My Monday walk this week features a second visit to Sunderland Point, undertaken one day last week only nine days after my first visit there. It had been low tide on the first occasion and with glorious weather I got some lovely photos but I wanted to get some shots at high tide, also since my first visit I’d found some information on a few of the buildings in the village which I wanted to check out. High tide on May 21st worked out just right, it was soon after mid-day and with more lovely sunny weather it was an opportunity not to be missed. Of course the high tide also meant that the causeway to Sunderland Point was cut off, so instead of going through Overton village I had to drive round the country lanes to Middleton sands and park in a designated spot above the high water line at a place known as Potts Corner, then walk the mile or so to Sunderland village.
The car park at Potts Corner was certainly in a fairly remote spot with nothing but wet sands stretching northwards, and to the south a vast expanse of salt marsh where a large herd of cattle grazed, although there was a static caravan site close by. A wide roughly-gravelled and pot-holed track led some distance from the car park to a farm up on my left then a rough path took me along the edge of the salt marsh. Not only was this place very remote it was also very windy and annoyingly my hair kept blowing across my face ; I needed something to tie it back, and just as the thought crossed my mind I found the very thing – a length of bright pink bailer twine tied round a chunk of tree trunk lying on the ground. The twine was clean so I untied it, doubled it up and used it to fasten my hair into a pony tail – sorted!
The path along the edge of the marsh eventually led to a gate and the recently constructed path to Sambo’s grave, and though it was supposedly over a mile from the car park to there it seemed no time at all before the hideous stone-built camera obscura dome had come into view. Completely unimpressed with it on my previous visit I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt and went inside but all I could see was an extremely pale circle of light on one wall, so pale it was hardly there, so yet again I left with the feeling that the time and money spent on this monstrosity could have been better used elsewhere. Having only recently been to Sambo’s grave I didn’t feel the need to go again so soon so I left the dome behind and continued on to the village.
Sunderland village was developed by Robert Lawson, a Quaker, in the early 18th century as an out port for Lancaster a few miles inland, and it’s believed that stonework from the ruined Cockersand Abbey across the river was used in the construction of the quay and various buildings. Following the narrow path between the hawthorn hedges to the top end of The Lane I came to the first house I was looking for. Summer House at one time had, on its steep apex roof, a weather vane which was fixed to a compass rose on the ceiling underneath although neither of these now exist, but back in the 18th century it was where merchants and boat pilots met and looked out for shipping.
At the bottom end of The Lane was Upsteps Cottage, named because its front door is set high up in the wall with stone steps leading up to it. In the past it had been a bath house but perhaps more significantly it had also been the brew house of the nearby Ship Inn and was the lodging where Sambo died. Round the corner from The Lane, and on First Terrace, was No. 11 which had originally been the Ship Inn itself – in fairly recent times it was used as a pub in the 2006 filming of Ruby In The Smoke by the BBC. Further along First Terrace and set on its own was No. 2 which had been the Anchor Smithy and Ropewalk, and set quite a way back from the quayside was No. 3a which had been the Customs House.
On this side of the peninsula and away from the open expanse of salt marsh the wind had dropped to just a light breeze, making it very pleasant to wander along in the warm sunshine. Just beyond No. 2 was the shingle parking area where I’d left the van on my first visit, except this time there was hardly any parking area left as most of it was covered by water. Obviously I’d been aware that the causeway to Sunderland was impassable at high tide but I was still surprised by just how far in the tide had come. The causeway had completely disappeared, the warning sign at the beginning of it, which was several feet above the ground, had its bottom edge in water and the boats which I’d seen beached on grass nine days before were completely surrounded – compared to my previous visit it was certainly a different sight to see.
The next thing I wanted to find was the Cotton Tree which information had told me was on Second Terrace, and when I did find it I was surprised that I hadn’t seen it on my previous visit as I must have walked close by it. According to popular belief the Cotton Tree grew from a seed imported from America in a bale of cotton and though it may very well have come from the USA, probably brought here by a returning sea captain, it was actually a female black poplar which is very uncommon in England.
