Viewpark Glen, North Lanarkshire, Scotland

‘Oor Glen’.

The lovely Viewpark Glen and former Douglas Support Estate in Lanarkshire was certainly a memorable part of my childhood. Memorable because my father took me there as a boy when visiting my grandmother who lived on Alexander Avenue in the solidly working class Viewpark housing scheme nearby. A place I came to step on a train in Nottingham and head up for summer holidays with my father’s family.

It was very much inhabited by mining communities back in the day, where the people of Viewpark, Uddingston, Bellshill and other local communities would earn a living the hard way, in long, hard shifts down the many former coal mines in the area.

(Viewpark Glen. Images source: unknown)
I owe a debt of gratitude to those who captured the stunning views shown throughout.

Bellshill and environs historically had many a famous son and daughter, especially in the field of football players. Back in the day, those all-time greats, the legendary Alex James of Arsenal and Preston North End and Hughie Gallagher of Newcastle United, Chelsea and others learned their trade in junior football in the town. Another legend, Sir Matt Busby from the village of Orbiston also trod the same path. Viewpark itself boasted two bona fidelatter day greats in wingers, Jimmy Johnstone of Celtic and John Robertson of Nottingham Forest. There have been literally dozens of others too.

However, I digress. As a stark counterpoint to the gritty and hard living presented in this area of North Lanarkshire was ‘Oor Glen’. Viewpark Glen felt quite a mystical and mysterious place to me as a child – especially leaving the rows of houses and little roads behind and descending into what felt almost like another world – one of considerable beauty. It was a place to play, to explore and for me, a place I could be together with my dad, amongst the quite unexpected flora and fauna. The peace, the quiet.

It owns a history too. Beaker Folk roamed and hunted in this glen with bows and arrows in 2000 BC, paving the way to an eventful later history with its Roman remnants, the Red Douglas family and all. This is not meant as an exaustive review of the area by any means but truly, this is a place that is well worth researching.

A place that holds a piece of my heart and family memories.

To my late father, John Frew of Musselburgh, East Lothian, Scotland.

Canon Edward Joseph Hannan

Cannon Edward Jospeph Hannan was the founding father of Hibernian Fooball Club, Leith, Edinburgh.The club was formed from St Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in the Old Town in Edinburgh and the Catholic Young Men’s Society, where a seminal and historic planning meeting took place.

A bust commemorating Cannon Hannan resides inside the front doors of St. Patrick’s in the Cowgate. Canon Edward Joseph Hannan was born in Ballingarry, County Limerick, Ireland on 21 June 1836.

(Image: Scottish Catholic Archive)

The Cowgate in those days was widely known as ‘Little Ireland’ due to the many impoverished refugees from the Irish famine living there. Reports of more than thirty souls living ito a room with no sanitation give a sobering glimpse into the hard-bitten and impoverished history of the area.

St Patrick’s Church, Cowgate, Edinburgh, (Image: Runciman APSE Trust)

The Hibernians were conceived of by the kindly Canon and his co-founder, Michael Whelehan as a benevolent and charitable organisation in 1875, giving support to the poor and disadvantaged of the community. Tyically, the Hibs would play benefit games for those of the parish who were struggling such as widows with children to feed. A central reason for the formation of the football club was to help keep young Irish, Roman Catholic men of Little Ireland on the straight and narrow. Attendance at Mass was a prerequisite for membership and sobriety another, to play for the Hibernians. This gave rise to claims of Hibs being the first sectarian club in Scotland, which arguably might be said to be wilfully ignoring the sound and humanitarian principles on which the club was formed.

The club name, Hibernian, was derived from the ancient Roman word for Ireland, ‘Hibernia’. The club jerseys still commemorate Hibernian’s Irish origins with an Irish harp as part of the club crest, once again returning to the club’s humble beginnings.

Waiting on a Plane

We hear of many people at this time considering investing in foreign travel. It’s understandable that people, many trapped largely in their homes over the past year would like to break out into the world again. I feel similar too and at the same time feel it quite unwise to get ahead of oneself and charge ahead with concrete plans. Something we’ve witnessed through the pandemic and in myriad ways is the unexpected happening. There has been a false dawn or two, that is for sure.

Spiaggia Rosa
Spiaggia Rosa, Sardinia, Italy (Image: Benvenuto Travel)

Now we are informed of the possibility of a third wave. I would be interested to hear more about how a new strain and other threats mooted might circumvent the excellent progression of our vaccination levels. History tells me there are always twists and turns in this story possible.

There are so many variables surrounding international travel in the near future including that country’s accessibility and changing restrictions. I myself will need to continue patiently waiting for my plan to visit Italy to unfold, indeed, there may be no option offered to visit that beautiful country and it may be out of my hands. I understand though how to be happy and content with the small pleasures that may be on the way such as seing friends, having a pint or two, maybe even getting to a football match, that type of thing. I find it hard to underestimate how enjoyable it will be to welcome these things back and to open our lives back into the world after what feels like such a long time.

In general, we need to learn from the lessons of being patient and measured that the pandemic has so harshly tought us and to think accordingly.

A French Outbreak

There were some sobering reports emanating from France today of Covid-19 infection rates increasing significantly. Dunkirk I read, has 901 cases per week of new infections per 100,000 people and Nice similarly hit, occasioning a couple of weekend lockdowns for the Riviera.

(Nice, Image: The Telegraph)

This feels reminiscent to me of past events here in the UK, in particular the ‘second wave’ which with the most recent lockdown has felt and been experienced as so damaging.

The UK is further on down the road than France in terms of vaccination rates and that will arguably be it’s saviour. by comparison. It is a sobering thought though regarding the amount of people still likely to be milling around for a little time yet, unvaccinated, accompanied by cries for more rapid easing of restrictions, (I’m as tired as anyone of them) regarding what potential this can feasibly have.

I recall an extremely popular view +around the end of the first lockdown was that ‘the country couldn’t be locked down again’, it was too expensive, too damaging etc. Respectfully, I didn’t agree with that point of view. Two lockdowns (and months of tiers which in effect were essentially lockdowns) later here we are.

Fatigued, impoverished, out of work, de-socialised, young people missing their education and myriad mental health problems (believe me, I hear those every single day and the faint-hearted would be slightly terrifed to hear them). None of this, desperate though it is, and it is, overrides the fact that if we do this easing too quickly we can still be back in a maelstrom of anxiety and uncertainty at very short order. Recent history has shown us that and we would do well to learn from it.

Frostnip in Banff, Canada

FROSTNIP IS THE COMMON TERM for first-degree frostbite. It’s characterised by one’s skin turning pale or blue and feeling cold to the touch. If one stays out in the cold with these symptoms the skin may begin to feel cold to the touch and to tingle. The tingling can turn into quite severe pain and needs some simple first-aid. That first-aid generally means getting out of the cold and rewarming the affected areas. Failure to do this can result in moving through further stages of frostbite occasioning very serious tissue damage with consequential grave results.

It was on a frigid late December afternoon that I took to one of the outdoor skating rinks of the Banff Springs Hotel in Banff, Alberta for a skating session. The rink was deserted apart from myself and whilst very cold indeed, was welcoming under the fairy lights and seasonal music emanating from an outdoor sound system.

Banff Springs Hotel, Alberta, Canada


It was quite heavenly, the cold air icily refreshing my face as I traversed the wide open spaces of the rink, accompanied only by the familiar sound of my skate blades cutting sharply and crisply into the ice as I turned this way and that.

What could possibly go wrong?

Outside the skate-changing shack next to the ice was a handily-placed thermometer which I glanced at a couple of times when passing. The temperature, already very cold, was dropping slowly. I was warm though, with a fleecy top, ski pants and gloves and working up a head of steam on the ice.

Moraine Lake, Banff, Alberta Canada

Crystal Ski Resort, Alberta, Canada

I finally ended the session in the darkness, apart from the pretty lights of the rink and glided slowly to a halt at the shack, sat and began to remove my skates to change to shoes and take the short walk by the picturesque Bow River. Back to the warmth and a hot drink in the plush hotel.

As anyone who skates will identify, it takes but a few minutes to complete this procedure and I sat for a few moments afterwards admiring the wonderful and peaceful scene in front of me. I noted the outdoor thermometer registering at –28C.

It was only then that I began to feel the tingling in my fingers, moving into my hands. My first experience of frostnip. Walking ever more rapidly back to the hotel, the pain actually began to feel quite intense, in fact it was very painful indeed. I’d had my hands out of the ski gloves for only a few brief minutes but it was long enough.

Breaking into a run back to the hotel room and slightly confused by the sudden pain after feeling relatively comfortable, my partner of that time, a Canadian native quickly ran the hot taps in the bathroom and stuck my aching hands underneath them. There I stayed for the next thirty minutes until the pain began to subside.

Two pairs of gloves were in evidence for the next outdoor skating session, that time on an amazing frozen lake.

