Posted by: brigid benson | November 15, 2016

The Supermoon High Tide Effect

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Supermoon high tide washes over the Dee estuary marsh

Last night the moon came closer to the Earth than it has done in 70 years, appearing 14% bigger and bouncing 30% more light around the heavens.  Most of us struggled to get the full impact through cloudy skies.

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Almost submerged by floodwater, two huge anchors that usually sit on dry land

The super high tides that follow the supermoon cause flooding, and on the Dee estuary marshes it is spectacular. Birds of prey swoop upon unfortunate creatures feeling from the marsh as the water rushes in. Leaky old boats that have lain about mud bound and abandoned get a chance to part float again. Often there’s an eerie sensation in the air, a calm stillness where Nature is just doing her thing silently, strongly. The migrating geese in this video clip were a moment of squawky magic!

 

 

 

Posted by: brigid benson | October 23, 2016

On the Monet: a postcard from Giverny

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From the front door to the garden, Monet’s famous alleyway

Talk about in your face! The paintbox chaos of artist Claude Monet’s garden at Giverny is exhilarating. Under cloudless blue skies, October’s scarlets, yellows and deep mauves clashed unabashed. A spectacular visual experience.

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Primary colour daisies

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Horticultural impressionism

Impressionism reigns here; throughout his 43 years in residence, from 1883-1926, Monet’s planting scheme was about the colliding colour more than the plants themselves, though  he was passionate about finding the perfect plant for his palette.

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Claude Monet’s home for 43 years

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Many of his water lilies came from Latour Marliac nursery in the southwest of France, established in 1875, the nursery is still a thriving business and a beautiful visit. Monet’s fervour for water lilies was inspired by Latour Marliac’s exhibition at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris.

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Dahlias and cleome

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Full on colour!

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Clashing with panache

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A glorious jungle

How to visit:

Easy! Take an SNCF  train to Vernon Station 45 minutes from Gare St Lazare, Paris.

From Vernon station there’s a regular shuttle bus to the garden.

Posted by: brigid benson | June 8, 2016

How to Make Magic Memories

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On my writing desk, my personal copy of my book 52 Weekends by the Sea, stuffed with inspiration and discoveries all around the British coast.

I show you perfect places to make magic memories, all backed up with tried, tested and trusted tips: where to eat, where to stay and who to check out, because meeting the locals is a great way to experience any place!

Take yourself away:  experience breathtaking moments, like the romantic vision that appeared at the end of a glorious day on the vast sands of West kirby, with Hilbre Island and the mountains of Snowdonia beyond. I managed to capture it with my phone. Simply wonderful…

Discover West Kirby and the Wirral peninsula in Weekend 14 of 52 Weekends by the Sea. Buy it now from Amazon.

 

 

Posted by: brigid benson | May 10, 2016

Beside the Seaside on Whitley Bay

Whitley Bay! You only have to say the name and I conjure up that great swathe of sand, racing north sea waves, iconic St Mary’s lighthouse and a long, long  promenade currently undergoing regeneration as part of a £36 million project to improve facilities along the North East coast.

Bracing! Whitley Bay

Ahhh! Bracing! Whitley Bay

My book 52 Weekends by the Sea reveals an unexpected delight in Whitley Bay: the fabulous skate park in the Panama Dips. Designed with the insight of young people who knew exactly what they wanted, the skatepark a big success much loved by locals and visitors. Watching the action on skateboards, scooters and BMX bikes makes for great entertainment.

 

After the exertions of the skate park, pop into the Rendezvous cafe on the prom for a traditional nut sundae and views across along the prom and out to sea.Family run since the 1960s, the unfussy yet cheery Rendezvous is a family and dog friendly Whitley bay institution.

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The simple pleasure of a traditional nut sundae at the Rendezvous Cafe

For coffee and art, pop into the neighbouring Links Gallery, where tables are decorated with old postcards of traditional Whitley Bay scenes including this wonderful helter skelter on the sands.

