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March 21, 2017

Enjoy a relaxing spring weekend beside Grasmere in the Lake District

Enjoy a relaxing spring weekend beside Grasmere in the Lake District
Relaxing beside Grasmere in the Lake District Cumbria - photo zoe dawes

Relaxing beside Grasmere

The stone hits the water with a splosh and rippling arcs curve further and further out towards the fells in the distance. Light peeks through darkling clouds as the weather god makes up his mind whether to shower Grasmere with sunshine or a wee bit more rain. A flash of brightness indicates the decision has been made and the clouds slowly part to reveal the blueness that’s been hiding there for the past couple couple of days. It’s spring in the Lake District, no better place on earth to be at this time of year …

Grasmere Lake on a spring day in the Lake District, Cumbria - zoe dawes

I’ve found a little bench at the end of the lake and am enjoying a rest after a gentle meander along the shore. It’s Saturday afternoon, halfway through my weekend break at Dale End Loggia, a pretty little holiday home looking over Grasmere, not far from the popular village made famous by William Wordsworth. Earlier in the day, I’d met my aunt and uncle, who live in Kendal, and we’d gone round Allan Bank, one of Wordsworth’s homes in this area. It’s got a quirky charm, with minimal decoration and rooms where children paint and women make lace. A huge map of the area encourages visitors to place a marker to show their favourite view.

Grasmere map at Nationals Trust Allan Bank

I have no problem choosing one; looking out from the balcony of my bijou residence at Dale End. That morning I’d eaten my breakfast outside and watched the light shifting across the lake, the hotel opposite reflected in the dark waters, listening to Canada Geese cackling in a field nearby. Behind me, sheep munched merrily on the first spring grass and early morning walkers strode up the lane, waterproofs and rucksacks prepared for whatever the day would bring.

Breakfast Dale End Loggia Grasmere Lake District

A trio of ducks pootle past, a female and two males. It will soon be time for ducklings. Easter is just around the corner and there’s a feeling of anticipation in the air. The trees are budding and spring flowers are peeking out. I lie back and enjoy the luxury of simply ‘being in the moment’ … My reverie is interrupted by loud barking. Two dogs are having a chat, their owners idling beside the water. Eventually one of them is dragged off to continue their walk and peace returns.

Dogs beside Grasmere lake, Cumbria - photo zoe dawes

Dale End Loggia – Grasmere

I’d arrived at Dale End Loggia on Friday afternoon. I was immediately drawn to the view from the balcony. Neat lawns stretched down in front of the building, a converted cow byre. I could see all along the lake. To the left, the village and Helm Crag, known locally as ‘The Lion and the Lamb’ due to the craggy rock formation on the top of the hill. Mountains surround the area and opposite Dove Cottage and the Wordsworth Trust lie waiting for visitors from around the world. I can just make out the Coffin Route, a delightful and easy walk from Grasmere to Rydal, above the hotel. Grasmere Island, recently acquired by the National Trust, floats in the middle of the lake. Whatever the weather, this is beautiful, relaxing place to stay and I love it.

View of Grasmere from Dale End Loggia, Lake District

Grasmere from Dale End Loggia

Dale End Loggia is ideal accommodation for a couple wanting a romantic break or a solo traveller looking for a base from which to explore the southern Lake District. Or a busy travel writer in need of an escape from the digital world and some inspiration for a book she’s been talking about writing for decades … The Good Life Cottage Company kindly offers me this l’al place to stay and I am in seventh heaven. Its open plan, L-shaped design is compact and well-equipped. There’s a kitchen with all mod-cons, seating in front of huge windows to enjoy the scenery outside, a small table for meals or work-station, big comfy double bed and bathroom with shower. A stream with a tiny bridge, runs through the charming sloping garden and there’s a picnic table for eating out and enjoying the view on warmer days . With walks from the front door and only five minute’s drive to Grasmere village, it’s got everything you’d need for a Lake District holiday.

Dale End Loggia and garden overlooking Grasmere - image zoe dawes

Dale End Loggia and garden

During this weekend I visit the Wordsworth Daffodil Garden, which is just coming into bloom beside Wordsworth’s family graves and stock up on Grasmere Gingerbread. I pop into the Herdy Shop and the Heaton Cooper Gallery and but sadly too late to have a slice of lemon meringue pie in Baldry’s, one of my favourite tea rooms in the Lake District. I buy a prawn paella from the Co-op to have on Friday evening with a bottle of appropriately named ‘Quirky Bird’ wine kindly left by Natalie, manager of The Good Life Cottage Company. On Saturday night I drive to Zeffirelli’s Cinema in Ambleside to see a film and get some excellent fish and chips from The Walnut Fish Bar.

Grasmere and Ambleside Lake District

On Sunday morning I will try to write, for that is what I have come here for. I will be totally relaxed and have no excuse for this area has most definitely inspired me. But the lake calls and, after a desultory hour tapping away at laptop, I will give up and go outside. I will take one last walk around the garden, admiring the daffodils flowering beneath a budding tree. A wood pigeon will coo gently above me and a group of children will romp along the lake path on their way back to the village. I will slowly pack up my bags, check the doors and windows are locked and reluctantly say farewell to my weekend retreat. I will go down the hill to Faeryland Tea Garden for one of their legendary scones and sit by the lake in the cool spring morning, remembering all the ways I have enjoyed this weekend.

