Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Out & About’ Category

19
May

Stitching in May

Cornelia Parker at work on Magna Carta (An Embroidery), Photograph by Joseph Turp

Cornelia Parker at work on Magna Carta (An Embroidery), Photograph by Joseph Turp

Stitching is a hot topic this month, with two exhibitions opening this month in London: Magna Carta (An Embroidery) by Cornelia Parker and Colin and Helen David: Not only when the moon shines: The Living Quarter.

Anne Tilby, one of our regular contributors to this magazine on a variety of subjects, has written a feature on her website, Big Frieze entitled Stitch in Time that looks at the detail of the exhibits and their topicality.

A mixed media designer and artist, Tilby is an experienced production set and costume designer for film, tv, theatre and opera has produced an impressive body of work during her career.

We love her work which always seems to have a startling, unexpected and wry flavour, witness her images of live models dressed in food, or her series of painted bottoms, or her image using fag ends, or perhaps her highly amusing images of Julian ClaryScreen Shot 2015-05-19 at 17.23.18, or her latest work Tortured Soles, an art rant about western foot-bindingScreen Shot 2015-05-19 at 17.20.40.

These images and more are on her website.

 

 

 

 

Val Reynolds, Editor

Photography © Big Frieze

15
Apr

A revolution in eating out

Typical Italian pasta with delicious sauceA lot of change has taken place recently in the restaurant sector in London and across the country too.

It used to be that  those venturing to the capital for an evening  in the theatre, cinema and concert hall would be somewhat restricted in the question of eating beforehand.  Several chains and independent restaurants would offer a pre or post – theatre menu (and indeed, many still do) but the options would be a two or three course meal, without or with a glass or more of wine.  The problem might  be eating a large meal either around 5 or 6pm,  or, less likely, one after 10pm.  The former may well be too early, the latter too late for the average person.

IMG_2503Now the buzzword is ‘streetfood’,  sometimes turning up in the guise of ‘small plates’.  They offer the opportunity to eat as little or as much as you like, small quantities at a time.  Washed down, of course, with as much alcohol as you feel appropriate.

IMG_6547Nothing really new here though.  The Spanish, for example, have had their tapas for centuries.  The origin of the term is interesting:  the word ‘tapa’ means ‘lid’ – in the distant (and not so distant) past, when flies would be buzzing around in the torrid heat of the Iberian peninsular,  the landlord of the inn would place a lid over the receptacle containing alcoholic drink, and, in true entrepreneurial spirit, would place a small tidbit – an olive or two, some nuts, some dried fish – on it.

IMG_20150409_184440These days in London, tapas are big business.  They are well represented in the small chain of La Tasca tapas bars, the latest of which has just opened in refurbished premises on Maiden Lane in London’s Covent Garden.  With astonishing candour, the people now in charge acknowledge that the previous incarnation of the tapas bar there fell short of perfection.  The claim now is that the food is fresh, not frozen, and the menu and wine-list far more inventive and interesting.  That certainly was the case when I was entertained at the re-opening night.  The food was delicious and the wine of good quality at non-outrageous prices.

London is awash with places where you can choose a varied and interesting combination of small dishes.  Wahaca, a Mexican chain, boasts particularly fresh ingredients.  If your taste is for Indian streetfood, the Masala Zone’s the one for you.  And even regular restaurants now offer so-called small plates.  While a traditional starter may be a bit on the minimal side (and restaurants may show a reluctance to supply less than a main course), a small plate or two may be just the ticket for a pit-stop at an hour or so before the customary supper hour.

And springing up all over the capital are markets offering freshly prepared streetfood using prime ingredients.  The West Yard at the previously rather tacky Camden Lock Market sports stall after stall of tempting goodies, all at reasonable prices.  In one of London’s newest hip area, the revitalised King’s Cross, you’ll find amazing stalls on Granary Square, the place to go for an al fresco lunch perhaps before boarding the Eurostar for le continent.  In fact, it’s hard to be in a place to be without having delicious delicacies on offer.  London’s foodies are indeed being well catered for these days!

jeannette-adjusted31  Jeannette Nelson Arts and theatre critic

8
Aug

A Peaceful Getaway

Bird watcher or cyclist? History buff or rambler? These are some of the reasons why we moved to an unspoilt part of Cumbria, a peaceful and relaxed spot where, from our garden, we can see Brough Castle on the site of the Roman fort, Verterae.

