Salford City FC: #surprisingsalford #17

Salford City Football Club

There are big football clubs in Greater Manchester, Manchester United are in Trafford and Manchester City are in Manchester.  Here in Salford we have Salford City FC, a National League North side [this is level six in the English Football league structure].  Salford City play from Moor Lane in Salford, next to Kersal Moor on land that was once Manchester Racecourse.  Salford City have been working their way up the leagues over the past ten years.  Success in the 2007-2008 season saw them secure promotion in to the eighth level, with further promotions in 2014 – 2015 and 2015 – 2016.

It was towards the end of the 2013 – 2014 season that the news broke that five former Manchester United players, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt were taking over the side.  These are five of the six ‘Class of ’92’ players who came through Manchester United’s youth team together to all dazzle us with their skills, successfully playing for Manchester United [David Beckham is the one missing].  These five took on the ownership of a lower league team enthusiastically and the story was told by a BBC documentary Class of ’92 in 2015 and 2016.  Salford is mostly a red [Manchester United] city, rather than blue [although there of course exceptions] and so you might think this was a match made in heaven.  Certainly expectations were high although not everyone was happy with the new ownership.

The club’s history goes back to 1940 when it began as Salford Central.  The name was changed to Salford Amateurs in 1963 and they gained the nickname ‘the Ammies’.  Today, the joint managers Anthony Johnson and Bernard Morley, who have been with the club since 2015 and have recently agreed full-time positions, are working hard to achieve success.  The Salford City players will also turn professional this summer.

In preparation for further promotion, work on the ambitious new stadium at Moor Lane is underway.  The new stadium will hold 5,000 fans and planning permission was granted despite local residents concerns regarding parking.  Anyone who has ever been to a match will wonder just where those 5,000 people are going to put their cars but this development will ensure the team is equipped for higher level football.

Although the team just missed promotion at the end of the 2016/17 season coming 4th, many of us in Salford have got our fingers crossed that Salford City FC are going to continue to do their city proud.


How I got hooked on the #vanlife

1972 Cornwall
1972 & my introduction to motorhoming

It was the early 1970s, I was twelve and my parents borrowed a small motorhome from a friend of the family.  We packed a few things and set off for a touring holiday, none of us really having a clue what we were letting ourselves in for.  Despite being crowded and the ‘van being basic, we had so much fun we did this two years running, visiting Scotland and Cornwall.  Before the words were even in common parlance my parents created wild camping holidays that were frugal; I loved it.  We slept in lay-bys and car parks the majority of nights, with just one night on a campsite during the week so we could shower.  I can remember trying to wash in the sea and being interested that the soap wouldn’t lather and watching boats on the Firth of the Clyde as the sun went down.  I can remember having lots of freedom to explore places.  This was the days before seat belts and on steeply winding roads it was the job of us children in the back to hold the cupboard doors shut as they had a tendency to swing open.  We had no fridge and no toilet on board, just beds, a cooker and sink.  The [blurry] photograph shows my sisters at the back door of the ‘van, it was a Commer vehicle but beyond that I have no idea what the conversion was called.

While staying overnight in a coastal car park near to Ayr in southern Scotland we were joined by another Commer van of the same style.  I joined my Dad in going over to say hello and they proudly showed us around their ‘van, which we were impressed to see had a fridge.  This retired couple, one Swiss and one American, were full-timing in their motorhome and were travelling around European countries.  This was a lifestyle I hadn’t even dreamt was possible and at twelve years old I was immediately attracted to such a relaxed way to travel and my dream to own my own campervan began [it took me over 30 years to get there].  The couple were very friendly and told me how they kept in touch with their grown up family back in the US by sending a postcard every week and that they were currently learning Spanish as that was where they were heading next.  They talked about how they spent their time in their ‘van and showed me crafts they made in the evenings.

I am not sure I would like to return to those days without all the modern technology that helps us communicate with our families today but I still remember those first holidays in a motorhome and I am thankful that I had those experiences.  Without them I might not have seen the possibilities and be living the life I lead now.

Salford Museum & Art Gallery: #surprisingsalford #16

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Salford Museum & Art Gallery

The handsome red brick building of Salford Museum and Art Gallery overlooks Peel Park and is within the Salford University campus.  The building started out as a private house, a mansion known as Lark Hill, and opened as the UKs first unconditionally free public library in 1850, the museum and art gallery following a few months later.  The facility was quickly popular and received an astonishing 1,240 visitors a day in its first year.

