Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Wednesday 6 March 2013 – A Plod Around Culcheth

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For the last of my four ‘here and there’ walks for Plodders whilst Reg has been out of action I’d chosen the flatlands of North Cheshire, where eight stalwarts duly assembled in the car park at Culcheth Linear Park.

We’d expected Roger to turn up, but perhaps the navigational challenge of getting to the start was a bit much for him!  Alan R was hard to spot, and almost unrecognisable as he appeared to have dyed his skin to match the colour of his car.

The Linear Park follows the old Wigan to Glazebrook railway line.  It opened for freight in 1878 or 9 and for passengers on 1 April 1884.  ‘Specials’ took racegoers to Haydock and bathers to Blackpool.

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We strode down about half the length of the park, which ends at Kenyon Halt, where the railway once crossed the Manchester to Liverpool line.  During the war, extra lines were laid to cope with the goods traffic from the Royal Ordnance Factory at Risley, but by 1968, despite regular cargoes of oil being transported from Shell’s depot at Haydock, Beeching’s shadow had heralded closure.

The area became a muddy eyesore before being transformed, in the mid 1970’s, into the Linear Park we walked through today.  The old but lovingly carved bench, and the rusting signs shown below, indicate that this park is barely ticking over today, whilst other projects steam ahead.  It’s mentioned in passing on Warrington Borough Council’s website, but the link to its history doesn’t work.  It needs a bit of TLC.

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Shouldn’t there be a budget for maintenance?

We headed off in the direction of Kenyon Lane, enjoying the field paths which were nice and dry after this excellent spell of weather.

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Alan and I both took close up photos of the huge clods of earth that had been thrown up by the plough.  The result in my case wasn’t impressive, so here’s a more ordinary picture of some Plodders plodding along the grassy public footpath the ploughman has kindly left in pristine condition between the cloddy fields.

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By and by, after managing to negotiate our way over the Manchester to Liverpool railway line, and dicing with death on the East Lancs Road and elsewhere, we came to a spot near Red House Farm, where a decision was required.

So we sat down and enjoyed elevenses (with traditional fresh cake), whilst a vote was taken on the route ahead.

‘Anticlockwise’  gained a majority, so that’s the way we tackled Pennington Flash, a lake formed around the turn of the 20th century by mining subsidence, but now a Country Park and bird reserve.

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Clearly some residents, judging by the sign below and the disgusting state of their farmyard, would prefer the squalor of the old days before the Country Park was formed.

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These days, apart from heavily armed scouse farmers (luckily we saw none), the Flash is a tranquil place with a large population of birds and numerous hides from which to view them.  We had seen a tree creeper in the Linear Park, and here we noticed a prevalence of Canada geese, swans, mallards, tufted ducks, coots and black-headed gulls.  Not particularly exciting, but lots of them.  Keen ‘birders’ would have spotted far more of the 230 species known to operate (but not all at once) in this area.  But Plodders just have to keep on plodding, or they seize up.

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I discovered a reason for the ‘anticlockwise’ vote when we reached the Visitor Centre.  Others amongst us know this area better than me, and the toilets hereabouts seem to have exerted an attraction.  They desperately needed some maintenance, though. (Toilets, not Plodders.)

Our next landmark was the Leeds Liverpool Canal, where navigation became quite easy for a while.

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We headed off in the direction of Leigh and Manchester, soon stopping for lunch on two big benches next to a sign that told us we were at the junction of the Bridgewater Canal and its extension to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.  I can report that the transition is smooth, marked only by the old derrick shown below.

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During lunch we’d been entertained by a plump cyclist with a step-ladder in his bag.  He lurked furtively next to a ‘Bridgewater Way’ information board, muttering things like “signs for route 55” and “mate’s late”, whilst anxiously glancing at his watch.  All a bit strange.  But his mate did turn up, and we left them, apparently in deep uncertainty as to where to place the signs that must have been festering in their bags.  I’ve since discovered that route 55 does indeed exist, and that I appear to have inadvertently strayed onto it last Sunday!

As we passed through Leigh, we came across this huge barge.  It dwarfed the familiar cruisers next to it and looked as if it would be more in place on the Manchester Ship Canal.  I suppose that in days past barges such as these plied this canal, loaded with coal or textile materials, not the dainty pleasure boats that we see today.

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Mather Mill dominates the scene hereabouts.

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Built in 1882, Mather Mill was the first in the world to sport reinforced concrete floors.  It’s an iconic piece of Victorian engineering.  It’s falling into the canal.  Luckily no barge was passing as I took the above picture, the noise from my camera apparently triggering a shower of glass into the canal.