Appearing to grow from the foot of a building the Cotton Tree was a well-known and much-loved feature of Sunderland Point, familiar to generations of villagers and visitors. The victim of old age and the fierce gales which had hit the area on Christmas Eve 1997 it finally toppled over a week later at 8.15pm on New Year’s Day 1998 ; it was estimated to have been between 200 and 250 years old when it fell. The stump of the tree is now decayed but is still part of the wall which surrounds it, and the tree itself lives on in the form of two young trees which have sprung from its roots a few yards either side of the stump.
A greater part of Second Terrace would originally have been warehouses, though some of the buildings have also been used as an inn and a farm, all of which are now private residences. One rather quirky feature is the narrow cottage named Multum in Parvo (meaning Much in Little) which is thought to have been built at some time to fill a gap between two rows of properties. In a nod to more modern times there’s a Royal Mail post box set in a wall and outside the Reading Room is a card-operated BT phone box (which also contains items of fresh produce for sale) and an emergency defibrillator, other than that the Terrace looks much the same as it did all those years ago.
Set back off the path and in its own pretty garden was Sunderland Hall, built by Robert and Elizabeth Pearson and with the inscription REP 1683 on one of its walls. The Hall and its two adjoining houses are now the last properties on Second Terrace, although it’s thought that in the past there may have been two or three small cottages in the adjacent field which reaches to the end of the peninsula.
Although I could probably have walked all the way round the peninsula I didn’t know how far the tide would be in round the end so I decided not to try it and instead walked back along the sea wall path and up The Lane. Stopping to photograph a carved wooden owl on top of a gatepost I saw something which made me smile ; on the side wall of the house was a hand painted board and though I couldn’t get close enough to see properly I assumed there was a bowl of water on the ground just down below it.
Walking back past the salt marshes a movement in the grass some distance away caught my attention ; it was a bird scurrying along and though I couldn’t immediately tell what it was I zoomed in with the camera, and with its long bright orange beak I assumed it was a young oyster catcher. Further along I saw that the herd of cows which had been peacefully grazing some distance away earlier on had made their way inland and were congregating close to the path.
Now in spite of having read various stories of people being trampled by marauding cattle I’m not scared of cows and under normal circumstances I would have walked right past them, but there were some youngsters in among this lot so as I had the dogs with me I decided not to risk it and made a short detour over the grass instead. Back at the van the three of us had a welcome cool drink then with one last shot I set off for home.
Driving back down the M6 I thought about my time spent at Sunderland Point. It was a very attractive place with a lot of history behind it, and though I hadn’t yet managed to paint my stone to put on Sambo’s grave the uniqueness of the village and the photo opportunities it offers almost certainly guarantees a third visit before too long.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My Monday walk this week has been beset by ongoing computer problems meaning I was initially unable to download or edit any of the photos I took on my afternoon out last weekend, however with a borrowed laptop I’ve finally been able to write the post although as it’s a couple of days late it’s now a Wednesday walk. It features somewhere I’ve been meaning to go to for a couple of years after discovering it by accident on the internet but haven’t managed to get there until now. I can’t even remember what I was originally searching for but one link led to another and another etc, eventually ending up at some information about a place called Sunderland Point, and when I read about Sambo’s grave it all sounded intriguing enough for me to want to go there.
The hamlet of Sunderland is in a unique and isolated location on a peninsula at the northern side of the River Lune estuary in Lancashire. It consists of 30 or so houses, a couple of farms and a small mission chapel, and though Sunderland Point itself reaches out into the Irish sea about half a mile away from the village the hamlet is also commonly known by the same name. The only road access to the village is from Overton via a winding one-and-a-half-mile long single-track tidal causeway, and that and most of the parking area are covered by the sea twice a day – anyone thinking of visiting needs to check the tide times first or being stranded for several hours is a distinct possibility.
Sunderland village was a thriving port in the early 18th century, the main one for Lancashire and second only to London and Bristol. Trade was undertaken with the West Indies involving sugar, rum, cotton, and to a lesser degree, slaves, and it’s reputed to be the landing place of the very first bale of cotton to arrive in Britain. Unfortunately trade gradually declined over the years and the 1787 opening of Glasson Dock across the estuary took ocean-going ships further inland, completely bypassing Sunderland village. With the death of the village as a shipping port it became a popular seaside resort during the 19th century and was known as Little Brighton on the Lune ; now in more modern times it’s become a peaceful and unique home to those who still work from the village in farming and fishing and others who commute to Lancaster, Preston and other places in Lancashire.
