A puzzling email and a surprise gift

A week ago last Sunday, late in the afternoon, I got an email from a courier company informing me that a parcel was to be delivered to my address within the next two days. This was really puzzling as I hadn’t sent for anything from anywhere and neither had Michael so at first I thought this must be a mistake, however when I checked the link in the email I realised what it was and where it was coming from – it was a dog quilt for Sophie and Poppie, made by my blogging friend Jayne.
Now I knew that Jayne was making a quilt to send to our blogging friend Eileen for her dog Annie and I’d been asked to keep it a secret, but I hadn’t known that she was also making one for me so the email from the courier company was both puzzling and surprising. The quilt arrived on Tuesday afternoon last week, I have to say it’s a beautiful gift and the photo doesn’t really do it justice. It also came with a very sweet letter from Jayne’s dog Daisy to Sophie and Poppie, which I thought was a really lovely touch.
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Sometimes saying ‘thank you’ for something doesn’t seem enough somehow but I don’t really know what else to say. So thank you Jayne and Daisy for the very lovely and very thoughtful surprise gift, it’s very much appreciated – Sophie and Poppie love it and so do I  🙂
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A snowdrop walk at Lytham Hall

There have been several occasions while driving along the sea front at Lytham that I’ve passed a sign pointing down a side street to ‘Lytham Hall’ though I’ve never actually been there until now. It was on my list of ‘go to’ places for later this year but a few weeks ago I found out that each weekend in February it’s possible to do a ‘snowdrop walk’ round the grounds of the hall and dogs were allowed too, so always on the lookout for photo opportunities I decided to go sometime this month, finally making my trip two days ago. After several days of lovely sunny weather locally there was some cloud mixed in with the sunshine but once I got over the moors near home and could see to Preston and beyond the blue sky was looking very promising so I was looking forward to discovering somewhere new.
The Palladian style Lytham Hall was commissioned in 1752 by Sir Thomas Clifton to replace a previous house which had long been the seat of the Clifton family ; it was designed by the eminent architect John Carr and incorporated parts of the previous 16th century house, the remains of which can still be seen. The house was built between 1757 and 1764 and the successive generations of the Clifton family owned it for two centuries. During WW1 part of it was used as a military hospital, then in 1919 the Clifton family who lived there at the time moved away to Ireland meaning the house became rather neglected. The last surviving member of the Clifton family, a film producer, squandered much of the family’s wealth over the years and in 1963 Lytham Hall was sold to Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance for office accommodation. In 1997 Lytham Town Trust bought the hall and grounds with the help of a donation from BAE Systems and since then it has been in the care of the Heritage Trust for the North West on a 99-year lease.
Although there is plenty of room for parking close to the hall it seemed that on ‘special’ days it was for disabled access only so when I arrived at the main gate I was directed to a car park just across the road. Back at the main gate I paid my £3 entrance fee (all proceeds go to the upkeep of the hall and grounds) and was given a map of the grounds and the route of the snowdrop walk then I was free to wander at will. It was a good ten minutes walk along the driveway from the main entrance past open fields to the parkland surrounding the hall, and the snowdrop walk started just inside the gate.
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Outside the main entrance
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Lytham Hall and parkland from the gate
To start with there were only a few isolated clumps of snowdrops here and there under the trees but as the walk progressed so did the snowdrops, and in many places it was easy to see why they have their name as the ground looked just like it was covered in a blanket of snow. Wooden picture frames on stands were set up at strategic places along the walk to show the best views for taking photos and though I made use of some of them I wandered off the path more than once. At one point, looking through the trees I spotted a lifebelt hanging on a fence – where there was a lifebelt there must be water so I went to take a look and found a nice lake which I was able to walk all the way round.
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Among the snowdrops in the more grassy areas were several clumps of daffodils which added a bit of colour, and a few crocuses were dotted here and there. In a border near the kitchen garden wall I discovered some pretty pink flowers ; there was nothing to say what they were and some of them looked a bit shrivelled but they were worth a photo and I’m sure in due course someone will tell me their name.
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Once I’d seen most of the snowdrop areas I turned my attention to the house and its immediate surroundings. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a full photo of the front of the building as there was a lot of scaffolding erected but I managed to get a shot of the centre part of it and some long distance shots from across the gardens. On the south side of the house was a huge twisted tree with intertwined branches and close by a new enclosed garden had been created, set in the lawns where a car park had once been when the building was offices. Across the lawns was The Mount, a high earthen mound which has been situated there since at least the 18th century ; recent work on the gardens has included the installation of steps and a sloping pathway up to the top of The Mount to give a good view over to the house and surrounding parkland.
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The dovecote
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The parkland viewed from the north side
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The centre front of the house
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A weather-beaten friendly-faced lion guarding the door
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The twisted tree
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View from The Mount
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The south facade and Paradise Garden
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Paradise Garden and parkland
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The final photo
While I’d been wandering round the weather had got better and better and it was more like a summer’s day than mid February so not wanting to cut the day short when I left the hall I drove right along the sea front to my favourite cafe by the beach at St. Annes, where I had two mugs of their delicious milky coffee, then after a short dog walk along the beach I set off for home. The weather was still glorious when I left Lytham behind but as I got to the outskirts of Preston the sky had started to cloud over and when I got closer to home it was really dull and grey, vastly different to when I’d set out a few hours before. I didn’t mind too much though – I’d had my day out, the dogs got a good walk, and I’d got some good photos of somewhere I’d never been before so I was more than happy. And now having finally been to Lytham Hall I can say that I’ll certainly be making a return visit later in the year.

