Category: Days out
Hornby Castle Gardens and a quick trip to Morecambe
Just a few days ago the dogs and I paid a visit to Hornby Castle Gardens during the snowdrop open weekend. I’d originally been undecided about going as (according to the website) with it being early in the season some of the snowdrops were only just getting going but this was the only weekend the gardens could open, however we hadn’t had a decent day out so far this year and the weather was promising so off we went.
If I thought that getting there soon after the 11am opening time would avoid what would later be a lot of visitors I was wrong, there was quite a queue to pay at the table set up just inside the main gates. With a history talk scheduled for 12 noon at the main house most people seemed to be heading up that way so I went in the opposite direction to where it might be a bit quieter, starting with the woodland walk.
Past the pond the path led me to the walled garden but with bare flower beds and nothing much growing anywhere there was very little to see so I went down to the riverside, walking along by the water then following a steep path up to the corner of the castle lawns. Across the front of the castle steep steps took me back down onto the main driveway and with nothing else to see I headed back to the main road and the car park.
Still only lunch time and with the rest of the afternoon ahead it was too early to think about going back home once I left Hornby Castle so I headed for Morecambe and an excellent filling lunch of home made steak pie, mash, veg and gravy in Rita’s Cafe on the promenade, followed by a mooch round the indoor Festival Market then a walk down to West End and back along the promenade as far as the Eric Morecambe statue before returning to the van and finally heading for home.
The daylight hours increasing slowly each day meant that I was back home before it started to go dark, with the dogs having slept all the way back. As far as days out go there had been nothing special about this one but it had been good to have a few hours away from my local area, and if dogs could talk I’m sure Snowy and Poppie would agree.
A new experience on New Year’s Eve
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.
Morecambe Winter Gardens theatre tour
The middle Sunday in October saw me heading to Morecambe for a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the Winter Gardens theatre situated on the Central Promenade. The late Victorian building became Grade ll listed in 1987 and since the formation of the Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust in 2006 the theatre has been undergoing the long slow process of major repair and restoration, and in September 2020, after being intrigued by some photos of the ornate interior, I booked myself onto one of the guided tours. I wasn’t disappointed, the theatre’s history was fascinating, and though I intended to go back in 2021 I decided to wait until this year to see what progress had been made with the various renovations.
The tour guide this time was a very friendly and knowledgeable volunteer named Lesley and with only three other people in the group I had plenty of opportunities to ask questions and discuss things. Although I’d already seen many areas of the theatre on the previous tour other areas were now accessible and it was interesting to see photos and things I hadn’t seen before and to learn some more fascinating and quirky facts about the place.
Unfortunately there is no knowledge of the various entertainers advertised in the photo above – I would love to know what the ‘monkey music hall’ was and if it featured actual monkeys – although I have managed to find out about Cullen & Carthy. Johnnie Cullen (1868–1929) was born in Liverpool while Arthur Carthy (1869-1943) was born in Birkenhead and they met while working together in the machinery room of the newspaper printers producing the Liverpool Echo. They were eventually fired for entertaining their co-workers with singing and dancing and soon afterwards went on to form a comedy double act, achieving popularity on the British and Irish music hall, circus and variety stages and with the Winter Gardens theatre being a venue where they regularly appeared. With a career spanning almost four decades their partnership lasted from 1890 until Cullen’s death in 1929.
Just as previously the tour went from the ground floor of the auditorium, along different rear corridors and up and down various staircases, with stops along the way to see different interesting features. In an as yet unrestored area behind the Grand Circle it was nice to see a few more of the original seats uncovered for the tour and intriguing to see that they are of two different designs, with the red seats and arm rests being deeper than the blue ones, although no-one knows why.
The upper level of the central staircase featured typical late Victorian flocked wallpaper, ornate marble columns and balustrades, and though it’s not really noticeable in the photos all the carved cherubs have slightly different features and a different shade of hair colour.
Above the Grand Circle stairs led up to the underside of The Gods, now undergoing restoration, and halfway up a door led to the void underneath the seating, something which I hadn’t previously seen. Apparently in the past some of the theatre cleaners, rather than removing any rubbish properly, would just throw it into the void where it lay undisturbed for many years and it was only discovered when volunteers cleared out the void prior to renovation – a few of the items found are on display in one of the foyer’s ticket booths.
