Nov 3 2014

I have not taken a photo of the egg in the cafe at Asda. Sorry.

‘Tinned mushrooms or fresh?’ she asks. ‘Err, ‘fresh’ I answer wondering if this is a quick stealthy question to ascertain my class. Then I realise that is unlikely.

She slops the mushrooms onto my plate, the mushrooms from the same stainless steel vat, the only stainless steel vat containing mushrooms. I feel I have only been given the illusion of choice. I am already angry about the mushrooms. More angry than the situation merits.


Starving on the outside of an industrial estate at 9am on a Sunday due to an ill-fated walk to a car boot sale means I am here. Being angry about a meat- free breakfast in Asda as an unsteady queue forms behind me and a beautiful morning forms outside.


I refuse to ask if the eggs are free-range in case I sound poncy.  Instead I ask for mushrooms instead of the clammy looking eggs.

‘Can’t do that, mushrooms are extra.’

‘But it is instead of the egg- I don’t want the egg.’

‘Mushrooms are extra.’

‘Ok, I’ll have no egg and extra mushrooms.’

Then I stew in middle-class annoyance, spite, pettiness and thrift.’

‘Actually, I’ll have the egg then IF I HAVE TO PAY FOR IT’.


Then I realise I have the egg.


It bleeds anaemically through a snotty white viscous.  I try to shove it away from my shockingly highly priced tinned/fresh ‘extra’ mushrooms ( I do not want to pay four pounds for a meal under this level of light) but it spurts a sad yellow pus with the fury of a bad horror film from Mexico over my lurid tepid beans, my ‘Glamorgan’ sausages and a hard half of raw tomato.

And how much pus there is! The yellow fingers slide and seep under every item, veritably lift it up and sweep it along in congealing tentacles. It is the colour, the just off white Dulux ‘ Jaundice Dawn’ seeping towards me in jellyfish waves, flecks of raw albulum floating like jetsam to come to break gently on the wreckage of the slimy mushrooms.

I wish I did not have to pay for toast.

I wish I had not walked two miles with a three year old to have nothing but this and a scratched DVD of Fireman Sam to show for it.

I wish I had not eaten it.

Jun 30 2012

Cartmel is posh but I am not.

Cartmel is the poshest place in the world. Seriously.

And I used to live in Bath.

This scares me.

I do not know where 20 fags and some Tampax could possibly be purchased here. The residents here must live on over embellished cupcakes, unpasteurised ewes milk cheese cut from a block and a sense of their own self-satisfaction.

It is undeniably a staggering beautiful village, the sort of village you imagine in a trench when about to be shot to death because it is the Essence of England, like something Cath Kidson has spewed up in a dotty bunting bedecked dream in the Cotswolds.

Being sort of hidden somehow between Lancashire and Cumbria, on minor A roads, you are expecting a small village that excels in its rightly famous sticky toffee pudding and the Priory that you have read about somewhere and feel you should really go and look at and pretend to be interested in even though you are actually only interested in the haunted gatehouse that you read about in a rubbish local book about ghosts you were embarrassed to be seen ordering from the library.

Oh and L’Enclume, the famous Michelin starred restaurant which has unlikely foams and things and you secretly hope that there might be a two for a tenner lunch special even though you are actually aware that won’t ever ever happen.

There are waving meadows in front of hanging basket-bedecked cottages, the cottages all have names engraved on little slabs, and tasteful dust free antiquities are displayed on quaintly gnarled windowsills.

A woman is splashed (oh so slightly) by a car and when I smile and make a sympathetic joke, she keeps repeating the word ‘idiots’ and she is very angry indeed. It was only a small puddle but the car had young people in which I suspect may have been the problem.

The centre is bigger than expected; should one wish to have a nice cup of coffee, there is so much competition there is clearly controversy galore as one coffee shop also delighting in the excitement and daring of selling sodding cupcakes, (prostituted tarted up fairy cakes) has a sign that says ‘best coffee in town or your money back’. I like Community in Action.

I am nearly run over by a Bentley, which I am a bit pleased by. There is a fiver in my purse and some coins and I feel rich rich rich with my paper money knocking splendidly about but a sticky dense loaf of three cheese and marmite bread from the bakery and a Cartmel Apple and Toffee Crumble Bake has knocked me into overdraft.

