Obscure jewels

The great thing about Cumbria is that you can find almost unknown treasures just off the
beaten track.  Sometimes you wonder how they survive; others seem to be thriving
despite not being anywhere obvious, nor well-signposted.

1. Brampton to Longtown (7)An example is the delightful little museum at Bewcastle – out in the middle of wild, almost-unvisited, haunted Reiver country.  It doesn’t take long to look around, but it tells the story of Bewcastle for those lone visitors who trek up to this remote part of north Cumbria.

 

Today we went to Threlkeld Mining Museum, which sits within the Lake District National Park just outside sometimes-crowded (relatively speaking) Keswick.  It represents one of the contradictions of the Lake District, even of Cumbria itself: this now idyllically rural county once made its wealth from industry, the landscape being gouged to free various valuable minerals.  Copper, lead, slate, graphite and even coal have been taken from the fells, valleys and coast that sheep now roam over and walkers ramble across.

Threlkeld Mining Museum appears not much more than a collection of rusty excavators in a quarry at first glance, but spending some time there is rewarding.  There’s a short ride on a narrow gauge steam train which takes you up to a quarry which is still worked – perhaps recently most significantly to help repair the road past Thirlmere (Keswick to Ambleside) which collapsed when the side of Hevellyn suffered a major landslip in the floods of December 2015 – and a tour of the old mine workings.  The guides are informative and enthusiastic and you come away with an enhanced understanding of how unsafe and unhealthy conditions were working underground – children carrying large tubs of excretia away at the ends of shifts; pit ponies and men falling down shafts, to be left at the bottom to rot; poisonous lead; children laying explosives, made from goose quills filled with powder, at close range because they were more expendable than adults… the social history is fascinating and humbling.

The Museum has no flash modern cafe facilities but during the gap between our train ride and our underground tour, one of the Museum staff pointed us in the direction of the cafe in Threlkeld village (the excellent Village Coffee Shop).  This was another ‘find’.  The village is bypassed by the A66 but if you bother to turn off the main road and head into the village there is a sign for a cafe.   This is situated in a beautifully refurbished village hall with superb views across to the quarry and the fells beyond.  It’s a community enterprise project (I can’t remember the exact name) so the cafe is run by paid members of staff but any profit it makes is ploughed back into the community.  It’s no amateur tea-room either: the coffee was lovely, the cakes looked superb, and the toilets were clean and nicely decorated with fresh flowers.

And friends I Threlkeld Mining Museum April 2017 (1)worked with at British Waterways may be amused to see that one of BW’s rusty excavators now lives at the Mining Museum!

 

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Half term with the kids

Half term has been and gone in a flash.  Last weekend was David’s turn to have the children, although I had them on Friday night and Saturday night, which meant that I had time for a run on Askham Fell with Penny on Sunday.  Both of us had work to do so after a late lunch at the cafe at Askham Hall, it was time to head home.  I drove back over the hills rather than up the motorway, and came to the conclusion that one day I shall live in Penrith or Kirkoswald, high up a hill and with a view.

On Monday Edward and Bella were keen to go to Energi, the new(ish) trampolining place in Carlisle.  I jumped too… I’m not very good as whilst I don’t mind jumping high, I’m not very brave at jumping over on to the next trampoline – though I did manage it a few times.  I also landed on the hard bit in between a couple of times, which is rather jarring on the ankles.  I wonder if I was the oldest jumper in the place?  I’m now thinking it would be good to go to one of the ‘Energi Fit’ classes.

Tuesday I had a conference and choir, so the children were with David Monday night and Tuesday night and back to me on Wednesday morning.  We had various dentists and opticians appointments all week, Edward had a swimming lesson every afternoon, and Bella was booked on to a Robotics course on Wednesday.  She found it boring as all they did was make robots out of cardboard, but at least she didn’t learn how to hack the school computer and write rude things on it, which was what happened after the Coding course… we also did some cooking that afternoon – she made a flourless chocolate cake and I made banana cake.  As nobody wanted to eat the banana cake (none of us is a fan of bananas, it seems) we gave it away, and I understand it was enjoyed by the recipients.

