‘I used a hammer and chisel in surgery’: Meet doctor, 93, who started working in the NHS when it was created in 1948

Professor Harold Ellis qualified as a doctor in the same month the NHS was was created in July 1948. “I’d been a student at the Radcliffe [Hospital in Oxford] for three years, went away for a fortnight’s holiday, came back and it was now the National Health Service. Honestly, we didn’t really notice it – there wasn’t great big notices up around the hospital or anything. The nurses weren’t running around with NHS badges on their bosoms. Everything just went on exactly the same way.”

The biggest concerns were from senior medics: the consultants, surgeons, physicians, and anesthetists. They had been “honorary staff” as Professor Ellis calls them, who gave their services for free and earned their money in private practice.

“For them it was a revolution because they didn’t know what their financial situation was going to be. That was the main reason for them violently opposing the NHS for months and months.”

Under Bevan’s scheme, the hospital consultants were to be either full-time salaried specialists or to serve as part-time consultants, paid for the sessions they covered in the health service and allowed private practice outside their sessional hours. The majority opted for the second option. The new salaries for both GPs, who had previously owned their surgeries and sold them upon retirement, and consultants were generous. “Nye Bevan made a wonderful statement with his wonderful Welsh voice: ‘I stuffed their mouths with gold!’. The doctors had no argument to that. With one shot of his pistol Bevan had the consultants on his side. And the difference to patients was remarkable.”

Professor Ellis with two colleagues at the Radcliffe Hospital Oxford. (Photo: Harold Ellis)
Professor Ellis, centre, with two colleagues at the Radcliffe Hospital Oxford (Photo: Harold Ellis)

History of the NHS

How the NHS was created forms the tail end of his new book, Tales of the Operating Theatre and other essays, in which Professor Ellis reflects on his 70-year career and comprises first-hand accounts of some of the most remarkable moments in medical history.

“You’ll find it’s brilliant,” he laughs. “It should be, it’s my 28th book.”

Born in Stepney Green in the East End of London in 1926, Professor Ellis was the youngest of four children and his parents were both dress makers.

“I’d always wanted to study medicine, no idea why. The only doctor I knew was our GP. I ended up getting a scholarship to read medicine at Oxford, which coincided with the outbreak of World War Two.”

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After spending two years training as a house surgeon in Oxford, Professor Ellis went on to practice as a graded surgical specialist in the Royal Army Medical Corps until 1952, treating soldiers injured in the Korean War who had spinal and head injuries.

“The first paper I ever wrote was on spinal tumours in soldiers in the British Medical Journal, in the 1960s. The surgery that I was doing has now completely altered, new operations have come in. The cranial surgery I did in the army was crude – using a hammer and chisel to get into the skull. Now they use electric saws.

“I never used fibreoptic surgery – the very first gall bladder removed laparoscopically [using keyhole surgery] in this country was in 1989, the year I retired, by one of my ex-trainees and he phoned me up afterwards to tell me. I wished those kind of machines and tools were around when I was operating.”

Changes to surgery

He continued his career as a surgical registrar, working at hospitals in London, Sheffield and the Radcliffe in Oxford again. Asked what the biggest differences to surgery were he saw over the course of his 40-year career, Professor Ellis grins.

“Where do you want me to start? Have you got the next 6-7 days? Nothing I did in 1948 would compare to what I was doing 20-30 years later, mostly because of medical and surgical progress. The diseases changed, treatment changed, drugs changed, the operations changed. Things you’d see every day as a student disappeared – like tuberculosis. Every ward, when I qualified, had patients with TB in it.

“There was a TB hospital in Oxford with about 200 beds, full of patients. At the [main] hospital up the road a sixth of the patients had TB, you’d go to an orthopaedic clinic and swarms of patients had TB. You’d see them every day. It was very common for doctors and nurses to get it as well, from the patients.”

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Professor Ellis was afraid of catching polio as a medical student but was confident he had developed some kind of immunity to TB from growing up in the East End.

“Most doctors today will never have seen a patient with tuberculosis, unless they work in the third world. We had outbreaks of poliomyelitis as well until the polio vaccine came in in the mid-1950s. I was one of the first in the queue to get it.

“When I was professor of surgery in the 1980s, AIDs came in. All of a sudden you had wards full of AIDs patients, all the staff were petrified they were going to catch AIDs.”

Professor Ellis with surgical patients at the Radcliffe Hospital in 1948.
Professor Ellis with surgical patients at the Radcliffe Hospital in 1948 (Photo: Harold Ellis)

‘Anatomy doesn’t change’

Professor Ellis, a former Vice President of the Royal College of Surgeons, founded the academic surgical unit at Westminster Medical school in 1960, where he practiced as a professor of surgery until his retirement in 1989. He then went to teach anatomy at Cambridge University from 1989 to 1993, before moving onto teach clinical anatomy at Guy’s and St Thomas’ Hospital, in central London. He is also the author of the textbook Clinical Anatomy which is now in its 13th edition.

“Unlike surgery, anatomy doesn’t change. The body hasn’t changed since I dissected my first corpse in 1943. The students love me because I’m so old and tell them stories. I don’t teach using a word processor – just a bit of chalk on the blackboard.

“I made it quite clear that as soon as I retired I wasn’t going to see any more patients or do any more surgery. Once or twice old patients would ring up and ask: ‘You operated on me 22 years ago, can you see my daughter?’ But I had to say I’d retired. I’d advise them to see my ex-trainee though, although even he’s retired now.

“I enjoyed my time as a surgeon but I knew right from the start it’s a finite thing and was going to stop eventually. I’ve been in the theatre about 10 times since I retired to see my trainees doing all these wonderful things and had great admiration, but I never thought ‘move over, let me try’. Just like an old pilot I imagine, going for a ride in a Spitfire but you don’t want to fly it yourself.”

Golden anniversary

Now 93, Professor Ellis lives in Finchley, north London, still married to his wife, Wendy, although he can’t quite remember for how long exactly.

“I know we’ve had our Golden wedding anniversary so it’s 60 something years. I was determined not to marry anyone in the health service profession. I didn’t want to come home at night after a day at the hospital and talk about bed pans. I met this lovely girl and she said I was the very first doctor she’d met. I thought ‘I’m going to marry this girl’. Took me years to persuade her though.”

He believes the NHS embodies the advancements there have been in medicine, but is fearful for the health service today.

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“It’s got terrible problems. The remarkable thing is that, when the health service started, people would say – and you won’t believe this – it will get cheaper, because people are going to get better: cripples will become fit, active people and so on. Absolute rubbish!

“Every year, more and more people like me are getting older and older and requiring medical care. When I was a student if you were treating a 75-year-old patient on the ward, one chief would say: ’75?! There’s no point in treating him, for God’s sake!’ Statistically he should have dead for five years.

“Some of my old teachers would not operate on the elderly, saying ‘You’re 70, what do you expect me to do?’ These days people are having heart surgery at 90 years of age – and that costs a lot of money.

“Other countries may have different health systems but you have to decide what you’re going to spend your money on? Are you going to buy a new battleship or a new hospital? I know what I’d prefer to do.”

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Recipes for the weekend: How to make chicken tikka and a tasty pineapple and black pepper crumble

Chicken tikka

Serves 4 (as a starter)

Chicken tikka masala is supposedly Britain’s favourite dish. But this is far from the dish you might get at your local Indian or available as a supermarket ready meal. Tikka simply means piece, or chunk – so this is chicken pieces, marinated then grilled. The marinade is based on sweet vinegar, not yoghurt – and there is not a drop of food colouring in sight.

  • 500g boneless chicken thighs, with skin

For the marinade:

  • 30g fresh root ginger
  • 10g garlic (2-3 cloves)
  • 10g green chillies (2-3)
  • 30ml rice vinegar
  • 1tsp deggi mirch chilli powder
  • 1tsp ground turmeric
  • 1½tsp fine sea salt
  • 2tsp granulated sugar
  • 1tbsp vegetable oil

To grill and serve:

  • 25g unsalted butter, melted
  • Lime wedges

Cut each chicken thigh into three pieces and pat dry with kitchen paper. Place in a large bowl.

For the marinade, blitz the ingredients to a smooth paste with a blender or mini food processor.

Spoon the marinade over the chicken pieces and turn them to coat. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for six to 24 hours.

Take the marinated chicken out of the fridge 20 minutes before cooking. (If you are using wooden skewers, soak them now.)

Heat the grill to high. Thread the marinated chicken on to skewers, leaving enough space between the pieces for the heat to penetrate. Grill for 12-15 minutes, turning and basting regularly with the melted butter, until deep golden-brown with some charring. Check that the chicken pieces are cooked through. Let the chicken rest for five minutes before serving, with lime wedges.

TOP TIP: Chicken tikka makes a nice starter or a delicious lunch served in a chapati roll.

Pineapple and Black Pepper Crumble

Serves 4-6

The tang of the pineapple and spice of the pepper work wonderfully together
The tang of the pineapple and spice of the pepper work wonderfully together (Photo: Haarala Hamilton)

You can serve this dish warm or cold, on its own, or with custard or a scoop of vanilla or cinnamon ice cream. The tang of the pineapple and spice of the pepper work wonderfully together. You can prepare the crumble topping in advance, but don’t apply it until you are ready to bake.

For the filling:

  • 1 large, fresh ripe pineapple (you need around 750g flesh)
  • 1 vanilla pod or 2tsp vanilla extract
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • Few twists of black pepper

For the crumble:

  • 100g plain flour
  • 100g rolled oats
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 100g salted butter, cubed, at room temperature

To serve:

  • Vanilla ice cream or custard

Trim the pineapple of its skin, prising out the “eyes”, and cut into 2cm chunks, discarding the hard core.

Place the pineapple chunks in a saucepan and add 200ml of water. If using a vanilla pod, split in half, run a knife down the length to remove the seeds and add the seeds and pod to the pan. (If using extract, it goes in later.) Simmer over a medium-low heat for 20-25 minutes, or until the pineapple is soft, stirring occasionally. If the pan starts to become dry, add a little more water.

Meanwhile, make the crumble. Mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the butter and rub in with your hands until fully incorporated; there should be no loose flour left.

Heat the oven to 200°C/ Fan 180°C/Gas Mark 6.

Once the pineapple is soft, add the sugar and simmer for a further five minutes. Add the black pepper and vanilla extract, if using. Turn off the heat and set aside.

Spread the pineapple mixture in a medium baking dish and top with the crumble mix. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until the topping has formed a lovely golden crust.

Allow to stand for five minutes, then serve with vanilla or cinnamon ice cream or custard.

Wine of the week

Conte Priuli Prosecco, £8 (was £12), Marks & Spencer

A deliciously fresh and floral off-dry prosecco with seductive summery characteristics of ripe peach and honeysuckle.

Dishoom by Shamil Thakrar, Kavi Thakrar & Naved Nasir (Bloomsbury, £26) is out now.

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Staycation Awards 2019: Your nominations for the best UK self-catering breaks

i readers have been nominating their favourite UK holiday destinations as part of our Staycation Awards 2019 in association with holidaycottages.co.uk. Here we take a look at some of the best self-catering accommodation you’ve come across while escaping it all on a great British getaway.

A cosy Georgian log cabin in Fife, a secluded cottage in the leafy Hampshire countryside and a coastal fortress in north Wales have provided some of our readers’ much-cherished memories from self-catered breaks in Britain.

And it’s not too late to nominate your favourites: entries for all categories in our Staycation Awards close on 30 September. To cast your vote, visit staycationawards.co.uk.

Kiltarlity Lodges — Highlands

Surrounded by trees, Kiltarlity Lodges in Beauly is a beautiful place to escape daily life. It’s in the middle of nowhere, yet everywhere at the same time. Being in a quiet place with minimal Wi-Fi enabled me to have a proper break with my family.

Nominated by Susan McDonald, Ballingry

Little Farley holiday cottage — Wiltshire

This cottage in Bentley Woods, near Salisbury, is an ideal getaway for two people. It was comfortable, peaceful and the owners were friendly – and it was one of the best cottages my wife and I have stayed in. The property is within easy reach of the New Forest – what more could one ask for a relaxing break?

Nominated by David King, Peterborough

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Sykes Cottage in Heaning — Lake District

Off the beaten track yet within easy reach of Windermere, we found this cottage to be well-stocked. There were interesting walking routes nearby, too. So far we have not been disappointed.

Nominated by Vivian Brumpton, East Yorkshire

Auchtertool log cabin — Fife

The log cabin belongs to a grandiose Georgian building – situated in the most amazing surroundings – and it’s the most beautiful one I’ve stayed in. The hosts are friendly and we spent Easter with them. Our dog loved it there too.

Nominated by Lucia Kulcsar, South Tyneside

Discover the beautiful Gower Peninsula with our tips
Discover the beautiful Gower Peninsula with our tips

Penrice Castle Cottages — Gower Peninsula

We’ve been coming to the Gower Peninsula for the past seven years and we stay in an early 19th-century cottage that has a large secure garden, fantastic views of Oxwich Bay and is a short walk to Penrice Castle. The holiday cottages are a home away from home. You have a free parking pass for the privately owned beach – which is clean, safe and dog-friendly. I would recommend these cottages to anyone looking to explore South Wales.

Nominated by Amanda Marlow, Buckinghamshire.

Dalvourn Holidays — Inverness

We were close enough to all the amenities but on the edge of a vast tract of wilderness. We went on long walks, did some of the North 500 route and visited distilleries. These cottages are beautifully appointed – the attention to detail is second to none.

Nominated by Evelyn Scanlan, Dundee

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Mill Moss Barn — Cumbria

Located in the village of Patterdale, this beautiful apartment is our autumn retreat and all you need for a relaxing staycation. Close to a pub, the barn is set against the fells of the Lake District. You can marvel at the mist coming off Ullswater and the stunning views of the Helvellyn mountain.

Nominated by Susan Currie, Liverpool

Fort Belan — Gwynedd

This 18th-century fort by the sea in Llanwda looks towards Snowdonia and is in a fantastic location; it’s everything kids could wish for on a holiday where they can leave all gadgets behind. The fort, the accommodation and the location enable visits to other places such as Caernarfon, Bangor, Harlech and many beaches.

Nominated by Paul Eyres, Derbyshire

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‘It’s definitely a lifestyle choice and not just a job’: Publican on her early starts and industry changes

“It’s definitely a lifestyle choice and not just a job,” says Sian Smith, licensee of The Bull Inn – an historic Fuller’s-owned pub and hotel in Sonning, Berkshire. After almost 30 years in hospitality – and 23 as a publican – Sian has kept up with consumer habits, withstood downturns in the economy and adapted to ever-changing food and drink trends.

But one thing that has remained constant, she says, is the importance of engaging with her clientele. “It’s the biggest part of my job. You have to know a little bit about everything in order to hold conversations, so people aren’t just sat on their phones at the bar.

“It could be with Bob, who is having a pint of Peroni at the bar; or Jim, who I haven’t seen for a few days because he’s been visiting family in Newcastle, so I’ll ask him about his trip. Being able to do that en masse with regulars is a skill.”

Located in a village with an estimated population of 1,600, The Bull has a tight-knit clientele –and also attracts local celebrities including George and Amal Clooney. “As a licensee, you feel protective of them,” says Sian. “You don’t want anyone to bother them. It’s about having that level of respect for them [as] they’re out with their family or friends, in an environment where they feel safe and comfortable.”

While 3,000 pubs have closed in the past two years, many locals are loved by their regulars (Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
While 3,000 pubs have closed in the past two years, many locals are loved by their regulars (Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty)

From the front line

The 47-year-old, who took over The Bull in 2016 after running pubs in Surrey, Hampshire and Gloucestershire, says no two days are the same.

She is used to being an early riser – which is good, because breakfast for those staying in the pub’s rooms starts at 6.30am. “I sleep with an out-of-hours phone beside my bed; if someone walks through the wrong door and sets off the alarm, that’s me up and out… It can be long days.”

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Sian works alongside her husband, Jason, who is head chef. “We’ve worked together since I was old enough to work behind a bar. I think it helps that sometimes one is in the kitchen and the other is out the front,” she says.

Sian leads a team of 25, from kitchen staff to bar cellarmen. “I couldn’t do this if it wasn’t for the people who support me,” she says.

And they’ve supported Sian as she has reacted to changes in the market; for example, the shift from three-hour, alcohol-soaked business lunches to deals being hashed out over single courses and soft drinks.

“We’ve had to flex our menus to capture different people. Five years ago, we maybe had one vegan dish, but now we have vegan starters, mains and desserts,” she explains. “Even in a little village pub, people want to know what craft beers we have and they don’t want just Gordon’s gin.

“People will look for quality over price, but they still want value for money. It’s our job to cater to that.”

This week…

Pub landlords should avoid serving poor-quality beer and permitting boorish behaviour if they want to retain their clientele, campaigners have warned. On Thursday, i reported how a poor pub experience puts off drinkers from returning, according to the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra). Last year, 18 pubs closed every week. Camra’s national director, Ben Wilkinson, said: “One bad pint of cask ale can put someone off for life, but perhaps we’re less ready to consider the equivalent risk with pubs.”