IMG_9166 - Version 2 copy

The Coach House Cottage

If you enjoy that kind of holiday, then please consider joining us at Coach House Cottage in Church Brough, Kirkby Stephen. This one up, one down old coach house has been updated and offers comfort and privacy, whilst we live in the adjoining converted stables.

IMG_9213 - Version 2

Newly installed kitchen

IMG_4692 copy

Sitting area

Facilities are all new. We created an open plan kitchen with a fridge/freezer, electric hob/stove, microwave, toaster, slow cooker, tv, Freeview and wi-fi. Cutlery, crockery, glass, linen, tableware and cookware is provided. There’s full double glazing throughout, internal insulation and central heating, plus a smoke alarm link to the centralised system.

Double bedroom with ensuite shower room

Double bedroom with ensuite shower room

Upstairs, reached by a staircase from the sitting area is the light, airy double bedroom with en suite shower room. Open beams above and a truly comfortable bed! Bed linen, bath towels, tea towels are provided. Throughout you’ll find comfortable furnishings and some period country items.

There is ample parking in the courtyard and you have private sitting space in the walled kitchen garden with views of the farmland and hills beyond.

The cottage entry door is opposite the door into our house, we share the main entry door. Your privacy is assured, however – both buildings have solid, thick stone walls!

Worried about the weather so far north? Last winter gave us very little snow, which melted within a few hours. Yes, it rains at times – this is Britain, after all! – but when the sun comes out the light is so beautiful it can have an emotional effect. In fact, we get enough sun every day to have made installing the solar panels worthwhile.

So with Coach House Cottage as your base, what can you do around here?

The lane that takes you to the village square

The lane that takes you to the village square

Same lane, just our local rush hour!

Same lane, just the country rush hour!

Church Brough village is a three minute walk away. Brough takes about 15 minutes.

The cottage is on the 100 mile Lady Anne pathway from Skipton to Penrith and close to both the Pennine Way and the Coast to Coast route. An extensive footpath and bridleway network right on the doorstep means you can explore little known unspoilt countryside seldom meeting other walkers, unlike the Lake District.

For cyclists, Cycle Route 71 is about two miles away and beautiful, unspoilt countryside all around makes it a pleasure to ride.

For golfers, there’s a choice of two local courses – the Appleby (Gary Wolstenholme’s favourite) and the Ravenstonedale course, close to The Black Swan which was voted the pub of the year 2013. A bit further afield, there are top quality courses at Penrith, Alston Moor, Barnard Castle and Hexham.

A local wildflower meadow

A local wildflower meadow

For gardeners, we encourage your input into our on-going development of our kitchen garden, the big lawned rear garden, a small patio and small walled area, as well as the courtyard. We love talking about gardening especially the demands of this northern location. Throughout the summer, there are many local garden open days, both in small villages and big country house gardens.

Coach House cottage and stables from the church steps

Coach House cottage and stables from the church steps

For bird watchers, there is a good range of birds in the immediate vicinity and, in our garden alone, we’ve spotted curlew, peregrine falcons, goldcrests, oystercatchers, great spotted woodpeckers, heron, house sparrows, long tailed tits, cole tits, buzzards and possibly a golden eagle! There is an RSPB golden eagle hide at Riggindale, Haweswater, just over 20 miles away.

An Eden meadow at the height of the buttercup season, South Stainmore

For nature lovers, a trip to the North Pennines, which an area of outstanding natural beauty just on our border, is a must. There is a field centre at Bowlees Visitor Centre and several nature reserves and wildflower meadows to visit in both the North Pennines and the Eden Valley. 

For explorers, there’s a wonderful mix of moors, dales, scenic villages and market towns nearby without ever going near a large town.

Champion and proud owner at Brough 2013 Agricultural Show

For country lovers, we have a string of local shows and events throughout the summer, all within 20 miles, such as the Brough Hound and Terrier show, the Alston Sheepdog Trials, agricultural shows at Skelton, Penrith, Brough, Appleby, Ravenstonedale, Wensleydale, Crosby Ravensworth, Dufton, Moorcock and Alston, plus Harness Racing in Appleby and Horse Trials at Hutton in the Forest.

