A blogging anniversary and a new year

Happy New Year! I hope as we start 2020 all in WordPress world are well and in good spirits. I decided that rather than write a review of 2019 I would write a few thoughts on what I’d like to be blogging about during the year ahead.

Yesterday marked my first visit of the year to the coast (my favourite kind of location), and I can’t think of a better first photo of 2020 than a spectacular sunset viewed from Southport Pier.

20200104_162126

Apparently, today is this blog’s birthday. I have been pressing words for five whole years! This is also my 100th post, so a double milestone. Do the maths and you will see that I’m far from a prolific poster, and that is unlikely to change in 2020. I’ll still post when I have something new to share about somewhere I’ve visited or an experience I’ve enjoyed that I think might be of interest to some other people. I’ve never had a writing schedule and have sometimes gone weeks – and in the early days of the blog, months – without writing a word, though I’ve posted more over the last year or two. 

Regular readers will know that I love to be near to the sea, in all seasons and at any time of day. Yesterday afternoon I decided to make the short train journey from my home in Wigan to Southport on the Lancashire coast. It was after 2 o’clock when I arrived, so after having a quick bite to eat and a mooch in a couple of shops, I made my way to the Pier. The town was busy, unsurprisingly on such a dry and bright day, but by this time it was about 3 o’clock and the light was starting to fade.

20200104_161911

20200104_153525
Bridge over the marine lake

Although it wasn’t a cold day for the time of year the wind coming in from the sea was bitter as I walked towards the end; I wished I’d worn a scarf and gloves. My hands shook a little as I angled my phone towards the western sky, partly cold fingers and partly the biting breeze. It was well worth it though, as I was rewarded with breathtaking views as the sun descended.

20200104_154608

20200104_155420

At the end of the Pier I sat for a while on one of the wooden benches, watching as the light diminished and the sky changed from one moment to the next, nature’s own light show, unsurpassable.

20200104_160908

20200104_161158

20200104_160515

20200104_161418

This is a ‘first’ for me as I have never before written a post on my phone, or used in a blog photographs I took with it. I don’t really like using this small key pad for anything other than texting, but other devices are out of action at the moment, and actually the typing is not that bad and I like the photos. Perhaps that opens a door to more spontaneity in 2020.

Five years ago, this blog started out purely as an extension to my Facebook page where I would share photos with friends and family of places I’d visited but without any details or narrative. People would often ask about the locations, want more specific information or want to share their thoughts. I had the idea of writing a simple little blog which I would link to Facebook where folks could click on a link to see more than just the photographs. I seldom use Facebook these days, but here I still am.

It never occurred to me that anyone else would be reading my blog, or even how they would come across it. Even now, I sometimes wonder what people must have ‘Googled’ to end up here. One day I logged on for the first time in months and noticed a tiny orange circle near the alert bell at the top of the screen which I hadn’t seen before. I thought it was probably a notification from WordPress and was very surprised to find it was a message from a real person who had been reading one of my posts. As that started to happen more often, and one or two people started to follow my blog, I changed my style slightly, and wrote for anyone who might visit, not just those readers I knew personally.

It was even longer before I started to explore WordPress and  found so many interesting and talented writers whose words and images I still thoroughly enjoy. I’ve discovered great places to visit and have been intrigued, amused, moved, entertained, inspired and educated by the posts I’ve read. I look forward to seeing more in 2020.

So what will I be writing about this year? Probably exactly the same as before. There is no plan. I’m sure I’ll revisit my favourite places and may write about those again if there’s something new to add. I’m also sure I’ll seek out new places to explore which I’ll share here. I’ll probably focus more on places closer to home, though there will be one or two trips further afield too. One thing I can guarantee is that there will be more posts from the coasts and hopefully more stunning views like these.

