One of my desires for the new year was to listen to new (or new-to-me) music. Thanks to friends who answered my plea on various social platforms, I've now got heaps! And what's the point of enjoying all this music without passing it on? Here are 10 tunes you might enjoy.
In the past I've asked for recs for artists or albums, but this time I asked for one song only. This has worked out much better for me, and I've been able to create myself a little playlist/mix tape. I haven't included all the recommendations here - not because I didn't like the songs, but because there were just too many, and some of them didn't quite fit with the vibe of this particular playlist.
Across the Blue Ridge Mountains - Rising Appalachia
This playlist starts slow and simple, with this abridged version of "Across the Blue Ridge Mountains" in two voice a cappella style. You can really hear the Scottish/Irish folk heritage here. You can find a live version with more story verses on YouTube - or buy the Sails of Self album.
The West Coast of Clare - Dervish (feat. Dave Gray)
Leaning into the Irish folkishness! I loved the arrangement in "The West Coast of Clare". It sounds so simple yet each instrument weaves me through and beyond the lyrics into wistful imagination. (The title is a line from Loreena McKennitt's "The Old Ways", which I think makes an interesting conversation partner to this song.) Find out more about Dervish on their website.
The Wild Rover - Lankum
While "The Wild Rover" is a traditional folk song, the arrangement is not - it's very contemporary. The sharpness, the drone, the assonance, the slow build of instrumentation and intensity. The video is also disconcerting and I like it! More about Lankum, including tour dates, on their website.
Maalie - Erland Cooper
The landscape link to the last video is hard to ignore here! "Maalie" is from Erland Cooper's 2018 album Solan Goose, part of what appears to be an ongoing love letter to Orkney, his home. This gorgeous short piece builds from the gentleness of a still morning to the exuberance of birds, clouds, wind, sky. Read an interview with Erland Cooper here, or visit his website to explore his other projects.
Nautilus - Anna Meredith
"Nautilus" was such a surprise and a delight! As with the previous piece, this explores repetition - this time over a chromatic scale, with a simple bassline and driving rhythm. It's such a big sound, and I am so here for the tuba - who knew?! It's worth listening to the whole mini-concert if you're interested ("Nautilus" is the first song). Anna Meredith's website.
Cosmic Ratio - Enrico Sanguiliano
Oh yeah, we've been heading here, and now it's time for some proper techno! "Cosmic Ratio" was recommended as a "wake up", and it definitely is - it makes me so happy I can't stop moving. More from Enrico Sangiuliano here.
Final Form - Sampa the Great
OK, let's get some lyrics back in the mix - and let's start with some particularly good ones. I love the energy of "Final Form", love the film clip and only have one criticism: I wish there was more of it! More about Sampa the Great (and this song) here and on her website.
Oh my god, speaking of film clips . . . As I said to the person who recommended "So Hot You're Hurting My Feelings", I am so distracted by the amazing crappy-90s-fantasy-TV-show aesthetic and weird dancing that I can hardly remember the song itself! Interview with Caroline Polachek here or check her website for tour dates.
The Dying Song - Montaigne
"The Dying Song" has been stuck in my head since I first heard it - such a bouncy, cheerful tune. The person who recommended it said it was a kind of Bollywood nihilism, and I'd say it's like Regina Spektor singing about playing Dungeons and Dragons, and I think these are both equally valid descriptions.
The Barrel - Aldous Harding
After this festival of energy, let's go out gentle and weird with "The Barrel". This one is my own cheeky recommendation, and another clip that's definitely worth watching. Also recommended: everything else Aldous Harding does, much of which you may be able to find through her website.
I hope you've found a song or two to enjoy here! If you fancy it, leave me a comment with a link to one song you're really into at the moment (yes, just one!) and let me know why you like it.
"I've been thinking a lot about trespass. About being, as queer people, in places we're not expected to be, places we're not welcome, places we're not allowed."
If you follow me on social media, you can hardly have missed that Queer Out Here Issue 04 was released earlier this month. If you had missed that, well, now you know! I'll pop a preview of the issue below. My contribution to this issue, "A Cartography of Trespass", was a lot of fun to make. An abridged version of the piece appears in the zine (starts at about 1hr 7mins, here's the transcript), and the unabridged version is embedded at the end of this post.
Allysse and I challenged people to experiment with their submissions for Queer Out Here Issue 04. We tend to get a lot of single-person-talking-into-a-phone submissions and, while there's nothing wrong with that style at all, we hoped to encourage people to play around. I tried to rise to the challenge and push myself beyond my usual audio production style. I ended up doing this in a number of ways.
Collaboration. I've been wanting to involve other people in my audio pieces for a while now. (I mean, there's only so much I can stand listening to my own voice - also, I'm talking all through issues of Queer Out Here, so listeners are probably also sick of it.) For this piece, I decided to get other voices to read pins from Queering The Map. First of all, I got the OK from Queering The Map to incorporate the content (which is submitted anonymously from people all over the world - so there's no way of getting those people's consent!), and donated my thank you payment/gift to them. Then I put a general call on Twitter for people to do the readings. That didn't work, so I approached friends of different backgrounds to help out (payment in an "I'll buy you a drink one day" currency). Guess what? Loads of people hate the sound of their own voices and don't want to read things! But a few people helped out. In addition, I wanted to include field recordings of specific places in Melbourne (or in Australia generally), and my friend Emily went out of her way to collect some for me. All of this involved a lot more interacting with people than what I've done to create audio pieces before - even typing it up in retrospect makes me feel a bit anxious!
