If you take the crowds out of the equation, London is truly magical at Christmas. It sparkles, glitters and gleams with festive cheer from Winterville to Winter Wonderland. Christmas, Yuletide, Noël, call it what you will – the festive season is my favourite time of the year, and I couldn’t resist pulling together a seasonal edition of this series. Last week, Laurence and I headed down to London for a day full of touristy goodness; we hit the streets instead of the sweaty underground trains, and clocked up a whopping 30,000 steps in the process. (More than enough to justify all the mince pies we ate later in the day.) Here’s what we got up to . . .
Our trip to Leeds wouldn’t have been complete without a hike, so a few days before we left, my OS maps came off the bookshelf and the felt tips were brought out. We ummed and ahhed over where to go (Yorkshire Dales? North York Moors? Ilkley?) and eventually settled on a ten kilometre hike across the eastern edge of Rombalds Moor, a fairly low-lying area of moorland between Ilkley and Keighley.
When all is said and done, the North will always be my home: I grew up there, studied there and hope – one day – to move back there. In mid-November, Laurence and I spent a long weekend in Leeds reliving our student days, visiting old haunts and eating our way across the city. (Mostly eating, if I’m honest, but we did clock up a lot of steps zig-zagging from LS1 to LS6.) Hopping aboard the 18:03 to Leeds, I was only too happy to be trading the pancake-flat South for the rolling hills of the North.
[veuillez défiler vers le bas pour la version française] Christmas is coming and already my festive socks are out, ‘Fairytale of New York’ has become the breakfast soundtrack and the first batch of mince pies has been baked. I love everything about Christmas: the twinkling fairy lights draped around trees; the scent of freshly-baked festive treats; mugs of hot apple juice; and the promise of snow. (Cambridge has already delivered on that last one. Woohoo!) When I was younger, I used to eat jam tarts while my parents tucked into mince pies; these days, I can’t get enough of these delicious little tartlets. (They’re also the subject of one of my favourite festive jokes: What creeps around the bakery at Christmas? Mince spies!) Once a meaty treat, the mince pie is now a buttery, sugary, citrusy morsel: a bite-sized crumbly shortcrust pastry case filled with a mixture of plump and juicy dried fruits.
Stretching from Prestatyn to Llandegla, the Clwydian Range is a chain of (fairly low) peaks that runs along the border of Denbighshire and Flintshire, in North Wales. Having grown up just across the border, it’s an area that will always hold a special place in my heart. Today, I’d like to take you on an armchair tour of Foel Fenlli, a peak which lives in the shadow of its neighbour, Moel Famau.
London is pillar-box red telephone boxes, black cabs and beefeaters. London is world-class museums, theatres and landmarks. London is, quite simply, a treasure trove for tourists. Over the years, I’ve come to know London rather well, though I’d never claim to know it like the back of my hand like the candidates on The Apprentice so often do. If I don’t have my nose in a book or a crossword, I’ll be scouring the pages of Time Out, keeping my eyes peeled for new things to do in the capital. Beyond the blinding lights of Piccadilly Circus, there’s a bounty of lesser-known gems, just waiting to be explored – and that’s where this series comes in. Just as I did for Paris, I’ll be using this series as a means of documenting some old favourites and newly-discovered gems in the Big Smoke.
I’ve spent more than half my life labouring over gendered nouns, weird and wonderful tenses (pluperfect subjunctive, I’m looking at you here) and obscure grammatical anomalies, but one piece of the language-learning jigsaw still (pun intended) puzzles me: fluency.