Today the library is no longer here but, as well as permanent exhibitions, the Museum and Art Gallery has changing exhibitions of works of arts and stories of the history of Salford, so it is always worth a visit.  The exhibition spaces are light, airy and uncluttered.  The entrance is always welcoming and has something interesting to browse thorugh.

The Victorian Gallery with its stunning ceiling has art works collected from that era.  The Pilkington Gallery showcases items from Pilkington’s, a local firm that created decorative tiles and pottery.  The company was formed by four Pilkington brothers in 1893 and in 1904 they began making pottery in the art nouveau style and their work rivalled that of famous pottery firms from Stoke-on-Trent [or The Potteries].  Salford Museum’s Pilkington collection contains a wide range of the ware Pilkington’s produced between 1900 and the 1970s and when the factory closed in 2010 the museum acquired the Pilkington archive.  This gallery is full of vases, bowls, plates and tiles that are vibrant and beautiful.

Bringing the outside in, Lark Hill Place is a recreation of a Victorian northern shopping street, with gas lamps, a chemists, blacksmiths, toy shop and the Blue Lion Pub [this is recreated from a number of Salford pubs and the original Blue Lion was on Cook Street by the brewery] .  Many of the shop fronts were originally in the streets of Salford and were saved as the city developed and the old shops were demolished.







Are you a retired spendophobic?


After years of constant saving, practicing our own version of frugality, checking how the stash of money is growing, reviewing this against the amount we need to take early retirement and counting the days until we can give up the day jobs, how does it now feel to be spenders rather than savers?  Apart from my [very] ad hoc income from travel writing and the low return on our savings, our household now has no income.  We are relying completely on the money we have saved until our pensions start to roll in [the first is still three years away and it isn’t until 2024 that we will have sufficient pension income to cover our living costs].  Spending this money is what we were working towards after all and last November I wrote about looking forward to spending all the money.  How does that reality feel?  Having spent years living well within our income, what is it like having little income and watching our capital dwindle?  Have we become spendophobics or even spendoholics?

Some people are wary of spending beyond their income in their retirement.  They have become so used to living within their means, that is their income, it can be hard to adjust to spending those savings.  These people do not dip in to the savings they have accumulated for that retirement and become spendophobics and don’t necessarily have the retirement they would have wanted.

Well folks that isn’t us!  It seems that having that money in the bank doesn’t define us and we are not scared of spending it; retirement in our 50s is exactly what we were saving the money for.  Our years of frugality have made this a habit and we still practice caution in our spending, regularly checking that we are within our budget of £27,000 for this year [although it has been a funny sort of year up to now we are well within target].  Each month we transfer our ‘spending’ money in to our bank account as if it were income and this helps us budget.  Those frugal years have helped us to be careful spenders in our retirement but our outlook and plans mean that we are now spending the money on enjoying that retirement and we don’t suffer from ‘spendophobia’  [of course, we have no choice, with no pension income we have to spend our savings].  We have a plan [a spreadsheet of course] for how those savings will gradually disappear to almost zero by 2024 [the contingency money might remain if we have no emergencies and if I am honest I do sort of hope there might be a bit left as I think our budget is generous].  I am finding that watching that plan work through is as satisfying as I found seeing those savings build up.  We were conscientious savers and now we have become conscientious spenders.

We have been clear about what makes us happy and what we want to do with our retirement.  Much of that happiness involves travelling in our campervan.  This is so much fun and gives us so much pleasure [the recent incident has really highlighted this] and we don’t intend to miss out on our dreams just to keep more money in the bank and leave our son with a big inheritance.  We know that life is short and are only too aware that in twenty years time [if we are lucky enough to live that long] we might not want to travel in the same sort of way [but we might] and so we are spending the money now while we are fit and able, not hanging on to it like a comfort blanket.

Apologies for the over-use of parentheses in this post!  My normal writing style will / might resume next time.




I am missing #vanlife & resort to camping on the doorstep

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The Peel Tower on the moors above Ramsbottom

While we are off the road I have been missing being in our campervan so much and this got me thinking about what it is about travelling in the ‘van that I love so much.  I get a big thrill from exploring new and beautiful places and learning about cultures and history as we go but what I have realised is that our van life is more than exotic foreign travel, being out and about in the ‘van is just comforting and relaxing in itself.  Our campervan [and its previous versions] is ingrained with so many happy memories, as soon as I climb up the step in to the cab I feel enveloped in cosiness and where we take it doesn’t necessarily matter.  Just at the moment I am really missing that feeling of well being.

