Southport Botanic Gardens – a walk and some history

A sunny but breezy Sunday at the start of this month saw me heading out to Southport for a look round the botanical gardens in the suburban village of Churchtown on the outskirts of the town. In spite of the numerous times I’ve been to Southport over the years I’d only found out about this place recently so I was looking forward to seeing what was there.
The Botanic Gardens were originally founded in 1874 by a group of local working men who formed the Southport and Churchtown Botanic Gardens Company and acquired a parcel of land from the Hesketh Estate. The company raised £18,000 to landscape the gardens, build a lake, a conservatory, tea rooms and a museum, and the gardens were officially opened in 1875 by Rev. Charles Hesketh from whom the land had been acquired, with the opening ceremony including laying a foundation stone for the museum.
The building was designed by local architects Mellor & Sutton and built by George Duxfield of Duxfield Brothers, Southport, with the famous showman, politician and businessman Phineas T Barnum being an advisor in the construction. The museum eventually opened in 1876 and Barnum donated his top hat which could later be seen on display. The running of the museum was funded by donations from the public and the local council while the gardens themselves were run as a commercial venture funded by entrance fees.
The gardens’ serpentine lake was formed from part of a stream, known as The Pool, which flowed through the grounds of the nearby Meols Hall historical manor house and out to the Ribble Estuary, and it’s said that monks who lived close by fished for eels in the stream. Attached to a magnificent glass conservatory was a fernery which proved very popular with visitors as it featured many tropical plants from around the world, and though the conservatory was eventually demolished the fernery still remains to this day.
The magnificent conservatory – photo from the internet
ferneryIn 1932 the gardens sadly closed as they were earmarked for an eventual private housing development but after a local uproar Southport Corporation intervened and bought the site with money raised by public subscription. The gardens reopened in August five years later as a public amenity renamed The Botanic Gardens and King George Playing Fields, though the name eventually reverted to the original Botanic Gardens.
All the museum’s collections were sold off when the gardens closed in 1932 but the museum was eventually reopened by John Scoles who started a new collection from scratch. A Victorian Room was constructed, many artefacts related to Southport’s heritage were donated by local residents and exhibits included the Cecily Bate Collection of Dolls, though one special exhibit, and probably the oldest item in the museum, was an ancient canoe which in recent years has been dated to 535 AD.
The canoe was found in April 1899 by a local farmer who was ploughing a field near what was once the northern shore of Martin Mere and a local historian at the time identified it as being of significant age and interest. It was first displayed in the Botanic Gardens conservatory then in 1907 it was loaned to Liverpool Museum until 1946 when it was returned to the Botanic Gardens and displayed in the museum there.
The Martin Mere ancient canoe  – photo from the internet
Fast forward through the years and in the 1980s the Friends of the Botanic Gardens Museum organization was formed. They successfully stopped the proposed closure of the museum at the time and later set up their own shop within the building; sadly it was closed permanently on April 24th 2011 as part of a cost-cutting exercise by Sefton Council and the collections were transferred to the Atkinson Museum on Lord Street where many are still on display, including the Martin Mere canoe, P T Barnum’s top hat and the Pennington taxidermy collection.
Along with the closure of the museum horticultural activities at the gardens were also significantly reduced. Sefton Council proposed further closures within the gardens which would see the loss of the fernery, aviary, garden nursery and toilets, along with the conservatory at nearby Hesketh Park. A group of local residents got together to save the remaining facilities at both sites, in particular at the Botanic Gardens, which along with the museum’s closure had also lost the boats on the lake, the boat house, the road train which provided a ride around the park, and the services of the park gardeners. The flower beds have since been maintained by the Botanic Gardens Community Association volunteers who spend Mondays and Fridays every week tending to as much of the park as they can.
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A side entrance had taken me into the park near the bowling greens and a walk through the arboretum led me to a pleasant path around the lake but when I got to the flower beds near the fernery I felt rather disappointed. Having previously seen photos of them on the internet I’d been looking forward to a lot of bright colour but they were very pale and didn’t really live up to my expectations, although the planters and borders along the path from the main entrance were much more colourful. There was a cafe too and an aviary with budgies, parrots and various other winged creatures, but the density of the mesh panels prevented me from getting any decent photos of them.
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With my walk around the park complete, and not wanting to cut short a really nice day, I drove into Southport itself, parked up by the Marine Lake and went for a leisurely walk round King’s Gardens. Over towards the Pleasureland amusement park was what later information told me is Southport’s newest attraction, the 35-metre tall Big Wheel with an Alpine Village around its base, although everything seemed to be closed up at the time.
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Back at the car park my thoughts turned to finding a cafe for coffee and cake but I decided instead just to enjoy the drive home in the mid afternoon sunshine and have a proper meal when I got back. In spite of my disappointment over the lack of colour in the flower beds at the Botanic Gardens I had enjoyed exploring somewhere new – it was a lovely park which I’ll probably visit again next summer and hopefully when I do those flower beds will be a riot of colour.

Overnight at Glasson Dock – 2

Quite surprisingly, in spite of spending the night in the van alone in a strange place, I’d slept soundly all the way through and woke to early morning sunshine and the promise of another lovely day, and looking across the estuary I could see that the tide was in. A quick comfort break for the dogs, toast and a mug of tea for breakfast and I was ready for the first walk of the day, the reverse of the previous day’s walk but with a slight variation which would bypass the village instead of going through it and past the marina.
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Looking south westwards from the top of the lane where I was parked I could see Cockersand Abbey with Blackpool Tower in the distance around twenty miles away. The original Cockersand Abbey was founded in 1180 as the Hospital of St. Mary-on-the-Marsh then was refounded as a Premonstratensian priory in 1190, and though it continued as a hospital it was elevated to abbey status in 1192. It was the third richest abbey in Lancashire when it was dissolved in 1539, then in 1544 the building and surrounding land were acquired by a John Kitchen, subsequently passing into the Dalton family in 1556 when Robert Dalton married Ann Kitchen, John’s daughter.
While some scrappy remains of the abbey still stand to this day the Grade l vaulted octagonal Chapter House is the only significant relic still intact. Built around 1230 and eventually used as a family mausoleum by the Daltons during the 18th and 19th centuries it’s now classified as a scheduled ancient monument and opened to the public on special occasions such as Heritage Open Days.
Heading along the road towards the canal I saw a sign on a gate for ‘alpaca experiences’ at a nearby farm and in the adjacent field four woolly creatures with cute faces were looking inquisitively at me from behind a fence. It was only when I looked at the photo on my pc later on that I realised there was a hare loping along in the background – it can just be seen in the centre right of the shot.
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Along the road towards Conder Green the high tide had filled all the creeks and channels of the saltmarsh and boats which I’d seen beached on the mudbanks the previous day were now floating gently at the end of their mooring ropes, although there was one boat which had obviously seen better days as it was partially submerged in the River Conder. The Stork pub was looking very attractive as it was now in full sunshine, and walking along the estuary footpath/cycleway I spotted a heron at the water’s edge.
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Back in the village the Lock Keeper’s Rest was open and there was already quite a gathering of bikers enjoying breakfast in the sunshine. Crossing the green near the dock I stopped to photograph the picture boards outside the shop then my thoughts turned to treating myself later on to lunch at the Dalton Arms – that was until I saw the not-exactly-cheap menu outside. The prices were ridiculous so that idea was soon dismissed – if I really wanted something later it would be cheap and cheerful down at the Lock Keeper’s Rest.
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Back at the van I made another brew and contemplated what to do with the rest of the day. Glasson may be a nice little place with lovely scenery but ‘little’ is the operative word – it’s very small, and there’s only so many photos I can take and canal walks I can do without repeating myself so I got the last few shots from the end of the lay-by then took myself off to the big car boot sale at St. Michael’s, a 20-minute drive away.
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With the weather being so nice the car boot was packed with both sellers and bargain hunters but in spite of there being so many stalls I didn’t see anything I really wanted to buy so I treated myself to a double 99 from the ice cream van then drove a short distance back along the road to Guy’s Thatched Hamlet at the side of the Lancaster Canal. It’s a quaint and quirky little place which I’ve been to a few times in recent years and you can read about its history here.
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Having parked in the hamlet itself I walked up onto the lane and crossed the bridge to the main A6 road. A little way along was Old Duncombe House, a cottage-style B&B in what is believed to be a building dating back to the 16th century, and with its white walls, hanging baskets and colourful planters it looked very attractive in the sunshine. Walking up as far as the short lane to the next bridge I crossed back over the canal and headed along the towpath back to Guy’s, then even though it was still only the middle of the afternoon I decided to head back home from there.
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As far as completely off-grid camping experiences go my overnight stay at Glasson Dock had been a good one and in spite of being on my own in a very quiet location I hadn’t felt apprehensive or unsafe at all. Since that weekend I’ve found details of a circular walk which takes in Cockersand Abbey, a place I’d like to take a proper look at, so maybe next summer I’ll return to Glasson for another overnight stay – it’s certainly something to think about.

