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.
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.
A week of high winds, heavy rain and anything else that storm whatever-it-was-called sent down had effectively stopped me from going for a decent walk but by yesterday it had calmed down considerably so during a fine but dull period in the afternoon I took my chances and went out for a short local walk. My quest was to find a hidden pond which I hadn’t been to for at least twenty years but as I suspected that the location and route to it would be very muddy at this time of year I left Sophie and Poppie behind for once.
The first fifteen minutes of the walk took me across a nearby main road and along a couple of residential roads with detached and semi-detached houses with pleasant gardens. Many of the gardens were showing signs of spring but the first thing that caught my eye was the mass of bright red berries and green leaves growing up the wall and over the front door of someone’s house – as red is my favourite colour I just had to get a photo of that one. A few gardens away was a large bush with yellow flowers (possibly forsythia) and in the garden next to that was (I think) a large camellia bush with a lot of its flowers lying on the ground, which I can only assume is the result of the recent high winds.
Along the next road was Bank Top community garden backed by the attractive black-and-white building which was once a tennis club but is now the home of Bank Top micro-brewery, and in a secluded corner some recently placed cut flowers and a small memorial plaque set in the ground. Fastened to the side railings was an ornamental lizard which I don’t remember seeing on my walk down there last year – it was very colourful but I wouldn’t like to come across a real one in the undergrowth.
At the end of the road a cobbled lane took me down past the stables where I once worked and into the woods with a wide path alongside the river and a bridge up ahead, and though I would normally cross the bridge and take the path at the far side this time I followed the left hand path which eventually took me up a steep bank above the river. It wasn’t too bad to start with but as I got further along it became more and more muddy, and being close to the edge of a steep unprotected drop down into the fast flowing water I was glad I hadn’t got the dogs with me.
Eventually the path widened out and emerged into open land on the left, and though I had a fair idea that the hidden pond was somewhere in that vicinity there was no way of searching for it without scrambling under a barbed wire fence and getting myself thoroughly dirty in the process, so that one will have to wait until there’s been a period of warm and dry weather. Following the path took me downhill into what, according to a nearby signpost, was Eagley Valley nature reserve, and not far from the riverside was a tree bursting into life with yellow and white buds. The white ones looked like what I’ve always known as pussy willow but the yellow ones looked more like fat hairy caterpillars – it would be interesting to see what it looks like when it’s fully in bloom.
A distance past the tree the path branched left and right ; left would take me up to a large modern housing estate so I went right and crossed a bridge to a long and wide stretch of open land, locally known as Eagley Meadows, where I could see Brook Mill in the distance. As the land opened out I could see what seemed to be a large pond with a thicket of trees growing in the middle of it – I didn’t remember there ever being a pond there before but a lot could have changed in the years since I was last there, however on closer inspection it turned out to be an area of very waterlogged land with the water looking quite deep round the trees.
The waterlogged land encroached on the path at one point so I found myself walking through yet another patch of mud but once I was beyond that the going underfoot was good for the rest of the walk. At the riverside I saw the big black duck which I’d seen three weeks previously, he was swimming in the water but the current was flowing so fast that it carried him down the river before I could get another photo of him. Recent information from a duck expert has told me that he’s a cross between a domestic large Cayuga duck and a mallard ; Cayuga ducks originate from the Cayuga Lake region of New York State and will often breed with mallards, producing a large bird with the black/green feathers of the Cayuga and the yellow bill and orange feet of the mallard.
The path from the riverside emerged close to Brook Mill and from there it was all road walking in the direction of home, with my final photo of the day being another camellia bush in someone’s front garden, though unlike the previous bush this one seemed to have retained all its flowers.
Even though the gloomy afternoon hadn’t been the best it had been good to get out for an hour or so, though looking at the muddy state of my wellies when I got back home I was glad I hadn’t taken the dogs with me!
Taking advantage of the recent (unusual for February) warm sunny t-shirt weather, and on a day when it was even warm enough to wear my cycling shorts, I took Sophie and Poppie for a local circular walk which I haven’t done for quite some time. Only a few minutes from home, and along a narrow lane, I got my first photo – a cute little cluster of snowdrops nestling in the partially shaded garden of a large house. The bottom of the lane emerges onto a busy main road and over on the far side is a large and pleasant triangle of green space. Bounded by the main road on one side and by minor roads with big houses on the other two sides it’s not big enough to be called a park but with a couple of benches it’s a nice enough place to sit and while away some time on a sunny day, and dotted here and there on the grass were several clusters of the deepest purple crocuses I’ve ever seen.
Following the longest of the minor roads I turned onto a track between the houses and emerged onto a wooded bank overlooking the steep cobbled lane I used to ride my bike down many years ago. A path through the trees brought me out at the bottom of the bank close to the bridge over Eagley Brook ; down in the water was the resident large group of ducks and among them was one I hadn’t seen before. I don’t know what sort of duck he was but he was black with a green head and green tinge to his feathers, and was twice the size of the others.
Across the bridge was Brook Mill, the first of a complex of three former cotton mills built in the late 19th century. Textile mills had existed there since the late 1700s but in the 1820s brothers James and Robert Chadwick began to redevelop the site. After James died in 1829 Robert amalgamated the business with a Manchester company and a model village was built for the mill workers ; this consisted of cottages, a school, a library, cricket pitch, bowling green and a park with a bandstand where the Eagley Mills Band would play.
