Two go exploring in Glenridding

We used to call in at Glenridding quite often, usually to go walking. There are some great paths on the lower fells between the village and the slopes of Helvellyn which dominate it, and some pretty amazing industrial archaeology left over from the area’s lead mining heritage. But for the last couple of years we haven’t been.

Partly this was due to lack of time, but also partly because the village (and indeed the whole area) was so badly devastated by Storm Desmond that it was too upsetting to go back. However, Desmond’s catastrophic floods, and the three more that followed so quickly afterwards, are more than two years ago now, and repairs have been going on in the village for the whole of that time. The Tourist Information Office, almost completely washed away, has been rebuilt, the beck which overflowed to such terrible effect newly lined with thick stone walls, and the Glenridding Hotel, which flooded four times, has been dried out and re-opened. So on Saturday we decided to go back.

It was a bitterly cold day with a wind strong enough to whip up waves on Ullswater. We started off by the water, with a coffee at the Pier House. This is really a glorified ticket office for boat trips on the lake, but it a few tables and chairs, teas, coffees and cake, a tiny gift shop, and the most amazing views.

After defrosting over our coffees we pottered round the pier, taking photos of the boats, the water and the village rooftops against a backdrop of the high snow-clad fells. It was too cold to hang round for long, though, so we marched back to the village and explored the lanes on both sides of Glenridding Beck. One leads to the village hall and a wonderful farmhouse whose round chimneys suggest a fifteenth or sixteenth century date. The other side passes the Travellers Rest pub then continues past lines of isolated miners’ cottages to the old Greenside lead mine, site of a disaster in 1927 when a dam burst on one of the reservoirs used to run the machinery and, er, flooded the village. It seems to be rather prone to that!

We didn’t make it quite as far as the mine this time but we had a good wander about and I took loads more photos of the cottages, and the fells which were bathed in dramatic, stormy light.

There are still a few scars on the village and the surrounding landscape which will take time to fade. But given the scale of the flooding, and film footage I’ve seen of the beck in spate, it’s wonderful that they’ve come this far with the recovery efforts. We’ll definitely be heading back.

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Stormy light over the head of Ullswater, with the high fells in thick cloud.

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Mine workers’ cottages on the way to Greenside mine.

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An unusually helpful Herdwick posing to have its picture taken…

 

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If Heyer did horror?

got ghosts frontGeorgette Heyer never did write horror, of course, but some of her more light-hearted crime novels came surprisingly close, and they’ve always been big favourites of mine.

So when I came to write Got Ghosts?, it was to those titles that I turned for some inspiration. To find out which books those were, and how they influenced my writing, pop over to Marlena Smith’s cheerful blog today and read my guest post there.

And do have a wander about while you’re there, because Marlena blogs about all things writing and authors and you never know what snippets you might find!

Inhumanly bad?

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Warning – this review contains spoilers!

We finished watching the Marvel’s Inhumans series on TV the other night. Goodness, what a disappointment. The first couple of episodes weren’t bad – an intriguing premise, reasonably interesting characters and a nice line in confusion about who the real baddies were.

But it went downhill fast. The whole thing felt rushed (8 episodes for an entire series really isn’t enough). Too often plot strands which appeared to be going somewhere interesting were shut down in the very next episode and never referred to again, and vast developments were ushered past us so quickly we kept missing their importance. Added to that, the dialogue was mostly wooden, the special effects ludicrous, and some of the acting was terrible. The exceptions to this were Ken Leung as Karnak and British actor Iwan Rheon (above) as villain Maximus, both of whom managed to bypass the dialogue to inject a bit of feeling into their characters. Anson Mount struggled heroically with the role of Black Bolt, the mute king who had to ‘sign’ all his dialogue and mostly resorting to scowling and pointing, and several of the women were no more than stock characters (the pouting princess, the kooky scientist).

In almost every department the key words seemed to be ‘every expense spared’. The mutant ‘inhumans’ had a range of dodgy special powers which were mostly useless (a young lass with butterfly wings, someone with reptile claws instead of hands – which were so obviously rubber gloves it hurt). And in many of the crowd scenes the producers had obviously used extras rather than actors, so they simply trudged onto the set, listened to whatever was going on, then trudged back off again without so much as a word. Even if they’d all just been sentenced to death.

