Mondrian – Walking a line with colour

 

Mondrian's Paris studio reconstruction c/o Tate Gallery

Mondrian’s Paris studio reconstruction

Fancy going inside Mondrian’s studios at the Tate Liverpool?

As one of my favourite modern artists, a trip around the great man’s work space promised to be an intriguing proposition.  And it didn’t disappoint.

This week is your last chance to visit Mondrian and his Studios at the Tate Liverpool. The highlight of the exhibition is a reconstruction of the artist’s studio at 26 Rue du Depart in Paris, as it was in 1911.

Once inside, it’s surprising how the experience sheds new light on Mondrian’s obsession with lines, geometry and colour.

Red, yellow and blue

The Dutch painter was one of the most important abstract artists of the 20th Century. He’s best known for his bold planes of red, yellow and blue.

Mondrian is one of those modern painters whose work is instantly recognisable.  So it’s intriguing to see his works in the setting of his studio, albeit a reconstruction.

One surprise is that Mondrian’s studio in Paris almost seems to become part of his art. For the first time,  I also appreciated the importance of architecture in Mondrian’s artistic vision.

Mondrian

Mondrian in his Paris studio

I hadn’t fully understood that Mondrian saw art and architecture as intertwined elements. For him, painting wasn’t something that simply hung on the wall of a house or office. It was a crucial part of the life of that building.

The great Dutchman told the British artist Winifred Nicholson that “the studio is also part of my painting”.

Wandering around the studio space, it’s easy to see why. Every plane is like an extension of the lines in his paintings. Even the furniture with its simple edges looks like it could be a 3-D version of Mondrian’s art.

Looking at an old photograph, it’s surprising how much Mondrian looks like an architect in his formal pin-striped suit and tie.  His serious round, black glasses also suggest a designer rather than a bohemian artist.

It’s amazing but there’s only a couple of round shapes in his studio, showing just how much Mondrian loved straight lines. A round clock and his curvaceous pipes are amongst the only curvy features.

Grid art

Mondrian

Composition in Line c/o Kroller Muller Museum

Mondrian loved grids – and they’re everywhere in the three studios where he worked throughout his career.

The Tate show features films and photographic images of Mondrian’s New York and London studios.

Once again, they are like one of his paintings, full of lines and bold colours.

But for me, it’s the paintings which shout out loudest and grab my attention in the later rooms in this show.

There’s a great selection of Mondrian’s abstract art from early forays into modernism to his iconic grid paintings.

An early work of crosses and slashed lines called Composition in Line (1916) is a work inspired by nature.

Another painting – The Tree – also reduces nature to a series of lines, almost like an architectural drawing of a building.

After this, things get a lot more geometrical and grid-iron in style.

In his later works, there’s barely a curved line to be seen – the linear is king!

Squares of colour

One of the great joys of Mondrian’s work is his colour, whether shown in fine symmetrical lines or in larger blocks.

I love the way he reduces his palette down to three basic primary colours.  Blue, red and yellow are the key colours in his paintings.

Mondrian

Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red – Mondrian

In 1921 Mondrian decided to pare his colours back to the ‘big three’.

Black also remained a constant line colour. White was the background or base layer.

This led to purely abstract works including his striking Composition with Large Red Plane, Yellow, Black, Gray and Blue, painted in the same year as he moved into the Paris studio.

This began a whole series of line paintings with small blocks of colour filling small squares.

One of my favourites is this composition (pictured opposite) with blocks of yellow, blue and red hedged in by black lines.

Sometimes I wonder if Mondrian’s fascination for lines has a strong connection to the flat, rectilinear landscapes of Holland’s farmland?

Later on, when Mondrian was living in the USA, his lines became synonymous with an aerial view of New York’s street grid-iron street patterns.

Sadly, one of Mondrian’s greatest works, Broadway Boogie-Woogie, isn’t on display in this show but you’ll find it at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

The power of geometry

So why a passion for three primary colours?

Mondrian

Composition B (No. II) by Mondrian

Mondrian’s love of strong, bright colours is perhaps a reaction to the pastel colours of previous art movements like Impressionism.

One of the fascinating things I discovered in the exhibition was that Mondrian used to place blocks of colour up and down his studio walls in London and New York.

His studios almost became large rehearsal spaces for his paintings with rectangles of colour spanning across every wall.

There’s something compelling about Mondrian’s bold vision.

He even had a great name for it – neoplasticism!

This flat-as-a-pancake abstract art was a radical departure for its time.

Its brothers-in-arms were Mondrian’s fellow De Stijl painters and Russian precursors like Malevich.

Mondrian’s new plastic painting has also been incredibly influential in modern design, something which isn’t covered in depth in the Tate show. A bit of a missing link, if I’m honest.

Fashion designer Yves St Laurent designed his Mondrian day dress in 1945 complete with stripes and small blocks of colour.

In recent years, The White Stripes referenced Mondrian’s style on the cover of their album, De Stijl. It’s an interesting link because Mondrian’s art was heavily influenced by music.

He loved the boogie woogie jazz music of his time which is reflected in the rhythms of his New York paintings.

In 2013 fashion house, Alexander McQueen, designed a summer collection inspired by Mondrian and other modernist painters.

Mondrian

Mondrian’s Composition VI (No. 2)

It’s proof that Mondrian’s influence still continues to hold sway today.

The Tate gallery is also running an exhibition by Nasreen Mohamedi alongside the Mondrian show.

Although the Indian artist has a connection with Mondrian in terms of his fascination with lines, I was slightly confused about how these two exhibitions worked together.

This was perhaps because the Mondrian show flows somewhat unexpectedly into the Mohamedi exhibition with little explanation.

A little deft curation may have helped here.

The Mondrian and his Studios show at the Tate is a must if you’re within striking distance of the North West of England.

The great modern painter Paul Klee once described painting as “taking a line for a walk”. In Mondrian’s case, the artist is taking a whole series of lines and primary colours on a stroll. A journey of geometric discovery.

When it comes to colour and geometry, there’s no denying that Mondrian is the master. Geometry has never been such fun.

Tammy’s guide to Mondrian

The Mondrian and his Studios exhibition continues at the Tate Liverpool until Sunday, 5 October 2014.  There’s an admission price to this temporary exhibition.

Tate Liverpool is located within the Albert Dock complex on the Liverpool waterfront. Car parking is located nearby.  The gallery is open daily 10:00-17:50. Twitter – @tateliverpool

Tammy meets Mondrian at MOMA, New York

Tammy meets Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie at MOMA, New York

Other good places to see art works by Piet Mondrian include:

  • The Museum of Modern Art, New York
  • The Kroller Muller Museum, Arnhem, Holland
  • The Gemeente Museum , The Hague, Holland
  • The Guggenheim, New York
  • The Tate, London

Credits – Images from the Mondrian exhibition are courtesy and copyright of the Tate, Mondrian/Holtzman Trust, Museum Folkwang Essen, Netherlands Institute for Art History and the Kroller Muller Museum.

© Tate Photography, 2014.

© 2014 Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International USA

Stockholm’s Archipelago and 1,000 Islands

Stockholm

On the seas – Stockholm

Guest blog by Tony van Diesel

Tammy and I had such a good time in Stockholm last summer that when I got the opportunity to re-visit the city for a couple of days work, I jumped at the chance. 

So what do you do when you’ve got only a few hours, and both I and my colleague Richard had been there before? 

Of the attractions both of us had missed on previous trips, the Abba Museum was quickly ruled out due to it looking a bit crap  (I’m sure it’s lovely if you like that sort of thing!).

On the water

Stockholm

Sailing in Stockholm

We decided to get onto the water and booked onto a short boat trip around Stockholm’s Archipelago.

Stockholm is built on hundreds of islands, large and small, and this was a great way to get a different view of the area.

We were on board the 1906-built Ostana, and went on a three-hour tour from the central quayside of Strandvagen.

Stockholm

Tony on board the Ostana

Island living

It turned out to be a wonderful insight into the lives of Stockholmers – there is about one boat per 10 of the population.

We passed waterside houses both opulent and modest, each with their own jetty.

It seems to be the place to live, with access to the safe waters of the Baltic at the bottom of your garden.

Stockholm

House with a view Stockholm style

Yachts, canoes and speedboats were scattered everywhere.

One of the smaller islands with just one house on it had been sold the previous year for almost a million euros.

If only I’d been told, I’d have been bidding. Not sure what with though… although it would be tempting if I win the Lottery! 

Stockholm

Your own private island for a million

Getting out on a boat excursion around Stockholm’s Archipelago makes you realise that it doesn’t take long before you can escape the city’s crowds to discover peace and tranquility.

It’s a must for lovers of the wild side of life – and for anyone who fancies buying a small island and a boat!

Stockholm – Tony’s travel tips

Stockholm

Stockholm’s wilder side

The Stockholm mini-archipelago tour can be booked online – which is probably a good idea in high season.

We just turned up and jumped on. There’s a restaurant on board – booking essential for that, although you can get drinks and a sandwich if you can’t get a seat.

Wrap up warm – it’s always colder on the water than you expect, even in summer and autumn.

Stockholm

Wrap up warm on the water

There are a range of tours, starting with the harbour hop-on-hop-off service which is a great way of seeing the central area of Stockholm.

Longer tours can take up to a whole day and take you into the outer areas of the archipelago where things are even quieter. Look out for the 11 hour Thousand Islands Cruise where some of the most beautiful islands await you.

Stockholm

Calm seas and sunshine in summer and autumn

Boat trips run from Nybroplan to the Archipelago islands and Fjaderholmarna (the inner city archipelago).

There are also boat excursions to Sandhamn, Vaxholm’s island fortress and nearby Royal Haga, if you’re looking for other destinations.

Stockholm

Stockholm’s harbour

Historic steamer boat trips go from Stadshusbron (City Hall) to Drottningholm Palace in the summer and autumn.

The trip takes you across Lake Malaren to this royal palace, one of the popular and busiest tourist attractions in Stockholm.  

Drottingholm Palace Stockholm

Arrive at Drottingholm Palace by steamer

Stockholm can be reached from the UK by plane from Edinburgh or London Heathrow airports via SAS. The flight takes approximately one hour.

Read more about Stockholm’s attractions and great places to visit on Tammy Tour Guide’s earlier blog post about the city.

Stockholm

Island living in Stockholm

Eating out 

Eating out in Stockholm can turn out to be a scarily expensive operation.

