Tag Archives: cumbria
December 13, 2017

The Quirky Traveller becomes Brand Ambassador for Pye Motors

A short while ago I got a brand new Ford Fiesta from Pye Motors in Morecambe. You may not think this is a big deal, but I have never had a new car until now and most of the cars I’ve had were at least a few years old when I bought them. So this was very good news for me; but even more exciting is that I have now become Brand Ambassador for family-run Ford Dealership Pye Motors.

Getting a new car

The Quirky Traveller new Ford Fiesta from Pye Motors

My new Ford Fiesta at Staveley Mill Yard

The first car I owned was an old black Mini Cooper in the 1970s. It had red leather seats and looked cool, but the windows didn’t open, the engine overheated at the drop of a hat and I was nearly killed when the brakes failed as I was going downhill in Shropshire. The next car was a bright orange Ford Escort that had belonged to my boyfriend. It got me from A to B via most of the UK and I sold it for £300 when I moved to live in Greece. Since then I have had many cars, including Peugeot, Nissan, Rover, Citroen, Toyota and Honda but NEVER a new one. (Travel bloggers may get to see the world but it’s not the most lucrative of jobs.) So you can imagine my pleasure when I was asked to test-drive the new Ford Fiesta this summer – click link to read my review. As you can see from the video, I was VERY excited!

Bedecked with impressive features including Cruise Control, Parking Sensors, Auto High Beam dipping headlights and Blind Spot Information System using RADAR sensors, I was like a kid in a sweet shop trying them all out. I was sorry to return the car and go back to driving my reliable but ageing Honda Jazz, which now seemed very ordinary, sluggish and lacking in any funky techy stuff. Over the coming weeks, I had a number of discussions with Pye Motors and I was DELIGHTED to be appointed their very first digital Brand Ambassador. 

Pye Motors Brand Ambassador

Nick Payne MD Pye Motors

Founder William Pye and MD Nick Payne

Managing Director Nick Payne told me the Pye Motors story. His wife’s grandfather William Pye started a vehicle repair business in Lancaster back in 1925. It’s grown greatly since then and there are now three Ford Dealerships in Morecambe, Kendal and Barrow with a team of over 140 staff. Nick says, “We don’t just pay lip-service to customer service; it’s the single most important element of Pye Motors. We have returning customers who’ve been coming to us for many years. This is a family-run business with a proud tradition of going above and beyond whenever we can.” I’ve visited all their branches and each one has a personal, friendly atmosphere that makes Pye Motors quite different from the image I had of a corporate Ford Dealership.

Words that came up in our conversations about the Brand Ambassador role included integrity, community, help, passion and fun. For me to align myself with such a big name, it was vital that we share the same values and that integrity should feature large in our relationship. The company has an excellent reputation locally and Ford is one of the world’s most famous brands, so it was important that they found the right blogger to represent them. My audience fits some of their key demographics and we share a passion for this lovely area.

Awards and trophies Pye Motors Morecambe

Pye Motors Awards and Trophies

Pye Motors plays a significant role in the local community and wants to shout more about their Lancashire and Cumbria roots. They sponsor a wide range of competitions and support various charities and local events as well as national campaigns. (A number of staff recently took part in Movember, growing splendid moustaches – some slightly less splendid 😉 – and raising lots of dosh and awareness of men’s health issues.) Both Nick and I feel there is a great deal of synergy in our shared values and interests and that the partnership will work for everyone. As their Brand Ambassador, I will be discovering more about the company and the team and exploring beautiful North West England in an #allnewFiesta.

My new Ford Fiesta

Ryan demonstrating features of new Ford Fiesta Pye Motors

Ryan demonstrating features of my new Ford Fiesta

On a sunny day at Pye Motors in Morecambe, Ryan showed me the innovative design and technology features of my Moondust Silver Fiesta Zetec. Some of these come as standard, others are extras. We took it out for a drive so he could demonstrate how the Adaptive Cruise Control works; very clever adjusting speed depending on traffic. I was somewhat mind-blown by the Active Park Assist. ‘It uses a combination of different technologies to do more than steer you into parking spots. With Park Out Assist it helps you pull out of them, too. The Parallel and Perpendicular Parking system can sense if there’s space for your car to fit, then reverse you in. The Side Parking Aid also warns you if there are any lateral obstructions.’ I’ve yet to try it for myself, sounds quite mind-boggling – think I need another lesson … Its award-winning 1.1L Eco Boost engine and Stop/Start 6 gears gives very high performance combined with money-saving fuel economy.  Ryan also highlighted the sleek new styling, alloy wheels, large boot and spacious interior. The only thing that my old Honda had better was electric rear windows; possibly worth paying extra for but not vital. You can see more of the car – and Ryan – in this video.

