by Mark Harris
You won’t find Britain’s most interesting bunkers by playing the pristine golf courses at St Andrews Links. For a gritty taste of a hidden Britain, it’s well worth seeking out the crumbling concrete relics of the Cold War.
Between the end of World War II and the 1990s, Britain was on the front line of a global struggle between the West and the Soviet bloc. Halfway between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, it was the base for much of NATO’s nuclear arsenal – and the target for much of Russia’s.
Now those tensions have (mostly) disappeared, the public can at last explore that shadowy period – and there are some fascinating stories to discover.
Finding the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker these days is easy: just follow the road signs saying “Secret Nuclear Bunker” in Essex, east of London. In the 1950s, it wasn’t so simple. From the outside, the bunker is built to look like a typical midcentury bungalow nestled in a stand of trees. But appearances are deceptive.
By Amanda Castleman
One of the world’s most dramatic open-air entertainment venues sprang back into action this week. At The Minack Theatre, arches frame an ocean backdrop just three miles from Land’s End, mainland England’s westernmost point. The sea-cliff auditorium may resemble a Roman ruin, but it dates back just eight decades. In a further twist, the grounds teem with subtropical succulents, thanks to the warm Gulf Stream that even nurtures palm trees in Cornwall.
Cade continued her work over decades, despite World War II almost erasing the coastal venue. She scavenged beams from a shipwrecked Spanish freighter and learned to etch cement with a screwdriver when she ran out of money for granite. This labor of love kept her toiling, no matter how awful the winter weather, into her mid-80s. Today the site, managed by a charitable trust, welcomes 80,000 people to performances and another 100,000 to visit the grounds annually.
by Mark Harris
While America is in the middle of National Bike Month, the UK has to get by with a Bike Week, this year running from June 15 to 23. But don’t worry if your itchy feet can’t wait until then – a recent UK government survey found that the British cycle twice as often as Americans, and the nation’s trails and byways are always welcoming to those on two wheels.
Online maps and trip planners, including those produced by the Sustrans National Cycle Network, make exploration easy. Most towns have cycle shops where you can rent bicycles for anything from a few hours to a month at a time.
Cambridge beats Oxford – at cycling
The art of cycling
The pitch-dark horror-comedy “Sightseers” is a new twist on a much-loved British tradition: touring the countryside in a motor home.
In the movie (which had a limited theater release on May 10 and is available on demand from IFC Films), oddballs Chris (Steve Oram) and Tina (Alice Lowe) travel by RV, or “caravan,” to some of Britain’s most obscure tourist attractions.
As the film’s official description says, “Litterbugs, noisy teenagers and pre-booked caravan sites, not to mention Tina's meddling mother, soon conspire to shatter Chris's dreams and send him, and anyone who rubs him the wrong way, over a very jagged edge.”
"I must admit it’s quite a cynical exercise, this film," director Ben Wheatley (“Kill List,” Down Terrace”) said with a smile during a question-and-answer session after a “Sightseers” screening at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival.
Focus groups had indicated they wanted a movie featuring an innocuous list of items including “caravans, dogs and ’80s music,” Wheatley said. All of those are in “Sightseers,” just not as you’ve seen them before.
Park it here
By Amanda Castleman
“Thunderbirds.” “Doctor Who.” “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.” UK actors and authors have brought flair to science fiction from “Frankenstein” to “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and beyond. Most recently, “Star Trek Into Darkness” beamed into the UK before opening anywhere else (it hits American theaters May 16). The movie features Londoner Benedict Cumberbatch (PBS’s “Sherlock”) and super-geek Simon Pegg, whose beer-soaked post-apocalyptic “The World’s End” also premieres this summer.
Brits may have deep historical roots, but many of them just can’t stop looking at the stars.
Or just hold still long enough and the future will find you. As English writer J. G. Ballard once pointed out. “Everything is becoming science fiction.”
by Mark Harris
Prince Harry is headed to the U.S. again, but this time his mission is much more serious than his last vacation trip here. The reason for his May 9-15 visit is close to his heart: wounded soldiers.
