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House Hunting in England: A Refurbished Army Fortress in the English Channel



This circular man-made island, known as Spitbank Fort, sits about a half-mile off the southern coast of England in the Solent, a narrow waterway feeding the English Channel. One of three similar islands built by the British military during the 1860s and ’70s, the refurbished fortress has 33,000 square feet of living space covering three floors, with 12 bedrooms, two kitchens, a pool, a central courtyard and multiple leisure, event and dining areas.

Spitbank Fort has played various roles since its heyday as a defense post against French ships approaching the coastal city of Portsmouth. Since being decommissioned in the 1950s, it has been a museum, a nightclub and, most recently, a boutique hotel and event space.

“When you buy into property like this, you’re buying a slice of British history which is utterly unique and truly special,” said James Mackenzie, the head of Strutt & Parker’s country department, which has the residential listing.

The fort, about 150 feet in diameter, can be maintained as a hotel or converted to a private residence, said its seller, Mike Clare, an entrepreneur and developer of unique properties. “It’s like a huge yacht,” he said.

Mr. Clare bought the island in 2009 and extensively renovated it, building around its freshwater well and 15-foot-thick granite walls. A stone tunnel from the landing stage leads to the middle deck, where a central brick-walled courtyard has stairs leading up and down.

Rooms are arranged in two concentric rings around the courtyard. The inner ring has two half bathrooms, a library and a lounge, while the outer ring has eight bedrooms with en suite baths that were once gun rooms, Mr. Clare said. Today they have reclaimed polished oak floors and windows overlooking the Solent. The outer ring also has a bar, a dining room that seats 60, a commercial-grade kitchen and a functional space for crew.

The lower deck houses the fort’s historic kitchen, an intimate wine cellar and bar, staff quarters with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, and several game and TV rooms. The¸ upper level has three half baths, a sauna, two sun decks on opposite sides, a fire pit with built-in seating, and an elevated crow’s nest with a bedroom and an adjacent event room with a bar. The hot pool seats up to 18 people.

Spitbank Fort is for sale along with its two sister fortresses in the Solent. The other two are larger, at 99,000 square feet, and only one has been renovated. The trio can be purchased individually or together for 9.25 million British pounds ($12.4 million), Mr. Clare said.

The island city of Portsmouth, population some 200,000, has several historic attractions, including a dockyard with the 18th-century navy ship HMS Victory, and the Charles Dickens Birthplace Museum. Southampton International Airport is about 30 minutes from the harbor, and London Heathrow is about an hour north.

Britain’s real estate market had seen a “general slowdown” in price growth for a few years heading in to 2020, according to the Office for National Statistics, owing in part to nervousness over the looming Brexit decision. But it has seen a rebound since pandemic restrictions were loosened during the spring, said James Forbes, the head of sales of the Knightsbridge & Belgravia office of Strutt & Parker.

“The U.K. market has seen a huge growth in activity since it reopened in May,” he said.

Portsmouth has seen its own surge of interest during the pandemic, both from local and outside buyers.

Daniel Kemp, the branch manager at Portsmouth Fox & Sons, part of a national real estate chain, said residential properties are selling for 97 percent of asking price, which signals a strong market. “We have seen a lot of pent-up demand since the housing market was given the green light to reopen,” he said.

(As of Oct. 25, Portsmouth had reported 1,601 Covid-19 cases, according to the British government, with England reporting 740,262 cases and 50,309 deaths.)

Mr. Kemp attributed that demand to a temporary reduction in stamp duty for certain properties, set to last through March of next year, as well as the extension of a government program, Help to Buy, which aims to make homeownership more accessible. Then there’s the pandemic, which has “people wanting more space to work from home or looking to move before a possible second lockdown.” One damper on the market, he said, is that lenders have been tightening credit for mortgages.

Christopher Smeed, a client director of Portsmouth-based NEXA Properties, said he has seen “high demand for all types of property” from locals and buyers coming from London, with apartment hunters especially interested in outdoor space.

Mr. Smeed said the average price for residential property in Portsmouth is £242,330 ($316,000), up nearly 4 percent from July’s average, and nearly 6 percent over the last 12 months, citing data from real estate portals Zoopla and Rightmove. Apartments are selling for an average of £192,271 ($250,000), and “terraced properties,” or townhouses, for an average of £230,361 ($300,000).

Portsmouth has long been a crossroads for sailors, naval officers and travelers, Mr. Smeed said, noting that it once had a less-than-sterling reputation. These days, he quipped, it is seeing a friendly “invasion” by foreigners drawn to its redeveloped harbor, with a 560-foot observation tower and a shopping district.

Mr. Mackenzie, of Strutt & Parker, said that England’s southern coast, already popular with vacationers, is seeing more interest from outside the region. Traditionally a draw for “wealthy domestic buyers, many of whom are buying expensive second homes,” he said, coastal properties are currently selling “quickly” and at the “heady premiums seen in late 2007.”

Demand for country houses and estates across Britain has also skyrocketed, he said: “If you compared it to this time last, year you would be amazed.”