Faeryland tea and scones beside Grasmere Lake District - photo zoe dawes

Faeryland tea and scone

But that is all to come. For now I am still enjoying sitting here on the bench, listening to the water cascading over the rocks into the River Rothay as it makes its way towards Rydal Water. For this moment in time all is right with the world in this special place amidst the hills of Cumbria …

Bench beside Grasmere Lake District - photo zoe dawes

Bench beside Grasmere

Dale End Loggia

Have a look round Dale End Loggia in this short video filmed during my stay.

If you’d like to stay at Dale End or are looking for a Lake District holiday cottage, contact The Good Life Cottage Company. Locally-run and well established, they know what makes a great holiday! You can follow them on Twitter: @cottagesinlakes  and Facebook: thegoodlifecottageco. I’m delighted to be working with them sharing with you some of their charming places to stay and things to do in this beautiful part of England.

The Langdale Gale: a traditional Lake District Show Jonty’s Cottage Elterwater

A Lake District weekend in lovely Elterwater Braegarth Cottage Elterwater

Travelator Media out and about in the Lake District Daw Bank Cottage Chapel Stile

Three very special cottages in the Lake District  The Malt Kiln Broughton Mills  The Woodloft Elterwater Swallows House Skelwith Fold

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A relaxing weekend Grasmere Lake District

 

March 8, 2017

Celebrating the life and tragic times of Branwell Brontë

Celebrating the life and tragic times of Branwell Brontë
The Bronte Parsonage Haworth Yorkshire - by zoe dawes

Brontë Parsonage Museum

The ‘Pillar Portrait’, half way up the stairs of the Brontë Parsonage Museum in Haworth, says it all. The most famous sisters in the world gaze enigmatically into the distance, dressed in simple Victorian dresses, drab colours reflecting what might be perceived as their drab lives. They were ‘stuck’ in some remote Yorkshire village on wind-swept, rain-drenched moors, spending their days writing or travelling away to teach children in other people’s homes. In the painting, between two of the sisters is a paler, blurry column which, on closer inspection, shows the outline of a male figure. That ‘pillar’ is actually the artist Branwell Brontë, who painted himself and his sisters around 1833. For some reason, possibly composition, he then painted himself out of the portrait and, until recently, he’s been painted out of history too.

The Bronte Sisters - Pillar Portrait at Bronte Parsonage

The Brontë Sisters ‘Pillar Portrait’

The lives of these creative siblings were, in fact, highly creative; Charlotte, Emily and, to a lesser extent, Anne Brontë, are known to readers around the world today for the dramatic novels they wrote in their father’s parsonage in Haworth. The lowly governess got a make-over as a romantic heroine when troubled employer Rochester fell for his daughter’s teacher in Jane Eyre (Charlotte Brontë). The Yorkshire moors will forever be associated with moody Heathcliff and his doomed love in turbulent Wuthering Heights (Emily Brontë). The trials of the abused wife of an alcoholic husband were tackled for the very first time in harrowing detail in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne Brontë). However, brother Branwell Brontë is notorious as the drunken, layabout brother who came to nothing and died an alcoholic’s death in his late-twenties. But there are many more layers to their story and the place to learn all about it is the Bronte Parsonage Museum.

Bronte Parsonage Dining Room Haworth Yorkshire - image zoe dawes

The Dining Room; costume from ‘To Walk Invisible’, Charlotte’s portrait and head of Branwell Brontë

I’ve been here many times over the years and each time am struck anew at the inspiring yet tragic story of this curious family who produced such creative talent and died such sad deaths. Last month I returned, this time to see a new exhibition which throws light on Branwell Brontë and adds a poetic note to his helter-skelter life.

Branwell Brontë

Born in June 1817, the fourth of six children, Branwell’s mother died when he was only four years old. He had five sisters, two of whom died within weeks of each other, aged 11 and 12 years. He showed some talent in literature and art and his adoring father, Patrick Bronte, had high expectations of his only son. Branwell’s self-destructive tendencies appeared relatively early; maybe paternal pressure and creative sisters contributed to this. Drug and alcohol addiction plus a possible affair with a married women were elements of his rackety adult life. He died on 24 September, 1848 at the parsonage, ‘… most likely due to tuberculosis aggravated by delirium tremens, alcoholism, and laudanum and opium addiction, despite the fact that his death certificate notes “chronic bronchitis-marasmus” as the cause.’ [Wikipedia]

Branwell's Room curated by Simon Armitage at the Bronte Parsonage Museum Haworth - image zoe dawes

Branwell’s Room

The Brontë Parsonage Museum celebrates his bicentenary with two significant works, Branwell’s Room and Mansions in the Sky, both curated by renowned Yorkshireman, Simon Armitage. “As a poet of this landscape and region I recognise Branwell’s creative impulse and inspirations. I also sympathise with his desire to have his voice heard by the wider world …” Branwell’s Room is a collaboration between Armitage and Grant Montgomery, production designer for the excellent BBC production To Walk Invisible which focuses on the last three years of Branwell’s life and his challenging relationship with his sisters and father. (Costumes from the TV programme are on display throughout the parsonage.) The room is an evocative representation of what it could have looked like at that time, with rumpled bedclothes, unfinished poems, a discarded laudanum bottle plus writing desk and sketches. It’s as if he’s just popped out the Black Bull pub and will be rolling drunkenly back up the hill at any minute.

