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

Mondrian – Walking a line with colour

 

Mondrian's Paris studio reconstruction c/o Tate Gallery

Mondrian’s Paris studio reconstruction

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

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

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

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

Red, yellow and blue

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

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

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

Mondrian

Mondrian in his Paris studio

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

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

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

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

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

Grid art

Mondrian

Composition in Line c/o Kroller Muller Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Squares of colour

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

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

Mondrian

Composition with Yellow, Blue and Red – Mondrian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The power of geometry

So why a passion for three primary colours?

Mondrian

Composition B (No. II) by Mondrian

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

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

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

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

He even had a great name for it – neoplasticism!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mondrian

Mondrian’s Composition VI (No. 2)

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

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

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

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

A little deft curation may have helped here.

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

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

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

Tammy’s guide to Mondrian

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

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

Tammy meets Mondrian at MOMA, New York

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

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

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

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

© Tate Photography, 2014.

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

Stockholm’s Archipelago and 1,000 Islands

Stockholm

On the seas – Stockholm

Guest blog by Tony van Diesel

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

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

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

On the water

Stockholm

Sailing in Stockholm

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

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

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

Stockholm

Tony on board the Ostana

Island living

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

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

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

Stockholm

House with a view Stockholm style

Yachts, canoes and speedboats were scattered everywhere.

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

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

Stockholm

Your own private island for a million

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

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

Stockholm – Tony’s travel tips

Stockholm

Stockholm’s wilder side

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

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

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

Stockholm

Wrap up warm on the water

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

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

Stockholm

Calm seas and sunshine in summer and autumn

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

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

Stockholm

Stockholm’s harbour

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

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

Drottingholm Palace Stockholm

Arrive at Drottingholm Palace by steamer

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

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

Stockholm

Island living in Stockholm

Eating out 

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

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

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

Stockholm's Gamla Stam or Old Town

Stockholm’s Gamla Stam or Old Town

The second night was a total contrast.

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

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

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

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

Who cares at that price?

Getting around 

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

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

Stockholm

Hop on, hop off boat in Stockholm

 

Eltham Palace – Dream house with Art Deco style

Eltham Palace entrance hall

Eltham Palace entrance hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eltham Palace

The gardens at Eltham Palace

Fit for a king

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

Eltham Palace's Great Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palatial style

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace gardens

Art Deco style

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

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

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace entrance

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

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

Eltham Palace

Colonnade decoration

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

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

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

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace’s moat and walls

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

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

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

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

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

Eltham Palace

The Art Deco circular lounge

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

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

Elegance and luxury

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

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

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

Eltham Palace

The dining room at Eltham

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

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

Eltham Palace

Dining room door with monkey

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

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

Daily lives

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

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

Eltham Palace
Ginie Courtauld’s Boudoir

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

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

Sweet dreams

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

Eltham Palace

Virginia Courtauld’s bedroom at Eltham

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

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

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

Eltham Palace

Gilded age – the en suite bathroom

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

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

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

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

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

Eltham Palace

Stephen Courtauld’s bedroom – Eltham Palace

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

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

Eltham Palace

The bathroom

All mod cons

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

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

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

Eltham Palace

The Library at Eltham Palace

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

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

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

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

A house for living in

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

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

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

Eltham Palace

The flower room at Eltham

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

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

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

Eltham Palace

Mah Jongg’s luxury cage

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

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

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

Eltham Palace old phone

Coin operated phone box at Eltham

Garden delights

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

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

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

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

A place of surprises

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

Eltham Palace

Garden statue

Walking through its rooms today is a slightly surreal experience.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tammy’s travel guide – Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace

Picnicking next to the moat

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

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

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

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

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

Eltham Palace

Eltham Palace

Portland, Maine – Culture, coffee and city life

Portland

Portland city centre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portland’s cultural scene

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

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

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

Portland Museum

Portland Art Museum by Pei

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

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

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

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

Inside the foyer – Portland Museum of Art

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

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

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

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

The McLellan House at Portland Art Museum

Maine art 

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

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

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

The sculpture court – Portland Museum of Art

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

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

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

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

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

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

Winslow Homer’s Weatherbeaten – 1894

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

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

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

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

Bellow’s Matinicus – lobstermen in Maine

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

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

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

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

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

Impressionism and European art

Renoir at Portland Art Museum

Confidences by Renoir – Portland Museum of Art

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

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

Sisley at Portland Art Museum

Sisley landscape – Portland Museum of Art

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

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

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

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

Monet at Portland Art Museum

The Seine at Vetheuil by Monet – Portland Museum of Art

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

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

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

Portland Museum and Art Gallery

Impressive modern art at the Portland Museum of Art

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

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

On the beach - Portland Museum

On the beach – Portland Museum

Special exhibitions

Richard Estes

Classic American Diner by Richard Estes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tammy’s Travel Guide to Portland

Portland

Portland street scene

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

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

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

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

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

Portland historic house

Portland’s Victorian Mansion

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

Portland Longfellow House

The Longfellow House

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

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

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

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

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

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

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