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).