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

Zen wisdom from French poet Paul Eluard 'It's enough to move forward to live To go straight toward that which you love...'

The Zen wisdom of French poet Paul Eluard
‘It’s enough to move forward to live
To go straight ahead Towards all that which you love Ahead, the road is light And opens onto all shores Behind, there are only chains…’

On a secret hillside in southwest France Les Jardins de Cadiot explore beautifully strong architectural form and frothy freedom.

Journey through a series of 10 ‘garden rooms’ to encounter strict control and wild abandon. Such is life!

Here, thanks to the skill of the designers, strict control flows seamlessly, successfully into wild abandon, making for a beautiful experience.

‘Move towards all that which you love…’

Move towards that which you love...

Inventive topiary!

Inventive topiary!

Beyond, wild woods…

Escape searing heat; refresh yourself in the deep green shade

Escape searing heat; refresh yourself in the deep green shade

Here planting that reaches out to greet you…

Soft exuberant planting

Soft exuberant borders

Here more self contained design… photo Vibrant blue rings outloud

Exotic agapanthus announce the arrival of...

Exotic agapanthus announce the arrival of…

...hideaway patios

…hideaway patios

And cooling tricking fountains…planted with papyrus and waterlily

Pause to reflect

Pause to reflect

Enchantment of another kind. In the south of France, black cats are often regarded as ‘matagots’ – powerful spirits in folklore. Respect them, treat them well during their time with you – no-one knows how long that may be because they are free spirits that must come and go – and in turn they will bring you protective magic.

Magician cat?

Magician cat? Almost

When to visit? Les Jardins de Cadiot are open from May to October. Click on the link to check the website for opening times. Note that from September to October the gardens close for lunch and reopen in the afternoon.

June is an especially beautiful month and early morning visits reveal the planting in less harsh light than the afternoon.

The gardens are on a hillside, across 2 hectares. Paths are steep in parts. Allow at least an hour to explore.

The owners are friendly and if you wish to picnic, simply let them know at reception and you will be made welcome.

Gardens of charm

Gardens of charm

Posted by: brigid benson | April 15, 2015

Mirror, mirror!

There was much kerfuffle when architects developing Liverpool’s world heritage Mersey river waterfront skyline proposed shiny black contemporary buildings alongside the city’s iconic ‘Three Graces’ – a famous trio of elegant white stone classical buildings. However, the bold plans went ahead and here is an intriguing glimpse of one of the new kids on the block, happily reflecting its more classical neighbour.

Beautifully refelcted in black, the white stone Port Of Liverpool Building. The classical design was originally considered as an option for Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral.

Beautifully reflected in black, the white stone Port Of Liverpool Building. The classical design was originally considered as an option for Liverpool’s Anglican Cathedral.

Posted by: brigid benson | February 27, 2015

Postcard from: Achmelvich

Destination Achmelvich

Destination Achmelvich

I’m a wanderer because I grew up in a family of wanderers.

At seventeen my mum set her heart on an inspirational place she’d heard talk of, a remote rural settlement more than 500 miles north of her home in Liverpool. A place she determined to discover for herself. And so she hitched from a terraced house in the street behind Anfield stadium to Achmelvich, the meadow in the sand dunes, in Scottish Gaelic, chaperoned by her nineteen year old cousin and seventeen year old school friend.

Sends tingles down my spine!

Sends tingles down my spine!

Leaving behind the grimy cosmopolitan city,with scant cash between them the blissfully innocent trio hitched lifts and slept in sheep fanks (pens), enduring ticks and midges to achieve their five hundred mile odyssey. Destination Achmelvich: a Scottish Youth Hostel in a former school house in a tiny crofting community in the immense northwest highlands.

Fellow travellers on the road

Fellow travellers on the road

Urban tarmac ultimately gave way to single track roads, which faded to dust paths and sheep tracks. Three vivacious city girls in pretty 1950s cotton sundresses, all home made, were entirely unprepared for the epic journey in blistering army surplus hobnail boots and heavy canvas rucksacks.

Inspirational scenery

Inspirational scenery

I can hardly imagine their wonder as they straggled through astounding ancient mountain scenery, exhausted and inspired, revisiting their map, anxiously wondering just when they would first catch sight of the hallowed shallow bay, the dazzling white sand and mediterranean turquoise water.

Achmelvich did not let them down. The impression it made upon them is recounted over and over in my family. Achmelvich is imprinted in our family DNA, a place our hearts belong!

After more than 500 miles...Keep Going!

After more than 500 miles…Keep Going!

The front gate

The front gate

The whitewashed schoolhouse under a grey slate roof in the meadow by the beach, far far away from the terraced streets  of Liverpool.

