In remembrance – 100 years

This may seem strange to many people but I have to be honest here and say that in the past I’ve never really given much thought to ‘poppy day’, mainly because I have no living relatives, and nor do I know anyone, who lived through either of the two wars of the 20th century. I know that my dad served with the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) on the ambulance train somewhere in Europe during WW2 but that’s all I do know as he and my mum very rarely spoke about it, and to be honest I couldn’t blame them – if you’ve lived through the horrors of war why would you want to remember it?
My dad would have been 22 at the start of WW2 ; no doubt both then and in WW1 there would have been some young men in the forces who were even younger than him. Young men, barely more than children, who went willingly to fight knowing that they may not come back, and many of them didn’t. It’s a very sobering thought, and as this year marks 100 years since the end of WW1 I decided to take some time out from my busy day yesterday and photograph some of the many displays and tributes which have been created and put in various places by local groups, schools and businesses, as well as the cascade of poppies down the steps of the town hall.
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Dunscar war memorial in the Egerton area of town, poppies made by local school children
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On the A666 not far from home, display done by the Friends of Astley Bridge group
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The cascade of poppies down the town hall steps
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A bench on the A675 close to home, decorated by the Friends of Astley Bridge
This bench overlooks some lovely open countryside just up the road from home – countryside which I love and never tire of, but which those who gave their lives for us during the two wars would never have the pleasure of seeing.
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One of several painted boards fastened to the railings of my local park
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In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, May 1915  (a shortened version)
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
  That mark our place, and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly.
We are the dead. Short days ago
     We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
       Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
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Preston Dock – some history, useless information and curiosities

This week’s Monday walk, which I did just two days ago, features a wander round Preston Dock (now known as Preston Marina) in the Riversway area of the city. Although I’ve been there many times over the last twenty years or so (sometimes to visit a camping store which was near there and sometimes while en route to somewhere else) I was never aware of its history and the various things connected to it until I read about it recently on a couple of other blogs – it sounded interesting so I decided to check it out.
Although Preston, on the River Ribble, is about 16 miles from the coast boats were travelling to and from the city for hundreds of years, and as ships gradually got larger steps were taken in the 19th century to make the river more navigable. In 1825 the New Quays (later named Victoria Quays) were constructed but with the river being tidal boats could only get in and out of them at certain times. The answer to the problem was to build a large dock basin with a set of locks to control the water level, and construction finally began in 1884. Four million cubic yards of soil was dug out of a 40-acre site, creating a dock basin 40ft deep, 3,000ft long and 600ft wide – it took a month to fill it before it could be used for the first time and was the largest single dock in Europe.
The dock was officially opened in 1892 by Queen Victoria’s son Prince Albert Edward (the future King Edward Vll) and was named after him, and the SS Lady Louise, chartered by E H Booth & Company (now known as Booth’s supermarkets) was the first ship to unload its freight there. Only four ships used the dock in its first year but by the turn of the century that number had risen to 170 ; the main imports were timber, china clay, coal, oil, petrol, bananas, wheat and Irish cattle. In 1936 new dock offices opened nearby ; they were built in an Art Deco style with a central clock tower and double front entrance doors with very elaborate handles in the shape of ship prows which feature the Preston lamb from the city’s coat-of-arms – these are still in place today and are well worth a close look. In 1938 the dock railway was added to the site and parts of this still exist today.
During WW2 the dock was taken over by the military and used as a marshalling post, then just after the war the first ever roll on, roll off ferry service was introduced using the SS Cedric, a former tank landing ship, and sailing to and from Larne in Northern Ireland. Trade increased throughout the 1950s and by the 1960s the port was at its peak, but by the 1970s it was starting to flounder. Nearly half of the income generated was being spent on dredging the river to allow increasingly bigger ships through ; trade began to fall away with the city losing many of its imports and the Larne ferry stopped running. The port became uneconomical and the dock was finally closed in 1981 with a great number of job losses, but a major redevelopment of the area started in 1982.
