Taking advantage of a sunny blue sky morning in mid October I set off just after 10am for a second visit to Bridgewater Garden. Now this place is only ten miles from home but as I approached my turn-off from the motorway the sun disappeared and the whole area became shrouded in a thick mist. It wasn’t looking good for my garden visit but as I’d already booked and paid online going back home wasn’t an option so I decided to have a wander round the gift shop and hope that the mist would soon clear and let the sun come through.
Eventually the sun started to cut through the mist and it lifted enough for me to venture out so I headed across Victoria Meadow, an area I hadn’t been to on my previous visit, and by the time I’d got to the far end the mist had almost gone. The path across the meadow took me into the woodland at the unrestored eastern end of Ellesmere Lake and among the trees I came across the remains of a small folly on what would once have been an island in the lake.
The path took me round the far side of the lake and along past what had once been a landscaped formal terraced garden in the heyday of Worsley New Hall, now looking rather unkempt and overgrown but awaiting development by the RHS. Past the Chinese Garden the main path led me to the Old Frameyard with its large new glasshouse and beds of oddly shaped hydrangeas and from there I made my way to what has now become my favourite part of the whole place, the Paradise Garden.
The walled garden itself isn’t a place to follow any sort of planned route as there are so many paths leading off other paths and so many different sections to see so I just wandered leisurely around from one area to another, even doubling back on myself a couple of times, until I decided I’d seen just about everything there was to see. As I made my way back to the Welcome Building my last shot was the clear view over Moon Bridge Water, looking vastly different to my very misty first shot of earlier on.
Although mid October showed that many of the flowers and shrubs in the walled garden had been past their best there was still a lot of colour around and the autumn hues here and there had added to it, making for a very enjoyable second visit. I probably won’t go there during the winter months but I’m already looking forward to making a third visit next spring and hopefully getting another batch of good photos.
The second Sunday of this month saw me revisiting Gresgarth Hall garden near Caton village. Having been there for the first time in August and been very impressed I was curious to know what it would look like now the seasons had changed. Several parts of the garden had undergone some subtle but still obvious changes in the planting and the features and though the trees didn’t have as much autumn colour as I’d hoped – maybe it was still a little early in the month – there was still enough to make a difference.
Another difference was in the number of visitors – I arrived soon after 12 noon and though I’d noticed plenty of cars in the car park there didn’t seem to be too many people around the garden. In August there had been a lot of visitors and photography was often frustrating but with fewer visitors this time I was able to take my photos without having to wait for someone to move out of the way. And I make no apologies for the number of flower close-ups and shots of the lake and the house from different parts of the garden – this place is far too nice not to go mad with the camera.
Across the Chinese Bridge and away from the main part of the garden I took a wander along the hillside above the river and in various grassy clearings among the trees I came across a few quirky features. A large stone urn on a pedestal, a statue, something which could once have been a sundial, and there was even a gravestone for ”Leo, 2003-2019” who I presume was the family dog.
In one of the garden rooms the low level foliage had been trimmed back to make the swirly mosaics on the path look more prominent, a couple of pyramid shaped bushes had appeared since my previous visit and round a corner I came across a benign looking lion which I hadn’t seen before, while the two roaring lions by the lakeside were more easily visible.
At £12.50 the entrance fee for the garden isn’t exactly cheap but for me at least it’s worth it for the photo opportunities it provides. It’s a beautiful place, and since this visit I’ve found out that there are still some features I haven’t yet seen so I’m already looking forward to making a third visit next spring.
A sunny but breezy Sunday at the start of this month saw me heading out to Southport for a look round the botanical gardens in the suburban village of Churchtown on the outskirts of the town. In spite of the numerous times I’ve been to Southport over the years I’d only found out about this place recently so I was looking forward to seeing what was there.
The Botanic Gardens were originally founded in 1874 by a group of local working men who formed the Southport and Churchtown Botanic Gardens Company and acquired a parcel of land from the Hesketh Estate. The company raised £18,000 to landscape the gardens, build a lake, a conservatory, tea rooms and a museum, and the gardens were officially opened in 1875 by Rev. Charles Hesketh from whom the land had been acquired, with the opening ceremony including laying a foundation stone for the museum.
The building was designed by local architects Mellor & Sutton and built by George Duxfield of Duxfield Brothers, Southport, with the famous showman, politician and businessman Phineas T Barnum being an advisor in the construction. The museum eventually opened in 1876 and Barnum donated his top hat which could later be seen on display. The running of the museum was funded by donations from the public and the local council while the gardens themselves were run as a commercial venture funded by entrance fees.
The gardens’ serpentine lake was formed from part of a stream, known as The Pool, which flowed through the grounds of the nearby Meols Hall historical manor house and out to the Ribble Estuary, and it’s said that monks who lived close by fished for eels in the stream. Attached to a magnificent glass conservatory was a fernery which proved very popular with visitors as it featured many tropical plants from around the world, and though the conservatory was eventually demolished the fernery still remains to this day.
In 1932 the gardens sadly closed as they were earmarked for an eventual private housing development but after a local uproar Southport Corporation intervened and bought the site with money raised by public subscription. The gardens reopened in August five years later as a public amenity renamed The Botanic Gardens and King George Playing Fields, though the name eventually reverted to the original Botanic Gardens.
All the museum’s collections were sold off when the gardens closed in 1932 but the museum was eventually reopened by John Scoles who started a new collection from scratch. A Victorian Room was constructed, many artefacts related to Southport’s heritage were donated by local residents and exhibits included the Cecily Bate Collection of Dolls, though one special exhibit, and probably the oldest item in the museum, was an ancient canoe which in recent years has been dated to 535 AD.