The Black Bull, Branwell Bronte's local pub in Haworth Yorkshire - photo zoe dawes

The Black Bull

In the Bonnell Room is an exhibition entitled Mansions in the Sky. 11 objects relating to Branwell are on display, including his letter to William Wordsworth when he was 19 years old, from which the exhibition gets its title. There is also the macabre sketch A Parody showing death leaning over a bed and Branwell’s wallet. Lying alongside are poems by Armitage giving a personal response to each item. In an interview in the Huddersfield Daily Examiner he explained he was trying to imagine what Branwell would have been like today. “One of the objects in the exhibition is his wallet and I wanted to think about what it meant to him – it was always empty. In the poem it becomes a contemporary object; there’s a condom in there, his dealer’s phone number, a credit card with cocaine on the end of it.”

'Mansions in the Sky' Branwell Bronte exhibition Haworth - photo zoe dawes

‘Mansions in the Sky’ exhibition

The Brontë story unfolds throughout the Haworth parsonage via the rooms which hold many original items of furniture, clothing, footwear, art works, writing paraphernalia, first editions and much more. Fans of the sisters’ books and poetry come from all over the world to see the home where they produced such enduring works of literature. Their brother Branwell now gets the attention he deserves, in a unique and moving tribute to this sad figure who longed for recognition and is finally getting it in a little village on the edge of the Yorkshire moors.

Mr Bronte's Bedroom with Branwell and Emily Bronte costumes - Haworth Parsonage

Mr Brontë’s bedroom with Branwell and Emily Brontë costumes from BBC ‘To Walk Invisible’

The Rise and Fall of Branwell Bronte exhibition is on display until 1st of January 2018. Wordsworth’s letter is on loan from the Wordsworth Trust until August 2017. For more information contact the Bronte Parsonage Museum.

If you enjoyed this, you will probably like David Hockney at Saltaire, Yorkshire

 

February 20, 2017

Discover David Hockney at Salts Mill, Saltaire, Yorkshire

Discover David Hockney at Salts Mill, Saltaire, Yorkshire
David Hockney and Alan Bennett - photo Salts Mill

David Hockney looking at a picture of fellow Yorkshireman Alan Bennett – photo Salts Mill

You may have heard of, or even been to see, the new David Hockney exhibition at Tate Britain in London. One of this country’s most loved and respected artists, Hockney was born in Bradford in 1937, studied at the Royal College of Art in London and now divides his time between California and London. However, he’s never forgotten his ties to Yorkshire and spent quite some time living in Bridlington on the coast. The world’s largest permanent collections of Hockney artworks is housed in Salts Mill, in the UNESCO World Heritage village of Saltaire, not far from Bradford city.

Salts Mill Saltaire village Yorkshire - painting by David Hockney

Salts Mill – David Hockney

I first saw this painting of Salts Mill at the Royal Academy ‘A Bigger Picture’ exhibition in 2012. Over 150 Hockney works were displayed, mostly of the natural landscape he saw around the Yorkshire Wolds near Bridlington and it made a tremendous impact on me. Huge oil-paintings of trees, giant iPad drawings of abundant May blossom, a video of a country road, cow parsley gently nodding in the breeze. I next saw it hanging at the entrance to the 1853 Gallery in Salts Mill in 2105, and again just a few weeks ago.

Ceramics and Hockney 1853 Gallery Salts Mill Saltaire = photo zoe dawes

Burmantofts ceramics and Hockney art in the 1853 Gallery

The 1853 Gallery is named after the year that Sir Titus Salt, a Yorkshire industrialist, built a textile mill and village to house his workers beside the River Aire. The mill closed in 1986 and was bought by Jonathan Silver, who, along with his wife, Maggie, converted it into the art gallery and retail emporium it is today. He had known Hockney for many years and their friendship resulted in the huge collection of Hockney’s art on display here.

Caribbean Teatime Folding Screen - Hockney - Salts Mill Saltaire - photo zoe dawes

Caribbean Teatime Folding Screen – Hockney

It’s like no other gallery I’ve ever seen, with its unique combination of Hockney paintings, etchings, drawings, screens and even a very curious design for a post-box. There are family portraits, including a poignant one of his mother and father, informal sketches such as a ‘get-well’ vase of sunflowers, strange illustrations for fairy-tales, vibrant landscapes of the Yorkshire countryside, large murals, a colourful Caribbean screen and paintings of Salts Mill itself. All this is airily displayed amidst highly-decorative Burmantofts Pottery (1881-1904), produced in Leeds and a vast selection of art books, artists’ materials and stationery.

