Turton Tower is a property of mediaeval origin situated between Bolton and Darwen in Lancashire. It’s made up of three distinct and originally separate buildings, the stone tower being the oldest dating back to the 16th century. In later times, the other buildings were added and eventually all three were consolidated, with the newer additions constructed in the older Tudor style for an homogenous and perhaps more grandiose appearance.
In the 1920s, the property was given to the local council for the benefit of the local community and it’s run by a professional, knowledgeable and friendly team of volunteers, on hand to provide guided tours and a wealth of information. The American lady in the reception area/ gift shop revealed that she hailed from Detroit, where a couple of my granddad’s older brothers had emigrated in the 1930s to find work in the Ford car factory. Years ago, when I was seriously into genealogical research, I sourced the documents which outlined their initial passages from Southampton and Liverpool respectively as they set sail for their new lives. I could happily have chatted for longer to find out more about Detroit but more customers arrived and our tour guide invited us to start our exploration.
What old English country house would be compete without a suit of armour or two? A less than discreet design feature allowed for the call of nature to be answered.
Most of the artefacts, whilst totally authentic and in keeping with the various periods of its occupation, do not belong to Turton Tower but are on loan from the Victoria & Albert Museum. There are some splendid examples.
All of the rooms were well presented and, perhaps because the exhibits were on loan and carefully chosen, there wasn’t that over-stuffed feel that I’ve encountered at some similar historic houses where much of what was on show seemed superfluous and untidy.
One of my favourite objects was not one of the oldest but this gorgeous clock which shows the phases and faces of the moon peering out as if from behind the clouds . I’d never seen a clock like it, but our guide, Margaret, remembered her granny owning one and thinks they were probably not uncommon. I would love to see this charming timepiece in working order.
It was time for a cup of tea in the sunshine, so off we went to the little outdoor cafe, to enjoy the fresh air and the daffodils on a perfect spring day.
After a week of gale-force winds, rain, sleet and hail, Friday brought sunshine and double figures on the thermometer and felt like it should be taken advantage of. The ground being sodden and unworkable, tackling garden jobs was not an option. I had a couple of long-overdue errands to run in Southport, the closest coastal location to home, so decided to take the pleasant 35 minute train ride, mainly through arable farmland, to the seaside.
To my surprise the train was full, though from the snippets of banter I couldn’t avoid overhearing, some of my fellow passengers were headed to an event at a holiday camp a bit further down the coast. I had a very brief wander around that camp a few years ago when visiting another beach, and I hoped that the ladies, who had apparently travelled all the way from Glasgow and Northumberland, would not be too disappointed.
My errands ticked off the list, I headed towards the sea front to breathe in the briny air. I had thought it a bit early in the year for the seasonal traders, but a sunny, albeit cold, day in half-term week had tempted a few to open up.
The music, the ride, the lot, all sad and showing their age. I felt my age, too. I used to love this place as a child, favouring it over bigger and (to most) better Blackpool up the coast. Much has changed, none of it for the better as far as I can see, but change is part of life and mine is just one opinion. I sat for a minute on a memorial bench dedicated to some folk who had ‘walked here often’ over many decades.
I spotted a couple of my own happy ghosts on the beach, animated in fragments of sunlight, colour and sound, committed to memory.
I’m glad I knew Southport in better times. But it can be a mistake to compare the past with now. My memories are those of my child self, candy-floss flavoured and always in summer sun. Of course, now can never compete with then.
Nostalgia put aside, and back to the moment, I looked down to the sand where a new generation walked and ran and laughed, moving out towards the tide, probably wondering, like us all, if they would ever reach it.
True, there is little pleasure to be had in the winter garden anyway, for me; there is beauty in all seasons and glistening evergreens and frosty blades can be as lovely in midwinter as on a summer’s day, but it’s too damp to sit out for too long, even wrapped up warm, and there is no work that can be done.
The first day of February is the day of Imbolc the ancient Celtic beginning of spring, marking the first signs of new life. We are a few days off yet, but I think the shift has come a little early this year. There is still a way to go before I open my curtains to the bright sun and not a dazzling moon, but the land is stirring.
The very welcome sight of new shoots emerging from the cold ground, and the promise of dormant bulbs soon to be transformed into the first vernal blooms, never ceases to bring me joy.