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Thrilling helter skelter rides at Whitley Bay

Posted by: brigid benson | April 10, 2016

Shipping News!

IMG_1027River Mersey south bank drama

The wonderful Wirral peninsula oozes maritime history. Viking invaders liked the place so much they moved in; Thingwall village became their great meeting venue, the first parliament to be established in Britain.

Medieval Benedictine monks from Birkenhead Priory made the first Mersey river crossing. Rowing 90 minutes to Liverpool, their route was made more famous by the iconic Mersey Ferries that ply daily between  landing stages at Seacombe and Woodside on the Wirral, and the  Pier Head in Liverpool. While the monks are long gone, the 850 year old priory remains and is a fascinating visit.

Shipbuilders at the Cammel Laird yard have launched many famous vessels that contributed to significant world events including  the CSS Alabama, a ‘commerce raider’ sloop built in 1862 for the Confederate states of America to do battle with Union merchant ships.

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CSS Alabama sloop-of-war

For the Royal Navy, the yard built two Ark Royal  aircraft carriers, the first in 1937 and the second in 1950, this legendary warship was the largest vessel to be commissioned by the Royal Navy.

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The Queen launches  Ark Royal at Cammell Laird, May 3 1950

The great tradition of the Navy’s Ark Royals began in 1558 with the English fleet’s flagship in the Spanish Armada campaign.

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CSS Alabama sloop-of-war

Grabbing the headlines in 2016 is a polar research ship named in honour of Sir David Attenborough, though it made a narrowly infamous escape from the more jolly moniker of  Boaty McBoatface in a public poll.

In a diplomatic resolution to the delicate problem of what might be deemed an appropriate name for a Very Important Ship,  a lucky sub sea vessel operated remotely from the Sir David Attenborough won the Boaty McBoatface title. David and Boaty are due for completion in 2019.

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The best view of the Liverpool waterfront is from Birkenhead docks; go and be astounded. If you are lucky, you might see one of the famous road bridges across the Great Float, a vast inlet of water, rise to allow ships passage to or from the Mersey, the event is especially spectacular when small and mighty tugs are called upon to assist.

This video reveals some of the drama.

 

 

Discover Wirral in Weekend 14 of my award winning book 52 Weekends by the Sea, published by Random House Virgin Books and available from booksellers and Amazon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: brigid benson | March 18, 2016

Highland highway etiquette

Working in the remote Scottish highlands brings challenges distinctly different from those encountered in the city.

Driving devilishly narrow single track roads requires special consideration of folk and flocks you might meet at any turn.

The free ranging sheep in this short clip belong to my crofter friend, who was moving them from one common grazing ground to another. He was far ahead of the troupe when I encountered them, yet highland highway etiquette is simple: give way to a flock on the move. Pulling into a passing place, I filmed a small section of their journey to pastures new.

 

 

Posted by: brigid benson | March 11, 2016

Fields of gold

Growing the national flower for drug use in Wales

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There’s gold on them there hills! Daffs ahead!

Take the A55 coast road in north Wales in springtime and you will be treated to splashes of gold across the countryside where farmers are cultivating daffodils, the national flower.

Curiously much of the crop is destined not for flower vases but rather the drug industry because daffodils contain a compound known as galatamine, which slows down the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

According to the Government Department of Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA ) ten tons of daffodils are required to produce one kilogram of the drug.

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A blast of springtime colour therapy!

 

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Imagine what Wordsworth would have made of this!

Posted by: brigid benson | January 18, 2016

Postcard from Elizabeth Gaskell’s home in Manchester

Inspiration comes from all kinds of places; as a writer I’m intrigued to discover those that other writers inhabit. Spaces, views and environments that spark creativity.

And so, on a dreary January Sunday, I paid a visit to the Manchester home of one of the most important and best loved Victorian writers: Elizabeth Gaskell.plaque

Elizabeth was a humanitarian driven by social justice, she was the mother of four girls, (her only son died at the age of nine months), wife to William and a great friend to the creative community. Novelist Charlotte Bronte, conductor Charles Halle and American abolitionist Harriet Beecher Stowe were among esteemed guests who came to stay at Plymouth Grove.

