We are lucky to have lots of woodland in this country, which ranges in age massively, from long-standing forests where our ancestors hunted for their food, to modern-day non-native plantations which have been managed and worked to provide materials for building and paper. We also have a variety of types of woodland – different trees like different types of soil, terrain and climate, so depending on where you go and what type of woodland you find, you’ll get different displays of colour.
Head for the mountains of north Wales and you’ll find upland woods of oak, ash and birch, while in the valleys of Shropshire you’ll find native lowland woodland, and of course in Cheshire’s country parks and grazed areas there are wood pasture and parkland woods. Among these are probably the most precious type of woodland: our ancient woods, which support more than 200 rare and threatened species of wildlife.
Individual trees are also important features, often defining local landscapes, and bringing together communities. One example is the Lonely Tree at Llanfyllin – the majestic, 200-year-old Caledonian pine was a prominent local landmark, and when it was blown down in the gales of 2014, the local people got together and tipped 30 tonnes of soil over the roots so that any intact roots can still function, and the tree will continue to live – if forevermore lying down. It was even a finalist in this year’s Tree of the Year competition.
To find woodland sites near you, visit your local wildlife trust website (visit www.wildlifetrusts.org to find it) and the Woodland Trust at www.woodlandtrust.org.uk
Perhaps the best-known woodland in Cheshire is Delamere Forest, which is actually the largest area of woodland in the country, covering 972 hectares (2,400 acres). You might think of Delamere as a pine forestry plantation, and indeed it is managed by the Forestry Commission (England) but in fact it contains a good mixture of deciduous and evergreen trees, has a rich history, and is a great place to go and see autumn trees in colour.
Delamere means ‘forest of the lakes’ and it was once part of Mara and Mondrem – massive hunting forests created by the Norman earls of the 11th century. They once covered 60 square miles! Nowadays, the forest is a popular place to go walking, cycling and horse riding. Visit www.forestry.gov.uk/delamere
Those up for a hike should head for Alderley Edge – the wooded escarpment is brilliant for walking and at its highest point offers amazing views across the Cheshire plain and the Peak District, not to mention Macclesfield Forest, all of which looking stunning in autumn.
More formal places to see autumn colour, and to discover the delights of some not-necessarily-quite-so-native trees is at arboretums, specially planted ‘tree gardens’. Lovell Quinta Arboretum, at Swettenham, covers 16 hectares and has a stunning collection of trees, including an avenue of red twigged limes and more than 75 species of oak. It is jointly owned and managed by the Tatton Garden Society and the Cheshire Wildlife Trust. Visit www.tattongardensociety.org.uk.
Jodrell Bank is obviously famous for its Lovell telescope, but did you know there is also an arboretum there? The Granade Arboretum was planted in 1971, and the Planet Path through the trees is designed to take you on a walk that reflects and explains the size of the solar system and earth’s tiny place in it. This is fascinating in itself, but of real interest in the autumn is the amazing display of colours, especially from the collection of crab apple trees and maples. Visit www.jodrellbank.net
The Shropshire Hills are home to important woodlands – many are ancient or contain remnants of ancient woods. This is a lovely area for a drive, a bike ride or a walk and you’d be hard pushed to find somewhere that doesn’t offer views of lovely autumn colour.
The National Trust-owned Carding Mill Valley is a lovely spot for a drive, where you can see the trees changing colour – and it’s not just the trees, either: the hillsides are covered with heather and bracken which provide an amazing display through late summer and autumn. It’s a great place to stop for a picnic or go for a short stroll. Until the end of September you can get a shuttle bus that takes you around the scenic areas; an even better way to enjoy the scenery – visit www.shropshirehillsaonb.co.uk. Or thread your way up the Ironbrige gorge – the birthplace of the industrial revolution might not sound like the sort of place to go and see trees and nature in all its glory, but the wooded gorge and Benthall Edge are spectacular in autumn.
More energetic explorers can head for the wooded limestone escarpment of Wenlock Edge, where, as well as beautiful trees, you’ll find far-reaching views, an abundance of wildlife, and the remains of old quarries and limekilns. The wooded slopes of the Wrekin are threaded with paths where you can explore the woodland, see the beauty of the trees and discover an Iron Age hillfort at the top.
