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

Walks in the Yorkshire Dales – Walk 2: Buckden Pike

At the top of Buckden Pike – looking tired and windswept!

Buckden Pike – 702 metres (2,303 ft)

It had been a while since I had walked up a hill (the 500ft Pendle Hill was the last on a particularly sodden wet and windy day, I didn’t make it to the top on that occasion) and I felt a sense of trepidation at the idea of walking up one of the Dales hills. I love hills and mountains, the views from them en route or on the top, the sense of achievement, having reached the top, the sense of achievement having reached the bottom, the feeling of a well-earned pot of tea afterwards (and maybe a slice of cake?) But the actual journey itself of going up a hill… My lungs protesting at every step: “This is too much, Clare. Take a breath, look at the scenery. Have some water.”

And never does water taste so wonderful as it does while going up a hill!

The start of the journey

We parked in a car park in Buckden, close to the start of our trek. Next to the car park was a wooden gate leading to a path in a field. There was a signpost stating Buckden Pike – two and a quarter miles.

A nice short walk then! Ha! It didn’t feel like that to me – never trust a sign pointing up a hill.

The signpost directing us to Buckden Pike

Apart from the sounds of the skylark and curlew, sightings of wheatears and pippits, it felt like we were the only ones on the Dales. It was so quiet and peaceful. Maybe it was because it was Monday and the week after the Easter holidays. But it did feel like we were the only two inhabitants on the dales. Not a soul or hint of civilisation could be seen.

Yorkshire Dales

A steep hill – where we noticed wild pansies – took us to the top where we walked along the ridge to the trig point at 702 metres. Buckden Pike actually narrowly misses out on being the highest peak in this area, it is Great Whernside which earns this title. Instead, Buckden Pike is the seventh highest peak in the Yorkshire Dales and is eight metres higher than Pen-y-ghent itself – one of the ‘Yorkshire Three Peaks’. I had gone up Great Whernside (704 metres) before – or at least most of it as it was a terrible day weather-wise. (You can read that story here: https://cosycottageandthequestforthegoodlife.wordpress.com/2020/05/23/trek-diary-part-1-oct-nov-2017-2/).

From the top of Buckden Pike, on a clear day, one can see the three peaks Pen Y Ghent, Whernside and Ingleborough.

Buckden Pike

There is a stone slab pavement at the top. According to the National Trust: ‘The moorland here is important blanket bog and we are creating a path with old mill flagstones. This will protect the delicate peat from erosion.’

On the way back, along the ridge and then over a ladder stile into another field, we came across the Polish War Memorial commemorating a crash from a Second World War plane. Five Polish soldiers died when their plane crashed in 1942. If you look closely at the base of the memorial, you’ll see a fox’s head. That’s because the only survivor reached the village of Cray in the snow by following a fox’s footprints.

The memorial on top of Buckden Pike

We continued along a stone wall, gradually going downhill. There were some boggy areas, considering how the recent weather had been fairly dry I could imagine how soggy it could get if there had been recent rainfall. Some walks turn off at Starbotton, the next village but we carried on until Kettlewell.

Not too far from Kettlewell, we came across an older couple, who looked as tired as I felt and yet they had only really embarked on their journey. Luckily for them, they were heading back to Starbotton, not quite as far as the trek we were on.

The &Then cafe we went to yesterday in Kettlewell was closed so we ventured into the cosy Bluebell Inn for a well deserved pot of tea and glass of lemonade. We noted ‘local wild foraged garlic’ among other tasty items on the menu. The menu was tempting for an evening meal. (And indeed we did return on our last evening). Once refreshed, we continued along the River Wharfe back to Buckden. This time the sign said four miles…

We saw a lamb on the other side of the fence which provoked a dilemma, should we help or would intervention make things worse?

On the first night, Simon had proved to be a successful sheep wrangler, helping to herd a few straggler sheep and lambs away from the road, and then away from the nearby housing estate back into their own field. They had ended up in a neighbour’s garden, munching away at the lawn, at one point! But this was a different scenario and we didn’t want to startle the lamb into running off and getting lost. As it turned out, while we were pondering this, the lamb ducked under the fence and went back into its own field itself. Problem solved!

Lambs in the Yorkshire Dales

On our gentle river stroll back to Buckden, we saw river debris evidence of what looked like recent flooding and a male goosander. We also saw what looked like mandarin or wood ducks. From a steep hill climb to a relaxing river stroll, this walk had plenty of variety.