We ate out twice, once at Eriks Bakficka, Fredrikshovsgatan 4 which specialises in traditional Swedish fare – I had a really good fish and seafood casserole.

Main courses were between 180 and 300 SKE. Good atmosphere, and the feel of an establishment that is comfortable in its own skin.

Stockholm's Gamla Stam or Old Town

Stockholm’s Gamla Stam or Old Town

The second night was a total contrast.

Having failed to get a table at our Trip Advisor-inspired first choice, we went for a Mongolian buffet.

Mongolia Djingis Khan Barbecue on Sveavägen 36, at 190 SKE for all-you-can-eat turned out to be a kind of weird choice for Stockholm, but it must be hard to find anywhere else as cheap.

Perfectly decent food, either from a buffet or cooked to order – you pile your plate high with raw ingredients and they stir-fry them for you.

I’m not sure how authentically Mongolian it is, but then it’s not authentically Swedish either.

Who cares at that price?

Getting around 

Getting around Stockholm by boat is easy and cheap. Buy a hop on, hop off boat ticket with stops close to the city’s main attractions.

Also look out for the ‘jump on, jump off’ buses if you’re going sightseeing.

Stockholm

Hop on, hop off boat in Stockholm

 

Eltham Palace – Dream house with Art Deco style

Eltham Palace entrance hall

Eltham Palace entrance hall

Eltham Palace is my ideal dream house. I’ve always wanted to live in an Art Deco mansion with stylish and glamorous 1930s interiors.

Walking through the house and gardens, it’s easy to conjure up images of the Courtauld family and their posh friends drinking martinis, playing tennis and partying.

The 1930s was a golden age of flamboyance and luxury, if you were rich – and the Courtaulds were wealthy beyond most people’s wildest dreams. They’d made their money from rayon and textiles.

They were so filthy rich that they spent most of their leisure time cruising in their yacht and touring abroad.

Egypt, South Africa, Ceylon and the South China Sea were some of the exotic stop-offs on their tours. What a pity that they didn’t write a travel blog on their vacations!

Their house at Eltham is so beautiful that it’s criminal that they spent so much time away from it.

Eltham Palace

The gardens at Eltham Palace

Fit for a king

Eltham was originally a moated manor house built by the Bishop of Durham, Antony Bek. In 1305 the Bishop presented the manor to the future king, Edward 11, who developed it as a royal palace.

Eltham Palace's Great Hall

The Great Hall – the only surviving building from the early palace

By the early 14th Century, Eltham had become one of the most important royal palaces in England.

The medievel Great Hall was built in 1470 by King Edward IV with a spectacular wood beamed roof.

Back in 1482 the hall was the venue for 2,000 court guests eating Christmas dinner.  What a feast it must have been!

Under King Edward III the palace became popular for jousting and tournaments which took place in the tilt yard.

Close your eyes today and you can almost hear the thundering hooves of the horses and cries of the crowd during the jousts.

Later, King Richard II created the garden so that he and his queen could enjoy dinner outside in the summer.

He also had a dancing chamber and bath house built. Even in medieval times Eltham was renowned for having all ‘mod cons’.

Eltham is most famous for being one of King Henry VIII’s favourite royal palaces and parks. It was one of only six palaces big enough to accommodate and feed the king’s enormous court of 800 people.

During the 1530s, it was eclipsed by Hampton Court which was easier to reach from London. The Tudor monarchs became less frequent visitors and Eltham started to fall into disrepair.

Eventually Eltham reverted to being used as a farmstead and its picturesque ruins became popular with Romantic painters like J.M.W.  Turner.

Palatial style

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace’s palatial style hits home when you arrive at the gates and walk across the stone bridge into the courtyard.

The imposing moat creates a strong sense of regal power and strength.

The gardens provide a glimpse of what life must have been like in the 15th-16th centuries with remains of the inner gatehouse, grotesque heads and the stone towers of the early moated manor house.

The lawn was partly excavated in the 1950s and 1970s to reveal a great hall floor and a vaulted cellar.

This is great place for both kids and history detectives keen on exploring the palace’s nooks and crannies.

The ruins and gardens provide a compelling journey back through time but the big star attraction is the later 1930s Art Deco house.

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace gardens

Art Deco style

In the 1930s the Courtauld family acquired Eltham and set about transforming it from a wreck into an Art Deco masterpiece.

The new house was designed for the Courtaulds by the architects Seely and Paget and some of the top contemporary designers of the day provided the creative inspiration behind its exquisite interiors.

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace entrance

This is a theatrical experience as much as a trip around a posh home, starting at the house’s entrance with its grand curved entrance colonnade, copper-clad pavilions and imposing courtyard.

Everything is in the best possible taste. Even the arches of the colonnade were inspired by Christopher Wren’s designs for Hampton Court and Trinity College Library.

Eltham Palace

Colonnade decoration

This is a house designed with sophistication and status in mind. The Courtaulds wanted a home where they could entertain their friends from the worlds of film and the arts.

Their famous visitors would include Queen Mary, Michael Balcon (Head of Ealing Studios), the conductor Malcolm Sargent and film stars.

Not everybody liked the house’s style. One architect at the time compared its design to a “cigarette factory” whilst another proclaimed “romance died at Eltham” with the building of the mansion. 

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace’s moat and walls

In spite of the critics, Eltham is one of the best examples of an Art Deco house anywhere in Europe. If you love Art Deco as much as I do, it’s like being a child in a sweet shop.

In the 1930s visitors must have been surprised by Eltham’s interior which was striking and radically different from other houses of the time.

Walking into the entrance hall there’s a big  ‘wow’ factor.  Designed by Swedish architect Rolf Engstromer, this is where Art Deco style goes into overdrive.

The design is awesome with large illustrated wood marquetry panels by the Swedish artist, Jerk Werkmaster.

The bold illustrations represent the far reaches of northern and southern European civilisation. A Roman soldier and a Viking warrior guard the doors against a background of Italian and Scandinavian landscapes.

Eltham Palace

The Art Deco circular lounge

The elegant wood furniture and contemporary designs make it feel like a stage set from a Noel Coward play where everyone is drinking cocktails.

The difference is that this theatrical space is for real.  Socialising in this beautiful room must have been a fabulous experience.

Elegance and luxury

As you move through the house, it’s obvious that this is no ordinary house, even by the standards of its millionaire owners.

Eltham’s dining room is a fine example of the Moderne Art Deco style with geometrical and stylized shapes and furnishings.

But there are also elements of the classical style which reminded me of the layout and colour schemes in ancient Roman villas.

Eltham Palace

The dining room at Eltham

The striking doors are real statement pieces with their black lacquer and embossed ivory coloured decorations of birds and animals, each drawn painstakingly from real creatures at London Zoo.

Every design detail has a feeling of stylish glamour from the furniture to the wall decorations and the ceiling’s unusual light box.

Eltham Palace

Dining room door with monkey

The clever concealed lighting provides an interesting effect which makes the metallic finishes shimmer and shine.

The room also boasts an early example of a home entertainment system. A loudspeaker on the wall was wired to the record cabinet in the corridor of the great hall.

Daily lives

Every house needs a heart and the centre of Eltham’s daily life was the sycamore-panelled boudoir or study where Virginia Courtauld spent much of her time.

You can imagine Mrs Courtauld drinking tea or enjoying a gin and tonic on the massive sofa, an early example of built-in furniture.

Eltham Palace
Ginie Courtauld’s Boudoir

The stylish contemporary boudoir was presided over by Ginie Courtauld’s parrot, Congo, one of the family’s menagerie of animals.

It’s in complete contrast to the house’s main drawing-room which is more tradionally decorated with eclectic styles ranging from medieval to folk art.

Sweet dreams

Staying overnight at Eltham must have been a glamorous experience with its opulent guest bedrooms.

Eltham Palace

Virginia Courtauld’s bedroom at Eltham

But the most impressive bedrooms were reserved for the family. Virginia Courtauld’s bedroom is stunning with its circular shape, classical designs and gorgeous decorations.

Designed by Malacrida, this is one of the most opulent parts of the house – a room fit for a goddess. You would never had got me out of here once installed for the night!

Just off the main bedroom, there is a gorgeous en-suite bathroom which oozes elegance and luxury.

Eltham Palace

Gilded age – the en suite bathroom

A classical statue of the goddess Psyche presides over the bathroom which has walls lined with onyx and embellished with black slate disks.

The stunning gold mosaic niche, matching bath taps and lion’s ‘spout’ are the epitome of luxury.

Stephen Courtauld’s bedroom suite is a more restrained affair  but is still highly original in its design.

The walls are lined with aspen  and the side wall features an unusual hand-printed wallpaper depicting Kew Gardens. I’m not sure that I could have lived with its bold designs, though.

There’s a walk-in wardrobe and a fireplace with conical shelves to complete the Art Deco look.

Eltham Palace

Stephen Courtauld’s bedroom – Eltham Palace

Off to one side of the bedroom, there’s a striking peacock-blue and turquoise tiled en suite bathroom which is a lot more glamorous than my humble wash room at home.

Even the bathroom sink has a liberal dash of Art Deo style with its geometric shaped mirror and glass shelf. No detail has been overlooked.

Eltham Palace

The bathroom

All mod cons

As you walk around Eltham, it’s fascinating to see how the latest technology was used to make life as comfortable as possible in the 1930s.

The mahogany library has a recess where maps can be pulled up and down on a roller, no doubt to help the Courtaulds plan their many foreign trips.

Elsewhere, there’s a leather-panelled map room with a synchronous electric clock built into the map. It’s the 1930s equivalent of a digital clock today.

Eltham Palace

The Library at Eltham Palace

The Courtaulds loved hi-tech gadgets and the innovations were astonishing for their time.

The house is full of cutting edge technology from kitchen appliances and under floor heating to the loudspeaker system which could broadcast records around the house.

There was a centralised vacuuming system controlled from the basement, a precursor to the robotic cleaners of today.

It was accessed by special attachments in the skirting boards of each room. I could do with this cleaning system in my house today!

A house for living in

Practical designs are also seen everywhere in the house, from built-in furniture to concealed lighting.

A flower room was designed for sorting and arranging cut flowers, located close to the entrance hall. It illustrates the importance of flowers at Eltham.

The house boasted over 90 glass, porcelain and pottery vases. It’s proof that you can never have too many vases, especially if you’re rich and play host to society parties!

