Stay Alert, Stay Home: But How Do You Know When You’re Home?

Stay at home. That’s the message. And in one way it’s clear where that is. You know your own address. Well, usually. Lockdown has blurred life in many ways: I woke one day confused as to whether it was Wednesday or Thursday, then rather pleased with myself at having worked it out that it was Thursday, only to discover at 11.30am that it was in actual fact Tuesday. I felt I’d slipped down a Snakes and Ladders snake. But you know at least that it’s the building you feel you pay way too much Council Tax for; the address, when you used to remember it, that you Google repeatedly to check that you’re in the right band – always convinced you’re not. You know it’s the bricks and mortar, or if you’re really lucky, lathe and plaster, that you’re glad to return to after queing for twenty minutes outside Asda. Especially after you’ve also queued behind a woman at the checkout, who was giving an excellent impression of never having shopped in a supermarket before. A ‘noble’ woman who was buying for four people, who s.l.ow.l.y. picked up each item after it had been scanned, pondered who she’d bought it for and s.l.o.w.l.y put it in one of four bags. Who then painfully (for me; the pain was all mine) picked it out again and reassigned the item to another bag. Then you just can’t wait to get home, and you know exactly where it is. The place you can s.i.l.e.n.t.l.y rest your head on the coldness of the kitchen worktop and mutter things to yourself about ‘noble’ people.

But being ‘home’ is more than that isn’t it? There have to be certain things that make you have that feeling – where you feel safe, comfortable, connected. Paul Young in the 80s told us that wherever he lay his hat was his home. We’d sing along with him at the school disco, not questionning him. But that’s not true is it? It’s a sense of place, of peace, that goes deep inside your core. A place where your shoulders instantly soften, making you realise that they weren’t, well, soft. I think we tumble through life, experiences sticking to us like goose grass, places and feelings forming pockets of ‘home’ scattered around the world, some stronger than others. One of these for me is Ingleby Arncliffe, a quintessential North Yokshire village where I lived some magical years as a child.

It’s a place for me where shoulders soften. Where you can take a deep breath and actually exhale. Fully. Ingleby Arncliffe: a childhood of rounders, Fox Off and sledging with all the village children; ages strewn across the spectrum, but all thrown together to forge a history and connection that would unknowingly stay with us a lifetime. It’s not home now, but it’s one of the places that I feel at home; it’s somehow mine and I belong. I feel a sense of ownership, of protectiveness towards it. When the village school closed recently a part of my history closed, and so, part of me.

I sometimes run up the hills behind Ingleby and sometimes wander round the village itself and and look wistfully at ‘my’ house’. Surreptitiously mind – I don’t want to look like a mad stalker. It’s a house that I think I subconsciously benchmark all other houses against. It’s what a ‘proper’ house is supposed to be. And do you know what? It’s for sale! I know. I thought that I should buy it too. But that wouldn’t work would it? It couldn’t be home now I think. Can you go back and live in the same house twice? But I did stand outside and look at it longingly the other day when I found out. Wait, maybe you could buy it. No, I’d be jealous if you did. Wait, wait, maybe you could, and then invite me round for tea. That would be nice.

For sale! My mum had the white Breckon House sign made by a local ironmonger – it used to be black (see pic below).
My house. I still remember the registration of our car.

You’d love the run up the Cleveland Hills though. (Running is not complusory. There are other options such as walking.) How far is it? you ask. Well, up hill about eleventy gazillion miles. But down, I’d say about…2. I like running it partly because it was one of the events in Ingleby village Sports Day. First to the Booster Station and back. We all referred to it as the Booster Station – I’m not sure what it’s official name is.

Booster Station in the background. Me, a triumph at egg and spoon in the village sports day. Yes, a full tracksuit was required! Not sure why you’re asking…
The Booster Station still looking formidable up close, despite losing some of its huge discs, which were used for…booster-ing….

Not quite sure what it boosted – probably radio, though it was thought of as an early warning for nuclear bombs too (children think these things). Especially as there was a button that beeped in the Blue Bell pub, that was somehow, maybe, perhaps connected to it. We felt good knowing that Ingleby Arncliffe and Ingleby Cross would be safe come the apocalpyse.

You wend your way up, past Whomping Willow like barriers. Which you vault nimbly….

