Category Archives: Tourism

Quite possibly the best ice-cream in the world…

“Where do you go to find the best ice-cream in the world?” I asked our dear friend Naomi De Maio.  “Italy, of course!!!” she said, without a hint of prejudice….

So, off I went to the weekend Ice-cream Festival in Florence.  And a bit of culture on the side.  I can‘t cover everything but here are some snapshots….

DSC00752 - DS Italy2Head towards the River Arno, go over the Ponte Vecchio and have a wander to your right. Discover the Church of Santa Mariadel Carmine.  Once inside there is only one place to look: the frescoed walls of Cappella Brancacci, the work of three painters.  They take you through the scriptures beginning with the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden to the crucifixion and later the release of Saint Peter. You really can see the difference in styles from the decorative work of Masolini to the emotionally challenging pieces by Masaccio and Lippi. The visual impact is staggering.

Now move north towards the university district and the Convent of San Marco.  You are close to the original Michelangelo statue of David in the Academia – not the outdoor copy in the centre of the city. But if you haven’t booked online in advance, do you really have three hours to wait to buy a ticket?  Back to the Convent, a convent inhabited by Dominican monks – now there’s a story!  There is so much to see but we are going to the 43 cells used by the monks and it is worth going into each one.  Each has a single devotional fresco all on the theme of the life of Christ painted by Fra Angelico over 550 years ago.  Some monks were luckier than others in what confronted them when they woke up each morning.  If I had been a Dominican I would have preferred to pay a little extra for bed & breakfast because I’d rather wake up each morning to the Resurrection than the blood of Christ pooling amongst skulls at the foot of the cross.  As you scan the artwork at San Marco it is amazing where you find the Dominicans: at the Nativity, at the foot of the Cross and even at the Last Supper – eat your heart out Dan Brown!

A day’s rest from FlDSC00752 - DS Italy3orence took me to Sienna.  We are passing the Piazza del Campo where the horses race, past the Duoma to the cathedral’s crypt.   Here there is a stunning piece.  A portrait of a beautiful young man: Caravaggios’ Saint John the Baptist.    It is strikingly beautiful. “If that is John the Baptist, then I’m Popeye!”  said the American tourist standing next to me.  Popeye, Caravaggio’s boy lover or Saint John; it is still very, very beautiful; sensual and religious at the same time.

DSC00752 - DS Italy

…and of course, wherever you find yourself there is much, much more…

…and the best ice-cream in the world?  Of course Naomi was right: a small  gelateria on the Via Dei Biffi, a tiny street three minutes from Piazza del Duomo in the centre of Florence.

Now then, some advice if you want to enjoy the art in Florence whilst you wait for your ice-cream:

–       If you went to Sunday School just remind yourself by reading one of the gospels. If you didn’t go to Sunday School then read all of them.  Even then you will be surprised when you come across references to the Gospel of Nicodemus!

–       You also need to revisit the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Old Testament.

In other words do your homework before you go!


Art of Destination: Sunshine, Souvenir and Skyping Shanghai

Lucy Green, MPA’s project manager for the event, recalls Art of Destination. 

The Art of Destination conference we held at Brockholes at the end of March was a fantastic success, and I think we’ve all just about recovered from the busy lead up to the event. Thanks to everyone who came along and who contributed, Lancashire County Council for commissioning the conference, and Arts Council for supporting it.

The invited speakers gave a great range of perspectives on their very own Art of Destination – we had Laurie Peake talking about some wonderful artists she has worked with through Liverpool BiennialSteve Messam skyping us from Shanghai to talk about his current projects; Assemble collective describing their fantastic self-initiated work Cineroleum and Folly for a Flyover, and international artist Marco Dessardo explaining his unique approach to creating site-specific work in a traditional gallery space.

Highlights were the beautiful sunny weather we were delighted to have for the day (let’s hope there is more to come!) and the fantastic turn-out that gave us the suitably eclectic audience mix we were hoping for, which really spanned the arts, culture, tourism and regeneration sectors: artists, architects, arts officers, designers, curators, County Councillors and commissioners were all in attendance.

The low point was the fact that Steve Messam’s wonderful piece Souvenir, commissioned by LCC especially for the event, was sadly damaged by vandals soon after it had been installed earlier in the week.  The first showing of the work in the UK following presentations in Shanghai and Venice, by the day of the conference it was far from its original wonderful and ethereal state.  However, some fantastic images remain of Souvenir, so we’re glad that we were at least able to document its fleeting existence so we could share it with the audience who attended, as well as show it online.