Visiting the museum (3) – Natural History & aquarium

Bolton’s past industrial heritage has had a very strong influence on the town and its people over the years and the ground floor of the main gallery was dedicated to various aspects of local history. Just inside the wide entrance Samuel Crompton’s original Spinning Mule was enclosed in a very large modern glass exhibition case but there were so many light reflections showing up that I couldn’t get a decent shot of it from any angle. Although the gallery has been modernised to a certain extent it still retains many of its older features and it looked so attractive that at first I was more intent on photographing my surroundings rather than studying the exhibits.
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Main gallery, ground floor
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African elephant viewed from below
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American brown bear, donated by Manchester Museum
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Common shrew
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Harvest mouse
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Kiwi
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A colourful bird collection
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I could have spent much longer in the natural history section than I actually did but there was another part I wanted to see and mindful of the time I made my way out through the museum shop and down the second staircase which, like the one I went up, was lined with various paintings on one wall. I remember being taken to the museum by my parents when I was a child and just for fun I would run down one set of stairs while they went down the stairs at the other side and we would meet at the bottom – it was a race to see who could get there first and somehow I always seemed to win.
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The bright and attractive museum shop
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Going down…
Down in the basement of the building was the aquarium – completely separate from the museum it originally opened in 1941, six years before the museum itself, and though the decor and the lighting have been changed over time the layout is the same now as it was back then. At one time the fish collections were limited to British species only, including salmon, pike and trout, but this has changed over the years and the aquarium now has collections from several different countries.
Bolton aquarium
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Nile Tilapia from Egypt
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Piranha from the Amazon
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Stingray from Brazil
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Suckermouth catfish from Brazil
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Lake Kurina Rainbow Fish from Papua New Guinea
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Lake Malawi Chichlids from Africa
Those were to be my last photos of the afternoon, time was getting on and I didn’t want to be late back at the car park. After all these years of not going to the museum my visit had proved to be extremely interesting ; I’d been very impressed with the general refurbishment, the Egyptian galleries and the natural history section and I’d got some good photos too, so maybe on a rainy day when it’s too wet to do a dog walk I’ll make a return visit to see what I missed this time.

