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Fountains Abbey

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As soon as you walk down the hill, the tower emerges in all its glory. Then you see the columns and arches soaring into the sky.

Fountains Abbey is a skeleton of its former glory, yet one of the best preserved ruins in Britain. You need to spend all day in this UNESCO World Heritage site in Ripon.

After admiring the ruins you can explore the 18th and 19th century follies in the landscaped grounds.

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The abbey was built in 1132, the result of a religious divide amongst monks in York.

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You could ring the bell of the mill that ran here until 1927.

The small group that settled here were more conservative, believing that Benedictine monks should live more closely to the rules laid down by the Bible.

Eking out a living on the verge of starvation, they sold wool to pay for their upkeep.

The Abbey would not have survived without France. Money and supplies were sent over from there when they joined the Cistercian Order. They lived in silence, suffering cold temperatures with only brief respite at the fire.

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They suffered from the Plague and finally from Henry VIII’s pillaging. He sold it to a nobleman in the 1500s, after arranging for the roof to be removed and sold.

In the 19th century it fell into ruin before being restored, which is still an ongoing project.

It costs £1,000,000 to run each year with the combined forces of The National Trust and English Heritage.

To discover more about its history, visit this WordPress page.

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August 31, 2018 · 7:01 pm

Buxton day trip

I have had a lovely couple of days off lately. On Wednesday I went to a shopping mall and bought some presents, on Thursday I went to Buxton and on Friday I joined a new gym, went swimming and had a haircut!

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Buxton is a lovely place to visit in the Peak District. It is a village of around 20,000 with some nice cafes and quaint OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAold-fashioned shops, including a chemist that looks like it is still stuck in the Victorian era.

In 1572 Dr John Jones wrote the first medical book on Buxton waters entitled The Benefit of the Auncient Bathes of Buckstones. The spring waters were believed to have healing properties. Even Mary Queen of Scots visited to benefit from them. In the Victorian era it was a popular spa town and there is still a baths. You can drink the natural mineral water for free there and it is still bottled and sold today.

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We went to a tea shop for a drink. It was a bit of a disappointment and tasted the same as when I make it at home.

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The “Devonshire Dome” there is a feat of civil engineering. It is hard to believe it was the roof of stables. It was built in 1789 by John Carr, commissioned by the duke for Buxton Crescent, converted into a hospital and is now restored by the University of Derby. Go in if you get a chance. I only got a chance to view it from the outside but the inside looks impressive just from looking at pictures.

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Buxton_Dome_South_Elevation1000Mum’s main mission was the charity shops. Relentlessly we hit every single one. There were rail upon rail of cheap but tacky clothes, clothes only geriatrics wear and probably had. When I am that old I’ll wear charity shop clothes because I won’t need to look presentable anymore. I’ll be like the lady in the Purple poem.

But surprisingly we did find some that weren’t from M ‘n’ S, Tesco or Primark – Coast ones. I got a painted silk-style sleeveless ruffled top with a dark beige pencil skirt and a 1950s-style A-line dress. It’s blue with roses on and I can’t wait to wear it. Even mum laughed at the “vintage” charity shop. The clothes were like fancy dress for a 1970s party.

We went back to the tea shop for lunch. I was impressed with the selection – chicken curry, jackets with cream cheese and spring onion, steak sandwiches and “Buxton” burgers.

Mum said the burgers were good so I went for one of those. This was served with salad and posh crisps. Salt and vinegar, my favourite. I was enjoying it until I crunched on a couple of bones. I got one and thought that was it, continued eating and then got another…and another. Luckily I didn’t swallow them as I may have choked. I was slightly put off. The meat had been lovely, but I didn’t want to be reminded that I was eating an animal. The whole point of cooking meat is not just that it tastes better but also that you don’t feel like an animal eating another animal, like a lion at zoo feeding time.

I didn’t want to make a scene but Mum insisted we say something. They’d be nice about it, she said. So I told the manager.

“Ohhhhh.” She said, haughtily, the disdain all too audible, “we haven’t had that before. We’ve never had a customer complain about that.”  I thought I must be imagining her tone. I went to the toilet. It was cold like the cafe – at least the food was hot. There were flannels to dry your hands on that you put in a little basket, a nice touch.