The canoe was found in April 1899 by a local farmer who was ploughing a field near what was once the northern shore of Martin Mere and a local historian at the time identified it as being of significant age and interest. It was first displayed in the Botanic Gardens conservatory then in 1907 it was loaned to Liverpool Museum until 1946 when it was returned to the Botanic Gardens and displayed in the museum there.
Fast forward through the years and in the 1980s the Friends of the Botanic Gardens Museum organization was formed. They successfully stopped the proposed closure of the museum at the time and later set up their own shop within the building; sadly it was closed permanently on April 24th 2011 as part of a cost-cutting exercise by Sefton Council and the collections were transferred to the Atkinson Museum on Lord Street where many are still on display, including the Martin Mere canoe, P T Barnum’s top hat and the Pennington taxidermy collection.
Along with the closure of the museum horticultural activities at the gardens were also significantly reduced. Sefton Council proposed further closures within the gardens which would see the loss of the fernery, aviary, garden nursery and toilets, along with the conservatory at nearby Hesketh Park. A group of local residents got together to save the remaining facilities at both sites, in particular at the Botanic Gardens, which along with the museum’s closure had also lost the boats on the lake, the boat house, the road train which provided a ride around the park, and the services of the park gardeners. The flower beds have since been maintained by the Botanic Gardens Community Association volunteers who spend Mondays and Fridays every week tending to as much of the park as they can.
A side entrance had taken me into the park near the bowling greens and a walk through the arboretum led me to a pleasant path around the lake but when I got to the flower beds near the fernery I felt rather disappointed. Having previously seen photos of them on the internet I’d been looking forward to a lot of bright colour but they were very pale and didn’t really live up to my expectations, although the planters and borders along the path from the main entrance were much more colourful. There was a cafe too and an aviary with budgies, parrots and various other winged creatures, but the density of the mesh panels prevented me from getting any decent photos of them.
With my walk around the park complete, and not wanting to cut short a really nice day, I drove into Southport itself, parked up by the Marine Lake and went for a leisurely walk round King’s Gardens. Over towards the Pleasureland amusement park was what later information told me is Southport’s newest attraction, the 35-metre tall Big Wheel with an Alpine Village around its base, although everything seemed to be closed up at the time.
Back at the car park my thoughts turned to finding a cafe for coffee and cake but I decided instead just to enjoy the drive home in the mid afternoon sunshine and have a proper meal when I got back. In spite of my disappointment over the lack of colour in the flower beds at the Botanic Gardens I had enjoyed exploring somewhere new – it was a lovely park which I’ll probably visit again next summer and hopefully when I do those flower beds will be a riot of colour.
Anyone who knows me, whether personally or virtually through this blog, will probably also know that I don’t do gardening. Having an intense dislike of slugs, snails, and anything else slimy doesn’t help so trimming the fuschia hedges and strimming the grass occasionally is just about my limit. I do enjoy visiting other gardens though and in mid August I went to two private gardens not far from each other, open to visitors on certain days as part of the National Garden Scheme and only a twenty minute drive from home.
The first one was at the rear of a modern detached house in a cul-de-sac on a modern estate close to the Leeds -Liverpool canal and when I arrived I wasn’t expecting much, however I was quite pleasantly surprised. The front garden was mainly given over to a paved parking area where a path on the left took me round the side of the house and past the open door to the kitchen where three ladies were busy making tea and coffee for visitors.
The garden itself was very informal, a mixture of herbaceous borders, flowering shrubs, fruit trees and flower decked trellis, while various garden ornaments, wind chimes, hanging baskets and other decorations appeared at intervals among the greenery. The path wound its way down the left side and at the end was a greenhouse and small vegetable patch, with the path winding its way back along the far side of the garden to a central raised patio area set with tables and chairs for any visitors who wanted refreshments. For an average sized suburban garden it was very nice and worth the nominal entry fee (donated to charity as part of the National Garden Scheme) to look round and take some photos.
The second garden was much larger, covering some 3.5 acres bordering open countryside, and it belonged to a Georgian house built in the late 1700s by local landowners the Standish-Langtree family. In the mid 1800s the house became the home of a local mill owner then in 1880 it was bought by John Haslem Gillett, a wealthy cotton mill owner with many mills around Lancashire. The land around the house was developed into gardens which included lawns, shrubberies and a walled kitchen garden, all surrounded on three sides by woodlands which gave plenty of shelter.
The house and land remained in the Gillett family until the late 1940s when it was bought by the family of the present owners who, in 1994, went ahead with plans to restore various parts of the garden and open it up to the public on certain days, and each year new features are created or previously neglected areas are cleared and restored to provide fresh interest for visitors.
A narrow side alley between the house and the one next door took me through an ornate wrought iron gate into the garden and I was greeted by a brass hand bell on a small table with the instruction ”Please ring for attention”, whereupon a very friendly lady appeared from the nearby conservatory, took my entry fee and provided me with a laminated map of the garden.
Each section was very helpfully named and numbered and there was a surprise round almost every corner – statues dotted here and there, dog ornaments on the pathways and a couple of ornamental ducks in the undergrowth near the stream. It was nice to wander round at my own pace accompanied by pleasant classical music played through speakers, and just to make sure I hadn’t missed anything I went round twice, ending with coffee and cake in the pretty orchard tea garden.
