A discovery walk at St. Annes

This week’s Monday walk features a place I was never aware of until someone at work told me about it just a few days ago. Yesterday was the first of Michael’s days off work and though the morning started off rather dull it had brightened up considerably by early lunchtime so we decided to drive over to the coast for a mooch and a meal. Leaving the van in the car park of our usual cafe at St. Annes we went for a coffee first then Michael went off to mooch round on his own while I took Sophie and Poppie on my discovery walk.
Ashton Gardens are located just a couple of streets behind the promenade and right on the edge of the town centre. Originally a rectangular plot of land the gardens were established in 1874 by the Land and Building Company and were named St. Georges Gardens ; they remained unchanged until 1914 when Lord Ashton gave a donation to acquire the gardens and an adjacent strip of land for the people of St. Annes. Later that year the council ran a competition to redesign the gardens, it was won by a local man and the gardens were redesigned to incorporate a greater diversity of spaces, although the original undulating nature of the land was retained. Renamed Ashton Gardens in honour of Lord Ashton they were formally opened on July 1st 1916 ; in 2010 a major refurbishment was undertaken thanks to a grant of almost £1.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund plus additional funding from other sources.
My walk started at the main entrance closest to the town centre and right from the start I found something to photograph. Turning right just inside the gates a short path and a few stone steps took me down to a couple of bowling greens where various games of bowls were in progress, then beyond the second green and down a few more steps I came to what appeared to be a rose garden. Although nothing was actually in flower I can imagine it would be really lovely when everything is blooming.
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St. Georges Road entrance and Pavilion Cafe
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The rose garden
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Beyond the rose garden, and lying in undulating ground, were two ponds connected by a narrow meandering waterway which was crossed at various points by stepping stones and a hump-back bridge, and sitting on top of a small island of rocks in the middle of the smaller pond was a young seagull who obligingly stayed put while I took his photo. Even with the still-bare trees this place was delightful and I got far too many photos to put them all on here.
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Back towards the centre of the park was a circular sunken garden, and though some of the flower beds were still bare or very sparsely planted the others were full of deep purple hyacinths which gave off the most gorgeous perfume. In the centre of the wide main pathway was the war memorial – and it was so impressive and so movingly detailed that it really deserves a post of its own. At the end of the pathway I came to the second main entrance with its fancy double gates and with a final shot of the modern crest set in one of the gates I left Ashton Gardens and made my way to meet Michael back at the cafe.
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The sunken garden
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Sunken garden, pavilion cafe and war memorial
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Looking up the main path from the gates
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Across the road from the entrance to the gardens some building work was in progress on a large corner plot ; according to the hoarding all round it the new building was going to be an apart-hotel and pictures showed some of the intended facilities. I couldn’t tell if the place will be dog friendly but one of the pictures showed an adorable little dog snuggled in some bedding – it reminded me very much of a little dog I once looked after on a regular basis, and it looked so cute I just had to get a photo of it.
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Back on the sea front I made my way through the promenade gardens and round by the beach huts to the cafe where Michael was waiting for me at an outside table. Of course no visit to St. Annes would be complete without a walk on the beach so once we’d had our meal we took a short walk along the sand before returning to the van and making our way back home.
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The promenade gardens
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The new ‘Splash’ water play area made from the old model boating pond
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It had been a lovely afternoon out and I’d been very impressed with Ashton Gardens ; I was really glad the guy at work had told me about the place as otherwise I wouldn’t have known about it, but now I do  know I’ll make sure to pay a return visit for some more photos when the leaves are on the trees and hopefully the flower beds will be planted up. And if anyone reading this is ever in that area then do go and have a look round, it’s a lovely little place.
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A snowdrop walk at Lytham Hall

