A walk up to Crow Castle

Dull days, grey sky, mist and occasional drizzly rain has meant my dog walking has been kept to a minimum over the past week and I haven’t been able to get out with the camera, so I’m linking up to Jo’s Monday Walk this time with a walk I did while camping in North Wales at Easter a couple of years ago.
Castell Dinas Bran, otherwise known as Crow Castle, is a medieval ruin which sits in a prominent hilltop position high above the small town of Llangollen in North Wales. I’d once made an attempt at driving most of the way up to it via a back lane but scared myself silly in the process so this time I was doing it on foot. My walk began from the road near the canal bridge in Llangollen where a narrow footpath took me past the side of a large secondary school before reaching open land, and right from the start at road level the route went very steeply uphill. Eventually I came to a hamlet of several cottages and just past the last one the path took me through a gate with the sculpture of a crow on the post; there was a good view over the hedge just beyond the gate so I stopped there to get a photo or two.
Crow sculpture on the gate post
The view from over the hedge
After another several minutes of walking, and about two thirds of the way up the hill, a fairly level plateau offered a respite from the climb so I stopped there to snap a few photos and renew my energy before tackling the last and steepest part of the route. From the plateau a zigzag path helped to make things a bit easier but it didn’t go all the way to the top and the final couple of hundred yards were steeper than ever – I was just glad I had two fit and strong little dogs to pull me up the last bit to the very top.
Looking west from the plateau
The last and steepest part of the walk
Back down at the start of the path a signpost at the roadside said the castle was a mile from there but the route was so steep it felt like I’d walked far more than a mile by the time I got to the top. Being up there was like being on top of the world though and I could see for miles in all directions, but the clouds had closed in a bit and the view across to the Dee valley in the east wasn’t as clear as it could have been; the sun was still shining though and the views to the west were much clearer so I still managed to get several good shots.


A hazy view to the east
On the way back down
The descent back down the hill was definitely much easier than going up, though I had to watch that the dogs didn’t pull me down any faster than I wanted to go – sliding out of control down the steep shingle path wasn’t really part of the plan. We made it back to road level in one piece though and as we all needed a drink by then I headed for Llangollen’s main street and the Courtyard Cafe, where Sophie and Poppie lapped up copious amounts of water from the bowl by the cafe door and I quenched my thirst with a mug of good coffee before returning to the van.
So would I ever do that walk again? Maybe not, as the route really was very steep and strenuous and the castle ruins will never be any different, but if there’s an absolutely cloudless blue sky and I know I can get some better photos of the views then maybe I will – all I can say is never say never. If ever I do go again though, I’ll remember to take some water with me – that steep walk was certainly very thirsty work!

Pictures for my dog wall

Just before Christmas a couple of years ago – December 2014 – I sadly lost my lovely little dog Sugar due to kidney failure. She was sixteen and a half years old, had been a wonderful friend and companion since she was only eight months, and I was heartbroken when she left me. Not long afterwards one of my friends gave me a surprise present in the form of a collage canvas print made up of six different photos of Sugar and Sophie; because she’d wanted it to be a surprise she couldn’t ask me for the actual photos so she’d copied them from various pages of my camping blog, which meant that when the canvas was made up the photos were third hand and the overall result wasn’t quite as clear as it could have been. It was still a very good print though and I was both thrilled and touched that she’d gone to the trouble and expense of doing that to cheer me up.
I put the picture on the wall in front of my pc so I can see it while I’m typing, and I was looking at it one day a while later when I had the germ of an idea. In my living room I have quite a sizeable blank wall space crying out for some artwork to fill it, so I would have another collage canvas done of Sugar on her own and also get individual ones of Sophie and Poppie, and that could be my ‘dog wall’. These things aren’t exactly cheap though, and to have three done at once would cost an arm and three legs, so I decided that even though it would take a while I would get them done one at once and only when there was a special offer on which drastically reduced the price.
Not long after I’d got Sugar’s picture done my ex partner’s dog came to live with me; my ex had passed away very suddenly and there was no-one to take his cat and dog so they both came to me. I knew Sam from when my ex and I were together, he was a lovely dog and no trouble at all, but he was elderly and he’d only been with me for six months when sadly he died too, just before New Year 2016. Again I was heartbroken at losing a much-loved friend, but I had lots of photos of him from previous years so I had a collage print made up in his memory. A few months later I had Sophie’s picture done and just recently I completed the four with Poppie’s picture; the canvasses are all 16ins (40cm) square and are from the Classic Lite range at Photobox.
That’s not the end of it though; to get a full set I need to get a canvas done of Skippy, the little Jack Russell I had before Sugar. She was with me for fourteen years so it wouldn’t be fair to leave her out, but it will be a while before I can get it done – all the photos I have of her were taken before I had a digital camera so it means searching through my many albums for the suitable ones and scanning them into my pc before I can design the canvas, although it will be the same layout as the others. When it comes to putting them all on the wall I’ll have Sam in the centre then Skippy top left, Sugar top right, Sophie bottom left and Poppie bottom right – and with the right amount of spacing between them all I think my dog wall should look okay.

