Manchester street art – May 2022

My original intention on Sunday was to head to the coast but a look at the webcam for where I wanted to go showed dull skies with lots of grey cloud so I decided to go to Manchester instead even though it’s only a little over a month since I was last there. Now the first train from my nearest station to Manchester Victoria is usually so empty on Sunday mornings that I can almost pick my own carriage but this time it was heaving and I only just managed to get a seat. Speaking to the woman sitting next to me it transpired that the Great Manchester Run was taking place and the city centre would be awash with thousands of runners and spectators, although I didn’t think they would be frequenting the side streets and back alleys I would be wandering round.
Sunday was also the 5th anniversary of the arena bombing when 22 people tragically lost their lives after an Ariana Grande concert and the usual corner of the station concourse contained recently placed photos, poems, cuddly toys and flowers, while festooned along the nearby railings were hundreds of hand crafted hearts made by people from all over the UK and as far afield as New York and Australia as gifts for anyone who wanted to take one or two.
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The #AHEART4MCR group/campaign was set up in the days following the terrorist attack on the Manchester Arena on May 22nd 2017. Crafters from all over the globe came together to show their love and support for the city by making handmade hearts, with the group receiving a total of 26,435 which were then distributed throughout the city, handed to members of the public and sent on to the victims’ families. The campaign is run every year and strings of hearts are distributed in various places around the city centre on May 22nd. Each heart has a small ticket attached with the name of the person who made it and where it came from – of the two I selected the dark blue one came from Mary Jane Lennox in Hamilton, Scotland and the light blue one came from Vanessa in Stockport.
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Now although I don’t normally photograph advertisements the first mural I found was so colourful I just had to include it in this collection. Round the corner from this one was a huge mural of Marcus Rashford, whoever he is, advertising something on a double gable end wall; now I don’t know what the guy himself looks like but this mural was seriously ugly so it was one I definitely didn’t photograph.
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Not exactly street art, it was a window poster but I liked the picture
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Round in Thomas Street the wooden hoardings surrounding a derelict plot of land had been given a makeover with a very colourful mural which stretched almost the full length of them and really brightened up that part of the street.
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Unsurprisingly, as it was only just over a month since my last walk round the NQ, I didn’t find much new stuff but wandering round had occupied my time for a while and with no wish to go anywhere in the city where I might encounter hoards of people I made my way back to Victoria station and got the next train home, arriving back just over three hours after I set out.

Bazil Point and Sunderland village

Some lovely weekend weather just recently gave me the opportunity to head off to the village of Overton on the Lune estuary for a walk round Bazil Point, a place I hadn’t previously been to. Turning off the main road leading to Heysham port I took a minor road running alongside the river and I hadn’t gone very far when I spotted a dead cat at the side of the road. Now I hate to see road kill of any sort, especially someone’s pet, but with no houses in the vicinity there was no clue where the cat could have come from, anyway I wasn’t going to leave it there to possibly get squashed so I stopped the van and went back to deal with it, picking it up and laying it gently in the long grass under a nearby tree.
A mile or so along the road I passed half a dozen ponies grazing by the riverside then came to a small and very pleasant looking residential static caravan park and the Golden Ball Hotel, also known as Snatchems. Closed two years ago at the start of the pandemic, surrounded by steel barriers and overgrown gardens, the place looked a bit of a mess but chatting to a lady from the caravan park who was walking her dog I was told that it’s due to re-open in a couple of months time.
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A pleasant 3-mile drive round the country lanes took me to Overton where I parked not far from what would be the end of my route round Bazil Point then walked through the village to my starting point near to St. Helen’s Church. Across the street from the church and just by a garden gate was a stall with a few plants and various hand crafted items on display along with a price list and honesty box, though as the street was a bit ‘out of the way’ I did wonder if whoever lived there actually ever sold anything. Also on top of a nearby gate post was a rather strange looking dragon/goblin/hobbit thing which seemed to be either sucking its thumb or trying to decide what to do next.
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A gravel lane led from the street corner and past a handful of bungalows to a farm track across a vast field and at the far end I came to the first gate of the walk, with a narrow path leading between high hedgerows to a second gate and a bench overlooking the estuary and Glasson Dock across the far side. I don’t know who Butler was but there was certainly a good view from his bench and it was from there that I spotted a heron out on a sandbank.
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A bit further on I came to a small stone-built shed tucked into the surrounding trees; a bit of an odd place for a garden shed but maybe it was used to store kayaks or something similar. Just past the shed was the washed up remains of a huge tree stump, though looking at the calm waters of the estuary with the tide already receding it was hard to imagine the water coming up so close to the boundary wall and tree line, but it obviously does as not far away huge boulders were piled up against the land to prevent tidal erosion.

