I am not a person who buys into this ‘new year, new you’ philosophy. It is a terrible idea. January is the worst time of year to be trying to transform yourself into a fitness fanatic/domestic goddess/carb-free queen. Really, you deserve a medal (preferably made of chocolate) just for getting through the month. With all the distractions of Christmas gone, we are left to contemplate the unending drudgery of winter. The dark mornings, dark evenings and incontinent skies feel unending. And so I am planning. Planning things to do when the year properly kicks off, when it doesn’t rain for at least two days in a row and green tips begin to emerge from the undergrowth. And what a fantastic year 2014 is going to be. There is so much to see and read and do. Plus 2014 is an even number, which automatically makes it superior.
Here are my top 5 places to visit this year:
Ten pence short of fifteen quid is a lot to shell out to see a pile of stones in the middle of Salisbury Plain, isn’t it? But these aren’t just any stones, they’re the ones that have featured in countless books, paintings and, er, screen savers. Stonehenge is now not so much shrouded in mystery, more surrounded by a complex system of gift shops, shuttle buses and shutterbugs. Following decades of arguing about the future of the site, a visitor centre has finally been built, the nearby A334 is in the process of being grassed over, and there’s a good chance the site is no longer a national embarrassment. Despite spending four years studying Archaeology, I’ve never actually visited Stonehenge (I know, I know). I once got as far as the car park, but it was full, so we continued on our way to the West Country. Such stop overs are something English Heritage’s Chief Executive Dr Simon Thurley wants to stop, in favour of extended visits, taking in all the site and its new visitor centre has to offer. Which is just as well, as you will now have to buy tickets in advance online. You might want to wait for them to sort out their teething problems though.
For tickets and more info click here.
Laurie Lee’s Gloucestershire
‘The last days of my childhood were also the last days of the village. I belonged to that generation which saw, by chance, the end of a thousand years’ life’ wrote Laurie Lee in Cider with Rosie. This, combined with the poetic nature of Lee’s writing, makes his work recall a life that has all but disappeared now. I’m always surprised of how little recognition Lee has, especially when compared to Dylan Thomas, who was born just a few months after Lee. There is no permanent museum dedicated to his life and works, no Hollywood film (although this TV movie is alright). It is often written that children are first exposed to Lee’s works through studying Cider with Rosie in school, but I’ve never met anyone who did. In fact, if it hadn’t been for Benedict Allen’s excellent series Travellers’ Century, I’d probably still be in the dark.
2014 marks 100 years since the birth of Laurie Lee, and this anniversary will be marked by various events, including an exhibition at Stroud’s Museum in the Park, re-releases of Lee’s classic books, a new book featuring unseen works (both literary and artistic) and various other things that are still to be announced. Personally, any excuse to explore Gloucestershire is fine by me, so I’ll be visiting the recently opened Laurie Lee Wood in his native Slad Valley.
For more info see http://laurielee.org.
The number of important artefacts in the British Museum makes the mind boggle. It’s amazing to be able to see the Rosetta Stone, the Elgin Marbles and the Lindow Man all under one roof. Despite this, I’ve never really ‘got’ the British Museum. There is just so much to see, it’s difficult to follow any narrative or grasp any kind of context around the object. Exhibitions held in the museum’s Reading Room, choc-a-bloc with fascinating artefacts and information, were impossible to navigate due to the crowds and narrow passageways.
All could be about to change this year, though, as the museum unveils its Vikings: lives and legends exhibition in the new Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery this March. The new gallery is the museum’s first purpose-built exhibition area, which will hopefully be more visitor-friendly than other spaces. The exhibition itself looks cracking, covering that period of history that we often hear about, but never actually learn much about (even at university they were only mentioned in passing). At the centre of the exhibition lies a 37-metre-long Viking warship dating back to the rule of Cnut the Great. Also on display is the Vale of York Hoard, found near Harrogate in 2007, which consists of 617 coins, 6 arm rings, and various bits of bullion and hack-silver. Represented in the hoard are three belief systems: Islam, Christianity and the worship of Thor (the actual legendary god, not Chris Hemsworth), showing just how dominant the Vikings were on the seas.
The exhibition runs from 6th March – 22nd June. Adult tickets cost £16.50. More info here.
The suburbs are not the most thrilling place to grow up. Neither rural enough to spend your days playing in fields and streams, nor urban enough to host baby raves (yes, they are a thing now), we suburbanites must look for excitement where we can get it. One of the few exciting things about my corner of West London (other than the various transport links out of here) is the presence of the legendary Ealing Studios, which continues to produce films and TV programmes such as Notting Hill and Downton Abbey. This year marks the centenary of the birth of Alec Guinness, star of many of the best Ealing Comedies, produced between 1947 and 1957. To celebrate what would have been the actor’s 100th birthday, you could buy some commemorative stamps or watch Kind Hearts and Coronets for either the first time (‘OMG it’s soo good, how have I never seen this before’) or the millionth time (‘OMG it’s soo good, so glad I’ve dedicated my a third of my life to watching this’). Alternatively you could head to Ealing this February for Ealing’s Music and Film Valentine Festival, featuring tours of the Studios, a screening of Guinness’s The Man in the White Suit, and a one-man-play chronicling the life of Alec Guinness.
For tickets and more info, click here.
Marking the Great War
The centenary of the outbreak of the First World War will be marked across Europe this summer. London’s Imperial War Museum, founded in 1917 to commemorate the sacrifices of those who served in the war, will reopen in July with new First World War galleries. These galleries are intended to give a comprehensive view of the War, featuring artillery alongside personal souvenirs. It will also include a recreated trench complete with soundscape to give a real insight into the every life (and death) of those who served in the infamous trenches.
So that’s my plan for 2014 and just a small selection of things to see in England this year. There’s much to see further afield. In Wales you could celebrate the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth, or visit Moominworld in Finland 100 years after the birth of Moomin creator, Tove Jansson, or you could just spend the entire year glued to your TV screen, because there’s probably something good on.
Where do you plan to visit this year?