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84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester

When Elizabeth and William moved into their dream home, Manchester was a city of cotton mills, factories and downtrodden workers.

The Gaskell Society notes Frederick Engels observation of Manchester’s human crisis at the expense of booming business; he wrote ‘The workers’ dwellings of Manchester are dirty, miserable and wholly lacking in comforts. In such houses only inhuman, degraded and unhealthy creatures would feel at home.’ 

The Conditions of the Working Class in England 1844

The Gaskells were fortunate to afford vastly different living standards. Their handsome Victorian villa was in a relatively rural area of the rapidly expanding city. Elizabeth had servants, tended a garden, kept a cow, a pig and chicken and entertained eminent guests. Today the city is on the doorstep.

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From the Gaskell’s front door, contemporary city centre homes

Elizabeth’s villa is a delicious retreat. Beautifully restored, there is much attention to period detail, from the plasterwork, to the wallpaper and the fabulous chintz fabrics.

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In the hallway, calling cards and mail. Post was delivered three times daily; responding to fan mail consumed much of Elizabeth’s time.

Off the main hall way, William’s study is woody, booky and cosy, while the Victorian morning room opposite is light and airy; here Elizabeth’s four girls -Marianne, Margaret Emily (Meta), Florence and Julia gathered to read and write.

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The cheery Victorian morning room wallpaper

The sitting room is chintz comfort; the khaki green wallpaper an exact copy of that chosen by Elizabeth, likewise fine floral chintz used on the seats and for the curtains.

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Elizabeth Gaskell’s sitting room where the likes of Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens took tea. Note the warm wool paisley shawl on the chaise.

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Richly decorated windows and matching seat covers

I was taken by the story of shy Charlotte Bronte diving behind the curtains to hide while Elizabeth stepped into the hallway to welcome an unexpected guest, Mrs Potter, to join them for tea.  Charlotte’s painful shyness made such surprises impossible for her. She remained frozen behind the curtain, unbeknown to Elizabeth and Mrs Potter who assumed she had left the room.

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Beautiful fabrics at the huge windows, this chintz was Elizabeth’s pride and joy

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Beautiful chintz curtain linings too

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Writer, mother, wife…you can see where she was coming from! Putting it all in context: the below stairs area of Elizabeth Gaskell’s house

When she did find time to write, the bay window in the dining room was a favourite place.

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Elizabeth Gaskell’s writing room

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The ground floor bay window, where Elizabeth preferred to write her novels

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Still hugely popular: a delivery of Elizabeth’s novel ‘North and South’ in the ground floor tea room and shop, formerly the kitchen of the family home.

The small garden of the house brought Elizabeth much pleasure, the pink carnations she grew in the garden are seen scrambling through the chintz pattern of the sitting room  upholstery.  The famous author enjoyed the privacy of her garden, she wrote:

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Relaxation Victorian style!

Elizabeth’s home is open on selected days throughout the year, for times and prices see www.elizabethgaskellhouse.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Posted by: brigid benson | October 29, 2015

Postcard from: Dylan Thomas Boat House

‘and there is nowhere like it at all’

Dylan Thomas 

Free spirited poet Dylan Thomas and his vivacious wife Caitlin managed a tempestuous marriage within the confines of a modest boat house home on the shore of the Taf estuary in Talacharn, as it is known in Welsh, or Laugharne in the English spelling.

From childhood, the poet’s affection for the ‘timeless, mild, beguiling island of a town’, complete with a castle, was steadfast and after periods of homelessness and short lets, the family home in Laugharne spurred a creatively productive time in the poet’s life, although three quarters of his poetry was written in four years between his 16th and 20th birthdays.

Dylan Thomas Boat House on the Taf estuary

Dylan Thomas Boat House on the Taf estuary

Dylan and Caitlin, a ferocious, fiery, loving warring couple shared their Bohemian existence with their children Aeron, Llewellyn and Colm.

