Saturday, 11 October 2014

Tynemouth Market at Tynemouth Station every Saturday and Sunday

If you like your meat free-range, your bread fresh and fragrant and your vegetables plump and tasty, then bring a little bit of cash with you to Tynemouth market and enjoy food the real and proper way.

And if you like the buzz of people enjoying their commerce, that alone will bring you back.

But if food and atmosphere don't do it for you, how could you not enjoy the floating iron tracery of a renovated Victorian railway station?

Usually when we go to Tynemouth market, it's the books Himself looks at, the plants, trinkets and crockery for me and the multiple toy stalls for the boy, who has a penchant for transformers and science-fiction figurines, selling at 50p or £1. The mass of colourful stalls and the chance of coming across something quite unusual attracts a hopeful horde of shoppers, who create a very cheerful ambiance.

Two weeks ago, however, what caught both our attention was the chance to buy our weekly food at the same time as our Saturday jaunt out.  Moorhouse Farm sausages, free-range chicken breasts, a French boule and some wonderful, good quality veggies and fruit all found their way home with us and I can honestly say that food shopping has never been so enjoyable.

The place sells much more than that, of course: furniture and fur coats, cutlery and cute homemade children's clothes, lace and LPs... 

In the past I've been lucky enough to pick up 1920 brass fingerplates for the house-doors, a copper jelly-mould, bone-handled cutlery, embroidered pillow cases.  Sssssh!  Actually, like the girl in the SECRET ESCAPES ad, I don't want to share the secrets of my own shopping passions or to let anyone else in on where to get things cheap... BUT, in the interests of honesty and this blog, Tynemouth market is a gem!

Monday, 15 September 2014

Down at the Farm, Houghton le Spring

Farm Adventure Park

On the A690 near the A19
Houghton le Spring DH5 8JP
0191 5841873
family ticket for 3 adults and 2 children: £26
open February to October with Santa experiences in December

Set on a hill which has panoramic views over to Penshaw monument, West towards Durham and North to Northumberland, Down at the Farm has an enviable, airy position.

Having had a recommendation from a colleague, we set off with Daughter number three and the two bairns aged 9 and 2 and spent a thoroughly enjoyable two and a half hours. The boy had a wide range of climbing frames, quad bikes and two amazing mouse-runs (imagine gerbil or hamster runs scaled up) to scoot through and the little one enjoyed the sandpits and the mini tractors.

Himself and Daughter loved the trip up to the top field to see the cows the best. Jimmy, the enormous pure-bred Hereford bull, has a harem of twenty five cows, including a wide-horned western-type steer. They watch the wide-eyed visitors with their liquid brown eyes and patiently and slowly move out of the way of the visiting trailer several times a day. The little ones adore it and the guide is willing to chat about his bull and cows to their parents.  I've got to say this was one of the highlights and you've really got to see the rude size of that bull!

And me? Well, the deer were elegant, the chicks adorable to the touch, the racoons sleeping in a tree surprising... I don't know what I liked best... maybe petting the cute rabbit, who reminded me of an old pet. I do like a friendly rabbit!

And of course there is much more: goats, sheep, a snake or two, a great tortoise, hens and geese...

And a tent in which to finish off your afternoon with tea, coffee biccies and ice cream. Oh bliss!

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Eglingham, The Tankerville Arms

Posh pub, great eating ( they have bedrooms too)
8 miles north west of Alnwick, on the way to Chillingham

Northumberland possesses that conflicting quality, doesn't it?  You know you have stumbled on something magnificent but not everybody knows about it and... you want to keep it for yourself.

I'd been talking about taking the boy to Chillingham to see the wild cattle but didn't really know where it was and our first rekky last week was way off the mark - the little leaflet they do suggests it's just outside Alnwick. In fact it's way past Eglingham on these amazing rolling roads, where every turn brings a new view of the misty blue Cheviots over undulating countryside and where the houses belong to another land, another century...

Okay, so the journey itself is a fantastic ride and for me that is fifty per cent of the joy of exploration.  And on the way you drive through pretty little Eglingham, which feels so cloistered away from the rest of the world. On the left going north there's this old sandstone pub, where you can park on the forecourt.  We saw locals walking down for their tea at The Tankerville Arms.

I think we were fortunate getting there before 6pm because all the tables had been booked but they did have a gap on one table in the bar so we grabbed it and had our drinks while we waited for the food to begin.

Himself had the steak and I had the lobster. Oh my goodness, what a greedy, gourmandising way to end the long summer break.  How nice the lasses and the manager were to us too.

And how nicely designed the pub furniture was too and how well polished; I loved the funny little carvings of trumpeters under the mantelpiece, the well-made modern stained glass in the doors, the chunky furniture - great details for a visitor to enjoy. Not part of a national chain nor is it rustic in any way.

