Hornby Castle Gardens and a quick trip to Morecambe

Just a few days ago the dogs and I paid a visit to Hornby Castle Gardens during the snowdrop open weekend. I’d originally been undecided about going as (according to the website) with it being early in the season some of the snowdrops were only just getting going but this was the only weekend the gardens could open, however we hadn’t had a decent day out so far this year and the weather was promising so off we went.
If I thought that getting there soon after the 11am opening time would avoid what would later be a lot of visitors I was wrong, there was quite a queue to pay at the table set up just inside the main gates. With a history talk scheduled for 12 noon at the main house most people seemed to be heading up that way so I went in the opposite direction to where it might be a bit quieter, starting with the woodland walk.
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Past the pond the path led me to the walled garden but with bare flower beds and nothing much growing anywhere there was very little to see so I went down to the riverside, walking along by the water then following a steep path up to the corner of the castle lawns. Across the front of the castle steep steps took me back down onto the main driveway and with nothing else to see I headed back to the main road and the car park.
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The Lodge
River Wenning from the road bridge, Hornby village
Still only lunch time and with the rest of the afternoon ahead it was too early to think about going back home once I left Hornby Castle so I headed for Morecambe and an excellent filling lunch of home made steak pie, mash, veg and gravy in Rita’s Cafe on the promenade, followed by a mooch round the indoor Festival Market then a walk down to West End and back along the promenade as far as the Eric Morecambe statue before returning to the van and finally heading for home.
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The daylight hours increasing slowly each day meant that I was back home before it started to go dark, with the dogs having slept all the way back. As far as days out go there had been nothing special about this one but it had been good to have a few hours away from my local area, and if dogs could talk I’m sure Snowy and Poppie would agree.

Hest Bank canal walk – heading south

Following on from my tour of the Winter Gardens theatre in October and lunch in a nearby cafe I drove the couple of miles north to Hest Bank for another walk along the Lancaster Canal, this time heading south. Unfortunately the weather gods had decided they no longer wanted to play ball – although it had been beautifully sunny with blue sky while I was in the theatre it was now cloudy and dull, not the sort of weather to show the canal at its best and I did consider coming back home, but with the afternoon stretching before me I decided to do the walk anyway.
Parking on the foreshore at Hest Bank, directly in front of me across the grass was a rather cute looking metal shelduck sculpture with an attractive information board at its base. Created by Ulverston-based blacksmith Chris Bramall on behalf of the Morecambe Bay Partnership it’s one of seven unique bird sculptures situated in different locations around the bay, with each one being associated with that particular location.
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Across the nearby level crossing and the main coast road Station Road took me up to Bridge 118 on the canal where I walked north for a hundred yards or so to check out the weird canalside people and their pets which I’d seen on my walk along there a month previously. With a large banner now fastened to the hedge they were definitely ready for Halloween and even their weird pets were dressed for the occasion.
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Retracing my steps I went back to the bridge and headed south with my goal being the Milestone Bridge which carries the relatively new (opened in 2016) dual carriageway over the canal, linking Junction 34 of the M6 with Heysham and its port.
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As far as canal walks go there was nothing remarkable about this one though maybe if the earlier sunshine and blue sky had still been around the surroundings would have looked a lot nicer. Reaching my goal of the Milestone Bridge and with no desire to go any farther on such a dull afternoon I turned and headed the almost two miles back to Bridge 118. Having seen no-one at all during the first part of the walk, at one point it was nice to see an approaching narrowboat and as it passed me the guy at the back of it shouted a cheery greeting. Having messed about on boats myself in previous years I’ve always thought boat people are a friendly lot.
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Almost back to civilisation I saw just three more people, a couple walking a small dog and a guy sitting on a bench, then no-one else until I got back onto Station Road. Back at the level crossing I found the barriers were down so I crossed the line via the overhead bridge where I took my final shot of the day looking north along the shore to the hills across the bay.
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With hindsight, if I’d known that the afternoon would turn out to be so cloudy I would have booked a later theatre tour and done the walk first while it was sunny but as the saying goes, hindsight’s a wonderful thing. Would I do that walk again? It would be nice to see that section of the canal in better weather so I might be tempted sometime next year.

