After a very quiet time over Christmas the day of New Year’s Eve gave me a very new and interesting experience when I went ‘green laning’ in the Yorkshire Dales with my ex-partner’s brother and sister-in-law, Alan and Louise. This was something I’d never heard of until a couple of months ago so when I was recently invited to join them on New Year’s Eve day I didn’t turn down the opportunity to do something different.
Green laning differs from off-roading in that off-roading takes place ~ legally ~ on wholly private land and a vehicle doesn’t always have to be road legal, whereas green laning takes place on unclassified and often unsurfaced roads, byways and tracks which are Public Rights of Way or BOATs – Byways Open to All Traffic – and vehicles have to be completely road legal with all the usual laws of the road applying. The terrain can be rough, rocky and muddy with stream/river crossings and hair-raising bends but also with great views over open countryside.
My day started at 7am when I was picked up at the end of my street and via the M6 and A684 we went through Sedbergh in south Cumbria to the group meeting point in the car park of the Dales Countryside Museum at Hawes, the home of Wensleydale cheese in the Yorkshire Dales. We were first there so we had time for a brew and some toast while we waited for everyone else; it was only a small group, just two other couples plus the guide, Nathan, and his co-driver, and once we were all equipped with 2-way radios we set off at 10am on the first run.
A short distance out of Hawes we got onto the first rough track which took us across Snaizeholme Fell – I was sitting in the middle of the rear seats so I could take photos through the front windscreen and it wasn’t exactly a smooth ride. It wasn’t too long before we encountered our first obstacle when the track went steeply down to a gully then rose just as steeply up the other side; the gully was full of large rocks and we got momentarily stuck but with a bit of reversing, some wheel spin and lots of acceleration we got out and up the other side.
Around the end of Dodd Fell and right along its eastern base a winding lane took us steeply downhill past the hamlet of Countersett to Semer Water, the second largest natural lake in North Yorkshire. Along the north eastern end is what should be a tree-lined shingle parking area where overnight stays are allowed but the level of the lake had risen so much that it was completely covered by water which was almost up to the road.
From Semer Water the lane climbed steadily uphill and eventually we turned off onto a rough track leading round another fell and across a very misty Crag Moor where we got a shout out from the last vehicle – someone needed a quick comfort stop which, being in the middle of nowhere, meant nipping behind the nearest available wall.
Past a lone farmer in the process of blocking up a large gap in a damaged stone wall the track took us through Carpley Green Farm then downhill to a tarmac lane which led us to the A684 at Bainbridge. From there we drove almost thirteen miles east to the small market town of Leyburn for our lunch stop at 1pm, then with coffee and sandwiches demolished there was just time for me to take a few photos around the market place before setting off on the second run.
This time the route took us around the countryside and moorland to the north of Leyburn and somewhere between Stainton and Downholme we made our first river crossing, then from there we went up through Marske and over Skelton Moor to the second river crossing at Helwith Bridge.
A short drive up and across another area of moorland and a rough track took us down to where we could cross back over Holgate Beck – and that’s where things became decidedly dodgy. At the entrance to an isolated farm was a notice – DO NOT FOLLOW SATNAV, THIS ROUTE IS UNSUITABLE, YOU WILL GET STUCK – and as we got towards the bottom of the track a call came over the radio that the track at the far side of the river was steep, extremely muddy, and had a tight bend with some rocks right on the corner.
Down at the riverside we were given the option of carrying on or turning back and rejoining the trail by another route but we all decided to carry on and we would go first, though Louise (probably wisely) stayed by the river to get some photos. We got through the water with no problem but the tight bend was a different matter; to avoid the rocks there was very little room to get round and there was also a steep unfenced drop down the hillside. It didn’t exactly fill me with joy but Alan is a very experienced driver so I had to put my trust in him and hope we made it without mishap.
With a fair amount of slipping and lurching about we got round in one piece and accelerated safely right to the top of the hill, where Louise eventually joined us after walking all the way up with Nathan who had stayed behind to make sure everyone got safely round the bend and up to the top.
A short drive along the track took us to a narrow tarmac lane leading past a patchwork of open fields separated by dry stone walls then at the little hamlet of Hurst, which consisted of just two rows of three cottages and a farm, we turned onto Marrick Moor, passing a restored chimney which was once part of the Hurst lead mines.
Across the moor the track took us on a rough and rocky descent down the escarpment overlooking the village of Reeth and heading towards the hamlet of Fremington, and we were still quite a distance from the bottom when we came across something we wouldn’t have expected to see in such a quiet location. Tucked in the angle of a stone wall was a small blue Toyota car plastered with mud and with its wheels embedded in deep ruts. With a non-existent driver’s side window and police tape all round it we could only assume that it had been stolen and abandoned after getting stuck.
