Posts Tagged ‘Northumberland’

Roman Wall Blues

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Off to visit my parents this weekend for my Dad’s 75th birthday.  We live almost on top of the Roman wall outside of Corbridge.  I thought this poem that reminds you of what it must be like being a soldier away from home, whether Romans or Syrian archers back in the first few hundred years AD, or as a soldier nowadays in Afghanistan or anywhere away from home.

Roman Wall Blues

Over the heather the wet wind blows,
I’ve lice in my tunic and a cold in my nose.

The rain comes pattering out of the sky,
I’m a Wall soldier, I don’t know why.

The mist creeps over the hard grey stone,
My girl’s in Tungria; I sleep alone.

Aulus goes hanging around her place,
I don’t like his manners, I don’t like his face.

Piso’s a Christian, he worships a fish;
There’d be no kissing if he had his wish.

She gave me a ring but I diced it away;
I want my girl and I want my pay.

When I’m a veteran with only one eye
I shall do nothing but look at the sky.

W. H. Auden

The Sound of Northumberland

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

I have been to listen and watch Kathryn Tickell twice over the last month, once in Ripon and then at the Sage with her new show, Northumbrian Voices with her band and her dad – actually her dad, Mike Tickell, also came to the show in the Holy Trinity Church, Ripon.  She is a great virtuoso player of the Northumbrian small pipes and fiddle, plus there is a togetherness as the core of the Kathryn Tickell band is herself and her brother, so like all great traditional musicians they can move the set around, play different pieces and just wing it as they needed to do in Ripon with their accordion player not there.  And like all natural musicians who are completely confident with their instruments and repertoire, they are often best when they need to tweak, change and stretch themselves rather than just play the same old routine when they would rather have a glass of beer, wine or put their feet up and read a book!

I feel she plays her best when the songs are a bit darker and bleaker, or more frenzied and manic, than those that are lighter or the jollier dances.  Perhaps she laments, quite rightly, the loss of the traditional livelihoods that have shaped the North, whether it’s the fishermen, the pitmen or farmers that scratched a tough life from these beautiful, but unforgiving, lands, to be replaced by softer jobs in tourism or banking.  Somehow, the harder times made for better music, a deeper understanding and enjoyment in our landscapes and seascapes, as well as those times of rest and the spaces and gaps we used to have in our lives that were not filled with adrenaline kicking, speed filled modern media.  No time to reflect, no pauses and no spaces, as well as a detachment for the physical world we actually live in.  Also, perhaps a loss of contrast between the genuinely hard graft and relaxing down times makes it difficult to enjoy simple pleasures.

So her Wild Hills of Whannies is bleak, windy and wet like Steel Rigg, Haughton Common or the Cheviots up by Wooler, before you get the livelier and freer bubbling and flowing of the burns after the flood through the middle of the tune.  In contrast, Billy Pigg’s version has a more joyful, playful relationship to the same countryside.  And I loved the slow, mournful lament for Stonehaugh Community Centre that morphed into a livelier jig that brought back memories of functional community halls and dances, whether country dances or more often than not cheesy disco music.  Then later she played her version of Bill Charlton’s  Fancy.  The sounds were different but the function was the same, people came together from their farms, crofts and houses and had a good crack.  In the days before MP3 players, multichannel TV and digitised everything, that was the height of fun and it kept the mischief controlled and somewhere close by.  Innocent and largely without too much real badness.

But I love their sounds as her Northumberland is still my Northumberland, although for me a river always runs through it, the Tyne, and the smell of the sea is never that far away.  So whether I was swinging on a tyre swing over the North Tyne by Chollerford or swimming in the Tyne at Bywell, or holidaying by Seahouses, or playing kick-the-can in Bell’s Valley by Fredden Hill, her sounds have that doleful, dreich feel that is the bleakness and beauty of Northumberland.  But that’s its soul, my soul, and I wouldn’t have it otherwise.  Yes, there is, and always has been, much fun to be had, but it is hard won and deserved – especially for us who bear the cross of support for the Toon – and a laugh will be deep and unrestrained, but underneath there is not too much softness, more hard rock covered in moss.