For train enthusiasts, the Settle to Carlisle railway is close by as are other restored stretches of defunct, railway routes such as Warcop and Alston should be of interest, as would be Kirkby Stephen’s railway museum and enthusiasts’ centre.

For antique hunters, there are regular auctions at Hawes, Penrith and Barnard Castle.

Pendragon Castle in Mallerstang valley, just south of Kirkby Stephen

Pendragon Castle in Mallerstang valley, just south of Kirkby Stephen

Finally, a bit about the history. The cottage formed part of what was the Church Brough Rectory estate. The rectory, servants’ hall, stables, coach house, barn and glebe land were privately acquired and converted into four separate properties. The coach house and stables are linked by a glassed entry with separate internal access to the two dwellings.

Located on a bridleway, immediately behind the self contained cottage is a flight of stone steps to St Michael’s, a church with Norman origins. Turning left out of the cottage you pass a well on your right. Take a right turn onto the little used lane/Roman road (see photo 5) with its metamorphic sandstone sides leading to the village green and Brough Castle from which there are fantastic views of the surrounding area. The farm beside the castle has a well-known ice cream parlour and tea room.

Brough lies at the foot of the Stainmore Pass that crosses the Pennines. The Romans built a military road from York to Carlisle and a chain of forts one of which was Verterae. A 1,000 years later the Normans built a castle on the Verterae site. Over the years the castle was destroyed, rebuilt, burned down and in the 17th century it was rebuilt by Lady Anne Clifford. A 100 mile pathway that follows the route Lady Anne Clifford took to visit her many castles from Skipton, passes through Church Brough going on to Penrith. Market Brough, the northern part of the village, was an important centre of trade from 1330 when a charter for a weekly market was granted.  There are multiple sites of historical interest. Castles of note are at Carlisle, Brougham, Brough, Raby, Barnard Castle, Middleton, Shap Abbey and Pendragon Castle, plus Roman fort sites and, of course, Hadrian’s Wall.

A practical note: there are two hospitals within 35 miles away and major supermarkets within about 20 miles, although Sainsburys, Tesco and ASDA deliver on-line orders. Our local market town, Kirkby Stephen, is just three miles away and you’ll find it unspoilt and undeveloped.

Kirkby Stephen main street – free parking throughout the town year round!

Depending on time of year our rates are from £350 to £495 per week. Short breaks are available. To check availability you can either call Val Reynolds on 017683 42530  or email her at valpintail@mac.com. More images on http://coachhousecottage.bksites.net/

So sorry but we are unable to accept pets.

Val & John Reynolds

Here is some recent feedback from our guests this year:

We had a wonderful time at the cottage. First impression on walking in is that everything is clean, neat and looks new. I have not slept so well in years the bed is so incredibly comfortable and large. We found the whole place very welcoming and well appointed. We both like walking and it was so great to be able to leave the front door and walk in stunning scenery without having to use the car. The pubs we went to for lunch provided really good food, people were friendly and helpful. At the end of each meal we had out I never once thought “I could do better than that at home” as so often happens on our walks at home when we try a new place. On the days we did use the car it was so great to drive and find a parking place. I am so used to the overcrowded road conditions and parking wardens so keen to fill their quotas of greater London. So we had a great holiday. Dave, London, UK

 Very comfortable retreat in the North Pennines. All mod cons and very attractive, stylish decor. Ideal location for people who love peace and quiet, within easy reach of wonderful walking areas. J & K, London, UK

A quirky, comfortable holiday retreat for two. The Coach House Cottage is very well equipped and beautifully furnished. The peaceful location in a wonderful area for walking and exploring. J&A, Brittany, France

We had a fantastic time at the Coach House Cottage. The local area has plenty of things to do, walking being our favourite. We loved the fact that the cottage was so well equipped, everything we needed was provided. M&S, Doncaster, UK

3
Aug

Moving to the Country

However much you think you’re ready for it, the prospect of retirement and a gradual slowing down of activity hits you hard. I’ve always been an active, busy person and I knew dozing in an armchair was not how I wanted to spend my last couple of decades.

Instead, I wanted a life full of possibilities, full of new challenges and experiences.

And, sadly, I didn’t think that was going to happen in Welwyn Garden City, much as my husband John and I had loved our time in the centre of town, with our beloved garden.