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The hardest bit about navigating a walk along a canal towpath is working out where to leave the towpath, as the bridges seem strangely similar and their numbers are carelessly omitted by the Ordnance Survey from their maps.

Guesswork proved successful on this occasion, and we soon gained our bearings with a degree of certainty when we found the East Lancs Road.  I’m not quite sure how we managed to get across without being converted to ‘road kill’, but we did. Then we passed through several farms; modern security equipment was in evidence, supplemented by uncontrollable barking dogs, and traditional drinking troughs.

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Alan R indicated that he could have identified these tractors even if he had been blindfolded (we’ll have to try that sometime!).

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His worthy record of the day will no doubt provide tractor technicals that would only be revealed to me after hours of research.  After crossing under the Manchester to Liverpool railway line, we came upon the Chat Moss Hotel, so called due to its construction on land known as ‘Chat Moss’ (though others may differ), with its pub sign depicting Stephenson’s Rocket, a reminder that this railway line, opened by the Duke of Wellington in 1830, was the scene of the world’s first inter-city rail passenger service, after ‘Rocket’ had shown itself to be the most efficient locomotive of its time at the Rainhill trials.

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We halted nearby to enjoy a chat and a final swig of tea.

Beside the railway (seen below in the background, I should have waited for a train to come) a field of vegetables seemed to be running amok.  I stole a few cabbage hearts, with a view to soup, but they’ve wilted overnight and look less than appetising!

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Our arrival at the outskirts of Culcheth indicated that this pleasant stroll was drawing to a conclusion.  It’s a posh place, judging by the luxurious nature of the housing that we passed on our way back to the Linear Park.

Did Alan’s tan fade during the day?  Certainly it didn’t get washed off, as the forecast rain had not materialised.

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Nancy took the credit, having assiduously deployed her rucksack cover for the entire walk.

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Here’s our route - 21 km, 50 metres ascent, taking about 5 hours.

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Thanks everyone for coming along, I hope you have enjoyed this little series of ‘here and there’ plods as much as I have.

There’s no slideshow – the images above are more than enough!  But Alan R has both written a report and produced a slideshow.  He certainly knows how to live life in his imaginary world full of nuthatches and chatty Plodders with moss covered footwear.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Saturday 2 March 2013 – Dunham Winter Garden (5)

Nallo Lady reporting from the garden again.  What a contrast to last Saturday and what a difference some sunshine makes in bringing out the colours!

Dunham Winter Garden

The hellebores have multiplied again, with buds ready to burst open:

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The sun makes the white birch bark and snowdrops stand out against the brown soil:

Silver birches with snowdrops

Snowdrops

Hellebores come in several varieties:

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Helleborus

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These snowdrops greet visitors on the entrance to the Winter Garden…

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…and these stood isolated next to the path:

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The robin was keeping his eyes on me, but pickings amongst the leaf litter must have been good because he didn’t fly off.

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These small Pulmonaria (Lungwort – so named because the white-spotted leaves resemble lung tissue) seem rather lost and have suffered from spatters from the nearby sandy path:

Pulmonaria 'Lewis Palmer'

Daffs

Iris reticulata 'Katherine Hodgkin'

Scilla mischtschenkoana

Winter Garden

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Helleborus

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Helleborus

After indulging myself amongst the flowers (and I wasn’t the only photographer!) it was back home for a rather late lunch! Finally it seems like Spring has arrived.

Terra Nova Solar Competition 2 Tent

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I’ve been thinking about back up for my aging Phoenix Phreerunner tent for a while, and Webtogs Ltd kindly lent me a Nemo Obi last year (sadly I returned it shortly before they went bust).  The big advantage of Obi was that it fitted more neatly into my rucksack than the Phreerunner, though other features may have given rise to problems in stormy weather.

Anyway, I’ve now taken the plunge, and on Terry Abraham’s advice I bought this offering from Terra Nova.  List price is £400, Sports Direct are selling it for £320, and Field & Trek have some in stock for £280 plus a ‘free gift’.  (Anybody want a very large and heavy Sports Direct mug?  It’s available for collection.  I suppose they must own Field & Trek.)

The tent arrived very efficiently – almost within 12 hours of being ordered.  Then it sat on our bedroom floor for a couple of weeks before I finally got round to putting it up on the lawn yesterday.
It’s designed to accommodate two people, and I’m sure it would do (as does the Phreerunner) at a push.  In dry weather it might be nice to use the inner and not bother with the flysheet, but I doubt I’ll do that.

