A local walk round Belmont village

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.
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The sign in the car park
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Mosaic picture on the wall
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.
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Gathering cloud over the Blue Lagoon
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The outflow channel and St. Peter’s Church
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.
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Sailing on Belmont Reservoir
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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.
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And this is why I don’t eat lamb
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.
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Ornamental Lake
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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.
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The water monument
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.
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Doffcocker Lodge and some local history

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.
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Looking across the end of the lodge
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View across the lodge with Winter Hill tv mast in the distance
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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.
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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.
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Canada goose and seagull
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Domestic Greylag goose
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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 very muddy Monday walk

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.
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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.
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Bank Top community garden
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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.
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Eagley Brook
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Before it got really muddy
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.
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The hidden pond is up on the left somewhere
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Eagley Valley nature reserve
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Strange buds on the tree
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.
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The pond that isn’t a pond
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Strange sky over the meadows
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.
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The Cayuga/Mallard – photo from three weeks ago
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.
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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!

A Monday walk and a bit of local history

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.
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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.
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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.
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Brook Mill
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.
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The old mill pond
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Eagley sports club
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The 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

Winter Hill, six months on

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.
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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.
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A hazy view over Belmont village and reservoir
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Looking east
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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.
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New growth appearing through the burnt land
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.
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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.

A snowdrop walk at Lytham Hall

There have been several occasions while driving along the sea front at Lytham that I’ve passed a sign pointing down a side street to ‘Lytham Hall’ though I’ve never actually been there until now. It was on my list of ‘go to’ places for later this year but a few weeks ago I found out that each weekend in February it’s possible to do a ‘snowdrop walk’ round the grounds of the hall and dogs were allowed too, so always on the lookout for photo opportunities I decided to go sometime this month, finally making my trip two days ago. After several days of lovely sunny weather locally there was some cloud mixed in with the sunshine but once I got over the moors near home and could see to Preston and beyond the blue sky was looking very promising so I was looking forward to discovering somewhere new.
The Palladian style Lytham Hall was commissioned in 1752 by Sir Thomas Clifton to replace a previous house which had long been the seat of the Clifton family ; it was designed by the eminent architect John Carr and incorporated parts of the previous 16th century house, the remains of which can still be seen. The house was built between 1757 and 1764 and the successive generations of the Clifton family owned it for two centuries. During WW1 part of it was used as a military hospital, then in 1919 the Clifton family who lived there at the time moved away to Ireland meaning the house became rather neglected. The last surviving member of the Clifton family, a film producer, squandered much of the family’s wealth over the years and in 1963 Lytham Hall was sold to Guardian Royal Exchange Assurance for office accommodation. In 1997 Lytham Town Trust bought the hall and grounds with the help of a donation from BAE Systems and since then it has been in the care of the Heritage Trust for the North West on a 99-year lease.
Although there is plenty of room for parking close to the hall it seemed that on ‘special’ days it was for disabled access only so when I arrived at the main gate I was directed to a car park just across the road. Back at the main gate I paid my £3 entrance fee (all proceeds go to the upkeep of the hall and grounds) and was given a map of the grounds and the route of the snowdrop walk then I was free to wander at will. It was a good ten minutes walk along the driveway from the main entrance past open fields to the parkland surrounding the hall, and the snowdrop walk started just inside the gate.
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Outside the main entrance
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Lytham Hall and parkland from the gate
To start with there were only a few isolated clumps of snowdrops here and there under the trees but as the walk progressed so did the snowdrops, and in many places it was easy to see why they have their name as the ground looked just like it was covered in a blanket of snow. Wooden picture frames on stands were set up at strategic places along the walk to show the best views for taking photos and though I made use of some of them I wandered off the path more than once. At one point, looking through the trees I spotted a lifebelt hanging on a fence – where there was a lifebelt there must be water so I went to take a look and found a nice lake which I was able to walk all the way round.
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Among the snowdrops in the more grassy areas were several clumps of daffodils which added a bit of colour, and a few crocuses were dotted here and there. In a border near the kitchen garden wall I discovered some pretty pink flowers ; there was nothing to say what they were and some of them looked a bit shrivelled but they were worth a photo and I’m sure in due course someone will tell me their name.
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Once I’d seen most of the snowdrop areas I turned my attention to the house and its immediate surroundings. Unfortunately I couldn’t get a full photo of the front of the building as there was a lot of scaffolding erected but I managed to get a shot of the centre part of it and some long distance shots from across the gardens. On the south side of the house was a huge twisted tree with intertwined branches and close by a new enclosed garden had been created, set in the lawns where a car park had once been when the building was offices. Across the lawns was The Mount, a high earthen mound which has been situated there since at least the 18th century ; recent work on the gardens has included the installation of steps and a sloping pathway up to the top of The Mount to give a good view over to the house and surrounding parkland.
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The dovecote
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The parkland viewed from the north side
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The centre front of the house
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A weather-beaten friendly-faced lion guarding the door
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The twisted tree
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View from The Mount
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The south facade and Paradise Garden
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Paradise Garden and parkland
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The final photo
While I’d been wandering round the weather had got better and better and it was more like a summer’s day than mid February so not wanting to cut the day short when I left the hall I drove right along the sea front to my favourite cafe by the beach at St. Annes, where I had two mugs of their delicious milky coffee, then after a short dog walk along the beach I set off for home. The weather was still glorious when I left Lytham behind but as I got to the outskirts of Preston the sky had started to cloud over and when I got closer to home it was really dull and grey, vastly different to when I’d set out a few hours before. I didn’t mind too much though – I’d had my day out, the dogs got a good walk, and I’d got some good photos of somewhere I’d never been before so I was more than happy. And now having finally been to Lytham Hall I can say that I’ll certainly be making a return visit later in the year.

