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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

Kendal Castle on a sunny winter’s day

Kendal Castle on a sunny winter’s 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 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 …

Kendal Castle Video

 

December 13, 2016

A weekend of stargazing and winter joy in Exmoor

A weekend of stargazing and winter joy 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 

November 27, 2016

Historic Heysham: off the beaten track in Lancashire

Historic Heysham: off the beaten track in Lancashire

OK, so Heysham may be more well-known for being home to a nuclear power station than for its historic attractions. It’s an ugly blot on the landscape of glorious Morecambe Bay. Visible from virtually any point around the coastline, one good reason to go to Heysham is that you can’t see the power station from here, unless you peer round the point. So, now you know the worst, let’s look at the reasons why you should visit Heysham Barrows.

St Patrick's Chapel at Heysham towards Morecambe Lancashire

St Patrick’s Chapel towards Morecambe

This little promontory at Heysham provides an escape from the suburbs of Lancaster and Morecambe, with stunning views across the Irish Sea towards the Isle of Man, the Lake District fells and the Lancashire coast. It’s had visitors going back to time unknown. Evidence of Stone Age (Neolithic) man has been found around the headland including stone axes and hammer heads (now in Lancaster Museum) and Barrows (burial places) can be found in the area. The curious Heysham stone graves near the chapel ruins are thought to date back to the 11th century. Four of the indents are body-shaped and two are straight-sided, cut into the rock and often now filled with water.The holes at the top were probably for wooden crosses and it is possible that they could have been used not for one body each but for the bones of many dead people. They are some of the earliest known graves in Christian England.

Stone graves at Heysham overlooking Morecambe Bay

Stone graves overlooking Morecambe Bay

According to an excellent article by Sandhak, ‘Evidence is too abundant for there to be any doubt that St Patrick was the first to preach the gospel in Heysham. St Patrick was a Roman, the son of a Roman and grandson of a christian preacher … The date of the Chapel at Heysham can be assumed to be about 445 AD … ‘ You can read more about St Patrick and the history of Heysham here. Others think the chapel may date back to about 750AD. Whatever the truth, the chapel, with its curved Anglo-Sazon style arch, adds a romantic, gothic feel to the headland, overlooking Morecambe Bay.

St Patrick's Chapel, Heysham Lancashire - image zoedawes

St Patrick’s Chapel across Morecambe Bay

This area is owned by the National Trust and the noticeboard has information on St Patrick’s Chapel. It shows an artist’s impression of what the chapel and graves may have looked like may have looked like hundreds of years ago.

St Patrick's Chapel National Trust Information Board

St Patrick’s Chapel Information Board

Behind the chapel is a walled section which rises up to a rounded peak; this may have been part of a small monastery. I love to walk up the hill and sit on the wall looking out across the sea and simply enjoy the fresh air and lovely views. In autumn the gorse is a vibrant yellow, adding a welcome dash of colour. I was there in September for a photo shoot with photographer Clare Malley. It  was rainy and overcast when we arrived but the skies cleared for a while and the gorse positively zinged against waters of the Bay and the misty mountains of the Lake District.

Gorse bushes on Heysham Barrows overlooking Morecambe Bay and the Lake District hills

Gorse bushes overlooking Morecambe Bay and the Lake District hills

Nearby is St Peter’s Church, a simple Victorian building used by the local inhabitants of Heysham. The old village has a quaint atmosphere with attractive cottages, a decent pub and a couple of very good cafes. It’s benefiting from the regeneration of the area, following the opening of the new M6 link road. Heysham Port provides ferries and freight shipping to the Isle of Man, Ireland and UK ports and this road is speeding up connections to the rest of the country.

St Peter's Church Heysham Lancashire

St Peter’s Church

Of course, this means it is now easier for tourists to visit Heysham and hopefully get up on the Barrows for a bracing walk in some of the loveliest scenery in Lancashire. Just make sure you keep your eyes ahead and don’t look at the hideous carbuncle round the corner; it’s well worth the trip.

