Smithills Hall and Moss Bank Park

My Monday walk this week is one I did right at the beginning of the month when most of the trees still had quite a way to go before they acquired any decent greenery. At the far side of the nearby park is Smithills Forest, part of the vast Smithills Estate owned by the Woodland Trust; being close to home it’s a good place for a dog walk in decent weather though with all the rain of the winter months I hadn’t been that way for a while.
The path from the bottom end of the local park enters the forest about halfway along the east side and the first thing I saw was what had once been a lovely old tree, now drastically cut down with all its branches lying in sections on the ground. I hate to see trees cut down but presumably it had been a victim of February’s storms and had become dangerous. Following the path alongside the stream I eventually came to the ornamental stone bridge and the path leading up to Smithills Hall’s hidden lake; in spite of all the rain over winter it was looking quite dried up in parts but I got one shot then went for a wander round the rest of the grounds.
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Walking along by the outside of the Hall I noticed something I hadn’t seen before even though I’ve been there many times over the years. High up on an outside wall was a stone engraving with two initials and a partially unrecognisable date; research when I got back home told me that the initials were R B and the date was 1579. Between 1485 and 1659 Smithills Hall was owned by the Barton family and in 1579 Robert Barton rebuilt the Great Hall in stone. He also added a stone gabled west wing to the building so the initials were obviously his; it’s amazing to think that they have been there for so long.
Wandering round the grounds I came to the 1873 grave of Little Bess. Unlike my previous two visits when it had been decorated with ribbons and several pots of artificial flowers there was now just one flower in a pot, and knowing that the grave isn’t tended by anyone in an official capacity the addition or replacement of various flowers is a bit of a mystery.
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Leaving the Hall behind I walked along the lane past what was once Smithills Coaching House restaurant and the quaint little square gatehouse and crossed the road to a footpath running between the high hedges and fences of several residential properties. This eventually led down through a wooded area and brought me out close to the 260ft tall Barrow Bridge chimney where a short walk along the road took me to the top end of Moss Bank Park.
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Barrow Bridge chimney from Moss Bank Park
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From the daffodil covered slopes at the top of the park I made my way down past the deserted play area and closed-up café to the rock garden and the walled garden. Both were closed and the gated and wire-fenced entrance to the rock garden meant that I couldn’t see anything at all from the outside, however the fancy railings set into the wall of the walled garden had plenty of spaces which allowed me to see the garden and get several uninterrupted shots.

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The bottom end of the park
Strolling through the far end of the park and across the grass took me back to the chimney and from there I retraced my steps to Smithills Hall but instead of going back through the forest I went along the lane and through the nearby yard at Smithills Open Farm. I’ve never actually been into the farm itself as I refuse to pay what I consider to be quite an expensive entrance charge, therefore I didn’t know of the existence of the llamas so I was quite surprised to see two adults and two young ones in the paddock next to the lane.
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With the final four shots taken I made my way past the farmhouse and through the local park to home, where I finished off my afternoon walk relaxing with a good mug of coffee and a slice of cake.

 

Simple things….

Several days ago, while reading through one of the blogs I follow, I came across a post (presumably designed for the younger generation) showing how to make a simple teddy bear out of a face cloth. It looked easy enough so while I had a few spare minutes at work the following day I decided to try to make one out of a microfibre cleaning cloth. The first attempt wasn’t too good, in fact it was a mess, so I tried again and although the bear wasn’t perfect it was better – and as I use four different colours of cleaning cloths I decided to make a little family of them.
Now while the original blog post stopped at just making a basic bear with a ribbon I decided to go one better and add eyes and noses to give them a bit of character, and as I didn’t have any ribbon at work I brought them home to finish them off. So here we have – Marigold, Bluebell, Rose and Fern.
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Now under normal circumstances I wouldn’t be spending my time at work making teddy bears out of cleaning cloths but these aren’t normal circumstances. With most of the office people now working from home and only three people actually in work I don’t have much to do other than a few basics but as I’m a major key holder it’s my responsibility to lock up the premises after the last person leaves, meaning I still have to be there for a certain length of time – and that’s how the teddy bear family was born. They aren’t perfect and they weren’t even supposed to be permanent but they’ve grown on me now so I think they’ll be around for a while yet.

A circular walk from Barrow Bridge

The first part of this walk done just yesterday has already been, or will be, covered in other posts, so I’m starting and ending in Barrow Bridge village which is still within walking distance of home. The village was originally created during the Industrial Revolution for the workers of the mills which were there at the time but with the closure and eventual demolition of the last mill in 1913 the workforce was dispersed and Barrow Bridge became known for a while as Lancashire’s ‘deserted village’, though gradually the houses and cottages were bought to be private residences. The village became a well known local beauty spot and has been so ever since; it was designated as a conservation area in 1970 and has won several awards in Best Kept Village/Most Beautiful village competitions, and though it looks very pretty in summer when everything is in full bloom it still looks nice enough now for a few photos.
Dean Brook rises on the slopes of Smithills Moors and runs through the village on one side of the narrow road, with each house on the far side of the brook being accessed by its own bridge. Beyond the cottages the road takes a sharp right turn across the brook and heads up towards the moors but on the corner a gate leads to a footpath running alongside the brook. Not far from the gate the path splits into two with the right hand side leading to the locally well know ’63 steps’; having been up the steps the last time I went that way I took the left side which took me up a long steep track through a wooded area.
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Eventually I left the trees behind and the path opened out to views across fields and farmland to Winter Hill on one side and a local golf course on the other side. The path ran through the golf course for quite a distance, at one point turning into a short cobbled lane before reverting to a rough path and eventually coming out on the road leading across the lower stretches of Smithills moors. Not far away, at the end of the road, was Bob’s Smithy Inn; originally built in the early 17th century it’s said to get it’s name from one of its regular customers at the time, a blacksmith who lived across the road, though I decided against walking down just to get a photo of it.
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Apart from being passed by an occasional car and a couple of cyclists the road was deserted so rather than walk on the rough ground which passed as a pavement I was able to walk on the tarmac for most of the way. Eventually I came to a piece of ‘roadside art’ set in the angle of two stone walls close to a farm; I featured it in a post a couple of years ago though I’ve never been able to find out what it is or what it’s supposed to signify, but the central design is the same shape as those featured on various outer walls of Smithills Hall so as the land is part of Smithills Estate I assume it has a connection to that.
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A distance along the road was a barn which had been converted into a house back in the 1960s and behind it was a hamlet of half a dozen modern cottages in a quiet little cul-de-sac at the end of a gravel track. Set back off the track and alongside one of the stone walls was a border with several brightly coloured tulips and other flowers so I couldn’t resist stopping for a few photos before continuing along the road.
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Beyond the hamlet the road bent sharply left and then right, also going down and uphill, and in the dip the upper reaches of Dean Brook ran through a tunnel under the road. The tunnel is known as the Cigarette Tunnel and at one time the only way to get to it was by a rather dangerous scramble down the very steep bank from the road or by a rough walk upstream from Barrow Bridge, however after the bank was recently shored up at each end of the tunnel there’s now a rough gravel path leading down to it.
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At the top of the incline were the cottages of Old Colliers Row, built up off the road and separated from it by a high stone wall. Further along several horses grazed peacefully in a field and beyond the field gate were the cottages of New Colliers Row and some more colourful tulips set alongside the corner wall of one of the cottage gardens.
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Continuing straight along the road would eventually take me back close to home but I wanted to make the walk a circular one so I turned down the lane opposite the Colliers Row cottages. This took me back to Barrow Bridge village and after taking a couple of shots of yet more flowers and some of the cottages across the brook my walk ended where it began at the beginning of the village.
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Of course that wasn’t really the end of the walk, I still had to get back home from Barrow Bridge, but for the purposes of this post I’m not counting that bit. With yet another day of lovely sunshine the circular walk had been very enjoyable and will no doubt be one which I’ll repeat in future months and years – and it’s also given me an idea for a future post on here.

Two of life’s great mysteries

Back in October last year I had a bit of a problem transferring the last couple of dozen photos from my camera card to the computer. The pc photo programme would run though the photos on the card but would stick just before the last few and no matter how many times I tried it was always the same; even deleting some shots off the card made no difference so I came to the conclusion that somehow the card had been corrupted, though luckily the last few shots weren’t important so not being able to access them didn’t matter too much.
So I bought a new card and everything has worked fine up until the last few days but I find I now have the same problem with this one – the pc will find all the shots on the card but won’t import the last few. I’ve tried everything I can think of – cleared a load of old files and photos off the pc in case it was a space issue (it wasn’t, I have loads left) cleared all cookies and temporary internet files, closed all the programmes I’m using except the photo one, done a disc clean up and defrag, tried different, new and fully charged batteries in the camera, deleted some shots off the card and put the card in a different camera. Nothing works and it’s a mystery why it doesn’t but on the basis that this could also be a corrupt camera card I got another new one yesterday.
Now here’s a second mystery. Last night, just out of curiosity, I tried the camera card from last year which I originally thought was corrupt – and straight away the pc found and imported the last photos which I couldn’t access before. Very strange! So I’m now left wondering where the fault lies – is it a pc issue or a camera card issue? I really haven’t a clue and to be honest I’m now fed up trying to solve the problem. I just hope it’s third time lucky and I have no issues in the future with this new card – it remains to be seen.

 

**Edited to add that this afternoon I tried the recent camera card again and this time everything worked and the camera and pc decided to talk to each other properly – the pc found all the shots on the card and imported the last few, which it wouldn’t do before! Totally bizarre, and I still haven’t a clue what the problem could be.

 

A local walk at Easter

My Monday walk this week, done just two days ago, took me to a part of the countryside which, although only a relatively short distance from home, I’ve never actually explored before. Across the field at the end of the street and through the local park with its weeping willow tree I went along the lane to Smithills Hall where, across from the entrance, was a path I’d never previously walked along. It followed what had once been the lane leading to a local garden centre set in a woodland clearing. The place had closed down in the late 1990s and the buildings had long since been demolished and the land cleared, with the only thing left being the high perimeter wall on one side and the area slowly returning to nature.
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A distance along the path was a wooden gate leading to a track across the field on the left; straight on took me to a path following the garden centre wall but in the sunshine the open field looked much nicer so that’s the way I went – and a few minutes later I was to wonder if I’d made the right choice. Halfway along the track there was a sudden movement up ahead and two squirrels darted out of the grass and ran across to a tumbledown stone wall on my right where they played for a couple of minutes before one disappeared into the bushes. The second one, seeming to be carrying something in his mouth, lingered on the wall just long enough for me to snatch a couple of photos before he too disappeared into the undergrowth.
Just beyond where I saw the squirrels the track came to a dead end and I was faced with two choices – retrace my steps to the path by the garden centre wall or find a way across the narrow stream running along the bottom of the wooded valley on my right. Fortunately the stream was only shallow and the bank wasn’t too steep so I climbed down fairly easily and while Poppie paddled through the water I made my way across via some large strategically placed stones.
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At the end of the path the trees opened out a bit and I came to a gate leading to a track across open farm land. In the distance up ahead was a high grassy mound and just beyond it I could see what looked to be some cattle, however when I finally got there I found it was actually four horses grazing peacefully in a separate field. None of them would come to me at first but then the smaller grey one decided to come over for a drink of water from one of the large barrels nearby, so without accidentally impaling myself on the barbed wire fence I managed to snatch a quick photo of him.
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Past the horses the track took me up a slope though another small wooded area and emerged onto more open land. Set back in the grass a few yards off the path was a clump of pretty pale yellow flowers and it was only when I went to take a closer look I realised that it seemed to be several clumps planted close together in the shape of a cross. In memory of someone who liked walking there or maybe the burial place of a much loved pet? Not far from there a large gap in the trees gave me a wide ranging long distance hazy view over the town to the high rise buildings of Manchester city centre 16 miles away – and looking at all those buildings so close together made me glad that I live where I do, right on the edge of open countryside.
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The path continued for quite a distance until it joined up with another path which I’ve actually walked along a few times before. This in turn took me to a nearby farm and I stopped to photograph some young lambs in a field but they were forgotten about when I saw the deer. The end of the field backs onto the garden of my boss’s house with only a low stone wall separating the two, and I’ve seen the deer when I’ve been there cleaning but never had the camera with me. They were some distance away, lying down enjoying the sunshine, so I waited patiently and eventually four of them got up and I was able to get a reasonable shot of them.
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Leaving the deer and sheep behind I walked through the farm yard and the nearby hamlet of stone cottages which were once farm outbuildings, then down the lane and out onto the main road where I got my two final shots of the view looking across yet more fields and open countryside. It’s a view which is just a 10-minute walk up the road from home but no matter how many times I see it I never tire of it.
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Back at home it was time to relax for a while with some coffee and cake. My circular walk hadn’t been a long one but it had been nice to explore a bit of the nearby countryside I hadn’t been to before, and now I’ve been that way once it’ll no doubt be a walk I’ll do again in the future.

 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry – a book review

Harold Fry is a tall, quiet and rather unassuming man in his mid sixties, a retired brewery representative plodding along in a monotonous marriage to Maureen, a woman he’s been with for over 40 years and who seems to be irritated by almost everything he does. The marriage seems to have gone stale over the years and there is very little to differentiate one day of his ordinary life from another until the morning he gets a letter from Queenie Hennessy, a former work colleague he hasn’t seen or heard from in twenty years. Queenie is in a hospice, dying of cancer, and has written to thank him for his friendship when they worked together, and to say goodbye.
Writing a very brief reply and leaving Maureen doing the hoovering Harold walks to the post box at the end of the road but then has second thoughts about posting the letter – maybe it was too brief or the words were wrong, maybe he should go back home and rewrite it. While pondering on what to do he decides to walk to the next post box – and the next, and the next, until a chance conversation with the young girl assistant in a local petrol station where he stops to get a snack convinces him that he must deliver the letter to Queenie in person. Phoning the hospice but being told that Queenie is asleep he passes on the message that he is going to visit her and she must wait for him – and so begins the unlikely pilgrimage.
Still in his canvas yachting shoes and light jacket, with no map, compass or mobile phone, Harold is determined to walk more than six hundred miles from his home town of Kingsbridge in Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed in the Scottish Borders, believing that as long as he keeps walking Queenie Hennessy will live. At first he spends each night in various bed-and-breakfast places but with little money and not wanting to use his bank card too much he takes to sleeping out wherever he can find a bit of shelter. Some days he covers several miles, other days only a few, and from each stopping place he sends postcards to Maureen, Queenie, and the girl in the petrol station who gave him the inspiration for his journey.
As Harold nears Coventry he gets chatting to Mick, a young man who buys him a drink and a packet of crisps in a pub. Unknown to Harold Mick turns out to be a reporter for a Coventry newspaper; the story of this modern-day pilgrimage is soon all over the news and turns Harold from an ordinary man-in-the-street to being recognised wherever he goes. Before long he is joined at various points along the way by a stray dog, a young lad who reminds Harold of his son, and an assortment of hangers-on from different walks of life, each with their own personal story and reason for joining the pilgrimage. Though they all get on well together at first, as time goes on and they get further north there are thefts and disagreements between some of them, irritating Harold and making him wish they would all go and find something else to believe in.
Eventually a splinter group is formed and without including Harold in their secret nightly discussions they decide to proceed directly to Berwick without him, where their self-proclaimed ‘leader’ takes the glory for completing the pilgrimage. Harold, now left to continue his journey alone, becomes quite disorientated in the last stages of the walk but finally, after walking 627 miles in 87 days, he makes it to the hospice in Berwick, though at first he can’t face going in. Instead he writes a letter on the back of an advertising flyer to the girl in the petrol station back home, in which he confesses to another reason for doing his walk.
After spending the night sleeping on a park bench Harold returns to the hospice to see Queenie, finding her very weak but still alive. Later on, sitting alone with his thoughts on a bench overlooking the sea, he is joined by Maureen who has driven all the way up from Devon to meet him. Visibly upset he tells her about his visit to Queenie and how ill she is; Maureen then books them into a bed-and-breakfast for the night and the following day they go to see Queenie together.
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The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry  was initially written as a radio play broadcast on BBC Radio 4 but was later developed into this full length novel, the author’s first, published in 2012. I found out about it recently from someone else’s blog and it sounded so intriguing I sent for a copy from ebay. At first I wasn’t sure if I would like it but a few chapters in it turned into something I couldn’t put down and I had to keep reading to find out what happened next.
What starts out as a journey to save someone’s life soon turns into much more; walking gives Harold plenty of time to think and he reflects on his life, his broken marriage, his failed relationship with his son, and the mistakes he made over the years, while back home in Devon Maureen is also thinking about the mistakes she herself made and how she can put things right. There is much more to this story than I’ve written here; with very believable characters it is by turns moving, amusing, sad and thought-provoking with a couple of unexpected twists towards the end. The writing is so beautifully descriptive that I felt as if I was walking alongside Harold, seeing the same things he saw, meeting the same people he met, and experiencing the different parts of his journey myself.
It’s not often that a book leaves such a profound impression on me but this one did, so for anyone who hasn’t read it I can definitely recommend picking up a copy and walking with Harold on his journey.

 

Peasholm Park, Scarborough

My Monday walk this week features Peasholm Park in Scarborough’s North Bay area, a place I visited while camping near there at Easter a few years ago. The park is situated on what were once the extensive grounds of the medieval Northstead Manor which had been part of the Crown Estate from the 14th century. By the beginning of the 20th century the area had become open farming land but in 1911 Scarborough Corporation bought some of the land from the Duchy of Lancaster and created the public park which was opened in 1912, then following the purchase of more land the natural ravine of Peasholm Glen was added to the park in 1924.
The park’s main attraction is its large boating lake with a central island; accessed by a Japanese-style bridge the island has a peaceful wooded area and Japanese-themed gardens said to be based on the Willow Pattern pottery design with a pagoda and a waterfall flowing down to the lake. Three times a week during the summer season the lake plays host to the Naval Warfare event the Battle of Peasholm, a recreation of the Battle of the River Plate using man powered model boats steered by council employees and known as ‘the smallest manned Navy in the world’.
My walk started not far from the lakeside cafe and circuited the lake in a clockwise direction. In late April the trees were resplendent in their fresh green foliage, the cherry trees were full of pink blossom, the flower beds were a profusion of bright red tulips and yellow bedding plants and with the brightly coloured dragon boats on the lake the whole area looked really pretty.
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At the far side of the lake I crossed the Half Moon Bridge onto the island, stopping momentarily to watch the progress of three dragon boats on the water below, then at the end of the bridge I turned left and walked past the waterfall and round to the other side of the island where the grass beneath the trees was covered in a carpet of daisies and half a dozen geese were chilling out in a patch of sunlight.
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Ignoring the geese I climbed the steps up to the top of the island; never having been there before I didn’t know what to expect so I was pleasantly surprised to find a pretty and very peaceful Japanese garden surrounded by trees and shrubs and dotted here and there with stone ornaments. A path ran all the way round the garden and a pond in the centre was crossed by a couple of oriental bridges.
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Having walked round the gardens twice I made my way back down the steps, round the base of the island and back across the Half Moon Bridge to continue my clockwise walk round the lake. By the time I reached the café I was feeling quite peckish – it was time for coffee and cake, and though the café was very busy I managed to get a table on the outside terrace where I could sit for a while and watch the world go by.
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My lakeside walk ended where it had started, not far from the café. My previous visit to Peasholm Park had been during a holiday thirty years before so it had been nice to wander along the lakeside and discover the gardens on the island – and hopefully it won’t be another thirty years before I make a return visit.

 

Unbelievable!

Less than two years after the huge fire which devastated more than five square miles of the Winter Hill moorland not far from my home there’s recently been another fire up there. It broke out last Friday afternoon (March 27th) soon after 2pm in the area close to the car park on the moorland road not far from the Blue Lagoon reservoir at Belmont. With some of the flames reaching a height of 6 metres and burning more than a square mile of moorland the fire was attended by 8 fire engines and 40 firefighters from both Lancashire and Greater Manchester fire services, but thanks to all their hard work it was extinguished completely before 7pm that evening.

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All pictures sourced from the internet
At first it was thought that the fire had been started by a discarded portable barbecue as police had earlier received reports of a group of people having a barbecue near there in spite of recent government directives to stay at home during the current crisis, however it’s now thought to have been started deliberately as a group of teenagers were seen running away from the area and driving off in a red car just before the blaze took hold.
Although it’s understandable that many people would have liked to take advantage of the warm sunny weather of last week and the week before it’s beyond belief that there are those who are thoughtless enough to use disposable barbecues on the currently dry moorland, and even more unbelievable that there are those who are brainless enough to deliberately set the grass on fire, obviously not caring about the damage caused to the moorland and its wildlife. Fortunately this latest fire wasn’t as great as the 2018 one so hopefully, as long as there are no further incidents, that part of the moorland won’t be too long before it shows signs of recovery.