When your child wants to be a marine biologist, it seems good parenting do as much aquatic-y stuff with her as possible. I mean, not every day – I try to keep my parenting to certain days of the week or it might interfere with my own life. And there’s so much to see on Netflix.
Tuesday of half term seemed an excellent day to parent. We were still on one of our regular ventures up North, where I try and make Youngest Offspring appreciate her Northern ethnicity, by showing her all the beauties of North Yorkshire. Yes, all of them. We’ve time. Eldest Offspring considers there to be too much ‘outdoors’ up North; she promises to come when we promise to go to more built up areas, where there’s more people than mud.
This is why I found myself in the public toilets of Preston Park (Eaglescliffe, Stockton-on-Tees), wedging myself into a wetsuit, promising, once again, to cut back on custard creams. I was readying myself to go stand up paddle boarding down the River Tees. The Tees!, you cry. No, wait. It’s not like it was, when local industries merrily tipped their toxic waste into the waters, causing salmon to die out and there to be literally no oxygen in certain areas of the river. When we all said, Oh what a shame. But weren’t really that bothered. Now, well, now. The water is glorious to be in. It was bath-warm and soft. Soft? I used to be in a canoe club and always thought rivers have ‘feels’. If they’re clean they feel ‘soft’.
Whilst I am half-straight-jacketed by neoprene, teetering on top of my converse, the cleaner gets all enthusiastic and sweeps excess water out the doorway causing a wake into my cubicle, that unnervingly laps my toes. I can hear Youngest Offspring next door gently slither into her wetsuit and chirp happily, ‘it’s easier getting changed in the toilet than I thought it would be’. My wetsuit is making suction noises. I ponder if I should have brought talc with me, but then know I’d have just been like Ross in that Friends episode. My phone pings its ping to indicate it’s Eldest Offspring, and as I’ve decided I’m parenting today, I know I should at least look. ‘What does the tracking say?’ I sigh, as I tippy-toe to avoid another wake. I’d forgotten to let her know what time her several-weeks-late-ordered birthday present would arrive and thus not to leave the building. With my only free arm, I’m scrolling through Amazon whilst the Tees awaits.
Mild piece of parenting accomplished, we joined our small group around the SUP Adventures van, that looks decidedly A-Team, with its shininess and snazzy equipment. We were given some basic but essential instructions e.g. try to look like a walrus when you clamber back on your board (we all nod, reassured) and then made our way down to the river.
I was saddened to see the park strewn with rubbish and wished it wasn’t like that. Then instantly, round a misty corner, two litter pickers arrived. I tried wishing for other things like, a packet of custard creams, but nothing happened.
SUP Adventures run courses from various places in the North York Moors National Park: Saltburn, Scaling Dam, the River Esk and Sandsend, but I soon became glad we’d chosen the River Tees. Tranquil. Calm. A haven. You could feel your heart slow a few beats. It was easy to get on the water, going down a ramp off a small jetty. We started off on our knees, getting used to the correct way to paddle. Then, following the principle of Position, Posture and Paddle, we were doing the actual standing up bit. Your legs wobble Bambi-like at first, then you relax in to it. And that’s how it feels: relaxing.
And fun. Every time Youngest Child and I try something new in North Yorkshire, we are met with interesting people, people with a passion and enthusiasm for what they are doing. Simon, our instructor and co-owner of SUP Adventures, was no exception. It was interesting to hear that he’d just returned from Patagonia and had also just been talking on local BBC radio about marine pollution, and that he’d written a book about his first love – surfing. (Follow the link.) Like most people who set up a business that they believe in, he made sure we all enjoyed ourselves; that we all went at our own pace – suggested races for those keen, new techniques for those ready, and moral support for those who spent a bit more time in the water than on the board…
It was a perfect way to spend a morning. Youngest Offspring came away wanting to add a paddle board to her list of things she ‘needs’ (along with a helicopter pilot’s license). I came away, to my surprise, and joy, with very soft, silky hair. All day, after my shower, my hair was the softest it’s ever been. Thoroughly recommend the River Tees.
And so to Yorkshire Puffin Festival. The first Yorkshire Puffin Festival, where thousands of gorgeous puffins flock to Flamborough Cliffs, to raise their young. The reason we have come up on these dates. Like a well-crafted piece of parenting. Wait. No. We can’t go cos Youngest Offspring has left her phone somewhere and we now have to wait in Stokesley until we can get it back. Grrr. I have a teeny, tiny rant and then realise I too have forgotten something. ‘Right, ok. Let’s say no more about it then.’ But every cloud and all that. We get to stay in my home town, Stokesley, a bit longer and try out Tru:vai, the sumptuous new cafe/bar that opened the previous week, with interiors that look like they’ve slipped sophisticatedly off the cover of Livingetc magazine.
