Monday, 23 June 2014

Saving the best until last

Greystoke Cycle Cafe garden
OK, so I'm a day or so late with this, but that was because I was far too busy yesterday having fun back at the Greystoke Cycle Cafe,  While Steve was doing manly things and making his longbow, I was having a wonderful time on my Pen and Wash course and having a good old poke around inbetween times.

The cafe is owned and run by the wonderful Annie - a woman whose boundless energy and optimism is surpassed only by her thoughtfulness and ingenuity.  The cafe is specifically for cyclists and it has everything those travelling on 2 wheels could possibly ever need - as well as a warm welcome and fabulous, plentiful food you will find cycle pumps, clamps for essential repairs alongside cans of oil, plus jugs of juice and water to refill your bottles as you head off on your way.  And if you happen to turn up and find them closed, worry not, for there is a room of dry towels, hot water bottles, flapjack, tea and coffee which is all covered by your trusted payment into the honesty box.  There really is no other place like this and the many lovely comments in their visitors book show just how valued the cafe is by everyone who visits.

Everything the cyclist needs

Warmth, shelter and flapjack!
But it never rains in Cumbria!
Don't just take my word for it!
But there is way more to this cafe than just being a cafe!  Throughout the year they run an amazing selection of quirky and unusual courses allowing you to learn everything from cheesemaking to stone carving and of course longbow making.  The full list is here - they make perfect birthday or Christmas presents with Annie being sure to send you a lovely message to put inside your card and welcoming everyone personally when they arrive.

Steve will tell you all about his Longbow making course on his own blog, but suffice to say that the course ended with 9 happy men firing their longbows in the field opposite the cafe.

9 happy men and their longbows!
Tony Saunders who runs the Longbow Course and his
fab cheeky Tshirt

The pace of the Pen and Wash course was somewhat more sedate, but the tutor Margaret Jarvis was engaging and talented and soon had us all confidently splashing colour around and creating masterpieces.  The talent within the group was impressive and embarrassing at the same time - I love trying to paint but lack any real talent, though I more than make up for that with my use of colour, lots and lots of colour.  I can always see the picture in my minds eye, it just never makes it out of the end of my hand and on to the paper...

The beginning...
After a few expert tips!
Please don't judge the quality of the tuition by the
standard of my dodgy masterpiece!
Greystoke Cycle Cafe has been there for around 8 years and on a hot sunny Sunday there really is no reason why it shouldn't be packed to the rafters.  During the course we got to sample the many delights of the menu - home made soups (including a foraged and utterly delightful weed soup), home made cordials, fresh scones, puddings to die for and all served with a smile and a friendly word.  It was great watching the expressions of the people stopping by for the first time as they tried to take it all in.

So many people say they're looking for a proper traditional cafe, well here it is.  You can keep your anonymous over priced coffee chains, if there were only more wonderful little gems like this around the world would be a lot nicer place.

Saturday, 21 June 2014

Don't believe everything you read in the papers.

If the press are to be believed everyone under the age of 16 is addicted to their smartphone and unable to form normal relationships. Bunkum!  Today, amongst other things, I spent 3 hours at an outdoor swimming pool watching kids of all ages doing the exact things I did when I was their age.  The really young ones were splashing around in the shallow end & getting told off for sneaking into the deep end as soon as their parents backs were turned.  The slightly older ones were making pacts to "all jump in on the count of 3" and then seeing who actually did it, while the teenage girls were swimming a little and trying to look sophisticated enough to catch the eye of the lifeguard - meanwhile he was clearly eyeing up the yummy mummies in their skimpy bikinis.

The outdoor pool is in the centre of Greystoke and is a real community effort, fully staffed by volunteers.  No volunteers, no pool.  They're running short at the moment and it would be a crying shame if a rare gem like this were to close due to lack of interest.  Everyone was laughing and chatting in the sunshine with friends and families making the most of the glorious weather.

Away from the pool I spent the rest of the day exploring the local area while Steve got busy making his longbow (watch for his blog soon).  Greystoke Cycle Cafe is an incredibly special venue and I shall be writing much more about them when I get home.  Their spectacular home made food and superb array of quirky courses are enough to keep everyone entertained and amused - mind you tomorrow I'm on an art course there and my drawing abilities could test the patience of a saint!  I'd been inspired earlier in the day by a visit to Beckstones Gallery in Greystoke Gill but fear they'll be unlikely to be showing my handiwork anytime soon.

And when I wasn't swimming, scoffing cakes or looking at fabulous artwork I was mooching around St Andrews church.  Churches are little time capsules of history and this one didn't disappoint - they have produced an imaginative guide to help you discover the past of the remarkable building and where it fits in the history of the village.  There was also a very pretty graveyard - just a shame most (all?!) of its residents are unable to appreciate it.

