Tales from UK Lockdown: Week 10

Bognor Rocks at sunset

Adjusting to a Different World

26.5.2020 So we’ve been in lockdown for over 2 months but now the government have eased restrictions a little, I wonder if life can ever truly go back to how it was.

Despite the negative press, many of us are lucky to spend quality time with our loved ones and still manage financially, thanks to the Government furlough scheme. Though I am aware that for some, this is living a nightmare. My heart goes out to our care workers, many of whom work unbelievably long shifts, surrounded by death and heartache on a daily basis. For them, the Corona pandemic cannot pass quickly enough.

The other major problem is the work place. Understandably companies cannot wait to get the economy moving which is fair enough. Though some people just want everything to go back to how it was which will ultimately mean filling the sky with aeroplanes again. But my gut feeling tells me COVID-19 isn’t done with us yet. Lifting restrictions too fast could easily trigger a second deadly wave… that being the case we’re doomed!

We're Doomed!

Alternatively, just cherish these days while you have them (if you can)

Over these past weeks I have enjoyed seeing the breath-taking photos people share from their daily walks; of flowers bursting into bloom, tranquil coastal scenes and the most vibrant of sunsets. Others continue to inspire me with their achievements.

Extra time

With more spare hours on our hands, we finally re-decorated our office. The plaster and paintwork was in a terrible state, a daunting task we put off for too long. Now it’s done (and having cleared out loads of unwanted crap in the process) we feel more productive than ever in our cleaner tidier environment surrounded by fresh white walls.

Office repainted (Cottagewebs)

Country walks and keeping fit

Another month on and we’re finally allowed to drive into the countryside for walks. We missed the bluebells but enjoyed a picnic on the banks of East Ashling Pond, blessed to see a family of swans and signets gliding across the water. Halnaker Windmill yesterday was equally awe inspiring, the only sound the ring of birdsong, the air perfumed with the first lacy blooms of elderflowers. And talking of keeping fit, I’ve been doing kitchen aerobics with a set of hand-made weights (two water bottles filled with sand from the beach) and occasionally enjoy a zoom pilates class with Sussex Physiotherapy.

Swans and signets on East Ashling Pond, Sussex

Making the most of fresh seasonal produce

If ever there’s a time to support local farmers it’s now and my favourite place is Runcton Farm Shop. This is a great opportunity to look up new recipes depending on what’s available for example local asparagus (delicious either as a side vegetable or in recipes such as Risotto Primavera). I also heard there was a surplus of products, due to restaurants being closed. Imagine my surprise when my husband brought home a kg of fresh mussels home, which cost £1.60. For the first time ever I made Moules Marinière such a simple recipe but absolutely mouthwatering, served with home made bread.

Moules Mariniere

Best of all, I am back to writing with a renewed passion

I never imagined writing a standalone psychological thriller would be so hard but there were times last year I almost gave up.

It’s thanks to the people who helped me, I wanted to keep going; inspirational people such as Dan Jones who shared his experiences of working in children’s homes in the 90s and his friend, Graham, who was brought up in care. But with a police investigation at the heart of the story, more research needed to be done.

Research: talking to various senior police officers allowed me concentrate on the plot, a time I felt indebted to my good friend, Marion Kille, whose husband, Andy (formerly an ops controller with Sussex police for 30 years) was happy to answer a list of questions I had prepared. I also spoke to Peter’s cousin, Denise, whose husband worked in the CID but kindly pointed me in the direction of a recently retired Detective Inspector who for the last 10 years was senior investigator for similar cases to the one I am writing about. With a new focus, everything is finally beginning to slot into place.

Inspiration: Furthermore, I changed to writing in ‘first person’ for one of the characters. Last year I practised this as a writing tip – to write a scene in first person, depict their thoughts and feelings more powerfully – then change back to 3rd person. Sharing this on Twitter, #WhatWorksForMe I had a reply from Terry Tyler, one of my favourite authors, saying “Ever thought of just writing in the 1st person anyway?” It’s working very well and allowing me to get right inside this character’s head.

