October 2015 saw us make the first of four visits to Northern England.
This one was a hit and run exercise – there had been sightings of the Northern Lights on the Northumberland coast, so that’s where we headed.
A quick delve into the realms of booking.com and we came up with a guest house in Seahouses for Saturday night and a cut-price deal at the Hampton by Hilton in the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne for Sunday.
After a fish supper, we headed to the beach path between Seahouses and the guest house and spent an hour or so on a bench staring out to sea in a northerly direction.
Guess what? No Northern Lights for us!
The following day saw us having a hearty breakfast and walking back into Seahouses for a spot of photography and a general mooch around. The National Trust shop came up with some goodies, as did the RNLI shop.
Lunch came and went and it was time to head for Newcastle.
After working in Newcastle for years, I thought that I knew the way to the hotel, especially as it was around 300 metres away from where I worked.
What I didn’t realise was the the road layouts had changed in a big way, so all of the shortcuts I used to use were closed off or open to buses only.
Still, we found the hotel, parked the car in a nearby car park (£12 a day…), went for a walk, had a coffee and then changed for a night on the town.
Not into the type of garb favoured by those wandering around the Quayside or Bigg Market you understand. No, we chose more sensible clothing to combat the colder weather being encountered…
Monday was a shopping day around Northumberland Street, Eldon Square and in the Baltic Art Centre shop. Lunch came from M&S and by then it was time to head home…
Life’s a beach…
But not for long as we were back in the North East three weeks later.
We’d got a good deal at Redworth Hall Hotel for a couple of nights, had a pretty decent Sunday lunch at a pub on the outskirts of Darlington and then headed into that town for a mooch around my old stamping ground.
Once at Redworth Hall, the bar and log fire beckoned, as did the following morning’s visit to the National Railway Museum‘s outpost Locomotion in nearby Shildon.
That was followed by a weather beating visit to the local multiplex to catch up with The Lady In The Van before a pre-pack salad plus accompaniments was bought as an BYOB evening meal back at the hotel.
Alnmouth beckoned next – one of our joint favourites in Northumberland because of the village and the beach. The B&B wasn’t wonderful, but the pub meal a few doors away was.
After a drive up the coast to Seahouses, lunch was declared and taken, but a couple of the places we’d been into before were closed for redecorating or just closed due to lack of volunteers. So it was time to hit Bamburgh.
The car park was almost empty, as was the beach which proved tempting enough to inspire a wander and provided a bit of inspiration to use a couple of my camera’s not often used functions such as the black and white mode…
Bamburgh Castle – hand held in black & white
Same castle, same day, different side, but as the sun goes down…
A nearby pub provided a good excuse to go inside to warm up as it had coffee on tap and an open fire too. Our digs for the night were thankfully chintz free, but unstaffed after check-in, so we were left to our own devices until the following morning.
Which ensured that there was just one thing to do – head to the pub!
Steak and ale pice plus cider for Caroline, Lamb Cutlets and Guinness for me plus coffees were a great way to almost end the day. The warmth in the pub and the walk back to the room along with a full day of fresh sea air ensured that our respective night’s sleep were long and undisturbed until the alarm went off the following morning.
When the Grace Darling Museum and RNLI shop were visited, along with the local butchers who did a very fine line in pies, pasties and sausage roll. So lunch was bought, drinks purchased at a mini-market/petrol station on the A1 and then it was time to head home via Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
John Lewis sold us an iPad Mini 2 and case, Lush got some more travel size shower gel and shampoo bar sales and M&S sold us a couple of ready meals to have at home.
Was that it for the year?
Nope, because rock and roll got in the way and ensured that there were a couple of good nights out.
The first was to see prog rocker Fish on his Farewell to Childhood tour at Sheffield City Hall. Tickets were booked, as was rail travel and a night in the Holiday Inn Express.
Although this was originally billed and booked as a standing gig, ticket sales had been so good that the concert had been moved into the main hall – a seated venue.
After checking into the hotel and getting a cab into town, fodder had to be tracked down. Posh nosh in a pub? Fine stuff in a restaurant?
Nope. we hit Yates instead… and it pretty good too!
As we were now fed and watered, we decided to join the queue to get into City Hall, and ended up in prime seats about four rows back from the stage.
French band Lazuli impressed with their support slot, but would Fish?
It wasn’t the best show I’ve seen him do, but that was down to a cold apparently as his between song banter revealed.
The older solo stuff was mixed with more recent songs, but the main course was the playing in full of his old band’s Misplaced Childhood album.