On Thursday the ‘treat’ was the Lego Batman movie, along with popcorn and hotdogs.  It hasn’t been a particularly healthy week food-wise, the more so as the kids seem to be rebelling against my tendency to want to eat fish as my main protein rather than red meat.  So this week we have had spaghetti bolognese, chicken curry, and chilli with tacos – I’ve also made lamb tagine which I’m going to add butternut squash to before serving it with couscous, but I’m not sure what the trio’s reaction will be to that.

I had arranged to meet a friend at Whinlatter on Friday and as we drove down there the weather was colourful.  The sky was bright azure blue, the main central lakeland fells were covered in snow, and the plantlife was a mix of golden russet brown and vibrant-about-to-be-spring green.  The kids had a good time running around in the playground, although Alex tried to be too old and too cool for it.  Judging by my garden, spring is definitely on its way, and despite Storm Doris (a bit of a non-event up here in Cumbria), the weather hasn’t even been particularly cold.

Not until today, that is – and even then it was only cold on Talkin Fell.  Alex had a friend, Luke, to stay for the weekend.  We had a militaristic day yesterday with a visit to Carlisle Castle and the Regimental Museum followed by the Roman Gallery at Tullie House and then today decided we’d walk up Talkin Fell.

It all started well enough but became windier, wetter and wilder the higher we got.  Bella then fell over in some mud (as happened last time we went up there as well – spot the brown-ness of her black jeans), and the happy mood of the day changed to grumpiness.  As by then we were all getting colder and wetter we decided perhaps we wouldn’t go all the way to the top and eat our picnic up by the cairns: and the two older boys suggested sensibly that we should walk back to the car and eat the picnic in the car.

Edward has got happily filthy every day this holiday week; they have all eaten a lot of rubbish food (as well as plenty of good food as well) – and despite the inevitable arguments, anger and tellings off – it’s been a fab. week.

Almost a Final Farewell

“take the road less travelled and simply open your eyes” – Laurence Shelley

icarus

The end of a year makes most of us consider all sorts of things: what we have achieved in the past year; what we have learnt; how next year will be different; how this year compares with those that have gone before.  As we approach 2017 I am looking in to setting up my own business, continue to try to promote my singing and writing, and am also trying to get extra work.  More importantly I am in a different place emotionally (calmer, happier and more accepting) to where I was this time last year or even a few months ago.  I have become aware that I just can’t do everything: and blogging is one thing which may need to take a back seat.  I don’t feel at the moment as if I can add anything useful or enlightening and I am conscious that I have started repeating myself.  It feels as if this blog has now come to a natural end (unlike in Febuary, when I thought of finishing but actually was only at the beginning of an emotional journey).

I started blogging in April 2010 with UnemployedinCumbria on Blogspot.  It was intended to be a blog about getting a new job in a rural county which has a small, low-density, population and not much of a commercial property market (I’m a Chartered Surveyor by profession) – though I also wanted to change career.  I had more of a career change than I expected as I found to my surprise that I was pregnant with a third child – at age 48.  The blog ended up being about being pregnant in my late 40s, having a baby at age 49, and having no job and therefore a much-reduced household income.  We had also moved into a house which needed a bit of TLC so there are bits about my coming to terms with sorting out the garden as well – the children still remember my poisoning the fish in an attempt to rid the pond of algae…!

Once child no. 3 was lustily here I began to think about doing triathlon again, and started a blog which was meant to be more or less a training diary – Supervet-Sarah.  As this second blog developed I stopped the other, but the aim of once again competing regularly in triathlon and at ‘supervet’ (50+) age still hasn’t been achieved.  However it did track my training for Kielder Marathon at age 51 including various micro-adventurous training runs I did with Kerry, who also did Kielder, and during that time I did Kendal sprint triathlon – though very badly (I was slow on the swim and fell off my bike: First Triathlon in How Long? ). That blog ends rather abruptly in August 2014, shortly before David left.  The final words of the final post are “I’m very proud of my little girl” – something I need reminding of from time to time as she’s also very feisty and wilful so I frequently get cross with her, sometimes quite unfairly.

In early 2015 I started this blog.  There’s a hiatus between David leaving at the end of August 2014 and the start – a time when I adjusted to being ‘young (at heart) free and single’ again and to being without the children every other weekend.  By the end of the year I had come to the conclusion that 2014 was the year of broken things – my marriage, my washing machine and my dishwasher but on a less frivolous note sad ‘broken’ things happened to a lot of people.  They always do but I guess it’s how the year has been for you overall that remains in your memory.

