Posted in Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Secrets of Preston: Conway Park

A riverside walk
Conway Park
The entrance – and exit – to Conway Park

Preston is full of surprises. In a previous post, I’ve told of my Highgate Wood mini adventure. A woodland I had walked past many a time and never once got round to venturing in until this year. At least I had heard of that particular beautiful spot but Conway Park was a place I had never even heard of. And when I did hear the name, for some reason I got it into my head that it was an area of open space, maybe a park for children to play, a grassy field with play equipment to one side. And that would be it. Fun for children, respite for parents but not of particular interest for walkers and explorers of secret nature havens and mini beauty spots.

Work being done on The Village Parklands

But one day, meeting up with a friend for a local walk, she told me about a map given to her by someone she knew. On it was our local area and mapped out was a walk. Conway Park was mentioned.

‘It looks like our normal local walk ‘, my friend said. And it did. But we set off anyway, following the map. Everything looked familiar until…

‘I think we go right here,’ Caroline said.

And that was when our usual suburban trek turned into more of a mystery trail. For there at the end of that cul-de-sac of houses was a signpost and, behind it, a park.

Conway Park

The sign said Conway Park. There was a path to the right and one to the left. We turned left and followed the woodland trail past a sports pitch with a pavilion, and then along a river.

A riverside wander

We came across a sign for a new 80-acre nature reserve/public open space, The Village Parklands, being created. I love it when I see natural spaces being protected or created instead of being destroyed.

The Village Parklands

We continued our walk along the river and finally ended up along a narrow wooded path, ending up at a different part of our usual walk! We had wandered past the public footpath many a time, never realising the secret behind it. As a child, I had a thing about secret passageways, and here was one I was discovering as an adult!

A secret passage …
The Friends of Conway Park, formed in 2015, is made up of members who work for the benefit of the park. The park itself is owned by Preston City Council. Currently the Friends has a crowdfunding campaign  (50K by May fundraising campaign) to improve the children's playground, create a dry standing area for watching football, and a new path along the length of the park. The park will eventually join up with the new Village Parkland.
Posted in Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Secrets of Preston: Clough Copse

Clough Copse

I ventured out on another local walk recently, this time to a little patch of broadleaved woodland owned and maintained by The Woodland Trust. It’s called Clough Copse, a 3.95 acre site that is popular with dog walkers and joggers. Located in Fulwood, Preston, it sits amid steep valleys and is surrounded by a large supermarket and housing – yet when I’ve been there it feels as if urban and suburban life is many, many miles away.

According to the Trust, trees include oak, ash, sycamore, holly, beech, elder, hazel and cherry. It was the start of March when I visited so I didn’t notice any flowers but I’ve heard bluebells, dog’s mercury, and red campion can be seen here. The little stream flows towards Savick Brook, which can be seen in Highgate Wood, which I wrote about recently.

These little refuges are fantastic for wildlife, for flora and fauna, but they’re also vital for us humans to reconnect with nature and recharge our batteries.

Clough Copse
Clough Copse
Posted in Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Secrets of Preston: Highgate Wood

Highgate Wood

For many of us, lockdowns and travel restrictions have made us more aware of our immediate surroundings. Whereas in the past, going for a walk in the Lake District or Yorkshire Dales might be a common enough event for someone living in the north of England, at the moment there are restrictions and with it the fear of possibly being stopped by police for a ‘non-essential journey’.

So it’s been a time to stay local and this is when I realise that a city like Preston has a lot of little natural beauty spots, well hidden from the rest of the world. Today I visited Highgate Wood in the suburbs of Preston. Its entrance is on one of the main roads (Garstang Road) into Preston. Why I have walked past it on various occasions but never thought to pay a visit I do not know. But I’m here now. It’s not a large wood but it’s a very pleasant place to stroll, with Savick Brook flowing in the middle, paths either side and benches dotted around.

The woodland is located in Highgate Park, also the name of an old residence built in 1876 which was once situated here. A group of residents called The Friends of Highgate Wood look after the woodland.

Savick Brook, Highgate Wood
Highgate Wood
The entrance to Highgate Wood
Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Morecambe Bay: St Patrick’s Chapel and the Stone Graves

St Patrick’s Chapel and the stone graves

Heysham, near Morecambe, Lancashire, overlooks Morecambe Bay. At first glance it doesn’t appear to be a big place or have much of interest. But explore a little deeper, past the housing and the small village centre. There is the nature reserve where I once learnt about willow weaving. There is the ferry port where Simon and I sailed to the Isle of Man for a holiday. There is the nuclear power station…

But drive on past the ferry port and head to Half Moon Bay (not very well signposted in my opinion). Park opposite the little cafe (operating as a takeaway when we were there because of Covid restrictions), enjoy a hot drink, and then walk towards a modern artwork along the cliff.