Thank you for reading and all the best! Amanda

20200104_161852

 

After dark at Chetam’s Library

664A2572-85AF-46F3-BFBC-C872F77821AF
Chetam’s: the oldest surviving public library in Britain

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to look around one of Manchester’s most historic buildings, Chetam’s Library. The 15th century building, attached to the prestigious Chetam’s School of a Music, offers pre-booked guided tours on most days of the year, but this was a bit different. Chetam’s Unscripted was promoted as a chance for visitors to wander unaccompanied and at liberty around the Library after closing time, aided only by torches and fairy lights to guide the way. This is the second year of Unscripted, and as last year’s event sold out very quickly, my cousin and I made sure we secured our places this time around. We were looking forward to the extraordinary opportunity and the promise of ‘surprises’.

The building is next to Manchester Cathedral and dates back to 1421 when it served as home to the clergy of the then collegiate church.  Humphrey Chetam (1580-1653), a successful and very prosperous Manchester textiles merchant, banker and landowner made provision in his will for five parish libraries in Manchester and Bolton which would be accessible to all who wished to use them. There was no equivalent at that time, with formal education being only for the privileged classes. In addition to the church libraries, Humphrey Chetam established the building we stood in front of as a boarding school for 22 boys. Despite his material success, Chetam retained some more humble qualities and was fined for refusing a knighthood.

8E6E9731-CCAC-494A-863E-F914C4DF42A5
The cloister court or ‘fox court’ around which the Library’s three main corridors are arranged

Once all the visitors had assembled at the security barrier we were escorted inside by a volunteer and greeted by a member of staff whose immense enthusiasm seemed slightly  patronising, as if we were schoolchildren, perhaps her usual audience. It was then explained that we were not in fact allowed to wander around at will and explore every ancient nook and cranny, and that any closed doors were ‘closed for a reason’; there were a lot of closed doors. The event was programmed to run from 6 pm to 8 pm to be followed by wine, mince pies and an opportunity to ask questions. Before we were let loose, we were told that wine would actually be served from 6:45 pm.

51EA817B-A16D-4FAC-9842-968455B836A0
Fairy lights lit the old stone corridors where the occasional lantern lent a little extra illumination

Torches guiding the way, we set off excitedly down a stone passageway towards the light emanating from an open door at the end. Clues had been left to suggest the possibility of unworldly encounters to come.

DD4C822B-6F46-4B74-907D-1A6A2D1B5F47

The darkness and magical lights were very atmospheric. Up ahead, shadows moved unexpectedly, the dim lights from other torches revealing the presence of fellow corporeal explorers. In truth, it really was too dark to see much detail, even with the aid of torches, but we were able to pick out some interesting architecture.

In one of the large rooms we could just about make out the details of some period furniture and spied some old books laid out on a large central table. Due to their age and delicacy it was not possible to touch them, though one of the curators did offer to tell us more about the books if we were interested.

02C551E3-F23F-4609-95BC-44CC5572C9ED

John Dee, a famous character from the court of Queen Elizabeth I, is associated with that very room, but I won’t elaborate here, as I plan to revisit in daylight when I hope to be able to see the exhibits properly.

A flight of creaky oak stairs took us to the library itself, a long gallery with reading areas behind locked iron gates to the left and glass-fronted shelves to the right.  Another volunteer was seated at the top of the staircase in the pitch blackness, her presence only detectable through the torch beam which she shone in our direction. I later heard her telling some other visitors that she sometimes dressed in period costume, which was what we had been expecting really, and would have added to the atmosphere. Nevertheless, this part of the building was the most interesting. Again, we were not allowed to touch any of the books, many of which were clearly very fragile, but it was fascinating to read some of the titles on the battered spines which included volumes on science, natural history and the geography of Lancashire.

D60E06A4-26C3-47AE-9A05-81969A67F8C1
Manchester’s modern buildings through the window

B0A3E345-BD67-4E3F-B701-87433C7596C1

I spotted a pale face inside a cabinet, all the more disturbing in the darkness. I assumed it to be a death mask and this was confirmed by the volunteer. Unfortunately, she couldn’t tell me any more about the owner of the original head, but suggested that Google might be able to help.