Another new feature of the tour was the opportunity to go out onto the wide balcony overlooking the promenade to get a closer view of the carved medallions on the wall above a central door – the interlinked letters MWG (Morecambe Winter Gardens) on the left and the date on the right. Access to the balcony was temporarily through the old and very basic Victorian gents’ toilets (no, I didn’t take a photo) and there were good clear views over the promenade and across the bay to the South Lakeland hills.
On the way back down to stage level there was the opportunity to look inside one of the upper boxes, which I’d seen on my previous visit, then the basic general dressing room and the star’s dressing room which now had the added ‘luxury’ of a tv, kettle, and a couple of pictures on the walls, before ending on the stage itself.
One anecdote tells of the theatre having a door big enough for an elephant to go through; sometime in the past an elephant did feature in one of the shows and behind the rear backdrop there is indeed a huge sliding door in the outer wall. The theatre has played host to many famous faces over the years and the final scenes for the 1960 Laurence Olivier film The Entertainer were shot on the Winter Gardens stage.
Although I’d seen many parts of the theatre on my previous visit two years ago it was good to see other parts which have now been made available for the tour and standing on the stage had once again brought back memories of my own days in local theatre. It’s great to see that hard work and dedication are slowly returning the Winter Gardens to its former glory and I’m looking forward to doing another tour in the not-too-distant future.
Autumn at Bridgewater Garden
Taking advantage of a sunny blue sky morning in mid October I set off just after 10am for a second visit to Bridgewater Garden. Now this place is only ten miles from home but as I approached my turn-off from the motorway the sun disappeared and the whole area became shrouded in a thick mist. It wasn’t looking good for my garden visit but as I’d already booked and paid online going back home wasn’t an option so I decided to have a wander round the gift shop and hope that the mist would soon clear and let the sun come through.
Eventually the sun started to cut through the mist and it lifted enough for me to venture out so I headed across Victoria Meadow, an area I hadn’t been to on my previous visit, and by the time I’d got to the far end the mist had almost gone. The path across the meadow took me into the woodland at the unrestored eastern end of Ellesmere Lake and among the trees I came across the remains of a small folly on what would once have been an island in the lake.
The path took me round the far side of the lake and along past what had once been a landscaped formal terraced garden in the heyday of Worsley New Hall, now looking rather unkempt and overgrown but awaiting development by the RHS. Past the Chinese Garden the main path led me to the Old Frameyard with its large new glasshouse and beds of oddly shaped hydrangeas and from there I made my way to what has now become my favourite part of the whole place, the Paradise Garden.
The walled garden itself isn’t a place to follow any sort of planned route as there are so many paths leading off other paths and so many different sections to see so I just wandered leisurely around from one area to another, even doubling back on myself a couple of times, until I decided I’d seen just about everything there was to see. As I made my way back to the Welcome Building my last shot was the clear view over Moon Bridge Water, looking vastly different to my very misty first shot of earlier on.
Although mid October showed that many of the flowers and shrubs in the walled garden had been past their best there was still a lot of colour around and the autumn hues here and there had added to it, making for a very enjoyable second visit. I probably won’t go there during the winter months but I’m already looking forward to making a third visit next spring and hopefully getting another batch of good photos.
Autumn at Gresgarth Hall
The second Sunday of this month saw me revisiting Gresgarth Hall garden near Caton village. Having been there for the first time in August and been very impressed I was curious to know what it would look like now the seasons had changed. Several parts of the garden had undergone some subtle but still obvious changes in the planting and the features and though the trees didn’t have as much autumn colour as I’d hoped – maybe it was still a little early in the month – there was still enough to make a difference.
Another difference was in the number of visitors – I arrived soon after 12 noon and though I’d noticed plenty of cars in the car park there didn’t seem to be too many people around the garden. In August there had been a lot of visitors and photography was often frustrating but with fewer visitors this time I was able to take my photos without having to wait for someone to move out of the way. And I make no apologies for the number of flower close-ups and shots of the lake and the house from different parts of the garden – this place is far too nice not to go mad with the camera.
Across the Chinese Bridge and away from the main part of the garden I took a wander along the hillside above the river and in various grassy clearings among the trees I came across a few quirky features. A large stone urn on a pedestal, a statue, something which could once have been a sundial, and there was even a gravestone for ”Leo, 2003-2019” who I presume was the family dog.