The Quirky Traveller on Heysham Headland

On Heysham Headland

 

November 11, 2016

See Lancaster in a brilliant new light

See Lancaster in a brilliant new light
When the Red Rose - in Lancaster by Steve Messam - photo zoedawes

When the Red Rose – in Lancaster

“I really like being a part of the #LightupLancaster Festival because of its accessible scale, its friendly atmosphere and the way Lancaster lends itself to a variety of settings for the events and installations. The whole city comes out to enjoy it.” Renowned artist Steve Messam was explaining what he enjoyed about exhibiting his unique artwork, ‘When the Red Rose – in Lancaster’. We were standing beneath a collection of bright red balloons of various sizes, some of which had lights bobbing around inside them. Rain gently pattered onto the brilliant globes, “It’s a lovely sound, isn’t it? Working with balloons is about colour and size. It’s visual and about the sound too. They make people happy.”

when-the-red-rose-lancaster-steve-messam

Steve Messam

For the past three years, Light Up Lancaster Festival, part of the Light up the North Consortium, has been brightening up the city over the November 5th Bonfire Night weekend. Local and international artists put on lively street performances and virtually every corner of the city has some quirky artwork or show to illuminate the evening. This year’s was bigger and, of course, better than ever.

Light up Lancaster 2016 programme

Light up Lancaster 2016 programme

A couple of weeks’ earlier, I’d been to the LightPool Festival in Blackpool, where Steve had created a very different version of When the Red Rose, this time encasing one of the Victorian shelters on the promenade in one huge balloon. I live just 10 minutes away from Lancaster but had never been to Light up Lancaster so I was really excited to see what it was all about. It was fascinating to watch Steve and his team putting up the balloons in the ‘Secret Garden’ at the back of the Storey Institute. They inflated them indoors then brought them outside and attached them to a large metal frame. It took a long time to get it all in place but by the time the festival officially started as dusk fell, When the Red Rose – in Lancaster’ was ready for its audience.

Assembling 'When the Red Rose' Lancaster - collage zoedawes

Assembling ‘When the Red Rose’

Meeting up with a couple of friends, we then spent about four hours wandering round the city, finding laughter, light and colour everywhere we went. My favourite was Lock and Key at Lancaster Castle. It was a magical Son et Lumiere show projected onto the imposing crenelated walls of what used to be one of HM’s prisons, with pumped up music and audience participation. The castle is Lancaster’s biggest visitor attraction and the ideal place for such a dynamic show.

Lock and Key - Light up Lancaster Castle - photo zoedawes

Lock and Key at Lancaster Castle

Other highlights included the Illumaphonium, an interactive musical instrument like a giant upright xylophone in front of the Priory and Light Boat in Market Square, a giant wooden structure under a light canopy, promoted as the slowest boat on earth. At Electric Fireworks in the Storey Institute, we shone coloured torches onto a screen and created our own firework display. Cosmic Paranoia was a rather unnerving film of big eyes drifting across the cosmos. One of the most popular interactive installations was LightWeight, where people had their photos taken which were then projected onto a giant revolving globe behind the Museum. Local dancers put on a lively performance called Light Rain in Sun Square; very appropriate as we had intermittent light showers all evening.

Light up Lancaster 2016 - collage zoedawes

Light up Lancaster 2016

French artists Scenocosme lit up the Judges Lodgings where people joined together to bring the building alive, though something may have been lost in translation as it seemed to be unlit for quite a time! We were entertained by  the Vox Boys Choir in the Priory; an impressive setting for Children’s Voices. The final event of the Friday night was also the most affecting. Recommisioned, by the Dukes Theatre at Lancaster Museum, explored the journey of young soldiers from Lancaster King’s Own Regiment in WWI through light, sound, text and movement. On entering we were each given an envelope representing one of the soldiers, some who lived and many who died. After the very moving performance we opened our envelopes; my young man was a corporal from Millom who’d died in battle.

recommissioned-light-up-lancaster

Recommissioned

The following night I returned for the Lancaster Firework Display but had time to visit If Boats Could Talk, a charming sculpture floating beside the Lancaster Canal towpath, illustrating the story of migration to the city by a Victorian paver and a Syrian refugee. In Aldcliffe Triangle I met artist Shane Johnstone, who explained its creation and how the children of Dallas Road Primary School designed much of this artwork, as well as the brightly lit lanterns.

