Blog Diary

Cumbria, The English Lake District

Rydal Hall Gardens, Cumbria: a retrospective

Spring is around the corner and the promise of some better weather coming up has inspired me to get back out there after my winter semi-hibernation. I think Cumbria is on the cards for next week, with the hope of some golden daffodils to show you. Below is another visit to one of my favourite counties, made as summer came to its end.

DSCF3879Tucked away behind tall stone walls on the A591 between Ambleside and Grasmere is Rydal Hall. Describing itself as ‘The Christian Centre at the heart of the English Lake District’, this beautiful house and its surrounding gardens, woodland and water courses is a serene and lovely place. It’s somewhere I like to go on my own from time to time when I feel the need to recharge my batteries and just relax. I have never been inside the house, but I’ve spent many hours doing nothing much in the Hall’s outdoor spaces. The main reason why, for me, Rydal Hall is such a sanctuary is because it is so quiet. Even at the height of summer it is sometimes possible to sit undisturbed in one of several gardens, savouring the stillness and peace. Outside of the Christian communities who use the venue for conferences and retreats, Rydal Hall is one of the Lake District’s ‘best kept secrets’. The Diocese of Carlisle very kindly opens the garden gates to all.  A perfect place for weary limbs and a tired mind, this green space soothes, inspires, excites and invigorates.

Relax for a short while and walk with me in a one of my favourite places…………..

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First stop, the formal gardens. Symmetrical, sculptured and taking inspiration from Italianate architecture, the formal garden is a grand design. Situated in front of the house, it was created in 1911 by the celebrated landscape architect, Thomas Hayton Mawson. The garden was designed with the main focus being the views from inside the Hall, in particular from the grand staircase in the home of the Edwardian generation of the Le Fleming family whose ancient forebears first occupied the land. Beautifully kept and with some interesting nooks, crannies and novelty features, the formal garden in its elevated position is also a great spot from which to look out over the surrounding countryside. Nab Scar in the distance provides a wonderful contrast against the formal lawns and the concrete pillars. I like to spend some time appreciating the beauty and the fragrance of the magnolia as it climbs the pagoda.

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Let’s move on now, making our way through the iron gate and down the steps, crossing the path into the wild and wonderful quiet garden.

In parts overgrown, this place celebrates nature. In complete contrast to the precision of the formal gardens, here there is a feeling of being in a little wilderness; a real secret garden. Grasses have been left to grow undisturbed; giant ferns line the pathways and wild flowers adorn untouched corners to the delight of grateful feasting bees. That this part of Rydal estate is as carefully contrived as the rest does not diminish from the delightful illusion.

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Our senses are engaged here. The colour palette of Mother Nature dazzles our eyes, as does the stunning art work which takes us by surprise as we turn around every corner. Animal representations painted on wood hang from branches like talismans, reminders of a natural habitat shared with other lives. Sculptures stand like sentinels, obscured behind giant plants. We can hear the beck gently trickle nearby, and beyond is the sound of a waterfall. Let’s go there………

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Crossing the little beck, it seems as though we have come to the end of the path but we can definitely hear the tumbling water not too far away. Suddenly, there is a fork in the pathway which can’t be seen until you’re almost upon it. This leads to a tunnel which brings us out at the side of the crystal clear beck as it flows over the stony bed; very tempting on a hot day to have a paddle. Here there is an interesting wooden building, ‘the grot’ dating back to the 18th century when it was added to this carefully selected spot to enable the family and their visitors to enjoy the view of the impressive cascade. This photograph doesn’t do it justice.

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Numerous artists, including John Constable, have committed the scene to canvas. I feel lucky to be here savouring this location. Looking up above the majestic spray I can see the stone bridge and am reminded that the tea room is there. Shall we go up?

Back the way we came and exiting through another wrought iron gate, we find ourselves at the former school room which has been transformed into a pretty little café. We can’t buy a meal here but there are some delicious cakes and beverages and a cosy corner next to the wood burner. Looking through the window I smile at the colourful animal sculptures outside and next my attention is drawn to the purple felt butterfly with its sparkly wings encrusted with tiny pieces of mirror. The woodland lies ahead.