At the end of the corridor we found an area which looked to be in use as an office. What a marvellous place to spend your working day!

E447F4D0-AA6F-48F0-AE6B-7C4752C4ABB6

Retracing our steps, we almost literally bumped into some other people from our party and spent a few moments chatting about what we’d seen – or not seen – so far. We all shared the view that the day time tour would probably be better and that we would definitely be interested in returning in the light.

A very old and elaborately carved door led into another room.

B575D710-469F-4A4D-A88C-C428277D1868

This housed a chained library, a collection of books dating back to the 17th century and one of the original libraries which Humphrey Chetam had planned for five parish churches in the region. As you see in the photographs, each book is attached by a metal chain to the cabinet or library. There were originally four of these libraries (the fifth was never printed) and members of the public could sit at the cabinet, which was usually attached to their church’s pulpit. Whilst not as convenient as the modern lending libraries we enjoy, this provided a great opportunity for individuals to access the written word. In addition to the one below which it already owns, Chetam’s is hoping to purchase a second from a private owner in the near future. Very sadly, the two others are believed to have been destroyed years ago, some of the precious books having been found in second-hand book shops in Manchester. Understandably, we were not allowed to touch those books either, but the curator opened one for us so that we could read a little of the ‘Old English’. In fact, it was not ‘Old English’ at all but the language was of its period and therefore is old-fashioned to the 21st century reader. Perhaps it was presumed we would not understand the difference.

The chained library was, for me, the most interesting exhibit. From there, we took a look inside a tiny room where the school master would have been able to look through a slot in a wooden panel down into the baronial hall to listen in on the school boys gathered below. Today, it houses the visitors’ book and an assortment of pens, some designed to look like quills.

Within an hour we had looked around all the permitted areas and at as much as we were allowed to touch and able to see in the darkness, so it was time for wine in the baronial hall. Mince pies were available but they were not included in the ticket price (£22) and there were no alternative beverages for any tee-teetotallers. None of the staff or volunteers mingled or asked for feedback or if we had any questions, and long before the advertised finish time of 8 pm, all visitors had departed.

Our verdict (shared by those participants we spoke to, though others may have had a different opinion) was that Chetam’s Library is undoubtedly a fascinating place and well worth a visit, but in the day time for the guided tour which costs less than a third of the price of the Unscripted event, and at 45 minutes lasts about as long as it took us to go round, but with the benefit of a person to explain the exhibits. We were expecting much more, as suggested by the advertising, and there were none of the ‘surprises’ we were promised, ghostly or otherwise. Chetam’s is a Manchester gem but it needs the light to bring out the sparkle.

 

Sun Stands Still

ADD91410-2DF7-41AB-AA8F-0823310BECD6

In the past I used to wish away the time between November and March but in recent years I’ve come to appreciate winter, if not quite like it. I have adjusted my mindset and my expectations of the season and the weather, and instead of feeling frustrated at how I perceive my plans repeatedly thwarted by ice and rain and cancelled trains, or my activities limited by short days and lack of light, I have altered my own rhythms and lifestyle to fall in with nature.

That being said, I still do not look forward to winter’s arrival, and although I have made peace with it I still rejoice when the days start to lengthen again, and feel positively buoyant when the season has departed.

Today is the shortest day, a day later than the solstice usually falls. Apparently, yesterday was one second longer. Solstice translates from Latin as sun stands still when for three days our star holds its lowest position of elevation in the sky before it starts once again to ascend, bringing the promise of new life.

Last year’s beautiful blooms have withered now but look graceful in their dignified decay.

 

Though there are still splashes of colour and signs of life.

The cat mint, virulent and super fragrant all summer and into the early autumn looks dead to me; brown twigs rotting in the damp soil. I think Paddy cat’s keener sense of smell may still detect the faint delightful aroma, or perhaps he’s reflecting too, on memories of warmer days and basking in olfactory pleasures.

