Saturday, 27 June 2015

Stamford, York, Robin Hood's Bay. Hastings Battleaxe ventures Oop North.

'Oop North' as against 'Dahn Sarth'. I tell you one thing, it's much warmer and sunnier dahn 'ere.... We had an action-packed week, seeing so many new places and things. We are very lucky to live in this country - the interest and variety is incredible.
    We set off last Thursday - over a week ago, firstly, for Stamford. I could write about trying to register for a Dart Charge account, huddled in the Hades-like Thurrock services.  Suffice it to say I managed it, then had to repeat the whole process to make a one-off payment for the crossing we had just made, and now have just had an email from the fiendish thing to say that as the account balance has dropped below the required £10.00, I have to go through the whole faff yet again to make yet another payment. Never mind that we won't be using the Dartford crossing again for ages.....
     Neither Philosopher or I had visited Stamford before. It features as the back-drop for many period dramas, e.g the TV Middlemarch, and the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film.
     It's a lovely old town, but ruined by traffic. Friends expected us to stay at the famous George Hotel, but I had read that road noise is a problem, and that it is overpriced. Chose the William Cecil instead. Another really lovely old hotel, but the first room they showed us was on the ground floor, right by the noisy road, you couldn't open the window, it was boiling hot, and there was no air-con. We didn't want that one. They had one other room left - a 'luxury' room but over the kitchen extractor fan! The kitchen fan seemed the lesser of the two evils, and indeed it was a beautiful room, but I think if you had paid full price for it you would have been a bit annoyed.
     We explored the town - all built in the same pale stone, with many fine churches, most of which still seemed to be in use.
Stamford - traffic queuing down the hill past the George Hotel

Our hotel - The William Cecil

Our lovely room - shame about the kitchen fan....


Stamford - a quieter corner

The old Stamford Assembly Rooms - now a shopping centre
     Next day we drove to York, where we were staying with Philosopher's old friends, Pete and Penny. Again, I won't go into the torrid details of our detours to find a branch of Dunelm Mill to find a pillow like mine at home, which I had forgotten.... Grantham? Bad. Retail parks on outskirts of York? Worse.
     Philosopher used to live and work in York with his first wife, I have visited years ago with my sister, who used to live near Selby, and we have both stayed with Pete and Penny before.
     Apparently the city is now over-run by stag and hen parties - seems a strange choice of destination to me. We walked into town, and Philosopher and I peeled off for a quick gallop round the Cathedral. So, we visited Canterbury one week (see previous post) and York the next. Philosopher says: 'fancy us visiting the two Sees within a week'. I'm thinking: 'What is he on about? Canterbury begins with 'C' but York begins with 'Y'. Was the man developing Alzheimers?'
     It is a grand cathedral but I prefer Canterbury's soaring columns.
York Minster

York Minster

York Minster - the Crossing

I liked this clock in York
     We had a drink in a pub - Guy Fawkes' birthplace, and then buzzed around the rest of town, Shambles etc. Too touristy and crowded. Why can't all these people stay at home?
     Next day we drove across the moors to Robin Hood's Bay, where our friend Anne from Birmingham has a house. We were also meeting our old friends Sue and Alex there. For the next few days, Anne did a brilliant job of showing us all sorts of places we would never have found for ourselves.
     Turns out Anne's house is at the top of the steep hill down to the bay, in an adjoining village called Fylingthorpe.  Just as well, because the climb up from the sea is punitive, and there is no parking down there. We walked down on the first evening - the village is a tumbling cramped tangle of old cottages clinging to the hillside. There was a big wedding party at the bottom, it was dark, misty and damp, and the tide was up, so although we managed to have a drink at the Bay Hotel, we didn't get the maximum flavour of the place. I've included photos from the internet to give a better idea.
On the way down to Robin Hood's Bay

Dark, damp and misty - tide up!

As it should look - from the internet

What a steep hill - from the internet
Bottom of the village - when we went, all the space was covered in wedding revellers....

Little dog in a cottage window

      Next day Anne took us to Sandsend, beyond Whitby, which is a  lovely, old-fashioned little place. In the afternoon we walked to Staithes, another village sloping sharply down to the sea, and home to the C19 artists colony, the Staithes Group. Once again, the weather was damp and misty, so I have included a painting of Staithes. We found a nice tea shop in the village.
      On the subject of tea shops, Anne took us to many lovely examples. Battleaxe is on a low-fat diet, and I had to watch, drooling quietly, while the others compared the merits of different Bakewell tarts.... I do think tea shops are taking over from pubs as the places to go.
      In general, I hope my photos bring out the colour of the Yorkshire greens, which are different from our Southern colours - darker, more intense. The light is very different too. Someone asked me if I got fed up of being by the sea the whole time, and I said not at all - every bit of coast is totally different. In Sandsend, I added a good few photos of ancient groynes (no, Missus, the men kept their pants on) to my collection of weathered wood pictures.