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The path into the woods leads us up a gentle slope, firm under foot today, but quite slippery when the autumn leaves have fallen and turned to mulch. One of the things I like best about this part of the grounds is that I never quite know what to expect. Serving as an outdoor art gallery, Rydal Hall wood plays host to various artists at different times, who use the space innovatively to show off their creations, mostly sculpture and fun installations. I’m fascinated by the textiles I see woven between the branches and wrapped around the tree trunks. The place looks magical. Batik, crochet work, woven fibres adorn nature. Here, colours and textures are vibrant and invite touch.

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A little way further on and we find ourselves alongside the upper beck. We can sit for a while and listen to the flow of the water over the stones before we return to our lives, all the better for having spent time in Rydal gardens.

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Scotland

Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, Eskdalemuir, Scotland

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I came across this place when looking online for places to visit on a short break in the south of Scotland. It burst onto my monitor in a multi-coloured flash and at first I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought my Google search had brought up a rogue link to a place somewhere in the Himalayan foot hills, not the rolling green hills of Dumfriesshire. Closer inspection showed me that Samye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Monastery did indeed have a Dumfries post code. I was hooked!

The magpie in me has always been attracted to the shiny and colourful, and this place had it in abundance. The bold, ornate temple with its dramatic art and sculpture jumped off the screen. I decided I had to go there to see for myself.

I had spent many happy childhood holidays in the Scottish border regions where my family had a static caravan. My memories are fond and include more recollections of grey skies and rain than sunshine in the blue. I’ve always found brooding grey skies and hill mists powerful and compelling.

As the little bus makes its way along the narrow road, passing through miles of uninhabited heather-covered moorland and vast forests of fir, my anticipation grows. I try to picture the spectacle of this bold oriental structure against the pastoral landscape.

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The temple comes into view. First I see a wide driveway with entrance through a grand ornamental archway. Lines of red, blue and green prayer flags flutter in the breeze. It all looks surreal. Entering from the road via a different route I find myself almost immediately in front of the temple building. Large and imposing, it is every bit as colourful as the photos suggest. This fascinating building is a sight to behold; a feast for the eyes.

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Stepping inside, the interior is stunning. Red and gold dominates, especially in the inner sanctum where a large golden Buddha statue sits in pride of place within a glass display cabinet. Offerings of food items and trays of candles are placed before the statue which is surrounded by manifold images of saints and deities. The richly painted ceiling is a stunning canopy. Look too closely and too critically and of course you will see that all that glitters is not gold. Grandeur or bling? Artistic or tacky? Ornate or pale imitation? What would the wise man say? Maybe he’d say, ‘Don’t look to closely and just enjoy the experience.’

Outside again, I am free to roam around the site with the only ‘off- limits’ areas being the residential apartments for the monks and visitors on retreat. A flock of small birds catches my attention as they settle on a strange object placed on a balcony. I climb the stairwell to investigate. The birds take flight as I approach and I am none the wiser as to the nature of the foodstuff upon which the feathered collective has been feasting. It most resembles a small pile of melted candle wax. Descending the steps again I pass a shaven-headed monk in full garb accompanied by an American woman I’d earlier seen inside the temple. I receive a look of disapproval from the monk; perhaps I am out of bounds.

The extensive monastery gardens are a mix of pleasure and practicality. Wildflowers, sunflowers, marigolds and lavender are just a few of the flora in bloom alongside the beds overflowing with marrows, cabbages and lettuce. Some areas appear to be a work in progress. A cement mixer and piles of flagstones suggest grand ideas not yet made manifest. A brown hare appears on the path ahead where bracken has taken over and nature rules. It stands perfectly still, almost like an illusion, before darting away at the sound of approaching footsteps. Statues of the Buddha and deities and demons of Tibetan folklore turn this Scottish garden exotic and mystical. Strips of pretty fabrics adorn tree branches, prayers and wishes moving in the wind. Insects hover above the lily pads of a still pond traversed by a pretty wooden bridge.

