An amazing visit to Scarborough Lifeboat Station

Anyone who has read my latest release, Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café, will be aware that there is a very strong connection to the RNLI (Royal National Lifeboat Institution) in the story. It isn’t mentioned in the blurb because it’s all part of how the story unfolds and explaining the connection would give spoilers.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that I originally had the idea for this book back in 2017 and had planned to release it as a Christmas novella that year. I visited Scarborough’s lifeboat station over the summer to undertake some vital research but, when I started writing the story, it soon became apparent it was much bigger than a novella so I parked it and returned to it this year.

A photo opportunity with some of the crew before they changed for launch

I am in awe of the amazing work that all the staff and volunteers at the RNLI undertake. Living on the coast, I am very much aware of the danger of the sea and how quickly things can change. The town has been affected by many tragedies over the years, some of which have inspired aspects of this book.

Last week, I was fortunate enough to be invited to Scarborough Lifeboat Station as a special guest. Covid-based restrictions are gradually easing but the stations aren’t yet open again to the public, so I was very honoured to have a special invite and the chance to meet some crew, bombard the Lifeboat Chairman – a lovely man called Colin – with a million questions, and watch a launch.

Me with the ILB. Check out my starfish-themed Popsy dress to match my book!

Actually, I got to watch three launches. It was their training evening and the ALB – the Shannon-class All Weather lifeboat (the big one) was going out to see to practice anchoring. The ILB – the D-class inshore lifeboat (the little one) was out for practicing capsizing and righting the craft. Scarborough’s ILB is brand new so they also had its predecessor in the water and it was that boat they were capsizing, not wanting to risk damaging the brand new one.

It started raining shortly after I arrived and it was absolutely bucketing it down by the time the ALB and ILB were launched so I watched from inside, hence some blurry pics a bit later as I took them through a rain-battered window! The fabulous side-on ones are from my husband who was waiting for me on the pier.

The Shannon-class ALB being pushed by the tractor ready for launch
The shore crew are there to ensure a safe launch and to keep the public back – although that wasn’t so much of an issue in the torrential rain!
The kit room before the crew arrived

The boats and equipment they have are seriously impressive. There’s a large tractor (right below) and trailer for the ALB and a smaller version for the ILB (left below) and there are crew whose specific role it is to drive the tractors.

The ALB pre-launch beside the old ILB
All 3 boats and the door open to the ramp
The ramp. At high tide, this will be partially under water
The tractor returning to the beach after launching the ALB
The ILB being taken down the ramp with the ALB in the background
Both ILBs in the water ready for the capsizing practice

I’ve selected Scarborough Lifeboat Station as my charity for this year and will be making a donation in the New Year to thank the crew for their help and support and the amazing work they do to save lives at sea.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the photos. Apologies for the grey grainy ones but I firmly blame the weather for those! A huge thank you to all the crew at Scarborough Lifeboat Station for this amazing opportunity which has given me loads of inspiration for the second book in the series, Summer Nights at The Starfish Café, out on 5th April 2022 and available for pre-order now.

I’ve delayed posting this as I was hoping that our local paper would be running an article but there’ve been two editions since my visit and nothing has appeared so far. Hopefully it will still be covered at a later date but I didn’t want to not share the photos in case it doesn’t, especially when I was granted special permission to visit the lifeboat station for this photo opportunity.

For more information about the RNLI, please click here.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

My morning with the seals

Those who have already read Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café will have discovered that the café is positioned on a cliff top and there’s a 200-strong seal colony on the beach and rocks below. The seals feature in this first book in the series although not heavily, and they’ll feature more in the second book out in April – Summer Nights at The Starfish Café.

I’d already undertaken a lot of research into common and grey seals – the types found in the Yorkshire Coast waters – but I decided that a visit to our local Sealife Sanctuary (Scarborough) where they have resident seals and a seal hospital may well be in order. Then, when I spotted they did a seal experience, I couldn’t resist.

Sealife Centres are run by Merlin Entertainments and they have 12 sites around the UK and many more overseas. You can click here to find out more. The focus is on education and conservation.

We arrived this morning 75 minutes before the general admission time of 10am and it was quite lovely having the centre to ourselves for so long. Our guides for the duration were Minnie and Tiegan and they were friendly and knowledgeable as they took us round.

First stop was Harris the sea otter. Awww. His partner in crime passed away at the grand old age of 16 a few weeks back. They are preparing for another female to keep him company, but he seemed more than content swimming about and playing with his pebble. (Apologies that the photo isn’t great – he kept moving!)

The seal hospital had one admission: a seal pup called Buzzard (apparently all recent admissions have been named after birds). Buzzard, a girl pup, was found abandoned in South Bay with cuts and a swollen muzzle. She has healed nicely and should be moved into the next stage of rehabilitation next which is a small pool.

Because she was abandoned, she’ll be released into a colony of seals, very likely at Ravenscar up the coast which was where I got the inspiration for my Starfish Point colony.

Isn’t Buzzard gorgeous? Look at those big eyes! There is some water in the ‘sick bay’ but she apparently isn’t so keen on swimming yet so they haven’t filled it. She’ll get used to that in the next stage of her programme.

We moved round to the main pool where there are four resident seals called Mando, Pendle, Boo and Ed. None of these seals could be released back into the wild because there are reasons why they wouldn’t survive there such as they were reared in captivity at other facilities or have had injuries or bad experiences which mean they wouldn’t be able to fend for themselves. They are, however, treated as though they are wild animals. They aren’t taught tricks and the staff don’t touch/handle them unless for medical reasons. They have a lovely pool and it gives them all the swimming space they need. In the wild, seals are known for lounging on rocks and beaches and not actually swimming very far.

