Thursday, May 24, 2007

Chapelcross no more ...

A couple of months ago, after our visit to Senwick, we stopped by to see close-up what we'd been driving past and living alongside for most of our lives.

It's difficult to portray the genuine innocent affection that most local people had for Chapelcross. This guy Willie Johnston says it very well.

One of my own first memories is of the view from my bedroom window from a council house in west Carlisle - it was high on a hill and I was told that in the distance we could see Scotland, the proof was the Pipes. This was incredible to me and over the years I remember staring out at the "Annan Pipes", it formed part of my understanding about the curvature of the earth and how come I couldn't see the whole world...

We had been getting grapevine reports about the planned date for the blasting, and it had been delayed a couple of times but now this was it.

So we all grew up with it being there and then early one Sunday morning everything stopped (including the M74 nearby) and the crowds gathered to say farewell. Sod the radiation risks - it seemed that everyone brought granny, the kids and the dog to see the big event. We were standing just down the road from the place where the above pics were taken (we hadn't gotten up early enough to get there this time!)

When the time came (there was no audible warning so lots of people were caught unawares), I was lucky enough to have already had the video camera pointed in the right place; unfortunately we haven't worked out how to download the film yet so I can't show it here!

It all happened rather quietly; I had been concerned beforehand about the young farm animals nearby, the children, the wild birds... but in the end after a series of four remote thuds, the towers fell in turn, mostly inwards on themselves and there was just a big puff of grey dust which blew away quite quickly to leave silence, then a small smattering of applause from the onlookers.

There were a few minutes afterwards when we all stood staring at the remains of tower #1, expecting something else to happen. It took years to built, a few seconds to bring down, and about 30 minutes for us to get back onto the main road through the traffic!

Anyway here are some of my photos, and here are some more.

another bbc link

Official website with video

another flickr - this time an anigif

and another set of pics - watch the coos!

Forthcoming Pebbles...

I'm a bit behind with my blogging. Been doing rather than saying. No bad thing, probably!

So I fully intended to do a full report on our Cunning night Out with Tony Robinson, our trip to Carlisle Cemetery and a quick poke into the Lakes last weekend.

You'll just have to imagine it.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Tips for Travelodge Travellers

Written at a desk in a room in Bucksburn Travelodge Aberdeen by an experienced and jaded overnighter, the following guide is intended to apply to all budget hotels and B&B’s

Before booking, if you are not familiar with the specific hotel you are interested in, check online to see if you can determine when it was opened or to find reviews etc. Good websites for checking are tripadvisor, Google images or blogger etc. Booking online is always cheaper and you can get some great deals if you book ahead. All of these places are per room, and usually (but not always) have a pub next door. Some have wireless internet access now but it’s far from widespread yet.

• The older Travelodges are miserable places but the newer ones are great. Older ones (e.g. Stirling, Stoke) tend to be those on motorway services and are used as truckstops, the newer ones (e.g. Inverness, Berwick) are fantastic and well worth investigating. The third type are those that are converted from other hotels and are sometimes touted as being new – eg Leeds Vicar Lane and Edinburgh Central. These can be hit and miss, and parking can be quite far away (especially Leeds). Oh there's a fourth type - the urban conversion. I can only think of one - the one at Dundee. Architecturally interesting (converted warehouse) although it's right next to student nightlife so take your earplugs. You are lucky to get a bar of soap in a Travelodge and rarely get a hairdryer.

• Travel Inn tend to be more consistently good quality but they are flat-rate, although weekends are sometimes slightly cheaper. They have converted some rather grand hotels (eg Carlisle north, although obviously I’ve never stayed there), but they are quite good at refurbishing older places so you will rarely find a bad one (although Cumbernauld comes close). They have the money-back guarantee thing too.

• Holiday Inn Express can be good if you book well ahead and get lucky with the price – this chain is quite new, so there are few bad ones and you get breakfast included.

• Innkeepers Lodge is worth a punt too, although some are getting a bit worn out now. They also have breakfast included and have a traditional feel to them although most were built during the 1990’s to a set formula.

• Avoid Formula1 and X because you might not even get an ensuite, and that can be a nasty shock!

On arrival, smile sweetly at the receptionist and pretend to listen to them even if you are pissed off and dying for a cuppa. They are paid crappy wages and deserve your attention to at least give them a bit of job satisfaction.