This feeling for a land shaped by the hills, rivers and sea was even more closely followed with the Northumbrian Voices show.  For example, the Song for the North Tyne by Mike Tickell specifically told of the changes wrought to the Tyne and the valleys by the building of Kielder reservoir and forest.

This was a country music show that was pure Northumbria (except for the country sounds from Hank Williams’ Your Cheatin’ Heart) and was filled with stories and sounds shaped by hills, snow and sheep.  The music and songs were played by Kathryn Tickell, Julian Sutton (melodeon), Kit Haigh (guitar), Patsy Reid (fiddle and viola), Hannah Rickard (voice and fiddle) and Mike Tickell (voice).  Then there were words transcribed from conversations during the spaces in recordings, covering stories about traditional knowledge and ways of life that have gone or almost gone; whether these are how to look after sheep or how to look after the hill farms or passing down knowledge between generations in hefted flocks on where to graze. 

Yes, life is wealthier and there is more sparkle and glamour in towns and cities, where the shopping is way better, however I do agree and feel that somehow we are culturally poorer as we loose these simple bits of knowledge that have been learnt over 100s and 1000s of years, whether it is how to shepherd the hills or fish the North Sea, and how to dance a reel especial to a particular valley.  We have destroyed our communities, we have chucked away our local culture and replaced it with global media and music that has no connection back to the land.  I worry that there will come a time when we will need to go back to the land and our hands and heads will be too soft to know what to do and unlike the Pilgrim Fathers in America there will be no-one with the local knowledge to help us.  And as Clive Aslett in The Daily Telegraph wrote – who would want to bring up their children as country bumpkins – well, me actually.

Once again, I was drawn to the melancholic that seems to fit the sound of the pipes, so the Pipes Lament and the Carrick Hornpipe that told of cold winters and changes that continue to be wrought to the land, for better or the worse.  But perhaps, it was even better to just hear and sing some of the old songs that have no time to them but plenty of spatial context – Canny Shepherd Laddies of the Hill, Duns Dings A’, Hesleyside Reel and Small Coals and Little Money.

All in all, a bunch of really great shows and something we would be really proud of if we were in the USA, but here it is just so not mainstream and we prefer the fantasies of Britains Got Talent and X Factor than a more solid and honest local music.

Last Walks Along Northumbrian Coast For This Year (22/23 July 2011)

Monday, August 8th, 2011
Arctic Terns Nesting On Beadnell Bay

Arctic Terns Nesting On Beadnell Bay

My mother and I walked along Beadnell Bay towards the nesting turns.  The tide was in and the light from the falling sun was gorgeous.  The shore breeze was fairly strong and the waves were beating against the shore, roiling with the power from the winds.  There was a haze on the water from the crashing waves that glowed in the dying embers of the sun.  Black headed gulls patrolled the shoreline, very so often bobbing off as a wave overtook them.  Then the noise of the terns cut through the roar of the waves as we approached the nesting area.  A warden patrolled his little kingdom.  My mum walked back over the dunes, while I watched the parent Arctic terns continuously bringing along little offerings of glistening fish for their chicks.  The industry and effort was amazing and how they find their chicks in the cacophony is unbelievable.  A group of terns chased away a heron that had got too close. 

Sun Going Down Over Beadnell Bay

Sun Going Down Over Beadnell Bay

Sunset At Beadnell Bay

Sunset At Beadnell Bay

I turned and walked back along the beach.

The next morning was really windy and the waves were violently crashing on the shore.  Sophie and I walked south to Football Hole Cove where I had wanted to swim.  The waves were far too big, concentrated into the smaller bay.  We paddled in the waves and felt the strong undercurrent trying to pull us out to sea.  We walked back along the shore, skirting round the dead seal that was giving off a strongly putrid odour. 

I felt refreshed and pleased to have rediscovered this coastline, where I spent many a happy (if cold) holiday when much, much younger.

Luncheon at The Ship Inn In Craster (22 July 2011)

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

The day was dry, but overcast with a strong wind from the sea to shore.  We stayed put and walked over the dunes to Low Newton and The Ship Inn

The Ship Inn Low Newton

The Ship Inn Low Newton

It is a small village pub, nestled in the corner of white painted small houses.  It is a small pub with bare stone walls and lots of warm dark wood.  There are a few tables in side and even fewer tables outside on the pavement and on the green, but you can sit and eat on the green.  They brew their own beers on site – Emblestones, Newton Stout, Shop Hop and Whitehorses – with Whitehorses the preferred tipple amongst our family.  Or you can have a range of soft drinks from Fentimans etc.