Nick Payne loves the North West and has an extensive knowledge of his home turf. One of the main things I’ll be doing for our collaboration is exploring north Lancashire and south Cumbria, searching out lesser-known places and sharing stories for you to enjoy. Keep up with our travels via my Social Media channels and on this blog. I’ll be using the hashtag #followpye.

New Ford Fiesta - The Quirky Traveller North West England

Morecambe Bay, Elterwater and Broughton-in-Furness

Click on the link to find out more about Pye Motors Ford Dealership and treat yourself to a test drive in the new Ford Fiesta or one of their other large fleet of vehicles. You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook. Rest assured that, however much I might love my new vehicle and collaborating with Pye Motors, I’ll be retaining my openness and honesty and my views will always be, most definitely, my own. I’m very much looking forward to our quirky travels together and if you see me out and about, give a wave and say hi …

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The Quirky Traveller Pye Motors Brand Ambassador

August 18, 2017

Quirky Travel Review: out and about in the all-new Ford Fiesta

The Ford Fiesta at Windermere Works

The Ford Fiesta at Windermere Works

“Now that is one sexy-looking car.” This was the reaction from one of my best friends to the vehicle I rocked up in to take her out. The brand new Ford Fiesta has film-star good looks, which is not something I was expecting when I agreed to test-drive it for a week. To be honest, apart from a couple of hire cars, I hadn’t driven a Ford since my bright orange Ford Escort in the 1980s. But as soon as I saw this vehicle, I was hooked. Its sleek lines, metallic finish, high-spec features and even the cycle rack on the roof, shouted ‘come try me’.

Ford Fiesta Morecambe Bay

The Ford Fiesta overlooking Morecambe Bay

Over the following week, I drove over 400 miles from Carnforth in Lancashire to Cockermouth in north Cumbria, to Sunderland Point, the quaint little peninsula on Morecambe Bay, Bowness-on-Windermere and Grasmere. The car handles really well and I fell completely in love. OK, I currently drive an old Honda Jazz so (almost) any new car is an improvement, but I do a lot of mileage in my job as a travel writer and business coach and I am fussy what I drive. My son, definitely not easily impressed, thought it was great, and was almost as sorry as I was when I had to hand it back.

New Ford Fiesta – Features

The Ford Fiesta in North Lake District

The Ford Fiesta in North Lake District

  • Active Park Assist inc Parallel and Perpendicular Parking with Side Parking Aid
  • Adaptive Cruise Control with built-in RADAR sensor
  • Lane Keeping Aid with Steering Wheel alert and Warning Light
  • Pre-Collision Assist with Pedestrian Detection
  • Traffic Sign Recognition indicating Speed Limit
  • Blind Spot Information System for Wing Mirrors
  • Automatic Lights plus Auto High Beam Night aid
  • Automatic Windscreen Wiper option
  • Electric power-assisted steering (EPAS)
  • Ford SYNC 3 Voice-Control and Touch-Screen technology to control phone, music and navigation
  • Bang & Olufsen B&O PLAY 675-watt audio system with 10-speaker, woofer and subwoofer
Ford Fiesta Blackwell Arts and Crafts House overlooking Windermere

Ford Fiesta Blackwell Arts and Crafts House overlooking Windermere

There are many more features as standard and optional. I had the 1.5 litre TDCi engine which gives a very impressive performance and fuel economy. Driving along the motorway and country lanes, up fells and along the coast, I got an average of 56mpg and if I’d used the Eco-Button it would have been even more efficient. It’s got keyless ignition and when the car was idling in a queue, the Auto Start-Stop technology switched off the engine while still supplying power to essentials like the headlights, air-conditioning and the audio system. A light touch on the clutch got it going in nano-seconds. With its new six-speed manual transmission and electronic torque vectoring control (whatever that is) it gives a fast, smooth drive with tight cornering a decent turning circle.

Ford Fiesta Sunderland Point Lancashire

Ford Fiesta at Sunderland Point

My Fiesta was the 5 door model and had loads of space in the front and a larger rear seating than many similar cars. The seats are very comfortable; I have a dodgy back but the driver’s seat was easy to adjust, which isn’t always the case. My son’s 6′ 3″ and had plenty of legroom, though if you were sitting behind him you’d have a bit of a squeeze! The Fiesta is often described as a ‘Super-Mini’ but it would easily take a group of four, or five a push. There’s no compromise in the boot: it’s got depth and height so plenty of room for shopping bags, walking boots, jacket and the other paraphernalia that I manage to fill my car with. Watch this video to find out more.

