A blogging anniversary and a new year

Happy New Year! I hope as we start 2020 all in WordPress world are well and in good spirits. I decided that rather than write a review of 2019 I would write a few thoughts on what I’d like to be blogging about during the year ahead.

Yesterday marked my first visit of the year to the coast (my favourite kind of location), and I can’t think of a better first photo of 2020 than a spectacular sunset viewed from Southport Pier.

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Apparently, today is this blog’s birthday. I have been pressing words for five whole years! This is also my 100th post, so a double milestone. Do the maths and you will see that I’m far from a prolific poster, and that is unlikely to change in 2020. I’ll still post when I have something new to share about somewhere I’ve visited or an experience I’ve enjoyed that I think might be of interest to some other people. I’ve never had a writing schedule and have sometimes gone weeks – and in the early days of the blog, months – without writing a word, though I’ve posted more over the last year or two. 

Regular readers will know that I love to be near to the sea, in all seasons and at any time of day. Yesterday afternoon I decided to make the short train journey from my home in Wigan to Southport on the Lancashire coast. It was after 2 o’clock when I arrived, so after having a quick bite to eat and a mooch in a couple of shops, I made my way to the Pier. The town was busy, unsurprisingly on such a dry and bright day, but by this time it was about 3 o’clock and the light was starting to fade.

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Bridge over the marine lake

Although it wasn’t a cold day for the time of year the wind coming in from the sea was bitter as I walked towards the end; I wished I’d worn a scarf and gloves. My hands shook a little as I angled my phone towards the western sky, partly cold fingers and partly the biting breeze. It was well worth it though, as I was rewarded with breathtaking views as the sun descended.

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At the end of the Pier I sat for a while on one of the wooden benches, watching as the light diminished and the sky changed from one moment to the next, nature’s own light show, unsurpassable.

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This is a ‘first’ for me as I have never before written a post on my phone, or used in a blog photographs I took with it. I don’t really like using this small key pad for anything other than texting, but other devices are out of action at the moment, and actually the typing is not that bad and I like the photos. Perhaps that opens a door to more spontaneity in 2020.

Five years ago, this blog started out purely as an extension to my Facebook page where I would share photos with friends and family of places I’d visited but without any details or narrative. People would often ask about the locations, want more specific information or want to share their thoughts. I had the idea of writing a simple little blog which I would link to Facebook where folks could click on a link to see more than just the photographs. I seldom use Facebook these days, but here I still am.

It never occurred to me that anyone else would be reading my blog, or even how they would come across it. Even now, I sometimes wonder what people must have ‘Googled’ to end up here. One day I logged on for the first time in months and noticed a tiny orange circle near the alert bell at the top of the screen which I hadn’t seen before. I thought it was probably a notification from WordPress and was very surprised to find it was a message from a real person who had been reading one of my posts. As that started to happen more often, and one or two people started to follow my blog, I changed my style slightly, and wrote for anyone who might visit, not just those readers I knew personally.

It was even longer before I started to explore WordPress and  found so many interesting and talented writers whose words and images I still thoroughly enjoy. I’ve discovered great places to visit and have been intrigued, amused, moved, entertained, inspired and educated by the posts I’ve read. I look forward to seeing more in 2020.

So what will I be writing about this year? Probably exactly the same as before. There is no plan. I’m sure I’ll revisit my favourite places and may write about those again if there’s something new to add. I’m also sure I’ll seek out new places to explore which I’ll share here. I’ll probably focus more on places closer to home, though there will be one or two trips further afield too. One thing I can guarantee is that there will be more posts from the coasts and hopefully more stunning views like these.

Thank you for reading and all the best! Amanda

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Conishead Priory and Manjushri Kadampa Buddhist Temple

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About once a year I travel to the pretty Cumbrian town of Ulverston and from there make the short journey to the small coastal village of Bardsea to visit one of the most distinctive properties in the north of England, Conishead Priory.

