Thursday, 27 August 2015

Another August walk in the Ribble Valley

      Earlier in the month we walked to the Black Bull. Today, for a change, we will be walking to the White Bull.
    I've parked my car  at Dinkley and I'm walking down the lane towards the River Ribble. You can just see Dinkley Hall at the bottom of the lane. It's a grade 11 listed building which was originally timber framed and built around 1600, but it's now encased in sandstone and partly rendered.  It has oak beams and has been sympathetically modernised, it's currently on the market for £1.3 million if you would like a desirable residence down by the river. Have I sold it to you?

The hedges are full of greater bindweed at this time of the year and have been since June. Only the British would class such a beautiful climber as a weed. If it were called a clematis instead of bindweed it would be sold in garden centres in  pots and supported on bamboo canes for about £6 a pop. It scrambles through everything for support and is one of those plants which is impossible to eradicate, as the slightest bit of root left in the ground and it will re-appear.

I noticed this butterfly on one of the flowers, it's a meadow brown. Not the most attractive of butterfly's I must admit, but I decided to see how many varieties of butterflies I could spot. Apparently butterfly numbers are in serious decline due to loss of habitat. Buddleia's are a favourite food plant for many adults, while nettles are an essential food plant for caterpillars of many different varieties. Perhaps we should turn a small corner of our gardens over to these food plants to preserve these beautiful insects before they are lost forever. Here are a few more I spotted.

PAINTED LADY                    PEACOCK                         SMALL HEATH                                                                                
In July we crossed the suspension bridge on our journey from Marles Wood to Hurst Green, and I explained that the bridge replaced the ferryman back in the 1950's. Today we will have to cross it again as we need to be on the other side of the river.

Here we will have to leave the river bank. Across a field full of sheep and through a wooded area and we will be back on the river bank and heading for Ribchester. Before we get there we will have to cross another footbridge which straddles a stream. It may look a little rustic in comparison to the suspension bridge that we've just crossed, but for me it's picturesque nonetheless, especially in the dappled shade. 

Along a stretch of river bank and we reach the road bridge which takes the traffic in and out of Ribchester. This Jacobean house is close to the bridge and on the outskirts of Ribchester. I remember  Ribble Valley Borough Council putting it up for sale for just £1 in the 1970's. Why didn't you snap it up? I here you ask. Well it was in a dreadful condition and the potential buyer had to prove that they had the wherewithal to bring it up to the required standard of preservation.

     We've  arrived in Ribchester and I've had to miss out so much that I photographed along the way. Perhaps I'll bring you back again one day. Ribchester is built on the site of a Roman fort, and the most elaborate full face Roman helmet ever discovered was discovered by two small boys in the river. It's now in the British Museum in London but a copy takes pride of place in Ribchester's Roman museum. 
     Tony Robinson's Time Team visited the village a few years ago to excavate for the television programme. Because the whole of the Roman fort is beneath the village they had to dig in peoples gardens to discover the layout of the fort. Some of the foundations in communal areas have been left exposed for visitors to see.
     The pillars holding up the portico of the pub, which was once a coaching inn, are said to be excavated Roman pillars, and used in the construction of the pub back  in 1707.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

An August walk in the Ribble Valley.

Today I'm walking to the Black Bull pub at Old Langho if you want to come along, but what I didn't expect to meet on the journey was the real thing, and he doesn't look very pleased to see me. Perhaps it's my red polo shirt? You know the old saying, like a red rag to a bull, but I've been told that bovines only see in monochrome, and that it's the movement which provokes them to attack, let's hope for my sake that's true,  I'm too old to run anyway. I think I must have been a little distracted when I took this photograph, because I've only just noticed a nice shot of Pendle Hill in the background.

In days of yore hay-making was a once a year, activity performed by whole families or villages using scythes. The hay was gathered up and made into the rather attractive haystacks that some might remember in children's storybooks. That is why school holidays lasted for six weeks, so that the winter feed, for livestock, could be cut and gathered during the summer months. Now it takes one man one day to do an entire field using a tractor and a bailer, consequently the fields are now cut twice in the year in June, as soon as the grass is long enough, and a second cut in August. I don't think that too many children will be complaining that they no longer need six weeks holiday to do the hay-making.

I noticed these three plants growing in close proximity to each other. Can you guess what they are? If you said sweet peas you wouldn't be far wrong. To the left we have the common vetch, in to centre the meadow vetch, and to the right purple vetch. You will have guessed by now that vetch is  the horticultural name for the pea family, and that these plants  are all wild peas.

