I spent hours researching my dream visit to the north of Scotland. I wanted to go by train to Thurso and then just travel by bus to places like John O’Groats. The train journey was going to take two days: Northallerton via Edinburgh to Aberdeen and, the following day (June 25), to Inverness and on to Thurso. I was so looking forward to it. But, at the beginning of June I accepted there would be a train strike which would completely derail all my careful planning. So I began cancelling my dream trip and decided I needed some beach walking to cheer me up. So out came the maps and my iPad and I decided upon… Saltburn-on-Sea especially as the Cliff Railway would be operating.
One important reason was that I could drive there easily. The rising cost of fuel was no deterrent when it wasn’t possible to depend upon the trains. With my food intolerances I needed to feed myself and I found a one-bedroom self-catering holiday let in one of the ‘Jewel Streets’ between Marine Parade and the main shopping area (Milton Street). For location it was perfect. It was so easy to visit the beach and then shop in a supermarket or the Real Meals Deli. In fact, Saltburn is so compact it is easy to walk everywhere.
In the Lower Path Garden there is a wonderful sculpture of Henry Pease (1807-1881) made using scrap metal by Hilary Cartmel and Michael Johnson in 2002 (left). Its construction depicts many aspects of his life – as a Victorian industrialist, MP for South Durham, and Quaker philanthropist who had interests in the Pease Brick Works in County Durham, coal and iron mines, and the Stockton and Darlington Railway. He formed the Saltburn Improvement Company 1859 after having, it is said, a vision of a new town nestling on the northern side of Skelton Beck. I enjoyed looking for the many examples of Victorian seaside architecture in the town.
For the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee the Friends of the Lower Path Garden had let those attending the Whippet Up’s creativity and wellbeing sessions across Redcar and Cleveland to install 25 ‘crowns’. Most of them were in the garden but that made of driftwood escaped! (Below left The local yarn bombers targeted the posts beside the Fossil Garden with some equally imaginative and joyful celebrations of the Platinum Jubilee.
There was one aspect of the town’s Victorian past that I definitely wanted to experience and that was the Cliff Railway, with its stained glass windows, which rises 37m from the Lower Prom to the Fossil Garden. Opened in 1884 this is described as one of the oldest water balanced funicular cliff lifts of its type still in operation in the UK. (see www.saltburnbysea.com).
Above left: the tramway and Saltburn Pier. The latter opened to the public in the summer of 1869 – the only pleasure pier on the whole of the northeast and Yorkshire coast. On the right: ready to go up on a tram.
Above: The Ship Inn and the original Saltburn which was renowned for its smugglers. I didn’t try my luck at finding fossils on the beach near the inn.
Huntcliff Nab towers over the southern end of Saltburn beach. It’s not surprising that the Romans chose it for a signalling station as it is one of the highest cliffs on the East Coast. The Hunt Cliff Nature Reserve is the home of noisy kittiwakes. It cannot be accessed by we humans although I understand there are good views from the Cleveland Way coastal path. I left that to the more intrepid walkers. Skelton Beck separate the two Saltburns and I had a pleasant walk along its glen, past the miniature railway and through the woods to the Valley and Italian Gardens – the Victorian pleasure grounds created in the 1860s.
The only time I used my car during my stay at Saltburn was when I visited Staithes which is such a honey pot for tourists. Once upon a time it was one of the largest fishing ports of North Yorkshire but sadly few fishermen ply their trade there now. For me the best part of the visit was climbing the steps for the views from The Old Stubble.
Left: Now those are quite some steps! I was fascinated by how they had been worn over the centuries as people walked up and down Mt Pleasant to and from the harbour at Staithes.
Above: looking across the harbour. Below: A view from The Old Stubble
And then it was back to Saltburn. My plan was to beach walk, read and sleep and for me Saltburn was ideal. Even the weather was perfect and I may well have chosen one of the best times to visit because it wasn’t too crowded. It was so good, however, to see school groups and mums with toddlers enjoying a visit to the seaside.
Two very different towers: on the left, one of the 83m (272ft) high towers of Lincoln Cathedral and, on the right, the 156m (512ft) high Barclays Building at Canary Wharf in London. In the 12th century the spires of Lincoln Cathedral made it the tallest building in the world. Today the Barclays Building is overshadowed by even taller buildings in London. All photographs copyright Pip Pointon.
David and I had a great time together on our Enjoying Britain adventures and we had more planned when he died so suddenly in May 2019. Finally, almost three years later (partly due to Covid 19) I decided it was time to ‘break out’ and begin again, this time on my own. Not that I was too adventurous for my first journey, as I went back to North Norfolk and then to my son, Eddie, in East London (Canary Wharf and Greenwich). It was on the way home that I did something that David and I had always planned to do – and that was to spend a day in Lincoln.
I had a very comfortable drive to North Norfolk thanks to David’s old Mercedes B Class. The A47 in Norfolk always tests one’s patience as a driver and this time it had a particularly tiresome obstacle: an hour-long queue to get over Sutton Bridge due to the work being carried out on it. I had planned to have a break from driving after Kings Lynn but after that holdup I decided to keep going. It was such a relief, six hours after leaving home, when I reached Sue Bondi’s home. It was a bitter sweet reunion for her husband, Jim (David’s best friend), died very suddenly on Christmas Eve 2020 and this was the first time we had been together since. Sue made me very welcome – as did Dotty her little dog.
We had spent so many great times together boating on the Broads but the deaths of David and Jim had ended all that. On our first day together Sue and I visited one of my favourite spots: the riverside park at Coltishall where we met her daughter-in-law, Amy. From there we went shopping at Roys in Wroxham. So many memories – especially of staring up at the ancient stonework of the single-span bridge at Wroxham, just two to three inches above us, as David steered his boat towards the moorings. Neither Jim nor David needed a pilot to help them – although we had to time it carefully to ensure that the water level was low enough. For Dotty we included a walk through Felbrigg Hall park.
Below: heading under Wroxham bridge, and (right) David approaching it in Edna May.
Among my many happy memories were our dinners at the Roman Camp Inn at Aylmerton – and Sue and I were not disappointed when we went there for a meal. One reason I find it difficult to travel is because I have so many serious food intolerances now and can be quite ill if I eat even the tiniest amount of something that I react to. Going out for a meal has become such a luxury. Before I left home I had checked the website of the Roman Camp Inn and had spotted one of my favourites – beer battered fish. I had phoned the Inn and been assured there was no milk in the batter and they could provide me with a meal free from chips, tomatoes or any soya. And so I was able to take Sue out which was very special for both of us after lockdowns and self-isolation. There was an even bigger surprise as the chef produced a wonderful Eton Mess dessert for me using meringue, poached pears, berries and thick coconut milk.
We made the most of the good weather on the Thursday, walking the promenade at Sheringham, shopping in its amazingly busy high street (a great place for browsing), and then on to Blakeney for our picnic lunch (I had taken my own homemade bread to Norfolk). We spent the afternoon in Sheringham Park where some of the rhododendrons were already in bloom. Later in May and early June the Park would be awash in colour with spectacular displays of flowering rhododendrons and azaleas. But the early bloomers flaunted their beauty with abandon. (Below)
Our walk on Friday morning was to Roman Camp – the hilly vantage point the Romans used to keep watch over the North Sea. And where Jim had died. Later that day Sue drove me to Cromer station so that I could take the train to London. My main memory of the journey to Norwich were the serried ranks of solar panels enveloping several farm fields.
For someone who knew London well in the late 1960s and early 1970s the changing landscape of the city is a constant surprise – and that was certainly true as I walked out of Liverpool Station. There are some old buildings left but they are completely dominated by modern high-rise apartment and office buildings. (Below)
Eddie and Lauren met me at the station and organised a Uber taxi to take us to where they live by Limehouse Basin. I did manage to visit them last year and enjoyed walking round the marina, seeking out the few older buildings (such as St Anne’s Church, Limehouse).
On Saturday morning Lauren suggested we went out for coffee at the Yurt Cafe before we had breakfast. This was just round the corner from Limehouse Station – and what a lovely surprise, especially as the staff made a great coffee barista using oat milk. This Mongolian tent cafe which is part of the Royal Foundation of St Katharine. The latter owes its existence to Queen Matilda who made the initial endowment in 1147.
After breakfast we went to Canary Wharf, enjoying the promenade by the river, Westferry Circus and the Crossrail Place Roof Garden, before Eddie took us to visit his work place on the 26th floor of the 32-storey Barclays Building. Even though it was virtually empty it was so warm inside. Up on the 26th floor there were some amazing views over London and towards Greenwich – and yet more building sites. (Below: the view over the Isle of Dogs to The Millennium Dome)
And then there were the self-flushing toilets! Just stand back and it all happens. Eddie said these were introduced during the pandemic along with other measures to reduce the possibility of sharing the dreaded virus. Another surprise that day was how relaxed people were – either when shopping at Waitrose, in the underground shopping precinct, or on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). A few people were wearing masks but those daunting days of Covid 19 were obviously becoming just a memory.
The following day we took the DLR to Greenwich. Sunday was obviously the day to promenade in Greenwich Park. We walked up the hill past the Queen Elizabeth Oak to the Flower Garden watching children and dogs playing and adults sitting on the grass enjoying that lovely open space away from all those over-powering tower blocks. We wandered back past The Pavilion Coffee to the Royal Observatory for a right royal view of London.
Our walk back to the station took us past some beautiful Georgian buildings, Goddards famous pie and mash restaurant (on left in photo below with the Cutty Sark in background) and through Greenwich Market, Sometime I would like to go back and explore the town of Greenwich. (I visited Cutty Sark and the Maritime Museum with David in 2013).
Back at Eddie’s flat I continued my journey of exploration using my iPad as I wanted to know more about an intriguing place called Mudchute on the Isle of Dogs which we had passed on the train. I was fascinated to read that it got its name from having mud dumped there when Millwall Dock nearby had to be constantly dredged in the 19th century. Much of the area was saved from development in the 1970s by the Association of Island Communities. The community charity, The Mudchute Association, was set up to administer the 32-acre farm and park with many activities for visitors.
The following day I experienced a surreal moment in the Uber taxi back to Liverpool Station. The driver had left Bangladesh and come to live in Tower Hamlets in 1972. He had watched as the population doubled and maybe tripled with the construction of higher and higher blocks of flats. Back in 1972 I started my travels by going to Bangladesh – a country then still very scarred by the recent war of independence. The taxi driver happily chatted about all the changes he had witnessed in Tower Hamlets and I was very much the tourist! I was glad to get back to the open countryside of North Norfolk. Sue and Dotty met me at the station.
That afternoon we walked through Kelling Heath. The last time I had seen this area of outstanding natural beauty had been from the North Norfolk Railway. This time Sue and I managed to leave a good viewing point maybe ten minutes before a steam train would have made a photograph a lot more interesting.
When I left Sue on the Tuesday I decided I would visit Hunstanton – the place I had intended to stop at a week earlier. Road works again caused confusion and delay! And doubled the length of the journey. Its Cliff Parade proved to be a great place to park, have my picnic lunch and go for a walk but I didn’t join the fossil hunters under those famous striped cliffs
David and I had often taken the A15 from Hull to North Norfolk and had promised ourselves that someday we would stop in Lincoln. But we never did. So, this time, I had booked two nights at the Premier Inn at Canwick on the outskirts of Lincoln. The facilities proved as good as ever and there was free parking. It was so easy then to drive to the park and ride car parking area beside Waitrose and take the bus. I did, however, have a problem finding the bus stop as the park and ride buses do not go into the Waitrose car park. Then I made what seemed to be a critical mistake – I didn’t get off at the Cathedral bus stop. Instead, I ended up at the bus station at the bottom of the hill.
I hadn’t done much research or planned a route beforehand but instead I went from one interesting old building or view to another. The first to catch my attention was the imposing Tudor building which now houses Stokes cafe and a pastry shop (below left). Later I read with interest about it being on top of High Bridge – the oldest bridge in England with buildings on it. The present bridge dates back to the 12th century. A few minutes later I was crossing the River Witham where I stopped to contemplate the aluminium and steel sculpture by Stephen Broadbent entitled Empowerment. (Below right) I read later about this millennium project: ‘The design is intended to echo the shape of turbine blades, in recognition of Lincoln’s industrial heritage, which transform into dynamic figures that reach out to empower one another, just as the blades empower one another within the turbine.’ (Wikipedia).
Walking on I could see the 16th century Guildhall with its archway known as the Stonebow. (Below left) I was captivated not only by the architecture but also the white duvet under the pillars of the Stonebow where a street-sleeper had obviously staked his claim to a rain-proof piece of pavement.
before long I was wandering along The Strait and up Steep Hill with its 12th century buildings. When I reached the top I was so grateful I had been using the fitness equipment at Yoredale Leisure Centre for several months as I wouldn’t have done that so easily late last year. I stopped to look at the Jew’s House and Jews’ Court (below right) which date from the 12th century. It’s hard to imagine Lincoln City Council, back in the 1920s, proposing to demolish the Jew’s Court as part of a slum clearance programme! Thankfully it wasn’t.
I decided not to visit the Castle as I especially wanted to go in the Cathedral. But I did see a university graduation procession from the Cathedral to the Castle grounds. The graduation ceremonies that day meant that the Cathedral nave was closed to visitors. (Below left – one of the graduation processions that day. Right: a family enjoying the graduation day under the stony gaze of the Gallery of Kings at the Cathedral.)
But there was still plenty to see including the 13th century decagonal Chapter House with its single, central column holding up its amazing umbrella of vaults (Below left). I had decided to leave my large camera at home and just use my iPhone. That had worked well for most of the photography but not for getting a good picture (below right) of that Imp hiding high up on one of the columns in the Angel Choir.
I spent the last half hour in the interpretation room with its close-ups of some of the sculptures and the fascinating history of the Cathedral. Then I was ready for a break. Sadly, the gluten-free vegan cakes in the restaurant included potato starch – a regular ingredient in gluten-free flour. So I just had a cup of coffee and then went and sat outside on a semi-circular bench which was protected from the wind and with a great view of the cathedral.
From there I headed for the Cathedral bus stop and then Waitrose where I did some shopping ready for my return home the next day.
That evening the Beefeater restaurant next to the Premier Inn did prepare a plate of food for me – that old faithful of gammon steak, egg and pineapple but with rice instead of chips. I had hoped to have beer battered fish again but the fish fryer, I was informed, was out of action. But I couldn’t fault the service.
I was very glad to get home in time to see the stunning displays of bluebells in Wensleydale. On the left is just a small part of that in Freeholders Wood near Aysgarth Falls. On the right is a leaf bud at Sheringham Park.
When our friends Jim and Sue (with their elderly dog Monty) visited us recently we took them to some of our favourite places: Tennants of Leyburn and The Garden Rooms; Duncans Tearoom, Richmond, and Lower Swaledale. The wind was cold but otherwise the weather was perfect for some of the Dales views that we treated them to.
We do feel very fortunate to live in such a beautiful area where even the drive to the shops can be savoured – whether we go to Hawes or to Leyburn. I must admit that I do enjoy shopping in Leyburn. There’s a good mix of family run shops, medium sized supermarkets, bakeries, butchers, gift shops, plus a variety of excellent places to eat or socialise.
As it was a Friday it was market day in Leyburn but this time we did not stop but headed for The Garden Rooms as our friends had not seen how Tennants has developed into a world-class centre. The multi-million pound extension which was completed in December 2014 made it it the largest auction house in Europe. It is a grand building which the Tennant family uses to promote and enhance the culture and tradition of the Yorkshire Dales. Jim and Sue were very impressed by the beautiful entrance to The Garden Rooms. As it was an auction day we decided to have a look at what was on offer before going to the cafe for coffee.
Jim, Sue and I first browsed among the toys which conjured so many childhood memories for us oldies. Then we realised we had lost David in a world of his own for he was fascinated by a model of the famous 19th century racing clipper Lightning.
As we wandered off to admire the ceramics, jewellery, evening dresses and even fur coats David was obviously still thinking about it. In the cafe it was fascinating to watch the monitor as it displayed the rapid sale of items – 100 in an hour. That model boat wasn‘t due to be under the hammer until lunchtime and we wanted to move on. We were just leaving when David decided he would go and place a commission bid on Lightning.
Once Monty had had a chance to stretch his legs we set off back through Leyburn to Moor Road and along Whipperdale Bank. This took us past Metcalfe Farms, now famous following the TV series about its heavy haulage business.
After the crossroads Whipperdale Bank (otherwise known as Cote de Grinton during the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in 2014) is a road which commands attention not just because of the awkward camber and the undulations but also for the moorland scenery. When Sue asked for a place to stop so that Monty could get out we immediately suggested waiting until we passed the imposing Grinton Lodge which was built in the 19th century as a shooting lodge and has been a youth hostel since 1948. Soon afterwards we came to the junction with the road to Redmire just before Grinton where there is an ideal viewing spot with space to park several cars. Jim and Sue were duly impressed by the view across Swaledale.
Reeth warranted a longer visit but we just drove round the village green and headed for the road to Richmond as it was almost lunchtime and we wanted to eat at Duncans Tearoom. This has become one of our favourite places to eat not least because they have the most delicious gluten, dairy and potato starch free chocolate and walnut cake. Jim and David ordered eggs benedict (David’s with smoked salmon), while Sue enjoyed a leek and potato pie and I had one of their dairy free soups.
We were thoroughly enjoying our lunch when David made a telephone call and found out he was now the very delighted owner of Lightning.
It was soon time to find somewhere for Monty to have a brief stroll so we went to Hudswell and along the moor road which leads to Downholme. That road (Hudswell Lane) provides some of the best views in the area and there is a good interpretation board at the small car park (above). From there we could see Hutton’s Monument which marks the grave of Matthew Hutton who died in 1814 when he was 35-years-old. He had chosen that site because as a boy he had sat there enchanted by the beauty of that “mountainous country”.
We could understand his enchantment as we gazed on a vista which was not only very beautiful but also had so much to tell about the history of the northern Yorkshire Dales. To the west we looked across How Hill to Marrick. How Hill is the site of a large Iron Age defended settlement (univallate hillfort) which would have provided a commanding position overlooking the access to upper Swaledale as well as the route south to the Vale of York.
The Romans mined for lead in the moors above Swaledale and Arkengarthdale but they did not leave such a lasting legacy as the Anglo-Saxons and Vikings did for today many of their place names remain. The name of the river – the Swale – has Anglo-Saxon origins meaning whirling, swirling and swallowing. An apt name for one of the fastest flowing rivers in the country with its reputation for ‘swallowing’ incautious bathers. Marrick and Marske are Viking place names.
In the 11th and 12th centuries it was the turn of the Normans to stamp their mark on the area with large hunting forests for the noblemen and the foundation of religious houses. Some Benedictine nuns chose a site near Marrick in the 12th century for its beauty and solitude and Cistercian nuns founded Ellerton Abbey nearby. That solitude was often rudely shattered between the 13th and 16th century when the nunneries were attacked by Border Rievers (robbers). In 1342 Ellerton Abbey was almost destroyed by Rievers. Bands of robbers continued to attack farms and villages in Northumberland, North Yorkshire and Cumbria until the border with Scotland became settled following the coronation of James I in 1603.
The nunneries had gone by then. The dissolution of the monasteries during the reign of Henry VIII led to the closure of Ellerton Abbey in 1536 four years before the nuns at Marrick Priory were evicted. The Priory chapel was the village church until 1948 and it was then used as a hen house.In the 1970s it was converted into an outdoor education and residential centre. Ellerton Abbey was transformed into a Regency villa in the 1830s so that it could be used as a shooting lodge. For over 200 years the heather moors have been managed to provide grouse shooting for the wealthy and providing employment for many local people.
It is said that Swaledale has 75 per cent of the world’s remaining heather moorland – a habitat which is rarer than tropical rainforest. We could see smoke rising from the controlled burning of the heather and the patchwork pattern which that produces as well as the butts where shooters wait for the grouse to be driven overhead between August 12 and December 10 each year. The new growth provides the green, juicy shoots that the grouse love to feed on. It is argued that the management of the heather moors which includes predator control has led to the retention of so many curlews, lapwings, redshanks and some other ground nesting birds. It is always a delight in the spring to hear the curlews and lapwings calling as they return to nest among the heather.
