A Lancashire Stroll

My walk this week began at Glasson Dock just a few miles south of Lancaster.

Lancaster has been a port for centuries but its heyday was in the 17th century with trade between the West Indies and the American colonies. Gradually the river began to silt up and Glasson Dock was opened in 1787. The Glasson Branch of the Lancaster Canal was opened in 1825 and the branch railway was opened in 1883.

From the dock we headed north along the route of the old railway which is now part of the Lancashire Coastal Way. We could look across to the River Lune and the endless mud flats and salt marsh.,

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After a week of glorious sunshine we were back to rain. We had to wear full waterproofs, it was not a good day for photography.

After a couple of miles we turned inland to head for the hamlet of Stodday.

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We reached the Lancaster Canal at Whinney Carr and joined the towpath heading south. Once again it was easy walking and we enjoyed watching the boats navigating the canal.

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After a mile and a half we left the canal to cross fields back to Condor Green and then retrace out steps back to Glasson Dock.

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The scene looked quite desolate with the overcast sky and abandoned boats.

‘A breath of Fresh Air’ is the name given to a series of walks through the countryside south of Lancaster. The longest is a 22 mile circular route. I might pencil that in my diary, but make sure I pick a fine day.

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A Cheshire Ramble

Last week I went on a short walk through the Cheshire countryside. Easy walking with a bit of local history thrown in.

We started our walk from the Anderton Boat Lift car park and walked down to the nearby Trent and Mersey canal. We turned right along the towpath passing under bridge 199 and continued along to bridge 193.

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Leaving the canal we walked down the road to visit the Lion Salt Works which are one of the last three remaining open-pan-salt making sites.

39 Lion Salt Works

Returning to the canal we crossed the bridge and walked along the road with meres on either side.

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The next couple of miles were along field paths as we headed for the attractive village of Great Budworth. Lots of old houses and a beautiful church.

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We crossed the main road and after a bit of road walking we headed across fields and through woodland with occasional views of Budworth Mere to our left.

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We eventually reached the canal and walked along the towpath back to our car. We had plenty of time to have a look round the Anderton Boat Lift Museum.

50 anderton lift bridge

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The lift with its massive iron framework lifts/lowers boats between the River Weaver and the Trent and Mersey Canal. This masterpiece of Victorian Engineering is still working and boat trips are available throughout most of the year.

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At just 7 miles it was a short walk but full of interest.

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Dolgellau, the ‘B’ party walk

Last Sunday I was out with Crosby Rambling Club. We visited Dolgellau and I did the B walk, a steady 9.5 miles.

We left the town heading south west along a minor road and then a track to reach Gellilwyd  where we could thankfully leave the hard surfaces and stride out across open land. The day had turned out fine and visibility was perfect with Cader Idris dominating the view to the south.

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We walked through some woodland to reach the beautiful lake of Llyn Gwernan where we stopped for lunch.

098 Llyn Gwernan

We continued south to a camp site and then turned to head for  Hafod Dywyll and the nearby Youth Hostel at Kings. I remember staying there in 1960.

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WE were now travelling down the River Gwynant Valley using a partially overgrown path but which kept us away from the road.

We followed the River Gwynant all the way down to the Mawddach Estuary.

210 Mawddach estuary

It was now easy walking along the Mawddach Trail, an old railway track. It is also a cycling track and you had to be very aware of cycling speeding past.

212 Along the Mawddach Trail

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We paused by the Penmaenpool toll bridge for a quick drink from our water bottles but were moved on by ‘the management’ of the local pub. No picnicking close to the premises.

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We turned to Dolgellau with plenty of time for refreshments. Mine was a pint of Wizard Ale.

An interesting day out in a part of the country where I have not walked too often.

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Spring flowers at Ainsdale LNR.

Last week I joined a guided walk through the dunes and wet slacks at Ainsdale Local Nature Reserve. The walk was led by Dr Phil Smith, an expert on the dune systems and John, one of the local rangers.

We discovered a host of plants, some of them listed as rare or very rare.

Here are a few of my images.

Houndstongue, Cynoglossum officinale.