Created by artist Anna Gillespie, SHIP is a sculpture of two figures sitting on the bow and stern of a ship. It is a celebration of the landscape and maritime heritage of Morecambe Bay, with one man facing ‘the old’ of St Patrick’s Chapel while the other man looking towards the ‘new’ of Heysham Nuclear Power Station.

Anna Gillespie’s SHIP at Half Moon Bay

But we had no interest in ‘the new ‘ today, so turning our backs away from the power station, we continued along a path towards the ‘old’. This is the fascinating St Patrick’s Chapel, a ruined Grade I listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument, standing dramatically on the headland. The ruins are believed to date from the 700s or 800s. An excavation dated the site even earlier to the late 500s or early 600s.

St Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham

Author Karen Lloyd, in The Gathering Tide, writes: “There’s a local story that St Patrick, after whom the chapel is named, landed at Heysham bringing the Christian message from Ireland, founding one of the earliest Christian Oratories and communities on the headland.”

An information board about St Patrick’s Chapel

Archaeologists have found graves in the grounds of the Anglo Saxon chapel, these were of a later age and included the remains of a Viking woman, buried in a shroud, along with a decorated bone comb.

St Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham

It is thought that Vikings travelled to Heysham during the 900s, from Ireland and the Isle of Man.

The rock-cut graves atop the headland are a puzzle. Karen Lloyd says they “exude mystery and enigma.” Unfortunately there are no grave goods left and so impossible to identify a date for them. Karen says: “It’s thought they pre-date the first chapel to be built on the site. The 7th to the 11th century was a time of huge flux and change at Heysham that witnessed a mixing of cultures and belief systems”.

Curiously, while researching about the tombs afterwards, I read that they appeared on the cover of The Best of Black Sabbath CD.

The stone graves

According to Wikipedia, when another excavation was held on land below the rock-hewn graves, more than a thousand ancient artefacts were found. It turned out that people lived here 12,000 years ago.

The church of St Peter, again a Grade I listed building, sits behind the ruined chapel. An Anglo-Saxon church was once located here and even earlier back, in the 600s/700s, it’s thought a church was originally founded here. The church’s architecture dates back to various times – including the medieval ages – but was completed in 1864. Unfortunately we were unable to enter, I expect due to the restrictions at the time. It was a shame as I would have liked to have seen the Viking hogback stone (a grave cover dating back to Viking times) but we did have a wander around the graveyard. It’s a beautiful, atmospheric place to be buried, overlooking Morecambe Bay. At the back of the churchyard was a path taking us back to the ruins.

St Peter’s Church, Heysham

It would be a very peaceful place to be buried.

We passed through Morecambe on the way back home. I think this sunset encapsulates the spellbinding splendour of the Bay.

Sunset over Morecambe Bay, as seen from Morecambe Promenade
Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Morecambe Bay: Beware of Quicksand

Morecambe Bay

Morecambe Bay in Lancashire is beautiful. If the weather isn’t great, it can be moody and atmospheric. And on a bright, clear day, it’s even more spectacular when you can see the magnificent Cumbrian mountains in the distance.

But whatever you do, don’t ever walk across the sand without the Queen’s Guide.

I went on a fundraising walk across the Bay in 2012 for a local charity called Galloway’s. There was a group of us following Cedric Robinson, the Queen’s Guide to the Sands. He had his trusty stick and his vast knowledge of the terrain, having been the Guide for many years. Needless to say, we all got across safely. Tired, wearing dirty boots on our exhausted feet, maybe a little smelly of damp mud, water and sand, but we got back safely.

Morecambe Bay

But one day in August 2020, Simon and I visited Silverdale in Lancashire, overlooking Morecambe Bay. We walked along the beach towards Arnside, a little village located at the southern edge of Cumbria. I showed Simon the town across the bay, and told him that I believed it was Grange-over-Sands. I added that there was no way we could cross over there without the Queen’s Guide because of the danger of quicksand.

We carried on our walk, taking a route away from the beach, towards Arnside Tower, an ancient fortified ruin which deserves its own blog post. After a takeaway drink at a little cafe in Arnside, and a spot of plum picking, we headed back towards Silverdale, this time along the beach.

