Ravenglass – a walk in two parts

Day 4 of my holiday started with the most glorious sunrise over the nearby fells just before 4.30am, a promising start to the day ahead. This was to be my ‘big day out’ and I left the camp site a bit earlier than usual for the drive down to Ravenglass to meet up with Jayne. We had agreed to rendezvous in the village car park and when I arrived I found she had got there just a short while ahead of me. She had reversed her campervan/mobile home into a space in an empty corner of the car park so I drove into the space on its nearside, meaning our side doors were opposite and we could sit and chat easily without being disturbed.
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Jayne had previously suggested taking me for a walk, she had in mind a part of Ravenglass she suspected I hadn’t seen before – she was right – so after much chatting and drinking of cool ginger beer and coffee we set off. Through the car park and over the railway line we came to a pretty little garden set behind the signal box, then past the nearby play park and quite a distance along a lane through a pleasant wooded area we came to the ruins of a Roman Bath House.
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The Roman fort of Ravenglass was established on land between the lane and the river estuary and is believed to have been occupied from AD 130 to the end of the 4th century. Standing almost 13ft high in places, the remains of the bath house are among the tallest surviving Roman structures in northern Britain. The building was identified as being Roman in the 19th century, although it was initially thought to have been a villa and wasn’t identified as a bath house until the 20th century.
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Further along from the bath house the lane turned to the right and led downhill under the railway line to the estuary, where we walked along above the shore line before dropping down onto the sand for the last couple of hundred yards to the village’s main street.
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Back at the car park there was much more chatting to be done until it was time for Jayne to leave but it was still only late afternoon, my car park ticket was valid for all day and I had no reason to rush back to the camp site so I decided to stay for a while longer and take myself off for a walk across the railway bridge to the other side of the river.
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Back in the village I had another walk along to the end of the main street then took a path between the houses and past the end of the car park where Jayne and I had started our walk. At the far side of the railway line for the second time I dropped down onto the platform for the steam railway and came out onto the main road into the village. Down the road and under the main railway line I was then on a loop back to the car park and my final shot of the day was taken as I passed a very pretty cottage garden.
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It was well after 7pm when I finally got back to the camp site, with the good weather having stayed with me all the way back. Meeting up with Jayne had been lovely, I’d had two nice walks and taken lots of photos in the process; it had been a perfect day, now it was time to make a brew and relax for the rest of the evening.

