I’m really catching up with things here but back at the end of Heather and I went for a little trip up and across the country. Things didn’t exactly go to plan, but we did visit Chester, see Whitby and end up in Newcastle
—Getting There, Getting Disappointed, Getting Wet
First stop on our trip around places was, as so often, Chester. The train journey was uneventful and so we quickly found ourselves in the Town Crier as usual. We weren’t staying in our usual B&B though, or any of the near by guesthouses at all, and so had a short walk down the road to our hotel—a decision we’d regret. The signs certainly weren’t good when we walked into a very strange (and not pleasantly) smelling room, with a constantly flickering bathroom light.
That just encouraged us to get out though and so we headed for the evening in town. About then the rain decided to arrive, so we made a quick dive into Primark for Heather to buy an ill fitting cagoule. Hiding from the rain we found ourselves in old favourite the Victoria.
A rather wet but still pleasant walk around the walls then brought us to another old favourite the Bear and Billet. It’s been refurbished a bit, and become lighter and a bit less homely, which seems a shame.
From there we began to think about dinner, heading back through town in the vague direction of the hotel. We were intercepted by a street performer who insisted on giving Heather a balloon flower. Clutching this we hid from the rain some more in the Square Bottle (there’s always a Wetherspoons!).
The rain was still coming down as we left in search of food. We were going to head one way but such was the deluge that we found an underpass impossible to actually pass, so eventually found ourselves just down the road from the hotel in the Gate of India. That proved to be a fine choice in the end with good food, which warmed and filled us before heading to our slightly strangely smelling bed.
—Poor Breakfast, Sculptures, And A Trip Through Wonderland
The morning took Heather down to breakfast while I tried to wake up more in the room. I thought I was struggling with a kettle which only worked when holding down its on switch but it seems Heather’s experience was much worse. She returned with tales of inattentive staff, poor choice and hair in food to shorten the list of complaints.
We put the difficult breakfasts behind us though and headed to Chester Cathedral to kill the morning looking at some sculpture. The first evidence we found of the exhibition were some large pieces feeling like alien eggs sat in the grounds (reading through the guide later it seems we missed quite a few things outside, but we didn’t really have the time to walk all the way around). Inside it was an interesting exhibition of contemporary sculpture set in the essentially medieval surroundings of the cathedral. Some pieces picked up on that religious theme—a carved lectern sited alongside the cathedral’s own; there were references to Noah, including a large centrepiece entitled Arc. Others were much more abstract or modern—the almost inevitable Hirst formaldehyde animal, some somewhat calming and sensual pieces by Steve Dilworth, and the absence of something by Almuth Tebbenhoff. Alongside them sat another sculpture not part of the exhibition—the giant Lego model of the cathedral we didn’t have time for last time; we did this, smiling at the little minifigs in the middle building the model around them.
Throughout the display there seemed to be an animal theme running, scrambling to get onto the promised ark. There were a plethora of birds, from elegant peacocks to vultures and smoothed steel forms. Peculiarly there were a bunch of zebras, from a tiny one on a shelf to a life size shining one beside two identical heads, one striped and one not. In the main cathedral space a centrepiece of two gorillas stood, one a snapshot of a real ape, the other examining itself in a giant mirror. In the spaces and cloisters surrounding frollicked deer, or hunting cats, or small little creatures tucked into crannies. Also note worthy were the surreal camel (looking a bit turtle like) and the marvellous abstract blue whale, floating above our heads.
It wasn’t all recognisable life reproduction though—there were plenty of more cerebral works; sculptures of curves and textures, tactile and reflective. Highlights included a great flat table of water, Bryan Kneale‘s curving reflective piece in the cloisters, a strange half beast, half man skeleton nearby, and a typically sensuous Barbara Hepworth.
It was a calming and pleasant way to kill the morning, but we only had limited time, so emerged to a life size horse and cart to be on our way.
Normally when in Chester in summer we’re sophisticated and see Shakespeare in the park. However, when invited to follow Alice down a rabbit hole to Wonderland how could we resist? So it was we found ourselves in Grosvenor Park to watch Alice in Wonderland. It was an interesting, and humorous, take on Alice. While vaguely following the line of the book it wasn’t at all afraid to deviate, or pull in parts of Looking Glass. It took as a premise point that Alice is a schism in the personality of Alicia, a girl trapped on the cusp between childhood and young adulthood (I was put in mind of Alice’s sister at the end of the novel, half believing herself in Wonderland, a step sideways in reality). Alice, afraid of not fitting in at new school, meets a range of characters, beginning with the talking flowers. Most memorable is the Cheshire Cat (who, of course, has a vast if dull knowledge of Cheshire) and the Mad Hatter. Of course it rained on us, heavily, as it always seems to do but as Alice found herself in the mad dancing and riddles we simply didn’t care!
We applauded hard, partly to warm ourselves up, and made it through the rain back to the hotel, for towels and a change of clothes. Ironically by the then it had stopped raining again so we could at least enjoy an evening stroll down to the Boathouse for some dinner by the river, watching the tranquil world go by.
