Wow, so it’s been a while…

As you may or may not have noticed, I’ve been neglecting this blog for quite some time now. To be honest, I lost interest a little. I’ve now decided to draw a line under it and launch a new blog. The new blog is going to involve a much broader subject matter, which I’m looking forward to. I’ll still be posting about any travels I do (I’ve got some posts about Paris and Brussels lined up), but I’ll be talking about…well…anything I feel.

The new site can be found here. If you’re interested, feel free to head over and sign up.

I’m going to be closing this blog down soon so don’t be surprised when it disappears.

I hope to see you on the other side, but even if you don’t decide to head over, happy blogging.



Posted by on April 29, 2015 in Uncategorized


Reminiscing on a Proud Day for Cornwall…

I’ve now progressed from “easing myself gently” back into blogging and onto lazily recycling previous writing on old stories. I’ve been planning to post about a recent development concerning Cornwall for about a month, but was too damn disorganised tied up with other things. So I thought I’d discuss the developments and then quote some of Lance’s Travels Does Cornwall to pad out the post explain the story’s background in greater detail.

So the Cornish have been granted minority status under European rules for the protection of national minorities (congratulations!). This means they’ll be able to enjoy the same protections as the Welsh, Scottish and the Irish Celtic communities. It also means government departments and public bodies will need to consider Cornish views when making decisions, that their rights will be respected by combating discrimination, promoting equality and preserving and developing their culture and identity.

Dick Cole, who leads a group campaigning for Cornish devolution, said: “This is a fantastic development. This is a proud day for Cornwall.” Communities Minister Stephen Williams added: “This is a great day for the people of Cornwall who have long campaigned for the distinctiveness and identity of the Cornish people to be recognised officially.”

But alongside those happy at the decision there were, of course, those against the move. The BBC’s comment section was opened up and attracted the inevitable curmudgeonly comments of, “Groan, yet another gang of people attempting to set themselves apart from the rest of us (they’re no different really),” and, “Much of the UK has a proud history and distinctive identity so can we all be given minority status for own own (sic) geographical areas?” Although my particular favourite was the amusing, “As a 40+ left handed, white male who doesn’t like tomatoes can I claim miniority (sic) status?” There’s clearly a great deal of confusion about the reasons for the decision, but this is only owed to people having forgotten about Cornwall’s distinct ancestry. As I explained in Lance’s Travels – Does Cornwall:

[S]tudies have found that the native Cornish population actually represent one of the most genetically “pure” groups in Britain. They have been found to possess a far higher degree of pre-Roman genetic history than those in other parts of England. In contrast, as you move beyond the Cornish border the DNA evidence reveals traces of Anglo-Saxon and Danish Viking heritage. As a consequence it’s recognised that the people of Cornwall are genetically different from those in the rest of England. They are in fact far more closely related to the native inhabitants of Wales than anywhere else. And together with the Welsh they comprise one of the most genetically distinct groups in the whole of Great Britain.

One of the main explanations for this is that they can both trace their ancestry back to the Celtic tribes that inhabited Britain before Roman occupation. Both Cornwall and Wales were ancient Celtic kingdoms and the modern day inhabitants of these regions are descended from those ancient tribes.

Around the time of the 5th century the Anglo-Saxons from northern Europe began to invade what would one day become England. Before this the Celtic tribes were spread all over England and southern Scotland but these invaders forced the native Celtic tribes to retreat west. Their last remaining strongholds became Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Mann, Western Scotland, and Ireland. The inhabitants of England beyond the Cornish border are largely descended from these Anglo-Saxons, and later Viking, invaders meaning that the Cornish and the English (and likewise the Welsh) have completely separate ancestry. Consequently, the Cornish are more closely related to the Welsh and the other Celtic nations than the English.

