Day 4 – Even more frustrations

I made sure I had breakfast in good time that morning as I didn’t want to be in the middle of a plate of toast and marmalade when the second RAC guy arrived with my new battery. This second visit was supposed to be before 10am, however that time came and went and there was no sign of an orange van anywhere. Okay, depending on where the guy was coming from he could have got stuck in traffic somewhere so I didn’t mind waiting a while longer but when it had gone past mid day and there was still no orange van I was getting more than a little fed up.
With no update from the RAC, either by text or phone call, I decided to try to contact them myself but that was an epic failure. Yet again the automated system wouldn’t recognise some of my details (which aren’t at all complicated) and trying to get through on the sales line resulted in me being cut off twice before I even got to speak to someone. I was getting nowhere fast, the day was creeping on and I’d achieved nothing so I decided to take matters into my own hands.
Luckily I’d discovered by accident that I could get internet access on the site – it wasn’t the best but it was adequate, especially if I went to the end of the site nearest the main house, so I googled for car accessory shops in the area and found one not far away in Abergele. Fortunately the van started okay with the current battery so a quick phone call ascertained that the shop had a battery in stock the same make and power though they wouldn’t put it on the van for me, however I had a word with one of the farm guys and he said he would do it.
It looked like I would finally get things sorted out without the help of the RAC but just before I left the site I realised I couldn’t find my bank card. It was nowhere – not in my bag, my holdall, jacket pockets or the glove box, it had completely disappeared although I couldn’t think how or where I could have lost it. Luckily I had just enough cash to pay for the new battery so I went to get that then called at Eileen’s on my way back to the site to ask if she knew where there was a branch of my building society. She and her hubby came up trumps and said there was one in Colwyn Bay, also she found the phone number to report my card as being lost, which I did straight away, then I went back to the site and the farm guy put the new battery on the van for me. Finally, and with no thanks to the RAC, I was properly mobile in the knowledge that the van wouldn’t give up the ghost again,  and not wanting to waste any more of what had turned out to be a lovely afternoon I drove the few miles up to the Marble Church situated just off the A55 at Bodelwyddan.
The Marble Church, or to give its proper name St. Margaret’s, was built in the mid 19th century in the Decorated Gothic style and contains fourteen different varieties of marble. According to the church website it was supposed to be open to visitors daily between 10am and 4pm but when I got there I found it was very firmly closed, so I could do nothing other than take a few photos from the outside and hope it would be open the following day.
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The marble church (St. Margaret’s) Bodelwyddan
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Canadian war graves
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By the time I’d finished wandering round it had gone 4pm and I didn’t really feel like going anywhere else at that time so I just went back to the camp site and settled in for the rest of the day. It was 7.15 that evening when I got a phone call from an RAC guy to say that he would be with me in twenty minutes with a new battery; all day without an update from anyone and he rings me at this time?? He did give me an excuse about having the wrong phone number for me, which I didn’t believe for a minute, so I just politely told him to go back to where he came from and take the battery with him as I’d already sorted it out myself.
The following morning I got an email from the RAC inviting me to fill in a survey about my recent roadside experience so it could be used (quote) ”for the continuous improvement of our service to you, our valued customer”. Filling in the survey on my tablet wouldn’t be the easiest so I decided to wait until I got back home then I would let them have it with both barrells; after the appallingly diabolical service I did receive I certainly didn’t feel very ‘valued’, and needless to say I won’t be renewing my breakdown cover with them when it’s due.

June in North Wales – Days 1 & 2

If ever there was a holiday when a catalogue of things conspired against me this one was it, and though I don’t believe in fate or ‘things happening for a reason’ it didn’t bode well for my break when two days before travelling I got a head cold. The weather on the first day was abysmal, it rained steadily from home all the way to North Wales and effectively stopped me from visiting the two places I’d planned to go to en route, though a slight change of plan saw me calling to see Eileen and her hubby that afternoon instead of waiting until the evening and a very pleasant couple of hours was spent in the company of two lovely friends and Tilly the cockapoo.
The rain had stopped by the time I left Eileen’s and went to the camp site but halfway through setting up the tent it started again and by the time I’d got everything sorted out I was ever-so-slightly damp. A change of clothes and a chill out evening followed and by the time I was ready for taking the dogs for their bedtime walk later on it had been fine for a while so thankfully I didn’t get wet again.
The following day was a mixture of sunshine and cloud and not being too fussed about going anywhere I decided to just spend the day on the site, which I had all to myself as there was no-one else there. Prior to the start of the holiday I’d ordered online a couple of large waterproof fleece picnic rugs to use as carpets in the tent, and knowing they would be delivered while I was away I’d asked Eileen if they could be sent to her so I could collect them and put them to use straight away. They weren’t due until the following day but I got a message from Eileen later that morning to say they had already arrived and she and her hubby would bring them over to me later on.
Entertaining guests at my tent isn’t something I would normally do so this was different. It was nice to sit outside in the sunshine and chat over a brew and Tilly was really good – Eileen liked my tent set-up and given the chance I think Tilly would enjoy the camping life. The picnic rugs were much larger and nicer than I expected – I put them down in the tent later on and they looked great so I was really pleased with them.
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Photo taken by Eileen
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Taken by Eileen
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Taken by Eileen
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Later, with the new ‘carpet’
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From Michael and Laura for my birthday – a bit past their best but still too nice to leave at home
After my guests had gone the rest of the afternoon and evening were spent relaxing with a book and watching a bit of tv, with an earlier than normal bedtime, though as I settled down for the night I had no idea of the frustrating things to come over the next couple of days.