Derwent Pencil Museum, Keswick

Home to the world’s largest coloured pencil, the Derwent Pencil Museum was featured in my ‘111 Places’ book along with another place in Keswick which seemed quite intriguing so towards the end of my first week on holiday I decided to pay a visit.
Back in the early 16th century graphite was discovered in the Borrowdale area of Cumbria, with the first documented use of it for writing and drawing being in 1565. In the early days of pencil making a small cottage industry making artists’ pencils by hand started in Keswick, this then became a commercial venture from 1792 onwards. By 1811 the town had three main manufacturers – John Ladyman, John Airey and Jacob Banks, but by 1829 that number had increased to thirteen.
The Cumberland Pencil Company started life in 1832 under the name of “Banks, Son & Co”. This company passed through several owners before becoming the Cumberland Pencil Company in 1916, and in 1932 the first coloured pencil was produced. In 1980 the company was bought by the American firm Acco Brands, known then as Rexel, and the Derwent name became a brand of their product range.
The factory was renovated several times over the years, the last renovation being in the 1950s, but as machinery and production methods changed over time the factory became unviable. In the mid 1990s plans were put forward to redevelop the building but they didn’t meet the criteria for the Lake District National Park Planning Authority so eventually the decision was made to re-locate to new premises in Workington.
The new factory was officially opened by the Queen on June 5th 2008 though the old factory building still stands close to the River Greta in Keswick, with the Pencil Museum, which opened in 1981, situated in a single story building in front of it. In December 2015 the museum was badly damaged by several feet of flood water when the river broke its banks as a result of Storm Desmond; many artefacts were destroyed and although a lot of the exhibits were salvaged one limited-edition collection was completely ruined and couldn’t be replaced. After an 18-month closure the museum reopened to the public in June 2017 with Countryfile  tv presenter John Craven cutting the ribbon.
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Paying my £4.95 at the door I was given a Derwent pencil as an ‘entry ticket’ then found myself walking through a mock-up of a graphite mine tunnel leading to the main part of the museum. A couple of life-size models represented mine workers and a display case on top of a large wooden box contained three skulls, and while I could ~ maybe ~ see the significance of the models I hadn’t a clue what the skulls were all about. To be honest the whole set-up felt weird and wouldn’t have looked out of place as part of a fairground ghost train.
Emerging from the ‘mine’ I found the rest of the museum to be fairly light and bright, with information panels on the walls showing the history of graphite, the company, and how pencils are made. Several display cases contained examples of various items produced over the years but unfortunately so much glass produced too much light reflection – photography wasn’t easy and a lot of my shots had to be severely cropped or deleted.
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Paint cart and pots
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Painting machine
One thing I did find interesting was the development of the ‘secret map and compass’ pencil. During WW2  Charles Fraser-Smith was known to be a civil servant in the textile department of the Ministry of Supply but in reality he was a ‘gadget man’ working at the direction of MI6, developing and supplying a wide range of spy and escape gadgets for the Special Operations Executive. Always on the lookout for ways to help airmen evade capture, prisoners of war to escape, and secret agents to get information back to Britain, he approached Fred Tee, the technical manager at Cumberland Pencils, to see if a pencil could be made with a secret compartment.
Tee worked out how to make the pencils then he and his fellow managers, all sworn to silence by the Official Secrets Act, would creep back into the factory after hours to do their work. A box of finished pencils would be taken off the shelf and the insides partially drilled out, then a tightly rolled map would be slipped inside each one, the metal ferrule would be placed on the end, a tiny compass inserted and the eraser glued back on; at the end of the job each pencil looked just as it had at the start.
In 1999, as part of the company’s commemoration of the forthcoming millennium, Clive Farrar, the technical manager at the time, wanted to reproduce the WW2 pencil. It was a job which proved to be very difficult even with modern machinery and technology; the story is told by Clive himself in a continuously running video and an example is displayed on one of the information boards.
Also for the millennium the company produced the Borrowdale Collection, a special edition box containing all the Derwent ranges plus some special edition pencils which had been produced over the years. There was no indication of how much this would have cost to buy but looking at the prices of some of the things in the shop and on the website – some items well over £200 – it would have been extremely expensive.
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To commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in 2012 Derwent crafted a special Diamond Jubilee Pencil; only two were made, with one being presented to Her Majesty and the other being displayed in the museum. Using previously archived graphite originally taken from the Borrowdale mine where it was first discovered the pencils were meticulously hand crafted by Clive Farrar using the traditional pencil making skills from before 1832. Once painted, the barrels were embellished with caligraphy by Paul Antonio and finished with a crown encrusted with 60 diamonds supported by white gold fleur-de-lys to symbolise royalty.
Also to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee, on the wall nearby was a portrait of the Queen produced by pencil artist Samantha Norbury whose clients include Sir Cliff Richard and well known darts players Bobby George and Phil Taylor. Commissioned by Derwent it was created using only Derwent Artists’ Pencils.
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A set of 72 Derwent Artists’ Pencils
In the centre of the room was the one thing I’d really gone to see – the world’s largest coloured pencil. The idea of technical manager Barbara Murray, the yellow pencil is 26ft long, weighs 446.36 kilos, or just over 984 lbs in old money, and was completed on May 28th 2001.
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Once I’d seen all there was to see, which didn’t take very long as the museum isn’t a big place, I had a browse round the shop where I came across a multi-coloured sheep which had been part of the Herdwick Trail  in 2016. Full size models of 60 ewes and 48 lambs were sponsored by local businesses, decorated by local artists and dotted around the tourist routes from Keswick to Windermere. Eventually they were all auctioned off to enable The Calvert Trust, a residential centre for people with sensory, learning or physical disabilities, to develop their riding school’s facilities.
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Although the museum had been interesting in many ways much of it was given over to displays of different pencils in various tins, tubes and boxes and ‘artistic arrangements’, and while the information boards gave great detail of the discovery and use of graphite and how pencils are made I thought they were rather lacking in the finer details of the history of the place; even the website seems to concentrate more on the products they sell.
With the mock-up of the mine tunnel at the entrance, three random skulls, a seemingly pointless life-size model in a pilot’s uniform standing at the far end, and the multi-coloured sheep in the shop this, to me at least, was a bit of an odd place. It passed 45 minutes of my time though, and having seen the world’s largest coloured pencil in the flesh, so to speak, I can now cross the museum off my ‘places to see’ list.

