As another year draws to a close it’s time for me to look back on some of the events which have featured in my life and on this blog over the last twelve months. With dull grey days and almost incessant rain January was very much a ‘nothing’ type of month; good walks and outdoor photography were out of the question and not just because of the weather. Early in the month, and for no apparent reason, little Sophie suffered a debilitating stroke so all my time and attention was devoted to caring for her and helping her to recover in the best way I could.
February was a particularly sad month. In spite of medication and all my care and attention, after almost five weeks of constant nursing and a lovely morning when I really did think Sophie was going to recover she sadly slipped quietly away while sleeping in her bed at the side of mine – the grief and feelings of loss were overwhelming and it hurt like hell that I didn’t get the chance to hold her one last time and tell her how much I loved her. She was buried in a corner of the garden close to Sugar and I always keep a plant of some sort on her little patch. Later that month a break in the weather gave me a sunny Sunday when I was able to visit Hornby Castle to see the snowdrops; under normal circumstances Sophie would have been with me so it was an afternoon out done very much in her memory and after several weeks of not being able to go anywhere it was good to be out for a few hours.
After my sunny afternoon at Hornby Castle the rain was back and my planned visit to see the snowdrops at Lytham Hall didn’t happen until the beginning of March. By then most of the snowdrops were over but it was still an enjoyable visit. Just a week later I spent a very enjoyable time looking round Lark Hill Place, a reconstructed late Victorian street set within Salford Museum & Art Gallery, followed by looking round the museum itself. It was a grey and very chilly day but by the middle of the month the weather turned sunny again and much warmer, and I managed another couple of visits to Lytham before my freedom was curtailed by various restrictions.
The good weather which arrived mid March continued into April, getting warmer all the time, and I discovered a few different local walks which I could take right from my own front door. On my Easter walk I was lucky enough to see a small herd of deer in a field not too far from home, on another local walk which I’ve done many times before I came across two adult llamas with two young ones in a paddock at the open farm near home and a walk round the Jumbles reservoir gave me the unexpected sighting of a jay, the first time I’ve ever seen one.
The first few days of May saw the previously lovely weather turning back to rain but as I was in pain from a pulled muscle in my back I couldn’t go anywhere anyway. Neither the rain nor the pain lasted very long though, the warm sunny weather soon returned and I was back to walking again, both locally and further afield once various restrictions were relaxed. Local walks included Barrow Bridge and a quarry I’d never been to before then during the spring bank holiday I walked along Skippool Creek and a short section of the Lancaster Canal.
The last day of the month, which was probably one of the hottest so far, saw me walking round a gorgeous section of the River Lune at Caton, a place which was completely new to me but which I’ll certainly return to. May was also the month when Poppie slipped her lead on a Jumbles walk and ran into the water after some ducks, giving me several heart-stopping minutes when she wouldn’t come back, and Michael promised to order a pizza for tea one day but gave me a sausage roll instead.
The arrival of June brought more lovely hot weather and my birthday and a few days later, while strimming the long grass in the back garden, I had the lovely surprise of finding an Elephant Hawk moth, something which I’d never seen before and which prompted me to leave an area of the garden uncut to encourage other forms of wildlife to visit. I had a couple of afternoons in Manchester and walks away from home that month were along the Glasson branch of the Lancaster Canal and round three different parts of Heysham – the nature reserve and Half Moon Bay, neither of which I’d been to before, plus the village itself. I also went just a short drive from home and walked from the lake at Brinscall to the village of White Coppice.
There was a deterioration in the weather at the beginning of July and the first few days were damp and grey but it didn’t last long and the sunshine was soon back. Early in the month I got wind of a new street art installation on the side of an old mill building in town and the middle of the month saw me returning to White Coppice as part of a walk from Heapey, during which I was lucky enough to see two damsel flies at close quarters. Towards the end of the month I took a drive to Morecambe and walked quite a long distance along the promenade from south to north and back again. July was also the month when Michael decided to rearrange his room and I opened the door to find a scene of utter chaos with furniture and stuff all over the place, though it wasn’t long before everything was tidy again.
The early days of August saw lots of patchy cloud covering the blue skies and though it meant changing my plans a couple of times as I needed clear skies for the photos I wanted to get it didn’t stop me from going out. A look round the big car boot sale at St. Michael’s was followed by a walk along part of the River Wyre and a look in the nearby church then later in the month I had days out to Knott End and Fleetwood, where I went to photograph the old wrecked boats on the marshes before looking round Fleetwood itself. August was also the month when I picked up the wrong sandwich from a shop near work one day and discovered that I definitely don’t like jalapeno mayo.
The last few days of August sent a storm which put down some quite torrential rain but by the beginning of September the weather had cleared again. Early in the month I took the 35-minute drive to see the Singing Ringing Tree near Burnley and this was followed a few days later by a walk along the Lancaster Canal at Garstang, then the 12th saw the start of a 2-week stay-cation when the weather was so good I was hardly at home. As well as various local walks I also visited two churches (one local and one which I’ve still to write about) walked along another section of the Lancaster Canal, went to Corporation Park in Blackburn to find the Colourfields panopticon, had an afternoon in Southport with Michael, enjoyed a day in Kirkby Lonsdale and had a day out in Morecambe which included a ‘behind the scenes’ tour at the Winter Gardens Theatre.