When you get into the room, perform the following checks:

1. Open the kettle and sniff inside. Bad smells to find are musty (mould) and chemically (bleach). I once stayed in a hotel in Surrey where the kettle smelled of bleach, it also had no power lead! I rinsed it out copiously while waiting for them to bring me a new lead, and stood aghast when the lad brought me a lid instead (stupid southerner)

2. Make sure all the taps work, including the bath if you will use it. Also check the plug fits the hole. I once had a bath tap which didn’t work and only discovered it the next morning when trying to cool my bath - I couldn’t take a bath cos it was too hot.

3. Check the TV works if you are going to use it (let’s face it what else is there to do?). A Travelodge in London did not have a remote control that worked – the receptionist tried in vain to find some batteries and just told me to get up and press the buttons instead. Trouble was, it was the type of TV which had a box underneath designed to override things, so I had to watch one channel all night.

4. Check the bed linen and if you are brave, look under the bed, and also check the cups and spoons.

5. Check the windows and soundproofing, especially if you are near the road. Older places have single-glazed windows and you will hear even bikes going past.

6. Check the heater works if it’s winter or you are in Scotland.

7. If any of the above points are dodgy, consider whether you can perhaps tolerate them and complain in the morning to get your money back – NB this only applies to Travel Inns (I did this with the cold tap incident above – got my money back, nice bonus!). If you are not satisfied, ask for a room change ASAP because leave it later and they may not have another…

Thank you for your indulgence.

Other cheapo accommodation is available!! B&B's are great (mostly...)

Monday, May 14, 2007

Marras and More - a trip to the Maryport Aquarium

Yesterday we took a quick trip to Maryport Aquarium.

Maryport's not somewhere I've spent a lot of time before, I have recollections of travelling through it as a child and my memories were not flattering. We didn't spend a lot of time there yesterday (B had an appointment with Sky Sports later) but what I saw of the place was enough to encourage us to return.

It reminded me of Eyemouth a lot - somewhere I know a lot better even though it's 100+ miles away, cos I used to live nearby. The comparisons are obvious - both places are fishing towns with history of smuggling and tragedy, and are struggling to find their place in a world of dwindling fish stocks, quotas and cheaper imports.

The harbour at Maryport - dare we say marina - looks northwards to the south Solway coast of Scotland, and Criffel. In the town there are old 18thC buildings, narrow hilly Victorian streets and even a Roman fort and museum (one to return to, although there's not much left of the fort!)

So we arrived at the Aquarium and paid our entry (fiver each) and onward inside. We had arrived just in time for a talk about cod and coley by a local lad with a fantastic marra (west Cumbrian) accent.

Of course the place was full of kids - it's that sort of place. But thankfully there wasn't much emphasis on the twee and more on the education - which was equally valuable for adults.

Most of the exhibits are of local UK natives - not just fish but lots of anemones, shrimp, and crabs. We spent about an hour in the galleries, observing, photographing and videoing - but sadly because of the light-bending nature of the tanks we didn't get many decent pictures.

I especially loved the hermit crabs and octopus, spent ages watching them move around in the water. I also had a very meaningful psychic conversation with a coley in possession of enormous, clear eyes. In the flatfish tank there was a mad turbot spinning around which did nothing for its attempt at camouflage! And of course the seahorses and pipefish were hypnotic.

We saw the octopus being fed; Marra boy dropped a crab into the top of the tank and when it started waving its arms about, the octopus spotted it and pounced, injecting digestive juices to later suck it back up (like a spider does I suppose). Earlier I saw the same octopus doing that shooty squirty swimmy thing - scooooch right across the tank! Didn't get that on video but I got some of it walking about - I'll add this here as soon as I work out how to do it...

After all this we were hungry (!) so visited the cafe - very acceptable menu including not surprisingly various fish dishes. I ordered a baked potato and it came with masses of side salad which for a couple of quid was great value. The bacon bap was nice too (so I'm told).

So a quick shufty in the gift shop (targetted at the school trip hoards - fair enough perhaps) we headed back for the footie. We will return!

With apologies for the lack of focus on some of these:

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The Umbrella Postcard, Stocksfield to Low Fell 1917

Following on from this post, here's the second card I bought.

