(#AD) What to do with 24hrs in Co.Durham….the choice is endless!

My partnership with #Durham2025 has been going down a storm – seems like you Culture Vultures are all cheering Co. Durham as a finalist in the running for UK City of Culture, just as much as I am. I’m so excited about what this could mean for the county, but regardless of win or lose, it has shone a light on the lush spaces, places, faces and happenings across Co. Durham. I have officially fallen back in love with Durham – it has so much to offer and if you haven’t visited for a while, well the Summer months are a perfect time to do just that.

The Culture Vulture at Bowes Museum // photo credit: Marion Botella

So, if you’re planning a day out or a staycation in Durham – I thought I’d pull together a little blog post to give you some inspiration and Culture Vulture suggestions of how I’d spend 24hrs in Durham.

The Culture Vulture at Gala Theatre enjoying the BFG exhibition // photo credit: Marion Botella

Durham has real energy about it at the moment and during my visits across the county, the best thing was the people (lush) and strong sense of community but it was also interesting to see whilst the infamous attractions, architecture, history and uniqueness remains, there have been some redevelopments, new buildings have popped up, creative communities thriving, art murals and areas of the County have had a bit of a glow up, whilst maintaining the character and integrity. Certainly feels like a new chapter for Co.Durham.

Durham City Centre // photo credit: Marion Botella

So where should you go on your visit to Co.Durham, I hear you ask, well I’d first suggest you check out my listicle posts – that might give you some inspiration as a starter for ten whilst you’re planning  your trip.

For Top Indies Durham City Centre click HERE

For Top Picks of Attractions to Visit click HERE

For My Review of Bowes Museum click HERE

For Top Picks of Places to East click HERE

For Top Picks of Summer 2022 events click HERE

For My Review of Ushaw Historic House, Chapels & Gardens click HERE

There are LOADS in those listicles – you could spend a week in Co.Durham exploring and enjoying using those.

The Culture Vulture in Durham City // photo credit: Marion Botella

My other suggestions and some of my go-to things to do when I visit Durham are:

#1 Take in a Riverside walk

I go to Durham to walk along the River Wear often in all the seasons – it’s beautiful, it’s pretty flat, I feel so relaxed and it’s like an oasis escape mentally during the hustle and bustle of the daily grind. I used to visit when I was younger and go walking with my Dad, lots of very happy memories.

The Culture Vulture walking along the riverside // photo credit: Marion Botella

#2 Hire a boat

Whilst you’re walking along the river, you may take inspiration from the rowers training and decide that you want to hire a boat yourself. I’ve certainly done that. This is a really fun way to spend some time with pals and partners – it’s only great as long as you share the rowing, as it gets tiring! I laughed so much last time I did this; my pal and I were gloriously TERRIBLE.

Durham Riverside // photo credit: Marion Botella

#3 Visit Durham Cathedral

I virtually think it’s a physical impossibility to visit the city centre and not go to Durham Cathedral. It just has to be done – I must have visited close to 100+ times and it never gets old. It’s beautiful and I thoroughly recommend booking a slot to climb the 325 steps up the central tower, I did that a few years back and loved it!

The Culture Vulture at Durham Cathedral // photo credit: Marion Botella

#4 Visit Durham Castle

Love a castle! The thing I love most about Durham Castle, is that students who live in the castle (yes you read that right), actually have to give public castle tours to tourists, as part of the agreement of living there. The tours are actually really good, tour guides hugely knowledgeable and it still makes me giggle thinking that those students have the biggest flex for life – “I lived in a castle once”.

Durham Castle // photo credit: Marion Botella

And if you’re thinking of staying overnight, there are two magnificent suites available to book and you can take breakfast in a medieval hall ahead of getting back to exploring the city.

Durham Castle // photo credit: Marion Botella

#5 Potter Around

Sounds like a cop out – but actually, it’s my favourite thing to do in Durham. Take in the streets, their character, enjoy the cobbles, seek out indie cafes and shops, look out onto the river from the bridges. There are 12 castles and historic houses in and around Durham, alongside many churches – so it’s just lovely and it’s such a special place.