Past a rambling Enid Blyton cross-roads.

I’ll take you through the gate on the right another time to Osmotherly, you’ll like it there too. It’s where sheep get washed… kind of…

But here you go left past purply flowers. (It’s like you’ve taken a wrong turn on the ethernet and stumbled across a horticulturtal blog. And you were only googling how to dye your grey hair…)

Purply flowers marked by the large red arrow. (Arrow is drawn by me, is not in the Cleveland Hills.)

I suppose you could get lost, but if you do you really shouldn’t be going out the house at all. Basically you take paths that go up, when you want to go up, and down when you want to go….down. If there’s a choice, take the more downest or more uppest one. And if you see signs like this:

Take heed. (It’s like talking to Bear Grylls, Julia Bradbury and Ranulph Fiennes all rolled into one, isn’t it?)

Keep the wending thing going, peek round corners:

And so to a photo-taking plateau.

Take in the views. Shoulders will soften – views do that whether you’re home or not actually.

If it’s a warm sunny day, maybe this is the best view:

Lie on your back and hear the silence. See your past and ponder your future. Be glad you can.

And so you’ll come to the Booster Station. You can’t beat a bit of Gulag-barbed-wire secrecy. Stand up close, near the yellow flower thingys and you’ll smell shredded cococnut. You will. Honestly, it may seem like it, but you haven’t actually tripped upon this year’s lockdown Chelsea Flower Show.

That I get a feeling of home from seeing this apocalyptic mass of machination, reinforces the quote: ‘home is a place that you grow up wanting to leave and grow old wanting to come back to’. To have stayed my whole life here would have been, for me, stifling. I needed to leave, to explore the world, to gather experiences that build within me a sense of home. Then I needed to come back.

I’m at home being with my family in the car laughing as we go for a day out. I’m at home quietly watching my daughters – I used to love watching them do nothing in particualr in their class assemblies. I wouldn’t hear the other children, I would just watch my own child, as if the sound was muffled. It was very peaceful. I’m at home looking at the favourite thing that I own: a lamp that my grandmother left me. It was a container for acid, being made from glass, that my grandfather made into a lamp for my Nana. I look at it, think of her humour, her sense of adventure, her, and feel at home. I’ve moved house well over twenty times but not till my lamp is out do I feel at home.

An odd angle I know, but I thought you might want to see the neck of the bottle.

The Booster Station is as far as you can go at the moment, but ordinarily you can do the Cleveland Way a 109 mile trail that will take you to want-to-visit places such as Saltburn, Whitby, Helmsley, Roseberry Topping. It’s not too shabby a way to descend though, back the way you came. Don’t run though or your knees will hurt. But you’ll pass a white-whiskered man, who’ll make a humorous quip that will make you feel vinicated in walking skitterishly from uneven stone to uneven stone. Always happens, yes. At the bottom you would normally have several options. One, pop some money in the honesty box and take a snack here from the cute table

Two, scooch over the A19 to the the Joiners Shop (See a previous blog), a gorgeous, award winning coffee shop in Ingleby Cross. It sells some tea leaves, free range and loose, as opposed to restrained in bags – when a place does that, you know you’ve come across quality. You’ll find it easyily enough, with its wide wooden doors, doors that I remember were always flung open as I’d cycle past, often a man working with wood, presumably a joiner… The doors were green then. Or you could go for lunch at The Blue Bell pub in Ingleby Cross, slap bang next to Ingleby Arncliffe. Good Sunday lunch and humongous parmos. You could ask if they still have the nuclear warning button. Worth an ask. Another option is the Cleveland Tontine – I haven’t been since I moved back but you used to be able to see famous people there. I mean Diana Ross – that’s like proper famous. Not someone that you have to tap the side of your head to remember who they are.

Or you could just go home. I hope you’ve worked out where it is.

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I miss The Outside™

Quarantine despair: Quarantine euphoria:

I miss The Outside. With its freedom and freshness. I am resigned to my daily hamster-wheel jaunts round the block – I don’t want to be the person who single-handedly prolongs lockdown. And besides, I’ve always been rather parital to a bit of Dunkirk spirit. It’s a fine thing, a fine thing to have as a fundament to our society. Everyone pulling together for a greater good. But I do miss The Real, Proper Outside. The expanse of it, where I can roll back my shoulders and unfurl my wings. I know I will greet it again and, like an old childhood friend, we will pick up where we left off. But I do miss it.

