Trees, forests, woodland we both love them. Wonderful places to walk and photograph. Settings for many of our favourite horror films – we probably watch too many of those - we were all completely freaked out recently by a long grey jacket hanging on a tree in the middle of a forest! Wildlife everywhere you look – well at least until you get your camera out! And don’t forget to look up the view through the tops of the trees is breathtaking.
I suppose by the time you reach our age thoughts turn to where you want to live in retirement. We both have major split personalities and can never decide whether we want bright lights, big city or lakes, mountains and trees, lots of trees. In an ideal world when my Nan’s ‘ship’ eventually comes in (its been a long time coming…) how wonderful would it be to have both? That’s not going to happen for us unless we’re in a shepherds hut and a tent!
I read last year that Manchester city centre housebuilders are trying to attract the more mature house buyers into city centre apartments – what a wonderful idea. But hang on this article was talking about the over 35’s! Guess that makes us geriatrics, but even when we have our zimmer frames and struggle to remember the way home we would still love city life. How could you not? Museums, art galleries, restaurants, events happening all the time, walk to work and restaurants – did I say restaurants? New ones every week to try – make sure you’re quick as some don’t last too long!
So we watch the new city centre housing developments with interest not sure whether to take the leap and move to the city and then we go on holiday…
Now as all our holidays seem to end up being in the highlands of Scotland (we do look elsewhere!) every time we find ourselves back in the middle of a forest with walks to a loch and mountains to climb all thoughts of citylife disappear and we start house hunting there!
Maybe I’m a product of Little House on the Prairie (could you watch any episode without crying?). A log cabin in the forest with its own loch and mountains behind how wonderful would that be. Log cabins must surely be easy to build – I remember 7 Brides for 7 Brothers - they built theirs between dances in about 10 minutes!
Who wouldn’t love life in the forest? Peace and quiet, wildlife at your doorstep, long walks taking you to magical places, picnics by the lochs and amazing sunsets from the top of mountains. So we look in the estate agent’s windows, weigh up house prices and jobs and then we go home and go back into the city…
How do you make your dream home become a reality when you don’t even know what your dream home or more particularly the location is! I suppose - we could always sell up and travel the world in a camper van….
You might be thinking here that I am completely uncultured but how wrong you would be! Art to me is big. I love a big installation the quirkier the better. Maybe I’m a product of watching too much Art Attack when the kids were younger – do you remember the amazing massive designs Neil Buchanan used to create – visible only from the air! Go check YouTube if you haven’t!
As a family (always drag everyone else along with you!) we were fascinated by Cornelia Parker’s amazing exploding shed ‘Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View’ at the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester, gazed in awe at the intricate paper cut sculptures in the First Cut exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery and still can’t quite believe that we spent such a long time looking at a giant crack in the floor ‘Shibboleth’ at the Tate in London (it really was just a completely fascinating crack in the floor!).
The growth in giant art outdoor installations across the country has led us to extend our journeys many a time calling at random towns and roads just to see one! The Angel of the North standing proudly near Gateshead, the Kelpies close to Falkirk in Scotland and their sister sculpture "Arria”, Anthony Gormley’s ‘Another Place’ 100 cast iron figures (allegedly all of him and very naked!) spread out across Crosby Beach - these should all be on your must see list. We even manage to have our own slightly smaller sculpture in Wigan Town Centre - The Face of Wigan, representing all the inhabitants of Wigan.
Art should be whatever gives you pleasure to look at whether that’s an ageing oil painting, an unmade bed (?!) or giant metal horse heads. Photos hanging in a gallery, children’s paintings on your wall and yes, I definitely think Instagram. An art gallery you can view from anywhere in the world at any time - at times inspirational and emotive - check out our account @mwgu50 and have a look at some of our amazing followers.