Audience feedback rated Brockholes as a fantastic venue, and it’s one we would definitely recommend as conference hosts as well. The conference venue itself is a large, spacious room with beautiful views over the water, and forms part of the Visitor Village that is floating on the lake at the reserve.  An amazing piece of architecture in some lovely landscape, the Village and surrounding site is well worth a visit.  Also, just as importantly, Brockholes passed the conference-goers ultimate test – brilliant catering!

You can see more details of the event and images here.

Places to visit this Easter

With the weather so variable, we thought we would share a variety of ideas for things to see and do this Easter.

Helmshore Mills Textile Museum

Helmshore Mills Textile Museum.  Here you can soak up the atmosphere of the historic mills and witness original machinery at work as well as having fun and learning in an exceptional environment.  The museum offers activities, events and special exhibitions, one of which is part of our Contemporary Heritage programme.   The spectacular No Match, created by international sculptor Claire Morgan, is a site specific installation inspired by Claire’s discoveries during her research residency in October 2011.   See the museum’s website for details of opening times and entrance fees.  Not to be missed!


Clitheroe is a great day out at any time.  Not only does it offer a large variety of unique and boutique shops there is also a fantastic selection of cafés, bars and restaurants to enjoy.  There are many walks that begin in Clitheroe which you can find out more about here.    Clitheroe Castle Keep is currently host to TAKEN, another of our Contemporary Heritage commissions.  This sound installation by contemporary classical composer Ailís Ní Ríain is inspired by the story of the Lancashire witches.  TAKEN allows the visitor to imagine how the 12 individuals may have felt during their last four months in captivity whilst awaiting trial.

Greenways in Padiham and Preston

The Preston Greenway was constructed along the formerly disused railway line that formed part of the Bamber Bridge to Preston extension of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway.  The greenway links Penwortham, Bamber Bridge and Preston city centre and forms part of the National Cycle Network.

The Padiham Greenway was created on a disused railway line that runs between Rosegrove in Burnley and Padiham.  The Padiham Greenway has been developed as part of a longer route between Great Harwood and Burnley which is designed to create an off-road trail that connects people to facilities and open spaces in and around the towns that flank the route.


Have you visited the Panopticons yet?  These iconic, contemporary landmarks were designed to attract visitors into the countryside to discover the stunning landscapes that Pennine Lancashire has to offer.  There are four Panopticons each situated on a high-point site commanding spectacular views.  For more information click here.

You can also download various maps and guides for walking around the Panopticons and other areas of interest here.

Have fun whatever you do!


Local Children help Artists on Preston’s new Greenway

The Preston to Bamber Bridge Greenway has seen additional development over the last few weeks through the installation of three sculptures. Commissioned by Mid Pennine Arts, artists Martin Maudsley and John Packer developed a creative engagement programme that engaged the local communities and school children surrounding the Greenway through workshops and events which took place last year.

Two of the sculptures are educational pieces based on train couplings, reflecting the history of the area. These have been engraved with poetry from the children who participated in the school engagement programme, led by artist Martin Maudsley. The children from St Mary Magdalen’s Catholic Primary and Middleforth C of E Primary School, spent time on the Greenway discovering natural and historical elements of the site through sensory walks and collecting objects for drawing. The poetry was a result of their experiences and what the Greenway meant to them. The pieces have magnifying and fish eye lenses incorporated into the couplings to allow the surroundings to be viewed more closely.

The third sculpture took the form of seating. With the aid of artist John Packer, pupils from Lostock Hall Community High School & Arts College interpreted the ideas of the primary school children and developed them into designs. The end result was seating based loosely on leaf designs.

All three pieces have been built by John and can be found along the main route into Preston and around the Whitehouse Junction Nature Reserve area of the Greenway. The main access points of the Greenway are Avenham Park, Leyland Road opposite the fire station and Factory Lane after the junction with Old Tram Road.

Development of the Greenway initially began in 2010 and saw the disused railway line turned into a multi user Greenway suitable for walking and cycling. The area was surfaced creating a path suitable for outdoor activities and the route, which is open to the public, now forms part of the National Cycle Network.

Helen Yates, Mid Pennine Arts Community and Projects Officer said, “These sculptures add to the offering of the Greenway making it an even more exciting and inviting place to spend the afternoon walking and cycling. It will also encourage schools to use the Greenway as a new learning environment.”