9C9A44C3-6634-49AA-B49F-03D87658390E

In the autumn I dug up a little crimson rose bush which wasn’t thriving, diminished and crowded out by its bigger neighbours. It had stopped flowering when I transferred it to a large pot and hoped for the best. This week, a solitary new rose has opened up. A magical sign of things to come in the darkest week of the year.

The winter jasmine is in full bloom and the ivy looks as good as ever.

 

It will soon be dark again but right now the sky is still blue and it’s not too cold; a perfect moment to sit in the garden and enjoy a cup of tea with Jasper cat.

DF3D5E58-6B24-40CC-8EE2-FC046E31EE58

and meditate on the cycle of life

E67D72F7-AEE0-4233-BA6C-77A58606CF5B

and the sound of a lone bird

A74BE547-79AE-4D29-9F85-1AB5C35488DB

In a few weeks from now there will be the first stirrings from beneath the ground, green shoots emerging and new beginnings. For now, it’s still time to rest while Mother Earth works her magic in secret.

EFD0E37D-7565-4C06-8D09-9403345A85D5

 

Visiting The Berlin Wall, a retrospective

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the opening up of the Berlin wall. In the days that followed, euphoric, defiant Berliners – some with their bare hands – tore down sections of the ominous structure which had dissected their city for 28 years. Constructed almost overnight in 1961, the wall had split Berlin in two, dividing families and friends, not just into two halves of the city but into two countries, and two very different worlds.

I remember watching the scenes on the news back in November 1989, witnessing the droves of East Berliners heading through the city check points into West Berlin and out of the Soviet Union.

The world of political intrigue, spies and conspiracy theories has always captured my imagination, inside the pages of novels and on the screen. One of my favourite authors is John Le Carre, and the brilliant ‘The Spy who Came in from the cold’ is one of his best. Set in Berlin in the 1960s, the story of espionage has at its centre the sinister and ever-looming presence of the wall.

In October 2015 I visited Berlin to finally see the wall for myself.  From the U-bahn station right outside our hotel in the vibrant and Bohemian Friedrichshain area it was just a 10 minute ride to  AlexanderPlatz in the centre of the city.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

The Berlin Radio Tower dominated from above, another dark reminder of Soviet control.  From there we walked to the East Side Gallery as the last remnant of the wall is now known.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

The Gallery is 1,316-long and a heritage-protected landmark which attracts millions of visitors each year. It consists of over 100 paintings by internationally renowned artists. Most of the works are poignant, some hard-hitting, on themes of freedom and oppression. Below are just a few.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Over the years, ordinary Berliners have made their own marks through the addition of graffiti. Some of the damaged art was been restored, but not all. It was easy to lose perspective as we admired and took photographs of why this structure was erected and what it represented for so many people for so many years.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

There is graffiti all over Berlin

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

and some interesting street art too

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

The Brandenburg Gate was built in the 18th century on the land of the Electors of Brandenburg, near to their traditional hunting ground, the Tiergarten. When the wall fell in November 1989, Berliners from east and west of the city converged on both sides of the wall at the site of Brandenburg Tor (gate), united in their determination to break down the barrier that separated them. It was spine-tingling to be standing there myself. Of course, the area looked so very different in 2015.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Checkpoint Charlie, the American Army border crossing, is now iconic, and a museum piece. The place where many lost their lives, shot down as they attempted to defect to the west, looked slightly surreal in the middle of what had become a thriving shopping street.

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

SAMSUNG DIGIMAX 420

Throughout the 1990s and the beginning of 21C, Berlin has reinvented itself as a beacon for culture, freedom and liberty whilst cherishing and rebuilding its great heritage. I have read that there are mutterings about finally removing that last section of what many in Germany feel should now be assigned to history. I completely understand that. I’m just glad I had the chance to see it.

