Monday, 6 July 2015

Blue by Kayce Stevens Hughlett / Singled Out by Julie Lawford / The Pit Stop by Carmen DeSousa

BlueBlue by Kayce Stevens Hughlett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received a copy of Blue from its publishers, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. The novel is due to be published on the 10th of September and Amazon are taking pre-orders now.

I was attracted to Blue by its bright cover art which really stood out amongst the other books on offer. Hughlett uses colour extensively throughout her prose especially on Daisy's fantastical island and also more subtly in Monica's Seattle and on Izabel's Orcas Island. We are introduced to these three very different women via their individual chapters and I initially found it difficult to keep track of their disparate stories as there seemed to be no links. Of course, the uniting of their threads is the main thrust of the story and, once this gets going, it is a humorous and entertaining read.

I was concerned that we might head too far into chick-lit territory for my tastes when we uncovered Monica's shoe fetish. If you're a fashionista, you will probably love the details, however my favourite shoes are North Face boots. I got by ok!

I loved the whimsical inventiveness of Daisy's island which strongly contrasts with Monica's grim daily life. The device of physically isolating the women on islands worked well with the story. Hughlett has a lovely turn of phrase and I felt she really understood her characters and their emotions. There are a couple of odd plot jumps, but overall I very much enjoyed this novel.

Singled OutSingled Out by Julie Lawford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Author Julie Lawford and I got chatting originally on twitter where I was envious of her new bookshelves! She had tweeted a photo. On discovering that she had published her debut novel earlier this year, and because I am always nosey where books are concerned, I took a look at its reviews and decided that Singled Out might well be a read for me. I was right - it's a really good book!

Set on a singles holiday in Turkey, Singled Out is much more than a light beach read. In the very first chapter we meet an anonymous man who is preying on women. We soon learn that he is part of the holiday group, but not which male character he is or which of the female characters are at risk. Lawford deftly presents her story from two perspectives - a straightforward third-person recounting of the tale is interspersed with chapters from the point of view of The Man - and this creates a chillingly creepy atmosphere. I enjoyed trying to pick up clues and then discovering they could be applicable to multiple men. Great writing!

My favourite character is our heroine Brenda with whom I found it easy to empathise. She has a degree of the obligatory tortured soul persona, but is also warm and caring. She loves her food and the frequent descriptions of Turkish cuisine had my mouth watering and almost a plane ticket booked! It is refreshing to read about a woman who is not a stick insect and also not desperately trying to become one, and I liked that she is portrayed as strong, independent and desirable. Jack's existence is nicely veiled and explored in an intriguing sub-plot.

Lawford's presentation of people and places makes it easy to envisage what is going on and I know people just like Adele and Veronica. Singled Out is a good crime mystery read that is more about the participants than just the chase. The writing and plot have an interesting splash of originality and this book is definitely a cut above the identikit mainstream norm.

The Pit Stop: This Stop Could be Life or DeathThe Pit Stop: This Stop Could be Life or Death by Carmen DeSousa
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I discovered Carmen DeSousa on twitter and followed links through her website to Amazon where a couple of her short stories, including The Pit Stop, can be downloaded for free as a taster of her writing style.

The Pit Stop has a good storyline: a vintage unsolved murder is suddenly mirrored in the present day and our protagonist, Gino, whose grandparents were the first victims, gets involved in attempting to deduce a solution. Due to the story's brevity we don't get deep characterisations and there are a couple of plot leaps, one of which almost left me behind! However I enjoyed reading this tale. DeSousa has a good way with concise description, probably honed by her '500 words' exercise which she discusses at the beginning of this book and which led to the existence of The Pit Stop in its current form. I would definitely like to read more of her work and am planning to buy a longer novel in the future.

View all my reviews

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Baking mad: Courgette / Zucchini Cake recipe and Irish Soda Bread

Another Credit Crunch Munch post today because I am entering my
Courgette Cake (or Zucchini Cake for American speakers!) for July's link up. Credit Crunch Munch was the brainchild of Helen at Fuss Free Flavours and Camilla at Fab Food 4 All, and this month's round is being hosted by Camilla. Take a look at her blog where she posted a supermarket fresh produce haul that is a good basketful and all for 24p! Now that is frugal shopping!