Holidays - maybe they are not the most important thing in your life but for us the need to escape and recharge is something we cannot manage without. Equally at home in the big cities or out in the wilderness. We don’t really do exotic and despite extensively researching different countries, towns and cities every year we seem to have developed a tendency to just drift back to Scotland – well specifically the highlands of Scotland.
It’s hard to see my childhood holidays as anything other than a vintage postcard (not the saucy ones!) caravans, seasides, you and your sister in matching clothes, picnics in the car after a ‘drive’ (who does that anymore!), Grandad leaving his false teeth everywhere, Nanny and her crochet bag who despite the heat always produced a new blanket for someone! We holidayed across the country finding special places on the Isle of Wight and Lake District, Wales, Devon and Norfolk – once we even ventured as far as Dumfries! Almost every holiday was self-catered which (unless my memory is beginning to fail) was a cheap and cheerful way to get away and have some fun. Caravans and chalets (not as exciting as they sound and definitely nothing remotely like a swiss one!) and eventually progressing to country cottages!
Somewhere during the past ten years self-catering holidays changed. Hot tubs began to appear, luxurious accommodation, chefs to cook in your cottage and a gradual climb in the cost. Like a large amount of the country we are tied to school holidays (job not children) so any potential break we decide to do always involves the most expensive prices of the whole year. 6 people (and the dog) appears to give you an average price of £2000 for a week in the summer and whilst researching Cornwall last year we were quoted £7500 for one property! Prices for a summer break on the Isle of Scilly would definitely make your bank manager (probably a robot now) faint! Needless to say, we didn’t take up any of those options but for those prices to be quoted presumably someone is paying them.
It’s almost become cheaper to stay in a hotel now with food, but for us (and probably many others) we like the relaxation of a self-catered holiday. Free to eat when and where we want and (boringly) even be able to wash and iron during your stay. There is nothing nicer than a suitcase of clean clothes ready to hang when you reach home! We look (after price) for somewhere to sleep all 6 of us and the dog (we never know who is coming!), at least two bathrooms, somewhere we can eat outside (providing it doesn’t rain all week!) comfy beds and most importantly – location.
Thankfully, if you look hard enough you can get all of these things without breaking the bank. Our most recent choice proved to be one of the most perfect self-catering accommodations we had ever stayed in and for a very reasonable school holiday price.
Handpicked Lodges' ‘Riverside Lodge’ should really have given us a clue as to what we could expect, and we fell in love with the house and its location the minute we walked through the door. Patio doors on every bedroom and a living area looking out over a fast-flowing river. Comfy beds, red squirrels running around outside, a firepit next to the river, Netflix (bring your own log in!), birds to photograph, leather couches, a forest on your doorstep and so many little extras (loved the local beers and famous Scottish delicacy the Tunnock Wafer!) and it even had a washing/drying/ironing room!
Thanks to a week of sunshine and heat, meals on the patio every night and wildlife by the bucket load it was a memorable holiday and thankfully midge-free. Time to start thinking of our next trip – where shall we go? Scotland again? Why not….
As we've previously mentioned we are both 'larks', awake and ready to go very early in the morning. This has its advantages - watching the sun rise, catching early morning mist, getting to work on time!
Imagine our excitement when we found out a steam train was due to pass through Manchester Victoria generating (hopefully!) lots of contrasting ancient (well maybe not ancient!) and modern transport pics! Imagine our horror when we found out it was due to pass through at 6.30am. we're about 45 minutes away from the city centre on a good day (rare and infrequent - the days when no one else is on the road!)- mentally adding on breakfast, getting ready (have to put my lipstick on!), parking, walking etc meant a very, very early start and after a busy week it was not something either of us relished.
It was an opportunity we didn't want to miss, so time to book a last minute hotel deal in Manchester for the night (this is how seriously we take our photography now!) and there was even time for a Friday night family meet up with the 'grown ups'.
