A day in Cartmel

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Last Thursday, was a special birthday for J . After most of May had been cold and wet, we woke up to a warm sunny morning and a blue sky. Someone was smiling on her!

We’d planned to go out for the day with a special family dinner time (midday up here!) meal booked in Rogan’s bistro in Cartmel. So after J had opened her presents everyone got ready and we set off up the M6.

It was a beautiful day in Cartmel and as we had 30 minutes or so before our booking, we had a short stroll around the village. There were quite a few people around enjoying the sunshine and it seemed that some had arrived a couple of days early before the traditional Whit race meeting which started on Saturday. Spectators were allowed this year.

The village shop
Cartmel Priory church

Then on to the bistro

Rogan and Co. is branded as the “relaxed neighbourhood restaurant in the magical village of Cartmel“and is part of the culinary empire of Simon Rogan which includes L’Enclume, which is just round the corner, and which featured in second episode of series one of The Trip which starred Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon.  L’Enclume would have been pushing the budget a bit, but Rogan and Co., with it’s Michelin Star, was still a special birthday experience.

All the courses were nicely presented and were very tasty. These were my choices

Non-alcoholic G & T
Freshly baked bread
Roasted lamb, pickled jasmine, pea & mint – chunks of lamb shoulder immersed in a pea based sauce (veloute?)
Roasted skate wing, asparagus, turnip & mussel cream
Mascarpone sponge, gooseberry, yoghurt & woodruff
Fudge, accompanying the after dinner coffee
J’ pud – Dark chocolate fondant, celery milk & maldon sea salt

After I settled the bill, feeling full, but not over stuffed (the sign of a well balanced meal) we went for another wander around the viallge, across the racecourse and through the woods, making the most of the start of summer – especially as we’d been rather starved of sunshine during May this year.

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The former Priory gate house
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The old village lock up
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Make Yourself Comfortable at Chatsworth

During our recent visit to Chatsworth we bought a combined House and Garden ticket for although our main motivation for visiting was to see the Beyond Limits exhibition in he gardens, we also wanted to have another look around the house to revisit the collection of Modern Art on display. We’d also read that there was an exhibition of contemporary seating taking place. Initially I wasn’t sure it would be of much interest, but, as it happened, I was wrong!

The Chatsworth website told us that:

Make Yourself Comfortable at Chatsworth will see items from the private collection of the Duke and Duchess showcased alongside furniture by internationally acclaimed and innovative designers – from Thomas Heatherwick and Amanda Levete, to Marc Newson, Tokujin Yoshioka, Piet Hein Eek and Moritz Waldemeyer. The exhibition will also showcase thought-provoking, specially commissioned pieces, including Raw Edges’ End Grain seating which will become part of the Sculpture Gallery, and Synthesis IV by emerging designer Tom Price which will be on display in the Chapel.

Chairs and other types of seating were positioned around the house and visitors were allowed to take advantage of them, try them out and rest their legs for a while.

Some of the chairs were very comfortable

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Others less so!

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These were the first we saw. Designed to spin around so you could view the painted ceiling in the entrance hall (if you didn’t lose you balance and fall off!)

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These were chairs designed for readers (I think Milady would like these)

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A bench made of coal

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and one of resin infused with bitumen

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both reflecting the Dukes of Devonshire’s association with the mineral extraction industries.

Some others we saw

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Towards the end of the tour of the house, in the dining room, around the large dining table there were chairs designed by students from Sheffield

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Finally, in the sculpture hall a very interesting collection specially created for the exhibition

(an) indoor landscape created by Raw Edges in the Sculpture Gallery, where benches and stools emerge like tree trunks from the coloured grid-like floor and offer new perspectives of the sculptures.

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Haddon Hall

DSC01868Haddon Hall is on the A6, just a few miles south of Bakewell, and is, along with Chatsworth, one of the main tourist attractions in the area.It’s quite different from the Georgian mansion owned by the Duke of Devonshire though. Although altered over the years it’s largely a medieval and Elizabethan house. The house is owned by  the family of the Duke of Rutland and it is currently occupied by Lord Edward Manners, the brother of the current Duke. But as these grand houses are expensive to run, parts of the building opened for paying visitors.

Visitors first enter via the gate below the north west tower intothe grand Lower Courtyard with it’s mainly medieval facade

DSC01883At the south west end of courtyard is the chapel, which at one time was  the parish church for the nearby village of Nether Haddon. The oldest part, with the alter, was built in the 14th Century.

