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Posts from the ‘Travel’ Category

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.

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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.

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Newly installed kitchen

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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

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.

7
Jan

A Break from City Life …

So, you work in London, you are used to the crowds, the crush in the Underground, the waiting for buses, yIMG_3272 - Version 3ou’re quite happy. But from time to time do you yearn to go to the country, to feel the wind on your face, take in the fresh, clean invigorating air, taste some good beer, good food, roaring fires, the smell of wood smoke, a deep sleep in a most relaxing bed, and comfortable welcoming surroundings. And it mustn’t be much trouble to reach.

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Sunset from our bedroom window

Well, we found just the place. We spent a couple of nights enjoying the quiet countryside, the stunning sunsets, the green green panorama, the rushing rivers and streams, the waterfalls, and came back home restored, refreshed and relaxed. Ready to face the demands of living and working in a city.

So where did we go? Cheskin House, Newbiggin on Lune, a jewel of a find in the Cumbrian countryside.

And how did we get there? Well on this occasion we drove up the M6 as we had other places to visit. But we could have gone by train from Euston to Oxenholme – a journey of about four hours – and Edwina, the owner of Cheskin House would have picked us up and whisked us back to her place.

Cheskin House, a 270 year old farmhouse, has been restored to its former glory, with white painted windows and internal shutters, airy rooms, antique artefacts to admire, furnishings to die for and much more besides. Our bedroom was warm, luxurious and utterly inviting. The bed, its linen, the carpet all carefully chosen and coordinated. We loved the hanging cupboard with drawers.

And the bathroom, warm, white, candles, a shower, dimmable lighting, and a raised bath in which we threw some complimentary bath salts – they had a wonderful aroma. I forgot to ask Edwina where I could purchase some, they were that good!

And what was on the menu? Our breakfast was outstanding for its deliciousness and choice. Served in the conservatory with its stephanotis plant growing all over one wall, we really enjoyed a very satisfying start to the day.

cheskin table 2IMG_6484Evening meals can be served in the dining room or conservatory. Both rooms are beautiful and very relaxing. Beautiful cutlery, glass and lighting made both memorable.

And the food? Edwina is a consummate cook. Her choice of preprandial delicious freshly made cheese sables, with nuts and olives accompanied an excellent dry sherry was admirable

Our meal started with cauliflower soup with truffle oil, she told us the secret of the soup is to create an intense stock.

Our main course was pheasant in a delicious wine sauce, red cabbage and locally grown boiled potatoes.

A beautifully flavoursome and light lemon with almond cake was offered, or plum and blackcurrant fruit compote – we were greedy and had a little of each I’m afraid!

All this followed by Appleby organic brie with local artisan bread – Edwina supports local growers especially.

And the wine to go with such a feast? Well Edwina has a wine studio containing wine from all over the world. I felt dizzy just scanning the labels.

A wine connoisseur, Edwina will match the meal with a suitable wine to get the most pleasure out of her meals. And she hit the nail on the head with her choices, for instance a 1999 Pinot Noir from Barratt, Adelaide (she had bought 150 cases at some time in the recent past) accompanied the soup, delicious with a satisfying aroma and even more pleasing piquancy.

Other delicious delights accompanied the rest of the meal and that of our evening repast the following evening which included a lamb chump chop on a bed of potato, peppery jus, black and green beans. Followed by poached pears in red wine with home made vanilla ice cream, we just couldn’t fit in another mouthful and the wonderful cheeseboard had to be admired but declined, we were so full.

Such attention to details – the decor, food, wine selection and the warm welcome – nothing was too much trouble – were the outstanding elements of our all too short stay at Cheskin House.

Next time for a weekend break we’ll take the train, using Trainline – if you book ahead, there are some good deals.

We’ll take our walking boots, warm hats, gloves and weather jackets and explore the myriad footpath network. A walking stick or two would be a wise item to take, but then Edwina will lend you one if you forget yours!

Can’t wait to visit again whether it’s this winter or the spring, even summer time, anything to be restored and refreshed in a weekend! Aaaah!