All of this made it hard to care for most of the characters, so when one of them died it had very little emotional impact. In fact, pretty much the only character I did care about was Maximus, the king’s usurping younger brother, which led to an uneasy conflict between caring about the baddie and not particularly liking the supposed ‘goodies’.

And the ending was really unpleasant. Maximus was clearly suffering from severe mental illness, but nobody offered him any help or treatment, just locked him in a concrete bunker for all eternity. Hardly the right message to send out nowadays; it would have been unenlightened even in the 19th century, let alone the 21st.

We were left with a strong feeling of ‘if only’. With a bit of care, some decent writing and the time to develop both the themes and the characters properly, this could have been a worthy addition to the Marvel stable, and a counterpoint to all their expensive biff-bang-wallop movies that are currently doing the rounds. Word is the series has been cancelled anyway, but even if it comes back it’s touch and go if we’ll bother to watch it again.

Windermere Christmas market

P1000011On Saturday we braved the bitter cold (minus 2c, to be precise), wrapped up in our woollies and headed to the Windermere Christmas market.

The town held this for the first time last year, and great fun it was too. It was called ‘Ja Windermere’ in a slightly odd nod to German Christmas markets elsewhere, but had very little German content and this year they’d dropped the ‘Ja’ bit. Sadly, they also seemed to have dropped most of the very stuff that made it so enjoyable. Where there’d been a good range of stalls selling local crafts, gifts and produce, this year most of those had disappeared. All that was left was hot food, and drink. In other words, a whole market full of takeaway stalls.

It still seemed very popular, but I can’t help feeling that food and drink stalls are an addition, not the main event themselves. It felt rather like going to a rock concert where the band doesn’t show up, and the whole gig consists of watching the roadies assemble and disassemble the stage. I’d hoped to buy a Christmas present for my cousin, but I didn’t really think a plastic cup of mulled wine, or a cold congealed burger, would go down too well. And there wasn’t much else. We trailed up one side of the market and back down the other in about ten minutes flat, then visited some of the other shops in the town and headed home.

It’s still early days, and I’m hoping that one, it generated some useful revenue for the town, and two, they manage to bring back the local content next year. If not, I probably won’t bother going again.

Got Ghosts contest

PhotoFunia-1510852151I’ve just set up a brand new Facebook page for ‘Got Ghosts?’ and to celebrate I’m holding a daft little contest, with one free copy of the book to give away. All you need to do is pop along to the page, have a look at the photo I’ve posted there and come up with a suitably funny caption for it. The caption that makes me laugh the most wins the book!

To keep things easier to manage, please respond in the comments on the FB page post, otherwise I might miss seeing them. The contest opens today and the end time is 4pm UK time on Friday (8th December) – and I’ll announce the winner during the weekend.

Thanks, have fun, and the very best of luck!

 

Friday Five: inspiration for Greystones

There’s no such place as Greystones Hall, of course. The house, a rambling and terrifically haunted manor which features in my latest book Got Ghosts?, is a product of my own fevered imagination. The library, the chapel, the minstrels’ gallery, the attics, even the cellar, are purely fictional.

And yet… are they? Mostly the answer is still yes, but I did draw on my love of old English homes for inspiration. In particular, a group of ancient, fascinating, and sometimes haunted houses and castles that I’ve visited over the years, which include the following:

Snowshill Manor, Gloucestershire

This wonderful old Cotswolds house gave me the idea of somewhere that’s been added to, piecemeal, over many centuries. It has two distinct ‘wings’ in very different styles, and looks either Jacobean or Georgian depending on which direction you’re viewing it from. In the early 20th century its owner, the eccentric Charles Paget Wade, filled it to bursting with his own collections of antiques, models, and historical costumes including an entire army of Samurai armour! Now owned by the National Trust, and worth a visit to poke around.

Muncaster Castle, Cumbria

P1000984Based around a fourteenth century pele tower, this atmospheric castle is reputed to be one of the most haunted buildings in Britain. Ghosts include the invisible Tom Fool, and a little girl heard crying, who is believed to be Margaret Pennington. The castle’s most haunted room (allegedly) is a bedroom which is rather stage-set these days: painted in cold dark colours and with noticeably less heating and lighting than the other rooms. However, during a visit a few years ago I noticed a very odd atmosphere in a downstairs room, so perhaps the rumours are true…

Sizergh Castle, Cumbria

P1020492Another wonderfully romantic and atmospheric castle dating back to medieval times, this home has been continuously occupied by the same family, the Stricklands, since 1239. It provided some of the inspiration for the feeling of Greystones Hall having been lived in ‘for ever’. It also has a couple of “secret” rooms and a chapel, built into the thickness of the pele tower walls.

Harvington Hall, Worcestershire

harvington_frontHarvington is an incredible survivor of the religious turmoil of Tudor and Elizabethan times, which housed a Catholic family during the reign of Elizabeth I, and was rebuilt to include an incredible set of hiding places for their priests, known as priest holes. At the last count I believe there were about ten – two for church vessels and the rest for the priests themselves. In Got Ghosts? I simplified this quite a bit, but the idea of having one priest hole leading into another came from Harvington. It’s still owned by the Catholic church and well worth a visit.

Greystones Hall?

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Bits of all these houses, and probably others too, came together in my mind as the whole of Greystones. However, individually they’re probably all too large and grand for what I had in mind, which was a low-built, rambling family home rather than something stately. For this reason, this photo (borrowed from the internet!) is probably closer to the “real” Greystones Hall. Sadly, in spite of researching extensively, I don’t know much about it, except that it’s probably set in the Cotswolds. If anyone recognises it and can tell me more, I’ll be delighted.

Being Me review

BeingMeThere’s a smashing new review of the ‘Being Me’ charity anthology over at Kimmer’s Erotic Book Banter. (If you’re put off by that word ‘erotic’, by the way, don’t worry – ‘Being Me’ isn’t a particularly erotic book and as the review suggests, would be suitable for YA readers as well as sensitive adults!)

I’m absolutely bowled over by the lovely comments on my own story, The Visitor, and delighted that I seem to have achieved the effect I hoped for.

But this isn’t just about me. There are also glowing mentions for at least seven of the contributors, all of whom have written stories that are full of emotion, understanding and acceptance.

If you’re looking for a collection of lovely, inclusive stories and a stocking-filler for Christmas, then you can find the book here. And you’ll be contributing to a really good cause in the process.

Mirror, mirror…

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, which is the spookiest book of all?

Well, I don’t actually know the answer to that one, but I couldn’t help thinking of it when I saw the template for this picture on the photo editing site photofunia.com recently.

I just had to try it with Got Ghosts?, and this is the result. What do you think? It certainly puts the ‘fun’ in photofunia!

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Two go exploring in the sleet

Saturday brought a nice crisp sunny morning with snow on the high fells so we ditched the chores and shot out to take advantage of it. We headed to Coniston again because it’s not too far, and perfectly situated at the foot of the magnificent Coniston fells so there’s plenty of options for photographs.

Although everywhere looked stunning there was a knife-like wind blowing sleet flurries across the valley and the outside temperature was only about 2c, so first port of call was a café for a hot drink. This time we chose one at the far end of the high street, which used to be called something cosy like Daisy’s or Mrs Tiggywinkles, but is now the Green Housekeeper. Sadly, the welcome was rather chilly, and the assistant sneered when I chose not to make use of the loo in an unheated outhouse. Given the selection of other warmer and more cheerful establishments, I don’t think we’ll be hurrying back.

Onwards to the lake. The village of Coniston is set back from the water’s edge, so it’s a half mile (or so) walk along a lane and by the side of a tumbling beck. This leads to the rather grandly named Coniston Pier, really just some open ground with lovely views across the lake, some boat moorings, and a lovely modern café called the Bluebird after the boats the Campbell family used to set speed records here.

Annoyingly, the minute we got the maximum distance from the car the heavens opened with torrential, diagonal sleet. Dave had a hood but I didn’t, and had left my brolly in the car. We sheltered at the boat tour ticket office for a while, then set off on a long wet trudge back to the village, during which I got absolutely soaked. And the minute we got back to the main street, it stopped and the sun came out. Typical!

Never mind, I did manage to get some nice shots of the water in the mist, and of the snowy fells. We also came home with some sticky cakes from the Bluebird café, and some amazing artisan bread from a new little baker we’d not tried before. And very moreish they all were too.

Coniston (lake) in the sleet, still managing to look beautiful:

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A snow-covered Coniston Old Man looming over the village rooftops:

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