Finding our ideal spot took some time – about a year, in fact – but the search was great fun as we explored the UK from Somerset to Dumfries looking for the property that excited us and offered a new life to us both. Eventually we found it, surrounded by beautiful views and without a neighbouring house in sight. After urban living, that was perhaps the biggest change for us!

The view that bowled us over

The view that bowled us over

So that’s why we now live in The Coach House in Cumbria and we couldn’t be happier! Why Cumbria? Why Cumbria – John spent many holidays walking in the north in Cumbria, the Yorkshire Moors and the Lake District. We both love the countryside and, with open land all around us, it’s like living in a park with surrounding meadows and, in the distance through very old and large oak, ash and sycamore trees we can see How Gill and other distant hills. With the wonderful light the view changes, sometimes dramatically quite suddenly. We’re by sheep, cattle and horses in the various meadows and, delightfully, our position on a bridleway means there is no disruption from traffic. A Roman road passes the property, only used by local farmers.

Cumbria is one of the most sparsely populated counties in the UK, with less than 75 people per square kilometer. The air is filled with the sounds of nature and we look back and wonder how we coped with the noise of Welwyn’s town centre for so many years. We both love it here and settled in very quickly, making friends with both locals and so-called outcomers – like us! Everyone we’ve met has been friendly and helpful, plus my work as a volunteer in the Visitor Centre in Kirkby Stephen brings me in touch with lots of people and helps me learn more about our new home.

The link between the two buildings

The link between the two buildings

_MG_4647 - Version 2

Coach house from the church steps

So shall I tell you about The Coach House? It is, in fact, two buildings, linked by a glazed area similar to a conservatory where I keep precious indoor plants. John and I live in the old stables and the coach house is a one up, one down building that was used by the rector’s coachman and his family, coaches were stored below. The early Norman church is just behind us.

The coach house is singularly individual – stone built with a curved wall on two sides. Initially, we thought we’d use it for friends and family, then it became clear it lent itself to becoming self contained holiday accommodation. On the ground floor there was enough room for a fitted kitchen with dining and sitting space, on the first floor a double bedroom with an en suite shower room.

So we embarked on a journey of property improvement and discovery in the land of letting! If you’d like to join us for a holiday stay, we’d love to share our new home and its peaceful surroundings with you. Want to know more? It’s all here.

Val Reynolds

9
Jun

Fourteen Thoughtful gifts for Father’s day June 15th 2014

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 16.37.32We asked busy garden writer Amily Grossman, to give us some of her ideas for gifts for Fathers’ Day. With a little help from friends and relatives, here is her list.

Dads can sometimes feel a little left out in the early days with mum and baby sharing so much one on one time together. Water Babies, is a leading baby swimming school with classes all over the country. Water Babies lessons are a great way to get Dad involved as little ones are able to take lessons from birth, giving Dad and baby a fantastic opportunity to bond. Our favourite Father’s Day gift!

The weight of garden tools can become an issue if you frequently dig, hoe and rake. So your dad might welcome on of the new Light Gardening Tools from Fiskars. Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 16.53.27The lawn rake looks especially useful, it efficiently clears grass with much less effort than usual. The patio knife on a long handle would save a lot of back ache. Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 16.57.57Having just broken a wooden handled spade we’re now seriously considering the Light spade for our own gardening activities.

My dad really likes doorstep size slices of bread, toasted muffins, toasted crumpets and fast toast. The Magimix Vision Toaster comes top in all these requirements – the chance to watch the toast cooking a plus feature.

This toaster is great for the man who is of the opinion there is no point in heating up the grill in the cooker for a couple of slices of toast – a total waste of electricity. The side by side design means it fits on the work surface neatly, although we would have it on the table for easy access. Just so you know, this toaster is a Which Best Buy and although pricey at £145 it has good user reviews.Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 17.00.31

OK, so a toaster is not appropriate for your dad. What about a book?

How about the Penguin series devoted to Simenon’s books – he may well enjoy the first Inspector Maigret novel Pietr the Latvian, if only for nostalgic reasons! Penguin are publishing the entire series of the Maigret novels, so this could cover your gifts for several years!

Confessions of The World’s Best Father – a tongue in cheek series of web entries that started an internet phenomenon. His bewilderment as to how to best raise a child makes Dave Engledow’s book an amusing read. The photographs are pretty good too!

If you’d prefer to give a more sober present, you could go for The Death of Money. James Rickards shows how we could avoid financial collapse.

