Category Archives: cambridgeshire

Grand Design for sale

If you caught the recently aired episode of Grand Designs that showed a hexagonal, oak-framed eco house being built in the Cambridgeshire fens, you might be interested to know it is up for sale.

Eco house from Grand DesignsFor anyone not in the UK, Grand Designs is a TV programme that follows ambitious, elegaic, one-of-a-kind house building projects – from the burning eyed optimists clutching architects drawings at the beginning of a build to the broken husks they become at the end. They get worn down by endless problems like the custom-made windows from Germany being millimetres too large for the spaces, or (as always seems to happen) the wife gets pregnant halfway through the build and suddenly any delay to the schedule means she will have to give birth in the caravan they are living in while building their dream home.

Kelly Neville built most of this house literally by himself, coming day after day to a field with some oak beams and hand shaping them and fitting them together in order to make a home for his family. It was fascinating to watch, and the house came out gloriously. There are loads of photos on the estate agent’s website here, and some pics and a description of the build process here. £500,000 doesn’t seem too horribly expensive when you consider it comes with nearly 6 acres of land.

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Foraging in the hedgerows – spring

Today I went foraging in the woods with friends for the fresh green tops of stinging nettles which are just coming into growth to make nettle and ginger beer. I can’t yet vouch for the flavour – it takes about 7 days to be ready to drink, so watch this space.

Even if it turns out barely drinkable it was a good reason to get out into the spring sunshine, which angled through the new leaves and splashed on colonies of white wood anemones. Top tips are avoid anywhere dogs might have used as a toilet, and stick to the bright green top growth rather than the older, darker leaves.

There is a good recipe here – fingers crossed it turns out well, and is worth the odd sting. Go try it!

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Stinging nettle pic by foreby on flickr
Wood anemone pic by Vinje on flickr

Full of festivals

Secret Garden Party Pirate Ship

It struck me today that Cambridge, in particular, overflows with festivals. Whatever your hyperspecialised desire, there is probably a festival that will include it in this town. I just got an email from the Food and Drink festival about their fundraising quiz, where you go and drink wine and eat cheese and try and answer insanely specialist food and drink questions in one of the beautiful medieval college halls. Worth doing it for the architecture alone, which is frankly wasted on undergraduates.

The image above of dawn breaking over a pirate ship is from the Secret Garden Party. It’s a kind of English-country-house-themed tiny Burning Man, part music festival, part theatre event that takes place over four days in the grounds of a Georgian country house outside the city.

The University culture means that more cerebral festivals are strong – we’re having a Darwin Festival in July to celebrate the anniversary, and there is always the Festival of Ideas in November, to mop up anything intelligent that hasn’t been covered to death earlier in the year. Also the science festival starts this weekend under the auspices of the university, which deliciously has guidance on some events “Warning, loud bangs”. And for grown ups we can “join the Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, Professor David Spiegelhalter as he discusses ‘Statistics: can we sex them up without dumbing them down’. ” Telephone booking is now open.

A particular favourite is the Shakespeare festival – it takes place in July in various college gardens, and is again worth it as much for the architecture as the acting, although the standard is fairly high.

Edit: I forgot Cambridge Word Fest, which is booking now for April with a cornucopia of literary events and workshops.

Then there is of course all the music, so much music. The Folk festival, the Summer Music festival, the Rock fest (in association with a beer festival, naturally) and on. Put out more flags, it’s going to be a beautiful year.

folk-festival-imagesImages of the Folk festival by Arkadyevna on Flickr
If I’ve left any out of my list please do let me know.
Science Festival 9-22nd March – Science fun for adults and families
Cambridge Word Fest 23-26th April – Book events and writing workshops for all genres
Cambridge Super8 Festival 29th April – 2nd May
Cambridge Beer Festival 18-23rd May – Real Ale drinking
Strawberry Fair 6th June – Free festival of music, theatre, arts and crafts
Cambridge Comedy Festival 8-14th June – Live Comedy
Cambridge Shakespeare Festival June-July dates TBC  – open air shakespeare in college gardens
Pink Festival 09 date TBC – Gay open air music festival
Darwin Festival 5th – 10th July – philosophy, literature, history, theology art and music arising from the life of Darwin
Cambridge Fringe Festival 16 July – 2nd Aug – open access performance
Cambridge Summer Music Festival 17 July – 8th Aug 09 – world class classical music
Secret Garden Party 23rd – 26th July – music theatre performance camping
Cambridge Folk Festival 30th July – 2nd August 09 – world class folk music
Cambridge Rock Festival 6-9th August – Rawk and Beer
Cambridge Film Festival 17-27th September 09 (submissions open 1st March)
Festival of Ideas 21st Oct – 3rd Nov – explore more about the society we live in
Cambridge Music Festival 8-29th Nov – Serious classical music trienniale, commissions new work
flags_and_skyNB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Birds Eye View is coming to Cambridge

Still from Love you more short filmBirds Eye View will be fetching up at the Picture House Cambridge on Sunday 8th March as part of International Womens Day with a programme of interesting short films by women directors. Not many people in this country know there is an international womens day – it’s not something we think about so much here, but the fact is that only 7% of film directors in the UK are women, and Birds Eye View is doing great work in supporting more coming through and showing great work by women from around the world.