Towards the end of the month and on what would have been Sophie’s birthday Snowy came to my attention, and two days later she came to live with me. Initially a timid, scared, unsocialised little scrap she gradually came out of her shell and has turned into a funny, affectionate and mischievous little character. Call it fate, coincidence or what you will but as Snowy’s arrival coincided with Sophie’s birthday I sometimes think that she was actually sent by Sophie to help fill the space in my heart and my home which Sophie herself left behind.
The good weather continued into the first couple of days of October and just a week after I got Snowy I took her for her first long walk, four miles along a section of the Leeds/Liverpool Canal. The weather went rapidly downhill straight after that and though most mornings started off with sunshine it was guaranteed to be raining by 9.30am, rain which would last for the rest of each day. Dog walks were kept to a minimum and I only went round the local avenues, with the canal walk being the last proper non-local walk which I did. Also the 9th of the month saw this blog becoming four years old.
The rain continued into November though there was a very brief break one day in the middle of the month and I came out of work that morning to blue sky and sunshine so I left the van there and went for a walk round the nearby Jumbles to try to catch some late autumn colour before it all disappeared.
Unfortunately the sunshine didn’t last and the rain returned the following day, lasting right into this month and almost up to Christmas, though there was just one day early in the month when it did come nice enough to do another local walk and discover somewhere I’d never been before.
I had all my Christmas shopping done and dusted several days beforehand so I didn’t have to dash round Asda at the last minute and Christmas itself was a very quiet affair with just the two of us. Michael only really got one full day though as he was back at work on Boxing Day, whereas I’ve been off from my job since the 23rd and don’t go back until January 4th so I’m enjoying the rest. I still have a handful of this year’s posts to write yet though so if anyone wants me I’ll be in my usual place – here at my pc.
My Monday walk this week features a visit to Kirkby Lonsdale during my stay-cation in September. I’d never previously been any farther east along the A683 than Hornby village but I’d seen a couple of pictures of Kirkby Lonsdale somewhere on the internet and it looked like there might be a chance of getting a few nice photos, so a sunny morning saw me heading up the M6 and across the A683 in that direction.
Having previously looked on Google maps I knew there were several places to park in the vicinity of Devil’s Bridge over the River Lune on the fringes of the town, which was where I wanted to be, but in spite of it being a weekday during term time it seemed like the world and his wife were out and there wasn’t an available parking space anywhere so I headed into the village. Driving through the centre I followed a sign for car parks and found three small ones but again they were all full so I ended up in the car park of Booth’s supermarket where there were plenty of spaces and I could stay all day for £3.50.
Unfortunately by the time I’d sorted out the parking situation the sky had clouded over and the sun was playing hide and seek so I decided to have a look round the village first before going down to the river. Down a short narrow alley between an optician’s and a children’s shoe shop I found a small cobbled courtyard with a cottage at the end, then along a nearby narrow lane was an attractive cottage and a quaintly named cobbled square with its old market cross where, centuries ago, pig sellers would sell their livestock. Fast forward to more modern times and both the cobbled courtyard and the square were used as locations in Double Sin, a 1990 episode of the Poirot tv series. Past the square and a double-fronted house with a very pretty garden the lane went steeply downhill and between the buildings on each side I got a view towards the far side of the river.
From there I retraced my steps and just behind the Sun Inn, along the narrow traffic-free and aptly named Church Street, I came to St. Mary’s church. As a Grade l listed building the oldest parts of the church date from Norman times though the oddly-placed clock in the tower is presumed to be a 19th century addition. In the grounds just beyond the building was a stone built octagonal gazebo which had once been in the garden of the vicarage, and just to one side was a peaceful corner with a couple of benches and a very pretty circular flower bed.
Beyond the gazebo and along the path I came to Ruskin’s View, a small pleasant area with three benches set back off the path overlooking the River Lune. The view from there was painted by artist JMW Turner in 1822 and in 1875 the art critic, painter and poet John Ruskin was so impressed with the picture that he described the panorama as ‘one of the loveliest views in England, therefore the world’.
From Ruskin’s View I backtracked through the church grounds and the village to Devil’s Bridge and the river; the clouds had been clearing steadily and the blue sky was increasing so hopefully I would get some of the shots I was looking for. Devil’s Bridge has three spans and dates from around 1370; constructed of fine gritstone ashlar it’s thought to have been built by monks from St. Mary’s Abbey in York.
The roadway across the bridge is only 12ft wide and as vehicle numbers increased over the years it was closed to traffic in 1932 with vehicles being diverted to the newly constructed Stanley bridge 160yds away. The river beneath the bridge is popular with scuba divers due to its deep rock pools and clear visibility, and the bridge itself has long been a popular location for illegal ‘tombstoning’ (bridge diving) which has caused at least one death, that of a 22-year old man in 2012.