We had a bucket of fish and all had a chance to feed them. Steven the Seagull is a regular visitor who tries (and sometimes succeeds) to get the fish first! You can see him swooping in at the top of the pic on the right!

Hubby captured a gorgeous pic of the munchkin and one of the seals through the underwater glass. He tried to capture something similar for me but he stood further back and caught my whole body in it. I actually look like a killer whale beached on the ledge so I’m not going to share that one!

There’s a section called Penguin Island were Humboldt penguins live. They’re endangered in their natural habitat (South America) so this is a breeding programme to ensure the survival of the species.

There weren’t many out of their beds when we went round but the newest chick was swimming while its dad watched from the doorway of its bedroom. Awww.

The only other one out and about was the only single penguin, Fred, who was on the noticeboard as ‘bad penguin of the month’. Apparently he’s got his eye on some of the other females and has been picking fights with their partners! Bad Fred!

Fred’s on the left grooming himself (it’s molting season so he’s looking a bit shabby just now) and the chick is the one on the right who managed to haul itself out of the pool right into where Fred had just evacuated his bowels. Yes, that is fresh penguin crap all over its chest!

I say ‘it’ rather than he or she for the chick because apparently you cannot tell what sex a penguin is from looking at it. When it’s older, a feather has to be sent off to an expert who will analyse it and confirm the sex. I did not know that!

There are several aquarium tanks with sharks, rays, fish, corals, seahorses, sea dragons, jelly fish and so on (not all in the same tank together, mind). They have an amazing jelly fish breeding programme and there was a new rainforest section which I’ve not visited before so that was lovely.

We were able to stroke some starfish and sea anemone and hold empty shark egg pouches and I managed to grab a quick starfish pic before we left in homage to The Starfish Café.

We were then dropped off for some breakfast and were free to wander round again at our leisure. We all loved our seal experience and would like to thank Minnie and Tiegan for the really great tour/helpful information. I bombarded them with research questions about seals although confess I didn’t tell them why I was asking. I meant to but I just didn’t see an opportunity to slip it in.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the pics. Apologies that WordPress seem to have stopped displaying the gallery ones (where there are 2 or more together) properly. I noticed this last week and thought it might sort itself out overnight but it appears not. Don’t have the technical expertise or time to resolve it just now but fingers crossed it will right itself.

Big seal-hugs
Jessica xx

Signing Starry Skies in The Works

On Tuesday this week, I posted the exciting news that Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café – my Boldwood Christmas release from last year – had gone online at The Works.

I was in town for an eye test on Wednesday and it hadn’t gone onto the shelves of my local store but I needed to go into town again today to help hubby pick some frames for his new glasses and was excited to pop into the Scarborough branch to find that the festive books had arrived.

The staff in there are lovely and immediately moved the copies to ‘eye level – buy level’ (not at my request, I hasten to add) and cleared some space for me to sign the copies. I have no idea why I still had my sunglasses on in the above pic or my bag on my shoulder. Too excited!

And, yes, that is a hedgehog dress! It’s a Popsy and, since I discovered Popsy Clothing last year, I’ve been hoping they’d introduce a hedgehog print design and was thrilled when it came into stock last week. You can find this particular design here. I love it. It has a blouson style top which I’d worried might be tight on me but thankfully isn’t, and pockets. Gotta love a dress with pockets!

I can’t imagine I’ll ever tire of seeing my books in a shop and being able to sign them. Thank you so much to the lovely team for letting me do that.

If you do spot one in your local store, I’d love you to take a shelfie and tag me into it on social media.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Wild boys, cream scones and lots of hedgehogs

Happy Monday!

Having spent most of the past 18 months hibernating, I’m recovering this morning from a packed weekend. On Friday night, I went to my first live music gig since the pandemic started. Duran Duran were playing at Scarborough’s Open Air Theatre (OAT) and I got hold of tickets to go with my husband’s twin sisters at the back end of last year hoping that everything would have calmed down.

At the start of this year, it was looking less and less likely that we’d get to see the gig or any of the other 4 I had tickets for. Three of them got postponed until 2022 but Duran Duran and Olly Murs were put back to later in the summer season this year. Unfortunately, I had to get my money back on the Olly Murs one as the postponed date clashed with our holiday in the Lake District but I could make the Duran Duran date.

We went out for tea and pink prosecco first and it felt so good to put some make-up on, do my hair and be out out!

Duran Duran still have it after 40 years in the business. It’s the second time I’ve seen them, the first being about 15 or 16 years ago in Manchester shortly after hubby and I met. They played a great set with one new (but good) track and a couple I wasn’t so familiar with among so many favourites. An encore of Save a Prayer, Wild Boys and Rio was just fabulous.

I was then up early on Saturday to get ready for a trip to York for the RNA’s (Romantic Novelists’ Association) York Tea. I’d been to the previous three although the event took a break last year.

I usually go with my bestie, fellow author Sharon Booth, but Sharon was unable to join us this year and it was strange being there without my partner in crime. I usually travel by train and arrange to meet up with another writing friend for tea and cake beforehand but, this time, hubby drove us in so he and the munchkin could have a walk round the city walls. Somehow she turned this into a trip to Primark and various other clothes shops instead!

We had a little wander round York first as traffic had been surprisingly good so we had some spare time. York Minster was looking mighty fine in the sunshine.

