Category Archives: Seasonal weather

A year in the life of a single tree in Churton

The tree in early April 2021, still rather bare of leaves.

Just for fun, since April 2021 I have been photographing the deciduous tree that I can see from the window in my home office.  It stands in the middle of a rather untidy fence, completely dwarfing it, but finds itself in arboreal isolation, between two fields that belong to the Churton Hall / Barnston Estate dairy farm.  On the far, eastern side of the hedge, the field was eventually ploughed.

On the western side, cows grazed all summer during the day, vanishing at speed from time to time, presumably for milking and feeding.  Most of the time the cows ignored the tree, but on hot sunny days often gravitated towards it, even though it is not very large, and never offers much shade.

The same tree a few weeks later in mid-June 2021

The cows have surprised me.  Not dull, static, plodding things but always on the move, pushing one another out of the way for that special patch of grass, often cantering around together, and frequently departing back to their barn at a serious gallop, presumably for food.  The fresh air certainly seemed to agree with them.  The cattle vanished at some point during the late summer or autumn and the field remained empty of livestock, but reappeared in early April, making me smile when I saw them first exploring their fresh environment, rushing around and bumping into each other in something resembling excitement.

 

The tree, the backdrop to all this bovine activity, was ever-changing.  The time between bare branches in April and richly new light green leaves in June, a complete metamorphosis, was a mere six weeks.  Extraordinary.

This post is simply a set of photos of bits of a year in the tree’s life.  One or two of the photographs look as though the colours have been messed with in Photoshop to make them more interesting, but there would have been no fun in that.

I am too far away to know for sure what specie it may be.  I suspect from the shape that it is an oak, but I need to see the leaves, and the longest lens on my camera cannot get me close enough.
fdfasdf

 

An amazing sunset on 16th March 2022, when even my house, which is painted white, was peach-coloured. No Photoshop employed.

Snow on the 31st March 2022

Early April 2022, with the cows returned to the field

Mid April 2022, with leaves arriving on branches and a doom-laden sky in the background

A visit to Chirk Castle yesterday for the snowdrops and daffodils

It was such a gloriously sunny day yesterday that even though I had marked today for giving the house a much-need top-to-toe clean, I abandoned the whole project, jumped in the car, and  stopped off to pick up my Dad before driving down to Chirk Castle to enjoy the pristine garden and the walks in the small woodland.  It is a great time of year for it.  The castle, the only one of Edward I’s Marcher fortresses still inhabited today, always a little intimidating in its block-like immobility, is far less bellicose in the bright sun.

The topiary is great at any time of year, and the colours of new foliage and bright heather give a real lift to everything, whilst the daffodils and snowdrops, popping up everywhere but particularly good in the woodland, are a joy.  The snowdrops are all in full swing, but although a lot of daffodils are out and looking terrific, there are still more to break out of their buds.  We stopped off on a perfectly placed bench for a blissful half hour in the sun to look out beyond the ha-ha over the rolling hillside towards the view below.  It’s only a short outing, but a very agreeable one.   I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

 

 

Plan of Chirk Castle grounds. Most of the snowdrops are in the Pleasure Ground Wood, but the daffodils are everywhere.  Source:  Chirk Castle, National Trust (website and free leaflet available in the ticket office)

Details of visiting are on the Chirk Castle website (National Trust).  Regarding my usual comment on access, a wheelchair user might be able to see some of the gardens, but the woodland is probably not advisable.  As for unwilling legs, yes if you keep in mind that the ground is uneven.  There is a shuttle from the car park to the castle entrance, as the walk up can be challenging for unwilling legs.

 

A short walk along the Dee at Holt, taking in Holt Castle

Holt Castle

After a morning of shifting logs, the sad remnants of an enormous fallen tree, from one end of the garden to the other and stacking them in the shed, I was fairly stiff and very bored.  It was a lovely day, so even though there is an immense pile still sitting there, I put the wheelbarrow back in the garage and decided to go and walk along the river, taking in Holt Castle.

A number of people have asked me if I’ve visited the castle yet, and my answer that the last time I saw it was probably 30 years ago always seems a tad lame, given how close it is.  I will talk about the castle on another post, but it was interesting today to see how much it has changed.  When I was last there, it was inaccessible and covered in ivy.  I remember the doorway hanging in the side of the wall, and remembered that it was built on a sandstone base, and that local sandstone was quarried from around the castle to provide building material and form a moat, but I had forgotten anything else that I knew about it.  Today, I was so pleased to see how well it has been served since I last saw it.  There is now a staircase leading to the top of the castle, from which the views of the Dee and the fields beyond are excellent, and there is plenty of signage to explain all the features remaining, and to show what existed in the Middle Ages.  I must try to find the photographs I took 30 years ago for comparison.

