Friday, May 09, 2014

Back to Holehird

During our first visit to the LHS gardens at Holehird, Dave discovered that they have a fully-functional weather station nearby and one of the volunteers regularly collates and publishes the stats.  Since this might prove useful for his astronomy, he contacted the chap and got talking, and the net result was another trip to the gardens to meet up.

The two guys chatted about meteorology and data-gathering while I had another very pleasant mooch round, and then we piled into a car for a quick trip to a secret location to see the weather station.  I can't say exactly where because it's on private farmland and the sheep might get cross, but it wasn't far and gave us the opportunity to get 'up close and personal' with the various bits of equipment.  These days it's all a lot more high-tec than the experiments we did at school, with sat-nav and computer link-ups and gawd knows what.  It was surprisingly interesting, and the stunning scenery, plus lambs and rabbits scuttling about, made for a very enjoyable trip out.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Mother's Day special

To help celebrate the American version of Mother's Day, Riptide Publishing are holding a massive cut-price sale between now and Sunday.  All their e-book titles are discounted, some by as much as 50%, and the good news is that Gleams of a Remoter World is also on offer at a whopping 40% off normal price.

This is a great offer, but it only lasts until first thing on Sunday so if you want to grab a copy while you can, hurry along to the Riptide catalogue now.  Blink and you'll miss it!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Easter fun

Last year Easter was a bit of a disaster.  The weather was freezing cold, we were stuck in the Midlands, and nothing seemed to be open.  So what a lovely contrast to this year's break.  The sun shone more-or-less throughout, it was warm without being uncomfortable, the good weather brought the crowds out, and we managed to pack more into four days than most months!

On Friday we took off across Cumbria to St Bees Head, the start of the famous Coast to Coast walk.  No way were we going to set off on that, but Dave saw it in the autumn at the start of his own marathon walk, and liked it enough to take me back.  Not that there's much there, in some ways - a small dusty town, a large car park, a beach-front café... but the scenery is stunning.  Sweeping beach, rock pools, soaring cliffs, and a path that heads off into the wide green yonder.  We staggered up the first part of the cliff walk, teetering on the brink where the winter storms have washed bits away, and were rewarded with views back over the town to the distant Lakeland fells.  Pure magic, and the drive there, via the white-knuckle route over Wrynose and Hardknott passes, wasn't bad either.

On Saturday we had a few local chores, but late afternoon we strolled down to Windermere Rugby Club for their 'rock the blues' event, a weekend of live bands featuring acts from various parts of the UK, with food from a local Mediterranean-style café in Kendal to boot.  Sadly, this wasn't quite so much fun as I was expecting.  The event itself was very small, really just rugby club members with a few holiday-makers who'd been lassooed in, and the music was a touch on the amateur side with endless cover versions of sixties and seventies hits.  It was enjoyable enough, but had something of the feel of a family wedding rather than the festival we'd hoped for.  And there weren't nearly enough Blues!

Sunday afternoon broke the mould, weather-wise, but we managed to cram a visit to Holehird gardens in before the cloud turned up.  This is the HQ for the Lakeland Horticultural Society, only a stone's throw from where we live, but although we'd seen it advertised we'd never been.  All I can say is, we didn't know what we were missing because it's an absolute gem.  There are walled gardens and herbaceous borders, glass-houses and rockeries, ponds and cascades, all set in a stunning location with far-reaching views across the lake to the fells beyond.  We trotted up and down paths, round and round beds, past fountains and streams, through the 'woodland walk' and past swathes of daffodils, heather and rhododendrons, all in glorious sunshine.  A real treat, and since the garden is just about within walking distance, one I'm hoping to repeat.

Finally, on Monday we headed to Abbot Hall art gallery in Kendal to catch their current exhibition of British Surrealist art (totally fascinating), and then walked up School Knott to round off a thoroughly enjoyable weekend.

Lake District 4, West Midlands nil!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Lucky find

We took advantage of the sudden warm spring-like weather to stroll down to the lake on Sunday afternoon, and very festive it was too.  The sun had brought out the crowds; people were wandering about feeding the swans and munching ice-creams almost as though it was summer, and the shops had flung open their doors to catch the trade.

