Norton High Street

Following my retirement we’ve been privileged to live in the beautiful village of NortonStockton-on-Tees. It’s a delightful village and we live in easy walking distance of the Parish Church, the Village Green and the Duck Pond, with the latter being the obvious destination when out with our young children.

Sometimes we walk up and down the High Street, enjoying its wonderful feel and character. I took the above photograph on a fine day at the beginning of February 2021. I’m hoping to take a collection of photos in the near future which reflect its history and variety, I’ll post them here in due course.

Norton High Street (not to be confused with the High Street in Stockton) is the main thoroughfare through Norton and is a leafy street of some considerable length that is full of charming 18th century houses and it is worth a stroll for those with a passion for old houses to pick out some of the best ones. Some are occupied by pleasing outlets and places to eat. You can read more here.

Norton High Street is very special to Naomi and I because we met twice for coffee and cake in Cafe Lilli and Cafe Maison before our first proper date in 2013. Both are worth a visit after the coronavirus lockdown.

See also: Norton Duck Pond and Norton Parish Church

Halifax Piece Hall

Our half-term day trip to Halifax this time last year (February 2020) was a wonderful family day out, although little did we know how coronavirus would soon become a world-wide pandemic (March 2020) and change all of our lives. It was a wet day (as you can see from the above panorama), but we look back with an increasing fondness engendered through an enforced lockdown.

Halifax is a historic market, mill and minster town in West Yorkshire, England. In the fifteenth century the town became an economic hub of the old West Riding of Yorkshire, primarily in woollen manufacture. From New Year’s Day 1779 manufacturers and mercers dealt internationally through its grandiose square, the Piece Hall. Today it houses many small shops and independent businesses, along cafés, restaurants and venues.

Both Naomi and I have lived near Halifax (before we knew each other) and have friends there. It was lovely to visit with our family, and hopefully we can visit again soon when the lockdown restrictions ease.

Norton Duck Pond

Following my retirement we’ve been privileged to live in the beautiful village of NortonStockton-on-Tees. It’s a delightful village and we live in easy walking distance of the Parish Church, the Village Green and the Duck Pond, with the latter being the obvious destination when out with our young children.

The Duck Pond is part of the Village Green and is surrounded by mostly Georgian houses and cottages. It’s beautiful at anytime of day or night, season or weather.

I found this interesting story while researching the history of the village: The village was once the site of a market at a spot called Cross Dike, near the pond. The market was established in Norman times but this ceased operating around the time of the Civil War in the 1640s. One story is that the market established by Henry II and Bishop Flambard of Durham was to operate on the sabbath and this offended God who caused the markets to collapse by swallowing them up with the sudden opening up of the ground by some kind of earthquake that then allegedly formed the village pond. You can read more here.

Thankfully, we can visit the Duck Pond in the current coronavirus lockdown, reminding us of the need to appreciate what we have around us.

See also: Norton High Street and Norton Parish Church

Norton Parish Church

Following my retirement we’ve been privileged to live in the beautiful village of Norton, Stockton-on-Tees. It’s a delightful village and we live in easy walking distance of the Parish Church, the Village Green and the Duck Pond, with the latter being the obvious destination when out with our young children.

I took the above photo of the church on a recent walk. Like most churches, it’s very photogenic, and a beautiful building inside and out. You can find out more on the church website where there are some excellent Christian resources.

The church was built as a place of worship and protection in about 1020 CE and so is just over 1,000 years old.

St Mary the Virgin, the ancient parish church that stands on the village green, is the only cruciform Anglo-Saxon church in northern England. Its crossing tower with eight triangular head windows has a battlemented top of later date, and there is a 14th-century effigy of a knight in chainmail.

Residing under the church floor there is claimed to be an escape tunnel used by the Saxons and priests when in danger, though it may be a drainage culvert. The tunnel leads under the church floor and Norton Green, eventually surfacing in the Albany housing estate. The church floor was recently renovated and Saxon remains and artefacts were discovered in the tunnel entrance. Wikipedia

See also: Norton Duck Pond and Norton High Street

Diwali: Festival of Lights

Diwali came very much to the front of my mind when I lived in Leicester, mainly because the city has a very large and diverse ethnic minority population, their Diwali celebrations are widely believed to be the largest outside of India.

Diwali is the Indian Festival of Lights, it’s one of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, symbolising the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance.

Obviously restricted in 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic, normally there are 6,500 lights all along Belgrave and Melton Roads, around fifty separate events spread across the city over a two-week period, including music, dance and live performances in a variety of venues, all ending with a spectacular firework display.

National Parks UK

I came across this wonderful website today, one that immediately made me long for the great outdoors (even if we explore it on a screen). It also reminded me of the wealth of beautiful landscapes we are blessed with in the UK.