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

Walks in the Yorkshire Dales – Walk One: Grassington to Kettlewell

Yorkshire Dales

The Dales Way – Grassington to Kettlewell (12 miles)

It was the first full day of our Yorkshire Dales break, we had enjoyed a hearty breakfast and were now all set to explore the surrounding countryside. This ramble, the first of our holiday, would be a village to village walk via The Dales Way in Wharfdale. We took our sticks from the car and started walking away from our dwelling in Grassington to a nearby path leading into a field. Although we didn’t go up any steep hills, the various inclines meant I was glad we had our walking sticks. It was approximately six miles to Kettlewell and another six miles back.

In case you were wondering, the word ‘dale’ means ‘lowland valley’ which gives an idea of the type of terrain we were walking in today. This part of Yorkshire is also noted for its limestone scenery (although nowhere beats Malham for that, more about Malham in another blog post).

On our journey, we also went past Conistone Dib, a dry limestone gorge. We saw an oystercatcher and pipits and heard the call of the curlew. Our walk through the fields gradually took us to our mid-way point, a little hamlet called Conistone.

Conistone

There appeared to be a maypole in the middle of the village. I wonder if it was used for maypole dancing back in the day, or maybe even nowadays?

Back on the dales, we spotted a curious rocky ‘hill’ which we nicknamed the ‘castle’. I later learned that it’s a limestone outcrop and its real name is Conistone Pie not Conistone Castle! I suppose it does look a little like a pie to a hungry rambler from a distance …

Off the dales and onto a quiet road nearing Kettlewell, we went past Scargill House, a Christian holiday and conference centre founded in 1959.

We also came across two unusual ‘locals’. We were used to seeing white fluffy animals grazing grass – but these two ‘sheep’ looked rather different!

Alpacas grazing in the Yorkshire Dales

After our six-mile walk, a refreshing pot of tea was enjoyed at the little &then cafe in Kettlewell.

&then cafe in Kettlewell

We then explored St Mary’s church and churchyard. According to the church’s website, it’s situated beneath the slopes of Great Whernside.

Kettlewell Church

The beautiful churchyard is home to various wildflowers and limestone gravestones. There is also a meadow labyrinth, made of limestone and created in 2020. It’s no surprise that, in 2021, it won North Yorkshire’s Best Churchyard Competition.

Rather than going back via the dales, we headed back along the quiet country single road. Normally we would avoid roads but apart from a long convoy of MG sports cars (I felt sorry for the motorist who was heading in their direction and had to reverse some way to let them pass), this was very quiet and more like a country lane.

We took a quick detour into Grass Wood on the way back, but it was much bigger than expected so we decided to explore it another day. If we looked over to the right, we could see the River Wharf flowing beside us.

River Wharfe

It was a very pleasant walk, with ups and downs (on the Dales Way towards Kettlewell rather than the flat road going back) but nothing too strenuous. Even so, I was certainly ready for my pizza meal that evening at The Foresters Arms in Grassington!

  • Facts of the Day
  • 1. The word ‘Dale’ ‘probably shares a common root with the Welsh ‘dol‘, meaning meadow, pasture, valley’ (Country Walking Magazine).
  • 2.  The Dales Way is a long distance footpath of about 80 miles. It runs from Ilkley to Bowness-on-Windermere.

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

Among the gentle giants at the National Shire Horse Show

For one weekend in March, Newark Showfield in Nottinghamshire turned into the land of the giants, but have no fear as these were as gentle as they were dignified. They were Shire horses attending their own equine version of Crufts.

Shire Horse Show Pictures by Simon Hunter

There was an array of classes for them to compete in and all ages took part. I had assumed they were black horses but there were bay and silver colours too. I was beginning to wonder why it was just geldings and stallions but it was actually ladies’ day the following day when the mares would get preened up. The overall winner would compete in the National Horse Show in Birmingham later on in the year.

Shire horses were once used to pull carts and we got a glimpse of this during another competition where drainage companies competed with breweries.

There was a selection of vintage tractors and other farming machines on display, and, as at these types of events in general, a host of stalls selling refreshments and merchandise, and promoting charities.

It all felt so very ordinary as we wandered about that I forgot how last year this enjoyable event would not have been allowed to happen.