Cheskin House : www.cheskinhouse.com or email info@cheskinhouse.com

Val Reynolds, Editor

21
Dec

Unique Accommodation in the World!

Have you ever thought about sleeping in a tree-house, or in a light house? Or perhaps on a jumbo jet?

Hostelling International, one of the world’s largest budget accommodation providers, has hostels in many of the world’s most inspiring and interesting countries, in some of the most unique buildings.

A Jumbo Jet

You may have slept on a hot, stuffy plane before, on the way to a destination; however Jumbo Hostel in Stockholm offers a completely new and unique experience, which is far more pleasant. Located in a refurbished Jumbo Jet, in Stockholm this (static) hostel offers modern amenities, en-suite guestrooms (double and private rooms available), in addition to a café. Jumbo Stay is located within close proximity to Stockholm airport, so it also works well as a great stopover hostel. Prices start from £37.08 per night.

A Prison (but you’ll have the key)

Offering a completely unique experience, the Langholmen hostel in Sweden is located in the original Crown Remand Prison (Kronohäktet), but has been completely renovated to a luxury standard. Built in the 1840’s, the hostel offers accommodation in 2 and 4 person ‘cells’, as well as a café and shop containing prison inspired souvenirs. Prices start from £20.51 per night.

A Tree HouseKadir Tree House, Turkey   tourism destinations

For the ultimate way to experience nature, why not stay in our Kadir’s Tree Top Houses Hostel, where after a day’s hiking and climbing in the picturesque town of Olympos, guests can return to a bed located in their very own tree house. Situated just 1km away from Olympos beach, one of the world’s only known breeding grounds for the loggerhead turtles, this guesthouse offers a variety of nature based excursions and adventures, for families, groups and adventure seekers alike. Prices start from £9.64 per night, per bed.

A Castle

For the real fairy tale feeling, why not stay in our Stayokay Heemskerk Hostel, an impressive 13th century castle, complete with a moat, turret rooms and royal décor. The hostels central location in North Holland makes it a great base for tourists, as well being close to shops, cafes and a national park. Prices start from £22.67 per night.

On The Beachshowimg-4

You may have stayed near the beach before or perhaps within view of the sea, but perhaps not directly on the beach, within reaching distance of the waves. Our Kaikoura YHA Hostel in New Zealand, located directly on the beachfront, maintains a glass exterior, allowing guests to enjoy the stunning surroundings in their full glory. Animal lovers can also walk along the beach to experience the fur seal colonies, or take a marine cruise, which sets off nearby. Prices start from £17.44 per night.

A Lighthouse

Built in 1875 to work as a fog signal station, this gorgeous lighthouse building has been lovingly preserved and refurbished by HI to now offer 45 beds to guests. Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel, in California has its very own secluded beach, with a four-mile stretch of tide pools, as well as a bar and landscaped gardens. The coast side location also makes the hostel a perfect base for horse riding, surfing, kayaking and surfing. Prices start from £16.44 per night.

A Cubeshowimg-3

In the centre a bustling city (Rotterdam, Netherlands), Stayokay Rotterdam is situated in striking cube houses, overlooking the river. The unusual accommodation, designed by the Dutch architect Piet Blom in 1984, offers stylish private rooms, family rooms and multi-share rooms in your very own cube!Prices start from £19.19 per night.

On A Husky Farm

Located next to the Karasjohka River, close to the Arctic Circle, the Karasjok hostel is in the perfect location to view the Northern Lights whilst also offering guests a variety of unique activities to enjoy. Nestled within a Husky Farm, the hostel is fantastic in welcoming families and animal loving groups, who are encouraged to join in the all-year-round puppy and dog training workshops. Prices start from £46.95 per room, per night.

For more information on any of the hostels above, or to book, please visit hihostels.com

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We usually only write about our own travel experiences but this list was so enticing we wanted to share it with you! We can’t decide which one we would like to visit … something to chew over during the Christmas break. What about you?

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

31
Aug

Airline Baggage Allowances – Problem Solver

Travelling by air involves the extra anxiety of luggage allowances, especially in-cabin items, and hefty financial penalties. Dimensions are easy to check, but weight? How many times have you weighed yourself, then held your bag/s to see the extra weight – can you see over the edge of the bag? Is the reading accurate? The good news is I have come across a device that makes that situation history.