The venue is the Merchant Taylors’ Hall in York is a gorgeous venue and it was the third time the York Tea has been held there. Although the event has always been held at the same time of year, the weather has massively varied. That first year it was really cold and the fire was blazing. This year there was bright sunshine and I had to shed my cardigan while wishing I’d brought a fan with me!

To make the event as safe as possible, there were reduced numbers and it was a condition of attendance to have been double-vaccinated, making the decision to attend a little easier.

Three fellow Boldwood authors were there and it was so lovely to meet them face to face: L-R Sheila Riley and Lizzie Lane, both of whom write historicals, me, and Lynda Stacey who writes romantic suspense/psych thrillers.

Lynda and I had been chatting on social media beforehand and were stunned to discover we’ve been to the York Tea at the same time on several occasions (Lynda used to actually organise it!) and another much smaller writing event yet we’ve never actually met so it was fabulous to finally meet in person.

There were eight of us round our table. I sat next to my lovely friend Joy Wood who has written a few different genres but whose latest books are psych thrillers and had the amazing Milly Johnson on the other side! I managed a photo with Joy but stupidly never thought to get a photo with Milly. In fact, I was pretty rubbish at thinking to take photos of people or food. I think I’m out of practice being in a room with people and it just didn’t occur to me until right at the end.

The food, by the way, was delicious although the scones did elicit the usual pronunciation debate, whether jam or cream should go on first, and the merits of adding butter. I am sconn, yes to butter, jam before cream. And I am so right about this!!!!!

Lynda was on my table too with Daisy James (romcoms) who I’ve met at several other events and love to chat to, as well as Chrissie Bradshaw (historicals and romcoms) but I sadly didn’t get an opportunity to properly talk to Chrissie as we were on opposite sides of the table.

I had the pleasure of meeting lovely local author Eliza J Scott, an indie author with gorgeous books set on the North Yorkshire Moors and had some serious outfit envy of this gorgeous skirt worn by Jane Lacey-Crane (women’s fiction)). Check out all these books! Isn’t that just the prettiest skirt ever?

It was great to catch up in person with several members of the Beverley RNA Chapter – L-R Sylvia Broady (historical), Jenni Fletcher (Mills & Boon Historical), Rhoda Baxter/Jeevani Charika (romcom/women’s fiction) and me. Pre-Covid, we used to meet monthly but have been having online meetings instead. Hopefully we’ll return to face to face in the New Year. (Photo credit to John Jackson).

I apologise for not name-checking everyone I spoke to and there were so many more people I’d have loved to chat to including Jenni Keer who I met in the ladies right the start of the event and who was such a delight, but time was not on our side. Hopefully another time!

Hubby and munchkin met me afterwards and we headed home for a takeaway and the start of the new season of Strictly Come Dancing. Fabulous to have that back on our screens again. I think there are going to be some wonderful pairings there and the standard is going to be extremely high.

After an evening and a day off socialising, it was back to my desk yesterday and I am pleased to report that the first round of edits on A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow are now complete and back with my editor. I’m catching up on a day of admin today before diving into Summer Nights at The Starfish Café tomorrow.

Thank you to John Jackson, Jean Fullerton and everyone involved in organising The York Tea. Huge congratulations to all the former NWS members (New Writers’ Scheme) who were nominated for the Joan Hessayon Award which was part of the event. The winner, Caroline Day with Hope Nicely’s Lessons for Life was clearly stunned to win which was so touching to see and I wish her – and all the others – every success with their writing careers.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

An amazing holiday in the stunning Lake District

We’ve been back from our holiday for exactly a week now and it already seems like a distant memory. Although the suitcases on the landing waiting to go back into the attic and the pile of walking trousers/thick socks/breathable T-shirts I’d bought for the trip and don’t have a home for in my wardrobes do keep reminding me it wasn’t that long ago.

The Lake District is one of my favourite places in the UK. I remember family caravanning holidays as a child, paddling in the lakes in flip flops or wellies, and visiting the gorgeous towns and villages around the national park. As an adult, I’ve visited many times.

I often dreamed of living there and, in my late 20s, I actually had an interview to be a trainer at an outdoor activity centre on the shores of Lake Windermere. I was gutted when I didn’t get the job. I’m a firm believer in everything happening for a reason and there were other plans in place for me. If I’d got the job there, I’d probably never have become an author.

My husband and I have visited many times with our daughter and we also went on our own for a weekend to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary in 2015 so we have many fond memories. Usually, we stick to the towns but this time we were determined to get walking. After 18 months of hibernating thanks to a certain pandemic, even the low fells were perhaps a bit ambitious but there was nothing to stop us walking round the lakes and what a treat that turned out to be.

Our holiday cottage was a gorgeous building in a small hamlet on the southern tip of Thirlmere which is a reservoir serving Manchester. We couldn’t see the water from the cottage because of the woods but it was very close by. The views out of the lounge window were stunning.

DAY 1 – GRASMERE & RYDAL WATER

The weather was stunning for our first full day so we had a wander round the pretty village of Grasmere then set off towards the lake. It’s quite a walk from the village to get to the edge of the lake but it’s absolutely worth it. At every turn, there was a new photo to take.

I’m proud to say that all of these are mine taken on my phone and the only one my talented photographer husband took is the bottom one in this batch.

