Month: July 2022

Scarborough, here I come

Day 1, Scarborough

I’m sitting in the restaurant of The Grand Hotel, Scarborough, with a perfect view out to sea with Scarborough castle perched on the cliff top beyond the harbour.

The impressive looking Grand Hotel

At least the trains were on time today AND the taxi turned up so I arrived in Scarborough on time, right at 2 p.m. Even though it was well before noon when I set off my fellow travellers were already in party mood, and I thought back to my train journey through Scotland just 2 days ago where it is illegal to consume alcohol on trains, something I wasn’t aware of.

Fellow travellers bound for Leeds

I knew that checkin at the hotel wasn’t until 4 p.m. and according to their email this was ‘strictly enforced.’ As I was in the process of booking my stay I’d briefly noticed a video on YouTube describing the hotel as ‘The worst rated in Europe?’ and I dismissed it as another crank’s hyperbole, but it had mentioned that the lines for checkin can be over an hour long, both with the high number of guests and the gross incompetence of the staff. So I decided to take my time and I found a handy shoe store on my walk through town since last week in Stonehaven the strap had broken on my beloved Jambou sandals and was irreparable. The main street was busy, busy, busy and I had to pick my way around push chairs, dogs, toddlers on reins and mobility scooters as I wound my way to the hotel. It was only just gone 3 o’clock but my backpack was too heavy to cart around and sight see. The building is impressive to say the least. As are the list of previous guests: Frederick Delius, Gracie Fields and The Beatles, along with Sir Winston Churchill, Edward Vlll and Ramsay MacDonald, England’s first labour prime minister. And, if the Daily Express is to be believed ‘ADOLF HITLER dreamed of converting a seaside hotel into his personal palace if he had invaded Britain. The fuhrer planned to hold court at the spectacular Grand Hotel in Scarborough which towers over the North Yorkshire resort’s Golden Mile.’

There were three receptionists at the checkin desk and just one person in front of me. I waited 20 minutes and then I was called to the desk. Everything was going along nicely. He assured me that my room was ready and suddenly a supervisor appeared and announced a change of shift. Even though the receptionist was halfway through checking me in he had to stop and I waited for another person to log in to the computer, find where my booking information was and eventually complete the transaction. My room was on the fifth floor which was fortunate because that’s as high as the lift goes. I hadn’t paid extra for a sea view but I had paid extra for a window! There are many rooms named ‘city rooms’ without windows if you can believe that! It was already quite warm in my room with its west facing aspect so I went over to the window to open it.

View through my window

Couldn’t. I immediately had visions of me roasting alive since the temperature was expected to reach 90F – or more. Hmm.

15 minutes after setting foot in my room I went off to start exploring the town – that’s so ‘me’ when I’m travelling. As I waited for the lift an employee was waiting too. “I can’t seem to open my window,” I began. “They all open,” he replied. “Can you show me how?” I felt as if I’d just turned into Emma Thompson in the movie I saw last week ‘Leo Grand’ so I took him back to my room and he worked his magic, and in moments the window was open to its full 6” capacity.

I made my grand entry into the lobby down the majestic staircase, designed specifically so that two ladies wearing crinoline dresses could pass with their escorts without impediment, and headed for the terrace, overlooking the sea.

Seagull poop is a major problem here, along with their shrill cries and propensity to want to come and eat or drink anything you have in your hand. In fact, the entire town has a major seagull problem and signs keep reminding people not to feed the birds, even at tuppence a bag, but I saw many people doing just that.

My bird’s eye view from the terrace

Each morning I would see someone with a giant hose pipe hosing down all the exterior flat surfaces to keep fresh poop from setting hard.

Man with giant hose

As I sat there watching the birds’ antics I began to differentiate the swooping calls of certain birds and then I heard little tweets and looked up at the amazing brick facade of the building above me. At the time of its construction this was the largest brick building in Europe, and the largest hotel in Europe.

It was designed by Cuthbert Broderick who designed the grand edifice of Leeds Town Hall and in whose memory I have been known to raise a glass at the nearby Wetherspoons, named after him. Cuthbert paid amazing attention to detail. The intricate moulding around the rounded arched windows is beautiful. He even personally designed the metal downspouts.

Attention to detail

This evening, perched above many of the windows were nests, and the fluffy baby seagulls were tweeting to their parents “It’s tea-time, mummy.”

Leaving the hotel I took the steps at the side, running the length of the Victorian funicular railway, leading down the cliff to the beach. Known as ‘seagull’ alley the steps were deep in white guano. The road along the seafront was packed with people, most of them with young children, eating fish and chips and queuing at the fresh seafood stalls. The beach was a mass of people, some with beach umbrellas but many, many people in as few clothes as possible getting burned by the intense sun but women in saris seemed to have the best idea with loose fitting clothing but with all skin covered, especially those wearing burkas.

On hearing that I was bound for the seaside my morning taxi driver from Islamabad had recounted his recent visit to Turkey with his caucasian girlfriend who insisted in getting as tanned as possible. “In Pakistan we cover up when the sun is strong,” he called. “She cried all the next day because the burns hurt so much.”

Fried human
I was tempted but I didn’t!

I passed Scarborough fair full of screaming children enjoying the rides and headed towards the lighthouse which was less densely populated affording me great views of the castle and the bay, entire dominated by the Grand Hotel. Colourful tourist boats vied for position with the fishing boats and the two arms of the jetty were packed with prawn creels – all very picturesque.

By 6 o’clock I was back in my room, and after checking that the tv remote was present, and that the tv worked, and that the shower worked, I set off to find dinner. I’d booked dinner at the hotel (by accident) and I soon regretted it, although I hadn’t seen any places to eat dinner part from fish and chip stalls so far.

The Grand Hotel dominates the view

The dining room was absolutely enormous capable of seating several hundred people but there were only about 20 people having dinner. I had to show my room key to the receptionist who told me I could sit anywhere. I sat down at a table by the window and waited to be served – and waited, and waited. Eventually I went back to the check-in desk. A different receptionist looked up from her desk which I noticed had an interesting sign attached – on her side of the counter!

Sign attached to the dining room receptionist’s desk

“Oh, didn’t she tell you? You serve yourself from the buffet table.” Got it.

Just one half of the dining room

It was a hot buffet. Just what you need when it’s the hottest day of the year. The serving spoons in the dishes of macaroni cheese, breaded pollock and roast pork slices had heated up under the heat lamps to the point where I was in serious danger of burning my hands if I used them. All the food had been sitting there for 2 hours under these heat lamps and there was only one cold dish – lettuce and cucumber slices. Dessert proved to be somewhat better with cool cheese cake available in several different flavours. The glasses for water were so tiny I had to go and refill mine 4 times during my meal. Coffee (instant) and tea were served in the lounge.

The exterior of the dining room – such a contrast from the interior

After this wonderful experience I took a walk to the south side of the bay passing the original spa building which was what sparked off the development of Scarborough as a town for wealthy tourists rather than just a fishing community. Adjacent to the building is an outside area with deck chairs and a bandstand that I’d seen on my previous visit to Scarborough in 2018 when I’d taken a special excursion steam train direct from Hebden Bridge.

An attractive sea wall close to the Spa

A notice drew my attention. The Spa Orchestra was giving an outdoor performance here tomorrow morning at 11 o’clock. What fun it would be to sit in a deck chair, open to the elements, overlooking the sea listening to the orchestra in the covered bandstand. Farther along the promenade the seafront wall was edged with local rock, wonderfully weathered.

I returned to the hotel via the blue bridge that was constructed to allow access to the Spa from the rest of the town and my passage was accompanied by very persistent seagulls. I poked my nose into the cabaret taking place in the ballroom. As the website states: ‘LIVE entertainment is available every night in the hotel’s stunning ballroom, with dazzling cabaret shows featuring professional dancers and entertainers dressed in stunning costumes.’ Here a solitary singer was singing to a backing track while a grandad entertained his grandchildren on the dance floor.

