Hornby Castle Gardens and a quick trip to Morecambe

Just a few days ago the dogs and I paid a visit to Hornby Castle Gardens during the snowdrop open weekend. I’d originally been undecided about going as (according to the website) with it being early in the season some of the snowdrops were only just getting going but this was the only weekend the gardens could open, however we hadn’t had a decent day out so far this year and the weather was promising so off we went.
If I thought that getting there soon after the 11am opening time would avoid what would later be a lot of visitors I was wrong, there was quite a queue to pay at the table set up just inside the main gates. With a history talk scheduled for 12 noon at the main house most people seemed to be heading up that way so I went in the opposite direction to where it might be a bit quieter, starting with the woodland walk.
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Past the pond the path led me to the walled garden but with bare flower beds and nothing much growing anywhere there was very little to see so I went down to the riverside, walking along by the water then following a steep path up to the corner of the castle lawns. Across the front of the castle steep steps took me back down onto the main driveway and with nothing else to see I headed back to the main road and the car park.
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The Lodge
River Wenning from the road bridge, Hornby village
Still only lunch time and with the rest of the afternoon ahead it was too early to think about going back home once I left Hornby Castle so I headed for Morecambe and an excellent filling lunch of home made steak pie, mash, veg and gravy in Rita’s Cafe on the promenade, followed by a mooch round the indoor Festival Market then a walk down to West End and back along the promenade as far as the Eric Morecambe statue before returning to the van and finally heading for home.
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The daylight hours increasing slowly each day meant that I was back home before it started to go dark, with the dogs having slept all the way back. As far as days out go there had been nothing special about this one but it had been good to have a few hours away from my local area, and if dogs could talk I’m sure Snowy and Poppie would agree.