Human management has stamped its mark on the Dales. The view so many people associate with Swaledale with its picturesque stone barns and small green fields enclosed by dry stone walls was created by the families who have farmed there for many centuries.
It was not just the heather moorland and the green swathe that surrounds the Swale which caught our attention but also the signs that this was once a heavily industrialised area. On Marrick and Marske Moors there are disused quarries and lead mines with the remains of smelt mills and soil heaps. When it was no longer commercially viable to mine for lead in the area there was a mass exodus in the 19th centuries which is why there are so many in Australia, New Zealand, the USA and Canada today who are descended from Dales folk.
Sadly today Swaledale is an example of a new exodus as so many houses have become holiday lets or second homes. This has led to the villages becoming denuded of young families – the life blood of any community – as they can’t afford the high prices that those coming from the cities and suburbs can pay. I can’t help thinking that the National Park’s drive to bring in more tourists might well backfire as more local young people are driven out.
In Downholme, the next village we passed through, has become a prime location because it has changed so little since the 1930s when the MoD began buying all the houses there. The MoD didn’t start selling the houses on the open market until the late 20th century. The Bolton Arms pub was the last to be sold – in 2013. Downholme is now a conservation area to protect the local vernacular style of the majority of the buildings which were built in the mid 19th century.
We travelled on hoping to reach The Garden Rooms in time to collect Lightning. The A6108 took us past the very distinctive Walburn Hall which dates back to the 15th century when it was fortified against the attacks of Border Rievers. On the land around this working farm there are many humps and bumps – all that remains of a village which thrived there in Norman times.
At Tennants we parked among many others who were collecting their newly acquired wares. David soon appeared proudly carrying Lightning. The next problem was getting it safely into the car as it was 55 inches long (140cm), 18 inches (46cm) wide and 35 inches (90cm) from the stand to the top of the main mast (above). Monty usually filled most of the boot. Thankfully he accepted being gently pushed to one side and a passenger seats was laid flat. Sue and I squeezed into the remaining passenger space and tried to keep the boat from rocking as Jim drove carefully back to Aysgarth.
Once Lightning was safely tucked away in the conservatory we could relax around a warm fire and enjoy some excellent cheese from the Wensleydale Creamery for light supper.
David and I returned to The Garden Rooms a few days later and had lunch in the cafe. I was delighted to find that there was no cow’s milk in the battered cod and even more so when the catering staff substituted baby root vegetables for chips. David was equally delighted with his beetroot and feta tart.
We certainly didn’t try to have a meal there on Saturday December 9 when the cafe was full to overflowing during the superb Christmas Fair. It is now attracting coach loads of visitors as well as many local people enjoying a day out. That was not surprising because there was a great variety of wares for sale with some stallholders having travelled miles to participate. My friend Rita Cloughton hadn’t had so far to travel with her delightful home-made crafts and was doing very brisk business.
For me the biggest surprise was finding mouth-watering Christmas puddings that I could eat thanks to Burtree Puddings. It is often very frustrating having so many severe food intolerances – but what a pleasure it is when I find something so good that I can eat.
At Warwick Avenue Station we left behind the hurly burly of modern London and stepped into the dream world of a Prince Regent who wanted to create an elegant London with beautiful open spaces. So Warwick Avenue is broad and lined with large Regency white stuccoed houses which are as fashionable today as they were when built in the mid 19th century. The houses we passed in Warwick Place were not as large but just as elegant. Our destination was Little Venice and we couldn’t think of a better way to spend a beautiful sunny autumn day in London than going on a boat ride along Regent’s Canal.
We crossed the Westbourne Terrace Turnover Bridge where the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal flows into Browning’s Pool (otherwise known as “Little Venice Lagoon” or just “The Lagoon”) to reach the Waterside Cafe where we rendezvoused with my son Eddie.There was a bit of a wait to get served but it was worth it for David and Eddie enjoyed their meals there and I spoilt myself with a slice of orange polenta cake (minus cow’s milk products). Below: Waterside Cafe. Click on this picture to see a photographic trip along Regent’s Canal.
Surrounded by grand houses, modern flats and many visitors it was hard to picture the days when the area was in the open countryside. When the first houses were built in the 1840s they provided a haven for those who wanted to escape the thick, yellow London pea-soupers. Robert Browning lived there for a while in the 1860s before migrating to Venice. These days the Regency buildings he knew are overlooked by modern apartments but he has not been forgotten.
A gondola trip around the willow-draped island in the middle of the Lagoon was on offer while a group of novice paddleboarders made their way slowly past the Rembrandt Garden and the queue of tourists waiting for the London Waterbus. We were heading for Jason’s Canal Trip moorings and so we crossed the Turnover Bridge again to await the arrival of the 109-year-old narrowboat. Even though we weren’t the first in that queue we were allowed on board first because I had booked tickets in advance.
As we waited for the trip to begin we watched as a “working” canal boat delivered supplies to another narrowboat. We were reminded that British canals had come into existence in the 18th and 19th centuries and were essential to Britain’s industrial success because they provided an excellent way to transport millions of tonnes of heavy goods throughout the country before the advent of the railways.
Regent’s Canal was completed in 1820 to provide a link from the Paddington Arm to Limehouse. Architect John Nash was a director of the Regent’s Canal Company set up in 1812 and described it as “barges moving through an urban landscape”. The bulk of the river traffic then served the industrial heart of the city but Nash and his assistant James Morgan ensured that there was much to enjoy and in the mid 19th century there were pleasure boats on The Lagoon. The beauty of Regent’s Canal is that for many miles even today it provides an escape from London’s urban landscape.
Canals began to fall into disuse and decay from the mid 20th century because the narrowboats could no longer compete with both railway and lorry transport. Thanks to the efforts of many volunteers throughout the country hundreds of miles of canals have been restored. According to the Canal and River Trust charity, in 1969 Regent’s Canal was unused and unloved. That certainly can’t be said today. The Trust has contributed a lot towards creating better and more open spaces as our journey along Regent’s Canal showed.
As Jason’s Boat pulled away our guide began his cheerful and informative description of the canal’s history and the sights along the way. We left the Lagoon and passed under Bridge No 1 on the Regent’s Canal: the late 19th century grade II listed Warwick Avenue Bridge with its ornamental iron railings. Now we were gently travelling past Maida Avenue and Blomfield Road towards the 272 yards (249m) long Maida Hill Tunnel.
Brightly painted narrowboats lined the edges of the canal on some of the most prestigious moorings in London. Ahead was the Cafe Laville in Edgware Road marking the beginning of the tunnel. Our guide explained that when the 201-year-old tunnel was being built it cut through part of the outfield of what was the second site of the Lord’s Cricket Ground. Spoil from the diggings were used to level land to the north of the canal so that a new cricket ground could be created.
Our guide also told us about how men had originally had “legged” horse-drawn narrowboats through the canal by laying on top on their backs and using their legs to push the boats along while the horses were led to the other side of the tunnel. Jason’s boat had been a cargo vessel until it was fitted with a diesel engine and, in 1951, was the first he said to be used for tourist trips between Camden Lock and Little Venice.
Not long after leaving the tunnel we came to a wider section of the canal where the permanent narrowboat moorings are overlooked by modern apartment blocks and the very large St John’s Wood Electricity Sub-station. Once upon a time coal boats moored there to deliver supplies to a power station.
We were then embraced by trees in their autumn plumage as we entered Regent’s Park. Neo-classical mansions towered above us remindPaing us that Nash had originally planned to line the canal with grand houses. That dream was partly realised when Quinlan Terry was commissioned in the late 1980s to design those now on the south bank of the canal.
Our guide told us all about Macclesfield Bridge – or rather Blow-Up Bridge. It got that name after a narrowboat carrying gunpowder and petroleum blew up in October 1874. The three members of the crew were killed and the bridge was demolished. The Doric arches were put up again and the bridge was rebuilt.
Soon we were on our way through Regent’s Park Zoo, spotting some African wild dogs and the Snowden Aviary before coming upon the splendid Feng Shang Princess (a floating Chinese restaurant) and turning towards Primrose Hill. At this point we were heading back into industrial London leaving behind that haven of tranquility.
The towpath along the canal is now part of the 37 mile Jubilee Greenway walk which came into being to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. The canal and its unique industrial heritage are protected by being in a conservation area.
Before long we were passing The Pirate Castle which is the base for a boating and outdoor activities charity. As we headed for Camden Lock I thought it was so nice to see people sitting on the edge of the towpath , their legs dangling over the canal, eating their lunch. Behind them were the Lock House apartments in what had been one of the main warehouses on the 20 acre W & A Gilbey Ltd site in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
We could see the Interchange Warehouse (now the home of Associated Press TV News) and the 19th century Roving Bridge which was once used to move horses from one towpath to another.Then we understood how well those by Lock House had escaped the crowds. As we disembarked near the Roving Bridge we were enveloped by a mass of people as we tried to make our way past the international choice of food on offer at various kiosks and the stalls offering a wide selection of clothes, music, art and so much more.
It is said that the market is one of London’s most populated tourist destinations and it is estimated that over 11,000 visit it at weekends. David commented that all 11,000 seemed to be there that afternoon. All David and I wanted to do was to get out. What a chaotic and noisy contrast to the tranquility and harmony of nature we had experienced on the way through Regent’s Park. Even outside of the market it was difficult to find somewhere to sit and have a cup of coffee.
David decided it was time to leave as quickly as possible and Eddie flagged down a taxi for us. We felt as if we were on a magical tour of London, sitting in comfort in a real taxi watching all the people and the traffic in comfort. It was fascinating to see not just what remains of the Prince Regent’s dream but also the new buildings, especially the skyscrapers.
With hundreds more skyscrapers soon to be built it seems London will become one large building site. But sadly there seems to be very little coherent design as architects and developers compete to dominate London’s skyline. The London I knew as a child is fast disappearing – which made our journey along the Regent’s Canal even more special. Below: Passing through Regent’s Park.
I always look forward to the two Autumn gatherings of the NE Mercedes-Benz Club – at Whitley Bay and at Beamish Museum.
The Whitley Bay Classic Car Show started four years ago and at each one we have seen the area being transformed thanks to the North Tyneside Council’s regeneration scheme for the town. The refurbished toilets at Watts Slope definitely have the wow factor.
The area to the south of those toilets has dramatically changed for the better with a wide promenade by the sea and the new Premier Inn. We did enjoy the view from our bedroom window (pictured above) at that hotel but were sad to find that we could not open the window and so let in the sea breeze.
We are looking forward to next year when the promenade beside The Links where the car show is held will be open again after refurbishment. The biggest attraction, however, will be the Spanish City with its splendid white dome and statues of dancing ladies back once more atop the re-instated cupolas.
The restoration of this historic feature of Whitley Bay could well make the town as popular as it was when Charles Elderton brought his dancing troop, the Toreadors, to the town in the 1900s and then had the Spanish City built.
Before going to Whitely Bay I did quite a lot of research on the internet to find a restaurant that would cater for a vegetarian, those with severe allergies and food intolerances, and children. The result was that, after the car show, we went with Giles and Elaine Brown and their two children to The Astley Arms at Seaton Sluice. The carvery there provided a superb meal for each of us.
The car show, organised by North Tyneside Council, was once again a great success with over 500 cars dating from the mid 1930s to more recent models. The success is largely due to admission being free both for those entering cars and for the public. Then there’s that great location which gets better each year. It always helps, of course, if the sun shines as it did during the morning at this year’s show.
We enjoyed meeting friends, catching up on club news, and browsing among the vintage and classic cars.
Above: some of the members’ cars at Beamish – click on this picture to see more photos of the gatherings at Whitley Bay and Beamish.
A week later we met club members again, this time at Beamish for the Classic Car Day organised by NECPWA North.
This is a very special location with so much to do and see. We went on tram rides while others explored the 1900s Town, the 1940s Farm and the 1900s Pit Village. Most of us took picnics because we knew that there would be long queues at the fish and chip shop and the bakery.
Among the friends who we met both at Whitley Bay and at Beamish were Bill Reid and Kate Workman. It was so sad to hear that they had died in a suspected carbon monoxide incident at their home in High Seaton near Workington on October 22.
They organised events for the Cumbria Mercedes Benz Club for many years. When they stepped down the NE Club took over and we met them at events in Cumbria, and they began attending gatherings in the North East. We will miss them.
Details of how they died from carbon monoxide poisoning due to Bill reversing their Mercedes Benz into a large plastic bag were published in April 2019 following an inquest into their deaths.
For our Enjoying Britain travels in July 2017 we watched the Masham Steam Engine road rally, and then had a a trip to Whitby, which included staying at Ruswarp Hall, a picnic at Sandsend, a return journey on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR), and a visit to Eden Camp at Malton.
We were so grateful to Robert and Pru for again inviting us and other friends to join them for a grandstand view of the Masham Steam Engine road rally on Saturday, July 15. (Click on the photo above to see more steam engines and also some of the NYMR.)
Pru and Robert’s house overlooks the market place at Masham where the steaming, clanking cavalcade was gathered in for a display of engines ranging from the big road locomotives such as the 1913 Burrell proudly displaying its Prestons of Potto livery and large steam rollers, to the “miniature” versions which were still capable of conveying several people. To add to the fun there were steam lorries plus vintage tractors and cars.
There was a great sense of community, not just around the town but also among the participants as they have got to know each other so well during the many years that they have met at the various steam rallies in and around Wensleydale. That in Masham began in 1965 as a way of raising funds to maintain the town hall. It is held in neighbouring fields over a weekend in July each year with many of the participants joining the road run late on Saturday afternoon.
Many of the drivers of those majestic engines can’t leave the market place without a loud whistle. Once most of them were gone Pru and Robert made sure we were well fed. None of us were in a hurry to leave!
Two days later we were on the road to Whitby as we had booked for a return trip on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (NYMR) on the Tuesday – something we had been promising to do for several years. As we headed towards Masham we met another procession – this time of vintage and classic cars including Austin Sevens, a Daimler Dart, an Austin Healey and a Triumph Spitfire. We wondered if they were on their way home from the Historic Vehicle Rally at Newby Hall the previous day. The slowest vehicle returning home was the steam roller heading for Woodhall.
It was a glorious sunny day and so it wasn’t surprising that Thirsk town centre was very busy with far too many pedestrians not checking carefully before they cross the road in front of us. Once we had ascended Sutton Bank we decided we did not want to follow the main road. So just after Kirkbymoorside we turned off and headed for Hutton-le-Hole. Its picture-perfect green dissected by Hutton Beck, the pub and the cafes were very inviting, as was the Ryedale Folk Museum, but we did not stop but rather took the moor road over Blakey Ridge. Ewes and lambs provided a sharp contrast in colour against the purple heather blossom as we climbed towards the Lion Inn, the 16th century pub at the highest point in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park (1325ft). There were glorious views over Farndale and Rosedale but yet again we decided to keep going.
As we dropped down into the Esk Valley the roads became much narrower and often full of the rich scent of hay making. By lunchtime we were in Lealholm. This is where the River Esk cascades from a steep gorge called “Crinkley Gill” to flow through the centre of the village and over the famous stepping stones. But what caught our eye was the Shepherds Hall tea room and craft gallery – and not just because it had been well and truly yarn bombed
The hall was built in 1873 as a meeting place for the Loyal Order of Ancient Shepherds. If shepherds have to be fit to follow their flocks then the waiters at this tea room have to be equally fit. The kitchen is on the ground floor, with the main dining area upstairs, and the two others out in the garden (one overlooking the river). David thoroughly enjoyed his panini and I was so impressed at how the staff happily assisted me with finding something I could safely eat. They even telephoned the local bakery to find out if any cow’s milk/products had been used in the bread.
After our pleasant meanderings over moor and through dales Whitby came as a shock because it was overflowing with visitors. We did manage to find a parking space and wandered around the centre of the town so that we knew where everything was the following day. As it was so hot David introduced me to the very refreshing Costa smoothies. I had done some research into where to eat at Whitby and had realised that we would have a major problem as almost every restaurant served shellfish – and David has a dangerously acute anaphylactic reaction to the minutest amount. For our first evening I had, therefore, packed a picnic.
My place of choice for that picnic was the parking area overlooking Sandsend. David had to wait for supper because, when we got there, the temptation of walking along that sandy beach (and a paddle) was just too much. When I returned he drove to Sandsend car park which was relatively empty by then. It was a great place to enjoy a picnic on a beautiful, sunny evening and we both thoroughly enjoyed it. (Below: Sandsend beach on that warm summer’s evening with Whitby Abbey in the distance)
Then it was time to find our lodgings for the night. I had been seduced at the idea of staying in a Jacobean house – and so had chosen Ruswarp Hall. Sadly, our first impression was that the hall had been altered so much over the centuries that it no longer had much charm for us as a building. We felt that even more when we sat out in the garden at the back of the hall and it was obvious that the establishment required a lot more TLC. We did, however, enjoy having access to the honesty bar.
We were warned that our room – number four – had a ghostly reputation. For us, however, there were no odd occurrences and we slept very well as the Hall had a comfortable atmosphere untroubled by the ghost.
The one thing our room lacked was the internet connection even though free Wifi had been promised. We discussed this the following day with Lizzie, the daughter of the owners. She explained that they were trying to ensure Wifi connection to all the rooms – but, like the ghost, it failed to put in an appearance for us.
I certainly enjoyed a good, hearty breakfast on our first morning there – so good that I didn’t need any lunch. We decided to park in the centre of Whitby and explore the old town before we began our excursion on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. This also gave us an opportunity to use our Northern Museums Volunteer passes as we visited the small but interesting James Cook Museum.
On the train we were made very welcome and comfortable by the volunteer staff. The volunteers obviously take great pride in maintaining a high standard both on the trains and also at the railway stations. “It took me back to my childhood as I remembered the days when we used to travel on those sort of trains,” David said.
I soon realised I had made a mistake regarding which camera to use. I should have taken my Canon 600D but had opted to carry less, and so took my small Olympus Mu and the camcorder, both of which fitted nicely into my handbag. It didn’t help that I’m very much a novice with the camcorder. The 15 minute stop at Grosmont gave me a chance to use it.
After there we soon headed into Grosmont Tunnel. The original, believed to be the oldest railway tunnel, had been built in 1835 for a single-track horse-worked line overseen by George Stephenson. It was hoped that it would open up new markets for Whitby where the whaling and shipbuilding industries in decline. The railway was upgraded to a double-tracked steam one after it was bought by the York and North Midland Railway in 1845. Its ownership changed two more times until it was nationalised and became part of the British Railways network in 1948. It, like many other branch lines, was closed in the 1966 as part of Beeching cuts.
The line between Grosmont and Pickering was re-opened in 1973 thanks to the North York Moors Historical Railway Trust Ltd with most of the engines being provided by the North Eastern Locomotive Preservation Group.
For our trip we were yet again fortunate with the weather with clear views and some wonderful contrasts in colour from the purple of rosebay willowherb along the railway bank to the yellow, newly cut hayfields and the woodlands and moors beyond. A kindly NYMR guide warned us when, after Goathland, we were passing the highest point on the railway and then travelling down Fen Bog where the railway lines float on a bed of timber and sheep fleeces – a solution Stephenson had used to cross Chat Moss on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
We had been told that the food at the Fisherman’s Wife in Whitby was excellent so I phone them to see if we could safely eat there. Wonder of all wonders – I was assured that the chips were fried in a separate fryer so there was no danger of an accumulation of shellfish ‘toxins’ which would affect David. And there were no cow’s milk products in their batter. David was so looking forward to the luxury of having some chips as we waited in the draughty doorway of the restaurant. At last we were seated and could place our order – and then the waitress returned to tell us that the chef had fried scampi in the chip fryer that day. What a disappointment!
The following day, after another hearty breakfast we headed for Malton and Eden Camp. It’s People’s War 1939-1945 is amazingly comprehensive, inclusive and detailed exhibits but also overawing. “They have tried to be very representative of that time,” commented David.
In some of the huts it was impossible to read all the material. Even so what we did read was fascinating – from the creativity of prisoners of war on both sides to how women contributed to the war effort in Britain.
The recreation of the Blitz in Hut 6 and the mournful wait of the siren proved unsettling, however. David was born during an air raid and the siren practices went on for several years after the 2nd World War. So both of us could remember how our parents had reacted so fearfully to that sound which recalled the trauma of the air raids. As we studied the impact of the air raids on Sheffield David also remembered playing on bomb sites.