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Music podcasts: Five of the best for your commute from Soul Music to Hip Hop Saved My Life

Soul Music

This BBC Radio 4 series examines “famous pieces of music and their emotional appeal” and it makes for a compelling listen. Highlights include the healing power of the late Amy Winehouse’s music and memories of Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”. bbc.co.uk/programmes/b008mj7p/episodes/player

Celebration Rock

Critic Steven Hyden delves into the world of rock – bagging big-name interviews with the likes of Robert Plant and Courtney Barnett, taking deep dives into albums, and chatting with writers. Storytelling shines on the multi-part series dedicated to Bruce Springsteen. 93x.com/celebration-rock

Album of the year nominee, Slowthai (top) and producer Kwes Darko attend the 2019 Hyundai Mercury Prize Launch in July (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)
Album of the year nominee, Slowthai (top) and producer Kwes Darko attend the 2019 Hyundai Mercury Prize Launch in July (Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty)

Song Exploder

In this popular US podcast, musicians deconstruct their songs and grant audiences a peek inside their creative process. Interviews are edited into first-person testimonies, creating a warm and inviting experience. Artists detail the inspiration behind lyrics and reasons why certain techniques were used. songexploder.net

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NPR Tiny Desk

Adele, The xx and Sting are some of the British acts who have played acoustic gigs at the US radio station’s Washington DC office. Musicians typically play three-song sets and very often reinterpret and extend songs, including in a glorious episode featuring Roy Ayers. npr.org/podcasts/510306/tiny-desk-concerts-audio

Hip Hop Saved My Life With Romesh Ranganathan

Billed as a “comedy podcast about hip-hop”, the stand-up and presenter invites guests to indulge their passion for the culture, share gig memories and play their favourite tracks. Guests have included Mark Ronson and Mo Gilligan. romeshranganathan.co.uk/podcast

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How I nearly became world champion at the Blackpudding Throwing Championships

On a street lined with terraced shops and packed with hundreds of people, a pensioner is giving me some last minute advice on how to throw a blackpudding into the air.

“You can chuck it hard, but I’d go for a gentle lob if I were you,” he says with the confidence of a man who has thrown blackpuddings a thousand times in his lifetime.

“But I’m probably not the best person to ask,” he adds after a long pause. “I’ve never done this before either.”

Welcome to the World Blackpudding Throwing Championships in Ramsbottom, Greater Manchester, where I am about to toss a blood sausage at a shelf piled with Yorkshire puddings 30ft up a scaffold.

Competitors gather for the world championships. (Photo: Peter Powell/PA Wire)
Competitors gather for the world championships (Photo: Peter Powell/PA Wire)

Games for a laugh

With my right foot on the toe line – an iron grid that has been painted gold for the occasion – I suddenly realise that my throwing hand is shaking. But there is no time calm my nerves. I launch my squishy missile into the air. It shoots up past the Yorkshire puddings and hits a TV cameraman on the head.

The whole street breaks out in a cheer. “He’s accurate, this fella,” a woman somewhere behind me shouts.

The World Blackpudding Throwing Championships at Ramsbottom in Bury, the home of this Lancashire breakfast delicacy, is just one of a throng of madcap British sports that are currently taking the country by storm.

From hen racing in Derbyshire to coal carrying in Yorkshire, traditional folk games are becoming ever more popular among Britons searching or a new challenge.

Keeping you on your toes

Last month more than 160 people took part in the World Bog Snorkelling Championships in Wales – an event described by Lonely Planet as one of the world’s top 50 “must do” events – in a bid to beat the record of 78.82 seconds.

In 2018, meanwhile, a man became the first to take home a record 21 Double Gloucester cheeses over 14 years in the Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling competition in Gloucester. In pursuit of his dream he suffered a broken ankle in 2005 and bruised kidneys in 2010.

But, while there is little chance of being hurt from a badly aimed blackpudding, the contest I am taking part in today is thought to have begun in more dangerous times.

During the War of the Roses between Lancashire and Yorkshire in 1455, rival armies doing battle ran out of ammunition and are said to have begun throwing food instead.

The challenge is to knock the Yorkshire puddings off the shelf
The challenge is to knock the Yorkshire puddings off the shelf (Photo: Peter Powell/PA)

Reviving challenges

The contest was revived by a pub landlord in 1839 and was brought into the modern world in 1984. Since then, contestants have poured into this former mill town with its stone houses and steam railway from as far away as Russia, China, Australia and Canada.

Lauren Distler, a 23-year-old Texan who is among today’s competitors, tells me after her first throw almost knocked down some of the Yorkshire puddings: “I gave it my best shot. It was the greatest thrill of my life.”

But my own enthusiasm has taken a knock after my disastrous first effort. I begin to watch and listen to the locals as a man starts juggling blackpuddings in the middle of the street.

“It’s about quantity over quality,” says a chap to his friend as he comes out of the nearby pub, The Oaks. “You just have to keep throwing.”

“You just have to believe in yourself,” I overhear another contestant saying. “It’s all about the power of positive thinking.”

With that in mind, I approach Paul Clayton, who is nonchalantly watching proceedings while leaning against the pub.

“I’ve been coming to watch this contest for years, but I’ve never had a go before,” he says. “I guess you’ve got to use your first throw to get the measure of things and then just go for it.”

Moments later, he steps on to golden drain and knocks down seven Yorkshire puddings with a well aimed shot – putting himself at the top of the leaderboard amid huge cheers. He looks as surprised than anyone.

It's a surprisingly difficult challenge. (Photo: Peter Powell/PA)
It’s a surprisingly difficult challenge (Photo: Peter Powell/PA)

But as the afternoon draws on, nobody is able to match Paul.

A woman accidentally launches her blackpudding backwards over her head into the crowd. Another pudding ends up on the pub’s roof and a third shoots down the street, narrowly missing a shop window.

A man on crutches and a woman carrying a baby in a sling both make valiant efforts.

While the rules are simple – over arm throwing is banned and the winner is the person who knocks down the most Yorkshire puddings in a single go – this is a surprisingly difficult sport.

However, my research reveals that some competitors have hidden talents.

A competitor throws a black pudding to knock down Yorkshire puddings during the annual World Black Pudding Throwing Championships in Ramsbottom. (Peter Powell/PA)
A competitor throws a black pudding to knock down Yorkshire puddings during the annual World Black Pudding Throwing Championships in Ramsbottom (Photo: Peter Powell/PA)

The competitors take charge

Husseyin Ozluk, 50, who won the world title in 2009 and again in 2011, tells me the secret of his success after he knocks four Yorkshire puddings from the shelf and joins Paul on the leaderboard.

“I’m a steelworker,” he says. “As an apprentice, I had to throw tools up to the scaffolding workers. There was no margin for error.

”Throwing a blackpudding is easier than throwing a hammer or a spanner – and a lot less dangerous too.

“If I win again today, I want to be made an MBE. Tennis players get them for winning Wimbledon don’t they,” he adds, before advising that a glass of vodka will improve my chances.

With the clock ticking down towards the end of play, there is a sudden sense of urgency in the air. Dan from Devon misses the target, while Graham from Southport hits home.

Armed with six fresh blackpuddings and a fresh dollop of determination, I rejoin the queue of competitors stretching down the street.

Husseyin is also in the line up trying to regain his title. Paul wants to secure his place at the top of the board. “This is your last chance everyone,” one of the organisers is shouting on a microphone. The crowd think it’s all over.

‘I sniff the breeze like a fox’

Tom Lowden, from Lincolnshire, is declared the winner
Tom Lowden, from Lincolnshire, is declared the winner (Photo: Peter Powell/PA)

I am almost at the front of the queue when I spot them. High up on the scaffolding, a pile of Yorkshire puddings are hanging precipitously over the left hand side of the shelf.

I put my foot on the golden grid and sniff the breeze like a fox. Then, I fire.

My blackpudding flies straight upwards like a heat-seeking missile and smashes into its target. Five Yorkshire puddings drop to the ground and I am suddenly joint fourth in the World Blackpudding Throwing Championships.

Filled with pride, I am only slightly envious when Tom Lowden from Scunthorpe takes home the title with a winning score of eight. His prize is a silver trophy filled with blackpuddings.

“I’d thought a lot about how to throw it,” he tells me afterwards. “But in the end, you just need a bit of luck.”

“I’ll definitely be back next year,” he adds with a broad grin. “I’m the world champion now. I’ll need to defend my title.”

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Robert Harris: ‘We’ve become extremely tribal. We no longer have debate where minds are changed’

An early reader of Robert Harris’s new novel was quick to complain about historical inaccuracies. “They got to about page 30 and emailed the publisher to say it was a ridiculous book because there was no tobacco available in 15th-century England,” Harris tells me, laughing. I laugh along, albeit awkwardly, as I was confused at first too.

According to the jacket copy, The Second Sleep is set in 1468 – yet Christopher Fairfax, the young priest who travels to a West Country village to investigate the death of a colleague, refers several times to plastic.

It seems unlikely that “the master of the intelligent thriller”, as Harris has been hailed, would make rudimentary errors. So what is going on?

The setting, it transpires, is a dystopian future dating from the apocalypse of 2025 AD. England has been reduced to a pre-industrial theocracy where the food is disgusting and you can be executed for heresy. Rumours abound of “ancients” who “with all their comforts had been able to exist without faith” and communicated “using their strange devices with the symbol of the bitten apple”. How did the idea come about? “When the Romans pulled out of Ancient Britain in the first century, the infrastructure decayed and the civilisation vanished,” says Harris. “Then it began to be rediscovered. I wanted to tell the story of antiquarians who appear to be living in the past, but it turns out the ruined civilisation they’re discovering is ours.”

It is an ingenious premise executed smartly, with Fairfax uncovering the village’s sinister mysteries and making discoveries about the fate of the ancients that lead him to question his faith.

“Generally, when I start writing, I have a plan,” says Harris. “But this time I simply had the image of a man on horseback riding to a remote village. The story assembled itself as I wrote. It’s my most purely imaginative novel. The style is a sort of mash-up of 18th-century, Thomas Hardy homage and English pastoral. Once again, power is my subject, because I’m writing about a world where religious fundamentalism is returned to this country, as I think it would be if our technological society collapsed.”

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Nearly 30 years ago, writing his first novel, Fatherland (1992), was a revelatory experience for Harris: “I was astonished by the extraordinary possibility of fiction,” says the 62-year-old. “I lay down after writing the first page and thought: ‘My god, I can invent anything.’”

Its success meant Harris could give up working as a political journalist. Today, 12 best-selling novels on, “composition has become a drug to me”. But do current events make him wish he were back in the fray of his old job?

“They make me glad I’m no longer in it,” he says. “We’ve become extremely tribal. There’s a huge amount of chatter, but we no longer have debate where minds are changed. Once you get to that stage in a democracy, something has gone seriously wrong.”

Robert Harris says: 'There’s a huge amount of chatter, but we no longer have debate where minds are changed'
Robert Harris says: ‘There’s a huge amount of chatter, but we no longer have debate where minds are changed’ (Photo: NORBERT MILLAUER/AFP/Getty)

The Second Sleep is chilling to read at a moment of climate crisis, political chaos and creeping authoritarianism. The ancient catastrophe that is investigated by Fairfax happens just six years from now. Are we at a desperate juncture?

“Our vulnerabilities, our dependence on the digital realm, are becoming obvious,” says Harris.

“If you want an historical analogy, I’d say the period before the First World War. You often have two generations of peace and relative prosperity before a revolutionary period. I’m both pessimistic, because I think things are going to get much more turbulent, and optimistic because I think we live through periods of cataclysm and come out the other side. All civilisations believe they’re the last word, but history shows that’s not the way it works.”

‘The Second Sleep’ by Robert Harris is published by Hutchinson at £20

More Author's Tales

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Why parents could be forced to charge more rent as returning millennials cost families an extra £1,640 a year

One in four millennials – 4.5 million – return to their parents’ home to save money for a flat or house deposit. But their presence is costing their parents an average of £1,640 extra a year as mums and dads fork out for food and bills. This is expected to increase, and has already risen 83 per cent from £895 in the last year.

A MoneySuperMarket report shows that adult children return home for an average of 10.3 months, up from 9.7 months in 2018. But living at home does enable children to save as much as £663 a month. Emma Craig, money spokesperson at MoneySuperMarket, said the reasons for returning home include the rising cost of living and the expected financial impact of Brexit.

She adds: “The ‘Hotel of Mum and Dad’ is the world’s biggest hotel chain, with 4.5 million rooms occupied every night. But with house purchases flat-lining since the Brexit vote in June 2016 – from a yearly rate of 8.2 per cent to just 0.9 per cent in June 2019 – it’s not surprising that children are staying for longer.”

While many returning children are not asked to pay anything by their parents, MoneySuperMarket’s findings show that those who do, pay an average of £212. But there is still an increasing cost on the parents to having adult children living at home.

Parents are paying extra for their adult kids living at home (Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire)
Parents are paying extra for their adult kids living at home (Photo: Yui Mok/PA Wire)

The hidden extras

Almost half of the parents surveyed – 44 per cent – admit limiting holidays, weekends away and luxuries to be able to accommodate their children. This is compared to 19 per cent in 2018. Parents are also spending more to update their homes – such as redecorating their child’s bedroom or upgrading the internet connection – before children return. The average parents now spend £1,886 on this, compared to £1,743 last year.

Emma adds: “The growing ‘Hotel of Mum and Dad’ economy means children are receiving additional services as part of their stay. Returning children are now more likely to have their sheets washed, breakfast made and their washing-up done. They are also more likely to take advantage of subscriptions such as Netflix and Spotify.”

According to MoneySuperMarket’s research, a third of parents take their adult children a cup of tea in the morning and even make their bed. Despite the cost, 42 per cent of parents feel fortunate to be in a position where they can continue to support their children.

Roomies reunited — How to make it

For parents

  • Have the chat: Don’t shy away from asking them to contribute.
  • Set out the rules: If you are expecting help, make this clear.
  • Treat them like adults: Be mindful of their boundaries.
  • Communicate: If you’re unhappy with the situation, talk to your child.
  • Ask: are they intending to live at home for a year or five years?

For the guests

  • Be respectful: It’s their home.
  • Help where you can: If your parents want you to contribute, agree an amount. If not, lucky you – but offer to help in other ways, such as cooking or buying groceries.
  • Pick up chores: If you want to be treated like an adult, act like one.
  • What’s next? Have a plan in place or a goal to work towards.

Paying your way

Becky O’Connor, personal finance specialist at Royal London, says a renewed financial dependency on parents can be hard for adult children to eventually wean themselves off.

“If your adult child is working, it’s reasonable to expect them to make a contribution to household costs,” she adds.

If your child’s goal is to save money, they should be able to achieve this and make sure you’re not out of pocket.

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She explains: “It is no good you going into debt to help out your children, especially if you are no longer working and on a fixed income.”

Becky suggests paying some amount as “rent” and a contribution to the food and energy bills. “Make sure the amount is under review depending on how much you find costs go up,” she adds.

“If the plan is to save money but that isn’t happening, you need to be able to talk about it and keep reviewing whether the situation is still working for everyone.”

Roy moved home twice.
Roy moved home twice.

‘You’re living by their rules’

Roy Raftery, 32, a business owner who moved home twice: once at 26 following a break-up, and again at 31

“When my grandmother got cancer, I moved in with her and became her carer. But when she needed trained assistance, she sold her house – it happened very fast and I found myself homeless within a matter of weeks.

“Moving back in with my parents was absolutely great. My mum is an excellent cook. Both of my parents are quite young so we all get on very well.

“The biggest and most obvious upside is the money, it’s allowed me to save up for a deposit.

“There are obvious downsides – such as sharing a room with my 13-year-old brother.

“You have to live by other people’s rules and change your habits. You can also see the cracks in your family – it shows you no family is perfect.”

More money

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Why isn’t my Hotmail email address filtering out spam properly?

My mail email account is a Hotmail address, and I’ve set it up so that spam messages are automatically redirected into my junk folder. Until recently I could block these unwanted mails by selecting them (never opening), clicking Spam and then Block. Now it’s asking me to “view blocked senders” and add blocked domains to a list. Why can I no longer just block these unwanted mails? Gary, Wigan

Many spammers have many hundreds of email addresses at their disposal, meaning blocking individual addresses can be not only time-consuming, but effectively useless.

You may want to adjust the sensitivity of your junk email filter to ensure it’s winkling out more of the kind of messages you don’t want to be subject to.

Open up your Hotmail account, click Home > Delete group > Junk > Junk E-mail Options. Here you’ll be given the option to change your level of protection. By default, Hotmail is set to no automatic filtering, so you may want to change your protection to High, which should do a better job of catching the spam.

NEW ZEALAND - SEPTEMBER 07: Stock Image. Junk or SPAM unwanted email. (Photo by Fotopress/Getty Images)
Strengthening your email spam filter can prevent annoying messages from reaching your inbox (Photo: Getty)

If you’re fed up of deleting the messages in your Junk folder, you can easily set it to automatically delete anything suspected as spam. However, you won’t be able to check them before they’re spirited away into the ether. To do this, click Home > Junk > Junk E-mail Options > and tick Permanently delete suspected junk email instead of moving it to the Junk E-mail folder.

The most extreme method of filtering out spam is to turn on the Safe Lists Only option, which only directs messages from address you’ve marked as spam into your inbox and filters everything else into Junk. Obviously, activating this runs the risk of legitimate emails being marked as spam, so you’d need to keep a fairly close eye on your junk folder just in case.

Send Rhiannon your tech queries at rhiannon.williams@inews.co.uk

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Bereaved woman may be eligible for support if ‘friends thought she had wed’ due to Scottish law

A long-forgotten quirk of Scottish law may offer a lifeline to a mother who was denied bereavement support when her partner of 20 years died.

Denise Robertson, from East Lothian, was told after losing Gary Dunn she was ineligible for thousands of pounds because they never wed or entered a civil partnership.

But now the UK Government will reconsider after her daughter found an obscure law that may mean they get the money if friends thought Gary and her mother were married.

“The Department for Work and Pensions has passed my appeal on to a different department,” said Ms Robertson, 58, from Macmerry. “Seemingly they are going to treat my appeal under Scottish law.”

‘Supporting people through bereavement’

Her daughter, Charlene Campbell, spent hours poring through online documents and archives to unearth a type of irregular marriage called “marriage by cohabitation with habit and repute”. It was abolished by the Family Law (Scotland) Act 2006, except for in very particular circumstances.

“They are getting in touch with me to arrange a visit to speak with me and ask questions about our 20-year relationship,” said Ms Robertson.

“Under Scottish law, if myself, Gary and others before 2006 saw us as husband and wife then I should have a good case. They will have to interview people that knew us.”

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Mr Dunn was diagnosed with chronic rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 21 – a condition leading to a deterioration in his health later in life.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to supporting people during bereavement and have widened the support available.”