If Boats Could Talk - Aldcliffe Triangle Lancaster

If Boats Could Talk – Aldcliffe Triangle

For the grand finale I joined hundreds of spectators on Quay Meadow, where we were entertained by BBC Radio Lancashire and a very talented musician called Joni Fuller. Bang on 8pm, a rocket soared over Lancaster Castle, music boomed out from the radio tent and we were treated to 20 minutes of spectacular fireworks, a fitting end to a splendid weekend.

Fireworks over Lancaster Castle - photo c/o Light up Lancaster

Fireworks over Lancaster Castle – photo c/o Light up Lancaster

I went along as a guest of Visit Lancashire and Light up Lancaster. It’s really encouraging to see the capital city of Lancashire putting such a vibrant cultural display of light and magic. I’ll definitely be going along next year; hope to see you there!

October 30, 2016

Brilliant #LightPool illuminates Blackpool in artistic style

Brilliant #LightPool illuminates Blackpool in artistic style
When the Red Rose by Steve Messam Lightpool Blackpool - photo zoedawes

‘When the Red Rose’ by Steve Messam

The large red balloon glows like a radioactive tomato, enticing visitors with its voluptuous beauty. Children run up to it and gaze in amazement. Photographers try to capture its scarlet vibrancy, cyclists glance at it as they whiz past – and an unobtrusive guard ensures no-one damages its fragile form. Artist Steve Messsam created ‘When the Red Rose’ one of a series of beautiful artworks he’s making for Lancashire. It’s all the more impressive as it’s only here until November 2nd 2016.

When the Red Rose Steve Messam - Lightpool - Blackpool - photo zoedawes

‘When the Red Rose’ in daytime

I’m in Blackpool for the launch of LightPool, a festival of light and joyfulness running from October 29th to November 2nd. Barry McCann, Visitor Ambassador, explains what #Lightpool is all about. Lightpool is a wonderful celebration that ties in with Blackpool Illuminations. It was decided to expand what we offer at this time of year to include art installations along the promenade, live performances and also a special exhibition of Neon at the Grundy Art Gallery. We’ve also got brilliant 3D videos projected onto Blackpool Tower including Chasing Stars: our adventures in Space from British astronaut Tim Peake and a very quirky one called, ‘Down the Rabbit Hole‘, loosely based on ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Yoko Ono has a couple of installations including ‘Imagine’ at the head of the North Pier.

Imagine by Yoko Ono - Lightpool Blackpool - photo zoedawes

Imagine – by Yoko Ono

“At Lightpool Village, you get a drink and watch the live performances that go on every evening on the Comedy Carpet in front of the Tower. You can even have your photo taken and projected onto the Tower!  The festival is FREE, as of course are the illuminations and it’s bringing loads more visitors who are spending more time here. We’ve got so much to offer, and it’s great to have a bigger cultural offering for the town, but still linked to our seaside heritage.” Barry offers to show me round; our first stop is Neon; The Charged Line at the Grundy Art Gallery.

Neon Exhibition - Grundy Art Gallery - Lightpool Blackpool

Neon Exhibition – Grundy Art Gallery

Bringing together one of the biggest collection of Neon artworks ever seen, it’s a feast for the eyes. There’s a ballerina wearing a tutu of neon tubes, a trio of art-deco style moving panels, a bright red triangular installation that gives a dramatic 3D effect and much more. Upstairs in the Rotunda Gallery are ‘images of original designs for 1930s neon Illuminations, taken from Blackpool’s unique and historic archive of working drawings,’ including some by Georges Claude, inventor of Neon. Education Officer Taneesha Ahmed says the exhibitions appeal to all ages, especially younger children.  One of the big draws is  ‘I Know, I Know, I Know’ created by Tracey Emin in 2002, but every exhibit is a delight.

tracey-emin-i-know-neon-exhibition-lightpool

‘I Know, I Know, I Know’ by Tracey Emin

We leave the Grundy and walked down towards the Promenade. It starts to drizzle but nothing serious. I’ve not been to Blackpool for a couple of years and the town is looking a lot smarter than it used to. It’s mid-afternoon on a half-term Friday and there a loads of people, mainly on the prom but also in the shops, bars, restaurants and cafes. As we near the North Pier I can see ‘When the Red Rose’, its redness brightening up the grey day. Steve Messam has taken one of the Victorian shelters that line the Golden Mile and enveloped it in a red ‘balloon’ of material. No idea how he has done it but the effect is delightful.

