Bookshops, log fires and trains

A few weeks ago, we had a quick visit to Northumberland for the weekend. From where we live in Yorkshire, it’s only a couple of hours drive away and to use that well used cliche, it is a hidden gem!

Castles, deserted beaches with seals , lighthouses and unspoilt towns all just a couple of hours away.

Our first stop was at the town of Alnwick…in summer very popular with visitors to it’s castle (the location of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies) and also the renowned Alnwick Gardens.

But our winter visit was focused on a warm and cosy tea shop for lunch, then some Christmas shopping in the town centre which has a great array of independent shops rather than the ubiquitous array of vape shops, tattooists and charity shops that seem to abound on many UK High streets. Alnwick also has the most wonderful second hand bookshop, Barton Books in the towns old railway station. It is huge and has a stock of over 200,000 books…that’s a lot of books!

It is wonderfully eclectic in style with a model railway above the bookshelves, several eating places in former waiting rooms complete with log fires and is very dog friendly.

What’s not to like?

A short post I know, and no earth shattering revelations of science, politics or general knowledge , nothing of great amusement to be repeated to your friends…but sometimes in life, its the simple things that are the best and this was one of those weekends!

I hope you enjoy these posts ….please do comment and share. Meantime I wish you a good weekend…..

I Wish I Loved Gingerbread…

The list of foods I wish I loved or even just liked, but don’t, is relatively small.

People rave about Macaroni Cheese, but I don’t feel a gap in my life for not liking it.

Likewise asparagus is not on my list either

or indeed any kind of shell fish. I work on my principle of if it swims in the sea , it’s a yes, if it walks about…or doesn’t move then it’s a no!

But I do have a problem with gingerbread…I really don’t like ginger flavoured anything…but gingerbread looks and smells so nice. I feel do should like it…..

Last week in the beautiful English Lake District I even queued up to buy the stuff as gifts for family and friends and our own household…but all I can do is look at it.

Thankfully the Lake District has a lot of really good ‘take aways’ in terms of majestic scenery and tranquillity so there was plenty for me to enjoy. Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter knew what they were talking about.

Always so good to visit but next time I will be in the scones and cream queue.

Please come and visit us!

Visitors to the UK from North America are often bemused by the complexity of choice in our ‘next generation’ coffee shops.

A university degree in coffee is really most helpful when bombarded with questions and choices. Flat white?, Americano?, Latte?, Machiatto?, Espresso?, Latte?, to name just a few; then choose your milk – full, semi or skimmed?

Yes but from a cow? or an almond? or a soya bean?

Then there is size..and of course confusing terms here..is ‘large’ bigger than ‘grande’?, do you want to eat in?, do you want to take away? do you want to use your own cup?, would you like to contribute to clogging the oceans by having a plastic straw? And so on. Even the tiniest of coffee shops doesn’t feel satisfied if they can’t answer every answer you give….with another question..

But that is just the world of coffee….

Despite the UK being smaller than California, we helpfully have a bewildering range of regional accents that are challenging enough for those of us that live here to always tune in to correctly. And these really do vary dramatically by such small distances…for example Liverpool and Leeds are only 70 miles apart..but you could be in two entirely different countries comparing Leeds Yorkshire dialect to Scouse (Liverpudlian). Head 70 or so miles south from Liverpool to Birmingham and it’s totally different again. North from Leeds up to Newcastle on the train for an hour..and it’s Geordie you will hear.

As if that’s not confusing enough for the visitor try asking for a bread roll….

And when I say bread roll, I mean a plain bread roll…not Artisan, Granary, seeded, wheat germ, fancy pants bread.

For these we just use the correct and proper name of ‘Artisan, Granary, seeded, wheat germ, fancy pants bread’ everywhere.

No, I mean for simple white rolls to make a simple sandwich.

..a bread roll is a Stottie Cake in Newcastle , in Manchester it’s a tea cake, further south and it’s a Bap and so on. And there a numerous other regional variations.