A version of this article first appeared on our sister site, The Scotsman

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Will my retirement investments be safe after Brexit?

Q: I am approaching retirement and will rely on my savings alongside my state pension. The uncertainty about Brexit is worrying me. What do you think will be the impact on my investments? I am likely to retire in three years. Lorraine, 64, Dudley

A: I imagine there are a lot of people concerned or at least interested in this. Overall, I don’t think Brexit is a big investment issue – although it is a significant political one.

Economic fallout

The first aspect to consider is how something like Brexit could negatively affect your portfolio. I think there are three ways – the UK economy could suffer bringing down UK revenues and profit; the fallout could lead the UK Government to increase spending and/or promote higher inflation; and longer term, the UK could become more protectionist and isolated from world trade.

In my opinion, the short-term effects are probably manageable and not something that should affect your portfolio too much. Total exports to the EU are only 8 per cent of GDP and there are no realistic scenarios where this disappears. There could be damage, but it won’t sink the UK economy. It is also possible that the political fallout from this will lead to irresponsible government overspending or deliberately stoking inflation. This would be a concern for the UK’s productivity and especially the value of UK bonds. This is hard to predict now and is really a question of the political direction the country takes. I still don’t believe this will happen, but it is worth watching.

Sterling’s value

Brexit is causing uncertainty for many (Photo: DANIEL SORABJI/AFP)
Brexit is causing uncertainty for many (Photo: DANIEL SORABJI/AFP)

A very important fact to remember is the benefit of us having a free-floating and independent currency. Since the referendum result, worries about our economy have led to a large fall vs the euro and the US dollar. More than 70 per cent of revenue from the FTSE 100 listed companies comes from overseas and if sterling falls in value, the translation of the overseas earnings is higher in pounds. The profit and revenue of the FTSE businesses therefore rises. This is why the stockmarket rose in value after the referendum result. If there is bad economic news it doesn’t mean you will lose money in your UK share portfolio.

We also need to remember what the long-term drivers of the stock market are. Markets increase in value over time because of long-term global economic growth leading to more revenue and profits for the world’s largest companies. This growth is driven by population increases, productivity and technology improvements and the introduction of previously poor countries to the global economy. All these factors still point to growth and so, long term, we can expect the stock market to continue to deliver the returns we all want.

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How should I invest money for my grandchildren?

In the short to medium term, however, there are factors other than Brexit that we should be worried about. The last 30 years of economic growth have been accompanied by large increases in global debt. Increasing debt pumps up current demand but sucks future demand away as debt interest payments need to be made and only by increasing the amount of debt every year can you get further growth this way.

This cycle has continued past the credit crunch in 2008 and, at some point, the debt will have to be dealt with. This is likely to dampen growth for a long time. For this reason, I think it is sensible for many people to be quite cautious with your investments and ensure you are not taking too much risk.

As you are close to retirement, you should seek professional advice.

More from Guy Myles

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How the Mercury Prize became a political force with socially-engaged artists

Feel-good moments will be severely rationed at this year’s Mercury Music Prize ceremony. Angry punks, supremely articulate rappers and pop-stars-with-a-conscience instead promise to dominate the annual gong-giving.

From the top of its carefully-mussed hair to the tip of its trendy boots, the latest shortlist for best British or Irish album of the past 12 months rates as one of the most politically and socially engaged, and outraged, in the Mercury’s 27-year history.

Patriarchy-toppling rockers Idles share the podium with “voice of forgotten Britain” rapper slowthai and take-no-prisoners rhymer Little Simz. Streatham grime champ Dave brings us frontline reports of police violence against the black community. Foals ponder the irreversibility of global warming. Happy clappy singalongs are entirely absent.

Each of these artists is, in their own way, a light in the dark. Their music provides crucial illumination as we seek to negotiate the age of proroguing PMs, tweeting tyrants and climate change.

Rapper Dave at the Mercury Prize 2019 launch (Photo by Jeff Spicer/Getty Images)
Rapper Dave at the Mercury Prize 2019 launch (Photo: Jeff Spicer/Getty)

They also serve as a reminder that “political” no longer means wearing a t-shirt or sloganeering on stage (sorry, Bono). Simply by going out into the world with their songs, the artists who will gather at the Eventim Apollo for the Mercury speak to the suspicion that the gears and levers of our society are fundamentally misaligned.

When, for instance, slowthai’s Tyron Frampton calls the Queen something rude at the end of the title track of his nominated album Nothing Great About Britain, there is an understanding that he does so not out of a wish to provoke. He drops the “C” word because the time for shilly-shallying is over. As we wake to find ourselves in the fever dream-on-loop that is Boris Britain, there is no room left for tiptoeing and clearing our throats.

A similar progressive zeal runs through Ireland’s Fontaines D.C. and their album Dogrel. The record doesn’t explicitly address fears of a post-Brexit return of the Troubles, or the wave of gentrification threatening to turn Dublin into a damp San Francisco. But their debut nonetheless rattles with dread. It taps into the anxieties of renters priced out of the property market and of border communities wondering if the paras are returning.

They and their fellow nominees stand in contrast to the sounds the Mercury has traditionally championed. The 2018 winners Wolf Alice were archetypal indie introverts. Their songs came off like a Sylvia Plath poetry circle struggling to be heard over a Pixies tribute act.

They were worthy victors. Yet, as with the majority of the shortlist, their music is strikingly apolitical. Other 2018 contenders included Arctic Monkeys’ Tranquility Base Hotel and Casino – a project that was essentially Alex Turner trying to fend off a midlife crisis by pretending to be David Bowie.

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This year’s hopefuls are, by contrast, throwing open the shutters and rushing to meet the world head-on. Even the preening pop stars on the list seem to understand something has changed – that, as artists, it is their duty to stand up and be counted. Matty Healy of The 1975 is coming out swinging. His band’s third album, A Brief History of Online Relationships, muses on the horrors wrought by social media and smartphone addiction.

The 12 nominated acts convene in west London this Thursday for the fateful announcement. Pop and rock pale in significance against the political and environmental challenges facing the present generation. The unexpected side effect is that the Mercury matters more than ever.

The Mercury Prize will be broadcast live on Thursday on BBC4 from 9pm

More Music

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David Cameron says a second Brexit referendum could resolve issue, calling Boris Johnson and Michael Gove liars

David Cameron has said a second referendum on Brexit could be needed because British politics is “stuck” over what to do next. The former prime minister makes the extraordinary intervention in an interview to promote his memoirs – a book in which he savages Boris Johnson and Michael Gove for behaving “appallingly” for “trashing” their own government as they campaigned to Leave the EU in 2016.

Mr Cameron calls Mr Gove, who used to be one of his closest political friends, “mendacious” and even describes him as a “wanker”. On Turkey’s membership of the EU and the £350m bus pledge, Mr Cameron suggests Mr Gove and Mr Johnson lied to the public – saying “they left the truth at home”.

Mr Cameron’s explosive comments, in an interview with The Times and in his book, For the Record, are his first full public remarks on Brexit for more than three years after being driven to resign as Prime Minister for losing the referendum in June 2016.

The ex-PM’s comments about Mr Johnson and Mr Gove will be seen as a reopening of old wounds, after all three men fell out with each other in 2016. Mr Cameron even suggests Mr Gove, now the minister in charge of no deal planning, misled him in 2016 by telling him he wasn’t going to play a major part in the Leave campaign, and that Mr Johnson had previously “never argued for leaving the EU” before joining up.

‘I don’t regret Brexit vote’

Mr Cameron calls Mr Gove, who used to be one of his closest political friends, 'mendacious' and even describes him as a 'wanker'
Mr Cameron calls Mr Gove, who used to be one of his closest political friends, ‘mendacious’ and even describes him as a ‘wanker’ (Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty)

Mr Cameron’s suggestion that a second national vote might be needed to “unblock the blockage” is likely to cause consternation given his original decision to call a referendum has led to more than three years of division, rancour and stalemate in Westminster and across the UK.

Nevertheless, Mr Cameron says he does not regret calling a referendum because of political pressure inside his own party and problems with the EU and eurozone. But he adds that the outcome left him feeling depressed and suggests he has trouble sleeping at night, saying “I worry about it a lot.”

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He adds: “I think about this every day. Every single day I think about it, the referendum and the fact that we lost and the consequences and the things that could have been done differently, and I worry desperately about what is going to happen next. I think we can get to a situation where we leave but we are friends, neighbours and partners. We can get there, but I would love to fast-forward to that moment because it’s painful for the country and it’s painful to watch.”

The ex-PM says a no-deal Brexit would be a “bad outcome”, adding: “I very much hope it doesn’t happen. I don’t think it should be pursued.”

Cameron admits to smoking marijuana

David Cameron got “off his head” on cannabis when he was a schoolboy, the former Prime Minister has admitted, writes Hugo Gye.

But he refuses to say whether or not he has taken cocaine like his ex-best friend Michael Gove.

In his new memoir, Mr Cameron writes that he first smoked marijuana as a teenager at Eton, then in later life continued to use the drug with his wife, Samantha.

Asked by The Times if he had also taken the Class A drug cocaine, he refused to answer.

Mr Gove, now Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, admitted in June to taking cocaine when he was a journalist. The revelation is widely thought to have killed off his chances of becoming Tory party leader.

Cocaine rumours have repeatedly dogged Mr Cameron, dating back to before he became Prime Minister. A graduate of the University of Oxford, he has never denied, nor confirmed, taking the drug, saying only that he had a “normal student experience” as a young man.

During the leadership campaign this summer, Boris Johnson also faced questions about whether he had used Class A drugs. He appeared to suggest he had taken cocaine once, at the age of 19.

Mr Cameron is not the only political leader to admit to heavy drug use during his school days.

The former President of the US, Barack Obama, was said to be a member of a so-called “Choom Gang” at his Hawaii high school, dedicated to celebrating marijuana.

Politics ‘is stuck’

Mr Cameron suggests Mr Gove and Mr Johnson lied to the public - saying 'they left the truth at home'
Mr Cameron suggests Mr Gove and Mr Johnson lied to the public – saying ‘they left the truth at home’ (Photo: Oli Scarff/Getty)

Asked whether he thinks there might be a second referendum, Mr Cameron tells the newspaper: “I don’t think you can rule it out because we’re stuck.”

When asked whether he would campaign in such a vote, Mr Cameron says: “I’m not saying one will happen or should happen. I’m just saying that you can’t rule things out right now because you’ve got to find some way of unblocking the blockage. I think there are certain things you shouldn’t do to unblock the blockage. I think proroguing parliament – pretending it doesn’t exist – I think that would be a bad thing.”

Mr Cameron’s political foes and former friends have been bracing themselves for the long-awaited book, which is published next Thursday. The profits from the book are expected to be donated to charities.

Earlier, when asked whether he was expecting to be criticised by his predecessor, the current Prime Minister said: “Absolutely nothing that David Cameron says, in his memoirs or in the course of the next few days, will diminish the affection and respect in which I hold him … I think he has a very distinguished record and a legacy to be proud of.”

Inside the explosive memoir

On Boris Johnson

Cameron said he behaved “appallingly” during the 2016 referendum campaign and added: “Boris had never [previously] argued for leaving the EU, right?”

On Michael Gove

The minister for no deal planning is described as “mendacious”, and asked whether he used his phrase “you are either a team player or a wanker” to Mr Gove, Mr Cameron says: “I think I put it in a text.”

“Michael was a very strong Eurosceptic, but someone whom I’d known as this liberal, compassionate, rational Conservative ended up making arguments about Turkey [joining] and being swamped and what have you. They were trashing the government of which they were a part, effectively.”

On Priti Patel

“I remember her attack that wealthy people didn’t understand the problems of immigration. It felt very like she was put on point to do some attacking of the government and its record … I thought there were places Conservatives wouldn’t go against each other. And they did.”

On his original decision to have a referendum

“It seemed to me that there was a genuine problem between Britain and the EU with the eurozone crisis and the development of the euro that needed fixing.

“There was also – I don’t deny it for a second – a huge political pressure to have a referendum.”

On why the Remain campaign failed

“It turned into this terrible Tory psychodrama and I couldn’t seem to get through. What Boris and Michael Gove were doing was more exciting than the issues I was trying to get across. I felt like I was in a sort of quagmire by the end… Something I got wrong was that the latent Leaver gene in the Conservatives was much stronger [than I thought].”

On Leave campaign tactics

“I’m afraid it is a real problem in politics – and there is no real answer to this. If you’re having a row about your issue, you’re winning, even if the numbers are wrong … Over the issue of whether or not we had a veto over Turkey, and over the issue of the £350 million on the bus, I think they [the Leave campaign] left the truth at home.”

On feeling miserable

He was “hugely depressed” about resigning: “I was miserable about giving up the job I loved and working for the country I loved.”

On being abused in the street

“People come up and say all sorts of things… I’ve had some robust exchanges.”

On a second referendum

“I don’t think you can rule it out because we’re stuck … I’m not saying one will happen or should happen. I’m just saying that you can’t rule things out right now because you’ve got to find some way of unblocking the blockage.”

On prorogation

“I think proroguing parliament – pretending it doesn’t exist – I think that would be a bad thing.”

On no-deal

“I think it is a bad outcome. I very much hope it doesn’t happen. I don’t think it should be pursued.”

On Mr Johnson expelling rebel Tory MPs

“Taking the whip from hard-working Conservative MPs and sharp practices using prorogation of Parliament have rebounded. I didn’t support either of those things.”

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School uniforms: Do the strict policies to unite pupils simply act as an instrument of control?

The subject of school uniforms has become a battleground, and never more so than at this time of year.

With pupils returning to school this week there was a familiar slew of news stories about children being disciplined because their uniform was not judged up to scratch.

On Monday i reported that a 13-year-old girl in West Sussex had allegedly been threatened with isolation by her school for wearing the “wrong style” of trousers.

Holly Valentine said her daughter Bria had fallen foul of uniform rules at Tanbridge House School governing “how tight” trousers should be.

Children’s home lives

With pupils returning to school this week there was a familiar slew of news stories about children being disciplined because their uniform was not judged up to scratch
With pupils returning to school this week there was a familiar slew of news stories about children being disciplined because their uniform was not judged up to scratch (Photo: Keystone/Getty)

It was not an isolated incident. A similar case of a student being threatened with isolation for having tight trousers occurred in Norfolk, while students were reportedly sent home from a school in Liverpool for having the wrong shoes.

One of the reasons why the issue of uniforms is so explosive is because it touches on children’s home lives and parental supervision. The furious Ms Valentine said Tanbridge House’s rules were “old fashioned” and put pressure on her daughter and other pupils, but the school said it was “proud” of its students’ “smart appearance”.

Supporters of uniforms say they help build a sense of identity and cohesion in a school, and put young people in a frame of mind where they are ready to study.

Mark Lehain, who founded Bedford Free School and served as its first headmaster, told i he “wasn’t totally convinced” about uniforms until he set up his school. He was “taken aback by the enthusiasm” for uniforms among parents. “They wanted something smart and distinctive, to send a signal about our aspirations for their children,” he said.

‘Untucked shirts’ theory

Most (but not all) state schools in the UK have uniforms, but how strictly they police them is another matter.

The argument for taking a tough line is a variation of the old “broken windows” theory of law and order popularised by Rudy Giuliani when he was mayor of New York in the 1990s.

If you take a zero tolerance approach to vandalism and other forms of petty crime, then you create an atmosphere of lawfulness which prevents more serious criminality, or so the theory goes.

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In an education context, you might call it the “untucked shirts” theory – if schools clamp down on sloppy dress and incorrect clothing, it makes clear to pupils that the teachers are in charge and nips more serious bad behaviour in the bud.

Rowena Hackwood, chief executive of the David Ross Education Trust, which runs 34 state schools, told i that “having high expectations on uniform is an absolute non-negotiable” in her schools.

“Like any school rule, once you’ve got a policy and rules, you do need to enforce them,” said Mr Lehain.

The evidence

Nina Cullen (left) and Libby Murray organised a petition against their school’s gender-neutral uniform
Nina Cullen (left) and Libby Murray organised a petition against their school’s gender-neutral uniform (Photo: Cressida Murray/PA Wire)

School uniforms are in vogue at the moment, and it is not difficult to find headteachers who are sympathetic to the “untucked shirts” theory.

However, others are more sceptical. Neil Roskilly, the chief executive of the Independent Schools Association – which represents over 500 private schools across the UK – told i he is “appalled” by reports of children being sent home for not having the right uniform.

“A child might miss out on something absolutely vital that might destroy their understanding within a subject,” he said.

And while many people swear by the positive effects of school uniform, there is little hard evidence to back this up.

According to the Education Endowment Foundation – which was set up by the government to evaluate the impact of different education interventions – “there is no robust evidence that introducing a school uniform will, by itself, improve academic performance, behaviour, or attendance”.

While some studies have shown improvements in students’ grades after uniform is introduced, the EEF said in these cases “uniform was usually one factor amongst several improvement measures”, such as changes in behaviour policy or teaching.

‘Instrument of control’

Alistair McConville, deputy head at Bedales School in Hampshire – a famously liberal independent school which does not have a uniform – told i: “I think at best school uniform makes no positive difference whatsoever”.

“At worst they can be a pointless waste of institutional energy in trying to get people to adhere to codes that are irrelevant to their learning,” he said.

He believes there is also a more sinister side to uniforms as a “kind of instrument of control”. “The narrative is that uniformity is a good thing,” he said. “I think that cuts against what modern society needs, which is creative individuals who think of new things… we don’t need clones.”

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Improving behaviour and results is not the only argument made in favour of uniforms. Dame Rachel De Souza, chief executive of the Inspiration Trust, which runs 13 schools in the east of England, told i that having a uniform “helps families who may be struggling financially”.

“There is no peer pressure on students to have the latest trainers, or to be wearing the latest fashions,” she said. “Fundamentally, it’s about equality.”

The cost of uniforms

Gavin Williamson said schools should be providing uniforms at reasonable value. (Photo: Ben Birchall/PA)
Gavin Williamson said schools should be providing uniforms at reasonable value (Photo: Ben Birchall/PA)

Many parents who have just paid out for new uniforms this summer will know the situation can be more complex.

