Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Ushaw College

I am not a Roman Catholic, I am a Christian ( liberal Anglican). I have many RC friends and three decades ago was a Durham theology student. I have had a career in information and heritage including saving some very large buildings. The problem of Ushaw cannot be readily swept away. Far better to say: forward to new opportunities. How wonderful it would be to create a new hilltop Christian village from what is present. Make the farm into luxury dwellings respecting the architecture. Create a retirement complex offering security and a community. Retain a small seminary and Christian community running the church and the library. Create a undergraduate hall of residence for Durham University. Continue a successful conference operation. Go to the Handelsbank for a funding partner. Get out there and work with a broad cross section of people of good will to see that God has a future for Ushaw College as He was its Director in its past.

This blog explains more and there is a petition here

Possibly some good news at last here.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Go North East, Facebook and IID

For 10 days now Facebook and Go North East have together forged a revolution in real time transport company information management in a crisis. Archiving this revolution is not easy.

Here is a significant post and an entry point:!/notes/go-north-east/go-north-easts-policy-on-moderating-facebook-posts-and-twitter-messages/458638036183

Go North East’s Policy on Moderating Facebook Posts and Twitter messages by Go North East on Monday, 06 December 2010 at 11:04

Go North East’s Facebook and Twitter pages are for the purposes of keeping customers informed and receiving customers’ feedback. It is largely un-moderated as we welcome feedback from all customers and want to hear all points of view including criticism of how we are doing if we don’t get something right in our service to customers. We will, however, remove posts that contain foul or abusive language, or which for other reasons are considered seriously inappropriate. This would include hoax incident reports for example.

During severe weather conditions or during other major incidents, Facebook and Twitter are proving an extremely valuable way of keeping customers informed. Our team works flat out to keep the information up to date, and we ask all Facebook and Twitter users not to waste their time and the time of other customers with mischievous or abusive posts. Our team can provide customers with a much better service if they are able to concentrate on providing service updates and answering as many genuine customer questions as possible.

We reserve the right to block Facebook accounts that are sources of abusive language or other inappropriate posts, and to report the account holder to Facebook. Such posts will be removed as quickly as possible by our team.
And here are some insider comments from a day or so back
"Facebook up to 27.5k "likes" and 2.5 million (yes million)"views" according to their stats. Ran a short piece on the people behind it in 'discussion topics' which has produced some very nice feedback. It's very rewarding hearing how much of a difference it is genuinely making for people.

An ad agency (we are not a client, don't know them), called mhdpartnership today tweeted: Looks like @gonortheast is king of the bus service updates."

There are risks. GNE have run a very open house which exposes them to a degree of counter productive posts. Not everyone is responsible in using their freedom.

Where might GNE see this all landing? Here at The International Institute for Information Design

and you will immediately see
6th IIID Expert Forum
Traffic & Transport Information Systems
Traffic, Transport and Social Media
How transport providers and mobility enablers can use social media to better communicate with their customers
8 - 9 September 2011, Wien/Vienna, Austria

An excellent case study methinks?

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Trying to keep a town bus service

Regulars around Prudhoe will know what a struggle it has been to keep a town bus service since the 603 was culled in a review around 2003. Here is one instalment in a campaign to try to keep things positive. You need to understand that since 7.11.10 a brand new attempt at a town service called 111 is being run by regional company Go North East on a commercial basis for one year. The text is a letter to our two county councillors that this town has.

Dear Neil and Bill

You are the two councillors responsible for Prudhoe to the county. Today I had cause to be at the top of Prudhoe for some while (Drawback area). As opposed to my last visit when the timetable cases displayed the old inaccurate 604 route timetable, now they display nothing. So someone has been around and done something but whoever it was could not even get hold of the 111 timetable out of the 11 leaflets, cut it out and glue it in place. That would be something and Town Councillor Duncan Couchman has arranged for that to happen in the Prudhoe Town Council noticeboard on Castle Road.

The 111 service passes the new county installed real time displays at St Marys but does not show on them. Along Castle Road and Castlefields there is I think no information at all. There are a few STOPS which do display correct information like at Interchange.

Despite the difficulties of the weather, what was required from the county was not rocket science. Just sticking the printed timetable up would have done. And we are now at one month on from the change.

What is clear to me is that the weather and the state of the estate roads in the town has utterly vindicated the company in their decision to split the 11 and 111. As for the evening services, the county could apply to the Local Sustainable Transport Fund for funding and issue a tender.

Obviously we cannot control the weather and it is unfortunate that just when the 111 would be really useful its operation has become very erratic. I guess not many passengers would be on its tally currently and in the circumstance it would not surprise me that unless something is done, we will face a situation in which in a year's time Prudhoe's town bus service has once and for all been lost. Because unless a service carries passengers it is not worth operating.

Can I also suggest that people from the county look at this

Every single route in that rural region has an up to date timetable easy to download as a PDF. Is this the situation with Northumberland?