We ordered a range of different meals from the simple pub menu – toasties, tomato & basil soup.  But the key for me is the local seafood or the cheese from Doddington Dairy near Wooler or local ham.  The seafood includes local kippers (£5.95), kipper paté (£5.35) or fishcake (£7.95) from Swallow Fish in Seafoods, or hand picked crab from Newton Haven beach, collected by the husband of one of the ladies that works at the pub, so not just local food but mega-local food from the water outside.

I had crab sandwiches (£6.75) and a crab & salad stottie (£8.75), both of which were delicious: fresh, rich and gently tasting of the sea.  These simple treats were exquisite, showing that simple is best, made without adornment.  For puddings, we ate apple crumble made on site.  The key to the food at The Ship Inn is fresh, local food, made without flashy, unnecessary & poncy overchefing that you often get in “gastropubs”.  I would walk for miles to find an oasis of what is brilliant about Northumberland, England and the world and this is one of those gems.  This is a credit to the sea and I raise a cheer to Christine Forsyth – thank you.

PS: you can eat an evening meal but you must book well in advance as you eat indoors and there is serious demand for the food.  As a word of warning though – it is cash only, so no cards!

Two Fish Shops – Craster And Seahouses (19 & 20 July 2011)

Saturday, August 6th, 2011
Robson Home Of The Craster Kipper

Robson Home Of The Craster Kipper

On the way back from Alnwick, we went to Craster and to L. Robson & Sons Ltd, who have been smoking herrings for kippers there for over 130 years.  It is an unprepossessing little sea village, with a small harbour that feels lost and drab.  There is only a little bit of sand and a few sad looking boats.  It is a good base for a walk along the coast towards the grand ruin of Dunstanburgh Castle and buying some fish, but not worth a visit on its own.  Robsons is a functional shop, the restaurant was closed and the service cursory, but the fish has a good reputation far and wide, and you can buy online at or by mail order (01665 576 223).  Kippers are £5.75/kg.

In contrast, Seahouses has managed to make the transition from a busy fishing harbour in the era of herring through to a tourist place much more smoothly.  It is a larger harbour, plus has the benefit of the Farne Islands and Holy Island closer to, enabling the ecotourists to come for birds, seals and the occasional dolphin, Minke whale and orcas.  Still, it is a much quieter harbour than I can remember from when young.  Then, all the edges of the harbour would be full of moored fishing boats, where now you have a handful of fishing boats and many more pleasure boats taking trips to the islands.

I remember coming down to the harbour to choose fish, crabs and lobster freshly landed and direct from the boats, where now signs say “No Landing Of Shellfish”.  The only hint at the former times are lobster pots and a fish van from Eyemouth with its incongruous saltire on its side.  The piers and harbour had more of a hubbub then and lots of busyness, but progress moves us ever forwards to a better place, supposedly.  I remember sitting at the end of the pier with legs dangling over the edge, surrounded by other kids, fishing with rod or just line; the joy of catching a pollock or when fishing from the shore a flattie, then the sweet and sour taste of food legitimately hunted and brought home to table.  In Seahouses, MacKays has changed from a shop with wet fish counter into a palace for plastic seaside geegaws and kiss-me-quick hats, as well as body boards and wet suits, called the Farne Island Gift Shop (be careful as it is cash only).

