Walking & cycling around Morecambe

2019 Dec Morecambe book shop and bay (5)
The view across the bay from Morecambe Promenade

Under lock down we have stayed at home, getting out most days to walk or cycle the paths, streets and tracks we can reach from our humble Morecambe abode.  One of the positive things about this dreadful period of isolation has been the chance to explore what is available from our doorstep and we have found diverse and beautiful areas in this marvellous corner of Lancashire.

If you aren’t lucky enough to live in Morecambe, I hope these walking and cycling ideas will whet your appetite to visit Morecambe when you can.

Morecambe’s Magnificent Promenade

I have to start with Morecambe’s Promenade.  The views across Morecambe Bay from the prom are panoramic, with the mountains of the Lake District a tantalising backdrop to the expanse of the tidal sands; it is said it takes the water from 40 Niagara Falls to fill the bay on a spring tide and looking out to the Irish Sea that is easy to believe.  Morecambe’s promenade is a mixed-use 8 km (5 mile) flat cycle or walking route with a good surface.  This is an accessible place to take your daily exercise and with the wildlife, tides and weather there is always something new to see.  From Heysham in the south curving around to Hest Bank in the north-east you are separated from the traffic on the elevated promenade and, depending on the tides, you can also step onto the sandy and pebbly shore for a truly sea-level view.  We pretty much always see oystercatchers and hear their familiar piercing calls as they wing along the shore, we might see a curlew or a redshank and black headed or herring gulls.  It is usually clear enough to pick out the familiar bumps of the Langdale Fells in the Lake District.  In different times we will stop for hot chocolate in a cafe or [for a treat] in the magnificent restored 1930s Midland Hotel.  Ice-cream at Bruccianis, another charming remnant of Morecambe’s Art Deco past, is one more pleasure we are missing at the moment, although we have been delighted to see that some of the ice-cream stalls have re-opened.

2019 Nov Morecambe Bay (2)
Morecambe Promenade

Seeking out Statues

Looking to add variety to our daily walk and give us a theme to explore, I took us on a tour of some of Morecambe Bay’s statues.  Starting at the Midland Hotel and The Stone Jetty you are surrounded by some of the TERN project stone sculptures of elegant coastal birds.  Not much further along the Promenade toward Hest Bank, don’t miss the cheery statue to local lad Eric Morecambe.  Born John Eric Bartholomew in 1926, he formed a comedy double-act with Ernie Wise and his statue is an outstanding addition to Morecambe’s attractions, it has even recently been adorned with a face mask!  Almost everyone has their picture taken in the iconic pose and sings, ‘Bring Me Sunshine!’

Continuing towards Hest Bank, leave the promenade at the side of Morecambe Town Hall and slip through a gateway to find a hidden fading cemetery opened in 1874 and attached to the parish church.  You are in what was the old fishing village of Poulton-le-Sands and among the tree-lined graves are two personality-packed fisher-folk sculptures carved from elm trees by Tim Burgess.

Return to the coast and maybe linger and watch the fishing boats before continuing towards Happy Mount Park.  At the end of the Promenade sits the colourful and dramatic Venus and Cupid statue, created by a local artist Shane Johnstone in 2005 in memory of his partner.  The two multi-coloured mosaic figures for me exquisitely symbolise love, loss and human connections and offers some sense of comfort during a pandemic.

Taking the road to Jo ‘n’ Lees cafe, looking out for oystercatchers that often sit on the rocks near here, walkers can follow the curve of the pebbly coast to Hest Bank.  One of the seven metal sculptures of a wader by Ulverston-based artist Chris Bramall is on the grassy area above the beach here, celebrating Morecambe Bay’s importance for wintering birds.  You have walked about 4.5 km by now [just under three miles] and you have to walk back but if you’ve got the time and energy it is worth carrying on along the shore or over the fields to Red Bank Farm to see the poignant and brilliant white Praying Shell sculpture that looks over the sands and is a memorial to the 23 cockle pickers [this is the reported number but it is hard to be sure] who died in 2004 after being left to the tides by abusive gang masters.  I will always stop here, remember and pay my respects.

 

Cruising beside the Lancaster Canal

The Lancaster Canal runs 66 km [41 miles] from Preston to Kendal and is a haven for tranquillity and wildlife.  We can reach it easily from Folly Lane that runs beside the new road into Morecambe, The Bay Gateway.  The canal was built to transport coal from Lancashire and limestone from Cumbria, the Glasson branch giving the opportunity of cargo transfers from the barges to seagoing vessels.  We begin on a section of the canal between Lancaster and Hest Bank that flows peacefully through lush fields, with views back to Torrisholme Barrow on the edge of Morecambe; we often have these first few miles to ourselves.

2020 March Canal cycle ride (1)
The Lancaster Canal at Carnforth

As you reach the outskirts of Hest Bank, gardens spill down to the canal side and views open out across Morecambe Bay to the Lake District fells.  On the banks of the canal look out for wild flowers and there are always mallards, coots and swans on the water.  In the spring sunshine we usually spot a string of tiny fluffy ducklings following mum.