Rectory Wood and Field, tucked between Church Stretton and the Long Mynd, has woodland walks as part of a landscape influenced in its design by Humphry Repton. Several paths explore this ancient woodland where you can discover a wide range of species. Clun Valley, meanwhile has rich woodlands on either side – best known are Bury Ditches and Clunton Coppice, which is a Shropshire Wildlife Trust reserve.
For those with children who aren’t likely to be impressed with colour-changing leaves, Arley Arboretum and Gardens at Bewdley offer a great compromise. While you’re admiring the display of specialist trees and colour on the way, the kids can do the Dinosaur Trail and find their way through the maze of hornbeam trees. Visit www.arleyarboretum.co.uk
Walcot Woods near Bishops Castle is part of Lord Clive of India’s orignal Walcot Estate and is now managed by the National Trust. The oak trees here are veterans – more than 400 years old, and Walcot Hall hotel has an arboretum containing a variety of trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants that is open to the public daily. Visit www.walcothall.com.
Wales, of course, is full of spectacular woodland of a variety of types, from the upland woods of north Wales to the densely wooded valley bottoms of mid Wales. The difficulty here is deciding which ones to visit!
Native oakwoods are found in the upland areas of the north and west, such as Coed Hafod y Llyn in Snowdonia. Here you’ll find lush ferns, mosses, liverworts and lichens. These woods are usually mainly sessile oak, but also home to birch, hazel, rowan, holly and hawthorn, all offering wonderful colour in autumn. These woods have plenty of history too – although they may feel ancient and untouched by man’s hand, many are actually coppice woods, shaped by people over the centuries as they used the wood to make charcoal.
You don’t even have to get out of your car to witness beautiful displays of autumn colour in Wales. Take a drive up the Conwy Valley to Llyn Crafnant (described as ‘one of the most breathtaking views in all Snowdonia’) and see double the colour as the hillsides and trees are reflected in the lake, or simply wind your way up the Sychnant Pass for stunning views.
The Dyfi Valley in mid Wales is famous for its green mountains – which turn a variety of shades in autumn. Take a drive along the valley road and admire the colours of the Dyfi Forest. A gentle walk stopping for a picnic among the beech trees of Tan y Coed near Machynlleth is a delight, or stop by the river at Foel Friog and admire the colours of the oak trees. Or take a drive into the Berwyn mountains to see Pistyll Rhaeadr and not only do you get views of an amazing waterfall - the densely wooded gorge is a riot of colour in autumn too.
Marl Hall Woods, near Llandudno Junction, is a Woodland Trust reserve made up of ancient semi-natural woodland with dazzling autumn colour. You also get great views across the Conwy Valley and there’s lots of historical interest here too. On the Menai Strait, Nantporth, a North Wales Wildlife Trust reserve, offers the best of both worlds, being both coastal and woodland.
Dolforwyn Woods, at Abermule in Powys, is a mixed woodland bursting with wildlife that is looked after by the Montgomeryshire Wildlife Trust. There has been woodland on this hillside for centuries and although many native trees were cut down to make way for plantation, today there’s an interesting mixed woodland supporting a range of plants, lots of fascinating fungi and spectacular colours. There are also dormice here!
Also well worth visiting are some of the National Trust estates, which have extensive parkland with ancient trees and areas of woodland. The estate at Chirk Castle near Wrexham is just one example, full of ancient trees, 70 per cent of them oak, and with some unique veterans among them. Look out also for the the butter yellow colour of the lime tree avenue, the orange, yellow and white berries of the mountain ashes and the rich russet colours of the flowering cherries. On 21st October you can even do a guided walk with the head gardener, focusing on autumn colour. Further north, Bodnant Garden has more than 100 champion trees and the autumn colour in the recently opened Far End Garden is well worth seeing. Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk.
Thousands of years of land management have dramatically reduced the UK’s woodlands, but the Wildlife Trusts and the Woodland Trust, who look after lots of woodland nature reserves, are working to maintain these vital eco-systems sympathetically. A mix of coppicing, scrub-cutting, ride maintenance and non-intervention all help woodland wildlife to thrive, and you can help: volunteer for your local Wildlife Trust or the Woodland Trust and you could be involved in anything from taking part in traditional forest crafts to raising awareness about woodland animals.
