My Blog List

Sunday, 7 December 2014

OUR STREET...The 2014 Xmas Card

Much of the urban north-east of England was developed alongside the Industrial Revolution. Railways and coal mines were the major employers of the average bloke. Our street is a "railway street". Houses for the engine drivers down one side and the stokers down the other. The manager and deputy had larger three storey houses at this end of the terraces. Colliery towns were similar.
One of the pitman painters from Spennymoor was called Norman Cornish. He died this year. This is Bishop's Close, Spennymoor...a railway and coal town...painted by Norman.
At the end of the road are the railway wagons carrying the coal from the colliery. It looks very similar to our street. The railways tended to have a generic architectural style.
The railways and collieries are long gone from the end of our street and the wasteland has recently been developed into a shopping centre. But I felt that I could recreate a winter scene.
The photo was flipped and traced and...
dry point etched onto an acetate sheet which was inked and printed down at the Bishop Auckland Townhall using the Tom McGuinness (another pitman painter) press.
I left out the cars and there were no people about which simplified things.
I watercoloured the first print.
It worked quite well so I printed another and developed a snow scene on it.
This has become our xmas card for this year. It went off to the printers up the road. They "enhanced" the colour a bit and brightened it up....
People up and down the street love it and so do I but of course our own house is not in it. It is behind the hedge on the front left.
So I wish you all a merry xmas. The snow is supposedly on its way and the temperatures are dropping so the street may soon look just like this.
Cheers Gillian

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Brugge and Battlefields...Lest We Forget

So! We stopped where everyone else does and took a pic of the Belfry. I climbed it when I was eleven or twelve and we were on a family holiday so I didn't join the long queue to climb it again. 366 steps! This time we had arrived in the evening and it was raining. We walked in the rain and visited the bar  under the awning for a drink while we looked up the canal at the famous view of the Belfry.
It is a beautiful city and we were thrilled to be able to walk around and see everything with such ease. The next day the sun came out and the city started to fill up. Apparently day-trippers regularly cross the channel and spill into Brugge for a few hours. All of a sudden it seemed like we were sharing the city with the rest of the world.
We retreated into quieter places. We had already "done" the chocolatier and bought some very expensive chocolate.

and so after a guided walking tour of the main sites we settled down to a Moules Frites lunch at a cafe near the swans and the convent of the begging nuns. We battled the crowds for a while, listened to some drummers in the square and had a coffee.

In the evening we returned to catch the towers lit up. Many of the day-trippers had gone home but the main square was still full of folks. The Belfry does tilt by about a metre at the top but in the opposite direction to how it looks here!
On the last morning we went on a canal boat. It was early and there were only a few of us on it so the low bridges loomed even lower as our boat rode higher in the water. Everyone else ducked for this bridge but I was busy lining up the pic and only just missed knocking myself out when I looked up. There were a few gasps from the others as the bridge slid past.

 On Friday 31st october, Jeremy Banning accompanied us around the battlefields, cemeteries and tunnelling sites of Ypres Salient. He is an expert on the Tunnellers, the geology and geomorphology and an engineer. He has worked and is working on documentaries, TV shows and books. He was our guide.

This was an area held by the British and their allies against the Germans and their allies, during WW1.

The battles were continuous for four years in this area and the more determined and named assaults were instrumental in gaining and losing advantages and territory. Passchendaele is such a name and an amazing Museum has been built to give an experience of the trenches and dug-outs to visitors.
Many, many thousands were killed. Some are buried with acknowledgement of who they are. Others are buried. Most are not buried. Their remains too shattered or never found. Memorials to them stand high and all their names are inscribed somewhere.

 Some cemeteries like this one at Tyne Cot are very large and others just take up a small part of  a farmer's field, but every one is beautifully looked after.

 Tunnelling deep under the ground was one of the battle tactics of this and other areas. Massive mines were blown up from deep under the enemies' lines by both sides. Giant craters remain where hundreds and even thousands of men were obliterated in seconds.
Much of the area has been returned to agriculture...sheep and cattle graze, brussel's sprouts and potatoes are grown...
...but there are still some places like Hill 60, where the remains of war are untouched and the grass and trees grow silently there.
At sunset, the "Last Post" is sounded at 20.00 at The Menin Gate on the outskirts of Ypres City. We were there.
As were thousands of others...
...Every day, every week, every year, in all weathers.
Lest We Forget

Cheers Gillian

Thursday, 9 October 2014


It was a few weeks ago now but the trip to Carcassonne was wonderful. We caught a glimpse of the walled city above the trees as we drove in from Collioure in the south-west of France.

We were booked into the Mercure at Carcassonne and it must be the closest hotel to the gates to the old city.
It was a Sunday and the whole city was having an "Open Day" because of a famous anniversary whose fame is now forgotten. It was free entry and so everyone within cooee was there or making an effort to get there.
We walked around the walls and through the small streets and alleyways inside. Great restoration work has been done. The view of these tiled roofs attracted me.
And snippets of the outer town from the windows were lovely too...
After dinner at the hotel we returned for a walk to see the lights.
And indulged in a selfie...