02. Houndstongue01 Houndstongue

The round tongue shaped leaves are possibly why the plant is called Houndstongue. Above are clusters of deep red wine coloured flowers. The fruit burrs cling to passing animals and are dispersed. The plant had an unusual odour. It smells like a mouse.

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Sea Holly, Eryngium maritimum.

03 Sea Holly04. Sea Holly

A member of the carrot family it is found in sheltered areas of the frontal dunes.

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Dune Pansy, Viola tricolor curtisii.

05. Dune Pansy06. Dune Pansy

Found on the drier dune slopes.

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Marsh Helleborine, Epicactis palustris.

07 Marsh Helleborine08. Marsh Helleborine

Found in the wetter slacks.

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Round Leaved Wintergreen, Pyrola rotundifolia.

09 Round Leaved Wintergreen

Found round the edges of wet slacks. The plant is nationally scarce.

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Field Gentian.

11. Field Gentian10 Field Gentian

Nationally rare.

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Dune Helleborine, Epicactis dununsis.

12. Dune Helleborine13. Dune Helleborine

The Ainsdale Dunes are one of the few places where this member of the Orchid family is found. The cream coloured flowers have dark crimson centres.

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Bog Pimpernel.

14. Bog Pimpernel15. Bog Pimpernel

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Self Heal, Prunella vulgaris.

16 Self Heal17. Self Heal

A member of the mint family. It was once used as a medicinal plant.

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Skull Cap, Scutellaria galericulata.

18 Skull Cap19. Skull Cap

Another member of the mint family. The sepal closes up as soon as the flower corolla withers away. It then looks like a helmet with the visor pulled down.

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I also found several types of orchid including my favourite, the Bee Orchid.

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25 Bee Orchid26 Bee Orchid

A wonderful afternoon in the dunes.

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Milford reccee

Last weekend I was down in the Midlands doing a reccee for Crosby Rambling Club. I will be leading the ‘B’ party walk and I wanted to show the best of Cannock Chase and the surrounding area. The first part of my walk was over Cannock Chase following forest tracks and crossing heathland. The second half was quite different, a leisurely stroll along the local waterways.

35 HEW

I started my walk from Milford Common and followed the footpath sign at the right hand corner of the car park. It looked as though I was heading directly for the Pub, but the sign actually said ‘Public Footpath’ and I was going to follow the green HEW signs. This is the Heart of England Way, an 80 mile long distance footpath that runs from Milford to Chipping Campden

I climbed up through woodland passing a couple of small pools.

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I continued along the HEW on a path to the left of a deep cutting. This was once part of  the Tackeroo Line which serviced the army camps that were once stationed on Cannock Chase.

40 Mere Pool

At Mere Pool I reached a path junction where I turned left to follow signs for Punch Bowl.

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After a short distance at a crossroads I turned right to follow the signs for the Staffordshire Way.

41 Staffordshire Way

The Staffordshire Way (SW) is a 93 mile County Council path that stretches from Mow Cop in the north of the county to to Kinver Edge in the south. To my right was Brocton Coppice. This and other local features influenced J. R. R. Tolkien when he wrote The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. The coppice became part of Middle Earth,

42 Brocton Coppice

J. R. R. Tolkien was stationed at the army camp on Cannock Chase during WWI. There are now several waymarked Tolkien Trails over Cannock Chase.

I descended along a clear path to reach the Stepping Stones in Sherbrook Valley, a popular picnic spot. Today I had it almost to myself, possibly because it was raining.

46 The Stepping Stones

Crossing the stepping stones I continued along a broad path with open land to my right to Seven Springs and the access road to the A513.

After carefully crossing the road I walked along the lane over Weetman’s Bridge to reach the canal and begin the second half of my walk.

I descended the steps and turned left to walk along the towpath under bridge No 72. This was the Trent and Mersey canal and there were a lot of boats along this section.

52 Trent and Mersey Canal

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At  bridge No 73 I made a slight diversion to cross Essex Bridge.

