A weekend in Allendale

With Val and Kenn at Swallow’s Rest Cottage, near Allendale

We spent the May Day Holiday weekend with our good friends Valerie and Kenn in a lovely cottage, Swallow’s Rest, on farmland near Allendale in Northumberland. Unlike the Easter Weekend a couple of weeks before, which had been warm and sunny, the weather was cold and damp – we even had sleet and hail on the Saturday. However, we got out and about and enjoyed ourselves as we always do – Valerie and I have a long history of friendship having started secondary school together, aged 11, and although we might have fallen out occasionally, I don’t think it’s happened since we were about 16!

Killhope Mine

Killhope Mine

On Saturday we crossed into County Durham to visit the North of England Lead Mining Museum at Killhope. (I was pronouncing this Kill-hope, but it seems to be Killup.) There are several buildings above ground to visit and you can also tour part of the old mine – wellies included, it’s ankle deep in water. If you take your own, make sure you check that they are watertight: Val discovered too late that hers leaked!

The working water wheel is spectacular.

Climbing above the wheel there’s a pleasant walk round the reservoirs with a couple of hides for wildlife watching.

One of these squirrels is real!

There’s also a small café and museum. I liked this story about the proddy mats!

Finally, the site has some pleasing sculptural features. We all enjoyed our day out here.

Allen Smelt Mill

Allen Mill in its heyday

There is much more lead mining heritage to see in this area. Just outside Allendale is Allen Mill which was a massive industrial operation, smelting lead from many mines and extracting silver from it. Now it is being restored and turned into a small business park. We visited twice: one of the units is an Indian restaurant where we ate on Friday night (the Spice Mill – excellent). We came back to look round properly on Sunday morning as we set out on a walk.

As you can see in the gallery above, this mill also has sculptures. The last image shows A conflict of interest by Dave Morris which incorporates the Christian cross and Muslim crescent with a selection of weapons. He intends this as an anti-war statement and plea for world peace. Amen to that!

East Allen walk

River East Allen

Sunday’s circular walk took us along the River East Allen and through some attractive farmland. If we look flummoxed in the first picture below – we were. These very feathery hens just refused to stop to be photographed!

The sheep were more cooperative.

We were intrigued at this system of bells to avoid flying golf balls. Ring once when you start to cross the field, and twice when you reach the other side. We could see no golf course – maybe the sheep liked to play?

Some of the farm houses were exceptionally pretty. This was a lovely walk all round, and a short detour took us to The Crown at Catton where we had a delicious Sunday lunch.

Allendale Town

The Tearoom, Allendale

Finally, as is our custom, we packed up on Monday morning, left the cottage clean and tidy, and headed out for breakfast. The Allendale Tearoom hit the spot, but we didn’t linger afterwards because it was so cold and wet. We made do with a quick walk round to see all the pubs we didn’t visit – our cottage was well out of town and no-one would have volunteered to drive.

Even a visit to the local Dalek couldn’t tempt us!

So we returned to our cars, with Val and Kenn heading south to Yorkshire and us heading north to Glasgow. We had intended to stop at some of the Roman Wall sites on the way home, but decided just to keep going. After all, we only had a couple of weeks before our next trip away – to the beautiful island of Islay. Coming soon!

Haltwhistle: the Centre of Britain

Market Place at the Centre of Britain

The name Haltwhistle comes from “Haut Whyslie” or “high watch between two rivers”. So I learned on our recent visit to this small, Northumbrian town.  Its Market Place dates back to 1207 when King John granted a Charter for weekly markets and two fairs to be held each year.

The town also claims to be the Centre of Britain. Here I am at the marker points this year, and on a previous visit in 2010.

If it surprises you that Britain’s centre should be located so far north, as it did me, see the diagram below. Convinced? Well, maybe. It is definitely plausible, although there are other places which make similar claims.

Whatever, the town certainly makes the most of it as a marketing concept with a Centre of Britain hotel, launderette and shops.

Many of the buildings around the market place originated as Bastles, including the hotel above. These are 16th/17th century defensible houses built to provide protection from border skirmishes between the English and the Scots. Haltwhistle has the highest number of bastles, 6, remaining in England.

It also has a fine example of 13th century architecture in the Church of the Holy Cross, with the addition of 19th century stained glass windows made by the William Morris Company.

I knew nothing of this heritage when I was five years old. What is the significance of that, you might ask? Well, this is the town in which I was born, and five is the age at which my family (by then including a younger sister) moved away to the bigger town (now city) of Sunderland. The War Memorial Hospital has been rebuilt in the last few years (and hasn’t had maternity services for decades) so I had to go online to find a picture of it as it was in the 50s and 60s.

