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.

 

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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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Trek Diary – May 2018: Lincolnshire Wolds

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Lincolnshire WoldsWoods and Mills walk (9 miles) 

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Simon picked up a leaflet in a pub for this Lincolnshire Wolds walk a while ago and one weekend in May we decided to try it. Much flatter and easier than our last endeavour, Scafell Pike, it is an interesting walk with two choices of routes, three and nine miles. It also takes in some of the Viking Way. We embarked on the nine-mile ramble.

It starts off from Market Rasen, a small quiet market town, and from there we walked to Tealby. Tealby is a pretty little village with, among its sites of interest, All Saints Church, The Vintage Cafe (gorgeous cakes as I can testify!) and the oldest pub in Lincolnshire, The King’s Head, circa 1367 and boasting a thatched roof.

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This walk took us through the Forestry Commission owned Willingham Woods and onto farmland.

We saw Hamilton Hill (yes, the Wolds is the hilly point of Lincolnshire!) Hundreds of years ago, it was the meeting point for protesters gathering for the Lincolnshire rebellion against Henry VIII who was busy dissolving monasteries at that time.

Later on, walking along a path through fields, we looked towards a hill on the left and saw a crowd of domesticated deer grazing – and gazing toward us. Had I a proper camera, it would have made a great picture. Believe it or not, the photo below us – showing some brown spots on a hill – is supposed to capture the scene of the curious deer.

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One moment of confusion occured when, later on, a path was diverted (hopefully this will no longer be the case or will be better signposted if you go). Amid the seemingly deserted farm buildings, we pondered what to do, go through the field with cows and calves – and, oh dear, was that a bull? Yet it looked like the correct and most direct route. We opted for the longer way through the field with placid sheep. Thankfully, this turned out to be the right one!

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Notes of interest:

Market Rasen, situated on the edge of the Wolds, is known for its racecourse. Also, did you know a 5.2 Richer Scale earthquake occurred in 2008? The town has 19th century redbrick Georgian and Victorian buildings and a medieval church. 

Tealby All Saints Church dates from the 12th century and was built with local stone. Tennyson has a link to Tealby – his grandparents came from there and Tennyson himself used to walk from Somersby (his birthplace) to Tealby. 

The walk takes the hiker into the Lincolnshire Wolds – the highest ground in Eastern England (between York and Kent) and an Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB). Why the mention of Mills in the title of the walk? Well, there were 15 Mills along the River Rase, used for grinding corn and, later on, paper making. On our way back, we came across this (not strictly on the walk). It was believed to be the site of a 1300s hermitage.  

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 The walk can be found at: http://www.lincswolds.org.uk.

Click on Publications, Gateway Walks and then Following Woods and Mills. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trek Diary: April – Scafell Pike (height: 3,210ft/978m)

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When I was a teenager, the Big One was a rollercoaster in Blackpool. Incredibly high (was it the highest in England at the time?) and rather scary, the views over the Blackpool coast – if you hadn’t closed your eyes in sheer terror – were wonderful.

I loved it.

Go forward a few (and then some!) years later and wanting to go up the Big One has a very different connotation to way back then. This time the Big One is in the Lake District and is Scafell Pike.

High, tick. Scary, tick. Views (weather permitting), tick.

Simon and I were going on a walking weekend to the Lake District. And as it was a ‘big’ birthday, (21st since you’re asking 😉), I decided I wanted to do what any normal person would want to do to mark a significant date.

Climb the highest mountain in England, of course! ☺️⛰️

So with trepidation, I awoke sluggishly at 5.45am one Saturday morning and by 7am, we were off. We headed past Wast Water, a tranquil lake overlooked by steep mountains, and parked in the National Trust car park, complete with wooden refreshments stall, information board on Scafell Pike conditions (cold in a word) and festival-style portaloos.

There were many walkers on our distinct stony path leading uphill and seeing them resting en route made me feel happier, as if I was given permission to rest too. But we kept going mostly. It was hard, as there appeared to be very few flat sections – so when there was one I felt as if it were the equivalent of a good afternoon nap compared to the uphill trudge! Compared to Pendle Hill, it was more gradual, not as steep, but much longer. And still onwards and upwards… And upwards…

I was grateful then that we had trekked up that bewitched Pendle Hill twice as this felt, definitely not easy, but more tolerable than I was expecting. And I was glad I had tried to become fitter by swimming and walking. I wasn’t fit at this point, but more so than a few months ago and it made a difference.

 

Looking back was the stunning sight of Wast Water.

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Wainwright says the usual route from Wasdale Head (near where we started from) was via Brown Tongue – the shortest way but ‘also the dullest unless the opportunity is taken to visit Mickledore by a deviation from the path’.

Do we take the nice easier option to the top (my choice!) or go the, what Wainwright calls, ‘magnificent’ journey into Hollow Stones and along the Mickledore Ridge? 🤔

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Mickledore it was. Its name reminded me of Mordor in Lord of the Rings. What would Frodo do?

I thought it was tough walking up the path. It was nothing compared to what was ahead. A steep scree gully called Lord’s Rake.

At first, it was not so steep and the scree not so loose, it was manageable. But it got narrower, steeper, and the rocks I placed my feet on seemed to collapse on contact.

Falling, sliding and slipping all seemed viable options… And the bottom seemed to get further and further away with each foothold.

I was not enjoying this. Concentration was key and so was bravery. A young woman in front of me was crying, her courage having left her. I knew the feeling. Along with her boyfriend, they let us go in front. As Simon told me the safest places to climb up, I felt sure that, behind us, his advice would help her too. And once we got up, they weren’t too far behind.

Like me, she too had conquered her fears.

At the top, on Mickledore, we followed the ridge – once again full of rocks and stones – past a mountain kit store, mentioned in my 1979 map, up a more gradual path to the top.