Easter in North Wales – The final day

A gloriously sunny morning greeted me on the final day of my break and with the other handful of campers having left the previous day and no-one occupying the white campervan parked near the entrance I’d had the site all to myself since getting back from the zoo the day before. Eventually though it was time for me to leave too and as living and sleeping in the van meant that things had been kept to a minimum it didn’t take long to pack up and get on the road.
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First was a stop at Asda where I did something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. Less than a hundred yards away was the beach and a long promenade/cycleway which I hadn’t been along before so leaving the van in Asda’s car park I set out to see what I could find. At the far side of a pay-and-display car park four kiosks were set back off the promenade and on the back walls of two of them were a couple of bright and colourful artworks.
On the beach four anglers were fishing near the water’s edge and further along at Horton’s Nose nature reserve I came across a couple of washed up tree stumps – the second one was huge and its shape and position reminded me of the bow of a ship. Across the harbour bridge and two main roads I came to Marine Lake, another place I’d not yet managed to get to, so the next part of the day was the one mile circuit all the way round it. 
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Opened on May 24th 1895, the day of Queen Victoria’s 76th birthday, and built on land adjacent to the River Clwyd estuary Marine Lake is North Wales’ only saltwater lake. The land had previously been known locally as the ‘mud hole’ as it would be flooded by the river at high tide then turn into a muddy bog when the tide receded. The local council bought the land for £1,050 from the Commissioners of Woods and Forests and the design and construction of the lake, the island, and its surrounding grounds cost a further £10,200. Designed by Baldwin Latham and constructed by contractor George Law of Kidderminster the whole lot was completed in less than six months.
On the day of the lake’s official opening the culvert close to the nearby railway bridge was opened in the morning to start the flow of water into the lake then in the evening the culvert near the road bridge was also opened. A regatta, aquatic fete and gala were held on July 6th and described in the local press as one of the most successful days in the town’s history. At 4ft deep and covering an area of 40 acres the lake became home to Rhyl Swimming Club in 1896 and was also used for sailing, rowing and yachting.
In 1908 a showman set up a high water chute in an enclosed part of the lake and this was supplemented by various fairgound attractions including a roller coaster. In 1910 The Rhyl Amusement Company took over Marine Lake, with the company’s main owners being the Butler family whose steel foundry in Leeds had supplied the water chute. In June 1914 Alfred John Nightingale, a visitor from Bala, was killed in an accident on the water chute – the mechanism which raised the boats malfunctioned and 27-year old Alfred fell to his death.
The miniature railway around the lake opened on May 1st 1911 and was acquired by Rhyl Amusements in 1912; the original steam engine was a ‘Little Giant’ built at the Bassett-Lowke works in Northampton but during the 1920s engineer Albert Barnes, the amusement park’s manager, built a series of new bigger locomotives for the railway at the Albion Works in Rhyl.
During the 1930s Rhyl became a popular destination for holidaymakers from all over the North West, especially during the summer factory closure weeks. Families would arrive by train to stay at the holiday camps along the coast and visit the Marine Lake attractions, with the area enjoying annual visitor numbers on a scale which is difficult to imagine now.
The fairground left the Marine Lake site in 1969 when Rhyl Amusements decided to concentrate on their larger Ocean Beach site nearby, which also led to the closure of the miniature railway and the removal of the track. Ownership of Marine Lake reverted to Rhyl Urban District Council who did introduce some amusements of their own including boat rides and a huge childrens’ slide. In 1978 the railway track was re-laid and the railway runs to this day; owned and operated by a charitable trust and still using the locomotives and stock from 100 years ago it’s now Britain’s oldest such railway.
In 1998 the land around Marine Lake was changed drastically by a huge construction scheme which included burying a storm water tank underneath the car park area as part of the local flood defences. A new railway building, Central Station, was opened in 2007 and the nearby Ocean Beach funfair closed that same year. Plans to build a retail, leisure and housing complex on the site, with construction due to start in May 2009, were delayed and ultimately scrapped, leading to the site becoming a derelict eyesore, then in 2015 plans for a smaller retail-only park called Marina Quay were approved. Stores began to open there in stages from 2017 and now include an Aldi, Farm Foods and The Range while the lake itself continues to host activities for local groups and visitors, including water skiing, wake-boarding and non-powered sailing.
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With my circuit of the lake completed I crossed back over the road and the harbour bridge and with a few more snaps taken I retraced my steps along the promenade and back to the Asda car park, then it was only a few minutes drive from there to Eileen’s for my second visit before I set off for home.
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It was another enjoyable couple of hours spent in the company of Eileen, her hubby and Tilly and though I could quite happily have stayed chatting all day if they let me I did have to get home and go to work. The sunshine stayed with me all the way back and with no delays on the motorways I was home in good time. It had been a great long weekend and needless to say I’ve already been planning my next North Wales break, which hopefully won’t be too far away.

