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Ambling around Ambleside

The Bridge House, Ambleside

We recently spent a few days in the Lake District. As a present from a good friend for my wife’s 70th birthday, we booked a short break in a traditional stone cottage in Ambleside thinking that in mid March we might enjoy some spring-like weather, a Lakeland landscape full of colour and daffodils, and enjoy some of the local attractions before the big crowds arrive.

Weather-wise, needless to say, it rained, then it snowed and then the sun came out and it got bitterly cold. Not ideal, but one cant help but feel better for seeing the mist moving over Windermere, the snow on the hilltops and buildings and the colours in the landscape when the sun came out.

The crowds hadn’t arrived so it was easy to drive places and park the car. You could get a table in the better restaurants without having booked months in advance and you could walk without being intimidated by seasoned walkers in high tech hiking gear with OS maps in plastic bags.

The cottage was OK, if expensive for what is was. I have been pestered by the booking company to review it and if I do I will tell them that on a freezing day, the heating should be on when they are expecting guests to arrive. With no instructions on how to work the heating controls and the complicated ‘Hive’ thermostat, I was struggling to maintain a decent temperature. I’m convinced that this was partly due to the owner remotely overriding my attempts to turn up the temperature to save money!

Ambleside lies at the northern end of Lake Windermere and is a good base for exploring the Southern Lakes. It has some nice shops (although far too many outdoor clothing and equipment shops), nice cafes and restaurants and pubs, and the remains of a Roman fort. It is also very easy on the eye. The buildings and the layout are very pleasing, so its not surprising most of the town has been designated a conservation area.

We enjoyed pottering around the town and visited Bowness and the landscapes around Coniston and Hawkshead. A couple of local attractions we visited – and which I would recommend if you’re in this neck of the woods – were the ‘Blackwell Arts and Crafts House’ just outside Bowness and the ‘Windermere Jetty Museum’. Both attractions are under the management of ‘Lakeland Arts’ (not ‘National Trust’) which means the prices are reasonable and the tea rooms are better run! Click the titles below which link to their web sites.

Blackwell House is the most impressive arts and crafts building I have seen. This Grade I listed building was designed by noted architect Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott and was built as a holiday home for wealthy brewery owner Sir Edward Holt who was made Mayor of Manchester twice and who worked for numerous good causes, especially improving buildings, libraries, water and sewage works for the people of Manchester.

I agree with its claim that it is one of the UK’s finest examples of Arts & Crafts architecture, (a style inspired by the natural world, while embracing traditional craft skills in an age of increasing mechanisation and mass production). Almost all of Blackwell’s original features survive, along with immaculate furniture and beautiful decorative flourishes. The setting is something special also providing tremendous views over Windermere and the Coniston Fells. The house also has art and craft exhibitions, a gift shop and tea room (I recommend the scones).

Windermere Jetty Museum is an impressive collection of boat houses and a gallery. It contains some great examples of local boatbuilding, including SL Dolly, one of the oldest mechanically powered boats in the world; Margaret, the oldest sailing yacht in the UK; world record breaking speed boats; Esperance, one of the boats that inspired Captain Flint’s houseboat in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, and even Beatrix Potter’s rowing boat. The gallery was currently hosting a photographic exhibition titled ‘40 Farms’ and is the work of British Life Photographer of the Year, and Cumbrian farmer, Amy Bateman. These stunning photographs of people, farm animals, wildlife and landscapes document the stories of 40 Cumbrian farmers.

In conclusion, it was a nice three days. Of course, despite all the walking (a good bit of it uphill), I’m pretty sure we took in more calories than we expended. I suppose that is inevitable with so many good food eateries and local beers available.

Our Holiday in Bodrum, Turkey

We have just spent a week in Bodrum, Turkey. It is a nice place. Full of character and ‘Turkish Delight’.  It is a chilled out place in late season. It is not too busy and most things are still open.  The people are hospitable.  It is inexpensive.  The temperature is perfect for us (around 26 degrees centigrade in the day and 18 degrees in the evening). 

My wife and I spent the week there with our recently widowed female friend and her sister and husband who joined up with us. In my previous blog post, I wrote about the stress of booking and preparing for a holiday, something that seems to get worse as one gets older. 

This post is an account of how it actually went. Hopefully you might be amused by our up’s and downs.

It started well.  We found the Leeds-Bradford ‘Sentinel’ airport car park at 3 am without any problems.  We handed the keys over, the car was securely parked on site and the bus shuttle got us to the terminal within ten minutes of arriving.  (A brilliant service in case you are considering using them.)   We were one of the first to arrive and so we queued for the check-in which frustratingly opened nearly 20 minutes late.  