This included the little 'Bric a Brac' shop down an alley behind the church, which nearly always has something tempting on its shelves.  I was busy browsing the books when Dave came to grab me.  "You know you've been looking out for the soundtrack to that old BBC series 'Flight of the Condor'," he said.  "Well, they've got it outside, on CD, for a quid."

I nearly ran him over in the rush to get my hands on said CD, because I have indeed been trying to track it down for absolutely years.  The BBC in their wisdom released the soundtrack (a stunning mix of South American music) on LP, and then brought it out on the (then) brand-new format of CD... for about six months... and promptly wiped the entire recording.  Hence copies of the CD are like hen's teeth.  I've had a watch on Ebay for about the last two years with no success; yet here it was, sitting in a pile of other CDs as though it was nothing special.

I chucked a pound coin in the general direction of the shop assistant (who had her hands rather full at the time trying to persuade a giant bumble bee to leave the shop), and headed home well pleased with my loot.  It's amazing what you can find, poking around in these little second-hand shops sometimes!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Five stars

Just a quickie to say that the Shapeshifters anthology from Fox Pockets has had its first rating on Goodreads - and it's five stars!

I'm delighted, because it's no more than the collection deserves.  I read it from cover to cover and there are some truly exceptional stories in there.

So go on, what are you all waiting for?  ;)

Sunday, March 23, 2014


The weather has changed again, and turned bitterly cold with frequent heavy sleet showers - just when we're getting work done on the house which necessitates having windows open and the heating and hot water switched off!  Brrr.

Never mind, there are compensations.  Like the fact that the fells are all covered in snow, creating a dramatic backdrop for the daffodils and new lambs springing up all over...

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Around the houses

There are some horrendous roadworks in Kendal at the moment, which effectively cut off the north western part of town from everywhere else.  Trouble is, thanks to the local geography which includes one railway line, three separate rivers and quite a few mountains, there's a very limited selection of other routes.  In fact, there are two.  One is incredibly narrow, skirts the foot of Kentmere and Longsleddale, and comes out on a steep slope at a blind bend on the A6.  The other is a narrow, twisting, switchback road through the village of Burneside and across the fields, joining up with the A6 further towards town.

To avoid the delays in town (which can be up to half an hour at busy times) we've started using the latter route.  Trouble is, so has everyone else.  In fact, I think one of the satnav companies might even have re-programmed their system to suggest that road, because suddenly it's extremely busy, and not just with local cars. 

Yesterday we needed a quick trip into Kendal to pick up some vinyl flooring.  We got through Burneside okay, and past the ruins of the peel tower at Burneside Hall.  Then Dave decided to try to 'shoot the gap' along the really narrow section... and came face to face with a massive hgv around an almost blind bend.  Cue much swearing, and a tricky reverse along half a mile of twisting hedge-bound lane until we finally found a gate to pull in.  The hgv then trundled past without so much as a thank-you wave, and we set off again... only to come face to face with a van.

What all this heavy transport is doing on such an unsuitable route is anyone's guess, but it's lending the trip to the supermarket a distinctly hair-raising note.  And there's still several weeks of roadworks left to go....

Monday, March 17, 2014


Dave came back from his week in Holland with four bars of chocolate, two boxes of tom yum soup, a pack of rotis, and a shocking cold.  I don't mind the choccies or the soup, but I'm desperately trying to avoid being given the cold....

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Wings over the lake

I popped out for another walk on Monday, to take advantage of the sudden spring weather and warm sunshine.  Pottering about on some of the by-ways at the back of Bowness, where the town gives way to fields and woods, I heard the sudden roar of an aircraft engine.  Nothing new in that, because we get so many RAF training flights over the lake, except that this one sounded different from the usual shattering scream of a Tornado.

