Archive for the ‘Scenery’ Category

The house is oddly quiet this week and next, since my husband Dave is off doing the famous (or should that be infamous?) Coast to Coast walk.

One coast... (St Bees Head)

One coast… (St Bees Head)

This is a marathon trek of around 190 miles from St Bees in Cumbria to Robin Hood’s Bay in North Yorkshire.  On route it takes in some spectacular scenery in not one but three separate national parks – the Lake District, Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors.  It also passes through some areas of surprising wilderness – surprising not least because they survive in this hectic twenty-first century.  Most people do the walk from west to east, not least because the most challenging terrain is in the Lake District and it’s better to tackle it while you’re fresh, rather than at the end of a fortnight’s plodding when your legs are reduced to stumps and your feet are on fire!

The other coast... (Robin Hood's Bay)

The other coast… (Robin Hood’s Bay)

The walk was the brainchild of Alfred Wainwright (more on him later) who devised it for one of his series of well-known guide books in 1973.  At that time, the idea of walking between two such little-known places was unheard-of, but in the intervening forty years a thriving business has sprung up catering for the thousands of walkers who tackle the route every year.  Busiest time, not surprisingly, is in late summer/early autumn, when the summer heat has died down a little but the nights are still long enough to make getting lost less of a problem.  Believe me, stumbling around in the pitch-dark on Nine Standards Moor is enough to reduce strong men to tears.

The late, great Alfred Wainwright

The late, great Alfred Wainwright

So, who was this Alfred Wainwright?  Well, originally just an ordinary bloke from an ordinary town in Lancashire, who took a day trip to Windermere in the Lake District and promptly fell in love.  Not with a person, but with some of the most stunning scenery – mountains, lakes, rivers, glaciated valleys – in the country.  Not long after, he sold up, took a poorly paid job in Kendal and moved to the area, and spent the next thirteen years climbing every hill and mountain by every available route (and a few that weren’t) and writing a series of guide books about the process.  The books are special, because not only did he write them in his own unique, drily humorous style, but he also illustrated them with beautiful blackand white sketches and annotated maps.  You can spend hours at a time flicking through the pages, poring over the routes up Helvellyn or Blencathra, and laughing at his occasional talking sheep.

Where it all started...

Where it all started…

We’re lucky enough to live within spitting distance of the railway station where Wainwright fist arrived in the Lake District, and within a 2-hour car journey of the start of the Coast to Coast walk.  It’s been Dave’s ambition to tackle the walk ever since we moved to the area.  He’s currently about a third of the way through, running out of useable feet, but enjoying every minute and every spectacular mile.  And very grateful to Alfred Wainwright for coming up with the idea in the first place.


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Cornwall is the furthest peninsula in the south west of the United Kingdom bordered on one side by Devon, and on two sides by two seas — most notably the English Channel in the South and the Celtic Sea (Cornish: An Mor Keltek) in the north Atlantic ocean. The furtherest point is Land’s End, a place I recall visiting as a child as just a rocky outcrop angling down to the sea so that one could walk right to the edge to dip one’s toes. Today, this requires paying to get into the tourist facilities built around the spot so that no one can visit without payment — not a high point in tourism IMHO.

The south of Cornwall is often referred to as Cornish Riviera. It’s more sheltered from the rough and cooler high winds and is usually favoured with warmer weather. However, I’ve always favoured North Cornwall with its higher cliffs, less popularised beaches and the wilder coastline.

The area has featured heavily in fiction, possibly most well-known in tales such as Jamaica Inn at Bodmin by Daphne du Maurier (although she also set other novels in the county), and a Sherlock Holmes tale of The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot by Conan Doyle. Many famous novelists and poets were either born or chose to live near the area, which with its changing atmosphere, varied topography, diverse weather patterns, and local historical and legendary history is hardly surprising.

You can’t be British and not talk about the weather at some point. There’s a reason some say if you don’t like the weather in the UK, wait five minutes. While this ‘may’ be something of an exaggeration, the changeable weather certainly equates to some dramatic extremes, as viewed in these two photographs. They were taken during the same holiday a couple of days apart.

