One benefit of a Pandemic Lockdown has been my realisation that I don’t really know the area where I live. Despite being here for over 30 years I have spent the time raising 3 children and working. So never really undertaken any solo exploring. I went where the children wanted to go – the park, the beach.
The excellent weather that made the lockdown bearable for many encouraged me to visit Hardwick Park which is a short walk away and also the nearby farm roads – both became the destination for our daily exercise. https://www.durham.gov.uk/hardwickpark
As the lockdown eased and we could, responsibly, travel outside of our immediate surroundings I started investigating what was nearby – and not crowded.
A short drive to Seaham on Father’s Day, brought us to Nose Point. Originally a mining area (Dawdon Colliery – one of the last to close in the North East). It has since been developed into a nature reserve with wildflower meadows, ponds and seating areas along its many paths giving open views along the coastline.
Another day and we drove to Barnard Castle (!) – a town we know well yet rarely walked the surrounding countryside. It was a rainy afternoon but good to be out stretching our legs.
Reclaimed railway lines are often uncrowded on weekdays and so we took the opportunity to re-visit Wynyard Woods Walkway. This was a popular spot when the children were young as they could safely practise cycling along its level and wide path, (it was called Castle Eden Walkway then, not sure why it changed its name). As it has two main entrances, we had two walks starting at either end on separate days. Always surprises me how things look different from differing approaches.
Billingham Beck Country Park is a small area alongside the A19 and which I have driven by numerous times. An interesting walk and the nearby traffic was not intrusive – just wear sensible shoes, the paths were muddy.
This was my first visit to the reservoir – I am still surprised by that statement as it is approx. 2 miles from my house yet I didn’t know it was there. And, if not for the Covid Lockdown I probably still wouldn’t!
An empty house following the Festive Season meant I could escape the domestic scene for the day, a break from cooking and cleaning. The weather was kind as for once the sun was shining and the sky was blue as I headed to Barnard Castle and Bowes Museum.
Note – those with children may be interested in the Lego Trail within the museum – keeping the young visitors occupied whilst you look at the exhibits, it appeared very popular and well planned.
Born in Spennymoor at a time when the local Durham pits were still active, the artist spent his life portraying ‘moments in time’ and therefore leaving, as his legacy, a picture history of a bygone culture. https://normancornish.com/
Norman Cornish started his working life at a local pit and only committed to painting full time as his reputation grew and commissions increased (although from my further reading I noted that this was not an easy decision and he needed much encouragement).
The entrance fee to the museum covers all the exhibitions so I worked my way to the Cornish exhibits via both the temporary and static exhibitions – an interesting hour, especially the small although informative showing of fashion photography by Chris Moore. https://www.vogue.co.uk/article/chris-moore-interview Not a name or genre I am familiar with, his narrative accompanying a video of catwalk fashion was very insightful.
The Cornish exhibition is not vast, enough to illustrate his technique and talent whilst also planting a seed in the viewer for more information regarding other works. Of this, so I discovered, there is plenty to be found locally. He was born in November 1919 and so many local galleries and museums celebrated his centenary – for example Spennymoor, Bishop Auckland and Durham – with displays.
Two things came to my mind whilst standing in Bowes museum. First, listening to a comment from a fellow viewer who had noticed that there are very few of his characters smoking. Once I heard this, I searched the paintings and also then wondered why this was. I am of an age to recall that smoking was a common habit and the majority of Pubs were ‘smoke filled’ yet in his paintings very few of the men were smoking nor is there an impression of the ‘indoor fog’ that normally inhabited the pubs and inns.
Secondly, the majority of buildings he painted are still standing and I noticed, and collected, a leaflet titled ‘Cornish – The Norman Cornish Trail’ which described a short walk around a section of his hometown highlighting the scenes he painted.
The sun was still shining and as Spennymoor was only a short detour on my way home I thought I would follow this up. Encouraged also by noting that ‘Edward Street’ was one of the stops on the trail. Of all the paintings in the exhibition this was the one I had most admired. Just an ordinary wet autumn day, the rain so obviously falling that I thought if I touched the painting my hand would come away wet.