One of the highlights of our visit was that David did, at last, get a plate of chips plus an excellent veggie burger. For me, however, there was no light snack that I could eat even though one of the staff worked so hard to find me something.
The publicity for Eden Camp states that you need at least four hours to do justice to the site. After four hours we felt we couldn’t assimilate any more! We had a brief look at the collection of military vehicles and at the display about human torpedoes and then decided it was time to leave.
It was a beautiful drive home. After a dull, misty start the sun had come out and the Howardian Hills and the Dales were a delightful sight. Many of the verges were fringed with creamy meadowsweet and violet meadow crane’s-bill. It’s always a joy to drive back into Wensleydale with Penhill standing sentinel over the sparkling River Ure.
Snow, hail, thunderstorms and a biting cold wind – not what one expects in North Suffolk at the end of April. Thankfully, we were staying in a delightful B&B and were looked after in grand style by Annie and Bob Jellicoe at Hall Farm, Wenhaston. From there we visited Southwold, Leiston, Aldeburgh, Thorpeness, Dunwich and Walberswick and the lovely countryside and coastline in that area. (Above: snow falling at Hall Farm paddock – click on this to see more photos)
We had spent two days preparing David’s boat, Edna May, for her visit to Boulter Marine at Horning where she had her top cleaned. For me, the most enduring memory of those few days was how cold it was. So it was wonderful to walk into the kitchen at Hall Farm and luxuriate in the warmth emitting from their large Aga. From there we were ushered up the steps to where we could step down into our own little annex (in the 19th century extension) with a lovely bedroom and a private shower room. Each provided us with views of the paddock where an elderly Southdown ewe was spending a restful retirement in the company of two two yearlings and a flock of hens.
What fascinated me most was the large wooden beam at the top of the stairs which formed part of the original late 16th century farmhouse. David, however, would often stop on the stairs and study the maritime pictures hung on the walls. So it wasn’t surprising later to learn that Bob not only worked as a volunteer at Southwold Museum but also at Southwold Sailors’ Reading Room where the town’s maritime history is celebrated.
On that first evening we were happy to eat at The Star nearby and return to our cosy room to read our books. That meal was soon overshadowed by the excellent breakfast served from that warm Aga with laughter and good conversation. That conversation began, of course, on the topic of the weather – for we had awoken to the sight of snow falling. It didn’t last long and disappeared as soon as it hit the ground, but it was a warning that the cold weather was to continue.
One of the specialities of Hall Farm was Bob’s homemade bread and he made a white loaf for me as I have problems with wholemeal bread due to my many food intolerances, whilst Annie produced some deliciously light and fluffy scrambled egg for me even though she had never used soya milk for that before.
We spent the morning in Southwold and paid a short visit to the Amber shop and museum. It was fascinating to see examples of amber still in its natural state, and then how some had been skilfully carved by artisans in different cultures. From there we took a stroll down Southwold’s pier and its attractions including the House of Games, Tim Hunkin’s whacky and weird machines in the Under the Pier Show, and took time to watch the Water Clock. Tim Hunkin and Will Jackson created this in just three weeks in 1998 as a cheeky way of illustrating how water can be recycled. They left it to the imagination of their amused audiences as to what happened to some of the output! (Click on the photo above to see what I mean!)
The pier provides an excellent viewing platform for Southwold, from its multi-coloured beach huts to its lighthouse. The latter is still in operation almost 130 years after it was built by Trinity House, the charity which continues to monitor and control it. We didn’t join one of the tours but instead visited the harbour, had a drink at the Harbour Inn and then went on a short tour of some of the fascinating countryside further south.
Our route to Dunwich took us past Westleton Heath and some towering hedges of golden gorse. We briefly considered having our evening meal at The Ship, but at 5.45pm the evening menu still wasn’t available. When one was finally produced it included ham in a vegetarian meal! We decided to look elsewhere. Our meanderings this time took us through Dunwich Forest which is part of the Suffolk Coasts and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
As the White Hart at Blythburgh was on Annie and Bob’s list of good hostelries we stopped there and once inside headed for the seats near the cheery, crackling log fire. The staff happily helped us find food we could eat: a very tasty gnocci and mozarella with red pepper pesto for David, and beer-battered haddock for me. Once well supped it was back to the comforts of Hall Farm.
Next morning we visited Leiston and had just got inside the Long Shop Museum when hail stones began pounding on the roof. David had especially wanted to see the Long Shop where flow line assembly was introduced by Richard Garrett III in the 1850s to produce portable steam engines.
David was amazed at the engineering, the innovation, the diversity and quality of the products manufactured there from 1778 until 1980. “They made all sorts of things – anything anybody wanted they made it. It was totally fascinating and it was a wonderful visit,” he said.
It was one of the volunteers at the museum who recommended the vegetarian cafe, Simply Delicious, to us. David was in veggie heaven as there was such a wonderful choice of dishes. Even I could have some of the salads as well as a delicious slice of vegan carrot cake. We both ate too much and felt very spoilt!
We managed to miss the hail and thunder storms on a day when it was better to watch the weather from the shelter of the car. We motored to Thorpeness where I marvelled at the fantasy holiday village created by Stuart Ogilvie in 1910. The mock Tudor houses are very well maintained as is the “House in the Clouds”. (below)
We continued south to Aldeburgh and were pleased to find that the town’s museum in the 16th century Moot Hall was open that afternoon. It was fascinating to learn that the town council has met in the upper room since the Moot Hall was built. The town can also boast having Britain’s first woman mayor as Dr Elizabeth Garrett Anderson held that position between 1908 and 1910. In December the town will celebrate the 100th anniversary of her death. I couldn’t help thinking that her mother’s life should be celebrated too.
For what a family of girls Louise Garrett had! Her second daughter, Elizabeth, against all the opposition from men, became the first woman in Britain to qualify as a surgeon and physician. Another daughter, Milicent, joined the suffragist movement when she was 19-years-old and was a co-founder of Newnham College in 1875. In April 2017 Dame Millicent Garrett Fawcett became the first woman to be honoured with a statue in Parliament Square.
Her sister, Agnes, joined her cousin, Rhoda Garrett, in undertaking an architectural apprenticeship in 1871 and four years later they set up set up what has been described by Helena Wojtczak as the first all-female design and decorating company, and won many high-profile commissions for public buildings and residences. Rhoda was the daughter of an impoverished vicar who refused to accept that she was destined to be a lowly governess.
The Garrett family’s legacy in Aldeburgh is the world-famous music centre The Maltings. This was originally a warehouse and then a brewery set up by Elizabeth Garrett Anderson’s father, Newsom, the brother of Richard Garrett III of Leiston.
The Moot Hall provided us with an opportunity to understand how the thriving town and harbour at Dunwich was lost to the sea in medieval times leading to greater prosperity for Aldeburgh (there is also a museum at Dunwich). We certainly enjoyed our visit to Aldeburgh Museum – and afterwards drove past the yacht club to see the Martello Tower. That unmade road provided us with a good place to park and watch the sea for a while from the comfort of the car.
After our large meal at lunchtime we decided that two “starters” at the Harbour Inn at Southwold should be sufficient. I was very impressed that, as soon as we walked in, the staff remembered that I had discussed food intolerances with them. I had a delicious plate of smoked sardines while David tucked in with relish to baked Camembert.
On our journeys to and from Southwold I always watched for the bluebell wood near the junction of the A1095 with the A12. The most distinctive feature of the landscape at that time was the brilliant yellow of the rape fields, but that was offset by the gentle green of the swathes of umbellifer along many of the verges and also beside the promenades in Southwold. (On the way to Wenhaston we saw the magnificent displays of cowslips along the verges of the ring road at Norwich.)
The following day we visited the small but very interesting Southwold Museum. Bob showed us the even smaller archives and cataloguing room. That made me realise how fortunate we were at Hawes to have such a large, well stocked research room. I often felt we were walking through history in Southwold and the other villages due to the many centuries-old houses from those of high status to lowly fishermen’s cottages. Museums like those in Southwold and Aldeburgh helped us to understand that history.
On leaving Southwold Museum we gave the Adnams cafe a miss as two days before I had had a dreadful mug of coffee there. It was so bad that I left most of it – which was not easy to do when it cost so much. Instead we went to Le Roc. The coffee was great and they even had an amazingly good parsnip and honey cake which I could eat. Afterwards we went back to The White Hart at Blythburgh for another superb meal.
Our food experience had been further enriched by Bob’s bread-making. He introduced us to a medieval peasant’s blend which contained broad bean and pea flour. It was gorgeous. I must have a go at making that bread.
We were sad to say goodbye to Bob and Annie for they had made us so welcome. We had shared a lot of information and laughs – but it was time to collect Edna May. Maybe we should plan another visit as we didn’t go to see the fascinating medieval paintings in Wenhaston and Southwold churches.
We returned via Bungay for on the way to Wenhaston we had found a special place to eat: the Earsham Street Cafe. We had been amazed that it was so busy on a Monday that folks were being turned away at midday. So David had booked a table for our return visit.
Thanks to the team at Boulter Marine Edna May sparkled, but we were very aware that, on our next visit to Thurne, we would have a lot of painting to do to complete her transformation. I only hope that the weather is a lot warmer!
There have been some wonderful days for topless driving this spring. For our first outing, on March 26, we went via Hawes and the Buttertubs to Swaledale, stopping for food at Thwaite, before heading through Keld, then past Tan Hill pub and back home via Arkengarthdale. On our second trip we headed past the Howgills on our way to the book shops at Sedbergh (including Westwood Books) , and on the way back had a look at Grisedale.
Over the Hills…
Above – stopping to enjoy the view from the northern side of the Buttertubs. Only a few days before everything was covered in snow but only a little remained on the tops of the moors that day. Click on the photo to see an album of pictures taken during the two journeys.
It was just a whim: “Let’s get the car out of the garage and give it an airing – its such a lovely day.” So off we went, via Hawes and over the Buttertubs (or the Cote de Buttertubs as it was called during the Tour de France).
Of course we stopped to enjoy the views. Then, shortly after I took the photo above another car drew up and, to our amazement, the driver and his wife were old friends, Clive and Carol. So we decided to head for the Kearton Tearoom in Thwaite, have lunch together, and have a good chat.
We went our separate ways from Thwaite. We went through Keld and on to the Tan Hill pub where many people were sitting outside and enjoying the warm sunshine. We carried on through Arkengarthdale and back into Wensleydale.
The Daffodil Way
It was a great day to go “topless” on Monday, April 3– so out came David’s Mercedes E320 Cabriolet and down came the top. We headed west on the A684 to Sedbergh as we wanted to visit one of England’s best and biggest secondhand bookshops, Westwood Books.
As we expected, there were lots of young lambs gambolling in the fields enjoying the warm sunshine as much as we were. But we didn’t expect to see the verges, especially outside farmhouses, bedecked in a profusion of swaying, golden daffodils. The Street in Garsdale was especially beautiful.
By then we had left behind the more open, but hilly terrain of Upper Wensleydale, passed the Dandry Mire Viaduct near Garsdale Head railway station and driven into Garsdale’s narrow, spectacular valley. On the south side there were deep clefts in the sides of Rise Hill where water had tumbled down numerous gills to reach the Clough River. On the other side the sprawling mass of Baugh Fell reminded us that soon we would see the Howgill Fells which A Wainwright compared to a herd of sleeping elephants as above the steep sided valleys smooth grassy slopes rise up to the rounded summits.
There’s a great viewing point nearer to Sedbergh but beware of the potholes! We were intrigued by the sign under the information board which stated “Don’t feed the ponies” for the wild fell ponies are known for being elusive and we have never seen any at that car park.
From there it was just a few minutes drive into Sedbergh. As there was nowhere to park outside the bookshop we followed the one-way system which led us south of the centre and past one of Sedbergh School’s playing fields before bearing right by St Andrew’s church and then right again into very narrow Main Street. The town’s car park is ideally situated but we we were not to be deterred from our goal.
Westwood Books is truly a book-lovers paradise! We spent over an hour there and didn’t succeed in exploring every nook and cranny. We left with a bag of books, and then bought some more at the Dales & Lakes Book Centre!
There were more bookshops we could have visited but we decided it was time to find somewhere to eat. As it was a Monday, however, most of the cafes were closed. Thankfully there was a warm welcome at Smatt’s Duo Cafe where we had an excellent lunch at a very reasonable price. We had expected it to be a light lunch but their helpings were larger than that.
Ours was a short visit to this interesting ancient market town which does owe so much to the Normans who, after 1090, developed its burbage plots with buildings along Main Street and crofts behind them. This meant there were plenty of alleyways (“yards”) to peer at even if we did not take time to explore them.
The warm sunshine called us back to the fells, however, and we decided to take the high road, turning off before Garsdale Head to follow a sign towards Grisedale. We didn’t have a map and had done no research so had no idea what we would find which certainly made it more interesting.
Up on the fellside we stopped to enjoy the peacefulness and to listen to the curlews calling – only to be chided by red grouse for having the presumption to interrupt their courting rituals.
David carefully drove on for the road was becoming narrower. We spotted a redshank, an oyster catcher and a lapwing before reaching the first gate. We even went through a second gate before the road became a track and we had to turn back.
From what we had seen Grisedale was no longer the “Dale that Died” for there were working farms and well-restored dwellings. We past some visitors who, with their two large dogs, had managed to reach the holiday cottage they had booked. What a superb place not just for long walks with the dogs but also to watch the stars on dark nights.
Back in Wensleydale David decided we would take the road on the northern side of the River Ure. We passed through Hardraw where visitors were sitting outside the pub and reached Askrigg before the Humble Pie closed. There I bought an excellent slice of vegetarian quiche. Elizabeth Guy assured me that she even made dairy free fruit scones. I must return sometime and try them.
There were more daffodils swaying beside the road as we approached Carperby. We turned towards Aysgarth Falls and passed Freeholders Wood which was carpeted with white wood sorrel – the harbinger of the bluebell season.
We are always careful on the approach to the bridge at the Falls to slow down and watch carefully for visitors and oncoming traffic. Then there is that sharp bend on the steep hill before the churchyard so it is impossible to rush past St Andrew’s. The churchyard was bedecked in gold as the masses of celandines were also sun-worshipping – a fitting finale to a lovely sunny day.
Footnote: The Daffodil Way continued along the A684 with a particularly magnificent display on the western approach to Leyburn.
David certainly did enjoy his birthday treat: a return journey on the Embsay to Bolton Abbey Railway. (Above: Embsay Railway Station)
Our day began with what must be one of the most scenic drives in England, on the B6160 from Bishopdale into Wharfedale. We were shrouded in low cloud as we began the ascent to Kidstones but then the sun broke through to highlight grazing cows and and trees in their autumnal glory. As we began the descent into Wharfedale the mist lifted and the wet fields shimmered in the sunlight. “It was magical the way the millions of water drops reflected in the sunshine,” commented David.
Dry stone walls create fascinating patterns there, either marching down the steep hillsides or wrapping themselves round the fields along the valley. The morning mist still clung to the cliff under Kilnsey Crag with some escaping like a wraith through a cleft to the top. Just beyond Kilnsey the road overlooks a broad sweep of the River Wharfe edged with hundreds of boulders as a reminder of the force of the river when in spate.
We continued south to the roundabout just north of Skipton where we took the A65 until the brown signs directed us into Embsay and to the railway station. Many others were there enjoying a warm sunny day during the autumn half term holiday. As I had bought first class tickets we could take our choice of the plush, comfortable seats in the 1st class carriage, or the chairs in the Directors’ carriage.
As the latter provided the best views we had no difficulty in choosing where to sit. We had a fleeting view of Holywell Halt where, in summer, many disembark to visit Hartington Hollow picnic area and also to see the Craven Fault which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. (Above: heading towards the Yorkshire Dales)
The Directors’ Carriage was built in 1906 so that the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway’s Directors could travel in style when they inspected the route. It, and the 1st class carriage, are part of the Stately Trains fleet so beautifully restored by Stephen Middleton. The steam train used that day for the 15 minute journeys to and from Bolton Abbey was on loan from Southern Loco Ltd and was obviously being very well cared for.
One of the problems with being in the Directors’ Carriage was that there was no access to the other carriages and, therefore, to the buffet. I did buy drinks from the buffet when we were at Bolton Abbey because there was such a long queue in the cafe.
We had an opportunity later to sit in the cafe and have a drink because we returned by car from Embsay. After our train journey David had inquired about buying any spare parts from old carriages and we were told we would have to discuss that with Tim at Bolton Abbey.
In the early 20th century British Kings had used the railway to visit The Dukes of Devonshire at Bolton Hall. Many tourists also disembarked at Bolton Abbey from 1888, when the line was opened, until it succumbed to the Beeching Cuts in March 1965. The Yorkshire Dales Railway Museum Trust (YDRMT) was formed a few years later with its volunteers first renovating Embsay station. Slowly the line to Bolton Abbey was reinstated and the somewhat derelict station building there was replaced with one just like those built by the Midland Railway in the 19th century.
The station at Bolton Abbey is one and a half miles from the Abbey itself and so these days most people drive there and use the various car parks which we passed later. On our journey back home the day was drawing in providing very different colour-scapes to those we had seen in the morning.
Our thanks to all the volunteers who have worked on that line, and to those who made our day so enjoyable. Below: Starting young!
The cat mint bordering the route into Kiplin Hall was alive with bees. Below – the “back” view of Kiplin Hall.
We had a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining afternoon at Kiplin Hall near Bolton-on-Swale in North Yorkshire. This was not just because this Jacobean House was so interesting but also thanks to the great sense of humour displayed by so many of the volunteers on duty there.
They definitely had a touch of “Last of Summer Wine” about them and we did have a good laugh. And thanks to the volunteers and staff the house still sparkles with the vitality of many of those who have lived there since the 1620s.
We began our tour, of course, with coffee and a light lunch. Looking at the menu I thought I had to accept that I wouldn’t be able to eat anything given all my food intolerances. But the lady in charge of the catering came to my rescue and offered me an excellent green leaf and ham salad. The coffee was very good as well.
Sitting by the window gazing out across what would have once been the grand entrance to Kiplin Hall all we had time to study the excellent guide book which helped us to make the most of our visit.
Then it was off to the Drawing Room where, we were told, the families living there had sought to show off their best furniture. David was especially taken with the Chinese Chippendale cabinet which had been commissioned to house the delightful pietra dura (hard stone- marble and other coloured stones) scenes of the Italian countryside collected by Christopher Crowe Snr in the 18th century.
Unlike me, David had been to Kiplin Hall before and he was very happy to visit, once again, his favourite room – the Library. A big vote of thanks to the last person to live at the hall, Bridget Talbot, who refused to have the Library demolished.
Miss Talbot was one of those women I would have loved to have met. She was only 19-years-old when she joined the Belgian Refugee Committee in 1914 and a year later went to the Italian-Austrian front to help run canteens and provide first aid for wounded Italian soldiers and then for those from the British 7th Division.
In the 1930s she invented a waterproof torch for the lifebelts of merchant seamen to improve their survival if they were lost overboard. This simple invention saved many Merchant Navy, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force personnel during the 2nd World War.
During that war Kiplin Hall was first used as a recuperation centre for many men rescued from the beaches of Dunkirk. It was then requisitioned by the RAF and used as a maintenance unit. Flats were created on the 1st and 2nd floors for the officer and bombs were stored in the woods around the Hall.
Kiplin Hall was almost derelict when the RAF moved out. From 1938 to 1958 Miss Talbot tried to interest the National Trust but the negotiations failed. One problem was that the National Trust wanted to return the Hall to its original Jacobean footprint. The room which became the library was added in the 1820s.
It is a beautiful room, full of old books, and mementoes of a craftswoman – Beatrice Carpenter. She was the second wife of Admiral Walter C Carpenter who inherited the Hall in 1866. She not only created some exquisite pieces of inlay work as an exponent of the Arts and Crafts Movement but also shared her skills with local men at wood-carving classes at Bolton-on-Swale.
David stopped to study the chair said to have been Lord Nelson’s in his cabin on the H.M.S. Victory while I wandered further into the library. Looking back I became fascinated by the two paintings of Venetian Courtesans by Bartolomeo Nazzari which Christopher Crowe Snr had acquired during his Grand Tour of Europe. Was the masked man the courtesan’s pimp, or one of her clients? And I couldn’t help wondering what had happened to her young child. How different to the painting of an elderly lady spinning, or to the 18th century stained glass panels showing New Testament scenes.
