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.

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.

A local walk

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.

Westwood Flash

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.

Nostalgia, rediscovered

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Today, I had arranged to visit an elderly member of my family who lives in one of the more rural parts of town so I decided to combine the visit with a short walk in her locality, an area I know well – or thought I did.

Early lock- down restrictions led to a lot of people exploring their local areas and finding walks and green spaces that had hitherto been unknown to them, or which would previously have been eschewed in favour of more exciting destinations. Unfortunately, options close to my own home are very few so I haven’t been out and about for quite some time. Travelling still has its complications and limitations, especially for users of public transport. Before the pandemic, it wouldn’t have crossed my mind to set off on today’s walk, but an unexpected feeling of nostalgia and a desire to be near to water enticed me quite literally down memory lane.

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My walk started at Hey Brook where it runs under the main road at the boundary of the villages of Abram and Bickershaw. Back in the 19th and early 20th centuries this was coal mining country, an area of heavy industry, but the pits are long gone, leaving behind what I remember as a wasteland where once had stood giant winding gear, mountains of coal and railway tracks. The sign for a caravan site points not in the direction of a place for holiday-making, but to a notorious travellers’ camp. The road is the start of a short nature trail to Low Hall Park, about a mile and a half away, and not my destination today.

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Not many people head that way because of the travelling community’s very aggressive dogs, which roam freely around the site and onto the public footpath. A couple of terrifying childhood encounters on that path, including an incident where a cousin’s clothes were torn by one really vicious hound, left me frightened of dogs for many years. Needless to say, it’s not the fault of the animals, and I love dogs now.

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Somewhere along the path is a memorial plaque which marks approximately the place where on 30th April 1945 an entire train – locomotive engine and 13 wagons – disappeared into the New Zealand shaft of Low Hall Colliery. Without warning, a huge chasm opened up where the shaft had been filled in in 1932. The body of the driver, 67 year old Ludovic Berry, was never recovered and remains 150 ft below ground with his beloved  train, Dolly, which he had driven for 35 years. I would have liked to seek out the plaque but I confess I’m not courageous enough to risk another encounter with a travelling dog.

Back across the road and through the kissing gate I was on another path which I hadn’t been along for 35 years or more. Behind me, a section of Hey Brook emerged as a trickle beneath the bridge where a large amount of litter had accumulated, and then twisted to the south on its course towards Pennington Flash in nearby Leigh.

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My surroundings, lush and green, a plantation of young oak and beech trees and wild vegetation, were nothing like the barren landscape I had walked over with friends and cousins in the 1970s and early ’80s. Known as the ‘rucks’, a local word for the site of a demolished colliery, it stretched out for miles, still littered with bits of mining detritus and the masonry of smashed-up outbuildings. We used to walk that way to get to a small flash – another word from the lexicon of coal mining – a lake created where water had filled an area of mining subsidence. That’s where I was headed.

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I hoped I would still be able to find my way there and that the path had not been rerouted.

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The transformation from industrial desert to botanical haven was truly wonderful.

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Pollinators’ paradise

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Tracks led off in other directions but I had the main path to myself, and it felt a little surreal to be in a place both familiar and unfamiliar.

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I felt like I could have been in an art- house film; no sound except bird song and the camera lens focused on flora and fauna.

There were no trees when I was last here, but now there is a woodland in the making.

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The path ended in another place that I knew, yet didn’t know. Last time I was here it was open and bare, but instinctively I knew the way.

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Polly’s Pond to me, or Kingsdown Flash to give it its proper name, came into view. I remember a friend’s grandma telling me that when she was young it used to be known as Auntie Polly’s. Nobody knew why, or who the mysterious ancient aunt was.

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The sky was mostly grey but emerging patches of blue were reflected in the water. Families of ducks swam in formation, approaching fishermen and walkers, clearly used to being offered food.

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Back in the day, kids used to launch dinghies and kayaks onto the pond. Staying at the water’s shallow edge, I remember wading in up to my knees and examining tadpoles and frog spawn and trying to avoid leeches, not always with success. Algae on the surface was known as Nanny Green Teeth, the malicious old water spirit who would suck children under if they got out of their depth and gave her the chance. Today, this seems to be the domain of anglers –  and their very patient dogs.

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I took a stroll on the gravel path. Trees screened the flash from view for the most part, and many openings were occupied by fishermen. Not all though.

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I retraced my steps along the green path, encountering a group of beautiful horses along the way, they and their riders more than happy to pose for the camera.

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This short and very humble walk gave me immense enjoyment, not only because it was an opportunity to be out in nature again, but because it was a lovely example of environmental improvement and enrichment at a time when so much green space is being lost to development. Here, the trend is very much reversed. I have rediscovered a place from my past as a new place that will be part of my future.

Whalley Abbey,dissolved but not forgotten

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This is the second week of my Easter break from work, and in these strange times all that means is that I’m just not looking at anything work-related for a fortnight. On Monday morning I’ll take up my position at my home desk and work on whatever can be worked on within the limitations imposed by distance and technology. At the onset of lockdown I thought working from home would be easier than the reality has proved, hence my present ‘hard line’ on taking this two weeks’ leave. Still, I’m immensely grateful and relieved that I’m able to continue working and have security and peace of mind where so many others now face uncertainty.