Brook Mill was built in 1871 and Valley Mill was built ten years later, but after Brook Mill was burned out by fire in 1886 it was rebuilt in 1887 as the present building. The mills were managed at one point by the grandson of Samuel Greg, the founder of Quarry Bank Mill at Styal in Cheshire, then in 1896 Chadwick’s merged into the textile conglomerate of J & P Coats. Production finally ended at Eagley in 1972 and for many years afterwards the mills were used for a variety of commercial and industrial activities. Although the cottages and school (now a private house) still exist the library, bowling green and park have long since disappeared.
In 2001 Valley Mill was converted to residential use with 76 loft-style apartments on three floors, then in 2003 Brook Mill was also converted into 64 apartments on four floors. No. 1 mill, which had originally been built in 1894, was demolished and the land used for a small private estate of modern houses. Although I have no doubt that these mill apartments are very nice inside I personally would have no wish to live in one as to me the buildings have no ‘kerb appeal’ and look just like what they originally were – old mills.
A short access road behind Brook Mill took me to a footpath behind Valley Mill and a distance along was the very overgrown mill pond. The footpath emerged onto a large expanse of open land, part of which is used by Eagley Sports Club and has a football pitch, cricket pitch and tennis courts ; a cobbled lane at the far side ran alongside the river and took me back onto the main road and fifty yards or so along, and set back off the road itself, was a small private fishing lake.
Across the road a narrow tarmac lane took me past another couple of fishing lakes and a field where a group of ponies grazed peacefully in the sunshine, then a farm track through a wooded area took me to yet another fishing lake set on the edge of a vast expanse of farm land. A footpath close to one side of the lake ran along the edge of a field and up to the main road which runs past the end of my street but instead of going that way I went diagonally across the field to a gate and another path which would lead to a short cut home. At the top corner of the field I stopped and looked back at the view – it’s just a ten minute walk from home but no matter how many times I see it I still love it.
The path from the field took me past a second field on the right and the high hedges and back gardens of a row of modern houses on the left. About halfway along I came across a tree with thin branches which looked like they were doing their best to burst into flower ; the flowers which had already partially appeared were pink and fluffy-looking but were too far above my head for me to distinguish what they were. Early cherry blossom or something else? – I don’t know, but it will be interesting to go back in a while to see the tree in full bloom.
At the end of the path I crossed the access road leading onto the modern estate and zig-zagged my way home via another couple of footpaths and three very pleasant avenues, and it was down the third avenue where I got my last shot. Partially overhanging someone’s front garden wall was a huge bush covered in bright orange berries, and it was so striking that I couldn’t just walk past and ignore it.
Not being a gardener I haven’t a clue what the bush was but it was certainly worth a quick photo to end what had been a very pleasant local walk in some unseasonably glorious weather, and back at home the dogs and I finally chilled out with a much deserved cool drink.
Six months after my walk up Winter Hill last August when it was reopened to the public following the huge wildfire which devastated much of the land, yesterday I took the five minute drive up the road from home and had another walk up there to see what changes, if any, had happened in the last few months. As usual I parked at the San Marino restaurant on the main road, though the main car park was full so I had to use the one down the hill behind the building. And I was glad I did as the bottom end of the car park had great views over the countryside and just over the side wall was an enclosure with some cute little pigs – too big to still be called piglets yet not big enough to be called ‘proper’ pigs they were worth a quick photo.
Crossing the road from the car park I made my way through the nearby kissing gate (very awkward with two dogs as it doesn’t open very far) and negotiated a boggy patch which is always there then set off on the long steady climb up to the top of the hill. About a third of the way up I stopped to survey the scenery, and though the views had been perfectly clear down at road level they were rather hazy from the hillside path. The land on the left side of the path was still very much the same as before with large areas of burnt and blackened ground, although tufts of rough grass had grown through in some places and down in a gully I came across the bare twig-like branches of some sort of shrub with a few fresh leaves on it.
Not far from where I stopped I came across something I haven’t noticed on my previous walks up there – a rectangular concrete slab set in a grassy part of the path, with the words ‘fibre optic’ across it. The buildings for the tv and communications masts were quite a distance away right on top of the hill so if that was anything to do with the supply of broadband services it seemed to be in a very odd place – or maybe the slab had been stolen from somewhere else and just dumped there at some point.
Up on top of the hill I noticed that all the burnt fence posts and railway sleepers which had previously been piled up near the tv mast building had been removed, and just beyond the building itself a new flag footpath had been laid across part of the moor. I’d never been along there before so I went just out of curiosity and a few hundred yards along I came to a kissing gate set in a fence which had been burnt at the bottom and had partially collapsed. My good sense of direction told me where the path would eventually lead to – Dean Mills reservoir on the Smithills side of the moor. It was quite a distance and I didn’t want to go that far so I retraced my steps and headed back past the tv mast, along the access road and back down the hill to the main road.
At the bottom of the hill the moorland gave way to an area of woodland which bordered a field next to the main road and on the nearby gate was a notice about ‘sick trees’. I’d seen on the way up that the woodland seemed to have been thinned out a bit at the edge so this was obviously the reason, and the felling of some of the trees actually opened out the path a bit and made that section look much lighter.
Back at the car park I had another look for the little pigs but they had all disappeared ; I could just about see some of them lying asleep in their little house but getting another photo of them was impossible so I put Sophie and Poppie back in the van and we headed back home. That had been the longest and most strenuous walk for Sophie since her big operation just before Christmas and she had taken everything in her stride, so I think I can safely say that she’s now fully recovered and we’ll be back to doing our long walks again whenever the weather is good.
It had been good to see the signs of new growth appearing in various places on the moor so hopefully by late spring/early summer things will look better still. And the best thing for me? After the total silence which I experienced when I was up there six months ago just after the fire I actually heard birds singing this time – a sure sign that the moorland is slowly but surely recovering.