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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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. 
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Just outside the rear courtyard was a display of garden ornaments and in the courtyard itself a rainbow of colourful flowering plants for sale. And in among them all I found just what I wanted – snowdrops. I didn’t think one pot would be enough so I bought three with plants which have yet to flower then went to get a coffee from the nearby cafe before setting off for home.
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With the sun still shining from a by now almost cloudless blue sky it was a very pleasant journey back and it was even nice enough to drive with the van window down. The snowdrops were planted in Sophie’s little patch of garden yesterday and when they finally come into flower I’ll know then that, even though it’s taken two years to do it, I’ve kept my silent promise to the little dog I loved so much.

Mooching round Morecambe

The morning after my bank holiday visit to Hest Bank and various points north I was back on the M6 again with plans to visit Morecambe and Heysham, however the weather gods decided in their wisdom that they would screw things up for me. I’d looked on the live webcams before leaving home and seen cloudless blue sky and sunshine but in the hour it took me to get there a fair amount of fluffy white clouds had appeared though it was still sunny.
Parking right at the north end of the promenade my first port of call was Happy Mount Park, though first I wanted to look at the nearby Venus and Cupid sculpture. I’d previously seen photos of it on other blogs and personally thought it looked ugly so I wanted to see it ‘in the flesh’. Sculpted by Shane A Johnstone it was originally intended to be sited at St. Georges Quay in Lancaster but was erected at Scalestone Point, Morecambe, in 2005.
In 2011 the artist threatened to destroy the sculpture as the local council was unwilling to pay for its insurance and upkeep so in 2012 the Venus & Cupid Arts Trust was formed to raise money for its purchase. Thanks to public donations enough money was raised in three years to cover the cost and in September 2015 it was taken over by the Trust. During the winter of 2017/2018 frost caused some of the mosaic tiles to fall off so in November 2018 it was moved temporarily into Morecambe’s Arndale Centre for repairs; the sculptor replaced the missing tiles with gold leaf to accentuate the repairs rather than hide them and the sculpture was returned to the sea front in June 2019.
Seeing the sculpture up close did little to change my opinion. I still thought it was ugly, and the name Venus & Cupid seems to bear no relation to what it actually is, however the colours did look quite attractive and my photo of it seemed to make it look better than in real life.
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Looking south from Scalestone Point
Across the road and a couple of hundred yards away was the entrance to Happy Mount Park and straight away I could see things had changed from when I visited last September. Back then most of the flower beds were unkempt and untidy but now laid out with summer plants they looked really colourful, and wandering round the park it seemed as though most of it, especially the children’s areas, had undergone a fairly recent makeover. Unfortunately after a while the weather decided to make a change and the fluffy white clouds joined together to obliterate the sun, resulting in what I call ‘the dreaded white sky’, so I decided to return to the van.
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Abandoning my plan to go to Heysham I drove down to the car park near the Midland Hotel and had a mooch round the stalls in the Festival Market then went to Rita’s Cafe nearby for a snack lunch, hoping that the day would soon brighten up again. Unfortunately it didn’t, and though there was still some blue sky over the bay the sun stayed stubbornly behind the clouds, making my photos very dull, so I had a wander round by the fairground and the gardens then cut my losses and set off for home.
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I did actually take a lot more photos along the promenade but they deserve a post of their own so I’m saving them for another time. Tomorrow I’m off on my travels again for another ten days at the quiet camp site in Cumbria where I stayed not long ago – no internet access means no blog posts so there’ll be lots to come when I get back.