Hockney artworks Salts Mill Saltaire - collage zoe dawes

Hockney artworks in 1853 Gallery

Hockney permeates Salts Mill.  Cafe in the Opera has paintings of the mill beneath quirky light-fittings. The logo for Salts Diner, the informal cafe, is a sketch of a dog and customers eat and drink beside Hockney portraits. However, it is the 3rd Floor Gallery that attracts many fans of this multi-media artist. It is here that The Arrival of Spring is displayed in a vast space that enables this unique collection of 49 iPad drawings to shine. Hockney says, “I planned to record the spring arriving in 2011, having observed its arrival for seven years on Woldgate, a small, single track road that runs from Bridlington to Kilham.”

The Arrival of Spring - Hockney - Salts Mills Saltaire - photo zoe dawes

Woldgate in late spring

He describes using the iPad whilst sitting in his car, then printing out the pictures at five feet high. “I began to realise that using the iPad could be a very good method of recording all the changes that I knew would occur on this quiet road.”  Many of the pictures show one week in early May, “… when the cow parsley (Queen Anne’s Lace) seems to grow a few feet in about a week … a very exciting time I thought, especially the hawthorn, of which there’s a lot in Woldgate.” There is something universally appealing about these drawings. The vibrant colours, the swirling lines, the size, the sequential symmetry draws the eye and encourages visitors to tarry awhile to admire their bosky charm.

The Arrival of Spring iPad Hockney Salts Mill

Admiring ‘ The Arrival of Spring’

Hockney drew not just in spring but winter and summer too; there are pictures of rutted tyre marks in the melting snow and bright sunlight casting shadows across the road. A tree stump features in many of the drawings. Hockney called it ‘The Totem’ and was very upset when vandals used a chain saw to cut it down in 2012. An article in The Telegraph says, ‘It is not hard to guess that the Totem had been a surrogate for the artist himself. Now that it was lying prone on the ground that seemed even more the case. When Hockney was told the news, he took to his bed in a black depression. He has described his state of mind at that time as being, “ … very dark. I felt about as bad as I had in many years”. However, this thoughtless destruction lead him to continue ‘The Arrival of Spring’; he drew the fallen trunk in the winter and continued working on the sequence for many more months.

The Arrival of Spring Hockney Salts Mill Saltaire - photo zoe dawes

‘The Arrival of Spring’ permanent exhibition

This exhibition is on permanent display at Salts Mill,though individual pieces may be on loan to galleries around the world. Entry to the mill is free and a visit to Saltaire is highly recommended. It’s a fascinating village, with locals taking great pride in their industrial heritage. I’ve no idea what Titus Salt would make of Hockney but I really love his exuberant, quirky, life-enhancing art. Go see it sometime and hopefully you’ll be entranced too.

More about Yorkshire

Bradford; city of giant naans, media marvels and Victorian splendour

A walking holiday on the Yorkshire Coast

The life and tragic times of Branwell Bronte

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David Hockney at Salts Mill Saltaire - image zoe dawes

February 10, 2017

5 romantic experiences with a difference in Scandinavia

5 romantic experiences with a difference in Scandinavia
Snowmobile on frozen lake in Finland Scandinavia

Snowmobile in Finland

You may not automatically think of Scandinavia when you the consider things to do around Valentine’s Day. A proposal on the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a romantic dinner in Rome, a luxurious hotel in the Lake District or maybe a gentle stroll along a beach in Spain? However, there are many lovely experiences to be had in the Nordic countries of Europe, especially in winter; here are 5 of my favourites

Scandinavia – Norway

Take ‘the world’s most beautiful voyage’ to the Arctic Circle

Hurtigruten ferry in Honningsvåg harbour Norway Scandinavia

Hurtigruten ferry in Honningsvåg harbour

The famous Hurtigruten Ferry may not be the most luxurious of cruise ships but what she lacks in grandeur she more than makes up for in romantic adventurousness. Still running as a postal service, ferries sail daily from Bergen via deep Norwegian fjords up to Tromsø and Kirkenes in the Arctic Circle. You pass some of the world’s most stunning scenery and in winter the snow-clad landscapes are truly breathtaking. Stops include Havoysund and Honningsvag from where you can get off to visit the North Cape. It’s an unforgettable voyage.

Melt the ice in a Snow Hotel

Moomintroll and Snork Maiden in Kirkenes Snow Hotel - Norway

Moomintroll and Snork Maiden in Kirkenes Snow Hotel

On the outskirts of Kirkenes, 250 miles into the Arctic Circle, you will find a very special place to stay. Snuggle up together in the Kirkenes Snow Hotel and you’ll feel on top of the world – literally. Every year tons of ice are used to create a unique hotel which positively encourages togetherness. When I was there, two couples were on their honeymoon and there’d been an engagement party the night before. Each ‘bedroom’ has a different theme with beautifully lit ice-sculptures throughout. The temperature is a regular -4 degrees Celsius and there are lots of activities including husky and reindeer rides. Scandinavia accommodation doesn’t get ‘cooler’ than this …

Sweden

Get away from it all with Greta Garbo

 Ystad Saltsjöbad Hot Tubs Sweden Scandinavia

Ystad Saltsjöbad Hot Tubs

To be precise, stay in the hotel where Greta Garbo, the reclusive Swedish actress, went to get away from it all in her homeland. The Ystad Saltjöbsad Hotel in the Skåne region of south Sweden has everything you want from a luxury break in Scandinavia. Gorgeous beach setting, gourmet dining, classic Swedish design and the indulgent spa are all highly conducive to romance. Enjoy a bottle of champagne in a double bath or relax together in one of the outdoor hot tubs – perfect any time of year.