Today the Pendle witch is flying very low. You can see the fire in the burner so that he can gain enough height to get over the trees. My family booked me on a balloon flight a couple of years ago as a Christmas present, because I kept banging on about it every time this, or any balloon other, flew over. We were supposed to take off from Stoneyhurst College, but after half a dozen cancellations over a six month period, which were blamed on the, weather, wind speed, or wind direction, the flight was transferred to Lower Bentham, in North Yorkshire, one late September evening. Here is a short video if you would like to see it. I did film the whole of the journey but this video is just the take off part. I can be spotted operating the blower to inflate the balloon.

I can hear croaking in the grass, and on examination there are dozens of grasshoppers. Some are green and some were brown, some were tiny and some are quite big. Grasshoppers are a well known insect to most of us because of cartoons on television and fairy stories in books, but how many of you have actually seen a grasshopper in the flesh, other than crickets in pet shops destined to be fed to lizards and snakes.

Here we are at the Black Bull. We started our journey with a black bull, and we've finished our journey with another black bull, but this one is a far more welcome sight, cheers.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Another July walk in the Ribble Valley

Today I'm walking  from Great Mitton, where Hodder and Ribble's fair waters do meet, according to a  line from the  song, Old Pendle.
There are two grand halls in Mitton, one in Little Mitton,   on the Lancashire side of the river and now a hotel and restaurant, and one at Great Mitton, north of the river, and in Yorkshire until the boundry changes of 1974. A carved stone set into the fabric of the bridge indicates the old boundary between the two counties.  Both halls are now in Lancashire.  Great Mitton Hall was originally built to house monks I believe, and was once used as a hospital, but it is now a private home and the gardens are open to the public under the National Garden Scheme.

Next to the hall stands All Hallows Church, which dates back to 1103, but it would have been a timber building at that time. Turner spent a lot of time painting in the Ribble Valley, and he was so impressed by this church that he did a detailed pencil drawing of the interior. He also painted a canvas depicting the interior of Little Mitton Hall.

Some people are a little squeamish about graveyards, but personally I can't resist them. First of all you get the most fantastic views of the oldest surviving buildings  in Britain, and they are havens for wildlife, which seems to be much more approachable in churchyards and public parks than anywhere else. This churchyard was full of rabbits on my visit, which were quite happy to pose for photographs.

I also discovered this wasp's nest in a hedge. Late July and August are the months for wasps, as anyone who has tried to eat or drink outdoors in summer will have realised, and the little bleeders think nothing of stinging you just for the hell of it. The only thing that can be said in their defence is that they kill a lot of garden pests, now not a lot of people know that.

Time to leave Great Mitton and head for Bashall Eves, but I want to make a short diversion to show you Cromwell's bridge,  a pack horse bridge built in 1561, which crosses the river Hodder. Cromwell crossed it in with 8,000 men in 1684 on his way from Gisburn to Preston. The Battle of Preston took place the following day and the Royalists were routed. Cromwell states that he held a council of war at the bridge.

We have finally reached Browsholme Hall at Bashall Eves and I can now reveal my real reason for undertaking this walk. It's actually a genealogical journey for me. The present house was built in 1507 by Sir Edmund Parker, my 13th great grandfather although a house built by my 18th great grandfather, Richard Parker, stood on the site from around 1400. My 10th great grandfather Roger Parker didn't inherit and became the Dean of Lincoln Cathedral,  but his son Thomas was christened at  Mitton and married in Whalley.  I had hoped that there might be a family connection to Great Mitton Hall, but it would appear not.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

A July walk in the Ribble Valley

     Today I asked you to meet me on the car park at Marles Wood, because we are walking along the banks of the river Ribble to the village of Hurst Green. A stepped path leads through the wood and down to the river bank, with a fence on either side to limit erosion. Because light has been allowed to enter by cutting through the woodland, foxgloves now grow along the stepped path and in the perimeter of the wood. 
      Foxgloves, or Digitalis, can, I'm told, be used in the treatment of heart conditions, but as an overdose could be fatal, self administration is not recommended by this author. I do love them and grow them in my own garden, along with a cultivated white variety. They look good growing together but I much prefer the wild native.

     This part of the river is called the sail wheel. Some people even refer to Marle's Wood, as Sail Wheel Wood. At this bend in the river the water travels in a vortex, rather like the water going down a plug hole. I assume that this circular motion of the water accounts for the reference to a  wheel, but what a sail wheel is I have absolutely no idea, unless it's a reference to the wheel of a sailing ship. I'm not even sure if I've used the correct spelling of the word.
     Today we have a fisherman. You can just about make him out through the trees. People seem to fish here often, perhaps it's easier to catch the fish just before they disappear down the plug hole?