By contrast 2015 was then a year of freedom, joy and passion.  I relished my new-found freedom and realised who I truly was.  By the middle of the year I was on a high – I got a new job; fell deeply and whole-heartedly in love with a man who had fallen passionately in love with me; and my singing seemed to be flying too: I had more confidence and performed solo more than I had previously, including arranging concerts for my group Eight + 1.  I flew high – but like Icarus I perhaps flew too high – too close to the sun – and like Icarus I crashed.

Unlike Icarus I had plenty of people to catch me before I hit the ground, and to support me, but it led to a challenging time and made 2016 a challenging year.  It has also been a year of farewells – obviously the usual round of celebrities have died, including David Bowie and Alan Rickman – but also people who were briefly part of my everyday life have moved – Chris who worked at Capernaum and left to join the navy; my lovely neighbours Margaret & David, who moved to Cornwall; and – sadly – Capernaum restaurant itself, which was one of my favourite restaurants ever – the children still judge food by ‘the Capernaum scale’ with few restaurants beating it.  It was also farewell to my friend Clare’s husband, Bob.  He had suffered from severe COPD for several years but hung on strongly for so long.  I am incredibly glad that Deborah and I went to sing Songs for Bob at their house in April, accompanied by Martin Johnson; I am sad that I missed the funeral; and I shall always appreciate the fact that he called me ‘Pocket Venus’.  Clare and her family at times have had more faith in me than I have had in myself.

At the same time however there were plenty of hellos and I got to do some travelling in a minor way, which is something I love and hadn’t done for ages.  I was pretty reclusive for the first part of the year, barely even going into the town centre where I live in case I bumped into anyone I knew and most of the time feeling desperate to run away abroad and ‘hide’.  Six months ago (June), just as I was finally coming out of my depression, I wrote “I want to learn Italian; do lots of long bike rides and write them up; travel; sing; write… and of course there has to be time for my surveying work, which is what, after all, pays the bills.  And I want to fit in some time for trail running out on those lovely hills or along by the sea; for yoga; and for meditation.”  I have in fact managed, to a greater or lesser extent, to do all those things.

As I look forward to 2017 I hope to travel more (I still have a yen to go abroad to do some voluntary work, but it’s difficult with children and needing to earn money to pay for things for them); to write (I need to finish my long bike ride and write it up); to sing (there are four gigs coming up for Bellissima and we now have our own Facebook page as well); to run and cycle; and to earn enough money, ideally doing things I love (fingers crossed for the job I have applied for, but for keeping doing surveying as well, as I have a great boss and I don’t want to let him down) and to perhaps start my own business.  And, of course, to spend time with my kids – if I can earn enough then I want to be able to take the whole of August off to spend it with them – my dream is to tour Northumbria in a camper van.  But who knows what the new year will hold – I learnt long ago that you can’t plan your life.  Things you want do happen, but rarely in the way you expect.

I learnt a lot of lessons in 2016.  One was about being true to myself, which I already knew I should do but which, I learnt, means that sometimes I need to swim against the pack and follow my instincts and my heart despite what anybody else says (I’ve done so in the past and proved people wrong… and if you don’t try then you never know, do you?).  Another lesson, again which I already knew but which was reiterated, was that there are different outlooks on life and none is right or wrong.  David and I separated; we are happier separated but we still get on.  For us – and for our children – that works, but it’s not the solution for everybody and not everybody can manage to be as amicable as we (mostly) are (we had an argument today – he came round to make peace, we had a chat and he gave me a brief hug.  We no longer love each other but we can at least get on and not use the children as emotional blackmail against each other – which I  hope is best for the children too.  I guess he’s sort of a friend – which is what he was before we got together so there’s a sense of resolution in still being at least on friendly terms).