A perfect place for me to sit, with my super soft hair. Tru:vai is a bijou, family owned cafe/bar that offers rich, deep cakes, locally sourced gins and locally brewed beers. We only had half an hour, so I had a Fentiman’s Victorian lemonade, that quenched even my yen for lemons.
I was tempted by the cocktails, but as it was 2.30pm and I was trying to make the whole day a parenting thing, I thought best not. But let me show you the menu. Exquisite ingredients. Mmm, Woodford Reserve whisky. I like a good full tasting whisky. 2 cubes of ice please. But you’ll also find quirky ingredients such as, lavender and parma violets. And popcorn syrup. I nearly had a cup of Earl Grey, as it was listed as ‘Early Grey with cornflour’. Very intrigued. Definitely next time.
The barman was the smileyest person, so already we loved it there.
He then moved the two peacock blue Chesterfield style chairs next to each other for us. And if people move furniture for you then they’re nice people.
We declined the offer to light the fire for us, a woodburner that was given to them by the previous owners (it had been a fireplace shop); it would be very cosy on cold days. We sat awhile, watching the world go by through the big picture window. Two dapper, gentlemen-about-town arrived and had something interesting to drink, but I couldn’t quite nosey enough to see what it was. In the evenings there’s live music. So I’m going again for that. But definitely for the cocktails. And definitely at a time when parenting is not required.
Any bank holiday worth its salt has a festival. And last Monday in Harrogate was the whole salt, chips, vinegar, and everything.
Harrogate does the beautiful and classy thing very well, and since 2013 various national polls have voted it the ‘happiest place to live’ in Britain. So the cool vibe of the UK’s only national street food festival – the StrEatfood Festival – slots in very nicely with the North Yorkshire town. This is its third year, but first time at the Great Yorkshire Showground. A sound move I’d say: parking was ‘a piece of cake’. Entrance was a fiver for me, and my incredibly long Youngest Offspring slumped the appropriate amount to look her under 13 age, in order to go free. I do like a child who is a bargain.
Our bags were checked by security as we entered, which confused my child. I made a quip about the drugs that I was planning to sell, which caused her to pull a concerned face, which caused me to pull one in turn. Does my child really think I might sell drugs?! In Harrogate, goodness me! Clearly yes.
In much the same way a blanket of heat envelopes you as you step off the plane to start your holiday, so did the melee of street food scents here encase you as you enterted. You could almost see them spiral up from the vintage camper vans, quirky horse boxes and bijou trucks and snake towards you: earthy Ivory Coast spices; smokey Yorkshire beef; rich, sweet Churro batter, with the fresh fizz of Prosecco wafting gently behind.
We stood a moment just to take it all in. The choice seemed endless: Greek, Indian, Carribean. Just needed Central African Republic and Richard Osman would be happy.
We set up camp and had a bit of a sniff around. I was very tempted by the Lebanese food – partly because I’d recently had it at a friend’s party in London. He’d hired a Lebanese caterer to set up in the street outside his house. I kept going back for helpings because Wayne Sleep lives in his ‘mews’ and I thought I might spot him. (I know, I live a small life.) But there was only some bloke from Hollyoaks, who joined us, and I had no clue who he was. But at least I became very familiar with Lebanese food.
But the smallest hooman of the family wanted a Yorkshire pudding wrap (I’m trying to Northernise her a bit: on our last visit up North, as part of her indoctrination, she had one of those massive Yorkypuds in York.) We present ourselves to the Yorkshire pudding man, however he only had beef left. Youngest Offspring announces that she doesn’t like beef. What?! Since when? Are you my child?? I glance vaguely round the field for another child… I can only apologise to you all; I will rectify this at the earliest opportunity.
So, we disappoint the vendor and make our way next door. She wants a burger. I highlight to her that it’s made from 100% Yorkshire BEEF. Sigh…I’d have taken a photo for you, but it was scoffed faster than you can say ‘I love beef’.
The festival is the brainchild of Cathy McConaghy of StrEat PR, who herself started up as a street food seller after a big change in her life. But it’s not my story to tell, so here’s her blog. It’s inspirational and a kind of against-the-odds tale that, like the best tales, involves a trundle wheel. For younger viewers, who have never operated a trundle wheel at school (and right there is a huge gap in your education, and your life skills), I give you a picture of one.
We mooched about the field, which was alive with street performers, entertainers, vintage fair rides and one of those stationary bungee jump things.
The bubble making lady was rather clever – I am tempted to get a fishing net and try what she did at home. Just on a quiet Tuesday or something.
