I enjoy all the wildlife we have in Salford but one bird that brings particular joy is the Canada goose that is found in large groups around our waterways; these geese are always full of character, lively and beautiful to see. Take a walk down to Salford Quays and the Canada geese will be there, pottering under the trees along the quay and bobbing on the water of the Manchester Ship Canal. Stroll around Peel Park and you will often find a group of these gregarious birds on the river Irwell. Introduced to the UK around 300 years ago as an ornamental bird, over 60,000 breeding pairs are now living here. These geese have adapted well to life in the city and to warmer climates.
The Canada goose is a large goose and has a black head and neck and large white throat patch. These geese were introduced from North America [Canada I guess] and have successfully spread to cover most of the UK. In North America these geese migrate [as most geese do] but in the UK they are resident all year round and have never learned migration routes. With a wingspan of up to 1.8 metre and a loud honking call it is not surprising that I have met more than one person who is too terrified to pass when one of these large geese is blocking a narrow path by the canal; they can be very intimidating. When Canada geese have nests and young they are very protective and they will hiss and charge anyone that they think is threatening their brood. In some areas of the UK Canada geese are so territorial they can chase off other wildfowl, therefore putting native species at risk.
These are handsome birds that generally mate for life and in spring the goslings are very cute and yet many consider them a nuisance both here and in North America. This intolerance is probably because of their numbers, their enjoyment of green lawns and the amount of droppings they leave behind. Canada goose droppings do cover the paths where they hang out and there are some suggestions that these droppings might be harmful to humans. The evidence that this is the case doesn’t appear to be there but [the same as droppings for other animals] if you ate goose faeces this would probably make you ill.
Families enjoy feeding the Canada geese, swans and black headed gulls at Salford Quays and the activity and excitement when someone turns up at the water’s edge with food is vibrant and stunning. While the birds will eat the bread most people bring, grains would be a better option if you want to help the birds through winter when there is less grass for them to eat.
The lovely city of Evora in inland Portugal has no shortage of places to visit; you won’t want to miss the Roman Temple, Cathedral and Aqueduct just for starters. One of the most memorable attractions I found here during our trip last year was the Igreja de São Francisco a popular attraction for the Capela dos Ossos [chapel of bones]. We followed the crowds to see the weirdly attractive chapel that uses skulls and limb bones creatively positioned in patterns. The chapel was fascinating but also I could not really forget that I was looking at human bones and felt slightly uncomfortable.
In need of a little light relief, we headed for the nativity display that the church also opens to the public. All year round hundreds of Christmas nativity sets from Portugal and around the world can be seen. Part of a private collection, the variety, colour and sheer joy of these nativity scenes is worth an hour of anyone’s time.
Made from china, wood, clay, straw and fabric these nativity scenes are intricately made and fascinating objects, each one revealing something about the country it came from. Each nativity scene is an interpretation of the birth of Jesus, translated into a family tableau that reflects the local experience. These nativity scenes depict this homely scene with exuberance, giving the story a vitality and showing how Russian, South Americans, Africans and Europeans relate to the nativity. Some of these cribs are moving in their simplicity, others made me laugh out loud they were so playful and joyful. The nativity scenes are both modern and conventional. Plenty of the cribs have a sheep or a lamb near the crib, some have just Mary, Joseph and the baby, others have the Three Kings, angels or shepherds huddled around the happy family. Look closely and you will also find local food, cheese, wine or grapes in wicker baskets, cartoon-like animals and even a baby Jesus with a teddy bear!
Whether you love Christmas or not this Portuguese exhibition is just another reason to visit the beautiful Alentejo city of Evora.
Sitting drinking good coffee by the Rochdale Canal in Hebden Bridge, lazily watching the barges chug by is an experience I can recommend. The Calder valley through West Yorkshire is one of my favourite parts of England and it is a frequent weekend haunt for those of us in Greater Manchester.
We were staying at the Hebden Bridge Caravan & Motorhome Club site; a simple site that is pleasantly surrounded by trees. The site has electric hook-ups and hard-standing but no sanitary block so will only suit motorhome owners with their own facilities.
The steep-sided Calder valley was transformed by the industrial revolution as home-based weaving developed into water-powered mass production in textile mills. The distinctive stone terraces of houses were built on the hillside in the 19th century and the canal and railway line crammed in to the narrow valley floor.
The weavers left a legacy of a criss-cross of footpaths around the valley and from the camp site you can walk in almost any direction. Turn right and you eventually reach the moors and Blackstone Edge, a gritstone escarpment on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border. To the west a steep path takes you to the top of Stoodley Pike adorned with its Victorian monument. On this trip we had chosen to turn left out of the site and spend the sunny morning walking the easy six-miles along the canal to Hebden Bridge and back. Hebden Bridge is a creative and lively town full of independent shops from where you could continue your walk to the wooded valley of Hardcastle Crags or take the steep path up the hill to the atmospheric gritstone village of Heptonstall.
