A day out in Kirkby Lonsdale

image

The small town of Kirkby Lonsdale lies at the southern end of Cumbria between the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales.  Quite by chance a few years ago we discovered that the stunning view of the River Lune that we encountered after walking through the pretty churchyard of St Mary’s Church church, was in fact a rather famous one. The panoramic view, described by John Ruskin (1819-1900), social reformer, artist and poet, as “one of the loveliest views in England, therefore in the world”, was captured in a JMW Turner painting (Ruskin’s View) which sold for more than £200,000 in 2012.

A grade 1 listed building, the predominantly Norman church sits in a pretty churchyard that was once a wildflower meadow which attracts butterflies in their dozens. . The remnants of this can be seen in over seventy species of flowers. I can’t claim to have seen them all but have identified among many others ,harebells, ox-eye dasies and cranesbill. The grounds provide a haven for wildlife and are known to play host to many small creatures like voles and shrews. On our visits we’ve seen kesterels, redwings and dunnocks as well as the more common robins, goldfinch and wrens.

A 4

Mentioned in The Doomsday Book, Kirkby Lonsdale is the prettiest of towns, boasting many buildings which date back to the 17th and 18th centuries and there is evidence of ancient settlements of Romans, Anglo Saxons, Normans and Danes.

 

 

The town was chosen in 2014 by the BBC to film their serial Jamaica Inn. The decision  attracted a lot of criticism; many considered it wrong to use a location so far away, but Kirkby Lonsdale’s market square was thought to more accurately portray Cornwall’s 1820s Launceston than the modern day Launceston does.

This is a place we return to from time to time, not because there is anything new to see (though there are some wonderful independent shops selling beautiful clothes and some very nice chocolate), or because there are ‘things to do’, but simply because its narrow streets and sense of history offers such calm and peace to blow away the cobwebs.

The Fairy Trail (and a lot of grandchildren)

The day began with me picking up eldest grandson (aged 11) at 9am and the two of us getting the train to Four Oaks. We were picked up at the station by the two younger grandsons (15 months and 2.5 years) and their mummy and taken to and taken to their home. There wasn’t room for daddy to come too! After a really good lunch of chicken and avocado salad (they know how I’m really trying for another loss at Slimming World on Monday), Mummy, the babies and myself took a trip out to the garden centre where we fed the ducks and the fish.

In a natural, rustic setting, the garden centre’s pond is home to an array of wildlife…and more!  After a short walk we happened upon the magical fairy trail. In truth I knew it was there because I’d been told but I had to express surprise. It’s the sort of thing expected of a nanny.  Hidden among the nooks and crannies of woodland is fairyland in miniature.  And it’s not just fairies; we saw trolls and unicorns, mermaids and gnomes.

The hidden village was my favourite. Sitting in a small clearing under the trees are numerous little houses and figures.

005fairy

Aimed at very young children, there is no charge for entry  and a great deal of trust is invested in visitors as many of the pieces are close enough to touch, so it’s a great shame that the fairy trail was recently vandalised and it looks as though repair work is still being carried out in places.

The Wishing Tree is strung with lines of tiny notes written by children.

007fairy

“Hungry now, Nanny. Shall go cafe?” [sic] said the little chap who had finished a bacon sandwich only an hour earlier.  We did, and I’m pleased to say that I did not indulge in the biscuits or carrot cake that was enjoyed by the others. Believe me, I so wanted to! Coffee had to suffice.

Later we returned to collect eldest grandson and catch the train home. Once there, I had just enough time for a bite to eat and a brief look at the newspaper when youngest granddaughter (7) arrived for a sleepover as her mum and dad are out for the evening. Later on Husband will be picking up her elder sister (13) from a party and she’ll join in with the sleepover.  I’m now being called upon to play ‘Barbies’ so time to sign off.

Loved to distraction they most certainly are but grandchildren are very tiring creatures. I shall sleep well tonight!

 

A day out at Conishead Priory

I’ve been meaning to write a post about Conishead Priory since visiting a few months ago. What a fascinating place it is. Located close to Ulverston in South Cumbria the main building is a stunning country house in the Gothic revival style. The detailed carvings and ornate stonework are symbolic of its beginnings in 1836 as home to the wealthy Colonel Thomas Bradyll who demanded that the architect, P.W. Wyatt, build something extravagant and ostentatious.  Inside boasts over 170 feet of cloistered corridor and a huge baronial hall, huge marble chimney pieces and vaulted hall. The house has had an interesting past; the family became bankrupt and was empty for some time. It then became a hydropathic spa and later a convalescent home for miners, it had lain empty for years, falling into near-dereliction before becoming home to an internationally renowned centre for the study of Buddhism in 1976.  Close on one million pounds and thousands of hours of volunteering has restored the priory to its former glory.