The final hurdle was a rocky barren landscape, there was even a patch of snow. We had to be careful we didn’t fall through the cracks of this makeshift pavement. Onwards and upwards, passing various cairns but not the real deal until…

 

There it was – the summit. A huge cairn and a trig point. Many fellow achievers were there, celebrating having made it, including two Yorkshire terriers – in mini-rucksacks adorned by their humans. It was misty so no wondrous views although there was a lake – Buttermere we were told – in the distance as we climbed down.

 

As Wainwright says, the paths are distinct but uneasy to walk on, because of the boulders. We headed back to Wasdale Head via Brown Tongue and Lingmell Col. Wainwright says this tourist route is ‘a tiring and uninteresting grind, designed to preserve users from falls’.

But at that moment, that suited me fine. We passed various hikers and they passed us. A couple of weary travellers asked us hopefully, ‘How long to the top?’  ‘About half an hour’, Simon said honestly. Faces fell. A man in a group on the way down clutched a can of lager, perhaps to celebrate reaching the top?

Instead of venturing left to the car park, we went right, heading to the little village itself. The mile stretched itself as far as it could. Once there, a quick visit to the gift/hiking shop – you can buy a certificate marking your achievement for a pound  – and an evening meal in the pub before wearily traipsing back to the car and to our B&B.

 

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

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

Well, something similar happened in Lancashire.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Thankfully the boots were waterproof.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We carried on.

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

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

Picture courtesy of Simon Hunter20180317_125724

Bakewell – Land of Tarts

 

Bakewell has been a name that has long been familiar to me in a pleasing manner, perhaps I am thinking of the delightful Bakewell Tarts and Cherry Bakewells! But the cakes actually originate from a small town called Bakewell, situated in the picturesque Peak District, Derbyshire.

A coach company was offering day trips and so, one bank holiday, my mum and I embarked on such a journey to this popular tourist spot.

Traffic ran smoothly until we entered the boundary of the popular Peak District. And then there was a queue of cars heading much of the way into Bakewell. It was a bank holiday after all and it appeared everyone had the same idea. Lovely hot day, time off work and school – let’s go to Bakewell.

So we were later than expected but with still plenty of time for lunch, sight-seeing and a bite to eat before heading home.

Ready for a cup of tea and even more so for a slice of Bakewell Tart (what else?!), we picked a small contemporary but cosy vegetarian cafe called Because I Like It.

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Despite the fact Bakewell is not a large town, despite the fact we arrived about 1pm, and despite the fact the town was heaving with day-trippers and tourists (there also seemed to be a large proportion of canine companions too), it still felt as if we were spoilt for choice when it came to eateries. Obviously Bakewell Tart was a must-have for lunch – but what was this Bakewell Pudding I kept seeing?

We stuck to ‘just’ the Bakewell Tart, although maybe for reasons of writing this review, I should have sampled the pudding too…

Anyway, once refreshed with the local delicacy, we had a wander around town. And after a visit to Edinburgh Woollen Mill (Mum is a big fan), among other shops, it was time for culture.

All Saints Parish Church is a venue of much interest. Dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, but originally founded in 920AD, the current church was mostly rebuilt in the 1840s. Amongst its historical curiosities are a 14th century font and a parish chest dating from the same period. The originator of Bakewell Pudding, Ann Greaves, is also buried here. She will be mentioned again later on…

Interestingly, the west wall and the first set of nave arches are the only remains from the Norman Church.

A craft fair, five minutes away from the town centre, was our next port of call. Walking through a delightful park to get to the fair, we meandered around the stalls where there were many quality handmade goods for sale.

 

Time was ticking on, we ventured into The Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, a large establishment combining an upstairs restaurant, a deli and cafe, complete with outside sitting area. We opted for quiche and salad, eating it outside in the pleasant courtyard. And it was scrumptious.

According to the Pudding Shop’s website, the cafe was once a cottage, lived in by a Mrs Wilson, wife of a tallow chandler. She obtained the recipe of the bakewell pudding and began to sell them. The building is believed to have been built in the 1600s and originally owned by the Duke of Rutland.

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We didn’t go into the Bakewell Pudding Factory, although I was intrigued. A pudding parlour, how quaint and old-fashioned!

Another point of interest is the 1200s five-arched bridge which crosses the River Wye and was widened in the 19th century. It’s also possible to stroll along the river although we did not have the time.

I would definitely go back to Bakewell, but not on a bank holiday. I can see why it’s popular, it’s a lovely little town full of character, but personally, I do find crowds a little off-putting. But go on a day when it is ‘off-peak’ season? Yes, definitely. Not just a day, I would most certainly be happy to spend a few days there. After all, I haven’t tried Bakewell Pudding yet! And that is on my Bucket List!

Thanks to Hodder Executive Travel which offers a range of day excursions (for example Cheshire Oaks and Beamish Museum) and holidays. They pick up from various venues in the East Lancashire area. Prices vary per trip. It costs £17 (adult) and £11 (child) to visit Bakewell. 

Facts of the Day

1. A Bakewell tart has a shortcrust pastry shell under layers of jam, frangipane and flaked almonds. It developed as a variant of Bakewell Pudding in the 20th century.

2. Bakewell Pudding is a dessert with flaky pastry base, a layer of sieved jam and a topping of egg and almond paste. It is said to have been made by accident in 1820 or 1860 by Mrs Greaves, landlady of the White Horse Inn. The cook was apparently given instructions to make a jam tart, but stirred eggs and almond paste on top of the jam instead of into the pastry.

3. Cherry Bakewell is a version of the tart. Almond-flavour fondant covers the frangipane while a cherry rests on top.

Trek Diary Part 2: January 2018

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Harris Museum, Preston

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