Hest Bank, Silverdale & Arnside – a walk in 4 parts

Back in January this year I watched the second series of a crime drama shot in and around Morecambe. Most of the locations I instantly recognised from previous visits but there was a house featured in a place which I felt I knew even though I also knew I’d never been there. Some logical thought and a study of Google maps and street view eventually showed me where it was so the Saturday morning of the August bank holiday found me driving along Morecambe promenade and the coast road to arrive in Hest Bank just a couple of miles northwards.
The road to the shore was crossed by the west coast main train line and the barriers were down when I arrived so I had to wait a few minutes for the trains to pass. Just beyond the level crossing was a parking area and a small cafe, with a long and pleasant green overlooking the bay and a few more small parking areas set at intervals just off the tarmac lane. With just a couple of large semis and a very small residential static caravan site there was nothing there but it was a nice enough little place which seemed to be popular with walkers with or without dogs, while the vast expanse of sands provided good cantering for a couple of horse riders.
Walking northwards I soon found the house I’d seen in the tv series; the lane turned into a gravel track there which ended in another small parking area and a grassy foreshore above the shingle beach. I would really have liked to walk on a bit further but I could see quite a few people in the distance with several off-lead dogs, something which Snowy doesn’t like, so I turned round there and headed back the other way. Back at the van I got chatting to a couple about to set off on a bike ride along the Lancaster Canal; it seemed it was only a short distance away so I decided to leave the van where it was and go check it out.
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I found the canal quite easily and my walk northwards started from Bridge 118, built in 1797, but if I’d been expecting to pass through some nice countryside I was destined to be disappointed as the canal was lined on both sides with houses and bungalows. Many of the properties on the far side had large attractive gardens reaching down to the canal side while those on the towpath side were set just below the canal bank. Long strips of well mown grass separated the boundary walls and hedges from the towpath and I got occasional views over the rooftops to the bay.
Not knowing how far I would have to go to find some countryside I gave up at Bridge 122 and set off back to where I started; I had other places to go to so I didn’t want to spend too long looking for something which could possibly still be miles away. Bridge 120 was a ground-level swing bridge which seemed to provide access to just one house set on its own and not far away was a quirky looking cottage with a not-very-straight roof and an overgrown garden. I couldn’t tell if it was lived in or empty but it intrigued me enough to take a quick photo.
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My next port of call was Silverdale but knowing how to get there and actually getting  there were two completely different things. What should have been a relatively easy drive from Carnforth turned into an epic all-round-the-houses, miles-out-of-my-way journey round unknown country lanes due to a closed road and diversion at a crucial point, but I got there in the end.
Now I remember going to Silverdale as part of a coach trip with my parents when I was about 9 or 10 years old and though I don’t recall going to the village itself I do remember being totally unimpressed with the coast part of it as there was absolutely nothing there, so I was hoping that after all these years it might have changed a little. It hadn’t – there was still the same rough parking area, the same row of cottages set back behind a high concrete sea wall, the same ankle-twisting rocky shoreline and vast expanse of sand. Yes, the view across the bay was good but other than that there was nothing – in less than ten minutes I had all the photos I wanted and I was back in the van.
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Next on the list were Jack Scout nature reserve and Jenny Brown’s Point, a relatively short drive from the village and neither of which I’d been to before. Unfortunately I couldn’t get remotely close to either of them in the van; about halfway there I was met by the second Road Closed sign of the day so I had to find a convenient place to park on a nearby lane and walk from there.
Jack Scout is an area of low limestone cliff owned by the National Trust, with its name thought to have come from old English or Norse meaning a high point where oak trees grow. Well known for its wildlife and extensive views over Morecambe Bay the area features a partially restored 18th century lime kiln and the Giant’s Seat, a huge limestone bench. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see either of these as a notice on the gate leading into the grassland warned of cows in the area and sure enough I could see several of them mooching about among the trees and shrubs. Not wanting to put myself and the dogs at risk I decided not to go there so another few minutes walking finally got me to Jenny Brown’s Point where a couple of benches set down off the lane gave great views over the channels flowing into the bay.
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No one really knows how Jenny Brown’s Point got its name. One story says she was a young maiden hopelessly scanning the distant horizon for the return of her lover, another that she was a nanny, cut off and drowned by the incoming tide while trying to rescue the two children in her care, though the more believable theory stems from the 1660s when a mother and daughter, both named Jennet Brown, lived at Dikehouse, the farm at the Point. The area has also been known as Brown’s Point (1812), Silverdale Point (1818) and Lindeth Point (1828) though Jenny Brown’s Point was in use on an 1829 estate plan and has been used by the Ordnance Survey from 1848.
One story which is certainly true is the tragic tale of the Matchless,  a converted fishing boat used for taking holidaymakers on trips across Morecambe Bay during the summer months. On September 3rd 1894, carrying 33 passengers and just one skipper/crewman, the boat left Morecambe to sail to Grange-over-Sands but just off Jenny Brown’s Point it was hit by an unexpectedly sudden strong gust of wind. Within seconds it capsized, throwing people into the water where many became fatally tangled and trapped in the sails and ropes. Although other nearby pleasure boats came to the rescue only eight passengers and the skipper were saved; 25 holidaymakers including five children, the youngest only 2 years old, all perished.
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A few hundred yards away from the benches the lane ended at the 18th century Brown’s Cottages where huge slabs of limestone looking almost like a slipway led down to the waterside. Nearby were the remains of what would once have been a small quay and part of a broken bridge which would have crossed the channel known as Quicksand Pool.
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Just beyond the cottages was an old chimney, now Grade ll listed and believed to be the remains of a short-lived copper mining and smelting project set up in the 1780s by Robert Gibson, Lord of the Manor of Yealand. He wrongly assumed that he had the right to mine for copper on nearby land owned by the Townleys of Leighton Hall and the copper was processed in a furnace at Jenny Brown’s Point, but after several lawsuits the whole operation was abandoned in 1788; Gibson died three years later in 1791.
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From Jenny Brown’s Point I walked back along the lane to the van then drove the four-and-a-bit miles round to Arnside. Normally I wouldn’t like to drive into Arnside on a bank holiday as it would be extremely busy and parking wouldn’t be easy but it was gone 5pm by the time I got there and many day visitors had already left so I was able to find a parking space near the far end of the promenade.
Arnside village is situated on the West Coast main railway line in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. At one time it was actually a working port but building the viaduct across the Kent estuary in 1857 caused it to silt up, making the port no longer viable. The viaduct itself is 552 yards long with 50 piers; it was rebuilt in 1915 and is a very prominent feature of the village, being more or less the first thing to be seen when coming into Arnside past the railway station.
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The pier was constructed by the Ulverston and Lancaster Railway Company in 1860, replacing an earlier wooden structure and also providing a wharf for ships after the building of the viaduct prevented them from reaching the inland port of Milnthorpe. In 1934 a storm destroyed the end section of the pier which was subsequently rebuilt by the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company, then in 1964 Arnside Parish Council bought the pier for £100. Following a storm on the night of January 31st 1983 it was rebuilt by the Parish Council after the cost was raised by public subscription and grants, and it was officially re-opened on April 12th 1984.
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Walking along the promenade I heard the sound of singing coming from upstairs in the sailing club building which was once the Customs House. A board outside said the place was open so for curiosity I popped inside; a steep wooden staircase led up from the corner of a very simply furnished room and from up above came the sound of laughter and the chink of glasses. There was nothing to say if this was a public event or a private one but I don’t like sea shanties anyway so I didn’t bother finding out.
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My walk took me to the end of the pretty promenade gardens before I turned round and headed back to the van, with a quick detour up Pier Lane on the way. It was well after 6pm by then, the lane was in shade and the few small shops were closed but as I’d never been up there before it was worth a quick look.
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My route homeward took me down a part of the A6 which I’d never previously been along and as I headed south I caught the brief sight of an air balloon floating somewhere above the trees. Eventually I could see it properly and with not a lot of traffic on the road I was able to pull up in a couple of places and snap a handful of shots before it disappeared behind a ridge in the fields.
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It was almost 8pm when I finally arrived home, with the evening sun having stayed with me all the way back. Having set out reasonably early that morning it had been a long though very enjoyable day but now it was time to make a brew and relax for a while before the dogs needed their bedtime walk.