Visit www.wildlifetrusts.org or www.woodlandtrust.org.uk
What makes trees leaves change colour? Why are some red and some orange?
Leaves contain three pigrments: chlorophyll (green), carotenoid (yellow, orange and brown) and anthocyanin (red) . As we all learnt at school, chlorophyll and sunlight are what cause photosynthesis to happen, which is how trees turn carbon dioxide and water into glucose – their food, basically – and oxygen, which is, of course, what makes our air breathable.
Chlorophyll and carotenoid are in leaf cells all the time during the growing season, but the chlorophyll covers the carotenoid – that's why summer leaves are green, not yellow or orange. Most anthocyanins, meanwhile, are produced only in autumn, and only by some trees, like maples, which is why their leaves go particularly red.
As autumn comes, trees need less food, and they respond to the decreasing amount of sunlight by producing less and less chlorophyll until they stop altogether. When that happens, the carotenoid already in the leaves starts to show and we get our annual display of yellows, oranges and browns.
Inspired to buy your own woodland, or maybe you’ve space to start one from scratch? It’s not as difficult as you might think. Those of us who live in rural, wooded areas are used to seeing ‘Woodlands for sale’ (or ‘Coedwig ar werth’ in Wales) signs dotted about, and both woodlands.co.uk and the Woodland Trust can offer all sorts of help and advice for those looking to buy their own shady spot. In fact, the Woodland Trust deliberately plants young woodland and then puts it up for sale – visit www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/plant-trees/woodland-for-sale
If you already have land, and like the idea of planting trees on it, again, the Woodland Trust can help – their MOREwoods scheme provides financial and practical support for those who want to create new woodland. The trust invite anyone interested in planting trees to discuss their ideas with them, and if your project fits and you plant the trees, they’ll contribute 60 per cent towards your project costs. They will visit you to discuss your ideas and check your land is suitable, and once you've agreed a planting/maintenance plan and finances they’ll even sort and deliver your trees.
Why do it?
There are plenty of reasons for planting woodland - you can help wildlife flourish, create a secure supply of firewood for yourself and generations to come, help to keep our air breathable, and, of course, create somewhere beautiful and relaxing for people to visit.
We all enjoy a tale of terror over Halloween, so here’s a few freaky fables to send chills down your spines under the dim glow of your jackal lanterns…
In north Wales, there are some truly terrifying tales that have crept out of myth and legend over the years. The bridge over the River Dee at Holt, near Wrexham, was apparently the site of a cruel murder that took place centuries ago. According to the story, the lords John, Earl Warren and Roger Mortimer of Wigmore were appointed as guardians to the two young sons of Madog ap Gruffudd. However, the lords craved the boys’ wealth, so they crossed the bridge with the sleeping children, threw them into the cold river waters below, and waited until they drowned. Today, it’s said that the wailing cries of the two young boys can still be heard at night underneath the bridge…
Some ghosts still wander the earth looking for their lost loves. Over at Plas Teg in Flintshire, it’s said that the ghost of Sir John Trevor’s daughter haunts the A541 that runs past the old Jacobean mansion. She fell madly in love with a farmer’s son and planned to elope with him. She hid her jewels down a well, and when she went to retrieve them, she lost her footing and plummeted to her death. Her lover hung himself when her body was discovered two months later. Her white spirit can often be seen wandering the A541, and his ghost still searches the grounds for his love.
Ready for another witchy tale? The mid-17th century saw the rise of the European witch hunts. In 1656, three women in Broughton were accused of consorting with demons and using black magic against the other village folk. The women were found guilty, and were executed on Gallows Hill on the same day. Two centuries later, a local historian began researching the story, and reported that he was visited by three demented women, who threatened to bring forth the devil if he didn’t abandon his research. He died in 1902 while visiting Gallows Hill…
Shrewsbury Castle hosts a particularly evil spirit. Once upon a time in the 12th century, a man named Jack was the keeper of the castle. He was a reported serial killer, who murdered eight young women during his killing spree. He was caught after being sighted by another woman as he dragged the bloodied body of her sister across the drawbridge. For his crimes he was hung, drawn and quartered, and his ghost has been seen on many occasions prowling the grounds, no doubt still searching for young female victims…
However, not all ghosts wish the living harm – in fact, some are even crime fighters! In Blaenporth, mid Wales, a man living near the church was woken up by the village ghost, Mair Wen, who told him that someone had stolen the communion cup from the church, and that he must retrieve it. The ghost knew exactly where to find the culprit, in a pub in Cardigan. The man took back the cup from the sleeping thief and returned it to the church.