It is estimated that average spend on uniform comes to over £200 per child. For some families this can be a crushing financial pressure.

The issue has been highlighted in Parliament by the Labour MP Emma Hardy.

In her constituency of Hull she launched a scheme which recycles school uniforms from children who have outgrown their clothes to families struggling to afford them.

Five hundred families benefited from it this summer, showing the level of demand.

Ms Hardy is campaigning for the government to issue legally binding guidance which would make uniforms cheaper.

She is particularly concerned about the obsession of some schools with “branded items” – even down to trousers with “tiny little logos” on them – and the fact that some schools use contracts with a single supplier.

“Where you can shop around, it reduces the cost,” Ms Hardy told i. “The more generic a school can make its uniform, the lower the cost.” Schools can use sew-on or iron-on logos instead.

Uniforms and gender

As a parent and former teacher Ms Hardy thinks uniforms are a good thing, but she believes schools need to exercise common sense rather than taking a draconian approach to enforcing compliance.

She is also concerned that some schools seem to place a greater emphasis on what girls wear.

This week Stowmarket High School in Suffolk was criticised for sending a letter to parents in which it said dresses would be banned with “modesty in mind”.

“I think we should be very careful about what messages we’re sending to female students,” Ms Hardy told i.

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Gender and uniform is a thorny issue which schools are increasingly having to contend with. In Wales, guidance has been issued to schools urging them to adopt gender neutral uniform.

Some UK schools have changed their rules to allow girls to wear trousers and boys to wear dresses, but a decision by the Priory School in Lewes, East Sussex, to make trousers compulsory for all students this term sparked protests from parents and pupils.

“All schools whether state or independent need to take this seriously,” Mr Roskilly told i.

“The key thing is that the school doesn’t just say this is our new policy without consultation with the parents and the pupils.”

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From left to right, must-read political memoirs from across the spectrum

Politicians are notorious for not giving straight answers. During the height of their career, they tend to be more interested in optics and spin than giving the public the full picture.

But once they are out of office, all can change. Political memoir is a genre that can be illuminating, funny and surprising.

There is hope in Westminster that David Cameron’s memoir, For the Record, out on Thursday, will be all three. Written from his shepherd’s hut after he quit as prime minister and an MP in the wake of the EU referendum result, the tome is expected to lift the lid on his regrets from his time in office – there are rumours that he will find time to name colleagues who let him down over Brexit, with both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove tipped to be in the firing line.

Political memoirs have a rich history. Reflecting the fact that this sphere has traditionally been male-heavy, the bulk are by men – but expect that to change in a few years’ time as women who have had frontline politics careers put pen to paper.

Here is a look at 20 that have stood out over the years, from across the spectrum.

Alan Clark Diaries

Perhaps the most honest account of the highs and – in this case – many lows of life as a mid-ranking government minister. This instalment of Alan Clark’s diaries gives readers a front-row seat behind the scenes of the Thatcher years, up to her ousting in a coup. The reason the diaries have become a classic of the genre is Clark’s style, marked out by his numerous character flaws. His frequent laments on his lack of promotion, bouts of snobbery and womanising ways make this an entertaining read, even if you wouldn’t want him on your dream dinner party guestlist.

Damian McBride Power Trip

The first rule for any good spin doctor is not to become the story. But when Gordon Brown’s spinner, Damian McBride, had to resign from No 10 in disgrace over a plot to smear top Tories, he responded by producing one of the most eye-opening accounts of life in politics. Opening with McBride clambering out of a window and jumping into a car boot to escape the media, he offers an account of his career from civil servant to one of the most despised men in politics.

Harriet Harman A Woman’s Work

Before writing this book, Harriet Harman had viewed political memoirs as “vanity projects”. But after she clocked the number of tomes being penned by men she’d shared the front bench with in the New Labour years, the first ever minister for women decided to fill a gap in the market. Rather than opt for Westminster titbits, this frank and reflective memoir focuses on the progress made for women in politics since Harman entered parliament in 1982. She documents her campaigning on childcare, domestic violence and increasing the number of female MPs.

William Waldegrave A Different Kind of Weather

The man behind the poll tax, who served under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major, writes of a privileged life in which he never quite managed to break through as he had first imagined. As a pupil at Eton, he had written of his ambitions to be foreign secretary and then prime minister. It never was to be. Waldegrave comes across as likeable, taking readers with him as he gets to grips with the fact that he might not have been cut out to be top dog after all.

Harold Macmillan The Macmillan Diaries Vol II

Alongside the day job of being prime minister, Harold Macmillan also found time to write a regular diary. His witty and vivid prose means readers get unmatchable insight into events that took place under his watch during a seismic period for the UK – from the Cuban missile crisis to the Profumo affair. We are given an insight into the drain of his premiership as it goes on, but there are also lighter moments such as Macmillan’s amusement at an incident involving an Alsatian and a Daily Mail hack.

Margaret Thatcher The Downing Street Years

Margaret Thatcher’s memoir chronicling her 11 years as prime minister – from 1979 to 1990 – was the subject of much hype when it was first conceived. Her son, Mark, found himself accused of asking for too high a price and Thatcher eventually agreed a £3.5m deal for two books – equivalent to more than £9m today. At 862 pages, the first is no light read. Britain’s first female prime minister looks back on the Falklands War, the miners’ strike and the Brighton bomb attack. Critics say it has less personal reflection than traditional of the genre. However, there are amusing asides on various colleagues and statesmen.

Tony Blair  A Journey

Michael Gove was so taken by this memoir – in which Tony Blair looks back on his political career and 10 years in No 10 – that he keeps it by his bedside. Released in 2010, three years after Blair had left office, it lacks the candidness of some memoirs, instead focusing on the former PM pushing how he wants to be remembered. The sections on the Iraq War are particularly “on message”. However, there are parts that amuse and enlighten, from praise for Silvio Berlusconi to his own vulnerability, as he talks about the stilting effects of personal fear at the beginning of his premiership.

Edwina Currie Diaries 1987–1992

Edwina Currie’s diaries are best known not for their quality of prose but for revealing her four-year affair with John Major (1984-1988). After the book’s publication in 2002, John Major released a statement voicing his shame. The book itself shows the one-time junior health minister write of her unhappy marriage and her affair with Major – of whom she writes movingly. However, the part less discovered is of her political career – not least having to quit over a salmonella row – and how she stood out in her party at the time.

Hillary Clinton What Happened

What Happened by Hillary Rodham Clinton
book cover

‘“Deep breath. Feel the air fill my lungs. This is the right thing to do. The country needs to see that our democracy still works, no matter how painful this is. Breathe out. Scream later.” This is Hillary Clinton’s pep talk to herself at Donald Trump’s inauguration as the President of the United States. After losing the 2016 US presidential election in a surprise result, the first ever female presidential candidate from a major party’s account of the campaign asks: what happened? Particularly striking is Clinton’s account of the days immediately after her defeat, as she tries to come to terms with failing so publicly – friends suggest Xanax. However, the book suffers from the fact that Clinton (below) seems happier blaming others than examining her own role.

Peter Mandelson The Third Man

Of all the memoirs that emerged from the New Labour government, Peter Mandelson’s stands out for its mischievousness. During his time in power, Mandelson earned the nickname the Prince of Darkness for his Machiavellian ways. In this memoir, he sets the tone immediately – beginning by stating that he “once embodied New Labour’s reputation for spin and control freakery”. Tony Blair was said to be left livid by some of the disclosures of his feuding with his chancellor, Gordon Brown.

John Major The Autobiography

Autobiographies by former prime ministers can be hit and miss – revelations but bad prose or vice versa. This is an exception to the rule. Major is candid, frank and self-reflective in this look back at the Conservative Party in the 1990s. Unlike Tony Blair, he appears less conscious of crafting a media-friendly image. He writes of hitting the fast track as one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourites – appointed foreign secretary then chancellor – his against-the-odds election victory in 1992 and the (ongoing) Tory civil war over Europe.

Bill Clinton My Life

Publishing three years after he left office, the former American President recounts his life and political journey, from his youth in Arkansas through to his time in the White House – including reference to the Monica Lewisnksy affair and looming impeachment. It’s a conversational style – even if it is 957 pages. While Clinton is candid at points, self-reflection is often drowned out by self-justification.

Christine Keeler The Truth at Last

The Profumo affair defined politics in the 1960s and led to the downfall of Harold Macmillan’s government. At the centre of it all was 19-year-old Christine Keeler – a showgirl who became involved with John Profumo, the minister of war, and a Soviet diplomat. Her affairs were deemed a potential threat to national security. Keeler has written various accounts of the affair, but this book is her final word on the matter. Her claims are unverifiable for now – though the official papers ought to be released in 2046.

Chris Mullin  A View from the Foothills

“It is said that failed politicians make the best diarists,” writes Chris Mullins. “In which case I am in with a chance.” The long-serving Labour MP – who has held a handful of junior government roles – offers an amusing, insightful and revealing account of politics and government in his diary of the Blair years. His distance from the top levers of government allows Mullin to add insight and wry humour as he casts a cynical eye on the lows of junior office, taxpayer funds misspent and New Labour buzzwords.

Dalai Lama Freedom in Exile

The second memoir of the 14th Dalai Lama was published just after the anti-Communist revolutions of 1989 and is as political book as it is religious – on the freedom that Tibet offers to him away from Chinese communism. It came about from taped conversations the Dalai Lama had with Alexander Norman, an Oxford-trained scholar of the history of Tibet, in the 1980s. The book was written from the transcripts.

Leon Trotsky My Life: An Attempt at an Autobiography

Leon Trotsky was assassinated in 1940 by a Stalin-issued agent with an ice axe. However, the Russian revolutionary and his brand of Marxism lives on in part through his memoir, penned in the first year of his exile in Turkey and published in 1930. Trotsky writes of his political journey through therevolutions of 1905 and 1917 and the Russian civil war. He also examines his struggle with Stalinism – writing of his disillusionment of the regime which followed Lenin.

Gina Miller Rise

Given that memoirs are traditionally written once a political career is over or an event is in the past, there are very few covering the period that is Brexit. Gina Miller’s is an exception. The philanthropist rose to notoriety when she challenged the British Government over its authority to implement Brexit without Parliamentary approval. In this book, she documents the abuse she received as a result of that decision – and also writes of her personal life, including having a child with learning difficulties.

Elizabeth Warren  A Fighting Chance

Elizabeth Warren is in the running to be the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate in the 2020 US election. Here, she mixes memoir with policy – using the story of her small-town upbringing in Oklahoma to explain how she came to see the world and the best ways to use politics. She uses the story of her parent’s financial struggles and her family’s future to advance her personal politics of fighting a rigged system and financial institutions holding normal people back.

Bernard Donoughue Downing Street Diary With Harold Wilson in No 10

Bernard Donoughue worked for Harold Wilson in the 1970s, running the policy unit at No 10. He was privy to the so-called “Kitchen Cabinet” of advisers who made up Wilson’s inner circle, including the influential Marcia Williams. Donoughue had a front row seat through Wilson’s final premiership and offers intricate details of the leader’s struggle to unite his party, his drinking and his paranoia.

Alastair Campbell The Blair Years

As Tony Blair’s spin doctor, Alastair Campbell earnt a reputation for being potty-mouthed, aggressive and meticulous in his media operation. For all of New Labour’s success, its slickness eventually came to be seen as a negative. In published extracts from Campbell’s diaries during the government years, Campbell records his personal anxiety and down days as he executed this strategy. The main drawback is that the extracts don’t tell the full story – Campbell admitted that he left out entries that he thought could be used to help Labour’s opponents.

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Welcome to Asgardia: The ‘Space Nation’ that’s ramping up plans to save humanity by putting 15m people in orbit

When Igor Ashurbeyli, an Azeri-Russian billionaire obsessed with humanity’s extra-terrestrial survival, announced his plan to create the first nation in space, even he admitted it sounded outlandish. With disarming frankness, he said: “I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you write that some crazy Russian rocket scientist talked nonsense here today.”

Three years later, the Asgardia project – a name rooted in the Norse legend of Asgard and roughly translated as “garden of the gods” – has indeed provided plenty of ammunition for detractors who dismiss it as a headline-grabbing myth.

Earlier this year, Asgardia unveiled a plan to build a fleet of “cosmic Noah’s arks” orbiting the Earth, at a cost of roughly £100bn a piece, along with various moon bases to ensure humanity would survive events such as a cataclysmic meteor impact.

To date, the Space Nation’s presence in the firmament – where it aims to achieve “permanent peace in space” by settling some two per cent of the Earth’s population up there – consists of a 3kg low-orbit satellite the size of a bread tin launched in 2017. 

80 per cent male ‘population’

Igor Ashurbeyli, an Azeri-Russian billionaire obsessed with humanity’s extra-terrestrial survival, announced his plan to create the first nation in space
Igor Ashurbeyli, an Azeri-Russian billionaire obsessed with humanity’s extra-terrestrial survival, announced his plan to create the first nation in space (Photo: ALEX HALADA/AFP/Getty)

In the meantime, Asgardia, whose current “population” is 80 per cent male, last month sought the endorsement of finalists in the “Mrs Russia” beauty pageant, taking the opportunity to impress upon the contenders the importance of securing the birth of the first baby in space. According to a breathless Asgardia statement, it was “a mission that was of particular interest to [the] contestants”.

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But while the publicity machine behind Asgardia and Mr Ashurbeyli, who was last year formally declared  “Head of Nation”, busies itself, the Space Nation is nonetheless slowly attracting the attention of those with more unimpeachable cosmic credentials.

Next month the organisation will host a three-day science conference in Germany attended by senior figures from City investment houses, universities including MIT, executives from organisations such as British defence contractor QinetiQ and the former chief scientist of Nasa’s human research program. Among the topics up for earnest discussion will be the creation of artificial gravity and “procreation and growing up in space”.

‘Resolve imperfections in human history’

The first Head of Nation of 'Asgardia', Russian scientist and businessman Igor Ashurbeyli. According to Ashurbeyli, Asgardia's citizens are drawn by a vision of
The first Head of Nation of ‘Asgardia’, Russian scientist and businessman Igor Ashurbeyli. According to Ashurbeyli, Asgardia’s citizens are drawn by a vision of ‘space politics’ instead of geopolitics (Photo: Getty)

The Space Nation, whose 34-page constitution promises to “resolve differences, conflicts, inequality and imperfections in human history”, equally claims to have attracted significant popular support. To date, it has elected a parliament of 150 MPs and registered  a “population” of some 1.1m people on its website. A further 19,000 individuals have signed up as “residents”, paying a €100 (£89) annual citizenship fee which garners it an earthly annual income of £1.7m. 

The ultimate aim is to recruit 150 million Asgardian, of whom 15m will be residents in space and beyond.

If the Asgardia project, which to date has been personally bankrolled by Mr Ashurbeyli to the tune of at least £10m, is gaining some traction it is partly due to the efforts of a number of idiosyncratic Britons at its core.

By his own admission, Lembit Opik has what he deftly describes as a “colourful political back catalogue”. Since last year, the former Liberal Democrat MP and some-time I’m a Celebrity… contestant has been beavering away as chairman of the Asgardian parliament after being approached by a former Downing Street adviser to take on the role.

Mr Opik, the grandson of a prominent Estonian astronomer and who during his Westminster career championed the cause of tracking asteroids capable of damaging Earth, believes fervently that pioneering Asgardians will ultimately be proved right in their belief that humanity will one day rely on its ability to live in space for its survival.

Burials to taxation

He is part of a triumvirate of Britons involved in the Asgardia project which includes Nigel Evans, the arch-Brexiteer Conservative MP who chairs the Asgardian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, and Philip Appleby, a former Ministry of Defence official and police officer who has been appointed Minister of Safety and Security.

Mr Opik told iweekend: “Lots people are building rockets. Asgardia is about building the society to go with them.

“At some point in the future, ordinary people are going to have to inhabit space and we are not going to build a social infrastructure from mission control. It has to be built by consent – painstakingly and comprehensively. We have to decide the rules and methods on everything from burials to taxation, from marriage to procreation.”

The former fiance of one half of Romanian pop act the Cheeky Girls declares himself undaunted by the inevitable cynicism. He added: “My political back catalogue tells you that I’m no stranger to dealing with the unexpected. It has never bothered me to be on the far side of convention and target for suspicion of derision.

“But I think Asgardia has become internally more confident about its narrative. We are getting some big names from science and commerce and it creates a virtuous circle – the more people take us seriously, the more serious it will get.”

Death rays

The Asgardia project, which to date has been personally bankrolled by Mr Ashurbeyli to the tune of at least £10m, is gaining some traction it is partly due to the efforts of a number of idiosyncratic Britons at its core
The Asgardia project, which to date has been personally bankrolled by Mr Ashurbeyli to the tune of at least £10m, is gaining some traction it is partly due to the efforts of a number of idiosyncratic Britons at its core

One senior scientist attending next month’s conference said: “There is a lot of wishful thinking [associated with Asgardia]. But at the end of the day the problems it is trying to address are real and there can be no harm in exploring a path towards potential solutions.”

Just how seriously Asgardia is taken is of course the question that Mr Opik and other senior figures in the Space Kingdom acknowledge will dog it unless or until it shows significant progress on a bewildering list of stated aims ranging from formal recognition as a state by the United Nations to the establishment of its first permanent settlement on the moon by 2043.

They are also trying to compete in a dynamic and increasingly crowded market. After decades as the sole preserve of the Cold War super powers, space exploration is undergoing a sort of democratisation (and, more darkly, militarisation) in which private money and thrusting entrepreneurs are setting the pace  – and military powers are increasingly squaring up against each other with cosmic death rays and satellite jamming devices.

Expensive business

It is an expensive business requiring even the dreamiest players to raise billions. 

Asgardia says it will be sustained by charging its first seven million “primary Asgardians” €1,000 for formal citizenship and a passport and seeking a further €1bn each from seven as yet unnamed “primary investors”.