A gate near the beginning of the bridge led to a footpath which took me along by the riverside; much of the river itself was obscured by trees but there were a few places where I could get down to the waterside and I got several shots before going back to the path and retracing my steps. At the far end of the bridge was the Devil’s Bridge Snack Bar, a mobile catering trailer; judging by the queue it was a very popular place but there was nowhere to sit so I decided to walk back through the village and search out a dog friendly cafe for some coffee and cake.
Unfortunately my cafe quest proved to be unsuccessful. I found four – one was closed and the other three were small, cramped, and packed with customers, so whether any of them were dog friendly or not I don’t know, I didn’t hang around to find out. Instead I went back to Booth’s supermarket, got an ‘own brand’ Swiss Roll and a carton of Booth’s apple juice – which were a heck of a lot cheaper than coffee and cake in a cafe – and spent half an hour in the comfort of my own van.
After finishing my snack it was still only 3.45pm, too early to think about going home, so hoping I might finally find a parking space near Devil’s Bridge I drove down there with the intention of having another walk by the river. There were no available spaces near the bridge but directly across the A683 and at the end of a short lane there was a parking area with a few vacant spaces so I pulled in there – and ended up going on an unintentional long walk.
Leading from the corner of the parking area was a footpath going uphill through a wooded area so just for curiosity I decided to see where it went. I didn’t go far before the footpath opened out onto a narrow tarmac lane with a pleasant looking static caravan site on the left; still curious I followed the lane for a while with the views over open fields and hills getting better and better. Eventually I came to a tree with an odd looking bulge on one side of its trunk; nearby was a small enclave of cottages which I later learned was the start of the hamlet of High Casterton with cottages strung out here and there for quite a distance along the lane.
I hadn’t a clue where I would end up but the weather was so good and the scenery so nice that I was just enjoying the walk for what it was, however it wasn’t too long before I saw a crossroads up ahead, with another handful of cottages and a signpost which told me that the lane on the left would take me back in the direction of Kirkby Lonsdale.
The lane was only about half a mile long, eventually bringing me out on the A683 by the entrance to Casterton Golf Club – a left turn eventually got me back to the mobile Devil’s Bridge Snack Bar and my last shot was of the National Park sign in the lay-by near the end of the bridge. For some reason I seemed to have walked for miles but when I checked the time I’d only been away from the van for an hour.
Driving back down the M6 in the direction of home I thought back over my day. Apart from the initial difficulty in finding somewhere to park I’d enjoyed myself immensely, and though Kirkby Lonsdale isn’t a big place I know there’s a couple of corners of it I haven’t yet seen so maybe a sunny day sometime next summer will see me making a return visit.
During my two-week ‘stay-cation’ last month I had a day out which, for once, didn’t include Poppie. Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t have left her behind but I was going to somewhere I couldn’t take her (that’s for a future post) however as soon as I got home, and with the sun getting low in the sky, I took her for a walk on Smithills moor to hopefully catch one or two sunset shots.
It was a very clear early evening and once I’d parked at the side of the lane near the Trespass Stone I took a shot of the view over to Manchester before setting off up the path heading towards the lower slopes of Winter Hill; not wanting to go too far my destination was Dean Mills reservoir, less than a 15-minute walk from where I’d left the van.
It seemed to take ages for the sun to go down and I couldn’t walk all the way round the reservoir while I was waiting; in spite of the previous warmth of the day it was quite chilly up on that exposed part of the moor so I continually walked backwards and forwards along the eastern end, glad I was up there on my own as anyone else would probably have thought I’d lost the plot. Eventually though conditions were just right and while the sunset itself wasn’t as stunningly beautiful as some I’ve seen, with the tall Winter Hill mast and its smaller neighbours in the background it was good enough to give me several half-decent shots.
Not wanting to run out of daylight before I got back to the van I set off as soon as the sun had completely disappeared. I needn’t have worried though, as I got towards the end of the path near the Trespass Stone there was still a reasonable amount of light left.
Back at home I made a brew and downloaded the days photos to the pc. It had seemed strange not having Poppie with me on my day out but hopefully I made up for it by taking her for a walk on Smithills Moor, and I got some sunset shots as well so I think we were both happy that night.
Standing on the moors high above the Lancashire town of Burnley is the Singing Ringing Tree, a wind powered musical sculpture designed by architects Mike Tonkin and Anna Liu as part of a project for the East Lancashire Environmental Arts Network. Completed in 2006 it’s 10ft tall and built from galvanized steel pipes of varying lengths which form the shape of a tree bent and blown by the wind.
A total of 322 pieces of steel make up the tree; these are arranged in 21 parallel layers with each layer being supported by rings and everything being welded and bolted together. Although the widest point at the top spans over 13ft the narrowest point at the bottom is less than 4ft wide; computer models were used during the design process to calculate the right amount of rings, bolts and pipes needed to keep the structure upright. Due to the varying length of the pipes and the narrow slits cut into specific ones the tree produces a sound, when the wind blows, which covers several octaves and is described as being discordant, melancholy, and intensely beautiful.