I always get Shires mixed up with Clydesdales as they are both large horses. I knew the Shires were large – 17.2 hands – and is the largest horse in the world. What I didn’t realise was their war history, an irony as they have a reputation for being so calm. While I picture Shires working on the canal, pulling freight barges along, they actually came into being through war in the medieval ages. I had a look at the Shire Horse Society’s website to find out its history…

Back in medieval ages, knights wearing armour were too heavy for the small British horses such as the Dartmoor so heavier breeds came over from Flanders, Germany and Holland. And so the War Horse aka the Great Horse appeared on the scene.

Farmers then took advantage of the Shire’s great strength and it started ploughing and pulling heavy loads (taking over from the oxen). During the Industrial Revolution, the Shire towed barges along the newly constructed canals, as well as drays, trams and wagons.

Technology in the form of railways, tractors and cars meant the need for Shires declined and they were no longer needed on barges, farms or roads. Although the breed’s numbers fell to a few thousand in the 1960s, they are becoming popular again and are seen on small farms, agricultural shows, ploughing matches, forestry and rural life museums, among other places. They are also seen as the more environmental option when it comes to working on the land.

I’m glad to see that these dignified giants will be around for a long time yet.

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

A ramble around Nottinghamshire’s Idle Valley Nature Reserve and along River Idle

Idle Valley

One Saturday in January I embarked on a wintry morning ramble along the River Idle in Nottinghamshire with Simon. We parked on Chainbridge Lane and headed towards the river. On the map it’s called the ‘Riverside Discovery’ walk and I thought this was all part of Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s Idle Valley Nature Reserve at first. It was a sunny, cold day with frost on the ground. Instead of making the ground slippy, it actually made the walk more pleasant as it meant the path was less muddy. As time passed, this frost melted and the ground became muddier.

Map of Idle Valley

A couple passing by mentioned a large gathering of siskins further up, adding: “You’ll hear them before you see them”. In the meantime we came across a clearing where many trees – conifers I guess? – had been felled. This was part of the nature reserve so I presume the plan is to plant native trees instead.

We also came across a swan family of varying ages swimming in the river.

Swans on the River Idle

I had forgotten about the siskins by the time we heard their calls coming from the trees. The siskins could be seen perched on the branches but the sun blocked out their vivid yellow colour and we saw them as silhouettes instead.

It was quiet on our walk with only a few walkers and dogs but as we entered the Idle Valley Nature Reserve – 450 hectares of lakes, wetland, scrub and grassland – we encountered increasing numbers of people. This particular reserve, run by Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust, is both a Local Wildlife Site (LWS) and Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust’s largest reserve and one of the largest sites for nature conservation in the East Midlands.

Idle Valley Nature Reserve
Idle Valley

We reached the visitor centre where Simon had a warming bowl of soup and I enjoyed a filling jacket potato. Our table had a very pleasant view of Belmoor Lake. The visitor centre has a shop, toilets and cafe. It is also called a Rural Learning Centre and looks like it’s connected to North Notts College. I also noticed a sign for Muddy Fork – Social and Therapeutic Horticulture. I believe that nature, whether it’s in the form of gardening, walks or voluntary work, can do wonders for our wellbeing. It’s good to know that there are programmes like this out there.

Idle Valley Nature Reserve

A Willow Tunnel and boardwalk took us back into the reserve, passing a natural playground on the left and Belmoor Lake on the right. Bug arch sculptures were dotted along the path.

We later saw a flock of lapwings flying overhead and goldeneye on the lake.

It was only afterwards when I was reading up about the reserve that I discovered that beavers have been reintroduced here, after an absence of more than 400 years. I also found that Nottinghamshire Wildlife Trust offers regular beaver enclosure tours. It would be wonderful to see a beaver!

According to the Wildlife Trust website: “A pair and a family with four kits have been released into an enclosed section of Idle Valley Nature Reserve.  We have created one of the largest beaver enclosures in the UK and in November 2021 released eight beavers, including four kits (baby beavers), to this area securely separated from the River Idle and closely monitored.”

