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Jane Stuart – Writer

Writing about real life Up North: football, ale, food and mental health – with a good dash of humour.

Dear reader, the alluring aroma of the red rose continues to draw me home. Not content with a day trip to the match at Colne, many months ago I built a weekend away around this fixture so I could immerse myself in my homeland for a blissful couple of days. My enthusiasm for The North was catching, and I was accompanied on this occasion by my friend and Chasetown colleague Pam.

Having spent much of last weekend delayed on closed motorways, I am delighted to report that the drive up to deepest East Lancashire was a smooth one and the journey took half an hour less than the three hours Google Maps had predicted. On arrival, we raided Sainsburys for healthy snackage (for we started with good intentions), located the remote cottage in Wycoller that was to be our home for the weekend and took a short drive around to check out our surroundings before checking in. Boy was it stunning round here! The trickling of the Wycoller Beck would have drowned out any sounds of human life, had there been any. A number of trees had little doors on their trunks and I gave one a gentle knock in the hope of a tiny woodland inhabitant poking his head out of the trunk to address me. We followed a red van, reminiscent of Postman Pat’s, driving through the beck itself at one point. Passing hikers and cyclists all waved and said hello, remarking on the beautiful weather. It sure was idyllic here.

At 1130 we were able to check into Oaklands Cottage, which I had found via AirBNB. On my previous visit to this area, I had stayed in a room in a house in Trawden, which I loved so much I would have stayed there again, however it was not available on this occasion. This worked to our advantage this weekend, as we discovered an equally delightful abode here. We were greeted by the gardener and, far from heading straight out as soon as I have unpacked, as I usually do, spent time exploring the cottage. I discovered a visitors book, containing memories of contented guests dating back to 2009.

 

After a lovely welcome from Jane, we found lots of yummy food in the cottage – even glittery home made mince pies!

El & Neil, 2013

So glad this lovely hamlet has survived the onslaught of the 21st Century.

Jane, 2013

 

Oh my gosh! How fantastic. Arrived late at night. Jane had been in and lit the fire and put the electric blanket on for us.

Gail & James, 2013

The friendly black and white cat left us a present on the doorstep.

Janet & Barbara, 2014

There was another book, too, which contained the WiFi details and recommended local eateries and gave the number of a local taxi firm. This book was later added to by visitors, who noted down details of little gems they had found on their travels that they wished to share with future visitors. What a delightful idea – and so very Lancashire. I was entranced by these books and could have spent the rest of the day poring over them, but my attention was diverted by a knock at the door. It was our host, Jane (and her dog, Frank) who had brought over some angel cake, chocolates and a jug of milk for us. What a lovely welcome! Of course this was Very Bad for our diets but who could resist such a lovely gesture? The cake was devoured almost immediately because, lets face it, it wasn’t going to keep.

Almost reluctantly we headed out on the 70-minute hilly walk into Colne. The sky was a brilliant blue and the sun shone brightly, yet it remained cool as we walked alongside the beck, warming up to a comfortable temperature as we walked. Unfortunately Pam had picked up an injury playing football with Frank, so our walk was cut short. I hadn’t been looking forward to the hills anyway, recalling that last time I had to have a strong word with myself to stop me from curling up in a ball by the side of the road with exhaustion. I don’t like hills. That taxi number was already coming in useful…although trying to explain our location was somewhat challenging, as the road we were on did not appear to have a name. Fortunately we soon reached Wycoller Country Park and were able to report back with an update on our location and the taxi soon came to our rescue.

Of course there were pubs involved this afternoon and we met up with my friends from Blackpool, Chris and Kev, who were already enjoying the Wetherspoons Beer Festival in the Wallace Hartley, with a palette of three thirds of beer each. I was recommended the Hook Norton Crafty Ales Crafty Fox Black IPA and was not disappointed. I like the maltiness and deeper flavours of dark beers but a lighter beer than a stout or mild is welcomed on sunny days like today. I reminisced about the black lager I had discovered in Romania last summer, which had been the perfect summer beer to accompany my holiday. This pub was named after the violinist and bandleader on the Titanic, who was from Colne. There is a house beer brewed by Worsthorne (a local Burnley brewery) called Blonde Violin: ‘They played to the end’. The other beers on sale here were: Adnams Topaz Gold, Elgoods Hen in Black, Ruddles Best, Bragdy Conwy Kodiak American Brown, Sunset Aggro Bear IPA, Boxing Cat Contender and JW Lees Moonraker. Here we also learned that the founder of the Hartley’s jam empire, Sir William Pickles Hartley, was from Colne.

Next on the agenda was the main attraction for the beer tourist in Colne: the three micropubs next door to each other. Now we were a bit too keen here, as two of them were not open yet (it was 1315) – but we could only do one at a time, so stepped into the open one, Cask’n’Keg. There were two cask beers on here – Reedley Hallows Griffin IPA and Oscar’s Gun Dog Blonde – as well as Lilley’s Rhubarb Cider. I opted for the keg offering of Theakston Barista Stout, which delighted my palate. There are two massive maps on the walls of this pub – one of the world and the other of the UK and Ireland. We spent a good while running our fingers over the latter, tracking where we were from, where we had been and where we wanted to visit.

By now it was 1400 and Tapster’s Promise was open, so we popped nextdoor-but-one for a drink here. Now this was the second challenge to my diet, as my eyes became fixed on a box of Tangy Toms. After all, who doesn’t love cheap corn snacks? I asked for a packet and was quickly persuaded into having two for 50p. Sod it, I was on holiday, after all. They were washed down very nicely by a Titanic Plum Porter (a beer I can never resist). The other beers on cask here were Nightjar Hebden Hop and Wishbone Tiller Pin. There were some beers on tap as well but I was too engrossed in my Tangy Toms to record these, for which I apologise.

Next up was the Sam Smiths hostelry, The Red Lion. This is an imposing building and quite how I had managed to resist entering on my previous visit, I wasn’t sure. Rest assured that I won’t be able to resist on any future visits. The blue plaque on the front of the building read as follows:

Red Lion 1790

 

Built as an inn, brewhouse and piggery by Miss Mary Foulds of Trawden Hall. It was also a stagecoach inn used by commercial union coaches. Cattle were tethered to the rings in the wall.

Our jovial host took great delight in informing us that the Sam Smiths Dark Mild was (I hope you’re sitting down) £1.34 a pint (that’s one pound thirty four in vidiprinter-yes-you-read-that-right-speak). Well, who could resist that? Not me, that’s for sure! This was a very warm and friendly pub and we enjoyed a good natter with our host and the locals, who were interested to learn where we had come from. We explained that we had come from Blackpool and Chasetown and of course went on to chat about football at length. This was one of those pubs that you really don’t want to leave, but we really needed to eat now, so we were led away by our stomachs. We had not got far down the street when we were hollered back by one of the locals, who was checking that we weren’t leaving because we had taken offence to something they had said – and to make sure that the boys looked after us girls. We didn’t have the heart to tell her that we were packing the boys off on a train home tout de suite and looking after ourselves for the rest of the weekend; however we confirmed that of course we hadn’t been offended and would be visiting again in the future.

Now one of the reasons I enjoy documenting my travels in this blog, dear reader, is that it serves as a reminder of places previously visited, so I can revisit the best places in the future (much along the same lines as the visitors book in the cottage, conversing with my future self). In my previous Colne blog, I had enthused about Cemetery Chippy. Now I find a good chippy very hard to come by, so I was certainly not going to pass up the opportunity of a return visit to this one – nor was I disappointed on this occasion. For less than a fiver I enjoyed mini fish, chips and gravy – all of which was delicious. Hang the diet – this is an important area of Lancashire culture and I was enjoying it immensely! When discussing our prerequisites for a good chippy tea in the pub earlier – always a passionate topic of conversation amongst Sandgrownuns – Kev had been quite specific about his requirement for a fish butty, comprising fish that had left to stand for long enough to lose its sogginess and retain its crispiness, before being placed on bread that was the perfect shape to fit the fish. He found exactly what he desired at Cemetery Chippy – as did we all.