Once at Spennymoor the start of the trail – Town Hall – was easy enough to find and yet I failed right away. I went right instead of left and so was at Item 10 not Item 1!
Deciding to stick with it and go backwards did not make any difference. I came across others also undertaking the trail and was greeted by ‘locals’ who are used to seeing such visitors to their town. The pride in the ‘local boy’ was obvious, and some stopped to share a little knowledge or pointed out the next stop on my list – one even noted I was going backwards.
Edward Street looks so different now compared to the painting as cars are now parked on both sides of the road making the area look cramped and narrow, different from the original scene with no car insight. St Paul’s Church still stands proud at the top of the street.
Rosa Street school is still active although surrounded by modern housing.
The Zebra Crossing that Cornish often used illustrating everyday life, such as children heading to school, was easy to find – and it looks very unchanged, even the shop fronts were familiar.
Before leaving the town, I called in The Bob Abley Art Gallery adjacent to the Town Hall, which has a permanent exhibition of local artists many of which show scenes of Miners at work before the landscape changed forever.
One benefit of having a husband reluctant to fully engage with retirement is that he still goes ‘to meetings’ and often these are in London. So, having only small expenses to pay (my travel costs and hotel breakfast) this is a cost-efficient way to enjoy a visit. Early July offered such an opportunity and we planned a very busy 48 hours, as it turned out we were perhaps too keen although dry sunny weather helped.
Our first excursion was to the Prince Edward Theatre to see ‘Aladdin – the Musical’. The story line was that of the 1990s Disney movie rather than the original tale of wizardry and treachery so very suitable for family viewing. As with the movie the Genie is the star of the show – witty and expressive (similar to Robin Williams in 1992, I have not seen the latest remake with Will Smith in the role). The production is very spectacular with seamless scene changes and vibrant coloured costumes. Unfortunately, in the second half, there was a technical ‘glitch’ which delayed the production for 20 minutes. This was a shame as it spoilt the atmosphere in the theatre. Once re-started everything worked perfectly although the audience rushed off once it had finished so there were no curtain calls for the cast, which I think they deserved.
Leaving the theatre at 10.30 (much later than anticipated) – too late for dinner but in need of something before bed – we had only walked a short distance when we came to to ‘Il Cucciolo’. It stays open until 11.30pm so we dived in for a plate of pasta and a glass of Italian wine – a lovely end to the day.
The next day we had booked a guided walk and as it did not start until 1.30pm at Temple Tube station near the Thames we decided to go there late morning and wander along the river.
But first, early lunch at Somerset House. When the weather is good the courtyard is a very relaxed setting to watch the world go by (or in this case watch numerous toddlers chase the pigeons whilst my husband wondered how long it took for the birds to tire of the pursuit).
Although there are occasional steps the route taken was easy to navigate. Gavin, our guide was entertaining, enthusiastic and very informed and this contributed to the success of the trip. Although I have visited London numerous times when working – and walked in the area between meetings etc so much of what he showed us was new to me. I now wonder how often I actually looked where I was going!
Having no firm plans as to what we would do with the rest of the day – and there were many options – we decided to go to Wimbledon and join the queue. We both have played tennis and do follow the sport, especially the Slams, so felt this was an opportunity not to miss. Whilst my husband had visited Wimbledon in previous years, and will always mention his great aunt Ethel Thomson Larcombe who win the 1912 Ladies singles competition, it was my first visit since childhood (and that school visit was outside of the season).
As expected the queue was long – very long – and we were happy to settle on the grass and enjoy an ice cream. When it was our turn to move (after 2 hours) and commence the walk through the waiting area, along the path and to the entry gate we had not realised that there were only 6 matches in action – 3 of which were on the Show courts and therefore not accessible to us. The 3 remaining matches were mostly in their final set, the ‘Resale’ office was closed and ‘Henman Hill’ was already over-crowded so the prospect of watching any tennis was minuscule.
