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Tag Archives: Mike Appleton

  • 50 Gems of Cheshire by Mike Appleton

    The History & Heritage of the Most Iconic Places

    50 Gems in Cheshire is my third contribution to Amberley’s ‘Gems’ series and you’d think I’d have got the hang of it by now.

    50 Gems of the Yorkshire Dales was a jewel filled quest in a national park I knew like the back of my hand while although 50 Gems of Derbyshire took me to a different part of the country, I felt comfortable in the chocolate box villages and on the fells.

    Cheshire seemed an obvious port of call; being minutes from my home in Lancashire and relatively well known in terms of attractions and places to visit.

    Jodrell Bank… check… Sandbach… check… simple.

    Yet, this proved to be one the hardest projects I have undertaken because the county itself is a bit of an anomaly!

    Its current boundary covers roughly more than 900 square miles but historically was a lot larger. It took in the Wirral and stretched across to Black Hill, which is now in the Peak District and near Yorkshire.

    It also travelled as far down as Crewe and skirted along the Welsh border.

    Then, even though it is relatively flat, it has three distinct ‘tops’: the aforementioned Black Hill, which is the highest point in the historic county, but now effectively on the border between the borough of Kirklees in West Yorkshire and High Peak in Derbyshire – yes, it’s a Cheshire hill, in the Peak District near West Yorkshire! – Shutlingsloe and Shining Tor.

    Alderley Edge Mines take you underground as does Hack Green Nuclear Bunker. Stalybridge, near Stockport, is as far removed from Ness Botanic Gardens as you can get, as is Newton-Le-Willows, part of Merseyside, from the likes of Nantwich and Crewe.

    Then you could include Flintshire, which is now part of North Wales.

    How could I not include all these gems and thus stick to a modern 900 square mile restriction? In the end it was a relatively easy decision to take – but then I had to whittle the Gems down to 50!

    So old boundary, new boundary, there’s plenty of places to discover and the gems are designed to be visited in clusters. For instance, the Lovell Quinta Arboretum is a stunning collection of trees in the late Sir Bernard Lovell’s garden, the famous physicist and radio astronomer. It is a stone’s throw from Jodrell Bank and located in Swettenham, which is beautiful village in its own right. Delamere Forest has Hatchmere Lake as its neighbour while Parkgate and Ness can be visited in an afternoon.

    Here I present five of my favourites; I hope you enjoy them!

    Lovell Quinta Arboretum - Sir Bernard Lovell's 'reflection' pond. (50 Gems of Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Lovell Quinta Arboretum

    Sir Bernard Lovell created this fantastic arboretum in the grounds of the house he bought in 1948. His vision was to collect a variety of trees and shrubs from around the world, based on the four volumes of W. J. Bean’s Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles and establish them in this quiet part of Cheshire.

    It was very much a personal project – he was meticulous in keeping records, hand-drawn plans and a card index for each plant – and was at the heart of developing it as the years progressed.

    As an astronomy pioneer, that level of detail is more than reflected in his arboretum and his home village, from the creation of the reflection pond to the avenues and areas that symbolised major events in his life. In 1996, the site passed into the watch of the Cheshire Wildlife Trust and is now with the Tatton Garden Society and the capable hands of Rhoderic Taylor, the curator.

    He looks after close to 2,400 plants, some of which are ‘champion’ trees, and others of international significance and importance. This is an amazing site with a varied and interesting collection. There is an honesty box in a prominent position, with a suggested entry fee of £2.50 per person, but to be honest, the walk is worth a lot more.

    Hack Green - A vast array of monitoring equiptment, as well as nuclear weapons. (50 Gems of Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Hack Green Nuclear Bunker

    Sometimes a gem stays with you for a long time. I’ve been fascinated with the history of the Cold War and particularly the aftermath of an attack ever since I discovered a Royal Observer Corps Post while researching another of the 50 Gems series. It opened up a whole new area of underground discoveries for this speleologist and reflection of the world I was growing up in when I was a lot younger.

