Lowther Gardens, Lytham

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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. 
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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.
 

Heysham – a walk in three parts

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.

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Looking west

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Looking east, with a hazy Ingleborough in the far distance

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Lythe Bridge

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The Golden Ball Hotel

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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Perched on the railing to the left of the old light tower were several cormorants

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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.
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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.

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Half Moon Bay beach

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

 

Snowdrops for Sophie

In light of my recent incredibly sad and heart breaking loss of Sophie I thought long and hard about doing this walk, especially as I’d originally intended taking Sophie with me, but there was nothing to be gained by staying at home and after several weekends of not being able to go anywhere I really needed a few hours out. My intended destination was Hornby Castle Gardens, only open on a few select weekends each year with the most recent being the snowdrop weekend. Sunday’s weather forecast for that area was for sunshine and even though it was cloudy and grey here at home I decided to take a chance and go.
As I got to the far side of the nearby moors I could see sunshine and blue sky ahead and by the time I was heading north up the M6 it had turned into a really lovely day. Living where I do, halfway up a hill on the north side of town, I don’t normally encounter any instances of flooding in bad weather so I was quite surprised at the sight which greeted me as I drove along the A683 towards the western edge of the Yorkshire Dales. Just before Claughton village the River Lune had overflowed and a huge area of flat grazing fields had disappeared underwater, though fortunately the natural slope of the land from the roadside had prevented the water from reaching the road itself or any roadside properties.

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There’s a river in there somewhere

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Set back off the road, and just out of reach of the flood water, was the old Lanefoot Crossing signal box in the garden of a nearby cottage. Once part of the long-disused ‘Little’ North Western Railway line which operated between Lancaster and Wennington, then extended to Leeds, it was in use between 1849 and 1968, and in more recent years has been preserved and refurbished to be used as a summerhouse for the cottage.

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The Lanefoot Crossing signal box

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There was no parking available in the grounds of Hornby Castle so I left the van in the village car park and walked along the road and over the bridge to the castle gardens entrance gates. The River Wenning, swollen from all the recent rain, was in full flow as it ran west to join the Lune, and on the east side of the bridge the water was a seething boiling mass as it came over the nearby weir – definitely not a place anyone would want to fall in.

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River Wenning looking west

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Looking east

Entrance to the castle grounds cost £5 with dogs free of charge and after being given a map, which I didn’t really need as I’ve been there before, though not at this time of year, I set off with Poppie to find some snowdrops. Now I don’t know if my expectations were too high or if maybe the recent bad weather was a factor, but far from seeing carpets of snowdrops as I thought I would all I found were small clumps dotted here and there among the trees, with several clumps together on the bank leading up to the castle lawns.

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Driveway up to the castle

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The pond and island

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Part of the path along the riverside had been closed off as it was muddy and very slippery but I got round that by walking along the riverbank itself, and when I rejoined the path I came to the remains of a dead tree trunk. One side looked very much like the other so it was hard to tell which had been roots and which were branches but I liked the shape of it so it was worth a quick snap.

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Along the riverside walk

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Just past the tree trunk the path wound steeply uphill and almost doubled back on itself, emerging at one corner of the castle lawn. At the far side steps led down a short steep bank to the main driveway and on the bank itself were a couple of clumps of pink flowers ; they looked a bit sorry for themselves but at least they provided a bit of colour.
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Across the driveway a path and a succession of wide shallow steps went down through a wooded area to the walled garden ; at this time of year there wasn’t much colour about the place but I did see some more pink flowers, some daffodils, a few more isolated clumps of snowdrops and some lovely bright blue things which I don’t know the name of.
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The walled garden was my last port of call, I’d been everywhere else and with so few snowdrops to see there was no point walking round again, so I made my way back to the van and with one last shot from the bridge I set off for home, arriving back at 4pm and still in sunshine. Although Hornby Castle’s website promises ‘hundreds of named varieties of snowdrops’ the ones I saw all looked the same to me, and compared to the carpets of flowers I saw at Lytham Hall last year the clumps of snowdrops dotted here and there were rather a disappointment.
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This had been my first proper walk with Poppie on her own and it seemed so strange having just one little four-paws with me instead of two. Even though the snowdrops didn’t live up to my expectations I know that Sophie would have loved the walk so I’ve decided – when the time is right, and in her memory, there’ll be some snowdrops planted in her corner of my garden.