5-Star Ford Fiesta

Ford Fiesta Sunderland Point

For its technological features, quality build, attractive appearance including its grey metallic finish (Magnetic), sleek lines and comfort I give the all-new Ford Fiesta 5 stars. Many thanks for Pye Motors for lending me the car. I wasn’t paid for this assignment and all views are my own. Contact them for more details on the Ford Fiesta and to arrange a test drive – hopefully you’ll love it too. Now, who wants to buy an old Honda Jazz? I’ve got my sights set on a much sexier beast …

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Quirky Travel Review - New Ford Fiesta

September 12, 2016

Top tips for tasty Food Photography

Food Photography collage zoedawes

On your travels around your home country and further afield you no doubt come across a lot of delicious local food. Perhaps you take photos of the dishes you eat, the wine you drink and the produce displayed in shops and markets. Would you like to take better photos of that food and drink? That’s what I wanted to do when I enrolled on Aspire Photography Training: Food Portraits workshop. I’ll share with you some of the food photography tips I learnt on that useful and inspiring day.

Food Photography shoot

Food Photography Training

Our group of photographers ranged from professional to amateur, all with a desire to learn more and practise with expert tuition. Tutor, food photographer and writer Joan Ransley, took us through the basics of good food photography and showed us some of her superb photos. She then went on to explain clearly and simply how to use a digital SLR camera for close-up food shots. I had never been able to get my head round F stops and aperture settings but Joan explained it so simply that even I could understand, at least for the duration of the course! She’s a really good teacher and very encouraging. She talked about using a smart phone camera, which as a travel blogger is something I do very often. As she said, anyone can take a good photo with a phone camera if you have an eye for a scene and follow some basic principles.

Garlic and salad leaves - Food Photography Tips - The Quirky Traveller

After lunch we had to choose from a wide selection of fresh food including salad ingredients, bread, cake, fruit and accessories on which to display it all. I chose some delicious sourdough bread, olives and olive oil, pecorino cheese, Parma ham, tomatoes and salad leaves. We went outside to set up our photo shoot, with Joan and Catherine Connor, MD of Aspire Photography Training and a great communicator, sharing ideas to create a memorable photo. The following tips are especially suitable if you’re on holiday, travelling or out for a meal; in other words, short of time and needing to take a picture fairly quickly, without special lighting or studio conditions.

Italian Food Collage - zoedawes

7 Food Photography Tips

1. Create a desire to eat

Meringues and summer fruit - Food photography tips - create a desire to eat - zoedawes

Joan says, “One of the most important things you need to do when taking photos of food, is ‘create a desire to eat’. Eating is a sensual experience, so a food photographer aims to add vibrancy, enticement and increase our emotional response.” If you keep that in mind, your food photography will come alive and set the taste buds tingling. We experimented with positioning of ingredients (all fresh and delicious) and ‘props’, light sources, including use of reflectors and different angles. Joan told us some insider tricks, including use of oil-dropper/spray to add sheen, avoiding steam from hot food, leading lines and a lot more.

2. Every picture tells a story

Italian Food Photography photo shoot - zoedawes

Well, maybe not EVERY picture, but many do and when you’re composing your shot think about what you want your viewer to ‘read’ into the photo. This scene-setting shot shows all the ingredients I was to use in the main photo shoot. The aim was to showcase an Italian lunch so the bottle of olive oil and ham were the keys to setting the scene. In the background is part of a sign for Morecambe, near to where I live, so it has a personal resonance.

3. Use Natural Light

Use natural light - food photography tips - zoedawes

Natural light is much more flattering to food photography. Pick a table or seat by a window, a park bench or wall where you can arrange your food and not have to rely on a flash. That distorts colour, distracts other people around you and generally makes your food look unappetizing. Joan also showed us different types of Reflectors, including a very handy portable one. When setting up their foodie shot, the guys in the photo above made sure there was a lot of light coming in from left, to compensate for shade on the right.

4. Consider the Depth-of-Field

Food Photography Tips - zoedawes

Joan says: “Depth of field is controlled by the aperture of your camera lens; the larger the aperture ie f2.8 the narrower the depth of field. The smaller the aperture i.e. f8 the greater the depth of field. In food photography we usually use an aperture of around f3.5 when we’re photographing a plate of food close up. This will ensure the subject is in focus i.e. a piece of fish or a slice of cake and anything in the background looks soft and dreamy. For overhead shots when we need everything in the scene to be in focus, an aperture of around f8 is best. If you can control the aperture on your lens it will improve your photographs at a stroke.” I focused on the fruit and walnuts on this tasty Damson Brandy Fruitcake (made by Ginger Bakers in case you tempted!) to draw your eye to their glossy sheen.