A sense of deja vu kicked in as I’d last heard the whole of it played live back in the 1980’s and some of the solo stuff was heard in the 1990’s on a week following Fish around on his Highlands and Islands tour.
Mind you, a week later there was an even bigger sense of deja vu in Last Of The Summer Wine country – Holmfirth.
This was a good night out seeing a guy that’s been around so long that there’s calls being made for him to do the Legends slot at next year’s Glastonbury – Roy Wood…
He’s back at Picturedrome in Holmfirth in a couple of weeks and it’s very tempting to get tickets for the show, especially as they’re just £20 each.
All the hits and more from a pretty long career were delivered with aplomb and I surprised myself when I realised how many of the lyrics I actually knew. The band were as tight as they come and the show was only marred by the pillocks trying to video it on their mobile phones…
Given the amount of Christmas jumpers being worn in Picturedrome, there was one song that just had to be played – I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day. And it was.
So a good night out to round off the 2015 year of travelling.
The 2016 year of travelling wasn’t as hectic, but plans are already afoot for the 2017 travel year as the first trip is already booked and largely paid for!
Not just pictures at an exhibition either…
London calling – not just at the top of the dial, but plenty of other places too!
The full story behind my three days in London in August 2015 can be found by clicking on London to the right of this copy box, but I didn’t include any photos in those three posts, so here’s a few from that trip.
Imperial College residence hall
This was a great place to have as a base whilst I was down in London.
It wasn’t cheap (£68 per night), but I had a comfortable ensuite room with a substantial breakfast and access to a student bar that served reasonably priced pints of Irish nectar (Guinness) and good bar meals too.
Pottering around Kings Cross
Yes, it’s an excuse to pose for photos and quite a few people were standing in line to do just that. Some got their friends to do the camera work, whilst others made use of the stills photographer on the right of this pic.
Kings Cross station
The last time Caroline and I were in Kings Cross it was in the middle of the makeover you see above. Pigeons were perfecting synchronised fly-bys before the Olympics and the facilities were more basic because of the work.
As I mentioned earlier, the pen portraits of the trip are in the wisepacking archives by clicking on London to the right of the screen.
It’s a city that I’ve visited many times. Some have been for business, some have been for pleasure and some have been down to involvement in the music business for a few years.
It was cheaper to take demos down to London on an overnight coach and distribute them to record companies by using a day pass on the Underground than it was to post them.
There and back trips in a car or a van took up occasional weekends as a couple of bands played at Dingwall’s in Camden Town or at the Rock Garden in Covent Garden.
There were also visits to the Dominion on Tottenham Court Road to see Al Stewart or to the Town & Country Club and The Royal Albert Hall to see Fish, the former Marillion vocalist.
Fun gigs were those by The Skiff Skats at either The Dublin Castle in Camden Town or the Caledonian Road Fun Day. The latter saw the band play a set by the canal and then head off and play a set on a barge.
I’d met a couple of members of the band before in their office and recording studio , but things were spoilt by a pushy photographer going a little too far in getting shots of these members of a name band just having a fun day out by playing music that was completely different to that which had seen them in the Top 5 and on TOTP on many occasions.
Just been for a hair raid (number 4 cut, square back) as it’s getting warmer in Yorkshire and it’s a few weeks since a barber was let loose on my bonce!
Mystery number one was the choice of radio station playing in the premises – young person’s station when the majority of customers were a tad over thirty (or fifty in several cases).
Mystery number two was the music being played on said station – about as good as that being played on a truck stereo whilst that vehicle was parked in our street yesterday.
Was the CD entitled ‘Crapola – The Very Worst Of Pop And Dance Music’?
Dunno, but it would be an apt analogy thanks to the lack of quality in the music being played on that radio station and in said truck – and yes, I do like dance music as I have a few CDs in my collection of dance music old (1980’s-1990’s) and much older (1960’s and 1970’s).
The stuff being played yesterday and today was to dance music what deep fried chocolate bars are to healthy eating!
Mystery number three was an advertisement for city breaks by air.
Nowt wrong with that, but one of the selling points used in the ad was the ability to take along hold luggage weighing in at 22kg on that city break.
22kg? For a city break?
My bag for a seven day break weighs around 8kg depending on the airline being used for the trip…
Whisky Tango Foxtrot was my thought when each of these mysteries presented themselves.
Caroline and I had a great night out last Thursday.
First night of the latest tour by Status Quo in a standing venue in the wilds of Blackpool (and it was wild thanks to the combined effects of wind, rain and hailstones as we made our way from Blackpool North railway station to the guest house we were staying in for the night).
