Peace Doves Yoga

In a change to the usual Monday evening programming, my friend Jane booked us onto a yoga class. Nothing too unusual about that you may think, but this was a yoga session on the floor of Liverpool Cathedral, underneath 15,000 suspended paper peace doves.

The incredible art installation, has been on display since May 2021, and has run all summer. Ending on the 30th of August, this was the last week the yoga classes were running, so we were lucky to bag our spot on a mat.

I got down early to the cathedral, after the tourists had left but before the yogi’s arrived, meaning I had time to meander and explore the exterior of the cathedral in a way I hadn’t really done before.

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According to Wikipedia, Liverpool Cathedral is the 8th largest church in the world, and the largest religious building in Britain, which surprised me, but its position standing on top of St James Mount, does give it an advantage and adds to its impressiveness.

Work started on the building in 1904, with the Lady Chapel being the first part to be completed in 1910. Building work was delayed somewhat due to both the first and second world wars, with it finally being finished 74 years later in 1978, with Queen Elizabeth attending the opening ceremony.

Once I’d done a 360 on the cathedral, I headed down below, for a walk through St James Gardens, a tranquil, sunken cemetery, garden and spring. Hidden below Upper Duke Street, it can easily be missed, but it’s well worth a wander if you’re in the area.

Then it was back up to the cathedral, with yoga mat in hand to meet my friend and head inside. The yoga session was run by a lovely chilled teacher called Roisin, who is based at Yoga Therapy Liverpool. After a slightly shaky start due to issues with the sound, the class started and for the next hour, we breathed slowly, stretched deeply and completely unwound from the working day.  I haven’t attended an actual in person class for a number of years, not just because of Covid restrictions, but I haven’t found a class that suits since leaving Liverpool, prior to that I attended a hot yoga school weekly. Instead I try and do at least a couple of Yoga with Adriene classes a month, so I was a little worried what level the yoga would be pitched at, I needn’t have been concerned though, it was a good all round, all levels class, no head stands or fast paced astanga poses at all.

After the class, we were free to wander around the interior and get our selfie’s with the peace doves, so of course we obliged.

By the time we stepped back outside, feeling throughly chilled, the sun was just setting across the city, and I pretty much floated back home.

Skipton – castles, cafes & canals

The other week, as the year slid towards the middle of August, with no Sunday plans, and a dismal weather forecast, I still couldn’t face staying indoors and needed some adventure to temper my wanderlust.

A West Yorkshire town called Skipton had been a place I’d wanted to visit for a few years, always half arranged with someone or for some unspecified time and never quite making it happen. At around a 1hr 10 minute drive away, it was pretty much one decent podcast and maybe a couple of my favourite Parquet Courts songs, and before I knew it, I was pulling up to the long stay carpark round the back of the medieval castle, known as Bailey Carpark.

I arrived just as the clock was striking 10am, which conveniently enough is the time Skipton Castle opens it’s doors. There was a quite fumble of mobile phones, as the castle still requires an online booking prior to entry, and so myself and a group of women ahead of me, had to quickly log onto the castles website and book ourself in. It only took a few minutes and then with our barcodes ready, we were good to go. It’s paid entry only and there isn’t really a garden or grounds you can explore for free, so if you want to pass through the big stone gateway and imposing watch towers, you need to pay just under £10 to get in. The stone sign at the top reads ‘Desormais’ meaning Henceforth! A reminder of its French Norman history.

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Once I was in, with my free map, I avoided the main entrance of the castle where the other early arrivals seemed headed, and veered left to peer inside the 700 year old St Johns Chapel. This stone building with large arched windows was pretty atmospheric as the morning sun streamed through, casting shadows on the cold floor, I was glad I had it all to myself.

I then headed back towards the castle, via the toilets (I have a weak bladder, what can I say) and climbed the Lady Anne’s steps to enter. It took maybe around 45 minutes to fully explore each room of the castle that is spread over 2 floors, with the exception of the east wing that’s still a private residence.

The castle is said to be one of the best preserved and most complete mediaeval castles in England, and at over 900 years old, there’s lots to explore. All the rooms are clearly labelled, and with the free illustrated map you get on arrival, you could probably spend longer if you really wanted to absorb yourself in its history.

There is a dungeon, the pretty cobbled Conduit Courtyard and lots of small stone staircases leading into interesting rooms. Highlights included the Lord’s bedchamber, the north fighting chamber, the beer and wine cellar, the curing room with large kitchen & the mediaeval long drop toilets, which gave me flashback to many a festival nightmare.

The withdrawing room, where Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner for a while, was another highlight, this particular room has a large north facing window, out of which Mary could look towards her homeland of Scotland. And look out for the purpose built crossbow slit window located in one of the fighting chambers, I can only imagine the gory chaos that it must have caused.

