Cathedral Tours

Cathedral Tours

It wasn’t intentional, but over our Christmas roadtrip, we seemed to visit quite a few cathedrals. Not for spiritual reasons, you understand. We love a cathedral for its architecture and gloriously over the top rich interiors. First stop was one we know very well – Durham Cathedral. Having grown up near here, it’s a place we’ve visted often – and definitely think winter time is by far the best time to visit. Lighting is much more evocative, with lots of candlelight and shadows. The Norman pillars are utterly majestic, as are the stained glass windows. The construction of the cathedral started in 1093 – 1093!

Over 900 hundred years ago!

Today, it is regarded as one of the finest examples of Norman architecture in Europe, and in 198, along with Durham Castle, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Durham Cathedral holds the relics of Saint Cuthbert, transported to Durham by Lindisfarne monks in the ninth century, the head of Saint Oswald of Northumbria, and the remains of the Venerable Bede – and if you went to school in the North East, you definitely who this lot are and how important, both historically and, in religious terms, they are. In addition, its library contains one of the most complete sets of early printed books in England, the pre-Dissolution monastic accounts, and three copies of Magna Carta. So, it’s a bit of a wow. It’s been used as a film location on many occasions, most recognisably probably in the first two Harry Potter films. Scenes from Elizabeth 1, starring Cate Blanchett were filmed here, as well as interior views which were featured in the 2019 Marvel superhero film Avengers: Endgame, as the indoor location of Asgard. (We had no idea about this, until the day after our visit, watching the film with our superhero-mad nephew, we spotted the Norman pillars).

DURHAM CATHEDRAL

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Replica of the infamous Sanctuary Kocker, Durham Cathedral. Under medieval English common law, these instruments supposedly afforded the right of asylum to anybody who touched it.

Replica of the infamous Sanctuary Knocker, Durham Cathedral. Under medieval English common law, this knocker (and others like it) supposedly afforded the right of asylum to anybody who touched it.

The beautifully weathered pillars at the entrance to the cathedral.

The beautifully weathered pillars at the entrance to the cathedral.

Christmas in the Cathedral

Christmas in Durham Cathedral

The Rose Window

The Rose Window

The Pieta, Durham Cathedral

The Pieta, Durham Cathedral

The Chapel of Saint Cuthbert

The Chapel of Saint Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral

The Astronomical Clock, Durham Cathedral

The Astronomical Clock, Durham Cathedral

CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL

We first visited Canterbury over twenty years ago, but it’s become a bit of a go-to stopover when we travel to and from England on our regular roadtrips back from Istria. It’s so convenient for Dover and such a lovely place that we did it twice on this Christmas trip. And because we had two full days on the return trip, we decided to spend most of it investigating and exploring the Cathedral. When I did A’Level English Literature, we studied the Prologue to the Canterbury Tales – a nice do-able introduction to medieval English – and was fascinated by Canterbury and its Cathedral, so I was keen to get to know it.

Now, I thought that Durham Cathedral was impressive age-wise, but it’s just a baby cathedral, compared to Canterbury. Founded in 597, it was completely rebuilt between 1070 and 1077. Perhaps the most famous moment in its history was the murder of the archbishop, Thomas Becket, on Tuesday 29 December 1170, by knights of King Henry II. The king had frequent conflicts with the strong-willed Becket and is said to have exclaimed in frustration, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” Four knights took it literally and murdered Becket in his own cathedral. After his death, the cathedral became a place of pilgrimage.

An impressive entrance into the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral

An impressive entrance into the grounds of Canterbury Cathedral

Intricate detailing. Canterbury Cathedral.

Intricate detailing. Canterbury Cathedral.

Even with renovation work being carried out, this is one impressive interior...

Even with renovation work being carried out, this is one impressive interior…

Murder in the Cathedral : Thomas Becket

Murder in the Cathedral : Thomas Becket

The Shrine of Thomas Becket, Canterbury Cathedral

The Shrine of Thomas Becket, Canterbury Cathedral

Waving us off...

