Category Archives: United Kingdom

From The Archives – Hillmorton County School

The Hillmorton County Junior School was an old Victorian building with high ceilings that soared into the sky and partitioned classrooms with rows of old fashioned wooden desks with years of scratched graffiti  and attached lift up seats on squeaking hinges.

Read the full story Here…

East Anglia – Bury St Edmunds and The Patron Saint of Pandemics

Bury St Edmunds was another town that I had never visited. A few years ago I drove through it and was struck by the elegant market place with a tall cathedral and fine Georgian buildings and I made a note to self to pay a proper visit one day.
This was it.
In terms of the weather we had unfortunately picked a very bad week to be on an English staycation and we weren’t too disappointed to be leaving the holiday home (caravan) so we packed up early and headed away from the coast and into rural Suffolk and drove through villages which had seen significant overnight snowfall. I thought that I was in Alaska. Contrary to popular folklore March had roared in like a lion and instead of going out like a lamb was going out the same way.
Fortunately the further west that we drove the weather began to incrementally improve and there were even some glimpses of elusive blue sky. We arrived in late morning which was too early to book into our chosen hotel so we made instead for the centre of the town. Local folk call the town Bury but being from the North I always think of Bury as being in Manchester so I prefer to think of this place as Bury St Edmunds. It sounds posher.

After Ipswich and Lowestoft, Bury St Edmunds is the third largest place in Suffolk and we liked it immediately. After tea and biscuits in the Cathedral coffee shop Kim and Mum made directly for the High Street shops and I went off to investigate the Abbey Gardens and the Cathedral.
The Abbey of St Edmund was once one of the richest and most powerful Benedictine monasteries in all of England. In 869, Edmund, King of the East Angles was murdered by invading Danes when he refused to renounce Christianity. For his stubbornness he was tied to a tree and shot through with arrows and had his head cut off to make sure. No half measures in those days. I wonder sometimes about medieval torture, surely the victim was well and truly dead before the torturers had finished. Vladamir Putin would have been a medieval torturer I am sure.

His death led to the building of the Abbey to house his remains and his shrine quickly became a place of pilgrimage. The Cult of Edmund flourished during the Middle Ages and he was temporarily revered as the patron Saint of medieval England until at some point he was replaced by Saint George.
Today he has the unlikely title of the Patron Saint of Pandemics so I imagine that he has been rather busy listening to prayers for the past couple of years or so. He is said to have been given this title after the French city of Toulouse (who claimed to have some important relics of his) became ravaged by plague in the seventeenth century. Residents of the prayed to Edmund after which the plague came to an abrupt end. As Michael Caine might have said “Not a lot of people know that”.

Maybe if more people had known this the World could have saved a fortune on developing Covid vaccinations and going into expensive lockdown. I wish that I had known that because if I had I would have said a prayer to St Edmund because a few days after returning home from East Anglia both Kim and I both tested positive for Covid.

After the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s the Abbey naturally began to fall into disrepair and lots of stone was taken for alternative building projects around the town. I was quite surprised therefore to discover that so much of it remained in a vast well maintained town centre park.
Near the Cathedral there are houses built into the walls which reminded of Antoni Gaudi creations in Barcelona. I don’t suppose that Gaudi ever visited Bury St Edmunds but if he had he may have got inspiration here,

I spent some time in the Gardens, walked every path and read each and every information board.

Towards the end of the afternoon I made my visit to the Cathedral. Free admission by the way. Up to 1914 Suffolk didn’t have a Cathedral and was part of a wider diocese of East Anglia with the Cathedral in Norwich in Norfolk but it was then decided that it required one of its own. This presented the Church with a dilemma.

Ipswich is the biggest town in the County but Bury St Edmunds had the most famous church thanks to the St Edmund connection. The Church came to a compromise, Ipswich would get the Bishop’s House and be the base of the diocese and Bury St Edmunds would get the Cathedral and everyone agreed that that was a good idea except perhaps for the Bishop who has a hundred mile round trip every week to get to Sunday service which would have been much more of an inconvenience over a hundred years ago than it is today.

Ipswich is not unique, it is not the only County town without an Anglican Cathedral and there are others – Warwick, Cambridge (I mentioned that before), Northampton (I mentioned that before as well), Nottingham, Aylesbury and Shrewesbury are other examples. At the same time that Suffolk became a diocese so too did Essex with its own Cathedral in Chelmsford.

Not a brilliant Cathedral I have to say but it provided me with a pleasant fifteen minute visit, especially as the choir was practising which was very nice, before I left and rejoined the others at the agreed time.