There have been several occasions while driving along the sea front at Lytham that I’ve passed a sign pointing down a side street to ‘Lytham Hall’ though I’ve never actually been there until now. It was on my list of ‘go to’ places for later this year but a few weeks ago I found out that each weekend in February it’s possible to do a ‘snowdrop walk’ round the grounds of the hall and dogs were allowed too, so always on the lookout for photo opportunities I decided to go sometime this month, finally making my trip two days ago. After several days of lovely sunny weather locally there was some cloud mixed in with the sunshine but once I got over the moors near home and could see to Preston and beyond the blue sky was looking very promising so I was looking forward to discovering somewhere new.
The Palladian style Lytham Hall was commissioned in 1752 by Sir Thomas Clifton to replace a previous house which had long been the seat of the Clifton family ; it was designed by the eminent architect John Carr and incorporated parts of the previous 16th century house, the remains of which can still be seen. The house was built between 1757 and 1764 and the successive generations of the Clifton family owned it for two centuries. During WW1 part of it was used as a military hospital, then in 1919 the Clifton family who lived there at the time moved away to Ireland meaning the house became rather neglected. The last surviving member of the Clifton family, a film producer, squandered much of the family’s wealth over the years and in 1963 Lytham Hall was sold to Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance for office accommodation. In 1997 Lytham Town Trust bought the hall and grounds with the help of a donation from BAE Systems and since then it has been in the care of the Heritage Trust for the North West on a 99-year lease.
Although there is plenty of room for parking close to the hall it seemed that on ‘special’ days it was for disabled access only so when I arrived at the main gate I was directed to a car park just across the road. Back at the main gate I paid my £3 entrance fee (all proceeds go to the upkeep of the hall and grounds) and was given a map of the grounds and the route of the snowdrop walk then I was free to wander at will. It was a good ten minutes walk along the driveway from the main entrance past open fields to the parkland surrounding the hall, and the snowdrop walk started just inside the gate.
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Outside the main entrance
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Lytham Hall and parkland from the gate
To start with there were only a few isolated clumps of snowdrops here and there under the trees but as the walk progressed so did the snowdrops, and in many places it was easy to see why they have their name as the ground looked just like it was covered in a blanket of snow. Wooden picture frames on stands were set up at strategic places along the walk to show the best views for taking photos and though I made use of some of them I wandered off the path more than once. At one point, looking through the trees I spotted a lifebelt hanging on a fence – where there was a lifebelt there must be water so I went to take a look and found a nice lake which I was able to walk all the way round.
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Among the snowdrops in the more grassy areas were several clumps of daffodils which added a bit of colour, and a few crocuses were dotted here and there. In a border near the kitchen garden wall I discovered some pretty pink flowers ; there was nothing to say what they were and some of them looked a bit shrivelled but they were worth a photo and I’m sure in due course someone will tell me their name.
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Once I’d seen most of the snowdrop areas I turned my attention to the house and its immediate surroundings. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a full photo of the front of the building as there was a lot of scaffolding erected but I managed to get a shot of the centre part of it and some long distance shots from across the gardens. On the south side of the house was a huge twisted tree with intertwined branches and close by a new enclosed garden had been created, set in the lawns where a car park had once been when the building was offices. Across the lawns was The Mount, a high earthen mound which has been situated there since at least the 18th century ; recent work on the gardens has included the installation of steps and a sloping pathway up to the top of The Mount to give a good view over to the house and surrounding parkland.
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The dovecote
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The parkland viewed from the north side
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The centre front of the house
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A weather-beaten friendly-faced lion guarding the door
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The twisted tree
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View from The Mount
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The south facade and Paradise Garden
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Paradise Garden and parkland
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The final photo
While I’d been wandering round the weather had got better and better and it was more like a summer’s day than mid February so not wanting to cut the day short when I left the hall I drove right along the sea front to my favourite cafe by the beach at St. Annes, where I had two mugs of their delicious milky coffee, then after a short dog walk along the beach I set off for home. The weather was still glorious when I left Lytham behind but as I got to the outskirts of Preston the sky had started to cloud over and when I got closer to home it was really dull and grey, vastly different to when I’d set out a few hours before. I didn’t mind too much though – I’d had my day out, the dogs got a good walk, and I’d got some good photos of somewhere I’d never been before so I was more than happy. And now having finally been to Lytham Hall I can say that I’ll certainly be making a return visit later in the year.