I first found out about the tree quite a while ago but even though it’s only a 35-minute drive from home I’d never managed to get there, however I took advantage of a beautifully sunny early morning just a few days ago and went there straight from work. Just over a mile and a half from the A682 up a steep moorland road I came to a small car park set back off the road itself and I could see the tree down the hill and to the right. A stony path with a left and right turn led from the car park and a ten minute walk got me to the tree.
Being still reasonably early in the morning I had the place to myself so I was able to wander round and take photos from several different angles without anyone getting in the way. Although not exceptionally windy there was a stiff breeze blowing which was just enough to make the tree ‘sing’ though to be honest I certainly wouldn’t describe the noise as being ‘intensely beautiful’ – it was weird, slightly eerie, and reminded me of the sound you get when blowing across the top of an open glass bottle.
When I’d got enough photos of the tree I turned my attention to the surroundings and trying to ignore the urban sprawl of Burnley down in the valley I got a few shots of the countryside and the views towards Pendle Hill before making my way back along the path towards the car park.
Towards the top of the path and just at the other side of a wire fence was a stone built cairn which, since that morning, has given me several hours of frustration and annoyance. The structure itself looks fairly modern, maybe built from the remains of a stone wall, but I couldn’t decide if the worn stone frescoes round its sides were very old or modern ones maybe done by children and made to look old.
Although there’s an information board near the car park which tells how the area got its name there’s no mention at all of the cairn; Google Maps says it’s a ‘decorated cairn/historical landmark’ and though there are many internet sources of information for the Singing Ringing Tree there’s no information anywhere for the cairn – even a phone call to Burnley Tourist Information produced nothing but a ‘this number is not in use’ message so I’m currently none the wiser as to its history, age or significance.
Not far from the cairn and close to the car park was the very attractive Life for a Life memorial forest planting site established in 2003 and where a native tree can be planted in memory of a loved one. Coming from across the road was the constant bleating of a sheep and when I went to look I saw just one on its own while the other few in the flock were quite a distance away and ignoring it completely. The moorland on that side of the road seemed to be wilder and more desolate and I was glad it was a sunny morning; with one final shot looking down the road I went back to the van and set off for home.
The walk from the car park to the Singing Ringing Tree and back was only a very short one and I’d only spent an hour in the area but in the warm sunshine it had been a very pleasant hour. Although I wouldn’t purposely go back to the tree I know there are a couple of good walks which can be done from there so maybe next year I’ll go back for a revisit.
** The original Singing Ringing Tree, from which the sculpture partly gets its name, was an East German children’s film made in 1957 and shot in Technicolour. It was bought by the BBC in the 1960s and cut into three parts which were shown as a mini series in late November/early December 1964, being repeated many times over the years until 1980. With its style of story telling similar to the Brothers Grimm it was said to be ‘one of the most frightening things ever shown on children’s television’, and a Radio Times readers’ poll in 2004 voted it the 20th spookiest tv show ever.
Following the frequent bouts of torrential rain during last week’s storm whatever-it-was-called the weather here has been quite changeable. The mornings have started off sunny with blue skies promising nice days but by about 9am the clouds have appeared and lingered for most of the day, with the sun only returning in the late afternoons while I’ve been at work and unable to go anywhere. So when I woke to blue sky and sunshine yesterday I decided to forgo my usual leisurely Sunday morning and go out early for a walk round Queen’s Park on the edge of town, just a short drive from home and where I hadn’t been since April last year.
Being so early in the morning most of the areas near the park’s main entrance were still in shade so I went straight to where the park was more open – I could go back to those areas later on. Past the Sunken Garden and the Vantage Point Garden I came to the Promenade Terrace, a wide and pleasant walkway with statues set back in the shrubbery, benches at intervals and a viewpoint at one end; this was surrounded by a semi-circular wall which for some reason is known locally as the Pie Crust.
Down the hill from the terrace, and at the bottom end of the park, I came to the River Croal and a small fishing lake looking rather neglected with its surface covered in green weed. Spanning the river just there was a bridge which looked badly in need of a good coat of paint; the path at the far side split left and right with the left leading towards the town centre, however I went right and crossed back over the river via the much nicer restored and repainted Dobson Bridge.
Up the hill from the bridge and set back off the path was a large collection of teddy bears at the base of a tree. If this was a personal memorial to someone it seemed to be a bit excessive but then I remembered – on Mother’s Day earlier this year a 7-year old little girl, innocently playing while out with her parents, had been stabbed in a random attack by an unknown woman, and in spite of all attempts to save her she died of her injuries; the teddy bears must be for her.
Continuing past the tree I came to what must currently be the brightest part of the park, a long curving bed of red and yellow flowers near the wide stone steps leading back up to the Promenade Terrace. Near the bottom of the steps were a couple of benches and an ornamental fountain which would probably look nice if it was working but it wasn’t.
Past the fountain was the large play area very much in the shade, then in the bottom corner of the park was the attractive stone built gatehouse with the not very attractive modern single storey cafe (which I didn’t take a photo of) situated behind it. Following a path up another hill I eventually came to the two duck ponds, and while there were a few ducks on the smaller pond most of the wildlife seemed to be congregated on the big one.
