Returning to my roots

My life has come full circle.  Many of my earliest memories come from Sandhutton, current population 260, where my mother was head teacher of a two-teacher school which educated all the village children between five and fifteen years old.  These days I visit the village weekly – it’s less than ten miles away.  The school no longer exists, but my Spanish teacher lives there.

There we are. Sandhutton School, c.1951, just before I started there.

When I was five, my life changed a bit.  We went to live in London (current population 8.13 million).

A trip down the Thames: nearly at Westminster now.

I was a student in Manchester (538,000).  Then I went on to live in Portsmouth, in Wakefield, in Sheffield, in Leeds: all cities numbering their citizens in the tens,or even hundreds of thousands.  I loved city life.  I relished the opportunities only a city could usually offer, and the diverse populations living in them.

One of my favourite places in Manchester: The John Rylands Library. Who wouldn’t feel a real scholar in these surroundings?

When we moved to Harrogate, some twenty years ago, I announced we were moving to a small town.  A mere 75,000 people lived there.

Harrogate: one of its many open spaces: the Valley Gardens.

But that was before we went to France.  Laroque d’Olmes has a population of some 2,000 people, and its county town, Foix, has only 10,000. We came to appreciate small town life: its neighbourliness and our sense of belonging – the space to appreciate the countryside and mountains beyond.

The street near the church in Laroque, with the Pyrenees in the distance.

When we came back to England, that small town of Harrogate suddenly seemed horribly large, traffic-infested and in every way untenable, despite its green spaces and lively community life.  So here we are in North Stainley, population 730.

In fact we’re not even in the village, but in a little enclave just outside, with that walled garden I showed you last week.  Population 8.  It’s perfect.

One of North Stainley’s three village ponds.


Lens Artists Photo Challenge #64: Countryside or small towns.

Peace in the Garden

We’ve had Team London here this week: an engagingly exhausting three year old and his baby sister make great company, but we’ve had a tendency to disappear to our beds not long after they do, and be snoring sweetly by 10.00 o’clock at the latest.  However, in among exploring York, farmyard life, a canal, and the Wild Woods at the bottom of the garden, we had a day at Harlow Carr, the RHS gardens in Harrogate.

It provided William with plenty of Things to Do Before he’s 11 3/4:  roll down a hill; go barefoot; watch a bird and have fun with sticks for instance.  He and Zoë were very happy.

But for us, despite their bright enthusiasm for all there was to see and do, it was a green oasis, a haven of peace.  We were content, strolling along the quiet paths, or beside a stream, sharing our space with bees, butterfies and birds.

Click on any image to view full size.

My entry for today’s Ragtag Challenge: Peace

Baden-Baden. Not twinned with Harrogate …

… but it ought to be. Both are – or were – spa towns. Both attracted a better class of visitor keen to cure ailments by drinking and bathing in the health-giving waters.  In my opinion, Harrogate should have won hands down in attracting visitor numbers. Its sulphurous waters, reminiscent of bad eggs, are truly horrible, and must therefore do you good. The waters of Baden-Baden are without taste, though hot. No pain, no gain.

Baden-Baden welcomed visitors to this splendid railway station, now a concert hall. 

Harrogate station is nothing to write home about.

Harrogate has the Pump Rooms and the Turkish Baths. Baden-Baden’s two thermal baths are extensively elegant affairs. After taking the cure, Harrogate can offer the Promenade in the Valley Gardens, while visitors to the German city can enjoy their promenade at the Trinkhalle.

Finally, Harrogate is girdled by magnificent green belt of the Stray.  Baden-Baden’s visitors have instead the equally delightful Lichtentaler Aller.

We had a mere four hours in Baden-Baden today. It deserved longer. But it’s Strasbourg tomorrow, and the European Parliament. We can’t wait.

Bean and Bud

bbc-1We love Bean and Bud.  Without a visit to this coffee (and tea) shop, no visit to Harrogate is complete.  It’s a compact and friendly place, on a busy little street filled only with small independent and charity shops.

Bean and Bud sets the gold standard by which all cups of coffee should be judged. Choose between one of their two weekly featured beans – or something else if you prefer – and your coffee will never be churned out, just because they’re busy. Your cup will be perfectly prepared, with attention to every detail – a glass of iced water with your espresso, for instance.

They got our loyalty the first time we went.  For years, every coffee shop we’ve visited has lazily assumed that Malcolm, as the Real Man in the relationship, would need the espresso, whereas the Little Lady (me) would require a version with milk in.  Actually it’s the other way about, and Bean and Bud made it their business to find out – and then remember – our preferences.