The Culture Vulture Pottering in Durham // photo credit: Marion Botella

#6 Indoor Market

I really hate that we’ve knowledge down and got rid of so many markets across UK cities – it’s not only a fun way to shop and usually a treasure trove, but it’s also one of the most affordable way for small businesses to get their start. If you want to support small business or shop local, indoor markets are a great way to do it. And Durham Market Hall has such an eclectic mix of stalls and stands, I was in love with it.

The Culture Vulture in Durham Market Hall // photo credit: Marion Botella

#7 Palace Green Library

This is a brilliant gallery space, you folks know I’m a big art gallery lover, but I also love museums and this space seems a perfect combination of both. Every time I visit Palace Green Library, I learn so much (my most recent visit about the Romans!) and their exhibitions are always really well put together.

The Culture Vulture at Palace Green Library // photo credit: Marion Botella

#8 Head to Barnard Castle

It’s a lush market town in the Durham Dales –the type of town that makes you love living in the UK, like out of a film! It has a great selection of B&Bs, you’ve got Bowes Museum walking distance away from the market square, lots of indie shops and cafes and whilst you’re there, why not get a famous eye test!? Apparently people drive far and wide to Barnard Castle for them! Oh, and make sure you visit Ruby & D, it’s a lovely shop selling unique vintage items, interiors, art and more and Raby Castle isn’t too far away by car….

Bowes Museum // photo credit: Marion Botella

#9 Head to Bishop Auckland

Bishop is having a total revival – across my partnership with #Durham2025, I’ve met so many artist folks from Bishop, heard about creative projects in Bishop, folks recommending Bishop as an exciting bubbling hub of happenings. So of course, I’m all over it. The Auckland Project brings together several venues and attractions; history, grand house, galleries, gardens, museums, visitor’s centre and a tower, meaning that Bishop Auckland is a full-on day out.

Mining Art Gallery (part of Auckland Project) in Bishop Auckland

#10 Head to Seaham

I always forget that Co.Durham has a gorgeous world renowned coastline. Stretching 14km, the coastline is home to incredible views and the cliff-top harbour town of Seaham. This coastal town is has picturesque views, a lovely habour to walk along, seaside indies galore and tasty ice cream! People travel from all over to visit this beach and hunt for sea glass – there’s an abundance available with each tide thanks to Seaham being home to the UK’s largest bottle works between 1850-1921. And that’s not all, Seaham also has its very own food festival which this year is happening on 6th & 7th August; perfect excuse to visit for some lush scran by the sea!

Seaham beach and coast

#11 Old Cinema Launderette

It’s an iconic must visit culture vultures; by day it is a retro-chic, professional, family-run launderette, offering washing, ironing and dry-cleaning services to customers in and around the Durham area with a canny café! And by night, it’s one of the most unique and intimate music venues with a programme of live music and a bar. It’s just a beaut and has to be visited to be believed – so go visit The Old Cinema Launderette.

Old Cinema Laundrette gig

#12 Durham by Night

I’m often visiting Durham at night for events or to eat, and Durham at night is so magical. Everything you see in the day, just hits different at night – especially in the warmer nights, when you can enjoy a stroll through the city and stop at riverside bars with outdoor seating. If I’m staying over in Durham, I tend to stay at The Town House as a treat, it’s a beautiful boutique hotel, outdoor hot tub, yummy breakfast and I love the décor – very Instagrammable. And if you like Durham at night and lights, well keep an eye out for one of my favourite North-East events, Durham Lumiere – a light festival across Durham city centre with light art installations and projection. It happens every couple of years, so next one will be 2023 or 2024.

Durham Cathedral at night // photo credit: Marion Botella

Well then, that’s it – that’s your lot from me and all my suggestions! If you’re planning a visit to Co.Durham – This Is Durham is their tourism website and has lots of information on there so you can dig even deeper beyond my recommendations.

The Culture Vulture at Durham Cathedral // photo credit: Marion Botella

Durham. No Ordinary County.

Part of Culture Vulture x Durham 2025 campaign partnership.

