North East England’s rich seam of mining heritage

Woodhorn Colliery Museum

Mining heritage – Northumberland

The North East of England is a rich seam of mining heritage. So why not walk back in time to explore the history of this industrial age?

Most of the old mines have disappeared and there are no deep pits left in production in North East England.

Mining has become a focus for the heritage industry with museums and attractions celebrating the region’s industrial past

I found myself reflecting on this heritage during a visit to the Miners’ Institute in Newcastle for the launch of ‘pitman artist’ Tom Lamb’s biography.

The book traces his life through 27 years working as a miner at Busty Pit at Craghead Colliery in County Durham.

Tom Lamb painting - c/o Tom Lamb

A miner’s life – Tom Lamb’s biography c/o Tom Lamb

Tom’s life underground is vividly brought to life with over 100 of his paintings and sketches in the book written by Dr Peter Norton.  It set me thinking about how much of this mining heritage you can still see today. 

A coal miner’s life

When Tom Lamb worked in the mines there were around 750,000 people employed in the coal mining industry in Britain. It’s amazing to think that there were 135 pits in the Durham Coalfield alone.

It was a hard life despite the camaraderie amongst the miners. Gas explosions, roof falls, flooding and runaways wagons were just some of the life-threatening hazards for the men working underground.

Tom Lamb started work down the mines in 1942 at the tender age of 14. He worked at the Busty Pit in Craghead not far from Stanley in County Durham where he kept sketchbooks illustrating life below ground.

Tom Lamb painting - c/o Tom Lamb

Sketch of miner shovelling coal – c/o Tom Lamb

Whenever he could, he’d sketch his fellow miners at work. This image of a miner shovelling coal on a longwall face is particularly evocative.

The conditions were brutal in this dark, damp and dangerous environment and it’s astonishing that Tom was able to capture these images with such clarity.

Back in daylight, he would use the sketches as a starting point for his oil paintings.  One of my favourites is a scene of Tom’s first day going underground called ‘Gannin’ Doon the Pit’ which has become an iconic image.

Painted in 1946, all the men featured in the painting are his fellow miners with the new starters on the left and the colliery officials on the right. Look carefully and you’ll see Tom Lamb himself in the centre of the group together with his uncle, Jackey Lamb, one of the officials.

Tom Lamb painting - c/o Tom Lamb

Gannin’ Doon the Pit c/o Tom Lamb

Tom’s reaction to going underground for the first time was that he was “going to a place where the sun never shines”.

He remembers the arrival of the cage to take him below ground and dropping down to the deep shaft. For a teenager, it must’ve been a terrifying experience.

Today, coal mining as a way of life is long gone.  So what’s left of Tom Lamb’s mining in County Durham?

I took a trip on a mining journey of discovery last weekend to find out what traces still remain.

Craghead Colliery closed in 1969 but there are remnants of the mining industry in the village today. The Malley Bell shaft cover can still be glimpsed from the roadside in the grounds of East Villa on Thomas Street in the village.

Tom Lamb painting - c/o Tom Lamb

The Putter moving a tub of coal c/o Tom Lamb

Around the village the landscape has been reclaimed but look hard enough and you’ll see signs of its mining past – the old mining community buildings, the pit houses, allotments and scars on the landscape.

Taking pride of place is a statue to the miners on the village main street as well as the miner’s lamp memorial just before you drive into Craghead.

Craghead

Craghead celebrates its mining heritage

You can also just about make out the route of the incline which was constructed to take the Craghead coal to Pelton Level where the wagons joined the Stanhope and Tyne Railway.  

Life at the coal face

Another place to get a glimpse of life down the pits is the excellent Woodhorn Colliery Museum in Ashington, Northumberland.

South East Northumberland was once one of Britain’s biggest and richest coalfields. Back in 1913, the Great North Coalfield employed almost ¼ million men, producing over 56 million tons of coal every year from about 400 pits.

Ashington developed from a small hamlet in the 1840s to a rapidly expanding colliery town with five pits employing around 5,500 men in the 1920s.

The boom in coal led to the formation of the Ashington Coal Company who built the first miners’ houses from 1857 onwards. By the 1930s there were over 3,000 back-to-back miners’ terraces in Ashington.

Woodhorn Colliery Museum

Woodhorn Colliery Museum

Ashington became a centre for the coal mining industry. It was considered to be “the world’s largest mining village”.

Miners at Woodhorn Colliery would descend from the pit head in a cage which plunged 888 feet into the deep mine every shift. At the pit face there’s no doubt that conditions were hard, dangerous and physically demanding.

Many of the mining buildings have been restored so it’s possible to get a glimpse of life in a mining community.

Woodhorn Mine sign

Woodhorn Mine sign

Today the museum hosts the annual Ashington Miners’ Picnic in the summer, a get-together for the community including ex-miners and their families.

The picnic started 150 years ago when coal was king in South East Northumberland. In its heyday the picnic was a major event in the annual calendar with guests including national politicians and union leaders.

Today it has changed from being a day out for miners’ families and a political rally into a celebration of Northumbrian culture which takes place every summer.

Heritage tourism

Coal mining has also become a heritage and tourist industry in the North East. Not to be missed is Beamish Open Air Museum in County Durham which makes a great day trip for heritage detectives.

This living history museum has a recreation of mining buildings, brought to the site from elsewhere in the region and re-assembled.

For those interested in mining heritage, there’s an actual drift mine, one of many that once thrived in the Beamish area. There’s also a reconstruction of a typical pit village which gives an insight into life in the 1900s in the northern coalfields.

Mine at Beamish

Mine at Beamish

Take a trip underground at the Mahogany Drift Mine and you’ll discover the often grim reality of conditions for pit workers.

It must have been back-breaking work in this claustrophobic environment.

Inside the colliery lamp cabin you can see the rows of miners’ lamps which the men would have used during their shifts.

The Colliery Winding Engine, dating from 1855, is the only survivor of its type, and was once common in the north’s coalfields. Today you can still see its winding gear in action.

Pit pony at Mine at Beamish

Pit pony at Beamish

Over in the ‘pit village’ visitors can go inside the miners’ cottages and see how families lived in the early 1900s.

The colliery houses on Francis Street were moved to Beamish from Hetton-le-Hole on Wearside to preserve the mining heritage. Step into mining families’ homes with their cosy, coal-fired ranges and look at the outside “netties” (toilets) and tin baths hanging in the back yard.

Methodism flourished in the North East’s pit communities. At Beamish you can go inside a Wesleyan Chapel from Pit Hill, an old mining community, which hosts traditional services.

Hetton Silver Band Hall has also been moved to Beamish, brick by brick from Hetton-le-Hole, and you can hear what a brass band would have sounded like in a mining village.

The Pit Pony Stables is a replica of an existing block which served Rickless drift mine in Gateshead. It illustrates the role played by horses in a North East colliery in the years before the First World War.

‘Pitmen Painters’

Miners' banner

Miners’ banner

The North East of England is also famous for its pitmen artists who painted their lives above and below ground.

They were talented but untrained, learning their trade the hard way – working at the pit face and painting in their spare time

The Ashington Group of miners, who got together in the 1930s, were dubbed the “Pitmen Painters”.

After their shifts at the Woodhorn or Ellington pits, the group took art appreciation classes at Ashington YMCA.

The paintings they produced provided a striking record of life in a mining town and at the pit.

I love the raw quality of their paintings – the way they throw you into the heart and soul of the mining community.

Ashington School painting

Ashington School painting

Today, the best place to see the their paintings is at the Woodhorn Museum in a special gallery dedicated to their work.

In County Durham miners Tom Lamb and Norman Cornish developed a passion for painting and, like their Ashington counterparts, drew on their experiences of life. This BBC TV video shows how Tom took inspiration from the coal face in his art.

‘Pitmatic’ – the miners’ language

Mining heritage also seeped into everyday language in North East England and can be heard even today.

Miners spoke a distinctive dialect called ‘Pitmatic’ which they used to communicate with each other when they were down the pit working in hot, noisy and cramped conditions.

Many Pitmatic words were mining terms such as the term ‘corf-batters’,  the boys who scraped the coal out of filthy baskets.

‘Hoggers’ were shorts worn by miners underground. Other Pitmatic words crept into everyday life including clag (to stick), clarts (mud), hacky (dirty) and progley (prickly).

I love the way these words as onomatopoeic! Artist Tom Lamb’s biography has a great selection of these evocative words in its glossary.

Miners' pitmatic language

Miners’ pitmatic language

Durham Miners’ Gala

The Durham Miners’ Gala was traditionally one of the high points of the mining year when the colliery bands made their way to Durham for the ‘Big Meeting’.

The main assembly point was in Durham Market Place from where the bands and miners with their banners would then march to the Racecourse.

One of the main focal points of the Gala was the County Hotel where union leaders, dignitaries and special guests greeted the marchers from the hotel balcony.

Famous names like Arthur Scargill, Tony Benn MP and Prime Minister Harold Wilson were amongst the important speakers during the peak of the mining industry.

Tom Lamb painting - c/o Tom Lamb

Durham Miners’ Gala c/o Tom Lamb

In a splendid painting, Tom Lamb captures the celebratory atmosphere of the Miners’ Gala perfectly. The Craghead Colliery Band are prominent in the foreground with the miners and their families.

They are listening to a speech by the Labour Prime Minister of the time, Harold Wilson.

After the celebrations at the Race Course, the crowds marched to Durham Cathedral for the Miners’ Service.

The annual tradition continues to this day… and a trip to the Miner’s Gala is an experience not-to-be-missed.

From pits to pleasure grounds

Mine at Beamish

Coal Mine at Beamish

The mines have long gone and many former pits have been reclaimed as country parks, industrial estates or wildlife reserves.

In south-east Northumberland several open cast mines have been reclaimed as recreational sites. Hauxley has become a nature reserve where mining has been replaced by bird hides and wild walks.

Northumberlandia in Blagdon has been transformed in a very different way as a massive art installation, although there are still glimpses of open cast mining taking place on land next door.

Northumberlandia

Northumberlandia – mining site turned sculpture

Designed by artist Charles Jencks, this giant female landscape art work has been dubbed ‘Slag Alice’ by locals due to its pit heap origins. I prefer its more flattering nickname of  ‘Goddess of the North’.

It’s strange to think that this is all that remains of the mining landscape in some old mining communities.

Mining memorials 

Elsewhere you can see numerous memorials to mining’s past across North East England.

Mining had many tragedies and disasters – it was dangerous work and there were many terrible accidents which are remembered across the region’s coalfields.

In the suburbs of Newcastle, there’s an open space called The Spinney which commemorates the High Heaton Pit disaster which took place in 1815.  Forty one men and 34 boys were trapped when water from old mine workings burst into the colliery.

Newcastle High Heaton Spinney

High Heaton Pit – The Spinney

The workers took refuge in  a section of the pit which the water did not flood and tried to burrow into an old shaft in a bid to escape.

But the trapped miners failed to escape and are thought to have starved to death.

The youngest victim was just seven-years-old and the oldest was 82. Some families lost three generations of their loved ones.

Trees representing each victim were planted at The Spinney as a memorial. There are also interpretative plaques telling the story of the disaster.

The West Stanley Pit Disaster was another shocking mining tragedy, this time in County Durham.

Craghead

Mining memorial at Craghead

It happened in 1909 when an abundance of methane gas caused a single lamp to explode in the pit. The loss of life was dramatic – 168 men and boys perished in the explosion.

A pit-wheel memorial can be seen at Chester Road in Stanley with the names of everyone who died in that incident,

It’s important we remember the role that mining and its working class heroes played in our industrial past. These communities are part of our history and heritage,

The past may be a foreign country – but we need to revisit it from time to time to see how they did things differently there. So why not go on your own pilgrimage and mining heritage trail?

Tammy’s travel guide – North East mining heritage

Woodhorn Colliery Museum

Woodhorn Colliery Museum – Ashington

Here’s a guide to some of the best places to discover mining heritage in North East England.

Beamish Open Air Museum  is located near Chester-le-Street in County Durham. It’s a brilliant attraction with reconstructions of pit village buildings, railway station and a real drift mine.  Allow a full day. Admission fee. Open daily.

Woodhorn Colliery Museum is in Ashington, Northumberland. Admission is free. Read more on Tammy’s Ashington mining history blog post.

Craghead is a former mining village located four miles west of Chester-le-Street in County Durham.  Take a walk around the village to discover the remnants of the mining industry.

The Durham Miners Gala takes place in Durham every year in mid July.

You can peek inside Newcastle’s historic Mining Institute and its library. It is open to the public from Monday to Friday 10:00 to 17:00.  Look out for special events. It is located on Neville Street near the Central Station. 

Read up on the mining past in an illuminating new book called Tom Lamb – the Biography by Dr Peter J. Norton. It’s published by the North of England Institute of Mining and Mechanical Engineers.

