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Searching for Romans

Exploring England #27

We knew there were Roman ruins at Ambleside – they were clearly marked on the map. There was just one problem. We couldn’t find them!

Driving north on the A591 we passed by the spot where we thought they should be but we didn’t see any signs. We doubled back and looked again, but there was no indication of their whereabouts from the road.

We spied a small tourist information centre, so we parked the car and went in to seek help. A friendly man said there definitely was a Roman fort and pointed vaguely towards Borrans Park. We set off on foot in the direction he’d indicated, walking through spacious parkland at the northern end of Lake Windermere.

We came to a rocky outcrop which looked a little like a wall – could this be the remains of the fort? It didn’t look quite right, but we climbed up and over and took some photographs just in case.

From the top of the rock we could see small groups of people in a field at the far end of the park, eyes down and looking very intent. Perhaps we hadn’t gone far enough. We continued on, until an information board confirmed our suspicions. This time we had found the ruins.

The foundations are all that is left of the stone fort constructed here at the start of the 2nd century AD. We wandered around each part of the fort, joining a herd of contented cows who seemed oblivious to the curious visitors in their field.

In one corner of the field was the start of a public footpath – a country walk beckoned and we couldn’t resist. We said goodbye to the the cows and headed off on a raised boardwalk over marshy land on the bank of the River Rothay.

The lush greenery of the woods was mirrored in the calm, shallow water of the river, and we stopped several times to enjoy the beautiful reflections. At the junction with the River Brathay the water was so clear we could see dozens of tiny fish swimming downstream.

Leaving the river behind, we passed through a turnstile and crossed another field before joining the footpath on busy Borrans Road.

As we walked back to our starting point in the park we checked once more for a sign to the fort. Had we missed it on our drive?

No, there weren’t any signs. Lucky we found the information centre or the Romans would still be undiscovered!

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Reflecting

Unrivalled Views

Exploring England #25

At the top of the hill where the busy A591 enters the Lake District village of Windermere, a small sign publicises a walking track – a footpath leading to views of the surrounding area. Set back from the road against an old stone wall, it’s easily missed. We were lucky to see it, and even luckier that we returned after our cruise on the lake to investigate.

A “20 minute walk with unrivalled views” seemed like the ideal end to a perfect day. The wide footpath, doubling as the road to local homes, was level and even – we looked forward to a gentle country stroll.

We hadn’t gone far when the road was replaced by a broad leaf strewn path leading into the woods. A weathered sign post pointed the way past old dry stone walls overgrown with moss.

After the bustle of the crowds at the lake, the shady woods were quiet. Even the birds seemed to enjoy the peace.

After passing through a rusted turnstile, the incline was more noticeable, and a simple wooden bench offered a few minutes’ respite. Our gentle stroll was turning into a hill climb.

The path became a stony track muddied by yesterday’s rain, but we were spurred on by tantalising glimpses of the views beyond the farm gates.

The further the path went up the hill the more it deteriorated. Wooden steps dug into the hillside gave way to a rough track up the last steep stretch.

We clambered up the last few metres, leaving the woods for the open hill top of Orrest Head.

A few more upwards steps revealed what we’d come to see – 360° views of Lake Windermere surrounded by the Lake District Fells and the Pennines. In the late afternoon sunshine, the lake was dark and silvery. Little boats left sparkling trails in their wake and the waters of Morecambe Bay glistened far away on the horizon. In the opposite direction, farmhouses were dwarfed by the rolling hills of the Fells.

After meeting no one on the path, we were surprised to see others on the hill. Like us, they were silent – awed by the spectacular view, and perhaps also like us, glad they hadn’t missed the sign on the A591.

Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Earth

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No Rain On Us!

Exploring England #24

It’s often wet and windy in the Lake District but the sky was blue, the sun was shining and a warm breeze was blowing the day we visited Lake Windermere. Of course this meant that many other people were also taking advantage of the glorious weather. Lake Windermere is England’s largest natural lake so there was plenty of room for everyone.

A leisurely cruise is a great way to enjoy the lake and there are several ticket options. We chose a route around the southern half of Lake Windermere with the addition of a vintage steam train ride from Lakeside to Haverthwaite and back. After a short wait on the quay at Bowness-on-Windermere, we boarded the steamer Tern and found a sunny spot on the deck.

Ours wasn’t the only craft on the water – canoes, sail boats and small ferries loaded with tourists all passed by.

The shores of the lake are lined with dense woodland punctuated by small stony bays. Some give respite to weary sailors or shelter to watercraft while others are filled with beautiful homes and boutique hotels.

After 45 minutes of smooth sailing we docked at Lakeside, at the southern end of the lake. Billowing clouds of steam led us to the little train, waiting for us to board for the next leg of the journey. The railway line follows the course of the River Leven through the scenic Leven Valley. Contented sheep grazing in the lush fields hardly looked up as the train clattered past on its way to Haverthwaite Station.

The heritage station dates from the mid 1800s and once serviced the nearby village of Haverthwaite. Today it services modern railway enthusiasts, who enjoy the nostalgic feel of the 19th century platform, complemented by a traditional Punch and Judy show.

Instead of relaxing with the dozens of other tourists, we ventured beyond the platform where we discovered a happy surprise behind the children’s playground.

A winding woodland path led us uphill through the trees to a small lookout, from which the view was anything but small. From our hidden vantage point, a vast expanse of green fields stretched away to the hills in the distance and a lighthouse overlooking Morecambe Bay.

The train whistle beckoned and we climbed aboard once more for the return trip to Lakeside, where the steamer Swan was waiting to sail north.

By the end of the day the breeze had lost its warmth, but the sun was still shining as we arrived back in Bowness. Lucky for us because, true to form, the next day it was raining at Lake Windermere.

 

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!

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Weekly Photo Challenge ~ Atop

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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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!

 

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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