However, before we get to my frugal cakey dessert, I have also been
Irish soda bread 
baking loaves of a completely new-to-me yeast-free bread over the past couple of weeks. I first saw this Irish Soda Bread recipe on Julie's Family Kitchen blog when we were in Spain in March and it took me until June to try it out. I can't believe I waited so long as it has lots of flavour and is much quicker than a yeast bread. If, as I did, you have trouble finding buttermilk locally, follow Nigella's advice and mix 150ml of Greek yoghurt with 150ml of ordinary milk instead. I used Fage Total which is authentically Greek and, let's face it, their economy needs all the help it can get right now! The soda bread goes perfectly with homemade veggie soups (several recipes here), or strongly flavoured cheeses and tangy jam.

Irish soda bread 

And if you've still got room after eating all that bread, how about baking a Courgette Cake for afternoon tea? I love vegetable cakes because they are reliably moist and tasty as well as being a great way to use up veg box surpluses. This cake calls for a small courgette, but obviously half the large courgette left over from last night's dinner will do just as well. They are in season throughout the summer and, as we know from when we grew a few plants one year, once they start producing there is an incredible glut in no time. Make friends with neighbourhood gardeners who may well be glad to let you take as many courgettes as you can carry! The ingredients below are sufficient for a standard sized loaf tin.

Courgette Cake 
125g butter
225g brown sugar
2 eggs
175g self-raising flour (or plain flour including 3 tsp baking powder)
2 tsp mixed spice
2 tbsp orange juice
1 small courgette
40g sultanas

Preheat the oven to 180c and grease a loaf tin. If preferred, you can line the tin with baking paper and then grease it to make removing the baked cake easier.

Grate the courgette onto a plate. I don't peel the courgette as I think the little green flecks are pretty in the finished cake. If you are trying to hide all veggie evidence though, you might want to do this.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and eggs then stir in the two eggs.

Add the flour and mixed spice and stir in to combine.

Add the orange juice and stir in. Last time I made this we didn't have orange juice so I used Mango and Papaya instead. It worked just as well.

Stir in the grated courgette and sultanas.

Spoon the mixture into the prepared loaf tin. Don't worry when the mixture is stiffer than a usual cake mixture. The courgette will release water during its cooking.

Bake at 180c for 50 minutes to one hour. Test by inserting a skewer into the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is cooked through. If your cake starts to darken too much on top before it has completely cooked through, cover it with a piece of aluminium foil.

Once out of the oven, leave to cool a little before turning out onto a wire rack. The cake is delicious both warm and cold. Serve in slices alongside a good cup of tea!

Slice of Courgette Cake 

Saturday, 4 July 2015

We overdo our 13 mile moor walk and recover with Festival Of The Spoken Nerd

So, that Festival Of The Spoken Nerd download I mentioned a post or so
Steve Mould gazes dreamily into a nerdy campfire
(Photo by Kitty Walker) 
ago actually took six hours in the end. Our poor Osprey needed a good rest after all that effort and I was so relieved when the opening credits fired up successfully on Dave's laptop. The show was well worth the wait. @FOTSN got into the campsite spirit by tweeting me this photo of a 'nerdy campfire' from the show which will actually become a tricoloured fire tornado! More about that later and it's probably not a good idea to try it at home - not in your own home anyway.

Having ignored our own advice from the day before not to attempt a
thirteen mile walk on a stupidly hot day, yesterday we attempted a thirteen mile walk on a stupidly hot day. If you're following from home, Dave has, nerdily, plotted the route on this gmap so you can see more-or-less exactly where we walked. Footpaths did unexpectedly multiply and then randomly peter out, and several of their signs had bleached to invisible-arrow-white, so we strayed 'slightly' from the original plan, but Dave had chosen such a beautiful area of riverbank and then moorland that it really didn't matter. We set out from our pitch at 11am, returned at 6pm and covered about 13 1/3 miles with 45 minutes over two stops for a picnic lunch and a mid-afternoon apple.