I was walking straight into the sun, which was beautiful but blinding, so after visiting the castle I retraced my steps and headed instead towards the bridge, crossed the road just before it, and went through the gate into the grass field that flanks the Dee to its west, heading north in the direction of Chester.  It was only a short walk.  I did not pass out of the field onto the track, which was covered with deep pools of muddy water, but the sun on the grass made it glow, the reflections in the river were lovely, and the cobwebs forming silver nets on the ground were glorious, and all in all it was a really rewarding stroll.

 

 

 

 

Visiting and accessibility notes

There is no carpark for the castle, but during the week there is plenty of on-road parking.  The footpath leading down to the Dee is well maintained, but as it opens into the open grass it is muddy and a little slippery after rainfall.  That is true for the worn footpaths around the castle too, so suitable footwear is required.  The path leading up to the top of the castle is gravel set into a plastic matrix, and felt very safe underfoot.  The metal staircase up tot he top of the castle is also well-textured underfoot, with a good handrail.  It’s only a short flight.  Do note that the noise from the bypass is considerable, so if you were thinking of carrying on along the Dee to the south after seeing the castle, do bear that in mind.

The walk along the Dee has no car park on the Holt side, but cross the bridge and there is a small car park on the Farndon side, to the south of the river (to the right as you cross from Holt into Farndon).  You can then return across the bridge on the narrow footpath to do the walk on the west of the river heading north.  As you open the gate, you may again find that the converging feet and paws have muddied the approach from the field, making it slippery.  The rest of the walk through the field is slip-free, and on the flat.

A visit to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct near Llangollen – Thomas Telford’s iron trough 126ft over the Dee

It is without question a marvel of modern engineering and a remarkable sight, but what strikes most people when they first see the 1000ft (c.305m) Pontcysyllte  canal aqueduct is that the handrail along the pedestrian walkway 127ft (38.5m) over the river Dee is only a few steps away from the other side of the narrow canal trough, which has no handrail at all to separate a boat user from a straight drop into the valley bottom.  Until you lean over the towpath’s handrail and look straight down, 127ft is a rather abstract number.  The photograph on the right shows me crossing it on a 40ft narrowboat in the 1990s on a two week canal holiday.  What you cannot see are the white knuckles with which I am gripping the tiller for dear life, in spite of having absolutely no fear of heights, because there was absolutely nothing between me and that drop.  The aqueduct, Grade I listed, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2009, is the longest and highest in Britain.  It’s a long way down.

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct passing over the Dee valley at Trevor. Source: Dronepics Wales

Seen from below or from a distance, the Pontcysyllte aqueduct is a fabulous sight, not pretty but truly awe-inspiring, and it shows exactly what Pontcysyllte is:  an iron trough built on 18 vast tapering brick piers, with 19 arches.  It was all about function, nothing to do with aesthetics, and has no ornamentation to soften it, but the sheer ambition of it grips the imagination and makes one look beyond the factual details of the thing.  It really is superb.  There is a path leading down along the side of the approach to the aqueduct into the valley below, a long but well maintained track to the valley bottom, where you can walk along the Dee and get a long at the aqueduct from a distance.  That’s one for another day.

It was a beautiful day, absolutely flawless, with cerulean blue skies, a golden sun warming one’s face, and a brightness of autumnal colours that takes some beating.  After attending the Remembrance Day commemoration at the Churton war memorial, with a memorable and moving address, and a two-minute silence filled with birdsong, I collected the car first, the parent next, and we proceeded towards Trevor, on the A539 to Llangollen.  There’s a brown signpost pointing to the aqueduct’s pay-and-display car park at the Trevor Basin, which is the home of a number of canal boat companies today, but when it was built was used for the transhipment of coal, building stone, iron products, timber and bricks, much of which was brought to the canal wharf by horse-drawn waggons.

Map of the key canal features in the Vale of Llangollen. I have added a red arrow to show the best car park for Pontcysyllte. Click to enlarge. Source: Pontcysyllte Aqueduct & Canal World Heritage Site

Thomas Telford and his chosen team

Portrait of Thomas Telford, who chose to be painted with the Pontcysyllte aqueduct in the background. Engraved by W. Raddon from a painting by S. Lane.

The aqueduct (built (1794-1805) was part of the Ellesmere Canal project.  It is one of the many British civil engineering projects that has the names of Thomas Telford (1757-1834), ironmaster William “Merlin” Hazeldine (1763-1840) and master stonemason John Simpson (1755-1815) attached to it, three men who had brought their particular skills to many different joint projects and in doing so had developed an invaluable relationship of trust and mutual respect.

Thomas Telford started his career as a stone mason, working in London on buildings such as Somerset House, and had ambitions to develop his career as an architect.  When he became the County Surveyor for Shropshire, he worked on a great variety of building projects including, by his own estimation, 40 road bridges between 1790 and 1796, two of which employed iron in their construction.   Hazledine had initially trained as a millwright, but  his family owned a small foundry  and Hazeldine went on to grow his iron casting business with the large Coleham Foundry at Shrewsbury.  Hazledine and Telford, both Freemasons, had met at Salopian Lodge  in Shrewsbury in 1789 and become friends and professional collaborators.  On one of his earliest projects in Shrewsbury Telford hired a childhood friend Matthew Davidson to oversee works, and Davidson employed master stonemason John Simpson who worked on many of Telford’s projects. Telford described Simpson as “a treasure of talents and integrity.”