The Baggage Scale:

Has no batteries
Is compact and lightweight
Weighs baggage up to 32 kg (70 lbs)
Simple to use
Only weighs 106 grams
Has a magnifying viewer
Instant readout
Folds away neatly for travel – useful for reweighing baggage when preparing to leave
Has no sharp metal hooks
Environmentally friendly – free of electronic waste
Kind to your back

Here’s a link to a video showing clearly how it works.

What’s not to like? Designed by an engineer exasperated by devices that simply didn’t work well enough for him, it’s so useful and we recommend it unreservedly. It’s on our Christmas gift list for all those frequent travellers we know!

We loved another video we found that demonstrates a very effective method of packing. The Benny Hill music used made us smile!

Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

29
Jul

The Struggle To Stay Fit

We received this email update from the authors of The Serotonin Power Diet blog and thought it worth passing on.

We were on the ferry coming back to Boston from Cape Cod. The boat was crowded and three of us, plus a dog, were crowded into a small booth, happy to have found a place to sit. The two people facing me (I had the dog) were complaining about their sore muscles. Both had gone for long bike rides and were feeling the effects of riding up and down the steep hills of Truro (a small town at the end of the Cape).”I used to be in great shape until six months ago,” said one, “but opening a new office prevented me from doing any exercise. ” The other (we were all strangers) nodded in agreement. “I’m in real estate and fortunately, work really picked up over the spring. I haven’t been to a gym since last December.” I understood. Although I occasionally use the exercycle in the gym, biking outside with an 11-pound dog in my basket, against the wind, and over those hills, made my muscles ache as well.The three of us sighed and reflected on how hard it was to stay fit and how after a period of inactivity, our muscles seemed to have the strength of a wet noodle. The dog had no comment.Studies done by exercise physiologists confirm what we weekend athletes knew already; unless a person is in superb cardiovascular and muscular condition, de-conditioning (the term describing loss of fitness) can occur after only weeks of inactivity. Olympics contenders can take a couple of months off after the Games and experience some decrease in their physical prowess. We ordinary mortals, who have day jobs and after-work hour commitments that make it hard to exercise consistently, will go back to being unfit much sooner, sometimes as soon as in a couple of weeks.Lack of time to exercise is not the only obstacle to remaining fit. Aging itself increases our loss of physical prowess, as evidenced in the aches and pains when we restart an exercise program. Few 5-year-olds complain about stiffness, lack of breath, and exhaustion after the first days of camp, even though they have switched from sitting in a classroom to running around and swimming. Not so for we elderly folk over 30. The first game of tennis or hike of the summer inevitably results in sore and stiff muscles. The loss of some endurance, speed and fitness with aging is so well-established that competitive athletic events divide participants into different age groups so an “old man” of 40 does not have to compete with a youth of 20. A friend who is a competitive runner told me he doesn’t expect to win a race until he is 80. “By then, the other runners might be slower than me,” he quipped.

Often it is not the pain that comes after exercise that prevents us maintaining or regaining fitness; it is chronic pain we feel before we start to move. Seemingly every joint and bone and muscle is capable of causing sufficient discomfort and often actual pain presents an almost insurmountable obstacle to physical activity.

Denying that we are no longer as physically fit as we once were also prevents us from exercising. We simply don’t want to find out that we can no longer run as fast, bike as far or ski as fast we did in the past. We are like someone who is gaining weight but refuses to get on the scale. Do I want to bike up that steep hill to see if I can still do it? I am not sure. Better to go a mile out of the way to avoid it.

But just as we don’t need a scale to tell us we are gaining weight (trying to fit into a pair of pants that no longer fit is sufficient evidence), we also don’t need to bike up a hill or run a mile to know that our fitness is decreasing. When running up the stairs is just a distant memory, when your arms are too weak to put your suitcase in the overhead compartment of the plane or when getting up from the chair is a struggle, you know that you are certainly no longer fit.