The Airport Experience ….

What got me stressed straight away was that there was a lot of Jet2 staff who had arrived with us and who just stood around for 20 minutes, chatting with each other and ignoring the passengers, rather than speak to us to explain why there was a delay.

We had ‘checked-in’ online and printed our own boarding cards but I am at a loss to understand how this is more convenient for us than the old desk system.   We had to queue to get to a machine (which was not a ‘one touch’ affair as was advertised), weigh our luggage, print off our labels, stick them on the suitcases and then queue again to present our cases to a Jet 2 porter in a corner of the room so he could remove them on to a trolley. Others who hadn’t checked in online queued at a desk, handed over their bags and beat us to the security gate.  Why don’t they just admit it is a cost saver, not a better service for the passenger? 

After zigzag queuing we negotiated the security check and I was body scanned and searched – no indication as to why. Afterwards, I was asked to move away from the conveyor belt to replace my shoes and belt but to where?  The place was congested so I ignored the security guy and carried on in situ. 

Once through into the departure lounge we decided to have an early breakfast and a coffee.  We had been up since 1.00 am and we needed something. This is the sausage sandwich I was served – freshly nuked and presented with such artistic flair.  I would have complained except no one would give a shit would they?  How do they get away with serving such crap at ridiculously expensive prices?  We certainly weren’t going to buy food on the flight so we bought a Boots meal deal to take on which was probably the only good value food in the entire airport. 

Thankfully, after the standard pre-flight airport experience, the plane took off on time.  The flight was quite uneventful but far from comfortable – claustrophobic, cold, and with the added ambience of lots of coughing people. Also, the expensive refreshments lived up to expectation.  We only had tea and coffee but both were horrible.

The Arrival …..

We arrived at Bodrum airport and enjoyed a smooth transition through baggage claim and security procedures. 0ur taxi to the hotel was waiting for us.   Everything went swimmingly up to the point we were shown to our rooms at the hotel.  We had paid for a sea view but after cricking our necks and standing on tiptoes we were forced to conclude there wasn’t one.  The hotel management seemed to have no record of a sea view but as we had it in black and white on it on the booking confirmation, they had to accept that a mistake had been made.  They told us that, unfortunately, there were no sea view rooms available for the first night but they would move us to a ‘very, very nice’ room with a sea view tomorrow.  Oh well.

Sea view from room
Sea view from room

Our friend’s sister and husband who had joined us in the hotel for the week didn’t book a sea view but managed to secure a partial one – if you looked through the gaps in the wall which separated their patio area from the hotel’s outdoor stage.  As the disco speakers were just yards away, their first night was a rather late, noisy one. After complaining, they managed to get a better, quieter room.

The Kung Flu strikes …..

Day two arrived but it was 2 pm before we were taken to our new rooms and were able to unpack. Still, there was a sea view and it was very nice one indeed.  Later in the afternoon we went to meet up with our friends.  It was at this point that our friend started feeling unwell.  The following morning she was feeling worse and asked our travel representative where she could contact a doctor and before you could say “iyi değilim ve öksürüğüm var”*, she was taken to a local medical centre, accompanied by her medical insurance details and my wife, where she was promptly diagnosed with corona virus. 

(* I’m not well and I have a cough)

Sodding hell! 

Over a several hour period, she was given a chest scan, fluids, blood tests etc to assess her risk and to provide some stability and was told she would need to isolate in the hotel.  My wife got a taxi back to the hotel and our poorly friend arrived back in an ambulance some 2 hours later.   

She had no option but to isolate in her room in the hope she has a negative test in time to fly home.  Her holiday was effectively kyboshed.  The staff would bring food, water and essentials and I have to say they were very diligent and very supportive.  In effect though, our friend was imprisoned. 

And what were we to do?  The three of us could have been exposed to our friend’s pernicious droplets and aerosol particles.  We decided if any of us displayed any symptoms we would test ourselves and review the situation.  This led to an uneasy couple of days. We thought about how the various scenarios might play out if we were also to become ill, were consequently confined to quarters and couldn’t catch the flight home.  Would we battle through and say nothing?

Of course we regularly called on our sick friend to check she was coping ok and to bring additional/alternative refreshments and provide moral support.  It was clear over the next few days she was starting to feel better and that this was a mild case.  We began to relax.  So, we got on with trying to enjoy ourselves and as it turned out we had a very nice time pottering around Bodrum and the local area and relaxing in our lovely hotel complex on the beach. 