February mini break – day 3

After two really lovely days the weather decided to let me down on the last morning. Grey sky and fine drizzly rain which showed no sign of clearing up meant that the dog walk down by the beach was kept fairly short and my plans to explore somewhere new on the way home were completely screwed up; it did mean, however, that I was able to spend a bit longer with Eileen and her hubby on my second visit.
I’d previously mentioned that I would like to see Jasmine, the horse which lives in a local field and which Eileen regularly visits while walking Tilly, so armed with a couple of carrots we set out on the short walk with Snowy and Poppie, though Tilly wasn’t happy at being left behind. At the far side of one small field a couple of Jacob sheep were taking it easy while in the field across the lane were a couple of ponies and a black and white cow just beyond the wire fence.
Jasmine was on her own at the far side of another small field but she came over when Eileen called; she looked a bit scruffy but at least she was well rugged up against the winter weather. We gave her the carrots, though Snowy wasn’t impressed as she thought she was missing out on something, then we meandered back to Eileen’s by a slightly different route.
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It was still raining when I left Eileen’s later on so as there was no point driving along the coast road I headed straight for the A55 which was the quickest way home, and the further north I got the more it was raining. It was a shame the weather had let me down on the third day but I couldn’t really complain – I’d had two really lovely days, discovered some new places, revisited others, visited some lovely friends and got some good photos, so in the words of the Meatloaf song ‘two out of three ain’t bad’.

February mini break – Day 1

After three named storms in less than a week and enough rain to turn my garden into something resembling a soggy sponge pudding last Saturday turned out to be glorious and 8.30 that morning saw me leaving home for another weekend in North Wales, with a pitch pre-booked at the holiday park where I stayed in December. With the weather being so nice I decided to take advantage of it and visit a couple of new-to-me places on the way there, and my first stop was at St. Winefred’s Chapel and Well near the small town of Holywell.
Although the chapel is open daily to visitors the door is actually kept locked so I had to get the key from the nearby visitor centre, and once in there I had the place to myself. Dating from the beginning of the 16th century, with a stone floor and just one stained glass window, the chapel was restored in 1976 and is very simply furnished with just an altar, lectern and a few rows of chairs.
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Expecting St. Winefred’s Well to be a small square hole in the ground with a flagstone surround, or maybe a small stone trough set in a wall, I was more than a little surprised when I saw it. Situated directly underneath the chapel water from a natural spring bubbled up into a large star-shaped stone basin beneath an elaborately vaulted ceiling and surrounded by carved stone columns. Believed for centuries to have healing properties water from the well flows into an outdoor pool where pilgrims can bathe, although it did look rather murky and according to the young couple who were actually in there it was also very cold.
At one side of the pool was an attractive little chapel and next door a couple of small changing rooms, while at the other side of the pool a nearby building housed a museum although this was temporarily closed. The whole place was quite fascinating and I could have spent much longer there so I may very well make a return later in the year.
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The next stop on my list was down the road at the ruined Basingwerk Abbey just off the A548 at Greenfield. Founded in 1131 and extensively remodelled in the 13th century Basingwerk is still a significant religious site and it’s also the starting point of the North Wales Pilgrim’s Way, a long-distance walking route stretching south all the way to Bardsey, the ‘Island of 20,000 Saints’ 2 miles off the Llyn Peninsula. More details and photos of Basingwerk Abbey and St. Winefred’s Well and Chapel will be on a couple of future dedicated posts.
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From Basingwerk it was only a short 2-mile drive to Llanerch-y-Mor and the derelict Duke of Lancaster, a ship taken out of service in 1979 and abandoned several years later. I’ve photographed it from one side on previous occasions so this time I wanted to see if I could get it from the other side but a high security fence and even higher hedges prevented any sort of a decent view.
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My fourth and final stop was made more by accident than planned. Friend Eileen had forewarned me that there were roadworks causing delays along part of the road I would be driving along to get to where I was staying so I made a detour to avoid them and realised I would be passing close to Dyserth Waterfall which I had never previously been to, so it was a good opportunity to go and see it.
The River Ffyddion rises 4.5 miles to the east of Dyserth village and is joined a mile away by water from a spring called Ffynnon Asa. After falling some 70 feet over the waterfall the river makes its way westwards and joins the River Clwyd to the west of Rhuddlan. A few yards from the main waterfall was a smaller one and between the two was a rather waterlogged cave cut into the rock; there was no clue to its significance though there was a ‘danger, keep out’ notice near the entrance.
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The spray from the main waterfall was quite substantial and with the sunshine it created quite a bright rainbow at one side of the bridge. Although their history is unknown the two massive walls to the left of the falls could be medieval and possibly built to support a water wheel which would have been driven by water diverted from above the waterfall. The steps between the walls were quite steep and led to an even steeper path which gave me a good view towards the sea and continued over the hill, taking me into woodland which invited more exploration, but I didn’t want to be too late getting to where I was staying so I retraced my steps back to the waterfall and the car park.
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Checking in at the camp site reception there seemed to be some confusion as to which pitch I was on. I’d booked the pitch I’d had on my previous stay but someone had allocated me the next one to it which was apparently occupied, however after much faffing about I was finally given the pitch I’d booked in the first place and I was free to go round and get parked up on it. Once I was settled in I rang Eileen and arranged to call round an hour or so later, and I spent a lovely evening until quite late in her company along with her hubby and Tilly the cockapoo, which just nicely rounded off what had been a really good day.