On the way back, I saw her poking the burger meat around angrily with a knife, peering at it from the side. She then triumphantly reported to mum that it was “gristle” I had nearly taken a tooth out on, not bone. She said “I poked it with a knife and it wasn’t hard, so it must have been gristle”. How gristle was better than bone I don’t know. One woman walked out having hardly touched her “spicy potato soup” a thick orange lumpy broth. Mum was served hers with stale bread, the staff urging her to “help yourself to more if you want”. Clearly they needed to get rid of it.

Mum bought some cake and they charged her full price for that and the meal, despite my bones of contention. It had butter icing, not even cream cheese icing like mum does, which is much better and tastier. Cheaper ingredients and maximum profit. I stalked out indignantly. Mum was apologetic as I grumbled about the disgusting lack of customer service skills. I wouldn’t be going there again. Its name was “The Cafe at the Green Pavilion”.

Anyway then we went to the library and art gallery, which was a much more enjoyable experience. It was combined in an old building with wooden doors and stained glass windows. But it had also been converted into a museum about Buxton’s history. I expected it to be poor as it was only two floors and looked poorly funded. We went into the exhibition space of a dire modern artist, abstract shapes in different colours spoiling the walls.

In the corner was a dark corridor. I went down it and there were little labels indicating different periods of time hanging from the ceiling and a video showing the passing of time from prehistoric to modern times in photos and drawings. I turned a corner and walked into the Cretaceous Period.

A massive dragonfly clung to a tree and there were noises of the forest around me. I walked on and into a cave.

There were bones of mammoths, bears, hyenas and in the corner roaring at me, a bear that looked rather too life-like. I quickly walked on into the “hunter-gatherer” age and a skeleton lay in a glass case, a man of 25-30.There was a little burial tomb reconstruction that you could crawl into. There were knife and axe heads on display. I went under an arch into the Roman period.

This interactive journey through time just kept on going, a maze of corridors and passages making you feel like you were actually in that era. It was fantastic.

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There were Roman columns all around me and a life-like centurion in full armour standing by the wall.

A ceremonial washing basin was on the right with a bronze head above it. Further on was a Roman rubbish dump – much nicer than modern ones – all broken jars and animal bones. I wonder what future ancestors will make of ours.

There were videos playing and you could hear the audio so you could take it in as you looked at the exhibits without having to watch them. I heard that to become a Roman citizen you had to serve 25 years with their army. Many Anglo-Saxons did and were posted away from their families in the Empire. Some would never have seen their families again.

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Due to space there was only a corridor linking this age to the 1700s, telling of medieval hunts in the forests. Then I went into a 1700s sitting room.

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You could sit on an imitation chair by the fire surrounded by fancy things. In the next room was a reconstructed “Buxton” black marble workshop.

The public went mad for this rare marble in the Victorian era and would buy loads of the stuff while on their spa breaks. It was made into everything – tables, chairs, jugs. But production virtually stopped when the craze was over. You can still buy it though.

There was a corridor dedicated to more recent years and all too soon I was back from my time-travel journey. I enjoyed it so much I went back in time instead of forwards. I couldn’t believe the collection box was empty. Museums are poorly funded these days so if they do a good job they need financial backing. I gave them a little. The time travel machine was too good to be free.

We then went round the flowers in a conservatory, enjoying the sweet scent that filled the air. We passed by the Pavilion Gardens on the way out but sadly it was too cold to enjoy them.

On the way home we saw what looked like World War Two bunkers but they were in fact enclosed kilns (enclosed to conform to blackout regulations) for the production of quicklime from Derbyshire limestone, which was produced in Buxton from the late 1800s until 1944.

If you’re visiting Yorkshire or England for that matter, don’t miss Buxton and its museum. It’s great for adults as well as children.

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A weekend in Birmingham

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I feel like a villager in Birmingham. It’s a city for giants, with skyscrapers touching the clouds all around. If you have money to spare it’s a lovely place for a night out.

