Sunday, 26 February 2017

Ultimate Staycation?

At the moment, my teen seems barely back from one adventure before she's planing another, and to be honest it's making me feel a bit stuck-at-home. I don't really think this early in the year is the time for holidays but it's nearly March and Spring should be with us soon, tempting me with thoughts of seaside and paddling. I can't plan anything far in advance because my parents are both in their nineties and their health isn't good; for the same reason, if I do manage to go on holiday, I can't be away for more than a couple of days.
Anyway, I've been thinking, plotting, and making lists - of where I would like to visit if there no restrictions, of the cute, quaint, quirky places I'd like to stay (mainly this involves a long time scrolling through the websites of the Landmark Trust and Sawday's Canopy and Stars), but more of these later. The first one is the Ultimate Staycation - not just staying in the UK (which is what I do anyway) but staying at home and behaving as if I were on holiday.  Although we often go out at weekends it tends to be to the same places - Shipley Country Park, Carsington Reservoir, Cromford, Chatsworth. I think this year is time to try somewhere new ... so here's ten places I'd like to visit within an easy drive of home ...

Firstly, something I will have to do within the next week or so - a snowdrop walk. OK I've already been to my 'regular' spots at Shipley and Calke this year, but other snowdrops ARE available. I'd love one year to be able to see them at Walsingham or Anglesey Abbey, or visit the Shaftesbury Snowdrop Festival, but for now somewhere local will do. Both Hopton Hall in Derbyshire and Hodsock Priory in Nottinghamshire open their gardens during February for the snowdrops displays, and I'm determined to see one of them, at least!

If snowdrops mark the beginning of Spring, bluebells mark Summer's arrival. Our local wood is carpeted with them and at Lea Bridge in Derbyshire there is an amazing bluebell-covered hillside, but, although I'll be going back to both of these, I'd love to find more. As yet, I don't know of any within a reasonable distance, but there must be somewhere.

Sticking with the flowery theme but in a more general way, I'd like to visit at least one of the private gardens open for charity as part of the NGS. I always pick up their yellow booklet, always say I'll go along, but never do. So there's a late resolution - pick one, and visit it.

Then there's a number of historic houses within a reasonable distance of home that I'd like to visit -

Newstead Abbey in Nottinghamshire, home of Lord Byron. A place I often visited as a child but now I live further away it's not so convenient. Dogs are allowed in the gardens so we can possibly make this a full-day trip and go walking in Sherwood Forest too if there's time.

Eyam Hall - a manor house, now owned by the National Trust, in Derbyshire's famous 'plague village'

Another National Trust property, this time near Leicester, Stoneywell is a much newer house built at the end of the nineteenth century in Arts and Crafts style. I've been intending to visit since the National Trust took the property over a couple of years ago but having to pre-plan and book in advance has stopped me getting round to it.

Bromley House Library, Nottingham - a subscription library set up in 1816, and hidden behind an anonymous door. It's open to the public for booked tours but, you've guessed, I've never been organised enough to book! This year I will.

Peveril Castle, Castleton, Derbyshire - I love exploring castles so I don't really know why I've never visited Peveril. Fortunately dogs are allowed in, as this is one of the furthest 'staycation' jaunts and I wouldn't be happy to leave our dog home alone too long.

In much the style of the open gardens, there are a couple of schemes which open private houses and other buildings to the public. Among those included on Heritage Open Days is North Lees Hall near Hathersage, the 'model' for Thornfield Hall in Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, yet another place I've been intending to visit for years but never have.

Last on this list is a trip to somewhere, anywhere within the National Forest. It's a huge area to the south of Derby that's been gradually forested, adding new plantations to older woods and copses, and with walking trails and picnic areas. Although the opposite side of Derby, I can't quite think why we've not explored it before. It's just the kind of place I'd look for on holiday away from home, and ideal for taking the dog along, so it ought to be perfect for holidaying here.

So I have a list - all do-able with a bit of planning. The important things I feel to make a day or two out and about feel like a holiday are to get up early, ignore household chores and the lure of the internet, and try to not spend the evening in front of the TV (although I've had plenty of wet autumn holidays when I've done just that!). Hopefully a day or two spent this way will feel as refreshing as a weekend away from home.