We continued from the northern part of Grasmere towards Rydal Water where we’d heard there were some caves in hills which we’d never visited before. It was a bit people-y around the cave but I was keen to have a go crossing the stepping stones, praying I wouldn’t be the one person who went splat in the water. (Thanks to hubby for the batch of pics below):

It was worth making the crossing as the cave was fabulous although I was too embarrassed on my own to do what I normally would – a deep ‘mwah ha ha ha ha!’

Outside the view was gorgeous and there were loads of amazing stacks of stones. We were pretty hot at this point so didn’t stop to create our own.

We’d covered a lot of miles in the heat by this point and stupidly weren’t prepared as we hadn’t packed any lunch or brought enough water with us. Thankfully, the pathway at the northern tip of Rydal Water opened out onto the road immediately opposite The Badger Bar so that was us sorted for lunch and drinks. It didn’t take much (any) persuading to get the bus back to Grasmere instead of walking!

From there we drove onto Ambleside for something a little more leisurely – a game of crazy golf. Hubby sat on a bench with Ella (the dog) while the munchkin and I played a round. She would claim she won, but she cheats!!!

DAY 2 – FERRY TRIP TO BOWNESS-ON-WINDERMERE

We decided to take a catch the big steam ferry from Ambleside to Windermere on the Sunday which, with hindsight, was a bit of a mistake because Bowness on a bank holiday weekend was crazy busy. I’ve seen it busy many times but this was something else. It was so calm before we boarded the ferry, and the boat itself was fairly empty but we disembarked in Bowness and there was a sea of people everywhere and a wall of noise. Eek!

It was a grey day but still really warm (although a bit chilly on the ferry itself). We had lunch followed by a wander round a lovely market and the town, but we were keen to get back on the ferry and return to some peace and quiet (and an ice cream) in Ambleside.

DAY 3 – BUTTERMERE

Bank Holiday Monday was another grey day but there was no rain forecast so we decided to drive up to Buttermere. We’d heard it was a lovely walk around it. At 4.5 miles, that seemed do-able. And we were prepared with a packed lunch this time!

The sat nav directed us on the terrifying route via Honister Pass or, as the munchkin kept calling it, Hoisin Pass. OMG! If you’ve not done it, it takes you high – very high – past a slate mine with sheer drops and extremely narrow roads. My knuckles were white as I clung onto the door handle! (I will point out that hubby was driving!)

The photo opportunities were very different from our previous lake walk and I even turned on the black and white filter (get me using the tech!) to catch some moody shots!

The walk was lovely and I certainly brightened up a dull day in my red fleece!

We had a lovely treat on the route back up the other side with a few cows lying down by the side of the footpath, taking it all in. Aren’t they gorgeous? And there was an amazing waterfall too which hubby scrambled up to it while the munchkin and I had a little rest. The single cow and waterfall pic are courtesy of hubby.


DAY 4 – LAKESIDE, HAWKSHEAD & BROCKHOLE

It was publication day for me for Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café but we had no WiFi at the cottage so I drove out to a lay-by near Grasmere first thing to pick up 4G and do some sharing of social media posts! After that, we all headed down to Lakeside at the southern tip of Lake Windermere and hubby and munchkin took Ella for a walk while I met my fellow Write Romantic and fabulously talented crime writer Helen Phifer. Helen lives in Cumbria so it was such a great opportunity to catch up with her. We were so busy chatting, we completely forgot to take a photo. Oops!

The family and I then headed up to Hawkshead which is one of my favourite villages and had a wander round and a delicious publication day lunch outside a pub called The King’s Arms.

Although we’ve visited HillTop before, I thought it would be fitting to visit Beatrix Potter’s former home on the day one of my books was released but they were taking bookings only which had never even crossed our mind so that was a no-go.

We caught the car ferry from Hawkshead and headed to Brockhole on the shores of Windermere instead. The munchkin had a freezing cold paddle with Ella (as you might be able to tell from her facial expression on the first pic) and a go-cart ride so she was a happy bunny.

DAY 5 – THIRLMERE

Our plans to do the walk around Derwentwater were a bit scuppered today when munchkin woke up complaining of stomach ache and feeling sick. We stayed at the cottage for the morning hoping it might wear off but she was sick and definitely couldn’t go out and about.

I read and hubby went off for a walk with the dog but I was going a bit stir crazy after lunch so, with munchkin being at an age she can be left alone, we left her sleeping and walked to Thirlmere.

The reservoir was very low after a lengthy dry season and we came close to a stuck-in-the-mud disaster, fooled by the crusty surface! (Top 3 pics are hubby’s).


DAY 6 – KESWICK & DERWENTWATER

It had obviously just been a 24-hour bug as the munchkin woke up feeling much better and, although we decided it would be pushing it to walk the full perimeter of Derwentwater as planned, we reckoned she could manage partway.

We’ve always loved the walk past the theatre and down to the lake shore but have never done the walk round the lake and we can’t believe what we’ve been missing out on because it is stunning. It helped that we had the same gorgeous weather from the start of the week. Just like our walk round Grasmere, there was a photo opportunity with every few paces.

We were so sad to have to say goodbye to our cottage and head back home. We all agreed that, even with the munchkin being ill one day, it was the best UK holiday we’d ever had. I think that was for a combination of reasons – the gorgeous weather, the stunning scenery, properly switching off from work (no WiFi certainly helped) and a break for the first time in nearly two years. Perfect.

I can’t wait to start writing my new series set in the Lake District which does, of course, mean lots more trips there are needed. No hardship whatsoever!