Often broke, often drunk, heaving in and out of infidelities, the couple depended on the support of friends and family; even the boathouse was a gift bought for the family by Margaret, the wife of historian AJP Taylor and a passionate admirer of the poet.

The poet's long johns?

Poetic long johns in the garden 

Having come to the rescue by hosting homeless Dyland and Caitlin in their Oxford garden summerhouse for a month, Margaret went on to purchase the boat house, which the poet had much admired since childhood.  Dylan, Caitlin and their children took up residence from 1949-1953. Many believe that Margaret hoped, in vain, to share the home too.

Today the atmosphere of the boat house is sedate, though if walls could talk there might be some extraordinary recounts of extraordinary events here. Open to the public, the poet’s home is simply furnished in period style. Estuary views inspire. It’s a friendly, lived-in kind of place – I especially liked the witty touch of clean washing – this was a couple renowned for airing their ‘dirty washing’ in public!

The modest writing shed where Dylan Thomas wrote 'Under Milkwood'

The modest writing shed perched on stilts where Dylan Thomas wrote ‘Under Milkwood’

Dylan’s writing place was a shed on stilts, still in situ, clinging to the cliff and floating above the muddy foreshore. Peer through the window to see  scattered scrumpled sheets of paper and Dylan’s blue and white stripy mug on the table with a sea view. It seems as if the poet may return at any moment. Perhaps he’s just at Browns, (where the bar number was his telephone contact) or the Three Mariners;  among his favourite watering holes.

Nipped to the pub perhaps? Dylan Thomas' writing shed

Nipped to the pub perhaps? Dylan Thomas’ writing shed

From the boathouse allow about an hour for the circular walk along a woodland path to a beautiful smallholding and up a steep sunken lane, from here it’s a short way to a small iron gate behind St Martin’s church. Go through the churchyard and over the bridge to discover the couple’s grave, marked by a simple white cross, quite different to the fine Welsh slate headstones all around it.

How may times must Dylan Thomas have strolled this woodland path?

Often Dylan Thomas strolled this woodland path

Dylan died in New York in 1953, Caitlin, who was 39 at the time, died in 1994. Unlike may great poets buried with pomp in Westminster Abbey, Dylan lies at peace on a Welsh hillside, though St Martin’s church has a replica of the poet’s memorial stone in Westminster Abbey.

Visiting the Dylan Thomas Boat House is especially lovely in the low season when you will have time and space to soak up the atmosphere and the views.

At the end of my walk I returned to the basement tearoom to sit outdoors in the sunshine, accompanied by ‘Humpy’ the resident gull. Far from aggressive with humans, Humpy is so named because he arches his back as soon as any other bird glides across his path.  Look out also for the tame timid robin called Dave. As Joyce, one of the lovely kitchen team explained, ‘there was always madness when Dylan lived here and there’s definitely still some of it about today!’

Joyce with Humpy the Gull

Joyce with Humpy the Gull

Humpy gets the hump!

Humpy gets the hump!

Posted by: brigid benson | August 9, 2015

Meet Night and Day

There’s wildly glamorous Egyptian-inspired Art Deco architecture on the Liverpool waterfront.

Seek out George’s Dock ventilation station, designed by Herbert James Rowse, to discover an exquisite building that elegantly evacuates noxious fumes from the Queensway Tunnel roadway beneath the River Mersey; a vital artery connecting Liverpool and Wirral.

In two niches, just above head height, stylish black basalt statues, sculpted by Belfast-born Edmund C Thompson, represent the tunnel that never sleeps. They are Night and Day, and they are among my favourite statues in the city. Well worth seeking out.

A tour of The Queensway Tunnel is a great visitor experience, click on the link to learn more.

Art Deco 'Night' by Edmund C Thompson

Art Deco ‘Night’ by Edmund C Thompson

Art Deco 'Day' by Edmund C Thompson

Art Deco ‘Day’ by Edmund C Thompson

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