I had enjoyed my afternoon in Bury St Edmunds and I was forced to concede that this was a town where half a day it isn’t long enough so I will have to make another note to self to return one day and stay longer.

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Sunday Sunset – The Field

This is the field opposite the house where we live. It is not a great picture, I was panicing and in a hurry and I snatched it before it was gone but it is a great burning sunset…

From The Archives – The Spalding Flower Parade

The history of the Spalding Flower Parade stretches back to the 1920s when the acreage and variety of tulip bulbs grown throughout the area surrounding the market town became an annual feast of colour.

Read the Full Story Here…

East Anglia – The Evolution of Caravans

Warning – the post contains images that some readers might find upsetting.

It had been a glorious day weather wise but the forecast for the next few days was really rather grim and although we arrived in sunshine  clouds were already worryingly close by and the prospects were depressingly bleak.

Before travel I had rather recklessly accepted a challenge from Kim to sometime this week take a dip in the North Sea and although this was only mid March I had rashly accepted.  There was a £10 bet resting on this and as I was not about to part with £10, even to Kim, especially to Kim, so I decided that it had to be done straight away.

Bloody Hell it was cold.  It reminded me of family holidays sixty years ago.

Bad weather didn’t stop us going to the beach in those days and even if it was blowing a gale or there was some drizzle in the air we would be off to to enjoy the sea.  If the weather was really bad we would put up a windbreak and huddle together inside it to try and keep warm.  Most of the time it was necessary to keep a woolly jumper on and in extreme cases a hat as well and Wellington boots were quite normal.

As soon as the temperature reached about five degrees centigrade or just slightly below we would be stripped off and sent for a dip in the wickedly cold North Sea in a sort of endurance test that I believe is these days considered even too tough to be included as part of Royal Marine Commando basic training.

It was rather like being submerged in liquid nitrogen and whilst swimmers in Australia were worrying about sharks we were busy avoiding bits of iceberg that had broken off in the Arctic Ocean.  I can remember one holiday at Walcote, Norfolk, in about 1965 when it was so cold that there was a penguin on the beach!  That is seriously true and being so far from the South Pole I can only imagine that it had escaped from a nearby zoo or aquarium.

I claimed the £10 bet but Kim reneged saying that I hadn’t fully submerged so it didn’t count and the bet was off.  I was too cold to dispute the finer points of the claim.

As promised in the weather forecast the next two days were desperately awful with rain, sleet, snow and high winds whipping in from Scandinavia so for much of the time we were confined to the caravan which was painful but not as bad as swimming in the North Sea.

I have horror memories of caravan holidays.  When I was a boy the family went to caravan holidays all of the time.  Caravans simply had no temperature control, they were hot and stuffy if the sun shone (so that wasn’t too much of a problem, obviously) and they were cold and miserable when it rained, which,  I seem to remember was most of the time .

They  had no bathroom so we had to use the communal camp washroom facilities, it had no electricity so we couldn’t watch TV, it had no kitchen so we couldn’t cook breakfast and it didn’t have heating so when it was cold it was really cold.  The only thing it did have was a bottle of Calor Gas and a one ring hob for boiling a kettle and for lighting hissing gas lamps at night which attracted insects and created so much condensation that after an hour or two, water was dripping off the ceiling onto our sleeping bags on the floor and we were sleeping in a puddle.

As I get older I appreciate more and more what my parents did for me.  They took us for a seaside in a tiny caravan and I can only imagine that they hated it, it must, after all, have been mind-numbingly boring, spending endless hours in a biscuit tin with only the popping of the gas lamp and the smell of  Calor Gas for evening entertainment, especially when it was raining. 

I am pleased to be able to report that modern caravans are much improved and our accommodation had all of the facilities of a modern home with central heating, running water, a bathroom, electricity and a fully equipped kitchen.  So we we filled the fridge with wine, cooked a Shepherd’s Pie that Mum had prepared previously, closed the doors and hunkered down for a couple of days in the comfort of our caravan.

As it turned out it wasn’t bad weather all of the time, only about 95% of the time  out so in between blizzard like Arctic showers and savage North Sea winds we did manage to get out for an hour or two.

I especially wanted to go to Aldeburgh because last time that I was there I had a mind to have some fish and chips from a highly recommended chippy but this was in August and there was queue which lasted over an hour and however much I like fish and chips I wasn’t prepared to line up for that long.

Today there was no queue so I breezed in and ordered and took them away to the beach to eat them.  The fish was good, the chips were poor, I enjoyed them but I wouldn’t queue for over an hour to buy them.