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Round the end of the point the stony/rocky ground gave way to grass and there was a good view across the mouth of a nearby creek and the marshes to Heysham power station in the distance. Eventually the path turned slightly inland and took me through the last named gate onto a raised bank with a view across the fields to the outskirts of Overton village.
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Curving round above the marshes the path brought me to a stile which, with two dogs, proved to be a difficult one to negotiate. Poppie wanted to go under it while Snowy was trying to climb up and through the middle of it, and I’ve long since come to the conclusion that the people who build these things don’t consider those with shorter legs. We got there eventually though and the path dropped back down to the edge of the marsh where, in the rough scrub just in front of me I saw a peacock butterfly which stayed still just long enough for me to snap a quick photo.
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From there the path followed the edge of the marsh for quite a distance, gradually widening out and ending in a small parking area set back near the beginning of the tidal road to Sunderland Point and village. Not far away was the larger parking area where I’d left the van and a nearby sign gave a clear pictorial warning to anyone not aware of the tide times but the water had been receding for a while and I’d already noticed a couple of cars crossing the causeway so I knew it would be safe for me to drive over to the village.
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Not far along the road I was happy to see that the next warning sign was completely free of water although some sections of the narrow causeway were very muddy, and with not many passing places I was just hoping I wouldn’t meet something coming the other way. I reached the far end with no problems though and found another warning sign which was a variation of the first one. I couldn’t remember having seen either of them before and talking to one of the locals it seems that they had been installed since my previous visit in an effort to reduce the number of people needing to be rescued after getting themselves and/or their vehicles stranded by the tide.
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Walking along First Terrace something white out in the estuary caught my eye and when I zoomed in with the camera I saw it was an egret stalking along through the shallows, presumably looking for his lunch. At the end of the terrace I turned up The Lane and followed the fragrant scent of the hawthorn hedges along the path to Sambo’s grave then retraced my steps for a walk along Second Terrace to Sunderland Hall at the end before making my way back along the beach to the van. 
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By this time I was feeling more than a little peckish and as there’s no shop in the village or in Overton I drove the three miles round the country lanes to Middleton Sands where I parked up on the edge of the salt marsh and got myself a sandwich, chocolate bar and can of Coke from the shop in the nearby caravan site. This was the coastal side of the Sunderland peninsula with the village itself just over a mile away along the marsh; out at the water’s edge and quite a distance away a family of four were playing with a dog and the sun shining from that direction made them look like silhouettes against the background of a silvery sea.
After all my walking it was nice just to sit in the van with my ‘picnic’ and chill for a while, in fact I stayed far longer than I intended but eventually it was time to head for home. Driving back round the country lanes I made another brief stop near the Golden Ball Hotel and my final two shots were of the river with a much reduced water level than when I was there earlier in the day.
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The walk round Bazil Point at Overton had shown me some scenery and views which I hadn’t previously seen and it’s a walk I may very well do again sometime. It had been nice to revisit Sunderland village too and the pleasant drive home in the late afternoon sunshine just ended the day nicely.

Well THAT resolve didn’t last long…

Back in March, when I wrote about my meerkat collection which had expanded quite suddenly, thanks mainly to several of them gifted to me by Eileen and her hubby, I said I wasn’t going to get any more although if I could find Ayana as Belle from “Beauty and the Beast” at a reasonable price I might be persuaded to add just one more to the family.
Well I did find Ayana as Belle not long afterwards and she joined the meerkat family on April 2nd. That really was supposed to be the last one but last week, looking at them all lined up on top of the long wall unit in the living room, I thought that as I had Elsa from Frozen and Belle from Beauty and the Beast I really should get their ‘other halves’. A search of ebay came up trumps and Oleg as the Beast arrived on Thursday with Oleg as Olaf from Frozen arriving yesterday plus a very cute extra one, Oleg as BB-8 from Star Wars. All of them are new, obviously from good homes, and they all have their certificates
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Oleg as Beast
Oleg as BB-8
Oleg as Olaf
Elsa and Olaf
Belle and Beast
The official full collection is a total of 19 meerkats and I now have fourteen of them. Are these my final ones or will there be more? The jury’s out on that one, although I do rather like the look of Sergei as Star Wars’ Obi-Wan Kenobi…

