Grange-over -Sands, Cumbria.

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Grange-over-Sands, or just ‘Grange’ as it’s known locally, was always part and parcel of family holidays in the south Lake District in the 1970s and 80s. My memories include an expansive golden beach – popular for kite flying and long walks – and an art-deco lido, always full of happy swimmers, and rather impressive. The town is small and pretty and has an air of gentility.

Moving forward three decades there is little sign of the once sandy beach, now transformed into salt marsh with wild marine grasses criss-crossed by briny rivulets.

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Out beyond the Lune estuary the Irish sea meets the horizon. It’s the end of April but the day which started with sunshine now threatens a downpour as the grey sky becomes heavy with dark clouds. No matter, this is the north of England where weather can change in a moment and we carry on regardless.

Once off the train at the pretty, Victorian Grange station, a short walk under the subway leads to the beach and straight onto the promenade. It is lovely and well-kept, clearly very popular, especially with dog walkers, and has a nice little vintage-style café and children’s play area at the south end. Under such dark skies these photos don’t show just how lovely it is – in my opinion one of the nicest promenades in England.

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The promenade includes a ‘stumpery’ where there is a surprise in every hollow.

On the last Sunday of every month from April until November, the promenade plays host to ‘Prom Art’, an open-air arts and crafts market where dozens of independent artisans set up their stalls, show off their talents and display their work for sale. Today was the first Prom Art event of 2018 and I decided to enjoy a coastal stroll and perhaps treat myself too.

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There was a wide selection of art and craft work to look at from paintings, photographs, hand-made jewellery, textiles, ceramics, wood and metal work and hand made cards and toys. Everything on sale has been made by the artisans themselves and some, including one lady seated at a spinning wheel and another crafting something on her sewing machine, demonstrated their talents to fascinated browsers.

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I love to choose items for my home which have a story, and to have met the artist and talked with them about their work – particularly the piece I am taking home with me – is quite special. One of my treats to myself today was a print of ‘The Walk’ by textile artist Liliane Taylor. Liliane, originally a fashion designer, told me that the original textile work is exhibited at the Atkinson Gallery in Southport; I shall have to call in to see it.

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Some examples of Liliane’s work
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‘The Walk’, safely home, preserved from the downpour and awaiting its frame

I am very partial to wind chimes and already have several around my house and garden. My second treat to myself was a marvellous chime made from cutlery. I have seen some of similar design, but this one grabbed my attention as the vintage spoons had been skilfully beaten and polished. No two spoons are the same and they look like beautiful old tarnished silver. No gleaming chrome for me! I chatted with the artist, David Bubb, about how he sources and crafts his creations. He and his wife, Sue, trade as  Lovebubb and also work with wood and fabrics.

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The black clouds above finally burst and heavy April showers poured down on the the pop-up studio tents as artists secured their exhibits, some darting into the shelter of their cars. It was also my cue, not a moment too soon, to put my purse back into my bag and move away from further temptation.

Bursts of sunshine made occasional appearances through the dense storm clouds, reflecting on the surface of the water and revealing the fells of south Lake District National Park in the distance.

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The 1930s lido, where I had spent many hours of fun as a child, has fallen into dilapidation and is fenced off. I managed to take some photographs which still give an indication of what a vibrant and exciting place it once was. It has now been given ‘listed’ status as the only remaining art-deco lido in the north of England. It would be amazing to see it open again in all its glory at some point in the future, but for several years now its fate has been contested locally.

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The security fencing around the derelict lido has been there that long it has been turned into a feature. A poster shows the lido in its heyday. Note how in England at that time, regardless of the temperature the older gents would still wear shirts, ties and jackets on their special day out.

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On the other side of the rail track, station-front side, is Grange ornamental garden which had drawn in a few visitors despite the wet benches and the imminent threat of further downpours.

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Across the road and a little further on from the ornamental garden is the lovely community orchard. If the weather had permitted I would have spent some time exploring the budding fruit trees.