Even without the travelling, Saturday still brought a very early start and when the alarm rang at 5.30am we almost had to drag each other out of bed. Thankfully Chris had done a pre-visit 'recce' on his work lunch break earlier in the week, so we knew exactly where to stand (or thought we did!). The sun was out, the city was quiet and, unlike earlier in the week, it was warmish (no frost!).
We positioned ourselves at the side of the track, just before the train would disappear inside the station - at the side of the embankment building and not on the actual track!
I didn't realise we had become train spotters too ( I will shortly be buying my very own anorak!), but there was considerable excitement as we saw the steam appear and the familiar chug chug noises. It wasn't the prettiest of steam trains, but it was a delightful sight making its way through the building works and the new flats in and around the station. Happy travellers waved from every window (they must have been up so early as the train had departed Liverpool at least 40 minutes previous) and the train looked really inviting particularly the First Class section (until we reached home and priced it up!).
As it entered Victoria Station, we casually set off to the other side of the bridge to see it come out the other side. Even managing to look at each others videos and photos! At this point our plans went slightly (well massively!) array - neither of us had read the actual timings! We waited until 7am and then checked to find the train had just gone straight through Victoria and we had completely missed its departure! Still, no time for disappointment as we saw lots of early morning trains and trams and the trainlines looked particularly impressive in the early morning sunshine!
So, there we were 7am - all done for the day and a bit lost for ideas. The lighting was spectacular, so we wandered around for 8km passing through the Northern Quarter and back into the city with a stop for cinnamon swirls on the steps of the Bridgewater Hall. We still had time to kill before we were expected at our next appointment, so called in at Salford Quays (again the lighting was really, really good!) and were met by rowers, wild water swimmers and more spectacular sunshine.
All done for the day and back home in time to watch the Royal Wedding (might have been a slight afternoon nap though!) we were pretty pleased with our mornings work!
Brought up on the legends of Bury market and black pudding, coupled with the total disbelief when people pronounce it wrong (its Bury as in 'Berry' to us!) I was born just outside the town over 50 years ago and spent the first two years of my life living in the leafy suburbs of Whitefield. Unbelievably, apart from a couple of trips with the kids to the East Lancs Railway to meet Thomas the Tank Engine and more excitingly the real Santa (it was the real one wasn't it?), neither I, nor the rest of my family, have ever been back. My Dad's job involved us all moving around northern towns during my early years and it would appear as a family we just moved on and forgot all about places. One of our current photography obsessions involves taking the cameras out to highlight the great North West where we live and work, so it was time for a trip back 'home'.
I must admit I had mixed feelings about visiting Bury, I genuinely expected a town which had seen better days (in line with several other of our great northern towns) but I was looking forward very much to finding my first home and where I had spent the first years of my life.
From the moment we arrived I was taken aback by the modern, lively town that greeted us. From the town centre apartments over the bustling outdoor shopping centre to the stylish restaurants and cafes on every corner (there was even a Tim Hortons!) the town had a real 'buzz' to it. It benefits from having its own Metrolink terminus and at times it almost felt like we were in city centre Manchester (on a slightly smaller scale).
We paid a visit to the world famous market - packed full of stalls and shoppers and as a sewer how wonderful it was to see real fabric stalls. Fabric shopping online is cheap and easy, but so often I am disappointed with how the fabric looks and feels when it arrives - I'd almost forgotten how much fun it is to rummage through rolls of fabric and the off cuts basket!
Queues at the black pudding stalls, freshly baked goods everywhere (being good Wigan people we bought delicious pies for lunch!), cheap and cheerful trendy clothes and lots of people actually shopping and buying. How rare is this now? Often the shops are full, but the counters are not. Look in the shop then buy cheaper on the internet - probably the biggest problem our high street has to deal with right now and one we are also guilty of. All I could think is why have our other Northern towns let their markets fade away? Town planners need to pay a visit to Bury on market day and see what we are missing out on! If the high street is lacking in footfall follow their example and attract the coaches in -people will visit the restaurants and cafes and other shops and give our towns that special 'buzz'.
