An autumn walk to Smithills Hall

My Monday walk this week was taken the day after my walk through Sunnyhurst Wood but this time actually started direct from home. Across the field at the end of the street, through the bottom end of a nearby large housing estate and across a local park brought me to Smithills Forest, and though there wasn’t as much blue sky as the previous day there was enough sunshine to bring out the colour in the trees and the leaves on the ground. It was very pleasant walking through the wood and I saw no-one and nothing other than a few birds and a couple of squirrels playing ‘chase’ through the trees.
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Smithills Forest
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The path through the woods took me to the lane leading to Smithills Hall in one direction and through Smithills Open Farm and back towards home in the other – I opted for having a wander round the grounds of Smithills Hall so went left. With the autumn leaves and lack of colourful spring and summer flowers and foliage the gardens looked vastly different to when I was there in late May but it was still nice to wander round and in a slightly secluded part of the garden I even discovered something I’d long since forgotten about – the grave of Little Bess.
In 1870 Colonel Richard Henry Ainsworth inherited Smithills Hall on the death of his great uncle, and he and his wife Isabella Margaret, usually known as Sally, lived there until 1900 before moving to a smaller house in Northamptonshire. Sally was a kind and gentle person with a great affection for animals and Little Bess was one of her favourite dogs. A small white marble headstone, now rather discoloured with age, marks the burial place of Little Bess, and though some of the words are hard to make out the inscription reads “Multum in Parvo” (meaning Much in Little) “In memory of Little Bess, in whom we lose sagacity, love and fidelity. She was of the rarest beauty and though the smallest of her race was possessed of the most lion hearted courage. January 13th 1873 at the age of 6”. Although a bit overgrown with weeds the grave was decorated with a few pots of artificial flowers and even a plaited dog lead had been left there at some time so maybe it’s tended on odd occasions by members of the Friends of Smithills Hall group.
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The lane to Smithills Hall
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Above the entrance to Poppins tea room in the west wing
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A strange lop-sided old door in the east wing
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The grave of Little Bess
Across the far side of the lawns I spotted a small splash of pink within the green hedge and on closer inspection found it was the remains of (I think) a couple of rhododendron flowers – very late for the time of year and rather an unexpected surprise. Close to there half a dozen steps took me down to a path which meandered a short distance through the trees and I came across something which, although I knew of its existence somewhere on the land, I’d never seen before – a small lake. It seemed to be a bit overgrown in places but with the autumn colours of the trees it still looked quite pretty and was worth a couple of photos.
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From the lake I retraced my steps back along the path and made my way round the back of the hall and out onto the lane. The sunshine seemed to have deserted me by then so with one final shot of the lane itself I headed up to the farm, back through the park and towards home for a much needed coffee.
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There’ll be no Monday walk next week as I’ll be somewhere in Ireland with no access to a computer but hopefully I’ll have time to post again before I go on Thursday, and as I still have a few walks in hand I’ll catch up with those once I’m back here and settled back into my normal routine – whatever ‘normal’ is!

An illuminating experience

For the last month several different events have been held at various venues in and around my local town centre, all with the theme of ‘light’ and ending with the switch-on of the Christmas lights last night at 7pm. As part of these events, and to celebrate 21 years of the town’s art initiative, last Friday and Saturday evenings saw the town hall lit up in a dazzling display of colours and images projected onto the front of the building and which changed to accompanying music. I actually knew nothing about this light display until I was reading the local paper online last Friday morning ; the article had a photo of what the town hall would look like and it had such a ‘wow’ factor that I decided to go with the camera after work to see if I could get some photos of my own.
The newspaper article said that the display was on ‘from 5pm’ on both days but didn’t say how long it would last, and as I didn’t finish work until 6pm on Friday it was 6.15 by the time I got there. Thinking I may have either missed the action or that the town hall square would be packed with people I was quite surprised to see only a handful there although the display was in full swing. From a good position directly in front of the building I got several shots but I was quite disappointed when only five minutes later the music stopped and the display ended – I must have just caught the last few minutes of it but what I had seen had been really good.
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The town hall as it normally looks….
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….and with the light display
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Determined to see more of this light display I went back again on Saturday, this time getting there well before the 5pm start. Again I expected to see quite a crowd of people there but again there were very few, which I thought was odd given that it had been a very busy weekend shopping day. I stood in the same place as the previous day and the light display began a couple of minutes after 5pm though much of it turned out to be the same as before – and by 5.20 it was all over ; to say I was confused-dot-com was an understatement as I’d expected it to last a long while.
Talking to the guy standing to my left I got the distinct impression that he had also expected the display to last much longer and was disappointed that it didn’t, though the guy on my right said that it was on the hour from 5pm until 7pm with the ‘main event’, whatever that was, being the one at 7 o’ clock. However, as much as I would have liked to stay to try and get some better shots I’d got enough for what I wanted and it was turning quite chilly – I didn’t fancy standing there waiting for the next display, especially if it would be the same as I’d just seen, so I cut my losses and set off for home.
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While the display had been on a young woman had been going round handing out leaflets which, in her words, ‘tells you what it’s all about’ so I’d rather hoped that there might be some proper information on the times rather than the vague ‘from 5pm’ which I’d read in the paper, however there was nothing of the sort and in fact the leaflet gave very little useful information. Since last weekend I’ve tried in vain to find out more about the light display timings to see if I did actually miss anything but I’ve come up with nothing, so I’d love to know where the guy who I was talking to got his information from and if it was right.
Reading the follow-up comments in the local paper several of them state that the event was very poorly advertised, which possibly explains the lack of people when I was there – a shame really as the light display was exceptionally well done and was really amazing. I don’t know if this was a one-off or if it will be a yearly event but if it is staged again in the future then I hope it’s much better advertised with proper details as it’s certainly something worth seeing.

Sunnyhurst Wood in autumn

A very pleasant day at the very end of October saw me driving a few miles from home and taking the dogs for a Monday walk through Sunnyhurst Wood in Darwen in the hope of capturing some nice autumn photos before the colour left the trees. Parking up at the roadside I noticed that the path down from the main entrance was completely in shade, and knowing how tall the trees are I hoped I wasn’t about to embark on a wild goose chase but I needn’t have worried as things became brighter once I got to the visitor centre at the bottom of the hill.
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Sunnyhurst Wood visitor centre
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The Olde England kiosk and function venue
Past the Olde England kiosk and the second bridge over the brook I came to the informal paddling pool and was quite surprised to see that since my last visit in late spring, when I’d unfortunately forgotten my camera, much of the top end of it was covered in grass and various weeds which sprang up from the water in large patches. The pool looked nowhere near as attractive as I’d seen it previously, in fact it looked a mess, and I felt quite sad that for whatever reason such a pretty place had been left to grow like that.
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The paddling pool
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From the paddling pool the path led a short distance along the riverside to the bandstand in a clearing in the woods. I’d photographed this particular structure last year but only from a few yards away, however this time I decided to see what the inside of the roof looked like. With its many beams and cross-members radiating from a central structure it looked rather like a giant spider’s web and was actually quite attractive.
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The bandstand
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From the bandstand the path continued through the woods, eventually taking me up a long steady incline with a gate at the top, and I emerged onto the wide tarmac track which crossed the Earnsdale Reservoir dam. At the far side of the dam I was undecided whether to continue along the track and try to make the walk into a circular one but not knowing exactly where or how far the track would take me I opted to retrace my steps back through the woods and take some photos in the opposite direction to earlier.
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Earnsdale Reservoir with Darwen Tower up on the hill
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Two fishermen – the only people I saw during the whole of my walk
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Darwen Tower – another place to explore
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The tops of the trees in the wood
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It looks like a cannon but it was part of an old water pipe
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Looking down the path from the gate
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When I got back to the paddling pool I found that the sun had moved round a bit and the side which had previously been in the shade was now in the sunlight so I took another couple of photos and a shot of the waterfall just down below the bridge at the bottom end then continued back to the van without stopping again.
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The top end of the paddling pool
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Back at home I checked Google maps to see where the track at the far side of the reservoir dam would lead to and found that I could have made my walk into a circular one, so maybe I’ll do that next time I go there. A brief history of Sunnyhurst Wood and its bandstand, and some photos of the paddling pool without the overgrown mess, can be found here in my post from May last year.

This time I’ve really lost the plot!

Having already been to my main evening job yesterday I went straight from there to my twice-a-week evening job at the accountant’s. It’s not a big place – a Georgian-style, bay windowed terraced house, one of a row of several which have been turned into offices – and the people who work there aren’t messy so it’s an easy job and only takes an hour. I have three keys on a ring, one for the back door and two for the front (a Yale key and a mortice key) and I always use the front door and leave the keys in the same place while I’m working. When I got there yesterday evening I found that two of the guys were working a bit later than usual but they left about half an hour after I arrived.
So I finished my work, turned out all the lights, set the alarm and went out through the front door, pulling it shut behind me ; with the Yale lock already on I only had to lock the mortice lock but where were the keys? And this is where it gets stupid – convinced I’d left them in the building I let myself back in, turned off the alarm, switched on all the lights and spent almost ten minutes going in and out of every room and up and down the stairs looking for them but couldn’t find them anywhere. I could only think that one of the guys who had been working late had picked them up by mistake, in which case I would have to ring the boss and tell him I couldn’t lock up properly. I was just about to get my phone out of my pocket to ring him when I realised – the keys, which I’d just used to get back into the building, were actually in my hand and had been all the time!!
I honestly don’t know what made me think that I’d left the keys in the building once I’d got outside, and the fact that I’d had to use one of them to get back in there should have told me that they were actually in my possession – this was more than just a ‘blonde moment’, my brain just seemed to have gone completely awol. Needless to say I had a good giggle at my own stupidity and Michael was amused too when I got home and told him what I’d just done. So if you don’t hear from me for a while you know I’ve been carted off by those little men in white coats!

In remembrance – 100 years

This may seem strange to many people but I have to be honest here and say that in the past I’ve never really given much thought to ‘poppy day’, mainly because I have no living relatives, and nor do I know anyone, who lived through either of the two wars of the 20th century. I know that my dad served with the RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) on the ambulance train somewhere in Europe during WW2 but that’s all I do know as he and my mum very rarely spoke about it, and to be honest I couldn’t blame them – if you’ve lived through the horrors of war why would you want to remember it?
My dad would have been 22 at the start of WW2 ; no doubt both then and in WW1 there would have been some young men in the forces who were even younger than him. Young men, barely more than children, who went willingly to fight knowing that they may not come back, and many of them didn’t. It’s a very sobering thought, and as this year marks 100 years since the end of WW1 I decided to take some time out from my busy day yesterday and photograph some of the many displays and tributes which have been created and put in various places by local groups, schools and businesses, as well as the cascade of poppies down the steps of the town hall.
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Dunscar war memorial in the Egerton area of town, poppies made by local school children
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On the A666 not far from home, display done by the Friends of Astley Bridge group
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The cascade of poppies down the town hall steps
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A bench on the A675 close to home, decorated by the Friends of Astley Bridge
This bench overlooks some lovely open countryside just up the road from home – countryside which I love and never tire of, but which those who gave their lives for us during the two wars would never have the pleasure of seeing.
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One of several painted boards fastened to the railings of my local park
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In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, May 1915  (a shortened version)
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
  That mark our place, and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly.
We are the dead. Short days ago
     We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
       Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
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Preston Dock – some history, useless information and curiosities

This week’s Monday walk, which I did just two days ago, features a wander round Preston Dock (now known as Preston Marina) in the Riversway area of the city. Although I’ve been there many times over the last twenty years or so (sometimes to visit a camping store which was near there and sometimes while en route to somewhere else) I was never aware of its history and the various things connected to it until I read about it recently on a couple of other blogs – it sounded interesting so I decided to check it out.
Although Preston, on the River Ribble, is about 16 miles from the coast boats were travelling to and from the city for hundreds of years, and as ships gradually got larger steps were taken in the 19th century to make the river more navigable. In 1825 the New Quays (later named Victoria Quays) were constructed but with the river being tidal boats could only get in and out of them at certain times. The answer to the problem was to build a large dock basin with a set of locks to control the water level, and construction finally began in 1884. Four million cubic yards of soil was dug out of a 40-acre site, creating a dock basin 40ft deep, 3,000ft long and 600ft wide – it took a month to fill it before it could be used for the first time and was the largest single dock in Europe.
The dock was officially opened in 1892 by Queen Victoria’s son Prince Albert Edward (the future King Edward Vll) and was named after him, and the SS Lady Louise, chartered by E H Booth & Company (now known as Booth’s supermarkets) was the first ship to unload its freight there. Only four ships used the dock in its first year but by the turn of the century that number had risen to 170 ; the main imports were timber, china clay, coal, oil, petrol, bananas, wheat and Irish cattle. In 1936 new dock offices opened nearby ; they were built in an Art Deco style with a central clock tower and double front entrance doors with very elaborate handles in the shape of ship prows which feature the Preston lamb from the city’s coat-of-arms – these are still in place today and are well worth a close look. In 1938 the dock railway was added to the site and parts of this still exist today.
During WW2 the dock was taken over by the military and used as a marshalling post, then just after the war the first ever roll on, roll off ferry service was introduced using the SS Cedric, a former tank landing ship, and sailing to and from Larne in Northern Ireland. Trade increased throughout the 1950s and by the 1960s the port was at its peak, but by the 1970s it was starting to flounder. Nearly half of the income generated was being spent on dredging the river to allow increasingly bigger ships through ; trade began to fall away with the city losing many of its imports and the Larne ferry stopped running. The port became uneconomical and the dock was finally closed in 1981 with a great number of job losses, but a major redevelopment of the area started in 1982.
After dealing with the polluted water and land a new road infrastructure was put in place and over the next several years a huge amount of work was done. The lock gates were repositioned to stop flooding from storms, a boatyard with chandlery facilities was constructed and a canal was dug to connect the Ribble to the Lancaster Canal. The original railway line which ran on the north side of the dock was removed and a new line was laid on the south side between the river and the dock basin. A swing bridge was installed over the dock entrance for the passage of vehicles, trains, pedestrians and boats, and a new Dock Control Centre was built close to it, although industrial railway traffic eventually ceased in 1995, with the line subsequently being operated for leisure by the Ribble Steam Railway Company. Many modern homes have been built on the strip of land between the river and the dock with the old Shed No.3 being converted into Victoria Mansions apartments, while the other side of the basin features many retail and leisure developments with Homebase, Morrison’s, Halford’s and Pets At Home now being just a few of the stores along that side. A pleasant promenade runs round three sides of the dock with the swing bridge making the fourth side, and the basin itself is now home to a 350-berth marina.
Parking in the free car park overlooking the water my walk began a little way back on one of the approach roads to the dock. At the junction with the main road is the first of two boat buoys, technically known as a Nelson Safe Water Mooring and Landfall buoy. Back in 1896 these were moored in the estuary where the Ribble meets the Irish Sea off the coast of Lytham ; each had lights powered by acetylene gas and a bell which was activated by the movement of waves, but in 1931 they were fitted with compressed carbon dioxide apparatus which enabled the bells to ring even in calm foggy weather.
Second on my list of things to photograph  was the lighthouse overlooking the dock and situated outside the Morrison’s store. There seems to be very little information about it, with some sources saying it was built many years ago to guide ships into the dock and others saying it was only built in 1986 during the dock regeneration and the building of the supermarket. I’m sure I remember that at one time, not many years ago, it was a stand-alone structure but now it’s joined onto the supermarket by a small extension which houses a ‘barista bar’ – it’s also very difficult to photograph without getting cars and trolley shelters in the shot.
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Boat buoy at Riversway/Pedders Way junction
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Dock lighthouse outside Morrisons
Walking along the promenade past DFS, Halfords and Pets At Home I was delighted to see a splash of colour against a brick wall – it was some type of prickly shrubbery with red and orangey-yellow berries. It certainly brightened up an otherwise very grey day and was worth taking a photo of. At the end of the promenade was The Ribble Pilot, a modern pub/restaurant with a clock tower which, although the clock itself was probably stopped, was still worth a shot.
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The Ribble Pilot
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The roads around the dock area aren’t really made with pedestrians in mind and the traffic was almost constant, so taking my life and that of the dogs in my hands I managed to negotiate a road and a roundabout and made my way to the next junction and some more things to photograph. Right on the corner was the second boat buoy and across the road was the old dock office building with its double doors ; fortunately the junction had traffic lights so crossing it was fairly easy, and when I saw the handles on the doors I knew it was worth going to look. Obviously made of brass they were certainly very unique, though judging from the residue of brass polish stuck in various places they must be a nightmare to clean.
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Boat buoy at Watery Lane/Port Way junction
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The old dock office building
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The ship prow showing the horses underneath
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Sideways view showing the Preston lamb – the Lamb of St. Wilfrid, Patron Saint of Preston – at the top of the prow. The letters P.P. mean Princeps Pacis – Prince of Peace
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I think it looks more like a young foal but it’s definitely a lamb
Back across the road I returned to the end of the dock and made my way round to the residential side ; a distance along I came to a sign pointing between two apartment blocks to the Riverside Walk so I decided to check that out. Through a small estate of modern houses I crossed the access road and a level crossing over the railway line, which brought me down a grass bank and onto a wide tarmac path running between there and the river ; it was a pity it was such a grey day as it would have been a really pleasant walk along there in the sunshine.
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The riverside walk
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The River Ribble through the trees
Eventually the path turned to the right and I came to another crossing point over the rail line and at one end of the swing bridge. On the right hand corner was the huge 100 ton crane built in 1958 to remove the loch gates from the water for refurbishment on dry land. Made of Greenheart timber and Iroko planking the gates weigh 98 tons each – large floatation devices were fixed to each side, enabling them to be floated out of their fittings and brought to the crane for lifting. The crane is still used today but only for lifting and lowering larger boats.
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The road and rail line across the end of the dock – the swing bridge is bordered by the blue railings and is operated about 350 times each year
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The original loch gates, installed when the dock was first built
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The crane, now used for lifting boats
At the far side of the swing bridge, tucked in a corner and just before I turned back onto the promenade, I came across a seat made from a large cog wheel ; there was nothing to say what the wheel was originally from but it was certainly a good use of it. Back on the promenade I passed a few small modern 2-storey blocks of offices and came to a collection of three repainted buoys set back in a corner, then passed the marina with its many boats moored up before finally ending up back at the van.
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An innovative use of a large cog wheel
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Looking across to the residential side
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By the time I’d finished my wanderings I was ready for a brew so leaving the dogs in the van I went to get a takeaway coffee from the Green Frog catering van at the end of the car park. I’d just got back to my own van when it started to rain so it looked like I’d done my walk just at the right time ; it had stopped again by the time I’d finished my coffee but with nowhere else to go to I drove straight back home. It had been an interesting walk but a shame it was such a dull grey day as I would have liked to explore more along the riverside, however I can always go back another time on a nice sunny day.

Sometimes special offers aren’t always the best bet

Back at the beginning of August Ryanair were advertising on tv a big ‘flight sale’ with thousands of seats for only £9.99. That sounded like a good deal so having already planned to go over to Ireland at the end of this month I decided on my dates and got on the Ryanair website to book my flights. The flight from Manchester to Dublin was indeed only £9.99 but there was nothing so cheap on the day I wanted to come back so the return flight cost £31.60.
Now as from January this year Ryanair’s revised baggage policy only allows just one small bag per person on the plane where previously it’s been two, so for the privilege of taking a second bag on board and using an overhead locker you now have to purchase ‘priority boarding’, otherwise the second bag goes in the hold. For the sake of a few days I only take a small backpack and a small wheeled pull-along case so as I don’t want all the faff of checking a bag in before departure then waiting for it to come round on the carousel at the other end I purchased the priority boarding at £6 each way. Then there was the cost of reserving my seats – £3 each way – so the total for both flights came to £59.59 ; I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t get both flights for the advertised £9.99 but compared to other airlines the cost was still cheap enough.
Up to yesterday Michael hasn’t known what his shift pattern for the next few weeks at work would be so I couldn’t book his flights until last night ; with his days off plus a couple of days holiday he’ll be going over on the same day as me but coming back two days after me. As our little sojourn is only four weeks away I expected the flights for him would cost as much as, or even more than, mine, so I was quite surprised last night to find that they were only £9.99 each way, and that’s without  any deals or special offers. Adding on the price of reserved seats the total cost to him is just £25.98 – admittedly he hasn’t added on the cost of priority boarding but he doesn’t need it as he’ll only be taking a backpack, but even if he did have that extra cost the total price would still be over £21 cheaper than my flights.
So on those prices I think maybe for any future trips to Ireland I’ll ignore any of Ryanair’s ‘deals’ or ‘special offers’ and just book a couple of weeks or so in advance. Of course there’s a chance that any future flights on the days and times I want them may not be as low as £9.99 but it’ll be worth a try – and last night’s experience just goes to show that sometimes special offers and deals don’t work out as good as you think they will.