After dealing with the polluted water and land a new road infrastructure was put in place and over the next several years a huge amount of work was done. The lock gates were repositioned to stop flooding from storms, a boatyard with chandlery facilities was constructed and a canal was dug to connect the Ribble to the Lancaster Canal. The original railway line which ran on the north side of the dock was removed and a new line was laid on the south side between the river and the dock basin. A swing bridge was installed over the dock entrance for the passage of vehicles, trains, pedestrians and boats, and a new Dock Control Centre was built close to it, although industrial railway traffic eventually ceased in 1995, with the line subsequently being operated for leisure by the Ribble Steam Railway Company. Many modern homes have been built on the strip of land between the river and the dock with the old Shed No.3 being converted into Victoria Mansions apartments, while the other side of the basin features many retail and leisure developments with Homebase, Morrison’s, Halford’s and Pets At Home now being just a few of the stores along that side. A pleasant promenade runs round three sides of the dock with the swing bridge making the fourth side, and the basin itself is now home to a 350-berth marina.
Parking in the free car park overlooking the water my walk began a little way back on one of the approach roads to the dock. At the junction with the main road is the first of two boat buoys, technically known as a Nelson Safe Water Mooring and Landfall buoy. Back in 1896 these were moored in the estuary where the Ribble meets the Irish Sea off the coast of Lytham ; each had lights powered by acetylene gas and a bell which was activated by the movement of waves, but in 1931 they were fitted with compressed carbon dioxide apparatus which enabled the bells to ring even in calm foggy weather.
Second on my list of things to photograph  was the lighthouse overlooking the dock and situated outside the Morrison’s store. There seems to be very little information about it, with some sources saying it was built many years ago to guide ships into the dock and others saying it was only built in 1986 during the dock regeneration and the building of the supermarket. I’m sure I remember that at one time, not many years ago, it was a stand-alone structure but now it’s joined onto the supermarket by a small extension which houses a ‘barista bar’ – it’s also very difficult to photograph without getting cars and trolley shelters in the shot.
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Boat buoy at Riversway/Pedders Way junction
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Dock lighthouse outside Morrisons
Walking along the promenade past DFS, Halfords and Pets At Home I was delighted to see a splash of colour against a brick wall – it was some type of prickly shrubbery with red and orangey-yellow berries. It certainly brightened up an otherwise very grey day and was worth taking a photo of. At the end of the promenade was The Ribble Pilot, a modern pub/restaurant with a clock tower which, although the clock itself was probably stopped, was still worth a shot.
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The Ribble Pilot
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The roads around the dock area aren’t really made with pedestrians in mind and the traffic was almost constant, so taking my life and that of the dogs in my hands I managed to negotiate a road and a roundabout and made my way to the next junction and some more things to photograph. Right on the corner was the second boat buoy and across the road was the old dock office building with its double doors ; fortunately the junction had traffic lights so crossing it was fairly easy, and when I saw the handles on the doors I knew it was worth going to look. Obviously made of brass they were certainly very unique, though judging from the residue of brass polish stuck in various places they must be a nightmare to clean.
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Boat buoy at Watery Lane/Port Way junction
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The old dock office building
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The ship prow showing the horses underneath
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Sideways view showing the Preston lamb – the Lamb of St. Wilfrid, Patron Saint of Preston – at the top of the prow. The letters P.P. mean Princeps Pacis – Prince of Peace
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I think it looks more like a young foal but it’s definitely a lamb
Back across the road I returned to the end of the dock and made my way round to the residential side ; a distance along I came to a sign pointing between two apartment blocks to the Riverside Walk so I decided to check that out. Through a small estate of modern houses I crossed the access road and a level crossing over the railway line, which brought me down a grass bank and onto a wide tarmac path running between there and the river ; it was a pity it was such a grey day as it would have been a really pleasant walk along there in the sunshine.
