Apr 24 2015

Be careful in Settle.

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I am not allowed to take photographs in a museum in Settle.



It is a small museum that you have to pay to enter. There is nothing of particular interest in the museum in Settle apart from some Okish chairs and a vaguely pleasing window which I am afraid I can’t show you because you are not allowed to take photos in the museum.

Maybe those stacked plastic chairs are of particular interest to ISIS? I hope they are. I would quite welcome a violent insurgency right now due to the lack of a nice licensed tearoom.

I try to take my time to get my three quid’s worth of value but after a look at some pottery shards, I just want it all to end in a massacre of gunfire so take a quick photo. Sadly I remain alive, I don’t even get tutted at so I go to look at overpriced bronze hares in a shop that sells overpriced bronzed hares and Farrow and Ball paint.

Set 2

A bakery named The Naked Man is sadly not what it purports to be but a feta cheese  and spinach pasty numbs the pain despite the  disturbing lack of gunned insurrectionists. I suspect they have seen the sad remains of spinach residing in my teeth, noticed the fact that people will pay sixty pounds to have their walls in the same shade as ‘Elephants Breath’ and been told off for not paying Gift Aid when storming the museum.

Settle one

Thus Settle remains quiet.

Aug 16 2011

Hebden Bridge, Huddersfield and blue Woo-Woos

‘It begins with a ‘H,’ I keep primly announcing as my boyfriend says our itinerary-‘ebden bridge, ‘alifax and ‘uddersfield. Most people in ‘ebden pronounce it with a H – I have written briefly about it before, a town where designer bunting can be more easily purchased than Tampax. A place where the original hippies have bred, left, mutated or come into money and embraced capitalism as long as it is in the form of organic cotton and not a nasty cheap Tesco’s. It is a very lovely place, pretty, bustling with men in nice shirts pushing designer pushchairs and has more vegetarian choices than I have ever dreamt of.

We loiter long enough to accidently eat a ‘Mediterranean platter’- Hebden should be sponsored or twinned with manufacturers of halloumi and hummus then leave this tranquil but strangely unreal little Yorkshire mirage and head through Halifax to Huddersfield.

It is somewhat reminiscent of Bath fallen on hard times. Huddled in a green valley, lofty multi-storeyed Georgian buildings house ramshackle little businesses; you have to remember to look up to see the curled and corniced remnants of a more ambitious prettified past.  It is not awash with Monsoons but take aways and charity shops-all the big chains have fled to the malls.  There is a huge outdoor and indoor market selling a large amount of faded Fisher price toys and supermarket brand clothing. I like it very much. There is a shop where all the clothes seem to be 49p near somewhere else selling military badges.

Huddersfield is interesting. But I am still not quite sure if I like it. I am trying to find that unique something about it to distinguish it from Everywheretown. There is no green surprise of parkland or a crumbling roped off priory, those little surprises you find in a new town to make up for the pebbledash of pound shops selling the same plastic crap as everywhere ever. It makes me a bit bored of Britain.

I like some aspects of it-it is the most multicultural place I have experienced since living in London-Caribbean restaurants and extravagantly boasting cheap curry houses nestle next to newsagents and clothes shops of the cheap nylon persuasion. But the old university building my boyfriend wanted to see, having been a student here is broken and desolate. There are no memories here for everything has changed. Everywheretown retains no sentiment for one crappy shop with personal memories becomes another crappy shop with none.

There is a food and drink festival on which means that the Head Of Steam, a pub renowned for its excellent cider and beauty is off-limits to us encumbered with pushchair and baby. The food and drink festival is busy, meaty but smells very nice from our vantage point by some sick on the stairs to the railway station.

The art gallery and library is excellent. We see abstract art and sculptures based on the textile industry that used to be Huddersfield’s life and blood. The toilets have UV lights to stop people shooting up.

You can see the green of the valley from the concrete and faded splendour of the town. Houses are cheap here, two bedroom terraces for around fifty thousand pounds. But Huddersfield depresses me. It is stuck between its rich heyday of a prosperous working place of importance and the ‘three curries for a fiver’ desperation of today. Yes, there are restaurants and busy bars, this is a university town but there seems little of a university counterculture, maybe it is hidden up a side street somewhere but we stop for a drink at a bar and it is all watered down expensive wine and cocktails in fishbowls for fifteen pounds. The cocktails look very unpleasant and mostly feature Archers or the words ‘Woo Woo.’ I feel somewhat out of place with the baby merrily chewing the laminated menu.