Finally, I learnt that I can’t do everything.  Emotionally, physically, mentally or even in terms of time.  I have had to accept that Child Tax Credits may need to bolster my income if I want to spend enough time with my children as well as, importantly, allowing the creative side of me some outlet; I also have to accept that there are just not enough hours in the day to do everything I want to do.  I tried to do it all: to be a mother (teacher, taxi service, cook, housekeeper, gardener…), a writer, a singer, a lover, to keep fit, to work full-time and to commute, and it didn’t work.  2016 as much as anything has been about getting some balance back.  I’ve even said ‘no’ to some things – I didn’t sing with choir this term and I’m not going to be touring with them in May (I can’t afford to but more importantly I don’t want to go abroad without the children).  I have learnt over the past few years though that allowing the creative side of me some outlet is hugely important: it’s a fundamental part of who I am.  It’s not about being self-gratifying however but about how you can make it fit into a life where you have to provide for your children and do the washing up as well.

This blog has been great for getting my head straight and I hope I will look back at my posts and still enjoy reading them.  People have criticised me, mostly when they have felt criticised by me, but writing has always been a type of therapy for me.  Perhaps it shouldn’t be so public (though the maximum number of readers I have had for any post has been 210, which really isn’t that many) but if just one person has felt better because of a post I have written – if just one person has thought ‘yes, that’s how I feel too’ – then this blog has not been in vain.

From time to time there may perhaps be another, but for now this, my 99th post in this blog, is a farewell – with best wishes for the New Year to you all.

butterfly-in-hand

Club la Santa, Lanzarote

This is just a brief post with plenty of pictures as a short memento of a fantastic holiday.  ‘Thank you’ to my friend Penny, who was an easy travelling companion, and to my Mum who gave me a generous enough cheque for my birthday that I could afford to go back to Club la Santa for the FOURTH time (I hardly ever go back to exactly the same place twice – there are too many other interesting places to explore, but I always have a fab. time at Club la Santa).  It had been refurbished and extended since I last went and is now really nice and modern – and the showers are fantastic!

We flew out of the UK on a day when there was snow on the ground.  The weather on Lanzarote was not perfect all week – it was very windy for cycling – and we even wore jeans (rather than dresses/skirts) some evenings, and fleeces – but it was as good as many a British summer and great to be outdoors exercising almost all day every day.  We agreed we should try something new every day so in addition to running, swimming and cycling we did:

paddle boarding; a fitness class on paddle boards; deep water aqua; Zumba; aerial relaxation; aerial pilates (and, in my case, aerial yoga as well); TRX; body balance; body attack; body combat, Taiji Qigong… etc.

By bike we cycled:

to the Fire Mountains (the visitor centre en route is great – and free – and I love the way it’s still so hot underfoot in the mountains themselves that dry brushwood will catch fire);

past Playa de Fumara, up to the Monumento al Campesino and then along a very bumpy road through La Geria to then head back down from Tinajo to Club la Santa;

and up through Soo, Munique and Tiagua to Nazaret and a house that once belonged to Omar Shariff – Lag-Omar – but which is now a fascinating ‘museum’ come party venue (I think the guy trying to sell me some Aloe Vera products was also trying to chat me up… telling me that Aloe Vera would make me sexy and that I’d come back in two weeks and want to kiss him… hmm…).

I especially liked the way that many of the roads had ‘watch out for cyclists’ signs – I think it was only on the route of the Lanzarote Ironman, but shows how popular the island is for cyclists.  At 856 sq km there’s only really one ironman route available – as a comparison, Cumbria covers 6,768 sq km: but has a total of c.400,000 people to Lanzarote’s 139,000. Both of course have their populations boosted significantly by tourists – something which the Lanzarotians seem to welcome: they were all incredibly friendly and seemed delighted if you even spoke a couple of words in hesitating Spanish.

I’ve mentioned restaurants in a separate post. We were a bit disappointed by the ones at Club la Santa, other than La Plaza in the square (where we were served by a cute English waiter who was a bit of an Orlando Bloom look alike).  Restaurant Atlantico is great for enormous quantities of food; El Lago was disappointing for what it seemed to be trying to achieve, although they make a lovely gin and tonic.  Talking of gins and tonics, the Welsh barman in the Sports Bar was a bit of a gin expert and took ages creating two masterly gin and tonics – he likes Martin Miller, which is one I had come across, bought and particularly liked when I had a dinner party recently.

So it was a week of lovely weather and fresh air, exercise as well as relaxation, food and drink.  It was good for the mind and soul as well as the body, and I was a little sad to come home.  One day I would love to take the kids there, as I’m sure they’d enjoy it too.