North Wales mini break – Day 1

With almost two weeks off work and nothing to do in the week between Christmas and New Year the morning of Wednesday December 29th saw me heading down to North Wales on an impromptu and hastily arranged 2-night break at a new-to-me camp site not far from Abergele. The weather was atrocious when I left home, that fine but heavy rain which really wets you, and the spray from other vehicles on the motorway was dreadful. At one point I did question my own sanity in doing this but by the time I’d got a couple of miles past the turn-off for Manchester airport the rain had stopped and the sky was doing its best to brighten up.
Undecided whether to head straight down the A55 or turn off along the A548 coast road I opted for the second choice when I noticed some patches of pale blue sky appearing over to the west. The A548 crosses over the River Dee via the Flintshire Bridge which was officially opened in 1998; it cost £55m to construct, is 965ft long and 387ft high, and is Britain’s largest asymmetric cable-stayed bridge. It would give me a few good photos but there was nowhere for me to safely stop so I was only able to get one shot quickly snapped through the van’s front windscreen.
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Unfortunately the patches of blue sky which had initially looked so promising had amounted to nothing and it was still very dull and grey when I made a short stop at Greenfield Dock on the River Dee estuary. It was a shame the tide was out as it’s quite an attractive little place, especially when there’s blue sky and sunshine. Now incorporated into a section of the North Wales Coast Path the dock itself was constructed in the early 1700s on the site of a natural harbour and was used to import raw materials to and export goods from the nearby (now non-existent) Greenfield Valley mills which processed copper and cotton.
Raw copper from Parys Mountain on Anglesey was unloaded at the dock and sent to the mills where it was turned into cups, pots and manilas – lead coated copper armbands which were highly prized in West Africa and were the currency of slave dealers. The copper goods were shipped round to Liverpool and the slave ships took the manilas to West Africa where they were exchanged for slaves who were then taken to America to work on the cotton plantations in exchange for bales of raw cotton. These were then brought back to Liverpool and shipped round to Greenfield Dock for spinning at Greenfield Valley’s cotton mills, thus completing the infamous ‘Triangular Trade’ which was eventually abolished by the Slave Trade Act in 1807.
During the early 19th century ferry services were introduced to Greenfield Dock. Ferries sailed to and from Liverpool and the Wirral and the dock became an important passenger terminal for pilgrims visiting the nearby St. Winefride’s Well, however freight and passenger business eventually declined when the Chester-Holyhead railway line was opened in 1848. Fast forward to more modern times and in a collaboration between Coastal Rangers and local fishermen the dock was restored and reopened in 2010; now more than 40 commercial fishermen work on the Dee estuary, cockle fishing in the summer and landing seasonal catches of bass, flounder and shrimp throughout the year.
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”The Lookout” – sculptor, Mike Owens
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The second stop on my way to the camp site was a surprise visit to friend Eileen. When I visited in October she had known about it beforehand but this time she didn’t so I was taking a chance that she and her hubby would be in. Luckily they were and I spent a lovely couple of hours with them and Tilly the Cockapoo before it was time to head off to the camp site.
Now to call this place a ‘camp site’ is rather a misnomer – it’s a 5-star holiday park, doesn’t accept tents and is way over my normal budget, but trying to find somewhere open at this time of year in the right place and with availability at short notice had been like looking for the proverbial needle in the equally proverbial haystack. My options had been limited but this site ticked all the boxes in many ways; I could live with the expensive cost just for a couple of nights so my large mpv became a ‘small campervan’ and I’d booked a serviced pitch for a 2-night stay.
Booking in at reception I was given a site map and a barrier pass then a very helpful young lady showed me to my pitch, which turned out to be in a small section of the lower part of the site and directly overlooking the sea, and with only one unoccupied caravan in the corner I had that section to myself. Living in the van meant that things had to be kept to a minimum so it didn’t take long to get sorted out and after a quick dog walk round the site I was soon settled in for the evening.
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The only downside to the site was the railway line to Holyhead running below it and the very busy A55 running behind it, but train noise was virtually non-existent and once I was settled in the van I couldn’t hear any traffic noise at all. After a very grey start to the day the sun had appeared at lunch time and the rest of the afternoon had been lovely so I kept my fingers metaphorically crossed that the next couple of days would be just as nice.