Waving us off…

We spent a good few hours mooching around the Cathedral and its Cloisters and it was pretty magical. Not for the religious experience though – what blew us away was the architecture and historical significance. And, so across the channel and onto our next Cathedral…

NOTRE DAME CATHEDRAL, STRASBOURG

We were entirely unprepared for this Cathedral, not even knowing that there was a Notre Dame here. We saw it first, late at night, after dinner, when it was bathed in a golden light – the Christmas lights were still very much up in Strasbourg, despite it being after the 6th January and the golden lights were for the festive season. To say it’s a jaw-dropping structure is an understatement…

The Rose Window, Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg

The Rose Window, Notre Dame Cathedral, Strasbourg

We were due to leave Strasbourg early the next morning for Brescia, but felt we couldn’t pass up the opportunity of a visit when we were in the city, and so squeezed one on before we left.

The Cathedral, in miniature, in front of the Cathedral.

The Cathedral, in miniature, in front of Strasbourg Cathedral.

We expected to pay an entrance fee to get into the Cathedral, but after a brief security check, we were in, no charge. A bonus.

The impressive main entrance to the Cathedral

The impressive main entrance to the Cathedral

Christmas wreath...

Christmas wreath…

The Story of the Nativity

The Story of the Nativity

Gothic Interior : Strasbourg Cathedral

Gothic Interior : Strasbourg Cathedral

The Cathedral toweing over the oldest building in Strasbourg, La Maison Kammerzell, constructed in 1427

The Cathedral towering over the oldest building in Strasbourg, La Maison Kammerzell, constructed in 1427

So ended our Christmas Tour of Cathedrals. Completely unintentional and not pre-planned, but wonderful. Three gorgeous cities, full of history. A perfect way to bring our roadtrip to a conclusion.

Salts Mill, Saltaire, Yorkshire

Salts Mill, Saltaire, Yorkshire

It turns out Christmas Eve was just about the most perfect time to visit Salts Mill, in Saltaire, on our way up to the North East for our festive break.

Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, like the very beautiful Port Sunlight on The Wirral, Saltaire was an industrial village, purpose-built in 1851, by philanthropic industrialist, Titus Salt. The village’s huge factory was once the largest in the world and Saltaire was created as a model village of neat, honey-coloured cottages, leading down to the River Aire, intended to create a close and upright community of workers. Its name is a combination of Titus’s surname and the nearby River Aire.

Image : visitengland.com

Image : visitengland.com

Now, Salts Mill is a bright and airy cathedral-like building which houses a permanent exhibition of works by Bradford-born artist David Hockney, as well as being a wonderful opportunity for some pretty amazing retail therapy, with an excellent and vast book shop, and a fabulous homewares area, packed full of unique and exquisite furnishings, fabrics, accessories for the home and just general loveliness.

We didn’t have time to visit the Hockney exhibition, sadly, so made the decision to explore the bookshop an,d interiors areas and have a spot of lunch in Salts Diner, more of which later. The renovation of the mill has been extremely sympathetic, with many of the original features and much of the layout, retained. It is definitely cavernous – and amazing photographs illustrate what the mill would have been like in its heyday, full of people and noise. Today, it is a whole lot more tranquil – or at least it was on Christmas Eve. It was an absolute pleasure to be able to wander without throngs of frantic Xmas shoppers – most people seemed to be visiting on this particular day to have “a day out”.

Just look at those beautiful pillars. Tall and imposing, now looking almost delicate in crisp white, with the intricate detailing at the top picked out in a beautiful blue. And, because it was Christmas, complemented with subtle, colour co-ordinating decorations.

