After more than two weeks of almost constant gloomy and wet weather New Year’s Day was dry, bright and sunny so I took the opportunity to go for an afternoon walk round part of Leverhulme Park, a local place I hadn’t been to for about twenty years. Unfortunately though, I couldn’t take the dogs this time – with Sophie having recently had a major operation she wasn’t allowed out and it wouldn’t have been fair to take Poppie and leave Sophie behind so for once I was on my own.
Leverhulme Park is the largest of all the local parks and was gifted to the town by well-known local soap magnate and generous benefactor William Hesketh Lever (Lord Leverhulme). Back in 1914 Bolton Corporation was negotiating to buy 67 acres of land on the outskirts of town to turn into a park but when WW1 broke out government restrictions made it impossible to raise all the money necessary for the purchase. When William Lever heard about this he bought the land himself and presented it to the town, then went on to buy further pieces of land to extend the park to 98 acres – a total of 88 of these acres were donated by him and the park was eventually named Leverhulme Park in his honour.
Although the top end of the park provides the usual park facilities – well mown grass, bowling greens, cricket pitches, football pitch, playground, dog walking areas and more recently an up-to-date leisure centre and running track – the bottom end has more of a countryside look with wild meadows, woodland, two rivers and several unmade tracks and paths, and it was this part I was going to explore.
My walk started at the main car park close to the playground and followed a wide tree-lined tarmac path with the cricket pitches and a bowling green up a bank on my left. After a while the tarmac changed to cobbles and the path went downhill through a small wooded area, ending up close to a road where a row of cottages nestled in the shadow of the 86ft high Darcy Lever viaduct. This was once part of the railway line connecting Bolton to Bury but the line was closed in 1970 and the track was left derelict for many years, though more recently the viaduct has become part of a shared footpath/cycleway running from Bolton to Radcliffe.
A few yards along from the cottages the River Tonge flowed down wide shallow steps and under the road ; footpaths ran both right and left of the river and I took the right hand one as I knew that would take me back into the park. I hadn’t gone far when the path split at the beginning of a wild meadow ; going straight on would take me directly across the meadow so I went left through a small coppice and followed the river round the meadow’s edge. At the point where Bradshaw Brook joined the river itself a man was throwing sticks into the water for his dog although it looked rather gloomy just there as the tall trees were keeping the sunlight at bay.
At the far side of the meadow the path took me through a thicket of trees to a second meadow ; the man and his dog had given up playing in the river and were walking ahead of me. On the left was a bridge with stone parapets and railings, a bridge which I knew would lead to another more cultivated part of the park although I would save that one for another time. Continuing straight on the path led through more woodland but not sure of where I would end up I turned right and followed a nearby dirt track uphill.
The top of the dirt track brought me out onto the main path through the top end of the park close to the running track ; although it was only just after 3 o’clock I was already losing the best of the sunlight so deciding that it was time to go home I followed the path past one of the more modern slide constructions and back to the car park.
It had seemed strange walking without the dogs but although it hadn’t been a long walk – time-wise it had only taken 45 minutes – it had been a good one and it was nice to see that the bottom end of the park hadn’t really changed in the years since I was last there. I’d got some good photos too so I must remember to go back in the spring/early summer to see the differences a change of season will make.
It’s good to see that my blogging friend Jo is resuming her Monday walks when she can so I’m linking this with her latest, a walk round a nature reserve and salt marshes in Southern Spain, ending with some delicious-looking cake and cream.
As 2018 draws to a close I thought I would recall just some of the events which have featured in my life and on this blog over the last twelve months. On January 3rd, after making an official complaint at the local hospital three weeks previously about the apparent misdiagnosis and lack of proper treatment of his broken ankle, Michael finally got to see the relevant specialist and was put on the emergency list for an operation asap. That took place just three days later when he had a bone graft and a plate and a couple of screws inserted to bring the broken bits together, followed by six weeks in plaster. His recovery was long, and certainly very painful in the early stages, but he finally went back to work ten-and-a-half months after he first broke the ankle.