The nature reserve was once gravel pits and was known as Sutton & Lound Gravel Pits, which was incorporated with Hallcroft & Bellmoor Pits near Retford. The whole site was bought by Notts Wildlife Trust.

https://www.nottinghamshirewildlife.org/idle-valley

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

Reblog: A Preston Ramble in January 2018

DSC_0350

Harris Museum, Preston

This post was written after a walk to Preston city centre, back in 2018. I mentioned The Harris Museum, which is actually closed for refurbishment at the moment. But at the time I heartily recommended a visit. I had walked past Highgate Wood on various occasions but had never visited – until this year. I wrote a separate post about it. Reading this post reminds me that it’s time to pay another visit to Bruciannis…

A city walk: Six miles

December was a lazy month so it was back to square one in January (actually make that square minus ten as I must have put on weight and become even more unfit and unhealthy during the Christmas season). To start the year off, a friend and I embarked upon a Suburb to City stroll, setting off three miles (approximately) from Preston city centre.

To those who don’t know Preston, it is a former industrial town in the North West of England. It’s not far from Blackpool, Manchester and Liverpool, and the beautiful Lake District is just over an hour’s drive away.

Originally called Priest Town (Priest’s Tun) in Anglo Saxon times, Preston has had a long and fascinating history. I haven’t time to mention it all here except the two key episodes on Preston’s timeline are the English Civil War and the Industrial Revolution/cotton industry. Check out the Harris Museum for a proper glimpse into Preston’s past!

We walked along a busy road on the way into the city centre. The worst thing about this urban ramble is the traffic. On several occasions, one of us would say something and the other person would say, what? And that’s because Garstang Road is one of the main routes and the sound of cars is tremendous. And yet, even on this hectic thoroughfare, there are a few gems…

Amid the large detached houses which line this stretch of tarmac, is a patch of woodland called Highgate Wood. And further along Garstang Road, there is a massive allotment. It takes you into another world, where you feel you have entered into a secret rural haven and although I haven’t ventured into Highgate Wood, I imagine it must be a similar feeling.

Moor Park is a large park. The Preston Moor Common formed part of Henry III’s Royal Forest of Fulwood, which received a royal charter in 1235. Horse races were held between 1736 and 1833, and that was the year Moor Park was officially recognised as a municipal park. According to Preston Guild City’s website, a hundred acres of the common was enclosed and renamed Moor Park. In the 1860s, unemployed cotton workers landscaped the park. And it’s where Preston marathon walker Tom Benson – who held at least six world endurance titles – walked laps (about 314 miles) of Moor Park over five days and nights in 1976. Without stopping.

Talking of famous people, did you know Star Wars’ R2D2 was a Lancastrian? Or rather, Kenny Baker who played him was a resident of Preston?

In the city centre, we had an enjoyable lunch at Wings and Beers, a trendy looking American-style sports bar, down Cannon Street, also home of the quirky Mystery Tea House  (incredibly difficult to find but trust me, it really does exist on that street!)

I don’t love my home city. Money is wasted on silly traffic schemes and ugly carbuncles are lumped onto beautiful Victorian buildings (check out the train station’s new extension). Progress is the buzzword of the powers-that-be but sometimes at the expense of beauty. But it is also a city of hidden gems and fascinating history. If you go, I recommend the Harris Museum (stunning architecture) and Avenham Park, Halewood & Sons Book Shop, Mystery Tea Rooms and the art deco Bruccianis, Winckley Street and Winckley Square. Look for the beauty and quirkiness and, in any town or city, it is there…

Even the Grade II Brutalist 1969 bus station – believed to have once been the second largest bus station in Europe –  has its devoted fans in this city!

On our way home, we walked along Deepdale – home of the famous Preston North End stadium. Sir Tom Finney used to play here and his statue can be seen. When he died, thousands of residents lined the streets to pay their respects as his cortege passed the streets of Preston – and the stadium – before the service at Preston Minster.

Facts of the Day

1. Preston North End (also known as PNE, Lilywhites and The Invincibles) was founded in 1880. A founding member of the Football League.

2. They were unbeaten in the inaugural season and were crowned first league champions. They also won the FA Cup that season.

3. Dick, Kerr’s Ladies FC, founded in Preston, was one of the earliest women’s football teams in England, playing from 1917 to 1965.

For the latest news and features in Preston and surrounding area, read the Lancashire Post (a daily read) and for those of you who live further afield – http://www.lep.co.uk

Posted in Environment, Environmental issues, Nature, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

Our World: Hope in the form of new nature reserves

It’s easy to feel despondent at times of the massive environmental issues which are facing us. For example, wildlife habitat is being lost all over the world, the most notable being the vital rainforests in Brazil (and this destruction is affecting indigenous people as well as wildlife). In Britain too, habitat (aka ‘green belt’ and ‘countryside’) is being taken away from wild creatures every day. But it isn’t just wildlife which suffers – a concrete landscape is detrimental to humans’ mental and physical wellbeing and can increase the risks of flooding and climate change. But there are glimmers of hope in the form of new nature reserves. Land which will cater for wildlife, be protected from developers, and be beneficial for our mental and physical health. Not only that, nature reserves can help tackle the big issue of climate change.