Being blessed with excellent weather, I’ve spent much of my time contentedly pottering outside: sowing, re-potting, pruning and repairing. I’ve also been able to finish a couple of books, both sidelined some weeks or months ago, and am now, after a slow start, just over a hundred pages into Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. This final part of the trilogy which charts the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell has been a long time coming, and I know that I have not been alone in wondering, impatiently, what was taking Hilary so long. I read somewhere that she was finding it hard to write the end; to finally put Cromwell’s head upon the block. Hilary Mantel is a perfectionist, which is the real reason for the gap between Bring up the Bodies and this finale. Having been awarded Booker prizes for instalments one and two, the pressure to maintain that standard a third time must have been immense.

Thomas Cromwell was a key figure in driving King Henry VIII’s programme of dissolution of the monasteries as part of the English Reformation. Henry’s main interest was in the considerable revenue which, confiscated from the wealthiest monastic establishments, could boost his kingly coffers. For Cromwell, apart from wanting to impress his boss, the king, his own agenda was more theological, being strongly in favour of rooting out all things papist.

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All this talk of Tudors and Reformation brought to mind another of my favourite places, Whalley Abbey near Clitheroe. Now owned by the Church of England, only ruins remain of the 14th century Cistercian monastery. More modern (still centuries old) buildings on the site are in use as a spiritual retreat and conference centre. I was first introduced to Whalley about 10 years ago by a friend who was training to be a counsellor and had taken part in a residential course there. She had found great pleasure in strolls among the ancient ruins and along the banks of the river Calder which skirts the grounds. These photographs I took on a summer’s day a few years ago capture the Abbey’s serenity.

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Of course, the Abbey was not always the peaceful location it is today. Established in the late 13th century and a work-in-progress for nearly a century after that, the monastic community had its fair share of controversies and scraps over money with other local religious powerhouses. The founders had relocated to Whalley from their original Abbey at Stanlow on the banks of the river Mersey where a series of unfortunate incidents including flooding, gales and fire damage had led to the decision to move to pastures new. An age of prosperity and calm followed and the Abbey became one of the principal landowners in east Lancashire. Rivalries in the region were fierce where money was concerned, and records dating from the last quarter of the 15th century tell of vicious feuds between the Abbott and the Rector of Slaidburn over tithe payments, with reports of the Rector’s thugs attacking monks.

The church then, as now, enjoyed fantastic wealth, and inevitably some of that was abused as records of lush living and monkish opulence describe. Of course, Abbeys were also places where the sick could receive care and the poor, alms. The rising star that was Cromwell saw an opportunity. In 1535 delegations of ‘visitors’ were sent to the English Abbeys to carry out inventories of their assets and to look for signs of superstitious practices such as promoting belief in the power of so-called relics, a lucrative business in its time. Examples of some of these finds were widely publicised by Cromwell to provide further justification for the dissolution. The Visitors’ report on Whalley was not especially damning, with only one monk apparently conducting himself lewdly, but the Abbott, John Paslew, was accused of selling off some of the church’s gold. Sanctions were placed on the community and records show that Cromwell himself was required to make judgement when the Abbey appealed. He relaxed the sanctions. Nice.

The following year, 1536, saw Abbott Paslew and many of the monks participate in the Pilgrimage of Grace, a Catholic rebellion. Paslew was executed for treason. The year after that the Abbey was dissolved. Centuries of private ownership followed before it was bought by the Church of England in 1923. It is a grade 1 listed scheduled ancient monument. To me, it’s just a really lovely place to spend some quiet time.

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I hope to go back to Whalley once some sort of normal life is resumed and spend a few hours just moving slowly around the grounds, bench-hopping, listening to birdsong and blissfully doing nothing much.

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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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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.

The Lune Aquaduct, Lancaster

There are few things more relaxing than sailing on a canal boat on a fine day. With average speeds not exceeding 4 miles per hour on English canals, slowing right down – in every sense – is almost mandatory. I’ve enjoyed a lot of boat trips over the years with sightseeing from the water often being on my itinerary when visiting new towns and cities. Today’s little journey took me along a short stretch of the Lancaster Canal in my home county of Lancashire.

We boarded the generously proportioned Kingfisher at the Water Witch Pub which is just a short walk from the centre of Lancaster. Kingfisher Cruises operates a range of excursions throughout the year and more frequently during the summer season. We had opted for a short sail which would take us just a couple of miles outside the city but taking in a very significant landmark.

The heavens opened as we boarded, making it necessary to stay under cover for the first part part of the journey. I was lucky to have a seat near to the front of the boat and was quickly outside as soon as the rain stopped.

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The boat meandered serenely through the tranquil water, lush green banks on both sides.


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Our destination came into view: the Lune Aquaduct.

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Completed in 1797 to take the Lancaster Canal over the river Lune, the Aquaduct has grade 1 listed status. It is over 200 metres long and spans the river 16 metres below. Built from sandstone, five arches support the water trough. Designed and constructed by John Rennie and Alexander Stevens respectively, the structure cost nearly £50,000 – more than twice the estimated budget.

The sun was shining as we approached the Aquaduct, so the skipper decided it was safe for us to disembark to better enjoy the scenery.

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A group of children was getting ready to enjoy a kayaking session, their bright multi-coloured vessels like an art installation against the sandstone.

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It would have been nice to spend more time on the Aquaduct but it wasn’t possible to moor there for more than 10 minutes, and another trip was to follow after ours. It was time to turn the boat around and sail back.

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