Monthly Archives: March 2017

Sandsend – an Old-Fashioned Resort

We went to Sandsend last Saturday. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s an old-fashioned sort of place just north of Whitby, with a couple of cafes, some car parks, hotels, toilets and probably some pubs (though I’ve never really noticed as I’m usually too busy looking at the road and avoiding caravans). It also has a small river, cliffs, a great beach and wonderful views.

Yes,I know what you are thinking, as a reviewer of travel destinations I leave something to be desired.

It wasn’t originally part of the plan, but Whitby had been rammed with cars when we tried to find a parking space so we drove north. That’s the problem with travelling to the coast on the first nice Saturday in Spring – everyone else decides to do the same thing. We’d known that when we set off, and the queues around York (which seems to be at least 50% retail outlets these days) had confirmed the presence of large numbers of cars.

We weren’t able to get into the cafe by the beach, where I used to eat Yorkshire Curd tart. We haven’t been for a few years, and the cafe has been done up, so they might not even serve curd tart any more. That’s the trouble with time – you look back at something you used to do regularly and find it was ten years ago. I like curd tart, but as with liver and bread and butter pudding, which I also like,  I find out I can live without it for years at a time.

It’s not that I go short of food (far from it!) but there’s so much food and so little time.

People were fishing from one of the car parks, which seemed a good way of securing a supply of fresh fish, though experience with a rod suggests it’s actually a good way of wasting a day. Even without fish, it’s a good way to get out into the open air.

There seemed to be a camera club about, as small groups of people with cameras were wandering about taking pictures of an ancient mounting block. I took photographs of Herring Gulls, Starlings and Pied Wagtails on the chimney pots of the hotel. Each to his own I suppose.

Finally, there was a microlight that flew across the bay a couple of times, even landing on the beach after the first pass, which seemed a bit dangerous. The engine note had sounded a bit ropey as he approached, but I’m not sure why he needed to land as he didn’t seem to have any time to fix anything whilst on the ground. Maybe he just wanted to expose beach users to heavy machinery and a moving propellor.

After ice creams we looped back to Whitby, but I’ll leave that until later.

More Stone Faces

Here are more of the stone heads from Ely. I couldn’t get as close as I did with the others but they tend to be in a better state of preservation. This is partly because they are out of reach of rampaging Parliamentarian soldiers and partly, I think, because some of them have been restored.

I’ve just been trying to find more information but apart from finding out that the original stone came from Barnack, near Peterborough (which isn’t exactly earth-shaking news, as a lot of stone came from Barnack) I didn’t find much.

It was interesting to find that Ely paid for the stone by providing 8,000 eels a year, though I can’t find out how many years they provided them for. That’s a lot of eels, but if you were to eat 2 a day it would only take 11 people to eat them in a year. If you believe everything you read about churchmen and high living they would have needed a lot more food than that.

I’ve also found out that Cromwell stabled his horses in the cathedral, though he gets blamed for that at every cathedral. In fact he gets blamed for lots of things.




The Stained Glass Museum – Ely

As you may have guessed from a previous post, I’m not impressed with the admission charges at Ely Cathedral. In fact, I’m not really keen on spending money at all, unless it’s on books or unsuitable food. So if I say it was a pleasure to spend £4.50 on the Stained Glass Museum you’ll realise I liked it.

Two roundels showing scenes from the life of St Vincent, c 1220-50 Burgundy region

I’ve always liked stained glass. There’s something magic about sunlight filtering through coloured glass, in much the same way that there’s something wondrous about sunbeams streaming through trees.

I’ll leave it to the pictures now, as I have nothing to say that will improve the glass.

Left, Angel Musician c1440 – 80 Distinctive East Anglian style of painting

Right, Christ and His Followers, designed by Alexander Walker (active 1896 – 1929) though the label says this is c 1885. From a church in Leith. Part of the new wave of Scottish glass – religious zeal having destroyed all he old glass and prevented the making of new glass for several hundred years.

Left, Head of a Young Boy c 1930, designed and made by Christopher Webb (1886 – 1966)

Right, Inner Space by Paul San Casciani b 1935 – representing the view of cells

As you can see, there is a variety of glass, including old and new with a mix of traditional and novel subjects.

