Winter Hill fire – a week in pictures

The wildfire which has devastated several square miles of local moorland not far from my home over the last sixteen days is now mostly out and resources are being scaled back with the number of fire crews reduced to nine, but there are still several hotspots in the peat which are being tracked by a Lancashire Fire Service thermal imaging drone and dealt with by the crews stationed at strategic points around the moorland. Over the last eight days, while out and about during my daily life, I’ve stopped off at a couple of places where I’ve been able to get some photos of the east side of the moors, although due to the long range involved and the smoky atmosphere the quality of some of them isn’t the best.
The following five shots were all taken in the afternoon of Friday July 6th from fields at the Last Drop Village at Bromley Cross –
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The next six were taken from the same location on the morning of Tuesday July 10th – smoke still rising but greatly reduced
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Burnt moorland close to the tv mast
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Burnt moorland above Scout Road
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The next couple of shots were taken at lunch time on Thursday July 12th from the road between the Egerton area and Belmont Village. Although the smoke was going less I could see one area where it was actually creeping down the hill – I did take a couple of shots of it but it was too far away to make even a half-decent photo.
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Fire crew stationed next to Springs Reservoir on the main road to Belmont
Late that afternoon the sky clouded over somewhat and by 6pm it was raining the proverbial cats and dogs though it only lasted for about half an hour. The rest of the evening was fine, though when I got up on Friday morning I could see that it had rained overnight – probably nowhere near as much as was needed to put the fire out completely but at least it would help. The day was dull and cooler than previously and again we had a downpour during the late afternoon but it didn’t last long and the evening turned out to be quite pleasant. Yesterday, to counteract the assumption that the fire is now out completely, the Lancashire Fire Service staff from Bacup fire station posted a photo taken at 5am that morning of flames breaking out in a hotspot.
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Hotspot photo from Lancashire FRS
With the very brief damp spell over the weather yesterday was back to being hot and sunny, and no longer having any smell of smoke in the atmosphere that morning I decided to take the dogs for a walk to see if I could get any closer-up photos of some of the burnt moorland. The main A675 road up to Belmont Village is still closed so I drove up as far as the boss’s house, which was as far as I could go, left the van there and walked up through the nearby farm and the fields onto Scout Road, which is also still closed off. With no immediate sign of the fire it was hard to believe that the currently quiet road had probably been chaos not long ago, and the only tell-tale sign was the long fire hose made up of many sections coupled together and stretching the whole length of the road.
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Fire hose stretching along Scout Road
As I walked along I began to see signs of the fire; a field on my left, where a couple of horses were quietly grazing, was backed by a steep bank covered in scorched and blackened earth, and as I got close to the top of the bad bend in the road more blackened land came into view. The road at that point had acted as a natural fire break and all the fire had been contained on one side, but I was quite surprised to see a burnt area on the opposite side, at the top of the path leading down to the quarry where I walked only a few weeks ago. It wasn’t a very big area though so I’m assuming that the wind had blown some sparks across from the main fire and this one was extinguished fairly quickly.
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The minor fire was in the foreground – the road runs between there and the mound behind
With a fire engine and crew down towards the bottom of the road, and not wanting to go too far down in case I shouldn’t really have been there, I turned round there and retraced my steps along the road and through the fields back to where I’d left the van. From there I drove the long way round to Belmont Village, parked near my friend’s house then went to see what I could see from that side of the moorland. In actual fact there wasn’t really much to  see from the village as the bulk of the fire had been over the top of the hill and more on the Smithills and Rivington side so I went back to the main road and walked down and up the hill to the San Marino restaurant, which wasn’t far. There was a fire crew based in the car park there so after I’d taken a couple of photos I got talking to them – one of them was quite taken with Sophie and Poppie and he even gave them a drink of bottled water.
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Parts of the burnt moorland seen from San Marino
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The dogs get a drink from a fireman
Thanking him for the drink I walked back to the van and made my way back home via the road from Belmont to Egerton, stopping just once in a lay-by to take another couple of photos, and looking over at the moorland from there it was possible to see pockets of smoke still rising from a few hotspots on the hillside. The firemen had told me that the crews will probably remain on duty until the end of the week continually dampening down the ground, and only once they are sure that the fire is completely out everywhere will they leave.
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Hard to see on here but smoke is still rising from parts of the hillside
Those were my last shots of the day and back at home I made a coffee and downloaded my photos onto the pc. I’d been out for three-and-a-half hours and done a fair bit of walking, and though I still had some shopping to do I was going to relax for a while first – and hopefully it won’t be long before I read an update to say the the Winter Hill fire is out completely and the battle has finally been won.
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Red – enclosed area affected by fire, approx 5 square miles   Blue – roads/lanes closed to traffic   White – footpaths closed   Yellow – tv mast and buildings   Orange – Rivington Pike tower   Green – where I took the photos from