Cabaret anyone?

I purchased a booklet about the history of the hotel from the front desk and retired to the almost empty lounge for my ‘happy hour,’ reading about the history of the building and writing my journal.

Poo steps

Day 2

I slept remarkably well considering the thinness of the walls and the screeching of the seagulls through my open window. My breakfast companions were a group of heavily tattooed Belgian motorcyclists on one side and a table with two mums and five children under the age of three. One of the little ones had a piercing scream which she used to good effect and even when she had been whisked off out of the restaurant her cries could be heard from the level above. Going back to my room there were two men in the lift when we were joined at the next floor by a woman in uniform. “Yer work ‘ere, luv?” one of them asked her. “Yes.” “Well it’s raining in our room, pourin’ in through t’ ceiling. ‘Ere, look. A’ve taken a video,” and he pulled out his phone to show his movie. Well. I had woken up to strong winds, rain and heavy clouds which had completely taken me by surprise.

Enjoying theSpa orchestra

I called the Spa to find out if the outdoor concert would still be held outside. I wasn’t interested in attending if it had been moved indoors because of the rain – I wanted the experience the special ambiance of the outdoor setting. I was assured that since it had now stopped raining the concert would go ahead in the courtyard so I made my way down to the Spa. There was a small coffee stand in the Sun Court and a long line beside it. There was one person making the tea and coffee and dealing with the money. Coffee? I can’t honour the bitter brown drink that I was served with by that name. Hot water had been poured on the contents of the sachet of instant brown stuff that passes for coffee in many establishments in England. Ugh! Anyway, I found a comfy looking deck chair and plonked myself down to relax beneath the racing clouds.

Although the repertoire wasn’t my cup of tea (more like the coffee) the standard of performance was excellent, many of the instrumentalists doubling up on a second instrument. The orchestra consisted of ten members and the director who had a degree from York University. It’s the last remaining professional seaside orchestra in the country and performs 8 concerts a week during the ten week season. Although almost without exception the audience were grey haired the orchestra were definitely not. In fact, the trombonist appeared to be in his mid twenties. The concert finished at 12:30 and then I followed my plan of catching the bus and spending the afternoon in Robin Hood’s Bay. The bus ride took 50 minutes mostly through rolling countryside where the corn, oats and barley were golden in the sunshine which had made its appearance during the concert. The heather on the open moorland was just beginning to show its purple colouration. I hadn’t been to Robin Hood’s Bay since hiking 39 miles of the Cleveland Way from Saltburn to Scarborough in 1982. I saw a sign pot for Boggle Hole youth hostel where we had stayed.

I was here -at this very spot in 1982, heading to Boggle Hole Youth Hostel

The village is also the starting/ending point of the famous Wainwright’s Coast to Coast footpath, 117 miles of which I hiked, beginning at Richmond and ending at St Bees. Since we were hiking both to and from the village I hadn’t remembered that there is no traffic allowed in the village – or perhaps there was when I went before, but the bus stopped at the top of the village in a large car park with toilets available. I popped in to use the facilities but popped out again immediately. You needed two 20p coins to access the facilities and I didn’t have a single coin in my purse. Fortunately I soon found someone to give me change. I thought pay toilets were a thing of the past.

Suitably refreshed I set off down the one street that leads to the sea. It’s so steep in many places that steps have been put adjacent to the road to assist the heavy foot traffic, and busy the village was.

In its terrain it is similar to Hebden Bridge but with its golden stone and picturesque bolt holes the village has a much prettier feel to it – less Yorkshire Grit, more Yorkshire colour. I recently watched a travel program about the village’s history and the bolt holes were escape routes and places of hiding for the pirates who made this almost hidden village their headquarters. These side streets were wonderful with their nooks and crannies, buildings on top of other buildings, covered passageways and tiny well kept gardens in full bloom at the moment. If you look up Robin Hood’s Bay on the web you are confronted with page upon page of Holiday Lets. A very small proportion of the houses are owner occupied but there are some interesting tourist shops and lovely pubs.

I took a look in the dinosaur ‘museum’ which, alongside the dinosaur skeletons has fossils to purchase. I bought another ammonite necklace in honour of my ancestor, Samuel Gibson, (1793-1849) a notable fossil collector from Hebden Bridge whose fossil collection I have been to see in the back rooms of the Manchester Museum. He lived for a while in Mytholmroyd, keeping a pub in which were displayed his collections. I had to clarify with the shopkeeper that this was a genuine ammonite fossil since it was only £1. And them I just had to buy a lapis lazuli bracelet, £6, and two more stone bracelets.

From one of the little shops I bought a fresh crab sandwich and wound my way down to the beach at found a spot on the cliff wall to sit and eat my picnic.

Hmm, I wonder what these are in the sea wall

I didn’t realise it at the time that a tunnel from my sitting spot into the cliff wall was actually a smugglers’ tunnel leading to one of the tiny streets with the cottages so that the smugglers could take their goods directly from the boats to their homes. I took off my new shoes and paddled through a few rock pools, got an ice cream from the van parked on the sand and then an iced latte.

Yum Yum

On the way back up I explored the mosaics on the cliff wall and then headed up to the bus stop at the top of the village. I didn’t have long to wait and in 50 minutes I was back in Scarborough, the view having been better from the upper deck of a double decker.

I spent an hour or so wandering around the town, suddenly seeing a hotel whose name seemed familiar – the Falcon Inn. It looked closed up but the front door sported a handwritten sign saying ‘Please ring the bell for service. Don’t knock.’ well, I tried but no service appeared. It looked abandoned but some of the windows were open. I asked a couple of my taxi drivers but they didn’t seem to have heard of it despite it being quite a large establishment. one of my ancestors, Stansfield Gibson married, in 1901, as his fourth wife the widow of the man who kept this hotel. His story can be found on another post in my blog.

The Falcon Hotel

Eventually I took up temporary residence at an outside table at the King Richard lll inn, and spent an hour people watching. As the pub’s website says: ‘We take our name from THE King Richard III! It has long been believed Richard III stayed in the Grade I listed building whilst on naval business in Scarborough back in the 1400s.’ Some of today’s people’s summer outfits were stunning. Back in the hotel I had a quick shower, chatted to Anna from the terrace about how her new job is going, being serenaded by the seagulls throughout our conversation

Serenading seagulls

and headed to the hotel restaurant for dinner. After writing my journal in the bar I headed off to my room by 9:30 and watched a couple of quiz shows on tv before switching out the light.

Day 3.

On waking up next morning I was relieved to find a coolish breeze issuing from my open window. I watched a YouTube video about the history of my current residence, and after breakfast took a little stroll into town to judge the severity of the heat since the government’s extreme red alert health warning was still in place. The highest temperature ever recorded in England would be today, 104F which was why I had selected Scarborough as my destination, where it was only predicted to reach 80F. And, oh yes, I bought another pair of sandals from the same shop since the blisters I incurred yesterday were very painful. All three of my Jambou sandals have worn out and my only remaining pair of sandals are on their last legs.

Enjoying a paddle in the North Sea

Back in the hotel I set off to explore the ‘hidden’ rooms- the premier restaurant, the cricket room and a couple of completely empty lounges with furniture that looks as if it’s never been sat in. My attempts to call a taxi from the free taxi phone in the foyer took a while but I eventually got a response and so after an iced frappe and a poppy seed muffin in the

At the Cat’s Pyjamas. Could I order fried man on toast?

courtyard of The Cat’s Pyjamas I got the taxi to take me to Peasholme Park from where I could hop on a miniature railway to take me to Scalby Mill,

The engine on the turntable at the end of the track

Abandoned carriage

reminding me of the little railway I took with Anna in the Bois de Boulogne on my last trip abroad before Lockdown. The ride was only ten minutes long but I saw the extent of the park with its boating lakes full of dinosaur boats – certainly a place worth exploring on a cooler day.