Faces from History

As part of our visit to the Stained Glass Museum at Ely Cathedral we were able to get close to a selection of stone heads. They show a variety of damage, both from weathering and what appear to be sword cuts.

From the weathering, and the way they’ve been mounted in the wall with a certain measure of untidiness I’m assuming that they aren’t in their original positions.

They aren’t the most engaging selection of heads, being ugly without being interestingly grotesque, and generally lacking interesting details. I can’t find any mention of them on the museum website but will try to find out more about them.

The trouble with my lack of knowledge is that I may be dismissing historical gems as dull. I did once contemplate doing a degree in Archaeology as a mature student, but taking three years out of work was a step too far, so I remain ignorant and under qualified in the area of stone heads. And many other things.

I’ve often wondered what gets people so worked up about religion that they would fight about it and attack stone heads with a sword. Simple common sense indicates that even if you are a religious zealot you shouldn’t be abusing your sword like that as your life might depend on it later. Thinking of it, a religious zealot probably wouldn’t worry about that, as he’d be sure of going to Heaven anyway. Common sense also indicates that a hammer would do the job better.

As religious violence and smashing up museums are still issues today it must be some deep-seated trait of humans.

The common soldier of the Civil War wasn’t known for his care of swords. I can’t recall the exact quote but General Monck was of the opinion that they used their swords for cutting firewood more than they did for fighting. To be fair, firewood is important.

I’ll leave it there for now, but still have the (more interesting) heads from outside and lots of Stained Glass photos.

I’m still having a problem loading photos, so it’s going to be a long old day of wrestling with technology.

As Julia wants to go to Hobbycraft, I may kill two birds with one stone – making her happy and avoiding the technology for a while. Sounds like a win-win situation.


The Odd Couple and Strange Pigeons

We went to the park today to see the ducks. The first thing I saw was a Wood Pigeon in a tree and a charm of Goldfinches drinking from the stream which acts as an overflow for the pond. The pigeon looked a little rumpled and the Goldfinches were too quick for me, so there are no photographs of those two.

We were surrounded by feral pigeons at one point. I counted them twice, getting 57 in one count and 62 in the next. Call it 60. That’s a lot of verminous skyrats. It may be that I’m being unfair to them, as they do look quite tidy, and even seem keen on taking a bath.

The odd couple are still there, though the goose does seem to be paired up with another goose too. The three of them were together on the grass at the far end of the pond. It now looks a bit like one of those situations where a man has married but still has one of his old mates hanging round, or playing gooseberry.


The birds seem to be paired up and defending territories, but apart from daffodils and a few mahonias there is nothing much happening to suggest Spring. Outside the walls Spring is definitely here but inside the park things are a bit behind. It may be the trees, or the stone wall holding cold air in, but it just seems like the park is a couple of weeks behind the surrounding streets.


A Visit to Ely

My first mistake on this trip was trusting the satnav. A year ago you wouldn’t have heard me say that, because I simply wouldn’t have used it. Since then I have gradually found myself starting to not only use it, but to trust it. This has proved to be a mistake as it has recently tried to take me up a couple of one-way streets, got me lost in Leeds twice and taken us on several strange routes, including a tour of B-road Lincolnshire.

On Friday it tried to take us to Ely by driving past and looping back,  so I switched off and asked Julia to do some map reading.

Married men reading this will probably be experiencing a chilly feeling of deja vu. In addition they will probably be watching, mesmerised, as I flirt with disaster. Fear not. I will admit that there was a touch of domestic discord surrounding navigation, but I am not stupid enough to discuss it in greater depth than that.

Anyway, I like mystery tours, and it gave us the chance to see Fen Drayton Lakes. I was hoping there would be a toilet there, and possibly a Kingfisher. Both hopes were doomed. There are feeders and viewpoints, and lots of water. Unfortunately there was too much for us to do it justice, even after I made a quick stop in a hedge to rectify the lack of toilets. Unfortunately I couldn’t rectify the lack of leaves on the hedge. Ah well…

As we were driving along the roadway to the reserve we crossed the track of the Cambridgeshire Guided Busway. I’d never heard of it until I crossed it, despite it being the longest one in the world. In fact I’d never even heard of a guided busway. My sister, on the other hand, tells me not only has she heard of it, but has actually used it.