Easter in North Wales – The final day

A gloriously sunny morning greeted me on the final day of my break and with the other handful of campers having left the previous day and no-one occupying the white campervan parked near the entrance I’d had the site all to myself since getting back from the zoo the day before. Eventually though it was time for me to leave too and as living and sleeping in the van meant that things had been kept to a minimum it didn’t take long to pack up and get on the road.
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First was a stop at Asda where I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Less than a hundred yards away was the beach and a long promenade/cycleway which I hadn’t been along before so leaving the van in Asda’s car park I set out to see what I could find. At the far side of a pay-and-display car park four kiosks were set back off the promenade and on the back walls of two of them were a couple of bright and colourful artworks.
On the beach four anglers were fishing near the water’s edge and further along at Horton’s Nose nature reserve I came across a couple of washed up tree stumps – the second one was huge and its shape and position reminded me of the bow of a ship. Across the harbour bridge and two main roads I came to Marine Lake, another place I’d not yet managed to get to, so the next part of the day was the one mile circuit all the way round it. 
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Opened on May 24th 1895, the day of Queen Victoria’s 76th birthday, and built on land adjacent to the River Clwyd estuary Marine Lake is North Wales’ only saltwater lake. The land had previously been known locally as the ‘mud hole’ as it would be flooded by the river at high tide then turn into a muddy bog when the tide receded. The local council bought the land for £1,050 from the Commissioners of Woods and Forests and the design and construction of the lake, the island, and its surrounding grounds cost a further £10,200. Designed by Baldwin Latham and constructed by contractor George Law of Kidderminster the whole lot was completed in less than six months.
On the day of the lake’s official opening the culvert close to the nearby railway bridge was opened in the morning to start the flow of water into the lake then in the evening the culvert near the road bridge was also opened. A regatta, aquatic fete and gala were held on July 6th and described in the local press as one of the most successful days in the town’s history. At 4ft deep and covering an area of 40 acres the lake became home to Rhyl Swimming Club in 1896 and was also used for sailing, rowing and yachting.
In 1908 a showman set up a high water chute in an enclosed part of the lake and this was supplemented by various fairgound attractions including a roller coaster. In 1910 The Rhyl Amusement Company took over Marine Lake, with the company’s main owners being the Butler family whose steel foundry in Leeds had supplied the water chute. In June 1914 Alfred John Nightingale, a visitor from Bala, was killed in an accident on the water chute – the mechanism which raised the boats malfunctioned and 27-year old Alfred fell to his death.
The miniature railway around the lake opened on May 1st 1911 and was acquired by Rhyl Amusements in 1912; the original steam engine was a ‘Little Giant’ built at the Bassett-Lowke works in Northampton but during the 1920s engineer Albert Barnes, the amusement park’s manager, built a series of new bigger locomotives for the railway at the Albion Works in Rhyl.
During the 1930s Rhyl became a popular destination for holidaymakers from all over the North West, especially during the summer factory closure weeks. Families would arrive by train to stay at the holiday camps along the coast and visit the Marine Lake attractions, with the area enjoying annual visitor numbers on a scale which is difficult to imagine now.
The fairground left the Marine Lake site in 1969 when Rhyl Amusements decided to concentrate on their larger Ocean Beach site nearby, which also led to the closure of the miniature railway and the removal of the track. Ownership of Marine Lake reverted to Rhyl Urban District Council who did introduce some amusements of their own including boat rides and a huge childrens’ slide. In 1978 the railway track was re-laid and the railway runs to this day; owned and operated by a charitable trust and still using the locomotives and stock from 100 years ago it’s now Britain’s oldest such railway.
In 1998 the land around Marine Lake was changed drastically by a huge construction scheme which included burying a storm water tank underneath the car park area as part of the local flood defences. A new railway building, Central Station, was opened in 2007 and the nearby Ocean Beach funfair closed that same year. Plans to build a retail, leisure and housing complex on the site, with construction due to start in May 2009, were delayed and ultimately scrapped, leading to the site becoming a derelict eyesore, then in 2015 plans for a smaller retail-only park called Marina Quay were approved. Stores began to open there in stages from 2017 and now include an Aldi, Farm Foods and The Range while the lake itself continues to host activities for local groups and visitors, including water skiing, wake-boarding and non-powered sailing.
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With my circuit of the lake completed I crossed back over the road and the harbour bridge and with a few more snaps taken I retraced my steps along the promenade and back to the Asda car park, then it was only a few minutes drive from there to Eileen’s for my second visit before I set off for home.
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It was another enjoyable couple of hours spent in the company of Eileen, her hubby and Tilly and though I could quite happily have stayed chatting all day if they let me I did have to get home and go to work. The sunshine stayed with me all the way back and with no delays on the motorways I was home in good time. It had been a great long weekend and needless to say I’ve already been planning my next North Wales break, which hopefully won’t be too far away.

Easter in North Wales – Day 4

My plans for the penultimate day of my break depended on sunshine and blue sky, neither of which were evident that morning. It looked okay over towards the coast but my intended destination was several miles inland and white sky with grey cloud wouldn’t be a good look on my photos. There was no real improvement by lunch time so after a trip to Asda to get some supplies I took myself off to the Welsh Mountain Zoo in the hills above Colwyn Bay; if I was photographing animals it didn’t really matter what the sky looked like.
In 1897 a Manchester surgeon, Dr. Walter Whitehead, purchased 37 acres of woodland above the new and expanding resort of Colwyn Bay with the intention of retiring there. The layout of the new estate was designed by Thomas Mawson, the renowned Victorian landscape architect, who based the project on idyllic woodland walks, herbaceous borders and formal rose gardens as well as homes for staff. After Dr. Whitehead’s death in 1913, the estate changed hands several times until the site was taken over by the Jackson family in 1962 and formally opened as a zoo the following year.
 A short walk from the zoo car park a large grassed area had been roped off to form an arena and I was just in time to catch the last few minutes of the birds of prey flying display. The barn owl was lovely but the turkey buzzard was one of the ugliest creatures I’ve ever seen though I suppose someone must love it. Next came the penguin parade with the keeper walking round with a bucket of small fish which he continually threw to the Humboldt penguins following him, though the odd one or two wandered off to say hello to various visitors and a couple of them came close to me. A circuit of the arena and they went back into their enclosure then it was time for the sea lion display in the pool a few yards away.
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After seeing the sea lions I wandered up, down and along various paths and steps from one exhibit to the next although not in any particular order. Unfortunately I missed quite a few things, including the snow leopard, brown bear and tigers; the zoo covers quite a large area and as I popped back to the van every so often to check that Snowy and Poppie were okay I completely forgot which sections I’d been to and which I hadn’t, also some of the animals themselves seemed to be hiding from view.
Red necked wallaby
European otters
A young fallow deer
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Red faced black spider monkey
Penguin pool
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Tamarin
No idea what this is but it looked cute
Przewalski’s Wild Horse, native to Mongolia
Just three days after my zoo visit there was a new arrival on April 21st, a foal called Khan, the first Przewalski’s Wild Horse to be born at the Welsh Mountain Zoo since 1995, and looking at my photo I rather think that could be his mother, Wendy. The Przewalski’s Wild Horse was completely extinct in the wild by 1966 but following a successful captive breeding programme they have since been reintroduced into their natural habitats among the reserves and national parks of Mongolia, meaning their conservation status has been reclassified from “extinct in the wild” to “endangered”.
Photo courtesy of Welsh Mountain Zoo
Zoo foal
Photo courtesy of Welsh Mountain Zoo
Murals on a picnic shelter wall
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The zoo isn’t just about animals though. The garden areas are made up of an ever-expanding collection of plants and seeds from around the world, some of which are considered rare and endangered and all of which grow well on the hillside site, with a host of other unusual tropical plants growing in the reptile and alligator houses.

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With the blue sky and sunshine having gradually increased while I was in the zoo and the dogs deserving a decent walk I decided to go down to Colwyn Bay’s seafront and walk along the promenade for a while. Being later in the afternoon there weren’t too many people around so it was a very pleasant walk which just rounded off the day nicely.

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On Colwyn Bay pier
If I have one criticism about the zoo it’s the signs pointing to the different exhibits. Presumably in an effort to make it more interesting for children they are made up of small colourful pictures (not photos) of the animals in any particular area but I found some of them hard to distinguish, which is probably another reason why I missed several exhibits. Other than that it’s a very nice place and I may very well go back sometime in the future to try and find the things I missed this time.

Easter in North Wales – Day 3 Exploring Conwy

Knowing that Conwy would be very busy my day started reasonably early this time – my plans meant that at some point I would have to leave the dogs in the van for a while so I wanted to be sure I could get a parking space in some shade. Just before 9am I pulled into the edge-of-town car park I usually use and bingo! – only three cars there and a space underneath a big tree which would provide shade all day long.
Heading down the road from the car park and in the direction of the river a short dead-end lane took me to Marine Walk. The pedestrian footpath/cycleway ran along by the waterside before turning inland alongside a tidal creek crossed by a blue/grey bridge which provided private access to a sports field for pupils of a nearby school. Past the end of the creek the path took me onto a minor road which crossed the busy A55 just west of the Conwy Tunnel which ran deep underneath the river estuary. 
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View across to Deganwy with the gorse covered hillside leading to the castle ruins
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Opened by the Queen on October 5th 1991 the Conwy Tunnel was the first immersed tube road tunnel in the UK and Ireland. Designed for the Welsh Office by Travers Morgan & Partners and a joint construction venture between contractors Costain and Tarmac it took 1,000 workers five years to construct at a final cost of £144m.
At 1.09km long the tunnel is comprised of 300,000 tonnes of concrete and 10,500 tonnes of steel reinforcement, and carries two lanes of traffic in each direction, separated by a full-height dividing wall. The east and west approaches were constructed using a ‘cut-and-cover’ technique and the central immersed tube section was formed from six steel-reinforced concrete units, precast inside a basin on the west side of the Conwy estuary. Each unit was 118 metres long, 24 metres wide, 10.5 metres high and weighed 30,000 tonnes.
When construction of the units was complete they were made watertight by temporary steel bulkheads at each end, the casting basin was flooded and they were floated into the estuary, being towed into position by pontoons and sunk on a falling tide into a pre-excavated trench some 10-20 metres deep, where they were finally joined together underwater and the temporary bulkheads removed to complete the roadway. Sand was injected to fill the voids beneath the tube and graded backfill placed round its sides and top to fill the trench, finished off with a protective covering of rock armouring. The whole operation took a huge collaborative effort which included a team of 90 divers working 24-hour shifts and making approximately 7,000 dives.
Surplus granular material excavated from the casting basin and dredged from the tunnel trench was deposited upriver beyond the road and rail bridges and used to reclaim parts of a tidal area which is now the Glan Conwy Nature Reserve, while the basin itself was developed into Conwy Marina. Opened in 1992 and with 500 pontoon berths it’s the largest marina in Wales.
Today’s tunnel technology includes 36 giant fans in each bore, CCTV cameras monitored from a control room, emergency telephones, evacuation doors, incident detection and public address systems and a computerised lighting system with 2,600 58W single and twin fluorescent lights and 1,850 LED lamps which automatically adjust to visibility conditions, all supported by 4km of cabling and 3km of steelwork. Probably most people, myself included, will have driven through that tunnel without giving a moment’s thought for the planners, engineers and construction workers who made it a reality – maybe some don’t even realise they are driving under a river – but the technology and work undertaken to get it there is certainly pretty amazing. 

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Conwy tunnel heading west – photo from the internet
At the far side of the A55 the minor road took me to a small private estate of modern houses and a car park and boat yard with Conwy Marina at the far side, overlooked by the terrace of the Mulberry pub/restaurant and a very attractive small square dotted with planters and seating. A pleasant pedestrian promenade led to the far end of the marina and the continuation of the minor road which ended in a rough surfaced car park with a slipway down to the water.