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The resulting income, along with another €1bn from small investors, will provide a €15 billion war chest for Asgardia to invest in research and the building of its institutions, much of it held in its own crypto-currrency – the Solar – which began test purchasing this month.

As Mr Opik put it: “History shows that there has to be pioneers.  When the Wright Brothers first flew, no-one really knew where their invention would go. Now we sit in the back of a jumbo jet with a gin and tonic watching a film. Humanity’s survival depends on our presence in space. To paraphrase Stephen Hawking, we either travel or die.”

Survival and governance

There are those who beg to differ with the notion that Asgardia and Mr Ashurbeyli are suitable vehicles for ensuring humanity’s survival and governance in space.

The issue of extraterrestrial sovereignty and administration has long been a subject for legal debate. The sole international document – the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty – stipulates that space is “the province of all mankind” and cannot be subject to “national appropriation”.

Frans Von Der Dunk, professor of space law at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, told iweekend: “At least at first sight this is basically about a billionaire living out his fantasies to be emperor, king or president in outer space. As such, it does not bring the human settlement of outer space any nearer.

“We should not allow the very valuable asset of outer space, the ‘province of all mankind’… to be used for a billionaire’s fun if there is not at least also some broader public benefit to be drawn from that.”

Hands-on approach

Former Liberal Democrat MP Lembit Opik was last year appointed chairman of the parliament of Asgardia (Photo: Asgardia)

For his part, Mr Opik is unapologetic about the hands-on approach of Mr Ashurbeyli, whose 56th birthday this week was the subject of a series of gushing celebratory messages from his senior acolytes. Mr Opik said: “He is an executive head of state – he is not watching from the sidelines, he is leading his country. He is more like an American president than the British Queen.”

Indeed, senior Asgardians retort that they and Mr Ashurbeyli, an expert in nanotechnology who once headed one of Russia’s largest defence companies, are striving for the public benefit, starting with the subject that tends to turn up time and again in the Space Nation’s musings – cosmic sex.

It is, they insist, not a matter of prurient obsession but an issue that epitomises a far-sighted practical approach to human survival.

‘Continuous effort’

Mr Opik said: “The technology available to us suggests it would take hundreds of years to travel to the next star system. It is going to take generations born in space to complete that journey. 

“That raises questions about the effects of weightlessness and the need for artificial gravity.  How much artificial gravity is necessary for the reproductive process? Floating in space might look great but it isn’t much fun if you are trying to conceive.”

He added: “We are going to always have to push the boundaries of credibility. It is going to be a continuous effort but without it we won’t get the answers to vital questions.”

The visionaries taking us higher

The world is in the grip of a new space race that could see the number of satellites increase by 750 per cent and nation states challenged by cosmic entrepreneurs and adventurers.

The billionaires

There is an ongoing private-sector battle, led by Amazon boss Jeff Bezos and Tesla magnate Elon Musk, to dominate the business of delivery to space and communication from it.

Musk’s SpaceX project has perfected its reusable launch system, which has already made 15 deliveries to the International Space Station. It is expected to slash the cost of launches from $50,000 per kg to just $1,500.

Bezos’ Blue Origin rocket is due to carry out its first crewed mission shortly, while British business magnate Sir Richard Branson has aspirations for space tourism with his Virgin Galactic project.

The adventurers

Azerbaijani-Russian billionaire Igor Ashurbeyli, the founder of the Space Kingdom of Asgardia, wants to see the future of humanity secured with moon bases and a fleet of “arks” orbiting the planet. He is far from alone in wanting to zip around the cosmos: both Mr Musk and the China government have voiced their intent to travel the 140 million miles to Mars, while the USA has said it aims to return to the moon by 2024.

The generals

The increasing reliance of daily life on satellites, which enable everything from navigation to communication, is prompting a rapid militarisation of space.

Both Russia and China have developed weapons capable of destroying or jamming Western military satellites, prompting the US to respond with the formation of its first “Space Command”.

Britain’s most senior military officer in charge of space defence said this week that near-misses on Western satellites by potentially hostile space craft are now a daily occurrence.

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Women in Colombia are risking their lives every day to clear the minefields left after 50 years of armed conflict

When Paola Sanchez heard she was being recruited for a job in late 2018 after a friend had recommended her, she knew little more than she would be helping remote communities. She had previously worked with NGOs to support remote Colombian populations with education and technology so she expected more of the same: smart-casual attire, drawn-out meetings and clipboards.

She did not foresee a Kevlar vest and bulletproof visor as part of her daily uniform – or a metal detector as her trusty tool. “I had no idea what was coming,” the 24-year-old giggles.

Then it all became very clear: Sanchez would become part of a team clearing Colombia’s jungles of antipersonnel mines, a deadly legacy of half a century of armed conflict in which she has seen families and communities destroyed.

“As soon as I found out I was working with explosives I was frightened – we have seen the conflict, we have lived the conflict. My family and friends told me: ‘It’s too dangerous’.”

Where few dare to tread

Paola Sanchez did not foresee a Kevlar vest and bulletproof visor as part of her daily uniform – or a metal detector as her trusty tool
Paola Sanchez did not foresee a Kevlar vest and bulletproof visor as part of her daily uniform – or a metal detector as her trusty tool (Photo: © Francisco Javier Profeta/ HI)

Just 10 months later, however, she relishes kitting up every morning, slipping on her black wellington boots, packing up her shears and metal detector and heading into the once-battlefields of guerrilla insurgencies, paramilitaries and the army. “The more I do this, the more I have to continue – not just for myself or my family, but for all of Colombia and her peace process,” she said while taking a break from a training exercise in southwestern Colombia.

Sanchez was raised by her 69-year-old grandmother in a remote Amazonian town as her mother worked far away while she was growing up and she has never known her father.

The town was once dominated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) guerrillas so Sanchez is no stranger to Colombia’s war. She has seen children mutilated and orphaned, fathers disappeared and entire families displaced.

Her grandmother’s eldest son was killed in the conflict, and her uncle was recruited as a child soldier at the age of 13 into Farc. “This is the true disaster of war… it touches everyone,” she says sombrely, reflecting on some of her darkest memories of a brutal conflict that left 260,000 people dead and seven million displaced.

50 years of armed conflict

Having demobilised after a historic peace agreement with the government in 2016, Farc is no longer a direct threat. But the thousands of makeshift explosives it laid across vast swathes of the country remain – and still claim victims.

Colombia is one of the most heavily contaminated countries in the world in terms of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) according to its demining agency. It has the second highest number of mine and ERW survivors globally – 11,524 between 1990 and January 2018.

International NGOs such as the one Sanchez works for, Humanity and Inclusion, are now working to clear the explosives and return the countryside to its people free of fear.

‘This is a way of developing equality. I am demonstrating to a lot of women that they can achieve whatever they set their mind to’

Paola Sanchez

Starting at 5am at base camp she begins each day by checking her equipment, packing it, and dressing in protective clothing: gloves, visor, bulletproof vest etc. By 6am she is in a truck with up to 10 others on the way to areas too dangerous for civilians.

Each deminer then painstakingly clears their own 10ft-wide (3m) “lane” slowly and steadily following rigorous safety protocols. Should a mine be detected, a series of tests are performed to rule out false alarms. If confirmed, the area is marked off and a national unit is called to disarm it.

Clearing up to 131ft (40m) a day in a country around five times the size of the UK may appear slow, but when it comes to explosives slow and steady wins the race.

“If you don’t follow procedures you’ll be blown to a million pieces,” she says. “I’m not putting my colleagues in danger.”

Rebuilding peace

But like her colleagues, Sanchez is modest and plays down the risk of her work. The hardest part of her job, she says, is being away at a remote base camp far from friends and family for 45 days at a time with little or no phone signal. Lugging around heavy equipment and traversing rugged terrain while battling the heavy rains is also gruelling. Some female colleagues have given up and left.

But for Sanchez, just like the risk, she says it’s ultimately worth it. “I remember the first area we cleared,” she says. “When we met with the local community a lady started to cry with joy because we had cleared the land that had once killed a member of her family. When a person hugs you and thanks you that makes it worthwhile and motivates you to continue.”

And while Sanchez contributes her part to the peace process and healing her country, she also hopes she can break some stereotypes as a woman carrying out a “macho” role in a conservative, Catholic nation.

Sanchez is the only woman deminer in her team, but her NGO aims for 40 per cent to be female, not only to provide equal opportunities and dispel gender myths, but because they can be more effective than their male peers.

“In Colombia, due to many decades of armed conflict, trust is one of the more important factors to rebuild peace… it is easier for a woman to feel more comfortable and respond to another woman, than with a man,” says Aderito Ismael, Humanity & Inclusion’s explosive ordnance disposal chief of operations in Colombia, of the benefits of women also acting as community liaisons in the field.

Sanchez agrees and believes the best way to break stereotypes is with action. “This is a way of developing equality. I am demonstrating to a lot of women that they can achieve whatever they set their mind to,” she says. “The fact that we are women does not make us less nor more. This is the best way to show that and say to the whole of Colombia that women are made for big things: not by saying it, but by doing it.”

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Autumn TV: The best shows to watch over the next few months from The Crown to Strictly Come Dancing

DRAMA

Top Boy

Netflix

Kane Robinson as Sully in Top Boy series 3
Rapper Kane Robinson, also known as Kano, plays Sully in the show (Photo: Netflix)

Channel 4’s hit drama has been resurrected and transported to Netflix with the help of Canadian rapper and London fanboy Drake. Dushane (Ashley Walters) is out of prison and taking his place back as Summerhouse’s premier drug dealer alongside frenemy Sully (Kane Robinson). With Simbi Ajikawo and David Omoregie – better known as Little Simz and Dave – joining the cast, the new series promises to be a showcase of Britain’s best black talent.

The Crown

Netflix

Olivia Colman as Queen Elizabeth II and Tobias Menzies as Prince Philip in The Crown series 3 on Netflix
Olivia Colman takes over from Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II for series three (Photo: Netflix)

Olivia Colman makes her debut as Queen Elizabeth II following on from Claire Foy’s two-year tenure. Hers are big shoes to fill, even for an Oscar winner, though it’s doubtful the Broadchurch star will fall short of the world’s high expectations. The third and fourth series were filmed back-to-back and span across 1964-76, meaning we’ll be privy to Princess Margaret (Helena Bonham Carter) and Lord Snowdon’s (Ben Daniels) divorce.

World On Fire

BBC Two

Jonah Hauer-King as Harry Chase in World On Fire on BBC One
Jonah Hauer-King plays Harry, a young soldier in the Second World War (Photo: BBC)

This epic World War II series has already been bought by US broadcaster PBS, so is already looking rather promising. Starting with the day Germany invaded Poland and ending with the Battle of Britain, World On Fire aims to tell the story of the second world war through the eyes of “normal people” on every side. Lesley Manville and Helen Hunt head up an international cast, and are also joined by Sean Bean. Bets on whether he’ll die in the first episode are now closed.

Unbelievable

Netflix

Merritt Weaver and Toni Collette in Unbelievable (Photo: Netflix)
Merritt Weaver and Toni Collette as the detectives who uncover the truth about a serial rapist in Unbelievable (Photo: Netflix)

Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning ProPublica article, this difficult and emotional adaptation tells the true story of 18-year-old Marie who was charged with reporting a false rape in 2008. She accepted a plea deal, but two years later a team of investigators tracked down her attackers and proved her story to be true after all. You’ll recognise Marie as Kaitlyn Dever, the sidekick to Beanie Feldstein in hit summer movie Booksmart.

Dublin Murders

BBC One

Killian Scott as Rob and Sarah Greene as Cassie in Dublin Murders
Killian Scott and Sarah Greene star in the BBC adaption of Tana French’s novels (Photo: BBC)

Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series has been crying out for a TV adaption for years, and with help from Irish national broadcaster RTÉ the BBC has finally stepped up. Killian Scott (Strike) and Sarah Greene (Penny Dreadful) play detectives Rob Reilly and Cassie Maddox tasked with solving two equally disturbing murders – a ballerina found on an ancient altar and a woman found stabbed to death inside an old Famine cottage.

Britannia II

Sky Atlantic

David Morrissey as Aulus in Britannia II
David Morrissey takes on the role of Roman commander Aulus (Photo: Sky Atlantic)

Mackenzie Croook takes on a second role in this year’s series of Britannia, Sky’s original drama charting the birth of the country we know today. Created and written by Jez Butterworth, the playwright behind The Ferryman and 2015 James Bond movie Spectre, the second round will see the Romans settle into their new role as rulers – “In the pantheon of right s***holes, Britannia is right up there,” says Steve Pemberton’s Emperor Claudius of his new home.

The Politician

Netflix

David Corenswet as River and Ben Platt as Payton Hobart in The Politician on Netflix
The Politician is the first of Ryan Murphy’s shows for Netflix (Photo: Netflix)

American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy goes back to his Glee roots with this new high school drama-comedy. Ben Platt plays a privileged, high achieving wannabe politician who will stop at nothing to become high school president. It’s essentially the 2016 US presidential race under a microscope, with all the subterfuge, games and underhand tactics you could ever want. Gwyneth Paltrow also stars as Peyton’s mum, with a less-than-subtle nod to her oft debated public image.

Undone

Amazon

Undone on Amazon Prime Video
Undone comes from the brains behind BoJack Horseman (Photo: Amazon Prime Video)

A step away from the grown-up cartoons of Bojack Horseman and Big Mouth, Amazon’s Undone is a little more stylish in its animation. Starring Rosa Salazar (Bird Box, Maze Runner) as Alma and Bob Odenkirk (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul) as her dead dad, it tells a trippy story of time when the 28-year-old finds herself the victim of a life threatening accident. One for fans of Doctor Who, but with a little more grit.

Catherine The Great

Sky Atlantic

Helen Mirren in Catherine The Great on Sky Atlantic
Helen Mirren makes a return to TV as one of Russia’s most famous rulers (Photo: Sky Atlantic)

Helen Mirren returns to serialised TV for the first time since 2005, when she played Queen Elizabeth I on Channel 4. Now she’s taking on Russia’s former empress, Catherine II, in a four-part co-production between Sky Atlantic and HBO. The monarch was in charge of the Russian empire for 34 years and this series chooses to focus on the latter part of the 18th century, otherwise known as the Golden Age of Russia.

Modern Love

Amazon

Anne Hathaway in Modern Love on Amazon Prime
Modern Love has an impressive ensemble cast, including Anne Hathaway (Photo: Amazon Prime Video)

The phrase ‘ensemble cast’ might be overused to plump up an average line up every now and then, but that’s certainly not the case for anthology series Modern Love. Anne Hathaway, Tina Fey, Andrew Scott, Dev Patel, John Slattery, Andy Garcia and Cristin Milioti are just a small handful of the A-listers set to appear in the series, which is based on the popular New York Times column of the same name. Think Love Actually, but for 2019.

The Accident

Channel 4

You might not recognise Jack Thorne’s name, but you will have almost certainly watched his work – National Treasure, Kiri, This Is England ‘86, ‘88 and ‘90 as well as theatre production Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. For the final instalment of his Channel 4 trilogy, Thorne has recruited Happy Valley star Sarah Lancashire to help tell a story of “justice” after a huge explosion kills a number of residents – including children – of a small town.

DOCUMENTARIES/FACTUAL

Seven Worlds, One Planet

BBC One

Seven Worlds One Planet
David Attenborough will teach us about the Guanaco in Torres del Paines, Chile (Photo: BBC)

David Attenborough’s much-anticipated follow up to last year’s Blue Planet promises to live up to expectations, as we’re taken on a journey through each of Earth’s seven continents. From sparring lizards and gravity defying monkeys in Asia, to the charging bison of Europe and humongous blue whales of Antarctica, the natural history legend’s newest venture promises to leave no stone of our glorious but endangered planet unturned.

Inside The Vatican

BBC One

Easter procession in St Peter’s square, Vatican
The BBC take an in-depth look at The Vatican’s inner workings (Photo: BBC)

This documentary fits a whole year’s worth of footage of the seat of the Catholic world into just two hour-long programmes. Pope Francis himself makes an appearance, but it’s the day-to-day running of the Vatican and the confines of the city walls that really make this an interesting watch.

The Cheltenham Literature Festival

Sky Arts

As the only channel on UK television completely dedicated to culture, it’s a no-brainer that Sky Arts would set up camp to broadcast live from one of the nation’s biggest book festivals. With headliners ranging from Blondie’s Debbie Harry and comedian Lenny Henry to former Prime Minister David Cameron, the coverage promises to be as interesting as it is diverse.

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Unbelievable on Netflix is an excellent, important, and relentlessly bleak depiction of rape reporting

Smuggled

Channel 4

Just how easy is it to sneak through the UK’s borders illegally? This new reality show aims to find out as Channel 4 have tasked a series of normal British citizens to find their way back home from Europe without using their passport. A thinly veiled attack on Brexit, this two-parter has billed itself as a “dramatic experiment” with “real purpose at its heart”.

Population with Chris Packham

BBC Two

Chris Packham
Chris Packham turns his attention to the world’s population problem (Photo: YUI MOK/AFP/Getty)

Chris Packham isn’t scared of controversy, but this might well be his most opinion splitting documentary yet. According to forecasters, by 2050 there’ll be a billion people in the world – a figure pretty much everyone agrees is far too big. But what are we supposed to do? Stop Having children? Well, maybe.

ENTERTAINMENT/COMEDY

Strictly Come Dancing

BBC One

Strictly Come Dancing celebrities and professional dancers
The nation’s favourite dance show returns (Photo: BBC)

Former national footballer Alex Scott is the current favourite to take home the 2019 Strictly glitterball trophy, but for now, it’s all to play for. New judge Motsi Mobuse will step up to the panel for the first time, though she won’t be the only newbie – Latin dancer Nancy Xu also joins the professionals for 2019.