Start now to do something about it. Focus on one or two physical activities that you can do within your fitness and time limitations. Stair climbing, walking quickly a short distance, carrying or lifting moderately heavy objects like a grocery bag, balancing on one foot, or getting up from a chair without using your hands (and grunting) all count. Track changes in your fitness just as you might track weight loss. Can you climb one flight of stairs with any change in your breathing? Can you stand on one foot for the length of a television ad? Are you able to get up from a low chair or stool easily? Do you need help in putting away heavy groceries on high shelves?

Already in relatively good physical shape? Then push yourself to get stronger. In the book Alice Through the Looking Glass, there is the following line: “Now… It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” Sometimes, indeed often, we are satisfied with doing a little less exercise or strength training or balancing regimens than we should. We say, “Oh, I did enough today. I don’t want to push myself.” But unless we to do slightly more today than we did last week, we may not, “stay in the same place,” as it were. Instead, we may start losing small but real amounts of endurance and strength.

Don’t give up. Don’t allow breaks in your routine to become permanent. Don’t be frustrated if progress in running faster or lifting heavier weights is slower than when you were 20 years younger. Give your body short breaks while you are exercising. For example, walk quickly for five minutes and slowly for one minute. Climb one or two flights of stairs and then wait until your breathing returns to normal before doing it again.

Will you achieve the effortless endurance, balance and cardiovascular output of a young teen? No. Neither will your hair be as thick as it was then. But you will be pushing back the inevitable decline with aging.

Turn what presents itself as a struggle it into a positive opportunity that allows for you the time to stop and smell the roses, all in the name of life-affirming self care.

Posted: 28 Jul 2012 12:57 PM PDT
8
Feb

Gorgeous Scent in the Garden in deepest winter

Visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh about this time last year I was captivated by the headiest scent wafting across a path. Some yards away I found the source, it turned out be the flowers of hamamelis. The bed of bushes was vast which accounts for the strength of the scent, they usually grow up to about four metres high. If only I had the space!

Hamamelis - Witch Hazel

Hamamelis - Witch Hazel

The common name for Hamamelis is witch hazel, not related at all to hazel nut plants. Over the centuries it has been used medicinally for treating insect bites and bruises, it helps to shrink and contract blood vessels back to normal size, useful for treating haemorrhoids. It is also used in treating acne.

There are several varieties to choose from. Here the Thompson & Morgan description of : Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Westerstede’, Witch Hazel  Hardy Shrub 

During the bleak winter months, this deciduous shrub bears an explosion of golden blooms. The sweetly scented, shaggy flowers of Hamamelis intermedia ‘Westerstede’ cling resiliently to its leafless twigs. The summer foliage of Witch Hazel forms a simple backdrop for summer flowering perennials, before turning to vibrant shades of brilliant orange and red in autumn. This majestic specimen shrub is ideal for adding colour and interest to mixed borders and woodland gardens throughout the year.

Height and spread: 4m (13’).  Flowering Period: January, February  Position: sun or semi shade
1 plant in 9cm pot   Despatch: By end of Mar 2012  £12.99

It was in the same gardens that the Queen Mother memorial garden is sited – I was really taken with the shell designs, the best I’ve seen – pictures below.

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Val Reynolds Brown, Editor

9
Dec

Tear Aid – a lifeline for harassed parents

This product is a bit like turkish delight, full of promise and seemingly a godsend for parents with children when urgent reliable repairs to equipment, toys and ‘stuff’ are needed. Probably most useful during the summer months when kids are outdoors using playthings, now is a good time to stock up.

Tear-Aid is a transparent, water- and airtight patch which can instantly and permanently repair tears or holes in paddling pools, lilos, sun shades and even bicycle inner tubes. Between them they can fix tears in almost anything – from tents to beach toys to space hoppers! The patches are quick and easy to use – simply cut to size, peel and stick with no glue or mess.  Each repair can last for years, saving you money on costly replacements and keeping the kids entertained all through the summer.

