Something about nothing in particular

One of my readers recently asked me who I write my blog for. They went on to observe that I don’t have a particular writing style, with some posts being quite whimsical and florid whilst others are straightforward and more simplistic (maybe that’s polite speak for boring). Could that be, they suggested, because I don’t have a specific audience in mind when I put fingers to keys? I would say all of that is fair comment.

The stunning North Yorkshire Moors on a baking hot August afternoon
Purple heather for as far as the eye can see and a cloudless azure sky. I feel another ethereal post coming on……

My style of expression will vary depending on the subject of each post and probably my mood at the time of writing. Inspired or moved by a beautiful landscape or naturistic tableau, I may wax lyrical or I may write very little, letting images speak for themselves. Reflecting nostalgically on then and now, aided and abetted by a glass or two of red wine, I may gush excessively or lament.

Southport now, just a shadow of the place I remember from childhood

A summary review of a recently visited place of interest, offering information, suggestions and my opinion to other would-be visitors, will be in a format and style which is different again.

Living Wall, RHS Bridgewater
The greenhouses at RHS Bridgewater didn’t make it into the final edit of my recent post

So, who do I write for? In one sense, for myself. I write something that I would enjoy reading or would find useful. And I write for whoever else wants to read. I may never know those readers or what they think. Only other WordPress members can ‘like’ and comment (without having to submit their email address). Most of my followers, and readers generally, seem not to be WordPressers. If one person reads my blog and enjoys it, that is who I have written it for. They are my target audience.

Because I write here primarily for my own pleasure, I don’t tend to check stats very often. It’s a tiny blog and I’m not interested in tailoring my content to attract legions of followers, ha ha. Of course, I value and appreciate everybody who takes the time to read my humble scribblings, but I’m not doing this for fame or fortune. The chance would be a fine thing! When I do look at the stats, I am quietly delighted to see that a stranger, having looked at one of my posts, has enjoyed it enough to read on.

I write for that person and for anybody and everybody who is interested in reading my words, regularly or just the once. Everybody is very welcome and I’m thankful that each has taken the time.

One thing I haven’t done, up to now, is write for the sake of it, hence my reduced presence over the last couple of years when I have been out-and-about less and haven’t had as much to share.

I could write endlessly about my cats
Or maybe even about houseplants

I suppose this post could be said to be an exception of sorts, arising from one reader’s thought-provoking comments.

Our reasons for writing are as varied as we are as writers. If having read this you feel inclined to share your own story, I will be sure to read it.

A wander round RHS Bridgewater

View of the welcome building from the wild meadow

Earlier in the summer I made a long overdue visit to the Royal Horticultural Society’s most recently established garden site at Worsley, Greater Manchester. RHS Bridgewater opened in July 2021, delayed by the pandemic. Admission has from the start been through online booking only and, unsurprisingly, the weeks and months after the grand opening were very busy. With the colder months not being the best time to see the gardens at their finest, I decided to wait until this summer.

Bridgewater is the fifth of the RHS’ ‘gardens. It was developed on the site of Worsley New Hall, a Victorian manor house built in the 1840s for the 1st Earl of Ellesmere and demolished only a hundred years later. The magnificent formal gardens were landscaped over a 50-year period by William Andrews Nesfield, one of the most sought-after landscape designers of the period. The154 acre site included gravel pathways, formal gardens, fountains, croquet lawn and tennis court, formal gardens, an impressive 11-acres of walled kitchen gardens and a woodland; all of these elements have been included within the new project, some restored as faithfully as possible and others reimagined for the modern era.

An impression of the formal Gardens at Worsley New Hall in their heyday (RHS website)

Worsley New Hall became a British Red Cross hospital during the First World War, after which time both the hall and the gardens fell into decline. In the Second World War parts of the hall were requisitioned for military use, the gardens used as training grounds by the Lancashire Fusiliers.

During the early 20th century the hall fell further into disrepair until in 1943, this once-grand building was finally demolished by a scrap merchant, who had bought it for just £2,500. In subsequent years parts of the grounds were used as a garden centre amongst other things. It seems incredible that a property costing over £6,000,000 to build in today’s money should endure for such a very short time.

Admission is through the welcome centre, a spacious, elegant but simple ‘Scandi’-style building, including a shop, cafe and small garden centre which offers some of the more prolific plants in use in the gardens; helpful signage reminds customers of where they will have seen each plant, useful for anybody who might wish to recreate a similar garden at home.

The day of our visit was dull and started with light rain which, thankfully, cleared up by midday. It being August, some of the spring and early summer flowers had already ‘gone over’ and a few areas looked a little bare. We were surprised that some plants which will flower into autumn if regularly ‘dead-headed’ seemed to have been left to go to seed. On a site of such proportions, attention to detail will obviously be very time-consuming, yet it seemed a shame that a potentially longer flowering season might be lost.