Only one more day of this adventure left before we head home, at which point I'll finally be able to upload some photos into the blog.  Or paint you an amazing picture -  it all depends how tomorrow pans out...

Greystoke Castle

All ready for longbow making

View of Blencathra from the cycle back.

Lovely churchyard

Just liked this -simple but lovely.

The wonderful Greystoke Swimming Pool

Friday, 20 June 2014

What have the Romans ever done for us?

Breakfast view.
Our final morning in Seahouses dawned bright & sunny and there was no alternative but to rustle up a flask & head to the beach for breakfast.  Not that I needed anymore sun mind you - I currently have sunburnt ankles and lips, an odd but sore combination.

We needed to head for Greystoke so decided to stop along the way and "do some Hadrian's Wall stuff".  A quick scan of the English Heritage map and Corbridge Roman town caught our eye - the site looked fantastic in the books but would it deliver?  I'm not a great lover of suspense so I'll tell you now - it most certainly does deliver - but back to the journey...

There were plenty of brown signs to the English Heritage (EH) site but as none of them have mile markers on them let me tell you it's about 2 miles west of Corbridge so don't park in the town unless you're in the mood for a walk.  There is parking at the site which is unfortunately plentiful.  Why "unfortunately"? Because this site is so utterly superb that the 15 or so spaces shouldn't be nearly enough!  This isn't a dusty old monument - you can walk along 2000 year old streets, you can see ingenious aqueducts and fountain houses and you can hear a first class commentary which brings it all to life.
Seriously - Basingstoke town centre has several hundred car parking spaces which are rammed most days of the week, and all it has to offer is the same old boring identikit shopping centre as every other modern town - how can any of that be more interesting than walking down 2000 year old streets?!

When we arrived I was worried we'd be kept away from the ruins - but no! You can walk, crawl and climb all over them to really get a feel for what life was like.  (or you could power march through the whole lot like the woman we spotted who did it all in about 15 mins but probably missed the point.) I was more like a big kid than normal as I bounded around half expecting someone to tell me off at any moment.
It was a hot day so we paused for an ice cream and pondered how the Romans had developed underfloor heating while we were still slinging mud at each other.  The guy in charge of the shop was massively knowledgeable so I only wish I'd thought to ask him while we were there instead of 7 hours later when I'm writing this blog... 

Leaving Corbridge behind (but not before we'd bought half the bookshop - the Ancient Britain OS Map is fantastic!) we continued on to Greystoke.  Over the next 2 days Steve will be making a longbow from scratch at the Quirky Cycle Cafe and I'll be lazing in the shade and reading books.  Hopefully it will give my Mick Jagger lips a chance to subside but I'll be dosing them regularly with cold beer just to be on the safe side.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

My Tern!

Trust me, this will be a lot more impressive when I can upload the photos.  (see below!) Our plan today was to do the big boat trip to Staple Island and Inner Farne.  We'd heeded the advice of the skipper we met last Saturday and booked for today but sadly the sea had other ideas and a landing on Staple wasn't possible.  What we did get was a longer boat tour and 3 hours on Inner Farne so not a bad substitute at all.

The reason we couldn't land on Staple was because of the bouncy sea and that made the 90 min boat tour loads more fun than earlier in the week.  We'd nabbed a space right at the front of the boat and I was soaked in sunshine and sea spray for the entire journey. Bliss!

The terns were as feisty as ever and I soon had one sat on my head.  Given the hat I was wearing it is entirely possible that they mistook me for a nest.  There were so many birds and chicks all over the place that I didn't even need to use my carefully packed bins so if you're planning a trip to the islands don't panic if you're not fully kitted out.

All of the rangers on the island are incredibly helpful and happy to answer any and all questions, though I was disappointed not to track down @NTSteely.  It's a tiny island so I'm not sure how we missed each other - perhaps he passed by when I had a tern on my head and he mistook me for a cliff...

3 hours absolutely flashed by - we were so busy photographing the birds that we nearly missed our boat again.  I did manage to make time to see St Cuthberts church though - very tiny and well worth a peek inside.

Back on the mainland there was just time for another round on the 2p machines and an ice cream before our final paddle back to the campsite.  As we made our way along the cliff path I noticed how the curves in the rocks beautifully echoed the waves in the sea - nice bit of Grand Designing which I'm sure Kevin McLeod would thoroughly approve of.

This week has absolutely flown by and tomorrow we head off to Greystoke for part 2 of the holiday.  Steve will be spending 2 days making his own longbow and I'll be researching the case law surrounding firing longbows from our balcony at passing cars - just in case he's ever tempted...
The closes we got to Staple Island.