5. Go for a close-up

Close up of sourdough bread - photography tips - zoedawes

We love to see details of the food or drink ie the bubbles in a glass of prosecco or the icing on the cake and getting in close to the subject helps tempt the taste buds. Fill the frame or just have a little of the surrounding area in shot. In the first photo, I shot the sourdough bread from above, which simply shows it on the board. In the second I went in much closer and tried to capture the dusting of flour and the bread’s gorgeous texture.

6. Use the rule of thirds

Food Photography Tips - rule of thirds - zoedawes

As you may have seen in this article on Top Travel Photography Tips, our eyes are drawn to certain parts of a picture; the rule of thirds helps you to capitalize on this. Imagine your photo is overlaid with a grid of lines in thirds both horizontally and vertically. Where the lines intersect is the ‘point of interest’. If you position the main elements of your photo on or near those points, the viewer is more likely to focus on them. In this photo, the ham and bread were the key elements. Joan added the THREE olives, the olive slices and three sage leaves to increase the threesomeness.

7. Create a ‘set’ for your photo

Setting up Aspire Food Photography shoot - zoedawes

Even if you’re taking a quick pic of lunch, spend a few seconds to look through the lens/viewfinder and see if there’s anything you could remove that might distract the viewer ie phone, dirty knife etc. Maybe you could add something. I often include a menu, guide book, or some reference to the place where I’m taking the picture. Catherine had a vast array of vintage and contemporary plates, cutlery, pots and glasses plus trays, scarves, material, edible flowers and other things for us to experiment with during our photo shoot. Joan told us of a street food photographer who uses park benches and other outdoor furniture to set up his shots. She also shared the secret of crummage; artistically scattered crumbs or other bits of food – see the Fruit Cake photo in Tip 4). Be creative; a few seconds can make the difference between a good photo and a stunning one.

Edible flowers - food photography - zoedawes

All the photos here were taken by me during the Aspire Food Portraits day. Many thanks to Joan Ransley and Catherine Connor for all the tips and tricks; I enjoyed every minute. Lara Ferroni‘s excellent book Food Photography: Pro-Secrets for Styling, Lighting and Shooting has lots more professional advice. Find out more about Aspire Photography Training Courses here.

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The Quirky Traveller Food Photography Tips

August 1, 2016

The many faces of Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter

Say the name ‘Beatrix Potter’ and no doubt images of cute bunnies, dim-witted ducks, sailing frogs, frisky squirrels, naughty kittens, mischievous mice and perky pigs come to mind. Her little books have had a place of many children’s hearts for over a hundred years. At my son’s birth he got two copies of ‘Peter Rabbit‘, a Peter Rabbit mug, crib mobile, wall frieze and romper suit. I cross-stitched a picture of her most famous characters for his bedroom and his great aunt and uncle gave him a set of Beatrix Potter books for his christening.

Tales of Beatrix Potter books

However, there was far more to this unassuming but determined woman than cute books for children. Anyone who has read any one of the 24 Tales can see a writer of great perspicacity and insight, as well as wit and intelligence.

‘Old Mrs. Rabbit was a widow; she earned her living knitting rabbit-wool mittens and muffetees (I once bought a pair at a bazaar). She also sold herbs and rosemary tea and rabbit-tobacco (which is what we call lavender).’

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny pub 1904

Beatrix Potter – 150 years of creativity

Beatrix Potter with her sheepdog Kip at Hill Top - image National Trust

Beatrix Potter with her sheepdog Kip at Hill Top – image National Trust

Beatrix Potter was a woman of many parts. As well as her writing, she was also a passionate naturalist, superb artist and illustrator, farmer, sheep-breeder, conservationist and benefactor of the National Trust. She spent her childhood living in London, where she and her brother Bertram kept many pets including mice, rabbits, a hedgehog and some bats, as well as collections of butterflies and other insects. The family holidayed in travelled to Scotland and the Lake District and her interest in the natural world showed itself in detailed drawings of animals, birds, insects, trees, plants and particularly fungii. Had she been born in a different era there is no doubt she could have gone on to be an eminent botanist had she wanted; her uncle, eminent chemist Sir Henry Enfield Roscoe, recognised her skill and got her a student pass to the Royal Botanical Gardens at KewShe produced a paper on mycology (the study of fungi) but chose not to pursue this interest, in favour of her writing and illustrations.