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The riverside walk
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The River Ribble through the trees
Eventually the path turned to the right and I came to another crossing point over the rail line and at one end of the swing bridge. On the right hand corner was the huge 100 ton crane built in 1958 to remove the loch gates from the water for refurbishment on dry land. Made of Greenheart timber and Iroko planking the gates weigh 98 tons each – large floatation devices were fixed to each side, enabling them to be floated out of their fittings and brought to the crane for lifting. The crane is still used today but only for lifting and lowering larger boats.
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The road and rail line across the end of the dock – the swing bridge is bordered by the blue railings and is operated about 350 times each year
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The original loch gates, installed when the dock was first built
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The crane, now used for lifting boats
At the far side of the swing bridge, tucked in a corner and just before I turned back onto the promenade, I came across a seat made from a large cog wheel ; there was nothing to say what the wheel was originally from but it was certainly a good use of it. Back on the promenade I passed a few small modern 2-storey blocks of offices and came to a collection of three repainted buoys set back in a corner, then passed the marina with its many boats moored up before finally ending up back at the van.
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An innovative use of a large cog wheel
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Looking across to the residential side
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By the time I’d finished my wanderings I was ready for a brew so leaving the dogs in the van I went to get a takeaway coffee from the Green Frog catering van at the end of the car park. I’d just got back to my own van when it started to rain so it looked like I’d done my walk just at the right time ; it had stopped again by the time I’d finished my coffee but with nowhere else to go to I drove straight back home. It had been an interesting walk but a shame it was such a dull grey day as I would have liked to explore more along the riverside, however I can always go back another time on a nice sunny day.

Sometimes special offers aren’t always the best bet

Back at the beginning of August Ryanair were advertising on tv a big ‘flight sale’ with thousands of seats for only £9.99. That sounded like a good deal so having already planned to go over to Ireland at the end of this month I decided on my dates and got on the Ryanair website to book my flights. The flight from Manchester to Dublin was indeed only £9.99 but there was nothing so cheap on the day I wanted to come back so the return flight cost £31.60.
Now as from January this year Ryanair’s revised baggage policy only allows just one small bag per person on the plane where previously it’s been two, so for the privilege of taking a second bag on board and using an overhead locker you now have to purchase ‘priority boarding’, otherwise the second bag goes in the hold. For the sake of a few days I only take a small backpack and a small wheeled pull-along case so as I don’t want all the faff of checking a bag in before departure then waiting for it to come round on the carousel at the other end I purchased the priority boarding at £6 each way. Then there was the cost of reserving my seats – £3 each way – so the total for both flights came to £59.59 ; I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t get both flights for the advertised £9.99 but compared to other airlines the cost was still cheap enough.
Up to yesterday Michael hasn’t known what his shift pattern for the next few weeks at work would be so I couldn’t book his flights until last night ; with his days off plus a couple of days holiday he’ll be going over on the same day as me but coming back two days after me. As our little sojourn is only four weeks away I expected the flights for him would cost as much as, or even more than, mine, so I was quite surprised last night to find that they were only £9.99 each way, and that’s without  any deals or special offers. Adding on the price of reserved seats the total cost to him is just £25.98 – admittedly he hasn’t added on the cost of priority boarding but he doesn’t need it as he’ll only be taking a backpack, but even if he did have that extra cost the total price would still be over £21 cheaper than my flights.
So on those prices I think maybe for any future trips to Ireland I’ll ignore any of Ryanair’s ‘deals’ or ‘special offers’ and just book a couple of weeks or so in advance. Of course there’s a chance that any future flights on the days and times I want them may not be as low as £9.99 but it’ll be worth a try – and last night’s experience just goes to show that sometimes special offers and deals don’t work out as good as you think they will.

Radcliffe Tower and Close Park

My Monday walk this week is more of a wander than a walk and features a look round Radcliffe Tower and Close Park at Radcliffe, a town just over six miles from home. Being a frequent visitor to the large camping store in Radcliffe I’ve been to the town many times over the years but I didn’t know anything about Radcliffe Tower until just three days ago when I was reading through someone else’s blog. It seemed that the tower and park are in an area of the town which I’ve only ever passed through a couple of times on my way to somewhere else, which was probably why I didn’t know about it, so as there was plenty of sunshine and blue sky on Saturday afternoon I decided to take the dogs and check things out.