Out of sight – but not out of danger

Just as many people of a certain age can remember where they were when they heard about the assassination of America’s President Kennedy back in 1963, the IRA bombing of Manchester city centre will be forever etched in the minds and memories of the many people and their families who were affected by it. In one of the darkest and most defining moments in Manchester’s history the huge explosion on Saturday June 15th 1996 ripped through the heart of the city centre, tearing buildings apart and hurling glass and rubble a mile into the air before it rained down on hundreds of terrified shoppers and workers.
The explosion seen from the Cross Street/King Street junction – Photo from Manchester Evening News
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Photo from Manchester Evening News, taken from Withy Grove
Later referred to as ‘the bomb that went round corners’ the blast hit people well out of its sight-line with a brute force that sent them flying. Windows were momentarily sucked inwards before being blown outwards a split second later, glass rained down from the high-rise Arndale tower and the bottom fell out of the escalators on Market Street, while outside Kendals people sheltering under the store’s canopy were showered with shards of broken glass when the windows blew out. Alarms shrieked from every street and hundreds of people on the edge of the inner cordon were terrified into a stampede down Deansgate, while others wandered round dazed and confused or lay on the ground in pools of blood, injured by flying glass and debris.
Photo from Manchester Evening News
However, where there was great terror there was also great heroism. An incredible operation by emergency services staff who put their own lives at risk to clear 80,000 people away from the immediate bomb area, treated many of the wounded afterwards and went in search of others who may be trapped in damaged buildings made sure that in spite of the devastation caused by the explosion no-one died.
Immediately after the blast the fire crews kicked into action; reinforcements raced into the city from across the Greater Manchester region and the initial 5 fire engines and 30 firefighters turned into 20 fire engines, 11 special appliances, 115 firefighters and 26 supervisory officers. With 60 calls in the first five minutes to the ambulance control centre just over three miles away 81 ambulances and their crews from across Greater Manchester, Cheshire, Lancashire, Merseyside and Yorkshire were drafted in to tend to injuries and take casualties to hospital, while an off-duty doctor on the outskirts of the city rushed to assist staff at Manchester Royal Infirmary. He was later issued with a speeding ticket but was let off because of the circumstances.
Firefighters wearing heavy breathing apparatus sprinted up shattered stairways and down into cellars, searching for anyone trapped or injured inside abandoned shops and offices; the bomb had set off the sprinkler systems in many buildings and water was trickling down through the floors. A man suffering from severe cuts was led to safety from the Corn Exchange while an aerial platform was used to rescue an injured security guard from the third floor of the Arndale Centre. In the Royal Insurance building 100 yards from the blast cries for help were heard coming from the second floor where firefighters found 15 people suffering from shock, cuts and blast injuries, while on the third floor they found a woman lying among the debris with horrific facial injuries.
That woman was Barbara Welch, the most seriously injured of all the bomb’s victims. In the split second following the blast she took the full force of a blown out window – her face was shredded by thousands of shards of glass, most of her teeth were lost and she also suffered a damaged retina and ligament damage to her hand. Unconscious for three days, she woke in hospital with more than 250 stitches in her face and her head swollen to three times its normal size. She was allowed home after two weeks but needed more than 50 further hospital appointments, extensive surgery to repair damage to her jaw and to reconstruct her face, and months of physiotherapy.
The Royal Insurance building – Barbara’s car, third from bottom right, was written off in the explosion along with many others – Photo from Manchester Evening News
A Kendal’s security guard and his colleague, on duty in the store, were knocked off their feet by the force of the blast. Despite having been hit by flying glass he went to the aid of a shopper crying hysterically and covered in blood from injuries to her neck and hand; he got her to the safety of one of the ambulances then went back to help as many more people as he could. A while afterwards that lady wrote to thank him.
On the edge of the inner cordon fifty staff working in the Co-op building had been told to stay inside and away from the windows but that didn’t stop them from feeling the force of the bomb. Part of the explosive-laden van landed on the second floor roof garden, its impact sending ceiling tiles showering down onto the workers, however following a couple of previous bomb attacks in the city all but two of the windows had been covered with protective film so they stayed intact. Thankfully none of the workers were injured and they were allowed out of the building an hour and a half after the bomb exploded.
By 3pm the heart of the city centre was desolate. Buses had stopped at the beginning of the evacuation and the streets were littered with stranded and destroyed cars, while dazed shoppers and workers made their way to the edge of the city to try to find phone boxes or transport home. The streets closest to the bomb site were just a sea of rubble and broken glass while added to the continual wailing of alarms music still played in some of the abandoned shops. Mannequins hung eerily out of shop windows where glass had once been and for hours afterwards pieces of masonry continued to fall from damaged buildings.
Photo from Manchester Evening News
Devastation on Corporation Street – photo from Manchester Evening News
Photo from Manchester Evening News
Inside the Arndale Centre – photo from Manchester Evening News
Arndale Centre – photo from Manchester Evening News
Photo from Manchester Evening News
A damaged window in Manchester Cathedral – photo from Manchester Evening News
It took three years to rebuild and redevelop the damaged parts of the city centre and looking at the modern buildings today it’s hard to believe what happened there in 1996. Sadly though, for many people the sight of those new buildings will never erase the memories, evidenced by words from a couple of Manchester Evening News readers in a feature published twenty years later –
”As one of the 212 people injured that day, the physical injuries healed a long time ago. The mental torment I’ve had ever since will never leave me”
”The following day I went into Manchester and stood at the top of Market Street looking down towards the devastation. Tears were rolling down my face and I heard the woman next to me draw a ragged breath so I held her hand – complete strangers silently holding hands and weeping for our city. I will never forget that moment or that woman.”

