A Year with the National Trust

Last year we joined the National Trust. It wasn’t something that we had considered before, but after arriving at Fountains Abbey on Boxing Day and realising it would cost us an arm and a leg to get in, we signed up to their family membership plan to spread the cost. It was a good deal on the day because we didn’t have to spend forty quid on the entrance fee, but whether the £120 spread over the year was worth it remained to be proved. Since I am a massive nerd, I kept track of what we spent over the year.

Here’s a list of the National Trust properties that we visited:

Without membership we would have paid £242.90 (including £17 parking charges), so we saved £113. Not bad! If cost is the only metric, membership has proved to be very good value for money. Having the card in our pocket (and the monthly direct debit going out) pushed us to get out as often as possible, and they were all well worth the visit.

Unfortunately there are only a dozen national trust properties within a couple of hours drive of us, and we’ve done the majority of them now. Some of the properties are massive and need more than one visit, so I’ve renewed the membership this year so that we can go back and explore those further and maybe visit a couple of the ones further out. I can’t see that it would be worth renewing further than that unless we move somewhere else, but we only need to visit five or six properties to cover the cost.

Here’s some photos from our year with the National Trust:

Millington Woods

Millington Woods lies in a small valley in the middle of nowhere. Technically it’s in the Yorkshire Wolds, but with the exception of the nearby village from which it gets its name it’s miles away from anything resembling modern civilisation.

The woods have never been busy when I’ve visited, but the few people who you might meet will be the polite sort that wish you a good morning as they pass. We had the wood to ourselves this morning, and all that could be heard was bird calls, a light breeze murmuring through the trees and blissful silence.

The wood is best known for its ancient ash trees, but I’m partial to the Norwegian Spruce which stands tall and magisterial among its peers.

You should go. But don’t tell everyone about it.

Walking 🚶

I used to live in a small town where nothing was much more than an hour away on foot. If I didn’t walk, I cycled. I was in pretty good physical condition. That was until I moved to a small city, bought a motorbike and eventually a car. The car is an expensive luxury, but incredibly convenient. The downside is that it became my default way of getting around, and before long my jeans didn’t fit and climbing the stairs at work was more tiring than it should be.

Changes at work over the past couple of years have seen me driving a lot more than normal – around eighteen thousand miles a year and sometimes for four or five hours day. I basically became completely sedentary without realising. I did realise that I completely hate driving. Thankfully since the end of last year I no longer need to drive so much, so I started to think of ways that I could reduce my car usage further. I bought a folding bike, thinking that I could replace some petrol powered miles with foot powered ones. This was not entirely successful.

This week I tried to walk my commute. Google said its only two and a half miles, which seemed doable, so I marched past my car this morning and headed in the direction of town. My commute is not particularly interesting by car. It is equally uninteresting on foot. It takes me past a long row of terraced houses, a huge car park, a railway crossing, alongside the Victorian cemetery and then on to Spring Bank; a melting pot of takeaways, off-licences, newsagents and houses of multiple occupation. I discovered that there are a surprising number of drunk people around at 8am on a weekday morning. I was a bit scared that I was going to be robbed. It rained a little.

My carefully formulated plan was to walk to work and get the bus back. The singular flaw in my carefully formulated plan was leaving my debit card at home and being unable to obtain my bus fare. So I walked home too.

The journey was around forty minutes each way. It can take me longer than that driving at peak time, and I saved the money that I would have spent on fuel and parking. Theoretically, it’s a no brainer – there’s no practical reason to use the car on days where I’m working from the office. But the car still feels more convenient and it’s that psychological hump that needs beating down.

Anyway, I’m very tired and I need to iron my clothes for work tomorrow. I think I’ll go in the car. Best not overdo things.

Liars, populists & cretins

I’ve tried to avoid reading about Brexit for the past year because it’s a really good route to short-term depression.

Roughly two years have passed since the UK Government prematurely triggered Article 50. There’s been lots, and lots, and lots of talk since then, but in reality very little has happened – well, quite a lot has happened, but very little of the big stuff that needs to be done by the deadline has happened.

The EU 27 set out their position early on:

  • The UK chose to leave, so they’ll leave and lose access to the benefits of being a member.
  • The EU will manage the exit in a way to cause the least damage to the EU, and hopefully the UK (but they’re the ones that chose to leave, so…).

Seems reasonable. Brexit, as far as the EU is concerned, is a legal process and an exercise in damage limitation – not a negotiation. The UK fundamentally misunderstands this as intransigence.

The UK, under the Chequers proposals, asks for access to the single market (with the ability to strike external trade deals – though with who, nobody yet knows), along with opt-outs from freedom of movement, paying into the EU budget and being under the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

The EU have not been particularly enthusiastic about these proposals (since they undermine the core structures of the union) and the UK has been banging its head against this wall for the past six months.

Theresa May tried to use an EU summit in Salzburg to go over the head of the intractable negotiators and appeal to the generosity of the individual member states, but this failed spectacularly and without benefit of a better plan,she threw a wobbler and announced that it would be Europe’s fault if Britain crashed out without a deal, and that they need to prevent it from happening. One of the lauded aims of the referendum was to ‘take back control’. The irony is delicious, and there we seem to have become stuck.

Theresa ‘Strong & Stable Leadership’ May is at the mercy of the cretinous elements of the Conservative Party, no one can quite understand what the Labour Party intends to do, and time is ticking.

And that’s where we are right now.

For a very readable view of the current status of the EU talks, read Chris Grays Brexit Blog. For a giggle (or a cry), read these reports of meetings between the PM and Angela Merkel.