Visiting the museum (3) – Natural History & aquarium

Bolton’s past industrial heritage has had a very strong influence on the town and its people over the years and the ground floor of the main gallery was dedicated to various aspects of local history. Just inside the wide entrance Samuel Crompton’s original Spinning Mule was enclosed in a very large modern glass exhibition case but there were so many light reflections showing up that I couldn’t get a decent shot of it from any angle. Although the gallery has been modernised to a certain extent it still retains many of its older features and it looked so attractive that at first I was more intent on photographing my surroundings rather than studying the exhibits.
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Main gallery, ground floor
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African elephant viewed from below
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American brown bear, donated by Manchester Museum
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Common shrew
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Harvest mouse
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Kiwi
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A colourful bird collection
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I could have spent much longer in the natural history section than I actually did but there was another part I wanted to see and mindful of the time I made my way out through the museum shop and down the second staircase which, like the one I went up, was lined with various paintings on one wall. I remember being taken to the museum by my parents when I was a child and just for fun I would run down one set of stairs while they went down the stairs at the other side and we would meet at the bottom – it was a race to see who could get there first and somehow I always seemed to win.
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The bright and attractive museum shop
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Going down…
Down in the basement of the building was the aquarium – completely separate from the museum it originally opened in 1941, six years before the museum itself, and though the decor and the lighting have been changed over time the layout is the same now as it was back then. At one time the fish collections were limited to British species only, including salmon, pike and trout, but this has changed over the years and the aquarium now has collections from several different countries.
Bolton aquarium
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Nile Tilapia from Egypt
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Piranha from the Amazon
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Stingray from Brazil
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Suckermouth catfish from Brazil
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Lake Kurina Rainbow Fish from Papua New Guinea
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Lake Malawi Chichlids from Africa
Those were to be my last photos of the afternoon, time was getting on and I didn’t want to be late back at the car park. After all these years of not going to the museum my visit had proved to be extremely interesting ; I’d been very impressed with the general refurbishment, the Egyptian galleries and the natural history section and I’d got some good photos too, so maybe on a rainy day when it’s too wet to do a dog walk I’ll make a return visit to see what I missed this time.

Visiting the museum (2) – History, art & textiles

Bolton’s Central Museum hasn’t always been situated where it is now. Back in 1876 Samuel Taylor Chadwick, a wealthy local doctor, left a bequest of £5,000 to Bolton Corporation for the building, furnishing and maintenance of a Museum of Natural History in Bolton Park, which was later renamed Queen’s Park. The bequest came with the conditions that the building must be erected within four years and entry to the museum would be free for everyone. Building work began in 1878 and the Chadwick Museum finally opened in June 1884, with its first curators being father and son William and Thomas Midgley who expanded the museum’s varied collections during their many years there.
By the 1930s it was recognised that the Chadwick building was too small to continue housing the museum’s growing collections so work began on fitting out a larger museum in the current town centre building ; unfortunately the outbreak of WW2 interrupted the works so the new museum didn’t open until October 1947. With the Chadwick building lying empty it fell into a state of decline and eventually the local council decided that the cost of repair and renovation would be too great, so after 73 years service to the town the building was finally demolished in 1956.
The room next to the Egyptian gallery was reminiscent of the old Chadwick Museum, and with a mock-up of the front of the old building and embroidered portraits of its founder and curators on the walls it told the story of the museum’s beginnings and early years.
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A doorway on the right led into the art gallery, and though there were some older paintings on the walls a lot of the ‘art’ was modern stuff. It was very colourful though and I did quite like a painting of ‘four amaryllis in pots’ by someone-I’ve-never-heard-of although most of the other modern stuff didn’t impress me at all. From there I moved on to the textile collection which is one of the largest in the country, though I really only had eyes for some of the bright coloured fabrics on display.
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The textile gallery
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From the textile gallery I moved on to the large main gallery where the upper floor was dedicated to the natural history section with its many displays of animals, birds and sea life from the UK and other countries, but I took so many photos in there that section will have to feature in another post.
To be continued….