Designed by landscape architect Tom Stuart-Smith, the Worlsey Welcome Garden includes some interesting structural elements, both flowering and edible, including apple trees and artichokes. Apparently, this garden ‘resembles an abstract mosaic and gives the impression of a giraffe’s markings or mathematical Voronoi diagram when viewed from above’, though I’m not sure who would be viewing from that angle except possibly via Google-Earth or a hot air balloon. I enjoyed this area, cleverly structured and informally unruly at the same time. I think it would have looked even better earlier in the summer.

We stopped off for cake and a cup of tea at the cafe/restaurant converted from the former stables. Service and food were excellent and the courtyard cafe a relaxing spot to peruse the site map and plan our next destination.

This seating area was marked as off limits on the day of our visit but would be another delightful spot for refreshments and relaxing.

Even under a cloudy grey sky, the paradise garden looked beautiful. Also designed by Tom Stuart-Smith, the Bridgewater version differs from the classic Islamic paradise garden design in that the water feature – in this case, the lily pool – is surrounded by three distinct planting zones, not the traditional four. Planting within the three zones is from different parts of the globe – another variation on the classic style- to achieve a more multi-cultural feel. This was our favourite spot and we spent a couple of hours in total, just relaxing. Taking photos was a challenge, hence the limited selection here; the place was very busy, especially later ion the day.

RHS Bridgewater is a centre for horticultural learning and is undertaking trials involving various species of hydrangeas planted out in the old frame yard area.

Winding paths lead to one of the most beautiful areas of the site, the Chinese streamside garden which is on several levels though fully accessible (as is the entire site). The weather had become close by this time and the water fall and pool looked deliciously inviting.

The site includes acres of woodland and paths for further exploration and I was pleasantly surprised to find that far from this just being a show garden, it was a place where one could easily spend the whole day. For the first year of opening, locals were allowed free admission on Tuesdays, by way of a thank you for the disruption created during the site development. Lucky them!

Ellesmere lake is at the furthest end of the gardens developed to date and borders on the wooded areas where a lot of trekkers were headed. As we were there for a chill out rather than a work out, we retreated to follow another pathway through the wildest part of the site, the meadowlands.

For non RHS members, admission is £12, no doubt to encourage membership of this charitable organisation, thereby supporting its work. It’s not cheap but well worth an occasional visit to see the site at different times of the year. There is much more to see than is included in this short blog and hopefully there will be more to come as further development is planned. I’m looking forward to going back in spring, hopefully to enjoy an entirely new scenery.

Flint Castle

The castle overlooking the Dee estuary at Flint was one of the first to be built by the English in Wales. Building started in 1277, during the campaign of English King Edward I against Llywelyn ap Gruffydd, the last of the great Welsh leaders. Work was completed in 1284. Flint was one of the north Wales ‘iron ring’ of fortresses built by the English to conquer the Welsh. The castle included an unusual design feature, a solitary round ‘Donjon’ tower which stood apart from the rest of the inner ward but still within the outer wall, which is exceptionally thick.

Though only ruins remain, it is possible to get a sense of how substantial and dominating the structure would have appeared as it rose above the Dee estuary, pronouncing the might and supremacy of the English king.

Following directions from the little town of Holywell we pulled up on a very nondescript street with the castle ruins on one side and two council tower blocks and a few houses on the other. A little further ahead was an industrial estate; an interesting juxtaposition. I wondered what the King would have made of it all and hoped that the residents enjoyed and made the most of living in such a scenic beach location that only the very wealthy would be able to afford in many other parts of the UK.

Walking across what was obviously formerly the moat and then up the mound, we encountered another royal personage and a seriously big dog; just as well they were made of metal and both perfectly harmless. I rather liked this art work, depicting King Richard II, Edward I’s great, great grandson, and Mathe, his traitorous hound.

In 1399, Flint Castle was the site of the showdown between the King and Henry Bolinbroke, a contender for the throne, who went on to become King Henry IV. It is reported that the dog, Mathe, abandoned Richard and allied himself with Bolinbroke. Richard interpreted this apparent act of canine treachery as a sign that his reign was at an end, the dog choosing loyalty to crown, not master. Richard conceded defeat and was captured.

Shakespeare immortalised the scene in his play, Richard II:

‘What you will have, I’ll give, and willing too;
For do we must what force will have us do

The greyhound maketh you cheer this day as king of England, as ye shall be;
and I shall be deposed. The greyhound possesses this knowledge naturally’

There were a few other visitors like us, milling about with cameras and discussing the brick work and the scenery. A couple of benches had been positioned to provide a view over the beach and the estuary. A group of young people climbed the spiral metal staircase within what I assume to be the ‘Donjon’ tower, seeking to be kings of the castle for a few moments. I would have liked the view but not the climb. Several other groups – mainly families with children, picnics, balls and frisbees – cut through the structure to access the freedom of the beach.

