As there’s no Monday Walk this week I thought I’d post something which definitely has the ‘awww’ factor. On November 21st Smithills Open Farm, just fifteen minutes walk from home, welcomed the arrival of a miniature Shetland pony born to Shetland parents Dinky and Stuart Little. It’s the first Shetland foal ever to be born at the farm and though its arrival was a bit later in the year than would normally be ideal mum and baby – apparently smaller than she looks on the photos – are bonding well and both are very healthy.
As from last Saturday – November 30th – the little foal will be going into the pets corner at the farm and the farm staff will be running a competition to choose a name for her. I’d love to go and see this adorable little foal for myself but at £8 per adult I think the admission price to the farm is a bit steep, so I’ll have to be content with these photos – which obviously aren’t mine, they come courtesy of the local paper.
**As I’m currently on holiday in Ireland and have no internet access this post has been scheduled so I’ll reply to any comments when I get back at the end of the week – and maybe by then the little foal will have a name.
In which I fall foul – again – of the ‘law of Irish distance and directions’ and indulge my love of horses…
Chatting to the two guys in the shed at the bottom of Kildare tower I asked if it was possible to walk from there to the Irish National Stud. I thought it was but I wanted to be sure and they confirmed that yes, I could walk there, it was only a mile – if I took the road opposite the market square, followed it past the Grey Abbey, over the motorway, turned left at the end, next left and the second right would bring me to it. It sounded simple enough but by now being rather dubious about Irish directions and distances I decided to seek confirmation (or otherwise) from the information centre in the market square and a very nice lady in there gave me the exact same directions, telling me it would take me about half an hour.
Now at the speed I walk it does not take me half an hour to cover just a mile so it sounded like this place was a bit more than that. Also it seemed like I would be doubling back on myself, however off I went and after what felt like forever – 29 minutes to be exact – I reached the entrance to the National Stud. On paying my entrance fee in the visitor centre I was given a couple of information leaflets, one of which had a map showing how to get there, and when I looked at it I realised that instead of following the directions I’d been given and going a long way round I could have walked down a different road which would have taken me straight there. Also there’s a regular free shuttle bus from the shopping village so I needn’t have walked there at all, but no-one had told me that!
The Irish National Stud was originally founded in 1900 by Colonel William Hall-Walker, a horse-loving Scottish-born businessman from a famous brewing family. After purchasing a farm and other land at Tully on the outskirts of Kildare town he set up a thoroughbred horse breeding facility and quickly became the most successful breeder of his time, enjoying his finest hour when his favourite Tully-bred colt, leased to King Edward Vll, carried the royal colours into the winners enclosure after a famous victory in the 1909 Epsom Derby.
The world-renowned Japanese Gardens were devised by Colonel Hall-Walker and created between 1906 and 1910, being laid out by Japanese master horticulturalist Tassa Eida and his son Minoru. Planned to symbolise the ‘Life of Man’ through trees, plants, rocks, lawns and water the gardens trace the journey of a soul at it goes along the various paths of life from birth to death. The name Minoru means ‘the favourite one’ and this was chosen by the Colonel for his favourite horse, the one which won the 1909 Derby.
In 1915 Colonel Hall-Walker moved to England and gifted the entire Tully property and land to the Crown ; it then became the British National Stud and its success continued under the leadership of Sir Henry Greer, though the Japanese Gardens fell into a period of relative obscurity. In 1943 the newly formed Irish Government took over the land and buildings and in 1945 the Irish National Stud Company was formed, taking over the running of the stud in 1946 ; also that year the Japanese Gardens got a horticultural supervisor to return the gardens to their original splendour. Fast forward to the present day and in 1999, to celebrate the forthcoming Millennium, St. Fiachra’s Garden was designed by an award winning landscape architect to commemorate St. Fiachra, the patron saint of gardeners.
Turning left out of the visitor centre the first thing I came to was a very ‘flower power’ life-sized sculpture of Minoru, the horse which won the 1909 Epsom Derby. This was part of Under stARTers Orders (the capital letters aren’t a typing mistake) an arts charity initiative celebrating the redevelopment of the iconic Curragh Racecourse and raising funds for two charities local to Kildare, the Irish Injured Jockeys and Sensational Kids. A total of 21 resin sculptures were exclusively painted by some of Ireland’s leading equine and contemporary artists and were put on public display at various locations in and around the county, with the opportunity to buy either online or at a live auction in June.
