Sunday, April 29, 2007

Yoxall Lodge Bluebell Woods

Yesterday was our twenty eighth wedding anniversary. Funny to think that I spent the first twenty eight years of my life unmarried and the second twenty eight married. Now you know how old I am, oh well. Doesn't time fly? Taking my cue from a lovely photo on Robert's blog when asked where I would like to go I said that I wanted to see some bluebell fields. So off we went to the woods at Yoxall Lodge. We'd never been before and weren't sure of what to expect so as the place didn't open until 10.30a.m. we went first to the Byrkley Garden Centre near Barton under Needwood for morning coffee and luscious home made cake. We then made our way over to Yoxall Lodge and the start of the walks around the woods. There were various walks of differing lengths to suit all abilities, the longest being about 2 miles. The colours were just stunning.

There is something mystical about the delicate colour of the flowers and the way they seem to stretch into infinity under the trees; a wonderful magic blue carpet. The walk reminded me of the woods near where we used to live in Derbyshire. As children, we would be taken from school by one of the teachers on what were called 'nature walks' and we would bring back the things we found to be displayed on the 'nature table,' these treasures were then suitably labelled; paintings we'd done would be displayed on the wall above the table. Also, in the evenings or at weekends, groups of us children would set off on our own around the woods and we would always come back with a bedraggled bunch of bluebells for our mothers - I don't think today's children would be allowed to do that. The flowers would be put in a jam jar or milk bottle on the kitchen windowsill. My mum used to love them. Today would have been her 91st birthday - so the bluebell visit was for her too.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Thank You Mr. Shakespeare

Apart from being St. George’s Day, today is thought to be not only the date of the birth of William Shakespeare in 1564 but also the day upon which he died in 1616. As some of you will know I am a great lover of Mr. Shakespeare and his plays so I've decided today to acknowledge this with my recollections of some of the most memorable performances I have been privileged to see. The ones where I sat enthralled, almost unaware of my own existence; the ones that left me feeling as if Ihad been touched by magic; the ones that filled me with joy and the ones where I left the theatre floating on air.

My very first experience of Shakespeare was the BBC’s 1965 production of the Wars of the Roses, seen in black and white on a small TV screen. I remember staying up late to watch with my fingers crossed that there wouldn’t be a power cut, I was beside myself with happiness then, I lived and breathed every word – I was a teenager and my family didn’t understand. My first visit to the RSC's theatre at Stratford was to see Coriolanus with Ian Richardson in the title roll. Perhaps not the best play to start with but once I’d taken that initial step I returned again and again – I was hooked.

There are many memories of countless performances but those I remember without even searching through my programme collection are as follows. A gloriously joyful The Comedy of Errors at Stratford with a cast including Judy Dench and Michael Williams. The cast came out into the audience at the end and we all joined in the final song. A stirring Henry V, again at Stratford, with Alan Howard in the title role. Nottingham Playhouse in the early seventies two equally stunning performances of Hamlet, one with Alan Bates as the Prince the other with Ian McKellan. A stunning Richard III at the National Theatre again with Ian McKellan. A dreamy and colourful Love's Labour's Lost with Ian Charleston, Alan Rickman, Richard Griffiths and David Suchet. I remember sitting through three productions in one day when the RSC at Stratford presented The Plantagenets. We sat through it all again at the Barbican in London. Last but not least a magical amateur production of A Midsummer Nights Dream on midsummer's eve at the Stamford Shakespeare Company's open air theatre at Tolethorpe.