Editing. I use GarageBand to do most of my sound production. It's there on my laptop, it's free and it does the basics. But there are definitely parts of it that I don't use because I don't know they're there or I just don't know how. For this piece, I challenged myself to try out a few new effects or design processes. I loved the pitch shift/layered voice idea that I heard in a piece called "Totality" by Mae-Li Evans with Calum Perrin (starts about 19 minutes into this episode of Short Cuts), so I thought I'd give that a bash. I wanted to learn a bit more about looping and different filters. I thought of effects I wanted to make and then googled descriptions of them +garageband to find out how to make them. Sometimes they worked well, sometimes less so - but that's all part of the learning process. I ended up limiting myself to a few effects as I didn't want the piece to end up like a PowerPoint presentation that uses every single transition effect.
Theme and structure. I have been intrigued by ideas about space and identity since I discovered queer cultural geography when I was doing my PhD, and over the last year or so there have been a number of articles I've read, or things other people have said or done that have caused me to revisit these ideas. I don't have the time or the determination needed to "do" academic work outside of the academy, but I wanted to create a piece that touched on these themes, even if it didn't delve deeply into them in an academic sense. I wanted to make something that was interesting (to me) but entertaining (to someone who might not share my niche obsessions). This piece kind of sprawls its way through four main spaces (online/inside, the woods, my memories, the map), touching on different aspects of space/queerness/trespass at each stage, moving on to the next thing without necessarily providing a summary or key argument about the last. I wanted to leave ideas open-ended, open to further conversation and exploration and criticism - something that isn't a mode that academia is particularly good at teaching (or wasn't a mode I was particularly good at learning). This openness of structure, as well as some of my openness around the content, makes me feel vulnerable. Yes, it's partly an experiment, but it's also a piece of art that I had to commit to and invest quite a bit of time and energy in. What if people think the way the piece moves through ideas is lazy or superficial?
Here's the unabridged version of my piece "A Cartography of Trespass" (also embedded below). I'd love to know what you think of it, if you find something particularly interesting, if there's something that echoes your experiences - or if it's wildly different. As I said in my notes for Queer Out Here, "This is a conversation opener rather than a definitive statement: my experiences and thoughts on this topic come from a position of white, able bodied and relative class privilege. Other people in other places will have very different relationships to space, place and trespass - and I would love to hear responses in that vein in a future issue."
"What is a resolution anyway, apart from an attempt to close off narrative options? A locked gate - to climb? A no trespassing sign - to ignore?"
This poem/sound piece was my contribution to Queer Out Here Issue 01.
I thought I'd share it separately, mostly as a record for myself, but also for those who might be interested but who haven't yet listened to Queer Out Here Issue 01 for whatever reason. The text is below (it's not a precise transcript - it's the text from which the sound piece grew) and there's more info in the show notes.
As I am walking
I am becoming myself
In this world
In this way I am becoming
A mind full of the present
I am a movement
I am a moment
I am presented to myself
As a footfall on grass
As a breath in the breathing of leaves
As a body
Enveloped by sky and earth
By rock by water by trees
Defined on a path
On a past dissolving
On the wind
As I am walking
I am becoming aware
Of place and pace
And time measured in heartbeat
As an ever unfurling
As I am walking breath
I am becoming step
I am a movement breath
I am a moment step
I am presented to myself as a footfall
I am falling
I am filling
I am full
If you're queer and want to make an outdoors-related audio piece for Queer Out Here, submissions for Issue 02 are open until 1 September 2018. We'd love to hear from you!
Queer Out Here Issue 01 was released in February. Woohoo! It’s been a really exciting project - starting from deciding to put it together, to creating the structure to support it, asking people to contribute, then working on the episode. My co-editor Allysse and I have each answered a few questions about the process so far - you can read mine below and Allysse's at Beste Glatisant.
Did you have any expectations for Queer Out Here - and how did they match with the reality?
I tried not to have too many expectations, but I did have hopes!
I had no idea what kind of response we’d get to our call for submissions, so I was really happy with the number and range of pieces we received. We ended up with enough content to make a nice, fat Issue 01 - longer than I’d expected - with creative writing, sound art, conversations, field recordings and monologues/musings all represented. Overall, I probably expected more stories about specific events or activities, and possibly a few more essays/academic approaches to the theme, but it was a pretty good balance.
The process of putting the issue together was more time-consuming than I’d thought - but it was fun! Allysse and I spent a lot of time building the infrastructure and doing background work, chasing up submissions, choosing the running order, recording the links and transcribing. We’ve also learnt a bit about the technical side of things - especially the distribution of podcasts (or things-that-are-kind-of-like-podcasts).
Are there any podcasts (or other media) that inspired you more than others for the creation of the zine?
The initial spark came from listening to the Tough Girl podcast by Sarah Williams and wondering if there was anything similar for queer/LGBTQIA+ adventurers (there isn’t, as far as we know!). Allysse and I didn’t have the time or energy to do weekly, long-form interviews like that, so we knew we'd have to take a different approach. We’re also both really interested in the more creative side of audio as a format, and from that perspective I took inspiration from the creative journals I remember from uni and the collaborative zines I’ve enjoyed or been part of since then.
When it comes down to it, we had a hankering for stories of queer folks doing stuff outdoors - we wanted something like this to exist, and sometimes if you want something to exist you have to create it (or facilitate its creation) yourself. And that is quite a zine-y attitude.
How did you go about organising the pieces into a coherent whole for the issue?
Ooh, this was interesting! Obviously, until we passed the submissions deadline, we couldn’t really decide on a running order. Once we had all the pieces, Allysse and I both went away and created our own track lists (I made some colourful spreadsheets, of course), then reconvened the following weekend to talk through our ideas. We’d independently come up with some of the same notions - like a preference for Adele’s piece coming first and Wendy’s coming last, and about the links between some of the pieces. A few pieces were harder to place than others - for example, Belinda’s poems are so powerful that we felt the piece following them needed give the listener a bit of space to come down.
Doing this was a bit like curating and planning an exhibition, with questions about theme, tone, format, creator and length all playing a part. We tried to mix things up - for example, not putting all the poetry, or all the American accents, or all the long pieces together - but we also wanted the zine to have a momentum, and to flow from one piece to the next rather than chopping and changing. In the end, we kind of created chapters within the zine, like rooms within a gallery - sections of about four pieces each, which we felt spoke to each other in some way.