Achmelvich Youth Hostel in the dunes

Achmelvich Youth Hostel in the dunes

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Beside the sea and closed for winter; the dormant hostel

Beside the sea and closed for winter; the dormant hostel

My most recent visit was peaceful in the extreme. The dormant hostel was all locked up and as I wandered around the building, I smiled to see 1950s kitchenware that my mum may well have used to fulfil tasks requested by the hostel warden  during her stay; a battered enamel pail and a stove-top kettle. _MG_9469     _MG_9478   _MG_9473

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Fish box herbs in the dunes

Heating!

Hostel heating!

A holed canoe

A holed canoe

In the flower bed, the washed up bone of a sea creature

In the flower bed, the washed up bone of a sea creature

You can't miss it!

You can’t miss it!

A deep winter visit: snow on the beach

A deep winter visit: snow on the beach

My Achmelvich sofa!

My Achmelvich sofa; a place to treasure family memories

Posted by: brigid benson | February 18, 2015

Postcard from: Constantine Bay, North Cornwall

The saints, the surf, the sand dunes. Des Moore, Greg Noll and Jimi Hendrix!

Winter at Constantine Bay

Winter at Constantine Bay

 

There’s a curious mix of souls on the ravaged coast of north Cornwall. While the wild Atlantic Ocean hurls itself at sandy beaches and cowering coves, prime ministers and millionaires luxuriate in dreamy beach houses, and hardcore all-season surfers prowl narrow country lanes in rust bucket motors to assess the swell from beach to beach.

The parish of St Merryn is a surf magnet, boasting ‘Seven bays for seven days’:

  • Treyarnon
  • Trevone
  • Mother Ivys (yes really)
  • Harlyn
  • Boobys ( yes really)
  • Porthcothan
  • and Constantine, named after the Cornish King and Saint and home of the rare White Sandhill Snail Theba Pisana.

The ruins of a chapel and well dedicated to Saint Constantine can be tracked down on a footpath across the links of Trevose Golf Course.  A more contemporary place of pilgrimage is Des Mooore’s Constantine Bay Surf Store .

Among the suits: local hero Des Moore

Among the suits: local hero Des Moore

What Des doesn’t know about surfing this coast isn’t worth knowing.

Just about everyday he files a surf report from Constantine Bay, renowned for a classic beach break, hollow, fast and powerful with dangerous rips; this is no place for the uninitiated. Any beginner who longs to surf here is advised to sign up with Constantine Bay Surf School.

Des opened his bijou store in 1990 and can still be found behind the counter, though occasionally he takes flight in winter to surf bigger, warmer waves around the world. Look up and a clock on the wall reveals a favourite destination; Waimea Bay, Hawaii.

And the time in Waimea is...

And the time in Waimea is…

Look down and there’s an ocean of great surfing imagery at your feet. I love the collage floor of Des’ store; each image carefully selected and pasted down by Des. Even the patchy spots have artistic flair! I should add that these photos, all snapped on my phone camera, were taken the week before Des was about to revamp the floor.

A sea of iconic surfing imagery

A sea of iconic surfing imagery

Hard worn, still stylish!

Hard worn, still stylish!

Even Jimi Hendrix and Castles in the Sand

Lyrics too!

Check out Jimi’s Castles Made of Sand on Vimeo.

Iconic Greg Noll with his iconic long board

Iconic Greg Noll with his iconic long board

Spy big wave surfer Greg Noll, who grew up in Manhattan Beach in the 1940s and was among the first to stake a claim on the immense 25-30ft waves of Waimea Bay. Often photographed in his famous ‘jailhouse’ black and white stripe board shorts, Noll is a surfing legend who became a longboard shaper, crafting them lovingly with his son, Jed, in the family business: Noll Surfboards.

If funds don’t stretch to one of their collectors’ boards, save up, dream on and perhaps consider a ‘Big Drop’ poster meanwhile!

 

Dream on!

Dream on!

For more inspirational places in Cornwall and throughout Britain, see my beautiful award winning books from Amazon and bookstores

52 Weekends by the Sea

52 Weekends in the Country

And check out more great British adventures on my website at www.52hq.co.uk

 

Posted by: brigid benson | February 6, 2015

Proper Scottish

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Traditional Scottish dishes to put hairs on your chest!

This steamy wee cafe caught my eye with favourites straight from a Scottish recipe book. But be warned; if you’ve any room after your baked tattie and haggis, you are unlikely to be able to move after clootie dumpling and custard!

The all – important  ‘clootie’ is a floured cloth, wrapped around a fruity mass of sultanas, currants, breadcrumbs, flour, suet, sugar, spice, a splash of milk and the occasional dollop of golden syrup.  The shrouded doughy pud bathes in a pan of boiling water for a couple of hours before being hoisted out to dry in an oven, or more traditionally, by the fire. Served with custard, it’s classic comfort food for winter days. Refined Scottish chef Nick Nairn delivers his version of clootie dumpling with clotted cream and a dram of whisky.

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