From Fremington a ‘B’ road took us through the village of Grinton and another area of moorland to the junction with the road leading to Redmire. The daylight was fading rapidly by then and Alan didn’t fancy doing another run in the dark so we decided to split from the group, make our way back to the A684 and head for home.
It was 7pm when I got dropped off at the end of the street, and though I hadn’t done much during the day other than ride around in the back of the Landrover I still felt quite tired. It had been a long day but also a very interesting and enjoyable one; it was a shame that the weather had been so cloudy and misty as the scenery around the Yorkshire Dales would have been lovely but now I’ve had my first taste of green laning I’m looking forward to experiencing another day later in the year and hopefully in much better weather.
Following on from my tour of the Winter Gardens theatre in October and lunch in a nearby cafe I drove the couple of miles north to Hest Bank for another walk along the Lancaster Canal, this time heading south. Unfortunately the weather gods had decided they no longer wanted to play ball – although it had been beautifully sunny with blue sky while I was in the theatre it was now cloudy and dull, not the sort of weather to show the canal at its best and I did consider coming back home, but with the afternoon stretching before me I decided to do the walk anyway.
Parking on the foreshore at Hest Bank, directly in front of me across the grass was a rather cute looking metal shelduck sculpture with an attractive information board at its base. Created by Ulverston-based blacksmith Chris Bramall on behalf of the Morecambe Bay Partnership it’s one of seven unique bird sculptures situated in different locations around the bay, with each one being associated with that particular location.
Across the nearby level crossing and the main coast road Station Road took me up to Bridge 118 on the canal where I walked north for a hundred yards or so to check out the weird canalside people and their pets which I’d seen on my walk along there a month previously. With a large banner now fastened to the hedge they were definitely ready for Halloween and even their weird pets were dressed for the occasion.
Retracing my steps I went back to the bridge and headed south with my goal being the Milestone Bridge which carries the relatively new (opened in 2016) dual carriageway over the canal, linking Junction 34 of the M6 with Heysham and its port.
As far as canal walks go there was nothing remarkable about this one though maybe if the earlier sunshine and blue sky had still been around the surroundings would have looked a lot nicer. Reaching my goal of the Milestone Bridge and with no desire to go any farther on such a dull afternoon I turned and headed the almost two miles back to Bridge 118. Having seen no-one at all during the first part of the walk, at one point it was nice to see an approaching narrowboat and as it passed me the guy at the back of it shouted a cheery greeting. Having messed about on boats myself in previous years I’ve always thought boat people are a friendly lot.
Almost back to civilisation I saw just three more people, a couple walking a small dog and a guy sitting on a bench, then no-one else until I got back onto Station Road. Back at the level crossing I found the barriers were down so I crossed the line via the overhead bridge where I took my final shot of the day looking north along the shore to the hills across the bay.
With hindsight, if I’d known that the afternoon would turn out to be so cloudy I would have booked a later theatre tour and done the walk first while it was sunny but as the saying goes, hindsight’s a wonderful thing. Would I do that walk again? It would be nice to see that section of the canal in better weather so I might be tempted sometime next year.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Quite surprisingly, in spite of spending the night in the van alone in a strange place, I’d slept soundly all the way through and woke to early morning sunshine and the promise of another lovely day, and looking across the estuary I could see that the tide was in. A quick comfort break for the dogs, toast and a mug of tea for breakfast and I was ready for the first walk of the day, the reverse of the previous day’s walk but with a slight variation which would bypass the village instead of going through it and past the marina.
Looking south westwards from the top of the lane where I was parked I could see Cockersand Abbey with Blackpool Tower in the distance around twenty miles away. The original Cockersand Abbey was founded in 1180 as the Hospital of St. Mary-on-the-Marsh then was refounded as a Premonstratensian priory in 1190, and though it continued as a hospital it was elevated to abbey status in 1192. It was the third richest abbey in Lancashire when it was dissolved in 1539, then in 1544 the building and surrounding land were acquired by a John Kitchen, subsequently passing into the Dalton family in 1556 when Robert Dalton married Ann Kitchen, John’s daughter.
While some scrappy remains of the abbey still stand to this day the Grade l vaulted octagonal Chapter House is the only significant relic still intact. Built around 1230 and eventually used as a family mausoleum by the Daltons during the 18th and 19th centuries it’s now classified as a scheduled ancient monument and opened to the public on special occasions such as Heritage Open Days.