Of particular interest are the frecoes on the walls. In England we’re used to our churches having pretty plain walls. In earlier times they would have been highly decorated, but this all during and after the Protestant Reformation as the Protestants viewed large scale religious images and sculpture as a form of idolatory. So sculptures in churches were removed or destroyed and frescoes obliterated or covered over. The frescoes in the chapel suffered the latter fate but were rediscovered when it was renovated.

Although the colours have faded the paintings are in remarkably good condition. I felt that they had something of an “Arts and Crafts” Movement look  – the foliage pattern being rather reminiscent of some of William Morriswallpaper designs. But this is, perhaps, not surprising given that the Arts and Crafts artists were very much influenced by the medieval period.

Then into the Banqueting Hall. Originally this was the Medieval Great Hall where everyone in the household would have lived, ate and slept – including the Lord, his family, various hangers-on and the servants. Social standing was denoted by conventions such as the nobles dining table being located on a raised dais. Over time the Lord and his family moved out to live in their own private rooms and apartments elsewhere in the house as it was expanded and extended.

Then into the Tudor style kitchens. I doubt that the current occupants have their meals prepared here!

The kitchens date from 1370,  and with the Banqueting Hall are the oldest part of the house. There are three separate areas for butchery, baking and cooking.  Stone bread ovens, chopping blocks, and water troughs are still in place.

A number of later, domestic rooms are open to visitors, but the most interesting is the rather magnificent Long Gallery

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Long Galleries were an Elizabethan status symbol. They were used for taking exercise – walking up and down, particularly when the weather wasn’t to clever (likely to be often the case in this part of the world!), playing games, displaying art coll and for entertaining guests.

At Haddon Hall the large windows, with their diamond shaped panels which allow in the maximum amount of sunlight, overlook the gardens.

DSC01896Finally,into the gardens. Given the time of the year many of the plants had died back, but with their views of the house and over the River Wyre and the Derbyshire countryside, it was still very pleasant to stroll around them.

A sunny day in Kendal

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It was a very pleasant sunny day last Saturday, so, after we’d had a look at the exhibition at Abbot Hall,  we had some dinner in a little vegetarian cafe we like that’s just along the river towards the town centre and had some dinner. After that we walked over the river and up the hill to the castle. Not a long walk but a short steep climb and good views at the top. Here’s some of the photographs I took

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A fine autumn day at Dunham Massey

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It was a beautiful autumn day on Sunday. far too nice to stay in doors decorating the house. So after dinner (the midday meal in the north of England) we decided to drive over to Dunham Massey, the property, gardens and deer park owned by the National Trust – the painting can wait until a rainy day!

Dunham Massy is south of Manchester on the border with Cheshire (although historically in the county of Cheshire) on the outskirts of Altrincham. The house and estate used to be owned by the Earls of Stamford and was left to the Trust when the last Earl died childless in the mid 1970’s. We’ve visited the estate many times before as it’s only about 30 or 40 minutes drive away. We didn’t bother going inside the house but spent a pleasant afternoon walking round the gardens and parkland. Lots of other people, not surprisingly, had had the same idea so the park was busy. There’s a large car park so we were able to find a space but it was pretty full.

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The park and gardens are very flat, and although I like a few hills to climb, sometimes it’s nice to have an easy walk in some pleasant surroundings.

Given the time of year the trees were displaying their autumn colours. In a few weeks there probably won’t be many leaves left on their branches but they looked very attractive.

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There’s a good selection of plants in the garden providing colour and interest throughout the seasons

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The NT are continuing to develop the garden. They’ve added plants that display colour and create interest to create a winter garden and we noticed that they’ve been creating a new rose garden that will open next summer.

There was a great view over the lake at the back of the house

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Walking around the park we spotted some deer

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near to the “deer shelter” – a folly really as deer don’t like being indoors.

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As it was the rutting season the majority of the herd had retreated to the deer sanctuary. There were some strange noises coming out of there as the stags were trying to attract mates and we spotted some stags and does in the distance almost hidden amongst the trees and bracken.

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We carried on walking through the parkland back towards the house, past the ponds that were originally used to supply water to the estate.

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We had a coffee and cake in the cafe, upstairs in the old stable block before heading back to the car and setting off back home.

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By the sea at Sunderland

Mention Sunderland and most people will probably picture a northern industrial town struggling (like most northern towns) to overcome the north-south divide and bias towards the south of England, or a middling Premier League football club with quite a nice stadium. They wouldn’t be wrong. But there’s more to Sunderland than that. Although it’s on the coast, most people are probably not aware that it’s quite a pleasant sea-side town as well with a beautiful sandy bay extending across the Roker and Seaburn districts, which are just north of the city centre.