Visiting the museum (1) – Elephants & Egypt

As I needed to go into town a couple of days ago I decided to take a look round the central museum while I was there. As museums aren’t exactly on my list of ‘things to go and see’ it’s been many years since I was last in there, however the place recently underwent an almost 2-year refurbishment programme, re-opening last September, and since then more than one person has told me how nice it is now so I thought I should go and take a look. Walking from the car park I first came to the town’s elephants set in a small square a hundred yards or so from the museum. Elephants have been associated with the town since as far back as 1799 and there’s one on the local coat of arms ; the coloured ones were named by local youngsters in a competition.
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In the museum building a curving stone staircase went up from each side of the wide entrance hall, and while those staircases were just as they were when I was a child the museum itself was vastly different. At the top of the stairs was the museum shop and through there was a bright atrium with the various galleries leading off it. I’d been told that the new Egypt gallery was quite exceptional and I wouldn’t disagree – with five rooms leading into each other, bright wall murals, hundreds of artefacts on display and even a full-size walk-through reproduction of a burial chamber it was a great place to wander round.
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Going up….
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I didn’t expect to see this at the top of the stairs!
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The Egypt gallery
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A bright wall mural
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Copy of the Rosetta Stone
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The mummified body of a 3-year old girl
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“The Unknown Man” acquired by the museum in the 1930s and believed to be a son of Rameses ll or Rameses the Great
The “Unknown Man” actually reposes in a woman’s coffin although no-one knows how he came to be in it, but before he was donated to the museum he had been used as a feature in a lady’s drawing room although it’s not known how she came to acquire him. In 1932 the Boris Karloff horror film The Mummy was produced, followed by other films of the same type, so it’s thought that maybe these films influenced the lady’s decision to donate the “Unknown Man” to the museum.
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Original stonework from the tomb of Pharoah Thutmose lll who reigned from 1425 to 1479 BC
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The Egypt gallery was so varied and interesting that it would have taken me a long while to read all the information available and look properly at all the items on display but I didn’t want to overstay my time on the car park so once I’d taken as many photos as I could reasonably get I moved on to the next section of the museum.
To be continued….

