Harlow Carr Gardens near Harrogate UK

A very happy me at Harlow Carr Gardens, one of my favourites.

Leaving York on the 4th of June, we were excited to be on our way to the beautiful Lakes District, with a stop at Harlow Carr Gardens. Our hire car from Hertz was a very comfortable Mercedes. Susanne did most of the driving while I navigated. When making the booking, back in Australia in March, I had requested a navigation system with the car, but for some inexplicable reason, none was available from the York depot. Google served the purpose, as we only needed to take a small diversion from the main route, from York to Ambleside, in order to visit one of my favourite gardens in the world.










Harlow Carr Gardens is one of the Royal Horticultural Society Gardens in the UK, situated near Harrogate in Yorkshire. This was my third visit and, as on each occasion, a breath taking delight. Having my sister, Susanne, an equally keen gardener, with me, made it even more enjoyable as we dashed from one spectacular panorama to the next, with about a thousand stops on the way to capture a vista or the details of a single flower on camera.


Flooded on my previous visit.

On my previous visit much of the lower section of the garden was ankle deep in water and the only working toilets were those inside the cafe, so this time I was delighted to find that the weather was perfect, a bit chilly, but with clear skies and just the right light for taking photos.



Entrance is next to the tearooms. Betty’s Tearooms are well known in the area and we made a note to partake of their goodies later.

This was one of the gardens we could see without paying as it’s included in RHS membership  which we had organised from Perth in order to visit the Chelsea Flower Show. I’m sure the volunteer behind the counter must see loads of enthusiastic gardeners each day, but our smiles were enough to gladden her heart too as she welcomed us and loaded us up with pamphlets.





Once outside in the garden, these are some of the hundreds of photos we took.







Susanne loves getting in close, taking photos of the finer details in flowers, so I couldn’t resist this shot of her at work.


Here are some of those detailed images of hers.






The rhododendrons here are laden with luscious blooms















If you’ve followed us this far you are probably also a keen gardener and can appreciate the joy we felt in walking around this stunning place. Unfortunately I don’t know the names of many of the plants, largely because we can’t grow them in Western Australia. From small bell shaped flowers, to the weird trumpet varieties and sculptural cones on conifers, we often captured similar images so I’m lucky to have Susanne’s photos as well as mine to select from.




We had reached the back end of the garden when a misty rain started to fall, providing me with this final image.



The cafe and tearooms were crowded by the time we made our way back across the garden but the short wait for a table by the window was worth it and my seafood salad was delicious. Betty is famous for her scones with jam and cream so we were compelled to share one serve between us, with of course a nice cup of tea (peppermint for me and English Breakfast for Susanne.) Thus fortified we couldn’t leave without a visit to the shop. I love to bring back small and useful souvenirs, so my tea towels and cups are often happy reminders of garden tours. This time I found a  table cloth, decorated with English meadow flowers, perfect for summer lunch parties.



Mystery Plays 2016 York UK

The 2016 production of the Mystery Plays was one of the most impressive pieces of theatre that I have ever seen. I know that for some of you, the idea of a religious performance in a religious venue conjures up images of an evening spent in the most boring possible way. Believe me, this was anything but boring.

As the director, Philip Breen said in an interview, from which I’ll quote, ‘We return to these Plays again and again because they are asking the most profound questions about who we are, where we are going and what it means to be alive.’ In the bible we have stories about love and hate, families – supportive and destructive, power struggles, sex, war, good and evil, birth, life and death, racial tensions, moments and events that changed the course of history. What more could one want for any number of highly dramatic scenes and a play that makes Shakespeare seem tame? There are also some very funny scenes.

In all, eighteen scenes were presented for us that night, beginning with the Fall of the Rebel Angels and the introduction of Lucifer as he defied God, leading his ‘devils’ down under the stage to hell.

I must deviate for a moment here, to try to describe the physical setup inside the Minster. The stage was constructed on multiple levels with the rear, high part starting from as close as they could get to the choir stalls near the front end of the building. Stretching right across the width of the central section of the Minster, it was also vast from front to back. Sections of the floor were able to open when required to let the actors drop down below the stage and the great height inside the cathedral allowed for any amount of assisted ‘flying’.

The audience sat in rows that were tiered up and away from the stage like a normal theatre but unfortunately with insufficient thought given to the comfort of paying patrons. The rows of seats were packed in so tightly that stretching legs was impossible and I felt as though my knees were up near my ears. In front of us a family of large men had to take turns to stand at the side of the aisle and sort of lean out into space so that others seated higher up could see past them. They and many others left at interval and we were able to move down to the lower, flat section which had less of a view, but proper seats.

The Minster was an awe inspiring venue for any theatrical production and an ideal one for staging this massive work, but places like the Museum Gardens, the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey and various parts of the universities in York, all of which have been used in the past, would possibly allow for the audience to spread out and be more comfortable. Just not the WOW factor provided by the Minster.

Back to the actual production. Trying to reduce the story of man’s history from creation through to the end of the world, meant of course that we only got snippets of the biblical story. Noah and the Flood provided the best entertainment for me. Not only were there vast numbers of animals on the stage, some real, some models, all herded into the little boat, causing havoc and lots of laughs, but, because Noah’s wife refused to believe the warning, (providing some hilarious wife/husband arguments) a couple of sons finished up man-handling their rather rotund mother, tossing her up in the air and onto the Ark, just before the flood hit.

