Stormy seaside

The Lancashire seaside resort of Blackpool is famous for its golden sands, soaring tower, kiss me quick hats and fairground rides.

I decided to explore it for the first time on the murkiest of winter days, when a cold wind was howling and rain lashing down.

The backdrop was solid grey and the caramel-coloured, foamy sea swirled around dramatically.

I took refuge in the spectacular (and warm) Tower Ballroom, given a yearly outing by TV show Strictly Come Dancing.

A testing day culminated with a nasty fall on the Promenade (please check for loose bootlaces) and a grazed camera.

But I’ll be back in the summer to see blue skies, excitable crowds and Blackpool in all its seasonal splendour.

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High-octane Japan

I finally made the long journey to Japan, going on a whirlwind tour of eight cities, travelling between them by high-speed bullet train.

Japan is a country that’s made an impression on all of us, and I found that it has two distinct faces.

There’s the nation that is highly urbanised, crowded, innovative, organised, and speeds along at a breathtaking pace.

This set of photographs are all about that Japan – its neon lights, modern architecture and urban dwellers. Read more below

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While high-octane Japan can be a dizzying experience, it can still be intensely personal. Yes, the old adage is true – Japanese people are very polite and even a visit to the corner shop will be met with deference, thanks and appreciation.

I was always worried about getting horribly confused and lost on Japan’s busy streets, but could find my way around alone. And it was easy enough to order food and make ordinary transactions – the country is now used to tourists.

Some city public transport can be tricky to the uninitiated, so plan ahead and go well-armed with maps.

Hotel rooms are small (I fell over myself a few times) but well-equipped and efficient including the famous multi-functional toilets. 

My advice is to immerse yourself in the Japanese urban experience, which is multi-faceted and rich. But there’s another side to this country, which I’ll bring you soon…

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Manchester’s winter haven

This was a return visit to Fletcher Moss Park, a beautiful nature spot in Didsbury, south Manchester. 

The last time I wandered around there with my camera was in late summer 2018, when it was a lush riot of colour. The park’s famous Poplar walkway was full and verdant.

In January the great trees were bare and mournful. The rock garden was showing signs of death and decay. But amongst this were the early green shoots of Spring, those signs of hope.

The colour cast of my two Fletcher Moss sets is very different. But Manchester folk still visit to walk their dogs, stretch their legs and enjoy this city haven – whatever the season.

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Middle East travel

Tensions in the Middle East have ratcheted up since the killing of Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, while the unintentional shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger jet has done little to instill confidence in travellers to the region.

I’ve visited the Middle East several times over the last 15 years and discovered a compelling part of the world which has a lot to offer.

The futuristic desert cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi are thrilling discoveries en route to chilled Indian Ocean beach holidays. Oman is more low-rise, restrained and authentic, but with a splash of luxury should you want it.

Further up the Gulf is the small state of Qatar, where I happily spent a week exploring capital city Doha and indulging in some dune bashing out in the desert. Jordan and Israel, meanwhile, have a wealth of historical treasures and the relaxing Dead Sea.

For sunshine seekers during the long UK winter, the Middle East presents opportunities for good weather and a seaside climate. But how do you decide if it’s safe to visit? Read more below the gallery

A taste of the Middle East. Click first image to view gallery

For UK travellers, the definitive place to go for advice about visiting the Middle East is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website. The information is detailed, comprehensive and updated constantly.

Iran, Iraq and war-ravaged Syria and Yemen currently carry a red warning against all travel. More popular destinations including the United Arab Emirates come with the advice that “the security situation could worsen with little warning”, while historically most visits are “trouble free”.

A whole host of other trusted travel sources, such as Fodor’s, are also providing information about the situation.

As part of my year of travel, I was very keen to visit Iran, famed for its cultural treasures, delicious cuisine and welcoming people. But I put this on ice before recent events, concerned about the government’s attitude towards LGBT issues.

I’ve also had my eye on a tour of Lebanon but am reconsidering, given the presence of Iranian-backed militias in the country.

Choosing never to travel to the Middle East again would be an oversight. The region has so much to offer and is richly photogenic.

But you don’t have to make any decisions alone – there is a lot of guidance available.

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