Popular Sound Installation Extended throughout Anniversary Celebrations.

We are delighted to announce that we have been invited by Lancashire County Council to extend TAKEN, the sound installation in Clitheroe Castle Keep by contemporary classical composer Ailís Ni RíainOriginally the installation was due to close on the 9 April 2012, but TAKEN can now be experienced until the 3 June 2012.

TAKEN, inspired by the plight of the individuals accused of witchcraft in 1612, evokes the voices in the last days and nights of the twelve accused.  Held captive in a dark, dank, cramped airless cell that measured just 20 by 12 feet, one of the accused died awaiting trial while others began to suffer psychologically in the appalling conditions.  We can only begin to imagine the absolute terror, fear and sadness experienced.  And maybe for some, the final defiance and peace found through good memories and hope for the next life.  The effect inside the space is unrelenting, your imagination not letting you escape the voices of the accused. Some visitors have described it as unsettling, haunting and eerie.

The second experience of TAKEN is from the outside, where you can walk around the Keep on an elevated walkway and at ground level.  This was a deliberate decision on Ailís’s part.  “I was not content with the music simply wafting out and being carried off by the wind so we ensured that speakers were cunningly concealed around the Keep to ensure that the music carries. The visitor has the experience of being a voyeur, aware of people being held captive in the Keep, hearing them humming, however now at a comfortable distance, as the music is mixed with the sounds of the everyday world continuing to spin, spin, spin and they can walk away from the wrongly accused…”

To create her sound installation, Ailís worked with 12 local people.  The ‘hummers’ spent their time together with Ailís, understanding her work as a composer and how she creates her music.  Each person hummed a song that had a personal poignancy to them which became part of the installation.

Ailís said, “I am very pleased that TAKEN at Clitheroe Castle has been extended to coincide with the 400th anniversary of the trial of the Lancashire Witches.  It provides us with the ideal opportunity to take some time and remember those whose lives were taken from them based on inference, inaccuracies, and misinformation and perhaps for simply being different.  The incarceration, trial and hanging of the Lancashire Witches was a travesty, one which has many contemporary resonances. It is important to remember in order not to forget.”

With the 400th Anniversary of the Lancashire Witches upon us, this is the perfect opportunity to experience this thought provoking installation.  TAKEN will continue to run until the 3 June 2012. Immerse yourself in sound and thought as the Keep is brought to life through music.  Free entry to the keep.

TAKEN was commissioned by Mid Pennine Arts in collaboration with Lancashire County Council.

TAKEN is part of A Contemporary Heritage: new way of seeing, Mid Pennine Arts’ ambitious partnership programme of contemporary art commissions at some of Lancashire’s most colourful and intriguing historic venues.  The commissions, inspired by Lancashire’s heritage, animate each site and offer visitors a rare chance to experience major works of art by artists of national and international standing outside urban areas.

Weavers’ Triangle App – The Journey Part 2

Stuart Marshall from Treasure Trails takes us through the second part of his journey in creating the Weavers’ Triangle app….

The route of the trail came easily.  I wanted to take the participant on a journey through time and so the Weavers’ Triangle Visitor Centre was an ideal and easily located starting point. Sandygate Square forms a focal point of the area’s regeneration and has been the location of recent events and performances.  This was a logical end point to bring the story up-to-date and look into the future.  Between these two points the canal and Trafalgar Street offered opportunities to tell the story of the canal, mills and the people who worked in them.

Once I’d worked out the route and identified the key locations along it, I could then source the archive material to create image slideshows, videos and sound bites which would play when the user reached points of interest along the route.  The internet has put information at our fingertips but there really is no better way of spending an afternoon than exploring what our local libraries have to offer.  Burnley Library was a fantastic resource and an essential source of the many archive images I used within the app.

To create part of the audio soundtrack I recorded local dialect poet Mervyn Hadfield reciting some of his stories.  Five minutes of recording were followed by a most enjoyable couple of hours reminiscing about our respective childhoods growing up among the cobbled terraced streets of Burnley and Rochdale and our parents’ working lives in the cotton mills.  Common experiences separated by thirty years, but a world that has now largely disappeared.

A trip to the North West Sound Archive at Clitheroe Museum (where reel-to-reel tapes and C60 cassettes still exist!) filled the gaps with oral histories of mill workers and bargemen, which they were happy to exchange for my recordings of Mervyn’s memories.