The battle continues

The huge moorland fire which has been burning just a couple of miles up the road from home is now in its ninth day, and though much of it has been extinguished there are still many parts of the moors with peat continuing to burn just under the surface of the ground, evidenced by the large patches of white smoke rising up in many places and the presence of the United Utilities helicopter as it continually drops water to soak the land. Road blocks are still in place and an exclusion zone has now been set up to keep people away from the affected area.
On Wednesday I had to clean at the boss’s house, which is up the main road about halfway between my house and part of the fire, and thinking ahead to going up to my friend’s at Belmont Village I drove past the boss’s place to see how far up the road I could get. The answer was not very far as the rest of the road was blocked off at the junction with Scout Road and it was easy to see why – with the exception of one small corner much of the land above the lower end of Scout Road and along the main road heading towards Belmont was a blackened and charred mess, and with no traffic the normally quite busy road was eerily silent.
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Fire crew near the bottom of Scout Road
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Burnt land above Scout Road
When I’d finished my work at the boss’s house I left the van there and took a walk through the nearby farm and fields to see if I could see anything from a different viewpoint. Birds tweeted and chirped in the nearby trees and hedgerows, and butterflies flitted among the tall grasses and wild flowers – it was an idyllic, if rather hot, summer’s day and it was only the constant noise of the sometimes unseen helicopter which gave a clue to the nearby serious situation. Although the path would eventually take me up onto part of Scout Road I didn’t want to go that far if I wasn’t supposed to be there so I just took a couple of long-distance shots then turned and made my way back to the van.
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A tranquil country scene
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The helicopter hard at work
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Some of the burnt moorland on Winter Hill
Yesterday morning I found out that the country road between Belmont Village and the Egerton/Bromley Cross areas on the northern outskirts of town had been reopened to allow villagers in and out of Belmont without having to go miles out of their way, so when I left work at Bromley Cross I went straight over to my friend Janet’s place. Driving along that road I had a good view over to the moors and Winter Hill so I pulled up in a lay-by to take a few photos; the fire damage was extensive and there was still smoke rising from the ground in many places – and that was just one section of the whole moor.
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Smoke still rising from the burnt areas just below the skyline
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A very smoky view
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The zig-zag path on the right is where I would walk from the road up to the tv mast
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The support by local people for the fire crews and mountain rescue teams working long exhausting hours in the current hot weather has been fantastic. Individuals and schools have donated bottled water, energy drinks, biscuits, crisps, chocolate bars and other snacks as well as sun cream, insect repellent, socks and caps, and a local supermarket has donated a refrigerated vehicle to keep all the food and drink cool. On Wednesday and yesterday a local branch of McDonald’s provided 200 meals for the fire crews and a sports massage place within a town centre fitness studio is offering free massages this weekend to the firefighters and rangers who have worked all week. Also starting today a local micro brewery/pub will have a 50 litre keg of beer available for any firefighters to have a free pint after their shift and it will stay on tap until they finish it.
The children at the primary school just up the road from me have painted some great messages of thanks and encouragement onto flattened cardboard boxes and these have been fastened to the roadside barriers outside the school where the fire crews can see them as they drive up and down the road – I noticed them on Wednesday when I was driving back from the boss’s house and thought they were so touching that I just had to stop and take a photo of them.
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There’s been a couple of unexpected rays of hope in this disaster though. At the beginning of the week a firefighter rescued a small bird which he found among the smouldering grass, and on Tuesday evening a member of the mountain rescue team saw three deer and a few pheasants on the moor, showing that in spite of the large-scale devastation some creatures have managed to escape and are still alive. It will take a long time for the moorland to fully recover from this disaster but for now I can only hope that when the fire is finally extinguished for good and the ground cools down more creatures will find their way back there and continue to live their lives in peace.

