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July 28, 2017

Experience the nostalgic pleasure of steam train railways around North Wales

Experience the nostalgic pleasure of steam train railways around North Wales

Four steam trains in three days – what a treat. I was on on a very special trip to experience the delights of North Wales Heritage railways, sampling itineraries from specialist railway tour operators Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries.

Ffestiniog Railway

Ffestiniog Railway steam train Merddin Emrys

Engine driver Paul on Merddin Emrys

The heat is overwhelming. There’s a smell of coal dust, hot metal and sea-salt. Steam hisses and a seagull squawks overhead. Adults ready their cameras, children giggle with excitement and the sense of anticipation builds. “Keep right in to the side there and watch that pipe; it’s boiling hot and will give you a nasty burn if you touch it.” Engine driver Paul ensures I’m ensconced in my tiny corner of the cabin, gives a brief nod to stoker Andrew, a piercing whistle shrieks across the river estuary out to sea, there’s a chuff-chuffing from the steam train and we are on our way.

View from inside Ffestiniog Raliway steam engine cab

View from inside Ffestiniog Raliway steam engine cab

I’m on the footplate of the very splendid Merddin Emrys, a push-me pull-you Double Fairlie locomotive, on the  Ffestiniog Railway, fulfilling a life-long dream to travel on the footplate of a steam train. The Festiniog Railway Company, in North Wales, is the oldest surviving railway company in the world. It opened in 1836 to take slate from the quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog to Porthmadog for export around the globe. We used to holiday in nearby Llandudno and I remember seeing the little train chugging along the track and wishing we could go on it … and now I’m finally here.

Minffordd Station - Ffestiniog Railway steam train - photo Zoe Dawes

Minffordd Station

The train slowly gathers speed as we pass fields of sheep and quaint cottages. People wave as we rumble through Boston Lodge and cows stop grazing to gaze at us as we steam by. At Minffordd, where we pass another steam train going in the opposite direction, I have to leave the engine and join the other passengers in one of the lovely old wooden carriages. We slowly start the steep climb into the mountains where the scenery becomes wilder through the glorious Snowdonia National Park. Sunlight glimmers through wooded groves and we disappear into a tunnel before doing a loop-the-loop at the Dduallt Spiral.

Ffestiniog Railway Bara Brith and Welsh Cakes

Bara Brith and Welsh Cakes

Afternoon tea arrives; a plate of local Welsh Cakes and Bara Brith (fruit loaf) are most welcome. Against railway rules I put my head out of carriage window and watch the steam train puff its way round the curve of the narrow-gauge track. The sight and sound of this sturdy little engine brings back many memories of childhood and a world where time seemed to go at a much slower pace. We arrive at Blaenau Ffestiniog Station and we have a quick look at the brand new, very luxurious, Pullman Observation Carriage, with beautiful wood panelling and maps of the railway route carved onto the tables. On the platform we watch as Paul and Andrew jump on top of the engine to check it and fill it with water.

Steam train at Blaenau Ffestiniog

With its twin funnels and gleaming red livery,  Merddin Emrys is a fine example of a Victorian steam train and I feel privileged to have spent some time in its company.

Welsh Highland Railway

Welsh Highland Railway steam train

Welsh Highland Railway steam train

We had started the day in castle-dominated Caernarvon, boarding the Welsh Highland Railway, UK’s longest heritage railway, that took us inland, past the foot of Snowdon and on to the pretty village of Beddgelert. Our train was pulled by a mighty fine black locomotive, NG/G16 No.87, built in 1937, originally used in South Africa and rebuilt in the Ffestiniog Railway’s own Boston Lodge Works. En route we got superb views out towards the Lleyn Peninsula, beside old slate mines and tiny railway stations, past lakes emerging from steamy windows, near rushing waterfalls and on up into the mountains.

Lake View from Welsh Highland Railway steam train North Wales

View from our railway carriage

Clare, our very informative host from Ffestiniog Railway Company, outlined our route on the map and gave us some facts and figures about the company and its rolling stock. Well-equipped walkers got off at one of the halts to hike up Wales’ highest peak.

Welsh Highland Railway route

Welsh Highland Railway route

As we crossed the impressive Glan-yr-afon Viaduct I gazed up towards the summit of Snowdon, shrouded in mist. This stretch of the track is one of the steepest gradients in Britain, 1-40 and we snaked our way back down through the forest toward Beddgelert, Snowdon playing hide and seek along the way.