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My original idea had been to walk along the beach for a while but not far from the slipway the sand gave way to rocks and with a high tide there was no beach to be seen so I walked along the dunes for a distance before turning round and retracing my steps. At one point I came across what seemed to be a memorial cairn of some sort but on closer inspection I found it was a crudely made hand carved signpost pointing one way to Conwy and the other to Sunset – as the only caravan site near there doesn’t have that name I can only assume it refers to a point at which you can get a good view of the sunset across the sea.

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Deganwy and the castle outcrop

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A cute poster in the marina shop window
Back at the van after our long walk the dogs were settled in their beds with a chew each to keep them occupied for a while then I set out for the next part of the day. First was the suspension bridge and I was happy to see that after all the times I’ve found it closed this time it was open and I could walk across it.
The bridge is a Grade I-listed structure, one of the first road suspension bridges in the world and probably the only one anchored into the base of a medieval castle. Built by Thomas Telford between 1822 and 1826 the 99.5-metre-long (326 ft) bridge is in the same style as Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge further down the coast, but with castellated towers created to complement the castle. Carrying what was once the main trunk road from Chester to Bangor it replaced the ferry which crossed the river at the same point and which was considered both inconvenient and dangerous. Opened to traffic on July 1st 1826 the first passengers waved from their carriages as they crossed the bridge and sang ‘God Save the King’ as loud as they could. 
In 1896 the original wooden deck, 15ft above high water, was replaced by an iron roadway which still exists today and in 1903 the bridge was strengthened by adding wire cables above the original iron chains, then the following year a 6ft-wide walkway was added for pedestrians. Following a steady increase in traffic over the years the bridge was superseded by a new road bridge which was built alongside it and completed in 1958. The suspension bridge closed to traffic on December 13th that year when the new bridge was opened and since then has only been used by pedestrians and cyclists.
Following a local uproar in 1965 after the council proposed the demolition of the suspension bridge its ownership was transferred to the National Trust who continue to own and maintain it; in 1969 it was restored and in 1976 it was repainted to celebrate its 150th anniversary. 

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At the entrance to the bridge a toll house was built and during the 1890s toll keepers David and Maria Williams kept the bridge running 24 hours a day every day of the year including Christmas. During his time as toll keeper David created a vegetable garden to help feed his family of six and any surplus food was sold to people crossing the bridge, while Maria took in washing from residents of the town to make extra money to sustain the family. A sign above the toll house door details the toll charges from the 1890s, and though the National Trust did for many years charge a nominal fee for non-members to walk across the bridge this no longer applies, and the toll house itself is currently closed to visitors.

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Sign above the toll house door

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Next came a visit to the castle, which was one reason why I’d had to leave the dogs behind, but unfortunately this turned out to be a non-event. I’d (mistakenly) thought it was a National Trust property along with the bridge so I’d tucked my card into my pocket, only to find when I got there that it’s owned by Cadw and I would have to pay. I did have some money but not enough and as the van was quite some distance away I wasn’t walking all the way back there for the sake of getting another 60p so I abandoned the castle idea and went to take some photos down at a quiet riverside spot instead. And that’s when I found the dog…
The rear of the castle

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Robert Stephenson’s tubular railway bridge

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Walking back up the lane from the riverside I noticed the medium sized dog trotting in my direction though he didn’t appear to be with anyone and he seemed to be unsure of where he was. He came to me when I called him and seemed very friendly, and though he had a collar on there was no tag and there was no-one around who seemed to be looking for him. There were some young guys playing bowls on the nearby bowling green though so I asked them if he was theirs – he wasn’t, nor had they had noticed anyone looking for a dog, however they said they would be there for at least another couple of hours so they would keep him with them in the enclosed space in case his owner came along.
Leaving the dog with them I went back into the town to see if I could find someone to help – enquiring at the visitor centre near the castle entrance it was suggested that I go to the tourist information centre across the road, however being Easter and also a Sunday the place was closed. Thinking that Eileen might be able to find the number of the local dog warden for me I rang her but unfortunately got no answer so reluctantly I had to accept there was nothing I could do other than hope the dog stayed with the young guys on the bowling green and was eventually found by his owner.
After all that it was time for the next part of the day, walking the section of the town walls starting from near the castle, which I didn’t do in February. This time though I could walk all the way round as the part which had been blocked off before was now open, although the views from the new-to-me section weren’t quite as good as those on my previous visit.
Statue behind St. Michael and All Angels church, viewed from the town walls

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I ended the wall walk not far from the car park where I’d left the van so I went to retrieve the dogs and found them both curled up fast asleep – they must have been tired after our long walk earlier on and they obviously hadn’t missed me. Down on the quayside the tide was going out and I’d missed the last pleasure boat sailing so I walked to the far end and back again, spotting a quirky garden ornament behind the steel mesh barrier of a small fishing compound.

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With the time on my car park ticket almost up but still about three of hours of sunshine left I drove out of Conwy and a couple of miles along the Sychnant Pass to where, thanks to Google maps, I knew there was a small parking area just off the road. Half an hour’s wandering round that bit of Conwy Mountain got me a few nice photos then I went back down into Conwy itself; the lost dog had been on my mind and I couldn’t leave the town without trying to find out what happened to it. When I got back to the bowling green however there was no sign of the dog or the four young guys playing bowls so I could only hope that its owner turned up and it was okay.
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On the way back to the camp site I stopped off at Rhos-on-Sea and from a chippy recommended by Eileen I got fish and peas which I ate in the van parked up on the promenade, and very good they were too. Finally back at the camp site my day was topped off nicely by a lovely sunset which cast a deep golden glow over the nearby fields.
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Apart from not being able to reunite the lost dog with its owner, and missing out on the castle, which I can visit another time, I’d had a lovely day. I think Snowy and Poppie enjoyed it too, although they always do wherever I take them, and I can safely say all three of us slept well that night.

