The Harrogate Autumn Flower and Vegetable Show!

Jess, Luke and I were spending two nights in Harrogate, a city none of us knew anything about, in order to visit the Harrogate show.

A year or two ago I started following a blogger who is a very successful allotment gardener and who made videos and talked a lot about entering his vegetables into shows. He regularly grew enormous carrots, onions and a variety of other things and I became entranced with it all and decided to go see it for myself.

Unfortunately for Luke it meant spending his 36th birthday weekend watching me looking at vegetables but it was a price I was willing for him to pay. I booked the tickets a few weeks prior and a nice Airbnb apartment right in the middle of Harrogate.

The apartment turned out to be absolutely wonderful – probably one of the best we’ve ever stayed in. It was on the third storey and had panoramic views over the town centre.

Jess researched somewhere to eat on our first day and settled on Betty’s, a restaurant that is quite famous locally. We were shown to a downstairs room that was paneled with gorgeous marquetry artworks showing scenes of Yorkshire and Alsace. It turned out the food was a mix of Swiss and English, which made the whole experience rather interesting for us as we’d just visited Switzerland and Alsace before coming back to England.

All the work was done by an Alsatian artist named Spindler.

Jess has an afternoon tea and we had macaroni and cheese. Perfect!

A very nice start to our stay in Harrogate and we were all immediately taken with the town, which had a very prosperous and Victorian air.

The following day we headed to the Autumn show on the shuttle bus, arriving just after the gates opened. I had no idea how busy the day would be but at the time we arrived there was almost no one there, which made it much easier to take photos of the exhibits. By the time we left it had filled up quite a bit but I imagine there were still tickets available on the gate.

First stop was the flower hall.

The majority of flowers on display were chrysanthemums, dahlias, gladioli and roses, with a few lilies and fuchsias. The dahlias were my favourite.

Then it was on to the vegetables and fruit.

There are two main kinds of vegetable competition. One is for perfect sets of vegetables, as with the groups of onions above and the tomatoes and leeks below. Often size is a factor as well – the largest matching set is best.

The second main category is for the largest vegetables. These are often extremely ugly.

This man grew a pumpkin that weighed over 300kg and said he had a bigger one on the vine at home! I had thought large vegetables were often tasteless but he said this one was good to eat and would go to soup kitchens etc.

Heirloom apple and pear varieties were on display and they often had amusing names.

There was also a number of bonsai competitions and people selling them. This one was best in show. It must be hard being a bonsai competitor knowing that something like this was going to keep being entered every year. At least the vegetable gardeners get a fresh start each time.

Apart from produce there were marquees of crafts for sale and lots of food, from fudge to pork pies. We bought a few things but I looked longingly at much more! There were also lots of people selling garden furniture, pizza ovens, patios, sculptures and lots of food available on site.

We spent about half a day wandering around and enjoyed it a lot. An event not many tourists would go and see perhaps, but we all had a good time and I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in that sort of thing.

Next: The Yorkshire Sculpture Park.

Last Day In Lauterbrunnen.

We had left ourselves a free day in Lauterbrunnen to see things in the area that caught our eye. First up was a Swiss culture festival that was being held up a nearby mountain.

We caught the usual assortment of trains and cable cars and arrived at Männlichen on a bright and sunny morning.

It turns out that there’s nothing but a hotel, playground and viewing point at the top, plus a herd of cows with bells to make it all one hundred percent Swiss. You could hear everyone stepping out of the cable car station making ‘oooh’ noises because the scene was just so pretty.

Wildflowers everywhere, snow-capped mountains all around and Grindelwald visible down the valley in the distance. We took some photos and had a wander then made our way to the hotel, where all kind of Swiss things were happening on the deck.

Alpenhorn!

Whip cracking demonstration. I don’t know if it’s actually easy or he was just really good at it.

We watched for a while and took some photos but it was all pretty similar to the music we’d seen in the last two days so we headed to our next activity, a cog-wheel train to Schynnige Platt. Even though this train had been on the map as an activity, it had looked pretty short and so we expected it to go to a low plateau where the Alpine Botanical Garden was reputed to be.