Re-writing this book is like untangling a ball of wool but finally I am unravelling the plot and teasing the story out of my characters. But more about that in a later post…

Escape to the French Riviera

View from GourdonImagine a retreat in the French Riviera, an area of such beauty and not just that; a place to unwind totally, learn meditation, yoga and discover a whole new lifestyle. With life on a downward spiral, since my husband’s mum ended up in hospital, we were lucky to get a chance to go back there…

So what drew us there in the first place?

In 2009 we met a lady named Penny Burns who needed help setting up a website. Penny is one of the most inspirational people I have met and not only teaches Meditation and Yoga in her gorgeous retreat in the mountains but has developed a holistic healing program to combat the stresses and strains of modern day living. Having beaten an aggressive form of skin cancer (in which she was told she had a 10% chance of survival), Penny is living proof that a change in lifestyle can work wonders for the mind, body and spirit.

You can read about Penny’s personal journey on her website: https://meditate4life.co.uk/introduction/

Penny’s villa is located at the top of a narrow and unbelievably steep road, which twists its way into the mountains, but has a view to die for. What a joy to begin each morning on the balcony, feasting on French bread, cheese, eggs, ham, gazing across a vista of wooded peaks, stretching all the way out to sea. If that wasn’t enough, the villa has a private pool and is beautifully furnished with colour and art all around.

Balcony at the villa

View from the villa

In the time we spent with Penny we enjoyed several dinners (I love cooking abroad) but in addition, she took us on a local walk. Drawn up shady, wooded paths, scattered with boulders, to reach the top of the mountain, we found the views up there even more stunning. Last but not least, we enjoyed a session of Amrit Yoga, which involved much stretching, followed by Nidra Yoga, where Penny guided through breathing and relaxation techniques, to enter a deeply relaxed state.

Furthermore, she offered us plenty of advice with regards the best local markets and places to visit, so here are our favourite beauty spots.

Highly Recommended

Tourettes-Sur-Loup: we visited for market day but explored the Medieval part of town with its winding labyrinths, lovely gift shops and flower-filled courtyards.

Tourette-sur-Loup

Stopping at the supermarket, we stocked up on fresh fish and shellfish to make our very own ‘Marmite de Poissons’ and garlic bread using a leftover baguette.

Marmite de Poissons

Gourdon: a winding ribbon of road draws you through outstandingly gorgeous scenery with stops to enjoy the views.

Gourdon mountain village

Gourdon itself is a pretty hilltop village with amazing views across the mountains and a great place to shop for for gifts.

Gourdon

Valbonne Market is huge! Being a wonderful place to browse, rich in sights and smells, it is impossible to resist such temptations as air-dried ham, honey, herbes de Provence, chimney cake and local wild mushrooms. I was in my element.

Mushrooms from Valbonne

We visited Grasse on the same day. You can visit the Fragonard Perfume Factory for free but we enjoyed exploring narrow alleyways, lined with tall houses in colours of pink, peach, cream and yellow, not to mention shops packed pottery and delicacies.

Grasse in the French Riviera

My favourite place was Paul-St-Vence, a haven for art lovers and stuffed with galleries. This little village winds its way up the mountain and with so many secret alleyways, luring you to hidden treasures.

Added to lovely views we discovered beauty in every corner. This a place I would be happy to revisit again and again and as far as places go, it ticked all the boxes.

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On the writing front, I found time to tinker with my new book and even started editing it. Stumbling through the first chapter, the sun rose at 7:00am and cast its fiery rays across the mountains, filling my environment with a warm orange and pink glow… and suddenly I was on fire, where I couldn’t hammer the keyboard fast enough, at the same time getting a complete re-write planned. It was a good feeling while it lasted but now we are home, the same pressures prevail. I am sure I will get back to it one day but for now it is nice to relive our memories of France, a most beautiful retreat, away from the trials and tribulations of normal every day life.

Eulogy to a Special Friend

In loving memory of Barney

Scotland with our beloved border collie, Barney

You were one of two brothers in need of a loving home. When we met you at the rescue Centre in Liss, the moment you trotted through the door, your chocolate brown eyes met mine and I felt an instant bond. What a wonderful day that was when they told us said we could adopt you.