Visiting the museum (2) – History, art & textiles

Bolton’s Central Museum hasn’t always been situated where it is now. Back in 1876 Samuel Taylor Chadwick, a wealthy local doctor, left a bequest of £5,000 to Bolton Corporation for the building, furnishing and maintenance of a Museum of Natural History in Bolton Park, which was later renamed Queen’s Park. The bequest came with the conditions that the building must be erected within four years and entry to the museum would be free for everyone. Building work began in 1878 and the Chadwick Museum finally opened in June 1884, with its first curators being father and son William and Thomas Midgley who expanded the museum’s varied collections during their many years there.
By the 1930s it was recognised that the Chadwick building was too small to continue housing the museum’s growing collections so work began on fitting out a larger museum in the current town centre building ; unfortunately the outbreak of WW2 interrupted the works so the new museum didn’t open until October 1947. With the Chadwick building lying empty it fell into a state of decline and eventually the local council decided that the cost of repair and renovation would be too great, so after 73 years service to the town the building was finally demolished in 1956.
The room next to the Egyptian gallery was reminiscent of the old Chadwick Museum, and with a mock-up of the front of the old building and embroidered portraits of its founder and curators on the walls it told the story of the museum’s beginnings and early years.
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A doorway on the right led into the art gallery, and though there were some older paintings on the walls a lot of the ‘art’ was modern stuff. It was very colourful though and I did quite like a painting of ‘four amaryllis in pots’ by someone-I’ve-never-heard-of although most of the other modern stuff didn’t impress me at all. From there I moved on to the textile collection which is one of the largest in the country, though I really only had eyes for some of the bright coloured fabrics on display.
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The textile gallery
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From the textile gallery I moved on to the large main gallery where the upper floor was dedicated to the natural history section with its many displays of animals, birds and sea life from the UK and other countries, but I took so many photos in there that section will have to feature in another post.
To be continued….

Visiting the museum (1) – Elephants & Egypt

As I needed to go into town a couple of days ago I decided to take a look round the central museum while I was there. As museums aren’t exactly on my list of ‘things to go and see’ it’s been many years since I was last in there, however the place recently underwent an almost 2-year refurbishment programme, re-opening last September, and since then more than one person has told me how nice it is now so I thought I should go and take a look. Walking from the car park I first came to the town’s elephants set in a small square a hundred yards or so from the museum. Elephants have been associated with the town since as far back as 1799 and there’s one on the local coat of arms ; the coloured ones were named by local youngsters in a competition.
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In the museum building a curving stone staircase went up from each side of the wide entrance hall, and while those staircases were just as they were when I was a child the museum itself was vastly different. At the top of the stairs was the museum shop and through there was a bright atrium with the various galleries leading off it. I’d been told that the new Egypt gallery was quite exceptional and I wouldn’t disagree – with five rooms leading into each other, bright wall murals, hundreds of artefacts on display and even a full-size walk-through reproduction of a burial chamber it was a great place to wander round.
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Going up….
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I didn’t expect to see this at the top of the stairs!
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The Egypt gallery
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A bright wall mural
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Copy of the Rosetta Stone
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The mummified body of a 3-year old girl
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“The Unknown Man” acquired by the museum in the 1930s and believed to be a son of Rameses ll or Rameses the Great
The “Unknown Man” actually reposes in a woman’s coffin although no-one knows how he came to be in it, but before he was donated to the museum he had been used as a feature in a lady’s drawing room although it’s not known how she came to acquire him. In 1932 the Boris Karloff horror film The Mummy was produced, followed by other films of the same type, so it’s thought that maybe these films influenced the lady’s decision to donate the “Unknown Man” to the museum.
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Original stonework from the tomb of Pharoah Thutmose lll who reigned from 1425 to 1479 BC
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The Egypt gallery was so varied and interesting that it would have taken me a long while to read all the information available and look properly at all the items on display but I didn’t want to overstay my time on the car park so once I’d taken as many photos as I could reasonably get I moved on to the next section of the museum.
To be continued….