Overnight at Glasson Dock – 1

Back in early July, which seems ages ago now, the warm sunny weather and long hours of daylight prompted me to take myself off on a bit of a weekend adventure, staying overnight completely off-grid at Glasson Dock on the Lune estuary. Now I’ve stayed at a few quite basic sites over the twenty five years I’ve been camping but this wasn’t even a site, it was a lay-by at the side of a lane, though I’d previously been assured by someone ‘in the know’ that it would be okay to stay there overnight.
The lay-by was apparently quite a popular spot for people to park up and go for a walk or just sit and chill out so several cars were already there when I arrived just after 2pm, however I found a place towards the bottom end and with a brew made on the camping stove I spent some time taking in the views in front of me. Across the estuary and over to my left was Sunderland Point with its rows of old cottages facing the water and in the distance the huge bulk of Heysham power station, while in front of me was Bazil Point, an area I’d walked round in May.
Sunderland Point
Bazil Point
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Back in the early years Glasson was just a very small farming and fishing community known as Old Glasson but because of the increasing difficulty for ships navigating up the Lune to Lancaster docks the Lancaster Port Commission decided to build a new dock on a sheltered bend in the river and closer to the sea. Land at Glasson was purchased in 1780 and construction was started, with the dock finally being completed and opened in 1787, and with the need to house the many workers building it an adjacent village began to grow. The dock was a well equipped place capable of holding up to 25 merchant ships, and following its completion a small lighthouse was built on the east side; currently used for storage there seems to be very little information about it but it became Grade ll listed in March 1985.
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Before the growth of the village there were originally only two buildings in the dock area itself. One was Pier Hall, owned by a Mr Salisbury and which eventually became an inn, and the other was The Old Ship House, the beached hulk of an old West Indiaman merchant sailing ship with holes for doors cut into the bulwarks and rooms built inside. The Old Ship House was an inn from around 1783 until 1790 and was the predecessor to the Victoria Inn, built around 1800 and which still stands on roughly the same site. Fast forward to today’s modern times and the Victoria closed down in 2015 due to lack of business; various plans to revamp the once attractive historic building have so far come to nothing and sadly it remains empty and derelict.
The Victoria Inn
With the construction of the Lancaster Canal between 1792 and 1800 thought was given to making a connection between it and the sea, although the original plans weren’t actioned. Those plans were revived in 1819 and after additional finance was raised construction of a canal branch, later known as the Glasson Arm, was started in 1823 and opened in 1826, with a large canal basin behind the dock. Over its two-and-a-half mile length from Galgate to Glasson the branch canal dropped through 52ft, and while the main canal had been built lock-free for the whole of its 42-mile length the Glasson branch was constructed with six locks between Galgate and the Glasson Basin, with a seventh lock between the basin and the dock itself.
In 1834 a shipyard and Customs House were built at the dock, followed by a watch house in 1836 and a dry dock in 1841. The quay was connected by a branch line to the railway network in 1883, operating passenger services until 1930 then continuing with goods services until its final closure in 1964. The shipyards, which had been mainly concerned with ship repair rather than ship building, eventually closed in 1968 with the dry dock being filled in a year later. A limited amount of commercial shipping still uses the dock to this day, with outgoing shipments including coal for the Isle of Man and Scotland’s Western Isles and incoming cargoes of fertiliser and animal feeds.
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Since the shipyards closed in the late 1960s the canal basin has developed over the years into a large marina for pleasure craft, currently with a wide range of boating services and mooring facilities for 220 boats, and in more recent years the trackbed of the disused railway line has become a very pleasant pedestrian path and cycleway which is part of the Lune Estuary Footpath and also one end of the 81-mile Bay Cycleway established in 2015.
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Down the hill from my parking place was a small industrial area behind the dock and set back in a corner was the Port of Lancaster Smokehouse factory shop. Originally established on the quay at Lancaster around 50 years ago the family run business moved to Glasson in 2008 and still uses many of the traditional methods of preparing and curing fish, meats and cheeses of all kinds.
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Passing the back of the nearby Dalton Arms pub a narrow street of terraced stone cottages took me to the road through the village, with the marina at the far side. Across the swing bridge and on the corner was the Lock Keeper’s Rest, a large former static caravan turned into a snack bar/takeaway popular with bikers, walkers and cyclists, and on a small raised cobbled area was the Bi-Centenary Anchor, placed there in May 1987 to celebrate the bi-centenary of the dock’s opening. At one time that corner was nothing much to write home about but it seems to have undergone a fairly recent transformation with a greatly extended seating area and plenty of picnic tables – overlooking the marina and with lots of greenery and colourful plants in tubs it certainly looked a lot more attractive than it once did.
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Across the road was the bowling green with the start of the cycleway at the far side, which was also the start of the circular walk I’d planned to do. The level path ran between the road and the estuary for quite a distance then veered off on a raised bank across the saltmarsh before a bridge took me over the little River Conder, a tributary of the Lune, to the small hamlet of Conder Green. There was nothing really there only a dozen houses, some farm buildings and The Stork pub; my intention had been to take a photo of The Stork but the late afternoon sun was in the wrong direction and the building was in shade so I headed off along the road back towards Glasson.
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Mosaic set in a garden wall
I’d walked for quite a distance when I saw something obviously very dead lying in the middle of the road. At first I thought it was a baby squirrel but on closer inspection it turned out to be a weasel, and going off its small size it was still quite a young one. Externally there wasn’t a mark on it so not wanting it to get squashed by the next car which came along I picked it up to leave it somewhere out of the way, but never having seen a weasel before other than in books or on the tv I took a quick photo before dropping it into the long grass over the other side of the roadside crash barrier, where hopefully it would be out of the way of anything which might see it and peck it to bits.
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Continuing along the road I passed a static caravan park, a couple of houses and a group of farm buildings then turned left for a short distance to a slope which took me off the road and down onto the canal towpath. A short way along was Christ Church, designed by Lancaster architect Edmund Sharpe and built in 1839-40. The churchyard, which contains the war graves of two soldiers from WWl and one from WWll, was extended in 1905 when land was granted on provision that a burial plot was available in perpetuity for members of the Dalton family who owned most of the land in the area, though only two male members of the family have ever been buried there, with the female members laid to rest at Lancaster Cemetery.
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Walking along the side of the marina I couldn’t miss the brightly painted canal boat moored at one of the pontoons. With my liking for multi-coloured abstract street art it was just my ‘thing’ and I couldn’t help wondering if the owners were also street art fans or if they had painted the boat like that just to be different. Back across the swing bridge I called in at the shop to get some cake for a treat later on then made my way back to the lay-by and my ‘pitch’ for the night, finding when I got there that anyone else previously parked there had gone and I now had the place to myself.
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After a simple meal, a brew and a couple of slices of cake I whiled away the time with a few chapters of my book then with the late evening light fading I took Snowy and Poppie for their last walk of the day. Down at the marina various lights had come on in different places and with the stiff breeze of earlier on having dropped the now calm water produced some nice reflections.
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Sunset over the estuary
Being completely alone in the lay-by overnight didn’t worry me, in fact I rather enjoyed the solitary peace and quiet, and as I settled down to sleep I had my fingers metaphorically crossed that I would wake the following morning to some more of the lovely weather I’d had that day.