It was a great show with all the hits and a bit more. This was the fifth time that I’ve seen Status Quo, but it was the first time for Caroline and she was more than happy when they opened the show by playing her song – Caroline!
I can honestly say that it’s the first time that I’ve been made to bounce up and down in a venue as the show was taking place in the Empress Ballroom in Blackpool’s Winter Gardens.
The Empress Ballroom has a sprung wooden floor and boy did the floor move when everyone started to react to the songs being played onstage.
There will be more about the gig and Blackpool over the next week or so, but there are a couple of things that I didn’t understand about the audience.
Yes, I took a few pics on a digital compact camera, but many were consistently raising their phones to take shots throughout the show or to take video clips.
Now I could understand this in a gig with an audience of teenagers, but most (but not all) of the perpetrators were blokes around the 50 year old mark.
One person did however take the biscuit.
A bright young thing to my left decided to take shots on her phone throughout the show and also tweeted or received messages every couple of minutes or so.
Did I hope that she would drop her glass of whatever and black over the phone? Maybe…
Did I hope that she would drop the phone and it would somehow be kicked into oblivion when it fell, never to be used again?
You might think that, but I couldn’t possibly comment…
Never got to see him live (came close once, but the record company said ‘No”), yet Prince was always an intriguing character.
Good music, plenty of energy and the willingness to take on the record company when things didn’t go his way.
And the nous to let other artists take on his songs too – Sinead O’Connor and The Bangles are just two names that spring to mind.
David Bowie – proof that you don’t need to go on a talent show to have success, respect and a long lasting career…
After listing a few names whose songs will be hitting my iPad via iTunes in the not too distant future, here’s an alleged list of names whose songs won’t be hitting my iPad via iTunes…
Sorry, but that’s just the way it is as Bruce Hornsby once sang!
And yes, it’s all done in the best possible taste…
Bar Steward Sons of Val Doonican (seen live last night)
John Lennon (after 7 nights of the same CD in a hotel bar in Andalucia)
Paul Weller (apart from his work with The Jam of course – mint!)
So, what’s going on?
Music on the iPad that is…
Well, here are just a few of the artists that will have at least one, if not more, of their songs on the iTunes section of my iPad:
Emerson, Lake & Palmer
New Model Army
And many, many more…
Tune in on Friday 18th December to see who WON’T be on my iTunes!
And yes, it’s all done in the best possible taste!
We’d have liked to spend more time in Suffolk, but the original plans were scuppered thanks to a business meeting back in Yorkshire. Fortunately, we saw enough to make us want to revisit the area and ensure that the time was devoted to pleasure rather than business.
Neither of us had been to Suffolk before, but taking a look at comments made in Lonely Planet’s Great Britain guide and the National Trust handbook, there was more than enough to take a look at at least once, if not twice in some cases.
As the forecast was in our favour, accommodation and food costs plummeted as we decided to use a trusted Vango backpacking tent for the trip. No, you can’t stand up in it, but there’s plenty of room inside, especially when the rest of the kit is stored in the Skoda next to the tent.
The first day was a mix of travelling, eating and finding our way as we still use road books rather than rat nav. Campsite choices had been made via www.ukcampsite.co.uk. The first was Mill Hill Farm Caravan & Camping Park near Darsham (£13 a night for two people, that small tent and a car) and the second was Brighthouse Farm near Lawshall (£8 a night plus £1 each for shower tokens).
After a decent night’s sleep, some good coffee and a couple of bacon butties, we set off with the intention of heading to Southwold for a wander around and Sunday lunch. That didn’t happen.
The Southwold part did, but lunch ended up being coffee, scones and ice cream at a beach cafe after a front tyre punctured and the wheel nuts wouldn’t budge.
I’d taken my phone with me to deal with business matters, but it took a while for the road rescue operator to a) confirm that I did have cover with that insurer and b) realise that we were over 200 miles from home and didn’t know what was in the village apart from the much repeated road name attached to a road sign and a post box that were in plain sight…
When the rescue service turned up, everything was sorted in five minutes. The local tyre provider was closed for the day, so we headed off in search of a new tyre elsewhere and/or lunch. The tyre search was abandoned after an hour, so we headed for Southwold.
Once parked, we headed onto the pier Southwold Pier is one of those that has been looked after and whilst the shops along it were a bit on the pricey side for us, the views, Steampunk style features and more meant we spent time looking rather than glancing and wandering off to somewhere else.
Like the prom… Well, I was on the prom and Caroline was on the beach as I have problems walking on soft sand or snow. While Caroline made the most of the waves upon the sand, I sauntered along taking photos of the pier, beach huts and Southwold’s famously inland lighthouse. The town itself is reminiscent of town centres of old (well, the sixties and early seventies before developers turned towns into identikit locations) with only a few names that I recognised from home.