Manchester 1996 – the day the bomb went off

While researching something for a future blog post I recently came across something else of interest which I thought deserved a photo or two at the next opportunity. It was something which most people take for granted and will use or walk past without thinking twice about it, in fact without realising its significance I’ve walked past it myself many times over the last few years – a humble Royal Mail post box in Manchester city centre.
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Back in 1996 Saturday June 15th in Manchester started in blazing summer sunshine. It was the day before Father’s Day, the televised Euro 96 match between England and Scotland was to be played at Wembley that afternoon, tv crews from across Europe were in the city for the following day’s match between Russia and Germany at Old Trafford, and by 9.20am the streets had already started to fill up with football fans and crowds of shoppers, none of whom had any idea of the disaster which would happen just two hours later.
A busy Corporation Street – picture from the internet
Also at 9.20 two men in cagoules and sunglasses left a heavily loaded red and white Ford Cargo box van outside Marks and Spencer on Corporation Street – it was parked on double yellow lines with its hazard lights flashing and three minutes after it was abandoned a traffic warden slapped a parking ticket on it. Inside were 3,300 lbs of homemade explosive – a mixture of semtex and ammonium nitrate fertiliser – and as the men walked away they called an IRA chief in Ireland to tell him the bomb was in place before being picked up in nearby Cathedral Street by a third man in a burgundy-coloured Ford Granada which was later found abandoned in Preston.
Around 9.40am a man with an Irish accent called Granada TV to warn that a bomb would go off an hour later; similar calls were also made to Sky News, Salford University, North Manchester General Hospital and the Garda police in Dublin, with the man giving the location and using a special code word so police would know that the threat was genuine.
By 10am an estimated 80,000 people were shopping and working in the vicinity of the bomb and an immediate evacuation of the area was undertaken by officers from a police station half a mile away. It was a mammoth task though it was helped by having extra police on duty drafted in to control the football crowds, and while one group worked to move people away from the bomb area another group, assisted by firefighters and security guards from local stores, established a continuously expanding cordon around the area.
In previous years Mancunians had become used to bomb scares which invariably came to nothing so initially many people were reluctant to go – one hairdresser refused to let his clients leave his salon as they still had chemicals in their hair and a group of workmen wanted to stay put as they were on weekend rates, while a female police officer had to tell customers in Pizza Hut ”I don’t want to die because somebody won’t finish their pizza”.
By 11.10am the cordon had extended out to a quarter of a mile radius from the truck and 1.5 miles in circumference until there were no more officers to take it any further, and the heart of the city centre was completely deserted. An army bomb disposal squad, scrambled from Liverpool, set up a base 200 yards down the road and prepared to defuse the bomb by using a remote controlled robot to blow a hole in the side of the truck followed by a controlled blast to disable it – the first smaller blast went off at 11.16 but at 11.17 they ran out of time.
The Ford Cargo van moments before it exploded – picture from ITV News
When the bomb exploded the blast issued a force so powerful it travelled round 90 degree corners, knocking people off their feet and blowing out almost every window within half a mile. It was the largest bomb ever detonated within the UK since WW2 and the blast, which could be heard from 15 miles away, created a mushroom cloud which rose 1,000 feet from the ground. Immediately after the blast there was a sudden and eerie silence then a wall of noise as every alarm in the vicinity started wailing.
Dust and shards of glass rained down from the sky along with a torrent of masonry, and even people behind the police cordon and as far as half a mile away were showered with falling debris. The cctv screens at the police station went black and within five minutes the ambulance control centre received 60 calls to every street in the area. Several people as far away as Kendal’s department store on Deansgate – now House of Fraser – had wrongly believed they would be safe under the store’s canopy but were injured when the windows blew out.
Five fire engines and 30 firefighters had initially attended the scene with that number growing to 20 fire engines, 11 special appliances, 115 firefighters and 26 supervisory officers, and under a controlled and co-ordinated operation ambulance crews toured the city centre to pick up the more badly injured victims and take them to hospital while firefighters searched buildings for anyone who could be injured or trapped. While police commandeered a Metrolink tram to take 50 walking wounded to North Manchester General Hospital many others were treated in the streets by paramedics assisted by a few off-duty doctors and nurses who happened to be in the area at the time.
Around 212 people were injured in the blast that day, many quite seriously, but incredibly, due to the police’s remarkable evacuation, nobody had been killed. Nevertheless, much of the city centre lay in ruins and along with many homes some 700 businesses were damaged in some way, disrupting or ruining thousands of livelihoods. The historic landmarks of Manchester Cathedral, Chetham’s School of Music, the Corn Exchange and the Royal Exchange theatre were all damaged and would take several years and millions of pounds to restore, while Longridge House, the office block next to Marks and Spencer, would be demolished and the bus station under the Arndale centre would never reopen.
After the explosion – Marks and Spencer and Longridge House on the right, Arndale Centre on the left – photo from Manchester Evening News
Photo from Manchester Evening News
Part of the Arndale Centre – photo from Manchester Evening News
Photo from Manchester Evening News
Remains of Longridge House and what is now part of Exchange Square – photo from Manchester Evening News
Photo from Manchester Evening News
Marks and Spencer frontage – photo from Manchester Evening News
Amazingly, in the midst of all the chaos and carnage, one of the few things left standing was the Royal Mail post box. Situated outside Marks and Spencer and only a few yards from where the bomb exploded it survived almost unscathed by the blast – the mail it contained was untouched and was eventually delivered as if nothing had happened. The box was removed for minor repairs while the destroyed parts of the area were rebuilt then three years later it was returned to its original position with the addition of a plaque marking the event.
Marks and Spencer frontage and the post box – photo from Manchester Evening News
The post box today
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Corporation Street today
The new Marks and Spencer built on the previous site
Corporation Street today with Marks and Spencer on the right, Arndale shops on the left
The Corn Exchange building, Exchange Square
Corporation Street from Exchange Square tram stop
Many people went on to say that the bomb was ”the best thing to happen to Manchester” as the aftermath kick-started a huge regeneration scheme but those whose lives and businesses were directly affected obviously thought otherwise, while Manchester City Council insisted that a redevelopment scheme had already been in the pipeline.
One significant legacy of the bomb attack though is that up until September 2022 no-one was ever arrested in connection with it, apart from the Manchester Evening News journalist who revealed the name of the prime suspect and a man wrongly accused of being his source – but that’s a story for another time.