We took a tourist trip round the town walking as far as Clarence Park and Chesham Woods (past my Dad's first young man's 'digs') and then called in at the Transport Museum and the East Lanc's Railway en route back to the town centre.
Helped by clear blue skies and warm sunshine, the town was clean and well kept and was a genuine pleasure to visit (and photograph!)- look at the queues of cars waiting for the car parks and you'll realise how popular a town it appears to be.
The journey home took a slight detour to our old family home, which was surprisingly poignant. It was hard not to imagine my now eighty year old parents starting their married life off in this house, producing two children and just being young. It was a stark reminder to both of us how quickly time moves on and how you really need to try and make the most of every minute.
The famous British Bank Holiday - what does it make you think of? Rain? Traffic jams? Old films on the TV? Who remembers when Disneytime was the bank holiday treat and the only time you saw Disney film clips outside of a cinema! How times have changed.
No matter what the weather, Bank Holidays are such a treat. No Monday morning get up (hands up who forgot to cancel their work alarm!) and a four day working week to follow. Time to spend with your family and friends, barbecues to eat, gardens to dig, scarecrow festivals to visit and no end of weird and wonderful UK traditions.
The 2018 early May Bank Holiday followed the strange weather pattern of the rest of this year producing the hottest temperatures for that day for more than 40 years, cue queues at the beaches and garden centres, the sound of lawns being mowed, people digging and planting, the smells of sausages being massacred on barbecues and badly sunburnt people visiting Boots for some after Sun! Sound familiar?
We retreated into the cool, peaceful surroundings of Manchester Cathedral - strangely quiet for a Saturday morning. We love to take the cameras inside the building and when the sun shines through the stained glass it becomes a photographers dream. Imagine our delight when we realised a young harpist @elfair89 (better known as Elfair Grug Dyer!) was setting up to rehearse for a concert later that day. After asking her permission, we then spent at least twenty minutes photographing her and the harp whilst listening to the most beautiful music which was so in keeping with the surroundings of the cathedral.
If only we had been able to stay to her 11am coffee concert (all free of charge with donations for your coffee and cake!). Sadly we had duties elsewhere and after a quick recharge in the café at the Royal Exchange Theatre (my first glimpse of the original trading boards still hanging in the building - remnants of its previous life as a cotton exchange) we sadly left behind the crowds of people who were now enjoying al fresco dining and socialising in the by now glorious sunshine.
In line with probably half the country we gardened, visited the garden centre for some bark to hide the weeds and came away with some half price garden furniture. ( word of warning here delivery is later this week and we fully expect that to be the end of everyone’s summer - sorry!).
We walked 7k with daughter and the pup early in the morning before it got too hot, which happened surprisingly early! Then enjoyed the beautiful weather in our currently tidy garden listening to our neighbours digging their garden and playing darts! We took lunch al fresco and enjoyed a lazy afternoon.
If only every Monday was as relaxing as this…now somebody bring me an ice cream?
Back in the heady days of the 1970’s, adult evening classes were in their infancy and hugely popular with people flocking to learn how to do nail art, macramé and throw pots. Somewhere over the next few decades everything changed and adult education became a much more serious activity – learn a language, have another go at your O-levels (not Harry Potter exams as someone once asked!) – if you were lucky you might find a yoga class or maybe guitar, but on the whole adult education transformed into just more school. This is no criticism of the system though as I became hooked on computing and all things technical whilst a ‘stay at home’ mum in the early 90’s. A night out then comprised of various computing evening classes at Standish High School with several of my like-minded friends!
Jump forward to 2018 and crafts are enjoying a huge resurgence. Pay a visit to Youtube or Pinterest and you will find instructions on how to create a wide variety of arts and crafts.
We are an enthusiastic (!) family of crafters some of us paint, some of us sew, some of us make a mess…. but we do love to try something new!