Swallow Fish In Seahouses , Northumberland

Swallow Fish In Seahouses , Northumberland

In Seahouses, you must rootle out Swallow Fish that is hidden above the harbour in South Street – it is hard to find down a potholed, little road.  Here they still smoke on site from fish that is landed in the harbour (probably only crab and lobster); you can sometimes see their van waiting patiently on the quayside.  My uncle used to get his salmon smoked here.  The Wilkin family have been smoking fish here since 1843 and claim to have invented the kipper, making this the oldest smokehouse in Northumberland.  The shop is a lovely warm and small space, unchanged from my memories as if you step from 2011 into someone’s warm front parlour in the 1960s or 1910s.  The service was warm and helpful in that quiet, reserved Northumbrian manner.  I bought dressed crab and kippers, normal and deboned.  Don’t buy the deboned as the shape is a fillet and feels wrong for a kipper, plus only the backbone has been removed and all the smaller bones are still there.  You can buy other fish products, plus live crab, crab claws, crab meat and lobster.  Swallow Fish is available in Fenwick Food Hall in Newcastle or by mail order or over the phone (01665 721 052) or  Dearer than Craster at £8.25/kg, but worth it.  And what I love about their website is the section where you can meet their fishermen, which includes 2 of the Glad Tidings fleet as used for trips to the Farnes.

Swallow Fish Kippers - filleted or normal

Swallow Fish Kippers - filleted and normal

Our tasting notes from 12 of us:

  • Swallow Fish: lightly smoked taste with succulent meaty flesh and nice level of oil.  Really good example of kipper that have no artificial colours or smoke flavour.
  • Robson & Son Craster Kippers: more smoky and saltier in flavour than the Swallow Fish kippers.  Good taste and delicious meat with no artificial colours or smoke flavours.

Overall, Swallow Fish was our preferred kipper, but Craster Kippers are way ahead of other high street kippers, so go for either.  Some time back I reviewed Loch Fyne and Marrbury Smokehouse Kippers, which are good, but still not as good as Swallow Fish or Robson of Craster Kippers.

Wet weather day in Alnwick (20 July 2011)

Saturday, August 6th, 2011

A dreich, gray day.  What to do: the girls went to Alnwick swimming pool and had a great time.  My parents went to Paxton House north of the River Tweed near Berwick.  We went to Alnwick to Alnwick Castle.

I had not been to Alnwick Castle for years and not with the current Duke of Northumberland.  It is very different with much more effort put into looking after visitors, but a bit too much like the synthetic niceness of National Trust.  Like everything remembered from childhood, it is much smaller.  Alnwick Castle is full of impressive state rooms, glistering with bling accumulated over 100s of years of wealth and power, such as the amazing library; I liked the document demanding the beheading of the 7th Earl of Northumberland for treason in the Rising of The Northern Earls in 1569 and later beatified for his adherence to his faith.  But overall the internal rooms left me flat and gave me museum feet.  I think it is that otherworldliness that is accentuated by the rope barriers that say to us “Do not cross the line; Do not touch” – this is not for the likes of you.  Interesting, a curiosity. 

Alnwick Castle On A Dreich Day

Alnwick Castle On A Dreich Day

However, from outside, I like the shape and colours of the keep, walls and towers that gel with ingrained ideas of how castles should look.  This is something much more familiar and comfortable, even if it may be have been made normal through films and documentaries rather than reality, so a sanitised history without the smells and hardships. 

Wizard Teaching Broomstick Flying

Wizard Teaching Broomstick Flying

Then there were the childrens’ activities  – broomstick flying lessons (some of Harry Potter was filmed here for example the initial lessons in the first film where Harry Potter discovers his skill in flying) and the dragon’s quest where you go through rooms of skeletons, riddles and tasks, plus mirrors to complete a letter puzzle.  This was fun.

We had lunch in the cafe.  I had a dry and indifferent falafel wrap, some tea and an indulgent caramel shortbread, Sophie sweet potato soup and Jay bacon and mozzarella ciabatta and a Mars bar.  We huddled outside under the parasols that dripped with the incessant rain as we tried to find a dry patch to chomp on our food.

It is all quite expensive, but the entry fee does for two visits, so we will return to see the gardens in less inclement weather (see below).

After this, we went back into town to Barter Books which is in the old railway station.  This is a glorious space and was really busy because of the weather.  Look up and think of its old status, imagine the passengers and trains that passed through.  If you love books as we do, this is a brilliant place, cosy and loving like a friendly library and full of all manner of books in chaotic order.  Fiction by authors long forgotten, art, religion, local history, natural history, childrens’ books etc etc.  This is living breathing space where you can smell than familiar fustiness of old books, comforting, and you can open them and touch them and buy them.  Jay bought an old Beano, a book on Torres and stats on the Olympics from 2000, and I bought a couple of volumes of Hodgson’s “History of Northumberland”, indulging my interest in our family tree and local history.  This is a place we could spend a whole day without getting tired, plus willingly spending a small fortune.  Then you can grab a bite to eat and have a drink in the old waiting rooms: the tea is good and the tray bakes to die for, where I would recommend the Malteser & rice crispie chocolate or the one with fudge, and all good value.  Finally, I love the model trains that run around the track above your head, lovingly and impishly harking back to its former state, and the mural of famous writers. 