You can return the same way but we like to make this a circular walk and the options are varied to suit the time we have.  Follow The Crescent and Station Road in Hest Bank and you are soon on the path along the shore [see statues walk above] that will take you back to Morecambe [a 12 km / 8 miles round trip from the centre of Morecambe].  We like to carry on to Bolton-le-Sands to enjoy the views and calmness of the canal for as long as possible and head down to the coast via Mill Lane.  This route gives us a chance to come by the memorial statue to the cockle pickers [see statues walk] and stroll along the lovely pebbly bay near there and adds about 5.5 km / 3.5 miles, making something like a 17.5 km / 11.5 mile walk.

April 2020 Canal and Coast walk (5)
Looking towards Red Bank from near Hest Bank

Historic Heysham

The coast draws us on our walks and reaching it we can choose to turn either right or left.  Up to now the walks have turned to the right, but turning left at the Midland Hotel it is about 5 km / 3 miles mostly along the Promenade to Half Moon Bay at Heysham.  This takes you to a different side of Morecambe, away from the bustle of the 20th century resort.  Reaching the end of the Promenade at Heysham you will see St Peter’s Church above the bay.  Follow the winding village lanes to explore its lovely graveyard and enjoy the views.  Take the time to go inside the church and you will find a carved Norse hog-back stone which would originally have been a grave cover.  Adjacent to the church is Glebe Gardens, a charming community garden that is a colourful place to linger.

Eventually you will want to climb the steps onto Heysham Barrows and Heysham Head.  Here are perched the ruins of St Patrick’s Chapel and the rock cut graves dating back to the 8th century.  We like to follow the coast around the hidden sandy cove lined with fragrant yellow gorse bushes and enjoy the views to Arnside Knott before continuing on to Half Moon Bay.  Heysham Port, where freight and Isle of Man ferries sail in and out, is now in sight and provides an active scene with the two bulky nuclear powers stations as a backdrop.  Construction on Heysham 1 began in 1970 and it came into operation in 1983, followed by Heysham 2.  At Half Moon Bay you will find Anna Gillespie’s SHIP, a sculpture that features two men sitting on the bow and stern of a ship looking in opposite directions.  The views along the coast are so good that returning the same way is no hardship.

Marvellous Morecambe

The seaside resort of Morecambe grew in the late 1800s from a collection of villages.  A harbour and a railway, linking the coast with Yorkshire, arrived by 1850 and the town expanded to absorb Poulton-le-Sands, Bare and Torrisholme.  The name of Morecambe was officially adopted by the town from 1889, after the bay it overlooks.  Despite many 1960s housing estates, there are a surprising number of snickets, alleys or ginnels around Morecambe and I enjoy exploring these and the streets of our home town and finding glimpses of the past.

Opposite the handsome 1930s Midland Hotel, built to look like an elegant ocean liner, is The Platform, today an unusual music and theatre venue, this was built in 1907 as a railway station for Morecambe Promenade.  Look to your left and you will spot the splendour of Morecambe Winter Gardens, a grand Victorian landmark building in red brick that is currently being renovated.

Follow the entertaining bird-themed walkway alongside The Festival Market, a cornucopia of stalls in pre-lock-down days that I hope will return, and set off along Victoria Street.  Keep your eyes peeled above and behind you for murals of fishing boats, motorcycles and celebrities.

Take a left back to the sea front and turn right, passing buildings constructed to entertain and house the abundance of visitors that came to Morecambe in its heyday; you will certainly see signs of cinemas and boarding houses.  The 1905 Clock Tower is another landmark and further on the Pier Hotel and the Old Pier Bookshop, a warren of a shop stuffed with second-hand books, both give you a clue as to what once stretched out to sea here.  Morecambe’s Pier, like many, suffered from fires and was demolished in 1992.

Take Clarence Street by the bookshop and admire the tall, bay-windowed buildings and look for old fishing cottages, you might decide to check out an alleyway.  Make sure you turn back near The Bull to see the large fisherman mural on the gable of one of the houses.  Left onto Poulton Road takes you by Queen Victoria Hospital and at the Police Station turn left into Church Street to wander around the Parish Church and through the old cemetery, noting the pretty cobble-stone wall.

Double-back briefly and take the narrow inviting lane opposite the school, crossing Thornton Road onto a snicket called Stuart Avenue that runs between playing fields.  Turn right onto Grasmere Road and you will eventually wind your way through tidy  bungalows to Bare Lane Railway Station.  Although now part of Morecambe, Bare still retains a village feel and on early 20th century maps is clearly shown as a separate village.  Even on our 1940s map, Bare is a one-road settlement clearly distinct from the resort.

Cross the railway line, turn left into Fairhope Avenue and right onto Low Lane.  You are now well away from the old fishing villages and are walking through a tidy housing estate of mainly bungalows that attract retirees.  In this flat landscape you will notice a rise to your left with trees.  Turn left down Fulwood Drive and look for the narrow path on your right that will take you onto the hill that is topped with Torrisholme Barrow, a round barrow from 2400-1500 BC.  Alternatively, continue along Low Lane and take the snicket into the trees and make your way behind the houses and uphill on informal paths to the barrow.  There is a triangulation pillar on the hill but only scant evidence of a barrow.  What Torrisholme Barrow has is views that surely make this a perfect spot for burials.  Some say this hill was an old moot or meeting hill and at Easter you will often find a cross placed here.  On a clear day, as well as seeing your route through Morecambe, you will gaze across the bay to the Lake District and Barrow-in-Furness.  Turn around and over the row of hawthorn hedging you will spot the line of the Lancaster Canal and beyond that the bulk of the Bowland Fells.  The elaborate and domed Ashton Memorial perched above Lancaster is another local landmark.

