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 parallel to and above 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 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.

Autumn at Gresgarth Hall

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Southport Botanic Gardens – a walk and some history

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.
The magnificent conservatory – photo from the internet
ferneryIn 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.
The Martin Mere ancient canoe  – photo from the internet
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Morecambe artists wall – brightening up the promenade

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 Ranch House, Frontierland – photo from the internet
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.
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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.

Hest Bank circular walk

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.