Curiously, while there had been many people on the beach earlier, these had all disappeared. It felt like we were the only ones, which might sound romantic except for what happened next, which was more reminiscent of a horror film.

Looking back, I remember signs warning of the danger of quicksand but assumed it meant sand further out. Of course, I knew it would be daft to trek across the Bay. I had said the very same thing earlier. But as we were walking very close to the edge of the beach, near the rocks leading away from the seaside towards the path, I thought nothing more about it, even when the sand started getting thicker, wetter and sludgier. The tide was coming in, yes, but it was still far off. No need to panic…

Morecambe Bay

Thank goodness for my new walking shoes!

But new hiking shoes or not, it really was getting harder to actually walk through this diabolical sand. Alarmingly, I also realised that I was slowly sinking in with each step I was taking.

The realisation hit me. This was no ordinary sand, this was quicksand. In my naivety, I had assumed the quicksand was lurking ‘out there’ but actually it was here and I was in it and I could no longer move. I was sinking and I could not move my legs.

Simon was faring no better. Even worse, he was further out than me and carrying a heavy rucksack. Even Simon was in difficulty.

It was time to start panicking.

Morecambe Bay sands

Thank goodness we weren’t too far from the safety of the rocks. Thank goodness Simon had the presence of mind to push me so I could clamber onto the cliff. I had lost one of my new walking shoes in the process but, again, thank goodness Simon found it (thinking it was a floating piece of litter at first) and threw it over to me before it was swallowed up by the mud.

One down, one to go. At first I assumed it would be easier for Simon to get out but he was a little further away and in the time that I had scrambled to safety, he had sunk even more. Despite his strength, he was having difficulty lifting his leg to take a step.

He was stuck.

It was like a horror film with a swamp monster hungrily looking for victims. The scary thing is that there really have been fatalities over the years. Perhaps the most famous case recently is the one of the Chinese cockle pickers in 2004. Tragically, 24 of them died.

Quicksand is a serious and deadly issue.

Treacherous sands

So these thoughts were going through my increasingly hysterical mind while I stood on the rocks. I felt that if I ran off to look for help, Simon would have disappeared under the sand by the time I got back. At one point, I desperately held out my handbag towards him to cling on to as if that would have helped.

Just as well Simon is clearer-headed than I am. Using determination, strength, willpower and sheer focus, he managed to lift one leg out of the muddy sand – and then the other. And again. One leg … at a time…

It was a slow process which felt like longer. But he got there.

Now there were two of us on the rocks, disbelieving as to what had just happened.

Simon told me that if he hadn’t have been able to get out, he would have tried to use his rucksack as leverage to propel him forwards. Watching survival expert Ray Mears on television has its uses!

The picture below shows a very muddy and relieved me.

Muddy clothes and a smile of desperate relief
The treacherous sand

Facts about Quicksand

  1. Quicksand is ‘loose wet sand that sucks in anything resting on it’ (Concise Oxford English Dictionary). It forms in ‘saturated loose sand when the sand is suddenly agitated. When water in the sand cannot escape, it creates a liquefied soil that loses strength and cannot support weight’ (Wikipedia).

2. Guides to the Sands have used laurel branches for marking safe routes. They have done this for centuries.

3. These ‘brobs’ are seen in Turner’s paintings of Morecambe Bay.

4. According to Wikipedia, it is impossible for a person to sink ‘entirely into quicksand due to the higher density of the fluid…sinking beyond about waist height is impossible’. However, ‘continued or panicked movement, however, may cause a person to sink further… it can lead to a situation where other factors such as hypothermia etc may harm a trapped person’.

Posted in Thoughts on life and spirituality, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Morecambe Bay: Sunderland Point and Sambo’s Grave

Sunderland Point

Lancashire’s underrated scenery is often ignored in favour of its more popular, more famous, more spectacular neighbour, the Lake District. Lancastrians will often head to the Lakes for a day’s hiking or a weekend away (I am no exception, look at my previous mountain rambles detailed on this blog!) Holidaymakers will drive past the county in their bid to reach Wordsworth’s Paradise of the Lakes and Mountains. Even my Lonely Planet Walking in Britain book features the Yorkshire Dales, the Peak District and the Lake District but apparently there are no walks to be had in Lancashire! No scenic beauty!

Wrong.

There are many beauty spots in this very county and one such is Morecambe Bay, a destination crammed with nature, beauty and history.