Saturday’s The Day We Play The Game 19.10.19

A not too shabby day in Hood Town (i.e. it’s not raining) and it’s another bus-walk-bus to the south of the city and Meadow Lane Stadium to watch Notts County take on a team I haven’t seen since the 1960s – Belper Town, in the FA Cup. Back in those pleasant football-going days it was Belper travelling to Arnold FC’s Gedling Road ground in the now-defunct Midland League. ‘Mary’s’ as Arnold were long known from their days as Arnold St Mary’s FC hold fond memories of Saturday afternoon and Wednesday evening football kicking off at a ground that was walkable from my folk’s front door. A call in at a Front Street chippy for a sixpenny ‘mix’ (chips and peas) with the gang and home to watch Dad’s Army on the telly. Those were the days.


‘Eight One…Eight bloody one!’

In 2019, Belper Town reside in the eighth division of League football and Notts in the fifth. The ‘Nailers’ from the nearby Derbyshire town being expected to bring some 1,500 supporters to Nottingham. Should be fun.

Meanwhile, my dear Hibees travel to Hamilton in Lanarkshire to face the Accies at New Douglas Park. A curious and unpredictable one this after the international break with Hibs showing a little more resilience in the three games prior. Hibs don’t have their problems to seek currently with few of the close season additions being termed as a success. They particularly struggle up front with new signing Doidge not firing as yet and Florian Kamberi out of sorts once more. I’ve a feeling there will be more questions asked of manager Heckingbottom come 5pm today.

The international break came at an inconvenient time for Nottingham Forest who were on a fine run of form and points gathering when the league had its short hiatus. It will be interesting to see if they pick up things where they left off against Wigan Athletic at the DW Stadium tomorrow and my hunch is that they will. They have shown a reliable resilience this season so far. It’s too early to be considering prospects for the season currently but I’d absolutely love to see the Garibaldi Reds back in the top flight once more where I believe they belong.

Lambley Under Water Once More

Extensive flooding in the area from last night with the main street in the local town closed (now opened again). Houses flooded and businesses closed. Several roads were closed and public transport halted.

The local villages invariably take a battering in these times and Lambley was in the news once more this morning.

Lovely Lambley in Nottinghamshire has been flooded so many times over the years, I think they might now have their own Navy.


Reports from last night tell of up to four feet of water in places in the village. Travellers were stranded, including a minibus full of Indian tourists, perhaps visiting the area for today’s Cricket World Cup match at Trent Bridge I’m guessing. Happy and reassured to hear of the local villagers taking people into their homes in the early hours for refuge from the conditions.

Nottingham: June 2019

Just the two stabbings then in Nottingham city centre last night, at 3.30am and 4.05am.

One on Goldsmith Street in the centre of student land and the other on Mansfield Road, a busy main thoroughfare, both in the middle of the city. It’s notable the time of some of these violent incidents but by no means always is this the case.

Goldsmith Street Stabbing

Mansfield Road Stabbing




People are concerned, for themselves, for their young ones growing up into this danger and lawlessness and for our older people. The underfunded police make misleading claims about ‘isolated incidents’. Other profess that Nottingham is ‘no worse’ than other cities.

Only, I don’t believe this. Nor did I believe it either when the city’s ‘Shottingham’ image was continually and steadfastly refuted by the local authorities, the police and the universities seeking to bring in more and more students.

There is no way I would want a daughter or son of mine to study and live in this city the way it is now.

Nottingham used to be a great city to live in or visit. It was vibrant, with good facilities, great sporting culture and charismatic and historic architecture everywhere. Some of these things still exist to an extent of course but the mood of the city is ugly and its streets are no longer comfortable or safe. It feels more like a ghetto each month that passes.

We see the unfortunate and disadvantaged who sleep rough in most cities but there is no question that the amount of homeless people on Nottingham’s streets has exploded in recent times. Most short walks through Nottingham entail running a gauntlet of people begging and sleeping in shop doorways.

Large communities of students upset their neighbours on a continual basis, robbing them and their children of sleep and peace, vomiting in the streets, breaking glass and staggering around. I am not anti-student having worked for both local universities and understanding the positives they also bring to the city.

Now we have a daily report of the stabbings and slashings which are almost certainly nevertheless under reported. The city’s drug problem is clearly totally out of control and the city centre streets often hazardous with groups of drunks teeming around the streets on busy nights Worst of all arguably, are the frequent suicide attempts, completed or not, from the likes of the multi-storey car parks around the city and the lack of action taken to stem this.

The Nottingham of 2019 is not a vintage one and it’s sad and worrying to see its deconstruction. In the meantime, self-serving politicians argue about Brexit and sit on their hands as usual.

Mental Health And Gambling Addiction



On this significant day I would like to speak about an arguably epidemic situation with problem gambling in current times in regard to its effect on mental health. Despite a rapidly worsening situation, there is comparatively little help for this problem in the UK. Our media and particularly sports are swamped with gambling advertising among such platitudes as ‘When the fun stops, stop’, insincerely backed by the gambling industry who maintain that they act responsibly in the face of much evidence to the contrary.


In my work, I see much tragedy daily, broken homes, splintered families and wrecked relationships, bankruptcies, isolation, high anxiety and depression and mental and physical illness. I also witness prison sentences and even suicide and it’s ideation, often attempted and occasionally unfortunately, completed.

For a little time, there has been no facility in my part of the country, Nottingham, or indeed the whole of the East Midlands of England to offer free assistance for gambling issues until recently this year. Currently, as a lone worker, I offer some of the only free regular counselling support to a population of approximately four million people.

I am employed in Nottingham City Centre by the registered charity, Aquarius Action Projects whose head office is based in Birmingham. The counselling service is a charitable one and completely free of charge and confidential. Already a busy service in Nottingham, the operation is hopeful of expansion in order to further look after our local communities and others more widely over the East Midlands and into Lincolnshire too.


Counselling can presently be offered in person in Nottingham city centre or by free telephone calls. Based on psychological principles and behavioural change, it’s a friendly and accessible service and one I’d particularly like people to be aware of.

The help is funded by the national charity, Gamcare whose website and free help line I link below. Gamcare have a partner agency network throughout England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. The help and support is out there and readily accessible.

If you’d like help with your problem, please call Aquarius on 0300 456 4293 or email on
Alternatively, you can contact Gamcare, our funder’s Helpline or Chatline on the link below to gain immediate help and/or be referred across the UK:

‘The phrase ‘raising awareness’ sometimes feels a little overused in these days but I’d be very happy if my friends – and friends I’ve yet to meet – would be willing to share this information and help others,

Thank you.


Lovely Linby, Nottinghamshire

I happened across this picture recently of pretty local village, Linby, shrouded in fresh white snow, The Horse and Groom pub standing central in the shot. The village a rarity in Nottinghamshire in it’s construction mostly of the attractive stone quarried nearby just along Quarry Lane. The stone is reminiscent to that of Cotswold stone to my eyes, a warm yellow sandstone which is very easy on the eye and not in any way austere.

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Image: Linby Village Website

Linby, with a current population of approximately 230 people, grew up around the numerous mills which fed off the River Leen which flows through to the River Trent in Nottingham a few miles away, hence from where the village’s name is derived. The mills were the scene of much child labour in the past. I recall hearing anecdotally that one such building slept around 36 children in its roof space. Attractive features of the village are the two small streams known as Linby Docks which run adjacent each side the Main Street.


The Horse and Groom, Linby

 Two stone crosses stand in the village -Top Cross,  the original version built in the medieval era and denoting the edge of Sherwood Forest and Bottom Cross, erected circa 1660, celebrating the restoration of King Charles II.

I have a tiny piece of personal history in the village in that it was very much a playground for my mother as a little girl – her living in nearby Hucknall and a walk along the ‘Black Pad’ as she would tell me. I recall her saying that her name and that of her childhood sweetheart are inscribed on one of the crosses, Marian loves Frankie’. Many times have I attempted to find it but to no avail. How I would love to


‘Top Cross’ Image: Linby Village Website

Local legend decrees that the Pancake was first invented by the women of Linby village no less, this was reputedly in celebration of the defeat of Danish Viking invaders who had enslaved them! They must have bred them tough in Linby back in the day…

Linby, although it’s main street being a well used route to the local M1 Motorway remains largely unspoilt. As with so many of our ancient villages it stands under threat of being overwhelmed by local house building, extending its much larger neighbour, Hucknall. I hope that it can remain the unspoilt, idyllic small historic village I have always known it to be

Edinburgh In August

IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN with the traditional long televised annual highlights of the Edinburgh Tattoo in front of me on the television as I write. Heralding the great Festival drawing in once more through the dying embers of August 2017.

edina repplace

It’s probably easy if one is Edinburgh based to ignore some aspects of the Festival and not least the traditional Tattoo, even to find some of the proceedings frustrating and unappealing. Thank you for your patience though in bearing things out for those of us who hold Edinburgh dear and precious in our hearts. Especially those of who will always consider it ‘home’. I hope you enjoyed it in some way.

For it is making my heart sing and my head spin seeing those beautiful Edinburgh skies through the darkness that I know so well, under which I have stood so many times and indeed grown under since being a boy. Peering over to the Forth of my home, beyond the New Town below it. Seeing the majestic old Castle illuminated on the skyline. The sight that always say’s to us ‘I’m home again’.

i didn’t see you this time my dear old town, I will be back though. ‘Let me tell you that I love you, that I think about you all the time’, and your people.