Copyright and credits – Tom Lamb images are copyright of the artists and courtesy of Dr Peter Norton and Tom Lamb.

Rembrandt versus Turner in London

Turner

Looking for Mr Turner c/o Tate Photography

It’s the heavyweight fight of the year in London. Turner at the Tate has been battling it out with Rembrandt at the National Gallery in the big battle of the exhibition season.

It’s a closely fought affair as the two artistic greats compete for the title of most popular Old Master!

Crowds have been flocking to both London shows so I’ve been along to find out which has the upper hand. 

Battle of the titans

Rembrandt

Rembrandt’s Man in Armour c/o Glasgow Life

Turner and Rembrandt are big crowd pleasers. Having visited both shows, I was surprised at the average age of the punters – which was over 65.

It’s not often that I’m the youngest person at an arts exhibition but both shows seem to be attracting ‘the older visitor’.

The two-deep crowds were battling to grab close-up views of the art – with Zimmer frames helping to propel some folk to the front of the queues.

It’s odd because both painters challenged conventions during their own time and were huge innovators – the Damien Hirsts of their age.  So it’s a shame there isn’t a more diverse age group at these two exhibitions.

Perhaps it’s because the shows focus on the ‘late’ works of both artists?

‘Late Turner’ at the Tate and ‘Rembrandt – The Later Works’ at the National Gallery are very much about two masters at the height of their powers.

No longer the young pretenders, they aren’t content with becoming complacent. They’re taking on fresh challenges, experimenting with techniques of light and daring to take painting to new levels. 

Both shows are great, stuffed with fabulous paintings and packing a ‘wow’ factor for the crowds. It’s almost like a battle of the titans. The Ali versus Foreman of the art world – the rumble in the cultural jungle.

Rembrandt’s masterpieces

Rembrandt

Rembrandt’s  The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Joan Deyman c/o Amsterdam Museums

The Rembrandt exhibition focuses on his later works from the 1650s until his death in 1669 aged 63.  It’s hard to believe that these works were created in the mid 17th Century, such is their daring content and experiments in style.

I’ve always been fascinated by Rembrandt’s choice of subject matter – and here it comes into its own. The paintings are bursting with the painter’s individuality and passion for people.

He chooses mundane and sometimes ugly subjects but gives them a sense of humanity which makes them fascinating. Every picture tells a human story, full of psychology and emotional empathy.

Rembrandt

‘The Jewish Bride’ – Rembrandt c/o City of Amsterdam/Rijksmuseum

You can stand in front of these canvases and study the characters’ deepest motivations and emotional states, whether it’s a self-portrait, biblical picture or group scene. 

Unsurprisingly, some of the works from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam are the stars of the show.

The Sampling Officials of the Amsterdam Drapers’ Guild is one of Rembrandt’s finest with its echoes of The Night Watch.  You can study the characters for hours! 

Rembrandt

The Sampling Officials – Rembrandt c/o Rijksmuseum

Rembrandt was also obsessed with painting ‘selfies’. His magnificent self portraits leap out like they were painted yesterday with their luminous light and experimental brush style. A true Dutch master captured by his own artistic hand.

I also love his works depicting everyday life and people in 17th Century Holland – they are timeless and endlessly fascinating. This was truly a Golden Age of Dutch painting. 

Although some of the works in the show are from the National Gallery’s permanent collection, many of the etchings and paintings are drawn from other British, American and Dutch museums. There is something new in the exhibition even for regular gallery-goers.  

Rembrandt

The Conspiracy of the Batavians – Rembrandt c/o Royal Academy of Fine Arts Sweden 

Turner’s trademark landscapes

If Rembrandt was the forerunner of a realistic style of painting, Turner is often considered to be the father of modern art.

His works were far ahead of their time – many of the later paintings look Impressionistic, even though Monet didn’t create his groundbreaking works till 30 years later. 

The Blue Rigi, Sunrise 1842 by Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851

The Blue Rigi, Sunrise 1842 by Turner c/o Tate Britain

Turner has been the subject of great interest in recent months, largely thanks to actor Timothy Spall’s portrayal of him in the film ‘Mr Turner’.

He’s a very different artist from Rembrandt in his choice of subjects.  Whilst Rembrandt is a master of the portrait, Turner is a genius at portraying landscapes.

It’s the first exhibition devoted to J.M.W. Turner’s work between 1835 and his death in 1851. This fabulous ‘tour de force’ show celebrates Turner’s creative flowering in his later years when he produced many of his finest pictures.

Turner

Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway – Turner c/o Tate

During this time he produced some of my favourite ‘blockbuster’ paintings  including Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway and The Fighting Temeraire.

The show also reunites two important Turner ‘classical’ works – ‘Ancient Rome – Agrippa Landing with the Ashes of Germanicus’ and ‘Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino’. They have been seen together rarely since first exhibited in 1839.

Turner

Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino – Turner c/o John Paul Getty Museum

I was delighted to see many unusual works in this show, not just those drawn from the Tate Britain’s fabulous Turner collection. 

A series of unusual square pictures cast fresh light on Turner’s innovative techniques. Little-seen watercolours of a fire at the Tower of London are shown together with Turner’s spectacular painting Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons.

I adore Turner’s use of light – the way he captures the luminosity and weather conditions is pure genius. Light and Colour is one of my personal favourites featured in the show with its explosion of colour and vibrant rays of light. 

Turner

Light and Colour – Turner c/o Tate Britain

Turner .v. Rembrandt

So which exhibition should you go and see?

This is a rare instance of it being impossible to separate the two protagonists in the battle of the blockbusters.

Turner

Turner – Burial at Sea c/o Tate Bequest

Turner and Rembrandt were light years ahead of their contemporaries, true innovators who changed art forever.

Self Portrait with two circles, about 1665-69.

Self Portrait with two circles – Rembrandt c/o Kenwood House/Iveagh Bequest

Both London exhibitions are well-curated, epic in scale, and ambitious in their representation of these two great masters.  It’s hard to choose between the two.

My personal taste means that I prefer Rembrandt’s portraits to his religious works, although even those aren’t conventional depictions of biblical scenes.

In the same way, I like Turner’s dramatic landscapes better than his Roman fables and ‘classical’ works, but they are still daring and original.  

Both men are geniuses who were way ahead of their time and even today their work looks fresh and challenging.

Nor were they afraid to wield a palette knife to gouge a line or use their fingers to create the dramatic effects they wanted on canvas.

Turner or Rembrandt? My answer is ‘both’! It’s impossible to judge one over the other. A honourable draw of the big-hitters!  

Don’t miss these blockbuster shows. 

Tammy’s art guide – Turner and Rembrandt 

Rembrandt – The Late Works is on at the National Gallery in London between 15 October 2014 – 18 January 2015 in the Sainsbury Wing. Admission charge. Some late openings. The nearest Tube station is Charing Cross.

Late Turner – Painting Set Free is at the Tate Britain in London from 10 September 201425 January 2015. Ticket charges. The nearest Tube station is Pimlico. 

Turner

Look out for late shows c/o Tate Photography

Turner fans can also visit the Clore Gallery at the Tate Britain, the gallery’s huge permanent collection of Turner paintings.

If you’re a fan of Rembrandt, the Rijksmuseum and Rembrandt House in Amsterdam are two must-see attractions, if you’re travelling outside the UK.

Rijksmuseum

Rembrandt at the Rijksmuseum

Copyright - Turner images are courtesy and copyright of the Tate Britain. The Rembrandt images are courtesy and copyright of the National Gallery London, Kenwood House/Iveagh Bequest, the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam Museums, Royal Academy of Fine Arts Sweden and Glasgow Life.

Brussels – Art Nouveau masterpieces

Art nouveau Brussels

Art Nouveau

Brussels is one of the world’s best cities for Art Nouveau, one of my favourite styles of architecture and design. I adore its decorative, floral curves and stylish swirls.

For art lovers, an Art Nouveau tour of Brussels is a fabulous experience with hundreds of impressive buildings to discover.

The city was home to two of the superstars of Art Nouveau in the late 19th Century– Victor Horta and Paul Hankar.

It also lays claim to being home to the world’s first Art Nouveau buildings – the Hotel Tassel and Hankar’s House.

Hotel Hannon, Art Nouveau Brussels

Hotel Hannon – Art Nouveau masterpiece c/o Visit Brussels

Travellers are in for a treat if they’re prepared to get away from the hustle and bustle of the main city centre and take a detour down its back streets.

With more than 1,000 Art Nouveau buildings to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start so here are my top tips for discovering Brussels’ treasure trove of architectural gems.

The Horta House

Horta House

The Horta House

The beautiful, flowing style and gorgeous decoration of Art Nouveau is everywhere in the Saint-Gilles district where a walking tour reveals a series of stunning buildings.

The star attraction is the gorgeous Horta House where the famous architect and designer lived with his family and worked in his studio.

This is one of my dream homes with sensational interiors and breathtaking visual style.

Built between 1898 and 1901, the interior decoration represents the very best of Art Nouveau’s golden age.

St Gilles - Brussels

Horta House

Gorgeous mosaics, stained glass, and wall decorations create a harmonious and elegant whole – set off by dazzling golds and sumptuous furnishings.

The devil is in the detail at the Horta House right down to the specially designed door handles designed to complement the architecture!

If you’re a fan of gilded decoration, you’ve come to the right place because the interiors are palatial, without being tasteless and tacky.

It’s a beautiful house which has many surprises and modern touches, far ahead of its time.

This is one house which far surpassed my expectations so don’t miss the self-guided tour.

Horta door handle design Brussels

Even the door handles have Art Nouveau style

Tour of St Gilles

To see more Art Nouveau treasures, leave the Horta House and take a walking tour of the Bailli quarter on a circular route starting on Rue Defacqz.

 Ciamberlani House Brussels

Ciamberlani House

The Ciamberlani House is a good place to begin with its beautiful façade designed by Art Nouveau genius, Paul Hankar.

Don’t forget to raise your eyes to the upper floors with their artistically decorated panels. Look out for the ‘sgraffiti’, striking designs which were created on wet plaster which burst with colour.

This arty house was designed for the Symbolist painter, Albert Ciamberlani, and boasts many typical Art Nouveau features including flowing decoration with echoes of nature, trees and flowers.

 Ciamberlani House Brussels

Ciamberlani House’s ‘sgraffiti’

As you walk on down the street, look out for the home of architect Paul Hankar on Rue Defacqz, another brilliant example of Art Nouveau style.

Not far away is the House of Rene Jansens and two more striking Art Nouveau buildings on Rue Faider (numbers 83 and 85).

Art Nouveau style

Hotel Tassel

Art Nouveau was characterised by its twisted metalwork, sinuous decoration, curvy lines, floral embellishments and stained glass.

Its style is reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts Movement in England.

Some of the buildings in Brussels have seen better times and look slightly down-at-heel but others have been lovingly restored.

One of these is the Hotel Tassel at 6, Rue Paul-Emile Jansonstraat

Designed as a town house by Victor Horta, at first it looks fairly conventional with its brick and natural stone exterior.

But look closely and you’ll see many gorgeous Art Nouveau design features.

Architect Victor Horta designed every last detail from the woodwork and windows to the door handles, floors and furnishings.

If you could go inside, you’d see an impressive steel structure with a glass roof which connects the different parts of the house and bathes it in natural light.

Sadly, the Hotel Tassels’ interior is not accessible to the public – a heritage crime!

It is used as an office by the European Food Information Council but it’s still fun to play heritage detectives as you look at the Art Nouveau features on the outside of the building.

By now, it’s probably time for some lunch so why not enjoy an extended break at La Porteuse d’Eau restaurant on Avenue Jon Volders in St Gilles where you can immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the Belle Époque whilst admiring the Art Nouveau designs.

Hotel Hannon, Art Nouveau Brussels

La Porteuse d’Eau restaurant c/o Visit Brussels

‘Golden age’ of Art Nouveau

The golden age of Art Nouveau in Brussels lasted from the 1890s to 1920. But by the 1920s this style was on the wane and another rival movement became fashionable – Art Deco.

Stained glass

Stained glass window in Art Nouveau style c/o Visit Brussels

It’s fascinating to to discover what life was like at the height of Art Nouveau’s golden age so why not take a trip to the Fin de Siecle Museum.

It boasts an outstanding collection of paintings, decorative arts and photography from the end of the century.

Art Nouveau paining by Knopff

The Caress by Fernand Khnopff

Well-presented displays shed fresh light on life during this Belle Époque period with photographs, archive images and historical information.

Don’t miss the stunning design exhibition with furniture, glassware and interiors created by well-known Art Nouveau designers.

I love the elaborate Art Nouveau decorative style with its bold colours and flowery lines but my partner, Tony, calls them ‘ugly’ and over-fussy! He’s a man of simpler tastes.

