Monthly Archives: September 2011

This Weekend in Leeds: 23rd to 25th September

Stuck for something to do this weekend? Fear not: as per usual the calendar is jam packed with fabulous events.

If you’re a fashionista on a budget, or you like your threads to be one of a kind, check out The UK’s Big Vintage and Fashion Fair on Saturday and Sunday in The Light Leeds. In attendance will be Leeds staple Blue Rinse along with Laura Baker Vintage, Curious Cat and many more. 

There’s a foodie double whammy this weekend. The Headrow is hosting the World Curry Festival  from Friday to Sunday, so pop down for free samples, demonstrations and charity events. You can book free tickets online but it doesn’t seem to be necessary – a lot of people are just turning up. Meanwhile Saturday and Sunday sees the Holmfirth Food and Drink Festival which features brewery tours, arts and crafts, local produce and children’s entertainment.

If all this sounds a bit too much like hard work, why not spend a quiet hour or three in Leeds Art Gallery?  The most popular exhibition at the minute is Artist Rooms: Damien Hirst which features a good range of his work. It’s easy to miss the ‘Pharmacy’ section of the exhibition, which is on your right before you even go in the main entrance, so make sure you see it – it’s a recreation of the restaurant of the same name which was in Notting Hill from 1997 to 2003, and was decorated with various artworks by Hirst. While you’re in the gallery, have a sandwich and a cup of tea in the lovely café. 

 

The lovely Tiled Hall Cafe at Leeds Art Gallery. Picture by Karen V Bryan

 

King Lear opens at West Yorkshire Playhouse  tonight. Starring Tim Pigott-Smith in the title role, it’s bound to be a corker. Alternatively, Saturday is your next chance to see Madama Butterfly by Opera North at Leeds Grand Theatre. There’s a pre show talk too, which is free, but you do need to book your place.

Finally, there’s a citywide Zombie game taking over Leeds tonight, Kirkstall Deli Market  in Kirkstall Abbey grounds tomorrow and a poetry festival at the Carriageworks tomorrow night.

That should put you guys on for now…. If there’s anything I’ve missed, do let me know! Are you organising or attending something new and amazing? Let me know! Comment below or email me:cultureleeds@gmail.com.

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Declarations at Phoenix Dance Theatre

Last night I was lucky enough to see the opening night of Declarations, Phoenix Dance Theatre’s Autumn Tour. I should say here in the interests of transparency that I didn’t pay for my tickets, but got them as a little perk of my day job. However, the tickets for this tour are just £12.50/£10 concessions, and I can say without doubt that I would have been more than happy to pay that for this unpredictable, energetic and moving showcase in a delightfully intimate studio theatre.

The dancers were – to me – outstanding, although I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert. I feel sure that someone trained in dance would spot errors that I would never notice, but if they were there they didn’t affect my enjoyment in the slightest. Two dancers in particular stood out for me. One was the rather enigmatic but extremely lithe Ryu Suzuki and the other was Azzurra Ardovini, whose intense, mischievous energy shone through even in the quieter, more controlled movements.

The four pieces performed each had their own distinct moods and personalities. The opener, Warren Adams’ The Auduacious One, is the showy, energetic number that pushes all the right topical buttons. There’s almost too much to see – as seven dancers whirl about the stage, whoever you watch, you feel as though you’re missing something elsewhere.

The second piece, Locked In Vertical by Isira Makuloluwe, is dark, slick and moody. The musical accompaniment by Francois Caffenne is grungy and incredibly atmospheric. As it pulses, scrapes and rings, the dancers seem to be slaves, moving against their will into ever more coiled and fluid forms.

Haunted Passages by Philip Taylor was devised in 1985, andPhoenix first performed it in 1989. One might expect a piece that’s almost 30 years old to feel dated and irrelevant, but to me it was the most memorable piece. Ardovini stole the show here with her precise, expressive movements. The three dancers creep through a world of shadows and ghosts, suspended between asleep and awake.

The big finish was original, quirky and fun. Aletta Collins’ Maybe Yes Maybe Maybe No Maybe features five dancers and one microphone, using the dancers’ voices to create the electronic soundtrack. Playful and witty, it was a lovely lighthearted way to end the showcase.