I looked here

and no way does it match up.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Don't believe Radio Newcastle about Metrocentre trains

For several days now, BBC Radio Newcastle have been broadcasting no trains Newcastle Metrocentre. This has been totally wrong and just now I rung "Call the radio news desk: 0191 244 1459" to try to convince them of what is actually happening.

The girl there was so unhelpful it was incredible and clearly has no knowledge of where the trains go. All she would do is parrot that the train company say this.

The problem is that if you say as they have, there are no trains between Newcastle and Metrocentre the users of the line assume this means a blockage for the Carlisle Hexham Newcastle trains because Metrocentre is between Newcastle and Hexham. The girl bluntly told me that the line was so blocked and that I was wasting her time and hung up.

I have checked here and know this is wrong

I can tell you there are plenty of trains between Newcastle and Metrocentre this morning. Every train that does not stop terminate at Metrocentre is running.

When Northern tell you Newcastle Metrocentre is not running what it means is that the short Newcastle Metrocentre ONLY trains are not running. They have cancelled a number of trains which use a crossover at Metrocentre to turn round because of the danger of the crossover freezing. That is all that is happening.

If this effects you complain to Radio Newcastle to check it by looking at
That is all they have to do and then see how misleading the broadcast is. They simply HAVE to say Newcastle Metrocentre ONLY trains are cancelled. Metrocentre shops will not be pleased if the BBC broadcasts that they have no train service.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Ovingham Middle School Shut 3rd December

I attach the closure notice from OMS today. I know they are trying very hard and I do not disagree with their logic. It is serious once the grit stops working. However reading through this I think it can be concluded that the County Council needed to deliver a much more sophisticated and intensive effort through the week if normal life was not to fail as it has. Hopefully come Monday, the Atlantic will have returned and the snow gone away not come back this winter?

(06:55am – 03/12/2010)

Staff check e-mail at 7:30

The usual decision making process has been gone through. The deciding factors today were the following;

The snow that fell from early evening to around midnight has not yet been cleared. That snow is lying on frozen slush on the roads. When I spoke my plough/ gritter contact (who I may add has been a fantastic help since last Thursday and has called everything right in my opinion), he was defrosting the tractor he drives as the diesel was freezing. He was told that the road temperatures on the A69 was -13, at which temperature the salt has no effect. He described the roads on the lead up to school as treacherous.

The caretaker, who always battles through has given me the condition report around the school is that cars are getting stuck on any incline and actually polishing the ice as they slip.

Most school transport did not run yesterday. The ones that did are not keen to even try today.

Neighbouring schools are closed today.

Last night Mr Lakey, the Caretaker and I had to abandon our path clearing and gritting around the school because of the snow falling. At the moment, this grit is having no effect on the paths or the entrance to the car park.

I have judged that the risk is too great for pupils, parents and staff to travel this morning. I know that it is likely to be sunny later which means that the paths and roads will defrost, however I feel this will come too late.

I am very sorry for the inconvenience. Please see the note about volunteers- we are planning a community path dig on Sunday.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Look North 29.11.10 The bus that did'nt stop

Yesterday the news bulletins of BBC Look North carried prominently a bus story which must have made viewers laugh and the bus company cringe.

The snow scene showed a main road, a lady who had walked from her village a mile. She was stood at a bus stop beside a dual carriageway. Along comes a little yellow bus branded Tynedale Links and it rushes past her in the fast lane. She is annoyed.

Do these things happen by co-incidence? I think not and here is the explanation of it all. The location is a bus stop on the A69 called Ovington Road Ends. The lady I am told used to work for the BBC and lives in Ovington. How else would a film crew co-incidentally get here and find a passenger? You try it.

The bus belongs to Go North East who have been doing remarkable things in the snow, see their Facebook pages to prove that. It was working a Hexham Newcastle 684 route. The bus stop the lady was on is a Hexham Newcastle 685 route. Big difference because this is where the two routes diverge. She was waiting for the wrong bus.

The problem arose because the 684 bus is usually always in the fast lane at this point as it proved to be, because it is about to turn right,a difficult task on this dual carriageway. It then goes to the villages of Ovington Ovingham and Wylam. Because of the snow there had been difficulties in serving the villages and buses had had to stay on the A69. The bus was in the usual outside lane so that the driver could assess whether he could indeed turn right and serve the villages. He decided he could not but neither was he in any save position to serve the passenger.