Driving through Overton village the road took me over a cattle grid to the beginning of the causeway, and not far along I came to my first warning sign. Fortunately I’d checked the tide times before leaving home and knew it was low tide so I was able to drive across the causeway without any risk, although the road was so narrow I was rather hoping that I wouldn’t meet something coming the other way. At the far end of the causeway was a sloping shingle parking area so I left the van there while I went to explore, and right from the start I was really taken with this little place.
The main part of the village consisted of two rows of houses facing the estuary and simply called ‘First Terrace’ and ‘Second Terrace’. Some properties were detached and set in their own gardens while others were terraced cottages fronting the narrow access road along the old quay ; many of these cottages dated back to the early 18th century, and though there was what I assumed to be a village hall of sorts there was no shop or pub. The two rows of houses were separated by the extensive gardens of a large house and a narrow lane, appropriately called The Lane, and my quest to find Sambo’s grave took me along this lane.
The story of Sambo, otherwise known as Samboo (no-one knew his real name) is a mixture of fact and hearsay, but what is known is that he was a young Negro servant to the captain of an unnamed ship. On arrival at Sunderland port in 1736, and after the ship had finished unloading its cargo, Sambo’s master arranged for him to have a room at the local inn and he was left there on ship’s wages while his master went to conduct some business in Lancaster over a period of a few days. One version of the story says that Sambo, unable to speak or understand a strange language and thinking his master had abandoned him, became so upset that he stopped eating and after a few days died of a broken heart.
The other version of the story, and the more likely one, says that Sambo contracted a sickness to which he had no immunity and died of that sickness, but whatever the cause of his death he was buried by the locals in a corner of a field overlooking the sea, with a simple small wooden cross marking the spot. Sixty years later James Watson, a retired schoolmaster from Lancaster, heard about Sambo and was so touched by the story that he raised enough money from donations to pay for a bronze memorial plaque, engraved with an epitaph, to be placed on the unmarked grave. Over the years many people have visited the spot and these days the grave is well tended, decorated with flowers and colourful painted stones left there by children and other visitors.
Walking along The Lane I passed a handful of detached houses and the mission chapel before the lane itself narrowed into a footpath with high hawthorn hedges on each side giving off the most divine scent. A distance along the path a sign pointed the way through a gate, but any notion I may have had that Sambo’s grave was in a remote spot and still accessed by a rough path along the edge of a field (as shown on Google maps satellite view) was instantly refuted. Just inside the gate and on the right was a new wooden building which looked like it could have been public loos but which I found out later was actually a bird hide, and a wide recently-constructed gravel path and new concrete sea wall ran along what would have been the seaward edge of the field.
Set back off the path, and in an area which had been stripped of all grass, was one of the most hideous things I’ve ever seen – a small newly-built dome-shaped stone building which, to me at least, looked totally out of keeping with the surroundings. There was a door set in one wall with a small window in another, and when I looked through I came face to face with the protruding lens of a large square camera. An engraved stone slab set in front of the door told me that this was the Horizon Line Chamber with the camera relaying an image onto the opposite wall, but when I went inside and closed the door I could see nothing but near-darkness.
A few yards beyond the dome was a small grassy area surrounded by three new stone walls with a couple of seats set into one of them, and in this square was Sambo’s grave, now protected from the elements on all four sides. With flowers and many coloured painted stones surrounding the cross it was a very pretty grave but I was saddened to read the words on a small brass plaque fastened above the main one – “Thoughtless and irreverent people having damaged and defaced the plate, this replica was affixed. RESPECT THIS LONELY GRAVE” – it seems that even an out-of-the-way place such as this isn’t free from vandalism.
After spending a few quiet moments by the grave I headed back to the village for some more exploration, turning right at the end of The Lane and going to check out Second Terrace first, though I was rather puzzled to see some cars parked along the access road in front of the houses up ahead. I knew there was no road connecting First Terrace and Second Terrace so how had they got there? All was revealed however when one of the cars drove down a short slipway from Second Terrace, across the top end of the beach and up a second slipway leading to First Terrace – an unusual thing for me to see but probably an everyday occurrence for those who live there.