The truth is that Cornwall was recognised as separate to England, in the same way that Wales is, until only a few centuries ago, but this distinction has been largely forgotten. So congratulations to the Cornish on this step towards being properly recognised again. I realise that I’m over a month late to offer those congratulations, but better late than never. If you wish to read the full story from the BBC the link is here. And, of course, Lance’s Travels – Does Cornwall is still available for free here. Look forward to my next post where I’ll inform you on some other out of date news. Apparently there are some problems brewing in Ukraine…


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Hi All,

I know I’ve been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately. I hoped you’ve all managed to cope with out me :-). I thought I’d ease myself back in gently with a post about an interview I did for Stephanie Mayo’s blog. Stephanie writes about all things travel-related and has begun a series of interviews of fellow travel writers in a series called “Writer’s Wednesday”. So feel free to pop over and explore her blog. My interview can be found here.

In order to fill out the rest of this post here’s a picture of a dog:




Posted by on May 22, 2014 in Interview, Lance's Travels


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Anarchy In The UK (My Special Mother’s Day Post)

As an extremely tenuous link to it being Mother’s Day I thought I’d discuss England’s first queen. Nope, not Elizabeth I. Her name was Matilda. She was also England’s only empress, although that title was mainly self-proclaimed. Never heard of her? That’s not surprising. She’s been largely forgotten. Partly because she was never crowned, but she was still technically queen.

During my UK travels I visited Dunster Castle, Somerset. While there I visited the crypt, supposedly the most haunted part of the castle. There was an exhibition about the supposed ghostly goings on there. One of the displays posed the question that perhaps it was slightly colder in that part of the building than elsewhere. And indeed it was! I really did feel the presence of a definite chill in the area. Clearly there was a ghostly presence using its supernatural powers to reduce the ambient temperature for some reason. Maybe it prefers the cold? I don’t know. But it was definitely noticeable. Admittedly, I also noticed that it was the only part of the building with an open window and just behind it was an open door through which a draught was conveniently blowing, but I’m sure that was just coincidence. ;-)

The castle may well have detailed its ghoulish claims, but it didn’t detail the rather interesting story of a siege that took place in 1138. The siege was undertaken by King Stephen in the hope of conquering one of Matilda’s strongholds. Its failure resulted in the castle’s owner becoming the first Earl of Somerset (although the title was soon dissolved, partly due to the new earl’s poor treatment of the locals). Johnny Rotten and his Sex Pistol band mates may have been calling for anarchy in the UK during the 1970s, but it seems they were actually about nine centuries too late. The siege took place during a turbulent part of England’s history that has since been dubbed The Anarchy.

The Anarchy was a war that raged across England and Normandy between 1135 and 1153 (at that time Normandy was under the rule of the English Crown). The period is noted for the complete breakdown in law and order that resulted. The conflict was ignited by Henry I who, rather irresponsibly, died without leaving a definite heir.

Henry had two children, Matilda and William. But a maritime disaster (which some claim to have been caused by drunkenness) resulted in William drowning in 1120. Matilda had been married to the German Holy Roman Emperor, Henry V, until his death. She was then recalled to Normandy and instructed to marry Geoffrey of Anjou, despite Geoffrey being eleven years her junior and the couple despising each other. Henry I attempted to ensure his legacy by making his court swear an oath of loyalty to Matilda, but his choice of son-in-law wasn’t only unpopular with his daughter.

Geoffrey hailed from Anjou, part of modern day France. The region’s rulers had previously attempted to invade Normandy, causing the English barons to distrust George. This uneasiness was only fuelled by concerns that George would end up ruling instead of Matilda. And even if this didn’t occur, they were uncomfortable about being ruled by a queen anyway. As such, after Henry died, they decided to ignore the oath made to him.

Matilda was in Anjou at the time of her father’s death allowing her quick-moving cousin, Stephen of Blois, to capitalise upon his popularity with the Church of England and the English nobility’s reluctance to accept a queen. He claimed the throne and was crowned King Stephen.

But Stephen’s reign soon encountered problems. Power struggles between him and the barons caused them to switch allegiance and invite Matilda to invade. Matilda was only too happy to help with the baron’s difficulties so, in 1139, she and her half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, invaded following a major rebellion in the southwest. Geoffrey, meanwhile, focused on conquering Normandy. Her uncle, King David of Scotland, then crossed the border to invade northern England in support.