Crocky Horror Show, The Crocky Trail, 18th October-2nd November
The Crocky Trail has been transformed into a nightmare full of live actors, terrifying sets and props, with death-defying stunt riders and the Crocky Dungeon to explore. Ghoulish shrieks and surprises will have the whole family jumping with fright and giggling with delight. www.crockytrail.co.uk
GreenWood Spooktacular 24th-31st October
Hold on to your broomsticks – GreenWood Forest Park has some spooktacular treats in store and will be brimming with Hallowe’en fun for the whole family. Get creative with creepy crafts – make lanterns, dragons, monstrous masks and create your own Harry Potter style broomstick. Keep your eyes peeled for witches and other spooky creatures in the trees, or become one yourself with freaky face painting. You can even join in with one of our musical drumming workshops. For a spooktacular treat on the 26th you can meet REX the life like dinosaur whilst he wonders through the park, and when you’ve had your fill of ghoulish goodies, warm up with a tasty hot chocolate for free if you come along in fancy dress!www.greenwoodforestpark.co.uk.
Halloween Spooktacular, Park Hall Farm, 24th October-1st November
Join in the quest to scare and be scared this Halloween. Explore chilling horrors in the Haunted House, and try to find your way out the dark and dusky corridors of the Halloween Maze. For those who don’t want a scary experience, there will also be Halloween activities, pumpkin carving and wacky games. www.parkhallfarm.co.uk
Halloween at Tatton Park, 24th October-1st November
Various ghostly-goings on are happening over Halloween this year. Hauntings at the Old Hall is 24th-31st October, with frightening happenings in the very haunted hall, with spooky activities, a quiz to solve and storytelling. From 24th October-1st November, prepare to be (slightly) scared as you hunt for ghosts in the garden. On the same days, help solve the case of the missing mansion treasure. www.tattonpark.org.uk
Perfect Pumpkins, Chirk Castle, 26th-31st October
Chirk Castle will provide stencils, carving sets and tea lights, so you can get stuck straight into designing your own pumpkin. On Halloween itself,(31st October), there are plenty of spooky happenings – if you’re brave enough to visit the Castle of Mysteries, children in a Halloween costume get in for free! www.nationaltrust.org.uk
Ghostly Gaslight, Blists Hill Victorian Town, 31st October
Dress up in your scariest costume this Halloween for streets, houses and shops transformed into eerie places of ghouls, ghosts and monsters. The buildings will be illuminated, and fireworks and pyrotechnic effects will light up the sky. Sundial Theatre will perform scenes from the grisly Sweeney Todd, and guests will meet wizards, ghosts and zombies along the way. This safe family event takes place between 6pm and 9pm. www.ironbridge.co.uk
Hallow Brenig, Llyn Brenig, 30th October
Take an eerie walk through the woodland around Llyn Brenig on the 30th, with some spooky surprises to make you jump along the way. Led by a storyteller, who will share some terrifying tales with you as you walk. Are you brave enough? www.llyn-brenig.co.uk
Halloween Spookfest, Prestatyn, 31st October
Prestatyn High Street will get ready for Halloween with lots of activities for children including free facepainting and free pumpkin carving. Join in the free witch hunt, get a medal if you’re in fancy dress, and go trick or treating in all the shops. And in the evening join a ghost hunt through the town. www.atprestatyn.co.uk
Get in the Halloween spirit by visiting one of the local heritage railways. They’ve got some fang-tastically wonderful Halloween events for adults and children alike to enjoy, with specially decorated trains, and creepy rides through forests, woodland and local countryside. Expect spooky trips with ghostly storytelling, prizes for dressing up, ghoulish goodie bags, hot food and drinks and other spooky goings-on to send chills down your spine. So, wrap up warm, fish out your scariest (or not so scary) costume and join in for fright-night fun!