Edit - I didn't get anywhere near to doing all the things I'd planned but did visit Hopton Hall snowdrops, and got out and about to lots of new on-the-doorstep places Staycation Part 2

Friday, 24 February 2017

Educating Rita - Derby Theatre

Last weekend, as a vaguely birthday-treat outing, we all went off to Derby Theatre to see Educating Rita. It's a play I'm familiar with from the Michael Caine/Julie Walters film but I've never seen it performed live, so I was curious how it would compare.

We booked a little on the late side, and ended up nearly central but almost at the back; even so Derby's single tier, banked auditorium gives a good view from anywhere as I think you can see from this shot I took before the performance started.

David Birrell played Frank, a university lecturer forced into taking on an Open University student (Rita, played by Jessica Baglow) for the extra cash. He's not looking forward to it at all, but Rita proves to be a breath of fresh air wafting through his sheltered, blinkered academic life. She's looking for something more to life than hairdressing and having children - an idea that doesn't go down well with her husband.
Although there were obvious similarities with the film  - after all it's give or take the same script, Rita is always Liverpudlian and Frank on the slightly posh side -  it didn't in any way feel like just a stage version of it. The most noticeable aspect was staging - the film gets to play around with a variety of locations; the play takes place in one, Frank's university study/office - but I was also struck with how it seemed funnier. The lines are the same, Peer Gynt still looks best on the radio, but Birrell and Baglow put their own twists on the delivery and timing, and of course there was packed house laughing at them,which you don't get sitting at home watching a dvd. It's awhile since I've been to the theatre and I don't think I could have found a better play to lure me back.

I found an extra surprise when I got home and read the programme. Rita's favourite book Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown is an actual book. I'd never heard of it and always assumed it was a title dreamed up by Willy Russell to illustrate a point. I think I now need to read it!

Monday, 20 February 2017

Calke Abbey snowdrops - and palm trees!

Another day, another snowdrop walk - this time to the National Trust's Calke Abbey.

The house itself seems to sit in almost bare fields; perhaps once these were manicured lawns designed to not distract the approaching visitor from the house itself, though like much at Calke they now appear a little shabby and worn down, especially at the end of winter.

The woodland walk carpeted with snowdrops is found a short distance from the house, next to the walled kitchen gardens - it's up a slight hill but you can catch a ride on a buggy if you prefer (my family don't appreciate the fun of this and make me walk!)

There were more snowdrops in the walled garden, displayed more formally on the staging of the Auricula Theatre. Each of these pots contains a different variety. I was surprised to see how many there were; some with quite striking differences.

There's more to see than just snowdrops,even at this time of year - hazel catkins and witch-hazel flowers.

Palm trees - outside even in an English winter

and in the shelter of the orangery.

We investigated inside the spooky ice house ...

... and found an even more terrifying tunnel leading under the gardens. In the middle, there was so little light that I couldn't see the walls on either side of me, but fortunately the tunnel is straight so the light at the end is always visible.

But the biggest surprise of the day was the arrival of a small herd of deer, running down from somewhere beyond the House and car park, and stopping barely a hundred metres from us. Obviously they knew we were well behaved folk who would stay behind the garden's fencing and not disturb them, but I wonder how often they jump the other way ...

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Shipley Snowdrops

I love snowdrops! Coming into flower just as you start to think Winter will never end, they promise longer, warmer days and Spring not far away.

Crocuses when they arrive may be brighter and showier but don't spread in such drifts along flower beds or under trees.

A few milder days this week have brought my garden snowdrops into flower so on Saturday we went out to Shipley Country Park to check how things were advancing there.

We were perhaps a little early and not all the plants were in full flower. The untouched part of the Shipley estate is on a hill, and often seems chillier than the surrounding flatter fields which were once part of open-cast mining.

The snowdrops were presumably set in the days when there was a hall at Shipley (its floor-plan is still marked out to see), lining the approach to the house and running through the wooded areas just outside the more formal gardens. Today they form huge blocks of flowers and look just stunning.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Two Weeks of One Hour Outside

You might remember that, after some initial doubts, I decided to join in with the One Hour Outside challenge as seen on Splodz Blog

I started out very enthusiastically - the weather was comparatively mild; I discovered that just hanging out and fetching in the laundry takes 15 to 20 minutes; there were lots of things that needed doing in the garden, such as tidying up last year's dead foliage to see the snowdrops coming through; I even took a few extra minutes to watch the sunset or look at the moon.

