Tag 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 http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

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 http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – 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 http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – 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.

Local, seasonal, delicious

The Elbournes have been growing orchard fruit for five generations. Their farm shop in Meldreth has been there since 1967, but is only open in season – pretty much August to February. The apples there smell so much more apply than those in the supermarket – the orchards are around Meldreth and the next village, Melbourn, so they don’t have far to come and can be picked when properly ripe.

It’s a treat to drop in to the shed and pick out some interesting apple varieties from the wooden crates.

They have been very proactive in planting and selling heritage varieties. South Cambridgeshire was traditionally always an apple and plum growing area, famous for it, and they are carrying on the tradition and growing varieties I, an apple lover, have never heard of. 


They do well known varieties as well, generally at less than supermarket prices, and full flavoured apple juice pressed from single varieties, which is also available in farm shops around the area. Have a look for it if you are in the South Cambridgeshire area. Also, occasionally homemade apple muffins still warm from the oven appear on the cash desk.

There were two but one got eaten before I could take a photo…

Do seek them out and remember what apples should taste like – a touch tarter and more complex than the modern commercial varieties and perfect with Wensleydale cheese from the Hawes Creamery.

NB the shop is now closed until the season starts again in August.

Cam Valley Orchards Farm Shop
25 Whitecroft Road, Meldreth,
Royston, Herts SG8 6ND
07770 461 685
Open Thursday, Friday and Saturday only, 9AM to 6PM, August – February
No website

Wimpole Hall Farm and Gardens


Espalier apple tree at Wimpole Hall

Espalier apple tree at Wimpole Hall

In the last few sunny weekends of the year, the outdoor parts of Wimpole Hall near Royston are worth a lingering visit, either if you’ve got kids or are enthusiastic about gardening. 


I fall into the enthusiastic about gardening category, so I loved the victorian walled kitchen garden. Surrounded by beautifully mellow brick walls with fruit trees trained along the warm surface, it was a riot of vegetables and colourful dahlias when I visited. They have a demonstration greenhouse filled with cordon trained tomatoes, but comfortingly you can also glimpse the enormous modern greenhouse behind the scenes where the real work gets done. 


Wimpole Hall

Wimpole Hall



The entrance to the kitchen garden is a perfect example of formal simplicity which I’d love to reproduce the feeling of in my own garden – it makes the whole experience like visiting a temple to vegetables.


They have a variety of home made scarecrows – this one is my favourite.

It seems to have a lovely knowing expression as in knowing where all those birds have gone.

For kids and followers of teh fluff, the farm is a must visit. A riot of baby fluffy and furry things, they are an outpost of the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, and you can see all kinds of breeds of goats, ducks, chickens and pigs, visit the beautifully tiled old dairy and revel in the structure of beautiful barns.

The current series of wooden barns were designed by Sir John Soane as a model farm, and they exude a homely elegance. The biggest one holds an exhibition about food production through the ages at Wimole, but it’s worth a visit for the breathtaking roof construction alone.


The big barn

The big barn

And being National Trust, there are all the tea, cakes and plant sales you could possibly want to round off an afternoon in the pale autumn sunshine.

Wimpole Hall is open every weekend but dates during the week vary. http://www.wimpole.org/

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 http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.

Hidden Art in Cambridge


The entrance to Kettles Yard.

Kettle’s Yard looks like a nice modern gallery from the street. They generally have interesting art exhibitions, and the quality of light is the gallery is lovely. So far so good, an ornament to Cambridge.

A while back, after visiting, I followed a sign out the back to the house at Kettles Yard, and fell down a rabbithole into somewhere extraordinary. 

Like all the best private houses turned museums, you have to knock at the door, and a kindly little old lady opens and settles you in, pops your bag in a cupboard and invites you to wander wherever you like, sit in the chairs, read the books. Then you are let loose into this lovely place. Originally four cottages, they were knocked together in the fifties to make one large house, open yet higgledy piggledy, full of light and wonderful objects.

The atmosphere is comfortable but informal. People really do sit in the comfortable armchairs and read, wander and chat. There are concerts there, the occasional talk. I left wanting to know more about who had put together such a wonderful home and then offered it up to the university.

It turns out Jim Ede trained as a painter and became assistant curator at the Tate in the 1930’s. He championed modern art, got to know everyone in the field, visited Brancusi’s studio in Paris, was a key part of it all. He became dissillusioned with the conservatism of management and about 1936 moved to Tangiers, where he built an early minimalist house, travelled a lot with his wife and continued to collect his favourite painters.

In 1956 he and Helen moved back to Cambridge, where he had grown up, and converted the houses and filled them with art and interesting objects. They ran an open house every afternoon, so people could knock on the door and he’d show them round (legend has it he even lent paintings for students to hang in their rooms during term time). Eventually they gave the house and its contents to the University of Cambridge, so that people could continue to enjoy it long after they were gone, and moved on to Edinburgh to start the next stage of their lives.

The upshot is that this warm and welcoming space is still open, up the only hill in Cambridge, and it’s a perfect place to spend some time of an afternoon – being surrounded by so much beauty must be good for the soul. Artists represented include Ben Nicholson, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, Constantin Brancusi and Joan Miró, but that is only selected highlights.

Another nice thing is the natural objects – a basket of rounded pebbles arranged as a gradient from grey to white, the wooden cider press screw that is several hundred years old and reads as a perfect plinth, a magnifying lens hanging in front of the house plants.

Go seek out this quiet gem. Knock on the door any afternoon except Mondays. http://www.kettlesyard.co.uk/

Castle Street, Cambridge CB3 0AQ UK

telephone: +44 (0)1223 352124


Pebble Spiral Kettle's Yard
Magnifying lens


Museum entrance by Andy Field
Museum interiors from Kettle’s Yard website   
Spiral of Pebbles by Ayres no graces   
Lens photograph by Major Clanger   

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 http://flatlanders.co.uk/ – you’ll find more posts on everything interesting happening in the area.