Seriously - are they ever pleased to see you?

Longstone Lighthouse.

Watch the birdie!

Puffins everywhere!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Birthday Blues

I announced to Steve today that, all being well, I planned on having another 50 or so birthdays.  The poor man looked quite worried and who can blame him when my approach to birthdays hasn't changed much since I was 6 - I still find them hugely exciting even though I feel as if I must be talking about someone else when I give my age.  Surely someone of these advanced years would be a bit more grown up by now?

We started by trying and failing to book a couple of boat trips (wrong type of tide) so took a walk along the beach to Beadnell instead.  Having spent 30 seconds or so exploring all Beadnell had to offer we decided to head back to Seahouses.  It was hot & muggy so I stopped to check bus times - there was one due in 8 minutes but, having no idea where the bus stop was we did what any other normal, sane, individuals would do and ran 2 laps of the nearby village green in a blind panic before leaping out in front of a rather startled looking bus driver.

Back in Seahouses lunch beckoned and we found a gorgeous beer garden with perfect sea views & polished off scampi and chips in short order.  I've never really been too sure what a scampi actually is but it looks like the sort of thing that would most likely be very healthy to eat if we didn't insist on smothering them in breadcrumbs and deep frying them.

Following a game of crazy golf on one of the best courses we've seen in a long time - The Bunker, opposite the harbour, all home made and a flurry of local landmarks to navigate - we went for a long stroll along the beach and that's when the birthday blues hit.  The sea and the sky were spectacular - the crispest and clearest of blues and perfectly complemented by the miles of golden sandy beaches with Bamburgh Castle away in the distance.  With the tide out the space stretched all around us so although there were other people around it still felt deserted if that makes any sense at all.

Poetic interlude over it was back to Delores for a quick change before meeting my big bruv and sis-in-law for dinner.  Having no idea where we were headed we set off & followed the first pub sign we saw which thankfully took us to The Joiners Arms in High Newtown by the Sea.   The food and service was utterly superb with an imaginative and varied menu all cooked to perfection - I really cannot praise or recommend them highly enough.

In fact the only thing I can possibly fault them on was the lack of blue foam for my Cookie Monster milkshake (see previous comment re not being grown up) but they did make me an albino one instead.  Another birthday over and if the next 50 or so are as blue as this one I won't be disappointed at all.

Birthday cheer(s)!

Crazy golf through Bamburgh Castle.


Spectacular fish and chips!

Albino cookie monster milkshake.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The sun has got his hat on...

...and that's probably a wise move if he's planning on visiting the Farne Islands anytime soon.  I thought Walney Island was scary but it has NOTHING on this!  "wear a hat" they said "there's nesting birds" they said.  What they should have said is take a hard hat and a mace and know how to use it.

Arctic Terns take no prisoners - they dive bomb you from the moment you arrive and don't stop until you've safely on the boat home.  And who can really blame them?  If your wife & kids were under threat from hat wearing giants you'd be pretty peeved too.

We'd visited the Farne Islands once before but long after nesting season was done.  This time we came to see the puffins but have been utterly delighted with all the other birds we've seen along the way.  We've also learned another important thing about giant nesting colonies - they stink!  The scent of several thousand birds & their combined "leavings" hits you a few hundred yards out to sea and lingers in your nostrils long after the medicinal effects of 2 large G&Ts wears off.

Last boat of the day!
You'll also be pleased to hear that we didn't get locked in anywhere today but we did manage to miss our ferry from Farne and had to sneak onboard the last boat of the day- and sneaking aboard anything is never easy when you have bright pink hair.

Aside from having holes pecked in my head and stowing away on tourist boats we spent the rest of the day wandering along the beach watching some rather better behaved birds and trying to figure out how old we are.  I kid you not.  It's my birthday tomorrow (18th) and I thought I was going to be a year older than I actually am - it wasn't until we did the maths from my date of birth that I finally twigged.  Lord knows when I got confused but I must confess to being rather pleased at the result - just so long as no one expects me to start acting my age we'll be just fine.

Tomorrow the sun is meant to be out all day again and we're off back to the beach  There's bound to be paddling & hopefully some fish & chips in Beadnell.  I may be wierd, occasionally unconventional and blissfully unaware of my real age, but I am a very cheap date. :-)

Longstone Lighthouse & seals

Not sure what he's saying. Pretty sure it's rude.

Pppppp pick up a Puffin!

Funky flyer!


Shag.  I think.  They're the ones without the white bit, right?

Very cleverly balanced stones. (Not by us!)

Monday, 16 June 2014

The Crab Sandwich has left the building.

I couldn't think of a more polite way of saying it but normal dietary service has been resumed.  Also fitting as we were serenaded with Elvis singing "Blue Christmas" while we ate it. How many shopping days till Christmas?