At the far end of Second Terrace was Sunderland Hall, a large and very attractive looking house with West Indies style ground and upper floor balconies, though with people sitting out in the garden I couldn’t really take a full photo of it. Some of the houses along Second Terrace had their own small gardens and there was a long grassy area in front of those which didn’t have gardens. At the end of the terrace, instead of walking back along the sea wall path I went down the slipway and walked along the beach for the short distance back to the end of The Lane and First Terrace.
Back at First Terrace, and close to the end of The Lane, was an attractive bronze sculpture with entwined fish at the bottom and sea birds at the top, and a bronze plaque set in the quayside said that this had been created by local artist Ray Schofield. Ray had created many sculptures which were dotted around various North West locations, including the giant sundial in Lancaster’s Williamson Park, and had lived in the house at Sunderland Point just across from where his sculpture was sited.
At the end of First Terrace and back at the parking area I had a quick wander round for a few more photos before returning to the van. I could happily have stayed at Sunderland Point for longer but it was 4pm by then and I’d arranged to meet Michael from work at 6 o’clock, also I didn’t want to get caught out by the next incoming tide.
Driving through Overton village at the far end of the causeway I decided to make a quick stop as it looked to be quite an attractive little place, so I pulled up in the car park of the Ship Inn and went for a short walk along the main road through the village. There was a small attractive village green on one corner, a painted wall in the Ship car park and several cottages with pretty gardens, and after taking my last shot I headed for home without any further stops.
Altogether I’d had a lovely afternoon out with the dogs and I’d been very impressed with Sunderland Point, it was a very unique and special little village. While walking along the short stretch of beach I’d picked up a nicely shaped stone which I’d brought home with me, and my next task is to paint it – I fully intend to return to Sunderland Point before long and when I do I’d like to take my own stone to add to those on Sambo’s grave.
With lots to do ahead of the coming Easter break I didn’t really have time to go too far on my dog walks over the weekend so my Monday walk this week is just a local one round Belmont village, only three miles up the road from home. Leaving the van outside my friend’s house in a quiet square at the bottom end of the village I first headed off across the main road and up the hill past the Black Dog pub. The pub has two signs outside, one at the car park entrance and the other on the side wall of the pub itself and strangely they are both very different ; the one on the wall is a mosaic picture and reminds me very much of a dog my friend once had.
Past the church I came to Ward’s Reservoir, though it’s always been known locally as the Blue Lagoon. The reservoir was built in the 19th century to supply water to the bleach and dye works down the hill, though over the years it’s become a well known local beauty spot. The Belmont Bleaching and Dyeing Company opened in 1878 and for many years was one of the country’s major dyers and cotton bleaching specialists, then in much later years it became one of the few companies in the UK capable of manufacturing a range of flame-retardant textiles.
The company finally closed down in 2004 with the buildings eventually being split into individual industrial and commercial units, though the reservoir and land around it began falling into disrepair. An independent study and report concluded that it needed at least £40,000 spending on it to bring it up to the standard legally required by the Environment Agency but the owner, a local man, was unwilling to spend money on something which no longer had any commercial value, so in 2010 he ‘pulled the plug’ and the reservoir was drained. It was eventually sold to a local consortium based a few miles away, repairs were undertaken and it was allowed to fill up again although every so often, especially after periods of heavy rain, a certain amount of water is released to prevent it becoming too full.
From the Blue Lagoon I headed across the nearby playing field and through a couple of pleasant residential streets to the top end of the village and the larger Belmont Reservoir. Built in 1826 by Bolton Waterworks to supply water to the rapidly expanding town it’s now owned by United Utilities, and not only is it home to Bolton Sailing Club it’s also an important base for wintering wildfowl. It’s not often that I see anyone sailing when I’m walking near there but this time the dinghies were out in force in spite of the very chilly wind which was blowing.
Across the dam and along the traffic-free lane I decided that instead of walking all the way along to the top of the road which would take me back to the village I would make a short cut down a public footpath past a small farm, and I was glad I did as I was rewarded with seeing a field full of sheep with their young ones.
The path eventually brought me out about halfway down the road back to the village ; it’s not an easy road to walk, especially with two dogs, as it’s narrow with no pavements and is a very popular short cut for traffic going to and from Belmont and another area of the town, but fortunately it wasn’t busy and I didn’t have to walk too far before it widened out by the former bleach works buildings. Ages ago I was told by someone – and I can’t remember who – that round the back of those buildings was a fishing place called Ornamental Lake ; it was one of those places that you wouldn’t know was there unless someone told you about it so I decided to check it out and was quite pleasantly surprised.
