|Three days out
||[Aug. 31st, 2016|07:27 pm]
The week before the August Bank Holiday is Whitby Folk Week. The Bears have become regular attenders at the Folk Week, and we have become regular visitors, to see them and whatever else is to be seen (and hear what is to be heard). This year, for much of the drive there I thought there'd be nothing to be seen at all, the mist was so heavy on top of the moors. As we came down to the sea it thinned, and we did - just - catch a glimpse of the town before we arrived.
For one reason and another, we didn't go to any concerts this year: conversation tempted us away from everything else on offer. We sat and talked in the Bears' flat, and in the café over lunch, and in our hotel room: since it was raining steadily for most of the day, we didn't talk while walking about, except while moving between venues. We talked over dinner at the Thai restaurant at the station, remarkable mainly for a bottle of Monsoon Valley colombard (I've never drunk Thai wine before) and because when we had turned down desert and asked for the bill, twice, they brought us a little tray of complimentary drinks: Irish cream for the ladies, and brandy for the gentlemen. The brandy was served hot.
We woke to a completely different day. The rain had stopped, the sun was shining, the abbey (which had been almost invisible in the mist) appeared:
There's a leaflet about the sculptures in Pannett Park, but it isn't letting on who designed this neat frame: that's Sunderland glass, though. We'd come to the park to spend the morning in the museum, while the Bears were doing many musical things, before meeting for one last coffee. The museum is extraordinary. Think: "old-fashioned local museum", then dial it up to eleven They have, as you might expect on this coast, a fine collection of fossils. In fact, they have a world-class collection of fossils. But what possessed them to build some of them so securely into the walls that they cannot now be removed?
They have some spectacular pieces of jet, including not one but two chess boards whose white squares are inlaid ammonites. They have various illustrations of Whitby's maritime heritage, including a statue of Captain Cook and a crow's nest, built to the specification of its inventor, Captain William Scoresby (but was it father or son who made the drawings of snowflakes?). They have a totem pole, carefully explicated - with the exception of a bear (for which "We do not have have any satisfactory explanation. It could mean anything from a hunt to a raid."). They have dolls and ceramics, stuffed birds and a hand of glory, Dr George Merryweather's Tempest Prognosticator (leech powered) and a collection of continental gingerbead moulds. I didn't get as far as the ships in bottles...
We had both read a Guardian article about Gertrude Bell, which had linked an exhibition about her which has been doing the rounds of the local museums with a campaign to rescue Red Barns, the house commissioned by her father from Philip Webb. We decided to take the coast road home, and explore both of these things - with mixed success. The drive was splendid, with all the sea views we'd missed in the previous day's mist, and more. We didn't manage to find Red Barns, and after driving up and down Kirkleatham Road a couple of times, admitted defeat (odd, because it looks as if it would be hard to miss).
Kirkleatham Museum didn't have the mad exuberance of Whitby, but a pleasant building in which to see two interesting exhibitions: why had I not come across it before? The Gertrude Bell exhibition was interesting, but consisted mostly of large photographs and minimal information: I had so many questions that weren't answered (so many points in her biography left me going Wait, WHAT?). I suspect there was an element of advertising for Newcastle University's Gertrude Bell archive (includes many albums of her photographs, and a biographical comic).
The museum's main permanent exhibition is the Saxon Princess: this sounds - well, the kindest way to put it is that the emphasis is on child-friendly activities, tableaux and dressing up. At the heart of it, though, is a single room explaining about recent excavations at what turned out to be an Anglo-Saxon cemetery at Street House Farm (Wikipedia has the adult-friendly version, with pictures). In the centre of this was a bed burial (I'd never heard of these, and they are rare), containing some small but beautifully worked jewellery. The display consists of a number of explanatory boards, with some greatly enlarged photos, and one glass cabinet containing the actual jewellery.
In total contrast, outside were some rusting remnants of Teesside's iron industry: that's where I took the only photo of the museum that I was satisfied with:
And the museum café has a silly name, but it serves a fine egg sandwich.
On Saturday we went to Blyth to see the tall ships gathering for the start of the race. durham_rambler has an aversion to park-and-ride, and suggested instead that we park in Seaton Sluice and walk up the beach to Blyth. I thought this was a high risk strategy, and envisaged spending much of the morning driving round looking for somewhere to park, but in fact it worked beautifully. It had three advantages, only one of which we had intended.
We found a space on street right by the Sluice, opposite the Octagon House. We had eyed this eighteenth century folly covetously when it was on the market, but common sense prevailed. So it was good to discover that it is now a gallery, and we could have the pleasure of poking around inside, plus looking at the pretty pictures (more of David Hall's seabirds, which I had recently admired in Alnmouth, plus watercolours by Marion Morrison, including this view of Dunstanburgh beyond a sea of hogweed and thistles). So that was the first bonus.
The walk along the beach was splendid. We picked up pretty much where my birthday walk had left off, and again it was high tide, so we were picking our way along quite a narrow border between the soft sand on one side and the waves - and a steeply shelving drop - on the other. Not an easy walk, but very satisfying, and it brought us out right by a fish and chip restaurant, which was just the lunch I was in the mood for. The walk itself wasn't a surprise, but I had expected it to be a prelude to the main business of the day, and, well, no.
The ships themselves were spectacular, as tall ships are, but so arranged that you couldn't really get a view from which you could admire them. You could, to be fair, go on board some of the ships, which wouldn't improve your overall view but would give you some interesting perspectives. Maybe we should have done that. There were long queues - and these queues stretched along the quayside between the walkway and the ships (as did the barriers erected to guide the queues which weren't there at the moment) - and we weren't really tempted, but when we had walked the length of both areas where the ships were moored, never really getting up close, I certainly felt that something was missing from the experience. But by now we were well ready for refreshment, so we made our way past Admiral Boscawen to the River Café:
The server warned us there was a 30 or 40 minute wait: splendid! A small donation to a good cause (lifeboats, possibly) bought us the right to sit in the sun on the patio and watch the small boats going up and down the river - ah, that'd be the way to get a good view of the ships! We shared our table with a couple who had used the park-and-ride service and confirmed all the reasons we had been reluctant to use it: the long queues in traffic to drive into the parking area, the long wait for the shuttle bus (despite booking in advance, so it wasn't that the organisers hadn't known how many people would turn up)... Since we were now within ten minutes walk of the bus station, we caught the service bus back to our starting point, feeling very smug.
And we're going out again tomorrow, to visit J and J who are staying in Hexham and visiting the Wall.