I would have liked to have liked it but feel vaguely claustrophobic and I am guiltily glad when we leave it behind and head back into to the green valley, which surrounds it. I am not travelling back to my home in another enchanted Eden, I live in another slightly faded around the edges Northern city but I failed to find the heart of Huddersfield and made me realise that things have moved on, the hearts of cities do not exist, they are now either malls of brand names, a gap-toothed boarded up straggle of pound shops and curry houses or middleclass preserves purporting to be ‘real’ but mainly selling bunting and halloumi.

And I feel I belong to nowhere.

Jul 27 2011

A stone, Satan and finding mortality in graffiti

I am on open moorland, I am wearing a playsuit with leggings underneath and I need a wee. This is not good. This is really not good. I knew I should not have bought an all in one playsuit at the age of 32. To undertake the weeing process will render me startlingly naked so I perform clumsy hopping motions trying to remove leggings from underneath the legs of the playsuit and then fall onto spiky moor. I resolve not to ever wear a playsuit again.

This is proper moorland too, well if proper moorland consists of seeing the dried desiccated husk of a sheep adhered to the road. We are on a mission to see the Great Stone of Fourstones, a behemoth of a rock said to have been dropped by a clumsy satanic hand when the devil was somewhat somewhat helpfully for an entity of darkness building The Devils Bridge in Kirkby Lonsdale. The other somewhat more prosaic and rational explanation is that the monolith is a remnant from the ice age but I prefer to ignore cold hard science in favour of lubricous badly remembered anecdote, legend and lies (but no, I am not a fan of the Bible)

Upon the great stranded rock’s sides, centuries of graffiti have been carved. The more modern graffiti seems rubbish old vandalism-crude hearts with ‘Kevin 4 Sue’ ripped crudely into the rock but look closely and you can see the faint and beautiful swoop of calligraphy from others who have made the trek through the moorland to carve their name on this isolated rock, to proclaim their immortality. And now only a faint elegant swoop of a letter `J’ remains. Look for the name Metcalfe, admire the feathered elegance of the letters, elegy to a time when the precision and style of writing was as important as the content.  The Great Rock is a graveyard of names from the past and the future.

There are small carved steps leading to the top. I want to know who carved the steps and when but like the fact there is no information office telling you exactly what happened and with illustrated timelines because no one really knows, its past is not meticulously photographed, explained and sold in a glossy pamphlet format. Not all history is recorded, especially not here in this bleakly beautiful boundary between Lancashire and Yorkshire.

There are even smaller steps, mere rough grooves around the other side of the rock, steps you would not even know were steps if you were not to have read the small and light of information vandalised board so distant from the rock, it is almost invisible. The sign references enticingly and briefly the probability there were another three stones, hence the name but the other three stones have disappeared over the centuries or were never there to begin with. We will never ever know.

I like this and am yet frustrated by it. I like not being told but I still want to know. But the mystery of this rock, its surface slightly scarred but its bulk still reaming unlike the weak flesh and bone who over centuries attempt to reclaim it.  But they become mere dust whilst the rock remains, an Ozymandius looking out over moorland, fields and mountains immobile and desolate, the names of once living breathing humans slowly fading away over time to become nothing more than a faint and fluttering letter J.

Apr 23 2011

Failing at the paranormal in Lancashire and Cumbria

I have always had a strong interest in ghosts and witches. Unlike with most people however, it did not stop when I was nine.

It is an interest on the periphery of my life, I do not spend vast sums of money on occult paraphernalia or obsess over ‘orbs’ which are clearly dust but I like the thought of ghosts existing. It is pleasing. I also like witches.  I believe in witches less than ghosts and feel faintly guilty being interested in them at all as I think a lot of slightly eccentric women who loved cats and had an interest in herbs died very nastily as a result of people believing in witches.

The Pendle Witches have made the victimisation, persecution and murder of women a tourist trail featuring a witch on a broomstick.  I have though always wanted to visit Pendle hill, scene of their alleged naughtiness because of the way it glowers over East Lancashire, always in the distance, always dark and long and strange, it being not a hill as such but a long looming landmass.

We finally have a car and it is my first destination, it previously being pretty much inaccessible via public transport from Lancaster, the scene of the witches’ sorry demise.  It is annoyingly a beautiful day. Even more annoyingly, the fact it is so beautiful thwarts us. I have a small baby, even more annoyingly a small ginger almost translucent baby and the sun beams unseasonably down and there is no shade whatsoever on the cold dead slopes of Pendle hill. Apparently people with a dark side climb Pendle hill on Halloween night. Maybe they are just ginger and freckle easily.