The dinosaur boats looked like lots of fun

I took a little wander around the north bay with the same view of the castle we had when we were just completing our Cleveland Way hike. I thought about going to Sea Life aquatic centre but many of the animals are outdoors. In normal circumstances I’d have walked back along the beach into town passing the brightly coloured beach huts and climbed up the cliff to the castle and the church where Ann Bronte is buried but with such heat I didn’t think that would be wise.

Sign at the entrance of the Grand Hotel

So I walked back to the little railway station and waited for the train in a covered area serenaded by birds nesting on the ledges above me. I had a hot dog (ha!) in the park but it was just too hot to explore the park though I did pass the giant outdoor arena seating 8000 where big names were being advertised. I was surprised to see Simply Red are appearing there this month and also George Ezra, two of my favourite acts. Built in the 1930s and revamped in 2010 it has played host to Elton John, Brittany Spears and Noel Gallagher.

Open air theatre and boating lake

Back in town I tried to book a two hour boat trip to Whitby passing Robin Hood’s Bay but despite the heat, it was currently 85F, apparently there was too strong a wind out at sea to run the trip, so I settled for a short half hour sail around the harbour. As people boarded the little boat I really felt like Jacques from As You Like It- an observer rather than a participant. The volume at which many of the people speak to each other (with no alcohol involved), and the yells and screams every time the boat swayed or bounced over the wake that the speed boat in front of us made me cringe. They were so intent on taking selfies too. Of course I was the only person of the 20 of us on board traveling alone which gave me the opportunity to watch the British, mostly Yorkshire folk, at play. One man looked remarkably like Mark Twain!

The ship’s mate pointed out the headland of Filey Brigg to the South and we could just make out Flamborough Head beyond. As the boat turned and headed back north into the harbour I found it quite incredible to think that I’d walked the entirety of the cliffs in front of us.

From the boat

On the way back to the hotel I wandered around the Bolts, the back streets of what is left of the fishing village of Scarborough, providing me with my daily fix of abandoned doorways and rusting bannisters on well-worn staircases connecting the old streets, here all encrusted with guano.

Dinner in the dining room was a very hot, gloomy, uncomfortable affair since the management had closed all the windows and drawn the heavy curtains in a vain attempt to stop the heat getting in. A hot buffet was just what I needed for dinner 🙁 Back in my room I was treated to a lovely golden sunset.

Sunset from my room

Day 4

The weather forecast was for it to be the hottest day ever recorded in England, and the met office got it absolutely right. While the temperature in Hebden Bridge was forecast to be 98F

I was to enjoy the comparative cool of 89F in Scarborough. So faced with the prospect of a considerable hiked up to the castle so I plumped for an hour’s bus ride hoping that the open windows of the bus would give me some semblance of a breeze. Bridlington’s high was predicted to be a mere 76F .

Riders of the bus – with apologies to The Doors

The bus wound its way through the Yorkshire Wolds through loads of caravan sites! These vast places were something else with their own bus stops (sometimes 2, so extensive were the sites), boating lakes, playgrounds, indoors sports dome, supermarket, fishing lakes, and at one I even saw a tractor pulling a train taking residents of the park up from the beach since all the caravans are perched on the cliff tops.

The most famous of these sites is The Blue Dolphin with 350 sites for touring caravans and tents and 1000 static caravan, and this was just one of the sites the bus drove through.

I’d never been to Bridlington before and I’d imagined it as a fishing town so I was expecting an industrial town centred around an active fishing industry. No way! The place is a Mecca for tourists with its huge bay and welcoming sands, fish and chip shops in every second building – not what I expected at all. My first stop was a stroll around the harbour and an iced coffee at Tilly’s coffee shop, the name of my kitty.

Every shade of blue imaginable

Many of the boat tours had been cancelled due to the strong south east winds causing rough sea conditions further out to sea than I could see. I watched a pirate ship, complete with its Jolly Roger flag sail from the dock but it was only a 15 minute ride.

After picking up a seafood platter at one of the ubiquitous seafood shops I found one of the few benches in the shade. I’d just sat down to eat when I found myself looking at a dead seagull chick in a shop doorway. The ladies on the next bench told me they’d heard it fall late last night (!?).

I decided to walk along the South Promenade. It sounded so grand, and indeed, there was a Spa that’s now a theatre. Various water features were scattered along my route, pools in full use and an artificial water course for paddling on concrete. I selected to go for a paddle in the sea and its coolness was very much appreciated. At one point I was passed by a land train and every so far a train logo was painted on the promenade, so despite the heat I thought I’d walk the full length of the promenade knowing I could take the land train back into town. It ran every 20 minutes so when I’d had enough walking I sat on a bench and waited for the train at the next painted logo. I stuck out my hand as the train approached. It slowed down. It stopped. The driver leaned out of his cab. “I can’t pick you up. The nearest place to get on the rain is a mile further along, at the Spa.” I pointed to the logo painted on the promenade. “Oh, that’s just to warn people to beware of the train. Sorry luv.”

With heavier steps I headed back into town and made my way to the bus station which wasn’t easy since it’s in a residential neighbourhood and completely surrounded on all sides by Victorian terraced houses.

I couldn’t decide whether or not to break my journey at Filey on the way back. I’d only ever been there once and that’s when I was 6 years old and I went with my dad for a week at Butlins holiday camp. My mum wouldn’t go. Very odd. I think she thought Butlins was “common.” Knowing I’d be in the vicinity I’d watched a YouTube video about the old camp. It closed down many years ago, its station, where I suppose we must have arrived, abandoned and houses built on the site. I also found out that Butlins had once owned the Grand Hotel where I was staying. Anyway, I thought I’d give it a whirl so I got off the bus at Filey bus station and found my way down the steep hill to the beach. Nothing much attracted my attention, or maybe I was just hot and tired. I’d no recollection of going in the sea but I did find a photo proving that I did, all those years ago.

At Filey in 2022

Age 6 at Filey

I didn’t stay very long. I got the bus back to Scarborough and relaxed on the terrace with “Enduring Love’ my chosen book for this trip. Again the restaurant was really too hot for me to eat in and I asked the receptionist if I could take my dinner out onto the terrace. She replied that she didn’t know what the rule was about that. “Well, I’ll just do it and see what happens,” I replied. I filled my plate with food that had been sitting under the hot lights for over 2 hours, covered it with another plate and headed onto the terrace. It must have been 20F cooler there but I did have to recover my plate with the spare plate immediately between every bite otherwise the seagulls would have whisked every morsel away.

I had very little packing to do, mainly the two pairs of new shoes I had purchased. Next morning I took at taxi back to the railway station and had an uneventful journey back to Hebden Bridge.

Lifeboat activity

Abroad at last! Can you call Aberdeen ‘abroad’?

Aberdeen Day 1

The genesis of this trip came from my school friend Judith who mentioned that she’d booked a trip to Aberdeen to meet with a cousin who she’d never met before. She’d already booked her train journey and her accommodation – in Cove Bay, a town 5 miles South of Aberdeen city. Faced with the prospect of what was predicted to be the hottest day of the year in Hebden Bridge, in my second floor apartment with no outdoor area and windows that barely open, I jumped at the opportunity to be by the sea. The fact that the weather forecast was predicting that Aberdeen would be at least 15 degrees F cooler than West Yorkshire sealed the deal. The night before I’d attended a very enjoyable concert at Hope Chapel given by the Spooky Men’s chorale.

Spooky Men’s Chorale

But it was to be day of travel problems. Problem number 1: the taxi service that I always use is fully booked. Problem number 2: As I stand waiting outside waiting for taxi company #1to arrive I receive a message to say that they have been delayed and will be at least 15 minutes late. So I call back company number 1 and they will be with me ‘in five.’ And they were. Problem 3: I was looking forward to picking up one of my favourite cheese scones from the station cafe to eat as a snack on my long 5 hour journey – and they were all out of scones!