Torrisholme is one more village that is now incorporated into Morecambe.  The triangular green of Torrisholme Square remains and is surrounded by smart stone houses, some dating back to the 17th century.  Head down Torrisholme Barrow to your left and climb over the stile in the corner of the field onto Slyne Road, turning right.  Left onto Russell Drive will take you to the main road to Lancaster, turn right and cross the road to take the snicket enigmatically called The Way that cuts behind the houses.  Over the main road you will find a road [McDonalds to your right] which leads to a path following parallel with the Bay Gateway for walkers and cyclists.  This reaches the old railway line that is now a multi-use route.  Turn right towards Morecambe and you are soon back at The Midland Hotel.

This interesting circuit is about 10 km / 6 miles with options to make it shorter if you wish.

Perfect cycling along the River Lune to Caton

You can walk this route but 30 km [almost 20 miles] could be a long day and it is much easier on a bicycle.  The lovely traffic-free path is also perfect for cycling.  The popular old railway line runs from near Morecambe Railway Station to the historic city of Lancaster (5.4 km / 3.4 miles).  In spring you cycle under green birch trees, alongside drainage ditches and eventually reach the banks of the River Lune.  Look ahead and you will spot Lancaster Castle on the hilltop and the splendour of the 18th century waterfront below.  On the way you pass the cycle route to the fishing village at Sunderland Point (6.8 km / 4.2 miles) where you can stop and watch the wading birds on the tidal marshes.

In Lancaster the old railway line is well signed, continuing along the River Lune for a further 10 km (6.2 miles), although at the moment work on the canal aqueduct means that cyclists and walkers have to follow Caton Road for a short distance.  Cycling by the river you get occasional glimpses of the water through the trees.  Crossing a road, you might want to detour a short distance to look at Halton Bridge, a narrow bridge built from the remains of Lancaster’s old wrought iron Greyhound Bridge in 1913.  At only 6 feet wide, many a vehicle has lost some paint on the bridge’s bollards!

The best views of the River Lune are where the track crosses the river twice at the horse-shoe bend of the Crook O’Lune and pretty much everyone stops to take in the scenery at this much-loved local beauty spot.  You can find a grassy spot to picnic here, looking across the picturesque river to distant hills or follow a short circuit of the river bank.

April 2020 River Lune and Caton Moor walk (1)
The River Lune near the Crook O’Lune

We prefer to carry on to Caton and maybe cycle up the steep hill to Caton Moor to sit below the wind turbines and take in the wide views over Lancashire.  Alternatively we might leave the bikes in Caton and add a 13 km / 8 mile walk to our cycle ride.  Climbing up the quiet lane to Caton Moor, we will take the lovely track back down the hillside through the gorse bushes and bluebells and along the woodland edge to Claughton.  The Claughton Aerial Ropeway crosses high over the track.  Built in 1924, the ropeway carries shale from the quarry high on the moor down to the brick works.  Cross straight over the A683 in Claugton and leave the track for a footpath that takes you to a particularly picturesque stretch of the River Lune.  I could sit here watching the sand martins wheeling over the river for hours.  The grassy paths take you back to the cycle route and  Caton.

 

The River Lune to Glasson Dock

From Morecambe take the railway line / cycle track once again to Lancaster [see above].  In Lancaster a tarmac and later gravel track along the quayside and river takes cyclists and walkers to the hamlet of Conder Green and on to Glasson Dock (9.3 km / 8 miles one-way).  This is a quiet and peaceful route with occasional views across the river that is nevertheless popular with walkers and cyclists.  Today the pleasant village of Glasson has a marina packed with colourful boats, connected to a still busy harbour by a lock.  The harbour at Glasson originally opened in 1787 as Lancaster became un-navigable for ships and goods came through Glasson and were distributed via the Lancaster Canal.  If you’re lucky the village shop will be open and have some local Wallings ice-cream in stock.

An abundance of days out from Devizes Camping & Caravanning Club Site in Wiltshire

Wiltshire 3
Delightful topiary in Bradford-on-Avon

We didn’t know in February that in less than a month the country would be locked down but with the hindsight we now have I am so pleased we got away for a ten-day campervan holiday while coronavirus made its way across the world to the UK.  We toured around Wiltshire for most of that time and for five nights stopped at the Camping and Carvanning Club site at Devizes.  Our average stay on a campsite is less than two nights, so five nights is a chunk of time for us to settle anywhere but in February open campsites were not easy to find and the Devizes site turned out to be a great base with lots of options.

On the way to Devizes we drove up to the high car park near The White Horse of Westbury.  It was a windy day and our walk to see the horse carved out of the chalk, although now covered in concrete, and around Bratton Camp blew away the cobwebs after a long drive.  On the northern edge of Salisbury Plain, the views from the 17th century Westbury White Horse stretch for miles.

We walked, took the bus and also drove from the campsite.  Here are the places we visited.

Taking the bus from the campsite

Leaving the Blue Bus at the campsite, we used the local buses to visit a couple of attractions.