Eltham Palace

The flower room at Eltham

The flower room also had another unusual feature – a bamboo ladder which led up to a trap door which enabled the family’s pet lemur, Mah-Jongg, to come down from his quarters during the day.

Even the Courtauld’s pets lived a glamorous and pampered lifestyle. Mah-Jongg had his own lavish quarters on the first floor with central heating and walls decorated with Madagascan forest scenes.

This exotic pet accompanied the Courtaulds for 15 years on their travels and trips to their various homes. I’m not sure if he had a pet passport or not!

Eltham Palace

Mah Jongg’s luxury cage

Another modern feature at Eltham was its cutting-edge communications technology. The family commissioned Siemens to install a sophisticated private internal telephone exchange throughout the house.

For those who wanted to make outside phone calls, there was also a 1930s coin-operated telephone booth for house guests.

Located in a small recess off the entrance hall, it’s fun to imagine the Courtauld’s troupe of visiting friends ringing their mates.

Eltham Palace old phone

Coin operated phone box at Eltham

Garden delights

The Courtaulds were keen horticulturalists so it’s worth spending time looking at their impressive gardens, if you’re interested in plants and landscape design.

A quick tour of the grounds takes you through the sunken rose garden, the herb garden and the rock garden which drops down to the lake. 

The loggia, pergola and triangular garden are pretty places to stop and admire the wisteria in summer. In spring it’s worth taking a walk through the bulb meadow and woodland garden

A huge weeping willow is a distinctive feature of the main gardens which was added by the Courtaulds next to Richard II’s 14th Century moat bridge.  It’s also a popular spot for a picnic.

A place of surprises

Eltham Palace is simply one of those places which is constantly full of surprises.

Eltham Palace

Garden statue

Walking through its rooms today is a slightly surreal experience.

It’s almost as if the family had popped out for croquet or a game of tennis in the garden.

It also comes as a surprise to discover that the Courtauld family lived here only for eight years until they moved to Scotland in 1944.

Later, they lived abroad in Rhodesia and then Jersey until their deaths in the 1970s.

Just like Eltham Palace during Henry VIII’s reign, its owners grew tired of this wonderful place, moving on and abandoning this jewel of a house.

Today’s visitors to Eltham can indulge themselves in the millionaire lifestyle for a few hours as they stroll around the spectacular Art Deco house.

Eltham Palace is one of those houses which is haunting and unforgettable. Don’t miss it.

Tammy’s travel guide – Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace

Picnicking next to the moat

Eltham Palace is located in Eltham near Greenwich in South East London.

It’s a 25 minute train ride from London’s Charing Cross station with regular services every 20-30 minutes. From Eltham station it’s a short 10 minute walk to the gates of the house.

Check the ever-changing opening times. Eltham is open daily Sundays-Thursdays but closed on Fridays and Saturdays during the main season.

The house is closed between 1 November-2014 and 15 February 2015 for the winter season.

There’s an admission charge but entry is free for English Heritage members.

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace

Portland, Maine – Culture, coffee and city life

Portland

Portland city centre

Portland is one of my favourite small American cities with its vibrant cultural scene, coffee shops and street style.

Its relatively small size and lack of pretensions make this an authentic and relaxing city to hang out in.

It has that great combination of arty attractions, a fabulous waterfront and a bohemian feel, topped with lashings of history and street culture.

Set in the lovely Casco Bay, Portland is a city for hipsters and art lovers. It also boasts seven lighthouses, reflecting the city’s maritime history and importance as a port.

Like many older industrial cities, Portland has reinvented itself in recent decades with a revitalised waterfront, brimming with restaurants, bars, cafes and shops.

Its red brick, 19th Century buildings have been preserved and brought into the modern world with an injection of contemporary style. Many have been converted to gallery spaces, coffee shops, boutiques and hotels.

We stayed at the historic Portland Harbor Hotel not far from the waterfront, a great spot for exploring the city.

Once you’ve strolled along the waterfront and have enjoyed a beer in a charming bar, head into the back streets where you’ll discover some excellent specialist shops and coffee bars.

The city has reinvented itself down the centuries, evolving from its original settlements of New Casco and Falmouth Neck into Portland in the late 18th Century.

Today it’s a booming tourist destination with a rich history and impressive waterfront, a short drive from Boston.

Portland’s cultural scene

Portland boasts a lively cultural scene with the Portland Museum of Art at the heart of its Arts District.

The gallery is one of my favourite cultural haunts in Maine seaboard with cutting edge contemporary works sitting alongside classic painters and American masters like Winslow Homer.

It’s the city’s prime haunt for culture vultures, housed in a building which reflects the city’s ability to look back and forward  simultaneously. The museum is actually four buildings which have been conjoined together.

Portland Museum

Portland Art Museum by Pei

The gallery’s modern extension – the Charles Shipmen Payson Building – was designed by I.M. Pei, best known for his controversial Louvre glass pyramid in Paris.

He has designed a building that merges the old and new. It fits completely with the heritage district which surrounds it. The design acknowledges Portland’s red brick heritage whilst adding a modern, geometric twist.

From the outside it’s an unshowy affair but its architectural punch goes into overdrive once you’re inside. The galleries are light and airy spaces which show off  the contemporary art collection and its changing exhibitions to their very best.

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

Inside the foyer – Portland Museum of Art

Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the old building meets the new which is no bad thing.

It’s an impressive building to walk around with a relaxing cafe in its basement, if you feel the need to chill out surrounded by the museum’s colourful glass collection.

If traditional architecture is more your style, it’s worth seeking out the McLellan House at the far end of the museum. Built in 1801, this Federal-style mansion has been restored to its former glory.

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

The McLellan House at Portland Art Museum

Maine art 

Portland Museum of Art’s biggest selling point is its American art collection which stretches from takes in the colonial period and 19th Century painters who transformed European styles for an American audience.

There are the famous ‘Gilded Age’ portraits by John Singer Sargent and William McGregor Paxton; trompe l’oeil illusionism by William Michael Harnett and Neoclassical sculpture by Benjamin Akers and Franklin Simmons.

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

The sculpture court – Portland Museum of Art

If you love American landscape painting you’re in for a treat with works by luminaries such as Winslow Homer, Charles Codman, Harrison Bird Brown and Frederic Edwin Church.

Winslow Homer is the star turn with several of his paintings, watercolours and sketches. His paintings mix realism and impressionism, giving both styles a distinctly American edge.

I love his expressive seascapes which ooze with drama – one of my favourites is Weatherbeaten which shows a raging sea hitting a rocky shoreline.  It’s an evocative work which captures the essence of the Maine coast.

I was surprised to learn that Winslow Homer had a moment of self-discovery after a visit to the “small fishing village of Cullercoats” in North East England as a young man. It was here he discovered his passion for depicting real life  – and the sea.

Who would have thought that this great American painter had been inspired by a place near where I live?!

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

Winslow Homer’s Weatherbeaten – 1894

There’s also a chance to see how Winslow Homer worked in his studio including his paints, oils and sketch books.

If you’re lucky, you can book a special trip to Homer’s Studio in Prouts Neck where he lived and painted many of his masterpieces from 1883 until his death. 

Sadly, these trips only run on Mondays and Fridays in the summer – and even odder times off-season so we weren’t able to make this pilgrimage  – a real disappointment.

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

Bellow’s Matinicus – lobstermen in Maine

One of the things I love about the Portland Art Museum is its collection of art works inspired by Maine. In the 19th and early 20th Century, Maine was a magnet for artists who sought inspiration from the area’s natural beauty.

The museum’s collection also reflects the flowering of artists’ colonies in places such as Ogunquit and Monhegan Island.

Homer also inspired a new generation of realist painters from Robert Henri and George Bellows to Edward Hopper and N.C. Wyeth.

My favourite work in this collection is Bellow’s Matinicus (1916), a fabulous image of a coastal town in Maine.

Best known for his gritty urban realism and  ‘trash can alley’ works in New York, this is a very different study of life in a small coastal town in New England featuring lobstermen at work.

Impressionism and European art

Renoir at Portland Art Museum

Confidences by Renoir – Portland Museum of Art

There’s plenty of unexpected treats too. I didn’t realise that the museum had an impressive Impressionist art collection

Renoir, Sisley and Monet feature prominently with high quality works that were completely new to me. The works look as fresh today as they did when they were painted in the mid 1800s.

Sisley at Portland Art Museum

Sisley landscape – Portland Museum of Art

There are also stunning works by Mary Cassatt, Edgar Degas, Paul Gauguin and Auguste Rodin.

I was puzzled why the gallery has such a great collection of these Impressionist painters whose work fetches millions at auctions.

Turns out that it’s all down to good old-fashioned American philanthropism. In 1991, Joan Whitney, a wealthy heiress and New York socialite, gave 20 Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works to the Museum on permanent loan. 

One of my favourites is Monet’s landscape painting of the river Seine at Vetheuil, a beautiful scene painted in the open air by the French master.

Monet at Portland Art Museum

The Seine at Vetheuil by Monet – Portland Museum of Art

I was surprised by the range of Modernist styles featured in the collection from Fauvism and Cubism to Expressionism, and Surrealism. A really great walk through all the main periods of European art.

There are important works by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Fernand Léger, Max Ernst and René Magritte, to name just some of the international artists.

It’s a veritable ‘who’s who’ of the main movers and shakers in 20th Century modern art.

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

Impressive modern art at the Portland Museum of Art

Coming up to date, there’s also a strong collection of contemporary art works including evocative depictions of the Maine landscape and seascape.

This is a collection that shouldn’t be missed if you’re visiting New England and Maine. It’s well worth the detour if you’re an art lover.

On the beach - Portland Museum

On the beach – Portland Museum

Special exhibitions

Richard Estes

Classic American Diner by Richard Estes

Portland Museum of Art has a great programme of special exhibitions. When I visited, the museum was hosting a retrospective of works by the wonderful American hyper-realist artist, Richard Estes.

It’s the most comprehensive exhibition of Estes’ paintings ever organised with over 40 Estes paintings, from his trademark New York City facades and scenes of the late 1960s to his widescreen, panoramic views of Manhattan.

As well as his urban images, Estes has a strong connection to Maine, having spent part of each year in the state since the late 1970s. There are stunning paintings of the coastline and atmospheric canvases featuring Mount Desert Island.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that these are oil paintings rather than photographs. It’s what you’d call ‘photo realism’ on a huge scale.  