Haltwhistle’s War Memorial Hospital 2019

In 1960 my sister was also born there. In those days, women were confined for almost two weeks after a birth. I wasn’t quite three, but I have clear memories of that time – one of my aunts came to stay to help Dad look after me (no such thing as paternity leave in those days). Every morning I received a postcard from my mum, and sometimes a gift that my wee sister had (allegedly) sent via Dad at visiting time: I particularly remember a small baby doll in a wicker cradle.

Children weren’t allowed to visit the wards, and one day Dad held me up to talk to Mum through the open window. I thought I was going to be handed in to her and screamed all the way home when it didn’t happen (and she tells me she took herself off to the bathroom to howl too).

And this was that home – the Methodist manse in Moor View. The colour image is 2019, the old photos show Mum and Dad posing proudly outside their first married home, probably in 1956.

And here am I at 15 months, toddling in the garden behind that big hedge at the side which looks much the same in 2019 as it did in the 1950s, and the whole family together a few years later.

The house was near the railway bridge – that hasn’t changed much either. This is my late Uncle Jim posing on it in the 1960s when it was fairly new – the stone work is dated 1953.

The railway station is also well-preserved – although now unstaffed, it retains its 1901 signal box, in the shape of a ship’s keel, and other buildings.

Finally, this is the church we went to – one of several where my father was minister – the Primitive Methodist Chapel of 1864, known as Castle Hill Methodist Church when we were there. It has since closed and both it and the Sunday School building, seen on the left behind the church, are private houses. The other Methodist church in town, Westgate, is still functioning.

After our brief, nostalgic (on my part) visit to Haltwhistle we drove on to our final destination for the day: Allendale, where we were to spend a long weekend with friends. More on that next time.

Sheffield 4: Kelham Island

Kelham Island

Kelham Island Museum opened in 1982, by which time we no longer lived in Sheffield. However, we didn’t move far from the area until 1986 so we visited a few times and were keen to go back. The museum stands on one of the oldest industrial sites in the city, an island which was formed in the 1180s when a mill-race was created to carry water from the River Don to the Town Corn Mill. It now tells Sheffield’s industrial story from light trades and skilled workmanship to mass production, the Industrial Revolution and the growth of “Steel City” through the Victorian Era and two world wars.

Near the entrance I spotted two things which interested me straight away. Scotland is not the only place with unicorns – the one below was made at Kelham in the late 1800s. The other thing was the tribute to Enid Hattersley. When I was studying librarianship, our class was taken to observe a meeting of the council’s Library Committee chaired by Mrs Hattersley who was later instrumental in setting up the museum. My memory is that she was a very formidable woman. Her son Roy (now Lord) Hattersley was a prominent Labour politician from the 1960s to the 1990s. I met him years later at a book signing and he was pleased to hear that I remembered his mother, though I didn’t mention the word formidable! I still have the book – unread, I’m sad to say.

As an aside, in 1980 I wrote my dissertation on library services to the visually handicapped and was granted an interview with the Leader of the Council, one David Blunkett, who had been blind since birth and had useful views on the matter. He also became prominent in a Labour Government, rising as far as Home Secretary (2001-2004), and is also now a Lord. Yup, nothing says socialist like an ermine robe.

The section on steel had some interesting tableaux, and I was pleased to see that women’s role in the industry was represented as well as the actual steelmaking.. The young woman below is a buffer girl, responsible for using polishing machinery to buff cutlery and other metal goods to give them a smooth surface. It was a hot and dirty job that required protective clothing.

The museum’s biggest (and loudest) exhibit is the River Don Engine which is run once or twice a day. Built in 1905, it weighs 400 tons and runs on 12,000 horsepower. It was in use till 1978 and is the biggest, most powerful steam engine in Britain today.

Outside, I liked the Stone Garden, particularly the hanging sheep which was the trademark for Sorby’s sheep shears in the 19th century. The stone carving came from the factory’s gate and could date as far back as 1820.

The Millowners Arms, sadly, was not a real pub but told the story of Ward’s brewery. I enjoyed reading about the 1830 Beerhouse Act which made beer cheaper and more accessible. It was meant to protect people from the perils of drinking gin, but somehow drunkenness still became a problem. Who could have foreseen that?

Fear not, we did manage to visit a real pub. When we lived in Sheffield, a trip to Kelham Island always involved the Fat Cat too. It isn’t the only choice now, as the area roundabout has been considerably gentrified since our day with a selection of smart bars and cafés, but loyalty won out. Fortunately, it was as good as we remembered and we enjoyed a lovely Sunday lunch there.

Some nice street art too, I always like to see that.

And finally, something that doesn’t look much different: these flats at Moorfields just before you get to Kelham Island. John lived here for a few months after I left Sheffield to work in Nottinghamshire. Soon, he followed me and that was the end of our residence in Sheffield, though we still considered it “our” city.