Heading along the road towards the canal I saw a sign on a gate for ‘alpaca experiences’ at a nearby farm and in the adjacent field four woolly creatures with cute faces were looking inquisitively at me from behind a fence. It was only when I looked at the photo on my pc later on that I realised there was a hare loping along in the background – it can just be seen in the centre right of the shot.
Along the road towards Conder Green the high tide had filled all the creeks and channels of the saltmarsh and boats which I’d seen beached on the mudbanks the previous day were now floating gently at the end of their mooring ropes, although there was one boat which had obviously seen better days as it was partially submerged in the River Conder. The Stork pub was looking very attractive as it was now in full sunshine, and walking along the estuary footpath/cycleway I spotted a heron at the water’s edge.
Back in the village the Lock Keeper’s Rest was open and there was already quite a gathering of bikers enjoying breakfast in the sunshine. Crossing the green near the dock I stopped to photograph the picture boards outside the shop then my thoughts turned to treating myself later on to lunch at the Dalton Arms – that was until I saw the not-exactly-cheap menu outside. The prices were ridiculous so that idea was soon dismissed – if I really wanted something later it would be cheap and cheerful down at the Lock Keeper’s Rest.
Back at the van I made another brew and contemplated what to do with the rest of the day. Glasson may be a nice little place with lovely scenery but ‘little’ is the operative word – it’s very small, and there’s only so many photos I can take and canal walks I can do without repeating myself so I got the last few shots from the end of the lay-by then took myself off to the big car boot sale at St. Michael’s, a 20-minute drive away.
With the weather being so nice the car boot was packed with both sellers and bargain hunters but in spite of there being so many stalls I didn’t see anything I really wanted to buy so I treated myself to a double 99 from the ice cream van then drove a short distance back along the road to Guy’s Thatched Hamlet at the side of the Lancaster Canal. It’s a quaint and quirky little place which I’ve been to a few times in recent years and you can read about its history here.
Having parked in the hamlet itself I walked up onto the lane and crossed the bridge to the main A6 road. A little way along was Old Duncombe House, a cottage-style B&B in what is believed to be a building dating back to the 16th century, and with its white walls, hanging baskets and colourful planters it looked very attractive in the sunshine. Walking up as far as the short lane to the next bridge I crossed back over the canal and headed along the towpath back to Guy’s, then even though it was still only the middle of the afternoon I decided to head back home from there.
As far as completely off-grid camping experiences go my overnight stay at Glasson Dock had been a good one and in spite of being on my own in a very quiet location I hadn’t felt apprehensive or unsafe at all. Since that weekend I’ve found details of a circular walk which takes in Cockersand Abbey, a place I’d like to take a proper look at, so maybe next summer I’ll return to Glasson for another overnight stay – it’s certainly something to think about.
Back in early July, which seems ages ago now, the warm sunny weather and long hours of daylight prompted me to take myself off on a bit of a weekend adventure, staying overnight completely off-grid at Glasson Dock on the Lune estuary. Now I’ve stayed at a few quite basic sites over the twenty five years I’ve been camping but this wasn’t even a site, it was a lay-by at the side of a lane, though I’d previously been assured by someone ‘in the know’ that it would be okay to stay there overnight.
The lay-by was apparently quite a popular spot for people to park up and go for a walk or just sit and chill out so several cars were already there when I arrived just after 2pm, however I found a place towards the bottom end and with a brew made on the camping stove I spent some time taking in the views in front of me. Across the estuary and over to my left was Sunderland Point with its rows of old cottages facing the water and in the distance the huge bulk of Heysham power station, while in front of me was Bazil Point, an area I’d walked round in May.
Back in the early years Glasson was just a very small farming and fishing community known as Old Glasson but because of the increasing difficulty for ships navigating up the Lune to Lancaster docks the Lancaster Port Commission decided to build a new dock on a sheltered bend in the river and closer to the sea. Land at Glasson was purchased in 1780 and construction was started, with the dock finally being completed and opened in 1787, and with the need to house the many workers building it an adjacent village began to grow. The dock was a well equipped place capable of holding up to 25 merchant ships, and following its completion a small lighthouse was built on the east side; currently used for storage there seems to be very little information about it but it became Grade ll listed in March 1985.
