Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Woolley Edge’s Top of the Stops

Woolley Edge South might seem an unlikely destination for next year’s summer holiday but it might be worth a visit following the news that it has just been awarded the top-rated service station in England for its coffee shop.

The national recognition for the last motorway services on the M1, just outside Wakefield, comes from a new star rating scheme launched by Visit England in conjunction with the Highways Agency and the five main operators of motorway services – Moto, Welcome Break, Roadchef, Extra and Westmorland.

Loved and loathed in equal measure the new scheme could mean British service stations are on the cusp of a revolution as, for the first first time, the public are able to see which of England’s network of 71 stations are worth a visit - according to Visit England’s assessors - and which are better to drive past.

Warwick, for example, is named as the best place to stop in England for toilets (3 stars), Tebay South is the best for family outside play area (4 stars) and Beaconsfield for internal comfort (4 stars). Meanwhile, businesspeople it seems are spoilt for choice as Strensham North and Donington Park share the accolade for business use (3 stars each).

Equally, it is hoped that the outing of those with just two stars will help improve quality and experience, improving the service in service stations nationally.

James Berresford, Visit England’s chief executive said: “It is important that the welcome visitors receive, and the quality of services on offer at motorway service areas adds to the visitor’s overall holiday experience.”

For stressed out mums and dads still recovering from this year’s summer holiday road trip the new star rating scheme could provide essential reading before every future family excursion.

A full list of star ratings is available at

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Residents Rave about Festival on their doorstep

Muse, My Chemical Romance, Pulp and The Strokes will have an unlikely group of fans cheering them on this weekend as they headline Leeds Festival – some toddlers, a crown green bowling team and the TOFFS, Thorner Over Fifty-Fives.

The Festival, which attracts 75,000 people and is the north of England’s largest music festival, has these unlikely groupies because of the work it has been doing in the community since the festival switched to Bramham in 2003.

That move was prompted by violence which flared at the old Temple Newsam site in 2002 resulting in £250,000 worth of damage and 44 people being injured. The following year Leeds Festival arrived at its present home in Bramham Park and the organisers, Festival Republic, went on a charm offensive in the nearby villages of Bramham and Thorner to reassure residents.

The result has been that in the last nine years the Festival has provided £500,000 of funding towards community projects predominantly in historic Thorner and Bramham – such as the TOFFS, Mums & Tots and Thorner Bowling Club - they also provide free VIP weekend tickets to the surrounding village committees, which are sold to residents – substantially below the public price – to further boost their respective community funds for projects such as Bramham in Bloom and the renovation of village halls.

And so, an unlikely army of rock festival fans has spawned in picture postcard, honey coloured villages just
north of Leeds.

Sam Hooton, landlady of The Swan pub Bramham for the last 19 years said: “The Festival does wonderful things for the village and we have had no trouble at all. In nine years we have had one festivalgoer in the pub and they were looking for a cash machine, it’s not like when it was at Temple Newsam when they nicked shopping trolleys and liberated gerbils.”

Janette Chapman landlady of the only other pub in Bramham, the Red Lion is equally supportive. “We have only been in the pub for seven months but it’s been great for business. We have been busy for the last fortnight as the workmen who construct the stages and the fencing come into the village and we expect them to come back once the festival is over and they start taking everything down again.”

It might not be everyone’s ideal scenario – 75,000 people descending on your village for a three-day rock music festival – but the residents in Bramham and Thorner have learned to live in harmony with the event and no doubt Thorner Over Fifty-Fives will be rooting for its continued success this weekend, even if they haven’t heard of Matt Bellamy.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Ebor Festival in the Pink for Ladies

As the fall out from this month's pockets of unrest continued, York Racecourse put all economic and social worries to one side and had a riot of its own - only this time it was a riot of colour and, suitably for Ladies Day at the Ebor Festival, it was pink.

Pink dresses mixed with pink hats underneath the giant pink branding of the headline sponsor as glasses of champagne (pink optional) chinked winner after winner. The historic old Knavesmire blushed with pride as 30,000 people came together in August sunshine to meet, eat, drink and get merry.