Caldbeck and Hesket Newmarket

After my brief visit to the pharmacy in Cockermouth and a look round the hardware shop and heritage museum I returned to the campsite to decide on the next part of my day. The first antihistamine tablet, which I’d taken as soon as I came out of the pharmacy, was already working its magic as the swelling in my arm had gone down considerably, and the previously purchased painkillers had seen off most of the pain in my foot. Not wanting to aggravate it any more than I needed to I decided to drive out to Caldbeck and Hesket Newmarket; both places seemed to be fairly small so I shouldn’t have too much walking to do.
The villages had previously been suggested to me by my blogging friend Jayne and though I didn’t remember it at the time Caldbeck was actually featured in my ‘111 Places’ book. The village’s history can be traced back to before medieval times and since the Lake District was designated a National Park in 1951 Caldbeck, being very close to its northern boundary, is classed as being the last (or first) village within the Park. Looking at the photo in the book and reading the details it sounded like it was quite a picturesque little place so with sunshine, blue sky and fluffy white clouds I was looking forward to seeing it.
From the camp site there were two different ways to get to Caldbeck so I decided to go clockwise, one way there and the other way back. My route from the site took me onto the A595 then several miles north to the B5299 heading roughly east. The narrow road seemed to go on and on and I thought at one point my usually good sense of direction had failed me and I’d somehow taken a wrong turn somewhere but eventually I arrived at Caldbeck and a sign directed me to the village car park where I was able to leave the van in the shade of some trees.
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The road to Caldbeck – not far to go
My walk started from the far end of the car park where a path led up a slope between the rear gardens of two houses and curious to know what was up there I went, coming out by an extensive village green with a large duck pond. Unfortunately I couldn’t walk all the way round the pond as the green was bisected by a couple of deep drainage gulleys with water running down them. They were only narrow but still too wide to jump across with two dogs so I had to walk quite a distance along the nearby track before I could cross the green, where I came out onto the road opposite the attractive Cornerstone Methodist Church.
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Down the road and across from the car park entrance was Friar Row, a pleasant lane with a handful of detached houses on one side and stone cottages on the other. Eventually the lane turned into a track across a field and my way was barred by a field gate; it seemed to be private land from there so I retraced my steps to the bridge over the beck.
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Across the bridge I skirted the rear wall of the church grounds and came out at Priest’s Mill, a restored early 18th century water mill originally built by the village rector at the time. Initially used for grinding corn, from 1933 it was used as a sawmill and joiner’s workshop until floods destroyed the mill dam in 1965. The mill was eventually restored, with the work being completed in 1985, and it now houses a couple of craft and gift shops, a cafe and a tea garden, and there’s a picnic area beside the river. The only machinery left is the 14ft diameter water wheel which has been restored to working order, and though I didn’t go inside anywhere the wheel pit area apparently displays a local collection of old rural implements.DSCF9377 - CopyPriest's Mill, Caldbeck
A short walk up the track past Priest’s Mill brought me to a row of attractive cottages set sideways on to the road and a few yards along was the gate to St. Kentigern’s Church, also known as St. Mungo’s. Built on the site of a previous church dating from the 6th century the earliest parts of the current church date from the 12th and 13th centuries, with alterations made in 1512 and again in 1727 when the height of the tower was increased. In 1880 the building was restored by Carlisle architect C J Ferguson and a further restoration was carried out in 1932 by J F Martindale.
Close to the church is St. Mungo’s Well, a holy well where Christians were baptised in the 6th century, and in the churchyard is the grave of John Peel, a well known local huntsman who became the subject of the song D’ye ken John Peel?  written by his friend John Woodcock. Also buried in the churchyard is Mary Robinson who became known as The Maid of Buttermere.
Mary was born in 1778, the daughter of the landlord of the Fish Hotel in Buttermere. At the age of 15 she caught the eye of Joseph Budworth, a soldier and writer who described her beauty in great detail in his light-hearted ramblers’ guide to the lakes and as a consequence she became quite a sensation. Five years later she married the Honourable Alexander Hope, MP for Linlithgowshire, and her wedding was reported in the London Morning Post by Wordsworth’s friend Coleridge, though several people expressed their doubts about it. It turned out that they were right and the man was an imposter by the name of John Hatfield, a forger and swindler who was already married; convicted of his crimes he was hanged a year later leaving Mary heartbroken. Her popularity had grown though and she became the subject of many theatre plays, novels and poems. She went on to marry Richard Harrison, a local farmer, and they had four children together; she died in 1837 at the age of 59.
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Along the road from the church I found the village store and a row of cottages with pretty gardens, and set in a triangle between three lanes was the local pub, the Oddfellows Arms. Heading back to the car park I passed another couple of rows of cottages and some more very pretty gardens separated from the road by Gill Beck, then a hundred yards or so further on I was back at the car park.
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With my circuit of Caldbeck completed I headed the mile-and-a-half along the road to the neighbouring village of Hesket Newmarket and I have to admit to being totally underwhelmed. Although there wasn’t a great lot at Caldbeck it did have several interesting features and it was a very pretty place but there was hardly anything at Hesket Newmarket. Just a pub, a small chapel and a very small shop tucked away in a corner but other than that, zilch, nada, nothing, and no pretty gardens anywhere. Its one saving grace, for me at least, was the attractive view down the village green with the fields beyond, and with just one photo taken I returned to the van.
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My route back to the camp site took me back through Caldbeck and towards Bassenthwaite, passing through the hamlet of Uldale before eventually reaching the A591 where a couple of miles north I reached the turn off which would take me close to the site. I’d previously only been along that particular lane just once, on my way to the site on my first day, and I hadn’t taken much notice of the surroundings but this time I did and the views were lovely.
At one point I could see Bassenthwaite Lake, which wasn’t really all that far away, so I stopped the van in a convenient place and got out to take a couple of photos. Unfortunately no amount of editing has been able to get rid of the overhead electricity cable very visible in the zoom shot but in reality it didn’t spoil the view at all.
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Thinking about my afternoon out, if Caldbeck and Hesket Newmarket hadn’t been suggested by Jayne, with Caldbeck also being featured in the ‘111 Places’ book, I would probably never have known about either of them or even gone there. Being a bit off the beaten track they certainly weren’t touristy places, in fact Hesket could best be described as ‘sleepy’, and though I wasn’t particularly impressed with the place I did like Caldbeck, so maybe some day in the future I’ll make a return visit.