It was the end of our trip too – the next day was Monday and we took the train back home to Glasgow. I’m already planning to go back: there are more memories to pursue!

Sheffield 3: around the city

Time for a look round Sheffield’s city centre. If you follow the World Snooker Championships on TV you will know the Crucible Theatre which has hosted them since 1977. The theatre opened in 1971 so it was still very new when I arrived as a fresher in Sheffield in 1975. Students were able to purchase tickets for 50p so I spent a lot of time there – at that price, I could afford to see just about every production.

Round the corner is the Graves Art Gallery which sits above the Central Library. I spent a lot of time there too (no prizes for guessing that).

I liked the art work in the stairwell connecting the two institutions – Blue Bird (2007) by Seiko Kinoshita.

Sheffield Cathedral isn’t spectacular from the outside – it looks like the parish church it was until the Diocese of Sheffield was created in 1914 and its status was upgraded. It’s interesting inside though. The Steel Nativity by Brian Fell honours Sheffield’s major industry.

As a Methodist, I didn’t often attend the Cathedral. I went to Wesley Church in Broomhill, a large, dark building which took up the entire corner now occupied by a more modern church and a block of flats.

Back to the city centre – just behind the cathedral is the beautiful 18th century Paradise Square, quite different from all its surroundings.

Heading back in the direction of the university is the City Hall where I graduated in 1978. Here I am on the steps with my family after the ceremony.

Two new features outside the City Hall are the golden post-box and the Women of Steel Memorial. All Team GB gold medal winners at the London Olympics in 2012 were honoured with a gold painted post-box in their home towns. This one is for Jessica Ennis who won the Women’s Heptathlon – the only other one I have seen is Andy Murray’s in Dunblane. Women of Steel by Martin Jennings also dates from 2012 and celebrates the women of Sheffield who worked in the city’s steel mills and factories during both world wars.

Of course, talk of churches, theatres and libraries is all very well – but students like pubs too! Sad to relate, many of the hostelries we remember have disappeared. The Stone House was a spectacular pub – the room at the front was an ordinary bar, but if you moved through the back you found yourself in an “outdoor” courtyard with painted stone walls and a night-sky ceiling. Now it appears to be housing.

I don’t remember Harrisons, but John does (it’s near the Engineering Department). It caught my eye though because I like the way it has incorporated the original function of the building into its name: W. E. Harrison – Steeplejack of Nelson Column fame.

The Beehive and the Green Room are both near Victoria House, the flats where we lived as postgraduates. In those days, the Green Room was a wine bar called Mr Kite’s. We had some of our earliest dates there, thinking ourselves impossibly sophisticated as we shared a bottle of Hirondelle (a cheap wine of uncertain origin). On my last visit to Sheffield 25 years ago, Mr Kite’s still existed and had the same wine list painted on the wall, though it was historical by that time, Hirondelle having deservedly vanished into oblivion. The Green Room menu looked good, so we went there for lunch one day in the hope of rekindling romantic memories. The food was good – when we got it: service was atrocious. Bring back Mr Kites!

One pub which remains as good as it was is the Fat Cat – but that will have to wait till my next post when we head for Kelham Island.

Sheffield 2: more student memories – and a murder enquiry

43 Bates Street

In my last post about our recent visit to Sheffield I confined myself to the university campus and the memories it invoked. This time I’ll be looking at the places I lived: stop reading now if you’re not prepared for a bit of a rant!

In my first year as an undergraduate (1975-6) I lodged in an area called Woodseats, sharing a room with another History student, Hazel. Our landlady was Mrs Fisher and we were her last “girls”. I don’t think we were so bad that we finished her off, but she must have been in her 70s by then and probably finding lodgers too much to deal with. Although I liked both Hazel and Mrs F, this arrangement was quite isolating: I had applied to a Hall of Residence nearer campus but didn’t get a place. Woodseats was two bus-rides from the university which made going out at night tricky: I used the late night buses and occasionally walked home which, in the light of what I am going to write about later in this post, is quite hair-raising to look back on.

Woodseats was too far out to visit, but I did go to see the house I shared with two other students, Janice and Hilary, in my second and third years. 43 Bates Street, a typical two-up two-down terrace seen at the top of the post, was much nearer campus. It was also absolutely freezing with one gas-fire in the living room being the only heating. Upstairs was particularly cold because our rooms extended over the entrance to the back yard and thus had no downstairs to insulate them. After we moved out the owners decided not to rent to students any more and sold the house – hang on, is there a pattern here?