Castlefield Viaduct – Manchester’s High Line

During my recent August bank holiday search for new street art in the city centre I took the opportunity to visit Castlefield Viaduct, the very new and recently opened ‘garden in the sky’, a project developed by the National Trust and four local partner organisations to transform the Grade II listed disused railway viaduct into an urban green space.
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The history of the Castlefield area and the viaduct dates back to 79 AD when Roman soldiers led by General Agricola chose the area as the site of a timber fort which they called Mamucium, later known as Mancunium. Protected by the Rivers Irwell and Medlock it was in a strategic position and well-located to guard important roads leading towards other larger forts. Over time the fort was repaired, enlarged, and eventually rebuilt in stone and a village was established nearby but once the Romans left around 410AD both the fort and the village declined and were eventually abandoned.
In 1086 a village called ‘Mamcester’ was recorded in the Domesday book as lying less than a mile north-east of the old fort. The village grew steadily, incorporating the site of the fort now known as Castlefield (Castle-in-the-field) and by the early 13th century it had become a town, though it wasn’t until the late 18th century that the area really became a significant part of an ever-expanding city.
The industrial heritage of Manchester began around 1758 when the Duke of Bridgewater commissioned James Brindley to construct one of Britain’s first canals, built to transport coal to the city from his mines at Worsley. The Bridgewater Canal proved to be a huge success, halving the price of coal and prompting a period of intensive canal-building across the country, and when the Rochdale Canal was completed in 1804 it joined the Bridgewater Canal at Castlefield, cutting through the site of the old Roman fort and making the area the hub of the city’s canal network.
By this time Manchester was the fastest growing city in the world thanks to the ever-increasing number of cotton mills creating jobs and bringing in trade and eventually it became clear that the canals alone couldn’t move goods fast enough. This led to the dawning of the railway age and in 1830 the Liverpool and Manchester railway opened, with the Castlefield area becoming the site of the world’s first inter-city passenger railway station, Manchester Liverpool Road, now part of today’s Science and Industry Museum.
Over the next several decades the area became recognised as the central hub for Manchester’s goods transportation network. Warehouses sprang up all over Castlefield to support the network and three railway viaducts were built over the canal basin, with the first one being opened in 1849. The second viaduct opened in 1877 and in the same year an elevated railway was constructed alongside it. In 1885 construction began on the Great Northern Warehouse, designed to be a three-way warehouse served by canal, road and rail, and in 1891 construction started on a fourth viaduct which would carry the railway line above the canal basin to both the warehouse and the adjacent Central Station.
This fourth Castlefield viaduct is a steel latticed girder construction 370yds long and 38ft wide and is an early example of using carbon steel for the girders, replacing the usual cast and wrought iron. Designed by engineer William George Scott it was manufactured and constructed by Heenan and Froude, the engineers behind the construction of the iconic Blackpool Tower, with M W Walmsley & Co. being the masonry contractors.
Supported on fifteen cast iron columns each 10ft 6ins in diameter the viaduct stands approximately 55ft above the canal basin, while the columns themselves are embedded in Portland cement, rest on solid rock some 20ft below ground, and are filled with masonry and cement. The total weight of steel and iron in the viaduct is over 7,000 tons and more than 6 million forged steel rivets were used in the construction. It was completed at a cost of £250,000 (about £20.5 million today) and in a small ceremony held on completion day a special copper rivet was fixed in the one remaining slot, though no-one these days knows exactly where it is.
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For 77 years the viaduct carried heavy rail traffic in and out of the Castlefield area but along with Central Station, now a large convention centre, it closed in 1969 and has been disused ever since. It became Grade II listed on February 14th 1988 and over the years essential periodic repairs and maintenance to keep it safe have been undertaken by what is now Highways England.
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Plans to convert the disused viaduct into an urban ‘sky park’ inspired by New York’s High Line were first proposed in 2012 but unfortunately fell through, however in 2021 a planning application by the National Trust received approval from Manchester City Council to transform around half the viaduct’s length into a temporary ‘garden in the sky’. Funded by private donations and support from local businesses and the People’s Postcode Lottery work began in March 2022 and the viaduct opened to the public in late July as a year-long ‘test and learn’ pilot scheme where visitors and locals can share their feedback and ideas for the structure’s long-term future.
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After the very pleasant Welcome Area at the start of the viaduct a wide central path leads through an experimental planting area where hessian sand bags filled with peat-free compost are being used to encourage plant growth through the viaduct’s ballast. Following on from there is the main part of the garden with long specially designed and constructed planters separating four small partner plots set back off the path. Several of the plant species used, such as cotton grass, have connections to the local area and herbaceous perennials provide pretty splashes of colour among the densely planted ferns and grasses.  
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At the end of the garden is the events space, a light and airy building where visitors can leave their feedback and any ideas for the future of the viaduct. In the far wall a glass door and large windows look out onto the ‘naked viaduct’, the undeveloped section left untouched to provide a sense of how nature has reclaimed the space since the site was closed in 1969. 
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The undeveloped section of the viaduct
View from the viaduct
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Visiting the viaduct is currently only by guided tour and though it’s completely free visitor numbers are limited to 100 per day with tickets having to be booked online – it was only the day after it opened that I’d tried to book but disappointingly I found it was ‘sold out’ right through August and with no dates showing in September. I’d almost put it out of my mind but during my recent search for street art in the city I decided to go to the viaduct on the chance that I might be allowed in and I was lucky – there was just one place left on the next guided tour. Not having known what to expect I was more than pleasantly surprised by what I saw and I really enjoyed my visit so (hopefully) if I can ever manage to book a ticket I’ll certainly go back another time.