Sunderland Point

Even in the modern age, there are places of stillness and tranquillity where you feel far, far away from the 21st century – and one such spot is a remote village called Sunderland Point. Author Karen Lloyd describes it as “if a warp in time as well as space had been crossed. Take away the street lights and TV aerials and you could imagine yourself back in the 18th century”. I cannot help but agree, that too was my impression of this unique olde worlde place.

It sits at the southern end of Morecambe Bay, at the end of a tidal causeway – which helps give it an isolated feeling – and overlooks the River Lune.

But behind this serene exterior lies a dark past. This lovely, tiny hamlet of only a few houses, which overlooks such a peaceful scene, actually has a tragic history.

Sambo’s Grave

There is a spot in this remote haven called Sambo’s Grave. Sambo (the name given, no one knows his real name) is believed to have been a black slave boy, possibly the only survivor of a shipwreck off Sunderland Point, although no one really knows his story.

In 1796, this grave was erected by Rev James Watson – about 60 years after the death of ‘Sambo’.

This remote hamlet was once seen as important because of its connection to slavery. In the early 1700s, the village was developed as an outport for the neighbouring city Lancaster, which was heavily involved in the slave trade.

According to Karen Lloyd’s The Gathering Tide, between 1736 and 1807, around 29,000 slaves were carried from West Africa to the West Indies on Lancaster’s ships.

However, Sunderland’s contribution to the slave trade was short-lived. By the end of the 1700s, Sunderland was no longer the go-to port. There were problems with the River Lune silting and competition from new ports – the newly constructed neighbour, Glasson Dock, and the much bigger Liverpool. Sunderland Point had now become ‘Cape Famine’.

It is strange to see a juxtaposition of beauty – the scenery, the tranquility, the wildlife – and the horror of the misery and suffering of slavery.

The grave was erected 60 years after the boy’s death

And yet, have we, the human species, moved on? Perhaps not. There are still atrocious human rights abuses taking place all over the world on a daily basis.

Our species can send astronauts out to space and to the moon, create vaccines and boast about AI and the latest technology, and yet too many humans still don’t know how to treat others with even the most basic levels of compassion and respect. How to treat others in the same way they themselves would like to be treated.

But I still have hope that one day our descendants will have a future where people can live alongside each other in harmony and peace. One can only hope…

Sambo’s Grave

Information about Sunderland Point comes from The Gathering Tide by Karen Lloyd

Posted in Fitness challenges, Reblog, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Trek Diary: Part 1 Oct/Nov 2017

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Rainbow en route to High Peak, Fairfield Horseshoe, Ambleside, Cumbria

I wrote this post a few months after starting my blog, back in 2017. I haven’t been able to go on any big walking challenges this year because of lockdown, so I’ve been looking back at some of my previous adventures.

May 2020

Like many of us, over the years, I have put on weight. Too many treats, over-reliance on my car and not enough exercise has meant a few pounds have been added here and there. But to be honest, this isn’t about weight. It’s about being happy and healthy. It’s a quest to be fit. Me and fitness have never got on. The minute the pace gets faster, I want off the treadmill. But I’m sick of feeling sluggish, of being out of breath too easily. I want to challenge myself next year. Perhaps a fundraising challenge. Maybe a mountain. Possibly a long-distance trek. Something that will motivate me to finally become fit and healthy. And stay that way. For good. Thus begins my bi-monthly trek diary.

Great Whernside – 650m (out of 704m). Three hours

Sunday, October 22 2017

I met Simon at Kettlewell in the Yorkshire Dales, a pretty little village of stone cottages and picturesque surroundings. Weather was okay to begin with, which was lucky as Storm Brian had been out and about that week. But as we walked along the track towards the hill of Great Whernside, passing a large farmhouse (now a Scout’s centre), the rain began. The drizzle got worse and the stone path gave way to grass – and bog. The higher we got, the boggier the ground became, the wetter my walking boots became (thank goodness they were waterproof), the unsteadier the ground and more blustery the wind. 🌧️

I’m sorry to say we did not make it to the top. Our (roughly) three-hour walk took us to about 650m of Great Whernside’s 710m. But all I kept thinking about was tea and cake! (We had brought water and sandwiches with us but somehow we lost the desire for a cold cheese sandwich on the cold, windy moorland).

We reached the village about 1.30pm and ventured into Bluebell Inn for a delightful pot of tea by the fire, just what we needed after being soaked through to the skin. A trip to Zarina’s cafe for more tea, a sausage buttie (not very healthy, but warming) and a Yorkshire curd tart. When in Yorkshire, eat what the Yorkshire folk eat… My first time eating the delicacy, and very tasty too.