    Visiting Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker married those two interests together and brought with it a sense of poignancy, empathy and terror I never expected. This was a site of preparation for a nuclear attack, an operational Cold War base, the foundation of civil defence in the region and a reminder of how far we’ve come since the threats of that period.

    Starting in the canteen, you tour around the base and get to see what life would have been like at Hack Green. Your tour includes where nuclear fallout would have been tracked by top scientists, communications and BBC broadcast centres, Home Office briefing and conference rooms and their still operational radio equipment, a ROC Post, bunk rooms, the actual equipment Thatcher used to signal the attacking of the Belgrano in the Falklands conflict and a whole lot more.

    It is incredible, stark, frightening and weirdly reassuring. The fact that the government had all this in place in the event of an attack, to make sure survivors had the best chance of living, is pretty sobering. The team at Hack Green have created something that is educational and entertaining, non-political and utterly fascinating.

    At the top of Black Hill. (50 Gems of Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Black Hill

    Reaching 1,909 feet, Black Hill isn’t a particularly majestic ‘mountain’ or somewhere that would be high on many peak bagger’s lists, but it retains a certain charm as well as being a real oddity.

    But the views on the way up to the summit are amazing on a clear day and getting to that point is relatively straightforward – from the A635 and along the well-paved Pennine Way, if you’re inclined to take that route.

    Its location makes it important too as I mentioned above!  It got its ‘bleak’ name because it was once covered in deep black bogs; exposed peat stripped back due to 150 years of pollution and wild fires.

    The difference between that description and the present day couldn’t be more contrasting as significant conservation efforts have taken place.

    Remedial work started on the 46-hectare site in 2003, aided by the Heritage Lottery Fund, before the Moors for the Future MoorLIFE project came to the fore. They spread 50 million sphagnum fragments on the moorland to reintroduce sphagnum moss, a key peat-building moss. They also planted bog cotton and bilberry, and these are evident as you reach the summit.

    Gawsworth. (50 Gems of Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Gawsworth

    You only have to see the pictures here to understand what a beautiful village Gawsworth is.

    It’s peaceful, tranquil and its church is flanked by two pools, making it the most idyllic venue for a place of worship.

     

     

     

     

    Parkgate is an important salt marsh and has great views. (50 Gems of Cheshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Parkgate

    For everything Cheshire has to offer, the last thing you would expect to find is a coastal resort.

    Parkgate was an important port towards the end of the seventeenth century, serving as a leaving point for Ireland. Originally, ships docked further in stream at Chester but as the River Dee silted, alternative disembarkation points were needed.

    The first was built at Burton but as the river became less navigable, a location was found just outside the boundary of Neston’s hunting park. Parkgate was that ‘post’ and it became a bustling hub with ships anchored in the main channel – passengers and goods transferred by tender. It retained that status until 1815 before the majority of trade with Ireland passed through Liverpool.

    The area is managed by the RSPB, who purchased it from British Steel in 1979. Hen Harrier, Merlin, Skylark, Redshanks and Short-Eared Owls all call it home – with even more arriving when tides flush out mammals and insects.

    Taking a walk along the Parade is like stepping back in time. The site of the Old Customs House, once a starting point for donkey rides, provides a host of information, while on the opposite side of the road is Mostyn House School from 1855, the Ship pub and places to buy local seafood and the resort’s famous ice cream.

     

    Mike Appleton's new book 50 Gems of Cheshire is available for purchase now.

  • 50 Gems of Derbyshire by Mike Appleton

    'Of the High Peak are seven wonders writ.’

    There’s a saying … if you do what you have always done, then you will get what you always got.

    I’m paraphrasing a little but I’m sure the basic premise remains the same: if you stay with what you know then it is almost impossible to experience new horizons.

    Discovering 50 Gems of Derbyshire was a simple feat. The Peak District National Park itself, Britain’s first, covers 555 square miles. It has two distinct areas – the White Peak in the lower southern part of the park featuring its caves and valleys, and the Dark Park; more northern and wilder.