Early February saw me succumbing to the much-talked-about-at-the-time Aussie flu virus and taking two weeks off work ; it was the first time in my life I’ve ever had flu of any sort and I’d never felt so ill before. The up side though, if you can call it that, was the opportunity to catch up on some reading and I got through several books in the time I was off work. Late in the month my washing machine gave up the ghost and after trying in vain to get someone to repair it I ended up getting a second-hand-but-almost-new one from a local shop ; it was in absolutely mint condition and is still working well. After several weeks of wet and often cold weather the last few days of February turned out dry and gloriously sunny so the end of the month saw me taking the dogs for a walk along one of my favourite routes through a local golf course and the Last Drop Village. It was a very pleasant and enjoyable walk and just rounded off the month nicely.
Early March saw the return of the sparrows which, the year before, had taken to perching on the outside window sill of the spare bedroom. I hadn’t expected them to come back so it was lovely to look through the glass and see them less than 3ft from where I sit when using my pc. In mid March, after several months of searching on the internet and in various camping stores, I finally ordered a new tent to replace my much-loved previous one which had sustained an irreparable tear in its roof the previous year. It wasn’t quite the same as my old one but it was near enough, it satisfied all my criteria and came at a good price with free delivery so I was more than happy. One evening late in the month saw part of my street turned into a river when a main water pipe burst and sent a substantial amount of water flooding across the road – it took two days for United Utilities to fix the problem but not before many gallons of fresh water had gone to waste down the drains. The end of the month saw the start of the Easter weekend and my 4-day break in North Wales, a break which wasn’t the best for many reasons and one in which the word ‘break’ could be taken literally.
The month of April certainly didn’t get off to a very good start for me. It rained on and off for most of the Easter weekend and put the kibosh on many of my plans, and on the Monday I woke to find that during an unexpected overnight snow shower which had turned to ice my brand new tent had collapsed on top of my belongings ; two of the three poles had broken completely and the end where I would have been sleeping had been totally flattened – thank goodness the dogs and I had been in the van. Fortunately the two broken poles were the only damages my new tent suffered and back at home a few days later I took them to my nearest camping store to get the broken sections replaced. The rest of April passed fairly uneventfully with the only other highlight being a visit to the animal sanctuary spring open day later in the month, and with Michael still being off work he came too – the first time he’d ever been there and he quite enjoyed it.
The beginning of May saw Michael finally going back to work on a phased return just over ten months since he first broke his ankle in June last year. It also saw a dramatic change in the weather with the rain of the previous months gone and the start of what was to be a very long and very hot summer. The first bank holiday weekend of the month saw me suggesting (very unwisely) that we go to a car boot sale on the Sunday and then on to St. Annes – the weather was extremely warm, the world and his wife were out on the roads and we ended up getting stuck in nose-to-tail traffic, going miles out of our way and missing the car boot sale completely. It took ages to find somewhere to park at St. Annes but once we did we had a very enjoyable afternoon with a good meal and a couple of dog walks along the beach. On the middle Saturday of the month I went to Hornby Castle gardens, somewhere I’d never been before and where I got some lovely photos, then the following day I managed to burn my foot with scalding water from a recently-boiled kettle. Silicone dressings prescribed by the doctor helped to ease the pain and promote healing, and after resting it as much as possible for a week I couldn’t ignore the continuing good weather any longer so the final weekend of the month saw me taking the dogs for a local walk to Smithills Hall and gardens.
My planned 11-day holiday on Anglesey at the beginning of June was shortened by several days due to circumstances beyond my control but I managed to get six days out of the eleven and with the continuing good weather I really made the most of them by exploring as many places as I could in the time that I had. The highlight of the week just had to be finding and photographing the old abandoned brick works at Porth Wen – it was difficult to get to and involved a long walk with a couple of hairy moments but it was an amazing place and well worth the effort for the photos I got. The rest of the month was fairly uneventful but then the 28th saw the start of a wildfire up on the moors not far from home, a fire which would eventually cover more than five square miles, mean the closure of several local roads including the one running past the end of my street, and would involve more than 30 fire crews while it was at it worst.