Beatrix Potter nature drawings - image zoedawes

Beatrix Potter art

Her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, was originally published in 1901, at her own expense, adapted from a private letter to Noel, son of her childhood governess. She told him the story of ‘four little rabbits whose names were Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter’. A close family friendCanon Hardwicke Rawnsley (a great name for a character in a novel), one of the founders of the National Trust, helped her to get it published by Frederick Warne & Co, who went on to publish all her children’s tales.

Beatrix Potter - Peter Rabbit in Hill Top Shop - image zoedawes

Peter Rabbit

Following on from the death of Norman Warne, to whom she was unofficially engaged, Beatrix bought Hill Top, a farm house  in Near Sawrey in the Lake District in 1905. It seems that her interest in writing waned as her love of country life and farming grew. She married her solicitor, William Heelis, in 1913 and they moved to Castle Cottage, opposite Hill Top. (This property is also owned by the National Trust but not open to the public.) Above it is Moss Eccles Tarn,  one of their favourite places to relax; well worth a short walk from the village.

Moss Eccles Tarn Sawrey Lake District - photo zoe dawes

Moss Eccles Tarn

Settled into farming life, Beatrix Potter helped to save one of Cumbria’s most famous faces, the hardy Herdwick Sheep. She bought Troutbeck Farm where she bred Herdwicks. Her interest in science resurfaced in her experiements to help cure sheep diseases. She regularly attended Lake District shows, where her award-winnning Herdies were greatly admired. A few years ago I met a Cumbrian farmer who knew her and said she knew more about sheep breeding than many of the local farmers. Today Herdwicks can be seen roaming all over the Lakeland Fells, thanks to her dedication to the breed.

Beatrix Potter and Herdwick Sheep - photo hop-skip-jump.com

Beatrix Potter and Herdwick Sheep: photo hop-skip-jump.com

Beatrix Potter also contributed to the conservation of the Lake District. The Heelises became partners with the National Trust in n 1930, buying and managing fell farms and surrounding land, including Tarn Hows, one of the area’s most popular lakes. She did continue writing but her prolific days of literary output were replaced with farming. She became very famous and often went to great lengths to avoid the many visitors that sought her out in Near Sawrey. She died at Castle Cottage in 1943, leaving almost all her properties to the National Trust; her husband only survived a couple more years and the residue of her estate was then also handed on to the NT.

Pigling Bland and Pig-wig bridge Beatrix Potter

Pigling Bland and Pig-wig

Her love of the place she knew as home for over 30 years and had visited since a child, comes over in her writing and drawings. Many Lake District places can be recognised from her books; I once took my young son on a Beatrix Potter Walk visiting scenes familiar from her illustrations. When Pigling Bland escapes from the grocer with Pig-wig, she wrote,

‘They ran and they ran and they ran down the hill, and across a short cut on the the level green turf at the bottom, between pebble beds and rushes. They came to a river, they came to a bridge – they crossed it hand in hand – then over the hills and far away she danced with Pigling Bland!’

The Tale of Pigling Bland pub 1913

Celebrate Beatrix Potter in the Lake District

To celebrate the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter’s birth on July 28, 1866, the Royal Mail issued a lovely selection of Beatrix Potter commemorative stamps featuring Peter Rabbit, Mrs Tiggywinkle, Squirrel Nutkin, Jemima Puddleduck, Tom Kitten and Benjamin Bunny.

Beatrix Potter commemorative stamps

 There are a great many events throughout the Lake District remembering this woman’s extraordinary achievements. The World of Beatrix Potter in Bowness-on-Windermere, Cumbria, is a wonderful place to take children, showcasing all that is magical about the author’s creative universe. There was also a specially written play called Where is Peter Rabbit.

Where is Peter Rabbit play

Where is Peter Rabbit? – image The World of Beatrix Potter

On a Travelator Media visit to Hill Top earlier this year, I had the chance to discover more about Beatrix Potter in the house she loved. It’s a veritable shrine to her literary and farming legacy, being very much as it was in her day, with some fascinating artefacts. As one of the National Trust’s most popular UK premises there’s a timed-entry system so I suggest avoiding summer weekends if you can.

Zoe Dawes outside Hill Top

Outside Hill Top

I also enjoyed the many illustrations to be found the Beatrix Potter Gallery in charming Hawkshead, in the tiny premises that were originally her husband, William Heelis’s offices. Both places have got various special exhibitions and events planned this year. Check their websites for more details. BUT you don’t need to attend a special event to enjoy the stunning landscape that inspired Beatrix Potter; do as Lucie does and go for a walk in the Lake District …

Mrs Tiggy-winkle by Beatrix Potter - image zoedawes

Mrs Tiggy-winkle and Lucie

‘Lucie climbed up in the stile and looked up at the hill behind Little-town – a hill that goes up – up – up into the clouds as though it had not top!’