The Rum Story, Whitehaven

Until June 1998 Jefferson’s Wine Merchants in Whitehaven was the oldest family owned wine and spirit merchants in the country. Founded by Robert Jefferson in 1785 the family business traded in wines from Spain and Portugal and rum, sugar and molasses from the West Indies. A large proportion of the sugar imported into Whitehaven was from the Jefferson-owned estate in Antigua and it was from there they also imported their famous rum, with all the imports being carried by their own ships.
The wine merchants business operated from the same Whitehaven premises for over 200 years, then after the last two Jeffersons decided to wind things down and close the shop in 1998 plans were put in place to convert the premises into a tourist attraction which explores Whitehaven’s links with the rum trade. Housed within the original 1785 shop, courtyard, cellars and bonded warehouses of the Jefferson family the Rum Story opened its doors to the public in September 2000 and is the world’s first Story of Rum exhibition.
Authentically designed to show the different aspects of the rum trade from its very early days through to more modern times the museum doesn’t shy away from the dark side of the past – crime, drunkenness and slavery, all fuelled by rum, are clearly depicted and information panels tell of the links between rum and the navy, rum and the Titanic, and how Nelson was pickled in a barrel of his favourite brandy after his death.
An archway between what is now the gift shop and the premises next door led to a light and attractive covered courtyard where I found the kinetic clock which performs every half hour and depicts the way rum is made, from the harvesting of the sugar cane to the bottling of the rum itself; it was seeing a picture of this clock in my ‘111 Places’ book which inspired me to visit the museum.
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Behind the clock was the original Jefferson’s clerk’s office, substantially unchanged since the turn of the 19th/20th century. With its high desks and stools, items of office equipment, old safe and hand written records on display it had been the hub of the Jefferson empire for many many years. Although it was free to look inside the office there was an entrance fee (currently £9.95 for adults) for the main museum where double doors took me into an Antiguan rainforest complete with accompanying sounds and humidity.
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One of the busiest ports in the country during the 18th century, Whitehaven had an extensive trade with Africa, America and the Caribbean, and rum and sugar became the town’s driving force. Ships sailed from Whitehaven loaded with manufactured products to be traded for African slaves who were then shipped in appalling conditions to the Caribbean, where they were traded for sugar and rum which were then shipped back to Whitehaven. One of Cumbria’s most famous products, Kendal Mint Cake first produced in 1869, was made with Caribbean sugar imported into the town.
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African village