It was the music that really made the festival for us. I mean it is quintessential to a festival isn’t? An alternative brass band, called the Baghdaddies, playing a fusion of music styles, including Madness. Good choice.
A well coiffed DJ on the stage. And an acoustic guitarist called Jonny Skinner, whose rich voice entertained us with the likes of Foo Fighters, The Kinks and Coldplay. At the risk of becoming all poptastic, here’s a snippet for you to guess the song. What is it? And band? Both for the full mark. No half marks mind.
All in all, not too shabby a way to spend an afternoon, not too shabby a way to eat a large helping of Churros. Well, maybe we had two helpings. Maybe…
The novel Dracula is a blog. No, it is. Really. It’s written as a collection of diary entries, letters, ship’s logs and such like: personal reflections and recounts of events that day. A blog. So it seems apt, that as Youngest Offspring and I sojourn once more to God’s Own Country, in my efforts to imbibe a bit more Northernness in her, that we take in a performance of Bram Stoker’s Dracula at Whitby Abbey.
We arrived direct from the South West on a day that makes us feel like we’re on holiday. I even required a dab of sun lotion.
Friends were shocked that we were venturing to Whitby on a bank holiday Sunday. But I am a good ‘parker’; we parked easily, as I created our own space in the Marina Front car park. I always consider white lines to be merely advisory. Though this may account for why I am often unable to find my own car in a car park….
Bram Stoker (if you’re wondering, it’s short for Abraham) came to Whitby in 1890, looking for a holiday home (not much changed there then). He stayed at the Royal Hotel, but it was whilst lodging at 6 Royal Crescent, a curve of beautiful houses reminiscent of those in Bath, that he wrote the play The Undead, which barely got off the ground, so he rewrote it as a novel: Dracula. He was filling time whilst waiting for his wife to join him – a wife who apparently turned down Oscar Wilde to marry Stoker. With Wilde’s later notoriety she must have heaved a sigh of relief, though Stoker died of syphilis, so maybe not….
The play we saw was performed brilliantly by a skilled troupe of three from Time Will Tell, who whipped in and out of the scenes as various characters (Dracula at one time looking decidedly like Elton John. Though in a good way.)
It was hilarious and true to the book; you could hear direct quotes from the text at various points. The humour was clever and playful, rather than too childish, which can often be the case with these kind of compressed plays that try to appeal to all ages. And the audience participation was at, what I would consider to be, an optimum level. I won’t pre-empt it by revealing all, as I genuinely think anyone would love it, but I will offer a hot tip: do not bring with you chairs and comfy cushions that you’ve made yourself, nor a desire to sit leisurely in the sun. The play moves you around the abbey, using the various backdrops to add to the atmosphere of the scenes. I moaned about this at first, having lugged furniture up the 199 Steps, but then appreciated the immersive aspect and found myself gazing at the intricate arches, which seem to interlock like an Escher drawing.
As part of the entrance price, you get to mooch around the abbey afterwards (or before, if your time-keeping is of a better standard). And includes audio tours. And you know I love an audio tour.
Growing up I thought the Abbey was just, well, kind of nice to look at.
Oh no. It’s important too. Pretty much like the whole of the North East, it has been invaded by diligent invaders – Romans, Danes, Vikings, and even the Germans shelled it in WWI. Founded as a monastery in 657, it was one of the most important religious centres of the Anglo-Saxon world. Mildly interesting , you might think. But, you see, it was ruled by a woman. An abbess. Hild or Hilda (I suppose it was Hild to her friends). She advised kings around the world, was supposed to be dead energetic and a really rather nice person. A shame that it’s noteworthy that she was female and so influential, but we need to know about more women who have carved our history. Read about her. She’s interesting. There’s even a novel about her. And she died at aged 66, which is quite an achievement then. Whatever the year was.
The Abbey, owned by English Heritage, and Grade I listed – so don’t even think about trying to add a conservatory on the back – went into ruin mostly because of bloomin’ Henry VIII (the more I read about him, the more I think he was nowt bu’ trouble) and his bloomin’ Dissolution of the Monasteries. He nabbed all the money, stripped the buildings of the juiciest bits and sold them off at a car boot somewhere. Didn’t think it through did he? Could have kept it and charged entrance. And had a bit of Tudor merch.
The infamous 199 Steps take you back down to the heart of Whitby. Though some claim that it’s actually only 198, as technically the top is not a step, but just…the top. (Sigh. ‘Technically’.) And others claim that it’s 200, as there’s the step from the bottom onto Church Street. But these people need fuller lives. What is important and indeed compulsory, is to count the steps as you go up. If you lose count there are markers every 10 steps, but really, if you can’t count to 199 then you really shouldn’t be allowed out the house.