The dwarf rhododendron is always the first shrub to flower at the beginning of March. The buds are ripening in readiness. However, this year there is a surprise.
Cat mint doesn’t usually reappear until well into March. Yesterday, I decided to chop down the old stalks that I had left over winter and Paddy and I made a discovery.
All three of the nepeta are already rejuvenating. The winter has been fairly mild so that could be a factor. I didn’t tidy the bed as I usually do, so the old wood may have provided some protection from the frost. Or maybe it’s all down to global warming. I hope this early growth is not too soon and that February is kind.
Buds are appearing.
This fern, planted last year, spent the spring and summer in shades of russet and gold. I wondered about its health. When autumn arrived, the other ferns faded and then shrivelled, whilst this one turned green and lush. Unexpected and wonderful!
These resilient herbs have kept both colour and scent through the winter, even the lavender. That’s a first for my garden!
And the fennel smells as gorgeous as ever as new shoots make their way towards the light.
As another week of short days passes by, I’ll secretly ponder the changes that are taking place above and below the soil and happily anticipate next weekend’s revelations.
The Cumbrian coastal town of Grange-over-Sands has long been one of my favourite Sunday afternoon destinations, its pretty promenade running alongside the salt marsh. It is beautifully kept by green-fingered volunteers and is just a nice place to unwind and walk and sit for a while at the end of a busy week, or to recharge for the next.
Between April and September, on the last Sunday of every month the prom hosts an artisan market. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few special objects for my home and gifts for friends, all hand-made and some unique. I promised a friend I would take her with me when I next visited, another reason to take advantage of a gorgeous Sunday. Her guide dog, Jim Bob, seemed to approve of his walk in the sea air and the compliments of stall holders and customers.
Inevitably, we made a few purchases and admired the efforts of the dedicated locals who tend the floral displays.
It was a wonderful bonus to discover a jazz trio has set up near the cafe, so we indulged in coffee and paninis and a musical interlude. Jim Bob enjoyed some treats and water.
We walked on, seeing in the flora the heralding of colder and darker times to come. The still resplendent foliage showed off its autumn colours.
Laden with our newly acquired treasures of house-plants, ceramics, glass decorations and candles, we strolled back to meet the homebound train, relishing the sea grasses as the wind moved through them, announcing the return of the tide.
Last week I travelled to Northwich in Cheshire to visit the Anderton boat lift. Once nicknamed the ‘Cathedral of the Canals’ the lift is a scheduled monument. It was constructed in 1875 to raise freight barges and narrow boats 50 ft from the River Weaver Navigation to the Trent & Mersey Canal and was in use for over a hundred years until its closure in the 1980s. Restored in 2001, it was reopened a year later and is used by visitors and boaters passing through Cheshire and the Midlands.
The lift was designed by Edwin Clark, who had also designed another hydraulic ship lift at Victoria Docks, London. It consists of two wrought iron cassions, or containers, 75ft long, 15ft wide and over 9ft deep, and a superstructure of iron columns with a platform, walkways and a staircase. It is powered by hydraulic pistons. The project was managed by chief engineer Edward Leader Williams and was a joint enterprise between the canal and river companies who were keen to speed up the shipping of locally mined salt and pottery from Staffordshire to markets in the UK and beyond. A series of locks had been considered but rejected as too expensive and inefficient. The lift was relatively cheaper and simpler in design.
Set in pleasant surroundings and with a small waterside cafe, Anderon Boat Lift is quite a nice spot to enjoy an hour or two even for those not interested in its history.
Advance booking was required as is mostly the way these days. We were able to get tickets for the short lift ride but the longer canal and river cruises were already sold out. We decided to go anyway, in the hope that there would be cancellations, but with plans to visit other local places of interest if our optimism proved fruitless (as it did).
We had a bit of time before we were due to be lifted skyward, so we had a look at the small exhibition about the region’s industrial heritage and the role the boat lift played in that. My favourite part of the exhibition was a selection of Victorian arcade games. Apart from being of the lift’s era and also being mechanical, I wasn’t sure what the connection was, but they were fun anyway.