I hope you’ve enjoyed looking at the pictures. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve been to any of these places or you have recommendations for others. Our holiday cottage was gorgeous but it had a few shall we say ‘interesting’ decorative touches. I leave you with the fish vase, the squirrel bin (which weighed a ton), the frankly terrifying ‘Catbells’ artwork (Catbells being a famous fell overlooking Derwentwater which features in the top photos on the above section), the scary rabbit dish thing and the disproportionate squirrel acorn situation.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

A visit from North Yorkshire to North Yorkshire

The hubby and I have just returned from a lovely few days away and we never even left our home county of North Yorkshire. It’s such a huge area that, if you live at the edges, you can travel over two hours and still be in the same county! The reason for a few days away was that our daughter is having a summer break staying with my parents and hubby suggested that, instead of dropping her off and driving back home, we could make a mini-break of it. We even arranged for Ella, our sprocker spaniel, to go to hubby’s parents’ for a couple of days so we’d have no restrictions on where we could go.

We were hoping to stay in Richmond which is where I had my teddy bear shop many years ago and hubby searched for a nice hotel or B&B figuring we could have a couple of drinks and a meal in the town on the evening. No chance. Even though we decided on this about six or maybe even eight weeks ago, we’d left it far too late and the only rooms available were extortionate prices like £500 for two nights. Eek! So we ended up at the Premier Inn in nearby Catterick Garrison which is on a retail park close to the army barracks. Yep. Not exactly a romantic location but at least it was a chance to get away and you can always rely on a Premier Inn.

We dropped the munchkin off at lunchtime on Wednesday and headed to the market town of Leyburn. It was heaving and it took a few circuits before we finally found somewhere to park but we had a delicious meal in the beer garden of The Bolton Arms at the top of town, watching the world go by, followed by a wander around the gift shops. It was a shame to see one of my favourite shops had closed down. I wondered if that was as a result of lockdown or from before. I do remember my mum mentioning it to me but can’t for the life of me remember how recently we had that conversation. The concept of time seems very fluid at the moment! A couple of other shops were closed. A notice on one said this was due to a funeral and we didn’t wander down to the other as we could clearly see it was in darkness. Maybe for the same reason? I do like to treat myself to a little something while away and I found this gorgeous Steiff hoglet called Joggi in another gift shop, although hubby bought me a Steiff hedgehog for Christmas who is also called Joggi. I wondered if that meant anything in German but Google translate says not. I have, however, discovered that a hedgehog in German is called an ‘igel’ and a hoglet (baby hedgehog) is a ‘babyigel’. Awww!

We moved onto Masham from there but caught it just as the final market stalls were packing away. I remembered there being several nice gift shops last time we visited and could only see one this time. There were still Covid restrictions on social distancing and a queue to get in so we wandered round intending to return … and forgot!

Checking in at the Premier Inn a little later, we were advised that there was no TV reception in the room thanks to the recent fire at the Bilsdale mast TV transmitter affecting TVs in the Yorkshire Dales, northern parts of North Yorkshire and Teesside. Hubby had intentionally left all tech behind and kicked himself for this as it meant we couldn’t relax in front of the TV but we weren’t in a location with lovely pubs to walk to and we didn’t really fancy driving anywhere after so much driving already that day. So we sat in the hotel room watching old episodes of Gogglebox on his phone. We so know how to party!

On Thursday, we went into Richmond. It wasn’t forecast to rain but it rained while we visited Richmond Castle, although not too heavily or for too long and we were prepared with waterproofs. Please therefore forgive the very dull-looking photos!

As I said earlier, I used to have a teddy bear shop in Richmond on the top corner of Finkle Street. This has been the Lucy Pittaway Gallery for several years now and I absolutely adore Lucy’s artwork. If you haven’t discovered it before, do check out her website here. I already have more of her amazing prints than we have space for but there’s always room for another notebook in the collection! I had to pose outside – just like I’d done when it was my shop – and also take a photo of one of her gorgeous hedgehog prints in the window. Lucy’s prints are the inspiration behind one of the storylines in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Cafe.

We had a wander round some more of the shops and I loved spotting this sign on the back of a car down a side street and this wall art on the side of a building.

There’s a fabulous circular walk from The Station – the former train station which is converted into a cinema, cafe, arts/gifts centre – via Easby Abbey so we set off on that walk on the afternoon. We hadn’t gone very far when I recognised a group of people heading towards us. My cousin, her husband, younger son and their dog were coming to the end of the circular walk, having completed the loop the other way to us. How spooky is that? They don’t live in Richmond. It’s about 40 mins away for them so what an amazing coincidence and lovely to catch up with them.

We continued on our walk and I put my new FitBit to the test, racking up nearly 22k steps across the day which isn’t too shabby as a starting point. It’s not going to be happy with me today as, back home, I’m lucky if I’ll manage 500! Ssh, don’t tell it! And as it’s on my desk and not my wrist, it won’t even register any of them!

The walk was lovely, through trees, alongside the river and past Easby Abbey which is an English Heritage site with free access. We did the walk once before several years ago when we were camping in the area with hubby’s sisters but I don’t think we must have explored much of the abbey as I definitely didn’t remember it being quite so big.

Back to my 22k steps, I haven’t walked anything resembling that far since pre-lockdown and had actually only left the house on a dozen or so occasions since March 2020 so being out and about for me was a pretty big thing and it completely wiped me out being in the fresh air for a full day. It was so good to be out, though.