In one of the garden rooms the low level foliage had been trimmed back to make the swirly mosaics on the path look more prominent, a couple of pyramid shaped bushes had appeared since my previous visit and round a corner I came across a benign looking lion which I hadn’t seen before, while the two roaring lions by the lakeside were more easily visible.
At £12.50 the entrance fee for the garden isn’t exactly cheap but for me at least it’s worth it for the photo opportunities it provides. It’s a beautiful place, and since this visit I’ve found out that there are still some features I haven’t yet seen so I’m already looking forward to making a third visit next spring.
Another day, another garden – Gresgarth Hall
More glorious weather last weekend was just too good to waste so on the Sunday morning I headed off up the M6 to Gresgarth Hall and its garden just outside the Lancashire village of Caton. Gresgarth Hall is home to landscape designer Lady Arabella Lennox-Boyd and her husband Mark and the private garden is only open one Sunday each month between February and November. I’d only found out about it a couple of days previously and with the next open day being due it was a good opportunity for a few hours out.
Gresgarth Hall was originally founded around 1330, constructed as a fortified residence by Agnes and John Curwen. Successive generations of the Curwen family owned the Hall for the next 300 years then when the last Curwen died in 1633 the estate passed to the Morley family who eventually sold to the Girlingtons. The look of the house changed several times over the years, with the greatest change occurring between 1805 and 1810 when it was extensively remodelled and enlarged, softening its defensive characteristics and providing its current Gothic appearance. It then passed through several owners over the years until the late 20th century when the current owners purchased the estate in 1978, then after renovating the house Arabella Lennox-Boyd began designing the garden in 1980, developing it over the following years into that which can be seen today.
The name ‘Gresgarth’ is apparently Norse for ‘enclosure of wild boar’ and the sculpture of a wild boar greeted me on the formal lawn in front of the house – it was huge and it was ugly and not the sort of thing I would want to encounter on a dark night. From the front lawn box hedging bisected by several paths divided a large area into different garden rooms with a variety of beds and pretty herbaceous borders, and set in some of the paths were several cobble mosaic designs by Lancaster artist Maggie Howarth.
My wanderings eventually took me to the side of the lake and from there a path led up to the enclosed kitchen garden where an arched door set in the wall immediately made me think of the book and film The Secret Garden. More cobbled mosaics were set into the paths and against one wall was a stone seat with a carved panel set in the back of it although there was no information to say what, if anything, it represented.
A path from the back of the kitchen garden took me past some outbuildings to a ford across Artle Beck, a tributary of the River Lune, and though there were plenty of rocks around there was no way I could have got across without getting wet feet so I wandered down the path past the far side of the lake and crossed the river via the Chinese style bridge. Wavy box hedging lined both sides of a grassy avenue and at the end was rather a strange sculpture – or maybe it was a large lump of stone balanced on top of a smaller one, though there was nothing to say what it was supposed to be.
Back towards the bridge and in the shrubbery not far from the end a movement caught my eye and there, only just visible, was a young robin. It seemed quite happy to have its photo taken and sat there for several minutes while I took a few shots of it. Back across the bridge steps on the right took me down to a small but very pretty rear garden with a trellised and rose covered arbour overlooking the river, though I could only go so far before the garden itself became private.
Round the side of the house and overlooking the lake was a very pleasant terraced patio area with the lower level right by the water. A small dinghy, apparently much-photographed, floated at the water’s edge and two huge stone roaring lions lay within the colourful foliage though I had to walk quite a distance back round the lake before I could actually see them properly and take a couple of zoom shots.
At around 12 acres this garden is only just over the size of the walled garden at Bridgewater which I visited the week before but the two couldn’t be more diverse. At Gresgarth formal and informal planting blend seamlessly together with soft lines and curves and there are so many lovely areas and winding paths to explore in such a relatively small area. Although I knew I hadn’t seen everything the garden had to offer I decided after two hours that I’d had enough – it was a very hot day and with too many people around photography sometimes proved to be a bit frustrating but I loved the garden itself and as I drove away I knew I would be making another visit in the not-too-distant future.
A visit to Bridgewater Garden
Last weekend, wanting to go somewhere different but not too far away, I decided to visit the RHS Bridgewater Garden, a relatively easy 10-mile drive from home and somewhere I’d never previously been to. Developed on the site of the former Worsley New Hall and its lost historic grounds Bridgewater is the RHS’s fifth garden, and being under the impression that it had been established quite some time ago I was surprised when I later learned that it only started to be developed five years ago.
