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September 30, 2017

Upper Canada Village: escape to another era where life is slower and more relaxed

Horses Upper Canada Village Ontario - photo Zoe Dawes

Carriage horses on Church Street

The children squeal with delight as a piglet clambers over the back of its brother to get a better place in the sun.  A huge sow slowly rolls over in the gloopy mud, grunts and flops back into contented slumber. A tussle breaks out as three youngsters nip ears and legs before deciding it’s all too much effort and collapse in a piggy heap on top of each other. Just another day of buccolic pleasure in Upper Canada Village, not far from Morrisberg in Ontario.

Pigs in sunshine - Upper Canada Village Ontario - collage Zoe Dawes

Happy pigs

Less than 60 miles (90kms) from Ottawa, Upper Canada Village is a unique visitor attraction depicting life in Ontario around 1866, when the pace of life was much slower. Many of the 40 historical buildings were transported here from nearby villages which were flooded to make way for the St Lawrence Seaway in the 1950s. It gives a vivid idea of 19th century agricultural practices including caring for livestock, growing crops and harvesting vegetables. Attractive gardens showcase the plants and flowers that would have been grown in the summer. Staff dressed in clothing of the period carry out domestic tasks and discuss what social life, music, religion and politics would have been like at the time. They demonstrate how cheese, bread, shoes, tin jugs, brooms, furniture, dresses and hats were made.

Crafts at Upper Canada Village Ontario - collage Zoe Dawes

Demonstrating crafts and housework

I’m visiting Upper Canada Village with local travel blogger Cindy Baker of Travel Bliss Now on a day out from Ottawa. It’s a school trip day and lots of children run around the grounds, stopping to pat horses and watch sheep being shorn. Wandering along sunny paths and through shady nooks we pass the Woollen Factory and Saw Mill before reaching elegant yellow house. On the veranda a young woman in a vivid orange dress sits reading a book.

Robertson House Upper Canada Village - photo Zoe Dawes

Robertson House

Inside Robertson Home we learn how a well-to-do middle-class family would have lived. The parlour has ornate decor with family portraits and lots of knick-knackery typical of the Victorian era. Further on we find the Bakery where a young man is showing how the bread is made. Later in the day we see the baker’s horse-drawn cart collect the bread; it’s sold on site and served in the Village Cafe and at Willards Hotel.

Bakery Bread Upper Canada Village - collage Zoe Dawes

From bread oven to table

We have lunch at Willards Hotel,  with Customer Service & Corporate Communications Manager Susan Le Clair. Willard’s Hotel is one of the oldest buildings on the site, constructed in the late 1790s and restored to the style of the 1850s. It’s now a restaurant where we are served by costumed waiting staff with food from the period. I have the local bread and cheese platter – very tasty. Susan explains the philosophy of Upper Canada Village. “Our aim is to show what it was really like to live and work in the 19th Century. Many people in Canada have little idea of what that looks like and this place is ideal to teach visitors some of our important history in an engaging and fun way. It’s especially popular with families and people come back year after year. We have a diverse and interesting Educational Program that enable young people to discover their past in engaging and fun way. Although we’re usually closed in the winter months, we do have special events including our very quirky Pumkinferno at Halloween.” 

Susan Le Clair in the livery Upper Canada Village - photo Zoe Dawes

Susan Le Clair in the Livery

After a delicious meal, Cindy and I go off to explore more of the village. In the distance we catch a glimpse of some people floating by on some sort of craft. It’s the horse-drawn tow scow which pootles back and forth along the village canal from the dock behind Cook’s Tavern to the Tenant Farm. A tow scow is ‘ … a flat hulled barge that is drawn along the canal by a horse walking along the bank. Two villagers (one at the bow, and one at the stern) help steer the scow using long poles. In typical village life, the scow would be used to transport heavy goods to mills and other distant locations.‘ (Upper Canada Village website.)

Horse-drawn Tow Scow in Upper Canada Village Ontario - photo Zoe Dawes

Horse-drawn Tow Scow

We climb aboard and listen to the gentle shuck of the boat on the water as we pass the Pier Light. A flock of Canada Geese pecking around in the grass, honking as we pass and overhead birds swoop and dive across the clear blue sky. Time seems to slow down and the ‘real world’ fades away as we drift along. Beyond the canal, the wide open waters of the Saint Lawrence River glitter and ripple as ship sails past; an incongruous reminder of 21st century Canada.