Praying for rain

It’s not often you would ever hear me wish for rain as I can’t stand the stuff, and the current hot sunny weather suits me just fine, but locally there’s been a disaster of such huge proportions that I think many people would welcome a rain storm just now. Soon after 3pm on Thursday last week a wildfire started on Winter Hill not far from the tv mast – about three hours later, as I took the rubbish round to the skip at work, I noticed a big plume of smoke rising up some distance away but couldn’t tell from there where it was coming from. It was only as I was driving home and heading in the right direction that I saw that the smoke was coming from the moorland only a couple of miles up the road from home.
Initially a total of twelve fire engines were sent to tackle the blaze but by nightfall it was covering more than 250 acres with fifteen fire crews trying to stop it from spreading. On Friday a 22-year old man was arrested for arson on suspicion of starting the Winter Hill fire (although later released) but on the same day a second fire started further down the moorland and just above Scout Road where I walked along with the dogs on my quarry walk in early June – it was also just above the path which I walked three times last year to get to the vicinity of the tv mast. This second fire was reported to be one-and-a-quarter miles long and another fifty firefighters were sent there to deal with it, but due to a stiff breeze blowing up on Saturday it merged with the original fire on Winter Hill and a major incident was declared because of possible damage to the tv mast and also the nearby communications systems. Various roads in the area have been closed off, including the one running past the end of my street and going up to Belmont Village and beyond, and at one point, looking between nearby trees and houses, I could see part of the fire from my bedroom window.
On Sunday Michael and I had a drive out to Southport and on the way back we could see part of Winter Hill and the smoke from about twenty miles away, although as most of it now seems to be coming from the back of the hill I can no longer see it from my bedroom window, but with the wind in the right direction I can certainly smell it. As of yesterday the fire has covered more than 3 square miles with as many as 29 fire engines tackling the blaze and helicopters doing more than five runs per hour dropping water on it. With the moorland being made up of mainly peat the ground is burning underneath the surface so as fast as the flames are being extinguished in one place they are starting up again somewhere else – it’s been estimated that it could take another week to extinguish the whole lot completely.
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Smoke from the Winter Hill fire, seen on Sunday while passing Lower Rivington reservoir
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Monday evening sunset over Winter Hill, taken from the bedroom window
The one thing which saddens me about all this is the loss of various forms of flora and fauna. The Woodland Trust owns a 1,700 acre estate in that area, part of which is on some of the affected land, and a large part of that estate has been burnt; it was home to several species of delicate and rare plants, and creatures such as the brown hare, lapwing and common lizard. Breeding and ground-nesting birds will have been affected and the fire has also burnt into the first trees to be planted as part of the Northern Forest project; whole eco systems will have been wiped out and the habitat will take years to recover. I wonder if the person, or persons, who started all this, whether deliberately or carelessly, ever stopped to think what consequences their actions would have for everything and everyone affected? – probably not.
Although the photos above are the only ones I’ve been able to take of part of the fire (the public are being advised to stay away from the area although there are some idiots who are ignoring that advice) there are some excellent and very powerful shots to be seen on here.  A recent weather forecast is for the hot dry days to continue for a while yet so as much as I don’t like rain I really hope we get a prolonged and torrential downpour before too long and the fire is extinguished properly before it does any more damage.

