Christmas in Haarlem 2019

We spent Christmas 2018 in Haarlem visiting our daughter who lives and works in the attractive small, historic city, a few miles from Amsterdam. This last Christmas, as she wasn’t able to get back over to England, we decided we’d do the same again. The main difference this time was that our daughter’s boyfriend’s parents and brother had also decided to visit, although they weren’t staying as long as us and had arranged to stop in a hotel.

We rented a very nice, well equipped and beautifully furninshed and decorated apartment on the Turfmarkt, facing the River Sparne

The owner, Nana, was very nice and welcoming.

Looking out of the front window, this was the view over the river on Christmas morning

and looking to the left there was a good view over to the Grote Kerk

We mainly spent our time wandering round the city, doing some last minute Christmas shopping and stocking up for Christmas Eve, spending time with our daughter and eating and drinking.

On Christmas Eve we prepared our traditional Christmas Eve buffet which we shared with daughter, her boyfriend and his parents and brother. So a larger “gathering” than normal.

One of the things we’d particularly enjoyed during our previous Christmas visit was the singing in the Grote Markt, so after eating we went for a drink in Tierney’s Irish Pub before joining the crowd in the square. The Christmas service from St Bavo’s church had been relayed onto a large screen and afterwards, just after midnight, we joined in with the crowd singing Christmas carols and songs led by a singers and a band on a stage that had been erected in the square.

Just like the previous year, the square was packed, but we managed to find ourselves some space next to the Christmas tree.

There was a great atmosphere and we really enjoyed ourselves. Afterwards, we headed our separate ways and we returned to our apartment for a nightcap before turning in.

Christmas day we opened our presents before setting off around midday to our daughter’s house. They had invited some friends over as well as the two families for Christmas dinner but we went over a few hours earlier to exchange gifts and spend a little time together. We popped out for a walk before returning for a very delicious (and filling!) Christmas meal for us all.

Boxing day – ‘Tweede Kerstdag’ (second Christmas day) in the Netherlands – is always something of an anti-climax after the big day. We went out for a couple of hours for a wander round the old, narrow streets around the city centre.

The Friday was our last full day in Haarlem. We had thought about taking the train into Amsterdam for the day, but, for a number of reasons decided against it. Instead we visited Teyler’s Museum during the morning. We’d visited during our holiday in August, but there’s plenty to see and it was definitely worth returning.

The Oval room in Teylers Museum
Large electrostatic generator
Picture gallery

Afterwards we went for a light lunch with our daughter in the DeDAKKAS cafe which is located on top of the de Kamp multi-storey car park, and which afforded good views over the city.

The DeDAKKAS cafe on top of a multi-storey car park!

Our son then went off to spend some time with her during the afternoon and we had a wander round the city centre and along the canal.

We’d booked a table in the Art Nouveau style Bastijan restaurant for the evening.

We decided on the 4 course “surprise menu”, letting the chef select the dishes. We didn’t know what we were eating until they arrived. All the dishes were delicious.

Smoked wild boar starter
2nd course – pasta
Main course – swordfish
Pudding!

On Saturday our flight was leaving Schipol mid afternoon, so we spent the morning tidying up and after a short final wander round the city centre, relaxed in the apartment (Nana kindly allowed us to stay an extra few hours) until it was time to catch our bus to the airport.

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There were no problems at the airport or during the flight and we were back home before 7 o’clock UK time. We’d had a very enjoyable 2nd Christmas in Haarlem. Depending on what happens during the next 12 months, we may return next year.

Wainwright’s Wainwright

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At the beginning of last week I managed to get away for three days to do some walking in the Lake District. I decided to book into the Youth Hostel in Buttermere for a couple of nights as they had places available and I’ve never been there before. Well, that’s not quite true. I do remember driving over there once on a rainy day many, many years ago during a stay near Bassenthwaite Lake, but due to the poor weather we didn’t linger. So this would be my first proper visit and I was looking forward to getting up on the fells I’d never explored before. Of course, the weather in the Lakes is always unpredictable, to say the least, and I experienced a range of conditions during my short stay. But they say there’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing (although I can’t say I’m completely in agreement with that statement!)

I drove over on the Monday morning via Keswick and the scary Newlands Pass. It’s a very scenic drive but it’s not exactly sensible taking your eyes of the narrow, often steep and windy road to admire the scenery or you’re likely to get a closer look at the fells than you’d planned.

