Tracks of the Iron Masters Day 6: you say immigrant, I say potato.

Weeds for many of us are those plants which happen to find their way into the least desirable places on our front lawns, garden paths or back yards. There we are, sitting on our laurels feeling as pleased as punch with our manicured lawn or tidied up patch when out of the corner of our eye we spot a pesky little intruder which somehow managed to avoid our overzealous strimming and demonic poisoning and has survived against all the odds, cluttering up our neat and tidy view of what nature should be all about. We instantly name the intruder as a weed and set about trying to purge the landscape of it, its related cousins and anything else that could upset the ecological harmony we have established on our land.

Our efforts may be frequently in vain as the intruders tend to be hardy little plants who have experienced far more threats to their livelihood than the occasional misguided Black and Decker strimmer or undiluted paraquat. That weed, which you can’t help see out of the corner of your eye amidst the order you have created, has probably faced off predators, illegal chemicals, drunks out on the tiles looking for the nearest urination hotspot and far worse threats to its existence that you can conjure up in the safety of your potting shed. That solitary weed is here to stay and heaven help you if you think that you an dig it up, transplant it, snap it off at the prime of its life or dead head it. The weed will win every time.

Of course, if you decide that the fruit of that weed happens to make some rather tasteful jam which you can add to your tea time on the lawn, or its seeds happen to make that plastic white sliced loaf palatable, or its leaves when infused in boiling water for a few minutes provide you with a surprising pick you up tonic for the rest of the day, especially when combined with a drop of milk, a spoonful of sugar and a digestive biscuit, then you’ve not really got a weed on your hands at all. You’ve got the potential of a native crop.

So, next time you spot a weed or intruder out of your eye, just ask yourself whether its really as offensive as you think it is. It might just save your life in future.

Tracks of the Iron Masters Day 3. Who you looking at?

There’s no doubt the tracks are seriously under scrutinised. There’s nowhere near enough CCTV cameras to monitor any anti-social behaviour and for a country which prides itself on being one of the most scrutinised in the world, this is clearly a very poor state of affairs. Given every double decker bus in the UK has at least 11 CCTV cameras on board, it can’t be beyond anyone’s intelligence to install suitable technology along the Tracks of the Ironmasters.

Private enterprise is due to step in however and rectify the situation: and instead of employing the same tired apparatus that looks like it was invented in 1984, the firm which is thinking about tendering for the rights to scrutinise the tracks are being environmentally sensitive to the nature of the ecology.

Tree-cams; fern-cams, dead mouse cams, horse dung cams and bridge cams can all play their part in scrutinising the public to ensure that the iron masters tracks are kept untainted by errant humans, their dogs, horses and drinking habits.

Tracks of the Iron Masters Day 1: travelling with (and in) a tent.

I think we’ve got a storm brewing!” calls out the man on the electric wheelchair as he speeds by, pointing up to the gathering clouds, wind in his hair and thick west Cumbrian accent trailing behind him.

The winds been gathering pace all afternoon and what was earlier a brisk thoroughfare of dog walkers, bikes and parents pushing pushchairs, has turned into a vista of pointlessness. Roads are senseless when there is no traffic on them, and likewise, cycle routes are purposeless when there are no walkers or cyclists hurrying their way along them.

More often than not, people navigate these paths with purpose – shopping, work, to get from A to B, to visit family or to achieve a myriad of other tasks which preoccupy their lives. The paths encourage intent-ful travel: but there are no spaces at present which encourage purposeless travel, intent free cycling or walking, or just some space to amble around in without any sense of direction. There are few places to rest or recuperate or take the foot off the intent pedal and relax for a while, free from purpose and intentfulness.

Perhaps that may change in the months to come – it’s certainly something that has been an interesting finding from Day 1 of life on the Ironmasters tracks.

Tracks of the Iron Masters: Day Minus 2 and counting

It’s been months coming and now it’s just around the corner: an eight day residency on two stretches of the railway tracks which have been known for decades as the ‘Tracks of the Iron Masters, so called because their significance in the iron, steel and mining industries on the West Cumbria coastline.

So what’s going on and what do the residencies involve?

The aim of the residencies is to consult with local communities along the West Coast of Cumbria to find out how the heritage of the tracks can be better interpreted and communicated; and how everyone can be included in their future development and use. We’re especially interested to hear about the views of families and young people and what the tracks means to future generations of users of the tracks.