A short holiday away

On Tuesday evening this week I arrived back home after a short almost-six-days holiday on Anglesey. I’d actually booked seven days off work and with two weekends I should have had eleven days starting on the first Saturday of the month, but circumstances beyond my control kept me at home for the first few days. I finally set off for Anglesey late last Thursday morning, with the recent good weather staying with me all the way from home, and once at the site, which was very quiet, I was able to set up camp in near enough the same place as last year. Having had no opportunity to open out and dry my new tent, which had been packed away very damp at Easter, I was dreading what I might find so I’d packed my spare green one ‘just in case’ and set up the van to sleep in but I needn’t have worried – although quite a bit of moisture had got trapped between the plastic windows and the blinds the rest of the tent was fine and surprisingly there wasn’t a mark on it anywhere. After a quick wipe over the moisture on the windows soon disappeared in the hot sunshine and the tent served me well over the next few days.
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All dried out
Day 2 arrived sunny and warm again so I decided to have my ‘big day out’ off the island and set off late morning for Llanberis, just over 18 miles away on the mainland. Ages ago a cafe in Llanberis had been recommended to me as a good place to get a meal so I decided to try it and I wasn’t disappointed – I opted for a cheese and onion toastie and it came absolutely oozing with filling and with a salad garnish, and Sophie and Poppie even got a treat of a sausage each. Unfortunately not long afterwards the sky clouded over and the sun played a good game of hide-and-seek but it didn’t spoil the afternoon too much and I still walked right along the lake side to the slate museum and back. When I got back to Anglesey I found the sun and blue sky were just as bright as when I left so with hindsight maybe I should have stayed on the island.
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The cafe where I had lunch
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Llanberis lake side
Day 3 was another hot and sunny one and after starting off at the car boot sale just outside the village I made a return visit to Portobello beach in Dulas Bay, which I first went to last year. This time though I went when the tide was going out and almost at its lowest so there was no danger of getting cut off on the riverside like I did before. From the beach I drove into Llangefni and parked up at Asda then took the dogs for a walk through The Dingle nature reserve and up to Cefni reservoir and back, and it was when I was approaching Asda from the entrance to The Dingle that I noticed an old windmill with a strange top, on a rocky outcrop above and just beyond the store. Of all the times I’ve been to Llangefni I’ve never noticed that before so I just had to find it and photograph it.
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Portobello beach
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Afon Goch (Red River) estuary flowing across the beach
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Bridge over Afon Cefni, The Dingle
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Cefni reservoir
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Llangefni windmill
Day 4 started off at the big car boot sale on the Anglesey show ground then from there I went over to Rhosneigr in search of Sausage Castle. Not actually a castle but a large house with castellated walls – real name Surf Point Villa – it was built next to the beach in the early 1900s by Charles Palethorpe, a member of the famous pork butchery family, and soon became known as Sausage Castle. A short walk along the beach soon found it and from there I continued along the sand to where the Afon Crigyll flowed out across the beach.
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Sausage Castle (Surf Point Villa) from the beach