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A few heavy drops hit the pavement and then the deluge followed. I decided to head back to the shelter of the station to wait for my train.

 

Morecambe, Lancashire

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I love the sea and the coast line so feel blessed that firstly I live on an island between three seas and an ocean, and secondly that I can travel from my home to the coast in about 30 -40 minutes.

Morecambe is a town on the Lancashire Irish sea coast, just five miles from the historic city of Lancaster and close to the county of Cumbria. Its notable former residents include Eric Morecambe of the comedy duo Morecambe and Wise (a statue is placed in his honour), actress Dame Thora Hird and DJ  and designer Wayne Hemingway, founder of Red or Dead.

I used to visit Morecambe quite often as a child, when our family would spend long summer days starting in the nearby south Lake District National Park. We would sometimes drive home via Morecambe Bay in the late afternoon to enjoy a couple of hours at the Pleasure Beach and savour cones of salty chips on the promenade.

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My dad was a steam train enthusiast, and nearby Carnforth had a good museum where it was possible to take short trips on long-since decommissioned locomotives. The deal was that we kids behaved ourselves whilst dad revelled in pistons and steam, and a trip to the beach and the funfair would follow.

In the decades which followed, this one-time venue of the Miss Great Britain beauty competition and popular retirement destination lost its sparkle and was heading for further decay. The once renowned art-deco Midland Hotel in its sea front location had once epitomised glamour and luxury, but like much else in Morecambe stood silent and abandoned, a sad memorial to its heyday.   I remember one visit to the town in the 1990s, albeit on a particularly grey day, and not being able to get Morrissey’s lyrics out of my head:

This is the coastal town
That they forgot to close down

Times have changed.

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Reinvestment in the town in the early noughties reversed the tragic trend. The seafront passes muster again and the Midland Hotel was revamped and reopened in 2008. It still contains some original features, apparently, though I haven’t had the pleasure of viewing them. On the one occasion I went for lunch there, I have to say I was a tad disappointed at the ordinariness of the interior; nevertheless, it is lovely to see it restored and it is very popular.

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Across the road from the Hotel, the former train station is now an arts venue, The Platform. I’ve seen musical performances there, none especially to my own taste, though it seems to pull in the crowds. I recall that on one visit to the town I encountered a very loud 1950s musical event taking place in front of The Platform; enthusiastic dancers in full-circle skirts or with slicked-back hair (imagine Grease on Morecambe sea-front!) were giving it their all. Not being a fan of that musical genre, I felt sorry for anybody who had booked into The Midland Hotel for a special weekend treat only to endure the rockabilly cacophony emanating from across the road. I also had fond memories of that building as a railway station and lamented its dubious repurposing.

Morecambe has a busy little town centre and the usual Bed & Breakfast establishments, candy floss and burger vendors that every seaside town offers its visitors, some of them still a touch on the shabby side, but overall it’s delightful to see the changes to the place.

The promenade is lovely with a nice café at the end and provides some lovely views over the bay .

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The Royal National Lifeboat Institute building in the distance
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The fells of the Lake District beyond the Bay

Malmo, Sweden – The Bridge and beyond

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Wednesday brought with it sunshine and blue sky. We were going to Sweden.

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At 7, 845 metres, the Oresund Bridge, which opened in 2000, is the longest combined rail and road bridge in Europe and connects Copenhagen with the Swedish city of Malmö. The first leg of the journey takes passengers under the Baltic sea through the Drogden tunnel, which is 4000 metres long and stretches from the coast of the Danish island, Amager (Kastrup Airport is located there), to the artificially constructed island, Peberholm, in the middle of the Oresund strait where the bridge then appears to rise out of the water. This design ingenuity leaves an unobstructed shipping channel through the strait above the submerged tunnel. You can probably tell that I am interested in great feats of engineering, however that is not my main fascination with Oresundbron. I am a massive fan of the collaborative Swedish/Danish crime drama, The Bridge.