Art Nouveau glassware

Art Nouveau glassware

The Fin de Siecle paintings were more to his taste with works by famous Belgian artists such as Fernand Khnopff and James Ensor.

Old England Brussels

Old England Brussels

When you leave the museum, take a short walk around the corner to look at another ornate Art Nouveau building.

Bizarrely its name was originally “Old England”, and it was designed by another Art Nouveau whizz-kid, Paul Saintenoy, in the 1890s.

This former department store is a complex lattice of glass and steel with twisted metal turrets.

Today it’s home to the Museum of Musical Instruments.

This strikingly beautiful building combines the architectural styles of Neo-Classic and Art Nouveau.

Housed in the museum is a collection of more than 7,000 instruments of varying kinds. But the star attraction is the top floor cafe which provides visitors with a magnificent 360° view of Brussels.

Take a bus to the Cartoon Museum where there’s a great collection of Tintin and Belgian graphic art housed in the former Waucquez Warehouse,  another masterpiece of Art Nouveau.

It’s a great example of how Art Nouveau fused new industrial materials such as cast-iron pillars and stained glass with traditional organic and botanical forms.

Art Nouveau Brussels

Twisty ironwork c/o Visit Brussels

The glass roof makes this like a greenhouse in summer and I almost fainted with the heat, but it was worth this minor discomfort to see the splendid turn-of-the-century architecture.

Brussels Comic Art Museum in Art Nouveau warehouse

The Comic Art Museum is in an Art Nouveau warehouse

Take a trip out of Brussels city centre and check out the Hotel Solvay, an early Horta building, designed for a wealthy Brussels family.

The cast-iron facade and decorative front door are great examples of Art Nouveau at its peak.

If you’re in the area for a few days, take a trip to Antwerp just 25 minutes away which has a great selection of Art Nouveau buildings including many by design genius, Henry van de Velde.

My favourite is the Five Continents House, designed by F. Smet-Verhas, which was commissioned by a ship owner.

Antwerp - Five Continents House

Antwerp – Five Continents House

You can’t miss the surreal wooden ship’s bow which juts out dramatically from the house’s first floor balcony.  

It’s the height of flamboyant Art Nouveau.  Nearby, check out Antwerp’s impressive Art Nouveau mansions which date from the end of the 19th Century.

I love Art Nouveau because it represents everything glamorous and stylish about the belle époque era.

This was a golden age  – so why not discover its treasures and enjoy a remarkable visual feast.

Art Nouveau Brussels

Art Nouveau mansions in Brussels c/o Visit Brussels

Tammy’s top travel tips – Art Nouveau Brussels

Art Nouveau style

Art Nouveau style

There are 1,000 Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels including houses, shops, cafes, schools and hotels. The Visit Brussels website list some of the best places to visit and has a self-guided walk itinerary.

Good districts to see examples of Art Nouveau are Bailli, St Gilles, Chatelain, and Ixelles Ponds. Don’t forget to take a map or website plan of the Art Nouveau walk.

My main criticism is that the self-guided online maps of Art Nouveau in Brussels lack detail and interactivity. They are too small and fiddly to use.

It’s also hard to find printed leaflets of the walking tours, if you can’t access mobile wifi and the online maps.

There’s also a lack of directions when you’re on the main Art Nouveau streets – really poor given the international importance of these buildings.

The Horta House  is the most spectacular of the Art Nouveau buildings in Brussels. It’s located at 25, Rue Américaine in St Gilles
- take a tram number 81, 91, 92 or 97.

The Museum is open Tuesday to Sunday 14.00-17.30. Mornings are reserved for pre-booked group visits. Admission charge.

Art Nouveau Brussels

Art Nouveau is everwhere in Brussels c/o Visit Brussels

The Fin de Siecle Museum is part of the main Brussels Museum complex near Place Royale. It is open Tuesday-Sunday 10:00-17:00. Entrance fee.

Look out for Art Nouveau coach tours in English organised by Voir et Dire Bruxelles including a three-hour trip exploring the buildings of Victor Horta, the leading Belgian Art Nouveau architect.

Maison Cauchie, Art Nouveau Brussels

Maison Cauchie, Art Nouveau Brussels c/o Visit Brussels

The tour itinerary takes in a luxury townhouse (van Eetvelde house), a primary school (Saint-Ghislain kindergarten) and a former wholesale drapery shop (the Waucquez store).

There are also tours on foot and by bike including a cycle trip around St Gilles.

The Ciamberlani house is a privately owned townhouse but its main rooms can be visited by appointment.

Brussles concert hall Bozar

BOZAR concert hall c/o Visit Brussels

Look inside the Palace of Fine Arts concert hall (BOZAR) where Victor Horta designed the splendid ceiling in the auditorium.

In Antwerp, there are great examples of Art Nouveau mansions in the district of Zurenborg (Berchem) which boasts the “golden triangle” along three streets – Cogels Osylei, Waterloostraat and Transvaalstraat. 

Brussels and Antwerp are a short road trip from the DFDS Ferries route from Newcastle-Amsterdam.

Old England, Art Nouveau Brussels

‘Old England’ Brussels c/o Visit Brussels

Newcastle – UK’s top city travel destination

 

Millennium Bridge Newcastle and Gateshead

Millennium Bridge Newcastle

It’s astonishing news that my home city of Newcastle upon Tyne has been voted top travel city in the UK by readers of The Guardian and Observer newspapers.

Many people were shocked that Newcastle beat better known cities like Edinburgh, London and Bath but it’s no surprise to locals who know that our city is a great destination.

Newcastle’s reputation as a ‘party city’ is well-known with its boisterous stag and hen parties, famous club nights and the Geordie obsession with having fun ‘out on the toon’.

Newcastle Quayside revellers

Fun on the ‘toon’ – Newcastle revellers

The friendliness and humour of the Geordie ‘nation’ also go a long way to explaining why this is one of Britain’s best cities to visit if you’re a stranger.

You’re bound to get a warm welcome as the city parties the night away… and there’s always some amusing and crazy revellers to raise a smile!

Millennium Bridge

Crowd pleaser – the Millennium Bridge

So what’s on offer in Newcastle to justify it topping the city travel charts? Here’s a few of my personal favourite places to explore if you’re on a city break or weekend trip.

Style and fun 

Drinking is one of our big hobbies in the North East of England. But despite its image, Newcastle isn’t all ‘Geordie Shore’ raucous and drunken behaviour. 

There’s plenty of great bars from stylish hang-outs like The Cluny, As You Like It and The Town Wall to cask ale pubs including The Bridge Tavern, The Forth and The Broad Chare off the Quayside.

I also love the historic Crown Posada pub, an old style drinking establishment with striking stained-glass windows, whilst the small but cosy Soho and Ernest bistro bars are quieter, cosy retreats.

Soho Newcastle-style

Soho Newcastle-style

Down on the Quayside there are still plenty of noisy bars for party lovers but I prefer to hop into the Red House or The Bridge Tavern for a more authentic experience.

The Quayside is a great spot for people watching. At weekends don’t be afraid to rub shoulders with the gaggles of young women wearing matching pink T-shirts and cowboy hats, tottering around in vertiginous heels yelping and partying!

Up the hill there’s a couple of older pubs if you’re looking for a more sedate experience – The Bridge (opposite the Castle Keep) and the Bacchus (on High Bridge) are recommended.

Red House bars Newcastle

The Red House – Newcastle Quayside

For a chilled experience, don’t forget to walk along the waterfront to the stunning Millennium Bridge, a good starting point for first time visitors to the city with bars like The Pitcher and Piano overlooking the river.

When I first came to Tyneside, the waterfront was full of old warehouses and there was little access to the river front, but the transformation over the last couple of decades has been staggering.  Today you’re more likely to see performance art and festivals on the river banks than industry and shipping. There’s still a few smaller ships moored along the Quayside too.

Walk along the riverfront to the Ouseburn area and check out the shabby but cool Tyne Bar, Cumberland Arms and Free Trade Inn, alternative pubs for a discerning crowd. The Free Trade’s beer and quiz are legendary with locals.

Culture explosion

Theatre Royal Newcastle

Theatre Royal Newcastle

Despite its distance from London, or perhaps because of it, Newcastle boasts a surprisingly good cultural scene with music, the visual arts and film being high on people’s entertainment hit list.

Music fans are in for a treat at The Cluny, The Sage in Gateshead (on the opposite side of the River Tyne) and The Academy which are great for touring bands and spotting emerging talent. The Jumpin’ Hot Club - which moves between The Cluny and other venues like Live Theatre – is a must for lovers of roots, reggae and alt country.

Those with a passion for art will enjoy a trip over the water to the BALTIC, a gallery housed in a converted flour mill, on the Gateshead side of the River Tyne. In spring you can see the nesting kittiwakes from the gallery’s top floor platform which also has fantastic views down the river.

The BALTIC’s roof top restaurant offers stunning views down the River Tyne during the day and night.

Daniel Buren at The Baltic

Art attack – The Baltic

The Live Theatre is another of Tyneside’s best-kept secrets although word has been getting out of late. Their ‘Pitmen Painters’ play was hailed in London and on Broadway when it toured. It also has a brilliant and civilised bar where you can relax on squishy leather sofas, away from the Quayside’s crowds.

At the Theatre Royal the main focus is on touring shows but highlights include some London transfers and the RSC’s season of Shakespeare ‘up north’. Northern Stage also has a lively programme of theatre including some home-grown productions.

Film heaven

One of my favourite cultural venues in Newcastle is the Tyneside Cinema on Pilgrim Street with its independent attitude and interesting film screenings and cinematic events.

Buy a seat to the Classic Cinema’s circle which boasts giant leather armchairs where you can relax with a bottle of wine whilst enjoying your film.

I love the Tyneside’s wonderful Art Deco interior from the late 1920s which was influenced by Persian palaces. The original golds, greens and purples can still be seen, thanks to a recent restoration project.

The original News Theatre, now the Classic, still shows free newsreels every day.

Tyneside Cinema Newcastle

Tyneside Cinema – Art Deco Classic

Don’t miss the new gallery space which has intriguing art shows and film screenings, free of charge.

The cinema’s street-level cafe and bar is a great pre-show hang-out which also hosts film quizzes, cult movies and DJs.

For something completely different, go along to Steve Drayton’s Record Player – a musical vinyl extravaganza – or drop in on the Good Yarn Knitting Club whilst they crochet whilst watching a movie!

Baltic

Baltic gallery

Food feast

What I love about Newcastle is the recent upsurge in great restaurants. 

Propelled by Terry Laybourne’s growing empire of eateries from the high-end Jesmond Dene House to the bistro- style Caffe Vivo and Number 21, the choice of restaurants has improved dramatically since I arrived in the city 30 years ago.

One of my personal favourites is David Kennedy’s Artisan at the Biscuit Factory in Shieldfield which offers contemporary cuisine using locally sourced ingredients, some from the owner’s excellent Vallum Farm.

Artisan

Artisan

During the day pop into the Biscuit Factory (next door), a stylish contemporary gallery selling paintings, sculpture, ceramics, glassware and jewellery. Shop for art or simply browse.

Over in nearby Jesmond, Peace and Loaf is a top foodies’ choice. Fronted by former Masterchef finalist, Dave Coulson, it’s great value when you consider the quality of the food which is essentially ‘European contemporary meets Northumbrian’.

The ‘deconstructed’ turkey pie is one of the restaurant’s star turns with its gorgeous presentation and yummy fusion of ingredients.

The free amuse bouche and in-between courses are also a great touch, guaranteed to get those taste buds singing!

Peace and Loaf - Newcastle

Food heaven – Peace and Loaf

On the luxury end of the dining spectrum, The House of Tides on Newcastle’s Quayside has a fabulous tasting menu at around £65 per head which includes nine courses of culinary magic.

Owner Kenny Atkinson is aiming for the stars – of the Michelin variety. It’s not cheap but it is a showstopping culinary experience for a special occasion.

My favourite dish is their signature appetizer – line caught mackerel in filo pastry with gooseberries, lemon and mustard. Unusual ingredients but a brilliant blending of flavours.

House of Tides Newcastle

House of Tides – the smell and taste of Lindisfarne

The presentation is also breathtaking. My Lindisfarne oysters with ginger and lime were served in a glass bowl with pebbles and sea shells accompanied by dry ice and a seaside odour, conjuring up the sights and smells of the beach on Holy Island. A shellfish delight in 3-D and smell-o-vision!

Alternatively, take a trip to the fabulous Electric East near the Central Station, a stylish pan-Asian restaurant which does everything from Vietnamese tapas (great value at £12 for three) to posh dinners.

There’s also a lively eating scene along Stowell Street, Newcastle’s very own Chinatown which is the place to be on Chinese New Year.

Heritage hotspots

All Saints Church Newcastle

All Saints Church

Go back in time to Newcastle’s Victorian heyday at the Literary and Philosophical Society and Miners’ Institute, close to the Central Station.

