Last week, in need of some new boots, I was in Whalley, a small, but attractive, village in the Ribble Valley on the way to Clitheroe. While I was there, I decided to pop in to have a look at the ruins of the old Abbey.
Whalley Abbey was the second richest of Lancashire’s monasteries, and was founded in 1296, by Cistercian monks (known as the “white monks”, due to their undyed habits) who moved here from their previous site at Stanlow , on the banks of the River Mersey near Chester, which (not surprisingly as it was on a flood plain) was prone to flooding and there had also been a fire. Stanlow is now best known as being the location of an oil refinery, previously owned by Shell, although they sold it off to the Indian owned company Essar Energy in 2011. Reading up on the abbey for this post I discovered that Stanlow was actually known as Stanlaw until Victorian times when a mis transcription on a map resulted in the name change.
The Abbey is a ruin now – it was demolished after the Dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII – but there are plenty of remains on the site, including monastic buildings and the foundations of the Abbey church which were revealed during the site’s excavation in the 1930’s. The ruins of the abbey are a Grade I listed building, and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
A short walk down a minor road there’s the substantial two-storey Gatehouse, the oldest of the abbey buildings, which was constructed between 1296 and 1310. Today, it’s under the stewardship of English Heritage (it can be visited free of charge)
Most monasteries were demarcated by gatehouses that prevented access by any except authorised visitors, allowed the gatekeeper to keep a close watch on traffic and provided basic defence in times of military and political insecurity. At Whalley, as at other monasteries, there was a steady stream of beggars and poor travellers seeking food or help, which the monks could not readily deny. Thus, the gatehouse was also the place where alms were dispensed and food and drink given to the poor.
Following dissolution, the monastery site was sold to one Richard Assheton who had a house built on the site, which subsequently has passed through several hands, and has been extended and modified over the years. Today it’s owned by the Diocese of Blackburn who have converted the house to a residential education centre
The day after my walk up High Cup we decided to go out for a drive and visit a few sites in the vicinity of Penrith. Our first stop was a few miles past Brougham Castle – Brougham Hall
This old hall, enclosed within battlements, was built in the 14th century and after years of dereliction has been restored (in fact, still being restored) by a Charitable Trust. It’s free to visit and although there isn’t as much to see as in the nearby medieval castle, it was tointeresting looking around. Some of the buildings have been converted into workshops and retail outlets for a number of small businesses and we had a mooch around the displays. There were several potters and makers of ceramics and I spotted a room of kilns, which I suspect are used communally. There’s also a cafe on the site.
Our next stop was only a few miles away; Mayburgh henge, a prehistoric site at Eamont Bridge on the edge of Penrith, right by the M6. Expecting to see a circle of stones, we were initially a little surprised when we parked up by the site not to really see anything. But when climbed up a steep slope in the middle of a field we realised that we were actually standing on the henge, which was a large oval bank, three metres high, constructed of pebbles collected from the nearby river. It surrounded a central enclosure, in the middle of which was a single standing stone, almost three metres high. (There was a flock of sheep grazing inside the enclosure – more shoe cleaning required on return to the car!).
seven others accompanied this: three more in the centre, forming a square with the fourth, and two pairs flanking the entrance.
….. (the henge) probably dates to the end of the Neolithic period or the beginning of the Bronze Age, about 4,500 years ago. The function of such large monuments is not fully understood, although it is thought that they played a role in social or ritual activities, perhaps involving trade or astronomical observations.
My photographs really can’t give a proper impression of the structure and it’s scale, so the following aerial shot is pinched from the English Heritage website. You can see how close it is to the M6 which must have been having a quiet day given how few vehicles can be seen.
There’s quite a number of prehistoric sites dotted around Cumbria – there’s another Neolithic earthwork henge close by – King Arthur’s Round Table , also under the stewardship of English Heritage. We didn’t stop to take a look properly but drove past it as we set off to drive to our next objective which was near near Little Salkeld, a village a few miles to the north east of Penrith and on the other side of the A66.