I won’t be doing this one again!

Last month, while I was out at the animal sanctuary one Saturday, I bought a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle from the bookshop for the ‘extravagant’ price of £1, and a few days later I brought an old unused whiteboard home from work to do it on. I started the puzzle the following Saturday and though some parts of it were relatively easy most of it was quite difficult and I could only put a few pieces in at any one time before I started losing the will to live. More than once I was convinced that there must be some pieces missing as I couldn’t seem to find the right shape or the right bit of tree or whatever it was I was working on ; it took me three weeks, off and on, to do the puzzle and finally, at 1.13pm last Saturday, I put the last piece in.
Now normally, if I’ve enjoyed doing a jigsaw puzzle and it’s an exceptionally nice picture, once I’ve broken it up again I’ll keep it to redo it sometime in the future, but this particular puzzle has proved to be so difficult that there’s no way  I’ll be doing it again. It’s a very pretty picture though and too nice to break up straight away after all my hard work so I decided to frame it instead. It’s a bit of an odd size though and I’ve not been able to find a frame to fit, however after much searching I got a larger one yesterday which would work with the size of the puzzle although I couldn’t get a mount to fit the frame. I solved that problem though by getting a sheet of mounting card from the local craft store to use as a background, then with a few tiny bits of strategically placed Blu-tak and a bit of patience I managed to get the puzzle off the board, onto the mounting card and into the frame.
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On the board
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In the frame
Unfortunately now the puzzle is in the frame it doesn’t photograph too well without light reflections showing up so the second photo is more indicative of the actual colour, however if I can get a daylight shot without shadows or reflections the third photo will be replaced. And all I have to do now is find a suitable section of blank wall to display it.

A snowy walk to Smithills Hall

Since my walk on New Year’s Day the weather locally has been constantly cloudy, grey, wet and dreary, certainly not nice enough to get out and about with the camera, however since the snow arrived early last week we have had four days of lovely blue sky and sunshine so a couple of days ago I took myself off for a short-ish walk to Smithills Hall, not too far from home and an easy walk if I don’t have a lot of time or want to be too energetic. My route, as on my previous walk to the Hall, took me across the local park and through Smithills Wood with its bare trees being in complete contrast to the last time, although there was still plenty of greenery and autumn colour around.
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The edge of the park
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This copse hides a small pond
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The far side of the park
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Smithills Wood
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Raveden Brook
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This time, instead of going from the wood up onto the lane I crossed the little stone bridge and followed the path which took me straight into the gardens of the Hall. Since discovering the 1873 grave of Little Bess on my last visit I’ve tried all avenues to find any information about the little dog but come up with nothing other than that she belonged to the Ainsworth family who lived at the Hall at that time. Someone from the Friends of Smithills Hall group did contact me in reply to my query but couldn’t give me any information other than the grave isn’t tended by any members of the group as I first thought, so it would seem that the flowers and decorations on it must have been left by a mystery dog lover.
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The snowy grave of Little Bess
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Smithills Hall through the trees
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Monument and terraced gardens
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Scented garden, east wing
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East wing and chapel
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The hidden lake, more exposed now the trees are bare
I spent quite some time wandering round the grounds but even though the sun was shining it was still bitterly cold and wandering rather than proper walking wasn’t keeping me warm, so after taking the photo of the lake I made my way out onto the lane and headed for home, going through the nearby farm yard rather than back through the wood.
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Raveden Brook from the lane
By the time I’d reached the bottom end of the park the sun had disappeared and the sky was looking rather heavy – if it was going to snow again I’d rather be indoors before it did, so although I’d had an enjoyable walk I was glad to be on my way back home.
I’m linking this with Jo’s latest Monday Walk where this week she takes us on a boat ride to the Algarve island of Culatra, where the sunny weather is just the thing to bring a bright start to the week.