It is an eclectic mix, just like the rest of the house – which just makes it that much more interesting. Upstairs there is a room retained just the way it was when used as an officer’s flat during the 2nd World War. And there is that startling bathroom with its Georgian fireplace, Victorian bath, 1950s’ plastic curtains and fading yellow 1970s’ wallpaper. Very different to the yellow wallpaper in the Travellers’ Bedroom with its ornate 18th century Italian bed and remarkable Japanese ship paintings.
From the Long Gallery with its many paintings we could look down on the lovely lake created by gravel quarrying in the 1990s. That quarrying helped to save the hall for the funds from leasing the land went into a capital fund held by the Kiplin Hall charitable trust set up by Miss Talbot before she died in 1971.
We were very impressed by the restoration work that has been carried out both inside the hall and outside in the gardens. It speaks volumes of the love and care of the staff and volunteers. And that can be felt in the pervasive happy atmosphere.
There’s a lot more to see at the hall and all at very reasonable prices:
Above: One of our favourite road signs: this one is on the bridge over the Lymington River.
Our trip to South Dorset included visits to Buckler’s Hard, Beaulieu and the National Motor Museum, the Haynes International Motor Museum, Poole, Sandbanks, Christchurch Priory (with its Misericords), Mudeford Quay, and Highcliffe.
As we drove “down South” on March 13 it just got warmer and warmer, and the cars got bigger and bigger. At Cherwell Valley Services on the M40 people were sitting outside in the sun; and as we approached Bournemouth we were passed by Porsches, a Ferrari and some very expensive Mercedes – a good pointer to the way the area has developed.
No posh hotel for us but that wasn’t a problem as, once again, we enjoyed the comfort of a spacious room at a Premier Inn. This time, by searching carefully and booking well ahead, I found an excellent deal at Christchurch East. The location was ideal, and we were well cared for at breakfast time at the Somerford Beefeater restaurant next door. With my food intolerances I especially appreciated the provision of the allergies book for cows’ milk products, and that the staff were willing to check ingredient lists for potato starch or tomatoes.
David had two priorities on this visit: to see his cousins, and to visit Buckler’s Hard. So we started well the following day by collecting his cousin, Christine, and heading through the southern end of the New Forest to reach Buckler’s Hard. Some wild ponies did put in an appearance for us but my main memory will be of free-roaming cows that were trying to push their way through garden hedges leaving their well-rounded buttocks protruding into the road.
At Buckler’s Hard we began, of course, with morning coffee at the Captain’s Cabin Tea Rooms, again sitting outside in the warm sunshine. I was keen to see the hamlet but Christine and David wisely took their time to study the detailed and informative displays in the Maritime Museum. This has recently been re-designed and provides an excellent guide to how the hamlet has developed since the early 18th century when it was called Montagu Town because the second Duke of Montagu wanted a free port for trade with the West Indies. That dream was short-lived, however, and only seven houses were built. Instead the good facilities for building and launching ships attracted Henry Adam to move there in the mid-18th century.
Buckler’s Hard flourished, more houses were built, including Adam’s own, and longer launch ways were constructed large enough for 64 and 74 gun war ships. Adams went on to build Admiral Nelson’s favourite ship, HMS Agamemnon (which took part in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805) as well as HMS Euryalus, HMS Swiftsure, and HMS Indefatigable.
The museum doesn’t just commemorate men like Henry Adam but also the lives of ordinary labourers with excellent reproductions of their cottages. There’s lots more to see, including a celebration of Sir Francis Chichester’s solo world voyage and the sad tale of the sinking of the SS Persia by a German U-Boat during World War 1. The 2nd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu, John Douglas-Scott-Montagu survived, but not his secretary and mistress, Eleanor Thornton, who was the inspiration for the famous Rolls Royce mascot The Spirit of Ecstasy.
As there was so much to see and read I was thankful that chairs had been provided so that the weary could rest during their journey through this museum.
At last, we were ready to visit Buckler’s Hard for ourselves. It was lovely and warm walking past a high wall but then we turned the corner towards the Beaulieu River and the cold wind hit us. It was time to remember that it was still March. Even so, we did appreciate the attractive 18th century brick houses 24 of which are grade II listed. Some were large enough to accommodate well-to-do craftsmen like the shipwrights, and others were much smaller and lowlier. A few have been turned into display cottages to illustrate how the inhabitants lived 300 years ago.
The building that most fascinated us was the small cottage which had been converted into first a school and then into St Mary’s Chapel. Still owned by the Montagu family of Beaulieu, It has the warm atmosphere of a beloved private chapel which is also regularly used for worship services. The embroidered altar cloth with the names of ships built at Buckler’s Hard and later lost at sea (below), and the kneelers especially fascinated me.
David was keen to visit the “hard” itself – the slope into the river which had been converted for hauling boats out of the water and, of course, for launching wooden warships. Afterwards, we enjoyed a drink in the the house that Adam built for himself and which is now the Master Builder’s House Hotel. Christine was great company and we were sad to say goodbye to her later.
That evening we ate at the Somerford Beefeater. We couldn’t fault the service provided by the staff but for David, who is a vegetarian, and for me, with my food intolerances, there wasn’t much of a choice.
The next day we headed for Beaulieu and as we waited in the queue to pay for admission we realised that if we had started there we could have got a discount on our tickets for Buckler’s Hard. But then Christine would not have been with us.
Yet again the sun was shining and the first thing I noticed was the lovely array of primroses. Our first stop, of course, was the Brabazon restaurant for coffee. Then it was time for David’s indulgence – a long walk around the National Motor Museum with a collection ranging from the earliest motor carriages to classic family saloons and motorbikes. I was impressed by the attention to detail and the “background” exhibits including the old garage complete with junk heap. But David was not sure the museum was one of the most comprehensive collections of vehicles in the world, particularly pointing out the lack of popular cars from the 1950s and the 1960s. Below: David beside the display of Formula 1 cars and the garage.
The museum is very informative about the early years of motoring and there are many very enjoyable displays including the Shell Collection of Motoring Art. So there was plenty to keep us thoroughly engrossed for almost two hours.
Then it was time to return to the Brabazon where we had an excellent choice of food. Lorraine cheerfully helped me to find something I could eat and I especially enjoyed the cooked beetroot with celeriac. We decided to have full meals instead of snacks as the food was so good.
Our objective in the afternoon was the the Secret Army Exhibition. This was fascinating, especially the personal stories of some of the men and women who trained as SOE (Special Operations Executive) agents there during World War Two. Below: Looking towards the Palace House. The small building in front of it with the clock tower houses the Secret Army Exhibition.
Afterwards David took a ride on the little “bus” while I enjoyed a walk through the gardens back to the Brabazon restaurant. We decided that we had seen enough that day and would return later in the week as that was permissible with the tickets we had bought.
Haynes International Motor Museum near Yeovil
David wanted to see if the Haynes International Motor Museum had a more complete exhibition of cars than at Beaulieu so, on Day Three, we headed north west. The journey took longer than expected partly due to David’s navigator (me!) giving him wrong directions. We did manage to get there in time for lunch and the restaurant staff made me a lovely ham sandwich with salad cream instead of buttery spread.
David was very impressed by this museum. I have to admit I was not so interested in looking at so many cars but did find a new hobby – “collecting” car mascots and any other interesting features. The mascots included, of course, The Spirit of Ecstasy, but I did like that on the 1915 Ford Model T. Click on the photograph of it below to see more mascots.
It was such a gorgeous sunny day when we visited Poole that some people were wearing just T-shirts and shorts. Many were enjoying a stroll along the waterfront, but it was not as crowded as it will be during the summer. We explored what was left of the old town and then popped into Poole museum. It was interesting to read all about the early history of the town and its importance as a site for invasions and the incursions of pirates in days gone by. There’s a lot of information about ships and ship buildings, as well as the remains of an ancient log boat.
I also wanted to see Sandbanks so David found somewhere to park and take a rest, overlooking Poole harbour, while I headed for the beach (above). It was a delight to see groups of young mothers gathering there to chat while their young children played in the sand. At least those on more limited incomes can still enjoy the beach but it was so obvious that Sandbanks has become a millionaire’s playground. This peninsula of just half a square mile has been described as the fourth most expensive area in the world to live. Properties are bought and demolished so that multi-million homes can be built.
Back at Christchurch we ended up going round in circles trying to find the way to the Quay and Museum because, when we got to the High Street, there wasn’t sufficient signage. Eventually we gave up and headed for the Barrack Road retail centre for coffee. To our delight we both managed to find something to eat at Subway and took our well-filled sandwiches back to our hotel room.
Back to Beaulieu
This time we planned to visit the Palace House, the Domus and Beaulieu parish church but there was a private function at the latter two. The Domus and the parish church (left) were among the few buildings to survive the destruction of Beaulieu Abbey following the Dissolution in 1538.
I was disappointed as I had been looking forward to seeing the embroidered wall hangings in the Domus. These were created by Belinda, Lady Montague and tell the story of the Abbey from its foundation in 1204 until the Dissolution. Instead all we could see was the medieval stonework but that had its own special beauty.
The Palace House was created out of what had been the Great Gatehouse of the Abbey. A log fire in the dining room (below right) made it feel very cosy and the homely feeling was reinforced by the Montagu family’s own memorabilia which had not been updated since the death of Edward, 3rd Baron Montagu of Beaulieu in August 2015. In 1952 he created a display of cars at the Palace House as a tribute to his father who, he said, was one of Britain’s motoring pioneers. When that display outgrew the front room the museum was built for it.
That evening we had a memorable and happy family evening with cousin John, his wife Debbie and two of their sons.
A restful morning followed by a visit to the workhouse. Or rather, a building which was once a workhouse and has been transformed into the Red House Museum. This not only had displays illustrating the archaeology of the area and equipment from bygone times (“oh – do you remember using that?”) but also provided insights into the lives of those who were incarcerated in the workhouse in the 19th century.
Later we parked at the quay at the confluence of the Rivers Avon and Stour. It was another sunny, warm day and many families were enjoying The Quomps, the park beside the quay. I walked past Place Mill (a restored Ango-Saxon watermill) and on to Christchurch Priory.
My experience of this majestic Norman church was enhanced by the singing of Northcliffe Youth Choir (below). The youngsters were rehearsing for their part in the recital of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 being presented by the Bournemouth Bach Choir the following day.
While they sang I walked quietly around the side aisles and explored the fascinating medieval misericords, and peered up at that “miraculous beam”. According to the legend, when the church was being built in the early 12th century that beam had been cut too short. The embarrassed carpenters left it overnight and when they returned next day they found, to their amazement, that it had been fitted into place. They also noticed that a mysterious carpenter who had always eaten alone had disappeared. It was decided that Jesus Christ had intervened – and so the church and the town acquired the name of Christchurch.
The medieval carvings on the misericords were fascinating as were the tapestries created for the various local associations including the fishermen of Mudeford. Click on the photograph below to see more.
That evening we took Christine to the Toby Carvery Hinton and had an excellent meal.
Christine invited us to stay at her bungalow in Mudeford for our last two days in Dorset and on the Sunday morning Debbie took me to Highcliffe.
Highcliffe Castle definitely has the Wow factor! I was amazed as she drove in through the gates to see, for the first time, this magnificent example of the Romantic and Picturesque style of architecture.
This was the fantasy castle created between 1831 and 1836 by Lord Stuart de Rothesay.
By the 1950s it was no longer a family home and two fires in the late 1960s left it derelict. Then Christchurch Borough Council bought it and organised its superb renovation with the help of English Heritage and a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Its not surprising that the castle is now one of the most popular wedding venues in Dorset and Hampshire.
Debbie and I walked through the gardens and down the zig-zaging steps to the beach. We weren’t the only ones enjoying an afternoon stroll past Steamer Point Nature Reserve towards Christchurch.
In the afternoon I decided to explore Mudeford Quay, where the River Mude flows into Poole Harbour. The Haven House Inn (c.1830) once provided shelter for smugglers but today it relies more on the tourist trade. The Haven Cottages are even older, dating back to the last decade of the 17th century. Mudeford began life as a fishing village and there was plenty of evidence of the fishing industry now what with the lobster pots and boats. But Mudeford is also renowned today for having some of the most expensive and luxurious beach huts in the country. The asking price for a one-bedroom hut on Mudeford Sand Spit this year is £185,000. Another hut is up for sale at over £200,000!
Above: Expensive beach huts and fishing equipment at Mudeford.
That afternoon there were many families enjoying the park area near the Quay and Avon Beach. I stood and gazed along the beach savouring the sound of the waves lapping on the shore before heading back to David. You don’t need a lot of money to enjoy the simple things in life!
Our visits to David’s boat at Thurne in Norfolk during the summer gave us the opportunity to visit the North Norfolk Railway (the Poppy Line), Oxburgh Hall and Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse.
We chose a good time for a trip on the North Norfolk Railway (NNR) as, on that hot, sunny day in early summer, the poppies were in full bloom. This Poppy Line ran from 1887 until that Beeching Axe* in the 1960s put a stop to its genteel journeys through the beautiful countryside along the North Norfolk coast.
It is possible to make the 10.5 mile round trip between Sheringham and Holt now thanks to the volunteers who rebuilt the line after the NNR was founded in 1965.
At Sheringham we were grateful we had time to buy an ice cream (for David) and a fruit ice for myself before the apple green steam engine (a B12 8572 built for the LNER in 1928) set off for Holt. As the train pulled away we had a very interesting visitor – Tilly the Cockatiel (above). She posed very happily on Roger’s finger, while he explained that she was a bit blind and very happy to travel with him while he worked as a volunteer on the railway. Like the other heritage railways we have visited it is the helpful and cheerful volunteers who make the Poppy Line so enjoyable and successful.
The atmosphere of the old carriages was enhanced by the clackety-clack of the riveted tracks with their expansion joints. Those expansion gaps made for noisy and bumpy rides that the modern steel rails on mainline railways don’t have. Instead on hot days lines are closed due to buckling. There was no danger of that on the Poppy Line.
The lengthy stop at Weybourne gave us time to remember the crazy antics of Dad’s Army in the episode The Royal Train filmed there in 1973. But as it was so hot we were grateful when the train was under way again, puffing its way uphill through woods and rare open heath land to Holt. We took time out there to view the model railway and the 132-years-old station building which volunteers had moved brick by brick from Stalham in 2002. The signal box is also over 100-years old.
In the buffet David bought a very good homemade sandwich but I, with my food intolerances, couldn’t have anything. David’s big find of the day was Ben Shaw’s Cream Soda. What a taste from the past!
We sat outside in the shade and enjoyed the cool breeze before exploring the small museum. On the return journey our train was pulled by a diesel engine which provided us with a very different experience. We sat at the front of the first carriage so that we could get the driver’s view of the countryside which has been designated as being of outstanding natural beauty. Below – the Diesel engine waits for the steam engine to arrive.
Back at Sheringham David had time to sit and reflect while I walked past the connection to the mainline railway and went hunting for food in the town centre. One large ripe banana from a traditional green grocer did the job.
The weather couldn’t have been more different on the Bank Holiday Monday at the end of August – it poured with rain all day. So the first thing we saw as we entered Oxburgh Hall near Swaffham was lots of wet umbrellas for it takes a few minutes to walk from the car park. We were impressed by the beautiful parterre – the flower bed laid down in the Victorian era and full of vibrant colours offset by dark green yew bushes (below). But like others we hurried on across the moat bridge, through the courtyard and into the half of the hall which was open to visitors.
On such a cold, wet day we decided the best way to start would be in the tea room where the staff were so helpful and very willing to prepare me a salad that avoided all my intolerances. David gave top marks to their lemon, orange and lime cake.
Well pleased with our meal we set off on our tour of the hall which was built around 1482 by Sir Edmund Bedingfeld. The Bedlingfelds family still lives in the East wing overlooking the parterre even though the hall and surrounding gardens were given to the National Trust in 1952. We and many others are able to enjoy visiting this grand Tudor house thanks to three determined female members of the Bedlingfeld family who sold their own homes so as to buy back the hall from the developer who bought it in 1950.
We were particularly fascinated by the way the Bedingfields right from the beginning had found ways to create a grand appearance without spending too extravagantly. There’s the spiral staircase with its imitation brickwork painted onto smooth plaster, and the wooden bed in the North bedroom which was cobbled together from bits of older carved woodwork. Even a carved panel in that room is a composite piece.
I was especially fascinated by the display of wallpapers showing how these have changed since the mid-18th century, and the painted leather wall coverings. And then there are the magnificent Marian Hangings – embroideries which were worked by Mary Queen of Scots and “Bess of Hardwick” between 1569 and 1584.
When we reached the King’s Room where the priest hole was hidden I wasn’t sure I could get out again if I did somehow get into that space specially created maybe as early as the mid 16th century to hide Catholic priests. So I cheated and let my camera have a look for me instead. We did go into the chapel of the Immaculate Conception and St Margaret which was built in 1835, after the Catholic Emancipation Act which finally brought to an end centuries of intolerance and even persecution of Catholics.
The intricate 16th century retable (framed alterpiece) was in sharp contrast to the stark simplicity of the chapel at Gressenhall workhouse. Yet the octagonal apse of the latter, which was built in 1868, has a beauty of its own thanks to the brickwork banding. It was sad to think that it was only at church services on Sundays that husbands could see their wives and children for those forced by poverty to live in a workhouse were strictly segregated. So the boys using the literacy skills they had learnt in the school to scratch their names on the bricks in their exercise yard would not see their fathers until they were old enough to be counted as men.
I was also saddened to learn that before the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act a much more homely regime existed there. The fine building was constructed in 1776 as a “house of industry” where poor families lived in very small apartments or cottages as they were known. These families were expected to be self-supporting mainly by working on the farm. That farm, however, was sold after 1834 and the workhouse became synonymous with degradation and severe hardship.
Among those sent to the workhouse were unmarried pregnant women like my grandmother was probably in the 1890s. Those women were kept securely separate in case they contaminated anyone else. However hard such excellent guides as John might try it is impossible to envisage what life was like in such workhouses.
There is plenty to see and experience at Gressenhall as it now houses the Museum of Norfolk Life. There’s the extensive Norfolk Collection on the second floor of the main building where we spent a lot of time reminiscing about what household products our parents had used. Downstairs was some of the machinery which helped drive the industrial revolution and the great changes in agriculture from the 18th to the 20th centuries. I could have spent much longer reading the short biographies of the men and women who had participated in those changes – from the highest to the lowliest in society. A lot of work has obviously been done to provide interesting information for visitors including audio visual and video displays.
We visited Gressenhall farm and workhouse the day after going to Oxburgh Hall and the difference in the weather was amazing for it was so warm we were back in light summer clothing. It did mean we could wander round the grounds and visit girls’ school (separate, of course, from the boys’), and the Village Row with its depictions of early 20th century blacksmith’s workshop, grocer’s shop and post office.
There was also Cherry Tree Cottage which was built in 1853 to house elderly married couples rather than force apart those who had spent a lifetime together. As part of the museum it has been transformed into a three-room cottage to show how people lived before World War II. David, of course, also wanted to have a look at the 1899 Panhard et Levassor which is almost certainly the oldest car in Norfolk still running.
We could have spent a lot longer at Gressenhall museum especially as it has an excellent tea room where the staff, as at Oxburgh Hall, specially prepared a salad for me.
These visits made up for the fact that we could do little boating after the engine in David’s Edna May broke down. We did have two lovely days boating with Jim and Sue Bondi and Hilary. And Jim even took Hilary and me for a sail at South Walsham in the half-decker Elf which he takes care of for Acle Academy sailing club. Below on our way back to Thurne with Elf.
A memorable May-time visit to Snowdonia, Blaenau Ffestiniog where we stayed at Isallt House and went down into the Llechwedd Slate Caverns, had return trips on the Ffestiniog Railway and the Great Orme Tramway, and saw the Swallow Falls at Betws-y-Coed. Click on the photograph below – of the mountains of Snowdonia from the Cob at Porthmadog – to see more pictures including of Dr Zigs Extraordinary Bubbles Shop.
On our first full day in Snowdonia there was no escaping its reputation for being one of the wettest places in Britain – or that of Blaenau Ffestiniog for being the wettest town in North Wales.
