Author Archives: Sarah Banks

A Good Read

Last weekend I hosted one of the author events at the Ryedale Book Festival in Malton. My task was to interview best-selling authors Susie Steiner and Gail Honeyman about their female protagonists.

IMG_4568

I have hosted similar events with Lauren Child, now Children’s Laureate, and also with Susie at the Book Festival three years ago talking about her book, Homecoming ,which is set in the North York Moors. Since then Susie has written two more novels, Missing Presumed and Persons Unknown.

If you are looking for a good read then I can highly recommend Susie’s books. The crime thrillers Missing Presumed and Persons Unknown have been optioned for TV so do keep a look out for them. Susie has got such a talent for creating real-life characters and relatable characters.

IMG_4569

Gail Honeyman is the author of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, a wonderful book that I loved from start to finish. This is Gail’s debut novel and it has already been optioned for film by Reese Witherspoon’s new company Hello Sunshine. Keep an eye out for this one…

IMG_4570

Unfortunately due to illness, Gail was unable to come which was so disappointing so the panel was just Susie and myself – Yikes! We are looking quite relaxed in the photo but there was a lot of thinking on our feet as several prepared questions and discussion got the chop…our audience were great though and had plenty of questions at the end…

Image-1

Whilst we are on the subject of book recommendations, here’s a throwback to our holiday earlier this year where I read and really enjoyed Jessie Burton’s The Muse. I loved her debut novel The Miniaturist and this one had me gripped too.

IMG_3215

So, if you do have the chance to curl up with a good book, I hope you might dip into one of the books I’ve shared. Happy reading!

 

Advertisements

England’s Big Picture

IMG_4502

I was thrilled to receive an email today telling me one of my photos had been chosen by BBC News for their England’s Big Picture gallery. You can check out the page here  http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-41227408

The photo was one I included in my blog post yesterday about the pleasures of Autumn days. This suspension footbridge holds many memories for me – I’ve wheeled three young babies and toddlers across this in pushchairs over the years to paddle in the beck or to play pooh sticks in the little hamlet of Menethorpe. More recently it’s me and the pooch using it for one of our walks.

The bridge itself is a beautiful and eye-catching piece of Victorian ironwork. It was constructed in 1885 and links the North Riding of Yorkshire to the East Riding of Menethorpe. It also takes you onto the Centenary Way which runs across the Howardian Hills and Yorkshire Wolds via Castle Howard and Wharram Percy.

If you enjoy photography why not submit a photo to the England’s Big Picture gallery by emailing england@bbc.co.uk or posting it on Facebook or Twitter @BBCEngland. I use Instagram with the hashtag #englandsbigpicture. Happy snapping!

 

Autumn Days

Much as I love summer, there is something to welcome about the shift in seasons as we head towards Autumn; russet, red and gold leaves; pinecones, conkers and acorns to collect; low sun filtering through the trees and long country walks on crisp, bright days.

IMG_4549

We’re lucky to have some beautiful walks on our doorstep and since getting a dog we’ve certainly got out more than ever. I’m rarely without my camera on my wanderings – and because I’ve become a fan of Instagram, I’m always on the look out for the perfect composition. If you use IG you’ll know that as well as the perfect composition you’re also looking for the perfect square shot to fit into IG’s little boxes.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For a small village ours has an impressive number of bridges – three in total. There are two railway bridges and one footbridge built in 1885 which links the North Riding of Yorkshire to the East Riding. This ‘bouncy’ bridge as we’ve always called it always slightly terrified me with toddlers in tow – and more recently with the dog as I really don’t fancy diving into the murky waters of the Derwent to fish her out. I’m presuming all dogs can swim so hopefully it wouldn’t come to this.

Back home, I’m planning to tidy it up for winter. Some plants are still looking vibrant even if the rest are in their twilight days. I’ve been snipping away at some of the flowers to display in jugs and vases – Japanese anemones, crocosmia and sweet peas which are still producing plenty of blooms.

Autumn is such a lovely time of year for getting outdoors; wrapping up warm; misty mornings; dazzling copper shades; beautiful sunsets and fruits to harvest. Having said all this, the skies can sometimes look like this…so remember to take your coat!

IMG_4545

I hope you enjoy your own Autumn ramblings…

Helmsley Walled Garden

A walled garden must be every gardener’s dream – sheltered from the elements that often take their toll on our own patches – especially after a heavy downfall – whose delphiniums aren’t looking a little sorry for themselves after the recent soaking?