Despite the internet, movement of people, international tv and movies in English the accents, dialects and localised terms have against all odds survived a blending that although simplifying things in a way would have been a sad loss.

For how long , I am not sure, but meantime enjoy and be bemused if you come to visit us.

I’ll send you a postcard…

At one time sending a postcard was an integral part of the holiday routine.

Smart phones and instant messaging have played a big part in the demise of this activity. Nowadays entire holidays are captured on Instagram and Facebook with intermittent updates also available by text, e-mail or Instant messaging .

It was therefore quite a surprise earlier in the week to have an actual postcard drop through the letterbox. It seems postcards are now specialised enough to be designed for a target audience………….In our house however we don’t do things ‘half measure’ and actually as well as having our in laws dogs whilst they travelled, we took a third dog into our care for some of that time as well. Dogs of this size come rain or shine need and enjoy a lot of exercise.…and yes, for those of you reading this who live in this part of the uk (Yorkshire) will be very aware that some of the last few days have been somewhat wet! Don’t be fooled by these photos I took a week or so back at the start of their visit……Anyway back to the subject of postcards.I am hoping the next one I get reads….’Thanks for looking after the Porshe Cayenne “……I live in hope!

National Treasure

There are many good things about living in the UK…it’s actually very important for those of us living there at the moment to remind ourselves of that, as with the huge Brexit chasm that we live beside it can seem a world full of conflict, divided opinions and distrust of each other. Sounds extreme…well thst is Britain in September 2019…not a pretty political place.

But that aside, we live in a land steeped in history and tradition and we are pretty good at preserving it.

For those not from the UK, the National Trust might sound like some second rate bank or finance house…ready to take your money but not give much back. Well, let me explain…the National Trust is actually a somewhat amazing charity who buy , save or rescue old buildings estates, ancient moorland or indeed anything that is part of our heritage or is at risk.

They then open these to the public and in many cases create viable and sustainable businesses within them. And in doing so preserve nature, traditions and even our coast in a sustainable way.

The imminent release of the Downton Abbey movie and the huge popularity of the TV series demonstrates the interest in buildings duch as these and the people who lived in them and worked, ‘below stairs ‘. The NT have got these by the dozen on their books the length and breadth of the UK. With tea shops, gardens and very often huge open spaces..for our family whenever making a long UK wide road trip we will detour to one of these for a break in our journey.

But all this comes at a price..but not a big one. The NT get no public funding and relies on admission fees, membership fees, bequests, grants, revenues from its some 400 rental cottages ,gift shops and most importantly a huge army of volunteers supporting it’s paid staff. And pound for pound…it’s really great value if you become a member…about £10 a month gives you unlimited access to literally hundreds of places. If you are an overseas or occasional visitor you can of course pay for individual admission. Yes this is a more expensive process, but you know that what you spend is being reinvested into preserving the past for future generations to come.

And as I said, it not all stately homes. My primary school (a convent school ) was housed in classic villa designed by Scottish architect Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson. At age 9 I was oblivious to the style of this building from the 1800’s but absolutely appreciate it now and delighted the National Trust for Scotland were able to save it and restore it to its original style.

And finally a word of caution for any overseas visitors..don’t go through the National Trust handbook or website looking for the fictional Downton Abbey.


Although portrayed as North Yorkshire,  the exterior is filmed at Highclere Castle in Berkshire, still actually  a private dwelling so not in the hands of NT. It’s the home of the Earl and Countess of Caernarfon and only open for limited number of days each year!

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Bath time ….lights, camera, action!

I unexpectedly made a visit to the city of Bath last weekend. As is often the case, it’s the short unplanned visits to places that are sometimes the best ones. I only had a short time for a walk before our restaurant reservation for dinner, but the dappled evening sun reminded me how much I like this place and made me question why we don’t visit there more. As is always the case the answer is simple …we are spoilt in the UK with so many places like this just a few hours away, we become totally nonchalant about them.