At the start of July Michael and I had a lovely day out in Southport then for his birthday in the middle of the month he went over to Ireland for a few days, where he encountered a coach driver who didn’t know the route from Dublin airport to Roscrea and had to be directed a couple of times. The highlight of the month though just had to be the tour of the new outdoor Coronation Street tv set ; with great weather, a very knowledgeable tour guide and the freedom to take as many photos as we wanted it was a great tour and one I would certainly do again.
Although most of the Winter Hill fire had been extinguished by the middle of July and the number of fire crews reduced there were many hot spots still burning under the surface so it wasn’t until early August that it was officially declared to be completely out after a total of 41 days. On the 9th of the month I took my first walk up there the day after the land was reopened to the public and was shocked and saddened to see the large scale devastation the fire had caused. Two days later the highlight of the month came when, at the town’s central fire station open day, I got the opportunity to go up in the air on a fire engine hydraulic platform – from 100ft up the extensive views all round the town were brilliant and I got some great photos.
The highlight of September came early on in the month when, during a Heritage Open Day, I got the opportunity to climb the 180ft bell tower at the local parish church and also try a bit of bell ringing. Although the weather wasn’t the best – the long hot summer had finally ended locally the day after my fire station visit – I still got some good photos from the tower roof and the bell ringing was quite an interesting experience. A very sad time came in the middle of the month when I accompanied my friend Janet on the day she had her dog Aphra put to sleep, then later in the month I had my second short holiday on Anglesey, with an impromptu visit to my blogging friend Eileen on the way there. The weather wasn’t the best to start with but it got better as the days went on so I still got out and about and had plenty of sunshine for my photos.
Apart from when Storm Callum hit the UK towards the middle of the month October was really nice weather-wise and still quite warm for the time of year so I went on long walks with the dogs as often as I could, both to local places I’ve often been to and some I hadn’t even known about. In the process the lovely autumn colours gave me lots of great photos and I even had one featured in an online edition of the local evening paper.
A dull day in early November saw me taking a photography trip to Preston Dock (now known as Preston Marina) after reading the very interesting history about it, then on brighter days I continued my autumn dog walks in the local area. The highlight of the month though was a dazzling light display which lit up the front of the local town hall on two consecutive evenings – unfortunately it was very poorly advertised and I think I may have missed some of it on both occasions but what I did see was amazing and I still got some reasonably good photos.
My short holiday in Ireland at the beginning of this month was very enjoyable and a day of exploration round Dublin city centre was so interesting that it left me determined to go back in the future and for much longer, as there’s so much to see that it can’t be done in just one day. Just over a week ago I developed a nasty sore throat, cough and cold which came from nowhere and robbed me of my appetite so Christmas in the Mouse House was rather a non-event, although as there was only me and Michael anyway it didn’t matter too much. I’m feeling much better now though and tonight we’ll probably drive up to the moorland road near here and watch the fireworks going off all over town.
So there it is, just some of the highlights of my year, and all that remains now is to thank everyone for visiting this blog over the last twelve months and to wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year – cheers!
Although Roscrea is only a small town and is surrounded by countryside there are no really good dog walks anywhere unless you take a long walk out of town or drive to somewhere so the only place I could reasonably go to with Trixie was Mount St. Joseph Abbey, two miles along the country road from the bottom of Nellie’s street. I’ve been there a couple of times before and in spite of the frequent passing traffic it’s a pleasant walk past open fields.