Durham is now one of just four locations shortlisted to be UK City of Culture 2025; title announced late May.

Find out more & back the bid at Durham2025.co.uk

#Durham2025 #lovedurham

Gateshead Open Studios 2018 – 27th October; a day to celebrate creativity in Gateshead.

I had the absolute pleasure about 8 months ago of being invited to Brighton Road Studios in Bensham, Gateshead. I was excited because it’s an artist studios inside a converted Church and somewhere I’ve been wanting to visit for ages– behind the front door I found an independent creative studio space, lush facilities and full of local artists, creatives and SME creative businesses all doing great things – certainly somewhere I could see The Culture Vulture thriving and setting up camp. My meeting was with several of the artists to hear about what they are doing, their plans as a creative collective and fabulously, their plan to do Gateshead Open Studios.

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Gateshead Open Studios is a proudly Gateshead centric project and has been something that many artists, creatives and venues based in Gateshead have discussed and flirted with (including myself) so it was great to hear Brighton Road Studios wanting to lead on it. Fast forward to the present day and Gateshead Open Studios is an exciting impending reality – it’s happening in Gateshead!

On Saturday 27th October, the lush people of Gateshead will be able to discover what’s hidden away in 5 different but all very brilliant creative and historic hubs….

I caught up with James Oliver (artist name: William Fawkes) who is arguably the lead on this year’s Gateshead Open Studios organisation (however – there is a whole host of brilliant artists and creatives also making this happen). I wanted to catch up with James so my fellow Culture Vultures could hear what is in store for them on 27th October across Gateshead.

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Hi James Oliver/William Fawkes – I am over the moon to see how far you’ve taken Gateshead Open Studios – enabling it to be a reality in spite of many challenges. So let’s start with you and your work – tell me a bit about you and your practice?

I’ve always been an artist from a young age inspired & encouraged by my mum, and have painted my whole life. But it’s only been in the last couple of years, that I took the plunge to rent a studio, and start practicing more seriously. I previously worked professionally as a graphic designer, designing record sleeve artwork for clients including Blur, Sigur Rós, Trojan Records, EMI, and Universal music. I’ve also been a web designer and user experience researcher in recent times. All these skills have helped prep me for the world of marketing, events and experience design.

As a professional artist I chose to adopt the alter-ego William Fawkes, an ancestor from my family tree. My recent artwork is based on surreal storytelling, with a collection of dying British institutions with skeleton characters being an emerging body of work. I tend to create a master painting or drawing, and then have high quality framed prints available for sale.

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What is the inspiration behind Gateshead Open Studios? Why now?

Since I moved up north 3-4 years ago, I was immediately drawn to what was happening over in Ouseburn with their Open Studios’ events. As soon as I’d found a studio in my local neighbourhood Gateshead, I looked around and thought “why isn’t Gateshead doing Open Studios?”. My mother passed away in January this year, and because of this, I decided ‘Gateshead Open Studios needs to happen this year!’ I’ve been driven ever since to make it happen, and had some great encouragement & support from fellow peers, friends and family.

So when is it?

Saturday 27th October 2018, from 10am to 5pm across multiple Gateshead venues.

Which Gateshead venues are involved?

There are 5 venues across Gateshead opening their doors:

  1. NewBridge Project: Gateshead High Street.
  2. Saint Cuthbert’s Church, Bensham
  3. Bensham Grove Community Centre
  4. Brighton Road Studios, Bensham
  5. Saint Chad’s Church, Bensham.

We also have partner cafes nearby who have been really supportive and can provide refreshments including The Staiths Café (who have an exhibition available to view) and The Nest Café in Low Fell. There will also be friendly volunteers on the day to help direct people, give you tours and generally make you feel welcome.

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So what is in store for visitors – what can they expect to be able to see/do?

You will be able to explore unique creative environments and historic venues, some of which have never had a public open day like this. You will be able to meet practicing creative people, see their studio spaces and be inspired, and even take part in creative workshops and try making new things to take home. There will be art, music, conversation, refreshments and a friendly excitable community buzz on the day.

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Will people be able to buy things on the day?