There are two types available – an all-purpose fabric patch and another designed specifically for vinyl products. Tear Aid patches are made from exceptionally tough, matt, abrasion resistant material that resists punctures and tearing.  It is designed to provide a strength to a variety of surfaces such as canvas, leather, rubber, nylon, most plastics, paints, aluminium, stainless steel, fibreglass, polyurethane, polyethylene, polypropylene, vinyl and vinyl coated.

Tear Aid type A (fabrics) and Tear Aid type B (vinyls) provide a simple and easy method of patching holes and tears as well as an excellent protective film solution.

An ideal stocking/tree present.

For more information or to buy, visit http://www.tear-aid.co.uk/or call sales on 01889 270 663.

Katie Goodshaw, harassed parent and occasional contributor to In Balance Magazine

2
Dec

SIMPLY SUPER Gifts: 2 A Steam Train Experience in Poland

Steam loco Tr5 65, Wolsztyn, Poland

Steam loco Tr5 65, Wolsztyn, Poland

Most unexpectedly in 2009 I went on a three day trip to see trains! Steam trains in particular. We started with some wonderful, typically Polish, meals in Poznan – authentic beetroot soup, wonderful gnocchi with crisped bacon pieces, onion and cream cheese, I can remember it even now, two years later!

I was on my way to Wolsztyn (pronounced Voltzteen), a  mecca for steam railway enthusiasts who flock to see the only regular steam hauled service in Europe, possibly the world. (The only other known regularly steam services are in China, mostly mining sites taking miners to mines with some routes up to 40 miles long!)

Steam trains between Wolsztyn and Poznan are scheduled twice a day, seven days a week, taking 4,000 passengers, including commuters, per day and about 2,000 tons of freight per week.

On the first weekend of May each year, train enthusiasts from across the world descend on Wolsztyn to watch the Steam Parade, with more than a dozen steam trains from Poland and Germany in operation around the depot in Wolsztyn, along with some rather special parades of steam locomotives. The spectacle of steam trains racing through the station is a highlight of the event. Apparently the event is so popular it is known for accommodation in the town to be booked a year ahead.

Loco Tr5 65

Loco Tr5 65

When we took the steam train 70 kilometre to Wolsztyn a huge locomotive had been commandeered into service to replace the usual engine which had been hired out for a private trip. News of the change in loco, the Tr5 65, had aroused a lot of interest and train enthusiasts with cameras were on many of the station platforms we passed through. In view of its age our loco’s maximum speed was only 60 km an hour.

As soon as we left Poznan station a flood of memories returned from my childhood – we used to go to the south coast for summer holidays … the smell of burning coal, the hissing steam, the sound of the hooter, the clouds of black smoke. The notices on the sash windows DO NOT LEAN OUT OF THE WINDOWS reminded me of my mother vividly describing how I would lose my sight if a hot coal smut burned my eye … sufficiently alarming to prevent me from disobeying!

I remembered the sepia photographs in wooden frames of the English country and seaside scenes above the seats and being bounced up and down by the seat’s strong springs. I remember too the slam of the doors, the brass handles and the leather sashes with holes you used to move the windows up and down, or was that recall of the Lavender Hill Mob or David Lean’s Brief Encounter? Whatever, I was swept back to the 1950’s!

A sad row of discarded locos

A sad row of discarded locos

The train reached Wolztyn on time and we stared at the rows of engines, not so much mothballed as just shunted into line like a row of dusty old elephants. Further on at the Wolsztyn depot, home to a large number of abandoned and withdrawn engines moved there from now closed steam locomotive depots all over Poland, it’s possible to examine these at close quarters – a trainspotters/enthusiast’s dream! I found it all rather sad, but for enthusiasts absolutely fascinating.

The Poles are very proud of the steam train facility and once a year Children’s Day on 1 June a five hour, 250 km trip to Kolobrezeg is organised to raise awareness, eight carriages take up to 500 children for a delightful experience.

We watched our locomotive refuelling and rewatering. A long, labour intensive process with the odd moment of unexpected drama. The hot cinders being raked out from beneath the firebox on to the ground below glowed red that generated huge clouds of steam when water was poured on to cool them. The smell, and sound were high pitch. The coal had to be replenished using an old creaky crane and the water tank refilled with an exciting (for the children and photographers!) moment when it overflowed all over the rear of the engine like a waterfall.