Perhaps because Declarations is so accessible price wise, and has such a strong local identity, the audience was very young. Many seemed to be dance students; there was an unusually high incidence of teenage girls with exceptionally good posture and disarmingly voluminous hair. Their reactions seemed generally good, although I didn’t get the feeling that the first piece impressed many.

What I personally loved about the evening wasn’t the politics, or the meaning behind the different pieces. If they were posing important questions or presenting desperate dilemmas, I would honestly have to say that they passed me by. But I loved the fact that seven bodies on a stage held my complete attention for almost two hours, and, more than that, they made me feel something special. There was a mixture of awe, hope and – I’ll admit it – jealousy! It lifted my spirits, and I left feeling introspective and peaceful. And isn’t that a nice way to feel?

Tickets for the Delcarations tour are available here. To keep up to date with Phoenix Dance Theatre’s new and performances, see their website or their Twitter page.

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Day Trip: Sunny Sheffield

Because no-one criticises my blog (to my face) I imagine what people might say to me, in my head. I’ve been thinking about this Sheffield post since I found out I was going and talking myself out of doing a blog because I’ve only done about 6 posts and I was banging on about Bradford in one of them. It’s supposed to be about Leeds. Then I defended myself – just because you live in Leeds doesn’t mean you have to get all your culture in Leeds, right? In fact, that would be quite narrow minded and restrictive. Anyhow the argument escalated, it got pretty nasty, but I won in the end. So all you haterz out there: It’s my blog and I’ll write about what I want! If you don’t like it…do one.

So glad we cleared up that little imaginary problem there.

Up until Friday evening, I had a terribly bad opinion of Sheffield. I’d been a couple of times, but a long time ago and only at night, and I didn’t see much of it. The parts I did see were completely unrecognisable from the fantastic city centre I spent 6 hours in yesterday.

What I do remember of Sheffield is a lot of grey, bland concrete and littered, crowded streets. What I saw yesterday was innovative contemporary architecture sandwiched between well preserved older buildings, lining pedestrianised streets and beautifully designed public spaces.

I arrived pretty early, and there wasn’t a lot open so I bought a paper and wandered round to find somewhere for a drink. I wanted to find an independent place so when I strolled down Chapel Walk and spotted a little door with a ‘Cafe’ flag outside, I went on in. Instantly I realised it wasn’t what I was looking for, but since the place was practically deserted and a waiter in a shirt and tie had already come over to greet and seat me, I sort of felt like I had to stay! It was called Andrew’s and was a bit on the pricy side, but the carrot cake was divine.

 

Not really what I wanted to eat at 9am, but it wasn’t the sort of place where you could nurse an orange juice for 45 minutes.

Highly recommended to me by various Twitter folk were the Winter Garden and the Millenium Gallery. The Winter Garden is a huge arched glass structure, housing tropical foliage including trees that must be twenty feet high, along with butterflies, shops and exhibitions. I came across a display by a charity for dignity in old age which I looked at for ages – partly because I love learning about people’s lives and their histories. At first glance, it looked like a display of children’s work – it was handprints done in brightly coloured paint. Beneath each handprint was a sentence from the owner of the hand about why their hands were important. The sentences were short but so inspirational – they covered topics from the 2nd World War, to working as a midwife, to milking cows, to working the ground in the Himalayas. Thinking about what my sentence would be (“I use my hands to tweet”, maybe?) was extremely humbling.

 

"Albert, 81, "My hands might have saved lives when I was an ambulance man."

 

 

Dot, "My hands helped me in the steel industry during the 2nd World War and gained me the Women of Steel award" Also in the Winter Garden was an NCTJ photography exhibition which contained some incredible, shocking, beautiful images. It's there until next weekend and is absolutely worth a look. Finally, on my way out I spotted a couple having their wedding photos done in there. What a beautiful idea!How romantic!

 
The permanent collection at the Millenium Gallery is the Ruskin Collection. It’s a gorgeous display, with a mixture of items from his collection and interactive pieces to teach you more about the man himself. There’s also an exhibition called ‘Kill Your Darlings’ from Kid Acne, the Sheffield based urban artist. (Overheard: 80+ year old woman walking with a stick saying, “I don’t think it’s because I’m old, it’s just not my cup of tea” whilst looking at a cartoon of 2 naked women tied up, and a third naked woman brandishing a whip.) Finally, it wouldn’t be a day in Sheffield without looking at some steel: there’s an entire gallery full of ornate and sometimes mysterious metalwork.
 