Yes, the artists and makers will have unique items you can purchase, or you can even discuss a private commission. There will also be creative workshops & demos happening for free, and other courses in the near future people could book on to learn a new process.

There is something so brilliant about being invited into an artist studio – a behind the creative scenes if you will! Are you excited to have people come into your studio?

Yes I think it’s great, and I can’t wait for people to come have a rummage, ask me questions and hopefully be inspired! I’ll try to make sure it’s tidy before they arrive!

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Here is the mini sales pitch – tell my fellow Culture Vultures why is this an unmissable weekend for Gateshead?

It’s a chance to explore hidden historic venues right on your doorstep, meet the quirky creative inhabitants and see their personalities spilling out through their work!

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Why are events like this so important for artists and creatives?

Creative people are not always the best at promoting themselves, but this is a unique chance to get a glimpse into their world and see something you never imagined you’d see! I can promise you’ll come away inspired and with a greater respect for Gateshead local talent.

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Tell me about your studios in Gateshead and who is in there with you?

I’m based at Brighton Road Studios. We are housed inside a beautiful 3-storey converted church, which was designed by Christoph of Kiosk Architecture & Design, who is also still a tenant. Other tenants include Skunkwork Props who specialise in replicating Star Wars helmets such as Darth Vader. Kourosh Edalat is another painter & illustrator who is always busy with commissions. We have Serious Stamp Company run by Clare who makes personalised rubber ink stamps and seals for your personalised stationary needs. Little Silver Ring Co. is run by another Claire who practices as a silversmith but also dabbles in other things. Chris is another talented silversmith, who is also a teacher at Bensham Grove. Raw Leather Company is run by Phillippa and she makes beautiful leather bags, purses and other bespoke items. IG Media won’t be present on the day but operate as an animation & web design company. Bobzilla is a busy guy – he dabbles in painting, outdoor street art mural designs, concrete pot-making, and also a resident DJ. Finally Gaelle of Tamiah Designs imports Ivorian African textiles to make cloth-bound books, bags and many other unique items.

There’s 14 studios spaces all together, and currently a couple vacancies as I understand.

What will be going on in your studios specifically?

In my studio I’ll be showing people my work, talking though different pieces and explaining how I get inspiration. I’ll also have a large blank canvas set up on an easel and I’ll be encouraging anyone who wanders in to have a go painting a little of whatever they wish, and over the day hope to have a unique piece of work created which will be a great memento of the event! I’ll share the final outcome on social media.

I’ve also produced a limited set of framed art prints of my most popular work which will be on sale for those wishing to take home a unique piece of signed art / it could be the perfect time to grab an early Christmas gift for someone special.

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Other creatives in Brighton Road will be talking though their work, giving demos or running fun activites and also some will have a unique items to sell.

We also have special guests The Nest Cafe offering a pop-up Refreshments stall, and gentle background music provided by DJ friends of ours.

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I will be culture vulturing and doing some live social media on the day – do you have a suggested route for me?

There’s no particular order you have to do things, but if you’re travelling into Gateshead Metro station on the day, a logical route is to start with venue no.1 – NewBridge Project which is right outside. From there it’s 15mins walk or short bus ride into Bensham to reach venue no.2 – Saint Cuthbert’s Church. After that you’ve got venue no.3 minutes away – Bensham Grove Community Centre. From there venue no.4 – Brighton Road Studios is again only several minutes walk away, and finally venue no.5 – Saint Chad’s Church is just across on a parallel street.

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What is next for Gateshead Open Studios in 2019?

This year is a 1-day experiment to see what the appetite is like in Gateshead for discovering what’s inside a few quirky creative venues! If all goes well, we plan to seek funding next year to expand the event to potentially include further venues and cover a whole weekend. It may even split into a twice-yearly event if the appetite is there.

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I can’t wait for 27th October – it’s going to be a great day for Gateshead.  Really looking forward to some true Culture Vulturing at some Gateshead venues. You can follow my journey across Gateshead via The Culture Vulture and of course, keep an eye on the main event page for updates before the main event!

Until next time Culture Vultures and see you on the 27th October!