View From A College Window

A part of my regular morning walk through the city of Nottingham becomes quite suddenly a striking view on a sunny April morning as the bright and and showy narcissi appear, heralding another Springtime.

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Arkwright Building, Shakespeare Street, Nottingham

Nottingham Trent University’s Arkwright Building is placed in stately fashion along the city’s Shakespeare Street and is a building of much familiarity to me over a period of many years. It was in this building in a former apparition as a technical college that I studied to be a compositor in the 1970s. Often distracted by looking out on those same pretty lawns, the green swards through the window seeming an attractive proposition as opposed to following instructions from an old blackboard.

Many years later, I studied again within the same institution when it was by now a university, also spending a period of time working within the university supporting disabled students.

Perhaps one of the college’s most famous alumni is the writer, D H Lawrence who graduated in 1908. A few years later in 1916 he wrote ‘View From A College Window’ of his own times studying in the Arkwright Building, his words very evocative of my own later experiences and feelings there a few generations on.

From a College Window (D H Lawrence)

From New Poems (1916).

The glimmer of the limes, sun-heavy, sleeping,
Goes trembling past me up the College wall.
Below, the lawn, in soft blue shade is keeping,
The daisy-froth quiescent, softly in thrall.

Beyond the leaves that overhang the street,
Along the flagged, clean pavement summer-white,
Passes the world with shadows at their feet
Going left and right.

Remote, although I hear the beggar’s cough,
See the woman’s twinkling fingers tend him a coin,
I sit absolved, assured I am better off
Beyond a world I never want to join.

D H Lawrence

The building’s somewhat intricate Gothic design has an individual slant as it brings together three great aspects of Victorian education: the university college itself, a public library and a museum of natural history, complete with stuffed animals.

D H Lawrence called it the ‘finest pile of public buildings in Nottinghamshire’, although qualifying this by opining Nottingham of the day as a ‘dismal town’. Lawrence, a brilliant writer could be described as a difficult man who upset many people of his own locality, particularly in his home town of Eastwood, Nottinghamshire.


The Western end of the the Arkwright building sustained a serious direct hit from the German Luftwaffe in 1941. Not to be deterred however, the shattered end of the building was rebuilt in its former glory.

Queen’s Chambers, Nottingham

Queen’s Chambers, Old Market Square. One of my favourite local buildings and one that I always think of as quintessentially Nottingham when away from here. Many a time caught a bus home to the suburbs from the shadow of this showy and stately building, in the days when buses and other vehicles were actually allowed to use the city’s roads extensively.

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Queen’s Chambers, Nottingham

Designed by Watson Fothergill, (1841-1926), a feted local architect with a penchant for turrets, towers, tall chimneys and wall decorations of horizontal blue-black bricks.

Fothergill, who designed some 100 buildings in Nottingham and the East Midlands also enjoyed a little Gothic imagery through the addition of gargoyles, animals, plant life and heavy dark wood beams in his unique designs.

His striking buildings remain testament to his imagination, dotted around the Lace City still to this day.

Christmas Approaches in Southwell

THE PICTURESQUE MARKET TOWN of Southwell in Nottinghamshire is a place that I’ve felt drawn to talk about on several occasions on this site in the past. Often those times reflect pleasant days of clement weather in the warmer months with time spent outside strolling, perusing it’s elegant and historic buildings and it’s architectural jewel in the crown, the magnificent Minster.

The town lies on the gently rolling River Greet which provides a relaxing walk through the scenic surrounding countryside whilst the centre of the conurbation owns several sites of significant historical interest such as the National Trust owned Workhouse, built in 1824 and the Saracen’s Head hotel, dating back to 1463 and the scene of King Charles I’s capture by Scottish troops in 1647 when it was known as The King’s Head.



The Saracen’s Head


minster 2

Southwell Minster

sweet shop

Southwell is also notable as owning one of the former homes of romantic poet, Lord Byron in it’s pretty spot on the Burgage and being the site of the original Bramley apple seedling which spawned what many to believe to be the finest of all cooking apples. It is a small town which punches very much above its weight in terms of significance and interest.

Something I like to do each year though is take the short drive to Southwell during December as Christmas approaches. The atmosphere and classic aspect of the town somehow lends itself to a Christmas-like feeling. This is not least due to the local custom of Christmas trees attached to the buildings on King Street and leaning out into the street at an attractive angle.

On this visit, the town was bathed in gorgeous Winter sunshine with skies reminiscent of the high days of Summer. A healthy smattering of shoppers and visitors were going about their business through Southwell’s narrow street and alleys in it’s small, independent shops and outdoor market. I ambled, bought a little food, took tea and spent some moment at the Minster. After so many years of visiting, going back to school days, taking walks with friends, drinks in its attractive pubs and relaxed and pleasant lunches, not least many a historic sojourn and even working in a university building nearby, Southwell is the Nottinghamshire town I would surely miss the most.

Nottingham Exchange Arcade

One of the most attractive places in Nottingham’s city centre in my estimation, the Exchange Arcade in the Council House in Old Market Square. Despite its situation at the very core of the city, the arcade often appears a little deserted as thousands of Nottinghamians hurry-scurry through the thronging streets outside.

Opened in 1929, the Council House succeeded the Exchange building which housed the city’s own ‘shambles’ – an area where the butchers of the town and country would show their meat for sale. The word shambles was derived from the invading Normans who used it as a term for those tradesmen, ‘flesh hewers’ as the Saxons had called them, and indicates how long that trade was carried out on this site in the city.

In more modern history, the arcade housed a fabulous and much-loved food store, Burtons, which local people still talk of in fond terms. If I close my eyes in today’s arcade I can still easily imagine the wonderful aromas from the store and picture the pre-Christmas visits there as a child with my mum, Grace, to buy those special items for the festive fayre in our family home.

‘Market Square, Nottingham’ by Arthur Spencer

‘Market Square, Nottingham’ by Arthur Spencer, 1950.

I really like this fine, atmospheric painting which, as the winter draws inexorably closer, reminds of colder, less hospitable days. The Council House and it’s huge  dome containing Little John”s quarter-hourly chimes, standing sentinel over the city landscape as Nottingham’s citizens brave the snow and ice, huddled against the cold in their winter clothing.

A magical image that evokes a wintry Nottingham of a different era.

market square

Southwell Minster, Southwell, Nottinghamshire.

Southwell is my favourite town in the county of Nottinghamshire by some distance. It has many places of interest and charm in its beautiful aspect and storied and historic environs.

The Minster dwarfs the centre and is barely commensurate with the reasonably modest acreage of Southwell. It is impressive, notable and loved.


The first time I recall visiting this impressive structure was as a child in school when it was a firm favourite for school educational visits. I recall being instructed to take brass rubbings and playing the game of trying to find where all the ‘church mice were. The interior has a number of ‘mice’ carved into and secreted about the building. In those days the West entrance shown to the left of the image above was most often used and is, as I understand, the oldest part of a building which was constructed in stages as so many older churches were.

Another story I find interesting regarding Southwell Minster is of its ‘Eagle Lectern’ which apparently at the time of Cromwellian distaste for Catholic tradition and imagery was disposed of unceremoniously. It was later discovered in a lake at Newstead Abbey, romantic poet Lord Byron’s stately home situated some miles away. The lectern was lovingly restored and stands proudly in the Minster.

I have visited numerous times over the years and grand though the building might be there is always a friendly and helpful welcome. There is no admission pay but you are kindly asked to make a small contribution by way of a donation.

Three Things About Nottingham

I have today been asked by a new friend to consider three things that I like about Nottingham. I took about twenty seconds thinking about this one and came up with the following:

For the first, I am tempted to say ‘the view of Princes Street in Edinburgh’. It’s 275 miles away precisely and I think you can see where my real love lies as a qualifier…


1. I like the way that it is very easy to access the countryside – even from the very centre of the city. Nottingham, though one of the relatively larger UK cities, has a smallish, concise city centre that is easily navigable on foot. Genuine country villages lie perhaps only 15-20 minutes away. Like this one:

2. Underground stuff. Back in history, Nottingham was known as ‘Land of Cavey Dwellers’. There are literally hundreds of man-made, hand-carved caves burrowed out underground the cities buildings by local people. They have been used for all manner of things such as tanneries, gambling dens, food and beer stores. living accommodation and air raid shelters in World War 2.

3. The rebellious nature of the locals is something I tend to admire. The world’s first Socialist, Robin Hood, if you choose to believe the ancient ballads, resided here and it was notable as the home of Ned Ludd the legend from whom the word ‘Luddite’ was derived. The Luddites were a decent bunch of lad who smashed factory textile machines to keep the poverty stricken in work. People over the ages have rioted about practically everything in Nottingham. including the price of cheese. They even burnt Nottingham Castle down because they didn’t like the Duke much. Bravo!

There may be three negatives to come…

In and around Lambley village, Nottinghamshire

THOSE WHO KNOW ME will understand that I have a special affinity with some of the pretty villages local to me. This relationship has been formed over many years of running, walking, cycling, eating a drinking around those villages which I have a I have come to think of as my ‘playground’ since being a youngster.