And so my training began. Oh, if only it could be tea and cake all the time! ☕🍰

Walk Facts

1. Great Whernside is 704m (2,310ft) high. We walked roughly three hours from 10.30am to 1.30pm to reach 650m.

2. It is located on the boundary between the Yorkshire Dales National Park and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

3. Until 1997, there was no public right of way to the summit of Great Whernside.

Fairfield Horseshoe – Full day (eight hours) 11 miles (roughly) 873m

Saturday, November 4

Today’s challenge was a toughie. A hill walk from Ambleside, where we were staying for the weekend, up Low Pike (1,657ft/508m), High Pike (2,152ft/656m), Dove Crag (2,603ft/792m), Hart Crag (2,698ft/822m) to get to our destination – Fairfield (2,863ft/873m).

And then back down again via Great Rigg (2,513ft/766m), Heron Pike (2,003ft/612m) and Nab Scar (1,493ft/ 455m). I feel exhausted just thinking about it!

We were staying in Ambleside for a weekend and had decided Saturday would be our day for a hill walk. Laden with rucksacks and (for me) hiking poles, we headed away from the town centre. A resident told us we were going the wrong direction and needed to walk towards Sweden Bridge. A quick detour and we were on our way. Up, up, up (so it felt to me)…

Crossing Sweden Bridge took us into fields with Highland Cows, actually my favourite breed of cow with their shaggy red hair, but I always feel a little apprehensive around cows, especially if they have calves. However, these lasses were quite happy to share their fields with hikers.

DSC_0176

Our first hill was Low Pike (1657ft), I would keep stopping and turning to see the panoramic view (a ‘look at the view’ and ‘catch my breath’ stop) of Windermere down below. The higher up, the more expansive the scenery below – Rydal, Windermere, Ambleside, Grasmere…

Once we reached Low Pike, S said we were a quarter of the way up. I was surprised, but I should have queried him more on this statistic. A quarter of the way up to Fairfield or a quarter of the way up to High Pike, the next fell? Needless to say the true answer would have disappointed me.

I believe it was around here where there was a short rocky scramble… and my boots got wet in the marsh.

The route to High Pike was along a stone wall, fairly gentle. It was here where it started to drizzle on and off for the rest of the day. And the place where full rainbows were seen. Will we reach the pot of gold that is Fairfield?

I regarded the rainbow as a sign of hope – completing the Fairfield Horseshoe is possible, even for me! 🌈

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We continued to ascend Dove Crag and Hart Crag. Relatively gradual, happily, apart from a scramble section at the top.

At one point, Simon heard a mouse-like sound and I spotted a brisk brown blur from the corner of my eye. Silently, we ventured nearer and observed a tiny shrew scurrying amidst the rocks, before escaping into a hole.

It was hard to know when we actually arrived at Fairfield. The top is very flat, a ‘grassy plateau’ says Wainwright. There are many stone cairns which might be there to help hikers find their way in the mist although Wainwright thought the abundance could actually be a hindrance. Some ramblers were huddled in a stone windbreak shelter when we arrived.

The route down has a clear path. When there is no mist, it is easy to see where one is going.

We were descending Nab Scar when a young couple passed us. The woman was athletic looking, wearing sports clothes rather than rambling gear, and was striding along confidently, clutching a water bottle. The man, lagging behind – so much so I wasn’t sure if they were actually together or not – wore a jumper, jeans and wellies.

When it comes to hill walking, it is a case of walking boots…  yes. Wellies… no. A big no.

Anyway, the pair passed us. Not long afterwards, the woman came back up and approached us, asking if we had any spare water she could give to her partner. Luckily we did. He was lying on the grass next to the path, looking absolutely exhausted. S poured water into the woman’s 1 litre container. Later, we saw them, the worn-out man sitting next to the path. S gave them the rest of the water (the man had already drank the litre Simon had previously given) and three biscuits from the B&B. They thanked us and assured us they would be fine, and sure enough, we later on saw them descending the last section.

It turned out that, while we set off at 9.30am, their hike began after 12noon – in a bid to finish before it got dark, they had no choice but to rush the Horseshoe.