75. Essex Bridge76. Essex Bridge

This old packhorse bridge is at the confluence of the River Sow and the River Trent. In his book J.R.R.Tolkien called it Tavrobel where the rivers Gruir and Afros of Middle Earth met close to the house of a hundred chimneys. I walked on for another 100 yards to get a view of Shugborough Hall.

77 Shugborough Hall

Could this be the ‘House of the Hundred Chimneys’ ?

Retracing my steps back to the canal I turned left under bridge No 73. and stopped at the lock to watch some of the boats passing through.

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Continuing along the towpath I reached bridge No 109 where the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal meets the Trent and Mersey. Passing under the bridge I now walked along the towpath of the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal.

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This section was also busy but there were wider basins where water lily were growing.

86 Water Lily85 Water Lily

It was time to relax and enjoy looking at some of the decorative boats.

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I strolled along past Tixall Lock to reach Tixall Bridge No 108. Here I left the canal to walk along the short section of road back to Milford Common and my car.

Now which way was it to the pub?

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The walk had been 7.5 miles long and full of interest but it will not be quite long enough for a ‘B’ party walk. However I can easily extend it by continuing south from Mere Pool to take in two more local landmarks.

Freda’s Grave. Freda was a Dalmatian and she was the mascot of the New Zealand Rifles Brigade. She was buried on the Chase and her grave is marked with a headstone.Her collar and lead are kept in a military museum in New Zealand.

The Glacial Boulder. This boulder was carried down from Scotland during the last Ice Age. It stands on a plinth which was the base of a reservoir tower that supplied water for the trains on the Tackeroo Line.

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This will bring the distance up to 9.5 miles. Just about right as it is almost flat.

I just hope We have better weather when I lead the walk.

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The Asparagus Trail

19 The Asparagus Trail

Last weekend I went to Formby to walk the Formby Asparagus Trail. The trail is about three miles long and information boards tell the story of asparagus cultivation in the area.

The usual starting point is the National trust centre at Victoria Road but as I approached I could see a long queue of vehicles waiting to get to the car park, including three coach parties of schoolchildren. It was going to be chaotic so I parked close to Blundell Avenue and started my walk from there.

Asparagus grown at Formby was a local delicacy but the season was very short lasting just a few weeks from St Georges Day 23rd April to the summer solstice on 21st June. From the mid 19th century farmers levelled the sand dunes to form small fields, known as ‘pieces’ where they grew the asparagus. Fertiliser was needed and this came form ‘night soil’. Thomas Fresh was a public health official trying to improve the hygiene and sanitation in Liverpool. In 1852 he established a manure siding on land leased from the nearby Blundell Estate. Thomas Fresh founded Freshfield and in 1854 the station was named in his honour.

20 Sandy Heath

Leaving Blundell Avenue I turned left to cross a field and then walked across open heathland.

21 The Brooks, Larkhill Farm

I came to the first of the information boards outlining some of the history of the Brooks Family and Larkhill Farm. The field to my left is one of the few remaining sites where asparagus is still grown in the area. John Brooks came to the farm in 1907 with his father.John’s sons continued the tradition until the 1960 when the asparagus beds became exhausted. In 1970 the next generation took over and revived the tradition. In 2010 David Brooks new asparagus beds at Sandfield farm and asparagus is still being produced at Formby.

22 Sculpture

Crossing a couple of fields I came to this wooden sculpture. Judging by the cans I think he had a hard night. The route was well signposted and after passing a school I entered some woodland

23 Woodland Walk

Leaving the woods I crossed some heathland and headed towards the sand dunes to meet up with the Sefton Coastal footpath

24 Towards the Dunes

Following this path to my right I entered some more woodland. A field to the right was part of Sandfield Farm where asparagus was being grown.

25 Asparagus fields

 

26 The Jennings

Ron Jennings returned from military service in the late 1940’s and together with his father Jack set about levelling an area of dunes. They used a tipping truck on rails to spread the sand across the field. By the 1960’s no new land was available on the farm so some fields were prepared for a second planting by a process known as delving. It involved digging by hand a trench up to a yard deep. The turf was upturned into the trench and fresh sand spread on the surface. It sounds like backbreaking work.