For the price of an old penny I decided to consult Old Mother Shipton, hoping for confirmation that I would soon be setting sail on a river trip, or that I would come into money and not have to return to work this week. Alas, she told me neither of those things, but she did say there would be an embarrassing half hour whilst I had some explaining to do, but that all would turn out well in the end.
With Old Mother Shipton’s words still in my mind, and wondering if something was about to go badly wrong, we headed to the lift for our elevation experience.
Our on-board host gave an interesting talk about the boat lift and its context within the industrial revolution and the region and about the long process of its restoration after being abandoned. If not for the history presentation, the lift ride would have been quick and quite unremarkable: contained within the deep iron cassion troughs with sides higher than the boat, there was no view or sense of moving through the air.
As we ascended, a small number of spectators (possibly themselves unable to get tickets to be aboard) observed our emergence from the giant iron frame and gasped in awe. OK, they were not really quite so impressed, but in its early days it would have been quite something to travel in the boat lift.
Social distancing was still being enforced on board, despite it having been abandoned on public transport in July. The boat and river trips were sailing at half capacity, with alternate rows of seats empty. We tried to talk our way onto the longer boat trip, and even counted the passengers boarding and found them to be fewer than the ‘Covid safe’ capacity of 28 (actual capacity 56), but were still not allowed to board. Frustrated and rather vexed, we sulked for a bit and then went to enjoy the scenery on foot.
It’s almost 10 pm and the sun is setting on another gorgeous July day. The sky is a delicious blend of burnt oranges, pinks and corals: red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Tomorrow looks promising then. Through the still-open window I can hear the faint and exotic sounds of a bamboo wind chime in a neighbour’s tree, gently animated by a cooling breeze. Muted conversation and laughter is carried on the air from nearby gardens. At the end of a magnificent week of scorching sunshine, today’s slightly lower temperature has been most welcome. We can be such a contrary lot where the weather is concerned, craving to be baked and sweltered, but soon needing respite before yearning for the next heatwave.
The little garden is a joy to behold, bursting at the borders with tecnicoloured blooms. I’ve never seen as many bees as this year, which is what it’s all about for me. It took a long time to get going after an exceptionally cold and rainy May, but the plants have forgiven and forgotten and have made up for lost time.
Having had mixed results from new plant varieties I have added this year, it’s been wonderful to see that once again the cosmos, calendula and nasturtiums have done me proud. Seed harvested last year was roughly sown straight into the soil in April and the flowers are thriving, needing very little care. There’s a lesson there, I think.
The light has faded since I started writing this post, and in the darkness the garden has another kind of magic, fairy lights and lanterns picking out the shapes of tiny bats as they flit above, looking for insects or heading back to their roosting places. It’s time for music and wine and thinking up plans for a new day. Have a great weekend!
May was very wet and cold here in the north of England, and the garden has taken much longer than usual to get going. Except for the ever-dependable cat mint, determined to push through and show off in pride of place, the flowerbed seemed quite a sad little spot last month. Some of the herbs pots have been thriving since April, but I have been longing to see some colour. June arrived, bringing glorious sunshine, day after day, and temperatures into the twenties. At long last, the first flowers have started to push through to greet the sun.
Last year I dabbled more with seeds than ever before because the garden centres were closed in the spring. I was so delighted with the results that I decided to carry on this year. The results so far have been variable. I started most of my seedlings indoors inside propagator trays and started transferring them outside from April, potting them on and leaving them to grow on the nursery shelves. Heavy rain throughout May meant covering the shelves with plastic sheeting much of the time. Many perished, battered by wind and rain when I wasn’t able to cover them, or rotted in too humid propagators. Nothing has been planted out yet but some cosmos and a few sunflowers are doing well and should be big enough to go into the flower bed in a couple of weeks. There are also some newly germinated nasturtiums, varieties I haven’t grown before and which I am so happy have come through.
Last summer, I sowed some calendula seeds directly into the ground and lavished time, effort and compost nurturing others from propagation. The results were identical, so this year – yes, you’ve guessed it – all have gone straight into the soil and all are doing well, considering recent weather.
It was the same story with nasturtiums last year, some shooting up in the poorest soil, between flags and stones or gate crashing in other pots, all performing as well as their pampered relations. They are classed as annuals but some have decided to come back. Wonderful!
