Sunshine after the rain

A couple of weekends ago a brief break in the interminably wet local weather produced a lovely sunny Sunday so I took advantage of it and went for an afternoon dog walk along a section of the Manchester, Bolton & Bury Canal just a six mile drive from home. Behind a pub on the main road into Radcliffe steps took me down onto the canal path where I turned right and headed in the direction of Bury.
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Away from civilisation ducks, swans, geese and the occasional moorhen inhabited the canal and its banks while open fields were dotted with cows, sheep and the odd pony or two. Apart from the brief sound of an occasional passing tram on the nearby line between Manchester and Bury it was very peaceful and the afternoon was even warm enough for me to dispense with my lightweight tracksuit top.
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Eventually an offshoot from the path took me up onto a lane running above and parallel to the River Irwell and over on my left was the high bank of Elton Reservoir. I would soon be approaching an industrial area on the outskirts of Bury and having cycled along there several years ago I knew there wasn’t much canal left – it had been filled in many years previously – so I followed the lane across the bridge over the canal and up to the reservoir.
The River Irwell – the canal is on the left just off the photo
The reservoir is the home of Elton Sailing Club and there were several boats out on the water so I snapped a couple of photos then set off on a clockwise circuit of the lake. In the far distance beyond the reservoir and high up on the hills above Bleakholt animal sanctuary was Scout Moor windfarm; occupying an area of almost two miles it’s the second largest onshore windfarm in England and the twenty six 60-metre turbines can be seen from south Manchester, around 20 miles away.
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Away from the open reservoir bank the path meandered through trees for quite a distance and after all the rain we had since since before Hallowe’en it was very muddy in places. Fortunately I managed to pick my way round the worst bits though I was glad when I finally got back onto more open land.
When I got to the gates of the sailing club the path became private so I had to continue my walk along the lane behind the clubhouse. Past a farmhouse and its various outbuildings I soon got back to the point where I started my circuit of the reservoir so I made my way back over the canal bridge and down to the towpath. The sun was getting low in the sky and most of the canal was in shade by then so there were no more photo stops on my way back to the van.
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Since that day two weeks ago this area has been hit by yet more endless rain and dog walks have been kept to short circuits of my local avenues so I’m glad I took advantage of that one sunny day. It had been a very enjoyable walk and one I will no doubt repeat in much better weather.

Black Rock Water Wheel and Packhorse Bridge

Situated by the side of a country road on the outskirts of a local village just over five miles from home is the Black Rock water wheel. Although not that far from home I wasn’t previously aware of it as I wouldn’t normally travel along that road but on the way back from a recent visit to Bleakholt animal sanctuary I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to vary my route home and that’s when I came across the wheel.
Dating back to the mid 19th century the wheel was originally situated on the site of a late 17th century corn mill and water wheel in the hamlet of Turton Bottoms, a mile down the road from its current location. The corn mill had been built to replace a much earlier mill and it operated until 1831 before being converted to a cotton spinning mill, then in 1853 the owner at the time, William Rostron, replaced the original wooden water wheel with this cast iron one measuring 6ft wide and almost 14ft in diameter. The mill subsequently changed hands and was run by Henry Leigh until 1859 when it was taken over by John Lord and Henry Hamer who saw it safely through the Lancashire Cotton Famine of 1861-65.