In Ely, we found a free car park with toilets. “Free” is a quality I admire in a car park, and “with toilets” is also an excellent quality. This is the Barton Road Car Park, which was in a reasonable walking distance of the Cathedral. There are others, which you can see here.

The Russian Cannon was captured in the Crimean War and presented by Queen Victoria in 1860 on the formation of the Ely Rifle Volunteers.

We decided, for various reasons (which included the price) just to  go to the Stained Glass Museum. We’ve been to the Cathedral in the past, but not to the Stained Glass Museum, and we’re on a budget. I’m thinking of posting something on this subject later. I will also post separately on the Stained Glass Museum, which was so good I want to go back to see it all again.

After the museum we wandered round town for a while, had coffee, checked out some charity shops, tried to buy some pork and took more photographs. Things weren’t great for photographs, as narrow streets and low sun cast many shadows.

The butcher’s shop is Edis of Ely, a fine old-fashioned shop with a great range of products and two walls of award certificates. The two people in the shop were more concerned with talking to a regular customer, who was obviously more interesting than I was. After waiting patiently for some time I decide enough was enough and left, so I can’t tell you if everything was as good as it looked. As they didn’t seem to notice as I left, I can only assume I was either invisible or unwelcome.

As I’ve never been there before I can’t see why I should have been unwelcome so I can only assume my diet has been effective to the point of rendering me difficult to see.

However, one of the charity shops produced an unread copy of The Cat’s Pyjamas (The Penguin Book of Cliches)for £1.50, so I’m over the moon about that.

Oliver Cromwell and his family lived here from 1636-46, though I suspect he wasn’t home much from 1642 0nwards.  What with the size of the entrance fees to the Cathedral and the spirit of Cromwell I’m beginning to feel a bit iconoclastic…



Orton Mere

I just realised that although I said I was going to start on the Ely visit next, I still have to finish off the visit to Peterborough. The subject is Orton Mere.

If you travel south on the Great North Road (or A1 as it is now less interestingly known) you turn left at Alwalton and carry on a few miles until you come to a set of traffic lights. On the right is the village of Orton Longueville and on the left is Orton Mere. The village is a lot more interesting than you would think from the Wikipedia entry, though maybe that’s just my view. My childhood memories are, I suppose, of limited interest – probably limited to me and a few of my contemporaries.

For now, turn left and go down the hill to the car park. There are now several  ponds, a flyover and a golf course. In my day there was just the one pond. Where the flyover now towers above you, there used to be tanks where effluent from the British Sugar factory was piped – I’m not quite clear on the process as we rarely went there due to the high sides, scrub and quicksand-like nature of some of the tanks. The golf course was just water meadow.

The reed beds, I recall, used to support a large population of Reed Buntings.

We didn’t use the name Orton Mere, it was “the pond near the Staunch”, and I only heard the name in the 1980s when they started to develop it. The name Orton Mere seems to be used for the wider area these days, as in this news article. Whenever there’s a drowning, and there have been a few over the years, Orton Staunch seems to be known as Orton Mere. (I added this 12.05.20 after revisiting the post and finding that the news article link now goes to a Sheffield Wednesday related page rather than news of a rescue from drowning – I have left it all as it was but removed the hyperlink.)

We used to have rafts down at the pond, which was less reed-fringed in those days and had shallower beaches. Someone had made them from railway sleepers and they just stayed there to be used by generations of kids. My mum used to go mad with me for doing it, as I couldn’t swim in those days. The poles which went with the rafts were about a foot shorter than the depth of the pond, and sometimes called for interesting contortions, with hands underwater, to get back to shore, so she may have had a point.

There used to be a large tench in the pond during the 1980s, after Health and Safety had landscaped the pond and burned the rafts. I recall seeing its dorsal fin breaking the surface once and it was huge. I can’t remember what its reported weight was when it was caught, but it was a good size.