RuPaul’s Drag Race UK

BBC Three

RuPaul's Drag Race UK contestants
Who will take home Ru’s first UK crown? (Photo: BBC)

This UK version of RuPaul’s reality show has finally arrived, a mere ten months after its announcement. Queens competing for Ru’s crown of Charisma, Uniqueness, Nerve and Talent include Baga Chipz, Sum Ting Wong and Scaredy Kat, while chat show hosts Graham Norton and Alan Carr will take it in turns to sit on the judging panel. Fans of the US version will be glad to hear the Snatch Game challenge has safely made it across the pond.

Defending the Guilty

BBC Two

Will Sharpe and Katherine Parkinson in Defending The Guilty
Will Sharpe plays a student barrister in new comedy Defending The Guilty (Photo: BBC)

A new comedy from the clever brains behind Mum and Cold Feet, Defending the Guilty pretty much does what it says on the tin. At once hilarious and questioning of our impossibly complicated and tricky legal system, it follows student barrister Will (Will Sharpe, Flowers) who is guided by the world weary but impressively staunch mentor Caroline (Katherine Parkinson, The IT Crowd). A word of warning to any readers in the legal profession – the constant battle between holding onto your principles and doing your job might hit close to the bone.

State of The Union

BBC Two

Rosamund Pike as Louise and Chris O'Dowd as Tom in State of the Union on BBC Two
Rosamund Pike and Chris O’Dowd star in Nick Hornby’s State of the Union (Photo: BBC/Confession TV)

Not strictly a comedy, but funny all the same, these ten-minute vignettes of a marriage in crisis are some of the best TV this autumn. Proper Hollywood stars Rosamund Pike (Gone Girl) and Chris O’Dowd (Bridesmaids) play husband and wife Louise and Tom, who meet in the pub ten minutes before their weekly couple’s counselling session. Whether they’re discussing Louise’s affair or Call The Midwife, the razor sharp dialogue straight from Nick Hornby’s novella of the same name is enough to keep you hooked.

The Circle

Channel 4

The Circle on Channel 4
The Circle sees contestants manipulate social media to win a cash prize (Photo: Channel 4)

Former Big Brother presenter Emma Willis takes the reigns for the second series of social media reality show The Circle. The concept is simple: a group of people are locked away in separate rooms in a block of flats, with only The Circle – a sort of online network – as a form of communication between them. The twist is that, thanks to the anonymity of The Circle, the contestants can choose to be whoever they want and since the winner is the most popular, most of them decide to present as someone entirely different to their true self. Terrifying and entertaining in equal measures.

The Good Place

Netflix

The Good Place
The Good Place gang are back for one last season (Photo: NBC/Netflix)

After four seasons, the standout NBC comedy takes its final bow at the end of September, much to the dismay of its fans. For the uninitiated, The Good Place refers to the space where intrinsically good people go once they die – as opposed to The Bad Place. Over the years it has gotten a lot more complicated, though also much funnier. Not an accolade often afforded to a TV with roots in philosophical theory.

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How to spend a weekend in Bath: celebrate author Jane Austen and see the Royal Crescent

Bath time is any time: you see people in February sitting on the upper-deck of open-top bus tours, sheltering from driving snow under an umbrella. This is a city for all seasons.

Key annual events include the arts festival in May and the Jane Austen festival in September – this year marks the 19th year the city has celebrated the famous writer and resident.

Don your best bonnet during the 10-day event that began on Friday and runs until 22 September. For details, see janeaustenfestivalbath.co.uk.

The run-up to Christmas is devoted to the city’s famous Christmas Market – this year running from 28 November to 15 December.

Where to stay

For a treat, the Royal Crescent Hotel (1), right in the centre of the Royal Crescent, is a delight (Beyoncé and Jay-Z have been spotted here and if it’s good enough for them…). Rooms cost from around £280 per night. For spa fans, The Gainsborough is also sumptuous: its “spa village” taps into the thermal spring waters: rooms from £214 per night.

The newly opened Broad Street Townhouse (2) has 11 boutique rooms which start from £122 per night. The city has three excellent Travelodges with rooms from £58 per night.

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How to get around

The city is very compact, everything is in walking distance. To get your bearings, it’s worth investing in a ride on the hop-on hop-off city bus tour. Tickets cost £16.50 per adult, £13.50 per senior/ student, £9.50 per child and £46.50 per family. Under 5’s free of charge.

Don your best bonnet for 10-day Jane Austen Festival that starts on Friday and runs until 22 September
Don your best bonnet for 10-day Jane Austen Festival that starts on Friday and runs until 22 September (Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty)

SATURDAY

Start the day

At weekends, the former Green Park Station is a busy market: a farmers’ market on Saturday mornings – a good place to start the day with a cup of coffee and an artisan croissant. There are also antique and vintage markets here.

Hit the shops

There is a huge range of shops across Bath – from big brands such as Urban Outfitters to boutique fashion at Square and independent bookshops such as the beautiful Topping & Co (3) and Mr B’s. Stray away from the centre up Walcot Street to the east of the city to discover clothing and homeware stores and art galleries (such as Nick Cudworth’s, whose Bath-inspired artworks you will see around the streets). Visit the indoor Guildhall Market (4) – and the Saturday stalls in the car park next to the Hilton – just a minute’s walk from the grand, Palladian-style Pulteney Bridge.

Don’t miss

A visit to the Thermae Bath Spa (5) to swim in the naturally heated spring water – particularly the glorious rooftop, open air pool which has a superb view of the city – is a must. The weekend is the Spa’s busiest time so go early– weekend admission is £40. Other must-sees include the Roman Baths and Pump Room, and the excellent Holburne Museum (6), a nice walk up Great Pulteney Street. There, you will find Henri Matisse: Master of Line open until 5 January.

‘The National Trust’s Skyline walk is six miles around the highest hills of Bath, looking down into the valley of the city. The walk is really varied, you go through meadows and woodlands – it’s very picturesque. It is the perfect way to spend an afternoon.’

Oliver Nicklin, graphic designer from Lansdown

Time for a drink

Bath hasn’t become hen party central for nothing: there are dozens of places to enjoy a cocktail, like the Common Rooms (a Tiki bar – the only one in Bath, surprisingly), Circo (7) (a slick underground venue), Sub 13 (get on the dance floor here) or The Canary Gin Bar (8) (gin, gin and more gin).

For larger groups, Hall & Woodhouse has more seating than most bars in Bath. Traditional pub favourites include The Old Green Tree in Green Street and Chequers in Rivers Street.

If you’re looking for something with more of a country feel it’s worth driving (or getting a £5 taxi) up the hill to the Hare and Hounds in Lansdown (9). The views are spectacular – and the Bloody Marys are even better.

Dinner reservation

The Marlborough Tavern (10) is a bit of a walk from the centre but perfect for good cooking at affordable prices. This is a place where locals eat: a gastropub that ticks all the boxes.

For something fancier The Circus (11) restaurant, on Brock Street near the Royal Crescent, is a refined classic with its flat iron steak or organic roasted squash.

A bar and restaurant well worth a visit is the Beckford Bottle Shop (12) on Savile Row, whose tasty small plates and hand-picked fine wines (250 from around the world, to be precise) are making it a new favourite among locals, and provides the perfect setting to people-watch. Cured trout, crispy Bath chaps, fried polenta and grilled Bavette are just four reasons to book a table.

Explore the beautiful city of Bath on a weekend away
Explore the beautiful city of Bath on a weekend away (Photo: Matt Cardy/Getty)

SUNDAY

Go for a stroll

It’s a bit of a climb up to Alexandra Park (13) at Beechen Cliff, but worth it for the best view of the city – namechecked in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Alternatively, follow the Kennet and Avon Canal towpath towards Bathampton, the burial place of painter Walter Sickert, who some claim was Jack the Ripper.

Lunch break

The King William pub (14) is widely known among locals to serve some of the best pub food in Bath. Their Sunday roasts are genuinely spectacular. Choose from ruby beef rump or confit shoulder of lamb. Make sure you book.

Time to relax

Head up Royal Avenue through Victoria Park for the perfect view of the Royal Crescent. One of the great secret places of Bath is the Botanic Garden (15), hidden away in the furthest corner of the park with its own little Greek temple.

Have a treat

Afternoon tea at the Royal Crescent hotel (1) – particularly on a sunny day in the hotel’s private gardens – is one of life’s great treats: well worth the price of £37.50 per person.

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20 low-cost city break destinations across Europe: where to stay and travel advice from Lisbon to Cologne

Portugal — Lisbon

Lisbon's antique 28 tram snaking up the hillside towards the mighty outline of the Castelo Sao Jorge
Lisbon’s antique 28 tram snaking up the hillside towards the mighty outline of the Castelo Sao Jorge (Photo: Jasper Juinen/Getty)

The Portuguese capital is a low-cost destination because so much of its hugely beautiful cityscape – the Tagus riverfront, the 25 de Abril Bridge, the antique 28 tram snaking up the hillside towards the mighty outline of the Castelo Sao Jorge – can be seen for nothing. Three nights at the three-star Amazonia Lisboa Hotel, flying from Luton on 3 October, from £365, travelbag.co.uk.

Greece — Athens

It costs €20 (£17.85) to tour the Acropolis – but you can glimpse its key sight, the Parthenon, from nearly anywhere in Athens for free
It costs €20 (£17.85) to tour the Acropolis – but you can glimpse its key sight, the Parthenon, from nearly anywhere in Athens for free (Photo: ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty)

Greece has long been the euro state where your cash stretches, and even with a plunging pound, Athens will not trouble your pocket. It costs €20 (£17.85) to tour the Acropolis – but you can glimpse its key sight, the Parthenon, from nearly anywhere in the city for free. Three nights at the four-star Acropolis Plaza Smart Hotel, flying from Manchester on October, from £378, travelbag.co.uk.

Croatia — Zadar

Zadar in Croatia is the perfect choice for a low-cost city break
Zadar in Croatia is the perfect choice for a low-cost city break (Photo: Croatian Tourist Board)

Those seeking an alternative to oversubscribed Dubrovnik could do worse than look further north to Croatia’s oldest city, where the same alluring combination of glorious Adriatic coast and café society holds sway, minus the Game of Thrones-inflated price tag. Three nights at the four-star Zadar Center Apartments, flying from Heathrow on 10 October, from £332, lastminute.com.

UK — Cardiff

Cardiff is an ideal possibility for a mini-break that doesn’t break the bank
Cardiff is an ideal possibility for a mini-break that doesn’t break the bank

The Welsh capital is an ideal possibility for a mini-break that doesn’t break the bank, whether you explore the 11th-century castle (£13.50), take an autumnal stroll through Bute Park or hit the busy bars of Greyfriars Road, Mill Lane, St Mary Street or Mermaid Quay. Double rooms at Hotel Indigo, a boutique retreat in central Cardiff, from £86, ihg.com/hotelindigo.

Lithuania — Vilnius

If the majesty of the neoclassical cathedral doesn’t grab your attention, the bars along Gedimino Avenue will
If the majesty of the neoclassical cathedral doesn’t grab your attention, the bars along Gedimino Avenue will

A weekend in a Baltic capital feels especially enticing in the case of Lithuania’s key city, which may be the region’s most attractive. If the majesty of the neoclassical cathedral doesn’t grab your attention, the bars along Gedimino Avenue will. Three nights B&B at the four-star Artagonist Art Hotel, flying from Stansted on 10 October, from £237, expedia.co.uk.

Germany — Cologne

Cologne is a fine place, too, its giant Dom (cathedral) towering over the Rhine, with bars awaiting on riverside street Frankenwerft
Cologne is a fine place, too, its giant Dom (cathedral) towering over the Rhine, with bars awaiting on riverside street Frankenwerft (Photo: MARCEL KUSCH/AFP/Getty)

The number of flights to Germany’s fourth-largest city – it is one of the country’s main air hubs – means cheap travel deals are often available. Cologne is a fine place, too, its giant Dom (cathedral) towering over the Rhine, with bars awaiting on riverside street Frankenwerft. Three nights at the five-star Dorint Hotel am Heumarkt, flying from Stansted on 10 October, from £283, expedia.co.uk.

Estonia — Tallinn

Tallinn's Old Town is one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval centres
Tallinn’s Old Town is one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval centres (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty)

Even with the poor exchange rate, the Baltic states are merrily cheap destinations in the eurozone. Not that there is anything low-rent about the Estonian capital. Its Old Town is one of Europe’s best-preserved medieval centres, its beauty obvious in the epic Viru Gate. Three nights at the four-star Centennial Hotel, flying from Gatwick on 26 September, from £220, easyjet.com/holidays.

Turkey — Istanbul

Istanbul can be dazzling and a great place for a city break
Istanbul can be dazzling and a great place for a city break (Photo: Chris McGrath/Getty)

The relative weakness of the lira (currently floating at seven to the pound) has long made Turkey a haven for British travellers watching their wallets. And Istanbul can be dazzling – from the broad span of the Bosphorus Bridge to the soaring outline of the Blue Mosque. Three nights at the five-star Hotel Levni, including flights from Manchester, transfers and breakfast, from £370, coxandkings.co.uk.

France — Paris

Climb up to the highest heights of Paris and discover the beautiful architecture
Climb up to the highest heights of Paris and discover the beautiful architecture

Eurostar’s 25th birthday (in November) should be a reminder of a marvellous fact – British travellers can reach a city across the sea without boarding a plane or a boat. And Paris does have cheaper hotels. Look to areas such as Cambronne and République. Three nights at the three-star Timhotel Berthier Paris 17, including return trains (departing St Pancras International on 3 October), from £482, eurostar.com.

UK — Glasgow

Discover beautiful spots in Glasgow on a trip to Scotland
Discover beautiful spots in Glasgow on a trip to Scotland (Photo: VisitScotland/Kenny Lam)

Scotland’s second city may not have Edinburgh’s festival aura, but it ranks as a fairer-priced choice for a weekend away at home. Kelvingrove Art Gallery has works by Van Gogh and Monet, yet is free, while the bars of Merchant City will show any visitor a good time. Double rooms at the Malmaison Glasgow, which is slotted into what used to be a Greek Orthodox church, from £89, malmaison.com/glasgow.

Latvia — Riga

Beautiful Latvian city of Riga packs a lot into a small space
Beautiful Latvian city of Riga packs a lot into a small space (Photo: Emmanuel Berthier)

The Latvian capital may be small, but it packs a good deal into its compact centre. Its Art Nouveau district (concentrated around Albert Street) is a treasure trove of Belle Époque architectural flair – and there are even beaches on the Daugava River (on Kipsala island). Four nights at the four-star Hestia Hotel Jugend and return flights from Leeds-Bradford (departing on October 2) starts at £189 a head; ryanair.com.

Spain — Valencia

Valencia has a great location on the east coast and marvellous beaches (such as Playa de la Malvarrosa)
Valencia has a great location on the east coast and marvellous beaches (such as Playa de la Malvarrosa) (Photo: Josep GIL)

Spain’s third-biggest city has much in common with bigger Barcelona – a great location on the east coast, marvellous beaches (such as Playa de la Malvarrosa), restaurants galore (particularly in hip Ruzafa) – while being blessed with fewer visitors and cheaper hotels. Three nights at the four-star NH Valencia Las Artes, flying from Luton on 3 October, from £322, easyjet.com/holidays.

France — Marseille

Discover beautiful views of Marseille on a city break that won't break the bank
Discover beautiful views of Marseille on a city break that won’t break the bank (Photo: GERARD JULIEN/AFP/Getty)

The idea that the French south coast is all expensive sophistication is undermined by the scruffy port that holds it all together. Not that Marseille is short of attractions – from the bars of La Plaine square to the limestone gorges of the close-by Calanques National Park. Three nights at the three-star Residhotel Le Grand Prado, flying from Gatwick on 26 September, from £327, purpletravel.co.uk.

France — Toulouse

How to enjoy a beautiful weekend in Toulouse with tips for food and art lovers

France’s fourth-largest city is something of a secret, caught in the shadow of the Pyrenees. Savvy travellers know it can match the gastronomic flair of Paris and Lyon, with the restaurants of Rues des Paradoux and Filatiers, but with a smaller bill at meal’s end. Three nights at the three-star Hotel Mercure Toulouse Wilson, flying from Heathrow on 3 October, from £219, ba.com/holidays.

Portugal — Porto

Discover two cities in one on a trip to Porto
Discover two cities in one on a trip to Porto (Photo: NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty)

The home of port wine is very good value. Not only is the cost of living (and a night out) generally lower in Portugal than elsewhere in western Europe, but a trip to Porto is a case of two cities for the price of one – Vila Nova de Gaia is directly across the River Douro. Three nights at the four-star Eurostars Das Artes hotel, flying from Manchester on 10 October, from £387, lastminute.com.

Croatia — Pula

Admission to Pula's Roman amphitheatre, a near-equal of the Colosseum in Rome, is a mere 50 Kuna (£6)
Admission to Pula’s Roman amphitheatre, a near-equal of the Colosseum in Rome, is a mere 50 Kuna (£6) (Photo: HRVOJE POLAN/AFP/Getty)

Not only is Pula a gateway to the beaches of Croatia’s north-westerly peninsula; it plays host to one of Europe’s true historical bargains. Admission to its Roman amphitheatre, a near-equal of the Colosseum in Rome, is a mere 50 Kuna (£6). Seven nights B&B at the four-star Park Plaza Histria Pula, flying from Birmingham on 29 September, from £529, jet2holidays.com.

UK — Bristol

Bristol has attractions galore at its harbourside
Bristol has attractions galore at its harbourside (Photo: VisitEngland/Destination Bristol)

Like Cardiff, Bristol can be splendid demonstration that, when it comes to British city breaks, west can often be best. It has attractions galore (such as the Industrial Museum) at its harbourside – while it has a Sausage & Cider Festival (eventbrite.co.uk) taking place on Saturday. Two nights in a double room at the four-star Bristol Harbour Hotel (including breakfast, and dinner on the first evening) from £189, harbourhotels.co.uk.

