Major Oak and the Legendary Sherwood Forest

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I may not have met Robin Hood but I did encounter another famous citizen of Nottinghamshire’s Sherwood Forest a few weeks ago – the Major Oak. This elderly and magnificent tree is at least 1,000 years old, has a 10m trunk and a canopy of 28m. It is so large, old and, unfortunately, vulnerable, that it has to be propped up and fenced in. But it is a truly grand sight indeed.

The Major Oak may be King of the Forest, but there are more than 1,000 ancient oaks in this woodland, making them ideal habitats for wildlife. To my eyes, they so looked like works of natural art!

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We saw many hollow oaks, the heartwood is decayed by fungi such as beefsteak fungus and chicken of the woods. These hollow oaks are excellent habitat for wildlife, including insects.

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To age a tree, one needs to count its annual rings. For the old trees of the forests, the Rspb, which manages the nature reserve in a partnership, looks at tree girth or diameter at breast height so the oaks don’t need to be felled. The above tree was over 100 years old, a mere youngster in these environs.

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As for Robin Hood, the most famous man of Nottinghamshire? It is believed he lived in around 1200 – at least, this is when the stories start – at a time when the forest covered 100,000 acres. He is seen as a heroic outlaw, avoiding the clutches of the Sheriff of Nottingham and robbing from the rich to give the poor. It is hard to tell whether he really existed, whether the character is based on a real man or if there is no basis in fact. Whatever the case, Sherwood Forest definitely exists, even if it feels as if it belongs in a beautiful legend. And the ‘Merry Men (and ladies) are its stunning oaks and accompanying wildlife.

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Lawrence and The Freemasons

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Does luxury and East Lancashire go together? Well, in the case of The Lawrence, it does. On the outside, it looks like a normal large house, sitting on a corner of an ordinary looking street.

A guesthouse or B&B maybe. Attractive Grade II listed building, certainly (it’s actually 200 years old), but it doesn’t necessarily look like a fancy spa or boutique hotel.

However, the minute you enter the hall – adorned by quirky animal wallpaper – you know you’re somewhere special.

High class.

Along the hall, to the left, is a small reception where we met Hannah, she was very friendly and helpful. The hotel prides itself on providing a bespoke experience for its guests. After filling in a short questionnaire asking what we would like to have for our breakfast in the morning, she took us on a short tour, showing the breakfast room, unmanned bar (it has an honesty box) and sitting area. There are also function and conference rooms and an outside courtyard.

Upstairs was the Tolkien suite – luxurious, elegant and extravagant.

 

There was an enormous television (which we discovered had Netflix, neither of us has this subscription channel but we took full advantage by watching The Outlaw King, about Robert the Bruce, and Alliances, a spy thriller starring Brad Pitt). A luxurious dark blue velvet settee faced the TV, with a massive bed behind – actually the room was huge, much bigger than what I am used to in hotels and B&Bs. Elegant wallpaper adorned the wall, there was a sweets jar, biscuits, bottles of water, tea, coffee, kettle… On the side of the bed was a pile of Tolkien books, a nice touch.

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Am I missing something? The bathroom, ah, the bathroom.

Normally, the bathroom is a much overlooked although necessary component of a hotel room. Toilet, tick. Shower, tick. Sink, tick. But this was different.

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For a start, it was upstairs. Yes, this guest suite sits across two floors. A floating bathroom atop a mezzanine balcony. There was a separate shower and toilet cubicle, while the sink and roll top bath was in a more open plan setting.

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The whole vibe was contemporary luxury, unlike many chain hotels though, The Lawrence oozes character. It is no surprise to learn that the 14-room boutique hotel was been renovated last year. It now has one suite, three signature rooms, three superior rooms and seven snugs.

The luxury doesn’t end there. Relaxation treatments are also available if booked in advance and afternoon tea is served on a weekend. Again this requires booking.

We went for a short walk in Padiham, a small attractive town, located next to the River Calder. In the 1900s its industries were coal-mining and weaving and by 1906, there were 20 cotton mills. Of course, all this is gone now.