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A to Z of Cathedrals – E is for Ely in Cambridgeshire

When I was a boy my parents took us on caravan holidays.  I only had bad memories of caravan holidays and refused to ever consider them again until 2006 when my pal Dai Woosnam persuaded me to give modern caravanning a chance.  I did so and now I am happy to have a once a year holiday in a tin shed.

I had been to Kessingland in Suffolk before but we were taking my Mum and she liked it there so we happily selected it again.  I have only been to Suffolk twice before so have missed a lot and cannot claim to be an expert so when I planned the itinerary from Rugby (where my Mum lives)  through East Anglia I looked for new places to visit.

Historically East Anglia consists of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and maybe Huntigdonshire.  Essex occasionally aspires to be included but has never been admitted for not being posh enough.  On the positive side however it does have a First Class county Cricket Team and the others do not.

I most associate East Anglia with “Sale of The Century”, the quiz of the week with Nicholas Parsons.

We started at Ely in Cambridgeshire.

I have never spent much time in Cambridgeshire, I have only ever been to Cambridge once (not to the University) and missed it out again this time as we took the by-pass and headed deep  into the Fens.  After a few miles of flat, featureless landscape we spotted Ely Cathedral rising majestically from the fields and soaring into the heavens.

I used to believe that every County in England had just one Cathedral but now I know different because Cambridgeshire has two.  Yorkshire has five cathedrals, Lancashire has four and as well as Cambridgeshire, Kent and Hampshire also each have two.  Cambridgeshire has two because of the changing geographical status of Peterborough.  Peterborough used to be in Northamptonshire and then in Huntingdonshire but in 1974 was transferred to Cambridgeshire which gave the County two Cathedrals but left Northamptonshire with none.

Other English Counties without (Anglican) Cathedrals are Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, East Sussex, Isle of Wight, Rutland and Shropshire.

The Fens are drained and reclaimed now for agriculture but  a thousand years ago they were a soggy, waterlogged sort of place and as a boy I grew up on stories of Hereward The Wake who fought the Norman invaders and based his army on the Isle of Ely because only he knew the safe paths through the bogs and safe channels.

This is Hereward the Wake, a sort of eleventh century Brexiteer who would today have a seat in Boris Johnson’s anti Europe government or be writing a column in the Daily Express…

Ely is a small city because the land was previously unsuitable for development so at just twenty-five square miles it is the second  smallest in England after Wells in Somerset and just ahead of Ripon in Yorkshire and Truro in Cornwall.

The Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe is geographically the largest diocese of the Church of England covering nearly a fifth of the entire World including North Africa, Europe (but not the UK obviously because this is split between Canterbury and York), a bit of Asia (Turkey) and the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Despite this immensity it has only one cathedral, the Diocesan Cathedral is the Holy Trinity, Gibraltar  and it is headed by the Bishop in Europe, Rob Innes.  Except for having to live in Gibraltar* that sounds like a rather good job to me.

We arrived in Ely and to my delight discovered that the City has free parking.  Free parking is something that is virtually unheard of in the UK.  The previous month I was in Yorkshire where every open  available space has a parking meter.  I am told that in Yorkshire you need a parking ticket when waiting at traffic lights.

Kim and Mum were not desperately keen to visit the Cathedral which was a good job because there is an entrance fee of £8.50 which is normally way above my budget so they slipped into the town to find a coffee shop and I searched the bottoms of my pockets in search loose change.  I still think £8.50 is a lot to pay but have to take into consideration that the annual maintenance budget for the Cathedral is £5m and has to be funded from visitor fees and public donations.

Once inside I had to agree that the admission fee was well worth it.  Not the biggest, tallest or oldest Cathedral but certainly on of England’s finest.  The Cathedral was begun in the seventh century but completed its first build under the Normans once they had dealt with the pesky Hereward The Wake.  It was built in stone quarried in Northamptonshire which is a bit ironic because they might have chosen to build there own but still don’t have one.

The stone was paid for not in gold or coin but in eels in a contract worth eight thousand eels a year.  (The name of the City is derived from eels).  A thousand years ago it seems people were rather partial to eels.  In 1135 King Henry I of England famously died after eating what the chronicler Henry of Huntingdon described as a dinner of carnes murenarum – the flesh of eels.

The king’s doctors had advised against him eating eels, but Henry took little notice and died later of food poisoning.  It turns out that eel blood is poisonous to humans if not cooked correctly.  Rather like the Japanese Puffer Fish and interestingly Japan consumes 70% of the World’s eel catch.