I wasn’t far from the monastery grounds when I experienced the second great coincidence of the holiday. Houses along the road were few and far between and as I got close to the last one a man suddenly appeared through the gate onto the road, startling Trixie and making her bark. He spoke to her in a friendly voice and apologised to me for startling her, we got chatting and I mentioned that Trixie wasn’t actually mine. When I said who she belongs to he told me he knew the family and Michael’s dad and said he knew a young lad from the family also called Michael – and he was really surprised when I told him that’s my son. That was so unbelievable – two miles from town in the middle of nowhere and out of the blue I meet someone who knows Michael!
Wandering round the monastery grounds I noticed that the church door was open – I would have loved to go in and look round but I didn’t know if it was allowed and there was no-one around who I could ask so I wandered past the guest house and round to the back and discovered a lovely peaceful apple orchard with a couple of benches set alongside the paths. One of the paths led through an archway to a courtyard beyond, it looked a bit like a farm yard and as I didn’t know whether it belonged to the monastery or was private I didn’t go any further.
Back on the main path I made my way round to the stream with the man-made waterfalls, and though it was in shade just like last year the full sunshine did make things a bit brighter. From the stream I made my way through the woods back to the main path then with the last three shots taken I set off on the 2-mile walk back to Nellie’s.
Back at the house, and tired out from her long walk, Trixie curled up on her cushion and didn’t move much until later in the evening – two miles each way is nothing to me but obviously she isn’t used to walking so far all at once. Later on I popped up the road to take some photos of the Christmas lights in the garden of the house a few doors away – they add something new every year and this time it was penguins and lights on the ground – then I settled in to watch tv for the rest of the evening.
Before I went to bed I packed my case and backpack ready for the morning as I had a reasonably early start and I didn’t want to be on the last minute. It was strange though – compared to here at home Roscrea is such a small quiet town that I wouldn’t want to live there permanently, but over the last few days I’d got so settled that somehow I felt reluctant to come home. Michael’s dad may no longer be around but it’s nice to be part of his home and the Roscrea life for a short while, and I know it won’t be long before I go back there again.
My Monday walk this week was taken the day after my walk through Sunnyhurst Wood but this time actually started direct from home. Across the field at the end of the street, through the bottom end of a nearby large housing estate and across a local park brought me to Smithills Wood, and though there wasn’t as much blue sky as the previous day there was enough sunshine to bring out the colour in the trees and the leaves on the ground. It was very pleasant walking through the wood and I saw no-one and nothing other than a few birds and a couple of squirrels playing ‘chase’ through the trees.
The path through the woods took me to the lane leading to Smithills Hall in one direction and through Smithills Open Farm and back towards home in the other – I opted for having a wander round the grounds of Smithills Hall so went left. With the autumn leaves and lack of colourful spring and summer flowers and foliage the gardens looked vastly different to when I was there in late May but it was still nice to wander round and in a slightly secluded part of the garden I even discovered something I’d long since forgotten about – the grave of Little Bess.
In 1870 Colonel Richard Henry Ainsworth inherited Smithills Hall on the death of his great uncle, and he and his wife Isabella Margaret, usually known as Sally, lived there until 1900 before moving to a smaller house in Northamptonshire. Sally was a kind and gentle person with a great affection for animals and Little Bess was one of her favourite dogs. A small white marble headstone, now rather discoloured with age, marks the burial place of Little Bess, and though some of the words are hard to make out the inscription reads “Multum in Parvo” (meaning Much in Little) “In memory of Little Bess, in whom we lose sagacity, love and fidelity. She was of the rarest beauty and though the smallest of her race was possessed of the most lion hearted courage. January 13th 1873 at the age of 6”. Although a bit overgrown with weeds the grave was decorated with a few pots of artificial flowers and even a plaited dog lead had been left there at some time so maybe it’s tended on odd occasions by members of the Friends of Smithills Hall group.