Eating at Freemasons at Wiswell, in the rural Ribble Valley, was a gastronomical treat. It’s a venue full of refined rustic charm, a combination of country pub and shooting lodge.

We sampled many dishes on the Taste of Freemason menu, which highlights chef Steven Smith’s work. Many of these, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t personally have chosen but was happily surprised. The dishes were just the right size, none were too filling.  At the end, we were both full but not unpleasantly bloated.

Our wine was a Painted Wolf chenin blanc 2017, which was very nice. Our 30-year-old dessert wine at the end of the evening was sweet and delightful. Booking a taxi there and back turned out to be a good choice so we could both sample the wines!

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Where to start? I’m a cheese lover and I found the Lancashire cheese and beetroot tartlet very creamy and moreish. The salmon scallops and pine nut sauce was scrumpish, as was the brioche cooked in goose fat and rosemary.

The duck liver was neatly presented on toast, cooked Yakitori-style (Japanese type of skewered chicken), sitting upon a bed of Wiswell Moor brambles, alongside smoked eel.

Simon didn’t think the taste of the brambles would go with the rest of the dish, but it did and he was very impressed.

 

The native lobster dish offered Butter poached Tail, tempura claw, crispy chicken wing and sweetcorn among lobster sauce infused with Thai Flavours.

Now normally, I wouldn’t choose lobster or duck liver or smoked eel, but on this occasion I tried them and I liked them.

The menu also offers a Winter Blues Menu, a la Carte, Vegetarian and a Sunday Family lunch.

 

The following morning we had cereal and our cooked breakfast in a very pleasant room adjacent to the garden room. We met the hotel’s dog, Hetti, who was very charming indeed!

It would have been delightful to have stayed another evening, but alas, we were only here for one night. So after packing, we left for witch country, aka Barley and the Pendle Hill area, which isn’t far from here.

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I’ve been to Barley a few times, twice last year when walking up Pendle Hill. I opted for what seemed a never-ending bowl of potato and leek soup (no complaints though, it was very tasty) in the popular cafe at the car park (only £1 to park!) Rather than hike up the steep hill, we had a pleasant meander to the reservoir and back.

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Barrowford, a short distance away, and its Pendle Heritage Centre was the next stop. The last time we came here, we did not have enough time to look around so we took full advantage today. The centre is a Grade II listed farm building known as Park Hill, restored using traditional building skills. It actually dates from the 1400s and the museum takes us on a journey of the evolution of the building, from the medieval farmhouse to today’s museum. I found the 1600s hearth display particularly fascinating. We also learn about the families who lived in the house – the Bannisters and the Swinglehursts. According to the museum, the famed runner Sir Roger Bannister is a descendant.

And of course the fascinating but disturbing story of the Pendle Witches, who came from surrounding parts and were executed in 1612, is explored here.

The fine Walled Garden, which dates from the 1700s, wasn’t looking its best as it was November but it promises an array of plants to wander amongst in the spring and summer. And Cruck Frame Barn is an example of early building construction.

Before my visit, I never thought of Padiham as a place to stay but apart from The Lawrence being a splendid venue, just perfect if you’re celebrating a special occasion or looking for a romantic retreat, the town is ideal for a convenient stop-over for East Lancashire. Explore the beauty of Pendle Hill, visit Clitheroe and its ancient castle, learn about the witches in the heritage centre in Barrowford or wander around the historic Gawthorpe Hall, there’s so much to do in this often over-looked area.

The Lawrence Hotel

http://www.thelawrencehotel.co.uk

26-28 Church Street, Padiham.

07921 684742

Freemasons

http://www.freemasonsatwiswell.com

8 Vicarage Fold, Wiswell, Clitheroe

01254 822218

My previous Pendle post can be found here:

https://cosycottageandthequestforthegoodlife.wordpress.com/2018/03/24/trek-diary-part-3-february-march-pendle-hill/

 

Yoga-hiking

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Loughrigg Tarn

I hadn’t done any yoga for a few years. I sprained my ankle two weeks prior. My fitness levels had dropped alarmingly (and because of said ankle, I couldn’t get back to fitness again) and I was going on my own for an activity weekend with a group of people who I had never met before.