 

The Irish National Stud & Gardens

In which I fall foul – again – of the ‘law of Irish distance and directions’ and indulge my love of horses…
Chatting to the two guys in the shed at the bottom of Kildare tower I asked if it was possible to walk from there to the Irish National Stud. I thought it was but I wanted to be sure and they confirmed that yes, I could walk there, it was only a mile – if I took the road opposite the market square, followed it past the Grey Abbey, over the motorway, turned left at the end, next left and the second right would bring me to it. It sounded simple enough but by now being rather dubious about Irish directions and distances I decided to seek confirmation (or otherwise) from the information centre in the market square and a very nice lady in there gave me the exact same directions, telling me it would take me about half an hour.
Now at the speed I walk it does not  take me half an hour to cover just a mile so it sounded like this place was a bit more than that. Also it seemed like I would be doubling back on myself, however off I went and after what felt like forever – 29 minutes to be exact – I reached the entrance to the National Stud. On paying my entrance fee in the visitor centre I was given a couple of information leaflets, one of which had a map showing how to get there, and when I looked at it I realised that instead of following the directions I’d been given and going a long way round I could have walked down a different road which would have taken me straight there. Also there’s a regular free shuttle bus from the shopping village so I needn’t have walked there at all, but no-one had told me that!

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Blue : the way I went  –  Yellow : the way I could have gone

The Irish National Stud was originally founded in 1900 by Colonel William Hall-Walker, a horse-loving Scottish-born businessman from a famous brewing family. After purchasing a farm and other land at Tully on the outskirts of Kildare town he set up a thoroughbred horse breeding facility and quickly became the most successful breeder of his time, enjoying his finest hour when his favourite Tully-bred colt, leased to King Edward Vll, carried the royal colours into the winners enclosure after a famous victory in the 1909 Epsom Derby.
The world-renowned Japanese Gardens were devised by Colonel Hall-Walker and created between 1906 and 1910, being laid out by Japanese master horticulturalist Tassa Eida and his son Minoru. Planned to symbolise the ‘Life of Man’ through trees, plants, rocks, lawns and water the gardens trace the journey of a soul at it goes along the various paths of life from birth to death. The name Minoru means ‘the favourite one’ and this was chosen by the Colonel for his favourite horse, the one which won the 1909 Derby.
In 1915 Colonel Hall-Walker moved to England and gifted the entire Tully property and land to the Crown ; it then became the British National Stud and its success continued under the leadership of Sir Henry Greer, though the Japanese Gardens fell into a period of relative obscurity. In 1943 the newly formed Irish Government took over the land and buildings and in 1945 the Irish National Stud Company was formed, taking over the running of the stud in 1946 ; also that year the Japanese Gardens got a horticultural supervisor to return the gardens to their original splendour. Fast forward to the present day and in 1999, to celebrate the forthcoming Millennium, St. Fiachra’s Garden was designed by an award winning landscape architect to commemorate St. Fiachra, the patron saint of gardeners.
Turning left out of the visitor centre the first thing I came to was a very ‘flower power’ life-sized sculpture of Minoru, the horse which won the 1909 Epsom Derby. This was part of Under stARTers Orders (the capital letters aren’t a typing mistake) an arts charity initiative celebrating the redevelopment of the iconic Curragh Racecourse and raising funds for two charities local to Kildare, the Irish Injured Jockeys and Sensational Kids. A total of 21 resin sculptures were exclusively painted by some of Ireland’s leading equine and contemporary artists and were put on public display at various locations in and around the county, with the opportunity to buy either online or at a live auction in June.
The cost of the admission included a guided tour of the stud and its various facilities and though at first I’d intended just wandering about on my own I realised that there was a tour starting at 2pm so I decided to join it, having just enough time to snatch a handful of photos before going to the meeting point near the Minoru sculpture.