From the big pond a path up yet another hill took me to the end of the Promenade Terrace and the steps back up to the Vantage Point Garden. An open and informal square with modern seating the garden was surrounded on three sides by low shrubs and flower borders but like several other areas of the park it seemed to be suffering from a fair amount of neglect. The fourth side was completely open and had extensive views across the rest of the park towards town although the sun was unfortunately in the wrong direction for a photo.
Heading back towards the main entrance I found that most of the sunken garden was finally in the sunshine so I was able to get a few shots there though sadly the flower beds, which should have been a riot of colour, were completely bare. Past the sunken garden my eye was caught by a movement up ahead; a squirrel had scampered down from a tree and I watched it for several minutes while it rooted about in the grass then sat there nibbling on whatever it had found for its breakfast.
Once the squirrel had gone back up its tree I continued round the edge of the park to the war memorial then with the last couple of shots taken I made my way back to the van which was parked just across the road from the entrance gates.
It was only 9am when I got back home and as I made my breakfast I was glad I’d gone out when I did; clouds were beginning to gather and just like the last few days less than an hour later the sun had disappeared and the sky was grey. I didn’t mind too much though; I’d had a good walk with Poppie and got some nice photos so to misquote a popular saying – the early photographer catches the sun!
Searching the internet for something a couple of weeks ago I found out about some old wrecked boats which were abandoned many years ago on Fleetwood marshes. They were nothing to do with what I was originally searching for but they seemed to offer several photo opportunities so I found their exact location and how to get there and in hot sunny weather a few days ago I set out on a mission to find them.
My walk started from the very pleasant free car park at Fleetwood Marsh Nature Reserve. The site originally started out as salt marsh then after the building of Fleetwood docks in 1860 it came into industrial use. Between 1912 and 1932 what is now the pond area was used for storing timber from a timber yard on the nearby docks, then in 1956 a coal fired power station was opened and coal was stored on part of the site. The power station closed down in the 1980s and during the following years the site suffered greatly from neglect and misuse, then in 2003 Lancashire County Council obtained a grant from the North West Development Agency to develop the area into what is now the nature reserve.
The reserve lies between the marshes and a very modern housing estate, with several paths criss-crossing the open grassland and with the large pond in the centre, separated into two distinct parts by a long low wooden bridge. One side of the pond was edged with reed beds and was inaccessible to the public while the other side had a path all the way round and a couple of shingle beaches ideal for picnics or just chilling out. With ducks, swans and various other wildlife it all looked really nice so I spent fifteen minutes or so wandering round there before going to find the wrecks.
At the far side of the reserve was a very attractive archway over the path with the path itself continuing past the edge of the housing estate, and just off to the right a short track led through the bushes and down onto a path running along the edge of the marsh where I got my first sight of the wrecks in the distance. A couple of minutes walking got me to a wide grassy track leading from the path out to the wrecks and though the track itself was fine I had to watch where I was putting my feet when I got closer to the wrecks as there were several deep, narrow and muddy channels hidden under the longer grass.
The history of the Fleetwood wrecks is quite surprising and ultimately not a very good story. At its height the town was a major British fishing port and in the 1960s it boasted more than 200 fishing boats with about half the adult population employed in the fishing industry itself and other industries connected to it. In the latter years of that decade the second of the so-called Cod Wars broke out, initially between Britain and Iceland but then including other European fishing nations; Iceland extended its territorial waters claim to another 200 miles and Britain did likewise, extending its own territorial waters claim, then the European government in Brussels decided they wanted a piece of the action.
In the early 1970s pressure was put on the then Heath administration to allow EU trawlers unrestricted access to Britain’s fishing waters. Heath himself was so desperate for Britain to join what was then called the Common Market that he agreed to Brussels’ demands, then because far more boats were now fishing British waters the EU brought in the much hated quota system in an attempt to protect the very fish stocks their own actions had put at risk. British waters held 90% of the EU’s fish but British fishermen were only allowed to catch 14% of them and the quotas weren’t enough to make a decent living.
The EU eventually brought in the decommissioning scheme where fishermen were given a substantial cash incentive from Brussels to give up their fishing licences and scrap their trawlers, but under the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy they had to destroy their fishing vessels so comprehensively there was absolutely no chance of them ever being recovered or re-used. All around the country dozens and dozens of boats were wrecked by their owners for the money they could get and the rusting, rotting wrecks on Fleetwood marshes are just a small handful.
These wrecks were all within a few yards of each other with another one a couple of hundred yards farther along the marshes upriver but unfortunately I couldn’t get to it. It was closer to the water’s edge and the marsh was split by a deep channel which was long, wide, very muddy and impossible for me to cross, so seeing some smaller boats anchored on the sand in the other direction I went to take a look.