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Alongside the cotton mill was a printworks, bleachworks and an iron foundry and in 1890 the whole of the site was converted to a bleaching and dyeing operation under the direction of Frederick Whowell who renamed the place Black Rock Works. In 1901 James Hardcastle and Co Ltd took charge of the site and the cast iron water wheel stayed in use until it was retired in 1917, though it was left in place in its wheel pit. The Bleachers’ Association, which had been formed in 1900, eventually took over the Black Rock mill complex and it was last operated in the 1950s as a bleach and print works.
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In 1963 the Bleachers’ Association was reformed as Whitecroft Industrial Holdings then twelve years later demolition started on the mill complex in readiness for redevelopment of the land. The nearby lodge which had originally fed the wheel had dried out over time with the area becoming colonised by trees, and after the Turton Local History Society gained permission from Whitecroft Ltd to salvage the wheel they found it still in its pit but covered in silt, rubble and vegetation up to 18 inches from its top.
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In 1975 the group began the arduous task of extricating the wheel and found that all forty iron buckets were still bolted onto it. They also found several clues to the site’s history, including kiln tiles from when the place had been a corn mill. During the wheel’s excavation the remaining parts of Black Rock Works were demolished and when the mill chimney was finally felled local people came to collect bricks as souvenirs.
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The water wheel was eventually lifted and moved less than a mile away to the grounds of Turton Tower where it was painstakingly restored then moved to a specially prepared on-site wheel pit next to an old barn – six years of hard work to excavate and restore it were finally over. It was hoped that it would become an exhibit in a new rural and industrial museum at the Tower but as the years passed the dream of a new museum faded and sadly the wheel began to deteriorate.
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The water wheel at Turton Tower – original photo from the internet edited by me
Thirty years after the wheel was sited at Turton Tower the Turton Local History Society came to the rescue a second time, deciding to have it restored again and moved to an entirely new location where it would be more easily seen. A £700 grant from the West Pennine Moor Community Initiative enabled the large amount of rust to be scraped off and weatherproof paint was applied by the Lancashire Wildlife Environmental Task Force team.
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In 2011 the wheel was moved to its current site, the relocation paid for as part of a British Trust for Conservation Volunteers grant which was also used to improve the footpaths and toilets at Turton Tower. The move was expensive, costing around £13,000, and it was done at 6 o’clock in the morning to minimise any disruption to traffic. Today the wheel stands by the side of the road on the approach to Edgworth village, a proud memorial to the rural area’s industrial past, though to be honest it looks like parts of it are now needing a bit more attention.
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Close to where Black Rock Works once stood is the packhorse bridge built in 1691 to provide access across Bradshaw Brook to the corn mill. Previous to the bridge being built the only way to cross the brook was by a ford across a reasonably shallow section but there would have been many days when it would be impossible for a horse to cross safely while carrying the weight of a rider and sacks of corn so building a bridge was a necessity. The Turton Manor Court records for 1740 gave the name of the bridge as New Mill Bridge as it had been built specifically for the new corn mill.
Sometime between 1798 and 1808 a new road and bridge were built about 200 yards higher up the brook with the bridge being given the name Higher New Mill Bridge. The packhorse bridge was still used however as it was deemed to be important and by 1844 it was going by the name of Pack Saddle Bridge. The Manor Court records for that year stated that ”the Pack Saddle Bridge, repairable by the County, is in a ruinous and dangerous state and direct proceedings are to be commenced against the parties liable to repair the same.”
The bridge was consequently restored by the local Council and over the years may very well have been repaired more than once, including the addition of metal railings to stop anyone falling over the low parapet into the brook below. In September 1984 it became Grade ll listed and in August 2016 the most recent repairs were carried out at a cost of £15,000.
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At the far side of the bridge is Black Rock Community Orchard, and while it might be named after the old bleach and dyeworks it’s a fairly recent addition to the area. The land in question had been earmarked for a housing development but a successful campaign by local people brought it into public ownership for the benefit of the community. In 2008, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers worked with local children to plant a variety of more than 40 fruit trees covering a range of cooking and eating apples, plums, greengages and damsons, all of which grow well in North West England. Paths and seating areas were installed by BTCV with grant funding from the Sita Trust and the orchard is maintained by the local Parish Council.
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The packhorse bridge is popular with ramblers and is used as part of the Warper’s Trail, an 8.5 mile circular walk which itself is part of the Witton Weaver’s Way, a long distance walk of 32 miles, and standing with my feet almost in the water in an effort to get the final couple of shots I wondered just how many walkers crossing the bridge knew of its interesting industrial heritage.

Autumn at Bridgewater Garden

Taking advantage of a sunny blue sky morning in mid October I set off just after 10am for a second visit to Bridgewater Garden. Now this place is only ten miles from home but as I approached my turn-off from the motorway the sun disappeared and the whole area became shrouded in a thick mist. It wasn’t looking good for my garden visit but as I’d already booked and paid online going back home wasn’t an option so I decided to have a wander round the gift shop and hope that the mist would soon clear and let the sun come through.
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Mist over Moon Bridge Water
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Eventually the sun started to cut through the mist and it lifted enough for me to venture out so I headed across Victoria Meadow, an area I hadn’t been to on my previous visit, and by the time I’d got to the far end the mist had almost gone. The path across the meadow took me into the woodland at the unrestored eastern end of Ellesmere Lake and among the trees I came across the remains of a small folly on what would once have been an island in the lake.
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The path took me round the far side of the lake and along past what had once been a landscaped formal terraced garden in the heyday of Worsley New Hall, now looking rather unkempt and overgrown but awaiting development by the RHS. Past the Chinese Garden the main path led me to the Old Frameyard with its large new glasshouse and beds of oddly shaped hydrangeas and from there I made my way to what has now become my favourite part of the whole place, the Paradise Garden.
Ellesmere Lake, western end
Chinese water garden
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Old Frameyard and The Bothy
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The Paradise Garden
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The walled garden itself isn’t a place to follow any sort of planned route as there are so many paths leading off other paths and so many different sections to see so I just wandered leisurely around from one area to another, even doubling back on myself a couple of times, until I decided I’d seen just about everything there was to see. As I made my way back to the Welcome Building my last shot was the clear view over Moon Bridge Water, looking vastly different to my very misty first shot of earlier on.
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The Kitchen Garden
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Community Wellbeing Garden
Orchard Garden
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Garden Cottage
Garden Cottage and the Bee & Butterfly Garden
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Welcome Garden
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Moon Bridge Water
Although mid October showed that many of the flowers and shrubs in the walled garden had been past their best there was still a lot of colour around and the autumn hues here and there had added to it, making for a very enjoyable second visit. I probably won’t go there during the winter months but I’m already looking forward to making a third visit next spring and hopefully getting another batch of good photos.