Looking back – 2021

Another year has drawn to a close and it’s time for me to look back on some of the things which have featured in my life and on this blog over the last twelve months, though in some ways 2021 has been rather an uneventful year so this time I’m concentrating more on the places I’ve been to.
The beginning of January brought just enough snow to make things look pretty and my first walk of the year gave me the sighting of a heron at the hidden lake in the grounds of Smithills Hall and the llamas at the nearby open farm. More snow fell later in the month and during a walk through a local quarry and fields not far from home I was drenched from head to foot in a wave of slushy snow and water when a 4 x 4 driver deliberately drove at speed through a huge puddle at the side of the road. Only a mile from home I could quite easily have gone back to get changed but I decided to carry on and the climb up through the quarry and brisk walk through the fields stopped me from getting cold.
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Early February brought a couple more light overnight snow falls and the 9th was the first anniversary of losing sweet little Sophie so in her memory I took the dogs for a snowy walk round the Belmont area, a walk which Sophie had done with me several times over the years. In one of the fields I met a sheep with extremely curly horns and found that the Blue Lake was almost completely frozen over with ice and snow. The following day I took a walk round the Jumbles Reservoir and got some more lovely snowy photos.
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Early March saw me making two visits to a reservoir which, although fairly local, is in the middle of nowhere and too far to walk from home. The first visit failed however as the traffic and parking situation was a nightmare and after an hour and twenty minutes without ever getting out of the van I ended up right back where I’d started from, at my own front gate. The second visit was much more successful though and I had a lovely walk round the reservoir where I found much of the south side looking more open after the felling of quite a lot of trees. Also that month I made three visits to Manchester and on each occasion came back with a whole host of street art photos.
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Early April saw me seemingly being inundated with chocolate. On the spur of the moment Michael bought me two bars of white chocolate from the corner shop, his girlfriend sent me a lovely bunch of flowers and some chocolates and I won a pack of Cadbury’s creme eggs in an online Easter competition. Later that month I had a ridiculous conversation with Michael when he couldn’t think whether that particular day was Wednesday or Thursday and only a week later I had almost the same conversation with the boss’s son at work when he couldn’t remember if the day was Wednesday or Thursday. As well as local walks with the dogs I also made another two trips to Manchester and made a spring revisit to Corporation Park in Blackburn.
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Early May was blighted by a fair amount of cloud and rain so there were no trips out and local walks were kept to a minimum. Another couple of photography trips to Manchester were made and when the weather came nice later in the month I got some lovely colorful shots of different shrubs and trees in various gardens which I passed on one of my walks with Snowy and Poppie.

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The Manchester Flower Show was held in lovely weather during the first week of June and I made two trips to find and photograph the many floral displays and installations situated in various locations around the city centre. Also that month I discovered the delightful area of the Castlefield Basin where the Rochdale Canal and Bridgewater Canal meet and I was lucky enough to see the Castlefield Goslings who commute between the canal basin and the streets at the other side of Deansgate, taking their lives in their webbed feet by crossing the extremely busy main road. It beats me how they haven’t been squashed but traffic does seem to stop for them. 

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The highlight of July was my 10-day holiday in the Lake District, and though it started with a sore foot, a fault with the tent, a leaky loo and a swollen arm all four problems were soon resolved and with mainly good weather I went on to have a lovely time away. During the ten days I went to the delightful little village of Caldbeck, met up with blogging friend Jayne who took me on a lovely walk round Ravenglass, visited the Lake District wildlife Park and discovered several new-to-me places including Harrington harbour.