Welsh Highland Railway steam train Snowdonia - North Wales

Welsh Highland Railway steam train

As we disembarked in Beddgelert, the rain arrived, not so unusual in this part of Wales. However, by the time we’d got our coach to the quirky village of Portmeirion it had stopped and the sun was peaking out again.

Llangollen Railway

Llangollen Railway Station and 80072 steam train

Llangollen Railway Station and Steam engine 80072

The following day we headed off into the valleys for a ride on the Llangollen Railway, the only standard-gauge heritage railway in Wales. As with many other railway lines, this was originally built for the mining industry, but Llangollen has been a tourist destination for many years. It’s a very attractive town on the River Dee and the railway is its biggest attraction. The quaint Station Building sets the scene with old suitcases piled on the platform and uniformed guards, drivers and other staff bustling about making sure everyone gets aboard in time for departure. We had a reserved carriage all to ourselves again, with scones, jam and cream laid out on crisp white linen – very civilized. The velvet-upholstered seats and lacquered wood panelling all conspired to give that feeling of nostalgia for rail travel in stylish luxury.

Llangollen Railway reserved carriage North Wales

Reserved Carriage

We were being pulled by beautifully restored locomotive 80072, built in Brighton in 1953 to run on the south coast, but left to rot for many years after the Beeching cuts of the 1965, which is when the Llangollen Railway also closed for main-line travel. There are few transport sounds more evocative than the huffing of an engine as it builds up steam on its way out of a station. We got that experience a number of times as there were a three stops along the line, which runs beside the sparkling River Dee, to Corwen. The return journey was equally delightful and everyone thoroughly enjoyed our very special steam train journey.

Llangollen Railway steam train -photo Zoe Dawes

Llangollen Railway steam train

After lunch we went on a leisurely glide along the Langollen Canal on a horse-drawn boat – perfect end to a perfect day.

Snowdon Mountain Railway

Wyddfa steam engine Snowdon Mountain Railway - photo Zoe Dawes

Wyddfa

On our final morning we set off early to get the 9.30am Snowdon Mountain Railway steam train from Llanberis Up the Mountain. We went up and down in glorious sunshine, pushed up by Wyddfa, a Swiss-built engine from 1893, driven by Paul and stoker Robert. It was a truly epic journey – watch out for the story in another article …

Top of Snowdon with Mountain Railway train North Wales - photo Zoe Dawes

Top of Snowdon with Mountain Railway train

Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries Steam Train Tours

I travelled to North Wales courtesy of Great Rail Journeys and Rail Discoveries. Our group stayed in Llandudno at the very comfortable Dunoon Hotel, with superb food in charming surroundings. We also had an excellent Italian meal at the Wildwood Restaurant in the town centre.

Dunoon Hotel Llandudno

Our group at Dunoon Hotel

Great Rail Journeys Railways & Castles of Wales Tour includes a stay at the award-winning Dunoon Hotel, journeys on the Welsh Highland, Ffestiniog and Snowdon Mountain Railways, and excursions to Portmeirion Village and Caernarfon and Conwy Castles. GRJ Independent can also tailor make holidays to the region for those wishing to travel to Wales on an individual basis Save up to £30pp when booking on or before 15th August 2017.More details Railways and Castles of Wales.

Rail Discoveries Railways of Wales Tour includes a stay at the Kensington Hotel, journeys on the Welsh Highland, Ffestiniog and Llangollen Railways, a horse-drawn boat trip on the Llangollen Canal, and excursions to Portmeirion Village and Caernarfon Castle. Save up to £30pp when booking on or before 15th August 2017. More details Railways of Wales.

Andrew and Paul on the Ffestiniog Railway steam train - photo Zoe Dawes

Andrew and Paul on the Ffestiniog Railway

Love Narrow-Gauge Railways? Read my review of Small Island by Little Train – a narrow-gauge adventure by Chris Arnot.

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North Wales Steam Railways

 

June 19, 2017

A quartet of very different Lake District books

A quartet of very different Lake District books

Four special Lake District Books Cumbria

“I’m coming to the Lake District on holiday. What book would you recommend?” Well, that really depends on what kind of book you’re looking for. There are so many Lake District books: traditional guide books, walking books, novels, biographies, photography books, children’s books … Here are four of my favourites.