    It reaches into five counties: Derbyshire, Cheshire, Staffordshire, Yorkshire and Greater Manchester and more than ten million visitors a year enter its boundaries.

    Then you mix in those areas just outside the Park. Buxton for instance is the self-entitled Gateway to the Peak, whilst down in the South East, Derby is one of the finest cities in the country.

    Choosing gems with such an array on offer was a gift. Here are a sneak preview of five of the treasures the county contains.

    Edale Cross

    Sheltered and inset in the corner of the point where two drystone walls meet is an interesting medieval wayside and boundary cross. It stands on the parish boundary between Hatfield and Edale, next to the ancient moorland track between those two villages. It is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 because of its national importance – yet because of its location it begs the question – just how did it end up there?

    Edale Cross - Just a little wander from the Pennine Way, and well worth the diverson. (50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Kinder Downfall

    I’ve been lucky to visit Kinder Downfall, the 98 foot waterfall on Kinder, in two differing states – but largely in the same weather! The first was on a damp and dreary day, where the upper part of the fall near the Pennine Way was flowing decently and the lower part clouded in mist. The second was when I viewed it from lower down in more windy times and saw the fall blow back on itself. Both states were pretty impressive after a long walk and in winter ice-climbers take on its majesty too.

    The Downfall on a misty day. This is at the point where it crosses the Pennine Way. (50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Mam Tor

    Dominating the skyline to the west of Castleton is the ‘shivering mountain’ Mam Tor. It stands at 1,696 feet and is part of the Great Ridge which takes in Hollins Cross, Back Tor and Lose Hill - one of the finest walks in the Peak.

    Mam Tor summit looking towards the great ridge. (50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Eldon Hole

    One of the ‘original’ wonders of the Peak, around half an hour’s walk from Peak Forest. Whilst its depths are the goal of cavers, the open chasm is well worth visiting. It is the largest open pothole in Derbyshire at 110 feet by 20 feet at the surface. It descends some 245 feet under the slopes of Eldon Hill and has some fine formations; Phil Wolstenholme’s attached picture doing it more than justice.

    Stunning formation. (c. Phil Wolstenholme, 50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

    Ashford-in-the-Water

    Edensor may have been designed as a model village, but Ashford-in-the-Water is an original catwalk star; one of the prettiest in the country. It’s a chocolate box scene with beautiful idyllic houses and buildings alongside a medieval packhorse bridge that is sure to be one of the most photographed in the area!

    A medieval packhorse bridge. (50 Gems of Derbyshire, Amberley Publishing)

     

    Mike Appleton's new book 50 Gems of Derbyshire is available for purchase now.

  • 25 Great Walkers' Pubs in the Yorkshire Dales by Mike Appleton

    Pint and A Walk...

    A long walk and the beacon of a pub goes hand in hand to many of us. Ideas are formed in Inns, conversations become firm plans and locals become friends. It’s also good to put something back into the communities we walk around.

    This book features pubs that cater specifically for walkers and have historical and cultural importance - with a detailed walk and suggested route to get those tastebuds going.

    Choosing twenty-five of what I considered to be the best was a hard job … well, someone had to do it. I met locals, landlords and real characters. I was told stories of ghosts, snow drifts, shootouts and quirks. To get on my list they had to be walker friendly; but that’s not a surprise in an area famed for its countryside. They also had to have character and, naturally, a damn good walk nearby. They also needed to be able to tolerate a very wet and muddy author following said rambles.

    I used many of the pubs from my own travels in the Dales over the last three decades. Several were very familiar. The Wheatsheaf in Ingleton has been the end point of many a walk and caving trip. The George & Dragon in Dent stems from my time as a child in the village hearing my dad sneak out of our friend’s cottage while I pretended to be asleep. Others came as recommendations such as the Fountaine in Linton and The Farmers Arms in Muker, and several were just the result of when preparation meets opportunity – serendipity.

