Sunderland Point – tides, slavery and a muddy causeway.

Feeling tired, but still wanting a little adventure, I asked mum and her Borrow My Doggy Sam if they would like to visit an area of my home county Lancashire that I hadn’t really explored. Turns out they had both been before, Sam when he was a puppy & mum over 30 years ago, so they were both keen to re-visit. The area I fancied was along the coast, south of Morecambe, south west of Lancaster, starting at Sunderland Point, then driving up to Heysham.

Sunderland Point is a small hamlet overlooking the River Lune, and can be accessed by one single track road from the neighbouring village of Overton. But you can’t just turn up any time, when it’s high tide the road becomes flooded, so this little Lancashire peninsula becomes cut off from the mainland twice a day. We set off early, taking junction 34 off the M6 and using the A68 Bay Gateway which neither of us had used before, as its only been open since 2016, before turning off towards Overton. It must have been around 10.30am when we arrived, and although the single track road was clear, it was still muddy in patches and made for a fun drive over.

 

As soon as you get to the other side, there is a small parking area, with a helpful HIGH WATER LINE sign as well as a lifebuoy, in case I guess you are too late back and the tide has come in, good to know! A little higher up on the ground above the water line, are some public toilets, a map and a little history of this fascinating patch of Lancashire.

There are approximately 35 houses here, with just 3 main streets, and other than some farmland, there are no schools or businesses here, so whether you need to drive to the mainland for work, school or your groceries, its all entirely dependant on the tides, it wouldn’t do for me, but I can understand the appeal.

But other than the excitement of driving along the single track causeway and the beautiful windswept views on arrival,  there’s a lot more here to make it worth your while.

First of all there is a footpath to take you around the tip of the peninsula, it’s about 3 miles, so short enough that you can take your time, drink in those views and still get back  to your car with plenty of time before the tide returns. We took a right turn between the houses and headed west, following the sign post for Sambo’s Grave.

We walked down the footpath, between some farm land across to the other side, once you get there, take the well maintained path to your left, leading you to the grave site.

This is were the slave history comes in, this seemingly unspoilt, quiet, remote part of Lancashire, was actually an important and busy port that formed part of the Slavery Triangle and was used to import cotton, sugar as well as enslaved Africans. This was in the early 1700’s and the area thrived until the Port of Lancaster opened up, becoming the 4th biggest port in the country.  (For a more comprehensive timeline, the Open Learn website has a great article to read). But back to Sambo, he was a young African boy, taken from Africa to the West Indies as a slave, then travelled with his master in 1736 over to Sunderland Point, where he became ill and died on arrival. I was pleased to see such an important but often hidden part of our UK history remembered here, with the grave being well take care of by the local residents.

Next to the grave is a stone chamber, which I initially thought had something to do with Sambo, but its actually an art installation by Chris Drury and features a camera obscura to observe the skyline of Morecambe Bay. Or if you are a small dog, it features a little ledge to climb on and you observe the view that way instead.

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We then continued our walk along the shoreline around the tip of the peninsula, its a bit tricky in parts, as you negotiate large rocks, some still slippy from the recent high tide, as well as large pieces of driftwood and other things that usually spend half their day under the water. There is a tonne of wildlife too, I’m not too familiar on my birds, but mum was better informed and pointed out some curlews and a heron.

The path understandably becomes hard to follow in places, as it is often submerged, but you can walk right around the edge, before you find yourself coming back towards the houses again. We came across a few other walkers, and we all checked in with each other, ‘yes, you can walk all the way around’ as well as ‘yes, you should have plenty of time to get back to your car before the tide comes in’. That didn’t stop me checking the time every few minutes as well as keeping an eye on the direction of the water, mum and Sam seemed less bothered than me though, but then they had both been here before.

As we approached civilisation and our car again, I slowed down, wanting to take in the windswept views for one last time, as I wasn’t sure if or when I would ever return, the landscape was truly stunning and peaceful, the complete opposite I presume from when it was a busy slave port 300 years earlier.

We grabbed some wild blackberries to eat and curious about house prices, I took note of a house for sale (it was £235.000). Then I wandered out, as close to the water as possible without getting too muddy, to take a few last photos before I drove us back across the causeway and quite literally back to dry land.