Eleven years later, it feels hard to imagine where that time has gone but these are just a sample of the memories we hold in our hearts for you.

You loved your walks, especially on the beach. Winter took on a special meaning, the days getting shorter, as you bathed in the sunset.

Gorgeous winter sunsets on Bognor Beach.

Then came the snow, a thick white carpet in West Park where you played football with other dogs. I’ll never forget how much you loved that baggy old football!

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In the summer you became a big part of our holidays. Our first was in Dulverton with my family, days when you loved kids throwing stones in the river and we watched with pleasure as you dived in to retrieve them. I never met a dog who so much enjoyed swimming either, seeing your little head bobbing along in the river when we stayed at Sandy Balls in the New Forest.

Barney after his swim. We sourced a doggy bathrobe (though I was reminded of the wolf in Little Red Riding Hood dressed as Grandma.)

Our favourite holidays were in the UK as you were a very special part of them. Ever since you became a part of our life we explored new places; Scotland, Cumbria, Yorkshire, Derbyshire, the Cotswolds, Cornwall and Wales.

Barney got to ride on a steam train in Yorkshire.
Securely nestled in a holiday cottage.
In a dog friendly cafe in Hebdon Bridge.
Fun and games in Camarthen, Wales.

The best ideas for my novels arose when we were walking along the beach. I still write. Yet this morning I was aware the huge empty space on the floor where you should have been lying. I’ll forever cherish the companionship you gave me in the morning.

It seems strange not to hear your incessant barking when people knock on the door. You always yearned to protect us, a devotion that manifested itself in the way your eyes used to follow us.

The silence in our house feels very deep right now but your presence resonates in our thoughts.

We miss you dearly old friend. You gave us eleven wonderful years and we will treasure every single one of them.

Taking a well earned rest in Ferryside.

From Thriller Writing to Growing and Cooking our own Veg

Home grown produce

Okay, so this is a little ‘off the wall’ from my usual blog BUT to deviate from writing for a change, we find ourselves at this ‘time of year’ when our vegetable patch is exploding with courgettes. So I am trying to figure out ways of using them all. From our three main plants, we seem to have more than ever this year. Picking them as we see them, we try to make the most of our crop. Yet despite our most hawk-eyed scrutiny, somewhere among those prickly leaves, there are always one or two devious subjects who manage to escape the radar, resulting in bulging appendages of marrow-sized proportions!

So what to do with the glut?

So far this year, I’ve donated nearly all the ‘marrows’ to one of our lovely neighbours to make chutney – that is apart from one. With a tough outer shell as hard as rock, it is lurking on top of our barbecue rack. I actually thought it would be useful as a club to ward off opportunist burglars…

The next category of giants are still quite young with a softer, smoother skin and an appetising yellow/green mottling. These are fine for cooking if you scoop the seeds out and great for stuffing, either with a rich tomato and herb, bolognese mince – or for vegetarians, a wholesome mushroom and nut mixture.

I have also made three cauldrons of ratatouille, which went down very well with friends and neighbours when we invited them over for an alfresco dinner party in July. It freezes well too; handy for quickie pasta recipes or a vegetable accompaniment to enjoy with sausages or fish.

So having exhausted these two applications, it is time to get creative.

The cream of the crop

At the end of August, we are still inundated with fruits but the plants are gradually fading. Within a few more weeks, our bountiful crop will be finished so I will conclude this article by describing some of the innovative recipes I discovered on Pinterest (along with one of my own.)

On my Recipes Board, I have pinned two recipes for courgetti and feta fritters. My sister served these on my husband’s birthday. Lighter than air, these delicate and delicious morsels are a joy to bit into; best served with a creamy yoghurt and mint dip, bursting with notes of garlic and lemon juice. Nice! I’m yearning for the recipe now, which she more or less made up apparently; a combination of two, inspired by Jamie and Nigella.

I also found a recipe for courgette, roasted pepper and parmesan muffins which sounds so good, it is worth buying a lump of feta cheese. Half will go in the fritters (which I plan to make this week) and then other half will be sufficient to try the muffins too. Bon appetite!