As well as visiting areas hit by Hurricane Sandy and playing a charity polo match in Connecticut, the Afghanistan war veteran and third in line to the British throne will be visiting Arlington National Cemetery and Walter Reed National Medical Center. He will also open the 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs on May 11. This annual event brings together more than 200 wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans, including 35 from the UK, to compete in seven Paralympic sports.
Be all you can be
Feeling the buzz
Teamwork is everything, and who knows? You might even find yourself rescuing hostages or defusing bombs alongside a certain prince of the realm…
Hundreds of black-clad rogues are about to take over the town of Brixham on England’s southern coast. The townspeople are prepared — to join the invasion, that is, as the Brixham Pirate Festival sails into town with Jolly Rogers flying May 4-5.
The Brixham Buccaneers will attempt to break a “pirate conga line” record on Sunday, but that’s just the tip of the plank. Festivities include reenactments, songs, swordfights, and even dancing. It’s all family-friendly fun — as long as the kids don’t mind the sound of cannon and gunfire.
A more musical version of pirate life will storm Britain this summer: Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance” musical will be touring the UK starting in Glasgow, Scotland, on May 15.
On the other side of England’s southern coast, Joss Bay in Kent is named for a prolific smuggler, Joss Snelling, who eventually taught his trade to his son and grandson.
Pirate ships sail into Brixham Harbor for the pirate festival. (Photo courtesy of Brixham Pirate Festival)
The largest urban music and arts festival in the UK is set to take off in Liverpool. May 2 is the first day of Liverpool Sound City, a three-day festival that brings dozens of bands and fans together in new and historic venues around the city.
The festival includes visual art, talks about the business of creativity and an expo showcasing innovations in games, music and technology. Conference seminars have titles such as “Can you really manage?” and “Define your electronic sound.”
But the big draw is the music. As well as recognizable names (Noah and the Whale, The Walkmen), the event hosts up-and-coming talent from many genres. The festival poster is a lesson in soon-to-be-famous British musical names.
Liverpool is a fitting home for such a festival, best known to Americans as the original home of the Beatles. One of the venues for Sound City concerts is the Cavern Club, where the Beatles played 50 years ago.
by Amanda Castleman
The Loch Ness Monster resurfaced 80 years ago this week, when a woman spotted “a beast” rolling and plunging in Britain’s largest body of fresh water. The Inverness Chronicle published the account on May 2, 1933, sparking an enduring mystery and now more than $90 million each year from tourism.
More ancient accounts surround Loch Ness, including the one that had Irish priest St Columba running off a man-eating creature in the sixth century. But the “Nessie” of popular imagination — a swan-necked Jurassic reptile (like a plesiosaur) — is bowing to new theories.
Many Scots agree. One of them is Patricia Anne Rodger, an Edinburgh-based academic who often visits her family outside Inverness, which lies near Loch Ness. “I don’t think it’s necessarily a prehistoric creature,” she says. “It’s probably a mutation of something that would normally live in the sea.”
by Amanda Castleman
Reflective haute couture and pancakes custom drawn by a LEGO machine are among the oddities taking over Newcastle, England, this weekend during the Maker Faire UK, an annual two-day festival of creativity.
Inventors are converging for a celebration of arts, crafts, science and engineering at the Centre for Life April 27-28. The tradition traces back to the U.S. in 2006 and Dale Dougherty, co-founder of Make Magazine. But it has special resonance in Newcastle, a tough northern city with a history of innovation from Joseph Swan, who produced an incandescent bulb before Edison, to iPhone and iPod designer Jonathan Ive.
Valenzuela, a San Diego native, says that PancakeBot once rebelled after 1,200 mini flapjacks and started doodling random shapes. But his team still attained its goal: “to get kids interested in food manufacturing and technology.”