A weekend at the Upton Blues Festival

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Sometimes it rains at festivals

If you have never been to a festival and [this probably goes without saying] you like the blues, then the Blues Festival at Upton upon Severn is an excellent first festival experience.  The Upton Blues Festival is a free festival, that is every gig is free for anyone to attend, and plenty of local day visitors come along to enjoy the music available.  But to get the real festival experience you need to take your campervan, caravan or tent and camp and our campervan is a perfect place to sleep in at a festival.  At Upton the performers are paid from the receipts from the campers who pay £10 a night each to use the flat Fish Meadow that is just ten minutes or so walk from the venues.  The festival also gets money from parking charges for day visitors, sale of beer and merchandise.  As well as the campsite, the festival committee runs two main stages, one by the river and one on the meadow across the town and an indoor acoustic stage and the Meadow Stage is a fantastic place to lie in the sun and listen to good music.  There are also around ten smaller stages in the pubs of Upton upon Severn that are self-funding.  Upton is a relaxed and friendly festival that has none of the corporate blandness or size of other festivals and you can always find some excellent music and get in to your own groove.

Upton Blues has grown over the years and in 2016 over 20,000 attended over the weekend and this year around 4,000 people camped in Fish Meadow.  The first festival was held in 2002 but Mr BOTRA and I didn’t get there until 2014 by which time it was already a well organised and large event.  This year was bigger than ever but the camping facilities held up well, even in the inclement weather, and we never had to queue for a toilet!  I love Upton because of its size and atmosphere, because tarmac roads link the stages [rather than a sea of mud] and you won’t find yourself unable to see the stage because the person in front of you has someone sitting on their shoulders or is waving a huge flag.  The Upton crowd is a friendly and chilled out beast that isn’t there because its the thing to do.

The music at Upton covers the whole spectrum that is called the blues and we saw some great bands this year and as usual there are a couple that stand out.  The high energy blues of Dr Schwamp was just what we needed on a damp Friday night.  They are a great party band with plenty of variety in their set and we’ll certainly look them up again.  We also loved Sons of the Delta who played on the boat on a sunny Sunday afternoon, I shut my eyes and imagined I was on the Mississippi.

You don’t have to do anything but listen to the blues at Upton but we did fit in a walk along the river Severn on Sunday morning.  We enjoyed finding parts of the the town we hadn’t seen before and exploring the countryside around Upton.

The festival feels like it is part of a bigger community and gives a lot back to the town, not just in income for the businesses over the weekend but also improving local amenities from the surplus.  We like to support the local economy when we are there and now have a list of must-do activities when we are in Upton.  We splash out on an Indian meal one evening and we always visit the Pudding Shop to sit outside and enjoy one of their fantastic steamed puddings during the weekend.  The only difficult decision is whether to have apricot, ginger or blueberry pudding.

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Camping on Fish Meadow



Clifton Country Park: #surprisingsalford #20

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Clifton Country Park and the Lookout sculpture

We chose a gorgeous sunny day to take the bus out to Clifton, just outside the M60.  Although it was mid-week it proved to be a good opportunity to experience just how popular a local facility this country park is as plenty of other people were out enjoying the fine weather and nature reserve.  Clifton Country Park is in the river Irwell valley and is centred around a lake, shown in the photograph.  This lake was created in the 1960s after gravel was extracted for the nearby motorway [then the M62].

As well as the lake this lovely country park has woodland, meadows and pools and is bordered by the river Irwell.  It was once the site of the Wet Earth Colliery, an early deep mine first sunk in 1750s.  The colliery was worked until 1928.  Clifton Country Park also has a cluster of pieces on the Irwell Sculpture Trail that follows the river from Bacup to Salford Quays.  The dynamic trail was updated in 2011 and new sculptures are still added.  The trail is over 33 miles and has over 70 sculptures of which The Look Out at Clifton Country Park is one and is from 2001.

After walking around the lake, we followed the course of the former Fletcher’s Canal which was made navigable by Matthew Fletcher in 1790.  The woodland path is lovely here, with the river Irwell to one side and the remnants of the canal to the other and the bluebells were just finishing when we visited.  Walking back towards the lake we found the old Gal Pit which had a horse gin or horse engine to pull ropes from the pit and an iron sculpture of a Galloway pit pony recreates this today.  Not far away is what is known as Fletcher’s Folly.  In 1805 steam-powered winding machinery was adopted and this chimney was connected to the boiler house by two underground flues which caused maintenance issues.  By the 1890s a new chimney was built leaving this a redundant folly.

With wildlife, history and sculptures there is something for everyone at Clifton Country Park.  If you are interested in detailed history of this area, Salford Council’s leaflet gives a thorough background and a map of the country park and where to find the remnants of the previous industrial use.