I am always telling people how lucky we are to be living in Greater Manchester because we have so much beautiful countryside within easy reach.  Only an hour or so in any direction and we are in stunning places and we tend to alternate our weekends between Yorkshire, the Peak District and North Wales or Cheshire.  But this winter we took camping near to home to the extreme and didn’t even leave Greater Manchester.  Life had been more hectic than usual and our ‘van had looked sulkily at us each time we left to catch the tram for yet another social occasion or cultural event.  The Renault was itching to have a run out and we were missing camping so we chose to squeeze a night in at the Caravan Club’s Burrs Country Park site just 30 minutes from home.

We arrived in the dark, which is always disconcerting and so had little idea what our surroundings were like until the next morning.  With an extension agreed with the wardens beyond the usual 12.00 leaving time we set off for a walk to nearby Ramsbottom along the river Irwell path; a river that also flows within spitting distance of our home.  Our walk was accompanied by cheerful toots of the steam trains on the East Lancashire Railway.

Ramsbottom turned out to be another world from Salford, this foodie heaven was full of cosy independent cafes and delis and we sat outside the church in the unseasonably warm weather savouring a perfect bag of chips each; they were that faultless combination of crisp outside and soft and fluffy inside.  The artisan market was in full swing in the cobbled market place but we decided to shun shopping for the steep walk up the hill to the landmark Peel Tower on the moors, built to commemorate Robert Peel who was born in nearby Bury.  Here we savoured the fresh air and wide views before descending back to the Irwell valley down the steep old cobbled road.  Leaving the campsite in the mid-afternoon, just half-an-hour later we were back among the urban neon of Salford Quays.

Our van life isn’t always about glamorous places but I love it!


Metrolink: #surprisingsalford #15


Our tram route is the Eccles Line which was phase two of the Metrolink development in Greater Manchester.  Phase one was the Altrincham to Bury line which opened in 1992 and it wasn’t until 2000 that the line reached Eccles at a cost of £160 million.  Phase one had constructed tram routes on the under-utilised suburban rail network and the plans had been to continue with this process; however, as Salford Quays developed, transforming the old docks with housing, retail, offices and leisure, it was clear the area needed improved public transport and in 1995 the four mile route around Salford Quays to Eccles was agreed and work began in 1997.

When completed, the blue and grey trams initially struggled to compete with the bus route from Eccles.  The direct bus from Eccles, the number 33, ran every ten minutes could beat the tram which takes a meandering way around the quays to reach the city centre.  The new branding and pale yellow and grey trams were introduced in 2008 and for those on or near the Quays, the new yellow trams have become a clean and efficient way to travel and the trams are now often full.  The tram is cheaper than the bus and much more scenic and it is always my public transport of choice.

We chose our home in Salford as much because of the easy access to the tram stop as anything else.  Using the Metrolink network we can now travel around Greater Manchester easily, making the most of day and weekend tickets as the network has expanded.  We like the real time information about when to expect the next tram [on the rare occasion that we have a ten minute wait for the next tram we can always walk to the next stop] and we like the Get Me There app that makes buying tickets easy.

Whenever I travel on the tram in to Manchester I will always look to see what is happening on Ontario Basin where the water sport centre is, there are often people messing about in boats here but I might have my head in a book and miss this attraction.  Whatever is distracting me, my personal rule is to always take the time to look at the view as the tram crosses The Manchester Ship Canal between Exchange Quay and Pomona station [this is a station of many jokes as it is rare for anyone to get on or off at Pomona and if they do the passengers will joke that they must be lost].  As the tram crosses the bridge you have a fantastic view along the canal in to Manchester, in a morning the sun will be rising behind the city, there might be swans on the water and nothing is ever so important that you cannot take a minute to enjoy it.  Pomona island, straggling Salford, Trafford and Manchester, is then laid out before you, still a wildlife haven in the city although its days are numbered as development has now started at the Cornbrook end.  Work has now started on the new Trafford Centre line.  This will join the network at Pomona and I am sure in a few years this station will be as busy as any other and those days of stopping at the ‘ghost’ station will just be a memory.