Victoria Street

After graduating in 1978, I left Sheffield for a year to work for Hampshire Libraries (subject of last year’s nostalgic visits: Winchester and me and Southampton and me). When I returned in 1979 I moved into a university flat in Victoria House. I shared with Janet (who featured in March’s Gallivanting post) and four other young women, and John lived in the flat above us (How we met). That block has been demolished (see – it’s a pattern!) and replaced by the modern building just beyond the terrace of houses, pictured above, which terminates in the Bath Hotel.

Bath Hotel, Victoria Street

Both terrace and pub look far more salubrious than they did in our day when they were at the edge of the red-light district. At the time, that impacted on John more than on me, but later it made my blood run cold. John recalls being asked if he was “doing business” by women standing at their front doors and, because he sometimes parked a hired mini-bus in the area (he went caving with the university’s Speleological Society), he was interviewed by police in connection with the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry. I have a lot to get off my chest about this, so here comes the rant.

UK readers will no doubt be familiar with the case of Peter Sutcliffe who killed 13 women between 1975 and 1980 (neatly spanning my time in Sheffield) and who became known as the Yorkshire Ripper. I’ve always known the enquiry into the murders was badly botched (Sutcliffe was interviewed 9 times and dismissed before he was finally charged) but a recent documentary showed it was even worse than I had thought. I can forgive an inability to cross-reference thousands of pieces of paper in a pre-computer age. I can’t forgive antediluvian views on women, but can see they were part of the times: the police formed a theory that the killer was “just” targeting prostitutes and women of “loose morals”. You know, the kind who went out to pubs and enjoyed themselves. (Utterly, utterly unforgivable was the retired detective who had learned nothing in 40 years and still appeared to hold similar views.) At the beginning of the killing spree “ordinary” women victims were regarded as mistakes and the evidence of women who had been attacked by what appeared to be the same man, because of his methods, was discounted if they were not prostitutes. Some of these women gave remarkably accurate descriptions of Peter Sutcliffe.

The police were later taken in by a hoax tape and letters from a man calling himself Jack the Ripper. One retired detective said in the documentary that there was nothing in these which had not been in the press, so there was no proof that they came from the killer – when he pointed this out he, as a junior officer, was over-ruled. “Jack” had a Sunderland accent, and the letters were postmarked from there, so anyone interviewed from then on was judged by those criteria. (John was asked when he last visited Sunderland. He didn’t even know where it was.) Many lives could have been saved if the evidence of women survivors who said their attacker had a local accent had been taken seriously, but as it wasn’t the enquiry failed completely. The conscientious policeman who finally caught Sutcliffe in January 1981 was not part of it, yet afterwards the enquiry’s leaders were filmed smiling and congratulating themselves at a press conference. They should have been ashamed to show their faces.

I expect many people who lived in Yorkshire at the time have their stories about how the Ripper touched their lives. As I have said, John was interviewed. A friend of a friend was in the same Bradford pub as student Barbara Leach the night she died in September 1979. Even closer, the final victim, Jacqueline Hill, was an English Literature student at Leeds in the same year-group as my sister. However, Sutcliffe had never killed in Sheffield, which was maybe why I wasn’t worried about going home alone to my lodgings at night. But where was he caught? Here:

Melbourne Avenue, Sheffield

In my postgraduate year, I volunteered as a tutor to a woman from the Bangladeshi community who had little English. To train for this, I attended a few evening classes in a Teachers’ Centre on Melbourne Avenue which starts right where I was standing to take the photograph above. I had no idea it was a place prostitutes took their clients, but this is where Sutcliffe was caught with a young woman who had a very lucky escape. No wonder my blood ran cold when I heard about it. It makes me shiver even now.

When I planned this post, I meant to write about my student homes and then look at the wider city, but anger ran away with me. Normal service will resume next time. For now, I want to end by remembering the following women whose lives were cut short in the most brutal fashion:

Wilma McCann, Emily Jackson, Irene Richardson, Patricia Atkinson, Jayne MacDonald, Jean Jordan, Yvonne Pearson, Helen Rytka, Vera Millward, Josephine Whitaker, Barbara Leach, Marguerite Walls, Jacqueline Hill.

Sheffield 1: campus memories

Halifax Hall Hotel, Sheffield

I spent four happy years as a student at the University of Sheffield. I met John there. Why then, I ask myself, is it 25 years since I last visited the city? I have no answer. However, in February John had a Friday meeting at the University so I tagged along and we made a long weekend of it, staying four nights in Halifax Hall. In my day, Halifax was a student residence – now it’s a very comfortable hotel (with great breakfasts), although it still belongs to the university and alumni get a good discount. From here we sallied forth to re-explore the city. I warn you that the next few posts are going to be jam-packed with nostalgic reminiscing!