The website is stunning from the moment it loads, the above screenshot of a moving image can’t do it justice. There are 14 National Parks in the UK, and this site makes exploring them easier than ever.

Having made a few clicks, this is a terrific site. Lots of great photography and comprehensive information. No time to describe it all to you, just go and explore it for yourself. Click here.

Sunshine in Lockdown (Naomi Ager)

I’m really pleased to share this guest post by my wife Naomi, one she surprised me with late last night.

Yesterday’s (Thursday 15 October 2020) visit to Sunshine Wood turned out to be quite emotional for me. No, not in a gushy crying way, but instead a rush of overwhelming relief that finally I’d found somewhere lovely, stimulating and safe for my youngest child Pollyanna to explore and enjoy learning opportunities again, one that involved little people like her and not just with mummy.

My older children, Freddy (5) and Matilda (4) have benefitted socially, academically, and emotionally from the daily toddler groups and play cafes we toured before they started school nursery and then full-time school.
They also got to go to nursery from the age of two for 15 hours which really built their confidence.

Then coronavirus lockdown happened, resulting in Freddy and Matilda being ripped abruptly away from their school in Wallsend back in March 2020, and not being able to return to say a proper goodbye to their school friends before we moved house to Norton in Stockton. Pollyanna had just started her journey at Shining Stars Nursery before lockdown stopped it in its tracks.

I found myself, like many thousands of other parents, at home with the prospect of a whole new ‘adventure’ – home schooling! These children had been used to proper organised activities, play groups, nursery etc. How could I compare?

We remained sensible and only left the house to go for long walks in open spaces, and filled the rest of each day with learning games, drawing, talking together, playing, lots of cuddles, and togetherness as a family.

Eventually, the schools reopened, and in September, the big two started their new chapter at their new school. This left Pollyanna and me at home alone facing long daytimes, still with toddler groups closed. A few places I had heard about from friends only took bookings, and I guess because I wasn’t used to being pinned down and kind of forced to attend, booking felt too official for this mummy and daughter duo who just liked to wake up and go where we felt like going.

Anyway, when Pollyanna’s little friend and her mummy invited us to go, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and get us both back into the swing.

Sunshine Wood greeted us with such warmth and friendliness, whilst still making sure the rules they had implemented were followed and understood. The facility itself was so clean and well set out and having a number limit really allowed those parents that were there to have a really quality experience with their child.

Pollyanna explored most areas at least once. Though she was particularly drawn to the excavators and rocks in the sand pit. She relaxed for ages there and found it really therapeutic to explore with the sand. In the hour and a quarter we (Mummy, Daddy and Pollyanna) spent at Sunshine Wood, watched our little girl come out of her lockdown shell and remember the fun she used to have with children her own age. She was a vet, a farmer, a shop keeper, and a builder. In those precious moments and she sparkled her way through every role. She also loved the painting area and proudly clutched her numerous works of art when it was time to leave.

As a doting mummy, I take copious amounts of photos so I can look back on the memories. Today, at Sunshine Wood, my heart took a photo, and they are always the best kind.

Sunshine Wood (Billingham)

Sunshine Wood is a natural educational and play centre for young children set in the Billingham Beck Valley Country Park. Naomi and I took Pollyanna this morning and she met her friend Isabelle there. There’s also a cafe, toilets and baby changing facility. It was our first time there, and Pollyanna really loved it. We were particularly impressed by the excellent coronavirus safeguarding precautions being taken, with thorough cleaning between sessions. There’s also a QR code for checking in with the NHS track and trace app for smartphones. You can find Sunshine Wood on Facebook.

After our visit to Sunshine Wood, we enjoyed an autumnal walk round Billingham Beck Valley Country Park, and I returned later with Freddy and Matilda after picking them up from school. Matilda needed to collect autumn objects for her school homework project.

On Wenlock Edge (Housman)

On Wenlock Edge the wood’s in trouble;
His forest fleece the Wrekin heaves;
The gale, it plies the saplings double,
And thick on Severn snow the leaves.

‘Twould blow like this through holt and hanger
When Uricon the city stood;
‘Tis the old wind in the old anger,
But then it threshed another wood.

Then, ’twas before my time, the Roman
At yonder heaving hill would stare;
The blood that warms an English yeoman,
The thoughts that hurt him, they were there.

There, like the wind through woods in riot,
Through him the gale of life blew high;
The tree of man was never quiet:
Then ’twas the Roman, now ’tis I.

The gale, it plies the saplings double,
It blows so hard, ’twill soon be gone:
Today the Roman and his trouble
Are ashes under Uricon.

Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936)