It was a bit unfortunate that the sky clouded over somewhat while I was looking round the second garden but it didn’t lessen my enjoyment and by the time I was having my coffee and cake the sun was back. Wandering round both gardens had been a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours and as each one provides very different photo opportunities I may very well revisit them both next year.
More glorious weather last weekend was just too good to waste so on the Sunday morning I headed off up the M6 to Gresgarth Hall and its garden just outside the Lancashire village of Caton. Gresgarth Hall is home to landscape designer Lady Arabella Lennox-Boyd and her husband Mark and the private garden is only open one Sunday each month between February and November. I’d only found out about it a couple of days previously and with the next open day being due it was a good opportunity for a few hours out.
Gresgarth Hall was originally founded around 1330, constructed as a fortified residence by Agnes and John Curwen. Successive generations of the Curwen family owned the Hall for the next 300 years then when the last Curwen died in 1633 the estate passed to the Morley family who eventually sold to the Girlingtons. The look of the house changed several times over the years, with the greatest change occurring between 1805 and 1810 when it was extensively remodelled and enlarged, softening its defensive characteristics and providing its current Gothic appearance. It then passed through several owners over the years until the late 20th century when the current owners purchased the estate in 1978, then after renovating the house Arabella Lennox-Boyd began designing the garden in 1980, developing it over the following years into that which can be seen today.
The name ‘Gresgarth’ is apparently Norse for ‘enclosure of wild boar’ and the sculpture of a wild boar greeted me on the formal lawn in front of the house – it was huge and it was ugly and not the sort of thing I would want to encounter on a dark night. From the front lawn box hedging bisected by several paths divided a large area into different garden rooms with a variety of beds and pretty herbaceous borders, and set in some of the paths were several cobble mosaic designs by Lancaster artist Maggie Howarth.
My wanderings eventually took me to the side of the lake and from there a path led up to the enclosed kitchen garden where an arched door set in the wall immediately made me think of the book and film The Secret Garden. More cobbled mosaics were set into the paths and against one wall was a stone seat with a carved panel set in the back of it although there was no information to say what, if anything, it represented.
A path from the back of the kitchen garden took me past some outbuildings to a ford across Artle Beck, a tributary of the River Lune, and though there were plenty of rocks around there was no way I could have got across without getting wet feet so I wandered down the path past the far side of the lake and crossed the river via the Chinese style bridge. Wavy box hedging lined both sides of a grassy avenue and at the end was rather a strange sculpture – or maybe it was a large lump of stone balanced on top of a smaller one, though there was nothing to say what it was supposed to be.
Back towards the bridge and in the shrubbery not far from the end a movement caught my eye and there, only just visible, was a young robin. It seemed quite happy to have its photo taken and sat there for several minutes while I took a few shots of it. Back across the bridge steps on the right took me down to a small but very pretty rear garden with a trellised and rose covered arbour overlooking the river, though I could only go so far before the garden itself became private.
Round the side of the house and overlooking the lake was a very pleasant terraced patio area with the lower level right by the water. A small dinghy, apparently much-photographed, floated at the water’s edge and two huge stone roaring lions lay within the colourful foliage though I had to walk quite a distance back round the lake before I could actually see them properly and take a couple of zoom shots.
At around 12 acres this garden is only just over the size of the walled garden at Bridgewater which I visited the week before but the two couldn’t be more diverse. At Gresgarth formal and informal planting blend seamlessly together with soft lines and curves and there are so many lovely areas and winding paths to explore in such a relatively small area. Although I knew I hadn’t seen everything the garden had to offer I decided after two hours that I’d had enough – it was a very hot day and with too many people around photography sometimes proved to be a bit frustrating but I loved the garden itself and as I drove away I knew I would be making another visit in the not-too-distant future.
Last weekend, wanting to go somewhere different but not too far away, I decided to visit the RHS Bridgewater Garden, a relatively easy 10-mile drive from home and somewhere I’d never previously been to. Developed on the site of the former Worsley New Hall and its lost historic grounds Bridgewater is the RHS’s fifth garden, and being under the impression that it had been established quite some time ago I was surprised when I later learned that it only started to be developed five years ago.
The history of Worsley New Hall dates back to the 19th century when it was built for Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Ellesmere. Replacing an earlier classical-style building from the 1760s the New Hall was designed by architect Edward Blore, with the foundations being started in 1839 and the first stone laid in April 1840. An Elizabethan Gothic-style mansion, the building was completed by 1846 at a cost of just under £100,000, the equivalent of £6.7million today; the earlier building was demolished between December 1844 and August 1845 and a section of what is now the A572 runs over the former site of it.
Just as grand as the house, the magnificent gardens were landscaped over a 50-year period with landscape designer William Andrews Nesfield, one of the most sought-after of his profession at the time, being involved in the project from 1846. Over the years the sloping grounds to the south of the hall were developed into a formal terraced garden set off with ornate fountains and accessed by a series of steps and gravel paths, while beyond the terraces landscaped parkland extended to a lake with an island which was reached by a footbridge.
Worsley New Hall was visited by Queen Victoria twice, first in 1851 and again in 1857. For her first visit the Queen and her party travelled from Patricroft station to the Hall via the Bridgewater Canal on a Royal Barge commissioned by the Earl of Ellesmere, with a landing stage being specially built on the canal bank, and in honour of her visit the canal water was dyed blue. On her second visit, after attending an Art Treasures exhibition in Manchester, she planted a North American giant redwood tree in the Hall’s lawn in memory of the Duke of Wellington but sadly the redwood didn’t grow well in the British climate. In 1869 Edward, Prince of Wales, and Princess Alexandra visited the Hall then forty years later, after opening the Manchester Royal Infirmary, they made a second visit to inspect the Territorial Army’s East Lancashire division in the grounds of the Hall south of the Bridgewater Canal.
