Countryside of Contrasts

First there is Hadrian: milecastles, hill forts and temples and bucket loads of history from its turbulent English – Scottish conflicts. Where man and beast walk on the wall.Hadrian's Wall

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Then there are the green fells and bubbling rivers stained tea brown from all the tannin, and the heather-clad Pennine landscape where sheep abound and rare alpine plants can be found.

Cottage Mile after mile of roller coaster roads with their blind summits and hidden dips, twisting hairpin bends and narrow single lane bridges arching over wee burns. And long forgotten viaducts striding over a river many vertiginous feet below.

lambley viaduct (2) Invigorating walks lead past houses built in a golden stone with pots full of bright red geraniums and purple petunias cascade and where inviting tea-rooms with a friendly welcome are set amidst old rail tracks. Stop at a traditional pub, some dating back to the 12th century, others used as a meeting place in the Jacobite Rebellion, where smiling bar-staff greet you with their warm northern accent and make you reluctant to leave.

The Garden Station Explore villages and small towns where houses are crammed together supporting one another, wander down hidden snickets and narrow cobbled lanes with secret gardens. Where churches with ancient churchyards are open at all times welcoming strangers to view their beautiful stained glass windows, bell towers, carved pulpits and unusual altars or simply to admire the craftsmanship of the home-made pew cushions, lovingly stitched by the congregation.

Alnmouth Finally there’s the coast and the castles. Wide, sandy beaches, river mouths and harbours and huge dunes with wild flowers. Tide timetables to consult, micro breweries and Craster kippers to taste, seals and summer sea-bird colonies to see and a walk to a castle last occupied during the Wars of the Roses. A church cut off from its village by the river changing its course in a violent storm over two centuries ago. History is around every corner.

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Derwent reservoir
Derwent reservoir

Herons and cormorants and twenty-five white swans on the River Coquet at Warkworth, swifts and finches flying in and out of the barns, stopping to briefly rest on the top of a stone wall beside you, but not long enough for a photo. The call of an owl, the sighting of a hawk. Dozens of rabbits scurrying around a churchyard at dusk. Grouse strutting nonchalantly along the lanes as if they know it’s not the shooting season.

sheep And the sky – the big open sky – cumulus clouds, a rainbow over the fells, the zillion stars and the Milky Way. You want to gaze at it all the time. Your eyes are drawn upwards.  And driving home in the dusk after a very long day you round a final bend and slam on the brakes as a young deer glides across the road in front of you. It stops, hesitates, eyes shining in the headlights before turning around to disappear back into the gloom of the woodland from whence it has come. Serendipity.

Just Back From…Stonehenge

A quick weekend visit to Wiltshire to visit family gave me the opportunity to finally revisit Stonehenge after many, many years. I was one of the fortunate people who was able to run around the stones back in the 1960s. Since 1978 the stones have been fenced off and the experience of viewing them through wire did not appeal to me, even though I have passed the site often on my way to the South-West.

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The whole site has been much improved by the removal of the old A344, a major road that ran up the north edge of the stones. You now approach from the west, either on foot or using the shuttle bus, and make your way clockwise around the monument which allows you to see all the stones above ground.

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What you see probably originates from around 2500 BC and took 800 years to build. Obviously the site has changed over the centuries, but it seems that the larger sarsen stones were constructed then and do not appear to have been moved, whereas the smaller bluestones may have been rearranged several times.

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Stonehenge has an ‘axis’ – an alignment that runs north-east to south-west up the final straight line of the Avenue. This alignment works for the summer and winter solstices and there is growing evidence that the winter solstice was the most important.

west view

It was a cold, raw windy winter’s day, but at least the sun shone casting black shadows over the bright-green grass and providing a striking contrast to the darkening clouds forming overhead.

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I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves and if you are ever in the area I do recommend a visit to this extraordinary site. Barrows and monuments in the landscape can be explored on foot over the uneven grass.

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Just Back From… Dorset

A last minute booking to Bridport in Dorset for a birthday and wedding anniversary celebration was made in lieu of the proposed trip to Seattle. After a gorgeous sunny September, autumn also decided to come along too, so it was a mixed week of sunshine and showers and even a few dramatic thunderstorms with lightning and thundering waves.

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Bridport

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Bridport is a quaint market town in West Dorset and only a mile from the famous Jurassic coast at West Bay with its lovely harbour and shingle beach. It has an open and airy feel to it because of the wide streets that contain several hundred listed buildings many of them built to accommodate the twisting and dyeing of ropes and nets during the late 12th century. It also has a lively arts and literary scene.

Although in a self-catering house I don’t consider it a holiday if I do all the cooking so we  ate take away fish and chips from Longs in West Street which were excellent – thin batter on the succulent cod and crisp chips. And the best deal was a thin crust pizza, salad and 1/2 pint of local cider from The Stable, behind the Bull hotel on East Street  – £10 on a Tuesday. If you like it hot go for the Blaster! Or what about the Bucky Doo?

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The Hive Beach Café
The Hive Beach Café

Good fish and seafood can be found in local pubs and restaurants, but head to the Hive Beach Café, a tarpaulin-sided hut which is a popular place for lunch as it is right on the beach at Burton Bradstock, 4 miles from Bridport along the shingle Chesil Beach. It is very busy at the weekend, even at this time of year, but worth the wait (no bookings) for the fresh lobster, sea bass or grilled sardines. An obvious choice for Saturday’s birthday lunch.