Lake District Books

I Never Knew that about the Lake District - Christopher WinnI never knew that about the Lake District by Christopher Winn

Did you know that Fletcher Christian, he of Mutiny on the Bounty, was born in Cockermouth? Or that the ‘Yellow Earl‘, past owner of Lowther Castle, was the only man other than Winston Churchill to have a Cuban cigar named after him (the Lonsdale Cigar)? Well, if you read ‘I never knew that about the Lake District‘ you’ll find out hundreds of fascinating snippets and facts about the area. The book is divided up into geographical sections ie The Central Lakes, The Lakeland Coast, Windermere, so it covers Cumbria, not just the Lake District National Park. Charming illustrations by Mai Osawa add to the this delightful book’s appeal. It would make a great gift for a fan of the lakes; I was given it as a birthday present and regularly dip into it. Note to the author: the 201o edition could do with updating as a few things have changed eg many more local breweries and visitor attractions now.

More about I never knew that about the Lake District and other books by Christopher Winn

 

Dances with the Daffodils - Matthew ConnollyDances with the Daffodils by Matthew Connolly 

I chose this book from a host of books by local authors laid out on our tables at the Cumbria Family Business Awards 2017. (Well done to the organisers for an original way to support Cumbrian writers.) Author Matthew Connolly explained how the novel was inspired by the story behind one of the most famous English poems, William Wordsworth’s Daffodils. The poet’s sister, Dorothy Wordsworth, wrote an entry in her diary on April 15th 1802 referring to a walk she and her brother took beside Ullswater where they saw daffodils that ‘tossed and reeled and danced’ in the wind. In the book, Luke, who’s returning to the area after 20 years of travelling, visits the lake and sees a ‘thin, gypsy-tanned woman … hopping along the lane like a chaffinch,‘ admiring the daffodils, beside ‘… a tall and ugly mantis of a creature.’ (William). Luke is immediately attracted to Dorothy, ‘as she knelt among the daffodils like some pagan goddess.’ I thoroughly enjoyed this poignant love story, especially seeing Dorothy in a different light, as a feisty young woman, torn between her love for her brother and another. It’s also a love story to south Lakeland, its local culture and heritage, which the author clearly knows well.

More on Dances with Daffodils here

Photographer's guide to Lake District by Ellen BownessThe Photographer’s Guide to The Lake District by Ellen Bowness

‘The Lake District is a beautiful part of the UK and it’s jam-packed with photogenic locations, from lakes and fells to waterfalls and caves.’ The opening to this gem of a book says it all; here is a comprehensive guide to the best places to get the perfect photo of the top sights in the Lakes. Local Ellen Bowness is a self-confessed travel photography addict who shares her professional knowledge of the area so the rest of us can find the perfect location. The book includes directions, maps, parking and satnav information as well advice on the best time of year to visit. Many popular sites feature, including Cat Bells overlooking Derwentwater, Grasmere and Castle Rigg Stone Circle, but also lesser known gems like Innominate Tarn,a favourite of Lakeland walker Alfred Wainwright and Ritson’s Force at Wasdale Head. One for photographers of all levels from beginner to expert.

More on The Photographer’s Guide to the Lake District here

Small island by little train - Chris ArnotSmall Island by Little Train – a narrow-gauge adventure by Chris Arnot

OK, this book is not only about the Lake District; it’s a journey round the nation’s narrow-gauge railways, but it has a very interesting chapter about one of this area’s most popular tourist attractions. In a chapter entitled ‘Return Ticket to Red Squirrels’ author Chris Arnot travels on the Ravenglass and Eskdale Light Railway. which runs through some of the most beautiful scenery in England. He also meets some of the enthusiasts who run L’al Ratty, as it’s known locally. He talks with Peter Van Zellar, who sums up the appeal of this country railway. “You are conscious of being part of the scenery but, beyond the track, that scenery changes every day. You might see a buzzard one minute and a herd of red deer the next.” The author shares some local history and has a humorous style reminiscent of Bill Bryson and his Notes from a Small Island, on which this book is vaguely modelled.

Disclosure: I was sent this book by publishers The AA for review. It fits very nicely within into the Quirky Travel niche.

More on Small Island by Little Train here.

I hope you have enjoyed this review of some Quirky Travel Lake District Books. What’s you favourite book about where you live? Please leave your thoughts and any recommendations in the Comment Box below 🙂

June 12, 2017

Quirky Travel Review: Verdant Works Jute Museum, Dundee

Quirky Travel Review: Verdant Works Jute Museum, Dundee

Verdant Works Jute Museum Dundee - image zoe dawes

The Scottish city of Dundee is said to be built on ‘Jam, Jute and Journalism’ and a visit to Verdant Works Jute Museum introduced me to the Jute industry, about which I knew nothing.  Housed in a former jute mill in the Blackness area of Dundee, it was opened in 1996 as a museum dedicated to telling the story of this aspect of the textile industry.