If you have never been (…and if you live in the UK) that’s perhaps no surprise as people often see it as another York, Harrogate or Cheltenham ..but where it trumps these is that you are literally tripping over wonderful buildings, Roman Baths, history and Jane Austen literary heritage at a far greater density per square mile than the previously mentioned towns. If you are from outside the UK and made a touring visit of major UK places …it was probably on your itinerary as it is just a short drive from Stonehenge, Avebury and many other gems.

There is much to see in Bath but you can cover a lot in one of the free walking tours or (not so free!) city bus tours.

Even the ‘ordinary’ buildings that populate both the city centre and suburban streets are a real joy to the eye.

Bath Abbey is one of the sights thst draws the crowds, but if you can …just meander in the small streets and alleys ..they will not fail to please.

Any downsides?…not really…easy to get to with plenty of car parks, and worth noting is the out of town park and ride…as the city layout can be confusing even with the assistance of Sat Nav/GPS.

It is not surprisingly, a film makers paradise and we wandered into one of the city squares somewhat surprised to see it looking so ‘historic’ until we realised we were ‘on set’ , unfortunately not looking anything like the Jane Austen characters around us….oops!!!!!…. nice job for the editor to remove the imposters😁

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Just add salt…

The town of Saltaire just north of Bradford in Yorkshire was founded by philanthropist and mill owner Titus Salt.

Salt had mills in the city of Bradford but decided to build a large new textile mill, known as Salts Mill and create an entire model village on the banks of the River Aire, near Shipley.

This allowed him to provide much improved accommodation for his workers away from the slums of the city.

The name Saltaire derived from his name and the name of the local river, the River Aire.

Salt created a village of stone houses for his workers with running water, bath houses and even a hospital and an institute for recreation and education.

The village also had a school for the workers children, allotments for the families to grow fresh vegetables, almshouses and a park.

In December 2001, Saltaire was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

So what now…rather than just be a preserved relic of past Victorian ideals, Salts has a vibrant new life.

The mill is home to art by way of permanent exhibitions of Yorkshire artist David Hockney’s work, a truly amazing book shop and some other specialised retailers.

This is no ordinary bookshop..on the ground floor of the mill it has a cathedral like feel, grandeur and ambience.

On the higher floor, a more esoteric style where presentation and space is the emphasis.

Every window provides a backdrop of Salts vision..rather than a shopping mall, retail park or mundane high street.

I can’t think of many bookshops adorned with fresh lillies!

Everywhere in the building there is evidence of both Hockney and the original purpose of the building and this just adds to the magic of the place.

Salts mill draws the crowds for its history, the books, the art and even the restaurant and tea shop.

I visit regularly – its a great place on a winter sunday, a rainy summers day or whenever the mood draws you.

If you are visiting West Yorkshire it’s a “must do” visit. A great example of getting preservation just right.

Salts is very alive with many one off events and opportunities to embrace books, music and art in a wonderful setting…oh and yes it’s completely free other than special events.

Sure you have to buy books if you want to take them home..but otherwise it’s there to enjoy!

Why this blog? Click to find out more about me and why I write the blogs

Went to buy milk, came home with a wetsuit

Shopping used to be so simple in the UK. For years we had a very established and hierarchical range of supermarkets. And apologies now if you are reading this from outside the UK as what follows is all probably meaningless drivel to you!

So at the top of the pile we had Waitrose – home of quinoa, shiitake mushrooms and avocado.

Sainsburys, where people who would like to shop at Waitrose can actually afford to buy their avocados; Tesco where you can still ask for an avocado without getting a puzzled look and then Asda….who wants avocados when you can buy six large sausage rolls for £1?

But then things changed…along came Aldi and Lidl the German discounters.

You would have thought that as discounters these would have found their niche, perhaps at the bottom of the ranking related to their discounting status….but quite the reverse..at dinner parties from Hampstead to Harrogate never has there been such pride in having embraced these stores and almost disdain for fellow dinner party guests who haven’t experienced these wonders of the retailing world.