During the first World War John Egerton, 4th Earl of Ellesmere, lent Worsley New Hall to the British Red Cross and it became a hospital for injured soldiers. The grand spacious rooms were used as wards, food was provided by the kitchen gardens and the terraced gardens and parkland were used for recreation. The hospital closed in 1919 and the building was left unoccupied then in 1920, after incurring various death duties, the 4th Earl started auctioning off various items of furniture and fittings. Paintings and further items of furniture were relocated to other properties also owned by the Earl and the Hall’s library and surplus furniture were sold at auction in April 1921.
In 1923 the Worsley estate including the New Hall was sold to Bridgewater Estates Limited, a group of Lancashire businessmen, for £3.3 million. Several attempts were made by them to sell the property during the later 1920s and the early 1930s but sadly these all came to nothing and the Hall continued to lie empty, slipping slowly into decline. With the advent of World War II the War Office requisitioned parts of the building and the grounds and during 1939 and 1940 the site was occupied by the 2nd and 8th Battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers, with around 100 troops based there. In 1941 and 1942 the 42nd and 45th County of Lancaster Home Guard Battalions used the site, constructing storehouses for explosives in the grounds, while the lake and other parts of the grounds became Middlewood Scout Camp.
Sadly the existence of Worsley New Hall was soon to come to an end. Already weakened by dry rot and subsidence and damaged during the military occupation a fire in September 1943 badly damaged the top floor of the building, leading to calls for tenders to demolish it. Finally in 1944 it was sold to a scrap merchant for £2,500; demolition started in 1946 and by 1949 the hall had been razed to ground level, with debris used to fill in the basements. A footbridge which connected the New Hall with Worsley Old Hall estate at the far side of the road was demolished at the same time and 800 tonnes of stone from the New Hall was taken to be used in the construction of council houses in Southfield, Yorkshire.
In 1951 the War Office once again requisitioned part of the New Hall site and built a reinforced concrete bunker as an Anti-Aircraft Operations Room, along with two anti-aircraft radar masts, then in 1956 they actually purchased the site of the bunker and it was used by the Royal Navy as a food store. In 1961 it was sold to Salford Corporation and was used by both them and Lancashire County Council as a control centre then seven years later ownership passed to the Greater Manchester Fire Service who eventually leased it to a local gun club as a shooting range in 1985.
With the exception of the bunker the site of Worsley New Hall and its gardens remained in the ownership of Bridgewater Estates Ltd throughout the years until 1984 when the company was acquired by Peel Holdings, a property and investment group. Over the following years various ideas were put forward for the regeneration of the site but nothing ever came of them, then in 2011 an archaeological excavation of the site, funded by Peel and carried out by the University of Salford, revealed that some of the basement of the mansion and its foundations were still in existence.
In October 2015 it was announced that the Royal Horticultural Society would renovate the New Hall’s 154-acre garden and work started during the 2016/17 winter. Plans included the restoration of any remaining historic features, the reconstruction of the walled garden and the creation of completely new and contemporary features, with an eco-friendly light and airy Welcome Building housing a reception area, cafe, gift shop and attached garden centre, and Bridgewater Garden finally opened to the public on May 8th 2021.
A weekend afternoon and good weather meant that the place was very busy so my first port of call which seemed to have less people around was the Welcome Garden with its pleasant paths meandering round large informally planted areas close to a nearby lake, although I couldn’t get close enough to the water to take a decent photo. A well mown path past the lake led across a tree lined meadow but seemed to go on for quite a distance so I took a left and followed a path winding gently uphill through the Chinese Streamside Garden. On the rail of the bridge at the top I found a dragonfly sunning itself, it seemed to like having its photo taken as it stayed there for ages and never moved.
From the bridge steps and another path took me up past the Chinese Water Garden to Ellesmere Lake and though I could have walked all the way round I passed on that in favour of finding the more interesting parts of the garden. A long straight path led through Lower Middle Wood to the large events marquee and picnic area and halfway along I came to a very unusual exhibit in a glass case, Queen Cotton Fairy’s Crown.
In the 19th century and throughout Queen Victoria’s reign the production of cotton was instrumental in the rapid growth of Manchester as a city and the Cotton Fairy’s Crown is loosely based on the design of Victoria’s imperial state crown. Unfortunately there was no information on when this exhibit was made or who made it – looking at the crown itself and the state of the case it looks old, probably made around the time of Victoria’s visits to Worsley New Hall, but so far I’ve been unable to find out anything about it.
From the events marquee a long straight path led to the 11-acre walled garden and in the outer part were the original potting sheds, now used as an exhibition space, and The Bothy, the cottage where apprentice gardeners once lived and now repurposed for horticultural staff, while next to the cottage was the tall chimney which was once part of the heating system for the glasshouses which were nearby. Along the path was an enclosure with a few rare breed chickens then from there I went to explore the walled garden proper.