It's the time of year when gardeners start to think about what to grow come the warmer months, whether flowers or vegetables, so I spent some time outside pottering about, looking at spaces and planning what to sow and where.

So for the first few days of the month things were going fine, with round about an hour outside every day.
Then ... towards the end of the first week, temperatures dropped; at first just raw and cold, then snow and cold drizzle descended, and I barely wanted to walk outside to the dustbins!

The last couple of days we've been back to milder weather, so I'm back to pottering around, trying to encourage the snowdrops to flower, if nothing more!
I'd like though, for the last weeks of February, to get further outside than just round my garden. With luck this weather will hold till weekend when I'm hoping to go out and about on snowdrop-themed walks at Shipley Country Park and Calke Abbey

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Top Ten Love Stories for Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day so what better than a Top Ten of Love Stories - not all necessarily ending in happy ever after...

Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier - a long-distance kind of love as Inman battles his way back from the horrors of the American Civil War to his love Ada waiting, and barely surviving, on Cold Mountain

The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje - an anonymous, horrifically burned man lies in a hospital bed. Gradually his backstory is revealed - one of passion, betrayal and tragedy.

Persuasion by Jane Austen - Anne Elliot and Capt Wentworth met, fell in love, and were parted by interfering relations. When they meet after several years, will they fall in love again?

The Ballroom by Anna Hope - meeting in a mental institution may not seem like the best start for a love story but this is where John and Ella meet, and love blossoms.

A Room With A View by E M Forster - Lucy Honeychurch is a conventional young 'miss' till she travels to Italy and encounters art, scenic views and love.

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy - Gabriel Oak's steady, reliable love contrasts with Bathsheba Everdene's impetuous passions.

The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger - Clare lives life as we all do, progressing from A to Z in a straight line. Henry's rather different, darting backwards and forwards in time.

Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy - three love stories for your money; one happy, one tragic, one 'middling'.

Versions of Us by Laura Barnett - Again, more than one story, but this time with the same 'lead' characters.  Eva swerves her bike and Jim steps forward to help her, but from that point on their story splits into three different versions.

Possession by A S Byatt -  two university researchers follow a paper trail of letters and diaries, and stumble upon a secret love affair between two Victorian writers. Part detective novel, part love story, it's one of my all time favourite reads

links take you to OurBookReviewsOnline for, you guessed, longer reviews :)

Friday, 10 February 2017

Fifty Years of Holidays in Scotland

Just before Christmas I saw a request on Twitter from kilt-makers MacGregor MacDuff for memories of Scotland, of why it holds such a special place in the heart of many of us, even non-Scots, and as it has to be my favourite holiday destination, I decided to join in. You can find my piece for them here on their website, but something I hadn't realised till I looked out old photographs was that I'd been visiting on and off for 50 years (!) I've no idea how many trips that works out as; some years I've missed out (last year was one), others I've been two or three times.

This is me, all those years ago, by Loch Lomond

What I do know is that, after earlier holidays spent on the caravan sites of Lincolnshire, I loved everything about that first camping trip - putting up the tent, cramming everything back into the car next day, staying in B+Bs when it rained, forests and mountains, lochs and seaside, a real castle in Edinburgh. It was magical!


Since then I've been back time and time again, to most areas from Gretna Green to John O'Groats, Edinburgh to Ardnamurchan, and island-hopping to Mull, Islay, Skye, Harris, and Lewis.

Dolphins at Chanonry Point
 I've seen dolphins, red deer, golden eagles, sea otters; stayed in touring caravans, self-catering cottages, B+Bs of all shapes and sizes, and even a castle; visited stately homes, gardens, crofters' museums, iron age brochs, castles, black houses, a crannog, cairns and stone circles. 

Edinburgh from the castle

I love Edinburgh when it's packed in August, and the empty beaches of the West Coast. 
And, of course, I'm still finding new places to go, for there's a LOT to see and experience. There are lots of islands I'd still like to visit from Gigha to Shetland. I want to see more of Aberdeenshire's castles, or go on a whale-watching trip. Sometimes I feel I'd like to take the tent and just go wherever I end up - then I think it might be comfortable to stay in a cosy B+B.