Hmmm, was this Yoga-hiking weekend a good idea?

Originally, I had the idea of walking up Ben Nevis in September this year, this was to mark a ‘special’ birthday, but I did Scafell Pike instead and, through one reason or another, Ben Nevis fell through. But I still wanted a fitness challenge to aim for and I came across Yoga Hikes.

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Thomas De Quincey’s Cottage, overlooking Rydal Water

I enjoy hiking and keep meaning to go back to yoga so this seemed like ideal motivation and the fact I would be staying at Victoria ‘opium poet’ Thomas De Quincey’s 1700s cottage, overlooking Rydal Water, a heavenly place if ever there was one… Yes, I decided, four months beforehand, I would go for it.

The cottage and its location was as old, cosy and idyllic as I hoped for. A main road separated the cottage from the Lake, but otherwise, it was perfectly located, half way between Ambleside and Grasmere.

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My single bedroom was snug, the floor a little creaky but that’s what you would expect from a historic building.

When I first arrived, I had a moment of panic thinking I was the only one arriving on my own, especially as it sounded as if most people had come with others. Would I be seen as ‘Miss No-Mates’ (high school emotions coming to the fore!)?

But this feeling of insecurity was quickly allayed when the guests started arriving.

Four of us were on our own. The others had come with friends, family or a partner. In any case, it didn’t matter, no one was cliquey and the general friendliness meant there was always someone to chat to on walks.

Guests started arriving from 4pm onwards and we enjoyed tea and homemade cake in the sitting room. (This was a healthy balanced yoga break, lots of healthy activities but cake was definitely allowed, and so it should be!)

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Yoga was on at 6pm in the evenings. We had five sessions altogether, two in the mornings at 7.30am (such a healthy start to the day made me feel very good!), one on the evening we arrived and two after our walks. There were breathing techniques and physical yoga, sometimes using props.

Despite my sprained ankle (which was nearly better at this point), the yoga techniques were flexible enough that there was a posture for all abilities. Sun salutation, cat, cow… We could go as far as we could. Yen, the yoga teacher, was sensitive to guests and didn’t push anyone beyond their limits.

All food was vegetarian/vegan. One evening there was a vegetarian buffet of peppers, falafel, pitta bread, hummus and so on. The second meal was stuffed mushroom. We were pleased that dessert was still on the menu on this yoga retreat! Breakfast, which was straight after yoga, was a choice of cereal or porridge, toast, egg, beans. On the Sunday we had the option of an enjoyable veggie burger with our breakfast.

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Our walk on Saturday took us from the cottage to Easedale Tarn via Loughrigg Terrace and Grasmere. We hiked upwards beside a tumbling stream to our breathtaking spot for lunch (which was provided by Yoga Hikes), Easedale Tarn.

Our 10-mile (or so) ramble back took us to the gingerbread shop in Grasmere (established in the 1600s) where we had a 15-minute stop in case anyone wanted to buy the famous gingerbread. Also on the way was poet William Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage.

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Loughrigg Tarn

Sunday’s walk took us to Loughrigg Tarn. Another moderate but hilly walk of about 10 miles. This time we went the other direction away from Grasmere. Our picnic break was again at a picturesque area, this time Loughrigg Tarn.

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Thomas De Quincey’s Cottage, overlooking Rydal Water

Our weekend was so packed with walks and yoga that there wasn’t much spare time, but for a couple of hours after Saturday’s walk, we were left to our own devices. I had a rest in my room, reading a book I had brought, but some people took advantage of the hot tub available.

There was a variety of abilities. One lady found the first walk to Easedale Tarn difficult and the next day went on a more gentle stroll to Ambleside with another guest who also opted out because of tiredness.

If anyone found the yoga or walks too difficult, there was the opt-out option and no one would judge you.

By the time came to say our goodbyes, I found that I had really enjoyed the weekend, despite my initial misgivings about going on my own. Now all I have to do is start practising yoga again!

http://www.yogahikes.co.uk

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem

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A few weeks ago, I visited Nottingham, a city connected with Robin Hood and his adversary, the Sheriff of Nottingham. Alas, the castle was closed for renovations until 2020 so the exterior wall was all I saw of the castle. 2020 is the year to go to Nottingham!