The history of Worsley New Hall dates back to the 19th century when it was built for Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Ellesmere. Replacing an earlier classical-style building from the 1760s the New Hall was designed by architect Edward Blore, with the foundations being started in 1839 and the first stone laid in April 1840. An Elizabethan Gothic-style mansion, the building was completed by 1846 at a cost of just under £100,000, the equivalent of £6.7million today; the earlier building was demolished between December 1844 and August 1845 and a section of what is now the A572 runs over the former site of it.
Just as grand as the house, the magnificent gardens were landscaped over a 50-year period with landscape designer William Andrews Nesfield, one of the most sought-after of his profession at the time, being involved in the project from 1846. Over the years the sloping grounds to the south of the hall were developed into a formal terraced garden set off with ornate fountains and accessed by a series of steps and gravel paths, while beyond the terraces landscaped parkland extended to a lake with an island which was reached by a footbridge.
Worsley New Hall was visited by Queen Victoria twice, first in 1851 and again in 1857. For her first visit the Queen and her party travelled from Patricroft station to the Hall via the Bridgewater Canal on a Royal Barge commissioned by the Earl of Ellesmere, with a landing stage being specially built on the canal bank, and in honour of her visit the canal water was dyed blue. On her second visit, after attending an Art Treasures exhibition in Manchester, she planted a North American giant redwood tree in the Hall’s lawn in memory of the Duke of Wellington but sadly the redwood didn’t grow well in the British climate. In 1869 Edward, Prince of Wales, and Princess Alexandra visited the Hall then forty years later, after opening the Manchester Royal Infirmary, they made a second visit to inspect the Territorial Army’s East Lancashire division in the grounds of the Hall south of the Bridgewater Canal.
During the first World War John Egerton, 4th Earl of Ellesmere, lent Worsley New Hall to the British Red Cross and it became a hospital for injured soldiers. The grand spacious rooms were used as wards, food was provided by the kitchen gardens and the terraced gardens and parkland were used for recreation. The hospital closed in 1919 and the building was left unoccupied then in 1920, after incurring various death duties, the 4th Earl started auctioning off various items of furniture and fittings. Paintings and further items of furniture were relocated to other properties also owned by the Earl and the Hall’s library and surplus furniture were sold at auction in April 1921.
In 1923 the Worsley estate including the New Hall was sold to Bridgewater Estates Limited, a group of Lancashire businessmen, for £3.3 million. Several attempts were made by them to sell the property during the later 1920s and the early 1930s but sadly these all came to nothing and the Hall continued to lie empty, slipping slowly into decline. With the advent of World War II the War Office requisitioned parts of the building and the grounds and during 1939 and 1940 the site was occupied by the 2nd and 8th Battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers, with around 100 troops based there. In 1941 and 1942 the 42nd and 45th County of Lancaster Home Guard Battalions used the site, constructing storehouses for explosives in the grounds, while the lake and other parts of the grounds became Middlewood Scout Camp.
Sadly the existence of Worsley New Hall was soon to come to an end. Already weakened by dry rot and subsidence and damaged during the military occupation a fire in September 1943 badly damaged the top floor of the building, leading to calls for tenders to demolish it. Finally in 1944 it was sold to a scrap merchant for £2,500; demolition started in 1946 and by 1949 the hall had been razed to ground level, with debris used to fill in the basements. A footbridge which connected the New Hall with Worsley Old Hall estate at the far side of the road was demolished at the same time and 800 tonnes of stone from the New Hall was taken to be used in the construction of council houses in Southfield, Yorkshire.
In 1951 the War Office once again requisitioned part of the New Hall site and built a reinforced concrete bunker as an Anti-Aircraft Operations Room, along with two anti-aircraft radar masts, then in 1956 they actually purchased the site of the bunker and it was used by the Royal Navy as a food store. In 1961 it was sold to Salford Corporation and was used by both them and Lancashire County Council as a control centre then seven years later ownership passed to the Greater Manchester Fire Service who eventually leased it to a local gun club as a shooting range in 1985.
With the exception of the bunker the site of Worsley New Hall and its gardens remained in the ownership of Bridgewater Estates Ltd throughout the years until 1984 when the company was acquired by Peel Holdings, a property and investment group. Over the following years various ideas were put forward for the regeneration of the site but nothing ever came of them, then in 2011 an archaeological excavation of the site, funded by Peel and carried out by the University of Salford, revealed that some of the basement of the mansion and its foundations were still in existence.
