A winter afternoon at Blackwell

After looking round the Scottish Colourists exhibition at Abbot Hall, and picking up some shopping in Kendal town centre, we decided to drive over to Blackwell as we’d not been for a while. It had been a beautiful, sunny, winter’s day and, although some cloud had come in, I caught some rather nice shots of the house and Lakeland fells illuminated by the winter light.

View towards the Kentmere Fells from the window in the White Drawing Room
A close up of Yoke and Ill Bell
Christmas installation in the main hall
The White Drawing Room

Colour and Light at Abbot Hall

Last Saturday we drove up to Kendal to take a look at the current exhibition at Abbot Hall. “Colour and Light”

presents the art and influence of the Scottish Colourists centred on masterpieces from the renowned Fleming Collection, the finest collection of Scottish art outside public museums and institutions. 

The Scottish Colourists were a group of four artists S.J.Peploe, J.D. Fergusson, George Leslie Hunter, and F.C.B. Cadell. They were all strongly influenced by French Avant-garde art from the early Twentieth Century – the Impressionists, Post Impressionists and Fauvists – putting their own Scottish stamp on the styles.

I’d first come across their work when watching a TV documentary about the group by Michael Palin some years ago and also at Manchester City Art Gallery who have a painting by both Fergusson and Cadell in their collection. Following that I’d seen exhibitions of work by both of these artists during visits to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The Colourists’ philosophy is perhaps best summed up by this quote from John Fergusson

“Everyone in Scotland should refuse to have anything to do with black or dirty and dingy colours, and insist on clean colours in everything. I remember when I was young any colour was considered a sign of vulgarity. Greys and blacks were the only colours for people of taste and refinement. Good pictures had to be black, grey, brown or drab. Well! let’s forget it, and insist on things in Scotland being of colour that makes for and associates itself with light, hopefulness, health and happiness.”
— J. D. Fergusson, Modern Scottish Painting, William MacLellan, Glasgow 1943.

Although there were close similarities in their style and influences, they were not a close knit group with a specific set of aims, and only exhibited together on three occasions while they were all still alive. In practice, all four artists had their own individual styles, but the French influences come through, particularly in their early works. The Colourist label is applied because they all used bright, vibrant colours.

S J Peploe, Luxembourg Gardens, c. 1910, oil on panel © The Fleming Collection

There are over  50 works in 3 galleries, including paintings, drawings and sculpture by all four Colourists – S.J.Peploe, J.D. Fergusson, George Leslie Hunter, and F.C.B. Cadell. The first two works are devoted to the group with the third gallery showing works by later artists from the Fleming Collection to try to demonstrate the influence of the Colourists.

F C B Cadell The Feathered Hat (1914) oil on panel © The Fleming Collection
George Hunter Peonies in a Chinese Vase c 1928 The Fleming-Wyfold Art Collection

From what I’ve seen of the Colourists I think that John Ferguson was the most significant artist. The other members of the group mainly concentrated on landscapes, still lives and society portraits, whereas Fergusson’s works are more radical and imaginative as illustrated by the following two works

J D Fergusson Blue Nude c 1909-10 goache on paper © The Fleming Collection
P1020830
J. D. Fergusson Estre, Hymn to the Sun c 1924

Grange to Cartmel and Cark

After several weeks of grey and damp conditions we finally have had a few days of sunny, but cold (!) weather. I had to take advantage of it to get in at least one walk.

I decided to avoid driving so took the train over to Grange over Sands for a walk I’d planned that would take me to Cark via Cartmel, where we’d stopped earlier in the year. From the train station in Grange I set off up the hill towards Eggerslack woods.

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In the past, these old decidious woodlands – with Ash, Hazel, Sycamore, Birch, Larch and Yew – were coppiced to provide bobbins for the textile mills and wood for charcoal burning.

“Eggerslack” comes from the Norse word ‘eiger’ (which means ‘bore’, or incoming tide) and ‘slack’ highest point reached by the tide  – and this was the case before the railway embankment was built in 1857, when Grange became developed as a seaside resort.

I carried on through the woods and then passed through the stile onto Hampsfell

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with it’s stretches of limestone pavement.

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I soon approached the Hospice – a folly that the Pastor of Cartmel had built in 1846 “for the shelter and entertainment of travellers”.