Before the growth of the village there were originally only two buildings in the dock area itself. One was Pier Hall, owned by a Mr Salisbury and which eventually became an inn, and the other was The Old Ship House, the beached hulk of an old West Indiaman merchant sailing ship with holes for doors cut into the bulwarks and rooms built inside. The Old Ship House was an inn from around 1783 until 1790 and was the predecessor to the Victoria Inn, built around 1800 and which still stands on roughly the same site. Fast forward to today’s modern times and the Victoria closed down in 2015 due to lack of business; various plans to revamp the once attractive historic building have so far come to nothing and sadly it remains empty and derelict.
With the construction of the Lancaster Canal between 1792 and 1800 thought was given to making a connection between it and the sea, although the original plans weren’t actioned. Those plans were revived in 1819 and after additional finance was raised construction of a canal branch, later known as the Glasson Arm, was started in 1823 and opened in 1826, with a large canal basin behind the dock. Over its two-and-a-half mile length from Galgate to Glasson the branch canal dropped through 52ft, and while the main canal had been built lock-free for the whole of its 42-mile length the Glasson branch was constructed with six locks between Galgate and the Glasson Basin, with a seventh lock between the basin and the dock itself.
In 1834 a shipyard and Customs House were built at the dock, followed by a watch house in 1836 and a dry dock in 1841. The quay was connected by a branch line to the railway network in 1883, operating passenger services until 1930 then continuing with goods services until its final closure in 1964. The shipyards, which had been mainly concerned with ship repair rather than ship building, eventually closed in 1968 with the dry dock being filled in a year later. A limited amount of commercial shipping still uses the dock to this day, with outgoing shipments including coal for the Isle of Man and Scotland’s Western Isles and incoming cargoes of fertiliser and animal feeds.
Since the shipyards closed in the late 1960s the canal basin has developed over the years into a large marina for pleasure craft, currently with a wide range of boating services and mooring facilities for 220 boats, and in more recent years the trackbed of the disused railway line has become a very pleasant pedestrian path and cycleway which is part of the Lune Estuary Footpath and also one end of the 81-mile Bay Cycleway established in 2015.
Down the hill from my parking place was a small industrial area behind the dock and set back in a corner was the Port of Lancaster Smokehouse factory shop. Originally established on the quay at Lancaster around 50 years ago the family run business moved to Glasson in 2008 and still uses many of the traditional methods of preparing and curing fish, meats and cheeses of all kinds.
Passing the back of the nearby Dalton Arms pub a narrow street of terraced stone cottages took me to the road through the village, with the marina at the far side. Across the swing bridge and on the corner was the Lock Keeper’s Rest, a large former static caravan turned into a snack bar/takeaway popular with bikers, walkers and cyclists, and on a small raised cobbled area was the Bi-Centenary Anchor, placed there in May 1987 to celebrate the bi-centenary of the dock’s opening. At one time that corner was nothing much to write home about but it seems to have undergone a fairly recent transformation with a greatly extended seating area and plenty of picnic tables – overlooking the marina and with lots of greenery and colourful plants in tubs it certainly looked a lot more attractive than it once did.
Across the road was the bowling green with the start of the cycleway at the far side, which was also the start of the circular walk I’d planned to do. The level path ran between the road and the estuary for quite a distance then veered off on a raised bank across the saltmarsh before a bridge took me over the little River Conder, a tributary of the Lune, to the small hamlet of Conder Green. There was nothing really there only a dozen houses, some farm buildings and The Stork pub; my intention had been to take a photo of The Stork but the late afternoon sun was in the wrong direction and the building was in shade so I headed off along the road back towards Glasson.
I’d walked for quite a distance when I saw something obviously very dead lying in the middle of the road. At first I thought it was a baby squirrel but on closer inspection it turned out to be a weasel, and going off its small size it was still quite a young one. Externally there wasn’t a mark on it so not wanting it to get squashed by the next car which came along I picked it up to leave it somewhere out of the way, but never having seen a weasel before other than in books or on the tv I took a quick photo before dropping it into the long grass over the other side of the roadside crash barrier, where hopefully it would be out of the way of anything which might see it and peck it to bits.
Continuing along the road I passed a static caravan park, a couple of houses and a group of farm buildings then turned left for a short distance to a slope which took me off the road and down onto the canal towpath. A short way along was Christ Church, designed by Lancaster architect Edmund Sharpe and built in 1839-40. The churchyard, which contains the war graves of two soldiers from WWl and one from WWll, was extended in 1905 when land was granted on provision that a burial plot was available in perpetuity for members of the Dalton family who owned most of the land in the area, though only two male members of the family have ever been buried there, with the female members laid to rest at Lancaster Cemetery.