A 20-minute drive took me to the car park at the entrance to Close Park, and though I was itching to look round the park straight away I decided to find the tower first. Just off the main road and adjacent to the car park was Church Green, a three-sided cobbled lane with three modern terraced houses on one side, a small public garden in the middle and St. Mary’s church at the bottom end. Built in the 14th century with the tower being added in the 15th century the church is Grade l listed, with the churchyard containing the war graves of six soldiers from WW1 and three from WW2. Unfortunately the central garden and the front of the church itself were very much in the shade but I got a couple of photos then moved on to find the tower.
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The Parish Church of St. Mary
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A path from the car park took me over a wide water-filled channel – originally a closed-off part of the nearby River Irwell – and past the back of the church to another path behind the far side of the graveyard ; the ruined tower and its surrounding land were completely enclosed by a high galvanised steel perimeter fence but at least there was a gate which allowed access during daylight hours.
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The back of the church seen through the trees
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Radcliffe Tower west wall and original entrance
Built as a typical fortified pele tower the earliest record of it dates back to 1358 ; it would have been three stories high with storage on the ground floor and living accommodation above. In 1403 the tower’s owner, James de Radcliffe, was given permission by King Henry IV to fortify his house and a new Great Hall was built to adjoin the tower, forming Radcliffe Manor, with the original ground floor storage area being converted into a kitchen with a fireplace on each of three walls. In 1517 the Manor passed to a distant branch of the Radcliffe family and in 1561 it was sold to the Assheton family who lived near Rochdale. They leased the hall and its land to tenant farmers, with subsequent members of the family continuing to do the same until 1765 when it was sold to the Earl of Wilton from Heaton Hall near Prestwich, though he continued to let it out to tenants.
By the early 1800s much of the Manor’s former grandeur had gone, with residents living only in the small west wing. The Great Hall was converted into a barn and the tower itself was used as a farm building, with the huge ground floor fireplaces in the south and east walls being knocked through to give access for farm carts and/or animals. By 1840 the Great Hall and the west wing were in such a state of disrepair that they were demolished and some of the stone from their foundations was used to build cottages nearby. The tower itself was spared and continued to be used as a farm building, with a new farmhouse being built to the north of where the Great Hall had been standing.
In 1925 the tower was scheduled as a monument and though it stayed in the ownership of the Wilton family until the 1950s the land round it wasn’t protected and in the 1940s gravel quarrying began to the south of the tower. By the 1960s the nearby farmhouse and cottages had been demolished, then starting in the 1970s the quarry was turned into a landfill site with large trucks rumbling right past the tower which, protected only by a fence round it, was in a very delapidated state by then. The future of the tower began to change in 1988 though when Bury Council took over ownership and conservation and stabilisation took place, which included blocking up two windows and the original fireplace arches. The scheduling of the monument was extended to include the land where the Great Hall had stood and by 2007 the landfill site had gone, with Bury Council acquiring the rest of the land surrounding the tower.
Starting in 2012 a series of archaeological investigations took place on the tower and Great Hall site and also on the site of the later farm and cottages which had been built nearby – finds from the Great Hall site included 15th century Cistercian drinking pots and storage jars and also showed that the floor would have been made from glazed tiles. Today the Medieval fabric of the tower has been professionally conserved and restored and the area round it has been landscaped, with a ‘pathway’ next to the tower marking out the footprint of the original Great Hall.