Noise has been on my mind a lot recently having spent 3 days in London - a place which has many merits though sadly peace & quiet isn't one of them.  The thing I've realised is that all noise isn't equal.  Whereas the hustle and bustle of a city will soon drive me to drink (any excuse!) the equally loud and persistent sound of the sea will relax and revive me within minutes.  Most odd when I think about it objectively and probably the result of some evolutionary quirk.

Today we took to our bikes and headed for Bamburgh Castle on a route that achieved the unlikely distinction of being uphill in both directions. At least that's the way it felt.  The castle itself is a thoroughly splendid building and well worth a visit (I'll add the pics when I get home.)  At each place we visit we buy or find a small momento for Delores, which now has a pinboard full of silly trinkets as well as other bits and pieces dotted around.  The problem with today was that the only "trinket" we found & loved was a 3ft wooden sword and we were on the bikes with no rucksacks.  Undeterred we bought it anyway and Steve startled a number of innocent tourists in Seahouses as he peddled home Dartanion style.

There was an added adventure before that mind.  Under the impression that the the castle closed at 7pm we'd been sat high up on the ramparts enjoying the evening sun.  I'd remarked to Steve how unusually quiet it was but we put that down to it being a Monday.  Only when we reached the padlocked gates did we realise we were locked in.  We considered using our sword to stake our claim and fight off any would be invaders but in the end scurried off to find a rather surprised looking member of staff to let us out.  "This will have to be reported in the morning" she said gravely.  Given the rather bloody history of the place I doubt it will worry anyone too much.

Back at Delores it was far too lovely an evening to sit indoors so I whipped up a picnic - 4 bottles of Peroni, a large bag of crisps, 2 sarnies and a pack of Maryland Cookies. Not exactly Famous Five but the farmer's wife who checked us in didn't look as if she was about to give us any thickly cut bacon and fresh eggs.  We hit the beach and tried to name as many different birds as we could, impressively we managed Black Headed Gulls, Herring Gulls, Terns, Shags, Eider Ducks, Arctic Terns, Ringed Plover, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Skylarks and "a funny looking orange one over there that looks like it's something" and all without the aid of a book. (Might have come in handy for the last one though)

Hoping to head to Longstone Island tomorrow.  We don't plan on getting locked in again but if I'm not around tomorrow evening best send help just in case.

View from Bamburgh Castle

Stunning ceiling!

Selfie with a sword - obviously...

High tide over Seahouses harbour

Eider duck 'idin' from the waves...

View from Seahouses harbour

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Back to the Future

I have so little mobile signal it reminds me of life in the 1990's - but that's Vodafone for you...

Today was supposed to be unadventurous and it largely was, but you know me. We started late, awoken by the unmistakable rural sounds of tractors and shotguns and took a walk into nearby Seahouses. The bright sunny weather had lured many folks out from Newcastle so it was rather like being on the set of Auf Wiedersein Pet (sorry if that's spelt incorrectly but checking it would take an hour or so.)

We blew 82p in the arcade and came out with a number 9 billiard ball and a dice whose opposing faces add up to anything between 6 and 8. They'll be worth a fortune one day.  En route to a much needed cup of coffee Steve suggested we take a look around the RNLI shop; within seconds of purchasing a cute fluffy seal all the alarms went off and 2 minutes later the place was full of fit seafaring types in skimpy vests and shorts.  I popped a few quid in the collecting box to show my appreciation.

Lunch comprised of a dodgy crab sandwich which appeared to be one part crab, 2 parts mayonnaise and 3 parts "it's best not to ask".  Tuneful & flatulent we continued along the beach towards Bamburgh Castle. 
This really is one of the best kept secrets of the north - miles of stunning sandy beaches and spectacular views.  And not forgetting a perfect selection of skimming stones.  There maybe a million apps in the world but nothing beats an our or so of skimming stones in the sunshine.

Back into Seahouses and we took another spin around the shops and discovered a niche market just waiting to be exploited - seal memorabilia. Thanks to a previous visit here plus a recent visit to Bempton Cliffs we are replete with Puffin Paraphernalia but seal goodies are sadly lacking.

Back on Delores we broke open the wine and introduced our beautiful fluffy RNLI seal to its new home. "We need a name for it" I said, looking to Steve for inspiration. "Club Sandwich" he suggested, in honour of our dodgy crab sandwich. It's not perfect but you have to admit it's memorable.

(No photo & I'm standing in the middle of Anstead Bay just to get a signal...)

Photos now added - including one of us trying to post this...

RNLI heading out!

Shhhhh - don't tell anyone!

Better than any app!

82p well spent!

Seahouses harbour

All I need is a little bit of signal...