In the 12th century a community of Augustinian monks established a church and hospital on the site which grew in size, importance and wealth, was promoted to the status of priory and later received a royal charter from King Edward II. The Priory ministered to the poor of the surrounding areas, spiritually and medicinally, and didn’t do badly in return through tithe payments and hopeful pilgrims seeking blessings and cures through the medium of the in-house relic, a piece of the girdle of the Virgin Mary, no less.

All that came to an end in 1537 when the Priory, and all others like it, was demolished during England’s Protestant Reformation. The estate passed through several owners until it came into the possession of the Braddyll family in the 1600s, remaining the family seat for almost 200 years. The last of that line to own the Priory was Colonel Thomas Braddyll who inherited the estate in 1818. He found it in a state of disrepair and decided to rebuild from scratch, engaging the services of architect Phillip Wyatt at a cost of £140,000 and taking 15 years to construct. Master craftsmen from all over the world were brought in to contribute to a grand design resembling a fortified house with an ecclesiastical structure.

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Financial losses in the Durham coal mines bankrupted Thomas Braddyll and in 1848 he had to sell the estate. After changing hands several times, Conishead was bought in 1878 by a Scottish syndicate and was turned into a luxury hydropathic hotel and health farm offering salt baths, lawn tennis and pleasure boating amongst other benefits for those who could afford it. A branch line from Ulverston Station even ran directly to the site which, sadly for me, was long ago dismantled.

The Priory continued as a place of rest and recuperation from 1928 until 1972 when it was run as a convalescent home for Durham coal miners, interrupted during the years of World War II when it was temporarily the largest military hospital in the north west of England.

When the miners’ tenure came to an end, the site sat empty for four years and fell into a shocking state of decay until it was bought in 1976 by the Kadampa Buddhist Community which, over many years, worked continuously, initially to repair the extensive rot and then to transform Conishead into an international college of Buddhist learning and meditation.

Conishead is, with no exaggeration, a fantastic place to visit because it has so much to offer. Primarily a Buddhist centre of learning, it attracts tens of thousands of Buddhists every year, especially to its festivals and retreats. Generously, it has extended its welcome to all, and the beautiful grounds are open, free of charge, to those of us who just enjoy this gorgeous place.


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The reception area gives a short multi-media history of the Priory and is the starting point of a tour – very reasonably priced at £3 – which takes place once daily at weekends and bank holidays, excluding religious festivals when the estate is closed to day visitors. Every time I have visited since the first time in 2015 I have planned to join the tour, but have never ended up doing so. Once I start roaming around the grounds I lose track of time and just want to carry on in solitary happiness, taking pleasure in the tranquility. I hope you enjoy, through my photos, my own solo tour which I’m sharing with you.

From the car park, an archway leads to what would have been the courtyard and stables. Cottages which would formerly have housed staff or been stables are now the homes of Buddhist community residents. A friendly cat greeted me as I approached.

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Continuing through the cottage courtyard and through another archway leads to a wide lawn area bordered by plants and shrubs. Community members also live in parts of the main house and some clearly love gardening.


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A tunnel of evergreens leads to a small wild garden. I love to sit in the corner surrounded by the fragrant herbs. Everything here is left to do its own thing and signs of autumn are all around in the form of ripening fruit and flowers gone to seed. In one of the pictures you’ll see a clue to our next stop on our tour.

 

Another lawn leads us to the spectacular temple. The lawn is surrounded by stone seating where visitors can sit and relax. It’s usually quiet here.

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The temple is relatively simple in design compared with others I’ve visited. Let’s look inside. We have to take off our shoes.

 

 

Everybody is welcomed warmly and free to sit quietly, look around, take photos or meditate as they like. Visitors can ask questions as there are always community members supervising, but happily they are not evangelical, and leave visitors to appreciate the space in their own way.

Back outside, we’ll walk across the outer lawn and into the private woodland.


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I deviate from the wide main path and come across a sad but lovely little clearing I’ve not seen before; a little resting place for furry friends passed away.

 

 

I stay for a few minutes thinking about life and love and how precious time is before moving on through the trees to enjoy the time I have right now on this warm sunny day. Glorious bright sunshine greets me as I exit the trees and walk out onto the Priory’s private beach, again generously available to all visitors and their dogs. The stunning fells of the Lake District are a splendid background. In the second picture below you can see the viaduct across the bay at Arnside.

