A few days away: York


If you like history, architecture, shopping and ghosts then York is an ideal place to spend a few days. It has everything within the historical town walls and lots of places to stay, eat and drink, and so much to do you’ll need two holidays there, not just one. Here are 10 interesting things to see and do in York.

  1. Walk the city walls and see the town gates. They’re medieval and the paths along them were added in Victorian times. It will take about 2 hours to walk round the walls from where you get a bird’s eye view of the city. Click here for pictures.
  2. York Minster is beautiful and has a crypt and a tower to climb, a recent sculpture of our late Queen and lots of memorials to admire.
  3. If you like the London Transport Museum you will love York Railway Museum which is huge and an opportunity to see Laddie, the stuffed dog in the glass case, who used to stand on Platform 7 and 8 at Wimbledon Station. When he was alive he and his owner collected money for widows and orphans of late railway workers. After he died his body was stuffed and he was put in a glass case which had a slot for people to put their coins into. He was taken to York in about 1990. Click here to see him.
  4. The Chocolate Story in York is a chance to learn all about the development of the manufacture of chocolate in the city, and the Rowntree and Terry families who made it. Free samples of chocolate are included in the entrance fee.
  5. The Shambles is a medieval street where the buildings on each side are leaving towards each other. It is cobbled and atmospheric and full of gift shops.
  6. The Hop On Hop Off Bus tour takes you around all the tourist sites and has a commentary telling you all about the buildings you can see from the bus. Tickets last for 24 or 48 hours and you can get on or off as often as you like.
  7. The York Pass is expensive but as long as you visit 4 or 5 museums a day for 3 days it is worth every penny. They include The Castle Museum, the Yorvik Viking Centre and the Yorkshire Museum.
  8. Your visit to York isn’t complete until you’ve been shopping in the rain and had tea and cake at Betty’s Tea Shop. The staff are friendly and the building is beautiful.
  9. Days out from York can include walking in the Yorkshire Dales, visiting Harrogate to see the Pump Room Museum and going to the coast to breathe in the sea air at Scarborough.
  10. York is full of places to stay, such as the Holgate Bridge bed and breakfast, which is good value and just a 10 minute walk from the railway station.

And finally:

Like all historic places, York is haunted, and the Tourist Information Centre can provide information on lots of ghost walks at night to go on, as well as other guided walks during the day. Have fun and send me a postcard.

See the menu on the left for more ideas about places to go.

Day out: The Wallace Collection, London


I went back to The Wallace Collection in London to see a temporary exhibition, and was very impressed with the displays, the building itself and the location, so here are 10 good reasons to visit the Wallace Collection:

10 Good Reasons to visit The Wallace Collection:

  1. If you like oil paintings from the 14th to the 19th centuries especially French art, sculpture, marble busts, furniture, clocks and armour, you will love The Wallace Collection.
  2. It has been described by The Guardian as being the sexiest collection in Europe.
  3. They have lots of Canaletto paintings of Venice.
  4. It’s an opportunity to view The Laughing Cavalier by Frans Hals, The Swing by Jean Honore Fragonard and a portrait of Rambrandt’s son Titus, as well as less well known works by other artists.
  5. The building is like the Tardis and looks small from the outside but once inside there are 25 galleries to immerse yourself in.
  6. It was built between 1776-1788 and was briefly used as the Spanish Embassy until it was taken over by the Marquis of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace who was the illegitimate son of the 4th Marquis. They used it to house their art collection and it became a museum in 1900.
  7. The temporary exhibition I went there to see was about Walt Disney and how his films were inspired by French art and architecture. It was wonderful and made me want to watch his films again.
  8. The Wallace Collection has a huge busy cafe and a well stocked shop.
  9. It is easy to find and is in one of those typical London tree lined squares just off Oxford Street, near several tube stations and a number of bus routes. The address is Hertford House, Manchester Square, London.
  10. And it’s free! And I want to go there more often!

And finally:

See the menu on the left for more ideas for places to go.

Day out: Hampton Court Palace, Surrey


I decided to go to Hampton Court Palace because it was about 30 years since I last went inside and 3 years since I visited their Garden Festival. It’s a beautiful place to visit and very quiet for the time of year.