A redbrick university

Sheffield is one of a group of “redbrick” universities established in the large, industrial cities of England in the early 20th century. The appearance of Firth Court (1905) might give a clue as to where this name comes from! This is the university’s main administration building which also contains Firth Hall used, amongst other things, for postgraduate ceremonies. John and I have both graduated here.

On my first morning, while John was at his meeting, I met an old friend, Jacky, in Firth Court’s café. Jacky is one of only two people whom I knew during both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees: we studied History (1975-8) and Librarianship (1979-80) together. I left Sheffield, but Jacky stayed on working in the University Library through which I was able to contact her. Despite not having met since the early 1980s, the years rolled away and we spent a couple of hours chatting over coffee, catching up and sharing memories.

The Arts Tower

Many new buildings have appeared round campus since I was a student, but in my opinion the 78 metre tall Arts Tower (1966) is still the university’s greatest icon. Despite the name, all the Arts departments have long since outgrown it and moved out, but in my first two years History occupied Floor 9. Here’s the Tower by night and day.

The university is surrounded by parkland. Here’s the Tower again from Weston Park and Crookes Valley Park. One of the first things John and I ever did together was take a rowing boat out on Crookes Valley pond.

As well as stairs and two ordinary lifts, the Arts Tower has a paternoster lift – a chain of open compartments that move in a continuous loop up and down the building. Here’s John descending and looking a bit wary – he’s never used it before. Being an engineer, he had no reason to visit the Arts Tower.

If you’re only going a few floors the paternoster can be quicker than waiting for the standard lift. I used it a lot and, although I never consciously felt nervous, I must have had some underlying anxiety because I occasionally dreamt about it. Either the lift would speed up so that it was going too fast to jump out, or the gap between lift and floor would suddenly increase so that it was too wide to jump across. Needless to say, neither of these things ever happened!

In my final year, History moved out of the Arts Tower to a building now occupied by Nursing and Midwifery (left, below). The School of Librarianship was in a house on a street called Claremont Crescent. Although Librarianship is no longer there, several houses in the street are still owned by the University. I couldn’t identify the right one for sure: it could have been this one – or maybe not!

The Library

Next to the Arts Tower, and joined to it by a bridge between their mezzanine floors, is the Western Bank Library (1959) in which I spent many hours studying. These days, it houses the university’s research collections and undergraduate material has moved to the Information Commons (2007).

Western Bank’s Reading Room windows look out onto Weston Park, and I confess that some of that studying time might well have been spent watching the ducks on the pond.

The Students’ Union

Most students spend a lot of time in the Union with its range of cheap bars and cafés and space for gigs and the occasional ball. The red brick building, Graves, is the oldest part of Sheffield’s Union dating from the 1930s. In my first year, I lived in lodgings on the edge of the city so often ate in Graves Restaurant, or one of the refectories in the more modern part of the Union, before going home in the evening. The menu consisted mainly of pie and chips, sausage roll and chips, and – you get the picture. I put on quite a lot of weight that year, although I was still almost skeletal compared to my current size. The rest of the Union dates from the 1960s – a fancy new tower at the front and some coloured lighting can’t disguise the old place from me!

Other sights / sites around campus

In the gallery above:

  • Two street signs at the edge of the campus. How could I ever forget those names?
  • The University Drama Studio now, as then, housed in the former Glossop Road Baptist Church. I went to many a performance during both my degrees, and only one was so bad that we left in the interval.
  • A mural on the side of the old Henderson’s Relish factory (also shown). Henderson’s Relish is a spicy Yorkshire sauce.
  • Allen the Peregrine by Jason Heppenstall. Allen was originally made to celebrate the opening of IKEA Sheffield and is made entirely of – allen keys. Now he perches outside The Diamond, the university’s new engineering building. I met John there after his meeting and we spent the rest of the day with two other old friends, John and Jill.

So many memories, and more to come – next time, I’ll move off campus to look round the city.

Ambles from Ambleside

North Cottage, Ambleside

Above is the Lake District home-from-home in which we spent a week at the beginning of June. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, parked the car and didn’t move it again until we left a week later! This wasn’t what we originally intended, but we discovered that there were plenty of walks which we could do straight from the door, or using the efficient open-topped buses and, on one day, the Windermere ferries. So forgive the cheesy title, which I couldn’t resist: here are our ambles from Ambleside.

Sunday – Loughrigg Fell

It’s possible to do a circular walk from Ambleside taking in Loughrigg Fell. At only 335 metres / 1099 feet it’s not a very big hill, but the ascent is steep – however, if this was meant to be a warm-up for greater things it didn’t quite work out that way.