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The bay extends for a mile or so from the old port in the south at the Roker end to the start of the cliffs at the north of the Seaburn stretch of the bay. There’s a promenade extending along the full length of the beach which has a blue flag status. When the tide goes out there’s a large, flat sandy each. I reckon the sea must be pretty cold all year round – it is the North Sea after all – but it’s popular with surfers as well as children who want to splash in the water (and some adults too).

There are the usual typical features of the English seaside with a stretch of cafes, restaurants and fish and chip shops, and a small funfair. The buildings on the promenade at the southern Roker end are mainly hotels and guest houses while the north end of Seaburn is a little more up market, dominated by housing.

The painter L S Lowry, who hailed from Manchester, used to come up to Seaburn for holidays in the Seaburn hotel – now long gone and replaced by a block of flats –  and there are a number of his paintings and drawings featuring the sea and promenade. Some examples can be seen here.

Pencil drawing by L S Lowry “A Promenade” (1960) Source here

We were up there earlier this week visiting family and, as we usually do when we travel up to Sunderland, we found some time to have a walk along the promenade and on the beach. It was a cold day with a grey sky, but it’s always nice to take in some sea air. The sea was fairly rough and there were a number of surfers  riding the waves. We also saw three very hardy children dressed in their swimming costumes braving the cold water.

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We’ve walked along the promenade and beach a few times during previous visits during the spring and summer where I’d taken a number of photos.

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Roker beach during the summer

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Looking out to sea from Seaburn promenade

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Looking towards the promenade from the end of the pier on a summer evening.

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Fishermen on the pier at sunset on a summer evening

After eating some fish and chips for our dinner (or lunch if you’re from the south) we drove a mile further north along the coast, past Whitburn up to Souter Lighthouse where we parked up and went for a walk along the cliffs. The land along the coast from Whitburn up to South Shields is now owned by the National Trust and has been preserved from development, creating a coastal park making it possible to walk all along the coast from the old port at Sunderland to South Shields.

At one time much of this land was industrial with Souter lighthouse sandwiched between the Marsden pit to the south and Marsden Village, built to house the miners, to the north. All of this is long gone. The pit was closed in the late sixties and it was demolished son after along with the village.

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Today there’s a pleasant walk along the cliffs from which there are some stunning views of the rocky coastline and out to sea.

The sky was grey and dramatic and the sun kept breaking through the clouds lighting up the crests of the waves and creating some interesting effects.

Jaume Plensa at the YSP

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This was our fifth trip over the Pennines to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park in three years. It’s certainly become one of our favourite destinations for a cultural day trip. It’s well worth the journey as there is always plenty to see with frequently changing temporary exhibitions.

The current main exhibition showcases the work of the Catalan sculptor Jaume Plensa. (If you’re wondering how to pronounce his name, we had to ask, it’s Jaamer – like in pyjamas). He’s known over this side of the Pennines as the creator of the giant head overlooking the M62 near St Helens – “Dream”. Coincidentally, we’d seen one of his works a few weeks ago which was shown as part of the “Art on lake” exhibition in Budapest.

The other major exhibitions we’ve seen at the YSP mainly consisted of abstract works, most of Plensa’s sculptures are figurative – they feature the human body (or parts of it). Like Anthony Gormley, some of his pieces are based on his own body.  In particular, the collection of seated figures “hugging trees” – “The heart of trees” – displayed on the lawn in front of the Underground Gallery.

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Some of his works, like “Dream” in St Helens are large scale. and this is reflected in the works displayed at the YSP. You can’t miss the two large heads, “Nuria and Irma”, located on top of the Underground Gallery. They’re very effective. Their construction, from quite fine wire mesh, means that they’re very nebulous. They’re there, but they’re not there – if that makes any sense. And although each of the heads is looking in one direction, their “gaze” seem to follow you as you walk around the Bothy garden.

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There are giant heads inside the Underground Gallery too. “In the midst of dreams” consists of three large translucent heads, lit from the inside sat on large marble pebbles. They look like giants about to emerge from underground.

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A number of his sculptures were constructed of metal letters and symbols from  other alphabets and languages welded together to form a human body sat down with the arms around the legs in a distinctive pose. The sculpture we’d seen in Budapest was another of these. There were four pieces of this type displayed at the YSP. One of them, “The tree of knowledge”, standing at the top of the Bothy Garden, is over eight metres high and is constructed so you can walk inside so the sky and surroundings can be viewed through the structure.

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Words and language seems to be a major inspiration. They feature in a good number of the works. In some cases the sculptures are entirely made up of words and symbols. In other cases words and letters feature on the surface.