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So for even someone like myself, who’s not that well versed in this particular period in history, its still super interesting and due to its well preserved state, you really get a sense of what it must have been like when it was a busy, noisy fully functioning castle.

It was just after 11am once I was ready to leave and head down the main high street, after a quick look in the gift shop of course. There are loads of little independant shops selling local crafts, chocolate and walking gear. A few places that stood out were Ellie Warburton Cakes, Steep and Filter (a coffee shop with a zero waste refill centre), and Lighthouse Lane on the main street, full of quirky, local, Yorkshire themed gifts, of which the main photo of this post was taken from.

But for coffee and cake, I had my eye on Kibble Bakery, a dog friendly bakery and coffee house, with both indoor and outdoor seating, selling both human and dog friendly bakes, as well as dog accessories and tote bags (yes, I bought one). Of course I travelled alone, so had to make do with talking to the many dogs who turned up with their families, whilst I ordered their delicious plant based chocolate cookie with an oat milk cappuccino complete with adorable chocolate pawprint on the top.

My final stop was a walk along the Springs Canal, which you can easily access if you head left past the Holy Trinity Church. There is definately a lot more to explore here, and you could probably carve out a day just for walks in the area, but my main visit this time was for the castle and town centre, and as the rain started to come down just as I was leaving the coffee shop, I didnt venture too long up the towpath.

Luckily I wasnt too drenched by the time I got back to my car, and so I headed back west, into Lancashire. With the weather improving, there were some gorgeous views of the countryside, so I popped on another podcast and gradually made my way home.

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The Microstate of Liechtenstein

When I took a month off to travel, pre-pandemic (ah those were the days) I made it my mission to visit Liechtenstein as it was my final European microstate that I had to visit.

It was a destination that had flummoxed me a few times, as I had been to or near to towns in Austria or Germany that appeared to be on a train line close by, but in actuality it wasn’t as simple as I had initially thought, and I never quite made it.

But, in 2019 I gave myself 2 weeks to travel across Europe, visiting a few new places, ending up at a music festival in Spain, so I had the luxury of time to plan a trip specifically to visit Europe’s 4th smallest country & I am so glad I made the effort.

I took probably the easiest route in, which involved a train from Zurich with gorgeous views of the lakes and mountains, (definitely get a window seat if you can). Taking just over an hour, you get off at the Swiss border town of Sargans, minutes from the border. There is only 1 train line in Liechtenstein, but it doesn’t pass through the capital, it crosses further north, starting in Buchs, Switzerland over to Feldkirch in Austria.

The 12 E bus was perfect for me, you get it outside Sargans station, and takes about 15 minutes to get to Vaduz the capital, costing about £2 if memory serves.

Once I arrived in the capital, it was a short 10 minute walk from the bus stop to the one and only Youth Hostel in the country, taking in the stunning mountain views all around.

 

Once refreshed, I set back up the road to explore the capital, feeling a little tired from my journey I took it easy for the rest of the day, exploring the shops, cafes and trying the local beer. I would leave the popular castle for day 2 & made an obligatory stop at the tourist information centre to get a local map. It was nice not to have much of an itinerary, but wandering, taking photos, window shopping (its an expensive country!) & constantly gawking at the incredible surrounding scenery.

Being on a budget, and only a few days into my 2 week journey, dinner was bought at the local supermarket and cooked at the hostel. But this tiny country sitting between Austria and Switzerland is surrounded by breathtaking mountainous views, which I could luckily enjoy from my hostel window, so I most definitely could not complain.

That evening, I picked up a walking trail close to the hostel and headed South towards the Swiss border. I found myself at the famous Rhine River, which acts as a border between the two countries and I had a lovely walk as the sun started to set. I crossed over bridges between the two countries, with a line marking the spot of the border half way across the river. Of course I couldn’t resist getting a couple of photos of me standing in both countries at the same time.

I had pretty much a full second day in the capital, as I was catching the night train to Slovenia at around 9PM that evening. Once I had checked out of the hostel, I stored my rucksack in the lockers located in the centre of the town. I can’t quite remember exactly where the lockers were, but they were on the east side of the main road right in the heart of Vaduz.

My first stop was up to see Vaduz castle, I headed there first, as its location on a hilltop, is 120 metres above Vaduz, so thought it best to avoid hiking up in the midday sun. A fortress initially in the 12th century, it gradually expanded to become a proper residence, with the royal family moving there in the 1700’s. Although it did become abandoned many years later, the royal family renovated it and moved back in and still live there today, meaning that you can’t actually visit inside. Don’t let that put you off making the trip though, the hike up is lovely, with some incredible views all around.

If you have had your fill of window shopping and cafes the Kunst Museum is an airy, interesting, artistic space. Built across two levels, the museum houses both modern & contemporary art from worldwide artists, a cafe and of course the all important gift shop. If an entire art gallery is too much to handle, you can still get your fill of cool, unusual sculptures dotted around the city centre, like the Colombian Reclining Women.