The UN says: “Most nature-based solutions for climate change come from strengthening or restoring existing natural ecosystems. For example, forests don’t just absorb carbon, they also defend us from its most devastating impacts. Carefully planted tree species can act as firebreaks, keeping trees next to farmland can protect crops from the erosive forces of intense rain, and forests can alleviate inland floods due to the sponge-like way they absorb water.” (https://news.un.org/en/story/2019/09/1046752)

The Wildlife Trust describes nature reserves as “places where wildlife – plants and animals – are protected and undisturbed, and this can sometimes mean continuing with or restoring the old-time land management practices which originally helped to make them wildlife-rich.”

So it makes sense to create more nature reserves and I’m pleased to say that new ones have been set up in Lancashire over the last 10 years.

Brockholes, near Preston, off the M6 (Opened in 2011)

Brockholes
Brockholes

Brockholes is owned by The Lancashire Wildlife Trust and boasts 250 acres of nature – and the UK’s first floating visitor centre (it’s actually on a flood plain so the building is perfect for the setting)! It’s very family-friendly with a cafe, takeaway, information centre and shop. There are regular events and weddings are even held here. The last time I visited there was a Meet and Greet Reptiles and Amphibians event which my godchildren enjoyed.

Despite being accessible (just off the M6 and it is also on the Preston Guild Wheel route), there is an abundance of wildlife. It might be hard to believe now, but before it was a nature reserve, it was once a quarry site and the materials were used to build the M6. Various habitats including lakes, reedbeds, pools, woodland, wet grassland and the River Ribble all offer animals and plants a home. Notable sightings I have seen include roe deer and tiny froglets. Longhorn cattle are ’employed’ to maintain the site. The land was bought in 2007 and was opened to the public in 2011 – it celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. Happy anniversary Brockholes!

A butterfly at Brockholes

Grimsargh Wetlands (2017)

Grimsargh Wetlands

Grimsargh Wetlands is made up of three former United Utilities Reservoirs and, between the 1840s and 1959, provided water to the surrounding area. The location was classified as a Biological Heritage Site in 2003 and was taken over by the Grimsargh Wetlands Trust in 2017. It may be small but it’s vital for wildlife and a very enjoyable stroll.

I wrote a story about it here: https://cosycottageandthequestforthegoodlife.wordpress.com/2021/07/04/a-nature-stroll-through-grimsargh-wetlands-one-of-lancashires-newest-nature-reserves/

The Village Parklands (in progress)

At a new housing development near me, I was happy to see that over 80 acres of land had been allocated for The Village Parklands. A sign I saw said there will be new ecology areas containing 27 new ponds, a new designated footpath covering five miles and woodland and wildflower meadows. I look forward to seeing how this will progress.

Primrose Nature Reserve, Clitheroe (2021)

I explored this nature reserve a few months ago, while on a trip to Clitheroe. It may be much smaller than the likes of Brockholes but it is still important – it has been listed as a Biological Heritage Site. The location is home to a man-made reservoir, Primrose Lodge, and Mearley Brook, which flows through here. Strange to think it now, but it was once an industrial site and the lodge generated power for the nearby factories. Primrose Mill actually opened in 1787 for cotton spinning. These days it’s a tranquil spot, owned and maintained by Primrose Community Nature Trust. The Ribble Rivers Trust has done a lot of work restoring the site and it only officially opened in March this year. An interesting fact about this reserve is that one of the largest fish passes in England has been installed here, making fish breeding grounds accessible for salmon, eels, trout and other species.

The Fauna Nature Reserve, Lancaster (2011-2012)

This 16-acre site was created by The Fairfield Association, formed by residents of Fairfield, Lancaster. The association started off campaigning to save a children’s play area from housing development in the mid-1990s. From that successful beginning, over the years they have bought or leased increasing amounts of land to form The Fauna Nature Reserve.

There will be other community groups and charities, big and small, who are creating safe havens for nature all around the world. By doing so, they’re saving rare species, giving wildlife a home, protecting habitats, helping people’s mental and physical health and fighting against the worst effects of climate change. I hope that many, many more nature reserves will be set up in the coming years.