Walking along the side of the marina I couldn’t miss the brightly painted canal boat moored at one of the pontoons. With my liking for multi-coloured abstract street art it was just my ‘thing’ and I couldn’t help wondering if the owners were also street art fans or if they had painted the boat like that just to be different. Back across the swing bridge I called in at the shop to get some cake for a treat later on then made my way back to the lay-by and my ‘pitch’ for the night, finding when I got there that anyone else previously parked there had gone and I now had the place to myself.
After a simple meal, a brew and a couple of slices of cake I whiled away the time with a few chapters of my book then with the late evening light fading I took Snowy and Poppie for their last walk of the day. Down at the marina various lights had come on in different places and with the stiff breeze of earlier on having dropped the now calm water produced some nice reflections.
Being completely alone in the lay-by overnight didn’t worry me, in fact I rather enjoyed the solitary peace and quiet, and as I settled down to sleep I had my fingers metaphorically crossed that I would wake the following morning to some more of the lovely weather I’d had that day.
After a bit of a detour to get out of Conwy due to major roadworks at a crucial junction a short drive along the A55 got me to the A470 which took me to Bodnant Gardens. My last visit there was seven years ago and back then I’d had to leave my dogs Sophie and Sugar in the van but this time my visit was on one of the ‘dogs allowed’ days, although I still found a parking space in the shade of some trees.
The Bodnant estate was first established in 1792 when a Colonel Forbes built Bodnant Hall, a large mansion house which replaced an earlier house on the same land. Early records show that Bodnant, which in Welsh means ‘dwelling by a stream’, had been home to the Lloyd family from the reign of James I, passing by marriage to the Forbes family in the mid 1700s. With the building of the mansion Colonel Forbes then went on to develop the parkland around it in the English Landscape style.
On Colonel Forbes’ death in 1820 the estate passed by marriage to William Hanmer of Bettisfield Park in Flintshire and over the following years he made his own improvements, including building the present Old Mill between 1828 and 1837 and extending the garden around the mansion house. When Victorian industrialist Henry Davis Pochin bought Bodnant for £62,500 at auction in 1874 it was an estate with several farms, a walled garden, woods and plantations though it was his grand vision to turn it into something much greater.
Henry Pochin was born in Leicestershire in 1824 into a 200-year-old family firm. He trained as an industrial chemist and made his fortune from two big ideas, one of which was inventing a process which turned soap from the traditional brown into white. Living and working in Manchester he became an MP, Mayor of Salford, and the director of 22 companies, and also owned Haulfre Gardens in Llandudno between 1871 and 1876. After purchasing Bodnant Hall in 1874 he set about remodelling the house and enlisted the skills of well known landscape designer Edward Milner to redesign the land and the gardens around it.
Together they relandscaped the hillside and valley, planting American and Asian conifers on the banks of the river running through the land to create a woodland and water garden. Apple trees were taken from Haulfre Gardens and replanted at Bodnant, glasshouses were built in the upper garden to house exotic plants and 48 laburnums were planted to create the 180ft long Laburnum Arch, now believed to be the longest and oldest in the UK although today’s laburnums are from different stock. In 1883 the POEM (Place Of Eternal Memory) mausoleum was built in The Dell in memory of four of Henry’s children who had died in infancy, later becoming the resting place of Henry himself and other family members.
As a local landowner Henry Pochin was no less active, building cottages on the Bodnant estate and improving farming practices on the land. He also bought land at Prestatyn on the coast, where he supplied the seaside town with clean water and gas, built flood defences and developed a foreshore and promenade. He remained active in business throughout the 1880s but was overcome by ill health and died aged 71 in 1895, passing on the Bodnant estate and garden to his daughter Laura McLaren, married to Charles McLaren, 1st Baron Aberconway. A keen horticulturalist, she had already designed many gardens by the time her father died.
At the turn of the century Laura developed the wild garden at the ‘Far End’ and as a lover of herbaceous plants she also developed the upper formal gardens in the newly emerging Edwardian style with billowing flower borders. In 1901 she entrusted the care of the garden to her son Henry McLaren on his coming of age but maintained a keen interest and together they created the Skating Pond at the Far End and the stunning Italianate Terraces, built by hand using local labour in two phases, 1905-06 and 1912-14.
Using as a guide the highly popular book ‘The Art and Craft of Garden Making’ by Thomas Mawson other major developments continued, including the Lower Rose Terrace and the Lily Pool Terrace which was influenced by the Earl of Crawford from Fife, with Henry McLaren later adding several classical statues including the stone sphinxes on the Lower Rose Terrace.