A section of one of the outer walls had been utilised as a backdrop to a handful of separate tiny gardens each with a different theme and my favourite of these was the Windrush Garden, a re-imagined tropical garden designed to cope with an unpredictable climate and the challenges of a shady inner city backyard. Inspired by stories of sunny days in Jamaica the design reflects the resilience of the Windrush generation who, having moved to the UK from the Caribbean, could start a new chapter of their lives while still retaining a sense of ‘back home’
The walled garden itself is one of the largest in the UK and at 11 acres is approximately the same size as the Chelsea Flower Show site. The inner walled garden is divided by a central wall into two halves, with the Paradise Garden occupying one half and the Kitchen Garden the other, and these are surrounded by a series of connecting gardens which are enclosed by a lower-level outer wall. With so many paths and ‘gardens within gardens’ it was easy to lose track of where I’d been and more than once, just when I thought I’d seen everything, I found another bit I hadn’t seen.
The layout of the kitchen garden’s pathways and beds was inspired by a network of local underground waterways starting in Worsley. The two Chelsea gold medal-winning designers discovered maps and drawings of these waterways dating back to the Industrial Revolution and overlaid these with an Ordnance Survey map of the area to create the garden’s layout. Water itself also features in the garden with four raised rectangular ‘infinity’ pools among the flower beds.
The contemporary Paradise Garden takes inspiration from the traditional paradise gardens of many years ago, cleverly blending Mediterranean, Asiatic and American plant species and with water as its key feature. At the heart of the garden is a 70sq metre lily pond fed by two shallow channels running east to west and with a smaller pond and fountain at each end.
Heading towards the exit my route took me past part of the Welcome Garden and the exit itself led onto a pleasant terrace overlooking Moon Bridge Water and with an outdoor seating area for the cafe. I did think about treating myself to cake and a drink until I saw the over-the-top prices – £4 for a small cupcake and £2 for a can of Coke is just ridiculous – so I gave up on that idea and waited until I got back home.
Aside from the cafe prices and the ridiculously expensive gift shop I was very impressed with Bridgewater Garden. There are other areas to explore yet so I’ll certainly make a return visit, especially as it’s not too far from home, though next time I’ll be taking a picnic.
After a bit of a detour to get out of Conwy due to major roadworks at a crucial junction a short drive along the A55 got me to the A470 which took me to Bodnant Gardens. My last visit there was seven years ago and back then I’d had to leave my dogs Sophie and Sugar in the van but this time my visit was on one of the ‘dogs allowed’ days, although I still found a parking space in the shade of some trees.
The Bodnant estate was first established in 1792 when a Colonel Forbes built Bodnant Hall, a large mansion house which replaced an earlier house on the same land. Early records show that Bodnant, which in Welsh means ‘dwelling by a stream’, had been home to the Lloyd family from the reign of James I, passing by marriage to the Forbes family in the mid 1700s. With the building of the mansion Colonel Forbes then went on to develop the parkland around it in the English Landscape style.
On Colonel Forbes’ death in 1820 the estate passed by marriage to William Hanmer of Bettisfield Park in Flintshire and over the following years he made his own improvements, including building the present Old Mill between 1828 and 1837 and extending the garden around the mansion house. When Victorian industrialist Henry Davis Pochin bought Bodnant for £62,500 at auction in 1874 it was an estate with several farms, a walled garden, woods and plantations though it was his grand vision to turn it into something much greater.
Henry Pochin was born in Leicestershire in 1824 into a 200-year-old family firm. He trained as an industrial chemist and made his fortune from two big ideas, one of which was inventing a process which turned soap from the traditional brown into white. Living and working in Manchester he became an MP, Mayor of Salford, and the director of 22 companies, and also owned Haulfre Gardens in Llandudno between 1871 and 1876. After purchasing Bodnant Hall in 1874 he set about remodelling the house and enlisted the skills of well known landscape designer Edward Milner to redesign the land and the gardens around it.
Together they relandscaped the hillside and valley, planting American and Asian conifers on the banks of the river running through the land to create a woodland and water garden. Apple trees were taken from Haulfre Gardens and replanted at Bodnant, glasshouses were built in the upper garden to house exotic plants and 48 laburnums were planted to create the 180ft long Laburnum Arch, now believed to be the longest and oldest in the UK although today’s laburnums are from different stock. In 1883 the POEM (Place Of Eternal Memory) mausoleum was built in The Dell in memory of four of Henry’s children who had died in infancy, later becoming the resting place of Henry himself and other family members.
As a local landowner Henry Pochin was no less active, building cottages on the Bodnant estate and improving farming practices on the land. He also bought land at Prestatyn on the coast, where he supplied the seaside town with clean water and gas, built flood defences and developed a foreshore and promenade. He remained active in business throughout the 1880s but was overcome by ill health and died aged 71 in 1895, passing on the Bodnant estate and garden to his daughter Laura McLaren, married to Charles McLaren, 1st Baron Aberconway. A keen horticulturalist, she had already designed many gardens by the time her father died.
At the turn of the century Laura developed the wild garden at the ‘Far End’ and as a lover of herbaceous plants she also developed the upper formal gardens in the newly emerging Edwardian style with billowing flower borders. In 1901 she entrusted the care of the garden to her son Henry McLaren on his coming of age but maintained a keen interest and together they created the Skating Pond at the Far End and the stunning Italianate Terraces, built by hand using local labour in two phases, 1905-06 and 1912-14.
Using as a guide the highly popular book ‘The Art and Craft of Garden Making’ by Thomas Mawson other major developments continued, including the Lower Rose Terrace and the Lily Pool Terrace which was influenced by the Earl of Crawford from Fife, with Henry McLaren later adding several classical statues including the stone sphinxes on the Lower Rose Terrace.