Not that we were too worried as, after the excellent, large, breakfast we had so thoroughly enjoyed at Isallt House we were happy to go and rest in our comfortable bedroom and watch a Ffestiniog Railway steam train arrive at the station. Room number one with its three large windows provided us with a panoramic view of the station and the hills beyond.
After a while we decided to venture out but only as far as the Llechwedd Slate Caverns. Not for us, however, Europe’s longest zip line (Zip World Titan) or the four world beating downhill mountain bike tracks high above the mine. No, we were happy to settle for a trip down into depths on the Victorian Mine Tour.
This tour of the Deep Mine begins with a short ride on the steepest cable railway in Britain. This carries you nearly 500 feet (150m) underground at a gradient of 1:1.8 or 30 degrees. It was definitely not made for large, tall men! So David was pleased to get out at the other end and begin the guided tour of several huge caverns. Sadly there were times when the sound effects and music made it very difficult for us to hear the guide.
Often our hard hats banged on the low roofs of the tunnels and it was always a relief to reach a cavern. On occasions the main lights were left off so that we could get some idea of what it was like working in there using just candle light. Those dark, damp caverns were, therefore, a good place to begin our visit to North Wales for it gave us a perspective of what men had to do to hew out the slate in the mid 19th century.
Blaenau Ffestiniog was the only place in North Wales where the slate was mined rather than quarried. Our guide explained that the best slate came from the deepest depths of the mines. Sadly the men who mined it paid a high price, often dying in their 40s after 20 or more years toiling away in the darkness for 10 to 12 hours each working day. I tried to comprehend what it must have been like during winter when they would never have seen daylight for days on end.
Blaenau Ffestiniog would not have existed without the slate mines. In the 1850s it was a burgeoning new town as men, with their families, moved in from neighbouring areas. Its population grew to over 12,000 during the boom years of the 1860s and 1870s. It’s a third of that now and many rely on the tourist trade for work.
Off to the seaside
It was still raining heavily when we emerged from the mine. After a visit to the slate workshop, and a hot drink in the café, we decided to not visit the Victorian village there and instead drive to the coast in search of better weather. In Portmadog we waited in a queue of traffic while a Welsh Highland Railway steam train crossed the road to reach the station shared with the Ffestiniog Railway.
We drove to Criccieth and after a brief look at the beach and castle travelled on to Pwlleli. It was an enjoyable, picturesque drive with the mountains of Snowdonia on one side and the coast on the other. And very little rain!
Back in Blaenau Ffestiniog our short walk to Gwesty Ty Gorsaf Hotel (the station inn) provided us with an opportunity to appreciate the work done to regenerate the centre of the town. We were impressed by the way that the three 40 feet (12m) high slate sculptures complimented the towering rocky outcrop on the east side of the road, and those mighty ‘hills’ of slate waste which make the landscape of the town so distinctive.
We dined several times at that hotel because the chefs were very good at making sure that, despite all our food intolerances and allergies, we could eat safely and well. David was especially pleased that they fried chips in a separate fryer so he didn’t have to worry about any shell fish residue in the oil and, therefore, no fear of going into anaphylactic shock.
It was cold and windy the following day but at least it wasn’t raining. On sunny days there can’t be a better place to sit and watch the trains than on the patio at Isallt House. Richard Hope has a small coffee shop there and serves not just cakes, tea and coffee but also his delicious homemade drinks like pink lemonade and ginger beer.
From Isallt House it’s just a short walk over a bridge to the station. On the train we were served drinks by some of the many volunteers who help to make the Ffestiniog Railway such an excellent experience. The train was full as it pulled away from Blaenau Ffestiniog for the 13.5 mile (21.7m) journey to Porthmadog. Below: making new friends on the train.
When the line was constructed in the 1830s it was designed so that the slate wagons, with two or three brake masters, could descend by gravity. With the deviation (diversion) around the Tanygrisiau reservoir that is no longer be possible. Volunteers worked from 1954 until 1982 to restore the line and the deviation around the reservoir took 13 years to complete.
At Porthmadog we visited the Maritime Museum with its record of how the slate trade led to a thriving ship building industry in the 19th century – including the beautifully crafted Western Ocean Yachts.
David had the great idea of upgrading our return tickets to 1st class so that, on the return journey, we could sit in comfort and enjoy the wonderful views from the observation carriage which was at the back of the train from Porthmadog. He also bought the illustrated guidebook to the railway. Both made our journey to Blaenau Ffestiniog even more enjoyable and interesting.
As we left Porthmadog there were magnificent views across the Glaslyn Estuary and marshes, and also towards the mountains of Snowdonia.
It was a good time to visit with the trees not yet in their full plumage and so, after leaving Penrhyn, we could still see much of the Dwyryd estuary as we entered the ancient woodlands which surround this line. The young green leaves of the sessile oaks and birch trees provided a perfect canopy for the bluebells carpeting the forest glades. The woodland can be explored via the footpaths fanning out from Tan y Bwich station.
We continued our journey in comfort past the reservoir and into the outskirts of Blaenau Ffestiniog where we marvelled at how the narrow-gauge line was squeezed in between the cottages on either side.
The next day we took the high road over the Crimea Pass. Here the A470 sheds its greenery and passes gaunt towering rocky slopes, hills of slate waste and derelict buildings – stark reminders of past industry.
The name of the pass comes, it is believed, from the fact that the A470 connecting Conwy and Blaenau Ffestiniog was opened in 1854 during the Crimean War. An inn at the 1,263 ft (385m) high summit of the pass was known locally as “the Crimea”.
A Victorian masterpiece of engineering
Our objective that day was the Great Orme Tramway. David was very keen to see that but first we experienced part of the awe-inspiring four-mile long Marine Drive around Great Orme. That was worth every penny of the £2.50 road toll. We were glad to be inside a warm car for there was a very cold blustery wind which made it impossible for the Llandudno Cable Car to operate.
At the summit of Great Orme we had to put on our winter coats – and when I was waiting for a tram to leave the station at the top so that I could photograph it with a backdrop of Conwy Bay and Bishop’s Quarry my fingers felt as if they would freeze to the camera.
It was a relief to go to the summit café for a hot drink and then browse among the interesting exhibits in the visitor centre. At the latter we learnt about bronze-age copper mining on Great Orme and that the street cable tramway was the only one still existing in Britain.
It was exhilarating to ride on this impressive piece of Victorian engineering for the mile (1,500m) into Llandudno. This has to be done in two sections, one from the summit to the Halfway Station and the next to Victoria Station in Llandudno and it is during the latter that this funicular tramway is on a gradient of 1 in 3.8.
At Victoria Station it was lovely and warm! We felt rather odd bundled up in warm clothing while men walked past wearing short-sleeved shirts. Those getting on board, however, were prepared for colder conditions. We were joined not only by visitors like ourselves but also by Welsh speaking mums with their young children. At the summit they took their children to the playground while we finished our visit by driving along the rest of Marine Drive, passing St Tudno’s church and its cemetery.
By then it was time to find somewhere to eat and so we headed for the Pizza Hut at Llandudno Junction. The friendly staff were very helpful in dealing with our food intolerances and allergies.
They produced an excellent pizza for me with no tomato sauce and topped with goats cheese, ham and pineapple. My only complaint was that Pizza Hut no longer provided virgin oil and balsamic dressing. So the waitress promptly brought me a balsamic sauce from the kitchen.
After a good lunch we wanted somewhere to stop and rest for a while. We found that on the outskirts of Bangor in a free car park overlooking Port Penryhn. Later we had a brief look at the Menai Bridge before heading towards the mountains. This time we went to Llanberis.
Mountains of slate and stone-giants
We did not stop at Llanberis but it still left a lasting impression thanks to the sheer size of the Dinorwic slate quarry and its tips of waste on the eastern side of Llyn (Lake) Padarn. We drove on into the rugged Llanberis Pass with Mt Snowdon soon looming above us.
All the large rocks strewn along the sides of the road reminded me of the stone-giants in Tolkien’s Hobbit. I could just imagine them leaving that much ‘litter’ after a playful stone fight.
It wasn’t until we got nearer to Betws-y-Coed that we were back among the soft green undulating deciduous woodlands, demarcated clearly by dark, brooding swathes of pine forest. This to me defined North Wales compared to the Yorkshire Dales or Glencoe in Scotland.
At Betws-y-Coed railway station we thankfully found a restaurant which was still open where we could sit outside in the warm late afternoon sunshine and have either coffee or hot chocolate. We liked this town so much that we decided to return the following day.
Sadly we were a week too early for the antique fairs which are held there, and the car museum had closed several years ago. We did, however, enjoy the ‘Flight over Snowdon’ video and the exhibition at the Snowdonia National Park Visitor Centre – and were captivated by the bubbles created by those at Dr Zigs Extraordinary Bubble Shop. We also thoroughly enjoyed the Conwy Valley Railway Museum even if some of the exhibits needed some TLC.
My last request was to go and see the Swallow Falls. They were magnificent thanks to all that rain with the racing water sparkling in the sunshine.
When we returned to Isallt House the coffee shop was still open so I took the opportunity of having another glass of that wonderful homemade ginger beer. I then walked to the nearby Coop and bought some food. Richard not only let us eat in the dining room but also provided plates and cutlery. It was a lovely way to end our last day there.
All we had to do was to have yet another of those excellent breakfasts and begin the journey home. But not before Richard gave me a gift – a bottle of ginger beer!
We went via Poynton in Cheshire to visit my eldest brother and his wife – and then got stuck in the traffic jams caused by road works on the M60.
When we finally reached Wensleydale we agreed we had exchanged one beautiful part of Britain for another that day.
What better way to spend a beautiful sunny day than a trip down memory lane! And we certainly did that when we visited the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway (KWVR).
Both David and I remember the days when we had to travel by train, bus or trams as our parents did not have cars. I was about four-years-old when, equipped with my own little suitcase, I travelled with my parents and two brothers, by bus to Tilbury docks. There we took the ferry to Gravesend so that we could catch the train to Sheerness.
The carriages we travelled in on the KWVR were just a little younger than the single compartment carriages on that journey to Sheerness. And they were very comfortable.
“Those old carriages were comfortable – much more than the modern ones with their thin seats and poor leg room,” David said.
For him there was an almost sensory overload on the KWVR. “It really was a trip back into my past with the general feeling of being back into the early to mid 20th century. The carriages and the stations were all as they were. And the up and down windows and reaching out to open the doors.”
He had to remind me of that when I tried to get out at Keighley station. That station he said was a smaller version of the one he often used at Sheffield. There was even the box type WH Smith kiosk with its rounded corners painted toilet brown.
“The only thing missing was the little aluminium name plate maker,” he said. “I used to put a penny in to make one. I remember doing that a couple of times at Sheffield station because I wanted a name plate on my Scouts stave.
“That sort of thing you forget and then it bounces back into your memory. I was in a sort of sensory overload with the sounds, the smells and the feeling of riding in those carriages. And there was not only the sound of the (steam) loco but also of the non-welded tracks, going over the points and the clickety clacking.
“It was nice to be hooked up to the Railway Children film because that’s a favourite of mine. I was looking for all the scenes in the film. The tunnel was the same. I noticed it really does have that wide bit inside where the children cowered against the wall when they dragged the boy off the line.”
This was his first journey on that railway – but not mine. I especially noticed the wind turbine towering above us as we left Oxenhope and the large new housing estate at Damems. But the dust and grime on one’s face after hanging out of a window when behind a steam locomotive definitely hadn’t changed. That did bring back memories of travelling across India by train in the 1970s.
Another very important feature of the KWVR which hasn’t changed is the friendliness of the staff. Those volunteers helped to make it such an enjoyable day as they were so helpful and knowledgeable.
We were glad we started our experience of this railway line at Oxenhope for there was no problem with parking and it was all so nice and leisurely. And we are glad we got there before the old buffet carriage is replaced with a “state of the art” cafeteria. This, it is said, will greatly enhance what the railway has to offer. But for us part of the charm of that station was enjoying a drink and a snack in that old carriage. (Click on the picture below to see more photographs.)
We did take the opportunity to visit the museums at Ingrow West. The Museum of Rail Travel was especially interesting as it was possible to explore several beautifully restored old carriages – and to sit on the armchair-like seats in an early 1st class compartment. And on our return to Oxenhope we visited the Exhibition Shed where there is a collection of locomotives and rolling stock.
To provide a special ending to a great day out David then treated me to supper at the George and Dragon at Aysgarth and as usual we had an excellent meal.
I was knocked out with a flu-like cold almost immediately after returning from a fascinating visit to London during which we visited Petticoat Lane Market, Spitalfields Market and the interesting streets around it, as well as the Science Museum where Lucy Imogen was enacting the story of Svetlana Savitskaya.We stayed at Maple Street Apartments which meant that we had several very enjoyable meals at the Gogo Lebanese Restaurant in Cleveland Street.
The main reason for visiting London was to attend the preview of an art exhibition at the Royal Academy – more about that later.
We decided to go by train and stayed at a self-catering apartment near Euston Station. The journey from Northallerton to London was comfortable thanks to Grand Central – as compared with returning home on an East Coast train where the seats were more cramped and the carriages over-crowded. The journey home, however, did give us an opportunity to appreciate the renovated Kings Cross mainline station (left) while enjoying a light lunch at Giraffe.
Our first view of Maple Street Apartments was off-putting to say the least. There was no sign on the drab door and above it was a To Let notice. When the door was opened we could hardly squeeze in due to the large boxes which had just been delivered. But Fabio was very helpful.
We were grateful that our apartment was on the ground floor and was very clean and bright, with plenty enough in the kitchen as well as a comfortable bed. Due to the lack of double glazing, curtains and carpets there was quite a bit of noise both within the building and from the busy road outside but there was the bonus of being close to several supermarkets and restaurants.
When we returned to Maple Street after the preview we were tired and hungry. Thankfully, just round the corner in Cleveland Street, we found the small but very welcoming Gogo Lebanese restaurant with its wonderful selection of very tasty vegetarian meals. David was a picture of delight when Maria placed a plate of Halloumi Grill in front of him. And Yousif, the chef, took good care to provide me with food that I could eat. In fact he was so good to us that we went back every evening. By the third night Yousif even specially prepared some kebabs for me. His saffron rice was particularly memorable.
Another good feature of Maple Street Apartments is its close proximity to several underground stations such as Great Portland Street, Warren Street and Goodge Street. As David was keen to make his first visit to Petticoat Lane Market we took the Circle Line to Liverpool Street one day and began a gentle, meandering walk of discovery.
This took us first into Devonshire Square. This remarkably good fusion of old warehouses with modern offices and restaurants provided an introduction to how the City of London is encroaching into Spitalfields leading to gentrification of yet another working class area.
This was even more evident once we reached Wentworth Street where the Petticoat Lane Market is held on week days. We weren’t at all impressed by Petticoat Lane market and far preferred the Spitalfields Market – old and new. On our way to Spitalfields Market we stopped for tasty lunch in the light and airy Java U restaurant where the staff were very helpful when we listed our food allergies and intolerances.
At Spitalfields Market we followed the crowds into the Tiger store and soon found out why it was buzzing. We were fascinated by its range of innovative products all at such cheap prices.
But the biggest shock of the day came when we were enticed into a shop outside Spitalfields Market which had bottles of David’s favourite Hendersons Relish in the window (right).But soon there came that famous Yorkshire exclamation: “How much?” For the relish there cost £4.95 a bottle! That’s over £3 more than in Wensleydale (or even Canada!)
On our walk from Wentworth Street to Spitalfields Market we were very aware of the towering presence of the City thanks to skyscrapers like the Gherkin. We turned into Toynbee Street and at the entrance to the Brune Street Estate marvelled at how small it looked compared with the 34-storey high Nido Student Accommodation building (below left). This is the third tallest student accommodation block in the world (the first is in Manchester and the second in Leeds).
On Fridays the road into the Brune Street Estate becomes a large open-air mosque for these days this is part of Spitalfields Banglatown. Ever since the Huguenot refugees from religious persecution in France began building their homes on the fields outside the City walls in the late 17th century this area has seen waves of migrant workers. Some of the protestant chapels built by the Huguenots became Methodist chapels, then synagogues and now mosques following the influx of Bangladeshi immigrants in the 20th century.
In the Victorian era Spitalfields became renowned for its slums with the large terraced houses built by wealthy Huguenots becoming the overcrowded tenements and Rookeries of the poorest of the poor in London. But that doesn’t mean that this area did not retain its rich heritage of historical houses and warehouses. Many of these have now been included in conservation areas – but sadly are still under threat from developers. British Land has, for instance, submitted plans to demolish a large part of the distinctive streetscape in Norton Folgate (in a conservation area) and replace it with a modern corporate plaza (see links below).
The juxtaposition of the old and new made our walk very interesting. But we also saw how large parts of the fascinating street scene of Spitalfields have already been lost. Who knows what the future holds for Spitalfields now that the yuppies of the City of London have begun to take possession of it. We hope that many of those old buildings will be protected – but like other parts of working class London it is likely that the process of gentrification will continue. But where will those on lower incomes like carers and nurses find accommodation in this yuppified metropolis?
The Georgian homes of rich Huguenot silk weavers and mercers with their glazed attics like that at the corner of Fournier Street and Wilkes Street (above right) revolving back from apartments to being “des-res” town-houses at over £2 million apiece.
For almost 300 years the imperious Christ Church designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor in the early 18th century stood like a lonely sentinel over Spitalfields. It still has a dramatic impact upon the landscape despite the City skyscrapers overlooking it. Sadly it was closed in February due to repairs on the organ. Below: l-r Christ Church; overlooked by the Nido building and the top of the Gherkin; and the church as seen from the new part of Spitalfields Market.
It was the industrial revolution which led to Spitalfields becoming a slum area and it was the fascination of those great engines which were so important in that world-changing era that led us back to the Science Museum during our visit to London.
But we didn’t spend much time studying the massive steam engines. Instead we went to the top floor and went first to see the King George III Collection
with its comprehensive collection of 18th century scientific apparatus. There it was possible to see how 18th century scientists played with the ideas which would have an impact upon the industrial revolution.
Our attention, however, was soon diverted to a piece of wonderful theatre enacted for a group of school children by Imogen Lucy. They were completely enthralled by her presentation about the life of Svetlana Savitskaya, the first woman to perform a space walk. Lucy, as Svetlana, told them: “I hope some of you in your life will make extraordinary journeys.” And to the girls she added: “You will be told you cannot do this because you are a girl or a woman. This is not true – ignore it because you can do it.”
We could have learnt one lesson from all hundreds of school children who were at the museum that day – and that was to bring one’s own food and drink. It cost us £13 for a cup of coffee, a pot of tea and one slice of carrot cake! A good plate of food at Gogo cost less.
We spent the rest of our visit in the section dedicated to air flight with David especially fascinated by the unique collection of 80 significant aero engines while I wandered off to look at the various aeroplanes.
We didn’t return to the museum’s restaurant but found a Chopstix restaurant near South Kengsington station. This is a very basic restaurant serving ready prepared Chinese food in a box (£5 for two items). David wasn’t too impressed with the vegetarian option whereas my meal of noodles with caramelised chicken was very enjoyable. But then David had the pleasure of looking forward to another superb vegetarian meal at the Gogo restaurant that evening.
On the last two days of our journey we visited to very different but equally fascinating places – The Hill House at Helensburgh and Culzean Castle south of Ayr, where we heard the Celtic Twist.
Day nine – afternoon:
All those dark foreboding clouds had disappeared by the time we got to The Hill House which was built by Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1902-3 for the publisher Walter Blackie. But just as we arrived two coaches offloaded all their passengers.
The National Trust for Scotland has warning notices in the bedrooms stating the maximum number of people that should be in them to safeguard the fabric of the house, but those were often ignored. Our attempts to try and avoid the crush were not always successful.
Even so we found this “Art Nouveau” house fascinating. Mackintosh had even installed the most up-to-date shower fittings at the time. To us the shower unit looked more like an iron maiden with its encircling metal work from which the water spurting out would have reached those parts not usually directly reached.
It must have been extraordinarily exciting for Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret, to collaborate on such an innovative project. And to work with someone like Blackie who allowed them to fully express their creative and forward-looking ideas. So Margaret’s artistic talent was enmeshed with Mackintosh’s vision for a house in which life and art would be integrated, and where the heritage of Scottish architecture would be evoked in a modern, thought-provoking structure. Throughout the house, internally and externally, art was used to create a harmonious whole. Below: Even the detail above one of the turret-style windows reflects the interior design.