Sandsend Beach

Very weathered groyne

Like the little seaweed wigs

Walking to Staithes
Staithes, by Wilfred Ball
     Next day was wettish, so we spent the day in Whitby. The town is famous for Dracula, goths, jet, Captain Cook, whaling and fish and chips. We only had fish and chips once - too fatty for me, so I had lobster instead!
     We had a walk round the town, followed by crab sandwiches for lunch in a harbourside pub, then spent ages in the town museum, which is a mercifully unrefurbished Victorian paradise. Things are crammed into old wood and glass cases, with musty yellowed labels. They had ships in light bulbs, never mind bottles, whaling stuff, lots of Whitby jet, loads of excellent fossilised dinosaurs, and wonderfully grisly old things like a hangman's locket containing a bit of used rope, and a 'Hand of Glory' - a shrivelled, severed hand used by burglars. I wish more museums were still like that, not 'child friendly' pseudo-educational push the button places.
     I quite fancied a real Victorian jet brooch, but not when I saw the prices of them - between two and three hundred pounds....
Whitby Abbey viewed through whale jawbones

You can go for trips on this replica of Captain Cook's Endeavour

Whitby Harbour

Kipper smokery

Ships in light bulbs

Whitby jet

Stuffed birds

    The fossils inspired our friend Sue to search for real ones, and of course, I love them too (see previous post), so next day we went to Runswick Bay, which is a well-known fossil collecting place. Oh, before that we had an exceptionally chilly walk at Ravenscar, culminating in coffee at the cliff-edge Raven's Hotel, which has a romantic gothic garden. Then we went to Falling Foss.  This is a fairy-tale old house (called Midge Hall) with a tea-garden, isolated in a forest by a waterfall. We walked through the woods to an old Hermit's cave, and ate our packed lunch.
Windswept lupins at the Ravens Hotel

View from the garden at the Raven Hotel

Midge Hall, Falling Foss

The waterfall

Pretty stream

The Hermitage
      Runswick Bay is a beautiful sandy beach, but the fossils would have to be split out of the slate and shale strata using a hammer and chisel. I picked up lots of pretty stones and Philosopher found a little weathered ammonite.
The village at Runswick Bay

Runswick Bay
     On Wednesday we said goodbye to our friends and set off again, heading for Scarborough, which I had never visited. It's a grand, old-fashioned resort with a castle, a working harbour, smoothly raked golden sands, and of course, the Grand Hotel, which dominates the town. We went up to the hotel on the funicular lift. The lift-man told us it was the oldest lift in England. We thought that was just Yorkshire-is-the-best hype, and said poo-poo we have two in Hastings, so there, and they are probably older, but turns out the man was right. Theirs is 1881 while ours are 1891 and 1903. Our East Hill lift is the steepest in Britain though, and the West Hill lift the only one left that runs in a tunnel. Durr, nerdy bit done.
Scarborough, the harbour

Crab pots
Beautifully raked golden sand

The funicular

The Grand Hotel

Kittiwakes below the terrace

View from the terrace

The Palm Court ballroom

     The Grand Hotel is huge and splendid, but has sadly, seen many better days. When it was completed in 1867 it was one of the largest hotels in the world. The building is designed around the theme of time: four towers to represent the seasons, 12 floors for the months of the year, 52 chimneys symbolise the weeks, and originally there were 365 bedrooms, one for each day of the year.
     Today, it was crowded with seedy-looking persons that looked as if they were on extremely cheap coach trips, and despite my love of crumbly old grand hotels, I would not fancy staying there. As it was so crowded, we could wander about inside without hindrance, and went out on the terrace, which has the most wonderful views of Scarborough.
     There was a line of gull's nests on the ledge below the terrace. Must be a high-class, desirable billet. Looking them up I see the birds are kittiwakes. Apparently Scarborough is well-known for its unusual urban kittiwake population. 
      We stopped for coffee and then headed off. To make a change, we drove down through the emptiness of Yorkshire to the Humber Bridge,  and then on down through the even more empty expanses of Lincolnshire. We were reflecting that people who live in such places, and of course, Yorkshire, must feel so utterly remote from London, and Government must be so cut off from them. Eventually, we reached where my sister lives, in a village called Harrold, between Northampton and Bedford. When we opened the car door the heat hit us - not even the south yet, but getting much warmer.
      We finally got home yesterday afternoon. Tired.
Driving across the Humber Bridge



Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Visiting Canterbury, Whitstable and Rochester

