Power of the poster
The taxi driver left us in a quiet residential area. There were no signs to indicate the existence of the Propaganda Poster Art Centre in Shanghai. We entered a block of flats, walked down long corridors, past front doors and a windowless flight of stairs to a plain wooden door with a tattered handwritten sign on it. The furtiveness of it made it feel illegal. The small museum was packed with more than 5,000 posters which, up to 1979, were a very powerful tool for propaganda.
The power of the exaggeratedly happy facial features in the early posters and the presence of red-and-black art style, promoting Chairman Mao and the Cultural Revolution in the later ones, were evocative. Photographs showed the posters and political slogans daubed over buildings. It was surreal to be in a secretive, windowless basement in China and actually see and imagine the ways that public opinion had been moulded in former times.
Judy Langworthy, from Derbyshire, wins a walking holiday with Mickledore
Queenstown, New Zealand – on every street corner it seems there is an opportunity to buy an adventure: rafting, bungee-jumping, zip wire, jetboat - the list seems endless in the macho atmosphere of the adrenalin capital of the world. But turn the corner into Beach Street and at No 45 you find a complete contrast. For this is the gallery of New Zealand’s leading landscape artist, Tim Wilson, who paints the spectacular world of the Southern Alps and Fiordland on a grand scale. Huge panels, diptychs, triptychs, all painted with up to 30 layers of paint, which produce a dramatic three-dimensional effect that mesmerises the senses. State-of-the-art lighting can be adjusted to completely alter the visual effect, bringing out features that were hardly noticed at first. If you’re lucky, Tim will be there, working on one of his creations, but not too busy to speak to admirers of his work. What a gem.
Let us go to Brighton beach and watch surf rolling and hear the seagulls squawking. Take a breath. Hold that breath. In fact, take another and keep it spare. You’ll wish you had. We’re going underground, 40 feet to be precise; and back in time, a hundred years and more. We’re going to admire some Victorian handiwork – in Brighton’s sewers. Brickwork, lots of it; much beloved of Victorians. You get to see, admire and coo at 400 yards of close curvature.
It’s quite clean down there. Not the best for claustrophobes, though surprisingly spacious between the tunnels.
Dark and dank; darker if the lights fail; which they do through half of the experience. You have to do it once.
Now, back to the beach, waves breaking, seagulls and breath.
Neil Kenning, Gloucs
In a small corner of far western France we discovered an ancient medieval tower known as the Donjon presiding over a tranquil stone village called Bazoges-en-Pareds. The honey-coloured stone tower and surrounding buildings look as if they belong in Spain or Italy. Black crows circle above the watchtower, their harsh cawing cries echoing around the village.
Inside, the Donjon has been restored and a climb to the top rewards you with stunning views of the Vendée countryside. A barn houses a small museum and a beautiful dovecote sits beside a peaceful medieval garden, planted with herbs, medicinal plants, and a pair of chickens who shared our picnic lunch.
In the summer there are fairs and torchlit evenings, but on the day we visited we were the only ones there and it seemed as if we had been transported back to another time.
Jill Ellis, Essex
Walking the White Rose Way, a 100-mile walking trail from Leeds to Scarborough takes you through some surprisingly interesting areas. These include Louis le Prince’s workshops where he produced the world’s first moving images on film, ruined mills which prompted the building of the world’s largest single room (two acres), two battle sites centuries apart, which saw 28,000 men killed in a single day, and the site of the Vikings’ last defeat on English soil.
An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty as well as the delights of the North York Moors National Park are encountered before reaching Britain’s first seaside resort in Scarborough. Enough to keep any history buff entertained and educated!
