Since damaging my foot a week ago I’ve been resting it as much as possible, meaning the dogs haven’t been out properly for several days, however yesterday’s hot and sunny weather was just too good to resist so I decided to take them to somewhere local and almost on the doorstep – far enough to give them a good walk but not far enough to aggravate my foot. Smithills Hall was my choice so I set off across the field at the end of the street, through the nearby housing estate and into the bottom end of the park closest to home. And to say that it’s a bank holiday weekend there was hardly anyone around so I had the place almost to myself.
From the park I went into the nearby woods – the last time I’d been in there the leaves were falling off the trees and things were looking rather bare but now there was green everywhere I looked, with the added bonus of several colourful rhododendron bushes appearing here and there. A tall tree had fallen across the stream from the opposite side and when I looked over I could see where the bank had come away with the movement of the roots as the tree fell. Further on is an old stone bridge and the stream at that point was little more than a trickle so Sophie had great fun running across and back along the bridge.
Not far past the bridge the path turned uphill for a short distance and wound its way through the trees and bushes, emerging onto the tarmac lane leading to Smithills Hall, a Grade l listed manor house and one of the oldest in the north west of England. With the oldest parts dating from the 15th century it has a lot of history behind it and I did indeed go in to look round, but I ended up with so many photos that I’m keeping them for another post and concentrating on the outside instead.
As I emerged round the back of the building and onto the terrace my vision was assaulted by a view which I thought was truly beautiful – a huge expanse of lawn bordered by colourful flowers and shrubs, surrounded by trees and rhododendrons and with benches dotted here and there. With very few people around the place was very quiet so with no-one to get in my way I wandered round at leisure and got several good shots of the building and gardens.
Back on the lane I retraced my steps, this time passing what was once Smithills Coaching House. Originally built in the 17th century as a stable block for Smithills Hall it was converted to a restaurant in 1966 by two local brothers, Alan and Donald Clarke. The brothers, two of three triplets, were born in 1931 – Donald became a trained chef and between them they co-owned Percival’s catering firm originally set up by their father in 1939. Percival’s had a wonderful cafe in the old town centre Market Hall and I remember going in there many times for a meal when I was a kid. Alan Clarke was the local mayor from 1972 to 1973 and died in 1979 at the relatively young age of only 48; Donald was Bolton’s mayor from 1977 to 1978 and died in 2005 at the age of 74.
A four-sided building with an attractive central courtyard, Smithills Coaching House operated successfully as a restaurant for 46 years before finally closing down in August 2012 – in spite of many local objections it was eventually sold to a developer and is now several luxury houses and apartments, with a dozen or so modern town houses built on what was once the restaurant car park. The courtyard entrance is now private, protected by huge double gates operated by key pad, but I was able to get the camera lens far enough through the bars to take a quick snap of what it looks like now the place has been modernised.
Further along the lane, and past where I’d come out of the woods, is Smithills Open Farm, a working dairy farm open to the public with lots of different animals to see, hold and feed. With various activities including donkey rides, tractor rides and bouncy castles it’s a very popular place and with no time limit once in there it presumably makes a good few hours out, but when I saw the admission prices I was just glad that I don’t have any young kids!
Through the farm and past the car park I reached the top end of the park I’d walked through earlier; I’m not sure if it’s the local council’s way of saving money or if it’s supposed to be like that but a lot of the land had been left to grow wild, with large clumps of spiky grass growing all over the place. From the path nearest the farm the view down the park was quite extensive, and when I got down to where the playground used to be at the bottom of the slope I turned round to call Sophie and there was my old friend the Winter Hill tv mast, standing tall on top of the nearby moors.
That was to be my last photo of the day; the rest of my route was all road walking though it didn’t take long to get home from there, and the first thing the three of us did was have a long cold drink! My damaged foot had done well on the walk and had given me no pain at all but I’d gone far enough and it was time to rest it now, so that’s just what I would be doing for the remainder of the afternoon.
Linking up again with Jo’s Monday Walk where this week she takes us on a visit to some lovely gardens and an intriguing piece of Northumberland landscaping with great views and lots of photo opportunities. Follow the link to find out more and to see where other Monday walkers have been to this time.