A snowy walk to Smithills Hall

Since my walk on New Year’s Day the weather locally has been constantly cloudy, grey, wet and dreary, certainly not nice enough to get out and about with the camera, however since the snow arrived early last week we have had four days of lovely blue sky and sunshine so a couple of days ago I took myself off for a short-ish walk to Smithills Hall, not too far from home and an easy walk if I don’t have a lot of time or want to be too energetic. My route, as on my previous walk to the Hall, took me across the local park and through Smithills Wood with its bare trees being in complete contrast to the last time, although there was still plenty of greenery and autumn colour around.
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The edge of the park
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This copse hides a small pond
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The far side of the park
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Smithills Wood
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Raveden Brook
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This time, instead of going from the wood up onto the lane I crossed the little stone bridge and followed the path which took me straight into the gardens of the Hall. Since discovering the 1873 grave of Little Bess on my last visit I’ve tried all avenues to find any information about the little dog but come up with nothing other than that she belonged to the Ainsworth family who lived at the Hall at that time. Someone from the Friends of Smithills Hall group did contact me in reply to my query but couldn’t give me any information other than the grave isn’t tended by any members of the group as I first thought, so it would seem that the flowers and decorations on it must have been left by a mystery dog lover.
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The snowy grave of Little Bess
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Smithills Hall through the trees
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Monument and terraced gardens
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Scented garden, east wing
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East wing and chapel
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The hidden lake, more exposed now the trees are bare
I spent quite some time wandering round the grounds but even though the sun was shining it was still bitterly cold and wandering rather than proper walking wasn’t keeping me warm, so after taking the photo of the lake I made my way out onto the lane and headed for home, going through the nearby farm yard rather than back through the wood.
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Raveden Brook from the lane
By the time I’d reached the bottom end of the park the sun had disappeared and the sky was looking rather heavy – if it was going to snow again I’d rather be indoors before it did, so although I’d had an enjoyable walk I was glad to be on my way back home.
I’m linking this with Jo’s latest Monday Walk where this week she takes us on a boat ride to the Algarve island of Culatra, where the sunny weather is just the thing to bring a bright start to the week.