A visit to Bridgewater Garden

Last weekend, wanting to go somewhere different but not too far away, I decided to visit the RHS Bridgewater Garden, a relatively easy 10-mile drive from home and somewhere I’d never previously been to. Developed on the site of the former Worsley New Hall and its lost historic grounds Bridgewater is the RHS’s fifth garden, and being under the impression that it had been established quite some time ago I was surprised when I later learned that it only started to be developed five years ago.
The history of Worsley New Hall dates back to the 19th century when it was built for Francis Egerton, 1st Earl of Ellesmere. Replacing an earlier classical-style building from the 1760s the New Hall was designed by architect Edward Blore, with the foundations being started in 1839 and the first stone laid in April 1840. An Elizabethan Gothic-style mansion, the building was completed by 1846 at a cost of just under £100,000, the equivalent of £6.7million today; the earlier building was demolished between December 1844 and August 1845 and a section of what is now the A572 runs over the former site of it.
Worsley New Hall, date unknown – photo from the internet
Just as grand as the house, the magnificent gardens were landscaped over a 50-year period with landscape designer William Andrews Nesfield, one of the most sought-after of his profession at the time, being involved in the project from 1846. Over the years the sloping grounds to the south of the hall were developed into a formal terraced garden set off with ornate fountains and accessed by a series of steps and gravel paths, while beyond the terraces landscaped parkland extended to a lake with an island which was reached by a footbridge.
The formal terraced garden – picture from the RHS Bridgewater website
Worsley New Hall was visited by Queen Victoria twice, first in 1851 and again in 1857. For her first visit the Queen and her party travelled from Patricroft station to the Hall via the Bridgewater Canal on a Royal Barge commissioned by the Earl of Ellesmere, with a landing stage being specially built on the canal bank, and in honour of her visit the canal water was dyed blue. On her second visit, after attending an Art Treasures exhibition in Manchester, she planted a North American giant redwood tree in the Hall’s lawn in memory of the Duke of Wellington but sadly the redwood didn’t grow well in the British climate. In 1869 Edward, Prince of Wales, and Princess Alexandra visited the Hall then forty years later, after opening the Manchester Royal Infirmary, they made a second visit to inspect the Territorial Army’s East Lancashire division in the grounds of the Hall south of the Bridgewater Canal.
During the first World War John Egerton, 4th Earl of Ellesmere, lent Worsley New Hall to the British Red Cross and it became a hospital for injured soldiers. The grand spacious rooms were used as wards, food was provided by the kitchen gardens and the terraced gardens and parkland were used for recreation. The hospital closed in 1919 and the building was left unoccupied then in 1920, after incurring various death duties, the 4th Earl started auctioning off various items of furniture and fittings. Paintings and further items of furniture were relocated to other properties also owned by the Earl and the Hall’s library and surplus furniture were sold at auction in April 1921.

In 1923 the Worsley estate including the New Hall was sold to Bridgewater Estates Limited, a group of Lancashire businessmen, for £3.3 million. Several attempts were made by them to sell the property during the later 1920s and the early 1930s but sadly these all came to nothing and the Hall continued to lie empty, slipping slowly into decline. With the advent of World War II the War Office requisitioned parts of the building and the grounds and during 1939 and 1940 the site was occupied by the 2nd and 8th Battalions of the Lancashire Fusiliers, with around 100 troops based there. In 1941 and 1942 the 42nd and 45th County of Lancaster Home Guard Battalions used the site, constructing storehouses for explosives in the grounds, while the lake and other parts of the grounds became Middlewood Scout Camp.
Sadly the existence of Worsley New Hall was soon to come to an end. Already weakened by dry rot and subsidence and damaged during the military occupation a fire in September 1943 badly damaged the top floor of the building, leading to calls for tenders to demolish it. Finally in 1944 it was sold to a scrap merchant for £2,500; demolition started in 1946 and by 1949 the hall had been razed to ground level, with debris used to fill in the basements. A footbridge which connected the New Hall with Worsley Old Hall estate at the far side of the road was demolished at the same time and 800 tonnes of stone from the New Hall was taken to be used in the construction of council houses in Southfield, Yorkshire.

In 1951 the War Office once again requisitioned part of the New Hall site and built a reinforced concrete bunker as an Anti-Aircraft Operations Room, along with two anti-aircraft radar masts, then in 1956 they actually purchased the site of the bunker and it was used by the Royal Navy as a food store. In 1961 it was sold to Salford Corporation and was used by both them and Lancashire County Council as a control centre then seven years later ownership passed to the Greater Manchester Fire Service who eventually leased it to a local gun club as a shooting range in 1985.
With the exception of the bunker the site of Worsley New Hall and its gardens remained in the ownership of Bridgewater Estates Ltd throughout the years until 1984 when the company was acquired by Peel Holdings, a property and investment group. Over the following years various ideas were put forward for the regeneration of the site but nothing ever came of them, then in 2011 an archaeological excavation of the site, funded by Peel and carried out by the University of Salford, revealed that some of the basement of the mansion and its foundations were still in existence.
In October 2015 it was announced that the Royal Horticultural Society would renovate the New Hall’s 154-acre garden and work started during the 2016/17 winter. Plans included the restoration of any remaining historic features, the reconstruction of the walled garden and the creation of completely new and contemporary features, with an eco-friendly light and airy Welcome Building housing a reception area, cafe, gift shop and attached garden centre, and Bridgewater Garden finally opened to the public on May 8th 2021.
The Welcome Building – photo from the internet
A weekend afternoon and good weather meant that the place was very busy so my first port of call which seemed to have less people around was the Welcome Garden with its pleasant paths meandering round large informally planted areas close to a nearby lake, although I couldn’t get close enough to the water to take a decent photo. A well mown path past the lake led across a tree lined meadow but seemed to go on for quite a distance so I took a left and followed a path winding gently uphill through the Chinese Streamside Garden. On the rail of the bridge at the top I found a dragonfly sunning itself, it seemed to like having its photo taken as it stayed there for ages and never moved.
The Welcome Garden
Chinese Streamside Garden
From the bridge steps and another path took me up past the Chinese Water Garden to Ellesmere Lake and though I could have walked all the way round I passed on that in favour of finding the more interesting parts of the garden. A long straight path led through Lower Middle Wood to the large events marquee and picnic area and halfway along I came to a very unusual exhibit in a glass case, Queen Cotton Fairy’s Crown.
Chinese Water Garden
Ellesmere Lake
In the 19th century and throughout Queen Victoria’s reign the production of cotton was instrumental in the rapid growth of Manchester as a city and the Cotton Fairy’s Crown is loosely based on the design of Victoria’s imperial state crown. Unfortunately there was no information on when this exhibit was made or who made it – looking at the crown itself and the state of the case it looks old, probably made around the time of Victoria’s visits to Worsley New Hall, but so far I’ve been unable to find out anything about it.
Queen Cotton Fairy’s Crown
From the events marquee a long straight path led to the 11-acre walled garden and in the outer part were the original potting sheds, now used as an exhibition space, and The Bothy, the cottage where apprentice gardeners once lived and now repurposed for horticultural staff, while next to the cottage was the tall chimney which was once part of the heating system for the glasshouses which were nearby. Along the path was an enclosure with a few rare breed chickens then from there I went to explore the walled garden proper.
A section of one of the outer walls had been utilised as a backdrop to a handful of separate tiny gardens each with a different theme and my favourite of these was the Windrush Garden, a re-imagined tropical garden designed to cope with an unpredictable climate and the challenges of a shady inner city backyard. Inspired by stories of sunny days in Jamaica the design reflects the resilience of the Windrush generation who, having moved to the UK from the Caribbean, could start a new chapter of their lives while still retaining a sense of ‘back home’
The Windrush Garden
The walled garden itself is one of the largest in the UK and at 11 acres is approximately the same size as the Chelsea Flower Show site. The inner walled garden is divided by a central wall into two halves, with the Paradise Garden occupying one half and the Kitchen Garden the other, and these are surrounded by a series of connecting gardens which are enclosed by a lower-level outer wall. With so many paths and ‘gardens within gardens’ it was easy to lose track of where I’d been and more than once, just when I thought I’d seen everything, I found another bit I hadn’t seen.
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The Community Wellbeing Garden
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The layout of the kitchen garden’s pathways and beds was inspired by a network of local underground waterways starting in Worsley. The two Chelsea gold medal-winning designers discovered maps and drawings of these waterways dating back to the Industrial Revolution and overlaid these with an Ordnance Survey map of the area to create the garden’s layout. Water itself also features in the garden with four raised rectangular ‘infinity’ pools among the flower beds.
The Kitchen Garden
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View towards the Pardise Garden and Garden Cottage
The contemporary Paradise Garden takes inspiration from the traditional paradise gardens of many years ago, cleverly blending Mediterranean, Asiatic and American plant species and with water as its key feature. At the heart of the garden is a 70sq metre lily pond fed by two shallow channels running east to west and with a smaller pond and fountain at each end.
The Paradise Garden
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Heading towards the exit my route took me past part of the Welcome Garden and the exit itself led onto a pleasant terrace overlooking Moon Bridge Water and with an outdoor seating area for the cafe. I did think about treating myself to cake and a drink until I saw the over-the-top prices – £4 for a small cupcake and £2 for a can of Coke is just ridiculous – so I gave up on that idea and waited until I got back home.
Lawn area and Welcome Garden
Moon Bridge Water
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Aside from the cafe prices and the ridiculously expensive gift shop I was very impressed with Bridgewater Garden. There are other areas to explore yet so I’ll certainly make a return visit, especially as it’s not too far from home, though next time I’ll be taking a picnic.