After much fighting and conflict things finally began to look promising for Matilda when, in 1141, Stephen was captured following the battle of Lincoln. This caused his authority to collapse allowing Matilda’s supporters to hail her queen and “Lady of the English”. She triumphantly headed to London for her official crowning ceremony, but there was one last obstacle in her path: herself.

Matilda was an unpopular, disagreeable and bad-tempered woman. While in Winchester she refused to speak kindly to the locals and was prone to flying into angry rages. It’s been claimed that she even punched her uncle. This is despite her uncle not only being the King of Scotland, but having helped secure her defeat over Stephen. Upon arrival in the capital her arrogance and irascible nature proved too much for the Londoners. She angered the city’s citizens so much that they rejected her and forced her to retreat before the coronation took place, meaning she wasn’t officially queen. Her next mistake was to refuse Stephen’s wife’s pleas for his release. These pleas were accompanied by promises that Stephen would flea the country and abandon his claim to the throne. This would have extinguished any competition for the throne and allowed time to arrange another coronation, but her refusal to release Stephen rendered him a continuing threat.

The angry Londoners joined a reinvigorated push from Stephen’s wife (who, along with his friends, couldn’t leave him languishing in prison) forcing Matilda to retreat back into her stronghold of the west. The conflict took a decisive turn when Matilda’s half-brother, Robert of Gloucester, was captured. Matilda was left no choice but to obtain Robert’s release. But there was, of course, only one price his captors were willing to accept. She had to release Stephen in exchange for her brother. Stephen reclaimed the throne and her battle continued. It involved several daring escapes, such as climbing over the walls of Oxford Castle late one wintry night dressed all in white for camouflage and crossing the frozen River Thames. On another occasion she pretended to be a corpse and was hidden in a casket. But she never achieved her goal. In 1148, after the death of Robert, she returned to Normandy, leaving her son to continue the campaign. Her fight for the throne was over. Stephen continued his rein and Matilda never achieved her dream. Well…except vicariously…

In 1153 Stephen’s son, Eustace, died, leaving him heirless. Matilda’s son, Henry, negotiated to end the warring if Stephen named him as heir. Stephen agreed and The Anarchy came to an end. Stephen died, in 1154, allowing Henry to become Henry II.

There is an ironic twist of fate to all this, though. The turmoil was caused by the death of Henry I’s son, William. But the future King Stephen had originally planned to travel on the same voyage, only he disembarked before the ship set sail.

Matilda died at Rouen on 10th September 1167. The inscription on her tomb reads: “Here lies Henry’s daughter, wife and mother; great by birth, greater by marriage, but greatest in motherhood.” Just like all mums, Happy Mother’s Day!


Posted by on March 30, 2014 in England, History, Lance's Travels, UK LIfe


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Scottish Independence Pt I

It’s only six months until the Scots head to the polling booths and vote on whether to remain part of the UK, or to become independent again. So it seems an apt time to ask the question, why have they put up with us English all this time were the kingdoms of Scotland and England united in the first place?

Scotland’s first king is generally considered to have been Kenneth MacAlpin, who ruled during the first half of the 9th century. At that time the region went by its Gaelic name of Alba and MacAlpin was known as the king of the Picts. The kingdom’s southern boundary was eventually defined by a defeat against the Northumbrians in the early 11th century, resulting in Duncan I becoming the first king of what was thereafter known as Scotland. A century later a series of military successes south of the border allowed Edward the Elder to unite England and become its first king. Take that Mrs Jones!*

It would have been hard for the inhabitants of the two kingdoms to imagine the future union as over the next few centuries they quarrelled almost constantly. The volatile relationship was eventually tamed by England’s Elizabeth I dying, heirless, in 1603. The crown was offered to her cousin, James VI, King of Scotland.