As well as overseeing the major developments of the gardens Henry, who had become an industrialist and a barrister and later 2nd Baron Aberconway, also sponsored the expeditions of plant hunters such as Ernest Wilson and George Forrest who brought back to Bodnant ‘exotic’ new Asian plants, notably magnolias, camellias and rhododendrons, and with his head gardener Frederick Puddle Henry himself bred many unique Bodnant hybrid rhododendrons.
In 1939 the Pin Mill, which dates from 1730, was rescued from decay by Henry who bought it for an undisclosed sum, had it dismantled and brought from Woodchester in Gloucestershire to Bodnant, and as a grand finishing touch to the terraces it was rebuilt brick by brick at the end of the Canal Terrace, where it remains the most recognised and photographed feature of the gardens.
In 1949 Henry, who had been president of the Royal Horticultural Society since 1931, handed over care of the gardens, but not the house, to the National Trust. It was the second estate to be acquired by the NT (the first being Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire) as Henry hadn’t wanted to be accused of using his position to have Bodnant become the first. After his death in 1953 his son Charles McLaren (3rd Baron Aberconway) continued to develop Bodnant Gardens with the NT by making further improvements, opening new vistas and adding new plants, and in 1961 he became president of the RHS.
After Charles’ death in 2003 his younger son Michael McLaren, a practising London barrister, inherited the Bodnant estate. He still remains keenly involved and as garden manager and director he maintains the family’s historic and creative links to Bodnant with new developments which, since 2012, have brought about the opening of previously private areas.
After my long morning walk to Conwy marina and back, a couple of hours looking round the castle and climbing four towers, plus almost the same length of time wandering round the main parts of the gardens I didn’t really feel like climbing down the steep paths and steps to the bottom of the valley and walking all the way up to the Skating Pond. It was inevitable that if I climbed down I would have to climb back up so I decided to give any features in that area a miss, get a coffee from the Pavilion tea room then head back to the camp site, though as I drove along the A55 I had no idea what awaited me when I got there.
What had originally started out as a pleasant breeze that morning had gained in strength during the course of the day until it was blowing an absolute hooley – something akin to Gale Force 109 if there is such a thing – and I arrived back at the site to find that one side of the tent had blown inwards and everything inside was upside down on the floor. Fortunately the tent itself was securely anchored so it couldn’t actually blow down but the central pole had bent out of shape a bit – thank goodness for carbon fibre flexibility, at least it hadn’t snapped. Luckily nothing inside the tent was broken and it was all easily picked up and put back in place, then after I’d checked all the guy lines and pegging points I was free to relax for the rest of the day.
**From October 1st to the end of March dogs (on leads) are welcome in the gardens every day, then from April 1st to September 30th on special ‘dog days’ – all day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and between 5pm and 8pm on Wednesdays.
After most of the month being cloudy and grey with a fair bit of rain we had a few days of sunshine last week so on one of the days I took Snowy and Poppie on the first really good walk of the year. At first I was reluctant to take the camera as it’s a walk I’ve done many times before and featured on here more than once but the day was too nice not to take it.
A short 7-minute drive from home took me to the Last Drop Village and leaving the van in the rear car park I set off across the adjacent fields, with the moorland of Winter Hill in the distance ahead of me. I expected a lot of the ground to be wet and muddy but a few recent very frosty nights and cold days made sure most of it was frozen and dry. The track at the far side of the fields took me through an area of scrubland to the traffic-free lane bypassing the old quarry; at one time I enjoyed wandering round the quarry and would often see rabbits scampering about in the sunshine but now it’s really overgrown and has an oppressive feel to it. Even the once pretty little pond on the top level is so overgrown and choked with weed that the one photo I took was immediately deleted.
At the end of the lane I turned right along the path running between farmland and the fenced-off forested rear edge of the quarry; if I was going to encounter any wet and muddy patches that’s where I would find them as the narrow drainage ditch running between the path and the fields often overflows in wet weather but again everything was dry. A left turn at the end of the path took me up the side of the first field to the gate onto the golf course and not far along the track I was rewarded with the sight of a small clump of early flowering bright yellow gorse, while further along the iced-over pond looked like it needed some work to clear all the overgrown reeds.
Just past the pond three golfers pushed their trolleys up a track on the left to the green at the top of the slope and out of sight on my right the sound of a small tractor indicated that some work was being undertaken somewhere. Following the track downhill I eventually came to the fence and gate separating the golf course from open grazing land and I was just about to open the gate when my eye was caught by a movement a distance ahead. Two deer were running across the field but before I could even lift up the camera they had disappeared into the trees at the far side.