I’ve been to a few Birds Eye View events and they are always thought provoking and high quality. Have a look at the shorts programme here. They are combining it with talks and a networking event, with people from local places like Wysing and the Cambridge Super 8 film festival.

See BEV’s listing here and book tickets here.


International Womens Day at Birds Eye View
Cambridge Picture House
38-39 St Andrew’s Street
Cambridge CB2 3AR
Tel: 0871 704 2050
Top picture from Love You More, directed by Sam Taylor-Wood
NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Arctic blasts

It’s been a cold and chaotic week round our neck of the woods, but today has been beautifully sunny and the snow is retreating. I abandoned the plans I’d had to drive a hundred miles away and instead took a walk over the snow dusted fields to look at some big skies.

Definitely a week to stay close to home and enjoy the simple pleasures of hot cocoa and a wood burning stove.

A couple of weeks ago there were so many signs of impeding spring – bulbs shooting through the soil and a rash of snowdrops. Now all the growth is on hold again, under the snow and ice, ready for next week when it’s going to warm up again.

I took a picture of that tree around harvest time – it’s hard to imagine it’s the same tree.

I love this walk every time of year, with its simple pleasures of flat fields and enormous skies.

And I know, the amount of snow looks a bit pathetic compared to the fuss that has been made, but there was much more before, honest guv!

Also, we came across this, which is rather wonderful on so many levels

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

A motherlode of beautiful furniture

This weekend is the monthly auction at Willingham, a small village northwest of Cambridge.

The auction house is a series of beautiful old brick barns, set around a gravelled courtyard, and to me it beats shopping on Ebay hands down, especially for furniture.

Auctions are held on Saturdays and the drill is that if you arrive at 9am, you have an hour to look round before the auction opens. Arrive early, register for your bidder numer, get a catalogue and a bacon sandwich from the fabulous cafe and have a look round the furniture and objects.

There is usually lots of victorian furniture, a smattering of georgian and some fabulous oddities. My husband raised one eyebrow when I brought home an old tin trunk fancifully painted with a fictional nautical scene but I’m happy with it.

There’s a certain amount of rushing between the two simultaneous auctioneers – one doing furniture in the main barn, one doing china and collectables in the other building. (Collectables – I’m discovering that covers a multitude of weirdness.)

Bidding is a huge adrenaline rush, everything telescopes into you, the auctioneer and the mysterious competition, on the phones, commission bids in the auctioneers book or other people on the floor. Those who attend are a mix of dealers and punters. There’s lots of married couples where the husband  does the serious business of talking to the auctioneer, but each new bid stands or falls on the wife’s nod. It’s a beautiful thing.

As the morning wears on the rooms start to look a bit thinner as people take their purchases away, but tea and home made cake keep the energy up and in summer there’s usually some garden furniture being sold that no one minds you borrowing for a quick tea break.

And then home in time for lunch in Antiques Roadshow stylee, with a giant grandfather clock sticking out of the sunroof.

Sign up for catalogue alerts at – they have an excellent website where you can see exactly what’s going to be in the sale with pictures and estimates, and all the usual information. See you saturday!

NB If you’re interested in reading more about art, design and culture in East Anglia, please do follow the blog to its new home at – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Wysing Contemporary

Wysing Arts Centre is opening a new exhibition this weekend under the Wysing Contemporary banner, with a launch event on Saturday from 4pm with Matthew Slotover, director of the Frieze Art Fair. Greatness comes to the countryside!

Wysing ContemporaryWysing is interesting because it is one of these architecturally ambitious buildings tucked deep in the countryside, which functions mainly as studios for artists rather than being an exhibition space first. Wysing Contemporary is “[their] approach to the collection and sale of contemporary visual art. It is a brand new initiative for Wysing Arts Centre, with three exhibitions per year and an ongoing series of events around collecting contemporary art.”  

They aim to present some of the most interesting work being made in the East of England, on a non-profit basis, and see the exhibitions as part of their remit of nurturing artistic talent. Could be great, could be terrible, I’ll be interested to find out.

The building itself is surely worth a look too. Opened in Jan 08, it won a RIBA award. RIBA apparently said of it “The first view of Wysing Arts Centre approaching from Bourn is stunning, demonstrating in an instant that the architects have fulfilled the client brief to produce a ‘serious building’ and to raise the profile of the Arts Centre. Simple construction, natural ventilation, use of natural daylight and thoughtful detailing all contribute to a building which is direct and sophisticated. The black, ordered rectilinear elevation has the simplicity of a Dutch barn but the sophistication of a more complex building. Stunning architecture in the most unexpected location.”

The architects Hawkins/Brown have a nice page of pictures of  it.

Wysing building


ANIMATED runs Sunday 18 January – Sunday 1 March. Wysing is open every day from 12-5pm. Admission Free.

The centre is between Cambridge and Royston – they have a helpful find us page on their website.