 

Easter in North Wales – Day 2 Deganwy Castle

It was a bit of a strange morning weather-wise. Blue sky and bright sunshine one minute then all-over white cloud and hazy sunshine the next, with the best of the blue sky appearing in the direction of the coast a few miles away. It was dry and warm though and nice enough to have breakfast with the van door open, however I’d just settled down with my toast and marmalade when I was interrupted by the sound of a tractor and there in the next field, less than a hundred yards away, one of the farm workers was muck spreading. It didn’t smell too bad at first but by the time I was ready for going out the ‘perfume’ was much stronger although I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. Living within spitting distance of my own local countryside I’m quite familiar with various aromas drifting over from the nearest farm, and camping on a farm site the occasional farm smells are only to be expected.
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For several years now, whenever I’ve been to Conwy, I’ve been intrigued by a pleasant looking steeply sloping gorse covered hillside above Deganwy across the estuary; when I found out a few weeks ago that it’s possible to walk up there to the remains of an old castle on a rocky outcrop it immediately went on my ‘to do’ list and this was the day I was going to go up there.
Deciding to take the route nearest to the outcrop I left the van in the car park near Deganwy station and set off uphill on a very pleasant residential street off the main road. Towards the top of the street a narrow path between two houses took me to the lower slopes of the outcrop and from there it was a steep and steady climb up and around until I got to the top. Now I don’t quite know what I was expecting to see when I got there but what I wasn’t expecting was a whole lot of not-very-much; a few bits of old wall here and there and that was it, although the views were good.
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Less than halfway up – the view across the estuary

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The history of Deganwy Castle goes back to the late 11th century although the site had been occupied at some point for centuries before that. In 1080 Robert of Rhuddlan, a Norman knight and important retainer of the Earl of Chester, was looking to expand his own lands so built a timber and earth castle on the hilltop at Deganwy. He was staying there in July 1093 when there was an invasion by armed men from three Welsh ships; he rode out to the attack but was killed in the subsequent skirmish, with the Welsh raiders allegedly sailing off with his severed head attached to the mast of one of their ships.
The history of the castle in the hundred years after Robert of Rhuddlan’s death is rather vague but by the end of the 12th century it was in the hands of the Welsh Prince of Gwynedd, Llywelyn the Great, and aided by the policy of King John it remained that way into the early 13th century. In 1210 however, Llywelyn turned against the King which prompted John to send an English army to invade the castle but it was pre-emptively destroyed by the Welsh to prevent it being used by the English. Unfortunately John was unable to sustain his army in Wales and Llywelyn was able to recapture the castle in 1213. He substantially rebuilt it in stone and it became one of his key facilities; in 1228 he even imprisoned one of his own sons there. Llywelyn died in 1240 and under the leadership of his son David the Welsh once again destroyed the castle to prevent its use by the English.
Deganwy Castle was eventually taken over by Henry III and in the years 1245-54 it was rebuilt into a substantial medieval fortification. The main part was constructed on the western summit of the hillside and crowned with a substantial round tower, while a secondary irregular-shaped structure known as Mansel’s Tower was built on a smaller eastern summit nearby, with a bailey established between the two hilltops. As Henry rebuilt the castle one of his noblemen wrote a letter home…
”His Majesty the King is staying with his army at Gannock (Deganwy) for the purpose of fortifying a castle which is now built in a most strong position there. We are dwelling round it in tents, employed in watchings, fastings and prayers, and amidst cold and nakedness. In watchings, through fear of the Welsh suddenly attacking us by night; in fastings, on account of a deficiency of provisions for a farthing loaf now costs five pence; in prayers that we may soon return home safe and uninjured. And we are oppressed by cold and nakedness because our houses are of canvas and we are without winter clothing.”  From: Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora (thirteenth century)
A Royal Charter in 1252 had formally created a new borough adjacent to the site of the castle but over the subsequent decade this new settlement was subject to frequent Welsh attacks, culminating in the castle being besieged and captured by Llywelyn the Last in 1263. His territorial achievements were approved however when in 1267 Henry III sealed the Treaty of Montgomery, recognising Llywelyn as overlord of Wales.
In 1272 Edward I became King but relations with Llywelyn soon broke down, in particular over Llywelyn’s failure to pay homage to Edward. After the defeats of two Wars of Welsh Independence and the death of Llywelyn, killed in battle in 1282, the whole of North Wales, including Deganwy Castle, finally came under the control of the English. Five years earlier Edward had started to build his ‘iron ring’ of castles around North Wales but Deganwy Castle wasn’t suitable to be re-used; the 1263 siege had shown how vulnerable the hilltop location was so Conwy Castle across the river estuary was built as a direct replacement. Building materials were robbed from Deganwy Castle for the new structure and what remained of Deganwy was completely ruined. The ruins visible today belong mainly to Henry III’s castle though the bases of two D-shaped gatehouse towers and a section of the curtain wall hastily built by Edward I can still be recognized.