Sure enough, when the plane appeared, banking steeply almost right overhead, it turned out to be a Spitfire!  It was painted black with yellow flashing along the wings.  As I watched it levelled out and headed off at some speed across the lake, to be lost as a small dark speck in the scenery, leaving me none the wiser what it was doing there.

A thoroughly nice surprise.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Passing in the night...

Dave and I seem to be like the proverbial ships at the moment.  He spent a good bit of last week away on business.  Then on Friday there was a work crisis, and he got on a train heading south only ten minutes after I'd got on a train heading north for a weekend away.  He got back late Saturday.  I got back Sunday afternoon.  By Monday morning he was off again, this time to Manchester airport for a flight to Holland, where he'll be all week.

We'll be lucky if we still remember each other's faces at this rate...

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Becks and bridges

Spring seems to be lying in wait, finally, ready to pounce.  Monday was sunny from start to finish, and yesterday wasn't bad either.  Blue sky, fluffy white clouds, birds cheeping in the hedgerows and trees, and even the odd daffodil daring to put in an appearance. 

To make the most of it, I set off for a walk.  I only really intended to go round the block, but it was so nice out that I couldn't face going straight home and decided to explore a bit instead.  I followed the local beck up through the streets right to the edge of town, and found a new footpath, a historic farmhouse with a stunning garden (see photo below), and what looks suspiciously like a pack-horse bridge tucked away down an alley.  It just goes to show that even the fringes of the local council estate can be packed full of history and charm if you know where to look.  Add a spectacular view of the fells on the way back down and you have all the ingredients for a really enjoyable afternoon stroll.  Although given some of the gradients involved, perhaps 'stroll' is too gentle a word.

Today is back to cloud and the occasional speck of drizzle, but I'm really hoping that the weather is on the turn at last, and that I can get out walking like this more often.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Sleet, snow and strawberries

We both had cabin fever on Saturday, so decided to head for Keswick.  This is a good option if the forecast is iffy, since it's got shops to dive in if it's raining, and walks to the lake if the sun decides to shine.

Last time we went, it sleeted.  This time?  It sleeted.  At least at first, although by the time we'd huddled round the market and darted into the Wild Strawberry café for a coffee, the clouds were lifting and there was the occasional gleam of sun.  The café, by the way, was pricey.  As I said to Dave, the strawberry wasn't so much wild as livid at the cost of the drinks.

Since it had stopped sleeting we wandered down to the landing stages and mooched along the lake shore path for a while.  The sun had a smidge of warmth in it for the first time, although there was still a good covering of snow on the highest fells.  Add some sombre clouds swirling over Skiddaw and the mix was perfect for photography, although the picture above isn't mine - it's one I nicked off Google images!

After a quick lunch in Brysons (food average, prices also on the high side) and another wander round the town, we realised our car parking ticket was about to run out so scarpered back to the car, pausing just long enough to buy a long-handled squeegee-thing to wash the windows with from a market stall.  On route back to Windermere we turned off along the far shore of Thirlmere for some spectacular views of a very snowy Helvellyn range (more photos) then bounced and sloshed our way along the lane, avoiding some mad drivers heading too fast the other way.  It was only Dave's skill behind the wheel that saved one near miss being a full-on collision.  Worth it for the scenery, though.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Compliments to the chef

Our best friends Andy and Nicky have been staying in Kendal for a long weekend.  We don't see nearly enough of them now that we live 160 miles away, so on Saturday we all met up for a meal out.  Nicky said she fancied Italian food and we know there are 2 or 3 Italian restaurants in Bowness, so we braved the rain and trudged down the hill.

The first restaurant we tried was bursting at the seams.  The manageress tried so hard to fit us in, but it would have involved either an hour's wait or a table on the roof (in the rain) (I'm joking), so we thanked her and tried elsewhere.  The next one, Amore, was just across the road.  We'd never tried it before but the place always looked tempting and the menu was standard Italian - no frills, but probably jolly good.  By now the rain was coming down in stair rods so we didn't bother looking at menus outside, we just hurtled through the door.  And were rather surprised to find it empty, with not a single customer at any of the tables.  Ah well, it's early, we thought, and sat ourselves down.  And only then began to notice little details.  Like the picture of Buddha on the wall above our table... and the fact that the menus the waiter helpfully brought involved all sorts of dishes but very little Italian... and the fact that the name painted on the windows wasn't Amore at all, but 80 Days.  Turns out the place changed hands without us even noticing, had a re-fit without us noticing, and only re-opened as a brand new venture specialising in cuisine from around the world about five days ago!