The River Breamish burbled alongside us for the first half hour or so and,
These Christmas trees are too big for Bailey 
as other bloggers are posting Christmas In July at the moment, I'll join in with this Christmas Tree plantation we passed. A brief road walk, uphill of course, then a couple of minutes on a private road which allowed us to ogle a cottage with an incredible garden - veg plots, flower beds, greenhouse and sun room. It wasn't for sale! We continued ascending up a green wooded track on to the Harehope Estate whose sign welcomed us as long as we stayed on footpaths and didn't light fires. Fair enough! The sheep here were particularly ebullient and a couple even followed us inquisitively. Everywhere else they have just scarpered so this behaviour was a little unnerving. The woods faded to grass with bracken and then to bracken with heather. The moorland area resembles a large shallow bowl and we planned to walk a large circle around it before returning the way we had come.

Blawearie was our first landmark. The abandoned farm is now almost
Looking towards Blawearie 
totally derelict and only inhabited by sheep. Looping round towards it, we were plagued by flies, but the views were fabulous. Our exciting wildlife spot of the day was an adder. I didn't see it a first, blithely stomping straight past, but my footsteps must have woken it because Dave then noticed its movement just in time before he trod on it. We watched it for a few seconds before it disappeared into heather. Other sightings included swallows and skylarks, butterflies and bees, and a pale brown bird of prey which looked interesting but resolutely refused to fly close enough to give us any chance at identification.

Isolated on the moorland was this memorial to a Douglas Brown who
Douglas Brown memorial 
died in 2003. I haven't been able to learn anything about him, and we wondered if he had worked on this land or particularly enjoyed walking here. Another unusual sighting was five Other Walkers in the distance. We are so used to having Northumberland to ourselves that we were surprised and a little disgruntled to see them! Misanthropic? Us? By the time we could see Blawearie again we were getting weary ourselves. The ascents weren't distressingly strenuous on this walk and we carried lots of water including an iced thermos, but this probably was too much walk for us in this heat. We are both still suffering today so didn't mind being kept indoors by a torrential downpour this morning.

Fortunately we had a lazy post-walk evening lined up watching my aforementioned download of the Festival Of The Spoken Nerd show Full Frontal Nerdity. I haven't seen FOTSN since I went to Pi Curious at The Blind Tiger in 2012. Despite its suggestive title, Full Frontal Nerdity has less nudity than Pi Curious (i.e. none at all) but the trio are still very Very funny. I am more towards the 'ooh fire' end of the nerd spectrum so was chuffed to actually get some of the Real Science jokes and Matt's manually conditionally formatting a huge spreadsheet reminded me of creating endless audit templates at one of my old jobs. Excel wasn't made for that either! I still love Helen Arney's punning lyrics - she was the first of the Nerds I ever saw - and I giggled almost continuously throughout the show last night, only ceasing to gawp in wonderment at things I never knew. How far away is a safe distance from a hat-swiping smoke ring? Should I replace our awning light with a gherkin? Are we really all made out of spreadsheets? You'll need to watch Full Frontal Nerdity to find out!

Full Frontal Nerdity is available on DVD or as a download directly from
the Festival Of The Spoken Nerd shop. It's the perfect gift for your inner nerd, or the special nerd in your life and, as a reward for having read right to the end of this post, I will let you know that during July 2015 you can get two whole pounds off the DVD price by using the discount code KICKSTARTER during checkout. How can you possibly resist?!

Thursday, 2 July 2015

We visit the Northumberland coast - Newton and Bamburgh

Our plan for today had been another good walk, this time a thirteen miler.
Me paddling! 
However, upon waking to the same glorious sunshine as yesterday, we quickly changed our minds and decided to go to the seaside instead. A glance at the atlas showed us that our nearest potential villages were the pairing of High Newton and Low Newton, about a half hour drive away. We were glad of the air conditioning in the car! Both villages are small and cute with a narrow road heading towards the old Low Newton village centre which is now pedestrianised. An official car park close by is Pay and Display, but at just £1 for two hours. There was plenty of spaces at 11.30 and it was crammed when we left shortly after 1pm so the lesson is Get There Early.