Thank you Mr. Shakespeare for some wonderful memories.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Cause for Concern

Two things have caused me concern over the last couple of days. On Friday I read in the local paper that the main post office in Hanley (the city centre) was to be closed sometime during the next 18 months and the service moved into W. H. Smith. Hanley is one of two remaining Crown post offices left in North Staffordshire the other is my local post office at Longton so if the closure in Hanley goes ahead what chance has the one at Longton got? Both of these post offices are widely used and there are always long queues, so how, with the best will in the world, is W.H. Smith going to cope? The closure in Hanley will mean the loss of twenty three jobs. How many of those jobs will move to W. H. Smith? Perhaps three or four at the most? It’s no surprise, then, that the post office union leaders are up in arms. The present Hanley post office is close to the city centre and just a short walk from the bus station and car parks. W. H. Smith is on the second floor of the Potteries Shopping Centre reached by lift or escalators. How are the elderly, infirm or disabled going to get there easily? Young mums with buggies are going to struggle too. It may make economic sense for various reasons to the powers that be – but it isn’t a lot of use to the customers, is it?

Then today I read some more disturbing news, namely that the BBC, as part of a cost cutting exercise, may axe their regional news programmes. Axe their regional news programmes? Are they mad? I really find this hard to contemplate but if it did happen I think it would be extremely short sighted of them. I love my regional news programme, Midlands Today, the presenters are excellent and the coverage and content of the programmes is wide ranging and informative. I sit down every evening at 6.30p.m. with my after dinner cup of coffee to find out what has been going on in the area and I much prefer the BBC programme to the Central News on the other channel. I would be lost without it.

You could say that I 'm anxious about these things because I’m getting older and set in my ways and therefore don’t react very well to change but if change is for the better then I don’t mind, I can cope with it; but I have to say that the two things above seem to me to be, not only a step backwards, but a whole leap in the wrong direction.

Whilst I'm having a moan can I add call centres? We've been having great problems with our internet service provider especially with uploading things like photos to the internet - we've rung three or four times and got nowhere - we think we may need a new modem, they blame our computer; either way they are really unhelpful. They stick rigidly to a set script and won't deviate from it, no one is prepared to take the initiative and go straight to the problem and sort it out. This is one change I do find difficult - the days of being able to ring an engineer and talk through the problem and solve it either by 'phone or with a home visit are long gone.

I have lovely photos of yesterday's outing but I can't get them into my Picassa web album until we can get things sorted.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A Bit of Luck

Just a quick post today. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I'd had a photo accepted for Doorways Around the World - well here it is - go and have a look. I'm really pleased with it. Have a look at the other photos too - aren't they wonderful?

Also more good fortune - this week I found out I'd won a competition on The Book Club Forum for a signed copy of a Stephen Booth novel - as he is one of my favourite authors I'm thrilled to bits.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Strange Things

By strange I don’t mean weird but just sort of unexpected or coincidental. The first thing happened a few days ago when we’d been to the supermarket and were waiting at the traffic lights near Longton Town Hall. I glanced into the mirror and saw walking up the pavement behind us a strange apparition. ‘Oh, look’ I said to Paul ‘it’s a miner.’ Now given that over the last few weeks, because of the centenary meeting for the Shirebrook Pit Cage Accident in which my great grandfather was killed, I’ve had pits and miners on my mind, I thought that I may be hallucinating. The miner walked past the car, not a miner from any memory in my lifetime, more like the miners I’d seen in old photographs or on stage in a play by D. H. Lawrence. This was a pre-pit baths, pre-pit-helmet miner – the kind who used to go home covered in coal dust to a tin bath in front of a fire. Just the whites of his eyes and the pink of his lips were gleaming through the dust and dirt. All this drifted through my mind in the few seconds it took him to stop and pose, his cap at a jaunty angle and his lamp held aloft, for a scurrying camera man in front of the town hall. I then noticed his very modern day companions dressed in gleaming white tee shirts, carrying white plastic buckets and water bottles. I was intrigued to say the least but at this point the lights changed to green and we were on our way.