We rarely now get a chance to visit bookshops, so it was a sheer delight to just browse the shelves, leafing through books. It would have been very easy to spend a fortune, but I managed to just about restrain myself, justifying purchases on the fact that I couldn’t buy the books I wanted in Istria. And, because we are giving the big bedroom a complete make-over, I couldn’t resist three Scandinavian Swan mobiles and a butterfly pop-up…

Scandinavian Swans : Flensted Mobile

Scandinavian Swans : Flensted Mobile

Message In A Bottle : Pop Up Butterflies

Message In A Bottle : Pop Up Butterflies

The homewares section is truly fantastic. From small tealight holders to incredibly expensive pieces of one-off, bespoke furniture, there is definitely something for everyone and I would defy you to make a visit here and not spend a few pennies. Again, because it was Christmas, it was exquisitely styled – and I have to say, I’ve returned with a heap of new ideas. As a well a few bits & bobs to help the make-over along.

Salts Diner reminded me very much of the lovely Tebay Services on the M6. Well thought out in terms of industrial design and interiors and with fresh food, largely made on the premises – the open kitchen is huge and you can see exactly what’s going on. Its reputation obviously precedes it, as it was very, very busy even with early closing on Christmas Eve.

The food was amazingly delicious – so much so that it was snaffled away before anything could be captured for posterity!

We absolutely loved our short, but sweet, visit to Salts Mill. There’s so much more to see than we experienced and so we will, on our next visit up north, take the opportunity to stop and get to know this wonderful place a little bit more.

The Falstaff, Canterbury, Kent

The Falstaff, Canterbury, Kent

When we drive back to England, we tend to do a much needed stopover in the south-east after the ferry crossing from Calais. This year, we plumped for The Falstaff in Canterbury, which, according to its website

…has been a focus for hospitality in Canterbury for over 600 years. A traditional 15th century coaching inn, the hotel is steeped in history…

Only 30 minutes from the Port of Dover, we found it to be absolutely ideal for what we wanted. As we were travelling for a few weeks, and therefore staying at a quite few places on our travels, we couldn’t splash out on the most expensive rooms. The hotel (the rooms are situated above a bar and restaurant, more of which later) offers rooms called “Cosy Doubles”, and we decided to book one of these, knowing that it would probably be a bit on the small side, especially given the description on the website –

Our cosy double rooms comprise one small double bed and are all ensuite. All rooms have baths and integrated showers or walk-in showers, hairdryers, tea and coffee making facilities and flatscreen televisions with Freeview. They are best suited as double rooms for single occupancy, but do make for very cosy double rooms also. If you require more space we recommend booking one of our traditional double rooms. Cosy double rooms cannot accommodate extra beds and cannot be used as twin.

We were prepared to be a bit cramped but it was only for one night, so weren’t overly concerned. But, we definitely weren’t expecting what we were actually allocated.

Westgate Towers, Canterbury, Kent

First impressions of the hotel were excellent. Located just outside the famous medieval gateway, known as Westgate Towers, it was clear immediately that a lot of thought and creativity had gone into the refurbishment of The Falstaff. The reception area is a beautiful room in its own right, and I think we were lucky to visit just before Christmas and see it in all of its festive glory.

The Falstaff Hotel Canterbury, Kent

Room 1 (take note of that number if you want a room that doesn’t break the bank, is much larger than you might think it will be and doesn’t scrimp on design details) is up in the eaves of the building – it’s called one of the Turret Rooms. If you are tall, you need to be aware that the ceilings are low, with exposed beams – there are notices alerting you to this, but best to just watch out. Once inside the room, we were really, really surprised at the size of this cosy double. The bed was definitely not small – it was more than spacious and super comfortable, with gorgeous white Egyptian cotton bed linen. Sumptuous velvet cushions and throws, in pale pinks and greens, added texture and colour. The room had everything you would need for a stay – excellent wi-fi, wall-mounted TV (so out of the way), a good size table/desk & chair, ample storage, soft lighting with switches next to the bed (always a plus point!), tea and coffee making facilities and a really good selection of said teas and coffee. Thick curtains and a double glazed panel, which slid across the old leaded windows, kept the heat in and the noise out.