Barter Books in Alnwick

About 35 miles North of Newcastle, take the A1 then the turning for Alnwick
Huge second-hand bookshop set within a Victorian railway station - barter system in full working order        
One of the largest in the UK
Tea, coffee, snacks and meals served in the comfortable waiting rooms
Accessible to all

Barter Books in Alnwick has got to be one of the marvels of the North.  It was set up in 1991 by Mary and Stuart Manley and acts as a repository for all kinds of texts, art to zoology, comedy to theology, children's literature to military history.

Dink kindly allowed me to take his picture at the desk, where the records of how much your books are worth are kept.
Here you will find book-lovers of every sort too, children through to octogenarians, academics through to lovers of romance.  And all enjoying that peculiarly gentle ambiance created by the browsing of books, simply for the pure pleasure of it.  I think it's that atmosphere which brings us back again and again. 

The mural by Peter Dodd of famous writers - don't worry there is a "key" to help you out.

Obviously others feel the same because the place is usually crowded and one couple chose to get married here!

Himself trusts the place to both provide useful texts for his studies and to give him a fair price for his own books for the staff seem to be both expert and fair.

I enjoy the arts and crafts section and I also adore the visual details provided by the specialist books on display or the tiny, old books, which have been opened at particularly decorative plates.

Wander under arches imprinted with famous words; watch the toy railway running above your head; settle yourself on padded benches or at a round table; sit by the fire and pour yourself a coffee and munch a biscuit; decode the life-size, famous writers' mural; relax and read.
Nostalgia is sweet

The place is beautifully warm, a perfect way to end your afternoon off and it's just as nice in the winter months too, even better when you think about sitting beside a roaring fire with a book in your hands.

Cheerfully chilled Chillingham

Chillingham Castle, the most haunted castle in Britain, about 10 miles north west of Alnwick
(either use the A1 to go north or take the road to Eglingham from Alnwick )

Home of Sir Humphry Wakefield Br.      
Chillingham from the front
C12th century stronghold
Fully fortified castle in 1344
C18th and C19th embellishments
Grounds by Sir Jeffrey Wyattville

Tea rooms open from 12- 5pm ( so see the wild cattle in the morning, consider a joint ticket).

Entrance to house and gardens: £9 per adult
NE66 5NJ
tel: 01668 215359

31st August 2014

Fantastic walking country
"Look out for the next big junction signed for Chillingham and Chatton," said Himself after we had passed the A6346 junction ... so I took the first junction for Chillingham ... We saw a lot of sheep, heather, clouds and mountains and, after the sensation of maybe being lost had passed, we settled down to enjoy the glorious views over the high dales before the road dropped down between pines and bracken;  we were soon at the great Chillingham gates and entered with that slight sense of trepidation normal people get when they pass between
towering gateposts and spikey bits of metal!

The tone of gothic creep-me-out continued throughout the whole parking experience underneath enormous moss-bedecked trees; read the careful notices disclaiming all responsibility for loss of life and limb whilst on the property; ignore the not so distant bellowing of wild cattle; watch out for the man-traps!

You need to walk a wee distance, less than a quarter of a mile on a wide gravel path, to get to the castle and what a castle!  Battlements, walled gardens, huge and domineering yew trees and statues - and that's only on the outside.  This medieval castle was built to inspire awe and its bat motifs, stone dragons and time-worn stone pediments only add to the somewhat Transylvanian atmosphere. Enter with care.   

Okay, so if you wanted to make a list of everything a medieval castle should have, what would it contain? Armour? Weapons like halberts and stuff? Hand gonnes? Broad swords and chain mail? What about a torture chamber? Ancient tapestries and ragged standards from bygone campaigns? Crusading memorabilia such as war-elephant head armour? A curse from a C17th Spanish witch if you steal from the castle?  Antlers and pelts from exotic beasts; Kingly artefacts and ghosts who tread behind you and leave a chill in the air...?
The C17th witch who curses thieves!

Teenagers will adore it. Anyone who loves a good historical romance or a fantasy by Terry Pratchett will pick up lots of resonances. A History buff like Himself will find the real articles (and there are MANY) on display and be able to touch them.  Perhaps not for the little kids though -  too gory, too surreal!

The family's C20th history is shared with the public too and the handwritten notes betray a deep personal interest and sense of humour.

Need I go on?  The thing about Chillingham, I realised, is that there's an awful lot of history in that place and as the place has stood in one family line since the twelfth century, they've managed to hold on to it in one place.  Amazing to think how one northern family's history has been documented for nearly a millennium.
Saracen armour

Himself and I loved this place.  The knot work garden provides a peaceful and lovely walk for the end of the visit. And we still didn't see the lakes and the cattle will have to wait for another day.  It will be another morning before an afternoon visit to the castle again with the boy and his slightly goth mum.

Imagine having a steam-punk wedding at this location!

Apparently a "presence" has been felt in the gardens...

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Hamsterley Forest - brilliant afternoon out

County Durham
Adventure forest, which includes heathland too
Lots of bike tracks
West off the A68 south of Tow Law
Fuel stops x 2 south of Tow Law- not between Corbridge and Tow law!
Accessibility: flattish walking.  Get the kids to bring wellies!