A couple of days later I opened the local newspaper and there he was again. This wonderful man had walked for ten miles taking in each of the six towns posing for photos at each of the town halls dressed as a Victorian miner and wearing a pair of miners clogs weighing 4lbs each. Why, you may ask. Well the man in question, Keith Meeson who runs the Apedale Heritage Centre near Newcastle-under Lyme, did it to raise money for a memorial to the fifty seven men who lost their lives on New Years Day 1942 at Sneyd Colliery. He has been campaigning for four years for a permanent memorial to the men and because of his walk he now has £2,000 and the memorial can be built. How dedicated is that?

Second coincidence is that today I’ve had a lovely long letter from a friend and it turns out we were both visiting family on the same day not more than a couple of miles from each other. Paul and I were visiting his brother and family and after lunch we had a walk around Rufford Park – my friend was such a short distance away with her family. We could have waved and said ‘Hello’ – now that is strange.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Bridal Wreath

One of my favourite shrubs is in flower at the moment. At this time of year the Bridal Wreath (Spiraea Arguta) is covered in heavy white boughs of flowers which look beautiful during the day but look magnificent against the dying light of the evening. We have a bush in the front garden but the one below is in the back garden and was taken as a cutting from the one at the front.

The plant's name always reminds me of a scene in John Hadfield's novel 'Love on a Branch Line'. After finding Jasper Pye being kissed by one of her daughters, Lady Flamborough, asks him to help carry the Bridal Wreath all she wants is for him to carry a plant or two but he, of course, completely misunderstands. Jasper Pye, the man from the Ministry, has been sent into early 1950s rural Suffolk to close down a long forgotten ministerial unit set up during the second world war. It is housed at Arcady the family seat of Lord and Lady Flamborough. The eccentric Lord Flamborough who lives in a railway carriage on the old branch line railway, Lady Flamborough, a keen gardener and their three beautiful daughters conspire with unit leader Professor Pollux and his staff to beguile poor Jasper. If you want a warm, gentle, amusing read full of eccentric characters and finally resolved misunderstandings then this is a lovely book with a happy ending.

Above is a close up of the Bridal Wreath in the front garden. It is such a shame that it's season is so short and the beautiful white flowers soon turn brown and drift away in the breeze.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Just Another Day

What do you do on Friday 13th? You visit the remains of some Neolithic Chamber tombs - well, we did anyway as part of our continuing exploration of The High Peak Trail. The remains are on top of Minninglow Hill - seen here in the distance.

We parked in the Minninglow car park near the picnic site and walked a couple of miles along the High Peak Trail until we came to Gallow Low Lane where we picked up the Roystone Grange Trail then turned through the open gateway across the fields to towards the ancient mound which is surrounded by a plantation of smaller trees except for the two entrances to the site.

The early morning mist was beginning to clear and although we'd seen one or two dog walkers and cyclists along the trail we had the burial site to ourselves. Above is one of the open chambers; below has to be one of the strangest pictures I've taken - those old trees in the background just don't look real, but I can assure you they are.

Along the way we saw many lambs, a field full of rabbits, pheasants, a hare, skylarks, wrens and hundreds of striped snails - some of which were pink.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Consall Hall Gardens

Isn't it exciting when you finally visit a place that you've passed by many times wondering what it would be like beyond the entrance gate and when you finally venture in it is even more wonderful than you anticipated? This happened to us today. We often visit the Country Park and walk down to where the Consall Canal and the River Churnet meet and where the Churnet Valley Steam Railway runs beside the two, it's one of our favourite places. Next to the Country Park entrance is the drive down to Consall Hall Gardens and today they were open so we went inside.

We spent the most entrancing two and a half hours in the gardens; they are an absolute delight. Every time you turn a corner another vista makes you gasp in amazement. I can honestly say it was one of the best gardens I have visited in recent years and photos just can't do it justice. I may have to continue the report in a second post, as there is so much to mention but for now,
here are just a few photos to whet your appetite.

Wonderful water features

A folly or two or more

Sweeping drives and hidden places

And unexpected vistas.