The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent

If you like your rooms to be on the toasty side, then the cast iron radiator will definitely warm your cockles. However, it was just a bit too toasty for us and we actually turned it off completely – and the room was still warm enough.

The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury. Kent

The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury. Kent

When we are travelling, we usually accept that if a room we book, offers a bath or a shower, we’ll end up with the shower, unless we specifically request a bath. We didn’t on this occasion, and so expected a teeny weeny bathroom with a shower shoe-horned in. Wrong! The bathroom was huge, with a great bath and a very powerful shower. Double treat!

The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
think you can tell a lot about a hotel from the attention to detail in the bathroom. It’s easy to bung in a relatively inexpensive white bathroom suite and for it to look OK, but when you can see that what has been installed isn’t budget, it does make a massive difference. A heavy ceramic bath and sink, beautiful waterfall taps, rainhead shower. And metro tiles.
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury. Kent
Plus, another leaded window. And the fluffiest, whitest, cleanest towels.
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
As mentioned previously, downstairs there is a bar and restaurant area, with a number of interesting rooms, perfect for groups of friends or cosying up by one of the log fires. Again, Christmas time definitely lent itself to a more cosy look, but I’m guessing The Falstaff gets it right all year round. (And, with it being Xmas, the bar was busy, but we didn’t hear a thing once we’d retired to our room).
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent
A big plus for us, as we don’t travel light, was the secure car parking (for an additional £10 per day), at the rear of the hotel. Easily accessible and as far as we were concerned, super secure. Breakfast was another plus. Buffet style, and in a lovely dining area, there was more than enough choice. Cereals, cheeses, hams, bread, fruit, juices – as well as a hot breakfast, with excellent quality produce.

We actually rated The Falstaff so highly that we chose to reurn, this time for two nights, on our journey back to Dover. Booking directly via the hotel (as opposed to Booking.Com) meant a discount was applied to both the room rate and the breakfast. And we got Room 1 again. Just like a home from home 🙂

PS – the bar has a very extensive cocktail and gin menu. I’d like to personally recommend the Salted Caramel Martini. Probably the best I’ve had…

The Falstaff Hotel, Canterbury, Kent

Riley’s Fish Shack, Tynemouth

Riley’s Fish Shack, Tynemouth

Although it’s been a while since I lived in the North East, we do still get to experience it when we visit family. It’s become a bit of a tradition that we do a bracing post-Christmas walk, usually on the coast, and this year was no exception. On the day after Boxing Day, we headed to Tynemouth. The weather was as we expected – windy, cold and drizzly. But that didn’t stop people being on King Edward’s Beach, under the imposing priory.

Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth, England

The Priory, Tynemouth, England

We decided that the weather was just perfect for a fish lunch. This being the hardy north east, where a blustery wind from Scandinavia doesn’t stop things – you just adapt and do them differently – Riley’s Fish Shack was open, and a very long queue starting to form. If you’ve not heard about this place, where have you been? Snuggling in under the cliffs – if you don’t peer over the Edwardian railings at the top, you’ll miss it – is the most wonderful eatery, we swear you’ll ever encounter. Constructed from two open-fronted shipping containers, this is steampunk heaven. With fish. The best, freshest fish you can imagine.

Riley's Fish Shack Menu, Tynemouth, England

Riley’s Fish Shack Menu

The menu is simple. It consists of what fresh fish they have, at the time you arrive. When it runs out, it runs out. Everything is sourced locally – I mean, how could you source from anywhere else other than the North Sea, when it’s literally lapping around the containers? There’s always a buzz in the queue – and there is *always* a queue as this place is beyond popular – about what’s on the menu. Listen to what other people are drooling over, because if they’re in the queue ahead of you, they’re watching their fish being prepped and cooked. We knew on our last visit that the Goan Monkfish Curry and the Monkfish Tail Kebabs were dead certs – more of the food later, but wowsers!