It looks like something of a set up job by the BBC and one is left asking whether the passenger has thought of ringing GNE in good time to tell the bus company there would be a passenger at the "wrong stop". With acknowledgements to folk on that very helpful Yahoo group Busesnortheast for information which filled in some of the gaps. The real villain in the piece is Northumberland County Council who have been unable or unwilling to clear bus routes despite which the bus company instead of sitting in their warm depots have come out to try to operate them. If this sounds unfair, spending some time in the cold at Prudhoe Interchange over the last few days most perfectly illustrates this. The nearby main road was drivable so the buses got here. The interchange and adjacent bus stops which is also public highway was ignored by the clearance teams and buses were frequently sticking.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

The Media Phenomenon which is Go North East's Facebook pages

A brief post which is a heads up to a media phenomenon deserving of recognition. Look at!/simplyGNE .As the snow cut in on Thursday, Fiona the wife who was already on Facebook persuaded me I had to join in order to follow the minute by minute account of what was happening out there. Managers, passengers, drivers all seemed to be contributing. At that moment there were some 5,400 liking the page. Just now there are 9,601. That is a phenomenon in four days. It shows to those who are sceptical how a social networking site can be positively used by a regional bus company to engage cost effectively with their customer base. So much better than the clunky hardware heavy route which the Council authorities seem interested in following. By that I mean the real time bus displays. Examples of these have been installed at taxpayers cost in Prudhoe. They only cover one route and that I am not convinced accurately. Other bus routes use the stops and are ignored.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

A great timetable meets its maker

Over at , which I administer, a contact called Ralph Rawlinson has helpfully briefed us about the end of another of the great printed railway timetables of the world in this information rich and content weak e-world.
>Re your mention of the European timetable. Apologies if it has previously
>been reported here but the Thomas Cook Overseas Timetable will cease
>publication after the Nov/Dec 2010 edition.

I thank Ralph for this titbit. Despite the collection now being at York and with 1.11.10 being my birthday, the good wife set out today to the Newcastle Thomas Cook to buy one of these.

It turned out to be almost impossible. All sorts of hoops were put before her by the staff. Finally the lady on foreign exchange said she would try and order one but not before 10th November!

Have've we been here before? When you want to abandon something the first thing to do is to make it very difficult to procure.

Nonetheless it is the clear trend. Printed railway timetables are dead. Only the great obstinacy of the British has ended up with 2 (TSO and Middleton Press) where we had one. But worldwide, they're finished and those of us with shelfloads of the things can congratulate ourselves on our prescience and wonder how future historians will have a clue about what operated when on national railway networks in the year 2011.

There seems on the part of the operators an almost culpable disdain for what they do and a conviction that whatever it is, it is so horrible that all trace for posterity must be lost.
>. The country now has 7,055 km of high-speed
>railways in operation, ranking first in the world and by 2012 it will have a
>network of 13,000 km.
Perhaps it was just too painful to see that in print about China compared with the British achievement. Maybe some DfT mandarin has been having a quiet world in the ear of a Thomas Cook senior executive?

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Hanging Gardens of Prudhoe AKA Prudhoe Town centre Redevelopment

"Write me two paragraphs outlining the 21st century nature of the Duke of Northumberland's intended revelopment of Prudhoe town centre"

"We'll demolish one small monstrosity and replace it with a huge one"

"That looks like something out of the 1970s"

"Landlordism at its worst"

"Where's the hanging gardens of Prudhoe?"

"Is that a car park I see from 10 miles away?"

"That's a nice traffic jam on Station Bank and its not even snowing"

"Where's the butchers?"

"Is this a hard or soft development?"

"Do you travel from Prudhoe to shop in Blaydon shopping precinct?"

"A smaller town centre which thrives is better than a larger one that does not"

"At long last Prudhoe is going to get something Hexham has'nt: a multi storey car park"

For perhaps half of our 20 years in Prudhoe, the issue of Prudhoe town centre has bubbled on. Maybe it is longer. Because at heart I am not a controversalist, I have kept my head down on this issue. On Friday 22nd October 2010, something happened which broke that.

Myself, my wife and a good friend attended a presentation about the Duke's plans. This was in the light of a Judicial Review having quashed the County Council's granting of planning permission previously. What I saw at this presentation left me dumbstruck. I could not conceive that after so much process, a landowner could ignore so much complaint and offer a project that was so unimaginative and behind the times.

So now we try to explain. The one liners above are good debating points and we would defend each. It is sad if some sound negative and personal but my understanding is that the Duke, the landowner, has never personally put himself before the people of Prudhoe in an attempt to create a project that delivered across the spread of agendas. His solution has been consistently impositional rather than inspirational and consensual. And therein lies the Problem.

Some folk have thought our comparison with Blaydon a bit mean. Actually we do go to Blaydon, they sell some nice cheap vegetables there but we don't go for the destination experience. It is very clear that the shopping precinct there has drained life from the old Front Street whilst at the same time, the rate of unit turnover within shows it struggles with its own economies.

It ought to have been straightforward for a family with the wealth of the Duke of Northumberland and with the track record of Alnwick Garden to come up with the creativity, that when offered a prime hillside location in a beautiful valley, the resulting proposal wowed the mind and delighted the senses. A car park could have become a leading piece of vertical gardening or farming which brought people hundreds of miles to Prudhoe to see the result. A landmark which made every traveller on the A69 turn for the colour of the planting rising into the sky.