A couple of weeks ago a good friend of mine, who happens to be a professional gardener, suggested a trip to Helmsley Walled Garden. We often meet up and do a walk together but it was looking like quite a hot day so a lovely garden with some shade – and nice café beckoned.

This idyllic five-acre site sits beneath the ruins of Helmsley Castle and is just a stone’s throw away from the pretty market town of Helmsley.

IMG_3530

The garden originally provided fruit and vegetables for the Feversham household at Duncombe Park until just after World War One when it got leased out as a market garden. Sadly, it fell derelict over the years and it wasn’t until 1994 that its restoration started thanks to the vision and sheer hard work of a local lady, Alison Ticehurst. Alison wanted the garden not only to be a beautiful site once again but also to be a place for horticultural therapy. Today supported volunteers learn horticultural skills here whilst at the same time benefiting from new skills and gaining confidence.

IMG_3559

The garden now contains a spectacular long double herbaceous border planted with vibrant reds, yellow and oranges; a white garden; a clematis garden and orchards. Wherever you are the castle is always a looming presence – whether behind formal layouts….

IMG_3545

…or as a backdrop to pretty wildflower meadows. Doesn’t this look quintessentially English with its daisies and bright red poppies peering out from the long grass?

IMG_3551

Even the cow parsley looks gorgeous rather than unruly especially when it’s set off with a mowed path down the centre with an orchard either side.

IMG_3534

The bright yellow laburnum arch and purple alliums dancing at either side look stunning at this time of year…it was an irresistible photograph to take.

IMG_3541

Did you ever read The Secret Garden as a child? Well, this door really reminded me of this book. Wouldn’t you have loved to find a hidden garden like Mary Lennox did in the story? I wonder what is behind this lovely old door.

IMG_3548

As well as the gardens, the glasshouses have all been restored and house a fantastic array of plants including succulents and this impressive display of gourds.

IMG_3554

IMG_3553

Alongside the floral attractions and not forgetting some rather cute looking resident hens, there is also a wonderful cafe here. The Vine House Café is in a restored Victorian vinery where you can eat beneath the vines or in the courtyard.

IMG_3556

The café serves mouth-watering cakes and gorgeous lunches including delicious salads. Mine contained strawberries and blueberries which I wouldn’t have thought of adding. I did try this at home afterwards, serving up a mixed salad with grapes and blueberries – it took a bit of convincing my brood that the fruit hadn’t got in there by accident – I have now moved over to the ‘anything goes’ mindset when putting together a salad thanks to my fruity salad encounter.

IMG_3558

If you get a chance to visit, the garden is looking stunning at the moment with a blaze of colour in the borders; lovely wildflower meadows sprawling out beneath orchards of apple and pear trees as well as a plant centre offering plenty of inspiration to take home with you.

 

 

 

 

 

Puppy Love

Ten days ago a small, furry bundle of exuberance entered our family life in the form of Lola, our miniature labradoodle.

IMG_3488 4

Three months ago we had no plans on getting a dog. I happily went on walks with friends and their pooches but each time my middle son lobbied for a dog, I gave the usual responses of commitment, responsibility, thinking of all the things you couldn’t do when you’ve got a dog.

So, how did I get to the point of thinking about all the things you could do with a dog?

I think it was a drip feed process. The lobbying was fairly persistent from son number two and one particular line tugged at my heart strings: “So, does that mean I’ll have to be a grown man before I get my own dog?” Eek, the process of my doggy re-education begun.

After all, I grew up with a menagerie of animals including dogs, cats, rabbits, ponies, sheep, geese, ducks, hens and goats. Mine was a 70s childhood (The Good Life) where my mum let the ducks swim in our bath and we nursed poorly hens in our kitchen. So, I had this gnawing feeling I was denying my own children experiences I’d been given. Our own menagerie up to now consisted of a cat and three bantam hens.

Then on a winter’s weekend in January The Times (The Paper for Pets stamped across its cover) dedicated its Saturday newspaper supplement to DOGS…..The Top Dog Guide: What breed is best for you?

IMG_3485 4

It had photos of loads of different breeds: Easiest to train; Most intelligent; Best for a quiet life; Most misunderstood; Best for the city;  Most loving; Best with cats; Best for children. The list went on. There really was a dog for everyone. How could I refuse?