Addressed to:

Miss Elliot
“Escombe House”
Low Fell

Postmarked Stocksfield, October 17th 1903 at 3.45pm

Subject: St Peter’s, Bywell

Text on front:
Please don’t be so personal next time you write

Main text:
Description of umbrella
Straight Handle.
Brown polished wood.
About 3 inches of silver
not solid by any means
at the top. No initials.
Sorry to give Harry all this trouble.
Love to all. Beattie.

Shame they didn't actually say what colour the brolly was. I hope they got it back. And I wonder what did Miss Elliot say last time which was so personal?

There's a photo of the church in 1894 here, today it has lost the ivy and looks like this.There are some interesting old postcards from Gateshead here.

I can’t find any reference to “Escombe House” in Low Fell but there is a an Escomb House referred to here.

The postcard:

Red Squirrel pox threat

This story saddens me a lot...

Red squirrel dies from deadly pox

but I take hope from the last paragraph:

In February 2007, the Scottish Executive awarded a two-year contract to investigate the development of a vaccine against squirrel pox virus.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Alston Bookshop and a Potted Postcard History

Last weekend, the weather was a bit dodgy so we decided to visit Alston and have a poke around the shops.

As well as the wonderful purple hippy palace owned by these folk (complete with “extremely open” doorsign!), there’s a great bookshop there, which I can’t find any trace of one the web. It’s one of those places which has the feel of being someone’s home, with every room stacked high with books of all descriptions; there are lots of them in Wigtown. So, I bought this fascinating book for 50p, published in 1945 but still in excellent condition, “Cooking and Nutritive Value” by A. Barbara Callow.

Anyway, this bookshop also has in one of its back rooms a table with piles of photograph albums – in fact they are used to display old postcards. The higher-valued cards seem to be those which have been unused and perhaps were collections kept by wonderful gentlemen hoarders like my grandad; but the ones I love looking at are the ones with personal messages on them, each a tiny history lesson in themselves.

I spent ages looking through them and in the end bought three postcards and the book, spending a grand total of four English quids. Bargain!

So here’s the first one I have chosen to investigate here:
Sent to Mr J. Marshall, Clifton Street, Hartlepool.
The halfpenny green stamp is franked Hammersmith, September 13th, 1909 at 12:15.
The photo is captioned “The Flip-Flap, Imperial International Exhibition, London 1909”. The image shows what looks like an early thrill-ride, which according to this site “carried riders 200 feet (60 metres) up into the air”.

The message reads:

19 Worlidge St, Hammersmith Sept 12/09
Dear Jim
Just a line to say that I have got a start at Hightons Islington 20 minutes walk from Kings Cross, 53 hours a week, wage 39/9d a week. I go to work by train every morning. Mrs G sends her love to you all. Hoping you are all well as this leaves us all at present. I remain your Old Pal Jack Garton

I can’t find Mr Marshall at Clifton Street Hartlepool yet, however according to this site, one of his neighbours at number 16, 56-year-old John Leighton, was killed in shelling during the “sea raid” on December 16th, 1914 (Reference 1, reference 2
This site names him as James Shepherd Leighton.
From all this I suppose we can presume that Clifton Street was damaged in the raids; It doesn’t appear on any online maps today.

There’s a school on Worlidge Street in Hammersmith, but I can’t find any reference to any Hightons in Islington.

So... If anyone has found this page by searching for these people let me know if you can tell me anything more about them!!

Here's the postcard:

Monday, May 07, 2007


Last weekend (end of April) we travelled to some wonderful bluebell woods.

The first was Carstramon Woods, parking here and heading up into the woods. Some fantastically great oaks here, as well as Scots Pine. The stars of the show of course were the bluebells. We had a good meander through while listening to the wonderful birdsong and watching the butterflies wake up as the day warmed. On the way back to the car we had a brief face-to-face with a doe deer, and when driving away we had to brake hard to avoid hitting a red squirrel. Unfortunately on both occasions I didn't have my camera to hand...

For lunch we stopped at the Gem Rock Museum in Creetown; good food here, shame the website fails to mention this. The menu includes Gemrock cakes and 21-Carat Cake...! The shop is as interesting as the exhibition in my opinion... but I didn't want to spend much money so had to resist spending too long in there!

Next was to Wood of Cree Nature Reserve, parking at the main carpark. This was a slightly longer walk which included a waterfalls and lots of wildflowers.

We hung around at the otter viewing platform for about 40 minutes but didn't see anything, all the time reminded of that kitkat advert with the pandas!

Carstramon Woods:

Wood of Cree Nature Reserve:

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