Even though we had waited patiently for all that time, if we had been informed of this, we would have left rather than pay £18.00 per head to walk around a crowded arena, be crushed on the steps near ‘the Hill’ and then find the Museum was closed. I understand that due to the good weather and that many matches not being taken to a ‘final set’ everything was on schedule but still, I feel we should have been informed at the gate. The one thing of cheer – as there were so many empty seats on Court 2 we were allowed in to watch a mixed doubles match nearing its end. So, I was able to see Heather Watson and her partner win and what a lovely person she is, smiling and engaging with the spectators.
The completion of play on the centre court coincided with the end of play on Court 2 so we then had to join the thousands heading to the Tube station. This was pleasanter than it could have been – slow steady progress, held at the station entrance until safe to enter the platform, trains appearing every 5 minutes. A constant stream of precision and patience. Transport for London (TfL) at their best.
The festival is very popular although due to the amount of space I never felt crushed by the crowd, helped by the day being sunny, dry and not too hot. There were many gardens that we already know of – ‘Back to Nature’ co-designed by the Duchess of Cambridge and the Springwatch Garden.
There were workshops and presentations on a variety of gardening topics. We sat in on a couple which offered a chance to be in the shade and were interesting even to such a non-gardener as myself. The gardens and displays, as you would imagine, were beautiful and my photos do not do them justice. We walked over 11 Kilometres so the train journey back into the city was a welcome rest.
Then it was time to collect our luggage and head ‘up north’.
I enjoy learning the history of a city, how and why it developed its footprint, the buildings that grew, the ones that didn’t survive, it’s famous sons and daughters etc. I find such information enhances the understanding of a city’s character.
I was recently given, as a gift, an opportunity for a guided tour of Hidden London (https://funlondontours.com/tours/hidden-london-walking-tour/ ). The alleyways and courtyards of the Temple District and Fleet Street were introduced to us by our guide Gavin. In 1.5 hours, we were led through the very unknown (to me at least) history and hidden gems. Now, I could describe the tour in detail but that would spoil the surprise should you be encouraged to go.
All I will say – as is so often the case – if you live in London you are likely to have walked by the alleyways and buildings and not looked up, stopped to view or understood in whose steps you were walking. At least that is how I felt – I was familiar with the area yet felt I had not seen it at all. Note to self – look where you are going!
The group, on the day I went, was made up of 10 people who were from out of the city. Gavin was very informed and shared his knowledge in a friendly and entertaining way – it was as if he was living the tale he was telling, which made it all the more real.
Trying not to give anything away yet sharing the enthusiasm from the walk is difficult. So, briefly, we started at a taxi rank, understood why wedding cakes look like they do, walked across a river without using a bridge or wetting our feet, learnt of hidden sanctuaries of famous authors (remember to touch the stone) and tourist scams.
We heard of the lasting influence of the Knights Templar, the particularities of famous figures and the uncomfortable origins of well-known nursery rhymes whilst walking amongst the evidence of more recent history.
What always surprises me in such busy crowded cities is how easy it is to be in a peaceful park and/or seating area away from the bustle so do ask your guide about the weekend access gate to such a place.
Visiting Ferrisby, near Knaresborough, for Sunday lunch at The General Tarleton we decided to go early and stop off at Boroughbridge. A town neither of us had visited although pass the A1 ‘turn off’ to it frequently.
Lovely sunny day for a walk and, from our arrival, the town was full of surprises. The town centre car park had a voluntary fee of £2.00 and an honesty box at the exit. A novel idea that we had never seen before, hopefully everyone paid up.
There were two things I noticed straight away – the shops were closed! So unusual these days to have Sunday closures. The cafes and restaurants were open with plenty of pavement seating on which to watch the world go by. Or, in this case watch the cyclists – the town appeared to be a popular cycling route with many riders tending to their bikes or taking a break in the cafes. The colours and styles of Lycra fashions were an interesting addition to the flower displays.
