The institute for Dark Tourism Research | Professor Sharpley Interview

A while back now I headed to Huddersfield to meet Associate Director of the institute for Dark Tourism Research (iDTR), Professor Richard Sharpley.

I’ve been interested in Dark Tourism for many years, without ever knowing it had been categorised as such. Dark Tourism is any tourism associated with death or tragedy. People have been Dark Tourists for millennia. Whether heckling Gladiators in ancient Rome, or taunting those poor people doomed to be executed in the middle ages, they’ve always ‘enjoyed’ being spectators to the dead.

Nowadays, we tend not to put people’s heads on spikes or drown them publicly with the excuse that they might be witches. But we haven’t lost interest in the macabre. We just visit  places deemed to be educational that relate to death, rather than ogling the dying for fun.

Anne Frank’s House, Auschwitz, Ground Zero and Titanic Belfast are the most visited places that can be considered part of Thanatourism (that’s Dark Tourism’s posh name). All the above get over a million visitors a year. And nobody will think you crass for visiting. The sites are important for remembrance, for education and for reconciliation.

Professor Richard Sharpley is interested in this idea of death as a context. He’s Professor of Tourism and Development at the University of Central Lancashire and runs a module on Dark Tourism as part of the Tourism & Development degree.

‘modern society hides from everything to do with mortality,’ Richard says, ‘We’ve lost our natural ability to deal with death and dying. After you’ve kicked the bucket, the death industry takes over – separating people who want to grieve from grieving.’

Richard has also made good use of travel blogs in his research,

‘I read about 50 blog posts about Rwanda, 95% of which were emotionally charged and relatively long. The bloggers were shocked by the horrific displays and couldn’t view the perpetrators as human. When they went back into modern Rwanda after, where those aged 16 and over had been present during the genocide – they were imbued with tremendous hope, because the Rwandans were putting their lives back together. I’ve read the opinions of some who have condemned others for visiting. But most people go there for the gorillas anyway.’

Richard and I spoke at length on the subject of Dark Tourism, and I’ll have an article coming out about it in my favourite magazine very soon. Until then I’ll leave you with a final thought from Richard:

‘Tourism is a lens through which we look at and understand others, it shows us what’s really important to us, and Dark Tourism is a part of that.’

This post was sponsored by East Coast. Their First Class experience has to be the best I’ve had in terms of the food you are offered. I’d rather they had pleather seats but can’t exactly complain.

An advance return fare from London to Huddersfield will cost around £40, or £100 1st class.

Sophie Collard on Google+

On the Brighton Pride Trains

Saturday 1st September 2012 was the 20th anniversary of Pride in Brighton. As such, it made sense to join VisitEngland on a trip to experience it. On the Brighton Pride trains. Or behind a float in this case.

It all began by the Volks Electric Railway, which runs along part of Brighton beach and is the oldest electric railway in the world (as the sign says). The image is horrifically cropped because I neither have photoshop or know how to use it (yet) and there was an annoying sign in the foreground. Anyway…

We walked with Brighton & Hove City Council and their gay dog

The dog proved very popular with crowds along the way.

After a bit, we found the council’s float a little on the quiet side, so went to see what everyone else was up to.

The above was my favourite costume, but many others were excellent too…


This man was one of many dancers who, I felt, were the best, even though the hula hoop dancers were equally colourful. Mr. Blue Hoop made me laugh when he disappeared to Co-op halfway through to buy some booze.

Near the end of the procession, a beautiful angel appeared in a window. Even the mayor, who we’ll get to in a moment, noticed her. We bumped into her at Preston Park afterwards. She was quite shy and explained that it was her first Pride, but she may do the same next year. So look out for her.

When we reached Preston Park we met the Mayor of Brighton (& Hove, actually). I look a bit like a Teletubby in the picture. He gave us badges that said ‘I’ve met the Mayor of Brighton & Hove,’ so I gave him a #WeWillGather badge and told him all about the new site I had the idea for,

He explained he has spent 40 years working in the voluntary sector, is a big person in the Green Party and has worked hard on behalf of Shelter amongst many other things. I was very impressed and look forward to talking to him further. Brighton & Hove are lucky.

Pride was a fantastic experience and I hope everybody had as good a time as I did. Thanks to the council for letting us walk with them, to Barefoot Wines who had the best freebies and allowed me to distribute some to the crowds along the way, and to VisitEngland for organising everything including a lovely dinner before our return, and to VisitBrighton for facilitating.

Sophie Collard on Google+

The First Virgin Conspiracy

I love a good conspiracy. I also love making them up, so forgive me this one. The First Virgin Conspiracy. Having taken the train up to (for the most part) sunny Lancashire this week with Visit England, those of us with strong stomachs (Pendolinos are a bit like fast boats at times) were feeling pretty pro-Virgin trains. Here’s a photo of wonderful PR Nora Maki to show our enthusiasm:

When we got off the train we saw much of Lancashire with its exceedingly green green grass (and, in this case, tiny ducks):

So arriving at the breakfast table at Mytton Hall on day two and being confronted with the news Virgin Trains was to be no more was really quite shocking.