Even though we’d have loved a relax in front of the TV that evening, resting our feet after the walk, the mast problem prevented that. We returned to the retail park, grabbed a quick drink in one of the chain pubs there, then I had a relaxing bath before going out to the cinema 2 minutes’ walk from the hotel to see The Last Letter From Your Lover. Hubby hadn’t been too keen as it looked more like my sort of film from the trailer but he enjoyed it and I loved it. I’ve read a few of JoJo Moyes’s books but not that particular one. An added bonus was that we had the cinema – Empire Cinemas – completely to ourselves and could upgrade to recliner chairs which were amazing. I say upgrade but it was only £3.99 each in the first place so £5.99 each seemed a very reasonable price.

On Sunday morning, I met a friend for a hot chocolate in The Station while hubby went for a walk with his camera and then we headed to Fountain’s Abbey. We knew it would be busy but we must have timed it horrendously wrong by arriving around lunchtime. The queue for the cafe stretched across the courtyard in one direction and the queue for tickets to get in stretched the entire width in the other direction. So we left. I know, I know, that’s super impatient but we just couldn’t face standing for maybe an hour queuing after a long walk the day before.

Newby Hall isn’t too far away so we drove there instead and the thankfully wasn’t a queue to get in although it was pretty expensive to get in. It’s a lovely place, the gardens are gorgeous, and there’s loads for kids to do but be warned that the child entry fee is not a lot less than the adult fee (the family of 4 in front of us paid a whopping £62 to get in) and there are additional fees required for the train and boat trips once inside. And you’re going to buy food, drinks, ice creams too. Definitely somewhere you need to spend a full day to get your money’s worth.

I had the most delicious warm scones with jam clotted cream for my lunch although we had to move tables twice, eventually retreating indoors, as the wasps were out and after the jam! Ooh, I hate them so much.

I’d been hoping that The Bear House might have had some new displays – perhaps a project someone might have undertaken during lockdown – but they were the same as when we visited a couple of years ago. Disappointingly, quite a few bears had fallen over at some point, especially in the picnic scene. There’s meant to be a bear on a wooden swing but the wooden plank had slipped out and the bear had tumbled into the others so it looked a little unloved in there, poor bears.

I had to take a picture of Barbara Cartland’s bear. The plaque accompanying him states: “This very special German bear was given to Barbara Cartland, the romance novelist, in 1904 when she was three years old. When Dame Barbara gave him to Gyles Brandreth [whose enormous collection of bears is partly housed in The Bear House] she explained that she had adorned him with the fabulous jewels, and named him The Prince of Love’ because she had discovered that he believed himself to be an Indian Prince”. How fabulous is that?

The traffic was grim all the way home – one of the challenges of heading to the coast (albeit back home for us) among holiday-makers coming for the weekend or the week – and it took us about 2.5 hours to get back from Newby Hall. For context, this is a 60 mile journey! Eek! So we were pretty shattered by the time we got back.

Despite quite a few hitches to our plans, it was lovely to be away, especially when I finished writing A Wedding at Hedgehog Hollow the day before I left so it came after a big milestone. My mind definitely needed the rest! It was good for me to be out and about and doing some exercise after pretty much hibernating for the past 18 months. Already looking forward to my next trip.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Happy Yorkshire Day 2021

It’s 1st August which means it’s Yorkshire Day. Happy Yorkshire Day 2021 to everyone who who was born in Yorkshire, lives here now or has ever lived here, to all those who’ve visited this beautiful part of the country or would love to do so, to those who write about it/read about it/watch it on TV, those who drink Yorkshire Tea and anyone who has any connection to or fondness for Yorkshire.

I love Yorkshire. I was actually born in Teesside but was raised in a market town called Guisborough which borders the North Yorkshire Moors so I very much think of myself as a Yorkshire lass. And I’ve lived in North Yorkshire since 2003 and Scarborough since 2004; the longest time I’ve lived anywhere.

All my books (so far) are set in Yorkshire. North Yorkshire alone is the largest county in England. Add in East, West and South Yorkshire and we’re massive. So it’s no surprise that an area this size has so many inspiring settings from coast to country to city.

I’m delighted to present some of our local scenery and the books that are inspired by it…

The ‘Welcome to Whitsborough Bay’ series, a location inspired by Scarborough, Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay
The Hedgehog Hollow series (so far) set in the stunning Yorkshire Wolds
Take a trip to Castle Street, inspired by Scarborough’s Bar Street and the cobbled streets of Whitby and Robin Hood’s Bay, full of independent shops and cafes
Whitsborough Bay’s North Bay (heavily inspired by Scarborough’s North Bay) features in many of my books but especially All You Need is Love and The Secret to Happiness
Scarborough Spa at the far end of South Bay is the inspiration behind The Bay Pavilion which features in Starry Skies Over The Chocolate Pot Café
The views over Scarborough’s South Bay are stunning. This is one of the first views Tara sees when she moves to Whitsborough Bay in Starry Skies and, in new release Snowflakes Over The Starfish Café, it’s an area called Sea Cliff where heroine Hollie lives
The Starfish Café is the setting for a new series. The location is completely fictional but the beach below – Starfish Point – is a colony to 200 grey and common seals, inspired by the beach at Ravenscar
Scarborough’s harbour aka Whitsborough Bay harbour is mentioned in several books and there’s a key scene set there in Christmas at Carly’s Cupakes

I hope you’ve enjoyed a little glimpse into the real Yorkshire inspiration behind Whitsborough Bay and Hedgehog Hollow.

Do you love Yorkshire? Do you live here/have connections here/have fond memories of holidays here? I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you do.