Morecambe artists wall 2022

Following my tour of the Winter Gardens Theatre in October I had a walk along the promenade to the artists wall. I’d noticed one or two new artworks as I’d driven along to the theatre and though several from last year were still there others had been replaced and I was quite surprised to see just how many new ones had been added since I photographed last year’s batch.
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It was good to see that the artists wall is continuing to brighten up what is otherwise a redundant and derelict section of the promenade. Morecambe isn’t a place I would purposely visit in the winter months so it will be a while before I return but I’m looking forward to hopefully seeing some more new artwork on the wall next season.

Morecambe Winter Gardens theatre tour

The middle Sunday in October saw me heading to Morecambe for a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the Winter Gardens theatre situated on the Central Promenade. The late Victorian building became Grade ll listed in 1987 and since the formation of the Morecambe Winter Gardens Preservation Trust in 2006 the theatre has been undergoing the long slow process of major repair and restoration, and in September 2020, after being intrigued by some photos of the ornate interior, I booked myself onto one of the guided tours. I wasn’t disappointed, the theatre’s history was fascinating, and though I intended to go back in 2021 I decided to wait until this year to see what progress had been made with the various renovations.
The tour guide this time was a very friendly and knowledgeable volunteer named Lesley and with only three other people in the group I had plenty of opportunities to ask questions and discuss things. Although I’d already seen many areas of the theatre on the previous tour other areas were now accessible and it was interesting to see photos and things I hadn’t seen before and to learn some more fascinating and quirky facts about the place.
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Architects’ drawings of proposed new theatre

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Theatre interior in its early days

Theatre exterior, early 20th century, advertising various entertainers appearing there

Unfortunately there is no knowledge of the various entertainers advertised in the photo above – I would love to know what the ‘monkey music hall’ was and if it featured actual monkeys – although I have managed to find out about Cullen & Carthy. Johnnie Cullen (1868–1929) was born in Liverpool while Arthur Carthy (1869-1943) was born in Birkenhead and they met while working together in the machinery room of the newspaper printers producing the Liverpool Echo. They were eventually fired for entertaining their co-workers with singing and dancing and soon afterwards went on to form a comedy double act, achieving popularity on the British and Irish music hall, circus and variety stages and with the Winter Gardens theatre being a venue where they regularly appeared. With a career spanning almost four decades their partnership lasted from 1890 until Cullen’s death in 1929.

Theatre auditorium, late 1960s/early 1970s

The auditorium today

Just as previously the tour went from the ground floor of the auditorium, along different rear corridors and up and down various staircases, with stops along the way to see different interesting features. In an as yet unrestored area behind the Grand Circle it was nice to see a few more of the original seats uncovered for the tour and intriguing to see that they are of two different designs, with the red seats and arm rests being deeper than the blue ones, although no-one knows why.
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The Grand Circle looking up to ‘The Gods’

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The upper level of the central staircase featured typical late Victorian flocked wallpaper, ornate marble columns and balustrades, and though it’s not really noticeable in the photos all the carved cherubs have slightly different features and a different shade of hair colour.

Central staircase with entrance to the Grand Circle and stairs up to The Gods

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Above the Grand Circle stairs led up to the underside of The Gods, now undergoing restoration, and halfway up a door led to the void underneath the seating, something which I hadn’t previously seen. Apparently in the past some of the theatre cleaners, rather than removing any rubbish properly, would just throw it into the void where it lay undisturbed for many years and it was only discovered when volunteers cleared out the void prior to renovation – a few of the items found are on display in one of the foyer’s ticket booths.

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Another new feature of the tour was the opportunity to go out onto the wide balcony overlooking the promenade to get a closer view of the carved medallions on the wall above a central door – the interlinked letters MWG (Morecambe Winter Gardens) on the left and the date on the right. Access to the balcony was temporarily through the old and very basic Victorian gents’ toilets (no, I didn’t take a photo) and there were good clear views over the promenade and across the bay to the South Lakeland hills.

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On the way back down to stage level there was the opportunity to look inside one of the upper boxes, which I’d seen on my previous visit, then the basic general dressing room and the star’s dressing room which now had the added ‘luxury’ of a tv, kettle, and a couple of pictures on the walls, before ending on the stage itself.

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One anecdote tells of the theatre having a door big enough for an elephant to go through; sometime in the past an elephant did feature in one of the shows and behind the rear backdrop there is indeed a huge sliding door in the outer wall. The theatre has played host to many famous faces over the years and the final scenes for the 1960 Laurence Olivier film The Entertainer were shot on the Winter Gardens stage.