Much of the demand, he added, is coming from London.

In central London, prices have remained stable and should remain flat through the balance of 2020, Mr. Forbes said. Year over year, transactions in 2020 should be similar to 2019, he said, but by “historic standards,” transaction levels remain low.

“Good, quality properties,” he said, “are still achieving very strong price points.” These homes are in short supply and are retaining value, while “compromised assets may have dropped slightly in value over the past 12 months.”

“Before this year, most buyers were local and looking to move up in the market,” Mr. Mackenzie wrote in an email. “Coupled with this, the area was also favored by Londoners moving to or around Portsmouth with the intention of commuting on a weekly or, at a push, daily basis. Now, the buyers are Londoners looking to move out of the city full-time or purchasing big second homes.”

Buyers from abroad are typically British expatriates buying second homes, he said.

Mr. Kemp said most buyers of investment properties and summer homes in Portsmouth are British, though some come from Eastern Europe.

Foreigners are not restricted from buying properties in Britain. They can also get mortgages.

“It’s never easy,” Mr. Mackenzie said, “but it can and is regularly done by foreign buyers.”

Closing costs paid by the buyer include the Stamp Duty Land Tax, which is based on the purchase price and calculated in tiers. The rate is higher for a second home. For a second home that costs more than £1.5 million ($1.95 million), the charge is 15 percent, he said.

  • Portsmouth:

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English; British pound (1 pound = $1.30)

The annual property taxes for Spitbank Fort, were it converted to residential use, would be less than £3,500 ($4,600), Mr. Mackenzie said.

James Mackenzie, Strutt & Parker, 011-44-207-318-4600;

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By: Roxana Popescu
Title: House Hunting in England: A Refurbished Army Fortress in the English Channel
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Published Date: Wed, 28 Oct 2020 13:31:49 +0000

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What could you order from Ansett Airlines’ inflight bar in the early 1970s?




People have always liked to drink on board flights, especially people from Australia. Therefore, it should be no surprise to anyone that there was an inflight bar offering in the 1970s.

Ansett Airlines were a major player in the Australian domestic market up until their demise in September 2001. For many years, there were two domestic airlines, Trans-Australia Airlines (TAA) and Ansett.

Ansett’s Inflight Bar

At the time, Ansett operated Boeing 727s, Douglas DC-9s and Fokker F27 Friendships on domestic routes in the country. Airline tickets were quite expensive, with tariffs agreed upon by both airlines thanks to Australia’s weird two-airline policy at the time.

While tickets were expensive and food complimentary, you still had to pay for a drink at the bar. Here is an inflight bar menu from the era, showing the drinks available and their prices.

Clearly the pricing is astounding by today’s standards – 30 cents for a beer? I’ll have thirty-three please! I like how Australian gin is 35c while the imported gin is just 5c more. Which would you choose?

You can tell it is from another era as you can buy cigarettes on board. These price up at 45c, a far cry from the extortionate prices people in the west pay these days for a smoke!

Overall Thoughts

The on board offering is pretty comprehensive for internal flights, and I imagine you’d be hard pressed not to find something you might like. In those times, all payments would have been by cash as well, which would have meant a lot of coinage being handled on board.

Of course, things haven’t changed too much over the years. On many airlines you pay for your drinks just as they did back in the 1970s. Shame the prices aren’t the same of course!

Did you ever buy drinks on board flights from the inflight bar back in the day? Do you still? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by Daniel Tanner on via Wikimedia Commons.
Menu image by Ikara on Australian Frequent Flyer.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: What could you order from Ansett Airlines’ inflight bar in the early 1970s?
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Published Date: Thu, 19 Nov 2020 15:03:14 +0000

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These Shrimp Leave the Safety of Water and Walk on Land. But Why?




The shrimp stop swimming at dusk and gather near the river’s edge. After sunset, they begin to climb out of the water. Then they march. All night long, the inch-long crustaceans parade along the rocks.

The parading shrimp of northeastern Thailand have inspired legends, dances and even a statue. (Locals also eat them.) During the rainy season, between late August and early October, tourists crowd the riverbanks with flashlights to watch the shrimp walk.

Watcharapong Hongjamrassilp first learned about the parading shrimp, and the hundred thousand or more tourists who come each year to see them, about 20 years ago. When he started studying biology, he returned to the topic. “I realized that we know nothing about this,” he said: What species are they? Why and how do they leave the safety of the water to walk upstream on dry land? Where are they going?

Mr. Hongjamrassilp, a graduate student at the University of California, Los Angeles, decided to answer those questions himself. His findings appeared this month in the Journal of Zoology.

Working with wildlife center staff members, Mr. Hongjamrassilp staked out nine sites along a river in Thailand’s Ubon Ratchathani province. They found shrimp parading at two of the sites — a stretch of rapids, and a low dam.

The videos they recorded revealed that the shrimp paraded from sundown to sunup. They traveled up to 65 feet upstream. Some individual shrimp stayed out of the water for 10 minutes or more.

