Monday, September 29, 2008

More about Robin Hood's Bay

Give this a miss if you have read enough about it already, but the research I have done since coming home has revealed quite an interesting history for the building on which I was focussing most of my attention. One of the local people I had asked had said my mother-in-law's painting might be of the Old Coastguard Station and the Leeds University Marine Laboratory. I decided to search the web for the Old Coastguard Station, and I readily found pictures of the building the way it used to be in days of yore, and the way it is today. You might think that the round roofed tower to the left of the slipway had survived the rigours of time and the sea pretty well - not so however.

Alan Staniforth, one-time Heritage Coast Ranger for the N. York Moors National Park Authority, explains in an interesting article he wrote about the North Sea Trail. In it he revealed that "a building with its toe in the sea at the bottom of Robin Hood's Bay village has a shorter history than its design might at first indicate". It seems that this late 18th century building, after being used as a public house and then dwelling houses until 1829, was then taken over by the recently established coastguard service. After they moved to a purpose built station on Fisher Head in the early 1900s, the building was hired, and later bought, by Leeds University, to accommodate students studying marine biology.

During the war the building was taken over by the War Department, and afterwards use of the laboratory was at a low ebb until the arrival of new staff in the early 1960s. This led to its demolition and the rebuilding of a purpose built marine laboratory which opened in 1967. The design was not popular with the local community, however, and one can see why from the picture of it nearing completion in 1965. Only 15 years later, the new laboratory was closed down for economic reasons.

The property was eventually purchased in 1999 by the National Trust for use as an Information and Interpretation Centre. The new building was demolished, and the present building was constructed to the style of the old coastguard station, as you can see from my own picture taken 10 days ago. For an account of this remarkable piece of reconstructive work, it is worth going to the website of Allen Tod Architecture, where you will also find really good pictures of the three architectural stages in the building's life. [You will need to click on Projects, then scroll down the list to find Robin Hood's Bay]

All this is fascinating, but I am no nearer identifying my painting. But I don't give up easily, and reference on the website to a history of Robin Hood's Bay by Barrie Farnill, led to my buying the book second hand. It contains many wonderful old photos, but sadly none that threw any more light on my enquiry. There is, though, an enticing description which gives me hope that someone may yet tell me what I want to hear:

"To the south of Wayfoot [the end of the slipway], a sea wall was built many years ago, an extension of a much older one. Behind the older wall one particularly interesting 17th century house, known now as The Coble, shelters snugly and securely. It was once the home of the chief coastguard officer of Robin Hood’s Bay. From what is now a sunny glas-walled lounge, but was formerly a balcony, the old water-guard scanned the horizon through telescopes for sight of smuggling luggers. In more recent years, the coastguards occupied an old building on the north side of this house, one which was pulled down and rebuilt by the University of Leeds in 1965. Here, too, was the old round-house, which served as a bad weather look out post, and a building in which the water-guard, forerunners of the coastguards, kept their boat. "

Well, there is something decidedly 'lookout-ish' about that little sort of bay window hanging out over the sea on the left of the building in the painting, and there is a balcony too. And what about those shadowy flag poles, (which can be seen if you enlarge the picture), or are they the masts and rigging of a real or imagined smugglers' lugger trying to creep past the coastguard station? Remember, this was painted around 100 years ago! I would like to have certainty one day, but meanwhile, all this speculation and my own imagination have added enormously to the charm of the picture for me.

[Black and white photographs are from the Robin Hood's Bay official website.]

Saturday, September 27, 2008

My pilgrimage - continued

I realise that I have left part of my story untold, one kind person unacknowledged, and one picture unidentified. To set the scene I must reveal my wimpishness about travel. The journey from my home to Whitby by train is horrendous, involving three or four changes. It is possible to take a coach for part of the route, but coach travel makes me sick. I find all journeys with luggage by public transport stressful and tiring in the extreme, and I do not drive long distance any more either. But I am lucky enough now to be able to indulge myself and travel by hired car if there is somewhere I desperately want to go. The journey to Whitby was a major extravagance, but it was worth it.