Click here for pictures.

The Historical Bit:

Hampton Court Palace was built in 1514 for Cardinal Wolsey who gave it to Henry VIII. He lived there with his 6 wives and their descendants. It has been rebuilt and extended a number of times. George II was the last king to live there. After that it was occupied by various individuals including Michael Faraday, who was the pioneer for electricity, and the Royal School of Needlework who are still based there.

Highlights of Hampton Court Palace:

Henry VIII’s Great Hall with the carved hammerbeam roof, Anne Boleyns’s coat of arms and tapestries showing the life of Abraham from the book of Genesis

William III’s state apartments which has a grand staircase with murals and 9 large paintings of the Triumphs of Caesar by Andrea Mantegna.

The Chapel with beautiful carvings by Grinling Gibbons.

The Haunted Gallery where some people have seen the ghost of Catherine Howard running away from guards after Henry VIII was told she had committed adultery.

Art and sculpture from the Royal Collection including 12 paintings of Venice by Canaletto, various portraits of Henry VIII and his family and lots of sculptures both in the palace itself and in the grounds.

The Grape Vine planted by Capability Brown in 1769 is now the largest in the world.

There are 60 acres of gardens and 750 acres of parkland where you can see descendants of Henry VIII’s deer.

The Hampton Court Maze which is a good place to get lost in.

Click here for pictures.

What I didn’t like:

The tickets are expensive and the wasps are not very friendly! It was a very humid day and there was no air conditioning in the palace.

The Practical Bit:

Hampton Court Palace is in East Molesey, Surrey, 12 miles south west of Central London. It has a couple of cafes, ice cream vans and gift shops. A number of buses stop near the main gate and Hampton Court railway station is a 5 minute walk across the bridge. It’s at the end of a branch line from Wimbledon. You can also travel there by boat from Richmond and Kingston.

And Finally:

If you like Hampton Court Palace, you will enjoy visiting Kensington Palace in west London, which also has grand staircases, murals, paintings and sculpture and is set in beautiful parkland. I’ve been there too and written about it on my blog. See the menu on the left.

Book Review: Beatrix Potter – The Complete Tales


I wanted to re-read the Beatrix Potter books before going to the exhibition about her which is currently at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. I went to my 3 nearest libraries but they didn’t have any of her books which I found very surprising. Eventually I found a huge volume of Beatrix Potter – The Complete Tales in the local Oxfam shop. It had originally cost £30 but I bought it for £2.99 and took it home and read it.

Beatrix Potter Revisited:

It was strange re-reading the books I had read as a child. I’ve always remembered the names of the characters but not the details of the stories. I had forgotten how naughty Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny were and how much they upset Mr McGregor by eating his vegetables. Benjamin’s children, the Flopsy Bunnies, did it too. Mrs Tiggy-Winkle wasn’t as interesting as I remembered. All she does is washing and ironing, and although she was doing a very good job, I wanted to buy her a washing machine.

The introduction to each story tells us how Beatrix Potter based the characters on her pets and wrote about them in letters before she published them as children’s books.

I particularly liked the way she illustrated her stories herself, showing her characters in Sawrey and Hawkshead where she lived and also inside her house. The two villages are still very much the same as they were when Beatrix Potter lived there. Squirrel Nutkin and his friends sailed across Derwentwater to the island in the lake which is also recognisable in the pictures.

Beatrix Potter sites today:

Her house Hill Top at Sawrey, near Windermere in the Lake District, is open to the public and when I visited it I was impressed by how much of it I recognised from the illustrations in her books. She bought it in 1905 with money she made from her early books, and married while living there and then became a sheep farmer and landowner. When she died she left the land to the National Trust.

A visit to Hill Top needs to be booked in advance. It is on a bus route and is midway between the Windermere ferry and Hawkshead. The house is next door to the Tower Bank Arms, a 17th century inn, which appears in The Tale of Jemimah Puddle Duck.

Esthwaite Water between Sawrey and Hawkshead can be seen in her books and her painting of the lake is on display at the Beatrix Potter exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

The Beatrix Potter exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum:

Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature is being shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum until January 2023. On display are her paintings, sketchbooks, letters, diaries, photos and information about her life and work. This exhibition also needs to be booked advance.