Tow Scow trip Upper Canada Village Ontario

Tow Scow on the canal beside St Lawrence River

 The tower of white-painted Christ Church peaks out above the trees near the canal. On the front cover an excellent book, ‘A Village Arising – the Story of the Building of Upper Canada 1957-1961 and After‘ by Peter Stokes, there’s a photo of the church being hauled along the road from Moulinette to the site of Upper Canada Village on top of flat-bed trucks. We peak inside; the interior is similar to a Scottish Presbyterian kirk and includes box pews, a gallery and a cast iron stove.
Christ Church - Upper Canada Village - photo Zoe Dawes

Christ Church

Just round the corner from the church is brick built Cook’s Tavern, which serves Ginger Beer and Sarsaparilla,  based on the popular 19th century tonic made from the root of a South American plant (Genus Smilax).  Commonly referred to as “root beer”, these tonics contained a variety of roots, such as ginger for tang, sassafras for flavour and sarsaparilla to make it foam. Outside, a few people are waiting for one of the horse-drawn wagons to take them on a 20 minute drive round the village. It’s late afternoon and the school groups have left; the place is quiet, with a tranquil atmosphere very different from the frenetic excitement of the morning.

Cook's Tavern Upper Canada Village

Cook’s Tavern

Exploring some of the back lanes of the village we come across a farm with a large-horned cattle in the fields and a tiny calf in a paddock. I get up close to take a photo and the farmer asks if I want to buy him. We haggle a bit and then I seem to have bought him for a couple of dollars. “Now you can take him back to the barn.” I think the farmer is joking but no; the next minute, a rope is thrust into my hand and I am taking a calf for a walk …

Walking calf on farm Upper Canada Village - Zoe Dawes

Walking my baby back home

After a full-on day it’s time to go. On our way out, we have a quick look at the gift shop and exhibition centre, which tells the history of the area. Outside the little train that runs round Upper Canada Village is setting off on its last ride. We stop for a photo of the monument commemorating the Battle of Crysler’s Farm, a nationally significant battle in the War of 1812 that halted the 1813 invasion of Canada.
Upper Canada Village

As we drive onto the main road back to Ottawa I can still hear the sound of children’s laughter, feel the soft muzzle of the wagon horse and smell that freshly baked bread. Upper Canada Village is a charming place of sensory and historic enjoyment that magically encapsulates an idyllic moment in Canadian history …

Days Out from Ottawa

This is just one of the many day trips you can take from Ottawa. I also visited Merrickville, a pretty village on the banks of the Rideau Canal, Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum, Fultons Pancake House and Sugar Bush and spent a very relaxing day at Nordik Spa-Nature, a luxury spa at the entrance to Gatineau Park.

Many thanks to Susan Le Clair of Upper Canada Village for showing me round and sharing stories about this unique attraction. Grateful thanks also to Air Transat, Destination Canada and Ottawa Tourism for sponsoring my visit to Canada. It was a pleasure to explore more of Canada, a country of unforgettable experiences.

Check out Canada Keep Exploring to discover more about where to go and what to do in Ottawa. Return flights from Gatwick to Toronto from £346 (October 2017) and £349 (May 2018) per person with Air Transat. Canadian Affair offers an 8-day package tour Ontario Taster Holiday which includes 2 nights in Ottawa.

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Upper Canada Village – LOVE IT? PIN IT!

Upper Canada Village Ontario - Pinterest - Zoe Dawes

September 22, 2017

Quirky Travel Photo: Little African boy by a stream in Rwanda

Little boy by the road in Rwanda - photo zoe dawes

Little boy in Rwanda

On a very long coach trip through Rwanda from Kigali up to Volcanoes National Park, we stopped en route for a ‘comfort break.’ As soon as we got off the bus, we were surrounded by a gaggle of children and adults who seemed to appear from nowhere. All curious, some holding back and others venturing closer, they wanted to say ‘hello’ and see what we were wearing and holding. This little boy caught my eye with his delightfully shy smile and, as I crouched down to talk to him, he came closer and closer. Finally he reached out a tentative hand to my camera so I handed it to him to have a look. Another member of our group came up and called to him to have his photo taken.

Little boy being photographed Rwanda - photo Zoe Dawes

I stepped back, clicked and got this shot. He sums up the warm welcome and friendly faces we saw throughout our memorable trip to Rwanda with Uber Luxe Safaris, a country coming to terms with a tough past and and embracing an exciting future.