Imagine our excitement when we heard that Lizzie Griffiths, aka @potterylizzie, in conjunction with her team at Wigan STEAM, were starting arts and craft classes in the evenings at their base in Wigan Town Centre. Trying hard to curb our enthusiasm (and purses) two of us signed up to have a go at three of the classes during 2018.
May 2nd brought the first of these classes and off we went to create mosaic bird feeders.
From past experiences art usually passes me by - I love to look at it and admire other people’s work, but finding a spark of creativity is not one of my skills! I am a keen sewer and, as you know, love photography and writing and in those areas I do seem to be able to be a little bit ‘creative’ but art/painting/making things usually results in items only your mother would love! I approached the class with low expectations for my finished piece, but a night out with my daughter and a chance to work with Lizzie was highly anticipated.
Wigan Steam’s base is opposite the Wigan Life Centre; a small shop front leading to a creative, quirky place fully reflecting Lizzie’s personality. Rows of stringed lightbulbs and Radio 6 playing in the background - the four of us worked under the guidance of Lizzie to create our bird feeders on what was almost a kitchen table. It was intimate and friendly and who knew how much health and safety is involved with mosaic making? Watch out for flying shards of tiles, don’t inhale the glue and watch your fingers when you grout!
Lizzie was a great teacher and as a group we worked together to produce extraordinary feeders. Despite having no idea what design to do (everyone else had clear ideas from the start) I got very distracted by a gorgeous red tile and was persuaded by my daughter to do a poppy. Lucy settled on a bee theme and off we set smashing and cutting, glueing and arranging. In addition to being a relaxing creative pastime it is also extremely therapeutic – smash away your worries and stress with the hammer, but just remember to warn everyone else so they can keep hold of their pots!
Two hours soon passed and the evening ended with Lizzie showing us all how to grout. We took our grout home in doggy ‘poo’ bags – any dog owner will always have a supply of them in their pocket! 24 hours and our pots will be ready to grout and then finished.
I am pleased to say our pots survived the journey home despite the crashing noise I heard from the boot on the way home! They are now both waiting patiently for us to grout and I am thrilled and really quite amazed that I actually love mine! I fully embraced randomness and love how haphazard and colourful it is. Maybe this is a lesson for life I should give up on everyday structure and fully embrace my randomness!
We are now booked on a course later in the year to screenprint and just before Christmas we will be creating lanterns! It was such a fun and entertaining evening and I bought home something pretty for a change I am quite sure we will be trying many more crafty things this year!
Thanks to Lizzie for a great evening and sorry about the mess we all left!
PS - Photos were taken on my new Huawei P20 Pro, which claims to have the best mobile phone camera ever at a very reasonable price - none of the photos have been edited and I am pretty impressed with the results!
Somehow Sunday mornings never give us a lie in – body clocks are strange things and with 5.30am starts the rest of the week we are both wide awake and ready to go very, very early! We’ve taken to rising and breakfasting early and then taking the cameras out to catch sunrises, misty mornings and peace and quiet at usually busy spots. As we move towards summer (this sounds so wrong when the weather is still so cold!) the sun is rising just a little bit too early for us - so where to go?
This week we had some new camera kit to try including a Fujinon XF 10-24mm‘ landscape’ lens. What would be a perfect spot to try the landscape lens – somewhere high up? That’s what we thought!
So time to take a 20 minute drive up to a landmark which is visible from most of Greater Manchester and provides much of the area with television and radio signals and now includes mobile phone masts – the Winter Hill transmitting station. Lancashire constabulary was one of the first to use the site for a base station and it is rumoured that they even built the road! It is a very narrow road but still has a white line separating it into two lanes! We both found it hard to believe you could actually fit two cars on it!
