Sunderland and other exciting North East experiences

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Ah, Sunderland. I’m not the biggest fan of the place, yet I ended up visiting more than once while I was at home for a few days.

Mowbray Park

Mowbray Park

Once was to go for lunch with a friend. Afterwards we went for a walk around Mowbray Park and came across the statue erected to commemorate the Victoria Hall disaster. It’s a tragic tale but all it reminds me of is the poem William McGonagall wrote about the catastrophe.

’Twas in the town of Sunderland, and in the year of 1883,
That about 200 children were launch’d into eternity

Mowbray Park

Mowbray Park

Her Majesty’s grief for the bereaved parents has been profound,
And I’m glad to see that she has sent them £50

Commemorative statue

Commemorative statue

Later that week I popped to Sunderland with my parents, who go every weekend. We visited a few shops and had a coffee in Marks & Spencer. It’s such a shame there are so many closed shops and dingy streets, as there are some really nice areas, and the city does have so much potential as well as a rich history – as marked by the ‘Propellers of the City’ monument to Sunderland’s shipbuilding past.

'Propellers of the City' monument

‘Propellers of the City’ monument

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Jewellery brand of the month: Iris De La Torre

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My brand of the month for July is:

IRIS DE LA TORRE

Iris was born in Guadalajara, Mexico and moved to the UK to study. Her jewellery is inspired by traditional Mexican crafts as well as colourful 1960s design.

I’ve chosen to showcase her work this month chiefly because of the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the V&A: Iris has been commissioned to produce a number of designs specifically for the exhibition, which are available in the museum shop in person and online.

Antonio the Golden Sun (Antonio el Sol Dorado) is a favourite brooch of mine, gleaming brightly and cheerfully.

Antonio the Golden Sun brooch

He can be paired with the Moon (La Luna), who shines with a silvery shimmer.

La Luna brooch

The Cat (Gato) brooch is adorable.

Cat Brooch

So is this deer brooch, representing Frida Kahlo’s pet deer.

Deer brooch

Speaking of Frida: this beautiful Frida Flower Crown brooch is unique to the V&A.

Flower Crown brooch

There is a whole range of exclusive jewellery available, but this parrot brooch is top of my list for when I visit the exhibition.

Parrot brooch

Check out Iris De La Torre’s work via the following links:

Website: irisdelatorre.com

Instagram: instagram.com/byirisdelatorre

Facebook: facebook.com/IrisDeLaTorreJewelleryandAccessories

Twitter: twitter.com/byirisdelatorre

Gunnersbury Park Bat Walk

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Gunnersbury Park Museum has recently reopened after refurbishment, and while I was browsing the website I came across a bat walk. I signed up to go on the July walk in the hope of coming across a few bats.

Bat detector

Bat detector

On meeting at the park, we were handed bat detectors, which were quite exciting, designed to pick up bat squeaks at high frequencies. Different species have different frequencies so you have to move the dial around to make sure you pick up anything that might be out there.

We headed down to the lake and at first there was no sign of any bat activity, even though we walked right round the lake and were there for ages. Eventually, however, as it grew dusk, some bats began to come out of hiding and we saw them swooping around, aided by the bat detectors which picked up their noise almost before we saw them.

Lake

Waiting for bats

I never thought that standing by the side of a lake in the dark on a Friday night would be such fun, but it really was. There is another walk taking place in September if you fancy giving it a go.

Birdworld

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Birdworld

I was browsing the Tesco Clubcard website looking for somewhere to use up my remaining vouchers, when I came across Birdworld. It wasn’t far from me, and what’s more, it had penguins! So I decided to visit.

Walk from Bentley station

The start of the walk from Bentley station

The nearest station is Farnham in Surrey, reachable from London Waterloo. You can then get a bus which stops directly outside Birdworld. However, I followed the directions on the website which explain how to walk through countryside from Bentley station. This might have been a good idea if it hadn’t been 30°C; as it was, I arrived at the park already tired. There is also a stream right next to the car park that you need to leap over – I was convinced I was going to fall in! Next time I think I’ll stick to the bus.