We waved the boys off on their train back to Blackpool and headed to the third – and original – micropub in Colne, Boyce’s Barrel. There were two doggies in here, including Sam, a handsome golden retriever, who one of the locals was suspicious of, as Sam was intently focussed on the tenner in his hand:

‘He’s after my money! Have you trained him to do this?’

The beers on sale here today were: Binghams Doodle Stout, Old Mill La Bolsa Coffee Porter, Old Mill Traditional Bitter, St Peter’s Golden Ale and Hambleton Chinooked. As I relaxed with a couple of delicious stouts in excellent surroundings, my eyes were drawn to a poster enquiring if I fancied an Indian tonight. It was, in fact, advertising an India Pale Ale, but by now the seed had been planted. Yes, I’d had a chippy tea within the last hour but, equally, yes, I did fancy an Indian now. I immediately referred to Just Eat, cross-referencing local takeaways with their food hygiene rating on Scores On The Doors (an ex was fussy about these things and the habit has stuck; I also recall a particularly unfortunate incident with some pungent prawns in a restaurant I later researched and found out had a one-star food hygiene rating).

We called a taxi back to the cottage and I couldn’t wait an hour before ordering from Tandoori Knights. Our food (two curries, two rice) came to £13.03, including delivery. Remind me again why I don’t live Up North, because I sure as hell don’t know! After a lengthy battle with the three(!) remotes (one of which was clearly labelled DO NOT CHANGE CHANNEL WITH THIS REMOTE, which was all very well but HOW DO I CHANGE CHANNEL?!), I managed to get the tv working (and channel changed) just in time for Corrie as I tucked into my Chicken Rogan Josh, reflecting that this had been a most satisfactory day indeed (diet notwithstanding).

***

Over the last few months – with the help of the Bedtime function on my iPhone – I have regulated my sleep pattern, so I get eight hours every night. This has affected my body clock, so I am now ready for bed – and wake – at the same time every day. So there was no lie-in for me this morning, despite being on hollibobs. But you know that’s no bad thing, because Wycoller is such a perfect place to rise early and write, which is exactly what I did, perched up in bed for two or three hours, to the music of birdsong. I could happily live here.

I was excited to try the shower this morning, which had some great reviews in the guest book (‘Shower wow!!’, Mr. & Mrs. Hill, 2013). To be honest, after all the build-up, I found it a little disappointing. Sure, it was easy to work and there was enough space to lean over and wash my hair – and yes, there were some lovely-smelling toiletries in there – but I wasn’t sure it warranted a special mention in the guest book!

At around 1030 we headed over to Skipton. And boy was the drive over spectacular! The roads rose and dipped through stunning countryside. After around half an hour we saw signs of human life on the road into Skipton. I spied a building named ‘Kibble’ and remarked that if that wasn’t a cafe for dogs, I’d be most disappointed. As we drove past it, a sign in the window confirmed that this was indeed a ‘Dog Friendly Cafe’. Yes, I loved it here!

Our first port of call was 900-year-old Skipton Castle. Here we were greeted by some very friendly ladies who kindly took our money and provided us with a sheet of sketches detailing the best route around the castle, with a brief description of each room. I left the navigation to Pam, who did a grand job of guiding us through the castle, including a dungeon, a huge banqueting hall, a kitchen with a huge roasting hearth (large enough to roast a whole deer) and a privy (the contents of which once fell directly into the moat below). It was cold inside the castle, in a marked contrast to Salts Mill, which I visited last week, despite the walls being four metres thick in places (although granted the air was circulating through the castle through openings in the walls and open doorways). As we made our way around the castle, we were entertained by a magician, who had a small party of children transfixed (‘wow how did you do that?’). The views from the upper floors were stunning – as was the castle itself – and we took a lot of photographs here.