The Priory is glorious but I feel guilty as do not have the politely requested three pound donation so post all my remaining cash through the slot where it gleams with accusing copperiness. The bread won’t fit through, anyway the marmite and three cheeses will surely jam up the hole so I run around quickly, trying not to get three pounds worth of viewing. If it crumbles into a ball tomorrow, it is my entire fault. But the bread was worth it.

A Farrow and Balled pub up a side street has the classic meal deal of soup and sandwich but for a tenner. The nearby L’ Enclume is indeed so classy and non ‘two for a tenner’ there is not a menu outside, nor indeed any sign it is in fact a place to eat. It could be a media hub in Shoreditch or an Anorexic clinic for supermodels in Richmond were it not for the fact that there is an ancient cat on a windowsill opposite sticking its tongue out at me and yet another pony has just gone past.

It is hard here, to imagine the reality of the recession, which is why it might be so bustling.

If you can afford the petrol to get here and a tenner to spend on cupcakes and coffee, you feel like a Barclay Brother. A woman cheerily bemoans to the staff in the bakery (a bakery so posh it sells virtually only bread) that she will simply never get the time to read her ‘papers’- (the Daily Telegraph was tucked under her arm) but she ‘buys them anyway’.

I look at my toddler leaning dangerously and angrily away from me, coated in Smartie Batter and consider leaving him here. Like a pub cat, he would be fed on lovely tit bits by tourists and well heeled locals, be patted and smiled upon and probably be extremely happy.

Then as I look upon a cheeseboard and wine platter, displayed vividly and erotically upon a chalkboard, I decide to simply sell him instead.

Jul 13 2011

Gisburn Forest

I do not like Gisburn forest. We have traveled through undulating wildness-the vast windswept expanse of The Trough of Bowland to arrive at somewhere with a range of differently named carparks and colour coded walks. There is dog poo in the carpark as a small child calls joyously out about but no toilet for humans, just extravagant family saloons with mountain bikes strapped on the top and a small girl weeing against a tree. I want a wee too but here there is all the inconvenience of humanity without the good bit of municipal toilets.

We follow the ‘blue trail’ around the reservoir along a track wide enough to get vehicles down and with the forest tucked politely away along the side like an embarrassing afterthought. The forest looks a bit rubbish but I am only looking at it in terms of a suitable quiet weeing experience rather than looking at its history, flora and fauna. I like ancient snarled woodland, not tall immaculate conifers, factory farmed and non-life giving. Forests are dead on the inside where evergreens flourish and you hear little birdsong. No rabbits bob ahead and you know you will not come across a ruined hermits hut or ancient burial mound. It is the Ikea experience of a day with nature. We follow the blue markers, do not veer off the beaten track, have a nice time and natter but it is a strangely sterile way to commune with nature when we are surrounded by mile upon mile of moorland, wild, cold and desolate. I do not know what the rest of Gisburn forest is like. It may be stunningly diverse, humming with wildlife and dripping in history but I shall judge it from my hour spent poncing about its periphery with people who want to escape the beaten track but don’t want the inconvenience of the unbeaten.

To Slaidburn and The Hark To Bounty, an olde olde pub and former court room dating back to the 1300’s in a rambling grey village where little seems to have changed for hundreds of years although peoples teeth are probably better. The Hark To Bounty is comfortable, friendly and quaint without making a big song and dance about it. There is free homemade bread and butter, which makes me more excited than it should. As a vegetarian obsessed with bargains it upsets me more than it should that there is roast dinner offer –two Sunday dinners including two soups for fifteen quid but with no vegetarian option. But an artery-clogging dish of two baked eggs with cheese, cream, leeks and spinach for a fiver is the ultimate in comfort food and my boyfriend has a slab of cheese and leek pie the size of a sharks fin.

We drive back trying not to pulverize bunnies whose tiny pathetic corpses litter the winding road through valleys and mountains, past streams and copses and just the vast vast majesty of nature that makes Dartmoor look like a children’s play park. Maybe the immense emptiness of it all scares people. There are few walkers or tourists here in the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It is almost claustrophobic in its intensity and we feel very very small, fragile and temporary as those tiny furry scraps bleeding onto the road.

And maybe this is why people stick to colour coded trails and look at nature from a safe distance.

Jun 6 2011


We are sitting in a ‘café with a conscience,’ the Buddhist run World Peace café and it cares about you very much and also the planet. For a small vegetarian cafe that sells nachos and halloumi baguettes, its aim is somewhat high and I hope Somalia and Yemen are listening when I order my cauliflower and nutmeg soup.