The Welsh-built revetment wall and tower base of the upper bailey

Northern gate of the lower bailey

View across to Conwy marina

View across the estuary with Anglesey in the distance

View towards Great Orme

View towards Llandudno and Great Orme

Accommodation block wall

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View inland

Conwy Castle and quay

View towards the smaller hilltop

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Section of wall from the southern outer gateway

The castle’s twin hills

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Heading back down the hillside

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Heading back down to civilisation I took a route across the part of the hillside which has intrigued me for so long, eventually joining a path which brought me out into a small cul-de-sac of houses just up the hill from the road into Deganwy marina. From there it was just a short walk past the station to where I’d left the van, and finding the Tea Station Cafe open I called in for a much needed coffee and a snack before setting off to return to the camp site.
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After the steep climb to the top of that rocky outcrop I’d been a bit disappointed to find there wasn’t a lot there but what it lacked in actual castle was more than made up for by the peace and quiet. I was the only one up there and it had been nice to sit for a while in solitude with the dogs and take in the views even if the sunshine was a bit hit-and-miss. And at least now, when I see that hillside from across the river in Conwy, I can finally say I know what’s up there.

Easter in North Wales – Day 1

Good Friday morning at 7.45am saw me on the road for yet another break in North Wales. This time I ignored both the A548 coast road and the A55 in favour of a B road off the A494 which took me to the first stop of the day, Ewloe Castle, hidden deep in woodland a short walk from a convenient roadside lay-by.
Situated on steeply sloping ground above a wooded valley and constructed of locally quarried sandstone Ewloe was one of the last fortifications built by the native Princes of Wales. Abandoned at the beginning of the invasion of Wales by Edward I in 1277, much of the castle’s dressed stonework from its curtain walls and keep was later removed for various constructions around Mold and Connah’s Quay and by the late medieval period the site was in ruins. More details and photos of the castle will be in a future follow-up post.
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A couple of hundred yards along the road from the path to the castle was the Castle Cafe, situated in the grounds of a large and fairly new fishing site, and as I’d only had one piece of toast and a quick brew before leaving home it was time for something a bit more substantial. Looking at the menu the full breakfast seemed to be far more than I would eat so I settled on double scrambled eggs on toast with a mug of coffee, and very nice they were too. Chatting to the very friendly lady behind the counter she told me that one of the ducks on the nearest lake had recently gained a brood of nine tiny little ducklings so with breakfast over I went to find them and take a few photos round the lake.
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From the cafe a drive along the B roads through the village of Northop Hall and some very pleasant countryside took me down to the A548 coast road close to Flint and a few miles further on I made my second stop near the village of Bagillt. I had to turn off the main road, go down a narrow track under the railway line and park close to a car scrap yard for this one – initially not the most attractive of places but it did have some quite interesting history to it.
The scrap yard occupied the site of the former Bettisfield Colliery with the last remaining colliery building, the engine house, standing close to the track. With no windows and holes in the roof where the slates were missing it looked rather worse for wear although it’s actually Grade I listed. Sunk in 1872 the colliery was owned by the Bettisfield Colliery Co. Ltd and by 1896 employed 538 men; with a working area of 4,000 acres and a yearly output of 150,000 tons Bettisfield was the largest and most important colliery in the Bagillt area.
Despite extending under the Dee estuary water was never reported as a problem and only two small 15-inch cylinder pumps were ever needed. By 1908 the colliery was in the hands of the Bagillt Coal Co. Ltd and employed 641 men but by 1918 ownership had reverted to the Bettisfield Colliery Co. with a workforce reduced to 450. By 1923 the workforce totalled 502 but the colliery couldn’t survive the Depression and the miners’ strikes of the 1920s and early 1930s and it closed in December 1933 with the loss of 415 jobs. The colliery hadn’t been without its accidents though and many lives were lost during its years of operation.
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At the corner of the small parking area was a wooden sculpture, The Miner, also known as Bettisfield Bob, and a gate took me to a footpath leading up an incline across the fields towards the foreshore. Not far along the path was a modern working sundial sculpture designed and made by local blacksmith and artist Peter Carlyle and unveiled in July 2021 by Lady Hanmer of Bettisfield on the North Wales/Shropshire border, whose family opened Bettisfield Colliery in the 19th century. Part of a local community group’s project to develop and enhance the natural and historic heritage of the area it was a memorial to all those miners who lost their lives while working at the colliery.

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Along the path and overlooking the estuary was what I’d originally set out to see, the Bagillt Beacon, one of a number of beacons placed along the Flintshire coast to celebrate the opening of the Wales Coast Path on May 5th 2012. Standing on a stone plinth built by local stonemason Paul Evans the Bagillt Beacon, in the shape of a Welsh dragon, was designed and made from mild steel plate by Peter Carlyle and was first lit on June 4th 2012 to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

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A memorial to a much loved dog maybe?

From the beacon I walked round the perimeter of the small headland and down to the nearby creek known by the rather unattractive name of Dee Banks Gutter, then taking advantage of the tide still being reasonably well in I drove the short distance along to Greenfield Dock for another quick photo stop. By this time the sky had clouded over considerably so rather than go anywhere else I made my way from there straight to the camp site.