Apparently this is a soup tureen!

 
I finished off my day with a self navigated walking tour of contemporary architecture in Sheffield. It’s clear that Sheffield have really taken public spaces seriously and have invested in making the city centre both practically and visually a nice place to be. Opinion is divided on buildings such as the ‘Cheesegrater’ but I think it’s distinctive and a lot more attractive than any other multi storey car park I’ve ever seen.
 
 
And by far the nicest space in Sheffield is just outside the train station. With water features and plenty of seating, the area was packed not just with people waiting for a lift but people reading books, eating sandwiches or just people watching.
 
 
So I’ll stop banging on about Sheffield now – I’ll just say: it’s less than an hour’s drive away and it’s a delightful, cheap day out. GO!

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Bettakultcha: Observations of a First Timer

If you’ve never heard of Bettakultcha, and you’re even slightly interested in learning about new things, hearing a new take on old things, or widening your horizons, then you need to know about it!

It’s almost impossible to do it justice in a few words (which I’ve been trying to do all week when telling people where I was going), but last night the host of proceedings (compere?) referred to it as a cabaret of ideas, which I thought was perfect. 

Twelve speakers each took the floor and spoke for 5 minutes, with 20 slides of 15 seconds each, about the topic of their choice. 5 minutes is a lovely length for a presentation. It’s short enough to keep the speakers concise, and leave the audience wanting more. 

The venue was that gorgeous Leeds institution, the Corn Exchange. It was strange to see the Corn Exchange devoid of its usual hustle and bustle; there was something illicit about being there after hours. It was if I’d snuck into school when all the teachers had gone home and had to creep from corridor to corridor, avoiding the aged but terrifying caretaker – in this case the security guards, who patrolled the upper balconies like some creepy reverse of Bentham’s Panopticon. Except, they were quite nice really, happy to point out the toilets and the nearest cash machine and so on.

After getting a drink at Primo’s and resisting the incredible looking hot dogs on the grounds that we’d already eaten (but resolving to get one next time) we settled in to our cute little fold up chairs, charmingly arranged in little groups, and awaited the start of the show.

Of course I don’t have the space here to describe every talk in detail; I don’t even have the space to go over the many, many highlights. I have literally never learned so much in my life! I found out what hackdays are from Dominic Hodge’s presentation and am even more in awe than ever of people who can write code. (Apparently it’s not that hard to learn and doesn’t take as much time as you’d think, but I don’t know if I’m convinced!) Peg Alexander gave a fantastic presentation about what we eat, why we eat it and what’s wrong with that. I particularly loved the analogy of the ‘cake pusher’ – that person who will push and push until you eat what you resolved not to. Occasionally I am that person, but last night I resolved: no more! A representative from the Royal Armouries presented on the items at the museum, but with a twist – he was assessing their usefulness in the case of a zombie attack. To which I can only reply – genius!

There was so much more, including quantum mechanics, music and identity, and a really inspiring story about one man’s recovery from a near fatal lorry-motorbike collision which got a bit of a standing ovation. The incredible Phil Wall’s digital art was shown in the interval, which was a great talking point if you weren’t too busy checking out everyone’s tweets. Finally, at the end, three mind-bogglingly brave people volunteered – volunteered!! – to get up and present for two and a half minutes with a set of slides they’d never seen before. Impressed does not even cover it – they were all fantastic!

My Twitter timeline still echoes with belated and extremely well deserved compliments and congratulations to those who presented last night. Check the #bettakultcha hashtag for proof! Knowing how much it would take for me to get up and present, not just on any old topic, but on something that is important to me, something personal, I wholeheartedly add my acclaim and adulation.

The next Bettakultcha is at Huddersfield Media Centre on Sep 28th. Check out their website or Twitter for more details.

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Saturday at the British Science Festival

The British Science Festival (which I may have mentioned before) has now been running since 1831, breaking only for the odd war. It was last held in Bradford in 1900, and it’s back with a vengeance for a 7 day run starting Saturday 10th Sep and ending this Friday 16th.

The British Science Festival 2011.