This is my history brought to life, living & breathing, rather than the facts, figures and details of distant figures of national politics and the news, people with whom I have no connection: neither I with them, nor vice versa.

Later (23/7/2011): we came to Alnwick Castle on a warmer day to look at the water garden and walled garden.  While the kids enjoyed getting wet in the fountains, it was more municipal than inspirational – not worth a visit on its own, but just about okay if you go around the castle as well.  Overall a bit on the dear side, but very popular and interesting from an historical perspective.

Alnwick Water Garden

Alnwick Water Garden

Walk To Low Newton – Stinking Newton (17 July 2011)

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011
Bodyboards In A Line

Bodyboards In A Line

Today was a glorious northern beach day, with sun, thunder & lightning but no wind.  Having bought wet suits at the Farne Islands Gift Shop in Seahouses (it used to be called Mackays when I was a kid), I ran into the North Sea on Beadnell Bay, as did my son and daughter.  We swam and played jump the waves and body boarding.  It really is still as cold as it always was, but neoprene does stop the wind-chill when you get out and keeps you warm when in the sea, however unsexy you look.  Beadnell Bay is a great place to play in the sea, swim, jump the waves, body board or even surf, then there are the rock pools at Snook Point to potter around in looking for hermit crabs and crabs.

After supper, my mum and I walked in the evening sun across the dunes from Links Farm in Newton-by-the-Sea to Low Newton.  On the way there, we took a pretty direct route along the path which was functional and boring, although we looked at Football Hole Cove where a chap was going through his yoga positions on a mat as the sun went down – alone on the beach.  We left him to it.  No one seems to know why it is called Football Hole Cove, but I like to think that Bobby and Jackie Charlton, with their Milburn relatives, came here on trips when they were young and kicked a football around on the beach watched on by the matriach, Cissie Charlton (née Milburn).  Probably, it is more to do with the shape of the bay that curves as if a football was kicked high and landed plonk on the beach.

View Across Newton Haven To Dunstanburgh Castle

View Across Newton Haven To Dunstanburgh Castle

As you get two thirds of the way, you have one of those views that you must see before you die: as you crest Newton Point you get your first glimpse over Embleton Bay south towards Dunstanburgh Castle.  Dunstanburgh Castle has that gothic feel of ruined stone jutting out into the cold, grey sea, but from a distance it looked warm in the sun’s last rays, a becoming viewpoint.  Down the hill, you see St Mary’s Haven with fishing and sailing boats shining in reflected rays. 

View To Low Newton

View To Low Newton

Low Newton is a tiny hamlet centred around a rectangle of white painted small houses.  Low Newton has one of best seaside pubs, The Ship Inn, famed for its locally caught crab, lobster and fish and run by the delightful Hertfordshire landlady, Christine Forsyth, who we met walking three flat coated black retrievers over the dunes while on the walk.  My mum had walked there earlier in the day and it stank of gaseous sewerage which is actually the sun working on the seaweed that gives off nauseous odours, giving Low Newton its nickname of Stinking Newton.

On the way back, we walked over the dunes by the coast, which was much better if a bit longer.  There was no one else out walking, so we had the coast to ourselves and the birds.

Hyper Energetic Sanderlings At Football Hole Cove

Hyper Energetic Sanderlings At Football Hole Cove

At Football Hole Cove, the oyster catchers (about 9 of them) were busily chattering amongst themselves as they walked through the rock pools and wrack hunting for food with their Geordie black and white clear against the dark greens of the seaweed, and then a curlew towering above them just visible in its mottled brown camouflage and huge curved beak.  Sanderlings frantically skittered along the shoreline, charging frenetically into the wake of the outflowing waves, full of nervous energy; they danced a funny dance with furiously jiggering black legs.  An eider duck family was playing in the waves by the shore with a medium sized baby.  Everywhere there were Arctic and Common terns flying back and forth with small slivery and glittery fish to nests on Beadnell Bay or perhaps over to the Farne Islands; every so often you could see shags, kittiwakes or gulls flying over the black & blue sea.  Along the dunes, swallows and larks can be seen flying hither and thither with that beautiful lilting tsirrup tsirrup.