I’m not sure what a staunch actually is, but from what I’ve seen on the river it is a set of vertically acting gates that controls the flow of water. This sets up a series of currents and undertows, which is why a few people have drowned there over the years, and scours out channels down stream of the gates.  These used to attract large numbers of chub, which, according to Wikipedia, are easy to catch. This takes a bit of gloss off my memories of summer evenings spent catching good numbers of chub, but in time I’ll forget Wiki, whereas I will always remember the summer evenings.

The photographs show Orton Mere with no filter, Dramatic filter and Landscape filter. Even with no filter it looks the sort of place you’d find secretive fish and arms raising swords from the depths.

You can’t fish there now because the area is reserved for canoeists.

Looking for links I found this one relating to helping with  eel migration. I remember seeing the glass eels trying to make their way up the stream when I lived there, and had been thinking about them recently after reading an article about declining eel numbers. It’s nice to see something being done for them.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about is an overcast day back in 1970. I was walking home from school when I noticed the police had closed off access down to the river. Two brothers from school had been canoeing during a games lesson and had drowned after getting into difficulties. This was in the days before risk assessment. We weren’t close, as I was only 11 and they were in their late teens, but we played rugby together. In those days all ages used to train together, and one or two of us even played in school matches with the big boys – unthinkable in these days. To be honest, the Bukowski brothers were very big boys compared to me, and scared the life out of me, though I tried to hide it.

So there you go. I suppose it’s a sign of getting old when your memories run to this length…




The Coming Week – a Trip to Ely

I took a lot of photographs yesterday during our trip to Ely. If we’d got up earlier, and if we hadn’t been been slowed down by my elderly bladder and the poor navigation of one who shall remain nameless I would have taken more.

In the coming week you can therefore expect a helping of Cromwellian politics, a discourse on the evils of Ely, photographs of stone faces, a description of domestic disharmony due to the distaff side’s inability to read a map, a picture of Prince Albert and his piercing look, a visit to the Stained Glass Museum and some suggestions on how the Church could finance the £6,000 a day it takes to keep the Cathedral open.

Here are some photographs to give you some idea of what is coming up.

At the Garden Centre

We had some time to kill yesterday in Peterborough so we went to Notcutt’s Garden Centre at Ferry Meadows for an Apple and Cinnamon scone. I took the opportunity for some spring flower photography.

The scone was large and had a good flavour (much of it down to sugar, I think). On the downside, it was a bit dry and crumbly and could have done with more apple. It wasn’t bad but I won’t be rushing in to buy another.

Dad’s brother Tom was down visiting from Lancashire. He’s 86 and much fitter than Dad, who just turned 88. That’s probably due to a lifetime working outdoors, in contrast to Dad who spent most of his time in cars and offices. He travelled with his son and daughter-in-law this time as the drive is getting a bit tiring these days.

After Peterborough they are going to Buckinghamshire to see my Uncle Jim (94). He spent his life using a bicycle and never owned a car. He met my aunt when he was stationed in Lancashire during the war and after he left the army cycled up from London to see her. He’s still 100% mentally, though he recently had a knee replaced.

I’m seeing a pattern here.






Barn Owls and Peace – an Unlikely Story

This is an interesting link about Barn Owls. They are traditional thought of as wise birds, though I’ve never seen one on The Chase, and this is the first time I’ve seen them linked to politics and the peace process. I particularly liked the bit about bats at the end of the article.

I used to see Barn Owls regularly cruising the Fens when I lived there, and we had several pairs around the farm, including one that became involved in a synchronised flying display with a Buzzard. I’m still not sure what that was about but the superior manoeuvrability of the owl enabled it to give the Buzzard the slip.

There are links to this sort of behaviour here and here.

On a day  that the UK is gradually learning more yesterday’s terror attack, and a couple of days after the death of Martin McGuinness, I suppose I could go on to discuss peace, but I have nothing useful to say. I’m sure that most people agree that peace is a good thing but violence never seems to go out of fashion.

I’ll just leave you with this.