Blackie so loved living in this work of art that it remained his home until he died in 1953.
The next owner, T Campbell Lawson was careful not to undertake any irreversible alterations and so it has become an important landmark in the development of modern architecture cared for now by the National Trust of Scotland.
We ended our tour by relaxing in the beautifully restored gardens and savouring the exterior design of the house with its symbolic representation of the turrets of Scottish castles alongside modern functionality.
It was then time to switch on the sat nav and take the quickest route to the Premier Inn (Racecourse) at Ayr. The big decision then was – did we take the easy option of dining in the Inn’s integrated restaurant or go somewhere else. It became a lot easier to decide when David spotted that there was a Pizza Hut close by. After supper the sunset over the Firth of Clyde (below) diverted our attention from yet another of those awful blobby pictures.
One reason I chose that particular Premier Inn was that it had an on-site restaurant. The only other Premier Inn we had been to with that was at Springfield, Chelmsford where the service had been exceptional. That was due to having sufficient good staff. Sadly the restaurant at Ayr did not have enough staff at all. Nor did it have enough bread for breakfast one morning.
The Inn itself was most definitely up to the standard of Premier Inns and, as it was quite new, it had a different design of bathroom which meant someone could use the toilet in private while another was taking a shower.
We planned our journey to Culzean Castle so that it took us via the Electric Brae (Croy Brae) between Drumshrang and Knoweside on the A719. For the driver especially there is the weird sensation of seemingly looking down a hill while the car needs a bit of acceleration to go uphill instead. This is because the slope of the road is an optical illusion.
There was a great atmosphere in the Culzean castle that day thanks not only to the way that the National Trust for Scotland volunteers were helping so many children to enjoy the imposing cliff top stately home but also to the haunting music of Celtic Twist (below).
We were so impressed that Phil Holland playing the harp and Dave Palmley on the guitar were willing to postpone their lunch break to give us a short recital. And what a treat that was. David promptly bought two of their CDs.
We had by then visited most of the castle. After The Hill House we were especially intrigued to see how Robert Adam had, in the late 18th century, transformed what had been a boring fortress into a neoclassical mansion. By then Adam was famous for combining the Classical and the Romantic in his architectural and interior designs for his wealthy and aristocratic clients.
Like Mackintosh to him the interior designs were as important as those for the exterior and both created some dramatic results. At Culzean Castle the most dramatic is probably the oval staircase with its slim Ionic columns above the Corinthian ones and the light streaming in from the cupola.
As the owner, the 10th Earl of Cassillis, wanted a good view of the sea Adam also designed a three-storey drum tower with a circular saloon right on the edge of the cliff. This added to the overall effect of a grand medieval Scottish castle.
Over time the locally sourced sandstone has been weathered into fascinating shapes by the wind and rain on that exposed cliff top.
The scent of jasmine seduced us into sitting for a while in the Orangery before we wandered back to the Home Farm. This was also given a makeover by Adam and became a showpiece with the most modern facilities, estate offices and homes for farm workers. Home Farm was restored in the early 1970s and now houses the Visitor Centre, a shop, a restaurant and the offices of the 600 acre Country Park.
As we couldn’t find anything we could eat at the restaurant we went back to the car and had our own picnic. David had some pizza left over from the night before and I was very grateful that I still had some of the biscuits and goats cheese that Anna and Stuart had given us.
We hoped we would get a good meal back at the Premier Inn but sadly that proved to be difficult. I had stated clearly that there should be no mushrooms on my plate as I knew they were fried in butter. It came with mushrooms and with melted butter oozing into the rice. So that plate of food was rejected. Thankfully neither of us had any ill effects after eating there but the food could have been a lot better.
By then we were glad we were going home the next day. And despite any problems with some meals we’ve got great memories of our visit to Scotland.
Day eight of the journey took us through Glencoe to Loch Lomond and onto Loch Fyne where we stayed at the Cairndow Stagecoach Inn. On the morning of day nine we sadly saw little of Glen Kinglas and Glen Croe, or of Loch Long. The clouds did not lift until we reached Helensburgh. But on the road we did spot a lot of Ferraris thanks to the Netherlands Ferrari Club.
Dark clouds hung low over the hills that morning and we wondered if we would see much of Glencoe. But at the National Trust for Scotland’s Visitor Centre the clouds lifted enough for us to appreciate the grandeur of this famous glen.
We spent over an hour in the Visitor Centre learning a lot about the history of the glen since the collapse of a massive volcanic caldera over 400 million years ago to the massacre of 38 MacDonalds – men, women and children – on February 13, 1692. The exhibition also made us aware of the fascinating flora and fauna of the glen and how it has gained an international reputation as an outstanding area for rock and ice climbing.
For us it would be a drive full of atmosphere as the billowing clouds and intermittent sunshine created a mysterious and haunting landscape around the glen’s austere, towering peaks. Below: two of the Three Sisters dwarf David’s car. And a pair glasses someone had fun with!
When I was taking photographs at the eastern end of the glen I found, to my surprise that I was surrounded by heath spotted orchids (left). Amongst them were heath milkwort, lousewort and tormentil.
As we left Glencoe it was truly a matter of taking the high road to reach Loch Lomond, the largest expanse of freshwater in Britain. We stopped at the visitor centre beside the hydro-electric power station at Inveruglas – and made the mistake of buying coffee at the cafe there. That is not to be recommended. But I did enjoy my walk and spotted some interesting “wildlife” on the way.
Below: Loch Lomond – and the “Snake of Loch Lomond”
And then it was time to find our next hotel – this time at Cairndow by Loch Fyne. The Stagecoach Inn (below) has an odd mixture of needing some tender loving care whilst still providing a very good service. We had asked for a loch view and the staff at the Inn explained that they only way they could do that was to put us in a deluxe room rather than a regular one. We certainly didn’t complain – and that view of the loch soon lured me out for a late afternoon walk.
It was too late to visit the Ardkinglas Woodland Garden which boasts the tallest tree in Britain and the mightiest conifer in Europe, but I was impressed by what I saw from the outside. Nor was I able to go inside the early 19th century Kilmorich Parish Church with it unusual design of a square tower set against a pyramidal roofed octagon. (Below: a peep at Ardkinglas Woodland Garden, and the church at Kilmorich.)
Back at the Inn food was served in the conservatory overlooking the loch and so we could watch gannets fishing while we enjoyed an excellent supper. And when David asked, on my behalf, if they had any sorbet, they produced a superb, homemade blackberry one. That made David feel less embarrassed as he tucked into his honey meringue with honey icecream, honey and cream dessert!
After a good breakfast next morning we were on the road south again.
Day nine – morning:
Sadly the clouds enveloped us as we drove from Glen Kinglas into Glen Croe and there was too much atmosphere and not enough scenery to enjoy, at the watershed between the two, the “Rest and be Thankful”
And then out of the gloom came an amazing cavalcade of Ferraris. I lost count of how many of those low-slung luxury super cars passed us on their way over “The Rest” but later the Netherlands Ferrari Club informed me that about 35 took part in that rally in Scotland.
At Arrochar we took the narrow A814 along Loch Long which was often overhung by slopes swathed in either iron mesh or bushes. Signs warned us traffic signals ahead and we came upon the odd sight of “aliens” in yellow fluorescent jackets with hoods over their heads and black veils covering their faces. This wasn’t to protect them from prying eyes but from the clouds of midges swarming out of the bushes and saplings that they were removing from the roadside.
The next “sight” along the road was the peace camp outside the naval base at Faslane which was nearing its 32nd anniversary in its long protest against nuclear weapons. After the naval base the road runs alongside Gare Loch to Helensburgh.
Our objective was The Hill House but that was not open until 1pm so we thought we would have a look at Helensburgh and find somewhere to eat. That was a mistake!
Obviously a lot was being done to give Helensburgh a facelift but that was far from complete and we were soon put off by what to us was a drab and dreary little town. So we went back along the A814 to a lovely parking area overlooking the Firth of Clyde. And there we had our own picnic lunch in very pleasant surroundings.
On days six and seven of our Scottish Journey we visited Loch Ness and Fort Augustus, saw Ben Nevis and the Commando Memorial, stayed at the Clan Macduff Hotel in Fort William, as well as visiting Neptune’s Stair Staircase and enjoying a cruise on Loch Linnhe on Souter’s Lass.
Starting from the eastern end of Loch Ness was the better route for us as it meant we could stop at the two best viewing spots on Loch Ness which were on the A82 before Drumnadrochit.
At the first there were steps down to the side of the loch (above), and at the next a good view of Urquhart Castle (below). This once-royal residence, which was largely abandoned in the 17th century, is now one of the most visited castles in Scotland.
But we chose to carry on to Fort Augustus to see the locks on the Caledonian Canal. Below looking across the locks to Loch Ness.
Yet again we were fortunate with the weather and were able, like many others, to enjoy the sunshine and watch boats slowly make their way down the locks into Loch Ness (left).
And we were fortunate to find The Little Neuk with its salads and great fillings for baguettes.
After viewing the locks and marvelling at the modern, electrical equipment for operating them, we visited the Caledonian Canal Visitor Centre to learn more about this 60 mile link between the west and east coasts of Scotland.
Only one third is man-made as the rest is formed by the four lochs (including Loch Ness) along the Great Glen. The display at the Centre provided a lot of insights in the difficulties that the engineers, William Jessop and Thomas Telford, faced in the early 19th century. The 22-mile long canal with its 28 locks took 19 years to complete. Eight of the locks are near Fort William and are known as Neptune’s Staircase.
So we headed west and soon just one landmark dominated the stunning views around us – and that was Ben Nevis. At 1,344m (4,409ft) this is the highest mountain in the British Isles.
At Lochaber, however, Ben Nevis has to share the limelight with the Commando Memorial. This bronze monument to the men of the original British Commando Forces raised during World War II was unveiled by the late Queen Mother in 1952.
And while we were there the crew of a Royal Navy helicopter staged its own flypast to honour the commandos (below).
We would see a lot more of Ben Nevis from Neptune’s Staircase and Loch Linnhe the following day.
Our own very enjoyable and often awe-inspiring journey that day finished in the best way possible – at a wonderful hotel overlooking Loch Linnhe. By the end of that evening we were so glad we were staying two nights.
The hotel was Clan Macduff and on that first evening a careful note was obviously made of our food intolerances and allergies. So we felt completely safe while we ate well. On that first evening, in the restaurant overlooking the loch, David voted his spinach and ricotta tortellini as one of the best meals he’d ever tasted. He said: “The food was exceptional but the service was better. My announcing that I am a vegetarian did not cause the usual reaction and I was treated like any other diner. A refreshing change. The restaurant staff are numerous, efficient and extremely capable and discreetly attentive.”
The evening ended in style with a pleasant whisky tasting session in the bar with the help of a knowledgeable staff member. David would have loved to have stayed another night and commented: “The room with a loch view was comfortable, quiet, clean and of high quality. Even the midges wiped their feet before entering!”
The first attraction on our list that day was Neptune’s Staircase – the longest staircase lock in Britain. Besides some great views of Ben Nevis (above) it was also interesting to watch the Hofstras on the Dutch sailing yacht, Gaia, complete the descent of the eight locks and, having dropped 64 feet in about an hour, sail away into Loch Linnhe.
The weather stayed fine while we were at the locks but that afternoon a cold wind began to blow and it threatened to rain. Even so we embarked on the Souter’s Lass, run by Crannog Cruises, for an excursion on Loch Linnhe. We braved the deteriorating weather until we had seen a few seals and then joined the other passengers in the cosy bar.
Then it was back to our comfortable room with its view of Loch Linnhe to prepare for yet another memorable supper at the hotel. This time a beautifully presented meringue with fresh fruit cocktail was created especially for me because, as usual, there was nothing on the desert menu I could eat. I was so impressed and it tasted so good.
On Monday, May 26 David and I set out on a journey to Scotland. In the next …. days we visited the Falkirk Wheel, the RSS Discovery and the HMS Unicorn in Dundee, Crathes Castle and Castle Fraser in the Dee Valley, the Speyside distilleries – Glenfiddich and Cardhu, and Dornoch, Strathpeffer and Invergordon. Along the way we stayed at Premier Inns at Stirling and Aberdeen.
The morning we set off for Scotland was one of those days when I wondered why we were leaving Wensleydale. Scudding clouds and bright sunshine are my favourite weather conditions in the Yorkshire Dales for it is then that the hills and valleys seem to change endlessly. Field patterns are highlighted and then pushed into a shadowy background while the scars shine and dominate.
David chose a route which meant we could enjoy that scenery for as long as possible. We went via Hawes to the Moorcroft and then north to Brough. I quite happily enjoyed the wonderful views from the A66 across the northern part of the Yorkshire Dales and onto the Lake District while David drove.
The sunshine had disappeared, however, by the time we reached the Scottish Lowlands and we wondered if the rain would lift before we reached our first destination: the Falkirk Wheel. It did thankfully and as we walked from the car park to the Forth and Clyde canal we got our first view of this majestic and truly awesome piece of modern engineering (below).
This unique boatlift connects the Union Canal to the Forth and Clyde 25 metres below. It was completed in 2002 as part of the 114km long canal restoration scheme called The Millennium Link. Equally amazing was the multi-cultural nature of the large crowd there on Bank Holiday Monday.
The restaurant at the visitor centre coped well, even with my request for milk and tomato free food during a very busy lunch time.Then, as the rain had stopped, we walked round the holding basin to where we could watch the wheel at work – and those see almost all the other attractions which included a great place for children and adults to experiment with ways of moving water in the Water Play Park. Those participating in the waterwalking experience didn’t get as wet! Below: boats being moved from one canal to another; and watching children enjoying “waterwalking”.
It was then time to find the Premier Inn at the Whins of Milton on the Glasgow Road towards Stirling. Later we saw more places described as Milton and I finally found out that this meant a hamlet which had grown up around a Mill. Whin is common gorse or furze.
The room was as good as ever and we certainly appreciated having a large TV screen in place of the latest “blobby” pictures that have become a feature of Premier Inns these days. We certainly wouldn’t describe those pictures as artistic.
As I fancied a pizza we went and found the Pizza Hut at Stirling – where the manager went over and above the call of duty to ensure that I had an excellent milk-free pizza base moistened with virgin oil in place of tomato paste. I do appreciate the fact that Pizza Hut issues its restaurants with full details of all ingredients.
Later we drove through the narrow cobbled streets to Stirling Castle to enjoy the views across the city as well as towards the Wallace Memorial.
After yet another good night’s sleep at a Premier Inn we headed for Dundee as David was very keen to visit the RRS Discovery – the ship specially built to survive the crushing ice in Antarctica during the voyage of discovery made by Captain Robert F Scott and his remarkable crew August 6, 1901 to September 1904. Above: The Tay road bridge from the RSS Discovery.
We were so impressed by the exhibition at Discovery Point. I could have spent a few more hours studying the photographs, exhibits and detailed descriptions of how the ship was built to withstand the ice, how it was provisioned, and of the crew and their work. But there was also the tremendous temptation to get on board the ship as soon as possible.
Left: Not only was the RSS Discovery one of the last three-masted wooden ships built in Britain but she also had steam engines for occasional use. She had a massive wooden hull to withstand the pressure of ice – which was fortunate because the ship was stuck in ice for two years at McMurdo Bay.
David wondered how the 49 men had lived together in such tight quarters for over three years. And I wondered what it had been like for the officers to eat at the same table which had each day been used for dissections. It seems that the officers’ mess became infused with the smell of dissected meat and drying socks!
We put such thoughts behind us as we headed for the Discovery Point Café where we had a good lunch.
David was equally as excited about paying a second visit to the HMS Unicorn at Victoria Dock. “It hadn’t changed at all and I’m glad about that,” he commented.
There’s such a huge difference between how the Discovery is presented to the public compared to the HMS Unicorn which is very much the poor cousin. And yet the HMS Unicorn is probably just as important in the history of the development of ship building as the Discovery.
This is because it is “a unique survivor of the brief transitional period between the traditional wooden sailing ship and the revolutionary iron steamship” – besides being one of the six oldest ships in the world.
This sailing frigate was intended to be a fast and powerful warship when it was launched at Chatham in 1824. But as the Napoleonic Wars had ended she was not rigged. Instead a roof was placed over the hull and she was put into reserve. She was moved to Dundee in 1873 to serve as a reserve training ship – still with her roof on which has helped to make her one of the best preserved wooden sailing ship in the world.
Her one piece of action came at the end of World War II when she was the naval headquarters ship in Dundee. And so the formal surrender of a German U boat took place on board her. As we left the Unicorn we were careful not to bang our heads on the same low beam that the U boat’s first lieutenant hit. There’s a great photo of him rubbing his head ruefully as he reached the gangplank. The look on his face said it all. Did the Unicorn’s captain forget to warn him?
For us it had been a fascinating visit for it helped us to appreciate the very limited space that 300 men would have worked in, especially when manning the 46 guns. It was hard to imagine how the ordinary ratings slept in such crowded quarters and even the officer’s cabins were far smaller and rudimentary compared to those on the Discovery. And the captain’s quarters were designed so that guns could be fired from the windows to protect the stern of the ship. (Below: the stern with the windows of the captain’s quarters.)
From Dundee we went to the Premier Inn in Andersons Drive, Aberdeen. This was the one mistake in our itinerary for Aberdeen is an expensive place to stay especially midweek.
We can’t criticise that Premier Inn for its service and facilities were as good as ever. But as for the restaurant (The Cocket Hat) next door – well that is best avoided! It was definitely the worst restaurant we have been to that was associated with a Premier Inn. We had one evening meal there and for David as a vegetarian it was an especially sad experience in a drab and dreary place. And breakfast was little better for, although the restaurant displayed the Premier Inn menus, it wasn’t able to provide everything listed, including soya milk.
As we were staying two nights in Aberdeen the Premier Inn receptionist encouraged us to visit the ‘granite city’. But we are so glad we decided to head out of town on Day Three of our visit to Scotland.
The Courtyard Cafe at Crathes Castle in Royal Deeside was a delight to be in – light, airy, comfortable and with good food and service. We felt so much better as we sat and enjoyed drinks there before going to see the castle. And what a delight that was as well!
Through the trees it looked like a fairytale castle with its chateau-like turrets. But there was a drawback and that was all the narrow, spiral staircases that had to be climbed to reach the top of this tower house. It was worth it, however, as this 16th century castle had been beautifully preserved for 350 years by those of the Burnett family who had lived in it. It is now well cared for by the National Trust for Scotland and all the volunteers we met were very welcoming.
It was at the top of the tower that we saw the amazing ceilings for which it is famous – like the rare oak-panelled one in the Long Gallery and those painted in the 18th century. These paintings included the Nine Nobles (such as King David of Biblical fame and Alexander the Great) and the nine Muses and seven Virtues.
Once back at the entrance we made a short tour of the wonderful gardens that were initially created in the early 19th century by Sir James and Lady Sybil Burnett. Lady Sybil was one of the earliest followers of Gertrude Jekyll, who did visit and admire the garden at Crathes. Below – the rhododendrons at Crathes are obviously kept well under control, but what a magnificent display!
We could have gone on to explore a bit of the large estate or had a look at the children’s adventure playground. But instead we went back to the Courtyard Café for what we felt was a well-earned and very enjoyable lunch.
And then we did something decidedly odd: we went to another castle and climbed even more spiral staircases!
This time it was Castle Fraser which is described as one of Scotland’s grandest baronial tower houses. It was about half way up to the top of that tower that I couldn’t help contemplating that the servants in centuries gone by must have been extremely fit for they would have had to carry everything up – and down – those narrow stairs.
As David said – we were getting plenty of exercise that day. He added: “At least some of the spiral staircases went the other way round and so they unwound us rather than winding us up!”
(When we mentioned the spiral stairs at Culzean Castle it was pointed out to us that many servants learnt to count because that was the only way, in the dark, that they could tell if they had reached their correct destination.)
Castle Fraser (above) has undergone several alterations since it was completed in 1636. The alteration that caught our imagination was the large west window created under the command of Miss Elyza Fraser in the late 18th century.