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Little boy in Rwanda Africa - Pinterest poster Zoe Dawes

July 1, 2017

Ottawa: 8 fun ways to celebrate #Canada150 in the lively capital city

Ottawa Canada 150 - photo zoe dawes

Ottawa celebrates Canada 150

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday dear Canada

Happy Birthday to you!

Maple Leaf platter Canada 150

Beautiful wooden Maple Leaf Platter seen in Ottawa Craft Store

On 1st July, 1867 Confederation united the country’s first three provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Canada (including Ontario and Quebec) into a federation known as the Dominion of Canada. Now, a hundred and fifty years later, the country is celebrating that date with a year long party of events and commemorative memorabilia. I recently spent a week in the capital, Ottawa, where the whole city was en fete and getting ready for Canada 150 in colourful style.

Aberdeen Pavilion Lansdowne Park Ottawa Canada 150

Aberdeen Pavilion at Lansdowne Park, Ottawa

I will be writing about my trip in more detail later, but in the meantime, here are a few images from Ottawa that sum up the beauty, diversity and history of Canada.

Images of Canada 150

Queen Victoria

Portrait of Queen Victoria in Ottawa Parliament Canada 150

Portrait of Queen Victoria in Ottawa Parliament

This glorious portrait of Queen Victoria hangs in Canada’s Parliament Building, reminder of the country’s strong ties to Great Britain and its historic past.  The portrait has survived numerous disasters including fire so it’s clearly a survivor. Take a tour round the building; our guide told us it was her favourite painting there and that no-one knows who painted it.

Canadian Parliament

The Parliament Building with Peace Tower Ottawa Canada 150

The Parliament Building with Peace Tower

Parliament Hill is the focus of the main Canada 150 party held on July 1st, as well as the annual Canada Day celebrations. Wander round the grounds and spot the many statues and artworks that celebrate its fascinating past. When I visited, there was a great deal of work being done in preparation for the big day, as well as a lot of renovation work. It’s a meeting point for locals and visitors who enjoy walking round Parliament Hill as well as relaxing on the lawn. NB. From 2018 the main Parliament Building will be closed for at least 10 years for total refurbishment, so get there soon if you want to have a look round!

Aninshinabe Scout

Statue of 'Anishinabe Scout' by Hamilton MacCarthy overlooking Parliament Hill Ottawa Canada 150 - photo Zoe Dawes

Statue of ‘Anishinabe Scout’ by Hamilton MacCarthy

Find the ‘Anishinabe Scout’ made by Hamilton MacCarthy in 1918. It stands opposite Parliament Hill overlooking the Rideau Canal and Ottawa River. It represents the First Nations people who helped in the development of Canada. All round the city there are many excellent sculptures, some dating back to the 19th century and others very contemporary.

The Canadian Museum of History

Canadian Museum of History Ottawa Canada 150 - photo Zoe Dawes

This is the stunning Main Hall in Canada Museum of History. The museum is actually in the city of Gatineau, over the river from Ottawa, but feels very much a part of the capital. The lower floor has a large collection of First Nations totems and many artefacts telling the story of the people who lived in this country well before the first travellers arrived. Unfortunately, the renowned Canadian History Hall was closed in preparation for the Canada 150 opening on July 1st but I am sure it is fascinating.

National Gallery of Canada

Maman and the National Gallery of Canada Ottawa - photo Zoe Dawes

Maman and the National Gallery of Canada

A ginormous spider lurks in front of the National Gallery of Canada, quirky monument to the country’s artistic spirit. Towering 30feet above the street, Maman, was made by Louise Bourgois from steel and marble. Inside the beautiful glass museum is a comprehensive collection of Canadian artworks. ‘The National Gallery of Canada strives to provide Canadians with a sense of identity and pride in Canada’s rich visual arts heritage and to make art accessible to all.’ I especially enjoyed the Indigenous Art Galleries, where intricate antler carvings are beautifully displayed next to simple images of wildlife and people.

Maple Syrup

Maple Syrup Stall Lansdowne Market Ottawa - Canada 150

Maple Syrup Stall Lansdowne Market

One of the most famous products of Canada is maple syrup. The Maple Leaf features on the Canadian Flag and the trees can be found all over Ottawa as well as in many other parts of the country. I learnt all about maple syryp production at Fulton’s Pancake House and Sugar Bush, a couple of hours’ drive from the capital. (More on that trip in another article.) There are shops selling this luscioous syrup all over the city and at Lansdowne Park Market I found a stall not only selling it but also explaining the changes in labelling that have recently been brought in.