Priory C

The priory itself houses the delightful World Peace cafe selling the most enormous (and delicious) slices of chocolate fudge cake. Clearly they are not out to fleece their visitors. The bill for two of us was barely more than half the cost of similar in town-centre coffee shops.  The priory also provides accommodation for the residents who might contribute to the community as cleaners, cooks, gardeners or running the gift and bookshop or cafe. Others organise and deliver courses, facilitate meditation sessions or weekend retreats or work in the offices or studios that are situated in the seventy acres of grounds. We met a gentleman who told us although he was just visiting, he and his wife had  lived there as residents for twenty five years and had brought up their children there.

Conishead

The grounds of the priory are home to the first Kadampa temple for World Peace, part of the International temples project which aims to build such a temple in every major city in the world. So far there are twenty of the temples with plans in hand for several more. Weekend retreats cost just £65 per person. What amazing value. To experience the Buddhist life first hand by attending prayers and spiritual activities,  a full week’s accommodation with meals is available free of charge in exchange for 25 hours volunteering on a building project, cooking, decorating or office work.

TThe Priory’s website says: The spiritual community at Manjushri KMC is a modern day example of how putting Buddha’s teachings into practice creates a peaceful and harmonious environment that is a pleasure for all who visit. 

That peace and harmony was evident all over the site and are keenly felt on the woodland walk leading to the shores of Morecambe Bay. The quiet tranquility  is hard to describe but very much felt.

There is no charge to park, or to enter either the grounds or the house and visitors are welcome to attend services in the temple.

 

Daughter, dog and lunch out

Leaving Husband at home, I set off shortly after 9 o’clock this morning to drive to Shropshire.

image

With only one day at work this week, I’m now free until Monday am staying for a couple of days with my daughter. It’s been an opportunity to meet Luca, the recently acquired, one year old, rescue dog and I must say, he seemed very pleased to make my acquaintance! He has the sleekest, most shiney black coat of any dog I’ve ever seen encountered.

After unloading my luggage (“you don’t travel light, do you, Mum?”) and  a cup of coffee we drove into Telford where first stop was Primark for a cheap pair of slippers. I was annoyed to realise that I’d forgotten to bring some with me as I have a couple of nice pairs,  but for £3, these fit the bill nicely. I will leave them here for next time.

image

With £70 worth of vouchers in my bag, I thought I might be treating myself but nothing took my fancy. I did buy a new eyebrow pencil but that was it. Then we had lunch in The Novello Lounge. It’s part of a chain, but fits the ‘quirky eating place’ bill that I like so much … sort of Victoriana meets bistro. I chose the ‘All day vegetarian breakfast’ which features halloumi and sweet corn fritters. Very tasty!

image

Afterwards we called in at a local retail park as I wanted to buy some baby clothing from Gap ready to gift to a friend’s daughter.  Back at daughter’s house, Luca greeted us enthusiastically. He then curled up next to me and lay still whilst I stroked his tummy.  Yes, we’ve become firm friends, which meant that I was invited along for his afternoon walk along the canalside. Here he is with My daughter.

Fortunately she works from home most of the time but on days she is away, Luca goes to Doggy daycare which he apparently loves! He’s also taken on ‘socialisation’ walks where he learns to get along with other dogs.  Given his horribly poor start in life,   I think Luca is a very lucky boy to have been chosen by such loving ‘parents’.

 

 

Who’d cruise?

CRUISE 1

You’ve seen the TV programmes –  great floating apartment blocks, three thousand passengers shoehorned into a metal monstrosity and force-fed cheesy pop music whilst hi-de-hi hosts drag them from the endless rows of sun beds to play tacky tv-show style games whilst tipsy on the all-inclusive alcohol.  And what about those endless, endless queues? Queuing to get off the ship when in port, herded back on.Who’d go on a cruise?

Well, I would actually and I have done so many times. Because it just isn’t the way the TVs producers (always chasing the ratings by showing any situation at its worst – after all that’s what makes ‘good’ viewing) portray it. They will choose the loudest, shrieking females at the sail-away party, the one ghastly snob who talks to the incredibly hardworking staff as if they were something she’d found stuck to her shoe, the one person who brags constantly that they have taken 100 cruises and is on first name terms with the captain.