Verdant Works Jute Museum Dundee

Verdant Works Jute Museum

‘The jute collections cover the entire history of the jute industry. It covers topics such as manufacturing, research and development, end products, quality control, textile engineering, the industry’s Indian connections, and the lives of the workers. Objects include machinery patterns, jute and flax products, small tools, technical drawings, plans, and quality control and testing equipment.’ Wikipedia

Moisture tester Dundee Jute Museum Scotland

Black and white images of factories belching smoke, enormous machines, men, women and children dressed in drab clothing standing proud (tired?) beside this equipment flicker through the film auditorium. Until the 1857 Factory Act was introduced, limiting working days to 10 hours, it was common for young boys to toil for up to 19 hours a day. Other facts leap out; in 1863 the average life expectancy for a Dundee man was 33 years. By the end of the 19th century the production of textiles was the dominant industry in Dundee, directly employing around half the working population. Their textiles were being distributed all over the world …

Jute - Dundee and the World, Scotland

Women outnumbered men three to one in the mills, an imbalance in the labour market that gained Dundee the nickname of ‘she town’. It created a unique and tough breed of women, born out of being the main providers for the family. The mill girls were noted for their stubborn independence. “Overdressed, loud, bold-eyed girls” according to one observer and often ‘roarin’ fou’ with drink – characteristics that caused consternation among the ‘gentlefolk’ of Dundee. verdantworks.com Women continued to play a key role in Juteopolis until the well into the 20th century.

Female Jute factory worker, Dundee Scotland

It was salutory to find out how market forces were at work over a 150 years ago. In 1855 the first jute mill in India was set up, using machinery and workers from Dundee and by 1900 had taken over as the world’s leading jute producer. (I remember working with shoe-makers in Clarks factory Kendal, where the footwear manufacturer was closing down UK production as it had all been outsourced to Eastern Europe and South East Asia.) The jute museum does an excellent job of combining fascinating facts, industrial equipment, historical reconstructions and hands-on experiences.

Verdant Works Jute production Dundee

Displays include the wagons transporting raw fibrous jute, massive machinery, information boards on the complex process involved in production, colonial life in India, office managers, the daily lives of factory workers and modern-day uses of jute. It’s gives an excellent insight into one of Scotland’s most important industries. Verdant Works Jute Museum is a must-see attraction for any visitor to Dundee.

Verdant Works Jute Museum Dundee Scotland

Many thanks to Visit Scotland for hosting me in Dundee, Jennie Patterson for showing me round and sharing her passion for the city, the owners and staff at Tay Park House for their hospitality and Dundee City for a very enjoyable visit to Dundee.

More about Scotland: Delicious Food and Drink in Dundee

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Verdant Works Jute Museum Dundee Scotland

June 2, 2017

Discover picture-perfect Painswick in the quirkiliciously quaint Cotswolds

Discover picture-perfect Painswick in the quirkiliciously quaint Cotswolds
Yew Trees Painswick Cotswolds - photo zoe dawes

Yew Trees Painswick

Visiting villages in the Cotswolds is like eating a box of really good chocolates; one or two are divine, the whole box makes you feel slightly queasy. They (the villages) are all so achingly pretty, with mellow-stone walls, rambling roses and pastel foxgloves, manicured lawns, thatched roofs, quaint pubs and shops selling fudge and chi-chi things for the ‘home’ at ridiculously high prices. They have wondrously English names like Bourton-on-the-Water, Chipping Sodbury and the sinister-named, but oh so charming Upper (and Lower) Slaughter. 

Cotswold Way signpost in Broadway

Cotswold Way signpost in Broadway

However, if you’re looking for a slightly less known Cotswold village then search out Painswick. Calling itself the ‘Queen of the Cotswolds‘, it’s only 6 miles from Gloucester and yet it’s as if the 21st century hasn’t got here yet.

Painswick – Queen of the Cotswolds

St Mary's Church and Yew Trees Painswick - photo zoe dawes

St Mary’s Church and Yew Trees

St Mary’s Church and Yew Trees

A gilded weather-cock sits on top of the splendid spire of St Mary Church, getting a bird’s eye view of Painswick and surrounding countryside. Built over 600 years ago, this delightful church has a number of intriguing features to attract visitors. The ceilings were repainted and gilded in the 1970s, the lecturn is made from applewoood not stone, and the font dates to from 1661.