Next stop . . .  Heysham . . .

 

Mongolian Adventure – Part 1 – UB life.

Top of my bucket list for 30 years, maybe before I even really knew what a bucket list was, was Mongolia. Why? Well, I remember seeing a travel programme in my teens, I think it was a Michael Palin one, and the desert, the gers, the camels, the smiling singing faces, I never forgot it. As I grew up and my interest in travel increased, I always connected with any documentary or book on this far away country of just over 3 million people, landlocked inside China and Russia.

For many years it was just a dream, too far away and too remote to see in a week, it would take planning and a longer than usual break from work, not to mention the expense. With limited public transport and vast swathes of desert and countryside to navigate, it’s a brave (or stupid person) who would try and navigate the roads and tracks without a local guide or expert driver. But in 2019 all the stars had aligned, I had booked myself on a tour, got my flight booked via Beijing, and with the visa in my passport, I was off on one of my greatest adventures to date.

I arrived a bit overwhelmed, I was finally here! Plus, the time difference and the fact that my luggage was still in Beijing didn’t help. So after finally getting advice and translation from a man in the American peace corps, I was reassured that if I returned the next morning, my bag should have arrived on the first flight in from China. There was nothing else to do, but get to my hotel in the centre of the capital, and go and explore.

It was early evening once I was ready, so I made it to enormous Sükhbaatar Square, in the heart of the capital, decorated with large statues erected in honour of many notable Mongolians, with the most famous and largest statue of all being the founder of the country, Genghis Khan. With benches all around, I just sat and took it all in, not quite believing I had made it, it was then I realised I had to get some money and sprung up to find an ATM. Although the Mongolian currency the Tögrög, isn’t a closed currency, most banks around the world don’t stock it, so it’s highly unlike you will be able to get your hands on some prior to your arrival. The capital is full of banks and ATM’s, both on the street and inside shops, it took me 3 goes, but I finally found one that recognised my UK card and dispensed some cash, there are also lots of currency exchanges too, so you could just bring your own money from home, if you don’t want to rely solely on your bank card. Feeling tired but with money in my pocket, I bought the most vegetable based snack I could find, well it was green coloured, and slowly meandered the streets, mentally making notes of places to visit the following day, before returning to my hotel and collapsing into a deep jet-lagged sleep.

The next morning, I pretty much jumped in a taxi and headed straight back to the airport to collect my newly landed rucksack, and then only getting slightly ripped off by a taxi man, returned back to the city centre. With a couple of hours before my hotel check out, I had enough time to change my clothes and head out to find some breakfast as I suddenly realised how hungry I was. I needed something hearty and vegan if possible and a quick internet search took me to Millies Espresso for black coffee and some stodgy carbs, perfect to keep me going for the rest of the day. Then I returned to collect my bags and dropped them off at the hotel that was to be the start of my Gadventures tour that evening.

The official start of the guided tour was the following morning, but we were to have a meet & greet that evening, so I pretty much had the full day to hit the main sights of the capital and do a few museums that I knew weren’t covered in the itinerary.  Ulaanbaatar is a fast growing city, with old and new merging as more people move away from the nomadic ger dwelling life, for city living instead. You have the Sükhbaatar Square with its proud statues of its past, but with new skyscrapers towering down above it, you can visit temples and a monastery, alongside shopping malls and hipster coffee shops, as well as watch a performance of traditional throat singing, or experience the laid back sounds of the UB Jazz club. It can be quite chaotic, noisy, overwhelming and frustrating, and sometimes all at the same time, but that in itself it’s part of its charm.

I already had the itinerary of where day 1 of my tour was visiting in the capital, so I decided to visit the main places not featured, as well as just some general wanderings to get a feel of the city, before we escaped out to the countryside. I stumbled upon some cool street art that I had to get a selfie with, to remind myself that it wasn’t a dream, but I had absolutely made it after all these years.

I then found myself across the street from the National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet of Mongolia, instantly recognised due to the pink neoclassical building and white pillars, as well as another UlaanBaatar sign to get a photo with of course.

From here, it was only a short walk to the Choijin Lama Temple, its no longer a working temple, so you are free to explore the whole grounds inside and out, which includes 5 temples, statues, a stupa and traditional thangka paintings, it was a lovely tranquil place, to take a little respite from the busy city centre.