By the end of the weekend, we were seriously considering getting a dog. The Cockapoo seemed a good all-rounder. From Cockapoos to Maltipoos, these poodle crosses are currently very popular. A friend with a Cockapoo recommended a breeder in East Yorkshire so we gave Claire at Northcroft Doodles a call. Timing-wise there wasn’t a litter of Cockapoos due but her labrador Ruby was due to give birth in March. Woody, a charming miniature poodle, was the other half – creating labradoodle puppies.

We read up about labradoodles and they sounded wonderful family pets; excellent with kids; intelligent; eager to please; popular as therapy dogs and good for first-time owners.

I then started embarrassing the kids by stopping anyone with a dog I liked the look of and asking what breed it was. And as the boys buried their heads further into their hands, I found myself getting into long conversations about the joy of having a dog with their owners. I told the boys that nobody thought I was mad because everyone loved talking about their dogs – and they did!

Added to this, the world really does seem a dog-friendly place these days. Cafés have ‘We are Dog-Friendly’ stickers on their doors; there are programmes on TV about people and their dogs – I loved the Channel 4 Walks with my Dog as much for the dogs as the country walks the celebrities were going on. There were podcasts too like Walking The Dog. And there were books.

IMG_3483 3

I came across  Labrador by Ben Fogle in our local phone box library – not my usual reading material but I found myself hooked on the stories of dogs through history. I also bought a copy of The Goodness of Dogs by India Knight, a sort of practical guide to choosing a dog mixed with an overall appreciation of dogs.

Fast forward to a week or so ago and we went to collect Lola.

IMG_3396

She is a wonderful addition to our family, making us all laugh, smile, coo and yell – yes, puppies do things they are not meant to do….but who doesn’t love a puppy, whatever mischief they get up to?

IMG_3450

Although not everyone in the house has fallen in love with her. Our cat, Daisy, is on alert and has given out a hiss and a bat when junior has got too OTT. There’s an uneasy truce between the two at present.

IMG_3441

We can’t take Lola on walks yet until she’s had her vaccinations so we’ve spent a lot of time playing in the garden with her or carrying her on walks round the village. For her first outing into town, we took her to Roost, a lovely café in Malton’s Talbot Yard, which I knew would be dog-friendly as they have a goldendoodle I’ve always admired.

IMG_20160130_111957

And I’m pleased to say she’s a puppy after my own heart. Like any true cafe afficionado she sat quietly engrossed in people-watching, just as I enjoy doing with my cappuccino and cake. It’s not a bad life….

Colours of Portugal

Whitewashed houses, pantile roofs and wooden shutters. Is this the image that springs to mind when you think of Portuguese towns and villages? This was the picture I had in my head before our recent holiday there.

Sure, the coastal resorts are pretty much a collection of whitewashed buildings, hotels and apartments but head inland and you’ll come across pops of colour and decorative details.

IMG_3282 2

I have to say that grey and yellow is one of my favourite colour combinations. There is something about the contrast of such a sunny vibrant shade against a muted one.

At first glance the lovely hill village of Alte in the Serra do Caldeirão area of the Algarve appears to be all whitewashed houses – and it’s true, many of the buildings are. But if you venture into its narrow streets you’ll come across a dash of colour, beautiful tilework and intricate decorative details.

IMG_3259 2

IMG_3278 2

And even buildings with crumbling paintwork and in need of a bit of tlc seem to get away with being charming in a rustic type of way….For Sale too!

IMG_3273 2

I liked the geometric decoration on the café below. Agua Mel in the heart of Alte is reputed to be one of the Algarve’s best cafés. It didn’t disappoint – we tucked into the best Portuguese tarts, chocolate cake, coffees and freshly squeezed orange juice we’ve tasted. It’s a really friendly, welcoming place (the boys were all given a whopping orange each to take home and squeeze) and has lovely views across the valley.

IMG_3253 2

As well as shades of ochre, this terracotta colour features on many buildings. I loved this flick of colour and design on one of the houses in Alte. There’s a definite Moorish influence in the patterns you see – not surprisingly as the Moors once controlled what is now Portugal, Spain and the Pyrenees.

IMG_3269

Portugal is famous for its tilework, particularly the blue and white ceramic tiles called azulejos which are found on the interior and exterior of many buildings from churches to palaces. The word azulejos comes from the Arabic – the tiles often contain traditional Moorish patterns.