Artist Jim Edwards & Craig David Pub cat…..

Two weeks ago I attended Ouseburn Open Studios and was a true Culture Vulture– I took myself around all the galleries and called in to lots artist pals and of course chatted to lots of new creative folk and other attendees. I had a blissful conversation with an artist about the 90s and owning a type writer when I eventually own my own house (I want everyone to be able to type a message when they enter/visit).

Ouseburn Open Studios is such a fantastic vibed weekend – I also like to make sure I buy lots from artists and creatives whilst grabbing a drink in many of the lush bars and independents along the way. Hence my purchasing gets more and more along the way…….

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And I always finish (it’s traditional for me now!) in Jim Edwards studio on the Sunday afternoon and promise myself that when I’m grown up, I’m going to buy myself a Gateshead themed Jim Edwards painting. I love Jim Edwards work – it’s colourful, enthused talent and I always view it with a huge smile on my face – as every single piece to me, looks and feels like home. He depicts many lush scenes from the North East – some iconic, some comfortingly familiar and some perfectly stylised.

One of my favourite pieces of his – depicts Craig David. I imagine – 50% of you reading this, know exactly what I’m talking about and the others, probably think I’m talking about actual Craig David (even typing that makes me call out “can I get rewindddd!”). Craig David was a lovely pub cat – he was a regular lurker at the Free Trade Bar and his spot was on top of the Jukebox. He’d often swagger in and make himself at home or you’d go in for a bev and he’d be in his spot snoozing or watching the world go by……

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Craig David died this year and of course, there was an outpouring on social media. And when he died, I suddenly thought of Jim’s painting – which depicts a quiet Free Trade afternoon with Craig David absolutely in pride of place checking out the view of the Tyne. He’s forever immortalised in that picture. It reminded me why I love Jim’s work so much – real scenes, with real goings on filled with real detail. I love that painting!

So I thought I’d take Ouseburn Weekender as the perfect opportunity to catch up with Jim Edwards – find out more about him, his work and his style.

Hi Jim – right tell me about your journey into the arts?

I’ve always been interested in creating artwork. As a child, it was always the enjoyment of getting lost in a creative practice, and also for the praise that came from making a strong image, and being regarded as good at art.  I had two older brothers who were also good at art, and so the competitive nature between siblings challenged me to become better.

I concentrated on art throughout school, art foundation and a degree in illustration. After I graduated, I wasn’t sure how to continue a career in the arts.  I attempted illustration for a while, but it wasn’t for me.  Whilst working as a picture framer, I started to sell small paintings and drawings at a market on Armstrong Bridge (Jesmond Dene, Newcastle) on Sundays.  I tried out all sorts of work, abstract, surreal, figurative, but the thing that really took off were paintings of Newcastle.  I gave up becoming a picture framer, to give more time painting cityscapes, and I’m still a professional artist 18 years later.

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Tell me about your practice and your strong recognisable style?

I mostly paint contemporary cityscapes and landscapes, centred on the North East.

The style has slowly evolved over time. When I started, it was quite naïve in style.  I worked a lot with biro, with washes of acrylic paint.  I then used hairspray to bleed the biro colour through the paint.  It was an interesting affect I stumbled across by accident, but I stopped this method because it wasn’t good for my health.

For a while my style even went a little bit abstract, but the cityscapes started to become too unrecognisable; I like to play with colour and over exaggerate the light in my nightscapes, I have to build up several  layers of paint to get the desired tonal effect, making the city glow.  A slow process, but rewarding.

My work is strongly rooted in memory, how we remember a place, rather than a straightforward representation. I like to reimagine the cityscape, even if certain elements are forgotten or altered.

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What’s it like being on the Ouseburn creative scene at the moment? Your studio is beautiful!

I’ve been working in the Ouseburn for most of my career, hopping from one studio to the next. One of the earliest was at the Biscuit factory, followed by the Mushroom Works.  Then after a brief 8 month stint in Northumberland, I came back to 36 Lime Street, before taking on my own place at 59 Lime Street.