The second thing I noticed was the main shopping streets were full of independent shops and not the Boots, WHSmith’s etc that I had expected. So, although glad to see that the shops were closed on a Sunday giving the retailers a rest, it was disappointing not to be able to call in to view the wares. Of course, it does mean we will be back one weekday.
Walking past one of the shops I noticed something rarely seen nowadays – the till cash drawer had been emptied and left open. ‘nothing to steal here – move along thief’. I am old enough to remember when this was a common site, an attempt by shopkeepers to prevent damage to their property by those forcing an entry.
Not far from the car park, near the War Memorial we came to a notice board with a ‘Town Tour’ and map which we decided to follow.
Although not long the walk was interesting, especially the sites of the 4 ‘Devils Arrows’. Amazing size and an untold tale of how and why such huge rocks were placed where they are. Many thoughts but nothing to confirm the facts, if only they could talk.
Surrounded by water – small becks, a river and a marina – we turned corners to be surprised by bridges, weirs and countryside views. Whilst the town may not fill a day it certainly is worth visiting – to break a long journey or to use as the start of a country walk.
As well as calling in to the Tourist Information Office the web links below have further information of the town and sights to visit should you be nearby.
And so, on to lunch. First time at The General Tarleton and would fully recommend a visit. many positive reviews and I would endorse them all – especially the young staff serving many diners and always pleasant.
The first (and only) time I had previously been to a Flower Show in Harrogate it was held in the Valley Gardens and the sun shone all day, so I was looking forward to going again even though it is decades later.
Now the Flower Show is held at the Great Yorkshire Showground and it is massive! Fortunately we had purchased the tickets in advance as the queue to buy the tickets at the entrance looked a mile long. We were there on the Friday, which we had thought would be the quieter of the days. The weekend weather report was not good – so I am guessing that those who could do so were also visiting on Friday to avoid the approaching Storm Hannah (I do agree that since we started naming storms there appears to be an increasing number – as if the naming is an invite!).
The morning weather was to be the best of the day, so we walked around the outside exhibits then moved inside once the wind and rain arrived. Although, we kept thinking of exhibits we had missed so still ended up wet and windblown.
Plenty of opportunities to purchase seeds, plants and equipment – the small hot tub may not fit in everyone’s boot. I know two people in Edinburgh who may try to fit it into their apartment!
Also, there are frequent specific talks given by experts (which provided a chance to sit and rest your legs).
Another source of advice and information was, of course, the many exhibitors who were very generous in their time sharing their expertise, hints and tips. Admiring a Chrysanthemum stand with its many colours we were kindly given advice on both growing and techniques on how to display these flowers.
The gardener also gave us advice on how to pitch our horticultural skill ‘If you can’t grow Chrysanthemums, grow Dahlias, if they don’t grow try Carnations, if that’s not successful then plant daffodils and if they don’t grow – get a pond!’
I could imagine a group of youngsters sitting amongst the Urban style garden, pictured below. With paintings forming part of the structure and the stone seating it seemed to encourage company.
The Garden below was more formal, although restful (it had a water feature which on the day we went was not operating due to the weather)
Walking amongst the Show Gardens the creativity of gardeners, designers and artists is amazing and although my photos are not great (mixture of lack of skill, poor quality camera and grey weather) the photos hopefully have inspired you to visit.
There were also many displays of artistry amongst Flower arrangers and the Study in Blue below was one of my favourites.
Ever wondered what to do with the old car?
And my favourite:
The garden above was a small space yet had so much – flower beds, vegetables and herbs with a seating area and a small table for your tea. I just wanted to walk through the entrance, sit and read a book in the sunshine.
The next show is the Autumn Show 13-15th September 2019 (and currently there is an early bird ticket offer advertised)
We recently went to the Palace Theatre in London to see ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’. The play is in two parts with the option to see both parts on the same day or on two consecutive days. As we live in the north of England we selected to see them on the same day, although if we lived in London I think seeing them on separate days would have given a breathing space to ‘digest’ the production.