The Tale of Mrs Tiggywinkle – pub 1905

April 27, 2016

How to work effectively with local bloggers


Top 10 Tips for working with local bloggers - zoedawes

“We’d like to work with local bloggers but I’m not sure how to find them.” “I don’t know if we’d get value from our local bloggers” “I’d prefer to work with a blogger from London/America/Mars – anywhere other than someone I know …” OK, I’m paraphrasing that last one but these are some of the statements that bloggers hear a lot. It’s not just in the Tourism Industry that this applies but across the board, from fashion, to food, life-style, family etc. However, things are changing rapidly …

Social Travel Britain - Bristol

At the Social Travel Britain Conference 2016, I was asked to give a talk on working with local bloggers and tips to the audience of Tourism Industry and fellow bloggers, or ‘Digital Influencers‘ as we are apparently called now. Having spent many years living and working in the North West, I’ve built up a strong network of clients and contacts. In the presentation I shared Case Studies from 3 clients in Cumbria; the Good Life Cottage Company, Kendal Festival of Food and an Arts initiative, Lakes Culture. All of these involved at least one blog post plus social media sharing and have been paid campaigns, part of the client’s overall marketing strategy.

Working with a local travel blogger - zoedawes

I also shared some top tips on how to collaborate more closely with local bloggers, which can apply to all types of ‘influencers’ from whatever sector.

Top Tips for working with Local Bloggers

1.  Identify the specific niche/area you want to focus on

2.  Plan ahead to include bloggers/digital specialists in projects

3.  Find out who your local bloggers are

4.  Research the bloggers to ensure they meet YOUR needs

5.  Select bloggers appropriate to sector, demographic, interest

6.  Budget appropriately for a blog trip or blogger involvement

7.  Be clear (and realistic) about what you want from the blogger

8.  Agree content/output/timelines and manage expectations

9.  Promote content created by bloggers via ALL media

10. Focus on long-term relationship-building

View the Slideshare presention ‘Going Local: working with the Travel Blogger on your doorstep’ . If you’ve any questions do get in touch here.

May 21, 2015

What is the value of culture today?

Abbot Hall is a slightly hidden gem, just off the main street in Kendal, an attractive Cumbrian town on the edge of the Lake District in north west England. It’s a provincial art gallery with a metropolitan vibe, a Georgian house with a contemporary ambiance and  it recently came alive to the sound of music, the flashing of light bulbs, the inking of tattoos and the smell of freshly made pizza. For one night only, Abbot Hall Art Gallery hosted ‘A Night of a Thousand Selfies’.

Abbot Hall Museum Night - photo zoe dawes

As part of the ‘Museums at Night’ events around the UK, the gallery opened its doors to visitors young and older, who experienced a diverse array of events surrounded by artworks of outstanding significance by ‘Modern Masters’ including Lucien Freud, Picasso, Tracey Emin, David Hockney, Frank Auerbach, Kurt Schwitters and Barbara Hepworth. The evening attracted a younger audience than usual and was a lively example of the value of culture today …

Lucien Freud drawing abbot hall kendal - image Zoe Dawes

Overlooked by two rather aloof 18thc gentlemen painted by local and internationally renowned artist George Romney (1734- 1802), charming duo Paper Cranes performed their songs to a hugely appreciative audience. The juxtaposition of their contemporary folkish songs within the elegant Georgian surroundings epitomised the eclectic cultural atmosphere of that evening. Singer Beckah said, “This has to be one of our absolute favourite venues ever, so different and this room’s got great accoustics!”

Paper Cranes in Abbot Hall - photo Zoe Dawes

This place was a multi-cultural beehive … The Open Mic poetry readings were the surprise hit of the night. Poet and inspirational teacher Kim Moore read from her own works as did many of her group. Especially entertaining was the number of young poets whose writing combined style, substance and a healthy dose of wit and insight.  poetry reading abbot hall - photo zoe dawesAt the ‘pop-up’ Tattoo Parlour, much thought went into the choice of design – temporary maybe but still an important creative choice. Quite a few of the poets chose the quill, others drawn to a tiny skull, retro cassette tape and a tiny trio of swallows (or maybe swifts …) There was much laughter as water was daubbed, images pressed and tattoos admired. One brave lad had his placed firmly in the middle of his forehead …

Abbot hall tattoo time - image Zoe Dawes

Outside in the pouring rain (so much for hopes of sitting on the lawn drinkin’ wine spo-dee-o-dee*) the cheery chaps from Pizza Principles served tasty slices of perfect pizza whilst the cafe buzzed with chatter. One visitor, whose six year old daughter and 10 year old son were rushing about in gales of laughter, was particularly pleased.“We brought our children along because it looked like a fun night. We only expected to be here for half an hour – that was three hours ago. The kids don’t want to leave!”