Sunset Over Beadnell Bay

Sunset Over Beadnell Bay

The sun was setting across Football Hole Cove.  Then we went over the dunes rather than around Snook Point and down onto Beadnell Bay where we were all on our own.  This is perhaps my favourite beach in the world – a long curve round to Beadnell at the north.  Empty except for a few intrepid souls.  I could stand on the shoreline and watch the waves in perpetual flow in and out, such energy and that roar of pure physical power.  Sometimes there is a sea fisherman at the edge of the waves or out on Snook Point, pitting their wits against nature and sometimes winning.  In the distance, you may see sailing boats or windsurfers’ sails around Beadnell Bay and in the distance the odd fishing boat or on the horizon a commercial vessel.

Further south you have the beauty of Embleton Bay and Dunstanburgh Castle or north to Bamburgh Castle, and down south there may be a better climate, but as a beach Beadnell Bay cannot be beaten.

School Reports And Memories Of Mowden Hall School

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

I went to small, all-boys prep school in Northumberland called Mowden Hall School, which still exists and is now a mixed prep school.  In fact, my father went there the first year it moved to Northumberland after the Second World War.  It seems so old fashioned and long ago, as we learnt maths from log books and were taught how to use slide rules, and there were no computers and Wales were great at rugby.

I cannot remember much about it really as it was all a blur, except for:

  1. Learning how to make a bed properly with sharp edges.  We would need to stand in silence to attention beside our beds after we had made them to allow Matron to say that we could go down after breakfast.  We slept on hard, wooden beds, with thin mattresses and only a sheet and thin rug for heat, which (with no dormitory heating) was freezing in the winter.  It taught you never to move in your sleep as this would wake you up when you moved to a cold patch, and also to run sideways in your bed when you got in, so that the friction heated up the sheets.
  2. The forced marches, two-by-two in our brown boiler suits,  in the morning before breakfast in silence to the teachers’ houses and back when we were juniors, then when we were older (oh the privilege you might think) a forced run for a mile down the South Drive before breakfast to keep you fit, but we already did 2 – 3 hours of games every day (rugby in Christmas and Easter terms and cricket & athletics in the Summer term).
  3. Having to wear shorts all year round, until you became a prefect aged 12/13 when you could wear long trousers, and freezing cold Airtex T-Shirts in the Summer (these were basically a material with holes in it to keep you cool in the heat, but we were at school in Northumberland, which is not renowned for its heatwaves).
  4. Some strange culinary delights: rumours that catfood tins had been seen out the back of the kitchens on the day we ate bright red meat in our shepherds’ pie; plates piled high with butter beans that we were forced to eat down, however vile they tasted – I still cannot eat them; gloopy, bright pink Angel Delight with lumps in it still as it had never been mixed thoroughly; or (for breakfast) fried eggs with a thick plasticky coating congealed onto the top, Marmite on Toast or Kojak’s Heads On Toast (baked beans in toast); but then there was custard and the choice of sweet tea or normal tea from 2 large urns that we drank in plastic mugs, and tuck on Sundays after Church.  I think my love of tea started at school as I would never have survived without its basic nutrients of water, milk and sugar and heat.
  5. At meal times, after grace was said, you had to eat in silence until the pudding course, when a bell was rung and the seniors would clear the tables and bring out the pudding and bowls.  The pudding was served, then a bell was rung and you could talk.
  6. There were also loads of positives: the slipper and pillow fights were great and involved loads of people; it taught you to survive in lean, mean conditions – I have never wanted for much luxury ever since and will eat anything that’s thrown at me, except for lasagne and butter beans; it gave me a love of books, science, nature and the outdoors.

Here are some extracts from the school reports that paint a picture that are strangely different from how I remember it.  I had thought I had tried quite hard most of the time, but my teachers obviously saw me as a lazy and middling pupil.  Except for where they did not appear to know who you were with those unhelpful reports that read “Satisfactory” or “Good progress”, they did not hold back their punches in the reports.