Eagley Brook, a combination of the outflow from Belmont Reservoir and the Blue Lagoon, flowed under the road and behind the buildings, emptying into the lake. Across a short bridge a path ran through the trees near the edge of the lake and in a clearing I came across a couple of small timber shacks, obviously for the use of anyone fishing there. Looking at the land it was obvious that I couldn’t walk all the way round the lake so I just snapped a few photos then made my way back to the road.
A short traffic-free lane took me steeply uphill to where I’d left the van and my last photo was of the water monument at the corner of the square. Erected in 1907 by Edward Deakin, mill owner and patron of the local church, it was to commemorate a clause having been successfully fought for in the UK parliament and inserted into the Bolton Corporation Act of 1905 to protect the flow of water into Eagley Brook from Belmont Reservoir.
Eagley Brook, along with water from the Blue Lagoon, provided an essential water supply to the bleach and dye works and there was a danger that taking too much water from Belmont Reservoir to supply Bolton’s homes and businesses would have a detrimental affect on the business and employment at the bleach works. The clause on the monument states that as compensation for taking water for Bolton the Corporation had to ensure a continuous flow down Eagley Brook between 5am and 5pm every day except Sunday, Good Friday and Christmas Day.
With that final photo I returned to the van and headed for home for a much needed brew ; although the sun had been shining for most of the walk the wind definitely had the chill factor so a mug of hot coffee was most welcome. There’ll be no Monday walk next week as I won’t be here – I’m off exploring pastures new so fingers crossed that the weather will be good and I’ll come back with lots of different places to write about.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My Monday walk this week was a relatively short one of barely a mile, round the local nature reserve of Doffcocker Lodge. The Doffcocker area is a mainly residential suburb about three-and-a-half miles north west of the town centre ; the history of the name isn’t certain but it’s believed to originate from two ancient Celtic words meaning ‘dark winding stream’. The lodge was created in 1874 as a mill lodge although the mill disappeared many many years ago ; the area round the lodge has long been a popular place for dog walkers but in 1992 it became designated as the town’s first local nature reserve and in the years since then improvements have been made to the land and the pathways and a small free car park has been created.
A hundred yards or so down the road from the car park entrance is the red brick Doffcocker Inn pub/restaurant, known locally as ‘The Doffy’. Built in 1901 on the site of a much older and smaller pub of the same name the outer structure was erected around the original pub before that was demolished ; the whole process was completed without closing the original pub so the landlord didn’t have to apply for a new licence. The current building is a rare example of a calendar pub, with 4 floors, one for each season, and each floor having seven rooms, one for each day of the week. The cellar has 12 rooms for the months of the year, there are 52 doors and 365 window panes – quirky it may be but I wouldn’t like to clean all those windows.
Deciding to go anti-clockwise round the lodge my walk started from the car park by the dam at the bottom end, with the path passing a couple of coppices and the long back gardens of some nearby houses before emerging into a meadow which would be a pleasant place for a picnic in nice weather. At the far side of the meadow the path crossed the end of the lodge and took me to a second meadow where several benches set beside the path were well placed to take in the views over the water.
At one point the shape of the land formed a little bay in the water and a great cacophony of bird shrieks and squawks was coming from the vicinity ; when I got round there I found seagulls flying all over the place in great excitement while the various ducks and geese added their voices from down in the water – someone had thrown in several slices of bread and they were all trying to get their share.
The path took me past the back gardens of a row of bungalows set sideways on to the lodge and just past there a tree lined bank separated the path from a pleasant looking residential avenue. The end bungalow had a garden filled with different coloured heathers and other plants and it looked so pretty I thought it was worth a photo or two. It wasn’t far from there to the end of the lodge and as I got near to the dam I stopped for a few minutes to watch the antics of a Domestic Greylag goose in a shallow part of the water.
Those were to be my last photos of the afternoon – although there had been some blue sky and a bit of sunshine earlier on it had soon turned to grey and by the time I got back to the van it looked like rain wasn’t far away. Although the walk hadn’t been a long one Sophie and Poppie were happy enough so it was time to head for home and put the kettle on for a welcome mug of coffee.