Overflowing water tank

Overflowing water tank

Then the engine was turned to face the other direction for the return trip. We had a ride on the turntable and walked round the worksheds with their inspection pits and rows of tools to perform all manner of different repairs and maintenance.

It’s possible to hire a steam engine with carriages of your choice for a personal trip. How about a wedding reception on a train moving through the countryside with the steam blowing and whistle sounding, what fun waving at people at stations especially for kids!

Book with Fundacja Era Parowozow www.eraparowozow.pl

For more information about Wolsztyn Steam Trains go to www.polandpoland.com/wielkopolskie.html and click on Wolsztyn in the place names list. That webpage also gives information on renting a holiday apartment, Polish translation, Polish Ancestry Research, Guided Tours of Poland.

For details of Footplating Holidays in Poland organised by a UK company see this link

I flew from Stansted to Poznan via Ryan Air.

The trip was organised by Polish National Tourist Office http://www.poland.travel:80/en-us/pot_front_page#

Photography © Pintail Media

Web Links www.eraparowozow.pl www.polandpoland.com/wielkopolskie.html www.poland.travel

All photographs © Pintail Media

25
Oct

A Visit to Angers – A Half Term Idea

We jumped on Eurostar, off for a four day visit to Angers. Angers castle, a newly opened nearby botanical theme park, an organic vineyard in the Loire valley close by, and an intriguing oriental garden about an hour’s drive away, were on our must do list.

River Maine from Angers Chateau

River Maine from Angers Chateau

Angers has space, light and air, courtesy of the wide river Maine that runs through it with its six beautiful bridges.

Angers castle

Angers castle

The massive castle www.angers.monuments-nationaux.fr dominates the city and holds an impressive number of events throughout the year.

Angers was once the capital of the province of Anjou. Its history is well documented on Wikipedia We wandered through the cobbled streets and restored medieval houses, a great place to explore.

Anjou was controlled by the Plantagenets, rulers of England from the twelfth century, and the Hospital of Saint Jean was built in Angers by King Henry II. It currently houses a modern tapestry, Le chant du Monde by Jean Lurçat.

The Thursday market in Anger’s main boulevard had a wonderful selection of fresh fruit and veg without a vestige of plastic baggery in sight.

It was refreshing to meet with dedicated food producers, especially those from the local countryside with products from their own gardens.

Fresh cherries, very tasty

Fresh cherries, very tasty

We went on to visit a vineyard run on organic principles – see our feature

And then on to Parc Oriental de Maulévrier gardens in 29 hectares first established in 1899 in the grounds of Chateau Colbert where we wandered all afternoon and admired the precisely formed trees and shrubs, known as cloud pruning representing the path to heaven.

Paths to Heaven

Paths to Heaven

On then to the restaurant in the chateau in the grounds, for an excellent meal of a very high culinary standard with a price to match. It was the best meal we had had during our trip. We noticed a decline in the standard of food in French restaurants overall and wondered whether anyone else has. Let us have your comments.

Returning to the gardens after dark, we were given paper lanterns to light our way round the perimeter of the lake which took about an hour. Comprehensive details about the garden are on their website

We visited Terra Botanica, a theme park with natural history and travel at its heart. Opened in spring 2010 it is intended for children to experience the adventures of travellers to exotic places and gains insights into plants, which it does very well. However for the serious gardener it needs to mature, the plants are needing to establish themselves and become part of the landscape. At the moment it has an uncomfortable look of a park needing a lot of attention. Labelling needs to be more in evidence too. There are some quite surprisingly good dynamic events to experience – the most riveting being one devoted to the ‘life’ of a raindrop from its formation in the cloud to its entry into the earth. Be prepared for a ‘moving’ experience, belt yourself well into your seat!

We travelled to Angers via Eurostar to Lille and TGV to Angers. Accommodation and transport information is on the Angers city website.

If you intend hiring a car be sure to read the recent BBC news item regarding hire car scams – forewarned is forearmed.

Val Reynolds Brown Editor

All photography © Pintail Media

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