Same walk, different weather

Following my visits to Gresgarth Hall garden in August and October, on both occasions I made the short drive along the road to Bull Beck picnic site where I parked up and went for a walk along a section of the River Lune, an area I first visited two years ago. There were two big differences in each of these two walks though. In August it had been a very hot day, I knew that dogs weren’t allowed in the garden at Gresgarth Hall and as I couldn’t have safely left them in the van they had to stay at home, however October was much cooler and being able to park in shade meant that this time they were included in my day out.
The weather was the second big difference. An almost cloudless blue sky and wall-to-wall sunshine in August but in October, in spite of it being beautifully sunny while I was looking round Gresgarth Hall garden, by the time I’d had a picnic in the van the day had turned cloudy and really dull. I almost decided against doing the walk but it was the dogs’ day out as much as mine so off we went, hoping that it wouldn’t decide to rain while we were a long way from the van. Apart from doing a slight detour in August both walks are the same and many of the photos were taken from the same places along the way so I’ve combined them all into this one post.
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Since my walk round there two years ago I’d discovered that it’s possible to cross the Waterworks bridge which carries three huge pipes taking water from Thirlmere in Cumbria down to the Manchester area, so in August I decided to make a detour and go across but I was soon to wish I hadn’t. At the far side of the bridge a path led through a pleasant meadow to an area of woodland and that’s where things became a bit difficult. The woodland traversed a steep bank which fell directly down to the river, the path was very narrow in places with partially embedded tree roots just waiting to trip me up and several parts of it had crumbled away leaving very little between me and the steep drop down to the water. Even without the dogs negotiating that lot wasn’t easy but I finally emerged from the trees unscathed and back on level ground by the riverside.
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On my October walk I bypassed the Waterworks bridge and as I got near to where Artle Beck flows into the Lune I spotted a Little Egret stalking around in the shallows, presumably looking for his lunch, then across the beck and a bit farther on I came to the Caton Flow Measurement Station, a small square building set on top of a round concrete pillar and looking rather like a tree house but without the tree.
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In August my walk had taken me to the far end of the pedestrian bridge close to the Crook O’Lune picnic site while my October walk took me under the bridge and up the riverbank to the opposite end though I did walk a little way back along the bridge for a shot of the river to contrast with the August photos from the same spot. From the bridge it was a mile-and-a-half straight path back to the van and I’d just got back there when it started to rain so I’d completed the walk just in time.
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The rain didn’t last long though, by the time I’d got back on the M6 it had stopped and a few miles further south the sky gradually cleared. Tired out from their long walk Snowy and Poppie were so quiet in their transport kennels I almost had to check that I hadn’t left them behind at the picnic site. Although the afternoon had been cloudy and grey my walk had been much more enjoyable with the dogs than my August walk had been without them, and with the sky becoming increasingly brighter on the drive back home our day out ended as it began, in bright autumn sunshine.