Monday – Wray Castle and Claife Heights

Windermere at Ambleside

On Monday, we purchased Walkers’ Tickets from the pier at Ambleside – three ferries with a walk in between ferries one and two. The first boat took us to Wray Castle which we’ve visited before. There have been improvements such as an upgraded café (whoop!) and new displays.

Wray Castle

The neo-Gothic “castle” was built in the 1830s as a retirement home for just two people, James and Margaret Dawson, using Margaret’s inheritance from her father’s gin business. Until recently it was assumed, given that marital law at the time gave a husband control over his wife and her property, that James was the driver behind this. However, research in Wray’s archives turned up proof that Margaret inherited as feme sole (sic), in other words had legal control over her own inheritance. It’s likely, therefore, that she had a much bigger role in building the new house than was previously thought.

Artworks and information panels throughout the house illustrated this. For example, I enjoyed a game on the giant Silk Stockings and Social Ladders board, a variant on Snakes and Ladders based on the prizes and pitfalls facing a respectable young woman of Margaret’s time. Staff insisted this should be played wearing a silly bonnet, which you can see I have whipped off in time for the photograph. Purse of Power considers the powers available to Margaret – or not. The trumpet banners represent the vote, which she did not have, and the juniper berries refer to her father’s gin fortune, which she did.

After the castle, we set off on a four mile walk to our next ferry. Well, it was probably longer than that because we chose an alternative route via Claife Heights. Actually, we’d have been better sticking to the lakeside as far as the views were concerned – with the trees in full leaf (not complaining) we only caught occasional glimpses through the gaps.

The path ended at the remains of an old viewing station, built in the 1790s for early tourists to the Lakes. In the 19th century it was also used for parties and dances, and the path from the courtyard below was lit by Chinese lanterns and coloured lamps. The small cottage in the courtyard was, at that time, the home of an old woman who welcomed visitors and escorted them to the station – including one of the Lakes’ most famous residents, William Wordsworth. Today, it houses a café where we had probably the best lunch of the week, albeit a late lunch at 3pm. (Don’t worry about us expiring, we had partaken of brownies at Wray Castle and we also have plenty of fat reserves.)

From here it was a short step to Ferry House where we caught a launch to Bowness, and from there a larger boat back to Ambleside.

Tuesday – Grasmere

The previous day, my ankle had started to hurt. I’d bashed it on something a couple of weeks before, and it seemed to have recovered, but obviously walking boots were applying pressure in just the wrong place, and when I took them off my ankle was bruised and swollen. An easier day was called for, so we caught the bus to Grasmere.

We know the village well, having stayed there on all our visits to the Lakes over the past 15 years. We started out in the Grasmere Tea Gardens, just visible to the left of the bridge above, which were established in 1889. In those days, visitors had to get out while their carriages crossed the River Rothay by ford and  the owner of the house, Mrs Dodgeson, served refreshments from her kitchen table.

After a riverside walk, we headed up to Allan Bank, a National Trust property. It was too nice to spend much time inside, so we mostly strolled its grounds and took its Woodland Trail. Great views from the Viewing Seat of the fells we wouldn’t be climbing!

For lunch, we headed to Lancrigg, the hotel we used to stay in. It used to be exclusively vegetarian ( a rare treat for me) but since our last visit three years ago it has been sold and now has a mixed menu. It still has great veggie choices though! After a final walk through Lancrigg’s woods and the lower reaches of Easdale we hopped back on the bus to Ambleside.

Wednesday – viewpoints over Windermere

On Wednesday, we were back on the bus, this time in the opposite direction to Bowness-on-Windermere. From here, we took a 3-4 hour circular walk to three viewpoints over the lake: Post Knott, School Knott and Biskey Howe.

Thursday – Brockhole

Brockhole – Lake District National Park Visitor Centre

By Thursday, my ankle was starting to feel better – and John’s knee was sore. What a pair of old crocks! We took the bus a few stops to Brockhole, built in 1899 as a family home. Since 1966, after a stint as a convalescent home for Merseyside ladies, it has been owned by the Lake District National Park Authority, opening as a Visitor Centre three years later.

We started on the café terrace (no surprise there) which you can see John is enjoying hugely. I had my eye on the couple at the far end who, it seemed to me, had the best seat in the house. As soon as they moved, I shot into their place – and proved myself right.

The grounds were being prepared for a big event at the weekend, so we didn’t linger. Crossing the main road, we climbed through farmland and forest to a path that took us back to Ambleside, looking down on the lake the whole way.

Friday – Rydal Park

Rydal Hall

By Friday, John’s knee was really hurting (the doctor has since told him it’s probably arthritis 😦 ) We chose another easy, circular walk, of which the route notes said: “This is a really soft walk with virtually no ascent. It is ideally suited to those recuperating from heart attacks, violent hangovers or loss of a leg.” Even so, for the first time in living memory it was John asking me not to go so fast.