Germany — Hamburg

This port on the Elbe estuary has been Germany’s scuffed northern soul – in contrast to gilded Munich – since The Beatles were playing dive bars on the noisy Reeperbahn in 1960. It has smartened its act in the intervening 59 years. But it remains unfussy and fun. Three nights at the four-star Ameron Hotel Speicherstadt, including flights, transfers and breakfast, from £679, kirkerholidays.com.

Spain — Bilbao

Entry to Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum (designed by Frank Gehry) is a steal at €10 (£8.95)
Entry to Bilbao’s Guggenheim Museum (designed by Frank Gehry) is a steal at €10 (£8.95) (Photo: Erika Ede)

An underrated option for a Spanish mini-break – partly because it lacks the foodie image of its neighbour San Sebastian (though it does have the restaurants) – Bilbao is a Basque gem. Entry to its Guggenheim Museum (designed by Frank Gehry) is a steal at €10 (£8.95). Three nights at the four-star Mercure Jardines de Albia Bilbao, flying from Gatwick on 10 October, from £272, ba.com/holidays.

Poland — Warsaw

Museum of Modern Art displays works by some of Poland’s best artists for five zloty (£1)
Museum of Modern Art displays works by some of Poland’s best artists for five zloty (£1)

Krakow has gained a name as a cheap mini-break option, but the Polish capital arguably offers more, for no heavier a bill. Its Museum of Modern Art displays works by some of Poland’s best artists for five zloty (£1); XperiencePoland.com offers a €39 (£35) craft beer tour. Three nights at the four-star Hotel Le Regina, including flights, transfers and breakfast, from £648, kirkerholidays.com.

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Where is Downton Abbey filmed? Filming locations for the hit drama from Highclere Castle to Beamish Museum

It is one of the cinematic events of the year – a familiar feast of silver-service sheen, stiff-faced aristocratic angst and below-stairs mutterings. But while the new Downton Abbey film, released this week, is sure to sell tickets galore, it is also likely to prove a boon to the many real locations which provide the backdrop to the Crawley family’s ongoing tale.

Highclere Castle

Pretending to be: Downton Abbey

The key location in the film needs little introduction – it was also the key location in the television series also. Since 2010, Highclere Castle, on the Hampshire-Berkshire border, has effectively been Downton Abbey – although its history stretches far beyond its recent fame. There has been a major house on the site since the 9th century (initially, this was a palace for the Bishop of Winchester). The “modern” mansion dates to a huge rebuilding project which began in 1679, but it was not until 1774 that its crowning glory – the gardens crafted by the landscape designer Capability Brown – were slotted in. Entry from £23, highclerecastle.co.uk.

Jim Carter stars as Carson in the Downton Abbey movie. Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/ Focus Features
Jim Carter stars as Carson in the Downton Abbey movie (Photo: Jaap Buitendijk/ Focus Features)

Wrotham Park

Pretending to be: Buckingham Palace

Set in 1927, the film revolves around a visit to Downton Abbey by George V (the current Queen’s grandfather) and Queen Mary – and so necessitates a spot of regal scene-setting. Step forward Wrotham Park – an 18th century country house in Hertfordshire – as a stand-in for the interior of Buckingham Palace. If the mansion looks familiar, that’s probably because you’ve seen it before. It has shown a grand face to the camera in a raft of period films – such as Vanity Fair (2004), Jane Eyre (2011) and Great Expectations (2012) – as well as the 2008 BBC
adaptation of Sense and Sensibility.

It does, however, have to share its role in this case. Buckingham Palace (from £25; rct.uk) plays itself in exterior shots. Only for private events, wrothampark.com.

Harewood House

Pretending to be: Itself

Why employ an actor when the real thing is available? Harewood House – in the village of Harewood, West Yorkshire – fits perfectly into the chapter of British history depicted in the Downton Abbey movie. Back in 1922, it became part of royal life in this country – when Mary, Princess Royal (the only daughter of George V) married Henry Lascelles, the sixth Earl of Harewood. The couple moved into this Palladian delight of a residence in 1929. Built between 1759 and 1771, Harewood House was a natural choice to play itself on camera. It is still the seat of the earldom, and is open to the public – one of the key attractions, as with Highclere, being the elaborate gardens conjured up by Capability Brown. Mary, meanwhile, is still present – buried at All Saints Church inside the grounds. Entry from £13.50, harewood.org.

Laura Carmichael, Elizabeth McGovern and Michelle Dockery in the Downton Abbey film. Photo: Universal
Laura Carmichael, Elizabeth McGovern and Michelle Dockery in the Downton Abbey film (Photo: Universal)

Wentworth Woodhouse

Pretending to be: Harewood House

Why use one Harewood House when you can have two? Wentworth Woodhouse, another 18th century Yorkshire pile, is used in the film to simulate the ballroom at Harewood. But it merits a place on screen in its own right. With more than 300 rooms, it is considered to be the largest private residence in the UK – while its 185m facade is the longest of any country house in Europe. Inevitably, this isn’t its first involvement with a major film. It is visible in both Pride and Prejudice (2005) and 2017’s Churchill drama Darkest Hour. Guided tours from £22, wentworthwoodhouse.org.uk.

Bampton

Pretending to be: Downton

If Highclere Castle is more than 200 miles removed from Downton Abbey’s North Yorkshire setting, the real-life village is, geographically, barely any closer to the story. Bampton, in Oxfordshire, has been “impersonating” Downton since 2010 – and does so again in the movie. Its church, St Mary’s, has appeared regularly in the viewer’s eye (including staging the aborted wedding of Sir Anthony Strallan and Edith Crawley in the third series), its library has been redeployed as Downton Cottage Hospital – and Churchgate House, a former rectory, has long played the home of widow Isobel Crawley. See cotswolds.com, bamptonchurch.org.uk and bamptonoxon-parishcouncil.gov.uk.

The village of Lacock is featured in the new ‘Downton Abbey’ film
The village of Lacock is featured in the new ‘Downton Abbey’ film

Lacock

Pretending to be: Downton

This Wiltshire village has also basked in the spotlight as a tangible version of Downton – in the series since 2015, as well as in the film. A wise decision as, owned and run by the National Trust, Lacock is a gloriously preserved example of a pastoral England that has mostly faded from view – all timber-framed houses and leafy beauty. Unsurprisingly, it has come to the attention of other production crews. Look carefully and you will see it in the BBC’s feted 1995 take on Pride and Prejudice – plus two of the Harry Potter movies. Entry from £14.50, nationaltrust.org.uk/lacock-abbey-fox-talbot-museum-and-village.

Beamish Museum

Pretending to be: Downton

This County Durham attraction also takes on the role of Downton village in the movie – one of its shops acting as the interior to grocer Mr Bakewell’s store. It is certainly capable of such “transformations”. An open-air museum dedicated to urban and rural life in the north-east in Victorian and Edwardian times, it is home to superbly maintained buildings – stables, pubs, bakeries – from just about every decade of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Entry from £19.50, beamish.org.uk.

North Yorkshire Moors Railway

Pretending to be: multiple

Few things say “The 20s” quite like the toot and clatter of a steam train in motion. In the case of the new Downton movie, this is provided by this heritage line across North York Moors National Park – and by the quaint station at Pickering, its southerly terminus. Return journeys along the full 18-mile length of the line (Pickering to Whitby) cost from £31 per adult (although shorter trips equate to lower fares); nymr.co.uk.

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Gardening jobs for the weekend: grow roses cheaply from cuttings and start the autumn clean-up

Roses are expensive but many are easy to grow much more cheaply, from cuttings. Adding seeds to lawns thickens them.

There is an amazing range of bulbs to tempt gardeners, while Hesperantha are among the best early autumn flowers. Be kind to slow worms as the autumn clean-up begins.

1 — Unusual hardy spring bulbs

Fritillaria pontica thrives in any garden soil in full sun or partial shade. Its yellow-green, nodding flowers on 23cm stems have subtle charm. Eremurus stenophyllus is short for a foxtail lily, at 60cm, but reliably throws spires of yellow summer flowers in sunny, well-drained spots, where spring shoots can be shielded against frost with straw. The yellow dog’s tooth violet, Erythronium “Pagoda”, produces pendulous starry yellow spring flowers on 30cm stems in light shade and moist soil.

There is an amazing range of bulbs to tempt gardeners, while Hesperantha are among the best early autumn flowers
There is an amazing range of bulbs to tempt gardeners, while Hesperantha are among the best early autumn flowers (Photo: Clemens Bilan/Getty)

2 — Lawn weed squeezing

Squeezing out weeds and moss by scratching lawn seeds into turf in September saves later weed and moss treatment. Pay special attention to bare and thin areas, taking advantage of humid periods and moderate temperatures to obtain speedy germination. Choose the right grass seed for the conditions and lawn use – shady, hard-wearing or fine turf. Apply seed at the full recommended rate after removing as much existing weed and moss as possible.

3 — Slow worms

These reptiles are often found during late summer clear-ups, especially under mulch sheets and in compost heaps. They sortie out at dusk to prey on slugs, snails, spiders, worms and insects. Wise gardeners make every effort to avoid inadvertently harming such useful animals. These harmless lizards, which lack legs, can shed their tail tips to escape from predators. This helps them live to as long as 30 years, it is believed.

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4 — ‘Hesperantha coccinea’

Schizostylis, which few can confidently pronounce, is now Hesperantha, perhaps encouraging gardeners to try this late summer star, which is at its best when most summer flowers fade. Abundant spikes in pink or red over neat grassy leaves are produced from late summer until the frosts arrive in warm, sheltered fertile borders in full sun. They appreciate watering in dry periods. Good ones include scarlet “Major”, pink “Jennifer”, and salmon, “Sunrise”.

5 — Rose cuttings

The wilder the rose, the easier it is to propagate by cuttings rather than grafting used in nurseries. Ramblers “Albertine” and “Paul’s Himalayan Musk”, for example, are much wilder and easier than, say, bush roses. Using young shoots that have grown this year, take 23cm cuttings and remove thorns and all but the top leaves. Place in a deep pot of sandy potting compost or in the trenches of southern gardens. Expect roots by spring.

Ask Guy: Why have so many of my apples ripened and fallen prematurely?

Tom W. Shrewsbury

Codling moth is a common cause, with a characteristic entrance hole where the caterpillar has entered, feeding on the core and leaving its droppings (frass), waiting in the leaf litter or under bark until spring. Insecticide applied twice in June can be effective, while organic gardeners can apply nematodes to the bark and leaf litter in autumn.

Email your questions to Guy at iweekend@inews.co.uk.

Guy Barter is chief horticultural adviser for the Royal Horticultural Society (@GuyBarter).

The Royal Horticultural Society is a charity working to share the best in gardening and make the UK a greener place. Find out more at rhs.org.uk.

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11 best UK bike trails for the family: from Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire to Lake District

Ae Forest — Dumfries & Galloway

The easy (green) trail starting at the café and bike shop is a great option for those with young children or new to mountain biking. The flat singletrack, with some undulating sections, is reasonably wide and follows the river. Look out for the old plane about halfway along the trail. Trails free, parking £3 per day, forestryandland.gov.scot.

The three-mile green route is safe and fun for beginners
The three-mile green route is safe and fun for beginners (Photo: Oneplanet Adventure)

Coed Llandegla — Wrexham

The three-mile green route is safe and fun for beginners. If you’re feeling more adventurous, the 7.5-mile blue route has gentle climbs, gradual downhills and a few small humps. Trails free, parking £4.50 per day, oneplanetadventure.com.

They also offer expert coaching and skills sessions for essential mountain biking skills that last for half a day
They also offer expert coaching and skills sessions for essential mountain biking skills that last for half a day

BikePark Wales — Merthyr Tydfil

BikePark Wales has more than 40 trails, including a family specific loop that has a uniform surface and is reasonably wide. They also offer expert coaching and skills sessions for essential mountain biking skills that last for half a day. Entry £10, bike hire from £45, bikeparkwales.com.

England’s largest trail centre caters well for beginners
England’s largest trail centre caters well for beginners (Photo: Russell Burton)

Dalby Forest — North Yorkshire

England’s largest trail centre caters well for beginners. The 2.5-mile Ellerburn family route is the easiest, a leisurely cycle alongside open fields and the beck. The eight-mile route offers great views and more varied terrain. Entry free, bike hire from £35, forestryengland.uk/dalby-forest.

The 11-mile family trail is flat and beautiful, a circular route with wide gravelled tracks suitable for riding all year round
The 11-mile family trail is flat and beautiful, a circular route with wide gravelled tracks suitable for riding all year round (Photo: www.wyedeantourism.co.uk)

Forest of Dean — Gloucestershire

The 11-mile family trail is flat and beautiful, a circular route with wide gravelled tracks suitable for riding all year round. It is mainly on former railway lines with connecting routes to villages and picnic sites. Entry free, bike hire from £19, wyedeantourism.co.uk/fct.

Gisburn Forest bike trails
Gisburn Forest bike trails (Photo: Forestry Commission)

Gisburn Forest — Lancashire

This forest is home to some of the oldest purpose built tracks in the UK: the blue trail is great for casual riders while the skills loop by the stone wall circle of Gisburn Forest Hub is packed with technical features and obstacles. Bike hire from £29, parking £3, forestryengland.uk/gisburn-forest-and-stocks.

The six-mile blue route is easy to complete but provides a challenge with its moderate technical sections
The six-mile blue route is easy to complete but provides a challenge with its moderate technical sections (Photo: Mark Nolan/Getty)

Swinley Forest — Berkshire

The centre was redesigned in 2013, and is now one of the best places to learn to ride, with a selection of loop routes and a short green trail. The six-mile blue route is easy to complete but provides a challenge with its moderate technical sections and single track. Entry free, bike hire from £50, swinleybikehub.com.

Grizedale has trails ranging from 2 to 15 miles, making it an ideal place for more leisurely, scenic rides
Grizedale has trails ranging from 2 to 15 miles, making it an ideal place for more leisurely, scenic rides (Photo: Forestry Commission Picture Library/Isobel Cameron)

Grizedale — Lake District

Grizedale has trails ranging from 2 to 15 miles, making it an ideal place for more leisurely, scenic rides. Be prepared for the odd incline as this part of the country is very hilly – but the views and forest sculptures make it worth your while. Entry free, bike hire from £25, forestryengland.uk/grizedale.

Glentress has a pair of short green trails perfect for novices
Glentress has a pair of short green trails perfect for novices (Photo: VisitScotland/Ian Rutherford)

Glentress — Borders

Glentress has a pair of short green trails perfect for novices, and a blue route that’s split into two five mile loops. The carefully crafted single track in inthe heart of the stunning Tweed Valley will challenge without overwhelming and is fun for riders of all levels. Trails free, parking £5 per day, glentressforest.com.

Explore 28 miles of unmarked trails plus several marked routes and a dedicated skills area and a bike park
Explore 28 miles of unmarked trails plus several marked routes and a dedicated skills area and a bike park

Sherwood Pines — Mansfield

Explore 28 miles of unmarked trails plus several marked routes and a dedicated skills area and a bike park. The three-mile Family Cycle Trail combines quiet forest tracks with off road trails and takes in a variety of habitats and views. Entry free, bike hire from £35, forestryengland.uk/sherwood-pines.

Here you can ride mountain bike trails in an urban setting, over a range of graded trails
Here you can ride mountain bike trails in an urban setting, over a range of graded trails

Clayton Vale MTB — Manchester

Here you can ride mountain bike trails in an urban setting, over a range of graded trails. The Easy Rider follows the Medlock river through the centre of Clayton Vale Nature Reserve before climbing onto a narrower route with gentle obstacles. Finish off with a fun ride around the pump track.. Free, no bike hire, nationalcyclingcentre.com/mtb.

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Vegan alternatives to meat: How team focus on creating environmentally-friendly and nutritional products

Frank Lewis is head of innovation – also known as a “plantologist” – at The Meatless Farm Co. Based in Leeds, the company, which launched last year, uses plant protein to make vegetarian and vegan alternatives to meat. Its burgers, sausages and mince are made from pea, soya and rice proteins, chicory root and caramelised carrot. They are a source of protein and fibre, and are gluten-free.

Mr Lewis, who has worked in food for 32 years, is responsible for coming up with new products and tweaking them in the test kitchen. “At the moment, we’re taking natural ingredients, such as beetroots, tomatoes and radishes and seeing how they affect the colour of the ‘meat’,” he says. “We look at how they react when they are raw and cooked, and are constantly comparing it to real meat, thinking about the eating experience, the texture, the flavour, the colours.”

The plant-based market is growing rapidly, he says, “as more people make the switch to plant-based food, even if it’s just one meal a week. As products are constantly introduced to the market, the quality is being significantly improved. The three main drivers for choosing a plant-based diet are the environment, animal welfare and health concerns.

“This job has really opened my eyes to the ethical and environmental consequences of meat production,” he adds. “These days, I eat a lot of our, and our rivals’, products.”

Frank Lewis is head of innovation – also known as a 'plantologist' – at The Meatless Farm Co in Leeds
Frank Lewis is head of innovation – also known as a ‘plantologist’ – at The Meatless Farm Co in Leeds

Innovative products

Mr Lewis is always looking for ways to renovate lines and improve the eating experience, while keeping levels of salt and fat to a minimum. “I am also looking into alternative proteins that will improve the texture and succulence of our products and, of course, looking at new variants to add to our portfolio.”

Recently, he has been testing chickpeas, fava beans, pumpkin and hemp seed. “We’re trying to match or improve the nutritional value of meat.”

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Mr Lewis says his job, which is a marriage of cooking and science, would be almost impossible without the decade he spent as a chef. “I was lucky enough to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York when I was 17. I then worked as a chef in Hawaii and North Carolina for many years, until I moved to the UK in 1996.

“Here I started work as a development chef for a food manufacturer, creating ready meals for M&S, I then progressed through various companies, mostly as head of innovation. This led me to meet Morten Toft Bech, founder of The Meatless Farm Co.”

With his team of chefs, he identifies gaps in the market and then starts coming up with recipes. “We then test the best way to blend the ingredients to give us the optimum product structure. Throughout the process, my role is to work with the team to add the culinary side, which largely translates to the depth of flavour, texture and succulence.”