J B Banks & Son Ltd, Cockermouth

I don’t know where I first found out about the traditional hardware shop and heritage museum in Cockermouth – it wasn’t featured in my ‘111 Places’ book so maybe it was on a leaflet picked up from somewhere a couple of years ago – but while I was in town getting the antihistamines for my horsefly bite I thought I may as well check the place out.
Around 1829 John Banks opened a tin smithy business in a building at the rear of what is now the hardware shop, then in 1836 he added a plumber’s workshop to the tin smithy and opened the shop at the front, with the deeds of the property being signed by William Wordsworth’s father who was then the land agent for Lord Lowther. John’s son, also named John, later joined his father in the business which then became J B Banks & Son. As well as being a successful businessman John Banks was also a local personality of some influence and his proposal that there should be proper control over the ownership of guns eventually led to the introduction of the gun licence.
In 1902 the business employed 16-year old Wilfred Jackson. Every day he would cycle to and from his home, five miles each way, and often acted as the delivery boy, carrying all manner of items for neighbours and customers on his bike. In 1923, at the age of 37 and by then a partner in J B Banks & Son, Wilfred married Daisy Emerson who had a confectionery business in the town and their son Jack was born in 1926. Wilfred worked full time until he had major surgery at the age of 72 then he resumed work on a part time basis until his death at the age of 78.
On January 5th 1933 the business became a limited company and in 1942, at the age of 16, Jack Jackson joined his father Wilfred in the firm, though he took a break from the business in 1944 when he joined the Royal Marines for three years. In 1957 he married Dorothy Eckford and they went on to have three children, Kay, Alan and Vanessa. In 1958 Peter Chandler, who had been Jack’s best man, joined him in the shop and worked there for many years until he retired through ill health.
Jack Jackson, like John Banks before him, was a man of many parts. He was a founder member and President of the Cockermouth Mountain Rescue Team established in 1953, and by the late 1960s he had bought out the remaining ‘sleeping partner’ in the business. In his spare time he collected all kinds of local memorabilia, particularly antique locks and keys, and in 1969 he became a magistrate, only retiring in 1996 when he reached the age of 70.
On three separate occasions between 1950 and 1970 the shop front was damaged after being hit by lorries going uphill on nearby Castlegate, the steep and narrow road going out of the town. All three lost control on the ascent and slipped backwards, crashing into the shop front. It was also in the late 1960s that the shop was extended backwards and joined to the separate tin smithy at the rear, and it was then that the long forgotten well was discovered in the former shop yard
As a young girl Jack’s youngest daughter Vanessa would get pocket money for cleaning all the brass scales and weights and polishing the mahogany shop counters, then she officially joined the payroll in 1985 at the age of 22. The firm also owns the commercial and residential premises behind and above the business and Vanessa managed the letting of these premises as well as working in the shop. When Vanessa passed away in 2018 at the age of 55 her role was taken over by her daughter Sarah who had become the fourth generation of the family firm when she joined in 2014, and now with Sarah and her dad, Chris, who has taken a more active role in the business, J.B Banks continues to serve its customers and community.
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The heritage museum came about as a result of the devastating flood of November 19th 2009 when the rivers Cocker and Derwent, which meet in the town, burst their banks after heavy rainfall. The shop was flooded to a depth of 4.5ft, counters were overturned, stock was ruined and silt was left everywhere. The clean up and salvage operation took eight weeks, during which ruined stock was removed, the whole floor was replaced, stained and aged and the counters were repaired, cleaned and polished.
Due to an accumulation of paperwork and items collected and stored upstairs over many years there had been no room to put things during the flood so realising that space was needed in case of an emergency Vanessa and expert locksmith Ken Day, who joined the business in 1963 and is still there, took on the task of sorting through everything on the first floor during 2010. With nearly 200 years of history to go through it took quite some time to identify and label all the items found in the old workshop; while many items were retained others were sold and local archives took some of the interesting paperwork for their records.