Long Meg and her Daughers is probably one of the most well known of the Prehistoric sites in this part of Northern England. It’s a very impressive oval stone “circle” The monument is 109metres by 93 metres made up a large number of glacial erratic boulders, some standing and some lying prone on the ground. It’s said that you can never count the same number of stones in the circle twice – and if anyone is able to count them all twice and arrive at the same number the spell could be broken and bad luck would ensure! (There’s actually 59 and would have been more in the past)
Long Meg is the tallest stone, about 3.5 metres high, that stands apart from her “daughters” outside the circle, to the southwest. Made of sandstone, a different rock than the stones in the circle which are rhyolite.
There are carvings on the surface of Long Meg
It’s hard to say whether they were carved by the creators of the monument or by later visitors (the carvings on our “local prehistoric monument – Pike Stones on Anglezarke moor are fairly recent).
Local legend has it that Long Meg was a witch named “Meg of Meldon,” who, along with her daughters, was turned to stone for profaning the Sabbath as they danced wildly on the moor. Alternatively they were coven of witches who were turned to stone by a wizard from Scotland named Michael Scot. Take your pick! But the large Meg stone certainly had the profile of a haggard witch from some angles
Again, it’s difficult to gain a proper appreciation from my photos so here’s an aeriel shot pinched from Wikipedia
Until recently visitors had to park up on the roadside, which must have been rather chaotic especially given how narrow the nearby roads are. However, there’s now a decent sizedcar park just a short walk away from the site.
Friday morning I was up early and after breakfast loaded my rucksack, booted up and set off for a walk up through Coppermines Valley and on to the fells.
Coniston used to be a centre for copper mining and slate quarrying (some quarrying still goes on today) and the industrial heritage is very obvious for a good part of the climb up to the Old Man by this route.
Mining for copper in the valley took place from around 1590, right up until the 1950’s. In the early days German miners had to be brought to Coniston and other parts of the Lake District to develop the mines as there were no English workers with the necessary skills. Al this activity has left it’s marks and scars on the landscape and there is plenty of Industrial archaeology to explore. I’ve always been interested in industrial history and having seen the exhibits on local mining in the Ruskin museum the day before I’d planned my route to take in both the fells and the remains of the old mines.
The Countrystride podcast (always worth a listen) also visited the valley recently with Mark Hatton, an expert on the history of mining in the Lakes.
As I climbed the steep “tourist path” I passed through the remains of former slate workings. Slate has been extracted up here since at least the 13th century.
There’s two types of slate – green and black. The attractive Coniston Green Slate was formed by volcanic activity over 400 million years ago and is found high in the fells. The Black slate originates from the sedimentary rocks lower down the valley.
I stopped to take a few photographs
Life up here was tough. The work was hard and conditions up on the fell were not exactly comfortable! There was little attention to workers’ safety – it was dangerous work – and inhalation of the dust from splitting the slate caused serious lung disease including silicosis and lung cancer.
After making my way past the mine workings I reached Low Water, a small tarn in a glacial bowl with the summits of the Old Man and Brim fell looming over.
I stopped for a rest. I’d hardly seen a soul since I set off but a couple of walkers were coming up the path behind me (they’d parked on the Walla Crag road car park). We exchanged a few words and it turned out they were from St Helens (8 miles from where I live and where I used to work many years ago). Besides walking we had another interest in common – Rugby League. They were Saints fans, of course so a little banter was in order given that they’re our local rivals! Fitter and younger than me they set off up the steep path towards the summit while I took a rest and had a bite to eat. Then it was time for me to follow in their footsteps.
It’s a steep pull and I took my time, but the views looking back down to Low Water and Wetherlam were pretty good!
Eventually the summit came into view
Coniston Old Man is a popular fell and there’s usually a stream of people making their way up the “tourist path” from Coniston or (more often) the Walla Crag Road car park. Today, I’d hardly seen anyone on the way up and had the summit to myself – a new experience! I stopped for a while to take in the extensive views.