The cost of the admission included a guided tour of the stud and its various facilities and though at first I’d intended just wandering about on my own I realised that there was a tour starting at 2pm so I decided to join it, having just enough time to snatch a handful of photos before going to the meeting point near the Minoru sculpture.
The tour guide was a very friendly and knowledgeable young lady called Sarah and as she walked the group round she gave out lots of really interesting information about the workings of the stud, interspersed with a few amusing comments here and there. Past a sculpture of Invincible Spirit, the current top stallion, and the entrance to the Sun Chariot Yard foaling unit was the museum with the skeleton of the legendary Arkle displayed in the window. Arkle, owned by the then Duchess of Westminster and named after a mountain in Scotland, won 27 of his 35 races including three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cup wins, and had the highest Timeform rating ever given to a steeplechaser ; he remains the greatest steeplechaser to have lived anywhere and at any time.
Past the stallion boxes were the stallion paddocks where I was able to see at close range some of the world’s current best stallions. Depending on popularity a stallion’s breeding fees can range anywhere between the price of a car and the price of a house ; the top stallion is currently Invincible Spirit with stud fees of £120,000 per time, he is father to many champion racehorses and his foals can sell at auction for several hundred thousand pounds each. Past the nursery paddocks were the Living Legends paddocks where previously great racehorses can live out their retirement years, with five horses – Hurricane Fly, Hardy Eustace, Kicking King, Beef Or Salmon and Rite Of Passage – currently in residence.
Across from the Living Legends paddocks was the extensive St. Fiachra’s Garden and once the tour ended I went back to take a couple of photos before going to the café for a much-needed coffee and a cake treat. With a good selection of cakes and other calorie-laden stuff I was spoilt for choice but eventually decided on a slice of Banoffee Pie, which was highly delicious and also very filling.
A look round the Japanese Gardens was a must and as the café was right next door I didn’t have far to go to get there. To be honest I don’t really subscribe to the Japanese ‘story of life told through a garden’ concept, I like to look round a garden for the garden itself, but all the features were numbered so I followed most of them – although not all in sequence – without referring to the story, the end of which is actually quite sad.
With or without the story the Japanese Gardens were lovely ; it was a shame it was such a grey day as with sunshine and blue sky they would be really stunning. Checking the time when I came out of the gardens I was hoping I would be able to go back to St. Fiachra’s Garden but there was a courtesy bus leaving the car park at 4.15 and I didn’t want to miss it (getting that would save me the walk back into town) so reluctantly I gave up on that idea.
The courtesy bus put me off just inside the shopping village and from there it was only a short walk across a car park to the bus stop for the coach to Roscrea. I arrived back at 6pm to another of Nellie’s lovely meals then later on I went round to Laura’s to spend a final hour with her before tackling the unwanted, although relatively easy, task of packing my things ready for the following day’s journey home. Apart from the needlessly long walk to get to the National Stud my day had been very interesting and successful, and not having had time to see all that the Stud has to offer means I’ll be making a return visit as soon as I get the opportunity.
Anyone who knows me knows that cities hold no attraction for me whatsoever, give me countryside or coast and good views any time, however on Monday this week I decided to do something I’ve been meaning to do for a long while and haven’t up to now – make a visit to the Cat Cafe in Manchester. It was very much a spur-of-the-moment decision made at 8am, I booked online straight away for the 11am slot and leaving the van at home I went into Manchester by train. The café was an easy walk from Victoria Station, I got there a few minutes before eleven and once I’d booked in at reception and got my visitor’s pass I was free to spend my hour with the cats.
The first cat I saw was a Ragdoll, sleeping in a box which looked far too small for it – unless of course it was an exceptionally big cat. Next was one sleeping in a cardboard house on top of a unit in the window then I saw Savannah, a beautiful Bengal who was more than willing to have some attention lavished on her before she too curled up and went to sleep. After having a wander round and taking a few photos I got a can of Coke from the bar – unlimited hot and cold drinks are included in the cost of the visit – then sat on a very comfy settee for a while just taking in the calm and peaceful atmosphere of the place before spending more time photographing some of the residents and their surroundings.
When my hour was over I said goodbye to the cats which weren’t asleep, handed in my pass at reception, and emerged from the quiet coolness of the café into a busy street and a sunny day which was getting warmer by the minute. It had been nice to spend an hour with the cats in the café, it was something a bit different from the norm, but an hour had been long enough for me. Would I go again? – probably not. It was nice for a one-off experience but it’s expensive for what it is – and anyway, if I ever want to cuddle a cat I’ve got three of my own here at home.