Paul Brown, Yorkshire
There is a lovely small town in California called St Helena. It bills itself as Napa Valley’s high street and we were there for the winery tours. A famous author had preceded us, apparently, but not for the chardonnay tasting. Robert Louis Stevenson spent part of his honeymoon nearby in a disused bunkhouse at an abandoned mine called Silverado. The Silverado Museum in St Helena is dedicated to his life and works. We escaped the hot Californian sun to find ourselves surrounded by memorabilia of the man, his writings and his Edinburgh upbringing. Exhibits include a framed page or two of the manuscript from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, complete with amendments. This was pointed out to us by one of the enthusiastic volunteers who staff the collection. Entrance is free, but I’d have happily contributed some pieces of eight.
John Samson, Edinburgh
Crossing the Menai Straits to Anglesey affords views of wooded slopes and the picturesque Menai Suspension Bridge. Further along the A5025 towards Amlwch – rolling countryside, grazing cattle, sandy bays and the sea. As you approach Amlwch, there is a brooding presence to your left, a dark brown, grey and purple “mountain” with a ruined windmill, stone pump house and chimney. These are the remnants of the 18th century’s biggest copper mine in Europe: Parys Mountain, a conical “volcano” with rubble spewing down its sides towards the precipitation ponds below – full of copper-coloured mud – and the copper river “Afon Goch”. Pollution from copper and other minerals created acidic soils and drainage, prohibiting vegetation and contaminating water.
From the viewing platform on the mountaintop, look down into the huge crater from where 3.5 million tons of rock were dug. A myriad colours reflect the evening sun, contrasting with the gorse, heather and lichen now colonising the edges of this industrial dinosaur.
Penny Welsby, Gwynedd
Liverpool? The Beatles, docks, the cathedral, football teams and Ferry across the Mersey is what you would expect and what most people come to see. The unexpected Liverpool takes you under and over ground. Beneath it you find a labyrinth of tunnels built by the tobacco entrepreneur Joseph Williamson. They are still being excavated and no one seems to know much about him or why he built the tunnels: to keep men employed, because he feared the end of the world, or perhaps both. Liverpool was also home of the world’s first elevated railway, although there is little sign of that now, apart from a train in the Liverpool museum, but it’s a surprise to find the start of something there you’d associate more with New York or Chicago.
Chris Allen, Bucks
I stumbled across the Fairy Sanctuary, a tiny tranquil place, while exploring the small town of Swellendam, South Africa. An enchanted forest garden filled with mushroom rings and wishing wells, faeries, gnomes, elves, pixies and leprechauns. The place makes you feel childlike again. It has its own ecosystem and is filled with an abundance of wildlife not seen in many gardens any more.
A true sanctuary dedicated to the protection and preservation of all the positive energies of love, light and magic, reconnecting you with the natural world.
Karen Nice, Sussex
Take a ride
Who would expect that in Chama, a one-horse town in New Mexico, would be the home of the amazing Cumbres & Toltec Scenic railroad, which has been transporting passengers between Chama and Antonito, Colorado, some 64 miles away, since late 19th century. Today, passengers ride along the scenic railway to Antonito and then return to Chama by coach. The surrounding area is well worth a visit too, forests, fields and rivers providing many hiking opportunities – with plenty of wildlife to keep a discreet eye on you. Consider staying at the Parlor b & b (parlorcar.com) and expect delicious home-cooking and warm hospitality – but keep your bedroom windows closed to keep out the railroad soot.
When you’re in India, make sure you visit Nagaland - you won’t regret it. The beautiful scenery, the simplicity of life and the hospitality of the various tribes were most welcoming. Visits to the homes of some locals and sharing stories with them over meals and rice beer.
Kathy Cakebread, Kent
At the base of Mount Hua Shan near the city of Huayin in Shaanxi province there is a set of giant stone steps called “The Heavenly Stairs”. They go all the way up the mountain and lead to some extremely dangerous paths that can be no more than a few planks attached to the side of the mountain in places. When you walk up it has the most incredible view and a heart-pounding drop. When you get to the top you expect peace and harmony and a green mountaintop, yet you find a beautiful temple as well. How they got the materials up there I’ll never know, but it is amazing.
