Up Country Part One - Bramhall

Friday - Travel Day

Step One - Get Car.

Efficiently up and organised we left our goods and chattels in the flat for a two-red bus jaunt across town to Croyden where our chariot for the next three weeks awaited our arrival. First the 264 towards Croyden Town Centre - a mighty London double-decker, followed shortly after by the 289 towards Purley (Gates, according to Tracy), an equally mighty London single-decker. En route, through the bus window just beyond Waddon Marsh tram stop, I spied with my little eye a gasometer - one of my favourite things! Total excitement!

Once loaded our trip north began. First destination, Tring, one of our homes two years ago, for lunch, birds and reminiscing. The baddest part of this journey down memory lane was when I took Sandra to visit the badger at Ashridge Estate. It was gone. Probably to flat-badger heaven. Brief stops at College Lake and the crazy Natural History Museum followed. Many a curse was uttered as we ventured further north towards Derbyshire on the M1 (a.k.a. carpark). Greeted by the Aussie flag outside 12 Wallash we put this behind us and enjoyed a most pleasant evening in the company of Darley, Phil and Dave (the amazing 21 year old cat), including a meal at the Rose & Crown, Middle Mayfield and a gentle wander through the mysterious streets and lanes of the town.

Don't forget to click the pics for a better view and some witty captions.....

Sunday - Birds, Here We Come

Having had a rest day, well, it was a little damp, it was time to get out amongst it. The Dee Estuary beckoned with several RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) sites highly recommended. A few twists and turns put as on the M56 heading south west.

First stop - Point of Ayr, the most northerly point in mainland Wales. Our first impressions were mixed as we drove through the small village of Talacre (I haven't mastered the pronunciation). It seemed part gasworks, part holiday mecca and part nature reserve. There was a dodgy looking amusement arcade and one or two other shops. We pulled up in a small parking area kind of wondering whether we'd made the right decision to come here. Could the RSPB have got it wrong? Lola and Suggs Beach Cafe saw us right with free parking included in any purchase over £10.00 and morning tea was certainly calling us. Time to head over the rise. The first site was a grassy flat between the sand dune and a levy bank. Despite the whipping wind more than a few locals were headed, with buckets and spades, to the seaside. There was real sand on the beach, an old lighthouse (apparently haunted) and a very large number of wind turbines out in the estuary. A most interesting sight. A local ranger whose was putting out some leaflets and checking on the rare natterjack toads, pointed us in the direction of the RSPB hide, a stroll along the levy and out onto the Point of Ayr. Of course the RSPB was right, it was most delightful, with birds flitting about across the grassy flats, which turned out to be salt marshes. The hide out on the point was quite spectacular. Bird highlights were a Reed Bunting, mostly because I worked out what it was, and Shelducks (Tracy gets the credit for those).

Up and around the estuary, back in England, our next stop Burton Mere Wetlands. This is another RSPB recommended site but with most excellent facilities on offer, much appreciated after the wind blasting of the morning. Built around a central hide/visitors' centre with most helpful volunteer staff and looking across an artificially created series of islands and waterways this place was birdy heaven. Black-headed gulls, avocets, black-tailed godwits, avocets, pied wagtail, avocets, teals, mallards, avocets, redshanks,avocets, grey herons, avocets - are you getting the idea? And, on top of that we drove down Puddington Lane to get there - what a top street name!

Monday - Trubble at Mill

This part of England is well known for being at the epicentre of the industrial revolution so it was to the Quarry Bank Mill we ventured. What a fascinating place! I learnt so much about the milling process of cotton starting with the original water wheel power through steam to electrical power.

Our evening activity was a drive across some Derbyshire moors, into the Peak District National Park to the small town of Buxton for dinner with Darley and Phil. We took a short walk through the garden and streets taking the spectacles of the Opera House and the ludicrously big spa building currently covered in scaffolding as it's undergoing serious restoration. A fun night with good food, great friends and many, many laughs. In the late, late evening we made our way back across the twilight lit moors into the strange light of the slowly setting sun. Uncle Google also took us along some mysterious narrow lanes until we popped out into another built up area.