James Lovelock’s A Rough Ride to the Future confirms his belief that the survival of the human race is one of the most important steps in the evolution of our planet. 

With Flowers Shows happening all over the country why not get tickets?

  1. For instance the Blenheim flower show 20-22 June. http://blenheimflowershow.co.uk/
  2. Hampton Court Flower Show is on from 8 to 13 July. Yes, it’s pricey but it’s big, a great time to talk to like minded gardeners, many exhibitors are readily accessible and it’s generally good weather! Link
  3. Harrogate Flower Show is 12-14 September. http://www.flowershow.org.uk/

If your dad is a keen veggie grower he might just like a copy of the Suttons Vegetable Garden Planner <suttons@growveg.com> An absolutely winner for us – it  takes out all the guesswork and is an easy to refer to record throughout the year.

Backdoor shoes – if your dad is constantly in and out of the garden, he might well like a pair of lightweight Backdoor Shoes to slip on and off. Might keep mum happy too with less mud to clear up. We love ‘em, ours has taken 4 years of hard wear and need replacing now. Which design to choose will be a challenge!

11182_1Does this portable USB iShaver razor appeal? Designed to easily slip in a pocket or washbag significant features include:

  • Recharge via USBi shave
  • Stylishly sleek compact design
  • Ultra-thin net foil with floating blades
  • Cleaning brush included
  • Easy on/off switch
  • Comes in a high gloss case and ultra-thin net foil with floating blades for a close, comfortable shave

Finally, some alcohol? Yes, it is a bit of a get out clause, here are some suggestions 

You could sign him up for Naked Wines. The company was started up by two former employees of Virgin Wines, with the added ethos of supporting the wine producers, all small scale but dedicated growers. You might like to make your dad a wine angel! Sounds fun? Here’s a link.

Taylor’s 10 year old Tawny Port is rather tasty, we keep some for special occasions and in the winter when we feel the need for something to keep us warm. http://taylor.pt/en/port-wine-ratings-awards/press-comments/

Screen Shot 2014-06-09 at 17.07.34Lastly, for the dad with a dog. The Forestry Commission England has created a one-stop-shop for owners and their dogs looking to take a break in and around forests and woodlands. The Ruff Guide to the Forest showcases 34 Forestry Commission locations across England, highlighting each site’s trails and facilities suitable for dogs, along with dog-friendly places to stay nearby.

Phew, will have to take a break now and go for a spot of weeding! The sun’s out and I’ll don my Backdoor Shoes, pick up the handy trowel with its graduated scale for planting seedlings, put on my Ethel gloves and make sure the waterproof jacket is by the backdoor in case of an unexpected show.

Good luck!

Amily Grossman, gardening expert and occasional contributor to In Balance Magazine

22
Mar

Holidaying with your Dog

Dog and owner enjoying Alice Holt Forest, Surrey

Dog and owner enjoying Alice Holt Forest, Surrey

Help for holidaying with your dog is here, with the launch of Forestry Commission England’s Ruff Guide to the Forest.

Forestry Commission England has created a one-stop-shop for owners and their dogs looking to take a break in and around forests and woodlands.

The Ruff Guide to the Forest showcases 34 Forestry Commission locations across England, highlighting each site’s trails and facilities suitable for dogs, along with dog-friendly places to stay nearby.

Each location in the guide has been reviewed by one of its regular four-legged visitors, helping newcomers to find out useful information such as if some areas are kept dog free and where to find water and waste bins. There is also the opportunity for owners to share their thoughts and recommend places to stay nearby.

Paddy Harrop Recreation and Public Affairs Manager for Forestry Commission England commented:

“Across the country, you are never far from a Forestry Commission England location – which means you are never far from a great walk with your dog.

“We want to make it easier for people to bring their four-legged friend with them on a great day out, short break or longer holiday. By showcasing the dog-friendly facilities at our woods and forests and local dog-friendly accommodation, we hope we can provide all the essential information for a fantastic forest visit.”

The Forestry Commission’s accommodation partners, Forest Holidays and Camping in the Forest, have also seen a rise in popularity for dog-friendly holidays.

Camping in the Forest welcome dogs at almost all of their sites and they even camp for free, whilst all Forest Holidays locations have plenty of pet friendly cabins where your dog will feel right at home.

