Tag: Cheshire

Pushing the limits of Easter at Carden Park


It’s good to push yourself sometimes.

At least, that’s what I kept telling myself as I stepped gingerly off the platform and clung to the rope for dear life, my legs instantly contorting into a most ungraceful set of splits as I did so.

It was bad enough trying not to look down the 50ft-odd drop to the forest floor below but, with Maya and Olivia about to follow me out onto the aerial ropes course [pictured above], there could be no bottling it by dad.

“The first one is always the worst,” said instructor Phil, trying to sound reassuring. “It’s the fear of stepping into the abyss.”

Easter activities

We had come to Carden Park Hotel in Cheshire to try out some of the activities for the forthcoming Easter holidays. The hotel offers crazy golf and archery sessions, as well as boasting its own vineyard.

I had expected a gentle afternoon on the Easter Trail, searching for clues in the grounds to win chocolate eggs.

But the idea of leading my two daughters across a series of elevated platforms and obstacles caught me off guard.

We had harnesses and a full safety briefing, of course. But, despite the incentive of finding mini eggs along the course, did we have the nerve?

More to the point, as the responsible adult in charge of two primary-school-aged children more used to playing on the CBBC app than swinging like monkeys through an adventure playground, had I taken leave of my senses?

Active kids

Maybe not.

The National Trust report, Natural Childhood, suggests our children are exhibiting the symptoms of a modern phenomenon known as ‘Nature Deficit Disorder’ in regard to their lack of engagement with nature.

A key reason for this, it suggests, is the aversion of many parents to any form of risk. “No natural environment is completely free from risk,” writes report author Stephen Moss.

“But these risks are a fundamental part of childhood: by gradually learning what is safe and what is dangerous, especially with regard to their own actions and behaviours, children develop their own ‘risk thermostat’.”

The Council for Learning Outside the Classroom supports this view, expressing concern for the long-term implications for not allowing children and young people to experience risk, challenge and adventure.

The group promotes more creative approaches to curriculum development and summarises its concerns about risk aversion here.

Confidence building

From climbing nets to swinging logs, we made our tentative way across the course, instructor Phil [pictured below] lending a helping head to coax a nervous Maya across the high-wire stepping stones and swing a worried-looking Olivia across a gap too wide for little legs on her harness.


He was less forgiving of dad as I edged my way along an elevated log walkway and hesitated at a see-saw bridge. “Go on, attack it,” he advised, dismissing my request for emergency technique coaching.

“That’s not attacking it,” he laughed as the children looked on nervously.

He was right. I was never in the scouts and was probably more interested in my Space Lego than climbing trees when I was Maya’s age. But demonstrating my own nervousness will only hold the girls back in life.

There were some wobbles and a few tears along the course but, after an hour of white-knuckle antics, we were negotiating the wobbly bridges of the final obstacle.

“It’s always the parents who struggle,” smiled Phil, congratulating Olivia for being the youngest person in our group to make it across. “The little kids haven’t don’t have the fear.”

Down to the wire

By the time we reached the zip wire platform for the 250m descent back to terra firm, the girls were taking the course in their stride.

They raced each other on the zip wire [watch the vimeo] and laughed as I trundled behind, dangling like a limp balloon from my harness over a swampy bit of ground at the bottom.

Before I could even get myself free, Olivia was already devouring the first of several Easter eggs.

“Again,” she squealed as I headed for coffee and a long sit down.

I’m not booking a week at Center Parcs just yet but we had dared to step beyond our comfort zones.

And, once more, it took two young children to remind their sensible dad of a valuable life lesson: sometimes you just have to step into the abyss.

  • Activities run from March 25 to April 10 at the hotel’s Event Station and are open to non-residents; prices and bookings here

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Exploring the industrial heritage of Cheshire at Lion Salt Works


 I spent a day just before the Easter break talking salt. No, really.

Salt, it transpires, is a huge industry, especially in a town like Northwich, Cheshire, where the salt industry started with the Romans and fostered the development of its booming chemical industry today.

I had come to Northwich for a press preview of the Lion Salt Works – it’s just one of a handful of industrial heritage buildings of its type across the world and it’s right here in the Northwest of England.

The Lion Salt Works will re-open to the public as a visitor attraction in May after a four-year, £9.9m restoration project to save the crumbling historic site.

It’s tough bringing industrial-heritage buildings to life but Paul Stockton [pictured above] made the work-in-progress site come alive with his stories of the daily grind.

My full article will appear in Discover Britain magazine in time for Heritage Open Days weekend this autumn.

But, meanwhile, here’s a sneak preview:

Paul Stockton was just 20 years when he came to the Lion Salt Works in Northwich as a student labourer. It was 1970 and Paul, who went on to work as a maths teacher, earned £5 per week, hauling 28lb blocks of fresh salt around the site.

“It was very hot and steamy. The whole building smelt strangely clean but you could always taste the salt on your tongue,” he remembers of those days, stripped to the waist in boilerhouse conditions ‘lofting’ or hauling blocks of salt around the drying room.