From the village, St Oswald's Way leads left and right. We went right
Dunstanburgh castle ruins in the distance 
towards the ruins of the fourteenth century Dunstanburgh castle which we could just make out in the distance through haze. I was quite excited to be walking along a bit of St Oswald's Way as I had heard Clare Balding talk about her journey there in my audiobook version of Walking Home (my review here). I think I remember that she did the whole 97 miles. We just did about three quarters of an hour today! The path is, unsurprisingly, well worn and signposted and is also very pretty here. It is maintained by the National Trust. We couldn't always see the sea, but did pass by a dozen or so little wooden chalets up on the cliffs which we presumed were holiday homes. I loved this adorned bench:
Bench on St Oswald's Way 
After passing a golf course, we turned onto the beach proper which is a
huge expanse of golden sand. Being used to grey Sussex shingle, it was an incredible sight! We immediately took off our shoes and socks in order to paddle in little shallow rivulets and also in the sea. The rivulets and pools left by the tide were deliciously warm. The sea was so cold it was painful on my ankles after just a couple of minutes. There were a few people swimming though and several enthusiastic dogs bounding through the waves. I was particularly taken with the colours of the seaweed against the sand, especially in the shallow pools. An ice cream van had set up shop in the car park by the time we returned, but we decided to wait until the afternoon which was a mistake because the glorious blue skies had clouded over by then so we didn't fancy ice cream anymore.

Lunch was in Beadnell where we took advantage of a handy bench to
Drinking fountain in Bamburgh 
spread out our picnic. We didn't stay long though because it didn't have the picturesque appeal we were after. There is another large sandy beach there and it was busy for a weekday with walkers and families. Our final visit of the day was Bamburgh with its imposing and remarkably complete castle. We gazed up at it and took a turn around the town where I also saw the elegant drinking fountain pictured. We could have toured the castle, for a price (£10.50 each), but decided against as, although it was now overcast and spitting with rain, we preferred to be out in the fresh sea air. Posters around town were advertising croquet on the castle lawn. Apparently the local club is now into its third successful year! Bamburgh village is much smaller than its castle would suggest and is mostly geared up to tourists I think. There is a nice greengrocer where we bought strawberries for our dessert tonight. I managed to be dissuaded from piling into either of the olde worlde tea shoppes!

A fortuitous wrong road on the way home took us past Weetwood Bridge
Weetwood Bridge 
which we had to pull over a take a closer look at. A sign informed us that its existence was part of the Flodden 1513 Ecomuseum about which we knew absolutely nothing so I have been looking around their website this evening. Commemorating the famous battle between the Scots and the English in 1513, in which James IV and many soldiers were killed, the Ecomuseum is a collection of sites of interest connected with the battle. All are outdoors and without walls. It's a great project.

"Weetwood Bridge has been much altered over its existence but is thought to have first been constructed as a crossing point over the Till during the early 16th Century. The bridge lies on the direct route from Wooler Haugh where Surrey’s army camped on the 7th September 1513. It would have offered the army the best crossing point over the Till for its heavy ordnance and other equipment as it marched to join the Devil’s Causeway north of the river and onwards to Barmoor Castle on the 8th September."

Now I just need to find a good historical novel about this period and these people!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

A ten mile Northumberland walk - Harthope Burn and Broadstruther loop

We are enjoying the unexpected heatwave by having a lazy day on our
Crags above Harthope Burn 
campsite in Powburn today. I have washed a couple of sinks-worth of laundry, baked another loaf of delicious soda bread (thanks to Julie's Family Kitchen blog for the recipe) and made carrot soup for lunch, but then spent the afternoon engrossed in a good book (Singled Out by Julie Lawford - review to be posted soon!) I am also now downloading my eagerly awaited Festival Of The Spoken Nerd kickstarter reward: Full Frontal Nerdity. (It's even got Klingon subtitles!) Admittedly the downloading doesn't really take too much effort on my part - Dave's laptop is really feeling the strain. Hopefully we won't lose our wifi connection at any point in the 3hrs 58min remaining. The download and DVD are now on sale to the public too and, should you not already have Kickstartered yours, you can get £2 off the DVD price by entering the discount code KICKSTARTER at the checkout. This code will only work during July though so get shopping soon!

Yesterday we strode out on another of our ten mile walks. We think this
is about the right distance for us at the moment (although tomorrow we are planning on thirteen). Long enough to really get into 'the zone' but not so long that everything aches by the time we get home. The weather was lovely and hot with just a little cloud here and there. Driving to our start point, we learned that signposts stating that the road ahead is 'Unsuitable For Motorised Vehicles' are sometimes telling the truth! A couple of others we've walked along previously would actually have been fine for cars, but the one we took yesterday was hair-raising to say the least. Crossing its ford didn't present too much of a problem, but the mile of rough track afterwards was even worse than the access to Alcossebre campsite. We did hear an ominous clunk at one point too, but think our car escaped unscathed.