It seems unlikely that James had too much conflict over whether to accept the offer of this new appointment. He was a man of expensive tastes and, in comparison to Scotland, England was a relatively rich nation. As he departed south he promised his Scottish subjects that he would return to Scotland every three years, but in truth only ever returned once.

But despite this new access to wealth and opulence James was unsatisfied with the arrangement. Within weeks of his London arrival he began laying the foundations for a complete union of the two kingdoms. As part of this work he commissioned the creation of a new flag. But his plans met fierce resistance within the English parliament. They had no interest in his grand plan and forced him to abandon it. He never forgave them for this and later described Westminster as being “barren by preconceived opinions.” But not all of his efforts were in vain. The flag he commissioned, a combination of the Scottish St Andrew’s flag and the English St George’s flag, become the Union Jack (Jack deriving from Jacobus, the Latin for James).

Upon James’ death his son, Charles, succeeded the throne. But Charles wasn’t interested in union, only in asserting his power. The result was a traumatic and turbulent period of civil wars and military interventions that culminated in the beheading of Charles I and the introduction of Cromwell’s republic. But even this dramatic result wasn’t able to quell the instability. The republic collapsed and Charles’ exiled son was invited back to take the throne (but only after new laws were introduced that limited the monarchy’s power to avoid any repeat episodes of Charles-sized hubris.)

Charles II died leaving no legitimate (but numerous illegitimate) heirs, so the throne passed to his brother, James II. But James only created further instability through his Catholicism and suspected pro-French sympathies. So the English parliament invited James’ protestant daughter, Margaret, and her husband, William of Orange, across from Holland to invade. It was only a year after their successful invasion, 1689, that talk of union recommenced. William was pleased to hear that many Scottish nobles and gentry were in favour of the proposal, but once again the English showed little interest in the plans.

The Scots were keen for the union as they were facing near economic collapsed. They hoped that access to England’s rich colonial trading markets would solve the crisis. The economic woes were owed to a failed attempt to begin their own colony, called New Caledonia, in Panama. The plan, dubbed the Darien scheme, was an attempt to make Scotland a world trading nation in her own right, but ended in disaster when many of the colonists perished and the survivors were forced to accept defeat and sail, humiliated, back to Scotland. The failure was an economic disaster for the fledgling trading power. Shockingly, roughly a quarter of Scotland’s wealth was invested in the campaign, leaving nobles and landowners facing almost complete ruin. This made the prospect of union with England, already a successful international trading power, very appealing.

The Scots negotiations focused heavily on the Darien scheme fallout. Many of the company’s shareholders felt that part of the agreement should include compensation from the English for their losses. When the colony faced trouble they appealed to their southern neighbours for help, but the pleas were ignored. The English were at war with France and wished to avoid angering Spain, who already claimed the territory, and dragging her into the war.

The discussions continued but the resistance of England’s parliament continued to hinder the negotiations. One of the main sticking points concerned the continuation of the protestant monarchy. They wanted to maintain the Church of England’s dominance, and also to avoid the kind of murderous rampage that accompanied the last Catholic monarch (the aptly named Bloody Mary). An initial union proposal, backed by the king, was put forward in 1700, only to be thrown out by the English parliament. This awkwardness only served to intensify anti-English sentiment in Scotland. A sign of how volatile the situation became occurred in 1703 when an English ship, The Worcester, strayed into Scottish waters. The captain was summarily executed on spurious charges of piracy (there was no proof and many of the crew were even denied the chance to give evidence at the trial).

Serious union negotiations finally began in 1706 and were completed after only three days. The Scottish achieved their goal of access to English colonial markets and the English received assurance of a continued protestant royal dynasty. The Acts of Union were passed by both parliaments leading to the creation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain that came into effect on 1st May 1707.