Easter in North Wales – The final day

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

Easter in North Wales – Day 3 Exploring Conwy

Knowing that Conwy would be very busy my day started reasonably early this time – my plans meant that at some point I would have to leave the dogs in the van for a while so I wanted to be sure I could get a parking space in some shade. Just before 9am I pulled into the edge-of-town car park I usually use and bingo! – only three cars there and a space underneath a big tree which would provide shade all day long.
Heading down the road from the car park and in the direction of the river a short dead-end lane took me to Marine Walk. The pedestrian footpath/cycleway ran along by the waterside before turning inland alongside a tidal creek crossed by a blue/grey bridge which provided private access to a sports field for pupils of a nearby school. Past the end of the creek the path took me onto a minor road which crossed the busy A55 just west of the Conwy Tunnel which ran deep underneath the river estuary. 
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View across to Deganwy with the gorse covered hillside leading to the castle ruins
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Opened by the Queen on October 5th 1991 the Conwy Tunnel was the first immersed tube road tunnel in the UK and Ireland. Designed for the Welsh Office by Travers Morgan & Partners and a joint construction venture between contractors Costain and Tarmac it took 1,000 workers five years to construct at a final cost of £144m.
At 1.09km long the tunnel is comprised of 300,000 tonnes of concrete and 10,500 tonnes of steel reinforcement, and carries two lanes of traffic in each direction, separated by a full-height dividing wall. The east and west approaches were constructed using a ‘cut-and-cover’ technique and the central immersed tube section was formed from six steel-reinforced concrete units, precast inside a basin on the west side of the Conwy estuary. Each unit was 118 metres long, 24 metres wide, 10.5 metres high and weighed 30,000 tonnes.
When construction of the units was complete they were made watertight by temporary steel bulkheads at each end, the casting basin was flooded and they were floated into the estuary, being towed into position by pontoons and sunk on a falling tide into a pre-excavated trench some 10-20 metres deep, where they were finally joined together underwater and the temporary bulkheads removed to complete the roadway. Sand was injected to fill the voids beneath the tube and graded backfill placed round its sides and top to fill the trench, finished off with a protective covering of rock armouring. The whole operation took a huge collaborative effort which included a team of 90 divers working 24-hour shifts and making approximately 7,000 dives.
Surplus granular material excavated from the casting basin and dredged from the tunnel trench was deposited upriver beyond the road and rail bridges and used to reclaim parts of a tidal area which is now the Glan Conwy Nature Reserve, while the basin itself was developed into Conwy Marina. Opened in 1992 and with 500 pontoon berths it’s the largest marina in Wales.
Today’s tunnel technology includes 36 giant fans in each bore, CCTV cameras monitored from a control room, emergency telephones, evacuation doors, incident detection and public address systems and a computerised lighting system with 2,600 58W single and twin fluorescent lights and 1,850 LED lamps which automatically adjust to visibility conditions, all supported by 4km of cabling and 3km of steelwork. Probably most people, myself included, will have driven through that tunnel without giving a moment’s thought for the planners, engineers and construction workers who made it a reality – maybe some don’t even realise they are driving under a river – but the technology and work undertaken to get it there is certainly pretty amazing. 

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Conwy tunnel heading west – photo from the internet
At the far side of the A55 the minor road took me to a small private estate of modern houses and a car park and boat yard with Conwy Marina at the far side, overlooked by the terrace of the Mulberry pub/restaurant and a very attractive small square dotted with planters and seating. A pleasant pedestrian promenade led to the far end of the marina and the continuation of the minor road which ended in a rough surfaced car park with a slipway down to the water.

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My original idea had been to walk along the beach for a while but not far from the slipway the sand gave way to rocks and with a high tide there was no beach to be seen so I walked along the dunes for a distance before turning round and retracing my steps. At one point I came across what seemed to be a memorial cairn of some sort but on closer inspection I found it was a crudely made hand carved signpost pointing one way to Conwy and the other to Sunset – as the only caravan site near there doesn’t have that name I can only assume it refers to a point at which you can get a good view of the sunset across the sea.

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Deganwy and the castle outcrop

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A cute poster in the marina shop window
Back at the van after our long walk the dogs were settled in their beds with a chew each to keep them occupied for a while then I set out for the next part of the day. First was the suspension bridge and I was happy to see that after all the times I’ve found it closed this time it was open and I could walk across it.
The bridge is a Grade I-listed structure, one of the first road suspension bridges in the world and probably the only one anchored into the base of a medieval castle. Built by Thomas Telford between 1822 and 1826 the 99.5-metre-long (326 ft) bridge is in the same style as Telford’s Menai Suspension Bridge further down the coast, but with castellated towers created to complement the castle. Carrying what was once the main trunk road from Chester to Bangor it replaced the ferry which crossed the river at the same point and which was considered both inconvenient and dangerous. Opened to traffic on July 1st 1826 the first passengers waved from their carriages as they crossed the bridge and sang ‘God Save the King’ as loud as they could. 
In 1896 the original wooden deck, 15ft above high water, was replaced by an iron roadway which still exists today and in 1903 the bridge was strengthened by adding wire cables above the original iron chains, then the following year a 6ft-wide walkway was added for pedestrians. Following a steady increase in traffic over the years the bridge was superseded by a new road bridge which was built alongside it and completed in 1958. The suspension bridge closed to traffic on December 13th that year when the new bridge was opened and since then has only been used by pedestrians and cyclists.
Following a local uproar in 1965 after the council proposed the demolition of the suspension bridge its ownership was transferred to the National Trust who continue to own and maintain it; in 1969 it was restored and in 1976 it was repainted to celebrate its 150th anniversary. 

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At the entrance to the bridge a toll house was built and during the 1890s toll keepers David and Maria Williams kept the bridge running 24 hours a day every day of the year including Christmas. During his time as toll keeper David created a vegetable garden to help feed his family of six and any surplus food was sold to people crossing the bridge, while Maria took in washing from residents of the town to make extra money to sustain the family. A sign above the toll house door details the toll charges from the 1890s, and though the National Trust did for many years charge a nominal fee for non-members to walk across the bridge this no longer applies, and the toll house itself is currently closed to visitors.