“I was so surprised,” Mr. Hongjamrassilp said, “because I never thought that a shrimp can walk that long.” Staying in the river’s splash zone may help them keep their gills wet, so they can keep taking in oxygen. He also observed that the shells of the shrimp seem to trap a little water around their gills, like a reverse dive helmet.

DNA analysis from captured shrimp showed that nearly all belonged to the species Macrobrachium dienbienphuense, part of a genus of shrimp that live mostly or fully in freshwater. Many Macrobrachiumspecies spend part of their lives migrating upstream to their preferred habitats.

Most parading shrimp that Mr. Hongjamrassilp captured were young. Observations and lab experiments showed that these shrimp probably leave the water when the flow becomes too strong for them. Larger adult shrimp can handle a stronger current without washing away, so they’re less likely to leave the water.

Walking on land is dangerous for the little shrimp, even under cover of darkness. Predators including frogs, snakes and large spiders lurk nearby, Mr. Hongjamrassilp says. “Literally, they wait to eat them along the river.”

And the shrimp can survive on land for only so long. If the parading crustaceans lose their way, they may dry out and die before they get back to the river. A few times, Mr. Hongjamrassilp came across groups of lost shrimp dead on the rocks, their once-translucent bodies baked pink.

Yet most navigate upstream successfully, and scientists have spotted other freshwater shrimp around the world performing similar feats, scaling dams and even climbing waterfalls.

Leaving the water when the swimming gets tough may have helped these animals spread to new habitats over their evolutionary history, Mr. Hongjamrassilp said. Today, the number of parading shrimp in Thailand seems to be declining. He thinks tourist activity may be a factor, and learning more about the shrimp might help protect them.

The study’s authors made “some really excellent observations,” said Alan Covich, an ecologist at the University of Georgia who was not involved in the research. But understanding why the Ubon Ratchathani shrimp move upstream, and how far they travel, will require more research, he said.

“The most surprising thing to me was that it attracted so many tourists,” Dr. Covich said. He doesn’t know of any other example of people gathering to appreciate a crustacean in quite the same way.

“We have crayfish festivals, we have all kinds of things,” Dr. Covich said, “but generally it’s people eating them, not watching them move.”

By: Elizabeth Preston
Title: These Shrimp Leave the Safety of Water and Walk on Land. But Why?
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Published Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2020 17:02:07 +0000

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Will Aer Lingus launch transatlantic flights from Manchester?




There are reports that Aer Lingus have applied for 1,500 slots at Manchester Airport for the Summer 2021 season. This will allow the airline to base four aircraft there and service flights to the United States.

At present, there have been no press releases from the airline stating what is going on. Even so, it probably makes sense for the Irish airline to do this in the current market.

Aer Lingus And Manchester

From what is known, there will be three Airbus A321LRs and an A330 based at Manchester. These will operate non-stop services to New York JFK, Boston, Chicago and Orlando, and the season starts on 28 March 2021.

With Thomas Cook having gone out of business, there is likely space for another competitor. New York and Orlando will see competition from Virgin Atlantic, while the other two routes have no airline flying at the moment.

Aer Lingus has been connecting passengers over Dublin very successfully from the UK regions for a while now. Due to this, they will have visibility on traffic patterns, potential yields and more, making this an informed decision.

I imagine they also hope to cream off some of the connecting traffic that routes through London Heathrow on British Airways and Amsterdam on KLM among others. It would prove to be quite successful.

Transatlantic Joint Venture Approval

The US Department of Transport has tentatively given its approval for Aer Lingus to join the oneworld transatlantic joint business. This is operated by American Airlines, British Airways, Iberia and Finnair.

These airlines coordinate schedules and pricing, share revenues and expenses. For the consumer, it means more choice – those making a booking on British Airways across the Atlantic will also see options on American Airlines on the BA web site as one example.

Theoretically, it would allow people seeking flights on the British Airways web site to automatically be given options to fly non-stop with Aer Lingus, along with the Manchester-London Heathrow-US city connecting itinerary.

Whether Aer Lingus will join the oneworld alliance, even in a oneworld connect capacity remains to be seen. Frequent flyers would welcome it, especially those in Ireland.

Overall Thoughts

No doubt the boffins have been working behind the scenes to see if the business case for transatlantic flights from Manchester stack up. As things have proceeded as far as a slot application, I would guess chances are good that it will go ahead.

Either way, let’s see if this happens and if it does, whether Aer Lingus will stay for the long haul. If they can make more money elsewhere, they’ll up sticks and leave. Regardless, it is an interesting development in European aviation.

What do you think of Aer Lingus starting transatlantic services from Manchester? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

To never miss a post, follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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Featured image by N509FZ via Wikimedia Commons.
Aer Lingus A321neo LR by Pitmanaaron via Wikimedia Commons.
Business class cabin via One Mile At A Time.

By: The Flight Detective
Title: Will Aer Lingus launch transatlantic flights from Manchester?
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Published Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2020 18:03:48 +0000

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