Looking out to the right towards Heysham.

I sit for half an hour doing absolutely nothing before retracing my steps through the wood. Emerging outside the conservatory cafe, I head inside for a cold drink.

It’s time to leave. I promise myself that I won’t leave it so long in future.

Heysham- a village in bloom

Like a lot of people, I would love to live by the sea. Fortunately, I do live within easy distance of the coast and my favourite north-west seaside destinations, where I can appreciate the stunning views, peaceful shores, and where I can envy those who do actually reside there.

One such place is the village of Heysham in Lancashire, just a few miles outside the historic city of Lancaster and a pleasant walk down the coastal path from better-known Morecambe. Not all of Heysham is gorgeous – it is also the site of a huge power station – but its grassy cliff tops, rock pools and quiet promenade are, for me, unrivalled in the region.

The addition of the ancient ruins of St Patrick’s Chapel with its mysterious Viking barrow graves, plus the Anglo-Saxon Church of St Peter on the cliff edge, put Heysham at the top of my fantasy seaside homes list. My posts about St Patrick’s Chapel and St Peter’s Church tell more: St Patrick’s Chapel and barrow graves St Peter’s Church

Heysham is also a village in bloom, where private residents and the small community as a whole seem to be on the same green page. Many of the houses are hundreds of years old.

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The house below was formerly St Peter’s rectory but is now a private home.
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A sign outside this cottage invites passers-by to help themselves to windfall apples
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The houses below are both 17th century, like many other properties close by

On Main Street is a quirky community display with an abundance of flowers and peculiar objects which, no doubt, are significant to the village.

Recessed in a wall close by is St Patrick’s Well, named after the ancient chapel whose ruins stand on the cliff just a five minute walk away. Originally a Holy Well, it was later used by the rectory for utilitarian purposes but became contaminated and was filled with rubble in the early 1800s. Some restoration work took place about a hundred years later but it was further restored in 2002 and turned into a feature. The water is now pumped through artificially.
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The Glebe Garden is accessed from the grave yard and is a lovely example of community effort.

A path winds around the lush space where benches, each one dedicated to the memory of somebody who loved spending time here, have been placed for quiet contemplation and pleasure. Perhaps the old man modelled as peering through the shrubbery once did so in life.


There are also modern properties in the village, some of them luxurious; most of them charming. An annual Viking festival is held in July, and it looks like one Norseman just doesn’t want the party to end.

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A potential problem for those lucky enough to live in the village is being spoilt for choice between the cafes, a tea room and the pub, all of which offer delicious fresh food. It’s a problem I wouldn’t mind having though …. 🙂

St Peter’s Church, Heysham: a melting pot on a cliff edge

Yesterday’s visit to Heysham took me to the ancient ruin of St Patrick’s Chapel and the mysterious stone barrow graves at the edge of the cliff.

A short walk from the chapel ruin is the Church of Saint Peter, which also has its roots in the Anglo-Saxon period. Grade 1 listed, the building still retains some of the original fabric but has been developed over more than a thousand years, the final additions being made in the 19th century. In the main, the Church is medieval.

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The first thing that strikes me when I enter the church yard is its picturesque back drop – quite literally, it’s perched at the edge of the cliff where rolling waves flood the rock pools directly below.

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It’s hit and miss as to whether the church is open, perhaps depending on whether somebody from the parish is available to supervise. Yesterday I was lucky.

The interior is small and dark; typical of its era, with that slightly musty smell of age, wax and polish that I really quite like. Behind the altar is a memorial stone inscribed to the memory of one William Ward, vicar of the church, who departed life in 1670. The engraving style is common amongst 17th century tombstones, where words at the ends of rows are split and there are no spaces between. The window in the photo was installed in the 1300s.

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The most interesting exhibit in the Church is the hog back Viking tomb which dates back to the 10th century, around the same time the barrow graves were dug out on the cliff above. There are other hog back stones in Scotland and elsewhere in the north of England, but the St Peter’s example is considered to be in the best condition.

