North Coast Journey

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The Magic of Scotland’s Northern Highlands

My new book is published!

Further to my award winning books in my ‘52 Weekends‘ series, North Coast Journey is a richly illustrated, magical odyssey through the highlands of Scotland’s far north.

The dramatically changing coastline, awesome mountain scenery, scattered cottages in sparsely populated landscape, abundant wildlife and birdlife, and welcoming community hubs make this a very special adventure for people of all ages.

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The discoveries I share are diverse. I invite you to travel routes taken by skilled drovers herding hundreds of cattle through wild scenery. Weave your way through ancient landscape to spine tingling settlements and monuments made by our ancestors in prehistory times. Surf some of the finest cold water waves in the world. Visit crofts and castles were you will be made most warmly welcome. Explore at ease through 10 clear stages; each offering the bonus optional detours to yet more fantastic discoveries.

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The essence of the book is to slow down, to connect with the north highlands in a meaningful and respectful way.

I invite you to nourish your spirit in nature, to be inspired by driech damp weather and golden sunshine days, to observe mountains express moods of light and shade through veils of mist and drifting cloud. To enjoy the tang of salty sea air as wild wind whips surging white horses and to peer into the ocean mirror as it reflects passing boats and romantic sunsets in the bewitching hush of calm, flat days.

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I invite you to feast  – on simple pleasures! To connect with local people in diverse communities, to reach dreamy beaches and secluded coves off the beaten track, to saunter footpaths with heart-stopping island views, to be still, to hear bird song, the rhythm of softly lapping waves, the uplifting sound of silence, and so much more!

North Coast Journey is based on my authentic, first-hand experience, my knowledge and extensive research. I am thrilled to share this beautiful, romantic and magical new adventure with you.

Whatever you do, don’t rush it!

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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!

Postcard from Marsden: jazz in a West Yorkshire Town

Marsden  Swing    Sheep   Canals  Cake   Wool   Tunnel   Water Taxi 

Marsden Jazz Festival 2012

High in the Pennines and surrounded by moorland and sheep the former mill town of Marsden in Yorkshire is a great destination; I write about it in my book 52 Weekends in the Country  . As ever, all pictures in my blog are snapped on the camera of my mobile phone.

On parade: jazz bands and followers in the streets of Marsden

The annual Marsden Jazz Festival is a great way to spend an autumn weekend. Jazz and swing bands of all shapes and and sizes fill the town’s public rooms and bars, spilling out onto pavements, bridges and into the market place too. There are more than 50 free performances to enjoy along with the headline gigs.

The clock tower of the handsome Marsden Mechanics Institute

Marsden Mechanics Institute

The event is superbly organised, there’s even a nippy  jazz bus that circulates around venues in the mill town before scaling steep Pennine hills to more remote venues.

All aboard!

Characterful venues all around the mill town

The event showcases bands and young musicians from local colleges and universities.

Huddersfield University Big Band

Red Hippo band

The Red Hippo band played in a jam packed pub – here’s Daz Jones on sousaphone, a challenging instrument to handle, let alone play! In the streets, crowds gathered to soak up the music.

Crowd scene!

And the local ales…

There’s music all over and not all of it jazz and swing…

Meanwhile the festival atmosphere is broadcast by the local community radio station for the Colne and Holme valley area , Two Valleys Radio,operating from a daubed caravan at the heart of the action beside the weir and quacky ducks.

Two Valleys community radio

Bands perform on the bridge over the weir

And children from local schools take part in a musical, dancing parade, dressing up as the festival’s iconic sheep motif.

I especially enjoy the way the whole town throws itself into the weekend, including the local stores.  From the charity shop where staff dress in razzamatazz jazz outfits – jaunty hats, feathers, sparkle…

Charity shop music for jazz fans!

To the florist, Lily Blossom, offering beautiful buttonholes for snappy dressers.

Oh so stylish…

The local butcher offers local delicacies, including homemade Yorkshire parkin, a moist cake made with oatmeal and molasses.

There are more cakes in the church hall.

The mill town sings out its great northern character loud and proud. Here’s Mick Kirby-Geddes’ street sculpture revealing the tightly packed industrial buildings and workers’ terraced cottages.