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In the series, The Bridge has been the scene of a gruesome crime and some edge-of-the-seat action, so it came as no disappointment to me when our train drew to a standstill in Denmark for about 20 minutes due to Swedish police working on their side. We weren’t told the reason, but I pictured fictional detective Saga Noren taking charge of the action! Swedish police later boarded our train for a routine ID check; such checks don’t commonly happen anymore, but passengers should always have their passports to hand.

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I instantly liked Malmö. It was spacious and largely pedestrianised, which scores lots of points from me. Nordic dramas are deliberately filmed in the autumn and winter (apparently) to create that dark edginess that adds to the ‘Noir’. Under an April blue sky and with sunlight pouring through, the city looked joyful. The sound of sea birds above was a welcome reminder that I was on holiday and it was actually spring; a beautiful and very stark contrast to the snow and rain of Copenhagen on the previous day (Copenhagen Day 2 ).

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A boat trip would have been lovely, but we just missed out, as the summer programme doesn’t start until 13th April. The canals looked inviting (for a walk, not a dip!) but as time was of the essence a short walk brought us to Gamla Staden, the mediaeval part of the city.

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We paused for a look around the spacious cobbled Stor Torget (big square) where the town hall is located, before moving on to my favourite part of Malmö, Lilla Torget (little square).

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Here, the centuries old buildings are painted in shades of ochre and burnt sienna and attractively uneven in construction. All have modern functions: small hotels, restaurants and bars, arts and crafts studios and shops. The place is charming, and we could happily have sat for hours watching folk tread the cobbles (comfy shoes with thick soles are advised!), so we decided to return later to enjoy an al-fresco evening meal.

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We walked around the city, which was very different to what I had expected. Of course, being Sweden everywhere was – as in Denmark – clean and tidy. There was an eclectic mix of mediaeval and modern, chain store and independent, throughout the city, enhanced by some quirky art.

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We had already selected our lunch venue, Kao’s vegan restaurant, which was about 20 minutes away on Foreningsgatan in an ethnically diverse part of the city. It was a pleasant walk along a busy road which offered another waterside view.

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Our tasty and plentiful lunch consisted of a sort of egg-free filled pancake and heaps of different mixed salads. Kao’s was quite boho, but obviously had a wider appeal, as two long tables were occupied by suited and booted business men having what seemed like a working lunch.

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Handsomely fed and watered, we wandered across the road to look at a rather ornate synagogue and neighbouring church.

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It was time to walk off our lunch and visit some of the city’s green spaces on such a fine day. By this time, I was so warm that I had to take off my coat. We walked for about 20 minutes to Kung’sparken (The King’s park), which is said to be one of the oldest public parks in Europe.

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It was a pleasure to sit in the sun and look at the wildlife, though I was angered to see a couple of idiotic teenagers trying to goad a duck into chasing them so that some girls could catch the action on camera (one of the minuses of social media). This went on for a few minutes with the ducks clearly not interested and moving away only to be followed by dumb and dumber. A few adults were nearby, but nobody said a word. I started to walk in their direction, but their young female audience had got bored with their antics by that time, so the boys gave up.

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We found a lovely windmill with a garden partially enclosed by hedge borders. People were sunbathing, which is incredible considering it had been snowing the day before!

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We continued to the other side of the park, passing the Malmohus, the former Malmö Castle which is now an art gallery.

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Across from the Malmohus is the Kommendanthuset. Built in 1786, it housed the Malmö Castle arsenal and was later a prison. It’s now an airy gallery space and ecological café, so in we went for cold drinks and a chat with the friendly lady who ran it. She had formerly lived in London, and still comes to the UK every year to visit a friend in Edinburgh. We had an interesting conversation about Viking invaders and the influence of Scandinavian languages on the cadence of the Scottish accent and its lexicon.