After a short while I set off along the ridge, heading to Brim Fell and then on to Swirl How
Reaching the summit there were a few other walkers around, but it was still quiet. I decided to head over to the nearby summit of Great Carrs which I hadn’t been up before. It’s an easy walk over from Swirl How
I could see the weather sweeping over the fells across Langdale and had my fingers crossed they’d stay over there. I’m not usually so optimistic!
I didn’t stop long on the top of Grey Carrs,
and taking the path back to Swirl How I diverted to look at the monument to the Wellington bomber that had crashed on the fell in 1944.
And then the weather arrived. The summits suddenly became covered in low cloud and the wind was picking up. Visibility deteriorated and for a while I was a little disorientated.
The walkers I’d met earlier had also been on Great Carrs and I’d passed them on my way to the summit. They told me that they were going to retrace their steps back down the Old Man. I’d intended to descend back into Coppermine Valley via the Prison Band down to Swirl Hawse and on to Lever’s Water. That can be a tricky descent and would be trickier if the rock was wet, but reaching Swirl How summit the rain seemed to have eased off, so, hoping the rain had passed over, I decided to make my way down. It didn’t quite pan out the way I’d hoped.
The cloud and came whipping across from Little Langdale over Swirl Hawse, hitting me side on as I descended down what was now wet and slippery rock and I was getting soaked – I was wearing my waterproof coat but hadn’t bothered to put on my overtrousers. Not a time to take photographs as both hands, and other parts of my anatomy, were needed to make sure I didn’t slip and fall down into the abyss!
I eventually made it to the hawse and took the much gentler path down towards Lever’s Water. The fells were now providing some shelter from the wind and rain., which eased off as I carried on down the path.
I carried on down the valley and eventually reached the village. After a quick call to the Co-op to pick up some supplies I returned to the hostel. It had been a long walk and I was ready for a shower and a rest!
A great day on the fells and some interesting history and industrial archaeology too.
Our next destination was somewhere I was particularly keen to visit – the The Calanais Standing Stones. They stand on the outskirts of the small village of Calanais (Callanish in English) on the western side of the island so to reach them we had to drive through the increasingly heavy rain along the A858 which traverses the boggy interior of Lewis.
The monument is in the form of a cruciform with a central stone circle. All the stones are Lewisian Gneiss. It was erected about 5,000 years ago, during the late Neolithic era and pre-dates Stonehenge. This area was clearly of major importance during pre-historic times as there are a number of other circles nearby – 11 other circles and 9 individual standing stones have been discovered within a few kilometres of the main site.
The central circle comprises thirteen stones with a central standing stone. The cross is formed by five rows which connect to the circle – two of these running parallel to each other creating an avenue.
Today we think of Lewis and the other Scottish Islands as isolated backwaters, but in Neolithic to probably right through to the Medieval period times this was far from the case. Travel overland was difficult but communication by sea was much easier. The islands of the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland were at the heart of the sea lanes and trading routes. The presence of numerous prehistoric monuments like the Calanais stones and ancient structures such as the the many brochs on the islands is evidence that an advanced society developed on the islands during the Neolithic period. But why they built monument such as those in the vicinity of Calanais remains a mystery.
The original plan for the afternoon was to set out on a walk on the coast from Calanais, but with the weather having a turn for the worse we settled in the Visitor Centre and warmed ourselves with a brew!
Rejoining the minibus we drove a few miles further up the coast to take a look at another ancient structure, the Iron Age broch of Dun Carloway. Although a ruin, it’s an impressive structure which stands on raised ground overlooking the nearby countryside and the sea. Unfortunatly, it is undergoing restoration and much of it was shrouded in scaffolding, but it was still an impressive sight.
This impressive example of Iron Age architecture may have been designed to make a bold statement of status, wealth or power. It was also easily defended, sitting high on a rocky outcrop, with wide views for miles around.
The broch tower is in an excellent state of repair. It’s the best-preserved Iron Age building in Lewis, and at 9m tall, one of only a handful of broch towers surviving to near its original height.