When the Red Rose by North Pier Lightpool Blackpool - photo zoedawes

When the Red Rose by North Pier

We walk along the shore to Blackpool Tower, that icon of British seaside exuberance, visible from all over North West England. We go upstairs to the Tower Ballroom where we watch couples of all ages dancing and enjoying afternoon tea, and I dream of appearing on Strictly Come Dancing

Afternoon Tea Dance at The Tower Ballroom Blackpool - photo zoedawes

The Tower Ballroom

From the window we get a great view of the beach and people starting to mill about for the start of the main #LightPool events this evening. I’m getting peckish so we queue for ages at Harry Ramsden’s, but it’s worth it as the fish and chips really are very good. It’s going dark and soon the Illuminations will be turned on and #LightPool will come alive. Barry takes me over to SnapCast, where Manager Tom Westcott explains how visitors can get their photo taken, as if turning on the Blackpool Illuminations and other poses. If they buy a photo souvenir they can then get their photo projected onto the Tower. Barry and I have our picture taken – what do you think?!

Lightpool Snapcast - Blackpool Tower

Lightpool Snapcast – Blackpool Tower

The Illuminations come on and Blackpool is doing what it does best; giving its visitors the best light show in the country. The Tower suddenly bursts into a rainbow of light announcing LIGHTPOOL in glowing neon. A band starts to play lively music. People jig about in time to the music. A brightly-lit heritage tram trundles past, looking like a gaudy old American steam-train and LightPool Village does a roaring trade in light sabres and fluorescent wands. Barry’s colleague Annette clears a space through the audience to make way for the first performance: Captain Kronos: Return to Planet Earth. There’s a carnival atmosphere that is enhanced by the dramatically innovative attractions that Lightpool brings to Blackpool.

LightPool Blackpool - collage by zoedawes

LightPool

All too soon I have to leave to get a train back to Carnforth. As we walk back along the Promenade, we pass a memorial for Remembrance Day. The face of a young sailor gazes out at us from a huge poppy. In the distance, When the Red Rose, glows in the dark beside the sea. Only in Blackpool, only at LightPool …

We Will Never Forget - Blackpool Remembrance Day Memorial

We Will Never Forget

More about the LightPool Festival, on until Wednesday, November 2nd. Blackpool Illuminations are on until November 6th 2016. Thanks so much to Visit Lancashire for inviting me to experience this unique festival and to Barry McCann for showing me round and sharing his knowledge and love for his home town.

Another Steve Messam incarnation of ‘When the Red Rose’ was at #LightUpLancaster Festival over the weekend of Nov 4th and 5th in Lancaster.

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#LightPool Festival of Light Blackpool - image zoedawes

October 25, 2016

3 places for autumn colour in south Lakeland

3 places for autumn colour in south Lakeland
Autumn trees beside Tarn Hows Lake District - image zoedawes

Beside Tarn Hows

What’s your favourite time of year? Some love the tantalizing flirtatiousness of spring, others the voluptuousness of summer days and for some it’s the crisp, frosty cold of winter. For me it’s always been autumn, with its vibrant colour, abundant produce, luminous light and the surprise of warm sunshine in between the rain and mist. With the Lake District on my doorstep, I take every opportunity to go LEAF-PEEPING (yes, that’s what it’s called in North America). On a recent stay at Knipefold Barn, near Hawkshead, I had the chance to experience early autumn colour in the Lake District.

