Month: April 2022
Easter in North Wales – Day 1
Good Friday morning at 7.45am saw me on the road for yet another break in North Wales. This time I ignored both the A548 coast road and the A55 in favour of a B road off the A494 which took me to the first stop of the day, Ewloe Castle, hidden deep in woodland a short walk from a convenient roadside lay-by.
Situated on steeply sloping ground above a wooded valley and constructed of locally quarried sandstone Ewloe was one of the last fortifications built by the native Princes of Wales. Abandoned at the beginning of the invasion of Wales by Edward I in 1277, much of the castle’s dressed stonework from its curtain walls and keep was later removed for various constructions around Mold and Connah’s Quay and by the late medieval period the site was in ruins. More details and photos of the castle will be in a future follow-up post.
A couple of hundred yards along the road from the path to the castle was the Castle Cafe, situated in the grounds of a large and fairly new fishing site, and as I’d only had one piece of toast and a quick brew before leaving home it was time for something a bit more substantial. Looking at the menu the full breakfast seemed to be far more than I would eat so I settled on double scrambled eggs on toast with a mug of coffee, and very nice they were too. Chatting to the very friendly lady behind the counter she told me that one of the ducks on the nearest lake had recently gained a brood of nine tiny little ducklings so with breakfast over I went to find them and take a few photos round the lake.
From the cafe a drive along the B roads through the village of Northop Hall and some very pleasant countryside took me down to the A548 coast road close to Flint and a few miles further on I made my second stop near the village of Bagillt. I had to turn off the main road, go down a narrow track under the railway line and park close to a car scrap yard for this one – initially not the most attractive of places but it did have some quite interesting history to it.
The scrap yard occupied the site of the former Bettisfield Colliery with the last remaining colliery building, the engine house, standing close to the track. With no windows and holes in the roof where the slates were missing it looked rather worse for wear although it’s actually Grade I listed. Sunk in 1872 the colliery was owned by the Bettisfield Colliery Co. Ltd and by 1896 employed 538 men; with a working area of 4,000 acres and a yearly output of 150,000 tons Bettisfield was the largest and most important colliery in the Bagillt area.
Despite extending under the Dee estuary water was never reported as a problem and only two small 15-inch cylinder pumps were ever needed. By 1908 the colliery was in the hands of the Bagillt Coal Co. Ltd and employed 641 men but by 1918 ownership had reverted to the Bettisfield Colliery Co. with a workforce reduced to 450. By 1923 the workforce totalled 502 but the colliery couldn’t survive the Depression and the miners’ strikes of the 1920s and early 1930s and it closed in December 1933 with the loss of 415 jobs. The colliery hadn’t been without its accidents though and many lives were lost during its years of operation.
At the corner of the small parking area was a wooden sculpture, The Miner, also known as Bettisfield Bob, and a gate took me to a footpath leading up an incline across the fields towards the foreshore. Not far along the path was a modern working sundial sculpture designed and made by local blacksmith and artist Peter Carlyle and unveiled in July 2021 by Lady Hanmer of Bettisfield on the North Wales/Shropshire border, whose family opened Bettisfield Colliery in the 19th century. Part of a local community group’s project to develop and enhance the natural and historic heritage of the area it was a memorial to all those miners who lost their lives while working at the colliery.
Along the path and overlooking the estuary was what I’d originally set out to see, the Bagillt Beacon, one of a number of beacons placed along the Flintshire coast to celebrate the opening of the Wales Coast Path on May 5th 2012. Standing on a stone plinth built by local stonemason Paul Evans the Bagillt Beacon, in the shape of a Welsh dragon, was designed and made from mild steel plate by Peter Carlyle and was first lit on June 4th 2012 to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
From the beacon I walked round the perimeter of the small headland and down to the nearby creek known by the rather unattractive name of Dee Banks Gutter, then taking advantage of the tide still being reasonably well in I drove the short distance along to Greenfield Dock for another quick photo stop. By this time the sky had clouded over considerably so rather than go anywhere else I made my way from there straight to the camp site.
Expecting the site to be reasonably busy I was quite surprised to see hardly anyone there – just one caravan, a 4 x 4 vehicle with a fold-out tent on top and two small tents on the far side. Booking in at the campervan which served as a reception office I was told I could choose my own pitch so I opted for No. 8, the fourth from the end, and once I was settled in I spent the rest of the afternoon in chill out mode before phoning friend Eileen and arranging to call over to see her and hubby a while later.
It was a lovely evening spent in the company of two good friends and Tilly the cockapoo but it was when I was driving back to the site that I encountered a slight problem. I’d set out in daylight but completely forgotten that the road passing the site was unlit – it was dark, and to make matters worse the sign at the corner of the farm track to the camp site wasn’t very prominent so I’d gone past it before I realised it was there.
With a couple of cars behind me I couldn’t just stop suddenly and turn round so I went up to the nearby crossroads and turned round there, but couldn’t believe it when I missed the sign again going back the other way! This time I had to go almost into the next village before I could turn round safely and fortunately it was third time lucky – with nothing behind me at the crucial point I was able to slow down enough to see the sign and make the sharp 90 degree turn into the farm track.
Finally back on my pitch I took Snowy and Poppie for a quick torchlight walk round the perimeter of the site then made a brew and settled in for the night, vowing that the next time I leave the site in an evening I must be back before it goes dark!
Animal sanctuary Spring Open Day
Last Sunday was Bleakholt sanctuary’s first proper open day since the place had to close to visitors at the start of the pandemic two years ago. Fortunately the weather gods produced a glorious day and even though I got there not long after the mid day opening the car park and the lane were already full of vehicles, with a steady stream of visitors paying their £2 entry fee at the gate.
My first port of call was the big barn with all its stalls set out round the sides and in the centre and though I didn’t buy anything for myself I did get a new and very pretty tea light holder which I thought Michael might like to give to his girlfriend. Tea lights and candles aren’t really my thing but Laura loves them so I’m sure she will like the one I got.
Wandering round outside I was disappointed to see that some areas were out of bounds and a lot of the kennels had no residents but it was obvious that quite a bit of work was taking place, with one row of cat pens already having been updated. It was nice to see a few different stalls and attractions though and the cafe and hot dog stall were both doing a good trade.
An update on the sanctuary’s website says they took an amazing £5,448 on the day – that’s the amount they will be trying to beat on the next open day in July, so fingers crossed the weather will behave, there will be even more visitors and it will be another really good day.
**This post has been pre-written and scheduled as I’m currently away with no internet access so I’ll reply to any comments when I get back. Have a good Easter everyone!
Manchester street art – April 2022
After several cold, rainy and windy days the weather over the recent weekend turned out to be glorious and as I’d recently got wind of some new street art in the city’s Northern Quarter I took an early train on Saturday to go in search of it. Stevenson Square was looking very bright in the morning sunshine and though some of the artwork hadn’t changed from when I was there in January I saw that the previous parade of dogs had gone from the back wall of the old toilet block and had been replaced with a colourful geometric pattern.
Down in Thomas Street the hoardings surrounding a vacant plot of land had some new artwork; I don’t know what the first one was supposed to be but it was quite amusing. The second one looked like one big mess of paint at first but viewed from across the street it did look marginally better and I quite liked it, though it was hard to make out the name of the artist. I was also surprised to see that the pre-Christmas spaced-out chihuahua was still on a Hilton Street shop shutter and this time there were no barriers in front of it so I was able to get a shot of the whole thing.
Deserting the NQ for a while I made my way to a section of the Rochdale Canal to find some street art painted on the ground by artist Vanessa Scott. Part of the Rochdale Canal art trail which runs from Castlefield to Canal Street, the artwork is ‘inspired by the diverse wildlife and waterway plants and wildflowers found along the canal’, though unfortunately quite a large section of it was in the shade.
Heading back to the NQ I took a quick detour down a side road and found something which was so colourful I almost felt like I was somewhere in the Caribbean. The last time I’d seen this place, about two years ago, it was a cocktail bar owned by some z-list ‘celebrity’ from The Real Housewives Of Cheshire reality tv series (not something I ever watched) and it was decked out in pink, pink, and even more pink, but it now seems to have had a change of ownership and was undergoing a transformation.
While I was taking photos from the outside I noticed a maintenance man working inside and when he saw me struggling to take a photo with the camera through the railings he said he would unlock the gate so I could go in and get as many photos as I wanted; that was certainly an unexpected privilege and an opportunity I wasn’t going to miss. He went back to his work and left me to wander wherever I wanted although as the place was still undergoing work I could really only photograph the wall art, which was what I was originally trying to do. I didn’t get his name but he was a nice guy and it was really good of him to let me in to get my photos.
Back in the NQ I got my last two shots on the corner of Tib Street and Thomas Street. The kingfisher was done by Brezaux, an artist I hadn’t previously heard of, and though I couldn’t make out the artist’s name on the other artwork the vibrant swirls certainly made it stand out.
Although I didn’t see as many new artworks as I’ve seen on previous occasions I was more than happy with the ones I did find. Being allowed access to a new venue in the making was a great bonus too, and looking at the photos I think overall this must be my most colourful collection to date.
The Duke of Lancaster – a ship frozen in time
The TSS Duke of Lancaster was built in 1955/6 by Harland & Wolff in Belfast and was the sister ship to the TSS Duke of Rothsay and TSS Duke of Argyll. Of steel construction and 376ft long it was designed not only as a passenger ferry operating on the Heysham-Belfast route but also as a cruise ship sailing around the Scottish islands and further afield to Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway and Spain. Initially owned by British Railways it was transferred to Sealink ownership in 1963.
With the advent of car ferries in the mid 1960s the Duke of Lancaster eventually became redundant so it was decided to undertake a programme of part conversion. The main deck was rebuilt to accommodate vehicles via a door at the stern and as a result the ship no longer served its secondary role as a cruise ship. Passenger capacity was reduced from 1800 to 1200, which included cabin accommodation for 400, and with space available for 105 cars the ship returned to service on April 25th 1970 as a car ferry, once again serving the Heysham-Belfast route.
On April 5th 1975 service on the Heysham-Belfast route was withdrawn and the Duke of Lancaster was transferred briefly onto the Fishguard-Rosslare crossing before becoming the regular relief ship on the Holyhead-Dun Laoghaire route, then in November 1978 it was taken out of service completely and docked at Barrow-in-Furness.
In 1979 the ship was sold to Liverpool-based company Empirewise Ltd and in August that year was towed by tug to a permanent dock at Llannerch-y-Mor on the Dee estuary in North Wales, to be used as a dry-docked leisure and retail complex. Opened to the public in 1980 as The Fun Ship, attractions included market stalls, a café, amusement arcade and a children’s play area. There were also grand plans for a hotel conversion but these came to nothing and after several long-standing legal disputes with the local council the ship closed for business in 1984. In 1985 it was used briefly as a clothing warehouse for a company with the same business address as Empirewise but after more legal disputes any further plans were abandoned.
In February 1990 the dock and the ship itself suffered severe damage during freak storms and high sea levels, setting back any new plans for the venture, but by 1994 the Fun Ship was ready to re-open to the public once more. The council however had other ideas and served the owners with an injunction forcing them to close the ship before it had even re-opened. After another 2-year legal fight against a very corrupt council, in 1996 the owners were advised by their lawyers to withdraw from the case; although reluctant to do so they agreed but had to pay the council’s costs in excess of £200.000
After lying almost unloved for so many years the Duke of Lancaster was featured in an episode of the BBC2 series ‘Coast’ in 2011 which showed that in spite of much of the ship’s exterior being covered in rust the interior was in surprisingly good condition, with most features just as they were in the 1970s and early 80s.
In early 2012 a group of arcade game enthusiasts made a deal with the ship’s owners and were able to purchase most of the retro coin-operated gaming machines left behind when the Fun Ship closed in 1984; more than 50 machines were removed from the ship, with cranes and other heavy lifting equipment being used to get them out.
Also in 2012, after being contacted by a group of European street artists, the owners allowed them to transform the ship’s exterior into an open air ‘art gallery’. The first phase of the project saw Latvian graffiti artist ‘Kiwie’ and other European artists paint murals on the ship between August and November that year and the second phase, starting at the end of March 2013, featured the work of British-based artists including Dan Kitchener and Dale Grimshaw. One of the artworks was a picture of the ship’s first captain, John ‘Jack’ Irwin but in 2017, for reasons currently unknown, both sides of the ship were painted black.
I first became aware of the Duke of Lancaster in 2016 when I saw a couple of photos of it on another blog. It looked and sounded intriguing so I decided that the next time I went down to North Wales I would forgo my usual route down the A55 and take the new-to-me A548 coast road so I could find the ship and see it for myself.
Having checked out the location on Google maps I knew there was a large car park just off the main road and not far from the ship, and through a gate in the corner I came to a footpath – part of the North Wales Coast Path – which took me along the side of a narrow creek and under a low railway bridge, though I hadn’t gone far when I came to locked steel gates and a high metal fence preventing access to the dock. The path went round to the left of the fence and ran along the top of a bank towards the shore, and though I couldn’t get as close to the ship as I wanted to be I was able to get a few photos looking over the top of the nearby hedge.
Now I have no doubt that when all the artwork was first done it looked really good but four years later, with much of the ship sides covered in rust, it all looked a bit of a mess. I was to learn later that every one of those murals contained a hidden message pertaining to the corrupt council which blocked every attempt to set up the ship as a permanent tourist attraction.
To see the other side of the ship I had to go right back along the path to the main road, cross the end of the creek and go down the path on the far side. In the sunshine, and with not as much artwork on that side, it did look marginally better – with all the rust cleaned off and a decent paint job it could have looked quite smart.