Next up, it was time to hit the National Museum of Mongolia pretty much a must see, even if you aren’t a fan of national museums, I would absolutely recommend this place as a history 101 of the country. You really get a sense of the incredible story of the country and the journey of its people so far & its got a good gift shop too, with inexpensive local crafts and postcards complete with stamps.

Starting to feel a little hungry, I ventured down Peace Avenue to Ulaanbaatar Department Store one of the largest shopping malls in the city, which along with loads of shops, has a number of cafe’s and restaurants inside, so I sat down to rest my feet, hydrate and grabbed a late lunch.

One of the more unusual sites you wouldn’t necessarily associate with Mongolia, is a statue of Liverpool’s finest, The Beatles. It’s only a short walk from the department store to a little square where people used to gather when the country was communist, to listen to music and discuss politics. For someone who has both lived and worked in Liverpool, it was a must see.

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The remainder of the afternoon, I window shopped, explored a few gardens & squares with interesting statues and people watched over coffee, fighting my jet-lag before my evening meeting with my fellow travellers officially started. That evening, not all our group had arrived, heavy winds had delayed some of the flights in from China, so a bunch of us went for dinner and a beer in the hotel, before all getting a decent sleep, excited for the adventure ahead. UB Part Two to follow . . .

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New Brighton – street art, coffee & a pirate ship

My friend had read about a new art gallery that had opened over in New Brighton, as well as a cool street art walk spread all around the Victoria Quarter, so one Saturday morning we headed through the tunnel and over to the ‘other side of the Mersey’.

There is a ton of free parking all around the area, and we easily found a space just off Victoria Parade, right in the heart of the action. There are guided art walks run by the Oakland Gallery, situated in the centre of the Victoria Quarter and they are currently running twice a month, check their instagram for more details. But we decided to do a self guided tour, so we could wander and window shop at our usual leisurely place.

The street art and the Oakland Gallery are part of the regeneration project of the area, and with both local and world wide street artists involved, this is just the beginning, more art and exhibits are being planned, it all sounded pretty exciting.

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The actual gallery didn’t open till 12.00, but outside the front door they had some maps of the street art to take for free, so we grabbed one and headed off on our own self guided tour.

Some of my favourites were a couple by Dotmaster an artist from the other Brighton.

Fanakapan, a London based graffiti artist has done an incredible 3D helium balloon, that really has to be seen in real life to be appreciated, the shadows, the reflections, the creases, the shine, a photograph really doesn’t do it justice, it’s just insane!

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As well as this, ‘Unsung Heroes’ a tribute to the local lifeguards by the Australian artist Smug One, we both just loved this one, and what a piece of art to have in your neighbourhood.

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We probably took just over an hour to explore all the art, and with still a little time to kill before the gallery opened at 12, we headed a couple of streets down to the beach for a sandy stroll and to find a place for lunch later.

There is a 3/4 mile stretch of beach at this part of the Wirral peninsula, along with the Perch Rock lighthouse, the Grade II listed Perch Rock Fort, and the entertainment centre Marine Point, which comes complete with cinema, shops, a theatre and restaurants. If you feel like you want to do more than just dip your toes in the water, then there are a whole bunch of various water-sports on offer, such as canoeing, jet skiing, snorkelling and a water park, complete with an inflatable assault course. So basically, what I am saying is, you could probably spend a full day here even without the art trail.

As we were just filling time till the gallery opened, I tip toed out into the water, then whilst shaking the sand from my sandals, we explored the fort (from the outside, as its currently closed, a Covid thing I think). My friend spotted a van floating in the water, I thought she was joking at first, but no, there it was, after a chat with locals, it appears somebody couldn’t be bothered to walk the extra 10 steps from the street parking to the beach and parked up on the sand. Unfortunately, they didn’t realise it was almost time for high tide, and by the time they were heading back, the van was already floating away.