Last of all, is a recipe I invented myself which I would love to share. My husband bought me a spiralizer for my birthday and I’ve been thinking of ways to use it. I was thrilled by my first attempt at making spicy potato rostis and with an abundance of tender young courgettes at my disposal, I was inspired to try something else…

Crispy Courgetti and Parmesan Rostis

Deliciously succulent and light, these rostis make nice accompaniments to a main meal. I use this recipe to serve 2 but the quantities can be adjusted according the ingredients. This goes really well alongside other vegetables such as steamed carrots and leeks, peas and sweetcorn. The first time I created these, we ate them with herby chicken fillets and a baked potato. They have a cheesy, garliccy flavour which balances well with the more subtle flavour of the courgettes; use young ones if you can get them, the fresher the better.

Ingredients

2 medium courgettes spiralized or thickly grated
1 fat clove of garlic finely chopped
1 escallion shallot finely chopped
2 tsp light olive oil
2 tsp dried herbs (I use herbs Provence)
A grind of Course sea salt (to your taste)
40g finely grated Parmesan cheese

Method

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C, 400 degrees F, Gas mark 6.

Use a clean tea towel or kitchen roll to squeeze as much water out of the courgettes as possible. A mixture too wet will result in soggy rostis as opposed to crispy ones.

spiralized courgettes

Place in a bowl and spoon in the oil, garlic, shallot, sea salt and herbs, stirring to mix well. Sprinkle in HALF the Parmesan cheese and fold into the courgettes to give a slightly sticky mix.

Courgette rosti mix

Spoon into a cake tin or better still, 4 small batter tins. Bake in the oven on the top shelf for 20 minutes, turning half way through cooking.

Courgette rostis

Sprinkle remaining cheeses evenly over the rostis and finish under a hot grill to crisp up. Carefully slide each rosti onto a warm plate and enjoy!

Crispy Courgetti and Parmesan Rostis

From Writer to Picker – 15th June 2016

Just for a change, I thought I’d write a blog about something completely different: my work experience as an online shopper at Sainsbury’s which is unlike any other job I have ever known.

People wonder why I did this job for as long as I did but I’m not complaining – after a lifetime of high stress jobs in marketing, graphic design and publishing, it was good to get back to the grass roots of a working community. Being in a proper work place was refreshing; a sense of camaraderie that we were all in the same boat! The reason I did it in the first place was to earn some extra cash as a Christmas Temp but in March 2015, I was offered permanent contract.

Online shopping

The Positives:

People in the job came from all walks of life; from 18 year old school leavers to folk who were nearer retirement age and interestingly enough, lots came from ‘high’ professions. Among my colleagues were senior accountants, nurses, designers and computer programmers. So the barriers of age, sex, class and education didn’t exist here. It was the closest I have ever come to a truly egalitarian society.

The work is repetitive but by no means dull. Online shopping is massive and has been on the rise for the last decade – so the job was in effect ‘shopping’ for other people. I didn’t mind. I actually quite like food shopping anyway, so it didn’t feel like work to begin with. You get to see all the new brands and the choice of products is staggering.

Another aspect of ‘online shopping’ I couldn’t help doing was picturing each customer as I shopped.

  • Small single items such as sardines, prunes and custard suggested an elderly customer.
  • Bigger shops with plenty of lunchbox snacks, crisps and sweets suggested a busy parent with kids.
  • Healthy customers who choose organic products and lots of veggies.
  • The ‘not so health conscious’ who pack their order with biscuits and crisps (with few veggies)
  • I had the ‘budget shoppers,’ who chose ‘value’ products (easy to spot since the packaging was orange)
  • and my favourites, were the discerning customers who like ‘taste the difference’ items (just as easy to spot since the packaging is purple) and prefer no substitutes.

So after having completing 8-24 ambient shops and 4-12 chilled shops, I had gist of the people I might have shopped for, even though I never met them face to face.