No ‘spoilers’ even though I know that the scripts are available in book form through bookshops. Just to say that the production was truly magic. How stage settings and scenes were changed, and events portrayed was inspirational and I found that I was watching the actors behaviour and the scenery rather than involving myself in the plot.
Although I did not miss out as the storytelling and scene ‘props’ are intertwined (if you know what I mean)
There is a two-hour break between Parts 1 and 2 so we headed over to nearby ChinaTown for dinner. We have eaten regularly at The Imperial China and knew we would enjoy a traditional Chinese meal (and be served quickly – a bonus) http://www.imperialchina-london.com/ It seemed that this was also popular with other members of the audience and we enjoyed short conversations of the ‘plot so far’ with fellow diners.
We also shared out efforts to obtain tickets. This is not as straight forward as contacting the Box Office or TicketMaster. Tickets are released only at certain times so ensuring your name is on the mailing list is the first step. Having the time to sign in and sit waiting is the next – we were on our third attempt when we managed to buy the tickets. I had not appreciated the level of demand so was not prepared on my first attempt. The second attempt, despite signing in with plenty of time, was also unsuccessful as I had to abandon my place in the queue after waiting well over an hour. The third time we were lucky – both by purchasing tickets and because I did so within the first hour, although I had allocated the whole day just in case! https://www.nimaxtheatres.com/shows/harry-potter-cursed-child/ Follow the link for further information and guidance.
Despite the trials and tribulations purchasing tickets we all agreed it had been worth the effort and walked back for Part 2.
Looking for ideas for your tree – or just to bolster your Christmas spirit? St Edmund’s Church in Sedgefield recently hosted the village’s Christmas Tree Festival. The theme this year was a Christmas Carol and there were 47 trees in total. Many local groups contributed as did many of the local businesses.
The Guides and Brownies selected ‘Silent Night’ – which seemed a simple choice until the decorations were needed. I spent a pleasant afternoon with the Trefoil guild making Moonbeams to hang and despite the glue this was the easy part (I dislike Glue intensely – sticky fingers, yuk!). The Guides and Brownies made a good job producing the stars and angels.
It contrasted well with its neighbour ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ which was designed and decorated by the Methodist Church. Grey/white décor and unlit, it certainly encouraged a sombre moment.
Imagination was shown by some of the groups relating a carol to their equipment and/or focus. The Squash Club ‘decked the balls with boughs of holly’ and very pretty they looked. Best use of a squash ball if you ask me ?
The Physiotherapy themed their tree ‘Jingle Bones’ and the Handbell Ringers choose ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’. A local business ‘Right Lines Communications’ decorated their tree with Christmas Greetings in 25 languages representing ‘Joy to the World’
The local library made many small images of the book ‘A Christmas Carol’ in its many editions and also made angels out of old books to sit at the base
St Edmund’s Choir decorated the front porch with self-portraits (I think ?)
I have recently spent two Sundays learning new skills. Both events were ‘Gift’ days and as Christmas is approaching and you may be looking for ideas, I thought I would share my experiences with you.
In August a friend asked me if I would like to join her for a one day ‘Thai’ cookery course. Unknown to her, when she phoned, it was soon to be my birthday and I was thinking of what my ‘treat’ to myself should be. (I always give myself a birthday gift – why not?) This year it would be learning more about Thai flavours.
The venue was The Arches Cookery School based on a farm within the North Yorks National Park https://www.archescookeryschool.co.uk/ I had already attended courses there before and can fully recommend it. Set within an old stable block the scenic drive and rural landscape is restful in itself.
The group numbers are small so you can chat and observe your fellow cooks. Sarah is very informed, encouraging and throws out hints and tips with abandon (so, listen).
Lunch is part of the day and you have an opportunity to taste the dishes you will be cooking and taking home for dinner. It just needs finishing and heating – what’s not to like?