Faint praise – about the best it got

“Good: he has the ability to do really well, eventually.” [Latin, Trinity 1978, Age 10.8 – MRi]

“Without showing any natural ability, he appears capable of coping with any new difficulty as it arises.” [French, Trinity 1978, Age 10.8 – MRi]

“He is young & lacking in experience but, I feel, has latent ability, which has yet to come to light.” [Mathematics, Christmas 1979, Age 12.0 – S1] 

“He is cheerful and works with interest…” [Art, Christmas 1979, Age 12.0 – S1]

“His standard of work has generally improved, though his attitude remains rather immature.” [History, Easter 1980, Age 12.4 – S1]

Lazy, or just bored with the teaching?

“He works very well within himself and continues to make good progress without any fear of strain.” [French, Michaelmas 1977, Age 10.0 – MRi]

“A high mark, but in comparison to the rest of the form this is an appalling state of affairs.  He has given the minimum amount of work this term to attain respectable marks.  His marks are fair – his position is unsatisfactory.” [Geography, Lent 1978, Age 10.4 – MRi]

“He has a good brain and an eye (and even a word!) for imaginative detail, but he is ever chary of over-taxing either.” [English, Trinity 1978, Age 10.8 – MRi]

“I sometimes feel that he needs a “swift kick” to galvanise him into action.” [Academic Report, Christmas 1978, Age 11.0 – S2]

“Competent, but unexciting: he works at great length when, as in the case of his project, self-motivated, but more usually exceedingly difficult to prod him out of somnolence.” [English, Easter 1979, Age 11.4 – S2]

“I am beginning to think that the detonation of a bomb beneath him at regular intervals might well be beneficial.  Is he really producing – ever – the best standard of which he is capable? I very much doubt it?” [Latin, Easter 1979, Age 11.4 – S2]

Not a classicist

“His knowledge of grammar is fair, but his use or application of it in the exam was depressingly bad.  I have the impression (I hope that I am wrong) that his somewhat sardonic sense of humour is coupled with an unwillingness to lower himself to the nitty-gritty of hard work and learning.” [Latin, Christmas 1978, Age 11.0 – S2]

“At the moment he is a grammar-mangler of the first water.” [Latin, Summer 1979, Age 11.0 – S2]

“…and I do wish he would not appear quite so saturninely pessimistic in class.” [Latin, Christmas 1979, Age 12.0 – S1] 

“He often knows what is the right answer, and yet fails to achieve accuracy – “Meliora probo, sed deteriora sequor“* – which I need not translate.  It is particularly disappointing to see his English-Latin work continually marred by elementary grammar mistakes.  He must get a grip on himself; he seems to have developed a maturity of person which has not carried over to his written work.” [Latin, Easter 1980, Age 12.4 – S1]

Note *A misquote of Ovid who wrote “Video meliora, proboque; deteriora sequor” which means “I see the better course, and approve; I follow the worse.”

Not a natural sportsman, or perhaps did not enjoy rugby

“He is not slow and he has glimmerings of a natural jinking action…” [Games, Lent 1978, Age 10.4 – MRi]

“He has played quite well, but always at arm’s length.  Unless he is prepared to commit himself fully, his promising ball skills will seldom be exercised.” [Games, Easter 1979, Age 11.4 – S2]

“…he tends to avoid the more violent physical aspects of the former [as a forward], while playing in the latter capacity [as a back] affords him too much opportunity to immerse himself in conversation and thus forget about the game!” [Games, Michaelmas 1977, Age 10.0 – MRi]

“…his performance throughout the term has been disappointing.  I appreciate his lack of enthusiasm for the game [rugby] off the field but he is now old enough to realise the urgency expected of him on the field – particularly during a match.” [Games, Michaelmas 1979, Age 12.0 – S1]

Wheelbirks Ice Cream

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010
Wheelbirks Farm Near Stocksfield

Wheelbirks Farm Near Stocksfield

On the way back from Scotland, we went through Northumberland and on a “memory lane detour” went via Wheelbirks Farm which is near Stocksfield.  Memory lane because I was brought up on Wheelbirks Jersey Milk when the farm used to have a milk round, and so were my father and grandparents.