Llanberis Lake Railway, 25th-31st October
Do you dare to ride the ghostly train through the Witches Woods to seeks out the spirits and spooks? Suitable for all ages. www.lake-railway.co.uk
Rheidol Railway, 29th-31st October
Journey to Devil’s Bridge, and enjoy a Halloween feast of pork baps, hotdogs, and blackberry and apple. Don’t forget to dress up – there will be a prize for the best children’s costume. May not be suitable for very young children. www.rheidolrailway.co.uk
Severn Valley Railway, 29th-31st October
There’ll be prizes for the best-dressed children, as well as ghoulish goodie bags, and all the stations will be transformed into ghostly scenes – are you brave enough to join the fun?
Visit www.svr.co.uk or call 01562 757900
Talyllyn Railway, 30th-31st October
A spooky ride through the haunted woods at Dolgoch, with goody bags for children, a two-course Halloween feast and prizes for the best pumpkin carved lanterns. Fancy dress is welcome for parents too! Suitable for children of all ages, though the later train might be slightly scarier than the first. www.talyllyn.co.uk
Bala Lake Railway, 30th-31st October
Three trains will run each day, with spooky storytelling on board to tingle your spine. Everyone is encouraged to dress up, and the event is suitable for children. www.bala-lake-railway.co.uk
Welsh Highland Heritage Railway, 31st October
Running for one night only, there will be hot food, a bar, storytelling and a decorated train for the evening’s merriment. The event is suitable for children, and all are encouraged to dress up! www.whr.co.uk
Llangollen Railway, 31st October
There will be prizes, spooky storytelling and a trip through the creepy Dee Valley. Not suitable for children under five. www.llangollen-railway.co.uk
See your region’s What’s On pages for more details on these and other railway events
Not-so-scary Halloween jokes
Q: What do ghosts eat for supper?
Q: What’s a witch’s favourite school subject?
Q: Why are ghosts so bad at lying?
A: Because you can see right through them!
Q: What do birds say on Halloween?
A: Twick or tweet
A century ago, nearly everything we ate was sourced from within 20 miles of our homes. Today, supermarkets provide us with around 95 per cent of our food and, more often than not, it has travelled thousands of miles before getting to us. Gill Chetcuti discovers how our local food producers are fighting back
OK, we know supermarkets are convenient because they open long hours. Yes, you can usually find everything you need under one roof and quite often you can grab yourself a bargain, but the aggressive sales tactics of these characterless buildings are turning our high streets into clones of each other and, more importantly, threatening food producers closer to home.
However, thanks to the unwavering hard work and the ‘never say die’ attitude of our local farmers and producers, we can still buy fresh meat, cheese, eggs, seafood, vegetables and baked goods, happy in the knowledge that it has all been grown, laid, caught, made or harvested on home turf. In our bountiful region, to name just a few products, you can find Welsh lamb (obviously!), Welsh black cattle beef, Shropshire free range pork, Cheshire asparagus, north Wales strawberries, Wirral watercress, fresh seafood from the Welsh coast, and much more.
Unlike supermarket fare, we may have to wait for certain foods to be available, but eating seasonally means that we can look forward to enjoying things at their beautiful best. There are more than enough local delicacies out there to sustain us, and we are guaranteed variety on our plates as we’ll be eating different ingredients all year round. The annual delights of homegrown asparagus or juicy, sweet strawberries are well worth the wait, and eating with the seasons gives us the confidence that we are buying a local product grown in optimum conditions – when we choose the freshest, in-season ingredients, we avoid harmful processed food and reduce our intake of salt, sugar and other additives.
Also, homegrown fare does not have to endure the harshness of long-haul shipping, so is allowed to mature in its own time. This means that it develops its full spectrum of vitamins and minerals and lasts longer as it has not spent time in a processing plant or in a shipping container exposed to heat, artificial light and chemicals, which can degrade its delicate nutrients.
Recent food scares have highlighted the need for greater transparency and traceability in the supply chain. It is clear that the fewer steps there are between your food’s source and your table, the less chance there is of contamination, so when you buy locally, you can be reassured by seeing exactly where your purchases come from, how they are produced and, in some cases, you can even speak to the producers themselves.
Tom Hunt from the Ludlow Food Centre (www.ludlowfoodcentre.co.uk) says: ‘Consumers appreciate knowing where their food is grown, reared and made. Over 80 per cent of the food we sell here at the centre is from Shropshire and our bordering counties so is both fresh and local. Provenance and traceability back to source gives customers peace of mind and they can get behind their local providers. We can also demonstrate how our food is made; the windows in our shop allow customers to view us using fresh, local fruit to make our jams, or the milk from our dairy cows to make cheese – quite literally making our food production transparent!’