St Mary's Church Painswick Cotswolds - photo zoe dawes

St Mary’s Church Painswick

High above hangs a model of Sir Francis Drake’s Armada flag ship, the Bonaventure. (The word ‘nave‘ is derived from the Latin word for ship, navis.) In the oldest part of the church is a beautiful mosaic from Italy and a wooden Memorial Screen carved by a Belgian refugee in the First World War. My eye was drawn to the colourful embroidered kneelers hanging from the pews. There are over 300, made by the parishioners in the 1980s.

Yew Trees Painswick Cotswolds - photo zoe dawes

Yew Trees

The yew trees in St Mary’s churchyard were planted in 1792. Legend says 99 were planted and a hundredth will never grow. I visited with a friend on a gloriously sunny October day; they’d been clipped in August and were looking magnificent. On the Sunday following the 19th of September the church holds the ‘Clypping Ceremony’ (from clyppan = to embrace) during which the clergy, choir and children walk through the churchyard and a join hands in a circle around the church. A sermon is preached from the steps near the tower and the children are given buns and coins for joining in.

Painswick Rococo Garden

Painswick Rococo Garden - photo HartlepoolMarina2014

Painswick Rococo Garden – photo HartlepoolMarina2014

Painswick has England’s only surviving complete rococo garden. Designed in the 1740s, it’s described as a ‘theatrical set for holding intimate garden parties, ripe for riotous pleasure and romance’. Painswick Rococo Garden. With quirky follies, a maze, woods, fruit and vegetable gardens plus a cafe and gift shop, there’s certainly a lot to see. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit this attraction,  but my friend assured me it is well-worth a visit. Next time …

Painswick Village

Painswick signpost

Painswick signpost

There are a great many fine buildings in this village, which used to be a thriving centre for the Cotswold wool industry. Bisley Street has quite a few medieval houses; their low doorways indicate the age of these buildings. The oldest building in Painswick is on New Street. Built around 1428, it used to be a post office but sadly it’s no longer in use. Grander houses can be found all around and we were tempted by attractive Cardynham House Bistro for a bite to eat. Behind the church are the Spectacle Stocks, which were last used in the 1840s.

Painswick village

Painswick village

We picked up a leaflet of walks in the area from the tiny Tourist Information Office near the church Lych Gate. The Cotswold Way runs through the village and there’s a path along Painswick Stream. Our final stop was the Victorian Town Hall where a craft fair was being held. It appeared very popular with locals and the few tourists who were pottering about. There’s plenty to see in this attractive village and we felt we’d found a very special corner of the busy Cotswolds …

Find out about Stratford-upon-Avon and William Shakespeare here.

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Guide to Painswick Cotswolds village - The Quirky Traveller

April 4, 2017

A fabulous night to remember at Cumbria Family Business Awards

A fabulous night to remember at Cumbria Family Business Awards
Sue Coulson, Janett Walker and Sophia Newton - Cumbria Family Business Awards

CFBA organisers Sue Coulson, Janett Walker and Sophia Newton – photo Victoria Sedgewick

‘I gotta feeling’ by the Black-Eyed Peas rocked out from the speakers as Sue Coulson, Janett Walker and Sophia Newton stepped onto the stage to announce the start of the very first Cumbria Family Business Awards. Sue, whose company, Coulson Associates was one of the CFBA  sponsors, Janett and Sophia had worked tirelessly for many months in the run-up to the ceremony in March 201 7.  “From over 100 applications we had to whittle it down to about 30 finalists. The judging panel really had their work cut out!”  The tone for the evening was set as they held up the ‘Wrong Envelope‘; a reference to the recent Oscars fiasco when Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty read out the wrong name of the Best Picture winner!