It was a long and rocky road. But the two kingdoms were eventually united. But it certainly wasn’t a happy-ever-after story (unless you’re a big fan of wars, massacres, slavery, cultural annihilation and political exiles…you might be, for all I know. I’ve yet to confirm what kind of readership this blog attracts). But that’s a story I’ll return to in a future post…


*My secondary school (high school, for my international readers) wasn’t exactly the greatest of schools. A demonstration of this occurred on one of the rare occasions when I actually took an interest in the subject at hand. We were learning about the Tudor dynasty. I stopped my passing history teacher, Mrs Jones, and asked who the first king was. She lackadaisically shrugged and dismissively said, “I don’t know,” as if I was wasting her time. And that’s how my interest in history was gently nurtured into the passion that it became. ;-)


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DBR Books Blog Review

Just a quick note…

I submitted Lance’s Travels UK to DBR Books in the hope that they might like to review it. I was rather pleased to receive an email recently explaining that they’ve decided to include it as one of their “Reading Journal reads”. This means it will receive multiple blog posts over the coming weeks as they work their way through it, as well as already being featured in the latest edition of their monthly magazine, which I’m pretty flattered about. I’ll be sure to post updates as to what they make of it. Here’s a couple of highlights from the review (reproduced with permission) but feel free to read the whole thing here if you’re interested.

“The way in which historical facts are delivered in the book produce for the reader special “what ifs” moments, which caused us to pause and ponder on a bit of history and speculate “what if history had gone an entirely different way, what then?” Leuven gets the reader involved and intrigued, and one can’t help but be absorbed in the natural way in which Leuven retells history.”

“If you love history and travel, then you’ll love reading Lance’s Travels – UK by Lance Leuven.”


Posted by on March 13, 2014 in eBook, History, Lance's Travels, Travel, UK LIfe


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In The Defence of Living Heritage Pt II

If you ever wander over to my Amazon author bio you’ll see that it begins:

‘Lance was aged only four when he was first bitten by the travelling bug. His older brother snuck him out the house late one night with a promise to explore ‘the woods’. Sadly, they were discovered by a dog-walking neighbour before reaching their destination and returned to their angry parents. But it was too late; his sense of adventure had been ignited.’

It is indeed true that my older brother, keen to share his exciting new discovery, attempted to show me the nearby woods. And so we were found, in our pyjamas, at the threshold of ‘the woods’. It would be a few more years before I was deemed old enough to go far enough to reach the woods and explore it properly. It didn’t really occur to me at the time, but I now realise I was lucky to grow up in an urban area that still had such an inexhaustible supply of fun and adventure nearby.

A stream ran through the woods and on occasions we would don our wellies and wade through the stream from one end of the woods to the other. I was one of the youngest of the group at this time and therefore one of the smallest. Consequently, I had some of the smallest wellies. I can still remember the thrill and trepidation of wading through the deepest parts of the stream unsure of whether my wellies would be high enough to keep the water at bay. Inevitably, they often weren’t. I’m sure my Mum wasn’t too impressed when I would return home soaked and muddied. Much like I imagine she wasn’t too impressed on the occasions when I would arrive home proudly brandishing a bucket of freshly caught freshwater shrimps.

Alongside such adventures were the obligatory camps, campfires, bonfires, the secret paths, the bogs (also explored in wellies) and the networks of hidden tunnels built through ferns. As I got older there were expeditions further afield to some larger woods several miles away. This occurred with little more than a casual, “See you later Mum! Back for tea!” as I walked out the door. Sadly this appears to be a degree of freedom denied to many children these days (even though kids are statistically far safer today than they’ve ever been, but that’s a different story). But, of course, one of the greatest thrills for a young boy in the woods was climbing trees.

I became quite adept at tree climbing. A friend and I even managed to climb the tallest tree of our woods (we had to climb several others before working out which was the tallest. We simply climbed one that looked pretty tall, and after reaching the top looked around before concluding, “Nah, that one over there’s taller,” and continued climbing until we couldn’t find any taller ones). We were the only two kids in our area that could reach the top of that tree, and we would often sit in the canopy swaying around in the breeze and enjoying the views.