Have fika – anytime, anywhere

Fika in Malmo Sweden

Fika in Malmo

Share a big piece of chocolate cake or light-as-a-feather lemon sponge in a cosy cafe with the one you adore. The Swedes love their coffee and cake; you can get great bakes all over Scandinavia but in Sweden they make a big deal of Fika. It’s basically ‘coffee and cake with friends’ (or lovers!) and in most workplaces throughout the country they stop for fika everyday. I had the most divine brownies in a greenhouse at Malmo Castle – simple pleasures in Sweden.

Finland

Cuddle up on a husky ride through the frozen north

Husky sleigh in Finland

Husky sleigh in Finland

Wrapped up in reindeer furs, dashing through the snow on the husky sleigh in the north of Finland – magic. Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to visit Finland as it’s covered in snow and there are lots of wonderful outdoor experiences for you to try. You could try reindeer racing or maybe a snowmobile safari across a frozen lake. In the evening sample local delicacies like Finnish meatballs, moose casserole, sauteed reindeer or Rönttönen, a pastry filled with lingonberries.

Iceland

Get hot and steamy with an old geysir

Geysir Hot Springs at Haukadalur

Hot Springs at Haukadalur

For a romantic break with a real difference, visit Iceland. This is definitely the quirkiest of the Nordic countries and can be very romantic. Stroll round the little streets of historic Reyjavik with its wooden houses, quaint museums and trendy bars. Take a tour of the Golden Circle to see the steamy geysirs and thundering Gulfoss Waterfall or go for a dip in the thermal waters of the Blue Lagoon.

And finally …

Kallbadhus Malmo 03 photo Oskar Falck c Malmö Turism Sweden Scandinavia

Kallbadhus Malmo – photo Oskar Falck c Malmö Turism

There are plenty more romantic things to do and places to see in Scandinavia. You might see the Northern Lights at any time in winter, or maybe discover Norse heritage in Greenland – more info here www.best-served.co.uk/destinations/greenland – or get even more off the beaten track in the Faroe Islands. Without doubt, Scandinavia has something for all lovers of romantic travel.

This article is in collaboration with Best Served Scandinavia, specialists in tailor-made holidays.

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Romantic Scandinavia Experiences by Zoe Dawes

January 28, 2017

Dunster by Candlelight on a winter’s eve in Exmoor

Dunster by Candlelight on a winter’s eve in Exmoor

Dunster by Candlelight - medieval village in Somerset on the edge of Exmoor

The giant stag, carried aloft on strong shoulders, glows an unearthly white. Cowled figures carrying candles walk silently past. Lords and ladies dressed in rich flowing garb stride proudly past. Children carrying lanterns are shepherded down along the road. A musician plays a tin whistle as the procession wends its way past hundreds of people lining the streets of the medieval Dunster. Every shop is brightly lit and there’s a carnival atmosphere, mixed with a sense of awe.  It’s the 30th anniversary of Dunster by Candlelight, a weekend of festivities and general merry-making that attracts visitors from around the UK and overseas.

Dunster at night Exmoor - photo zoedawes

Dunster at night

Dunster is in Somerset on the edge of Exmoor National Park in south west England. The village developed over the centuries around Dunster Castle which dates back to the 11th c. Mentioned in the Domesday Book, the castle was in the Luttrell family for hundreds of years; it’s now owned by the National Trust. The wool and cloth trade brought wealth to the area and the octagonal 17th c Yarn Market still stands in the heart of the village. Nowadays, Dunster is famous for being one of the best-preserved medieval villages in England. I’d never been before, so to see it during the Dunster by Candlelight festival was a real treat.

Dunster by Candlelight town and Castle Exmoor

Dunster by Candlelight

Buses shuttle visitors from nearby towns; I got on at seaside resort Minehead overlooking the Bristol Channel. I follow the procession from its starting point at Dunster Steep near the car park.  Villagers dress up as nobility and peasants, carrying racks of candles in jars or playing instruments. Two stilt walkers tower over us, one dressed as the devil with very realistic horns. We wend our way along the High Street past the Yarn Market towards the castle, lording it over us on a hill above the village. Turning off along Church Street we pass St George’s Church, where a choir sings Christmas carols. In a walled garden a man wielding a chain-saw is carving an eagle out of a tree trunk.

Dunster Wood Cutter

Along West Street we are entertained by a band of energetic drummers and candlelit Fire Spinners twirling and swirling. Collecting boxes are shaken and filled by generous onlookers. ‘The heart of Candlelight focuses on raising funds for St Margaret’s Hospice, which provides so much comfort for those who so need it’, writes Chairman Andy Fay in the excellent Dunster by Candlelight programme leaflet. Father Christmas waves as we walk by.