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‘Minoru’ by Liza Kavanagh

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The tour guide was a very friendly and knowledgeable young lady called Sarah and as she walked the group round she gave out lots of really interesting information about the workings of the stud, interspersed with a few amusing comments here and there. Past a sculpture of Invincible Spirit, the current top stallion, and the entrance to the Sun Chariot Yard foaling unit was the museum with the skeleton of the legendary Arkle displayed in the window. Arkle, owned by the then Duchess of Westminster and named after a mountain in Scotland, won 27 of his 35 races including three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cup wins, and had the highest Timeform rating ever given to a steeplechaser ; he remains the greatest steeplechaser to have lived anywhere and at any time.

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Sculpture of Invincible Spirit

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Entrance to the Sun Chariot Yard

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Skeleton of Arkle (1957-1970) – the genuine article, not a plastic replica

Past the stallion boxes were the stallion paddocks where I was able to see at close range some of the world’s current best stallions. Depending on popularity a stallion’s breeding fees can range anywhere between the price of a car and the price of a house ; the top stallion is currently Invincible Spirit with stud fees of £120,000 per time, he is father to many champion racehorses and his foals can sell at auction for several hundred thousand pounds each. Past the nursery paddocks were the Living Legends paddocks where previously great racehorses can live out their retirement years, with five horses – Hurricane Fly, Hardy Eustace, Kicking King, Beef Or Salmon and Rite Of Passage – currently in residence.
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Invincible Spirit

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Decorated Knight

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Dragon Pulse

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Living Legends, L-R Hurricane Fly, Rite Of Passage, Kicking King, Beef Or Salmon

Across from the Living Legends paddocks was the extensive St. Fiachra’s Garden and once the tour ended I went back to take a couple of photos before going to the café for a much-needed coffee and a cake treat. With a good selection of cakes and other calorie-laden stuff I was spoilt for choice but eventually decided on a slice of Banoffee Pie, which was highly delicious and also very filling.

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Path through St. Fiachra’s Garden

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A look round the Japanese Gardens was a must and as the café was right next door I didn’t have far to go to get there. To be honest I don’t really subscribe to the Japanese ‘story of life told through a garden’ concept, I like to look round a garden for the garden itself, but all the features were numbered so I followed most of them – although not all in sequence – without referring to the story, the end of which is actually quite sad.
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The Bridge of Life

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The Tea House

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With or without the story the Japanese Gardens were lovely ; it was a shame it was such a grey day as with sunshine and blue sky they would be really stunning. Checking the time when I came out of the gardens I was hoping I would be able to go back to St. Fiachra’s Garden but there was a courtesy bus leaving the car park at 4.15 and I didn’t want to miss it (getting that would save me the walk back into town) so reluctantly I gave up on that idea.
The courtesy bus put me off just inside the shopping village and from there it was only a short walk across a car park to the bus stop for the coach to Roscrea. I arrived back at 6pm to another of Nellie’s lovely meals then later on I went round to Laura’s to spend a final hour with her before tackling the unwanted, although relatively easy, task of packing my things ready for the following day’s journey home. Apart from the needlessly long walk to get to the National Stud my day had been very interesting and successful, and not having had time to see all that the Stud has to offer means I’ll be making a return visit as soon as I get the opportunity.

Kildare round tower and St. Brigid’s Cathedral

In which I climb six near-vertical ladders and look round another church…
After the lovely sunshine and blue sky of the previous couple of days the last full day of the holiday arrived very cloudy and grey but I wasn’t going to let it stop me from going out. My destination this time was Kildare with a couple of places to visit in mind, and I got the 10.15am coach – when it finally came – from Roscrea. It put me off at Kildare shopping village so I thought I may as well have a quick look round while I was there, although the designer shops are all so expensive I would have needed to take out a mortgage if I wanted to buy something.
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The first place I really wanted to visit was Kildare round tower, specifically to climb up the inside to the top. I’d first discovered it on a visit to Kildare a couple of years ago but it was early December then and it was closed for the winter months so I’d put it on my list of places to go back to when I had the opportunity. Walking through the town from the shopping village I came across a building which looked like it had once been three cottages but was now just one place with painted windows and doors at the front. There was nothing to say what it was, and in spite of much Googling I still haven’t found out, but round the side was a colourful enclosed space with a handmade plaque on the wall saying that bit was St. Brigid’s evergreen garden.