We used a fair-sized car park near to Middleton Hall where I spotted the
Good advice? 
above sign about squirrels. There are supposed to be red squirrels hereabouts, but we've not seen a real one yet. We walked along the road for a few minutes, then started to melt as it took a steep uphill turn. Yesterday was not has hot as today, but when we didn't have a breeze it certainly was very muggy. Sheltered by a tree tunnel and with moss covered stone walls, the road reminded me of the Peak District near Hope. Dave saw 'Skirl Naked' marked on the map and, as we passed a small cluster of houses, we saw this stone engraved with those words too. Skirl we believe is something to do with Northumbrian pipes, but we haven't been able to discover the reason for this name exactly!

Descending the same height as we had just climbed got us to the bank of
Harthope Burn 
the pretty Harthope Burn along which our road meandered for a couple of miles. Dave had been concerned that this might be a dull part of the walk, being on a road, but it was lovely. The burn babbled quietly and there were sheep and lambs nibbling on the lush green grass. Looking upwards we could see Coronation Wood and heather clad hillsides, then passing Langlee farm there were rugged crags high on the hills above. Settlements were marked up there on our Ordnance Survey map but we couldn't see their remnants from the valley floor. I found another perfect use for my tiny microfibre towel which I always carry in my rucksack. We have used it a few times to dry our feet after paddling on Spanish beaches, but this time Dave soaked it in cool burn water and used it to cool his head every so often. He has to wear a cap to prevent sunburn and we joked that a Kepi would be more use as the back of his neck is nearly hazelnut colour!

Footpaths and bridleways are clearly marked with new posts around
Path above Hawsen Burn 
here and it seemed a popular area for walking and picnicking. We saw several people in the first half hour and then no one else until we returned back along the burn at the end of the day. Hawsen Burn led us uphill, eventually emerging onto bracken and heather moorland. We tramped a mixture of narrow peat footpaths, wider gravelly tracks and grassy verges. Our lunch was on a breezy hillside overlooking another burn and was perfectly idyllic. I love how huge the views are here and how little human construction features within them. The apex of our walk, Broadstruther, is a well-maintained yet apparently closed up isolated farmhouse and several times we could gaze around us and only see at most one building in the distance.

Returning back towards Harthope Burn, we descended a steep hill that
we had looked up on our way out. We could have done the walk in either direction, but Dave chose to put the more gradual incline first with a steeper descent towards the end. Considering how hot it was, I am certainly glad he did! We turned off the road we had already walked in order to finish by coming back parallel to it through Happy Valley, an area of green meadow with woods rising up the hill to our left and the burn to our right. I saw this gorgeously coloured thistle. We also spotted a single black and white bird watching us from a fence post and later identified it as an oystercatcher. It had a distinctive long bright orange beak and we saw another pair on the riverbank a few minutes later.

We calculated our route at just over ten miles and completed the
Happy Valley 
distance in a few minutes over five hours. We have heard from our friend Andy who I recently mentioned was involved in doing a much longer walk - the Refugee Tales from Dover to Crawley which he successfully completed. Every evening the group had a different speaker and he was excited that one was author Ali Smith. She soke of her experience visiting detainees and the tale was published in The Guardian so I have been able to read it. I found the piece upsetting and was shocked at how these traumatised and vulnerable people are treated. If this is the best we can do in this country then we don't deserve the moniker 'Great'.

Back to my download which now has just 4hr 6min remaining. Hmmm. This wifi appears to be going backwards!

Monday, 29 June 2015

Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler / Eventide by Kent Haruf / Gotta Find A Home by Dennis Cardiff

Dinner at the Homesick RestaurantDinner at the Homesick Restaurant by Anne Tyler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I picked up two Anne Tyler paperbacks at Age UK in Stokesley, Yorkshire, as part of a three for 99p promotion. My third book was Crazy As Chocolate which I've already read and reviewed. I've read a few Anne Tyler before and found her work ranged from pretty good to fabulous and I am pleased to say that I think Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant is one of her fabulous novels!

Set in Baltimore, Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant begins with elderly Pearl remembering her life and family. Initially I felt sorry for her. She was abandoned by her husband and left with three children to raise alone while holding down a job in order to finance her family. However, as we learn more about the past, I began to see that nothing is clear cut at all. I loved how Tyler portrays a non-maternal mother. Pearl loves her children more than anything, but she is not the cope-with-anything mother figure that many novels like to portray. This is a woman struggling to succeed and making mistakes along the way. As her children, Cody, Ezra and Jenny, grow up and move away, the family fragments still further and it was interesting to see how the next generation viewed their grandmother too.

I have given this novel five stars because I was engrossed from start to finish. I didn't particularly like most of the characters, but I loved how realistically they have been created and Tyler's deep understanding of the dynamics of family relationships. A great read!

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

Eventide (Plainsong, #2)Eventide by Kent Haruf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've been saving Eventide, the second book in Kent Haruf's trilogy, because the first, Plainsong, was just so brilliant that I didn't want the series to be over too soon! In Eventide, we return to the same town of Holt, Colorado, and a few of the same people - Victoria is still with the McPheron brothers - and we meet other residents including special needs couple Luther and Betty who, mentally, are barely more than children themselves yet have children of their own too. There are amazing moments in Eventide. The McPheron's loss nearly brought tears to my eyes and I was also moved by Luther and Betty, especially their reactions to Betty's uncle. I don't want to say more and give away plotlines!

Haruf's portrayal of small town America is very different from what we are usually shown on TV shows and in mainstream fiction. His sensitive depictions are especially hard-hitting because of his matter of fact prose style. There is no sensationalism or blatant plot devices, no artificial cliff hangers, simply very human people living through the trials of everyday life. Like Anne Tyler's Dinner At The Homesick Restaurant, which I read just before Eventide, the strength of this work is in its sharp observations and complete understanding of human nature. Haruf's society is kind, honest, generous, hopeful, violent, selfish and weary. This was easily a five star read and I was sorry to finish it as I could have spent much longer in this company. Fortunately I still have Benediction on our Kindle to look forward to.

Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

Gotta Find a Home: Conversations with Street PeopleGotta Find a Home: Conversations with Street People by Dennis Cardiff
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I discovered Gotta Find A Home on twitter where its author posts as @DennisCardiff. I will admit that I am one of those who generally averts their eyes when I notice beggars on the street so, other than the usual political platitudes, I know very little about the people themselves. Intrigued by Dennis' synopsis, I bought his book. All the profits from Gotta Find A Home are donated to homelessness alleviation projects in Toronto so I thought, even if I didn't like the read, I was doing a good thing with its purchase.

As it turned out, this is a pretty fascinating book. Written in diary form, Dennis recounts daily conversations he has had with members of a fluctuating group of homeless panhandlers (beggars) who live near to where he works in Toronto. Conversations aren't recorded, but related from memory, so I did find the speaking style a little odd to begin with. What surprised me most though was the lack of a stereotype within the group. These people are of all ages from their twenties to their sixties (although many will die much younger than they might if they weren't homeless) some are abuse victims but not all, some are alcoholics or drug addicts but not all, some have a university education while others can barely write, some are mentally disturbed while others are highly intelligent and articulate. There is apparently no such thing as A Typical Homeless Person.

Dennis makes no claims to have the answers to homelessness, neither does he defend or vilify the behaviour and actions of the people about whom he writes. Instead he simply presents their day-to-day lives and leaves us readers to make our own decisions. Formerly anonymous grey shapes, as appear in every town in Britain in the same circumstances as in Canada, now define themselves into 'normal people' (if you'll excuse that phrase). This is Joy. This is Ian. This is Hippo. This is Lucy. They talk about their friends and relationships, what they might have for dinner, how much they've earned today, and whether there is enough to pay the rent. Then they mention an acquaintance who had his teeth kicked out and another who was doused in gasoline and set alight.

I think Gotta Find A Home would make a very interesting Book Club choice as I found my assumptions being challenged, but without my being made to feel defensive or hectored. I would definitely like to hear opinions from other readers as I hope that this memoir will remain memorable for me.