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Afon Crigyll estuary
From Rhosneigr I drove up to Penrhos Coastal Park and enjoyed a coffee and cheeseburger from Pete’s Burger Bar overlooking Beddmanarch Bay, then went to Breakwater Country Park on the far side of Holyhead. After a walk round the lake I tackled the steep path up Holyhead Mountain but only went up far enough to get a couple of photos overlooking the park and the rest of Holyhead;  it was getting on for 6pm by then so time to make my way back to the camp site.
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The lake at Breakwater Country Park
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View overlooking the park
Day 5 was hot and sunny once again and this time I was on a quest to find and photograph the old abandoned brickworks at Porth Wen, a place I’d been told was very difficult to find and get to, so difficult in fact that many of the locals didn’t even know how to get there. I was put on the right track by a lovely old gentleman I got talking to while wandering round Cemaes harbour but it still proved to be quite a long and challenging walk along part of the Anglesey Coastal Path, with a couple of rather hairy places where the path was within inches of a very steep and unprotected drop down the cliff into the sea. I found the place eventually though and also had the added bonus on the way there of unexpectedly finding the old Llanlleiana Porcelain Works.
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Cemaes harbour
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Difficult to photograph through the hedge but I couldn’t resist this one
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Llanlleiana old porcelain works
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Porth Wen
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Porth Wen old brick works
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Porth Wen stone arch
Day 6 was going home day but it was still hot and sunny so I decided to prolong the day as much as I could. I took my time packing everything away and left the site just before 1pm, but as is my usual custom I took the dogs for a final walk along the beach; it was so nice down there that I decided to stay a while longer and as it was lunch time I made myself a couple of sandwiches from some chicken I had in the cool box and got a takeaway coffee from the nearby kiosk, then sat in the van and had a leisurely lunch with a great view of the beach.
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Benllech beach
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It was getting on for 3pm before I finally managed to tear myself away and set off for home, though I did make three more stops on my way along the coast. The first was at Llanfairfechan, a lovely little place I hadn’t been to for several years, and the second was at Penmaenmawr, smaller than Llanfairfechan and maybe not quite as pretty but still very pleasant. My third and final stop further up the coast was an impromptu visit to my blogging friend Eileen, and we spent a very nice couple of hours having a good natter over a mug of coffee. It was nearly 7.30pm when I finally set off on the last leg of my journey and after a very quick stop at Chester services, where I briefly saw a squirrel near the van, I arrived home at 9.15pm.
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Penmaenmawr promenade
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Admittedly the holiday hadn’t been near enough as long as I’d originally intended but I’d made the most of the few days I did have and packed as much into each day as I could so I hadn’t missed out on too much. At least I’d found out that the tent was okay after its Easter collapse and subsequent soaking, I’d found and photographed a couple of out-of-the-way places, the weather had been great all the way through and I’d gained a near-enough Mediterranean tan just by walking about and exploring so I can’t complain too much. Now all I have to do is update my camping blog with more details and photos from the last few days – that should keep me occupied for a while!