We had intended to take the boy to High Force but, after he was sick on the road - and he is usually never carsick, we started looking out for something a bit closer to home - hence, Hamsterley Forest.

When I say it's "old fashioned," what I really mean is children having fun in water, on climbing frames, learning how to balance, on swinging chains, basically just mucking around with their parents (or grand parents).   The climbing frames are all incredibly strong and chunky and huge.  Little kids will enjoy visiting the enormous wooden Gruffalo in the woods and older kids will enjoy the bike rides and you can even hire bikes here too. And have picnics or go to the coffee shop.

Our nine year old is just a little too young for the mountain bike rides ( or maybe we're just a little too old - no, never say that!) but he did enjoy balancing on wobbly stones in the wide shallow river and trying to get as far across as he could before it became too deep - about a foot deep at the very most.

And of course he got his feet wet and of course I got my feet wet.  And no, Himself did not get his feet wet, just looked on wryly waiting for his moment to make a comment.  Ha!

Well, it was a fun afternoon.  And Hamsterley truly is a lovely, verdantly green forest, with wide and sweeping conifers doing what conifers do best - drape themselves elegantly in their sticky-out ball dresses and also the marvellous beeches, which this area grows so well.

After we had got wet, we had our picnic and headed home, back up that rollercoaster of a road, the A68.  Just watch out for the speedy racers who obviously love the switchback potential of this driver's road. There are lots of warnings about accidents, so go carefully, eh?

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Kirkharle, home of Lancelot " Capability" Brown and John Speight

A courtyard of galleries and workshops in rural Northumberland NE19 2PE
18 miles north of Newcastle on the A696 - look out for the sign exactly opposite the sign for Wallington

If you want to buy some really special presents, go to Kirkharle.

After our windy walk at Northumberlandia, Himself and I were desperate for a cup of something hot.  The boy was keen as mustard to get up to his favourite tree in Wallington but we kind of inveigled him into letting us have our drinks and then we would go so...

 Driving north on the A696 has that special "climbing" feel, which makes you feel like you are crawling on the top of the world and you can see for miles. I must admit, it is a bit of a drive but you do have at least 2 fantastic places to visit and you could always do Belsay and/ or the Blacksmith's Coffee shop, if you have all day. Bolam Lake isn't far away either so if you want a quiet walk and to feed the swans, then that's possible too.

Kirkharle has an awful lot going for it: a brilliant children's play park with the best, little fort with slide that I WANT; galleries for art; jewellery for sale; handcrafted gifts  (I really like the foxy doorstop); cabinetry and antiques; a warm and welcoming little tea shop with fantastic scones AND, best of all, real artists.

I met one. 

John Speight is a third generation papercut artist, who uses his scalpel on black paper to create the most exquisite and intricate scenes, my favourite being tree forms. Desirable or what!

I assumed, wrongly, that they had to be laser-cut but no! He cuts far finer than a laser can. After 30 years, he stays true to his handcrafting and original art ethos. A second breath-taking discovery in one day ( following our walk around Northumberlandia) made me feel quite energised. How often do we really meet with experts with the "wow" factor?

His website is

His papercuts celebrate people's loves, their favourite hobbies ( you should see the drummer), favourite animals and begin at £19, I believe.  However, they do go up in price as the work becomes even more detailed.    I simply could not understand how anyone could cut so accurately at that tiny scale.    He does cards too.  I bought two for £2.50 each.  Lovely.

His shop is beautiful too and I loved the "chakra"jewellery made from semi precious stones and the sea-glass-style bracelets too.

I know we will be back fairly soon.  I want Himself to know what I was jabbering about and there is plenty still to see, not least the exhibition on his nibs, old Capability, who grew up here and who walked to school at Cambo.

I tell you, Northumberland has it all!

Monday, 11 August 2014

High Force... High impact!

Roaring waterfall in County Durham (70 foot high or 21 metres)
Forest in Teesdale

Apparently open all year round - imagine the ice on this one!
Summer Opening Hours: April to October 2014: 10am - 5pm daily
The Gift Shop, car park and other visitor facilities will all be open

Walk through Tolkienesque woodlands
Steep steps down to the viewing point
Good walking area, including a walk up to the head of the falls
Go south on either the A68 or A1 - then west on A66  - then northwest on the B6277, 4.5 miles NW from Middleton-in-Teesdale

If you and your kids are looking for drama, then get yourself down to what has got to be one of the loudest, prettiest, most powerful examples of white water in the UK. I would say the journey down from Newcastle will take you about an hour and a half but don't worry about that.  You can stop for an ice-cream in Staindrop or just just stop to look around in Barnard Castle or Middleton in Teesdale - all pretty as owt.  The area west of West Auckland is lovely.

High Force is well signposted off the  A 678 and you need to use the designated car-park ( £2), which also has some very presentable picnic tables for the family.  You buy tickets at the shop - 
Admissions to Waterfall Walk:
  • Adult: £1.50
  • Child (5 - 15 yrs): 50p
  • Concessions: £1.00 

Cross the road on foot and pick up the track on the other side, which leads you through some of the most elvish (or maybe entish) woods I have seen for some time... Remember that scene where the hobbits have crawled under sprawling tree roots to hide from a black rider? Hmmm. Did Tolkien or Peter Jackson ever visit this place, I wonder?

