A day of metal work in the north west

Well, if Morecombe and Blackpool were the cheese yesterday, then I saw three lots of chalk to balance them out and they all centered around constructions of metal. The first on my journey down to Liverpool was at Saint Anne’s on the Sea, namely St Annes Pier built in Victorian times. I haven’t worked these tides out. Based on past experience I thought the tide would be in during the morning. Well, as you can see when I arrived at nine or so it was well and truly out. The pier is looking a bit worse for wear and it is reassuring with the presence of a couple of vans and a couple of guys and the sound of Maxwell with his hammer coming from inside means it is getting some TLC and will be returned to its former glory. Even in this dilapidated state it has a certain charm.

A guy on a tractor was giving the beach an early morning sweep. The impression that he was preparing the dressage course was further enhanced by the rider in the distance down by the shore.

Further down the coast is Southport. This has real character as an old, Victorian resort. What used to be the seaside promenade, complete with ornate teraces, glass-covered frontages and wide, leafy boulevard-style streets is now several hundred metres from the sea, positioned above reclaimed land covered in superstores and fast food restaurants.

The Victorian pier links the two. It starts up by the old promenade and emerges onto the beach between the multiplex & 10 pin bowling alley on one side and McDonalds & Pizza Express on the other. Pedestrians can climb up wide steps onto the pier here. Once there, you realise that this is the half-way point. Although there are rails set into the wooden planks, the two little trains that chug up and down run on wheels. Shame. The tides confuse me again – high tide right up to the sea wall!

Corby is another journey down the coast. On Corby beach is the piece de reresistance (French spelling not good) – an Antony Gormley installation entitled Another Place. 100 life-sized sculpures are placed on the beach, facing out to sea. There seem to be three lines over several kilometres. As the tide moves in and out so figures are covered and exposed. From a distance it is hard to tell which is human and which is metal. The ones here are all metal. Confusing tides again, though as I expected – going out.

Chalk or cheese in the north west

The day started in Grange-over-Sands, a picturesque place on one side of the estuary of the River Kent. The railway runs along the coast and through the town. I drove to the opposite bank to Arnside, another pretty place where the railway crosses the muddy expanse of the river. A pier was built here to allow boats to unload their cargoes as their progress upstream was then blocked. The scenery remained outstanding even if the weather proved disappointing.

I’ve not a lot to say about Morecombe other than the tide was in. The most prominent feature of the town is the exceptionally sturdy sea wall that doubles as a wide promenade. I don’t know if this is the chalk or the cheese but it’s certainly different. The statue of Eric Morecambe was the best thing.

Further down the coast I came across the marvelously named Knott End on Sea on the north side of another estuary, that of the River Wyre. A pretty ordinary place, the one one thing it has going for it is the ferry that links it with Fleetwood, that from a distance seems to have historic landmarks in the form of docks, barracks and a lighthouse.

When I arrived the tide was in, licking right up to the shoreline. An hour later the sea had disappeared into the far distance leaving stodgy, sticky mounds of muddy, silty sands with winding channels and standing pools. This a characteristic of this coastline. It is very shallow out to sea so when the tide goes out it vanishes very fast and when it turns it comes in equally swifty. This can prove extremely hazardous for anyone venturing out onto the sands/mud.

And then there’s Blackpool. The capital of England’s Pierland – after all its got three.

Many see Blackpool as THE place for a seaside holiday. A holiday heaven. I’m not going to express an opinion. I’m going to leave you with images of the resort from Cleveleys in the north down to the Pleasure Beach to the south and let you make your mind up. The coastline is pretty uniform this whole distance – vast sea defences extend the whole way, acting as a promenade and a cycle way, a tram line runs parrallel to this with a the coast road beside it. Then the resort proper starts, fronted by hotels, B&Bs, guest houses, bars, restaurants (every 4th one seems to be a fish & chip shop), arcades, casinos.

So is it Blackpool that is the chalk or the cheese? It’s all very different.

Moody pics between Whitehaven and St Cuthbert’s Church, Aldingham

A sandwich of two grey, cold parts with a filling of warmer, clear blue skies in the middle helped to make moody & atmospheric images, whatever the subject matter. I spent the day driving down the Cubrian coast nibbling the edge of the Lake District – always there, always gloomy, always menacing and threatening to hide my scenes in a multi-greyed blanket; yet always there to awe & wonder at its beauty of shape and colour and texture and feel. Kept me company all day.

First stop Whitehaven, although it was more Grey/Blackhaven. The inner harbour houses the marina with sea defences that look sturdy enough. Around the edges a wide, stoned, quay fronts converted merchants houses, warehouses and terraces of workers’ cottages, many with painted windows and doors to add to their grandisement.

The outter harbour protects the inner harbour and provides all the technology like markers and lights.

Over the railway and along the beach at Nethertown, I discovered not a town but a wonderful beach community of shacks and sheds, all inhabited.