In October 2015 it was announced that the Royal Horticultural Society would renovate the New Hall’s 154-acre garden and work started during the 2016/17 winter. Plans included the restoration of any remaining historic features, the reconstruction of the walled garden and the creation of completely new and contemporary features, with an eco-friendly light and airy Welcome Building housing a reception area, cafe, gift shop and attached garden centre, and Bridgewater Garden finally opened to the public on May 8th 2021.
A weekend afternoon and good weather meant that the place was very busy so my first port of call which seemed to have less people around was the Welcome Garden with its pleasant paths meandering round large informally planted areas close to a nearby lake, although I couldn’t get close enough to the water to take a decent photo. A well mown path past the lake led across a tree lined meadow but seemed to go on for quite a distance so I took a left and followed a path winding gently uphill through the Chinese Streamside Garden. On the rail of the bridge at the top I found a dragonfly sunning itself, it seemed to like having its photo taken as it stayed there for ages and never moved.
From the bridge steps and another path took me up past the Chinese Water Garden to Ellesmere Lake and though I could have walked all the way round I passed on that in favour of finding the more interesting parts of the garden. A long straight path led through Lower Middle Wood to the large events marquee and picnic area and halfway along I came to a very unusual exhibit in a glass case, Queen Cotton Fairy’s Crown.
In the 19th century and throughout Queen Victoria’s reign the production of cotton was instrumental in the rapid growth of Manchester as a city and the Cotton Fairy’s Crown is loosely based on the design of Victoria’s imperial state crown. Unfortunately there was no information on when this exhibit was made or who made it – looking at the crown itself and the state of the case it looks old, probably made around the time of Victoria’s visits to Worsley New Hall, but so far I’ve been unable to find out anything about it.
From the events marquee a long straight path led to the 11-acre walled garden and in the outer part were the original potting sheds, now used as an exhibition space, and The Bothy, the cottage where apprentice gardeners once lived and now repurposed for horticultural staff, while next to the cottage was the tall chimney which was once part of the heating system for the glasshouses which were nearby. Along the path was an enclosure with a few rare breed chickens then from there I went to explore the walled garden proper.
A section of one of the outer walls had been utilised as a backdrop to a handful of separate tiny gardens each with a different theme and my favourite of these was the Windrush Garden, a re-imagined tropical garden designed to cope with an unpredictable climate and the challenges of a shady inner city backyard. Inspired by stories of sunny days in Jamaica the design reflects the resilience of the Windrush generation who, having moved to the UK from the Caribbean, could start a new chapter of their lives while still retaining a sense of ‘back home’
The walled garden itself is one of the largest in the UK and at 11 acres is approximately the same size as the Chelsea Flower Show site. The inner walled garden is divided by a central wall into two halves, with the Paradise Garden occupying one half and the Kitchen Garden the other, and these are surrounded by a series of connecting gardens which are enclosed by a lower-level outer wall. With so many paths and ‘gardens within gardens’ it was easy to lose track of where I’d been and more than once, just when I thought I’d seen everything, I found another bit I hadn’t seen.
The layout of the kitchen garden’s pathways and beds was inspired by a network of local underground waterways starting in Worsley. The two Chelsea gold medal-winning designers discovered maps and drawings of these waterways dating back to the Industrial Revolution and overlaid these with an Ordnance Survey map of the area to create the garden’s layout. Water itself also features in the garden with four raised rectangular ‘infinity’ pools among the flower beds.
The contemporary Paradise Garden takes inspiration from the traditional paradise gardens of many years ago, cleverly blending Mediterranean, Asiatic and American plant species and with water as its key feature. At the heart of the garden is a 70sq metre lily pond fed by two shallow channels running east to west and with a smaller pond and fountain at each end.
Heading towards the exit my route took me past part of the Welcome Garden and the exit itself led onto a pleasant terrace overlooking Moon Bridge Water and with an outdoor seating area for the cafe. I did think about treating myself to cake and a drink until I saw the over-the-top prices – £4 for a small cupcake and £2 for a can of Coke is just ridiculous – so I gave up on that idea and waited until I got back home.