The thing about cruising is that its yours to enjoy as you want. If the bun-fight in the self service cafeteria floats your boat (pun intended) go for it! We opt for the grander dining rooms where we are led to our tables set with pristine cloths, where the service is impeccable, the wine-waiters knowledgeable and the atmosphere leisurely. After our first experience, we have never taken part in the sail-away parties with their grating music, preferring instead to sit on our balcony quietly sipping a glass of champagne. Nor have we ever whiled away the night in the casino. But we have spent many a pleasant evening watching classic plays such as Hobson’s Choice or Blythe Spirit, or watching scaled down versions of west-end shows.   I’m not a fan of comedians so rarely choose this as a form of evening entertainment but this doesn’t matter because every evening there are several alternatives on offer – a singer in one bar, a band in another, or would you prefer a classical pianist?  I’ve heard someone say that [she’d heard that] cruise ship entertainment was ‘tacky’. My response to this?  Take a look at the outstanding Ukrainian violinist Katerina Rosso.    http://www.barryball.com/index.php/artists/kateryna-rossa Scroll to the bottom of her page and click the first video link – stunning!

We find the cabins comfortable, well equipped and a sight bigger than most hotel rooms.  Sliding patio doors lead onto the balcony and one of my favourite things to do when sailing is to watch for sea-life. I’ve seen dolphins leaping, porpoises playing in the ship’s wake and a whale ‘spouting’. I’ve seen shoals of jelly fish in their thousands.

Ventura

A large cruise ship can offer more facilities than a small town. A tiered theater which seats 775 people (more than the one in my local town), a cinema, library, an art gallery, hair and beauty salons and for those who want it, a fully equipped, state of the art gym. On sea-days I’ve attended several interesting talks on all manner of subjects, classes in Spanish, jewellery making sessions. I’ve even known there to be a choir group. There’s more:  several well stocked shops (jewellers, perfume and cosmetics, clothing, leather goods and gifts) and numerous bars and restaurants which offer choices to satisfy all tastes. Most food is included in the cost of the cruise but for a supplement of a few pounds how about an evening at Qsine (Celebrity Cruises) or Marco Pierre White’s (P&O)?  It is possible, of course, to spend absolutely nothing on food because what’s included is wide-ranging, good quality and plentiful.

Cruising is essentially a touring holiday but without the need for the constant packing and unpacking – instead, your accommodation travels with you. It’s wonderful to see (albeit as a snapshot) so many different places.  Without boarding a cruise ship I might never have experienced a souk in Morocco… or the Medina

 

… or seen the awesome Peterhof Palace (Catherine the Great lived here at one time) or the Hermitage Museum with its staggering thirteen miles of corridors in St Petersburg.

 

I’d certainly never have seen Stockholm’s stunning archipelago of nearly 30,000(!!!) islands – some large enough for several houses, some so tiny that the cormorants jostle for space. It takes around five hours to sail past and their beauty is breathtaking – the most wonderful sight I have seen on any holiday I’ve taken.

 

Maybe we’d not have chosen a land-based holiday in Croatia if we hadn’t already enjoyed three ports on an Adriatic cruise – Dubrovnik, Makarska and the oh-so-Venetian Rovinja.

Rovinj

The same happened with Madeira; we fell in love in a day and just had to return.

Funchal, Madeira.jpg

Though we might have chosen a Greek holiday, we’d certainly not have seen as many islands as cruising allowed us to. The old town in Corfu was my favourite.

Corfu - old town

I doubt that we’d have thought to travel to Estonia or Lithuania.

 

Many of my friends have cruised and enjoy it as much as I do. It’s not for everyone but most people who say that it’s not for them cite three main reasons: sea-sickness, dressing up and feeling ‘hemmed in’ or claustrophobic. Many cruise ships are as large as a village with big open spaces both inside and out.  A walk around a single deck on the celebrity Eclipse (pictured at the top of the post)  is half a mile – multiply this by as many as nineteen decks.  And there’s half an acre of REAL grass on the top deck.

With regard to sea-sickness, I tell those who voice their concern that a 116,000 ton cruise ship is not a cross channel ferry!  The latter are flat bottomed and ‘bounce’ on the waves rather than slice through them like the cruise ship or ocean liner, and these are fitted with enormous stabilisers.  If I, who cannot even travel on the Isle of Wight on a ferry without a couple of Boots travel sickness tablets (I’m not exaggerating), can happily sail across the unpredictable Bay of Biscay on a cruise ship, you will be fine.

Dressing up is, for me, one of the best parts of cruising. A 14 night cruise will generally have four formal nights i.e. black tie. How often do most people get that chance?  I LOVE it, but its not compulsory! Granted, on those nights, anyone not dressed ‘appropriately’ will be refused admittance to selected restaurants and bars, but there are plenty of other places to go. If wearing short and a vest to dinner is your thing, do it … just not in the same restaurants as me! Better still, choose a different kind of cruise. Horses for courses.

There are also those will dismiss the idea of a cruise because they have a reputation for being full of old fogies. Hahaha!  Wrong. But again, do your homework – Fred Olsen and Saga are a world apart from the Royal Caribbean ships with climbing walls, ice-skating rink and ‘Tidal wave’ slide. Certainly, the right cruise ship is a really safe environment for the elderly, even having medical facilities on board. A friend’s 95 year old father and his lady friend are regular cruisers. Perhaps you’d rather party all night. Again – Choose your cruise!   And by the way , with regard to queues – time your disembarkation right and you’ll walk off unhindered.