  We are now walking along the Ribble Way, a designated ramble from its source at Ribblehead, to Lytham StAnnes, where it enters the Irish sea. I've just been watching a kingfisher diving from a branch and catching small fish. I've had numerous attempt to photograph it, but unfortunately it's too fast for me, and too far away to get a decent picture. I did get a picture of this ewe  and two well grown lambs, they appear to be trying to get out of the sun in the shade of a fallen tree. There hasn't been enough sunny days to satisfy me this year, and I have no intentions of staying in the shade when a sunny day does come along, but then I'm not wearing a fleece.

     We've reached the footbridge, which will take us across the river. There's a sand and gravel beach close by, which is popular with picnickers, and with children who want to paddle with their fishing nets, and jam jars, while attempting to catch minnows.
     The suspension bridge was built in the 1950's, and replaced a ferryman with a rowing boat. I don't know how much foot traffic travelled between Dinkley and Hurst Green in the 1950's but I wouldn't have thought his business enterprise to have been very lucrative, even before the construction of the bridge.

     This plant is called Woody Nightshade, and is sometimes referred to as deadly nightshade.  It's a member of the potato family with  similarly shaped, but differently coloured, flowers. The red berries are extremely poisonous, and they are reported to have been used by the Pendle Witches to induce sickness, and kill livestock, in retaliation for a refusal, or verbal abuse, received while begging. Thrushes eat the berries without any problems at all, and distribute the seed for the plant. This must be part of a symbiotic relationship between the plant and just one species of  birds, as the thrushes seem to be immune to the poison.

  We are now at Hurst Green and visiting Stonyhurst college. It was once the family home of the Shireburn family, before becoming a boarding school run by Jesuit monks. It's most famous old boy, worldwide, must be Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes novels. Inside the college you can discover the names of other boys in his year,  Moriarty is one of them.  
     The son of JRR Tolkien also attended the school. It is thought that his father wrote his Lord of the Rings  trilogy while visiting his son at Stoneyhurst, and used locations within the Ribble Valley in his stories. There is a Tolkien trail in the Ribble Valley, but I haven't followed it. Perhaps I will, very soon?

Friday, 5 June 2015

A June walk in the Ribble Valley

     This month I'm meeting you in Whalley, because I have a dental appointment. A while ago I was stopped by a television camera crew in Whalley, and interviewed about the proposed hydroelectric plant to be sited on the weir. I'm all for renewable energy, as opposed to burning fossil fuels, but they always tend to impact negatively upon the landscape, and as in so many cases this project fails to enhance the view. I noticed this chap sitting on a wall by the weir. This is definitely not a native duck. He must be native species somewhere, but it isn't here. I assume that he, or she, belongs to one of the cottages nearby and is allowed to roam freely. He's playing it cool and pretending that I'm not  taking his photograph.

     In the novel, The Lancashire Witches, by Harrison Ainsworth, Anne Redfearn, one of the witches who was hanged at Lancaster, is dragged down the lane to the weir, where she's ducked in the river as a punishment for harassing parishioners  while attending church.
I'm not sure if there was once a ducking stool sited at the weir, or if they just threw her in, I can't remember, as it's been a long time since I read the story, but ducking was a common punishment for people accused of witchcraft. If they drowned they were innocent and received a Christian burial, and if they didn't drown they were deemed witches and hanged for witchcraft, or burnt at the stake.
      There is usually a heron fishing in this fast flowing, shallow water, but not today. Perhaps he doesn't fish here anymore since the hydroelectric plant has been built? But at least they've built a fish ladder so that migrating fish can come up the river to spawn. 
      Some of the eagle eyed amongst you may have noticed that there aren't many leaves on the trees for early June. I have a confession to make, I actually took this picture in May, but I didn't get the opportunity to use it.

   Honeysuckle has begun to appear in the hedgerows, it's a climber which scrambles through the hedge for support, but it's not quite ready for bursting into flower, as it's been a particularly cold April and May. 
    This appears to be the red and cream variety, but there is also a yellow and white variation, which grows in equal quantity. The flower of the honeysuckle, once it bursts from its buds, appears quite exotic for a British native, and honeysuckle plants are being sold in garden centres and supermarkets, but if you want want for your garden, just break off a non flowering runner and stick it into a pot, it's that easy.