Tuesday - Local Wanderings

Today's weather was predicted to be a little unsettled so we thought it best to base ourselves at home and explore some neglected local Bramhall locales. We started out with Bramall Hall, the local "big" house. Very pleasant bushy parklands and gardens surround the house so we spent the morning wandering and bird spotting. Mostly bird listening but very enjoyable. The weather didn't turn nasty and I even spent the morning in shirt sleeves, the first time since Abu Dhabi! The morning tuckered us out and the coma ward took over the house as we all nodded off for big nanna naps before heading out on foot to explore Spath Lane just up the road. It's marked as a public footpath but the first half is shared with Range Rovers. A kindly gentleman popped out of his garden to ask what we were looking for and suggested to us that many a tit was on offer, as well as treecreepers and woodpeckers. We did see Blue Tits, Great Tits, Coal Tits and Treecreepers along the way.

Wednesday - Triple Activity Day

My love of a good viaduct is well known. Today this extended to a bloody good aqueduct! A good welsh one at that. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is just beside the town of Trevor. I've known a few Trevors but I've never driven through one! The aqueduct was built in the late 1700s to the early 1800s. It very skinny, very high and a world heritage area. We walked across, chugged across in a canal boat and admired it from several different angles.

Activity two for the day was a visit to the Roman/Medieval city of Chester. From previous experience we've learnt that Park and Rides are the way to go when visiting UK cities. We were running later than we'd hoped as our boat ride across the aqueduct was delayed by traffic on the canal so we were very hungry when we alighted from our bus in the centre of Chester. The first eatery we found was the poorly named Pound Bakery. At Poundland everything costs £1.00. At Pound Bakery everything doesn't. It was a bit of a Fawlty Towers run establishment - everything in the shop would run smoothly if it wasn't for customers. All meals were served with chips and gelatinous gravy - well, everything that was left in the ovens. It sustained us as we set off to explore the Roman amphitheatre ruins, climb the city walls, walk the narrow medieval streets and wander through the grand cathedral. I think I offended a religious man in a frock, but we won't go into that! The cathedral souvenir shop was filled with many rather strange items, including a book of gags by Betty Windsor.

Packing in the action we went for three activities in the one day as they were all in the same direction - south west to Wales and back. Darley told us about the Anderton Boat Lift, an impressive bit of engineering to get canalboats from a low level canal to another canal fifteen metres above. The boats cruise into a big tub at one level and are lifted up or down in order to chug out again into another canal. It wasn't running when we arrived but we could see how the beastie worked.

Thursday - Completing an Industry Story, and Birds!

Fans of a good bonnet drama, with social comment may recall the BBC series Cranford and North and South, both written by Elizabeth Gaskell. We were lucky enough to visit a house in Manchester where she lived for the last fifteen years of her life. Several of the nineteenth century literati called by, including Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens. It was during her time here that she did much of her writing. Having been "let go" quite a bit it has been lovingly restored by a team of very enthusiastic volunteers and has only been open to the public for a few years. The stories draw much on the life and times of the Industrial Revolution and are set in fictional locations just like the Quarry Bank Mill we visited a few days ago. It was fun learning about the house and the family from the volunteers on duty to tell us the story. Indeed one lady was the best advocate for her city as she worked into her narrative just how much she loved Manchester, "The Best City in the World", and she couldn't care less about football!

We spent the afternoon at Poynton Park the site of another nearby "big house" and gardens. Nothing remains of the several versions of the buildings that were on the site but we were well rewarded with some great bird sightings, such as Great Crested Grebes with babies riding on the back of a parent and a fleeting glimpse or two of a Kingfisher.

That's it for Greater Manchester in general and Bramhall in particular. Next up back on the road further up country to Cumbria.

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