Reaching the no doubt impossibly eerie summit of Pendle hill is out (for now) but there is a Pendle Inn at nearby Barley featuring a pub sign of a witch on a broomstick. It’s practically dancing widdershins with Aleister Crowley except for the fact it sells tagliatelle for 9.95 and has self-catering cottages in the car park.  Oh, and was built in 1935.

The picnic area opposite is pleasing in that it looks like a poster in Nursery Times magazine celebrating diversity. There are saris and old men in shorts and sandals sitting in deckchairs.  Kids run around with nets on sticks, big scary looking men enjoy strawberry ice creams and don’t litter.

But I am still in search of the unknown and so we head to Newchurch in Pendle, home to Witches Galore. The name should perhaps have given away the fact there are no dark grimoires to be had here but esoterica lite, incense and car stickers that say ‘My other car’s a broomstick.’

And among the fluffy black cats, gemstones and wind chimes. a display of royal wedding memorabilia, Kate Middleton’s bland face next to some rune stones and books on walking in the northwest. It’s what Alice Nutter would have wanted.

We head to Burnley to a vegetarian café so meticulously researched on the net that we can’t find it and even of we had it would have been closed anyway.  The rest of Burnley looks to be honest, fucking awful so we head to Colne as the Internet says it has a ‘restaurant quarter’. A restaurant quarter must have some nice veggie inoffensive fare but we search the streets of Colne in vain. There are a surprising amount of butchers, deep stretching grey terraces than make Coronation Street look like Kensington but no restaurant quarter. Is Mr Chips the restaurant quarter?

We finally find an Italian restaurant offering three courses for ten pounds. It appears an oasis in the desert and I rhapsodise until the food arrives. I never learn the whole quantity versus quality thing. The ice-cream (third course) remains untouched and research on the net suggests that the restaurant we are in and the two closed ones nearby are in fact the restaurant quarter. I curse council press releases. And the meal costs with two drinks and the garlic bread thirty quid, which is actually more than we have ever paid in our lives for a meal. My partner leaves most of his and we bicker the whole way home about whose fault it was that we went there. We both admit we should have known from the plastic ivy. And in retrospect the angry people on the Internet who say they went to environmental health after a meal there. But first the toilet.

A new day beckons and the search for adventure and somewhere to take the taste of the oily orange pasta away beckons. First Sedburgh, a wonderful market town also nestled under hills but more benevolent hills-God seems to smile on Sedburgh, its higgledy piggledy quaintness, bookshops that still exist like their patrons have never heard of Amazon, a church and graveyard in the middle of the town and a charity shop where after chatting to the people within, you feel like sending them a Christmas card. We have 90p chips which are far pleasanter a dinner than the thirty quid horror we are still apportioning blame for.

We have a picnic today and yomp into the wilderness albeit with a printed map outside Kirkby Stephen (another almost too quaint market town which in Devon would be heaving with tourists with cameras but in Cumbria, just is) we walk along viaducts, past abandoned cottages, through moorland and woods and everything is utterly perfect. People say hello when we pass and it is all so utterly English and pleasant.

But even more excitingly in the car on the way back I see not only ghosts but also murder. In one of my guiltily read books about ghosts I read of a pub ensnared in Northern wilderness, perched amongst moorland and with a dark bloody history and with a name I instantly recall as being the name of the self same pub.

The car screams to a halt, we enter, I try to stop the baby shrieking. I sense no evil presence but to be fair it is a sunny bank holiday. And maybe the undead feel at unease where peach vinyl wallpaper still exists. Its one of those pubs where the décor may be stuck in the seventies but the prices are definitely Now. I always think of a tenner for a meal in a pub to mean it comes with coulis, foams and all the other things I read about in out of date Good Food magazines at the doctors. But I am clearly old, poverty struck and out of touch and an old skint vegetarian needs to bring her own picnic or suck it up.

But now lets’ look for atmosphere! I have no blue light to hold under my chin and the sun is still blazing, there are no bloodstains but I can envisage the ghastliness of the murder, the horror on the windswept night, the restless spirit still prowling. Then the baby starts crying and we have to go.

I am trying to convey the sacred terror of the place to my partner who sneers as he has seen the residents lounge enshrouded not in unearthly terror but in brown velour. I look it up on my phone to show him the true unearthly bloody history of the car park we now reside in. Then realise we are in the wrong pub.

I decide not to ghost hunt anymore.

May 24 2010

Leeds and ennui

Do you ever get that urge to disappear? That burning desire to hear an automated female robotic voice announce destinations glamorous only in their distance from you, when Kidderminster becomes a beacon call, when you have lived, worked and slept in less than a square mile for five days and you just want an adventure, to get on a train, feel it slide away underneath you and to arrive into somewhere new?