Here’s one of the town’s immense textile mills and warehouses, now empty.

Dewsbury/Mirfield Music Centre Swing Band

Beyond town there is something extraordinary and unmissable.

The history of the canal is fascintaing and a trip into the tunnel is thrilling – for more information about the area and its history, plus great advice for a fantastic visit, all based on my experience, read my book 52 Weekends in the Country

From the thin strip of waterway beside the railway station there’s a ten minute towpath walk to the tunnel, or try a trip aboard the water taxi.

Taxi!

The Standedge tunnel is a real wow experience – learn more about it in my book.

Journey into the dark aboard a boat, travel part way or the whole way through and walk back over the hill following the route the canal horses took when commercial canal traffic was at its peak.

Taking visitors into the darkness…

The Loft Space is an inspirational creative hub in a beautiful canal building which also houses displays on the historic construction of the tunnel.

A creative meeting place overlooking the moors and canal

Impossible not to be inspired in these airy, historic, colourful surroundings

Beyond the canal and the town there’s even more to discover on the National Trust Marsden Moor estate.

Marsden Moor Estate: Follow packhorse routes, glide up into the air from crags….

And after all the action, the generous locals invite you to take the weight off your feet.

And perhaps write a jazz festival letter home…

Postcard from: wonderful Whitby

A donkey called Whisper

September weekends by the sea are irresistible; summer’s last gasp may be chilled by autumn’s early frosts yet there are still deck chairs and donkeys on the beach in Whitby, one of my favourite seaside towns.

As ever, all pictures are taken on my mobile phone and there’s plenty more information and inspiration in my beautiful books 52 Weekends by the Sea 52 Weekends in the Country available in good bookshops and on Amazon.

Whitby Harbour: seen from the dizzy heights of the famous 199 steps to Whitby’s magnificent abbey

There’s much to discover; characterful harbour, cobbled medieval streets, outlandish abbey atop a wind blasted headland, the mighty whale bone arch that nods to whaling history, rainbow beach huts, black Whitby jet jewellery (the compressed fossilised remains of monkey puzzle trees) worn famously by Queen Victoria in mourning and maritime connections with Captain James Cook would be enough but then there are Fortune’s tangy kippers smoked on the same premises in Henrietta Street since 1872, saucy postcards that make you giggle, the RNLI station, the astounding youth hostel in a prime location, creative street entertainers, compulsive knitters ( see below) and oh so much more.

One weekend will never be enough…

A must for seaside breakfasts

Close by the pungent smokey kipper curing sheds

Founded in 657, destroyed by Vikings, rebuilt 1078, the present abbey reveals work from 12-15 Centuries

The abbey now….

…and then….

Whitby Youth Hostel, cheek by jowl with the abbey; historic buildings dominate the headland

And below the headland, cottages built into the cliff.

And across the harbour, yet another headland enjoys a spectacular view of the beach below the abbey.

And the lifeboat station…

See the impressionist works of the Staithes Group of Artists at the Pannett Art Gallery in verdant Pannett Park, the holiday haunts of Lewis Carroll. the Captain Cook Memorial Museum in buildings where the mariner served as an apprentice, or try the Gothic Weekend – spawned as an homage to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which is partly set in Whitby.

Sauce…

and saucy….

Traditional seaside entertainments…

Simple pleasures -some things will never change

Here’s one of my favourite street performers – wonderfully silly disgruntled stuff….

Moaning Lisa

Bobbins is a wooly Whitby institution.

Knitters’ Nirvana!

And here are favourite Whitby car stickers – I know which one I’d go for…

52 Weekends in the Country

To create, travel and write a companion book to compliment my highly acclaimed 52 Weekends by the Sea was thrilling – it took years to achieve –  and to my great relief 52 Weekends in the Country was published last month with a terrific reception from reviewers and readers alike.