A new experience on New Year’s Eve

After a very quiet time over Christmas the day of New Year’s Eve gave me a very new and interesting experience when I went ‘green laning’ in the Yorkshire Dales with my ex-partner’s brother and sister-in-law, Alan and Louise. This was something I’d never heard of until a couple of months ago so when I was recently invited to join them on New Year’s Eve day I didn’t turn down the opportunity to do something different.
Green laning differs from off-roading in that off-roading takes place ~ legally ~ on wholly private land and a vehicle doesn’t always have to be road legal, whereas green laning takes place on unclassified and often unsurfaced roads, byways and tracks which are Public Rights of Way or BOATs – Byways Open to All Traffic – and vehicles have to be completely road legal with all the usual laws of the road applying. The terrain can be rough, rocky and muddy with stream/river crossings and hair-raising bends but also with great views over open countryside.
My day started at 7am when I was picked up at the end of my street and via the M6 and A684 we went through Sedbergh in south Cumbria to the group meeting point in the car park of the Dales Countryside Museum at Hawes, the home of Wensleydale cheese in the Yorkshire Dales. We were first there so we had time for a brew and some toast while we waited for everyone else; it was only a small group, just two other couples plus the guide, Nathan, and his co-driver, and once we were all equipped with 2-way radios we set off at 10am on the first run.
Dales Countryside Museum, Hawes
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View from the car park
A short distance out of Hawes we got onto the first rough track which took us across Snaizeholme Fell – I was sitting in the middle of the rear seats so I could take photos through the front windscreen and it wasn’t exactly a smooth ride. It wasn’t too long before we encountered our first obstacle when the track went steeply down to a gully then rose just as steeply up the other side; the gully was full of large rocks and we got momentarily stuck but with a bit of reversing, some wheel spin and lots of acceleration we got out and up the other side.
Snaizeholme Fell
Around the end of Dodd Fell and right along its eastern base a winding lane took us steeply downhill past the hamlet of Countersett to Semer Water, the second largest natural lake in North Yorkshire. Along the north eastern end is what should be a tree-lined shingle parking area where overnight stays are allowed but the level of the lake had risen so much that it was completely covered by water which was almost up to the road.
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Semer Water down in the valley
There’s a parking area in there somewhere
Semer Water parking area – what it should look like – photo from Google maps
From Semer Water the lane climbed steadily uphill and eventually we turned off onto a rough track leading round another fell and across a very misty Crag Moor where we got a shout out from the last vehicle – someone needed a quick comfort stop which, being in the middle of nowhere, meant nipping behind the nearest available wall. 
Past a lone farmer in the process of blocking up a large gap in a damaged stone wall the track took us through Carpley Green Farm then downhill to a tarmac lane which led us to the A684 at Bainbridge. From there we drove almost thirteen miles east to the small market town of Leyburn for our lunch stop at 1pm, then with coffee and sandwiches demolished there was just time for me to take a few photos around the market place before setting off on the second run.
Comfort stop on Crag Moor
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Leyburn market place
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St. Matthew’s Church
This time the route took us around the countryside and moorland to the north of Leyburn and somewhere between Stainton and Downholme we made our first river crossing, then from there we went up through Marske and over Skelton Moor to the second river crossing at Helwith Bridge. 
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Holgate Beck at Helwith Bridge
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It was clean when we started
A short drive up and across another area of moorland and a rough track took us down to where we could cross back over Holgate Beck – and that’s where things became decidedly dodgy. At the entrance to an isolated farm was a notice – DO NOT FOLLOW SATNAV, THIS ROUTE IS UNSUITABLE, YOU WILL GET STUCK – and as we got towards the bottom of the track a call came over the radio that the track at the far side of the river was steep, extremely muddy, and had a tight bend with some rocks right on the corner.
Down at the riverside we were given the option of carrying on or turning back and rejoining the trail by another route but we all decided to carry on and we would go first, though Louise (probably wisely) stayed by the river to get some photos. We got through the water with no problem but the tight bend was a different matter; to avoid the rocks there was very little room to get round and there was also a steep unfenced drop down the hillside. It didn’t exactly fill me with joy but Alan is a very experienced driver so I had to put my trust in him and hope we made it without mishap.
With a fair amount of slipping and lurching about we got round in one piece and accelerated safely right to the top of the hill, where Louise eventually joined us after walking all the way up with Nathan who had stayed behind to make sure everyone got safely round the bend and up to the top.
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View of the steep track and dodgy bend
Discussing who went across first – it was us
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Halfway across
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The rocks on the bend – more of an obstacle than they look
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A short drive along the track took us to a narrow tarmac lane leading past a patchwork of open fields separated by dry stone walls then at the little hamlet of Hurst, which consisted of just two rows of three cottages and a farm, we turned onto Marrick Moor, passing a restored chimney which was once part of the Hurst lead mines. 
A very misty Marrick Moor
Old mine chimney on Marrick Moor
Across the moor the track took us on a rough and rocky descent down the escarpment overlooking the village of Reeth and heading towards the hamlet of Fremington, and we were still quite a distance from the bottom when we came across something we wouldn’t have expected to see in such a quiet location. Tucked in the angle of a stone wall was a small blue Toyota car plastered with mud and with its wheels embedded in deep ruts. With a non-existent driver’s side window and police tape all round it we could only assume that it had been stolen and abandoned after getting stuck.
Overlooking Reeth – there’s a sheer unfenced drop ahead on the right
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Heading down to Fremington – photo from Nathan Yeo, tour guide
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From Fremington a ‘B’ road took us through the village of Grinton and another area of moorland to the junction with the road leading to Redmire. The daylight was fading rapidly by then and Alan didn’t fancy doing another run in the dark so we decided to split from the group, make our way back to the A684 and head for home.
It was 7pm when I got dropped off at the end of the street, and though I hadn’t done much during the day other than ride around in the back of the Landrover I still felt quite tired. It had been a long day but also a very interesting and enjoyable one; it was a shame that the weather had been so cloudy and misty as the scenery around the Yorkshire Dales would have been lovely but now I’ve had my first taste of green laning I’m looking forward to experiencing another day later in the year and hopefully in much better weather.