I had that craving on Saturday. It was a floridly hot unnatural May morning and the  crowding shouting  different possibilities of a wonderful day were all too much.  I could not make a decision without thinking of all the other ones left to shrivel and die. So we went to the train station to let fate take its course.


I had been there once before and disliked it. Found it bland,  concrety,  commercial and a bit nothingy. But it would be a pleasing train journey through Yorkshire and it would be the difference I craved. An adventure.

The minute I put my card in the machine to pay the forty quid I knew I had made a bad decision. Suddenly as if through a tunnel to heaven I saw the Morecambe train bathed in luminescent glory. Golden children with buckets and spades, happy beaming adults with tattoos and beers, joviality, happiness on golden sand (and of course with the Palatine serving the best pizza ever-see Morecambe review) and for 2.50 return.  Then I had one of those devilishly bad moods clamp down like a personal thundercloud.

Suddenly I felt I was heading to Auschwitz. The train was hot, cramped and we were facing the wrong way. And I then found the journey was over two hours.  I sat looking out through reinforced plastic at people having fun as I sweated in a metal coffin, felt hot, tired, hungry and thirsty and ended getting out at Skipton after an hour travelling as could not bear to simply witness the day as a guest and not a participant any longer.

Skipton was hot, crowded and annoying. Old dears kept stopping dead in the narrow swarming high street to point at stupid carved wooden ducks and sweating cheese. Women pushed prams bigger than my house with malevolent arrogant fury through red burny ankles. We went to a veggie place with decent reviews (I will not give the name as just cannot bear to be rude about a nice veggie place) but my mood and my ankles were on fire and when the ‘bruschetta’ arrived-thick cut brown bread with toppings rather than the light dainty Italian snack I expected I turned into sub Paris Hilton, sneering quietly and angrily about it whilst beaming at the waitress. It was the same price as the pizza in Morecambe, which actually made me feel sick. Or maybe that was the veggie pate.

So that was Skipton. I did not want to continue to Leeds. But I had a blog to write! Well, more to the point, I was not wasting that forty bloody quid even though there was a direct train to Morecambe, now the Champs Elysees and Mecca combined.  Despite the fact neither of us wanted to go to Leeds, we went.

And it was crap. Feel free to comment on how wonderful it actually is and why didn’t I go to this that and the other place, it will make a change from spam and I am aware there must be nice bits but the centre was busy and filled with anger, Lobster red people barged, there was no trace of greenery, just chain shops, sunburn and aggression.  A bar down by the riverside offered an overpriced respite but still the anger remained. And the dreams of Morecambe.

I had to salvage the day. I looked up an historic walk and tried to follow the route but that was also shit.  Oh look, a building covered in scaffolding. A church. Not even with the cold damp sweet decay of a graveyard next to it. Just concrete. I argue with my boyfriend about where the exciting named ‘dark arches’ were to be found and we returned on separate trains (both filled with racists) and I saw Hebden Bridge roll past and wish we had gone there, think of Morecambe, think of sitting in the garden or Williamsons park in Lancaster (see Lancaster review) think of my utterly diminished bank balance and watch the day so full of promise gently prettily die  from a prison window.

And I decide that sometimes, only sometimes it’s good to be unadventurous and to be somewhere you can lie, relax and just be, rather than to seek relentlessly  after something or somewhere else.

Feb 28 2010

Hebden Bridge

Our train steams past clusters of Staples superstores and mega bowling taverns, past TK Maxx’s and derelict houses, moors and lakes, grids of post war houses and McDonalds, a town hides deep in a valley with housestumbling down a semi-mountain then a long dark tunnel. Then Hebden.

You have probably heard of Hebden Bridge. Renowned for hippies, fair trade and an alternative culture. Well, this is what happens when alternative culture grows up, has babies and a disposable income. Well, it’s probably a recyclable income here. It is a beautiful place in a beautiful setting. A valley, canal, woods, steep looming houses and the occasional long chimney, a remnant of its mill town past, probably the only one apart from the occasional estate agent sign advertising penthouse living in a converted mill. The photographs of minimalist rooms with white leather sofas don’t seems so terribly Hebden-and yes, Hebden is an adjective.

Hebden is more wind chimes, cute kids in cutely clashing layers, Non Yorkshire accents, whole food, homeopathy and dogs. Lots of dogs. And white haired lesbians in Millets clothing. And natural fabric, which looks expensive. And cheerful confident bonhomie. It’s lovely. But does not seem sustainable (ironically) to this northerner on minimum wage. Where is the money sourcing from and where are the jobs? It is such an enchanted Nirvana in the midst of the more earthy neighbours such as Accrington and Blackburn, the places where the press go to take a stock shot of the impoverished north and its miles of back-to-back identikit terraces with washing fluttering in the alleys from the train windows.

