The early hours of Tuesday saw the first snow fall of the season in my part of the world. It has all gone now, having stayed for little more than a day. The bizarre temperature fluctuations continue; today we’re back in double figures.
I am not lamenting the snow’s melting. Yes, it makes for a pretty scene when viewed from the warm side of a window, and undeniably there is pleasure in the crunch underfoot and the sight of animal prints in freshly fallen ground cover. I dread the yellow-grey slush which follows, seeping through shoes, dampening trouser bottoms and treacherous when it freezes over, turning pavements into ice rinks. I have twice fallen victim (literally) to icy ground, as X-rays and a now very faded suture scar would bear witness.
The daylight lingers for a little bit longer each day, which is wonderful. It won’t be long before we see the arrival of the first signs of early spring. I love that time. Today, it was almost five o’clock when the streaks of twilight dipped behind the trees near my home. I took some photographs of the bare branches, appreciating the cycle of the seasons but looking forward to greener times ahead.
Last week saw the death of one of my favourite poets, Mary Oliver, whose observations of the natural world strike a chord with me. White Eyes is a poem about winter and about a bird, about the promise of things to come, and about life ….. perfect for this time.
On 15th September 1830, actress Fanny Kemble was one of a group of lucky VIPs gathered in Liverpool to be part of a very spectacular event: the world’s first inter- city train journey.
The train – Rocket – set off from Liverpool on its historic journey to Manchester. Rocket’s coal-hungry furnace fired its powerful pistons, driving the steam engine to a mind-blowing top speed of 35 miles an hour; no great feat to the 21st century passenger, but Fanny Kemble and all those on board would surely have been awe-struck.
Fanny is reported to have said of the experience, “ I closed my eyes and this sensation of flying was quite delightful, and strange beyond description.”
In 1830 the Industrial Revolution was in full swing and Britain was renowned as the workshopoftheworld. A railway linking the port of Liverpool to the coal and textile centres of Manchester and the rest of Lancashire would make for speedy transportation of goods and raw materials and would offer fast passenger transport to those who could afford it.
There had been other steam locomotives before, but Rocket was the first of its type, invented and built by father and son George and Robert Stephenson at their works in Newcastle-upon-Tyne for the Rainhill Trials in 1829. The Trials had been set up to choose the best locomotive for the new Liverpool and Manchester Railway which would open the following year. Despite a tragic accident where Rocket struck and killed the MP for Liverpool, William Huskisson, near to what is now Newton-le-Willows station, Rocket won the contest and became the design template for almost all steam locomotives that would follow.
Rocket continued to run on the Liverpool to Manchester line into the 1840s before becoming obsolete when better engines were developed. After 150 years at the London Science Museum and a short stint in Newcastle in early 2018, Rocket returned last September to the site of her maiden run at Manchester Museum of Science & Industry.
A few weeks ago I travelled, by train, to nearby Manchester to see the world’s first inter-city loco, which will stay in Manchester until April before moving to the National Railway Museum in York.
I had been expecting Rocket to be bigger, but that apart I was fascinated and quite moved to be up close to this historical ‘game-changer’.
It was easy to imagine how those first passengers, having only been used to travelling by horse and carriage or possibly on a canal barge, must have felt as they moved at a fantastical speed.
Rocket arrived triumphant at Liverpool Road Station, which was built for the occasion in 1830 and is the oldest railway station in the world which is still in existence. It is within the Museum of S&I where it has been lovingly restored.
Inside the station, visitors can enjoy some of the original fixtures and fittings.
The spacious exhibition area provides a sense of the proportions, comfort and overall impressiveness of the station in its glory days. Anybody who was lucky enough to travel by train must have felt quite important.
The exhibition is interesting and tells the story of train travel from that first journey to the present day.
Within the Museum’s large engineering exhibition hall I found another of Stephenson’s locomotives, Planet, whose improved design later rendered Rocket obsolete.
My journey home on another Northern line was somewhat faster once the train eventually arrived, 40 minutes late and with two of its four carriages out of action. My carriage seemed considerably more congested than those depicted in the 1830s sketches looked to be, but at least I wasn’t open to the elements. Things have come a long way since Fanny Kemble’s delightful sensation of flying……… possibly 😉.
Happy New Year to all – and welcome to my first post of 2019! I’m really excited about the year ahead and about sharing some of my adventures with you as we travel around the sun one more time. I’m quite new to blogging myself and have been inspired by some great writers who I have found over the past year or so; I look forward to following my favourite blogs again this year and to making some new discoveries.
And so it begins. January arrived, dry and bright. I carried on with the ruthless clear-out I started after Christmas, and I even got out into the garden for a bit of a tidy up in preparation for the start of the new growing season. Spending time in the sunshine always makes me feel good, no matter what the time of year.
Today was reasonably mild and the sky a joyous blue, so I decided to make my first seaside outing of 2019.
Formby is a coastal town between Liverpool and Southport in the north-west of England. Its abundance of very rich and celebrity residents (including premiership football players) and luxury properties has resulted in the dubious nicknames Califormbia and Formby Hills. The chances of me recognising (or even having heard of!) a reality TV ‘star’, a current ‘soap’ actor, or a football player are roughly equal to the chances of one of them recognising me. I was really hoping to see some of Formby’s other famous locals, the indigenous red squirrels whose abode is the large area of National Trust pine woodland which stretches out along the Formby coast. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be on this occasion.
Temperatures had dropped overnight and the ground frost sparkled in the sunshine. Sections of felled fir trees had been left on the path.
There are two approaches to Formby beach: the first which is shorter and probably more popular involves a very energetic scramble over a range of steep sand dunes; the second – which I opted for – took me on a longer, beautiful meander through the dunes along a sandy path. The azure sky and the landscape reminded me of long ago Aegean holidays.
Several benches along the walk have been dedicated to the memory of people who loved to spend time here. What a lovely way to be brought to mind each time a loved one or stranger sits for a while to admire the vista.
On top of the dunes, sand mountaineers looked out to sea.
Squawking magpies kept their own lookout from the trees tops.
And apparently it’s never too cold for an ice cream.
The National Trust has laid a long board walk to make the beach accessible for prams, wheelchairs and folks like me who don’t climb dunes.
The entire path from the Lifeboat Road car park down to the beach is navigable for wheels and bad knees. Here, I made some new friends in their stunning hand-knitted jackets.
The board walk ended and the wide beach came into view. The tide was out and the firm sand was perfect for walking. whether on two legs or four.
One of my new colourfully-clad friends insisted we had a long game of throw and fetch the stick. Fortunately, he did all the running!
With my playmate called away to rejoin his family pack, the steps of the lifeboat station served as a convenient bench for me to sit for a while and enjoy my first beach visit of the year… hopefully, the first of many.