A quick review of ’22

Well where do I start? On a personal level there was nothing remotely interesting or exciting about day-to-day life in the Mouse House in 2022 and other than catching a cold in June I’ve been happy and healthy all year so this post is just a look back at some of the places I went to on my travels during the year.
Most of January was grey, wet and miserable but towards the end of the month some lovely sunshine and blue sky appeared so I took Snowy and Poppie for the first long walk of the year through local countryside and round by Turton Tower and the Last Drop Village.
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February was another very wet month with three named storms almost one after the other so dog walking was kept to the avenues around home, however I still managed to get to a few places. The first Sunday of the month saw me walking round a blustery and very wet Manchester to capture some aspects of the Chinese New Year celebrations, a few days later I was on the snowdrop trail around Lytham Hall, the middle of the month I went to the Michaelangelo exhibiton at the Trafford Centre’s Event City, then the last few days of the month I had a mini break down in North Wales where the weather was mostly very good.
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For some reason March was a bit of a ‘nothing’ month with no opportunities for days out though I did make up for it in April with a long Easter weekend camping break back in North Wales during which I visited Colwyn Bay Zoo, climbed a very steep hill up to the remains of Deganwy Castle, walked across Conwy Suspension Bridge and wandered round a lovely part of Conwy Mountain.
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In May, thanks to some excellent prices on ebay and lots of visits by Royal Mail and Hermes, I completed my meerkat collection with the ones I didn’t have, making a full total of nineteen. I also visited, for the first time, Bazil Point on the Lune estuary and followed that with a walk round the tiny village of Sunderland Point across the river and a visit to Sambo’s grave.DSCF2856 - CopyDSCF2818 - CopyDSCF2909 - Copy
The beginning of June saw the advent of my birthday and thanks to my ever-generous son I got what must be the best birthday present ever. With a top speed of 16 kph it came with a free floor mat, has all the features I’ll ever need and more besides, and folds up when not in use. I haven’t yet got round to photographing it in situ so I’ve pinched a pic from the retailer’s website though it’s actually bigger than it looks.
The day of my birthday also saw me wandering round the Manchester Flower Show which coincided with Queen Elizabeth’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations, then the following weekend started a 10-day holiday back in North Wales where I went to many places including Conwy Castle, Gwrych Castle and the very beautiful Bodnant Gardens.
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The highlight of July was an overnight weekend stay in the van and completely off-grid on the edge of Glasson Dock village. The weather and views across the Lune estuary were great, I had a couple of lovely walks around the village and nearby countryside, and though going off-grid isn’t something I would do too often the experience had been a good one.
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August saw me visiting several different gardens on their open days, from small private gardens to larger gardens of several acres, none of which I’d been to before, and the particular highlights were the RHS Bridgewater Garden and Gresgarth Hall. I also went to the newly opened Castlefield Viaduct garden, and following my visit to Gresgarth Hall I had a lovely walk along a section of the River Lune.
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During a week’s leave from work in mid September a gloriously sunny day saw me walking from Hest Bank northwards along the Lancaster Canal for a couple of miles then heading down to the coast at Bolton-le-Sands and walking back to Hest Bank via the foreshore, where I eventually found the Praying Shell sculpture overlooking Morecambe Bay near Red Bank Farm.