We couldn't help noticing the rock forms, sandstone, shale and whinstone; we took photo after photo of the ferns and moss-covered trees and watched for birdlife.  Himself did notice some dippers and lots of cute, yellow wagtails, which he has never seen before.  But mostly what you notice is the growing roar from the waterfall.  It's not a long walk - about 1/3 mile-  turn the corner and, voila! 

It only gets better.  A steep set of 26 steps will take you and everyone else down to the rocky platform and I was glad of my sturdy trainers on those enormous, sloping rocks. This is truly magnificent and I am really pleased we went. We are now planning on bringing the family - though we will be keeping a tight hold on the little ones!

Further still, there is Low Force, which requires a hike across a field and sharp eyes to spot the stopping place in time. Another lovely day.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Kirkley Hall's Zoological Gardens

Don't run over the peacocks, please!

Especially the ghostly, white one.

Family ticket: £18.50

Yesterday, the boy, Himself, Daughter number Three and Granddaughter number One and I wound our way up the A696 north of Ponteland  and followed the signs to Kirkley Hall because we thought we were following the route to a sweet, little petting zoo.

Well, what we found was even better: a proper and exotic little zoo with a great conservation ethos set in the grounds of Kirkley Hall's Horticultural College. 

Kirkley Hall was built on higher ground and the views of farmland and country garden around it are inspiring.  It was one of those grand country villas but now has many surrounding parts dedicated to agricultural research and education.  And it has this zoo.

There is a wide range of animals, birds, amphibians, reptiles from the four corners of the globe, which the children loved.  Meet Oscar, the blue and yellow parrot, say, "Hello," to the wallabies who lounge so tranquilly in the sun or sing "KOOKABURRA" to our Australian friends.  There are fat-bellied pigs, goats, capybaras and an axolotl.

And there are lots and lots of rabbits and guinea pigs.  One little baby rabbit snuggled down in her straw (and closely supervised) was allowing herself to be petted - so we did get to pet a cute little bunny after all.

An hour and a half later we were ready for a cup of tea in the garden beyond the orangerie  and the boy was determined to try out the climbing frame.  This was a great afternoon out for the whole family.  We may be back for the open air play of Pride and Prejudice later on in the summer and there's a version of Peter Pan and of Macbeth too.

Morpeth and the best hardware store - ever!

Morpeth, about 15 miles north of Newcastle and just off the A1, is one of those market towns which has, or appears to have, a very thriving life all of its own, quite apart from its visitors.  I always think it would be a very nice place to live - close neighbours, great shops and just large enough to be able to find a great, little corner to escape to. Not to mention the river, the park, the grand sloping road in from the south...

It certainly does have a good range of shopping for both natives and visitors.  You can find artisan cheese shops for yourself or your guests or, if it's high-street shopping you want, then you can find M and S, White Stuff, East and Laura Ashley. Plus lots and lots more and they are beautifully and tightly packed into a very pretty main street, which is currently overflowing with torrents of  gorgeous flower pots and baskets, striking. Definitely a contender for the prettiest town.

Before I go on, I should really plug two of my favourites: Rutherford's ( a department store of high quality STUFF) and the arts and crafts stalls in the town hall -last year I bought my mum one of those original jigsaws made from the artist's painting, with cunning pictures on both sides of the pictures, evil in cardboard form.  I thought I'd got her that time!

But if you are looking for a real shopping experience, something to transport you to true purchasing paradise, then visit J. Smail and Sons> Ironmongers smack, bang in the middle of the high street.

Is this somewhere you could bring your children? I hear you ask. Definitely. They have to know the realities of life, don't they? Everyone's sink will block. Everyone needs exactly the right size of nails, screws, plugs, sandals, shirts, pots, pans, glassware, tea towels, kettles, tables, chairs, underlay... need I go on?  Oooh, the detail!  The expert advice.  The down-right, pure practicality of it all.

Visit it soon.  It's one of those shops a lot of us keep in the back of our heads but does not feel altogether of this world.  It's not modern or sleek but it's real.  And reality wins out every time.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

ROMAN Corbridge,

It's a great road, the A69 - I always enjoy the dead, straight, westerly direction and you get some fab views of rolling countryside and high, towering sky-scapes.  Summer really is the time to travel, to put the air-con on and watch the tall grasses and the pink rosebay willowherb swaying in the verges.  Holiday Time at last!

We parked on Helen Street ( first 30 minutes are free then 50 p an hour) because, as usual, the centre of this ancient town with its narrow streets was crammed tight with tourists and shoppers. How could it not be?  It is exquisite.

The warm honey-coloured sandstone, whether squarely dressed or roughly hewn, has created an interesting yet entirely coherent mixture of buildings.  It feels as if the  history of the area- roman, medieval, Victorian and modern - has been condensed and homogenised.  Indeed, at The Tower, we passed a stone cross that had first been erected in roman times and was renovated in the 1970s.