     

    Five of the Best

    25 Great Walkers' Pubs in the Yorkshire Dales 5 No smoking, unless it’s from this.

    1) The New Inn, Clapham

    This grade II pub was traditionally a place for cavers to meet and share stories. It is next door to the Cave Rescue Organisation in the Dales village of Clapham. It has been revamped to attract people who aren't just cavers – a dwindling number these days!

    Originally, this pub was a farmhouse in the early 1700s but was covered into a coaching inn around 1745. In 1807, an extra floor was added to make it four storeys. The new decor aims to bring this out, being fresh inside and bright without removing some of the original features such as large tables where people would gather to swap those caving stories.

    The proof is in the eating… or drinking and suffice to say the menu is top class as is the beer.

    The suggested walk takes you past Ingleborough Cave, Gaping Gill and on to Ingleborough.

     

    25 Great Walkers' Pubs in the Yorkshire Dales 1 Lots of walking to be had from Muker – Kisdon is a superb choice.

    2) The Farmers Arms, Muker

    “Remember when pubs used to be real pubs? Places where people would go to unwind and socialise with friends, drink good beer and eat hearty wholesome food … ”

    The marketing from The Farmers Arms in Muker couldn’t ring more true. This is a gem of pub in a beautiful Dales village. Darren and Emily Abbey took over the establishment in 2010 and have made it into a real destination for Dales walkers, whilst maintaining its history and atmosphere. They incorporated the walk from Keld, over Kisdon Hill, to the pub on their wedding day in 2008, well before they had the opportunity to take ownership.

    Muker in Old Norse means ‘the narrow newly cultivated field’ and it will be clear if you follow the suggested walk – to Kisdon Falls – why that is apt. The Norse settled here as it is near the River Swale - a perfect spot to establish crop growing. Originally, it had a chapel of ease in 1580 (restored in 1891) which was rebuilt and a graveyard consecrated. The tower, nave and chancel all date from this period. The village shop was built in 1680 and used to be the vicarage.

    The suggested walk takes you to Kisdon Falls.

     

    25 Great Walkers' Pubs in the Yorkshire Dales 2 The George & Dragon is effectively the marker point for two roads out of the village.

    3) The George And Dragon, Dent

    Walk through Dent and you’re transported back to the Dales and country life how it used to be.

    The small village with its cobbled narrow streets and the smell of coal and wood fires, give a reflection on what remote Yorkshire Dales life would have been like many years ago. It’s this charm that makes it a very popular destination for visitors and walkers.

    More importantly, it has a great pub in the George and Dragon. Much of my ‘Dalean’ life has focused around this pub, situated between two roads in the middle of the village. As a child I would visit Dent with my father whose friend owned Ivy Cottage at the back of the Dragon. As I went to bed in an evening, tired from walking up Flintergill – a gorge nearby – or walking the River Dee, he would sneak out the front door with his mate John and have a few beers in the pub. I would wake the next morning none the wiser, only realising in my later years what had caused my dad’s thick head; the local brew in the George.

    Local ale is still the key and the main reason the pub is an important stop on an walker’s trip. The grade II listed George is the tap house for the Dent Brewery and source of many a hangover over the last few years! It is brewed just up the road in Cowgill and is internationally recognised. Originally, the idea was for the staple Dent beer to be sold at the Sun Inn in Dent, but as word spread so did demand and the brewery was at capacity. Now, it makes around six real ales - including my favourite, the blonde Golden Fleece. Ramsbottom is good too as is Kamikaze. The latter is exactly how it sounds. Say goodbye to any feeling in your body if you drink more than four!

    Originally, the pub stands on the site of Dent’s marketplace where a market cross and stocks would have been housed. It has a distinctive V shape because it is at a intersection with two roads coming narrowly to one point. It began life as a mill building, some two storeys high, but a third tier was added in the early 1800s. The beer was brewed in a local shop opposite wth the water taken from a fountain which was the village’s only source at one time. Now that fountain is a memorial to Adam Sedgwick (22 March 1785) one of the founders of modern geology.