Unlike many other exhibitions where touching of sculptures displayed indoors isn’t allowed, and photographs forbidden, photography was permitted and you were actively encouraged to interact with some (but not all) of the works. As well as the “The tree of knowledge”, There are three works inside the Underground Gallery where interaction is possible. The long curtain of words – “Twenty-four Palms” consisting of lines from poems and texts that have inspired the artist – hanging in the concourse in the Underground Gallery, the two cabinets “Song of Songs I and II” which you can get inside, and the circle of large gongs (“Jerusalem”) installed in one of the galleries which visitors can hit (not too hard though!).

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I think my favourite work was the collection of “Alabaster heads” displayed in the Underground Gallery. They were young female heads, distorted so that they are elongated (like the girl’s head in “Dream”). They were lit by spotlights with no background lighting and parts of the stone seemed to be fluorescent. They made a strong impression on me. In some ways the lighting made them look “spooky”, enhanced by the sound drifting in from the gongs being struck in the adjacent room and the tinkling produced by the visitors interacting with “The tree of knowledge” .  But they also invoked a feeling of peace and tranquillity.

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The exhibition, which was due to finish in the autumn, has had its run extended into next year. I expect I’ll be going back. As well as the main exhibition there is a constantly changing programme of exhibitions in three other indoor galleries on the site and there are a large number of magnificent sculptures and structures displayed outdoors, including major works by Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth.  With the opening of the nearby Hepworth Gallery in the town centre, Wakefield has become the “capital of sculpture”.

Fort George

(image from www.cairngormmountain.co.uk)

During my second visit to Inverness a few weeks ago I took some time out to visit Fort George, a Georgian military fortress which is still used as an army barracks but which is also open to the public care of Historic Scotland, the Scottish equivalent of English Heritage.

The Fort was built just after the battle of Culloden, when the Government forces defeated “Bonnie Prince Charlie’s” army of Jacobin rebels, to replace the original Fort George in inverness. It formed the eastern end of the triad of forts built along the Great Glen to help keep control over the Highlands (Fort William and Fort Augustus being the other two). By the time it was finished in 1769 it was already a “white elephant” as the expected threat from the Highlands never materialised as the Scots settled into being part of the British Empire. So rather than being a bulwark against the savage Highland clans ended up being used as a garrison and training post for Scottish regiments. It’s still used for that purpose today.

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It would be a pretty grim place to be based. Miles away from anywhere, stuck out on a peninsula projecting out into the Moray Firth so that its surrounded on three sides by water. However, it’s a very interesting, completely intact18th century military structure, which, never having seen a shot fired in anger, is in excellent condition. It reminded me of the town walls of Berwick upon Tweed which we visited last year. Although the Berwick defences were originally Elizabethan, the same principles of construction and design were applied to the walls and fortifications of Fort George. The Fort was designed by William Skinner and the construction was supervised by William Adam, the father of the well known architects John and Robert Adam. The defences surrounding the garrison are typical of the period and consist of complex ramparts, massive bastions, ditches and firing steps.

To get into the Fort you first have to pass through a series of outworks before passing over a drawbridge, built over a deep ditch, overlooked by gun ports located in projecting bastions to both sides.

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Once through the main gate the garrison had the appearance of a model Georgian new town, only with the rows of buildings surrounding parade grounds rather than elegant squares. The larger houses, build for the officers, looked like typical grand Georgian town houses.

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One thing that fascinated me about the buildings was the unusual way the walls were constructed. They were build from irregular stone blocks with rows of smaller stones used to fill the gaps.

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During the visit I got talking with a couple of local Scout leaders, who were there to help supervise a gathering of Beavers being held at the fort. They told me that the stone used to construct the fort was recycled or “robbed” from the original Fort George in Inverness and from other local buildings. I think that explains this unusual style as rather than redress the stone to size (which would waste material and require addition stone) they used the original blocks, infilling with the smaller pieces.

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Like Berwick, the defensive walls of the fort were constructed of earth with a stone outer facing, the earth being better able to absorb the impact of any projectiles that hit the walls. It was possible to make a complete circuit, which gave good views over the garrison buildings and out over the Moray Firth, across to Inverness, the Black Isle and the mountains beyond.

There were a number of artillery pieces located around the walls, including cannon and mortars. None were originally from the fort but were typical examples of armaments that would have been used in the fort that had been brought in from elsewhere by Historic Scotland.

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The small chapel at the north end of the garrison was fairly simple in style, both in terms of its architecture and interior fittings and decoration.

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One interesting feature was the angel playing the bagpipes which formed one of the panels in one of the stain glass windows behind the altar.

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I ended up staying about 3 1/2 hours exploring the fort, much longer than I’d expected.