Coffee and pudding at Il Piccolo was as delicious and relaxing as ever (this Italian restaurant has my custom once a year at least, when an old college friend and I meet up to chew the cud) and then we trod the streets, visiting the shops.

Corbridge is good for: jewellery; galleries; pretty lady-gardening shops; material; art ( my new favourite is Delight and Wisdom, where I bought Mod Podge of Pinterest fame); sweeties; bread (see Grants- yum! look out for the Italian meringues, which are amazing); clothes (Katie Kerr's is a long term favourite and she has a sale just now); books (The Forum) and last but certainly not least, JFWalton's hardware store.  I did notice lots of little tea or coffee shops around the place too but I don't know them- yet!

This was a very harmonious experience;  Corbridge is more than nice; it is a time capsule living in its own dimension; it pulls like gravity; if you come once, you'll be forever in its orbit.  Which reminds me of the saying: all roads lead to Corbridge- cos lots of local roads do show the sign TO CORBRIDGE.

Sunderland Mowbray Park

Complete with bandstand, shady walks, a pond with ducks and gulls and an award-winning children's play park, Mowbray Park in the middle of dusty Sunderland is the perfect oasis if you're in need of something green. The museum adjacent to the park is well known for some excellent exhibitions too.

We picked the boy up there the other day and I was struck again by how necessary this haven is in the centre of town.  The boy has always headed for his favourite statue of the walrus, on which there have been many photographs. 

There is also the very famous war memorial, which Himself says is one of the most visited and most significant in the country - and he should know.  In more recent years the British army's post 1945 campaigns have been commemorated on separate walls around the World War memorial, which adds interest as well as pathos to the scene, a further reminder of the history of the area.

Indeed, Sunderland is a city which wears its history on its sleeve, some might say a careworn sleeve, and it is a city where the old, Victorian realities sit closely together still - compared to say, Newcastle, which has been cleaning itself up for the C21st ever since I have known it. 

It is interesting to note, however, that several new developments have been taking place in Sunderland and there is certainly something exciting going on around the old Vaux Brewery site as well as improving the access to the Wearmouth Bridge.   Demonstrating its new city status perhaps? Let's watch this space.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

P. Lomas- plant nursery - good value

what: plant nursery 
where: the back road up from Ponteland towards The Milkhope Centre
Why: cheap as chips and much more cheerful. PLUS it's man-friendly

Every year at around this time I visit P.Lomas'  nursery because I crave colour in my shady, green garden ...and dread the hefty price tag of the big garden centres.  This time Himself was with me and, because it is not a huge affair with thousands of plants to see, he coped with it rather well.

So, the attraction for me? A one man show with, yes, a limited range of annuals but with luscious colours that you can easily choose from. It's really just like a sweet shop for plantaholics.

This year, 4 geraniums ( sorry, ordinary pelargoniums) for £1,  4 fat-budded exotic begonias for £2, 8 of those French marigolds in jewel colours for £1.  How does he do it? Honestly, I don't know but I guess plenty of water and plenty of plant food. My own seedlings are nowhere near as fat and hardy looking.

They're now planted up and I feel deeply satiated - see how the colour-craving gets me?  I know I was looking for violas to bob prettily in my terracotta pots, looking like fairy princesses and instead I have great big fat gypsy wedding flowers ( you should just see the wide skirts on the fuchsia - £2!!!) but I feel grrrrrrrreat!

Next year I'll do the dainty violas ( or if I can find some this summer) but I'll have to find some more pots because they're ALL filled and, as Himself said, for pennies!


Where?   Old Great North Road, Seaton Burn
e-mail: contact us at
What is it? a tea shop cum ice cream parlour cum plant nursery

If you're planning on a trip up the coast or just going north ( or coming south and it's that time of day) you could enjoy a nice break at this little hideaway, sheltering amongst trees. There are several tables set under mini marquees in a gravel garden, where families can take their drinks and ice creams. In fact, if you're a grandparent like me, you'll be making mental lists of where you can stop for a break that the kids will like too.

And what's not to like?  Gravel paths provide a crunchy maze for little feet, you can browse the many plant-stands for a treasure to take home with you or buy for a very reasonable price one of the ready-made hanging baskets... and the whole family can visit the gelaterie and indulge in delicious glaces for about £1.80.  They also sell fancy pasta and cute souvenirs. The whole place feels calm, civilised and, I might add, elegant, painted as it is in restrained hues.

We left feeling that we'd like a lazy afternoon there one day soon - and rather envied those who were sitting around in the sun enjoying their tea or coffee. We, however, were on the hunt for pansies and violas for the garden ( see the post on THE GARDEN STATION) and I was on a mission.  Next stop, a garden centre!