Although Telford is by far the best known of the three, he, Hazledine and Simpson worked together frequently on many different projects to produce some of the great civil engineering constructions of their era, mainly bridges.  All three were involved with the Pontcysyllte aqueduct, where  Matthew Davidson also joined them, but the story of the canal starts before any of them were recruited to work for the Ellesmere Canal project.

Background to the aqueduct

The Trevor Basin today.

The big name in canal construction was James Brindley (1716-1772), who was responsible for building over 365 miles of canals by the time he died.  Brindely realized that any inland waterway network would need to connect to all the great navigable rivers that connected to the sea, including the Thames, the Mersey, the Severn and the Trent, incorporating other important navigable rivers like the the Avon and the Dee.  Most of his canals were contour canals, wherever possible built on the level and avoiding slopes so that locks and lifts could be avoided.  The network was therefore a sprawling affair, but it revolutionized transport, avoiding roads that would become mired and impassable in winter, as well as unnavigable sections of rivers, and the riverine problems of drought and flood.  Water into and out of the canal system was regulated and therefore predictable, and allowed year-round transport.  The advantages became very clear very quickly, and manufacturing and trading businesses began to locate themselves at critical points on the canal network.  Eagerness to invest in infrastructure resulted in a canal boom in the late 1780s and 1790s.  Each new section of canal required an Act of Parliament, subject to Royal Assent, and Act after Act was passed as the network expanded.

The complex arrangement of the Ellesmere Canal and its branches is shown as a think blue winding line. The thick blue line is the Dee. The yellow lines are roads. Click to see a bigger version. Source: Wikipedia

In 1791 a proposal for a canal to link the Mersey at Netherpool (later renamed Ellesmere Canal) to the river Dee at Chester and the Severn at Shrewsbury was discussed by three Shropshire entrepreneurs, carrying mainly coal, iron and lime, supported by other goods as well.  It was decided that a branch would be needed to Wrexham and Ruabon and onwards, via Chirk, bypassing Oswestry at its west, to Shrewsbury in the south with a branch to Whitchurch in the east and another to Llanymynech.  Originally it was planned to run a branch from Ruabon to reach the Irenant slate quarries near Llantysilio, via Llangollen, but this was at first dropped and later revived for different reasons (discussed below).  That branch would in turn connect to the Montgomery Canal from Frankton Junction via Welshpool to Newtown in mid Wales (for carrying limestone, coal, timber, stone and slates).

This seriously ambitious plan found sufficient support for a surveyor to be hired and possible routes to be explored.   William Jessop, an experienced canal engineer, was hired to head up the project and oversee all of its different components.  After disagreements over the final route were resolved (albeit not to everyone’s satisfaction), the Ellesmere Canal proposal went through parliament and received its Royal Assent in April 1793.  There were still a lot of technical and logistical details to resolve, including how the canal was to cross the Dee and Ceiriog valleys.

It was clear that Jessop needed help, and although the internal promotion of William Turner was Jessop’s first choice, Telford was brought in without his input. It is not certain how Telford, increasingly bored with life as a county surveyor, managed to insert himself into this ambitious engineering project, but the canal was already generating considerable excitement in the area and it looks as though he heard of the position and sought the support of one of Britain’s most prominent industrialists, John Wilkinson, to help him secure it.  Jessop made it clear in his letters what he thought of having Telford, who he had never met, brought in against his wishes as his right hand man, and refused to attend the meeting that appointed Telford to the Ellesmere Canal Company.  In spite of this rocky start, Jessop and Telford seem to have hammered out a decent working relationship, with Jessop teaching Telford what he needed to know about canal construction, and Telford injecting some ideas into the project.  Like Jessop, Telford managed to broker a deal to enable him to carry out other projects when his personal presence was not necessary, and this enabled him to work on other civil engineering works whilst the Ellesmere Canal was being built.

Building the aqueduct

Work began at Netherpool on the Mersey, renamed Ellesmere Port, in 1793.  The 9-mile canal ran down the Wirral to meet the Dee at Chester, and went so well that it opened for traffic in 1795 and was an immediate success.  While this section was underway, discussions were underway about how the canal might cross the Dee.  The original idea presented to the directors by Jessop and Turner, and apparently not opposed by Telford, was a relatively low level stone channel crossing three stone arches, with step locks either side to manage the ascent to and descent from the level of the canal to the aqueduct.   This would have been an expensive option, requiring not only the locks but the management of the water that would feed the locks.  Even after this had been agreed in principle, concerns resulted in a new plan for an iron channel on stone columns.  It is likely that it was proposed by Telford and supported by Jessop partly because it would have reduced the cost as iron was lighter, easier to work and move, and cost less.  A sketch by Telford from March 1794 survives showing an early version of this aqueduct design.

