Our main reason for going to Northern Ireland at peak holiday time was to visit relatives before we head off on our trip down under. As usual we took an overnight ferry from Birkenhead to Belfast. A rainbow in the sky promised some improvement in the weather.
We spent the first couple of days visiting family members but then started to get itchy feet so set off down the coast passing the hordes of people visiting the Giant’s Causeway and the Carrick-a Rede Rope Bridge. Our first stop was at the Portanaeevey viewpoint which gives views over to Rathlin Island and the mUll of Kintyre.
Our first destination was Carfunnock Country Park which is north of Larne. It was formed from two country estates and has several facilities for children and young people as well as a campsite. I was most interested to see the garden. This was formerly the kitchen garden of Cairncastle Lodge which was gifted to the local council in 1957 with the estate. By the 1980s it was in decline but grants enabled its restoration in the 1990s. It is now called The Time Garden and has numerous sundials giving GMT, BST and local time.
Heading north again along the coast our next stop was the garden at Glenarm Castle. This was a more traditional walled garden with pleached lime trees, beech hedges and many beds of flowers, fruit and herbs.
There were several sculptures among the plants.
There is a fudge factory in the grounds and the castle, still owned by the local aristocrats is occasionally open to the public. On our last day we popped in to the Bookcase, a second-hand bookshop in Portrush. He has a good selection of Irish books as well as general fiction, non-fiction and children’s books.
We dodged the showers on one of our favourite beaches at Whitepark Bay. There were a few dog walkers but it was pretty quiet.
The cliffs here are chalk in contract to the basalt columns of the Giant’s Causeway. You can often find fossils on the beach, most commonly belemnites (we have several on our mantelpiece) and occasionally, ammonites.
On the path down to the beach you pass a building and some ruins of an old ‘hedge school’. This was for young gentlemen and dates from the 18th century.
The beach is now under the care of the National Trust. There is a Youth Hostel here. Occasionally sheep and cows graze on the grass next to the beach under an agreement. Keeping the grass low, encourages wild flowers. There were some cows when we arrived but they quickly departed when a heavy shower arrived. If the tide is not high you can walk along the beach to Ballintoy harbour. It was soon time to head home again and after another night on the ferry we arrived in Birkenhead dock just as the sun was rising over Liverpool.
I left my accommodation before eight this morning, picked up some lunch supplies and set off through Preston to join the A6. It was sunny and warm so I soon shed my layers and donned the sunglasses. Near the hospital was a sign announcing that next Sunday the road would be closed for the Carnival. I was so glad that I did not have to do a diversion today. After 2.8 miles I had my first brief rest before crossing the M55 intersection. Unlike the others, this one had a subway for pedestrians and cyclists. There are many villages strung out along the road. My first milestone today was this one:
At one point the A6 was again parallel with the M6 and West Coast Mainline. I even saw a Northern train. This was a surprise as it was a: Sunday and b: they have so many problems with cancellations since they introduced their new timetables. The M6 soon diverts east of Lancaster while the railway enters the city. Several Virgin trains passed me. The old road is now a B road to Garstang while the A6 bypasses it to the west. Just south of Garstang I got my first glimpse of the Pennines.
I was looking forward to seeing the Cumbrian Hills and the Southern Uplands later in my journey. The road crosses the Lancaster Canal and then the River Wyre before entering Garstang, the first Fair Trade town in the world.
I had a cold drink near the market square before finding a bench to eat my lunch on. This was about halfway on today’s walk. After rejoining the A6, I passed through another community known for its service station on the M6: Forton with its Grade II listed tower. It was the second one opened after Charnock Richard. This is not my photo:
What got my attention on this hot day was Hugo’s Ice Cream Parlour which also does breakfast, coffees and light bites. Needless to say, they had 22 flavours but I had vanilla. The walls were decorated with old vinyl LP covers which was a great blast from the past.
After that I had to keep plodding on, resting when there was somewhere to sit down on. Most folks had donned shorts but it was not quite hot enough for the Glaswegian ‘taps aff’. After passing through Galgate and past the University, I popped into a pub for a cold beer. We had a few years ago been driving up to Edinburgh on Hogmanay after James finished work when an accident closed the M6 and we spent three hours crawling through the city before we could rejoin the M6 and get to Edinburgh too late to go out to any festivities. At that point, I remember thinking this would probably be a city to explore but not in this fashion. Sadly, it was not to be on this occasion either. I had only one mile further to walk, downhill to the canal where I was to meet up with James and stay at the Toll House Inn. A historic building that has been renovated two years ago. Disaster struck when suddenly my left ankle became painful and I hobbled down the hill ironically past the Infirmary. I have psoriatic arthritis but have not had an inflamed ankle for 15 years and have been on several walking trips since then so this was a shock. I know that it usually takes 2-3 months for a big joint to settle down (small ones take a few days) so I have had to cancel the remainder of this trip and go home. I must return at some point both to explore Lancaster and finish my walk. I had to content myself with a brief glimpse of the canal and the interior of the hotel.