Passing Rydal Hall and Rydal Mount, we opted for a wander beside the river, pleasant until it became dark, started raining heavily, and we took the wrong turning out of Ambleside. An extra mile I could have done without! Still, an exhilarating if tiring walk and I look forward to my next adventure 🏃

Walk Facts

1. On the way to or back from The Fairfield Horseshoe, the hiker goes past Rydal Mount – the home of William Wordsworth.

2. Water is essential for hill walks! And it has a wonderful taste when you’re going uphill!

3. The Fairfield Horseshoe goes up one ridge and down another within a valley. Be careful in the mist.

Sunday, November 5

Stock Ghyll Force, Ambleside – One mile (roughly)

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Legs felt a little fatigued today so we enjoyed a gentle stroll to Stock Ghyll Force waterfall. This is a roughly mile-long woodland walk, 5 minutes from Ambleside. Leaf-strewn (in autumn) paths and steps along a river and woodland takes you upwards towards the waterfall. A very pleasant town walk (although it doesn’t feel urban in the slightest) for tourists and tired-out ramblers!

Walk Facts

1. Stock Ghyll is a tributary of River Rothley.

2. Once there were 12 watermills driven by the power of Stock Ghyll and other streams.

3. Stock Ghyll Force is a 70ft waterfall.

To read about a 2014 Hadrian’s Wall adventure, visit: https://mysabbatical2014.wordpress.com/

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Trek Diary – Part 3: February/March – Pendle Hill

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I wrote this post two years ago although I have been back to Pendle twice since then. I find it a fascinating place for its history but it’s also a very beautiful and atmospheric area to walk.  (March 2020).

Pendle Hill is famous among these parts of Lancashire, or should I say infamous? Have you watched Arthur Miller’s The Crucible? Where a frenzy of hysterics erupted in an American society in the 1600s and it was claimed some of the villagers were witches?

Well, something similar happened in Lancashire.

In England, the 1600s was a time of superstition, intolerance and persecution. King James I, who increasingly became more paranoid after the Gunpowder Plot, broadened the Witchcraft Act in 1604.

And so there was, quite literally, a witch hunt.

In 1612, in the Pendle area, Alizon Device cursed a pedlar, and believed she lamed him. An investigation followed and the situation spiralled into a massive witchcraft trial, with other residents being arrested and a nine-year-old girl giving evidence against her family and neighbours. Nine of the ‘witches’ were hanged at Lancaster Castle.

This is a horror story fit for Halloween. Not because there is any ‘devil worship’ or witches on broomsticks or wild cackling, but because a lethal blend of hysteria, superstition, paranoia and persecution got whipped up into a frenzy.

On a happier note, Pendle Hill is also noted as the location where Quaker founder George Fox experienced a spiritual vision.

Back to modern day and, thankfully, more tolerant times.

At Barrowford’s information centre, the woman at the tourism desk was very helpful, giving us not only a map and directions on how to reach Pendle, but details about a sculpture and witch trail.

I always picture Pendle Hill as nearby but it always seemed an awkward place to reach from where I live. We have tried twice before to reach its dizzy heights of 557m. Once, it was snowing. The other time it was pouring with rain. On neither occasion did we reach the spellbinding hill, but only the thereabouts. Perhaps there was a ‘curse’ and we will never reach it?

Barley wasn’t too far from Barrowford and thanks to the helpful information assistant, we recognised the landmarks as we drove past, including a statue of Alice Nutter, one of the witches (or supposed witches, as more likely) in Roughlee.

 

Fellow ramblers know the feeling of reaching a destination and then thinking, have I the right change for the car park? Luckily, Barley car park is very amenable, boasting many spaces, a charming café/souvenir shop, adequate toilets – and parking is a mere £1!

Past the children’s play area, pub, houses and a stall selling free range eggs… Onto a footpath along a river and lo, there is the route to Pendle Hill.

Simon warned me that, on the map, there were tight contour lines further on, meaning a steepness. But I forgot about that as, not long after we started, I sloshed and trampled about in mud and, humiliatingly, even slipped and fell. Embarrassingly, a couple shouted over, are you okay? Yes thank you, I muttered, embarrassed. S, having strided 10 miles ahead (or so it seemed), headed back. I didn’t know you had fallen, he apologised. I grudgingly accepted his apology.

Thankfully the boots were waterproof.

Anyway, no matter, I conquered the soaking wet mud which had no right to trip me up. Now to conquer the steep incline itself. I have dreams (Illusions? Fantasies?) of walking up Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis. Not like those crazily fit people who can do the two plus Snowdon in one day. How is that even possible? No, just one at a time for me. I’m not in a rush.

A friend later told me that there were other, more gradual, ways to climb up Pendle Hill. But by then it was too late. Every step was hard. It’s not even a massive hill, 1827ft/557m, but this section was gruelling. I thought longingly of Fairfield Horseshoe’s gradual ascent (certainly in comparison to this incline) until finally I made it. I was at the top!