Telford’s Grade 1 listed Longdon-on-Tern aqueduct in Shropshire, 1796. Source: Chris Allen, Wikimedia

In early 1795 Telford had the opportunity to try out a smaller, less ambitious version of the design at Longdon-on-Tern on the new Shrewsbury Canal, on which Telford was also working, as replacement for the incumbent engineer who had died mid-project.  Later in the same year he had built a fully navigable iron aqueduct on a canal that had none of the problems of leakage or shattering that had worried other engineers.  Whether or not this was taken into account by the directors of the Ellesmere Canal Company, they decided in the same year to go for the iron trough on immense stone piers that was eventually built.

Telford’s friend and frequent collaborator, master mason John Simpson soon joined him on the project.  Telford also brought in Matthew Davidson, his childhood friend of Telford, a stone mason, civil engineer and excellent organizer, to oversee the bridge works.  Telford and Davidson had worked successfully together on Telford’s Montford Bridge project of 1790 – 1792.  Shortly afterwards, William Hazledine arrived to establish an ironworks and take charge of the construction work for the iron ribs and the trough.  By assembling three men that he had worked with before and trusted absolutely, Telford was not only ensuring that the project was in good hands, but that he had a team who could operate in his absence. The foundation stone for the aqueduct was laid on 25th July 1795.

Jessop and Telford made wooden models to test the design for the trough, finding that 1000s of iron parts would be needed.  The cast iron for the aqueduct was made of cast iron that was produced in William Hazledine’s new iron foundry nearby at Plas Kynaston, Cefn Mawr.  Hazledine established the Plas Kynaston foundry to service the construction of the Pontcysyllte aqueduct, thereafter taking advantage of the canal network to carry his cast iron in segments to be transhipped by river or sea to where it was needed.  When he built the Eaton Hall Iron Bridge at Aldford on the river Dee (described on an earlier post) it was from Plas Kynaston that the iron was shipped by canal.

After 1801 Jessop was much less involved and Telford also had interests elsewhere, and Telford was also involved in other projects, leaving Davidson, Hazledine and Simpson to run with the project.  The piers rose steadily, each built in turn from south to north by, at the peak of the project, over 500 men.  Jessop had been desperately worried from the beginning by the dangers to workmen’s lives of such tall piers, and safety precautions were taken very seriously, with the loss of only one life.  The iron parts were manufactured as needed at Plas Kynaston, and were numbered according to the order in which they would be needed so that only pieces needed at any one time would be delivered to the site.  First, ribs of iron were fitted to the piers, and then the trough was bolted on top, after which a wooden towpath was fitted to the side.  The entire project was finished in 1805, and opened on a sunny afternoon on November 26th 1805 at a grandiose ceremony followed by a lavish feast.  The entire cost for the aqueduct project was £47,018, which in today’s money translates as around £617,855 (National Archives Currency Convertor).

Metalwork over and under the arch at the left-hand Rhos y Coed bridge.

Although not as visible in the finished design, iron was also used in the Chirk aqueduct on the Llangollen canal where ten semi-circular masonry arches were crossed by a water channel with an iron bed plate and brick sides sealed using hydraulic mortar.  As well as in the aqueducts, iron was used in various ancillary structures too.  for example, Bridge 29, Rhos y Coed, at the Trevor Basin has visible iron metalwork supplementing the stone arch, and iron was used to cap the weir at the Horseshoe Falls.

The role of the aqueduct

Map from Nicholson’s Guide to the Central canal system, showing the stump end (framed in orange) of the planned Ruabon to Chester section of the canal, which was never built and now houses the attractive Trevor boatyard where the visitor centre is located. Source: Nicholson 1989

The Pontcysyllte aqueduct was almost immediately  in danger of becoming something of a white elephant, because its original role as a direct route to Wrexham and Chester was never fulfilled.  The section that led past Trevor Basin over the aqueduct was supposed to run straight on to the west of Ruabon, via Wrexham and on to Chester where it would link with the Wirral stretch leading to the Mersey and to the  Dee and the Shropshire Union Canal.  All that is left of the Trevor-Ruabon-Wrexham-Chester branch is a stump end occupied by the Trevor Basin, where the car park is located.  This is clearly visible on Nicholson’s map left, where the main line of the canal comes to a sudden, abrupt end.

The abandonment of this important part of the original plan was due to both engineering problems and financial issues.  There were only  two obvious engineering options – an enormous tunnel or a series of locks climbing towards Wrexham and another descending into the Cheshire plain where the canal could run along the flat plain to Chester.  The tunnel would have been appallingly costly, and it was difficult to know how the locks, by no means a low-cost option themselves, could have been supplied with the sufficient water.  Although other technologies were considered, they were rejected for reasons of practicality and cost.  This left the problem of where the water was to come from to feed the rest of the Ellesmere Canal and its branches.