The Lit & Phil is a library where you can also wander in and lounge around in a leather armchair, drinking tea and gazing at the ornate wood interiors.

The Miners’ Insitute (next door) is another hidden gem from the city’s industrial age.  This intriguing building hosts events and open days so check their website if you want to peek inside.

Nearby is the Discovery Museum with relics from Tyneside’s industrial past. Although not my favourite museum in the UK (it could do with modernisation), there’s enough to entertain families with kids. 

The Turbinia boat, the first vessel to be powered by steam turbine, and Joseph Swan’s historic lightbulbs are the star turns.

If you’re looking for medieval history, Newcastle’s Castle Keep is worth a look but it’s not one of the North East’s best. Squashed by Victorian developers between the railway and the High Level Bridge, it’s a slightly underwhelming experience.  But I can strongly recommend the fantastic panoramic views from the top of the tower.

In the evening, head to the Boiler Shop Steamer behind the Central Station, which hosts DJs, food & drink events and festivals. 

Astonishingly, this was the place where Robert Stephenson built his world-famous steam trains including The Rocket. Just being inside the shed is a spine-tingling experience because of its history.

Newcastle castle

Rooftop view – Newcastle’s Castle Keep

For heritage walks, put on your walking shoes and get yourself down to the Quayside which boasts a variety of old buildings from the medieval to the modern.

With its steep banks and chares (stairs) cascading down to the river, there are plenty of hidden places to explore. Don’t miss All Saints Church, an 18th century elliptical church, at the top of Dog Bank stairs. Its graveyard is destined to bring out the Gothic dark side in visitors.

Back in the city centre, head to the Grainger Town with its grand Georgian buildings radiating from Grey Street, dubbed by critics as the finest street in Britain. Look out for small specialist shops along its many side streets including High Bridge.

Grainger Town Newcastle

Grainger Town Newcastle

Pride of place

One of the things that makes Newcastle so special is its strong identity. Although I was born in Liverpool, I’ve become an adopted Geordie and love the city’s unique character.

I haven’t been converted to supporting its football team though. Football is a huge passion in the city so a trip to ‘the toon’ wouldn’t be complete without seeing Newcastle United at St James’ Park.

The roar of the Newcastle crowd is one of the loudest in the Premiership, whether they’re playing well or not. Don’t miss a trip to the Strawberry (opposite the ground) before the game to soak up the pre-match atmosphere.  Here’s my long-suffering partner Tony hoping for a rare Magpies win.

Tony at St James' Park -Newcastle United

The Geordie roar at St James’ Park  – Newcastle United fan Tony van Diesel

So what’s not to like about Newcastle? It’s fun and fabulous – a true party city. It’s also compact and easy to get around if you’re looking for an action-packed weekend break.

And it’s a great base for exploring the beautiful Northumberland coast and countryside with its castles, superb beaches and country houses.

I love living here – and hope you’ll pay a visit soon. Number one city? Why aye man!

Geordie dictionary – Why aye man = Yes, that’s cool!

Tammy’s travel tips – Newcastle upon Tyne

Newcastle upon Tyne is located in North East England, a three-hour train journey from London and two hours from Edinburgh. Newcastle Airport has direct flights to London and key European airports.

Tyne Bridge Newcastle

Tyne Bridge Newcastle

Read the The Guardian article about Newcastle upon Tyne being voted the best city destination in the UK.  For a full range of information about Newcastle and where to stay, check out the Visit Newcastle website

Discover Newcastle’s best pubs and bars in this article. If you’ve looking for something on the non-alcoholic side here are Tammy’s top tips for coffee and tea shops with a bit of character and quality beverages.

Newcastle's best coffee

Newcastle’s best coffee

Here’s Tammy’s guide to some of the best places to go for a night out in Newcastle upon Tyne…

My top tip is to start off near the Monument (you can’t miss Earl Grey on top of his column) and work your way down Grey Street to the Quayside and Ouseburn.

Newcastle's best nights out

Newcastle’s best nights out

Those with a passion for castles should head to the Northumberland coast which boasts Alnwick Castle (home to Harry Potter movies) and Bamburgh (dramatically perched on the beach) as well as Dunstanburgh’s coastal ruins. Pop into Craster for lunchtime kippers or crab sandwiches at the Jolly Fisherman pub or the Smoke House.

Don’t miss a quick trip to Gateshead where Antony Gormley’s impressive Angel of the North, one of my favourite iconic landmarks, dominates the A1 into Newcastle.

Angel of the North

Angel of the North

Elstree Studios celebrates 100 years of film

Elstree movie walk

Elstree’s movie walk

Elstree Studios is one of those iconic film names that sends a shiver down my spine.

Star Wars, 2001: A Space Odyssey and the Indiana Jones trilogy were some of the big blockbuster movies that were made here.

Today it’s also home to major TV shows like Strictly Come Dancing, Big Brother and Dancing on Ice as well as being the production base for films like Sherlock Holmes and The King’s Speech.

Elstree is celebrating its 100th birthday this week so we should be proud that this is one of the few British studios that has managed to survive whilst many others have fallen by the wayside.  

This ‘Hollywood in Hertfordshire’ is a success story with its huge sound stages and state-of-the-art production facilities. 

Over the decades, Elstree has been the studio of choice for many famous directors including Alfred Hitchcock, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Danny Boyle.

Studio tour?

Elstree Studios

Elstree Studios

Last year, I found myself working in Elstree so decided to take a look at the studios during my lunch break.

From the outside the buildings are surprisingly dull and the whole complex looks more like a factory on an out-of-town industrial estate. There’s little hint of the excitement and magic that takes place beyond its walls and hedges.

I had a chat with a friendly security man who told me the disappointing news that there are no public tours of the studios. Elstree is a working studio and says it has to respect the privacy of productions based there.

Security is extremely tight so the nearest you’ll get to seeing any movie action or famous stars is a quick glimpse of the VIP cars arriving at the front gate.

If you could peek inside the studios, you’d be able to see the amazing George Lucas stages, two of the tallest in Europe which provide great spaces for filming big, blockbuster movies.

Elstree Studios

Behind Elstree’s drab facade, magic happens

Also beyond these walls are seven more film and TV sound stages which can be turned into everything from a desert oasis to a space station or tropical forest.

I was astounded to discover that Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was shot at Elstree, with all interior scenes at The Overlook Hotel filmed on its sound stages.  There is something so American about this psychological thriller that it’s incredible to think that the bulk of the action was shot in Borehamwood!

No wonder security is tight. Some of the world’s biggest pop stars such as Take That, Kylie Minogue, Rihanna and One Direction use Elstree for their tour rehearsals. It has giant-sized facilities where they can test out their big arena stage shows.

Elstree’s studio village has production offices, rehearsal spaces, dressing rooms, wardrobe and make up areas, and post productions facilities.  There’s even a a 28 seat preview theatre for the likes of Spielberg, Lucas or whichever big name director is in town.

Take the tour

With no access to any film production areas, Elstree is a closed set for film fans and tourists but there is another way of discovering Elstree’s rich movie history.

The ‘Made in Elstree’ Film and TV Heritage Trail picks out highlights from the studio’s 100 year history, starting with an introductory plaque outside Elstree and Borehamwood railway station. 

Elstree Studios Film Walk

Elstree Studios Film Walk

There’s not a huge amount to see on the ground but at least you get a sense of the history of Elstree as you walk from plaque to plaque.

My knowledge of early Elstree was very hazy so the information boards helped fill the gaps. I learned that the Neptune Film Company opened the first studios in Borehamwood in 1914 with a single small windowless stage which was the first “dark stage” in England.

Neptune Studios was built during the silent movie era on a site where the BBC Elstree Centre now stands. After a series of film companies took over the studios in the 1920s, a young British film producer called Herbert Wilcox and a Hollywood producer named J.D Williams decided to build a new motion picture studio.

Building commenced on the new Elstree Studios in 1925 and the rest is history. The first feature film to be completed was Madame Pompadour starring silent star Dorothy Gish.

Other fascinating facts about early Elstree…

  • Alfred Hitchcock directed Blackmail at Elstree, credited as being the first British talking film.
  • During the 1930s Elstree Studios launched the screen careers of stars like Charles Laughton, Laurence Olivier, Googie Withers, Ray Milland and Stewart Granger.
  • In 1953, the studios were bought by actor Douglas Fairbanks Junior, mainly for his TV productions but were sold to Lew Grade’s ATV just five years later.
  • In the 1960s, Elstree Studios was used for many television programmes including The Saint and The Avengers.
Elstree Studios

Neptune House – site of the original Elstree Studios

Today, the original studios are the BBC Elstree Centre, used for TV drama productions including Eastenders, Holby City and Doctors. Neptune House stands on part of the old site.

You can’t visit BBC Elstree on a studio tour but you can see its TV production buildings from the outside (behind a large fence) on Clarendon Road off Borehamwood’s high street.

The security is pretty hot so, once again, your only chance of spotting a celebrity is when they arrive and leave for their production shift.

BBC Elstree site

Entrance to BBC Elstree

The main Elstree Studios complex is 1/4 mile up the road and covers a much bigger site, much of which was redeveloped and modernised in the 1990s.

Go on a virtual tour of BBC Elstree with the Elstree Project in this behind the scenes video feature.

‘Made in Elstree’ heritage walk

Back on the Borehamwood high streeet, follow the heritage plaques which chronicle the studio’s illustrious history and its most popular film directors and stars.

There’s a plaque celebrating one of my favourites – film director Bryan Forbes – who was also Head of Production at Elstree Studios from 1998-1971.

Elstree Studios Film Walk

Elstree Studios Film Walk

Soap fans will enjoy looking out for the plaque charting the career of Barbara Windsor who films Eastenders at Elstree – if you’re lucky you may even see her shopping on the high street.

Sadly, I was out of luck but others told me that soap stars are regularly spotted coming out of the station or walking down the main shopping street.

Several of Babs Windsor’s 196os and 1970s films including Too Hot to Handle and Ken Russell’s The Boyfriend were also shot at Elstree Studios. The latter is one of my favourite musicals.

Elstree Studios Film Walk

Look out for Barbara Windsor in Elstree

Watch a video feature about the history of Elstree on the BBC website – Elstree Studios at 100

Elstree’s musicals are also covered with a plaque celebrating Sir Cliff Richard’s work at the studios. The pop star made two of his most famous films – Summer Holiday and The Young Ones – at Elstree in the 1960s. 

Sir Cliff remembers his time at Elstree with great fondness and it’s interesting to read that the films he worked on here were “a joy to make”.

Elstree Studios Film Walk

Elstree Studios Film Walk

Also look out for the celebratory ‘Made in Elstree’ banners erected along Shenley Road in the town as you walk along the high street. 

Another way of finding out more about Elstree’s cinematic history is to drop into the Elstree and Borehamwood Museum which is preserving and sharing the legacy of 100 years of film and television.

There’s a small permanent exhibition which enables visitors to choose from a menu of videos and slide shows as part of the Elstree Screen Project

It’s brilliant that the legacy of Elstree is being protected for the next generation but I wish that there was a larger-scale attraction celebrating this important part of British film history.

The walking tour and heritage plaques are fine but they tell only a small part of the story. They are interesting but don’t go far enough.

Aerial view of Elstree Studios

Aerial view of Elstree Studios

So is Elstree worth a visit for its film history? I’m not sure it’s interesting enough to make the trip out of London to be honest, unless you’re a real film buff like me.

There’s also a problem that I couldn’t find a leaflet or an online map of the heritage walk. So I’d advise you to try to get one before setting off, otherwise it’s tricky to work out where you’re going!   

Perhaps one day Borehamwood’s ‘British Hollywood’ will have a truly stunning tourist attraction which recreates the whole immersive experience of making films at Elstree. I have a vision of a British Disneyland with fun activities, film sets and interactive history displays.

Until then, we can but raise a glass of fizz to celebrate Elstree’s 100 incredible years.

Tammy’s guide to Elstree

Located 20 minutes from the heart of London, Elstree Studios are situated on the outskirts of Elstree and Borehamwood. It is 20 minutes by rail from St Pancras station in London. Trains arrive at Elstree and Borehamwood train station.

It’s a 10 minute walk from the station to the main Elstree Studios film complex at the top end of Shenley Road in Borehamwood.

The ‘Made in Elstree’ film and TV heritage walk starts from the railway station and runs along the main high street up towards the current Elstree Studios complex.

Read about the history of the studios and discover the Made in Elstree walking route. 

Read the full history of Elstree Studios on the official website.

The Berlin Wall – 25th Anniversary Tour

Berlin East Side Gallery

The Berlin Wall

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

Where were you when the Wall fell on November 9, 1989?  I remember watching the dramatic live TV footage as it tumbled down. 