An earlier train had been delayed and so I was able to take one which meant that I had a little more time to change trains in Leeds onto the Edinburgh train. Soon after I boarded I got a message from Judith to say that she’d missed her connection in York and so now she’d be arriving in Aberdeen around the same time as me rather than an hour earlier. I enjoyed the journey passing Durham Cathedral and seeing the bridge across the Tyne – with passing reference to The Nice.

I’d made this journey to Aberdeen in 2017, taking the ferry to the Orkney Isles from the city. At one point I could just make out the isle of Lindisfarne off the coast. The train was hot but not unbearably so. I think there must have been effective air conditioning . We stopped at Berwick upon Tweed as scheduled, but then we didn’t restart. Problem number 4: We sat and sat, and eventually we were informed that a tree that come down on the track in front of us and that it had brought down the track’s power lines. We’d have to stay put for ‘some time.’ That didn’t sound good at all. After sitting still for an hour on a train that seemed to be getting hotter by the minute we were issued with an update as follows: ‘We are sorry to announce that there is no update as to when this service will resume. Because we have been delayed for over an hour a complimentary soft drink will be available from the bar at the front of the train.’ We ended up sitting there on the train for four hours! Conversations between passengers were slow to start up but start up they did. I was sitting opposite a businessman from Cambridge who had travelled up to Leeds the night before, bound for Aberdeen to collect his new Tesla. But even such a riveting conversation has its limits and these were arrived at in much less than 4 hours. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we’d have had a decent view, either animals in the countryside, or city animals to people watch but we were on a station platform with a view of a brick wall – literally.

My view for four hours!

Eventually we received another update. We were to leave the train and 30 taxis would take us the 56 miles to Edinburgh. We all got off. Problem number 5: No taxis arrived. After an hour of standing on the platform, where only 1 toilet for all 96 of us worked, we were told to board another train which would be assigned to the south track to bypass the situation. We all boarded the train. We set off. After 10 minutes we stopped for another half hour. It was at this point that Judith and I worked out that we were now on the same train. If she hadn’t have missed her train in York she would have avoided all this chaos but I would have been stranded alone.

We eventually arrived in the vast Waverley station at 8:30p.m. five and a half hours after our scheduled arrival time. We queued with many others as we tried to find if the railway company could arrange overnight accommodation for us in Edinburgh as we had been told it does in situations like this. A train to Aberdeen was showing up on the departure board for 9:30 but we were told there was no guarantee that it would run. “Ah no” we were told by a very frazzled customer relations man. “There are no room to be had in Edinburgh because of the golf.” “What golf?” I wanted to ask. What were we going to do? Where could we spend the night? At one point Judith suggested we slept on the floor of the ticket office. But with perseverance she found us an Airbnb only 1 ½ miles from the city centre and we left the office to jump into the nearest taxi. Problem number 6: No taxis are allowed into the station concourse for security reasons and so none of the signs pointing to ‘Taxi’ are correct – and Waverley is a huge station. Eventually we were told that if we walked to a nearby hotel there were probably some taxis outside it. Correct and 10 minutes later we were climbing some bare stone spiral steps to an apartment above a cbd shop and dumping our bags before heading out immediately to find some food. We were in a city neighbourhood close to the cinema. The first pub that we found food in had already stopped serving for the evening. Well, it was 10 p.m. so we opted for some food from Sainsbury’s to take back to the apartment for a quick meal. I was all tucked up in bed by 11:30. The wall mounted tv was minus its remote and so was inoperable and the bedside light didn’t work. There was no milk in the fridge or even tea or coffee in the room but we’d noticed that when we’d arrived and brought some from the supermarket.

Throughout the night we were woken by sirens blaring – there was a fire station opposite- and yells and screams of people revelling in the street. At least in Hebden Bridge those particular sounds are usually over by 3 a.m. but here they were still going on after first light. And there were gulls- angry sounding, and persistent. It didn’t really help that I’d had to keep the window open all night because of the heat.

Day 2

By the time I surfaced the next morning at 7:30 Judith had already had a shower, eaten breakfast and was heavily engaged in doing a crossword puzzle. She’d brought her ancestry papers and charts that I’d been helping her with online and we planned on doing some more ancestry research during our Scottish adventure. Out train to Aberdeen was due to leave at 9:30 so we booked a taxi to get us to the station 45 minutes before departure, wondering if it would actually show up or still be affected by yesterday’s downed power cables. When we arrived at the station it was the only only train during the next two hours that hadn’t been assigned a departure platform so things didn’t look too promising. Then, 5 minutes before it was due to leave a platform was given and then it was a mad rush to find our platform. I mean this was a crazy rush. People were standing in the corridors, standing in the compartments. Two elderly men were sprawled on the floor between the seats but we were fortunate enough to get a couple of seats. I never knew Aberdeen was such a popular destination but I reckoned they were simply left overs from last night’s fiasco. We passed over the Fourth Rail Bridge and as we came into the next station, Leuchars, I suddenly saw hundreds of cars parked on a field at the side of the station.

Cars galore

“What’s going on?” I asked the man sitting next to me who was also taking a great interest in the sea of cars. Only minutes before he had just apologized to me profusely as his full bottle of Coke (sugar free, of course) took flight from his pull down table at a particularly bumpy section of track, plumeting directly onto my bare ankle from a great height. Ouch! “It’s the golf” he explained. “This is the nearest station to St Andrew’s golf course.” As we pulled into the station most people got off the train, heading for a fleet of double decker buses parked alongside.

We passed through the coastal town of Stonehaven where we had initially planned to spend our first day in Scotland, but by the time we arrived in Aberdeen on time- well, precisely 18 hours late- we didn’t feel like jumping on another train or bus to go and explore Stonehaven. Exiting from the station, opposite the ferry terminal, we had a quick lunch in Aitchie’s Ale House close to the Station Hotel where I had stayed the night before catching the overnight ferry to Orkney in 2017. We took a taxi to Cove Bay. Judith was staying in an Airbnb in the centre of a huge housing estate built in the 1960s for the people working in the oil industry according to another taxi driver. I had chosen to stay in the ancient tiny community of Cove Bay and my Cove Bay hotel was perched right on the cliff.

First view of the Cove Bay Hotel, my home for three nights.

It was a picturesque, family run place and although I didn’t have a sea view I overlooked the old street of terraced bungalows, common in Scotland, but rarely seen in England. My room was comfortable and the TV remote control was present!

After an hour Judith arrived and we set off to walk along the coastal footpath right from my hotel. Soon we passed a new-build project of 167 houses for rent, right on the bluff. 15 minutes later saw us on top of the cliffs where sea birds’ calls accompanied our walk for the next 5 ½ miles. I called a halt to our walk when I couldn’t handle a steep downward track. It was too slippery for me with its loose stones. I couldn’t believe how fortunate we were with the weather.

I mean, we were in Scotland and I was too warm! There was not a cloud in the sky and the light breeze didn’t have much effect cooling me down. I came home with a little more colour on my face – a combination of the sun and the see breeze- very pleasant. Dotted along the sea, close to the cliffs were markers, each of 3 buoys and a flag- lobster pots. I wondered?

As we retraced out steps Judith announced that she was going to take the short path back to her Airbnb and she’d see me tomorrow morning when we were going on an all day coach trip. It was only 4 p.m. but she’d been up far earlier than me. She was looking forward to spending the rest of the day relaxing and doing crosswords and reading- things that I can’t do when I’m travelling. I found my way back to the hotel and joined five local men in the public bar watching, yes, you’ve guessed it – the golf!

The mating game

The bar overlooked the ocean and I had a perfect view as I sipped my my pint of cider. I had ordered a half but, hey, never mind. I was writing my journal when I noticed that the men’s conversation had turned to Yorkshire so I went over to join them.