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We decided to walk to Ribersborgsstranden – the beach – from where it was possible to get an excellent view of the Oresund Bridge. After getting lost within a housing estate (a not uncommon occurrence on my holidays) – Google maps are NOT always correct – we decided not to head all the way to the beach but went as far as a grassy coastal walkway from where we could still see the awesome structure in the distance.

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Relaxing and enjoying a meal was next on the itinerary, so we headed once again to the lovely Lilla Torg. We were astonished to note how busy the square had become compared with mid-morning; meeting friends after work was obviously as popular here as it is in the capital, Stockholm which I visited in 2016   . We eventually found a table at one of the restaurants and enjoyed our tasty and generously proportioned (and very expensive!) tortillas before casting a last admiring look over our favourite part of Malmö.

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The service between the two cities is frequent, so back at the station we didn’t have long to wait for our train to Copenhagen. The sun was going down as we got back to Hotel Sct Thomas looking forward to day 4, our last in Copenhagen.

 

Copenhagen – In search of even more Nordic Noir

Copenhagen Day 2

Rested and refreshed I opened the curtains of my hotel room on Tuesday morning to a most unwelcome view: snow!

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It swirled around the evergreens in the hotel garden in mocking motion as if to say, “So you thought you’d have a pleasant spring break, eh?” Of course, I understood this perfectly, as although it was Danish snow, it communicated in excellent English.

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My friend Julie and I ventured out onto Frederiksberg Alle in fine spirits. They were soon dampened. The snow had turned into a minor blizzard and the accompanying wind blew our feeble umbrellas inside out. The dark sky promised a gloomy day ahead.

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You really can’t beat a hop-on/hop-off bus tour to get an overview of an unfamiliar city, especially when your stay there is a short one. Plug in the ear phones, listen to the usually interesting and informative commentary and decide which spots you want to go back to later in the day. The snow storm outside obscured the view somewhat, but it was exciting to see some of the land marks I felt familiar with from my favourite Scandi dramas. I was secretly disappointed not to spot any Birk-Larsen transportation vehicles pass alongside us, but deep down I knew they weren’t real….though apparently items of uniform for the fictional company can be purchased online!

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We wound our way through Christianshavn and past Christiansborg Palace or ‘Borgen’, the Danish parliament building. Next, vivid and colourful Nyhavn came into view.

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Nyhavn is the most famous Copenhagen postcard picture, bright and lively and a most welcome contrast to the dreary sleet. We would be back there later, but for now we continued east alongside the city’s waterfront and past the Gefion Fountain.

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Sculpted by Anders Bundgaard in 1908, it depicts the story of the goddess Gefjon who turned her four sons into oxen. The Swedish king, Gylfi, had promised Gefjon that she could keep all the land that she could plough in one night, so she set her burly bovine offspring to work resulting in the creation of Zealand, the island on which Copenhagen sits. Our friendly tour bus driver obligingly stopped for us to take photographs, so we braved the flurry. Of course, the fountain was not in operation, but I imagined that on a warm day this waterfront land mark would look very pleasing.

Our next stop off was the famous Little Mermaid statue, another celebrated Copenhagen land mark. Here we parked up for a little while to see the lady perched on the rock. Normally, there is a crowd around the sculpture and it can be difficult to get a good view, but on this bitterly cold morning we were the only people around. My fingers had just about defrosted enough to operate the camera. As I wrote in  Copenhagen Day 1, the Little Mermaid has been subjected to numerous acts of vandalism over the years, ranging from the graffiti you see below through to decapitation on two occasions. Graffiti is widespread in Copenhagen, the only blot on an otherwise pristine cityscape, but some of the messages sprayed onto the Little Mermaid have been of a political nature, suggesting that some citizens are more concerned with harsh modern realities than centuries old fairy tales.

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Passing around the grand structure of Rosenberg Castle and the nearby Botanical Gardens, we decided that they too would be revisited later in the day. The weather improved as we headed back through the city. By the time we disembarked we had only light but persistent rain to contend with, though the snow had by then turned into that annoying dirty slush that leaves shoes and hems sodden. No matter – we were on holiday!