Monday, 14 July 2014

Garden Station near Haydon Bridge

What: a tea shop set in an old wooden station building surrounded by woodland gardens
Where: from the A69 going west,  take the A686 as soon as you see the signs for Haydon Bridge
Walking: as much or as little as you like down the old railway track - a few steps down into the garden
Entrance fee: none
Parking: free
Cost of a cream tea - about £4
Chance of seeing a squirrel: possibly- you'll see baby frogs by the thousand (in July)
Children: young and old, tiny ones will love the few toys set on the lawn; the boy will probably hunt the frogs or use the tree swing in the woods
google: The Garden Station at Langley
star rating: ten out of ten - not joking either!

At least two people I know had told me about the Garden Station and Saturday was the first time we had managed to make it.  We were both tired for various reasons and honestly couldn't do very much but go for one of those gentle jaunts that you take when you just want a ride out. The Garden Station - well, I wouldn't have believed such a place existed - cheered me up no end.

The road up from the A69 winds around significantly and is often overshadowed by the enormous beech trees that grow so well in Northumberland -so take care.  The place is signposted twice before you reach it but the final turning is very narrow and requires a little manoeuvring. It's worth it.

There's an old station house and a painted, wooden waiting room with some pretty, little station buildings painted in shades of green standing on what would have been the platform but is now all laid to grass.  The owners have planted an inspired garden full of hostas, lady's mantle, aquilegia thalictrum, grasses and brunnera Jack Frost- and plenty more yet to flower.  Look out for the unusual ironwork sculptures too.  Dotted about are little folding tables and chairs set on the very smooth lawns, both down in what would have been the track and up on the platforms.

We had our afternoon tea and coffee first  (my mum asked if the cups and saucers matched and no, they don't!) then wandered down the path, the first part of which is also beautifully managed but gets wild beyond the railway bridge.  That's where the baby frogs, as small or as big as house flies, were hopping in their multitudes.  The track would go on for a fair walk, I think, but we doubled back just past the fishing lake on the left and had a shady walk back to the track, watching out for tree creepers and any potential red squirrel -  have yet to see my first Northumbrian red squirrel!

Lovely tea, lovely setting, lovely walk.  The website also gives a good idea of activities (painting, sculpture, photography, beekeeping, mushroom identification) going on there, including the odd civil wedding.  Who wouldn't want to take their vows in this exquisite, natural theatre?

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Craster Crab Sandwiches

Last weekend saw the three of us on the search for Craster and the fabled crab sandwiches at THE JOLLY FISHERMAN.  Himself had been told he had to go there by one of his colleagues so, after our usual jaunt to Barter Books in Alnwick, we headed north.  Soon we saw one of those brown signs for Craster.  It took a bit of wiggling about on country roads and a couple of dog-leg junctions but we got there without mishap and got parked up - eventually. 

Don't make the mistake we did and drive right into the tiny village.  If you do you'll end up reversing or doing a 6 point turn in the middle of tiny streets with the locals or the holiday-makers looking on in polite amusement.  Instead, just before the village begins there is a great car-park, which extends up the slope to give parking for lots of cars and coaches, though the lower level does look deceptively small.  It'll cost you 50 pence an hour and we were there for two, because surprisingly enough for such a tiny place, it is absolutely gorgeous. ( There are municipal toilets in the adjoining building - a little on the rustic side!)

A short walk will bring you into this very local-looking fishing village, whose tiny houses and harbour are built from a much harder looking stone than the usual sandstone. In fact the whole place has the air of still being in another century; it's not expansive nor does it look rich and luxurious in any way; it exudes simplicity and hard graft; it reeks peace and quiet and retreat from the modern world - hence its definite success as a holiday destination.  Once your eye is attuned, you'll see that many of those old fishing cottages have been made over into rather nice holiday homes.

We took the boy around the harbour where he and Himself pointed out the wide variety of birdlife: oystercatchers, diving terns and little terns, eider ducks, lots of almost tame sparrows, a cormorant...and I had fun with the plant-life, as usual. Still haven't looked up that white daisy with the very yellow conical centre that was growing in swathes around the harbour stones.

And then we had the crab sandwiches.  Served on wooden boards with crisps and a rich little salad, they were a very sweet way to enjoy seafood in a great, local setting.  Himself and I took our coffees outside and breathed in that languorous sea air to our hearts' content.  The boy poked around the tiny harbour.  On our way out we noticed a host of walkers making their way up the coast to Dunstanburgh Castle, which we have yet to discover.

Across the road from The Jolly Fisherman is Robson and Son's smoked fish shop, where we bought fishcakes for himself and a half kipper portion for me, ( I really could have managed 2 but was wary at the time) which turned out to be sweet, juicy and delicious the following evening at home.  And good value!  They have a little restaurant too- so we'll be back.

I highly recommend this place. A little bit of The Old Kingdom for us, if you can only be bothered to hunt it out. 

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Castles, castles... Edlingham and Warkworth


We've been to Edlingham outside Alnwick a few times because the boy has always loved the stories his granddad tells him about the zombies crawling out of their graves around the little 1000 year-old church beside it.

It's down a steep and winding track on the way out towards Cragside and near to the viaduct so it's  really scenic.  We've been there on bright days when it's bonny and on grey days, when it's easy to believe that reivers are hiding just out of sight - all in all very atmospheric.