Surprisingly, the turnout to a lot of the events we went to on Saturday was pretty appalling. The first was a panel discussion called ‘Yorkshire as a hub for carbon storage‘ which was quite fascinating. A team at Leeds University are currently working on systems that will allow carbon to be captured during industrial processes and injected into rocks under the ground. This will reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere and will mean that when our remaining coal reserves are used, we can reduce the damage done to the environment.

Ferrybridge Power Station. Don’t worry, it’s completely safe. Picture by by Foto43

An obvious risk that springs to mind is that this can give the impression that it’s okay to use coal power stations because we can make them into clean energy sources. This is true to an extent, but it doesn’t do anything to increase the reserves that we have. The general reaction from the panel was that we need to be looking into renewables but that the coal reserves will be used, and we can create money and jobs in the Yorkshire region by developing this technology. Apparently we have some delightfully convenient empty seams below sea level off the Yorkshire coastline which are perfect for such uses. Luckily, it’s still a pretty well kept secret as there were only about 15 people in the audience for this event.

Where’s Science Girl when you need her?

There were a few exhibitions on during the day (many of which are continuing throughout the week, FYI) so we checked out ‘Portraits of Outstanding Women‘ and ‘Scientific Heroes‘. Both were interesting if incredibly hard to find. As a bit of a feminist, I admit to being slightly disappointed with the Outstanding Women effort, which was just nowhere near as inspiring as I’d hoped. I thought there’d be portraits of some really kickass women who were responsible for crucial breakthroughs in the history of science, with attention grabbing stories to galvanise young girls with a passion for science. Instead, there were seven black and white photographs of surprisingly corporate looking women, sat alone staring at the camera, with no information on the walls save their names. If you found a booklet and flicked through to the back section, you’d find a list of their major achievements, peppered with meaningless acronyms and references to various boards and guilds. Oh, and a quick log of how many kids they’d each popped out as well. Yet, in the Scientific Heroes exhibition at the other side of the room, which was dedicated to ‘alumni from Bradford College who have made outstanding contributions to science’, Elsie Wright had a massive plaque featuring her entire life story, and about fifteen pictures, just for faking a few fairies in a garden. I thought the priorities were just a bit off there! I mean no disrespect to the women who were featured, who have some truly admirable achievements under their belts and all dedicate some of their time to charities that help young girls get into the fields of Science, Engineering and Technology. But they were let down; this exhibition wouldn’t be remotely inspiring to a young girl trying to get into SET and struggling. (The problems facing girls and women in this field are well documented elsewhere, but for an overview see this 2010 report by the UKRC.)

We also went to ‘Science Fiction and Religion‘ which featured short talks from science fiction authors, academics and journal editors – but it got especially interesting during the question and answer session. There were some extremely knowledgeable people in the audience and I left feeling a lot more informed but still desperately insignificant! Then, finally (after a break for an amazing curry at Omar Khan’s – I don’t really do food writing but if I did, I would be recommending it whole heartedly) we went to the Sundown Science event, ‘Elemental Comedy: A Cabaret of the Elements‘.

If I’m honest, I went into this event a little skeptically. First of all, the event had originally been advertised as featuring Robin Ince. Later his name was removed from the online description of the event, but there didn’t seem to be any sort of explanation as to why. Secondly, we were waiting outside the cinema (it was at the National Media Museum) in a packed lobby with little seating for 30 minutes after the time the event was supposed to start. And thirdly, I was organised for, literally, the first time ever, and booked my tickets weeks in advance. Then, this week, it’s all over Twitter that tickets have been put on a special 2 for 1 offer. What I learned from that was to leave things to the last minute. All the time.

But anyway, after I got over my shoddy attitude and settled in, we enjoyed a hell of a show. Music and maths, explosions and elements, arsenic and ants; there was a bit of everything and the whole thing was basically chaos theory before our very eyes. I can’t imagine for a second that the money from the tickets even began to cover the insurance policy required. There were presentations from several different people, including comedian Matt Parker, broadcaster Viv Parry and Bang Goes the Theory presenter Dallas Campbell. All in all it was riotous, if a little disorganised.

If you’re interested in what’s coming up this week at the Science festival, there are still some events that really shouldn’t be missed. Here’s my top five (which I’ve written assuming you are LIVING THE DREAM and don’t have jobs or any other commitments. If that’s not the case, check out the ‘Sundown Science’ section in the pdf programme for evening events):

1. Solve a forensic mystery in 90 minutesThursday 15th 15.30. Cost £3. Richmond Building, Bradford University

Use fingerprints, handwriting analysis, chemical testing and more to solve a murder case.