For the first time I’ve decided to try growing some veg. I’m starting small. Very small. In this hanging basket I’m growing cucamelons, which I have never tried before, and chard. I hope they’ll be safe from slugs up there. There are more chard plants on the shelf. I have never been interested in growing fruit or veg up to now and this is just for fun. We’ll see.
Scabiosa is such a resilient plant, as well as gorgeous and attractive to butterflies and bees. They never fail to delight.
Salvia is another perennial favourite for me and the bees. I have bought a couple of new plants which will remain in pots, where they seem to do best in my garden. The bees are happy!
I tried to grow yarrow from seed but not one little shoot emerged. Imagine my delight when I found mature plants on sale at a good garden centre. The first florets are opening and I hope the pollinators will enjoy the feasting.
I picked up two Lady’s Mantle plants from the Pound Shop, both on their last stalks, yellowing and looking doomed. I was moved to try to rescue them. For weeks they seemed to be clinging on but showed no signs of growth. Earlier this week they were replanted together and the transformation has been astonishing. Within a few days they have turned from puny stumps to lush, green pot fillers, soon to be separated and given more room to spread.
Another new addition and a first timer in my flower bed is this delphinium, buds about to open as she rises above the cat mint. I planted three but only this one has succeeded. I can’t wait to see the flowers.
The little California poppy is ready to open again. I sowed some more seeds around it for company but it looks like it will be on its own again.
The fastest mover has been another new plant, this gorgeous erysimum, Bowles Mauve. It has thrived from the moment it was planted out and is a real bee magnet!
It’s such a joyful thing to be able to take pleasure in a garden, especially one as small as mine where every plant counts. Next week is looking lovely, if not so hot, and I’m looking forward to my morning pottering as my coffee brews and my evening cup of tea as the sun goes down. I wish everybody a lovely week!
A recent visit to the GP about something unrelated (and which thankfully was nothing to worry about) revealed the alarming news that my blood pressure is higher than it should be. If I am not able to reduce it myself through ‘lifestyle changes’ I may be looking at medication in the future. This news has motivated me to make some positive changes to my now very sedentary lock-down, home-worker life, including becoming more active. It’s the old chicken and egg scenario: I started walking less as my arthritis pain worsened, which probably led to me becoming even more unfit and putting weight on, which undoubtedly has made the pain worse, and so on. Having now to sit at my desk all day, five days a week, has not helped matters. Although these are proper reasons and not just excuses, I am still set on taking action to improve my health in whatever way I can.
We are back to walking locally again, though for me that never changed during the few months’ interval between lock downs; I have only been out of town once in the past 10 months and have become something of a contented recluse. This morning, however, the bright sunshine and dry sky tempted me out into my locality for a bit of a brisk stroll. There are some great places to walk within the wider township, but I would need to get a bus there. On my own doorstep, options are very limited. Nevertheless, off I set in pursuit of fresh air and exercise and with camera at the ready.
I live in an area which was heavily mined when Coal was King in Wigan. Although the collieries are long gone they have left a legacy of flashes – lakes formed on sites of mining subsidence. There are eight flashes in total within the nature reserve. The Leigh branch of the Leeds & Liverpool canal cuts through the bodies of water and these days is extremely popular with walkers, cyclists and boaters.
Three or four anglers were in situ, one with a very bored looking child who was distracting himself by rolling about in the mud whilst the female companion of another looked like she would rather be watching paint dry. I was much more interested in the wild fowl amongst the reed beds.
There were lots of people around, mostly walking dogs and mostly very friendly. I turned around to look for the speaker of “Long time, no see,” to find a man who daily used to travel into town on the same bus as me, also now a home-worker. I don’t know him, other than as a fellow former member of the 07:24 bus micro-community, but it was strangely uplifting to meet again somebody who seems part of a distant and strange past, and to be reminded that we will hopefully return to those banal but now welcome routines.
A lot of money has been spent on improving accessibility to this area in recent months, partly to mitigate the presence and associated noise, visual and environmental pollution from a pointless new dual-carriageway, nick-named locally the road to nowhere, because, being part of a much longer link road whose other parts have not yet been constructed, it really doesn’t go anywhere. It’s a relief to see that wildlife still seems to be thriving, post road construction.