And - odd thing to admit to perhaps - if you're into moss and lichens, then you'll love it. 

We always trace out where the house would be from the remains of the walls and I always warn the boy NOT  to go inside because I have horrors of the leaning wall of the solar falling on him, though it has stood for at least 600 years.  He has started not to listen. Hum!

Well, last visit was a warning.  The wall did NOT fall on him but, after he did his walking-along-the-broken-wall trick, he casually let himself down on to the pavement, turned over on his ankle and...  yup!  Agony!

Himself took him on his back up the track to the car and he slept on the way home.  Walk-in Centre job that evening!  At least the one in Washington is lovely and modern.


Last Sunday (end of June) my daughter from London was up with us with her two little ones. 

This time we did Warkworth Castle.  Now usually I don't go in for great militarised castles but Warkworth  is not of that ilk at all.  It is a fortified house belonging to the great Percy family of Northumberland with lots of interesting little design features which interested me.  We could see visitors listening intently to their headset tour guides so I'm sure we missed out on lots of lovely history here but it was lots of fun watching our two year-old grandson racing around tight castle corners, discovering guard rooms and beer cellars ( actually that was his dad) and generally enjoying the place.

It belongs to English Heritage and is a cheap day out at £5.40 an adult if you're not a member.  You pay £3 for parking but this is refundable in the ticket booth inside the castle so don't miss out on this.

However, the best bit of the visit was the walk down to the hermitage and the short boat ride over the Coquet river. (Mind, this is currently only available on Sundays, as is the upper room in the keep!) It's a steep little walk to begin with and a bit of a challenge to a double buggy's wheels but very soon the path flattens out and the walk under trees beside a peaty brown river makes you ask if there are kingfishers - I don't know- I always ask!

Warkworth's Hermitage is truly a bit of a wonder.  Carved out of solid sandstone, it's amazing to see gothic windows and angled pillars and an altar all, as it were, growing out of the sandstone cliffs.  It was built for a holy man though developed into more of a rural dwelling place. Damp and dank, even in June, it is returning beautifully to the natural world and has something of a fairy feel. A MUST SEE! Bring extra cash (about £3 each) though for the boat ride there and back - a lovely student doing her summer job!

That was a day of pure pleasure.  Lunch at The Hermitage Inn in the village was very satisfying and my vegetarian daughter was not disappointed with her asparagus omelette so we were all pleased.

The baths at Tynemouth- Bank holiday with the boy

Bank Holiday Monday 26th May 2014

 ( written on my lap whilst watching...)
Well, here we are at Tynemouth A.S.C. or, to you and me The Baths at Tynemouth, found in Preston Village just off the 1058.  Coming from inland it’s just off a roundabout to the right – dead easy to find.  And we’re impressed.   Himself spent some time on the laptop this morning trying to find a baths that was open on a bank holiday and this was it.  We normally go to either  Ponteland, Cramlington or Morpeth baths, all of which have their merits but, it seems, must be privately run, hence being closed today!  What? Why would anyone with a sense of revenue close their pool on a lovely summer’s day, when parents and grandparents must be queuing up to take their kids somewhere. 

Closing time today is 2.15, with all out at 2.30.  Just a little thing to be aware of! Bank holiday thing.

I’m up in the comfortable gallery looking down on them in the kids’ pool, about 3 foot deep, where the boy seems determined to try out the various floats on offer and himself is being accommodating.  He would really rather be walking his stiff leg up and down in the deeper pool, situated just beside the juniors and separated by a smooth walkway and glistening chrome handlebars.  I suppose it’s a more traditional pool than Cramlington, with the swimming rows and all but the boy had already said he’d prefer something like that to the gadgets, the fountains and the hundreds of little kids at Cramlington.  How tastes change overnight!  I’m not going in today as I am incapacitated with a nasty little infection.

I must say, it’s spacious and clean with two guards on watch- we’ll definitely come here again!

And himself says the changing rooms are “nippin’ clean!”  Good to know.

Same day… back to Wallington

Well, I heaved myself up to get back to the car and the boy said he wanted to play on the climbing frame outside so that’s what he did and then he announced he’d like to go to another climbing frame somewhere else so we hummed and ha  ed and decided on the trek to Wallington.  My own secret agenda was PLANTS because I’d been watching Chelsea all week so it wasn’t hard to persuade me - so there we were, back on that lovely Northumbrian road, the A168, going north through Ponteland then up past Belsay.  Northumbrian skies and cow-parsley in the hedgerows – definitely worth a painting one day. 

It is quite a trek but the word is “charming”.  Over a great hump-backed bridge, which you must beep for,  and you’re nearly there.

 The place was heaving with folk but although the boy did not enjoy sharing his favourite tree with eleven others, he did discover several other little nooks and crannies to explore in the hedgerows, which he is promising himself for future visits. I, meanwhile, indulged myself with two astilbes, two hostas, one unusual dicentra and a rare Japanese thing, Peltoboykinia watanabei, which admittedly, is more of a garden snob/ rarity value sort of thing – but if you have lots of trees and shade as I do, then you’ll buy pretty much anything to inject a little colour – or in this case interest, it being a white flower- into your shady areas.
All in all, not a bad little day!