Of course, when you choose local produce, you are supporting your local economy. The humble British farmer represents excellent value for money with fresh and delicious produce, and it is heartening to know that our money stays close to home and will likely be reinvested with businesses and services in our community. But local food means more expensive food, doesn’t it? Chris Darlington, general manager at Battlefield 1403 Farm Shop (www.battlefield1403.com) doesn’t think so. ‘We find, as a rule, that locally sourced food is not only better quality but may also be less expensive in some cases than the mass produced,’ he says. ‘I don’t think we should ask ourselves why some food is more expensive but rather question why some foods are cheap.’
And Chris is right to ask that question. ‘Fresh’ fruit and veg, lined up in regimental fashion on the high street, may look polished, neat and tidy but they also look, well, tiny! In fact, they are often 50 per cent smaller than their farm shop counterparts simply because supermarkets don’t have time to wait for them to grow to their full potential. (Time is money, don’t you know!) In addition, farm shops allow you to buy exactly the quantities required and don’t attempt to seduce you with BOGOF deals, multi-buys, unwanted Disney DVDs and pesky 5p bags!
But supermarkets are just so convenient, aren’t they? And all that variety! Well, yes, but it is worth remembering that many of these delicacies have been produced with consistency and high volume in mind, rather than palatability. Relieved of the onus to deliver large volumes of consistent produce, our local producers can select varieties solely for flavour and not worry about less-than-pretty veggies and unsymmetrical fruit!
One of the many fond memories of my childhood was the trips to the Pick Your Own farms where my unwritten rule was ‘six for the basket, one for my mouth!’ Happily, PYOs are enjoying a revival and seeing more and more people forsaking the strip-lighting atmosphere of supermarkets in favour of foraging for nature’s spoils in the great outdoors. Not only is it a fun way to feed the family, it can also work out a lot cheaper as you only purchase what you need.
There are many fruit farms in our region where you can enjoy the fruits (ha ha!) of your labour. Poynton Fruit Farm (www.poyntonfruitfarm.co.uk) is a family-run business in Cheshire specialising in strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and black and red currants. The long-established Bellis Brothers (www.bellisbrothers.co.uk), near Wrexham, is a working market gardening farm that takes great pride in supplying its customers with fresh produce, and Shropshire’s Bearstone Farm (www.bearstonefruitfarm.co.uk) is another fine example of local producers offering fresh goodies straight from the source. This season promises a bumper crop of succulent veg (and every berry under the sun) for Mother Nature’s bounty hunters, so why not grab the kids and turn it into a proper day out?
Butcher shops, once a mainstay of our town centres, dipped in popularity in the early 1990s, mostly because of cheap, foreign competition. However, the recent horsemeat scandal saw an increasing number of consumers reconnect with their local butcher – and rightly so. These dedicated and passionate professionals are highly knowledgeable about their meat and its provenance. The award-winning Rhug Estate (www.rhug.co.uk), in Denbighshire, is one of the largest organic farms in the UK and offers a mouth-watering array of Welsh lamb and beef reared on the estate and butchered on site. If you’re looking for something completely different, head for Chestnut Meats in Tarporley, Cheshire, (www.chestnutmeats.co.uk) and try their delicious low-fat goat products or cast your net towards our bountiful coastline and Bangor mussels or Anglesey’s oysters (www.menaioysters.co.uk).
We also have a number of innovators making the most of the more unusual local ingredients. Sarah Hughes has taken the time to stop and eat the roses (no, that’s not a typo!) with her company, Eat My Flowers (www.eatmyflowers.co.uk). Sarah grows and then crystallises beautiful, edible flowers for cake decorations and sweets. She explains: ‘Our products fit really well in the events marketplace as they provide a gorgeous alternative to sugar paste flowers. The restaurant market is always looking for new and interesting things, and fresh, foraged and floral are all very on trend.’