It has been interesting to see how people have reacted differently to the various forms of media.  Contrasting how a location looks now, compared with archive images showing the same place in the past, always seems to delight the user.   My own favourite is a hole in the wall alongside the canal.  If you look through it in the real world a patch of derelict scrubland is revealed.   Looking through the hole using the app reveals something completely different, a journey back in time to what was there before and how it sounded.  You’ll have to find out for yourself what that was though!

Without wanting to sound too deep and analytical, the project does feel like a coming together of many strands of my life – my family’s connections to the cotton industry; the History degree I thought I’d never use directly; a career of over twenty years in software development; more recent experience as a trail writer; and reacquainting myself with a town I’d not really visited since my dad used to take me to the Turf in the days when Burnley actually had a good football team.   If this was a reality TV program I’d probably say that I’d been “on a personal journey”.

So the app is now out there, available on the iStore and Android markets.  A lifetime’s ambition has been accomplished.  Published, at last!


Treasure Trails devise Trails that inform, entertain and educate people in inspiring ways.  Our Trails capture the imagination, often using game thinking and game mechanics to engage users with their environment.  We now develop location-aware apps for smart phones which provide exciting opportunities to create media-rich trails, guides, stories – and of course puzzles, games and treasure hunts – using a mix of audio, video, text and images to immerse the visitor in their location.  Our company has produced outstanding tailor made Trails for major organisations such as the BBC, National Trust, the Woodland Trust, and many more.

The Gift that Keeps on Giving

MPA Creative Director Nick Hunt reflects on a five-year milestone for the Singing Ringing Tree…

Don’t time fly!  I hadn’t realised quite how swiftly, until the Christmas card from the Chief Exec of Burnley Council brought it to mind.

The official municipal card was exploiting a suitably seasonal photo of the Tree in its Siberian winter setting, with a pile of presents sketched in around the base.  This playful bit of graffiti might have been tailor-made to offend the impeccably minimalist design sensibilities of its creators, the inspired architect duo Tonkin Liu, but at MPA we are still inclined to be delighted whenever a Panopticon gets a bit of extra exposure.

Reflecting fondly on how often that happens with this particular, much-loved landmark, I suddenly realised that the fifth birthday of the Singing Ringing Tree had slipped past in December without us noticing.  Damn!  We should have been celebrating…

The Singing Ringing Tree was the third of the Panopticons series to be commissioned and built, in a very productive partnership with Burnley Borough Council.  It was unveiled in December 2006, with two coachloads of special guests ferried up to the site and bent nearly double to keep their feet in the face of the howling gales.  Back in the car park at Crown Point, the big executive coaches were rocking side to side as if about to capsize.  But this delicate little landmark survived its crazy launch day, and has not looked back since.

You can catch the wind-buffeted flavour of that day, and the story of the construction of the Tree as a ‘giant Meccano set’ , in Roger Appleton’s film of the project:

The Panopticons project  was intended to encourage folk to use the landscape on their doorsteps, to discover spectacular new views of Pennine Lancashire, and to explore further the rugged splendours of our area.  More than this, it was designed to create positive images to project out into the wider world, and transform perceptions about our locale.

The Singing Ringing Tree has delivered on all of this, with knobs on.  Burnley Council and people promoting Pennine Lancashire both make fulsome use of this very photogenic icon in all their promotional stuff.  Images of the Tree have whizzed around the world.  Millions of YouTube users have viewed viral videos of the Tree and its song.

And this momentum is not slowing down.  In 2011 we’ve had features of the Panopticons on two network TV shows – a lovely feature on Flog It! and another on Country Tracks.  The Tree has featured in audio and image in the Berlin fashion mag Sleek and its covermount CD.  And the new edition of our local OS map – guess what it has on the cover!

This is the gift that keeps on giving.  And what a gift it was.  By happy coincidence, that launch day in December 2006 was also the 80th birthday of the Tree’s first benefactor, Sir Simon Towneley, who had identified the site, donated use of it, and worked tirelessly to help us locate the extra funds we needed.  He also recruited our second benefactor, his son Peregrine Towneley, whose immensely generous contribution made it possible for us to balance the books and to complete this dream of a project.

So happy 85th birthday Sir Simon, thanks again Peregrine, and here’s to the next half decade.

More information for planning your visit at: