Well, I’m not sure where to start with my blog for this trip, there is so much to talk about!  Our trip to Yorkshire last year was fabulous and I certainly felt the pressure to make sure Yorkshire 2 was as good.  We had 12 singing locations last summer, Steve requested 6 this year, but we managed to fit in 9!  With the exception of 1 (more about that later!) all were fabulous.

So I’ll start at the beginning!  With Yorkshire bathed in sunshine we set off last Wednesday with a trip on the North Yorkshire Moor Railway from Pickering to Goathland, a wonderful relaxing way to start our trip on a steam train taking us across the moors to the village made famous by Heartbeat, and a station made famous by Harry Potter.  From there we headed into Scarborough, the queen of the Yorkshire coast and settled into our hotels before our first group dinner, good food, discounted wine and good banter amongst us all and it was time for an early night with sea air in our lungs to make us sleep well!

Thursday  saw our first walking tour through the South Cliff gardens, ensuring we saw parts of Scarborough that even those who had visited before had never seen, making our way down to the Spa complex to see and hear the Scarborough Spa Orchestra, the only remaining professional seaside orchestra in the UK.  Following this it was our turn to take to the stage in the elegant Palm Court setting where Max Jaffa used to broadcast for Radio 2.  There was something almost timeless about being able to sing in this wonderful glass panelled spa building which has been the home of glorious music for so many years.  With our first recital in the bag it was time for a walking tour of Scarborough followed by those who were brave enough going for a dip in the sea, the very cold North Sea no less, and then our very important competition to see who could build the best sandcastle!  What a site to behold, each group had to have a theme and a title which had to be relayed to the judges – and then work began at a fast and furious pace amid much hilarity.  Should I be worried that I still own enough buckets and spades to supply 4 teams of sandcastle builders?!  The evening saw us in a workshop with the Stephen Joseph Funky Choir and their musical director Mark working with Steve for a great evening of friendship, music and fun.  There was even time afterwards to visit The Cask for a Blues night and extend the evening of music and friendship, enjoying the work of talented musicians who we would get to hear again later in the week!

Day 3 and it was an early start heading for Whitby and our recital at Whitby Abbey, preceded by a walking tour to ensure we saw as much of Whitby as possible.  What a privilege to sing here again.  It reminded me of when we sang in the Yorkshire Abbeys last year, in particular Rievaulx Abbey.  The sound seems to reverberate around the ruins and envelope you in a way unique to an Abbey setting, it carries you to a place of peace and beauty where the world stands still for those moments.  Fish and chips followed for most of the group before our visits to the pretty fishing villages of Staithes and Robin Hoods Bay.  Then it was on to Raven Hall for afternoon tea in the panoramic restaurant, and what a panorama it is, the most glorious views across the bay, looking out on to the village we had just visited.  Time for our 3rd recital – in the castellated garden high on the cliff top – a hidden gem of Yorkshire.  The recital was everything I had envisaged it would be and it was time for my first tears of the trip!  Not only did the sound take your breath away, but the setting was simply perfect and the maestro was able to work his magic once again with more formations and movement of the group.  Jenn, Shirley and I had the best seats in the house, high up on the wall looking out over the singers and the calm early evening sea beyond, a truly special memory.

Saturday already!  Off we set to Bempton Cliffs and the RSPB nature reserve.  Really, are we all twitchers? – not at all, but this site has to be visited to be appreciated and appreciate it we did.  Singing with the birds and embracing nature was yet another new experience, exhilarating and free in the sunshine and weirdly the sound was not lost straight over the cliff face, it hung in the air for us all to enjoy.  Then it was time to visit the viewing platforms and look through binoculars and telescopes – our bird watching friend Alessia from Italy would have been proud of us!  Next stop, Flamborough Head to sing in front of the lighthouse, and this time Steve’s formation included ‘singing out to sea’.  Time for our singers to enjoy the spectacular coastal views and combine special sights with special sounds.  One lady on the beach below came to tell us afterwards that she was lying on the beach and thought her time had come and she was being heralded to heaven and the angels were singing!  Fortunately there was a vigilant grandchild who was able to prod her and say “Grandma they are real I just saw them all turn round!”  Time enough next for individual photo shoots with the canvas backdrop of the ‘Yorkshire White Cliffs of Dover’ our own amazing chalk rock strata which stands out and demands attention.  More time than anticipated in fact as the coach was late!  However, that gave rise to the necessity for a trip on the open topped bus to Bridlington with tour guide Shirley in charge, which turned into a tour highlight!  Those who didn’t board the double decker were more than thankful not to have more time in Bridlington!  Bridlington sea front is not for the faint hearted but it was on the itinerary to provide the chalk to the cheese which was our visit to Bridlington Priory – another Yorkshire Gem – and that was just the Reverend Matthew, never mind the amazing priory itself!  What a truly enlightening experience, a warmer welcome we have not had anywhere in the world – thank you Matthew for making our trip to Bridlington one never to be forgotten.