We were a little nervous, but we didn't need to be.  The service was impeccable, and the food, although not perfect, was all made from fresh ingredients and cooked or prepared from scratch - a welcome change in this day of pre-packaged ready-meals.  There were one or two minor hiccups with our meals (skin not taken off the smoked mackerel bruschetta, Moroccan cous-cous perhaps a tad too highly spiced) but the waiter asked for constructive feedback after each course and for once we had the feeling that they were taking some notice of what we said.  And the overall attention to detail and sheer friendliness (not to mention a bottle of the best Prosecco any of us had ever had) made the evening a very pleasant experience.  We'll almost certainly be going back.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Stars - of both varieties

A couple of weeks ago Dave headed down to London to attend the big Astrofest event - a convention for astronomers.  We both went two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, but this year the university had asked him to help man their stall, so I decided not to go again as I'd have been on my own most of the time.

He had a brilliant time, meeting lots of interesting people, giving out leaflets, twisting a few arms, and even finding time to attend some of the talks.  And in a spare moment, he got me a rather special present to bring back. 

It's a book about the history of the universe, called 'Bang'! and co-authored by Patrick Moore (of Sky at Night fame), Chris Lintott (who's taken over from Patrick Moore) and the ex-Queen guitarist and cosmologist Brian May.  Not only that, but he'd got signatures.  No sign of Patrick Moore as he'd have needed a séance and a Ouija board to contact him, sadly, but there was Chris Lintott's scrawl, and underneath, my name, a couple of kisses, and the autograph of Brian May.  To say I was over the moon is one, a really bad pun and two, a complete understatement!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Coastal drama

On Sunday we had that rarest of commodities this winter - sunshine.  In the morning we had to do the usual supermarket run, but after lunch we were determined to get outdoors and make the most of the conditions, since the forecast was ominous.

Both of us felt a sudden urge to see the sea.  With all the recent storms and coastal flooding, the Morecambe Bay coast (our nearest) has been firmly out-of-bounds, but with the coast road between Ulverston and Barrow re-opened, we thought we'd go for it.  It was a dramatic ride.  Yes, the road was technically open, but the damage was easy to see.  Great chunks of the sea-wall had been washed away, along with an entire hut.  Boulders had been thrown across the road, gouging the surface into troughs, and in one place (helpfully sign-posted "road liable to tidal flooding") the waters were almost impassable.  Our 4x4 coped just fine, but I'd hate to have been in the little Fiat 500 buzzing along ahead of us.  The occupants might well have got wet feet.

The authorities are clearly working hard on repairs and shoring up the sea defences again, hopefully before the next storm hits, but it really does demonstrate the awesome power of nature to throw aside the puny efforts of man.

We parked on the causeway between Rampside and Roa Island and set off for a walk.  The shoreline was too muddy, but we explored Rampside village, including its impressive Jacobean hall, then trudged along the causeway to the island, and scuttled into the Bosuns Locker for tea and home-made scones.

There were signs of activity at the lifeboat station so we popped along for a look and found that both the shop and the viewing platform were open.  The shop is tiny, but the platform gives a fantastic view of the lifeboat, which is much bigger in real life than you expect when you see it in action, a tiny speck amongst tossing waves, on tv.

We'd no sooner left the lifeboat station behind than we heard the chugging roar of a helicopter.  Looking up, we saw a huge chopper hovering right over a fast-moving catamaran, before winching someone down.  The Cat charged in towards Barrow docks whilst the chopper circled low overhead the entire way in.  It was quite something to watch.  Turns out that it was a real-life rescue, as a man had been taken seriously ill on a service boat on the way out to one of Barrow's mass of offshore wind-farms.  He was eventually winched on board the helicopter and flown to Lancaster hospital, and we hope he's okay.