Across the fields a second gate and a cattle grid took me over a small brook to the lane leading across the castellated railway bridge to the grounds of Turton Tower. The bridge was built in 1847 following the construction of the Bolton to Blackburn railway line; James Kay, who owned the tower and it’s grounds at the time, commissioned two footbridges across the line, specifying that they had to be medieval in style to be in keeping with the rest of the estate, and while the second bridge is just a normal footbridge this one incorporates a viewing tower.
At the far side of the bridge a path took me through the nearby woods where I wandered along to the formal garden and lawn then round to the front of the building. Back on the lane it was just a couple of hundred yards to the main road then almost a mile-and-a-half of road walking to get back to the Last Drop Village.
Not actually a true village the Last Drop was originally converted from a group of derelict 17th century farm buildings known as Orrell Fold, belonging to successive generations of the Orrell family who once lived at Turton Tower. In 1930 William Carr, a well known farmer and racehorse owner who lived locally, bought the farm for stabling and exercising his horses but over the years the unoccupied buildings gradually fell into disrepair and eventually in 1963 the farm and its land were sold.
The new owner, Carlton Walker, was a man of considerable foresight and he soon began the task of creating the Last Drop Village out of the derelict buildings. The first building to be completed in 1964 was the restaurant and during a celebratory meal Mr Walker’s friends offered him ‘the last drop’ of a bottle of wine, and it was that which gave the place its name. The village today is home to a hotel, spa and leisure suite, banqueting suites and conference rooms, a quaint tea shop, the Drop Inn, several independent small shops and a gallery, and it’s also a very popular wedding venue.
With the sunshine just taking the edge off the coldness of the day and the bonus of seeing the deer running through the fields it had been a very enjoyable walk, now it was time to head for home and an appointment with a mug of coffee.
After what seems like weeks of constantly dull grey days and interminably wet weather culminating in storm whatever-it-was-called and a couple of days of (fortunately very short-lived) snow showers, Thursday two days ago was absolutely glorious. Now the dogs are like me, they hate wet weather and their recent walks have been relegated to ’round the block’ or even just ’round the garden’ if it’s been really bad, so Thursday’s sunshine and blue sky was a good opportunity to finally get out for a decent local walk.
Across the nearby park was Smithills Open Farm with the two farm dogs sunning themselves behind some newly installed railings, then along the lane I came to the hidden lake in the grounds of Smithills Hall, although with no leaves on the trees it isn’t exactly hidden just now. In a corner of the lawns Little Bess’s grave contained the remains of just one artificial plant and across the far side two ladies, both wearing red coats, were sitting on a bench enjoying the sunshine.
There’s only one thing wrong with taking the camera on a local walk which I’ve done several times previously – the photos I take are almost the same as the ones I took before and the ones before that, but it was such a lovely day I hadn’t wanted to leave the camera behind. The path alongside what had been the old garden centre boundary wall was covered in russet coloured leaves, soggy from all the recent rain, and at the far end of the nearby field two ponies, one rugged up against the cold weather, mooched about quietly minding their own business.
Beyond the field the path crossed a narrow brook and joined up with three other paths; from there I could see across 16 miles to the city centre high rises of Manchester, including the ugly Beetham Tower, and I could even make out the red and white Printworks sign. The shortest route from there would have been straight on but I took the path on the right which meandered down and round the edge of a small area of woodland before joining up with the far end of one of the other paths.
From there it was just a 5-minute walk through the nearby farm yard and down a short lane to the main road then ten minutes down the hill and I was back in my own street. It had been good to get out into the fresh air and though it was cold the sunshine and blue sky had made it a very enjoyable walk.
After all the grey, damp and drizzly weather we had locally during October and early this month we recently had a couple of really nice sunny days so one morning I took the dogs for a walk round Rivington Terraced Gardens, somewhere I hadn’t been to for quite a while.
In 1899 local soap magnate William Hesketh Lever (Lord Leverhulme), founder of Lever Brothers (now Unilever) and one of Bolton’s most famous and generous benefactors, bought a large parcel of land below Rivington Pike on the western slopes of Winter Hill with ideas on how it might be developed, and in 1901 a single storey prefabricated timber bungalow supplied by a firm in Manchester was erected on a level section of the hillside. Named Roynton Cottage it was designed by Lever’s old school friend Jonathan Simpson and was intended for weekend visits and shooting parties.