Top tips for travelling around Greece in a campervan

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Looking down on Epidaurus
  1. We found that Greek roads were mostly in good condition, with just some exceptions.  There are many new motorways [either only just opened or about to be opened] and these are excellent.
  2. Tolls are payable on Greek motorways at seemingly random toll booths.  The toll payable for campervans and motorhomes is more than double the amount for cars and using motorways can get expensive.
  3. Greece has a high number of road traffic accidents [there are thousands of road side shrines to victims] and we did see some poor driving such as over-taking on bends, in fact double lines in the centre of the road were generally ignored, but the driving was no worse than other European countries.
  4. Campsites are clustered around the coast and tourist sites and there are huge areas of the country that have no campsites.  Officially wild camping is not allowed but it is generally tolerated locally and the best advice is to be discreet.
  5. The standard of campsites does vary but we found them mostly good to very good.  As in many other European countries, don’t expect toilet seats or toilet paper but we did enjoy lots of good hot showers.
  6. Much of Greece is hilly and steep and walking shoes and poles are useful if you want to be active.
  7. Some of the historic sites you might want to visit involve walking up hills too.
  8. Greek food tends to come as a meze style meal; that is individual dishes arrive when they are ready and are meant to be shared.  Take care as it is easy to over-order in Greece as portions tend to be large.
  9. We never spent more than €30 on a meal for two in Greece.  We are both vegetarian and this keeps the cost down but the main saving is with the wine, compared to other countries; 500 mls of the house red was generally just a few euros.
  10. Lots of people [but not everyone] is able to speak good English [they learn in school from a young age] but we found it useful to have a few words of Greek and it was appreciated when we used these to say good morning, please and thank you.  We made our own flash cards to learn about 40 phrases.
  11. Road signs are mostly in the familiar English alphabet as well as the Greek alphabet and this makes them easier to read.  But it is worth learning your Greek letters and how these are pronounced for the signs that are only in the Greek alphabet.  By the end of our holiday it was becoming normal to read p as r and r as g!
  12. We took the Blue Guide to Mainland Greece and the Dorling Kindersley Eyewitness guide to Athens and the Mainland.  The Blue Guide gave us comprehensive historical information and was complimented by the information and photographs in the Dorling Kindersley.
  13. We also took the Cicerone guide to the Mountains of Greece which was invaluable for walks and the Oxford Paperbacks Flowers of Greece and the Balkans: A Field Guide [currently out of print and only available second hand].  This was a fantastically useful guide for landscape and walking ideas, as well as for flower identification.
  14. Greece has few large out-of-town supermarkets and the most familiar name you will see is Lidl.  Other supermarkets are smaller than you may be used to and generally don’t have a large car park, which can be problematic in a motorhome.
  15. Fresh bread and fantastic cakes are available from the many bakeries, these generally have space to park while you pop in and drool over the selection.
  16. Greece has more petrol stations per head of population than any other country [this isn’t an official figure but it must be true].  These petrol stations are generally family run and are often accompanied by a cafe.  Even small villages can have two petrol stations so no excuse to run out of fuel.
  17. Greece is beautiful and it is worth taking the time to explore it.
25.04.2017 Epidavros (2)
Orange trees near Epidaurus




River Irwell: #surprisingsalford #14

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A misty River Irwell in winter sunshine

The river Irwell winds its way around Salford in deep meanders.  I think that a river can make or break a city, they are great places for strolling along and sitting beside and messing about on.  Salford [and Manchester too] certainly doesn’t make enough of its river until it becomes the Manchester Ship Canal at Salford Quays where it is celebrated, used for recreation and enjoyed.  The Irwell is only 39 miles long, rising near Bacup in Lancashire, the river comes in to Greater Manchester in Bury and makes its way through Salford from Clifton Country Park.

Rivers are interesting because they are always changing.  We have walked along the river in spring and summer, watching the Canada Geese, the black-headed gulls and the various ducks and stood and watched the boats on the quays.  On Christmas Day a few years ago we followed the Irwell from Salford to the Manchester boundary and back to the Quays and on Boxing Day in 2015, horrified, we watched the swollen river as it flooded large areas of Salford, including people’s homes.

Mr BOTRA would cross the Irwell on his way to work in Manchester and he usually stopped on the bridge to see what wildlife was around.  On many days he would spot a bright blue and green kingfisher flitting along the river bank.  The Irwell was once a salmon river but pollution in the 19th century and in to the first half of the 20th century left a river that was lifeless.  As industries have closed and the cleanup of the river undergone and restocked, the Irwell is now able to sustain many fish eating birds and we often see cormorants and herons on our walks along the banks.

I have a dream that one day Salford City Council will decide to make more of its riverside location beyond Salford Quays and they will close off Chapel Street to traffic, creating a huge square between The Old Pint Pot and Salford University.  In my dream this square will have open views with steps down to the river and Peel Park and a bridge crossing the Irwell over to the meadow.  People will gather here on sunny evenings and fine weekends, sit outside cafes enjoying the view accompanied by good food or a drink, young people will sit on the steps or practice on their skateboards, families will promenade around the paths, children gleefully running up and down the steps and they will all feel lucky to be living in such a beautiful city.