 

 

Bruges in six hours

C4EBB85B-6072-46E7-B75B-DC135A197EC5

A European city break has become something of an October tradition for me. For the past six or seven years I have looked forward to a few days on the continent, but this year,  and last,  I tried something a bit different, choosing to sail rather than fly, and spending just a day at my destination. Last week I set off on a three day round trip to the lovely Belgian city of Bruges.

FB27E92B-9B98-404D-ACE5-62C62A259183

 

We departed from the port of Hull at 6:30pm on Tuesday for an overnight sail to Zeebrugge. The 14 hour crossing was smooth and relaxing on calm water. Having traversed the North Sea several times now, my early fears of sea-sickness or sinking have been eradicated. Basic cabins are small – sometimes VERY small – but serve their purpose for the two nights on board; other amenities on P&O ferries are excellent. My feelings about sailing have changed, and I now look forward to the voyage as part of my mini break. We docked at the Belgian port on Wednesday morning as we watched the sun rise over our continental breakfast.

From Zeebrugge it was just a 30 minute coach ride to the historic city of Bruges. Setting us down just outside the city centre, our driver gave us directions and told us what time to meet up again later in the day.

 


40479DFD-8E78-46B7-A434-F6756A191091

Bruges is well-known for its horse-pulled carriages, a popular way for tourists to see the city. Personally, I don’t like horses being used like this when there’s so much traffic on the roads, just as a touristy gimmick. I was glad to see though that the animals I encountered seemed well cared for.

We walked through a small water park where bold evergreens contrasted with muted yellows and russets on sparse branches and passed an attractive building with paving in the style of a chess board.

 

Bruges is a small city and it’s perfectly possible for most people to be able to walk around the central areas in a day, visiting museums and stopping off at cafes and restaurants along the way; but I was with my mum, who has mobility difficulties and uses a walking aid, so we went at a slower pace and decided to get a flavour rather than try everything on the menu. One wonderful flavour which dominates in Bruges is chocolate.

 

 

 

Belgian chocolate is famous the world over. Walk around Bruges and your nose will twitch with delight at the rich aroma escaping from the abundance of artisan shops on every street. Most sell the same range of goodies whilst others offer a more bespoke and artistic selection at a higher price. Many chocolatiers had created special Halloween treats such as the skulls in the window in the photo above. Another famous Belgian confection is the sweet waffle, served with a variety of toppings including fresh cream, strawberries, chocolate sauce, hot caramel and ice cream to name a few. Waffles are cooked fresh as street food and are also on the menu in most cafes.

We continued our leisurely stroll towards the centre of the city, passing the canal where we admired the swans and watched one of the city tour boats heading under the bridge.

DA9E824E-2968-4A85-8405-5650E9379E65
44C755BC-769E-4E40-B40A-D8FB87704E27

Undeterred by my misgivings about the design of the tour boats, mum and I decided to view Bruges from the water, not one of my better decisions as it turned out. We made our way to one of the landing stages and paid our €10 each. Despite there being two other empty vessels waiting, we were ushered into the first, which already seemed to me to be overloaded. Mum required some help getting in, and those already seated were urged by the skipper to squash up. To our dismay, about six other people were made to get in after us, with an American lady being quite vocal about wanting to board one of the other boats instead. Her pleas fell on deaf ears. So off we sailed, packed in like sardines, low in the water and barely able to move. Photography was not easy, but I did get some shots of what was a very picturesque waterside vista.