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October was quite a busy time for getting out and about. At the beginning of the month I made my first ever visit to Southport’s Botanical Gardens then a week later made my second visit to Gresgarth Hall. This was followed by a mid-month second visit to Bridgewater Gardens and a few days later a tour of the Winter Gardens theatre at Morecambe and a walk southwards along the canal from Hest Bank, although disappointingly the earlier blue sky had changed to dull grey.DSCF4598 - CopyDSCF4635 - CopyDSCF4824 - CopyDSCF4992 - Copy
November was mostly a very wet month, it had rained almost every day since before Halloween but on one of the very few fine days I managed to get out for a walk along a section of the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal not too far from home. Also that month I discovered a large old water wheel and a packhorse bridge, both fairly local to me but which I’d previously known nothing about.
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As for December, the highlight of the month occurred just yesterday on the day of New Year’s Eve but I’ve not had the chance to sort out all the photos yet, so I’ll just say it was an experience and it was ‘different’ and all will be revealed in my next post. Thanks to all my readers for checking out my various posts over the last twelve months and here’s to a great 2023 for everyone.

Manchester street art – November/December 2022

The last Sunday in November saw me back on the street art hunt around the city centre but for once there wasn’t a lot of new stuff to find. That didn’t really surprise me – since before Halloween most of the month had seen nothing but rain, obviously not the best weather for painting murals on walls, so I’ve combined what I found in November with this month’s lot, plus a few quirky paste-ups thrown in.

Part of an advert for H & M on Thomas Street

Colourful writing in Back Turner Street

Sweeping brush and shovel art installation, Thomas Street

Carpenters Lane, Artist – Wrdsmith

Colourful window decoration, Oldham Street

Away from the NQ and into Ancoats I found a Bob The Builder look-alike, several random paste-ups covering a corner wall down a side street, on a vacant corner plot I found some amateur but colourful paintings on the surrounding wooden hoardings and unexpectedly came across the painted shutter of a small art gallery.
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My wanderings took me from Ancoats into the unknown on the search for a certain something I’d been led to believe was in a certain place but all I found were random scribblings and graffiti, however the walk wasn’t in vain. I ended up near the Rochdale Canal and fastened to a mesh fencing surrounding a private car park were several laminated artworks depicting various locations around the city centre.
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Back through the NQ, beyond Piccadilly Gardens and not far from St. Peter’s Square I found Manchester’s famous worker bee on a corner wall, then just to prove that you need to have eyes everywhere when looking for street art I unexpectedly spotted two very different artworks next to each other and a huge and very colourful bird on the wall of a modern high-rise office block

Artist unknown

Artist – Ethan Lemo

Artist – Alex Cullen

Artist unknown

Back into the NQ and there was another unexpected find in the rear courtyard of a pub down a narrow side street I wouldn’t normally go along. I didn’t realise the significance at the time as I was trying to get the camera lens through the bars of a locked double gate but there are 22 bees in this, one for each of the 22 people killed in the 2017 Manchester Arena bomb attack. And finally in Thomas Street and just in time for Christmas the latest artwork by Hammo showing his trademark quirky characters.
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Artist – Hammo

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Well that just about wraps up my Manchester street art finds for this year. Thank you everyone for taking the time to read my random ramblings over the last twelve months, have a great New Year and I’ll be back next week with ~ maybe ~ a few ‘looking back’ photos from this year.

A few festive photos

Earlier this month I visited a couple of local garden centres for a mooch around their Christmas displays. Both places usually have some nice ones and they didn’t disappoint so here are some of the photos I took while I was wandering round – I think Santa must have had too much sherry in the first one!
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And to round off this very short post, last week I found Santa in Manchester city centre, sitting happily on top of a huge present outside the Central Library in St. Peter’s Square. He does actually light up at night but the detail of his face isn’t easy to see when he’s illuminated.
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Well the shopping is all done, work has finished until January 3rd, and I just have a few presents to wrap tonight, after that I can relax and enjoy the Christmas and New Year break. So to everyone out there in blogland, Merry Christmas from the Mouse House and I’ll be back next week with some street art.

The last tram pole in town

Now I’m not one for walking, cycling or driving round with my eyes metaphorically closed but just recently I became aware of something which I must have passed hundreds, if not thousands, of times during my life without knowing what it is – the town’s only remaining tram pole.
Prior to 1900 Bolton had a fleet of horse-drawn trams which had operated from 1880, owned by E Holden & Co and serving several of the town’s suburban areas, with a town centre depot housing 48 trams and 350 horses. In 1899 Holden’s sold out to Bolton Corporation and the local authority immediately began a major modernisation programme with a total of 70 electric tramcars being ordered from a company in Preston. It was the largest single order for tramcars ever made in Britain and in less than a year Bolton’s tram network was revolutionised.

Photo from Bolton News archives

The last horse-drawn tram service operated on January 2nd 1900 and on the same date electric trams began running to seven of the town’s suburbs, while a circular network was developed within the town centre itself. One feature of the new tram system was the use of letters to denote the route, among them ‘H’ for the Halliwell area, ‘R’ for Rumworth and ‘G’ for Great Lever. Within a few short years the tram network was extended to three other outlying areas and in 1908 a parcel delivery service began to operate around the borough, while a contract was signed with Tillotson’s, owners of the Bolton Evening News, for bundles of newspapers to be picked up from their town centre offices and delivered by early morning tram to various newsagents shops.

Town centre tram shed – photo from Bolton News archives

The Corporation’s Tramways Committee had adopted a policy of keeping fares low and this policy continued despite inflation during the years of the First World War.  After the war the number of passengers carried increased steadily from 32 million to 56 million and in 1928 nearly 60 million passengers were carried on the 150-strong tram fleet. Sadly though, the advent of the Second World War signalled the beginning of the end for the town’s tram network.
Track maintenance and much-needed repairs were put on hold during the war years and by the end of the war some parts of the network were in need of major investment. The Tramways Committee had already decided in the 1930s that the future of the town’s transport system lay with motor buses as these were more flexible and required less infrastructure than trams, so several tram routes had actually been abandoned before the war.
During the war years more routes were closed, one of these being the route from the town centre heading south past the local football ground – it was officially closed in November 1944 but the track and overhead wiring remained in place, with the route occasionally used by Football Specials on Saturdays. It was on such an occasion in September 1946 that a tram driver was forced to stop his tram about half a mile from the football ground when the track suddenly disappeared – the Highways Department had apparently failed to notify the Tramways Department of their intention to lift a section of what they regarded as redundant track.

Photo from Bolton News archives

By the end of 1946 all but one of the town’s tram routes had been closed and abandoned. The last route to survive was the ‘T’ service to the north east suburb of Tonge Moor and Tram No. 440 was picked to operate the final there-and-back service on March 29th 1947. It was suitably decorated for the occasion and driven by the Mayor of Bolton, and for the only time in the town’s tramway history smoking was permitted on board.
Fast forward to the early 1960s and Alan Ralphs and Derek Shepherd, two tram enthusiasts who had met at school and helped out at the town centre Tram Shed as teenagers, decided to rescue the shell of an old Bolton tramcar and restore it to its former glory. Most cars had been scrapped or sold off for other uses after the tram service ended in 1947 but the bottom deck of Tram No. 66 was located on a local moorland farm where it was being used as a chicken coop. After it was transported to a barn at Derek’s house a growing band of fellow enthusiasts dedicated their Monday evenings to its repair and restoration and the Bolton 66 Tramcar Trust was born.

Tram No. 66 bottom deck – photo from Bolton 66 Tramcar Trust

By 1978 work was progressing well but the tram still needed a top deck – being of wooden construction none of the original top decks had survived in good enough condition after the tram fleet was scrapped so a replica had to be built from scratch. After a very generous donation from one of its members the restoration group was able to commission a custom-made top deck produced in kit form by a local cabinet maker and once this had been assembled, sealed, canvassed and glazed the interior fittings were added.
In June 1981 the now complete tram, painted in its period maroon and cream livery, was moved to Blackpool. After successfully undergoing its initial test runs it was put into service on the promenade and the restoration group had the satisfaction of seeing 18 years of their work transformed into a working tramcar carrying fare-paying passengers for the first time since the 1940s – and 41 years later it’s still providing a traditional British tram ride for visitors and enthusiasts.
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Bolton’s Tram No. 66 – above three photos from the Blackpool Tram Blog