Opposite The Three Magpies pub, at the entrance to the campsite you can pick up a bus to Devizes.  Alternatively, a short walk over the canal bridge and along the quiet lane takes you to Seend.  Here you can catch the number 49 bus to Trowbridge in one direction and to Avebury and even Swindon in the other.

Bradford-on-Avon – Taking the 49 to Trowbridge, we picked up a train to Bradford-on-Avon on a day of bright sunshine and showers.  Visiting this pretty town sitting on a steep hillside by the River Avon was perhaps the highlight of our time in Wiltshire.  With stone buildings that are warm and elegant and charming cobbled streets, Bradford-on-Avon has plenty of old weaver’s cottages from its time as a cloth-making town.  Overlooking the Town Bridge, which has an old lock-up perched on it with a weather vane known as the Bradford gudgeon, we found Il Ponte Italian restaurant, a great choice for coffee and lunch.

Wiltshire
The long flight of Caen Hill Locks

Away from the town centre we explored the enchanting and strangely proportioned Saxon Church of St Laurence with narrow arched doorways and windows and crossed the river to reach the 14th century Title Barn.  With sunlight filtering through the slit windows of this monumental building I gazed up at the impressive timber roof, the stories from the past echoing among the beams.

We climbed steep lanes and steps to the highest buildings in the town that have views across the Avon valley to Salisbury Plain and The White Horse.  At the end of one lane, perched on the hillside we found the splendidly situated medieval chapel of St Mary Tory.  Tory here means hill [tor] and we looked over the town from what was once a pilgrimage site between Glastonbury and Malmesbury.  The chapel was restored in the 19th century and more recently the east window was replaced with modern colourful stained glass.

Avebury – Using the bus in the opposite direction we spent a day walking seven miles around the many Neolithic sites of Avebury.  After walking around the huge circular bank and ditch with impressive standing stones, we walked to West Kennet Long Barrow, passing the mystery that is Silbury Hill on the way.  This long barrow is my favourite site out of the many at Avebury and on a fine sunny day the views from West Kennet Long Barrow were worth the exertion.  A burial site for many individuals, along with pottery, beads and a Neolithic dagger, large sarsen stones hide the entrance to the barrow’s 42-foot-long passage which has two side chambers and another at the end.  We returned to Avebury by East Kennett and the Sanctuary, another baffling site that you can be creative imagining what it was used for.

Walking from the campsite

The Kennet and Avon Canal runs alongside the Devizes campsite and an easy and enjoyable walk of about two miles each way will take you to Caen Hill Locks, 29 locks rising 237 feet.  It is an exhausting trip for boat owners, taking the best part of a day to travel up or down this row of locks and you are bound to spot one or two as you walk.

Carry on a mile or so more and you reach Devizes.  We were there on market day which always adds an extra bustle to a town.  We admired the outdoor stalls and then walked through the indoor market which has a wide array of goods from cakes and cards to wooden crafts.  Chatting to one stall holder he recommended Times Square for the best coffee in this agreeable town.  On market day it seemed that everyone had decided to enjoy a break in this friendly cafe but it is big enough to accommodate everyone and the stall holder was right, it was good coffee.

We visited The Wiltshire Museum to see its exceptional collection from the many ancient sites in the county.  If you are confused about the timeline of Wiltshire’s history then this is the place to help you get it straight in your head.  If you don’t want to immerse yourself in local history then the tour of the Victorian Wadworth Brewery might be more your glass of ale.  After walking back along the canal [or you can take the bus] a visit to the Three Magpies pub next to the campsite for a glass of Wadworth was a great way to round off the day .

Walk in the opposite direction and you reach The Barge Inn after just over a mile.

Days out in our campervan from the campsite

As well as walking and taking the bus, we took our campervan out for a couple of days.

Stonehenge – We last visited Stonehenge in our first campervan in 2006.  The stones are the same but the organisation of the site has changed massively since then.  Today the visitor’s centre is one mile away from the circle and one of the roads alongside the stones has been closed.  We purchased timed tickets in advance and arrived at the large car park [with dedicated motorhome parking] with a comfortable amount of time to visit the exhibition before taking the free shuttle as far as Fargo Plantation.  This enabled us to approach Stonehenge across the green pasture land, skylarks singing above us and the stones in the distance.  Of course, the scene isn’t as it was in the Neolithic era but it is more peaceful than it was.

In 2006 we paid extra to be able to walk among the stones as the sun set, a truly magical experience.  Today, the stones are surrounded by a low fence and with controlled visitor numbers everyone has space to walk around the stones and get an uninterrupted view from different angles and in different light.  There is no doubt that Stonehenge is a popular place to visit and given the limitations, English Heritage are doing a good job at enabling everyone to enjoy and understand the structure.  For me, Stonehenge remains a special place and I look forward to coming back when the A303 is out of sight.

Wiltshire 4
The huge stones at Stonehenge

Marlborough & Savernake Forest – If you want somewhere to stretch your legs, enjoy a spell of window shopping followed by some people watching in a cosy cafe then Marlborough, with the second widest high street in the UK, will fit the bill.

Nearby is Savernake Forest, an expanse of woodland with a network of footpaths, deer and a remarkable collection of ancient oak trees, each with a name.  In the mixed woodland, with so many paths, we were soon disorientated and only knew where we were when we stumbled upon the sign for one of these gnarled oak trees.  We found The Saddle, The Cathedral and Old Paunch; these trees already have character but knowing their names made me consider the features of each tree and admire the ridged bark and dripping moss.

