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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

 

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

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 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

 

December 13, 2016

A weekend of stargazing and sight-seeing in Exmoor

A weekend of stargazing and sight-seeing in Exmoor
Exmoor Blagdon_Cross_Startrails - image darkskytelescopehire.co.uk

Star Trails; Exmoor – image darkskytelescopehire.co.uk

“Starry, starry night …” Don McLean and Vincent Van Gogh would love Exmoor at night. I have NEVER seen such a star-studded sky in the UK, as the one I saw whilst staying at West Withy Farm Holiday Cottages. On arrival on the edge of Exmoor, the night sky took my breath away. Ablaze with a myriad of sparkling lights, it looked as if a child had thrown a huge bag of glitter up into the darkness.  It was almost impossible to make out familiar constellations such as The Plough and Orion because they were embedded within so many others. The Milky Way arched overhead in a whirling mass. With virtually 360° visibility in this area and very little human habitation, it’s not surprising that Exmoor was named Europe’s first Dark Sky Reserve.

Stargazing in Exmoor

Telescope in Upton Cottage - West Withy Farm Exmoor

Telescope in Upton Cottage

Ian, owner of West Withy Farm, showed me round Upton Cottage, a converted haybarn, which sleeps 5 in homely comfort. In the lounge a large telescope sat waiting to be used; you can hire it by the day here and the garden has a plinth on which to use it. On the second night, astronomer Seb Jay of Dark Sky Telescope Hire came over to give a talk on astronomy and the skies overhead. It was cloudy so we didn’t use the telescope, but he had a ‘live-sky’ programme on his laptop to show the constellations, asteroids and planets that had been so clear the night before. It was a fascinating evening and I learnt a great deal about our amazing universe …

Exmoor star gazing with Seb Jay

Astronomer Seb Jay

Over the weekend I visited a number of interesting places in Exmoor: here are a few highlights.

Dulverton, Exford and Simonsbath

Exmoor signpost in Exford - image zoedawes

Signpost in Exford

The pretty village of Dulverton has got a number of independent retailers, including boutiques and antique shops, plus a good variety of pubs, cafes and restaurants. I had dinner at Woods Bar and Restaurant; a warm ,welcoming place, combining a pub atmosphere with quality dining. Owner Paddy is passionate about seasonal local food, sourcing much of it off his own farm, and wine; he has over 400 to choose from. (It’s been National Wine Pub of the Year for 5 years running.) I can highly recommend the confit of lamb shoulder; meltingly delicious.

Dinner at Woods Dulverton Exmoor

Confit Shoulder of Northcombe Lamb

The next day I set off to explore more of Exmoor, going through a number of quaint villages with thatched roofs and attractive pubs. At the White Horse Inn by the bridge in Exford a horse and rider trotted by as Christmas decorations were being put up.

Exford and river Exe Exmoor

Exford

In Simonsbath, a tiny hamlet, the smell of sawdust filled the air as a young man cut up logs beside the River Barle. The moor spread out all around as I headed towards the coast and two of Exmoor’s most well-known towns.

Lynton and Lynmouth

Lynmouth Exmoor - photo zoedawes

Lynmouth and Cliff Railway

I remember visiting Lynmouth with family on a hot, sunny day a few years ago. It was really busy and delightful. In winter the museum, chippie and souvenir shops may be closed but you can wander along the jetty overlooking  the river mouth and get a real feel for its historic and literary past. In the early 19th C the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley stayed here briefly with his young wife, Harriet. The Rising Sun Hotel is a picturesque sight with its thatched roof and excellent position overlooking the boat-bobbing harbour. Above the excellent Exmoor National Park Visitor Centre is the Pavilion Dining Room with great views over the Bristol Channel.

Lyton Town Hall Exmoor

Lynton Town Hall

The Cliff Railway, open between February and mid-November, connects Lynmouth to Lynton. It fits the ‘eco-traveller’ remit as its two carriages use the weight of water to pull them up and down. Lynton has a genteel Victorian air with some decent touristy shops and a splendid Town Hall, somewhat larger and fancier than you’d expect in such a small town. Not far away is the Valley of Rocks, a fairy-tale collection of rocky towers and hillocks with a splendid cliff-walk. It’s exhilarating and uncrowded in the winter months.

Porlock

Porlock Exmoor

Porlock

Apparently Coleridge was interrupted in the composition of his epic opium-induced poem Kubla Khan, by a ‘person from Porlock‘. On the day I visited, the people of Porlock were more intent on getting ready for Christmas, than visiting poets. It’s the heart of Lorna Doone country, as the local hotel indicates, and Porlock Bay Oysters are in great demand. They are the first Pacific Oyster site in England & Wales to achieve the top A classification. Sadly none were available when I was there; a good reason to go back.

Dunster

Dunster by Candlelight Exmoor - image zoedawes

Dunster by Candlelight

Possibly the most famous festival in Exmoor, Dunster by Candlelight is a glorious event held over two evenings in the run-up to Christmas. The medieval town opens its doors to visitors from around the world. The shops are brightly-lit, candles decorate the streets, performers entertain the crowds and a procession of costumed revellers carries a stag shoulder-high, accompanied by musicians and enthusiastic participants. I got the Park and Ride from nearby Minehead and spent a magical few hours watching the fun, wandering round the shops and enjoying carol-singing in Dunster Castle.

Read more about Dunster by Candlelight here

Exmoor Ponies

Exmoor ponies at Foreland Point - image zoedawes

Exmoor ponies

No visit to Exmoor would be complete without seeing the hardy Exmoor Ponies. Living all over Exmoor National Park, there are particular places you’re more likely to find them. I saw them on Haddon Hill, overlooking Wimbleball Lake and also at National Trust Foreland Point, on the rolling moorland road between Lynmouth and Porlock. They roam freely across the moors, but are not truly wild, being owned and looked after by various people. You can get fairly close but don’t try to touch them. In winter their thick coats give them extra protection against all weathers. Exmoor also has herds of wild red deer and plenty more interesting wildlife.

Exmoor National Park Visitor Centre

Exmoor National Park

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. Check out their website for details of stargazing weekends – a whole new world could open up for you …

Quirky Travel Guide to West Withy Farm 

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