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August was the month when Michael and I twice went for a curry meal at a local pub/restaurant and each time there was something missing from our order. The first time the mango chutney was missing so was substituted with mint yogurt, then the second time there was no mango chutney, no mint yogurt and no rice so we ended up with chips instead. Luckily we both saw the funny side of it and assumed that the lack of some foods was caused by various disruptions in the supply chain at the time. During the bank holiday weekend I had a nice walk along a section of the Lancaster Canal at Hest Bank, a place I’d never been to before, and also visited Arnside and Jenny Brown’s Point near Silverdale, then the following day went to Morecambe.

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The middle Sunday of September was the start of my second 10-day Lake District holiday and though the first couple of days were grey and cloudy the weather came good and I was able to revisit some places I’d previously been to and explore others which I hadn’t, including Workington harbour, Bowness-on-Solway and Port Carlisle. I also walked by Bassenthwaite Lake and climbed Latrigg Fell the hard way (almost vertically) when the path ran out due to a large area of trees being felled, but it was worth the effort as the views from the top were fabulous. The highlight of the holiday though was without a doubt my visit to Ennerdale Water which offered fabulous views and gave me lots of great photos. The 25th of the month was Snowy’s first anniversary, a full year since she came to live in my little family at the age of 8 months.

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October was very wet for most of the month but a break in the weather late on saw me going down to North Wales for a 2-night mini camping break and to make a long overdue visit to Eileen, a special blogging friend. During the weekend I met Eileen’s new little dog Tilly, and visited Flint Castle, Rhuddlan Castle and the oddly-named Horton’s Nose nature reserve at the mouth of the River Clwyd.

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November for the most part was another rainy month when dog walking was kept to the local avenues or just the back garden if it was really bad but a couple of days of nice weather in the middle of the month gave me the opportunity to have a walk round Rivington Gardens to catch the remains of any autumn colours. Also that month I took the 25-minute train journey to Blackburn to see the Knife Angel, a 27ft tall sculpture made up of over 100,000 knives.
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Early December was cold but dry and a lovely sunny day saw me taking the dogs on a local walk round Smithills Hall and through nearby woodlands and fields, then the week before Christmas I made my last visit of the year to Manchester, a late afternoon/early evening one to photograph the light sculptures in the city centre. To round off the year, just four days ago I made an impromptu spur-of-the-moment short trip to North Wales, staying at a new-to-me camp site and also visiting Eileen again. I only got back home late afternoon yesterday so it will be a while before details and photos appear on here. 

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So there you have it, some of the highlights of my year. All that remains now is to welcome any recent new readers to my blog and thank everyone for visiting and leaving comments; if it wasn’t for my readers there wouldn’t be a blog, so I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year – have a good one!