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The ‘Tibetan Tea Rooms’ had looked very inviting on the website and I am looking forward to a wholesome veggie lunch prepared (hopefully) using the organic home-grown produce I’d seen in the vegetable garden. I am most disappointed to discover that the only food on the menu is Danish pastries and cheese & onion pasties. The enthusiastic young man who serves me informs me that there is usually soup and sandwiches too, but all the kitchen staff are new and still learning. Two packets of crisps and a refreshing bottle of elderflower cordial have to suffice. It doesn’t seem to matter in the scheme of things.

On my way back to the road I pass an intriguing building, a sort of corridor with prayer wheels arranged along one side, and what is essentially a columbarium along the other. Within glass-fronted cabinets stand rows of urns and other receptacles containing cremated remains. Most have alongside them photographs of the  people and pets whose remains are housed here, presumably members of the Buddhist community and their companions in feather and fur. Exquisitely decorated vases, bejewelled caskets, Chinese-style lacquered boxes, even hand-painted cardboard tubes all repose in the recesses. Smiling faces look out from gilded frames as the prayer wheels spin in sequence, carrying a thousand heartfelt wishes onto the breeze.

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Lancashire history, Lancaster

Lancaster Museum

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Lancaster was only made a city in 1937 but its story can be traced back to the Romans who established their ‘castrum’ or fort by the ‘Lon’ or river Lune.

I am familiar with Lancaster but until very recently had never visited the city Museum, a modest building which one could easily walk past without noticing. It isn’t grand or ornate, but typically of Lancaster buildings it is constructed from stone and blends in with its surroundings. Ironically, it came to my attention on my most recent visit due to the scaffolding, plastic sheeting and forlornness which surrounded it. Thinking it had closed, I carried out a closer inspection, and at the bottom of a polythene walkway found a way in and a warm welcome. There began an hour long exploration of kings and castles; Saxons and stone carvings; industry, craftsmanship, culture and conflict.

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This Roman milestone stands in a somewhat incongruous position at the top of the staircase where the chintzy curtains and electrical wires appear at odds with this object of antiquity. It was made during the reign of Emperor Hadrian (builder of the border wall between England and Scotland)  between AD 127 and 138 and informs onlookers that it is four Roman miles to Lancaster from the spot in Caton where it was found in 1803. Here are some more relics of Loncastrum life….

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An altar dedicated by one Julius Januarius (great surname!), a retired soldier. This home altar was dedicated to a meadow god associated with the river Lune.
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A tomb stone discovered in 2005 near to the main Roman road leading into Lancaster
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Third century carvings which were probably part of a shrine. The heads represent the four winds

Moving on a few strides and several centuries we find ourselves in Lancaster of the middle ages. There are many examples of Celtic and Saxon crosses in ancient church yards all around England, especially in the north. The two below were found during excavations of Lancaster Priory Church.

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Most interesting to me were the informative displays about Lancaster during the industrial revolution, and its development as a centre of stained glass manufacturing.

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At the height of its fame in the late Victorian era, the company of Shrigley and Hunt ranked among the leading designers and manufacturers of stained glass in Britain, rivalling the better-known contemporaries such William Morris and Company
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John O’Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster

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The skill of glass making flourished in Lancaster from about the 1870s in response to the growth in church building and the number of prestigious homes which boasted luxurious stained leaded windows.

James Williamson, Lord Ashton, was a leading industrialist and one-time mayor of the city whose family firm produced linoleum (see my blog on Williamson Park). Some fine examples appear in this display cabinet. A few of these fine specimens have cool retro appeal. Oilcloth and linoleum were big business in Lancaster for over a hundred years from the 1840s until the second world war and at the industry’s height it employed over half of the city’s work force.

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Examples of the city’s metal trades are also showcased

What local museum is complete without a badly turned out mannequin or two…or three…or more…? Lancaster has not fallen short and my particular favourite is the lady below undertaking wash day duties. I have early childhood memories of my own grandma having a dolly tub in her out house, decades after it had seen its last load of laundry.