I thoroughly enjoyed Ely Cathedral and after an hour or so discovery returned to the streets to rejoin my travelling companions who had thoughtfully bought me a snack, thankfully not eels but a sausage roll.

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North Yorkshire – Cheese, Buttertubs and a Waterfall

Arriving back in Settle in mid afternoon we  drove east now into the heart of the Dales towards the town of Hawes.

Oh, I do like this place, I lived here once (nearby) in 1996-7.

The Dales is one of the ten National parks of England.  Yorkshire has two of them (Devon also has two but Cornwall has none). The others are Derbyshire, Cumbria and Northumberland in the north, Norfolk in the East and Hampshire and East Sussex in the South.  There are also two in Scotland and three in Wales.

The Yorkshire Dales is so called because it is a collection of river valleys and the hills in between them. ‘Dale’ incidentally comes from a Viking word for valley.

Most of the Dales are named after their river or stream, Swaledale, Wharfedale, Ribblesdale etc. but not Wensleydale which is named after the small village and former market town of Wensley, rather than the more obvious River Ure.

There are a lot of these cow barns in the Dales, they were for keeping cattle sheltered during harsh winters…

The Dales rivers all run west to east from the Pennines draining eventually into the River Ouse. The Ouse is in fact a continuation of the River Ure and the combined length of of 129 miles makes it (after the Severn, the Thames, the Trent, the Wye and the Great Ouse) the sixth longest river of the United Kingdom and the longest to flow entirely in one county.

The Ouse eventually joins the River Trent at Goole to become the Humber Estuary and then drains away into the North Sea.

Hawes is a charming little town and we stayed for a while, walked along its quaint streets, bought some local produce from independent retailers and finished at the famous creamery made some unnecessary purchases and overspent our budget on Wensleydale cheese, once described by T S Eliot as the “Mozart of Cheeses”.

Which other composers might compare to cheese?  Any suggestions anyone?

I am going with Johann  Strauss and Blue Stilton.

A few years ago the owners tried to close the creamery down and move production to next door Lancashire but no self respecting Yorkshire man or woman would allow that to happen – make Yorkshire cheese in Lancashire, whatever next! – so after a management buy-out the staff resumed production for themselves.

Just like the river the main roads run east to west in the Dales  but to get from one to another requires driving across the hills that separate them.  There are many high roads and passes with stunning views of the surrounding valleys and fells, but perhaps the best known is Buttertubs Pass a mountain road at an elevation of 1,732 feet above sea level, 

The climb was once rated by Jeremy Clarkson as “England’s only truly spectacular road”.

There are places to pull in at the summit and you can visit the limestone potholes which give the pass its name. The story goes that as farmers rested at the top of the climb on a hot day – on route to the market in Hawes – they would lower the butter they had produced for sale into the potholes to keep it cool.  Maybe true, maybe not.

More recently Buttertubs Pass featured as the second King of the Mountains climb of the 2014 Grand Depart of the Tour de France. It continues to be a  popular climb for cyclists to come and test themselves.

It is cold at the top…

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At the end of the day we arrived at Castle Bolton where there is a magnificent castle where Mary Queen of Scots was once imprisoned within tall walls, crenulated battlements and expansive views over the Dales but admission was quite expensive and we decided against it and after we had gate-crashed the gardens without payment we drove back to the accommodation stopping briefly in the town of Leyburn for some important grocery supplies – alchohol!

The next morning we planned a walk across the fields to Aysgarth Falls, a natural beauty spot where thousands of gallons of water in the River Ure tumble, leap and cascade over a series of boulders and broad limestone steps.  It was featured as the location for the fight between Robin Hood and Little John in the film ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’ and in 2005 it was included in a BBC television list of seven best natural places in Northern England.  The other six were The Lake District, River Wear, Whin Sill, River Tees, Holy Island and Morecambe Bay.

After the walk we took a drive to Hardraw Force a waterfall  in Hardraw Scar, a wooded ravine just outside the village of  the same name.  It was four o’clock and the old woman at the visitor centre was preparing to close for the day and was not especially pleased to see us.  As she took our money she told us quite firmly that she would be closing at five and if we were not back she would call the police. 

I am fairly certain that the police have much better things to do with their time than worry about visitors to Hardraw Force staying beyond closing time.

Comprising a single drop of one hundred feet from a rocky overhang  Hardraw Force is claimed to be England’s highest unbroken above ground waterfall.  The highest single drop falls in the World is a lot bigger at seven hundred and forty  feet and is the Kaieteur falls in the Amazon rain forest in Guyana.