Horseshoe Falls

At the far end of the Llangollen canal is Telford’s great arc of a weir, today known as the “Horseshoe Falls,” marking the point at which the Dee begins to feed the Llangollen canal.  An original survey had considered using the water of the Dee as it fell from Snowndonia via Lake  Tegid at Bala and through the Vale of Llangollen as a water source for the canal.  The idea had been to link the canal to a slate works, feeding the canal at the same time.  This proposal was now revisited.  The owner of Lake Tegid gave his permission and the plan was actioned.  At the Horseshoe Falls the canal is fed with water from the Dee via a sluice and meter, and today carries over 11 million gallons of Dee water a day, emptying it into Hurleston reservoir, just north of Nantwich, where the Llangollen Canal meets the Shropshire Union Canal.  I will be posting more about the Horseshoe Falls weir on another day.  There is no turning point for vessels over 10ft long beyond Llangollen, so the final stretch is only used by minimal traffic today.

This means that the vast aqueduct, such a remarkable feat of civil engineering, would only ever lead to the relatively unimportant narrow section of canal and feeder to a complete dead end at Llantisilio after passing high through Llangollen.  This navigable channel is approached from the aqueduct by negotiating a sharp left-hand corner just beyond the exit of the trough.  Although this seems like a sad role for an aqueduct that should have carried many times the traffic that it eventually did, without the aqueduct there would have been no water to feed the rest of the system.

Even without the Ruabon – Chester link, those wishing to carry all their goods by canal were still able to connect to the main canal system, although to reach Chester they had to take a very long way round, and Wrexham was excluded completely.  The Llangollen canal still linked to the Shrophsire Union at its eastern end, from which the rest of the vast canal network could be reached.

  • Chester could still be reached by travelling the full length of the Llangollen canal to Hurleston Junction, just north of Nantwich, on the Shropshire Union Canal.  From here Chester was nearly 16 miles away.
  • Just to the north of Hurleston Junction was the Middlewich Branch, which headed east and linked to the Trent and Mersey Canal, from where Manchester, Stoke on Trent, the eastern Midlands and Yorkshire could all be reached.
  • In the opposite direction, from Hurleston Junction the Shropshire Union ran directly to Birmingham, which was a vast junction for canals in all directions, including London on the Thames and Gloucester on the Severn.

The Cefn Mawr railway viaduct, which opened in 1848.

Along the line that the original canal would have taken, a cast iron tramway was built to connect local collieries and ironworks with the canal, the iron supplied by Hazledine.  This made the Trevor Basin a particularly important hub of activity, taken delivery of bricks, tiles, coal, iron limestone, slate and sandstone for transhipping along the canal.  It was also a boatyard, with  working narrowboats being built and repaired by Hills Boatyard in the dry dock next to the Visitor Centre (now occupied by a floating take-away café).  Later, there was an interchange with the steam railway.

Visiting Pontcysyllte

A small pay-and-display car park is available for visitors at the Trevor Basin, now the home of some canal trip and holiday companies.  There is also a pub with outdoor seating, and a take-away small café on a little boat next to the visitor centre.  There is a lot of disabled parking provided for in the small car park, which is reached from the A539 in Trevor, clearly signposted with brown heritage signposting.   The aqueduct is a very short walk from the car park, and the towpath heads for miles in both directions.

If, before or after crossing the aqueduct, you are interested in finding out more about the general context of the aqueduct and its location in relation to other parts of the canal, at the Trevor Basin there is a visitor centre, a small but nicely put together display space.  As well as a map of the area that takes up a wall and shows all the main features of the landscape and the canal system itself, there is a display of some of the tools that were used in the construction of the aqueduct, which are startlingly basic, and photographs and artists’ impressions of some of the supporting works, including the foundry at Plas Kynaston.  There are ring folders full of additional information, including facts and figures, that you can look through.

Walking the aqueduct itself is not for everyone.  The towpath is rock solid, with a tall handrail on the valley side, but only wide enough for two people, so there is a lot of stopping still to allow others to pass and there is nothing to stop you falling into the canal.  The canal is only just over 6ft (1.8m) wide, and beyond that is an unrestricted (no handrail, no nothing) drop 127ft to the valley floor.  A couple who I passed told me that they were determined to walk the full length and back, but were conquering their fears to do so, and they were gripping firmly to the handrail.

An alternative to walking is to cross by boat.  There are a number of short cruises that leave the Trevor Basin and run for about 20 minutes before turning and coming back (depending on which one you take and the time of year).

For those with uncooperative legs, everything is on the flat, so it is a very good walk for those who find uphill sections of walks difficult.  After rainfall, towpaths always become a bit muddy, and can be slippery, but even though we’ve had some rainfall recently, it was fine.  The towpath between Trevor and Llangollen is beautiful, and a good choice if you can face the aqueduct.

I noticed that one of the passenger boats said that it was suitable for disabled passengers, but I would recommend getting in touch with them first to find out about timings, prices and suitability for different types of disability.