Big Yorkshire hugs
Jessica xx

Exploring Wharram Percy – a deserted Medieval village

Yesterday, it didn’t look like the forecasted rain was going to make an appearance so we piled into the car to drive around part of the Yorkshire Wolds – Hedgehog Hollow country – to get some more photos.

It was a lovely drive out, stopping to take the occasional photo of stunning rolling countryside, and it was a bit of a mystery tour, arriving at each junction and hubby asking ‘right or left?’ We picked up signs to the English Heritage site of Wharram Percy which is somewhere we’ve wanted to visit for ages so we ended up there. You can find details about it on English Heritage’s website here.

Bit of history for you here: There are roughly 3,000 known deserted Medieval villages around Britain but this is one of the most famous because it’s one of the largest and best preserved. For the past 60 years, archeologists have worked on this site, keen to understand more about this era and why the village was deserted.

Wharram Percy can be found in a valley, surrounded by stunning Yorkshire Wolds countryside. It’s quite a remote site but was occupied for six centuries before being abandoned in the early sixteenth century (around 1520 they reckon).

You can read the full history on English Heritage’s website here and it seems a combination of various tragic and unfortunate circumstances around lack of heirs in the Percy family, forced eviction, famine and the plague resulted in the downfall of a once-thriving village. There’s also an interesting blog post about the ‘ghost village’ here from fantasy author Angus Watson.

I’d heard tales of Wharram Percy being haunted and about dogs in particular, who tend to be more attuned to these things, having strong reactions when visiting the area. So I did some research on this.

There’s a short but interesting clip from presenter Clive Anderson on YouTube about a grisly discovery archaeologists made when excavating the site in 2017 which you can watch here – a pit containing 137 human bones from 10 different people. A little strange when there’s a church with a graveyard and the villagers would all be christians and therefore buried there.

Frustratingly this clip didn’t explain why the archaeologists thought the pit was there so I did some further digging. There still isn’t a definitive answer for this discovery. There is evidence of decapitation and dismemberment with many bones being broken and/or burned after death. The only plausible explanation for the moment is that this may have happened because of Medieval folklore. Back then, it was believed that the dead could rise and spread disease or violently attack the living so this gruesome way of disposing of the bodies (presumably of those who’d died from the plague?) may have been a way of preventing that. Eek!

The Clive Anderson video shows amazing arial footage where the full extent of the remains of the village can be seen; something you don’t appreciate when on foot. Definitely worth watching to see that.

I wanted to find some ‘evidence’ of ghost encounters but all the posts I found seemed to focus on the village being abandoned and the bones rather than anything specific from visitors. I’m sure if I’d spent longer looking, I’d have eventually come across something but I have a huge to-do list today so I’ve abandoned that search!

Did we feel anything spooky? No. Just hunger pangs because we hadn’t expected to visit Wharram Percy and should have been hunting out lunch when we got distracted by a visit there! Ella (our sprocker spaniel) showed no reactions either. When I was at 19, I went to the Isle of Wight on holiday and visited Golden Hill Fort, a former army barracks near Freshwater. It’s now apartments but it was open to visitors back then and was reputed to be haunted. I felt something very strongly there which spooked me big time so I had wondered if I was susceptible to things like this… but Wharram Percy didn’t affect me at all.

My 14-year-old daughter claims to like horror films and spooky books so we got her to stand by the farmhouse which is still standing but boarded up. We couldn’t resist winding her up as she posed in the blocked-up doorway. ‘Just stand by the woman and little girl,’ hubby instructed. ‘You don’t have to hold the little girl’s hand,’ I added. Hubby then couldn’t resist photoshopping the image when we got home! (Look closely at the doorway). Mwah ha ha ha!

I’d definitely recommend a visit to Wharram Percy. It’s £2 for parking unless you’re an English Heritage member (which we are). It’s a 3/4 mile walk there which is mainly downhill although that means uphill on the way back. It’s mainly a gentle slope, though, with just one slightly steeper part.

You’ll then cover a bit more ground wandering round the site itself which is a bit hilly, as you can see on one of the photos below. It’s a lovely walk with lots of wildflowers and pretty countryside to look at as well as the remains of the site, although I realised after I got home that I’d only taken photos of the intact buildings and not the ‘footprints’.

My daughter now has an idea for a story inspired by Wharram Percy. It’s actually quite a brilliant idea and made me excited for her when she mentioned it. I just wish she’d get beyond chapter 1! She has started writing so many stories then abandoned them because it takes too much effort. Probably not going to follow in my footsteps!

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Brontës, Bella, books, and a busy beach

Strictly-speaking, it’s still spring but I can’t bring myself to put ‘out and about – spring’ as the header after the gorgeous weather we’ve had this weekend, so I’ve declared summer!

I went out this weekend. Proper out. Among people! Eek!

It was Scarborough’s Books by the Beach Festival this weekend – a slightly shorter (and later in the year) event than usual. When the line-up was announced, I was excited to see that Rowan Coleman would be speaking. What made Rowan’s presence extra special is that many of the events this year were in a change of venue: St Mary’s Church in Scarborough’s old town near the castle. Anne Brontë died in Scarborough and is buried in the churchyard there and Rowan is both passionate and extremely knowledgeable about the Brontë family. She is two books into a series called The Brontë mysteries under the pen name Bella Ellis imagining that, before the sisters became authors, they were sleuths. Isn’t that a delightful idea? So where better for Rowan to speak about this series than in the resting place of one of the sisters?