I haven’t been to see it yet but a friend of mine has and enjoyed it so much she wants to go to Sawrey and visit Hill Top herself.

The Victoria and Albert Museum is in South Kensington, where Beatrix Potter grew up. It is open every day and stays open late on Friday evenings. It is near South Kensington tube station and there are lots of cafes nearby.

And finally:

I think I’m going to be busy. Having read Beatrix Potter’s books again, I want to visit the exhibition in London and also return to the Lake District and revisit all the sites Beatrix Potter and her characters knew and loved.

See the menu on the left for more ideas about places to go and books to read.

Book review: Small World by Olga Harkness


Small World – stories of Ukraine, England and Life, by Olga Harkness

Olga Harkness:

I know Olga Harkness from my local writers circle where she read us stories she had written about her life. She was born in Ukraine during World War 2. Her father was murdered when she was 2 years old and her family were forced out of their homeland and had to live in Poland. Olga’s mother died and she came to England to join her sister and had to learn English. Life had been hard but Olga’s stories are told with humour in an entertaining way with no self pity for her difficult experiences. We often suggested she put her stories in a book and Small World is the result.

The book itself – Small World by Olga Harkness:

The stories are very varied. Olga writes about the people such as the French Katarina and the animals she knew, including Orlik the dog, the Russian soldiers who shot at them, being separated from relatives for years, Ukrainian customs and the way of life, so different to England, where she moved to in the Sixties. There are also funny stories she has written about spiders and being interrupted by the family while watching Coronation Street. My favourite story is about Jeffrey the ghost who haunted her flat because I have one as well.

The final section of Small World is a selection of poems Olga has written and I particularly like An Englishman in Shorts where she says it’s a sight best to avoid, and sounds like it has been written about a mutual friend.

Small World is easy to read and I recommend it to anyone who likes biographical stories about a variety of subjects. It is available on Amazon.

Day out: Exhibition of paintings by Prince Charles


The exhibition of watercolour paintings by Prince Charles at The Garrison Chapel at Chelsea Barracks, London, is a unique opportunity to have a day out, see works by Prince Charles, find out a bit more about him, and to visit a historic building.

The paintings themselves:

The 79 watercolours are of mountains, hills, fields, country houses and islands. They are peaceful landscapes at different times of the year with natural colours and no people or animals. They include:

  • 12 paintings of abandoned crofts on the Island of Stroma, near the Orkney Islands, Scotland
  • An old mine building on Dartmoor
  • Snowy mountains in Scotland
  • Several of Highgrove and Balmoral and another royal residence called Castle of Mey, which I had never heard of
  • Several of the Serengetti Plains in Tanzania and a few of landscapes in Europe including Klosters in Switzerland

Click here to see the paintings.

What I learned from the exhibition:

Prince Charles prefers painting to photography and finds it easier to express his feelings through his landscapes. He enjoys working with different colours and light and shade and is a very good artist. He has signed them all with a C and the date, which might be confusing for future historians.

My favourite paintings were the ones of abandoned crofts on the Island of Stroma because it looked so beautiful and quiet. Click here to see them. The last 12 residents abandoned the island in 1962 and the lighthouse keeper left in 1997. Stroma is owned by a former islander who grazes his sheep there and runs occasional boat trips there for visitors, including Prince Charles.

The exhibition also included bronze portrait busts of Prince Charles, the Queen and Prince Philip by a sculptor called Frances Segelman, Lady Petchey, born in Leeds in 1949. The ones of the Queen and Prince Philip were displayed on what used to the altar of The Garrison Chapel.

The historical part:

The Garrison Chapel was built in 1859 as the Guards Chapel for Chelsea Barracks. It was deconsecrated in 1990 and refurbished in 2019. It is now used by The Princes’ Foundation who run courses on everything from art and design to engineering, and the venue is used for exhibitions.

The touristy part:

The exhibition of watercolours by Prince Charles at The Garrison Chapel runs until 14 February 2022, except for 31/1 to 4/2. It’s free to enter and you don’t need to book. The venue is a 10 minute walk from Victoria Station and just off Chelsea Bridge Road. It is on several bus routes and the nearest tube station is Sloane Square. There are a few small cafes in the area.