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Kildare street art?

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Kildare round tower is situated in the grounds of St. Brigid’s Cathedral ; built in the 12th century on the site of a previous much older tower the walls are over 2ft thick and at 108ft in height it’s Ireland’s second tallest tower and one of only two which can be climbed. The Romanesque doorway, which is situated 13ft above the ground, is constructed of ornately carved dark red sandstone receding in four ‘steps’, while the original conical cap was replaced by castellations in the 18th century. These castellations have crumbled in places over time so there’s now a steel cage round the tower roof to stop anyone falling off.
At the bottom of the steps leading up to the door was a small shed with two very genial Irish guys taking payment for doing the climb and after handing over my 4 euros I set off on my adventure. Now in the last few years I’ve climbed quite a variety of steep staircases, usually spiral ones, but this wasn’t even a staircase ; a series of six almost vertical ladders took me up through the floors, and though four of the ladders seemed to be fairly modern in construction ladders three and five have been in place since 1874. The tower narrowed in width as I got higher up and the bottom of each ladder was almost touching the wall, meaning there was only just enough space for me to squeeze onto the first step. Added to that was the fact that the top two ladders only had a handrail on one side – this definitely wasn’t a climb for anyone with claustrophobia or a fear of heights.

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Photo from 2017 showing the position of the doorway

Kildare Round Tower doorway

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Looking down from the doorway

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Ladder 1

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Ladder 2

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Ladder 3

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Ladder 4

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Ladder 5 with only one handrail

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Ladder 6 – still only one handrail

Eventually I reached the top of the last ladder and emerged onto the roof ; it was a shame it was such a cloudy grey day as the views over Kildare and the surrounding area were excellent and I got several shots as I walked round. I had to watch where I was putting my feet though as there was no guard rail round the top of the ladder ; one wrong step and I could have fallen through the hole to the platform below. The custodians of the tower mustn’t have heard of health and safety! I took my photos without mishap though then set off on the slow and careful climb back down the six ladders.

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The top of ladder 6 and the tower roof

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Views of  Kildare town from the tower

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Rear of the cathedral from the tower doorway

Back at ground level I had a quick chat to the two guys in the shed then went to have a look in the cathedral. In the entrance was a small collection of medieval sculptural monuments, including the tomb of Bishop Wellesley who died in 1539, and there were many more historical features in the cathedral itself but I was more interested in the stained glass windows. They were all very lovely, as most stained glass windows are, but I particularly liked the modern design dedicated to St. Luke and installed in 1974.

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The High Altar

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Carving on the side of the pulpit steps

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The Bishop’s Throne

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A section of the beautifully tiled floor

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The front of the church

For some strange reason the cathedral closed for lunch at 1pm and as it was getting close to that and it looked very much like I was the only person in the place I thought I’d better go before I got locked in. My next port of call was within walking distance and this was one I was really looking forward to.
To be continued…

Ashton Gardens in summer

Back in April, while on an afternoon out in St. Anne’s, I went to Ashton Gardens situated on the edge of the town centre.  It was a place I hadn’t been to before and in the sunny weather I was impressed enough to want to go back during the summer, so my Monday walk this week features a second visit which was undertaken earlier this month. Just as previously I started my walk at the gates in the side street closest to the town centre then wandered round in a ‘sort of’ anti-clockwise direction, ending at the gates on the main road.

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St. George’s Road entrance

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The first of two bowling greens