Dunster Father Christmas

The procession ends at the 17th c Water Mill, where the miller is milling by candlelight. The mill still produces flour and has a popular Tea Room. The stag is gently removed from its plinth and the racks of candles are laid down. There’s a general air of merriment and relief. The following eve, Saturday, the villagers will be doing it all again, but for now they can relax and enjoy the rest of the evening’s events.

Dunster Castle

I make my way up to Dunster Castle, focal point for the village, brightly lit and enticing with the smell of BBQ sausages and burgers. The Stables have been converted into a Christmas Market, selling local food and drink and handmade gifts. People jostle each other to get a better look at the tasty treats on sale. I’m tempted by tiny Christmas Cakes, some very moreish-looking frosted baeks and jars of home-made preserves. I finally choose chocolate dogs and a bottle of Spiced Somerset Chaider.

Dunster Castle Christmas Market products

Inside the castle the Quantock Musical Theatre Choir is entertaining an appreciative audience in the Drawing Room. In each of the ground floor rooms an enormous Christmas Tree, beautifully decorated, adds a festive note to its historic contents. It feels as if the Luttrell family have invited us in to help them celebrate a very special Victorian Christmas.

Dunster Castle Christmas Exmoor

Back in the town I head off to the old Tithe Barn, where a man with a python round his neck is scaring and enthralling the audience in equal measure. Beside the path I find Ian Mabbutt and Seb Jay with a large telescope pointed up into the winter sky. Ian runs West Withy Farm Holiday Cottages, where I am staying whilst in Exmoor. Seb, a noted astronomer, runs Dark Sky Telescope Hire. “Exmoor is a great place for stargazing; it’s Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve. Once you get out of the populated areas, the stars take your breath away.”  Later that evening, back at West Withy Farm, Seb gives a master class in the skies above us.

Dunster Christmas Bauble

Dunster Christmas Shop lures me in with its charming display. Among the Santas, bells, elves and snowmen I see a pretty bauble with a hand-painted scene of Dunster; perfect souvenir of my visit. (More on the Dunster Christmas Bauble here.) In the street outside a man with a marked resemblance to Harpo Marx is playing a piano whilst another man juggles fire and plays a harmonica on top of it. The audience are laughing delightedly at their antics; it sums up the joyful spirit you find at Dunster by Candlelight. One day I will return to see Dunster by Daylight …

Dunster by Candlelight street artists - Exmoor - photo zoe dawes

Many thanks to Visit Exmoor for hosting my weekend, and to Ian and Lorena of West Withy Farm for their warm welcome, hospitality and invaluable advice on what to see in this beautiful area in south west England.

Read more: A winter weekend in Exmoor

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Dunster by Candlelight Exmoor - Pinterest

January 21, 2017

Top 10 Tips for Food and Drink in Rome

Top 10 Tips for Food and Drink in Rome
La Renella Bakery in Trastevere Rome - photo zoe dawes

La Renella Bakery in Trastevere

Food and Italy; they go together like cheese and wine. With a culinary heritage going back centuries, Italians pride themselves on their knowledge and love of good food and drink. Rome’s historic sights attract visitors from around the world but the way to its heart is through its food and drink. Here are my top tips for making the most of Rome’s foodie scene.

Eating out in Rome

1.  Ask a Roman

Rome Restaurant L'Arcano

Ristorante L’Arcano

Rule Number One is always ‘Ask a Local’. Of course, you can use websites, blog posts, guide books and people who have visited but to discover the best places to eat and drink in Rome ask a Roman. It may be the hotel receptionist, someone you meet in a cafe or a friend of a friend. I got excellent tips from Citalia Rome Concierge Dany, who loves his city with a passion and was able to give me some very useful insider foodie tips. They included suggestions places for quick snacks, traditional meals, fine dining, good wines and local markets.

2. Try street food including ‘pizza al taglio’

Pizzarium Bonci Rome - photo Carlo Pesacane

Pizzarium Bonci – photo Carlo Pesacane

Pizza is Italy’s most famous export and Rome is renowned for the quality of its wood-fired pizzas. Search out the ‘hole in the wall’ pizzerias to try ‘pizza al taglio (a slice of pizza)  You can find these pizzerias all over the city. Da Remo (Piazza Santa Maria), Pizzarium Bonci (Via della Meloria) and La Boccacia in Trastevere come highly recommended. Eat on the hoof or sitting beside one of the historic sights.

Pepy's Bar Pizzeria Rome

Pepy’s Bar

I got a tasty artichoke and mushroom pizza to take-away from Pepy’s Bar on the Piazza Berberini. Their sandwiches are works of art. Other street food includes delicious pastries and pies; check out La Renella, one of Rome’s oldest bakeries, founded in 1848 (see photo above.)