If you like your interiors to be pristine, with bookable tables and table service etc, this may not be for you. But, if you like quirky surroundings, where you sometimes need to table-share with strangers, and be warmed up with throws and by woodburners, this place is probably right up your street. There is bench-like seating at the front, overlooking the beach and three or four larger tables inside, behind glass doors. For the super-hardy – of which there were many on this very brisk December day – there are groups of canvas deckchairs, around a number of firepits on the beach itself. So, plenty of seating options, but you need to be prepared to be flexible as you might not get exactly where you want.

Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth, England

Looking out to Denmark from Riley’s Fish Shack, Tynemouth

Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth, England

As you can see, it was a cold day, so we were very lucky to grab a table indoors, with a woodburner in a little nook, at the end of it. Although we did have to share it, as you can see…

Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth, England

I think the interior has been really well thought out – very industrial and very raw, with some beautiful touches to soften the edges. Just like its surroundings.

Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth, England

Riley's Fish Shack Tynemouth, England

Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth, England

King Edward’s Bay, Tynemouth

Deck chairs and fire pits, King Edward's Bay, Tynemouth

Deck chairs and fire pits, King Edward’s Bay, Tynemouth

But, what about the food?

Well, let’s say, we’re on the same page as Jay Rayner and GQ Magazine on this one. The menu, on the day we visited, was extensive –  sea food wraps, mackerel, cod, monkfish, kebabs, lobster, squid and side dishes such as Brussel Sprouts (it was still Christmas!), garlic potatoes and breads. The choice was amazing, but monkfish can never be resisted, so the curry and the kebabs were ordered. With drinks, the bill came to £48, so not cheap, BUT the portions were huge! The chunks of monkfish were plentiful and succulent in the Goan Curry and this dish came with jasmine rice and a very large flatbread. Be aware, though, this dish comes with a kick…

Goan Monkfish Curry : Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth

Goan Monkfish Curry : Riley’s Fish Shack, Tynemouth

The monkfish tail kebab dish was equally as huge. Again, big, fat, succulent chunks of fish accompanied by salad, rice, flatbreads and lovely garlicky potatoes with relishes.

Monkfish Tail Kebabs, Riley's Fish Shack, Tynemouth

Monkfish Tail Kebabs, Riley’s Fish Shack, Tynemouth

Over Christmas we travelled from Istria in northern Croatia, through Italy, Austria, Germany and France on our way to and from England. And, without a shadow of a doubt, our meal at Riley’s Fish Shack was miles ahead of anything else we ate in the various restaurants we visited, on our trip. We cannot recommend this little slice of culinary heaven enough. Just don’t forget your hat & scarf!

Photograph: Alex Telfer/The Observer

Photograph: Alex Telfer/The Observer

Image : https://rileysfishshack.com

Image : https://rileysfishshack.com

 

Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire

Brimham Rocks, North Yorkshire

Although we know most of the north of England fairly well, we weren’t aware of Brimham Rocks. How did we not know about them?

Found on Brimham Moor in North Yorkshire, England the rocks began taking their shape roughly 320 million years ago, when water, grit, and sand washed down from Scotland and Norway to form the land of Yorkshire. However it was a much more recent event, during the last glacial period, (the Devensian glaciation, roughly 73,000 BC to 10,000 BC) that would shape the rocks into the bizarre silhouettes you see today. As the last of the giant ice age glaciers melted they created the ripples and waves on the rocks, creating sculpted looking forms. Since then, rain and wind have further eroded the strange rock formations seen throughout the area. Atlas Obscura

Located about 10 miles north west of Harrogate, where we were staying, we visited on a freezing cold January day. It was a great time to discover this area of outstanding natural beauty, as literally no-one else was mad enough to be out in the sub-zero tempertures, so we were able to explore on our own. Before the snow came down, the views from the rocks, across the Yorkshire countryside were stunning – we could even see the infamous “golf ball” structures, away in the distance over at the RAF base at Menwith Hill.