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But I did meet Robin Hood and his Merry Men, larking about outside the ancient dwelling.

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If you do venture to Nottingham, in the East Midlands of England, there is a hostelry that is, in my view, an absolute must for lovers of history, geology, atmosphere, nooks and crannies, intrigue and potential ghosts. This ancient inn is called Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem and is actually set in the walls of the castle.

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Many venues boast of ‘being the oldest pub’ or ‘most haunted’, but once I crossed the threshold of Ye Olde Trip, I felt both claims may well have an element of truth (if ghosts actually exist in the first place of course!)

Unlike today’s open plan pubs, which focuses more on convenience than atmosphere, this inn is full of nooks and crannies, one small, cosy room leading to another. Artefacts, such as swords, old photos and information was displayed on the ancient walls.

 

 

Halloween was around the corner, so there was a spooky theme, admittedly, but the ‘Haunted Snug’ needed no eerie skeleton or witch embellishments. The info plaque explained how it was always warm, even though there were no radiators or other heating. (Usually I associate ghosts with a cold atmosphere, but perhaps this spook was a kindly soul who liked catering for guests). There was also a portrait of an old-fashioned lady, whose eyes (according to the information board) followed you around. It’s a funny trick of the mind, but it really did seem to be the case.

 

After going to this room, I visited the courtyard toilet and, filled with ghostly ideas, being in this space by myself started to give me the creeps! Once I washed my hands, I quickly walked back into the busier bar area!

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Upstairs, there was a spooky looking model of a ship which I assumed was a deliberate Halloween display. I only found out the actual, grisly story behind it later when researching the pub’s background.

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Here are five fascinating facts about The Olde Trip …

* It was build into the rocks that Nottingham Castle is built on.

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At one spot in this quirky pub, here’s the view above our heads…

* There is a network of sandstone caves beneath the building, it is thought that these were originally used as a brewery for the castle and dates from the construction of the castle (1068AD). Cellar tours are available.

* The Cursed Galleon, as photographed earlier, is a small wooden model of a ship – covered in grime and dirt – and resides in a glass container. On the Greene King website, it is claimed that people who have cleaned it over the years have met with a mysterious death and now landlords refuse to let anyone clean it. True story or urban legend?

*It is believed the inn was established in 1189. Richard the Lionheart became King in that year, which was also the year the Pope called for a Third Crusade to the Holy Land. (There is, unfortunately, no documented evidence of the date of the inn). A ‘Trip’ in the Middle Ages was actually a place to rest. Legend says the Crusaders would have stopped off at the inn for a rest and refreshments before their journey to Jerusalem.

*The oldest parts of the building were constructed in the 1650s.

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Trek Diary September 2018: Meeting Little Man (865m/2,837ft) … And Skiddaw (931m/3,053ft)

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Me on the summit of Skiddaw. Note the wind-swept hair! Not the most flattering of photos but a reminder of just how blustery it was up there

Here’s an obvious fact – the more exercise you do, the fitter you will feel. But if you stop exercising for a four-month period, that fitness level will drop. And the delight at finding Scafell Pike not quite as hard as first thought because there had been a swim/walk campaign in the three months beforehand… Well, that joy will be non-existent when walking up Skiddaw with no fitness plan in place prior to the walk. Scafell Pike was a hike. Skiddaw – and Little Man, a cruel juxtaposition if ever I saw one – was a trudge.

If you look at the photos of me doing it, I appear to be taking my clothes off (well, my coat and jumper, it got increasingly hot), then at the top putting them back on again! On, off, on, off…

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We set off from Keswick, where we were staying for a weekend. A walk out from town, bypassing the Pencil Museum, took us on a upward path where we met quite a few walkers. Further up, it turned out there was a car park – so we could have got away without this gruelling hill to begin with!

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But that was only a little stroll up a staircase in comparison of what was to come.