Our retirement and semi-retirement have unfortunately curtailed our cruising activity and a new central heating system put paid to foreign travel of any kind this year but the brochures for next year sit temptingly on the coffee table. Neither of us have any hankering to visit the Caribbean though I know many who have very much enjoyed it. It’s some years now since we saw the Norwegian Fjords and its looking like that might be the choice for next year (though if we do choose it I will NOT be taking a trip up Mount Dalsnibba. If only the brochure had mentioned the 45 hair-pin bends)!  It was one of the scariest moments of my life, even if the view over Geirangerfjord was amazing.

View from Mt Dalsnibba

Then again, husband has a fancy for Iceland and I’d quite like to revisit Barcelona and Florence….or maybe it’s time to go back to Venice. Then there are Amsterdam and Bruges  which rank among some of my most-enjoyed city visits. Decisions, decisions!  One thing is for sure – those brochures will be well thumbed by the time we make up our minds.

For anyone considering a cruise I’d recommend the Berlitz guide to Cruising. Your local  library will have, or be able to get hold of, a copy. In addition to masses of general information, it describes each cruise ship in detail.

 

 

 

A walk in the Lickey Hills

Firstly, an admission.  The photographs in this post are my husbands. No effort was made on my part.  This is not due not to laziness but to the fact that his photos are a million times better than anything I have ever taken! Slight exaggeration, perhaps.

Lickey Hill walk 1

Give or take a few million, the rock which forms Worcestershire’s Lickey Ridge is 580 million years old and there is evidence that settlers lived in the area during Neolithic times.  It is thought that the forest may have provided the inspiration for Tolkien’s mythical Shire (the home of the hobbits) in The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings for he lived, for some time, in nearby Rednal.

Lickey Hills 1

The Lickey Hills Park is situated about fifteen minutes drive from my home. Covering a 524 acre site, this is a place that I visited with my parents as a child. Later my own children were regularly taken there. The ancient woodland boast almost 400 species of flowering plants and 350 species of fungi too. The forest is mainly populated by spruce and pine trees.  The hills look especially lovely at this time of year.

Lickey Hills 2

Animal life also thrives with several  types of deer recorded, though I’ve never seen one here. More than 90 bird species have been recorded.

Lickey Hills 4

From Beacon Hill (on which stood one of the country’s beacons which were used to warn of invasion), it is possible to see landmarks in no less than thirteen counties, weather permitting of course. During WWII the army built a series of buildings on the hill which were used by the Royal Observer Corps aircraft spotters and air-raid wardens who watched for fires in the south Birmingham area.

This castellated structure is a recent addition, built in 1988 to replace the original which housed a toposcope which was gifted to the City of Birmingham in 1907 by the Cadbury family.

Lickeys - Fort

A toposcope is usually situated on hilltops or other high up geographical features and is used to indicate direction and the distance from the point to notable landmarks.

image

An obelisk folly sits high on one of the hills and Was built to commemorate the 6th Earl of Plymouth, Other Archer, who owned much of the land hereabouts.

image1 (94)

And finally … The Spirit of the Woods , carved from a single trunk of sweet chestnut by sculptor Graham Jones, just one of a number of sculptures commissioned by Birmingham City Council.

Wood carving Lickey Hills

 

 

 

 

 

The Bacchus Bar

Bacchus – Roman god of agriculture, wine and fertility.

Bacchus 99

Before the show yesterday we treated ourselves to lunch in our favourite, and one of what must surely be the most interesting, bar in Birmingham. The Bacchus bar is literally one of Birmingham’s hidden treasures because if you didn’t know it was there (or someone like me hadn’t told you), you’d be highly unlikely to find it. Located beneath the Burlington Hotel, opposite New Street Train Station, on one of Birmingham’s oldest streets (dating from the late 1300s), it’s just not somewhere that you’d happen upon unexpectedly.

Bacchus 4

The fact that whoever designed the interior had a somewhat confused understanding of historical style might lead you to wonder if you had stepped into a film set or a series of alternative worlds: Roman, Greek and Ancient Egyptian, a touch of Harry Potter with ecclesiastical overtones, grand stone archways and heavy wooden castle-like doors. But it really doesn’t matter because this comfortable, slightly decadent hotch-potch, with a large main area and several smaller rooms, private alcoves and, for those who prefer them -dark corners, is nothing less than a delight. It shouldn’t work but it does, fabulously so.

Above: these two frescoes each took up the entire wall in the side room where we chose to sit.

Below: the bar where we ordered

Bacchus 98

And finally: one of the other seating areas

Bacchus 97