A quarry walk with a difference

With the continuing glorious weather I’ve been getting out and about a lot with the camera and the dogs, although just recently I’ve not been going too far because of my damaged foot. The day after my walk to Smithills Hall I decided to revisit a local place I’d been to back in mid April – the old quarry just a mile or so up the road from home. Just like last time I parked in a convenient place just off the main road and took the path leading into the quarry but unlike the last time things were vastly different – the water running down the middle of the rocky path had been reduced to a trickle in the continuing dry weather, the path itself was looking rather overgrown and the bare and rather desolate quarry had sprung into life with green everywhere I looked, interspersed with colourful rhododendron bushes here and there.
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The path into the quarry
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As I walked along the bottom of the quarry I could see someone slowly climbing up the sheer rock face ahead – it seemed a bit of a dangerous thing to do but when I got closer I could see it was a girl and she was safely attached to a rope with someone at the top guiding her – definitely not the sort of thing I would do though, even with  a rope and harness! Close to where the climbers were the path started to go steeply upwards and on the next level I came across what I assumed to be a bit of a picnic place probably made by and for various climbers – a three-sided seating area with a large flat-topped ‘table’ in the centre, all cobbled together out of various fallen quarry stones.
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Climbing up ‘The Prow’
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Climbers’ picnic place
The higher I went the better the views became, in one direction looking down the quarry with the countryside north east of the town in the distance and in the other direction overlooking the countryside and moorland to the north. The path was rather overgrown in places and at one point I just managed to miss a clump of prickly thistles in the undergrowth, although the dark blue flowers looked quite nice. A bit higher still and the path eventually brought me out on Scout Road near the top of the very bad bend,  and walking along I saw that where there had been clumps of daffodils in the fields only a few weeks before the grass was now dotted with fluffy-looking clumps of pink flowers. I don’t know what they were – knowing my luck they would be weeds – but they looked quite pretty anyway.
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Looking down the quarry
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Looking north
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As I reached the car park where I would turn onto the path across the fields I decided on the spur of the moment to walk a bit further and see if there was still a lake across the road. Bryan Hey is a large private fishing lake, set back from the road behind a high bank and I remember going with my mum to pick blackberries there when I was 14 years old. The blackberry bushes ran between the roadside and the wall at the bottom of the bank, and while my mum picked the fruit from the roadside I went up on the bank and picked the berries from the top of the bushes. All went well until I put one foot too far over the edge of the wall and fell off the bank right into the middle of the bush – all my mum could see was my feet at the bottom and my head sticking out at the top, the rest of me was in the bush! Once I’d got over my surprise and we’d both finished laughing she somehow managed to get me out, though how I survived without being scratched to ribbons I’ll never know, and the event was a source of amusement for many years.
It turned out that the lake is  still there and so are the blackberry bushes, though I kept myself and the dogs well away from them. A few people were fishing over on the far side of the lake but there was no-one on my side and it was very pleasant walking along on the tree-shaded lakeside path. When I got back down to the roadside I noticed something else which was obviously very new – set inside a private entrance with a colourfully decorated board proclaiming it was NOW OPEN was Skip-a-doo’s dog training area, a large securely-fenced exercise and training field with various items of agility equipment. Backing onto the moorland and with large colourful rhododendron bushes behind it looked like a nice place to train a dog.
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Bryan Hey fishing lake
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Skip-a-doo’s dog training field
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Back across the road I retraced my steps to the car park and took the path across the fields abundant with large patches of the fluffy pink flowers. Following the path past the line of pine trees the grass became dotted with buttercups and in amongst them all I found just one small clump of rather sorry-looking bluebells. A bit further on was the pyramid-shaped stone which had been surrounded by a circle of daffodils just a few weeks before; now the daffodils were gone and the grass and weeds had grown up round the stone so much that I almost walked past it without seeing it. Compared to a few weeks ago it looked a mess and it certainly wasn’t worth taking another photo of it.
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From there I went through the farm yard and onto the tarmac lane by the hamlet of houses, though where I turned right last time I went left instead and just round the bend, set back in the angle of a garden wall, was what presumably had, at some time, been a water spout with a small pool underneath it. It was completely dry and obviously had been for a long while but it was such an unexpected thing to see in that location that it was worth taking a photo of it. As I got to the bottom of the lane I was rewarded with a view of the countryside in front of me;  it’s a view I’ve seen many times before when I’ve been out with the dogs but I never tire of it.
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That was to be my last shot of the afternoon, and I returned to the van which was parked close by and drove back down the hill to home. It had been a good walk and my foot had held up well, fortunately with no real pain in spite of it being so damaged, but now it was time for the three of us to have a long cool drink and a good rest while I contemplated where to go for my next walk.