‘On top of the world’: View from Roseberry Topping over to the Cleveland Hills

For now, I am forming a new Indoor Life. My Computer Science undergraduate daughter scoured the ethernet seas for hours for me, trying to find technology that will cause me as little pain as possible, as I use it to work from home. The enforced use of huge amounts of technlogy always causes me pain. It took her hours, as the entire population of the world, it seems, is realising that it needs a webcam. We all thought we could sit at our desks in our over-worn pyjamas, remnants of salt and vinegar Pringles round our mouths, Ken Bruce on in the background, rejoicing that we’re finally getting a proper chance to play PopMaster. But no, we still have to look vaguely presentable, at least from the waist up.

The necessary gizmos and attachments are arriving in dribs and drabs, undergraduate daughter’s face lights up, my shoulders slump. Though I do actually like the XP-Pen, I’m admitting that. It has rather more nibs than I was anticipating.

I’m not completely averse to technology. It turns out that it’s saving me from having to home school. Yesterday, Youngest Off-spring9 couldn’t be bothered to get up from her bed to get her calculator. She simply barked out queries to her Google Mini, who kindly complied. Independent learning, Mother unrequired. And I’ve spoken to my family and friends on the phone, the actual bit where you speak outloud, like in the olden days, phone, more this week than I have in the last 6 months! It’s as if Private Frazer is rrrolling out ‘we’re doomed!’ There’s an urgent need among us to talk to people. To hear their voices. We are not Islands.

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Low lying mist on a crisp morning near Stokesley.

But don’t try calling me Saturday night as I’ll be Zoom-ing with my uni friends of decades. Perhaps along with the rest of the modern world: in mid March more than 10 million people joined a zoom meeting every day, and I suspect that’s increased since. But our ‘party’, as we’re of an age, will be a quiz with alcohol. I’m putting together the picture round.

My longing for The Outside has got to a point where I’ve been researching it. Yes. I know. Still. Here’s a few nuggets: The National Trust commissioned a study which showed that children play outside half the amount of time that their parents did when they were children. No surprise there, we all agree. We could have told them that. But…but… 10% of these children hadn’t been in a natural environment, such as a park, forest or beach for at least a year. A year. And that’s like, a very long time. Also, on average children aged between 10 to 16 now only spend 12.6 minutes a day on ‘vigorous’ outdoor activity, compared with 10.4 waking hours of being relatively motionless. Not quite sure what they are doing motionless, but I can only repeat. That’s like, a very long time. Mind, they might do well on the final round of SAS: Who Dares Wins…those stress positions.

Apparently, 120 minutes is the threshold, the shortest length of time we should be outside each week. Less than this and all the protective effects against everything from blood pressure to osteoporosis, from cancer to depression, don’t actually work. A quick bit of maths makes me think the Govenment have read this research too, perhaps why a walk of 20 minutes is suggested during lockdown.

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The Seated Man, Castleton Rigg, North Yorkshire Moors – now unseated. Maybe on lockdown somewhere. Never panic-buying.

An interesting fact is that even scenes of nature can have a positive effect on us. Just looking at pictures of The Outside will make the part of your brain – the anterior cingulate and the insula – more active. These are areas connected with empathy and altruism. Whereas, if you look at pictures of urban scenes, more blood flows to the amygadala, which processes fear and anxiety. There we go. Just look at The Outside, it makes you a nice person. And I would say there isn’t a maximum quota that the world can have of nice people. Did you see all the anterior cingulate-inducing, North Yorkshire images I’ve quietly inserted?

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Never-ending summers on Saltburn beach

Are you suddenly feeling all nice and feel like you’d want to give something away? Hopefully. If they’re custard creams, well, you know where to send them.

Soon the world will hit an equilibrium. We’ll move forwards. We’ll gradually upright our creaking bodies, like the evolution of man. We’ll look around and ask, What now? Many things, will be the answer. But The Outside will invite us in. And this time we’ll know what matters.

“Daughter of Eve from the far land of Spare Oom where eternal summer reigns around the bright city of War Drobe, how would it be if you came and had tea with me?”