At 1200 our tummies were rumbling and we strolled down to Skipton Market. The first stall we passed was selling binoculars and telescopes, which is certainly not something you see on Walsall market, and this made me smile. We stopped at length at the photography stall, viewing a collection of photographs of rural Lancashire and Yorkshire – and I was pleased to find one of Salts Mill taken from the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, where I had walked only last week. Dear reader, I could have bought the whole collection, but managed to resist (although am already regretting this). We stopped for breakfast at the breakfast van on the market, enjoying bacon and egg on a delicious (and very large) barm from a local bakery, and a mug of Yorkshire Tea (for we were, of course, over the border now).

Suitably sustained, we returned to the car to make our way back to Lancashire – the return journey somehow only taking ten minutes via a less scenic route. Our next port of call was the whole purpose of our visit to this part of the world: Colne FC v Chasetown FC at The Sovereign Play Stadium. We had a rough idea where the ground was but needed Google Maps to navigate us here (this was our first ever visit). As we drove up into the car park, Colne & Nelson RUFC was on our left (there was a match taking place, but I don’t understand rugby, so we passed this by) and Colne FC was on our right. And yet again – my what a stunning backdrop! The views from up here were breathtaking.

As we strolled toward the football ground, we were greeted by our amiable host, Ed, the secretary of Colne FC, who walked us to the turnstile. It was Ed who had recommended the visit to Skipton and I thanked him for that. He apologised that he had forgotten to recommend that we also visit Haworth, home of the Brontë sisters, which was also close by. I made a mental note to factor that into our itinerary before returning home (not needing much of an excuse to prolong this weekend).

Pam and I took a tour of the ground, familiarising ourselves with the important landmarks, including the dressing rooms, clubhouse, hospitality, food kiosk and toilets. As we arrived at the food kiosk, we were welcomed warmly by the lady in there and remained here for a good chat as we enjoyed the view over Colne. Slowly the Chasetown faithful began to trickle into the ground and we chatted with them, too, enthusing about how wonderful we were finding it here. I really was on the crest of a wave right now; simply being in Lancashire – amidst the warmth of its people (my people) – makes my heart swell and lifts my spirits like nothing else. I am simply in love with this county.

But now down to business. I had a job to do here today and now needed to get on with it. I popped into hospitality to say hello to the home and away club officials as well as the match officials, all of whom seemed in good spirits. After all, the sun was shining and we were in a beautiful part of the world, so what’s not to love? I headed out to the side of the pitch and caught up with Dave the kitman, who kindly offered to help out with the end of season presentation night, which I really ought to be giving some more thought to organising as we approach the final few weeks of the season. Then it was time to take the team from the manager, Scott, and prepare the Chasetown teamsheet for the afternoon, before taking this in to the referee for the pre-match get-together in the dressing room. This all passed by smoothly and I could now sit down and have a nice cup of tea.

As kick-off approached, I strolled round to the opposite side of the ground, taking a few photographs along the way, stopping to conduct a review of the facilities for @nonleaguetoilet (nothing to complain about, just the usual one tap only on the sink, which seems to be a thing at non league grounds). I took my position next to the away dugout – my preferred spot – to ensure that I was well-positioned to observe any substitutions, which I need to report to the league as part of my role as Match Secretary. This also has the added bonus of being offered sweets from the bench during the match.

This was the archetypal game of two halves, with Chase going ahead with a penalty scored by Jack Langston and edging the first half (playing downhill on the sloped pitch), before Colne fought back with two early goals in the second half, going on to win 3-1. They are a good side, though, so this was no disgrace. The Red Army sang their hearts out throughout the match and made me titter as they sang: ‘EI-EI-EI-O/Up the Evo League we go/When we get mid table/This is what we’ll sing…’.

As I strolled back round to the clubhouse on the final whistle, I checked my phone and saw that Blackpool had just got an injury-time equaliser at home to Plymouth, with an overhead kick from Curtis Tilt. Immediately a broad grin found its way onto my face and I am not entirely convinced that I didn’t leap and punch the air.

