As much as we like doing our urban walks and visiting various towns and cities looking for interesting stuff to take photos of, we are just as at home out in the countryside and, as you’ll know from our Scotland trips, our toleration level of being out in the wilds is pretty high.
But you don’t have to go to the far flung reaches of the country to get up close and personal with some of the UK’s amazing wildlife. Ok so you probably won’t ever get a Golden Eagle nesting in Manchester however know what you’re looking for and Peregrine Falcons are reasonably regular sights, I watched one once from the office window flying around near the Great Northern building and I’ve also seen one from a train window as it was pulling out of Piccadilly. I can remember a few years ago a pair of Ravens nesting on Wigan Town Hall. The list goes on but to be honest just relying on these lucky glimpses can only go so far. Sometimes we need to go somewhere a bit more wild.
Up and down the country there are literally hundreds, probably thousands of fantastic nature reserves run by a huge number of organisations that for free or a small fee will give you access to all sorts of great sights and spectacles that will allow anyone to experience the sheer joy of wildlife.
One of our regular haunts is the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust centre at Martin Mere near Burscough in West Lancashire. It’s a great site, probably a 30 minute drive from a number of major towns and host to some great wildlife as well as a huge number of pens holding birds from across the world.
Autumn and Winter are probably the best seasons to visit with thousands of migratory Pink Footed Geese making the reserve and its environs their winter home. The reserve runs Dawn Watches when the geese that roost on the reserve overnight all take off at dawn to fly to nearby feeding grounds – truly remarkable and the type of thing you see on a BBC wildlife programme and think I wish I could see that – well you can. One here for fact fans Martin Mere was the site for the first ever Autumnwatch Series way back in 2006 with Bill Oddie and Kate Humble. It returned in 2007 before moving on the year after.
In Spring and Summer the reserve is alive with breeding birds, Marsh Harriers, Avocets and all sorts of other wildlife including the always delightful downy ducklings all together ...awwwww. Go to the Ron Barker hide which is a great spot for Kingfisher, the Janet Kear Hide is up close to a feeding station and is great to just sit and watch the comings and goings of various finches, tits and buntings.
And don’t worry if you don’t know a Reed Warbler from a Reed Bunting there’s always loads to see and enjoy by just sitting there and taking it all in. Sometimes even when there’s not a huge amount of birds around it can just be enough to recharge our batteries by spending some time walking and taking in the sights and sounds of nature. And there are always some other real bonuses as we recently found out during our recent visit over Christmas and New Year, when we were treated to a simply stunning sunset over the reserve.
So don’t think that these places are either out of reach or out of touch. Go along you may be pleasantly surprised, plus you’ll also be playing a part in helping preserve the world and wildlife around us.
New Year’s Eve may be the thing we have written most about over the past few years. It is not a favourite night for either of us and hasn’t been for a long time. It’s a strange night - it almost feels like all the stresses and sadness you have experienced in the year behind you will be washed away at the stroke of midnight and we will all awaken the next day to a bright shiny new world. Of course, it doesn’t take long for everyone to find out that that doesn’t happen, but we try every year to do something special for us be that a concert, fireworks, ice skating or takeaways with friends. This year was particularly poignant, after the sadness we experienced at the end of the year it somehow didn’t feel appropriate to be standing in the crowds in Albert Square to toast in the New Year. We both felt we needed to be somewhere together and just pass the night quietly with our own thoughts. As the date neared though it was hard to shake the feeling that we were just going to be sad all night and maybe needed a plan. We looked at spending the night in a city, but as we had left it a bit late the choice of hotels was meagre and very expensive – Hotel Gotham are you really worth £350 for one night?? We debated the cinema, eating out and even the International Horse show in Liverpool (neither of us are horsey people!!) but eventually we settled on a ‘big day out’!
We decided to take the train to Windermere in the Lake District – something neither of us had ever done, but thanks to our trusty ‘Two Together Railcard’ we booked our tickets the day before and were very pleasantly surprised to find it would cost us just £25 for the whole journey. (For more info on this check out our how we did it bit at the end.)
So, 10.25am on an almost balmy December 31st found us on the platform at Wigan North Western with a 45-minute journey to Oxenholme ahead of us to catch the connection to Windermere. As is all too familiar with train travel these days, the train was already delayed before we even got on it and we had a very tight time turnaround at Oxenholme. Surely, we could make up the 7-minute delay though? Well, actually no, because once we reached Carnforth, for some reason, the train had to go at a very slow speed (tannoy announcements but no apologies…) which meant us, and all the other Windermere passengers, missed the connection by 10 minutes and then had a 40-minute wait for the next one. Luckily the weather was good and Oxenholme station is small and pretty – cue first outing for the cameras that morning!
We arrived in Windermere just before 12.30pm and then set off to make the trek down to Bowness. Bowness is a very special family place – honeymoon destination of my parents many, many years ago and the place of what feels like a thousand family holidays and trips over the years. We used to visit the famous Lakeland, home of every kitchen appliance and gadget you could possibly think of, when it was mostly famous for its plastic bags – in fact I am sure it was known then as Lakeland Plastics. In view of the current world view of plastic it was probably a good idea they changed their name! Anyway, as I said Bowness is a very familiar place to us both, but it is some years since we last visited and how it has changed!