Obama Cookies

Obama Cookies in Le Moulin de Provence Ottawa Canada 150 - photo Zoe Dawes

Obama Cookies in Le Moulin de Provence

So what has Barack Obama got to do with Canada 150? Well, when he was USA President he visited Ottawa and called into the Moulin de Provence bakery in downtown Byward Market. He bought one of their iced maple leaf cookies. The bakery was very savvy in its marketing them as ‘Obama Cookies’ and now every visitor to city has to try one of these iconic biscuits. Of course, I bought one in a commemorative tin to bring home.

The Rideau Canal and Chateau Laurier

The Rideau Canal and Chateau Laurier Ottawa Canada 150 - photo Zoe Dawes

The Rideau Canal and Chateau Laurier

One of the greatest Canadian engineering feats of the 19th century, the Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, flows through Ontario, finally cascading out into the Ottawa River. Constructed to aid British military operations against a possible American invasion, it was opened in 1832 and is 22km long. It’s the oldest continuously operated canal system in North America and the name comes from the French for ‘curtain’ due to its appearance in the lock system in front of the Chateau Laurier. This famous hotel opened in the early 20th century and was another of the railway hotels that spread across Canada as the trains brought the modern world to this enormous country. I can highly recommend the cocktails in Zoe’s Bar!

Celebrate Canada 150

I travelled to Canada with Air Transat courtesy of Destination Canada with a group of 13 other fab UK travel bloggers visiting 14 cities in celebration of Canada 150. I stayed at the very cool Andaz Ottawa in Byward Market. Many thanks to everyone at Ottawa Tourism and the lovely Canadians for making me so welcome.

If you enjoyed this celebration of Canada’s birthday do share it with others and leave a comment at the end of the post. If you have any tips or stories about Canada, please share those too!

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June 12, 2017

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

May 29, 2017

An illuminating bus tour of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg, Germany

Nazi Party Rally Grounds video Nuremberg

I very nearly didn’t go. There were a number of tours on offer that day and I was torn between culinary (and beer) highlights of Nuremberg, a walking tour of this historic city in Bavaria or the Train Museum. The idea of visiting the Nazi Party Rally Grounds was not so appealing, mainly because of the very negative connotations of the name, a part of history many of us want to forget. However, a number of people had already done the tour and said it was excellent. I am so glad I listened to them. Here’s why …

The Nazi Party Rally Grounds Tour

Nazi Party Rally Grounds bus tour Nuremberg

Lest we forget; that’s the resonant message from World War I, yet we do forget and we shouldn’t. The Nazi Party Rally Grounds Video Bus Tour is run by Geschichte Für Alle (History for Everyone) and outlines ‘the use of architecture as a theatrical backdrop to the various events, explains the function of the rallies themselves and the way in which Nuremberg has dealt with its National Socialist legacy.’ I was on a shortened version of the full day tour; we had three hours to get an idea of what Hitler envisaged and what remains today.

Map of Nazi Party Rally Grounds Nuremberg 1940 - image Lencer

Map of Nazi Party Rally Grounds Nuremberg 1940 – image Lencer

Our guide, Werner Fiederer, welcomed us aboard the coach and told us we’d be seeing some video footage from A Triumph of Will. This 1935 propaganda film of Hitler and the 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, was was directed, produced, edited, and co-written by Leni Riefenstahl. Werner then gave some background history to the ‘success’ of the Nazi Party and Hitler’s megalomaniac plans for Germany and the world. He explained why they resonated with a populace exhausted from one world war and broken by the privations of the Weimar Republic.

'A Triumph of Will' by Leni Riefenstahl. Nazi Rally Gournds BusTour Nuremberg Germany - photo zoe dawes

‘The Triumph of Will’ by Leni Riefenstahl.

Our first stop on the Nazi Party Rally Grounds tour was the Congress Hall (Kongresshalle). It was intended to seat 50,000 with a self-supporting roof. It was started in 1935 but was unfinished. Left derelict for many years, in 2001, the Dokumentationszentrum Reichsparteitagsgelände (Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds) was opened with the permanent exhibition Faszination und Gewalt (Fascination and Terror), located in the northern wing. In the southern building, the Serenadenhof, the Nuremberg Symphony Orchestra have their home.