I took my fourteen-year-old along for company (with the bribe of an ice cream afterwards). She doesn’t know anything about the Brontës but she enjoyed hearing about the mysteries and, after reading the blurb on the back of the couple of books I bought and had signed, she declared she may well snaffle them for a read. The hour-long talk and Q&A session was really interesting and Rowan was, as always, exceptionally engaging.

It was lovely to spot another writing friend outside, albeit briefly, before going in and it was lovely to be out, even if being at an event meant wearing masks and being socially distanced in the church. I couldn’t take any photos during it as we were struggling to find somewhere to sit that wouldn’t be too close to anyone and ended up off to a side with a column partly blocking our view. We could still hear perfectly, though.

Congratulations to the team at the Books by the Beach Festival for organising a safe, enjoyable event. I’d imagine that there’s a lot of work goes into organising an event like this anyway but even more so when trying to make it Covid-safe.

The munchkin and I went for our ice cream afterwards. Scarborough’s South Bay was absolutely heaving. Wandering along the seafront, it would be so easy to believe that life is back to normal with no masks in sight and very little social distancing. I thought I’d feel a bit more anxious than I did. I think being double-jabbed probably helped with that.

We had an ice cream and leaned on the railings above the heaving beach, took a walk along the pier, past the harbour, then walked back up to town. It was great to be out in that sunshine but I was relieved to be away from the crowds. That wasn’t just pandemic-related. I’m okay with crowds but I don’t enjoy being in places that are heaving. I much prefer peace and quiet.

On the way back up to town, we had a chance to pay a visit to my favourite shop – White Beach Designs – and maybe make a couple of purchases.

I went out again on the evening. I know! Get me! I know Rowan, having attended a writing retreat she ran in West Yorkshire a little over three years ago. She gave me some really helpful advice about my writing career for which I’m very grateful. As she was staying over in Scarborough, she’d asked if I fancied meeting up outside of her talk so we’d booked to go for dinner. I really enjoyed the chance to have a catch-up. It is so long since I’ve spoken face to face to someone who isn’t family and it was great to feel some sort of normality. Thank you so much, Rowan, for the wonderful company xxx

As we walked to the restaurant, Rowan asked how come I hadn’t been speaking at the festival. It would be an absolute dream come true – Scarborough author who writes about Scarborough on the bill of a Scarborough-based festival – and I did put my name forward. Maybe one day.

Hope you enjoy the pics of Scarborough aka Whitsborough Bay looking resplendent in the sunshine. Ooh, and I’m going out again tomorrow! There’s no stopping me. I’m off to Beverley to meet my bestie and fellow author Sharon Booth. We used to meet up a couple of times a month but obviously haven’t been able to for a long time and video chat isn’t the same. Really looking forward to seeing her face to face again.

If you’re venturing out and about again, hope it’s going well for you. It certainly helps that the nice weather means we can be outside seeing the people we love.

Big hugs
Jessica xx

Venturing into real Hedgehog Hollow countryside

One of the things readers love about my Whitsborough Bay series is that, while the setting is fictional, it is inspired by real places. The biggest inspiration comes from Scarborough but there are elements of Whitby, Robin Hood’s Bay and a couple of other local coastal towns and villages. Readers who are familiar with the area like to guess which pubs, cafes and landmarks they think I’m referring to.

When I started writing the Hedgehog Hollow series, my intention was to to do the same thing: to create villages in the books that were inspired by specific villages on the Yorkshire Wolds. But Covid hit and we couldn’t go out and about so I couldn’t do that and I didn’t know the area well enough myself. I only live a few miles away from the northern tip of The Wolds and I have travelled through the area oodles of times but I’ve never veered from the main roads to thoroughly explore the villages. I do, however, have a really good understanding of the beauty of the countryside.

What’s been interesting is that, although I haven’t used specific villages as inspiration, some readers who live in the area think they recognise certain villages on The Wolds. I love that because it means that I have properly captured the essence of Wolds villages in my writing.

Yesterday afternoon, hubby and I planned to go exploring for the afternoon but our plans were slightly thwarted. He had a last-minute opportunity to go for his 2nd Covid jab so we set off much later than intended, but then our daughter called us from her after school photography club to say the teacher had an appointment so it was finishing half an hour earlier so we had to cut our trip short at the other end.

We managed a stop in the middle of the countryside although the photos really don’t do justice to the stunning rolling hills and fields surrounding us – the real Hedgehog Hollow countryside.

We explored a village called Wold Newton with a pretty church and a village green with a pond. Check out that blue sky! I had flip flops on so some careful navigation was needed round the pond as there was goose poo everywhere!

How fabulous is this bus shelter? It was full of books, DVDs and games. I wondered if it had started during the pandemic to keep people entertained or whether it has been a community scheme running much longer than that.

I checked the shelves but couldn’t see any Jessica Redland’s loitering! I loved this book with what we call a Steven lighthouse on it. When New Beginnings at Seaside Blooms was first issued, it was called Searching for Steven and, as the book features a red and white striped lighthouse, we have since referred to striped ones as Steven lighthouses.

We also walked around a smaller village called Thwing but I forgot to take any photos.

Our next stop was driving through Butterwick, Weaverthorpe and Helperthorpe intending to park at the furthest and explore, but that’s when we got the call to go to school early so no more photo opps. My husband’s dad was born and brought up in Helperthorpe so I definitely wanted a good look around.

I will share more photos when we return and I continue on my mission to find some villages that are how I would imagine Huggleswick, Umplesthorpe, Fimberley, Little Tilbury and Great Tilbury.

Big hedge-hugs
Jessica xx