Aside from the cafe prices and the ridiculously expensive gift shop I was very impressed with Bridgewater Garden. There are other areas to explore yet so I’ll certainly make a return visit, especially as it’s not too far from home, though next time I’ll be taking a picnic.
Bazil Point and Sunderland village
Some lovely weekend weather just recently gave me the opportunity to head off to the village of Overton on the Lune estuary for a walk round Bazil Point, a place I hadn’t previously been to. Turning off the main road leading to Heysham port I took a minor road running alongside the river and I hadn’t gone very far when I spotted a dead cat at the side of the road. Now I hate to see road kill of any sort, especially someone’s pet, but with no houses in the vicinity there was no clue where the cat could have come from, anyway I wasn’t going to leave it there to possibly get squashed so I stopped the van and went back to deal with it, picking it up and laying it gently in the long grass under a nearby tree.
A mile or so along the road I passed half a dozen ponies grazing by the riverside then came to a small and very pleasant looking residential static caravan park and the Golden Ball Hotel, also known as Snatchems. Closed two years ago at the start of the pandemic, surrounded by steel barriers and overgrown gardens, the place looked a bit of a mess but chatting to a lady from the caravan park who was walking her dog I was told that it’s due to re-open in a couple of months time.
A pleasant 3-mile drive round the country lanes took me to Overton where I parked not far from what would be the end of my route round Bazil Point then walked through the village to my starting point near to St. Helen’s Church. Across the street from the church and just by a garden gate was a stall with a few plants and various hand crafted items on display along with a price list and honesty box, though as the street was a bit ‘out of the way’ I did wonder if whoever lived there actually ever sold anything. Also on top of a nearby gate post was a rather strange looking dragon/goblin/hobbit thing which seemed to be either sucking its thumb or trying to decide what to do next.
A gravel lane led from the street corner and past a handful of bungalows to a farm track across a vast field and at the far end I came to the first gate of the walk, with a narrow path leading between high hedgerows to a second gate and a bench overlooking the estuary and Glasson Dock across the far side. I don’t know who Butler was but there was certainly a good view from his bench and it was from there that I spotted a heron out on a sandbank.
A bit further on I came to a small stone-built shed tucked into the surrounding trees; a bit of an odd place for a garden shed but maybe it was used to store kayaks or something similar. Just past the shed was the washed up remains of a huge tree stump, though looking at the calm waters of the estuary with the tide already receding it was hard to imagine the water coming up so close to the boundary wall and tree line, but it obviously does as not far away huge boulders were piled up against the land to prevent tidal erosion.
Round the end of the point the stony/rocky ground gave way to grass and there was a good view across the mouth of a nearby creek and the marshes to Heysham power station in the distance. Eventually the path turned slightly inland and took me through the last named gate onto a raised bank with a view across the fields to the outskirts of Overton village.
Curving round above the marshes the path brought me to a stile which, with two dogs, proved to be a difficult one to negotiate. Poppie wanted to go under it while Snowy was trying to climb up and through the middle of it, and I’ve long since come to the conclusion that the people who build these things don’t consider those with shorter legs. We got there eventually though and the path dropped back down to the edge of the marsh where, in the rough scrub just in front of me I saw a peacock butterfly which stayed still just long enough for me to snap a quick photo.
From there the path followed the edge of the marsh for quite a distance, gradually widening out and ending in a small parking area set back near the beginning of the tidal road to Sunderland Point and village. Not far away was the larger parking area where I’d left the van and a nearby sign gave a clear pictorial warning to anyone not aware of the tide times but the water had been receding for a while and I’d already noticed a couple of cars crossing the causeway so I knew it would be safe for me to drive over to the village.
Not far along the road I was happy to see that the next warning sign was completely free of water although some sections of the narrow causeway were very muddy, and with not many passing places I was just hoping I wouldn’t meet something coming the other way. I reached the far end with no problems though and found another warning sign which was a variation of the first one. I couldn’t remember having seen either of them before and talking to one of the locals it seems that they had been installed since my previous visit in an effort to reduce the number of people needing to be rescued after getting themselves and/or their vehicles stranded by the tide.
Walking along First Terrace something white out in the estuary caught my eye and when I zoomed in with the camera I saw it was an egret stalking along through the shallows, presumably looking for his lunch. At the end of the terrace I turned up The Lane and followed the fragrant scent of the hawthorn hedges along the path to Sambo’s grave then retraced my steps for a walk along Second Terrace to Sunderland Hall at the end before making my way back along the beach to the van.