Early days in and around Lambley village meant a cycle with schooldays pals to the Lambley Dumbles. A dumble is a local word for a steep-sided stream. We would play in the dumbles – and my favourite, the ‘Little Dumbles’, making dams, rafts, climbing the overhanging trees, wading, fishing and generally getting lost in those hazy 1960s endless summer days as they seemed to me. The limited sustenance taken on these all-day country safaris tended to be a jam sandwich and some fizzy water. Our bikes consisting of all shapes and sizes – mine had just the one pedal – were the only things we needed to transport us to this heavenly weekend delight. We usually arrived home at dusk, exhausted and hungry. Muddied, sometimes bloodied, unbowed.




This very afternoon I took myself in my car down to lovely Lambley, beginning at a favourite tea-stop, Floralands garden centre, ‘Wickes’ as we used to know it. These days, as is the way of garden centres generally, there is modern decking to sit outside and take tea and a bite to eat. What remains the same though are those beautiful emerald green rolling hills of my youth to look out to.

Today there is a petting zoo for the children and not-so-young children right here! Goats, ducks, chickens, lamas. A peacock is screeching insistently in the distance.



Descending the intriguingly named Catfoot Lane, I entered the pretty and ancient village of Lambley, ‘Leah of the lambs’ by origin and named in the Domesday Book. Nestled in its cosy valley are a church built around the 13th century and the Woodlark and Robin Hood inns. I pass by the footpath to the Lambley Dumbles, perhaps less known to the cars that cruise steadily past in 2016.

Further on in years, I used to walk these hills as a young teenager, with my favoured notebook and pencil, to settle in one of the many sweet-scented grassy meadows in the sunshine and write my early young poetry. I yearned to be a Byronic figure, writing romantic poetry as Lord Byron had done a century before, leaving his indelible mark on the Nottinghamshire landscape and around the world.

Back to the Vale of Belvoir

IT WAS BACK to the Vale of Belvoir, the Beautiful View’ to run on the towpath of the Grantham Canal this Saturday, for the first time in a few years actually and I had forgotten just how striking it is in that scenic area that sits astride the three counties of Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire and Leicestershire.

My leisurely mid-morning drive took me over the River Trent via stately Gunthorpe Bridge, passing through the attractive market town of Bingham and on to pretty Redmile. Soon, the impressive sight of Belvoir Castle came into view standing over a hazy hinterland, gently bathed in hazy early September sunshine.


From Harlaxton Drift Bridge, the Grantham Canal

The Vale of Belvoir has always been a popular choice for a some out-of-town relaxation for me, being only a modest forty-five minute drive from my Nottinghamshire home. I love it because it is under-populated by visitors and all the more peaceful for it. I have to say some do not know what they are missing as it is an impressive slice of countryside, all the better for having the atmospheric Grantham Canal running through it, a thirty-three mile ribbon beginning in Nottingham and ending in the Lincolnshire town it was named after.

Meeting my friend outside the Rutland Arms, better known as ‘The Dirty Duck’, near Woolsthorpe-by-Belvoir. I parked up canal side and noted how much the reeds had colonised the water since I had last visited. There were few people around at the adjacent camp site providing a peaceful and serene scene.


The Rutland Arms on the Grantham Canal

A seven-mile run took us alongside the old waterway, punctuated only by the odd walker, cyclist or angler on it’s quiet banks. The run took us down to Harlaxton Drift Bridge and a return to The Rutland Arms passing locks and ancient turning circles for the canal barges.

Afterwards, it was time for lunch and with the Rutland Arms’ doors firmly closed it was a mile drive down the quiet road to the village and the welcome of the superb Chequers Inn at Woolsthorpe. It’s hard to imagine a much more impressive pub-restaurant environment than this beautiful and historic 17th-century inn with it’s stone fireplaces, bar and rabbit warren of attractive and well-appointed rooms. A restaurant/banqueting suite had evidently been extended on to the old building earlier this year adjacent to the attractive garden where we had our lunch in the sunshine, accompanied by the pub’s friendly resident rooster which patrolled the garden.

The Chequers Inn, Woolsthorpe-by-Belvoir, Lincolnshire

All good things come to an end so they say and my regular Saturday runs at Woodborough in Nottinghamshire are no longer, at least for now. After a moderate and pleasant drive through the neighbouring counties though, back to The Vale of Belvoir offers an outstanding replacement.

Hogmanay 2014

And I find myself in the ‘wrong’ place at the top of the year. In truth, I wrestled with the idea of going home to Edinburgh for the celebrations but didn’t feel quite up to things emotionally after a difficult time this year and so chose a quiet, sometimes solitary time in Nottingham. I knew I’d have some regrets about this but didn’t know what else to do really. I hope for better times, times when I can truly enjoy myself with my many faithful pals in Edinburgh, in better condition to give a bit back to the people in particular who I’ve become very close to over the years.

I’ll miss my buddy and his partner’s house, the chat, the banter and laughs, I’ll very much miss my ‘little sis’, the People’s Republic of Leith, roaming down the shore. I can only think about past times at Easter Road for the moment and my dear home place of Musselburgh. Portobello’s esplanade and a run into the sea breeze along there lies in my imagination at the moment. A brisk stroll down Princes Street and a meander up the old town will have to wait.

There’s an Edinburgh derby game going on with my beloved Hibs taking on ‘them’ from across the city. Friends will be there and win, lose or draw it will all result in a blurry, long post-match amongst a gang of old mates and new. We are all one.

Not for me this year the Edinburgh Street Party celebrations nor a stool at the bar of the beautiful Cafe Royal or negotiating the revolving doors of the Guildford Arms and warm welcome of many other hostelries I’ve inhabited for so many years. There will be no house parties.  It’s what I appeared to choose. All I could do.

People are not here now, things have changed and in their place just memories remain.

There’s no sorrow though in knowing that I will be back, hopefully in better fettle, not feeling weighed down by a ton of emotion laced with grief. Ready to move forwards again. I know those friends and that beautiful city will still be there.

As I write it’s too early for New Year’s wishes but my thoughts are with you all.

Here’s to a better 2015 and a hope that surviving will turn into flourishing and steady growth.

Canada Memories

The recent cold snap providing Boxing Day’s significant snowfall an enduring life over the past few days reminds me of many winter snow days in Canada. Indeed, I think back wistfully to those times. That is in spite of the intensely cold temperatures one often has to cope with in that beautiful country.


During my many visits I had the good fortune to ski, both downhill and cross-country, ice skate and snowshoe through incredible and out-of-this-world landscapes. I went on snowmobile trips, engaged with wildlife and generally lived the life. Hugely influential on me were trips to stay in a genuine 1930s Canadian log cabin by Wabamun Lake in Alberta. The cabin was an experience like no other as it had little in the way of home comforts or even basic utilities. Water was gained by walking on to the frozen lake and using an auger before dropping a bucket down into the icy water. There was wood to be chopped, fires to be maintained, coffee to hand-grind and so on. It felt grounding to be released from modern technology and to get back to life’s most basic things.


There is nothing quite like ice skating – and even better, playing hockey – outdoors. It is an absolutely exhilarating experience. I remember one Canadian saying to me that skating was ‘the nearest thing to flying’. I particularly knew what he meant the first time I managed to achieve my own ambition of playing for fun outdoors on Wabamun Lake, thirty miles from Edmonton, Alberta.. What a memorable day that was. A small party of us set out, wrapped up well, carrying sticks and pucks. Being born in the UK I’d been used to scrambling and scrabbling across the odd frozen pond as a kid – with some trepidation as the surface heaved, threatened and cracked. All such historic fears and reservations of collapsing ice were allayed however when a large truck drove past us on the ice! We cleared snow from the ice to form our rink with the obviously quickly-frozen ice as smooth and clear as glass. Even the fish underneath the ice could be seen swimming around, what a beautiful experience!

I still remember well the ringing click-clack sound of sticks on puck and skating into the frigid air, the freshness – that feeling of just being alive.

I was since fortunate enough to mess around with a stick and puck and skate on quite a few ponds and lakes in Canada, also in such hitherto unlikely areas as school playgrounds with the snow piled up in surrounding banks to make a rink. There really is no feeling like it. How I miss it.

‘Keep your stick on the ice’ eh.

In loving memory of Margaret Weaver and to all my friends and family in Canada.

Remembering Hucknall and Linby miners

I’ve always been happy and comfortable with the working class roots of both sides of my family from Scotland and England respectively. Not at all in a show of inverted snobbery but a genuine affection for the types of hard and honest communities my mother and father rose from either side of the border. Both came from families of ten children, there are so many aunts, uncles and cousins that I have to admit there are some I’ve never yet met.

Hucknall’s iconic statue commemorating the mining industry

I saw a nice story today on BBC East Midlands TV news and it reminded me of that family feeling, a feeling of my roots.

The story below is a report on the commemoration of 150 brave miners who lost their lives in the three pits of my mammy’s home, Hucknall Torkard and Linby village in Nottinghamshire. Good and honest working class communities were built around this industry and the hard, resilient men who travelled down underground to put food in the mouths of their families. My own father, a miner at one time, himself survived a serious fall underground having his ear viciously ripped off and needing it sewn back on again. Some were less fortunate.