It turned out to be probably the most scenic ride we took in our whole time there! The sides of the little train were open, which meant it was much better for taking photos and videos (no reflection) and it took about forty minutes to get to the top.

There was not a whole lot there but we had a quick look at the Alpine Garden and then sat and had some lunch at the hotel. It was a perfect day with amazing visibility and pleasantly cool at that altitude.

If you go up Schynige Platt go to the top level of the hotel restaurant.

We had thought about trying to make it to Trümmelbach Falls afterwards but ran out of time so Luke visited them the next morning before we left while I packed my bag.

View from the Schynige Platt railway

We were very sad to leave the Bernese Oberland. By far our favorite place that we’d visited so far and it had raised a very high (unfairly high, some would say) bar for Geneva to reach. I don’t often go to countries and think that I would happily move there but Switzerland makes the list. One day we’ll come back and see it in a different season and visit more of its cities. One day!

Postcard perfect Switzerland

View through the cable car station window.

Horses, Horticulture and History: A Day Out In London.

I was up early and decided to walk some of the way towards Kew Gardens from my Airbnb room in Lambeth.

I was walking along Grosvenor St beside the Thames when I heard a great clattering noise behind me.

About fifty horses out being exercised! It was both a magnificent sight and sound. All the more special because I was virtually alone on the street when they went past. I daresay this is a regular occurrence so if you want to see them try going to the spot at about 8:30 on a Sunday morning.

Alternatively, you could also hang out at Sloane Square, where I saw them again ten minutes later.

I caught the tube from Sloane Square to Kew Gardens and then had to wait a short while to get in. I was glad I’d bought my ticket online as I walked straight through when 10am rolled around and by then quite a queue had formed at the ticket window.

Kew Gardens are huge.

A whopping 326 acres in which there are a wide variety of themes gardens, artworks, wide avenues and, most famously, architecture.

The structure above is the Palm House, the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world. I imagine it would be a treat to step inside on a cold, winter’s day. On a stunning 24 degree English summer day it was far too hot and steamy. Still interesting though.

I wandered all over the gardens and admired it all. My favourite aspects would have to be the wide grassy avenues…

The walled gardens…

and the absolute highlight was the rose garden behind the Palm House.

Obviously it looked outstanding but the magic was the scent. So many roses so close together on a hot, windless day – the perfume just hung in the air like a heavenly cloud. I cannot, in words, express how delightful it was – you’ll just have to go see for yourself.

As I left the gardens (it took me 3.5 hours to see nearly everything) many more people were coming in. The parts of the gardens round the entrances and cafes were heaving with people but it was easy to get away from them by walking only a few hundred metres.

Next stop was the British Natural History Museum, a weird but wonderful hybrid of Victorian Gothic and fanciful Egyptian architecture. I don’t know who designed it but I can tell they had a great time.

I didn’t really have anything I wanted to see, I just thought I’d wander around. Apparently the other half of London (who weren’t at Kew) had thought the same thing.

Lucky it’s a huge building! I first had a look at a display of shells. It reminded me of a conversation I’d recently seen on Facebook about political correctness and insulting people effectively. If you want to be creative try one of these on for size:

I wouldn’t be pleased if someone called me a ‘three knobbled conch’! Baffle your enemies by letting them know they’re a…

‘Distaff spindle’! That’ll really leave them worried. Or how about a ‘distorted anus shell’?

Maybe not.

There’s a lot to be learnt about self defence from our underwater friends.

All this was getting a bit HP Lovecraft so I went to have a look at rocks.

Now I’m hungry.

Two kilos!

The pyramid of little sparkly stones shows all the colours diamonds come in. Not too impressive in a photo but very interesting in reality. Also many glow under uv light!

There was also an interesting display of taxidermied pheasants (interesting to me and no one else probably) and apart from that I just wandered about trying not to run into people or get frustrated at all the slow walkers.

Eventually I exited through the gift shop and walked home via a pub for dinner.

All in all a great day out! Here’s a few more photos of Kew to finish with.