I was the only person down for breakfast at 7am as most of the other folk staying had been out Friday evening. I set out on a very grey morning which varied from being dry to mizzle and drizzle. A few times I had to stuff the camera away and don my waterproof jacket but later on it did dry up. The A49 northbound was relatively quiet early on a Saturday morning. The first old milestone of the day was spotted on a railway bridge in Standish-Langtree.
Standish used to have a station on the West Coast Mainline, but it was closed in 1949. A little further on, I stopped for a coffee at the local butcher’s place which also has an adjoining licensed restaurant. I spotted a Pilgrim’s Lane in Standish and after passing through Coppull, a ‘German Lane’ in Charnock Richard. It would be interesting to find out how this came about. Charnock Richard is mostly known for its M6 Service Station, so it was interesting to walk along the old road. This old milestone updated my progress.
As it was Saturday, there were a lot of cyclists out and it must be a popular activity round here as there is a large Cycling Outlet Store by the A49 in Charnock Richard. Much of the traffic leaves for the M6 at Standish so the A49 here is a little quieter. The road begins to descend towards the Ribble Valley and passes through Euxton and past Leyland where it got busier. There is a business park here and new luxury homes being built. At one point the road is sandwiched between the M6 on the left and the West Coast Mainline on the right. I could hear the motorway for most of the time but only one Virgin train passed me today. However, there was still some greenery around.
I took the quieter A5083 and then a B road towards Lostock Hall which is a more direct route to the city centre for walkers or cyclists. From there, the last 2.8 miles were via lanes and footpaths, some of which are unused tramways, south of the Ribble. Part of the area is a Local Nature Reserve.
There are a number of sign-posted routes. Mine passed a cricket pitch where a couple of matches were in progress and I met lots of dog walkers. After crossing the Ribble, it was a short but steep walk through a park to the city and my hotel. 17.5 miles today brings the total so far to 55.5 miles.
I was woken this morning before my alarm by the pub next door throwing all their bottles into the recycling bin. While I had breakfast there a little later, a local radio station was playing and one of their adverts was for ‘Fiona Bruce Solicitors’. She is our local Tory MP and I am definitely not a fan of hers so it spoiled my breakfast a little. The receptionist gave me a great send off when I checked out as she had sussed out by the rucksack and camera that I was not one of the many workers staying there. She said that she was very impressed by my plans and had known an elderly gentleman who had in his youth, walked from Warrington to London. I took the riverside shortcut into town and after waiting for the shops in town to open for supplies, I headed on up the A49 which is lined with retail parks all the way to the M62 interchange. It was pretty warm today so although I had only done just under four miles, I stopped after crossing the motorway for a cold drink at the services.
At Winwick I experienced a bit of a blast from the past seeing a sign for ‘Delph Lane’ and the walls surrounding the grounds of what used to be the psychiatric hospital for the area. I had been there on several occasions years ago before it closed in 1997. The asylum buildings are still there but have been converted into apartments and houses. It was pleasant to be in an old village and I took the quieter road to Golbourne where I could hear the birds singing and enjoy the flowers in the hedgerows. This road name appealed as I feel I am on something of a pilgrimage.
Apparently, there is the site of a battlefield nearby where in the 2nd English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell defeated some Royalist Scots on 16 August 1648, but I did not pass it. The road passes over the M6 which I did for the second time on this walk but will be doing several more times later on. There is a big railway junction just south of Golborne so the road passes under and over several railway bridges including the West Coast Mainline which I have been on more times than I can remember passing through Warrington and Wigan. Several Virgin trains whizzed past me at various points today. In Golborne I found a quiet green space under some trees by a brook to have my lunch.
There was also a poignant memorial to local miners in the town.