The weather was mixed during my journey but didn’t seem too bad as I drove through the Newlands valley. The forecast was that it would be cloudy during the afternoon, with rain coming in early evening, and that’s how it transpired. I arrived in Buttermere around midday, to find that the tiny village (a hamlet really) was pretty much parked up, so I drove up to the top of the valley to Gatesgarth where I managed to find a space in the car park near the farm at the start of the Honister Pass. My plan was to tackle, Haystacks, a medium sized fell at the head of Buttermere. At 1,958 ft high it’s just a few feet short of being able to “officially” call itself a mountain, but it has all the characteristics of one, and just the right size and difficulty for an afternoon walk to kick off my break. It was a grey day with very flat light, so not a good day for photographs, but I did manage to “improve” some of my shots by playing about with Snapseed, although I’m still learning how to manipulate my photos.

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It was the favourite fell of Alfred Wainwright who stated that

“for beauty, variety and interesting detail, for sheer fascination and unique individuality, the summit area of Haystacks is supreme. This is in fact the best fell-top of all”

His ashes are scattered on the summit near the curiously named  Innominate Tarn.

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Memorial to Wainwright in the small church in Buttermere village.

After parking up and getting booted and kitted up, I stopped for a short while to soak up the atmosphere while I grabbed a bite to eat.

Then set off along the path across the bottom of the lake, passing Fleetwith Pike, heading towards the far shore and the start of the Scarth Pass.

The route would take me up the relatively gradual incline up to Scarth Gap and then a steeper climb and short scramble to the summit of my destination.

Looking back to the lake at the beginning of the Pass.

and looking across to Fleetwith Pike.

Looking up to Haystacks

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The much higher fell of Great Crag over to the right

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Looking back down to Buttermere

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Reaching the Scarth Gap I could see over to Ennerdale, the next valley. But Pillar, the high rocky fell at the head of the valley, was obscured by low cloud

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Pillar in the mist!

It was a shortish, steep climb to the summit of Haystacks. Hands were required for a couple of short stretches, but nothing too difficult.

Looking back as I climbed

The view towards Buttermere and Crummock Water from the summit

I stopped at the summit for a short while, revitalising myself with some hot coffee from my flask, and chatting with a trio of other walkers who’d reached the top a short while before me.

This is the view across the summit towards Great Gable. Not much to see of the mountain as it was covered with cloud.

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I crossed the summit plateau heading towards Innominate Tarn

I followed the path in the direction of Fleetwith Pike

Looking towards Fleetwith Pike

Looking down towards Buttermere and Crummock Water through the gap in the crags

The route took me across to descend along the flank of Fleetwith Pike to the east of Warnsdale beck

There was a great view of Haystacks across the valley during the long descent

The beck tumbles down steeply over a series of waterfalls which were flowing with plenty of water following recent rainy weather.

Looking back up the valley towards the end of the descent

Reaching the floor of the valley there was an easy walk back towards the Lake and Gatesgarth Farm. Time to change out of my boots and drive the short distance back to Buttermere village and the Youth Hostel. I arrived a little earlier than the official check in time of 5 o’clock, but managed to book in, settle in to my room and take a shower.

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The rain arrived, as promised, at about 6 o’clock. It continued through the night and the wind also picked up. The next day was going to be a little different!

Back to Haarlem

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Last week we were back in Haarlem, to visit our daughter while taking a few days break. As usual, we managed to pack a lot into the week – spending some time exploring the small, historic city, watching some live music acts (the Haarlem Jazz Festival started towards the end of our little holiday), taking in some art in Amsterdam and even managing a short walk on the dunes.

We caught the plane from Manchester. Unfortunately there was a dealy which meant we were sat on the plane for over an hour and a half before it took off. Not the greatest experience, but it could have been worse. So we arrived in Haarlem a couple of hours late. It’s quite easy to get to the city by catching the Number 300 bis that runs from Schipol airport to the train station in Haarlem, a 40 minute journey with buses about every 10 minutes during the daytime. We’d rented a house a few minutes walk from the station, so after picking up the keys we were soon settled in.

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The next morning we spent the morning wandering around Haarlem. The Single canal was just a couple of minutes walk from our little house. The canal was built as part of the city defences and the northern section zig zags – a defensive arrangement. The city walls used to stand on an embankment to the south of this section of the canal but they were dismantled many years ago as the city expanded northwards and a park created where they used to stand. We followed the path along the canal bank through the park.

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We spent the rest of the morning mooching around the pleasant streets in the city centre before grabbing a bite to eat in the cafe on the top floor of the Hudson Bay department store

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from where there are good views over the city.

