Spectator Life

Spectator Life

An intelligent mix of culture, style, travel, food and property, as well as where to go and what to see.

I never thought I’d be a wild camper

Wild camping is ‘a modish phrase meaning camping overnight in a place which is not a dedicated campsite’, according to Lord Justice Underhill in a Court of Appeal judgment in July – and isn’t it wonderful that there are still judges carrying on the fine judicial tradition of handling the colloquial as if were radioactive

What we lost with the fallen sycamore

I don’t know about you, but my reaction to learning about the felling of that tree in Northumberland was, well, weird. For a start, unlike many others, I’ve never hugged this lovely tree, never picnicked beneath it, never proposed next to it, never seen it after a long satisfying hike along Hadrian’s Wall, so I

The night I accidentally saved a baby

I was writing a thriller in northeast Laos about 15 years ago near a town called Phonsavan, researching a mysterious megalithic site known as the Plain of Jars. When my research was done, I realised I had to devise a route home to the quaint Laotian capital of Vientiane. As I was driving one of

My mistaken Balkan raid

It was September 2001 and I was in Zagreb, Croatia, at the end of two weeks in the Balkans. I was there to train law enforcers in counter-trafficking initiatives: the importation of women from that region into Western European sex markets was rife following the war in the 1990s. Police in the UK had disrupted

Jonathan Miller

I’ve abandoned my useless British passport

‘Vous êtes anglais, je suppose?’ A question frequently posed to me in France. To which I reply: ‘C’est compliqué.’ To be honest, I’m not sure. If one passport is good, two are better. I have three. Crise d’identité. In France, I am Irish, thanks to my grandmother, born in County Antrim. In Canada, I am

Confessions of an English teacher abroad

The English teacher abroad is a generally peripatetic animal. He moves somewhere for a year or two and then gets bored, runs out of money or fathers an illegitimate child before moving along. Meet him and he has a thousand stories about Mexican border guards, Thai prostitutes and Russian oligarchs. Enjoy the conversation. He won’t

The previous lives of London hotels

Some of London’s best places to stay are buildings that used to be something else altogether. Join us as we examine the London hotels with fascinating previous lives … The NoMad  Not enough hotels have their own museum. The NoMad does. It’s set in what used to be the Bow Street magistrate’s court, where the

How to beat the crowds in Rome

Rome is Europe’s most beautiful city, but there’s a downside: the most famous attractions are nearly always overwhelmed with crowds. The line for the Colosseum bakes under the unbearable Roman sun; the Sistine Chapel queue snakes through the Vatican; the Trevi fountain is spoiled by selfie seekers. Fortunately, though, there is a way of avoiding

Is this the end of Burning Man?

In the summer of 1986, two men, Larry Harvey and Jerry James, built an eight-foot-tall wooden effigy of a man and set fire to it on a beach in San Francisco. The event – an impromptu bonfire attended by several dozen of their closest friends – spawned what has since become a cultural phenomenon: an

Jonathan Ray

How much rum can you drink on St Kitts?

It all proved too much for Mrs Ray. We were in St Kitts and Nevis for a week-long Caribbean break and on the flight over I’d wondered aloud how early each day it would be acceptable to start on the rum. I soon got my answer.  Having misguidedly checked in to the St Kitts Marriott

Alone in Dartmoor’s haunted woods

Wistman’s Wood is one of the UK’s last remaining temperate rainforests. It came within Prince William’s purview after he inherited the Duchy of Cornwall, the largest privately owned portion of Dartmoor National Park. He has since visited the site, a seven-acre strip of oak woodland on the eastern slopes of the West Dart Valley, posing

I watched society collapse at Stansted Airport

As I gazed upon the first circle of hell, otherwise known as Stansted Airport, I felt as though I was witnessing a microcosm of everything that has gone wrong with our hapless nation. Thousands of desperate flyers were left stranded across the UK earlier this week after what appeared to be another air traffic control

Forget the Cotswolds, try the Forest of Dean for a weekend break

The roads around Monmouth are quiet but have their attractions; they cut through valleys and woods, past castles and churches. My host, soignee interior designer Neil McLachlan, explains that this part of the world is a well-kept secret, popular with minor gentry and Londoners in the know but protected from the crowds that flush in and

My battle with three German children

To Paxos, Homer’s inspiration they say, for Circe’s Isle. These days, there’s still enchantment, albeit of a less carnal kind. Skies are azure, waters pellucid and the days fall quickly into the most indolent of rhythms. Breakfast, swim, book. Drink, lunch, sleep. Swim, book, drink. Dinner, then bed. Sometimes, though, it seems that great swathes