2. You are what you ate. Wednesday 14th 10.00. Free. Phoenix Building South West, Bradford University

Find out how your diet affects your skeleton, and take advantage of the opportunity to examine medieval skeletons. I’m betting there’ll be some pretty impressive displays of tooth decay.

3. Bad ideas?: An arresting history of our inventions. Thursday 15th 17.30. Cost £5. Alhambra Theatre.

The legendary Professor Robert Winston discusses famous inventions that may have hampered human progress. I may drop him a line to let him know just how much my iPhone drags down my productivity.

4. The Happiness Factor. Tuesday 13th 13.00. Free. Richmond Building, Leeds University.

Got the Monday blues? Learn about the pursuit of happiness from psychology types who discuss how things such as drug taking, dementia and body image affect our happiness.

5. Technology in sport: cheating or fair game? Tuesday 13th 19.30. Free. Richmond Building, Bradford University.

One for the sport lovers among you. To what extent is using technology to win ethical? Listen to the experts then vote for yourself on a handheld wireless keypad.

If none of the above float your boat, check out the full programme. Whether it’s hypnosis or Hockney, religion or Rutherford, I’m sure there’ll be something for you. 

Follow the British Science Festival on Twitter for updates and the lowdown from the festival. The official website, and place to book tickets, is here.

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Coming Soon in Leeds: September Round Up

There are so many events coming up in Leeds over the next couple of months that I thought a bit of a summary would be in order. Hopefully I’ll be attending a lot of these and blogging afterward, so if you don’t want to feel all left out and envious, you need to know the details now. Some need tickets, some don’t, some are free, some aren’t… Scroll down and feast your lovely eyes on all the exciting details…

This week is Chapel Allerton Arts Festival – it started on Monday 29th August and finishes on Sunday 4th September. The main events will be on Saturday and Sunday, where there will be bands and performers on stage, tons of activities for children, and countless stalls from local businesses. You’ll find me on Regent Street, where all the food stalls are, plus the bar and the main stage. If crafts and kids activities are more your thing, you’ll want to be on Well Lane.

I love events like this just purely for the community spirit. It’s such a great opportunity to get out there and see who the people are that you share your neighbourhood with – especially if you’re fairly new to an area, like I am.

For more details about the lineup on stage, the people involved, the activities on offer, direction and so on, there’s an official website here.

That should keep you busy this weekend, but there’s another big event the weekend after. This year, Bradford is hosting the British Science Festival, from the 10th to the 15th September. I know it’s not technically Leeds, but it’s not far off, and there are some incredible events that look like so much fun. Most of the events are free, and a few have a nominal charge of up to £10 – mainly the ones where a famous face is appearing! Highlights will  be Ranulph Fiennes, Professor Robert Winston and Robin Ince. The programme tells you everything you need to know about prices and how to book, and it even has a handy little code system to tell you the age suitability and the level of subject knowledge required to understand and enjoy the discussion. Throughout the week there are some exhibitions that you don’t need to book for, just wander in and take a look round. If that sounds a bit dull to you, listen to their titles: The Science of 3D TV, Hollywood Make-up and Hair,  Artificial Intelligence for Games: The Winning Strategy plus tons of others. Other events include a night at a curry house – for £15, get a curry dinner and talks about the rise of the curry and it’s importance in our society – Hypnosis and the Science of Consciousness, Pond-Dipping at Fairweather Green and so much more. Whether you’re interested in wildlife, robotics, psychology, science-fiction, DNA, sustainable energy, outer space, maths or criminology, there is an event for you. And it’s probably free! I honestly can’t push this one enough. Embrace your inner geek!

On Sunday 18th September, try a little ceilidh dancing at Seven, a cafe and arts space in Chapel Allerton. It’s just £5 on the door and beginners are welcome. Doors open at 8pm.