There are Buddhist books to read and meditation CDs for sale. The sun streams in from the flower bedecked garden and some gentle music is playing. Then a man decides to play all the different ring tones on his phone. Loudly. Sadly Buddhism is not the religion of a vengeful God.

We are in Ulverston on a blistering early June day and I have decided to move here. It is the best place I have ever been to I declare over my second cider and I am so overexcited that I just point at pretty much everything and say it is wonderful. I stop when I realize I have getting excited over some breezeblock stairs (circa 1989)

Ulverston is a pretty higgledy-piggledy market town in the Lake District yet not impossibly cutesy and swamped by tourists. It is grey, quaintly austere and surrounded by hills. Houses are for sale at well under a hundred grand, there are fancy shops including an excellent chocolatier alongside more prosaic ones and those seemingly unchanged since 1902. A bargain food shops boxes upon boxes of crisps spill out onto the street and including those fancy ones they sell in pubs are all for sale for 10p a packet. Cans of Cocoa Cola and Dr Pepper (in a fridge no less) are 30p a can. It is a skint bulimics dream within its shambolic interiors with Thorntons chocolates for a quid and various other delicious unhealthy cheap cheap goodness. It must be amazing to be a child here. A quid in Ulverston could easily tip you into a dangerous body mass index. I feel slightly ashamed of my trans fat spewing plastic bags but impressed that they only came to £2.54.

Anyway the real reason we are here is to visit Harmonic Fields, an installation that is part of the Lakes Alive season of festivity.

I am used to getting somewhat overexcited by amazing sounding things and then being crushingly disappointed but here on Birkrigg common is a piece of magic.

There is an orchestra playing a symphony but there are no musicians here, just the wind, earth and sky. The sea shimmers below and moorland stretches for infinity. Strung up and silhouetted by the blazing empty blue of the sky are musical instruments, 500 of them and all wind powered. Enormous bamboo organs and cellos along with more abstract musical equipment, long strips of rubber, scarecrows, gongs and harps all arranged into four sections with the wind the conductor and dictating which instruments will be playing and when and how loud or quiet they will be. It’s a fantastic idea that seems too amazing and overblown for reality but due to composer and artist Pierre Sauvageot, it works, it really works. It is so alive and interactive, this is not art to simply stare at-by walking around in and out of the bamboo organ pipes is when you hear the different timbres, by putting your head in a gong, you hear the gong. And depending on where the wind is and where the listener is, everyone hears something completely different. Despite loving music I am a tone deaf Luddite with all the subtle complexities of a Sham 69 album but even I can tell this is something pretty damn special. It is classical, natural and spectacular-kids run around, yummy mummies with three wheeled pushchairs natter, there are men with dreadlocks and posh looking people who utter sentences like quotations.  The more people run around the installations, the more they enjoy it-a couple stare at the organ pipes and declare it silent but if they weaved in and out of it like excited three year olds they would have heard it and thus by trying to look cool they make themselves look stupid-like with yoof with overtight neon jeans.

Back down into Ulverston and the excitement of finding yet another exclusively vegetarian establishment-Gillams is a cozy tearoom and café that has been in the family for around two hundred years and is what Americans possibly think all England is like. We have a bubbling oozy rarebit and a cheese and chili jam puff with salad, coleslaw and baked potato, a posh lemonade and an excellent bottle of organic pleasingly strong cider with the bill coming to about seventeen quid which I consider eminently reasonable for a place where the staff have the name of the establishment on their clothes.

I think of the fact we have resolved not to eat out ever again after finding all the water in the attic and feel somewhat guilty but as a vegetarian, to find an exclusively vegetarian establishment and not enter it, seems somewhat wrong. Not as wrong as the Armenian genocide I admit, I am making poor excuses but I like food, am a lazy cook and am sick of years of eating out as a vegetarian having less chance of a happy outcome than playing Russian Roulette. Unless you like paying nine quid for a fucking goats cheese tartlet the size of a babies fist as all your companions merrily delve into a cacophony of farmyard.