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On a clear day like today there were extensive views in every direction – over to the Coniston Fells

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(here’s a close up)

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The Eastern fells of the Lake District

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Over to the howgill Fells, across Morecambe Bay (there’s Ingleborough in the distance)

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I stopped for a brew and a bite to eat and then carried on along the fell. Looking back towards the Hospice

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and then started to make my way down the hill to Cartmel

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I walked through the pleasant, small village passing the Priory

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through the main square

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and across the Race Course.

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Walking through the fields – the ground in the shadows was still frosty

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There’s my next objective, the modest hill of Howbarrow

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Reaching the summit

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more magnificent views over very attractive countryside to the Lakeland Fells

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and Morecambe Bay

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After a rest to soak up the views I set of down the hill.

Looking back

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Then I took the path through the woods

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Looking over the fields to the Bay

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There’s Hampsfell

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I followed the path and the minor roads until I reached the small village of Cark

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passing Cark Hall

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I made my way through the village towards the train station. There was a little time before the train was due, so I walked a little further along the road to Flookburgh

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then back to the train station. There’s a direct train from Barrow to Manchester airport every couple of hours which stops at Wigan North Western, so I didn’t need to change at Lancaster. That was handy on a cold day as there was no need to wait on a cold platform for the connection.

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I grabbed a few shots from the train over Morecambe Bay as the sun started to set

A grey day around Rivington

Last week I was in Ireland working, but knew that with the short hours of daylight I was going to be stuck indoors in the hotel most evenings, so the Saturday before I set off I decided to get out for a walk. It was a grey day and as I had a long drive the next day decided to go somewhere local. So I drove the few miles over to Rivington.

Parking up near Rivington School I set off for a walk along the Rivington Lower Reservoir and see where I ended up.

Heading along the path from the car park towards “Liverpool Castle”

Then along the east shore of the reservoir

At the top end of the lake I crossed the dam and then took the path along the west shore of Rivington Upper Reservoir. Looking across the water I could see the tower on top of the Pike , the Terraced Gardens and the Pigeon Tower. The light wasn’t great and certainly not good for photos, though.

At the top of the second reservoir I crossed the dam and, deciding not to carry on along the Anglezarke reservoir took the path by the overflow waterfall up to the Yarrow Reservoir.

I then turned south, making my way along the side of the reservoir and then down through the woods to Rivington Village.

I stopped for a bite to eat and a brew from my flask on the village green and then had a quick look at the Rivington Unitarian Chapel

I spotted this plaque in the chapel grounds.

Intrigued, after I got home, I did a little research to find out more. According to Wikipedia

The Eagle Street College was an informal literary society established in 1885 at the home of James William Wallace in Eagle Street, Bolton, to read and discuss literary works, particularly the poetry of Walt Whitman,

There’s more information about this group here and here.

I carried on towards the Hall barn and then up the hill and through the terraced gardens (or “Chinese Gardens” as we used to call them when I was young). A lot of work has been done restoring the gardens and making the structures created for Lord Leverhulme safe and accessible. It was the first time I’d been up through the gardens since the restoration was completed a few months ago. They really have done a great job.

Looking up towards the “Pigeon Tower”.

I made my way along the track above the gardens and climbed up to the summit of the Pike.

There was low cloud over the top of Winter Hill hiding the television and communication masts.

On my way up the Pike I’d been passed by a procession of runners. While taking a break for a brew I had a chat with one of the Marshalls who told me that the runners were taking part in a marathon that would take them up and down the Pike 5 times. Rather them than me I’d say, but well done to them!

After a short break I set off back down the hill and back into the gardens, passing through the Japanese Garden. I’ve been through them many a time over the years but they been well spruced up by the restoration team. They would look better on a sunnier day in the Spring or Summer, but were still impressive in the murk.

I descended down through the gardens and then took the path through the woods at the foot of the hill and then onwards and back to the car park.

I’d ended up walking further than expected and I reckon that the fresh air had helped with my cold. It was only a short drive back home – less than 20 minutes. I had to pack my bag ready for my trip over the Irish sea the next day.

I’ve been running week long training courses in Ireland for about 15 years – including 4 or 5 a year for the past 9 years. But I’ve started to find them too tiring and so, as part of my plan to start slowing down, I’ve finally decided that this would be my last one. It’s not going to be the end of my trips to Ireland, though. I’ve promised to go over to Galway in March to run a half day seminar at the University (but that’s really an excuse to visit some friends!) and we’re planning to take some holdiays over there and explore more of the country as I (hopefully) start to have some more free time.