The collapsed area of wall reveals a perfect cross-section of the broch. Its main features include:
– a double-skinned wall with two tiers of internal galleries – a ground-level low entrance passage into the broch – a small cell, possibly a guard-room, off the passage – a stairway that originally led to the upper floor(s) – a stone ledge, or scarcement, on the inside face of the wall which probably supported the upper floor
Looking down from the monument, close to the modern buildings, we could see the remains of a “Blackhouse“. The walls apparently intact and still at their original height, but with the thatched roof well gone
We returned to the minibus and set off back to Stornoway, taking the ‘Pentland Road’, over the peat moors, which follows the route of a proposed railway from Carloway and Breasclete on the west coast to Stornoway. The railway ran into legal and economic problems and was never built. Driving across the moors we passed evidence of former shielings and old and new peat banks, but there were no settlements until we neared Stornoway. The general feeling of the group was that it would be very unfortunate if the mini bus had broken down on this desolate wilderness! Fortunaely, we made it back in one piece!
Well, May has been a bit of a disaster for getting out and about. The weather ahs been particularly awful for the time of year with what seems almost like incessant rain, although there have been a few brighter patches. I’ve not been able to take advantage of those limited opportunities as I’ve been recovering from going under the knife at the end of April. But I’ve started to tentatively getting out for some exercise and last Sunday we were running out of milk so I decided to take the long route via the Plantations to the little Tesco on Whelley. I had in mind that if I felt up to it I’d extend the walk on a relatively flat route – and that’s what I ended up doing.
I followed the route of the old Whelley loop line over to the canal
and then headed north-east along the tow path past several of the locks of the Wigan Flight
up to Kirkless Hall and then crossed the bridge over to the other side of the “cut”.
During the lockdown over the last year, as opportunities for getting out and about have been limited, I’ve been rediscovering and exploring areas closer to home that I’ve been neglecting. It’s quite a few years ago now but at one time I started making an effort to get some exercise by buying myself a hybrid bike and getting out for a ride in the evening after work several days of the week. One of my regular routes was along the canal footpath and I’d often cross over and ride around the footpaths that criss-crossed over what seemed like wasteland between the canal and the Belle Green Estate in Ince. This was the former site of the Kirkless Iron and Steel Works, which was owned by the Wigan Coal and Iron Company.
I’ve been up here a few times this year, particularly during the winter months when it was icy and the canal and “flashes” were frozen.
A casual visitor wouldn’t realise that during the latter part of the 19th Century that with ten 65 ft high blast furnaces this was the location of one of the largest Iron works in the country and, perhaps the world. The site has been excavated and investigated by the Wigan Archaeological Society. The northern part of the site is now occupied by an industrial estate but the southern part is now a Nature Reserve. The industrial activity has left behind alkaline soils which, apparently, have encouraged the growth of plants that would be more commonly found in coastal areas like the Formby dune system.
Look closely and there are traces of the once massive iron works – particularly the slag heap at the south end of the site, known by locals as the “Rabbit Rocks”., littered with very distinctive cylindrical blocks of slag from the bottom of the furnaces.
I wandered along the various paths that criss-cross the relatively small site, passing a number of “flashes” (lakes left behind as a result of industrial activity)
At one point I sensed movement in the undergrowth. Glancing across I spotted a deer in amongst the trees. It stared at me for a while, long enough for me to snap a photo with my phone camera – you can just about make it out.
I carried on, looping around towards the Rabbit Rocks
and took the gently sloping path up to the top. It’s a short steep climb up there from the side closest to the canal, but I’m not ready to tackle that just yet!
Here’s another shot taken back in January on a cold day when the surface of the flashes were frozen over
There’s good views from the top over the site, across Wigan and over towards Rivington Pike and Winter Hill.
I doubled back and then walked across the bottom of the hill towards the largest of the flashes
I mooched about for a while then walked over to the canal, following the east bank for a while before retracing my route back along the loop line path. I picked up the milk from the little Tescos and then made my way back hoe through the Bottling Wood and along the Dougie. Time for a brew!