As it happened we didn’t need the full hour because it only took ten minutes to walk to the falls, ten minutes to admire it and ten minutes to walk back.  My conspiracy theory is that visitors have to be out by closing time because that is when someone turns the tap (faucet) off.

No need then to call Special Branch or an armed response unit.

 

 

North Yorkshire Postcards

See More Postcards of Yorkshire here…

North Yorkshire – Skipton and Grassington

This year (2022) my little brother Richard turned 60 and we wanted to do something special to celebrate. 

Richard was going to Yorkshire for a few days with his wife Deanna, he likes Yorkshire and so do we.  My sister Lindsay has never been to Yorkshire and likes Cornwall. She wants to go and live there.  I don’t understand why anyone can prefer Cornwall to Yorkshire.  Richard invited us to join him and we were easily convinced.

So we set off early in the morning with the intention of visiting the town of Skipton, a market town in the north of the County.  In Yorkshire market towns have proper markets and local people go to shop there.  They are sociable, busy, vibrant and wonderful.  If I lived in Yorkshire I would happily go shopping every Saturday.  I would buy the local produce in the butchers and the greengrocers. Not something that I would say about my home town of Grimsby I have to say.

In 2018 Skipton was included in the Sunday Times report on Best Places to Live in northern England.

Historically in the East Division of Staincliffe Wapentake in the West Riding of Yorkshire, it is on the river Aire, by an infuriating only two miles short of the being the longest, it is the fifth longest river in Yorkshire after the Ure/Ouse, Swale, Derwent and Don,  Also running through the town is the  Leeds and Liverpool Canal dating back to 1774 and one of the earliest canals to be constructed in the UK.

The name Skipton means ‘sheep-town’, a northern dialect form of Shipton. The name is recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. Yorkshire claims to have more sheep than any other English County but you have to be careful with claims like this, it is a very big county, the largest in England so this is most likely not too difficult.  The Swaledale sheep with its characteristic black face and curly horns is the emblem of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

On the subject of sheep Scotland claims to have more sheep than people and so does New Zealand.  Derby County Football Club has a Ram as its mascot but no one really knows why.

This one lives in my back garden…

Famous people from Skipton – Thomas Spencer, the co-founder of Marks & Spencer, was born there in 1858.  He opened the first Penny Bazaar in Leeds in 1884.

Even more famous and regarded as one of the greatest bowlers in the history of the game of cricket, Fred Trueman was a fearsome fast bowler and was widely known as “Fiery Fred”. He was the first bowler to take three hundred wickets in a Test career.  It was against Australia in 1964 and I remember watching the moment in grainy black and white on BBC TV.  I used to spend hours watching Test Match coverage in those days.

No ordinary Saturday afternoon cricketer would want to face Fred Trueman, he had a wild mop of unruly hair and a threatening stare which said ‘this next delivery will take your head off’, he charged in like a bull on an ungainly angled run so the batsman could see him coming with his boots bouncing, flannels flapping and shirt sleeves sailing before a huge final last step lunge and a ninety mile an hour delivery.  Deal with that.  Together with Brian Statham, he opened the England bowling for many years and together they formed one of the most famous bowling partnerships in Test cricket history. 

I immediately liked Skipton especially when I found the hardware store which is a feature of most Yorkshire towns but which seem to have disappeared almost everywhere else.  I remember one in my town of Rugby in the 1970s, it was called Clarks at the top of Railway Terrace and I went to school with David whose family owned the shop.  Gone now of course.

It was lunchtime so we found a local tearoom/café and ordered lunch.  I was hungry and went for the big one, a Yorkshire Steak and Ale pie and Kim accused me of being greedy but did then steal a forkful or two.

You have to have a steak and ale pie in Yorkshire…

In the mid afternoon we moved on to the village of Grassington which was recently used as the setting for the fictional town of Darrowby in the TV adaptation of  All Creatures Great and Small, instead of Thirsk where the actual story took place.  

We took a circular walk across the fields and beside the river Wharfe and ambled slowly around the village streets before continuing our journey.

Tonight and  for the next three nights we were staying at the Wheatsheaf pub in Carperby near Aysgarth Falls.

My travelling companions, Richard, Deanna, Kim, Lindsay and Mick…

Four days later on the drive home we stopped over in the town of Thirsk where there was a very fine street market where we bought cheese, bacon, sausages and meat pies …

Sunday Sunsets – Borth in West Wales

It was our final evening in Borth and  I made a last visit to the seafront where I was rewarded with a second magnificent sunset.  So magnificent that I began to question why I insist in travelling to the Greek Islands to see something that is equally as good here in Wales.

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