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The north wall with a fireplace arch still visible
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A window in the east wall
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The south wall with another fireplace arch
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West wall window showing the underside of a spiral stone staircase
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West wall showing the diagonal roof line where the Great Hall was joined to the tower
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Part of the footprint of the Great Hall marked out by a continuous pathway on the ground
At various points around the grounds covered information boards told the history of the tower site and once I’d read and photographed them all I made my way through the gate and back along the path to the park.  Close Park was originally the grounds to Close House, the home of the Bealey family who established a nearby bleaching business in the 18th century ; in 1925 the family presented the house to what was then Radcliffe Urban District Council for use as a Child Welfare Centre, with the grounds being converted into a public park for the town’s inhabitants. The house was also used as a clinic, a museum and an ambulance centre before being demolished in 1969, and the nearby bleachworks was finally demolished in the 1980s when a modern housing estate was built on the site. Current facilities and attractions at the park include 7 football pitches, 3 tennis courts, a bowling green, outdoor gym, children’s playground, a sensory garden and various sculptures which are part of the Irwell Sculpture Trail.
Starting from the car park the first thing I saw was a huge stainless steel dinosaur, one of three sculptures created by artist Mark Jalland in consultation with children from local primary schools. From there I followed the path down to the sensory garden and what I first thought was a water feature was actually a stainless steel and copper sculpture based on a cup cake, although after seeing it on an internet picture it seemed to have lost its chocolate topping. The third sculpture, not far from the bowling green, was a cheetah wearing trainers – presumably meant to signify running fast but strangely the trainers were only on diagonal feet. Who knows what goes on in the minds of these artists?!
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‘James and his ball of fire’ inspired by papercraft models and inflatable animals
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‘Chococupcakeboy’ based on a chocolate cup cake
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‘Tara in her trainers’
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Having found the three sculptures I wandered at random round the rest of the park ; the playing fields stretched for quite a distance but there didn’t seem to be much in that direction so I stuck to the main body of the park, and with the sunlight really showing off the autumn colours of the trees I got several lovely shots before ending my wander back at the car park.
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Downloading my photos onto the pc later on it struck me what a brilliant resource the internet is, even though it’s something that most of us now take for granted. I’d only found out about Radcliffe Tower and Close Park through reading a blog which I’d found from a link on another blog I’d discovered while doing a general search for something else – if it hadn’t been for that I could have lived the rest of my life in total ignorance of the place but now I know about the park I’ll certainly pay another visit in the not-too-distant future.

Inside Turton Tower

After visiting the gardens of Turton Tower while on a dog walk back in March, but being unable to go into the building itself, I decided last Saturday to take a couple of hours out and explore the place properly. Unfortunately the blue sky and sunshine of the morning had disappeared by the time I set out just after lunch but once I’d parked up I still took a walk through the grounds before going to look round inside. I must have looked rather suspicious while taking photos outside the main gates as one of the volunteer gardeners came to see what I was doing but she seemed quite happy when she saw my camera and even told me that the gates, with their ironwork decorations and coats of arms, had recently been repainted by another of the volunteers.
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The castellated railway bridge commissioned by James Kay in 1847
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The second footbridge, now overgrown and with no access across
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The summer house
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The main gates, not in use
The oldest part of the building is the tower itself, built in the early 15th century, but entrance to the house is now actually round the side, and once I’d paid the £6 fee I was given a picture guide to the different rooms then I was free to wander at will. In the first room, which was actually the original entrance hall, one of the volunteer guides gave me a lot of information about the place, information which even my previous research hadn’t told me. She was a very interesting lady to talk to and I could have stayed chatting for hours but I had a house to explore.
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The original entrance door
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This side of the table had no carved decoration
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The unicorn tapestry
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The right hand wall of this room was part of a cruck-frame extension which wasn’t connected to the main building. The whole lot was eventually joined together by the roof but a narrow gap still exists between the two separate walls.
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The very top floor of the original tower is known as the Chetham Room and was converted in the 19th century by the Kay family into a bedroom and billiard room. These are long gone, with the space becoming one big room with the walls stripped back so the original stone architecture can be seen. On a half-landing just outside this room is the top of the original stone spiral staircase which would, at one time, have run down the outside of the tower – this was restored by the Kay family and can be seen through a clear panel set into the floor, but because of the reflection from a light above, my attempt to photograph it wasn’t very successful.