Lacock Abbey & village – Owned and managed by the National Trust, Lacock Abbey is a 13th century abbey that was converted to a family home in the 16th century.  If you recognise the building and the village this is probably because you have seen it on a film or TV programme.  Downton Abbey, Cranford, Harry Potter and others have all been filmed here.  The car park isn’t huge but it does have some large spaces for motorhomes.

The house has plenty of personal touches that retain an intimacy in the rambling building and there are knowledgeable guides in most room.  William Henry Fox Talbot lived here and in 1835 captured the first photographic negative of one of Lacock Abbey’s oriel windows.  You can see this image and others in the small museum by the entrance that tells the interesting story of photography.

Wiltshire 2
The courtyard at Lacock Abbey is charming

Devizes Camping and Caravan Club site is an open and green site with friendly and helpful wardens.  The facilities would welcome an update but are totally satisfactory.

I realise that none of us can travel anywhere just at the moment due to coronavirus but I hope this post and these ideas might contribute to your planning for future trips while we can only dream.  Happy future travels!

 

 

Froswick Wearing it’s Winter Coat

2020 Feb Snowy day up Froswick (8)
Looking across The Tongue to Windermere

It was so quiet I could hear the snow making that spooky creaking noise as I placed each foot carefully.  The snow was so deep it came above my knees in places and melted into my walking boots and  I had no idea why I hadn’t put my gaiters on.  The wind was whipped through my layers of clothing and the hail was hitting my face so hard it hurt.  I simultaneously felt totally alive and sure I was about to die of hypothermia!

Only one fine day was forecast for the week between storms Ciara and Dennis.  ‘Let’s go to the Lake District for the day,’ I suggested, thinking it would be good to make the most of the fine weather after two weeks of being trapped by DIY.  The weather was still expected to be cold and breezy so I pictured us wrapping up for a brisk walk through some attractive sheltered woodland, but I left the planning to my partner.  As I have mentioned before, he is trying to walk up all the Wainwright Fells and so after consulting his lists and our maps, parked the Blue Bus near the church at Troutbeck.  We weren’t early birds and our favoured car park by Trout Beck was busy even on a week day in February and we had to resort to the lay-by up the road.

He pointed up the valley to a snowy ridge and told me we were here to climb Froswick; it was clearly a hill!  There also was not even a hint of sheltered woodland, this was a completely exposed route.  Only 720 m high, Froswick is on the ridge between Thornthwaite Crag and Ill Bell, both of which we have climbed.  Any sensible person would have included Froswick on a walk up one of these bigger neighbours and hardly even noticed the extra exertion.  For some reason Froswick had been missed on all of our trips to the surrounding hills and remained without a tick on the list.

In the valley it was a pleasant enough February day but we set off well wrapped up against the cold we expected as we climbed higher.  The ground was sodden after the heavy rain during the first storm and we jumped over becks and sloshed across bogs on the path from Limefitt Park, following Hagg Gill.

The hardy Herdwick sheep were sheltering where they could and the other walkers we met were all climbing The Tongue, the distinctive hill that sticks out into the valley.  As we climbed higher the landscape became white and the gusts got stronger, the clouds chasing across the horizon and blue sky just occasionally peeping through.  Walking in deep snow is hard work and I was plodding on with my head down, using my walk leader’s footprints to show the way.  I was wearing five layers of clothing and yet could still feel the chill of the wind on my skin!

Looking up from the plodding, I could see the clouds were still high and the top of Froswick was in sight.  I was beginning to think we would get to the top, although I was tired and cold but common sense kicked in and after a brief huddle over the map we jointly decided it would be most sensible to abandon the hill that day.

Descending in deep snow is lots of fun, and much quicker than going up, but it was still almost four in the afternoon by the time we were back at the ‘van.  Although we did have our head torches, walking on wet ground is easier in daylight and it is doubtful whether we would have got to the top and back down before dark.  Knowing when to turn back is an important skill for hill walkers.

I have no doubt we will be back to attempt to walk up Froswick on another day, I just hope it is a bit warmer.

 

 

Searching for Lancashire Snowdrops

Snowdrops (3)
One of the stunning varieties of snowdrops at Cobble Hey Farm

If, like me, you look forward to the days getting longer and warmer, you will be noticing the brighter morning light and that the sunsets are just that little bit later.  The seasons are beginning to change!  It is the emerging of snowdrops that for me really signals that winter will eventually end.  Every year I anticipate the arrival of these tiny white flowers that are both hardy and delicate and represent the transition from the quiet of winter to the blossoming of spring.

There are some wonderful snowdrop gardens across the country and you will have your own favourites but here are my top picks of places to see snowdrops in Lancashire.

Cobble Hey Farm, Hobbs Ln, Claughton-on-Brock, Garstang, PR3 0QN

Cobble Hey Farm, high on the slopes of the Lancashire Bowland Fells, is the place to lose yourself in snowdrops.  Edwina, the gardener, has created a unique woodland garden over 20 years in this wild spot and among winding paths and a stream there are collections of different varieties of snowdrops.  The common snowdrops have naturalised under the trees and there are plantings of rarer snowdrops interspersed with occasional pink Hellebore and daffodils.  Wrap up as it can be cold on this fellside and explore this cheerful garden.  I found myself looking more closely at snowdrops than I have ever done before as I wandered around the garden, finding ivory-coloured snowdrops, large-flowered snowdrops, tall varieties and others with daffodil yellow-stems.