The Steps, whose proper name are ‘Church Steps’ are quite rightly a Grade 1 listed heritage monument and were originally made of painted wood. Another person who needs a fuller life is the person on Trip Advisor who wrote a review about his favourite step (No. 39. Maybe he was confusing it with the name of a book…) due to its texture and colour. Though maybe it’s me who needs to lead a fuller life, since I’m reading a Trip Advisor review about a step.
But oh! The views. That’s a real reason to climb the steps.
So, Bram Stoker’s Dracula ‘blog’ became an international bestseller and helped bring wealth back to an abbey that was once one of the richest monasteries in Yorkshire. See, that Henry Tudor, missed a trick there.
noun NORTHERN ENGLISH
A mist coming in off the sea; a sea fog
There are some things that you only hear in the North. And some things that you can only experience in North Yorkshire. Robin Hood’s Bay, carved into the Heritage Coast, is by day, stunning. By night, mesmerising and unsettling, in a way that only a northern fishing village can be, especially when engulfed by a fret.
On a damp Wednesday night, I took Youngest Daughter and her two friends to the notorious Robin Hood’s Bay Ghost Walk. The mood was set already by the thick and heavy fog which spread keenly across the North Yorkshire moors, collecting in uninviting, dense masses where the road dipped and turned. Darkness waited eagerly at the edges of our peripheral vision, with a sharp chill by its side. We passed Whitby with its haunting abbey relic, and drove 5 miles on.
As you wend your way to the village, the falling light adds a dangerous hue to the roiling seas and rugged landscape. You feel you’re in the only place in the world and have stepped back in time. Vehicles are banned from the harbour area (but the car park is inexpensive), no cashpoints, no chain food outlets. All as it should be. A village preserved.
Down the steep lane towards our meeting place at the Old Coastguard Station, at the Dock (now a National Trust Visitors Centre), I was sure we’d be the only ones on the tour. But family by family, couple by couple, person by person we gathered slowly, nodding at each other, grim smiles acknowledging the cold, until we were almost 30 in number by the designated 8pm. No one knew who to pay or where our guide was, til a smudge of light, bobbing left to right, approached us. A lady in a short, black top hat and heavy, long, black coat, gripping a lantern, formed an eerie silhouette on the cobbled lane down towards us.
Rose greeted us warmly. A warmth we took gladly. She in turn took only £3 per child and £6 per adult. We hadn’t booked; it isn’t required. Her Ghost Walk took us through the maze of narrow streets and alleyways meshed together, like the branches of gorse on the moors.
She stopped us at junctures to tell us compelling stories of the village, historical facts of love and loss, of gruesome deaths, those fallen from the clifftops, sailors swallowed by the sea and regurgitated back upon the shore. For just over an hour we were entertained and informed.
We learnt how smuggling was rife on the Yorkshire Coast, especially when Robin Hood’s Bay was a more important port than its neighbour Whitby. The village houses the once headquarters of the smuggling kings, who used tunnels beneath the buildings to secret their loot.
The gruesome was entertaining, but the ghost stories disturbing. Robin Hood’s Bay is one of the most haunted places in the country. Well documented are encounters with those who’ve passed over, poltergeists and always worst – child ghosts whose reflections are seen in mirrors. By day you might laugh and shrug. By night, with a fret hanging heavy, you walk with a slightly quicker step.
It’s little surprise that Rose, a skilled storyteller, has her Ghost Walk listed as one of the UK’s top 11 Ghost Walks by Trip Adviser and has been featured on BBC Radio 4 and Channel 4. And she herself is an interesting person. If you get a chance to chat to her as you make your way round the village, you’ll feel her passion for where she grew up and the planet as a whole. She is currently heading up a campaign against littering the countryside and will again feature on TV. We need to make more space in the world for people who have positive passions and can bring ideas alive. She most certainly brought this jewel in North Yorkshire’s coastline alive for us. There are some things that you can only experience in North Yorkshire. Even if there is a fret.
I love knowing stuff, learning stuff, just generally putting more stuff in my brain. It seems to sort itself out in there and I can usually pull it out at will. Usually. So York is the perfect place if you like knowing stuff. And full of experts of all kinds.