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The Chetham Room
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A collection of horse brasses at the top of the stairs
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Looking down the stairwell
With the last photo taken inside I went out for a brief wander round the gardens. The afternoon had turned out to be very dull and it looked like it might rain so it wasn’t long before I was back in the van and on my way towards home. I realise this post is very photo-heavy but Turton Tower is a fascinating place with a lot of history and so much to take photos of, in fact I could easily have taken many more than I actually did and I’ve had to be ruthless in deciding which to include and which to leave out.
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A brief history of the place can be found here in my post from March, and a much more detailed account with some interesting reading can be found on this blog written by A & R Bowden. It was a shame that the weather turned out to be so grey after the sunshine of earlier but at least that gives me an excuse to visit Turton Tower another time in the not-too-distant future when hopefully there’ll be plenty of blue sky.


An autumn walk in Central Park

And no, I don’t mean the one in New York!
Last week I was on a 3-day pet sitting stint looking after a dog in Farnworth, an area south of the town. Many years ago Farnworth was a small town in its own right, with its own town centre, railway station, town hall and library, but over the years it has gradually become swallowed up in the ever-increasing urban sprawl and is now just another area of Bolton, although it still has its town centre and railway station. The dog I was looking after lives just around the corner from Farnworth’s Central Park so there was no problem finding somewhere to walk her, and as it’s a park I wouldn’t normally have a reason to go to I decided to take the camera with me last Thursday morning.
Back in 1860 Thomas Barnes, a local MP, announced his intention to provide a portion of his large estate as a park for the people of Farnworth, in memory of his father and to mark his son’s coming of age. He appointed a landscape gardener from Birkenhead, William Henderson, to design and lay out the grounds but Henderson didn’t complete his engagement and another gardener, Robert Galloway, was appointed to finish the park. In 1864 the Local Board, which had been established the previous year, agreed to oversee the care of the park and Galloway was appointed as Park Superintendent; the park was officially opened on October 12th that year by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer William E Gladstone who became Prime Minister for the first time four years later.
In 1888 the Local Board purchased various cottages and land bordering the park and in 1895 the Barnes Memorial was erected – the cottages were eventually demolished and in 1907 the area was incorporated into the park itself. A Cenotaph was erected in 1924 and after WW2 a Garden of Remembrance was created. In more modern times, when Farnworth eventually lost its identity as a town in its own right, the park came into the ownership of Bolton Council and has stayed as a public place to be enjoyed by all.
My walk on Thursday morning started at 9.30am from one of the two entrances down a narrow side street on the south side of the park, and that’s where I saw the first local sign of frost, in a dip in the ground which was still in shade. From there I followed the path diagonally west to the Barnes Memorial at the head of the main path – unfortunately I could only get a shot of one side of it as the sun was in the wrong direction for the other sides but there’s a quotation from Thomas Barnes which reads “In commemoration of my son’s coming of age and in memory of his grandfather I present and dedicate this park to the people of Farnworth for their benefit for ever” and another side reads “Opened by The Right Hon. W. E. Gladstone M.P. Oct. 12th 1864”. From the memorial I wandered down the path, through the trees and down to the main park entrance on the east side before taking the dog back home. With no-one around other than another couple of dog walkers the place was really peaceful and it was hard to believe that it’s actually surrounded by three busy main roads.
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The Barnes memorial
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That afternoon I had to take the dog for another walk and as the day was still glorious and very warm for the time of year I decided to revisit the park to take some more photos. Starting from the same entrance I took a slightly different route to earlier and ended up near the bowling green where there was a corner with some lovely trees, then from there I wandered back towards the main entrance at the other end of the park and finished my walk near the Garden of Remembrance before taking the dog round the corner and back home.
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The same view as the morning shot but without all the shadows
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The Garden of Remembrance
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The Cenotaph
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It had been a perfect day and a perfect location to get some autumn photos and after the walk that morning I just had to return later on to get some more shots. A bit of colour in the flower beds near the Cenotaph would have been the icing on the cake but now I know what a nice place the park is I can always return in spring or summer next year when hopefully the beds will be blooming.