Sources

Books and papers

Glover, J.  2017.  Man Of Iron.  Thomas Telford and the Building of Britain. Bloomsbury

Lynn, P. A. 2019.  World Heritage Canal.  Thomas Telford and the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.  Whittles Publishing.

Nicholson, R. 1989 (4th edition). Nicholson/Ordnance Survey Guide to the Waterways 2: Central. Robert Nicholson Publications and Ordnance Survey

Rolt, L.T.C. 1958, 2007.  Thomas Telford. The History Press.

Pattison, A.  n.d. William Hazledine (1763-1840): A Pioneering Shropshire Ironmaster.  West Midlands History https://historywm.com/articles/william-hazeldine-1763-1840  (Pattison’s full 278-page M.Phil, on which the article is based, is available here: https://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/3358/1/Pattison12MPhil.pdf )

Websites

Canal and River Trust
Montgomery Canal
https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/canal-and-river-network/montgomery-canal?gclid=CjwKCAiAp8iMBhAqEiwAJb94z7aIVzLoaYuqtwbDdRQsaUL73ssnmF_u1LpoURZmI9YxVUlrKi15whoCtxoQAvD_BwE

DronePics Wales
Pontcysyllte
https://dronepics.wales/pontcysyllte/

Engineering Timelines
Longdon-on-Tern aqueduct
http://www.engineering-timelines.com/scripts/engineeringItem.asp?id=308

Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History
James Brindley
https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/James_Brindley
William Hazledine
https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/William_Crosley_(1802-1838)
William Jessop
https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/William_Jessop

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct and Canal World Heritage Site
https://www.pontcysyllte-aqueduct.co.uk/

 

 

Lovely footpaths through the fields between Churton and Farndon – Part 2

The return leg of the walk from Churton to Farndon, starting at Brewery Lane. Source of map: Public Map Viewer

The return leg of the walk from Churton to Farndon described in Part 1, heading back from Farndon to Churton, was just as lovely in the mid-July heatwave, but was not the same, and had some added extras.   It all looked very different from today’s endless drizzle, but at least the garden is deliriously happy.

On the return leg of my walk, instead of retracing my steps along Townfield Lane, I turned into Brewery Lane, just a little further to the north, which turned out to be a short stretch of road behind Brewery Motors with some nice views.  It segues into a the public footpath that is narrow but very safe underfoot before it joins up with the track along which I had originally walked into Farndon.  The footpath offers  a novel view over a gate of the wildflower field at the Barnston Monument to its east.  I have marked the route on the map on the left (from the Public Map Viewer website), a shorter route than on the first leg.  The red dots are explained in Part 1, marking the approximate positions of possible prehistoric sites.

At Knowl Plantation, a track is marked on the Public Map Viewer that skirts it to the west instead of heading back up the footpath to the east.  It links up with the Knowl Lane footpath that leads to the Dee.  After I returned home I realized that on the Public Map Viewer although marked as a track it is not shown as a public footpath, so I am not sure if it is actually a right of way, but I was careful to stick to the edges and do no damage.

Dove’s foot’s crane’s-bill, its leaves declaring it to be a form of geranium.  Like the speedwell below, all along the edge of the corn, it spreads in huge swathes.

Common field speedwell, which grows everywhere in great, low carpets.

Thistledown, spreading itself in carpets along the path and hanging in the nearby trees

Redshank

When I was a child, anything that looked like a flower, with lots of petals arranged around a clearly defined core, was accordingly categorized in my head as a flower, but anything that failed to look sufficiently floral was always a weed.  Redshank came firmly into my childhood  weed category.

Elder (Sambucus)

Reaching the main footpath back to Churton, that leads from the Dee to Knowl Lane. I was enchanted to be surrounded by butterflies.  They stubbornly refused to settle, and the few that did settle sat with their wings firmly closed, so there were very few photographs, but it was a lovely experience.

Small heath butterfly

Gatekeeper

Common red soldier beetle  (Rhagonycha fulva) on hogweed flowers

Comma

Speckled wood

It was on the return leg of the walk that that I noticed three lovely flowers on this walk that I had never seen before.  The tiny, tiny violas shown below, the flower just a few millimeter high (just a little bigger than speedwell flowers) is the field pansy (Viola arvensis).  They behave much like speedwells, spreading on straggling stems, but there were much fewer flowers per plant, and I only saw a small number of them.

Field pansy in company with common field speedwell

The Hedge Woundwort below, Stachys sylvatica, is a member of the Lamiaceae (mint) family.  It looks very like the common spotted orchid, but the leaves are wrong.  With the orchid, the leaves are smooth-sided and long and sprout from the base, but the woundwort has jagged- or serrated-edged leaves that are much shorter and sprout from all along the stem.  With the Hedge woundwort, the colour leans more towards purple or red than towards the common spotted orchid’s pink, and the woundwort lacks the “wings” that top the orchid flowers.  The distinctive white markings are thought to attract bees to help with pollination.