As well as overseeing the major developments of the gardens Henry, who had become an industrialist and a barrister and later 2nd Baron Aberconway, also sponsored the expeditions of plant hunters such as Ernest Wilson and George Forrest who brought back to Bodnant ‘exotic’ new Asian plants, notably magnolias, camellias and rhododendrons, and with his head gardener Frederick Puddle Henry himself bred many unique Bodnant hybrid rhododendrons.
In 1939 the Pin Mill, which dates from 1730, was rescued from decay by Henry who bought it for an undisclosed sum, had it dismantled and brought from Woodchester in Gloucestershire to Bodnant, and as a grand finishing touch to the terraces it was rebuilt brick by brick at the end of the Canal Terrace, where it remains the most recognised and photographed feature of the gardens.
In 1949 Henry, who had been president of the Royal Horticultural Society since 1931, handed over care of the gardens, but not the house, to the National Trust. It was the second estate to be acquired by the NT (the first being Hidcote Manor in Gloucestershire) as Henry hadn’t wanted to be accused of using his position to have Bodnant become the first. After his death in 1953 his son Charles McLaren (3rd Baron Aberconway) continued to develop Bodnant Gardens with the NT by making further improvements, opening new vistas and adding new plants, and in 1961 he became president of the RHS.
After Charles’ death in 2003 his younger son Michael McLaren, a practising London barrister, inherited the Bodnant estate. He still remains keenly involved and as garden manager and director he maintains the family’s historic and creative links to Bodnant with new developments which, since 2012, have brought about the opening of previously private areas.
After my long morning walk to Conwy marina and back, a couple of hours looking round the castle and climbing four towers, plus almost the same length of time wandering round the main parts of the gardens I didn’t really feel like climbing down the steep paths and steps to the bottom of the valley and walking all the way up to the Skating Pond. It was inevitable that if I climbed down I would have to climb back up so I decided to give any features in that area a miss, get a coffee from the Pavilion tea room then head back to the camp site, though as I drove along the A55 I had no idea what awaited me when I got there.
What had originally started out as a pleasant breeze that morning had gained in strength during the course of the day until it was blowing an absolute hooley – something akin to Gale Force 109 if there is such a thing – and I arrived back at the site to find that one side of the tent had blown inwards and everything inside was upside down on the floor. Fortunately the tent itself was securely anchored so it couldn’t actually blow down but the central pole had bent out of shape a bit – thank goodness for carbon fibre flexibility, at least it hadn’t snapped. Luckily nothing inside the tent was broken and it was all easily picked up and put back in place, then after I’d checked all the guy lines and pegging points I was free to relax for the rest of the day.
**From October 1st to the end of March dogs (on leads) are welcome in the gardens every day, then from April 1st to September 30th on special ‘dog days’ – all day on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and between 5pm and 8pm on Wednesdays.
Situated at West Beach and across the coast road from Lytham Green Lowther Gardens is the oldest park in Lytham St. Annes. Covering an area of almost 14 acres the gardens were provided by Squire John Talbot Clifton in honour of his wife Eleanor Cecily of the Lowther family in Cumbria, and also in memory of her father who died in 1868. Laid out on what was previously poor grazing land known as Hungry Moor the gardens were designed under the supervision of a Mr Tomlinson, who worked on the nearby Clifton estate, and were opened to the public on August 27th 1872.
In 1905 the gardens were given to the local council by Clifton’s son with the bowling greens being laid out the same year, and though several changes have been made throughout the years since then most of the original design and layout is still in place today. The first Lowther Pavilion was built in 1922, tennis courts were added in 1929, an aviary was constructed in 1934 and in 1936 a new main entrance and a car park were added. In 1981 the original Lowther Pavilion was replaced with the current pavilion, which is the borough’s only theatre, and in 1999 a long herbaceous border was planted to replace the rose bed near the pitch and putt area. Current features also include a crazy golf course, children’s play area and a cafe serving hot meals, light refreshments and soft drinks.
I’ve been past Lowther Gardens many times over the years on my visits to Lytham St. Annes and though I’ve often promised myself that I would stop off there and have a look round I never have – that was until three weeks ago when I was able to tie in a visit there with my quest to photograph the old boats and tractors featured in my Monday walk last week. Lowther Gardens was the nearest place to where I wanted to be so I parked there and spent quite some time wandering round before going across the road to the promenade.
Close to the main entrance was the Lowther Pavilion where I had to get my car park ticket from but it’s not a particularly attractive building so I didn’t bother taking a photo of it. A path round the side of the pavilion took me through a wooded area where I came across what was once a bandstand in a clearing, then farther on I emerged behind one of the bowling greens.
Crossing the grass to the main path I came to a rather unkempt flower bed featuring an old bike with a basket on the front and the natural ‘sculpture’ of a man sitting reading. This was ‘Between The Tides’, the recreation of a (much tidier) display celebrating the tradition of shrimp fishing on the Ribble estuary and which won Silver Gilt in the Flower Bed category at Tatton Park Flower Show in 2014. At the time Russell Wignall was the only full time ‘shrimper’ in Lytham and he can still be seen most days with his bike at Church Scar where he keeps his boat Grace, and which, coincidentally, is where I later photographed the old tractors.
A short distance up the path and across the grass to the left was the long and wide herbaceous border with its gently curving edges rather than straight lines. Just like the Between The Tides flower bed it was rather unkempt but it was full of bright and attractive flowers with the Cobble Clock in the centre. Designed by Maggy Howarth of Cobblestone Designs, who also created the Paradise Garden mosaic in Lytham town centre, the clock was unveiled in 2005 to mark the 100th anniversary of Lowther Gardens’ status as a public park, though unfortunately it currently has no hands.