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The building that the Hudson Bay store occupies was built in the 1930’s for the Vroom en Dreesman store. It’s architecture is modernist in style with Amsterdam School and Art Deco influences. It’s something of a Marmite building – you either love it or hate it – I fall into the former camp! V and D went bust in 2015 and the building was unoccupied the first time we visited Haarlem, but it was taken over by Hudson Bay (a Canadian company) who opened there in 2018.

There are some rather nice stained glass windows in the stairwell and on some of the floors

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After we’d eaten we wandered through the shopping streets down to the Spaarn and made our way to the Tyler’s Museum. Our visit there warrants its own post so to finish this one, here’s a few photos I took around the town (some taken later in the week).

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Parys Mountain and the Copper Kingdom

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In my line of work you almost inevitably become something of a nerd, unable to resist an industrial site, especially a historical one, even when on holiday. So the last day of our stay in Anglesey we drove over to the north east of the island toward the small port of Amlwch , which at one time was the site of a major copper mine.

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Copper has probably been extracted in the area since the Bronze Age, 4000 years ago, but most activity took place from 1768 after The Great Discovery when Roland Pugh a local miner stumbled on a large deposit of copper ore at Parys Mountain,  a couple miles from the small port. His reward was a bottle of whisky and a rent-free house for the rest of his life. That would have seemed like a great deal at the time, no doubt, but it pales into insignificance compared with the amount of money made by owners of what became, for a while, the biggest copper mine in the world.

We parked up in Amlwch and walked over to The Copper Kingdom Centre, in a converted copper ore store on the quayside. This small museum told the story of copper mining in the area. The high point of the industry in the area occurred during the 1780’s when it dominated copper production in the UK. The copper from the mine was used to “copper bottom” the Admiralty’s wooden ships of war, to prevent the growth of seaweed and barnacles and to protect the wood from attack by shipworms.

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Originally the ore was extracted from surface pits and shallow shafts, then by open cast mining, from underground adits. The ore was broken into small lumps by hand, the and shipped to Lancashire or to the Lower Swansea valley in South Wales. The ore was sorted by women – the Copper ladies – which sounded similar to the Pit Brow Lasses who used to be employed in coal mines, particularly in the Lancashire coalfield.

The small harbour expanded due to the need to export the ore Other industries grew up in Amlwch alongside the mining – chemical processing and ship building and repair. The small port becoming a hive of industrial activity. Inevitably the mine became worked out and the other industries also declined, so Amlwch is today a quiet backwater. However, there is thought to be a reserve of about 6 million tonnes beneath the old mine workings. There’s been some thoughts about working the reserves but it’s not currently economic.

After looking round the museum we had a stroll around the harbourside, visited the small maritime museum and had a brew in the cafe, both in the old Sail Loft building. Then it was back to the car to drive the few miles over to Parys Mountain where we were able to wander around the old mine workings. There’s a guided trail, but we didn’t follow it, preferring to wander round on our own.

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It’s a desolate industrial wasteland, and due to the high level of soil contamination, little life can survive here. But it has it’s own strange beauty. With a range of colours it was rather like a 3 dimensional abstract painting.

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the old ruinded windmill standing on top of the wasteland
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Bangor Pier

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Whenever we looked out of the windows at our holiday apartment we couldn’t miss seeing Bangor pier. There it was sticking out into the waters of the Menai Strait directly across from us. We could see people promenading up and down the deck and we thought that sometime during our holiday we should go and have a closer look. So, after our visit to Carnarfon castle, as we were on the right side of the water, decided to take the opportunity before we drove back across the bridge.

The pier was opened on 14th May 1896 and is typical of Victorian leisure piers, with cast iron columns, a wooden deck, wrought iron gates, ornamental “street lamps” and a series of octagonal kiosks along its length, which have been rented out to local small businesses, including cafes and an artist’s studio. At 458 metres long it extends right into the middle of the Straits.

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The pier is actually at Garth, a small community on the edge of Bangor, separated from the main part of town. It’s often referred to as “Garth Pier”.

We made our way to the pier, parked up and went for a walk, dropping some coins in the “honesty box” for the requested donation.

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The pier has being undergoing renovation work in recent years and the far end was still closed off.

Looking over the water, not surprisingly, we could see Bryn Mel Manor. I used my zoom lens to take a photo.

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At one time steamers would dock on the pier taking passengers to and from Blackpool, Liverpool and the Isle of Man. But that stopped many years ago.