The sand/mud combination was mainly quite firm to walk on but every so often I had to stride or jump over a soft sided narrow channel running from the marsh down into the river; I crossed them all without problem though and walked along until my way was barred by a wide river inlet leading to the marina. Apart from one small dinghy filled with water none of the smaller boats along there were wrecks, they seemed to be well maintained and with Knott End in the background across the river I got some very colourful shots before I headed back past the wrecks to the nature reserve and my van.
Crossing the bridge over the pond at the reserve my attention was caught by the sound of constant squeaking coming from the nearby reeds so I stopped and waited and eventually a baby coot appeared. Still with its baby fluff and scruffy bright orange-red face and head it was a peculiar looking little thing though I thought it was quite cute; it must have been looking for its mum and was being quite vocal about it, though as soon as an adult coot appeared from under the bridge the squeaking stopped.
My last visit to Fleetwood had been ten years previously and I hadn’t known about the nature reserve or the wrecks then so the couple of hours I’d just spent exploring somewhere new had been very enjoyable, and apart from various butterflies flitting around and birds flying overhead the wildlife seen on my walk had been several ducks, swans and adult coots, the baby coot, two jellyfish and a dead crab. As for the wrecks, it would be interesting to see them again in a year or so’s time so I may very well make a return visit in the not-too-distant future.
Although I’ve been to Morecambe many times over the years I’ve never actually walked the whole length of the promenade in one go, I’ve only been to various parts of it on different occasions. Walking the length of it was something I thought about doing a while ago but never got round to it, however the opportunity finally presented itself on a sunny day a week ago and I arrived in Morecambe just before 11am.
Of course wherever I parked meant that I would have to walk the promenade twice so rather than park at one end and walk straight to the other end and back I parked near the Festival Market, not far from the Midland Hotel and roughly in the centre of the main part of the promenade, then walked south to start my promenade walk by the Beach Cafe close to Sandylands promenade leading to Heysham village.
Close to the cafe was a play park then West End Gardens a bit farther along, and though I expected to see some colour in the flower beds bordering the road I was disappointed to see that they looked rather unloved and uncared for. Farther along still the retreating tide had left a long shallow lagoon across the beach, and while the promenade itself has been given a very attractive makeover in the last few years the same can’t be said for across the road.
Once past the guest houses and B & Bs several closed and shuttered up shops and the long-derelict land where the theme park once was gave the seafront a general air of shabbiness and neglect. Past the derelict land and a recently built Aldi supermarket was The Platform, once the promenade railway station building but now a music and arts venue, and on the promenade itself I was approaching the art deco Midland Hotel and the Stone Jetty which, to me at least, signified the start of the more interesting part of the seafront.
The Stone Jetty was built between 1853 and 1855 for the ‘Little’ North Western Railway Company as a wharf and rail terminal for both passenger and cargo transport to and from the Isle of Man and Ireland, though these services ended with the opening of Heysham Harbour in 1904. At what was once the end of the jetty is a long-disused lighthouse and the old railway station building, now a cafe; in 1994/95 the jetty was rebuilt and extended as part of Morecambe’s coastal defence works and was later resurfaced in patterned coloured concrete, with the addition of new seating, lamp standards and seabird sculptures. High on a stone plinth not far from the cafe was one of the ugliest sculptures I’ve ever seen, so ugly I almost didn’t take a photo of it but then decided it should still be included.
The art deco Midland Hotel occupies the site of a previous smaller building, the North Western Hotel, built by the ‘Little’ North Western Railway Company and opened in 1848; this was renamed the Midland in 1871 when the Midland Railway Company took over the North Western Railway and the hotel. By the late 1920s the old Midland had become inadequate for the changing times so the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company, which was now responsible for the hotel, decided to replace it with a larger and more modern structure. Work started in 1932 with the new Midland being built on the lawns in front of the old Midland which was then demolished, with the new art deco hotel opening in July 1933.
Immediately after opening the new Midland rapidly became the place to stay but its heyday came to an end with the start of WW2 in 1939. With valuable items put into storage and the interior converted the hotel was used as a military hospital until almost the end of the war then in 1946 it was finally handed back to the LMS railway company, and after extensive repairs and renovations it was re-opened to the public in July 1948. In 1951 the Midland was sold to a private buyer and it prospered throughout the 50s and most of the 60s but by the early 70s it had lost its popularity, and after being bought and sold several times over the years it closed for good in 1998 and fell into a state of decline and disrepair. It was eventually bought by a Manchester-based development company and after an extensive renovation programme started in spring 2005 to restore the many art deco features the Midland finally re-opened its doors in June 2008.
Across the road from the Midland was Rita’s Cafe, a cheap and cheerful place which I’ve been to several times before, and as my early breakfast had long since worn off it was time to get something to eat. On such a nice day the place was quite busy but there was a small table for two vacant and forgoing my usual coffee and cake I opted for an equally unhealthy meal of steak pie, chips, peas and gravy with the coffee. At one point I heard someone at another table say “Aww, look at that little dog” and when I looked down Poppie was curled up in a little ball though as soon as I picked up the camera to take a photo she got up. Now I know human food is bad for dogs and normally I wouldn’t give it but she had been such a good little thing while I was having my meal that she deserved the last couple of chips as a treat.