What has been the most interesting thing about making Issue 01?
Is it a cop-out to say “the whole process”? Like I said above, we started Queer Out Here because we wanted to listen to something and we couldn’t find it - and it was exciting to learn that other people obviously wanted to share and listen to these stories, too. I loved hearing all the pieces that were submitted - the range of topics, the different styles, the personalities of contributors, all of it! Overall, though, project is something of an experiment, so I’ve tried to approach without too many preconceptions and it’s been wonderful to watch it take shape so far.
What has been the most difficult thing about creating Queer Out Here for you?
Luckily, we didn’t encounter too many snags and hitches. Sure, there were a couple of technical concerns, but overall I feel like the two of us - and various helpful friends - managed to sort them out.
The hardest thing for me, personally, was the process of approaching people and asking for submissions. I’ve never enjoyed cold calling, fundraising, and the kinds of things that mean asking people to do something for you. Although I am obviously invested in the idea of Queer Out Here, I still find the approaching-and-asking process rather anxiety inducing. Issue 01 features several friends and acquaintances, but outside of my usual circles I took quite a scattergun approach, which didn’t work so well. This is something I want to focus on for Issue 02 - finding new people and groups to approach, and doing that in a more personal way.
What are your hopes for future issues?
My main hopes are that people keep creating and submitting interesting pieces and that Allysse and I continue to enjoy working together.
As well as more of the kinds of audio we feature in Issue 01, I would like to hear from people of colour, from Indigenous people, from people in countries outside of the UK, Australia and the USA, from older folks, from queer families and youth. I’d like to hear music, essays and documentaries, pieces about sport (team, solo, extreme, everyday), epic journeys, cultural geography, homelessness, relationships, ecology and conservation.
One thing I loved about Issue 01 was getting submissions from people who hadn’t created much (or any) audio before, as well as from people who do this professionally. I hope that mix continues. It would be amazing to hear from previous contributors as they continue to explore the possibilities of the medium, too.
You can listen to Issue 01 here, and on iTunes, PlayerFM, Stitcher and a few other places. Let us know what you think! Submissions for Issue 02 will open in May 2018.
Look, it's another audio post. It’s almost as though I like the sound of my own voice. (I don’t, particularly, yet here we are again!)
If we’re connected on social media you’ve probably seen me mention Queer Out Here. (For good measure: Like our page on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter!) Queer Out Here is an audio zine that explores the outdoors from queer/LGBTQIA+ perspectives. I’m co-editing it with Allysse from Beste Glatisant. The idea is that queer/LGBTQIA+ folks create outdoors-related sound pieces and submit them to Queer Out Here, then we collate them into an issue of the audio zine. (What’s an audio zine? Think of it as a sort of cross between an art journal, a zine and a podcast.) We launched the Queer Out Here website and call for submissions a couple of months ago and I am super excited to hear what people create. (Fellow outdoorsy queers, please submit something! Deadline is 2 January 2018.)
Here was our initial mini-introduction and invitation to contribute.
Queer Out Here - Issue 00
And now, Allysse and I have recorded an interview with each other as a kind of pre-zine introduction, or Issue 00, if you will. You can listen to it here (includes content notes and links to transcript on Google Docs and as PDF.)
Click the button below to listen to Issue 00 on the Queer Out Here website.
I was nervous about recording this. I usually redraft my blog posts a couple of times and have Dan proofread them before I publish because I don’t like to make mistakes, say something that hurts other people, or something I’ll regret. So the idea of talking unscripted, then recording it and putting out there for everyone to hear - ugh! Add to that my self-consciousness about my speaking voice . . . Well, I almost didn’t do it at all.
“But, hey,” I thought, “If I want people to make audio for Queer Out Here - people who will also have their own hang-ups and anxieties about various elements of it - the least I can do is face my own discomfort.” And of course, it didn’t end up being as horrible as I feared. In fact, it was quite fun. As Allysse and I live in different parts of the UK, we played tag with questions and responses, recording our sections then emailing them over to the other person for their answers. I looked forward to hearing Allysse’s thoughts and the sounds of wherever she was recording. It wasn’t so bad doing my own parts, either, because I got to think about my responses before recording, make a mental (or written!) note about how I could answer the questions and re-record something if I stumbled badly over the words, or went off on a wild tangent or really couldn’t stand the way I sounded.
The interview is based around four questions:
So, please pop this on your listening device and let Allysse and me chat to you for a bit. Issue 00 comes in at a bit over 50 minutes, which might suit your commute, or perhaps you could listen while making dinner . . . or maybe it’s something that will send you to sleep.
We’d love to hear from you - about this interview (content or format), about ideas for your own Queer Out Here submission/s, about our RSS feed (does it work for you), about groups and/or individuals you think we should get in touch with. You can leave a comment here, or contact Queer Out Here on Twitter, Facebook or by email.
How amazing are holidays? During our much needed October break we went to Holland and stayed with my cousin in Roermond for a few days. (He was a great host - thanks Peter!)
I have a bit of a treat for you and I really hope you enjoy it! I’ve created a 20 minute audio documentary about our journey that weaves field recordings taken during our travels with narration and some brief snippets of music. A transcript of the narration (it doesn’t include the conversations in the field recordings) is provided below. You can read along and look at photos as you listen. Headphones are recommended.
London - Harwich - Hoek van Holland - Roermond
We leave for Holland on a still Sunday morning. The rooks and jackdaws have begun to jostle through the trees. The sky is blushed with pink. A heron passes over, weighty, silent.
Our taxi weaves through London as the city starts to stir and deposits us at Liverpool Street Station. There is a bus replacement service from London to the ferry at Harwich. It is not as uncomfortable as I feared.