West Bay

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Only a mile from Bridport is West Bay with its newly designed harbour, vertical sandstone cliff glowing like molten gold in the late afternoon sun and sweeping shingle beach. West bay grew up as the harbour for nearby Bridport and was Thomas Hardy’s “Port Bredy”. More recently it was the location of the TV drama ‘Broadchurch’. Brightly coloured fishing boats bob in the harbour, fishermen line the harbour walls or the edge of the surf, and cute wooden shacks and kiosks line the harbour walk where you can buy fish and chips, fish stews, ice-creams. We stopped for dessert – a cone of delicious Purbeck fig and honey ice-cream.

Lyme Regis

The main attraction in Lyme is the historic medieval harbour known as The Cobb featured in the ‘French Lieutenant’s Woman’. Known as the gateway to the Dorset Jurassic Coast, Lyme Regis provides a good base for visiting walkers. The town has long inspired artistic and literary visitors including, Tolkien, Tennyson and Jane Austen who set the novel ‘Persuasion here. There are excellent facilities with plenty of restaurants, pubs and cafés as well as an interesting selection of galleries and shops to explore in the old town which dates from the 14th century.

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As always on my holidays there were trips to the coast and visits to gardens. Not a lot of chances to visit historical places at this time of year and with the nights closing in, the days are shorter, but we had a wonderful time and hope it won’t be decades before we return.

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Storm on the last day

Just back From… Kirkcudbright

I have visited Scotland a few times, but never Dumfries and Galloway. I’d heard good things about the region, not least that they have some good gardens on account of it being near the Gulf Stream so the climate is warm, wet and mild – i.e. no frost.

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Having booked a week in Keswick for the OH’s 65th birthday, I realised how close to D&G we were going to be, so on a whim, booked a week in Kirkcudbright known as “The Artists’ Town” because of the generations of creative artists who made this their home. It is also a fishing town, though most of the catches, mainly scallops, are apparently sent to France. With its wide streets, prettily coloured houses, free parking and independent shops and many activities in the town and the area it looked like a nice place to relax.

We stayed in the High Street, in the heart of the town behind the castle and close to several art studios, art centres and art galleries.

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1-hr-(2)

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MacLellan’s Castle

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Lots of lovely flower displays to be found down a wynd (alley or narrow lane) or pend (architectural term referring to a passageway that passes through a building, often from a street through to a courtyard)

Malaya Garnet Clematis
Malaya Garnet Clematis

Some very interesting houses and shops:

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Very interesting dormer windows
Very interesting dormer windows

Spectacular river views along the Dee:

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Art and Creativity

Harbour Gallery

Churches and Public Buildings, often in distinctive red sandstone

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The Town Hall

And what a delightful week we had, culminating in a little jazz  🙂

Just Back From… The Lake District

I don’t know why I haven’t been back to the Lake District since I was a young girl, apart from gallivanting around the world, raising four children and not being able to afford holidays for many years. Then again, I am  not one to go back to the same place very often. Cornwall currently being the exception.

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Keswick Town Centre

So to celebrate the OH’s recent significant birthday I decided that it was time we headed north again and booked an apartment in Keswick, one of the most northern lakeside towns in the National Park. It so happened to be where I spent my last holiday with my parents, but that being over 40 years ago I wasn’t expecting to recognise anything. And I didn’t except for the Moot Hall. Wasn’t pedestrianised then though.

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The Moot Hall

The apartment turned out to be fine. Within walking distance of the town and therefore shops and pubs and restaurants and also 10 minutes walk down to the lakeside for lovely late evening strolls. And a parking space! A real bonus in this town. Stepping outside the front door the views were wonderful in every direction.

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The Churchyard Opposite

With no real plans in mind, just to take each day as it came and decide where to go and what to do, we ended up having a very relaxed week, with reasonably fine weather. Only one day with heavy rain. A few light showers. Lots of gorgeous views that blew the mind, some delightfully gentle walks around lakes and one stiff climb up a hill for a stunning view that made the effort worth while. And hearing a cuckoo for the first time in years.

Grasmere is probably Cumbria’s most popular village as it was the home of William Wordsworth (1770-1850) and the place of his burial. It attracts coachloads of visitors and walkers too as there is a fairly easy walk circumnavigating the lake. A pretty village, geared more towards the tourist market than locals, it nevertheless has a timeless charm about it.

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Houses around Grasmere

I can vouch for the gingerbread – it is delicious! There is a walk around the lake, but I’ll post that separately.

Driving through Borrowdale and over the Honiston Pass where a slate quarry provides a place to stop and exclaim at the astonishing views. You can get a slate name plate made while you wait too if you want. We need a house first though. Stopping at local pubs for lunch of  home-made pies or thick, spicy Cumberland sausage. Admiring the lovely Herdwick sheep with their black lambs.

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Ashness Bridge and Herdwick Sheep
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Borrowdale

Discovering the sheer quiet beauty of Crummock Water where I thought I caught a glimpse of a fayrie – but maybe not.

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Crummock Water
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Crummock Water
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A Pied Wagtail and a fayrie?

and Lake Coniston with the steam-driven Gondola and nearby Tarn Hows.

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Tarn Hows

Heading over to Ullswater, reached by driving over Kirkstone Pass. The ‘Struggle‘should have given the game away when we decided to turn off at Ambleside “I don’t want to go up that really narrow, windy road” says I. Too late.

And then there was the  Castlerigg Stone Circle, only a mile or so from Keswick,  with panoramic views and the mountains of Helvellyn and High Seat as a backdrop and where the light on the surrounding fells took my breath away.

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Castlerigg Stone Circle
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Castlerigg Stone Circle – View

I can see why people return here time and time again. We saw but a tiny portion of the Lake District, but enough to whet our appetite and consider another holiday there in the not too distant future.