But throughout the whole torrid process that is the Prudhoe redevelopment, this connectivity between the talents that the Percy family evidently have and those charged with exciting the citizens of Prudhoe has been signally absent. Instead it looks as if the assumption is: that so long as there is a Sainsbury (which I would welcome), then that will please those who live in Prudhoe. We who live here are not people with aspirations, we will take what we are given and be grateful. Yet the reaction of the folk of Prudhoe has shown how wrong that assumption is.

Aside from the failure of the grand vision, it seems listening to the people at the presentation that there are plenty of serious everyday concerns. They have been heard before: how will Station Bank function. The paperwork handed out offered a bland assurance that there is no problem. There's the drains and the inhabitants of Castlefield. There are plenty of other issues but what personally gets me is the subtlety of the language of the information sheet I was handed. It offered a mix of non-food and food units. It did not make clear that THE food unit is Sainsbury and as I understand what I have read, if I asked to open a butcher in one of the other units, I would be shown the door.

The lack of a butcher in Prudhoe shows the tragedy of all this. We live in one of the most meaty counties in England. There are wonderful butchers in Hexham, Corbridge, Brampton and in farms not so far away from Prudhoe - if you have a car. Yet for about 18 years I think, the only butcher meat vended in a town of 12,000 has come from the Co-Op. We regularly buy our meat in Galloway, or from Wishart of Greenside, whose van we have persuaded to reach Lime Grove.

The Duke of Northumberland wields perhaps the balance of power in Prudhoe and above all else it is sad that there is such a disjunction between what the town really needs and what its owner thinks is good for it. What is the way forward?

A range of routes are possible. The Duke could recognise that his impositional solution to the Town Centre is extremely unpopular in this community. At the far extreme,the entire project could be withdrawn voluntarily and the land offered at market value to Prudhoe Community Partnership. The PCP would then fundraise to buy the land and then as a proper community venture the redevelopment should be planned to properly reflect the aspirations of those who live in the community.

Another solution would be for the Duke to withdraw wholly the present scheme and restart with something like these thoughts in mind. These start with Page 7 of Friday 22nd October 2010's Hexham Courant which should be looked at. Bardon Mill's planned village hall. How exciting, contemporary and how green can you go? And designed by a North East Architect. Why has not this been the style for a new development proposed for this hillside here? Why are we building up brick and concrete structures high on a hillside looking down on new estates and visible for miles? We have a sloping hillside so why are we not building into it. Why does'nt the facade of all the development look out to the north in a series of terraces? Why is'nt the car parking underground at the south side of the development?

Town centre developments have been done like this. Edinburgh Tourist Office is in one. Here's another

Norwich Castle Mall put underground right beside Norwich Castle. It could hardly have been a more sensitive sight.

So let's entirely rethink the whole Town Centre proposal. Let's only have one storey max above ground, let's get the vehicles underground from an access/exit on Front Street (down one access, up the next), and let's have nothing on Station Bank. Let's excavate large holes (Thompson's would be good for that) and then backfill them to create the spaces. Let's have a small one storey building area where the car park, legion and old dairy buidings are. Let them be traditional in feel. There's a town square. Let there be escalator entrances leading underground from here, and perhaps a T shape on two levels is envisaged. The walkway is in the middle of the vertical element of the T and on the south inside face of the cross of the T. This T shaped development spreads down and across the hill. All you see from outside is glittering glass and vegetation. Each unit domestic, residential or offices faces east, west or north from the T. The whole is covered in grass or vegetation on top. It use solar panels and strives to be energy neutral. The storm drainage could be used to generate power. I wonder what the energy designs of the current project are?

There's the grand design for Prudhoe. And you call it the Hanging Gardens of Prudhoe and it puts Prudhoe on the map of Britain. The name is so important and another evidence regarding the failure of the current proposal. These have no grand vision despite the site and are entirely mediocre (cf Cramlington Towncentre from the same stable, but at least that is not visible for miles away presenting a car park jutting out of a hillside with side aspect brick facades reminscent of a jail). A key name for the project should have been there from the outset, controlling what was going to come, and exciting the community.

The reality of course is that landowners wield a huge amount of power. I am not anti-landowner but would wish anyone in that position to reckon with being a steward for what they have under the judgement of God. Pragmaticism realises that the community of Prudhoe has fought this very hard and unless prepared for more bitter struggle may have to compromise. There follow a series of bullet points inspired from the Environmental Statement. They include specific references to how the present development could be greened with what is already proposed:

Bullet points to show this:

1 That car park North Facade should be intensively presented with a soft face. This could be something like the B&Q gardens at Scotswood. It could be a community orchard terraced up the side of the car park. There is plenty of expertise available locally to advise on community orchards. Their proponents were at Hexham Farmer's Market on Satuday. (As currently planned, there must be every likelihood that this car park will become notorious as one the coldest and windiest multi stories in the UK).

