Diving at Ecclestone Delph

After last weekend’s descent into old age, we decided to up the ante a bit this weekend with our first proper dive of the year (I’m not including Trefor Pier!).

So off up the M6 to Ecclestone Delphi dive centre.

We’ve dived here several times in the past and the visibility can vary depending on the weather and how busy it is. The hope was that by going on a weekday it’d be a bit quieter and less stirred up.

Other countries may have beautiful warm waters and shimmering coral reefs, Lancashire has Ecclestone Delphi, 10 degree water, 6 metre visibility and sunken transit vans. I made a video last year, as my alter ego – Jack Custard, to showcase the many underwater delights.

We had two good dives exploring the various wrecks and watching the fish, including some dazzling koi carp.

In Bermuda divers may jump in with just their shorts and a t-shirt on, but we had thermal undersuits, drysuits, gloves, hoods, thick socks and extra weights to make sure we could actually sink with all the kit on – such are the joys of British diving.

Still, the last dive we did meant extra underclothes, long-johns and fleece jumpers, so today felt vaguely tropical.





Easter Photography at Biddulph Grange and Little Moreton Hall

Sunny Easter Bank Holiday Monday at two of Cheshire’s beautiful stately homes – perfect opportunity for a bit of photography.

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The problem with sunny bank holidays is that you, the world and his wife, all want to get out and go somewhere special. The result is that the motorway system grinds to a halt and most places are overwhelmed with a flood of people in scenes not dissimilar to the battle of Helm’s Deep.

So, with this in mind we set our sights on two locations within easy reach to avoid the jams on the M6 – Biddulph Grange Gardens, which we’d never been to before, followed by a quick hop over to Little Moreton Hall, which we had been to before, before straight back home for tea and medals (as my old pal Al Wright used to say).

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Biddulph Grange is a stunning stately home still in private hands but the gardens are owned by the National Trust. I am curious what the arrangement is as you can’t go round the house but are free to wander the grounds. There are plenty of exotic plants on show, but as I’m no gardener I’m afraid I can’t really go into details. Needless to say, they are beautiful, and they are exotic – apparently.

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I was especially impressed by the geometric hedges and egyptian temple.

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We were blessed with great weather and everything looked perfect, the only problem was trying to capture it in a photograph. Virtually every scene of horticultural perfection and architectural magnificence was spoiled by a procession of toddlers, pushchairs and pensioners all wandering through it in brightly coloured clothing, in case you hadn’t noticed them – I know, I’m anti-social, and they have as much right to be there as I do, but you weren’t lining up a shot for ages only for a family of five to shuffle into it and set up a picnic!

But, hey, it’s Bank Holiday Monday isn’t it, so we made the best of it and just kept moving – onto Little Moreton Hall.

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Little Moreton Hall is an Elizabethan Mansion over 500 years old. It’s not as huge as some National Trust houses nearby but it’s got bags of character and is genuinely fascinating with a history that includes the Reformation and the English Civil War.

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Constant additions and dodgy foundations mean the upper levels are so twisted and deformed it can feel like a visit to a funhouse but it all adds to the charm.

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It was still busy here, but it didn’t feel quite so oppressive, so we succumbed to a cream tea on the lawn – rock and roll!

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I looked around as I scoffed my scone, jam and clotted cream (you could actually hear me getting fatter) and noticed that the only people without small children were all pensioners – is this a sign I wonder?

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Next week we have decided to go scuba diving to get back our adventure credentials, so watch this space.



Easter Hike in Buxton

Easter weekend and the weather looks good, grab it while you can.

We decided to try a short hike we’ve never done before, in Buxton on the edge of the Peak District. Starting at Grin Low Park we climbed up to Solomon’s Tower and then down to Poole’s Cavern before working our way across the countryside and back round to Grin Low.

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This area was used for lime pits in the 18th Century and there are still traces of the old industry that once thrived here.  Apparently people used to live in the cave-like holes left in the hillside like real-life hobbits.

The Duke of Devonshire eventually landscaped the area so it wouldn’t spoil the view from Buxton, which he developing into a high-class spa town.

Solomon’s Tower was built to give work to the unemployed as one of the world’s earliest job creation schemes. Personally I’m all in favour of this idea.  Think of how many castles and towers we could have if we’d kept this idea going.  We’d be tripping over them. It’d be like living in Disneyland!

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From the top of the tower you get great views of Mam Tor, Kinder Scout and the surrounding countryside. We found a photographer with a camera, on a tripod, trained on the tower, freezing as she waited for everyone to clear the tower for the perfect shot. I told her I’d just photoshop them out later but she was made of sterner stuff and was determined to wait. With the queue of people shuffling up the stairs, I suspect she waited a long time.

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We left her with hyperthermia setting in , and headed for Poole’s cavern.

Poole’s cavern was very busy, with a mountain rescue display team strapping volunteers to stretchers and carrying them around the car park and a long line of families waiting impatiently for the tour of the caves, so we decided to leave that for another day and carried on walking.  In the woods we heard screaming and soon came across ‘Go Ape’, a high rope’s course where you climb rope ladders, cross traverses, slide down zip wires, etc.  We’ve done a few of these in the past but it was still fun watching people fly through the treetops below us.

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Back at the car we had a picnic and soaked up some sun. The weather was sunny but there was still a bit of wind chill which kept it fresh. Overall, the walk was just enough to help us feel like we’d done something a bit adventurous and out of the ordinary, without killing us (we really need to get our fitness up), and I managed to get some nice photographs – I hope you like them?

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If I mention the film ‘Psycho’, what do you think of?

If you’re anything like me then you immediately think of the famous shower scene and Bernard Herrman’s powerful music that accompanied it. The music is a key element to this wonderful film and on Friday we got the opportunity to experience it live.

The Bridgewater Hall, in Manchester, showed the film, but with a live orchestra playing the soundtrack.

I was curious how this would change the experience of seeing the film. Would it enhance it, or would it distract from it. I was also looking forward to seeing the film with a live audience as I’ve only ever seen it on television or DVD and I wanted to see how an audience reacted to Hitchcock’s tricks over 50 years after it was first shown.

On the whole it was a great evening. The film stood up well, though there were certain elements that are now a bit dated and got a laugh, such as the psychologist at the end explaining everything in detail so the audience have no doubts what went on. There was also a scene where Vera Miles discovers a tiny fragment of paper that just happened to have the exact information that proved the victim had died in that room, even though the killer had scrubbed and mopped the room thoroughly- how lucky!

It’s actually a film that still manages to create a sense of dread, which all good horror films must do. The plot is still effective and the performances still hold up today.

The real surprise though was the music. Hearing it live was a massive difference, the sound of the strings filling the large space of the Bridgewater Hall was wonderful, yet you never felt torn between watching and listening. The two blended together beautifully.

Apparently Herrman used a smaller orchestra to keep the costs down, so there was no percussion or brass section, it was mainly done with strings. This adds to his achievement though as you never miss them.

I’d love to see something bigger with a live orchestra, something like ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ would be amazing. My only quibble is that the screen was a little small for the space and the dialogue echoed round the auditorium a bit, but these are minor points.

It’s a very strange feeling going home humming the accompaniment to a brutal murder.

Mother, what have you done!