No need for Facebook or Twitter feeds to create a flash mob crowd here, this was social networking of the old fashioned kind. Orderly queues were formed for the Champagne Lawn as the brass band led the percussion of glasses. Knights of the realm cast careful eyes over their equine assets, A-level students so recently graded, celebrated, and thousands upon thousands of well-dressed racegoers squeezed into tailored suits and favourite frocks to embrace the spirit of the day’s dressing up. Hats were a talking point, an edible horse made from Yorkshire produce another and the sight of a jovial Sir Alex Ferguson - despite having no winners - caused an afternoon stir amongst onlookers at the Parade Ring.

Behind the fashion and famous faces though, Ladies Day is big business. Without the festival – shifted to include a Saturday for the first time in the hope of attracting a new weekend audience – the city and the county would be a much poorer place. It is estimated that the racecourse contributes £58m to York businesses, benefitting everyone from taxi-drivers to hairdressers and, judging by the shoes on show, chemists for blister repair kits.

Nick Fazackerley, general manager of hospitality at the racecourse explained the demand his team has to cope with: “We have 30,000 bottles of champagne delivered for the festival and during Ladies Day we would expect to get through 8-10,000 bottles. We also have 100 kegs of Pimms delivered which contain 20,000 glasses and we’re expecting over 4,000 of those glasses to be drunk today. “In terms of hospitality Ladies Day is the biggest of the Festival with about 5,000 covers, there is not a spare seat in the house, everyone wants to be here for Ladies Day.”

As with all things horseracing, numbers are key and it looks like William Derby, the clerk of the course, is backing an odds on favourite. The Ebor Festival is definitely in the pink and with a new 93,000 attendance record this week, it looks like to could be blooming for years to come. 

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Morecambe to Steal Some Northern Limelight

Dancing a jig of delight, Eric Morecambe

If the comedian Eric Morecambe were alive today he would probably be doing a familiar jig - you know the one, skipping with one hand behind his head and the other behind his back - at the news that Morecambe Bay is a step closer to becoming the next natural wonder of the north.
Morecambe (Eric that is) would probably argue that it already is. A keen ornithologist and fisherman, who took the town’s name as his own, he knew all about the 120 square miles of flat sands, the fish, the waders and wildfowl it attracts, but now a local protection group has cleared the first hurdle to securing £2m of Heritage Lottery Funding which will further raise the Bay’s profile and boost the local economy.

The Morecambe Bay Partnership’s Headlands to Headspace scheme – Eric might have helped with the wording of that – has been awarded a development fund grant of £100,000 to further their plans for the area which include protecting its natural diversity, celebrating its cultural heritage and raising awareness of its significance to the UK as a natural tourism attraction.

As the largest intertidal area in Britain - a wide horse shoe shaped mouth where four estuaries meet - the landscape is patchwork of saltmarshes, tidal islands, shingle and wetlands, surrounded by coastal towns stretching from Morecambe in Lancashire to Grange-over-Sands in Cumbria. The famous British painter J M W Turner appreciated the Bay’s unique light, yet it is often bypassed by modern-day tourists following Turner on their way to the Lake District. If the partnership get their way, that will change.

They hope to develop local railway stations as hubs to the Bay’s key sites which wiattracting more visitors into the area providing much needed additional income for the 200,000 people who live and work around the Bay. It also has plans to support education projects with an emphasis on the oral history of the area and the traditions of fishing as well as its maritime and combat history.
Susannah Bleakley who co-ordinated the bid on behalf of the partnership said:
“As the project develops, we want local people to learn about how special Morecambe Bay really is, to share our excitement and get involved in projects to look after the Bay.  We really hope that the significance of the Bay will be much better appreciated as we develop these projects over the coming years.”
Sara Hilton, head of Heritage Lottery Fund North West, said:
“This imaginative scheme will draw together the threads of proud cultural histories and precious natural heritage that permeate Morecambe Bay, aiming to create a future where local communities are directly involved in conservation activities whilst new opportunities are created for visitors from near and far to explore, enjoy and learn about this fascinating landscape.”

If successful, Eric’s memorial statue could be in danger of losing its status as one of the town’s leading attractions. Who knows what he would think about that but if ever there was a comedian used to sharing the limelight it was him, Morecambe and Morecambe though, doesn't have the same ring to it.