2 It seemed to me most if not all of the structural facings are in brick? Have I got that right? Where is the variety? Throughout the development a range of facings could be employed. Faience, terracotta, tilling (where is the tiled Tyneside pub in this?), local stone, art deco, 1930's streamlining like the Belvedere Whitley Bay or a Burtons. A whole range of motifs are out there which if you promised them to the citizens of Prudhoe would show that something original was happening. Prudhoe is in fact a mix at present and my hunch is that people like that variety and mix.

3 It is not just requiring a variety of facings, but the softening agenda could also be futuristic. There is case for looking closely at how much hydroponical gardening or farming could be worked into all this, both the buildings and the retaining walls and sound barriers. Soft vegetation absorbs sound.

I know that new thinking comes with risk but if the objective is that Prudhoe becomes a destination, you link Alnwick Garden, hydroponics and this hillside here and you offer something really different. Something potential office renters will say ,we want to be in Prudhoe to be part of this. Otherwise Viscount Allendale's farm conversions for offices in neighbouring parishes are far more attractive and contemporary.

If Hydroponics is fresh to the reader here are some more urls:
and more at Gardening and the visual
(these ones really show what I could enjoy)

There is a heading in the ES about Ecology and that should be utterly full of the above. It is empty in the statement. It should be boasting about how the new development contributes.

4 Transport is green. I am not satisfied with the comments in the summary under Traffic and Transportation. It fascinates me to know when the studies were done on Prudhoe Station Bank. Yes at time it is quite quiet, at other times it is a disgrace to what motor vehicles do to a community. I cannot begin to see how at school times and peak hours and in poor weather Station Bank will not be a nightmare with this proposal. There is absolutely no mention of the bus services. Are the existing stops to be used? Will bus users walk to the development? Are there route diversions and new stops planned? Have Go Ahead North East and the public transport team at County Hall been consulted?

5 Finally to engage the community and to be 21st century, there should be a website on which all the plans are visible. The idea that a few hard copies of intimidating documentation are deposited in a library and that this is consultation is not acceptable nowadays. A website showing exactly how the proposal will sit in the landscape and allowing the viewer to virtually walk through the development should have been practical at any point since 2000.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Tea Rooms of East Tynedale

For a very long time the tearoom, like the garden or the church, has been sacred space in our lives. The cheese scone if not the object of worship is certainly sacramental, as north of the Border is the oatcake. One or two folk knowing our predilections suggested that we really should blog on the subject. Where to start? More importantly, where to stop? The next few paragraphs with a few stretches will focus on East Tynedale from Hexham to Wylam and a semi circular thrust south out to Consett and Allendale.

Starting just over the border in Gateshead is Bradley Gardens. A wonderfully restored walled garden with many plants for sale. A substantial thread of sculpture. The tearoom is in former greenhouses set against a south facing wall. Very comfortable with newspapers. Easy to linger. A view out to an enormous almost Devon like hillside. Slightly expensive and a top endish menu. Also a sense of being child unfriendly. Despite those apparent reservations, so long as you don't have an army of children in tow and you do enjoy the finer things of life, this is a very pleasurable place.

Wylam Tea Room: has recently moved though the management remains the same. Have not visited the new location which is near the Renault dealership. The old one although small and at the back of an excellent deli was good value, good for craic and I can still taste the bacon sarnies.

The Hearth Horsley is notable for its arts and crafts connection. The village site has extensive views, is very accessible from Newcastle.

Now entering our hometown of Prudhoe. Whilst not renowned as a destination nowadays there are several worthwhile meeting spots. Waterworld has since its opening in 1990 offered a cafe and for a good while was the only pleasant cafe style in the town. It now has rivals but it still remains a friendly definitely child centred eatery and is good value for money. It is called Cafe@leisure.

The Manors is a retirement home opened in 2010 in Prudhoe and which advertises its cafe forcefully. Not yet sampled.

Balls of Prudhoe. An award winning fish and chip shop which in September 2010 opened next door a tea room/restaurant. Small and will get very popular is our take. But delightfully furnished, personal service from the proprietors. Plenty of laughter. Varied menu from tea and cake to very generous helpings of British classics. You don't have to have chips with everything. The toilet is a hoot worth travelling miles for. The placemats certainly inspire conversation too.

Moving down the street to Prudhoe's Corner Cafe. The most obvious place for tea or coffee in the centre of Prudhoe. Recently refurbished c2008. Straightforward, reasonable and reliable. Plate pies, mince, corned beef etc. We have enough confidence in the offer that we will take guests here for a working lunch.

Just to the west of the town is the spectacularly located Valley View Cafe at the Tyne Valley Garden Centre. Newly refurbished in 2010, the offer is very pleasant and the high level view over the valley quite exceptional.

Jiggery Pokery Mickley. Only a few yards on up the A695, this is one of our all time favourites. Sadly Pamela and John Jewitt no longer operate it. John has passed on. The slight edge of its excellence is gone but it is a very good tea rooms nonetheless. Towering cakes. Mouthwatering cheese scones? Is John's touch - for he used to personally make them - of a nick of mustard in the mix still employed?