On board, the ferry feels like a very comfortable airport, with wood panelling and armchairs. We set up in a sunny corner beside a big round porthole to watch England drift away. The sea is very calm. The crossing takes several hours, so we do a few laps of the deck, visit the lounge, read our books, lie on the couches for a nap.
We arrive at the Hook of Holland during the golden hour, and disembark as the low autumn sun coats the terminal in honey light. Border control here is much less stressful than at an airport. I’ve now crossed from the UK to mainland Europe by plane, by train and by boat.
My cousin Peter (he’s my first cousin once removed) picks us up and drives us south, through the sunset, into the evening, to his house in Roermond. Our window looks out across the rooftops to the cathedral, with its golden statue of St Christopher lit up on top of the spire.
Holland and Belgium and Germany, oh my!
In the morning, after a proper Dutch breakfast with cheese and stroop and spice cake, we drive to Zutendaal in Belgium to walk a barefoot path. This two kilometre path is dry in some places - with sand, pebbles and woodchips - and wet in others - with mud, puddles and running water. There are obstacles, hanging bridges and a lookout tower which gives us a view out over the autumn trees to the fields and villages and wind turbines beyond. At the end of the path, we wash our feet and have a drink and a slice of vlaai (sweet tart) in the warm sunshine.
We then drive right across the Netherlands to Vaals to enjoy a longer walk - not barefoot this time - through woods, along fields and down country lanes. We end our walk at Three Country Point and Dan takes a photo of me standing in Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany at the same time.
The hills of Zuid Limburg (yes, they have a few)
Our second day starts in much the same way, but this time we pick up my other cousin’s black labrador, Pippa, before Peter drives us to the hills of South Limburg. It’s wonderful to explore a new country on foot. We climb up through an autumnal wood to a farmland plateau. I can’t resist sampling a carrot from the field by the path - it’s delicious. We wander down a valley on neat tracks. Pippa runs ahead and returns, munches on grass and rolls in good smells. A buzzard cries in the distance. We climb up again, then back down through the woods to a wonderful view over the valley and the castle below.
I forgot to mention in my documentary that the skies were reddish from Saharan sand picked up by ex-Hurricane Ophelia.
We stop at the castle for a drink before heading into Maastricht for lunch and a spot of sightseeing. There, we visit a huge bookshop in an old church and a bakery in an old mill - and we pause to sample their vlaai.
In the evening, Bart (my second cousin) comes over for dinner and to take Pippa home. We have a few glasses of wine and Peter pulls out photo albums from his trips to Australia in the late 1970s and early 1980s. We laugh - at the clothes and at Peter’s moustache. I take photos of the photos to send to my parents and sister.
Zoom, zoom, zoom
On Wednesday, we hire electric bikes and ride from Roermond to Thorn. In the morning, the mist is so thick we can’t even see the boats as we pass the marina, and the cormorants drying in the trees create ghostly silhouettes.
The mist has burnt off by the time we get to Thorn, and we wander around the picturesque streets in the sun. We find a little garden gallery where a woman has created clay models of all 15 chapels in the village. For lunch, we sit on a busy terrace and eat hearty Dutch pancakes.
We head back a different way, past Peter’s old house, down tree-lined cycle paths, across the river, through farms and industrial areas. I enjoy increasing the electric support on the bike while cycling uphill - it makes everything so much more pleasant. I think I’ve converted to electric bikes!
That evening, Dan and I take Peter out for dinner. As we walk home, the church bells chime and the town hall bells tinkle their tune. We’ve heard so many bells in every town and it will be one of my lasting memories of this visit.
Home again, home again
We spend our last day in Holland making our way slowly back to the ferry. We stop in Rotterdam and catch the tram to Market Hall.
Our lunch consists of several snacks as we graze our way along the aisles. We buy food for the ferry crossing and visit the English language section of a second hand bookshop. I read my book in the park, then in a cafe in the train station, then in the ferry terminal.
Once on board, we find our cabin and change into pyjamas. The day fades outside our porthole and the lights of the industrial area across the water begin to twinkle. It looks much nicer in the dark.
During the night, I wake up and stare out the window. Lights of ships. The froth of disturbed water as the ferry ploughs through the swell. Mist whipping past in plumes and skeins.
The morning announcement about breakfast is preceded by a few wake-up bars of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. The boat has already docked. We shower and head to Deck 9 for croissants, tea and coffee.
Too soon, we’re on the train, annoying commuters with our luggage. I’m tired. I close my eyes and remember squelching mud between my toes, crunching a stolen carrot, whizzing along the cycle path, and the bells ringing out into the night . . .
Goed zo! You are at the end. Did you enjoy this audio journey? Please leave me a comment to let me know. Dank je wel! I've also made a slow, short film from our ferry crossing.
The music used in this piece is "Caazapá (Aire Popular Paraguayo)", composed by Agustín Barrios Mangore and performed by Edson Lopes - sourced from musopen.org and used under a Creative Commons license.
Epic post ahoy! (But it's mostly photos - and tweets with photos - so don't be alarmed.) Over summer, we went on a road trip, visited a bunch of National Trust properties, camped a lot, saw several lovely friends and subsisted almost entirely on scones, pizza and instant noodles. It was a pretty great holiday, even if we got the best version of British Summer (i.e. rain) most days.
We recently bought ourselves life memberships of the National Trust (thanks to M&A for the gift). The National Trust owns a whole range of places, from castles and stately homes to countryside and coast, interesting historic houses, follies and factories. Most of these places are open to the public, the larger ones have cafés or restaurants, members get free entry and (usually) free parking. We decided that visiting a National Trust place every day would be a good way of exploring the country during our summer hols. Spoilers: we were right. Herewith, a bit about our trip (places marked with an * are not National Trust).