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Lancaster has a proud military history and a section of the Museum celebrates this. I was very interested in looking at the various exhibits which had belonged to real men who had fought in the wars of the 19th and 20th centuries, some who died and others who survived to tell their stories. Some of their personal possessions have been donated by family members still living in the Lancaster area.

I was fascinated by the fabric and sewing detail on these uniforms and the fact that some of them looked so small, clearly worn by slim soldiers. It’s difficult to gain a sense of the proportions from this photo.

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On the left we see a regular officer’s coat of the Fourth King’s Own Royal Regiment from around 1820. In the centre is the coat of an officer of the First Royal Lancashire Militia from 1794 – 98 .To the right is the tunic of an officer of the 10th Lancashire Rifle Volunteers.

 

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A German snare drum embellished with the red rose of Lancashire
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This beautiful Coptic bible was the personal proper of Lieutenant Bray and was donated by his family.

 

More mannequins model military attire and weaponry of different eras. In the first picture a kilted Scottish rebel awaits his fate.

This little museum has no cafe, gift shop or any of the multi-media and interactive attractions we have become used to nowadays, but it’s well worth a look if you’re in the city and want to learn more about the story of Lancaster.

 

 

 

 

Lancashire and Cumbria coast, Lancashire history, Lancaster

Carnforth Station Heritage Centre – A Brief Encounter

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Brief Encounter is one of my favourite films – and I’m not alone. It ranks in second place in the British film industry’s list of 100 greatest films. Directed by the much-celebrated David Lean in 1945, the film was based on Noel Coward’s 1936 screenplay Still Life. Filmed at various locations in England, Brief Encounter is set in 1938 and relates the love that grows between Alec, a doctor, and Laura, a middle-class housewife. They meet by chance at a fictional train station, Milford Junction, where Alec comes to Laura’s rescue and gallantly removes some grit from her eye.

A profound yet unconsummated passion develops from that meeting. It’s a very British film of the times; its respectability and restraint make it all the more intense.

There was no big budget and the cast included no A list actors, but Brief Encounter is credited as one of David Lean’s greatest works and was met with wide critical acclaim when it was released. It has gone on to achieve world-wide iconic status.

Carnforth Station sits less than ten minutes outside Lancaster on the scenic line which winds its way along the Cumbrian coast. Designed by architect William Tite and opened in 1846, there is nothing particularly striking about this station, nor – it must be said – about Carnforth. The Station’s claim to fame is that it was chosen as the site of the railway platform scenes in Brief Encounter. Its rural location enabled night time filming to take place whilst avoiding the war time blackout which was necessary in England’s towns and cities.

The Station’s now iconic clock appeared in Brief Encounter, and it is that same clock which today tells the time to passengers and visitors to the excellent Carnforth Heritage Centre. Step inside and you will be transported (pardon the pun) back in time to the heyday of steam travel.

A fantastic team of volunteers works 360 days a year to keep the museum running. Visitors come from all over the world to experience their own brief encounter with British film-making at its best, though they form more of a steady trickle than a flock. I chatted with two Canadian ladies in the gift shop who had digressed from their holiday in the nearby Lake District to see where their all-time favourite film was made.

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The Heritage Centre isn’t just about Brief Encounter. In what was once the main waiting room which is now used for presentations and educational activities, a film runs on loop which shares a potted history of the Station and the wider context of British rail travel in the decades before the end of steam.

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Authentic artefacts are displayed throughout the Centre’s various rooms and a lot of time and trouble have been taken to create a vintage feel.

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A photograph of members of the Women’s Voluntary Service who famously served tea to the troops passing through Carnforth Station during war time

Head towards the gift shop and you will see an array of Brief Encounter themed items on the shelves. I was greatly amused by the boxes of fudge and biscuits, some of which are to be included in suitcases bound for Canada. I bought a mug and ‘far too nice to be used as a tea towel’ tea towel.

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From the gift shop can be heard a melody familiar to fans of the movie: Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto Number 2 –  the soundtrack. Tucked away round a little corner is a tiny cinema where visitors can sit and watch Brief Encounter from proper plush picture-house seats, perhaps whilst nibbling on some of the gift shop fudge.  This is a lovely touch and a nod to the plot, as Laura and Alec initially meet innocently once a week to watch a matinee together.