I really enjoyed the exhibition and it was clear Prince Charles loves painting and I hope he will continue to visit and paint such beautiful landscapes when he is king.

And finally…see the menu on the left for more ideas of places to go.

Day out: Fulham Palace, London


Whenever we go and watch the boat race at Putney Bridge we look at Fulham Palace in the distance through the trees and talk about going to visit it, so today I did. It was home to bishops for 1,300 years until 1973 and there’s lots to see there. So if you like historic buildings with extensive grounds you will love Fulham Palace.

Click here for pictures.

How to get there:

The nearest tube station is Putney Bridge. Then there’s a 15 minute walk along the River Thames through Bishop’s Park to the entrance of Fulham Palace. It’s also on several different bus routes.

Ten good reasons to visit Fulham Palace:

  1. The main house has been remodelled several times over the years and is a mixture of architectural styles. There’s a Tudor courtyard, a great hall with portraits of bishops, a museum, a chapel and 13 acres of grounds to walk around.
  2. There is a beautiful chapel with lots of coloured tiles, mosaics, murals and stained glass windows.
  3. The clock in the courtyard was made by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry who also made Big Ben.
  4. In the grounds I found sculptures of bishops made out of trees.
  5. My favourite part of Fulham Palace was the walled garden which was quiet and peaceful and it was easy to forget I was in the middle of London. It has an orchard, a winery and a bee hive but no bees.
  6. One of the earliest turkeys was eaten at Fulham Palace. The bones were discovered recently in an archaeological dig.
  7. Guided tours of the house and garden take place often. Details are on their website.
  8. Behind the walled garden I found a back entrance leading to All Saints Church where 11 of the bishops are buried.
  9. Nearby in Bishop’s Park is a sculpture garden with statues and a fountain made of Sicilian marble. We had walked past it without seeing it when we went there for the boat race (because of the crowds) so it was a nice surprise.
  10. I spent several hours at Fulham Palace and found it very interesting and learned a lot about bishops but you don’t have to be interested in bishops to visit it.

What I didn’t like about it:

The website said Fulham Palace was free to enter but when I booked my visit online it wanted a £5 donation. So it wasn’t free but I decided not to worry about it and I enjoyed my visit.

And finally:

Fulham Palace is open from Wednesdays to Sundays, and the cafe and grounds are open every day. See the menu on the left for more ideas for places to visit.

day out: handel and hendrix museum, london


200 years separated George Frederic Handel and Jimi Hendrix but they both lived in the same building in Brook Street, London, and Hendrix claimed to have seen Handel’s ghost in the bathroom. The building is now the Handel and Hendrix Museum and I visited it with a friend and we both enjoyed the experience because it felt very homely and we learned a lot about both Handel and Hendrix.

George Frederic Handel:

Handel was born in Germany in 1685 and was the first occupant of 25 Brook Street, London. He lived in the house from 1723 until he died in 1759. While there he composed lots of music including Messiah, and performed nearby at places such as the Covent Garden Theatre. We saw his grand piano, lots of portraits and the huge four poster bed he slept in.

Jimi Henrix:

Jimi Hendrix lived in the top floor flat next door from 1968-9, most of which is laid out as a museum with many displays about his concerts. I was very impressed by his record collection which included Sergeant Pepper and Handel’s Messiah. The room which had been his bedroom is arranged as it was when he lived there with his girlfriend, including a 1960’s style television, telephone and cassette player.

Handel and Hendrix:

There’s lots of information in the museum about the local venues the two musicians visited while living there, the shops they used and the bars and restaurants they socialised in. For instance Hendrix furnished his flat with curtains and cushions he bought from the John Lewis shop in Oxford Street nearby. After your visit you could go for a walk and retrace their steps.

A few practical details:

Tickets need to be booked in advance and cost £10 but are free if you have the National Art Pass. Entry is down a passageway and through a beautiful courtyard used by diners from a restaurant nearby, then up lots of narrow stairs.

The nearest tube station is Bond Street and a number of different bus routes run along Oxford Street. The area is full of shops, cafes and restaurants so you won’t get hungry.