I don’t care for tea much (yes, I am English) but friends who do admire the speciality loose leaf teas, weighed and brewed for just the right amount of time.  Perhaps I ought to give them a go.

 At lunch time, there are just a few types of sandwich on offer, but they’re on decent bread, well-filled with proper ingredients – local cheese, good serrano ham, fresh zingy salads, home-made chutneys.  But could you resist the home made cakes?  They’re not airy calorie-fests filled with cream and topped with thick layers of icing, but densely flavoured with gingered treacle, poppy seeds, bitter chocolate, citrus zest.

Come with a friend, and you’ll find a cosy corner to sit and chat while your coffee or tea is made.  If you’re alone, there’s a decent selection of newspapers to read.  This is a Daily Mail free zone.


There, I’ve gone and made myself nostalgic for another of their fine espressos.  Time to plan the next visit.


In which Cie Carabosse sets Harrogate aflame

Thursday night was brilliant.  Brilliant in every way.  Apart from anything else, it was an evening of simple joy at being part of an evening’s festivities shared with equal pleasure among both friends and strangers.

The next day we woke up to a Brexit-dominated world, and simple joy has become rather hard to find.

We arrived at Harrogate’s Valley Gardens as dusk fell .  These gardens are among Harrogate’s treasures – 17 acres of lawns, of colourful flowers, of pinewoods, a small lake, of historic buildings such as the Sun Pavillion, all beautifully managed and greatly appreciated by locals and visitors alike.

Normally, by dusk, there’s only the odd dog-walker around.  Thursday was different – Friday and Saturday too.  We spotted  lines of flaming plantpots strung on simple metal frames.  There were smouldering lampshade-like creations. Then we found spherical braziers suspended from stands of mature trees..  There were eccentric bits of machinery, reminiscent of the work of Rowland Emmett, that played with the idea of juxtaposing showers and jets of water with flickering flames and occasional startling fireballs. There were quantities of men’s vests – yes, vests – re-purposed as lampshades suspended over the lake, which became, as darkness fell, an evermore magical and mysterious venue.

Cie Carabosse was in town.  They’re a French street theatre company whose specialist subject is fire in all its forms.  Its members are a playful band of people who aim to transform a space that may have long been familiar into … something else.  Dressed formally in black, rather in the manner of croque-morts (pall-bearers or undertakers),  they wandered round the park, illuminating braziers, attending to some of those hand-cranked machines.  We ambled round too.  Apart from a band of musicians playing atmospherically over in the back corner, there was no event, no ‘happening’.  Everyone enjoyed simply exploring at their own pace, visiting and revisiting this installation, that glade of fires, those vests down at the lakeside, savouring the atmosphere as dusk became black night, as fires grew, damped down, and blazed forth once more.

Cie Carabosse travel all over the world.  They’ll be in London in September as part of the commemoration of the Great Fire of London, 350 years ago.  They’ll be in Seoul, South Korea in October –  so maybe Emily could get to see them.  And they’ll be in the Ariège, in Foix, in December.  One way or another, I hope many of you will have the chance to have your evening set alight by Cie Carabosse before the year is out.

The 36 bus

The 36 bus leaving Leeds for Ripon (Wikimedia Commons)
The 36 bus leaving Leeds for Ripon (Wikimedia Commons)

Everyone loves the 36 bus.  It’s the one that takes us from out in the sticks of Ripon, via Harrogate to Leeds.  It’s the one with plush leather seats, 4G wi-fi, USB points at every seat.  It’s the one with a book-swap shelf where I always hope to find a new title to enjoy, while bringing in one of my own to swap.  And best of all, we old fogeys travel for free on the 66 mile round trip.

The book-swap shelf wasn't very exciting today. But I found a Fred Vargas to read.
The book-swap shelf wasn’t very exciting today. But I found a Fred Vargas to read.

Best get to the terminus early though.  Everyone’s jockeying for the best seats, the ones at the front of the top deck, where you can watch as the bus drives through the gentle countryside separating Ripon from Harrogate, via Ripley, a village which the 19th century Ingleby family remodelled in the style of an Alsatian village, complete with hôtel de ville.  After the elegance of Harrogate and its Stray, there’s Harewood House – shall we spot any deer today? Then shortly after, the suburbs of The Big City, which gradually give way to the mixture of Victorian and super-modern which characterises 21st century Leeds.