2018 – Looking back

As 2018 draws to a close I thought I would recall just some of the events which have featured in my life and on this blog over the last twelve months. On January 3rd, after making an official complaint at the local hospital three weeks previously about the apparent misdiagnosis and lack of proper treatment of his broken ankle, Michael finally got to see the relevant specialist and was put on the emergency list for an operation asap. That took place just three days later when he had a bone graft and a plate and a couple of screws inserted to bring the broken bits together, followed by six weeks in plaster. His recovery was long, and certainly very painful in the early stages, but he finally went back to work ten-and-a-half months after he first broke the ankle.
Early February saw me succumbing to the much-talked-about-at-the-time Aussie flu virus and taking two weeks off work ; it was the first time in my life I’ve ever had flu of any sort and I’d never felt so ill before. The up side though, if you can call it that, was the opportunity to catch up on some reading and I got through several books in the time I was off work. Late in the month my washing machine gave up the ghost and after trying in vain to get someone to repair it I ended up getting a second-hand-but-almost-new one from a local shop ; it was in absolutely mint condition and is still working well. After several weeks of wet and often cold weather the last few days of February turned out dry and gloriously sunny so the end of the month saw me taking the dogs for a walk along one of my favourite routes through a local golf course and the Last Drop Village. It was a very pleasant and enjoyable walk and just rounded off the month nicely.
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The golf course pond
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The Last Drop Village
Early March saw the return of the sparrows which, the year before, had taken to perching on the outside window sill of the spare bedroom. I hadn’t expected them to come back so it was lovely to look through the glass and see them less than 3ft from where I sit when using my pc. In mid March, after several months of searching on the internet and in various camping stores, I finally ordered a new tent to replace my much-loved previous one which had sustained an irreparable tear in its roof the previous year. It wasn’t quite the same as my old one but it was near enough, it satisfied all my criteria and came at a good price with free delivery so I was more than happy. One evening late in the month saw part of my street turned into a river when a main water pipe burst and sent a substantial amount of water flooding across the road – it took two days for United Utilities to fix the problem but not before many gallons of fresh water had gone to waste down the drains. The end of the month saw the start of the Easter weekend and my 4-day break in North Wales, a break which wasn’t the best for many reasons and one in which the word ‘break’ could be taken literally.
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One of my feathered friends down in the garden
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My new tent
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A river in the street
The month of April certainly didn’t get off to a very good start for me. It rained on and off for most of the Easter weekend and put the kibosh on many of my plans, and on the Monday I woke to find that during an unexpected overnight snow shower which had turned to ice my brand new tent had collapsed on top of my belongings ; two of the three poles had broken completely and the end where I would have been sleeping had been totally flattened – thank goodness the dogs and I had been in the van. Fortunately the two broken poles were the only damages my new tent suffered and back at home a few days later I took them to my nearest camping store to get the broken sections replaced. The rest of April passed fairly uneventfully with the only other highlight being a visit to the animal sanctuary spring open day later in the month, and with Michael still being off work he came too – the first time he’d ever been there and he quite enjoyed it.
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My brand new tent – what a disaster!
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Disney at Bleakholt sanctuary
The beginning of May saw Michael finally going back to work on a phased return just over ten months since he first broke his ankle in June last year. It also saw a dramatic change in the weather with the rain of the previous months gone and the start of what was to be a very long and very hot summer. The first bank holiday weekend of the month saw me suggesting (very unwisely) that we go to a car boot sale on the Sunday and then on to St. Annes – the weather was extremely warm, the world and his wife were out on the roads and we ended up getting stuck in nose-to-tail traffic, going miles out of our way and missing the car boot sale completely. It took ages to find somewhere to park at St. Annes but once we did we had a very enjoyable afternoon with a good meal and a couple of dog walks along the beach. On the middle Saturday of the month I went to Hornby Castle gardens, somewhere I’d never been before and where I got some lovely photos, then the following day I managed to burn my foot with scalding water from a recently-boiled kettle. Silicone dressings prescribed by the doctor helped to ease the pain and promote healing, and after resting it as much as possible for a week I couldn’t ignore the continuing good weather any longer so the final weekend of the month saw me taking the dogs for a local walk to Smithills Hall and gardens.
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St. Annes promenade gardens
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The walled garden at Hornby Castle
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Smithills Hall gardens
My planned 11-day holiday on Anglesey at the beginning of June was shortened by several days due to circumstances beyond my control but I managed to get six days out of the eleven and with the continuing good weather I really made the most of them by exploring as many places as I could in the time that I had. The highlight of the week just had to be finding and photographing the old abandoned brick works at Porth Wen – it was difficult to get to and involved a long walk with a couple of hairy moments but it was an amazing place and well worth the effort for the photos I got. The rest of the month was fairly uneventful but then the 28th saw the start of a wildfire up on the moors not far from home, a fire which would eventually cover more than five square miles, mean the closure of several local roads including the one running past the end of my street, and would involve more than 30 fire crews while it was at it worst.
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Porth Wen old brick works
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Porth Wen sea arch
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Part of the Winter Hill fire on the west side
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Part of the fire on the east side
At the start of July Michael and I had a lovely day out in Southport then for his birthday in the middle of the month he went over to Ireland for a few days, where he encountered a coach driver who didn’t know the route from Dublin airport to Roscrea and had to be directed a couple of times. The highlight of the month though just had to be the tour of the new outdoor Coronation Street tv set ; with great weather, a very knowledgeable tour guide and the freedom to take as many photos as we wanted it was a great tour and one I would certainly do again.
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Southport promenade
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Lord Street gardens, Southport
Rovers return
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Our official photo
Although most of the Winter Hill fire had been extinguished by the middle of July and the number of fire crews reduced there were many hot spots still burning under the surface so it wasn’t until early August that it was officially declared to be completely out after a total of 41 days. On the 9th of the month I took my first walk up there the day after the land was reopened to the public and was shocked and saddened to see the large scale devastation the fire had caused. Two days later the highlight of the month came when, at the town’s central fire station open day, I got the opportunity to go up in the air on a fire engine hydraulic platform – from 100ft up the extensive views all round the town were brilliant and I got some great photos.
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Fire ravaged land on Winter Hill
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The hydraulic platform going up
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On the way up
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Winter Hill from 100ft in the air
The highlight of September came early on in the month when, during a Heritage Open Day, I got the opportunity to climb the 180ft bell tower at the local parish church and also try a bit of bell ringing. Although the weather wasn’t the best – the long hot summer had finally ended locally the day after my fire station visit – I still got some good photos from the tower roof and the bell ringing was quite an interesting experience. A very sad time came in the middle of the month when I accompanied my friend Janet on the day she had her dog Aphra put to sleep, then later in the month I had my second short holiday on Anglesey, with an impromptu visit to my blogging friend Eileen on the way there. The weather wasn’t the best to start with but it got better as the days went on so I still got out and about and had plenty of sunshine for my photos.
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A view from the parish church tower roof
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Aphra
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Benllech beach, Anglesey
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A Llanddwyn Island beach looking towards the Snowdonia mountains
Apart from when Storm Callum hit the UK towards the middle of the month October was really nice weather-wise and still quite warm for the time of year so I went on long walks with the dogs as often as I could, both to local places I’ve often been to and some I hadn’t even known about. In the process the lovely autumn colours gave me lots of great photos and I even had one featured in an online edition of the local evening paper.
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Farnworth park
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Firwood Fold’s hidden lake
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Close Park, Radcliffe
A dull day in early November saw me taking a photography trip to Preston Dock (now known as Preston Marina) after reading the very interesting history about it, then on brighter days I continued my autumn dog walks in the local area. The highlight of the month though was a dazzling light display which lit up the front of the local town hall on two consecutive evenings – unfortunately it was very poorly advertised and I think I may have missed some of it on both occasions but what I did see was amazing and I still got some reasonably good photos.
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Preston marina
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The town hall light display
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My short holiday in Ireland at the beginning of this month was very enjoyable and a day of exploration round Dublin city centre was so interesting that it left me determined to go back in the future and for much longer, as there’s so much to see that it can’t be done in just one day. Just over a week ago I developed a nasty sore throat, cough and cold which came from nowhere and robbed me of my appetite so Christmas in the Mouse House was rather a non-event, although as there was only me and Michael anyway it didn’t matter too much. I’m feeling much better now though and tonight we’ll probably drive up to the moorland road near here and watch the fireworks going off all over town.
So there it is, just some of the highlights of my year, and all that remains now is to thank everyone for visiting this blog over the last twelve months and to wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year – cheers!