North Wales weekend – Day 3

The morning of my third day arrived with beautiful blue sky and sunshine so after a leisurely breakfast I took my time have a good wander round the site. With the early closure of the site where I would normally have stayed down in Abergele I’d searched UK Campsite (the website for all things camping related) and found this one. It was a bit further away from where I really wanted to be but only an easy 6-mile drive away from my friend so the previous week I’d phoned up to book – and that’s when my brain started to get confused.
On the UK Campsite listing it was advertised as being a ‘club member only site’ (which usually means that a site is connected to either the Camping & Caravanning Club or the Caravan & Motorhome Club) but when I asked which club (I’m a member of the first but not the second) I was told it’s a private site but as it’s now out of season they are letting non-members stay. The lady I spoke to (Marjorie) sounded friendly enough but didn’t offer any explanation as to what sort of ‘club’ the listing referred to, however she quoted me a very reasonable pitch price which included electricity and the instructions were that on arrival I should park outside the barn and ring her, which I did when I got there.
Expecting to pay cash for my 2-night stay I was quite surprised when she said that her son would come and show me to my pitch (seems she was isolating prior to going into hospital for an operation) and once I got settled in I was to ring her again and she would take my payment over the phone. Her son arrived a couple of minutes later, showed me to my pitch on the camping field and very helpfully directed me as I reversed so the van would be level, then he explained where everything was and that was it – other than ringing Marjorie again to pay for my pitch I was very much on my own.
Apart from the camp site’s reasonable price and its convenient location for visiting my friend the one thing which first stood out was its name – Pet Rescue Fundraising Camp Site. Anything connected to animals, especially rescued ones, attracts my attention and a big banner on the entrance gate said this was the Pet Rescue Welfare Association, but if I’d been expecting to find an animal sanctuary where visitors could walk round and see various rescued pets waiting for adoption I was destined to be disappointed, and though I heard dogs barking on a couple of occasions during my stay there were none in evidence.
Across from the barn where I’d parked on arrival was a portacabin reception office which was closed and a large farm gate, also closed, with a ‘Private’ notice on it. A small ‘visitors parking area’ contained a couple of cars, neither of which had been there the previous day, so I was hoping I could see someone to ask what the ‘club membership’ thing was all about but there was no-one around at all. Outside reception was a small garden overflowing from an old bathtub and containing a couple of cute dog ornaments and on the farm gate was a different take on the usual ‘Beware of the dog’ notice. Hearing a noise from the nearby barn I went to see if there was someone I could speak to but only saw the faces of two curious cows.
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The camp site itself consisted of two large fields separated by a stream which originates from a waterfall less than a mile away; one field was a ‘pitch anywhere you like’ rally field while the main field had 20 electric pitches on one side and 20 non-electric on the other, all very generous sizes and separated by ropes and traffic cones, also there were four fully-equipped camping pods with decking and hot tubs. About halfway along the electric side was a small motorhome obviously used as a site office during the season and a catering trailer – closed now – with several picnic benches in a large enclosed gazebo, while in the middle of the field was a large open-sided gazebo.
The facilities, although spotlessly clean, were rather odd to say the least. At each end of the site were two portaloos and set back in a corner not far from the entrance a timber-framed open-sided gazebo housed a small washing up sink with hot water piped from somewhere via a length of green hose while drinking water came from a yellow hose with a tap. A much smaller sink, similar to those seen at the side of a dentist’s treatment chair, had its pedestal fixed into what appeared to be the waste tank of a caravan cassette toilet and was labelled ‘teeth cleaning only’ while next to it were two showers, one a portaloo-type and the other housed in what could only be described as an 8ft x 6ft plastic garden shed. It was all very basic yet there was everything a no-frills camper would need.
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Eventually it was time for me to leave the site and as living and sleeping in the van meant that things had been kept to a minimum it didn’t take long to pack up and get on the road, though before I actually headed home I was making a second visit to Eileen as she had asked me to take some photos of Tilly. It was another couple of hours spent in the company of some lovely friends but all too soon I had to leave as not only did I have to go home, I had to go to work when I got there.
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Heading down to the coast road I made a brief stop to snap a photo of the friendly neighbourhood giraffe looking over someone’s hedge and who is sometimes featured by Eileen on her blog. I think maybe he’s reluctant to admit that summer is over as he’s still wearing his sunglasses though it probably won’t be long before he has his Christmas hat on.
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When I walked round by the harbour the previous day the tide was on its way out, this time it was high so I made a brief stop just to take a few more photos. My final stop along the coast road was the one I didn’t have time to make two days before, a short walk from the main road to photograph the Duke of Lancaster, a ship taken out of service in 1979 and abandoned several years later. It’s an interesting story and one to be told another time.
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With no more stops it wasn’t too long before I was on the motorway and heading north though I got stuck in very slow moving traffic just after I got off the M56 onto the M61. It delayed me by a good half an hour which meant I would be a bit late for work but I got there in the end.
Since getting back home I’ve found out that the pet rescue side of the camp site offers several services to the community including doggy day care, a lifetime pet foster scheme, pet food bank, community vet clinic and lifetime pet care for animals whose owners are deceased. As for the camp site itself, it’s close to a busy main road so I wouldn’t take my tent and stay there for any length of time but in the van I hadn’t heard any noise at all. It may be a bit of an odd place with quirky facilities but it was reasonably priced and nice enough for a couple of days so I may very well be tempted to stay there again another time.