When I got round to the rose garden I must admit to being slightly disappointed as it didn’t look quite as good as I’d expected. Although all the beds were full of roses of different colours it seemed that many of them were already past their best with withered blooms and fallen petals, indeed two gardeners were busy dead-heading the worst of them. Not being interested in gardening I’ve no idea if there’s a particular time when roses are at their best – maybe there is and I’d missed it, or maybe the best was yet to come, however the garden was nice enough in its own way and I got a few good photos.
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Beyond the rose garden was the undulating land with the two ponds and meandering waterway, and the place looked a lot different to April when the trees were still quite bare. And strange as this may sound, I actually thought that there was too much  greenery around as a lot of it was obscuring what had previously been some really nice views, however I still got some good shots and the bonus was seeing the fountain in the big pond shooting water about 15ft in the air, something I hadn’t previously known about as it hadn’t been working in April.
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Next came the Japanese garden which I’d missed last time as I hadn’t known about it, then the circular sunken garden with its beds full of pink and white flowers ; in the bright glaring sunlight they looked rather washed out but the pink ones were actually much deeper than they appeared. From there I made my way past the war memorial and the pavilion cafe then down the wide main path to the gates onto the main road, finally making my way back to where I’d left the van in the car park at my usual cafe.

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The Japanese garden

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The sunken garden

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The pavilion cafe

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Looking back up the main path

It had been interesting to see the difference in the gardens now it’s mid summer but of course that’s got me wondering what they will be like in autumn when the leaves are changing colour – and who knows, maybe a third visit will be on the cards in the not-too-distant future.

 

A spring walk round Sunnyhurst

This post was supposed to feature as a Monday walk but being without a computer of my own for almost two weeks, and having to rely on a borrowed laptop, has meant that I’ve been unable to deal with the many photos I’ve taken during that time. However things have finally been sorted out and I’m back in the blogging world although this pc operating system is vastly different to what I’ve been used to for the last x number of years. Though I’m still using the same photo editing programme things now look (to me at least) different to before – so I’m just hoping the shots in this post look okay although the spacing may be slightly different.
The recent gloriously sunny warm weather has been too good to miss so one day last week I took the reasonably short drive from home to Sunnyhurst Woods, a place I’ve been to several times before. My previous walk round there had been before Easter on a rather dull day with very few leaves on the trees, which didn’t make for particularly good photos, however since then everything has burst into life and completely changed the whole place.
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Approaching what’s known as the paddling pool I could hear a lot of barking and when I got there I could see a Labrador dog in the water having fun with a large stick. A young woman with three other dogs was walking along the path continually calling him but he was having too much fun to take any notice – I watched for a while as she walked right round the pool and went out of sight a couple of times in the hope that he would get out of the water and follow her but he stayed put. I’d gone past the pool and reached the bandstand and though the pool was out of sight by then I could still hear the dog barking and it crossed my mind that the only way he would come out of the water was if the young woman went in there to get him.
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A distance past the bandstand I came to where two paths met and at the junction was a stone pillar with a simple figure of an owl carved on one side. I took the right hand path which followed the river for a short distance before taking me uphill in the direction of Earnsdale Reservoir. Away from civilisation it was so peaceful walking along with nothing to hear but birdsong ; at one point a robin flew across in front of me and landed on a tree branch above, staying there long enough for me to snatch a couple of photos of him.
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At the top of the hill the path opened out and a gate took me onto the road across the reservoir dam. On the right was a field with two lovely chestnut horses grazing from hay nets hung on the field gate ; I’ve seen these horses before, in the distance way up on top of the hill but this was the first time I’ve seen them close up. They were a beautiful colour and if the dogs hadn’t been with me I would have gone to say hello to them.
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Across the dam a gate led to a narrow path through the trees at the far side of the reservoir and as I’d never been along there before I decided to check it out, though not knowing just where it would take me I only went so far before retracing my steps. It certainly gave me a different view of the reservoir, which I thought was a much nicer view than looking at it from the other side, and it was worth taking a few shots.
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The road across the dam turned into a country lane leading past fields with views over the reservoir and the countryside beyond and with the peace and quiet it was hard to believe that I wasn’t really all that far from civilisation. Approaching one field I saw what I thought at first was a sheep lying in the grass but then looking at its face it definitely wasn’t a sheep. It was very woolly though, and when I saw its companion grazing nearby I came to the conclusion they were alpacas. Not far from the field was a house set in its own garden so presumably they belonged there.
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Just past the alpacas’ house the lane turned a corner and a distance along brought me to the Sunnyhurst pub. There was a path directly opposite which I knew would take me up to Darwen Tower but that was a walk I would do another time. Past the pub was an entrance back into Sunnyhurst Wood but I decided to stay on the road and follow it round to where I’d left the van, and my last shot of the day was part of the very pretty garden belonging to a big detached house.
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That was the first time I’d walked across the reservoir dam and discovered what was over the other side and I’d found it to be a very pleasant walk, certainly one I’ll do another time. And now I know that the Sunnyhurst pub has a car park next to it I’ll be able to leave the van there when I eventually decide to do the walk up to Darwen tower.