The Negatives
pickers1

It’s a good thing to be an early riser since a job as an online shopper at Sainsbury’s requires getting up at the crack of dawn! It was a wrench to start work at 5am (and many  started at 4am!) The majority of shoppers (i.e. those who do their own) prefer us off the shop floor before the store gets busy. No-one appreciates big trolleys clogging up the aisles, though at Christmas, it wasn’t always possible. Large orders meant people like me having to stay late while a stampede of early birds came in at 6am to get their Christmas shop over with! Needless to say, we got in each others’ way.

I can’t deny the hours were unsociable. I thought it was awesome to finish at 9:00 in the morning and have the rest of my day. But it did leave me with a dragging tiredness, leading sluggish brain syndrome! As a writer, a bit of a problem, creative flow severely hampered.

stephanieLastly, the work was intense, fast and physical. My best picking speed was 130 items per hour yet there were times it fell below that and however fast you went, they always cranked up the pressure to go faster. But that’s the modern work place. The reason I had to leave was an acute tendonitis in my thumb joint and severe wrist pains from lifting heavy items and handling the totes when they were loaded with shopping. Milk for example, weighs a ton, especially when customers want 5 x 6 pint flagons of the stuff!

Reflection

I’m pleased I stuck this out for as long as I did. I met some great people and the work, whilst hard, was absorbing – in fact, the time flew by. I got quite used to it eventually, as well as the early start not to mention little nest egg in my bank.

Now I’ve finished, I’ve have fewer aches and pains and it’s good to have my ‘writing time’ back – with Book 4 ‘Retribution’ to finish, I am on a mission to complete the series now.

Who knows, my next book might be set in the future where online shopping will play a major part, so maybe this experience will come in useful one day!

It was almost as if it was meant to be… 11th March 2016

Writing can be a huge commitment and I should know.

kent-landscapeI am currently working on my 4th book and have been badgering away since last August to get the first draft done. This means I have my synopsis planned out but each one of those story lines has to be developed. I am speeding my way through the 1990s and so far have covered such topics as the Catholic child abuse scandal and the war in Bosnia but with a vast amount still to write. So dedicated am I in getting this drafted in full before August this year, I haven’t ventured out on any research trips since September 2014.

Once in a while it does me good to get out on location and revisit the places where the books are set. Last year I did actually get to visit Nottingham (one of my characters studies at Nottingham Trent University {formerly Trent Polytechnic} where I went myself) I had a good wander around town to familiarise myself. The scenes set in Nottingham however are short and sweet. The majority of this series is still based around London and Kent by February 2nd it was a good time to make another journey.

| For more about my research follow this link to Sandra Danby’s Blog |

Book 4 Retribution had a slight difference; I have set many of the scenes in winter.

The story focuses more on the evil characters and their activities than the lives of the good people. There is a resurrection of organised crime in this book and where criminal gangs play a huge part. It is definitely more of a winter novel than a summer one and lends itself to barren landscapes, less flowers, cold weather and short days. I deliberately chose winter to return to Shoreham Village so I could get a good feel for that atmosphere.

The low sunlight, skeletal trees and long shadows create a slightly more sinister ambience for Book 4 Retribution. (Click images to see enlarged views).

Being so close to London, I couldn’t resist a chance visit; but only if there was time. Yet it seemed the universe was definitely working in my favour today

I would get the train from Orpington Station, only if I could park. Further more, some very kind gentleman gave me a parking ticket for day which saved me £6. What a stoke of luck! After purchasing my ticket to London, I made my way onto the platform and the train turned up a minute later. Great!

Sitting on the train, I watched the familiar London skyline wander into view with its stunning array of buildings; Canary Wharf, the Gherkin, the Shard… I landed in Waterloo, probably the most prominent station in the series (lots of scenes set here) and for a change, I decided to visit Chelsea. This is a place which is renowned for its antiques and given that one of the characters is in antiques dealer, seemed like a good place to explore.

london-sloanesquare

Beautiful winter sunlight. The looming black clouds and bare branches were particularly stunning in this shot where the timing couldn’t have been better.