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Next on the agenda was a boat trip along Copenhagen’s canals and harbour. The stone steps from beside the Holmen Church down to the blue Netto Boat were slippery, but once inside it was surprisingly warm.

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I would have preferred to sit in one of the seats on deck behind the captain and his first mate, our tour guide, but shallow pools had formed on the seats and the rain was still falling. From time to time I and other tourists ventured out to take photos, but rain drops on the camera lens made this tricky. The guide was very entertaining and shared moments of sardonic wit and ironic reflections as we sailed through Nyhavn, Christianhavn and on through the harbour, passing the Little Mermaid once again.

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Once off the boat it was time to walk and find our lunch destination. I had a brief look around the courtyard of Christiansborg Palace (Copenhagen Day 1) and was excited to see that it was possible to have a free tour of the interior. In fact, quite a crowd of sightseers was flocking inside, cameras poised, to do just that. I made a mental note that I would return on Thursday to hopefully catch a glimpse of the state rooms where fictional Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg held her top level meetings in Borgen (yes – they did film there!).

After a tasty lunch at Yellow Rose vegan café on Peder Hvitfeldts Stræde, and a walk through some of the main shopping streets it was time to stroll along the canal through picturesque Nyhavn. Mercifully, the rain had finally stopped, and we were able to enjoy the atmosphere of the former fishermen’s favourite and 18th and 19th century red light district. Nyhavn is very popular with tourists and locals and its various restaurants serve up, unsurprisingly, a lot of seafood. Waffles are also very popular here and all over the city.

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Our next destination, the city’s Botanical Gardens, was serene and green, though a few patches of early morning snow still clung to the ground. I enjoyed the various sculptures of personalities from classical mythology that took up amusing stances in various locations. The climate inside the hot house was overwhelming after the outside chill, and it was almost impossible to take any decent photographs, as the camera lens would steam up instantly.

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Next, we had hoped to take a tour of historic Rosenberg Castle which was close by and is the repository of the Danish crown jewels. I had been looking forward to seeing the splendour within this 17th century former residence of Danish royalty, but unfortunately it does not open to the public on Tuesdays.DSCF5031

 

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We were still able to walk through the King’s Garden and see the outside where some Danish soldiers appeared to be doing something or other. Signs along the perimeter fence forbade cameras and drones, though nobody seemed to be paying any attention. I didn’t have my drone with me, but like everybody else I disobeyed the warning sign and took a few snaps. Rather than challenging this, some of the soldiers seemed to be enjoying the attention and even posing.

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We ambled for a couple of hours, enjoying the city and stopping for a leisurely coffee, before heading back, agreeably tired and still damp around the ankles, to the welcoming warmth of Hotel Sct Thomas. A rest, a shower and some clean warm clothes, and we were out again for an excellent meal at a middle-eastern restaurant before we ended the day looking forward to a trip to Sweden.

 

 

Copenhagen – in search of Nordic Noir

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Three years ago, I had an accident and broke my foot in five places. I was off work for a couple of months and for the first two weeks was in a lot of pain and spent long languorous days lounging on the sofa. It was during this period of enforced inactivity that a friend lent me some box sets which introduced me to the TV genre popularly known as Nordic Noir. I was a late arrival on the Scandi scene. The Killing, into which I very quickly became utterly engrossed, had first aired almost a decade earlier. I quickly made up for lost time, watching hours on end of top notch psychological crime thrillers and political intrigue. That was the start, and my love affair with Scandi drama is still as strong.

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I visited Stockholm, Sweden, a couple of years ago and loved it! You can read about my first Scandi adventure here . This week I flew north again to Denmark’s capital, Copenhagen, where several of my favourite Nordic Noir dramas have been filmed, including The Killing, Borgen, The Bridge (the Danish scenes, anyway) and BBC4’s current and excellent Saturday night offering, Below the Surface. From there I crossed the stretch of the Baltic Sea between Denmark and Sweden by way of that impressive feat of engineering, the Oresund bridge, and on to the southern Swedish city of Malmo. It was an intensive and tiring four days (I’m getting too old for these high-speed adventures!) but I had a brilliant time, and of course will now be able to watch my Nordic Noir through different eyes, so to speak.