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

Walking the path of the ancients in Pembrokeshire

If you know where to look, Pembrokeshire is a time capsule, showing a path back in time to ancient civilisations by way of prehistoric burial chambers and stone circles, Iron Age forts and cairns.

Coetan Arthur was the first burial chamber we encountered, close to St David’s Head. Veering from the coastal path, a trail took us further inland.

It’s believed to date from 3,000BC, making it a Neolithic (new stone age) burial chamber. The collapsed capstone measures 13×8.5ft (4×2.6m) and is supported by a 5ft (1.5m) tall single side stone. We also came across what is believed to have been a coastal fort on the peninsula, overlooking the sea, as well as ancient field patterns nearby. These additional clues to human habitation are believed to date from a later time.

According to the National Trust (which owns much of Pembrokeshire Coast): “Two to three thousand years ago our Iron Age ancestors opted for promontory cliffs as a defensive position and built large ramparts to protect their homes from landward attack.”

It’s very strange to think how quiet spots such as this one was once home to our ancestors, who lived and (as evidenced by the chamber) died here. What must this area have been like thousands of years ago?

Pentre Ifan

Pentre Ifan is thought to date from 3,500 BC and is located in the region of the Presali Hills. It is classed as number one in the top 15 Burial Chambers in England and Wales, according to The Old Stones, edited by Andy Burnham.

He writes: “It’s hard to imagine a more dramatic and spectacular monument from Pentre Ifan, star of countless calendars and book covers”. At the time I hadn’t realised its fame but I certainly noticed just how impressive it is. It’s actually the largest in Wales.

The capstone (thought to weigh 16 tonnes!) tilts on three 8ft (2.5m) uprights which support it. A blocking stone obstructs the entrance. To get to Pentre Ifan, we walked past Carnedd Meibion Owen, the site of four large cairns and then through Ty Canol National Nature Reserve with its ancient woodland and notable lichens. Once out of the beautiful woodland, it was a ramble through country lanes and pathways, until we finally got to the burial chamber. And despite the feeling of being lost and ‘will we ever get there?’ it was well worth the trek.

The Presali Hills are famed for another reason – it is thought the Stonehenge bluestones originate from here (they were also used to build Pentre Ifan). The questions are: how and why were they moved from these hills to Stonehenge?

There are also the remains of a stone circle on the hills, with two of the stones still standing upright.

Devil’s Quoit

The curiously named Devil’s Quoit is a lone standing stone at Stackpole, further south on the Pembrokeshire Coast. We had spotted another Devil’s Quoit on the map but, when it came to finding it, couldn’t see any sign of it. At a National Trust car park at Stackpole Estate, there was helpfully a map so this time we hoped it would be easier seen. To find it, we embarked on a picturesque walk via the lovely Barafundle Bay and then through woodland.

I enjoyed reading the myth mentioned on the Britain Express website: “The Devil’s Quoit is one of the Dancing Stones of Stackpole, three ancient standing stones said to meet at Saxon’s Ford on a certain day each year, where they dance until dawn to a tune played by the Devil on his flute, before resuming their stations.”

A nice tale for Halloween!

According to Britain Express (https://www.britainexpress.com/wales/pembrokeshire/devils-quoit-stackpole.htm) the stone was “probably erected about 3,000 years ago during the Bronze Age and “marked a communal gathering place or ceremonial centre. The stone is thought to have formed part of an arrangement of smaller stones.”

Imagine if there was a time machine to transport us to the ancient world and back again, what wonders would we see?

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

Ladies who spa: A weekend of luxury at Appleby Manor Hotel & Garden Spa

Appleby Manor Hotel & Garden Spa

Sometimes ladies just want to pamper themselves (even ‘crazy chicken ladies’ who wear wellies and clean out hen coops like myself!) And after 18 months of lockdowns and Covid restrictions, my friend Caroline and I decided to take advantage of a special offer we spotted – three course dinner, bed and breakfast, a 25-minute spa treatment and use of the spa facilities. For a four-star hotel, it was surprisingly good value.