If you’re a foodie, don’t forget that there are farmer’s markets on the first and third Sunday of this (and every) month. The first Sunday is held in Kirkgate market (behind the bus station) and the third Sunday is on Briggate. Pick up local produce at a great price – that warm, smug feeling you’ll get about saving the planet is an added bonus. On the last Saturday of every month is Kirkstall Deli Market – get curry, cake, tea, cheese, fruit, pizza, pies, pasties and just about anything else you can think of in the beautiful setting of the Kirkstall Abbey ruins.

Leeds is a thriving centre for dance, and if you’re interested in watching dance being performed there’s plenty going on this month. Phoenix Dance Theatre (who are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year) launch their tour ‘Declarations‘ on the 22nd September in their own theatre. There’s a lot of buzz about this and tickets are going fast! They’re in Leeds for three nights only and tickets are extremely reasonable. Book here. Meanwhile, Northern Ballet launch Hamlet at the West Yorkshire Playhouse from the 9th to the 17th September. You can book tickets for that here from £20-£30 per seat. It’s in the Quarry Theatre, which is gorgeously intimate – I don’t think there’s a bad seat in the place. The advertising images from this are absolutely stunning!

Finally, just squeezing in at the end of September is the Ilkey Literature Festival. Astonishingly, it’s been running since 1973, and this year it runs from 30th September to 16th October. There are some huge names this year, including Alan Hollinghurst, Janet Street Porter, Jeremy Paxman and Mark Haddon. You can book tickets now and many of the events are selling out pretty fast – so move quickly!

Whatever you decide to do this month, have a ball! If you know of an event that you think should be included here, or if you attend one of these events and enjoy it, comment below or drop me a line at cultureleeds@gmail.com.

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Country Pursuits

Okay – this blog is called CultureLEEDS and so far all I’ve written about is libraries. Just like everyone else in the blogosphere, but six months late. Well, you know. Books count as culture, right?

I guess I see this blog/project as a kind of exploration of Leeds, of how to make the most of where we live, and of the little hidden gems that we know about but don’t necessarily enjoy as much as we could.

This week, in a bid to visit somewhere I have heard about but never been to, I took a trip to Lotherton Hall. About 20 minutes’ drive out of Leeds city centre, it’s a stately home with huge, gorgeous grounds, run and cared for by Leeds City Council.

After rocking up, the first thing I did was walk the Boundary trail – a pathway that goes around the edge of the Estate and, according to the website, affords ‘open views of the countryside’. I have to say I didn’t especially find that to be the case, as most of the edge of the grounds seems to be lined with six feet plus hedges and trees. But it was a pleasant, easy stroll, and I got to make friends with several over-excited dogs… It was actually a little bit more exercise than I anticipated doing so early on a Saturday morning, but I was glad I did it! (To clarify, it’s really not strenuous at all. I’m just lazy.)

Next I visited the Bird Garden. Unbelievably, there’s no charge at all to wander round in here, and they have some really eye-catching birds.

My favourites were definitely the flamingoes. It was so surreal on a drizzly Sunday morning to walk through a green garden and suddenly see a dash of pink, then another, then a whole flock!

Next stop was the formal gardens, and a good look at the house itself. The gardens are pristine, and really well looked after. I happily sat reading my book and enjoying my scenery for over half an hour.

Inside the House itself are some fantastic exhibitions. At the moment is a fantastic display of Native American Indian culture, entitled ‘Warriors of the Plains‘ which is slightly incongruous but absolutely worth a visit. It’s on until September 25th. That link will also show you some other upcoming exhibitions which look interesting and I can’t wait to take a look. Generally there’s no extra charge for the exhibitions, just the cost of entry to the House.

Overall, parking and 2 adults entry to the House would cost less than £10. If you only paid the parking, or if you bussed/walked it there (public transport details here) then you could still visit the gardens, the grounds and the bird garden. This is amazing value for money – don’t miss out! You could easily spend 2 or 3 hours here and spend less than you would at the cinema. Plus, think of the fresh air and the exercise! (Yeah, that kind of puts me off too. Forget I said that. Maybe scroll up and look at the flamingoes again, they’re honestly too cool.)

The House itself is open Tuesday to Saturdays, 10am to 5pm, as is the Bird Garden. In November and December, the House closes at 4pm and the Bird Garden at 3.30pm. There’s a nice little cafe selling tea and cakes. Parking costs £3.70. Admission to the House is £3 adult/£2.40 with a Leeds card/£1.50 concessions/£1 child.

The Estate is closed during January and February.

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