Copenhagen day 1

Arriving on Monday, my friend and I opted for the speed and convenience of a taxi from Kastrup airport over the cheaper option of the very reliable and regular train service because we just wanted to get to the hotel and get settled in. The day was dull and overcast and rain was threatening, and we wanted to have a look around the locality in what daylight remained. Knowing full well what the answer would be, I asked the driver if he spoke English; of course he did! Every person in Denmark does, and usually to a high standard.

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Our residence for the next few days, Hotel Sct (Saint) Thomas, is situated on Frederiksberg Alle, to the west of the city in the Vesterbro area. The staff were lovely and helpful, and I’d be happy to recommend the place to anybody planning to stay in Copenhagen. We had decided to use public transport as little as possible to see more of the city; in my experience, it’s the wandering around, even when lost and frustrated at times, which leads to the discovery of so many interesting places that you would never find on the map. The walk from the Hotel to the centre of Copenhagen took about 15 minutes (a little bit longer in the evening when dragging back exhausted limbs and hauling the day’s purchases) along a vibrant street filled with shops, places to eat and a few bars. Don’t be deceived by the grey skies in these photos!

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Flying Tiger is a budget chain store. The branch in our neighbourhood had these colourful full-wall displays in its entrance area.

Copenhageners are cyclists. The city authorities encourage and facilitate this green and healthy form of transportation, and only Amsterdam rivals the prevalence of bicycles. According to one of our tour guides (you’ll meet him on day 2!) there are five bikes to every four citizens, a fact which I found wheely interesting (Sorry!). Looking around the city there were bikes everywhere. Cycle lanes ran alongside all main roads and were, overall, properly used. Cycle manufacturing is big business, and many models are out there including several different designs specifically for the transportation of children.

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Staff bicycles parked outside Christiansborg Palace (colloquially known as ‘Borgen’ ). It’s great to see the country’s MPs setting an example.

Danish cyclists are much more tolerant than their German counterparts and are patient with foreign visitors like us who would inadvertently wander into their reserved part of the walkway; try that in Berlin and you could consider yourself lucky to hear the polite tinkle of a bell to warn you that collision was imminent if you didn’t move out of the way – more often, the friendly tinkle would be replaced by some yelled or hissed utterance, the translation of which could safely be assumed across all languages. Traffic lights are also obeyed almost all of the time. Drivers do stop at red lights, but some trail slowly but menacingly on the heels of the last person to cross the road in their eagerness to turn corners, even if the lights are still on red. This is a thousand times better than in France, where traffic lights count for absolutely nothing, but falls way short of what we are used to in the UK.

Another very noticeable difference on the streets of Copenhagen was the lack of litter and general tidiness. In four days I counted one juice container tossed onto the forecourt of what I think was a church and one empty beer can in an alleyway. I didn’t notice an army of street cleaners on patrol day or night, so I assume that the citizens are generally a respectful bunch who take pride in their city. I cringe when I think how many of our UK towns and cities must appear in comparison. Graffiti, however, is another matter, and it can be found all over the place, including, sadly, sprayed onto the iconic statue of the Little Mermaid (day 2). Graffiti seems to be tolerated to a greater degree in some European cities, including Copenhagen, than in the UK, and some of it was pretty good. Mess or art? Does it depend who has created it – and why?

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Restaurants are expensive in Scandinavia, though service is good. We looked at a few possibilities and tired and still finding our feet in a new place we opted for Italian. I had made an extensive list of veggie/vegan eateries in both Copenhagen and Malmo, and tomorrow was another day. Back at Hotel Sct Thomas, comfy beds beckoned and the promise of adventures to follow in the morning…

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