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

Is being predictable a bad thing?

My debut novel, Searching for Steven, was released three weeks ago today and my novella, Raving About Rhys, was released a few weeks before that. It’s been exciting watching the reviews come in. Some have been from friends and family, but many have been from strangers which is extra exciting. Having someone I don’t know read my work and say lovely things about it is quite an incredible feeling and I’m ever so grateful to those readers and bloggers who’ve taken the time to post a review. So far, nearly all of my Amazon reviews have been five star, with a few at four star. Eek!

_MG_0221The purpose of this blog post isn’t to witter on about my reviews, though. It’s to pick up on something I’ve read in a couple of them that I’ve also noticed in reviews of novels by other authors: a suggestion that the story is predictable. It’s something I find a little odd when relating to a romance story because surely all romances are predictable. By this I mean they follow a standard formula: girl meets boy, falls in love, and they live happily ever after. Okay, so that wouldn’t make a gripping page-turner so there needs to be an additional element. Sometimes girl loves boy, but he doesn’t know she exists … at first. Sometimes girl loves boy but he’s with someone else. Perhaps they get together, but something separates them: illness, distance, pride, a misunderstanding … the possibilities are endless. But the basic premise is that we know our hero and heroine are going to get together because that’s what a romance novel is all about.

There are several notable exceptions to the happy ever after: Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, and a heck of a lot of Nicholas Sparks novels where the hero doesn’t manage to make it out of the book alive and the reader needs shares in Kleenex and Galaxy to get through to the end. For the vast majority of romance novels, though, we meet the heroine, we meet the hero, and we know they’re going to get their HEA. What makes the story interesting is the HOW. How will they get together? What conflicts will they face? What obstacles will they overcome? Every author and every story has a slightly different take on this which is why avid readers of romance novels, like myself, read book after book and don’t get bored by the genre.

I suppose you could argue that crime novels are predictable too: crimes are committed and ultimately the criminal is caught and (hopefully) brought to justice. There will be challenges along the way e.g. the police get the wrong person, they’re in the wrong place and another crime/murder is committed, and so on but, ultimately, the crime is solved. Again, there are notable exceptions but, as I haven’t read quite as many crime novels, I can’t name them as easily as the romance ones! Do readers think crime novels are predictable because they also follow a formula?

_MG_0218Or am I missing the point? Are the comments about predictability not about the overall plot, but more about a specific aspect of one of the sub-plots? I’d love to know. But therein lies the cardinal rule of reviews: you can’t comment on them. On the one or two reviews of mine where the word ‘predictable’ was mentioned, I was dying to comment and ask the reviewer what aspect they felt was predictable as all feedback is good feedback and I want to learn from it, but I knew I’d unintentionally sound defensive if I asked. And it’s not the done thing to ask. Believe me, I’ve seen case studies online where people have challenged reviews and it’s not pretty. I know there are some great twists and turns in both the novel and the novella, but maybe there’s something that is a little obvious and that’s what they mean. I’m not offended in any way; just curious. What’s really lovely is that it was made very clear that the readers still loved the book and that the predictable element, whatever it was, certainly didn’t detract from their enjoyment. Phew! So perhaps I should just accept the positive comments, the great ratings, and not worry about that one little word.

What do you think? Are romance novels predictable? Does it matter? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Jessica xx