Wednesday, 1 October 2014


...Then we travelled north to Andorra. The land became more elevated and rugged.
We arrived just south of the town of Soldeu and stayed in an out of season ski resort hotel. That's our balcony, second from the left in the middle....
....and here it is from the inside.
It was a lovely hotel. It suffered from being off season and the staff were a bit casual about our arrival but they cheered up when the Andorran Government Minister's daughter arrived for her wedding in one of the RRs owned by the hotel owner. Andorra is making a great effort to encourage tourists in the summer to help to balance out the immense income provided by the Ski Tourism and the Duty Free Trade. On our way over the Pyrenees northwards to France we were faced by a steady stream of traffic heading up the hills to fill their fuel tanks and then their boots with the cheaper supplies.
As you can see, there is a chair lift to the top of the piste, which goes up the mountain just outside our hotel. Then you just ski back down!
Just up the road were telecabins and they were working on the weekends in the summer to provide access for sight-seers like us, downhill-mountain bikers and golfers.
We had a great time driving round the mountains and visiting pretty towns, monasteries, "Pyrenees" the department store and the "Melting Clock" statue donated to Andorra by Dali.
It stands quietly on a bridge in the centre of Andorra La Vella. You can walk up to it, touch it, feel it and appreciate it at close range.
We drove on to France but I have to show you what we have done to the front door when we came home and I shall show you Carcassonne later.
We have had a screen door added to the front door. You Ozzies will wonder how we have coped without one. There have been quite a few wasps and bluebottles this summer and we have decided that Billy is to be an indoor cat now that he is "Billy-Eight-Lives".
It does blur the door from the front a bit but it is much better than DJ expected and just as I had hoped.
As you can see, it is a bit of a puzzle to Billy.
But he has worked it out. He still can't understand what the mesh is made of and why he can't get through it , but it allows us to have the fresh air into the house and I have always loved to have the door open.
I hope this continues to go well. Billy is coping well with being an indoor cat and I am more relaxed too.
We have spent a couple of days trimming the yard and hanging the tomatoes in the shed...
It is impossible to grow and ripen tomatoes outdoors in the northeast of England. These have been outside in a lovely warm summer but they still need to go on ripening in the shed for a while. Next year our plan is to grow them in a poly-house on wheels so that it can be dragged around the sunshine patches in the courtyard!
Soon more news on Carcassonne. It was the highlight of the tour for me...
Cheers Gillian

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Catalonia, Carcassonne and Andorra

We're just back from touring the Pyrenees and surrounding areas! Some great sites, terrific weather and amazing places.
We flew into and out of Barcelona from Newcastle, which is very handy for us. We only had a short time in the city and will return for a longer visit soon.
The Basilica of the Sagrada Familia is a favourite tourist site and really needs to be booked ahead. The queue both times we went there was snaking all the way around the block and people were expecting to be there for hours.
Other examples of Gaudi's design can be found all around town and other modernist artists and architects are well represented.
We visited the market and ambled down the Ramblas. This enabled us to pay an extortionate price for paella and beers for lunch at one of the cafes together with all the other tourists.
Our hotel at the Placa Espanya was well placed for the metro and local sight-seeing and the musical fountains played at night.
Then we travelled north to Andorra.
Cheers Gillian

Sunday, 14 September 2014

A Railway Ride on the SETTLE To CARLISLE Line

We drove over to Kirkby Stephen to catch a ride on the Settle to Carlisle Line.
There was quite a chilly wind on the top of the Pennines. The second station to the south is Dent.
All the stations are very pretty with picture postcard buildings and structures.
Behind the station at Horton is Ingleborough, the second highest of The Three Peaks in the Yorkshire Dales NP.
It is 723m above sea level and spent most of the day with its peak covered by a tablecloth of cloud.
The old water tower outside Settle Station has been transformed into a unique and fascinating home. It was the subject of one of the episodes of "Grand Designs" on TV a few months or more ago. Wonderful to see it completed and so handsomely too.
We travelled south on the "Freddie Truman" but on our return we missed the name of the train in our desire to get a seat! A whole bus trip/day-out group had joined us on the station platform and we knew there would only be two carriages.
We were very relieved to reach Kirkby Stephen and even more relieved when the train stopped so that we could disembark. It hadn't stopped at any of the other stations along the way and we wondered if were on an unplanned trip to Carlisle. Not really the sort of adventure you want on a Sunday if your car is at Kirkby Stephen.
The Ribble flows through Settle and a house on the banks looks lovely. There was one for sale and I shall look it up soon and assess its appeal and value, but like many old and pretty places....parking is lousy.
Cheers Gillian