Salford University: #surprisingsalford #19

Pictures on The Old Police Station on The Crescent

Our local university, University of Salford, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.  Although the history of the institution goes back to 1850 and the Royal Technical College formed in 1921, which in 1958 split in to The Royal College of advanced Technology and the Peel Park Technical College, it wasn’t until 1967 that the Royal College became the University of Salford.  Today the University of Salford has 20,000 students, one of which was our son some years ago; and so our links with Salford began.  The University served him well and its connections with industry and the sandwich degree course he completed with a year gaining useful work experience served him well.

The campus overlooks Peel Park and has an airy and relaxed feel.  More recently the Peel Park main campus has changed beyond recognition and building work is currently a continuous feature.  In 2011 the University also added a Media City campus.  All this development came around the time of redundancies for some staff, as the university reviewed courses and schools and addressed areas that were under-performing.

The Old Police Station faces the main campus of Salford University.  Built in 1957 in brick and Portland stone, the building fell in to disuse in the early 2000s.  In 2011 the building was saved from demolition when the University of Salford had plans to develop the land.  The hope today is to keep the elegant frontage of the building and various plans have been put forward to redevelop the site, although nothing certain yet.  In the meantime the boarded up windows are decorated with images from university students.  This both brightens up the building and is a great way to showcase the student’s work.

Salfordians can be a bit touchy about losing the recognition they feel their city deserves and there was a minor kerfuffle in 2011 when the uni re-branded to become The University of Salford, Manchester.  I can’t get too hot under the collar about this myself as it didn’t make any geographical difference to the campus, it is still our local university.  The addition to the name perhaps made it clear to students unfamiliar with Salford how close the two cities actually are and this might just help it appeal to students keen to be part of the vibrant Manchester student scene.


Why bother travelling?


Migrating Miss’ thoughtful and interesting blog post on why people travel got me ruminating on my own reasons for enjoying travelling and for deciding to become a travel writer and blogger.  I am interested in my local area and I appreciate the many different reasons why many people would prefer to stay at home.  Maura Kelly is right, just looking through Migrating Miss’ reasons for enjoying travel, many of them are existential:

  • To Learn
  • To Challenge Myself
  • Be anonymous
  • Because life is too short
  • To know myself
  • To feel
  • Experience Cultures
  • Have adventures
  • Meet People
  • To Not Look Back & Wonder

Some of these reasons resonate strongly with me.  I am very aware that ‘life is too short’ and I don’t want to ‘look back and wonder’ but then travel isn’t for everyone, some people feel their place in life is where they are and have no need to wander the globe and yet for me travel is an urge, even a necessity and it is a big part of who I am.

I enjoy learning and I certainly learn best when the learning is reflected in the place, geography and culture I am in.  On our trips we like to stop to explore historical sites and learn about why places are culturally important and for me this learning has more relevance when I am standing on the spot.  Looking over Culloden Moor I can feel some of the pain of the soldiers as the Jacobite uprising fell apart; I got a sense of the long span of human history when I walked in the steps of the pilgrims at Delphi and finding the layers of history in the city of Berlin is a thrilling experience.

But thinking about why I love to travel also got me mulling over how I see and experience and in this I am concerned with my observations moving on to interpretations, while appreciating that my own way of seeing a place as a white British woman will be individual.  I try to be mindful of my surrounding and I am delighted when I manage to see the familiar as if it were new and walk down a nearby street with new eyes.  But in truth it is arriving in new places when all my senses are really heightened.  Everything happening around me can feel strange and inexplicable and I am bombarded by new smells, colours and sounds and my brain will be trying to interpret the meaning in the landscape and the way people use the space.  In my own culture, in the north-west of England, I take so much for granted; I know how to use the bus, can identify the crops in the fields and understand the language people are using and my brain will take short-cuts as it doesn’t need to make sense of even the smallest detail.  I can be creative about what I see anywhere but insight can sometimes get lost in the humdrum day-to-day.  Travel opens up my imagination, offers new perspectives and encourages my brain to make new connections.

What has become clear is that for me the buzz that I get from this sensual surge and unfurling of my imagination in these new places has become addictive and after a short time at home I am ready for another fix.





Back where you belong

Can you spot the shiny new wing and bonnet?

It took eight weeks to fix our campervan after the Greek tragedy and what a long eight weeks they were.  For two of those weeks the ‘van was making its way back from Greece, another two weeks were spent sitting around while firstly the body shop did the estimate, then the insurance company assessed the damage and then we waited for parts.  The repair took three weeks and the final week was spent in daily anticipation that the ‘van would be fixed only to be informed sometime mid-afternoon that there was another problem.  One day it was the airbag, another a mechanic put too much weight on the oil filler and broke it off, another day the ABS fault was lighting up.  Every day we were packed and ready to roll but each day the new fault required more parts and another wait on tenterhooks.

We were so pleased to get our blue Renault back and we went straight from the body shop to a campsite.  We would have camped in any weather but as it turned out we were blessed with glorious and sunny weather and the Cheshire countryside proved to be perfect for a few days cycling.  But first we spent a sunny afternoon cleaning the accumulation of Greek and garage dust from the van interior.  I emptied every cupboard reminding myself what goodies we had left in there, having a little weep when I found the tins of giant Greek beans in tomato sauce and the bottles of dark Greek olive oil.  Despite the mixed emotions, somehow this process healed the weeks of separation and made the ‘van feel like ours again.