The crumbling concrete blocks, once impenetrable, were smashed to the ground by protesters as East and West Berlin were reunited for the first time in 28 years.

This iconic moment will be celebrated as Berlin unleashes thousands of illuminated helium balloons this Friday to commemorate the anniversary.

Berlin 2014 - anniversary

Berlin 2014’s anniversary c/o Visit Berlin

A divided city

When I visited Berlin in 1991, two years after reunification, the city was in the thick of reinventing itself. Today, it’s one of Europe’s most popular city travel destinations.  

But Berliners paid a high price for the Wall’s division of the city. Around 200 people died trying to escape from the East to the West.

More than 5,000 succeeded in escaping but many more suffered from distress and despair as a consequence of the Wall being built.

Berlin Wall in 1981 c/o Visit Berlin and Harald Schmitt Bild

Aerial view of the Berlin Wall in 1981 c/o Visit Berlin and Harald Schmitt Bild

After the Second World War the Potsdam Agreement had divided Berlin into four sectors – American, British, Russian and French.

But as the Cold War intensified, tensions between the East and West powers escalated and West Berlin became stranded in the Soviet’s zone of occupation.

Watch a video looking at the history of the Berlin Wall…

As the Wall rose up, it became a symbol of oppression for Berliners on either side of the divide.

Today, the Berlin Wall is harder to find. Most of it has been broken up and fragments have been dispersed all over the world.

So where are the best places to get a glimpse of the Berlin Wall and its history? 

1. The Berlin History Trail

Berlin Wall c/o Visit Berlin

Berlin Wall information point – c/o Visit Berlin and Wolfgang Scholvien

A good starting point is the Berlin Wall History Mile, a multi-lingual trail with 30 information points telling the story of Berlin’s division, the construction of the Wall and how it fell.

There’s little left of the border fortifications, barriers and machinery of dictatorship so you’ll have to use your imagination.

Look out for the double row of cobblestones and bronze plaques inscribed ‘Berliner Mauer 1961–1989′ which mark the former line of the Wall. 

The Berlin Wall Trail helps a lot, tracing the course of the former border fortifications encircling West Berlin along 160 kilometres.

The hiking and bike trail runs largely along the former patrol roads used by customs officers and GDR border troops.

Berlin East Side Gallery

Cycle the wall in Berlin

The Berlin Wall in numbers

Total length of the border to West Berlin 155 km
Inner-city border between East and West Berlin 43 km
Border between West Berlin and the GDR (“outer ring”) 112 km
Border crossings between East and West Berlin (roads/railway) 8
Border crossings between the GDR and West Berlin (roads/railway) 6
Observation towers 302
Bunkers 20
Dog runs 259
Anti-vehicle trenches 105,5 km
Contact or signal fences 127,5 km
Border patrol roads 124,3 km
(July 1989, Lapp/Ritter, Die Grenze, 1997)

Measuring the wall segments:
Height: 3.6m
Width: 1.2m
Weight: 2.6 tonnes
Material: Reinforced concrete

2. East Side Gallery

Next on your itinerary is a trip to the longest stretch of surviving wall at the East Side Gallery which runs for nearly a mile. 

Its boldly coloured images were painted by 118 artists from around the world in 1990.

Berlin East Side Gallery

Berlin East Side Gallery

It’s also the longest open air gallery in the world with 110 large format images painted directly onto the wall. The whole effect is a bit like seeing a giant piece of graffiti art which runs as far as the eye can see.   

The gallery has been renovated several times over the years and provides a window on Berlin’s Cold War world through the eyes of international artists.

It’s a strange curiosity in the middle of a heavily trafficked area but it’s worth running the gauntlet of the speeding cars and trucks to get a proper look.

Berlin East Side Gallery

Iconic images at the East Side Gallery

3. Berlin Wall Memorial

The Berlin Wall Memorial is a must see destination on your travel schedule. Situated at the historic Bernauer Strasse, it extends for nearly a mile along the former border strip.

The memorial contains the last piece of the Berlin Wall embedded fully in the ground as well as a section of preserved grounds behind it.

Berlin Wall Memorial

Berlin Wall Memorial c/o Berlin Wall Foundation

This is one of the most interesting sections of the Berlin Wall where you’ll discover the heart-rending stories of people trying to escape from the Soviet quarter.

Berlin Wall Memorial

Berlin Wall Memorial c/o Berlin Wall Foundation

One daring  attempt involved 57 people who escaped successfully through a 140 metre tunnel to West Berlin.

This is also where  people jumped out of the windows of apartments bordering West Berlin in desperation. Tragically, many paid with their lives.

What once was “no man’s land” between Brunnenstrasse and Gartenstrasse has been preserved in its undeveloped state as a monument.

The open-air exhibition includes the Monument in Memory of the Divided City and the Victims of Communist Tyranny.

The grounds also include the Chapel of Reconciliation and the excavated foundations of a former apartment building whose facade functioned as the border wall until the early 1980s.

This authentic memorial site is well worth a visit for its compelling stories of Berliners during the Cold War.

4. Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie was one of Berlin’s most famous landmarks during the Cold War, the only crossing point for foreigners. It was the scene of a dramatic stand-off between Russian and American tanks in 1961.

Today it is one of Berlin’s top tourist spots. But there’s very little left of the crossing with the exception of one kiosk so you’ll have to imagine the barbed wire, barriers and gates.

Watch out for the Russian fur hat and military souvenir sellers with their street stalls. Don’t miss the interesting Black Box exhibition with photos, documents and displays about the Wall.

The Haus Am Checkpoint Charlie Museum is the place to discover extraordinary tales of escape from East to West Berlin during the Cold War.

Berlin

Tammy at Checkpoint Charlie

There is no end to the ingenious devices used in the escape attempts, from a hot air balloon and microlight aircraft to a mini U-boat and even a chair lift.

My favourite escape ‘craft’ are the more prosaic objects taken from everyday life such as suitcases, a car with enlarged petrol tanks, and an inflatable boat with a surfing sail.

Many died in their attempts to escape but some were successful – and the museum is a testament to the creativity and courage of the Berliners who tried to make this dangerous journey.

Checkpoint Charlie Berlin line of the wall

Checkpoint Charlie’s crossing point zone c/o Werber Fotografie

5. Potsdamer Place

There’s not much of the Wall to be seen at Potsdamer Platz either but this was once one of the most important points along the border route.

It’s the place where Westerners stood on high observation platforms to peek over the Wall during the Cold War. 

Today, there’s just this brightly coloured graffiti-covered slab that sticks out like a sore thumb in an ocean of bland, modern developments.

Potsdamer Platz Berlin

Tammy at Potsdamer Platz

In the 1930s, Potsdamer Platz was one of Europe’s busiest streets, surrounded by hotels, restaurants, shops and theatres. 

When the Soviet sector was sealed off on 13 August 1961, barricades were set up between Potsdamer Platz and Leipziger Platz.

The Berlin Wall resulted in the area becoming a gigantic wasteland in the heart of the city, known as  “the death strip, running between the wall’s inner and outer fortifications.

Berlin Potsdamer Platz - line of the wall

Potsdamer Platz  – line of the wall c/o Werber Fotografie

It’s chilling to imagine life during the Cold War in this area of Berlin. The S-Bahn and U-Bahn stations were closed when the Iron Curtain came down.

The U-Bahn line was interrupted at the border whilst the south-north route of the S-Bahn trains in West Berlin ran underneath the centre of East Berlin.

Their only stop in this area was Friedrichstrasse station. It must have been an odd experience for rail passengers when they spotted the shadowy outlines of GDR border guards patrolling the darkened platforms of abandoned stations under East Berlin.

Potsdamer Platz Berlin

Potsdamer Platz in Berlin

Twenty five years after the Berlin Wall came down, Potsdamer Platz is unrecognisable from its Cold War days. It’s now teaming with modern shops, cafes, offices and hotels but it feels sanitised and soulless.

But delve deeper and you’ll find a few scattered remnants of the Berlin Wall with a series of information display boards.

Berlin Wall c/o Visit Berlin

Berlin Wall c/o Visit Berlin and Wolfgang Scholvien

The East German watchtower on Potsdamer Platz is one of the last historical remains of the Wall which is open to the public.

The tower originally stood between the Brandenburg Gate and Leipziger Platz but was moved to its present location in 2001. Ring ahead to book – visits are restricted to three or four people at a time.

6. Brandenburg Gate

The Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin’s most iconic landmarks but during the Cold War it was on the front line, just behind the border inside the Soviet sector.

Early on 13 August 1961, work started on sealing off the border at Brandenburg Gate when soldiers arrived with water cannons and troop carriers.

Workers’ militias took up their positions in front of Berlin’s landmark to protest but their rallying cries were futile. East Berliners and GDR citizens were forbidden to cross through into West Berlin.

The barriers were later reinforced with an outer and inner wall, floodlights and watchtowers, creating a show of military strength and division between the two halves of the city.

Brandenberg Gate Berlin

Brandenburg Gate – Berlin

In front of Brandenburg Gate, the Wall was fortified with a three metre thick anti-tank barrier, signalling the impenetrable nature of the border between West and East

Today, the gate and surrounding square have been transformed and it’s a major tourist draw where you can ponder how different it would have looked in the 1960s and 70s.

Gone are the fortifications but a Cold War chill remains. This will be one of the key landmarks featured in Berlin’s 2014 anniversary celebrations and illuminations.

Berlin 2014 - anniversary

Berlin 2014 – anniversary c/o Visit Berlin

7. Niederkirchner Strasse

There’s little to be seen of the West section of the Berlin Wall but keep a beady eye open if you’re in the vicinity of the Topography of  Terrors on Niederkirchner Strasse.  

Berlin

Topography of Terror exhibition – Berlin

Between 1961 and 1989, Berlin Wall border installations ran through Niederkirchnerstraße in the direction of Checkpoint Charlie.

Most of this section of the Berlin Wall has long gone. It was carted away by souvenir hunters in the 1990s. Small concrete chunks of the wall are no doubt sitting on display in many Berlin homes! 

A badly damaged, 200 metre strip of wall can be seen on the southern side of Niederkirchnerstraße.

This was a later generation of the Berlin Wall, reinforced with extra strong pre-cast concrete. Its robust construction made it almost impossible to smash through with a vehicle.

Berlin

No man’s land

8. Templehof Airport

Berlin’s old Templehof Airport also played its part in the Cold War, best known for its role in the Berlin Airlift. As the Cold War intensified, West Berlin became stranded, an island in the centre of the Soviet’s zone of occupation.

West Berlin was thrown a lifeline by the Allies who used Templehof Airport to break the Soviet’s blockade of the city.

Templehof Airpor in 1992

Templehof Airport in 1992

During the airlift, ‘Raisin Bombers’ flew in every 90 seconds to deliver 2 million tonnes of food, coal and essential supplies. It was a hugely important support operation for people living in West Berlin.

Throughout the Cold War, Tempelhof was the main terminal for American military transport aircraft accessing West Berlin.

Today Berliners have embraced the large empty spaces around the former airport as a massive recreation park popular with urban skaters, cyclists, dog walkers and picnicking families.
 

Read more about visiting  Templehof on  Tammy’s blog post 

9. Fernsehturm Television Tower

Trying to get a sense of how the Wall divided East and West Berlin is tricky because the ruins at ground level are fragmented or missing completely.

So why not take to the skies with a trip to the top of the 368 metres tall Fersehturm TV Tower. From the viewing platform, you can enjoyed a panoramic view across the city and discover how the various pieces of Berlin’s East-West jigsaw fit together.

Berlin

Berlin’s eye in the sky – the TV Tower

The Television Tower was built in the late 1960s by the GDR government, partly to demonstrate the strength and efficiency of the socialist party system. Today, the tower has become a symbol of the re-unified Berlin.  

10. The Reichstag

The Reichstag has huge symbolic value because this was where the new German Parliament sat after West and East Berlin were reunified in 1990.  

Reichstag Berlin

Reichstag Berlin

Take a trip to the top of the stunning Reichstag Dome for another excellent view across the once divided city.

Cold War icons 

Finally, look out for the Trabant, the fast-disappearing car which symbolised East Germany and life behind the Berlin Wall.  There’s still a few on the streets of Berlin but most have rusted away and fallen to bits. They were never built to last!

The state-owned factory built over 3 million of these iconic cars in the GDR days.  Take a trip to the Trabi Museum which is dedicated to the bone-rattling car of East Germany. Look out for a Trabant with a camping tent on the roof and a bizarre, armoured Trabi.

Alternatively, go on a Trabi Safari Tour and drive a Trabant with a guide along the route of the former Berlin Wall.  

Trabant

Classic Trabant car

A trip to Berlin wouldn’t be complete without your very own piece of the Wall. You may find a small concrete chunk from the original Wall in the Checkpoint Charlie gift shop. I wish now that I’d brought a piece back home!