We had lots to do in Leeds today (more of that later, much later) and had a very good time being busy there.  But much of our fun for the day came from sitting high up in that 36 bus, watching the world go by.  For free.

The back end of a bus.
The back end of a bus.

Corrina and friends


Do you fancy coming out to lunch with me?  I know a nice place we could go – it’s only been open for a few days.  We tried it out on Monday, and we’ll be back.

Corrina and Friends Community Café is no ordinary caff, though you might think it’s just another cheerful addition to the high street when you spot its bright blue facade and funky decor.  Friendly staff will greet you as you walk in, and present you with a menu.

But what’s this? There are no prices mentioned.  That’s because you’re invited to ‘pay as you feel’.  You’ll slip the sum you decide to pay into an envelope, and nobody will be any the wiser about how much you think your meal was worth.  Those staff who welcomed us were all volunteers, and so were the cooks in the kitchen.  This is why, according to their website:

‘With no set prices, customers pay what they feel the meal is worth or what they can afford. At the end of each day the café will open its doors to Harrogate’s homeless and vulnerable – all produce left over at the end of the day will be given away to those in need. All profits will go back into helping Harrogate District’s homeless and vulnerable people.’

Corrina's partner up-cycled these catering-sized tins into up-to-the-minute lampshades.
Corrina’s partner up-cycled these catering-sized tins into up-to-the-minute lampshades.

Corrina Young and her friends make a redoubtable team.  They’ve persuaded  businesses  to give their surplus food, or food which is still fresh at the end of the day, but has reached its sell-by date, to the cafe.  Individuals have donated dry goods, tinned goods, storage space, kitchen equipment and white goods.  Local groups have organised whip-rounds and raffles.  Others have donated paint and their skills as painters and decorators to make the place look clean, smart and inviting. Corrina herself raised money last month by getting people to sponsor her when she spent 72 hours in a skip outside her business premises (yes, she has a day-job as well)

Corrina seems to have endless energy and enthusiasm.  Wanting to do something worthwhile, in December 2013, she and her family and friends provided a Christmas meal for the homeless and vulnerable.  The idea developed and quickly became a weekly two-course meal.  Yes, Harrogate, prosperous and successful spa town, contrary to appearances, knows all about poverty and homelessness.

By then, people were beginning to talk about The Real Junk Food Project in Leeds.  Alarmed by increasing food waste, a chef, Adam Smith, developed a café in Armley that uses exclusively food destined for landfill: all that stuff that food retailers, especially supermarkets, are legally obliged to junk because it’s reached its sell by date, but not the end of its life.  Corrina was inspired by his work.  But her motivation is slightly different.  She wants to help prevent food waste.  But above all, she wants to help the homeless.  Getting a good hot meal inside someone who hasn’t the means of cooking is only the first step. But a very important one.

A busy day.  Photo: Mandy Lotts.
A busy day. Photo: Mandy Lotts.

So….. a café for the cash-poor homeless then, using where possible the food that’s had to be discarded by other shops.  That’s not sustainable.  But a café that attracts a wider paying public?  That might just work.  It brings the project to life.  A paying public have a jolly good meal, see what the project’s achieving, pay what they feel for what they’ve just eaten, maybe make a donation.  And at 5 o’clock, the café closes….and immediately re-opens its doors to the homeless and vulnerable.

These non-paying customers choose what to eat by looking at this board, covered in post-its.

People who’ve donated money write a ‘serving suggestion’ on their post-it, and the café users who come in at 5.00 chose a couple of these, and hand them over in lieu of payment.  They’ll eat what’s listed on the post-it.  Here’s what some people have written:P1190641

‘Soup and a toastie, Hannah x’

‘Coffee and a cake, George.’

‘Something hot and tasty. Love, Alison xx’

‘Eat what you fancy. Enjoy! Lee x’

We didn’t want  a big meal, so Malcolm and I had home-made soup.  Then we shared a cheese and ham toastie, and after that, we thought the cakes looked nice……  We’d had a great time, and Corrina made time to talk to us.  She’s found 2 more supporters in us.  She’s got 47 people begging to be considered as volunteer waiting staff.  All the profits that the café makes will be ploughed back into helping the target community.  The long-term aim is to resource, help and empower those people who are so vulnerable in today’s harsh economic and political climate.

Here's Corrina, in her bright pinny, ready to welcome customers.
Here’s Corrina, in her bright pinny, ready to welcome customers.

Congratulations, Corrina and friends  You’re an inspiration.