I haven't even touched upon the forest walk, the lakes and wildlife, the friendliness of the staff and the lovely tea rooms yet. I can't believe this is just 10 minutes away from us by car and it's the first time we have visited. It certainly won't be the last.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Going Underground

A couple of photos from Poole's Cavern, I've managed to upload them but am now having problems again.

I actually sat down and watched Dr. Who last night, the first time since I was about twelve or thirteen years old. If I tell you that the Dr. Who I remember was played by William Hartnell and the only thing I remember about it, apart from The Doctor's black clothes and white hair is him having a rather tiresome, screechy granddaughter, you will realise how long ago that was. Why did I watch? The combination of Shakespeare and the Globe Theatre did it for me - just couldn't resist. I surprised myself and enjoyed it - giggled all the way through at both the Shakespeare and the J. K. Rowling references. Good job I've seen all the Harry Potter films even if I hadn't read the books at least I knew what they were talking about.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Good Wishes and Frustrations

Easter Greetings

Firstly, I want to wish everyone reading this a happy and peaceful Easter holiday.

In my last post I promised more photos of the High Peak Trail and since then we've walked another five mile section from Parsley Hay to Friden, but unfortunately Picassa isn't allowing me to upload any photos. It seems to be a server problem as I'm nowhere near my full capacity; so, as you can imagine, I'm feeling quite frustrated by having loads of lovely photos and not being able to share them.

Today we drove up to Leek, past Rudyard Lake which was twinkling in the sunshine and out towards Macclesfield. We then cut across country to Buxton passing through brilliant sunshine, low white cloud drifting across the valleys and then clear cool skies before hitting the sunshine again as we went down the hill into the town. We stopped at Poole's Cavern and after a mug of coffee joined one of the frequent tours. I was a bit nervous when we first went into the cavern as I couldn't see very well but my eyes soon adjusted and it was wonderful looking up at the incredible rock formations and stalactites and gazing at the strange orange tipped stalagmites rising from the cavern floor. I really enjoyed myself and didn't feel at all claustrophobic, the guide was very amusing and got a round of applause at the end of the tour much to his embarrassment - we both took some great photos but again, at the moment I can't share them with you.

Good news this week too, we've managed to book two tickets for the ferry along the Manchester Ship Canal with the help of a gift voucher courtesy of some dear friends (you know who you are). We are going on August 2nd
and are now looking at booking a hotel for a couple of nights so that we can relax and enjoy the whole day. It is good to have something to look forward to.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Bit More of the Trail

On Saturday we set out early to try and walk a bit more of the High Peak Trail. You will remember from previous posts that we had already done three sections from Cromford to Black Rock, from Black Rock to Middleton top and from Middleton Top to Harboro Rocks - BTTWI (before Tommy Tank was ill). This time we went up to Parsley Hay and walked towards the other end of the trail, where it meets the Pennine Bridleway, at Dowlow. Doing the trail bit by bit means that by the end we will have walked it 'there and back' because, of course, we have to walk the same bit twice each time. We have decided that we can do the last bit in two sections as well, that is Parsley Hay to Friden and then Friden to Harboro Rocks. A couple of years ago we walked the towpath of the Trent and Mersey Canal in much the same way until we had walked it all from Stone to the Harecastle Tunnel at Kidsgrove.

On the way up to Parsley Hay we decided to stop at Hartington and have a walk round and some breakfast before setting out on the 7 mile walk. I think it is one of the prettiest villages in the area, complete with village green and duck pond. In summer it heaves with tourists but on Saturday it was very quiet just a few brave souls venturing out into the early cool breeze to mingle with the locals waiting for the bus to Buxton, wandering home from the local shop with their morning milk and newspaper or taking rubbish to the local amenity lorry which had irritatingly, for me, parked by the duck pond - so no photos of that I'm afraid.

This is a view across the village green to the old cottages and the church in the distance. There is a tea shop in the old post office, a dairy and my favourite place - the Cheese shop.

More photos of the trail later.