Obviously over fifty years some things have changed, the most noticeable being the roads, particularly further north. You'll no longer find a twisting single-track A-road with grass growing down the middle, steep hillls that were more worrying going down than up, or come across the small ferries like Ballachulish, Stromeferry, and Kylesku that were a necessary part of the road network but have now been replaced by bridges. Maybe it's a little less romantic to be able to drive across a bridge to Skye, and certainly some of the intrepid adventuring feel has gone, but there are still plenty of off-the-beaten-track places where you can discover the 'joys' of single track roads.

West coast sunset

People, I find, have pre-conceived ideas about Scotland - it's quite small; well, no, it's not. In part I blame the road signs which just say "Scotland" as if it's one city-sized place, but I think folk envisage somewhere the size of Cornwall, and then are surprised how far Inverness is from the border, or how long it will take to drive to Ullapool before you catch a two and half hour ferry out to Stornoway!

Swimming at Crinan Ferry

- it's cold and wet all the time - again, no! Maybe it's not as hot as the south of Spain or Greece, but I'm guessing no one's heading to Scotland with the intent of spending all day on a sun-lounger by a pool. Summer days are longer than in England, and go north in June and it's almost light through the night. The Gulf Stream warms the west coast enough for palm trees to grow, and the sea to be warm enough to swim in.

Sadly though one rumour is true - the evil highland midges; find a spot with some breeze if you want to enjoy a bite-free sunset. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

The One Hour Outside Challenge

Browsing through blogs last week, I came across this idea on  Splodz Blogz - the One Hour Outside Challenge, basically encouraging everyone to spend an hour outside every day in February. My immediate reaction was - not me, thank you very much! I'll stay inside warm and dry while hubby walks the dog.

But February came along today and the weather was mild, even if damp at first before the clouds parted and blue sky appeared, so I wandered outside, checked the slow progress of the snowdrops, decided to plant out a new Christmas rose, and before I realised, I'd been pottering about for half and hour or so. Later, as the day brightened, I took 10 minutes hanging out washing, another 15 or 20 sorting uncompostable garden rubbish for the dustbin, 10 more to fetch the washing back inside (and look at the moon just becoming visible as the sky darkened), and, in the evening after my book club, at least another 10 waiting to be picked up. Add those bits of time up, and they're comfortably over an hour.

So ... I'm going to give this a go. There'll things that I regularly do - gardening, walks to the library and the local shops - maybe on dry days I'll join in the dog walk, and later on his month I hope to be out to parks and gardens to see snowdrops in flower. I may not end up with an hour outside every day (I can't honestly imagine I'll do it in heavy rain) but at least I'll try.

If it feels like your sort of challenge, check the original post here

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

While the teen's away ...

As my teen's been away for the past few days in Rome, I thought it only fair that I too had a bit of a special weekend. So, in between the boring adult stuff like grocery shopping and a trip to Ikea, I went out to a couple of slightly more fun things ...

James Veck-Gilodi (Deaf Havana)
First up was an afternoon appearance by Deaf Havana at Nottingham Rough Trade to promote their new album, All These Countless Nights. Now, they've long been a favourite band of the teen's and she's seen them live several times, but I hadn't.

The audience space wasn't very big, and was absolutely jam-packed, making it difficult to see the band but, after so many years of listening to Deaf Havana cds and vinyls, it was great to hear them live at last.

Kevin Devine
Monday night (this was a long weekend after all) was time to head to Bodega, where US acts Kevin Devine and Laura Stevenson were playing, supported on the UK stage of their tour by The Lion and The Wolf, and, in Nottingham, by local singer/songwriter George Gadd. It was actually the opportunity to sneak out on my own (without the teen) and see George Gadd that drew me along, but I seem fated to always miss him - previously events have clashed and this weekend confusion over timings plus traffic problems on the way meant we arrived for just his last song. Strange to say, of the other acts, I enjoyed The Lion and the Wolf (actually one guy, named Thomas George) most, maybe because I've heard his music on line, and was certainly surprised that after three quiet-ish, acoustic acts Kevin Devine proved to have a noisier rock sound. All great fun though (and maybe one of these days I'll get to see George Gadd)

Walking back to the car it wasn't possible to miss the Big Wheel in the Market Square, but that was something I wasn't going to try - I'd rather take photographs from safe on the ground.