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The stone was brought inside the Church in 1960s to save it from further decay. Engravings on both sides have been interpreted as tales from Viking mythology; a Christian trefoil is also depicted. The melding of Pagan and Christian narratives was not unusual.

Another interesting feature is a decorated medieval sepulchral slab which would have covered a tomb.

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Back outside, I took a turn around the graveyard to learn more about the people of this idyllic place. The lower section of an Anglo Saxon cross is somewhere in the grounds but I didn’t come across it.

The medieval stone coffin next to the path was originally under the window of the south chancel inside the Church. It contained a body, presumed to be a former rector because of the fragment of a chalice found in his hands. The body was reinterred inside.

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The post of a Saxon sun dial (the face is lost) is also grade 1 listed.

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Morecambe Bay is a stunning but particularly hazardous stretch of the north-west coast line, where fast incoming tides can rush in from all sides and catch people unaware. Some readers will recall the tragedy of the Chinese cockle-pickers who were drowned in 2004. Two years later a helicopter crash in the Bay claimed seven lives; the names of the pilot and six gas rig workers who died are commemorated on a memorial stone at St Peter’s.

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Within the railings is the grave of sisters, Agnes Wright, 18, and Mabel, 14, who drowned together in June 1895 whilst bathing near the rocks within sight of their own home on the cliff, more victims of treacherous tidal currents.

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I noticed, as in all grave yards, a few surnames recurring over the decades or even centuries, a sign of roots and continuity. I also, inevitably, noticed a few sad stories like little Stewart’s, a boy clearly popular with his school friends.

And one or two enigmas such as the young and apparently unique James McAvoy.

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My lasting impression of this village is that people and communities come and go but for all of them this has been home for a time. Some arrived from across the seas and made lives here, bringing custom and culture; becoming part of the the land and its story. Maybe they stayed; perhaps they returned to the Nordic lands or across the Irish Sea. Other folks can trace their roots here back through the centuries to Domesday. Archaeologists have discovered evidence of life at Heysham going back 10,000 years or more. It’s wonderful to be able to see the legacy of this cultural melting-pot everywhere you look.

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St Patrick’s Chapel and Heysham Barrow Graves

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Today was the first day in a while when there hasn’t been a downpour. With the forecast looking good I decided to take full advantage and head to one of my favourite places. Heysham is a coastal area just outside Lancaster, probably better known for its port and power station than for its sea views. You will not be surprised to know that neither of those facilities was the reason for my visit. A little way along the coast from the docks and the sites of industry is one of the most picturesque spots in the north west of England, and it is amazing how many people know nothing about it.

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Overlooking Morecambe Bay, Heysham’s sea cliffs are a beautiful place to sit and look down to the rock pools below or to walk the many coastal paths, appreciating the bracken, grasses and heather.

It’s no wonder that such a place as this evokes a strong sense of spirituality and a connectivity to the forces of nature. Others before us were moved to make it a place of prayer and contemplation. There is evidence that the newly Christianised Anglo-Saxons first built a small wooden chapel on the cliff head in the 5th century. That older chapel was replaced in the 9th or 10th century by the structure whose remains still stand today.

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The chapel is dedicated to Saint Patrick who was instrumental in spreading the new religion. Although associated with Ireland where he was adopted as patron saint, Patrick was an English man, hailing from the Ravenglass area of Cumbria. Aged 16, he is believed to have been kidnapped by pirates and taken to Ireland where he was held as a slave for about seven years. The story goes that Patrick had a dream in which a ship was waiting to take him home, and this spurred him on to make his escape from captivity. He boarded a ship bound for France but strong winds blew it off course to Heysham where Saint Patrick landed.

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A cemetery existed around the chapel where about 80 members of the community were interred. More interesting are the 10th century barrow graves, hewn from the rock close to the cliff edge. It isn’t known who occupied the graves, but probably figures of importance. Due to their size it is speculated that they may have held bones only. Herein, it is believed, is the reason for the building of the new and larger chapel around the same time: to provide a place for visitors to the barrow graves to pray for the souls of the dead. They now enjoy Grade 1 listed status.