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At the car park, there was obviously an event going on. From earlier signs in the town centre, I suspect it was a race for fell runners. A group of people I much admire but could never belong to! Oddly we didn’t encounter any up the hill, but I think their course went a different route. Enticingly, amid the army tents, a tea and cake stall greeted us. But we ignored this most pleasant venue and carried on to our date with Little Man.

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The monument (according to Wainwright) is a memorial to three men of the Howell family, who were shepherds.
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Me on the summit of Little Man

Little Man. Ha! As apt a name as Liverpool’s famous and fabulous ‘Little Boy’ (he’s actually a puppet giant), Little Man is also a giant in these hills. My lack of fitness levels was becoming increasingly apparent to me, why had I stopped swimming once I reached my target? Why was Scafell Pike an easier climb when it was actually higher? Lesson to self: you really do feel the benefits of consistent exercise.

Funnily, although the weather wasn’t terrible at that time, there was hardly a walker to be seen. The greatest majority of people were mountain bikers, speeding up or down the scree.

Ah, yes, the scree. I’ll get back to that later.

The problem with Little Man is there is no consideration for those who wish to visit him. No rest spots of delightful flatness. Just a steep slope uphill. You’d think if you were visiting a Little Man he would offer you a nice rest for weary legs, but no.

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There were a few times when I pondered ‘are we there yet?’, after reaching a cairn. And then another cairn… And another.

Eventually we reached the top of Little Man and the weather was getting tough. Mist and rain and wind. Should we carry on to Skiddaw or go back? We approached a couple who showed us where we were on the map and we trudged on.

Ever the troopers.

The wind and fog got worse. And there were so many fake cairns mimicking the summit – although later, I realised they actually were very helpful as they guided walkers back down the hill. When the top was finally reached, there was no splendid view to be seen, just a grey-white sky.

On the way down, I was nervous of the scree and scattered stones, of which there were many. Especially on the steeper than normal sections. We passed a group of mountain bikers who also made it to the top. How they managed, I’ve no idea. It took me all my time to edge down carefully.

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Skiddaw

 

 

We walked back via Carl Side, another hill, although I was past caring at that point. I wanted warmth and a cup of tea.

And everything went okay until Ouch!!!

(Ironically we weren’t that far from the bottom at this point).

Cue swear words (I don’t generally swear unless I am very p….off, which I was then!) as I fell and landed on my left ankle. To fall on a bottom is embarrassing but fairly painless but an ankle?

It was painful. Thankfully, I was able to stand, delicately picking myself back up. And walk. But not as easily as before.

Thankfully I had my walking poles with me to help and we headed back into Keswick where we enjoyed a much-needed caffeinated drink and a warm shower, and then our evening meal in a local pub.

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It took nearly two weeks for my ankle to heal properly.

Afterwards I turned to my trusty guide Wainwright, expecting him to agree that Skiddaw is a long, tiring, difficult mountain to climb.

Instead he writes in his Northern Fells Pictorial Guide: ‘It has been derided as a route for grandmothers and babies, rather unfairly: the truth is that this is an ascent all members of the family can enjoy. It is not so much a climb as a mountain walk to a grand, airy summit’.

Was Wainwright talking about the same mountain?! ⛰️⛰️⛰️

(To be fair, if it wasn’t for the scree, lack of fitness, blustery weather and sprained ankle, I’d have liked Skiddaw and Little Man more). 🏔️🏔️🏔️

Facts of the Day

1. Skiddaw is the fourth highest peak in the Lake District.

2. Skiddaw Little Man is one mile away from Skiddaw. It is classed as a ‘subsidiary summit of Skiddaw’.

3. Skiddaw is mentioned in the fourth book of John Keats’ poem Endymion.

Trek Diary – September 2018 Catbells – 451m/1,481ft

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On paper, Catbells should be a fairly straightforward and easy-ish walk. At 451m it is no Scafell Pike. And true, whereas on Skiddaw we barely saw a walker (surely a bad sign?!), on Catbells, there were many older ramblers, families, day-trippers and holidaymakers. But I didn’t get the impression of there being many hardened mountain walkers. And Wainwright himself says:”Catbells is one of the great favourites, a family fell where grandmothers and infants can climb the heights together”.

