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December 21, 2015
IT IS STARTING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE CHRISTMAS... OR MAYBE NOT
With less than a week to go before The Big Day, I'd like to say that I'm embracing the Christmas spirit. This year, though, I'm struggling. The unseasonable weather doesn't help - with grey skies, rainy days and temperatures warm enough to confuse plants and animals alike into thinking it is springtime already. The chances of a white Christmas are, say the weather forecasters, looking unlikely.
Daffodils in full bloom have been spotted as far north as Chester. Roses that should have finished flowering are carrying on regardless of the fact that it is December and apiarists have noticed unusually high levels of bee activity. North of Inverness, the Royal Dornoch Golf Club has reported that their lawn mowers have had to be brought out of winter hibernation to cut the ever-growing grass. The recent warm weather has even led farmers to predict a bumper crop of jumbo Brussels sprouts - something that will no doubt with welcomed more by some than by others.
All over the UK, city centre ice rinks are feeling the warmth. Some have thawed to such an extent that skating has become something of a soggy experience. Lincoln's ice rink was reduced to a large puddle. Even the tradition of donning a Christmas-themed jumper and chunky scarf seems to have abandoned this year, along with hats, coats and the usual winter woollies.
With predictions that rain and wind are set to batter the UK during the festive season, it may be more appropriate to leave the toboggan in the garage and look out your wellington boots and umbrellas instead.
Posted by Sue at 9:49:01 on 21/12/2015
December 12, 2015
ON TOP OF THE WORLD
I've grown up with a love of mountains. Many a holiday has been spent climbing one Welsh mountain or other. For a few years, I lived in Grenoble, at the heart of the French Alps. In my opinion, there is nothing quite as inspirational as climbing to the top, taking in the view (or not, if the weather happens to have closed in) and feeling like you are on top of the world. There is a certain wildness about mountains that you don't find anywhere else. So, it was with particular interest that I read that today is officially International Mountain Day.
The UN started celebrating the world's mountains back in 2003. Since then, the day has been used to encourage us all to think more about mountains, not just as a spectacular part of the landscape (which they undoubtedly are), but as an important part in all our lives. After all, they cover more than a quarter of the Earth's surface and are home to around 720 million people (a figure I find truly amazing). They feed our rivers and influence our weather. In short, we depend on them more than we know.
In past years, the organisers of International Mountain Day have focused on the issues that surround sustainable mountain development, including biodiversity and climate change. Mountains may look majestic and unassailable, but these days they are under increasing threats from agriculture, mining, tourism and natural disasters. This year is all about promoting mountain products, which range from tea and honey to skiing holidays and walking tours.
What constitutes a mountain remains the subject of debate. There are some, though, that are beyond dispute. Among the most spectacular peaks being celebrated today is the awe-inspiring Mount Everest in Nepal, which measures over 8,840 metres in height above sea level and is, by all accounts, still growing. Top of the mountain league in the UK is Ben Nevis in Scotland, which stands at over 1,300 metres above sea level. Around 100,000 ascents are made each year, which makes it a busy place to be in summer, when the weather's at its best.
Africa's tallest mountain, Mount Kilimanjaro, lures thousands of hikers out to raise money for charity each year. Around 20,000 climbers make it to the top of Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in western Europe, each year. If you are not a great walker, then the pyramid-shaped Matterhorn situated on the Swiss-French border has its own railway, which will take you to 3,089 metres without any effort at all.
Posted by Sue at 12:21:05 on 12/12/2015
December 4, 2015
MAY THE FORCE BE COMING TO A PLACE NEAR YOU
The arrival of a film crew in town always brings with it a frisson of excitement. Even when the lights, camera and action have long been packed away, a sprinkling of Hollywood's glitter usually lingers. Which is great news for the local tourist authorities involved who quite rightly make hay whilst the sun shines. This is certainly the case with the latest of the Star Wars offerings, which was shot in several locations that haven't been used in previous films.
Among them was Puzzlewood, in Gloucestershire, where local tourism was given an added boost thanks to rumours that these atmospheric woods in the Forest of Dean are set to appear in Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Not slow to cash in on such reports, tourist groups have already been hard at work organising events, including forest tours. Indeed, if you went down to these particular woods last week, you would have seen a trio of surfers dressed as stormtroopers catching the perfect wave on the nearby River Severn.
Over in Ireland, Star Wars fever has also hit the distant rocky outcrop known as Skellig Michael, situated a choppy boat ride from Ireland's west coast. At the top of Skellig Michael, after a climb up a steep set of stone steps, is a monastery. Perched perilously on a rock shelf above the Atlantic waves, it is thought this ancient building will feature in the film.
Further afield and even more inaccessible are the towering sand dunes of the Arabian Peninsula. In a part of the Rub' al Khali desert known as the Empty Quarter, it is alleged that intergalactic battles were fought and giant craters created with explosives as the planet of Jakku was re-created.
Other rumoured film locations include the banks of Loch Ness in Scotland, RAF Greenham Common in England, New Mexico and Iceland, although we won't be certain which make it to the big screen and which land on the cutting room floor until the film is released just before Christmas. No doubt the set-jetters - the term coined for those who travel to set locations after seeing a film - are packing their bags as we speak.
Posted by Sue at 12:19:12 on 4/12/2015