A hundred yards or so from the the cafe was the Winter Gardens, a theatre and events venue built in 1897. Originally the Victoria Pavilion Theatre it was part of a complex dating from 1878 which included sea water baths, bars and a ballroom though these have long since been demolished, leaving the theatre building as it is today. Over the years the stage played host to many famous personalities including George Formby, Gracie Fields, Vera Lynn and the Rolling Stones, though declining profits led to the theatre’s eventual closure in 1977. It became Grade ll* listed the same year then in the mid 1980s the Friends of the Winter Gardens were formed to campaign for its restoration and preservation.
In 2008 the building was featured on the ghost hunting tv show Most Haunted then in 2009 it was re-opened to the public for eight consecutive nights of Most Haunted Live! broadcasts. Although any shows and events planned for this year have so far been cancelled the theatre is open at weekends for limited pre-booked guided tours.
Back across the road the Central Gardens were looking very attractive with their bright flower beds which more than made up for the unkempt appearance of the West End Gardens. Farther along I came to the iconic Eric Morecambe statue, and though I did like Morecambe and Wise back in the day I wasn’t really interested in taking a close-up shot of it as most people do so I kept it in the background and concentrated more on the colourful surroundings instead.
Past the statue and a small children’s play area I came to the clock tower. In 1902 Morecambe Council approached philanthropist Andrew Carnegie for a grant to finance the building of a technical school and Free Library but though the grant itself was refused an offer of £4000 was made towards the cost on condition that the council would produce £300 per year to keep the library stocked. Unfortunately the council couldn’t, or wouldn’t, agree to find the finances so the offer was withdrawn, then in 1905 it was announced that the mayor had expressed a desire to present a clock tower to the town in place of the Free Library. The foundation stone was laid in June that year and the tower was built by a John Edmonson, while Rhodes of Lancaster made the clock itself, which featured four dials, struck the hours and was illuminated at night.
Not far from the clock tower was the Lakeland Panorama, a long curving sculpture created in 2004 by sculptor Russ Coleman. Depicting the view of the Lake District fells across the bay and made from the same steel as the Angel of the North in Gateshead the panorama is constructed of four separate pieces which have rusted over time to a reddish-brown finish, with the largest piece being 8ft high at its highest point.
Round a slight bend in the promenade and quite a distance farther on I came to the Town Hall set back in its own attractive gardens across the road. Commissioned to replace an old 19th century town centre building which had originally been built for the local Board of Health, the foundation stone was laid in August 1931 and the neo-classical style building was officially opened in June 1932; it was registered as Grade ll listed in November 2001 after a campaign by local historians.
Back on the promenade was another play area and the race watch tower belonging to Morecambe Sailing Club, originally started in 1936 by local fishermen who liked to race their boats. Round another bend I walked quite a bit farther on but with just hotels and guest houses stretching into the distance there was nothing else of interest to see unless I went all the way up to Happy Mount Park, which I visited back in May, so I turned round and retraced my steps, snapping photos here and there as I headed back south.
Just after passing the back of the Eric Morecambe statue I heard music and a few yards farther on was a Michael Jackson lookalike dancing to the sounds of Billie Jean and Thriller coming from a stand-alone sound system. He was good and he’d attracted quite an audience so I watched him for quite a while, even filming him at one point, before I moved on.
Round the back of what was once Bubbles open air pool were modern railings adorned with several different types of seabirds and the land itself, where usually there’s a small fairground, was now a temporary home to the huge bright red marquee of the touring Big Kid Circus along with its many equally bright red vans and circus wagons. Not far away was the RNLI lifeboat station and slipway with the Midland Hotel close by, and finding a couple of pretty bright orange flowers tucked in a corner I took my last shot of the day.
Back across the road from the hotel I made a second visit to Rita’s Cafe for a coffee before returning to the van in the nearby car park and setting off for home. Weather-wise the day had been perfect, and even though grey clouds had appeared over the sea at various times the sun had kept shining. Checking my pedometer my promenade walk since leaving the van and getting back to it had covered six miles and almost 21,000 steps but it had been very interesting and enjoyable and was now one I could tick off my ‘walks to do’ list.
A few days after my unplanned walk to White Coppice I found out that there was a chain of three lakes in the vicinity of the hamlet; they seemed easy to get to and would probably make a good dog walk so a very warm and sunny Sunday morning a week ago saw me setting off from home to explore pastures new. My original intention was to start the walk from White Coppice but the plan was scuppered when I came to the turn off for the hamlet and encountered problem No.1, a large wagon taking up the whole of the narrow lane and a board saying there was a 15-minute delay. Okay, I could live with that, so I reversed into the end of a nearby farm track and waited…and waited…and waited.
I couldn’t see what was going on behind the wagon but even after almost half an hour there was no sign of it moving so I gave up waiting and drove on to what would have been the turn around point of the walk, the third lake in the Heapey area – and that’s when I found problem No.2. There was a car park adjacent to the lake but as I drove in I saw the sign – ‘Wigan & District Angling Association – Car park for anglers use only – non anglers will be clamped’. That may or may not have been true, I certainly didn’t see anyone walking round checking the cars already there, but I didn’t want to take any risks so I drove out again and managed to find a safe parking spot a short distance along the road.