At Abram it is possible to leave the road and walk into Wigan via the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. It runs through Wigan Flashes which are large ponds on what was mining country. Further south in Cheshire, many of them are collapsed old salt mines. The Wigan ones are now designated as a Local Nature Reserve. There were many waterfowl on the lakes and some of the paths were closed due to the breeding season. There were some mallard on the towpath, Canada Geese on the canal and someone had been feeding the Bean Geese and their goslings.
Every pedestrian, cyclist and people passing by on barges said hello. One of the things I have enjoyed about living in the North West for the last 28 years is that people are generally very friendly. Some kids who were planning to swim in Scotsman’s Flash asked me if I had any shorts that they could have as some of the girls had only their jeans with them. It may have been 24 degrees, but it usually has to be at least 30 plus before I break out into shorts, so I could not help them. A little further on, I could hop off the towpath into town and find my accommodation.
My “Contour” Road Book of England (Northern Division) arrived yesterday and was delivered by James in the evening. It describes the road from Warrington to Northwich that I was travelling today in the reverse direction as ‘Class II. The road has good surface but is slightly rough approaching Northwich’. Points of interest are: Manchester Ship Canal, Budworth, Budworth Mere and Northwich Salt Works’. Today was dry and warm but overcast and even a little misty to begin with. I left Lostock Gralam on the A559 Hall Lane. It passes Wincham Hall which is now a hotel and wedding venue. A little further on the road crosses the Wincham Brook.
At the Great Budworth Crossroads there is a small hut and I wondered what it was.
Looking inside, it is a well and used to be the only water supply for the village. My water bottle was still full at that point.
Further on, in Marston is the Lion Salt Works, down a side road, which is now a museum. The road continues to wind around through Antrobus and Lower Stretton. By the time I got to the A49/M56 interchange, I had done just over seven miles. In total I passed five pubs, one derelict and none of the others open for coffee. At least there was a bench just before the roundabout for a rest. I had left Vale Royal and was entering Warrington. Like many of our larger towns and cities the outer main roads are lined with 1930s houses. Car ownership had increased, and people moved further out. This is the case in Appleton. The road started to descend towards the Bridgewater Canal. It is part of the Cheshire Ring which is a 98 mile walk.
The A49 London Road here is on the route of a Roman Road but the current bridge dates from 1936. The sun was trying to get through, it was warming up, a canal side pub, The London Bridge was open, and a cold beer was needed. The bar staff were asking what I was doing and thought I was a bit daft but wished me luck and re-filled my water bottle.London road continues through Stockton Heath where the buildings are Victorian and crosses the Manchester Ship Canal with only one mile to go to the centre. I had my lunch near here and a mile further on, I crossed the River Mersey to Centre Park where my accommodation was.
I sat by the river for a while. Network Rail were repairing the rail bridge upstream. I heard lots of birds and bees were feeding on the clover but there was no wildlife on the water, just a plastic bottle floating downstream.
Total mileage today was 11.4 and after yesterday on the Cheshire Plain with altitudes less than the 86m above sea level we are at home, the highest point today was 106m.
May is National Walking Month and we did do quite a bit of walking in Arran, but I started off on my big walk on the penultimate day. James saw me off and I headed north up our lane and over the brook, the first of many watercourses that I will cross. At the end of the road is a path alongside the brook which goes to Brookhouse Green. It can be walked, cycled or ridden but has not been a through road for the last 200 years when a ford was in place. Unfortunately, many digital maps have not caught up with this and endless peoples’ satnavs send them down what they think is a through road. I used to walk around these lanes a lot when we had the dog. Just north of us there are farms and some equestrian centres.
I exchanged greetings with a runner, a cyclist and a guy working on his garden. After 3.7 miles I came to Brereton Green where I paused for a while. The A50 south of Brereton is known as Newcastle Road as it eventually leads to Newcastle under Lyme. A stretch between Brereton and Holmes Chapel is called ‘Dog Lane’ and I have no idea how that arose. I did spot this old sign almost hidden away at the side of the road.
I had a fairly early lunch and rest at a bench in Holmes Chapel and then set out to complete the remaining eight or so miles. Unfortunately, the forecast rain set in soon after so it was time to put the camera away and don the waterproofs. It persisted as I walked for two miles up the A50, then on a B road towards Northwich. Had it been dry, a stop at Shakerley Mere would have been in order. This is a lake with wildfowl and woodland around it where we used to walk the dog. I continued, getting splashed by trucks as there were huge puddles at the side of the road. In Lach Dennis, I diverted up the quieter Birches Lane, through Lostock Green and into Lostock Gralam, my destination. After a bridge over Wade Brook, I passed this smallholding with black sheep and pigs.