The venue was Appleby Manor Hotel in the Lake District, the Eden Valley to be precise. Even though the Lakes aren’t far from me, this was a location I had never visited before. Our treatment was at 3pm and we met at 12.30pm, assuming we would have plenty of time, judging by the distance. It was just as well we met early as the M6 was busy with traffic. What a difference to earlier in the year and last year during the lockdowns when roads were silent. After a brief stop at Truckhaven (which seemed to have more much personality than the bland but convenient service stations of these modern days), we continued on the journey up the M6 and off an A road, where, not too long after, we came across Appleby. Noting the castle, we made a note to come back the following day. But right now we had an appointment to make.

Appleby Manor Hotel & Garden Spa

I was delighted with my first sight of Appleby Manor Hotel. It was a beautiful old house surrounded by Eden Valley countryside. Lake District mountains could be seen in the distance. It’s also not far from the North Pennines and Yorkshire Dales. I thought the building was very old, especially when we went into the reception and was greeted by traditional, cosy surroundings. It actually dates from 1871 (hence the name of the 1871 Bistro) and was built for a wealthy solicitor, John Alcock Heelis. Its original name was Garbridge House.

We beat the traffic to get to our beauty treatment in time. Mine was a Skin Booster Facial and was very relaxing. My face felt so refreshed and revigorated afterwards! We had an allocated time of 5pm to 7pm to use the spa facilities, so after a relaxing cup of tea in our room, we ventured to the Garden Spa. Because of the time allocation system, it wasn’t busy. I suspect this was put in place because of Covid but as someone who doesn’t like crowded places at the best of times, it suited me very much indeed.

After the weekend, I looked at the website and it explained that each heat experience is taken in turn ‘to slowly raise your body temperature whilst you relax, repeating the holistic and therapeutic benefits of water and heat’. Apparently the experience started with the ‘gentle heat’ of the aroma salt inhalation room and finished with the ‘intense heat’ of the sauna.

Well, there was no order to what we did. We enjoyed the pedidarium (a warm bath for the feet), sauna, salt room, jacuzzis (although we did have trouble finding the start button. Thankfully another spa user helpfully came to our aid!) One jacuzzi was in a courtyard garden which was a very nice setting indeed. The hydrotherapy pool with its water jets and bubble pools was our last stop.

After our lovely afternoon, we got ready for our meal at 8pm. The menu had prices attached but as our meal was included in the special offer, we didn’t have to think about the cost. (Although the bottle of wine wasn’t included).

After a leisurely breakfast the next morning (we could have spent more time in the spa facilities during our second time allocation but we decided not to), we set off to explore Appleby.

Appleby

As it was Sunday morning, everything was closed but the castle was open. It was a little pricey to look around, so we only paid to look around the grounds. One day when I have more time I will look around the castle as I think there’s a lot of history here.

Appleby Castle
Appleby Castle

At one point, Caroline pointed and said, “look a squirrel”. I expected to see a cute but frequently seen grey squirrel but was excited to see a rare red squirrel darting off. Phone camera in hand, I followed, taking a photo where, if you squint, you might just see him or her.

Spot the red squirrel…

The 27-acre grounds were beautiful and it was very pleasant indeed to wander around. But all good things come to an end, as they say, and we were soon back on the road. First a stop at a chocolate shop in Orton (we had thought there may have been a chocolate factory open to look around but it was closed) and then back to our favourite service station – Truckhaven, where to mark the occasion we bought Yorkie bars.

People in the UK may remember that Yorkie bar adverts once had the tagline ‘it’s not for girls!’ (For some reason, it seemed to be marketed at truckers). Well, in this case we decided to defy gender norms and enjoy a delicious bar of chocolate. The right ending for a weekend of luxury I’d say!

Fact of the Day

The Keep (which can be seen in my photos) is one of the few intact Norman Keeps in Great Britain and at over 900 years old is the oldest part of Appleby Castle. The castle has been held by Kings of Scotland and England.

https://www.applebycastle.org/

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

A trip to Butterfly World

En route to Pembrokeshire in Wales, Simon and I enjoyed spending time in a wondrous world where the unusual, exotic and vibrant reigned supreme. We humans were giants wandering through a cloud of fluttering and gliding butterflies, who went about their everyday business of travelling, feeding, mating and often simply resting.

It was well worth stopping off at the Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo at Ross-on-Wye, near the Welsh/English border. After paying a reasonable entry fee at the reception-shop, we were loaned laminated identification sheets about butterflies and a magnifying glass.

As it was October, and nearing the end of butterfly season in Britain, Simon enquired, “Will we still be able to see them?”

“Oh yes, there’s plenty to see,” was the response.