By this time I was feeling more than a little peckish and as there’s no shop in the village or in Overton I drove the three miles round the country lanes to Middleton Sands where I parked up on the edge of the salt marsh and got myself a sandwich, chocolate bar and can of Coke from the shop in the nearby caravan site. This was the coastal side of the Sunderland peninsula with the village itself just over a mile away along the marsh; out at the water’s edge and quite a distance away a family of four were playing with a dog and the sun shining from that direction made them look like silhouettes against the background of a silvery sea.
After all my walking it was nice just to sit in the van with my ‘picnic’ and chill for a while, in fact I stayed far longer than I intended but eventually it was time to head for home. Driving back round the country lanes I made another brief stop near the Golden Ball Hotel and my final two shots were of the river with a much reduced water level than when I was there earlier in the day.
The walk round Bazil Point at Overton had shown me some scenery and views which I hadn’t previously seen and it’s a walk I may very well do again sometime. It had been nice to revisit Sunderland village too and the pleasant drive home in the late afternoon sunshine just ended the day nicely.
A snowdrop promise
Three days ago, on Wednesday, it was the second anniversary of losing my faithful little friend Sophie, almost five weeks on from a stroke she suffered soon after New Year 2020. I’d nursed her almost 24/7 and promised her that when she was feeling better we would go to Lytham Hall to see the snowdrops but sadly it wasn’t to be. She closed her eyes to life and slipped quietly away on February 9th 2020 and I was heartbroken, sad too that she never got to see the snowdrops.
Sophie was buried in a sheltered corner of my garden and I made another promise, a silent one this time, that I would plant some snowdrops in her little patch just as soon as I could. Unfortunately most of that month was extremely wet so it was March when I finally got to Lytham Hall, but by then the snowdrops were almost over and there were none for sale in the small courtyard garden hub either.
Circumstances beyond everyone’s control meant that the Hall and its grounds were closed to the public for the early part of 2021 so I couldn’t do the snowdrop walk that year, but with things now finally getting back to some sort of normality I took myself, Snowy and Poppie to Lytham Hall on Wednesday to see if I could fulfill my silent promise.
After almost three weeks of what seemed like incessant rain and two named storms it was a lovely day – blue sky, sunshine, no wind and not too chilly, perfect for doing the snowdrop walk round the Lytham Hall grounds, however I’d not been there long when the sky clouded over and the sun disappeared. Fortunately it didn’t last too long and once the clouds cleared away again the rest of the day was glorious.
Dotted around the grounds were several picture frames in strategic locations, placed in such a way that they could be used to frame a shot and get the best photo of a particular view. I hadn’t really bothered with them on my first visit three years ago as it was a weekend and there were too many people around but now mid week the place was quieter and I was able to utilise each frame without feeling rushed.
Although an ‘official’ route round the grounds was marked out by discreet arrows I preferred to find my own way round and my wanderings took me to the Lily Pond, a small lake in the woodland. I’d been round there two years ago in search of a ruined boat house which could have been quite photogenic, only to find it was more ruined than I expected and seemed to be undergoing some restoration. Unfortunately the intervening two years don’t seem to have produced any work and the boat house now looks in a worse condition than before.
Next was a walk round the fishing lake known as Curtains Pond, used and maintained by a private angling club. Thought to have been created in the 17th century when earth was excavated to build the high mound known as The Mount it was once used by the Clifton family as a water supply, and it’s reputed that John Talbot Clifton, who lived at the Hall in the late 19th and early 20th century, would often throw things in there in fits of temper. The Mount is the highest point in Lytham and once provided a viewing point to the sea and to the 3-mile gallop in the parkland where the Clifton family raced their horses.
Separating the woodland from the formal garden and lawns is the Paradise Wall with several buttresses on the garden side. Dating back to the late 17th century it was originally known as the Monks Wall due to the fact that in the Middle Ages there was a Benedictine Priory on the site, but since the 18th century it’s been known as the Paradise Wall.
The Dovecote was built in the mid 18th century and is now a Grade ll listed building in need of renovation. There are 850 nesting boxes built into the walls and these would have been accessible to the gamekeeper via a revolving ladder suspended from a gallows arm projecting from a central rotating post which in turn pivots on a pad stone. It’s a pity the building isn’t accessible to the public as I’d love to see this thing working.