IMG_3277 2We visited the Church of São Lourenço de Matos near Loulé which has the most wonderful tiled interior of wall-to-wall azulejos depicting the life of St Lourenço. We weren’t allowed to take photos of the interior so I will have to leave it up to your imagination to picture this masterpiece of tilework. Amazingly, in the devastating Portuguese earthquake of 1755 the church lost just five tiles, so it’s still as in tact as it was when it was created.

IMG_3158

I know Scandi-style minimalism is very much in vogue at the moment but I can’t help returning from holiday wanting to embrace the colours and patterns of the architecture and design of this beautiful part of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Is this the best beach in Europe?

A few weeks before our Easter holiday in Portugal, I read an article in The Times Travel section about the Best Beach in Europe – and guess what? It happened to be in Portugal.

So of course, we had to check it out during our stay. And despite a drive to get there, and growing expectations, I can see why it has been given this accolade.

IMG_0097

Praia Da Amoreira on Portugal’s west coast ticks all the boxes when it comes to beach perfection. It’s a huge curve of flat white sand enclosed on either side by the headland, with rolling waves and sand dunes to play in. Not only this, but the gently flowing River Aljezur runs into the sea at the far end adding an extra dimension to this beautiful beach.

IMG_3200

Now what you can’t quite get from the photos is the mini sand storm we were caught up in on the day we visited. This is, after all, the Atlantic coast which means for surf lovers it’s even more of a paradise. You can actually do stand up paddle boarding in the calmer water that runs into the sea. There is beach restaurant here, Paraiso do Mar, which sadly was closed on the day we were here, so we made do with munching on the remains of our picnic on its balcony watching surfers catch some waves.

We drove up from Cabo Sao Vicente along the winding, shaded coast road where every little track off it seemed to lead to a sweep of golden sand. The Cabo Sao Vicente is the equivalent of our Lands End, albeit without the tacky Wallace and Gromit theme park element (what’s that all about?)

IMG_0101

This end of the world location is Europe’s most southwesterly point where you don’t really do anything apart from stand and gaze out in awe across the wild Atlantic Ocean and imagine what lies beyond – it’s actually East Virginia, USA.

On the same day we also visited Praia do Martinhal near Sagres, mainly to find something to eat. We struck lucky with my favourite type of restaurant, beach-side, shack-style with a boardwalk to the sand, serving fantastic food. There are not many places like Nortada where the fish is actually brought to you to inspect before it is cooked, very simply with boiled potatoes and broccoli.

IMG_0100

We were actually staying on the south coast of Portugal, not far from Faro, a very nice town, and probably often overlooked as there’s a tendency to make a swift exit from the city you fly into.

The south coast beaches are longer stretches of sand backed by red and ochre cliffs. At this time of year they were almost deserted so we often found ourselves the only ones there.

IMG_3290 2

Further East along the coast from Faro lies the lovely town of Tavira. We took a trip there and hopped on one of the ferries to the Ilha de Tavira, one of a group of barrier islands in the protected national park of the Ria de Formosa estuary area.

I was struck by how similar Portuguese beaches were to our own, especially on the west coast. Chatting to a couple we met at Praia Da Amoreira who were touring in their camper van, we both observed this similarity, especially to the Cornish and Welsh coastlines.

Praia Da Amoreira made me think of Porthor or Whistling Sands Beach on the Welsh Llyn Peninsula. I also remember searching out another best beach on another trip to Wales, worth the half mile walk to Barafundle Beach in Pembrokeshire, likened to beaches in Australia (temperature aside). Having visited Cornwall a couple of times last year, lovely beaches like the one at Porthcurno with its turquoise water and pale, golden sand, aren’t dissimilar to those in Portugal.

I guess when it comes down to it, the title Best Beach in Europe is subjective – and perhaps raises expectations when sometimes it’s nice to stumble across our own hidden gem.

IMG_3289

We all have different things we like in a beach. For some of us it might be the solitude you feel on a deserted stretch of sand looking out to sea and for others it might be the whole seaside experience of candy floss, fish and chips and sticks of rock. I actually like a bit of both, depending on how I am feeling. So what’s your favourite beach?

For more info about the best beaches on the Yorkshire Coast click on my Out and About: Coast page here