Why would the man who made trains sexy be banished from our railways?

Is First Great Western sexy? No, no it is not. Will First West Coast be sexy? Unlikely.

Virgin trains were the first to have radio that you could plug your headphones into like you can on a plane. They brought us those lovely slimline Pendolinos. And, most importantly, Virgin has money. FirstGroup has no money.  So what’s going on?

Well, after Virgin came to the table in ’97, the DfT felt they’d been ‘robbed’ of millions of pounds and said in response, ‘mark our words you won’t see the end of this.’

And Richard Branson said in response to FirstGroup winning the West Coast route – ‘mark my words, prices will rise.’

So there’s been a feud between the two from the beginning.

Perhaps the Government are going to attempt to let FirstGroup take over all the lines, before neatly buying them all back to take the UK back to a non-privatised way of train travelling. But I have absolutely no idea where they think the money for that is going to come from.

You could compare it to Bristol City Council shutting Ashton Court Festival down because they didn’t control it and people preferred it to the council-run Balloon Fiesta. Or you could call me a liar.

Sophie Collard on Google+

French Booking Agents Beat the English Train Sites

We live in a World where we don’t need to learn a language to get what we want from a foreign service. We live in a world with Google translate. Worth it for French booking agents in this case. Aside from the hilarious possibilities this affords during sporting events such as #Euro2012 (see @kathviner‘s tweets in Swedish ), we can now translate pages of booking websites. This means that if France has a fab new site called I can see it in all it’s glory in English (I did German at school).

It’s still in Beta, so you have to be invited, but once you’re in it’s wonderful. You can even use it to book the Eurostar from London to Paris. And the site can hold the fare for you! (See my post about holding fares). No English site that I have found can do that. The only way to hold fares is to book via a travel agent such as International Rail.

Capitainetrain is beautifully simple. It also notes your age when you log in, so you don’t even need to select a youth fare if you are a youth.

Going to have fun with this one.

Sophie Collard on Google+

TFL London Talk About the London 2012 Olympics

Last week, David McNeill, the Director of Public Affairs and Stakeholder Engagement at TFL, gave an immensely amusing TFL London Talk about travelling around London during the Olympics. He was so funny I thought he should switch career and do comedy instead. Although, ‘I work for TFL and can promise everything is going to be fine,’ is probably a one off joke.

(Thanks Sue, for taking his picture)

As many of you know by now, there is a fantastic site called get ahead of the games, that, alongside some freaky illustrations, details everything you want to know about travelling around during the Olympics. The trouble is it can be a bit like having a menu that’s too extensive at a restaurant. So here are some important points to take away with you:

1. don’t drive through London during the Olympics. Pretty obvious perhaps, but the only people who will be getting anywhere quickly will be athletes, athlete’s families, authorised big-shots, and media types using special lanes on the ORN, or Olympic Route Network.

2. use the train to get to London and indeed other cities hosting events if you aren’t there already. Additional services will be running to places 2-3 hours outside London. Some will run until 1/1.30am. and if you haven’t booked tickets yet, do – because advanced fares are far cheaper than fares on the day. Incidentally if in or heading to London;

3. …get your Oyster card sorted and topped up now, to avoid silly queues at machines during the weeks of (fun) madness. The Oyster can be used on buses, the Underground, the Overground (far more spacious, cheaper and recommended tube alternative) and the DLR. If you have a Railcard you can add it to your Oyster card and shrink the fares alarmingly. Don’t tell anyone I told you, it seems to be a big TFL secret and I’m really enjoying my reduced rate.

4. avoid the Central Line like the plague. I do this on a day-to-day basis anyway because I enjoy what I have left of my sanity. Avoid Bond Street. Avoid London Bridge. If you can, avoid using the tube as much as possible. Check the hotspots. David says, ‘instead of waiting an extra half an hour on the platform, go down the pub for a beer. We have also negotiated cinema and restaurant deals for people who are working in London so that they can avoid the crush… it’s a better idea than it sounds. And don’t go on the central line.’

5. there are a couple of events that will be free. However, don’t go and see the Marathon unless you are mad. The Marathon doesn’t take the normal London Marathon route. David says, ‘ever seen one of those  Hollywood movies set in London with a big car chase that seems to take in every famous landmark from Buckingham Palace to Big Ben to the Tower of London in two minutes flat? Well the Marathon route is a bit like that. It runs five times round central London. We’ve worked out that there’s space for around 150,000 spectators. We are expecting over a million. So that could be quite a difficult one. If you want to go, don’t expect to be able to use the toilet, don’t take the children, and take lots of water. Because basically otherwise you’ll dehydrate and your children will die.’