Intermission – Visiting Bodrum ….

If you are thinking of visiting Bodrum, these snippets might be of some help:

Eating out is generally inexpensive and good value.   Going ‘All inclusive’ is even better value although it does have its limitations.  Seafood is better in the restaurants and the hotel’s alcoholic spirits are poor imitations of the real thing.  But I’m not complaining. The hotel food was good, varied and there was a lot of it.  But there are only so many kebabs I can eat and so many cocktails I can drink before I fall asleep or get ill and so I didn’t overdo it.  Some hotel guests didn’t seem to have that problem or that self restraint and you could see they had devoted their life to eating and drinking and getting very fat.   

There are plenty of attractions to enjoy.  There are plenty of historical and archaeological remains to visit.  The Castle and museums are worth a visit. Check opening times though because some museums are closed on random days.  If you like boat trips, you’ll be spoilt for choice.  If I went again I would do the trip to Kos. Some of the big advertised all day trips look wonderful but take a good part of the day to get there and back so check out journey times.

The taxis are cheap, but not for the feint hearted.  Here are some tips.  Choose an older driver….  They are less likely to think they are immortal and have the skills of Lewis Hamilton.  Younger taxi drivers are reckless and seem to have a death wish.  Choose a newish car…..  We found the seat belts in the older ones didn’t work and were disguised by seat blankets.   Pretend you know where you are going ….. Drivers will take you twice round the block if you sound timid.  Tip the taxi driver… if he doesn’t try to kill you.  They don’t get paid much.

It’s worth learning a few Turkish phrases and greetings  I can see why Turkish is one of the hardest languages to learn and many holiday makers are put off for fear of getting words wrong. I struggled to pronounce even a few phrases and greetings and it probably sounded gibberish most of the time but it seemed to be appreciated by the locals if just for the comedy value.  I’m sure that appreciation manifested itself in the speed of waiter service and the amount of gin in my gin and tonic.  

There are a lot of shops   Fancy a Rolex watch, Gucci bag and a smart Boss shirt?  Well, you can get these for a fraction of the price you’d pay in Harvey Nichols.  Because they are fakes!  Honestly, I’ve never seen so many Rolex watches in my life.  If you are looking for real bargains, check out the leather goods (I mean the non fake leather goods), carpets, clothes, and jewellery.  There are reputable independent jewellers who know their stuff and offer great end of season prices.  My wife’s 70th birthday is coming up in November and after 43 years married to me I thought she deserved a new engagement ring.  So the most unimpulsive man ever bought one.  I am now poor but well loved! 


So, did our friend recover in time for her flight home?  Yes she did.  Our flight was, however, delayed for an hour and forty minutes. This was because the pilot wanted engineers to check that some debris which blew across the runway on landing (known as FOD) didn’t enter and damage the engine turbines. Fair enough.

So we took off and soon a number of people around me started coughing.  I had read that in the UK one on 30 people have covid at present. On the basis that our plane had a capacity of 180 passengers it seems likely that some of these had covid. Therefore, if we haven’t already picked up the Kung Flu, there’s a reasonable chance we will by the time we arrive home. 

We arrived back without further incident but some two hours late. No sooner had we dragged our bags from the terminal to the ‘Sentinel’ bus stop, the bus arrived for us. “Mr and Mrs Simpson I presume”, said the driver. Brilliant!

Post Script

We don’t seem to have any covid symptoms so far and I am getting to the point of not caring.  Its getting too much of an inconvenience and an obsession with people.

I need a long rest before thinking about our next holiday.

Short Holiday Breaks – Whitby

View of Whitby and River Esk from West Cliff

We have been to Whitby many times, but this time we arrived in a very different Whitby.  The buildings and the scenery were as gorgeous and as familiar as ever but there was something very different about its visitors.  Whitby has always attracted a good number of what I shall call (for the want of a better word) ‘characters’.  These include the types of characters it does not deserve – like drunken, shouty blokes on stag parties, feral kids and the dog owners from hell who can’t control their dogs. Other more engaging characters include those of the folk community, the Goths, international visitors and other groups who flock to the many festivals in Whitby’s annual calendar.  This weekend we were introduced to a community straight out of a Victorian England which seemed to have gone futuristic.

There were men (hipsters?) in well-ironed suits with waistcoats, top hats and long, straight coats.  Some wore high leather boots, gloves, and goggles. Others were dressed as engineers, pirates or wore military attire carrying an assortment of old and futuristic weapons, with accessorised cogs, clockwork devices and pipework.