The workshop and office were left as authentic as possible, with original ‘sit up and beg’ desks, high stools and typewriters from different eras in the office, while in the workshop a massive workbench running the length of six windows was left with vices, hammers, anvils, pipe benders and more, looking just as if the workers had put down their tools and gone home for the day. Once everything was sorted out the public were allowed through the rear doors of the shop on a regular basis from 2011.
Entering the shop from the sunlit street was like stepping into another era. Even though it does sell plenty of modern day items it looked just like the independent hardware shops I remember from my childhood, where you could get almost anything no matter how obscure it was. It also reminded me of the classic Two Ronnies ‘Four Candles’ sketch, and looking round this shop I was in no doubt that it would be possible to buy four candles – or even fork handles.
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Pre-decimal coins and old keys set in a counter top
Through the door at the back of the shop the ground floor of the museum was a mixture of antique tools and equipment, memorabilia and old signs and school photographs, with a unique ATCO Trainer car and the old well in one corner. There’s a long-standing rumour that there may be a secret passage in the well, connecting it to the nearby castle, but so far no-one has ever tried to find it.
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Fire bell from Cockermouth fire station
The ATCO Trainer car was manufactured by Charles H Pugh Ltd of Birmingham, a company better known for the production of lawn mowers. After the introduction of the Highway Code in 1931 and compulsory driving tests in 1935 the car was designed as a Safety First trainer car for school children, to help stem the rising numbers of road casualties by giving them basic training in car handling and road sense from an early age. Built around a 1939 ATCO lawn mower with the cutters removed it had a 98cc 2-stroke petrol engine in the back and scaled-down versions of a full-size car’s controls, with the accelerator, brake and clutch pedals all in the normal positions. With a speed of 8-10mph starting was by a pull handle between the two seats and there was just one forward and one reverse gear.
The original plan was to sell these cars in great numbers to schools and local authorities as part of a nationwide road safety initiative, a plan which received widespread backing from the press, politicians and the House of Lords, and distribution was to be through the motor trade and established ATCO lawn mower outlets. The cars were launched on June 16th 1939 but after only 250 had been built the project was cancelled with the outbreak of World War 2; it was estimated that 200 had been sold with the rest being broken up for the war effort.
With the introduction of fuel rationing, and the car’s small engine being able to achieve a distance of up to 80 miles on just one gallon of petrol, some of the cars were registered for the road to be used by adults rather than children and the Sunday Chronicle of November 26th 1939 featured a picture of an Oxford businessman driving a road registered ATCO Trainer through city centre traffic.
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The wooden staircase to the upper floor of the museum was decorated on both sides with a large collection of old locks and keys, from simple padlocks to plate locks, penny-in-the-slot toilet door locks and even police cell locks. Set back in a corner at the top of the stairs was the small office with its high desks and stools, pre-war items, advertisements and paperwork, all looked over by an oil painting of John Banks.
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1930s radio, still working
The rest of the large space featured the long workbench and tools of the tin smithy and plumber’s workshop on the right while on the left floor-to-ceiling racks contained a diverse mix of tools and various other objects collected over the space of many years, from clogs and clog irons rescued from the old cobbler’s shop next door to a more up-to-date bus stop sign.
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If I had read the labels on most of the items in there I would have been there for hours but with only an hour for on-street parking I couldn’t linger too long, so with three quick photos of the nearby streets with their colourful houses and shops I made my way back to the van.
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The shop is open Mondays to Saturdays from 9am to 5pm and the museum from 9am to 4pm. There’s no charge to look round the museum but there’s a visitors’ book and an unobtrusive donation box on a table near the foot of the stairs. Visitors can take as many photos as they want and dogs are welcome in both the shop and the museum. If anyone reading this is ever in the Cockermouth area then I can recommend a visit to step back in time for while – it’s a fascinating place.