Across the far side of the lawns I spotted a small splash of pink within the green hedge and on closer inspection found it was the remains of (I think) a couple of rhododendron flowers – very late for the time of year and rather an unexpected surprise. Close to there half a dozen steps took me down to a path which meandered a short distance through the trees and I came across something which, although I knew of its existence somewhere on the land, I’d never seen before – a small lake. It seemed to be a bit overgrown in places but with the autumn colours of the trees it still looked quite pretty and was worth a couple of photos.
From the lake I retraced my steps back along the path and made my way round the back of the hall and out onto the lane. The sunshine seemed to have deserted me by then so with one final shot of the lane itself I headed up to the farm, back through the park and towards home for a much needed coffee.
There’ll be no Monday walk next week as I’ll be somewhere in Ireland with no access to a computer but hopefully I’ll have time to post again before I go on Thursday, and as I still have a few walks in hand I’ll catch up with those once I’m back here and settled back into my normal routine – whatever ‘normal’ is!
A very pleasant day at the very end of October saw me driving a few miles from home and taking the dogs for a Monday walk through Sunnyhurst Wood in Darwen in the hope of capturing some nice autumn photos before the colour left the trees. Parking up at the roadside I noticed that the path down from the main entrance was completely in shade, and knowing how tall the trees are I hoped I wasn’t about to embark on a wild goose chase but I needn’t have worried as things became brighter once I got to the visitor centre at the bottom of the hill.
Past the Olde England kiosk and the second bridge over the brook I came to the informal paddling pool and was quite surprised to see that since my last visit in late spring, when I’d unfortunately forgotten my camera, much of the top end of it was covered in grass and various weeds which sprang up from the water in large patches. The pool looked nowhere near as attractive as I’d seen it previously, in fact it looked a mess, and I felt quite sad that for whatever reason such a pretty place had been left to grow like that.
From the paddling pool the path led a short distance along the riverside to the bandstand in a clearing in the woods. I’d photographed this particular structure last year but only from a few yards away, however this time I decided to see what the inside of the roof looked like. With its many beams and cross-members radiating from a central structure it looked rather like a giant spider’s web and was actually quite attractive.
From the bandstand the path continued through the woods, eventually taking me up a long steady incline with a gate at the top, and I emerged onto the wide tarmac track which crossed the Earnsdale Reservoir dam. At the far side of the dam I was undecided whether to continue along the track and try to make the walk into a circular one but not knowing exactly where or how far the track would take me I opted to retrace my steps back through the woods and take some photos in the opposite direction to earlier.
When I got back to the paddling pool I found that the sun had moved round a bit and the side which had previously been in the shade was now in the sunlight so I took another couple of photos and a shot of the waterfall just down below the bridge at the bottom end then continued back to the van without stopping again.
Back at home I checked Google maps to see where the track at the far side of the reservoir dam would lead to and found that I could have made my walk into a circular one, so maybe I’ll do that next time I go there. A brief history of Sunnyhurst Wood and its bandstand, and some photos of the paddling pool without the overgrown mess, can be found here in my post from May last year.
This week’s Monday walk, which I did just two days ago, features a wander round Preston Dock (now known as Preston Marina) in the Riversway area of the city. Although I’ve been there many times over the last twenty years or so (sometimes to visit a camping store which was near there and sometimes while en route to somewhere else) I was never aware of its history and the various things connected to it until I read about it recently on a couple of other blogs – it sounded interesting so I decided to check it out.
Although Preston, on the River Ribble, is about 16 miles from the coast boats were travelling to and from the city for hundreds of years, and as ships gradually got larger steps were taken in the 19th century to make the river more navigable. In 1825 the New Quays (later named Victoria Quays) were constructed but with the river being tidal boats could only get in and out of them at certain times. The answer to the problem was to build a large dock basin with a set of locks to control the water level, and construction finally began in 1884. Four million cubic yards of soil was dug out of a 40-acre site, creating a dock basin 40ft deep, 3,000ft long and 600ft wide – it took a month to fill it before it could be used for the first time and was the largest single dock in Europe.