If you have time you can walk on the farmland and maybe see the lapwings and there might be new lambs in the barn and goats in the field.  When you need to warm up there is a cafe here too.

Lytham Hall, Ballam Road, Lytham, FY8 4JX

We took the bus into Blackpool and another out to Lytham from Beechwood Carvan Site but you can park in Lytham if you prefer to drive.  Like us, you will want to see the windmill on Lytham’s green, look over the sands and maybe browse the shops or visit one of the many cafes but on a February weekend you will eventually want to walk out of the town to Lytham Hall to follow their snowdrop trail

It was a fine day on our last visit and we were greeted by smiling and helpful volunteers and directed into the gardens.  Lots of people were strolling through the extensive woodland gardens around the handsome 18th century brick and stone mansion.  Occasionally someone would stoop to get a close-up view of one flower in the carpets of bright white droplet flowers.

Lytham Hall was a grand family home and then offices until the 1990s when the 78-acre estate came up for sale.  British Aerospace (a local employer) donated the almost £1 million asking price and Lytham Hall is now run by and for the local community and has a range of different events in the house and gardens.  They also run a popular cafe in the house.

Bank Hall, Bretherton, PR26 9AT

South of Preston and surrounded by trees is the hidden gem of Bank Hall.  The gardens here are open for Snowdrop Sundays through February.  Bank Hall has not been lived in since 1971 and deteriorated considerably.  It’s appearance on TVs Restoration programme and the hard work of a local group are turning its fortunes around and now renovation of the hall is ongoing.  The woodland grounds can be visited on regular open days and wander here in February and you will find rafts of perfect white snowdrops naturalised over hundreds of years in a spectacular carpet.

With two bright green leaves and a dropping white bell-shaped flower, snowdrops are European natives that may be a Roman introduction to the UK.  The Galanthus family, from the Greek meaning milk flower, has around 20 different species, varying in height, size and flowering season, some growing to 12 inches high and others flower in autumn.

We stayed at:

Beechwood Caravan Site, New Lane, Thornton-Cleveleys, Lancashire, FY5 5NJ – a small, reasonably priced site that has good bus links with Blackpool and Fleetwood.

If this isn’t enough snowdrops then Hornby Castle in the Lune Valley also has a snowdrop weekend.

Read my full travel article about seeking snowdrops in Lancashire published in MMM in January 2019.

Snowdrops (1)

My year of walking 2,019 km in 2019

This post isn’t about a New Year resolution [I don’t do these] but it is about my 2019 walking target.  Friends would generally describe me as an active person but just over 12 months ago I realised I had no idea how far I walked in a year.  So, at the beginning of 2019 I set myself a target of walking 2,019 km during 2019.  I thought this wouldn’t be too demanding but really had no idea how it would pan out and as the year rolled on I became surprised how challenging it was to reach that mileage.  Half way through the year I reported that I was over target, having walked 60.5 km more than 1,009.5 I needed to have walked at that point.  Maybe I sat back a little in the second half of the year and perhaps moving house messed up my routine but it was touch and go whether I would reach 2,019 km before the end of 31 December 2019.  But I got there and after some long winter walks actually walked 2,073 km in 2019!

I didn’t count walking around our home or nipping out to the shops as part of my 2,019 km, this was not a step counting exercise and distance was only counted when I had kitted up for a walk.  It was okay if this was a utility walk such as to the supermarket or to an appointment, the important thing was that I had chosen to walk rather than cycle, take the bus or drive.  My partner has joined me on most of these walks but hasn’t quite reached 2,019 km himself.

2,019 km averages out as around 5.5 km each day.  Not a great distance but I found that to reach the target there was no chance to let up.  Yes, there were days when I walked 20 km but there were other days when other activities got in the way and I didn’t walk anywhere at all.  A couple of days like that and a long walk counted for little and I needed to catch up.  There were a staggering 56 days when I didn’t go outside and put one foot in front of the other.  In the first half of the year I had 30 none-walking days and 26 days in the second half as by December I was dashing out every day to ensure I reached the target!  Of course, on some of these apparently inactive days i might have been to my tai chi class or more recently packing and unpacking boxes or gardening; but there were days when we were driving or I was writing at home and being fairly inactive.  I know that I feel happier if I have got outside and taken some exercise and certainly if I am writing it is a break from staring at the laptop and it helps my brain to focus and come up with new ideas.