    The suggested walk takes you up flintergill.

     

    25 Great Walkers' Pubs in the Yorkshire Dales 3 The original Woolpack from Emmerdale.

    4) The Falcon Inn, Arncliffe

    Quirks abound in this fantastic pub based in the tranquil and sheltered Arncliffe - but this isn’t a gimmicky venue to be shunned - it is a pilgrimage all walkers should make!

    The Falcon was the original Woolpack in long running soap Emmerdale until filming relocated to Esholt in 1976. The ITV programme shot their outside scenes around the village - no doubt because it reflected Yorkshire life perfectly. The pub for instance is ivy clad with mullioned bay windows poking out where they can to enhance its look. The village follows a similar theme in effect making it an ideal film set.

    But it’s the way it serves its beer is the real treat here and well worth the journey. Whilst other beers are available, the ale of choice, Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker, is served in the time honoured traditional way … from a jug. It is decanted from the cask in the back room and then poured from that jug, when ordered, into your glass. It gives the ale a chance to breathe and certainly brings out its flavour at room temperature.

    The suggested walk takes you to Malham... and more pubs!

    25 Great Walkers' Pubs in the Yorkshire Dales 4 The upside-down protest.

    5) The Black Bull, Reeth

    Classed as the unofficial capital of Swaledale, Reeth is a charming village in the north east.

    The Black Bull dates from 1680 and is the village’s oldest pub. You’ll notice it because the sign above the front entrance is upside down in an apparent two-fingered salute to National Park officials. Previous landlord Bob Sykes attempted to tidy up the exterior of the pub by removing its render to expose the original 250-year-old walls and to comply with English Tourist Board accommodation grading requirements. He was also worried about it being a danger to the public because the the existing facia was crumbling so much.

    The Park felt differently though and threatened legal action if it wasn’t replaced. They said it would have had some kind of render years ago and wanted it to be keeping with the original format. Upset at this, someone local turned the sign upside down in protest at the attitude of park officials - and although it has moved from its original spot, it is still that way round.

    The Black Bull won’t be to everyone’s tastes but is a true local pub!

    The suggested walks takes you along the river!

    9781445653297

    Mike Appleton's new book 25 Great Walkers' Pubs in the Yorkshire Dales is available for purchase now.

  • Defining a Gem in the Yorkshire Dales by Mike Appleton

    “Defining a ‘gem’ is as much down to personal choice, affiliation and affection as it is to conform to a set checklist of what beauty or a landmark should be.”

    That's the opening line from my new book 50 Gems of the Yorkshire Dales published by Amberley. The tome seeks to discover some of the best places the area has to offer; being distinctive, historical, picturesque, geologically fascinating and above all personal.

    Identifying a 'gem' is something I thought would be easy. As my introduction says: “We can all identify an icon, a symbol, an area of outstanding natural scenery; in fact we do it every day in the choices we make”. Holidays are often based around lakes, mountains and ravines; drives and cycles in the country end up in fantastic pubs or cafes; we can all name a stunning vista from our childhood.”

    The Dales is my gem and I have been able to transform that love into narration and the ability to use the knowledge I’ve gained, foot by foot, step by step, in language.

    Surprisingly though, that adoration was tested to the full when I was asked to photograph, capture and name 50 of the best places in the Yorkshire Dales. Quite simply, for an area that has so much natural beauty, how can you choose one particular ‘sight’ over another? How can you rank a gem? In a time of bucket lists and must dos, how do you choose the ‘big’ numbers, the scenery that everyone must see? What happens if the smaller fells, a rock in an odd place or setting should be on the sheet too?

    In the end I had to make a choice as I wanted the gems to be as personal as possible. They needed to connect me to a landscape I know and love so much. They are my 50 and as a result there had to be a certain amount of trade-off to make sure I drafted a list I could be happy with.