This brilliant show has a big ‘wow’ factor with knock-out images which stay in the memory for a long time after you’ve seen them.

Here’s a selection of the works by Richard Estes – click through the photo gallery below.

After your trip to the Museum why not walk down towards the Exchange Street area with its boutiques, bars and coffee shops. Relax with a coffee and cake or chill out with an ice cream in one of the many gelato bars.

Portland is a small city with big style. Why not take time to enjoy one of the best small cities on America’s east coast.

Tammy’s Travel Guide to Portland

Portland

Portland street scene

Portland is located on the eastern seaboard in southern Maine – it’s about 1.5 hours drive from Boston. Don’t confuse the city with Portland, Oregon if you’re doing Google searches for tourist information!

Portland Museum of Art is located in the city’s Art District at Seven Congress Square. The gallery is open daily. There’s an admission charge to the main gallery and the temporary exhibitions.

The Richard Estes’ Realism exhibition continues until 7 September 2014. It’s your last chance to see the show this weekend.

Visits to the Winslow Homer Studio, 12 miles south of Portland at Prouts Neck, can be booked in advance but check for the erratic opening times. Numbers are limited for the trips which takes place on a mini bus.

Whilst in Portland, why not visit its historic monuments and landmarks including the Observatory (1807), the Tate House (1755.) and the Victorian Mansion (1858). Look out for architectural walking tours.

Portland historic house

Portland’s Victorian Mansion

The Victorian mansion is a strange Italian-villa style house built as a summer residence for the briliantly-named Ruggles Sylvester More who made his fortune in hotels.

Portland Longfellow House

The Longfellow House

The house’s elaborate interior and exterior are either fantastic or over-the-top ugly, depending on your taste.

My partner Tony screamed in disgust when he set eyes on the house and refused to go inside! 

There are many fine mansions in this area of Portland so it’s well worth a walk around the neighbourhood.

Back in downtown, drop in at the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, home to the famous 19th Century poet and Hiawatha writer.  

Sadly, you can only visit by timed tours so plan your schedule ahead. We missed out on a visit because the last tour of the day had left five minutes earlier.

Credits – Richard Estes and Impressionist images are courtesy of the Portland Museum of Art.

Other photos are copyright of Tammy Tour Guide and Tony van Diesel.

Light fantastic – Daniel Buren at The Baltic Gateshead

Tammy at the Baltic

Light fantastic

Light and colour radiate from artist Daniel Buren’s illuminating show at The Baltic in Gateshead.

What a thrill to be bathed in a rainbow of colours as you walk through the gallery’s spaces.

Before arriving at the exhibition, you’re in for a sensory treat with a wall of colour on the front of the BALTIC gallery. The colours of the art installation also illuminate the lift and public spaces as you walk around the building.

Tammy at the Baltic

Daniel Buren’s rainbow of colours at The Baltic

Daniel Buren is considered to be France’s greatest living artist and one of the most influential figures in European art.

Although I’d seen his work before, this new art show is engaging and fun with its beautiful colours and patterns. Many of the works have been created specially for this exhibition.

It also takes over the whole building. Buren has transformed The Baltic into spectacular art work.

Take the lift to the Viewing Box where’s a great view over the main exhibition space. On a sunny day, the dazzling colours bounce across the gallery like a prism of light.

Tammy at the Baltic

Prism of light from the BALTIC’s viewing box

Buren’s experiments with colour, light and reflection remind me of a modern day cathedral with stained glass windows.

The interplay of light and space creates a very clever effect especially when you’re standing some distance away.

The constantly shifting colours play with your visual senses and create changing patterns.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Close up with Daniel Buren

Close up to the works there’s a strange sense of light radiating from within with colours and shapes shifting as you move around the art works.

At certain angles you can see the simple trick of the light. The art installation stands as a plain mirrored surface.

Move a few feet and the colour reappears and illuminates the glass surface with its reflective power.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

I love the way Buren uses the light across the ceiling strips of the gallery to create the cathedral-like effect.

Stand with your head tilted on one side and you get a weird sense of space and dimensions. It’s almost like being stuck inside a weird time warp or tunnel.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Light tricks

I felt like I was trapped inside the vortex colour sequence from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

It’s also great that the artist and The Baltic have allowed photos for this show (except for professional photographers). I guess that they would have been fighting a losing battle to stop visitors snapping away.

This is ‘selfie heaven’ for anyone who loves taking shots of themselves on their mobile phone!

Tammy at the Baltic

Tammy’s selfie with the Daniel Buren works

In situ

These impressive light works have been created especially for this exhibition.

The series are called ‘Catch As Catch Can: Work in Situ’ – the large sculptural mirrors are positioned to reflect the light from the coloured windows above them.

The mirrors are 2001 metres square which means, like all Buren’s works, they are divisible by the 8.7 centimetres width of his stripes. The geomtery is lost of me but I guess the proportions have a deeper meaning?

They’re installed on frames that tilt which means that the artist has been able to play with colour, light and shapes. The spectators become part of the art works too – a great immersive experience.

Daniel Buren

Why not star in Daniel Buren’s show yourself?

It’s hard not to go mad taking dozens of photos especially on a day when the light is constantly changing.

A friend visited on a dull day and experienced a very different experience to me. So this is one exhibition that you might want to visit multiple times to witness different light patterns.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Lighting up time

Shapes and stripes

Stripes are the other big obsession in Daniel Buren’s work. When Buren rejected conventional painting, he developed the concept of what he called “a degree zero of painting”.

He developed installations and works which drew attention to the relationship between art and the place in which it is exhibited.

He started by making paintings with fabric woven with alternating bands of white and colour. Today this interest in stripes and fabric has evolved into his luminous fibre optic works.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Fibre optic work by Daniel Buren

The Electric Light series also reveals Daniel Buren’s continuing preoccupation with light, colour, space and form.

At first glance it looks like these pieces are lit from within but talking to the gallery staff, they demonstrated how the works are created by using  a light from above which drops the colour and light onto the flat surface.

It’s a clever trick which creates a luminous aura around the outer edges of the art works.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Daniel Buren’s luminous art

Made with paint, fabric, paper, tape, aluminium, wallpaper and fibre optics, the stripes have a hypnotic feel.

It’s almost as if the stripes are floating in space.

Elsewhere there are examples of other non-illuminated stripe works with bold colours and forms like this green and white, cube form installation (see below).

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Daniel Buren’s bold blocks of colour

In a similar style is a striking yellow work called Bas-Relief which is made up of 14 raised cubes.

It reminded me of an outdoor work I encountered by Daniel Buren on a visit to Paris’ Palais Royale a few years ago.

The Parisian work – called Excentriques – comprises a series of raised, coloured, circular structures covering a large city square.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic
Bas-Relief by Daniel Buren

These works feel more sculptural or architectural in form than what I’m calling ‘the light box’ fibre optic works.

The colours are vibrant and bright but their varied shapes create a strong sense of  form and geometric blocks.

Daniel Buren

Stripes as architecture – Daniel Buren

The stripes have become a signature motif for Daniel Buren – he says that he’s drawn to the stripes because of their anonymity and neutral presence.

I guess that means that the artist wants us to look at the relationship between the art and the space in which it’s exhibited rather than fixating purely on the work itself.

There is definitely a strong sensory quality as you walk through a gallery full of Daniel Buren’s art works.

So why not tread the light fantastic at this illuminating exhibition? It’s an immersive experience which is easy to be drawn into.

Daniel Buren

Sensory space – Daniel Buren

Tammy’s top tips – Daniel Buren 

Daniel Buren is showing at The Baltic gallery in Gateshead in North East England until 12 October 2014. Admission is free.

Look out for special events and talks tying in with this major exhibition including the artist Daniel Buren in conversation on Wednesday 8 October.

Daniel Buren  at The Baltic

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

The Baltic is located on Gateshead Quayside overlooking the River Tyne and Millennium Bridge.  Catch the yellow shuttle bus from Newcastle city centre or park in the nearby car park.

Constant changes in light and weather make this an exhibition that is worth seeing in different climactic conditions.

Ullswater – Messing around in boats in the Lake District

Sailing at Ullswater

Sailing on Ullswater

“There is nothing – absolutely nothing- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing.”  Kenneth Grahame in The Wind in the Willows.

Messing around in boats is one of life’s great joys, so I’m told. Sailing is the latest passion in my family – we’ve even bought a small boat.

I’ve never tried sailing before so imagine my shock to find myself clambering aboard our new boat this weekend at Ullswater in the Lake District.

Tripos had arrived from Wales after a five-hour road trip.

I’ve never been too sure about boats but my partner Tony has become obsessed with sailing over the last year. But will I catch the bug too and prove to be a competent crew member?

Sailing along

Tripos yacht

Tripos unleashed

Tripos is a 17 feet long yawl, a type of dinghy, built in a traditional style that reminds me of a Dutch yacht without a cabin.

It looks really pretty with its deep blue body, wooden masts and billowing, cream sails.

The excitement was huge as Tripos was unveiled on Ullswater’s lakeside.

The Glenridding Sailing Centre is a great place to sail a new boat. It runs classes for beginners and everyone is friendly and full of practical suggestions and advice.

Glenridding Sailing Club

Glenridding Sailing Centre

Early on, they’d twigged that I was a sailing virgin. Perhaps it was my lack of aptitude with the knots or my borrowed life jacket that gave the game away? And the look of pure fear in my eyes!

Tony had spent weeks reading up about the boat and getting up to speed on sailing techniques, having passed his dinghy and crew courses only a few months earlier.

We had all the books and theory but not much actual experience of sailing a boat this size.

We’d also watched all the classic disaster sailing movies – All Is Lost, Dead Calm and The Perfect Storm. Essential for Hollywood’s top tips on what to do when things go wrong on deck.

Sailing boat at Ullswater

Launching a boat on Ullswater

The idea was to start ‘sailing trials’ on what we hoped would be an easy stretch of water – Ullswater in the English Lakes.

But would it be a case of plain sailing or being all at sea?

Plain sailing?

As a land lover, I’ve always been uneasy on water, perhaps because of my fear of the sea. Worse still, I can’t swim which makes me feel very exposed.

Constantly, I have to remind myself that the only thing that lies between the waves and death by drowning is my buoyancy aid!

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

So Tony was sent out on his own on the boat’s maiden voyage.  “I know all the theory, it’s just the practice I need,” he proclaimed rather ominously as he launched the boat.