The extensive network of tram routes in and around Bolton needed around 3,000 support poles for the overhead electric system and the majority of these were a standard three-section weldless type, embedded six feet into the ground and almost 27 feet high from pavement level to the ball and spike finials at the top. All the older poles had fluted cast iron bases embossed with the town’s coat-of arms and from the 1920s onwards were painted dark green with red bases and finials, though the finials weren’t just ornamental – they also prevented rain from running down the inside of the poles as well as dissuading birds from perching on the tops and making a mess.
In the years following the closure of the town’s tram network some of the poles enjoyed a second life as lamp standards but gradually they were all removed until only this one remained in situ, although I have no idea why this particular one has been allowed to stay. Dating from 1901 it stands close to the junction of the A666 and A6099 about a mile from the town centre and in 1997 the Bolton 66 Tramcar Trust renovated it to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tramway’s closure. Twenty five years on and for the 75th anniversary just a few months ago the pole was given a fresh coat of paint by Bolton Council – the work was funded by the Trust and a plaque was fixed to the pole to give it a bit of history.
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Bolton’s tram system and its trams had disappeared long before I was born so I was quite surprised when I recently found out about the last tram pole. This in turn sent me down the rabbit hole of researching the town’s tram history which has proved to be extremely interesting, and though I’ll probably never get to ride on Tram No. 66 at Blackpool it’s great to see what has been achieved by the efforts of a small group of people so I hope the tram – and the pole – stay around for many more years to come.

Hest Bank canal walk – heading south

Following on from my tour of the Winter Gardens theatre in October and lunch in a nearby cafe I drove the couple of miles north to Hest Bank for another walk along the Lancaster Canal, this time heading south. Unfortunately the weather gods had decided they no longer wanted to play ball – although it had been beautifully sunny with blue sky while I was in the theatre it was now cloudy and dull, not the sort of weather to show the canal at its best and I did consider coming back home, but with the afternoon stretching before me I decided to do the walk anyway.
Parking on the foreshore at Hest Bank, directly in front of me across the grass was a rather cute looking metal shelduck sculpture with an attractive information board at its base. Created by Ulverston-based blacksmith Chris Bramall on behalf of the Morecambe Bay Partnership it’s one of seven unique bird sculptures situated in different locations around the bay, with each one being associated with that particular location.
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Across the nearby level crossing and the main coast road Station Road took me up to Bridge 118 on the canal where I walked north for a hundred yards or so to check out the weird canalside people and their pets which I’d seen on my walk along there a month previously. With a large banner now fastened to the hedge they were definitely ready for Halloween and even their weird pets were dressed for the occasion.
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Retracing my steps I went back to the bridge and headed south with my goal being the Milestone Bridge which carries the relatively new (opened in 2016) dual carriageway over the canal, linking Junction 34 of the M6 with Heysham and its port.
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As far as canal walks go there was nothing remarkable about this one though maybe if the earlier sunshine and blue sky had still been around the surroundings would have looked a lot nicer. Reaching my goal of the Milestone Bridge and with no desire to go any farther on such a dull afternoon I turned and headed the almost two miles back to Bridge 118. Having seen no-one at all during the first part of the walk, at one point it was nice to see an approaching narrowboat and as it passed me the guy at the back of it shouted a cheery greeting. Having messed about on boats myself in previous years I’ve always thought boat people are a friendly lot.
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Almost back to civilisation I saw just three more people, a couple walking a small dog and a guy sitting on a bench, then no-one else until I got back onto Station Road. Back at the level crossing I found the barriers were down so I crossed the line via the overhead bridge where I took my final shot of the day looking north along the shore to the hills across the bay.
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With hindsight, if I’d known that the afternoon would turn out to be so cloudy I would have booked a later theatre tour and done the walk first while it was sunny but as the saying goes, hindsight’s a wonderful thing. Would I do that walk again? It would be nice to see that section of the canal in better weather so I might be tempted sometime next year.

Morecambe artists wall 2022

Following my tour of the Winter Gardens Theatre in October I had a walk along the promenade to the artists wall. I’d noticed one or two new artworks as I’d driven along to the theatre and though several from last year were still there others had been replaced and I was quite surprised to see just how many new ones had been added since I photographed last year’s batch.
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It was good to see that the artists wall is continuing to brighten up what is otherwise a redundant and derelict section of the promenade. Morecambe isn’t a place I would purposely visit in the winter months so it will be a while before I return but I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing some more new artwork on the wall next season.