Hebden Bridge started as milltown, then when that died and the workers moved away, became a sort of commune, a place where the squatters fled, where they could afford a patch of land, a tiny terrace and from there grew a community of like minded souls. Now, there are still battered vans driving by, men with purple flowing capes and long hair wander the streets and are not mocked-narrow boats line the canal and hey, you get the message. But I wonder how the oasis gets its water.

House prices are reasonable-we lick the windows of estate agents where a lovely terrace can be purchased for a hundred grand and rent for a house can be less than four hundred quid a month (far more than neighbouring Halifax). But we wonder about jobs. So lovely to have independent shops and children’s homoeopathists. But this is a small town in the midst of Yorkshire and I suspect that jobs are hard to come by.

There are lovely places to eat and drink and they all seem to be full. On a Saturday. So many veggie cafes and the like, it is like manna from heaven from this veggie, saturated on the generic spicy bean burger option. It is not cheap. It is not that expensive. But in general recession bitten Northern terms, it’s a fucking miracle, never mind an oasis.

Feb 21 2010


There is dog shit everywhere. Literally everywhere and I mean literally in the true sense of the word, not the bastardised ‘I literally blew up with anger’.

Coils of mesmerising size, shape and variety line the alley leading from the train station into town-we point amazed, strangely impressed-constipated dogs, dogs with diarrhea, big dogs, little dogs, dogs who have clearly eaten something green-all have chosen to empty their bowels here, untroubled by owners with little shovels and small warm plastic bags.

An auspicious start. It gets better once we reach the high street-it is amazingly busy-this is a rather isolated town in the Yorkshire dales, an old town built mostly of grey and it blends in with the winter sky. But where you normally on a February Saturday expect the general shuffling Saturday shoppers, Skipton is bustling like Armageddon has just been announced on North West Tonight.

Throngs of people of a certain age merrily bustle down the narrow high street lined with worthy independent shops-there is a National Trust shop and despite the recession, people are cooing at bird feeders and books about castles. Clothes shops sell either windproof , waterproof and fashion proof coats or smart two-pieces -yesterday’s fashions at tomorrow’s prices.

As usual, after an hour on a train, sitting doing nothing, I am filled with a ravenous hunger. Skipton has a lot of places to eat. They are all full. Full to brim, bursting, saturated. I was keen to go to a veggie café; Wild Oats in the high street-there is an earnest polite queue leading down the staircase into the whole-foods store.  The Italian we try is also full -all around me people eat, shop, eat, shop. And oh so smugly. I decide I hate Skipton. My companion and I have the normal argument over where to eat but then find in a fork of the high street, an Italian called Brodys with a sign advertising pizza, garlic bread and salad for two for a tenner. It is in an ornate Georgian building with a white wedding cake ceiling  filled with ladies who lunch and well-fed wholesome families. The service and the food are excellent and I like Skipton again.

After lunch, the urge for a walk -and suddenly there is dog shit everywhere again. We try to look up at the castle but are too fearful for our shoes. The castle from the canal looks disappointingly well kempt-almost as if it has double glazing-I prefer my castles wild and windswept ruins with chunks of falling masonry, blood and rust stained irons but Skipton castle looks as smug and well cared for as the women in Brodys. My roof is in worse condition. I would have liked to go inside but we have little money, it having gone yet again on pizza and train fares like some low rent Mafioso.

We are on  a winding little path by the canal-a little waterfall appears and some charming little houses and beyond we can see fresh countryside, the sort that looks like it is virginal especially compared to the dog shit and litter but we have little time to stretch out into the unknown due to the haphazard train service.  Maybe one day though.

The Royal Oak  is nearby, near an apparently very famous pork pie shop (‘well, you would think the pies could be hot, at least,’ someone bitterly complains outside in the aggrieved tones you would expect of someone who had found her first born Sweeney Todded in crisp pastry)

I ask in the Royal Oak for a glass of red wine. ‘No, sorry, w haven’t got any’, says the woman in friendly co-miseration. Next to the Royal Oak is an off-license. I can see wine from here.  It is a nice looking pub though, all wooden floors and sofas but the rugby is on loud on a big screen and the only paper is the Daily Mail. Outside someone is dressed as a Christmas tree.

We decide to oh so carefully wind our way past the Tesco’s, Morrison’s and the dogshit and go back home. Good night Skipton-you are a rather lovely place but I don’t think I will be rushing back somehow-and it’s not you, it’s me.  And the poo.