Just over four weeks ago, on the Monday of that week, I got a text from my friend Lin just after I got to work at 4.45pm – “Could you possibly pick us up from the vet’s when you finish work please?” Thinking there was something wrong with their little dog Oscar I rang her straight back, only to be told that she and Dee were on the way to the vet’s by bus and it was a long story – fortunately the vet’s isn’t far from my evening job so it was no trouble for me to meet them there after I’d finished work. They were still waiting to be seen when I got there and I was surprised to find that it wasn’t Oscar they had with them but four very tiny kittens in a cardboard cat carrier, and that’s when I got the full story.
Apparently Dee had been walking home from work early that afternoon when she heard the faint sound of a kitten crying; at first she couldn’t see anything but tracked the sound to some nearby bushes where she found the litter of kittens underneath, very tiny and obviously very dirty, cold and weak in spite of the warm weather, and with no sign of a mother cat. So she rang Lin who went down to meet her with a towel to wrap them in and they went back to the nearby pet store where Dee works to get the cat carrier, then went to the vet’s along the road to get them checked over, coming out with formula milk, syringes and feeding bottles and with instructions to feed the kittens every two hours.
Unfortunately the smallest kitten, a girl, wasn’t doing very well so a couple of hours later they rang their own vet’s, which is where I met them, and were told to take them in straight away. The other three kittens were boys and for the sake of the vet’s records the four were named Smokey, Sebastian, Tiger and Hope; the vet estimated them to be no more then ten days old but unfortunately Hope was the smallest and weakest and riddled with maggots inside – nothing could be done for her so sadly she had to be put to sleep. Dee bravely cuddled her while she drifted off, which took only seconds, and even I cried although she wasn’t mine. To be on the safe side Lin booked the other three in for overnight care and when we collected them the following day we came out with antibiotics which had to be given by syringe before feeding them.
Unfortunately though, things weren’t exactly straightforward, and at 7.30 that evening Dee came round to ask if I could take them back to the vet’s asap as Sebastian wasn’t doing well. As soon as we got there he was taken away and put on oxygen but he was failing rapidly and turning blue so sadly he had to be put to sleep too, though the vet said the other two were responding well to the medicine so with lots of TLC they should be okay. We weren’t taking anything for granted though so every day they survived was a bonus, and every evening for a couple of weeks I would call round after work to see how they were getting on. They progressed very well and their feeds went from every two hours to every three, then every four, and now they are sleeping longer they just get fed whenever they wake up – and their progress has come on in leaps and bounds.
Going off the day when the kittens were found and the vet’s estimation of their age at the time they will be six weeks old tomorrow. They are now at the weaning stage and even though they are a bit smaller than they should be, thanks to Lin and Dee’s constant care they have grown from the tiny pathetic little scraps that Dee found into lively and playful little kittens, so playful in fact that when I was trying to take photos of them they wouldn’t keep still and the only way I could get them was for Lin to hold them individually with both hands.
I’ve also had an occasional hand in feeding them and though they are both absolutely adorable my favourite just has to be little Tiger, who also happens to be Lin’s favourite. I’m not even remotely thinking about having another cat as I’m quite happy with the three I’ve got, but even if I did want one there’s no way Lin would let me have Tiger – and Dee wouldn’t let me have Smokey either so I’m happy to just be an honorary ‘auntie’ and cuddle them whenever I call round there. It’s so sad that we lost Sebastian and little Hope but we console ourselves with the thought that at least for a few hours they had some care and affection and didn’t die cold, hungry and unloved under the bush where they were found. I haven’t written about them before now as we weren’t sure if or how long Smokey and Tiger would survive but thanks to Lin and Dee they are coming on in leaps and bounds, so in view of the condition the four were in when Dee found them I think a 50% success rate is good – and for these two little bundles of fur things can only get better from now on.
The private family home of Hornby Castle is situated in north Lancashire, almost on the edge of the Lake District and the border with the Yorkshire Dales. Set on a hill in its own grounds by the River Wenning the house overlooks Hornby village and the Lune Valley; the central Keep tower dates back to 1512 but the house was rebuilt round about 1820 in an early Victorian style with ornate ceilings and carved wood panelling. Although the house itself isn’t open to the public it does have a B&B apartment to rent and is occasionally available for private functions and special events. The extensive gardens are open to the public on just a few special weekends each year, and it was through reading someone else’s blog several weeks ago that I found out about it. I’d already missed one open weekend by then but I made a note of the next one – this weekend, and with the current glorious weather it was an opportunity not to be missed, especially as dogs were welcome in the grounds so I could take Sophie and Poppie with me.