     Let's wander through Abbey Mews, and take a look around the ruined Whalley Abbey. In the abbey grounds is a cafe,  a gift shop, and a small museum. Displayed there is a history of the abbey, with an impressive scale model of how the abbey looked in its heyday.
     The Cistercian monks from Stanlow Abbey, on the banks of the river Mersey, often suffered severe flooding, it appears, and in 1296 Henry De Lacy, the tenth Baron of Halton, agreed to move the abbey to Whalley at his own expense. I assume that he owned lands in and around Whalley, as he was also the 7th Lord of Bowland, and probably owned pretty much everything for miles around. A pub in Whalley still bears his name, with his armoury depicted on a pub sign above the door. 
   The abbey closed in 1537, as part of the dissolution of the monasteries ordered by King Henry the Eighth, and the last abbot of Whalley, Abbot Paslew, was executed in the same year for high treason. Harrison Ainsworth, in his novel, tells us that he was captured, by men and dogs while attempting to escape by wading across the river Calder.

     In the crevices of  the stone walls, and paths,  grows Ivy leaved toadflax. Reference to my idiots guide informed me that this is a native of southern Italy and Sicily, but it must be as tough as old boots to live in Lancashire. The book informs me that it's a very invasive species, and has colonised almost every country in the world. I've only ever seen it growing in sunny positions. Perhaps it uses the residual heat from the stone walls to form a micro-climate? As stone walls  heat up and retain  heat like a storage heater.

     This is a picture of the manor house, built within the grounds of the abbey by Sir Richard Assheton of Lever in 1553. The abbot's house, and the infirmary, built by Paslew, were demolished to make way for the manor house in the picture. The house passed into the hands of Sir Richard's nephew Sir Ralph Assheton, my 10th great grandfather, on his death, as Richard died without issue. 
     In the 17th century most of the remaining church buildings were demolished, and in some instances only the foundations remain.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

A May walk in the Ribble Valley Part Two

Today, I am on my usual daily walk. Although some of you came with me on this walk in April things can change noticeably from month to month. The most obvious change is that the blackthorn has now gone over and Hawthorn dominates the hedgerows. Hawthorn blossom is traditionally known as May blossom, and there is a saying, "Ne'er cast a clout till May is out." For the uninitiated this means don't put away your winter clothes until the Hawthorn blossom appears. While Hawthorn blossom is attractive, I wouldn't put it in a vase in my living room, as it smells like a rotting corpse. This is because the flowers are pollinated by flies.

I noticed this horse through a gap in the hedge. I thought that it made a good focal point for a photograph, especially with a pond in the foreground. My daughter once asked me to walk her Labrador dog while out at work. He didn't walk well on the lead but was perfectly well behaved off it. On this particular occasion he smelled the water long before it came into view and he was gone. By the time I reached this pond he was swimming and the young woman who owns the horse gave me a dressing down for not keeping my dog under control. I never took him with me again.

I often meet her while she's out riding. Someone told me that she's a mounted police officer. I have no way of  knowing  if that's the case, but she certainly appeared  comfortable while tearing me off a strip for my neglect. The young woman  also owns a white pony, which she may have ridden as a girl, but its current function is as company for the horse. In addition to meeting her while riding I sometimes meet her while walking the pony, as others might walk a dog. Perhaps it doesn't get enough exercise in the field and needs to be encouraged to walk? While taking the photograph of the horse I suddenly had the feeling that I was  being watched.

By the side of the road I noticed this tree in flower. It looks like an apple tree to me and it must be at least a couple of hundred years old. That got me thinking, how did it come to be growing in a hedge. Was an apple core, a remnant of a plowman's lunch, carelessly thrown into the hedge by a farm worker, or was it a snack discarded by a traveller on the road from Ribchester to Whalley. Or did a blackbird simply eat a rotting windfall in the autumn and spread the seed in its droppings? Whatever happened to plant this tree it took place a hundred or more years before any of us were born.

This plant is not a plant that you see every day, but growing close to the old apple tree there were hundreds of them growing in a rainwater  ditch. It appears to me to be a fritillary, so I looked it up in my idiots guide. Apparently Britain boasts just one native fritillary, (The Snakes Head Fritillary), but to be honest the picture in the book didn't appear to be an exact match. I've discovered that The Snakes Head Fritillary grows in just a few meadows in Southern England and the Midlands, so if I have identified it correctly what is it doing so far north? Perhaps someone can tell me what this plant is? 