Tammy’s Practical Travel Guide –  Berlin Wall

Berlin is located in the north-east of Germany with excellent international flight and rail links from Europe and beyond.  The Visit Berlin website is a good place for hotels, attractions and travel information.

Berlin East Side Gallery

Berlin’s East Side Gallery

Don’t miss the East Side Gallery  which runs along Berlin’s Muhlenstrasse, close to the River Spree. It’s an open air site with free admission.

Checkpoint Charlie is located in the heart of Berlin at Friedrichstrasse in Kreuzberg. Open daily 9:00-22:00. Admission fee.

The GDR Museum is worth a detour. It’s the only museum that deals exclusively with life in the former German Democratic Republic during the Cold War.

If you’re interested in Cold War surveillance, take a trip to the excellent Stasi Museum (currently closed for renovation) which reopens in January 2015.  The once top-secret Stasi files are now freely accessible in the archive. Take a look inside the office of former Stasi boss Erich Mielke.

Berlin

Berlin’s Reichstag Dome

The Reichstag is one of Berlin’s most popular tourist attractions but you’ll need to book ahead for a visit to the magnificent glass dome.  Free admission. Open daily 8:00-midnight.

For panoramic views across the city, visit the Berlin TV Tower which is located in the Alexanderplatz district of Berlin. It’s open daily 10:00-midnight. Admission charge.

Berlin Wall c/o Visit Berlin

Berlin Wall Park c/o Visit Berlin

The Mauerpark or Berlin Wall Park is a good place to relax on your tour with the backdrop of  a section of the wall decorated by graffiti artists. 

The Documentation Center at Bernauer Strasse (currently closed for renovation) offers a wide range of information about the history of the Berlin Wall with a permanent exhibition plus a viewing platform overlooking the old line of the Wall.

Berlin Wall after the fall in 1989 c/o Visit Berlin and Uwe Gerig Bild

Berlin Wall after the fall in 1989 c/o Visit Berlin and Uwe Gerig Bild

Beach Art – Antony Gormley’s Another Place

Gormley Another Place

Antony Gormley’s Another Place

It’s a remarkable sight. A hundred life-sized sculptures stretching along a sandy beach and into the sea as far as the eye can see.

Welcome to Antony Gormley’s Another Place. This spectacular art work on Crosby beach in Liverpool is a sight to behold with its army of cast-iron figures looking out to sea.

Staring out to the horizon, the figures are strung out across the golden sands for more than a mile. It’s a daring and dramatic piece of art.

The ‘human’ figures are made from casts of Antony Gormley’s own body. Each is over six feet tall and weighs a whopping 650 kilos – about the size of 10 Tammys (a scary thought!) .

Gormley Another Place

Sea battered man on Crosby Beach

Another time, another place

There’s a definite ‘wow’ factor when you step onto Crosby Beach for the first time. The sheer scale of Antony Gormley’s art work is mind-blowing and much bigger than I’d anticipated from photographs.

Like many Antony Gormley pieces, this is monumental in scale but it covers a much bigger area than his other works.

Each of the sculptures stands in a similar way with their postures carrying different degrees of tension or relaxation. All of them stare towards the horizon as if the waves of the Irish Sea are beckoning them.

Tourists, dog walkers and the plain curious approach and stare at their unyielding, blank faces as if they’re alien figures from another planet.

Gormley Crosby Beach

Loving the ‘alien’ – Crosby Beach

There’s an otherworldly quality to Gormley’s alien-like ‘cybermen’ with their static appearance and featureless bodies. They look like they’ve arrived in a time machine or extra-terrestrial spacecraft, landing in a strange environment which they are trying to make sense of.

For me, the figures resemble actors in a theatrical performance which has paused for an intermission.

The stillness of the figures is disconcerting especially when the light disappears at the end of the day and the inky indigo blues of the sunset start to envelop them in a dark shroud of shadows.

By daylight, they glisten in the sunshine and many bear the scars of the weather which has aged them over time.

Gormley's Anotehr Place

On the beach

Ebb and flow

Antony Gormley’s figures rise up from the beach like a Terracotta Army, standing to attention.  But what does it all mean?

When he designed the work, Gormley said that he wanted to capture the ebb and flow of the tide to explore man’s relationship with nature. This is his vision for them:

“The seaside is a good place to do this. Here, time is tested by tide, architecture by the elements and the prevalence of sky seems to question the earth’s substance. In this work human life is tested against planetary time.”

Gormley Another Place

Gormley’s clones

For Gormley these figures aren’t heroic or alien, they are Mr Average, reproduced like clones. These are not classical, god-like heroes like the statues in The Louvre or Liverpool’s Walker Art Gallery.

“It is no hero, no ideal, just the industrially reproduced body of a middle-aged man trying to remain standing and trying to breathe, facing a horizon busy with ships moving materials and manufactured things around the planet.”

Gormley Crosby Beach

Constantly changing figures in the late afternoon

The sculptures are placed between 50 and 250 metres apart along the tideline and vary in appearance depending on the tide conditions, weather and hour of the day.

As the water ebbs and flows at low and high tide, the sculptures become more or less visible depending on how close the water creeps to them. It’s an astonishing transition.

Gormley Another Place

Partially submerged sculpture

Some of the figures disappear almost completely at high tide and become submerged.

Others end up partially buried in the sand or stand with their necks peering out of the water like they’re drowning.

It’s a brilliant idea to use the shifting sands and the ebb of the water to change the look of the sculptures. It means that every time you visit this beach, there’s a slightly different experience in store.

Gormley Another Place

Buried in the sand

The interplay between stillness and movement is fascinating. These iron men stand quietly for several hours at low tide, whilst at high tide they’re battered by the sea.

The statues have become an integral part of the landscape – in a strange way they also engage with the daily life of the beach.

Crowds gather round to ponder the meaning of the figures. Playful dogs sniff and run rings around them. Students of marine biology study the strange barnacles attached to the submerged statues.

Gormley Crosby Beach

Inky blue hues – Another Place

Beach life

Another Place is now a permanent feature at Crosby Beach but it wasn’t always so. It was originally designed as a touring work on European beaches and spent time at Cuxhaven in Germany, Stavanger in Norway and De Panne in Belgium.

The ‘Iron Men,’ as they have become known, were intended to be temporary when they arrived in Crosby. But the public fell in love with them and a campaign built up to keep the figures  in Liverpool.

For many years, I’ve had a large framed poster of the original sculptures in Germany on my wall so it’s thrilling to see the Gormley works located permanently on an English beach.

Gormley Another Place

Looking out to sea

Antony Gormley lobbied to keep the sculptures  in Liverpool. He had no doubt that Crosby Beach was the perfect location for them. But keeping the ‘Iron Men’ in Liverpool was not without controversy.

There were health and safety concerns which left the artist grumbling about the ‘risk averse’ culture of the UK. 

Critics feared that one of the sculptures might topple over and injure someone. The coastguards were worried that visitors would wade into the sea and get trapped by the tides. Others worried about the explicit penises sported by some figures!

But eventually, common sense prevailed and the works were allowed to stay. Now, they’re a huge draw for tourists.

Meet the ‘Iron Men’

Gormley Another Place

‘Barnacle Bill’?

Wandering around the figures is a thrilling experience. It’s tempting to walk around every one of them.

After the first 50, I kept on walking towards the furthest figures but eventually realised I’d wandered a very long way down the beach.

In fact, I was about two kilometres from the car park. No surprise when I got  a phone call from Tony saying “Where the hell are you? I hope you’re not photographing all 100 of them!”.

I admit that I’d already captured about 65 sculptures on camera!

The figures nearest the promenade were the least weather-beaten and had a bronzed glow like they’ve been sunbathing on the sands.

Those nearer the sea have become craggy and almost unrecognisable with their barnacles, algae and worn-down faces.

I nicknamed one gnarled figure ‘Barnacle Bill’ because he was covered in hundreds of barnacles and marine life.

Like the wreck of a sunken galleon, the men closest to the sea have become at one with the watery environment and have lost much of their original patina.

Looking further out to sea, there’s a backdrop of whirling wind farms. Look out for the Belfast to Birkenhead ferry which glides by each day, providing a great photo opportunity with the sculptures in the foreground.

Another Place is not without humour. Some Liverpool locals have added their own Scouse twist to some of the figures. One can be seen wearing a colourful Carmen Miranda style dress as if  ready to pack its bags and head off across the sea on a holiday adventure.

Gormley figure with added clothing

Colourful attire on one of the Gormley figures

Beach memories

There’s something that brought out my inner child when I was on the beach with the ‘iron men’. Perhaps it was because of my personal connections to this place?

When I was a toddler, my parents brought me to Crosby Beach with my bucket and spade. My Dad grew up around the corner in Waterloo in a small house with a view of the sea. Even as a child, I felt attracted by Crosby’s golden sands and Irish Sea views.

Further along the beach, I recall someone getting stuck in quicksand, a deeply scary experience. Perhaps that’s why I like the solidity and permanence of the ‘iron men’.

Gormley Crosby Beach

Wind farms provide a modern backdrop to Another Place

Another Place also brought out the amateur archaeologist in me. I wanted to investigate and delve deeper into the lives of these haunting figures which seem to have sprung up from nowhere.

There’s a slightly spooky, primeval feel to the beach especially at dusk when the figures are silhouetted against the landscape.

Art lovers will love the experience of interacting with the sculptures, but you don’t have to be a culture vulture to enjoy a trip to Crosby.

This is quite simply a great beach walk with the added attraction of the formidable army of ‘iron men’.  Timeless and haunting, the sculptures transport you to another time and place. An inspirational trip.

Gormley Crosby Beach

Another Place has a haunting quality

Tammy Tour Guide – Antony Gormley’s Another Place

Another Place is located at Crosby Beach in Liverpool, north west England. Follow the signs from Crosby or Blundellsands to Mariners Road. If you’re using a GPS, the postcode is L23 6SX.

The ‘Iron Men,’ as they have become known, were intended to be temporary when they arrived in 2005 CHECK but soon became hugely popular. The public fell in love with them so their next trip to New York was put on ice.

Static figure

Another Place is open all hours. The best times to see the sculptures are at sunset/sunrise and low tide. Admission is free. Parking is located nearby on the main beach promenade. There are two rail stations within striking distance at Blundellsands and Waterloo.

Visitors are advised to stay within 50 metres of the promenade at all tides and not attempt to walk out to the furthest figures. Wear sensitive shoes as it can be wet, muddy and sandy underfoot.

Other places worth visiting in nearby Liverpool if you’re in the area for a short break include the Tate Gallery, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool Museum, Albert Dock, Maritime Museum and the homes of The Beatles.

Gormley Another Place

Pick a sunset to see Another Place

Visit the Another Place photo gallery

Click on the images to expand and create a tour of Crosby Beach and Another Place. 

Where to find more Antony Gormley 

If you love Antony Gormley and want to see more his works, here’s a selection of his sculptures across Great Britain.

Edinburgh Modern Art Gallery

Gormley

Gormley in Edinburgh

This work is outside the main entrance so you can’t miss it. There are also several other Gormleys down by the stream at the back of the gallery although some have been removed due to boggy conditions.

Birmingham city centre

Gormley statue

Antony Gormley in Birmingham city centre

Head to Victoria Square in Birmingham city centre to come face to face with Gormley’s giant Iron Man.

London – Euston Road

Antony Gormley in London

Antony Gormley in London

Look out for the iron man and his doppleganger in the windows of an office reception just off Euston Road opposite Great Portland Street Tube. 

The Angel of the North, Gateshead

The most famous Antony Gormley is the iconic Angel of the North on the main road into Gateshead on Tyneside.

Angel of the North

The Angel of the North – Gateshead

Seal sanctuary on Holland’s coast

Pieterburen Seal Rehabilitation Centre Holland

Seals at Pieterburen rescue centre

Have you ever wondered how you go about weighing a seal pup?

It’s an odd question which I found myself asking when I visited the Seal Rehabilitation Centre in Holland.

Every year, dozens of seals are abandoned or become sick on the Dutch coast as a result of pollution or getting trapped in fishing nets.

Rescuing them and getting them back to full health involves a spell of rehabilitation including checking their health and weight.

Weighing a seal isn’t as easy as you might think. Watch this video of experts rounding up sick seal pups and putting them into a basket to weigh them.

Seal rescue

Seals are fabulous animals – large and lumbering on land but speedy on the sea which is their natural environment.

But it’s easy to take them for granted and forget how vulnerable these mammals can be.  A trip to the seal crèche and rescue centre in Pieterburen in northern Holland is an eye-opening experience.

Grey seals

Grey seals

Founded by the amazing Leni ‘t Hart, an animal rights activist, the centre is dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation and release of injured, orphaned and sick seals.