Women were wearing dresses complete with petticoats, corsets, gloves and hats decorated with feathers, flowers and antique jewellery . A few were dressed as pirates, pilots or engineers wearing riding jackets, flight jackets and carriage coats.

We saw children from age 5 dressed in similar attire.  You will have guessed by now that these people were ‘steam punks’.  And they were in Whitby to enjoy a steampunk festival weekend.

We didn’t know this was happening when we booked, but what good luck as it turned out, because it was a fascinating and enjoyable side-show to our trip.  I don’t mean in a derogatory geek-show way.  This was a colourful event enjoyed by an artistic and fun group of really nice people.

If you are like us, you will have some idea what it steampunk is visually, but probably baffled about what it stands for and why it is so popular.

Let me help because I was so fascinated I asked Google to enlighten me and we spoke to a few steam punks for their take on it.

Let me make clear first of all, steampunk does not embrace any particular political standpoint, religion, or music genre. 

But it does embrace:

A love of Victoriana and a fascination with the technological advances of the time – most obviously steam power.  One older couple told us that they loved Victorian fashions, dress sense, manners, societal behaviour and morals. Another said that the world seemed a safer, more secure place then whilst at the same time technological, economical and political progress also made it an exciting time.   

A love of steam power. Their love of steam power and the physical beauty of machines is understandable to me.  Steam power might have had an environmental downside but it is a technology that you can see and understand – unlike microchips, computers and AI.

A love of science fiction.  Technological advancements must have made the average Victorian wonder, what is next?  What else could be powered by steam, and will science soon help to advance air flight and ocean and space travel? Steam Punkers are drawn to early science fiction novels by Jules Verne, H G Wells but also later novels written between the 1950s and 1980’s (by authors such as Michael Moorcock, K. W. Jeter and Edmund Cooper).

A love of dressing up – particularly in the Victorian style and in styles reflecting the Belle Epoque in France (1871-1914) and the Civil War era in the United States (1861-1865). I was amazed at the variety of styles and the individuality of the costumes and accessories.  It is clear that many steam punkers are flamboyant and very artistic people and so even those outfits intended to reflect the austere and strict Victorian styles were often playful, decadent and amazing works of art.  Some of the ladies’ creations were quite sexy, taking influences from Goth fashion,  French dancers and post apocalyptic warriors – but not, from what I saw, rude or over-suggestive.  I did notice that for some gay participants it provided an opportunity for cross-dressing.  Each to their own.

I hope that helps a bit. 

During the weekend we called at ‘The Pavillion’ where the Steampunk convention HQ and retail emporium was based.  Anyone could enter free of charge to browse the many stalls selling all sorts of steam punk clothing, art and accessories.  You could buy metal clocks, dials, cogs, goggles, flying hats, customised steampunk mobile phone covers and radios, gin and steam punk books and novels.  Outside there were musicians playing Beatles songs, punk rock, folk, sea shanties and vaudeville. We were also entertained by steampunk folk and Morris dancers.  All along West Cliff, steampunkers perambulated up and down, only too pleased to be photographed and to chat.

The organiser Andy Dolan was quoted in the Yorkshire Post.  He said, “Steampunk is a future that never was and it explodes people’s imaginations and the only limit is your own. It gives people a new lease of life. It is a great thing to be involved in, people come for the weekend, forget every day troubles, let their hair down and be who they want to be.

We would have enjoyed Whitby without Steampunk.  It is a wonderful place to explore, walk, eat out, drink and relax.  But the Steampunk festival certainly added to our weekend.  Steampunk is good fun and I totally get it.  Have I bought my hat and goggles yet?  Well, let’s not get carried away.

Monday Window – Whitby Windows

We have just spent a couple of days in the wonderful historic sea-side town and fishing port of Whitby, Yorkshire. There will be a post coming very soon on our trip to Whitby, but for now here are some Whitby Windows – my contribution to Ludwig Keck’s weekly photographic challenge Monday Window.

The first picture is an old street in the centre of Whitby. The variety of building types and the fenestration gives the street so much character and interest. As is typical of these older buildings, many of the window frames are far from straight but amazingly quite a few are the original windows.

Old shopping street

The second picture is one of the many shops selling jet (a locally mined black gemstone) and jet jewellery. This is in one of the backstreets and I was drawn to it because of the unusual wonky shop window (and because I’m a Simpson).