I always find it funny that English road signs will sometimes point to "The NORTH" or "The WEST" or "The SOUTH" (I don't think I've seen one to "The EAST" before - do they exist?). I don't know what the technical definition of those areas are, but I'm going to divide this post according to them anyway. Essentially, we started in Sussex and did a clockwise loop around England, albeit skipping some major parts and adding a short visit to Wales (and an even shorter, minutes-long trip to Scotland). We didn't visit many NT places close to home, because we'll go to them on weekends and short breaks . . .
Day 1: Barcombe Mills*, Ditchling Beacon, Devil's Dyke, Saddlescombe Farm
Our travels started off with a visit to Barcombe Mills for a walk. Then we headed along the line of the South Downs (Ditchling Beacon and Devil's Dyke) with sunshine and wind and forecasts of storms. Unfortunately, we couldn't stay where we planned on the first night due to a family illness, so we stopped off at a camping field - literally, we couldn't even find the loo! - at Saddlescombe Farm.
Day 2: Worthing Beach*, Mottisfont
The rain didn't let up, so we packed up the tent in the wet (not fun, as it was the first time we'd used this tent since last summer, so we were out of practice) and trundled off over the South Downs to Worthing Beach for breakfast (or morning tea, maybe). I picked a bit of sea kale while we were there, to add to our instant noodles later on. Our National Trust property of the day was Mottisfont, where we arrived just in time for the mediaeval history walking tour. Then it was off to our peaceful, if rather poorly signposted, campsite for the evening.
Day 3: Pepperbox Hill, Myncen Farm*, Hardy's Cottage, Max Gate, Loughwood Baptist Meeting House
We woke to a glorious sunrise and popped out of the tent to pick blackberries for breakfast (probably the best breakfast of our holiday, TBH, see ingredients in the tweet below). We set off across the counties of the south coast, stopping at Pepperbox Hill, following a sign to cider and arriving at Hardy's Cottage near Dorchester just as the rain set in. I've never been a huge Thomas Hardy fan, probably because I read Tess of the D'Urbervilles when I was too young to realise it was a condemnation of societal values and couldn't understand why someone would write something so horrible, let alone why people would choose to read it. However, both the cottage and Max Gate down the road were really interesting spots to find out more about domestic and social life of the period. Did you know people used tea leaves (after brewing them) to polish/stain their wooden floors? We called in at Loughwood Baptist Meeting House before heading to Exmouth.
The South West
We felt like we'd moved properly into different terrain. We drove through the long, lingering Downs-ish hills merging into Salisbury Plain, then suddenly we were in the steep green country of the South West, Somerset and Devon. We were in the area last year, and it felt good to return.
Day 4: Lower Halsdon Farm, Exmouth*, A la Ronde, Exeter*
We had a morning to ourselves, so we took advantage of the lovely weather and walked into Exmouth. Our Airbnb hosts told us about a new path that had been put in through a National Trust-owned farm, so we followed it down to the path that snakes around the estuary, enjoying views across the water and mussel beds. We stopped for a cream tea on the way back, which we ended up sharing with a little orange cat. The main event of the day was a visit to A la Ronde with our friend Rachael. Read about the history of the house here. We went to Exeter for a dinner of delicious vegan and vegetarian pizzas at The Flat.
Day 5: Knightshayes, South Hill
Goodbye, Exmouth! We took back roads slowly up to the north coast of Devon/Somerset, enjoying the views of hills and streams and stopping off at Knightshayes for a couple of hours in the middle of the day. The estate itself looked beautiful, but we spent most of our time inside the ridiculous Gothic-revival house, enjoying the first of many examples of ostentatious interior design. We learnt about linen presses (thanks, chatty volunteer), women's golf and a bit about the local lace-making industry (where the family made their fortune). Then we set off again, up to the remote-feeling hilltop expanses and steep, secluded valleys of Exmoor.
Day 6: Watersmeet, County Gate*
Our pretty campsite was tucked away in a wooded river valley sheltered between the high moors outside Porlock. I tried out my new water shoes with a paddle down the river. It was beautiful, and hard to leave for the day! But leave we did, for a wander along the streams and waterfalls to Watersmeet. Their card machine wasn't working, we didn't have cash and the car was parked a mile or so upstream, so after a quick look around we headed off. We went for a lovely little walk at County Gate, through the bright purple heather and yellow gorse (which they call furze, there).
Day 7: Glastonbury Tor, Costa at Shepton Mallet*, Kennet and Avon Canal at Bradford-on-Avon*
It rained! Are you surprised? Dunster Castle wasn't yet open, so we headed to Glastonbury Tor, somewhere I've wanted to visit for ages. We nabbed ourselves some free street parking and joined the train of folks heading to the summit. Oh my goodness. It rained sideways with such ferocity that one side of us was dripping while the other was quite dry. We could see barely a thing from the top. Then we had to come down, drenching our other sides. We were so wet. We bundled into the car, sitting on towels, and sought refuge in a retail park twenty minutes up the road where we tried to dry things under the hand dryer. Luckily, our Airbnb hosts were beyond lovely and helped us dry out. We even had bath robes! In the evening we went to visit our friend Dru, an artist, poet and engineer who lives on a narrow boat on the Kennet and Avon Canal.
Day 8: Dyrham Park, Bristol*
As we pulled in to the drive at Dyrham Park, I said to Dan, "Don't you feel like we're rich folk on a grand tour, visiting our friends in all their grand houses?" Dyrham is one of those classic National Trust properties - a big house, fancy garden, a cafe and bookshop in the stables and a deer park with spectacular views . We went on the volunteer-lead garden tour and it was fascinating to learn its history and the plans for further restoration. After Dyrham, we headed to Bristol, where we stayed with Allysse & co. Allysse and Emma took us out for some tasty pizzas. Mmm, yum.