Merangz (www.merangz.co.uk) , another original company, uses quality, hand-separated local free-range eggs sourced from the heart of rural Shropshire to create their tasty giant and bite-sized meringues in a variety of natural flavours. Raspberry and white chocolate, pistachio, black cherry, mocha and pecan – it’s a difficult choice! The yolks don’t go to waste either as they are then pasteurised to produce free-range liquid egg for professional chefs, cooks and caterers. Ingenious! Merangz owner Brian Crowther says: ‘We work with local farmers to source the finest eggs we can – we won’t settle for anything less.’
You might thing of garlic as something that’s probably grown abroad, but in fact, there’s a farm on Anglesey where they have been producing this aromatic delight (ha hem) for years, and now Wales’s first home-grown garlic bread has gone on sale to rave reviews all over the country. Go Garlic, part of Hootons Homegrown family farm (www.hootonshomegrown.co.uk), has unleashed a rustic garlic baguette using a secret variety of home-grown Anglesey garlic and Halen Môn Sea Salt. James Hooton, one of the bread’s creators, believes it to be the first in Wales to be produced for mass retail and hopes it will be the first in a number of successful Go Garlic branded products. He says: ‘We’ve been farming here since the early 1960s, and growing garlic for about 10 years to supply our two farm shops, Hooton’s Homegrown in Anglesey and Hooton’s Homegrown at Fron Goch Garden Centre in Caernarfon. Garlic bread is an obvious choice for our flagship product as it’s the first product you think of when it comes to garlic, and is loved by people of all ages.’
So, there you have it. We have a plethora of wonderful independent producers close to home, all you have to do is support them!
We all occasionally need an antidote to the frenetic pace of modern life and, as our canals are currently in tiptop shape, a narrowboat trip could be just what the doctor ordered. Gill Chetcuti discovers the fastest way to slow down...
Wending their quiet, unobtrusive ways through town and country, Britain’s 2200 tranquil miles of inland navigations are steadily growing in popularity. Boaters, walkers, anglers, cyclists – they’re all attracted by the fresh air, sense of freedom and, of course, the gorgeous scenery. Boating holidays in particular are on the rise as the whole experience can be tailored to suit your tastes... and you get to take your holiday home along for the ride.
Although idling along the canal can be great fun, with some careful planning you can enjoy a number of canalside attractions too. Most of these are open all year round and, whether you plan to spend the whole day on dry land or just a couple of hours, you can add another exciting dimension to your holiday. So, what are you waiting for? Take charge of your own tiller and go sightseeing in style!
So called because of its circular canal and towpath, this route combines six different waterways, linking the Cheshire countryside of the Macclesfield Canal with the Portland Basin at Ashton-under-Lyne. At 97 miles long and with 92 locks, a journey on this route should take approximately 50-55 hours, drifting you lazily through the vibrant heart of Manchester and taking in the Peak District with its gorgeous scenery and distinctive stone architecture.
Look out for the historic Anderton Boat Lift near Northwich, built in 1875 to lower boats between the canal and the river 50 feet below. Today it is considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Waterways.
Other fascinating attractions along your route include the Science & Industry Museum, the 15th-century moated manor house of Little Moreton Hall and the fascinating Lion Salt Works at Middlewich. If you’re lucky enough to be passing through between 19th to 21st June, you can even join in the fun at the Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival!
The Montgomery Canal runs for 38 miles from Frankton Junction on the Llangollen Canal near Ellesmere, down the Welsh border to Newtown. A large stretch of this canal, known as ‘The Monty’, is a work in progress (so not a full one!), and only a restored 10-mile stretch can currently be reached from the Llangollen Canal, but it is also navigable for a 17-mile section around the town of Welshpool.
Short and sweet it may be, but The Monty is rich in wildlife (recognised as a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation), and full of reminders of its industrial past. The old warehouses at Rednal and Queens Head provide an intriguing insight into the corn industry of the 1940s. Other highlights along the way include some excellent pubs and restaurants. We loved The Navigation Inn at Maesbury Marsh (www.thenavigation.co.uk), (not least because they welcome dogs!), and the award-winning Royal Oak Hotel in Welshpool (www.royaloakwelshpool.co.uk).
Keep your eyes peeled from March to July when a series of events culminating in the Making Waves festival are set to highlight aspects of the Montgomery Canal. There’ll be activities along the towpath, and on the water itself, all culminating in an exciting festival weekend on July 4th-5th. See our What’s On section for more details.