My boyfriend’s university friends were having a reunion. I imagined a rowdy night out with mostly guys, as it had been last year. But this year there was a married couple who worked at a charity for children with learning difficulties and a physicist with his Masters student girlfriend. Or at least that’s as much as I could gather from the conversation. I was feeling a bit shy. I had said I didn’t mind staying at home and working – after all my boyfriend was offered a spare bed. But when I saw the company I could see why he was keen for me to come.

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We rolled up at the Marriott Hotel. It had been the only last-minute booking available and my boyfriend grumbled about it and said it was “just a hotel”. But it wasn’t “just a hotel” to me. Although there were smudges of something on the marble floor under the light, everything else was clean. The bathroom was mostly marble, with pretty shell mirror lights. The room was standard, except that it had a nice wooden wardrobe and three windows, two of which opened. I was expecting a kettle and teas for the price but it was still a treat. I was so tired later I didn’t mind the firm mattress, which is just how my boyfriend likes it, though he really doesn’t need the extra support.

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Spot Santa!

I was going to put on a short party skirt and top but luckily my boyfriend told me that we would be outside for a while at the German market, so I kept my acrylic LBD (long black dress) on. The whole of the city centre was covered in little wooden huts with fake greenery and baubles on the top. There were Santas on the rooves and a large Christmas tree. It was “Frankfurt” in Birmingham and the prices were probably just as ridiculous. The atmosphere was lovely though and there was one stall selling incredible hand-crafted chocolates in tool shapes – there were pliers, bolts, calipers, cameras, instruments and hammers. All the details were so delicate.

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We went to a French restaurant, Le Truc. I had a lovely hot spiced apple cocktail with a slice of apple in. It warmed me up and tasted sweet and delicious. We sat down to dinner and I ordered onglet. I wasn’t sure what it was but it sounded fancy, and with beef dripping chips. I asked one of the company what it was and I heard “snake”. I proudly announced to my boyfriend that I was having the most exotic dish. He didn’t know what onglet was but asked why they would serve snake. I asked the waitress and apparently it was steak. She asked how my boyfriend would like his steak. I told her he likes it freshly killed with blood still oozing from it. When he served it to me for the first time recently I could still taste the blood and felt a bit sick.

The onglet arrived but gristle was a better description. I couldn’t cut it. I struggled for a while and then gave up, ordering a fillet steak instead. When it came it was the best I’d tried, juicy, succulent and full of flavour. It was £17.50 for that and some standard chips – I couldn’t taste the beef dripping apparently on them, and a couple of leaves of spinach. I also had a goats cheese starter that was a slice of fried goats cheese on a potato cake. I thought it wasn’t much for £6.

I shared my boyfriend’s creme brulee for dessert and that was delicious. I’d IMG_0016only taken £50 cash to the city, thinking I would just be going for dinner and maybe a few drinks, but the drinks were so lovely I ended up spending £40 on two cocktails and the meal. The surroundings were nice with chandeliers and arty sketches and cartoons, and there was actually a French waiter. He was asked whether there were any nuts in the tart or sticky toffee pudding and didn’t understand until I translated rather falteringly with what I could remember.

Gingers was a lovely cocktail bar. They were really tasty and there was a wide variety on the menu. They were £6.50 each so I tried to make mine last. I had a strawberry milkshake one with a little too much alcohol in, it was quite sharp. Some were £8.50.

Although it was a classy establishment, unfortunately shortly after we sat down someone projectile vomited out of the toilet door (clearly more money than sense) and there were no other seats free. We were soon breathing through our mouths due to the chlorine bleach cleaning operation underway from a glamourous member of staff in a figgure-hugging LBD (also long). Ladies tottered around her in ridiculous heels, wearing fancy short dresses, fake-style make-up, curled freshly-dyed hair bouncing about. It was lovely being able to talk – the music was in the background and there wasn’t a dancing area, one wouldn’t want to encourage drink-spilling and debauchery.

My boyfriend took great delight in ordering “the gayest thing on the menu”. He had been yawning since the restaurant and after enjoying IMG_0023a sweet “Pink Panther” cocktail in a delicate little glass yawned until everyone followed suit and decided to call it a night. Most of the company were 30 or over and clearly weren’t used to such late nights.