After spending time staring at and gossiping with the locals about the sinking van, it was pretty much 12PM and time to head back to Victoria Road and to the Oakland Gallery. Opened only last year (2020) its a real highlight of the regeneration of the neighbourhood and will no doubt bring in a whole different set of visitors to the area, to those maybe heading to the beach or the water-park. The gallery is championing both local and international artists and whilst we visited, the main artist in residence was London based Insa who’s collection called Body Work, included prints, paintings, a rug, a surfboard, motorcycle and the star of the show, a 1968 Lincoln Continental MK3 car.

The gallery itself is really welcoming and although I enjoy art, and galleries, I often feel out of my depth and a novice really. But the staff were really helpful and friendly, talking us through some of the designs and intentions behind the work, and really made an effort to make it feel inclusive.

Next door is Rockport Records sitting above its connected diner and bar, its a great little find, full of records and posters, I had to remind myself that I no longer own a record player and resisted the temptation to buy anything, but did see a poster of the Nirvana tour I had tickets too, back in 1994.

Finally, with our stomachs rumbling, we headed back towards the beach, down Victoria Parade, to the Driftwood Cafe where they had delicious coffee and a vegan sandwich option. We sat outside, for some great people watching, saw some lifeguards possibly heading to the pier to start the rescue mission for the white van and made our plans to return to New Brighton for further adventures, its most certainly a place with a bright future, and I’ve been recommending it to friends ever since.

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Bank Holiday Hike – Moel Famau

August bank holiday weekend in the UK, is often remembered for terrible weather and long queues on the motorway, but when a friend texted from my sober social circle, inviting me to hike Moel Famau (Mother Mountain), I couldnt resist.

The hill in the north east Welsh county of Denbighshire, is the highest and most popular of all the hills in the Clwydian Range, and at only an hours drive away from home, I am not sure how I’ve overlooked it all these years.

Being mindful of how heavy the traffic can get at this time of the year, and being an early riser, I got all my stuff ready the night before, and pretty much woke up, dressed, grabbed my backpack and drove one hour west.  Starting on a motorway, the roads gradually got smaller the longer I drove, with the final few minutes ending up on a small almost single track road in places, as I arrived in the The Clwydian Range area of outstanding natural beauty.

I got to the lower carpark pretty much as it opened at 8am, it’s a large carpark with toilets, picnic benches and a play area, the fee was £2 (cash only) when I was there, but there is also a smaller carpark further down the road, which had an card payment options.  My plan was to eat breakfast once I got there, enjoy the views and wait for the others to arrive, so with my overnight oats and a flask of coffee, I had the pick of the seating area, and chilled for a while.

Important to note, there is virtually no phone signal in this part of the park, so if you are meeting other people, get your meet up details spot on. I briefly got a signal & texted one of my friends, who had actually parked further down the road, luckily they realised where I must be, and we all eventually found each other and headed up the trail.

There are multiple routes to the summit, I photographed the information sign at the top of the carpark, but had no idea which we were doing. My friends had all done the hike a few times before though, so with that in mind, I decided to do no research, and was just happy to just follow their lead. Turns out we were doing the Jubilee Tower Circular, one of the moderate tracks, but for those wanting something less or something more, there are plenty of other options.

The hike was wonderful, the views spectacular, it was foggy at the start of the day, but as we began our climb, the fog lifted and the sun came out. With it being such a clear day, the views went on for miles, down to the River Dee, across the rest of the undulating hills of the Clwydian’s, and even over to Snowdonia in the distance with fields of purple heather all around us.

There is quite a steep bit to get your heart pumping at around a third in, but we found a bench to rest and hydrate, before continuing up to the summit. As far as hikes go, it didnt take that long to get to the top, at least not along this path we took, and as it was only late morning, it wasn’t too busy either. With the weather warm and sunny, we ended up sitting on the ground, eating our snacks, taking in the views and having a good old natter for maybe an hour! Usually at summits, its cold and windy, and you only have time for a quick selfie before you lose the feeling in your hands, but the weather was on our side, and as this is only actually a hilltop at 558 metres, (when you think Snowdon further to the west is 1,085 metres), you’re not really that exposed to the elements and can really take the time to appreciate the incredible scenary.

After about an hour, and almost losing the dog who ran off to chase a squirrel, we slowly headed back down, arriving back in the now almost full carpark. A quick change of shoes and one podcast later, I was back home, with that tiredness you only experience from a good walk and fresh countryside air. Bank holiday Sunday, done right!