Continuing west to Riding Mill, this is a community without a tea rooms. However tea and cake in an exceptional location can be procured. Up the Slaley Road is Shepherds Dene. This Arts and Crafts House has since 1946 been the Newcastle Anglican Diocesan Retreat House. Generally speaking even casual visitors will find a warm welcome and tea and home made cake in the wooden pannelled dining room overlooking the valley is an experience of its own. The more so if prayer is something that does not frighten you.

As Shepherd's Dene is south of the A695 and the main Tyne Valley we now continue an exucursion south towards the Derwent and Allen Valley catchments. Up Apperley Dene is Wheelbirks Ice Cream Parlour. For many years we have enjoyed Wheelbirks farm for its green top milk and ice cream from a Jersey herd. The Quaker heritage of the estate is also notable. In 2009 a major investment opened an ice cream parlour alias a ice creamed theme tea room. It is especially comfortable and the website very informative. The ice cream is something the cognoscenti will rave about. There is plenty of information about the history of the farm. The setting is very pleasant high up this north facing side valley. I am glad to see children's parties of all ages are welcomed. That was not the case earlier in 2010 when we tried to locate Clare's 10th birthday celebration there. In the event we moved a mile down valley to Broomley Grange, a Boys Brigade activity centre. Their adventure course contains elements of high drama and ingenuity: the stream walk, the very long zip wire and the tunnel maze. Rounded off with a hearty tea for the kids, but not quite a tea room unless you go for the Christmas fair.

From Wheelbirks the road runs south along a Roman alignment to Ebchester. It passes the Highland Cattle Farm with tea rooms and then over the summit and down to the Derwent Valley, and on the left is The Herb Patch at Newlands. Definitely in a particularly favoured category. David and Linda here are a couple to admire. This is a not so common example of a flourishing smallholding. The tea room itself is a simple wooden building with a "green" shop attached. The fare is excellent and the welcome warm but the chance to buy herbs or let the children meet sheep, geese, rabbits and cows is the extra. An interesting programme of short courses is also promoted. The very enjoyable venue for a couple of Clare's birthday parties.

The River Derwent is crossed and so to County Durham. We will not be here too long but the opportunity to sample two linked tea rooms cannot be missed. The link is the long established Durham cycleways on old railways. One of these is now part of the c2c route and there are two tea rooms established on the route. Just outside Consett is the Howns Gill Farm Tea Rooms hard by the cycleway. Another recent addition, the food is straightforward rather than exotic, the welcome warm, the view excellent. It is especially favoured by cyclists and the offer could be seen as pointed to them. The result is that it is exceedingly reasonably priced.

Continuing along the cycleway or the nearly parallel moorland road, the views ever increase. The Scottish Border Hills and the North Sea as far as Hunt Cliff in Cleveland will be seen on a clear day. Just over the top and facing Weardale, was once an extra-ordinarily remote railway junction. It last saw trains in 1969. This is Parkhead Station. There is a tale of more personal endeavour here from Terry & Lorraine Turnbull. When we first patronised the establishment, they were operating from a caravan whilst the stone built station was gutted and rebuilt. There is car parking and walks and rides galore start here. It can be very cold, very windy and completely snowbound. An open all hours mentality prevails and whilst the soup and bacon baps are hardy favourites, something more sophisticated is available for those who stay the night. And what a place for a stranger to the North Pennines to stay the night.

An adjacent road junction to Parkhead Station allows us to turn back into the Derwent catchment and so to The White Monk Blanchland. Blanchland is small but picture postcard in quality. A stone village around an old monastery set deep in the headwaters of the Derwent Valley. The Lord Crewe Arms is the prime hostelry and our poet of study W. H. Auden stayed here. But for tea room fare, there is one candidate which is The White Monk. It has moved location and is now in the former school. It is very popular and can get very busy but if you come to this lovely village and require tea, you will be drawn here and it should be enjoyable.

Mr Auden moved with ease and great pleasure around the valleys of the North Pennines. For him Blanchland, Rookhope, Allendale, Nenthead and Alston Moor became part of a sacred landscape. You will not find it easy to find too much about this on the ground but the next valley to the Derwent west is Allendale. His poetry wrote about the lead smelt mills which tower above Allendale Town. These were flued to a smelt mill in the valley bottom. Here the ruins have been redeveloped as the Allen Mill.

Thus to the Allendale Bakery at the old Lead Smelter: A recent opening (in 2009) when we visited in October 2010. A nice conversion of old lead smelt mill buildings with interesting other units. The whole called Allen Mill. The bread is outstanding as is the website which made us visit. Plenty of nice wooden games for the children and when we partook a rather unexpected and exciting exhibition of bespoke corsetry. The site as a whole is not yet complete. Car parking is a bit hardcore. Very nice walks from the site but be cautious of leaving your car too long as it does get locked.