1F7D8584-9BD5-4094-8345-873E64060A4D

 


62164F8F-57D5-4FFA-B3DF-F24051C8A6C4

 

 

 

 

 

The crow-stepped architectural style is typical of buildings all over the city. Once a major European trading port, Bruges – or Brugge, in Flemish – has evolved since medieval times and incorporates a variety of styles as revealed as we wound our way around the bends and under the ancient low bridges. Unfortunately, our rather primitive sailing vessel was not equipped with the usual audio ports and headphones which provide an interesting accompaniment to any tour, in a range of languages; instead we relied on our skipper, unenthusiastically pointing out a few key landmarks and furnishing us with sparse details in French, Spanish, German and English, always in that order. By the time we got to the English bit, the landmark would be behind us and impossible to view when any movement would surely knock one’s neighbour into the water. Back at the landing stage our joyful skipper told us it was customary to tip the driver and stood with his hand outstretched by way of an extra visual clue. We waited for the other passengers to disembark so that mum had time to carefully step up on to the bank, and to his credit our guide did lend a hand, but then spoiled the gesture by demanding the ‘customary’ tip which I had to give in order to get past him. Other people have told me of lovely experiences on the Bruges canals, so I guess we were just unlucky, and it was the only negative of the day.

5DA60313-A13F-4E30-9784-7C8D7500C420

I spotted an interesting looking door in an old wall and decided to investigate.

0920AA92-12B4-45EC-AEF7-0DCE14659F8C

We found ourselves inside a passage way which opened up into the courtyard of the Beguinge or Begijnhof. Dedicated to St Elisabeth of Hungary, this was once a church and religious community of Benedictine nuns, founded in 1245, though the present buildings date back to the 1600s only. The nuns dedicated their lives to prayer and simplicity but didn’t take vows and could leave the community at any time. Now, the church is still open and some of the buildings are part of a museum. Numerous signs indicated that visitors should be silent and not take photographs (saw that one too late) so we didn’t stick around, despite the peaceful atmosphere.

F355F8D6-CECC-4200-BB17-F1A7E074ECD6

 

Unfortunately, the quaint cobbles of some of Bruges’ main streets were, like the rest of the modern world, subject to construction works, which made navigation just a tad trickier, but as we slowly made our way along we enjoyed browsing in some of the specialist shop windows. Bruges is also famous for textile production going back centuries, mainly cloth and lace. This tradition is still well represented with souvenirs aplenty.

E969D711-2EF5-4876-ACB5-BCB01E746721

 

By this time we were ready for lunch, which necessarily included waffles. Everywhere was crowded but friendly and we took some time to relax and watch the world go by. There really is something special about Europe in the autumn.

With half our allotted time remaining, we ventured on, reaching the busy market square and arguably Bruges’ best known landmark, the Belfry. I had at first been excited to learn that Wednesday was market day, and had visions of exquisite little curiosity stalls where I would be tempted to part with me euros. Unfortunately, it was a market like any other, selling the usual commodities, but there was an definite buzz around the cafes and the entrances to the interesting side streets.

4FEACD7B-AF9B-43A8-B522-B43911BFC3CE
3A818B2D-2B6B-4F6C-A54E-B24FE4D42165

Typical selfish tourist, I was quite put out that such banal commercial activity was spoiling this ( market) square and my photo opportunities. At 83m high, the Belfry is a dominant presence in Bruges. Like so many other buildings, it was constructed in the 13th century, originally as an observation post attached to a market hall. It later served as the city treasury and municipal archives. Visitors can ascend its 366 steps to get a fabulous view of the whole of Bruges. If only I’d had time….

The hour is marked by the beautiful ringing of the Belfry’s 16th century carillon, consisting of 47 bells of which 26 are still in full working order.

299B8A98-C080-404D-AC07-D53107A719F8
605B0E3A-7CA3-420B-A814-210E1E3ECDA0

We decided on one of the attractive looking streets leading off from the market square. At first I thought we could have chosen better, as we seemed to have found ourselves on a long and modern shopping street. A few twists and turns brought us to Saint Saviour’s Cathedral, so we decided to go inside.

Brugge was the home of the old Flemish Masters, so it should not have come as a surprise that the city’s Cathedral was in some ways a gallery of religious art. We spent longer than expected admiring the rich oil paintings and intricate sculptures along with more modern interpretations of Christian expression. Below are just a few.

