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

Preston Guild Wheel: Part 3

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Walking along the River Ribble, towards Avenham Park

Day one of the Guild Wheel, seven or eight miles of it, was relatively easy, certainly compared to the 14-mile stretch which faced me today.

From the Tickled Trout Hotel, I walked on along the River Ribble towards Preston city centre. Some ways into Preston are less than beautiful, but the three miles along the Guild Wheel takes one along the scenic river route and into Avenham Park, what must be Preston’s hidden treasure. If you ever visit Preston, seek it out. It’s down the side streets but well worth the detour.

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One time I walked this way – via the River Ribble – with Mum (just to the city centre, not the whole Guild Wheel route). There was a nervous moment when we came across a herd of cows but there were no calves and they ignored the strange two-leggeds. This time the bovine beauties were safely in a field, enjoying their grass.

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I had a little tea break at the cafe in Avenham Park and then set off again.

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Past the New Continental Pub, a popular entertainments venue, into Broadgate and here I continued along the river.

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Eventually this took me to Preston Docks. Now it has pubs, cinema, shops and residential waterfront living but it was once a major industrial point, which opened in 1892. Cotton, timber, oil, coal and fruit were among the products imported and there was even a ferry service to Northern Ireland. By the 1970s though, the Docks started to decline until it eventually became today’s leisure and residential centre.

This was where I thought I would get lost but the trail is so well signposted, with clear markings on the road itself and on signs, that it was remarkably easy to find my way.

The Guild Wheel also passes a railway track – the train sets off from the Ribble Steam Railway Museum.

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Circling the Docks, I found myself next to a main road. For the first time, I doubted my map-reading skills. And for the first time, the signs seemed a little lacking compared to before. The road section is a tad boring but then I found a sign and realised, thankfully, I was on the right track!

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After crossing a bridge over a dual carriageway, my river and dock stroll turned into a canal ramble, along Lancaster Canal.

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And then it was past the university sports hall, and into the world of suburbia and new housing developments.

And at 3pm on Sunday, I reached home. A full circle that was 21 miles long and took about 28 hours (with a night’s sleep in between).

And if I wasn’t tired on the Saturday after 8 miles, I was definitely ready for a sit down and a cup of tea after my 14-mile stretch on the Sunday!

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

A wander around the RSPB’s Sandwell Valley Nature Reserve

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The West Midlands, especially around Birmingham, has a reputation of being a built-up, urbanised sprawl – but there are some rather idyllic parts here too.

One such peaceful haven is Sandwell Valley Nature Reserve. I was lucky enough to visit here one sunny October day and here are some of the beautiful views I saw…

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As well as the beautiful scenery, wildlife we spotted today (mostly at the hide overlooking the lake) included heron, swans, coots, cormorants, lapwings and gulls.

My godchildren especially enjoyed the mud kitchen, making mudpies (yum, delicious!), the bat trail and a nearby children’s playground.

Even where there are large cities – this site is close to Birmingham after all – there is always natural beauty nearby.

Facts of the Day

1. RSPB Sandwell Valley was once used by the nearby colliery.

2. There are a variety of habitats including wildflower meadows, woodland, scrub, wildlife garden, ponds and lake.

3. The site is based around Forge Mill Lake and is part of Sandwell Valley Country Park.

4. The address is: RSPB Sandwell Valley, Tanhouse Ave, Great Barr, West Bromwich, Birmingham B43 5AG.

5. For more information on the RSPB, visit http://www.rspb.org.uk/

 

 

Posted in Self-sufficiency, Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

Masham Sheep Fair

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Perhaps my dream of a self-sufficient smallholding isn’t really for me if my reaction at a farming event, when meeting and greeting the animals, is “Oh, how cute” and “Hello, if I had a bigger garden, you could come and live in it and help cut my grass”. No wonder Simon had a wry smile on his face!

Perhaps I should stick with my pigs * and chickens!

We were visiting Masham after a morning at Ripon and Thornborough in Yorkshire. We had no expectations of any type of event but it so happened that it was the day of Masham Sheep Fair.

Who knew there were so many different type of goats or sheep? Or that a very clever collie could successfully herd a group of gaggling geese?

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We bought some tasty goat and sheep cheeses at a stall and watched a very entertaining sheep show, learning about the different breeds.

The craft stalls were inspiring and I felt so motivated, I bought myself a knitting pack, with wools and needles.

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During the winter nights, I could knit some gloves – that’s the aim anyway. I haven’t knitted since I was about 10!

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* guinea pigs! 😀

 

 

 

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

A Day on the Dunes

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Saltfleetby-Theddlethorpe Dunes, near Louth in Lincolnshire, is a very peaceful seaside spot. Instead of sandcastles, ice cream and sunbathers, there are mudflats and ponds, salt marshes, wildflowers and sand dunes.