During the 1970s the Waddensea was seriously polluted and the seal population was being depleted as a result of the damage to their habitat.

It’s a problem that’s still affecting seal numbers worldwide today.

Lenie t’ Hart started a successful campaign to improve the environment of the Waddensea and North Sea.

Her passion for conservation also resulted in her early work rescuing the animals. She started off with one small tub in her backyard which acted as a nursing ‘pool’.

Pieterburen Seal Rehabilitation Centre Holland

Pieterburen Seal Rehabilitation Centre Holland

After fundraising, Leni went on to found the seal sanctuary which today has become a world leader in the care of sick seals.

With volunteers and a network of helpers, around 650 seals are collected from the coast every year, rehabilitated and released back into their natural environment.

The centre has evolved from basic day care for young seals into a seal hospital with facilities including a quarantine nursery, laboratory and research quarters.

Up close with seals

The Seal Centre is a great, fun place for both kids and adults  You can see the animals up close and watch their every move including feeding and frolicking in the outdoor pools.

The seals are incredibly cute and engaging but there is also a serious message. The seal is the symbol of a healthy sea. So it’s worrying that so many animals are still being brought in for rescue.

Pieterburen Seal Rehabilitation Centre Holland

Seal nursery – watching the seals

The seals come mainly from The Waddensea, the world’s largest tidal barrier island system, which has great importance for bio-diversity on a global scale.

Although pollution in the Waddensea isn’t as bad as it was in the 1970s, there are still environmental problems.

The Seal Rehabilitation Centre rescues seals that have been injured by boats or fishing nets and those that have been sickened due to marine pollution.  The centre also rescues orphaned pups.

The rehabilitated seals are released into the wild after their treatment which can last from several weeks to six months. None of the animals remain in captivity.

During their stint in rehab, the seals are monitored and weighed to assess their daily progress. Getting a seal onto the scales is no easy business because they’re slippery when wet. The ingenious solution is to put them in a straw basket – another tricky task!

The seals aren’t always docile during their weighing routine. They can bite and sometimes behave aggressively with each other. It’s intriguing to watch from the sidelines. I don’t envy the staff!

This is real life not a Disney movie so expect a lot of noise, commotion and even some blood!

Seal schedule

Pieterburen Seal Rehabilitation Centre Holland

Seals ready for release back into the sea

The nursery has a busy daily schedule which takes in everything from feeding the seals to health checks on the animals:

klok8307:00-8:30:  Preparation of food and medicines for the seals in the nursery kitchen. Each seal has its own recovery programme.  This is followed by a big clean-up of indoor and outdoor pools and hallways to ensure no infections are passed on.

klok9309:30: The vet does the rounds, checking all the seals and monitoring their progress. During these visits, the seals are assessed to determine whether they are almost ready for their release into the wild.

klok110011.00: Weighing the seals. Watch the video of this tricky activity!

klok130013.00: A busy time in the kitchen where portions of fish are prepared, weighed and divided into containers.

klok143014.30: Feeding time.  Very young seal pups get their fish in the form of a paste through a hose and funnel. Others are fed with their allowance of fish.

Pieterburen Seal Rehabilitation Centre Holland

Nursery enclosure

klok160016.00: Seals eligible for release are weighed. If they have put on enough weight and have sufficient strength, they are separated so they can be transferred easily into boxes for transportation.

klok70017.00: The seals ready for release are put into a separate pool area. There is fresh fish in the water so the animals can swim underwater and catch the food. From this time, these seals are not disturbed until the next morning.

klok190019.00: Feeding the rest of the recovering seals.

klok220022.00: Final checks on the seals. There is sometimes a late night round of the weaker seals.

Inside the seal nursery

Pieterburen seal sanctuary

The seals relax in the pools

Watching the seals is fascinating from the tiny, vulnerable pups in the indoor nursery to the stronger, recovering animals in the outdoor pools.

The seals receive intensive care for their health problems, mostly lungworm infections.

Once on the road to recovery, it’s great to watch their progress to health.  There’s a massive ‘cute’ factor with lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from fellow visitors. The seal pups with their big, dark eyes are hugely attractive.

Don’t miss ‘It’s A Beautiful Day’, a thought-provoking film in the visitor centre theatre. It tells the moving story of the challenges the seals face from pollution and the fishing industry.

Overfishing, polluted waters and warmer seas mean that greater numbers of sick seals are being rescued from surrounding beaches every year.

I wasn’t the only person sniffling at the end of the film when the rescued pups were released back into the sea to the sound of  Queen’s ‘It’s A Beautiful Day’.

Watching the healthy seal pups lumber down the beach back into the sea is a magical moment that leaves a lump in the throat:

The damage done to the habitats of these wonderful creatures is brought home powerfully. It’s truly shocking to see the negative impact of man on the environment.

Unique habitat

Rehabilitation of seals is not without controversy. Some critics argue that large-scale capture disrupts natural selection and weakens the wild population.

So should we let nature take its course or is it our duty to help sick animals?

I’d agree with the Seal Centre that this is not so much about letting nature take its course than mitigating against the worst effects of man’s disastrous impact on the environment.

Wadden Sea

The Wadden Sea

Both Common and Grey seals live in the Waddensea which is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s an important inter-tidal habitat for the seals as well as for 20 million birds.

During low tide, the seals haul themselves up onto the exposed sandbanks. They also use the land for breeding and giving birth to their pups.

The Waddensea is the world’s largest habitat of this type which means it’s important for all of us.

It’s sad to think that the seals remain so vulnerable to changes in this fragile eco-system. It’ll be a beautiful day when we don’t have to rescue the seals with teams of volunteers.

Until that time, Pieterburen is hugely valuable. Go along and visit for fun – but also take away its serious message about man’s precious relationship with nature.

Tammy’s top travel tips – Pieterburen seals

The Seal Rehabilitation and Research Centre is located in Pieterburen on the north Holland coast in the Groningen region.

Pieterburen Seal Rehabilitation Centre Holland

Tammy outside the seal sanctuary

The seal rescue centre is open daily from 10: 00-17: 00. There’s a small admission charge for adults and children. Check out group and VIP tours. 

Although the visitor displays are mainly in Dutch, you can borrow a booklet with an English translation from the visitor desk. Staff are very happy to chat in English to explain the seal nursery activities. The film about the seals can be shown in English or Dutch – just ask at the desk.

There’s a cafe for lunch and snacks.

Time your visit.  The seals are fed daily from 11: 00-12: 00 and between 14: 00-16:00.  Look out for the seals getting weighed – it’s highly entertaining!

Pieterburen seal sanctuary

Weighing the seals at Pieterburen

Why not combine your visit with a trip to the nearby Frisian Islands and Waddensea if you’re on a weekend tour. The Waddensea (Waddenzee)  is a good place for seal watching with organised boat trips and views of seals along the sand bars around Schiermonnikoog.

Watch out for seals bobbing their heads out of the water if you take a boat trip across The Waddensea.

If you’re in northern Holland and spot a seal in distress, call 0595-526 526 to speak to the rescue experts. Once back home, why not adopt a seal?

You can watch the release of seals when they are returned into the Waddensea. Check forthcoming dates on the Lauwersoog Water Events and Pieterburen Seal Sanctuary websites. The seal release takes place on a sandbar in the middle of the Waddensea.

Seals

Seals

Good UK seal watching locations are the Farne Islands, Holy Island (Northumberland), Seal Sands (Teesside) Blakeney (Norfolk) and Donna Nook (Lincolnshire).

Cheeseburn Grange – Country Home for Art

Mach at Cheeseburn

Artist David Mach is showcased at Cheeseburn

If you have a passion for art, grab your diary and make a date to visit Cheeseburn Grange, a fantastic addition to northern England’s cultural scene.

I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of things to come when I visited Cheeseburn earlier this week.

Cheeseburn is the brainchild of Joanna and Simon Riddell whose vision is to turn their stunning country house and gardens into a showcase for sculpture, art and design.

Next summer, they’ll be throwing open their doors to art lovers on a regular basis and you’ll be able to browse and even buy some of the art works. View the photo gallery for an exclusive preview.

Cheeseburn Grange

Cheeseburn Grange with sculptures

Exploring the art trail

As we drove up the drive into Cheeseburn, there was an air of excitement about discovering a country home for contemporary art.

Walking through the front gardens, we happened upon an intriguing sculpture in the shape of an urn by Andrew Burton, fashioned in terracotta-coloured clay.

Cheesburn

Andrew Burton’s Vessel

Burton reclaims and re-uses elements from his earlier works so it came as no surprise to discover that Vessel is constructed from thousands of handmade bricks previously used in other pieces.

After this encounter, the art works came thick and fast. There are 23 sculptures in the grounds of Cheeseburn plus more in the Stables and other outbuildings.

This metallic shape by Stephen Newby is one of several pieces at Cheeseburn by the artist. I love its reflective shiny surface which changes as the light moves and shifts throughout the day.

Cheeseburn

Stephen Newby sculpture

Another Stephen Newby work is positioned precariously above a doorway into the gardens nearby.

Stephen Newby has been designing and making inflatable metal sculptures for interiors and architectural sites across Europe.

It’s easy to see why his pieces are so popular. They have a certain plasticity and playfulness. They feel like they’re almost part of the landscape. I love their beautiful, transient surfaces.

Art work at Cheeseburn

Newby’s  sculpture balances above the garden door

Mach’s masterworks

But it’s David Mach’s art works in the Stables that have been attracting the most interest and excitement at Cheeseburn.

Having a major international artist on board is a real coup for Cheeseburn Grange’s owners. As ever, his works in The Stables are bursting with ingenuity and inspired ideas.

David Mach art

Log Cabin by David Mach

Mach’s Log Cabin was produced by the artist after he spent time in the surrounding landscape and woods at Cheeseburn.

This maquette is formed from drift wood but provides the model for a full size building or pavilion constructed from fallen trees.

It draws its inspiration from the many remarkable trees in Cheeseburn’s grounds including this gnarly specimen with its bulbous trunk and woody tentacles.

Historic tree at Cheeseburn

Historic tree at Cheeseburn

Don’t miss the main stable block where more Mach masterworks are on display together with five of his collages which provide an insight into his way of working.

It goes without saying that Mach’s works are head and shoulders above anything else on display at Cheeseburn, although the quality of all the art works is high.

Cheeseburn is lucky to have struck up a partnership with Mach who is no stranger to North East England. His famous Train, a locomotive built entirely from bricks, is down the road in Darlington.

One of the most striking works is Mach’s Stag Head in the hay-loft. It’s one of a series of Mach’s ‘match head’ sculptures which have been shown internationally.

David Mach Stag Head Cheeseburn

David Mach’s Stag Head

Originally constructed with live matches (yes, matches!), the Stag Head sculpture was ignited and transformed leaving a carbonised surface of match heads.

It’s difficult to see this piece close-up because there’s a barrier around the space. My only criticism is that it would be better if visitors could walk around the space, get closer to the sculpture and view the work from different angles.

Mach describes himself as “an ideasmonger” who responds to all sorts of materials. The breadth of his creativity is certainly on display at Cheeseburn with a wide range of his work.

Wood is a prominent theme with three more sculptures strewn across the Stable Gallery’s floors. But one of my favourite pieces is his tilting chair which defies gravity and the laws of physics.

Cheeseburn chapel

Cheeseburn’s Catholic chapel

Over in the chapel, there’s another face of Mach’s work – a collage called Jesus Walks on Water – an impressive futuristic series of images.

It reminded me of Mach’s Precious Light show, inspired by Biblical stories, which I saw at the Edinburgh Festival some years ago. It seemed somehow appropriate to find this work in the house’s historic chapel.

A sense of the new

As well as established names, Cheeseburn also showcases a new generation of artists including Heidi Dent who has created a pendulous sculpture in the barn.

This oddly-shaped ‘teardrop’ hangs from the roof  like an ominous presence. It reminded me of something lurking in the barn of a horror movie farmhouse.

Mushroom shape by Heidi Dent Cheeseburn

Mushroom shape by Heidi Dent

I expected this work to ooze with a strange gloop but, on closer inspection, it turned into a softer, more welcoming presence.

If looks like a giant-sized mushroom with a squidgy centre. Heidi Dent’s use of materials is clever and creative – clearly, an artist to watch out for in the future.

She is fascinated by repetitive, hard work and this piece is actually made from knitted yarns. I wondered how many hours of work must’ve gone into making this striking sculpture.

Natural glories

Back in the gardens, it was time to discover works which blend seamlessly into the landscape with a series of stunning Colin Rose sculptures.

Cheeseburn art work

Colin Rose’s hovering Rope Ball at Cheeseburn

Cheeseburn’s gardens are fabulous in their own right but they come alive with the art works placed around the grounds, many in inspired locations.

Two fabulous works by Colin Rose take the form of large-scale sculptures which hover in the trees as if they’re an integral part of the landscape.