Ashton Gardens war memorial, St. Annes

First of all I have to admit that I don’t normally take much notice of war memorials – if I see one and it looks nice or enhances the view then I’ll take a photo but I don’t stand there reading the inscriptions as the names mean nothing to me. However the one I saw recently in Ashton Gardens at St. Annes is so impressive and so movingly detailed it literally stopped me in my tracks and I just had to take some time to study it properly and photograph the many different aspects of it.
In the aftermath of the First World War, which had claimed many thousands of British lives, a huge wave of public commemoration resulted in tens of thousands of war memorials being erected across England, and one of these stands in Ashton Gardens as a permanent testament to the sacrifice made by those members of the local community who had lost their lives during the war. Financed by a gift of £10,000 from Lord Ashton and unveiled in October 1924 the cenotaph itself was designed by prominent Scottish architect Thomas Smith Tait and constructed in white granite, with the bronze sculptural work carried out by notable Lancashire-born sculptor Walter Marsden who had himself served during the war and had been awarded a Military Cross.
The very top of the memorial pylon features a globe on which stands a female figure dressed in a long gown, with arms raised and looking to the sky, but it’s the pedestal which carries the most detail. A series of bronze plaques in relief show a succession of scenes depicting various aspects of the war, from a soldier saying an emotional goodbye to his wife while their small child tugs at her shawl, to a tired and weary group returning from the battlefield. The front face of the pedestal has a rectangular bronze panel inscribed ‘1914 : NAMES OF THE FALLEN : 1918’ with 170 names listed, and this is flanked on the left by the relief figures of an airman and a seaman and on the right by the figures of two infantrymen. The panels wrap round the sides of the pedestal and depict various other figures, while the rear face has a panel showing returning soldiers including stretcher-bearers and men carrying their wounded comrades ; in every panel the dress, weapons and other equipment are all shown in great detail. The front and rear faces of the pylon also each have a plaque inscribed ‘IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO FELL 1939 – 1945’ with 64 names on each, and a further plaque commemorates those who lost their lives in later conflicts.
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Front left panel

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Front right panel

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Side left panel

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Side right panel

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Back centre panel

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Back left panel

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Back right panel

On top of the pedestal, above the plaques and at either side of the pylon, are two of the most detailed, poignant and emotionally haunting sculptures I’ve ever seen. On the left, a shell-shocked soldier with his face showing the nervous strain and tension brought about by the ever-present feeling of danger, and on the right a young woman sitting gazing ahead in shock and sorrow at her husband’s death, not realising that her baby is looking to her for a mother’s love. I’d approached the war memorial from the sunken garden on the left so the sculpture of the soldier was the first thing I saw, and it was that which made me stop as it’s so detailed and life-like.
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The sculptures and the panels express many of the emotions associated with wars and conflicts and as a centrepiece of Ashton Gardens the memorial is certainly very impressive. In February 1993 it was given a Grade ll listing, then in June 2017 the listing was upgraded from Grade ll to Grade ll* for its architectural and sculptural interest, design and historic interest, and rarity. To my mind that’s a very well-deserved listing, and at the next opportunity I’ll certainly go back to Ashton Gardens and pay the memorial another visit.