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Natural England manages the 556-hectare National Nature Reserve section, while Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust manages the remainder of the area.

When we first entered the reserve, we walked along a path through wildflower-rich grassland, encountering ponds en route. This walkway took us to the dunes and saltmarsh.

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It is an important site for wildlife. We didn’t see any Natterjack toads but did come across many insects, including grasshoppers, butterflies and dragonflies.

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By holding out a stragically placed stick, Simon rescued a struggling dragonfly who was in danger of drowning in one of the ponds.

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We also came across two discarded dragonfly larval cases – they weren’t dead, they were skins of two nymphs (juvenile). Once the juvenile is ready to become an adult, they cast off their old skin. They are well prepared for this life-changing event, with a new skin underneath.

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As well as nature’s dramas, the remnants of military history can be found on this reserve, in particular the beach… Today we can still see a corroded Comet tank and a ruined pillbox, dating from the Second World War.

 

The Air Ministry bought the site in the 1930s and old vehicles, that had been driven onto the beach, were used as targets. The dunes were mined and pillbox built during the Second World War as an anti-invasion defence.

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Being here reveals how the landscape changes over time. It is thought that the dunes began forming in the 1200s after large storms blew sand and shingle and, even now, the tides and wind is changing the landscape slowly but surely. New saltmarsh and dunes are still being created today and Simon told me he saw a difference from the last time he was there.

At certain times of the year, seals can be found with their pups along the coast. The adult seals don’t look as cute as you might think, being big and clumsy and even a little violent with each other (the males at least). The babies are very cute but, of course, it is advisable not to go near and disturb them.

In July though, there are no seals but we did come across this poignant sight… A seal’s skull.

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A purple orchid

It is a lovely quiet area, I even came across a comment on an internet beach forum saying it was an ideal place to go for a naked walk and skinny dipping!

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For more information on The Wildlife Trusts, visit http://wildlifetrusts.org

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

The Stair Arms: Stairway to an ideally located Scottish break

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When one thinks of rural Scotland, the Munros and the Highlands, the islands and the lochs may all spring to mind, but there is beautiful countryside nearer to England.
And if the gentle farming countryside – complete with romantic medieval castle – isn’t all that far from the bright lights of Edinburgh, so much the better for those who want ‘the best of two worlds’.
The Stair Arms Hotel, just outside Pathhead, in Midlothian, is one such location. The Victorian coaching inn dates from 1831 and was commissioned by Lord and Lady Stair – hence the name. It is very handy for those of us who live in England. Pathhead village, a conservation area, is located a mere 12 miles south of Edinburgh.
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We came by train for a one-night stay. Our relatives lived nearby so it was a useful stop-over. From Preston, the trains to Edinburgh go frequently and from there it was a train to Eskbank and a taxi ride on to the hotel.
There is also an hourly bus from Edinburgh to Pathhead.
If you go by car, then it is easily found on the A68, a main road which takes you from the North East of England to Edinburgh.
There are 12 rooms in all, with a family room and two suites.
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Our twin room was elegantly and smartly furnished with a calming grey shade.
It was clean and had everything you would expect from a hotel room – tea, coffee, TV and so on. The bathroom, in the same style as the bedroom, was roomy with all the facilities needed.
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After our train journey, we were famished so it was pleasing to hear we could choose our time to dine in the restaurant. We decided on 6pm, a good choice considering how ready we were to eat.
The comfortable and recently refurbished restaurant boasts a roaring log fire in winter. There is also a cafe area with a range of home baking.
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The menu offers an ample selection of locally sourced dishes, some with a distinctive Scottish flavour such as Cullen skink, Lady Stair – bread of chicken stuffed with haggis – and haggis fritters.
We were given a tasty pre-starter of warm bread and dips. Mum chose scotch broth for her starter and I opted for a Cullen skink. This dish was made with potato, cream and smoked haddock. I hadn’t heard of this creamy soup-like starter before but it was delicious.
Haddock and chips and a steak and ale pie were our main courses. They were big meals, scrumptious, but we were both very full by the end. Too full for a dessert unfortunately.
The following day, breakfast was a choice of cereals and then a waitress took our orders, there was a good choice but after our large evening meals, poached egg on toast seemed a fairly light option.
Crichton Castle is the nearest tourist attraction to the hotel and is within walking distance.
Handily, after checking-out, we were able to leave our luggage behind at the hotel for this walk.
The route to the medieval landmark is along a country road and, according to the sign, it is two miles from Pathhead.
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The castle, which overlooks the Tyne Valley, is certainly worth a visit. It is both historical, as all castles are, and very unusual.
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Architecturally, the castle has a number of notable points. The courtyard, when remodelled in the 1580s, was inspired by Italian buildings  and is decorated with diamond-shaped stonework. It is very Mediterranean looking and unique for a Scottish castle.
The first known scale-and-platt stair (straight staircase) in Scotland is also found here, again dating from the 1500s. Up to this point, castles had spiral staircases.
Historically, the castle was begun in the late 1300s/1400s and was first lived in by the Crichton family, later passing to the Hepburn earls of Bothwell.
Mary Queen of Scots celebrated her brother’s wedding at Crichton in 1562. Five years later, she married the castle’s owner.
The castle has also found fame within the lines of the poem Marmion, by Sir Walter Scott.
The nearby church was founded by William Crichton in 1449.
After our morning of medieval time-travelling, we ventured back to the Stair Arms where we had lunch – fishcake and haddock goujons and a lovely big pot of tea. Haddock appears a popular option here!
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The Stair Arms is a small family-run hotel, run by the Ramsay family for the past 25 years. We found the service warm and helpful.
The hotel also has two function rooms and caters for weddings.
One of the function rooms opens out to a picturesque garden – perfect for wedding photos.
But if you’re just looking for a place to stay while exploring the attractions of Edinburgh and the wider Midlothian area – including the Pentland Hills, Vogrie Country Park and Rossyln Chapel – the Stair Arms is a very handy and comfortable place to stay.
The Stair Arms Hotel
A68, Pathhead
EH37 5TX
For more information, ring 01875 320277 or visit: http://www.stairarmshotel.com/
Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