I blame Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books which Tony read as a child. These days he’s more likely to be spotted reading Sailing and Watercraft Monthly.

All was going well with the launch but soon Tony got stuck in shallow waters by the jetty. Fortunately for him, the sailing club’s  rescue boat was on hand to set him on a straight course.

I confined myself to taking photos from the shore and talking to the master mariners on the lakeside who were keen to observe our new boat – a Swallow Boats Bayraider 17.

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

Tripos gets a helping rescue boat alongside

Putting the sails up looked slightly clumsy but soon Tony was sailing into the wind around the small island in the centre of the lake.

There was no stopping him – well, until he drifted slightly off course. His return to the jetty wasn’t too disastrous but lacked a little finesse.

I hadn’t intended to get into the boat till he’d become more accustomed to her pace and the technical stuff.

But Tony was adamant that it would be plain sailing now that he’d grasped the basics of the boat.

So it was with some surprise that I found myself taking to the water. But midway through the trip, it became clear that I wouldn’t be a passenger. I was expected to do some of the hard work on board.

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

Hoisting the sails

Relaxing ride

The weather couldn’t have been better – a sunny, clear day with only a little breeze to push us along at a gentle pace. The lake was – to my great relief – as flat as a pancake.

After a bit of a scare putting up the main sail when I nearly got decapitated by a falling boom, we were off up the lake to explore its islands and bays.

So far so good. It was really great sailing along at a relaxing pace. I felt at one with nature and the scenery. A cormorant whizzed by and a buzzard hovered above on the thermals.

Launching Tripos on Ullswater

Great views of the Lake District  hills

I was learning the sailing lingo too - there’s the jib, main and mizzen sails plus something called ‘the halyard’ which sounds like a character from Harry Potter.

I even had a go on the tiller and didn’t manage to crash into any other boats. This was fun despite a few glitches with the rudder and sails. Everything kept on get twisted – it was clear we needed better on board housekeeping.

Back on the quayside, after a third trip without any incidents, we congratulated ourselves on our improved sailing technique.

This sailing malarkey was better than I’d thought.

Stormy weather

Ullswater

Dark clouds descend on Ullswater

Next day, the weather looked ominously dark and cloudy over the lake with only a few gusts of wind.

We figured that it mightn’t be ideal sailing weather but decided to head off anyway.

After a smooth launch, we headed up to Norfolk Island in the centre of Lake Ullswater but it soon became clear that not all was well.

The centreboard had become stuck. A loose string has become wedged in, looking it up and reducing the boat’s ability to sail and keep in line.

Ullswater paddle steamer

Watch out for the Ullswater paddle steamer

Despite repeated attempts to dislodge it, it wouldn’t budge. We were stranded in the middle of the lake with the Ullswater Paddle Steamer heading straight towards us.

You learn quickly when you’re a beginner. You’ve got to keep calm and think straight. So down came the sails to stop the boat being pushed into the path of the steamer. Collision averted!

But then we were stuck, bobbing around, stranded 600 metres from the jetty.

Panic stations

I was starting to realise that this sailing adventure had turned from an adventure into a near-emergency.

With no outboard motor, we had only one choice – to row to the shore. Tony took out the borrowed oars and manfully rowed us towards the jetty.

Tony rowing on Ullswater

Tony rows for the shoreline

But the wind had started to blow a hooley and it was getting harder and harder to row against its force.

Feelings of elation had changed into frustration and fears that we were going to have to wave to the rescue boat.

Lesson number two – buy yourself an onboard motor for £550 in case of this type of emergency.

Finally, we made it back on shore feeling exhausted.

Shoreline Ullswater

Back on the shore at the sailing club

But how to fix the boat? Experts were on hand to suggest how to get the centreboard unstuck. We tried everything from a long pole to a sledgehammer and power drill.

Eventually, Tony and his new sailing chum managed to unscrew the unit and get the centreboard untangled.

Lesson number three – always check that the boat’s centreboard isn’t stuck before you leave the safe waters of the yacht club!

Stuck in the middle

Fixing the boat on Ullswater

Fixing the boat on Ullswater

Undeterred, we decided to head back out onto the lake. A helpful sailing man advised us to stick with the jib and mizzen sails but leave the main sail down till we got into the centre of the lake.

At first, this seemed like good advice as the boat sailed along quite gently but when we attempted to put up the main sail, we were hit by a sudden, large gust of wind.

The yard (the big stick at the top of the boat) came tumbling down, I caught it before it went overboard and the boat tilted wildly over to one side.

Still, we didn’t end up in the water but my heart was beating faster and faster. The gentle experience of sailing had turned stressful.

Although we weren’t in any physical danger, it felt scary and out of control.

We limped back to the shore with unpredictable, ever-changing winds buffeting us around.

Trying to manoeuvre in any direction was really hard as the wind kept dropping and shifting. Tony was looking uneasy which didn’t help my frayed nerves.

It took what seemed like an age to get near the jetty – and eventually Tony had to resort to using the oars to get us back in successfully.

Fixing the boat on Ullswater

Back on dry land

Phew – was I glad to be back on dry land!

So much for supping champagne on board during the maiden launch. That pleasure will have to wait till we know what we’re doing on board.

But I have discovered sailing in weird weather conditions, the different types of boats and the basics of what’s what on our dinghy.  It has been a steep learning curve.

Sail power

Sail power

Sailing tales

As we moored the boat, an old sailor regaled me with his Ullswater ‘disaster’ stories. There was the crew who – earlier this week – took their mast off in the trees trying to moor their yacht by a quiet bay.

Then there was the capsized boat which pulled its expert sailor underneath and tangled him up in its loose ropes. He only escaped because he had a penknife.

Lesson four – always carry a Swiss army knife close to your person.

He also suggested doing the intermediate crew course which covers falling overboard, emergencies and sailing in tricky conditions.

Fixing the boat on Ullswater

Be prepared before you depart

By now, I was feeling a bit like a nervous wreck. But at least there are no sharks in Ullswater – it is, however, renowned for its tricky wind conditions.

“Experts say if you can sail on Ullswater, you can sail anywhere”, a seasoned sailor told me as I took off my life jacket.

Mucking around in boats is great fun but you need to have your wits about you. And where is Sir Ben Ainslie when you need an expert pair of helping hands?

Whilst this sailing thing is exciting, next time I go out on the water, I’ll be taking a few more precautions – a pen knife, a remote radio and an outboard motor!

Rather like this dog wearing a special canine buoyancy aid, a man’s best friend is his – or her – life jacket.

Dog with life jacket at Ullswater

Dog with life jacket at Ullswater

Tammy’s travel and sailing tips – Ullswater

Ullswater is located in the northern Lake District in the north-west of England.

The Glenridding Sailing Centre is located in Glenridding village. The club runs classes and courses for all abilities and age groups. You can also hire a canoe, kayak or small dinghy. It’s a very friendly club with lots of great experts who can help.

Always wear a life jacket or buoyancy aid.  Dogs on board also need one.

Listen to the experts (not me) and tap into their wealth of experience. Learn the art of sailing - don’t plunge straight in.

Clouds at Ullswater

Check the weather

Do your homework when going out on the water. Read the weather conditions carefully, take a compass and try to judge the wind direction accurately.

Don’t go beyond your limits. Ask for help before you leave or call for the rescue crew if you get into trouble on the water.

Read Tammy’s earlier blog about getting started with a sailing boat.

For those who don’t want the challenges of sailing their own boat, try a trip on the leisurely Ullswater steamer from Howtown to Glenridding.

Ullswater Steamer

Ullswater Steamer

There are plenty of places to stay overnight in Glenridding from large hotels like the Best Western and the Inn on the Lake to smaller B & Bs or camp sites.

Zuiderzee – Holland’s best open air attraction

Zuiderzee Museum

Zuiderzee open air museum

If you’re looking for a trip back in time, Enkhuizen is the best place in Holland to experience life in bygone days.

The star attraction is the exceptional Zuiderzee Museum which recreates life in the region before the Afsluitdijk Dam was built in 1932.

The museum revives the stories of people who once lived on the shores of the Zuiderzee with an impressive collection of authentic buildings from the local area.

There’s a church, windmill, fish-curing shed, boatyard, shops and traditional houses from the area’s old fishing villages.

It’s a brilliant place to stroll back in time along the town canal and harbour, soaking up 200 years of history and culture.

Watch Tammy’s video tour of the Zuiderzee open air museum in Enkhuizen.

Walking back through time

The story of Zuiderzee is the story of a community trying to preserve its history and culture for future generations.

But this is no museum preserved in cotton wool – it is a living, breathing place with plenty of activities going on and lots of opportunities for visitors to interact with the exhibits.

Zuiderzee Museum

Recreating a community

For centuries the Zuiderzee people fought to hold back the water for centuries. They lived on the edge of a perilous watery landscape in northern Holland.

The area had a long history of floods and destruction but damaging storms and floods in 1916 were the final straw. Dozens of dykes burst, 16 people were killed and the damage across the region was huge.

There was no other choice but to close off the Zuiderzee for once and for all to protect against future flooding.

Zuiderzee Museum

The Zuiderzee today

The IJsselmeer Barrier Dam was built in 1932.  This effectively cut off the area from the North Sea and transformed its landscape. It became an inland sea – and the salt water of the harbour became freshwater.

Local people were concerned that the culture of the former Zuiderzee region would also be swept away. So the brilliant idea of an outdoor museum to recreate the culture of  the Zuiderzee took shape.

The museum village was built in the IJsselmeer, on the outside of the seawall separating Enkhuizen from the water on its east side. A peninsula was created by spraying up sand from the seabed.

Over time 130 buildings being moved to the Zuiderzee Museum site between 1969-1983. The early buildings were torn down at their original locations and reassembled brick by brick.

Zuiderzee Museum

Brick by brick reconstruction at Zuiderzee

But this was so time-consuming that the museum’s carpenters came up with a better system which involved bringing complete sections of buildings to the site in wooden and steel crates.

Some buildings, like the cheese warehouse, were even transported in their complete form.

Today you can see dozens of these heritage buildings reassembled in the form of a small town, fishing village, harbour and polder.

Zuiderzee Museum windmill

Windmill at Zuiderzee Museum

Meet the ancestors

A trip to Zuiderzee is definitely a case of ‘meet the ancestors’. The ghosts of the past have been reawakened but given a modern twist with the help of modern costumed characters.