Two men, one in a bizarre, possibly home-made, face covering which looked like it had been fashioned out of several plastic bottles, asked for directions to the canal tow path. I indicated the way that I was myself headed. By this time, the route was really quite busy and it was sometimes necessary to stand to one side to let people pass. It’s a pleasant walk, more so since the improvements, and I regretted that I hadn’t been walking here more often.
Arriving at the towpath, I decided that as a re-introductory amble I had gone far enough for today. I spent a few minutes watching the swans and having a short chat with another person I knew in the old life.
Lost in my own thoughts and camera lens, I was momentarily startled when a woman asked me if I put photos on “that website”. “What website is that?”, I replied, wondering if this humble domain had come to her attention. It had not, of course. It was something else entirely that I have never heard of.
I spotted a few people in the wood on the other side of the water where I had thought it was inaccessible. More to investigate on another walk.
And in the other direction lies the largest of the flashes and walks that I haven’t done for years.
As others have written, it is easy to forget the green spaces that are close at hand. I’m looking forward to renewing that connection.
So here I am tapping out a few words. It feels as though this is a bit like one of those pieces that appear in the news during a quiet week when the politicians are all behaving themselves and celebrity scandal has gone off grid. But papers must still go to press and cameras must still roll at the appointed hours, and so are rallied all of those trivial and regional fall-back stories to plug air time gaps and spaces on pages. And so it ashamedly seems to be here.
I don’t write for writing’s sake, and this is, after all, supposed to be a blog about me getting out and about; and as I have become something of a social recluse for the time being, there has been nothing new to write about. Somewhat surprisingly, though admittedly rather gratifyingly, I was told this week by somebody who I didn’t even know read this blog, that as he hadn’t seen any new posts recently, he had been reading all the older ones. He also asked about my profile picture, the philosophising French carrier bag. Well, there’s a story……
Montparnasse is the second largest cemetery in Paris. It covers about 46 acres in the 14th arrondissement and is the final resting place of some of the city’s great and good, including artists, writers and thinkers. My friend and fellow traveller on that trip about six years ago is fascinated by necro-architecture and how, like abodes in life, graves can reveal the personalities of the dead.
Some were nothing short of art installations, the exhibitors’ final works in a gallery where they would be both present, and not.
Did any have a hand in those creations; set their living eyes upon them and envisage future reactions? Or were these the designs of others who had loved and admired, expressing who, to them, the dead had been?
Interesting then the plainness of the tombs of some of Montparnasse’s best known occupants. Jean Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir, celebrated intellectuals of their time, are identified only by their names and the dates of their lives, though the imprints of admirers’ kisses show they are remembered and revered. So often, less is more; that’s one of my own philosophies, anyway.
I like the photos that you find on headstones; a smile in a happy moment frozen in time. Who was behind the camera? What was the joke? Heartbeats immortalised.
Who can think of Serge Gainsbourg without a mental soundtrack? Younger readers, click and learn.
Considered to be quite racy at the time, with all the sighing and breathless utterances of desire and amore, Je t’aime is probably the song for which Serge is best remembered. It has become a tradition for adoring visitors to leave their metro tickets as a sign of how far they have travelled to pay their respects. I don’t think we left ours, but we may have spared a wistfulness sigh and hummed a few bars as we moved on.
Born Emmanuel Radnitzky in 1890 and raised in a New York Jewish immigrant community, Man Ray was one of the most celebrated artists of the Surrealist and Dada movements. I am not a fan of surrealist painting, but I like some of Man Ray’s photography. Much of it is provocative and some of it disturbing. Dada was as much a political movement as it was creative, and some powerful messages are expressed through Man Ray’s images. The simple message epitaph is equally open to interpretation.
The most celebrated work of Charles Baudelaire is Les Fleurs du Mal or The Flowers of Evil, an eclectic mix of sensory and sensual compositions which speak of appetites and desires and the exotic. I’m not keen on traditional poetry where contrived rhyme metre determines the words, but I do still have a battered old copy of The Flowers, from my youth, which I dip into on rare occasions.
How very fitting and amusing it was then that as we made our way to one of the exit gates we spotted an unusual plastic carrier bag near a composting receptacle full of decaying floral tributes. In a place of dead thinkers and dreamers it offered an inspirational philosophy for living.