C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe

A favourite quote of mine and my daughters. To us, venturing to places new and curious is like going to the Spare Oom.

Unprecedented Times: The need for God’s Own Country & Old Meggison

Some things in life are just obvious. They just are. Cheese is a basic food group and should be tax deductible. Mondays should be removed from society; they have no place with us. And then there’s North Yorkshire. There is no better place to be when there is an urgent need to seek space, solitude and sanctuary. God’s Own Country, where 40% of the county is made up of National Parks, is the ideal place to be when you’re required to distance yourself. North Yorkshire covers over 3000 square miles, so, easy to go out without ever having to see anyone, or at most nod and say ‘Now then’ as you pass them on a lonely path.

I started writing this blog a few years ago, as I fell back in love with the place I grew up, having moved away for many years. I explored the vast stretches of beach; the rainbow-streaked waterfalls; its rich, deep history; the stunning architecture; and the cool, the quirky and the curious. I fell in love in so many ways, ways that I hadn’t expected, so much so that I moved back. I want to now unearth my words and continue my explorations. To share more places we can all go, that can maintain our sanity whilst keeping us within the neccessary restraints, so we are all safe and healthy. So earlier this week, I returned to one of my favourite rainbow-streaked waterfalls, one that sits so quietly that it doesn’t even have a mention in Wikipedia. It’s a speck in the North York Moors National Park, one of the most wooded Parks in England. northyorkmoors.org.uk/discover/woodland

Kildale Falls, more romantically known as Old Meggison (don’t put ‘the’ in front or you’ll sound like you’re not from these parts) is a small two-pronged waterfall, nestled in a cosy wood, in Kildale, about 3 miles from Great Ayton. The postcode of YO21 2RT will bring to its front door.

I like a nice tree. Now I’m not advocating ‘forest bathing’ (Sighs. Shakes head) but there is something calming, something primary about being in a damp wood. I once saw a TV program that said we as humans are calmed by trees because of their fractals – fractals being patterns that the laws of nature repeat, like on a snowflake or the spiral of a snail shell. A part of our brain that is concerned with our emotions, is affectd by these natural fractals and, as such, we have a physiological repsonse to them. Ergo trees are dead good to be around. Ergo-er get yerself down to Old Meggison.

Hmmm…I’m thinking someone didn’t read the sign

Over the stile (the stile will give you a nostalgic feel. Stiles do that) wind your way down a path for about 10 minutes. Trees galore, looming high; you are their guest. There is enough squelch underfoot to satisfy anyone, though I’m not sure it’s there all year round, you may have to enquire within the Kildale Estate.

Enough squelch to satisfy all comers

There are many opportunities to say ‘Ooh a look a (insert animal that is very common in England)’ in a tone of voice that expresses surprise, even though you’ve seen them a gazillion times before. But still feels satisfying. Twice I saw a grey squirrel, presumably not the same one, but they were too scampery for me to take a photo for you. Pheasants were fluttering around with their beautiful, irridescent copper feathers, and their squawks from the undergrowth were a constant reminder of their closeness. But again, were far too quick for me while I faffed around with the camera on my phone. As you meander along the path you can see and, even better, hear the waters tumbling gently alongstream. If your children have ever asked what a babbling brook is, bring them here. The River Leven will answer their question. You’ll know when you’ve arrived at Old Meggison – they’ve cleared away a lot of the trees since I was last here. At first I was disappointed, almost disgruntled. Why mess with nature’s perfection: my daughter loved to swing from them; it was fun to clamber through them; they added to the Livingstone feel that you’ve discovered something few know about (despite the neat path you’ve just walked on and the clear signage you’ve passed.) But I did have to admit the newly added steps and platforms made everything easier.

In fact the longer I was there, the more I felt I was in a curious Hobbit hole with steps, twists and turns, and stepping stones. It was fun to walk along the narrow pathway, like shimmying along a precipice in the Alps…ish. In order to get to the furthest platform.

Oh that was lovely. I sat there a while. Just sat there. Listening to the waters below my feet, sliding over time worn rocks, with a bubbling warmth that felt inviting. Layered with the crisp, fresh sound of the waterfall itself, as it smacked on and off the jagged rocks. A picnic, that’s all I needed. Spread out on my little platform, on a blue chequered picnic blanket. Next time.