Bar time

On being asked where in Yorkshire I am from one man immediately mentioned the sweet shop on Bridgegate, Hebden Bridge – small world.

Journal writing

Cider finished, I set off to find Cove Harbour. I’d seen a little sign pointing past the hotel to the harbour. Thinking that it would have tourist shops, cafes etc I’d asked the men in the bar. “No, this is the only place to eat around here,” I was told. And then he’s added “It’s a steep walk back.” This made made a little cautious but once over the cliff top I could see a stone jetty which seemed to have been chopped off in its stride.

“Rachel”

A line of rusty chains prevented me falling off the end. Just by the chain was a group of 4 young people enjoying the view. I peered over the edge of the jetty. Only one boat was moored- Rachel. Obviously Cove Bay is no longer a thriving fishing village. As I stared across the harbour at some rusting boats on dry land a sudden gust of wind took by cap off and it landed in the sea next to Rachel. Of course, I’d been on a trip with my daughter Rachel when I’d got the cap. For several years Rachel and I attended a weekend’s history event at Donner Pass in the Sierras, California, to trace the story of the overland trail across the mountains, and in particular the year of 1846-7 when 87 emigrants were stranded over the winter in the deep snow. Only 48 survived. We would attend lectures, reenactments and hikes during the weekend. Each year we were given a cap and this was one of mine that was now in the North Sea. It first I was upset but then I laughed. Well, this was certainly something to remember Cove Bay by. I threw up my hands at the 4 onlookers who had witnessed the incident and then went off to explore the pebbles and rusty remains of what had once been a thriving harbour.

Are they looking for my cap?

After 20 minutes or so I head up back the cliff road, slowly. Two young ladies were just about to put on wetsuits when one of them came over to me and said “You just lost your cap?” The people on the jetty had told her what had happened. “If you wait until we’ve got our wetsuits on we’ll go in and see if we can find your cap.” Really???

I spent the next 15 minutes admiring the stone carvings on the large stone blocks lining the road that I’d missed on my way down and then watched as the girls entered the water.

Cap retrieved

I thought they had little chance in finding the cap. Surely it would have sunk by now. But within 5 minutes a sudden shout told me that the cap had indeed been spotted, and off she swam, grabbed the hat and I hurried back down to gratefully retrieve it from her hands. What a story!

Thank you, ladies

Back in the hotel after a wash and brush up and a careful positioning of the sodden cap on the sunny window ledge in my room I headed downstairs to the restaurant. “Did you enjoy your walk?” asked the bartender. So I told him my story, before checking out the restaurant (tourists with children) and public bar ( locals – all men). I settled down to my chicken tenders and skinny fries in the public bar, exchanging comments from time to time with my fellow drinkers.

Day 3

Sun was streaming through the window when I woke. Remarkably I’d slept a full seven hours – something I never do at home. It made me wonder whether my sleep is disturbed by the traffic noises throughout the night at home. I’d booked breakfast for 7:45 but I was raring to get the day under way and I poked my head into the dining room at 7:30. I was the first down for breakfast but later two couples came for their ‘full English.’

Breakfast in the restaurant overlooking the sea

My taxi arrived at 8:30 and we picked up Judith and bounded at breakneck speed into the centre of Aberdeen where we were to meet Rabbie’s tour at 8:45. Once the 11 of us were seated in our 16 seater coach we were asked by our leader/cum/driver to introduce ourselves. Never for a minute did I expect that Judith and I would be the only British people on the tour. Well, come to think of it I don’t really visualize Aberdeen as a tourist destination. Our fellow travellers for the day were from El Salvador, Bangladesh, China and Denmark. Alice, our guide, runs a rare breeds farm when she’s not working for Rabbie’s and her prize pig had given birth to piglets during the previous night. Within minutes of setting off it became apparent that she was going to be one of those guides who never ever stops talking. She’s very much a historian and apart from half a dozen times during the day when she played a couple of tracks of traditional Scottish music she kept up her monologue, not about what we were seeing as we passed it but about the general history of Scotland and its historical relations with England. In the afternoon we were treated to a three part history of Mary, Queen of Scots. Our first drive of the day was the longest at 1 ½ hours and we headed North West, inland across flat arable land with scatterings of sheep and cattle. After ¾ hour I just had to block her out to concentrate on what I was actually seeing, so I put on my headphones and listened to Glass, Riley, Gabriel Kahane and Rufus Wainwright – a perfect combination.

The first stop of our nine hour tour was at the Dolphin Centre at Spey Bay where people were gathered excitedly on the waterfront to see if they could spy any dolphins but the sea creatures didn’t feel like putting on a display for the tourists today. Lovely clouds were racing across the sky and even at sea level the wind was strong. But the air temperature was still nice and warm. The pebbles here were a myriad of colours and some mosaics had been created from them.

Next stop was the Bow and Fiddle rock, an enormous sea-sculpted rock just off the coast.

It’s called the The Bow and Fiddle but I think it looks more like an elephant

We viewed it from the high cliff top and then drove to Cullen, a small town renowned for it fish soup.

Bloomin’ Heather

The cafe most famous for this delicacy was already packed to the rafters so we opted for the Thyme Tea shop with its blend of food to eat and art and antique furniture to buy. Three people sitting on the comfy antique sofa opposite and with paintings and craftwork decorating the wall behind them it looked like a scene from a movie.

Movie set in Cullen?

How British. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I caught a fragment of their conversation and realised they were all American. Cullen was originally a fishing village centred around a protected bay and it reminded me of Staithes with its pan tiled roofs. Some of the older cottages on the waterfront were brightly coloured and Alice explained why. I’d been wondering about that for the last four years since visiting Tobermory, the south west coast of Ireland and the Shetlands. Before the advent of lighthouses the brightly coloured buildings helped the fishermen to navigate their way back to the harbours. Thankyou Alice.

Next was a stop at Portsoy another fishing village centred around the harbour and this time the fishing is still an active occupation for many of the residents. At one point in time the fishermen left these same towns and the fishing industry became totally centred on Aberdeen but in recent years it has returned to the villages and the populations in these villages has expanded. I spent the 20 minutes of our stop exploring some disused warehouse buildings taking my photos of abandoned industrial architecture as is my wont.

Cap in hand this time
Smiling trash bins
Reflecting on my visit to Cullen

Our penultimate stop of the day and probably the most interesting was at Crudes Bay to see Slains Castle, now in ruins but it one of the most dramatic locations I’ve seen. It is quite literally on the cliff edge and one tower on the sea side it built directly above a gap in the cliff with a huge drop directly into the ocean.

First glimpse of Slains castle

The site is now owned by Public Works and there is no charge to see it and wander the ruined hallways, and even the cellars and towers where signs warn that it’s unsafe to climb the towers or delve into the dungeons. Alice shared with us that she’d always been too scared to go into the dungeons alone so the first time she ever ventured down there was in the company of a tour group that she herself was leading!

It was a mile walk to the castle from the car park and while Judith elected to go and find a cup of tea in the village I set off up the gentle climb through woodlands and eventually caught sight of the castle across golden fields of wheat, reminding me of the part of the Cleveland Way I walked with Anna on her trip to England in 2019. I spent a wonderful half hour exploring the ruins, but didn’t have the courage to go down into the dungeons. Some of the castle dates back to 1597 but much of it was rebuilt in 1837 following the marriage of the 18th earl to a daughter of King William lV.

Slains castle – the setting for Dracula’s castle

Bram Stoker had visited the castle and used much of the building as a resource when writing Dracula. Indeed he came back to the village and it was while staying in the Kilmarnock Arms (which we had passed) that he began to write Dracula. Ah, here’s another connection with Anna’s visit. We spent a day in Whitby which was another place Bram Stoker visited, in 1890, which provided him with atmospheric locations for his Gothic novel. Johnson, Robbie Burns and Boswell all visited Slains castle, as did Winston Churchill – before it fell into ruins!

