Calderstones Park and Strawberry Field, 22nd September 2019

Right on cue for the equinox, we had rain and high wind on Saturday night, so Sunday morning looked like autumn, with turning leaves and the threat of rain.

We entered Calderstones Park from the Ballantrae Road end, and noticed for the first time several rare Maple trees bordering the path. One had 7-point leaves and sticky-out seed wings, so it might have been a Japanese or Korean Maple; another had little tri-lobed rounded leaves with chunky maple-type seeds, which looked vaguely similar to a Paperbark Maple, but it wasn’t; and one with leaves like Lilac, reddish leaf stalks and tiny fruits could have been Pére David’s Maple Acer davidii. The trouble with Calderstones is that it is so packed with rarities, many of them aren’t in any of my books. A tree near there that I DO know is the Giant Sequoia, Sequoiadendron gigantea, which despite its size, is younger than us all. It’s nicknamed the Churchill tree and was planted for his funeral in 1965.

In the Ornamental Garden we looked at a pair of Mimosa trees, showing the buds of their yellow pom-pom flowers, which come out very early, and the brown hanging pods of this year’s seeds. A small Katsura tree hadn’t started its leaf change to bright yellow yet. We also looked at what we thought was a Strawberry Tree with big red fruits. But the leaves weren’t serrated and now I realise it was a huge Chinese Dogwood Cornus kousa ‘Chinensis’.

The Common Walnut tree on the corner looked very sick, and hadn’t produced any nuts, even in this most favourable summer. It looks as if it has been infested with something, making the leaves spotty and prematurely brown.

They have finished refurbishing the Mansion House, and there are now magnificent loos and a much better café. The view out of the window of the Maple tree by the door is terrific.

They have also properly re-housed the Calder Stones, after which the district and the park are named. There is a good explanatory exhibition. They are believed to be the remains of an ancient tomb and burial mound, which stood on the border of Wavertree and Allerton.  An 1825 report on them says “… in digging about them, urns made of the coarsest clay, containing human dust and bones, have been discovered.” Modern archaeologists shudder!  They used to be set in a circle on a small traffic island, close to their original spot. They were moved some decades ago to an old greenhouse in the park for safe-keeping until they could decide what to do with them. It’s good to finally see them on proper display.

We lunched by the pond in the Old English Garden, a popular sandwich-eating spot. The local birds know this, of course, and we were treated to close views of Robin, Chaffinch, Great Tits, Magpies, Wood Pigeons and a cheeky Grey Squirrel. Then we went to look for the rare Golden Rain tree, which until this year was hemmed in by dark Hollies and Yews. They were removed during the refurbishment of the Mansion House, and I hoped it had flourished in the new light conditions. We couldn’t find it. The narrow trunk that last winter I thought was it turned out to be a Wild Rose, so, sadly, I think the Golden Rain tree has been removed. That’s a loss, as it is the only one I knew of in the Liverpool city region. We did spot a Persian Ironwood, though, and what appeared to be a variegated Sweet Chestnut, with green glossy leaves with white edges, and typical, but small seeds. I’ve never read that such a variety exists, but that’s what it looked like.

Then we walked in the rain, through the park and up Beaconsfield Road to Strawberry Field. It’s the old Salvation Army orphanage immortalised in the Beatles song, and the site was always closed.  Beatles tourists have written on the ornate gates and the gateposts for many years.

The Salvation Army have finally cottoned on to the revenue potential of the site, and have landscaped the grounds and built a new modern café, exhibition space and gift shop. The income will fund a programme to help young people with leaning difficulties get into work. It opened last weekend, and all areas except the exhibition itself are free to enter. We wandered around the rather raw new grounds, and admired the group of raised beds, full of Strawberry plants. The front gates are now replicas, and the old gates are being set up as a shrine in the gardens.

The gift shop was selling the usual t-shirts, greetings cards, mugs, fridge magnets and similar nick-knacks. But we were charmed by small jars of Strawberry Jam (£4). I hope they do well. When we arrived a coach party was just leaving, and as we headed to the bus stop a taxi marked “Fab Four Taxi Tour” was just drawing up.

Public transport details: Bus 86 from Liverpool ONE bus station at 10.25, arriving Mather Avenue / Ballantrae Road at 10.55.  Returned from Menlove Avenue / Yewtree Road on the 76 at 2.20, arriving Liverpool 2.55.

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