A Travellerspoint blog

July 2010

The festivals in Buxton, Derbyshire

overcast 15 °C

I seem to have arrived in Buxton in the middle of a great big festival. On Wednesday, in an attempt to stay awake, having arrived in the UK at 5:30 in the morning, I went for a walk through the town with my aunt. There's a huge fun fair with rides and junk food and a midway set up in Market Square. There's the Buxton Festival, a 19-day festival of the arts, happening around the Buxton Opera House, with opera, music and literature events. And there's the Buxton Festival Fringe, which is the UK's second-largest fringe festival after Edinburgh.

For a town of just over 20,000 people, that's a quite a lot going on at once.

I wasn't up for much on Wednesday, but Thursday I headed back down into the town to check it out. It seems this whole event has grown up around something called the Wells Dressing Festival, a custom local to Derbyshire where people decorate the local wells. Believed to have its roots back in pagan traditions of leaving offerings for water gods, the festival took on its current shape back in 1840, and has continued fairly consistently since then.

The Buxton fringe began in 1980 and is now a major part of the festival. It permeates the whole town, with venues in local shops and artists' studios, in the parks, on the streets, as well as in dedicated theatre spaces. There are more than 150 events, including comedy, dance, film, music, spoken word, visual arts, street theatre and regular theatre. I had a really nice afternoon checking some of it out.

I stopped by The Hendrick's Horseless Carriage of Curiosities, set up in the Pavillion Gardens, and toured some of the visual arts in a local framer's shop. I visited the local museum, which had a couple of galleries displaying works by local artists as part of the fringe. It also had a sequence of rooms charting the history of the Peak District in general, and Buxton in particular, from the formation of the Earth through to the present day. It's just a small museum, but I found it fascinating and well laid out.

I bought a ticket for one of the fringe events - called The World's Greatest Walking Tour of Buxton. I would have been happy with a real walking tour. And it began something like that, albeit with tongue wedged firmly in cheek. As we went on, though, it devolved more and more into a piece of street theatre. Funny, if a little awkward.

One of the nicest parts of my day was sitting in the bar, waiting for the tour to begin and listening to all these local men and women talk about the shows they'd seen. Most had been to something that afternoon and were heading to something else in the evening. Others were saying they'd been to something every night. It was good to see that the festival really does belong to Buxton and isn't just something that sits on the town bringing tourists in.

Today, Saturday, is carnival day. The fun fair is packed and running full swing. And everyone headed down to the centre of town to watch the parade. The Queen and the Rosebud of the Wells Dressing Festival were out front, and there were floats from a number of the smaller surrounding towns. There were pipe bands and fancy dress costumes. My cousin's daughter was up on one of the floats dressed as a cave girl. The parade lasted about an hour from where we were standing, but the route is long and they were probably on the move for a good few hours.

We stopped into the Old Hall Hotel for tea and a snack. The current Old Hall Hotel hotel was built in 1670 and is one of the oldest buildings in Buxton. The earlier hotel building standing on the same site was host to Mary Queen of Scots when she came to take the waters in the 16th century.

The festivities will continue for another week, but I leave tomorrow for Edinburgh and my next festival experience.

Posted by kithica 16:41 Archived in England Tagged events Comments (0)

Cheap trans-atlantic flight - the follow-up

I survived the el cheapo Thomas Cook flight relatively intact. We left essentially on time. They did have the advertised leg room, and the seat-back screens - although the non-premium passengers had a very limited selection, and no one had control of starting or stopping the films as one does on the larger airlines.

The service on-board was slow. By the time they had slogged through the long non-premium cabin trying to sell us snacks and headphones, and then again trying to sell us alcohol and more snacks, it was a good three hours before they got the dinner handed out. My seat-mates and I were starving by the time it arrived. And then it was just barely two hours before they woke us up to try to serve us breakfast.