I would have liked to have spent a few hours here. Though there was enough time to get a good look round, admire the architecture, take photos and even enjoy a quick bite in the heavenly Café Concerto in Kings Road. The return journey was equally enjoyable (I even relived the underground chase scene from Book 2 Visions) and every time I stepped on platform, the train turned up a few seconds later.

It was almost as if it was meant to be.

A Holiday in the Cotswolds – 14th October 2015

Every now and again I like to write about something different – beautiful places which inspire me. This year, my husband and I decided to take my mother on a holiday in the Cotswolds with us, a place we hadn’t yet discovered.

cotswolds1
Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds

Having arrived in Bretforton, we were touched by the charm of this village which unfolded like a scene from a Jilly Cooper book; a row of thatched cottages snuggling together on the approach – a backdrop of houses in Cotswold Stone, smothered in a cape of Virginia creeper – and behind the wooden gates, our holiday home awaited us.

The owners could not have done more to make us feel welcome and what a nice touch to leave us a welcome hamper that included a bottle of chilled white wine along with homemade marmalade and lemon drizzle cake. After sinking into the luxurious chairs in a lovely light conservatory, we decided to take the dog for a walk through the village only to discover yet more treasures; a community shop, a manor house and church and best of all, a very olde worlde pub where we enjoyed dinner on our first night.

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Holidays don’t get much better; and how lucky we were to be blessed with such glorious weather. With the autumn trees just turning, there was something almost dream-like about the luminous golden sunshine – the way it lit up the leaves, not to mention all those honey-coloured houses the Cotswolds villages are renowned for. We explored plenty of those; Broadway, Moreton-on-the-Marsh (which has a great market), Stow on the Wold, Chipping Camden (my favourite) and Chipping Norton.

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Other days out included Hidcote Gardens (my mother is a talented gardener), Batsworth Arboretum (a treat for our dog), Bourton on the Water (regrettably, a bit touristy) and Lower Slaughter which was stunning. Further afield we stumbled across Jepson Gardens in Leamington Spa to catch up with an old friend and enjoyed a lovely day – and finally we ventured to Oxford where the architecture left me breathless.

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I would recommend the Cotswolds for anyone who loves things which are quintessentially English with the touch of a bygone era; it is a place filled with beauty from the avenues of rolling countryside to its blissfully quiet villages and embraces everything I adore in England (with plenty of teashops to enjoy a cream tea, many of which are dog friendly.)

Some Great British Days Out – 9th July 2015

London 2015Time to take a break from writing… (Well not quite: since the completion of Book 3 Pleasures I have done complete new edit on Visions and currently looking at Beginnings again) but in between times, we’ve taken some time away from the office and visited some lovely places – so I have decided to blog about these for a change.

Exbury Gardens

This is a place I’ve always wanted to go and it’s been a while since we visited the New Forest. So at the beginning of June (and just before my Mum’s birthday) we thought we’d steal a visit while the Rhododendrons and Azaleas were still in flower. This 200 acre site is famous for its displays – set out with footpaths which meander around lakes, woodland, parkland, natural and formal gardens. It’s also a lovely place to have a picnic.

(Click photos to zoom)

http://www.exbury.co.uk/website/

Sussex Weald and Downland Museum

This is a really nice attraction at any time of year, but especially nice if there is some type of craft fair going on. So on a Sunday, when a very good friend was exhibiting his beautiful hand made rustic wood furniture and mirrors, what better excuse to make the trip. Set in lovely rolling Sussex countryside, this museum offers visitors an array of building exhibits from a bye-gone age: workers’ cottages and barns. Most are open to go inside.

(Click photos to zoom)

http://www.wealddown.co.uk/explore/buildings/

London Eye and Southbank

To celebrate my birthday, we headed for Waterloo and booked a place on the London Eye; well worth it for the amazing 360 degree photos over London (on of which may even be used for the cover of my 4th book Retribution.) Unfortunately, we chose the hottest day of the year. London reached a sweltering 37 degrees C! However, there is lots to explore along the Southbank, where we spent much of the day wandering around; saw the Tate Gallery, Globe Theatre and crossed the Millennium Bridge to St Paul’s Cathedral.