By that stage the next storm was brewing, the sky had turned the colour of lead, and stray wisps of low cloud were already blowing in.  It gave Morecambe Bay (atmospheric at the worst of times) a menacing look, so we piled back in the car and headed home.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New arrival

Nice to see a bit of good news for a change - South Lakes Wild Animal Park, near Dalton-in-Furness, have announced the birth of a rare baby giraffe.  Although 'baby' is something of a misnomer since the youngster is already almost as tall as me!  Mother and baby apparently both doing well.

Fish, fluffies and flapjacks

Dave and I don't usually go a bundle on celebrating Valentine's Day - the odd card, the odd box of chocolates, the odd meal out.  It's been a difficult week, though, what with storms, gales and work issues for both of us, so we switched off our computers and took Friday afternoon off.

The weather was still lousy with low cloud and lashing rain, so first port of call was the Lakes Aquarium.  It's only a short drive away, it's indoors, and we have local residents' season tickets, so it's the perfect place to spend a wet afternoon.  And for some reason, it was almost deserted.  There was one other family pottering about but otherwise we had the place to ourselves.  Tough luck on the owners, of course, but it meant we could wander about and watch the critters to our hearts content.

The display mostly involves the journey of a rain drop from the top of the fells to the sea, and although small, is surprisingly interesting.  There's a tank of tiny fish like stickleback that you could find in the smallest tarns; there's another of arctic charr which got left behind in Windermere after the last ice age; there's another of pike, hanging around looking menacing.  There are even animals from further afield, including harvest mice, otters, and adorably cute pygmy marmosets.

After a good stomp round we usually head for the café where our season tickets give us 10% off, but this time it was closed.  We clambered back into the car and sloshed off down the road from Lakeside to Hawkshead, whooshing through puddles and whooping at the wild ride.  The car park at Hawkshead was also deserted; it's possible the weather has put visitors off and it very nearly put us off as the heavens opened the minute we arrived.  We ran across the tarmac, straight into the 'Hawkshead' outdoor clothing store, and dripped into their café for tea and wonderful home-made flapjacks.  Then it was back home via Ambleside, with more whooping and whooshing, for a Thai takeaway for tea.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

An evening of comets

Last night for a complete change we headed over to Kendal Museum for a meeting of the Eddington Astronomical Society, which Dave is quite keen on joining.  He'd been to one of their events, an 'open telescope/star gazing' evening, a couple of years ago, but work commitments and general 'life' have got in the way of taking it any further.

The Society hold regular meetings on the first Monday of the month, at the Museum, with a range of talks, guest speakers and presentations.  Last night it was the turn of Nick Howes, an amateur astronomer specialising in comets, who spoke about his work, recent discoveries in the field, and his drive to popularise astronomy amongst school children.

The talk wasn't one of the best.  Mr Howes seemed to find it difficult to divorce himself from his subject matter and every time we heard something fascinating about a new comet discovery, or a new discovery about an old comet, he tended to veer off and tell us how he made the discovery, how this furthered his career, and which important people he spoke to in the process.  As an exercise in name-dropping it was brilliant, but as a serious talk about comets it left something to be desired.  However, it was still a fun evening out, with a free cuppa, a chance for Dave in particular to chat to some like-minded people, and a chance to look round some of the Museum's wide range of exhibits at 'half time'.  Dave will definitely be going again.  I'm not quite so sure.

Sunday, February 02, 2014

Museum of Lakeland Life

Winter finally seems to have caught up with us, and the weather the last few days has been horrible.  Snow on Friday, and horizontal sleet blown in the teeth of a screaming gale yesterday.  Finding something to do outdoors was impossible, so we drove into Kendal to spend some time at the Museum of Lakeland Life and Industry.  We've tried to go a couple of times before, only to find it was closed.  This time we were in luck, and thoroughly enjoyed the visit. 