We walked down a more gradual route. At one point, wondering if we were going the right way. But we finally reached a stream which we followed, ambling along to Barley.

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A cup of tea in the cafe later and we then set off on a Pendle Sculpture Trail. The path takes you past Lower Black Moss Reservoir and stunning scenes of Pendle Hill, then it’s uphill (ah, more steepness!!) until we reach Aitken Wood, located on a slope. By itself, Aitken Wood is a beautiful setting, but here nature meets art, culture and history in one swoop with the Sculpture Trail. We meet a life-size witchfinder, spot metal bats, owl and giant spider’s web and admire The Quaker Tree among many other artworks. Plaques have also been created, illustrating each of the witches. If you pick up a Sculpture Trail leaflet, you could even take part in a competition to win a hotel stay.

So two walks in one this, surprisingly pleasant, winter’s day. So enjoyable that we ventured back a month later. Ironically the weather was worse in March.

I fell again in the mud. Great. Why has it not dried yet?

Snow fell, we turned back half way – and then it stopped and we headed towards the hill again. The hill was as steep as last time. I was as unfit as last time.

I, wimp that I am, asked if we could turn back because of the potential snow.

We were about 10 steps from the top at this point.

We carried on.

At the summit, something was preventing us from walking straight in one line, something threw Simon’s hat away and he, rather comically, had to run after it, and something was trying to push us over the edge of the hill.

Be warned. The hill is possessed – by a terrible gale-force wind. Thankfully, the wind and snow gradually left us alone as we trekked down the path to the cafe where a mug of refreshing tea and a slice of delicious cake awaited us.

Picture courtesy of Simon Hunter20180317_125724

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

A wander in Yarrow Valley Country Park

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I had heard of Yarrow Valley Country Park in Lancashire over the years but had never visited, despite it being just over half an hour away. I had also seen photos of kingfishers and field mice inhabiting the reserve so it was obviously a wildlife-rich place. But I often find it’s the places nearest to us that we tend to ignore.

But there’s a first time for everything and there’s certainly a first time for visiting this particular nature reserve, located near Chorley, Lancashire.

Usually nature reserves are maintained by wildlife and environmental charities but the 700-acre Yarrow Valley is actually owned by Chorley Council.

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For all its scenic beauty now, the location has had an industrial background, dating back to the 1300s. By the 1400s, there were at least two mills – a cloth and a corn mill – at the site (called Birkacre). Coal mines (coal was found near the surface) were later established in the valley in the 1500s and 1600s.

At the start of the Industrial Revolution, a cotton mill was built at Birkacre. Up to this point, weaving and spinning was done at home – now it would be done in factories. This proved controversial as domestic manufacturers lost business and in 1779, ‘machine breakers’ destroyed the mill during the Birkacre Riots. Maybe new technology has always been a risk to people’s jobs?

The mill was rebuilt and the focus was now on the textile finishing business (for example, bleaching). A private coal mine for the works was opened in 1880 but, by 1939, the mill and mines were closed and became derelict. It was only in the 1980s when the local council stepped in to create the park.

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There are three self-guided walking leaflets available. Birkacre History Trail (which shows the main sites of its industrial past) is a mile and a half and, according to the leaflet, takes an hour and 30 minutes to complete. This seems a long time for the mileage but it does include stopping and looking and reading about various points of interest.

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The Blue Walk is 4.5 miles long and takes two and a half hours and the Red Walk’s 5.5 miles trail is estimated to take three hours.

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Yarrow Valley Country Park’s Birkacre History Trail

We took a combined History Trail/Blue Walk route. The ponds are referred to as ‘lodges’ and at first I kept expecting to see wooden huts! There are three ponds – Small Lodge, Big Lodge and Top Lodge. Big Lodge, which had an array of swans, ducks and gulls, is the largest and is more like a lake than a pond (pictured below).

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Top Lodge has a reed bed and I suspect that, in better weather, much wildlife can be seen here.

One of the main sights is Birkacre Weir, this enables the water level of the river to be raised. Channels then allow the water to flow into the ponds. On the side is a fish pass, a ladder to help fish migrate upstream. It was built in 2002.

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We visited the park a couple of weeks after Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis and it was possible to see the accumulated rubbish (why can’t people use a bin?) and tree debris in certain parts of the river. But another remnant of the wild weather could be felt by the squelching mud under my feet. Unfortunately, on this occasion, I wore trainers rather than my usual walking boots.