Walking in Greece #3 Meteora

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The monasteries in Meteora each sit on a rocky pinnacle

And so to Meteora, a wonderful land of sandstone pinnacles topped with monasteries … Travelling without the campervan was never going to be the same but we were determined to make the most of our now limited time in Greece and we were pleased we stayed and visited Meteora.  We were back on the road but in a car and the first difference we noticed was that we had to find a cafe for our morning coffee [and loo stops]!  Fortunately there are thousands of cafes in Greece.

Many people drive around Meteora but I think the only way to really see the area is on two feet and if you are able to walk around, spend a few days here and get out, exploring the many paths that wind through the trees below the rocky pinnacles and between the monasteries.  You will be rewarded with amazing views away from the many other tourists.  The free map from the tourist office shows most of these paths as dotted lines.  Be warned, the paths generally do not have signs to indicate where they go and can be difficult to find.

We were staying in the village of Kastraki and on our first evening walked through the village and up to the Adrachit, a tall and thin column of sandstone on a col among the spectacular sandstone rocks.  After taking in the views, we took the path towards Agion Pnevma and stopping to take photographs, I heard noises and tracked them down to a tortoise pottering through the grass.  We both watched it fascinated as it climbed a steep boulder, occasionally slipping on the slope but grimly determined to make its way.

The next day we walked to Kalampaka over the Marmaro rock, spotting goats trotting down a steep ridge.  In Kalampaka we followed the back streets finding the beautiful 11th century small Byzantine church at the top of the town.  At the furthest end of Kalampaka is the steep and well-made paved path that climbs up to Agia Trias [Holy Trinity].  After putting on our modest clothes we walked up the steep path cut out of the rock to reach this small monastery.  The tiny chapel was cool and peaceful and heavily decorated with scenes from the bible in brilliant colours.  Outside this peaceful monastery we sat enjoying the views over Kalampaka and the flat river valley beyond and had our picnic lunch.  We followed the road to a flat viewing rock to take in the eroded shapes of the sandstone pinnacles many with monasteries perched impossibly on top.  After some searching we eventually tracked down the path back down, about half-way between the parking for the viewing rock and a junction.  The path descended steeply through the bushes and grassland to a col where the left path returned to Kalampaka and we turned right for Kastraki.  We walked through thick deciduous woodland that was deliciously cool, with huge mossy boulders around us and plane and oak trees.  We reached the road at a hairpin bend and picked up the next path that hugged the bottom of the huge rock pinnacles, spotting some climbers high on a sheer face and many more tortoises by the path.

Having explored the eastern monasteries, we set off for those on the western side of Meteora the next day.  From our hotel we climbed over the impressive and steeply-rounded rocky mound of Doupiani, a barren landscape from a distance, close up it is covered in lichen, saxifrages and grasses that have managed to establish themselves.  This path led to a good bulldozed track which we followed for some time and then joined a pleasant parallel path through oak trees to Agios Demetrios hidden on the side of a pinnacle.  This is an abandoned monastery that has been restored and is in a romantic setting high on the cliff.  We walked up to the flat rock with the statue of Thymios Vlachavas (1760 – 1809) who fought for Greek independence and was executed by Ali Pasha.  From here we had a superb view over the countryside around Meteora; to one side I could see farms, green fields and rounded hills and to the other were weirdly-shaped sandstone pillars.  I would have visited Meteora for the rocks alone; the monasteries felt like a bonus.  We followed paths busy with tortoises and wild flowers that bought us out at Megalo Meteoro, the largest monastery.  We chose to visit Varlaam monastery and found a site that contrasted sharply with Agia Trias.  Varlaam had souvenir stalls outside, a gift shop and museum and is easier to access and therefore more popular with visitors.  The monastery terrace wouldn’t have been out of place in an Italian villa and had wide dramatic views.  Descending back to Kastraki, we managed to find the narrow path from the steps to Megalo Meteoro that took us on a route between two soaring pinnacles.  As we walked underneath Varlaam’s pinnacle we became aware of what sounded like large raindrops falling around us.  We realised the masons on Varlaam were working on the scaffolding above us and what we could hear was mortar falling around us.  We hurried on as a dollop of mortar landed on Mr BOTRA’s arm laughing about health and safety in Greece.

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Looking over the village of Kastraki