So Aldi and Lidl have social respectability across the retailing divide and as a gift that keeps giving, they also have an aisle in their shops with offers. These are not just deals such as tins of tuna fish with 10 pence off or 2 for 1 pizzas. The range of goods is eclectic – trolley-jacks for car maintenance, picket fencing for gardens, a foil for those considering a different type of fencing, bird seed, arc welding equipment and much , much more from every category you could ever imagine. Seen for a week, then never to return.

So here is the problem…the age old problem of men being let loose in supermarkets by mothers, wives or girlfriends and being tasked with buying a tub of margerine but then also arriving home with beer and crisps. This is a known side effect of men going shopping unchaperoned, but it just got worse.

A relative of mine is still in shock after her husband’s outing for bread when he arrived home with the required loaf but also a wetsuit. I too have ‘offences to be taken into consideration on this’ and can admit to going out for milk and arriving home with a bicycle!

Caveat emptor!

Why this blog? Click to find out more……

The bees knees….

My grandfather was a doctor and naturally inquisitive and always striving to learn more. Even with something as simple as looking up a word in the dictionary he said you should whilst the book is open read the entry above and the entry below. In this way you will learn more things, admittedly maybe not things you need to know, but that might enrich you.

In the electronic world we live in some will argue that these opportunities don’t arise now…but I disagree. In our news feeds etc. there are often adjacent articles that may catch our eye and will be worth our attention.

I can testify to this as recently as yesterday. The said adjacent article intrigued me…’Large Investment for Bee Network’.

From more detailed scrutiny I learnt of a brave and bold initiative to create 1000’s of miles of cycle tracks in the Manchester (England) area including links to major tourist areas , city centre and outlyng towns to revolutionise cycling in the city.

Now I don’t live in Manchester, not really cycle that much but I do strongly support anything that gets people outside, doing healthy stuff and reducing polution so a tick in all three boxes there. I also embrace any kind of good news story so for this alone, I thank my grandfather. Manchester has been in the worldwide news spotlight in the past but for very troubling reasons – most recently the terrorist attacks at the Ariana Grande concert in the city’s arena.

Oh, and in case you are wondering why the name Bee network? The bee has been the symbol of Manchester seen in city emblems since the 1800’s representing it’s tradition as an industrious city. A very apt name for the evolution of transport in this resilient and growing city.

Sometimes in life you need to go and find the good news, it doesn’t come to you.

Why this blog? Click to find out more….

Pantomime or Game show? UK chooses a new Prime Minister

If you don’t live in the UK at the moment you will be escaping the bizarre times we live in. Due to this thing called Brexit, our Prime Minister has been , err, well asked to leave by her party. So we need another one. We are not like the US where everyone has their say; we do it a bit more like a TV game show. The party in power get to choose the PM. Just to add to the farce the current party in power doesn’t have a majority! Are you still with me so far – good you are doing well. So, first all the wannabes (or is that wallabies) put their name forward..they do need some other support but not that many. A few swift promises of jobs for the boys or girls secures this. Then the game show stuff happens – Like Love Island, Blind Date, or Naked Attraction there are a series of elimination rounds down to the final two. Fortunately they do all keep their clothes on. This first stage is just voted on by the 300 or so party members with seats in parliament. Just to add to the fun there are live TV debates where they all have a bit of a ‘love in’ …determined not to upset whoever the winner is so that they, a loser , might still get a top job with the winner as Prime Minister.

On these tv programmes they all excel in promising everything and maligning what hasn’t been done by the previous government (yes, you are right…the government that they were in!)

Finally for the last two candidates, the 160,000 party members get to choose the outright winner. Yes that’s right only less than 1% of the whole UK population get a choice in this. Anyway, all very entertaining. Thinking of cancelling Netflicks – this is far more fun.