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Notes from the Sticks: What price the great outdoors?


A COMMON sight in this area of the Ribble Valley is groups of teenagers weighed down with backpacks gathered round a map and looking puzzled. They have come from Waddow Hall, a 17th century Grade II listed mansion a few miles away, which was bought in 1928 by the Girl Guides Association, now rebranded as Girlguiding.

Picture: John Henry Fagan

Since then the 178-acre parkland estate (pronounced ‘Wodder’ locally) beside the Ribble has been an activity centre for Guides and other groups, including many from schools in the North West taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, some levels of which involve camping overnight.

Alan and I usually offer to help out when we see them wondering where they are. Sometimes they are on the other side of the Ribble from the one they thought, sometimes they are convinced they are a couple of miles from their location, sometimes the map is upside down. I suppose in this age of satnavs they don’t use real maps a lot. The kids are invariably polite and cheerful, and for many it will be a rare if not unique experience of being in the countryside instead of the urban settings where they spend their lives. It may well be the first time they have seen a live sheep or cow. It will certainly challenge their fitness.

However from the end of the year there will be no more groups learning a bit about the great outdoors. Girlguiding has decided to sell Waddow Hall and all the other activity centres it owns, namely 120-acre Blackland Farm in Sussex:

Picture: Nigel Chadwick

Foxlease, a Georgian house in 65 acres of the New Forest, owned by the Guides since 1922.

Picture: Valp.

Plus Glenbrook in the Peak District, and Ynysgain on the edge of Snowdonia near the North Wales coast. 

Girlguiding say that the five centres have been used by fewer than 10 per cent of the membership in the last decade (they do not acknowledge the three fallow years of the pandemic) and that they need £20million in maintenance and upgrading.

The plan has been greeted with horror by the grassroots and regional leaders. Referring to Waddow, Ribble Valley Division Commissioner Nicola Price said: ‘This decision from the trustees feels purely financially motivated. There is no recognition from them of the true worth of the centres, to our members, to our community and to a much wider audience. That kind of worth cannot be measured in pounds and pence.’ A 74-year-old former Guide said: ‘It is truly heartbreaking and awful. The centre has been used by generations  and people have been involved with their local guides for many years. It is used for all sorts of activities from canoeing to orienteering. It has such a positive and wonderful effect on the young people who go there and have been there.’

Thousands signed petitions and many suggested that Girlguiding should sell its central London HQ just round the corner from Buckingham Palace to finance the maintenance needed. Volunteers staged a vigil and a march outside the premises in June.

(I tried to find out the value of the HQ at 17-19 Buckingham Palace Road SW1, but without success. However it is a big building as you can see here

Picture: Rod Allday

and one-bedroom flats in the road sell for half a million pounds. The website says it is newly refurbished.)

The anguished protests fell on deaf ears. A staff consultation was held after the announcement (note, not before) and a statement on the Girlguiding website says: ‘During the staff consultation, no significant new information has emerged that would change the overall sustainability of the activity centres, or affect the recommendation to sell them.’ It adds: ‘Many members have written to our board of trustees about the activity centres.  We understand how much the centres mean to everyone involved in Girlguiding. We want to thank members for taking the time to make their voices heard.’ But: ‘Girlguiding’s trustees will make the final decision on the terms of sale for each activity centre and will look to provide the best outcome for the charity. Because we are at the start of the process of selling the activity centres, we have no further details to provide about who they will be sold to, or how.’

It seems a great shame that these centres in some of the most beautiful scenery in Britain are being sacrificed. Young people can surely only benefit from being outdoors in the fresh air instead of in front of a screen. As a teenager I went on several field courses and activity holidays and they are among my happiest memories.

Last word to Ribble Valley MP Nigel Evans (an excellent constituency MP): ‘What are they going to spend the money on? Laptops so they can sit at home on their couches?’


A few pictures I took during August, mostly on a mollusc theme.

I believe this is a Brown Lipped Snail (Cepaea nemoralis) which comes in all sorts of shades, usually striped. There were quite a few plain yellow ones in the same small area and there is one in the picture after this.

I would have thought thistle would be the last thing snails would want to eat but obviously not so (they leave trails on our cacti too). The yellow one on the right is a brown lipped snail (Cepaea nemoralis)) and the one on the left is its close cousin, the white lipped snail, Cepaea hortensis.

A slug visits our front room every night and leaves a trail, though I have never seen it:

I have grown geraniums for decades without problems, but this year they were comprehensively chewed by baby snails. Good job I like snails or they would have been for it. (They left the scented-leaf ones alone.)