The whole experience benefits from brilliant storytelling and fun activities strung across the expansive site.

Zuiderzee Museum

The harbour is brimming with activities

I loved watching the costumed craftspeople in the harbour mending nets, producing rope, preparing fish from their catch or working in the herring smokehouse.

I could have watched them for hours.

Nearby, the basket makers were weaving and plying their trade. I never thought I’d say this but basket making is fascinating.

The intricate craft skills have been lost in some many areas of life today. Watching these experts making beautiful baskets made me yearn for a time when people learned skills and crafts.

Basket weaving at Zuiderzee Museum

Basket weavers

There’s a whole range of traditional crafts from blacksmiths to sail makers and cobblers. Pick your trade!

Sometimes open air museums with costumed staff can feel like they’re trying too hard with ‘actors’ dressing up simply for effect.

But here at Zuiderzee, there’s a real sense of time and place. It’s like stepping back into a community before the dam was built. You feel a real sense of engagement with what’s going on. I also loved the fact that not everybody was dressed up.

At one point I watched for half an hour as simple folk were hanging out washing and going about their daily chores wearing traditional clogs.

Washing day at Zuiderzee Museum

Washing day

Scent of Times trail

Not only can you walk back  in time along Zuiderzee’s streets of reconstructed houses, shops and community buildings, you can follow your nose back to the 19th Century – literally.

The Scent of the Times trail is designed to evoke memories of bygone days. You can take in smells of the past at 20 different locations, from a burning paraffin stove to the pungent aroma of smoked fish hanging to dry.

Smoked fish at Zuiderzee Museum

Smell those smokies!

There’s even a Scent Station where your nose can be aroused by olfactory stimuli from the past and present.

This modern installation offers something different for each generation to sniff, a bit like a giant ‘scratch ‘n sniff’ card.

It’s a clever and  fun idea even if the smell of the fish was overpowering. But the whiff of beeswax and expensive perfume restored my sense of  well-being after the fishy odours!

Shopping in bygone times

Zuiderzee Museum

Chemist shop

One of the most enjoyable aspects of the Zuiderzee Museum is being able to walk inside the old buildings and shops.

Pop inside the chemists and you’ll see a perfectly re-imagined pharmacy counter with its multi-coloured pills and potions.

At the back of the shop you’ll be surprised by a collection of historic heads which were once used as signs outside chemist shops in northern Holland.

These weird heads are reminiscent of ship’s figureheads or grotesque gargoyles. Perhaps they were designed to ward off evil spirits and laugh in the face of ailments and ill-health?

Zuiderzee Museum

Chemist shop heads

This fascination with heads continues over at the old toy shop with its fine collection of pre-computer generation toys.

Another large head, this time with a top hat, is prominent on the glass display cabinet at the front of the shop.

Behind it, a series of hand-made toys, funny hats and animal heads complete the surreal display. It’s a far cry from today’s computer games for children.

Zuiderzee Museum

Cabinet of toy curiosities – Zuiderzee Museum

Stories from Zuiderzee’s shores

The Zuiderzee Museum is fascinating and it’s easy to lose yourself for several hours. I lost track of the time so badly that I realised that I had only 20 minutes to run around the indoor museum.

Zuiderzee Museum indoors

Indoor museum at Zuiderzee

Inside the museum  there are fascinating displays of everyday objects from the Zuiderzee. The Netherlands in Seven Floods – The Zuiderzee enables visitors to relive the great storm of 1916 which had such a major impact on the region.

The museum’s highlight is undoubtedly the collection of wooden ships, the largest in the Netherlands.

There are interesting heritage collections including these intriguing Dutch caps, reminiscent of the costumes worn in paintings by so many Old Masters.

Zuiderzee Museum

Dutch caps

Don’t miss the  Journey around the Zuiderzee displays which present stories of life in villages around the former Zuiderzee.

At the end of the trip I felt a real sense of Zuiderzee’s history. Bringing history alive to a modern audience is a tricky balancing act.

But Zuiderzee succeeds in being fun as well as historically interesting. It’s all down to some great storytelling which took me on a journey through time.

This is one journey you shouldn’t miss.

Tammy’s top travel tips – Enkhuizen

Zuiderzee Museum

Zuiderzee Museum

Allow yourself the best part of a day for a visit to the outdoor and indoor museum. Leave enough time because there’s a lot of ground to cover. Watch Tammy’s video of the museum trip.

If driving, park up in the station car park in the town centre and head to the ferry pier.  The museum ferry will take you across the IJsselmeer to the Outdoor Museum in a short but interesting ride.

There is very limited car parking close to the museum site. We parked our camper van in the marina car park (parking tickets can be bought in the sailing shop).

Grab a map of the museum site at the entrance so you can plan your visit effectively. Look out for kids’ activities if you’re taking the family.

Zuiderzee Museum

Zuiderzee Museum

Enkhuisen is a pleasant town so leave enough time to explore its centre and perhaps stay overnight.

If you’re in a motorhome or camper van, there’s a parking area overlooking the town’s main harbour where you can stay overnight for a few Euros.

Wake up to interesting views over the harbour front and dream about having your own boat!

Zuiderzee Museum

View from the camper van parking area

Malevich – Back to Black at Tate Modern

Malevich Black Square

Malevich’s elusive Black Square

Black is my favourite colour this summer. Why? It’s all because Malevich’s iconic and elusive Black Square is on display at the Tate Modern in London.

I’m not often stopped in my tracks by an art work but this superb painting demonstrates why black is never out of fashion. And it shows why Malevich is such an important modern artist and creative genius.

You may think I’m making an awful lot of fuss about a plain black square with a white border.

But you have to cast your mind back to when this remarkable, abstract painting was created.

Malevich conceived the original Black Square in 1913 on the brink of the outbreak of World War One. His home country, Russia, was facing revolution, unrest and turmoil.

A revolution in art

For me it’s a revolution in art. For 1915, it was stark, powerful and uncompromising. Today it still packs a punch. Standing in front of the painting is like gazing into the dark void.

Malevich painted the Black Square in what he called a state of “ecstatic frenzy”.  For him it was a return to ‘year zero’, a reinvention of painting. It still has the power to shock even today.

Malevich Self Portrait

Malevich Self Portrait

This version in the Tate dates from 1923 when Malevich repainted the original painting which had started to crack and deteriorate. The original version is now too fragile to travel. A second version from 1929 also features in the show.

It’s amazing to think that both works have spent long periods out of the public’s gaze. During the Stalin years, abstraction was considered too radical and the painting was consigned to the museum vaults.

The Black Square wasn’t exhibited again until the 1980s but the work cast a long shadow over the modern art world like a mythical presence.

It took on great symbolic meaning. When Malevich died in 1935, his mourners formed a procession, bearing flags adorned with simple black squares.

But the Tate exhibition isn’t just about this one iconic painting. There’s much more to admire in the show from Malevich’s early expressive, colour paintings (including his dramatic Self Portrait) to his famous geometric, grid works.

Walking a fine line

Malevich

Suprematism – abstract geometrics – 1917

Malevich is perhaps best known for his geometric works made up of lines and blocks of vibrant colour. He gave the name ‘suprematism’  to these paintings which he saw as an extension of Cubism and Futurism.

Shapes, lines and spaces jostle to get the upper hand in these striking abstract works which remind me of Dutch artist Mondrian – with added va-va-voom.

The Tate show also tries to recreate Malevich’s “The Last Exhibition of Futurist Painting 0.10″ which caused a sensation in 1915. Nine out of the 12 paintings still traceable today are featured in a riotous mix of colours, cubes and shapes.

No prizes for guessing that Malevich placed the Black Square in the top corner of the original show, like a Russian Orthodox icon.

How Malevich made these visionary works at a time of war, food shortages and conflict is really hard to imagine.

Experiments in art

malevich_suprematist

Malevich’s suprematist work

As the war drew to a close, it’s interesting to see how Malevich’s uncompromising vision failed to waver in the face of turmoil in Russia.

But what did fade was his passion for painting.

Not long after the war ended, he abandoned painting. He signed off with another ground breaking work, a plain white cross against a softer white background.

It’s one of my favourites in the show.

Malevich wrote that “painting died like the old regime because it was an organic part of it”.

Instead he turned to architecture as the way of transforming everyday life.

Looking at the models of his futuristic buildings  – many of which never got built – it’s clear that he was light years ahead in his vision.

But there’s a sadness that hangs over his later years when Malevich was largely confined to teaching art students because he was struggling to make a living.

His own art was sidelined by the anti avant-garde stance of the ruling Stalinist regime. It hated abstract art which was dubbed ‘elitist’.

In spite of the oppressive regime, it’s great to see that Malevich did bounce back. He returned to painting around 1929, creating works which mixed abstraction and figurative art.

I like his colourful rural scenes and  images of peasants with their geometric, blank faces staring out at us, conveying a sense of isolation and alienation.

These works are extremely powerful. This was a period of famine and collectivism as well as brutal repression. A poignancy hangs over these large-scale paintings as you wonder about the real life stories behind the blank faces.

Malevich

Mannequin-like peasant by Kasimir Malevish

In his final years, Malevich explored a variety of figurative styles, some of which are less to my liking.

But you can never accuse him of being dull – and every work has an intriguing style, some portraits echoing Renaissance art with their rich, bejewelled colours.

At this point in the show you can always whisk back to the rooms exploring other aspects of Malevich’s earlier creative life including his dalliances with performance art, poetry and opera.

Beyond reason

Wherever you look, there’s an intriguing story about the artist’s life and career. My personal favourite is Malevich’s collaboration with the musician Mikhail Matyushin and the poet Aleksei Kruchenyhk on a manifesto calling for the dissolution of language.

Malevich Black Square

Malevich’s Black Square

They proposed the rejection of rational thought in favour of ‘zaum’, a new language of sounds beyond reason and meaning!

There’s something very Dadaist about this collaboration.

And there’s more than a hint of surrealism in Malevich’s Knave of Diamonds period when the artist wore a wooden spoon in his button-hole, declaring a renunciation of reason.

But it’s his geometric shapes that are the real show stoppers in the Tate exhibition.

Having seen this stunning show, I’m a convert to the simplicity and power of Malevich’s blocks of colour and geometric style.

But his best work remains his Black Square.  There’s something primal and powerful about this iconic painting.

Malevich will forever be renowned as the king of the minimalist black square. Long live black!