I couldn’t imagine having a studio outside of the Ouseburn, it feels like my creative home. It’s quietly paced, and feels like an escape from the city, even though it’s quite industrial.  Renowned as the cultural hub of Newcastle, it’s crucial to be here for the numerous open studios events that take place throughout the year.  This is where all the creative venues join forces and open their studio doors to the public.  Whether it’s the Ouseburn Open Studios or The Late Shows, both are valuable to my work.

It’s quite a lonely profession being an artist, which I don’t mind, because I love my own space. But it is beneficial to mix with other like-minded people, to work together of bounce ideas off each other.  So I’m often over at 36 Lime Street having a cup of tea with friends.

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How did you go about securing that studio space?

I spotted it was coming up for rent, so jumped at the opportunity to get it. It’s a huge jump in rent, to what I was used to at 36 Lime Street.  But the increase in visitors to my studio, with having on street access, has more than made up for it.  It’s a small, intimate space to work in.  And sometimes I don’t know if the space is a studio or a gallery, so sometimes it struggles to function as both; as long as visitors don’t mind the creative clutter when they pop in.

Any new work or projects you’re working on?

I’m currently working on a few paintings, trying to get them finished before Christmas; including a large canvas of the Ouseburn. I have a huge to do list of paintings, mainly because the ideas come far quicker than I can actually paint them.  And so I’m looking forward to making a start on some paintings of Cullercoats and the Lake District in the New Year, before getting round to everything else on the list.

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And what does it feel like – people coming into your studio and looking at your work?

It’s quite a strange one. It’s always amazing selling paintings, really spurs you on to paint more. Especially being able to meet the buyer and talk about your work, which you don’t normally get in a gallery situation.  The rhythm of creating a painting gets thrown, whenever someone comes in.  It’s surprisingly disruptive, and I probably produce a lot less work these days.  But I can’t complain, it’s important for my work, and I want people to pop in.  And if they buy something, even better!

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Next year – it’s the Angel’s 20th Birthday and also Great Exhibition of The North – obviously, your pieces champion the North East and landmarks – do you see an opportunity for yourself next year?

I’ve got an Angel of the North painting on my studio wall, right now. Hopefully the birthday celebration will encourage it to sell.  Who knows what will happen during the Great Exhibition of the North.  I’ll see if I can tie in my paintings somehow.  There may be an Ouseburn Open Studios event during the event.  I look forward to it, and hope it benefits the creative industries in the Ouseburn.

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One of my favourite pieces of yours is The Free Trade depiction with Craig David in it….. as a Free Trade lover and prolific cat cuddler – it always made me smile and I’m super happy his legacy lives on forever in that piece.

I do like The Free Trade painting too, reminds me of the lazy days spent in there, before children, enjoying a pint. And yes, Craig David pubcat lives on in the painting.  I also like the window view, almost giving a painting within a painting.

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You manage to have successfully develop what I’d class as a commercially sustainable practice – do you have any advice for other artists currently trying to?

I think it’s crucial to know how to position yourself, to know if there’s a gap in the market, and can you create something to fill it. When I was a picture framer, I gauged the sort of paintings people were buying, and I thought there was a lack of cityscapes and landscapes in my style of painting.

You’ve also got to be stubbornly determined in your pursuit; have a fire in your belly to see it through, and not be too distracted by what others think or do.

What’s next for Jim in 2018?

Lots more art and getting through that to do list of paintings. Exploring more, and painting places in the North East I haven’t got to yet.  I really want to get round to painting more of Durham and Hadrian’s Wall, when I have a free moment.  Ouseburn Open Studios returns in March, and the Late Shows in May, plus other events through the year.

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Well thank you Jim – lush to catch up with you! Jim’s Studio is located at: 59 Lime Street, Ouseburn, NE1 2PQ and open Tuesday – Friday, 10am – 4.30pm and Saturday, by appointment – it’s certainly a must see for Culture Vultures and check out his work online too via his website – I just love it so much. And if like me you can’t quite afford a big picture painting – there are lots of prints and greetings cards you will be able to afford!

And of course, big love to Craig David pub cat – the cultural scene misses you!

Till next time Culture Vultures!