Posted in Gardening, History

Two (well, five) go to Erddig

Busy week last week including a friend’s funeral, and a big family day out in North Wales. Hence not much time to post on here!

The day out was lovely. We caught up with my mother in law and her two sisters, and all five of us went to Erddig, a big stately home near Wrexham that’s now owned by the National Trust. I last went with my parents soon after the NT opened it to the public, but I didn’t remember much.

It turned out to be fascinating. It’s one of these “time capsule” properties where everything has been left just as though the original family had popped out to the shops. And as they were mad collectors, the house is jammed full of “stuff” that’s either beautiful or weird, or sometimes both. There’s also more emphasis on the servants’ lives and quarters than in many properties, with the kitchen, dairy, scullery, washroom, bake-house, tack-room, carriage house, stables, house-keeper’s room, butler’s pantry and maids’ bedrooms on display, and I think I enjoyed those the most.

The gardens are gorgeous and we strolled around the avenues of pleached limes, a rose garden with lots of flowers already out, and various ponds and lakes. And there were goslings (see above)!

The whole place is too big to see in one visit so we’ll definitely be heading back for another look soon.

Posted in History, Museums & galleries

Two see a seaplane…

Windermere Jetty museum held a science festival over the weekend. Possibly as part of it, or possibly as a bonus, they were also hosting a display by the replica seaplane Waterbird, so on Saturday morning we strolled down for a look.

Waterbird is, I believe, the very first seaplane to have taken off from water in the UK. Its first flight was from Windermere in 1911. Recently a team of engineers and enthusiasts have rebuilt her from scratch and have been holding a series of flight trials over the lake to try to recreate that first flight.

It hasn’t been easy as there were few blueprints for the design, but the end result featured in an episode of Warplane Workshop on Channel 4. We watched that last year and were fascinated, and seeing it in real life was every bit as good.

Sadly, we couldn’t see it in flight as the engine had blown a fuse (or more accurately, a piston) the previous day. But it was moored at the end of one of the museum’s many jetties and we got a good look at it. It looks so frail and unwieldy that it’s hard to believe it would ever fly, but the pilot has got it into the air above Windermere several times. We also had a chat with a couple of the team who were a mine of information and anecdotes.

With the added bonus of coffee with a stunning view of the lake, a quick dart round the rest of the museum, and some ducklings, it made a lovely morning out.

Posted in Books, History

Run Wild, Run Free: the historical bits

My latest book is a bit of a departure for me. Most of my books are contemporary, and the historical bits are woven in via ghosts or memories or secondary characters. But in this case I set the whole thing slap bang in the mid 1950s. So, where did all the history come from?

Well, if you wander over to my fellow romance author and good friend Ellie Thomas’s blog today, you can find out. She’s very kindly hosted a guest post where I explain exactly where I got the history for Run Wild, Run Free – and it may not be where you’d expect!

Check out Ellie’s blog here and see if you agree that recent history can be harder to write about than the distant past…

Note: Ellie has also made the gorgeous graphic at the top of the post, which sums up the book absolutely beautifully!

Posted in Cumbria, History

Skiing, bridges and geese, oh my

Among Kendal’s many unusual features (two castles, three rivers and the widest church in the country) is something really unexpected – a dry ski slope. It’s hidden away at the foot of the ‘new’ castle hill, which is a great place for it as the hillside is steep enough to provide descending skiiers with a good head of steam.

Dave has been a member of the club for the last year or so and heads off every Monday during the winter season for skiing lessons. The season has now ended but yesterday the club had a ‘last hurrah’ racing event, with hundreds of people turning up and taking part. We strolled along too and watched as skiiers hurtled down two different slalom courses, and it was fascinating to see close-hand something I’d only ever watched on television before. I had no idea, for instance, that slalom poles give out a dull ‘thwack’ when they’re hit with ski poles, because that sound is usually drowned out by the scrape of skis on icy snow, by the crowd shouting, by the commentary and even music.

Afterwards we had a mooch into Kendal, past the maze of old factories in the area known as Canal Head where the old Lancaster canal terminated. During the heyday of canals this area teemed with wharves and warehousing; many of the buildings have been abandoned or turned to other purposes (a funeral parlour, a trendy bar) but there are still factories making unusual products like snuff and Kendal Mint Cake.

And we finally got to cross the brand new Gooseholme Bridge, which was only opened last year. The previous bridge was washed away in the devastating floods of Storm Desmond and it’s taken all this time to design and build a new one. The new bridge makes use of local stone, has a great view of the river and the stone piers of the old bridge, and even incorporates a plaque of flying geese as a nod to the area’s name.

Posted in Cumbria, History, Nature

Another nice Sunday stroll

Off to Ambleside this week, for a walk through countryside that’s just tinged with the first autumn colour, even on a damp misty morning with the clouds looming over the fells.

We only had limited parking this time so couldn’t fit in one of the longer walks. Luckily Ambleside is strewn with shorter routes that are every bit as lovely, and steep enough to get the old lungs burning!

We walked up the Kirkstone Road as far as the turn off to Scandale, then chose the lower route which heads out through fields and a farmyard to the old pack-horse bridge over Scandale Beck known as Low Sweden Bridge. I believe the name has something to do with the Scandinavian miners brought in to work nearby quarries and mines, although I stand to be corrected on that.

There are frequent stunning views over the Ambleside rooftops to Loughrigg and the higher fells beyond, and the last little section of walk is through woodland where we’ve seen nuthatches hopping around before now. None this week, just an old abandoned gate to nowhere propped up against the wall. It made me think of Narnia. If I opened it and went through, I wonder where I’d end up…

Posted in History, Local stuff

Two find some ‘treasure’

Not real treasure, obviously! But perhaps the next best thing. During the last heatwave we were struggling for somewhere cooler to go and hit on GB Antiques at Lancaster, which is a vast indoor space stuffed with antiques, collectables and general vintage clobber. It was a good choice; not ‘cool’ perhaps but it was at least out of the relentless sun and the open spaces meant it felt ventilated. And the huge collection of goodies is always great to browse round.

This time we weren’t really looking for anything in particular, but I came away with a few bits of unexpected ‘treasure’. One was a tiny Toby jug, which was very cute but cracked, so it had been reduced to just £5. At that price it’s perfect for keeping pens in and now has pride of place on our old desk in the dining room.

And just as we were heading for the exit, I came across these pretty leaf-shaped bowls which are Carnival glass – a kind of iridescent glass in lovely shades of blue, green or orange that dates from around the 1950s and was mostly made in America. My Mum had a rose bowl in the blue colourway which she was really fond of. Sadly we didn’t manage to rescue it when her house was sold and I’ve always regretted it, and never been able to find a replacement. So it was lovely to stumble across these dishes, which are prettier and more iridescent than the photo makes them look and light up beautifully under a lamp. Even better, they were priced at a slightly staggering £2 each, so I bought four!

A few days later we discovered that the owner of the business, Allan Blackburn, had died the day before we went. The Westmorland Gazette ran a fascinating obituary about this local personality who was related to John Logie Baird and worked in a Lloyd Loom furniture factory. Apparently he bought the site, which used to be the Hornsea Pottery works, in 1990 and opened a Sunday antiques market, which has since mushroomed into one of the country’s largest antiques and collectibles centres. The ‘GB’ in the name comes from his wife Gloria, whilst the fibre glass bull over the main door celebrates an occasion in 2003 when a bull escaped (probably from the nearby abattoir) and got into the store. Talk about bulls in china shops! The article doesn’t mention how much damage it did, but I’m quite glad I wasn’t visiting at the time…

Posted in Cumbria, History, scenery

A Sunny Sunday Stroll

After a drizzly start on Sunday morning the clouds rolled back to be replaced by glorious sunshine. We jumped in the car and dashed over to Ambleside, still reasonably early so as to avoid the crowds. First stop was coffee at Freshers Cafe (very pleasant with a flower-filled garden and some entertaining dogs) and then we set off to walk along the Under Loughrigg lane as we didn’t have our boots on and thought some of the other tracks might be too muddy.

Last time we tried this route it was sleeting diagonally and so utterly horrible that we wimped out and took a short cut back to the car. This time there were no such problems; it was perfect weather for walking – warm without being hot, and clear enough for some lovely views towards the fells. And we’d left ourselves enough time to walk all the way to Pelter Bridge (above) on the outskirts of Rydal, which we’ve never quite managed before.

The bridge, built in the style of a pack-horse bridge, is a well-known landmark over the River Rothay, visible whilst tearing past in a car on the main A591 between Ambleside and Grasmere. It turns out to be Grade II listed; the listing describes it as ‘date unknown’ but given that it’s in parkland near Rydal Hall I’m betting it was built by the hall’s owners at some point. It’s very pretty, at any rate!

There were plenty of walkers about, especially at the Rydal end where there’s a car park in staggering distance of the lane, but it was never crowded and it was great to get out for a nice country stroll on such a lovely day.

Posted in archaeology, Cumbria, History, romance, scenery

Taking the High Road

Oh, how fascinating: there’s going to be an archaeological excavation along High Street – the mountain and the presumed Roman road that runs up and over it – this August.

I mentioned this road in my vampire novella Echoes of Blood, where main character Daniel is lecturing on Roman history at Liverpool University. Researching the subject on the excellent site, I found that thanks to new Lidar surveys there’s considerable doubt over whether the road is really Roman. I’ll be keeping an eye on any results this excavation unearths to see whether that’s the case or not.

I’d quite like to take part myself but the thought of climbing to over 2,700 feet above sea level before I’ve even wielded a trowel is slightly off-putting. And the dig organisers can hardly lay on buses to take everyone to the top! But there is a call for volunteers for the project if anyone is interested. The scenery is spectacular, and there’s that puzzle over Roman or not Roman to help solve…

If you can get past all the annoying ads and pop-ups, there’s a piece with more details in the Westmorland Gazette. At least, I’m assuming there are more details. I’m on the naughty step there for having read too many articles so I can’t actually tell!

Posted in archaeology, Books, History, LGBT, paranormal, romance

Rainbow Snippets: Trench Warfare

Here’s my latest offering for the Rainbow Snippets Facebook group, which encourages its members to post six lines from one of their books and then link back to it on the group.

This week I’ve chosen Trench Warfare, my low-heat, fun, paranormal-meets-archaeology m/m romance set on the excavation from hell. I think this is actually seven lines – but hey, who’s counting? – and it’s from where the main character, Steve, first notices something odd about the site…

And I like this time of day, too. The evening light just hanging on; the sound of Bill and Ben, my last remaining staff, talking as they measured out a grid for tomorrow’s work. The breeze rustling the leaves of nearby trees. The gentle tolling of the bell.          

What the hell? It must have been a car horn or a mobile phone. It couldn’t be a bell because there was no bell to toll. No bell because no bell tower. No bell tower because no priory.

There’s a lot more to the book than Steve tracking down whatever that bell was, including a missing priory, a dodgy businessman, an overly helpful assistant who causes his own problems, and something nasty lurking in the undercroft. If you’d like to read more, the book’s available for only £2.99 (or your local equivalent) on Kindle, or free on Kindle Unlimited. Find Trench Warfare here.

Happy reading, and watch out for the ghost…!

Posted in archaeology, Cumbria, History, Museums & galleries

Two go to a Roman exhibition

I’d been trying to get to Carlisle ever since my friend Les Morris first told me about a Roman exhibition at the city’s Tullie House museum. Les is a member of Carlisle’s cricket club, and had been in ‘on the ground’, as it were, for the repairs following Storm Desmond’s destruction back in 2015. He knew that during those repairs, archaeologists had discovered new areas of Carlisle’s third century Roman fort, including a previously undiscovered bath-house, and links to the imperial court.

The discoveries were of international importance, and it was only right that the local (and excellent) museum should get first dibs on showing off the finds. Sadly, the intervening months have been a nightmare of Covid, train strikes, other commitments, and general Stuff Getting in the Way. But finally, a couple of weeks ago, Dave and I managed to take a Friday off and shoot up to Carlisle on the train. There we met another friend, Angela King, and the three of us headed for Tullie House to have a good mooch round the Uncovering Roman Carlisle exhibition.

I’m ashamed to say that I was so busy nattering to Angela that I didn’t pay nearly enough attention to the displays. However, I do remember seeing lots of Roman tiles, many of them from the columns of a hypocaust (Roman central heating) system, and many featuring flaws, mis-firings, and the footprints of animals from where they were laid out in the sun to dry. I wondered whether the Romans who built the bath-house had deliberately used seconds and off-cuts in places that wouldn’t be seen, which if true, is a delightfully human trait.

The link to the imperial court escapes me, although it has something to do with markings that suggest imperial troops were present in the city (and presumably, with them, the emperor) at a time when nobody expected them to be. I tried to look up more detail online but couldn’t find anything, so will have to hope that information trickles through as the results of the excavation are analysed a bit more.

After lunch we had a further mooch around a separate exhibition running side-by-side with the Roman Carlisle one, focussing on artefacts from all the most far-flung regions of the Roman empire. The northernmost border for most of that time was Hadrian’s Wall, which ran pretty much through Carlisle, and it was represented by a gorgeous little enamelled bowl featuring forts along the wall: a genuine Roman souvenir! Another sign of just how like us the Romans were.

And after that, we explored the permanent displays on the Roman period at Tullie House. There are a lot of them as Carlisle was so important in Roman times, and I was tickled pink to come across a plaque (pictured above) about the famous Ninth Legion, which vanished from all records in a rather mysterious way. I first heard about this legion at school and have been fascinated ever since – so much so I included it as a backstory in my vampire romance Echoes of Blood.

The Uncovering Roman Carlisle exhibition has ended now (we sat it on its second-to-last day), but it’s touring the area around the city so if you’re nearby and would like to see the discoveries for yourself, head to the Tullie House website for more details. You won’t be disappointed.