Tammy’s cultural guide – Malevich

Malevich

Malevich poster

Malevich: Revolutionary of Russian Art is at the Tate Modern in London between 16 July-26 October 2014. There’s an admission fee.  The exhibition is open daily and till late on Fridays and Saturdays.

Look out for talks and special events throughout the exhibition’s season. The exhibition itself brings together paintings, sculptures, theatre and large collection of Malevich’s drawings.

Photos are courtesy of Tate Modern, Stedelijk Museum – Amsterdam, Khardzhiev Collection, Tretyakov Gallery Moscow and the Costakis Collection.

Acadia National Park – Maine’s spectacular scenery

 

Acadia

Go wild in Acadia

Acadia National Park is one of those awesome places that crams a lot of stunning scenery into a relatively small space.

This beautiful park has everything from mountains and gentle hills to a rocky coastline and an archipelago of islands.

I was lucky enough to visit the park this summer but was surprised by the lack of British and European travellers. Most Brits tend to head to Boston and south to Cape Cod or inland to New Hampshire.

Perhaps it’s simply a question of discovering Acadia’s wilderness which is a huge hit with Americans.

So if you’re looking for somewhere different for a Stateside vacation, why not get wise to Maine’s fabulous scenery, a few hours north of Boston.

Here’s my guide to 10 great things to do in Acadia National Park if you’re planning your itinerary.

Day one – Acadia Park Loop Road Scenic Drive

Acadia

Thunder Hole – spurting water

The Loop Road is one of the most beautiful drives in any North American National Park. It’s also a great reconnaissance trip for your first day.

The Acadia Loop Drive is a 27 mile circular route which twists and winds through the eastern park’s various habitats. From forests, lakes and ponds to the rugged coast, this is a must for every visitor to Mount Desert Island.

There are several ways of doing the trip. You can drive the loop in your own car or take the free Island Explorer Shuttle, hopping on and off at different stops. There are also guided bus tours.

The loop road car parks tend to be very busy during summer months so the ‘jump on, jump off’ bus is a better option, although the shuttle doesn’t take the route to the top of Cadillac Mountain.

Acadia

Acadia woodland

There are numerous stop-off points including the popular Thunder Hole where visitors can take a short walk to this narrow rock crevice which booms dramatically when the waves hit it.

But remember  you’ll only see the spurting burst of spray in its full glory at mid-tide on days when the waves are restless.

Drive on, stopping off at the vertiginous Otter Cliffs, popular with rock climbers, and then pop down to the cobblestone Little Hunters Beach.

Stop for lunch at Jordan Pond House and enjoy ‘popovers’, a Maine speciality, a cross between a souffle and a scone. If you’re not too stuffed, take the circular walk around the lake and admire the rounded hills of the Bubbles in the distance.

Acadia - Eagle lake

Eagle Lake

Complete your trip via pretty Eagle Lake – saving the Cadillac Mountain drive for later – and return to the park entrance to complete the loop drive.

Day two – Cadillac Mountain hike and sunset

Acadia - Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain

Cadillac Mountain is one of the park’s most spectacular high points. At 1,530 feet in height, it’s not a giant-sized mountain but it’s a dramatic climb to the top with spectacular views across Mount Desert Island from every twist and turn.

Get up early and take the park’s free shuttle bus to start one of two hikes to the summit.

Seasoned hikers might opt for one of the longer routes starting at the Wildwood Stables. My partner Tony started from here (as I enjoyed a carriage ride), and followed a slightly sketchy path over The Triad before joining the Canon Trail and hitting the South Ridge approach to the summit.

Acadia

The Triad hike to Cadillac Mountain

Half a mile before the summit on the South Ridge Trail look for a precariously perched boulder, probably a glacial erratic that’s been there for 10,000 years or more.

Those looking for a slightly gentler climb should head for the popular North Ridge Trail, a 5.7 miles round trip which takes about 3-4 hours.

Acadia

Perched rock or erratic

Less active visitors can drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain and take in the panoramic views over the Porcupine and Cranberry Isles.

The road is dramatic with hairpin bends and sensational views as it winds its way to the summit.

Once at the peak you can take the short Summit Trail with its fragile and rugged landscape. It can be incredibly windy, as I found to my cost, so wrap up warm.

Acadia sunset Cadillac Mountain

Sunset on Cadillac Mountain

Why not save the best to last? A wonderful trip is the evening drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain at sunset when there are stunning views as the sun drops over Mount Desert Island and the Cranberry Isles.

This is also the first place where the sun sets on the east coast of the USA prompting cheers from those watching this daily spectacle from the Blue Hill Overlook on the mountain!

Day three – Bar Harbor and whale watching

Whales

Whale watching

Bar Harbor is the main town on Mount Desert Island where you can admire the boats, take a trip on the water or simply shop or relax in one of its many bars and restaurants.

This became our vacation base and I’d recommend this town to anyone staying on the island because of its proximity to attractions, transport and facilities.

Take a trip on one of its whale watching boats to see the Maine coast’s spectacular marine life, one of my favourite excursions.

There are also puffin cruises plus outdoor activities like sea kayaking and sailing. The Margaret Todd schooner makes daily trips around the bay, although the people we spoke with had mixed views about this experience.

Bar Harbor

Bar Harbor’s cruise trips

Back on dry land, take a walk across to Bar Island – which is connected to the town by a sand bar at low tide.

There are great views of Bar Harbor although I never managed to time the tides right to enjoy this impressive sight!

In the evening head to one of the town’s restaurants for fresh lobster and fries or corn on the cob, another Maine speciality.

Soak up the atmosphere on the Village Green every Monday and Thursday night when summer concerts by the town’s band provide a fun diversion.

Bar Harbor Town Band in full swing

Bar Harbor Town Band in full swing

Day four – Carriage road rides

Acadia National Park is unique with its extensive network of car-free carriage roads which cover 57 miles of countryside.

Four legs are better than four wheels when it comes to these famous carriage roads. Taking a half day trip by horse and carriage is not only relaxing, you see parts of the park not open to gas-guzzling motor cars.

The carriage roads were the brainchild of John D. Rockefeller Junior, a rich philanthropist, who was worried about the impact of the motor car on the countryside. It’s a brilliant adventure for those looking to escape their automobiles.

Carriage road - Acadia National Park

Carriage road – Acadia National Park

Start your journey at Wildwood Stables in Acadia, a well-run equestrian centre, which offers drives on board the horse-drawn carriages.

If you prefer two wheels to horse power, why not hire a bike and cycle along the carriage roads. It’s a hugely popular way of getting around Acadia National Park. Bikes can be hired in Bar Harbor – and can be taken on the shuttle buses.

Day five – Bass Harbor and lighthouse

Bass Harbor is one of the most famous lighthouses on the Maine coast guarding the entrance to Blue Hill Bay. This brilliant white structure set on a rocky mound flashes its distinctive beacon every four seconds.

Bass Harbor lighthouse

Bass Harbor lighthouse

Take the steps down to the far side of the lighthouse for the best views from the rocks but be aware that mist can descend quickly here, creating poor visibility.

On our trip, a pea-souper appeared like a huge veil, enveloping us and providing an atmospheric, if murky, experience.

After your trip, head to nearby Bass Harbor with its authentic fishing village, lobster shacks and colourful buoys. Its ferry also makes this a good jumping-off point for Swan’s Island and Frenchboro.

In the evening try the local lobster at Thurston’s in nearby Bernard, one of the best places to enjoy this Maine delicacy. There are also great views over the bay from the lobster shack.

Bass Harbor

Bass Harbor

Day six – Island hopping 

For a different perspective on Mount Desert Island, why not take a day trip to the nearby offshore islands.

Drive to Northeast Harbor, take a stroll along its upmarket high street and then catch a ferry to the Cranberry Isles from where you can hop between Great Cranberry and Isleford.

Alternatively catch the Cranberry Cove ferry shuttle between Southwest Harbor and the Cranberry Isles to discover a slower, more relaxed pace of life.

We missed out on the islands because torrential storms (a seasonal hazard at Acadia) hit the coastline for two days. But locals told us that the islands are idyllic, if you have sunny weather.

There are also boat trips to the impossibly scenic Isle Au Haut, 15 miles south-west of Mount Desert Island but this requires careful planning as it’s a hard place to get to.

Foggy Mount Desert coast

Avoid foggy days when island hopping

Day six – Sea kayaking adventure

If you’re looking for water sports, you’ve come to the right place. Mount Desert Island has great opportunities for sea kayaking and sailing.

Most trips start from Bar Harbor where you can join a group – of mixed abilities – and take a leisurely tour around Frenchman Bay.

Basic training is given, and you don’t have to be super-fit to enjoy the experience. Tony’s professional guide kept his group entertained with stories of the rich and famous who own the mansions lining the shoreline, including apparently the family behind Campbell’s soup.

Some folk prefer the quieter western shoreline where you are less likely to be swamped by the wash from a whale watching boat.

Acadia

Sea kayaking

Day seven – Nature and bird watching 

Acadia is a nature lover’s dream. One of the easiest ways of seeing the wildlife is to go on a National Park warden’s walk from Sieur de Monts Spring.

Alternatively, take a trip to The Precipice on the Park Loop Road where peregrine falcons nest in the spring and summer months.

With the help of the wardens and their telescopes, we were lucky enough to see one of these super-speedy birds of prey jetting across the skyline. What a thrill to watch this bird whizzing along at 80 mph!

Acadia - peregrines

Look out for peregrine at The Precipice

After your bird watching trip, head along to Jordan Pond House for afternoon tea and a traditional Maine ‘popover’.

There’s also a great birding walk around the lake next to the restaurant so take your binoculars and look out for warblers and waterfowl in spring and summer.

Acadia popover

Tony enjoys a steaming ‘popover’!

At dusk keep your eyes open for the island’s white-tailed deer or visit Beaver Dam Pond where you can wait patiently for beavers to come out of their lodge.

We spotted their lodge but never saw these elusive master-builders on the water. Your best bet is to go beaver watching at dawn or dusk. Beavers are nocturnal so don’t generally come out during the daytime.

Acadia deer

White-tailed deer

Day 8 – Drive back in time at Seal Cove

For a day out with a difference, drive to Seal Cove to the west of Mount Desert Island, the quieter side of Acadia National Park.

Classic car lovers are in for a treat with a surprisingly good historic collection of the brass and steam age at the Seal Cove Auto Museum.