Here’s a taste of just some of the wonderful  response:

gorgeous photography…each destination being varied and richly coloured‘ reported AP Magazine of Craig Easton’s outstanding British landscape images that accompany my words

this is more than just a travel  companion,  it’s a beautiful coffee table book that contains everything you could need for a blissful weekend‘ reported the Scottish Daily Record

Seductively ‘glosssy‘ and ‘sensual‘ was the verdict of Wanderlust magazine

This beautifully produced book seeks out the untrodden path and tranquil lake…As the rest of Europe rages in turmoil it’s a joy to revel in our island’s calm.‘ Daily Mail

To buy the book, visit good bookshops across Britain or Amazon here  http://www.52hq.co.uk/

Swaledale: The front cover of 52 Weekends in the Country

52 Weekends in the Country

And so it begins….Weekend 1 of 52 Weekends in the Country

When you put your heart and soul right out there it’s always a big moment; my latest book 52 Weekends in the Country took at least two years to create, including meticulous research, planning and travelling throughout Britain. Everything in it, from Weekend 1 to 52 is hand-picked and road tested by me – through all seasons and in all weathers too!

It’s been a privilege to work with a terrific team again and I trust that, like 52 Weekends  by the Sea, the carefully chosen thrilling weekends will inspire you to discover extraordinary people and places throughout Britain for yourself. I promise that amazing adventures and magical memories await!

52 Weekends by the Sea and 52 Weekends in the Country are available at all good booksellers, at characterful and quirky stores too, and on line.

For mouthwatering photography and further information about the books, please visit  www.52hq.co.uk

To buy the books now at Amazon, click here www.amazon.co.uk/52-Weekends-Country-Brigid-Benson/dp/0753522179

Birmingham NEC: Show Time!

BBC Gardeners’ World Live   Countryfile    52 Weekends in the Country 

Just back from a great day at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham where I was invited to sign advance copies of my forthcoming book, 52 Weekends in the Country at the BBC Gardeners’ World Live show.

What a pleasure to be invited back – I had a very happy time there last year on the busy stand with the BBC Countryfile team and it was fun to meet up again with magazine editor Fergus Collins and features editor Joe Pontin, along with the great hospitality team promoting a fantastic show-only subscription offer to the magazine which included an advance copy of 52 Weekends in the Country.

The show is a huge event celebrating travel and tourism, food and gardening. The Gardeners’ World Theatre is an opportunity to hear charismatic speakers like Carol Klein, seen here taking questions from an attentive audience of gardeners from around Britain.

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Exhibitors at the show reflect the latest trends and passions in food, gardening and travel. I noticed that wildlife, especially insects, were the focus of much attention this year.  Miniature wildflower gardens promoted the idea of healthy neglect and the restricted use of chemicals in the British landscape, from roadside verges to back gardens.

And there was much concern about Britain’s declining bee population.  One of my favourite exhibits was the hive and pretty wild garden, the skep making and the candle making of enthusiastic British beekeepers, all clad in their white overalls.

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At the Pest of British knitted vegetable garden I met Eileen Prince, a member of the Creative Moments craft group from Perry Common. Along with 70 other volunteers, Eilieen hand knitted an amazing garden, using largely size 8 needles. The finished garden was a colourful wow, much appreciated by young and old alike.

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The detail was extraordinary.

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Eileen explained how the community had put in over 7,000 knitting hours to create the magical plot; the sunflowers alone took 35 hours per bloom!

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My visit to the garden was a brief moment away from the BBC Countryfile stand where I throroughly enjoyed meeting people from all over the UK, including two South African women who had recently emigrated to live in the UK and were mad keen to acquire a copy of my book 52 Weekends by the Sea and the companion 52 Weekends in the Country as part of their mission to set about exploring their new homeland equipped with my top tips for great adventures, all based on my personal experience of great people and places throughout Britain. I’m looking forward to hearing how they get on; they have promised to report back!

I signed books as gifts for newly weds, for recently retired people, as Father’s Day gifts, birthday gift and even Christmas gifts! And it was great to give a couple travelling in their camper van some ideas for adventures to be had on the long journey home to Scotland!

I’ve long been a camper van traveller, since childhood – but here’s one of the exhibits from the show that had me and many others swooning – a Morris Traveller, all set up for 52 Weekends in the Country, and by the Sea!

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Finally a HUGE thank you to the great team who make visitors to the BBC Countryfile stand so welcome, and who promote my work with such generous enthusiasm – they are terrific.

The end of a busy and very long day!