Sellafield Power Station appears from the gloom, dripping menace along the coast.

The sun begins to break through in Seascale.

The beach at Haverigg is best seen in this light with soft-sanded dunes anchored in tall grasses which hide the village.

Roa Island is reached by a causeway. By now the tide is almost out and the huge expanse of soft, treacherous sand is fully exposed. Markers indicate where spits and banks are a danger. Ruins of Piel Castle are marooned off shore with no way of reaching them except by a local ferry in summer season.

The surprise of Barrow-on-Furness is that once through the industry, the ship building sheds and the grids of workers’ housing there is a long, stony beach for family enjoyment, lined by a wide grassy space and a short backdrop of ordinary housing.

St Cuthbert’s Church at Aldingham finishes the day well as grey clouds start to move in again.

On the road again!! Starting at the top of the north west coast of England

Yayyyy. On the road again. My first road trip for nearly two years. My coastal project was getting rather lost so what better way to celebrate the easing of restrictions than to get in the car and head north. I decided to drive straight to the top and then pootle down the coast dropping into every coastal settlement on the way. North of Wigan I started to get that hit of adrenaline. Lancaster came and went ad the Lakes started to form on my right. A heavy, damp sky squahed down on the rising moors, hiding their high lines and promise. But then, as I leave the motorway, patches of blue appear. Yes, real sailor’s trousers. The ruler-straight road runs across open countryside with frolicking lambs, lazy cows and untidy, working farms.

First stop is Skinburness, on the Solway Firth and the Irish Sea. I approach the village from inland. Then flip out over to appreciate its sturdy sea wall.

It merges seamlessly into Silloth, a few miles down the coast. It feels like something out of the past with freshly painted frescos on tall, rendered buildings advertising hotels and coffee lounges and pubs. Sounds grand but feels old. That impression is enhanced by the fact that the bumps and dips of the main streets are cobbled. Still it has a charm.

Allonby is a cluster of pale, sea-worn terraces. Low sand dunes, anchored by grasses, divide the beach region from the humans.

The town of Maryport is an ordinary, working fishing port. Some new development has taken place around the harbour itself which has a special character of its own. New apartments rub shoulders with operating fishing boats and the fish merchants and there is evidence of past industrial activity in the form of sheds and machinery.

The largest town up here is Workington. The River Derwent meets the Irish Sea here. There are beaches but none you can really get to. The view to the Lakes is awesome.

The final stop for the day is Harrington. Another normal place with evidence of past glories in the remains of sea-weathered timbers and rusting hooks and brackets on the old pier that defends the village from the sea and overlooks the bays and headlands that spread up and down the coast.

Tewkesbury in between the showers

Cutting between the terraces of Tewkesbury’s medieval and Georgian buildings, dark alleys (30 or so remain from the original 90) lead down to the river banks of the Severn and the Avon. It was here, at the confluence of the two, that Tewesbury Abbey was consecrated in 1171. It flourished, dominating the town’s skyline, until The Reformation when King Henry VIII sold it to the town for £453.

The alleys cut down from the main street and the numerous churches. Small, medieval & Tudor cottages would have housed boatmen and their families whilst the merchants and traders inhabited the grander properties away from the rivers. Large mills had been situated on the banks over centuries, both for ease of bringing in raw materials and sending out finished products and, of course, using its flow as a source of power. Few are still in operation and while some remain unused and in a delapidated state, others have been converted into residential accommodation and apartments.

Ludlow – ‘Probably the loveliest town in England’

Ludlow needs a page all on its own. The moment one crosses the old town bridge over the Wye, you are travelling back in history. This is the capital of BluePlaqueLand. Every other house seems to display such a plaque, with information about local and national characters, families and events dating back over 500 years: this building burnt down and was rebuilt in the Civil War; this is the town house of Charles Wesley’s wife’s family whom he married in 1749; this dates back to the 13th century and was used as the town prison, the hospital….. and on it goes. John Bentamin describes it as ‘ probably the loveliest town in England’. I cannot disagree.

Ludlow Bridge was built over the River Teme in the 15th century. It required some modifications in the 18th centuries. The Domesday Book records a mill here and over the centuries numerous weirs have between constructed to power cloth and corn mills. After 1600 these are converted into manufacturing paper, lace, leather and brass. After 1850 the mills gradually ceased production and have been converted into residential properties.

Once over the bridge, the full magnificence of this medieval town can be seen. The south gate is straight ahead.

The Buttercross stands at the top of the hill overlooking the elegance of the streets before it. Built in 1746 it was originally a, yes, butter market. Between it and the castle is the open market place, lined with wonderfully presented Georgian proprties.

In a prime, defensive position above the river, Ludlow Castle was built in Norman times to hold back the Welsh. It was extended and became Crown property in 1461 and remained such for 350 years. It was abandoned in 1689 and quickly fell into ruin. Since 1811 the castle has been owned by the Earls of Powys who halted the decay and opened the castle to the public.