North Wales weekend – Day 1

A Saturday morning in late October saw me heading off to North Wales for a 2-night mini camping break though this time I was on a mission, making a long overdue visit to Eileen, a special blogging friend. My usual route into North Wales would be down the A55 but there were a couple of places I wanted to stop off at on the way, the first one being Flint Castle, so I took the A548 coast road instead. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t exactly brilliant, it was dull with some very dark clouds in places though the sun did make a few brief appearances so I kept my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t rain on me while I was looking round the castle.
Flint was the first castle in what would later become known as King Edward I’s ‘Iron Ring’, a chain of fortresses designed to encircle North Wales and oppress the Welsh. The site was chosen for its strategic position just one day’s march from the walled English city of Chester, and being on the western shore of the River Dee estuary supplies could be brought to the castle by sea or along the river itself. Building work started in 1277 using millstone grit, ashlar and sandstone then in November 1280 master mason James of St. George, from the Savoy region of France, was brought in to oversee and accelerate the initially very slow construction pace; he remained at Flint for 17 months before moving on to oversee the completion of Rhuddlan Castle in the neighbouring county of Denbighshire.
It took a total of 1,800 labourers and masons nine years to build Flint Castle and when work ended in 1286 it had an inner ward and an outer bailey separated by a tidal moat but connected by a drawbridge and gatehouse. The inner ward had three large towers while a detached keep with walls 23ft thick protected the inner gatehouse and outer bailey, beyond which a plantation town was laid out. The design of the castle was based on medieval French models and as it was never repeated in any other castle built by Edward it remains unique within the British Isles.
During the 1294/95 Welsh revolt against English rule Flint was attacked and the constable of the castle was forced to set fire to the fortress to prevent its capture by the Welsh, though it was eventually repaired and partly rebuilt. In 1399 it became the location of a turning point in history when Edward’s great, great grandson Richard II came face-to-face with his cousin and rival to the crown Henry Bolingbroke. Richard was captured and escorted by Henry to London, where he abdicated the throne and King Henry IV’s reign began. Richard later died in captivity and two centuries on his sad fate was forever immortalised in the words of Shakespeare’s play Richard II.
During the English Civil War of the mid 17th century Flint Castle was held by the Royalists but was finally captured by the Parliamentarians in 1647 after a three-month siege, then to prevent it being reused in the conflict it was destroyed in accordance with Cromwell’s orders. It was never rebuilt and the ruins are those which remain today. DSCF0997 - Copy
South west tower, gatehouse, and the keep
View from the south east
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Inside the keep
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North west tower
South west tower
The keep
Most parts of the castle, including the isolated keep, are accessible to the public, and I was quite surprised to see that since my previous visit there four years ago a spiral staircase had been added to the centre of the north east tower. It was just begging to be climbed up but I couldn’t do it with the dogs so I had to leave them back in the van for a short while.
The well and north east tower
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View from the north east tower
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North west tower
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Since 1919 the castle has been managed as a public monument and is maintained by Cadw, the Welsh-government body which protects, conserves and promotes the heritage buildings of Wales. It’s an interesting place and I actually spent longer in there than I intended so I abandoned my plan to go elsewhere and headed straight for Eileen’s. Unfortunately Sod’s Law decreed that I should be delayed for a while by roadworks and single file traffic on the outskirts of Prestatyn but I got there in the end even if I was a bit later than I intended. It was really good to see Eileen, her hubby and new little dog Tilly and I spent well over two hours in their company but eventually it was time to head off to the camp site just a few miles away – and the camp site itself is a story on its own.

Ravenglass – a walk in two parts

Day 4 of my holiday started with the most glorious sunrise over the nearby fells just before 4.30am, a promising start to the day ahead. This was to be my ‘big day out’ and I left the camp site a bit earlier than usual for the drive down to Ravenglass to meet up with Jayne. We had agreed to rendezvous in the village car park and when I arrived I found she had got there just a short while ahead of me. She had reversed her campervan/mobile home into a space in an empty corner of the car park so I drove into the space on its nearside, meaning our side doors were opposite and we could sit and chat easily without being disturbed.
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Jayne had previously suggested taking me for a walk, she had in mind a part of Ravenglass she suspected I hadn’t seen before – she was right – so after much chatting and drinking of cool ginger beer and coffee we set off. Through the car park and over the railway line we came to a pretty little garden set behind the signal box, then past the nearby play park and quite a distance along a lane through a pleasant wooded area we came to the ruins of a Roman Bath House.
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The Roman fort of Ravenglass was established on land between the lane and the river estuary and is believed to have been occupied from AD 130 to the end of the 4th century. Standing almost 13ft high in places, the remains of the bath house are among the tallest surviving Roman structures in northern Britain. The building was identified as being Roman in the 19th century, although it was initially thought to have been a villa and wasn’t identified as a bath house until the 20th century.
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Further along from the bath house the lane turned to the right and led downhill under the railway line to the estuary, where we walked along above the shore line before dropping down onto the sand for the last couple of hundred yards to the village’s main street.
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Back at the car park there was much more chatting to be done until it was time for Jayne to leave but it was still only late afternoon, my car park ticket was valid for all day and I had no reason to rush back to the camp site so I decided to stay for a while longer and take myself off for a walk across the railway bridge to the other side of the river.
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Back in the village I had another walk along to the end of the main street then took a path between the houses and past the end of the car park where Jayne and I had started our walk. At the far side of the railway line for the second time I dropped down onto the platform for the steam railway and came out onto the main road into the village. Down the road and under the main railway line I was then on a loop back to the car park and my final shot of the day was taken as I passed a very pretty cottage garden.
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It was well after 7pm when I finally got back to the camp site, with the good weather having stayed with me all the way back. Meeting up with Jayne had been lovely, I’d had two nice walks and taken lots of photos in the process; it had been a perfect day, now it was time to make a brew and relax for the rest of the evening.