Sunday brought more sunshine and it was time to visit Scarborough Castle for recital number 7 on a cliff top in another truly spectacular ancient setting with more breathtaking views across the North and South bays.  More great formations from Steve allowed us once again to experience the beautiful sound of music echoing around ruins and soaring into the air where it hung for us all to enjoy.  Then it was off to Peasholm Park for our biggest disappointment/most hilarious moments of the tour – when did the traditional bandstand in the middle of the lake become simply a latrine for the seagulls?  Not quite the vision I had in my head!  It has long been a Sunday afternoon tradition that bands play there to entertain the many visitors to the park including those sailing round the lake in rowing boats and dragon pedaloes or aboard the swan launch!  It is in fact the swan launch which takes you to the bandstand if you are performing there – it was to be the scene of much merry making and loud singing both to and from the bandstand – the sight of Ian pretending to be Leonardo Di Caprio on the Titanic was indeed a sight to behold!  Maestro Roberts remained his ever professional self ensuring an entertaining performance for those on the bandstand and us off the bandstand!  I doubt it was what he had in mind for his penultimate performance with Unlimited Voices!  Then it was back to the hotel for our ‘last night party’ and what a party it was – the Crown Spa had worked with us to ensure that the room looked fabulous – fitting surroundings to celebrate our fabulous trip and also say a proper “thank you” to Steve who had resisted such sentiment hitherto.  Being able to present him with a memory book recording all the amazing things we have done and places we have been was a special moment filled with love and gratitude.  More special words, gifts and celebration cake followed and then it was the turn of the musicians we had enjoyed earlier in the week.   They provided joyful entertainment for the rest of the evening ensuring the dance floor was never empty.  Their final song? – Bob Marley’s ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright’ – what a fitting end to a fabulous party and message to herald our future.

Our final day – Monday.  After such a fabulous party you couldn’t help wondering if the trip should have finished there, but my prevailing wish was that we finished with singing – and that our final performance under the baton of Maestro Roberts would be carried away at the end of the trip with thankful and happy hearts. Recitals in the Great Hall, the Long Gallery and the gardens gave us all just that; in fact so pure was the singing in the Long Gallery that it set off the alarms! Burton Agnes Hall and Gardens was the perfect setting for his swan song – a spectacular Elizabethan Manor House with breathtaking architecture, an award winning venue, a much loved family home, priceless art, exquisite contents and fabulous guides to indulge us. Somehow it summed up what he has brought to the table over the years – excellence.  Just enough time left for afternoon tea back in Scarborough and it was time to say goodbye to the Yorkshire coast, but not before a few announcements about next year’s travel plans!  Would there be a Yorkshire 3?  Not yet – next summer we will be going to the Emerald Isle – we will be visiting Ireland from 22nd to 27th July.

So how did Yorkshire 2 compare to last year? I was truly blown away this year by our singing in the outdoor venues; almost everywhere the sound was amazing and not lost to the elements – as if it wanted to stay with us and impress us for longer than usual, which makes all the hard work which everyone puts into the recitals even more worthwhile.  Last year was slightly more frenetic with12 singing locations, 9 this year was still ambitious – but with unfaltering vigour and bonhomie we leave our mark on each singing location and each location leaves its mark on us, even if the marks are of the seagull variety!  The collective power to turn the odd hiccup into a joyful experience confirms the power of the spirit and camaraderie which prevails in Unlimited Voices.

I would have to conclude that Yorkshire 2 was equal to Yorkshire 1, each has a special place in my heart – last year my first as a blue badge guide, this year Steve’s swan song – both enormous for me personally, but both propelling me and Unlimited Voices to a new place where everything we have done together up to this point becomes the platform on which we now stand.  Embracing the diverse locations both in and outdoors and coming together in special places to share music, friendship and laughter is a very powerful force and one which we are blessed to share.  Every place we have visited and note we have sung therein has created lasting memories to bank and shared expectations and excitement for the future.

Thank you for sharing this trip with us and making Yorkshire 2 so special.  Steve has his memory book to cherish – we are fortunate to still be making ours!

Tomorrow I will write my final blog for Unlimited Voices.  Monday is August 1st when Unlimited Voices becomes Unlimited Voices Travel.