Chester Cathedral

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Despite visiting Chester regularly in connection with my work for almost 20 years, I’d never been inside the Cathedral. Like many other cathedrals in Britain, the original building was Romanesque, but it was gradually changed and remodelled in the Gothic style. There are still some remnants of the original building visible inside – included a round arch in the North Transept and some sections of the west end of the Nave around the Baptistery. It was originally founded as a monastery in 1092, and still has many monastic features, including cloisters. These survived the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII as it had already become a cathedral.

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The cathedral is built in dark Cheshire sandstone. Outside, classic Gothic features, including pointed arches, large stained glass windows, flying buttresses and pinnacles, are clearly visible. However the exterior was remodelled during restoration work  during the Victorian period between 1868 and 1876 and so, according to the guide book, “does not reflect the medieval interior”.

Inside, entering via the Cloisters into the west end of the Nave, my initial impression was that it wasn’t as grand and ornate as York Minster, that I’d visited a few weeks before, but it was still an impressive building.

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Looking down the Nave

The Nave has the classic features of high pointed arches, piers composed of multiple elements with moulded arches. The roof is supported by ribbed vaulting with a central rib and decorative, non-structural liernes, the rib joints disguised by ornate bosses. There is a clearstorey (an upper level with windows to light the interior) although the windows are glazed with plain glass, unlike those in the aisles which all contained stained glass some clearly quite modern. Checking the guide book confirms this, revealing that the windows in the south wall were donated by the local “big wig”, the Duke of Westminster” in 1992.

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One of the windows in the Nave south wall

The aisle on the north side of the Nave has few windows as the Cloisters are on this side of the building. Instead the wall is decorated by a series of Victorian murals.

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Mural on the Nave north wall

The great West Window almost fills the west wall of the Nave. Again, it’s glass is relatively new, installed in 1961.

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The Great West Window

The North Transept contains  some of the oldest parts of the cathedral, including the round Norman arch mentioned above. It stands right next to a later Gothic arch, making it’s presence particularly obvious.

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Romanesque and Gothic arches in the North Transept

The structure of the Transept is similar to the Nave. Besides the Norman arch the features that particularly stood out for me were the very ornate organ loft and the large stained glass window in the south wall which dates from 1887.

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Under the organ loft

The cathedral tower stands above the crossing of the Nave and Transept. It was started around 1300 and took about 150 years to build. It’s not possible to go up the tower at the moment, but there are plans to open it up to the public in the future. The tower used to house the cathedral’s bells, but in the 1960’s there were concerns about the stresses the bells were placing on the tower and they were relocated into a newly built modern bell tower outside the old cathedral in 1975.

The Quire is separated from the Nave by a carved wooden screen. It has a painted ceiling supported, like that in the Nave by ribbed vaulting decorated by ornate bosses covering the joins.

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Looking along the Quire

The Quire stalls are very old, dating from around 1380, and they’re in remarkably good condition. The East window, which has relatively simple tracery, is filled with colourful stained glass.

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The Quire stalls

In the south east corner, the Lady Chapel, built around 1270, has  some attractive Lancet windows and relatively simple decoration, redolent of the Early English Gothic style. It has some very old bosses in the simple ribbed ceiling, dating from 1250 to 1275.

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The Lady Chapel

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Lancet windows in the Lady Chapel

The Chapter House and Cloisters were part of the original monastery. The cloisters dating from 12th century and the Chapter House, the first part of the cathedral to be built in the Gothic style (the conversion of the original Romanesque church started after it was completed), from the 1260’s. The Chapter House has lancet windows, although some of the glass is Victorian, being installed in 1872.

The Chapter House Vestibule is very interesting. It has a low ceiling making it easy to admire the Gothic vaulting.

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Chapter House Vestibule

The Cloisters are on the colder north side of the church, which is unusual. This is because there was not enough room to build them on the sunnier south side due to the encroachment of the rapidly expanding medieval city of Chester. They’re built in a mixture of styles – Romanesque in the older parts with the later ones showing typical Gothic features.

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The Cloisters

The Cloisters surround a very pleasant garden that has a very distinctive statue – “the Water of Life” – by Stephen Broadbent, which was installed in 1994. Unfortunately access to the garden wasn’t permitted during my visit. When I enquired I was told that this was due to high winds (it had been particularly windy that morning). I was disappointed as I couldn’t see the statue properly through the old glass in the windows.

The Water of Life (source: http://www.chestertourist.com)

I think that the cathedral is a fine example of Gothic architecture, with some attractive features from both the Early English and Decorated periods. It was also good to be able to see the earlier Romanesque features that are still present in the building. Having taken so long to get round to visiting for the first time I’ll certainly visit it again in the near future. One visit is never enough to gain a full impression of such a grand structure.