The walk took us to Rydal Hall, these days a religious conference centre, so you can’t visit the house, but are free to wander the grounds. The sculpture in the gallery below, The Angel, was created in 2007-09 by Shawn Williamson from a piece of limestone from York Minster. The little “Grot” dates from 1688 and was deliberately built to provide a window to frame the view of the lower Rydal Beck waterfall.

The Hall does have a café, but we spurned that and headed off past Rydal Mount (Wordsworth’s home for many years and open to visit) and Rydal St Mary’s Church – both also spurned. We had a destination in mind – the Badger Bar where we have enjoyed lunch and a pint (or two) many times over the years, usually on a longer and tougher walk, but, hey – medicinal purposes!

After lunch, we took an alternative route back to Ambleside for the last night of a wonderful holiday.

Ambleside and its surrounds also featured in two of my posts for Becky’s recent roof challenge – if you missed them, see #RoofSquares 9-15 and #RoofSquares 16-22.

This post is linked to Jo’s Monday Walk, where this week she is in Krakow.

#RoofSquares 16-22: Lake District continued

Welcome to my next batch of RoofSquares, once again chosen from our recent Lake District holiday. This time we had a cottage in Ambleside, but for old times’ sake we visited Grasmere where we stayed on our last few visits. I’ve always liked this row of cottages on the way up to Allan Bank – to me, the roof looks as though it has been sliced off prematurely.

Here’s Allan Bank itself (National Trust property), looking down on its roof from the Woodland Trail. The small building on the right is the Billiard Room – as a bonus picture, I’ve included its roof from the inside looking up.

Also in Grasmere is St Oswald’s Church. When we last visited three years ago the tower and the church were the same colour. Since then the tower has been restored, including re-roofing and repair of the gutters, castellations and roof pinnacles. Doesn’t it look splendid?

Another day, our walk took us to three different viewpoints over Windermere. This is the lowest and offers a good roofscape of Bowness-on-Windermere.

During the walk, we passed this cottage – Old Droomer. I loved the mossy porch roof over the red door, all surrounded by a wonderful flower display.

This dinky Clock Tower has a castellated roof complete with weathervane. It marks the boundary between the towns of Bowness-on-Windermere and Windermere. I got confused by these names when travelling with my sister and my oldest friend in our early twenties. I assumed the town of Windermere would be right next to the lake and booked accommodation accordingly, not knowing that Bowness was in between. It was a mile uphill from the lake back to our B&B! (By the way, never refer to Lake Windermere – it’s a tautology. Mere means lake.)

Finally, I give you the gloriously neo-Gothic Wray Castle which I’ve written about before and no doubt will again!

My last batch of roofs next Friday will be closer to home, and a non-roof account of our Lakes trip will follow in due course.

No definite news on the Art School yet – the experts have started planning, but there is still a large exclusion zone with residents and businesses displaced. Take a look at this BBC article for pictures of two very roofless buildings – Glasgow School of Art and the ABC venue behind it.

To end on a happier note – I’ve cracked 500 posts! Here’s to the next 500.

#RoofSquares 9-15: Lake District Edition

We spent last week in the Lake District and it proved fertile ground for attractive roofs. We rented a cottage in Ambleside which was up 30+ steps from the street: a long way to climb with your luggage or after a hard day’s walking! From our patio we looked out almost at roof level to the Churchill Inn across the road. The picture above was taken the afternoon we arrived – but don’t worry about the grey skies. By the next morning, they had disappeared and we had glorious weather for the entire week.

The view above was taken from one of the cottage’s skylights, so that’s our roof and chimney in the foreground. To the right is the Churchill Inn again, and the whole scene is backed by Black Fell. I can’t get enough of these grey slate roofs! One more view from this perspective:

This time, we were across the road in a top floor café. The spire is St Mary’s Parish Church and it’s unusual amongst the grey slate roofs – it’s sandstone. Not sure I approve!

A few more Ambleside roofs – this house has very unusual chimneys.

The old Market Hall has a distinctive pointy roof and is now a popular Thai restaurant (very good, we tried it).

Coming back down into Ambleside one afternoon, I couldn’t work out what the round structure below us was, then as we got nearer I realised it was the roof of the local garden centre.

Finally, walking out of Ambleside on the other side of town you come to Rydal Park and Rydal Hall. I like this shot of the Hall’s roof peeking out behind the garden wall (which has another little roof  on the summer-house built into the staircase).

I’ll have more lovely Cumbrian roofs for you next week. In the meantime, pop over to Becky’s Roof Squares challenge for all the fun of the fair and to see what everyone else has found.