Ulverston saves its best for last, one of those obscure haphazardous charity shops down a little lane which practically scream ‘here be treasure’ but it being 2011, the treasure not being antiquarian maps of long lost counties but a Thomas The Tank Engine pop up book where the pop up bits have not been savagely ripped off and eaten for 50p. And a dress from the pound hanger (something tragically disappearing from the modern charity shops in favour of stupid expensive calendars featuring grinning Balinese children in woven hats) that will look lovely once I can fit my arms into it-I suspect the precious owner might also have been delighted by the array of close to expiry enchantments within the Bargain Food shop. Oh and some sunglasses for 30p. 30p! Only in Ulverston does 30p give you a veritable choice of things to purchase.  Or indeed the knowledge that your purchase goes towards making the world a better place for the earth and all residing on it should you wish to spend two pound something on a delicious fresh smoothie from an ethical establishment rather than rot your teeth on nasty tasty cheap yummy carcinogenic 30p diet coke. Although they did also have Appletiser.

And in a small town, who could ask for more?

May 1 2011

A journey through red, white and blue

It is the day of the royal wedding. I had previously hoped most people immune but suddenly certain thickets of The North have become middle England and bunting spreads like Japanese knotweed.

We are in Rufford to go for a walk starting in its Old Hall. The Old Hall is closed. So then to the cringingly named ‘Owd Barn’, teashop, craft shop etc. It is also closed and the bunting in the window suggests why which makes it even more annoying.  We turn around to escape in a suburban cul de sac and there is a street party being set up with a bbq being wheeled out which is probably worth more than our house.  I suspect our U-Turn will be discussed for many weeks.

It’s my own fault-I should not expect too much anarchy, mayhem and cheap house doubles when perusing an ancient copy of Lancashire Tea Shop Walks when deciding what to do with the day.

We try to escape through miles of flatly pretty landscape but there still remains bunting, Union Jacks, smart lawns on detached post war houses with neatly manicured lawns.  I fear suspicious eyes, weak Pimms, Daily Mail headlines considered truth and to end up here bitching emptily until I die and even Neighbourhood Watch don’t realise despite the terrible smell. It is blandly terrifying and I am glad and relieved when I find evidence of witchcraft in the woods.

As the world gawps at posh people in terrible hats, I am looking at cairns and mini standing stones bedecked with curiously fresh wild flowers. It is the work of children I sadly conclude and continue to walk but the constructions, deep in Fairy Glen, near Appley Bridge become more elaborate. Here is the outline of a horse filled with leaves and now a human shape bedecked with bluebells and dandelions that have not yet withered in the unseasonal Easter heat.

It is exciting yet annoyingly unsinister here in this strip of well-managed woodland. Too pretty to be anything dark yet too well executed to be the work of children it is a beguiling mystery that is probably easily explained but I do not wish it to be. I suspect Emos on art foundation degrees. I want it to be ethereal sprites working whimsical mysterious charms in this snippet of ancient woodland besmirching suburbia. But I still wonder at why the flowers were not dead-we were there before midday and the art in the woods must have taken some time-it can only have been done at night. I hope I never find out.

Southport is in the throes of royal wedding fever but it is the sort of place I can’t imagine not being in fervour over moneyed gentility. A charity shops’ red white and blue wedding display has the cunning adornment of blue and red dog bowls presumably in the lack of anything more genteel and royal coloured.

Indeed, like the royal family, Southport is grandiose, fashionable but laughable as it keeps up its pretence of modernity. There is some amazing architecture here, art deco, Victorian, Georgian palaces, slums in varying states of decay and modern redevelopments shoulder each other along the boulevard which was the inspiration for Paris. Apparently. For a seaside town, the sea is kept at a distance, nasty dirty sea. We don’t even see it. It is finally tamed, entrenched, hidden politely behind ornate arcades of dying posh shops you are too scared to enter in case the proprietor is too enthusiastic and you know you can purchase it cheaper on the net but feel so bad about it.

We are hungry, have a baby and limited funds- there is a plethora of lovely looking places to eat in Southport but we find a vegetarian café/restaurant on the net and fly to it with a song in our hearts.  It is closed. So Pizza-Fucking Express is open on the day of the royal wedding but not a vegetarian café. And now the plethoras of places to eat mock me with their meagre vegetarian choice. I am in a sulk, we argue, a friendly scouser gives us a flyer for two courses for a fiver at a place on the promenade (which is of course a long way from the nasty sea) I scoff, having since Colne, resolved never to eat anywhere which has prices rather than the food as the main attraction advertised but then go past the place, an unprepossessing solid Victorian hotel and looking on the menu outside which looks suspiciously good for somewhere advertising all food for £2.50 we enter.