We’ll be ‘in residence’ on the tracks on the following dates:

Sunday 23 August – Seaton Hall
Monday 24 August – Burrow Walls Roman Fort
Tuesday 25 August – Uplands, Camerton – including a mass walk from 2pm: finishing with food, cooked under canvas

Wednesday 26 August – Mirehouse East
Thursday 27 -August Moor Row
Friday 28 August -Phoenix Bridge, Leconfield Industrial Estate –
Saturday 29 August – High Leys National Nature Reserve – including a mass walk from 2pm with food, cooked on site.
Sunday 30 August – Yeat House Quarry


10am – 1pm Come and introduce us to your local communities.
2pm – 5pm Come and join us explore the tracks.
6pm – 8pm Come and join us end the day relaxing at our mobile soup kitchen!

You don’t have to stay for a whole session –just drop by at any point for as long as you can!


You can come along by yourself, with friends or with a group. We’ll involve you in lots of different activities such as:

Sharing your knowledge of the histories of the tracks and and hopes for the future
Enjoying a conversation over a cuppa on the tracks,
Helping create a photographic survey with guidance from Art Gene artists
Exploring the ‘hidden assets’ of the tracks
Learning surprising things and share home cooked food with us all!
Preparing the food, cooking and providing refreshments for our visitors,
Managing the visitor experience and the mass walks,
Collecting stories, photos and other memorabilia,
Making the residencies a memorable experience for everyone…

If you’d like further information, or book a place, or book a group, please get in touch with me at the address below.
But for today it’s about packing up your old kit bags, watering the laundry and dry cleaning the garden.  Or something like that.

Now, where did I put those residential galoshes?


Tracks of the Iron Masters is being run by Art Gene and funded by sustrans.

Tips for Travellers: the first time I ever…

… walked along the new platform which connects the Nottingham tram to the railway station was the moment I realised that there are new things we could be doing and seeing every day. Not as a form of magnificent gesture, or in a transformative life changing impactful kind of way but in a small, momentary insignificant kind of way which might generate bigger changes somewhere up the butterfly cause and effect food chain of chaos and unpredictability.

The Walk along the platform opened up some small, momentary insights into how the trains entered and left the station, how St Mary’s Church is profiled against the broader sky scape and how impressive the new bridge is that supports the new tram tracks which point to a new future of travel down south, giving more passengers the opportunity for new views of the city and its byways and highways.

Are our days any better for the microscopic experience of new viewing and walking moments? I think they are if they mean we can see life from a marginally different position. We don’t have to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes – just a few steps in our own in a different direction to get a different view on how our lives might be different.

Tips for Travellers: Waverley Hotel, Workington

Hot spots, cold spots and soft spots.

What many hotel managements don’t get these days is that along with the 17 different types of eggs you can choose for your breakfast, what the travelling business person or giraffe needs from a hotel is a functioning, reliable, uncontested and free wifi as part of the package. It’s no longer good enough to pretend to have a network in your hotel if all you can see is the room next door and no access to the wider world, known these days dear hotelier, as The Internet.

For those hoteliers who are unaware of this amazing invention, the Internet is the phenomenon a lot of people rely on to get on with their daily jobs of earning a living, socialising, catching up with the news and pretty much everything else the lone traveller is inclined to need. These days, dear hotelier, a connection to the Internet is as vital as running water in the shower. And that means water running at the right temperature out of the right tap. We don’t mind too much those rooms whose mattresses have clearly supported heavier bodies in earlier days or whistling showers or those that rhythmically clunk their way into action, as long as there is finally action which you can rely on for the time it takes you to complete your ablutions. Much the same can be said of the need for the functioning wifi connection.

These days, dear hotelier, a functioning wifi is an essential, not a nice-to-have. The Waverley Hotel in Workington would be a sweet spot of restful accommodation and business functionality were it not for the constant searching for the hotspots of wifi connection, functioning bathroom taps and mattresses that don’t throw up their springs in horror every time you have to adjust your sleeping position.

The staff are cheery, friendly and helpful; the breakfast plentiful and fresh; the bedroom spacious enough and perfectly adequate for the odd night’s stay. But if, dear Hotelier, you want to welcome visitors for a second, third or fourth time, you need to invest in this hotel by stabilising its hot spots, doing away with its cold spots and radically overhauling its soft spots.

Tips for Travellers: Panna Kitchen and Canteen, Liverpool

Dreaming of musical reunions at the dreamy PANNA café.

PANNA Kitchen and Canteen is a chic café on Tithebarn Street in Liverpool. The kind of place where you might meet aspirational, visionary and sparky musicians of the future, it was setup by Slovakian business partners Peter and Ivana, and offers a refreshing relief to the myriad of chain coffee shops which populate the Liverpool commercial district. It was a new business start just a couple of years ago so it’s a real joy to see how a business which was just a business plan then has come to fruition.