Back at the car park steps took me down to the end of Lake 1 where I had the choice of a path along the dam or one to the right; I chose right first but I hadn’t gone far when I met with a large and extremely wet and muddy patch right across the path. It was too long and wide to negotiate without wellies, Poppie would have got filthy, and trying to get round the side of it could have ended up with the pair of us tumbling down the steep bank into the water so I retraced my steps and went along the dam instead. I could only go so far though before the outflow channel stopped me so with just a few shots taken I headed back to the car park and the gate to the next lake.
Lakes 1 and 2 were separated by a second dam with a very pleasant wide grassy area overlooking Lake 2 and a footpath leading to the far side, but once again I came up against another obstacle blocking the path at the end of the dam. This time it was a semblance of a low dry stone wall topped by strands of a wire fence with a gap at one end and a notice saying ‘Access for anglers only’ – so back I went and continued the walk along the main path, getting a few lake view shots as I went.
Past the end of another dam which carried a track from the fields up to a farm across the other side I came to Lake 3. It was narrower, darker and more overshadowed by trees than Lake 2 meaning decent photo opportunities were few so I headed on towards White Coppice. Near the end of the lake a wooden footbridge crossed a narrow brook almost hidden in a deep ditch then a boardwalk ran along the edge of a field to another wooden footbridge which came out at a pleasant grassy lay-by on the main lane through the hamlet.
Across the lane were the cottages set at an angle which I’d photographed on my previous visit and growing above and behind the large driveway gate of the end house was a profusion of bright red flowers which seemed to have sprung up out of nowhere – I was sure they hadn’t been there before as they were so bright I could hardly have missed them. Along the lane the ford had a bit more water running across it than before; Poppie enjoyed a little paddle and while I was there I took a few more shots of the cottages and gardens across the stream.
On the corner by the ford was a footpath sign pointing up the steep narrow lane so I decided to walk up the hill to see what was up there. The answer was not much; after a few hundred yards and three bends the tree shaded lane ended in the driveway to a couple of cottages and several farm buildings. Walking back down to the main lane a movement at the top of the bank on my right caught my eye; a dark bay horse was standing by the fence and a few yards farther on an inquisitive donkey was staring at me from up above.
Back down on the main lane I took a couple of shots of the pretty garden with the stream flowing through it then headed back to the lay-by where the wooden footbridge would take me back towards the three lakes; there was no point walking up to the village green and cricket pitch as nothing would have changed within the last two-and-a-half weeks.
Walking along through the field near Lake 3 I was suddenly surprised by a flash of bright turquoise blue flying up from the grass right in front of me and landing just a few feet away. It was a damsel fly, something I’ve never photographed before, so hoping it wouldn’t suddenly take off again I lay flat on the grass to get a couple of close-ups – and it was only when I got back home and put the photos on the pc that I realised I hadn’t photographed just one damsel fly, I’d got two and they were in the process of mating.
I must have looked a bit odd lying flat on the grass like that so I was glad there was no-one around just then to see me. The damsel fly (and presumably its partner) flew off after a few minutes so I got back on my feet and continued the walk back to the van, with my final shot being another one overlooking the end of Lake 2.
The walk hadn’t been a long one – time-wise less than two hours including stops to take photos. Being almost level for most of the way it had been an easy and very enjoyable walk, and seeing the two damsel flies had certainly been a very unexpected and delightful bonus.
My Monday walk this week is a relatively short one done at the end of May on a weekday when the constraints of work meant that I didn’t have a lot of time. A very short drive from home is Doffcocker Lodge, originally a mill pond dating from 1874 but with the mill long since gone and the area being a popular spot for local dog walkers it was designated as the town’s first local nature reserve in 1992.
My walk started from the small car park by the dam at the bottom end of the lake and heading in my usual anti-clockwise direction the path took me past a couple of small coppices and the long back gardens of a few houses on the nearby main road. Low bushes and several wide gaps in the trees on the left gave me good views over the lake until the path eventually veered away from the water and led across a wide meadow enclosed by tall trees.
At the far side of the meadow I went through a small wooded area then the path passed between the end of the main lake and a smaller lake where a young coot was swimming with one of its parents; still with a lot of its ‘baby fluff’ it was a scruffy looking little thing but also quite cute and was actually the first young coot I’ve ever seen.
After passing the end of the lake the path led into a second meadow, more open this time and where several benches were set at well placed intervals to take in the views across the main lake. A bit farther on a tree shaded grass bank separated the path from a row of pleasant looking houses and from there it wasn’t much farther to the bridge across the outflow channel and the dam at the end of the lake.
The walk round the lake had been barely a mile but in the warm sunshine it had been very enjoyable so Poppie and I were both happy. Last year I did that walk in early springtime when the trees were still bare so I’m now thinking of repeating it in a few months time – it might be nice when the trees are in their autumn colours.