13 February 2015

It’s a sign: England, part two

When out for one of my countryside rambles recently, the realisation that I was just a tad lost finally dawned on me when I saw this sign on a side road.

Low-flying aircraft
As far as I was aware, I shouldn’t have been anywhere near an airport. Turns out I wasn’t too far from a rather large, now abandoned airfield, former Royal Naval Air Station Stretton or HMS Blackcap. According to the Forgotten Airfields website it was built as a Royal Air Force night fighter station to protect Manchester and Liverpool from Luftwaffe raids during the Second World War but transferred to Admiralty control when the Germans stopped bombing British cities. The Navy had 41 Fleet Air Arm Squadrons based at Blackcap for varying periods, flying regular missions to and from aircraft carriers based in the Irish Sea.

Construction of the M56 motorway in 1971 went right through the site, half of which is now an industrial area but the south side is still very obvious in this aerial photo. In recent years, apparently, Shell used the airfield to test engine oil but it seems currently to be languishing unused. The Warrington Guardian of 11 June 2014 reported on plans to turn part of the land into an underground vehicle storage facility but that is being opposed by local councils, and car-racing enthusiasts have been eyeing the site for a race track, something neighbours have also opposed.

I’m assuming the sign has been there for a long time – I don’t think there have been any low-flying aircraft in the vicinity since the airfield closed in 1958!

The Pinfold
‘This enclosure dates from the Eighteenth Century and was used as a pound to secure stray livestock.’

You never know what you might stumble across when out walking! First an airfield and then, on that same long rural meander, something much much older. I discovered this enclosure and its explanatory sign on Budworth Road, not far from Arley Hall, in Cheshire. I’d never heard the word pinfold before so, when I finally got home, I hastened to google to discover more. Professor Wiki notes that the terms ‘pinfold’ and ‘pound’ are both Saxon in origin and both mean ‘animal enclosure’ – the only difference in usage is which part of England you’re in: it’s a pinfold in the north and east and a pound in the south and west.

Due to its age, this pinfold is a Grade II listed structure. It’s of ashlar contruction with large coursed stones, is rectangular in shape, with walls just over 100cms tall and has a single entrance. Dating from the days before enclosed fields were in common use, it would have been used to house stray pigs, sheep and cattle until their owners reclaimed them.

Signpost to Arley
‘This Road Forbidden Is To All / Unless They Wend Their Way To Call / At Mill, Or Green, Or Arley Hall.’

Having mentioned Arley Hall above, I thought I’d also include this rather wonderful signpost in this blog. The sign marks one of the side entrances to Arley Estate, an entrance only for use by those who reside in the old houses along the lane or those on foot, intending to walk the local public footpaths. If you’re not familiar with Arley, it’s a magnificent country estate that has been home to members of Lord Ashbrook’s family since the fifteenth century. 

So far, I’ve only been able to view Arley’s glorious vistas from the public paths as the house and gardens have been closed over the winter but I’m planning on exploring further when the 2015 visitor season opens in March. 

Footpath signs
As you’ve no doubt gathered, both from the name of my blog and from the numerous times I’ve mentioned my rambles and meanders, I’m a very enthusiastic and active walker. One of the things I like best about living in England is the public rights of way that make this country’s green and pleasant lands easily available to everyone. They give access to places you could never reach by road, allow you to appreciate the sounds of Nature not motorways and, as some are hundreds of years old, they provide valuable insight into the history of the people who have lived in the area.

There are various types of rights of way: public footpaths, for pedestrians only; public bridleways, for horse riders and pedestrians to share; and restricted byways, for horse riders, pedestrians and non-mechanised vehicles (the horse and cart of olden times) to share. Walkers can also often use concessionary paths, where use is allowed at the discretion of the landowner but is not a legal right. These are often also called permissive paths (which always makes me chuckle!).

The signage for these paths varies from place to place and from county to county so I have included several different examples here. 

As the sign below reminded me, you do have to be mindful of track boundaries when using footpaths (though this warning of potential shooting is a rather extreme example!) and you should always always follow the Countryside Code