The Ruff Guide to the Forest is being launched as part of the Forestry Commission’s Paws Outdoors campaign. The campaign marks ten years of working together for the Forestry Commission, the Kennel Club and Natural Resources Wales. The organisations signed a new concordat at Crufts (7 March 2014) to promote opportunities for responsible dog-walking in UK forests.

The Forestry Commission has also announced England’s first Walk Your Dog Week, which takes place from Monday 28 April to Monday 5 May 2014. The awareness week will encourage dog owners to get into the habit of giving their pets more regular exercise, including time off the leash when appropriate, to improve their health and well-being and reduce dog obesity. Dog owners can also nominate their well-behaved pet as a contender to become the dog face of the Paws Outdoors campaign.

Links for further information:

www.forestry.gov.uk/dogs
www.forestholidays.co.uk/human-friendly-holidays
www.campingintheforest.co.uk/forest-experience/camping-tips-and-information/taking-your-dog-camping/five-best-campsites-for-dogs-as-voted-by-campers

22
Mar

Gloves for Outdoor Activities

climatec-longWe found MacWet Climatic sports gloves to be suitable for many activities where a good grip is essential: including gardening, cycling, golfing, Nordic walking, even walking the dog!

They are well grippy, non-slip without being sticky, in wet or dry conditions and keep the cold at bay, though perhaps not as well as a fully lined glove. Again they are breathable, wicking moisture away, so you don’t get sweaty hands. A Velcro wrist strap provides a weatherproof closure.

I used them for the first time, sawing wood, an activity when you need a good firm grip. The day was fairly cold, but I didn’t feel it at all – though the exercise probably helped. I was using both a hand saw, then a circular saw. With a circular saw, it is crucial to have a good grip on both saw and wood, slips could be disastrous. But the results were fine with no problems. The wood was not thorny, so any anti-jab protection was not tested, but they did seem jab-proof. The only downside could be that they don’t stretch, hence sizing has to be accurate, easily solved by the sizing template given on the MacWet website.

The gloves did get dirty, with the fine sawdust, but they are washable – the Velcro wrist strap provided weatherproof closure and stopped debris getting in.

On a country walk on a very cold day they were ideal. Light, warm and comfortable when used with Nordic walking sticks. They are very popular with the shooting fraternity and golfers* too.

Highly recommended.

Prices vary from £24.99 to £29.99 (Amazon) Note the Amazon comments were generally supportive, but you do get the picky ones occasionally.

Christopher Johns, occasional contributor on topics related to sports activities

View of Coet Per from the lake

View of Coet Per from the lake

* If you are keen on practising your game while on holiday do have a look at Coet Per in Brittany. This 5 bedroom holiday chateau/country house, hidden away in beautiful countryside has its own four hole golf course.

Plan of the four hole course

Plan of the four hole course

28
Feb

Small is Beautiful – Little known London Museums

Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 09.50.53Tucked away in a small sidestreet behind the British Museum is one of the little gems of London.  The Cartoon Museum in Little Russell Street deserves to be far better known than it is and visited far more often. One of its principal attractions is its size – small.  This means that both the permanent exhibition as well as temporary ones are compact and approachable.  Personally, I usually have to take a very deep breath when visiting Tate Britain, Tate modern or the Royal Academy because of the sheer volume of what’s on offer.  However interesting or stunning London’s blockbuster exhibitions may be, going round them can sometimes be a feat of endurance, particularly since it’s the norm that there is no  re-entry;  you have to swallow what’s on offer whole.  This is an ongoing beef of mine.  I’m sure I’m not alone in finding my attention waning after an hour or so, and would welcome the opportunity of a reviving cup of tea and a relaxing of the eye and brain. Returning refreshed would, I’m sure, enhance the experience. The small-scale Cartoon Museum throws up no such problem.  Cartoons, almost by definition, present the viewer with a lot to observe, generally captions as well as pictures, and too many at once would inevitably ‘do the head in’!  And what a pleasure it is to wander around with others smiling or laughing at the humour.  The content of a cartoon is sometimes acerbic as witnessed in the work of, say, Martin Rowson or Steve Bell, sometimes gentle and good-natured but always witty.  The current exhibition, Bring Me Laughter, a private collection on display featuring many of Britain’s best-known cartoonists over the years, runs until the 23 February.  This is followed, for me, by a real gem – a chance to get up close to the wonderful caricatured creations for the Spitting Image TV series, running from 26 February to 8 June.  After that, as part of the centenary events, comes The First World War in Cartoons.  Oh, and the gift shop offers an interesting selection of merchandise and is a pleasure to browse through,

Courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane's Museum

Courtesy of the Trustees of Sir John Soane’s Museum

London is full of quirky museums catering for all tastes.  Particularly interesting are those which are private homes, offering today’s public a unique insight into people’s lives.  The Sir John Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn Fields is one such example and is packed with his collection of art and antiquities.  Another example is Dennis Severs house in Folgate Street in London’s East End which offers a uniquely atmospheric experience and is not exactly what it seems;  it’s extra special around Christmas time when the house is bathed in candlelight.  You can even visit imaginary houses such as 221b Baker Street, the home of Sherlock Holmes, which is guarded by a Victorian policeman who seems to spend most of his day posing for pictures with the visitors!  And to offer refreshment and souvenir-buying potential for the hordes that stop the traffic on Abbey Road everyday by recreating the Beatle’s Abbey Road album cover at the zebra crossing, a small coffee/gift shop has opened right next to St John’s Wood station, thus making the attraction a museum of sorts. When a man is tired of all the museums in London, he is surely tired of life! jeannette-adjusted31Jeannette NelsonArts Critic   A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, her main interest is the theatre. Having lived in London most of her life she has a fund of knowledge of interesting buildings and places to visit in the capital and we’re lucky to have access to her experience.

2
Dec

Take a Magical Walk Round Kew Gardens at Christmas

Santa's Grotto at Kew Gardens

Santa’s Grotto at Kew Gardens

Many years ago, in my youth, public displays of Christmas in London would amount to festive scenes in department store windows and a visit inside to Santa’s grotto. Selfridges and Harrods spring to mind, though I’m sure there must have been others as well. The main shopping streets in London, Oxford Street and Regent Street, would be adorned with Christmas lights, and that would be about it.

These days it’s very different.  Every main street in the neighbourhoods, as far out as the suburbs, boasts Christmas lights (the splendour of which depends on the affluence of the area).  Somerset House, some years ago now, hit on the idea of an outdoor skating rink surrounded by flickering torches and the beautifully illuminated old buildings surrounding the courtyard (which not many years previously had been a car-park for inland revenue officers).  Now it seems almost every venerable institution with the space has gone along with this idea and skaters are spoilt for choice of where to go for their double axels and salchows.  Also, for the last few years, Hyde Park has had its own Winter Wonderland, with a Magical Ice Kingdom, Christmas Market and Big Wheel.

And this year Kew Gardens is also getting in on the act with Santa’s Grotto, some Christmas Market stalls, a Helter Skelter and a lovely old-fashioned carousel. But its main attraction is unique:  an evening 1.4 mile illuminated walkway has been created amongst the trees with imaginative light and sound installations.

Illuminated walk

Illuminated walk

Particular trees have been picked out with glorious colour that enhance their bark and leaves.  A Mediterranean Garden is alive with birdsong and hung with colourful glass lanterns.  Tall bamboos grace the Asian garden where the wintery atmosphere reflects the shapes, noise and growth of bamboo. And after a secret cluster of beech trees where you can create your own sound and light show, a strong scent of incense leads you to the Fire Garden. This is ablaze with flames from 300 torches creating a huge circle of fire in the shape of a Mandala, a spiritual symbol  in Hinduism representing the universe.

Sound and lights

Sound and lights

Along the way, to keep younger (and young-at-heart visitors) amused, are wonderful ‘plant whisperers’, surrounded by the paraphernalia that allows them and those they invite to participate to communicate with the greenery that surrounds.  The lakes shimmer with light and reflections, the coots adding to it all by gracing the evening waters in what they perhaps believe is a strange daylight. The grand finale is the famous Palm House with changing light colours and haunting soundscape.

The Palm House Illuminated

The Palm House Illuminated

It’s a magical, almost mystical experience, only slightly marred by the sound of too many low-flying jets on their way to nearby Heathrow;  we were however assured that that particular flight-path is not used every day!

Notwithstanding the planes, in this age of hustle and bustle, Kew is a haven in the capital to commune with nature, on display in all her glory.