Things you don’t see every day

Well you might if you actually live in the countryside but not if you live in a town or the suburbs. Spending the first full day of my holiday on the camp site to rest my painful foot I was able to see things which, even though I only live ten minutes walk from local countryside and moorland, I wouldn’t normally get to see unless I just happened to be in a certain place at the right time.
Driving back from town after picking up some more painkillers I rounded a bend in the lane and had to stop to let a couple of pedestrians cross in front of me. They were in no hurry but then neither was I, and eventually they made it to the other side and disappeared through the nearby farm gate to join their companions.
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Closer to the camp site I had to stop again and this time I got out of the van to take the photos. I’d just snapped the third one when I heard the sound of a car approaching the nearby bend; mother duck and her youngsters were just about to cross the lane so I stepped out and signalled the driver to stop, which fortunately he did, and the little family crossed safely, disappearing through a gate into the garden of a nearby cottage.
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Later that day, sitting in the sun with my foot resting on the door pocket of the open van door, I heard the unmistakable sound of a tractor and looked up to see a John Deere and forage trailer advancing down the field in front of me. This was followed by a Krone BIG 780 forage harvester and three more tractors with trailers, then with one tractor driving alongside the harvester the previously cut grass was scooped up and chopped up for silage by the machine then deposited into the trailer, and as one trailer became full the tractor drove away and the next one took its place.
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It was great watching the farm machinery at work though I have to admit that with my own previous experience of owning and driving vintage tractors I would have loved to get up in one of those modern ones. With the four tractors running in relay the whole operation was completed with no interruptions and it didn’t take long before the whole field was cleared, then once the harvester and tractors had finally gone the camp site became quiet once more and peace remained for the rest of the day.

Lake District holiday – the start

Two years since my last camping holiday and this one started with a sore foot, a fault with the tent, a leaky loo and a swollen arm, though fortunately all four problems were soon resolved and with mainly good weather I went on to have a lovely time away.
If anyone should ask why my foot was sore I can honestly say “I don’t know”. It was fine up until late evening two days before I went away though I noticed it gradually becoming sore as I was packing the van with all my camping gear, and by the time I went to bed that night it was really painful. The following day I could hardly walk on it, not helped by having to do some last minute shopping round town, and sitting here at the pc I just didn’t know where to put it as every position was agony.
Driving was no problem though and the journey to the camp site in Cumbria went without a hitch, but putting up my 4-person tent and setting out all my gear didn’t help matters and once again I was in agony. By that night I’d run out of painkillers so not wanting to spoil my holiday by being in pain over the next few days the following morning I drove into the nearest town to get some more. Happily a combination of the painkillers and spending the day on site, sitting in the sun and resting my foot, seemed to work and by the end of the following day I was virtually pain free. As to why my foot became so painful to start with, I can only think that it was caused by constantly stepping into and out of the van as I was packing all my gear in – other than that it will forever remain a mystery.
The problem with the tent had me puzzled for a few minutes until I realised what must have happened. This is a brand new tent, the same make and model as my last one and purchased not long after the theft of my previous van and all my camping gear nearly two years ago, though I’d never had the chance to use it since. The three main anchor points for the bedrooms are colour coded and when I put the first bedroom in the anchor point on the right and the smaller one below it didn’t correspond with the points on the tent wall. Thinking I’d got the wrong bedroom I used the other one but that was the same, though the anchor points on the other side of the tent corresponded with the ones on both bedrooms so this must have been a manufacturing fault just in the one place. The problem was easily rectified using one of the ties from the tent bag and the bedrooms will now stay in place for the life of the tent – mouse over the images for the captions.
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The leaky loo? Again, this was a brand new item purchased round about the same time as the tent but so far never used. After finding a puddle on the tent floor during my first full day the problem was soon discovered and sorted out and the puddle mopped up with a couple of the many microfibre cleaning cloths I’d packed in case I should need them.
The swollen arm came from an allergic reaction which I’d completely forgotten about. Since my stay at that site two years ago the owners have cut a wide track through the field on the far side of the wildlife lake so it’s now possible to walk all the way round, and after spending most of the first day resting my foot I took Snowy and Poppie round there during the early evening. Not long afterwards my left arm started itching – midge bite I thought, but when my arm later swelled up and became hot and inflamed I realised I’d been attacked by a horsefly. So the following morning I went back into town to get some fast acting antihistamine tablets from the pharmacy. The first one acted pretty quickly in reducing the swelling, and though I got bitten again twice over the next couple of days thanks to the tablets neither of those bites affected me like the first one did.
So that was the start of my holiday. Fortunately the following days flowed along smoothly and though I didn’t get to quite as many places as I’d intended I did discover a few new and interesting ones so be warned – there’ll be a lot of photos on this blog before long.