With Sunday trading hours and the earlier puncture time-bombing our exploration of Southwold, we only had time to take a look around a couple of places. We did make a promise to ourselves to make a return visit at some point, even if it was just to take a longer look around the Adnams shop and to book a place on the same company’s brewery tour.
It could be pure coincidence, but in the ten days prior to posting this piece, Southwold has been spotted in a repeated edition of Coast and on the DVD of Tony Benn: Will And Testament...
With a sudden rain shower putting a real dampner on things, we headed back to the car and onwards to Aldeburgh. Yes, it was Sunday after 5pm and it was still raining, but there were a few places open and as we’d been cheated out of lunch, a decision to go for a sit down fish supper was made.
With Caroline choosing the Mid-Shipman’s Choice at The Upper Deck Diner, I decided to go for The Admiral’s Choice and went for mushy peas as a side order. Big mistake. I know I have a healthy appetite, but the portion size almost got the better of me! The coffee went down well, but any thoughts of having a dessert went right out of the window…
After getting the tyre replaced on Monday morning, one place that wasn’t in the guide books beckoned – Flixton Air Museum. A poster in the washing up area at Mill Hill announced its presence to one and all and the low key approach to promotion paid off, because it was a gem that was both free to enter and worthy of a couple of hours wandering around.
Now I have been to some air museums which charged admission fees that weren’t worth the money, but with displays including classic planes such as the Lightning, Sea Harrier, Canberra, Meteor, Hunter and Javelin, there was enough to make me want to put a decent donation into one of the collecting boxes around Flixton’s hangers. MIG fighter at Flixton… Fortunately there were a host of other items in the museum to keep Caroline’s interests up. One display in particular fascinated her as it caught the attention of her artistic eye. Some exhibits were recovered parts of crashed aircraft – part ghoulish, but also with that previously mentioned air of fascination too. My thoughts went in a different direction as my late father apparently survived forty-odd missions onboard Lancaster bombers.
With NAFFI scones and coffee for lunch, we headed back to Aldeburgh for an afternoon of wandering along the beach (or the shingle in my case as fishing boats and other items provided interesting photo opportunities). With Caroline investigating a large sculpture she’d seen further along the coast, I decided that it was time for an ice cream and a cold drink and a chance to wonder why I’d not listened to more of Benjamin Britten‘s music. One better day – fishing boat on the shingle at Aldeburgh The following day saw us striking camp and heading off towards Brighthouse Farm, but there was a major stop to be made.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Caroline’s the history buff and I’m all for Horrible Histories, but when you have a brace of National Trust cards between you and one of their crown jewels isn’t far away, then yes, you do spend best part of a day exploring Sutton Hoo. With the main finds on display in The British Museum, it’s good to know that the replicas on show at Sutton Hoo don’t disappoint. That large version of the iconic Sutton Hoo helmet (as seen above) is above the door of the main visitor interpretation centre, but the smaller version inside is exquisite.
I didn’t go on the tour around the burial chambers, but Caroline did and was rather enthusiastic about the experience afterwards. Would we go back to Sutton Hoo? Oh yes, but we would ensure it was out of term time or early on before any school parties arrive.
With two days and nights left, we made our way up to Brighthouse Farm to find that the site fees were smaller than those mentioned on their website, so we paid that £8 per night instead of £12 and found that we could spread out and even have our own picnic table to cook by and eat at.
Although we’d taken some food with us, we did buy locally too and found some local ales and cider to help the meals go down. Although we have cooked from scratch in the past whilst camping, we were being lazy this time and most of our food came from packets or tins in order to save money and gas.
With no sore heads the following morning, it was time to head out once more and give our National Trust cards another outing or two. It’s not often that there’s two properties so close together, but the plan had been hatched to head to Lavenham to look around Lavenham Guildhall and to have lunch before heading out to the much larger Melford Hall.
Lavenham is almost like the land that time forgot. The roads are relatively quiet, the car parking is free, the place is peaceful and the only signs that you’re not in the land that time forgot are cars, the modernised innards of the Co-Op and the name of a well-known chef that’s at the top of one of the pub signs near the Guildhall.
The Guildhall is quite small, but it tells the story of the area and the local blue cloth too. The platter on offer for lunch in the small cafe was more akin to a posh ploughman’s lunch, but both plates went down well, as did the coffee and soft drinks.