3. Explore Trastevere by night

Papa Re Restaurant, Trastevere

Papa Re Restaurant

The narrow streets of Trastevere (across the Tiber) are crammed with excellent bars, cafes and restaurants. It’s difficult to get a bad meal here but rule of thumb says the more Italians there are and less tourists, the better the restaurant will be. Down a tiny lane away from the main area, I saw about 20 people (looking Italian) waiting patiently for a simple restaurant called da Enzo to open.. That’s a good sign. Wandering about in the early eve, I found a tiny bar buzzing with lively chat, serving a good selection of anti-pasti and simple main courses.

Aperol Spritz in Trastevere Bar, Rome

Aperol Spritz in Trastevere

I sat outside with an aperitif, Aperol Spritz (prosecco and Aperol), a dish a VERY fresh pistachios and watched the world go by. I can’t remember its name, but it was just round the corner from Le Mani in Pasta which is on Via dei Genovese (see Tip 4).

4. Eat like a Roman

Artichokes in Trastevere Rome - photo zoe dawes

Artichokes

Seems obvious but so many people go abroad and then look for food they have back home. Search out Rome specialities like carciofi (artichokes) cooked in various ways, saltimbocca (veal escalope), gnocchi (potato dumplings), bucatini all’amatriciana (tomato-based sauce with pancetta, chilli and cheese) and suppli (fried rice balls coated in breadcrumbs with cheese or other filling) similar to arancini found in other parts of Italy. Freshly baked Italian bread such as focaccia with goat’s cheese is a simple treat.

Italian food in Rome - collage zoe dawes

Italian Food

5. Understand the Italian menu

Le Mani in Pasta menu Rome

Le Mani in Pasta menu (English translation)

The majority of restaurants in Rome will have menus in English but it is worth understanding the different courses. Antipasti (starter) may include cured meats, cheese, bruschetta (toasted bread with toppings), olives. Primi (first course) is usually a pasta dish or soup. Be warned, this may fill you up so much you won’t have space for Secondi (second course). This consists of either fish, meat, chicken and more commonly nowadays, a vegetarian option.

Fontana di Venere dinner Rome

Fontana di Venere dinner

Contorni are vegetable or salad dishes. Dolci is dessert, which could be tiramisu (coffee and cream), gelato or maybe panne cotta (cooked cream). Finally you may have a Caffè (coffee) or Digestivi (liquor such as grappa or limoncello) or both. Lunch is from around 12 noon – 2.30pm and dinner from 8pm – 11pm. (Adapted from Walks of Italy How to Read an Italian Menu.)

6. Eat well in in a Trattoria

Chef cooking spaghetti carbonara at 'Le Mani in Pasta' Trastevere Rome

Chef cooking spaghetti carbonara at ‘Le Mani in Pasta’

If you want simple food, served with (usually) friendly service, look for a trattoria, or osteria. These traditional restaurants, usually family-run, can be found all over Rome, but especially in Trastevere. They often have tables outside and offer a decent range of ‘home-made’ dishes and wines. The Menu de Dia, is good value, with a basic choice of starter, main and often dessert, plus a drink included in the price. One of the best meals I have ever eaten was at Le Mani in Pasta a stylish osteria in Trastevere. (See menu above.) The starter was sublime: bresaola (cured beef) with soft, creamy buffalo mozzarella and grapefruit slices. The sharpness of the fruit cut through the cheese and, despite it being such a large plate, I ate every divine mouthful.

Bresaola, mozarella and grapefruit - Le main in pasta restaurant, Rome - photo zoe dawes

Bresaola, mozarella and grapefruit

The waiter recommended house speciality spaghetti carbonara; I watched the chef cooking it through the kitchen window. It was glossily rich and went very well with Le Rubie, the house red from Lazio region. (See photo of spaghetti carbonara dish here) For dessert I had a refreshing lemon sorbet and finished off with an espresso.

7. Visit one of Rome’s markets

Cheese counter at Farmers Market Rome

Cheese counter at Farmers Market

One of the best ways to get a flavour of Rome is to wander round one if its markets. Here you will see the Romans doing one of their favourite things; debating which is the best meats, cheese, vegetables, fruit, flowers, wine, pasta, pulses, olive oil and flowers to take enjoy at home. Campo de’ Fiori is the best known, but for a quieter experience, try Circo Massimo Mercato di Campagna Amica (Circus Maximus Farmer’s Market.)

8. When in Rome – eat gelato

Pistachio Gelato in Rome Italy The Quirky Traveller

Enjoying my pistachio gelato in Rome

Italy has the best ice-cream in the world. Well, to be accurate, gelato is not ice-cream. It has a lower fat content but more sugar with fruit or nut flavourings . So when in Rome, eat gelato. Virtually every street in the main tourist areas of the city have a gelateria (ice-cream parlour) and it’s difficult to get a bad one. The best-known is Giolitti (Via degli Uffici del Vicario), a 19th c café near the Pantheon. One of my favourite flavours is pistachio; go for the sludgy green, not bright green, as it will be natural not artificially coloured.