Christopher Phillips, Oxfordshire
Suomenlinna is an inhabited sea fortress around 20 minutes away from Helsinki. Reachable by boat, it is like going to a whole new world; you really wouldn’t expect such a place to be so close to the busy capital. With only around 850 people on the islands, it is really a traveller’s heaven with days of walks viewing the war artillery and unique cafés and museums – you really couldn’t see everything in a day.
Underground tunnels and views that are dreamlike make it a destination you really cannot miss. A hidden gem.
Charlotte Geoghegan, West Midlands
Carn Euny is an ancient village in Cornwall that dates back to the Iron Age. The remains of stone houses and an intriguing underground passage called a fogou can be seen there. The purpose of the fogou is a mystery, although there are theories it was a burial chamber. Those who are fascinated by the fogou can also find one in nearby Chysauster and in the grounds of the Trelowarren Estate on the Lizard Peninsula. Happy fogou hunting.
Pauline Dring, Northants
We came across a most interesting, intriguing and wide-ranging collection of “big boys’ toys” at the Château des Savigny-Lès-Beaune in the village of the same name in France, south of Dijon. The collection consists of a large number of Abarth racing and rally cars, antique powered bicycles, small-scale models of old cars, motorcycles and hundreds of old aircraft from France, America and Britain. All were set in and around the château, which also makes its own wine.
There is a strangely unknown Motor Museum in the small town of Newburn Hall, next to the River Tyne, about five miles east of Newcastle. It is located in an old territorial army drill hall built in 1924, which became derelict in 1977. It reopened as a Motor Museum in 1981.
This large, ramshackle building even contains a lounge bar and dining room. It contains a varied mix of cars of all ages, most seemingly in reasonable condition, and there are boxes and cabinets containing all sorts of car-related bits and bobs. The admission is only £2 and is worth visiting if you are in the area and the weather is not the best, and even people who live nearby do not know of it.
Allan Dixon, Northumberland
Within a mile of the bustling M25 and A3 stands a solitary figure. Once instrumental to our naval history, it now stands as a memorial to a forgotten form of communication. Horses from London used to take a day to relay messages to Portsmouth, but the Chatley Heath Semaphore Tower aided bringing this time down to less than eight minutes. The 60ft tower was only in operation for 25 years before Morse’s telegraph arrived; but it remains one of the best preserved towers of its kind with an operational mast. A victim of vandalism in the Eighties, this red-brick building has now been restored by the council to tell its tale of history.
Surrounded by the Surrey heathland and its native wildlife, this tower remains a hidden treasure that few of the thousands of motorists who drive by daily will ever know about.
James Glover, Surrey
My recommendation for a little known place of interest is the Glenkiln Sculpture Park at Shawhead just off the A75 east of Dumfries. Once there were six sculptures by Henry Moore, Rodin and Epstein, but following the theft of Moore’s Standing Figure last year, only five of these magnificent sculptures remain, placed around the Glenkiln reservoir.
The sculpture park was created by landowner William Keswick between 1951 and 1976. It’s well worth a visit, as is this often forgotten but beautiful and unspoilt corner of Scotland.
Jane Cole, Wiltshire
The guide books say that “Gruta de las Maravillas” in Aracena, an hour west of Seville, “ranks among Spain’s largest and most impressive caves”. You wouldn’t know it from the main ring-road where signs only point to Portugal. There are no flags or tourist plaques declaring this marvel.
Next to the tourist office, a small kiosk sells tickets for €8 plus €3 for an mp3 guide in English. Opposite, between two gaudy souvenir shops, a doorway like the entrance to a block of flats is the way in to an underground world more magnificent than anything in Britain. One thousand 200 hundred metres of limestone caverns the size of cathedrals, complete with underground lakes, were opened to the public in 1914, yet they are only feet below Aracena’s streets and 700-year-old castle.