And immediately suspect we are in a trap. It is too good to be true. I was expecting some Blackpoolesque crumbling slum but we are in ‘The Dining Rooms’ a pleasant conservatory with women in big hats drinking champagne. The menu is amazing looking. The vegetables are apparently locally grown and there are many vegetarian choices that aren’t sodding goats cheese tart. We order and wait for the catch.

But it is better than we thought it would be. Far better. Scarily better. There are dabbles of balsamic vinegar, flitterings of salad, basil oil arranged provocatily around spinach and cheese roulettes and mixed bean pate on French bread with chilli sauce. It is too good for £2.50 and it makes me tense. I order a large house red and glumly assume it would cost £78.99 to make up the cost. The main courses are also worrying excellent, we both have crepes, filled with locally grown vegetables and they are divine, then fruit waffles with raspberry coulis and ice-cream which is of course also sublime and this three course meal for two comes to twenty four quid and a good proportion of that is me being greedy with the very good wine.

I assumed the people with hats and champagne was here for a wedding; they were- the royal wedding. I realised this when my baby cried and instead of the normal ‘isn’t he beautiful?’ we are given a dirty look, as his cries are louder than the BBC commentary about Kate’s dress.

It was a nirvana of a meal, and will spoil me forever, as I will live in fear of missing another such curiously priced oasis and be forever disappointed.

We are fatly lunging onwards however to Crosby and the Antony Gormley statues who stand in the sea there. Again reality exceeds expectation-there are so may more figures than expected dotted around the coast and with a backdrop of a hazy Liverpool docks. They are simple yet mesmerising, unpretentious and humane-the further out they go the more encrusted with barnacles they become, less flocked by children laughing at their sculpted genitalia until you can only see their simple yet oh so human silhouettes not outlined in wild flowers but clad only in sea and sky.