I have nothing but deep respect for the men who did and still do this job.

We will remember them.

Memorial for Hucknall and Linby miners unveiled

Bestwood – My Evening Paradise

It’s ‘Flaming June’ 2014 version and my local running spot at nearby Bestwood comes into its own on these beautiful, sunny and relaxed evenings. Nominated as a country park a good few years ago, it will always be plain old ‘Bestwood’ to me. A stretch of the old Sherwood Forest which lies but a few minutes from where I live, that is satisfyingly accessible.

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In truth, I love the place at all times of year. The former royal hunting estate and retreat of many a notable over hundreds of years of history looks gorgeous when coated in a thick layer of snow for instance. Spring has its own translucent green freshness whilst some might say Autumn is the richest time of all with its crispy, golden leaves and paths laden with chestnuts. It’s the dog days of summer that most appeal to me though as I trot along the dry, dusty paths bordered by lush green fields and thick forestry of Oaks, Chestnuts and Birch to name but a few of the ancient trees. I’ve been coming here a long time and I still love it. It is the green lung of the residential suburb where I live.

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Within a few moments in this place, I forget the hardships of the day and wind down with copious amounts of invigorating fresh air, the sound of skylarks and lapwings and the sight of an isolated walker or horse rider. The air at this time of year smells sweet and highly scented with the delicate fragrances of the old hedgerows. It is the perfect tonic and antidote to the stresses of the day.

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The sun finally sets over Bestwood, it is time to return home.

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Edinburgh – Time for Home

FRIDAY THE NINTH OF MAY, 2014 rolls inexorably closer and it’s almost at long last time to go back to Edinburgh. It is always time to go back to Edinburgh but this occasion feels especially significant.

The past few weeks since the calamitous and tragic loss of my dear partner, Sue have at times been shocking, harrowing, lonely and at times isolating. There have been ‘good’ things of course and at the forefront of that is the support I have received from my family and true friends, almost universally. I have learned much about myself, about life and about people. I take these lessons forwards as I plan a rebuild of my life alone. It is a rehabilitation process and not at times without it’s difficulties. I keep trying, I Persevere and (unbelievably to me at one point) I am still standing


Those early dark days of February saw a call to that dear group of volunteers, The Samaritans, when at first it all felt just a little too much and I didn’t wish to go on. There was another long talk with a suicide bereavement counsellor who spoke to me in a straight and forthright manner. How could I ever live the rest of my life after this horrendous experience? What meaning did it have? Survival mode kicked into place and I decided to play this game of life with a straight bat, without the ‘assistance’ of medication or by misusing alcohol.

I also knew instinctively that my friends could help too, by talking, by me asking for and accepting their support. None more so than a close friend here in Nottingham, my dear friends in Edinburgh of so many years and by a new friend from that city brought to me like an angel. I won’t embarrass those people but if you’re reading, you know who you are. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for all you have done for me.

So on to tomorrow. I catch that familiar train and will walk upon Edinburgh ground by lunchtime tomorrow. I have awaited this time and upon feeling ‘up to’ doing it. Being in and around Edinburgh, with all it’s memories can have a powerfully emotional feeling for me and I needed to be ready to use that constructively. I’m now ready and it’s part of the pathway ‘back’ for me.

I have a Hibs-related surprise awaiting me tomorrow! A sweet gesture by my aforementioned new friend which I in turns feel intrigued and happy about. The fates have conspired to offer up a hugely important game for my beloved Hibs at Easter Road on Saturday which I will attend. Excellent sense of theatre lads but I nevertheless wish you had sorted out the relegation worries ahead of my visit to Leith! God bless the Hibs.

Anyway, I’ll try to fight the impulse to get down on the floor and kiss good old Edinburgh ground when I alight at Waverley tomorrow. After all, I’ve things to do and good people to meet. The very best. Wha’s like you?

The Former Children’s Hospital, Nottingham

I came across a reference to the old Children’s Hospital at Forest House recently and it brought quite a few childhood memories rushing back. I managed somehow to get myself knocked down (well up in the air actually) by a beefy Ford Consul when I was a kid and ended up a guest in said institution. When I eventually landed it was with two broken legs, one in three places, and concussion plus a few sundry cuts and bruises for good measure. I recall being upside down in the air and seeing my shoe flying up the street. I also remember then doggedly trying to drag myself to my feet using a bus stop to hold on to and looking down to see my leg bend in the wrong place. They carted me off to ‘The Children’s’ in an ambulance where I remained for a week. With physiotherapy (learning to walk again basically) my young association with that hospital lasted a year though.

I was terrified of the place but they looked after me very well (I’ve gone on to run a few marathons as an adult so they did very well indeed I guess!) but I was scared stiff of the building and the unknown in there as I thought they were going to take my legs away for good. I remember the above so well, being taken for physiotherapy there  by my mum so many times.

The kindest, kindest man, a jolly West Indian doctor, looked after me and made me smile – even though he was tasked with re-breaking my legs twice in operations as they had knitted crookedly. On another failed occasion they sawed the long plaster casts half through at the shins and banged wooden pegs in the gaps to straighten my legs. Looking back it was like something out of a Hammer horror movie. I wish I could thank that kindly doctor today though.

Nottinghamshire History: The Lincolnshire Poacher

I’ve written previously about the numerous networks of caves that run under the city of Nottingham and some of it’s outlying suburbs such as the one I live in. They are many in number, not generally connected to other systems across the area and generally speaking, hand-hewn from the soft sandstone that the city lies on, for all sorts of reasons.

Some time ago, I came across an interesting academic article regarding the disused sand mines that line the main arterial Mansfield Road which leads directly out of the north side of Nottingham. Interesting to me, partly due to the fact that it’s a part of the city I use frequently, in particular for visits to The Lincolnshire Poacher pub just a few minutes walk up the same road heading towards to the old Rock Cemetery and Forest recreation ground, home of the annual Goose Fair.


I’d long been told that underneath The Lincolnshire Poacher and it’s neighbouring businesses there are deep caves which I assumed were the result of the sand mines originally in-situ. Notable in this is The Golden Fleece, another Mansfield Road hostelry close by which in the past has held charity abseiling events down it’s two-storey caves below the public house.

Last night I had the opportunity to visit The Poacher’s cellars briefly. Again, they are two-storied with the first level being traditional brick by construction. Interesting enough in their own right but it is when descending a further narrow staircase through the rock down to a second lower storey where things become quite remarkable and thought-provoking.


The ‘drop’



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As can be seen in the above images, this part of the cellars is a hand-made cave, whether this is the result of former sand mining or excavated especially for this former dwelling house is not clear to me. Quite clearly, the indentations of tools used to scrape away the soft rock are apparent, forming a uniformly shaped ‘room’ complete with a ‘drop’ for beer barrels, at the end, leading down from the pub back yard.

The cellars are of course a busy working environment under the former Old Grey Nag’s Head, the pub’s previous incarnation and so are laden and scattered with beer barrels, bottled beers and the various paraphernalia required to serve the pub’s many satisfied and loyal customers. The atmosphere, as one might expect, is damp and temperate, the floor sticky and with a general feel of the labour required in keeping a busy city-centre pub replenished. Even in 2013 though there remains a little evocative history and a few questions outstanding deep under The Lincolnshire Poacher and the businesses and homes nearby.

Bingham, Nottinghamshire in ‘Top Ten in the Midlands’

I read today that the Nottinghamshire market town of Bingham has been selected as one of the top ten places to live in the Midlands by The Sunday Times:


There appear to be a few discrepancies in the Nottingham Post article (surprise, surprise!). For instance it talks about a ‘top ten’ then goes on to name thirteen places. It also states the list was ‘published on March 17’ which unless we are talking about a previous year has not yet happened at the time of writing. Additionally, it cites Oxford as one of the most desirable places then goes on to ignore it in the list. Anyway, this is besides my point.


Bingham, for me, represents a town I pass through on the way to the Vale of Belvoir where I go for walks occasionally. I’ve stopped off in the town the odd time and it seems a pleasant place with adequate amenities and good transport links. It has the beautiful vale on its doorstep too so I can see the appeal. It undoubtedly seems to be a nice town so no particular beef from me.

Why in the top ten though? It’s being compared here with the likes of Oxford and Buxton which I can see have great appeal to many as evidenced by the many tourists that head for those destinations. It’s very subjective and who knows the criteria being used but wouldn’t Southwell, amongst one of two other Nottinghamshire locations, for instance have greater credentials?

It’s a town I’ve never known very well and would like to know more about. I’d be genuinely interested in the thoughts of others who are more familiar with the East Nottinghamshire town than myself.


A pleasant and peaceful Christmas takes me back to thoughts of a year ago, as these times often do. Life was a little different a year ago as I approached the making of plans for the festive period. Christmas Eve, a beautiful (and exciting for some) evening has changed it’s character somewhat in these days of difficulties of getting home from festive occasions due to lack of public transport and expense and this was a consideration in my plans.