I had attended the ‘Thai’ day previously and yet, this was different. The dishes were different (previous day had focused on fish, this one had more meat choices) and I learnt more about ‘balancing’.
The take home message from both was the same – make your own Thai Curry Paste (Red and Green). The difference between homemade and that in a jar is astonishing. It freezes well so can be made in larger amounts for quick future meals – and is really simple to make.
(Please note – all photos credited below, too busy cooking to use camera myself)
The next Sunday I was off to Preston Park, Eaglescliffe, to spend the day improving my camera skills. Earlier in the year my youngest daughter had given me her ‘old’ camera. Although it appeared to be a straight forward Compact Digital I struggled to take decent photos. As a birthday treat the eldest daughter bought me a one day ‘Getting Off Auto’ course with a company called ‘Going Digital’. https://www.goingdigital.co.uk/
‘Back in the day’ when I was young I had had an SLR with a variety of lenses so thought that I would, at least, understand some of what was being said. I have to admit – I struggled.
I had expected fellow attendees to have similar cameras and, like me, to be total beginners at the digital camera technology, this was not the case.
Many knew exactly what they were doing and were there to brush up on their skills, improving their technique.
The instructors, Bev and Ian, were informed, enthusiastic and Patient. As the morning moved towards lunchtime I gradually remembered/learnt what Apertures, ISO, AWB were. I learnt about my camera and its various settings – many settings I didn’t know it had!
The afternoon in the park practising skills of both camera and composition were of great benefit as Ian walked amongst us advising and correcting (well, correcting me especially).
Although early in the day I felt I was struggling with the information all my queries were answered clearly and I came away thinking the day had been beneficial.
In the end I took some decent photos and have since been out in my local park practising – just need to remember how!
The weather forecast for today – so I heard – is sunny and unusually warm for October so thought I would wander into the garden and take photographs of any remaining flowers.
The Sunflower was late to bloom (a seed dropped by a passing bird we think) and so requires propping up with sticks. Hopefully it will once again become bird food, natural recycling.
We live at the edge of a village and until recently looked out over fields towards a non-intrusive dual carriageway. Like many in Britain we now live next to an enormous building site and watch whilst the 4 fields become a housing estate. Whilst I understand the need for increased housing I wonder when we will decide to build upwards rather than outwards. I know that builders prefer to build on unused land – so much easier – rather than ‘brown sites’ but, really, would it not be environmentally friendlier to use land already devoid of its natural inhabitants rather than evicting the grasses and animals that inhabit the green sites.
Alongside these fields there is a narrow long piece of land that is fortunately a public right of way and has a small beck running through it – so has been saved from the digger. Until the building started the fields were used for dog-walking and children playing so there was regular foot traffic passing us – the entrance to the main fields being via the narrow right of way. I have noticed that fewer people walk past as dogs are now exercised elsewhere.
Thought I would take a walk along the beck path expecting to see the trees in their autumnal splendour – we must have had a wet spring as the majority are only now losing the green foliage and turning brown and gold – very little red to be seen.
What I did notice was how quickly the saplings, that appear every year, have grown. The path is now crowded and it is difficult to follow the usual route. So, all changes are not negative. I am guessing that the reduced number of people using the path has reduced the number of plants and trees being ‘crushed underfoot’.
Looking through a clump of trees the roof of a completed house is just visible – hopefully the new owners do not complain of lack of light and insist on the removal of the hedge and trees.
Looking at my photographs I also notice the steel fence erected along a field to prevent entry – understand the safety concerns etc although I also hear that this particular field will not be built on for approx. 2 years so why not leave it open to the public a little longer.
Whilst on my little stroll I noticed a pheasant, again a positive, and waited quietly hoping to take his photo although both of us were startled by a sudden noise overhead. From the sound I am guessing they are migrating ducks – so I achieved a bird photo, just not the one I was expecting.
Looking back towards the field – I wonder what it will look like this time next year.