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The Heritage Centre includes a year-round David Lean exhibition which celebrates the director’s life and work.

At the heart-breaking end of the film Laura and Alec, having decided to put their families and responsibilities before their doomed love, meet for the last time in the same spot where they had that first encounter; the Station’s refreshment room. Those scenes were filmed in a studio, but the set bore a strong resemblance to the refreshments room at Carnforth Station. Though now enjoying modern facilities, it still has a vintage charm.

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It is run by lovely friendly staff who serve a splendid pot of leaf tea; just the ticket on a cold January afternoon whilst waiting for a train back to the 21st century.

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Lancashire history, Lancaster

Williamson Park and the Ashton Memorial, Lancaster: The Lino King’s folly and a view to die for

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The wildflower garden taken during a summer visit to the Park

 

Lancaster is the county city of Lancashire and is a place steeped in history. It’s only a small city but has many buildings of historical interest. The city is on a hill, and that, along with access to the river Lune (and from there to the Irish sea) made it an attractive prospect to the invading Romans who bestowed upon it its name – the fort near the Lune. Looking down on the city from near to the top of the hill is the Ashton Memorial, instantly recognisable on the Lancaster skyline even on a grey day in December.

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The Ashton Memorial has been compared to the Taj Mahal, not necessarily suggesting that it is grand or exotic, but because it was built as a shrine in remembrance of a much-loved deceased wife.

James Williamson, or the Lino King, was a very rich and successful business man and philanthropist from one of the city’s most eminent mercantile families. He was also one-time Mayor of the city. The family firm specialised in producing oilcloth and linoleum which they exported all over the world, hence the moniker, The Lino King. Another more formal title bestowed upon James Williamson was that of Lord Ashton. The granting of this baronetcy was always controversial as rumours ran rife that the great man had oiled not just cloth, but the palm of the then Prime Minister to secure the title. Williamson always strongly denied this, but the mutterings continued throughout his life time, leading him in the end to fall out with his home city and become a rich hoarder recluse in London.

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James Williamson, 1st Baronet Ashton

Lord Ashton commissioned the 150ft folly to be built after the death of his wife, Jessie, Lady Ashton. It was designed in the Edwardian baroque style by architect John Belcher and construction started in 1907. Ironically, by the time the Memorial was completed two years later Lord Ashton had remarried.

The grand copper dome of the folly can be seen from far and wide; you are sure to spot it when travelling north on the west coast main line or driving northbound up the M6 motorway. Around the outside of the dome are sculptures which represent commerce, science, industry and art, whilst the same are represented in the form of allegorical paintings on the inside. Unfortunately (for me, not for the people within), an event was taking place at the time of my visit, so I couldn’t peer in through the windows to take photographs of the interior. The folly is a popular venue for weddings and exhibitions, though it wasn’t clear what was taking place on this occasion. I can confirm that though my view was restricted, I didn’t spot any lino whatsoever on the floor.

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The Ashton Memorial affords wonderful views of the city of Lancaster spread out below, and of Morecambe Bay beyond.

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These wonderful views would have been the last thing on the minds of the many convicted criminals who were sentenced to hang on the gallows which stood on the same spot centuries earlier when it was moorland. Long before James Williamson’s time, this place was known as ‘Hanging Hill’ where saints and sinners alike were taken to their fates after trial at Lancaster Castle. Some of those hanged here during the 17th century include the Pendle witches and Catholic martyrs who were later made saints such as Edmund Arrowsmith and Ambrose Barlow. There is no notice or tribute near to the folly, though one exists at another location outside of the Park grounds.

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Williamson Park is a popular place for relaxation and recreation and includes a butterfly house (which I didn’t visit), a café and lots of lovely pathways through wooded areas and lush gardens. The estate was eventually bought by the city of Lancaster for the enjoyment of residents and visitors like me. I find that quite fitting as the land belonged to the city long before Lord Ashton and it’s a lovely place to spend some quiet time.