A year ago on Christmas Eve I visited a favourite pub of mine in the city of Nottingham, deciding that I would probably walk the four miles home to put the key in the front door lock a little after midnight. A few days prior to the big night I arranged with a chap who would regularly visit the same ‘local’ as me, sharing a friendly chat over a pint or two on many an evening, in the city to walk most of the way home together for company, him living in a neighbouring suburb. We took our long stroll home on a cold winter’s night on the 24th of December last year and bade each other a cheery good night and all the very best for Christmas.

I saw him regularly through the winter still until the Spring months were upon us, before his sudden disappearance in April. The friendly face and character was missed by more than me as people debated where he now was. Over a period of time, I began to hear of sightings of him in the city’s streets and public houses and transport that left me with uncomfortable feelings. Before this I had bumped into him in harmless circumstances twice, once at a bus station waiting for a bus and again in a cosy city centre pub where he appeared fine and professed the same story.

In early December, an acquaintance informed me that the friend had been turfed out of a local shopping mall during the middle of the night after being discovered sleeping in the shopping centre’s lavatories. A few days before I caught word that he was padding around the city’s street all through the night and into early morning.

Of course I am extremely worried for his welfare. Very cold winter weather has recently subsided to miserable wet days and nights and I hate to imagine how it must feel surviving on the streets in such conditions. Indeed those colder nights are potential killers, let’s not make any bones about that. I have taken steps with an appropriate organisation who help the homeless to do what little I can – passing information on about him which was well received and which I was informed was very useful. I am not optimistic about my friend’s circumstances but trying to have faith that something can be done to help him. This all serves to remind me how fragile our lives are.

As this Christmas passes and the New Year approaches, spare a thought for people like my friend. I know you will. May I ask you a favour, if there’s something you can do for someone similar, please do it soon.

Southwell Workhouse, Nottinghamshire

IN THESE AUSTERE TIMES it’s sometimes worth looking backwards to some of the grimmer images from the past and making a comparison of people’s lot from previous eras. In the year of 1824 Reverend J. T. Becher, a local magistrate, designed the revolutionary Southwell Workhouse with an aim to provide an economic model to assist the poor while at the same time reducing the burden on tax payers in the locality. Based on a concept of indoor relief for the poor, the institution was created to be as ‘repulsive’ as possible to paupers. It’s success saw it copied in many other parishes all over the country with it’s main principles of design and operation becoming a template for other similar institutions.

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Perhaps many people’s image of a workhouse comes from the bleak impression offered in Dickens’ Oliver Twist with it’s stark images of gruel on the table and a deprived Twist pleading for ‘more’. The fact remains though that workhouse walls were not built to an insurmountable level, these were not prisons or houses of correction but rather places which the poor volunteered themselves to. Considering how grim life may have potentially been beyond those walls, conditions inside may certainly have been the lesser of two hard options. At least there was food, however basic for needs and shelter.

Segregated bathing facilities and laundry

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Upon entering Southwell Workhouse, entrant’s clothes were taken from them and a rough uniform issued. Men and women were strictly segregated into different areas of the building, never seeing each other, whilst children were separated from their parents. The latter whilst seeming extremely cruel was reasoned to be good for the children as their parents had not been a good influence on them, it was explained to me by a friendly and knowledgeable guide. In a sense, though harsh, the workhouse could offer relatively greater benefits to children as they received an education – something which would have been unlikely on the outside.

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Adult men and women were put to work, often very menial, in and around the house. Favoured employment tasks given to the ‘idle and profligate’ were the unpicking of rope which was very hard on the hands and breaking up stones for the making of roads. Other jobs included cleaning, laundering, preparing food and tending vegetable and fruit crops and a cow house. It was a regimented day, restricted to few rooms and an exercise yard. Food was basic, boiled meat being a staple. Dark and damp cellars were utilised for food preparation.

Cellars and a window to the world

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Staffing levels were very low compared to the inmates who could number over 150. This consisted of a Master and Matron, teachers and a clerk who worked part-time. Master and Matron were a married couple and lived in very comfortable accommodation within the building.

Perhaps some of the more intriguing moments of a visit to Southwell Workhouse surround the male and female exercise yards. These were designed to be overlooked from the Master’s residence windows. Only a small pocket exists where the inmates could be out of sight and here are forms of old games scratched into the red brick walls of the workhouse and still viewable.

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Master and Matron’s residence overlooking the exercise yards

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My favourite part of the visit however, was a room depicting more modern times. In the 1960/70s rooms were used for the likes of young single mothers without a home. To enter the workhouse as accommodation helped them to rise up the council house waiting list it was explained to me. Artefacts of that area are on display in a dormitory room where such mothers lived and brought up youngsters, until moving on.

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Southwell Workhouse it seemed to me was basically a functional concept which achieved what it set out to do, though in a  sometimes unnecessarily harsh and cruel way at times, as maybe befitted the area in which it was created. It is also an interesting contrast to the beautiful, historic and feature full Nottinghamshire town it lies on the edge of. During my visits I have never accompanied a visitor who was not thoroughly impressed and intrigued by the old establishment. I would urge you to take a look for yourself.

More information here

Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire

It’s summer time and thoughts, somewhat forlornly of late due to the inclement weather, go to past times driving to the beach. In my case that’s a two-hour and eighty-mile drive to the nearest coastline in Lincolnshire. I came across a discussion recently about Mablethorpe, an older resort which is around twenty miles north up the coast from better-known Skegness. It brought back a few memories and also a few thoughts.

I always quite like the idea of Mablethorpe and nearly always when I visit the Lincolnshire coast for the day go to nearby Sutton on Sea just a couple of miles down the coast.

Perhaps during the day, especially if the weather is disinclined towards sitting on the beach, I’ll walk up to ‘Mabo’, either via the prom or on the sand, and have a look around.


Mablethorpe promenade

I always kind of want to remember it as it was when I was a kid first encountering it – or even a teenager – but apart from myself as the observer, obviously changing and getting older, it invariably disappoints me. This is not so much a criticism of Mablethorpe as I have a lot of fondness for it, but I always imagine how it could be with its natural assets – its potential. What I appear to see though are endless tat shops et al.

One thing we can’t change is the UK weather and of course that has become a huge factor for the likes of such home-based resorts but nothing ever really changes or gets updated, with a few exceptions, in the likes of Mablethorpe. Of course, part of its ‘charm’ are the traditional donkey rides, amusement arcades, fish and chips etc but if you’re not interested in that side of things you begin to struggle a little. You can get a very decent plate of fish and chips in the area but how many places serve up a decent dinner otherwise for example? I’m sure there are a few places if you know where to go but as an occasional and formerly regular visitor I wouldn’t know where to find that.

I’d always applaud any attempts to fire a bit of life into the old resorts because I find it very sad to compare them with how they used to be in the cases of smaller towns like Mablethorpe. I see though, little change from what they were offering to people when I was a kid. New initiatives such as facilities and businesses tend to be a bit lowbrow and of poor quality – stuff that wouldn’t appeal to you that much back in Nottingham in my case, or wherever you live.

It’s probably largely an investment issue but I’d welcome a little bit more up to date and imaginative thinking in these old places. I think they could do a lot more.

As I say, it’s definitely not a knock on Mablethorpe and the like, I truly have quite a bit of affection for these places, but I’d like to see them offer a bit more in 2012 and onwards as I’d very much like them to prosper as best as possible.

In the meantime, my occasional East Coast jaunts will remain at quieter Sutton (outwith visits to the Yorkshire coast). It remain an unassuming little place that’s decent, civilised and reasonably unspoilt, and like Mablethorpe, boasts a magnificent beach.

Lowdham Book Festival 2012 (1)

JUNE BRINGS the annual book festival at nearby Lowdham village, a few miles away. I’ve written variously on the subject of the many talks I’ve been to at Lowdham over the past few years and it’s a time of year that I really look forward to. On the festival’s informative website this year, it was mentioned that there would be a change of appearance and format for 2012, and so it proved.


I woke early on the morning of the final festival Saturday on 30th June with a hope and a plan to walk the eight miles to Lowdham. I’d a notion to retrace one or two of the local footpaths I’ve not walked in a few years and arrange for a lift home after the day came to an end. I have some ‘previous’ for this approach, not on foot but having cycled there and back with a friend on occasion. Unfortunately the sight from the bedroom window was not an encouraging one to wake up to, being one of heavy rain.

I decided to drive, not wishing to sit through up to four talks in wringing wet clothes.

Arriving in the village a little after ten in the morning, it was a different scene to the usual annual bustle on ‘final Saturday’. Main Street in Lowdham was very quiet with nary a pedestrian to be seen and tell-tale plentiful curbside parking available. I parked up and made my way to the first of a quartet of talks to be held in the small Methodist Chapel, just down from the village hall.

‘Tourist Trails In and Around Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire with Stephen Thirkill’ was the title of the initial session and the sparse gathering I walked into quickly expanded to respectable numbers. Stephen, a reporter from The Chad newspaper in Mansfield, explained with enthusiasm that this was his first attempt at book writing and despite an evident amount of hard work and hours spent, his sense of accomplishment was palpable. It was interesting to hear of the author’s problems and challenges in producing the book. I would have liked a little more systematic description of the great tourist attractions featured in the book.