Lake District view from Knipefold Barn, Cumbria - - zoedawes

Lake District view from Knipefold Barn

For a couple of days I drove, walked and sailed (if you can call the Windermere Car Ferry sailing!) around some of the loveliest scenery in the south of Cumbria. Here are 3 of my favourite beauty spots within a relatively short distance of Knipefold, where you can easily find plenty of vivacious autumn colour

1.  Waterhead at Ambleside

Waterhead at Ambleside - autumn in the Lake District - image zoedawes

Waterhead at Ambleside

The view from the top of Windermere at Waterhead, near Ambleside is sublime any time of year, but in autumn those huge trees that line the road, turn every shade of the rainbow. Across the lake, towards Brathay, you can see more trees, pushing each other out of the way to show off their coats of many colours. It’s a very popular place to stop to enjoy the view. I was there over half-term and there were plenty of children paddling in the water plus a group of students learning how to canoe.

Windermere from Waterhead, Ambleside lake district - photo zoedawes

Windermere from Waterhead

Pop into one of the hotels on the shore for a meal or grab a hot drink from one of the cafes nearby. Walk along the road past the lake to find the rather uninspiring, but very important ruins of Galava Roman Fort.

2.  Tarn Hows 

Tarn Hows in early autumn, lake district - photo zoedawes

Tarn Hows in early autumn

One of the most popular autumn walks in the Lake District is round pretty Tarn Hows, between Hawkshead and Ambleside. Tarn Hows, originally 3 smaller tarns, is planted with a combination of fir trees and a wide variety of native English deciduous trees, giving it some of the best autumn colour in October and November. You can walk either clockwise past Tom Gill Waterfalls or anti-clockwise, which is the way I always go. A herd of Belted Galloways was grazing quietly beside the water, their munching adding a quiet counterpoint to the bird-song and rustling of leaves. When the sun came out it seemed to set the trees on fire …

Autumn colour at Tarn Hows in autumn Lake District - image zoedawes

Tarn Hows in autumn sun

The circular route is suitable for all access with relatively small inclines. You can borrow a Tramper from the National Trust office in the car park if they are open.

3.  Claife Viewing Station

Claife Viewing Station Windermere west shore Lake District - image zoedawes

Claife Viewing Station

This new addition the Lake District attractions, is a brilliant place to view autumn colour all around Windermere. Claife Viewing Station, built in the 1790s, was designed to showcase the glorious views of the lake from its west shore and the surrounding countryside, using tinted windows to ‘enhance’ the experience. ‘Yellow created a summer landscape, orange an autumn one, light green for spring, dark blue for moonlight …’ The National Trust has restored the ruins and visitors can now experience this unique place for free all year round. It was a real pleasure to gaze out across the lake, admire the the trees turning colour and feel a part of local history.

Claife Viewing Station windows over Windermere - image zoedawes

Claife Viewing Station windows over Windermere

I had a tasty Cumberland Sausage and Appleby Cheese toasted brioche at the Cafe in the Courtyard and walked down the path to the little bay near the quaint car ferry. Leaves twirled down to carpet the ground in gold, yachts slooped gently on the lake and a pair of swans drifted by …

Knipefold Barn

Knipefold Barn from the garden

Knipefold Barn from the garden

There are barn conversions, and then there is Knipefold Barn, one of The Good Life Cottage Company’s many charming properties in the Lake District. This 3-bedroom self-catering accommodation is built to the highest specification. From the Lakeland slate floor in the entrance hall, to the top-of-the range kitchen and bathroom fittings and elegant wooden staircase, this place has got luxury written into its ancient walls. Set in a tiny hamlet, a short distance from Outgate and only 5 minutes’ drive from popular Hawkshead, Knipefold Barn has all the comforts of home, and then some. I loved the enormous oak-beamed living area, situated on the top floor, to make the most of the view. It sleeps 5 and would be the perfect place for a family holiday, celebration or friends get-together. You can see more in this Quirky Travel Guide to Knipefold Barn.

Many thanks to Natalie, manager of The Good Life Cottage Company, for her warm welcome and providing the ideal place from which to explore the delightful autumn colours of this part of Lakeland.

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