**Due to a very busy time in her life my blogging friend Jo isn’t currently hosting any Monday Walks so I have nothing to link to, but as I have a few walks in hand, and will no doubt have some more to come, I’ve decided to continue the Monday theme on my own when I can, with last Monday’s blog post counting as the first walk  – I hope you all enjoy reading about the places where I’ve walked.
***Edited to say that Jo has now included a link to this post in her latest (as of mid November) blog page which is more of a ‘Monday catch-up’ rather than a walk, but as always she’s included some great photos so I’m adding a link back to her page here.

How hard can it be….

To get a meal at a pub/restaurant on a Sunday?
Last weekend Michael and I went out for tea as we often do on Sundays – I picked him up from work just after 5pm and we went to a pub/restaurant and carvery twenty minutes drive from home, a place we’d never been to before but which was recommended by someone who works where I clean in the evenings. When we got there we found that the large car park was very full and I remarked to Michael that it seemed to be a very popular place – and we found out exactly how  popular it was when we got in there. The place was absolutely heaving and we were told it would be a 45 minute wait for a table – we were okay with that, we could sit and have a drink while we were waiting but as we went to the bar we realised that there was nowhere to  sit once we’d got one. Every single table was set or reserved for dining and those who were just drinking were all standing – and the queue for the carvery was so long it would probably have taken another 45 minutes to get our meals once we’d got a table, so we decided to give up and go somewhere else.
One place we’d been to several times was a twenty minute drive back in the vague direction of home so as it had been a while since our last visit we decided to go there – and I should have known something was wrong when we got there and found only four cars in the car park. The place was very quiet although there were some people dining, so we found a table (we had lots to choose from) and decided what we would have – a mixed grill for Michael and for me, something I wouldn’t normally eat, an all-day breakfast. So Michael went to order but was back a minute later to say that the guy behind the bar had told him the grill had been turned off so we needed to choose an alternative – okay, we could live with that (just) so Michael opted for the half roast chicken, I decided on the fish, chips and mushy peas, and Michael went back to order. Ten minutes later, while we were sitting having our drinks, the guy from behind the bar came and told us that the kitchen was now closed for a major clean and we couldn’t have a cooked meal at all but they may  be able to do us some sandwiches so would we like to look at the menu? At which point I told him not to insult my intelligence as we’d already looked at the menu (twice!) so as we couldn’t have what we’d ordered we were leaving – and even then it took another ten minutes to sort out a refund for the meals we couldn’t have.
By that time I was so hungry I could have eaten the hind legs off a donkey so I suggested going to the one place where we could be sure of getting a good meal – our regular haunt, the Black Dog at Belmont – but as we were on the way there we passed a place Michael had been to in previous times so we ended up there instead. We had no trouble getting a table or ordering the meals we’d chosen, and the service was excellent, but in comparison to the Black Dog the portion sizes were smaller and the prices were much dearer – it was good but no better than the Black Dog, and at nearly £40 for two main meals and two drinks I don’t think we’ll be going there again.
The one place we definitely won’t  be going to again – at least not for a long long time – is the one where we couldn’t get a meal at all. Discussing the situation later we both said that just after 6pm on a Sunday was a strange time to close the kitchen for a major clean so I wondered if maybe they were getting ready for a hygiene inspection. It used to be a really good place to eat – dog friendly too – and was well known locally for its excellent fish-and-chip meals, but the online reviews over the last few months aren’t good. Many of them say the food is awful and the place in general is dirty and falling apart – it seems that it changed hands about twelve months ago and the new owners (some pub chain I’ve never heard of) don’t seem to be investing in the place or their staff – a shame really as it was a nice place once. So with not being able to sit down anywhere at the first place and not getting a meal at the second, followed by a more expensive meal at the third, I’d be quite happy to stick to the Black Dog every time from now on.