A discovery walk at St. Annes

This week’s Monday walk features a place I was never aware of until someone at work told me about it just a few days ago. Yesterday was the first of Michael’s days off work and though the morning started off rather dull it had brightened up considerably by early lunchtime so we decided to drive over to the coast for a mooch and a meal. Leaving the van in the car park of our usual cafe at St. Annes we went for a coffee first then Michael went off to mooch round on his own while I took Sophie and Poppie on my discovery walk.
Ashton Gardens are located just a couple of streets behind the promenade and right on the edge of the town centre. Originally a rectangular plot of land the gardens were established in 1874 by the Land and Building Company and were named St. Georges Gardens ; they remained unchanged until 1914 when Lord Ashton gave a donation to acquire the gardens and an adjacent strip of land for the people of St. Annes. Later that year the council ran a competition to redesign the gardens, it was won by a local man and the gardens were redesigned to incorporate a greater diversity of spaces, although the original undulating nature of the land was retained. Renamed Ashton Gardens in honour of Lord Ashton they were formally opened on July 1st 1916 ; in 2010 a major refurbishment was undertaken thanks to a grant of almost £1.5 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund plus additional funding from other sources.
My walk started at the main entrance closest to the town centre and right from the start I found something to photograph. Turning right just inside the gates a short path and a few stone steps took me down to a couple of bowling greens where various games of bowls were in progress, then beyond the second green and down a few more steps I came to what appeared to be a rose garden. Although nothing was actually in flower I can imagine it would be really lovely when everything is blooming.

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St. Georges Road entrance and Pavilion Cafe

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The rose garden

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Beyond the rose garden, and lying in undulating ground, were two ponds connected by a narrow meandering waterway which was crossed at various points by stepping stones and a hump-back bridge, and sitting on top of a small island of rocks in the middle of the smaller pond was a young seagull who obligingly stayed put while I took his photo. Even with the still-bare trees this place was delightful and I got far too many photos to put them all on here.
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Back towards the centre of the park was a circular sunken garden, and though some of the flower beds were still bare or very sparsely planted the others were full of deep purple hyacinths which gave off the most gorgeous perfume. In the centre of the wide main pathway was the war memorial – and it was so impressive and so movingly detailed that it really deserves a post of its own. At the end of the pathway I came to the second main entrance with its fancy double gates and with a final shot of the modern crest set in one of the gates I left Ashton Gardens and made my way to meet Michael back at the cafe.

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The sunken garden

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Sunken garden, pavilion cafe and war memorial

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Looking up the main path from the gates

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Across the road from the entrance to the gardens some building work was in progress on a large corner plot ; according to the hoarding all round it the new building was going to be an apart-hotel and pictures showed some of the intended facilities. I couldn’t tell if the place will be dog friendly but one of the pictures showed an adorable little dog snuggled in some bedding – it reminded me very much of a little dog I once looked after on a regular basis, and it looked so cute I just had to get a photo of it.
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Back on the sea front I made my way through the promenade gardens and round by the beach huts to the cafe where Michael was waiting for me at an outside table. Of course no visit to St. Annes would be complete without a walk on the beach so once we’d had our meal we took a short walk along the sand before returning to the van and making our way back home.

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The promenade gardens

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The new ‘Splash’ water play area made from the old model boating pond

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It had been a lovely afternoon out and I’d been very impressed with Ashton Gardens ; I was really glad the guy at work had told me about the place as otherwise I wouldn’t have known about it, but now I do  know I’ll make sure to pay a return visit for some more photos when the leaves are on the trees and hopefully the flower beds will be planted up. And if anyone reading this is ever in that area then do go and have a look round, it’s a lovely little place.