Walking the Essex Way is a wonderful adventure

I’m hiking along a footpath through glorious English countryside, across lush green meadows framed by ancient woodland. I’ve hardly seen a soul today, just a few solitary dogwalkers. I’ve been walking all day and my legs are aching, but I can’t recall the last time I felt so contented, so alive. Welcome to the Essex

Time is money at Disneyland

‘We’re all mad here,’ I mumble as I head towards the Cheshire Cat. To my left is the home of the world’s most famous mouse – and a sign warning guests to expect a wait of up to an hour and a half if they want to meet him. This is my tenth trip down

Why the British seaside still reigns supreme

It’s the time of year to revisit one of life’s great imponderables. British seaside holidays. Why do we do them? Which other experience – save perhaps attending a British boarding school in the past – does as much to remind you of the essential unfairness of life? Forget the costs involved (if Marianna Mazzucato wants

I escaped Totnes. But only just

Totnes is like any other small town in England insofar as there are limited shops and people will try to sell you mouldy produce at an ‘organic’ price. Other than that, it’s a different world. This is the same place that started its own currency – albeit unsuccessfully. The same place that fought back against Costa

So long, Crooked House: a guide to Britain’s oddest pubs

Farewell then, the Crooked House. The 18th-century pub, in the West Midlands village of Himley, hasn’t just stopped being a pub – it’s stopped existing, full stop. Just days after its sale to a private buyer for ‘alternative use’, the famously wonky building – where coins and marbles appeared to roll uphill – was gutted

On the death of a pilgrim

John Brierley, who died last month, was a legendary pilgrim that you’ve probably never heard of. Admittedly, these days most people aren’t familiar with any pilgrims. Just going to Sunday mass is unorthodox. The vast majority of us who respected Brierley never met him and probably, like me, never saw a video clip of him

Jonathan Ray

How to spend 48 hours in Tangier

One of the few highlights of newly-released Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny is a frantic chase through 1960s Tangier. It’s breathless, edge-of-the-seat stuff with tuk-tuks, motorcycles, a Jaguar and Mercedes tearing through the narrow streets of the medina, guns blazing and quips flying. I’m told so many tuk-tuks got mangled they needed dozens to shoot

What to pack for a walking holiday

I know it’s a tad warmer than usual in southern Europe but let’s not lose our heads. That holiday in stunning Andalusia is still worth it. Admittedly, some mitigating measures are probably worth taking. With the passion of model railway enthusiasts, we’d discuss what contents should go in the optimal med kit Since I started

How Bali realigned my chakras

I am not normally one for spirituality and my previous attempt at yoga rendered me a sorry heap on the living room floor. So I am perhaps an odd choice for a luxury wellness retreat to Bali. All I really knew about the island was that David Bowie – more in touch with his chakras

Love architecture? Visit Vienna

When asked how his production of Goodnight Vienna was going down with audiences in Huddersfield, Noel Coward is reputed to have replied ‘about as well as Goodnight Huddersfield would be going down with audiences in Vienna.’  I cannot vouch for Huddersfield’s cultural riches but there has never been a better time to visit Austria’s ‘City of Dreams and Music’. Over

Live like Louis XVI for a day

Some of the ways the rich can amuse and refresh themselves today include spas in the Maldives with glass floors offering views of brightly coloured fish during treatment, private retreats in the mountains of St Lucia costing thousands per night, and fabulous overnight trains through Rajasthan. But the last word in luxury is still to

Why don’t more tourists visit Ethiopia?

Standing on a cliff edge looking at where the Blue Nile is just a trickle, watched by a gelada baboon on a distant rock and staring over miles upon miles of some of the most beautiful countryside I’d ever seen, one thought struck me: why is there hardly anyone else here? Ethiopia is stunning to look

Jonathan Ray

Forget Amsterdam – spend a weekend in the Hague

I love Amsterdam. I go every year for the galleries, the opera, the beer, the genever, the rijsttaffel, the brown cafés and, well, the fun. I’ve had many a fine time there, sometimes with and sometimes without dear Mrs Ray. It’s a top place.  I was cut to the quick, then, on hearing recently that the

Toby Young

I’m a holidaymaker… get me out of here!

Reading about all the travel chaos, I began to regret my summer holiday plans. Wouldn’t it have been more sensible just to stay in Acton? But Caroline and I had arranged to go to Ibiza fora friend’s birthday party the weekend before last; then, after returning to London, we were due back in the Balearic

The politics of sun loungers

The poolside was deserted when we passed on our way to breakfast. This time, I thought, as we ate at the still-quiet restaurant buffet, we’d triumph. Yet arriving back at the pool after eating, all the sun loungers closest to it had already been claimed – by owners who were nowhere to be seen. Reserving