Thanks to the National Trust for Scotland volunteers we learnt more about this remarkable woman who, after she inherited the castle, developed an outstanding landscape around it of parkland and woodland. No wonder she wanted a large window so she could see some of that.
It was also fascinating to hear the stories about the “Laird’s Lug”. From the laird’s bedroom there is a narrow shaft in the wall down to the Great Hall. This enabled the laird to listen in on the conversations without being seen.
After all those stairs we were only too happy to leave the exploration of the Woodland Secrets play area, the woodland trails and the walled garden regeneration project to others. We opted instead to buy some sandwiches, go back to that comfortable Premier Inn room and put our feet up.
Deciding on where we wanted to go on Day 4 was a no-brainer. We were heading north to visit friends at Conon Bridge and there were several Speyside distilleries along the way! The problem was – which ones to choose?
The first one we visited was the Glenfiddich Distillery at Dufftown (above – the stag of Glenfiddich). As soon as we drove into the car park we knew that this was a quality affair. But the Wow factor came as I walked into the ladies’ toilet. A group of ladies could have comfortably held a meeting in it’s “foyer” (below) with no interruptions by any men!
That impression of quality was definitely enhanced as we walked into the Malt Barn Restaurant. The aroma of luxurious coffee pervaded this lovely restaurant and the taste was just as good. We were glad to learn that both of us, despite our food intolerances and allergies, could eat lunch there.
But first we wanted to see as much as we could despite the fact that distillery itself was closed for maintenance. It was still an excellent tour thanks to our guide, Lucy. The tour started with an atmospheric and highly professional video about the history of the whisky and its production. We were then taken into two warehouses, one where we could learn more about how the barrels were made, and the other where the barrels of whisky for export were matured.
We thoroughly enjoyed tasting a selection of single malt whisky at the end of the tour followed by a great meal in the restaurant. David said the spiced sweet potato, lentil and bean crumble was excellent. And I savoured every bite of my venison carpaccio, especially as the venison had been cured in whisky. These were two of the most memorable meals we had during our visit to Scotland.
Below: The distinctive shape of a distillery as at Glenfiddich – and as depicted at Cardhu Distillery
We got a chance to see how whisky was created when we visited the Cardhu Distillery. This was also an enjoyable visit and yet again we had an excellent tour guide. Below: Our tour guide, Keira, measuring a wee dram.
As at Glenfiddich the distillery was immaculate – except in the warehouse for the barrels of whisky must not be disturbed at all . So even the cobwebs in the windows must not be cleared away (below).
We were also fascinated to hear about Helen Cumming, who it is believed distilled the first gallon of whisky at Cardhu. This makes it the only whisky pioneered by a woman. By the time her husband, John, bought a license for Cardhu distillery they had been producing bootleg whisky at their farm for 13 years. When the taxmen had visited them during those years she had kept them busy eating yeasty buns and bread while someone hoisted the red flag to warn her neighbours of their presence.
It was her daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, who rebuilt the whisky distillery and then sold it at a profit to John Walker & Sons – so long as her family retained control of the operation. Yet again we enjoyed the whisky tasting and again we bought some for those long, cold winter nights…..
And then it was time to descend upon David’s friends, Anna and Stuart at Conon Bridge. They were the perfect hosts including finding food that we could eat safely. We fell in love with their German produced “wooden house” with its view of the Highlands to the north.
As it was such a lovely evening they took us to the Cat’s Back overlooking Dingwall and Strathpeffer so that we could get a better view of the Highlands. It was there that I got a not-so-special memento of my Scottish holiday – midge bites! But the view was definitely worth it as was the visit to Silverbridge near Garve (below).
A sunny, delightful day spent with friends – how much better can it get? Stuart and Anna took us on that warm summer’s day to Dornoch where we had coffee at Dornoch Castle Hotel, visited the Cathedral (above) and then went to the beach.
We treated Anna and Stuart to lunch at Luigi’s where I had a magnificent dish of fresh mussels in white wine broth – and got fed up with David trying to take iPhone photographs of me almost hidden behind a pile of shells. But maybe he was just envious because his pizza wasn’t up to the same standard.
We then visited Invergordon to see the 17 magnificent murals which were created to tell the stories of the local community and the area. Various local communities, such as the RNLI, the Fire Brigade and the Golf Club, are involved in the project and have ownership of the mural depicting their work or interest. Below: the mural showing the work of the Fire Brigade.
Invergordon is also well known for the repair of oil rigs which make an interesting backdrop to the traditional cottages along Cromarty Firth (below).
Our very pleasant guided tour included the Victorian spa town of Strathpeffer where we admired the newly restored Pavilion and had a look at the huge wood carvings created by Allister Brebner. The theme for each of the five four-metres tall sculptures in the Spa Gardens is a character from local mythology both Viking and Pictish. David was just as interested in the wellingtonia tree with its spongy bark.
For afternoon tea we headed for the Museum Café at the old railway station (below) where David enjoyed a sumptuous hot chocolate with marshmallows and a small Mars Bar!
Later that evening Stuart used his iPad and Google Street View to help me plan our journeys in the following days. Our next destination was Fort William and I couldn’t decide whether we should take the A833 to Milton and then to Drumnadrochit or start our journey along Loch Ness at its eastern end. Street View and Stuart’s local knowledge certainly helped and the following morning we went via the B862 to the outskirts of Inverness.
Our two days in Derbyshire at the end of March encompassed medieval and 20th century history with visits to Hardwick Hall (National Trust) and the Tramway Museum at Crich.
For years I had wanted to visit Hardwick Hall – the great house created by Bess of Hardwick (Elizabeth Talbot, Countess of Shrewsbury c 1527 – 1608)) – near Chesterfield and my expectations were more than fulfilled.
(For more photos of Hardwick Hall click on the picture on the left)
I was captivated by the magnificent Tudor tapestries, furniture and plasterwork – so much so that we didn’t have time for a tour of the gardens. So we will have to go back sometime!
Bess emblazoned her initials (ES) on the rolling countryside around the hall which was built between 1590 and 1597. She certainly left her mark on the landscape and on architecture in England – probably more than her good friend, Elizabeth I, did. The Queen didn’t build anything new – she just made do with what she had inherited from her father.
But Bess of Hardwick’s majestic pile with its regal balustrades and her initials was built to make a commanding, powerful statement over the surrounding countryside. In the days when glass was a very expensive status symbol the sight of all those large windows at the Hall twinkling in the sun must have been awe-inspiring.
Bess survived some financially crippling episodes in her life and four marriages to become not only the second richest woman in England (the first, of course, being Good Queen Bess herself) but also to create an aristocratic dynasty (the Dukes of Devonshire). She employed an architect, Robert Smythson, who was inspired by the symmetry of the Renaissance style of architecture, to design Hardwick Hall even before the makeover of the Old Hall next door was complete.
Glimpses of Tudor plasterwork lured us into the decaying shell of the Old Hall. Those remnants of the hall’s glory days had been washed white by centuries of rain. The National Trust has made it possible to reach the third floor and see the plaster figures on the over mantel which gained her great chamber the nickname “Giant’s Chamber”.
Were those Roman warriors Mars and Hercules? No-one knows but it is obvious in Hardwick Hall that Bess drew a lot of inspiration from Greek and Roman mythology. And it is also obvious that by the time that was built that she wanted to portray the importance of women even in societies like hers where they suffered considerable financial and social disadvantages. Her rich tapestries often depict women, some maybe not as virtuous as might have been expected.
One leaflet provided by the National Trust entitled Fifteen shades of Bluey-Grey, suggests that some might be of brothel scenes. And some of the plasterwork scenes show women as warriors and minstrels. She also made sure that Queen Bess was honoured in the artwork and textiles in the hall.
Her home was sumptuous and beautiful – fit for a Queen, in fact, but Elizabeth I never did visit.
David was especially fascinated by door and window furniture. He commented: “These were custom made by blacksmiths to a high standard. The oven door (below) was just as intriguing, particularly the latch spring.”
After several hours we felt surfeited and it was time to head for the Great Barn restaurant for some physical sustenance. It was packed for so many had come to enjoy a day out in such a lovely place. The National Trust has certainly made this a very family-friendly venue, right down to leaving a trail of furry reindeer toys for children to spot.
The following day we had an equally fascinating time at the National Tramway Museum.
We were impressed by the warm, friendly atmosphere created by the volunteers. They obviously enjoyed being part of such an exciting, memorable museum and shared that with the visitors.
We began with a ride on an open top Glasgow tram dating back to 1919 and finished on a much “posher” Leeds one (see below). In between we enjoyed a very informative tour and in the Exhibition Hall David relived his memories of trams in Sheffield in the 1950s.
David appreciated how the museum volunteers had so sympathetically restored and finished the trams to a very high standard.
Before I visited Crich I had never travelled on a tram in Britain! But I had been on the oldest electric tramway in Asia – in Kolkata, India.
What a great way to spend a sunny afternoon! A friend and I met at Berry’s Farm Shop and Cafe at Swinithwaite and enjoyed the Meadow Walk created by the Thornton-Berry family. This walk passes through their farmland to Redmire Falls. At the beginning there was a feeling of “follow the yellow brick road” – while a Swaledale sheep kept watch on us.
Looking back later we had a splendid view of Penhill – before carefully negotiating the steps down to Redmire Falls, where we saw some early primroses.
Above – Towards Redmire.
And then we realised we were being stalked! This dandy fellow decided he wasn’t going to let us out of his sight!
After a while he even decided it was his job to make sure we stayed on the footpath.
But as we drew closer to Swinithwaite Hall and the cafe (below) he got fed up with us and withdrew his attentions.
If you want to know more about how Adrian and Bridget Thornton-Berry transformed old barns into an award-winning farm shop and cafe see their website. We spent an enjoyable hour in the very restful, welcoming cafe enjoying afternoon tea and plan to return very soon after spotting some interesting items on the menu.
It is a gentle, half a mile walk from the Cafe to the scar above the river. The steps make it much easier to access the Falls. The uphill walk back to the Cafe is not difficult – and, of course, there are good facilities and good food at the end.
So where’s Corbets Tey you might wonder. For those of us who have lived anywhere near the South Essex Crematorium it has always been Corbets Tey Crem. Our travels in England got off to rather an unexpected start in January when we not only stayed at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Selly Oak, Birmingham, but also visited Gloucester Docks and then travelled to South Essex for my Mum’s funeral at Corbets Tey.
David had booked to attend a Quaker Eldership course at Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre in Selly Oak, Birmingham and I decided to go with him. I had stayed at Woodbrooke before when studying Quaker history so I knew it was a great place with good food and very friendly staff. Not only is there a very good library at Woodbrooke but the Orchard Learning Resource Centre (OLRC) is just across the road.
We were due to return home on Sunday, January 26 – but then the funeral for my mother was organised for January 29 in Essex. So why travel all the way back to North Yorkshire especially as David had a beautiful pastel portrait of a horse called Pip to deliver to a good friend who lives near Cheltenham?
So on Friday, January 24, we set off for Birmingham. Woodbrooke yet again lived up to all my expectations. As we were shown into a lovely en suite bedroom we were informed that it was the same room where, in 1931, Mahatma Gandhi had slept. But he didn’t bother with the bed – the floor was good enough for him. So at least I can say I have done my exercises on the same floor!
While David attended an evening course session I made good use of the free wi-fi to do some research. I spent the following morning in the OLRC reading Saguna by Krupabai Satthianadhan (link) and also learning more about early mission work in South Africa in preparation for another of my Pioneering Girls’ Schools stories. I got back to Woodbrooke just before a huge thunderstorm hit the Birmingham area.
It was still raining on Sunday morning so I didn’t walk through the gardens and grounds at Woodbrooke and into Bournville Village. Instead I enjoyed the luxury of relaxing in the garden lounge when it was quiet – which it certainly wasn’t when all those attending courses converged on it for morning drinks! Pictured: The fascinating O Range furniture by David Colwell inside the Garden Lounge and an exterior view of the lounge; and the fascinating shape of branches in a garden where some old specimen trees have been retained.
All the food was very good at Woodbrooke but the highlight for us was Joy’s almond, chickpea, spinach and cream of coconut nut loaf. The choice of food that Sunday included roast beef and parsnips as well as salads. I can certainly recommend a B&B stay or organising a conference at Woodbrooke especially as it is easy to access the centre of Birmingham by public transport from there.
It wasn’t raining (what a surprise!) when we drove from Birmingham to Edna’s home on the Sunday afternoon – but we were very aware of how hard hit that area of England had been by the constant storms.
After an enjoyable meal at the Gardeners Arms, Alderton, Edna’s granddaughter, Holly, and her parents visited to collect Pip’s portrait that David had created.
The following day Edna accompanied us on a visit to Gloucester Docks. My first impression was how small the Mariner’s church was beside the huge old warehouses. The second was how the steeple of that so resonated with The Candle sculpture by Wolfgang Buttress.
Both are dedicated to bringing light into this world – whether it be the light revealed through the Bible or in the words of Ivor Gurney’s poem Requiem which are inscribed at the bottom of The Candle.(Pictured: the Mariners church dwarfed by warehouses, and The Candle ‘’”embraced” by Gloucester Cathedral.)
Sadly we were not so impressed by the Waterways museum. But then we had been enthralled by the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port. Nor did we like the “up market” Antiques Centre. This seemed to be full of collectables and bric a brac rather than any interesting antiques.
But we did enjoy some gorgeous coffee at the CafeTucci and were so glad we had lunch at the Pizza Express. David and Edna shared one of the thin crispy Roman style pizzas while I had a magnificent salad tailor-made to suit my odd requirements that I couldn’t eat any cow’s milk products or tomatoes.
On the Tuesday the B4077 to Stow-on-the-Wold provided a superb route through the Cotswolds. Once we had joined the A40, however, we became all too aware yet again of how badly many people have been affected by the heavy storms this winter. On occasions there was so much water on either side of the road that it reminded me of Bangladesh in the rainy season.
Another reminder of driving in India in the 1970s and in Southern Sudan in the 1980s was seeing so many birds of prey encircling us as we drove across the Chiltern Hills. But this time they were Red Kites – not vultures.
As it started to rain heavily again we were glad when we reached the Premier Inn at Springfield in Chelmsford. We always get a warm welcome there and the staff were yet again were very friendly and professional. My son, Eddie, joined us later that evening.
It was pouring with rain yet again when we left the Inn the following morning – and our little Smart car almost sank in a deep puddle just before the A12. It was such a relief to find there was a tearoom at the South Essex Crematorium at Corbets Tey. And in there began the best part of my Mum’s funeral – meeting relatives that I hadn’t seen for decades.
Cousin Geoffrey brought along copies of old photos and since then there’s been quite a lot of sharing of photos and memories. Several have said how much they enjoyed the photo of my Mum (below) as a young woman which we had printed on the back of the service sheet.
David and I have very different memories of our visit to Southend Pier (above) in late October. He thoroughly enjoyed the wide open space at the Pier Head where it was so easy to walk around and take in the views of the Thames estuary.
At 1.34 miles (2.16km) in length it is the longest pleasure pier in the world and there is a small railway running along most of it. “I love the little train and they’ve made a good job of the end of the pier. It was convenient, comfortable and pleasant. It was great – I loved it. And the weather was great,” David said.
We were certainly fortunate because after a week of bad weather our short visit to Southend was bathed in sunshine. It was almost too hot as we sat outside the Pier Café on the south side of the new Royal Pavilion. (Left: outside the café with the RNLI station in the background)
There was a warm welcome at the café and at the RNLI lifeboat station gift shop. The station was interesting as two of the lifeboats based at Southend can be viewed there and there is a small pictorial archive of information about it. The other two lifeboats, including a small hovercraft, are housed at the shore-end of the pier.
But for me there was a deep sense of loss. Where had the old pub, cafés and amusements gone which had been so much part of the East End of London working class culture? Who had “gentrified” the pier?
No-one can really be blamed for that because their loss was due to the fires which have ravaged the pier the final one being in October 2005. The heat was so intense during that fire that it buckled the railway track – and so the trains now stop 15m short of the old station. (below left: the pier train at the new station)
Back on shore we were sad that we were too late in the season for a ride on the counter-balanced funicular railway (above right) but decided not to experience the modern lift into the shopping mall.
Instead David opted to visit the Sea Life Adventure centre. “It was fascinating to see tropical fish in their own environment but some of the bigger fish were obviously uncomfortable, swimming around the edges as they do,” David commented.
On that trip to Essex we also visited the “secret” nuclear bunker at Kelvedon Hatch near Brentwood. This underground labyrinth with its 10ft thick reinforced concrete shell and massive 1.5 tonne blast doors provided an intriguing insight into the mentality of the cold war. There are three levels: the ground floor for communications and also the plant room from where recycled breathable air would have been circulated ; the second as a regional or government headquarters; and at the top the dormitories, a small surgery, washrooms and a large canteen.
David said: “The bunker was fascinating – all that money and effort spent on preparing for something that never happened fortunately. But there is one of those in every county and one virtually for every council of some sort of another you realise they spent a lot of money on these during the cold war period.”
And what most impressed him inside that bunker? “The noise levels, the lack of sound control which a group of school kids highlighted. It just echoed round all through it so it would have been hell to work in, particularly when it was full of the numbers of people that it was envisaged working in there. It would have been uncomfortable. It was quite well planned out but whether it would have worked or not I don’t know.”
On view in the bunker were old black and white television documentaries which reminded us of government warnings on how to prepare for a nuclear attack. But then how many could have afforded to have built nuclear shelters inside their homes or stocked up with so much food and water? Instead we just got on with life and hoped for the best!
In May we headed for Essex and visited West Mersea and Audley End House while based at the Premier Inn, Springfield, Chelmsford.
It was hard to believe that, having grown up in on the northern bank of the Thames that I had never visited West Mersea before. On May 19 we avoided main roads for we wanted to enjoy the country lanes of Esssex. Unlike in North Yorkshire at that time the trees were fully adorned in spring green in shocking contrast to the vivid yellow of the blossoming rapeseed. I still see the latter as an interloper in the British countryside – even if it is now an important cash crop.
At The Strood we were surrounded by mud for it was low tide as we crossed what is one of the few true causeways connecting a community to the British mainland. After a quick look at East Mersea we headed for the Victoria Esplanade at West Mersea with its remarkable long line of beach huts – and were glad to find the Two Sugars seafront cafe where we could sit and watch three sprit sail rigged barges and a yacht race. Sadly it was too hazy to get any good photos of those barges.
We enjoyed a gentle and enervating stroll along the beach, fascinated by the odd shapes created when oysters had glued their shells to those of their neighbours. Like us many others were making the most of some warm sunshine after a cold winter.
Our next stop was the Mersea Island Museum. I had found this originally when searching the internet for information about the Thames sailing barges that my grandfather had been the master of. So I had hoped to find out more by visiting it. This small, independent museum did have lots of interesting information about fishing, oystering, wild fowling and local boat building – but nothing more about those Thames sailing barges. So after an hour or so we went back to the Premier Inn at Springfield in Chelmsford.
On arrival there we were delighted to find there were comfortable seats, a bar and a restaurant near the reception. The staff were exceptionally friendly and very helpful concerning any food allergies and intolerances – so much so that we ate there each evening.
The highlight of our Essex trip should have been our visit to the Jacobean mansion at Audley End near Saffron Walden on the Monday. I had checked the English Heritage website beforehand but there was no warning that the main house would not be fully open at that time. Having made the journey there we did pay the full entrance even if we felt that was a bit much for just a whistle-stop 50 minute tour of the house. Our guides did a good job but it was nothing like having time to stop and browse in the various rooms, and being able to find out more about many of the interesting objects and paintings.
Thankfully there was more to see on the estate including the various gardens, the kitchen, laundry, dairy and the well renovated stables with a very informative exhibition about life on the estate during the 1880s. David was fascinated by the demonstration given by Rebecca Holland, the stable manager, about training horses to not be scared by random moving objects such as plastic bags and umbrellas. He thoroughly appreciated her relationship with the two horses, and theirs with her, as well as her patience and the training techniques she used. And even if we did not have much time in the house he commented: “I did enjoy seeing inside it – and thinking about its history right up to my own time.”
A seat near the stables provided the perfect place to study the house and reflect on that sweep of history which took in the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII, the development of Audley End House into a Jacobean ‘palace’, and how later owners had to downsize it to make it economically viable. During the second world war it became the secret training base for the Polish Section of the Special Operations Executive.