Bowness and Lake Windermere probably pull the biggest crowds of any of the Cumbria lakes and the town is almost always full of coachloads of Japanese and Chinese tourists, families eating ice cream and chips, dog walkers, couples in love (more of that in a second!), motorcyclists and lots and lots of people having a good time and enjoying the scenery. It was also traditionally the worst place to find anywhere nice to eat for many years, but it seems to have undergone somewhat of a change with a more upmarket feel to the café bars and restaurants and a completely different style of shops. It was good to see some of the shops, which have been there since I was a child, including Hutton’s the chocolate makers (their chocolate truffles are delicious!), Lakeland leathers at the top of the hill sitting next to the gift shop I spent all my pocket money in when I was young and the jewellers where Chris impulsively bought me a lovely silver ring once.
Our day consisted of a 10km circular walk from the station down to the lake and round to the ferry and then back up. We ate lunch at the very lovely Fizzy Tarte, sat outside under heaters with blankets for our legs watching other people starting their new year early with some very exciting looking cocktails. We took photographs (bet that surprises you!), reminisced, photographed, window shopped the yachts in the marina, ate ice cream and photographed. We strolled past a couple sat at the side of the lake and were momentarily distressed to see she was crying, until Chris pointed out the sparkly new ring on her finger she was admiring and realised we’d almost interrupted a romantic proposal (never ask about my wedding proposal!).
We finished the day with a coffee in Booths, whilst we waited for our train back in the dark after admiring one of the best trees we've seen for a number of years outside Lakeland, then 20 minutes to Oxenholme, 40 minutes to Wigan – back home for 8pm after a lovely day, tea in the slow cooker, phone calls to our family and then we fell asleep by 11pm.
We might have missed midnight and amazingly the fireworks didn’t stir us, but New Year’s Eve turned out to be rather special.
We woke bright and early the next day ready for another day of eating with most of our family able to make it.There is a feeling of a new start each January 1st and of course we are all going to lose weight, drink less, travel more and exercise all the time. We don’t make any resolutions as we know (like most people!) that these will not be kept for longer than a few weeks, but we do set ourselves small goals, ones we have a good chance of achieving – save a bit more, exercise more regularly, spend more time with people we love.
In the wise words of Instagram’s @traceybell63 ‘life’s too short to wear boring clothes/to wait before I buy my camera/ to wait to visit my family/ to learn a new skill’. So, you can expect to see me out and about this year in all the items of clothing I save for best and a new camera? We don’t need one but I’m sure we could find one we wanted! Happy New Year everyone.
HOW WE DID IT
More information on the Two Together Railcard can be found at www.twotogether-railcard.co.uk. We've had one for a number of years and use them all the time for our trips to London as well as local hops to Liverpool and Manchester. there are rules such as travelling with each other and an annual cost of £25 but you save 1/3 on the full cost.
We also use the Trainline for our UK rail planning - www.thetrainline.com. Always useful and they have a great app. Just be aware theres a small fee to pay on top of any tickets purchased through them. For journeys like the one above with changes between train operators (Virgin and Northern) this is the easiest way of planning though using each train operators site to book may be cheaper but a lot more complicated. Unfortunately such is the way of the UK rail network!
Normally the Christmas and New Year break is a time for being a bit lethargic without any guilt. A chance to have a lie in with no real reason to get up (unless of course you have young children when their body clocks go into reverse and they wake up even earlier than normal).
However this year for whatever reason we can honestly say we’ve done more than ever in our time off, over and above the family meals and visits. In fact, at times, it’s felt like we’ve been on a summer holiday with days out, train journeys, new places visited that have been on our “to-do” list for some time, loads of photos and videos and all sorts of fantastic ideas which we’ll be sharing over the next few weeks to whet your appetite for 2019.
The start of our travels was on Boxing Day when, after taking our son Adam back to Manchester after a home visit for Christmas, we paid the "Walking with the Snowman" art trail a visit at Salford Quays. Now unfortunately this finished on 6th January so don’t go expecting to see them but do go if you fancy a great walk around one of our favourite urban areas and one that’s constantly changing. Media City, Salford Quays, the Lowry Theatre, IWM North…the list is endless and pick the right day you can get some stunning shots.
After that we stayed local with a few canal walks then we took a trip out to somewhere that we’ve had in mind for some time – Widnes! Ok maybe not the first thought in most people’s minds but the chance to photograph the new Mersey Crossing as well as get to walk on the "old" Widnes-Runcorn bridge proved irresistible – we love our bridges! From here it’s also just a short hop along to Speke Hall, always worth a visit - and a pit stop in their marvellous cafe which we duly took advantage of.
New Years Eve and we decided we’d do something different so we got our “Two Together” railcard out and caught the train for a visit up to the Lakes. A 40 minute haul up the West Coast Mainline from Wigan North Western to Oxenholme, the connecting service to Windermere and within 90 minute of setting off we were on our way walking down to Bowness for a New Year’s Eve lunch by the lake. Some stunning shots later and we were back on the train and home for 8pm – not bad for £25 return for both of us!
A regular haunt beckoned us just after New Year's Day with a late afternoon visit to Martin Mere for the first bird/wildlife photography of the year and just in time for a stunning sunset too, no doubt the first of many for 2019 (we like them even more than bridges!).
Manchester beckoned us the day after and we paid a visit to the Cathedral – one of our go to places and as ever always something different to see. We also took the chance to pay our first visit to the new Emmeline Pankhurst statue in St Peters Square.
Then another first visit for us as we finally got around to paying a visit to the Fylde coast – Cleveleys to be specific and the Mythic Coast sculpture trail. Despite the grey clouds that seem to have been around every day of the year so far we managed to make the most of the weather and tides with a vow that we will be back – we think a sunset walk here along the coast would be extra special.
And that was it – no real chance to slob out on the couch and some teasers for some longer visits in the year as well as inspiring us to think about some other places that we really must cross off our list this year.
Look out for more on all the above over the coming weeks and much more to come in 2019.
Life and other