Standing the test of time

Who would have thought that a wall could be so beautiful? Diverse in size and shape, colour and texture, some smooth and others eroded to honeycomb, the ancient stones appear as if placed haphazardly in the dense mortar bed. But this was a fortress, built to last, and not in the least haphazard in its design. I wonder if those tower blocks across the road will be there in 800 years’ time.

St. Winefride’s Well

The holy well of St. Winefride – ‘Santes Gwenffrewi’ in her native language of Welsh – is just outside the eponymously named town of Holywell on the north Wales coast. The natural spring is said to have come forth from the earth in the 7th century, on the exact spot that St. Winefride was murdered and subsequently – and miraculously – brought back to life. In the centuries that followed, up to the present day, pilgrims have visited the shrine to benefit from the healing powers of the holy water. Quite apart from its reputed healing powers, the shrine is a very beautiful place, worth visiting to appreciate its history and character.

There are various tellings of St. Winefride’s story, and as this blog is about my own experiences of visiting places of interest rather than providing a detailed history of those places, I think the very concise version on the shrine’s website offers enough background to provide a context. The full history of the shrine is fascinating and well worth further reading for those who want to know more.

Winefride (Gwenfrewi) was the daughter of a local prince named Tewyth and his wife Gwenlo. Her uncle was St. Beuno.
One day, around the year 630, Caradoc, a chieftain from Hawarden attempted to seduce Winefride. She ran from him towards the church which had been built by her uncle.  Caradoc pursued her and cut off her head.  In the place where her head fell, a spring of water came up.  St. Beuno came out from the church, took up her head and placed it back on her body.  He then prayed and raised her to life.  A white scar encircled her neck, witness to her martyrdom. Caradoc sank to the ground and was never seen again.
Winefride became a nun and …. joined a community at Gwtherin where she became the Abbess.  She died there some 22 years later.

Pilgrimage to St Winefride’s Well has taken place throughout the 1,300 years since St Winefride was restored to life. It is of great historic significance that the crypt was not destroyed during the reformation of the middle ages and that pilgrims continued to come despite the threat of persecution which existed for those practising the Catholic faith.

Pilgrims have come to St Winefride’s Well throughout its history, to seek healing. Records dating back hundreds of years are testimony to the many cures from sickness and infirmity received through the intercession of St Winefride and the stories who have come in thanksgiving for healing for themselves or others.

(http://www.stwinefrideswell.org.uk/st-winefride–the-well.html)

The shrine’s grounds and St. Winefride’s chapel situated above

The entrance or ‘Mynedfa’ in Welsh, leads into a shop/ information centre and very small exhibition centre. The original museum – also on site – is no longer open to the public but still stores a wealth of artefacts and historical documents. Entrance is just £1.

The tiny exhibition/information centre holds a small number of historical objects and offers a detailed history of the site.

The reliquary which is believed to have contained St. Winfride’s bones, the most interesting object in the exhibition centre.

The holy water from the well is piped to a tap for those pilgrims who don’t wish to bathe in the waters but still would like to benefit from its healing powers.

Although the spring is said to date back to around 630, the crypt within which it is enclosed was built in the early 16th century in the Late Perpendicular Gothic style. It is a grade 1 listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

It’s interesting that construction of the crypt is attributed to Margaret Beaufort, grandmother of Henry VIII, and the direct Tudor connection could explain why the site was not destroyed during the Reformation when saints, relics and pilgrimages fell out of favour.

The metal barriers around the outer bathing pool spoiled the effect somewhat, and I felt it was sad that it was judged necessary for them to be there. Perhaps the pool had been used inappropriately in the recent hot weather or, for health & safety reasons, access needed to be carefully controlled and monitored. The area is covered by CCTV and I witnessed the speedy arrival of one of the staff when two young people took the plunge an hour before the final access time of the day, scheduled for 3 pm. Two earlier 30 minute windows are scheduled for 11 am and 1 pm.

The inner pool – the site of the spring, the crypt and a tiny chapel make up the sanctuary. A changing area is connected to the chapel for the convenience of any visitors who wish to bathe in the outer pool.

The chapel’s stained glass window shows St. Winefride and her uncle, St. Beuno, apparently at the site of the holy spring. She appears to be engaged in saying her rosary whilst uncle appears to be making a statement of some importance.
Pilgrims’ prayers. The fancy candles are available from the shop.
Beautiful candle holder
Not sure if this is St. Winefride or the Virgin Mary. I think the latter, due to the crown, though I don’t know the significance of the feather (if that’s what it is)

The inner pool is architecturally splendid and looks quite oriental. It’s a very tranquil place, the spring bubbling continuously and the water absolutely clear.