Day 9: Cheddar Gorge, Wells*
After a relaxing morning, Allysse, Emma, Dan and I drove down to Cheddar Gorge, where we climbed a lookout, had lunch in the (very touristy) village and then walked around the top of the gorge. It's an amazing place! I guess I thought, in the back of my mind, that you don't get "big landscapes" in England - especially in the south. I loved everything about the walk and the company. Allysse and I recorded an intro for Queer Out Here. We saw wild goats . . . and Glastonbury Tor, in the distance, in the sunshine. After a few false starts (including an abandoned pub!), we ended up in Wells for dinner.
We love Wales (had you noticed?), so we couldn't really go from Bristol to Birmingham without popping in to a couple of our favourite places. It was fun to notice that our DuoLingo and Say Something in Welsh practice has paid off a bit - we could understand a few more signs this time. Gwych!
Day 10: Tredegar House
Allysse had to work, but Emma came with us to Tredegar House on the outskirts of Newport. We had a short wander around the ponds, then popped into the house. Once again, the room volunteers provided entertaining commentary on the history of the house and its owners. Fave quote about a fellow with a pet kangaroo: "As you can see from this photograph, he was gay." We went to a talk about the history of the property from Tudor times to its life as a school and council-run venue. It was warm, I was comfortable, I fell asleep. Sorry, volunteer presenter! We ate scones, dropped Emma at the station then headed on up to an Airbnb in Caerphilly.
Day 11: Lanlay, Caerphilly Mountain*
National Trust places seemed a bit thin on the ground in the immediate vicinity, but we found one: a field. OK, that makes it sound dull, when in reality Lanlay is a series of beautiful riverside meadows that have not been farmed since before WWII. This means the place retains traditional hedges and a huge diversity of wild herbs, grasses and so on - the kind of diversity I'd heard about, but it was another thing to see and truly understand what we've lost elsewhere and what people are working to bring back where possible. There was a sign encouraging people to pull up Himalayan Balsam, so rather than walking we went on a long weeding expedition. We had lunch with lovely friends (and it was a lovely lunch, although I think the soup broke two soup makers?!). After lunch we drove to the top of Caerphilly Mountain for a wander around the common/heath. All in all, an enjoyable day!
Day 12: The Sugar Loaf, Abergavenny*, Pen-Ffordd-Goch*, LLanthony Priory*
Up through the valleys from Caerphilly we went, heading towards a wonderful part of the world - the area around the Black Mountains/Brecon Beacons/Usk Valley/Wye Valley/Vale of Ewyas. First stop: a climb to the top of Sugar Loaf/YFâl. This was great. The climb gradually steepening to the rocky crest. We spent a while enjoying the excellent views and watching the rain jumping peaks towards us - Corn Du, Pen y Fan and Cribyn in the distance, then the nearer hilltops, then the Usk Valley, then . . . it missed us! We popped down to Abergavenny for lunch and over to Pen-Ffordd-Goch/Keepers Pond to find the road we'd seen from Sugar Loaf/Y Fâl. Finally, we drove to the sweet little campsite below the picturesque remains of Llanthony Priory/Priordy Llanddewi Nant Hodni. It felt like it had been ages since we'd camped - days since Exmoor - and it was good to be back in the tent.
The Middle Bits
A.K.A. Birmingham, Warrington and Manchester. (I originally called this section "The Midlands" and Derry told me off. Landscape-wise, it felt like we entered The NORTH only once we'd passed Manchester. And let's be real, Manchester's only about two thirds of the way from the south coast to Scotland!) This section of our trip was based more around seeing friends than any particular National Trust properties - but that's not to say we didn't visit some great places.
Day 13: Gospel Pass (Wales)*, The Weir Garden, Birmingham*
Leaving our campsite after a paddle in the nearby river (cripes, it was freezing!), we headed out over the Gospel Pass - one of my favourite viewing points in the world, I think! We then followed the Wye Valley around to The Weir Garden, set on a steep hillside overlooking the Wye. We'd stopped opposite it while canoeing down the Wye last summer and had filed it away as a place to come back to. Worth it! Then it was on to Birmingham, which we managed to do via quite a green route almost all the way into the city. We went to a pub quiz with our friend Rachael (who put us up for the night, too) where we came equal third - only 1.5 points below the winners. (I contributed only one, incorrect, answer - essentially, I think I lost the quiz for the team. Whoops!)
Day 14: Kinver Rock Houses, Alderly Edge, Warrington*
(A.K.A. the day I had chips for breakfast - classy!) We drove with Rachael to check out the Holy Austin Rock Houses at Kinver. These houses are part cave, carved into the red sandstone of Kinver Edge. People were living here up until the 1960s and the houses are refurbished in a cosy, domestic style along early-mid 20th century lines. Unlike many National Trust places, here visitors are encouraged to pick up the household items, sit in the furniture and feel what home might have been like in these fascinating structures. After most of the day out, we dropped Rachael back in Birmingham headed to our dinner date in Warrington, via Alderley Edge. I was such a fan of Alan Garner's books (these ones) as a kid and had a fantastic experience the first time we came to this area, remembering the books, matching the maps with places and going investigating. This was only a brief stop, but oh, wow, I still feel like I know these woods - and the things that might lurk there. It also made me want to re-read Boneland. Anyway! We had a good time with our friend Derry in Warrington. I had chocolate gnocchi for dessert.
Day 15: Quarry Bank, Manchester*
This was a bit of a terrible day, in that I didn't really eat properly until about 3pm. The less said about that, the better! But Quarry Bank was fascinating. The demonstrations were really informative and helped create a physical appreciation of the place's history - the noise, the dangers, the smells, the speed. We bought a tea towel woven on the machines in the factory and headed off to Manchester. It was such a pleasure to spend time with Sarah and Jit and their six cats (SIX CATS). We had a great walk along the canal into the city centre with Sarah, where we met Jit for a drink in the late afternoon sun before gorging ourselves on yet more delicious pizza.