Known affectionately as the ‘Shroppie’, this stretch of water, one of the last canals on the network to be constructed, leaves the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal at Autherley Junction and heads north towards Cheshire and Ellesmere Port. The 65-mile length is dotted with impressive architecture in keeping with its surroundings, and provides a thriving habitat for a diverse range of flora and fauna. Swans, geese and ducks abound and, during the summer months, the canal is alive with industrious bees and butterflies as well. As you can imagine, there are plenty of places to stock up on essential supplies or even dine out in style along this large stretch of canal, but there are miles of isolated waterway too.
Some of the pub highlights along the way include The Shady Oak at Tiverton, and The Shroppie Fly in Audlem (www.shroppiefly.com), both popular with those seeking traditional sustenance in picture-postcard surroundings. Be sure to add the Canal Centre (www.nantwichmarina.co.uk) to your itinerary too. As well as offering full boat yard facilities, it also has an all-important chandlery and reviving café.
Voted Inland Marina of the Year 2015, the Overwater Marina (www.overwatermarina.co.uk) close to the village of Audlem provides a wide range of facilities which include secure and quiet moorings, electricity to all berths, domestic waste disposal and recycling facilities, launderette, toilets and showers, wi-fi and boat repairs and maintenance on site. While you’re there, check out the The Audlem Mill Canal Shop which also runs a range of canal craft activities for the whole family to enjoy (www.audlemmill.co.uk).
The Shroppie terminates at Ellesmere Port where The National Waterways Museum awaits. With its fascinating collection of historic working boats and insight into the history of the canals, it’s a must-see for canal enthusiasts, heritage fans and everybody in between. Visit www.canalrivertrust.org.uk.
Oh, and The Shroppie is rumoured to be haunted too...
Leaving the Shropshire Union Canal just north of Nantwich in rural Cheshire, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most beautiful in Britain; certainly, it's the most popular. Ascending lazily from rolling countryside, and crossing ancient peat mosses and meres, it reaches its destination at the foothills of Snowdonia over 45 miles later.
Bear in mind, before you set off, that long stretches of the canal are without pubs or eateries within walking distance, so plan your journey carefully! Saying that, this prominent waterway has other, redeeming features such as the famous staircase locks of Grindley Brook, the Chirk aqueduct and the spectacular feat of engineering that is the Pontcysyllte aqueduct. Other attractions of note are the Llangollen Motor Museum (www.llangollenmotormuseum.co.uk), the Meres Visitor Centre – home to wildlife, rowing boats, gardens, a play area and woodland walks – and the Whixall Marina with its modern berths, water and electric hook-up,wi-fi, launderette and other facilities (www.bwml.co.uk/whixall-marina).
Debbie Walker from Drifters, who specialise in boating holidays on the UK’s canals and rivers, has a wealth of experience under her (life)belt. She firmly believes that anyone can enjoy narrowboating telling us: ‘Hirers have to be 18 or over, but canal boat holidays are great for the whole family. As part of each holiday package, we provide free tuition and safety advice to hirers – usually lasting around an hour. We then take people through a lock to make sure they know how to operate them. The best of it is that you don't need to know anything about narrowboats beforehand and you don't need a special licence either.’
Visit www.drifters.co.uk for more information.
Don’t know your bow from your butty, your windlass from your winding hole or your towpath from your Tupperware? Fear not, we’ve put together a list of useful words to have you sounding like an expert in no time!
Arm – a branch of the main canal
Bargee – crewman or person in charge of a barge
Bow – the pointy end!
Breasted pair – two boats moored together
Butty – unpowered boat towed by one with an engine
Canalia – gifts and crafts related to canals
Cratch – triangular front board on a narrowboat
Dingle – a tree-lined hollow through which a canal proceeds
Gongoozler – an inquisitive canalside spectator
Handcuff key – used on locks in areas where vandalism is present
Keb – an iron rake used for removing canal debris
Lasher – a weir
Scoop – a wooden shovel used for bailing out!
Screw – the propeller that propels the boat
Snatcher – a short rope used for towing vessels
Staircase locks – two, or more, adjacent locks where the upper gates of one lock serve as the lower gates of the next
Tupperware – humorous term referring to fibreglass vessels
Watercress bed – a badly leaking vessel
Winding Hole – a place on the water wide enough to turn the boat
Windlass – hand tool used to wind lock paddles up and down
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