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Lancashire and Cumbria coast

Southport at midwinter

 

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The sea: mighty, powerful, deep, dark, mysterious, salty, soothing, calm, as old as the world. I always feel as though I am taken in by its great gravitational pull. It seems to call out to me and I love to answer that call and be in it or near to it. I lose track of time when I sit on a seaweed- covered rock and become absorbed into the rhythm of the rolling waves and watch the majestic sea birds soar and swoop above the foam and into the rock pools. The hypnotic horizon where the sun sets into the depths tantalises the imagination with suggestions of mysteries beyond.

Southport, whilst not the greatest or most inspiring of coastal locations, is the nearest seaside resort to my home and I go there from time to time. I have very early childhood memories of playing on the beach with family and friends, the great expanse of sand seemingly endless. The sea never seemed to make an appearance on Southport beach and as a teenager I had come to believe it was an urban myth. My passion is for the water; I want to paddle in it and feel the waves lap around my legs. Southport never seemed to suggest more than the possibility of it, by way of marine offerings strewn across the damp sand: slimy seaweed; shiny shells, flotsam and jetsam deposited by the always absent waves. Over the years I lost patience and interest and for a long time I stayed away. However, I have learned that taking the trouble to consult tidal timetables produces wondrous results: the urban myth has been dispelled……..the sea, in all its glory, DOES grace Southport sands with its presence.

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Southport seemed to lose interest in itself for a while, slipping into decline throughout the 1980s, ’90s and the early part of this century. The fairground closed and lurid yellow safety boards were, at one point, the brightest things to be seen along the front.

The town’s few shopping streets had always retained their elegance and been amongst its attractions, seemingly operating under a pulling power unconnected to the phases of the moon. Southport has always had a reputation for refinement and though this brooch of honour has slipped a little way down the town’s tailored lapel since its Victorian heyday, everybody knows that Southport has standards. Famously the one-time home of one of Napoleon Bonaparte’s descendants, who sojourned on Lord Street, it has always maintained a bourgeois air. Home to millionaire footballers and other celebrities, Southport and surrounding areas have status. Royal Birkdale, a short and pleasant trek along the sand dunes, is home to one of Britain’s most prestigious golfing tournaments.

The town holds its own amongst the better known and commercially more popular Irish Sea coast holiday resorts. A popular retirement destination and general desirable place of residence, this little town is synonymous with quality and class. It is commerce more than sandcastles which has kept Southport on the holiday map; it has succeeded where places such as Morecambe have declined. Massive investment in the promenade has injected new energy into Southport as a place to take a holiday, and it is now, happily, back on track.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It seemed fitting that on a grey afternoon at the end of the year I should visit the sea and contemplate the ebb and flow whilst considering what 2017 had brought and taken away.

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Beyond the twinkling festive lights of Lord Street and the garish electric luminosity of the side-street amusement arcades and candyfloss kiosks, the lonely promenade was almost deserted. The heavens opened as I crossed the road in front of Silcock’s Funland, its flashing lights surreal in the winter gloom.

The heavens opened, sending down a sheets of rain, bouncing off the wooden board walk of the pier, adding to the strange atmosphere. As a moment in time it was quite beautiful.

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The sunset could just about be seen behind the smoky grey clouds to the west, as millions of raindrops fell into the sea, adding to its vastness.

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Europe

Pere Lachaise Cemetery – stories of Paris Past

A cemetery may seem a strange choice as a tourist attraction, but Per Lachaise is no ordinary city graveyard.This sprawling Paris necropolis has turned remembrance into art………HITACHI HDC-1491E

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Paris’s largest and most celebrated cemetery first opened its elegant gates in 1804. After getting off to a slow start (it was considered by many to be too far outside of the centre of Paris) it became within two decades the most desirable residence for the city’s fashionable deceased. The rise in popularity was due in no small part to a deliberate if somewhat macabre promotional strategy thought up by the administrators in charge of the site which involved transferring the remains of several notable citizens from their original places of interment to new plots within Per Lachaise.