Nuremberg_Aerial_Kongresshalle Aerial photo of Congress Hall - photo Nicohofmann

Aerial photo of Nazi Party Congress Hall – photo Nicohofmann

As we drove into the Congress Hall arena, the sheer size of the edifice took my breath away. It represents the audacity of Hitler’s terrifying vision. A few months’ before, I’d seen the Colosseum in Rome for the first time; this massive monument to Imperial Rome is genuinely awe-inspiring. The Congress Hall in Nuremberg, which was inspired by the Colosseum, is simply chilling. We got out of the coach and had time to wander around and get a feel for what it might have been like in Hitler’s day. Incongruously, the wooden stalls for the famous Nuremberg Christmas Market (Kristkindlesmarkt), are stored on the ground floor.

Zoe Dawes at Congress Hall Nazi Party Rally Grounds Nuremberg Germany

Inside the Congress Hall arena

From here we drove past a tranquil park. Through the coach window, I glimpsed yachts drifting round the lake, rowing boats skimming across the water, runners jogging round the perimeter, children playing beside the shore and a colourful mural celebrating Nuremberg’s Volksfest. Behind this tranquil scene loomed the Congress Hall …

Park by Nazi Party Rally Grounds Nuremberg

Next stop was the Zeppelin Field, so-named because in 1909 Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin landed with one of his airships in this location. Werner told us it was one of architect Albert Speer‘s first works for the Nazi Party and was based upon the Pergamon Altar, a monumental Greek structure built in 2nd century BC, now reconstructed in the Pergamon Museum, Berlin. It was here that Hitler laid on his biggest shows, with seating for up to 200,000 to witness his messianic speeches from the ‘Führer’s Grandstand‘. There used to be a huge gilded swastika towering over the stadium. It was blown up by occupying American soldiers  on April 25, 1945. This clip (uploaded onto YouTube by themadchopper) was edited from the original filmed by L.B. Fenberg.

Werner explained, “Speer designed the stadium to become a “cathedral of light”, created by 130 high-power anti-aircraft searchlights ringing the field at intervals of 40 feet (12m) casting brilliant beams of light high into the sky. For an audience with very little to entertain them, this would have been a stunning spectacle, equivalent to a huge firework display today.” The podiums for the searchlights can still be seen.

Zeppelin Field Grandstand Nuremberg Germany Nazi Party Rally Grounds - photo zoedawes

Zeppelin Field Grandstand

Today it all looks rather shabby. A car with L plates waited for us to cross over to the grandstand. The area is now used for learner drivers,  various sports and races, concerts and festivals. The grandstand is gradually crumbling away, as the German authorities decide what to do with it. ‘Albert Speer … claimed that he had used special building materials to ensure that the complex would be like the remains of the Roman Empire and “last for a thousand years”. He could hardly have been more wrong.’ (The Independent article.)

Nazi Party Rally at the Zeppelin Field Nuremberg Germany

Nazi Party Rally at the Zeppelin Field

Back on the bus, we watched more video clips of Nazi Rallies and Hitler’s speeches to the masses as well as a short clip from Charlie Chaplin‘s 1940 movie ‘The Great Dictator‘. In his 1964 autobiography, Chaplin stated that he could not have made the film if he had known about the true extent of the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps at the time.

The Great Dictator- Charlie Chaplin - Nazi Party Rally Grounds Tour - Nuremberg - photo zoe dawes

The Great Dictator- Charlie Chaplin

Our final stop was the Great Road (Große Straße), almost 2km long and heading directly towards Nuremberg Castle, which we could see in the distance. It was originally intended as a parade road for the Wehrmacht, the united armed forces of Nazi Germany. We saw the original grey and black granite paving slabs, apparently made to be the exact length of a Nazi goose-step. As we drove back into the city, I glimpsed the remains of stone ‘seats’ where the crowds would sit to watch the troops march past. A chilling reminder of what might have been …

The Great Road - Nazi Rally Grounds Tour - Nuremberg Germany

The Great Road 2017

Returning to the centre of Nuremberg, I wondered what differences there would be in the world today if Hitler had won the war. Impossible to know, but as a couple of friendly locals directed me back to my hotel, I was grateful that he had not achieved his insane vision, and appreciative of a chance to see how modern day Germany is dealing with this sinister legacy.

For more details of the Nazi Party Rally Grounds Video Bus Tour, which includes a visit to the Palace of Justice where the Nuremberg Trials were held, go to Geschichte Für Alle. Many thanks to Werner Fiederer for his informative and balanced insight into this challenging era and to German National Tourist Board for inviting me to visit historic Nuremberg.

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Nazi Party Rally Grounds Tour Nuremberg - image zoe dawes

March 8, 2017

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

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