Restaurants

I haven’t had much money for eating out this year – it’s been a difficult year emotionally and financially, although both have improved as time has gone on.  Unfortunately with the latter, as soon as I think things are improving they seem to go pear-shaped again – the latest being an unexpected tax bill which has arisen not through my error but due to HMRC’s ineptitude with my PAYE… that having been said, I have no doubt they will still want me to pay it (bang goes the lump sum from one of my pensions, which was going to pay for some house repairs and garden maintenance).

Still, despite that I have been on some brilliant trips this year and therefore eaten out in some fantastic places.  There isn’t really any one restaurant which stands out in Italy – all the food is so fantastic, and as everybody says, the ice cream is out of this world.  But I’ve mentioned The Bridge restaurant in St Asaph, North Wales and Bella and I enjoyed Carluccio’s in London.

Then in Lanzarote recently a friend and I came across what is possibly one of the best restaurants I have ever eaten in in my entire life: Alma tapas & + (Alma tapas y mas) in La Santa village on the north west coast of the island.  We’d been a bit disappointed with most of the food on-site at Club la Santa and had tried the restaurant Verde Mar in la Santa village one evening – which was good, as was The Plaza within the Club la Santa complex itself.  We had decided we’d go back to the Verde Mar and so walked into la Santa village on the penultimate night of the holiday.  For some reason when we got there we thought we’d look to see what other restaurants there were – Penny had spotted a tapas bar one day when we’d been cycling through, though neither of us was particularly keen to have tapas.  We spotted the restaurant and liked the decor and the look of the menu… and headed in.

Alma tapas & + is a tapas bar during the day and a fully fledged restaurant at night – and Wow is it some restaurant.  The service was excellent with friendly, good-natured staff who seemed to be happy in their jobs and who were attentive without being intrusive but who were quick to respond when customers wanted something – they even seemed to like my attempts to speak Spanish, which as usual I got muddled up with Italian.  The freshly baked bread rolls were not made in house but were local, and were served warmed up with the local ‘mojos’ – a green and an orangey sauce/dip which we had been served each evening that we’d ordered bread and which are delicious (I’m just not totally sure what’s in them!).

Our main courses that day were Lamb for me and Fillet Steak for Penny – despite the fact that both of us tend to eat fish rather than red meat.  Both dishes were beautifully presented, cooked perfectly and served with a delicious selection of ‘al dente’ vegetables.  For dessert I chose a hazelnut mousse with a crispy coffee base and I think, from memory, also a layer of dark chocolate.  It was incredibly light and foamy and absolutely fantastic (and I don’t normally go for desserts).  Then, just as we were about to pay and to leave, we were offered a liqueur on the house – as they didn’t have any limoncello they offered us a grapefruit-based liqueur which again was delicious, partly as it had a lovely sharpness to it as well as the sweetness of a liqueur.

The meal was so fantastic that we opted to go there again on the final night.  This time we both had a starter as well as the bread and mojos and I ordered the Thai lobster bisque which had tempted me the day before.  This was a light, spicy soup served with some pieces of lobster, which is something I haven’t eaten since I last ate it in Capernaum bistro over a year ago, but which I love (I first tried lobster in Greece, where you could pick your lobster out of a tank where it was swimming around…).  The blend of flavours worked perfectly and I adored the fact that it wasn’t a creamy, cloying soup.

As Penny had sung the praises of the fillet steak so highly the evening before I was torn between tuna and steak, and in the end opted for the steak.  It was really melt in the mouth stuff, and later when the Brazilian owner came round she told us how they ensure it remains so succulent and soft.  Despite being full by then it was difficult to resist having a dessert, and this time it was an airy, foamy mango mousse with a white chocolate ‘cream’ beneath it.  I seem to remember the creamy base was made with yoghurt so again it was not too sweet and was of a heavenly lightness.  Desserts that light and foamy seem just to slip down as if they have no calories at all!

Despite being far busier on this second evening the service was again excellent, and we left feeling a little sad that we hadn’t discovered this superb restaurant sooner.  But I hope very much that it prospers and continues to excel.  You can be sure that next time I’m on Lanzarote I know exactly where I am going to eat.  I’m just sorry that despite taking my camera with me, I completely forgot to take any photos as I was enjoying my food so much!  You can see some of their creations on their Facebook page though – click here.