In the first there’s a lovely shot of the Camelot Castle Hotel (far right distance — originally known as King Arthur’s Castle Hotel) complete with a rescue service helicopter in action along the cliffs.


In the second…well, there’s a hotel there somewhere, although it rather looks as if it’s being swallowed up in the mists of time reminiscent of a far different location, aka Brigadoon.


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Change of Plans

Ok – made some kind of decision about my next novel, “Hangingstone Hill.”

I had originally planned it to be set in Dartmoor but I’ve changed my mind. This, for a start, will make the name redundant as that’s a place name of a tor in the Dartmoor area.

It seems silly to me to live in one of the most unusual places in the UK and then set a Big Gothic Novel hundreds of miles away which makes it harder to research. So it’s going to be set in the Norfolk Broads, instead – which will be perfect for isolation, as no-one will be able to leave the house without a boat. Granted I’ll need to do a lot of research on the Broads, but that will be easier to do here. Local libraries are stuffed with books on the Broads, whereas they might not have the depth of knowledge of Dartmoor.

I can’t say I’m looking forward to the research, I always enjoy researching about people more than I like researching the history of a place, but I usually like it better when I’m doing it, finding out loads of things I didn’t know before.

First step – getting maps of the area. At least that won’t be difficult!  Then persuading Dad to come out on a Day Boat with me to research a good area to set my manor house. The more remote the better.trinity-broads

What about you? Have you set a story a stupidly long way away? Or have you used a local locale?

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Fans of Lord of the Rings might not automatically associate the rural landscape of The Shire with Britain’s buzzing second city, but the fact is that Tolkien grew up in Birmingham, and when he came to write his books he peppered them with local settings. In particular, The Shire was heavily based on the south-eastern suburb of Moseley, a green, leafy and prosperous area where the author spent much of his childhood, but the family moved several times and other settings have crept in too.

Some of these are better known than others. It’s fairly widely known, for instance, that Ted Sandyman’s mill in Hobbiton was based on Sarehole Mill, one of only two working watermills left in Birmingham.

sarehole mill

The mill sits near the banks of the River Cole, with its own large mill pond, and is a picturesque building dating from around two hundred years ago, although there has been a mill on the site for nearly five hundred years.

The wild tangled area of woodland and wetland beyond the mill known as Moseley Bog also features in the book since it inspired the Old Forest, the dark and terrifying stretch of woodland where the trees think and move, and all paths lead to the forest’s evil heart.

moseley bog

Tolkien regularly played in Moseley Bog as a child, and the experience clearly stayed with him for life!

Less well known features include The Ivy Bush pub, where the hobbits used to drink. There’s been a pub called The Ivy Bush on the Hagley Road in Edgbaston for many years, only a few hundred yards up the road from where the Tolkien family lived. The pub, an interesting old corner building which used to have a lovely painting of an Ivy Bush on the outside wall, is such a well-known landmark that it’s given its name to both the road junction and the surrounding area.

ivy bush

The Two Towers of the book’s second volume were almost certainly based on Perrott’s Folly and the tower of the Edgbaston Waterworks, which stare out at each other across the city’s rooftops near the shores of Edgbaston Reservoir. Although built at different times, both would have already been in existence when the family moved to nearby Stirling Road.

two towers

Perrott’s Folly (in the foreground of the picture) is thought to have inspired Minas Tirith and the waterworks Minas Morgul! The third tower, Orthanc, may well have been inspired by Birmingham University’s Edwardian Italianate clock tower, which Tolkien would likely have seen being built.

university clock tower

And the Weathertop hills? Well, hold a mirror up to Tolkien’s description of them and you have the Malvern Hills, a range of low hills only about 30 miles south of Birmingham in the county of Worcestershire. The flat-topped Amon Sul, with its ring of ramparts, is almost certainly based on the Herefordshire Beacon, which sits at one end of the range and still bears visible traces of an Ancient British hillfort.

herefordshire beacon

More widely, the story of the Scouring of The Shire is based on Tolkien’s own experiences of inter-war development. Moseley was developed in Victorian and Edwardian times and at that time was on the edge of the city, with only green fields and small villages beyond. In the 1920s, though, vast tracts of land were being built up to form the suburbs of Hall Green and Shirley and the destruction of this ancient landscape clearly left its mark on the author.