27 Sculpture

I continued along the waymarked trail passing grassy areas that were once asparagus fields.

28 Jimmy Lowe Farm

An information board told the story of Jimmy Lowe and Pine Tree farm. The whole family was involved in the harvest. A special knife was used. to cut the asparagus. It was sharpened at the end like a chisel and care was needed to avoid damaging the crop. The asparagus shoots were made into bunches tied with raffia. After washing they were packed into hampers and sent to market.

33 The Aindows

The noticeboard tells the story of the Aindow Family. Up until the 1990’s the farm used heavy horses rather than tractors. The horses could work in narrower furrows and they did not get stuck.

In 1897 pine trees were planted near Victoria Road to create Jubilee Wood to commemorate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Today the woods are home to one of the few remaining colonies of Red Squirrels.

It had been a fascinating walk and I had learned a lot about the local history of the area.

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Devils Hole and the Lost Resort.

Last week I stayed local, just venturing a few miles up the coast to Ravenmeols Nature Reserve close to Formby.

My objective was Devils Hole where I intended to photograph some of the wild flowers but I ended up  following two waymarked trails.

01 Devils Hole Trail09 Lost resort

We parked close to St Luke’s Church and headed south following the Sefton Coastal Footpath. After about a mile we turned right and soon spotted the waymarks for the Devils Hole Trail. It was hard going walking through the soft sand as we approached the dunes. The trail seems to loop round the ‘hole’ and we had to make a small diversion to reach it.

01 Devils Hole

It is a dune blow-out but it is huge covering an area of about 200 x 100 yards.  Most dune-blow-outs are naturally occurring features but it is thought that this one was the result of bombs being dropped during WWII. The target was probably the ‘Starfish Decoy’ a lighting system that was set up to act as a decoy and draw bombs away from Bootle and Seaforth Docks.

It has been an unusually dry winter and Spring and the water table is abnormally low. There was no water at all in the ‘hole’. Bad news for the Natterjack Toads that breed here. However it gave us the chance to walk out into the hole and see what we could find.

I spotted some Marsh Helleborine, Epipactis palustris.

999 Dune Helleborine995 Dune Helleborine

02 Dune Helleborine

Returning to the trail we headed north and met a couple a walkers. They said they were heading for the mine!. I did not know of any mines in the area. We parted company but then met up again 10 minutes later at some concrete and brick ruins.

06 ROC

07 ROC

There was a bit of a shaft, but it was not a mine. It was a Royal Observer Corp Nuclear Monitoring Bunker opened in 1962 during the cold war. It was abandoned due to erosion between 1966 and 1968. The base of a former Royal Navy observation tower stands nearby.

Heading back towards our car we saw a waymark for the ‘Lost Resort Trail’ This was new to me. We just had to follow it. In the late 19th century the idea was to build a resort here on the coast to rival nearby Southport. It was to be named ‘Formby-by-the-Sea.’Located at the end of Alexandra Road, an unmade road leading to the sea. In the dunes at the end of the road are the remains of the first hotel, the Stella Maris. The flat roofed building faced the sea but was only used as a hotel for a short period of time. It later became a convalescent home for priests, a holiday home for Catholic children and later a radar station during World War II.

Just before Alexandra Road and Albert Road converge there is an area of open land. This was once an asparagus farm and at the beginning of the 20th century it was selected as the proposed site of a railway station which was to be built to service the resort of Formby-by-the-Sea. However due to a downturn in the economic climate it was never built and the idea of the resort fell away.

There is now little to see but I enjoyed finding some orchids amongst the dunes.

12 Orchid91 Orchid

Returning to the beach we passed the remains of Formby Lifeboat Station. Built at Formby Point it was Britain’s first Lifeboat Station.

Wandering along the beach we found a skeleton. Was it a fish or was it a monster.

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Turning up Lifeboat Road we made our way back to our car. We had only covered 3.8 miles but the walk had been full of interest.

I had first visited Devils Hole in April 2016 when it had looked completely different with up to three feet of water in the basin.

725 Devil's Blow Hole

702 Devil's Hole

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