A Manchester monster mash-up

While on my street art hunt around the city centre during the Hallowe’en weekend I was also on the trail of fourteen huge inflatable monsters situated on various buildings as part of the weekend’s family attractions. Not the sort of thing any normal adult without kids in tow would do but I was in the city centre anyway and they would probably make some amusing photos so why not?
Having made a note of the different monsters and their locations I found the first one close to Victoria Station just after I arrived in the city and the next one wasn’t too far from there, while several more were in locations fairly close together so I photographed those before embarking on my street art hunt.
Superstar Monstar at the AO Arena
Eye-Scream at Cathedral Gardens
Snozzer at Next
Scary Gary at Exchange Square
Sprites at Selfridges
Horrible Harvey at Harvey Nichols
Spooky Nelson in New Cathedral Street
At one point during the day it started to rain so I took shelter for a while in the Arndale shopping centre and was lucky enough to catch the Monsters Rock! Party Procession headed by a small brass band playing the iconic ‘Monster Mash’ song. With skeletons, stilt walkers and monster puppets the parade was very colourful and not having previously known about it I was glad I’d chosen just that time to be in the Arndale. Luckily the rain didn’t last for long so I was soon able to resume my street art and monster hunt.

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Ooey and Gooey at the Arndale
A few of the monsters were spread out in locations well out of the main centre, three of them a fair distance away which contributed greatly to the total 8.2 miles I covered, and while it would have been easy to not bother looking for them I didn’t want to give up without finding all fourteen. Fortunately the final two were near Angel Meadow Park just a short walk from Victoria Station so once I’d added those to my collection I didn’t have far to go to for the train back home.
Rex-tacular at the Royal Exchange
Dave at the Oast House, Spinningfields
Lockelin at Whitworth Locke, Princess Street
Krampus on Aytoun Street
Sucker the Sea Monster at Meadowside Apartments
Bloodoo Child at New Century Hall
The Manchester monsters were all designed, created and installed by Luke Egan and Pedro Estrellas who, along with a team of highly skilled technicians, are known as Designs in Air, producing inflatable sculptures and installations for hire and commission, with Bloodoo Child being their newest creation. Do I have a favourite out of these? – probably the second one as it looks to be quite a happy creature. Coupled with my search for the latest street art and more than one occasion where I doubled back on my route it had been quite a tiring few hours but I came back home happy that I’d done what I set out to do.

Manchester street art – October 2022

A very dull Sunday on the Hallowe’en weekend saw me back in Manchester on another street art hunt. The first two advertising walls I came to were blank, presumably waiting for new paintings, but the double gable end wall round the corner was advertising ”a nautical-space nightmare” short 3-minute film for Hallowe’en by Beavertown Brewery – it’s on YouTube though it’s not really my cup of tea.
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As it was the Hallowe’en weekend there were several spooky attractions in various locations around the main part of the city centre and as well as decorated bins and hand sanitising stations I found two great stand alone artworks in Exchange Square though I wouldn’t want to meet either of those two on a dark night.
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As well as street art I was also looking for a few other things – which may or may not appear in a future post – and my quest took me away from the NQ for a while. Close to the gay village was Sackville Gardens and the statue of pioneering computer scientist Alan Turing, while just a couple of streets away was Vimto Park, a place I’d been meaning to go to for a while.
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Now part of Manchester University’s science campus but open to everyone Vimto Park is a small green space situated on the site of the former factory where the Vimto soft drink was first produced. Originally marketed as a medicinal tonic known as ”Vimtonic” the drink was invented in 1908 by Blackburn-born herbalist John Noel Nichols using a mix of fruit, herbs and spices which gave it a medicinal tang, though by 1913 it had been modified and reclassified as a soft drink and the name shortened to ”Vimto”. In 1919 the Vimto trademark was registered in British Guyana and the company’s international division began; by 1930 the drink was available in more than thirty foreign countries including the Arab States and in 1970 it finally reached North America.
During the 1990s the Vimto brand was responsible for a couple of popular marketing mascots including Purple Ronnie though its most lasting legacy is probably the ”Monument to Vimto” which has given Vimto Park its name. Created by sculptor Kerry Morrison the monument features a giant Vimto bottle surrounded at its base by outsized versions of some of the fruits and herbs used in the drink’s production, all carved out of sustainable wood. Originally installed in 1992 it was refurbished and repainted in 2011 after suffering from 19 years of Manchester weather.
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Continuing the street art hunt I found the skull outside a pub though it had no connection to the Hallowe’en weekend, then I was really surprised and pleased to find the lovely monochrome Geisha outside a premises due to open soon as a Japanese restaurant. Back in the NQ another surprise was waiting in the form of some newly decorated and very colourful window and door shutters for Giraffe Flowers and those were my last three photos.
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Now I don’t normally take much notice of time and distance when I’m roaming around the city centre but this time I had my trusty pedometer with me and from leaving Victoria Station at 9am to getting back there at 2.30pm I’d walked 8.2 miles and done 28,598 steps – it was definitely time to chill out once I got back home.