57DF1A0F-60C3-4B6C-81B5-F180B6A9F14C
887030D5-7021-4E7C-A481-6B42001F3519

 

 

 


477C6E8E-7D01-4547-8CA5-C22D2254EDB6

 

We emerged from the Cathedral into the sunshine again and decided to spend our last hour-and-a-half meandering through the streets and along the canals back to the water park. We found that the views from the pavement were actually just as good as from the water, and certainly more comfortable.

11A40E4F-9CB2-476D-8E8D-B7FA8DB16DEF
68D78017-F58E-4215-B9F3-21259E8AE73A
6CB035E8-ECD0-4957-9358-05211C1B1F98
1B6DAEC6-4C7A-4B3C-AD96-368D6F72CDE3

 


859CB8F9-CA89-4C2C-9E39-1BD35E740EBF

We only really scratched the surface but felt that once again we had experienced an amazing day out a long way from home.

Travelling back in time

DSCF8373

Last year saw rail chaos in the north of England. At its peak during the summer months hundreds of trains in the region were cancelled every day; of those that ran, far more were delayed than were on time. The impact on my life was minimal compared with the horrific experiences endured daily by thousands of people who depended on Northern trains to get them to and from work. By way of compensation for some of my delayed journeys, Northern sent me several travel vouchers entitling me to free rail journeys. This small collection of freebies has remained in a drawer for nearly a year, so this weekend I thought I’d make use of a couple of them before they expired.

The first leg of the journey was to Grange-over-Sands.It was going to be a changeable day according to the Met Office, and as we sped across the viaduct at Arnside the bright sunshine of early morning was replaced by threatening cloud with the first of the day’s light showers appearing just as I alighted at Grange. I briefly regretted not bringing an umbrella, but the rain had stopped by the time I boarded the bus outside Grange Station to get to my next destination.

DSCF8359

 

 

 

Just 17 minutes later I alighted at Haverthwaite railway station. This once busy branch line of the Furness Railway transported iron ore to the industrial regions of the north west of England until the industry finally went into decline. Popular also with holiday-makers travelling to Lake Windermere, the station finally closed to passengers in 1965 and to freight trains two years later. From the time of the line’s demise, work was going on behind the scenes to purchase steam engines and carriages for preservation. These were stored at nearby Carnforth until a deal would be struck with British Rail for the line to be sold into private ownership. Seven years later, after numerous obstacles, objections and with the support of parliamentary lobbying, the purchase was realised and in 1973 the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway Company reopened the line. The station has been beautifully restored, developed and maintained; shiny red paintwork, window boxes, planters and shrubs offer a welcome contrast with the usual soulless modern railway buildings.

I had planned my day so that I would have an hour or so to spare before boarding the vintage train to Lakeside. Hungry by this time, I decided to try out the tea rooms for some lunch. Walking from the front to the platform, I passed a huge pile of coal, obviously fuel for the steam trains. For environmental reasons, Haverthwaite and other vintage train attractions may not be around for too much longer as we seek to reduce our national carbon footprint. I wanted to ride in a train of yesteryear before the last of them are shunted off to museums.

DSCF8370
DSCF8374

 

After a tasty and substantial lunch in the pleasant and reasonably-priced (if somewhat over-crowded) tea rooms I had just 10 minutes to wait before our engine, Victor, chugged up to the platform, whistle blowing and enveloped in an aura of steam. The returning passengers emerged, and it was time to board.

DSCF8378
DSCF8381

Like the tea rooms, the train was mainly occupied by young and very noisy children, and I felt rather like I was tagging along on a pre-school outing. I tried to talk myself into a more tolerant, less grumpy, mindset, but then another young family took the seats behind and started to sing with great gusto (the parents in particular) about the wheels on the train going round and round all day long. As always on such occasions I resorted to my trusty ear-plugs which remained in place for the next 20 minutes. Settling into my sagging but nostalgically comfortable seat, I appreciated the tints of autumn on display through the window as the train’s gentle rhythm merged harmoniously with the melodic sounds of Agnes Obel. The wheels on the train went round and round, the whistle blew, and trails of white steam floated past the window and up above the pastoral scenery.