Jet Shop

The picture below is an unusual ‘arts and crafts’ period designed house. Its a bit over the top for me but architect has certainly spent some time designing the windows.

Fancy house on a hill

The last one is a more a picture of ‘missing‘ windows. It shows the remains of the 7th Century Christian Monastery which later became a Benedictine Abbey. Most of what you see was built just after the Norman conquest in the 11th Century*. The lack of windows in these beautiful weathered stone arches is as a result of Henry VIIIs dissolution of the monasteries, the bombardment of Whitby by a German battlecruiser at the start of World War One, and the plundering of what was left by locals. (*The original abbey fell as a result of the invasion of the Danish Vikings.)

As many of you will know, the ruins of Whitby Abbey which dominate the landscape, and the eerie setting of the ruins, gave Bram Stoker the inspiration for his book ‘Dracula’.

Whitby Abbey

Short holiday breaks – Oswestry (where Shropshire meets Wales)

My wife and I have just spent a couple of days enjoying a spa hotel break in Shropshire. We like drivable short breaks in the UK . They give you a change of scenery and culture without travelling for hours and hours, and you don’t have to cook. There is so much less stress and pre-planning involved than with a long holiday or holiday abroad. And you don’t need passports, travel insurance, loads of documents and foreign money. You don’t have to go to an airport and queue in zig-zag lines to take your shoes off and put them back on again to do an 8 mile walk to the departure gate. You’re not restricted by baggage allowances and language, you don’t have to drive on the incorrect side of the road, and from experience there is less chance of getting funny tummy or malaria.

Its not all plain sailing (or rather plain driving) however. You do need as much luggage for two days in the UK as you do for a fortnight in Spain because you will need to pack your winter coats and shoes (even in the summer) and you will take home-comforts and gadgets just because you can fit them in the car. Also, you do have to you have to be prepared for traffic delays unless you are rich enough to go by rail and there are no strikes or feathers on the tracks. In fact ‘traffic obstructions on the road’ are a big thing these days – just ask my satnav – as more and more herberts crash or breakdown for the fun of it.

Anyway, this time we went to a hotel in Oswestry. Situated in a quiet corner of Shropshire, Oswestry isn’t the prettiest, most buzzing and fashionable place but… it is a tidy, pleasant market town, has plenty of character, a good few independent shops and we found the locals to be extremely friendly. Its big plus point is the fact that it is surrounded by history (castles and heritage attractions), and attractive countryside. It is also close to, in fact half surrounded by, Wales and close to little Welsh gems like Llangollen.

During our stay, we visited the wonderful British Ironwork Centre and Sculpture Park. Here you can put your arm in the mouth of a shark, walk with elephants and meet Spiderman, Robocop and SpongeBob SquarePants, all in the same afternoon– whilst following up with a coffee and meal in the Forge cafe.  We walked the 90 acres of land, exploring the amazing sculptures, browsed the artisan workshops and the showroom filled with the most eclectic and funky collection of iron goods and home accessories The centre also has a social conscience – focussing on sculptures of endangered species and promoting awareness of national and global sustainability issues. Here are a few of the photos I took.

Other highlights of our trip was the Stonehouse Brewery on the outskirts of Oswestry where we enjoyed a great meal and some fine beers in a wonderful setting adjoining a babbling brook and an apple orchard. And believe me, we needed a drink having walked there from the town and getting lost on public footpaths on a hot day. If you are in the area and fancy a visit, go on a weekend when you can catch a train (the Cambrian Heritage Railway) from the town to the Western Wharf ‘period’ station adjoining the Brewery and join one of the brewery tours. I was so in the moment enjoying my beers and meal I forgot to take photos!

The photos below feature Cae Glas Park – one of the nicest and most pristine town park I have been to for some time.  Packed within its 7 acres there there is a bandstand, a ‘Sports Village’, a bowling green, children’s play area, areas of spring and summer bedding displays, a pavilion, greenhouses and a house which is rented out. After a good ‘pottering’ and a game of crazy golf, we crossed through the Memorial gates across the road to our hotel for a rest and spruce up before setting out for our evening meal.

On Wednesday, we sampled the busy and colourful Oswestry street and indoor Market. I had to be dragged away from the two vinyl record stalls after (according to my wife) spending too much time rummaging and talking to the Welsh stallholders.

Oswestry was never on our bucket list of places to go. My sister in law suggested it after finding a good hotel deal and we knew it was an interesting area. I’m glad we went. It just shows you how much there is out there to see and experience within 100 miles or so and without giving yourself stress and silly expense.

Here are some more images of Oswestry……

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