Happy Birthday Tube You!

Some of us may take it for granted, some people complain about it as they make their daily commute, but it should be remembered that the London Underground is the oldest subway in the World and last week celebrated its 150th Birthday!

London Underground or "Tube" Train
London Underground or “Tube” Train

Amazingly, the London Underground’s first steam engine chugged through the tunnels between Paddington and Farringdon way back on January 10th 1863. However, within days of this maiden journey, the single line was carrying tens of thousands of people each day and had become one of the busiest routes in England.  Built to ease congestion on the busy London streets above ground, the tracks were originally laid by digging long trenches, constructing the tunnels and then refilling the ground above.  Over the years the construction became more sophisticated, with the famous English engineer Isambard Brunel assisting in developing much deeper tunnels and extending the network across London.  The trains themselves followed suit, modernising from steam engines to electrified lines by the late 1800s.  Previously run as separate entities, and giving us the interesting line names (such as Bakerloo, Jubilee and Metropolitan) that are still so familiar to us today, by the 1930s the lines were all brought together under one publicly owned management system and the London Underground or “Tube” as we know it today began to take shape.

Roundel Logo of London Underground
Roundel Logo of London Underground

A century and half after the first journey, today the tube boasts 270 serviced stations, around 400 miles of track and up to 3.5 million journeys made every single day!  Whilst many choose to complain of high-prices, overcrowding and old-fashioned trains, it is undeniable that the London Underground is not only an essential part of the city but has also become an iconic part of the fabric of London and an attraction in itself.  The roundel logo (the red circle with the horizontal blue bar across its centre) and the schematic tube map (whose basic layout remains almost the same as its original design in 1931) have both become famous symbols of the city.  And the tube stations and their unique names have featured in art works, literature and music across the years.

London Underground Map
London Underground Map

Throughout 2013, the London Underground’s anniversary will be celebrated with the release of a special two-pound coin by the Royal Mint and new honorary stamps issued by the Royal Mail so if you’re over here on your travels, don’t forget to look out for them.

Love it or hate it the underground is an idea that has caught on; today there are around 160 subway systems in cities across the globe all following the trend that was set by London more than 150 years ago.  With its role in city life more important than ever and with extensive investment planned for the coming years, who knows what the tube could look like in another 150 years time?

Great Expectations of the Dickens Museum!

Whilst mulling over the purchase of some Christmas presents this week I was first told that “procrastination is the thief of time” and then, when I opted for a cheap item, that I was a “Scrooge”!  I was slightly insulted by the comments but then realised that they were actually both quotes from Dickens novels.  Like Shakespeare, Dickens’ works and characters seem to have pervaded our lives and language, much of the time without us realising.  That’s when I added a visit to the newly reopened Charles Dickens Museum in London to my Christmas list.

Dickens Museum Library, London
Dickens Museum Library, London

In 2012 England celebrated the 200th anniversary of his birth and what better a finale of this bicentenary than the re-opening of the Charles Dickens Museum on Monday after its massive £3.1 million investment.  Located in the writer’s former family home in Bloomsbury central London, the museum has been welcoming visitors since 1925, but was struggling to keep up with the through flow.  Following this lottery funded investment the Victorian town house located at 48 Doughty Street has been completely restored to its former glory whilst the neighbouring house has also undergone extensive conversion to house a brand new visitor centre, learning centre and cafe.  The aim is to secure the sites for future generations and provide a visitor experience for the 21st century.

Westminster Abbey, London
Westminster Abbey, London

And it seems to be achieving its aims; the upgraded museum now offers visitors the opportunity to step back in time and walk around the immaculate Grade II listed building  which is completely furnished and decorated as Dickens himself would have known it.  The location where he penned some of his most famous works, including Oliver Twist and Nicholas Nickleby, the house is bustling with memorabilia including a range of documents, photographs, manuscripts and the writing desk which he designed himself.  Guests can also experience the family kitchen, drawing room and the newly opened attic room which now houses a range of personal materials detailing his troubled childhood.  And once you’re finished at the museum you may want to pop over to Westminster Abbey to visit his final resting place in the Poets Corner.

So this Christmas, after I have revisited the familiar story of “A Christmas Carol” once again, it will be with great expectation that I open my Christmas presents in the hope that someone will have given me an admission ticket for the museum.  And if they haven’t?  Bah humbug!

The Stones keep on Rolling!

As far as boy bands go, they are no One Direction!  But with a combined age of 273 years between them, the Rolling Stones last night proved that they still have what it takes as they returned to the stage in front of thousands of screaming fans.

O2 Arena, London
O2 Arena, London

The group performed in Sunday night’s sell-out concert in the 20,000 seat capacity venue at the magnificent O2 arena in London.  The concert marks the first of five such events as part of a celebration of their 50 year anniversary and saw two former band members join them who have not been seen on stage together in more than 20 years.