In 1972 the castle and its adjoining 332 acres was purchased by a building contractor for £10,000 and the first thing he did was to remove the roof to cash in the lead content which brought him more money than he’d paid for the castle and land together. I loved exploring the nooks and crannies with the weathered sandstone of the ancient walls adjacent to the cement cladding of more modern times added to prevent the ruins falling into yet more disrepair.

In its Hay day – get it?

It was teatime by now and our final stop for the day was at Bullers of Buchan, a collapsed sea cave.

This looks like something from a magazine

Lots of wildlife photographers with heavy cameras strewn about their persons and tripods in hand could be spotted but as far as I could see all the puffins had gone in for their tea. It was a remarkable rock formation, like a giant had taken a big slice of the rock and eaten it for his dinner.

A narrowing rock bridge separated the bite hole from the sea and I ventured out onto it as far as I dared and knelt down just long enough for Judith to try and get a photo of me perched where the puffins should have been.

Our journey back to Aberdeen was along the coast road and we were dropped off at the bus station. It had been our intention to take the bus back to my hotel but after searching in vain for the correct bus stop for Cove Bay, and even asking several bus drivers who seemed to have no idea we eventually worked out that the Cove Bay bus is run by a different operator and doesn’t stop in the bus station. Sigh! Anyway, we eventually got it sorted out and found the correct bus stop and 20 minutes later we were back in the Cove Bay Hotel. Judith had brought her Ancestry stuff that I’d been helping her with online in preparation for her meeting with her cousin the following day. We spent 30 minutes in the public bar working on the project until the juke box got called into action and so we adjourned to the quiet of the restaurant to continue our studies, somewhere along the line tucking into dinner as we worked. She left around 9:30 and we said our goodbyes.

I can’t believe the colours on these two photos of the seawall in Portsoy – no filter!

Day 4

I was awake at 6 a.m. but that was really too early for me to start the day so I listened to the radio and eventually went down for breakfast, taking my time and writing my journal about yesterday’s trip. Despite being assured at the hotel’s front desk that buses to Aberdeen were every 15 minutes I found out at the bus stop that no, they are every half hour but I was reassured by the fact that there were already 5 people waiting for a bus, and one was a local.

Once in Aberdeen bus station I found the bus to Stonehaven was already parked in the bay and ready to depart. I asked the driver how long it would take to reach Stonehaven. “Depends on the traffic” was his rather unhelpful response. “Well, roughly” I prompted. At this he carefully retrieved his timetable and consulted it diligently. “We’ll be there at 11:25 – depending on the traffic, of course.” I settled back to enjoy the 40 minute ride which in several places runs along the coast on the A90. Alighting I found myself in the centre of a much larger town that I anticipated. In fact, it took me a whole ten minutes to reach the harbour during which I passed the birthplace of the deep fried Mars Bar. Who would have thought?

Typical of this part of the world it’s grey granite that predominates and it gave the town a very grey feeling, further exacerbated today by the heavy grey clouds that appeared to be perched just above the town. Alice had told us that she’d attempting to get the adjective grey removed from Aberdeen’s nomenclature as the grey granite city and replace it it with the silver city. In this harbour town there were no garish shop signs, no flashing neon.

There were lots of cars and at the north end of the bay a large caravan park and activity centre hug the coast. I followed the boardwalk north really enjoying the metal sculptures of various boats, many of them quite comical. Wire sea creatures filled with beach pebbles alongside inviting picnic tables had been created by local boys’ clubs and men’s sheds. A large mural with photos and fragments of colourful ceramic adorned the side wall of a shop and was the work of people in recovery.

Looking back to town

No glitzy seafront hotels here. Most of the houses were social priority housing for retirees – quite a different concept from most seaside places.

I turned around after a couple of miles in the spot where a unique fossil was discovered in 2003. It was the oldest known air breathing animal in the world: a fossilised millipede arthropod which lived 428 million years ago- Pneumodesmus newmani, named after its discoverer Mike Newman, an amateur geologist.

I was bound for the Ship Inn on the harbour whose enticing menu I’d spotted earlier. Mussels. I mean, I can’t spend 3 days on the coast without having my favourite dish, and I have to say they were the best mussels I’ve tasted, cooked to perfection, and my table outside facing the harbour was perfect.

I even had to take my jacket off, it was so warm, despite the few sprinkles of rain from time to time. For dessert I had delicious fresh fruit kebabs – that was a new one for me. I was soon joined on the next table by a man wearing a Yellowstone T shirt which I commented on. Yes, he had actually purchased it in Yellowstone unlike the man I chatted to a few days later wearing an Oakland T shirt who tried to convince me it was in New Zealand. He even took out his phone to prove his point – and then realised he had got Oakland and Auckland mixed up! My fellow diner was a teacher of English from Spain who ordered the mussels too on my recommendation.

After lunch I headed to the museum to discover more about the famous fossil but was disappointed to find it closed so I wandered around some old wooden shacks, some of which had found new service as wood fired saunas.

Mid afternoon I got the bus back to Aberdeen and spent an hour exploring the granite city. Unfortunately the street art tour only takes place at the weekends but I picked up a map at the tourist information centre and found a couple myself.

Some of the large buildings are very impressive having their own peculiarly Scottish style of architecture. In 2017 I’d spent an afternoon and morning in the city awaiting the ferry to the Orkneys and I revisited some of the large buildings I’d seen then.

Colour in Aberdeen

I’d been walking for most of the day and I’d have loved to jump on a city tour bus but they don’t have those in Aberdeen so I headed back to Cove Bay. I took the 3A bus, the driver assuring me it went to Cove Bay. Indeed it did, but nowhere near my hotel. I should have taken the 3, not the 3A. Another couple, from Denmark, were in the same dilemma as me so we walked back to the hotel where they were also staying.

A beautiful evening stroll on the coastal path

I sat in the bar for an hour writing postcards and my journal. A few locals came in and seemed to now class me as a local, it being my third night there, and they came and joined me at my table, while the bar tender asked me if I wanted ‘my usual.’ At 6:30 I went to post the postcards in the post box outside the post office, the only shop in ‘old’ Cove Bay, and then I went to explore a track above the harbour. In that hour I only passed one rather scary looking man and a field full of pigs and their piglets. Not a single sound could be heard apart from the gentle breathing of the sea.

Making friends with the piggy wigs

No people’s voices, no cars. It was quite magical. The blue sky had a smattering of puffy clouds which were now taking on the golden glow of late evening. Returning towards the hotel I passed the old terraced cottages but still not a sound was to be heard. In a little garden I discovered a statue in honour of the last fishwife of Cove Bay who used to carry the fish in a basket, walking all the way to Aberdeen market to sell them.

Fishing has been going on in The Cove since pre history. By the 18th century the village was said to be ‘healthy though somewhat chilly and the fisherfolk understanding and industrious, sober, charitable and honest. ‘ Whitefishing was the basic source of income, the fisherman going out to sea at midnight, laying their lines at dawn and returning with the catch. The fisherwife was active by 4 a.m. and her day was full of cleaning, preparing and selling the fish which she carried in a creel on her back all the way to Aberdeen. This creel could weigh up to 76 kilos – heavier than a man. In fact it usually took 2 men to lift the creel on to her back.

The last fisherwife of Cove Bay

Meanwhile back at the hotel bar the locals were staking out their tables for tomorrow night’s live music. No amount of persuasive banter could convince the bartender to reserve the tables for them in advance– that’s a procedure only available to patrons of the restaurant – not the public bar! Eventually it was decided that one member of the group would come in to the bar at 6 o’clock and claim the two tables nearest the snooker table which would be removed and form the space for the band’s set up. Two of the TVs in the bar was tuned to the golf at St Andrews but I was able to watch France v Belgium women’s soccer on the third tv.