This picture shows Pendle Hill in the far distance. Its summit is 557 metres (1,827 ft) above sea level. There is a saying locally that if you can see Pendle it's going to rain, and if you can't it's already raining. In 1652, during the early years of the Quakers, George Fox, a founding father, claimed to have had a vision while on the top of Pendle Hill.
As we travelled, we came near a very great hill, called Pendle Hill, and I was moved of the Lord to go up to the top of it; which I did with difficulty, it was so very steep and high. When I was come to the top, I saw the sea bordering upon Lancashire. From the top of this hill the Lord let me see in what places he had a great people to be gathered.
George Fox: 

I wonder if George's vision  included a Mexican themed restaurant sitting on the top of the hill, or a dry ski slope and a ski lift, or perhaps he envisioned young men jumping from the top and paragliding in the thermals? If so he truly had a vision of the future.

Here are a few of the wild plants that I photographed during the month of May. 

Herb Robert
Red campion
Ladies smock
Greater stichwort
Ivy leaved toad flax

Monday, 4 May 2015

A May walk in the Ribble Valley.

Today I have a doctors appointment in Whalley. Usually I walk into Whalley and catch the bus back, but today I intend to use my bus pass and spend some time in and around Whalley. If you'd like to come along I'm sure that I can sneak you onto the bus unnoticed. 

May always say's bluebells to me. Everybody in the UK remembers a bluebell wood fondly from their childhood, and they invariably call it bluebell wood because they have little idea of it's real name. This is Spring wood, my bluebell wood. Spring wood is very popular with dog walkers and picnickers alike. There is a car park, a toilet block, picnic tables, and an ice cream van which parks there daily, in both winter and summer. I don't know how much ice cream he sells during the winter months, but he's always there, perhaps his contractual arrangements require him to be there or he will lose his license to trade.  A path runs around the perimeter of the wood, which borders the golf course, and in the deepest darkest part of the wood there is a small pond which is fed by a waterfall when it rains. At this time of year the pond teems with smooth newts, all trying to pass on their genes to a future generation.

From Spring wood it's possible to walk along the banks of the River Calder to Whalley Nab, a steep sided hill which dominates Whalley village. That is where I came across this cheeky little fellow sitting on a post and playing with his nuts. I see squirrels almost every day during the spring and summer months, and especially in Autumn, but they are usually in retreat and not willing to pose for a photograph. I only carry a pocket camera on my walks, and as I didn't want to scare the little fellow away, I had to ignore the distance between us and use the necessary magnification.  The picture still had to be heavily cropped, and I'm afraid that the quality isn't great in consequence of this, but I thought he looked cute sitting on his post and I had to include him.

Blackthorn blossom dominates the hedgerows in late April and early May, the flowers open before the hedge comes into leaf, and the hedgerows become white as if covered in snow. By late Autumn the blossom, if pollinated, has formed into large berries,  which look a little like purple grapes, and which people, for generations, have collected to ferment into sloe gin.

Behind the hedge I discovered a stream, which had been culverted, a century or more ago, to allow farm vehicles, and animals, to enter the field beyond. At this time of the year wild garlic is as prolific as are bluebells, and it grows in similar locations where spring light is replaced by cool darker conditions once the tree canopy develops. This wild garlic once grew in a shady position but the telephone company have recently cut down a number of trees, as they were interfering with the telephone lines, and the plants will now be exposed to the summer sunshine. Will they survive, the answer is I don't know.

We are heading back towards the bus station now, but if you look through this arch you will see  the  parish church of St Mary and All Saints. A church existed on this site in Anglo Saxon times and there are three well preserved Anglo Saxon crosses  in the churchyard. Most of the present church was built in the 13th century, with the tower being added in the 15th century. This is the southern gate, but the northern gate was designated as the devils gate by locals, and was only used by people who wished themselves to be regarded as witches. In Harrison Ainsworth's novel The Lancashire Witches, the witches congregated around this gate, on Sunday mornings, to intimidate parishioners.

Before we leave Whalley we just have time to view  the 18th century Whalley old Grammar School across from the bus station. It is currently being used as an adult education centre where I  once attended watercolour painting classes. I'm quite good at drawing, even if I say so myself, and I thought that I would also be good at painting. It turned out that I was the newby and among a large group of women, and only one or two men. I did okay, but I'm better at drawing than painting. The other class members were all more experienced watercolourists, and not wanting to be regarded as the dunce of the painting class I chickened out, after only a few weeks, and began writing novels instead.

There is much more to see in Whalley village, including the ruined abbey, and I will be returning.  When I do I'll let you know so that you can come along if you wish.