I ordered a celebratory bottle of Bowland Hen Harrier from the bar in the clubhouse, explaining to an enquiring Colne fan that this was one of my favourite Lancashire beers. Having confirmed the match cautions with the referee (my only post match duty at away matches, with the home team doing the immediate reporting to the league), I could now relax and have a good natter again with the home, away and match officials. Ed told me about the collapse of Colne Dynamoes back in the early 1990s, which I remembered only because Blackpool signed two of their players when the club folded, Dave Lancaster and Tony Rodwell (a favourite of mine). We discussed the restructuring of the league and we were sorry that we would be in different divisions next season. Colne really is a delightful club with lovely warm people. I sincerely hope this will not be my last visit here.

When I had finished my second bottle of Hen Harrier (it was offered and it would have been rude not to) and Pam had finished uploading the photographs of the match action, we said our goodbyes to our wonderful hosts and headed down into Colne. With nothing planned in advance for this evening, we opted to tick off the two recommended pubs we hadn’t got round to the previous day.

Our first stop was The Crown Hotel, which I learned was run by a man from Walsall. The food here smelled amazing, but we had already decided we weren’t eating here. Beerwise, I had a Moorhouses Blonde Witch and there were two other local beers available, including Pride of Pendle. With WiFi available here, Pam was able to circulate the match photographs to the media, as I caught up with the news from Blackpool, including the video footage of that late, great equaliser.

Our final call for the night was a place I had visited on my previous visit to Colne – and the one with the most exciting menu out of all of those on our pub list: Tubbs of Colne. Dear reader, I was positively salivating over this menu, having not eaten since breakfast (bar a few sweets). I was very tempted by the half roast chicken (the diet-friendly option) and the venison burger with blue cheese and red onion marmalade; however I opted for the Indian spiced chicken with piquillo pepper sauce, onion bhaji, salad and pickled chillies on garlic flatbread. And boy was that a treat for the tastebuds! I washed it down with a pint of Copper Dragon Golden Pippin. Without particularly noticing it, Pam and I had spent most of our time in here on our phones, which was pointed out to us by the Turkish man seated at the next table. I joked that we had just spent two full days together and we were now craving the company of our online friends. We ended up having a good natter with him and his partner (from Burnley) as we all tried (not entirely successfully) to explain where we were all from and where Chasetown was (no-one ever knows this) and inevitably talking about football because that is, after all, the universal language.

And so, dear reader, we reach the end of our second day Up North. But our visit was not over yet…

***

I awoke earlier than the birds on Sunday morning – and that despite the clocks having gone forward an hour. I resolved to put the time to good use and read through the visitors books to see if I could get to the bottom of the shower mystery. Dear reader, I got there! It was indeed as simple as the shower controls being easy to decipher – and, let’s be honest, we’ve all had battles with showers in hotels over the years (‘I won in the “work out how the shower turns on” competition’ – Sharon, 2016). I was also relieved to discover I wasn’t the only one to struggle with the complex tv remote situation (‘almost achieved a diploma putting T.V. on and changing channels’ – Rodney & Judith, 2016). There was also a most mysterious and intriguing entry from Jennie & Pete (2016): ‘No sight of the Spectral Guytrash Pudfoot, so maybe we will return to look for him.’ What on earth? Was that some sort of bird? There were numerous references to birdwatching in the visitors book. Of course I had to research this, and later read of the ‘Gytrash, a legendary black dog known in northern England…said to haunt lonely roads awaiting travellers’. The Gytrash appears in both Jane Eyre and Harry Potter.

https://wikivisually.com/wiki/Gytrash

Well you live and learn! What a veritable treasure trove this visitors book was proving to be. I was so pleased I had made the time to read it through in its entirety. Having come to the end – and added my own entry into the recommended eateries book, recommending all of those we had visited, remarkably none of which had previously been added to the book – I then wrote for a couple of hours before making sure I fully enjoyed the luxury of a good shower, then began to pack for home.

As Pam went for an early morning stroll to photograph more of the local loveliness – including the duck on the lawn – I made myself a brew and pottered about the cottage, putting things back where they had been found, and wishing that we could have had longer here. There were sure to be many more quirks that we hadn’t discovered, not to mention the books we hadn’t read and games we hadn’t played. I had fallen in love with this little cottage and its surroundings.

