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Hidden From View

Exploring England #22

The Peak District is renowned for its natural beauty. More than 10 million people visit every year to enjoy the excellent walks and beautiful scenery.

While there’s plenty to do above ground, there are also fascinating wonders hidden below the surface; several show caves are located close to Castleton. We visited three and were surprised to discover both their similarities and differences. They are all enormous, natural caverns created long ago by the movement of water and they all show evidence of human intervention. What’s different is the way people have used each cave in the past.

Peak Cavern is the closest to Castleton. A path from the centre of the village passes old miners’ cottages before leading into a forested limestone ravine. The cave entrance, the largest in England, is almost hidden by plants growing in the shadow of the cliffs.

A sign bearing the alternate, original name of the cave greeted us – it’s an indicator of rumbling sounds made by air currents inside. The cave’s name was changed to protect Queen Victoria’s sensibilities before she visited in 1880, but most people prefer the original.

Because of the vast, protected space in the overhang of the cave entrance, it was inhabited by rope makers for more than 400 years and our cave visit began with a demonstration of this craft. Mr ET volunteered his services as apprentice rope maker, turning the handle first one way and then the reverse, to twist the strands of fibre into one strong length of rope.

Once the rope was made we followed a self-guided track into the depths of the cave. The damp and slippery path led to a series of walkways and platforms high in the airy spaces above the cavern floor. Here the constant sound of running water echoed off the yellow limestone walls.

Water also features at Speedwell Cavern, a short drive from Castleton at the base of Winnats Pass.

The cavern itself is 200 metres underground and can only be reached by boat! Narrow water-filled tunnels created by lead miners in the 1770s go deep inside the mountain, and, with just a few centimetres between our heads and the roof, safety helmets were necessary for the 800 metre ride to the cavern.

After the closeness of the boat ride, the natural space of the cave seemed immense. The roof is so high it cannot be seen from the cave’s floor while to one side the Bottomless Pit, a naturally formed shaft, falls away another 150 metres into the depths of the cave. The 18th century miners tossed their mine spoil into the pit, but it barely made an impact.

At the top of Winnats Pass is the entrance to Blue John Cavern, where mining has made an impact on the cave.

Semi-precious Blue John stone is found only in the Castleton area and has been mined since the mid 1760s. Some areas of this cave are still worked – our tour guide mines in the cave in the winter months. The first miners were lowered into the natural cave through a small pothole on the surface but we went 70 metres below ground via steps and a man-made tunnel.

Once inside the cave, our path followed the bed of an ancient underground river which flowed more than 8000 years ago. Fossils are embedded in the cave walls and stalagmites and stalactites decorate each of the six chambers.

Veins of Blue John run across the walls of some of the chambers and, even in the dull electric lighting, the crystals sparkle. Old mining tools have been left near a shaft where the largest known pieces of Blue John were discovered.

We spent a lot of time in the Peak District looking out over the beautiful countryside and green rolling hills. In these three caverns, we discovered a new perspective on the area, our eyes turned upwards to the vast underground spaces that lie hidden beneath.

Up To The Top

Exploring England #21

Walking – it’s what people do when they visit the Peak District National Park. Some enjoy a gentle stroll through a pretty village while others take on the challenge of hiking the 431 km Pennine Way National Trail.

Somewhere in between the two extremes are 3,005 km of walking tracks with right of way through farming land.

Let’s go – through the gate

up the hill

over the stile

to a vantage point at the top of the ridge.

Walkers are rewarded with expansive views of the village of Castleton and the limestone hills bordering the Hope Valley.

Imagine the views when they go even higher!

Visit Restless Jo for more Monday Walks

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Atop

More Than Words

Exploring England #20

Foremost among the many beautiful buildings in Manchester is the John Rylands Library. Founded by Enriqueta Rylands in memory of her husband John Rylands, the library was gifted to the people of Manchester and first opened to the public in 1900.

The library houses a vast collection of precious books, manuscripts and illuminated texts, including a Gutenberg Bible. An entire wing is dedicated to the Althorp Library, which Enriqueta acquired from Lord Spencer for £210 000 in 1892. But as fascinating as the collections are, it’s the spectacular Victorian building many people come to see.

The neo-Gothic interior is richly ornamented, with stained glass, vaulted arches and soaring ceilings. Statuary fills every niche.