Backing the border was a long box hedge with its neatly trimmed wavy lines giving shelter to the flowers and behind the hedge I came to the rose garden, a large expanse of lawn with an elevated seating area at the far side and individual circular beds each with a different colour of rose.
Back on the main path and in the centre of the gardens was the large Victorian lily pond with its life size bronze statue, not in the centre but towards one edge. Unveiled in November 2003 ‘Shrimper’ by sculptor Colin Spofforth was commissioned as part of a heritage lottery project for Lowther Gardens, with the history of shrimping in the area having been meticulously researched to ensure that the sculpture’s clothing and accessories stayed true to an 1880’s shrimper from the area. Swimming lazily in the pond were several large fish but the water was a bit too cloudy to get any clear shots of them.
From the lily pond I headed back out of the gardens and across the road onto the green; before I went in search of the old boats and tractors there was something else I wanted to look for which I’d also seen on someone else’s blog.
Back in the early 20th century there was a prosperous fishing industry in the Ribble estuary but as the river gradually became more polluted several outbreaks of food poisoning were linked to the consumption of shellfish so to combat this three mussel cleansing tanks were constructed by Lancashire County Council and opened in 1935, operating for just over twenty years before being closed in 1957.
A restaurant was built on the site of the western tank, with the building later being used as a nightclub then as a roller skating venue but by the mid 1990s it had become derelict and vandalised so was demolished and the area paved over. The old central tank became occupied by the Ribble Cruising Club and the eastern tank by the RNLI Lytham lifeboat and its crew, then in 2017 Lytham St. Annes Civic Society sponsored the refurbishment of the paved area to retain the views and celebrate the heritage of the site.
With the tide having now retreated I took the opportunity to walk right down to the end of the long lifeboat jetty; it was quite a distance across the sand and thick mud and looking back to the promenade it was easy to see why the lifeboat is launched using a tractor and trailer.
With a final long distance shot of Lytham windmill and the old lifeboat station in the distance I headed back along the jetty to the promenade – it was time to go in search of the old boats and tractors back along the beach somewhere.
My Monday walk this week was done just five days ago – June 24th – on what must have been one of the hottest days of the year so far. I don’t usually watch weather forecasts but I’d heard that the weekend was probably going to be very wet so I decided to take advantage of the midweek sunshine and explore a couple of places I hadn’t been to before.
Driving up the M6 I took the turn-off for Lancaster and headed along the A683 which bypassed the city itself and led straight to Heysham port, though on the spur of the moment I took a minor road down to the River Lune to check out a particular spot which – I’d been told by someone ages ago – was quite nice and had good views over the river. I didn’t have to go far before I came to a pleasant looking static caravan site and next to it The Golden Ball Hotel set several feet higher than the road.
According to local history there’s been an inn on that site since the mid 1600s; the main part of the existing inn, known locally as Snatchems, was built in 1710 and an extension was added in 1790. Fast forward to the early 20th century and in 1910 William Mitchell bought the inn and it became a tenanted pub with Mitchells of Lancaster being the landlords. In early 2010 the last tenants left and with no-one to run it the pub was closed and put up for sale by Mitchells, eventually being bought in 2011 by the current owner and further extended.
There are a few stories of how the pub’s nickname Snatchems originated though the most interesting and widely accepted explanation stems from when the River Lune was used as a shipping channel. When any tall ship was about to sail out on the high tide the captain would check how many men were on board and if the numbers were short a boat would be sent over to the inn, where the crew would ‘snatch’ any men who were intoxicated – and by the time they sobered up they would be well on the way to a foreign country!
Parking at the roadside near the pub I had a very short walk in each direction and other than a handful of passing cars I had the place to myself. Round a bend just west of the pub the road went over a deep drainage ditch while a hundred yards or so to the east the grass riverbank widened out to quite a pleasant area. The Golden Ball itself was temporarily closed up, with its entrances at road level surrounded by high steel barriers, and coupled with obviously overgrown gardens the place had a distinct air of abandonment about it.
With my curiosity satisfied I drove back to the main road and headed to my first ‘official’ destination, the Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s Heysham Nature Reserve. At the point where the road led into the docks and the power station a lane on the left took me to the track leading to the reserve; unfortunately there was a barrier across the track with a ‘car park closed’ notice on it but I was able to squeeze the van into a suitable space just off the lane and I set off to see what I could find. The first disappointment came when I got to the far side of the car park and found a notice on the gate saying dogs weren’t allowed in that part of the reserve, however there was no way I could leave Poppie in the van on such a hot day and there was no-one around anyway so I took a chance and went through.
The second disappointment came just a few yards farther on when I found a large part of the reserve completely closed off by a high steel fence and a locked gate with a ‘No Entry’ sign attached to it. That was one area I definitely couldn’t get into so I followed the path down a series of steps and found myself on the road to the power station – this couldn’t be right, there had to be more to the reserve than that. Across the road was a grassy area at the entrance to the large EDF Energy place and at the far side I spotted a rabbit so I snatched a quick long distance photo before it moved then went back up the steps into the reserve.
Not far from the top of the steps I found another path which meandered between hedgerows alive with birdsong, and past a quiet little tree shaded pond I came to a large meadow which, ignoring the constant hum and crackle from the power lines above, was quite a pleasant place in the sunshine. The path eventually brought me out not far from where I’d left the van and across the track was another path with a notice on the gate saying this area was where dogs could be walked and could also be allowed off lead, not that Poppie ever is.