After a short break and a drink, I returned for the second talk in the chapel ‘The Robin Hood Way’. This was a friendly and again enthusiastic talk by a member of the Robin Hood Way Association, the Robin Hood Way being a long distance (105 mile) walk that wends its way through Nottinghamshire as the title suggests. Being a walker myself, I’ve always been intrigued by the route, it passing through Bestwood country Park which is close to where I live. The walk begins at Nottingham Castle’s gatehouse and ends somewhat appropriately at St. Mary’s Church in Edwinstowe where Robin Hood and Maid Marian were said to have married, this being just a healthy arrow’s travel from a longbow to Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak. The talk focused on the society to some extent and although there was some instruction and comment on some of the intriguing places the Robin Hood Way travels through, again, I’d have enjoyed hearing more about the likes of Fountain Dale, King John’s Palace and Robin Hood’s Cave et al. The talk really came to life when the friendly speaker moved into the realm of these areas.


Lunchtime approached and in the pleasant sunshine I picked up a sandwich at the village Co-op and went to explore what was happening at the village hall – usually the epicentre of events on the final festival Saturday. What greeted me saddened me in some ways. In previous years the hall housed a book fair and cafe with the lawns to the rear of the building being a real treat being set out with marquees which hold book talks and a sizeable second-hand book fair. Stalls selling plants and other items usually dot the grassy area additionally. Alas, as pre-warned via the book festival website, none of these made an appearance this year and what was left was a rather barren-looking compound shuttered tightly. Inside the hall and available for twenty pounds was the no-doubt excellent main event featuring admirable local authors Jon McGregor and John Harvey, with a lunch provided.

Pondering my lot, I tripped over the road the Old Ship for a welcome pint outside on the patio. Commenting on the low-key nature of the final Saturday this year, I was informed that the Lowdham event had lost its funding and was now being forced to make the changes described above – at least for 2012. I’d like to state that whilst disappointed at what I encountered, the team that painstakingly plan the festival and contribute a lot of hard work should be commended in producing what is still an event to be proud of. I do hope however that things can somehow return to normal next year as the old format was sadly missed by me at least.

A report from the final afternoon at the festival can be accessed below

Lowdham Book Festival 2012 (2)

A pictorial guide to my favourite bike ride

The good news…and the bad news. A few months ago in the depths of winter I had my bike stolen. It was a nice bike, 27-speed Japanese gearing and all that, probably well over-qualified for my generally undemanding recreational needs of tootling round the local village lanes in the dog days of summer. Fortunately, I have been recompensed by the insurers and replaced my wheels with a bike that’s slightly superior.

I have a few routes near home but I really like this one. It’s around 21 miles duration and takes in no less than six villages and passes a whopping ten pubs along its winding way. I seldom, if ever, prop my bike outside any of these pubs, apart from on the way back at the Nag’s Head but I have often done a mental pub-crawl in my head! Just recently I’ve taken to cycling from my home the extra 5-6 mile each way to Woodborough and back up and down a couple of monster hills to complete this distance. At least the view is pretty whizzing down the steep slopes of Bank Hill – even on a hazily sunny day.


A right turn at the junction on the Dover Beck-lined Woodborough Main Street takes us presently past the Four Bells public house, so called after the number of bells in St Swithun’s church which stand diagonally opposite on Main Street.


The Four Bells, Woodborough

The wheels keep rolling through the village and past the afore-mentioned Nag’s Head in the pretty and historic village of Woodborough, Notts. I’ve written about my liking for this place before so I’ll leave it there as I work through the gears down Lowdham Lane and off around the pretty Trent villages.


The Nag’s Head, Woodborough


Lowdham Lane

There are few images of the Springfield Inn at Lowdham to commend it which is a shame. Here’s one I took anyway. This place is a bit of a curiosity I always feel in that, for me, it’s nearer Woodborough and certainly not within either that village or it’s address of Lowdham, rather sitting quietly off the old Epperstone Road. It’s a popular chain-run place these days though not unpleasant for all that. I remember as a teenager though when it was but a fraction of the size and a beautiful cosy pub before anyone had coined the phrase ‘chain eating place’.


The Springfield Inn, Lowdham

In practice, my little bike ride runs past the fourth pub on its journey in the World’s End at Lowdham Grange. Such a lovely rural hostelry with it’s still-remaining open fireplace a welcoming spot in the local countryside after a winter’s day walking. I really can’t comment the World’s End highly enough.


The World’s End, Lowdham

We move on however and it’s down the interesting main street in Lowdham village. The Ship Inn is an old-fashioned country pub in the centre of a popular village, traditional and welcoming, it feels like a home from home. When summer comes it’s possible to tether your bike outside and enjoy the quiet life that is Lowdham Main Street in the afternoon sun. Who wouldn’t want to? The annual Lowdham Book Festival is based opposite during every June. A marvellous and well-respected event for such a relatively small community


The Ship Inn, Lowdham Continue reading “A pictorial guide to my favourite bike ride”

Thoughts on a local ex-mining town

IN REDHILL, NOTTINGHAM where I live, it’s an easy straightforward drive of barely fifteen minutes up the A60 to the north Nottinghamshire town of Mansfield. At a bit of a loose end at the end of a Bank Holiday, and with no real plans, we drove up to the town centre there and went to visit the food festival in the market square which had been advertised. Railway Viaduct, Church Street, Mansfield

Now, I have to admit to a little strictly light-hearted mickey taking of Mansfield from time to time:

Mansfield on’t Telly Yooth

I’ve also elsewhere blogged variously about the locality:

Heard on the Bus

Pop goes Mansfield!

Three Cheers for Golden Girl, Rebecca Adlington

but on a more serious note I have a bit of time for former honest coal mining communities such as the typified by Mansfield, and that’s by no means intended as patronising – more due to my late father being a pit man himself for some years after leaving the Merchant Navy. There’s a kind of basic down-to-earth honesty that is not lost on me.

Parking up in the town and walking down Leeming Street to the square, it was evident that the food festival was pretty low-key and a bit thin on the ground. Dodging three young men riding mopeds on the pavement and passing some of the hard-bitten businesses we went to explore.

There were also some vestiges of what passes for Mansfield market these days with but a few stalls open. It felt kind of sad to see people making an effort in their local community but struggling along to provide a small event. Whilst always understanding that this kind of deterioration is happening in many high streets and town centres up and down the country it’s all the same sad, to witness it up in local Mansfield.

Like many similar places, the town centre businesses appear to be thinning down and growing less in quality. Not that I’ve anything particularly against the JD Wetherspoon chain at all but there are maybe three outlets in quite close proximity, perhaps a sign of the times as to what can survive in decent old working class communities these days along with Greggs the bakers and a variety of pound shops and charity stores.

I’m not sure exactly what I want to say about Mansfield but I just wanted to register the thought that I truly hope that things can pick up and regenerate up there one of these days (and in many similar communities). I think Mansfield and it’s people deserve much better.

It’s a pretty sad thing to witness. I really don’t know the answer and fear there isn’t one. I placed a 3-hour parking ticket in my windscreen there yesterday and after an hour, was itching to get out of the place. I want to stress that’s definitely not meant as a hatchet job on Mansfield, there are some pleasant places there, and it’s partly due to the fact I prefer to be in the countryside in my spare time.

In spite of that I could see little to hang on there for. In the past I’ve enjoyed visits to variously the Palace Theatre, the Odeon, the market and the odd pint or a football match. Driving away this time I didn’t feel like ever going back and for some reason I didn’t enjoy that feeling.

We cut our losses, jumped in the car and headed off for a very pleasant drive through Farnsfield and Edingly to Southwell.

A shame.

Cowslip Sunday, Lambley, Nottinghamshire

YESTERDAY, MAY 6TH saw the annual Cowslip Sunday celebrations in the pretty local village of Lambley. Hoping for a break in the dreadful Spring weather that has seen us soggy for what seems like a month now, I set off with a friend for a pleasant cycle ride of a few miles along the country lanes to the festivities.

Cowslip Sunday is a centuries-old celebration, traditionally held on the first Sunday in May each year. For many years it had appeared only in very muted style with the ancient tradition only being resurrected fully in 2010 and each subsequent year.