The main road that runs east to west through Lostock Gralam, Manchester Road, is part of the Roman Road, Watling Street. Lostock is also the home of one of Cheshire’s oldest football clubs, Lostock Gralam F.C., who have played continuously at their Manchester Road ground since 1892. They are one of the Cheshire’s leading amateur clubs, despite being based in a relatively small area. Lostock’s population is just over 2,200. My total distance for today was 13.6 miles, giving me time to dry off before meeting James for an evening meal.
Our tour of the south of the island began by heading south out of Brodick. The first halt was at a viewpoint looking back towards the mountains.
From left to right they are: Beinn Nuis, Beinn Tarsuinn, Beinn A’ Chliabhain, A Chir, Glenshant Hill, Cir Mhor, Casteal Abhail, Goat Fell, Mullach Buidhe, Meall Breac, Am Binnein. Whiting Bay has a long beach, views of the southern end of Holy Island and the Arran Art Gallery. Just at the south end of the beach is Glenashdale. Glenashdale Falls are reached via a track that runs through waterside deciduous woodland with bluebells and wild garlic which reminded me of the similar woods on the south face of the Ochil hills that I used to spend time in as a child. There are several properties towards the bottom of the path. The last of these looked as if it might be occupied by a hoarder given the amount of stuff piled up outside the building. This truck had obviously not moved for many years.
The higher slopes are coniferous forest and late in the day you might see red squirrels.
Having reached the waterfall,
there are options for the return. We chose to descend via the Giants Graves. The route is on a forest road until you reach the graves. They are two of more than 20 Neolithic chambered cairns on Arran. They were excavated in the 1960s and some of the stones have been removed. This often happened at cairns when stones were needed for building as it was easier than getting them from the quarries when they were operating.
The wealth of archeology in Arran reminds me that when our son was young, we had had several trips in succession to the Western Isles, Cornwall and West Cork, all of which have neolithic sites. The next trip was to Brittany where Carnac is a major site. This triggered a cry of ‘Not more old stones!’ from our son. On this trip we continued to follow the minor road along the coast to Kildonan which has a sandy beach with views to Pladda and the Ailsa Craig. There is a campsite and a hotel, both of which look appealing places to stay.
Returning to Lamlash via the Ross Road, (built in 1821-22) we passed another Buddhist retreat in the middle of the hills: the Samye Dechen Shing Retreat Centre. It occupies the former Glenscorrodale Farm, near the head of Glen Scorrodale. The farm was gifted to the Kagyu Samye Ling Buddhist Monastery and Tibetan Centre in 1994 by the owner and converted to a retreat centre ten years later. Its name means “the blissful place”, and it offers men-only on long-term retreats of up to three years (women-only retreats are available at the centre on Holy Island). A closed retreat was underway when we passed by.
There are more ruined homes and farms in the southern part of Arran than the north. Leases for the farms after the first round of enclosures were not renewed and the homes were cleared to make room for sheep. Many of the people emigrated to eastern Canada. Another sad episode in the history of this island. On the second day we were back on the String Road, planned by Thomas Telford and completed by 1817. We passed through Shiskine where friends used to live and on to Blackwaterfoot which has a magnificent sandy beach stretching out to the cliffs at Drumadoon Point.
While James was stocking up at the butcher, I was swan watching. This one was having a siesta by the river:
while his mate was sitting on the nest on the other side of the bridge. After a beach walk, we continued up the coast to the forest where a circular walk goes through the spruce plantation, down to the coast to the King’s Cave. After a picnic at a table where an artist started setting to paint as we left, we started the three mile circuit. King’s Cave is one of several which penetrate the sandstone cliffs up to 100 feet. It is said by some to have hidden Robert Bruce when he visited Arran in 1307 during his campaign for the Scottish Throne (although this is disputed). The information board at the car park said that the current name was modern, as two hundred years ago it was known as ‘Fingal’s Cave’. There are carvings on the walls, but the gate was locked on our visit. The carvings suggest that is has been in use for at least two thousand years as it has early Christian symbols and may have been used by a hermit but also there are also earlier ones, the meaning of which is unknown.
The walk returns along the end of the forest with views over the surrounding area. There were gulls nesting and we watched a gannet diving. There are hut circles marked on the map but we could not see them through the trees and walls.
Arran is a great place for walking. The coast path is 60 miles long (only 11 more than the circumference of the island) and is one we might do. There are mountain walks, and short walks of all sorts, to suit everyone.