But I had a sprained ankle (yes, yes, I know I should have laid in bed and drank copious amounts of tea but it wasn’t too bad a sprain) and although it wasn’t broken, merely bruised, it did mean that this hill climb would be a little harder than it ought to be.

We thought there might be a long and tedious road walk before the climb itself, but a helpful lady at the tourist information centre told us there was a short walk along the road which led into a pleasant wander through woodland – or we could take a boat trip. That sounded rather appealing to me, feeling rather lazy, but we took the scenic wooded route anyway.

So walking through Keswick town centre, we passed a bridge over the River Greta (on the way back, we witnessed a heron and a guillemot at the river) and saw the pencil museum across the road. Then turned left, onto the Cumbria Way, past the village of Portinscale towards the Lingholm Estate. We greeted alpacas chewing sweet grass in a field and carried on via the woodland, where we came across this unusual fungi on  tree.

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And here are a few views of our walk up Catbells… And the scenes from the hill itself, looking down to Derwentwater.

 

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If you are looking for a hill climb to do with your family – whether children, teens, middle-aged or retired and fit parents, this is a brilliant walk. Lovely scenery and wonderful views, not much scrambling and not too steep or strenuous. It is still a hill, still a challenge, but if you’re moderately fit, you can do this. It makes a great ‘first’ hill climb or, if you’re a lover of peak bagging, your first of 214 Wainwright’s! Not one for lovers of solitude though as it’s a popular climb, probably for the reasons I’ve given.

I got confused at the top as it looked as if we hadn’t reach the summit. Where was the cairn for me to take a photo saying ‘I did it?!’

But there is no cairn and there wasn’t one in Wainwright’s day either. The ridge continues to Maiden Moor, High Spy, Dale Head, Handsworth and Robinson which can provide a horseshoe walk if you’re in the mood and have the time.

But we didn’t so we climbed back down the same way, tracing back our steps through the woodland – where waterproofs were quickly donned during a fierce downpour –  and headed into Keswick, ready for a warming cup of tea and a bite to eat at an American-style diner.

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Facts of the Day

1. Catbells could be a corruption of Cat Bields (the shelter of the wild cat) – but this isn’t certain.

2. Catbells overlooks Derwentwater, and its nearest town is Keswick (you can walk from Keswick to it).

3. There is a memorial stone to Thomas Arthur Leonard (1864-1948). He founded the Co-operative Holidays Association and the Holiday Fellowship and was a pioneer for outdoor holidays for working people.

When I went to jail

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I have been to prison twice in my life and very interesting and educational experiences they have been too. They have also been thought-provoking, raising questions about crime and punishment.

The first was Kilmainham Gaol in Dublin, Ireland, some years ago. The second was Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

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What did I do wrong to land in jail? Well, nothing. For those readers who don’t know, these two former prisons are open to the public and if you are in either of those cities, and are curious about Irish social and political history, they are worth a visit.

Work on Crumlin Road Gaol was started in 1843, after being designed by architect Sir Charles Lanyon in 1841. It was ready for the first inhabitants in 1846. 106 men, women – and children – were marched on foot in chains from Carrickfergus Gaol in 1846. The prison finally closed in 1996.

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On our tour, we were given glimpses into the reception area, where prisoners first arrived, holding cells and the fascinating tunnel which went under the, now busy, road to the courthouse. Unfortunately the courthouse is currently an empty building but our guide told us that a hotel company has bought it and is hoping to redevelop it.

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The tunnel was creepy. I would hate to be there by myself and it is no surprise there are paranormal events there. Our guide told us a tale of a previous tour when a little boy asked who the man was at the bottom of the tunnel. The guide looked where the child was pointing and said there was no man (and neither should there have been). The child remained adamant.

Spooky.

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We also saw the governor’s office and the cell block. There were five blocks leading off from the main section. In one block, which they have opened for the public, we saw snapshots of what the cells may have been like in the 1800s – and the 1970s.

 

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We learnt of the different punishments, such as the Crank, a device where a prisoner had to push down a lever to turn it. If it seemed too easy, the screw got tightened, hence the term ‘screws’.