WordPress blogger Wednesday’s Child has been very quiet in recent months. Not suprising given that she’s a doctor working in a hospital in Manchester. I hope she’s keeping safe and healthy.
I enjoy reading her posts and particularly like one of her themes – statues and monuments in Manchester, Glasgow and other locations. Wigan, being a bit of a cultural backwater, has rather a dearth of public art works, but in recent years the local council and other organisations have made some effort to install some sculpture and monuments in and around the town centre. The most recent, installed last year celebrates the mining heritage of Wiagn.
Despite Wigan once being the “capital” of the Lancashire coalfield, there was nothing to mark that and celebrate the heritage of an industry that used to dominate the town. It took a group of volunteers -the Wigan Heritage and Mining Monument group, WHAMM – a registered charity formed by two local women Anne Catterall and Sheila Ramsdale, which raised the funds to provide a statue in a prominent location in Wigan town centre.
The project came to fruition last year but, unfortunately, the planned unveiling ceremony couldn’t go ahead due to you know what.
The statue, created by sculptor Steve Winterburn, depicts a man, woman and child, probably a family, all of who worked in the pits. They’re wearing the traditional footwear – wooden clogs with clog irons and as the sculpture doesn’t have base or plinth so that they appear to be walking on the cobbled street.
The woman, carrying a sieve or screen, would have been a “Pit Brow Lass“, one of the women who worked on the surface (women being forbidden to work underground by the Mines and Collieries Act 1842) at the coal screens on the pit bank (or brow) picking stones from the coal after it was hauled to the surface or loading wagons.
Coal has been mined in Wigan from at least the 16th century, and the industry grew to dominate the town, peaking around the end of the nineteenth century. According to local history records, in the 1840’s there were over 1000 pit shafts within a 5 mile radius of Wigan town centre.
Over three centuries, more than 750 million tons of coal were mined from the vast Wigan coalfields, which over time had over 1000 pits, large and small. It would be difficult to overestimate the contribution of the town to the industrial revolution and the wealth it brought to Britain. However, this was achieved at great cost to local people. Hundreds of people died in accidents, and countless thousands were maimed or left with diseases caused by the working conditions. Two huge mining disasters are still remembered and commemorated more than a century after they occurred. In 1908, 75 men lost their lives in the Maypole pit near Abram.
There are few traces of the industry around the town these days. So the monument is a very welcome addition to the town to remind us of a proud heritage and tradition, and, more importantly as a tribute to the thousands of local people – men women and children – who laboured in awful conditions in the pits
Last year during our family holiday in Anglesey, we drove over to Amlych to visit the “Copper Kingdom” in Amlych and the nearby Parys Mountain – a massive wasteland created by the extraction of copper from what was once the largest copper mine in Europe. The reserves had been exploited from Roman times, and possibly even before that during the Bronze Age, right up to about 1900. Initially most mining was by open cast but from underground workings were opened up by miners brought in from Cornwall after 1800. It’s the vast open cast workings that dominate the site today.
During our recent holiday we were only a short drive away from Amlych so decided on another visit, following the waymarked trail around the site, descending deep into the bottom of the pit.
I can only repeat what I wrote last year
It’s a desolate industrial wasteland, and due to the high level of soil contamination, little life can survive here. But it has it’s own strange beauty. With a range of colours it was rather like a 3 dimensional abstract painting.
The reserves here aren’t worked out and there’s a possibility that mining of copper and other metals could take place here again in the not too distant future. The pit head visible in this photo belongs to Anglesey Mining, a company set up to explore the potential.
Our route inland from Moelfre back to our accommodation took us past three ancient monuments, spanning a few thousand years from the Neolithic age to Medieval time. All three under the custodianship of Cadw
After a walk of about a mile on a minor road we took a path across the fields, emerging on a narrow country road. A short walk later we arrived at the LLigwy Burial Chamber, a late Neolithic burial chamber.