The food is fresh, based on artisanal baguettes and salads, continental pastries and a unique in-house coffee blend which doesn’t leave you feeling wired after a couple of cups. The continental feel is tangible everywhere you look or sit – from the cool graphics, to the furniture to the whitewashed walls – you could be in Berlin, Bratislava or Vienna.

It’s crying out for a pop in lunch visit by by David Bowie, Brian Eno and Robert Fripp – 3 of the UK’s most influential musicians and artists. They haven’t collaborated properly together since Bowie’c iconic Heroes album in the late 70s (and I don’t count Lodger as it wasn’t a brilliant album) so that dream lunchtime date would be bound to rekindle their experimental and pioneering spirit in the best European tradition. PANNA would be a perfect venue for that rekindling, especially over their coffee and continental pastries.

Tips for Travellers: The Seacote Hotel, St Bees.

The Hotel that DIY Enthusiasts have been crying out for.

Cumbria affords the tourist a multitude of seldom seen pleasures. Whether it’s landscapes and seascapes, birds and butterflies, or trains and wind turbines it’s impossible for the visitor not go ‘wow’ at least three times a day.

These feats of genetic and human engineering bring a particular type of visitor to the county’s shores: the enthusiast. It’s impossible to spend a day out and about without tripping over a sweaty couple in the sand dunes who are stalking the lesser spotted horny rimmed owl, or overhearing earnest young women discussing the consequences of the recent disruption on the line between Rowrah and Cleator Moor due to a misplaced 40566 travelling in the wrong direction.

Enthusiasts from all over the world travel to delight upon the treasures of Cumbria and need a hotel which reflects their enthusiasms and the Seacote Hotel in St Bees near Whitehaven is such a hotel.

The Seacote caters for a particular type of enthusiast: the DIY Enthusiast. They have left no stone unturned, no unmade bed made up and no fixture permanently fitted to ensure that the DIY enthusiast who finds themselves on holiday, perhaps pining for a wobbly wardrobe to stabilise or a dripping tap to stop, has plenty to delight themselves with. Simultaneously allowing the DIY enthusiast to both rest from and fiddle with some unfinished DIY, the Seacote provides the perfect work life balance for those of us whose idea of heaven resembles spending the weekends wandering the aisles of B and Q in search of that holy grail, the missing whatsit which will fix the thingamy to the doodah.

The hotel’s policy of enthusiast encouragement is evident in every nook and cranny of the hotel and the management team have been enthusiastically thoughtful in catering for the range of every DIY obsession.

If you want an iron and ironing board, you go and collect it yourself from reception. If you want a functioning iron that doesn’t leak all over your suit, you fix it yourself and hope you’ve remembered the correct colour coding for the wires in the plug before you switch it back on.

Crockery is left uncleared away in the bar, encouraging you to tidy up after someone else; bath fittings are left incomplete, encouraging you to pick up a nearby screwdriver to tighten up those loose screws on the bathroom mirror; exit signs on the doors are left half attached, allowing you to finish off the attachment with aplomb, confident that you have added to future visitors’ enjoyment of the Seacote experience; the TVs are placed so awkwardly on the walls, you’re encouraged to pick up a hammer and relocate the TV yourself in the nearest waste paper basket.

So if you’re a DIY enthusiast, the Seacote Hotel is just for you. Just watch you don’t trip over the twitchers wrestling their way along the seashore on your way in.

When you land somewhere new, you have no history.

Or so you think.

You hear the words but can’t understand the sentences. The maps are intriguing but meaningless. The streets have names but no personality. There’s no hypertext in the environment: which means no links, no back story, no memories to reminisce about.

Or so you think.

When you’re new, you understand the importance of roots. You understand root systems in a way you didn’t until you’re plucked – or you pluck yourself – out of. Unrooted and ignorant, you understand, when you’re new, the significance of old.

Or so you think.

After a short time, you establish habits, you converse, you invent names for flowers in your back yard, and before you know it you have fledgling roots. Uncertain, tentative and unassuming but roots nevertheless. After a short time, you sit in a bar and you say to yourself: ‘I remember when…’ You meet someone and say ‘how was it when…?’ And at that moment you realise you now have history. You have previous.

Or so you think.

You realise that you had previous in this new place well before you physically arrived here. The new was part of your old but you didn’t hear it. The new was a shadow in your old, silent, sometimes shyly whispering, almost embarrassed to make itself known to you but also knowing one day that it would knock on your front door and say: ‘Hello. I’m your new. Remember me?’

And then you realise that your history is not the stuff of memories, but the incidental and accidental. The stuff of meaninglessness. You see the value of recognising the words but not understanding the sentences.