Four years later Lever met landscape architect Thomas Mawson and the two collaborated in the design of the terraced gardens though Lever himself influenced the actual layout and also designed Lever Bridge which crossed the main lane through the gardens. With one large arch crossed by six smaller ones it was based on a bridge Lever had seen during a trip to Nigeria and is now known locally as Seven Arch Bridge. Work on the gardens spanned a 16-year period from 1906 and in 1921 the landscape and architectural firm of James Pulham & Son were responsible for the creation of a steep rocky ravine with waterfalls and a Japanese-style garden with three pagodas, inspired by a visit Lever had made to Japan several years earlier.
In 1913 the bungalow was destroyed in an arson attack by suffragette Edith Rigby. The stone-built replacement was on a much grander scale and was a place for entertaining; along with a dining room, morning room, lounge, library, study, kitchen and servants’ quarters it also incorporated a music gallery, a circular ballroom, glass-roofed pergola and a winter garden. Following Lever’s death in 1925 the house and gardens were purchased by Bolton brewer John Magee then after his death in 1939 the site was acquired by Liverpool Corporation; in 1948 the bungalow and its entrance lodges were demolished and the gardens were opened up to the public. Following local government reorganisation in 1974 the site passed to the North West Water Authority and along with much of the surrounding land is now owned by United Utilities.
After decades of nature being allowed to take its course the gardens gradually became overgrown in many places and in 2014 the site was named by the BBC Countryfile programme as one of Britain’s Best Lost Gardens. In early 2016 the Rivington Heritage Trust secured £3.4million from the Heritage Lottery fund to improve, revitalise and maintain the gardens and their features and a huge repair and conservation project was soon undertaken. With non-native shrubs and self-seeded trees being cleared away, remaining stone buildings being made safe and accessible, and several original paths and stone stairways being uncovered the gardens eventually began to look how they once might have been. When I last went up there three years ago conservation work was very much ongoing, now it seems to have finished and as I walked round the gardens it was a delight to discover features I hadn’t known existed or which had previously been inaccessible.
Originally called the Dovecote Tower, the Grade II listed Pigeon Tower as it’s now known was built in 1910 by R Atkinson to a design by Thomas Mawson, commissioned by Lever as a gift to his wife, Elizabeth Ellen. A 4-storey building with a basement entrance, each storey was just one single room with the floors linked by a solid stone spiral staircase running up the spine of the building. The first and second floors housed ornamental doves and pigeons while the top floor was Lady Lever’s sewing room/music room. Above the ornate fireplace was the family motto and a circular emblem with the letters spelling out ‘WHEEL’, the initials of William Hesketh and Elizabeth Ellen Lever.
As part of the recent conservation project the Pigeon Tower has been sympathetically restored and with a new roof and windows, repairs to the stonework, new flooring and an aesthetically-pleasing security door with oak wood surround the building is now completely safe and open to visitors during special events and Open Days, although any doves and pigeons have long since disappeared. Situated on the highest level of the terraced gardens the nearby lane has far reaching views westwards across the Lancashire Plains to the coast and northwards to the hills of the south Lake District, while North Wales can be seen from the top of the tower itself.
It was just after I’d walked round the Japanese Lake that an unfortunate incident occurred. Steps took me down a steep bank from one end of the lake to the path below and as I walked up the path, and right out of the blue, a big dog came running down the bank, fell off the retaining wall, picked itself up and immediately attacked Snowy and Poppie. I’m not sure if it had seen my two from the bank and decided to attack or if it was just running along the bank and went too fast to stop before it fell off the wall but it landed almost at the side of me and so suddenly I had no time to react.
Poppie ran behind me but Snowy had a go back though it was much bigger than her and things almost developed into a full-on fight; although it wasn’t actually a pit bull it looked very much like that type of dog and I really thought Snowy was going to get hurt. There was no sign of the owners but they couldn’t have been far away so I just yelled as loud as I could for someone to call the dog then I heard a man’s voice calling it from the other side of the bank and telling someone to put it on the lead. Fortunately it ran back up the bank and I didn’t see it again, or its owners whoever they were. The whole incident only lasted a minute or two but to be attacked so suddenly like that really shook me up – thankfully Snowy was okay but it won’t have helped her dislike of other dogs.
After the dog incident the rest of the walk was fine and as I headed down the long path back towards the car park I was happy to see a squirrel running along some nearby tree branches and a robin which landed in the grass not too far away. It seemed happy to stay put while I took a couple of photos then it flew up onto a nearby fence post and posed for another quick shot before flying off into the trees.
Apart from the incident with the dog it was a very enjoyable walk and it had been good to discover parts of the terraced gardens which I hadn’t previously seen or known about. It’s a very extensive place and I know there are other paths which I haven’t yet explored so maybe next spring, once the trees get their new leaves, the three of us will go back to see what else we can find.