In the morning I was annoyed that I woke up too late to enjoy the hotel pool. I enjoyed using the marble bathroom and the novelty of riding in a lift with a carpet and a mirror though.

We went to brunch at one of The Independent’s top 50 cafes. Nothing on the meu cost less than £6 so it was a bit pricey, and for that I only got three IMG_0041Scottish pancakes with maple syrup, bacon, a couple of blueberries and a strawberry. When we ordered tea I asked what tea they had and they said Earl Grey or ordinary. I wasn’t impressed. The salmon and poached egg brunch was probably what impressed reviewers, it looked like better value for money. There were wooden tables and the tea came in a lovely knitted tea-cosy. It was called The Plough and the toilet was rather fancy, all wood pannelling with their own soap and hand cream.

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We then went round the Christmas market again. I had a potato pancake, deep-fried. It was very fatty and chewy and not to my taste, even with the apple sauce. Others had little dough balls. I tried one but they were also chewy and fatty. Not worth £4 but they looked pretty.

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Then we went round the Bullring shopping mall. It just had chain stores in but we got lunch there. We marvelled at the cakes and tarts at the Patisserie Valerie counter. I asked whether my boyfriend wanted a tart for his birthday (on Friday). I said he was only allowed an edible one though.

We rushed to the station only to discover that when I was really tired I had bought a ticket from Sheffield to Birmingham instead of the other way round, having booked a ticket from Sheffield to London for our upcoming trip to Istanbul at the same time. My boyfriend was driving down south for an 11 day shift, working away. I’m going to London the day before we fly  and my boyfriend is picking me up and taking me to the airport hotel. I bought him return flights and he’s treating me to free 4 star spa hotel accommodation throughout the trip, as he stays away so often with work that he has lots of points he can use.

So my knight in shining armour not only bought me drinks and my Christmas presents but then had to buy my train fare home. He’s refusing to let me pay him back so I’ll get him something nice for Christmas instead.

I’m really looking forward to the next two weekends and I’ll tell you all about them as soon as I can.

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A Derbyshire Gondola – Speedwell Cavern

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Yesterday was the anniversary of our first date. We both had the day off and wanted to do something special. We still had a ticket for an underground boat journey into Speedwell Cavern, above the village of Castleton in Derbyshire.

I enjoyed the novelty of putting on a hard hat and then we descended several hundred metres down stone steps clinging on to the railing for dear life. One stumble and there would be quite a fall.

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We finally got to the bottom where our guide was waiting. There was just an elderly couple and us so it was a nice private tour. We were given a safety briefing by the energetic spritely man before we set off, lying 005 back to avoid hitting our heads as the miner’s tunnel closed in around us. People had first blasted the cave in the 1700s, hacking into seams of lead and hiding in hollowed-out side spaces as the dynamite spewed dust into the air, which was only made breathable by a young boy operating bellows.

The tour went on in this vein as our guide alternately used the boat’s engine, his feet and his hands to steer us through the passageway, with our little vessel bumping into the sides. Halfway along there was a passing point and I made full use of the opportunity to take photos, perhaps a little too much as I quickly became obcessed with getting the perfect shot rather than immersing myself in the experience. Apart from the click of my camera shutter, there was just the sound of water dripping from our shiny Hobbit hole ceiling when our guide paused. The lights rippled in the murky channel.

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We reached the natural cave much further down. When we got off it was pitch black, with just the hollows above us 026illuminated in an ethereal light. Then the main lights were switched on and we marvelled at the sight. It is difficult to describe in words.

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The limestone above us had been hollowed out over thousands of years by water and ice. On the other side of the cavern was a steep drop, with an artificial stream spraying down the side into a pool below, known as the “Bottomless Pit”. High up on the same side were round white stalactites resembling mammoth tusks inching down. On our right a watery tunnel stretched off for another 3 000 metres. The lights were switched off again, plunging us back into pitch black darkness as we returned to the boat.

I had not done any exercise since my city 10k due to illness, so I struggled to climb the hill of stairs on the way out. My legs felt as heavy as the lead the miners had extracted.

I really enjoyed the experience, it had been a lovely way to spend the day whilst celebrating a year since we met.

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