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Sign above the toll house door

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Next came a visit to the castle, which was one reason why I’d had to leave the dogs behind, but unfortunately this turned out to be a non-event. I’d (mistakenly) thought it was a National Trust property along with the bridge so I’d tucked my card into my pocket, only to find when I got there that it’s owned by Cadw and I would have to pay. I did have some money but not enough and as the van was quite some distance away I wasn’t walking all the way back there for the sake of getting another 60p so I abandoned the castle idea and went to take some photos down at a quiet riverside spot instead. And that’s when I found the dog…
The rear of the castle

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Robert Stephenson’s tubular railway bridge

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Walking back up the lane from the riverside I noticed the medium sized dog trotting in my direction though he didn’t appear to be with anyone and he seemed to be unsure of where he was. He came to me when I called him and seemed very friendly, and though he had a collar on there was no tag and there was no-one around who seemed to be looking for him. There were some young guys playing bowls on the nearby bowling green though so I asked them if he was theirs – he wasn’t, nor had they had noticed anyone looking for a dog, however they said they would be there for at least another couple of hours so they would keep him with them in the enclosed space in case his owner came along.
Leaving the dog with them I went back into the town to see if I could find someone to help – enquiring at the visitor centre near the castle entrance it was suggested that I go to the tourist information centre across the road, however being Easter and also a Sunday the place was closed. Thinking that Eileen might be able to find the number of the local dog warden for me I rang her but unfortunately got no answer so reluctantly I had to accept there was nothing I could do other than hope the dog stayed with the young guys on the bowling green and was eventually found by his owner.
After all that it was time for the next part of the day, walking the section of the town walls starting from near the castle, which I didn’t do in February. This time though I could walk all the way round as the part which had been blocked off before was now open, although the views from the new-to-me section weren’t quite as good as those on my previous visit.
Statue behind St. Michael and All Angels church, viewed from the town walls

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I ended the wall walk not far from the car park where I’d left the van so I went to retrieve the dogs and found them both curled up fast asleep – they must have been tired after our long walk earlier on and they obviously hadn’t missed me. Down on the quayside the tide was going out and I’d missed the last pleasure boat sailing so I walked to the far end and back again, spotting a quirky garden ornament behind the steel mesh barrier of a small fishing compound.

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With the time on my car park ticket almost up but still about three of hours of sunshine left I drove out of Conwy and a couple of miles along the Sychnant Pass to where, thanks to Google maps, I knew there was a small parking area just off the road. Half an hour’s wandering round that bit of Conwy Mountain got me a few nice photos then I went back down into Conwy itself; the lost dog had been on my mind and I couldn’t leave the town without trying to find out what happened to it. When I got back to the bowling green however there was no sign of the dog or the four young guys playing bowls so I could only hope that its owner turned up and it was okay.
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On the way back to the camp site I stopped off at Rhos-on-Sea and from a chippy recommended by Eileen I got fish and peas which I ate in the van parked up on the promenade, and very good they were too. Finally back at the camp site my day was topped off nicely by a lovely sunset which cast a deep golden glow over the nearby fields.
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Apart from not being able to reunite the lost dog with its owner, and missing out on the castle, which I can visit another time, I’d had a lovely day. I think Snowy and Poppie enjoyed it too, although they always do wherever I take them, and I can safely say all three of us slept well that night.

 

Easter in North Wales – Day 2 Deganwy Castle

It was a bit of a strange morning weather-wise. Blue sky and bright sunshine one minute then all-over white cloud and hazy sunshine the next, with the best of the blue sky appearing in the direction of the coast a few miles away. It was dry and warm though and nice enough to have breakfast with the van door open, however I’d just settled down with my toast and marmalade when I was interrupted by the sound of a tractor and there in the next field, less than a hundred yards away, one of the farm workers was muck spreading. It didn’t smell too bad at first but by the time I was ready for going out the ‘perfume’ was much stronger although I wasn’t particularly bothered by it. Living within spitting distance of my own local countryside I’m quite familiar with various aromas drifting over from the nearest farm, and camping on a farm site the occasional farm smells are only to be expected.
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For several years now, whenever I’ve been to Conwy, I’ve been intrigued by a pleasant looking steeply sloping gorse covered hillside above Deganwy across the estuary; when I found out a few weeks ago that it’s possible to walk up there to the remains of an old castle on a rocky outcrop it immediately went on my ‘to do’ list and this was the day I was going to go up there.
Deciding to take the route nearest to the outcrop I left the van in the car park near Deganwy station and set off uphill on a very pleasant residential street off the main road. Towards the top of the street a narrow path between two houses took me to the lower slopes of the outcrop and from there it was a steep and steady climb up and around until I got to the top. Now I don’t quite know what I was expecting to see when I got there but what I wasn’t expecting was a whole lot of not-very-much; a few bits of old wall here and there and that was it, although the views were good.
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Less than halfway up – the view across the estuary

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The history of Deganwy Castle goes back to the late 11th century although the site had been occupied at some point for centuries before that. In 1080 Robert of Rhuddlan, a Norman knight and important retainer of the Earl of Chester, was looking to expand his own lands so built a timber and earth castle on the hilltop at Deganwy. He was staying there in July 1093 when there was an invasion by armed men from three Welsh ships; he rode out to the attack but was killed in the subsequent skirmish, with the Welsh raiders allegedly sailing off with his severed head attached to the mast of one of their ships.
The history of the castle in the hundred years after Robert of Rhuddlan’s death is rather vague but by the end of the 12th century it was in the hands of the Welsh Prince of Gwynedd, Llywelyn the Great, and aided by the policy of King John it remained that way into the early 13th century. In 1210 however, Llywelyn turned against the King which prompted John to send an English army to invade the castle but it was pre-emptively destroyed by the Welsh to prevent it being used by the English. Unfortunately John was unable to sustain his army in Wales and Llywelyn was able to recapture the castle in 1213. He substantially rebuilt it in stone and it became one of his key facilities; in 1228 he even imprisoned one of his own sons there. Llywelyn died in 1240 and under the leadership of his son David the Welsh once again destroyed the castle to prevent its use by the English.
Deganwy Castle was eventually taken over by Henry III and in the years 1245-54 it was rebuilt into a substantial medieval fortification. The main part was constructed on the western summit of the hillside and crowned with a substantial round tower, while a secondary irregular-shaped structure known as Mansel’s Tower was built on a smaller eastern summit nearby, with a bailey established between the two hilltops. As Henry rebuilt the castle one of his noblemen wrote a letter home…
”His Majesty the King is staying with his army at Gannock (Deganwy) for the purpose of fortifying a castle which is now built in a most strong position there. We are dwelling round it in tents, employed in watchings, fastings and prayers, and amidst cold and nakedness. In watchings, through fear of the Welsh suddenly attacking us by night; in fastings, on account of a deficiency of provisions for a farthing loaf now costs five pence; in prayers that we may soon return home safe and uninjured. And we are oppressed by cold and nakedness because our houses are of canvas and we are without winter clothing.”  From: Matthew Paris, Chronica Majora (thirteenth century)
A Royal Charter in 1252 had formally created a new borough adjacent to the site of the castle but over the subsequent decade this new settlement was subject to frequent Welsh attacks, culminating in the castle being besieged and captured by Llywelyn the Last in 1263. His territorial achievements were approved however when in 1267 Henry III sealed the Treaty of Montgomery, recognising Llywelyn as overlord of Wales.
In 1272 Edward I became King but relations with Llywelyn soon broke down, in particular over Llywelyn’s failure to pay homage to Edward. After the defeats of two Wars of Welsh Independence and the death of Llywelyn, killed in battle in 1282, the whole of North Wales, including Deganwy Castle, finally came under the control of the English. Five years earlier Edward had started to build his ‘iron ring’ of castles around North Wales but Deganwy Castle wasn’t suitable to be re-used; the 1263 siege had shown how vulnerable the hilltop location was so Conwy Castle across the river estuary was built as a direct replacement. Building materials were robbed from Deganwy Castle for the new structure and what remained of Deganwy was completely ruined. The ruins visible today belong mainly to Henry III’s castle though the bases of two D-shaped gatehouse towers and a section of the curtain wall hastily built by Edward I can still be recognized.