Hedge Woundwort

This creeping and climbing perennial, here wrapping itself around a blackberry bramble with a lovely pink flower, is White Bryony (Bryonia dioica).  It is not uncommon as a garden weed, and is beast to eliminate as it has long, deep tubers that have to be pulled out in their entirety to kill the plant.  In the wild, however, they are lovely, colonizing hedgerows and scrubland, spreading by coiled stem-tendrils that latch on to the stems of other plants to enable it to travel in all directions.  When it has finished flowering, the white/yellowish-green flower is replaced by a small red berry.

White Bryony

At no point on either walk can one actually see the river from the footpaths, so this is a matter of enjoying the fields in their own right.

 

Lovely footpaths through the fields between Churton and Farndon – Part 1

I have been meaning to do this walk every since I moved here in February, but there is so much to do in the garden that I feel guilty abandoning it on nice days when I really should be working at it.  The stickiness of the otherwise delectable heat-wave meant that digging holes for plants and weeding on an industrial scale was becoming seriously unpleasant, so today I abandoned ship and walked the footpaths to the west of Churton, through the fields to Farndon. It was idyllic.

The route taken from Churton to Farndon. The red blobs are the approximate locations of (top) the proposed prehistoric barrow cemetery and (below) the proposed Neolithic long barrow.  Source of map:  The Public Map Viewer, rather untidily stitched together by me.

This is part one of the walk (Churton to Farndon).   The slightly different return leg of the walk (Farndon to Churton) is described in Part 2.

In both directions, this is going to be an incredibly useful way of avoiding Chester Road to walk into Farndon.  I did once walk in to Farndon along Chester Road and it felt incredibly unsafe as the pavement is so narrow, it was very overgrown and the traffic moves so fast.  On that occasion I cut my losses and took the bus back.

This route through the fields is a perfectly viable alternative with lots to see and some lovely views, although it will be interesting to see how soggy it becomes underfoot in autumn and winter.  A track called Knowl Lane extends from Hob Lane and eventually turns into a footpath that heads through a plantation and reaches the Dee.  There are two footpaths off it to the left (south towards Farndon).

I went into Farndon via one and came back on the other.  The route is shown on the map above, thanks to the Public Map Viewer.  A Barnston Estate signboard next to the first turn shows the route of the footpath and has some of the details about the wildlife to be seen.  This footpath is shown on the Public Map Viewer as a track, and it is indeed used by tractors to move from field to field, which means you may find yourself flattening yourself into a hedge to let one or more pass.  Other than a tractor on the way out, and two on the way back, I saw no-one.  Perfect peace.  I took far too many photographs.

 

 

Once out in the fields, there were lots of wild flowers, three of which I had never encountered before, all described in Part 2, and there were butterflies and bees were everywhere, as well as great carpets of wind-transported furry seed fluff that was new to me.  The views towards the Welsh foothills were gorgeous.  The fields were full of young sweetcorn, displaying every shade of green that one could possibly imagine, wonderful in the sun, occasionally swaying in the slightest of breezes.

 

One field was planted with wheat, a great sweep of palest gold, each ear so beautifully and precisely structured that it looked almost artificial, the whole field organizing itself like a military review.  It was a superb contrast to the floppy sweetcorn plants that, no matter how regularly spaced, still managed to look rakish, jaunty and determinedly laid back.

Proposed barrow cemetery at Knowl Plantation. Source: Google Maps (location marked by the Megalithic Portal)

In theory, this route passes two prehistoric sites, which I was keen to track down.  Both sites are known only from aerial photographs, having been completely ploughed out, but sites are not just about physical presence but context within the landscape, and that’s something one can only get a real feel for by going to the location.  The Knowl Plantation site is described on the Megalithic Portal as a “nucleated Bronze Age barrow cemetery consisting of four ring ditches.”   I’ve had a look at various aerial photographs (see above, for example), but it’s not terribly promising so far.  If it is indeed a site, it is on a fertile slope that runs down to the Dee with views over the Welsh foothills.

A proposed Neolithic long barrow next to the radio mast at Bowling Alley Plantation is rather more convincing, with a lot of other interesting pits and ditches visible from the air in the surrounding field.  It too was always going to be invisible from the footpath.  Still, when I rounded the corner to the field in which it is supposed to be located I laughed out loud: the corn was growing so tall that I couldn’t actually see anything of either the field or the view, in spite of climbing a gate.  It must overlook a very similar view to the Knowl Plantation site.  Winter will be more informative.  The Google Maps aerial view of the site is to the left, and today’s view of the field in which it is located is below.  I really need a drone to be my eyes with some of these sites!  I will be writing soon about the area’s prehistory, some of it verified (by survey and excavation) and some speculative (like the aerial photograph shown here), and will talk about what one might make of it all.