Lovely in both the macro and the micro.

Belfast Bits and Pieces

Belfast is certainly a different city to the place I visited in 2003. Admittedly the amazing weather and longer time I’ve had to see it have played apart, but it can’t be denied that there is a much more cosmopolitan vibe to the place now.

On our last day of driving around we kept things low key and stuck to Belfast, seeing Danny’s new house and a few tourist attractions, starting with a ‘Melbourne breakfast’. Obviously it was avocado with fancy bits on sourdough but also a smidge of vegemite too. Very nice!

Ulster Museum was on my to-do list after I’d seen it online and it was a great place to get a feel for Northern Ireland’s history, from prehistoric times to the current day.

They used to have dragons!

On the very top floor of the museum is a display dedicated to Ireland’s current #1 tourism drawcard – you guessed it – Game of Thrones.

An enormous tapestry (currently 84 metres and growing) tells the story in the style of the Bayeux Tapestry. Having seen all but the most recent season, it was interesting walking along and picking out the plot points.

The signs warning people not to touch the cloth were also in keeping with the theme.

The Museum also has a partially-unwrapped mummy. Danny said it gave him nightmares as a child. I can’t think why.

The Belfast Botanical Gardens are worth a visit if you like that sort of thing, and if you’re there on a cold day I’d definitely recommend a stroll through the heated Ravine building, which contained tropical plants from around the world.

There’s also a Victorian glasshouse with some very interesting specimens.

We took a stroll around the gardens of the big building (um… parliament? Danny, help!) in the very first photo and also drove up to Belfast Castle. It was built in the Scottish Baronial Style in 1862 by the Marquis of Donegal.

A little bit Hogwarts?

It is always nice to see historical buildings being in regular use and this castle is now a function hall and restaurant. The gardens contain sculptures, topiaries and mosaics of cats. We walked around and found a few after having a drink and a sit in the sun.

A post about the sights of Belfast would be incomplete without some photos of the murals that can still be found in various places around the city. Since my knowledge of NI history is far from complete I won’t comment on the political situation except to say that many of the more violent murals we saw years ago have been replaced but there are still a few giant paintings of men in balaclavas with machine guns in hand.

In the city centre there is plenty of (what I think of as) Melbourne-style street art. Beautiful and quirky images that go well with the new bars and restaurants.

The last bar we had a drink in was The Sunflower. Years ago people had been shot in this bar, hence the gate at the door. Now it’s a gay friendly meeting place with ukulele jam nights.

How things change!

I was sorry to leave Belfast but felt certain I’d be back.

Thanks so much to Danny and Peter for their outstanding hospitality and I look forward to repaying you in Australia!

Next stop: Carlisle and finishing off The Cumbria Way. But just before I go, a last Ulster Fry…

Cambridge: Gardens, Churches and the Beer Festival

I’ve made an effort to see a few things that I didn’t do when I lived in Cambridge. So before I get into the Beer Festival here’s a couple of things I did when I wasn’t taking advantage of Andrew’s washing machine, tv and couch.

Kings College Chapel

Despite the fact that this is one of Cambridge’s most iconic buildings I didn’t even consider going in until one of my co-workers, Tim, came here a few years ago and I saw pictures of the inside.

It’s £9 to have a wander around. There are side rooms with informative displays but the main attraction is the long room and it’s astonishing fan ceiling.

The big dark thing in the middle of the first photo is an oak room divider that was donated by Henry VIII. I think it’s awful but my opinion seems to be in the minority. It houses the pipe organ and keeps the riff raff in the back half of the chapel out of sight.

When visiting these kinds of edifices it always pays to look for amusement in the small details.

I don’t know what led up to this scene, but this guy’s thinking ‘I have made a terrible mistake.’

This guy looks like the textbook definition of ‘chief executor’. Or possibly ‘grand vizier’ .

The Cambridge University Botanical Gardens

I wandered down here before our first Beer Festival session. Beautiful.

The gardens were much bigger than I expected and full of students, draped like cats over every available sunny bench and table.