Up in the town is the Allendale Town Tea Rooms. Since we lived here for a couple of months in 1990 when moving from Scotland this is bound to get our attention. Refurbishment, probably several times and new owners since then. This is a traditional tea room in the centre of the town square. Very much a hub of life. The Sunday Roasts are very popular and very reasonable. Like going back to the best of the 1950s.

Right at the head of the Allen Valley is the Allenheads Tea Rooms in the Hemmel. I have a memory of a friend's birthday party here with the most prodigious amount of profiteroles. The tea room is usually very nice and passes the cheese scone test. Over the long period I have known it, its remote location at the head of a lonely valley has seen numerous business viscissitudes. The mine site all about is fascinating and car parking is adjacent. Incidentally the link profiles a number of further tea rooms to the south of us and they include more of our favourites like Eggleston Gardens.

Returning now to the Tyne Valley proper and imagining ourselves crossing Ovingham Bridge, we pass the next village of Ovington. Unfortunately Winships there which was for a while a community tearoom and excellent at that, is now purely a restaurant and somewhat limited in opening at that. There follow two excellent farm shops both offering refreshments. The first is North Acomb which is slightly tucked away off the A69. It has wonderful views and good walks from the venue, indeed a walk there and back from Ovingham is very pleasant. Primarily it is a butchers and very good at that. Hot drinks are available and there are so many cakes and pies for sale that an impromptu meal is easy. Very pleasant with Fentimans fizzy drinks sat on the grass verge outside watching the lambs at play in early summer. The sun dried tomatoes will go well with their cold meats and cheeses on oatcakes. There is plenty of choice of (live) animals to watch. Great for chidren.

Only a mile or so on from North Acomb and at the Styford roundabout where A69 and A68 intersect is Brockbushes farm shop and tearoom. This is very well known and very busy. In summer it fills with PYO. The tea room is sizeable and needs to be. The cakes are on the grand scale. All sorts of things in the farm shop but usually there are cheaper outlets around for all this. It is priced after the captive passing trade.

From here it is easy to reach the line of Hadrian's Wall and with recent initiatives like the Hadrian's Wall Path there is a constant succession of venues west. We will not cross the North Tyne at Chollerford although two tea rooms are only over the bridge and there is also the remarkable Simonburn tea room in a post office a few miles further up that valley and in a decidely off the beaten track estate village. Has served us a wonderful turkey dinner in the fast.

Instead we retire east along the old military road. At the top of the big Brunton bank there is St Oswalds Tea Room. Situate in a farm, this is definitely farmhouse fare. Not quite so farmhouse but on a farm nonetheless is the Vallum Farm Tea Room. Here the feel in a new and generously proportioned wooden building is contemporary in structure and fare.

Our last call is tucked away a mile north of the wall alignment and is the High House Farm Brewery Tea Room at Matfen. An excellent and original adaption of old farm buildings to produce a broader plate with which to enjoy the prime product of the operation.

That's it for now but we have not tackled:
Hexham: so much choice in Hexham that we have not even started to review them. If you are feeling pious and it is not the depth of winter, you might try the Abbey Tea Room for simple economic fare in a stony vaulted setting. The same response of generous provision applies to Corbridge.

Reading this, you might feel there is not quite enough about the food or the tea. They are very important and you can assume a location is not listed unless it is tasty. You can also consider that a key criteria for our private judgement will be the quality of the cheese scone or the corned beef pie. However once the food and drink past muster, next in our criteria will be issues, like comfort, view, history, the craic. A tea room visit has to convey a sense of heaven to us, it has to be wholesome experience in the round. One that we carry into eternity.

Remember to check back here as there is every chance this page will change as we travel around.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Westward Bound opens a new shop

Friends who know both of us well or study the bookshelves know that all sorts of facets of life interest. One of my heroes was the Reverend Teddy Boston. He was a saint for sure (miracles and all). A noted railway enthusiast, very fond of eating and with a significant collection of horror films. Horror has never been our dish but in my family background there is no little connection to the Bohemian past in British society. In this context we have followed the comings and goings of a Plymouth fashion house (which sadly we have never visited) called Westward Bound over many years. Just recently a new and sumptuous showroom has opened. Their write up is a corker worth quoting. Note especially the use of religious guilt:
"The major influence in the creation of our showroom being the
sumptuous style of Parisian and Milanese fashion houses of the
1950's; these stimuli have been fused with facets of Vivienne
Westwood, Louis XVI and religious guilt to create a unique and
sumptuous space".  (The outlet closed around 2013 but the business continues as a leading house of latex couture).

Thursday, 23 September 2010

York Northern Timetable Development Stakeholder Workshop 23.9.2010

Robert Forsythe attended this on behalf of Tyne Valley Line Rail Users Group . These comments however are made personally. It turned out that this was a significant and well attended meeting. Northern were looking for contributions for improvements over the rest of the franchise to September 2013, and then for something called CP4 and then for the possibility of bidding for the new franchise after 2013 which they hope would be a longer 15-20 year franchise.

