massive public outcry.

I love hiking in England. From the Oxfordshire countryside to the Yorkshire Moors up to Hadrian’s Wall on the border with Scotland, it’s my number one choice for an outdoor ramble. Look for more reports from the English countryside when I return this summer!

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

London’s South Bank, walking through old and new

South Bank
London is a wonderful, vibrant city. Like all big cities, however, it can be a bit overwhelming. A good way to get a bit of room and fresh(er) air is to walk along the Thames Path. This path extends 184 miles from the river’s source in the Cotswolds almost to the sea, and offers some much-needed open space as it passes through the heart of London.

For visitors to the capital, the most interesting stretch is less than a mile long, between the Tate Modern and Borough Market on London’s South Bank. On this easy stroll you’ll pass a medieval palace, tourist traps, London’s best farmer’s market, and much more.

First stop is the Tate Modern, formerly Bankside Power Station. This massive building houses a huge collection of modern and contemporary art. It stands on the south end of the Millennium Bridge, a cool-looking span of metal arching over the Thames. St. Paul’s Cathedral, a 17th century landmark that recently finished a decade-long restoration, stands at the north end of the bridge. This juxtaposition of old and new is a constant theme in London, especially along this stretch of the river.

Walking east along the Thames Path, the next stop is Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. This meticulous reconstruction of the original, minus the rats and plague, has an excellent cast of actors who perform The Bard’s plays as well as others from his time. The theatre is a semicircle facing the stage. Prices vary depending on the quality of the view, but all prices are reasonable. You can even stand in “the pit” for the peasant’s price of only £5 ($8)!

%Gallery-128678%Continuing east, you enter a narrow lane called Clink Street. This is an old part of the city. The original Globe stood not far from here, and the famous Clink Prison was on this road. Being put in the Clink was often a death sentence, what with the filthy conditions, bad food, and occasional visit by the torturer. You can learn all about it at The Clink Prison Museum, a delightfully cheesy tourist trap that does for medieval history what South of the Border does to Mexico. It’s tacky, it’s superficial, it’s embarrassingly stupid, but it’s all so ridiculous you can’t help but be entertained. I mean, who wouldn’t want to pose for a picture with your head on a chopping block while your kid threatens you with a foam axe?

Next comes the remains of Winchester Palace, pictured above, owned by the Bishops of Winchester. Built in the 12th century, most of it has been lost over the years but one wall with a magnificent rose window remains. This bit survived because it was incorporated into the wall of a warehouse for many years. London has a way of building on itself.

More touristy goodness comes a few steps further on at the Golden Hinde, a full-scale replica of the galleon Sir Francis Drake sailed around the world in 1577-80. More than just a floating museum, the boat is fully seaworthy and has circumnavigated the globe just like its predecessor. There are often school groups and birthday parties taking over the ship so it’s best to check ahead before showing up.

Within sight of the Golden Hinde is Southwark Cathedral. The oldest parts date to 1206 but it underwent a major remodeling in 1836. Part of the exterior are made with flint nodules, their peculiar color giving churches built with them the nickname “puddingstone churches”. The interior is inspired by the French Gothic with an elegant altar screen dedicated in 1520. There are numerous interesting bits here, including a monument to Shakespeare, a chapel commissioned by John Harvard, and a display of some archaeological finds that suggest this was once the site of a Roman temple.

Last stop is Borough Market, a massive farmer’s market that opens every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Londoners flock here to buy all sorts of fresh food as well as luxury imports. There are plenty of stalls that prepare meals you can eat on the go, and wandering through here is a great chance to people watch.

So if walking through museums has made you weary, get out in the sunshine (or cold drizzle) and walk along the Thames Path!

Captain Kidd’s pirate ship to become underwater museum

Captain Kidd, pirate, pirates, pirate ship
The submerged wreck of Captain Kidd’s pirate ship will become a “Living Museum of the Sea” reports Science Daily.

The Quedagh Merchant was found a couple of years ago just off the coast of the Dominican Republic. It’s only 70 feet from the shore of Catalina Island and rests in ten feet of water, so it’s a perfect destination for scuba divers or even snorkelers.

Underwater signs will guide divers around the wreck, and like in above-ground museums, there’s a strict “don’t touch the artifacts” policy. Often when shipwrecks are found the discoverers keep the location secret to protect them from looting. Hopefully this bold step of allowing visitors to swim around such an important wreck will help inform the public without any harm being done. One can only hope!

Captain Kidd is one of the most famous and most controversial of pirates. For much of his career he was a privateer, a legal pirate with permission from the King of England to loot enemy ships and hunt down other pirates. Privateers were one of the ways the big empires of the day harassed one another.

Lots of stories of his evil nature have come down to us. He was supposed to have been brutal to his crew and was even reported to have buried his Bible, as is shown in this public domain image courtesy Wikimedia Commons. He’s also supposed to have buried treasure all over the world. How much of this is true and how much is legend is still hotly debated by historians.

The Quedagh Merchant was an Armenian vessel carrying a rich treasure of gold, silver, and fine cloth that Kidd captured in 1698 off the coast of India. Although the ship was Armenian and was under the protection of the French Crown, it was captained by an Englishman. This got Kidd’s status changed from privateer to pirate and from then on he was wanted by the English authorities.

Kidd left the Quedagh Merchant in the Caribbean with a trusted crew as he sailed off on another ship to New York to clear his name, but his “trusted crew” looted the vessel and sunk it. His loss was posterity’s gain.

Kidd shouldn’t have gone to New York. He was lured to Boston by a supposed friend and then arrested and shipped to England to be put on trial for piracy. The judge found him guilty and sentenced him to hang. His body was left hanging over the River Thames in an iron cage called a gibbet as a warning to others. The museum will be dedicated on May 23, the 310th anniversary of Kidd’s execution.

[Image of Captain Kidd rotting in the gibbet courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

Photo of the day – silhouette of London

When I think of London, I often see gray. But not this time. This creative photo from Sarah Landau, a professional touring lighting designer, paints the traditional London skyline a little differently. Featuring the eye, Big Ben, and the Thames, this spooky image is a bit thought-provoking. My thought at this moment: I’d like to visit London again… immediately.

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Concorde supersonic jet to find new home in London

Seven years after the final Concorde flight, one of the 11 remaining supersonic passenger jets may find a new home on London‘s South Bank, next to the London Eye. RHWL Architects, whose past projects include the British Airways headquarters and the Four Seasons Canary Wharf, are rumored to have planned a $35 million dollar double-decker display with a river boat landing underneath the plane.

The current Alpha Bravo aircraft is housed at Heathrow Airport by British Airways and not viewable by the public. Travelers can currently see a jet at the Concorde Experience in Barbados, the only Caribbean destination on the former supersonic route, as well as at these museums and airports. Earlier this year, a team of engineers began an examination of a French plane in hopes of bringing the Concorde back to the skies.

Travelers – would you pay to see the Concorde? Or better yet, fly the Concorde?

[Photo credit: Flickr user Beechwood Photography]