Dublin to Roscrea – I survived the coach ride

Over the last two-and-a-bit years I’ve travelled to and from Dublin and Roscrea enough times to know that the coach service doesn’t always run on time, especially when it’s coming from the airport, so I was a bit surprised when it arrived at Dublin’s main bus station bang on time at 4.30pm, and with only a handful of people to get on we were on our way within minutes. All went well as we went through the city and its outskirts but once we left civilisation behind and got onto the open motorway things began to change.
Although it had been a reasonably mild day in the city the temperature must have dropped as darkness fell and the front windscreen of the coach misted up ; the driver put the heater on to clear it and it was okay for a while but then he turned the heater off and within minutes the windscreen misted up again. He drove for several minutes with it like that then instead of putting the heater on again he leant forward out of his seat and cleared a small space with the back of his hand – and for the rest of the journey he drove with a misted up windscreen and just a small space to see through which he constantly cleared by hand. This wasn’t a good situation at all, and it was made worse by the fact that every time he leant forward to clear the windscreen the coach would drift to the left and go over the lines onto the hard shoulder before he corrected it.
As if all this wasn’t bad enough the whole of the coach had to listen to a football commentary on the (rather loud) radio – and whenever we drove through a dead spot where the radio went off tune the driver would lean down to his left and try to retune it, which again caused the coach to drift over the lines onto the hard shoulder. The only time he turned the radio down was when we stopped at Portlaoise – it was obviously only for his own benefit as once all the passengers were on board he turned it up again louder than before. I’m not even remotely interested in football in any way but I can tell you who won the Merseyside Derby that day, who scored the winning goal and which minute it was scored in.
I was sitting in the front seat across from the driver so I could see everything he did and the sequence went like this – drive for a bit, lean forward, clear windscreen, drive, lean down, fiddle with radio, drive, lean forward, clear windscreen…etc. If I could have got some photos or a video of his antics I would have done but unfortunately it isn’t allowed. The coach should have arrived in Roscrea at 6pm but it was 50 minutes late – since leaving the last stop in Dublin it had only made one other stop, the one in Portlaoise, so there was no real reason why it should have been so late getting to Roscrea. I can only assume that the driver was going a bit slower than usual because he couldn’t see out of the windscreen properly.
This was the first time I’ve ever witnessed such appallingly bad driving from someone who is supposed to be a professional driver and needless to say I was so glad to get off that coach in Roscrea – it was going on to Limerick from there so I only hope the rest of the passengers made it to their destinations without mishap. I refused to let the experience put a damper on my day though – I’d had a lovely time exploring Dublin (or parts of it at least), I’d seen some things I knew about, many I didn’t, and got lots of good photos, so apart from that dreadful coach journey I considered the day to have been a great success.