The series of concerts has proved controversial here in Britain as many complained of the high cost of tickets; official ticket-costs started from £95 for the “budget” seats but ticket prices spiralled on unofficial ticket website with some people paying up to 7 or 8 time the ticket face-value.  Others anticipated that the band were simply “past it” with each of the performers now within their rights to claim the state pension and their free state bus-pass!

The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones

They proved critics wrong though with cheeky chappy front-man Mick Jagger still on excellent form both in his performance and as he teased the adoring crowd with comments about the price they had paid to see them perform.  He was well supported by other band members Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts who were all complimented on their performances by both fans and industry experts alike.  Age certainly didn’t seem a factor as they performed a long back catalogue of their classic songs, rocking the stage in a performance lasting well over two hours.

And it doesn’t end there as the group are set to perform in four more concerts over the next couple of weeks, once more in London, England before moving stateside for performances in New York and Newark in early December.

So, in case you doubted it, it seems, that you can still rock out in to your seventies and that the Rolling Stones are still far from gathering any moss!

Halloween is here in eerie England, spooky Scotland and weird Wales!

Do you believe in ghosts?  You may well do after your Britain vacation!  In the wake of Halloween I have been asked about where to visit for a good fright-fest and in a nation with such a long history, it seems that there are eerie goings on whenever and wherever you visit! 

Pumpkin on Halloween
Pumpkin on Halloween

In Scotland you should start of course with a visit to the eerie waters of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands.  For years there have been sightings of the famous Loch Ness Monster, an unidentified sea creature which reputedly lives in the depths of the murky lake.  After a cruise on the Loch with one of the local guides you’ll definitely come away believing there really is something down there!  From the Highlands to historic Edinburgh where there are a wealth of walking tours to choose from to hear the city’s ghost stories; only the bravest however will venture beneath the city’s old town itself to Mary King’s Close, a warren of alleys which were buried beneath the city and sealed from the outside for centuries and which are haunted by victims of the black plague!

London too is host to a number of chilling tales.  Why not embark on a tour which visits the sites of the grisly murders of a number of women at the hands of one of the most notorious murderers of England, Jack the Ripper; try to discover his true identity and solve one of Victorian England’s greatest mysteries.  For something a little lighter, you could take the children to the Harry Potter film studios to discover the secrets of the Dark Arts, see the study of professor Snape and meet the Dementors face to er… hood.  In the West Country of England the brave may choose to venture down 50 000 year old natural caves to unravel the mystery of the Witch of Wookey Hole who, according to local legend, was turned to stone and still stands lurking in the shadows of the caverns.

Mary King's Close - Edinburgh
Mary King’s Close – Edinburgh

Crossing the border, you’ll visit the ancient land of Wales which is renowned for its Medieval castles which were the setting for torturous killings and bloody battles.  Almost every fortress has at least one resident ghost and eerie tales of hauntings from the depths of the dungeons to the tops of the towers.  Conwy Castle in the north is haunted by a soldier whose wife and child fell to their deaths from the watch tower whilst at Cardiff Castle look out for the Marquess of Bute who roams the library and passes through a wall to the chapel where he breathed his final breath.

If you’re not scared yet, why not come and see for yourself if they’re real on your own Britrain vacation!  For further information on visiting any of the above locations or tours, let us know.  Or if you have your own eerie tale, why not leave us a comment below!

50 Years of the Beatles!

I am no paperback writer, but thought I would jot down a few words from me to you about the Beatles event this weekend that saw over sixteen hundred people come together to sing one of the fab four’s greatest hits.

Beatles Story Exhibition, Liverpool
Beatles Story Exhibition, Liverpool

Ok, enough of the puns! Throughout 2012 Liverpool in England has played host to a series of events and festivals to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Beatles and their dramatic rise to world-wide fame.  From humble beginnings, growing up in suburbs of one of the North of England‘s most rugged cities, the Beatles performed their first gig in August 1962 at the 17th annual dance of the horticultural Society of Liverpool, and they never looked back!  As part of the celebrations and on the 50th anniversary of the release of the group’s first single “Love me Do”, Saturday (October 5th 2012) saw the people of Liverpool break an official world record.  Taking place at the Pier Head in front of Liverpool’s famous Liver Buildings, and co-ordinated by staff from

Albert Docks and Liver Building, Liverpool
Albert Docks, Liverpool

the nearby Beatles Story exhibition, the gathering of 1631 people singing in a round was verified by Guinness World Records adjudicator Anna Orford as an official world record.  The group, singing “Love Me Do” which reached number 17 in the charts in 1962, consisted of 934 members from local choirs including the Liverpool signing choir, who recently performed at the Olympics closing ceremony, as well as hundreds of locals and visitors to the city.  Congratulations to all who took part!

Liverpool is jam packed with Beatles heritage and well worth a visit or a day trip(per) at any time of year.  Oh dear, that’s another pun – now I just need to work out how to fit in “Yellow Submarine” and “I am the Walrus”!