And then David finishes his TFL London Talk with, ‘anyway in summary it really will be okay – the public transport system is going to hold up, it will be alright, and soon we’ll be joyfully celebrating the 150th year of the Tube.’

Sophie Collard on Google+

How to Keep Cheap Eurostar Tickets

I’m in the middle of booking a holiday to Sicily at the moment. Naturally I want to get cheap Eurostar tickets for the first bit of the journey. The journey will go from London to Paris then Paris to Milan, Milan to Naples and Naples to Palermo – as discovered initially with the help of Loco2’s excellent Engine Room, where the team will answer questions about train journeys all over the place, with a wealth of knowledge and information.

I’ve got an InterRail pass, courtesy of Rail Europe which will cover many of the local trains in France and Italy – but for the high speed trains and overnight trains, bookings will have to be made at a reduced pass holder rate. This is fine by me, as it’s still pretty cheap this way – the most expensive train will be the sleeper from Naples to Palermo and that’s only £29 with a youth global pass.

Frustration only entered the booking process when – as I was trying to work out which trains needed to be reserved in Europe – the Eurostar fare from London to Paris went up in front of my eyes, from £38 to £56. This was a blow because the price of the train fare was edging closer to the price of the EasyJet flight from London to Palermo. And I didn’t want that. I wanted trains to win.

On looking up the price of the flight I was happy to discover that even with the increase in the Eurostar fare, it would still be about £80 more expensive to fly. But I was still distressed by the fare increase. So I tweeted about it.

At that point my lovely friends at International Rail, asked if I’d like them to search the fares and reservations I’d need, as well as finding the best available Eurostar fare. I was filled with feelings of warmth towards them, and said yes.

Not only did they find all the trains I’d need to book in Europe, BUT told me they could hold the Eurostar fare at £53. And they could hold it for a week. So even if the fares went up mine would not.

While I’d always advocate booking as far in advance as possible (see my post on the Caledonian Sleeper) this is a great option when you need a few hours, or days, to sort out other bookings.

And so, in the future – when I see a great Eurostar fare I’m not quite ready to book – I’ll be straight on Skype to International Rail asking them to hold the cheap fare for me. And then I will win. And you can win too.

Sophie Collard on Google+

Ghost Hunting Underneath Bristol Temple Meads

On a weekend in May, Dusk Till Dawn Events organised a ghost walk. The walk explored the vaults underneath Bristol Temple Meads, which I’d wanted to see for some time. Prospective ghost hunters were greeted by Sue, her husband Mike and the rest of the Dusk Till Dawn team.
‘So I hear a medium is coming along tonight,’ I said.
‘Yes, that’s me. Mike and I are mediums.’ Sue replied.
The assembled ghost geeks – plus a blonde pink-jumper wearing ex-Big Brother winner – went into Exeter House, a building in front of the station…

Sue gave everyone an introduction before we left for the tunnels (that isn’t a ghost behind her).


The entrance to the tunnels could be seen below the entrance to Temple Meads, which looked more foreboding than usual.

The mediums said they saw a few ghosts while we were down there – a drunk who had ‘choked on his own vomit,’ a little boy with a flat cap who had died a horrible death with his family…

We found a creepy ladder

And after a break there was a chance to use some ghost catching equipment

Most of the walk was conducted in the pitch black. The tunnels were musty. There were empty crates that used to hold wine that had been there since the 50s.

There was some ‘table-tipping’ at the end which saw everyone place their fingers on a table top, and the table move ‘of its own accord.’ A chair broke at the same time the table fell over and the lady sitting on it said, ‘either I’m a fat cow or it was the ghosts!’
It was a long night from 9.30pm – 3am but I think it would make for a good exclusive birthday party – that way you’d be with your friends, rather than strangers who so desperately wanted to see ghosts they kept shouting at them.

The access the team get to some of the places in Britain that would normally be closed to the public is impressive. The opportunity to explore the vaults underneath Temple Meads is very rare.

The team do, however, explore many interesting old buildings at night and any one of these experiences is worth a go have a look at their website to see what’s on next.

The trip was made possible by Nora at Visit England, Dusk Till Dawn Events, First Great Western (who were exceedingly helpful) and my mother, who allowed me to stay in her house for free.

Behind the Scenes at Blackfriars

All in orange at Blackfriars

This is what I’d look like if I was part of the team constructing the new Blackfriars station, which was opening 19th May 2013. I’d like to thank Network Rail and First Capital Connect for allowing me the chance to do this. (And to Ham for taking the picture).

The new station has taken three and a half years to complete. The bridge has been made wider, and there are four platforms. There will be new carriages 50% longer than their predecessors. And there will be more services that are more direct.

Barges were used to transport 14,000 tonnes of materials during the build, saving 2000 lorry journeys.

The views from the station are spectacular with the Shard and Tate from one point and St. Paul’s the other…

(the weather can’t be helped).

The interior is light and airy, and there are solar panels covering the roof…