In Cheshire we discovered The Whitegate Way, a 10 km cycle route on an old railway line and we cycled around Delamere Forest.  We relaxed and took life easy feeling that our life was back on track again.

We followed this with a weekend camping with friends on the Staffordshire / Cheshire border and then more sociable camping in Derbyshire.  We didn’t travel far and we didn’t need to, we were just content to have our campervan back where it belongs.


Centenary Bridge: #surprisingsalford #18

Centenary Bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal

The opening of the Broadway Link Road in 2010, called Coronet Way, introduced us all to a new view along the Manchester Ship Canal and particularly of the bulk of Centenary Bridge which can be seen as the road climbs over the railway line.  This modern lift bridge joins Trafford Park on the south side of the Manchester Ship Canal with Eccles and the M602 and is an important transport link for the companies on Trafford Park, as well as enabling those of us who live on the northern side of the canal to reach Trafford Park for work and services.  The bridge got its name as it was opened in 1994, the centenary of the opening of the Manchester Ship Canal in 1894; the 36 mile long huge canal to Liverpool and the Irish Sea that took six years to build.

When I am cycling along this road I always stop to admire the bridge and the Manchester Ship Canal.  The day I took this photograph I was deep in composition when I was joined by another cyclist who was keen to join me for a chat.  He was enthusiastic about the spring weather, the view and the joys of cycling.  We talked for some time about bikes and the best panniers; a conversation I would never have had if I hadn’t stopped to enjoy the view.

The Centenary Bridge is one of only three of its type of lift bridge and was the first low-level bridge to be built across the canal since it had opened.  The bridge was the first with a lifting mechanism, rather than a swinging mechanism; the bridge lifts upwards to allow ships to pass through.  The dual carriage way of Centenary Way was constructed in twelve sections and can lift 15 metres above the road level between the four towers.  Each of the striking square towers is 30 metres high and has a framed indentation that says Centenary Bridge in vertical letters.  The control room is on the Salford side of the bridge.

This video show the massive bulk of the dual carriageway being lowered after a ship has gone through on the Manchester Ship Canal.  The raising of the bridge is an awesome sight that we have been lucky enough to catch just once as we drove from Media City.  With reduced traffic on the canal, this doesn’t happen so often these days.  If the Port Salford plans go ahead perhaps it will become a more common sight.




Nothing compares to a campervan

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The ‘van at Croxden Abbey

It is now over nine weeks since ‘the incident’ and without a campervan we have been forced to try other accommodation ideas for our holidays.  What this period of exile from our ‘van has done is not only reinforce our love of the campervan lifestyle it has also made me realise how much having a van is a part of me and without it the knowledge that something is missing from my life pervades everything.  None of the options we have tried, youth hostels, self-catering cottage, tent and hotel, compared to the sense of freedom we get from travelling in the ‘van.  These different holidays had to be booked and organised beforehand and none of them were as relaxing as being in our own campervan.  Below is the types of accommodation we have tried and how I found them.

Youth Hostels – We used to do lots of youth hosteling with the YHA and I worked at Buttermere youth hostel for a summer season in the 1990s, so we gave this budget option a try for our first break.  Youth Hostels have the big advantage of having a kitchen so we could have home-cooking and remain frugal.  The YHA website allows you to book a series of hostels and at between £29 and £39 a night for a room for two this is a good budget option.  The kitchens can get busy at meal times but they are sociable places; as we had found in the past, youth hostels are great places to meet and chat to other people.  The downside of this is that you can’t find your own space and when I wanted some peace and quiet to sit comfortably chilling and reading my book there wasn’t anywhere to go.  Although we had sole use of a room the bunk beds meant that they were not great for lazing around.  Youth hostels are also often closed during the day time.

Self-catering cottage – This is much less of a budget option, although you can save a lot on eating out as home-cooking is still an option.  We paid £370 for a luxurious cottage for five nights on the edge of the Lake District.  We had our own space, could come and go as we pleased and had everything we needed to hand.  This was a relaxing and enjoyable holiday that came closest to being as good as the campervan.

Camping in a tent – The weather was warm so we set off with a borrowed tent to camp in the Peak District for a couple of nights.  I love being on campsites and so this holiday ticked the box for relaxing on the site watching the world go by.  I was less keen on having to run to the toilets first thing in the morning and we were ill prepared with no relaxing chairs or a table.  With better equipment and in good weather this is a pleasant option, costs the same as staying on a site in the ‘van and we could cook our meals, although the equipment we had was limited … but in the rain it would be dismal.

Hotel –  We paid £90 for a night bed and breakfast in a comfortable hotel in the Yorkshire Dales.  Of course, we have stayed in hotels before and generally agree that they are okay for a night or so but after that we yearn for home cooking.  In the evening we ate at the local Indian restaurant for £40 for the two of us.  For me this makes hotels feel like an expensive option that doesn’t suit us for long holidays.