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From the front it looks a bit like a cut down Nallo, but any resemblance to that tent ends with the configuration of the poles.  There’s a ridge pole attached to A-poles at front and rear, so the tent should be pretty rigid.

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It’s quite tall and thin, so pitching the tail into the wind will be important, and as you can see from the picture below a couple of extra guys will be needed to avoid undue flapping from the large expanse of fabric on each side of the tent.  I’m not sure why Terra Nova don’t supply the requisite guy lines – they just supply two for the front and one for the back – although in calm weather none of these guys may be needed.  The tiny titanium pegs may struggle in bad weather, so I’ll be supplementing those with some beefier ones.

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Whilst it’s against the rules (Terra Nova’s advice, anyway), I tend to use the porch of my tent for cooking.  There’s plenty of room here, and the front door shown below can be fully opened.

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The tent weighs about 1.2 kilos, so I’ll be saving nearly a kilo over the Phreerunner, which given my plans for the summer (TGO Challenge/Pyrenees)will be quite handy.
I’ll report in more detail on my experiences with the tent in due course, but Terry has already used one extensively and has written an excellent review here.   I commend anyone considering buying this tent to read that comprehensive review.
This is the full specification from Terra Nova:

Solar Competition 2 Tent
Offering a stable pole design and ample sleeping space, this
results in a performance tent for serious backpackers.
Sleeps: 2
Season Rating Spec: 3 season backpacking
Free standing?: Yes (tent can be pitched without guying out)
Minimum Weight: 1.1Kg (2lb 7oz)
Packed Weight: 1.17Kg (2lb 9oz)
Pitch Time (estimate): 5 mins
Number of Porches: 1
Number of Doors: 1
Pitch Type: Inner pitch first
Packed Size: 40cm x 15cm
Flysheet: Si/Si Nylon R/S 5000mm
Floor: Si/Pu Nylon R/S 6000mm
Poles: 8.5mm / 8mm DAC H-pole
Pegs: 14 x 2g Titanium
Guylines: 3 x Reflective with Clamcleats
Compatible with Terra Nova FASTPACK system (fastpack weight: 705g)
Note: Due to the super light nature of the material used in the tents construction we are unable to factory seal the seams in a conventional method. However they are positioned and sewn in a way that minimises water penetration and it's possible to add further protection yourself, with seam sealer, to fully waterproof the tent.
£400.00 RRP

Description
New in 2011 the Solar Competition 2 is the perfect compliment to our lightweight Terra Nova range.
It is a simple, quick to pitch lightweight backpacking tent. The tent uses high specification DAC poles and Terra Nova Competition fabrics on the flysheet coupled with our durable lightweight groundsheet. With its stable pole design the Solar Comp 2 offers ample sleeping area and porch for storage, together with exceptional weather protection. Ventilation options front and back for comfort, a fast free standing pitch, and super light weight construction result in a fabulous performance tent for serious backpacking enthusiasts. For travel hot/dry conditions the free standing inner tent can be used on its own. Footprints to extend the life of the groundsheet and extra pegs for bad weather can be purchased separately.
Features: * Small pack size, * Full-length porch area, * Split-pole tail provides enhanced stability, * Innovative inner-tent shape creates
maximum space, * 2g Titanium pegs, * Compatible with Terra Nova Fastpack system.


PS I won’t be changing my pen name to ‘Solar Competition 2’ any time soon – perish that thought!

Update 1 – October 2013
The tent has now seen most, if not all, of its use this year – 10 nights on the TGO Challenge, and 15 nights in the Pyrenees.  The biggest challenge was met on a calm evening in Scotland, when my mis-use of a fire steel nearly set the tent on fire.  My repair to the resultant hole using a small piece of nylon and some seam sealer worked fine.  I’ve slept well throughout those 25 nights, although none of them can be described as testing, there being insufficient wind and rain to slacken the guys enough to entice me out into the wet.  I added two side guy lines and a front guy that got in the way, so I just used it occasionally as a washing line and kept it handy in case of the storm that never came.  The tent is certainly nice and roomy for one person, and any condensation failed to do more than slightly dampen the foot of my sleeping bag.

Update 2 - Easter 2016
The tent blew down in a wind in the Lake District, after breaking a crucial pole. Luckily we were also using two Hilleberg Nallo tents that withstood the wind and had space for the person who was in the SC2. I then encountered serious problems getting a replacement pole from Terra Nova. Whilst I will continue to use the tent, I can no longer recommend either this tent or Terra Nova.

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