We saw most of the well known parts of the New Testament from the Nativity to the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension. Jesus, played by Philip McGinley was (I think, from the information I could gather) the only paid actor. He was often in the background, which sometimes made it difficult for me to pick him out as the main character. He didn’t stand out as the star, which was unusual for a play, but I guess the real Jesus would have behaved that way, rather being too showy.

The battle between Jesus and Lucifer in the dessert was great theatre between two strong characters, both of whom were excellent actors. I wish I could show you a photo of Toby Gordon as Lucifer, with his wicked eyes. I know if I had the chance to play an evil role, this would have to be the epitome. He was scary. Philip McGinley, as Jesus, was quieter, a perfect foil to his tempter and it was only at the end of that scene, when he told the devil to not quite ‘Piss off Satin’ but you knew that was what he would say today, that he lost some of his cool.

At the end, for The Last Judgment, it looked like all the one hundred and forty five actors were on stage. The chaos and destruction portrayed in that end of the world scene was quite terrifying and I found it very confusing. The backstage crew must have been particularly busy for that scene, hoisting the good souls up, some flying above the stage, while the bad guys were tossed down below the stage. Lots of screaming, fighting and tumbling and so much noise (the percussion section of the band was very busy at that point).

I knew that these performances required lots of voluntary workers, but at the time I didn’t realise that there were two hundred and fifty behind the scenes people, or that four hundred costumes were worn each night. Because York owns the Mystery Plays, being part of the production is an honour and a privilege.

In the past the various guilds had responsibility for producing different scenes; for instance plasterers and cardmakers did the Creation and the Nativity was the responsibility of the thatchers with support from the Chandlers, Masons and Goldsmiths. The York Mystery Plays began in the 14th century so of course the local community is very proud of their efforts. One of the things that I found interesting, apart from this long history, is the fact that the language and the type of presentation has changed and evolved over the centuries, but the stories and the messages behind them are still as powerful and meaningful as ever.

Because they are a community project and because so many people love taking part in them, the same actors have in some cases, performed a variety of roles over the years. Judi Dench and her family took part during the 1950s. The same applies to all the other aspects of putting the show together — music, props, costumes, make-up, publicity, and all those young people who move the audience into position as well as moving mountains around onstage.

Just as, when one visits Sratford-on-Avon, one hopes and plans to see a Shakespearean production, or in Vienna a taste of Strauss is in order, so, if you are ever in York around late May – early June,  the Mystery Plays are a ‘must see.’  If you have seen a performance, I’d love to see what you thought. Please write your comments here.




Characters and Theatre in York

We missed seeing the famous Jorvik village in York, because it was destroyed by the river flooding and damaging much of the lower parts of the town. I mentioned that in an earlier blog, but we still wandered along and around The Shambles where we found buildings so old, we wondered how they were still standing. The great thing about these old buildings, apart from their beauty, character and history, is the fact that, unlike many similar looking buildings and ancient towns in Europe, York’s structures are genuine originals. (Maybe with additions and renovations, but basically as they were back in the 14th – 16th centuries.)

Dogs, cats and birds were my favourite glass pets

Also, unlike so many tourist towns, York has some genuinely original interesting shops and ones that sell quality products. I wanted to buy all these cute dogs, so tiny that I could fit them into my case, but so fragile I wondered how many would arrive home unbroken. The two I bought now have a special view on my kitchen bench.

Another shop which won our custom was the Edinburgh Woolen Shop. Found all over the UK, they sell the sort of quality knitware–scarves, gloves, hats, coats etc–that lasts for years and when the temperature plummeted, I had to have those ear muffs. i still have and use a lot in winter, a cashmere shawl that I bought from one of their stores in Scotland back in the 80s. So light and warm, it’s also a blanket on my travels.

While testing out the effectiveness of those muffs, against the wind that was so biting it had given me an earache,  I ran into this jovial fellow who enlightened us about an event which would take place in the Minster that night. The Mystery Plays have been performed at various venues around York, initially traveling with mobile stages (probably horse and buggy varieties) and performing throughout the day – Feast of Corpus Christi – in different parts of the town. In 2016, for the first time since 2000, the drama took place inside the Minster and I think almost every citizen of the city played some part in the massive production.

But, before we got to see the Mystery Plays, we ran into another performance when trying

The little girls were probably as dumbfounded as we were.

to cross the park to get back to our lodgings. Brass band, dignitaries dressed in their finest, and lots of fancy dress, uniforms, speeches which we couldn’t hear, and right near us, a massive gun salute. With all the soldiers dashing about, and after the Mayor (I think that’s who he was) dubbed the fancy dressed military person, we could tell the performance was coming to a mighty ending. Almost deafened by the canons, and all we saw was smoke. Then it was time for all to be upstanding to sing ‘God Save the Queen.’ with the help of the brass band and a lone Scottish piper.


All stand for God Save the Queen

A grand performance, all a big surprise and a puzzle, which would have remained a puzzle but the woman standing beside us, (who knew the Mayor and proceeded to tell us that the rumors about him weren’t true) handed me a brochure. We were celebrating the anniversary of the coronation of Her Majesty the Queen.

Being Australians, we had no idea what the fuss was about. Actually, I doubt if many of the other onlookers knew either. No doubt the celebrities had a nice little party afterwards.

We gave up waiting and took the long route back to the B&B, to shower and change for the planned theatrical performance. On the way we spotted this and of course had to take a photo.

Mystery Plays are definitely next. Based on the Bible, but that really is a book full of sex, violence, family feuds, power of good and evil — not for the faint hearted and should come with a warning. So, we found the production a romping, often hilarious, performance; keep watching.