What we didn’t realise when we went to Lavenham is that it has been the location for major feature films such as Witchfinder General and the last two Harry Potters whilst the area (including Lavenham) was used as the setting for a television series that’s still being shown today- Lovejoy.
We didn’t get the chance to explore the village of Long Melford, but Caroline took time out for a wander around Melford Hall, although parts of it were closed at the time of our visit as the roof had leaked and some damage to carpets and furnishings had occurred. The gardens at Melford Hall (a National Trust property).
We did however wander around and take a couple of relaxed drinks in the garden, but as closing time beckoned, it was time to head back to the campsite and a chilli that benefitted from the addition of red wine from the bottle that had been bought to accompany that evening’s meal.
After packing up the camping kit the following morning, we headed off in a northerly direction once more, but we did have one major stop to make along the way. Ickworth near Bury St. Edmunds is suitably grand National Trust property with the house only open on certain days of the week.
The grounds are more accessible however with the gardens, shops and restaurant being open virtually all-year round. I decided to sit outside and chill whilst Caroline explored the main house, but it was one of the hottest days of the year and with little in the way of shade available, I headed back into The West Wing to find somewhere cool to sit before heading in for lunch and then back to the car for the drive home.
Our five nights and six days in Suffolk were relaxed, peaceful and very pleasant. As we headed home, we reflected on the fact that we’d never been there before and could quite easily have spent at least another five days on a more thorough exploration of the area.
We’d like to explore Southwold some more and have more time on the beaches or the chance to head over to Orford Ness National Nature Reserve and the associated remains of the adjacent Atomic Weapons Research Establishment…
We’d also spend more time at Aldeburgh and explore more of the towns and villages that we missed as we drove around. Oh, and might even call in at IWM Duxford Air Museum on the way there to see whether Guy Martin’s Spitfire is still there…
After writing that little piece about music choices in 2014 a few days ago, it’s been interesting to hear a lot of music since then which sounds fresh, interesting and had what John Peel used to call the ‘F*** Me!’ Factor (as in ‘F*** Me! What’s that?‘.
The small, but significant problem is that it’s been old stuff, or a new take on an old song. Apart from Pharrell William’s Happy (which sounds good on the radio or as the soundtrack for the Fiat 500 commercials) there’s nothing that’s caught my ear recently.
I’ve not done any downloads from iTunes over the last three years and the last couple of CD’s I bought were compilations by Roxy Music and Al Stewart from a shop in Wimbourne, Dorset.
I listen to the radio in the car and tend to watch the BBC festival coverage of Glastonbury, T In The Park and Reading/Leeds, but I still draw a blank in finding new music that’s interesting or which doesn’t go back over old ground.
I saw an Ed Sheeran acoustic performance from Glastonbury on a 2014 festival round up a couple of days ago and then just happened to catch a BBC compilation about singer/songwriters on Yesterday – which featured James Taylor and Neil Young singing some of their songs from over forty years ago that still sounded fresh to these ears.
That festival round-up also featured Metallica and one Dolly Parton along with Arcade Fire, Arctic Monkeys and Kasabian. The first two worked for me, the last three didn’t. Other than Metallica and Dolly, only Imagine Dragons‘ performance of an old Proclaimers song impressed, proving once more that some songs can work when given a totally different treatment by newer artists.
Unlike a version of XTC’s Making Plans For Nigel that I recently heard in a pub. I like the XTC original, but this version was the same song done as a ballad, and Caroline agreed with me that it just didn’t work. Some interpretations of older songs work – actor Jack Black’s take on Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On for example or The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s rendition of Delilah or The Toy Dolls punk take on Nellie The Elephant. Oh, and I nearly forgot about The Mission’s versions of Crazy Horses and Like A Hurricane…
Will 2015 bring any new music that sparkles, fizzes and sets the music scene alight once more?
I first started writing about music in the mid-1980’s when I did live reviews for The Northern Echo. Quite a few bands were new, some were on their way up, some were established and some were on their way down. Then there was a lull for a few years until Britpop happened.
When Britpop exploded, it was with a vengeance not seen since the days of punk. Some bands were good, others horrendous, but there were a load of memorable songs.
I happened to be a student at the time so Saturday nights were spent watching bands at Manor Quay in Sunderland or listening to the tracks being played by a couple of guys who, like myself, wrote for the independent student newspaper Universal Post. Some bands and songs were good, some were bad, but various songs played on those nights still shine on.
Will there be a new phase in 2015? That depends upon whether any new talent emerges that can take the UK music industry by the scruff of the neck and give it a damned good shaking up…
I might even update the music on my iPod if that happens and start packing it again whilst on my travels!