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And then we saw the ‘death row cell’. This room was very different to the others and being there and hearing about it made me feel very cold. Three members of the famous Pierrepont family were executioners. What a horrific job.

Perhaps not a place for the overly sensitive, but it is such a fascinating place and it does show how our prisons and other punishments in Ireland and Britain have changed over the years.

Facts of the Day

1. During the Irish Famine (1845 to 1851), the number of crimes was nearly 3 times the number reported just before the disaster. It is thought that starving people were committing crimes such as theft so they could be sentenced to prison and therefore be able to eat the sparse prison diet. 

2. Eamon de Valera, President of the Irish Republic during the 1919-22 Troubles, was imprisoned for one month in 1924. He had breached an order excluding him from Northern Ireland.

3. Suffragettes were imprisoned during the campaign for women’s right to vote before the first World War. 

Information from Souvenir Guidebook to Crumlin Road Gaol. http://www.crumlinroadgaol.com

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Glasson Dock

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It’s hard to believe that today’s small, quiet and peaceful Glasson Dock was once the largest port in the North West of England (according to the Canal and River Trust website) and was used to import cotton, sugar, spices and slaves from the West Indies and Africa. It was opened in 1787 and is located at the head branch of the Lancaster Canal.

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I paid a visit with my parents recently. There is a large car park and, on the day, it was easy to find a space. It was a little confusing as the pay and display machine was blocked off and a notice said the car park would be run by a different operator. I assumed we didn’t have to pay. Oh well, if I was supposed to, I will soon find out I imagine!

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Unfortunately the pub we frequented last time was closed but there is another one five minutes away, across the swing bridge and past the Glasson Basin Lock on the West Quay. It is called The Dalton Arms, serving food and drinks. Sitting in a cosy corner, two of us had our tea while Guinness was the third refreshment chosen. The inn, like the port, also dates back to the 1700s.

Following refreshments, we embarked on a ramble along the canal, passing a few canal boats, two swans, several swallows flying overhead, a dog walker with two friendly cockapoodle canines and two middle-aged women clutching carrier bags, gathering blackberries. For jam or pies perhaps?

We also visited the Victorian Christ Church, built in 1840, which sits facing the canal.

Memorial plaques hanging on the walls give clues to its shipyard history. A customs house and shipyard were built in the village in 1834, focused more on repairing rather than building boats. In 1968, the shipyard was closed. The dry dock, which opened in 1841, was filled in 1969.

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The canal would have eventually taken us to the main branch of the Lancaster Canal where we could have headed to Preston or Lancaster.

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We didn’t go as far as that though, and after reaching a couple of bridges, we turned back, after a very pleasant and relaxing canal stroll.

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But the canal is only one picturesque part of Glasson Dock, the other side of the dock opens out to River Lune which, in the old days, would take ships out to sea. Not so much now.

Here, too, there are places to walk.

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The beauty of this hidden spot obviously makes it a welcome place for walkers and cyclists. The Bay Cycle Way, of which we saw signs, starts (or ends) at Glasson Dock and takes the cyclist on a 81-mile tour of Morecambe Bay up to the south coast of Cumbria. There is also the Lune Valley footpath, taking the walker up to Lancaster via splendid views across the estuary. One day I’ll do that. But today was just a very peaceful two or three-mile stroll in a beautiful yet uncrowded part of the world.

Glasson Dock – a haven of beauty and peace. Peace and beauty.

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City of hope

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Guess where the seals are from? I’ll tell you later! 🙂

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City Hall, a grand building and convenient landmark. It stopped us getting lost many a time! 

Here’s a confession. I never wanted to visit Belfast in Northern Ireland. I had the chance in 2009 when my family and I went to Ballycastle for a week’s break (County Antrim is absolutely stunning). We could have gone to Belfast but we opted for Derry, Londonderry, Lovely-Derry (delete as appropriate to you). True, there were the Loyalist and Nationalist flags and murals but it seemed more in-the-past, more historical, less intimidating, and besides, Belfast is a much bigger city, so I was bound to be more apprehensive anyway.

I was mostly prejudiced by the news footage from the 20th century with the differing communities fighting amongst each other. All very scary and bloody.