So, back to the last morning at Sneaton Castle, when the sun was shining so brilliantly that the blue of the sky looked almost dark in its intensity. I was basking blissfully while I waited for my driver to arrive, and on the seat beside me was my folder of pictures with the one unidentified painting. The receptionist had told me she thought it might be Robin Hood's Bay. This old fishing and smugglers' port, now a favourite tourist spot, is only a few miles south of Whitby, and when my driver arrived I asked him if he would mind making a detour, so that I could see if there was any resemblance to my mother-in-law's painting. (This is at the start of a journey which is going to take four and a half hours at best, even if we don't stop for food on the way!)

He made no objection, and after a while we turned off the main road and began a long trek through narrow country lanes until we eventually emerged at the viewpoint which had been marked on the map. It was staggering! We were high up on the clifftop above the town, with a shimmering panorama of sea and sky in front of us. We parked the car and passed through a small swing gate to find ourselves at the top of a very steep path down to sea level. It was clear that if I wanted to study the buildings at the water's edge I should have to go down it. It was equally clear that my 80-year-old heart would not be equal to the climb back up again.

So what does this good man do? I have shown him the picture of course, and explained my mission, so he says "You stay here and take some pictures, and I'll go down and have a look for you." There were a couple of benches just inside the gate, and I sat there and resumed my basking mode from earlier that morning. After a while I began to feel he had been gone a long time, and got up to look for him. There he was, slogging up the hill by another route, showing all the evidence of a stiff climb. He said he thought that some of the sea wall by the slipway might have been what I was looking for, so I asked him if it was possible to drive down.

He thought it would be, so we got back in the car and started off down the very steep street. We had to drive extremely slowly, and pedestrians had to flatten themselves against the walls to let us pass. My driver observed that they didn't look as though they expected any cars to come that way, despite the yellow lines on the road. Indeed, he was right, as I found out when I went onto the village's website later: the roads are banned to tourist traffic! So we only got our just deserts later as we drove away, and found ourselves stuck on the hill behind a security van, which gave every appearance of having stopped for a cup of tea and a chat, and being in no hurry to leave.

We parked, also illegally, and my driver said he would wait with the car while I took a quick look. However, a few minutes later he came after me, for which I was grateful, as I had nervously picked my way over the cobbles of the slipway right down to the sand, wishing heartily that I had a walking stick with me; I was very glad of his arm to get up the slipway again later. We had a good look at the two buildings at its foot, and I took photographs for further study.

I still don't know what to think. Allowing for the passage of 100 years, and for much change and rebuilding, not to mention artist's licence, I think the painting could just possibly be either of the two round walled structures, which at high tide have their feet in the sea.

Lifeboat launch at Robin Hood's Bay in years gone by, and The Bay as it is today.
[These two photographs are from the Robin Hood's Bay official website.]

My pilgrimage

This was really the highspot of my trip this time, although it had nothing to do with Growing Old Disgracefully. After my husband died we discovered a box of unframed watercolours painted by his mother, who was no mean artist. There are several of them which I am hoping to frame and have on my walls. My mother-in-law, whom I never met, was born and brought up in Leeds, and it appears from her paintings that she must have spent holidays on the North Yorkshire coast, as one of them was recognisably of Whitby, and two or three had been titled 'Sandsend', which is a small bay just north of Whitby.

The headland, Sandsend

I have scanned all the smaller pictures into my computer, and I thought it would be interesting to take prints with me to Whitby, and see if I could actually find the places where the artist had sat to paint the scenes. I took altogether seven pictures, only three of which where titled, and I ended up identifying all but one of them. But this was only done with the help of three other people who supported me in my search.

Tate Hill Sands and Jetty, Whitby

My first piece of good fortune was to find a receptionist at Sneaton Castle who was a local person and actually recognised all but one of the pictures - and bear in mind that they had been painted about 100 years ago! I was planning to go on my search by taxi, and she told me exactly where to ask the driver to put me down to find the different scenes. My next piece of luck was to have a disgraceful friend offer to drive me round and wait while I located my targets and took photographs. We didn't have very long, as we had to get back for our second leaflet meeting, so it was a bit of a scramble, and I didn't get all the shots I would have liked. However, I have enough evidence to convince me that I have followed my mother-in-law's artistic trail of a hundred years ago. This proved to be quite a moving experience, and I feel that in some way I have actually met her at last. Here are my two best successes, with the painting on the left, and my photo on the right:

Sandsend, near Whitby, view from the steps running up beside the Beach Hotel.