The wonderful vaulted ceiling hosts some intriguing grotesques

A serpent-tongued royal personage and demon?
Looks like the ‘As ny tree cassyn’, the three-legs symbol of the Isle of Man, an ancient symbol also associated with the Mycenaeans and Lycians

The stone columns around the inner pool bear the engravings of pilgrims who have visited over the last 400 years. Some of the older inscriptions are too faded to make out but there are numerous testimonies to the curative powers of the sacred water.

The stone bed of the inner pool is littered with coins. I haven’t read anywhere that such offerings are customary – or welcomed – but neither is there a sign requesting that visitors refrain. Perhaps a member of staff periodically gathers up the offertory. It’s interesting to me that there is the connection to the lore of the wishing well, a merging of religion and folk tradition. A wish or a prayer; it’s a fine line that separates.

The steps down to the inner pool

Whilst having no plan to bathe ourselves, we were content to sit on one of the wooden benches, enjoying the sunny afternoon and the peaceful, contemplative mood and surroundings. Shortly before 3 pm, people started to arrive , in pairs and small groups, some carrying towels and carrier bags. Some went into the changing room whilst others removed outer garments at the side of the pool. I had the impression that some of these were regulars who were focused and well-practised in this ritual. A few seemed less confident or were perhaps more self-conscious and took their time to build up to the immersion. Interestingly – and to my surprise – all were young, late teens to mid 40s. Three young women, seemingly not new to this, went into the water fully clothed. It’s just as well it was a hot day, though perhaps they would have done the same in the cold, their discomfort perhaps part of their petition.

Feeling slightly voyeuristic but completely intrigued, we watched the bathers in the pool. Most completed ‘laps’ of the perimeter, quietly uttering prayers and fingering rosary beads as they waded their way slowly through the chest-high water. Others, including what looked like a teenage boy and his father, took deep breaths before submerging themselves in the pool, emerging seemingly exhilarated. One woman seemed very emotional, which made me feel even more of a voyeur. Having accomplished their goal, some quickly towelled themselves down, returned to their cars and drove away, further adding to the impression that this was not an unusual activity for them. A few, possibly first-timers, remained in the grounds, apparently wanting to soak up more of the positive energy – or just the sunshine.

My visit showed how the well of St. Winefride clearly still has deep spiritual and personal significance in the 21st century; miracles are still real and obtainable to those who believe in them and in the associated rituals. It also made me mindful of the continuum of old beliefs, changing through the ages but essentially the same: sacred water coming up from the earth; springs devoted to the goddess and the divine feminine; wishes and prayers for healing, then as now. Maybe we haven’t changed that much after all.

A look around Turton Tower

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.

Look closely at the sizeable front door to spot a much smaller door within, a clever way to prevent ill-intentioned callers from entering unhindered and wielding their swords, possibly like the fine example displayed below.

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.

A grand if not very comfy-looking seat
ornate engraved cabinet
Early 18th century engraved box
A child’s bed engraved with sea creatures and mermaids, themes that can be found in other houses of the same era
Some of the most interesting exhibits were a variety of chairs, including
An amusing engraving
This exotic looking example
This intriguing ‘reading chair’, designed for men to sit facing towards the back, leaning on the arm rests to enhance the reading experience. The back of the chair, at crotch level, contains a little door, obviously essential for reading

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.

The drawing room with furniture from different eras
Top floor of the tower which provided a perfect lookout for approaching enemies, wattle and daub wall section exposed

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.

Tide and Time

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 pier was busy. Couples walking dogs and family groups holding ice cream cones in gloved hands seemed not to care about the cold, enjoying the fresh air and making their own entertainment. The seaside attractions, on the other hand, all brash gaiety and neon, seemed to be trying too hard. The riderless carousel horses looked forlorn. Not even the Charlston, followed by a rousing big-band number, could get them whirling. All dressed up but with nowhere to go.

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.

Stirrings

During these months of short days and long nights I only get to see my garden at the weekends. Leaving for work and returning home in darkness five days a week allows little opportunity to observe the very gradual changes that are taking place in the awakening earth.

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.

Sunday Promenade

Last Sunday was particularly lovely for late September and was forecast to be followed by some truly autumnal wind and rain. It felt like a day to be savoured, perhaps the last of the fine summer weather, and the right time to get back on a train again.

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.

Anderton Boat Lift

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.

looking up through the roof at the impressive winding machinery above

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.

I’m still wondering about that prophesy…..

Shepherd’s Delight

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.

Here are some of the most vibrant and gorgeous that give me so much pleasure. Apparently, lots of people dislike orange flowers, but they never fail to make me smile. Tigger appreciates them too.

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!