(Click photos to zoom)

It makes me appreciate what a beautiful and very interesting country we live in where there is so much to see and cherish – gorgeous gardens and countryside, fascinating architecture and tourist attractions which are well worth the time and money.

My love of all things English is also a common theme running through my writing.

A Rambling Good Holiday in the Lake District – 10th June 2014

There are few places I have been, which offer quite such dramatic scenery as the Lake District – but ever since we arrived home from Cumbria, I’ve had this yearning to jot down the memories, while they’re fresh in my mind.

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We did in fact, have a little taster when we stayed in a friend’s family cottage on the way up to Scotland, last year; a time when it rained constantly, leaving us wondering what splendid views crouched behind the curtain of thick grey mist, surrounding Derwent Water. We were at least able to snatch a tiny glimpse of Buttermere, which was enough to lure us back there. So we arrived at the same rustic cottage, with its crumbly white walls, surrounded by a wild landscape of bumpy grass, dry stone walls and where our only neighbours were a few cows and hundreds of sheep.

On the first day, we set out for Skiddaw – but petrified by the first sight of a razor-sharp ridge leading to an impossibly high peak, we headed for nearby Mungrisdale (convenient, considering we forgot to pack my walking boots) so with little other choice than to walk in crocs, we opted for a gentler route. But neither myself or my husband are that fit! It took a couple of hours to slog up that never-ending hill. By the time we reached the top, I thought I was going to die – though, the views up there were stunning. Piles of rocks marked the 2,400 ft peak, before we picked our way cautiously down the heather cloaked hillsides to ‘the Tongue’ and back through the valley, before finally collapsing in The Mill Inn, for a well deserved drink.

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With aching calves, backs, sore feet and stiff bum muscles, we pursued day 2 at a slightly more moderate pace – starting with a visit to the stone circle known as ‘Long Meg and her Daughters,’ (Local legend claims that Long Meg was a witch who with her daughters, was turned to stone for profaning the Sabbath, as they danced wildly on the moor!)

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We also explored the village of Little Salkeld and discovered its beautiful watermill and organic teashop, where we stopped for coffee and toured the mill, before purchasing a loaf of their delicious wholegrain bread, along with shortbread and treacle flapjacks. We rounded off our day with a lovely walk, passing the old railway line, a patchwork of farmland and a beautiful river, before we arrived at some unusual caves, carved from reddish brown rock.

On the 3rd day we went our separate ways, where Peter and I visited Grasmere for the day. It’s a popular area, which draws an abundance of Japanese tourists, yet we discovered ‘Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread Shop’ a tiny kitchen, built in 1630, where we were able to purchase a few local goodies as gifts.

The highlight of our day, however, was a guided tour of Dove Cottage: home to the famous poet, William Wordsworth.

Sarah Nelson's Gingerbread Shop (L) and Dove Cottage (R)
Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread Shop (L) and Dove Cottage (R)

We were lucky to enjoy a day of sunshine, where his garden presented a relaxing haven, we found almost impossible to leave – a tranquil setting, filled with flowers and the chime of birdsong. We sat in a small wooden shelter, enjoying the mountain views, in between leafing through the poems – I even felt a compulsion to write something myself, in the little notebook I carry around, just so I can say “I wrote this paragraph in the garden of William Wordsworth” – hoping it might be a lucky omen.

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Two days of gentle sightseeing left us restless – time to venture out for another challenging walk and this time, we drove to Borrowdale; first to view some of the local beauty spots which included Ashton Bridge and Bowder Stone; before we attempted to stop at Lodore Falls. The weather was wet for the first time this holiday, which culminated in an entire day of almost non-stop rain; but it didn’t deter us, as we resolutely made our way to Rosthwaite, before heading up to Castle Cragg: another long, uphill trudge which gradually became steeper as we struggled to reach the top.

borrowdale-combi

Despite low cloud, mist and rain, the views were stunning. The homeward journey was nearly as challenging as my rain soaked boots squelched their way down the spongy, waterlogged hillsides. But a quick stop in the warming embrace of the ‘Flock In,’ teashop was a memory worth cherishing and serves sticky toffee pudding in two sizes: ramblers’ portion or plodders’ portion!