Ancient Anglesey

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Anglesey is an island separated from mainland Wales by the Menai Strait and connected by two road bridges – Britannia Bridge and the Menai Suspension Bridge. Like many islands, it is sparsely populated. Apparently the number of people who live here (69,751 people) is fewer than the population of the medium-sized city I live in! So very rural, underrated and beautiful. And as for the history, well… Simon and I stayed on the outskirts of Anglesey for a week and here are three of the sights we saw.

Bryn Celli Ddu Burial Chamber

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I hadn’t realised how impressive or fascinating Bryn Celli would actually be but it is certainly worth a visit. It is reminiscent of, but smaller than, the Irish monument in Newgrange. We meant to return on the Summer Solstice but got the dates wrong.

To be honest, I liked the idea of seeing the sun rise but wasn’t very keen on the thought of getting up at 3am to travel there!

We did return however as there was an archeology day at the site, full of interesting stalls with experts who could tell us about neolithic food and tools and so on… We also listened to a talk about another archaeological dig in the next field where more ancient finds are waiting to be discovered.

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According to CADW’s Anglesey: A Guide to Ancient Monuments on the Isle of Anglesey, Bryn Celli, the Mound of The Dark Grove, is one ‘of the most evocative archaeological sites in Britain’. It was excavated in 1928/29 and it appears that it started off as a henge (ritual enclosure) in Neolithic times before making way for a passage grave. A stone burial chamber was then constructed and covered by a mound.

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It is believed that the entrance could have been important for ceremonial reasons. A platform of white quartz pebbles were discovered here. Other finds in the chamber and passage included human bones, flint arrowheads and mussel shells.

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A ‘Pattern Stone’ was also discovered at the back of the chamber. It can now be found in the National Museum and Gallery, Cardiff – a replica (pictured above) has been set up at the site.

Barclodiad Y Gawres Burial Chamber

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Our second neolithic visit was Barclodiad Y Gawres burial chamber at Cable (Trecastell) Bay, along the cliff path. Apparently, a key can be collected at a shop in Llanfaelog but we did not know this until later. If you have a torch, you will still be able to see the stones from outside.

Curiously, the name means ‘the Giantess’s Apronful’, and is believed to come from local tradition.

Five of the stones were decorated, including spirals, zig-zags and lozenges. These designs are also found in the Irish tombs.

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Llanddwyn Island, off Newborough Beach

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Our third trip to the past was to a tiny island off Newborough Beach. Llanddwyn is a tidal island so most of the time, except for the highest tides, it is quite possible to walk across to this island which, to me, feels quite magical.

It is also fascinating in terms of geology and nature (it forms part of the National Nature Reserve of Newborough Warren).

 

We came across a cross, the ruined St Dwynwen’s Church – built in the 1500s on the site of the original chapel – and a lighthouse in this delightfully idyllic setting.

The island is associated with St Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers (like a Celtic St Valentine) and sick animals, who lived during the 5th century. The island’s name means the church of St Dwynwen and her church here was an important shrine during the Middle Ages. The Celtic cross was a much more recent addition, dating from 1903.