Behind the stage – the elephant-sized door in the outer wall

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On display in the foyer, some of the items found in the void under The Gods

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Although I’d seen many parts of the theatre on my previous visit two years ago it was good to see other parts which have now been made available for the tour and standing on the stage had once again brought back memories of my own days in local theatre. It’s great to see that hard work and dedication are slowly returning the Winter Gardens to its former glory and I’m looking forward to doing another tour in the not-too-distant future.

Black Rock Water Wheel and Packhorse Bridge

Situated by the side of a country road on the outskirts of a local village just over five miles from home is the Black Rock water wheel. Although not that far from home I wasn’t previously aware of it as I wouldn’t normally travel along that road but on the way back from a recent visit to Bleakholt animal sanctuary I made a spur-of-the-moment decision to vary my route home and that’s when I came across the wheel.
Dating back to the mid 19th century the wheel was originally situated on the site of a late 17th century corn mill and water wheel in the hamlet of Turton Bottoms, a mile down the road from its current location. The corn mill had been built to replace a much earlier mill and it operated until 1831 before being converted to a cotton spinning mill, then in 1853 the owner at the time, William Rostron, replaced the original wooden water wheel with this cast iron one measuring 6ft wide and almost 14ft in diameter. The mill subsequently changed hands and was run by Henry Leigh until 1859 when it was taken over by John Lord and Henry Hamer who saw it safely through the Lancashire Cotton Famine of 1861-65.

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Alongside the cotton mill was a printworks, bleachworks and an iron foundry and in 1890 the whole of the site was converted to a bleaching and dyeing operation under the direction of Frederick Whowell who renamed the place Black Rock Works. In 1901 James Hardcastle and Co Ltd took charge of the site and the cast iron water wheel stayed in use until it was retired in 1917, though it was left in place in its wheel pit. The Bleachers’ Association, which had been formed in 1900, eventually took over the Black Rock mill complex and it was last operated in the 1950s as a bleach and print works.
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In 1963 the Bleachers’ Association was reformed as Whitecroft Industrial Holdings then twelve years later demolition started on the mill complex in readiness for redevelopment of the land. The nearby lodge which had originally fed the wheel had dried out over time with the area becoming colonised by trees, and after the Turton Local History Society gained permission from Whitecroft Ltd to salvage the wheel they found it still in its pit but covered in silt, rubble and vegetation up to 18 inches from its top.
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In 1975 the group began the arduous task of extricating the wheel and found that all forty iron buckets were still bolted onto it. They also found several clues to the site’s history, including kiln tiles from when the place had been a corn mill. During the wheel’s excavation the remaining parts of Black Rock Works were demolished and when the mill chimney was finally felled local people came to collect bricks as souvenirs.
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The water wheel was eventually lifted and moved less than a mile away to the grounds of Turton Tower where it was painstakingly restored then moved to a specially prepared on-site wheel pit next to an old barn – six years of hard work to excavate and restore it were finally over. It was hoped that it would become an exhibit in a new rural and industrial museum at the Tower but as the years passed the dream of a new museum faded and sadly the wheel began to deteriorate.

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The water wheel at Turton Tower – original photo from the internet edited by me