Autumn in the Plantations

November hasn’t been a great month for getting out an about. The weather has been utterly miserable. We’ve not had the deluge that they’ve been experiencing across the eastern side of the country, but we’ve had more than the normal amount of rain and its been generally grey and miserable. On top of that this time of year is always busy at work and the damp weather brings out the colds and sniffles. So all in all I’ve not been out walking as much as I’d like and when I have been out its mainly been in relatively close vicinity to home. However, I am lucky in that although I live close to the centre of town, just a short walk down to the bottom of our street and I’m down by the river and on my way to the Plantations.

So, during November, I have managed a few walks around the Plantations and have been able to see the leaves change colour and gradually fall to earth, covering the paths through the woods. So here’s a few shots taken during several ambles through the Woodland Park.

The path down towards the Dougie

It’s hard to believe that this was once an industrial wasteland, but the Plantations were laid out in the 1860s to hide the condition of the landscape after being damaged by the mining activity. This provided work for Wiganers made unemployed by the cotton famine caused by the American Civil War. Today they’re a great amenity, an area of woodland within walking distance of the town centre and accessed by a “green corridor” along the River Douglas.

A bit of culture

Over the past few weeks we’ve been busy soaking up a bit of culture

The Thursday of my week off work we had tickets for a production at the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick. We’d planned to combine that with a lower level walk in the Borrowdale Valley, but plans had to change after J sprained her foot. Luckily she’d recovered enough to have a look around Keswick before a pre-theatre meal in the Fellpack restaurant

Our theatre tickets were for a performance of The Ladykillers, a play based on the 1955 Ealing Comedy a favourite film of mine that starred Alec Guinness, Herbert Lom and Peter Sellers. The play is based on the film, not the other way round and it had first been produced back in 2011 at Liverpool Playhouse, starring Peter Capaldi.

The plot followed that of the film, with a few differences. As with previous visits to the Theatre by the Lake we enjoyed the production. Is was well acted, particularly Dominic Gately as the Professor, who brought a real comic touch to the role. Devesh Kishore wasn’t as sinister as Herbert Lom as Louis – who could be – but I thought Luke Murphy made more of the part of Harry than Peter Sellers.

This week the weather mid week has been awful with heavy rain (we didn’t get it anywhere near as bad a further east and south, mind). We had tickets for two events – a play at the Royal Exchange on Wednesday and a musical performance at the Halle’s small venue in Ancoats on Thursday so we braved the rain and drove into Manchester two days on the trot.

Another pre-theatre meal, this time at Mowgli’s in the Corn Exchange

Light Falls a new play by Simon Stephens, with music by Jarvis Cocker, at the Royal Exchange, has had good reviews and was almost sold out, even on a wet Wednesday evening.

Connecting five relatives in five disparate English towns, from Blackpool to Durham, LIGHT FALLS is a richly layered play about life in the face of death, about how our love survives us after we’ve gone – and about how family, community and kindness help the North survive.

Royal Exchange website

As with just about everything we’ve seen at the Royal Exchange it was a good production with some excellent performances by the cast. Mind you, the first half in particular really lived up to the saying that “it’s grim up north”. It started by somebody dying before moving round the north of England to “visit” her husband and offspring who all had their own problems. Things resolved themselves a little at the end at the funeral and the ending was a little more optimistic.

Thursday evening and we were back in Manchester to see a performance by a young Polish pianist Hania Rani ( short for Raniszewska) at the Halle St Michaels venue, a converted church, in Ancoats. I’d come across her via Spotify, which has a “Discover Weekly” feature, where tracks are suggested based on your playlists. One week it had included one of her piano pieces from her recently released LP, Esja, and as I liked it I followed the link and explored the LP and some of her other music, including her LP with cellist Dobrawa Czocher.

Looking at Hania’s website I spotted that she was performing in Manchester at the start of a European tour so decided to get along. I had to buy the tickets online and was surprised to see that the start time was given as 7 p.m., which seemed rather early. Turned out that it was! We arrived in Manchester just after 6, parked up and walked across the city centre and Northern Quarter towards Ancoats, stopping off for a drink in a bar. We arrived at the venue at about quarter to 7 to discover that they were still conducting sound checks and that the doors were not due to open at 7:30. An apology would have been nice but the guy on the door seemed indignant that we’d turned up early (as had other people). So, a little dischuffed, we went back to the Northern Quarter for another drink.