DSCF8391
DSCF8392

Arriving at Lakeside station on the southern tip of Lake Windermere, it was time to leave Victor the steam engine and start the next part of my journey. I observed that almost all of the people with children were heading towards the adjacent Lakeside Aquarium; so that explained it. This must be a typical weekend lunch/ train/ marine life combo.

DSCF8400
DSCF8401

I’m glad I made the trip, just for the experience, but I wouldn’t rush back. It was time to get in the queue for my next embarkation.

On the cusp of seasons

779BE88B-F2AF-49AA-8671-CD77E4476DD7

Well, what a changeable summer we had here in the UK! August in particular was wetter and cooler than usual here in the north west of England. We also had a few exceedingly hot days which were most welcome. This summer I spent more time at home than usual, relishing those dry, warm days and, like a contented sloth, lazing in the garden, admiring nature’s handiwork in which my own efforts have played a small part. Not knowing how many more luxuriously sultry, blazing days might still be to come – or not – I made the most of each, in case it was to be the last.

I also became something of a wimp as far as travelling was concerned. I hope this is a temporary thing. I found repeatedly that I could not muster much enthusiasm for being out in the countryside or at the coast – or anywhere – in heavy rain, or in cramped, sticky, sweaty trains or buses on the hotter days. As autumn advances I’m sure I shall once again return to my gallivanting ways, but it has actually been rather lovely slowing down and enjoying my own small but exclusive green space.

Autumn is here. Instinctively, I hold with the ancient calendars which place the start of autumn in August at the time of the first harvests. There is a tangible shift which is felt most keenly in those colder, damper evenings.

3DBAFF4C-D7C1-44F7-83E0-3E9851F57DB4

The blackberries in my hedges, which appeared for the first time two years ago, have been and gone. Blackberries remind me fondly of childhood when we used to go as a family on long walks, parents and siblings all harvesting the plump purple fruits in old ice cream tubs or Tupperware containers, fingers stained blue and arms invariably scratched from delving into prickly brambles. Those days are distant memories, and nowadays I leave my own miniature crop for the birds to enjoy.

The wild flowers have all died back now and new growth has slowed down. The rose bushes are still adorned with buds but I know from experience that many of those will not open. Those still in full bloom continue to nourish wild life.

6AA7903E-25C2-4CC6-93BA-DA8B6BBBB126

It has been a joy to see so many butterflies in the garden this year, mainly feasting on the verbena, which has been a triumph. There will be more of that next year too. Some of my graceful visitors are below: commas, small whites, small tortoiseshells, peacocks, speckled woods (I think!) and painted ladies which arrived en masse in late July.

43ADE695-81F8-4627-9A47-05AF198886FB

3E081A03-DE64-40FB-8AA8-0A1CF2B0CE93
2962CAB2-5D55-4985-B9A7-A4D2CE2A2743


238A4F1D-5E72-450D-A082-3004BEE593E9
DE3B52CB-F1F2-4623-A2F1-13460DCDFF6F

In mid September we are still enjoying some fine sunny days. There is still a lot of colour. The shop-bought Nigella seeds have, like last year, added so much beauty to every part of the garden in shades of white and various blues. They are amazing, growing vigorously and splendidly wherever the seeds were scattered.

Most have now finished blooming, their stunning seed heads continuing to delight.

A few have already turned brown and as thin and dry as old paper. The black seeds rattle inside their shells. After releasing and collecting them I’ll store in a dry dark place until the spring when they can be planted, providing me with an abundance of new plants for free.

0132ABB3-5216-4C06-B86C-6938170096EB

It will soon be time to place the spring bulbs in the earth and to cut back the spent growth so that it may rest over the winter until it’s time for the cycle of growth to start again. For now, I’ll enjoy this warm start to the autumn, relishing every moment.