In the shade just inside the gate was a metal box with a lid and a dog bowl at the side – a notice on the fence said ‘Dog water – please refill’ and in the box were several 2-litre milk containers full of fresh water, with a couple of empty ones left at the side. Quite a handy provision for thirsty dogs, presumably supplied by a local member of the Trust, and once Poppie had a quick drink we set off on some further exploration. The path was long and straight, bordered by trees on one side and open grassy areas on the other, and a distance along was a pond with hundreds of fish, possibly chub, swarming about close to the edge.
Eventually the path crossed an access lane to part of the power station and I came to an open picnic area with benches here and there; it was overlooked by the huge Heysham 2 nuclear reactor but plenty of surrounding trees did help to screen the building from view. Heysham 2 seems to dominate the horizon from miles away and from a distance looks quite ugly but close up, with its red, blue and green colours, I thought it looked strangely attractive. At the end of the picnic area the path ran for a short distance past the power station’s perimeter fence with its ‘keep out’ notices at intervals; with the continuous loops of razor wire on top of the fence I felt almost like I was passing the grounds of a prison and I certainly couldn’t imagine anyone trying to get in there.
I finally emerged onto a very rocky shore at Red Nab rocks, an area of Permo-triassic rocks of red and white sandstone. A long concrete promenade ran past the power station perimeter towards the port entrance and halfway along was a closed off short pier with the surface of the sea in a turmoil underneath it, which was presumably something to do with the power station; according to the notice on the fence this was the Heysham Sea Bass Nursery Area managed by the North Western Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority and public fishing wasn’t allowed.
A bit farther along were the remains of an old wooden pier and at the end of the promenade was the old south pier lighthouse at the port entrance. Built from cast iron in 1904 and almost 30ft high the base had originally been red and the lantern gallery white, though it now looks sorely in need of a coat of paint. Information tells me that in spite of its derelict looks it’s still active with a 6-second on/1.5-second off green light, though I’m not sure how correct that information is.
The old light house was the one thing I’d wanted to see so once I’d taken a couple of photos I retraced my steps along the promenade. By then the tide had come in and the turmoil of water under the sea bass nursery pier had levelled out, with dozens of seagulls in the channel – presumably at some point there would be a lot of fish in evidence just there. Walking back along the path through the nature reserve I was momentarily surprised when a bird flew out of a tree and landed right in front of me; it could possibly have been a thrush but without seeing the front of it I couldn’t be sure.
Back at the van I gave Poppie a drink even though she had some from her travel bottle while we were walking, then I drove the short distance to the next place on my itinerary, Half Moon Bay which was just at the other side of the port and another place I’d never been to. There was nothing there really, just a large rough-surfaced car park, a beach and a small café, closed of course; ignoring the ever-present power station building it wasn’t a bad little place but I wasn’t sure about the crooked sign attached to a crooked pole.
On the grass just off the end of the short promenade was a sculpture commissioned by the Morecambe Bay Partnership in 2019. It was just called ‘Ship’ and is supposed to reflect the importance of Morecambe Bay’s maritime heritage, with one figure facing ‘the new’ of Heysham’s nuclear power station and the other facing ‘the old’ of the ancient ruins of St. Patrick’s chapel on the cliffs farther along, and though I quite liked it I failed to see the significance of the holes through the figures’ upper bodies.
With nothing else to see at Half Moon Bay I returned to the van and took the road leading into Heysham village; I hadn’t intended going there but I wanted to find a cold drink from somewhere. Across from the village car park the side window of the Curiosity Corner cafe was open for takeaway drinks and snacks so I went to get something from there and was charged £1.20 for a can of Tango – sheesh, these places certainly know how to charge over the odds for something! I was glad that at least I’d taken my own slab of fruit cake as to buy some cake from there would probably have cost an arm and several legs.
Suitably refreshed I took a walk along to the end of the village’s main street and was delighted to find that the church was open to visitors. I’d wanted to go in there when I visited the village last year but it was closed then so I wasn’t going to miss the opportunity this time as I wanted to photograph the carved Viking hogback tombstone which dates from the 10th century. Unfortunately I couldn’t get proper shots of the stained glass windows as much of the church was blocked off but photographing the tombstone was no problem as it was close to the open side door.
Back outside I took a wander round Glebe Garden as due to the palaver of rescuing an injured hedgehog last year I hadn’t seen much of the place at the time. It wasn’t a big garden but it was very pretty and as I walked round I discovered many delightful miniature houses and tiny animals set among the foliage and on cut down tree stumps.
Walking back through the village I shot my last couple of photos and returned to the van; it was still only mid afternoon but I had to go to work later on and it was an hour’s drive back home, plus I wanted to make a brief stop on the way back.
Driving back through Half Moon Bay I reversed the route from there back to the Golden Ball on the River Lune as I wanted to see if the area looked any different now that the tide was in. It certainly did, and far from there being no-one around when I was there earlier there were several cars and trailers parked along the road and a few people out on jet skis, with a couple of families sitting on the grass while their kids and dogs played at the water’s edge.
With my day out finishing exactly where it began I did the journey home with no problems and arrived back with just enough time to get changed before going to work. All in all it had been a good day out, and though I had no wish to return to the nature reserve or Half Moon Bay it had been good to visit them both just to see what they were like – and with the healthy dose of sea air for myself and Poppie we both slept well that night.