The structure with its massive capstone, weighing about 25 tonnes, would have originally been covered by an earthen mound with a small tunnel to allow access into the chamber. The capstone stands above a pit in the ground, a natural fissure in the limestone, and is supported by a series of smaller boulders. Consequently it has a more squat look than many similar structures known as cromlechs in Welsh.
We think of Neolithic people as being primitive, but you can but wonder about their engineering skills and technology they had which enabled them to move such massive lumps of stone and to create structures that have stood for thousands of years. Shifting that capstone today would require some serious lifting gear.
Retracing our steps and walking a short distance further down the road we climbed over a stile and crossed a field to reach the second monument, the early Medieval Capel Lligwy. The Cadw website tells us that
Standing in a lonely spot overlooking Lligwy Bay, little is known about the history of this ruined 12th-century chapel. The stone structure that stands today was probably erected on the site of an older, timber-built Celtic church in the 12th century, when Viking raids on Anglesey came to an end and life on the island became more stable and prosperous.
When we returned to our accommodation I realised we could see the chapel in the distance from the window in the living room.
After mooching around the remains, another path took us further across the field and into woodland. In a clearing we found the Din Llligwy Hut Group monument, the remains of a Romano-Celtic settlement which may date back further to the Iron Age.
The remains of several buildings, all surrounded by a perimeter wall, are clearly visible. “Din” refers to defensive wall. The round structures were probably houses and the rectangular ones barns or workshops.
Although now largely hidden amongst ash and sycamore woodland, it is likely that it originally stood in open countryside.
There’s more information on the ancient settlement here.
After our visit to the Windermere Jetty we decided to spend the afternoon in Kendal, which is only a short drive from Windermere. Abbot Hall has closed for renovation and moernisation so we won’t be visiting as often as we have over the past 10 years, but it’s a pleasant town with some decent shops. We wanted to restock with some coffee beans and tea from Farrars and pick up some supplies from the Booths supermarket in Waignwright Yard (makes a change from Tesco) and we thought we’d walk up to the castle, as we hadn’t been there for a while.
The Castle was built in the early 12th Century on a glacial hill left behind from the last ice age, to the east of the town. It was more of a fortified manor house for the local barons, than a military stronghold, but it would have dominated the town, looking over it from it’s prominent high position. And it would have been a potent symbol of their wealth and power. The most well known family to be barons of Kendal were the Parr’s, whose most famous member was Katherine Parr, the sixth and last Queen of Henry VIII. Although some locals claim that Katherine was born in the castle this seems unlikely as it was no longer the family’s main residence at the time she was born. The castle was acquired for the town in 1896 to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria and is currently in the care of English Heritage. Effectively a public park, it’s a popular spot for locals and visitors for a stroll and to take in the good views on a good day.
Although cloud had come in since the morning visibility was still fairly good and there was a good view from the castle over the town and across to nearby fells. There was still some snow up on the summits.
Afterwards we walked down into the town passing many interesting old buildings. I’ll have to make a special visit, I think, to take some photos.
After we’d done our shopping we decided that rather than head straight home and get stuck in traffic on the M6 we’d drive the short distance to Staveley and have our tea in the Royal Oak. We arrived a little early as they only start serving food at 7, but that wasn’t a problem as that gave us a chance to relax with a (non-alcoholic in my case) pint!
Conwy was built as a bastide, a fortified settler town, surrounded by high masonry walls, built at the same time as the castle. The new town was populated by settlers who’d moved from England, probably from nearby counties such as Cheshire and the walls would have encouraged immigrants to settle there as they would have helped protect them from incursions by Welsh locals. The walls are extremely well preserved, running for three quarters of a mile, with 21 towers and three original gateways.
It’s possible to walk on top of them for a good proportion of their length. Who could resist?
The towers, constructed at roughly regular intervals, are D shaped and “gap-backed”, which means that they didn’t have walls on the inside. They originally had removable wooden bridges to allow sections of the walls to be sealed off from attackers
There were great views from the walls across the town to the castle, harbour and nearby Carneddau mountains