The glory of Ludlow is the lanes and streets of Georgian buildings, with a few medieval and some Tudor-style half-timbered properties mixed in (over 500 are listed), that spread down the hill from the security of the castle, the trading of the market square down to the industry of the river. Owned by prosperous wool and cloth merchants and traders, these terraces are grand and elegant, and beautifully maintained. And it’s not just one street. Every street leaving down the hill in a grid pattern is lined with attractive, gob-smacking quality.

If you have not yet sampled the delights of Ludlow, you must put it onto your ‘must visit’ list. Not only is there this amazing collection of historic buildings and architecture (we tried, but we could not find a single duff building in the whole place), there is also a market every day of the week, numerous festivals throughout the year and it has a reputation for good food and fine dining. Even the van in the square did excellent bacon and Cheddar rolls for £2.50 – what is not too like?

Hereford in the rain

Hmmmm. Grey, water-sodden skies never show off a place in the best of lights and the city of Hereford on a wet, dull Saturday afternoon is no exception. So I’ll try to share its good side despite what the weather threw at it.

The cathedral hosts the old part of town, down to the old Wye bridge at the bottom of, yes, Bridge Street. Theres’s enough around here to spark the dampest interest. And it’s dry inside!

Maybe a blue sky would create a better impression!! The images would at least bring more cheer!

I went to Ledbury and Ross-on-Wye markets and I bought……

The Welsh Marches refers to these counties of England that border Wales, in particular Herefordshire and Shropshire. This is not to say that armies marched to fight over the border. In this context ‘marches’ means the line or edge of a border. At times the River Wye itself marks the change between the two countries although the landscape varies very little. A patchwork of fields folds over rolling hills to the uplands in the far distance. Bright yellow rape chequer-board it with recently seeded chocolate earth, scruffy fields of winter wheat which have just started to poke nervous crops up into the chilling weather and cropped, velvet-green, hedge lined acres of fluffy-white sheep families

Ross-on-Wye prospered in late Tudor times when it became a trading centre for cloth merchants and sheep farmers. The present Market House was built between 1650/54 and replaced the original trading hall built in the 12th century when King Stephen granted the town permission to hold a weekly market.

Arranged around the market at the top of the hill the church and Prospect Gardens overlook, the prosperous properties around the open churchyard, the old walls and the town spreading down the hill to the river.

The ribbons of more modern, 20th century shop fronts do a good job of hiding some of the elegant facades that exist on some of the Goergian buildings. Street level frontages give a totally different impression to that of the upper stories.

Ledbury’s past prosperity is reflected in the buildings that line either side of the wide, main street. Again the town’s wealth originates in the wool trade initially and then expanded with the arrival of aristocratic landowners. The Market House was built for the trading of cloth and wool in 1617.

Overlooked by the needle-sharp steeple of the imposing town church, which has an unusual feature in that the spire stands unattached to its main body, Ledbury’s many black & white, timber-framed buildings encourage the visitor to explore the lanes and alleys hidden behind.

In the backstreet alleys will be found old weavers’ cottages, larger proprties for merchants and local pubs & shops. Small independents pull in the visitor with bright window displays of goods and artefacts. Pubs, hotels and cafes and restaurants provide a range of refreshments in normal times. Ledbury is a great place for a stop off.

Mr Foster went to Gloucester…and so did I

Dr Foster went to Gloucester in 1844. At least that is when the nursery rhyme was written. Today’s day started with a long, downpour of freezing rain. By the time we dropped in on Gloucester, on our way to the Welsh Borders, our first proper stay-away for over a year, the clouds had parted to create enough blue sky to make a pair of sailor’s trousers. True to the saying, they pulled in their shadows, bubbled into cotton wool pillows and released the sun, drying up any lingering puddles that we might fall into.

Gloucester Cathedral, opened in 1089, is part of a medieval core, surrounded by narrow lanes and walkways.

Generations of Dr Foster’s family could have walked these streets if they had returned at any point in the previous five centuries. Many were linked to posts held in the cathedral – the Bishop’s house with the wisteria over the wrought iron gate.

The approaches to the cathedral widen out into more traditional shopping streets with street-level shops hiding beneath tall, 19th century facades. Scaffolding is attached to many of these premises which lead to the city centre and the major shopping precincts.

Gloucester Quays is a vibrant, redeveloped dockland area full of history with shops, bars & restaurants that pull locals and visitors alike. Warehouses have been converted into apartments and cranes and historic vessels litter the wharves and quayside.

A traditional ‘boat builder and rigger’ still operates along the Main Channel. One of two dry docks has ‘Gladys’, a traditional bulk carrier, rising from blocks arranged on the dusty floor with fresh paint and varnish to impress onlookers.