From the mid-19th century, villagers, typically stocking frame workers in the little cottages, would send their children out to collect cowslips which grew in profusion around Lambley. The pretty yellow flowers were sold in posies on the day to the many in-comers to the village, often largely from Nottingham six miles away, and also used to make a strong wine. ‘Cowslip balls’ were also made by the village’s children – small balls of dried grass which were decorated with cowslips and sold to the visitors. It was all a pleasant diversion for the stocking frame workers and their eked-out existence of hard work and low pay. On the big day, a procession of the congregation from the local church would occur where the rector would bless the local Dumble, this being a locally-used word for a wood lined stream, usually sitting in a small, steep sided valley

Sleepy little Lambley, a village named in the Domesday Book meaning ‘Lea of the lambs’ – a clearing where lambs are kept, must have changed its complexion greatly for this annual celebration of Spring arriving in older times. It is reported that in the Victorian era the police IMAG0717would often have to control the rowdy celebrations. Quoted from a local newspaper from 1866 on the Lambley Arts Festival website:

‘…visitors on Sunday were quite in equal numbers to former years, though, if we must judge from the manners and customs of a great part of them, and their acts and language, we should conclude that the class has not improved since their last annual visit’

Thankfully the modern-day celebration give no cause to draw out the local constabulary as they once did in those joyous, hedonistic days on the strong and sweet-tasting cowslip wine. Arriving at lunchtime we visited the village hall for a fortifying mug of hot tea and a slab of excellent home-made cake baked by the ladies of the local WI. Craft stalls were set out along with a Punch and Judy stand in the next-door Primary School’s playground. Further beyond in Farmer Dickie’s field lay the stage surrounded by hay bales in readiness for the local production ‘Lambley Jack and the Golden Stockings’, billed as a ‘panto for Springtime’.

I really can’t tell you how much fun this was! ‘Lambley Jack’ according to legend was a local ‘footpad’ – basically a cross between a highwayman and mugger – all probably supplemented by a little poaching and other nefarious deeds to keep the wolf from the door. You could probably describe him as Lambley’s own Robin Hood figure who spawned the local phrase ‘he’s got the cheek of Lambley Jack!’ Here though we see Jack as a young man with his family headed by his mother ‘Lambley Lil’ played in hilarious panto dame fashion. A gent by the name of Roger was yanked out of the crowd by amorous Lil:

‘Where are you from Roger?’

‘Hucknall’ (an industrial town a few miles away)



‘I heard what you said the first time, I’m just sorry!’

Each of the cast played an excellent part in a production that was great fun. A special word for the youngsters who shone and pleased the healthy-sized and enthusiastic outdoor audience.


‘Lambley Jack and the Golden Stockings’

A walk afterwards across the fields and down the pretty Lower Dumble with it’s rookeries and little stream was punctuated with a drink in my favourite watering hole, The Woodlark, which I keep meaning to write about one of these days. Later afternoon approached and it was time to saddle up and cycle along Spring Lane away from the village for the day.

Let me recommend Cowslip Sunday at Lambley to you. Beware however, once in the confines of this attractive and quaint Nottinghamshire village in it’s little valley, you may never want to leave.


Addendum 30.4.13

Sadly, the full celebration of Lambley’s Cowslip Sunday will not be repeated this year in 2013. However, there are plans to resurrect it in 2014 and there remain plans for some commemoration of the day this year, as below:

Extract from Lambley Parish News April 2013

The Waverley Steps, Edinburgh

AT THE TOP OF THE YEAR it was reported that the Waverley Steps in Edinburgh had undergone a transformation with a new covered walkway and escalator. The 145 year-old thoroughfare’s new look is said to have cost a cool £7m.

My own first thoughts on seeing newly released images of it were that the construction looks quite incongruous with the surrounding architecture of the adjacent classic Balmoral Hotel, particularly in the way the roof is situated half way down the hotel’s windows. I really can’t see what else the designers could have done too differently though, apart from shelve the project completely. I’m satisfied that they’ve probably done all they reasonably could with the new structure.

The glass roof will offer some protection from the elements. Picture: Jane Barlow

The new Waverley Steps construction

As it was – a formidable sight for the weary traveller

Although the design perhaps seems a little ‘chancy’ when considering the historic environment, there are some good points regarding this improvement of the old access to Princes Street. It always seemed to be blowing a huge gale down those steps and it could be a slightly inhospitable first experience of Edinburgh to the visitor. The fact that disabled access to Waverley Station is improved is also a very welcome addition.

Enlargement of a Valentine's Postcard  - Waverley Steps  -  Posted 1936

Blowing a gale!

I guess I was just interested in this story as that familiar trudge up the steps was always a bit symbolic to me. I never minded it because I knew I was visiting back home again and I was always anxious and pleased to see the old place again sometimes after a long wait and that few expectant hours on the train. Edinburgh really does show it’s best face to the visitor almost immediately after alighting the old stairway – much more than most cities where the railway stations are often situated in less attractive areas. I tend to drive to Edinburgh these days but the thought of a quick pint or two, with my travel bag chucked in the corner of the Guildford Arms or Cafe Royal after climbing those steps would always set me up for a nice stay. That familiar brewing smell in the Edinburgh air, the old sights followed by a pint in one of my favourite pubs always felt good and welcoming. ‘The holidays starts here’.

It’s heartening to read that most people appear to be pleased with the the Edinburgh institution’s new incarnation.

The Jewish Cemetery, North Sherwood Street, Nottingham

I think we’re all a little guilty of this – passing by things and places in our everyday lives without really looking at them. Maybe it’s the time expansion of modern life I’m not sure but I really do try to exercise a little mindfulness and understand and comprehend the things that surround me.

Speaking to an acquaintance recently, I came to hear about a little place of historic interest right in the city centre of Nottingham, one I had passed by hundreds if not thousands of times without paying any heed to. It’s a burial-place,  a tiny, now disused cemetery for those of the Jewish faith. All I could ever profess to previously noticing was a tall sandstone wall with what looked like a patch of unremarkable wasteland behind it.


The original Jewish Cemetery, North Sherwood Street, Nottingham

A little rudimentary research tells me that Jewish people resided in Nottingham near the old castle around the time of the Norman conquest until the year of 1290 at the time they were expelled from the country by King Edward I. Apparently, they were acceded entry to the country again by Oliver Cromwell in 1657 with some settling in Nottingham for a century or so afterwards. Never a particularly prosperous community originally, it began to increase into the nineteenth century with the first synagogue in 1815 and merchants and businessmen from Germany arriving to stay, midway through that century.

Tablet above the door.


By the year of 1822 the town council agreed to lease the small area of just 144 yards to the Jewish community for use as a burial ground on North Sherwood Street, not far from the old town centre. The small plot was used until the 1860s when a larger area was required. My understanding is that a new cemetery was used after this time at Southey Street a few minutes walk away. Since then, a section of the large general cemetery at Wilford Hill to the south of the city has been used from around the middle of the twentieth century. The gate at North Sherwood Street’s little cemetery now remains locked, hiding its story.

Wherever we walk, history walks with us.

Christmas comes but once a year…

CHRISTMAS COMES BUT ONCE A YEAR and so do the attendant Christmas Markets dotted around the UK in, its larger cities in particular. Here  in Nottingham until a year ago, we had a German Market placed in and around the large Old Market Square in the centre of the city. This was replaced last year when, in the dying days of November, a much-vaunted ‘Victorian Fair’ came to take its place.

I’ll not try to claim any of these events as being terribly authentic in any way. The goods tend to be expensive too, but at least they provide a little mid-winter atmosphere around the city centre which could look a little barren and grey in the faltering light and damp pavements at the end of the year.

In previous years I particularly enjoyed seeing the busy outdoor skating rink laid out  as a centre piece in the Square. Although of course artificial, it exuded  a pleasing Winter ambience and truth be told, people appeared to like it as it always seemed well-used when I was passing there, which was often. Conveniently close by was a simple beer stand where one could wash down a delicious Bratwurst with a pint or two of excellent German Paulaner out in God’s good fresh air.

Last year things changed with a larger licensed bar in the form of a Canadian-style hunting lodge. The concept was pretty hokey, what with its pair of old white figure skates hanging on the wall (in a hunting lodge!) a scattering of furniture and a fur rug or two. It was however warmish in there which was a bonus, even if the drinks had been largely demoted to bog-standard beers sold in any old pub.

This year I popped into the Square on the evening of the 23rd November for the annual Christmas tree lights switch on and was quite disappointed in what I saw. Centre stage in place of the skating rink was a huge fairground ride which I believe is called the ‘North Star’. The Council’s blurb describe it as sixty metres high and it is totally out of keeping with a Christmas Market. It actually looks quite ridiculous. Wandering around I also noticed a fairground merry-go-round, which for the life of me I can’t link to Christmas and other smaller rides which I’ve subsequently seen deserted and only manned by bored-looking operators.

There’s a large bar which is excitedly billed by the council as a ‘Narnia’ experience. It’s basically a large open-ended shed that sells beer with a smaller room through a ‘wardrobe’ door. There’s mulled wine and Staropramen amongst other things on offer. I did enjoy an excellent pint of Briska Swedish perry which was very refreshing. I won’t be taking too many of those though at £3.80 a pint.

Small stalls snake along Long Row and Wheeler gate in what is a larger event for 2011. Many of the businesses however are generic, anytime anywhere affairs which have little to do with the festivities at this time of year.

So, on balance, I’m pretty disappointed. I’ve enjoyed socialising with friends on the Christmas Market in Nottingham many times but can’t see that happening so much this year. The Nottingham City Council seem to have capitulated to a lack of cash but more obviously a lack of imagination. The same fairground operators once again dominate the Square as per usual, yes we’ve noticed and you’re not fooling us Nottingham City Council, making it more like Goose Fair with artificial snow. It’s all a bit cheap looking.

Verdict: could do better – much better. I’ll be looking for the spirit of Christmas elsewhere this year.