The last couple of weeks has seen me in Yorkshire, in Aberdeen and in Dorset…
I started my journey at Hebden Bridge, staying with my good friend the food journalist and writer Geoff Tansey. Geoff’s house all but over looks the river Calder which runs through – and sometimes indeed floods – the town.
Here were are, standing on the stone bridge in the evening looking up rushing silvery eddies of river, overhung on either side by lush green August trees. Up river you can see the weir, creating a splendid white froth as the water tumbles over its barrier.
Geoff and Kath did me proud with an impressive visit to Halifax. Once one of the wealthiest towns in Yorkshire, Halifax still boasts the amazing Piece Hall – not a hall at all but a vast Georgian piazza – 6,100 square metres of it!– surrounded two storeys’ worth trading spaces for woollen and worsted goods.
To quote Samuel Lewis in his Topographical dictionary of England in 1831:
The Piece Hall was erected by the manufacturers and is a large quadrangular building of freestone occupying an area of ten thousand square yards with a rustic basement storey and two upper storeys fronted with two interior colonnades which are spacious walks leading to arched rooms where goods in an unfinished state were deposited and exhibited for sale to the merchants every Saturday from ten to twelve o clock. This structure which was completed at an expense of £12,000 and opened on 1 January 1779 unites elegance convenience and security. It contains three hundred and fifteen separate rooms and is proof against fire.
Recently it has undergone a massive redevelopment and when we were there it was celebrating Yorkshire Day with roundabouts, stalls, music, jugglers, masses of ice cream and loads of super excited kids!
Even better, pursuing strains of Aida from the Piece Hall, we found this splendid lass belting out bleeding chunks of Verdi operas half way up the Halifax High Street!
But however exciting Halifax may have been, more thrills awaited us on our return to Hebden Bridge…..
Yorkshire is, sadly, littered with abandoned mills some of which have been redeveloped into retail parks or housing but some of which just lie rotting. One such, the Walkely Clogs mill, lay less the a mile down the road from Geoff and Kath’s house and had been under offer to a developer who was aiming to demolish it and build houses. So he must have been very pleased when the job was half done for him by a fire which gutted the already derelict building and required Calderdale council to demolish it in order to be able to reopen the road beside which it sat!
By the time Geoff and I got there the flames, seen here in Ruth Woodhead’s picture in the BBC News site, had already been doused.
But what greeted us was the slightly surreal site of a very jolly red and white ice cream van – Fab’s Ices – the Best Get Better – All Events Catered For – parked up across the river from the mill. The building had already lost its roof and you could see the darkening sky through three storeys of gaping window openings which were still being drenched with white plumes of water from the fire engines.
Moving north from Hebden Bridge I went to Aberdeen to visit my neice, Hannah who works for the amazing Brewdog brewery, as a brand manager for their new gins. (The Brewdog story is fascinating and if you want to know more there is a very good, if extremely long, ‘long read’ article by Jon Henly in a 2016 Guardian.)
Massive stainless steel tubes on feet filled with beer at some point in its manufacture take up most of the brewery which sprawls across an industrial estate at Ellon, outside Aberdeen. But Hannah’s gin and vodka distillery, snuck into one corner of the brewery’s hangar, is much more exciting.
Backed by a massive graffiti of a snarling ‘Lone Wolf’, huge polished copper, pot bellied witch’s stills, bubble and burble with potions which will eventually turn into Lone Wolf gin and vodka.
But first, not only do they have to work their way through the gurgling bellies of the stills, they have to climb up and fall back down an infinity of shiny copper pipe with portholes – like a very big giant’s bassoon. Hannah did explain what happened to it on the way up and back down, but I was so mesmerised by the endless shiny pipe stretching up through the roof to the sky that I am afraid her explanation passed me by.
But Aberdeen is not all about beer…. In fact, it has a very pleasing number of delightful parks. This (I think…) is Seaton Park.
The river Don sweeps through the park, its banks lined with trees. Rocky out crops, heathery bushes and mossy boulders disturb its flow – brambles laden with ripening blackberries over hang its edges. It is almost impossible to believe that you are less than ten minutes in a car from the heart of Aberdeen.
And finally, to Dorset to visit my lovely friend Anna Del Conte with whom I am now working on a Gluten free (and mainly meat and milk free) Italian cookbook. Anna lives in Shaftesbury, perched on the top of Castle Hill, as it has been since Saxon times. This is the view early one morning looking west (I think) over the Blackmore Vale where Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles kicked off!
The mist is just dispersing over the rolling green patchwork of the fields, the signpost points down round the hill, the clouds are still massed, unsure whether to move over and block that blue sky or to move on further west and out of harm’s way.
And finally, not in Shaftesbury but in the nearby village of Tisbury, Messum’s Gallery, an offshoot of the very classy Messum’s Gallery in Cork Street in London’s West End. But Messum’s in Tisbury is situated in the most stunning 13th century wooden-roofed stone barn – although they have just opened a new gallery in the old stone dairy.
We had a slightly joke lunch in the little restaurant (a succession of ‘no, sorry dear, that’s orf’!’ ‘No bread dear, sorry, that’s ‘orf too…’) – but that did not detract from the pleasure of the visit – especially when we got into the barn where there is currently an exhibition of Christopher Kurtz’s ‘starbursts’. Well, that is not what he calls them but that is what they felt like.
Made from maybe 50 hand crafted, white painted shards of wood clustered, literally into starbursts, they hang, 15 foot high, from the roof of the barn, spotlights directing their reflections onto the floor. Magical.
Still to come. Dry stone walling – and the new V&A in Dundee…
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