As we reluctantly drove away from Wycoller, Pam revealed that she had solved the riddle of the little doors in the trees. She had seen them for sale in a local shop and they were called Fairy Doors. I immediately looked this up online and Wikipedia revealed the following:

A fairy door is a miniature door, usually set into the base of a tree, behind which may be small spaces where people can leave notes, wishes, or gifts for the “fairies”. Fairy doors are easily spotted by fairies if they are pink or surrounded by shells. If it is your first time talking to the fairy ask questions about their life. Friendly fairies respond to notes. Only one fairy can access the door and be your friend.

Well isn’t that exciting? And the perfect excuse to return to Trawden Forest to follow the trail and see if there are any notes behind the doors (and, if not, to leave notes for the fairies). What a delightful concept.

Now there was one more adventure on the itinerary before we headed home. Three people had yesterday recommended Haworth and the Brontë Parsonage Museum – the former home of the Brontë family. I was advised that, being a writer, I would love it. So that’s where we headed. The drive over was, of course, spectacular – up and down hills and across the moors, with barely another vehicle or person encountered along the way. On arrival in Haworth, which is, according to the sign, ‘The World’s First Fairtrade Village’, we missed the turning to the museum – and were so glad we did! This allowed us the opportunity to view the picturesque little village, with cobbled roads and quirky shops. I was already planning a return visit here to absorb this village properly.

The Brontë Parsonage Museum is situated opposite the village church, the two buildings separated by a graveyard. As we looked up to the top of the tall trees, we observed several crows nesting and caw-caw-cawing. This place was certainly atmospheric. As we approached the museum, an Irish lady asked us to take her photograph at the front of the house and I duly obliged. We followed her into the house and were advised by a waiting member of staff that our tour would be self-guided, following the numbered rooms in sequence. We began downstairs with the study and dining room, where the Brontë’s did much of their writing – and sketching and painting – before progressing to the kitchen, then upstairs to the bedrooms. It was so inspiring to learn of the sisters’ absorption in their writing, particularly how they undertook activities such as baking bread and ironing, where they could write in their heads as they worked. Never before have I been even slightly tempted to take up ironing, but I considered it for a fleeting moment here.

On leaving the museum, we took a stroll up towards the church, past the school on the left, and amidst some outdoor stalls belonging to local shops, I spied a beautiful grey cat. Of course I ventured in her direction to say hello and see if she was up for a fuss (she was indeed). I was then greeted by another cat, with stunning markings of stripes on his head and tail and spots on his body. As we engaged in a big fuss whilst I was at the same time trying to photograph both of these handsome beasts so I could review them for @thecatreviewer, we were interrupted by the owner of said cats, who was happy to engage in cat chat. Smokey was 20 years old, but didn’t look it, other than being a little slow in her movements. Tigger – such a handsome fusspot – was a local stray who had found an adopted home here. A good ten minutes later, Tigger was vocally demanding his breakfast, putting paid to any further conversation – probably just as well, else we could have been here all day.

We set off back on the road home. One final treat was an alpaca farm that we passed, where there was a tiny baby alpaca, unsteady on his little skinny legs, not unlike a baby giraffe in this regard. Of course we pulled over at the side of the road to revel in his cuteness for several minutes before heading back to urban life via the M65.

This weekend had been a very special – perhaps life-changing – one for me. By the time I had reached the displays in the Brontë Parsonage Museum beyond the house, I had found myself welling up with emotion as I realised this was the life I wanted. I have always loved writing, but this weekend, this beautiful scenery, this serenity – this eagerness to grab hold of the days and eke every blessed moment out of them – this is where I want to be. I want to be inspired, to create and share the beauty and quirks of this wonderful life with you, dear reader. I returned home from this wonderful weekend away more determined than ever before to make that happen. I hope you will keep reading – for I will never stop writing. It’s what I was born to do – and I’ve never been surer of that.

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