The Christmas at Kew evening trail ticket costs £12.50 for adults and £8 for children, with family tickets for 2 adults and 2 children aged 5 – 16 at £38.  Under 5’s go free.  It opens at 4.45 on the following dates:

  • 28 November – 1 December
  • 5 December – 8 December
  • 12 December – 15 December
  • 19 December – 23 December
  • 26 December – 4 January 2014

Full details on the Kew website

jeannette-adjusted31Jeannette NelsonArts Critic   A bit of a culture vulture, Jeannette enjoys art exhibitions, cinema and classical music, but her main interest is the theatre. For several years she ran theatre discussion groups for which her MA in Modern Drama together with teaching skills stood her in good stead. She prefers to concentrate on the many off West End and fringe productions as well as that real treasure of the London theatre scene, the National.

Images provided by RBG Kew

19
May

A Fantastic Overnight Stay – Cumbrian Hospitality

thIt’s not often an overnight stay  in a hotel or bed and breakfast is anywhere near as comfortable or pleasant as being at home.

The offending sugar bowl

The offending sugar bowl at a five star hotel

All too often  beds are uncomfortable, or the bathroom has mould in the grouting, or the carpets need a real clean in the corners, or the windows rattle, or worse they don’t open. Or there are just not enough towels, or the heating won’t turn down, or the air conditioning needs attention – too noisy!  The breakfast is fine but the seats are uncomfortable, or the cutlery needs a polish, or there are fingermarks on the sugar bowl plus a ring of coffee on the base – that happened in a  five star hotel in Birmingham. I passed a photograph to the manager. He promised to post it on the staff noticeboard! Which all reflected badly on the establishment which was a shame because the eggs benedict was scrumptious.

As you probably gather I have stayed overnight a lot as a travel writer in mostly top quality hotels in many different countries and I am so pleased to say we were very impressed with our night’s stay at  Swanson House in Brough, Cumbria. Booked without recommendation or from a list of where to stay, just a search on the web for somewhere to stay in the nearest town to where we had a meeting.

We found the room welcoming, the beds comfortable, the decor pleasing, the en suite a good comfortable size and beautifully clean. In fact everything was clean and appealing, not in the least pretentious. The complimentary beverages were high quality. Fresh ground coffee in a well sealed container, crockery was clean and shiny as was the cutlery. There was a sitting room next door we could use with complimentary fresh baked cake to sample and for those who wanted to, there was a microwave to heat up anything required.

After a good night’s sleep – the  room was at the back of the building, away from traffic and street noise – we went down for our breakfast. We can’t face a full English first thing in the morning and we had requested a continental breakfast. It was just right. Not too much, not too little. Appetisingly presented,  great to taste, the table laid out with crisp white tablecloths, sparkling cutlery, glass and crockery, fresh coffee, beautiful curled butter pats, prepared fresh fruit in bite sized pieces. The effort Pat Jones, the owner, put into presentation made it a memorable breakfast and how many times have I ever written that? I think this is the first!

brough_po

The picture was taken from Brough Castle, courtesy of The Westmorland Gazette.

Before becoming a consummate cook and most welcoming host, Pat was sub-Postmistress. She  ran Brough Post Office with her husband Philip for many years before it was closed in the Government programme of closure about 5  years ago despite tremendous resistance from the local community. A protest march was held, a local resident dressed as Queen Victoria, and told the crowd of her displeasure at the proposed closedown. Then around 130 local residents gathered to show the strength of feeling in the community by spelling  out their plea to save their village post office. All to no avail sadly.

Pat and Philip decided to renovate and convert the Post Office into a restaurant with bed and breakfast and continue living there.  Swanson House is now a popular restaurant for locals and tourists alike.

Rural business is having a hard time economically and Swanson House is an outstanding example of triumph over adversity, it was ‘Good Taste’ winner in the Upper Eden Business Awards 2012 and 2013 runner-up.

So the killer question: Would we go again?  The answer? A resounding yes, and yes again!

Swanson House restaurant

Swanson House restaurant

Next time we will be sure we allow enough time to sample the mouthwatering menu. And be sure to book in advance, giving details of our choice from the menu. This is Pat’s way of making quite sure your meal will be cooked to perfection using the highest quality local fresh produce, a hallmark of your visit to Swanson House.

The wine list was attractive too … Ooh, can’t wait to go again!

Val Reynolds Editor

%d bloggers like this: