The second Sunday of this month saw me revisiting Gresgarth Hall garden near Caton village. Having been there for the first time in August and been very impressed I was curious to know what it would look like now the seasons had changed. Several parts of the garden had undergone some subtle but still obvious changes in the planting and the features and though the trees didn’t have as much autumn colour as I’d hoped – maybe it was still a little early in the month – there was still enough to make a difference.
Another difference was in the number of visitors – I arrived soon after 12 noon and though I’d noticed plenty of cars in the car park there didn’t seem to be too many people around the garden. In August there had been a lot of visitors and photography was often frustrating but with fewer visitors this time I was able to take my photos without having to wait for someone to move out of the way. And I make no apologies for the number of flower close-ups and shots of the lake and the house from different parts of the garden – this place is far too nice not to go mad with the camera.
Across the Chinese Bridge and away from the main part of the garden I took a wander along the hillside above the river and in various grassy clearings among the trees I came across a few quirky features. A large stone urn on a pedestal, a statue, something which could once have been a sundial, and there was even a gravestone for ”Leo, 2003-2019” who I presume was the family dog.
In one of the garden rooms the low level foliage had been trimmed back to make the swirly mosaics on the path look more prominent, a couple of pyramid shaped bushes had appeared since my previous visit and round a corner I came across a benign looking lion which I hadn’t seen before, while the two roaring lions by the lakeside were more easily visible.
At £12.50 the entrance fee for the garden isn’t exactly cheap but for me at least it’s worth it for the photo opportunities it provides. It’s a beautiful place, and since this visit I’ve found out that there are still some features I haven’t yet seen so I’m already looking forward to making a third visit next spring.
A sunny but breezy Sunday at the start of this month saw me heading out to Southport for a look round the botanical gardens in the suburban village of Churchtown on the outskirts of the town. In spite of the numerous times I’ve been to Southport over the years I’d only found out about this place recently so I was looking forward to seeing what was there.
The Botanic Gardens were originally founded in 1874 by a group of local working men who formed the Southport and Churchtown Botanic Gardens Company and acquired a parcel of land from the Hesketh Estate. The company raised £18,000 to landscape the gardens, build a lake, a conservatory, tea rooms and a museum, and the gardens were officially opened in 1875 by Rev. Charles Hesketh from whom the land had been acquired, with the opening ceremony including laying a foundation stone for the museum.
The building was designed by local architects Mellor & Sutton and built by George Duxfield of Duxfield Brothers, Southport, with the famous showman, politician and businessman Phineas T Barnum being an advisor in the construction. The museum eventually opened in 1876 and Barnum donated his top hat which could later be seen on display. The running of the museum was funded by donations from the public and the local council while the gardens themselves were run as a commercial venture funded by entrance fees.
The gardens’ serpentine lake was formed from part of a stream, known as The Pool, which flowed through the grounds of the nearby Meols Hall historical manor house and out to the Ribble Estuary, and it’s said that monks who lived close by fished for eels in the stream. Attached to a magnificent glass conservatory was a fernery which proved very popular with visitors as it featured many tropical plants from around the world, and though the conservatory was eventually demolished the fernery still remains to this day.
In 1932 the gardens sadly closed as they were earmarked for an eventual private housing development but after a local uproar Southport Corporation intervened and bought the site with money raised by public subscription. The gardens reopened in August five years later as a public amenity renamed The Botanic Gardens and King George Playing Fields, though the name eventually reverted to the original Botanic Gardens.
All the museum’s collections were sold off when the gardens closed in 1932 but the museum was eventually reopened by John Scoles who started a new collection from scratch. A Victorian Room was constructed, many artefacts related to Southport’s heritage were donated by local residents and exhibits included the Cecily Bate Collection of Dolls, though one special exhibit, and probably the oldest item in the museum, was an ancient canoe which in recent years has been dated to 535 AD.
The canoe was found in April 1899 by a local farmer who was ploughing a field near what was once the northern shore of Martin Mere and a local historian at the time identified it as being of significant age and interest. It was first displayed in the Botanic Gardens conservatory then in 1907 it was loaned to Liverpool Museum until 1946 when it was returned to the Botanic Gardens and displayed in the museum there.
Fast forward through the years and in the 1980s the Friends of the Botanic Gardens Museum organization was formed. They successfully stopped the proposed closure of the museum at the time and later set up their own shop within the building; sadly it was closed permanently on April 24th 2011 as part of a cost-cutting exercise by Sefton Council and the collections were transferred to the Atkinson Museum on Lord Street where many are still on display, including the Martin Mere canoe, P T Barnum’s top hat and the Pennington taxidermy collection.
Along with the closure of the museum horticultural activities at the gardens were also significantly reduced. Sefton Council proposed further closures within the gardens which would see the loss of the fernery, aviary, garden nursery and toilets, along with the conservatory at nearby Hesketh Park. A group of local residents got together to save the remaining facilities at both sites, in particular at the Botanic Gardens, which along with the museum’s closure had also lost the boats on the lake, the boat house, the road train which provided a ride around the park, and the services of the park gardeners. The flower beds have since been maintained by the Botanic Gardens Community Association volunteers who spend Mondays and Fridays every week tending to as much of the park as they can.
A side entrance had taken me into the park near the bowling greens and a walk through the arboretum led me to a pleasant path around the lake but when I got to the flower beds near the fernery I felt rather disappointed. Having previously seen photos of them on the internet I’d been looking forward to a lot of bright colour but they were very pale and didn’t really live up to my expectations, although the planters and borders along the path from the main entrance were much more colourful. There was a cafe too and an aviary with budgies, parrots and various other winged creatures, but the density of the mesh panels prevented me from getting any decent photos of them.
With my walk around the park complete, and not wanting to cut short a really nice day, I drove into Southport itself, parked up by the Marine Lake and went for a leisurely walk round King’s Gardens. Over towards the Pleasureland amusement park was what later information told me is Southport’s newest attraction, the 35-metre tall Big Wheel with an Alpine Village around its base, although everything seemed to be closed up at the time.
Back at the car park my thoughts turned to finding a cafe for coffee and cake but I decided instead just to enjoy the drive home in the mid afternoon sunshine and have a proper meal when I got back. In spite of my disappointment over the lack of colour in the flower beds at the Botanic Gardens I had enjoyed exploring somewhere new – it was a lovely park which I’ll probably visit again next summer and hopefully when I do those flower beds will be a riot of colour.
On a visit to Morecambe in August 2021 I was very surprised to see that the long expanse of plain blue solid wooden fencing fronting the large area of derelict land once the promenade’s Frontierland amusement park, had undergone a makeover and most of the panels now sported a painting or a paste-up.
Frontierland wild west-style theme park started life at a different site in 1906 as the Figure Eight Park, named after the figure-of-eight miniature railway which operated there. The park operated successfully until the late 1920s when it suffered a downturn in fortunes due to various complaints from tourists and a mountain of bad press; in 1929 it was taken over by Blackpool-based Hitchens Ltd but in spite of much investment and a name change to Morecambe Pleasure Park the downturn in visitor numbers continued until the park was closed and the attractions dismantled in 1938.
Just months after being dismantled the amusement park was resurrected on the current site and was purchased in 1939 by Leonard Thompson, owner of Blackpool Pleasure Beach and Southport’s Pleasureland. An ice dome was built on the site and opened in 1949, the park underwent another name change to West End Amusement Park and new rides were added each year. Various shows appeared at the ice theatre until 1962 when the dome was made into a bingo hall and then an indoor amusement place called Fun City.
In spite of the regular addition of new rides over the years, by the 1980s visitor numbers were dwindling again so in an effort to save the park Leonard’s son, Geoffrey Thompson, set about giving the site a complete overhaul and Frontierland was born in 1986, though as a themed amusement park it didn’t have a good start. On November 14th that year a fire ripped through Fun City, burning it to the ground and creating £1m worth of damage, but the park recovered and rides like the Silver Mine, the Texas Tornado, and the Western Carousel saw visitors flocking back.
The Thompson family continued to introduce new rides and features to Frontierland throughout the late 1980s and into the 1990s, and in 1993 the Space Tower was installed. Sponsored by the company behind Polo Mints and commonly referred to as the Polo Tower the 150ft gyro tower was transferred from Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and although the ride resulted in a significant boost in visitor numbers it was to be the last major investment at the park. In July 1998 Frontierland hit the headlines when the old wooden Texas Tornado roller coaster set off while the safety bars were still up; several riders were put in danger and one man who was on the ride with his 6-year old daughter at the time later told the Daily Mirror ”we could have been killed”. Whether this incident was the final straw for the site or not that year signalled the beginning of the end for Frontierland and it began to downsize.
Three seasons of staged demolitions were planned across the site and while some rides were moved to Southport’s Pleasureland and rebranded other rides and attractions were sold on to various theme parks in the UK and other countries. The 62-year old Texas Tornado enjoyed its last outing in 1999 then remained dormant until being demolished in late 2000, leaving only the Polo Tower and Log Flume on site, along with a giant pile of rubble. The park’s entrance was sealed off using construction fences and the site remained in this state until Morrisons purchased the land in 2007. A supermarket was built on land adjacent to it and three retail outlets were built on the rear section of the park itself, opening in 2008, and though later plans were passed to develop the rest of the Frontierland site into an outlet village nothing came of them and planning permission eventually lapsed.
In 2009 the Log Flume, which had survived in situ for ten years after the park officially closed down, was finally removed, leaving the Polo Tower as the last element of the former theme park though its only purpose was to fulfil a 20-year contract, signed during its 1993 installation, for the positioning of a telephone mast at the top. The Polo Tower survived until 2017 when it was finally demolished in June that year.
With the former Frontierland site being left unused for so long the 600ft-long blue fence was branded an eyesore by residents and town politicians, with one local councillor calling on Morrisons to do something about it. The fence remained as it was though, that was until March 2021 when a local artist took it upon himself to paint a mural of Dame Thora Hird on one of the panels; this inspired other local artists to want to add their own creations to the fence and through an art-based outreach project around 40 of them have used their artwork to decorate the hoardings.
In August 2021 the Frontierland site was bought by Lancaster City Council with the hope that the land can once again be put to good use but until such time as it is then hopefully the blue fence now known as the Artists Wall will continue to brighten up that part of Morecambe’s promenade.
During a week’s leave from work in mid September and on a lovely warm sunny day I took myself off to Hest Bank just north of Morecambe for a canal and coast circular walk. Parking by the foreshore not far from the railway level crossing I made my way across the main road and up to bridge 118 on the canal; I hadn’t gone far along the path when I noticed I was being watched and at the end of a garden across the canal was a motley band of weird people with their equally weird pets, looking like escapees from a fairground ghost train. Maybe they were getting ready for Halloween but in mid September they were a bit early.
Being mid week the canal was very quiet and other than a couple of cyclists and a boat making its way up towards Carnforth I saw no-one. I’d walked this section of canal a year ago, going as far as bridge 122 before turning round and retracing my steps, but this time when I reached that same bridge I went up onto the lane which took me down onto the main A6 road.
Across the road the lane continued up a short incline and took me through a very pleasant estate, a mixture of detached houses, bungalows and semis with well kept gardens, and I couldn’t help being amused at the quirky sign on the back of a van belonging to a chippy down in Heysham. Down the hill was another level crossing with the lane at the far side going uphill again, this time between hedges with a caravan site on one side. Through a hamlet of a dozen or so houses and I was on Bolton-le-Sands foreshore where a vast expanse of saltmarsh stretched out to the sea; across the bay was Grange-over-Sands and in the far distance to my right I could see the cottages and old chimney at Jenny Brown’s Point near Silverdale.
Passing a few more houses and a large field I came to a roadside parking area and Red Bank Farm caravan and camping site, and that’s where things went a bit not-quite-right. I wanted to find the Praying Shell sculpture and though I knew it was in the vicinity of the farm I didn’t know exactly where. A low stone wall separated the lane from the rocky foreshore and a few yards away was a very small and rather insignificant sign fastened to the bottom of a wooden post; with just one word – ‘Sculpture’ – it pointed south along the foreshore so that’s the way I went.
To say that the terrain was rough was an understatement. With no proper path and many large ankle-twisting rocks I had to pick my way along carefully and I was more than relieved when the rocks eventually gave way to shingle which in turn changed to grass, but I still hadn’t found the sculpture. A stone wall separated the foreshore from a field and set back in a corner was a bench with a couple sitting there so I asked if they knew where the sculpture was – they did, and it seemed that somehow I’d missed it. Rather than send me back along the rocks they directed me over a stile and across two fields where I finally found it on a small corner of the headland and almost back at the caravan site.
The Praying Shell, unveiled in November 2013, was carved from limestone by artist Anthony Padgett. Although it overlooks the site where 23 illegal Chinese cockle pickers tragically lost their lives in 2004 and is generally thought to be a memorial to them it was (according to the artist) designed to inspire walkers venturing along the coastal path and was imagined before the tragedy occurred, though maybe its location isn’t exactly a coincidence.
That small piece of headland was surrounded by a wire fence with a locked farm gate but it was easy to climb over to get to the statue and just round the corner I found a rough steep slope leading from there down onto the rocky foreshore. I remembered passing the bottom of the slope as I walked along the rocks earlier but there had been nothing obvious to indicate that the sculpture was at the top – no wonder I hadn’t found it.
With just a few shots taken I climbed back over the fence and headed back through the fields and down to the foreshore which was now much easier to walk along than previously. Past the house which had featured in the 2021 series of The Bay and which I photographed last year and the next lane along the foreshore took me back to where I’d left the van. I did consider getting a snack from the nearby cafe but decided to wait until I got back into Morecambe where I could get a meal from the seafront cafe I usually go to when I visit the resort.
Aside from negotiating the hazards of the rocky section of foreshore the walk had been a good one, especially along the canal, but I’ve done that particular section twice now so the next time I’m up that way I’ll have a change of direction and head south instead.
Anyone who knows me, whether personally or virtually through this blog, will probably also know that I don’t do gardening. Having an intense dislike of slugs, snails, and anything else slimy doesn’t help so trimming the fuschia hedges and strimming the grass occasionally is just about my limit. I do enjoy visiting other gardens though and in mid August I went to two private gardens not far from each other, open to visitors on certain days as part of the National Garden Scheme and only a twenty minute drive from home.
The first one was at the rear of a modern detached house in a cul-de-sac on a modern estate close to the Leeds -Liverpool canal and when I arrived I wasn’t expecting much, however I was quite pleasantly surprised. The front garden was mainly given over to a paved parking area where a path on the left took me round the side of the house and past the open door to the kitchen where three ladies were busy making tea and coffee for visitors.
The garden itself was very informal, a mixture of herbaceous borders, flowering shrubs, fruit trees and flower decked trellis, while various garden ornaments, wind chimes, hanging baskets and other decorations appeared at intervals among the greenery. The path wound its way down the left side and at the end was a greenhouse and small vegetable patch, with the path winding its way back along the far side of the garden to a central raised patio area set with tables and chairs for any visitors who wanted refreshments. For an average sized suburban garden it was very nice and worth the nominal entry fee (donated to charity as part of the National Garden Scheme) to look round and take some photos.
The second garden was much larger, covering some 3.5 acres bordering open countryside, and it belonged to a Georgian house built in the late 1700s by local landowners the Standish-Langtree family. In the mid 1800s the house became the home of a local mill owner then in 1880 it was bought by John Haslem Gillett, a wealthy cotton mill owner with many mills around Lancashire. The land around the house was developed into gardens which included lawns, shrubberies and a walled kitchen garden, all surrounded on three sides by woodlands which gave plenty of shelter.
The house and land remained in the Gillett family until the late 1940s when it was bought by the family of the present owners who, in 1994, went ahead with plans to restore various parts of the garden and open it up to the public on certain days, and each year new features are created or previously neglected areas are cleared and restored to provide fresh interest for visitors.
A narrow side alley between the house and the one next door took me through an ornate wrought iron gate into the garden and I was greeted by a brass hand bell on a small table with the instruction ”Please ring for attention”, whereupon a very friendly lady appeared from the nearby conservatory, took my entry fee and provided me with a laminated map of the garden.
Each section was very helpfully named and numbered and there was a surprise round almost every corner – statues dotted here and there, dog ornaments on the pathways and a couple of ornamental ducks in the undergrowth near the stream. It was nice to wander round at my own pace accompanied by pleasant classical music played through speakers, and just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything I went round twice, ending with coffee and cake in the pretty orchard tea garden.
It was a bit unfortunate that the sky clouded over somewhat while I was looking round the second garden but it didn’t lessen my enjoyment and by the time I was having my coffee and cake the sun was back. Wandering round both gardens had been a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours and as each one provides very different photo opportunities I may very well revisit them both next year.
My visit to Manchester towards the end of September produced more artworks than July and August put together. One of the gable end walls which carry advertising murals had been repainted with a brightly coloured advert for Clarks shoes and round the corner was an ad for Dr Martens boots while the other two gable ends were painted plain grey, obviously waiting to be repainted with more advertising. The bull (best viewed from a distance) was on the shutter of the butcher’s shop on Tib Street and though it’s been there for quite some time I’ve never managed to photograph it before as the shutter has always been raised whenever I’ve gone past.
On the wall above a cafe and vintage clothing shop in Oldham Street I spotted four tile mosaics. They had obviously been there for quite some time though as I don’t often walk along that particular section of the road I hadn’t seen them before, but they were quite attractive so I was glad I spotted them.
Having eventually veered away from the NQ I found some rather attractive hoardings around the site of what will be a new hotel and another set of brightly painted steps, these ones having a flower covered bicycle halfway up. I was also really pleased when I later found five artworks by the same artist (Hammo) in a side street I’d never been along before and also unexpectedly found a more recent artwork by Qubek which I’d seen on Instagram but which gave no indication of where it was.
The Qubek artwork was only a relatively short walk from Deansgate/Castlefield station and tram stop so I made that one my last shot then went to get the tram round to Victoria station in time for the train back home. It had been another successful street art hunt, and knowing how quickly some of these artworks get replaced it won’t be long before I’m back in the city once more.
Quite surprisingly, in spite of spending the night in the van alone in a strange place, I’d slept soundly all the way through and woke to early morning sunshine and the promise of another lovely day, and looking across the estuary I could see that the tide was in. A quick comfort break for the dogs, toast and a mug of tea for breakfast and I was ready for the first walk of the day, the reverse of the previous day’s walk but with a slight variation which would bypass the village instead of going through it and past the marina.
Looking south westwards from the top of the lane where I was parked I could see Cockersand Abbey with Blackpool Tower in the distance around twenty miles away. The original Cockersand Abbey was founded in 1180 as the Hospital of St. Mary-on-the-Marsh then was refounded as a Premonstratensian priory in 1190, and though it continued as a hospital it was elevated to abbey status in 1192. It was the third richest abbey in Lancashire when it was dissolved in 1539, then in 1544 the building and surrounding land were acquired by a John Kitchen, subsequently passing into the Dalton family in 1556 when Robert Dalton married Ann Kitchen, John’s daughter.
While some scrappy remains of the abbey still stand to this day the Grade l vaulted octagonal Chapter House is the only significant relic still intact. Built around 1230 and eventually used as a family mausoleum by the Daltons during the 18th and 19th centuries it’s now classified as a scheduled ancient monument and opened to the public on special occasions such as Heritage Open Days.
Heading along the road towards the canal I saw a sign on a gate for ‘alpaca experiences’ at a nearby farm and in the adjacent field four woolly creatures with cute faces were looking inquisitively at me from behind a fence. It was only when I looked at the photo on my pc later on that I realised there was a hare loping along in the background – it can just be seen in the centre right of the shot.
Along the road towards Conder Green the high tide had filled all the creeks and channels of the saltmarsh and boats which I’d seen beached on the mudbanks the previous day were now floating gently at the end of their mooring ropes, although there was one boat which had obviously seen better days as it was partially submerged in the River Conder. The Stork pub was looking very attractive as it was now in full sunshine, and walking along the estuary footpath/cycleway I spotted a heron at the water’s edge.
Back in the village the Lock Keeper’s Rest was open and there was already quite a gathering of bikers enjoying breakfast in the sunshine. Crossing the green near the dock I stopped to photograph the picture boards outside the shop then my thoughts turned to treating myself later on to lunch at the Dalton Arms – that was until I saw the not-exactly-cheap menu outside. The prices were ridiculous so that idea was soon dismissed – if I really wanted something later it would be cheap and cheerful down at the Lock Keeper’s Rest.
Back at the van I made another brew and contemplated what to do with the rest of the day. Glasson may be a nice little place with lovely scenery but ‘little’ is the operative word – it’s very small, and there’s only so many photos I can take and canal walks I can do without repeating myself so I got the last few shots from the end of the lay-by then took myself off to the big car boot sale at St. Michael’s, a 20-minute drive away.
With the weather being so nice the car boot was packed with both sellers and bargain hunters but in spite of there being so many stalls I didn’t see anything I really wanted to buy so I treated myself to a double 99 from the ice cream van then drove a short distance back along the road to Guy’s Thatched Hamlet at the side of the Lancaster Canal. It’s a quaint and quirky little place which I’ve been to a few times in recent years and you can read about its history here.
Having parked in the hamlet itself I walked up onto the lane and crossed the bridge to the main A6 road. A little way along was Old Duncombe House, a cottage-style B&B in what is believed to be a building dating back to the 16th century, and with its white walls, hanging baskets and colourful planters it looked very attractive in the sunshine. Walking up as far as the short lane to the next bridge I crossed back over the canal and headed along the towpath back to Guy’s, then even though it was still only the middle of the afternoon I decided to head back home from there.
As far as completely off-grid camping experiences go my overnight stay at Glasson Dock had been a good one and in spite of being on my own in a very quiet location I hadn’t felt apprehensive or unsafe at all. Since that weekend I’ve found details of a circular walk which takes in Cockersand Abbey, a place I’d like to take a proper look at, so maybe next summer I’ll return to Glasson for another overnight stay – it’s certainly something to think about.