And finally:

The Handel and Hendrix Museum is open Thursdays to Saturdays at present and then closes on 23 September 2021 for restoration so if you want to visit, I suggest you go soon.

day out: pitzhanger manor, Ealing


If you like architecture and want to go to Ealing in West London, then Pitzhanger Manor is the place to go. I went there with a friend and we both enjoyed our visit. It is a NeoClasscal building designed and lived in by the architect Sir John Soane (1753-1837), who also designed The Bank of England and Dulwich Picture Gallery.

A bit of historical background:

John Soane bought the house in Ealing in 1800 and removed most of except for the wing he had worked on when young. No architect would ever demolish their own work. He rebuilt it and it is a testimony to his skill as an architect. The only section we didn’t like was the glass conservatory which was on the first floor and didn’t match the rest of the house.

Soane and his wife entertained artists like JMW Turner and sculptors such as John Flaxman while living there, and there were paintings displayed showing them all together.

However, in 1810 the family moved to Lincoln’s Inn, to the building which is now the Sir John Soane Museum. Pitzhanger Manor was sold to Ealing Council and used as a library until it became a museum in 1987.

The NeoClassical architecture at Pitzhanger Manor is interesting to look at, with a few paintings, information boards about Soane and his family, and the restoration of the building and from the windows you have beautiful views of Walpole Park. However, it was empty of the personal items that you would expect to find in a museum dedicated to the person who actually lived there.

There were also two exhibitions, one of work by the contemporary artist Julian Opie, and another about architecture for dogs. Other events will be taking place there for the London Open House weekend in September.

Walpole Park:

Walpole Park next door is beautiful and has fountains, a lake and a cafe called Pitzhanger Pantry and a music festival was taking place the day we visited. We went for a long walk around the park and found trees planted in honour of Ealing Councillors.

A few practical details:

Pitzhanger Manor is open Wednesday to Sunday and tickets need to be booked in advance but there are concessions available. There are lots of places to eat nearby and the museum is a 5-10 minute walk from Ealing Broadway tube station.

Although Ealing was a long way to go, we both enjoyed our visit to Pitzhanger Manor and it made me want to go back to the Sir John Soane Museum in Lincoln’s Inn which I remember is crammed full of his collection of art and sculpture and there is a lot more to see there.

See the menu on the left for other ideas of places to go.

day out: The wimbledon book festival


The Wimbledon Book Festival is different this year. It normally lasts 10 days but this year it’s happening in 2 parts. The first part – the Sunrise Festival – has just happened and was very well attended when I went. The second part – the Sunset Festival – will be taking place in September 2021.

The Sunrise Festival:

I chose the hottest day of the year to attend a talk by 2 local novelists. The first was Jane Thynne, author of Widowland, which was set in 1953 in London under Nazi rule, and the second was Aliya Ali Afzal who has written a novel set in Wimbledon called Would I Lie to You which is about a woman spending all her money. They both sounded very readable and we had a choice of one of the books included in the ticket price.

The event took place in the Robert Graves Tent, named after the poet and novelist who was born in Wimbledon in 1895. Everyone working there was very friendly and social distancing rules were followed to the letter.

Other speakers who appeared at the book festival this year to talk about books they had written included Ed Miliband, Michael Morpurgo and Frank Skinner. I attended several years ago for a talk by Alison Weir, who writes novels set in Tudor times. She’s a wonderful novelist and speaker.

The Sunset Festival:

The second part of the Wimbledon Book Festival takes place from 15-19 September 2021 and details of speakers will be announced nearer the time. I always enjoy it and intend to go again.

A few practical details:

The venue is a couple of huge tents on Wimbledon Common near the war memorial. Tickets for the Sunset Festival will be available on the website. There are lots of shops, cafes and restaurants in the High Street nearby.

It’s easy to get to by public transport. Any bus between Wimbledon and Putney will take you to the war memorial and from there you can see the big tents. The nearest overground railway station is Wimbledon and the tube stations are Wimbledon and Wimbledon Park.

Other things to do in Wimbledon include tennis, scenic walks on the common and visiting Wimbledon Windmill which re-opens on 3 July 2021. It is a beautiful historic building and entry is free.

And Finally:

See the menu on the left for more ideas of places to go this summer.

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