They’re amazing but slightly disconcerting. Perhaps I read too many sci-fi novels where trees become malevolent forces when I was a teenager?

Further along the path a huge acorn-like ‘Pine Ball’ sits on the branches of a tree as if autumn has gone into overdrive and given birth to a giant-sized nut.

Cheeseburn

Rose’s giant Pine Ball

Leaving behind these strange shapes, I started to question a lot of objects in the landscape including an apple tree with its bright red, luscious fruits.

I had to look closer to work out if this was indeed a real fruit tree or an art installation! It’s a tribute to Rose’s art that he manages to blur the boundaries between art and reality – and forces you to interrogate the natural world.

Apples at Cheeseburn

Apples in Cheeseburn’s orchard

Down in the potting shed at the back of the orchard, something strange was also lurking.

Several visitors were looking at a pile of paving stones, stacked in an artistic heap. Were they a sculpture or paving blocks? Watching their puzzled faces was very amusing.

Inside the shed, artist Gilbert Ward’s curvaceous wood forms – Baker’s Dozen – were impressive with their lovely, sensuous shapes which made me want to touch them (tempting but I didn’t!). 

I saw several visitors musing about whether the plant pots were also part of the bigger art work but in my mind they were just a great setting for Ward’s sculptures. 

Cheeseburn

Down in the potting shed – Gilbert Ward’s Baker’s Dozen

Strange sightings

As I walked down through the beautiful grounds, I became increasingly aware of Cheeseburn’s clever use of garden vistas and boundaries to show off the art works.

All the pieces make effective use of their surroundings. not least this metal installation by Stephen Newby which mirrors and reflects the environment around it.

Cheeseburn sculpture

Reflecting the landscape

From a distance, I spied a striking terracotta sculpture by Andrew Burton on top of the main garden wall.

There’s a real sense of motion about the sculpture which depicts cattle pulling a huge architectural structure like a giant wagon train.  It’s strangely reminiscent of David Mach’s Train in Darlington.

Cheeseburn art work

Look out for art in unusual places

Garden sculptures

One of the most enjoyable sections of the art tour is the formal garden which is home to around a dozen pieces ranging from small figures to larger abstract shapes.

Cheeseburn

Figures by Joseph Hillier in the garden

Joseph Hillier features prominently but here his work takes on a human face with this lovely work featuring two figures face to face.

Over on the lawn there’s another Hillier figure – Origin – which depicts Adam holding a tempting apple. There are shades of Antony Gormley but Hillier is very much his own man.

Just when you think that Hillier is all about figurative art, he confounds us with a series of abstract sculptures including a large ‘egg’ covered in what looks like a plastic sheet.

Turns out it’s actually made of bronze and resin.  A cunning trick from this inventive artist.

Cheeseburn art work

Hillier’s Untitled ‘egg’

On a similar theme, Hillier’s ‘mesh’ sculpture in stainless steel – Lure – also plays with space, materials and scale.

Looking like it has risen organically from the land, I couldn’t decide whether this work is sci-fi inspired or rooted in nature. It seems to be a curious companion piece to the nearby mysterious egg.

Hillier's perfect mesh object

Hillier’s stainless steel egg-like Lure

Over in the rose garden, there are some very different works by artist Daniel Clahane who specialises in relief sculptures made from stone.

They have a classical quality and, although I admire them for their craftsmanship, they’re my least favourite works in the gardens.

On the plus side, they have a softness and fluidity which seemed to appeal to a lot of art lovers who were extolling their virtues.

Cheesburn figure

Daniel Clahane’s female figure

Country walk

Back out in the grounds, there are yet more treats in store. Artist Andrew Burton has created a clay tyre in a small outbuilding, which  seems to echo the days of tractors and farming at Cheeseburn.

Clay is Burton’s trademark material and it works well here to represent a very different material and texture – rubber.

Cheeseburn

Andrew Burton’s tyre in clay

As you move back towards the house, there are interesting works by the tennis courts from artists working in a variety of materials ranging from natural stone and wood to man-made materials such as steel.

Being a big fan of nature, I enjoyed a group of small tree sculptures which reflect the spirit of the woodlands surrounding the country house.

Cheeseburn

Art rooted in the environment

Arriving back at the country house, I revisited the David Mach sculptures which are the stars of the show. I’m looking forward to Mach’s future artistic collaborations with Cheeseburn.

But Cheeseburn isn’t a one trick pony. There are many artistic highlights from Colin Rose, a personal favourite, to rising stars like Heidi Dent and Joseph Hillier.

The collection is beautifully presented with a great selection of pieces displayed in intriguing locations.

Let’s hope that more international artists are attracted to showcase their work here. Cheeseburn would be a great home for the likes of Antony Gormley and Andy Goldworthy.

Cheeseburn is a country home for contemporary art – what a fantastic vision!.

Tammy’s top tips – Cheeseburn Grange

Cheeseburn figure

Human figure – Joseph Hillier

Cheeseburn Grange is located east of Stamfordham on the B6342 in Northumberland in North East England.

It’s a 30 minute drive from Newcastle upon Tyne.

The art works are only viewable by the public on selected dates during the year so check opening times.

Cheeseburn hopes to host regular open weekends in the summer of 2015.

Look out for future events on the Cheeseburn website. Artist talks, film screenings, lectures and workshops are also planned for the future. Follow Cheeseburn on Twitter.

When going on the art walk, wear sturdy boots as the grounds can get muddy underfoot.

Visit Tammy Tour Guide’s Cheeseburn art trail in this virtual photo gallery trail.

Click through the images to go on a complete guided tour of the grounds.

 

Brussels in a camper van!

Grand Place Brussels

Grand Place Brussels

Have you ever hatched a holiday plan that sounded fantastic but turned out to be a really terrible idea?

Well, our holiday trip to Brussels in the camper van was one of those moments. Holiday craziness took over from rational thinking.

I’d read that Brussels was a spectacularly unfriendly place for motor homes but still thought we could find a clever way of  ‘doing the city’ in the van.

Camper van hell

Mannequin Pis Brussels

Brussels – the Mannequin Pis

Brussels is a very busy capital city with its mix of European Union bureaucrats, tourists and hard-working locals. It’s also a major transport cross-roads where all routes seem to converge.

As a result, it’s a strong contender for the title of ‘most congested city in Europe’. Worse than Rome. More clogged-up than London and busier than Paris on a bad day.

Brussels traffic

Brussels traffic – don’t expect a parking place

So why venture into the city in a motor home? Laziness and convenience, I guess. I thought we’d save time and hassle by heading to the city centre and by-passing a long ride into town by public transport.

The alternative was to park a very long way out-of-town and travel in by bus and tram, wasting hours of time.

As we drove into Brussels, the traffic got busier and busier. Eventually we came to a complete standstill in a tangled jam of cars, lorries and white vans which barely moved . We should’ve turned back there and then.

Waiting in the traffic we kept up our spirits by planning an action-packed itinerary full of museums, galleries, beer drinking and tours of Tintin territory.

Tammy at Comic Strip Museum Brussels

Tammy in Tintin territory

I was delighted to discover that our Camperstop Guide book had listings for motor home parking in the city centre, although the small print did warn us that overnight stays were forbidden.  We set the GPS to navigate to the recommended car parks.

It wasn’t long before we realised our mistake. After being stuck in another huge traffic queue which crawled along for nearly an hour, we were no further forward. It was nearly lunchtime and we were way behind schedule.

Grand Place Brussels

Missing valuable cafe time in Brussels

After long delays, we arrived at our destination – a car park with camper van spaces near the Royal Palace.

Unfortunately, the police had commandeered the car park and it was surrounded by yellow tape to stop anyone parking. Lesson number one – never assume you’ll find a parking spot close to the city centre.

Not to be defeated, we tried another recommended car park. This one was now a construction site where an office development was springing up. So far, so bad…

Driving in circles

Things were looking dodgy as we drove in ever decreasing circles looking for a parking space big enough for the truck. As time ticked by, we hit another horrendous traffic jam into the city centre. And it wasn’t even rush hour!

A detour down a side-street, as a result of road works and diversions, started the alarm bells ringing. As the streets got narrower and more congested, the camper van squeezed through at snail’s pace with barely a millimetre to spare on each side.

Tammy in Brussels

We should have taken a tram not the van

“Which idiot thought this was a good idea?”, shouted Tony who was getting angrier by the minute. “It was both of us,”, I replied as his temper flared up and the language became unprintable.

After another diversion and GPS meltdown, we got stuck in the neighbourhood of Ixelles – where a series of one-way streets went round in a perpetual loop. It was also white van delivery territory with vehicles blocking every inch of road space.

It took another 30 minutes before we could escape but further blockages lay ahead. Finally, red-faced Tony decided on a change of plan. We would abandon the plan and drive miles out of the city centre to look for parking.

After half an hour of driving, the GPS took us to a large car park on the far side of the city near the Heysel Stadium.

Imagine my surprise when I spotted the iconic symbol of the city, the Atomium, out of the corner of the car mirror . Yes, we had arrived at Brussels’ exhibition and conference parking centre!

The Atomium Brussels

The Atomium Brussels

To be honest, I’ve never been so pleased to see a car park. After parking up, the air of grumpiness continued as we caught the nearby tram into the city, a journey of 30 minutes. At least it was completely relaxing and lacking in traffic stress.

Lesson two – always start with the easiest parking option in a busy capital city, even if it involves multiple tram and underground journeys!

Discovering Brussels  

After a bad-tempered start to the day, finally we hit the streets of Brussels and our frayed tempers disappeared as we visited a fabulous Belgian chocolatier.  The amazing healing powers of chocolate!

Tammy with chocolate in Belgium

Tammy’s chocolate fix

A trip to the city’s museums and galleries also restored our spirits – and by the time we hit the fabulous Grand Place for a Belgian beer in the late afternoon, we’d forgotten the trails and tribulations of the traffic (almost).

OK, I admit that it was a dumb idea to take the camper van into Brussels city centre. Even madder than driving our previous motor home into the crowded streets of historic Prague. That was an accident incidentally – the GPS hadn’t been working!

But Brussels should learn from other European cities like Berlin, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Copenhagen which provide city camping and parking for motor homes close to their centres.

Amsterdam City Camping site

Amsterdam City Camping site

There are no overnight motor home sites within easy reach of Brussels – and directions to parking for RVs are non-existent. You have to drive miles out to towns like Lier and Antwerp to find a place to stay.

Fortunately, we managed to spend the night with our lovely friends who live in Overijse, 40 minutes drive from Brussels. But even that driving experience was like running the gauntlet with huge jams and traffic congestion day and night.

To be frank, Brussels should put up signs on its city limits saying ‘Camper Vans NOT welcome’. Given that our truck is the size of delivery van and not a massive RV, it seems a little harsh to be so biased against visitors in smaller motor homes.

Camper van

Our small van found it tricky to overnight in Brussels

Even London has parking for vans at Abbey Wood and further out in the Lee Valley whilst the O2 Arena had good motorhome parking and it’s close to the Tube.

Brussels should think creatively about motor homes rather than having a blanket ‘no go’ attitude. Nearby Antwerp is a case in point. It has a good quality city centre motor home site at Vogelzang park, a short tram ride from the historic quarter. Even Bruges has decent quality van sites within easy cycling distance from the centre.

Antwerp camper van site

Antwerp camper van site

Perhaps a well-designed, overnight site near the Atomium would be the ideal solution?

Until then, the camper van will be staying away from Brussels and we’ll be visiting the city by plane or train. Brussels is a fascinating city but it’s no wonder Tintin and Snowy never travelled by camper van!

Tammy’s guide to Brussels

Stay out of the city centre if you’re in a car, motor home or camper van. Don’t even think about getting close to the Brussels’ conurbation which is hugely congested.

There are some great attractions to visit in Brussels as well as fabulous architecture to soak up. If you’re on a short vacation, head for the spectacular Grand Place for a historic tour of the square’s architecture. Enjoy an authentic Belgian beer in one of the many cafes.

Brussels - Grand Place

Brussels – Grand Place

Art lovers can enjoy the city’s excellent galleries including the Magritte museum, the Comic Strip Museum and the extensive collection of the Fine Art Museum.

The fabulous Horta House, a must for lovers of Art Nouveau, with its fin de siecle architecture and ornate interiors.

Art nouveau Brussels

Art nouveau in Brussels

The best place to park if you’re in a car or camper van is the Atominum on the far outskirts of the city where there are fast tram and metro services to the city centre.  The journey takes around 35 minutes.

There are also small RV camping areas at Oudenaarde and Overijse, quite some distance away from Brussels, if you’re stopping overnight on your way out of the city.  They are not hugely practical for regular trips in and out of Brussels by public transport.

Transport in Brussels city centre is excellent by tram or underground services.

Underground train Brussels

Subway train Brussels