Firstly, it was a country park so I was expecting paths (there are, but there was still mud!). Secondly, I decided to wear my good walking boots, which were in my car boot but then we went in Simon’s car and then…oh, no walking boots. So yes, I missed my walking boots and my trainers were a mucky mess by the time we got back.

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Butterbur, one of the sights spotted at Yarrow Valley Country Park

I write this a month after our ramble and wish I hadn’t been so preoccupied with the mud! Had I known my freedom would become curtailed by coronavirus, I would have treasured this trek more. A lesson to learn indeed. I hope you are all keeping well during these uncertain times.

Information from Yarrow Valley Country Park: Birkacre History Trail leaflet (by local historian Jack Smith).

Yarrow Valley Country Park can be found off Birkacre Road, Chorley, Lancashire. 

 

 

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures, Walks

Waterfalls in Teesdale

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Last year Simon and I enjoyed a visit to the historic market town of Richmond, Yorkshire. One of our adventures can be seen here: Muker and the highest pub in Britain (528m/1732ft)

We liked Richmond so much that this year we decided to spend Simon’s birthday weekend in the same town again. We had booked our b&b a month earlier; the weather was the last thing on our minds. But one month on and the UK had already suffered from the tantrum of Storm Ciara – and now Storm Dennis was due on our Richmond weekend.

Hmmm. I wondered if we hadn’t already booked our accommodation, would we have called the weekend off?

The roads going to and back from Richmond were fine, but one could see many of the fields were flooded.

On the Sunday of our stay, we took a trip to see Low and High Force Waterfalls in Upper Teesdale, County Durham. They’re located within a National Nature Reserve.

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However, we had to take two detours as one road had a sign warning motorists to go no further because it was closed due to flooding.

And another road was open but a massive puddle flooded it. A large 4×4 could get through but a small Skoda?

Maybe not.

We didn’t take the risk anyway.

So instead of going through Barnard Castle (which is a small town with, you’ve guessed it, a castle), we went through the village of Middleton instead. On our way back we enjoyed a hot drink and warming tomato soup at a little cafe called Rumours.

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There is a car park where we nearly parked last year. On that occasion, we hoped to have a quick walk before heading on our way back to our respective homes. But there was a charge that had to be paid by a certain number of minutes – or else a lovely fine would come through the door.

And they had CCTV to check.

You also had to pay extra to actually see the falls.

So after a quick exit, hoping that we hadn’t been in the car park for more than 10 minutes, we had the luck of spotting a lay-by where cars could park for free and you could walk for free to see the falls.

That time we didn’t see High Force, but we still had a pleasant walk along the river, enjoying the calmer sight of Low Force.

One year later, we parked in the lay-by again. Evidence of Ciara and Dennis (the rain of which we endured the evening before) could be seen in the muddy paths. Thankfully I was wearing good walking boots!

We walked along a single-person bridge over the River Tees. A sign which is often ignored considering the numbers of people on it that afternoon. When I strolled across, three people were behind me!

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The first bridge was built in 1741 and, according to the sign at the site, ‘was the earliest known suspension bridge in Europe ‘. Tragically, three men fell in the river in 1802 after one of the chains snapped. One of the men died. The current bridge was built in 1830.

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Low Force was just as scenic as I remembered. It drops over the Whin Sill, a layer comprising a hard rock called dolerite. Locally, it’s known as whinstone.

As we followed the muddy path towards High Force, we admired artistic carvings along the walls.

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Juniper trees seemed bigger than I’d seen before – but unfortunately a sign declared that a disease was killing them in the area.

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There were boot wash facilities en route but whether walkers took this precaution is another matter.

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High Force is a dramatic scene. As I mentioned, we had just had two storms in a fortnight and bystanders could see the amazing effect of this on the waterfall. The power of the River Tees gushing down the 70ft cliff edge is highly impressive. With the heavy rainfall, it formed two falls but I have heard that, in exceptional conditions, the level of the river could even reach and flow down the middle section of rock.

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It looked rather intimidating too, but thankfully we were safe at our viewing point!

Despite appearances, High Force is not quite the highest waterfall in England, according to Wikipedia. It seems Cautley Spout in Cumbria is nearly 590ft (180m) high! But the Wikipedia entry also says High Force ‘does have the largest volume of water falling over an unbroken drop when in full spate’.

It’s an amazing sight to see.

Fact of the Day

The word ‘Force’ comes from ‘Foss’, an Old Norse word for waterfall. The word came with Viking settlers more than 1,000 years ago.

(Information from a sign at the High Force site).