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Next day, and after the gruelling ordeal of Castle Cragg, we combined a driving tour with a slightly shorter walk, where nothing could compare with the enchanting beauty of Aria Falls. A tranquil woodland walk guided us gently uphill, via a series of steps cut into the footpaths, leading to magical views of the waterfalls, tumbling from various different levels.

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The rest of the day was taken up by a leisurely drive around Ullswater, taking in the stunning scenery of Kirkstone Pass and Troutbeck. We even managed a quick glance at the historic Yeoman’s farmhouse of Townend (now owned by the National Trust) though didn’t quite have enough time to visit.

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The last day was special and like a gift from the Gods, the sun came out – a perfect opportunity to indulge in a boat trip around Derwent water, where the waters reflected the sapphire blue light of the sky. As it was a ‘hop on hop off’ tour, we were able to stop at various points, where we finally got to see Lodore Falls – followed by an attempt to climb ‘Catbells’ though the weather was so sunny, we were satisfied to get half way up from where the views of the lakes took our breath away.

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Lastly, we had booked tickets to Keswick Beer Festival and with over 200 beers to choose from, it was difficult to know where to start. I’m not actually a big fan of tepid real ale! Though I did discover a brew known as Castle Rock ‘Screech Owl which possessed a sweet and pleasing flavour.

It really was a very nice holiday and we plan to go back. We only really explored the northern end of Cumbria, with the southern lakes yet to explore.

Bluebell Woods – Another beautiful feature of Britain – 28th April 2014

Whenever I am invited to write a guest blog, such as my recent ‘Teatime Interview’ courtesy of ‘A Woman’s Wisdom,’ I am often asked for a short bio: I nearly always make mention of the fact that my husband and I share a passion for long country walks and belong to a local walking group.

Of course, England is renowned for one thing, this time of year – BLUEBELLS. Which is one of the reasons we nearly always offer up a bluebell walk – and this year was no exception! Together we ventured up to Slindon Folly, to discover a woodland floor which was literally smothered in a carpet of rich purple. It’s such an amazing sight and these flowers sweeten the air with a most delightful floral fragrance.

Bluebell Woods in East Ashling
Bluebell Woods in East Ashling

But  English bluebells are sadly, becoming a species under threat as a result of the more invasive and larger Spanish bluebell. It is distinguished from the common bluebell by its paler, larger blue flowers, more erect flower stem, broader leaves, blue anthers (where the common bluebell has creamy-white ones) and little or no scent compared to the strong fragrant scent of the northern species. Wherever you see Spanish bluebells they can cross-pollinated with our indigenous ones – but as the Spanish variety is more dominant, they are slowly taking over. More worryingly, its distribution has also been increasing in woodland areas – the preferred habitat of the UK’s native bluebell and home to some of its oldest populations.

Hannah Briggs from the BBC quotes: “Native bluebell woodlands are one of Britain’s most iconic countryside images and we should make every effort to protect them.” See: www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17597489

All I can add is that we should cherish our native bluebells while we still have them – so visit your local beauty spot where they grow, take photos, publish them on social networks – and if you wish, please share this post!

A White variety of bluebell
A White variety of bluebell

Lastly, I couldn’t end this post without quoting a small extract from Book 2 VISIONS – since our lovely English countryside is always such a powerful inspiration behind my story writing:

“… Eleanor continued to absorb herself in the splendour of his estate, helplessly oblivious to the unravelling thread of events, about to alter their destiny. As Spring turned into summer, so they witnessed a gradual change in their surroundings; from the last bluebells of May, where a prolific carpet radiated an iridescent purple haze – to the towering spikes of foxgloves, alongside banks of intense blue delphiniums. By June, even the first roses had begun to reveal their beauty – a time when Eleanor had almost forgotten the troubles which had plagued them in the past. Charlie too, became fully immersed in his various building assignments – privileged to be in command of such an exciting restoration.”

For further information on my second novel, Visions, a psychological thriller based in the idyllic English countryside of Kent, check out my link on Amazon.