On Friday I rode down to Darlington. At this time of year, getting any bike out over any distance is a bonus. Nearly all 97 miles of tarmac were filthy, the low sun shone permanently in my eyes riding south and it took nearly two hours to clean the bike when I got home. It was all worth it. Having taken the quick route when outward bound, on return I took the scenic roads through Wolsingham, Frosterley, Stanhope and Blanchland. Riding across Stanhope Common, I was treated to these wonderful sights. All taken within a few minutes of each other, the light was changing fast. A few miles further on, I descended into the mist and damp of a very foggy afternoon – the price was worth paying:
The jukebox had an appropriate playlist: Chopin’s Funeral March, Drac’s Back by Billy DeMarco & Count Dracula, Monster Mash by Bobby “Boris” Pickett and the Crypt-Kickers, but we always played Cat Stevens’ – Lady D’Arbanville:
Your lips feel like winter
Your skin has turned to white
Le Macabre Coffee House was at the western end of Meard Street, near the junction with Wardour Street, in London’s Soho. Just around the corner was Hammer House, home to the horror film specialists, Hammer Films.
“You could always tell you were in Meard Street, because ladies’ legs tended to dangle out of the windows. With vocal commentary” – Russell Davies. In 1970 they had either moved on or I was unaware – in those far-off days, there was only the one girl in my universe.
The interior was witch-dark, the tables were in the shape of coffins, the ashtrays were Bakelite skulls and skeletons adorned the walls. It was a delight to a pair of teenagers with an unhealthy interest in Dennis Wheatley – The Devil Rides Out, To the Devil a Daughter, The Satanist – they were nothing if not obvious. I guess we were early goth.
I don’t remember the quality of the coffee, but Starbucks would do well to emulate the atmosphere.
She lived in Sydenham and I worked in Manchester. Until I contrived to move south, I travelled between the two, often hitch-hiking. Setting off early evening meant the motorway slip roads were less populated with like-minded travellers. There was an etiquette loosely based on first come first served, although lone girls and couples were more likely to be singled out by the eagle-eyed driver. The late departure meant arrival into London in the early hours – breakfast was free milk from the doorstep and heat from the Euston Station concourse, until moved on. Police searches were common but never threatening – my limited baggage space might include some freshly laundered underwear, sent south by my girlfriend’s mother. No great deal except when searched – it seemed to amuse the constabulary. No officer, they are not mine – do they look as though they would fit? … Each to his own, laddie.
The lack of sleep lent those long weekends a dream-like quality. Le Macabre was the perfect place to maintain a chimerical state of mind.
(This post inspired by a tweet from Rob Baker – author of two excellent books about London: Beautiful Idiots and Brilliant Lunatics and High Buildings, Low Morals)
… the weather. On Monday night we had the first serious snow of winter – unannounced, it took us sufficiently by surprise that the Good Wife had to abandon her car and walk home, about a mile up the hill to Beaufront Woodhead. The car was retrieved the following day, but the snow and and ice hung around for another couple of days. Later in the week, the BBC/Met Office website was finally issuing Yellow Weather Warnings for severe snow in the northeast. In the event, nothing arrived. The same website contains hourly forecasts for the following fourteen days – generally speaking, they turn out to be nonsense. Why the pretence – rant over – have a happy week, everyone, regardless of the weather.
… the way I intend to continue – on a bike on January 1st. Plenty of rain meant there was no salt on the roads and the temperatures well above 10ºC – almost perfect riding conditions, but for the mucky surfaces. I am fortunate to live among country roads, not best for a sports bike, but ideal for the Scrambler. A couple of miles north and I am on the Military Road, which runs from Heddon in the east to Greenhead in the west. For much of its length, it runs parallel to Hadrian’s Wall and north of the old Stanegate Roman road. There are any number of diversions, south or north, which take you away from this almost arrow-straight tarmac, built by Field Marshal Wade in 1746 to enable easy movement of the troops and equipment necessary to supress the Jacobite uprising. It is a wild, exposed, glorious landscape.
The weather has been bleak. Our James, Louise and Little Evie arrived Monday and within 12 hours we had all gone down with a stomach bug – on the plus side, they got to stay another day. James is the our youngest boy of three and the the first produce a grandchild. For various reasons, it seems unlikely that the others will follow suit. So, on this branch of the family tree, it seems likely the Down name will die out. My dad would have been disappointed – no longer a name to go down in history.
It is a surname people struggle with – when speaking it, particularly on the phone, I have a habit of saying “Down, D, O, W, N” – it’s short enough and helps reduce the number of misheard interpretations – they are many. Even people we have known for years will add an ‘e’ or an ‘s’ or both – Downe, Downs, Downes are the common variations. Oddly, the Good Wife, who inherited the name, gets more irritated by this than me.
Enough rambling – I trust everyone is having and will continue to have a great Christmas. Like I said, the weather has been bleak and this is reflected in the external images from the past seven days:
… week gone by. After a dull and dreary weekend, the sun finally appeared late Sunday and from then on, the week mostly took a turn for the better. Monday was cold, particularly across the moors, but fine enough to get the Scrambler out. Tuesday felt a little like Christmas as I drove to Allendale Brewery to collect a hamper and crates of beer. Bright skies and frost appeared on most mornings such that the camera has spent a lot of time pointing at the sky. Thursday was even good enough to take the GS north, across filthy roads to Otterburn and then on single tracks to Sundaysight, Greenhaugh and Bellingham. Nothing is quite as good as being alone on two wheels in wild, empty places.