A local walk to Smithills Hall

Since damaging my foot a week ago I’ve been resting it as much as possible, meaning the dogs haven’t been out properly for several days, however yesterday’s hot and sunny weather was just too good to resist so I decided to take them to somewhere local and almost on the doorstep – far enough to give them a good walk but not far enough to aggravate my foot. Smithills Hall was my choice so I set off across the field at the end of the street, through the nearby housing estate and into the bottom end of the park closest to home. And to say that it’s a bank holiday weekend there was hardly anyone around so I had the place almost to myself.
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The edge of the park
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From the park I went into the nearby woods – the last time I’d been in there the leaves were falling off the trees and things were looking rather bare but now there was green everywhere I looked, with the added bonus of several colourful rhododendron bushes appearing here and there. A tall tree had fallen across the stream from the opposite side and when I looked over I could see where the bank had come away with the movement of the roots as the tree fell. Further on is an old stone bridge and the stream at that point was little more than a trickle so Sophie had great fun running across and back along the bridge.
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Not far past the bridge the path turned uphill for a short distance and wound its way through the trees and bushes, emerging onto the tarmac lane leading to Smithills Hall, a Grade l listed manor house and one of the oldest in the north west of England. With the oldest parts dating from the 15th century it has a lot of history behind it and I did indeed go in to look round, but I ended up with so many photos that I’m keeping them for another post and concentrating on the outside instead.
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The lane to Smithills Hall
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Pedestrian entrance to the gardens
As I emerged round the back of the building and onto the terrace my vision was assaulted by a view which I thought was truly beautiful – a huge expanse of lawn bordered by colourful flowers and shrubs, surrounded by trees and rhododendrons and with benches dotted here and there. With very few people around the place was very quiet so with no-one to get in my way I wandered round at leisure and got several good shots of the building and gardens.
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Smithills Hall gardens
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Overgrown scented garden, east wing
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Garden, east wing and chapel
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Monument and gardens
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Entrance to tea room in Victorian west wing
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Rear of the west wing
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Colourful rhododendrons near the exit
Back on the lane I retraced my steps, this time passing what was once Smithills Coaching House. Originally built in the 17th century as a stable block for Smithills Hall it was converted to a restaurant in 1966 by two local brothers, Alan and Donald Clarke. The brothers, two of three triplets, were born in 1931 – Donald became a trained chef and between them they co-owned Percival’s catering firm originally set up by their father in 1939. Percival’s had a wonderful cafe in the old town centre Market Hall and I remember going in there many times for a meal when I was a kid. Alan Clarke was the local mayor from 1972 to 1973 and died in 1979 at the relatively young age of only 48; Donald was Bolton’s mayor from 1977 to 1978 and died in 2005 at the age of 74.
A four-sided building with an attractive central courtyard, Smithills Coaching House operated successfully as a restaurant for 46 years before finally closing down in August 2012 – in spite of many local objections it was eventually sold to a developer and is now several luxury houses and apartments, with a dozen or so modern town houses built on what was once the restaurant car park. The courtyard entrance is now private, protected by huge double gates operated by key pad, but I was able to get the camera lens far enough through the bars to take a quick snap of what it looks like now the place has been modernised.
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Part of the original building, now a house
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The restaurant courtyard as it was – photo from the Internet
Smithills Coaching House
Photo from the Internet
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The courtyard as it looks now
Further along the lane, and past where I’d come out of the woods, is Smithills Open Farm, a working dairy farm open to the public with lots of different animals to see, hold and feed. With various activities including donkey rides, tractor rides and bouncy castles it’s a very popular place and with no time limit once in there it presumably makes a good few hours out, but when I saw the admission prices I was just glad that I don’t have any young kids!
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Smithills Open Farm
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Through the farm and past the car park I reached the top end of the park I’d walked through earlier; I’m not sure if it’s the local council’s way of saving money or if it’s supposed to be like that but a lot of the land had been left to grow wild, with large clumps of spiky grass growing all over the place. From the path nearest the farm the view down the park was quite extensive, and when I got down to where the playground used to be at the bottom of the slope I turned round to call Sophie and there was my old friend the Winter Hill tv mast, standing tall on top of the nearby moors.
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View down the park
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Overlooked by the tv mast
That was to be my last photo of the day; the rest of my route was all road walking though it didn’t take long to get home from there, and the first thing the three of us did was have a long cold drink! My damaged foot had done well on the walk and had given me no pain at all but I’d gone far enough and it was time to rest it now, so that’s just what I would be doing for the remainder of the afternoon.
Linking up again with Jo’s Monday Walk where this week she takes us on a visit to some lovely gardens and an intriguing piece of Northumberland landscaping with great views and lots of photo opportunities. Follow the link to find out more and to see where other Monday walkers have been to this time.

Hornby Castle Gardens

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.
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River Wenning at Hornby, looking west
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View of the castle from the bridge
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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.
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A border near the entrance
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A corner near the lawn
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The castle from the lawn
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Herbaceous border
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The terrace
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The lawn from the terrace
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The rear of the castle
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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.
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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.
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The walled garden
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The riverside walk
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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.
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Hornby bridge
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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.
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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.