The dock was officially opened in 1892 by Queen Victoria’s son Prince Albert Edward (the future King Edward Vll) and was named after him, and the SS Lady Louise, chartered by E H Booth & Company (now known as Booth’s supermarkets) was the first ship to unload its freight there. Only four ships used the dock in its first year but by the turn of the century that number had risen to 170 ; the main imports were timber, china clay, coal, oil, petrol, bananas, wheat and Irish cattle. In 1936 new dock offices opened nearby ; they were built in an Art Deco style with a central clock tower and double front entrance doors with very elaborate handles in the shape of ship prows which feature the Preston lamb from the city’s coat-of-arms – these are still in place today and are well worth a close look. In 1938 the dock railway was added to the site and parts of this still exist today.
During WW2 the dock was taken over by the military and used as a marshalling post, then just after the war the first ever roll on, roll off ferry service was introduced using the SS Cedric, a former tank landing ship, and sailing to and from Larne in Northern Ireland. Trade increased throughout the 1950s and by the 1960s the port was at its peak, but by the 1970s it was starting to flounder. Nearly half of the income generated was being spent on dredging the river to allow increasingly bigger ships through ; trade began to fall away with the city losing many of its imports and the Larne ferry stopped running. The port became uneconomical and the dock was finally closed in 1981 with a great number of job losses, but a major redevelopment of the area started in 1982.
After dealing with the polluted water and land a new road infrastructure was put in place and over the next several years a huge amount of work was done. The lock gates were repositioned to stop flooding from storms, a boatyard with chandlery facilities was constructed and a canal was dug to connect the Ribble to the Lancaster Canal. The original railway line which ran on the north side of the dock was removed and a new line was laid on the south side between the river and the dock basin. A swing bridge was installed over the dock entrance for the passage of vehicles, trains, pedestrians and boats, and a new Dock Control Centre was built close to it, although industrial railway traffic eventually ceased in 1995, with the line subsequently being operated for leisure by the Ribble Steam Railway Company. Many modern homes have been built on the strip of land between the river and the dock with the old Shed No.3 being converted into Victoria Mansions apartments, while the other side of the basin features many retail and leisure developments with Homebase, Morrison’s, Halford’s and Pets At Home now being just a few of the stores along that side. A pleasant promenade runs round three sides of the dock with the swing bridge making the fourth side, and the basin itself is now home to a 350-berth marina.
Parking in the free car park overlooking the water my walk began a little way back on one of the approach roads to the dock. At the junction with the main road is the first of two boat buoys, technically known as a Nelson Safe Water Mooring and Landfall buoy. Back in 1896 these were moored in the estuary where the Ribble meets the Irish Sea off the coast of Lytham ; each had lights powered by acetylene gas and a bell which was activated by the movement of waves, but in 1931 they were fitted with compressed carbon dioxide apparatus which enabled the bells to ring even in calm foggy weather.
Second on my list of things to photograph was the lighthouse overlooking the dock and situated outside the Morrison’s store. There seems to be very little information about it, with some sources saying it was built many years ago to guide ships into the dock and others saying it was only built in 1986 during the dock regeneration and the building of the supermarket. I’m sure I remember that at one time, not many years ago, it was a stand-alone structure but now it’s joined onto the supermarket by a small extension which houses a ‘barista bar’ – it’s also very difficult to photograph without getting cars and trolley shelters in the shot.
Walking along the promenade past DFS, Halfords and Pets At Home I was delighted to see a splash of colour against a brick wall – it was some type of prickly shrubbery with red and orangey-yellow berries. It certainly brightened up an otherwise very grey day and was worth taking a photo of. At the end of the promenade was The Ribble Pilot, a modern pub/restaurant with a clock tower which, although the clock itself was probably stopped, was still worth a shot.