Be dazzled by the brass and flash of Benzes, Buicks, Cadillacs and Model Ts from yesteryear in a display that is immaculately presented.

Acadia Motor Museum

Acadia Auto Museum

After your trip to the museum, drop into Pretty Marsh for a picnic amongst the woods and scramble down to the shoreline for picturesque views.

Why not combine this trip with a run out to Somesville, a small town with white clapboard houses which became the first permanent settlement on Mount Desert Island after Abraham Somes landed from Massachusetts in 1761.

We were too late for the Strawberry Festival in July and too early for the Blueberry Festival in August but its small museum provides a distraction if you’re looking for a leisurely stroll.

Tammy’s travel tips – Acadia National Park

With stunning scenery and so much to do, why not book your trip to Acadia? It’s the perfect antidote to modern, fast-paced life with its sleepy, small towns, picturesque harbours and car-free carriage roads.

Idyllic Acadia National Park has something for everyone. Just make sure you book ahead because it’s popular with New Englanders. Its hotels and camp grounds can be booked up months in advance during high season.
Acadia Bass Harbor

Bass Harbor

There are many lovely hotels on Mount Desert Island including The Bluenose Inn and Bar Harbor Inn.

I’d also recommend booking a self-catering cottage for a week. Bar Harbor Acadia Cottage Rentals provides a long list of properties catering for couples to larger family parties, designed for a variety of budgets.

We stayed in a cottage just outside Bar Harbor, managed by the rental agency, which was a brilliant base for exploring the whole of Mount Desert Island.

Our cottage was beautifully furnished with great views of the woods and sea from its attractive deck.

Self catering cottage - Acadia

Self catering cottage – Acadia

There are also holiday cottages at Ellsworth, the biggest town on the mainland, but this is an hour’s drive from Mount Desert Island.

In my view Ellsworth is in a poorer location if you want to be in the thick of the action and scenery at Acadia National Park. Remember the old saying – location, location, location.

Alternatively, why not stay in a cabin or wood cottage in the National Park? Or hire a RV and stay on one of the island’s camp grounds, but be sure to book well ahead, especially in peak season.

If you’re travelling to Acadia, I can recommend buying James Kaiser’s beautifully illustrated and well-researched travel book called Acadia – The Complete Guide.

Beadnell Bay – sailing dreams and beach bums

Beadnell Bay and beach

Beadnell Bay

Summer beaches are often overcrowded so it’s good to escape to a quieter and more relaxing sandy cove.

Beadnell Bay is one of Northumberland’s most popular small seaside towns. It’s not as dramatic as some of Northumberland’s beaches but boasts stunning views of Bamburgh Castle and the coast.

There’s just the right amount of activity going on. The sheltered horseshoe of the bay makes it popular with water sports fans. There’s everything from kite surfing, kayaking, wake boarding to sailing and dinghying.

But it was the sailing that brought us to Beadnell this week because we’re buying a boat. Don’t laugh – this may seem incredible news for someone who’s uneasy on water but it’s true. I’m still trying to get used to the idea.

Beadnell Bay and beach

Boats on Beadnell beach

My partner Tony has developed an obsession with sailing. It started many years ago on a family holiday to Cornwall but has grown into something more serious over the last 12 months.

I blame the parents. They bought him Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons as a child. Reading these books made him fall in love with sailing.

But it was a trip around Scandinavia last summer  when we stayed at marinas in our camper van which launched his bid to buy a boat.

Plans were hatched, sailing books and manuals were bought. Charts were studied. Evenings were spent studying knots and navigation.

Beadnell Bay and beach

Tony’s favourite boat spotted at Beadnell Bay

Soon Tony was booking himself onto dinghy and sailing courses, learning the craft of navigation and crewing.

A five day yachting course along the North East of England coast resulted in an official rubber stamp. Tony became a qualified sea dog or ‘competent crew’ man.

You’ll be pleased to hear that the advanced skipper and radio communications courses are coming up very soon.

So the next stage was always inevitable. Buying a boat,

For months Tony has been trawling sailing magazines, websites and eBay in search of the perfect boat, veering between a dinghy and a small yacht. After much navel gazing, he opted for a small 17 feet yacht.

Tony has also been keen to stress that “boats aren’t as expensive as you think” although he refuses to tell me the true price of the second-hand boat he’s buying.

Imagine Tony’s unparalleled joy when he spotted a yawl similar to the one he’s buying on Beadnell Beach this weekend.

Sailing away

Ketch boat

Our potential new boat – the Tripos

The Beadnell Bay boat was a beautiful sight with its wood rigging and deep blue and cream colours. How could I fail to fall in love with it?

By now I was starting to get enthused about the boat. I had visions of relaxing on board with champagne as Tony navigated around the coast on a summer’s day with barely a ripple on the water.

Then I remembered that the North East coast of England is one of the windiest places in Europe.  Could this be wetter and wilder than I’d thought? Looking out across Beadnell Bay, it looked gusty and bumpy – far from ideal conditions for champagne quaffing.

A trip to the sailing club did little to allay my fears. When I asked what would happen if Tony fell over board, I was told that I’d be expected to turn around the boat, trim a fine line and rescue him from the murky waters!

Beadnell Bay and beach

Sailing at Beadnell Bay

At this point I thought it was best not to mention the following facts: 1) I can’t swim and have a fear of deep water ; 2) I have a back problem; and 3) I have absolutely no aptitude for sailing.

Tony wasn’t bothered too much by these apparently “surmountable” problems and has embarked on teaching me the basics of sailing.

I can now tell my jib from the main and mizzen sails – and I’m being taught the terminology of sailing which means that I can talk like a salty sea dog captain. “Ahoy, me hearties – release the jib boom and shiver my timbers” is one fine example.

Getting knotted

Looking at the boats at Beadnell harbour, Tony was keen to show me the ropes – and rigging – in intricate detail.

Needless to say, I’m now learning sailing lingo like someone doing a crash course in driving (an unfortunate parallel, perhaps?).

Beadnell Bay and beach

Bounce – ready for action

But will I be ready for a watery adventure when the boat arrives in two weeks’ time? The yawl – called Tripos – is being brought up north from Wales – and its maiden voyage will be a big challenge.

In the meantime, I’ve been told to get knotted – not literally – by learning from a ‘step to step’ book explaining over 100 different knots.

Whether my granny knot will be useful isn’t clear so I’m practising my bowline, stevedore knot, sailmaker’s whipping (not the Madonna variety) and rolling hitch.

As I gazed at the boats on Beadnell beach, I wondered how I’d cope and why this sailing malarkey is so complex. After all, when the yachts are moored, they look so peaceful and uncomplicated.

Beadnell Bay and beach

Sailing – learning the art

That evening I was asked to watch Robert Redford in the sailing disaster movie ‘All Is Lost’ to help our understanding of what to do in a storm.

Tony provided a running commentary on Redford’s survival strategies – the good, the bad and the disastrous.

The film is excellent and makes for compelling viewing but I’m not sure if it made me feel any better.

Perhaps it was the sequence with the circling sharks or the moment when the yacht sank, leaving our hero battling against the elements in a lifeboat, which fuelled my unease.

I kept telling myself that the Indian Ocean and Sumatra is a thousand miles from Beadnell Bay. Tony reassured me that we’d have life jackets, GPS, ‘waterproof’ flares and an anti-capsize device on board our boat.

Skipper or beach bum?

So how will I adapt to life on the ocean waves? Perhaps I’m more of a beach bum than a sailing skipper or seaman?

But I’m prepared to give this sailing adventure a decent shot in the full knowledge that I may have to launch the boat from the beach at Beadnell and tie a few knots.

And on those choppy days, perhaps I can stay on the beach in my ‘tent’ as Tony glides along the harbour doing his best Robert Redford impersonation?

When it comes down to it, I enjoy hanging out like a beach bum at Beadnell. This place has no pretensions to be anything other than a fun spot where you can set up a deck chair in the dunes, watch the world go by or build a sand castle.

Or you can sail a boat along one of Britain’s most attractive coastlines from this picturesque spot, if the passion takes you seaward.

Beadnell Bay and beach

Beadnell harbour

On dry land

Back on dry land, you can explore Beadnell harbour with its authentic fishing boats and crab pots which line the quayside.

At low tide, it’s a treat to take a walk along the beach to look at the fleet of small yachts and boats waiting for their next sea excursion. Look out for special events and regattas at the sailing club and along the coast.

Perhaps I can learn a few sailing tips from the experts?

 

Beadnell Bay and beach

Crab pots on the quayside

Beadnell has another claim to fame – it’s the only west facing harbour on the east coast. It’s a colourful place where you’ll see traditional Northumberland cobles, a type of fishing boat, heading out to fish for wild salmon, crabs and sea trout.

Further along the quayside, take a walk along to the impressive and distinctive lime kilns. These 18th Century stone structures were used for burning limestone to make lime until the late 1820s.

Although in need of a makeover, the lime kilns are interesting remnants of Beadnell’s traditional industries.

Just beyond the kilns there are great views up the coast where, I’m told, you can watch the sunset in its full glory.  Tony tells me that this experience would, of course, be better from the deck of a yacht. 

 

Beadnell Bay and beach

Lime kilns at Beadnell

Beadnell is a great, little place to come for a summer stroll or a sailing adventure. The sailing experience is growing on me but I’ll need to work on getting my sea legs.

I’ll be back soon but whether it’s on sea or land, I’m not quite sure yet. But Tony has just told me that it’ll take a while before we’re experienced enough to attempt the North Sea.

Look out for our first venture onto the water at Ullswater where (hopefully) it’ll be a bit flatter.

So what’s the next step? No surprise here – I’m off to the chandlers to select a buoyancy aid right now!

Tammy’s travel tips – Beadnell Bay

Beadnell Bay and beach

Beadnell Bay’s harbourside

Beadnell Bay is located a couple of miles from Bamburgh off the A1 in Northumberland in the North East of England.

Visit Northumberland has more information about travel and accommodation. There are B ‘n ‘Bs and self catering apartments in the village as well as a camping & caravan site.

Beadnell Bay is very much a family orientated beach during the summer holidays. The sailing club is located close to the lime kilns and beach.

Look out for training courses in sailing at Northumbria Sailing before attempting a yacht trip.

Other tourism attractions worth visiting in the area include Bamburgh Castle, the Farne Islands and Lindisfarne (Holy Island).

Beadnell Bay and beach

Beadnell Bay’s quieter rocky shores