View all my reviews

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Isn't Northumberland beautiful!

It's our second day in Northumberland today and we just had a short
We saw real curlews as well as mascot ones 
local walk from Low Hedgeley to Powburn to Branton and back around. Some of the walk was along the pretty River Breamish where there are bold yellow and purple flowers out in bloom. I braved crossing a seriously scary footbridge and we marvelled at the engineering involved in making a large salmon leap for what seems, at this time of year, to be a pretty small river. The footpaths are well signposted but have an odd habit of petering out mid-field and we found ourselves disagreeing with our Ordnance Survey map a few times! We have not yet set foot in the Powburn Emporium as we got back there just too late today. However, the Londis next door, which I expected to be just a petrol forecourt shop, actually has a good range of fresh food - meat, fruit and vegetables - as well as general groceries. Our local specialty of the week is the Border Tart - a mix of currants, sultanas, coconut and cherries in a pastry case and topped with white icing. The one we tried was baked by Trotters Family Bakers. In a change from many specialty dishes that aren't all that special, the Border Tart is really tasty and I think we might even splash out again!

Trotters' Border Tart

Yesterday was gorgeously sunny and we walked a good ten miles across
What a view! 
wonderfully varied landscapes in a big loop starting and ending in a nice free car park at the nearby village on Ingram. On the way there we saw a hare squeezing itself under a metal barred gate. Dave slowed the car right down as we passed and it stared back at us from only a few feet away! Huge eyes! Our later sightings of rabbits weren't nearly so exciting although they were remarkably chilled out about us getting close to them too. We also saw curlews, the emblem of the Northumberland National Park, skylarks and swallows, a couple of different species of bees and a few pretty butterflies. Most of the moorland here is bracken rather than the heather we saw in the North York Moors. Grouse are still raised here to be shot though and I startled one into making a loud and undignified escape!

Much of our route yesterday was over Open Access land, criss crossed
Dave's fort is a bit of a doer-upper 
with official footpaths and bridleways as well as random tracks in all directions. Fortunately Dave has got his phone GPS to work so our few wrong path choices were quickly rectified. Several settlements and a couple of forts were marked on the map and Dave is looking out for marauders from the ruined walls of one fort here. I am not exactly sure what all the stones are for in the picture below. The map indicated a settlement and perhaps the large stone in the centre was a doorstone or lintel. The ground looked to be hollow underneath it. Suggestions, if any, in the Comments please!

Not sure what this is or once was 
There are lots and lots of sheep here, mostly out on the open land
Another huge view -
my phone camera doesn't do this area justice 
together with herds of cows and their new calves. I found it much less nerve racking to pass the cows when they are not fenced in. Wide berths are easier! The Northumberland National Park is very green and lush which I wasn't expecting. I suppose I had imagined an even more rugged version of the Peak District and the North York Moors, however now we are here, I am reminded of our Scottish walks from Oban. The hills are rounded and there are boggy parts with coarse grasses. Dave kept his nice new boots dry, but I managed to sink almost over the tops of mine once. Fortunately the water wasn't muddy - just wet! We also passed small areas of managed woodland and a few incredibly isolated stone farmhouses. I love the building stone and the architecture used around here. The buildings look solid and eternal, but also elegant. There's a pretty cottage only a few minutes from this campsite which is only £115,000 ... !

We have two weeks here before we move on again and we are hoping to
see much more of the local countryside. Tomorrow I think we will have an easy day and just visit Wooler for a spot of shopping. Then off moorwards again on Tuesday with a picnic lunch. Weatherwise it is supposed to be a good week so I might even add to yesterday's sunburn! The guy on the next pitch lent us a book of short (5 mile) Northumbrian walks so Dave has noted down the ones nearest this campsite. Roseberry Topping was in there so we could already put a tick by that one in our minds. Happy Valley looks a pretty place to visit and we are also considering whether to to go to Lindisfarne and walk across the causeway. Having recently heard about the long-ago Viking attacks there, it would be interesting to actually see the site. There are so many places and so little time though. We are discovering the great paradox of travelling is that the more places we visit, the more we learn exist so, instead of slowly working through all the sites we want to visit and eventually finishing, we just keep adding more and more to the list!

The River Breamish