—A Quest For Welsh Technology
morning saw us being picked up by Richard and Joe to go first to their house (for breakfast and to collect Caroline and Ben) before heading out (in two cars!) on an adventure across the Welsh border. The destination was Wrexham Glyndwr University and Techniquest Glyndwr, a science discovery centre. The university campus reminded me a bit of York (particularly the covered walkways between buildings), and was eerily quite at this time of year on a Sunday. We found our way into a typical low rise building and the discovery centre which barely announces itself. The centre is spread over a couple of buildings and four or five rooms, obviously spare space on the university campus. It does feel a little haphazard, like every educational demonstration they had lying around has been dragged in and left with little curation. Still, there was a couple of cool curved spacetime demonstrations (not using a rubber sheet for once), some reaction games, and an illusion or two. There was a little talk on slime given in a nearby lecture theatre (ah, memories of university life). Joe also learned a valuable lesson about not running through a hall of mirrors, though thankfully his finger wasn’t dislocated as initially feared!
After a quick stop at a Brewer’s Fare for some dinner (and Joe to tire himself out in a Play Barn), it was back to Richard and Caroline’s for some more adult relaxation. That involved a great deal of silliness with Jackbox Games. Once we’d played against each other with varying degrees of silliness it occurred to wonder what would happen if we entered a random room code. Hence was born a bunch of gggghosts, who we like to believe appeared on somebody’s TV screen somewhere.
After that it was possibly for the best we went back to the hotel and bed!
—Travelling, A Lovely Place, And Illness
Trains, Trains and Buses
On we were up quite early for there was lots of travelling to be done. Having refused to pay the hotel for the awful breakfast Heather had, first we caught a train to Manchester. There was a brief glance at Piccadilly before another train took us on to York. There we had a break for lunch. We were going to go to York Tap as the much better station pub, but it seems they don’t really do food so we ended up in the Duke of York out of a kind of default setting.
Another train took us onward, depositing us in a wet Scarborough (no time for castles!) to catch a bus (complete with fairly comfortable seats and wifi—TFL could learn something). That took us up the Yorkshire coast (not that we could see much of the journey through the wind and mist) to Whitby.
A Lovely Place
The bus deposited us next to to the rail station and from there we made a brief stop at The Station Inn while communicating with our
Having been welcomed into the lovely guest house up on the west cliff, and our wonderful room we headed out in search of dinner. Not far away, at the bottom of the cliff by the sea, we found The Fisherman’s Wife, a nice seafood restaurant (well, what else are you going to eat in a fishing town).
From there we wandered into the town proper, across the bridge to the The Dolphin, where we found a very strange quiz taking place (run via mobile phones, which meant we couldn’t see half the questions as non-participants. It also sounded like the quizmaster hadn’t seen the questions till that moment). It was there which things began to go wrong as Heather and I both began to feel ill. That curtailed things so back to bed it was.
—Urrrg, I’m Not Well
The night was not good, as both I and particularly Heather were pretty damn sick. By morning neither of us wanted breakfast but our hosts were lovely enough to send some toast up to our room. We nibbled our toast and hid in the room. As we’d both had the same starter we were working on the basis of having been poisened by the dinner the evening before, though this proved to be false. In fact Richard was to blame for passing some bug onto us. Far from pleasant either way.
By afternoon I was feeling well enough to go for a bit of a wander, though Heather was still hiding in bed. I went and saw bits of Whitby on a lovely summer afternoon/evening though was too worried about my girl to really enjoy it. I wandered around the West Cliff and whalebone arch, framing the Abbey over the chasm of the river mouth, before heading further into town and then back up the hill. After a return to the guest house to check the patient I went out for some dinner, finding the Magpie Cafe, which despite a recent fire at least still had it’s takeaway part open. Their fish and chips were as good as expected as I took a pleasant stroll along the river, finding boats and ducks and a swan. The Middle Earth Tavern proved much more disappointing than I half remembered from years ago. So I headed back to my poorly Heather, via what may be the largest Coop I’ve been in for many year to collect what provisions I could, and off to recover in bed.
Wednesday—Looking For Dracula
By Wednesday morning we were both actually feeling well enough (if still fragile) to enjoy a fine breakfast before going out. We found our way down into the town and the tourist information centre. From there it was back along the river and over the Swing Bridge to the old Whitby town. We had a fragile lunch in a 40s teashop (which was disappointing compared to the one in Stratford) and found the yard to have an argument in. Even narrower streets than the pretty ones leading us through town took us down to the river bank, muddy with the tide out. There was a brief, possibly unwise, stop off in The Board Inn but our main destination was looming, and before it quite a staircase.