Most of the distance was either around Salford or, more recently, Morecambe but there were plenty of memorable days out in other places, here are a few highlights:

  • Climbing Ben Nevis wasn’t my longest day of walking at 17 km but with all that altitude to climb it was the toughest day and the most emotional.
  • Walking with friends is always special and provides me with good memories.  We have had some fantastic walking days with other people in Wharfedale, the Lake District, Scotland and Anglesey in all sorts of weather from wet to almost hot!
  • The coastal walking in Shetland was unbeatable and well organised and during our spring holiday there we clocked up 127.5 km on these stunning islands.
  • Walking from Eastbourne to Beachy Head on a warm February day was an unforgettable experience and sitting on the cliffs as a peregrine falcon landed next to us was a bonus.
  • We walked around Rivington Pike in Lancashire on a couple of occasions, both blue-sky winter days that were perfect.
  • The two longest walks were both 21 km and were  both summer walks but on both occasions there was more drizzle than sunshine!  The first was around the green hilly land around Hexham in the north of England through lush dripping forests.  The second was up and down the Derbyshire dales around Longnor on what I had sold to my partner as a pub crawl but turned out to be more of a walk between closed country pubs!
  • On one pavement bashing day I wore through some shoe leather walking 18.5 km around Salford and Manchester, mostly to hand deliver a parcel someone had purchased on Ebay [they left very good feedback!]
  • Dodd in the Lake District is only a small hill but on the January day we climbed it there was enough snow for a snowball fight!
  • One of my favourite walks in Salford is around Salford Quays and Media City.  Having recorded all my walks for the year I can see I did this on 28 different occasions between January to November 2019.  Now we have moved my favourite walk is down to Morecambe Bay, a handy 6 km circuit.

What about 2020?  As much as I have found it fascinating to keep a check on my mileage for the year I will not be setting a walking target again.  As the year moved on it had started to feel a bit tiresome to keep working out distances I had walked and make a note and I won’t miss being free of that.  I know there are good apps that will record distances but I don’t necessarily trust their accuracy, particularly in the mountains.  Another reason for making this target a one-off is cycling.  Our bikes have languished in the shed gathering dust for much of the year and we are looking forward to getting out and exploring the fantastic cycle routes around our new home in Morecambe now we don’t have to keep walking and walking and walking.  My partner has threatened to set a demanding cycling target for 2020 but I think / hope he is joking!

 

 

 

 

A 1940s tour around Morecambe Bay

20191114_130917
Vintage gifts

When we moved to Morecambe we received a whole pile of cards wishing us happiness in our new home and a few lovely gifts.  One of the most memorable gifts was from an old friend whose grandma had lived in Bolton-le-Sands on Morecambe Bay.  She generously gave us two items that had once belonged to her grandmother.

The old half-inch map for cyclists and motorists for the Lancaster District is a beautiful cloth map that has been unfolded and folded many times.  I enjoy looking at old maps and this one gives an interesting insight into how Morecambe grew in the latter half of the 20th century.  Our bungalow was built in the 1960s and the map shows the fields that were here before and Morecambe is shown as a fishing village and not the seaside resort it is now.   Inside the cardboard cover to the map are two adverts that give a glimpse into another world.  One is to Tranter’s First Class Temperance Hotel in Bridgewater Square and the other is for Dr J Collis Browne’s Chlorodyne, a remedy for coughs, colds, consumption, bronchitis and asthma which will also cut short attacks of epilepsy and hysteria and makes claims as being useful for a wide range of illnesses from gout and cancer to toothache!

My friend’s other gift was , ‘The History of Morecambe Bay’ by Michael McDermott, an illustrated pamphlet from 1948.  In his forward, Michael McDermott tells us that, ‘For years it has been my custom to cycle along the coast, and thus come across many of the antiquities of the area.’  I am sure Michael McDermott also owned a copy of the old cloth map.

Michael McDermott begins by considering the origin of the name Morecambe [pronounced more – cam, the b and e are silent] and suggests the name may mean the bending shore or the beautiful haven or that it may derive from Mwr Cwm, meaning hollow in the hills.  Today, according to The Morecambe Bay Partnership, the name is from, Morikambe eischusis  [tidal flats in Greek].  This name was recorded on a map between the Solway and Ribble estuaries by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in 150 AD.

Michael McDermott’s journey around Morecambe Bay begins in Lancaster with the Romans and then follows the River Lune to the picturesque Sunderland Point and the gem that is Overton Church.  He then takes his reader by bicycle on to Heysham, which he describes as a ‘wooded headland’ with the stone coffins on the headland and he gives some details about the area’s links with St Patrick.

Moving north, Michael McDermott frustratingly doesn’t have much to say about Morecambe itself.  ‘Adjacent to Heysham we have the holiday resort of Morecambe, which has developed in the last hundred years from a small fishing village called Poulton-le-Sands. Morecambe has the usual theatres, fair-grounds and swimming-bath of a holiday resort, and beyond that is of little interest to us.’  So much has changed in Morecambe since 1948, with the fair and lido now gone and I would have been very interested to read about what the town was like 70 years ago.

This clearly isn’t the booklet to get a clear picture of Morecambe back in the 1940s but reading it aloud to each other we did learn about Torrisholme long barrow.  Michael McDermott writes, ‘The skulls found in barrows like this are peculiarly elongated in form, and the name given to the particular race who erected the long barrows is “the long-headed men.”  Some barrows are round – they were built by the “round-headed men.”‘  Now referred to as a Bronze Age Round Barrow, some suggest Torrisholme Barrow was the old law hill of the area before Lancaster Castle was built but no one refers to the people that built it as having particularly elongated heads!