Dec 30 2010


The dead pigeons have gone from Carlisle station. Once when looking upwards in the station you would see slumped in nets, little flumpy bodies, wings waving in some gross parody of flight as they gently rotted-not rotted to oblivion, there were no pigeon skeletons, this was fresh, lively decomposition above thousands of unsuspecting heads and I found it rather upsetting being officially the only person in the world who likes pigeons. It also threw up lots of questions as to why there were rotting pigeons in the air at Carlisle station, who cleaned them up and when, do bits fall on people and were their (pigeons) deaths deliberate or a result of net/wing entanglement and other enquiries of a morbid pigeon related nature? I used to tell myself not to look up but the second I alighted the train, my head would ping upwards desperate to be upset and revolted, all the better if I could draw some unsuspecting commuter’s attention to the fluffy mid air carnage. It wasn’t quite as exciting this time without the lofty suspended graveyard above Café Ritazza.
There were no police either for a change. I start to regret my £17.50 train fare. There are often lots of police to be seen lurking vaguely around the vicinity of the train station giving a further sense of danger and excitement to this border town but the somewhat prosaic reason for their absence is probably to do with the lack of a football match today, a cold rainy Tuesday at the arse end of December so the cosy little charity shops filled with what can only be described as landfill are closed, crowds are searching out bargain bounty with frightening intent and everyone is wearing a nice new coat.
Carlisle is grimly pretty with utilitarian antiquity. It is old, it is grey (with red overtones)it has a battered bloody past and a somewhat wild west reputation but The Aga Shop nestles near boarded up buildings, swish bars rub up against cavernous poster bedecked pubs where most of a cow can be fried and consumed with chips and a pint of Stella for the price of a ramekin of olives somewhere further south and quaintness and cobbles vie against B&M Bargains and Soviet concrete.
Around by the cathedral, is all MR James territory, sightless arches half buried in manicured grass, spotless yet ancient church dwellings cluster serenely-there are cobbles and a smattering of shivering tourists with cameras smiling bravely through the dim cold light.
Down little Dickensian Abbey Street where a yellowing England flag flops in the window of a formerly grandiose house, gleaming overly wide doors of solicitors are housed in Georgian splendour and we arrive at Foxes, a wonderful shambolic boho and oh so cool café/bar where harps, pianos and gold paper-mache pigs lie effortlessly around its fairy light lit interior. Last time I was here, I drank cocktails and red wine and luxuriated as the sky turned dark outside. This time I am pregnant and have chai latte and toast, yet still feel snug and tranquil in the cluttered interior listening to a man with a full fry up, a glass of wine and a copy of the Daily Express (was there ever more a microcosm of little England?) berate a posher old man for not using a bus pass. I feel like I am on holiday and yearn too for a full fry up, a glass of red wine and rather concerningly a copy of the Daily Express. I will come back here when I am not encumbered by baby and sink into a sofa with a bottle of wine I promise to myself. I know it is unlikely to happen.
Then a tumble into shopping hell, brash overcrowded overheated chain stores, where I feel old and whale like, blocking the narrow aisles of cheap nylon and sequined frills with my enormous black clad bulk. There is a smattering of more individual shops and businesses in the area, resolutely middle class and attractive looking but I can only afford something tarnished and mass produced, mauled by vultures and with a ten pound red label adorning its hanger. I queue for half an hour to purchase it and wonder why I am doing this when I could have immersed myself in history by visiting the grimly stoic castle, bussed to Hadrian’s Wall through frosty unknown countryside, visited the museum and buried myself in a battle scarred past. It has such cute little pockets though.
The TK Maxx is quite splendidly, terrifyingly anarchic, strangely perched above the market and arranged with no rhyme or reason, freshly reduced red labelled Christmas produce toppling over on shelves, already so archaic and ludicrous looking on the 28th December. The market itself grins somewhat toothlessly with so many stall owners presumably away doing something old fashioned like actually spending time with family over the Christmas period. Or maybe they too are baying for reduced calendars in Calendar World, queuing in Game Station and eating chips like most of Carlisle seems to be doing. Chip shops hold prominence in the centre of town and their alluring smell permeates the streets. I don’t recommend the ‘cheese and onion fry-it’ though. Trust me on this.
We are made of better things and seek the finest fare Carlisle has to offer. At a reasonable price. So I am dragged past the place, which has a menu full of exotic looking fripperies like marmalade foam and into the bustle of La Mezzaluna’s happy hour, one of the Italian restaurants clustered near the train station.
It is cheap (asterixed meals on the laminated menu at £4.75 all day) friendly; there is not an Italian accent to be heard and a huge somewhat un-Italian painting of a chalet in the snow dwarfs our table. My garlic and cheese mushrooms are obscenely rich, like something Jamie Oliver would shake his head over in a self-regarding documentary before admitting how good they are in some pathetic attempt to show how hey, he’s just like one of us really. My pasta is fresh, creamy and calorific and I am excited by my first ever viewing of an electric Parmesan grater. My boyfriend’s pizza excitingly has potato on it, which feels very daring and glamorous but could just be because they like their carbs up here. Customers are asked as routine they would like salad or chips and the chip option reigns supreme.
A missed train and the sinking feeling of abandonment and rootlessness it brings. We sit in Bar Solo opposite the train station and listen to varying degrees of accents, loudness and inebriety intermingling as the cold rises and the night closes in on this town on the periphery.

Aug 1 2010

Moniaive, Dumfries and Galloway

Moniaive is in the official middle of nowhere, the prettiest middle of nowhere to ever exist, shimmering through the rain and accessed by a winding road through sparsely populated yet lush countryside unadorned by agricultural clutter and sprawl, just modest white crofts and the occasional imposing driveway leading no doubt to some utopian idyll buried slumbering in the woods. It is countryside that doesn’t reek of money, second homes, stiff new Barbour’s and people from Islington. It is country not countryside and a crow is strung by the neck on a gate in the old tradition of warning other crows of their fate should they try and encroach on what was formerly theirs.

An avenue of trees leads down to Moniaive: it seems almost a vast urban sprawl, this delicate smattering of houses along the road compared to the empty journey but we were driving past a McDonalds in Dumfries less than an hour ago watching big seagulls and people squawk and litter and search for the last salty chip in the red rectangular boxes.

Moniaive has apparently become a haven for the artists, artisans and bohemians of Scotland, a gushing piece about it in the Galloway News led me here and yes, here is the chocolatiers looking like the witches house in Hansel and Gretel, so alluring and pretty but I fear to step within, not because of witches but because I suspect the prices won’t be from a halcyon past. Here are the quiet modest bistros next to spotless simple houses with fake flowers in the window and The Georges Hotel with a beer garden that is simply a field, benches and nature. It also has an excitingly named Tramps Hole and is one of those quintessentially Scottish places that are so steeped in blood and history, it is taken as a modest given, not to be wrapped up in ribbon, glorified, sold to tourists and made into a paying attraction.