A quick afternoon walk

After several days of dull, damp and sometimes misty weather today turned out to be glorious, with a cloudless blue sky and wall-to-wall sunshine. The dogs hadn’t had a decent walk all week so when I got back from my lunchtime job I grabbed the camera, loaded the pair of them into the van and drove three miles up the road from home to the village of Belmont which, although classed as part of my home town, is actually a village in its own right as it’s completely surrounded by fields and moorland.
Leaving the van in the car park of the Black Dog pub at the bottom end of the village I walked up the main road to the top end of the village then took a short path down onto the reservoir dam. The reservoir is an important wintering place for wildfowl and is also home to Belmont Sailing Club, but with no boats in evidence my only view at that point was of a large stretch of water backed by a huge expanse of moorland with one farm in the distance. At the far side of the dam a lane took me past steeply sloping fields on one side and open moorland on the other; the views aren’t as attractive as other local places but the lane is traffic free for about a mile so it’s great for the dogs, and on a clear day it’s possible to see right over the town to Manchester and beyond.
View across part of Belmont reservoir
Looking back towards the village
Looking south – Manchester on the far horizon
A curious cow
Nothing but moorland
Eventually the traffic free lane ended and I came to the junction of another lane; turning right would eventually take me back to the bottom end of the village but I decided to turn left and go along to the Blue Lake, a beauty spot hidden away down a footpath off the main lane. With the reflection of the blue sky in the water the lake seemed to deserve its name, but somehow I don’t think it would look so attractive with a dull grey sky overhead.
The Blue Lake
Unfortunately those were to be the last shots of the afternoon. It had been quite a long while since I’d last been to the Blue Lake so I’d forgotten just how far away from the junction of the two lanes it was and I was running out of time to take the dogs home before I went to work again, so I couldn’t linger any longer. I still had quite a distance to go to get back to the village so my usual brisk walking pace was stepped up to a jog a couple of times and I made it back to the van in twenty minutes. My ‘quick’ afternoon walk, which would normally have taken less than an hour, had actually taken an hour and twenty minutes but I made it home in time and I wasn’t late for work, so with the photos I got I think I can say the afternoon was a good one.
My walk, clockwise from yellow spot – the blue route was the deviation to the Blue Lake
I’m linking this with  Jo’s Monday Walk which has lots of gorgeous sunny photos from the Algarve to brighten up a currently very grey day.

The invisible dog

Last night, while in the middle of typing an email, I needed to get something from the living room, and what I saw when I went in there made me instantly fetch the camera to take a couple of photos. Poppie was curled up in her bed as usual but Sophie’s bed was empty – well that’s what it looked like, but I knew she was in there somewhere as she’s done this disappearing trick before. The zip on the cover of her bed has broken and it doesn’t zip up all the way across, so she’d crawled in the opening and was curled up in the bed but under the cover – it looked just like an empty dog bed until the small ‘lump’ in it started moving.
Poppie’s bed
Sophie’s bed – she’s in there somewhere
I remember when she did this a while ago, I thought at first she was hiding behind the furniture but I couldn’t see her anywhere and it was only when she started moving about under the cover that I realised where she was. The whole bed appeared to be moving as if an alien was about to burst out through the cover and it looked really weird, though I had to laugh. It was only after she’d finally crawled out of there last night that I thought maybe I should have filmed it as it looked quite amusing – I think that’s one I must remember for the next time she becomes invisible.