Argument's Yard, Whitby, alongside the lifeboat shed, seen from the water's edge. The yard is now private, but I was lucky enough to be invited in by a couple who live there, who were delighted to see the 100-year-old watercolour. Further confirmation came from a painting by a contemporary artist below, and an old photo from the Whitby archive, both of which I found on the web.

Friday, September 26, 2008

My trip to Whitby

We were staying at a conference centre called Sneaton Castle, set high above the town of Whitby, where we had met before in 2005. It was good for once to be returning to a place we knew, as we usually go somewhere different each year, in order to move around the country for the benefit of our countrywide members. Well! When I go on these annual trips with my Growing Old Disgracefully friends, the expectation is usually fun and frolics all round. But this time I worked quite hard for much of the time, and have continued to do so since coming home a week ago, which is why I have only just got round to posting.

What we usually do on the first evening is have an introductory presentation from the year's organising team, preferably humorous, and then some sort of 'getting to know you' activity for mixing first-timers with old-timers. The following morning there are two workshop sessions, before and after coffee, with a choice of several workshops in each session. These are delivered by members themselves, and may be about almost anything. This year the choice was between reading, dancing, writing, fun and games, and such serious questions as "Has embarrassment changed your life?", "Who and where do you think you are?", and "Can we really grow old disgracefully with deteriorating health?" Each person gets to do one in each session, and there were at least four that I would have enjoyed doing.

However, I am currently committed to a group which is trying to design a new publicity leaflet for our Network, and because this was an urgent job, we decided to use one of the sessions to start work on this project. It is just the sort of project I enjoy too, but compared with the other things on offer it was definitely 'work', because it has to be right, and done on time. We made good progress but decided we would probably need another session next day.

There was a coach excursion in the afternoon, which I did not go on, as coach travel makes me feel sick. So I spent much of the time working on my own on some new text for the leaflet which I wrote out by hand. This found approval and I was asked if I could type it up on a friend's laptop, as she wasn't a touch typist, and we could then get it copied and circulate it to the other group members. I've never used a laptop, but there was a mouse fortunately, and after a quick breakfast next day we sat down together and got the typing done, before our Annual Business Meeting started at 9.45 am.

I had offered to scribe for this meeting for a friend who is very deaf. This is something I have never done before and it was an interesting new discipline. When I take notes for myself they are always sprinkled with shorthand, but of course I had to write all in longhand, on my knee, so that she could read it as we went along. It requires considerable focus and an untiring wrist, and you mustn't drop off in the middle if it gets boring! It is good to have a new challenge of that sort.

The afternoon was free, and I had plans to go off by myself on a sort of local pilgrimage, which I will tell you about in another post. But I was wanted for another leaflet meeting, and in the end I had to split my afternoon between both activities. But it did get us to the point where, after coming home, two of us could start to prepare a mockup of our new leaflet, working together by email. This afternoon it is just about ready for approval, and I hope we can both relax a bit.

On the second evening there had been an outside speaker, and on the last evening we had a wonderful singing workshop led by a professional, a smashing young woman called Beccy Owen, who is a musician, composer, singer and teacher, and works from The Sage Music Centre at Gateshead. She got all 70 of us singing in parts together, even though many of us think we can't sing; I am sure that she was so successful because of the humour she mixed in with her professional competence. Maybe, too, her success had something to do with the fact that she is used to teaching primary school children with attitude, as she told us, "and there is certainly some attitude here tonight" she said, grinning widely.