There are monuments to martyrs here, graves to the murdered religious dissenters known as covenanters but this is not a hewn from the rocks ‘authentic Scottish Experience’. Many of the voices heard are of the well-fed English variety and charming bistros with prices in the teens are not an integral aspect of every small Scottish town.

But a sign in the village store amongst the ads for folk festivals and art events  warns people that they will not be served alcohol until 10am.

We have heard good things about the Green Tea House cafe  but I am suspicious, as The Galloway News never seems to write anything actually negative about Scottish food establishments. It is however an exercise in how to make your tea room the best damn tea room in town. I did have a slight yearning towards the pub as tea rooms make me think of old ladies in an overheated florid room gorging on crumbling old cakes and talking with sweet venom about their relatives but this tea room is lofty, minimal yet cosy with a garden, a fireplace and big shuttered windows overlooking dark dark trees. The organic menu is a good blend of veggie and non-veggie and my aubergine and tomato bake, salad wedges and salad an immense thing of wonder for under six pounds. There is a slightly awkward moment when having tried the healthy herb salt on the table and declaring it like something used to cut cocaine with, I ask for real salt and am politely yet firmly refused. Not that it needed it to be fair. The cakes are of the sort that would be served at high tea to beaming mop haired children from Enid Blyton, groaning with cream, jam and chocolate and it is everything one could ask for but has spoilt me now as I use it to measure other places and they always come up substandard which fills me with a grim pleasure as I do not know how and if I shall ever be able to find my way back to this strange little oasis in the middle of nowhere.

Jun 4 2010

Grange Over Sands

Everyone loves a good bakery. Seriously, everyone. We are not talking your flaccid squishy Greggs pasties with their slushy acidic filling but a proper non-chain bakery with green trim and windows with baskets of goodies in. A long counter where hikers queue for sandwiches for picnics, and piles of pastries, cakes and pies topple like an anorexic’s wet dream. And not your normal French horns and dry cheese and onion pasties containing a thin floor of dense mush with a cavernous pastry hall of air.

We are talking vegan dragon pie, cottage cheese, spinach and almond pasties, beestings (a custard filled bread bigger than my head) Cumberland Rum Nickies (an oozing delight I regret not purchasing with the bitter regret of one who has accidently smothered their firstborn) and knobbly squat loaves. Hazelemere Café and Bakery is an Aladdin’s cave of calories.  And my reassuringly heavy bag containing two pasties and two cakes comes to just a fiver.

Grange Over Sands is so genteel it makes Windermere resemble Brixton. Everyone has politely flocked here determined to have a ‘simply lovely day’ and nothing, nothing is going to stop them. Apart from slow service at a tearoom.

It is interesting for the lack of actual sand, a seaside holiday town where the sea is reassuringly far away and unthreatening. There are no fag butts in the sand here because Grange has cunningly got rid of the underclass with their noisy shrieking kids with lurid plastic accessories by having an estuary instead with dead crabs and rare birds stretching prehistorically in its vast human unfriendliness down to the far away flickering of the bay.

Looking across you can see the ghostly bulk of Barrow Upon Furnesses’ decaying industry but here is all old-fashioned pleasantness, grey rinses, unflattering floral skirts and Christian fish logos on B and B’s advertising morning coffee instead of happy hours.  Even the  ‘sea side’ train station looks like it was stolen from a model railway and of course comes with attached antiquarian bookshop.  A memorial park stretches along side with waddling ducks and babies, ponds, flowers and a lone sulking emo in black on the bandstand.

Up the high street lie more tearooms, ironmongers, grocers, all the lovely old fashioned shops one would expect here-although I suspect a Tesco’s MUST lurk somewhere nearby for the more prosaic. A pub advertising Sky Sports and house doubles is a delightful abnormality, my eyes hurt from so many hues of pastel shades.  Ice creams (the nice creamy local sort not horrid plastic wrapped ones) drip down quivering blue veined arms; there are children but nice ones, ones who no doubt enjoy bird watching more than Waltzers with parents dressed in Gap.

We disappear like Alice down the rabbit hole up an enticing footpath and tramp through Eggerslack Woods, empty of day-trippers here, just birds, trees and scurrying in the undergrowth and emerge on sunny limestone pavement far, far above the town. It is beautiful here, wilderness within a few miles of a politely bustling town where pound shop fudge costs £2.75 and where people have gone to get away from it all.

Find some walks and stuff in the locale here

Click for more pics of Grange and lovely neighbour Arnside