I really enjoyed the concert, though. It’s a small venue, rather like the Liverpool Philharmonic’s “Music Room”, but it was pretty full. Hania played a fairly long set – about an hour and 20 minutes, without a break. I recognised many of the pieces from her LP but she also included a number of other pieces including 3 songs.

Hania is originally from Gadansk but now shares her time in Warsaw and Berlin. Her label, Gondwana Records, is Manchester based, which is why her tour was starting there. I think that her style is best described as minimalist classical – rather like the music of Michael Nyman, Philip Glass and Max Richter – with jazz and other influences.

Here’s a couple of her pieces, both from her LP

and here’s a piece performed with Dobrawa Czocher

A walk from Formby to Ainsdale

The Wednesday of my week off work was looking promising for a walk but where to go? J’s foot was still swollen after twisting over her ankle in Conwy Castle, so this was to be a solo trip. I didn’t leave her unattended though, as our son was also off work. I decided to take the train to the coast for a half day walk along the beach and through the dunes from Freshfield station near Formby, which is between Liverpool and Southport.

People have been living around Formby for a long time. The suffix -by is derived from the Scandinavian byr meaning “homestead”, “settlement” or “village”, so like a number of towns and villages in Lancashire and north Cheshire, Formby was originally a Viking settlement.

From the station is was just under a mile to the Pine Forest and Red Squirrel Reserve, looked after by the National Trust.

Rather than head straight to the beach I took a path through the forest and wandered through the pines across to the asparagus fields.

No squirrels spotted, unfortunately.

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After cutting through the asparagus fields, taking a few moments to look at the information boards and the wooden sculptures dotted around the route, I took the path across the sand dunes

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over to the beach.

Formby beach is part of an extensive spread of golden sands, backed by an important dune system, which stretches all the way from Crosby (home to Antony Gormley’s iron men) to Southport.

The tides here often reveal prehistoric mud layers underneath the sand, some of which contain human and animal footprints from the late Mesolithic to the late Neolithic periods, approximately 8,000 – 5,000 years ago. I didn’t spot any during my walk, though, although I left plenty of footprints myself!

It was low tide when I arrived so it was quite a way to the sea.

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But I wanted to get my boots wet so made my way across the sands to the water’s edge.

Looking south I could see a ship sailing through the off shore wind farm at the mouth of the Mersey towards the docks at Liverpool

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Being half term there were other people about, mainly clustered near the National Trust car park, but other than that it was very quiet and I enjoyed the solitude. There wasn’t a lot of wildlife about but I spotted gulls (not surprisingly) a few Oystercatchers and Sanderlings pottering about on the sand, but too far away to catch on a photo.

I carried on heading north along the beach for a while, with the extensive sand dune system over to my right

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After a bout a mile I cut across towards the dunes and then doubled back along the beach towards the “Fisherman’s Path” which I joined and headed inland through the dunes into the Pine Forest.

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The sand hills between Formby and Ainsdale are a Nature Reserve but there are a number of way-marked paths and routes to follow. I’d planned a route that would take me through the woods to Ainsdale.

It’s a variable landscape with mature pines, areas of deciduous trees and grass covered dunes

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The Nature Reserve is rich in flora and wildlife, including the Natterjack Toad and Great Crested Newt. There’s also herds of cattle and sheep, introduced to control the undergrowth. I spotted some sheep, including some Herdwicks, natives of the Lake District brought south onto the dunes.

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I carried on meandering along the paths through the Nature Reserve

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until I emerged next to the Pontins Holiday Camp at Ainsdale. After a final look over the beach towards the Fylde coast across the Ribble estuary (I could just about make out Blackpool Tower)

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I headed inland and on to the road that took me towards Ainsdale village and the train station. After a short wait I was on the train to Southport where I was in good time for my connection back to Wigan.

It had been a cold, but sunny day and an enjoyable walk. I mustn’t leave it so long before I go back – I enjoy walking on the beach on a cold, clear, sunny day in the winter.

Arriving home I dug out a favourite book of mine Strands: A Year of Discoveries on the Beach by the poet, Jean Sprackland who used to live in the area and enjoyed walking along the beach here, picking up flotsam and jetsam, including mermaid’s purses, lugworms, sea potatoes, messages in bottles, buried cars, beached whales, and a “perfect cup from a Cunard liner”. I didn’t find anything like that – perhaps I need to look more carefully next time!