9. Avoid the worst pizza in Rome

Rome's worst pizza at L'Ottagona

Rome’s worst pizza at L’Ottagona

A tip from Dany, the Citalia concierge; avoid cafes, bars, restaurants and shops right next to the famous sights like the Colosseum, the Parthenon and the Forum. Common sense, yes, but let this be a warning to you. I was joining a Grey Line tour of the Vatican City and we met beside cafe bar L’Ottagono, in Piazza del Risorgimento. I’d not eaten so for speed, even though Dany had told me to avoid it, I ordered a pizza. Don’t. It was as bad as it looks here; overcooked, flabby, salty ham and stringy cheese …

10. Shop for food and drink souvenirs

Panetteria Romana in Rome Italy

Panetteria Romana

Take home a flavour of Rome (import regulations permitting!) from one of the many foodie shops, delicatessens or wineries in Rome. Olive oil, fresh herbs, cheese, olives and pasta are all easy to pack and will remind you of Rome. Lazio region wines include some very good whites, including Orvieto and Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and reds from such as SangioveseMontepulciano and Merlot grapes. I brought back a rope of garlic bulbs and some fragrant rose-flavoured biscuits from the market and crunchy almond biscotti from Paneterria Romana in Trastevere. Delicious flavours from a tasty weekend in Rome …

Italian delicatessen Rome

Italian delicatessen Rome

Many thanks to Citalia, leading specialist in Italian holidays, who organised 48 hours in Rome weekend. They earned the title of ‘Best Tour Operator to the Italian Peninsula for six consecutive years. The Citalia team are friendly, expert and knowledgeable in all things Italian and have local concierges in each destination for personal recommendations, advice and help with day trips, car hire, or restaurant bookings. For more information visit the Citalia Rome page. This trip was a Travelator Media world-wide campaign. Find out more about Travelator Media here.

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Top 10 Food and Drink Tips - Rome Italy

January 3, 2017

Exploring Kendal Castle on a sunny Cumbria day

Exploring Kendal Castle on a sunny Cumbria day
Kendal Castle - Manor Hall

Kendal Castle – Manor Hall

The kite’s red wings rattled noisily as it soared higher and higher over Kendal Castle into the clear blue sky, its string held firmly by a guy in a big puffa jacket. “Can I hold it, Dad? Please, can I?” begged the young girl beside him. “OK, but you must wrap it round your hand REALLY tight.” An anxious few moments as he transferred the string in a complicated manoeuvre to her small fist. She squealed with delight as she felt the kite’s impatient tug as it swooped and flipped in the chilly breeze, silhouetted against the afternoon sun.

Kendal Castle and kite Cumbria - photo zoedawes

Kendal Castle and kite

It was New Year’s Day and perfect weather for a walk to blow away last year’s cobwebs and overindulgence from the night before. Having just had lunch with my aunt and uncle, who live in the town, I’d come up to Kendal Castle for some fresh air.

Kendal Town and River Kent from Kendal Castle - photo zoedawes

Kendal Town and River Kent

Kendal town spreads out towards the Lake District fells (hills), the River Kent flowing gently towards the coast. Hard to believe that a year ago it burst its banks in one of the worst storms we’ve had for years, flooding houses and businesses, causing huge damage and many to be homeless for far too long. I wandered over to the ruins of the medieval Manor Hall; children were scrambling over the walls and chasing each other around the lower vaults.

Playing at Kendal Castle Cumbria - photo zoedawes

Children at Kendal Castle

Kendal Castle was probably built in the late 12th century as a fortified home for the Barons of Kendal. It was sold to the Parr family a few hundred years later. Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Catherine Parr was once thought to have been born here, but as the castle was already in disrepair in the 1500s that’s not likely. The Manor Hall and the North West Tower (originally called the Troutbeck Tower) plus a couple of underground cellars and walls the courtyard and moat. are all that’s left now. Throughout the site there are information boards telling the history of the castle and illustrating what it might have looked like when it was the inhabited.

Kendal Castle Tower and view Cumbria

Kendal Castle Tower and view

The wind was cold but the sunshine brightened up the day. New Year’s a time for reflection, looking back as well as forward. I thought of all the amazing places I’d been lucky enough to visit over the past 12 months. Highlights included having a female gorilla in Rwanda walk over my feet, clambering across the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, feeding flamingos on Aruba in the Caribbean, driving through the Rockies on a Canadian road trip and finding the quirky quokka in Western Australia. However, I always love coming back home and on the first day of a new year, this is exactly where I wanted to be …

Kendal Castle and Tower

Kendal Castle and Tower

Sitting on a wall beside the tower were two young girls, oblivious to everything but their conversation. I thought of all the dramatic changes in the past year, the famous people, part of the fabric of our growing up, who’d died, and the major shifts in world power. The future is always unclear, but this new year brings greater uncertainly than for many a long time. The future is in the hands of these youngsters; we owe it to them not to mess up the present …

Sitting on Kendal Castle walls

On Kendal Castle walls

As I wandered back down the hill, a woman in an electric wheelchair zoomed past, her scarf rippling out behind her. She waved and said, “Gorgeous day isn’t it! Makes you happy to be alive.” It was and it did …

For lots more really useful information on arts and culture, heritage, shopping, activities and much more, check out Visit Kendal.

Kendal Castle Video

 

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