I love coming here. Not only is it a lovely place to be near the sea away from the crowds, but also to appreciate those others who have left their marks on the land.

Southport beach

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I’m officially on leave for five glorious weeks. Even if the sun doesn’t shine every day it’s still glorious having more time to relax and recharge the old batteries and having weekdays at my disposal to do as I please. Monday was scorching hot; too hot to do anything except laze around in my garden for most of the day – so that’s exactly what I did.

Yesterday was another very hot day and I decided to brave the sticky discomfort of travelling on a hot and potentially crowded train to Southport, the nearest seaside resort to my home, 35 minutes away on the west Lancashire coast. I wasn’t going for a paddle – though the idea was tempting on such a sweltering day – but because I wanted to buy some curtains from a well-known retailer which happens to have a store on the sea-front retail park. I dislike shopping and tend to do it online when I can, but at least this was for something specific (quick in and out) and the beach was a bonus. The train wasn’t too bad as the schools around here don’t break up until tomorrow or Friday – next week will be a different story.

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The sea was in when I arrived. To me, nothing is as soothing as the gentle rhythmic rolling of waves, and I can happily sit for a couple of hours, just listening. I think I was about 40 when I first saw high tide at Southport beach; all through my childhood that sight had evaded me and, like many people, I had come to believe that the water never advanced any further forward than a point about half a mile out. As kids, we always had to walk for 20 minutes just to get our toes wet.

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Southport is a different place now to the exciting resort that I remember from my childhood. But that can be said of everywhere, and change isn’t always a bad thing. British coastal waters are certainly much cleaner now, for sure. I don’t think people worried too much about that back in the day, or possibly were not even aware. I don’t ever remember being told in the 1970s that I shouldn’t go into the Irish sea, though in the 1990s I was certainly saying that as a mum myself. Fortunately, legislation and Health & Safety initiatives have improved seas for recreation, if not yet sufficiently for marine animals, sadly and shamefully.

In the 1970s Suthport was buzzing. It had a big funfair with the usual thrilling rides, candy floss kiosks and all the rest. There’s still a fair now though a much scaled-down version. Though Southport is known as a retirement town, the young families still arrive and appear to enjoy its charms. I was happy to see buckets and spades still seem as popular as ever with the little ones.

It’s amazing how quickly the tide turns, both incoming and outgoing. The seaweed-strewn sand was revealing more and more of itself as I sat and reminisced. Reluctantly, I dragged myself up and across the coast road to get some lunch and search for curtains. In the end I found that the ones I’d liked online were a pale imitation in reality; a bit like memories and the present day. I didn’t feel that I’d wasted my time though

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Crossing the road back to the beach I saw that during the hour-and-a-half or so that I’d been gone, the sea had also gone, leaving pools and rivulets and sand sculptures fashioned by the waves.

Closer to the sea wall, the grasses gently moved in the delicious breeze. I could have been somewhere far away, tantalisingly exotic…. as long as I didn’t look behind and back across that road 🙂

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Low Tide

When a friend suggested an evening drive to the beach at Formby point, I gladly accepted. Accessed by way of a lonely road through woodland, the sand dunes at Formby would not ordinarily be somewhere I could visit by my usual means of public transport as night time loomed.

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We exchanged  greetings with dog walkers and joggers. An older couple helped a small child look for shells whilst sea birds trotted across the damp sand, investigating the shallow pools left behind by the outbound tide.

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Staying  close to the shore, we made a seat out of stone steps at the foot of the lifeboat station and looked out to sea.

Dusk was descending. The sky shifted through a muted palette of greys, mauve and smoky amber as the sun’s lamp was slowly dimmed.

The camera’s zoom lens revealed the hazy shapes of distant pedestrians, on four legs and two, traversing the expanse of the beach, out to the water’s edge and back again.

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Buoys bobbed in the shallow water, guiding to safe passage marine vessels bound for the port of Liverpool, or sailing into the night towards Dublin. Towering wind turbines stood still, imposing but strangely graceful.

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The silver ribbon of sea, its mirror-surface bouncing back the last of the light, marked the end of the road where the silhouette of a solitary vehicle was stopped at the water’s edge.

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