The museum is tucked away down a side alley near to the Abbot Hall art gallery, and is a lot bigger on the inside than it looks from the outside, with galleries dedicated to various industrial activities of the past.  These include the obvious - farming and mining - but also the more surprising, like the manufacture of Kendal Mint Cake and the local prevalence of the Arts & Crafts movement in venues like the Keswick School of Industrial Arts, and The Spinnery in Bowness.

All in all, it was fascinating.  We picked up snippets of information on all sorts of local businesses, crafts, and ways of life, and the displays were informative but also lots of fun, with everything from a replica mine adit to a Victorian chemist's shop to explore.

The only downside was a lack of heating.  With the wind blasting through every gap in the windows, it was distinctly chilly inside, which perhaps made the 19th century farmhouse bedroom, kitchen and parlour more authentic, but also turned us the colour of woad!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Oldest family firms

There's what looks like a fascinating series starting on the Beeb tonight, all about family trades and businesses which have survived for hundreds of years.  The oldest of all, which I think features in the first episode, is a firm of butchers in Bridport who have been going since 1515.  Quite incredible.  The current owner was interviewed on Breakfast this morning and said the business had survived wars, recessions, floods, fires, and the Industrial Revolution.  Not only that, but many families in earlier centuries only lasted for a handful of generations before dying out, so it's doubly impressive.

There's at least one old family firm in this area too.  Nothing that can hold a candle to those butchers, but they were around in early Victorian times which is still pretty good going.   Back in the 1840s and 1850s, when the opening of the railway sparked something of a boom in south Cumbria, Pattinsons built many of the houses in the town.  One hundred and sixty years later, the company still exists, is still operated by the same family, and still builds houses in the local area.  If nothing else, it gives a nice sense of continuity.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

War diaries online

The BBC were featuring this news item quite heavily on their Breakfast programme this morning: soldiers' diaries from the First World War are now appearing online.

The project, run by the National Archives, aims to digitise some of the 1.5 million diary pages they hold in their archives.  Apparently they've managed about a fifth so far, which still represents [hasty calculator check] around 300,000 pages of material describing life on the front lines between 1914 and 1918.

This represents a fantastic resource for anyone searching for their family history, who can read Great Uncle Albert's experiences first-hand.  But it's also a valuable tool for authors wanting to write about the period.  I know I'd have found it invaluable when I was researching the Great War for Gleams of a Remoter World, since the historical element of the novel dates from that time, and one of the main characters was a serving soldier at the Somme.

One thing I hadn't realised was that each unit was required to keep a diary of daily events.  This is obviously why so much material survives.  The reason it can be released at last is that there are no longer any surviving veterans of the war, the last one having died in 2011 (and the last British combat survivor in 2009).  Out of that rather sad statistic comes a valuable and fascinating source of information on life in the trenches, and presumably, life in general, in the early twentieth century.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Hunting for planets

A couple of weekends before Christmas we went on the traditional mad dash round the country, visiting friends and family that we wouldn't be seeing on the 'big day'.  This included a trip to the inlaws and a meal out with some of our friends from Birmingham, and it was all very pleasant.

On the way back north, we called in at the University of Central Lancashire's astronomy department to attend their annual Christmas lecture.  This year the speaker was Chris Lintott, well-known for his appearances on tv programme The Sky at Night, and he was mostly talking about the hunt for planets outside our own solar system.

Thanks to various new telescopes and technologies, the search has gone from strength to strength and we now know of several thousand such planets, including one around one of our closest neighbours, Alpha Centauri.  Rather amazingly, Chris Lintott told us that if a small probe using a solar sail or ion power was launched this year, it would reach that planet in only one hundred years' time!  A truly awesome fact.

The talk was fascinating, and although it included lots of science, it was done in such a way that it didn't bedazzle the laymen amongst us, muggins included.  We caught up with some of Dave's fellow students, and even had time for a meal at a nearby Chinese buffet.  And the best thing of all?  The talk was completely free!  I'm not sure how they manage that, but it was much appreciated and made a great evening out.