Abbot hall pizza and cafe - image zoe dawes

During the evening I held a series of informal Culture Chats, each about 10 minutes long, around these questions:

  • What is the value of culture in today’s digital world?
  • What turns you on/off about culture?
  • How can we increase our cultural footprint in this region?

The audience was predominantly youthful with refreshing and inspiring viewpoints. Beneath a series of thought-provoking paintings by pre-eminent Portuguese artist Paula Rego, discussions were wide-ranging and illuminating.

Culture Chat with Zoe Dawes Abbot Hall Paula Rego

The consensus was that culture is vital in this modern world, giving people a creative outlet to express themselves and that feelings are as important as opinions. With the onward march of technology, there are many ways to be creative and share via digital platforms as well as the more traditional like books, cds, art galleries, concerts and museums. We discussed the merits of modern art (much of it excellent, some of it ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’), the importance of accessibility to newer audiences (the need for more events aimed at younger audiences, variety of tactile experiences, flexible opening times) and the necessity for sharing the message that culture is an intrinsic part of our daily lives, important to all ages, not just something for the select few.

Culture chat Abbot Hall - image Zoe Dawes

Elsewhere in Abbot Hall a lively game of ‘Guess Who’ was going on, using a series of portraits of local people, part of the current Abbot Hall ‘Face Value’ exhibition. Having won his bout, Head of Learning, Ian Read expressed his delight at the evening’s success. “It was a bit of a gamble to try something like this, opening up in the evening, putting on all kinds of different activities and having no idea if it would work. It took lots of organisation but look around … So many people of all ages enjoying this amazing place, having fun, relaxed, happy and also appreciating the amazing art collection. It’s gone so much better than we could ever have hoped.”

Games and photo booth Abbot Hall - image zoe dawes

The Photo Booth downstairs (opposite one of the gallery’s most famous artworks, The Lady Anne Clifford triptych) proved extremely popular. With a dressing up box crammed full of frivolous fancies, the booth rocked with hilarity as friends crammed in tight for a visual record of their visit. From the ‘music room’ singer Kev thrummed out a few of his songs and the Colouring In table attracted budding artists throughout the night.

Abbot Hall colouring - photo zoe dawes

As the evening came to a close I asked people why they had come and what they thought of it. One girl said, “I saw the poster in school and thought it looked interesting. We’ve had a really good time. The band was great and I got my first tattoo. I loved the pizza – 10/10 for that!” Another added, “There’s not much for us to do at night and this was brilliant, especially as it was free for students. I really hope they do it again.” 

Art Abbot Hall

As English educator Ken Robinson put it, “You can’t just give someone a creativity injection. You have to create an environment for curiosity and a way to encourage people and get the best out of them.”  Abbot Hall creates just such an environment and proves that culture is something many of us value very highly. Find out more about Abbot Hall Art Gallery here.

* Listen to Sticks Mcghee singing rocking classic ‘Drinkin wine spo-dee-o-odee’ … Pass that bottle to me!

September 20, 2014

Why you MUST visit the North West of England

Having lived in the south of England for some years I know how far away ‘the North’ can seem. But it really isn’t, especially if you let the train take the strain, as they used to say, and it’s so worth the journey.  From the outstanding sea-faring heritage of Liverpool, the dynamic buzz of Manchester, the blowsy charms of Blackpool and natural beauty of the Lake District, this part of the country has attractions and sights to appeal to all ages and tastes.

Singing-Ringing-Tree-Panopticon Lancashire - near Burnley - by Zoe Dawes

The Singing Ringing Tree Panopticon overlooking the Pennines in Lancashire

I make no excuses for focusing on the area I know and love best, so here are a few reasons why you must visit the North West of England.

The North West has soulfully beautiful scenery and natural attractions

A few years ago Wastwater in the Lake District was voted ‘Britain’s Favourite View’ and when you see the mighty lakeland fells reflected in the dark waters of England’s deepest lake, you can see why. Water ripples and furls through this National Park via its lakes, tarns, rivers, streams and waterfalls.