Cumbria Family Business Awards - the Wrong Envelope

Sue, Janett and Sophia with the ‘Wrong Envelope’

An audience of 250 people, including the finalists, their families and friends plus sponsors, judges and the media, enjoyed a fabulous evening with delicious food, plenty of drink and a fair smattering of gossip. As Sister Sledge belted out ‘We are Family’ the celebrity host stepped up to the mike …

Cumbria Family Business Awards 2017

Dave Myers opens Cumbria Family Business Awards

Dave Myers introduces the finalists

Let’s face it, you don’t choose to have a business in Cumbria to make millions. You do it because it’s a great place to live and work.” So said TV chef Dave Myers as he opened this glittering event at the Castle Green Hotel in Kendal on the edge of the Lake District. All the businesses nominated for the Cumbria Family Business Awards are family-run, and many have links with the area going back for generations. Some could move away from the area and probably be more profitable, but choose to stay in and around the Lake District because of its inspirational landscape and local links. There were 12 categories plus Ones to Watch. Finalists included well-known names such as Hawkshead Relish, English Lakes Hotels and The Herdy Company as well as lesser-known but equally significant business including The Churchmouse in Barbon, West Coast Composting and JB Banks, as small ironmongers in Cockermouth. Winners included Zeffirelli’s Restaurant and Cinema (Food & Drink Establishments), PHX Training Providers (Professional Business Services), Sally’s Cottages (Smalle Leisure and Tourism Business) and Bells of Lazonby who won Food and Drink Producers AND Outstanding Cumbrian Family Business of the Year.

Winners Cumbria Family Business Awards 2017

Zeffirellis, PHX Training, Sally’s Cottages and Bells of Lazenby

The beautiful glass awards were made by local artist Jo Vincent, ‘…. designed to reflect the intimate relationship between family businesses and Cumbria.’  The ‘star prize’ was an enormous ceramic bowl, created by Siobhan Newton. ‘It combines three iconic Cumbria materials: Egremont Haematite, Coniston Slate and Shap Granite – along with Cumbrian rainwater!‘ Full list of the Winners of Cumbria Family Business Awards here. I was seated on the Lamont Pridmore table, main sponsors of the event, along with Bells of Lazonby, who were clearly overwhelmed at winning both their category and the overall award. “It’s such a great honour. We really had no idea we’d win, especially against such strong finalists.”

Cumbria Family Business Awards Dinner - Castle Green Hotel Kendal

Dinner at Castle Green Hotel

Earlier, as guests arrived, a welcoming Drinks Reception Market served up sparkling wine and got us all in the mood. Photographer Victoria Sedgwick had us all posing for glitterati photos and Castle Green Hotel did us proud on the hospitality front.  We ate very well on local produce that night. I had Cartmel Valley smoked salmon, smoked salmon rillette, beetroot, horseradish and rye bread, followed by Eden Valley chicken, fondant potato, shallots, wild mushrooms and broad beans, finished off with delicious Windermere Ice Cream and Grasmere Gingerbread. All served with excellent wines – thank you Graham Lamont! Every table had Wax Lyrical candles, bottles of Hawkshead Relish’s new product, Black Garlic Ketchup, prints by artist Daniel Cooper and also signed copies of books by Cumbrian authors to take home. I chose Dances with the Daffodils by Matthew Connolly.

Paula Scott, Sue Coulson and Zoe Dawes at Cumbria Family Business Awards

Paula Scott, Sue Coulson and Zoe Dawes at CFBA Awards – photo Victoria Sedgwick

Dave Myers was an excellent host, bringing his inimitable humour and a local awareness that was much appreciated by everyone. He stayed on until every award had been given, every hand had been shaken and every selfie had been taken. A real gent and a great Barrovian ambassador. This photo of the winners sums up a great evening of fun and laughter, business excellence and Cumbrian friendliness.

Cumbria Family Business Awards winners 2017

Cumbria Family Business Awards winners 2017

Many thanks to Sue Coulson of Coulson Associates, Janett Walker of Make it Happen and Sophia Newton, The Good News Girl for inviting me join in such a wonderful celebration. More CFBA photos by Victoria Sedgwick here.

Castle Green Hotel

I stayed overnight in the Castle Green Hotel, a four star hotel on the outskirts of Kendal, in one of their very luxurious Executive Bedrooms, complete with a huge four-poster bed. See what the room really looks like; watch this short video recorded on my arrival, before the CFBA evening started.

For many years I was a member of the hotel’s excellent gym; use of their Health and Fitness Club with swimming pool and spa was included in my stay. Breakfast was delicious and I was pleased to see local produce including Hawkshead Relish sauces, Cumberland Sausage, Lakeland Mues muesli, organic milk and bread from More Bakery in Staveley.

Breakfast Castle Green Hotel Kendal

Breakfast at Castle Green Hotel

Find out more about Cumbria Family Business Awards and Cumbria Family Business Network here.

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 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 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’ve come here for. I’ll be totally relaxed and have no excuse for this area has most definitely inspired me. But the lake will call and, after a desultory hour tapping away at laptop, I’ll 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

 

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