I don’t know how long I will keep this up, but there is an improved chance now that I once again have access to the classic editor. For this I must thank https://babsjeheron.wordpress.com/ who pointed me in the direction of Katherine Wikoff’s post on this subject. Many thanks to both.
In the manner of Garrison Keillor, it has been a quiet week at Beaufront Woodhead. Snow fell heavily last Saturday night such that Sunday dawned bright and very white. Most had melted by Sunday night. Monday remained bright but cold and then the dismal weather set in for three days. Astonishingly on Friday, my first round of golf since November 11th was played up the coast, at Warkworth, under clear blue skies. Normal service was resumed on Saturday. Yes, the English are obsessed by weather.
This is the collection of images posted daily on Blipfoto:
In other news, I finished another proof read of Golf in the Wild – Going Home – the third in as many weeks. It’s a slow process but worth the effort – I am still hopeful for publication before the end of January.
I don’t post on WordPress like I used to. One of the main reasons is the distraction of daily posts on Blipfoto combined with a constant desire to be out on two wheels or playing golf. The latter two become much less time consuming over the winter months, but still I don’t post as often as I might. The sequel to Golf in the Wild also occupies much time as does being honorary treasurer of Allendale Golf Club and continuing to maintain about a half dozen WordPress based websites. And therein lies the rub.
All of the other sites are hosted on an ISP with locally supported and maintained versions of WordPress with access to the classic editor whereas, on wordpress.com, I am obliged to use the thoroughly awful block editor. The irony is that I am now paying for this service since I exceeded the free storage quota. I really should use it more and to that end, I will try repeating what appears on Blipfoto plus maybe a few extra images. Possibly, I will grow to like this editor, but I doubt it.
The approach road is black shale and pot-holed – you instantly know this is not a prettified National Trust or English Heritage property. Parked at the end of the long drive is a green Austin bus dating from the 1950s – in dark green with gold lettering, it proudly displays the castle emblem. Inevitably it is a bat. Count Orlok would feel at home here but the castle is more Gormenghast than Transylvania. It is haunted by a variety of not entirely benign characters.
This is Border Reiver country, just fifteen miles south of Scotland, lands which have been fought over for hundreds of years. It is a classic Border stronghold which has been occupied for nearly a millennium. The castle was abandoned in the 1930s and Sir Humphry Wakefield has spent over forty years returning it to its former glories. The castle was the ancestral seat of the Gray family, the Earls of the Tankervilles; Sir Humphry is related by marriage.
The Castle guide is not the glossy over-priced brochure so beloved of the National Trust, but forty-two pages of closely printed text, over-flowing with the history of the Castle and stories about it’s occupants and their possessions, written by Sir Humphry. I have never been good at absorbing facts and figures but some things stand out because I can make a connection, usually automotive – not something to be expected from Chillingham. In the Plaque Room Library there is a portrait of Lord Wakefield of Hythe – Lord Mayor of London in his day, his armorial chairs are in the Great Hall and his medals in the showcase below him. He gave a solid gold coin, marked “Well Hit” to any gunner who shot down a German Zeppelin Balloon as they threatened to destroy London. Wakefield gave famous awards for speed trials, aviation and for the war effort as well as inventing Castrol Oil. He sponsored Campbell’s Bluebird land speed record clocking more than 300mph way back in the 1930s. I take delight in knowing that one of Sir Humphry’s predecessors was directly responsible for creating one of the best smells known to man – Castrol R.
A studied tour could take days – there are nineteen separate rooms open to the public, every one of them overflowing with possessions, accumulated from well-lived lives. Nothing is tied down and security is lax because you are watched over by the Spanish Witch in the Still Room – she casts her spell and curses those who steal from the Castle. Wandering the dimly lit corridors and spiral staircases, it feels like a film set. Not surprisingly it has been used for various minor TV series and the 1998 British biographical period drama, Elizabeth, directed by Shekhar Kapur and starring Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth I of England, with Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston and Joseph Fiennes. Some of the props remain – the chimney pieces in the Great Hall are made of that well known medieval material, fibreglass. Tap them and they ring hollow – they cover vast Baroque white marble carvings from the huge Wanstead House, a mighty palace built for the Child banking family by the French King, Louis Philippe. I do not think they are suited to the early look of the castle, but future owners may think differently. The chimney pieces from the film first appear in the video at 2 minutes, 35 seconds.
It is the perfect location for any number of horror films and it is perhaps surprising that Hammer Films never thought to call. The torture chamber contains all the necessary props – the iron rack, thumb screws, a wood-block scaffold, an iron maiden, the scold’s bridle, an impaler’s spike; the list goes on and on. It is fitting to end with more words from Sir Humphry – it is difficult to imagine a National Trust or English Heritage guide containing such observations: There are many ways to hurt. All of them so carefully considered by clever men today and yesterday, and constructed by skilled and educated craftsmen. Guantanamo Bay Prison, in Cuba, illustrates those skills currently in action and presents arguments for and against torture used to this day, maybe for the safety of mankind. Does the occasional saving of mass slaughter justify pain to a few with just some of them innocent? The respected Bayer Aspirin Company supplied gasses for the German Concentration Camps but now saves pain for us all. Civilised minds take such different views on all these things.
… for the boys – my boys that is. A series of images from the 2021 MotoGP at Silverstone from 27th to 29th August. A birthday present from them all for a significant birthday – this is the simplest way for me to share the results of a great weekend. It was so good, we have been discussing plans for 2022 🙂