Southampton and me

One of the questions I posed in my post about why we went to Hampshire was, could we replicate the picture of me standing outside the Central Library in 1978? Answer: yes we could! A few things have changed about the building – the stonework has certainly had a clean – and more has changed about me, but I’m recognisably the same woman standing in the same place.

This was taken on the Sunday when I was exploring with John – the library was closed, but I was able to get inside the next day. More on that later: after the photo opportunity above, we set off to walk round the medieval walls of the old town, seen below.

Southampton Old Town

In the 18th century, Southampton was a fashionable spa and seaside resort whose visitors included Jane Austen – there were several information boards commemorating this, of which I’ve included a couple of examples in the gallery above. The walls would originally have been right on the shore – in the picture with me, you can just see the Forty Steps in the background, which were constructed 150 years ago to take visitors down to the beach. The building with the arched doorway and stars in the window, the old Wool House, is now a brewery and restaurant called The Dancing Man – I can report it does a very good Sunday roast lunch (meat and vegetarian).

Tudor House

Within the walls, we visited the Tudor House and Garden, originally built in 1492 by John Dawtry. It’s an impressive little museum which tells you about the house and some of its previous residents such as a Tudor lawyer, an artist and a Victorian bonnet maker.

Monuments, murals and memorials

In the gallery above are two of a series of wall plaques on the site of an old Franciscan Friary, a 1970s mural in ceramic and concrete celebrating Southampton’s maritime history, and a 2013 mural just round the corner which has a similar theme.

In the gallery below is another selection, including two memorials related to the Titanic which set sail from Southampton, and the ruins of Holyrood, known as the Sailor’s Church. This dated from 1320, was bombed in 1940, and is now preserved as a memorial garden to those who served in the Merchant Navy and lost their lives at sea.

The Cultural Quarter

Guildhall at night

My clearest memory of Southampton, because I worked there, is the Civic Centre, a grade II* listed building (1939) which in my day housed the City Council, Art Gallery, and Library, as well as the Courts. The first three are still there, but the Courts have been replaced by the SeaCity Museum and the former Guildhall is an O2 venue. The whole complex stands at the centre of what is known as the Cultural Quarter.

On the Monday of our long weekend, John went off to his meetings at Southampton University and I was left to explore on my own. This was my big moment – I could look at the library where I began my career 40 years ago. It has been transformed. Although the exterior is the same, the dark interior and enclosed rooms I remember are now light and open, including the staircase up to the excellent Art Gallery which has been yarn-bombed by residents of a local Care Home. I loved it.

I also visited SeaCity which had a very moving Titanic exhibition with lots of personal stories. On our walk the previous day, we passed The Grapes Public House where some members of the Titanic crew had stayed too long on the day of departure and missed the boat. The story was in the museum too.

There were some light moments amongst the sadness: for example, the replica of a 2nd Class cabin with a quote from a stewardess who said “It was impossibly for myself or the steward to enter the cabin to wait upon the occupants unless both of then climbed into the berth”, and the toilets. I mentioned before that the museum was in the old Courts (with a modern extension which, externally, looked like a series of ships’ prows). The Ladies and Gents were housed in the old cells’ corridor, complete with original doors.

And finally …

A couple of amusing tales to finish. How’s this for a vegetarian meal? We arrived at our hotel in Southampton just before they stopped serving food on the Friday evening. The only vegetarian option was Carrot and Avocado, described as cumin-roasted carrots and smashed avocado with coriander and lemon. I expected a dainty sort of salad-plate with baby carrots maybe, but I have never seen such enormous carrots as these! The flavours were as described and, I admit, delicious, but that’s a lot of carrot. I’m afraid I balked at the side of mashed carrot which John took to accompany his almost-vegetation-free burger.

Just before I left for the airport, I decided to track down one last memory. When I arrived to start work in Southampton I had never been there at all – my interview had been in Winchester. I lived for the first couple of weeks in the YWCA, en route to which the taxi from the station took me past the Civic Centre with its distinctive clock tower, as seen in one of the photos above. Some time later, we arrived at the YWCA. It seemed like quite a journey. The next day, I left the hostel to find out how to get a bus back into town. I walked to the corner and what did I see? That clock tower, just a few minutes’ walk down the road! I remember the feeling of shock that the taxi driver had cheated me, but was that memory real?

These days, Google keeps me on track. It seemed to think the YWCA still existed, and the general direction seemed right. When I got there, I didn’t recognise the hostel which had been completely rebuilt, but I walked to the corner and saw –

The clock tower! The taxi driver had, indeed, taken me a very long way round. What a mean way to treat an obvious stranger to the town. However, I didn’t let it colour my impressions, either then or now, and I left for home happy to have reacquainted myself with a pivotal time in my past.