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Language podcasts: Five of the best for your next holiday from Duolingo to Coffee Break Languages

Duolingo Podcast

This podcast comes in both French and Spanish versions. It features stories told in both languages which aim to help learners. The real life stories use simple words and are told by native speakers. They’re billed not as language lessons, but as life lessons told through language. podcast.duolingo.com

Coffee Break Languages

Not sure whether you’ve got time to learn a new language? This podcast says you can do it in your coffee break, while walking the dog, or during your visit to the gym. It currently offers podcasts in five languages – French, Spanish, Italian, German and Chinese – and each language has four settings: beginner, intermediate, upper intermediate, and advanced. radiolingua.com

The Fluent Show

Hosts and linguists Kerstin and Lindsay have studied 15 different languages between them, including Portuguese, Japanese, Dutch, Mandarin, Russian, Welsh and Korean. The podcast is less about specific languages and more about learning as a whole, plus tips and ideas that will help language learners become fluent. fluent.show

Multilinguish

This podcast from the people behind language-learning app Babbel explores how language connects the world. It doesn’t focus on a specific language, instead covering a variety, but it looks at everything from whether language affects our world view to which accents are sexiest. podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/multilinguish/id1451340179

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The Actual Fluency Podcast With Kris Broholm

Host Kris Broholm is fascinated by language and wants to share his passion. Again, this podcast doesn’t focus on a specific lingo; instead students and experts in the field join Broholm to share their tips on what it actually takes to learn a language. actualfluency.com

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Should I take out an app-based bank account like Monzo or Revolut if I have a current account already?

Dear Gareth,

I’ve had a current account with the same high-street provider for 30 years. Everywhere I look, I see adverts for banks that have no branches, and are operated by a mobile app. Should I switch Name and address supplied

Gareth says…

You’re right – where I live and work in London, I can’t pass a tube or train stop without seeing ads for the likes of Monzo, Starling Bank and Tide. These financial technology firms are attempting to disrupt what was once thought to be an uncrackable market and steal customers away from the high-street behemoths like Barclays, HSBC, Lloyds Bank, Halifax, NatWest and Santander. They’re certainly making some headway. Monzo now boasts more than 2.5 million customers, Starling Bank has around 700,000. Monese, another app-based provider, has one million people using its services.

Revolut began as an app - before it got bank status
Revolut began as an app – before it got bank status

What’s the appeal? Some of it is cool branding – Monzo has a “hot coral” debit card, Starling offers a turquoise “vertical” debit card. These companies have harnessed technology to provide frictionless access to money, in a way bigger, older banks have been unable to do.

There are some common features among mobile-only banks: real-time notifications when you spend; in-app budgeting tools; the ability to freeze your card in the app if you’ve lost it; and fee-free spending when using your card abroad. Some put limits on overseas cash withdrawals (Monzo and Revolut at £200), others (Starling) allow unlimited withdrawals.

These brands have begun to diverge in what they offer, as their customer base has grown. Monzo now partners with a range of savings providers to offer you access to Isas and savings accounts, offering fairly decent, if not table-topping rates, which can all be managed in your app.

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It now has a range of paid-for accounts – Monzo Plus – which offers either travel insurance or merchandise and discounts for a monthly fee. Most recently, it launched a loan offer, again using smart tech to give you a personalised rate before you apply.

Starling Bank now offers business current accounts and euro accounts, in addition to loans. It pays credit interest of 0.5 per cent up to £2,000 and 0.25 per cent up to £85,000. And it has a marketplace, where it teams up with providers of investments, pensions and mortgage advice to offer access to services it doesn’t do.

Big banks are behind

The big banks have taken notice of this. Many now offer the ability to freeze your card, and are introducing more insight into your spending and budgeting. RBS has launched a separate app for budgeting, and is working on a mobile-only brand called Bo.

Most of these brands operate like any other bank account – you get a debit card, sort code and account numbers, you can make bank transfers and direct debits, and withdraw cash. But there is a crucial distinction in protection, should the worst happen and the bank goes bust.

Not every banking app is approved by the regulator or protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (Photo: FSCS)

Not all of these “fin-tech” firms have jumped through all the hoops to be properly authorised by the UK’s financial regulator and gain a banking licence. If they have, it means up to £85,000 of your money is protected by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme – a vital protection if your provider does go to the wall.

Some app-based accounts are e-money providers, essentially offering you a pre-paid card. They have a duty to keep your money segregated from their operations, meaning they can’t lend it out, but you do not get the same level of protection.

My suggestion is to go and open an app-based account. I’ve got four, and still have an account with the high street bank I joined 18 years ago before university, joining it for the reason that it was nearest to the bus stop. Some accounts are for household bills, others for everyday spending, with my legacy account for the big things, like my mortgage.

Very few come with minimum funding requirements, so it’s easy to run them alongside other accounts. See how you get along – and whether life without a branch, or telephone banking, fits your needs.

Gareth Shaw is head of money at Which? To have your question featured on this page, email business@inews.co.uk

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Career podcasts: The five best for your commute from Safe For Work to The Broad Experience

Safe For Work

This podcast is all about finding work/life balance. Career experts Liz Dolan and Rico Gagliano offer advice on topics from avoiding burnout to how to fake illness when calling in sick, as well as helpful tips on how to progress in your career healthily and happily. wondery.com

How to Be Awesome at Your Job

Having worked with organisations from Google to Goldman Sachs, the United Nations to Amazon, American “trainer-in-chief” Pete Mockaitis here interviews life coaches, such as Pamela McLean of the Hudson Institute, about subjects including how to improve your leadership, and productivity experts such as Erik Fisher on how to avoid distractions in the workplace. awesomeatyourjob.com

Host Morra Aarons-Mele talks to women from the worlds of politics, business and psychology
Host Morra Aarons-Mele talks to women from the worlds of politics, business and psychology (Photo: Cindy Ord/Getty)

Hiding in the Bathroom

Host Morra Aarons-Mele talks to women from the worlds of politics, business and psychology, and asks them how they created the careers they wanted. Guests have included Lisa Sugar, who turned her personal blog into global lifestyle media company PopSugar, and Fertility IQ founder Deborah Anderson-Bialis. forbes.com

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How Did You Get Into That?

Grant Baldwin – who quit his job as a youth pastor when his wife was five months pregnant with the first of their three children, with little idea of what to do next – asks people from all walks of life about how they got into their careers, from small business owners and musicians to photographers and teachers. stitcher.com

The Broad Experience

Tackles some of the biggest problems facing women in the workplace, from race and class to the menopause and ageism, incompetent bosses and sexual harassment to the hell of networking and the power of negotiation. Enlightening – not just for women. thebroadexperience.com

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What L&G customers should expect from being transferred to ReAssure

Q: For 20 years, I have had an Legal & General investment bond which has increased in value by £25,000 to be worth £60,000 today. Last week, I received a letter from the company saying that it is transferring my investment to a firm called ReAssure. There are many assurances that ReAssure is a safe company and nothing much will change but they are not detailed. What should L&G customers expect from the change, and what is their best course of action if the scheme should be approved? Joan West

A: The practice of life companies selling books of business is not something I like, but it is quite common. These client banks are called “closed” because the company that manages them has stopped accepting new clients.

I dislike the practice of selling because there have been instances of malpractice, in my opinion, where the acquiring firm cuts back on customer service to maximise profit and leave investors in a worse position.

When a business is not trying to attract new customers there can be a financial incentive to reduce support which is unfair.

Customer service is paramount

The issues you may face are whether the terms of your investment account have, or could, change in the future and if there will be any reduction in customer service quality.

I have examined the publicly available information on the ReAssure website, spoken to its customer service team and to its team that handles media enquiries.

I have been assured that the basic terms of your investment will not change. All terms and conditions will stay as they are for the life of the policy, which should include charges. This is very important for all the investors because any increases in charges could make the investment unsuitable.

You should check the current charges for your fund and make sure they are competitive. I don’t know the product you are invested in so I cannot tell you the charges now.

The company operates a 10-working day turnaround time to answer queries which is adequate. Pension transfer times are not covered in the terms and conditions and there is always the potential for the service to decline over time. The company tell me this won’t happen, however, it isn’t possible to give any guarantees.

There are a lot of reviews online with many of them being negative about customer service (alongside others that are positive). A company of its size, especially where it provides critical illness cover, will receive some negative reviews but the tone of some of the feedback is concerning. At this point all we can say is that future customer service is unknown and is a risk for all transferring investors.

Few grounds for concern

Reassure looks after investments worth £39bn for its customers (Photo: Getty)

ReAssure has more than 2.2 million customers and looks after investments of over £39bn on behalf of its customers. The deal with L&G will almost double the size of the business and brings in an additional one million customers, including you.

ReAssure is a large, well-financed business that employs more than 2,000 staff across the UK. You can find out more about ReAssure and its history by visiting reassure.co.uk/about-us.

The intention from ReAssure is that, after the transfer, the transferring business will be managed in the same way as it was by L&G. This should give you some comfort.

Overall, I would say that there are no grounds for serious concern at this stage. ReAssure is a large company and has the financial backing to make this a success. The main terms of your investment won’t change.

However, you should be aware of any customer service cutbacks that could make it harder or more difficult for you to access your money. You may want to look at your investment again and check that this is the most suitable place for you to invest – but the transfer itself should not be overly concerning.

Got a question for Guy? Email business@inews.co.uk

For more pensions advice, contact Flying Colours on 0333 241 9916 or visit flyingcolourswealth.com. i will earn a fee from Flying Colours for readers signing up.

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Springwatch presenter Gillian Burke escapes London and discovers family-owned log cabins for a relaxing weekend

Psithurism is a weird word. It’s also a wild and wonderful word. It’s the one word that attempts to describe the indescribable – the sound of the wind in the trees. If you’re anything like me, it’s easy to overthink a word like psithurism until you experience it.

Then words wash away, time slows down and well, you relax. There’s plenty of medical evidence to prove this is more than a feeling. The many benefits of time spent in the woods include lowering blood pressure, improving immune function by boosting white blood cell count, reducing the symptoms of ADHD and, something many of us struggle to get, a simple good night’s sleep.

The Japanese call this natural therapy shinrin-yoku, or forest-bathing, and it is widely prescribed to support physical, emotion and mental wellbeing. But for most people, psithurism (still loving this word) is hard to come by. One doesn’t often think of endangered soundscapes but, like so much of our natural world, the sound of the wind in the trees is becoming increasingly rare.

That’s why hearing nothing but the wind washing through towering ash trees, just minutes after fighting my way through London commuter traffic, comes as a bit of a surprise.

Shire perfection

The place looks and sounds like it should be nestled in the moss-lined wooded Shire of Tolkien’s Middle-earth
The place looks and sounds like it should be nestled in the moss-lined wooded Shire of Tolkien’s Middle-earth (Photo: Canopy & Stars)

I’m sitting outside Idaho cabin, a picture-perfect little wood cabin neatly tucked away in amongst the ash, oak and hazel trees of Forest Garden Shovelstrode. The place looks and sounds like it should be nestled in the moss-lined wooded Shire of Tolkien’s Middle-earth. It is, in fact, situated just a couple of miles from East Grinstead, slap bang between London and Brighton, in one of the busiest parts of the country, criss-crossed with roads and air traffic weaving its way in and out of London’s many airports. Frankly, I’m astounded that this tiny habitat island is all it takes to provide the perfect buffer between all the noise and haste.

Idaho cabin itself is a triumph of simple but tasteful design. It is off-grid (yes no wifi) but insulated to stay cool in the summer, and snug and warm in the colder months. Its cosy rating is off the scale. Rugs, throws, cushions and a rocking chair, made with wood from the forest, all welcome a return to a simpler way of life. If any part of me is still offering up resistance, then the small wood-burning stove, already primed and ready to go, marks the final surrender to the cabin’s warm and gentle charm.

The cabin overlooks a small clearing that wraps around a central fire pit. For my two pre-teen children, this means one thing and one thing only – marshmallows. Rarely have I seen them galvanise and spring into action as they set off in search of kindling for the fire.

You can pre-order firewood, kindling and even sustainably-sourced charcoal, all of which is stacked neatly in the cabin on arrival, but my kids don’t know this. And I’m quite happy to leave them labouring under the illusion that our next meal (and marshmallows) rests on how quickly they can conjure up their latent bush skills. That’s the evening’s entertainment sorted.

The sound of silence

Of course, not everyone lives in the southeast but there are plenty more treasures like Idaho Cabin dotted around the country
Of course, not everyone lives in the southeast but there are plenty more treasures like Idaho Cabin dotted around the country (Photo: Canopy & Stars)

Holidays can be a testing time. School, work, life… we spend most of our time apart from the ones we love so a family holiday, or romantic getaway, is the chance to spend quality time together, strengthen bonds and make memories.

From my experience, there’s nothing quite like the pressure of hoping to have a great time to derail all those good intentions. One way to meet this pressure is to keep everyone really busy with lots of ‘fun’ things to do. The other way, which in my view is the real test of nerve and courage, is to do less, just chill and let time work it’s magic. I find I get caught, like a deer in the headlights, between the fear of being too busy and the fear of everyone being really, really bored.

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Enter owners Charles and Lisa to save the day. Together, they have transformed Lisa’s childhood home and family farm into the lush forest garden it is today. Lisa helps kick-start the day with the perfectly cooked Full English (veggie & vegan if you prefer) complete with jams and preserves from a mind-boggling variety of soft fruits that you won’t find in your average supermarket but are aplenty in their forest garden. It’s all served up in what was once the stable yard but now an informal café-style eating area.

I have yet to make friends with the word ‘glamping’, let alone the concept, but my borderline ascetic camping standards are slipping and I am beginning to appreciate how, done the right way, it can bring the best of outdoor living without the outdoor domestic drudgery.

‘We had a wonderful time and didn’t know that these hidden gems were on our doorstep!’

Sarah Ede, Ask a local

Within a short and easy walk you’ll find the workshop where, alongside their popular beekeeping courses, Charles also offers woodworking courses on site. The courses aren’t cheap but I’m reluctant to leave the sanctuary of the forest and take a gamble on some near-by attraction. So, all things considered, I bite the bullet and sign the three of us to a woodworking session with Charles.

There is a lot of talk, and scratching of heads, about how to get children off screens and switched on to nature. I realise this is just a sample size of two but I’d say a morning spent hacking, carving, shaving and sanding wood is the tonic, not just for my children, but for me as well.

Living off the land

After a refreshingly old-school safety briefing (think Crocodile Dundee) the kids and I discover that working with sharp, well-maintained tools really helps focus the mind. All three of us find it difficult and awkward at first but being total beginners together turns into a happy memory.

In time, we all become deeply absorbed and four hours later it’s only the aching arms and hands that draw the session to a close. In less than a day, and less then an hour’s drive from London, we have wound down, unplugged and reconnected.

If you’re trying to do your bit and lower your carbon footprint to save the planet, then going on vacation has become a fraught exercise and places like Idaho Cabin could be the difference between a holiday and a full-blown existential crisis.

Of course, not everyone lives in the southeast but there are plenty more treasures like Idaho Cabin dotted around the country, where it’s perfectly possible to holiday close to home but still feel like you’re a world away.

Find out more

When to go: For the full forest-bathing experience, spring, summer and autumn will be hard to beat but hearing one happy camper describe waking up to a “snow covered wood while being warm and toastie” inside makes me wonder if there’s ever a bad time to visit Idaho Cabin.

How to get there: East Grinstead is the nearest train station, at just 2.5 miles away and taxis are readily available at the station. Driving is a case of following satnav off the M25 towards East Grinstead and then following the A22. The last half a kilometre confuses satnav however but owners Charles and Lisa have a well-rehearsed set of directions that have this last leg covered.

What to do: The excellent beekeeping and woodworking courses are a big draw but this is really the place to dare to do less. The visitor’s book is full of testimonials, particularly from children, of happy days and good nights sleep (parents take note). There are also beautiful remarks from writers, musicians and gardeners all coming here for a quiet inspiration.

More information: To book Idaho Cabin, visit canopyandstars.co.uk, call 0117 204 7830.

@gillians_voice

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UK’s most remote inhabited island in Scotland has newfound energy as 24-hour electricity raises hopes for more visitors

Last October, Fair Isle, the remote island halfway between Orkney and Shetland, finally got a reliable electricity supply 24 hours a day. Previously, residents on the island famed for its knitwear, migratory birds and place in the shipping forecast had been forced to turn their lights off between 11.30pm and 7.30am every day.

The 24-hour energy supply has raised hopes among locals that more people will move to the island, which has a population of less than 60.

Eileen Thomson lives there with her partner Guilermo, from Argentina, and their young family. “Before, building new houses wasn’t viable,” she says. “There wasn’t enough electricity to go around. But now we hope we will be able to attract people to our beautiful, strong community. We need them to keep running essential services, such as ferries and the school.”

Ms Thompson grew up on Fair Isle and moved back two years ago after spending 15 years in Edinburgh. “There are so many little benefits now that really improve life. We can put the heating on a timer to come on in the mornings, run the dishwasher overnight and use the breadmaker. We can watch programmes that finish after 11.30pm. As a child, I was used to films cutting out halfway through. It has also been beneficial for businesses, such as the knitwear company where I work, where the wool can be washed overnight and orders can be processed at any time.”

Green energy schemes

Since the 80s, power on the island had come from a combination of wind turbines and a diesel generator, with no way of storing electricity. The island, which is owned by the National Trust for Scotland, now has a £3.5m renewable energy scheme made up of three turbines, solar panels and batteries that can store enough energy for about a day’s supply.

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Almost half the cost of the Fair Isle project was met by the Scottish government, with the rest coming from sources such as Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Big Lottery, which contributed £1m, Shetland Islands Council, the National Trust for Scotland and Scottish Water.

Fair Isle has been owned by the National Trust for Scotland since 1954. It describes it as a birdwatcher’s paradise, one of the best places in Europe to see rare birds that stop off for a rest and feed along their migration routes in spring and summer.

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