To find out the reasons why, it’s necessary to look into the history of it all and then the reasons behind the violence and segregated communities starts to become clearer. But I don’t have the room to outline it all here and I’m no expert so this tale isn’t about The Troubles.

This is a story about Belfast Post-Troubles.

Twenty years since the peace process (the treaty was signed in 1998, yes, it is the 20th anniversary this year), it is possible to go on a hop-on hop-off bus into the staunch Loyalist and Republican areas – Falls Road and Shankill Road. The murals are now curious, interesting and, actually, some are rather artistic.

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Of course, they are still a stark reminder of the violence of that time. Some are still threatening to look at, portraying gunmen, but they’re not as intimidating as back before the peace process. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to live here at that time. Amid the old-style ‘war murals’ (our tour guide said it was indeed like living in a civil war zone), more optimistic artwork is blossoming, such as this peace mural.

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Now, instead of shrill bangs and bombs going off, you get loud squeals of laughter from hen and stag parties. The array of olde worlde pubs in Belfast appear to be very popular too. Is Belfast now becoming the party capital of Northern Ireland (maybe even of Ireland, Britain and the whole of Europe)?! 🎉🎈🎉

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The shipbuilding industry is gone (although the Titanic remnants are still there, witness the ‘Samson and Goliath’ cranes with H and W proudly etched on. That’s Harland and Wolff, the makers of Titanic). You can learn more on the Titanic boat tour or the museum.

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Becoming a post-industrial city, like many others, especially in an internet age of shopping, has hit Belfast hard. There is graffiti and neglect, yet there are signs of hope.

For instance, the redevelopment of the docks, new non-sectarian artwork and modern shiny buildings, including the SSE Arena.

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I don’t doubt, looking at the peace wall still separating the two communities, there is still tension and mistrust.

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The last 20 years won’t wipe it out immediately. It will take time and patience. And when I was there, there appeared to be a political stalemate at Stormont, pictured below. Brexit – the UK voting to leave the EU, while Ireland remains in it – is an added complication.

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It would be much more than a shame if all the hard work over the years was thrown away. It’s my personal view that prosperity and peace go together, and that compromise, giving people a voice and listening to each point of view can go a long way towards making a happier place.

So now maybe you are thinking I had placed a picture of seals by mistake. What has a piece about a post-industrial city, still with scars from The Troubles, have to do with a colony of seals?

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But it was no mistake. They are real Belfast seals, having returned to the river after many years of shipbuilding had left it dirty, poisoned and polluted. The water was cleaned of the contamination and now fish and seals have come back.

To me, they are a sign of hope. If the seals can come back and thrive then, well, so can peace. 🙂

As an added P. S – Despite my initial prejudices, I enjoyed Belfast, it’s an interesting, vibrant and fun city. And even if you’re not a city-person, the countryside in Northern Ireland is absolutely beautiful.

 

St Benet’s Abbey

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While on holiday in the beautiful Norfolk Broads, on one of our walks we came across an unusual site called St Benet’s Abbey. We started from the village of Ludham, and walked across country lanes to the abbey. Here are 5 facts:

1. Except for low flint walls and earth mounds, only the ruined gatehouse still exists – but this has an 1700s windpump built around it.

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2. It was founded about 1020AD – the first Benedictine Abbey in Norfolk.

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3. The abbey was not officially closed in the 1530s – unlike every other monastery in the country. The Bishop of Norwich was instead appointed as the abbot. Despite this, monastic life ended soon after and the buildings – except for the gatehouse – were demolished for their stone.

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4. The local diocese still owns the site of the abbey church and it remains consecrated ground. The Bishop of Norwich holds an open air service here every year in August.

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How the abbey may have looked. Courtesy of Tim Pestell’s St Benet’s Abbey: A Guide and History

5. St Benet’s Abbey may have been established as a royal estate and King Cnut was an early benefactor. Beforehand, maybe as early as the 800s, Anglo-Saxon hermits are believed to have lived at the location.

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Information courtesy of St Benet’s Abbey: A Guide and History by Tim Pestell.

 

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