Thirty years after the wheel was sited at Turton Tower the Turton Local History Society came to the rescue a second time, deciding to have it restored again and moved to an entirely new location where it would be more easily seen. A £700 grant from the West Pennine Moor Community Initiative enabled the large amount of rust to be scraped off and weatherproof paint was applied by the Lancashire Wildlife Environmental Task Force team.
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In 2011 the wheel was moved to its current site, the relocation paid for as part of a British Trust for Conservation Volunteers grant which was also used to improve the footpaths and toilets at Turton Tower. The move was expensive, costing around £13,000, and it was done at 6 o’clock in the morning to minimise any disruption to traffic. Today the wheel stands by the side of the road on the approach to Edgworth village, a proud memorial to the rural area’s industrial past, though to be honest it looks like parts of it are now needing a bit more attention.
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Close to where Black Rock Works once stood is the packhorse bridge built in 1691 to provide access across Bradshaw Brook to the corn mill. Previous to the bridge being built the only way to cross the brook was by a ford across a reasonably shallow section but there would have been many days when it would be impossible for a horse to cross safely while carrying the weight of a rider and sacks of corn so building a bridge was a necessity. The Turton Manor Court records for 1740 gave the name of the bridge as New Mill Bridge as it had been built specifically for the new corn mill.
Sometime between 1798 and 1808 a new road and bridge were built about 200 yards higher up the brook with the bridge being given the name Higher New Mill Bridge. The packhorse bridge was still used however as it was deemed to be important and by 1844 it was going by the name of Pack Saddle Bridge. The Manor Court records for that year stated that ”the Pack Saddle Bridge, repairable by the County, is in a ruinous and dangerous state and direct proceedings are to be commenced against the parties liable to repair the same.”
The bridge was consequently restored by the local Council and over the years may very well have been repaired more than once, including the addition of metal railings to stop anyone falling over the low parapet into the brook below. In September 1984 it became Grade ll listed and in August 2016 the most recent repairs were carried out at a cost of £15,000.
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At the far side of the bridge is Black Rock Community Orchard, and while it might be named after the old bleach and dyeworks it’s a fairly recent addition to the area. The land in question had been earmarked for a housing development but a successful campaign by local people brought it into public ownership for the benefit of the community. In 2008, the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers worked with local children to plant a variety of more than 40 fruit trees covering a range of cooking and eating apples, plums, greengages and damsons, all of which grow well in North West England. Paths and seating areas were installed by BTCV with grant funding from the Sita Trust and the orchard is maintained by the local Parish Council.
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The packhorse bridge is popular with ramblers and is used as part of the Warper’s Trail, an 8.5 mile circular walk which itself is part of the Witton Weaver’s Way, a long distance walk of 32 miles, and standing with my feet almost in the water in an effort to get the final couple of shots I wondered just how many walkers crossing the bridge knew of its interesting industrial heritage.

Same walk, different weather

Following my visits to Gresgarth Hall garden in August and October, on both occasions I made the short drive along the road to Bull Beck picnic site where I parked up and went for a walk along a section of the River Lune, an area I first visited two years ago. There were two big differences in each of these two walks though. In August it had been a very hot day, I knew that dogs weren’t allowed in the garden at Gresgarth Hall and as I couldn’t have safely left them in the van they had to stay at home, however October was much cooler and being able to park in shade meant that this time they were included in my day out.
The weather was the second big difference. An almost cloudless blue sky and wall-to-wall sunshine in August but in October, in spite of it being beautifully sunny while I was looking round Gresgarth Hall garden, by the time I’d had a picnic in the van the day had turned cloudy and really dull. I almost decided against doing the walk but it was the dogs’ day out as much as mine so off we went, hoping that it wouldn’t decide to rain while we were a long way from the van. Apart from doing a slight detour in August both walks are the same and many of the photos were taken from the same places along the way so I’ve combined them all into this one post.
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Since my walk round there two years ago I’d discovered that it’s possible to cross the Waterworks bridge which carries three huge pipes taking water from Thirlmere in Cumbria down to the Manchester area, so in August I decided to make a detour and go across but I was soon to wish I hadn’t. At the far side of the bridge a path led through a pleasant meadow to an area of woodland and that’s where things became a bit difficult. The woodland traversed a steep bank which fell directly down to the river, the path was very narrow in places with partially embedded tree roots just waiting to trip me up and several parts of it had crumbled away leaving very little between me and the steep drop down to the water. Even without the dogs negotiating that lot wasn’t easy but I finally emerged from the trees unscathed and back on level ground by the riverside.
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On my October walk I bypassed the Waterworks bridge and as I got near to where Artle Beck flows into the Lune I spotted a Little Egret stalking around in the shallows, presumably looking for his lunch, then across the beck and a bit farther on I came to the Caton Flow Measurement Station, a small square building set on top of a round concrete pillar and looking rather like a tree house but without the tree.
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In August my walk had taken me to the far end of the pedestrian bridge close to the Crook O’Lune picnic site while my October walk took me under the bridge and up the riverbank to the opposite end though I did walk a little way back along the bridge for a shot of the river to contrast with the August photos from the same spot. From the bridge it was a mile-and-a-half straight path back to the van and I’d just got back there when it started to rain so I’d completed the walk just in time.
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The rain didn’t last long though, by the time I’d got back on the M6 it had stopped and a few miles further south the sky gradually cleared. Tired out from their long walk Snowy and Poppie were so quiet in their transport kennels I almost had to check that I hadn’t left them behind at the picnic site. Although the afternoon had been cloudy and grey my walk had been much more enjoyable with the dogs than my August walk had been without them, and with the sky becoming increasingly brighter on the drive back home our day out ended as it began, in bright autumn sunshine.

Autumn at Gresgarth Hall

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.
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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.
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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.
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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.