The next morning it was pack our bags, have breakfast, then a short farewell session where we sang some more with Beccy, and off home. The sun had finally decided to shine, and as I was the last to leave, I had the opportunity to sit outside the Castle, looking across a vast expanse of grass to the ruin of Whitby Abbey, and letting the beneficent beams warm my body and soothe the pain of goodbyes.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

International Peace Day

Something I have just learned today, thanks to a timely email from my son in Sydney: today, the 21st September, is the International Day of Peace, established in 2001 when it was unanimously adopted by every member nation of the United Nations. You can learn more about it with this video clip. You are invited to make peace with somebody today, it can even be with yourself!
I hope the following shot of Robin Hood's Bay on the North Yorkshire coast will give you a sense of peace, until I have time to write again about my recent trip north.

Monday, September 15, 2008


Well I'm all packed and ready, and just about to have breakfast, while I think of all the last minute changes I need to make to what is already in my suitcase! Biggest worry - have I packed every single one of the multitude of medications that keeps me going these days. Second biggest worry - have I got more than enough pairs of shoes .... just enough is not enough, if you see what I mean. Third biggest worry ..... oh well, you don't want to hear the rest, from the world's biggest anxiety queen!!!!!!!!!!!! I am going to the annual get-together of my Growing Old Disgracefully Network, so I know I am going to have a fantabulous time when I get there, and hopefully there will be some fun photos to share.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


I see there is a new gadget or widget we can add to our blogs. Avus is the first of my readers to sign up as one of my 'followers'.

I wonder how many of you are old enough to remember the days when a young woman's boy friends were referred to as 'followers'. In fact I think it was even before my time. Great for me to have a follower at the age of 80, huh?
Seriously though, it may be a fun thing, like having 'friends' on other kinds of website. I am off on holiday for four days tomorrow, back on Thursday, and then I shall see if I can install the appropriate thingummy so that my followers show up on my blog, although I think I have enough things in my side bar already.

Friday, September 05, 2008


I think I have found the very thing to get me into that van! A lightweight electrical lifter/stacker, described as a lift/lowering system with electrical motor, chain drive, electronic regulation of lift/lowering including soft start/stop, electric overload protection, portable and adjustable hand control unit, maintenance-free/sealed battery, automatic battery charger, hand control cable and charger cable. Long handles for easy moving.

What could be better? I think I would need a small stool on the platform, (which is 47 x 60 cm), as it would be difficult with my legs dangling to make that final transfer onto the van seat. But my son already carries ramps in his van, so he would have no problem with running it out and trundling it round to the side when I need to get in, and again when I want to get out. I reckon it would be a lot more dignified than the heaving and struggling that has been going on up to now.

Oh bummer! I've just noticed a drawback. The platform isn't at ground level when at rest. I might have to go for the full forklift truck option!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Old bones continued

Some of my readers have kindly been making suggestions as to how I could overcome my difficulties with getting in to my son's van. Herhimnbryn drew my attention to the double swivelling cushions that are on the market, that will do the twisting for you.
She sent me a link she had found and I have been having a good look through the website of .

I soon realised that the swivel cushion will unfortunately not meet my case, as it is designed primarily for use in a car, where one can stand on the ground with one's back to the car seat and just lower one's bottom onto it, and then swivel. My problem is that I have to get myself off the ground and up to seat level first, which requires massive forward and upward movement, and THEN twist myself to get my bottom on the seat. It didn't take much thought to realise that what I really need is a HOIST!!! Or a seat that cranks up to the level I want.

I was about to close the website when I thought, "I'll just have a look through the whole page" ..... and then I began to laugh. Moving firmly in the direction of industrial equipment, the company was offering this little number, called the Caresia Twist patient turner, which comes in at a robust £702.00. [The cheapest swivel cushion is a modest £16.79!] "At this rate," I thought, "there might even be a device with a hoist as well, so I'll carry on down the page".

Alas, no, there was nothing with a hoist on offer, though there was equipment of increasing complexity, such as this Rota Move De Luxe, which allows for four separate handling transfers: 'sit to stand, pivot, seated and side transfer', and which would knock you back £1804.00.
The priciest item of all came in at £2329.00.

But it made me think about what may lie ahead, and I am determined to keep as flexible and agile as I can, even if it doesn't include climbing into my son's van without a hoist.