Sunset over Windermere in Lake District - by Zoe Dawes

Sunset over Windermere

With its majestic mountains and sheep-grazed hills the Lake District and Cumbria have a positive Feng Shui feel to it that may explain why so many people talk of the spiritual and healing benefits of this region. The many ancient stone circles from Birkrigg in the south, to Castlerigg to the west and Long Meg in the Eden Valley, tell us that people have lived in this area for centuries. Take the ferry across Windermere, walk up Latterbarrow, wander beside Ullswater or admire the Jaws of Borrowdale from Friar’s Crag – just some of the many ways to see nature at her most impressive.

Not far off the M6 lies the attractive Forest of Bowland where you can wander through ancient woods and take a picnic beside a rippling brook. Walk along Morecambe Bay promenade and see huge flocks of seabirds, featured on Autumn Watch, set at Leighton Moss Nature Reserve. Red Squirrels scamper about Formby pine forest and beside lovely Buttermere. Spooky Pendle Hill may be haunted by the ghosts of Lancashire witches and the undulating Pennines form a natural backdrop up to the Scottish border.

The North West has vibrant, dynamic cities with strong character and illustrious history

Liverpool Liver Building and Docks - by Zoe Dawes

Liverpool Liver Building and Docks

Liverpool and Manchester are not just famous for their football teams. Liverpool has always been linked to the sea, showcased in the Maritime Museum. It’s still a major port and Liverpool Cruise Terminal welcomes visitors from all over the world. You can also explore its less salubrious links on the Liverpool Slavery Tour. Of course the Beatles are celebrated all over the city and music can be heard in the many lively clubs, bars and restaurants. Art lovers of all styles are catered for – the Walker Art Gallery has one of the country’s best collections of Pre-Rafaelite paintings and Tate Modern satisfies contemporary tastes. Make time to see Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’, an evocative collection of figures gazing out sea from Crosby Beach.

Manchester Town Hall - by Zoe Dawes

Manchester Town Hall

Manchester was pivotal in the 18th century Industrial Revolution and its magnificent architecture is epitomised by the impressive grandeur of the Town Hall. With its stylish skyscrapers and sensitive restoration work, a fantastic night life and possibly the best shopping in the north, Manchester has moved far away from its ‘dour and grimy’ image. Wander along Canal Street and nearby Chinatown for a cosmopolitan flavour of this multi-cultural city. Superb classical music performed by the BBC Philharmonic and the Hallé Orchestra can be heard at the acoustically superb Bridgewater Hall. Take the tram over to Salford Quays, where the BBC has set up base in Media City. The Lowry has over 300 art works by the eponymous ‘stick-figure’ artist and the nearby Imperial War Museum tells the story of conflict – and peace – through the ages in sensitive and  fascinating displays.

The North West does ‘seaside and coastal’ with fun, style and historic diversity

Blackpool Tower, pier and beach, Lancashire - by Zoe Dawes

Blackpool Tower, pier and beach

Britain’s most popular seaside resort, Blackpool, is a brash, bold and fun as you imagine it to be. With three Victorian Piers, iconic Blackpool Tower,a heady funfair, Madame Tussaud’s waxworks, an indoor water park, zoo, many theatres and numerous clubs, there really is something for all the family. But it’s not all glitz and kiss-me-quick hats.

Have tea in the graceful surroundings of Winter Gardens and relive the elegance of an era long gone or maybe take a twirl around the floor of the Blackpool Tower Ballroom and imagine you’re a ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ finalist!

Southport Pier train and Marine Lake - by Zoe Dawes

Southport Pier train and Marine Lake

Further down the coast is Southport, pearl of Merseyside, a slightly more genteel seaside resort with plenty of shops along Victorian-arcaded Lord Street, boats on the Marine Lake, a fairground, modern pier, beautiful Botanic Gardens, attractive parks and numerous golf courses. It’s got a long, sandy beach but the tide goes very far out; it’s not the best place for a swim but great for making sandcastles. Discover your inner Hercule Poirot in the Art Deco elegance of the Midland Hotel overlooking the vast sands of Morecambe Bay.

Morecambe Bay fishing boat - by Zoe Dawes

Morecambe Bay fishing boat

On the Cumbrian coast you can discover Roman ruins in the tiny village of Ravenglass, and shelter from the Irish Sea breezes beneath St Bees’ heady cliffs. Whitehaven has moved on from its mining past and is now an attractive harbour town, as is Maryport a little further along the coast.  When you reach sleepy Silloth, you can see the the Scottish Hills across the Solway Firth and stand at the start (or end?) of Hadrian’s Wall.

Horses and riders on Hard Knott Pass, Cumbria

Horses and riders on Hard Knott Pass, Cumbria

Of course, I’ve not even started on our delightful villages, welcoming pubs, delicious local food and very friendly people. You’ll just have to come and visit the North West and find out for yourself …