Exactly an hour’s drive from home got me to Hornby village where I left the van in a small car park just off the main road and by the river. The bridge over the river gave me a lovely view looking west across to the hills on the far side of the Lune valley, and on the other side of the bridge looking east I got my first view of the castle beyond the trees.
Just inside the big double gates a lady sitting in the shade of a gazebo took my £4 admission fee and gave me a copy of a hand drawn map showing where things were then I was left to wander at will. A long tree-lined driveway led up a continual incline and I had a choice of left or right – I chose right first and went to have a look round in the vicinity of the castle and the gardens nearest to it.
Across from the steps leading to the castle lawn a woodland walk took me down to a large open area and the walled garden but a sign for the ponds and azaleas caught my attention so I decided to look round there first. The larger pond was well shaded by trees, with a rhododendron bush making a splash of dark pink colour against all the green, and though much of the pond surface was covered in a layer of green weed there was enough clear water to make some good reflections. There was an island in the middle accessed by an extremely narrow, only just about 2ft wide, bridge with a rail just on one side – making sure that the dogs stayed behind me I went across but there was nothing there except a rickety wooden bench, although the whole place was really quiet and peaceful. I must admit to being disappointed with the (lack of) azaleas though; I’d expected to see a riot of colour from lots of different shrubs but there were only an odd few dotted here and there along with a couple of rhododendrons – certainly not what I’d hoped to see, and a bit of a let-down to be honest.
From the ponds I went to have a look round the walled garden; it was quite a large place but at least half of it was given over to several bare-looking sections and cold frames where various things were being grown – the lawned area was nice though with plenty of colour along the paths and side wall, and there was a small tea room with outside tables in one corner though I wasn’t tempted to go in. From there I went over to the riverside walk and wandered along until a fence and a ‘private’ sign stopped me from going any further then I turned round and retraced my steps.
Once I was sure I’d seen everything there was to see I made my way back down the long driveway and across the road to the car park. Once there I squeezed through the narrow gap in the corner of the wall and onto the riverside path; it didn’t go very far under the bridge but it was far enough for me to get a couple of shots from right next to the weir, in fact if I’d been any closer to it at one point I would have had two very wet feet.
Back at the van I gave the dogs a much-needed drink, although they’d had one from the bowl provided in the walled garden, then set off for home, although I did make a brief stop after I left the village. As I drove past an open field I caught sight of a very tiny and very cute pony standing by the field gate – an opportunity not to be missed so I pulled up where I could and walked back to take a photo of him. It wasn’t easy as he was very friendly and insisted on standing so close to the gate but I managed to get my head and the camera through the bars and take a sideways shot of him.
That was to be my last shot of the day, and with no more interruptions or delays on the motorway I was back home before 4pm. It had seemed a bit of a long way to go just to look round a garden but I’d had a nice few hours out in good weather, photographed somewhere I’d not been to before and rounded the whole thing off with an adorable little pony, so it had definitely all been worth it.
I’m joining in with Jo’s Monday Walk again where this week she’s been wandering round a couple of gardens next door to each other – follow the link and enjoy the beauty of the gorgeous rhododendrons she found while there.
Last Sunday evening I went round the corner to visit my friends Lin and Dee, only to find that even after three attempts an hour apart they weren’t in, so it was Monday evening after work when I finally caught up with them. Apparently another friend of theirs , Nick, had invited them over his place for a barbecue and they hadn’t got home until later than intended – and the reason was in their bath!
Now to put you in the picture, Dee works in a local pet store, they both love animals, and anything they can possibly rescue they’ll take – they already have seven rescued bearded dragons and a rescued dog, and only a couple of weeks ago Dee was thinking about taking on a couple of rats which needed a new home until she realised that it wasn’t a wise idea with having Oscar, who’s a terrier. So during the course of the barbecue Nicks mother ‘just happened’ to let it slip that someone she knew was looking for a home for two young ducks, one of which (the female) is supposed to be partially paralysed on one leg – and if they weren’t gone within a couple of days then they would be destroyed. Well of course that couldn’t be allowed to happen so Lin and Dee said they would take the ducks – Nick drove them over to collect them and the ducks ended up in Lin’s bath with a large carrying cage for shelter until an alternative could be found for them.