I don’t know if it was St Dwynwen’s influence or just the stunning natural setting, but this amazing spot really did feel magical and a place well worth going to on a pilgrimage to.

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Information courtesy of Anglesey: A Guide to Ancient Monuments on the Isle of Anglesey and Wikipedia

 

 

 

Posted in Travel, places to visit, mini-adventures

Walking in the footsteps of Number 6 (aka The Prisoner in Portmeirion)

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Back in the 1960s, there was a cult TV programme called The Prisoner.

Up until this year, I had only watched one episode (I wasn’t around in the 60s and somehow missed the repeats in later years), and my impression was that it was rather surreal and was about a man (played by Patrick McGoohan) who finds himself trapped in a peculiar but colourful place named only as The Village.

He has resigned from the Foreign Office and it appears that he is involved in espionage, but now, having been kidnapped one night, he finds himself in a seemingly never-ending Kafkaesque nightmare.

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Picture postcard courtesy of http://www.portmeiriononline.co.uk

Now Number 6, he no longer has an identity or a name. No matter how many times he proclaims, ‘I am not a number!’

But there are questions…  Why is he there? Why did he resign? More importantly, how can he escape?

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Picture postcard from http://www.portmeiriononline.co.uk

Before our visit to Bethesda in Wales, we realised that the town isn’t that far from Portmeirion, which is actually where The Prisoner was set.

Simon bought DVDs of the series and we watched one episode a night on our holiday to get in the right mood for our visit to the mysterious ‘The Village’.

Funnily, my black and white spring coat, which I had bought from a charity shop a couple of years before, thinking it looked smart, seemed rather reminiscent of the jacket Patrick McGoohan (aka The Prisoner aka Number 6) wore. When I wore it in The Village, I wondered if I would be seen as a ‘super fan’! You can actually buy jackets in Portmeirion just like the one Number 6 wore!

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I expected Portmeirion to play on the fact an iconic 60s series was filmed there, but apart from The Prisoner shop (pictured above), it was more about the architecture, atmosphere, nature and the man behind this curious and unique holiday village.

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The architect was Clough Williams-Ellis and he acquired the site – then a ‘neglected wilderness’ for under £5,000 in 1925. The area itself – previously called Aber Iau – dates from at least 1188, with a mention of two stone castles by Gerald of Wales. Over time, it gained a foundry, small shipyard and some cottages.

Clough designed his holiday village from 1925 to 1939 and completed the finer details between 1954 and 1976.

As a whole, the village has a feeling of the Italian Riveria. When one looks more closely at the buildings, one sees classical, Arts and Crafts style, Palladian, and so on, with many buildings salvaged from demolition sites.

The Dome is the most memorable, built in 1960/61, and is a listed Grade II monument. There is also The Bell Tower, also called The Campanile, which housed a turret clock from a demolished brewery in London. The Piazza is the centrepiece of the holiday village and can be seen in The Prisoner.

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I don’t have space to go into detail about all the beautiful architecture, suffice to say, the more we looked, the more we found. Little details, statues, carvings…

Obviously these quaint, colourful buildings are attractive enough in their own right but there is a beach (also seen in The Prisoner) and a picturesque and varied tree trail, from the Persian Ironwood Tree (apparently its wood is used as toothpicks in Iran) to the St Helena Island Weeping Willow (from a cutting taken from the weeping willow at Napoleon’s Tomb on St Helena) – there is even a Dancing Tree (New Zealand Papauma Broadleaf)!

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Disappointingly, it doesn’t really dance, but the nickname is fabulous. Every time he passed the tree, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis thought the rustling shiny leaves sounded like dancing music – and so it became known as the Dancing Tree. 

There are other nature walks too, including one to the Ghost Garden! No ghosts though, it was so named to commemorate the garden of the ferry cottage which was once located there. 

These days, 200,000 visitors per year flock to Portmeirion. We were day visitors, of which I think most people are, but it is possible to stay at the hotel or in one of the buildings for a holiday. Not the cheapest of places but it would certainly be a unique stay.

I went to Portmeirion thinking of it as a set piece for a 1960s TV series. But I left feeling it was so much more, with something for lovers of architecture, nature, beaches and beautiful places… For The Prisoner, The Village was a hellish experience but for visitors of Portmeirion, it is quite the opposite. We were in no hurry to escape from ‘The Village’!

Be seeing you! 😀 (As they say in The Prisoner’s ‘Village’!)

Fact of the Day

Did you know playwright Noel Coward wrote Blithe Spirit while staying at Portmeirion? 

Background information for this post comes from the guide books, Portmeirion from Robin Llywelyn and Portmeirion Tree Trail