Also, my seat-mates reported they had paid the extra fee to book two aisle seats opposite each other, but hadn't gotten them on either their flight out or their flight back. On the flight out, it was because an aircraft had been swapped out, but I believe on the flight back they were just given away. So it seems you have to check in early, even if you have reserved your seats, which is annoying.

Overall, I can't say the experience was comfortable, but nor was it unreasonable. And for $240 including taxes (one-way) I can't complain. I'm willing to fly with them again on the way home.

Posted by kithica 17:13 Archived in Canada Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

packing and prepping and shopping, oh my!

sunny 32 °C

I have made a radical decision: I'm taking a suitcase, not a backpack.

I know! It's freaking me out a little, too. Here's the thing, though - I'm not going to be moving all that much. I settle down in Edinburgh for six weeks, and then I rent a car to do my touristing. The suitcase will give me a little more room, it'll be more practical while I'm living in Edinburgh, and it's got wheels so it's pretty mobile.

Let me say, though, trying to pack a sleeping bag into a suitcase? Really, really weird.

All other aspects of the pack are going well so far. I've almost finished running my errands, and as soon as the laundry is done I can work out whether it's all going to fit and whether I can keep my bag under the weight limit.

I have this feeling like I should be crazier or busier or more worried, but this is the third trip I've taken in the last nine months, so I pretty much have everything to hand.

Not to mention the fact that my trip mostly involves big western cities. Quite different from my last two trips into the wilds of Morocco and Thailand. It's nice not to have to worry about toilet paper and water purification tablets and diarrhoea medication.

Posted by kithica 20:33 Archived in Canada Tagged preparation Comments (0)

pre-booking jitters

sunny 35 °C

It happens to me every time.

I've worked out where I want to go and what I want to do. I've researched and priced everything out. I'm ready. And yet, I'm terrified of actually taking the step and booking my arrangements.

What if something goes wrong? What if I calculated the dates wrong? What if I change my mind? It's ridiculous. And yet, I always have a moment of paralysis.

This trip was no different. By yesterday morning I had worked out the cheapest car rental in Scotland, gotten availabilities from B&Bs in all the towns I want to stay in, worked out the best train routes and fares, sourced travel insurance, the whole lot.

But did I book any of it on the spot? No. I had to let it all sit while I wibbled for a little while. Every single time, this happens. And I can't be the only person who does this, can I? And you'd think I'd learn. It has bitten me in the butt before. I've ended up paying more for train fares, car rentals, losing out on my chosen B&B. And yet.

I think what I really want is to be able to book it all the day before, as I go, but for those same cheap advance prices. I can be sure of what I need a day in advance. Sadly, the world doesn't work that way. Or, at least, it doesn't work that way on the cheap.

I got my dithering down to a little more than 24 hours this time. This afternoon I sat down and took the bull by the horns. I e-mailed the B&Bs and asked for reservations. I will be spending three nights in Stirling and two nights in Fort William, and hopefully those two are sorted now. I will also be spending five nights on the Isle of Skye, but I'm still researching B&Bs for that one.

I'll be renting a car in Stirling and driving around Scotland for a week. I usually go with Easycar (a relative of Easyjet), because if you can book far enough in advance, they are crazy cheap. I did a little shopping around this time, though, and found that Enterprise Rent-a-Car beat their price by about £20, so I ended up going with them. I booked that this afternoon as well.

Reading through my Lonely Planet Scotland, I found something called the Jacobite Steam Train. It runs from Fort William to Mallaig, across the Glenfinnan Viaduct, and you can take a day trip out and back with an hour and a half stop in Mallaig for lunch and sightseeing. This was also the train (and the viaduct) featured in the Harry Potter films as the Hogwarts Express. Now, while I'm not a huge fan of those movies, I do remember the train and the stunning scenery it passed through, and I decided I wanted to go. I booked myself a ticket this afternoon.