I didn’t see a single person the whole time I was with Old Meggison. The sense of peace was consuming. The solitude and quiet were only torn by an unncessary expletive from myself, as something thudded from my pocket on to the wood of the platform. Thankful for that solitude.

Waterfalls are my favourite geological phenomenon, and everyone should have one. A favourite that is, not necessarily a waterfall. Waterfalls are nature’s immersive experience. I’ve been to waterfalls around the world, which sounds like a boast but it’s to bring me to my point, as North Yorkshire boasts better than I ever can. North Yorkshire has a seemingly endless supply, all different, and entrancing, and Old Meggison is one of my favourites. It’s just quietly doing it’s own thing. But carry on along the path, there are a few more nuggets of fun and beauty. More wooden steps, paths and jetties.

Keep going, bring your wellies, go barefoot and paddle. Play Pooh sticks. Breathe. Fresh, free air.

If you go back again post-Coronavirus, there’s a cute little cafe closeby (though it does have seating outside to set you aside from others): Glebe Cottage tearoom, YO21 2RH. It’s a pop-up cafe, only opening on select dates. Find it on Facebook.I left Old Meggison, both invigorated and peaceful, intending to head home. Then spotted the sign to Kildale Railway, and thought it was worth ‘a shufty’. And I’m glad I did. I mean it’s not a day-out-with-the-kids kind of thing but worth a 5 minute detour. It’s the cutest little train station; and I am a sucker for a cute train station. I know, what with my watching programs on fractals and visiting train stations, it’s surprising I have time for anything else….There’s just so much story in a train station. You think of evacuees; of factories closing so all the workers can have their annual day out; of drinking classic cocktails on the Orient Express, whilst it puffs out smoke. And I don’t think I’m alone in my sense of connection with railways. Here, there’s a tub where you’re encouraged to take aways herbs, there is live music on the trains, trips especially for those with dementia. When Covid-19 has died away, I’ll take you on some of North Yorkshire’s heritage railways, you’ll love them.I went away wondering in what form I could have cheese for lunch before I sat back down at my desk, thinking Monday had got off to a fine start after all. I went away feeling there’s good in the world. Not just bad.

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Paddle boarding down the River Tees and a bit of Tru:vai sophistication

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.20180601_171739

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.

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Position, Posture and Paddle with a bit of ‘oil-rig’ thrown in. Lean forward like the top of an oil-rig, Simon said, you’ll get more power. I’m sure he said be an oil-rig, though I didn’t actually hear him say it to anyone else….

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Harrogate StrEatfood Festival rocks….and rolls…

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.20180602_160252449306612.jpg

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.

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See what I could have had….

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.VC146416l

We mooched about the field, which was alive with street performers, entertainers, vintage fair rides and one of those stationary bungee jump things. 20180602_1557151865045055.jpg

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.20180602_1606522116331818.jpg

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.20180602_1546531102158238.jpg

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.

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The audio below was also a video but people kept getting into shot and I figured they might not want to be on my blog. People seem to like privacy…

 

 

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…

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Dracula is a blog

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. 20180527_145416(0)1678150744.jpg

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….

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Maybe an easier way to 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.

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This was a sunny day, a bank holiday weekend and a hosting a brilliant play, and still you could move freely. Most tourist attractions would be no-go areas on days like this

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.

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One of the step markers, in Latinese. It means ‘you are nearly at the top’.

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.

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Step 39. What do you think? I know… fuller life required.

But oh! The views. That’s a real reason to climb the steps. 20180527_144738994649051.jpg

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.

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They say if you find a grave with a skull and crossbones on, you have found Dracula’s grave. But you haven’t. Cos Dracula is a fictional character. But worth sending the children/parents/unwanted guests to look for it, while you have a lemon top in peace…

Robin Hood’s Bay Under Fret

 

Fret

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.

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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.

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You were unsure what would lie ahead, as you were led down a maze of alleys and lanes

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.

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In the fading light, Rose appeared ghost-like herself

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.

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We peered up at the windows of the smuggling headquarters, expecting to see plaintive faces peering back at us

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.

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An ethereal entity in Robin Hood’s Bay