Monday, 4 May 2015

A May walk in the Ribble Valley.

Today I have a doctors appointment in Whalley. Usually I walk into Whalley and catch the bus back, but today I intend to use my bus pass and spend some time in and around Whalley. If you'd like to come along I'm sure that I can sneak you onto the bus unnoticed. 

May always say's bluebells to me. Everybody in the UK remembers a bluebell wood fondly from their childhood, and they invariably call it bluebell wood because they have little idea of it's real name. This is Spring wood, my bluebell wood. Spring wood is very popular with dog walkers and picnickers alike. There is a car park, a toilet block, picnic tables, and an ice cream van which parks there daily, in both winter and summer. I don't know how much ice cream he sells during the winter months, but he's always there, perhaps his contractual arrangements require him to be there or he will lose his license to trade.  A path runs around the perimeter of the wood, which borders the golf course, and in the deepest darkest part of the wood there is a small pond which is fed by a waterfall when it rains. At this time of year the pond teems with smooth newts, all trying to pass on their genes to a future generation.

From Spring wood it's possible to walk along the banks of the River Calder to Whalley Nab, a steep sided hill which dominates Whalley village. That is where I came across this cheeky little fellow sitting on a post and playing with his nuts. I see squirrels almost every day during the spring and summer months, and especially in Autumn, but they are usually in retreat and not willing to pose for a photograph. I only carry a pocket camera on my walks, and as I didn't want to scare the little fellow away, I had to ignore the distance between us and use the necessary magnification.  The picture still had to be heavily cropped, and I'm afraid that the quality isn't great in consequence of this, but I thought he looked cute sitting on his post and I had to include him.

Blackthorn blossom dominates the hedgerows in late April and early May, the flowers open before the hedge comes into leaf, and the hedgerows become white as if covered in snow. By late Autumn the blossom, if pollinated, has formed into large berries,  which look a little like purple grapes, and which people, for generations, have collected to ferment into sloe gin.

Behind the hedge I discovered a stream, which had been culverted, a century or more ago, to allow farm vehicles, and animals, to enter the field beyond. At this time of the year wild garlic is as prolific as are bluebells, and it grows in similar locations where spring light is replaced by cool darker conditions once the tree canopy develops. This wild garlic once grew in a shady position but the telephone company have recently cut down a number of trees, as they were interfering with the telephone lines, and the plants will now be exposed to the summer sunshine. Will they survive, the answer is I don't know.

We are heading back towards the bus station now, but if you look through this arch you will see  the  parish church of St Mary and All Saints. A church existed on this site in Anglo Saxon times and there are three well preserved Anglo Saxon crosses  in the churchyard. Most of the present church was built in the 13th century, with the tower being added in the 15th century. This is the southern gate, but the northern gate was designated as the devils gate by locals, and was only used by people who wished themselves to be regarded as witches. In Harrison Ainsworth's novel The Lancashire Witches, the witches congregated around this gate, on Sunday mornings, to intimidate parishioners.

Before we leave Whalley we just have time to view  the 18th century Whalley old Grammar School across from the bus station. It is currently being used as an adult education centre where I  once attended watercolour painting classes. I'm quite good at drawing, even if I say so myself, and I thought that I would also be good at painting. It turned out that I was the newby and among a large group of women, and only one or two men. I did okay, but I'm better at drawing than painting. The other class members were all more experienced watercolourists, and not wanting to be regarded as the dunce of the painting class I chickened out, after only a few weeks, and began writing novels instead.

There is much more to see in Whalley village, including the ruined abbey, and I will be returning.  When I do I'll let you know so that you can come along if you wish.

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