Looking back

I can’t remember if it was a couple of days before Christmas or a couple of days after, but Michael rang me one afternoon sounding all excited and telling me to get a copy of the local paper as he was in it. At first I thought it was something to do with where he works but no; the paper runs a weekly page called Looking Back where local photos from past years are featured, and this particular edition featured photos of school nativity plays from the 1980s and 90s. I looked online and photo no.56 was the one of Michael’s primary school nativity when he was five years old – and there he was, right on the front row and the only little donkey in the play.
I remember buying a copy of the photo at the time, but I can’t think where it is now as it will have been put away somewhere years ago, so I downloaded it to my pc. I’ve just come across it again now while looking for something else; it’s hard to believe that the five-year-old little donkey in that photo is now an adult with a good job and responsibilities, but he looks so darned cute I just had to share it.


At work today I was emptying the office waste paper bins, and under the bosses’ desk was the large tubular steel leg which supports the centre. The desk itself is part of a large unit and is rectangular where it meets the wall and circular at the other end; both bosses share it and the leg is supposed to support the centre of the rectangular part but it’s been loose for a while and often falls down. So not wanting to leave it lying on the floor I crawled under the desk, stood the leg upright and jammed it back into place There wasn’t much room under there for me to turn round though so I crawled out backwards, making sure I was out far enough not to bang my head as I got up – and when I looked up, standing behind me with rather a quizzical look on his face, was one of the bosses.
So did I feel silly? Not at all! I know this particular boss reasonably well as I clean his house every week, so I just told him that if he fixed the table leg properly I wouldn’t need to crawl under there every so often to put it back. Thinking about it, I suppose it’s not every day that a boss walks into his office and finds a small person in a turquoise tabard crawling out backwards from under his desk – he once told me, during a conversation ages ago, that he thinks I’m bonkers, so today has probably just confirmed it!

My shivering frozen son

Last night, for the second time in less than a week, I accidentally managed to lock my son Michael out of the house. Now to put you in the picture – Michael doesn’t actually live with me but he does quite often come to stay for a few days though I don’t always know what day or time he will turn up, so while the first time wasn’t entirely my fault as I didn’t know he would be coming home, I have absolutely no excuse for locking him out last night.
On Monday morning I got up to find his bike outside my front door but no sign of him; he hadn’t said he would be coming home so I tried to ring him several times, only for it to go straight to voicemail each time. He eventually turned up later that day, just as I’d got to the point of worrying about him. It seemed that his night shift had been a short one and had finished at 1am, but when he came home he couldn’t get in – his key wouldn’t turn in the lock as I’d unthinkingly left my own key in on the inside when I’d locked the door the night before. He couldn’t ring me to wake me up and let him in as his phone battery had died, and as he didn’t want to shout me or bang on the door and risk disturbing the neighbours he’d gone round to a mate’s place and crashed there for a few hours. At least he was okay and nothing bad had happened to him, though I did feel a bit guilty for unwittingly locking him out.
So this morning I was wakened at 7.15 by an almighty bang and the dogs going mental – they only really bark when something disturbs them, especially when it’s dark, so I got up to investigate. As soon as I put the bedroom light on someone knocked on the front door so I looked out of the window and saw Michael standing there – I’d left my key in the lock again and he couldn’t get in. Even though it was now raining the temperature overnight had been bitterly cold and when I opened the door it was a shivering frozen wreck that almost fell inside. He’d arrived home just before 6am and couldn’t get in so when I didn’t answer his knocking he’d phoned me to wake me up, but as I’d no reason to get up early this morning I’d turned my phone off last night. Unable to wake me he’d sat on the front step for a while until it started to rain then he’d taken refuge in the van, which luckily had the side door unlocked, but it was just as cold in there as it was outside. Then when it got to the stage where – to quote his exaggerated words – he “thought he was going to die from hypothermia” he had the idea of slamming the van door to attract attention in the hope that I’d hear it and think someone was stealing the van. It obviously worked – that must have been the bang which woke me, coupled with the dogs barking – and he was finally able to come in out of the cold.
It took a lot of extra heat in his room and a mug of hot tea before he finally got warmed up and began to feel human again. Needless to say, if I’d felt guilty for locking him out earlier in the week I felt even more so this morning, especially as I’d known he would be coming back after work. Leaving the key in the lock once could be classed as an oversight but to do it a second time is just plain careless and I felt like the worst mother in the world. Michael did tell me not to worry about it though and we actually ended up having a laugh about it – he said he thought maybe I was trying to give him a hint, though I told him he only needs to start worrying when he comes back and finds I’ve moved house without telling him!

A New Year canal walk

Weather-wise the last couple of days here have been very cold and frosty, but with clear blue sky and sunshine the opportunity for the first long dog walk of 2017 was too good to miss. With so many nice places to go to locally I’m always spoilt for choice but this time I decided to walk east along a section of the Bolton to Bury canal which I haven’t been to for about fifteen years. I parked the van on the lane at the top of the slope leading down to the upper canal and the remains of the old staircase locks mentioned in a previous post, and my walk started at the Meccano bridge over the old locks.
The locks section of the canal is currently in the slow process of being restored by the local Canal Society and the Meccano bridge was constructed in 2013 to replace the old wooden footbridge which had collapsed many years ago. Designed by a Manchester artist with a love of Meccano and manufactured by two Bolton companies all the 400 parts and 700 nuts and bolts were made in the same style as a toy Meccano set but scaled up to be ten times larger, ten times thicker and a thousand times heavier. The bridge was assembled on site using the old but refurbished bridge supports and after construction the threads on all the bolts were purposely damaged to prevent it from being dismantled. Painted in the same colours as toy Meccano it’s certainly an unusual feature of the local landscape.
Meccano bridge at the old staircase locks
From the Meccano bridge quite a long stretch of the canal is filled in and overgrown so it took a few minutes walking before I came to any water. Most of it was clear with a thin layer of ice on top but there were a few parts covered in a layer of green surface weed or so overgrown it was hard to tell if there was any water there at all. A couple of ducks were in one of the green parts; one of them was standing on some ice just under the water and it looked almost like he was actually standing on the surface.
Manchester, Bury & Bolton Canal – Bury arm
Walking on water?
Mute swans
Eventually I came to the old and derelict Mount Sion steam crane which sits at the side of the towpath. Dating from around 1884 it was used to unload heavy coal boxes from barges on the canal and drop them into the yard of the Mount Sion Bleach Works situated down the bank behind the fence. It’s one of the earliest surviving steam cranes in England and was granted Grade Two listed status in 2011.
Not far from the crane there was, at one time, a partially sunken canal dredger lying about halfway between the two banks. I can remember back to one day nearly twenty years ago when my partner, his brother Alan and sister-in-law Louise and myself cycled along the canal path and came across the dredger; it was surrounded by overgrown reeds and tall grasses and a lot of the vegetation was growing up through the rotting hull. My partner and Alan found a couple of planks from somewhere and put them across onto the dredger and once they were on it they proceeded to run around pulling up clumps of reeds and hurling them at each other. Sometimes they missed and something would land on the towpath; Louise and I had to dodge several muddy missiles that day but it was all good fun. There’s no sign of the dredger now so presumably after all these years it’s completely covered and hidden by all the overgrown vegetation in that part of the canal.
Mount Sion steam crane, circa 1884
Further along still, with the water now clear and weed-free again, I was surprised to see this lovely creature – a Mandarin duck. Although he was with two companions they were both Mallards so he didn’t appear to have a mate unless she was in hiding somewhere. I watched him for several minutes while he swam around then settled on a partially submerged tree branch to preen himself; he was beautiful, and definitely a photo opportunity not to be missed.
Mandarin duck
After seeing the duck I walked for a little while longer then checked the time; a quick calculation told me I’d walked for two miles and though that wasn’t very far I was beginning to lose the best of the sunlight so it was time for me to turn round and retrace my steps. My walk ended where it began, back at the Meccano bridge, and with the sunlight having lost its earlier glare the bridge and its brick work had taken on a late afternoon glow, so with one final photo I headed back up the slope to the van.
Although much of that section of canal isn’t as scenic as other parts of it I’d had a pleasant couple of hours which had stirred up a few memories and given me a lovely surprise in the form of the Mandarin duck, so I’m glad that after so many years I chose that particular route to walk – and maybe in the spring when the new leaves are on the trees I’ll go back to take some more photos.