The rock structures are really quite amazing – paths lead you through a maze of balancing rock formations, many of which look as if they are about to topple over. Sculpted by 320 million years of ice, wind, and the movement of entire continents, they have taken on weird and wonderful shapes. Many have taken on familiar appearances – the Dancing Bear, the Gorilla, the Eagle and the Turtle, and the Smartie Tube. For the more nimble, there are also the Rocking Stones – try and balance on these!

Opening times do vary, both across the National Trust site and over the year, so do check before you set off as you may have a wasted journey. Parking facilities are available – £6 for 4 hours or £8 per day, at the time of writing.

Not too far from Brimham Rocks, and definitely close enough to visit in the same day, is the beautiful Fountains Abbey, one of the largest and best preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England

If you do ever find yourself in North Yorkshire, you will be spoilt for choice in terms of places to visit, but we do definitely recommend both Brimham Rocks and Fountains Abbey. Especially if you can hit lucky at the time of year we did, as you’ll largely have both places to yourself.

London Road Trip

London Road Trip

Not too long ago, when we still lived in Didsbury, we often thought about having time away in London, but never got round to it, because, well – London was just too far away from Manchester. The traffic would be awful. We’d end up sitting on the M6 or the M25. It was over-priced and over-crowded. And so, for a long time, we never did the trip. The last time we were in London was, I think the early 90s. But things are different now. We think nothing of long trips – and so when we were planning our Christmas road trip back to England, we decided that this time we would take in London.

Not all of it, of course – we were on a fairly strict timescale and so had to narrow down where we were staying, so that we were able to do a bit of the touristy trail, but also head up to Manchester quite quickly. As we were driving, we took a ferry from Calais to Dover, so it made more sense to stay in the East, rather than driving through the London traffic on the afternoon of the last Friday before Christmas. Rather than search by area, I searched for accommodation that I liked the look of first, and then checked out the area – and this was how we came to find the very lovely Pilot Inn, in Greenwich. The journey from Dover up to Greenwich was easy – just over an hour, straight up the A2. No traffic jams either. As you will all know, Greenwich has changed beyond recognition. We’re lucky enough to now visit lots of places on our roadtrips, but there was something quite exhilerating about being a tourist in London, and seeing for real some of the landmarks we’ve only seen on TV.

My usual choice of accommodation isn’t usually a pub with rooms above, but The Pilot Inn ticked our boxes. It has been refurbished and whilst it is still a pub downstairs, it has been very stylishly renovated. There’s a restaurant too, and we chose to eat here – it’s clearly a very popular choice amongst locals as it was packed. The food was exceptionally good, too – definitely not pub grub. Breakfast next morning was as good, with plenty of vegetarian options, too. Our room was lovely – just what we needed after a long journey through Slovenia, Austria, Germany, France and across the channel. Very tastefully decorated, with a super comfy bed, metro-tiled bathroom with a powerful walk in shower, strong wi-fi and views of the O2 Arena and the iconic gas holder at East Greenwich Gas Works. Another bonus was free parking bays, just outside the accommodation.

A good sized piece of green space, right in the heart of Greenwich Peninsula. The Pilot Inn is at the end of the little terrace, to the right.

Love a navy wall. Makes me feel right at home!

River View, Greenwich, with The Pilot Inn at the end of the terrace. The very terrace (albeit with doors now painted blue) that featured in Blur’s “Parklife” video…

Blur : “Parklife”. With red doors.

The Pilot Inn is perfectly located for the O2, which is no more than a ten minute walk away. Again, ashamed to say, we’ve never been here since the area was redveloped and so were quite surprised at how beautiful it all is now. With the Canary Wharf glass towers glistening in the winter sunshine, and the redevelopment of the river area, and the explosion of modernist buildings around Greenwich Peninsula, we really did regret not having taken more of an opportunity to explore the capital when it actually was a lot easier. Now, a journey of four hours seems nothing. Previously, it seemed like such a long time to spend in a car. How your perspective can change!