Our routes to and from Audley End again took in some fascinating ancient Essex villages such as Thaxted and Newport. The 15th, 16th and 17th century houses included some wonderful examples of pargetting (external decorated plasterwork) – and many timbered buildings which, have over the years, warped and become wonky or lopsided.
The following day we travelled to Thurne in Norfolk as David’s boat needed some care and attention. On the way David took me to visit Bungay in Suffolk where we saw what was left of Bigod’s Norman castle. Bigod was a 12th century warlord who tried to create his own mini kingdom but was brought to heel and kneel by Henry II. Even more of interest was the Jesters tearoom which we passed en route to the castle. David was delighted that the advert that they made the best hot chocolate proved, for him, to be true.
We enjoyed a gentle stroll around the town where I saw the Butter Cross for the first time and learnt about the legend of the Black Dog. We thought the weather that day wasn’t too bad until we reached Thurne. There the wind was so vicious and cold that it felt as if winter had returned!
Below: More beach huts at West Mersea; and enjoying a view of Audley End House.
It was David’s turn to choose our destination in April – and he not only picked a fascinating location but also superb bed and breakfast accommodation. As soon as we arrived at the Foundry Masters House (above) in Ironbridge, Shropshire, we were enveloped in the warm and friendly atmosphere created by Dawn and Danny Wood. (See also Enjoying Britain )
Dawn is also a great chef producing wonderful meals even for those of us with food allergies or intolerances. On the Saturday evening we and two others, Kate and Peter, were treated to a feast – and the conversation was so entertaining that we did not leave the dining room until 10.30pm.
On our first evening in Ironbridge we were fortunate to find an empty table at Da Vinci’s cosy little restaurant and so began the weekend with a memorable meal. Walking to and from Da Vinci’s we could enjoy very different views of the Iron Bridge, built in 1779, and from which the town gained its present name.
From the Foundry Masters House it was easy to visit the many museums in and around Ironbridge and we made good use of our annual passes.
On our first day we visited the Victorian Village at Blists Hill. This had its own special features particularly the use of the old pounds, shillings and pence and the friendly, helpful staff who spoke to all the visitors.
We watched Roger Fewtrell (above) preparing to cast iron figurines, saw children learning about how iron was made in the past, and could see the machinery used to lift a cage-full of miners out of the depths of a coal mine. By lunchtime our nostrils were aquiver with the smell of freshly baked bread and also fish and chips fried in beef dripping .
The village is quite compact so it was easy to stroll around and enjoy the shops and visit the various houses with their cast iron fire grates – from the upper class Doctor’s House to the lowly squatter’s cottage. (By the end of the weekend we couldn’t help feeling that there must have been thousands of squatter’s cottages around Ironbridge in the 18th and early 19th centuries.)
We had enough time that afternoon to also visit the Jackfield Tile Museum. We were filled with wonder at how the Victorians and their successors had produced a seemingly endless array of colourful tiles. I was especially enthralled by the murals created for children’s hospital wards.
The following day we first visited the Museum of the Gorge to obtain an overview of how Ironbridge (or Coalbrookdale as it was known in the 18th century) had been “the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution”. The 12 metre long model of the Gorge in 1796 is exceptional and so informative.
We then went to the Coalbrookdale Museum of Iron and made some surprising discoveries. David, as a Quaker, thought he knew a lot about how the early members of this Society of Friends had influenced the industrial revolution. But he had not realised that the Quaker ironmaster Abraham Darby I had actually helped to start the revolution. He perfected the technique of smelting iron with coal in Coalbrookdale and his company went on to employ 30,000 – 40,000 people!
By the late 18th century the gorge was full of smoke and noise as both sides of the River Severn were heavily industrialised. And that’s why Abraham Darby III was keen to have a bridge built to connect those hives of industry. But he, like his grandfather, died young. And for David and I that led to another interesting fact about which little, it seems, is said in either the Museum of Iron or the Darby Houses. There was one small note about Sarah Darby which led to me searching the internet for more information.
And yet again it was the story of the importance of Quaker women in the 18th and 19th centuries. For Sarah Darby became the head of the Coalbrookdale Company in 1789 when her brother, Abraham Darby III, died. Elizabeth Fry as a teenager witnessed how Sarah and Abraham’s widow, Rebecca, and other female relatives, kept the company going until his sons were old enough to take over. Sarah and Rebecca were founding partners of the Coalbrookdale Bank in 1810.* Other women in the Darby family became renowned Quaker preachers. (See also The Quaker Inheritance)
After two days in Ironbridge David and I were over-filled with so much fascinating information and things to see. So we will return – not just to Ironbridge but most definitely to the Dawn and Danny’s Foundry Masters House.
* M Dawes & N Selwyn Women Who Made Money: Women Partners in British Private Banks 1752-1906, published as an e-book with Trafford Publishing in November 2012.
Below: At the Victorian Village – inside the Doctor’s House and visitors enjoying a horse and carriage ride. At the Museum of Iron – the head of one of the life-size deerhounds on a 16 cwt cast iron table designed by John Bell for the Paris International Exhibition of 1855. This table is among the remarkable collection of cast iron objects on show at the Museum.The Iron Bridge was also created with cast iron and has withstood many a storm and flood.
David’s birthday in October marked the beginning of our “let’s enjoy Britain” travels. We started by visiting Greenwich that month, and then Edinburgh in January, followed by Chester in March. There’s definitely a boat theme in our travels!
March 2013 – Chester
We returned to budget travel for the journey to Chester – but this time in David’s “new” diesel cabriolet Smart car. It was far more comfortable than the 11-years-old left-hand drive diesel Smart that he had before!
Our first stop was at the awe-inspiring Anderton Boat Lift. What a remarkable piece of Victorian engineering. And it was good to see that it was again being powered by a hydraulic system.
At Chester it was again a Premier Inn that provided us with comfort on a budget. This one was in Caldy Valley Road and close to the Broughton Heath park and ride bus service. So we had a comfortable drive (free with our bus passes) into the centre of the city with no parking problems. And what a city!
In the Rows – the first-floor half-timbered galleries which have provided space for a second row of shops above street level since the Middle Ages – one scene summed it up so well. A large group of primary school children were having a picnic in two of the alcoves (stallboards) along the Row on the West side of Bridge Street. With their brightly coloured jackets and their snacks they were truly children of the 21st century thoroughly enjoying the amenities provided centuries ago.
After sampling the Rows we headed for Chester Cathedral and were delighted to find that the entrance fee had been replaced with voluntary donations. I thoroughly dislike places of worship charging an entrance fee. So it was encouraging to find that one of the pioneers of such charges had found, after a two-month pilot scheme, that it was more productive to rely on donations.
In the Cathedral we were fascinated by the modern stain glass windows, the mid-19th century Pre-Raphaelite mosaics, the 14th century quire stalls and so much more. Not wanting to carry too much I had only my little Olympus Mu camera and so could not get a good photograph of the Chester Imp. But some of the other medieval sculptured figures were just as intriguing.
Two sculptures even looked like a man and his wife – with the wife perched discretely behind him (I needed a long lens to photograph them). After a brief visit to the Roman ampitheatre we made our way back to the bus stop.
The following day we had a leisurely wander in the warm sunshine around the well laid-out and informative National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port. David was particularly fascinated by some of the good design features and the ropework on the leisure boat Amaryllis. That afternoon it was so warm we had the soft-top roof down on the car. Winter returned the next day, however, and so our visit to the servants’ quarters of Erddig Hall got off to a cold start. We were too early in the year for the full tour – so we will have to return sometime.
Our thanks to the chef at the Brewers Fayre next door to the Premier Inn on the Sunday and Monday who helped me find meals I could eat, and assured David that no shellfish had been fried in the fryer used for the chips. It’s not often these days that David can order chips. We also had great pizzas at the Piccolino in Pepper Street.
Below – left- the Anderton boat lift; right – one of the houses in Bridge Street, with the Row running above the white fronted shop.
January 2013 – Edinburgh
David organised this as my birthday treat but I almost wrecked it by lifting a heavy object some days before and setting off muscle spasms in my back. Thankfully the spasms stopped the day before we went north – and David got his Mercedes 320 Cabriolet out of storage to provide me with a very comfortable ride. Otherwise we would have gone in his very economic Smart diesel. The heated seats in his Mercedes were blissful!
Yet again we had chosen a Premier Inn that had a free car park and easy access to local transport. This one was at Leith waterfront and was yet again well-run, friendly and as comfortable as ever. It was just a short walk away from a bus stop where we caught the Majestic tour bus.
We had intended to walk around the centre of Edinburgh a lot more but it was very cold and I didn’t want that back muscle to go into spasm again. So, after a very interesting visit to the Camera Obscura we headed back to the bus stop. Thanks to the Edinburgh Tour and the Majestic Tour we got an excellent overview of this historic town even if we sat downstairs where we were protected from the wind and rain.
The following day we visited the Royal Yacht Britannia. It provided an intriguing insight into the lives of the members of the British Royal family – from the way it once provided them with a special way to escape from the public spotlight to the juxtaposition of their luxurious quarters on the upper deck with those of the crew down below. But even if the crew quarters were cramped it was obvious that most of those who served on the Britannia saw it as a very special honour. For David the highlights were that gleaming engine room and the Royal barge. We also had a great view of one of Antony Gormley’s waterside statues.
For those with food allergies and food intolerances we couldn’t fault either the restaurant on the Britannia, the Brewers Fayre at the Premier Inn, nor Prezzo at Pier Place in Leith. But the best meal of all was definitely at Prezzo. They prepared for me an excellent pizza with extra virgin oil, buffalo mozzarella, pineapple and ham. We have found that the chefs at Italian restaurants are amazingly creative when told they can’t use any cow’s milk products or tomatoes on my pizzas! Before heading home I bought some excellent fresh fish from Loch Fyne Fishmongers at Leith.
Below – left: Antony Gormley’s statue dwarfed by a departing ship; right: Edinburgh castle soars above our bus; and underneath – that beautiful Royal barge.
October 2012 – Greenwich
For a comfortable bed at economy prices we feel that little can beat the Premier Inns. For David’s birthday treat we booked in at their Inn at Rainham, Kent. This provided us with the opportunity to see some of my family, including my mother (now in her 90’s) and the chance to visit Greenwich.
We left the car at the Premier Inn and made good use of our concessionary bus passes by going by bus to Chatham train station. It was a memorable day thanks to visits to the National Maritime Museum, the Cutty Sark, and then the river ferry to the South Bank in London for supper at the Giraffe restaurant – one of David’s favourites.
At the museum I especially enjoyed the exhibition about the East India Company and Asia as it connected so well with all the research I have done about the first girls’ schools in India and China. David was fascinated by the front rudder on Miss England III. This was designed and built by Hubert Scott-Paine in 1933 and a year later set a world record of 110.1mph for a single engine boat.
We were both impressed by the Cutty Sark. David remarked: “That was wonderful. They made a good job of the restoration.” Below – looking up at Miss England III (left) and the Cutty Sark.
This is my own very personal view of Aysgarth church – St Andrew’s, Aysgarth – after many years of sitting in pews, assisting with events there and just spending time contemplating the gifts that have been made to it over the years that make it a special place in Wensleydale.
I often wonder what it feels like having one’s nose squashed against a stone column since 1866. That was the year when the Victorian makeover of Aysgarth church was completed and during which someone added a series of carved heads to look down upon us. Were those stone heads bought “off the shelf” or did they have any local folks in mind?
The wonderful East window bequeathed to the church in memory of William and Ann Robinson and some of their children evokes very different thoughts. I often use that window to meditate on the joy of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ which depends so much upon the sacrifice he made on the cross. The Robinson family also gifted to the church the altar and reredos beneath the window. The latter is a magnificent piece of 19th century craftsmanship in Caen stone portraying Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper.
Alongside there are some fascinating examples of medieval craftsmanship. For me there is a lot of fun in the medieval carving – even if it was intended to scare people into heaven. There are those naughty little imps (or devils) peering out from the 16th century beam above the vestry door. The beam, inscribed to Abbot Adam Sedber of Jervaulx, is said to commemorate the rebuilding of St Andrew’s in 1536.
The Abbot was executed in London the following year for participating in the Pilgrimage of Grace against Henry VIII – a rebellion aimed in part at saving the smaller monasteries like that at Jervaulx from dissolution.
Soon after the Abbot’s death the rector and parishioners of St Andrew’s, which had very close links with Jervaulx Abbey, decided to bring the beautifully carved rood screen to Aysgarth. It is said that 20 strong men carried it on their shoulders across Witton moor to Aysgarth – the same moor where the Abbot hid when trying to evade being caught up in the Pilgrimage of Grace.
At first the Jervaulx Screen served as a rood screen between the nave and the chancel at St Andrew’s. When the church was being rebuilt between 1864 and 1866 the screen was restored, painted and gilded at the expense of the church’s present patrons, Trinity College, Cambridge.
The Vicar’s Stall, at the western end of the Screen, was also brought from Jervaulx Abbey. The intricate carvings on the bench ends include a little monkey beside an intriguing mystical animal and a medieval depiction of a lion. What did these mean to the Abbot when he sat in such a grand seat? Below – that lion – and the monkey with mystical animal.
For me one of the highlights on a Sunday is listening to Richard Wilkinson playing the organ when the worship service is over. “It’s a wonderful instrument and it is a joy and a privilege to play it,” Richard told me. It was built by Abbot of Leeds and installed at St Andrew’s in mid 1880.
In the early 20th century there were further gifts to the church but none more soulful than the font in the baptistry. Mrs Jane Winn of West Burton had the font created in memory of three of her children who died in infancy. Baptisms are no longer held at that one as the 18th century font has been brought back into use.
Mrs Winn’s husband had donated the clock in the tower to the church in 1904 and, after the 1st World War, paid for the Memorial Gates. All those from the parish who died as a result of wars since 1914 are commemorated inside the church, including Capt Philip Guy who was killed in a helicopter crash on the first day of the Iraq War in 2003. The memorials to those who died in the 18th and 19th centuries were re-installed in 1866.
The Winns belonged to the gentry of Wensleydale – but another of the church benefactors of the early 20th century certainly didn’t start life in that social class.
Frank Sayer Graham was the illegitimate son of a house servant, Elizabeth Graham. He did not inherit the estate in Aysgarth until several years after his father’s death. One of his donations to the church was the magnificent pulpit in memory of his first wife, Mary.
For details of services at St Andrew’s and at other churches in mid Wensleydale see Penhill Benefice.
The space at the Eastern end of the nave was extended in 2007 and this has become a great performance area which, with the superb acoustics in the church, makes this a great place to hold concerts and recitals. See Wensleydale Concert Series
It takes just 10 to 15 minutes to walk across the fields from the eastern end of Aysgarth to Aysgarth church and Aysgarth Falls. This walk begins at the bottom of the lane below the Methodist chapel.
Last spring those two lambs had jumped over onto the footpath which at that point runs between a hedge and that drystone wall. Above – trying to get back to mum.
At the next stile on the way to the church it is possible to see both Bear Park and Carperby to the north (below). Bear Park was originally owned by Marrick Priory in Swaledale and the present house was built in the 17th century.
As you approach the church you can see a large building to the right which was once known as the Palmer Flatt hotel because it was built on the site of a medieval hospice for pilgrims or “palmers”. This is being completely refurbished by the new owners and should be open by early summer if not before and will be known as the Aysgarth Falls Hotel. The car park at The Falls is also visible, as well as (to the right) the large building which now houses a book store. This was the original home of Aysgarth preparatory school and in 1881 there were 81 scholars. By 1891, however, the school had moved to its present site at Newton le Willows. In the 1920s and 1930s the building was part of a TB sanatorium and later served the area as a YHA hostel.
As you enter the field directly below the hotel it is possible, from the fence on the left, to look down on the River Ure (below).
Or you can go up the path towards the hotel to get a better view of Bolton Castle across the river to the north east.
The footpath across that field takes you to Church Bank road and on the other side is what may be the largest churchyard in the country. You can take time to visit Aysgarth Church (St Andrew’s) which is open every day or turn left just inside the main gates onto a path which takes you to the northern exit from the churchyard. Descend the steps to reach Yore Mill.
This began life in the late 18th century as a cotton mill and over the next two centuries was used to produce worsted, to grind corn and then flour (see Yore Mill). There was a school in a room in the mill complex in the early 19th century run by John Drummond, a noted mathematician. In the census for 1891 there were nine households listed at the mill complex, ranging from a clerk in holy orders living in one of the small cottages to the corn miller with his wife and six children. Today the mill is used to generate some electricity for the National Grid and the once derelict cottages behind the gift shop are being renovated.
The old middens (toilets) for the cottages by the mill race are by the river just before the bridge. There is an excellent gift shop on the right. For refreshments there is a choice for there is the restaurant at The Falls (by the car park opposite Aysgarth Falls Hotel) ,the tea room at the Yorkshire Dales National Park car park on the northern approach, or the tea shop by the bridge
The bridge was built in the 16th century for pack horses and was only nine feet wide. It was rebuilt in the 18th century when the turnpike roads were made. Do be careful crossing the bridge as there is no footpath and is just wide enough for two cars! At the other side turn left through the gate to the Upper Falls. In this parkland meetings and galas were held which, in the mid 20th century, included the Aysgarth annual show with sports, fancy dress and tea tents. Across the river are the remains of lead mining and a bit higher up the river is Aysgarth Mill where electricity was generated for the village in the mid 20th century.
Back at the road take the footpath on the left through the woods to the National Park car park where there are toilets and the information centre in which there is an exhibition about how the falls came into being and the wildlife of the area. Outside the information centre there is a mosaic made by local children. For more photos (all copyright Pip Land) see Aysgarth Falls.
Most people come to Aysgarth because they want to visit those famous falls. The village, a bit further west of Aysgarth Falls doesn’t look at first as if it has much to offer the tourist – even if it does have some excellent accommodation and food available.
It does now have a beautifully maintained Edwardian rock garden at the west end. When I first came to the village it was almost impossible to move around in the rock garden as it was so full of brambles and nettles. Thankfully Peter and Angela Jauneika found sufficient funding to be able to restore it and it was opened to the public in April 2003. Below: The exterior of the rock garden in early 2002 and how it looked after restoration. And inside the garden before and after.
From the gateway to the rock garden it is possible to look out across Wensleydale and down what is known locally as Jammy Hill. I have always been fascinated by the painting of James Thompson which hangs in the institute. It shows him at work as a cobbler and clog maker. His home overlooked the hill that now is remembered by his name. In 1891 there were two shoemakers in Aysgarth as well as a butcher, two grocery shops and a postmaster.
The village could still boast a general store with post office and a cheese and wine shop at the end of the 1990s. But then we had what I called the “cheese and wine war” when the owner of the general store decided to go into competition with the shop next door. Not surprisingly that didn’t help either shop and within a few years both had closed. One has been replaced with an excellent teashop. Below – our cheese and wine wars in the summer of 1998.
James Thompson lived next door to Frank Graham, the illegitimate son of a housekeeper, who had finally come into his inheritance from the Aysgarth landowner who had fathered him. It was Frank Sayer Graham who had the rock garden built as well as his Arts and Crafts inspired house opposite (Heather House). From Jammy Hill one drumlin (a hill created when the glaziers receded at the end of the Ice Age) stands out. The old Douglas Firs on top of it gave Lady Hill at very distinctive shape for many years. It will take time for the young Douglas Firs to be so misshapen. When Frank Graham owned Lady Hill it was an enclosed warren where he bred silver-grey rabbits. In the early 20th century he was still exporting the black furs from the young rabbits to Russia.
He became a major benefactor of St Andrew’s church at Aysgarth in the first decades of the 20th century. The Anglican church had remained a central feature of village life even though the Dale had witnessed the great spiritual revivals of the 17th Century when the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) opened its first meeting houses and the 18th Century when many responded to John Wesley’s preaching and became Methodists. There are still two Quaker houses west of the rock garden and the Society of Friend’s burial yard behind them. As there are only a few gravestones at the south end the Wensleydale and Swaledale Monthly Meeting Trusts gave permission for the children of the village to play football in the burial yard.
Opposite the village green and what remains of the village stocks is Hamilton’s Tea Room which offers homemade food each day except on Tuesdays. Or you can walk a bit further east to the George and Dragon. (All photographs are copyright Pip Land)