It was perhaps this childhood love of woodland mixed with my interest in history that ignited my interest in ancient trees. And it was probably this that led me to inadvertently embark upon a treasure trail of ancient trees during my UK travels (although my urge to climb them has been replaced by my reluctance to end up in hospital casualty departments). These trees were some of fifty chosen, due to their historic and cultural value, to mark the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. I first discussed the story here but I’ve decided to return to the subject because there were many other fascinating trees that I didn’t get around to visiting during my travels.

Returning to my childhood, I did venture to Sherwood Forest and visit the Major Oak. It’s between 800-1000 years old, which is pretty good going for an oak. It also has a girth of 10 metres, which is also pretty good for an oak. It’s named after Major Hayman Rooke, whose 1790 description led to it becoming a Victorian tourist destination. The source of the interest is that it was supposedly the tree in which Robin Hood and his Merry Men once hid. Today it’s believed to receive over 600,000 annual visitors from across the world.

Another interesting historic tree honoured for the jubilee was planted by a young girl named Mary Ann Brailsford in her Southwell garden in 1809. Mary’s house, along with the tree, was later purchased by a local butcher in 1846. The tree was an apple tree that young Mary had planted from pips. In 1856 a local nurseryman named Henry Marryweather requested permission to take a cutting from the tree and sell the apples. The butcher agreed, provided the apples bore his name. And so, in 1862, the first sale occurred of Matthew Bramley’s apples and the Bramley apple was born. The apples have since won many awards and a huge industry has grown up around them. They’re now the most important cooking apples in England and Wales and, in 2007, covered 95% of culinary apple orchards.

In 1900 the original Bramley tree blew down in a violent storm. It survived and a hundred years later still bears fruit. As such, the tree marches on as the matriarch of an industry worth over £50 million pounds. But, although the Bramley tree is still soldiering on, there are many such trees that are struggling to resist the ravages of time.

The Pontfadog Oak was awarded the title of the UK’s oldest and largest oak tree, with a girth of over sixteen metres. No wonder it became Wales’ national tree. A 1996 study estimated its age to be between 1,181 and 1,628 years. This made it the oldest tree in Wales, one of the oldest in Europe and the third largest in Britain. No records could be found of a larger girthed oak tree of any species anywhere in the world.

A missing local bull was once found inside the hollow trunk of the Pontfadog Oak, having spent two days there. It was also used as a shelter by sheep and somewhere to play for children, not least of all when a local Easter-egg hunt began using it as a starting point. The Brownies even began using it as the site to do their promise and it became the symbol of the local primary school. But its interesting connection to the local people isn’t just a recent phenomenon. The 12th century Welsh prince Owain Gwynedd is believed to have rallied his army beneath it before defeating the English at the battle of Crogen.

But besides history there is another important aspect of these historic trees. The older a tree is the more valuable it is for wildlife. Ancient trees provide valuable habitats to at least a fifth of woodland species. And the UK possesses 80% of northern Europe’s ancient trees. Many of these are over 500 years old and another 100,000 are considered to be of notable age. But many are under threat from a lack of care, as well as housing and road developments (at least eight are in the way of the proposed HS2 railway line.) Ted Green, one of Britain’s leading ancient trees experts, even went as far as to say: “We should recognise that the UK’s greatest obligation to the conservation of European biodiversity, heritage and culture rests in our ancient veteran trees.”

In 2012 a group of experts from the Ancient Tree Forum visited Pontfadog Oak to survey its status as its health had been noticeably declining. They proposed a list of actions to aid the ailing tree. The total cost of the work was estimated to be around £5,700. Sadly, the actions were never undertaken. In the early hours of 18th April 2013 a fierce storm struck and the Pontfadog Oak was toppled, resulting in the death of the world’s largest and the UK’s oldest oak. It was a sad day for the local people, a sad day for the UK’s conservation legacy and a sad day for those who value these veteran trees. But at least Huw Williams, the land owner on which the tree stood, managed to muster a little humour. While lamenting the way the tree had missed his house he said, “If it had just fallen a few feet to the left, we could have had a new roof.”


If you would like to read more:


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