Field in which the possible remains of a Neolithic barrow are located

Happy, but a bit heat-weary, I stopped for a fizzy water and a divine flat white in Lewis’s, sitting outside on the terrace and watching the world go by.  I was updating some notes as my coffee cooled down, but I am like a truffle hound where clotted cream is concerned and looked up to see that the chap at the next table was being served a scone with strawberry jam and, of course, clotted cream.  It looked utterly irresistible.  I am so relieved that I didn’t see it on the blackboard when I went it, or I would have been there for a lot longer, and progress back to Churton would have been a great deal slower.  Next time.  Nice to see the progress being made opposite at The Raven. 

Suitably revived following my coffee, I secured some of the Farndon butcher’s (Griffiths) truly excellent pork and apple sausages (second only in my estimation to his pork and leek sausages) before wandering down to look at the Dee and then returning back up the hill to head back through the fields.  My return course followed a slightly different route, using some other footpaths, which I will post about soon.  Just as super.  In all, it is a superb walk that will be an excellent route into Farndon, at least in drier phases, and will provide a very nice insight into the changing seasons.

 

Himalayan balsam ((Impatiens glandulifera), a relative of the busy Lizzie but over head height, and a pernicious weed in the wrong place.

Sources:

Megalithic Portal

Churton Long Barrow
https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php/mapserve/mapserve/asbmap.php?sid=5584&desktop=true

Knowl Plantation
https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=40380

 

 

 

Walking from Eaton Hall Bridge north towards Chester

Another walk along the Dee, this time to the north of Aldford, on another glorious sunny spring day.

The walk from Churton heading north along the east bank of the river Dee to the Eaton Hall bridge at Aldford was described here a few weeks ago, and was followed a few days later with a look at the story behind Eaton Hall Bridge itself.  This walk picks up the footpath from Aldford and heads north.  The footpath crosses the bridge from the east to the west bank, and turns right sharply to follow the river to the north.  For those of you following local footpaths on the Cheshire West and Chester Public Map Viewer, see the map below as copied from the site.

Crossing the bridge from Aldford, follow signs right to walk northwards along the Dee along the side of the Eaton Hall estate. I turned back at the sluice, after about half an hour.  Source of map:  Public Map Viewer, with my annotations

If you are driving to Aldford, it seems to be okay to park outside the Aldford church.  There were certainly a number of dog walkers parked there, and there is no signage or road markings to indicate that this would be unwelcome.

It was only a short outing because a serious amount of garden weeding awaited, and when I reached the Eaton Hall sluice gate, which empties a small canal into the river, I turned around and came back (about half an hour each way), but it was enough to establish that this section of the riverbank has a rather different character from the east bank between Churton and Aldford.  Instead of the fields that follow the Churton to Aldford section of the Dee to the east, the presence of Eaton Hall estate, fenced off all along that stretch of the path, creates a more contained and intimate feel to the footpath.

If you are starting from Aldford, go to the church and head through the white gate next to it, along the footpath that dissects the field, and over the bridge.

View from the bridge looking upriver, to the south.

As soon as you cross the bridge, you will see a sign indicating that the roadway ahead is private, and that you need to turn right.  Almost immediately, there is a second sign warning of flooding.  This is clearly no joke.  Even though it was bone try on this occasion, there are long sections that preserve deep sections that were clearly deep mud, endlessly trampled by boots.  As the sign says, there is clearly a risk of being cut off in wet weather, as much of the footpath sits in a narrow section between the river on the one side and a big fence along the Eaton Estate on the other.

Ramsons (wild garlic) just beginning to flower.

 

Snow in April

In spite of the cold, in my more optimistic moments the sunshine and clear blue skies seemed to argue for a steady drift towards the heat of summer.  I had been walking on footpaths in the fields to the east of Churton in the bright sun yesterday and in spite of the hypothermic conditions, which were fairly savage, it was something of a surprise, to look out of the window a couple of hours later and find myself confronted by a solid sheet of snowfall.  It settled, but thinly.  After a very cold night it was still providing a light blanket over my garden when I woke up this morning, but by midday it had melted away.

 

A first walk in Churton

I was dropping off My Village News through letterboxes, having volunteered in response to an appeal for help. I thought that it would be a good way of familiarizing myself with the village, and I enjoyed it. After dropping off the last of my first batch, I found myself standing in front of a tempting downhill track, which clearly ran to the Dee. It ran gently downhill, and was a rewarding stroll, with tall hedges filled with bright spring greens and some dots of floral colour, mainly bluebells and celandines with some glorious sweeps of hawthorn. Gaps in the hedges and farm gates revealed long views over the surrounding countryside, rolling fields with the Welsh foothills in the distance. It looked fabulous in the sun against a deep blue sky. I hadn’t actually intended to go any further than Stannage Lane, so was walking around the village in tennis shoes, not a great choice for the serious sogginess that I encountered when I reached the wood at the end of the track. I really wanted to reach the river, but the thick brown sludge was a persuasive argument against it, so I turned around and came back. Another day.