    They also had tick the boxes – I hate that phrase – of what Amberley does best. Local, Historical, Geographical and Accessible. I think I achieved that.

    Here are some of my favourites:

    Yorkshire - Ease Gill

    1. Ease Gill, near Casterton

    It takes a hardy (if somewhat mad) soul to go underground through the multitude of passages that honeycomb the Dales, but the rewards are immense.

    Ease Gill is part of the Three Counties System, the longest and most complex cave system in Britain, and lies below the Casterton, Leck and Ireby Fells around the 2,057ft Gragareth. So much so that nearly 90km of passage has been found to date – with discoveries continuing all the time.

    Cavers don't have it all to themselves: you can enjoy what's happening above the surface too. Simply follow the beck from its full flow, right through to where it disappears underground and then into spectacular gorges.

    Its remote location means it is very rarely visited. It's serene, colourful at all times of the year, and the perfect place to reflect.

     

    Yorkshire - Semerwater

    2. Semerwater

    Semerwater, near Bainbridge, is the second largest natural lake in Yorkshire after Malham Tarn – and legend has it that it was once the site of a prosperous city in the Dales.

    The story goes that an old man came to the city in search of food and drink. He knocked on each door, being rebuked every time, before he found a welcoming ‘hovel’ where a poor couple pitied and took him in.

    After enjoying the couple’s hospitality, the old man turned to face the town and said: “Semerwater rise! Semerwater sink! And swallow the town, all save this house, Where they gave me meat and drink." Immediately, the waters of the lake rose up and flooded the area drowning all of its citizens, except for the couple who took him in.

    Today the lake is rarely busy, usually glass-like and great for the many birds that visit its shores.

     

    Yorkshire - Ingleborough

    3. Cheese Press Stones, near Ingleton

    Take the path to the Turbary Road from Ingleton to experience this eerie scenery at its finest. You climb into an area of dense limestone, boulders and pavement, before the going is fairly flat and grass-like with Gragareth stretching ahead. Here, in this superb setting – in the stunning Kingsdale – are the Cheese Press Stones.

    These stones were more than likely left stranded in this location by ice movement in the Ice Age. Since then, unlike the limestone which is nearby, they have been shaped and smoothed by the elements, not contorted or cracked.

    The view from here across the Dales is equally as impressive.

     

    Yorkshire - Gunnerside4. Gunnerside

    Long before farming and tourism became the dominant way of making a living in the Dales, heavy industry shaped some of the countryside we visit today.

    Take a walk around Gunnerside – particularly Gunnerside Gill – and the impact of this activity, albeit hundreds of years ago, is there for all to see. This picturesque dale, Swaledale, was the site of a major lead mining enterprise.

    The valley still contains much of its industrial past with dammed streams and old workings dotted around the gill. Sure, it sounds a bit bleak – but in a strange way it adds a certain charm to some of the best countryside the Dales has to offer.

     

    5. Some little-known pubs...

    Yorkshire and pubs go together – and after a walk there are several you can enjoy. My favourites are:

     

    Yorkshire - WoolpackThe Falcon Inn, Arncliffe

    The original Woolpack in long running soap Emmerdale. It’s the way it serves its beer that is the real gem.

    The ale of choice, Timothy Taylor’s Boltmaker, is poured from a jug to a glass. It’s the traditional way of serving beer which keeps the ale at room temperature and ensures its great condition.

     

     

     

    The George and Dragon, Dent

    The tap house for Dent Brewery! Say no more!

    Station Inn, Ribblehead

    Remote and in the shadow of Ribblehead Viaduct and Whernside, this pub offers breathtaking scenery and great ale!

     

    Yorkshire - 9781445645605

    Mike Appleton's book 50 Gems of the Yorkshire Dales is available for purchase now.

    To find out more go to mascarandmedia.com

    All photos by Mike Appleton.

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