“It was very hard work and the foreman was always cracking the whip. But I also remember the camaraderie,” he adds. “I’d go to the pub every lunchtime with my workmates and we’d spend our wages.”

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Celebrating 150 years of Alice in Wonderland in Cheshire and North Wales


This year marks the 150th anniversary of the publication of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by the author Lewis Carroll.

That means Mad Hatters and Cheshire Cats will be everywhere this spring.

It also means, handily for me, a couple of assignment right on my doorstop in Northwest Britain – hence February was spent chasing white rabbits from Cheshire to North Wales.

The Alice trail starts in rural Cheshire. Lewis Carroll was born Charlie Dodgson in the village of Daresbury in 1837 and his father was vicar at All Saints Church.

It then moves on, via the Roman city of Chester, to the Victorian seaside resort of Llandudno.

It is alleged that Carroll, a family friend, would visit the Liddell clan at their holiday home in Llandudno in the 1860s.

I followed the Alice Trail over half-term holidays with my two daughters and the stories that came out of this trip have both now been published.

Read Find the real Alice in Wonderland, published by Rough Guides.

Read Through the Looking Glass in Llandudno, published by Dad.info.

Do you know more places with an Alice connection? Share your comments below.



Going underground: the secret Cold War heritage of rural Cheshire


There’s a party planned in rural Cheshire.

“My birthday,” says Lucy Siebert [pictured above], her epaulettes quivering like the top-lip foliage of a retired colonel. “It’s fancy dress.”

But this is no ordinary birthday party. Lucy was born November 9, 1989 – the day the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War, ostensibly, ended.

A day in history

The memorable date, marked by events in Germany next weekend to celebrate the 25th anniversary, was to have a profound effect on Lucy from an early age.

Today she is the manager of the Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker, a two-acre site outside the Cheshire market town of Nantwich. She aims to make the erstwhile secret military facility home to the largest Cold War heritage collection in the UK.

“My generation was born at the cusp of the Cold War. It’s not a forgotten war, it still effects peoples’ lives,” explains Lucy drinking coffee next to an anti-mine yellow submarine in the museum café.

“Most people find nuclear war very dark but I’m matter-of-fact about it,” she adds, her shocking pink nail varnish contrasting with her military-style garb.

“People ask me what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. My answer,” she deadpans, “is to run as fast as possible towards the blast and pick up your kids on the way.”

Dark history

Hack Green was built in 1938 and formed part of ROTOR, a network of underground radar stations. Mrs. Thatcher’s Conservative government expanded the facility in the Eighties as Cold War tension grew.

After a £32m renovation from 1979 to 1983, it became home to 135 Cheshire civil servants, plus one of 12 UK regional commissioners.

Its role was to protect the bureaucracy of infrastructure – based on the assumption that only 10% of the British population could survive a nuclear attack.

My visit coincides with the release of files at the National Archives based around a secret Home Office exercise in 1982, codenamed Regenerate, to test the UK’s capacity to rebuild after nuclear war.

Controversially, the report includes a suggestion by Jane Hogg, then a scientific officer in the Home Office, to recruit psychopaths to help keep order in disaster-struck areas.

“These are the people who could be expected to show no psychological effects in the communities which have suffered the severest losses,” she wrote.

Unique collection 

Hack Green was finally declassified in 1992 as Glasnost spread across the East and Lucy’s father bought it in 1995, opening the bunker as a museum and visitor attraction in 1998.

The collection today extends to hundreds of items – all real, no replicas – saved from car boot sales, British Telecom (BT) offices, BBC Radio studios and military festivals amongst others.

“This bunker is a testament to fear. I don’t envisage another World War but another Cold War in my lifetime is quite a possibility,” explains Lucy, who studied film at Herefordshire University and originally wanted to be a film director.

Afterwards I explore the exhibition, moving from a BBC studio for emergency broadcasts to a BT manager’s office via a briefing room for the Home Office. The nuclear shelter replicates the experience of the blast while in a hiding in a fallout shelter.

The atmosphere is musty deep underground and the cold stone corridors have an eerie, nightmarish quality to them, a feeling of unease accentuated by the regular blasts of the ‘Alert Code Red’ warnings over the PA.

The tour leads towards a dramatic denouement with a ghoulish display of plastic mannequins with fake injuries, accompanied by a looped recording of patients whimpering from their injuries, in the sick bay.

Future plans

But what strikes me most of all as I explore is how close we came to the brink and, creepily, how serious world governments took their preparations for what they considered an inevitable conflict.

As more documents are released, our knowledge of the Cold War period will grow and interest in its cultural heritage will evolve.

“There are still bunkers open as we speak and they are preparing for the next emergency situation,” smiles Lucy as I say my goodbyes and prepare to head out into the bucolic Cheshire countryside, rather than a post-apocalyptic landscape.

“When the Berlin Wall fell, world leaders thought it was all over – but it’s not,” says Lucy enigmatically.

“The shadow of the Cold war looms larger than ever over us.”


The nuclear attack on the UK that never happened

Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker

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