The cemetery takes its name from Pere (Father) Francoise de La Chaise, the priest who took confession from King Louis XIV. Pere de La Chaise belonged to a Jesuit order which in the late 17th century lived on the site of the current cemetery. A former chapel now serving as the cemetery office stands near to the main entrance on the spot of the former Jesuit residence. Visitors can call in for a map which shows the tombs of the famed of Paris.

Not all of the graves in this cemetery are grand or eccentric; many simple headstones soberly and humbly mark the final resting places of ordinary Parisians.

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There is an eclectic mix of architectural styles, my own particular favourite being the tiny house-like structures which often contain a single chair for quiet moments of sitting and remembering.

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Inside one of the tombs; the single chair is just out of shot. What a beautiful place!

The cemetery, like the city, is divided into arrondissements, or zones. The more modern sections are at the back near to the crematorium, an impressive Byzantine-like building with a multi-level columbarium where remains are housed in niches within the walls. Some are quirky and beautifully crafted, probably reflecting the personalities of those whose remains repose there. The columbarium structure has the appearance of an art installation.

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This gorgeously glazed memorial preserves the memory of Maurice and Jacqueline
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Max Ernst, German sculptor and surrealist painter
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What a happy couple Gisele and Gilbert look
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The smile of a beautiful young woman is captured for eternity
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I became fascinated by Leilah Mahi, a French-Lebanese writer. Unfortunately, there is very little information available, and I haven’t been able to find any English translations of her work.

Near to the rear entrance of Per Lachaise is a beautiful memorial erected to the memory of the 228 victims of Air France Flight 447, which fell out of the sky whilst flying from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009. The clear Perspex structure shows 228 birds in flight, one to represent each passenger, which I think is quite lovely.

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Over 3.5 million visitors pass through the gates each year and many of them come to pay tribute to Jim Morrison: icon, legend and front man of 1960s rock band, The Doors. Morrison died in Paris in 1971, aged just 27 years, an official cause of death never recorded, though speculation at the time was rife, and still is. Jim Morrison was not only a talented musician but also a poet and film maker. In the 1970s and ’80s, the grave took on a shrine-line status. Fans would gather and leave mementos and lines of poetry expressing their admiration. Another tradition which sprang up was that of leaving chewing gum on a nearby tree; this still continues. I didn’t feel inspired to contribute, though many others did.

My last visit to Per Lachaise was in October 2014 and metal railings had already been erected around the grave, though they presented no obstacle at all to the agile youth and youthful in spirit who wanted to place their flowers and trinkets at the grave. More recently the free and easy behaviour of some fans has come to be considered by the cemetery authorities to be a nuisance and disrespectful, and there have even been suggestions that Jim’s remains be relocated to his country of birth, the USA.

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The Jim Morrison gum tree.

 

In my thirties I became very interested in French literature of the late 19th and early 20th century. I must add that I read these great works in English translation, as my high school French could just about stretch to ordering a coffee and a baguette. I lost myself in the novels of Andre Bretton, Joris-Karl Huysmans and Violette Leduc to name a few, and out of this emerged a great interest in Paris. One much revered author who I never really took to was Marcel Proust. I acknowledge his talent, and the famous ‘madeleine moment’ analogy really struck a chord with me as with many; I persevered with the first volume of In Search of Lost Time, but could continue no further. The legendary writer is laid to rest in Pere Lachaise.

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Oscar Wilde, Irish poet and novelist, died in Paris in 1900 (see my blog about this). He left England in disgrace after release from a prison sentence for gross indecency. Wilde was married and a father of two children but had been involved in relationships with several men, most notably Lord Alfred Douglas whose father, the Marquis of Queensbury, was instrumental in bringing about Wilde’s fall from grace.

It is tradition to leave a token of appreciation in the form of a kiss. Visitors should put on their brightest lipstick and pucker up to the sphinx. It’s not possible to get near to the sandstone any more as it is surrounded by a Perspex barrier at the request of Wilde’s descendants who are required to foot the bill for keeping the grave in good repair. The smooching continues on the Perspex and I couldn’t leave Per Lachaise without adding my own mark of respect.

HITACHI HDC-1491E

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Lipstick marks left by Oscar Wilde admirers