Strolling round Queen’s Park

My Monday walk this week is an exploration of a large local Victorian park right on the edge of the town centre, a park which I haven’t been to for over 40 years. I remember my parents taking me there when I was a child – with nothing but acres of green space, a duck pond and a rather rubbish playground tucked in the bottom corner I thought it was the most boring of all the local parks. Fast forward to 1977 and when I worked at the far side of town I would often walk home through the park although I didn’t take much notice of my surroundings and have never been there since, but with a grant of over £4 million from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2009 the place has undergone several improvements over the last few years so on a recent lovely sunny morning I took the dogs and went to check it out.
Queen’s Park, an area of roughly 22 acres, was created on pasture land purchased from the Earl of Bradford, and lies on sloping ground just out of the town centre. Originally called Bolton Park it was opened in 1866 by the Earl of Bradford himself, then in 1897 it was renamed in honour of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. Features included an ornate bandstand surrounded by water and flower beds and with amphitheatre-style terraces for seating, a pavilion building, an ornamental fountain, a large paddling pool and the Chadwick Museum which opened in 1884. The bandstand and its lake, the pavilion and the fountain were all gone long before I was born, the paddling pool disappeared not long afterwards and the museum was demolished in 1957 after the exhibits were transferred to the new town centre museum in the main library building – maybe if these things had still been there when I was a child I would have found the park a lot more interesting than I did at the time.
The park does have a couple of claims to fame though – in 1969 outdoor scenes for the Bolton-based film Spring and Port Wine, starring James Mason, were shot there, and in August that same year a little-known singer named Freddie Mercury performed with a band called Ibex in front of 500 enthusiastic teenagers at the town’s first open-air rock concert. He formed his own band Queen the following year and went on to become a global superstar.
There are several minor entrances to the park and two main entrances, one being at the bottom end close to the town centre and the other at the top on the wide main road which eventually leads to Chorley. My stroll started from this top entrance and straight away I got my first few photos, then as I walked down the wide main path a squirrel ran across in front of me to the bottom of a tree, staying there just long enough for me to snatch a photo of him.

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Daffodil display near the entrance

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Names are listed on all four sides of this cenotaph

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A few yards along I came to the large circular formal sunken garden surrounded by trees, shrubs and bushes ; the flower beds were bare but I did see my first rhododendron shrub of the season in full flower. A little way along the path from there, and set in an elevated position, was an informal garden with modern seating and views over the lower end of the park and towards the town centre.

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The sunken garden

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Rhododendrons are my most favourite shrub

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The modern garden and seating area

A minor path on the right took me down through the trees to the largest of the two lakes inhabited by various ducks, swans, geese and seagulls, then another path took me back up the slope to a wide and pleasant terraced walk backed by shrubbery where a modern war memorial and three Grade ll listed life-size statues on tall plinths were set back among the greenery.
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The terraced walk

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John Fielding, mill worker, trade unionist and MP, statue erected in 1896

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Benjamin Disraeli, writer, MP and twice British Prime Minister, statue erected in 1887

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James Dorrian, popular and well-respected local doctor, statue erected in 1898

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Modern war memorial erected in 2015

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At the end of the terrace I walked down the grassy slope to a minor path with the aim of getting to the bottom end of the park and working my way round and back up to the top, however a signpost told me that Dobson Bridge was down a path on the left so I decided to go and have a look. Dobson Bridge was erected in 1878 to link the original park with a later extension (now playing fields) on the far side of the River Croal and was officially opened by B A Dobson, Chairman of the local Park Committee. Built of cast iron and on cast iron supports it has ornamental stone pillars at both ends, each with an ornate cast iron plaque featuring the town’s crest. Thinking back to my childhood I remember the bridge to be a grey not-very-nice-looking structure but having been restored and repainted in modern colours it now looks quite attractive.

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Dobson Bridge

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River Croal from the bridge

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Riverside walk

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The path passed the end of Dobson Bridge and a little way along was a small fishing lake backed by a bank of trees and another bridge, plainer this time, which led to a small development of modern business units across the river. There was a path on the far side of the fishing lake so I was able to walk all the way round before making my way back to the lower end of the park.

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The fishing lake

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The fishing lake and Dobson Bridge

The next path split into two so I took the lower one which headed in the direction of the playground in the bottom corner of the park, and Sophie being Sophie she found what must have been the only muddy patch in the whole park, though by the time we got to the playground the mess on her paws had disappeared. Not far from the playground a set of wide stone steps and a long path led back up to the terrace with the statues, and at the bottom of the steps was a fountain and a couple of benches. From the playground I took the path past the bottom main entrance and the modern cafe and followed it uphill towards the main road, with my last shot featuring the same as the first – daffodils.

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Look who found the muddy bit

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“Look mum, my paws are clean again now”

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The path to the terrace

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A very colourful play area

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Heading back to the main road

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Back at home I checked out the park on Google Maps satellite view and realised there were a few things I hadn’t yet seen. Maybe it was because I’d been looking at the park with fresh adult eyes or maybe the modern improvements had helped, but I’d found it a lot less boring than when I was a child, and having missed a few things this time I’ll certainly be returning later in the year for another exploration and dog walk.