The link between Tolkien and Birmingham (and its surrounding area) isn’t as well publicised as it might be. There’s a Tolkien Trail in Moseley, which takes in the mill, the bog, and the former family home in Wake Green Road. One of Moseley’s many parks, which runs along the banks of the River Cole near the mill, has been renamed The Shire Country Park. And just lately there’s been a campaign to have a statue of an ent (designed by the author’s great-nephew Tim Tolkien) erected on Moseley village green. Even so, it’s one of Birmingham’s best kept secrets, and one which deserves to be more widely known. The city has an undeserved reputation as a sea of 1960s concrete but is actually still full of attractive hidden corners like these.

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The Summer Solstice is a turning point for many people for many different reasons. Each year it waited upon and celebrated. It marks the one day of the year where there are more daylight hours than darkness, from this day onward things only get shorter (until the Winter Solstice when the days begin to increase once more).

The Summer Solstice in Britain is celebrated by pagans in many different ways but the most spectacular and indeed the best known celebration occurs at Stonehenge.

Solstice 2005 - www.stonehenge.co.uk


Stonehenge is a site of great importance although it’s true meaning and reason for being has yet been fully agreed upon. Stonehenge is found upon Salisbury Plain and is estimated to have been erected sometime around 3,000 – 1,600 BC. The circular ring of bluestones where brought down from the Preseli Hills via methods fully unknown although this was a process that took many many years to complete. Each stone serves a purpose and it is only in recent years that archaeologists are really beginning to get to grips with the possible meanings behind each one. Early this year some exploratory ‘holes’ where dug allowing people to excavate Stonehenge for the first time in many years, the findings of which are still being processed.

When Stonehenge was created people lived more by the sun and the moon which is why the solstices where important to them. In the time we live in now these moments can very often pass by unnoticed unless a conscious effort is taken to follow them. The Summer Solstice as Stonehenge is a very important day of the year as it is the one time that a large number of people can go and celebrate actually amongst the stones themselves (within permissible times and access). Normally visitors to Stonehenge can only walk in a circle around the stones a small barrier marking the permissible boundaries.

More information can be found here: http://www.stonehenge.co.uk/ 




This years celebration had a police presence however the mood always tends to be rather jovial and it is very rare to have a large amount of trouble. Bands play all be it without speakers (rules are rather strict to help preserve the stones and the site), whilst people in many colours and from all over the world stand/dance/sit together to watch the sun rise (and in case you’re wondering it was at approximately 4.45 GMT this morning).

I wont go into the reasons behind why the solstice is an important day for me, or others since I’m sure if people would like to know more they will be able to look it up and I don’t want to drag religion into this journal.

Although I will say today is a joyful day and if it would only stop raining it would be perfect 🙂


The photographs were all taken from the Stonehenge site showing people’s experience of the Solstice in 2005 (as well as the henge itself)

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Now today isn’t meant to be my day in posting but I’m popping in briefly to say a happy summer solstice to everyone.

Summer Sol 2008

I hope everyone is having a great day and I will post more about this event later today once the celebrations have begun to fully wind down.

So all enjoy the longest day of the year!


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A few months back there was a programme on tv where the public could vote on their favourite British view.  This (see below) is what won – Wastwater, in the English Lake District, with the mountain called Great Gable looming in the background.  As a big fan of the Lake District (I’d move there tomorrow given half a chance) it’s one of my favourites too, and I just thought I would share.


Does anyone else have a favourite view?  Famous, or not so well-known?

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