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Expecting the site to be reasonably busy I was quite surprised to see hardly anyone there – just one caravan, a 4 x 4 vehicle with a fold-out tent on top and two small tents on the far side. Booking in at the campervan which served as a reception office I was told I could choose my own pitch so I opted for No. 8, the fourth from the end, and once I was settled in I spent the rest of the afternoon in chill out mode before phoning friend Eileen and arranging to call over to see her and hubby a while later.
It was a lovely evening spent in the company of two good friends and Tilly the cockapoo but it was when I was driving back to the site that I encountered a slight problem. I’d set out in daylight but completely forgotten that the road passing the site was unlit – it was dark, and to make matters worse the sign at the corner of the farm track to the camp site wasn’t very prominent so I’d gone past it before I realised it was there.
With a couple of cars behind me I couldn’t just stop suddenly and turn round so I went up to the nearby crossroads and turned round there, but couldn’t believe it when I missed the sign again going back the other way! This time I had to go almost into the next village before I could turn round safely and fortunately it was third time lucky – with nothing behind me at the crucial point I was able to slow down enough to see the sign and make the sharp 90 degree turn into the farm track.
Finally back on my pitch I took Snowy and Poppie for a quick torchlight walk round the perimeter of the site then made a brew and settled in for the night, vowing that the next time I leave the site in an evening I must be back before it goes dark!

Animal sanctuary Spring Open Day

Last Sunday was Bleakholt sanctuary’s first proper open day since the place had to close to visitors at the start of the pandemic two years ago. Fortunately the weather gods produced a glorious day and even though I got there not long after the mid day opening the car park and the lane were already full of vehicles, with a steady stream of visitors paying their £2 entry fee at the gate.
My first port of call was the big barn with all its stalls set out round the sides and in the centre and though I didn’t buy anything for myself I did get a new and very pretty tea light holder which I thought Michael might like to give to his girlfriend. Tea lights and candles aren’t really my thing but Laura loves them so I’m sure she will like the one I got.
Wandering round outside I was disappointed to see that some areas were out of bounds and a lot of the kennels had no residents but it was obvious that quite a bit of work was taking place, with one row of cat pens already having been updated. It was nice to see a few different stalls and attractions though and the cafe and hot dog stall were both doing a good trade.
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Caught in mid roll

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The picnic area

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The new kennel block

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An update on the sanctuary’s website says they took an amazing £5,448 on the day – that’s the amount they will be trying to beat on the next open day in July, so fingers crossed the weather will behave, there will be even more visitors and it will be another really good day.
**This post has been pre-written and scheduled as I’m currently away with no internet access so I’ll reply to any comments when I get back. Have a good Easter everyone!

Manchester street art – April 2022

After several cold, rainy and windy days the weather over the recent weekend turned out to be glorious and as I’d recently got wind of some new street art in the city’s Northern Quarter I took an early train on Saturday to go in search of it. Stevenson Square was looking very bright in the morning sunshine and though some of the artwork hadn’t changed from when I was there in January I saw that the previous parade of dogs had gone from the back wall of the old toilet block and had been replaced with a colourful geometric pattern.
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Down in Thomas Street the hoardings surrounding a vacant plot of land had some new artwork; I don’t know what the first one was supposed to be but it was quite amusing. The second one looked like one big mess of paint at first but viewed from across the street it did look marginally better and I quite liked it, though it was hard to make out the name of the artist. I was also surprised to see that the pre-Christmas spaced-out chihuahua was still on a Hilton Street shop shutter and this time there were no barriers in front of it so I was able to get a shot of the whole thing.
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Artist – Liam Bononi

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Deserting the NQ for a while I made my way to a section of the Rochdale Canal to find some street art painted on the ground by artist Vanessa Scott. Part of the Rochdale Canal art trail which runs from Castlefield to Canal Street, the artwork is ‘inspired by the diverse wildlife and waterway plants and wildflowers found along the canal’, though unfortunately quite a large section of it was in the shade.

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Heading back to the NQ I took a quick detour down a side road and found something which was so colourful I almost felt like I was somewhere in the Caribbean. The last time I’d seen this place, about two years ago, it was a cocktail bar owned by some z-list ‘celebrity’ from The Real Housewives Of Cheshire reality tv series (not something I ever watched) and it was decked out in pink, pink, and even more pink, but it now seems to have had a change of ownership and was undergoing a transformation.
While I was taking photos from the outside I noticed a maintenance man working inside and when he saw me struggling to take a photo with the camera through the railings he said he would unlock the gate so I could go in and get as many photos as I wanted; that was certainly an unexpected privilege and an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss. He went back to his work and left me to wander wherever I wanted although as the place was still undergoing work I could really only photograph the wall art, which was what I was originally trying to do. I didn’t get his name but he was a nice guy and it was really good of him to let me in to get my photos.

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Back in the NQ I got my last two shots on the corner of Tib Street and Thomas Street. The kingfisher was done by Brezaux, an artist I hadn’t previously heard of, and though I couldn’t make out the artist’s name on the other artwork the vibrant swirls certainly made it stand out.

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Although I didn’t see as many new artworks as I’ve seen on previous occasions I was more than happy with the ones I did find. Being allowed access to a new venue in the making was a great bonus too, and looking at the photos I think overall this must be my most colourful collection to date.