Enriqueta and John Rylands, immortalised in white marble, greet visitors to the Reading Room, where alcoves are filled to overflowing with aging leather-bound books.

Historical figures of artistic and scientific importance line the walls of the Reading Room, They look down serenely upon those who visit, as if ready to impart their knowledge to a new generation.

Whether it’s ancient words or wonderful architecture, this beautiful library has something to offer everyone.

Wall Walking

Exploring England #19

Many towns and cities in England have remnants of ancient walls and gates, originally built by the Romans and fortified centuries later by the Normans. Chester’s city walls are the most complete in Great Britain and give a wonderful perspective on the city, both inside and beyond. With medieval towers and bridges, a Norman castle, Roman amphitheatre and an ancient harbour lost long ago, a walk on the walls is a walk through history.

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The three kilometre walk surrounds the city centre and is elevated almost all the way round. We climb the steep medieval steps at Northgate, the highest point along the wall, and immediately the views are spectacular.

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Inside the wall is Northgate Street, home of The Pied Bull, oldest licensed house in Chester; beer has been served on this site since 1155. The Shropshire Union Canal, with pretty canal boats moored by the path, echoes the curves of the outside of the wall.

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The first tower we come to is the Phoenix Tower. Medieval in origin and restored by two city guilds in the 17th century, the tower is named for the carved phoenix above the door, symbol of the Painters’ Guild. In 1645, King Charles 1 watched the defeat of his army in the battle of Rowton Moor from the roof of this tower.

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Chester Cathedral, built in Gothic style, stands close to the eastern wall. For more than 1,000 years, worshippers have gathered on this site, and we leave the wall for a couple of hours to enjoy the splendid stained glass, medieval carvings and Victorian mosaics inside.

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Climbing back up to the wall, we walk on to Eastgate and the Eastgate clock, which commemorates the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897. The gate and its beautifully ornamental clock mark the entrance to Chester’s pedestrian shopping mall, where Tudor style buildings line the streets.

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From the top of the wall at Newgate we have a bird’s eye view of the Chester Amphitheatre. Dating from 275 AD, the stone amphitheatre is the largest of its type in Great Britain. It was in use until around 350 AD and would have been the site of military exercises, gladiatorial combat and other Roman entertainments. We’re surprised to spot some Roman soldiers in the amphitheatre today! Luckily, instead of going into battle, they’re telling stories of their exploits.

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Next to the amphitheatre, there are more traces of Roman occupation in the Roman Garden. The garden was developed in the 1950s but the pieces on display are not in situ. They were collected on 19th century building sites around Chester and placed together in this formal setting.

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When we turn the south east corner, the River Dee comes into view. The water here seems calm and still until it rushes over the weir built by the Normans around 1092 and onward under the Old Dee Bridge. This beautiful stone bridge, complete with seven arches, was built in 1387 and was the most important connection between northern England and Wales.

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There are private homes along this part of the wall and we wonder what it would be like to live here. The address of this home leaves no doubt about its unique location.

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After passing the bridge, our walk on the wall continues alongside the river, where leafy trees provide welcome shade.

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The scenery changes again on the western side as Chester Castle dominates the skyline. Originally a timber structure built by William the Conqueror in 1070, the castle was rebuilt in stone during the 12th century.

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Further along the western wall is the vast green expanse of the Roodee, Chester’s famous race course. It’s difficult to believe that, where horses now compete, Roman ships once docked – two thousand years ago this was a busy Roman port on the estuary of the River Dee. As the river changed course and the estuary silted up during medieval times the port disappeared, although traces of the Roman quay are still visible in parts of the wall. Horse racing began on the marshy land in 1539 and by the 18th century the races held in May were at the top of Chester’s social calendar. Today, the Chester Cup is one of England’s most important horse races.

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On the north west corner of the wall stand two more towers. The angular Bonewaldesthorne’s Tower and the Watertower, recognised by its semicircular walls, were both strategically placed to protect the river port from attackers.

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The last tower we come to on the walls is Pemberton’s Parlour, a Georgian alcove created in the ruins of the earlier medieval Goblin Tower. It was named after John Pemberton, a Mayor of Chester in the 18th century, who often sat here while supervising his team of rope makers toiling on the ropewalk below. After walking right around the city, we follow Mr Pemberton’s example and rest for a while in the shade.