The Glass Centre in Sunderland

March - birth season in our family!

Last Saturday was 8th March and another birthday (my daughter’s) was looming.  We HAD to get that glassware!

This time Himself came with me to visit the National Glass Centre on Liberty Way (love that name) in Sunderland.  I was on a mission – it was BUY SOMETHING, BUY ANYTHING time.  I knew the sort of thing she likes because she had admired the swirly, magic nest-sort-of-wall-lamp at her godmother’s house in Scotland but (and here the magic of coincidence comes in) I also knew the artist had trained and worked in Sunderland!  I did have hopes of finding something, anything, please…

He directed me because he knows Sunderland better so we took the A1231 out of Washington heading east, crossed the A19 and carried on with the A1231, past the Stadium of Light then followed the brown landmark signs through town, heading towards the mouth of the Wear. Parking is easy outside it but the entrance is harder to see because you have to head down the path towards the river then enter from the riverside entrance – not difficult though I would have faffed around a little on my own.

          This part of the Wear wears its industrial past prettily and it truly is a scenic view looking upstream towards the city, especially with the river and its reflected light bouncing off the brilliant, modern, glass fa├žade of the building.  I took photos of it all and then we entered.  I must say that the desire to buy something, anything went into overdrive the moment we moved into the shop. They really do have a very wide range of presents ranging in price from a pound to several hundred.  If you like marbles, they have fab hand-made marbles.  If you like cut-glass, they have an exquisite choice of Caithness glass and I was very taken by a perfume bottle with two sculpted slices revealing golden swirls; Himself loved a Caithness owl, whose bubble eyes seemed to follow his… I went back and forth, read the little cards… and couldn’t decide. 


My dilemma only deepened when I remembered that there were glass blowing sessions to watch; worse because we discovered a cabinet of display models to admire and BUY! And these were alive with colour. Plus, this lovely man, who had only in come to help his glass-blowing friends, went into ecstasies over the form of one particular vase, whilst I secretly loved a heavy, orange, pink and red bowl that he seemed to dismiss.


          Well, it took a coffee at their very civilised drinkery, plus another look at everything before I made up my mind.  It was her thirtieth birthday after all.  She could have both the display models I had looked at – they were both made here in Sunderland, which she would remember from a  girlhood visit.  Ha!  The relief of having made my choice ie NOT having to come down to just the one!

          Cost?  Well, my glowing, heavy bowl, with its tracery of fiery pink over a crimson ground cost £35 and the elegant sea-green vase with its wash of graduated teal around its neck, that my enthusiastic friend had hinted was the best thing there, was a mere £38. And we got to meet the artist herself, a young woman who had been displaying her skill with the molten fire in front of happy punters.

          All in all, very satisfying, very visual and could have been a lot more expensive!

Buying pressies for the folks - Newcastle Arts Centre and The Milkhope Centre


End of the half term saw me on the hunt for birthday cards and presents because myriad members of my family have Spring birthdays. Having left himself off to go watch rugby at O’Neill’s, I parked the car ( a £1!) outside The Newcastle Art Centre and had a gluttonous hour to myself. 
First of all I visited David Fry’s pottery shop, where he was holding a class, tucked in the far right hand corner of the cute little courtyard where I have dreams of enjoying a summer cup of tea, then down through the art supplies shop and finally into the proper arty shop.

I have found my heaven – or at least one of my paradises!

Cards by top selling artists like Angie Lewins, Quentin Blake and Mark Hearld found their way into my pile.  Likewise cards from that jewel, The Natural History Museum.  I had a ball. 

Next I found another little silver pewter spoon, crooked like a twig and decorated with an oak leaf for my mum to add to her collection and I visited one of my favourite local pottery ranges, the green and white spotty one, produced at Saltburn.  Mmmm, love it!

They had some nice glass things too but not exactly what I was after but the girl said that the Laing gallery in town might have something so I’m thinking that’s another little afternoon visit…

Couldn’t face the traffic and the road system in town so went home via The Milkhope Centre run by the Blagdon estate because they have a gallery too.  I was on a roll.

The Milkhope Centre is a collection of small business housed in renovated farm buildings made of our local, warm, yellow sandstone and we mostly go there for our meat because they have an award-winning butcher’s shop stocked entirely with local organic produce, meat and veg. However, today was ART day; the sky was a panorama of sudsy white and grey, the sun was out and I was high on my plan to get the family sorted with presents.

I knew the gallery had recently expanded into one of the other units but wasn’t expecting the tall ceilings and sheer amount of pictures, cards, glass and general arty stuff.  It was a feast. Upstairs I found a favourite picture of harvest fields by someone called Walter Holmes.  I’ll look out for him again.

No luck yet finding the objet in glass but I still have The Laing and Sunderland glass place to do… so that’s another day!