Back in my room I was sad to be going home in the morning and all the news was about the high temperatures expected throughout Britain during the next few day. It was forecast to be the highest temperatures ever recorded (and indeed this turned out to be accurate: 104F) and I just couldn’t face this in my second floor apartment with no outdoor space, and windows that barely open. I looked at the weather forecast for various parts of the country and decided that I’d go to Scarborough, on the East Coast whose high was expected to be around 15F less than Hebden Bridge. So it would be back home for one night, get some clean clothes, and head off again.

Saturday night in the Big City

Last night I went to see a very beautiful piano recital in a candle lit cathedral. A group of fellow pianists from my piano Meetup group attended, meeting for food and drink in a very noisy Banyan Tree first, and we were even treated to free champagne in the cathedral library in the intermission.

However I was a little apprehensive about the journey back to Hebden Bridge and from comments made later in the evening I know several other people travelling home by train were wondering how rowdy their trains would be. This was the first evening concert I’ve attended since Lockdown and this got me thinking about another memorable evening’s entertainment in Manchester that I’d written about four years ago:

February 4, 2018.

The police, a penis and a guitar concerto – just a normal Saturday evening out in Manchester

4So the guitar concerto finished to tumultuous applause and Ravel’s Bolero brought the concert to stunning conclusion, but my evening’s entertainment was far from over. I found myself with a full hour to kill on Manchester Victoria station before I caught the last train back to Hebden Bridge. Now, in all fairness, I had been warned by several people that catching the last train from the big city, especially on a Saturday night could be ‘a bit of a bother’ but I had smiled to myself and thought ‘I’m a woman of the world – surely it can’t be that bad!’ Ha! Ha!

First off I headed for the toilet. Now, I’d used that particular public convenience on the station concourse before, so I had my 60p ready in my hand, tut tutting to myself about the outrageous cost of a pee on British stations when, to my surprise there were three teenage boys at the turnstile where you put your money in. “We’ll hold the bar and you can get in without paying.” OK, I thought. I’ll go for that. They held the bar and I walked through into the ladies only to find every stall featured a man peeing – with the door open. ‘Oh, my god. I’ve gone into the men’s by mistake!’ and rushed out, scarlet faced. I checked the sign on the door – twice. No, I was right. This was the ladies. Ha! Ha! Good joke. I returned, found an empty stall, locked the door, and went about my business with a huge grin on my face.

Returning to the concourse I set about waiting for an hour for the last train to Hebden. I had a sandwich to eat that I’d taken to the concert with me but didn’t get to eat it in the intermission as planned because of the interesting conversation I had with the man in the adjacent seat. I asked if he’d ever heard Rodrigo’s guitar concerto played live before. He hadn’t. He wasn’t used to coming to ‘these things’ but had been to an all black production of Hamlet at the Lowry Centre the previous week and had left at the intermission because he didn’t think that Shakespeare’s characters should dressed in ‘rap gear.’ I asked if he thought that the orchestra should change into appropriate clothing for the year in which each piece was composed. This brought out such a lovely laugh that I decided to continue the conversation, rather than barge my way past him to the bar. He has just taken up the saxophone and has had four lessons. He finds the whole experience is magical – his words, not mine. He’d always wanted to play the piano as a child but he was committed to football practice 6 days a week and so his dad said no to piano. After 20 years in the army, and 20 years in business at the age of 57 he’s semi retired and just beginning to do all those things he’s never had time for. A friend took him out on a yacht, so he bought a yacht with all the trimmings, and learned to sail on the sea. Then he bought a sort of road bike – a ‘Rolls Royce’ of the biking world after seeing the Tour de France. I asked him why he chose the saxophone. He’d gone to a Barry White concert with his first girlfriend and all the girls in the audience had screamed in girly admiration of the saxophonist, so that’s why he’s chosen the sax: for the sex! By this time the 4 minute call for the restart of the concert had been sounded and I still hadn’t collected the drink I’d pre–ordered from the bar. I rushed out only to find a tub of ice-cream on my number spot. I’d ordered a bottle of water! I ran to the bar tender, was issued with a bottle of water and hurried to my seat.

Back to the station concourse. I found a bench by the barrier on which to while away an hour. Luckily I had my new book with me carefully packed for just such a circumstance. There were two benches to choose from. I stayed away from the one with the girl throwing up as her boyfriend tenderly stroked her back. There was a high police presence on the station, this being the site of the Manchester Arena bombing last May and from time to time one of the policemen checked up on the couple. Soon however, they were joined by another girl who seemed to know them. She kept doubling up and screaming. She appeared totally normal one minute and screaming the next. All this was rather distracting me from reading my book, and when the concert at the Arena let out around 10:30 the station filled, the noise was loud and the women on their stilts of stilettos reminded me more of a balancing act in a circus, than people quietly going about their business on their way home. There was zero quiet here.

Eventually the train arrived and I was careful to sit in a different carriage than the guy with the two out-of-it ladies. I settled back for a 40 minute train ride and for entertainment I watched the locals at play. Each carriage was filled and lots of people were standing. Well, more like swaying, actually. The only sober person – besides me – was a guy with his arm in a sling. A couple were making out one minute and laughing uncontrollably the next as the guy sampled the girl’s friends in turn. I presumed they all knew one another, but when we got to Littleborough, that den in iniquity, the guy got off the train, shouting ‘Nice to have met you all.’ When on the platform he ran to the carriage window and unzipped his pants and held his penis up to the carriage window – MY  window. The train started to move. He held onto the train and started to move with it. The train came to a screeching halt, the guard jumped from the train onto the platform and arrested him. As you can imagine this took some time. The girls were bouncing up and down with excitement and one of them turned to me ‘I feel so badly for you. You were just sitting there nice and quiet and then this happened.’ I laughed.

The next stop was Walsden, five minutes away. During those minutes there was some sort of altercation in the next carriage. Perhaps a fight? The girls got up to look, shoving each other out of the way to get a better look but they couldn’t make out what was going on but there was a lot of movement of people, and raised voices. Now Walsden is a tiny, tiny station in the middle of a little village whose only claim to fame is Grandma Pollard’s Fish and Chip shop. Eventually we could see the girl who’d been throwing up at Victoria Station. She was being propped up on a bench on the platform by a couple of fellas. We waited. And waited some more. The train was going nowhere. There was no information coming on the intercom from the guard. People started to get rattled. ‘Why should we wait because someone can’t hold their drink?’ ‘We want our money back for this ride!’ ‘Just leave her.’ It seemed that we had to wait until either the police or ambulance service came to collect her. So our 40 minute ride turned into an hour and a quarter. The girls called Bye Bye to me as they got off at Hebden Bridge. A very patient taxi driver had been waiting for the arrival of the train to take them through Haworth home to Keighley. I guess I now know what ‘a bit of a bother’ means!

Ancient and modern – Ordsall Hall to Salford Quays

As I began my day at Hebden Bridge station my eyes were drawn to this face made from footprints. Little did I know that my destination, Ordsall Hall, is a mecca for paranormal activities

It took a train and two trams to get to Ordsall Hall. I looked up through the clear roof of the tram stop to the high rise buildings of Manchester.

Getting off the tram at Exchange Quay I found myself in the middle of a housing area, many new builds squeezed between Victorian terraces. It felt a million miles from the photos I’d seen of Ordsall Hall, with its half timbered facade and ancient brick additional wings. And then I saw it, separated from the main road by a fence and a small but pretty formal garden with deck chairs emblazoned with ‘Ordsall Hall’ gracing the patio. It wasn’t what I expected, and I think that was its location rather than its actual appearance that surprised me.

800 years time warp – looking through an 800 year old window.

The wood carvings on the facade had been lovingly restored where necessary but it was interesting to look closely at the originals and see how they had weathered through the centuries, the wood cracking and contracting so that there were vast gaps in its appearance. The history of the hall: https://ordsallhall.com/about/history-2/

The old and the newly refurbished

Entering (free) I was greeted by a volunteer who suggested the directions I should walk through the house in order not to miss any rooms. Many of the displays in the various rooms were aimed at children and the guide mentioned that I was lucky not to have arrived on a day when school visits were happening. As the oldest building in Salford it’s a favourite for school visits. As it was I was one of less than a handful of people exploring on this Thursday afternoon.