Mytholmroyd station on the Leeds to Manchester Calder Valley Line is just one mile from the camp site and with stations at Hebden Bridge and Sowerby Bridge the line opens up opportunities for linear walks. This line will also take you further afield to Halifax to see the stunning Piece Hall, built as a sales centre for the woollen weavers in the 18th century and recently renovated. The National Children’s Museum, Eureka, that is fun for children and the young at heart.
There is so much to do from this site I am already planning our next visit; maybe we will take the train to Todmorden walking back over the moors or we might explore more of the wool industry history by visiting the timber-framed medieval manor house, Shibden Hall in Halifax, or maybe I will end up back in Hebden Bridge lazily drinking coffee.
Although called Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club this grade II listed building is actually across the Irwell in Salford but also just a short walk from the centre of Manchester. Although the name of the club is above the grand arched entrance you could easily miss this historic building, the exterior of which is packed with faded grandeur. The red-brick building apparently retains many of its Victorian features inside and is an interesting historical sporting venue.
At this unique venue members can play real tennis, a game that goes back as far as the 1400’s as well as squash. You can also play the fast game of rackets which was first developed in prisons and later alleyways, played against one or more walls. Rackets is played with wooden rackets and a small hard ball as either singles or doubles. The indoor rackets court at Manchester Tennis and Racquet Club has been in continuous use since 1882.
Opening on this site on Blackfriars Road in 1882, the club started life nearby a few years before. At that time it had one rackets court and a tennis court, a squash court was added later in the 20th century.
It would be interesting to take a peak inside this building sometime.
You might recall we’re trying to keep within a budget and that this year achieving this has proved to be tough going with our spending feeling somewhat out of control. I was therefore keen to keep costs low on our fantastic autumn trip to Spain from September to November. So how did this plan go and what did we spend?
Diesel – £390 (we avoided the temptation to visit all of Spain and travelled 2,430 miles)
Supermarket / food shopping – £536 (around £100 less than we would have spent at home and we returned with dozens of bottles of wine for the cellar!)
Cafes & meals out – £326 (Coffee in a cafe is inexpensive in Spain and we do this much more on holiday than at home but we ate out in the evening less and so spent almost £100 less than we would have spent at home so a small gold star to us)
Campsites – £708 (we had a few nights wild camping to keep costs down but could have done more)
Public transport – £51 (we stayed off the motorways with tolls in Spain and managed to spend a little less than we would if we’d stayed home)
Entrance fees – £98 (similar to when we are at home)
Miscellaneous – £80 (new sunglasses, maps, washing machines, occasional wi-fi)
Ferry Portsmouth to Bilbao – £895 (ouch! A lot of money to suffer the high seas of the Bay of Biscay)
Fixing the power steering & a new wing mirror for our van – £377 [power steering electrical fault]
Total spent £3,461
I’m feeling reasonably pleased with this total. It really is not that much more than we would have spent if we’d stayed at home so hasn’t had a massive impact on our budget. The lesson is that there are really no excuses not to go away again!
Knock Knock, Who’s There? Theodore! Theodore who? Theodore wasn’t open, so I knocked!
On the first house I lived in one of my favourite things I bought for the house was a cast iron door knocker of a cat happily sitting on top of a dog kennel. This door knocker made me smile every time I arrived home. The door knocker moved with me to a couple of houses but eventually it got left behind somewhere. I’ve not had a door knocker that has made me so happy since and on our flat we don’t have one at all [electric intercoms don’t give me the same pleasure but they are practical]. Nevertheless I have retained my interest in handsome door knockers.
All over Spain we found plenty of door knockers worth stopping and admiring on their magnificent doorways. On our latest trip I first started to give door furniture a thought while we were in the charming town of Aínsa. Look carefully at one of the photographs above and you will see a door knocker in the shape of a pair of testicles. Having this sort of fertility symbol nailed to your front door is apparently traditional in Spain.
After Aínsa I started to notice all sorts of decorative door knockers. Some were fierce and unwelcoming or perhaps protective. In the hill village of Pedraza I spotted a dragon, in Burgos I noticed a somewhat fierce dog [nothing like the cute one I had owned] and the magnificent door knocker with three snakes was in Albarracin.
As well as protective or bringing good fortune, these decorative and ornate door knockers are an outward display of wealth and status. Attached to a front door they are often the first thing your visitors will note and are a visible indication of taste or your financial standing. My cute cat and dog door knocker must have said oodles about me.