The only thing I'm still dithering over is travel insurance. I don't know why. I've decided where I want to buy it, found a decent rate, I'm definitely going to get it... and yet. Apparently my nerves need me to leave that one for tomorrow.

Posted by kithica 22:41 Archived in Scotland Tagged preparation Comments (0)

prep and planning - flights

booking my Scotland trip on the cheap

After nearly two months of going back and forth about whether I could make this happen, it's finally beginning to come together. This next bit is going to be the crazy part, because I'm now scheduled to leave a week today.

Based around a six-week work contract in Edinburgh - which was only finalised today - I'm extending my trip to nearly ten weeks in order to spend some time with family and to travel around Scotland.

I took a gamble and booked part of my flight before things were confirmed. There is a website, Canadian Affair, that offers cheap flights to the UK from Canada - sort of like a transatlantic EasyJet. And we're talking true bargain basement here. They offer flights with Thomas Cook and AirTransat, so it's essentially going to be a charter flight where you're lucky if there's room enough in the seat for you and your knees together. When I flew with them six years ago, there was no assigned seating (it was first come first served), and I think there was a charge for the in-flight meal. There was an option (which I took) to upgrade to what would be economy class on any other airline (assigned seating, free food, etc). The check-in line at the airport was huge, and the flights were delayed by at least two hours both going out and coming in.

That said, they're very cheap if you have some flexibility in your travel plans. I have to be in Edinburgh on the 19th of July. And there was a seat sale on - I could fly to Manchester for $49 (all figures in Canadian dollars) one way if I left on the 13th. Instead of dithering and hoping that the deal would still be there when I was ready, I just went ahead and booked it. With all the taxes and charges it came to $240 for the one-way flight.

(At that price, I could swallow the cost if worst came to absolute worst. And being able to book one way at a time - not having to commit to a return date - was a huge bonus. If the job had fallen through, there was a back-up plan; I'd find the cheapest possible flight home, and spend whatever time that gave me in between with my family. A low-cost vacation option.)

Now, according to their website, things seem to be a bit more civilised. I haven't gone for the upgrade this time since it would have doubled the cost of my flight and money is the primary issue, but I was able to pre-book my own seat (for a charge of $17) and they do seem to be offering a complimentary meal. They also make a lot of claims about leg room and seat-back video screens (on certain aeroplanes only), but I'll wait until I've suffered the flight before I comment on those.

I've also found that their flights seem to be cheaper if you book them one way at a time. For one of the itineraries I was looking at, the same flight was $50 cheaper if I booked it as a one-way than if I booked it as part of a round-trip. I don't know that this is always true, but do explore your options when it comes time to book flights.

Another trick is to check the prices flying into various airports. The $149 flight to London I had been counting on disappeared, but the $49 flight into Manchester made up for it. As it turns out, I have family near Manchester that I can stay with, so it was even better for me than London (which is usually a cheaper flight), but had I needed to get down to London, the UK has excellent rail links, and if you book in advance the tickets can be quite cheap. (Although the UK rail system has been privatised and different routes are run by different companies, you can still book all your travel through the National Rail website.)

I haven't booked my plane flight home yet. The end of my trip is still a bit fuzzier than the rest, and there's a certain part of me that wants to explore the possibility of not coming home at all. I could, if I wanted to, arrive in the UK on a one-way ticket alone and sort out the rest of my plans at some point during my trip, because I have a visa that allows me to live and work there. I may, in fact, end up doing that, gambling that there will be another seat sale to get me home closer to the date. If you're just travelling as a tourist, though, you will need to have a return ticket, a one-way ticket home, or a ticket for an onwards journey that will take you out of the country. Immigrations officials don't like it when you turn up with no plans to leave.

I'm waiting on one last piece of information before booking my train tickets, and once those are in place I can start looking at car rentals and accommodations. I'll keep you posted as things progress.

Posted by kithica 13:40 Archived in England Tagged air_travel Comments (0)

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