The Great Hall with its leaded windows provided opportunities to look out, no longer at farmland as the original residents did but at modern housing developments – quite incongruous.

From upstairs there was an interesting view of the Great Hall with its long table set for a banquet – again, primarily aimed at educating the young.

Surely this would have not been a window!
Hmm – I had planned to eat pork chops for dinner. Not so sure now!

The Star chamber dates back to 1360 and the amazingly carved Radclyffe Bed is the only original piece of furniture in the Hall, belonging to Sir John Radclyffe and Lady Ann Asshawe in 1572 at a cost of £20 (£4,800 in today’s money). There was even a replica Tudor bath that visitors could sit in, and armour to try on.

The Radclyffe bed
A viewing window allowed me to see the roof beams.

Many of the rooms held wardrobes with period costumes for children to try on and it reminded me of my own children trying on the costumes at Gibson mill and Dean Clough – not SO long ago!!!

Though the hall was lived in by members of the Radcliffe family for over 300 years it eventually passed on to other families. Between 1872 and 1875, the artist Frederic Shields (1833-1911) lived in the Hall. He painted in the Pre-Raphaelite style and was friends with John Ruskin. He a letter to Ruskin he described the Hall as “the happiest refuge I have ever nested in.” Later the building was used as a working mans club and then as a training school for clergymen. It was purchased by Salford Corporation after a narrow victory and opened to the public in 1972, undergoing major renovations 2009-2011.

From a selection of short films in the audio/visual room I watched a movie about Salford in 1968 with original footage of the slum dwellings and the beginning of the clearances. I remember it being classed as a place not to visit by my mum who had friends close by.

I was disappointed that the cafe, highlighted on the online searches I’d done previous to my visit, had only cake to eat – perhaps it had been a favourite with Marie Antoinette. I was certainly ready for some lunch. I did managed to spot a teacake though, and I sat outside with a pot of tea and my toasted teacake, while the peacock kept me company.

Feeling somewhat refreshed I now had a decision to make – what to do next, and so I opted for a quick visit to Salford Quays and the Lowry Centre, which was the next stop on the tram route to Eccles. It was lovely to walk along the waterfront but I couldn’t believe how quiet it was. There were hardly any people around at all – very strange. On previous visits it had always been bustling with visitors.

The Lowry Centre

I popped into the Lowry centre to purchase a sandwich and drink planning to get the water taxi back into the centre of Manchester and have a picnic on the boat.

One of my favourite bridges
Another – in blue to match a rare Salfordian blue sky

While I waited for the boat I wandered along the bridges at the Quays enjoying the warmth of the afternoon sunshine. The boat was being well utilized and I just managed to get the last empty seat on the upper outside deck – a perfect spot for my picnic.

Arriving back at Spinningfields in Manchester was like landing on a different planet. The offices were just closing the the place was abuzz with people beginning their commute home.

A statue I hadn’t seen before in Spinningfields

I wandered back down towards Victoria Station. The outdoor tables at the bars and restaurants around Exchange Square were doing a roaring trade and it took me a while to find an empty table along the side of The Banyan Tree – empty because it wasn’t in the direct sunlight that the British seem to favour 🙂 There were no seats available outside The Old Wellington but then I’d already spent enough time in an half timbered building. Built in 1552, The Old Wellington is the oldest building of its kind in Manchester. Originally built next to the Market Square on what is now Market Street, our half-timbered and traditional building was moved 100m from its original site in a redevelopment programme in 1998.

The Old Wellington

A rather good band, The Gulls, was playing in the square and from my perch I could enjoy the music as I people watched and waited for my train.

Exchange Square, The Gulls and the Cathedral
Through a glass darkly
A Blue Moon against the Cathedral

Man’s imprint on the landscape

And yes, it IS, for the most part men, not women who created the structures that caught my attention on a visit to Kirkstall Abbey near Leeds.

I’d visited the abbey twice before and had enjoyed the quiet ambiance of this spot, selected around 1100AD because of its proximity to running water, plenty of fish, good arable land and quarries that could provide the stone for the buildings. Monks were vegetarians – except they could eat fish.

I got the bus out to Kirkstall after spending the morning in the Henry Moore Gallery and Leeds Art Gallery and Museum. Until this year the entrance to the abbey had always been free and the man in the visitors’ shop apologised for having to charge me an entrance fee! It’s still free to Leeds residents.

The visitors’ centre man then added, “There’s a tour just about to start. Would you like to join it?” “Yes, please.” And so I stepped outside and was welcomed by Trevor. All the others in the group were from North Carolina, and it was taken for granted that I was American too. Well, with an accent like mine and a jacket sporting ‘San Diego’ on it, no wonder. All the people were highly knowledgable about medieval history and architecture asking interesting questions which Trevor enjoyed.

I always find it difficult to comprehend that such intricate magnificent buildings were constructed so long ago. At Kirkstall Abbey I particularly like the wonderful shapes created by the weathering of the millstone grit, and the green coloured shades of stone created by the lichen in the damp climate. Trevor pointed out a door. Dead monks were wrapped in a simple shroud and pushed through the door – hence the phrase ‘death’s door.’ In a time of primogeniture when a man’s possessions would pass on to his first born son subsequent sons had to learn skills and one way in which this could be provided would be to have them join an abbey as a child where they would be instructed in both farming skills and book learning – and Latin would be taught.

When the monasteries were closed and ‘dissolved’ in the 1540’s when Henry Vlll broke away from Catholicism and founded the Church of England Kirkstall Abbey was looted and abandoned. Until the modern main road was constructed in the 1820s the main road ran directly through the church and is marked by the paved road in the centre of this photo! Several of the ancient pillars on either side of the gate shows damage caused by passing horses and carts.

I love the colours and textures of the stone.

One of the abbots had his own private quarters up stairs that still exist and he had two fireplaces, whereas the monks were only allowed to sit by the fire in the communal space for 15 minutes per day. But sometimes the abbot got up to no good and had to ask for pardon from the Pope. Sending word to Rome and getting a response took an entire year in which time the abbot was held in a tiny room, imprisoned – without a fire.

Leaving the abbey, passing a friendly ladybird I asked Trevor for directions for walking along the canal back into Leeds. What had begun as a dull day weatherwise had turned into bright sunlight and I was overdressed for the heat. It took me an hour and a half to walk back in to Leeds and I was grateful for the intermittent trees along the canal providing me with shelter from the direct sun.

When I saw the mile markers along the towpath I was glad I was heading to Leeds rather than Liverpool.

Several of the bridges and abandoned mills along the towpath had wonderful colourful street art, something that I often enjoy, reminding me of the wonderful work in some of the tunnels on the Donner Pass railway in California.

For the first couple of miles I had the towpath to myself but as I neared Leeds it became more populated as people were walking home from work. Eventually the huge cranes which dominate the skyline of both Leeds and Manchester at the moment came into view.

As I stopped to take a photo of two swans and their 7 cygnets floating majestically towards me another photographer crouched down to take a photo of the family. No sooner had he knelt than one of the swans came over to investigate. The photographer didn’t flinch at all as it tried had to pull his jacket into the canal.

I passed the Leeds industrial Museum house in a former mill, with a beautiful colour garden leading to the entrance from the towpath. I peeked in and decided it would be a good place to visit, but it was just about to close for the day.

I soon found myself in the midst of huge mills now converted into elegant apartments. The canal led me straight to a tubular building that I’d often seen from the train. Apartments above but at ground level was a craft beer place called Salt. It provided a welcome glass of ale at an outdoor table from where I could see many canal barges juxtaposed with the converted mills and newly constructed high rise buildings – man’s imprint on the landscape.