Going awol

Well not exactly ‘awol’ but I am  disappearing for a while. Later this morning I’m off on a 10-day holiday to Cumbria, staying on a lovely little camp site which is part of a farm. Miles away from anywhere with an on-site wildlife lake, surrounded by fields, overlooked by Skiddaw and its neighbouring fells, and nothing but peace and quiet – it’s a little bit of heaven away from a mad and manic world.
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I stayed there twice two years ago and loved it so I’m really looking forward to this holiday. Hopefully the dogs and I will come back refreshed and relaxed and I’ll have plenty of photos for the blog so I’ll see you all when I get back.

Looking for Looney Tunes

Another day in Manchester over the weekend and this time I was on the Looney Tunes art trail. Now to be honest until last week I’d never heard of Space Jam and hadn’t a clue what it was supposed to be but apparently it was the first full-length film produced by Warner Brothers featuring a combination of human actors and well known Looney Tunes cartoon characters.
To celebrate 25 years since its 1996 release, and ahead of the new Space Jam film coming to cinema screens next month, several Looney Tunes characters have been painted in different locations around the city by street artist Captain Kris in collaboration with Warner Bros. UK and Manchester Business Improvement District, and for those with smart phones each piece of art includes a QR code (whatever that is) leading to a virtual map of the trail.
Now, I don’t have a smart phone and nor do I want one, so I had the fun of seeking out these artworks for myself. Armed with a list of characters and locations and the street knowledge gained from many hours spent roaming round the city centre over the last few months I set off from Victoria Station with my first stop being inside the Printworks where I found Bugs Bunny, Marvin the Martian, and Daffy Duck.
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Next on the list was Daffy Duck at the nearby Exchange Square tram stop but I wasn’t sure if he would actually be there. The art trail only officially opened last Wednesday but a report in the Manchester Evening News on Thursday said that Daffy had already vanished – apparently he had been mistakenly removed by a council cleaning team. Luckily the artist had reinstated him fairly quickly and there he was, on one of the platform’s central pillars.
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Round at the top end of Market Street I found Bugs Bunny popping out through the front wall of Primark then over in the NQ I found Marvin the Martian and Lola Bunny on the front of a pizza restaurant in Edge Street. A short walk through the streets took me to the Pen And Pencil bar where Porky Pig was doing battle with a leaking pipe on the outside wall then I found Sylvester stalking Tweety Pie round the corner of 111 Piccadilly. 
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Next on the list was another Bugs Bunny in Canal Street then a walk to Circle Square found Wile E. Coyote chasing Road Runner round Symphony Park. A short walk from there took me to First Street where I found the Tasmanian Devil bursting out through the wall of Junkyard Golf then another short walk found the Looney Tunes gang skateboarding through Deansgate Square.
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After another visit to Castlefield across the main road (more of that in a future post) I had quite a trek along Deansgate to look for Speedy Gonzales somewhere in Spinningfields. He took some finding as Spinningfields is a big area – 23 acres apparently – and just like the website details for the flower installation at Deansgate Square earlier this month the location details for finding Speedy bore no relation to where he actually was. Thanks to a patrolling security guy who knew what I was talking about I finally found him sliding down the rail at the top of some steps and I got my last Looney Tunes photo – that was it, I’d found them all.
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According to the website the Looney Tunes art trail actually started with Speedy Gonzales and finished with the characters in the Printworks so technically I’d done it the wrong way round but it didn’t matter in the slightest; I’d been to all eleven locations and happily I’d found all the characters. Making my way back to Victoria Station I popped into a cafe in the Royal Exchange Arcade for a coffee and a snack then stopped off in the Corn Exchange for a quick bit of photography there before catching the train back home – after almost five hours walking round the city centre it was definitely time for a rest.