Some sort of toucan

Some sort of toucan

There is a gift shop and cafe at the entrance, so once I’d bought my ticket I had an early lunch before doing anything else. I picked up a map of the park and checked out the event times before heading off to explore.

Bird

I forget what this bird was called, but it had a cool name

As the name might suggest, Birdworld is home to a weird and wonderful variety of birds, from penguins to parrots, flamingos to owls. It has over 150 species and is the largest bird park in the UK.

Flamingos

Flamingos

You can follow the recommended route, or just wander around like I did. I started with the birds near the entrance, including the owls (this area is named after Sir Terry Pratchett) and the parakeets, before moving on to the flamingos and other sea birds.

The Owl Parliament

The Owl Parliament

Along the way I passed kookaburras, peacocks and the gloriously named Tawny Frogmouths.

Baby Tawny Frogmouth

Baby Tawny Frogmouth

There is a farm right at the back, with rabbits, goats and chickens – there were even a few baby chicks. I missed out on seeing the live show in the theatre as I was a few minutes too late, but was able to watch from outside. I did get to the flight display area in time to see some of the birds of prey in action, which was very entertaining.

Baby chicks

Baby chicks

I left the penguins till last, as they are my favourites! There are two species of penguins living at Birdworld – African penguins, which live at Penguin Beach, and Humboldt penguins, which can be found at Penguin Island. I was in time to see the Humboldts being fed – they REALLY love their fish.

African penguins at Penguin Beach

African penguins at Penguin Beach

Humboldt penguins at Penguin Island

Humboldt penguins at Penguin Island

Before I left, I visited Underwater World, the entrance to which is just across from Birdworld. Entrance is included in the price of your ticket. This place has several interesting varieties of fish, and even miniature crocodiles.

Kookaburras

Kookaburras

I really enjoyed my visit to Birdworld, and if I lived closer I’d seriously consider buying an Annual Pass so that I could visit the penguins regularly. In any case, I certainly plan to visit again at some point.

Friendly cockatoo

Friendly cockatoo

FACTS

Address: Holt Pound, Farnham, Surrey, GU10 4LD

Website: birdworld.co.uk

Opening Hours: 10am-6pm

Prices: Adult £15.95, concession £13.95. Cheaper prices apply for children and under 3s are free. Prices are also cheaper off-season when the park is not fully open – check the website for details.

Jensen’s Gin Experience

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Bemondsey Distillery

I love gin, so was very excited about picking up a Time Out voucher for a gin tasting session at the Bermondsey Gin Distillery, home of Jensen’s Gin. I went with a friend, and we headed down early, which is just as well because it took us a while to find it. The space is built into one of the railway arches not far from Bermondsey station, and there is a door built in to a corrugated shutter.

Bemondsey Distillery

One free drink was included, and we sipped this as we were introduced to the history of gin and to Jensen’s Gin in particular. I’m fairly familiar with the history of the drink (and felt quite smug that I was able to identify Hogarth’s picture Gin Lane) but not of this particular brand. It was founded by Christian Jensen, City worker and gin enthusiast who, in a bid to recreate the gins he loved in his youth, at first commissioned another distillery to make it and then set up his own in order to make and sell it commercially. The small company now makes two gins, the original Bermondsey Dry Gin and an ‘Old Tom’ variety that is deeper and more flavoursome. We got to sample both of these as well as the individual ingredients that make up gin, including juniper berries which give gin its distinctive taste.

Bemondsey Distillery

I had a really good time at the gin tasting: I learned things about gin I didn’t know, and got to sample some delicious gins. I would definitely recommend Jensen’s Gin, and am planning to head down to the distillery shop to buy a bottle of my own. On Sundays you can also pop down to Maltby Street Market and sample a G&T for just £5, which is pretty good for London.

Bemondsey Distillery