We spent a good few hours just walking, taking it all in – and I even persuaded my other half, who has a very real fear of heights, to do a round trip on the Emirates Air Line, which crosses the River Thames between Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks. I thoroughly enjoyed my aerial view of London. Not too sure about him…

Body language. Arms folded. Steely, fixed expression. *I am not enjoying this*

The Emirates Air Line, Greenwich

Beautiful facade of Ravensbourne University, next to the O2 Arena

It was a shame the next day that we couldn’t extend our touristy trip of London, but we had to head north to Manchester. Instead of skirting around the M25, we decided to do a drive through the city and so were able to see some old haunts, as we drove through Deptford, Bermondsey, Southwark and over Tower Bridge to the north of the river. We’d wanted to get to see The Cutty Sark, The Royal Observatory, The Naval College and of course, a bit of retail therapy at Greenwich Market, but time was against us.

Tower Bridge, London

However, our taste for London has returned. Now that our preferred way to get back to the UK is by driving, we’ll factor in a capital visit next time. Especially as I’ve now got my eye on The Good Hotel – the concept of which is described on the website as combining…

…premium hospitality with doing good for the local community. The hotel is located in the historical Royal Victoria Docks in London, on the river Thames, and is a profit for non-profit business. This means it employs a social business model that re-invests all its profits…

 

Windswept Whitby, North Yorkshire

Windswept Whitby, North Yorkshire

Split by the River Esk, Whitby is one of my favourite spots on the Yorkshire coast. I always seem to have visited in the winter months, and although I am sure spring and summer are glorious (mostly!) – my impression of Whitby is of brooding and dramatic skies, and waves crashing in from the North Sea. The Bram Stoker association just adds to the allure of this seaside resort – I love that the vampire arrived in Whitby, from Transylvania, in the guise of a black dog…

But, strangest of all, the very instant the shore was touched, an immense dog sprang up on deck from below…and, running forward, jumped from the bow onto the sand. Making straight for the steep cliff, where the churchyard hangs over the laneway to the East Pier…it disappeared into the darkness.

The churchyard is exactly what a churchyard should be – ancient, with crooked headstones & weathered inscriptions, sitting on top of a wind swept cliff. An amazing place just to wander – but, you do need to get wrapped up, especially if like us, you like a winter walk!

St Mary’s Church Graveyard, Whitby

St Mary’s Church Graveyard, Whitby

St Mary’s Church Graveyard, Whitby

 

St Mary’s Church Graveyard, Whitby

St Mary’s Church Graveyard, Whitby

St Mary’s Church Graveyard, Whitby

High up on the headland, exposed to the elements from all directions, sits the atmospheric Whitby Abbey, a 7th-century Christian monastery that later became a Benedictine abbey. Only the shell of the priory now remains, but it was one of the most important Anglo-Saxon religious places in the world. Like the graveyard, it is beautiful, especially under a winter sunset.

Whitby Abbey

From the Abbey and the churchyard, you can walk down the famous 199 steps (or 198 or 200, depending on which way you count them), from the top of East Cliff to the historical centre. These steps were originally wooden, and before the 19th century, were often the way people were carried up to their final resting place in the churchyard. Wooden planks were built to enable the pall-bearers to rest the coffin on the way up – these are now benches where you can take in the view…

The 199 Steps – or Church Steps – Whitby

Once down the steps, it’s a joy to explore the older part of the town, located on the East bank of the estuary. This part of Whitby is a jumble of narrow, cobbled medieval streets and alleyways, full of rickety buildings, leading down to the beautiful harbour. Pretty cottages sit next to utterly beautiful gift shops. Proper old pubs nestle up against cool bars and restaurants. And then of course, there are the fish & chip shops. Oh, the fish and chips from Whitby. Sublime…

So, if the east coast is not somewhere you’ve discovered before, we’d highly recommend you investigate Whitby. And then pop a bit further down the coast, and you’re in the stunning Robin Hood’s Bay, a maze of tiny, cobbled streets, with a tradition of smuggling. In fact, there is supposedly a network of subterranean passageways linking the houses – legend has it that Robin Hood encountered French pirates who came to pillage the fisherman’s boats and the north-east coast. The pirates surrendered and Robin Hood returned the loot to the poor people in the village that is now called Robin Hood’s Bay.

Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire

Blustery North Sea, Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire

Dusk falling in Robin Hood’s Bay, North Yorkshire

Sunny Salford

Sunny Salford

As beautiful as the iconic L.S.Lowry paintings of Salford are, thankfully it’s no longer quite this grim up north. Wonder what Lowry would make of the regeneration of Salford Quays? No longer a pretty desolate wasteland, it’s now home to the BBC North, the Imperial War Museum North and The Lowry. Plus a host of restaurants and bars.

2013-11-04_0002 2013-11-04_0003Planning a visit to Salford, Media City or Manchester? Check out The Lowry Hotel located on the banks of the River Irwell in the Chapel Wharf area on the Salford-Manchester boundary.

The Georgian Townhouse, Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex

The Georgian Townhouse, Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex

Recently, we travelled south to Essex to visit a We Are Life client and decided to make a bit of trip of it. Not having ever been to Essex before, assuming it was all brash a-la “The Only Way is Essex”, we weren’t really sure what to expect and I certainly didn’t have high hopes for a bit of high end, but affordable, luxury. In fact, this was probably what I thought Essex was all about…

But, Walton-on-the-Naze, is so much more than jellied eels. Sure, there are very traditional English seaside touches but there’s also a lot of beauty…

And, in a major stroke of luck – especially as they don’t have a website or a twitter account – we found The Georgian House. It’s described as a “B&B” over on website booking sites, but I don’t think it would be stretching it too far to say that it’s as good as any self-described “boutique hotel” we’ve stayed in. The house itself is very large – a stunningly restored Georgian townhouse over four floors, full of the original features. Perhaps one of the reasons it is described as a “B&B”, is that it is primarily a home, lived in by the owners, Geoff & Chris. However, it’s not the kind of B&B where it’s stuffed full of the owner’s mis-matching knick-knacks. This one exudes style, taste and elegance. Everything – from light switches to door handles to cutlery to taps to bedding to Farrow & Ball heritage colours – is in keeping with the style of the property, whilst acknowledging that guests probably also want a bit of 21st century luxury. It is beyond clean – taps literally sparkle. The bathroom was pristine – and like a boutique hotel, with complimentary toiletries. No half used bottle of liquid soap here. Towels were big, white and fluffy. Lush!

There are two “rooms” available for guests. Ours was just off the main staircase on the first floor and it was not a room at all. It was a mini apartment. A huge bedroom (again attention to detail was superb) with a separate bathroom (free standing bath) & toilet – although our room didn’t overlook the sea, this was not a problem because the accommodation was just spectacular. (I will post photos, but these are on the hard drive of my computer at home – the problems of blogging whilst out of the country, eh?)

Now, breakfast. I always have an issue with B&B breakfasts. Either the dining room is pretty horrible, or the food is bland or just plain awful. But The Georgian House does breakfast, with bells on. There’s only one table in the dining room – which is at the front of the house so all you can see is the sea – but as there are only two rooms to let, I don’t think you’d ever be fighting for a seat. Fresh fruit, juices, cereals, fresh breads & croissants, proper coffee served in a proper silver coffee pot and a full English that ranks up there with one of the best I’ve had.

Given how beautiful this accommodation is, we found it to be excellent value for money – we paid less than £80.00, and were utterly delighted with our Essex find. (If you want to read more about The Georgian House, there are a number of reviews over on Trip Advisor).

The Georgian Townhouse does not appear to have a website, but can be contacted in the following ways – 01255 672111, email christine.jeakins@btinternet.com and you can find reviews, here, on Trip Advisor.

It is located at 4 East Terrace, Walton-on-the-Naze, Essex CO14 8PX