The gardens have lots of ‘rooms’, as well as actual rooms in glasshouses. All are well-labeled and interesting.

The chronological bed was a concept I’d never seen in any other gardens.

I had two favourite parts to the gardens. The first was the lovely scented garden, which is a bit hard to share on a blog page.

The second was the way that grass/meadow plants had been left to grow into islands and borders around perfectly manicured lawns. The contrast of soft meadow and smooth green was delightful. Also difficult to really convey in photos but you’ll just have to trust me.

I sat for a while and read my book – Great Expectations. If anyone had told me how funny Charles Dickens was I would’ve read it years ago. Although perhaps I wouldn’t have appreciated it then? Who knows.

The 45th Annual Cambridge Beer Festival

One of the longest-running beer festivals in the UK (and probably the world.. outside Germany maybe?) it is put on by CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale society, who are a group that works hard to promote small scale brewers and keep traditional English Pubs out of the hands of criminals who gut the insides and replace all the dark wood with IKEA pine board or worse – turn them into offices.

The Cambridge Beer Festival is no small deal. It runs for six days, two sessions a day (12-3 then 5-11) and costs £3 to get in (per session), unless you’re a CAMRA member, which costs £20 per year and gives free entry to all their events.

I attenedd the festival with Andrew, who is thrilled to have my company.

This year we’re here on Tuesday evening and then both sessions Wednesday as I’m off to Belfast on Thursday.

I decided to approach my cider and perry choices this year (beer is revolting) in the same way I choose horses at the races – amusing names.

So far I’ve had ciders called ‘Virgin on the Ridiculous’, ‘Weasel’s Wevenge’ and ‘Monk and Disorderly’. I also tried one called ‘Ghandi’s Flip Flop’ but it was revolting.

Of course it’s not all about drinking. There’s an outstanding cheese counter too.

And don’t forget the pork pies. There’s also terrific curries, roasts and fish and chips.

Could anything be more British?

We were even first in line on Wednesday – and what a line it was.

If you’re ever in Cambridge at the end of May, and particularly when the sun is shining, I highly recommend going, it’s a great day (or six) out.

The Dales Way

But you haven’t finished the Cumbria Way! Yes, I know. I am thinking I will come back after Belfast (which is where I am going after Cambridge) and finish the Cumbria Way by walking from Carlisle to Keswick, then go and do the rest of the Dales Way from Burneside to Ilkley.

Yesterday I inspected my maps and decided that a good challenge would be the westernmost leg of The Dales Way. It is a long distance walk that goes from Ilkley to Bowness and takes five or six days to travel 80 miles/124 km. It is generally considered one of the easiest long distance walks in the UK.

I got the bus to a spot outside Burneside and walked to the point where I could start on The Dales Way. I’d estimated that the walk would be about 15km but I’d already done 4 just walking from the B&B to Windermere station and then down from the main road to the first DW sign. I seem to always underestimate how far I’m going to walk but then hugely overestimate how long it will take.

Apart from an amusingly-named fish and chip shop that was next to a church…

Burneside was unremarkable. Oh, the church was nice too.

Also the weather was perfect.

The Dales Way mostly follows waterways and so there aren’t any huge hills.

There were lots of lovely scenes but also the smell of cow manure and many many flies.

I ended up walking 20km/13.5 miles and it was the easiest day’s walking I’ve done so far – I was home by 3:30 and now I have to work out what to do with the rest of the day… probably plan tomorrow’s big adventure to my highest peaks yet!

I have created another Technical Masterpiece below to show my journey. The red is where I walked and the yellow is where I caught the bus. The red squiggly mess is where my B&B is in Windermere.

Most of the way was through fields and a bit of footpath walking. Two fields of cows – and close cows too. That was the worst of the walk. The best was the BLUEBELLS!

I actually swore a bit when it first came into view. Such colour! Such density! It was gorgeous and totally made my day.

Then I saw another one! It was on a different hill and it was interspersed with ferns, but it was also wonderful. I was pleased that the sun was behind a cloud so that my phone didn’t struggle to pick up the colours – well not as much as last time.

Magic!