A Church and an Abbey
The 199 steps are one of Whitby’s best known features. They sweep up from the end of town, almost disappearing from sight as they climb the cliff above. We set off carefully and slowly, and of course counting. The steps aren’t overly steep but there are a lot of them, so we were grateful of the flat resting areas (as, no doubt, is anyone carrying a coffin up to the church above). The views are certainly good on the way up, though it was a bit difficult to fully appreciate with grey clouds and drizzling rain. By the top I’d counted 199 while Heather was slightly off (on the way back down that would be reversed), and we were ready for a little sit down in the churchyard of St Mary (checking for vampires first of course).
The number of visitors to that church must be bumped considerably by its location between the steps and abbey (not to mention its use as a location in Dracula), but going inside it’s an interesting building in its own right. One is immediately struck by the unusual box pews, still in place with plaques noting who owned or rented the box. Galleries run around the walls above and there is a peculiar three decked pulpit, complete with hearing trumpets once used by a Minister’s wife. There are a few other points of interest: The centuries old parish chest, and the Scoresby Chair.
From the church it is a short walk through the atmospheric graveyard to the abbey above, on the cliff top. Arrival fulfilled a long held ambition of Heather’s to visit. Despite the still persistent rain it makes a stunning location, the grimness of the weather adding to the general feel of the place. The ruins stand tall and looming, a testament to the church it once was. As the rain eased we had the chance to walk around the now empty surrounding lands (the abbey fish pond becoming almost lost in the grass), before a outbreak of sun give the chance to sit and pause. With the abbey as backdrop we watched the swift moving housemartins sweeping across the fields.
Eventually we headed back through the churchyard and down the steps. By now I was beginning to feel quite ill again, the full effects seeming to take longer to catch up with me than they had with Heather (not that she was fully recovered) and so we went back to our temporary home. It was just as well, given how sick I was through the night.
—Recovering On Transport
Having been ill the night before I was a little reluctant to leave but we really had to go, with other places to be. So it was we bade our lovely hosts a farewell, with a promise to return and do all the things we’d wanted to in Whitby properly. The bus took us down to Scarborough, the ability to this time see the passing countryside would have been more appreciated had I not still felt ill, clutching a bag to me in case I was sick. I wasn’t though, and was soon on a train heading to York. There we stopped for a rest (no food please) in the York Tap before another train up to Newcastle.
There’s a tradition to be followed in stopping off at Centurians on arrival, so we did if only to recover before heading to the hotel. Having marvelled at the giant size of the bed (too big really) we walked into town for a quick gathering of supplies at Tesco before staying in for the night to recover.
Still not feeling too well (me in particular) it was a day to take things easy. We made it to the Sage cafe for Heather to have some breakfast (while I looked sickly) before a wander around town. We’d been missing the snowdogs so it was at least nice to find a “Puggybank”—a smaller snowdog collecting spare change. In another echo of that snowdogs trip Heather found a couple of owls out and about on Northumberland Street.
At a loss for anything else gentle to do we crossed the river and headed along the Gateshead river bank. Once the site of long cleared slums and industry the park here, which leads up the steep hill from the river to the former Greensfield railway works, is scattered with sculptures, partly hidden by the slightly wild landscaping. We made it a good way along, passing Rise and Fall at the beginning before almost not spotting Andy Goldsworthy’s Cone and passing the prominent Rolling Moon. By the time we reached Sally Matthews’s Goats we didn’t feel up to going much further though. After a peaceful rest by the river we turned back, crossing the bridge to eat as best we could in The Quayside. Then, me still not feeling at all well, it was back to the hotel again to try and recover.
—Little Often, Till The Music Plays
We took the view that “little and often” was probably our best approach to eating, ginger nut biscuits becoming an important staple of diet. We found a cafe on the Newcastle side of the river to start the morning in before a slow wander around town again (Heather holding a second owl). The Tyneside Cinema’s Cafe then turned out to be quite an excellent venue for a small lunch. Afterwards we even managed a trip to The Bridge Hotel, one of our favourite pubs.
We were actually in Newcastle though for a bit of music, and determined to go. A concert at Times Square by the Centre for Life saw an open air crowd gathering in what wasn’t the best venue (funny acoustics for a start). Watching Peter Hook & The Light entertain the crowd as warmup I couldn’t help but think how much Janet would have enjoyed it. The performance was topped off by Tim Booth appearing to sing Love Will Tear Us Apart. He returned a little later with the rest of James to put on the main show, launching into Sit Down. They followed with a mix of new (including brand new Trouble) and old (some of it less well known than the big hits, in typical James fashion). Sometimes got the now seemingly obligatory sing-a-long long past the end treatment before an encore beginning with She’s A Star (still much improved by being stripped right back) and ending with the crowd feeling Nothing But Love.
It wasn’t the most enjoyable concert ever due to our fragile states but we still went back to the hotel with a smile on our faces.
Still not fully ourselves at least we weren’t feeling terribly ill as we headed home. Just enough time for the traditional call into Centurians before the train all the way home. A holiday where illness left us feeling there is unfinished business—we will be back Whitby!
As might be expected, the camera was busy