The Welsh-built revetment wall and tower base of the upper bailey

Northern gate of the lower bailey

View across to Conwy marina

View across the estuary with Anglesey in the distance

View towards Great Orme

View towards Llandudno and Great Orme

Accommodation block wall

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View inland

Conwy Castle and quay

View towards the smaller hilltop

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Section of wall from the southern outer gateway

The castle’s twin hills

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Heading back down the hillside

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Heading back down to civilisation I took a route across the part of the hillside which has intrigued me for so long, eventually joining a path which brought me out into a small cul-de-sac of houses just up the hill from the road into Deganwy marina. From there it was just a short walk past the station to where I’d left the van, and finding the Tea Station Cafe open I called in for a much needed coffee and a snack before setting off to return to the camp site.
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After the steep climb to the top of that rocky outcrop I’d been a bit disappointed to find there wasn’t a lot there but what it lacked in actual castle was more than made up for by the peace and quiet. I was the only one up there and it had been nice to sit for a while in solitude with the dogs and take in the views even if the sunshine was a bit hit-and-miss. And at least now, when I see that hillside from across the river in Conwy, I can finally say I know what’s up there.

North Wales mini break – Day 3

After the rain of the previous day the last day of my break turned out to be beautifully sunny though also very windy. I had to be off my pitch by 11am so the first dog walk was just a fairly short one close to the site, meaning I could have breakfast and get ready for the homeward journey without rushing. Handing in my barrier pass at reception and ready for the road my first stop was down the hill for a good walk along the path near the beach. A few wisps of grey cloud were still hanging about from early on but with blue sky and sunshine the area did look nicer than the previous early morning.
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My next stop was another visit to Eileen; I’d left my phone in the van while I was out walking and when I got back I found a message from her to say that she and hubby had gone to the harbour with Tilly so I decided to go straight there to see if I could find them. On my way I made a brief stop to take another photo of the friendly neighbourhood giraffe wearing his new and very tall Christmas hat – I’d taken a photo two days previously but somehow it got sunlight reflection on it. When I got to his garden however I found that his hat had been blown off in the wind and he was left with just a stick sticking out of his head, so Eileen has very kindly sent me the photo she took herself a few days before Christmas.

Before the wind

After the wind

Round at the harbour I parked up near the Harbour Hub cafe and took a walk along the boardwalk and dunes of Horton’s Nose nature reserve, one of the last sand dune systems on the North Wales coast. I didn’t see anything of Eileen, her hubby and Tilly so thought I may have missed them but as I headed back to the van I found them in the car park. It was agreed that we should go across to the cafe and instead of coffee we had hot chocolate with whipped cream and marshmallows, accompanied by bacon rolls. In spite of it being the middle of winter and the wind still blowing it was really quite warm so it was very pleasant sitting in the sunshine at one of the outside tables and chatting over our snack lunch, but all too soon it was time for me to say goodbye and hit the road.
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My third and final stop was Talacre Beach along the coast and close to the mouth of the Dee estuary. From the A548 a long lane took me past fields and a mixture of private bungalows and static caravan parks, then towards the end I came to a couple of amusement arcades, a walk-round ‘sells everything’ general store, a chip shop, small bakery, ice cream parlour, bar/restaurant, a small cafe and the Lighthouse Inn, with the end of the lane itself leading to a footpath through the dunes.
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Leaving the van in the car park near the Lighthouse Inn I set off on the trek through the dunes and across the beach to the Point of Ayr lighthouse. Built in 1776 to the design of Joseph Turner of Hawarden and modelled on a pre-existing Liverpool Docks Board light at Hoylake it was constructed to mark the entrance to the Dee estuary following the loss of two Dublin packet boats and more than 200 lives. Trinity House assumed responsibility for the light in 1819 and soon afterwards rebuilt the upper section with a new lantern light.
The lighthouse was decommissioned in 1844 after a piled structure was built further round the estuary. In 1882, following the grounding of a steamship which had just started a voyage from Mostyn, further along the estuary, to Barrow-in-Furness with a cargo of iron and coal, it was alleged in court that this second lighthouse was situated too far inland so in 1883 it was replaced by a lightship moored in the estuary though this has long since disappeared.
The original lighthouse has a slight lean but in spite of being in such an exposed location it has withstood countless storms over the years. In November 1973 it became Grade ll listed and was restored in the 1990s, then in 2011 it featured in the background of a tv advert for Dulux paint which was designed to mark the 50th anniversary of the first appearance of their Old English Sheepdog mascot, although as I’m not familiar with the advert I fail to see the significance.
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With no more en route stops and no delays on the motorways the rest of my journey home in the sunshine was uneventful and I arrived back before the daylight faded. In spite of the cloud and rain it had been good to get away for a couple of days and also to experience a new-to-me camp site, and as the old year turned into the new one I already had a few ideas for another North Wales break in the not-too-distant future.

North Wales mini break – Day 2

After a very comfortable and quiet night I woke the following morning to grey clouds which were gradually being replaced by blue skies and the promise of a nice day. The first dog walk of the day was to be an exploration of the nearby beach; from the site entrance it was just a 3-minute walk down the hill but if there was any sand at all it was completely covered by the high tide which came right up to the sea defences. Two rough surfaced car parks were situated between the sea defences and the North Wales Coast Path and the River Dulas came from somewhere inland and ran parallel to the path for a distance before curving round and emptying itself into the sea. Admittedly this wasn’t the prettiest of places but it did give us a good dog walk before we went back to the site for breakfast.
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Across the bay – Rhos-on-Sea in the sunshine