Next up was the Neo Gothic Vaduz Cathedral or Cathedral of St Florin. Quite a simple, peaceful place, I had it almost to myself, I must have timed it just right. It had some lovely stained glass inside, and made for a cool, quiet rest stop.

Due to the mild climate and south west facing slopes, vineyards are a common sight along with the ever present mountains, so it’s no surprise that there are many companies offering wine tasting trips. That wasn’t something I had the time, money or inclination to do, but I still had a wander out of the main centre and into the countryside to explore the rows of grapes vines, and I even came across some grazing goats.

It was another supermarket late lunch, as not only are the cafes and restaurants expensive, the plant based options were limited, but I didn’t quite mind as I found a bench in the shade, and took my last views of the surrounding landscape.

Although my night train onward wasn’t till late, I fancied a look around the Swiss border town of Sargans, which is where I boarded the bus to Vaduz and would be boarding the train to Slovenia. So, feeling refreshed, I grabbed my rucksack and only had a few minutes to wait to get the bus back over the border to continue my adventure.

Would I return, actually yes I would, it’s a bit of a faff to get too, and the only way in is via expensive Austria or Switzerland, so it’s never going to be a cheap trip. But if I got the opportunity, I think I would fancy Schaan, the largest city in the country and this time I would bring my walking boots and head up some of the many walking trails. You can never get enough of those incredible mountain views and fresh alpine air.

Brutal Preston

Another August weekend of wet and windy weather and cancelled plans, so I returned to my Brutal North book, and decided to head to my home town one wild Sunday morning.

There are 3 buildings featured in the book, one to the North of the city, in Fulwood and then the other two close to each other in the city centre, so I decided to visit all 3, add a few other buildings along the way and treat myself to a solo lunch, not bad for a potentially washed out weekend.

I started out at the ‘Fulwood Bubble’, built in 1973 it’s a plastic flat roofed building with 35 white panels creating the walls of the classroom, built onto a concrete base. Unusual for sure and easily visible from the main road, so it absolutely sticks out as some otherworldly classroom. I think I would have enjoyed taking some classes inside here, maybe it would have inspired me to work harder at maths . . . maybe not.

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My second stop was to return to a place I spent many an early morning and late afternoon as a teenager, and is probably one of my favourite buildings in the world – Preston Bus Station. Build in 1968, it is often named in Brutalist Best of Lists for the UK, but I remember many people hated the long, grey concrete building and it was going to be torn down.  I always had affection though for its long curved edges, black Pirelli rubber floor & the cool retro signs inside. Luckily it was given Grade II listed building status in 2013 and so it continues to stand.

It had been a long whilst since I visited the place, even though I still drive past it every once in a while. So it was nice to fully immerse myself by driving up the spiral ramp and parking up inside, wandering through the car park, then heading down the tiled stairway and along the platforms before heading outside.  I would never have appreciated it as a school child, it was just the place where I got the bus to school & I didn’t even enjoy school, but I have always loved the bus station.

Just round the corner is Preston Guild Hall, and it is actually connected to the bus station by a ramp. Unfortunately the ramp and entrance to the hall were closed, whilst the place finds new management, so I walked around the outside and up the stairs to the front. I saw a few comedy gigs here in my early twenties and I am pretty sure my grandad went to some snooker matches here too, and even earlier than that, it had visits from The Jackson 5 and David Bowie, so it’s a shame to see its closed up like this. But it meant I had the place to myself to explore and take in the unusual angular structure and its long concrete cantilevers. Fingers crossed I hope they are able to find some future investment and bring it back to life soon, as its been here since the early 1970’s, and with a bit of care and attention it could return to its former glory.

Opposite the Guild Hall you get a completely different, but no less impressive set of buildings, Preston County Court & Sessions building and the Harris Museum. The Harris museum, which I haven’t visited in years (makes mental note to return) is a Grade 1 Neo Classical building, built in 1882 and is now home to a museum, art gallery and library. Whilst its neighbour the County Court/Session structure is Grade II listed and dates from 1904, but lets hope I never need to visit that particular building inside at all!

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After I had successfully located all 3 Brutalist buildings in my book, it was time for wander down the high street, pick up a couple of presents for friends birthdays, and then I headed over to Preston Market. Its totally changed since I used to visit in the 80’s with my Grandma to buy fish paste and kippers for Grandad, I think it still needs some work, or maybe Sunday lunch isn’t the best time to visit. There were quite a few units that were closed, but I did find Brew + Bake who were happy to modify their avocado on sourdough to make it vegan, so thank you!

 

So with a full stomach and fully caffeinated, it was time to head back to the bus station for one last look, re-live those school day memories, collect my car and head home.