Malachite butterflies come from Central and South America and have green markings underwing
(hence the name)

Before we entered the world of butterflies, we watched a short information film (did you know a butterfly landing on you meant good luck?!). It also urged us to look in the mirror before we left to make sure there weren’t any butterflies clinging on to us. We then walked through the plastic screen into a warm, tropical environment, akin to a hot greenhouse with pathways and tropical flora. The minute we stepped onto the path, we were met by bright blue butterflies fluttering by, so many I lost count.

“They’re blue morpho,” I concluded, looking at the info we were given. I’m disappointed that despite the morpho being the most numerous and the most iridescent, I hadn’t taken any pictures of their radiant colours. Typical!

The vivid blues were the most obvious but as our eyes acclimatised to the world of butterflies, we encountered more camouflaged varieties flying past or sitting among the foliage, most notably the almost transparent glasswing. This unusual variety comes from the rainforests of Central and South America. They lay eggs on nightshade plants, which glasswing caterpillars eat. Needless to say, both adult and caterpillars are poisonous.

The Flame – reminiscent of a superhero’s name – was another colourful type, while a group of blue morphos (the under side can be seen in the picture below, with their owl-like eye spots) were spotted gorging on a ripened banana feast. Yum!

We saw pairs mating, butterfly eggs and young caterpillars – many of the important stages of life for these fascinating insects could be seen in this hot house. I have no idea what variety of butterfly the eggs and caterpillars are but I think it might be great yellow mormons mating?

Alas, it was time to leave and say our farewells to the beautiful creatures, making sure we didn’t take any new friends with us. It was an uplifting experience and it made me realise how butterflies always bring a smile to my face – and judging by the other visitors, I’m not the only one.

I think this may be a Mexican longwing… If I’m wrong, please correct me!
Pictures: Simon Hunter

Fact of the Day

Lepidopterans (butterflies) pass through four distinct stages in their life cycle: egg, larva, pupa and adult.

The Illustrated World Encyclopedia of Butterflies and Moths by Sally Morgan
Posted in Reblog, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

A Dirty Dancing Weekend in Llandudno – Part 2

This is the second part of my look back at my Llandudno theatre trip, back in 2017. 🙂

Facts of the Day

1. Llandudno Pier (2,295 feet/700m) is the longest in Wales.

2. The pier was opened in 1877.

3. Alice Liddell (the inspiration behind Alice in Wonderland) first holidayed in Llandudno in 1861.

Will They Make It? 

It was a lovely meander up the hill of Great Orme via the quaint heritage tram. We had, it was thought, enough time to fit in this charming journey before our 7.30pm trip to watch Dirty Dancing.

Our brief trip was a reminder we were here for such a short stay and a pity we would have to miss many attractions, such as the intriguing bronze age mine which we passed by.

Here’s what we could have gone to see…

A quick changeover at the half way station (and if you do have the time, do check out the history on the display boards) and we boarded our second tram for the next chapter of Great Orme.

At the summit were scenic views, a visitor centre and wildlife garden. Alas, no time to ponder. A few quick snaps and back on board, along with a much larger, noisier crowd than the one which came up with us.

But Llandudno, we have a problem.

The driver’s voice broke into pleasant thoughts, telling us there was a failure with the emergency brake on the tram below us. It would only take 10 minutes, the driver told us.

Those minutes stretched…

The horn honked. Our hopes raised.

The horn blasted again. Our hopes raised again.

But we weren’t going anywhere.

We speculated on whether we had enough time to leave Great Orme (by tram or by foot), get changed, eat at a restaurant (devouring fish and chips on a seafront bench in our theatre finery was rapidly becoming an option) and find Venue Cymru, our destination for Dirty Dancing?

The horn tooted again and this time we were off. A cheer resounded in the carriage. If wine was available we would have raised a glass. Cheers!

After a tasty fish and chips meal at the restaurant across from the tram station, we quickly dressed and headed down to the Promenade for a scenic walk beside the sea towards Venue Cymru. With the sea, wide prom and beautiful grand buildings, I would rate it as my number one walk to a theatre of all time.

And as for Dirty Dancing? Magnificent. So much energy and passion. How wonderful it would be to dance like that. Or just be able to dance…

Back to Zumba for me!

(Pictures showing various scenes of Llandudno, including a delightful pot of tea for two at the Alice in Wonderland inspired Lemon Tree cafe)