Orchard At Wheelbirks Farm In Northumberland

Orchard At Wheelbirks Farm In Northumberland

The Richardsons have since started making their own ice cream using their deliciously creamy Jersey milk for the base.  You drive past a little village called Hindley and then up their farm drive and through the farmyard to the Ice Cream Parlour at the back.  Other than the food, there is an decent play area in the orchard at the back, and for smaller children inside, and a small barn that you can look in to see some calves and a bull, plus as a working farm so you might see loads of other comings and goings.  I love the web site where you can see pictures of past prize winning cows and current pictures of other ones, which shows their love of their Jersey herd.

Ice Cream Parlour At Wheelbirks Farm

Ice Cream Parlour At Wheelbirks Farm

The actual Ice Cream Parlour has been very tastefully decked out and split into two – half bright, light and functional looking like a 60s American joint while the other half is all dark wood for a warmer, more natural English country kitchen feel.  They make their own ice cream using a tiny little machine that pasteurises the milk, then make the ice cream before they all get busy packing off the ice cream by hand into tubs for sale in the shop or sending off to Alnwick Castle.

There is a delicious range of flavours including New York Cheesecake, Licquorice & Caramel, Blueberry Muffin, Strawberry, Cookies & Cream, Triple Chocolate, Mint Choc Chip, Peach & Raspberry and Amaretto & Honeycomb.  Prices are £1.15, £2.65 and £3.65 for single, double or triple scoop ice creams.  Alternatively, you can go for tubs, or slices of cake for £1.90 each; I had a huge slice of Coffee & Walnut cake then scavenged tastes of the ice creams from the kids.

My Father Enjoying His Ice Cream

My Father Enjoying His Ice Cream

The ice cream is deliciously rich and creamy in flavour, while the flavours are interesting and full of amazing taste.  Really a luxurious place for a treat.  Our favourites are New York Cheesecake which I could eat all day, Cookies & Cream and Blueberry Muffin, which were all seductively gorgeous.

If you can, you should also buy a bottle of their unpasteurised, unhomogenised full fat milk, which is tasty milk the way it should be, with a thick slick of heavy cream floating on the top of the milk for 80p.  You can also buy Wheelbirks unpasteurised cream at 70p for 142ml, or try the Longley Farm Luxury Jersey Butter at £1.25 per pat of butter and uses their milk, which the Richardsons send down to Longley Farm’s factory in Holmfirth.  It’s good to know that one of my favourites – the rich, natural tasting creamy butter from Longley farm – comes from a source that I like and respect.

Wheelbirks Ice Cream easily gets to the top of our list of favourite ice cream shops we have visited, so try and make a trip to enjoy it.

Quest For The Best Burger In The North

Friday, June 18th, 2010

I have decided, like many before me, to go on a quest; a quest for the perfect burger

I want to do this in part to find something close to perfection, but also it will give me an opportunity to find some of the best local producers of breads and beef and other ingredients.  But here’s the downside, I have to put limits on my search, otherwise I will need to travel the world – I will let others do that for me and I would welcome your input for other great producers or recipes.  My rules for producers are that they must be located north of the Humber and south of the Tweed and on the east coast of England; those rules will seem arbitrary to most, but for me they are logical – I am a born and bred Northumbrian who lives in North Yorkshire.

So how to start this quest.  Well, I can only think about doing it very systematically, almost like a science project.  I am firstly going to do two things in parallel – I am going to test a number of recipes to find the best (in my family’s opinion) burger recipe, while simultaneously looking for the best local burger bun and/or recipe.  I have decided to do these together as I expect my wife and kids to get sick of very similar tasting burger recipes, so I will need to mix up what I am doing to keep this quest moving forwards rather than getting stuck in the culinary doldrums.  I will then run on into cuts of meat, proportions of fat and best local sources of beef etc etc.

As for recipes, I am going to stick only to beef, but we will be hunting for two recipes – one the best simple burger recipe, and the other, the best more complex recipe.  The former will be able to showcase the best beef when we get there, letting the meat do the talking, while the second can be a bit more showy.  I completely expect to change the rules as I go along, so don’t expect me to be overly strict.