My main aim of the day was a visit to Conwy, somewhere I hadn’t been for a few years, though I was stopping off at Rhos-on-Sea on the way. Now although I left the site in brilliant sunshine the same couldn’t be said for arriving in Rhos – less than six miles along the coast the sun had almost disappeared and the sky was clouding over rapidly. Leaving the van in a roadside parking place on West Promenade I walked along the seafront, passing Combermere Gardens and the harbour and making my turn around point the tiny St. Trillo’s Chapel on the lower promenade at Marine Drive.
Combermere Gardens is a small but attractive raised paved area overlooking the sea and incorporating a few benches and planted flower beds. In Victorian times, before the promenade linking Rhos-on-Sea to Colwyn Bay was constructed, this site was the grounds of a house known as Combermere Lodge, sometimes referred to as Combermere Cottage. The house was demolished in the early 1900s as a result of either constructing or widening that section of the promenade and the owners of the nearby Cayley Arms Hotel made a contribution towards the cost of demolishing the other buildings between there and the sea, presumably to improve the hotel’s own view.
In 1909 suggestions were made in the local press as to the best use for the site of the demolished Combermere Lodge. Some locals wanted it used for public conveniences, some for public gardens, and there was also an application made to the council to rent the land for a ‘café chantant’ which would have provided refreshments, musical entertainments, dancing and lights at night. Although this had a lot of support it also had a lot of objections and the idea was eventually abandoned.
It’s unclear what decisions were taken at the time but underground public conveniences were erected at some point, along with a basic bandstand with a small canopy, and the site was given the official name of Combermere Square, though by the advent of the Second World War the local nickname had become ‘Lavatory Square’. These public conveniences were demolished sometime after the war and curved enclosing walls with coloured glass inserts were erected around the square. These in turn were demolished in the 1990s and the current attractive raised gardens and seating were built in their place giving good views across the bay.
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Barely 7ft tall at its apex and seating just six people the tiny St. Trillo’s Chapel is thought to be the smallest church in the British Isles. It was named after St. Trillo, a 6th century saint who built his cell there, though having been heavily repaired several times over the centuries its true age is unknown. St. Trillo’s original cell was probably made of wood and wattle although he may have built a wall of stones gathered from the beach to protect the structure from winds. His decision to build his cell on that particular spot would probably have been influenced by a natural spring which provided him with drinking water; the chapel was later built around the well and for centuries this well supplied the water for baptisms across the extensive medieval parish of Llandrillo. It also had a long tradition of being a healing well and it can still be seen in front of and below the altar.
A locked wrought iron gate across the chapel entrance stopped me from going inside but the place was so small I had no difficulty in taking a couple of shots through the bars. There was a very pretty Christmas wreath attached to the gate and on the surrounding wall was a pretty Christmas plant and a collection of painted pebbles and stones left in memory of various loved ones. The chapel is still used for an Anglican Eucharist every Wednesday and though I admit to not being particularly religious, with no-one around just then it was nice to sit on the bench and spend a few minutes in quiet contemplation.
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Walking back along the promenade I came across Rhos-on-Sea’s very own version of ‘street art’, a Welsh dragon painted on the garden wall of the Cayley Flyer pub/restaurant. The pub, formerly the Cayley Arms but renamed after refurbishment in 2017, was named after the Cayley family who were once prominent landowners in the area, and several other local place names mark this influence including the Cayley Promenade with its distinctive steep grass bank on the landward side of the road.
One member of the family, Sir George Cayley, was an eminent inventor and in 1853, fifty years before the Wright brothers, he designed and built a flying machine which could carry the weight of a man. This glider, the “Cayley Flier”, flew for about 275 metres across Brompton Dale in Yorkshire before crash-landing. Sir George, who was 80 years old at the time, hadn’t wanted to risk flying the plane himself so he had ordered his coachman, John Daley, to fly it for him – after the alarming experience of the crash-landing the coachman promptly resigned. This was the first recorded flight in history in a fixed-wing aircraft and it paved the way for the Wright brothers first powered flight in 1903, though the brothers did acknowledge Sir George Cayley as being the true inventor of the aeroplane.
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I’d just got past the Cayley Flyer when it started to rain, just spits and spots at first but becoming heavier after a few minutes. With no umbrella and quite a distance still to walk to the van I dodged into a promenade shelter in the hope that the rain would soon stop, and that’s where I made what must be the silliest find of the year – left on the bench in the shelter was a bag of Tesco potatoes.
It was a bit of a mystery where they had come from as there is no Tesco in Rhos, and even though I sat in the shelter for a while no-one came to claim them. With no ‘best before’ date on the bag there was no way of knowing how long they could have been there but they looked okay so when I finally made my way back to the van I took them with me; I didn’t want them for myself but I knew someone who might be able to use them. Unfortunately it seems that when they were opened they had a funny smell so they were relegated to the bin, but it’s still a mystery as to how, when or why they came to be left in that shelter in Rhos-on-Sea.
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With no sign of any improvement in the weather it crossed my mind to go back to the camp site but there was a shop in Conwy which I particularly wanted to visit so I continued with my day out, driving round to Conwy and finding a space in a car park on the edge of the town centre. The shop I wanted to go to is featured on the Quest tv programme Salvage Hunters and I’d been in there not long after it first opened a few years ago. It would be nice to have another look round but I was destined to be disappointed as not only was the place now ‘by appointment only’ it was also closed for the Christmas and New Year period, though I did manage to get a couple of photos looking through the windows.
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Having window-shopped my way round the town, which didn’t take long as it isn’t a big place, I went to take some photos near the castle. Unfortunately the suspension bridge, designed by Thomas Telford and completed in 1826, was closed with railings and a locked gate barring my way; in the care of the National Trust it’s been open to pedestrians only for many years but it seems that every time I’ve been to Conwy it’s been closed so I’ve never yet managed to walk across it.

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Across the road and down on the quayside a handful of fishing boats were moored up and several jumbles of fishing baskets were piled here and there. Most were heaped in a somewhat haphazard fashion but one lot of rectangular baskets had been stacked neatly in a way similar to building a brick wall and they provided me with quite a colourful abstract-type shot.
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Further along the quay was the Smallest House in Great Britain, originally created in the 16th century to fill a gap between two previously built rows of cottages. With the side wall of each end cottage and the back wall being part of the town wall’s central tower an enterprising builder realised all that was needed to create another house was the front wall and a roof. Over the years the house was home to many different people including a painter, a widow, a master mariner and his wife, a coachman and a fisherman and in 1891 it was bought for £20 by Robert Jones, a land owner who lived further along the quay. A copy of the conveyance hangs on a wall in the house, showing that for that price he not only bought the house but also acquired a sitting tenant with it, another Robert Jones. Robert Jones (the tenant) was 6ft 3ins tall but somehow continued to live in the Smallest House until 1900 when the local Corporation inspector declared it and the cottages to the left of it unfit for habitation.
Unhappy about the potential loss of rental income from the Smallest House Robert Jones (the owner) and his friend Roger Dawson, editor of the North Wales Weekly News, took a tour of the UK to measure other small houses in an effort to declare the Conwy house the smallest in Great Britain and thus save it from being demolished. Having established that it was indeed the smallest the Corporation agreed that it could be saved from demolition and opened instead as a tourist attraction. The Guinness Book of Records confirmed its status as the Smallest House in Great Britain in the early 1920s.
Measuring just 6ft across, 10ft deep and 10ft 2ins high the house has a single cramped bedroom upstairs and a downstairs living area with a water tap, an open coal fire and very basic cooking facilities. It has remained in the ownership of Robert Jones’ family ever since Jones himself bought it and is currently owned by his great, great granddaughter. It’s open to visitors daily from early spring until late autumn, with a lady in Welsh national dress standing outside, but due to structural instability the upstairs can only be viewed from a step ladder.
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While I’d been looking round the shops earlier on I’d also been looking for a cafe where I could get a coffee and a simple snack but most places didn’t seem to offer what I was looking for, however I did find one where I would be able to get a toasted sandwich. It wasn’t to be though as no sooner had I got through the door than I was told rather abruptly by the young woman behind the counter “Sorry, we’re full!” even though there were several empty tables in evidence. So after photographing the Smallest House I got fish and peas from a nearby chippy and took them back to the van.
As I was on my way back there I came across a window display which somehow I’d missed before. It was the most adorable nativity scene made up of felt mice and a few other little animals, so cute that I just had to take a photo looking through the glass. That was my last shot of the day and after demolishing my fish and peas, which were very good, I set off back to the camp site.
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It was unfortunate that the promising sunshine of the morning had been replaced by grey clouds and rain but I’d still enjoyed my day even though my photos at Conwy had to be taken from under the shelter of my umbrella – and seeing the mouse nativity scene just ended my day out nicely.