First expert: The park and ride bus driver. I’ve never used the park and ride in to York centre before, so when the driver said, “Where to?” I answered, “I don’t know.” He sighed and just said to get off when everyone else gets off. Not a rule I generally stick to in life, but figured it would work quite well here. “1 adult, and are they half fares?” I asked, pointing at the three 12 year olds under my jurisdiction. They had already been primed, as usual, with an urgent whisper, “Whatever age I say you are, that’s what you are, Ok?”. They had duly put on their I’m-younger-than-I-look faces. “Under 16s are free.” “Oh!” said I, regretting not bringing more. I mean, if they’re free… As we got off, I asked the driver where we would catch the bus back. He raised a burly finger and pointed at this bus stop, with a look that said he knew I was clearly bottom set Navigational Skills.
Hungry from our 5 minute bus ride, we went to The York Roast Co. for one of their world famous Yorkypuds.A stonking sized Yorkshire pudding filled with Sunday roast essentials, then furled up to make it manageable to eat. Like a Cornish pasty or Mexican wrap. But not. Better. Way better.
The owners are friendly and smiley. If you’re smiley at work then in you’re in the right job. We were offered an array of choices that seemed to require a gazillion and 17 buttons on the till. Beef, ham, turkey, pork – and goodly chunks of your choice. Gravy (vigorous nods from the girls); horseradish (look of horror); roast potatoes (Incredulity! Does anyone ever say no??); cranberry sauce, veg…..on and on it went. I added red cabbage slaw. Yes it does go with gravy. I am unclear why you would question it…
The owners said they used to be a sandwich shop but after quietly offering Yorkypuds from a teeny counter, the LADbible on Facebook changed everything. Yorkypuds went viral, queues snaked around the shop, they make 300 on a quiet day (our day) and 1000 on a Saturday. Not surprised. Yorkypud experts indeed. Here are our before and after pictures showing our satisfaction.
Fortified, but really ready for a post Sunday dinner snooze, we made our way to our rendez-vous to meet our next expert. At York art gallery is Richard (of York), no less – our walking tour guide. Now, I am a huge fan of a walking tour. And when there’s no human available I always grab the audio guides and when the children were little ensured they had one clasped to their ear. I love how you can see something innocuous, or even not notice something at all, but with facts and anecdotes streaming in your ear it comes alive. Makes you go ‘huh’ and want to ‘discuss further’ with the person next to you. Take this photo of one of the gates to the city walls. See the little door?
Hold on, I’ll give you a teeny clue.
Well, it’s a door where the town crier would come through to make his announcements. See how tiny it is? Only those of limited girth were employed. And that is what a good tour guide will do. Provide lots of mental blue arrows for you to recall whenever you want or need.
I chose the Association of Voluntary Guides To The City of York (avgyork) partly because they’re free (!) but partly because volunteers are keen and know their stuff. (If you go to Captain Cook’s museum in Whitby you’ll find a volunteer sitting quietly on a wooden chair in one of the rooms. Talk to them, volunteers love to impart their knowledge.)
Unusually for a Tuesday early in the year, two guides turned up, so me and the girls got to have our own personal city guide. For free! Walking tour heaven. I won’t recount the whole tour for you but here are a few snippets.
York has been invaded by pretty much everyone whose hobby it was to invade – Danes, Vikings, Saxons, Romans….The reason York has remained intact, compared to other places, is that it kept surrendering. Saying, take us but don’t ruin our city. Kind of like having a scrap but saying ‘Mind the face, not the face!’. So, for instance, it still has much of the castle wall.
The Victorians put in the walkway. In Roman times it would have been a single plank on stilts to shoot arrows from. The daffodils on the left were planted by school children in the 50s and 60s; a different scene from how the moat would originally have looked with sewage, food waste and the dead, purposely acting as a disincentive to invaders.
The tour also provided alternative views of beautiful York Minster.
Richard (of York) adapted his tour to link in with the history that the girls are doing in school: The Battle of Hastings. So he talked about the Battle of Stamford Bridge nearby, for instance. I know! It’s as if I had a mild moment of parenting and actually planned a walking tour to support their education…. He also peppered his talk with ghost stories. Through The Shambles, York’s most popular street (7 million tourists a year can’t be wrong) which used to be a street of butchers, where the offal and blood would be tossed out into the street. The windowsills are deep so meat could be put out for display and some of the hooks for hanging meat are still evident.
We ended up at Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. 3/4 of all the streets in York centre end in gate as it means street, and this is the smallest street in York.
Richard (of York) horrified the girls with the meaning behind the name, but I’ll leave you to go on the tour to find out. They needed a good browse round the Harry Potter shops in The Shambles to recover. I bought fudge. I’ve been to York before. I’m not an expert but I know what works best.
I leave you with my favourite viewpoint of York. This is the way I would walk back to the car park as a teenager; this glimpse of York Minster showed me I was almost there. It reminds me now of the nice feeling of having had a good day’s shopping in York.