Lastly, a lovely pattern of lichen on a rock.


Sheep of the Week

WITH its pink nose, ears and skin round the eyes, the Charmoise Hill sheep is quite distinctive. Here is a ram:

This is a ewe:

And here is a lamb:

The breed was developed in the early 19th century by Édouard Malingié at his estate La Charmoise in Loir-et-Cher in central France. He crossed Romney rams (I wrote about the breed here) imported from Kent with ewes of local hill and mountain breeds with the aim of producing better meat. The result is a genuine hill sheep with the stocky appearance of a small lowland breed.

The breed was rapidly established in France, by 1820 at the latest. In 1927, when the first flock-book was published, there were around 200,000 head, and numbers increased for about another 40 years, reaching a peak of approximately 650,000 in the 1960s. However from then on numbers fell dramatically and the population is now estimated at about 20,000 ewes. In France it is confined to rougher hill areas.

It was one of the first Continental breeds to be imported to Britain and can also be found in Germany, Spain and Italy.

The UK Charmoise Hill Sheep Society website says: ‘The Charmoise has acquired a reputation for hardiness, thriving on poorer pastures and making maximum use of its food. The breed requires little attention and has the ability to retain good body condition in harsh conditions. Fine bone structure, notably the small head and shoulders with an overall wedge shape, means that both pedigree and commercial ewes put to the Charmoise tup [ram] lamb down very easily. Because of this they are a pleasure to shepherd. They also have the ability for lambing out of season, which means they will fit in with various farm management systems.’

I am most grateful to Davy and Judith of Glenshesk farm in Co Antrim for permission to use pictures from their website, which you can see here. Although Charmoise Hill rams have been sent to Northern Ireland before, they believe they are the first there to keep both ewes and rams with the intention of breeding pedigree stock.

Here are a couple of videos.


Wheels of the Week

Today we resume our series on steam locomotives by TCW writer JOHN ELLWOOD. This is Part Three; you can read the first part here and the second here. 

DELIGHTED as I was to be able to get close to the locomotives that were allocated to, or visited, Fleetwood sheds, the sight of the occasional ‘namer’ rostered for the Isle of Man boat train or the ‘Crewe Fish’ whetted my appetite to see more express passenger locomotives.

Access to the main line was something of a problem. The nearest location was Garstang. It was only 11 miles as the crow flies, but my old Raleigh bike was not a crow and the road there was not Roman. A location near Garstang, Woodacre, had already been visited by my older friend, Howard Leach. Howard lived at the other end of our road and we had become friends playing in the road and on the nearby beach. I was very pleased when he asked me to join him and another friend, Alan, on a bicycle trip to the site.

Laden with a duffel bag containing egg sandwiches, a Penguin bar and a bottle of Tizer, it was not an easy ride but my two companions on their far superior bikes patiently waited for me as we crossed the River Wyre and made our way eastwards.

Our destination, at the foot of the Pennines, was perfect. It was easy to see trains coming from North and South and close by was an inviting babbling brook and the dense Woodacre Wood. The only fly in the ointment was the couple who lived in the level crossing keeper’s cottage. They were hardly ever called into action but clearly resented the sight of boys enjoying themselves. 

However, I quickly found that the endurance test was well worth the effort and it was there that I saw my first ‘Semi’, one of Stanier’s magnificent Coronation Class 4-6-2 ‘Pacifics’. Many readers will be familiar with the music ‘Coronation Scot’ written by Vivian Ellis celebrating the train pulled by engines from the Class.

I visited Woodacre many times subsequently, sometimes by bike and other times using the ferry from Fleetwood to Knott End and then the Ribble bus to Garstang. On rare occasions I would see the ‘Pilling Pig’, an infrequent steam-hauled goods pickup on the single track that branched off the main line at Garstang, and originally reached Knott End. The last remnant of the line closed in 1965.

Another destination in the vicinity, accessed in the same way, was Garstang and Catterall Station. It was the last remaining station on the main line between Lancaster and Preston. The solitary employee was a very unpleasant Scot, but it was a great location for spotting and photography.

The station was rarely used and it was no surprise when it closed in 1969. Garstang has expanded rapidly in the past few years and road traffic in the area is now often gridlocked.

The photographs shown were taken by my good friend and fellow steam enthusiast Howard Leach.

Our semi-autobiographical experiences of trainspotting are recorded in Steam Dreams, available from Amazon Kindle

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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