First mistake of the morning was looking at the weather, but not actually looking what the forecast was! Glorious sunshine, beautiful blue skies, but an icy chilly wind which cut right through you - especially anyone stupid enough to have left their hats and gloves at home (didn’t someone say it was Spring now?!). Second mistake was blindly following the SATNAV to try a new parking place – as is the case with SATNAV’s off we went on the ‘quickest’ route up a tiny single track road which appeared at one point to go through someones drive!
We finally made it to the ‘summit’ just after 8am and what a view! It was mostly clear skies with just small pockets of hazy mist, with views from Southport to Wigan to Liverpool to Manchester to Bolton plus everywhere in between. You could see the wind farm at Formby, Fiddlers Ferry cooling towers, the Irish Sea, Blackpool Tower, the DW Stadium in Wigan and the Macron Stadium in Bolton plus shrouded in hazy mist the ‘city’ skyline of Manchester.
Two hours later, when we could barely move our fingers they were so cold, we had memory cards full of new images, and had done our exercise for the day and all before 10am! The route we chose was a steep climb up but we were passed by many a runner and cyclist making their way to the summit and some very enthusiastic dogs!
The landscape lens took some getting used to but we did both improve. It offers a very strange view – it is almost like what you see with your eyes expands through the lens, we seem to have mastered finding the water bottle left behind by someone in the grass and even our own shadows but we did take some photos that really love and were treated to spectacular views.
Plants wither at the thought of coming to live with us – greenfingers are definitely lacking in this house! We share a love of spring flowers, tulips and daffodils, snowdrops and crocus and as summer approaches look forward to receiving sweet peas from better gardeners. When we found out Fothergills were selling sweet pea seeds to support the Royal Chelsea Hospital Appeal we decided to have a go at growing our own (at this point it is probably best to confess that we have had other unsuccessful attempts – many other unsuccessful attempts!).
We both feel that The Royal Chelsea Hospital – home of the world famous Chelsea pensioners – is a worthy charity to support. The pensioners are all retired soldiers of the British Army and since 1692 the hospital has offered them a home with care and comradeship to recognise the service they have given our country. They march proudly in their red uniforms and are a familiar sight.
Perhaps you imagine these veterans to be survivors of the two world wars but the 300 current residents served in much more modern campaigns from the Falklands Islands to Northern Ireland. The charity encourages retired soldiers who would otherwise be living alone to apply to live at the hospital and relies on donations to ensure they are able to support them.
Whilst the 25p donated from our packet of seeds might seem very small every penny helps the charity and we will have the fun of attempting to grow our very own sweet peas. Progress seems good at the moment but the transfer to our garden shortly may be the last time we see this batch of plants!
After what seems to have been a very long winter, with parts of the country being deluged with snowfall and bad weather (as is common in our little part of the UK we seem to always miss the worst extremes of the weather - possibly due to being on the sheltered side of the Pennines) towards the end of April saw the sun finally make an appearance with the hottest April temperature in 70 years, 29.1C (84.4F), being recorded in London.
We usually go out and about with our cameras every weekend and when we have time during the week, evenings too. Everywhere has looked very bleak with bare trees, spring flowers only just beginning to appear and grey skies, but all this changed almost overnight last week.
As the sun came out the skies turned blue, leaves began to appear on the trees and we even spotted a bluebell poking its head above the soil! (early for April?). Sadly, the sun and the heat seemed to have a detrimental effect on the rows of very late yellow daffodils, which appeared to have wilted and died almost overnight.
A morning mid week walk on the #warmestdayoftheyear (don’t forget the hashtag!) with the sunshine casting glorious shadows in the woodlands and on fences and buildings - followed by a Saturday afternoon walk, which saw blue skies and a temperature of 22C (almost 72F) plus a few complaints about how hot we were! The fields and paths were full of walkers and dogs, teenagers playing music and spending time together in the woods and even a tractor ploughing his dusty fields. Fields of yellow rapeseed and the sounds of cricketers playing in the sunshine. It definitely felt like summer!
Fingers crossed that these idyllic few days are not summer 2018 and that there is plenty more to come!
Life and other