We are now in the middle of Philosopher's Birthday Festival season. All this for a man who didn't want a birthday.....
     We reached Canterbury at lunchtime on a hot sunny day, but amazingly, managed to park at our first attempt, within 200 metres of the Cathedral. I  say amazingly, because the city was Absolutely Heaving, mostly with French schoolchildren. Do those French kids do nothing but travel about in the summer? Hastings is also full of them. We headed straight for the Cathedral. Somehow, our route took us through Primark, where I paused to grab some of their cotton/lycra teeshirts. I don't approve of Primark but those tees are the best, and the cheapest, and come in an incredible range of colours.
Canterbury - heaving
      We had to pay a lot of money to get into the Cathedral precincts. Surely, committed C of E persons should be able to gain access to the Mother Church to obtain spiritual sustenance? It says on the web-site that they welcome modern-day pilgrims, but what would they do at the entrance kiosk if someone turned up hungry, ragged, and penniless? We certainly fulfilled all those criteria by the time we had fought our way through the hordes, queued and paid £19 to get in.
       I had been to Canterbury a couple of times before, when I was about 19, visiting my best friend from school, Plum. She was at the then Christchurch teacher training college, right by the Cathedral. At that time, Plum's career plan was to be a country vicar's wife, and she was determined to net herself a curate. (In those days, our plans were a little volatile. A couple of years before, we had been all for going to Israel to fight with Moshe Dayan). Anyway, I have distinct memories of skulking round the Cathedral precincts in pursuit of one particular trainee cleric. Clearly, the bloke was gay, but it didn't occur to us back then that gayness could be an impediment to Plum's scheme.
       Back then, the Cathedral was empty. Now it is almost too crowded to appreciate. I love soaring Gothic/perpendicular interiors - think Kings College Chapel, Cambridge. It has some lovely stained glass, although much was broken during the Civil War, and a cloister with ancient graffiti on the columns. The quietest spot was down in the crypt, where the only sounds were the rustle of my Primark carrier bag, and the murmer of prayers from a little group of the faithful. The eleventh century Romanesque crypt is the oldest part of the building. I almost caught a whiff of ancient spookiness.

Canterbury Cathedral, the nave

Stained glass
Ancient carved column in the crypt.
View from the cloister
      We had a look round the very crowded town, and then set course for Whitstable.
       Our neighbours had recommended the Marine Hotel in Tankerton to us, and indeed it was very good. Old-fashioned yet modernised, helpful staff, great sea views, good food. Tankerton is about 10 minutes walk along the sea-front to the centre of Whitstable, and is obviously much quieter. Only downside was the plumbing in our bedroom. Although we were on the top floor of the hotel, the water pressure in the shower was incredibly powerful - you turned it on and it almost blew you out of the cubicle. By the time you had wrestled the shower head into its holder, everywhere was soaking and the tray was overflowing. However, Battleaxe would recommend this hotel.
Marine Hotel, Tankerton, Whitstable
       Whitstable itself was a bit disappointing. I think it is hyped up beyond belief by Londonistas and journalists, and then of course there is the Sarah Waters connection. Hastings Old Town is much better. We cruised the harbour-side, and then the town. Oysters were on sale, but I am superstitious about eating them if there is no 'R' in the month.
Whitstable Harbour

Thames sailing barge in the harbour

Huge pile of oyster shells.

       The town was full of  knick-knacky shops, too many selling the same things - driftwood candle holders, plaques of chalk-painted wood engraved with positive-thinking platitudes, artisan pottery, seashells, scented thiingummies, flowing linen garments etc. However, I did find one excellent dress shop, The Whiting Post, which sold a fabulous range of repro fifties dresses at very reasonable prices. I bought one, in a great pink flamingo print.
        We felt we had seen everything Whitstable had to offer, so the next day we set out for Rochester, planning to also visit the dockyard at Chatham. However, we found Rochester so riveting we stayed there all day. Neither of us had been before, and it was a total surprise to find a beautiful, quiet, virtually untouched Georgian High Street full of fine buildings, interesting and varied shops and quirky eateries.
Rochester - blissfully empty!
Old Corn Exchange
        Clearly, the Cathedral is not in the same architectural league as Canterbury, but it is gracious, interesting and above all, quiet - and free to enter. The nave is Romanesque, but part was restored by Gilbert Scott, and there are Pugin-esque tiles and wall paintings in the Choir.  We ate lunch sitting in a leafy garden in the Cathedral tea-rooms - old fashioned and slightly shambolic.
Rochester Cathedral

West door

The nave

West front

Tiles in the Choir

         Rochester has a splendid bridge over the Medway, a castle, and many other fine old buildings, including the Restoration House, the model for Satis House in 'Great Expectations'.  There were many other Dickens connections round the town.
Restoration House (Satis House)
         We want to see more of Rochester, and also to go to Chatham. However, I think we had both seen enough of Whitstable. With that in mind, we decided to visit Herne Bay on the way home - just to say we had visited all the places along that stretch of coast.
          We expected it to be a bit like Bognor or Hayling Island - see earlier post about those delights - and the outskirts were not inspiring. It didn't actually look too bad when we got to the sea. It has a pier, an art-deco bandstand, a  fine clock-tower, and some nice Regency terraces on the sea-front. Amy Johnson's plane disappeared off Herne Bay in 1941, and there is a memorial to her by the pier. However, the town is obviously quite run-down.
Herne Bay bandstand

Clock tower

Regency terrace

Amy Johnson's bench