The Castlefield goslings

When I wrote in my third Manchester Flower Show post that I’d been very disappointed with the ‘towers of flowers’ installation on Deansgate Square I didn’t say that was the second time I’d been to look for it. The flower show website had given its location as Deansgate Square, Owen Street and a look on Google maps showed me where Owen Street was. With the photo I wanted to recreate firmly in my mind I went there on my first visit to the show but looking for the floral installation was like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.
Finding Owen Street was no problem, what was  a problem was finding what I was actually looking for. The three high rise towers in the internet photo were over on the left but the whole street for quite a distance along was just one massive great sectioned off building site surrounded by huge hoardings advertising ‘Deansgate Square Phase 1’ or 2 or 3 etc. I even asked a couple of builders where this flower thing was but they hadn’t a clue so after wandering further along the street and still not finding it I gave up and headed back towards the city centre – and that’s when I had a lovely and very unexpected surprise.
The Castlefield goslings have been the subject of several Instagram posts and comments over the last few weeks. Along with a couple of adult geese they (presumably) live in and around the Castlefield Basin but for some unknown reason like to commute to the streets at the other side of Deansgate, taking their lives in their webbed feet by crossing the extremely busy main road. It beats me how they haven’t been squashed by now but traffic does seem to stop for them.
As I crossed the end of a side street behind Deansgate I looked to my right and walking down the middle of the street were several fluffy yellow goslings, two older ones and a couple of adult geese. The little ones ran onto a patch of spare land and spent a good five minutes pecking at the weeds growing round the edge, watched over by one of the adults before they all set off in a line down the street towards Deansgate.
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With hindsight I should really have gone to the main road to get a shot of them crossing it but some street art caught my attention and by the time I did get round to Deansgate they had disappeared. I finally found the flower installation a few days later after asking someone who posted a photo on Instagram – the flower show organisers really should have put proper details of its location on their website as it was in such an obscure place. It was while I was in that area for the second time that I went to explore the Castlefield Basin and saw the goose family in the Bridgewater Canal.
Mentally counting the goslings I found the same number as I’d seen a few days previously so at least none of them had become victims of the Deansgate traffic. No doubt by the time I make another visit to Castlefield the goslings will be all grown up so seeing them walking down the street a few days previously had been a lovely surprise which I’ll remember for quite some time.

A discovery walk round Castlefield Basin

My Monday walk this week was one of those impromptu ‘while I’m here I may as well look round over there’ walks. That being so, aside from seeing a couple of photos on Instagram I hadn’t previously researched the area I went to, nor did I photograph things which I now know could be of interest but I can, and probably will, go back there another time.
Castlefield is an inner city conservation area in Manchester and within its boundaries lies Castlefield Basin where the Rochdale Canal and Bridgewater Canal meet. Although many of the area’s old warehouses from long ago have disappeared over the years most of the remaining ones have been restored and renovated to be converted into modern apartments and offices alongside high quality new developments, an outdoor waterside arena for live music and several bars and eateries, making Castlefield Basin a very pleasant and popular place.
My walk started on Deansgate where the Rochdale Canal disappears under the road for a short distance and a railway line runs overhead. At the far side of the viaduct was a tall and very narrow building, empty and derelict for many years but once part of a sawmill possibly dating from the second half of the nineteenth century. A pleasant offshoot from the cobbled Castle Street ended in a large parking area at the side of the Bridgewater Canal then steps on the right took me back up to the road.
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Passing the large and now converted canalside Merchants’ Warehouse on my left and the beer garden of Dukes bar on the right the road took me to Lock 92 on the Rochdale Canal, where the canal itself joins the canal basin. At the far side was the attractive lock keeper’s cottage with its pretty garden though looking down the canal I couldn’t miss what must currently be Manchester’s ugliest building, the Beetham Tower, a 47-storey mixed-use skyscraper on Deansgate.
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Past the cottage the road took me under three viaducts to a dead-end offshoot of the Bridgewater Canal with its narrowboat moorings next to Castlefield Bowl, the outdoor music and events arena. Heading back to the canal basin along the towpath I took a couple of shots under the bridges before emerging at Catalan Square with its tapas bar and attractive outdoor dining area complete with floral planters.

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Narrowboat moorings at Castlefield Bowl

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Staying on the towpath would have taken me back past the lock keeper’s cottage so I went up the steps to Catalan Square and crossed the modern Merchant’s Bridge running above the junction of the two canals to the area of Slate Wharf. With a span of 40 metres the 3-metre wide deck is hung from the steel arches by 13 hangers, and with no underneath supports it has a bit of a bouncy feel to it when walking across. Taking photos from the middle of the bridge when other people were walking across it needed a steady hand and a lot of patience to avoid blurry shots.

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The Bridgewater Canal from Catalan Square

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Potato Wharf from Merchant’s Bridge, with a freight train passing overhead

At the far side of the bridge was the pleasant open area of Castlefield Green with several narrowboats moored alongside and The Wharf pub/restaurant with its outdoor seating area. At the head of a small former wharf by a bend in the canal was the restored Middle Warehouse, now converted into offices, apartments and a restaurant and also the home of Hits Radio, formerly Key 103 and previous to that Piccadilly Radio.
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Past the front of Middle Warehouse a small footbridge took me back onto the canal towpath and if I ignored the ongoing development of multi-storey apartments and 2-bedroom duplexes of Castle Wharf on my right it was a very pleasant walk until I eventually emerged onto the main road not far from where I started.
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Never having been to that area before I didn’t know what to expect but I was very pleasantly surprised by how nice it is. Having now found out a lot more about the place a return is definitely on my list and hopefully there’ll be a lot more photo opportunities waiting for me when I do go back.