Day 16: Lyme Park and House
After an amazing breakfast (thanks, Sarah - and thanks also for the amazing picnic lunch and dinner on this day!) we all piled into the car and headed off to Lyme. Another NT property with all the trimmings - deer park, stately home, formal garden, stables, orangery, etc. I got to play the piano (as I had at A la Ronde and Knightshayes) and we heard a talk about one of the owners of Lyme. Dan and I tried on the dress ups at pretty much every NT place where they were on offer, but Lyme was definitely the best. They had a whole room of clothes and volunteer assistants to help you dress and you could put on a complete outfit and wander around the property in it! We saw a few people in full costume around the house. Brilliant!
The North (The NORTH). I can count the number of times we've been north of Manchester on one hand (once to Scotland, once to the Yorkshire Dales, once to the Lake District), so it was great to be back! I think it feels so far away from us down on the south coast that we don't even think about going there on holiday. That's kind of changed after this trip, and I like to think that we'll visit The NORTH more frequently, now.
Day 17: John Rylands Library*, Malham Tarn Estate
Having had a lovely time with Sarah and Jit, we went with them into town and visited the John Rylands Library, where we wandered around an interesting exhibition, ogled the reading room and admired the very cool neo-Gothic spaces (the library has featured in the Harry Potter films). We ate a tasty brunch before setting off northwards, with no precise destination in mind. We wanted to check out Malham Tarn and the rain stopped just in time for a lovely stroll on the boardwalk. We spotted wildflowers and ate wild raspberries -yum! Further and further through the Yorkshire Dales we pootled, checking out a couple of campsites to no avail before stumbling upon a Camping and Caravanning Club affiliated one in Aysgarth, where we settled in for the night.
Day 18: Aysgarth Falls*, Tan Hill Inn*, Hadrian's Wall and Housesteads Fort
We'd never heard of the Aysgarth Falls before, but as we were camped nearby it only seemed right to toddle down for a peek and a paddle. It was a glorious morning, so we made the most of it. We decided to head for Hadrian's Wall in the afternoon, which meant another long drive, down quaint country lanes and up over crumbling moors (there is some seriously bad erosion going on up there). We stopped off for lunch at Tan Hill Inn, a popular spot not only because it's the highest pub in Britain but because the Pennine Way leads right to its door. We reached Hadrian's Wall later than we might have liked, but still had enough time to take in the exhibition as well as Housesteads Fort. It reminded me so much of The Wall in Garth Nix's Old Kingdom series, I was concerned by the lack of wind flutes. Having signed up to the CCC that morning, we checked the app for nearby campsites. As luck would have it, there was one just down the road that had space for us - and they even gave us half a dozen eggs!
Day 19: Wallington, Cragside
After the massive, crunched up hills of Yorkshire, Northumbria seems to stretch itself back out, with longer, lower rises and gentler valleys. Driving through the heather-drenched landscape, we found a sign pointing to Wallington, where red squirrels might be found. Of course, we stopped! An hour in the hide only turned up birds (mainly tits, robins, nuthatches, woodpeckers) and a tiny frog, but it was an enjoyable break. We headed to Cragside in the afternoon. A couple of people had mentioned this as a destination - and no wonder! It was the first home to be lit by hydroelectricity, so there's some interesting engineering history there, but it's also a great house (with the most ridiculous 10 tonne marble fireplace) and a gorgeous estate.
Day 20: Barter Books*, Lindisfarne, Scotland*
The day got off to a bad start. We couldn't find the car keys anywhere (we looked everywhere - the field, the tent, the facilities caravan) and presumed we'd locked them in the boot. We called our insurance to get a locksmith, but he got lost on the way and it took 2 hours for him to arrive. He opened the car, we still couldn't find the keys . . . until Dan went back into the tent, and there they were. Argh! Hungry for breakfast, we found a random cafe in nearby Alnwick - which turned out to be in the most awesome second hand book shop, Barter Books. After breakfast, we headed to the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, parking in the dunes and finishing the trip on foot. It was packed with tourists and the castle was closed, so we bought some mead and walked back, the ghostly moans of the seals drifting across the water on the wind. As we were so close to Scotland, we popped up to cross the border. On the way back to the campsite I had a paddle at Cocklawburn Beach in the dark blue North Sea. The day ended better than it began with a delicious picnic (with mead, natch) in the low evening sunshine.
Back down to the East
And so we began driving south - "downhill" - out of The NORTH . . . it felt like we'd turned the corner and were heading back home. In fact, we reminded ourselves, we still had a week to go!
Day 21: Fountains Abbey
The Unthank sisters brought a tear to our eye as we passed Gormley's Angel. The day's stop was Fountains Abbey, set in the beautiful Studley Royal Water Garden, where we wandered the paths, enjoyed the interpretation timeline, admired the views, did a bit of knitting and of course ate a scone. I haven't mentioned every scone we ate. There were so many! I was quite the contributor (or should I say Sconepal?) to the National Trust Scones Twitter feed. That night we stayed in another CCC affiliated site - our first choice was a cute place that turned out to be wedged between two noisy motorways, but we ended up in a bleak semi-industrial landscape with pylons and smokestacks in the background. But the staff were nice, the food was fine and the showers were warm.
Day 22: Nostell, Sheffield*
Having camped not too far from Nostell, we got to the property early and had a peaceful stroll around the walled garden - and a few spins on the flying fox/zip wire! - before the crowds arrived. We went on an informative guided tour of the house, learning about the owners, architects/designers and collections. Our guide took pains to point out the collection of Chippendale furniture - some of which was horrible, in my non-expert opinion! In the afternoon, we headed to Sheffield to stay with our friends Vic and Jonjo (who have better taste) and went for a drink on a rooftop terrace to soak up some summery atmosphere. The last bit of our trip was shaping up to have much better weather.