Slavery chains and shackles

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Rum cellar
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The cooper’s workshop where young men would learn the art of barrel making
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The giant ‘Jefferson Barrel’ could hold 1,720 gallons of rum (7,819 litres) and filled with Jefferson’s Rum today the contents would be worth nearly £40,000 at the current prices. The story of Horatio Nelson’s life and naval career, told on pictorial information panels, was extremely interesting and I learned more about him there than I ever did at school. Starting his naval career at just 12 years old he rose rapidly through the ranks and became a captain at the age of 21, in charge of 200 men in the West Indies. He was respected and loved by all who served under him and after his death at Trafalgar in 1805 his body was brought back to England preserved in a barrel which, although reputed to have been full of rum, was more likely to have been his favourite brandy.
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Many of The Rum Story’s settings are so authentic that they are used for scenes in television dramas and period films, and to see these sets for myself I could understand why as they are so realistic. With three floors of well set out displays and shed loads of information the museum was one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been in, though I couldn’t possibly photograph everything there was to see as there was so much of it. Unfortunately I didn’t get to see the clock performing as I just missed it both going in and coming out and with only two free hours in Tesco’s car park I didn’t want to linger, however there’s a cafe in the courtyard so I may very well go back another time for a coffee and to see the clock in action.

A walk on the wild side

Situated in the extensive acreage owned by the Armathwaite Hall Hotel close to the northern end of Bassenthwaite Lake the Lake District Wildlife Park is only a relatively short drive along the country lanes from the camp site so on Day 5 of my holiday I decided to go along and take a look. As wildlife parks go it’s not a big place compared to many – about 24 acres in total – but most of the enclosures and paddocks were large with wide and well laid out paths making it easy to walk round and see everything.
The meerkats were closest to the entrance so I started with those, gave the next door reptile house a miss, then wandered along various paths round the enclosures. Some of the animals weren’t easy to see or photograph as they were hiding among the various trees and vegetation in their enclosures, and try as I might I just couldn’t see the red panda which was supposedly curled up asleep on a branch. I got shots of most of the ones which interested me and which stayed still long enough, and seeing the zebras reminded me of holidays spent in South Africa – the people I stayed with referred to them as donkeys in pyjamas, something which always makes me smile.
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Yellow mongooses – native to South African countries

Kookaburra – native to Australia and New Guinea

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A distant shot of alpacas

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Grant’s zebras – native to Eastern and Southern Africa

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Dwarf zebu – a breed of domestic cattle native to India

Ring tailed lemur – native to South Madagascar

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Black and white ruffed lemur – native to Madagascan mountain forests

Lar gibbon – smallest member of the ape family, native to eastern Asia

Walking towards the birds of prey aviaries my attention was caught by a loud screeching noise and I went round the corner to find two of the ugliest chicks I’ve ever seen – they had faces that only a mother could love, though they were cute in their own way and would probably grow into quite nice birds. It was the smaller of the two which was making all the noise, it was ear splitting and constant, but eventually mum appeared from somewhere with some food for them both and the screeching finally stopped.

Striated Caracara chicks – native to the Falkland Islands

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Brazilian Tapirs – native to South America

Crowned Crane – native to Eastern and Southern Africa

View over one of the paddocks towards Skiddaw

The final shot was actually taken from somewhere in the middle of the park as I was walking round but I’ve saved it until last as I think it’s a really nice view. The park has birds of prey flying displays, various animal talks, picnic areas, indoor and outdoor play areas, a cafe and a gift shop, none of which I bothered with; I was a bit disappointed that some of the animals were hiding so I didn’t get to see them but I liked what I did see. For a small-ish park it was very nice so I may very well make a return visit another time.