When I went round again yesterday I found the ducks in the temporary shelter of a large 2-tier rabbit hutch and with a pre-formed garden pond for them to swim in, both given to Dee by someone she works with at the pet store. Now although the larger duck is plain brown and looks very much like a female Mallard they’ve been told it’s a male, and no amount of Googling on my part has come up with any other possible breed, anyway they’ve called it Jeremy – and the smaller duck, which is more or less all white apart from her head, has been called Jemima. It’s obvious that she’s still quite young as she still has a bit of yellow baby fluff on the back of her neck, but she’s really cute and she sat in my hands for ages, squeaking rather than actually quacking. As for the ‘partially paralysed’ bit, well she does have a slight limp but other than that she walks quite well, and the pair of them swim like – well, ducks!
It’s lucky that Dee works where she does as she’ll be able to get any food and anything else they need at discount cost, and Nick is coming over at the weekend to section off part of the garden to make a dog-free duck area. I know the two of them will be well cared for so I hope they get to live long and happy lives.
Yesterday I took my friend Lin and her daughter Dee to the Bleakholt spring open day, and even Michael came along with us too, something which he’s never done before. After the last few gloriously sunny days my heart sank when I got up in the morning to find it dull and raining – the last three open days have been blighted by bad weather at some point – however by the time we were setting out at lunch time it had brightened up and the sun was shining.
The open day runs from 12 noon until 4pm, we arrived at 12.45 and already the place was swarming with visitors; Lin and Dee headed straight for Dee’s favourite place, the book shop, and after telling Michael where everything was I left him to wander off on his own while I went to look at the stalls in the barn. From there I went to look at the donkeys but they must have been out in the field somewhere, however near their enclosure a couple of kiddies rides had been set up and I got a great shot of the little train as it went round and round on its track. After that came the owl rescue stall with its birds sitting quietly on their perches or on the gloved hands of various visitors – two of them were only tiny but I couldn’t get a decent photo of either of them as so many people wanted to stroke them.
Next came a look round the dog section, and if I hadn’t already got Sophie and Poppie I would have been adopting Disney – a 4-year old Yorkie/Shihtzu crossbreed he was the cutest little thing I’ve seen in a while. A few kennels further along was Sasha, a 10-year old Lurcher crossbreed, rehomed once but returned for being over protective in the home – she was a lovely looking dog and quite happy to pose for me while I took her photo.
From there I went to the cat section where I saw what looked like the scruffiest cat ever. She was sitting so close to the wire that I couldn’t get her full body in the shot but she looked like she’d just been through the worst grooming session possible. Her fur was stuck out in various places and at the lower end of her back she had three tufts sticking up like little wings – she was a lovely colour though and in spite of her scruffiness she was beautiful and would have been my choice if I’d been adopting one. The kitten section was so full of visitors that I couldn’t get near any of the little ones so I took myself off to the oldies room and spent some time with them instead.
When I finally got back outside I found that the sunshine had gone and it had clouded over considerably but it wasn’t enough to put people off, and with visitors still coming in the place was the busiest I’ve seen it for a long while. I met up with Michael while I was wandering round so we went in the cafe for a brew and something to eat; we had corned beef hash with beetroot and red cabbage and it was so filling that neither of us wanted anything else when we finally got back home.
Just as we left the cafe we bumped into Lin and Dee, it was trying to rain by then but it didn’t amount to anything, so we had one last look round the stalls, where I managed to get a brand new pair of beach sandals for just 50p, then made our way over to the motorbike display near the car park. The bikes belonged to The Cogheads, a local motorbike club, and on one Sunday every year they do a charity petfood run, collecting donations of pet food, pet supplies and money and ending up at Bleakholt. This time their run just happened to coincide with the sanctuary’s open day so there was the added attraction of 29 bikes and 4 trikes all lined up on display.
Once we’d looked round the bikes I left the other three near the cafe and went to get the van. Between us all we had a fair amount of stuff to donate and because of the narrow lanes and one way system in operation on open days I’d had to park quite a distance away, which was too far to carry everything, so it made sense to wait until the crowds started to thin out then I could drive down to the donations shed. When I got there I found Lin and Dee had disappeared – Michael said they’d gone to the office and when I caught up with them I found Dee in the process of sponsoring Chesney, a dog she fell in love with a while ago but one which currently can’t be rehomed because of behavioural issues. When that was all sorted out, and with all our donated items unloaded from the van and everything Dee had bought loaded in their place, we finally headed for home. In spite of the sunshine disappearing it had been a good afternoon with what seemed to be a record number of visitors – the afternoon’s final takings will be the amount they will be trying to beat at the next open day in July, so fingers crossed the weather will behave and it will be another really good day.