Day 22: Tattershall Castle
After a homemade breakfast (thanks, Vic) we were off, heading towards Tattershall Castle. I didn't know what to expect, but I loved it! After seeing a few "in the style of" neo-Gothic or Romantic-mediaeval properties, it was good to get a feel for a space that is solidly middle ages - the big rooms, wide fireplaces, spiral stairways and windows over the moat. Mostly, though, I loved the graffiti, which had been scratched into the stone from the 1700s right through until the present. We heard others tut-tutting about it, but how cool to think of someone's hands running over that precise spot over 200 years ago. (Some of the graffiti was, perhaps, a little less authentic - check the tweet below.) We decided we'd rather not spend a night in the forecast storm, so we pushed on across the lowlands of Lincolnshire, through New York and Boston (yes!) and around the Wash to the comfy bed that awaited us in Norfolk.
In Norfolk: Morston Quay, Titchwell*, Sandringham*
Our road trip proper stopped in Norfolk, where we stayed with family in a holiday house for a while. I went swimming a couple of mornings, we visited Titchwell RSPB reserve a few times, we ate some good food and did some touristy things. Including . . . seeing seals! They were delightful to watch. Our final National Trust place was Morston Quay, near Brancaster. You can listen to the sound of boat rigging in the wind below. We also visited Sandringham (the Queen's house), which made for an interesting comparison with all the NT stately homes we'd seen. You only get to visit a handful of rooms, but they're apparently set up just as they are when Her Maj is in residence. It must be odd to live amongst the collections of stuff from past royals - there's a whole collection of jade ornaments, which I found especially unappealing. You can read a bit more about the interiors in this Country Life article, if you're interested.
And so our National Trust road trip was at an end. Dan and I agreed that it had been a great holiday.
We saw new sights, learnt many interesting things and had a ready-made structure to each day. Car camping was fairly low stress, though next time I would be a bit more organised - we took far too much stuff, probably because before we left we were concentrating on moving house rather than packing for a holiday. The Camping and Caravanning Club membership proved a happy medium between total spontaneity (and the stress that can bring) and complete pre-planning (and the lack of flexibility that can bring). Hopefully we'll use it again over the year. Speaking of memberships, I'd thought by the end of our trip I would be sick of National Trust branded literature and atmosphere, but it wasn't too bad - each place retained enough individual character to intrigue and charm us.
We were ready to stop by the end, though. As much as it was enjoyable to pop in to so many different parts of the country, I think next time we'll pick just one or two areas to explore!
Thanks so much to all the folks who put us up, fed and watered us and/or spent time with us: Rachael, Dru, Allysse, Emma, Kate & family, Rachael (another one!), Derry, Sarah, Jit, Vic & family, the Katzes.
Last weekend we headed up to Sissinghurst in Kent. I took a few photos and made an audio blog of our walk.
There's no transcript of the piece, but it includes:
This was a bit of an experiment to see how well the digital recorder worked and if the recordings might be edited into a single piece, so it's not the most polished thing ever. It's probably best to use headphones to listen. But hopefully it gives you an insight into what it's like to go on a walk with us!
Please do let me know if you enjoyed the audio! I'll post a Snowy River adventure update later this week and then the blog will be taking a break until after we return from Australia in late April.
Summer started to quietly settle towards autumn and we went back to work . . .
I made this recording for Allysse's Nature Sound of the Month series.
We started the month with the end of the holidays and another go at Champing with friends. The days grew shorter and the mornings darker, which gave us the chance to see some gorgeous sunrises.
We still made it out for some walks, though, including our monthly outings with the HRRA walking group and our weekly strolls around Arlington Reservoir on the way home from work.
We also walked the whole of our local long distance path, the 1066 Country Walk. Handily, it goes right past our front door (literally, as our front door is directly onto the street) and Battle is slap-bang in the middle. A good place to rest overnight! Allysse came down to join us and she wrote up a blog about it. A few of our HRRA friends came along for the second day, too. It was a fun weekend.
The sights and sounds of summer . . .
To start, why not put some sounds in your ears while you read over this post? Below is a compilation of various recordings I made (on my camera, so not brilliant quality) during June. Originally, I intended to do a recording every day for 30 Days Wild, but didn't manage it. Speaking of 30 Days Wild, it was fantastic to get my pack from the Wildlife Trusts, featuring cards with pictures that I drew! It was very exciting to have my art going out to thousands of people. I talked about the process of creating the cards here.
So, back to our activites in June. We paid a visit to London for a family wedding at the start of the month and enjoyed some green spaces in the city.
The wedding cakes were a sight to behold. All the fruit and flowers inspired me to try something I'd been meaning to get around to for the last few years: cooking with elderflowers. I foraged a couple of flower heads and made them into pikelets (sweet little pancakes), which worked quite nicely.
It's hard to fit in outdoors time around a full time job with a 1-2 hour commute each way, so we decided to start a little tradition of going on a walk on the way home at least once a week. We chose Arlington Reservoir, because it's a one hour circular walk on an easy trail, with a variety of stuff to look at: the water and waterbirds, a bit of woodland, views of the South Downs, animals, buildings, fields. It was satisfying to watch the evolution of the micro-ecosystem that is the reservoir wall over the course of the summer and autumn, until it got too dark to walk any more.
There was a gorgeous Chicken of the Woods fungus growing on Battle High Street, of all places. I didn't want to take it, as it looked so lovely and colourful. Somebody else didn't have any such qualms - it had been cut down when we next went past, a couple of days after I took this photo. (I later heard it was a friend of a neighbour, who presented it to a family member for their birthday!)
We had an amazing microadventure on the South Downs with probably the most beautiful scenery I saw this year. The HRRA walk this month was also on the South Downs, which meant even more fabulous views!
Small tortoiseshell butterflies, which have suffered a population decline, especially in the south of the UK.
And at the end of the month we went Champing for the first time. Despite quite a grey and drizzly month overall, we did manage to make the most of it.
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