The Puzzling Place, Keswick

After my visit to Keswick’s pencil museum I walked into the town centre to find The Puzzling Place, somewhere else which was featured in my ‘111 Places’ book. Described as ‘an indoor extravaganza of puzzles and optical illusions’, this was the place where you can shake your own hand, see water flowing backwards, slide uphill and stick yourself to the ceiling – it sounded quirky and fun, and hopefully more interesting than the pencil museum.
Having paid my £4.50 entrance fee the first thing I came to was the magic mirror so I stuck my hand through the centre to see what happened and there it was, my own hand and arm coming back at me. The Impossible Chess Set was a photo of a physical model made by Bruno Ernst based on a design by Swedish artist Oscar Reutersvard, while the praxinoscope was invented in France in 1877 by Charles-Emile Reynaud. This one was quite a pretty little thing and spinning the cylider made the static horses inside come to life.
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Illusion or reality – which do you see? This works equally well on a computer screen but it confused the camera – I actually photographed ‘reality’ but the camera lens saw ‘illusion’. The secret is in where you view it from – close up produces one word, viewed from a distance gives you the other. It doesn’t matter which way round you put the two wooden blocks in the circular frame, one always looks bigger than the other but they are actually both exactly the same size – and sometimes I wish I really was as tall and slim as I appear in the mirror, although I’m not sure about the stick-thin legs.
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Somewhere in this attractive beach scene you can find Napoleon – this figure/ground illusion apparently appeared shortly after his death in 1821. Once he’s been found he becomes incredibly obvious and can never be ‘lost’ again as once seen he can’t be ‘unseen’. The following illusion was devised by French artist Isia Leviant – stare at the centre yellow circle for long enough and the blue and green outer circles will appear to be moving, sometimes clockwise, sometimes anti-clockwise. Stare a bit longer and the yellow circle will appear to be getting larger.
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‘Melancholy Tunes on a Flemish Winter’s Day’ is by Flemish artist Jos De Mey and is an example of how the human brain creates something which looks three-dimensional out of a two-dimensional drawing. The suspended window frame was constantly turning and though it appeared to be solid it also looked as if the stick was passing through the centre of it.
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Although there were many more puzzles and illusions, including the Hologram Gallery, the best three were yet to come. Looking through the ‘window’ set in one wall of the Ames Forced Perspective Room it looked like any normal rectangular room though it was anything but. In the words of the caterpillar in Alice In Wonderland, referring to the mushroom he’d been sitting on – “One side will make you grow taller, the other side will make you grow shorter” and I only had to walk from one side of the room to the other to make myself grow or shrink. The inspiration for this room came from a place in New Zealand and it’s the only room of this kind in the UK.
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In the Anti-Gravity Room water flows at an unnatural angle, you can slide uphill, and you can stand at a slant and lean at a crazy angle without falling over, though being on my own there was no-one to take a photo of me doing it. The room also comes with a warning but even so I was quite unprepared for the effect it had on me. Two steps in and I was staggering against the wall as if I’d just drunk a barrel full of beer, I couldn’t walk straight at all, and when I went over to the far wall I was immediately sent hurtling back across the room; there are grab rails in several places and they really are needed. And yes, when I came out of there I did feel slightly nauseous although it passed within a couple of minutes and I was fine.
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The next room was one where I could have had a lot of fun if I hadn’t been on my own, especially when it came to taking photos, but fortunately there was cctv and a monitor screen on one wall so wherever I was in the room I could take shots of myself – and no, I’m not explaining how it all works.
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The Puzzling Place makes no secret of how everything works; the theory behind every illusion is explained underneath each one and there’s a perfectly logical explanation for every visual effect. It was a very interesting and quirky place to look round, much better than the Pencil Museum, and now having looked back at my photos I’ve had a few ideas for some better shots so that’s a place I may very well return to another time.

Looking back – 2020

As another year draws to a close it’s time for me to look back on some of the events which have featured in my life and on this blog over the last twelve months. With dull grey days and almost incessant rain January was very much a ‘nothing’ type of month; good walks and outdoor photography were out of the question and not just because of the weather. Early in the month, and for no apparent reason, little Sophie suffered a debilitating stroke so all my time and attention was devoted to caring for her and helping her to recover in the best way I could.
February was a particularly sad month. In spite of medication and all my care and attention, after almost five weeks of constant nursing and a lovely morning when I really did think Sophie was going to recover she sadly slipped quietly away while sleeping in her bed at the side of mine – the grief and feelings of loss were overwhelming and it hurt like hell that I didn’t get the chance to hold her one last time and tell her how much I loved her. She was buried in a corner of the garden close to Sugar and I always keep a plant of some sort on her little patch. Later that month a break in the weather gave me a sunny Sunday when I was able to visit Hornby Castle to see the snowdrops; under normal circumstances Sophie would have been with me so it was an afternoon out done very much in her memory and after several weeks of not being able to go anywhere it was good to be out for a few hours.
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After my sunny afternoon at Hornby Castle the rain was back and my planned visit to see the snowdrops at Lytham Hall didn’t happen until the beginning of March. By then most of the snowdrops were over but it was still an enjoyable visit. Just a week later I spent a very enjoyable time looking round Lark Hill Place, a reconstructed late Victorian street set within Salford Museum & Art Gallery, followed by looking round the museum itself. It was a grey and very chilly day but by the middle of the month the weather turned sunny again and much warmer, and I managed another couple of visits to Lytham before my freedom was curtailed by various restrictions.
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The good weather which arrived mid March continued into April, getting warmer all the time, and I discovered a few different local walks which I could take right from my own front door. On my Easter walk I was lucky enough to see a small herd of deer in a field not too far from home, on another local walk which I’ve done many times before I came across two adult llamas with two young ones in a paddock at the open farm near home and a walk round the Jumbles reservoir gave me the unexpected sighting of a jay, the first time I’ve ever seen one.
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The first few days of May saw the previously lovely weather turning back to rain but as I was in pain from a pulled muscle in my back I couldn’t go anywhere anyway. Neither the rain nor the pain lasted very long though, the warm sunny weather soon returned and I was back to walking again, both locally and further afield once various restrictions were relaxed. Local walks included Barrow Bridge and a quarry I’d never been to before then during the spring bank holiday I walked along Skippool Creek and a short section of the Lancaster Canal.
The last day of the month, which was probably one of the hottest so far, saw me walking round a gorgeous section of the River Lune at Caton, a place which was completely new to me but which I’ll certainly return to. May was also the month when Poppie slipped her lead on a Jumbles walk and ran into the water after some ducks, giving me several heart-stopping minutes when she wouldn’t come back, and Michael promised to order a pizza for tea one day but gave me a sausage roll instead.
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The arrival of June brought more lovely hot weather and my birthday and a few days later, while strimming the long grass in the back garden, I had the lovely surprise of finding an Elephant Hawk moth, something which I’d never seen before and which prompted me to leave an area of the garden uncut to encourage other forms of wildlife to visit. I had a couple of afternoons in Manchester and walks away from home that month were along the Glasson branch of the Lancaster Canal and round three different parts of Heysham – the nature reserve and Half Moon Bay, neither of which I’d been to before, plus the village itself. I also went just a short drive from home and walked from the lake at Brinscall to the village of White Coppice.
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There was a deterioration in the weather at the beginning of July and the first few days were damp and grey but it didn’t last long and the sunshine was soon back. Early in the month I got wind of a new street art installation on the side of an old mill building in town and the middle of the month saw me returning to White Coppice as part of a walk from Heapey, during which I was lucky enough to see two damsel flies at close quarters. Towards the end of the month I took a drive to Morecambe and walked quite a long distance along the promenade from south to north and back again. July was also the month when Michael decided to rearrange his room and I opened the door to find a scene of utter chaos with furniture and stuff all over the place, though it wasn’t long before everything was tidy again.
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The early days of August saw lots of patchy cloud covering the blue skies and though it meant changing my plans a couple of times as I needed clear skies for the photos I wanted to get it didn’t stop me from going out. A look round the big car boot sale at St. Michael’s was followed by a walk along part of the River Wyre and a look in the nearby church then later in the month I had days out to Knott End and Fleetwood, where I went to photograph the old wrecked boats on the marshes before looking round Fleetwood itself. August was also the month when I picked up the wrong sandwich from a shop near work one day and discovered that I definitely don’t  like jalapeno mayo.
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The last few days of August sent a storm which put down some quite torrential rain but by the beginning of September the weather had cleared again. Early in the month I took the 35-minute drive to see the Singing Ringing Tree near Burnley and this was followed a few days later by a walk along the Lancaster Canal at Garstang, then the 12th saw the start of a 2-week stay-cation when the weather was so good I was hardly at home. As well as various local walks I also visited two churches (one local and one which I’ve still to write about) walked along another section of the Lancaster Canal, went to Corporation Park in Blackburn to find the Colourfields panopticon, had an afternoon in Southport with Michael, enjoyed a day in Kirkby Lonsdale and had a day out in Morecambe which included a ‘behind the scenes’ tour at the Winter Gardens Theatre.
Towards the end of the month and on what would have been Sophie’s birthday Snowy came to my attention, and two days later she came to live with me. Initially a timid, scared, unsocialised little scrap she gradually came out of her shell and has turned into a funny, affectionate and mischievous little character. Call it fate, coincidence or what you will but as Snowy’s arrival coincided with Sophie’s birthday I sometimes think that she was actually sent by Sophie to help fill the space in my heart and my home which Sophie herself left behind.
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The good weather continued into the first couple of days of October and just a week after I got Snowy I took her for her first long walk, four miles along a section of the Leeds/Liverpool Canal. The weather went rapidly downhill straight after that and though most mornings started off with sunshine it was guaranteed to be raining by 9.30am, rain which would last for the rest of each day. Dog walks were kept to a minimum and I only went round the local avenues, with the canal walk being the last proper non-local walk which I did. Also the 9th of the month saw this blog becoming four years old.
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The rain continued into November though there was a very brief break one day in the middle of the month and I came out of work that morning to blue sky and sunshine so I left the van there and went for a walk round the nearby Jumbles to try to catch some late autumn colour before it all disappeared. 
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Unfortunately the sunshine didn’t last and the rain returned the following day, lasting right into this month and almost up to Christmas, though there was just one day early in the month when it did come nice enough to do another local walk and discover somewhere I’d never been before. 
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I had all my Christmas shopping done and dusted several days beforehand so I didn’t have to dash round Asda at the last minute and Christmas itself was a very quiet affair with just the two of us. Michael only really got one full day though as he was back at work on Boxing Day, whereas I’ve been off from my job since the 23rd and don’t go back until January 4th so I’m enjoying the rest. I still have a handful of this year’s posts to write yet though so if anyone wants me I’ll be in my usual place – here at my pc.

Street art and flower beds in Morecambe

Previous to my ‘behind the scenes’ theatre tour at Morecambe’s Winter Gardens I’d found out that back in 2016 several murals and mosaics were commissioned and created as a project to help reinvigorate the town and celebrate its heritage so when I came out of the theatre after my tour I went in search of them, although with the exception of one I’ve been unable to find out who the artists were.
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Child-like art on a boarded up shop window

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Discovered down a back alley

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The first piece of artwork to be produced and the last one I photographed was, to me at least, the best one, and was on the side of what was once the Victoria Inn. It was a collaboration between Morecambe artist Kate Drummond and Sheffield-based artists Faunagraphic and Rocket01; given the title ‘The Sands and Seas’ it was so large and detailed that I had to take several separate shots of it.
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Walking down a side street on my way back to the seafront I discovered the Central Methodist Church with its attractive front portico. Built in 1875/76 it was given a Grade ll listing in January 1993; unfortunately I’ve been able to find very little information about it but the lack of a board outside detailing service times etc. leads me to suspect that it’s no longer used as a chapel.
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Not having Poppie with me meant that for once I was able to have a look round the stalls in the indoor Festival Market where dogs aren’t allowed, then after coffee and a meal in Rita’s Cafe I went to have a wander along the Central Promenade. Above the shoe shop near the cafe was a brightly coloured psychedelic pattern and not far from the Midland Hotel and the stone jetty the walls surrounding the area where the fairground is usually situated were painted in many different patterns and colours.
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Although it had only been a couple of months since my previous visit to Morecambe the weather and the views across the bay were so good that I couldn’t resist taking several more photos. The gardens and flower beds were looking particularly attractive, possibly even more so than in July, and though I don’t profess to be any sort of gardener I do have a great liking for bright and colourful flower beds so the camera was put to good use.
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To say that it was well past mid September the weather was fabulous, and still warm enough to be wearing a t-shirt even though there was a breeze. I would have loved to stay to see the sunset but I had a little dog waiting for me at home so eventually it was time to think about going back, but not before I’d had another coffee in Rita’s Cafe, which just finished the day off nicely.

Behind the scenes at the Winter Gardens

After seeing some photos a while ago showing part of the ornate interior of Morecambe’s Winter Gardens theatre I decided I just had to see this place for myself so during my 2-week staycation in September I booked a place on a ‘behind the scenes’ guided tour; unfortunately dogs weren’t allowed on the tour so this was one occasion when I had to leave Poppie at home.
The Morecambe Baths and Winter Gardens Company was formed in 1876 by a consortium of businessmen from Bradford who developed an unoccupied piece of land on the sea front into a site for new public swimming baths, surrounded by the gardens which gave the Winter Gardens complex its name. In 1877 a proposal was made for three restaurants to be erected next to the baths – a first and second class restaurant and behind them a third class restaurant for ‘excursionists’ who would, for a payment of 2d, be able to enter without being required to buy anything. There was also to be a 30ft long grand aquarium with fish, ferneries, fountains and plants, a ballroom and a fine arts gallery, and the complex opened in June 1878.
As a later extension to the existing Winter Gardens complex the Victoria Pavilion Concert Hall and Variety Theatre was built at a cost of nearly £100,000, opening its doors to the public in July 1897. It was designed by Mangnall & Littlewood of Manchester, with noted theatre architect Frank Matcham as consultant. Interiors were by Dean and Co and the tiling which covered the walls and ceiling of the lavish foyer was by Burmantoft of Leeds. With its audience capacity of 2,500 the theatre was one of the largest concert halls in the North West and quickly became known as the Albert Hall of the North; over the years it was the home of the internationally renowned Morecambe Music Festival and played host to Sir Edward Elgar, the Halle Orchestra and many other well known performers from variety, music and theatre.
In the 1950s the Winter Gardens were taken over by Moss Empires, the largest UK chain of variety theatres and music halls. By the mid-1970s however, the theatre’s fortunes were in decline and in 1977 the decision was taken to close the whole complex, culminating in the demolition of the original Winter Gardens in 1982, leaving only the theatre remaining and with an uncertain future. In 1986 the Friends of the Winter Gardens group was formed to represent the interests of the building, campaigning for its restoration and preservation, then in 2006 the Friends formed a charitable trust company, The Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust (Ltd) to purchase the theatre. The years since then have been spent in cleaning, repairing and restoring various parts of the building and fundraising to enable the ongoing and never ending work to continue.
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The tour was limited to a group of five visitors plus the guide and started off from the front of the auditorium, where visitors can pop in for coffee and a bite to eat accompanied by music from the resident organist. The auditorium has a roof span of 118ft and a height of 65ft and is still one of the largest in the country; the fibrous plaster ornamental ceiling is hung from a skeleton of girders originally supplied by the Widnes Foundry and is a masterpiece of Victorian engineering.
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Up a short flight of steps and through a door on the left of the auditorium the guide led the group along various passageways and up and down different stairs, stopping in different rooms to point out various interesting features. It was actually quite difficult taking photos and absorbing all the information and history at the same time, with hindsight I should have taken a notebook and pen to jot things down.
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While the auditorium itself looked fairly decent the same couldn’t be said for behind the scenes. Almost everywhere I looked there were signs of the deterioration and delapidation which the theatre had fallen into over the years; with holes in ceilings, flaking plaster and bare brickwork in many places it was going to take a lot of man hours and many years to restore the theatre to its former glory.

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One of the theatre’s main supporting girders

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There was no floor behind this door, just a sheer drop to the basement

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Originally reserved for the highest priced tickets the Grand Circle is currently undergoing restoration and was out of bounds, with viewing only allowed on a tour with an experienced guide. From the centre of the circle shallow steps led up through double doors to a long and wide corridor which would once have been a very pleasant carpeted seating area with a bar and toilets at each end. With tall wide windows along its length there were good views over the promenade to the South Lakeland hills across the bay.
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Back in 1982, five years after the theatre closed its doors to the public, several hundred seats were removed from the Grand Circle and sold on, with the later presumption that many had been sent to Australia and would therefore be lost for ever, however in 2019 the Winter Gardens trustees were contacted by the Theatre Trust with the news that more than 400 of the seats had been listed for sale on an online auction site and were actually only 35 miles away in the Leyland Masonic Hall. After confirmation that the seats had originally belonged to the Winter Gardens the owners cancelled the auction and offered them back to the theatre trustees who launched a seat sponsorship campaign to raise funds towards their purchase. Behind what was once the Grand Circle’s bar area were two unrestored rooms full of these seats, well covered for protection but with just a couple on show as part of the tour.
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Down a few stairs and along a short passageway was the double-sided staircase leading to the Upper Circle, known in theatrical terms as ‘The Gods’. This was reserved for the cheap seats, with the original bench seating only being replaced by the current folding seats in 1953, though the walls, floor and ceiling of the staircase were just as ornate as those down below.
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On a side wall close to the top of the stairs and just inside the door to the Upper Circle itself was a small folding wooden seat, this was where the usherette would sit while on duty. Unfortunately the dizzying height of the top row of seats was out of bounds but I was able to get a detailed look at the ornate ceiling and the top of the highly decorated two-tier boxes at the side of the stage.
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Back down at Grand Circle level I was able to look in one of the upper boxes with its once-lavish curtains and decor. Being set at an angle it mostly looked out over the auditorium and the view of the stage was very limited unless you craned your neck, but back in the day (and maybe still today) private boxes were really all for show – if you could afford the expense of a private box then you were considered to be ‘somebody’.
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Having already looked in the general dressing room, which was very spartan and basic, down at stage level was the star’s dressing room though even that wasn’t particularly lavish. Then it was onto the stage itself with its huge steel safety curtain raised above; I didn’t quite catch all the writing with the camera but right in the very top left corner of the curtain and difficult to see was the signature of a little-known comedian and the words “Archie Ore died here autumn 1974”. Presumably he was the warm-up for a more well-known act but he mustn’t have been very good if the stage crew didn’t want him back.
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The tour ended where it began, at the front of the auditorium, and as I made my way back towards the entrance I took my last few shots of the stairs to the Grand Circle and some of the features in the foyer before emerging from the dim light of the theatre into the bright afternoon sunshine.
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The tour had been extremely interesting and standing on the stage itself looking out into the auditorium had brought back memories of my own days in local theatre many years ago. I’d done it all, from painting scenery flats and sourcing props to makeup, lighting, costumes, special effects, providing animal ‘actors’, singing, dancing and acting, and standing there I could almost get a whiff of the distinctive smell of greasepaint.
The theatre tours ended on the last weekend in October but I enjoyed that one so much that I’ll certainly go on another one sometime next year – and next time I’ll take a notebook with me to jot down all the interesting information.