The roads around the dock area aren’t really made with pedestrians in mind and the traffic was almost constant, so taking my life and that of the dogs in my hands I managed to negotiate a road and a roundabout and made my way to the next junction and some more things to photograph. Right on the corner was the second boat buoy and across the road was the old dock office building with its double doors ; fortunately the junction had traffic lights so crossing it was fairly easy, and when I saw the handles on the doors I knew it was worth going to look. Obviously made of brass they were certainly very unique, though judging from the residue of brass polish stuck in various places they must be a nightmare to clean.
Back across the road I returned to the end of the dock and made my way round to the residential side ; a distance along I came to a sign pointing between two apartment blocks to the Riverside Walk so I decided to check that out. Through a small estate of modern houses I crossed the access road and a level crossing over the railway line, which brought me down a grass bank and onto a wide tarmac path running between there and the river ; it was a pity it was such a grey day as it would have been a really pleasant walk along there in the sunshine.
Eventually the path turned to the right and I came to another crossing point over the rail line and at one end of the swing bridge. On the right hand corner was the huge 100 ton crane built in 1958 to remove the loch gates from the water for refurbishment on dry land. Made of Greenheart timber and Iroko planking the gates weigh 98 tons each – large floatation devices were fixed to each side, enabling them to be floated out of their fittings and brought to the crane for lifting. The crane is still used today but only for lifting and lowering larger boats.
At the far side of the swing bridge, tucked in a corner and just before I turned back onto the promenade, I came across a seat made from a large cog wheel ; there was nothing to say what the wheel was originally from but it was certainly a good use of it. Back on the promenade I passed a few small modern 2-storey blocks of offices and came to a collection of three repainted buoys set back in a corner, then passed the marina with its many boats moored up before finally ending up back at the van.
By the time I’d finished my wanderings I was ready for a brew so leaving the dogs in the van I went to get a takeaway coffee from the Green Frog catering van at the end of the car park. I’d just got back to my own van when it started to rain so it looked like I’d done my walk just at the right time ; it had stopped again by the time I’d finished my coffee but with nowhere else to go to I drove straight back home. It had been an interesting walk but a shame it was such a dull grey day as I would have liked to explore more along the riverside, however I can always go back another time on a nice sunny day.
My Monday walk this week is more of a wander than a walk and features a look round Radcliffe Tower and Close Park at Radcliffe, a town just over six miles from home. Being a frequent visitor to the large camping store in Radcliffe I’ve been to the town many times over the years but I didn’t know anything about Radcliffe Tower until just three days ago when I was reading through someone else’s blog. It seemed that the tower and park are in an area of the town which I’ve only ever passed through a couple of times on my way to somewhere else, which was probably why I didn’t know about it, so as there was plenty of sunshine and blue sky on Saturday afternoon I decided to take the dogs and check things out.
A 20-minute drive took me to the car park at the entrance to Close Park, and though I was itching to look round the park straight away I decided to find the tower first. Just off the main road and adjacent to the car park was Church Green, a three-sided cobbled lane with three modern terraced houses on one side, a small public garden in the middle and St. Mary’s church at the bottom end. Built in the 14th century with the tower being added in the 15th century the church is Grade l listed, with the churchyard containing the war graves of six soldiers from WW1 and three from WW2. Unfortunately the central garden and the front of the church itself were very much in the shade but I got a couple of photos then moved on to find the tower.
A path from the car park took me over a wide water-filled channel – originally a closed-off part of the nearby River Irwell – and past the back of the church to another path behind the far side of the graveyard ; the ruined tower and its surrounding land were completely enclosed by a high galvanised steel perimeter fence but at least there was a gate which allowed access during daylight hours.
Built as a typical fortified pele tower the earliest record of it dates back to 1358 ; it would have been three stories high with storage on the ground floor and living accommodation above. In 1403 the tower’s owner, James de Radcliffe, was given permission by King Henry IV to fortify his house and a new Great Hall was built to adjoin the tower, forming Radcliffe Manor, with the original ground floor storage area being converted into a kitchen with a fireplace on each of three walls. In 1517 the Manor passed to a distant branch of the Radcliffe family and in 1561 it was sold to the Assheton family who lived near Rochdale. They leased the hall and its land to tenant farmers, with subsequent members of the family continuing to do the same until 1765 when it was sold to the Earl of Wilton from Heaton Hall near Prestwich, though he continued to let it out to tenants.