So, here we are on the last day of September. The hours of daylight and darkness have passed their balancing point and we move slowly towards the dark and the cold. Figuratively speaking, we are, and will be, living through darker times than usual this year. But those long months of shorter, colder days offer hope of renewal and regeneration when the warmth returns.
There have been some frosty mornings of late. I have opened the back door to look at the slivers of dawn light and to observe my misty breath in the air. As the garden dies back and slowly goes to seed there is still a lot of colour to take pleasure in, and there is even new growth.
Back in early spring, unable to source any plants, I picked up a few packets of seeds from the supermarket, amongst them some blacked-eyed Susan. Unlike some of the other more vigorously sprouting seedlings, the Susans were very slow to emerge from their little plug pots and, when they eventually did, seemed to be stuck, no bigger than tiny cress stalks, for a long time. I almost gave up on them, planning more than once to throw them into the composting bin. With nothing to lose, I moved the little pots one late July day to a slightly sunnier spot. Their transformation into robust little plants was fast and furious, as if seizing the moment and making up for lost time. I planted them, still doubtful due to their relatively small size, into a bed. Happily, they took hold and went from strength to strength and their sultry shades of ochre and golden-brown keep the spirit of summer alive for a bit longer.
Calendula and nasturtiums are still flowering. Every time I think I have dead-headed for the last time I spot a tiny bud or two.
Roses also continue to bloom, hopefully for a few weeks yet.
The cosmos seeds I potted in April were the first and fastest to grow, feathery stems reaching for the sun. The baby plants were the first to go into the ground and they continued to shoot up and up, lanky and eager. But there were no flowers for the longest time. I gave up on the idea. I pulled up some of the plants which were blocking the light and putting other plants in the shade, stunting their development. I want my garden to be a food source for pollinating creatures; I couldn’t spare the space for anything that provided neither beauty nor nourishment. I left a few of the smaller specimens there, including a sad little thing in a small terracotta pot. To my surprise, they have produced a small number of flowers in white and vibrant pink, a joyful late summer gift, long after I gave up on them.
I adore the muted pink leaves of this honeysuckle plant which I had forgotten about. The pot, invaded by moss and in an inhospitable shady corner, was nearly recycled months ago. Moved into the sun to serve as a stand for a solar battery, the plant awoke again, returning to a long- forgotten splendour. I bought it on the same day as its cousin below, now well over two metres tall and one of my favourites, its pink and purple berries succulent and splendid. They were 50p each on the half- dead rejects shelf.
Nigella have grown in my little garden for about four years now. My first pack of seeds was shop-bought, but for the past three years I have gathered the brown seed heads in September and October, releasing the black seeds, each a potential new flower in the next summer. I move them around the garden, this year planting in perhaps too sunny a spot, shortening their season. Some seeds found their way, on the breeze, to a shady place beneath an over-hanging tree. They have done much better, new flowers still appearing. There is a lesson there.
One of my favourite shrubs is the heavily fragrant caryopteris, Heavenly Blue. It is a bee magnet from May to early September, but its season is nearly over.
Last year I added another caryopteris, White Surprise. It didn’t seem to thrive in its original spot so in early spring I moved it next to its relation, not knowing if it would take root. There was some growth but no flowers. I decided it would have to give up its prime position to a newcomer next spring, but it could stay put for the time being. Over the last few weeks I have not been disappointed. A profusion of lavender blue flowers have taken over, a nectar fest for the insects. I see it from my kitchen window and take great joy in watching the feasting. To think, I might have dug it up, not knowing it was a late summer bloomer!
Another new addition is the pink buddleia, bought from a pound shop. It has grown quite a lot and its big candy-floss display enchants me, though it doesn’t seem to attract the butterflies. I haven’t seen a single one sampling its supposed delights. I am still in two minds about its future prospects, but I won’t be rash. Perhaps the right butterflies haven’t spotted it yet.
When is a weed not a weed? This geranium Robert has the most wonderful aroma, like parsley. I leave it alone to do its thing.
In this mellow season of winding down, decay has its own beauty.
I have bought some spring bulbs to plant at the weekend. They will rest in the cold winter earth before energising and bursting forth to surprise and delight on a March morning. Hope springs eternal.