Michael McDermott does give us a glimpse of the fishing industry that existed around Morecambe Bay.  He tells us that you would once have seen fishermen cleaning mussels on the promenade at Morecambe and at Bolton-le-Sands he meets Mr and Mrs Wilson who search for cockles in the bay in all weathers.  He describes the cockle beds and the ‘cram,’ a curved fork used to scoop up the cockles and a board with handles that was called a ‘jumbo’ and was used to bring the cockles to the surface.  He romanticises the hard work of these ‘fisher-folk,’ telling us, ‘Living close to nature as they do, the minds of the fisherfolk are totally free from the inhibitions that are the curse of an over-industrialised society, and their  spontaneous generosity, humour, and interest in simple things make their friendship a pleasure for all who are fortunate to come into contact with them.’

Much of the pamphlet gives readers the details about the route across the sands of Morecambe Bay.  Before the railway and good roads this was a frequently used, if perilous, way from Ulverston to Furness and Kents Bank to Arnside and Hest Bank.  There is still a Queen’s Guide to the Kent Sands living in the house on Cart Lane at Kents Bank and regular cross bay walks for charity occur in the summer and are a marvellous and safe day out.  Michael McDermott tells us that, ‘The post of Guide to the Sands is many centuries old, and was created by the Crown in 1337, after several people had lost their lives while making the crossing.’

The other method of traversing Morecambe Bay is also referred to in the pamphlet.  It seems that swimming across Morecambe Bay used to be a summer event that attracted many competitors.  The course from Grange to Morecambe was first completed in 1907 by “Professor” Stearne in three hours 45 minutes 41 seconds.  Due to changes in the waters of Morecambe Bay the swim was stopped in 1991.

Although out-of-date, this charming history booklet has told us about a number of places we didn’t know.  On the Cumbrian side of Morecambe Bay are the earth works of a motte and bailey castle on Adlingham’s Moat Hill.  In the 1940s this was thought to be another burial mound and Michael McDermott quite alarmingly writes, ‘In view of the many signs of early man which have been unearthed in this neighbourhood, there is no doubt that in the dim past this area was the most important part of the bay, and countless young girls must have been butchered in the exotic religious rights which the old heathens carried out at their stone circles and caves.’

While ideas about the activities of ancient people have changed considerably, Morecambe Bay remains an English gem that is well worth exploring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Archers: My Unfashionable Story of Country Folk

Tractor

Whenever we travel around Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire I feel as if I am in an episode of The Archers.  I will spot a Home Farm, a village green, a black-and-white timber-framed pub or a farm shop and I am immediately reminded of the fictional residents of Ambridge in Borsetshire that I know so well.

A couple of minutes past seven Sunday to Friday it is best not to disturb me.  If I am at home I will generally be listening to Radio Four and an episode of The Archers.  My relationship with this long running radio soap opera began as a child when The Archers had already been broadcast for about 20-years.  Since 1950 Radio Four has been telling the story of rural folk in a fictional village called Ambridge in Borsetshire.  When I began listening I lived with my parents in the English countryside.  Even then the drama of the southerners living in Ambridge was hardly recognisable.

Even though I have been a city dweller for over 30 years, I still listen to this rural soap opera.  I have had breaks when we travelled for a year and on our extended holidays but it is easy to pick up, nothing changes so much in Ambridge that I can’t follow the new story lines.

One of the reasons I like the Archers is because stories unfold over months or even years.  There is plenty of drama [perhaps too much these day] but it does at least have a realistic time-scale.  I am usually cooking when the programme is aired in the evening and being radio I can listen and cook at the same time, giving about half my brain to the story.

The high-emotion story lines are not what I enjoy about The Archers, it is the everyday that appeals to me.  I want to take a short peak into the lives of people I have grown up with over the years and check in with how they are doing without feeling traumatised.  The Grundy’s are having trouble getting their elderly cider press to work, one of the cows is poorly at Brookfield and Hilda the cat is missing, these are the stories that work for me.  There is a warmth and gentleness about these stories in today’s world.  Peculiar to radio, The Archers can have silent characters, people who are referred to but never heard,  Derek Fletcher and the Sabrina Thwaite are just two personalities that add colour without being heard.

While often listening is comfortingly uneventful, there have been a number of big issue story lines recently that have put off listeners who don’t want distressing stories to interfere with the rural idyll.   Family squabbles and neighbourly disputes are the bread and butter of The Archers liberally dotted with fun and games at the Flower and Produce Show or the Christmas Panto.  Without these The Archers is nothing and when the easy companionable humour and neighbourliness disappears I will switch off for good.   I hope the dedicated team of scriptwriters continue to write gentle and amusing stories so I can relax and not have my imaginary world rocked!

Although radio drama leaves so much to the imagination, I enjoy exploring the counties I associate it with to add substance to the pictures in my head.   A bit of research reveals that Cutnall Green in Worcestershire could be the fictional village of Ambridge, it has a shop and nearby pub, a cricket team and is surrounded by farmland.  Other contenders are Inkberrow and Hanbury, both also in Worcestershire.  While Inkberrow has its own timber-framed pub, called The Old Bull and a village green, Hanbury has Summerhill Farm, thought to be the model for Brookfield, and Hanbury Hall, which has some resemblance to Lower Loxley Hall.  St. Mary the Virgin church in Hanbury has been used for Ambridge weddings.  I can see a more focused trip to visit these villages forming in the Archer’s half of my brain!