By the early 1800s much of the Manor’s former grandeur had gone, with residents living only in the small west wing. The Great Hall was converted into a barn and the tower itself was used as a farm building, with the huge ground floor fireplaces in the south and east walls being knocked through to give access for farm carts and/or animals. By 1840 the Great Hall and the west wing were in such a state of disrepair that they were demolished and some of the stone from their foundations was used to build cottages nearby. The tower itself was spared and continued to be used as a farm building, with a new farmhouse being built to the north of where the Great Hall had been standing.
In 1925 the tower was scheduled as a monument and though it stayed in the ownership of the Wilton family until the 1950s the land round it wasn’t protected and in the 1940s gravel quarrying began to the south of the tower. By the 1960s the nearby farmhouse and cottages had been demolished, then starting in the 1970s the quarry was turned into a landfill site with large trucks rumbling right past the tower which, protected only by a fence round it, was in a very delapidated state by then. The future of the tower began to change in 1988 though when Bury Council took over ownership and conservation and stabilisation took place, which included blocking up two windows and the original fireplace arches. The scheduling of the monument was extended to include the land where the Great Hall had stood and by 2007 the landfill site had gone, with Bury Council acquiring the rest of the land surrounding the tower.
Starting in 2012 a series of archaeological investigations took place on the tower and Great Hall site and also on the site of the later farm and cottages which had been built nearby – finds from the Great Hall site included 15th century Cistercian drinking pots and storage jars and also showed that the floor would have been made from glazed tiles. Today the Medieval fabric of the tower has been professionally conserved and restored and the area round it has been landscaped, with a ‘pathway’ next to the tower marking out the footprint of the original Great Hall.
At various points around the grounds covered information boards told the history of the tower site and once I’d read and photographed them all I made my way through the gate and back along the path to the park. Close Park was originally the grounds to Close House, the home of the Bealey family who established a nearby bleaching business in the 18th century ; in 1925 the family presented the house to what was then Radcliffe Urban District Council for use as a Child Welfare Centre, with the grounds being converted into a public park for the town’s inhabitants. The house was also used as a clinic, a museum and an ambulance centre before being demolished in 1969, and the nearby bleachworks was finally demolished in the 1980s when a modern housing estate was built on the site. Current facilities and attractions at the park include 7 football pitches, 3 tennis courts, a bowling green, outdoor gym, children’s playground, a sensory garden and various sculptures which are part of the Irwell Sculpture Trail.
Starting from the car park the first thing I saw was a huge stainless steel dinosaur, one of three sculptures created by artist Mark Jalland in consultation with children from local primary schools. From there I followed the path down to the sensory garden and what I first thought was a water feature was actually a stainless steel and copper sculpture based on a cup cake, although after seeing it on an internet picture it seemed to have lost its chocolate topping. The third sculpture, not far from the bowling green, was a cheetah wearing trainers – presumably meant to signify running fast but strangely the trainers were only on diagonal feet. Who knows what goes on in the minds of these artists?!
Having found the three sculptures I wandered at random round the rest of the park ; the playing fields stretched for quite a distance but there didn’t seem to be much in that direction so I stuck to the main body of the park, and with the sunlight really showing off the autumn colours of the trees I got several lovely shots before ending my wander back at the car park.
Downloading my photos onto the pc later on it struck me what a brilliant resource the internet is, even though it’s something that most of us now take for granted. I’d only found out about Radcliffe Tower and Close Park through reading a blog which I’d found from a link on another blog I’d discovered while doing a general search for something else – if it hadn’t been for that I could have lived the rest of my life in total ignorance of the place but now I know about the park I’ll certainly pay another visit in the not-too-distant future.