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Returning to Northgate, our circuit of the city walls is complete. The Pied Bull is open and it’s time for some of that beer!

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Join Restless Jo for more Monday Walks.

When Is A Walk Not A Walk?

Exploring England #17

With the forecasters predicting sushine and record breaking warm temperatures, the day seemed ideal for a trip to Liverpool. Rather than braving the traffic and trying to find a car park, we decided to travel by train and spend the day on a self guided walking tour of the UNESCO World Heritage listed city centre and docklands. That was the plan…

It was overcast when we arrived – not the sunshine we were expecting, but perfect for walking. Lunch was our first priority and the menu at the busy Pump House restaurant was enticing. A local lady dining at the next table gave us some friendly advice. “Have the fish and chips,” she said. “They’re the best in town.” We did, and she was right.

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We weren’t so sure about her next statement. “It’s going to rain this afternoon,” she said. “It’s going to pour at 2 o’clock.” That’s not what the weather forecast said, we were thinking, although we were too polite to say so.

Fortified by our delicious lunch, we set off to explore Albert Dock. Opened in 1846, Albert Dock was once the centre of a bustling port for sailing ships from around the world. As these ships were replaced by modern vessels, the docks and warehouses became redundant and they finally closed in 1972. After a restoration project lasting six years, Albert Dock reopened in 1988 with cafés and restaurants, galleries, shops and museums bringing people back to the old warehouses along the River Mersey.

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This part of the river is more than a kilometre wide and the buildings on the opposite bank looked like doll houses. Undeterred by the heavy, grey clouds gathering low in the sky, we wandered along Kings Parade where hundreds of engraved love locks decorate the path by the river.

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Even on this dull day, tiny ferries were busy on the river and we thought a cruise would be a pleasant way to see the city. But just as we turned towards the ferry terminal, it began to rain. Our lunch time companion’s prediction was correct. It wasn’t just a light shower – it was pouring!

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Even with our raincoats walking was no longer enjoyable, so we decided to see Liverpool from a different perspective and boarded a CityExplorer bus. We sat downstairs, where the view wasn’t as good but the seats were dry. The driver’s live commentary was as entertaining as it was educational and for the next hour we listened to his stories of Liverpool and her beautiful buildings.

Eventually the rain eased enough for us to start walking again. We left the bus on Victoria Street and went around the corner to Mathew Street, home of the Cavern Club, where the Beatles performed nearly 300 times in the early 1960s. One benefit of the rain was the lack of people and we walked straight in…or down, as the steps went below street level to the basement. It was warm and dry and a great band was playing Beatles music – it was fun to stop for a while and enjoy  the vibrant atmosphere.

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After browsing in one of several Beatles shops, we headed once more towards the River Mersey.

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The city’s maritime history is commemorated at Liverpool Parish Church where a weather vane in the form of a golden sailing ship sits on top of the tower. In the Church gardens, the Liverpool Blitz Memorial depicts a young mother taking her children to shelter during a bombing raid. On the roof of the Royal Liver Building, once the tallest building in Europe, sit two mythical Liver birds, medieval symbols of the city.

Our last stop was St John’s Garden, a terraced sculpture garden featuring statues of well-known Liverpudlians including Prime Minister William Gladstone and a memorial to the King’s Liverpool Regiment.

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We arrived back at the train station just as the leaden skies opened again. We’d had enough of walking in the rain and, as the Beatles would say, we had tickets to ride!

 

Go for more Monday Walks with Restless Jo.

Someone’s Coming

Exploring England #16

More than 10 million people visit the Peak District National Park every year. Many of them were at the picturesque village of Castleton with us. Try as I might, it was impossible to take people-free photos. Even when I thought I’d got one, someone was always there!

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Shadow

The Name of the Game

Exploring England #15

name: a word or set of words by which a person or thing is known, addressed, or referred to

There are names on chairs in the Red Café,

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and names on shirts in the dressing rooms.

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There are names on trophies,

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and statues,

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names inside the stadium

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and on the outside.

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What’s in a name?

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Take the Manchester United Museum and Stadium Tour at Old Trafford and you’ll soon know. It’s all about pride and passion, honour and glory, memories and mementos.

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