The write down wish list firmly noted our contribution in respect of "timetables" (stock, marketing, and ticket machines were not in this), that following the improvements we want no regression and that the gaps into both Newcastle and Carlisle in the morning peaks could be plugged. The detail of the availability of a set was flagged. Both Gilsland and Blaydon were got onto the board as aspirations.

There was quite a discussion over regularly overcrowded trains and why further sets were not procured. Truly terrible daily horror stories throughout Northern were being recounted. Every day the 0824 from Denby Dale is a disgrace. The Sunday Bishop Auckland Whitby, this summer's innovation, was apparently week after week reaching Middlesbrough full and not uploading anyone there! There were people stating that 300 people were leaving a Class 156 at Whitby. Northern did not disagree but nor did they offer any solution. Expect overcrowded services to the Northumberland County Show and on Newcastle Match Days to continue with only tweaks to alleviate.

They asserted bluntly that nothing makes money and because a train is full and we say run an extra or couple another set, their answer is that the loss is simply increased. Bluntly, the more people who wish to travel by train, the more the railway will cost the nation. Only Intercity routes make money, not a single Northern service does. This they were categoric and public about this.

I think something new was learnt. It is not just about leasing extra sets. There is something more subtle. They lease these trains for a set number of hours or miles in a year from the ROSCO. It is in their interest to schedule them to the highest possible point and not a mite beyond because at that point hefty penalties are imposed. This means the problems are mainly driven by the leasing regime and not the true availability or otherwise of stock and staff. Possibly with a longer franchise Northern would press to obtain stock differently.

Something else was learnt about the rewrite of Part D of the Network Code. Currently a timetable change of any consequence takes 40 weeks to implement. Network Rail want to change this to 55 weeks.

A slide showed new signalling schemes in the Northern area. No mention of the Tyne Valley. I quizzed this. The Northern staff present were emphatic they had no knowledge of any scheme for further resignalling in the Tyne Valley. This could be questioned. I am not utterly confident. Network Rail might have missed these boys out!

A lot of time and space was given to what was the Manchester rail hub, now the Northern rail hub. Northern are pinning a lot on North Western electrification in the near future. Liverpool Manchester Blackpool. They see this as essential in that area and that by stock cascading it will help elsewhere. Accordingly the PTEs were well represented but no-one from Nexus.

My judgement is that whilst they will do what they can for the North East, we are quite marginal to their overall operation. The likes of Belford, Ashington, Whitby and Hexham are interesting but are way down the pile of Northern's priorities. The PTE routes in York and Lancs are the real force.

The meeting as a whole complimented Northern. A lot of good ideas were going onto the wish list including line re-openings like Ashington and Colne Skipton. A station for Peterlee was noted. Compared to Arriva and Northern Spirit, everyone likes Northern and the people running it. They try very hard and offer a really good lunch.

But don't get too blinded. If Northern gets a really long franchise, then throughout that franchise, Northumbria will be on the margins. Everyone involved as stakeholders in the North East including politicians should dwell on this. Is that the situation to run with for 15+ years? Reflect that Northern in Northumbria (border Darlington Carlisle Berwick, the Heaton depot duties) is virtually an operating island. A free thinker would say that if the politicians would grab the issue a better deal for the North East might come from a Northumbrian local trains franchise handling everything in those borders. It is quite a few routes: Tyne Valley, Northumberland Coast, Saltburn Bishop, Esk Valley, Durham Coast and potentially Ashington and Leamside. There is also the interaction with the Tyne Wear Metro, North York Moors and Weardale Railways. But to achieve that, action would have to be taken now or else the refranchise operation will roll forwards soon and we will have to accept crumbs rather than any concentrated ability to tailor things with the North East prominent.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Luxury Tour Trains

It is some time since I have made an offering to the blog and on this occasion I realise my listings are building up quite an assortment around the Luxury Tour train theme. In Britain back before World War Two the LNER started this concept with The Northern Belle. When the CIWL worked Orient Express came to an end James Sherwood of Sea Containers revived it as a luxury tour train. This called the VSOE has become very successful and in Britain it is partnered by a revived Golden Arrow. Since these started around 1982 all sorts of operators across the world have entered the field. Some have come and gone quickly like Al Andalus. Canada contributes The Rocky Mountaineer. In South Africa there is Rovos Rail. Many will play with the Pullman theme as the very shortlived Eddie Stobart train did. I think careful searching of my lots will find more on these themes and for sure anyone contacting me will be able to persuade me to scurry through the boxes and find some more material to upload.

There is being offered by another vendor on Specialist Auctions a lot which had me head scratching. The key to unlocking the lot is here. And the lot is here. Quite a sum of money is being sought but if Intraflug's/ Albert Glatt's version of the Orient Express appeals, you could look into this.

(my latest post on What's New at Specialist Auctions).