A walk round Hale

After a short-lived attempt to return on Friday, the snow and cold has departed, leaving us with milder, clearer weather.  So yesterday we walked  a stretch of the Mersey Way along the river’s edge from Hale Point before turning inland, through the woods and up to Hale Park.

There was a stiff, chilly breeze blowing in off the river at Hale Point where the occupied but inoperative lighthouse stands.  It last performed as a lighthouse in the 1950s.  Despite being directly under the flight-path of aircraft coming in to land at John Lennon Airport, this stretch of shoreline is a major migration stopover point for birds during the spring and autumn movements. There are large influxes of waders in the winter especially, with the mud banks and salt marsh providing a feeding and roosting area for birds.

As we walked yesterday, there were large flocks of dunlin swirling along the shoreline in ever-changing patterns, jostling for space with oystercatchers. Last time we walked this stretch we saw curlew, though none this time.  Best of all, we had the closest view I’ve ever had of a kestrel, which hovered over the cliff edge, unconcerned by our approach and only gliding away when we were right underneath him.

It was a relief to turn inland, away from the stiff breeze blowing onshore, and head up through the belt of woodland that leads to Hale Park.  From there we walked back through the village to our starting point, passing the Childe’s cottage and the tree-carving of the Childe of Hale.

The Childe of Hale , whose actual name was John Middleton, was born in 1578 in Hale and gained renown as being, at that time, the world’s tallest man.  He was 9ft 3 inches tall!

John Middleton died on 23 August 1623, as entered into the Hale Church death register, where his name is recorded, with ‘Childe Of Hale’ written alongside in pencil. His grave lies in Hale churchyard, with the inscription:

Here lyeth the bodie of John Middleton the Childe Nine feet three Borne 1578 Dyede 1623

In 1768 John Middleton’s remains were removed from his grave by the schoolmaster and Parish clerk, and measured. It was discovered that his thigh bones each stretched from the hip of an average sized man to his foot. Later his remains were re-interred in the churchyard.

When an old elm tree that stood opposite the church became diseased, rather than cut it down it was decided to create the carving of the Childe Of Hale, now gradually rotting away and riddled with beetle bore holes.

The pub in the village is named the Childe of Hale and the pub sign bears a portrait of John Middleton, the original of which resides in Brasenose College, Oxford.  His association with the college originated when he was returning from a wrestling bout at King James’s court in 1617.  His mentor, Sir Gilbert Ireland, Lord of the Manor of Hale, who graduated at the college and was a senior member there, took the giant to meet the students at Brasenose.  It was there that two life-sized portraits were painted.  One can be seen in Speke Hall while the other hangs in the college.

After the tranquillity of the walk, we return to the news that Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords has been shot in the head and six others killed by a gunman in Arizona, no doubt inspired by Sarah Palin’s cross-hair hit list.  On of the six dead is a child of nine who was once designated to be a Face of Hope by virtue of her birth on 11 September  2001.  I can’t help but see parallels between this shooting – of someone who dared to speak out in favour of Obama’s health-care reforms – and the assassination of Salmaan Taseer in Pakistan for questioned the country’s blasphemy law and championing the cause of  Aasia Bibi, the woman accused of blasphemy.

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7 thoughts on “A walk round Hale

  1. Don’t mind a good yarn. But this 9′ 3″ giant sounds a bit rum. At that height, it’s doubtful John Middleton’s joints would support him upright. Moreover, his heart would never survive long, given the effort required to circulate his blood. I’d bet he was somewhere in the upper 7ft region with the rest made up from unreliable measurements and/or folk tales.

    Apparently John Middleton received £20 from King James for the wrestling match. Benchmarked against average earnings, 1620-2009, that would be £32,000 today. Not bad

    1. I’m sure you’re right, Dave. The 2010 edition of Guinness Book of World Records lists Sultan Kosen as the tallest living man at 8’1″ measured in Ankara, Turkey, in February 2009.

  2. This is really fascinating – whether you are English or not; whether you reside in England or not. I never knew Merseyside was beautiful like that.

  3. By coincidence the Guardian today has an article on gigantism, now known to be ’caused by a tumour in the pituitary, the endocrine gland that secretes many essential hormones, including ones for growth’. Recent DNA research has shown that both an 18th century ‘giant’ and today’s patients inherited their genetic variant from the same common ancestor in Tyrone, and that this mutation is some 1,500 years old. There really were giants in Ireland in far-off times. Could the Childe of Hale have had Irish ancestry?
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/jan/11/irish-giant-genetic-mutation-growth-disorder

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