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Nyth y Fran

After we left Ruthin we drove down the Vale of Clwyd to St Asaph where we picked up the A55. The holiday traffic had died down by then so it took less than an hour driving down the coast road and over the Britannia bridge onto Anglesey. It was only a short drive then over to our apartment which was about half way between Menai Bridge and Beaumaris.

Nyth y Fran (Welsh for bird’s nest) was on the very top floor of Bryn Mel Manor, a large house that had been built in the late 19th century for William Imrie of the White Star Shipping Company (owners of the Titanic).

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We’d chosen well. The house is sited on top of the hill overlooking the Menai Straits and being on the top floor we had particularly good views over the water towards Bangor and its Victorian pier with the mountains of Snowdonia stretched out behind.

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Our apartment occupied the left hand half of the top floor (effectively in the attic) and the windows from the living room, kitchen both bedrooms and the en-suite bathroom all looked over the water and the mountains.

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I never tired of the view which changed with the weather and the time of day.

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The apartment was beautifully fitted out with all mod cons – you just had to be careful not to bang your head where, being in the roof, the ceiling sloped down.

We had two very hot, sunny days during our stay, otherwise it was cloudy and, sometimes, quite windy. But we didn’t really have any rain. So we were able to get out and about. Although we filled our time, there was a lot more we could have seen and done. A week really wasn’t long enough.

Ruthin Gaol

So, after having a look around the small town of Ruthin, it was time to go to gaol (or is that jail?)

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Fortunately, it wasn’t going to be an extended stay as Ruthin Gaol, which is at the bottom of the hill on Clwyd street, is now a popular tourist attraction. There’s been a gaol here since 1654 – previously prisoners were kept in the Old Court House on the town square. The current building is a Pentonville style prison built in 1878 , although there are some remnants of the older building from 1775.

The Gaol ceased to be a prison in 1916 when the prisoners and guards were transferred to Shrewsbury. The County Council bought the buildings in 1926 and used part of them for offices, the county archives, and the town library. During the Second World War the buildings were used as a munitions factory. It opened as a museum in 2004.

The tour is self guided with one of those audio guide thingies that you point at electronic labels located at various points of interest. Rules of entry were quite clear.

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We started in the cook house, where we learned about the diet of the prisoners – not very appetising!

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Then it was down into the cells down in the basement. We were able to look inside various cells and learn about life in the prison.

It was bathtime once a week and the prisoners had to take their turn in the same bath water. Don’t think I’d like to have been at the back of the queue!

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The gaol originally housed both male and female offenders, jailed for various offences, some quite petty and sometimes simply due to poverty. Prisoners had to work to earn their keep – men picking oakum and women sewing an knitting. Prisoners may also have had to break up boulders or walk on the treadmill . If they were badly behaved they may be put in the punishment cell where they would be in the pitch black, or in a padded cell if they were violent. I think our new Home Secretary would approve. She’s probably working out how to re-introduce these practices (for those she doesn’t send to the noose!)

After looking round the basement we took the steps upstairs into the newer building.

The Prisons Act of 1865 set new standards for the design of prisons, which the old gaol, not surprisingly, didn’t meet, so a new four-storey wing was built in the style of London’s Pentonville Prison. It had a familiar look as we’d previously stayed in a similar style (but larger) prison in Oxford (not as inmates – it’s now a fancy hotel!).

A good part of the building is used by the Denbighshire County archives, but we were able to look inside a number of the cells.

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The cells were a little more spacious and the building was a lot more hygienic, with natural ventilation, a water supply in every cell and gas lighting.

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Life wasn’t exactly cushy, though. The food consisted of thin gruel, bread and scouse.

Capital punishment was still legal, but there was only one execution at Ruthin. William Hughes. a miner from Wrexham was hanged in the prison in 1903 having been convicted of the murder of his wife.

We also learned about a local Dick Turpin character (i.e. a criminal who won some public celebrity for his exploits) John Jones, also known as Coch Bach y Bala (the little redhead from Bala) who escaped three times, from Caernarfon and Ruthin Gaols. He escaped from Ruthin by burrowing through his cell wall and climbing down a rope made from his bedclothes! The authorities caught up with him after only 5 days when he was shot in the leg, and subsequently died of shock and haemorrhaging due to his injury.

We spent over an hour looking around the prison but, unlike Coch y Bala, we didn’t have to burrow our way out!

It was time to make our way back to the car for the drive over the Anglesey. Only about an hour away and the time spent in Ruthin meant that the traffic had died down so it was a relatively easy run down to St Asaph and then the along the A55 and over the bridge to Ynys Môn !