Round and round the Rabbit Rocks

Well, May has been a bit of a disaster for getting out and about. The weather ahs been particularly awful for the time of year with what seems almost like incessant rain, although there have been a few brighter patches. I’ve not been able to take advantage of those limited opportunities as I’ve been recovering from going under the knife at the end of April. But I’ve started to tentatively getting out for some exercise and last Sunday we were running out of milk so I decided to take the long route via the Plantations to the little Tesco on Whelley. I had in mind that if I felt up to it I’d extend the walk on a relatively flat route – and that’s what I ended up doing.

I followed the route of the old Whelley loop line over to the canal

and then headed north-east along the tow path past several of the locks of the Wigan Flight

up to Kirkless Hall and then crossed the bridge over to the other side of the “cut”.

Kirkless Hall

During the lockdown over the last year, as opportunities for getting out and about have been limited, I’ve been rediscovering and exploring areas closer to home that I’ve been neglecting. It’s quite a few years ago now but at one time I started making an effort to get some exercise by buying myself a hybrid bike and getting out for a ride in the evening after work several days of the week. One of my regular routes was along the canal footpath and I’d often cross over and ride around the footpaths that criss-crossed over what seemed like wasteland between the canal and the Belle Green Estate in Ince. This was the former site of the Kirkless Iron and Steel Works, which was owned by the Wigan Coal and Iron Company.

An aerial view of the Kirkless Iron Works. The site looks VERY different today – Source; Wigan World Website
Source: Wigan World Website
Blast Furnaces at the Kirkless Iron Works – Source: Wigan World Website
Source: Wigan World Website

I’ve been up here a few times this year, particularly during the winter months when it was icy and the canal and “flashes” were frozen.

A casual visitor wouldn’t realise that during the latter part of the 19th Century that with ten 65 ft high blast furnaces this was the location of one of the largest Iron works in the country and, perhaps the world. The site has been excavated and investigated by the Wigan Archaeological Society. The northern part of the site is now occupied by an industrial estate but the southern part is now a Nature Reserve. The industrial activity has left behind alkaline soils which, apparently, have encouraged the growth of plants that would be more commonly found in coastal areas like the Formby dune system.

Look closely and there are traces of the once massive iron works – particularly the slag heap at the south end of the site, known by locals as the “Rabbit Rocks”., littered with very distinctive cylindrical blocks of slag from the bottom of the furnaces.

I wandered along the various paths that criss-cross the relatively small site, passing a number of “flashes” (lakes left behind as a result of industrial activity)

At one point I sensed movement in the undergrowth. Glancing across I spotted a deer in amongst the trees. It stared at me for a while, long enough for me to snap a photo with my phone camera – you can just about make it out.

I carried on, looping around towards the Rabbit Rocks

and took the gently sloping path up to the top. It’s a short steep climb up there from the side closest to the canal, but I’m not ready to tackle that just yet!

Here’s another shot taken back in January on a cold day when the surface of the flashes were frozen over

There’s good views from the top over the site, across Wigan and over towards Rivington Pike and Winter Hill.

I doubled back and then walked across the bottom of the hill towards the largest of the flashes

Looking up to the Rabbit Rocks across the flash
The frozen flash snapped back in January

I mooched about for a while then walked over to the canal, following the east bank for a while before retracing my route back along the loop line path. I picked up the milk from the little Tescos and then made my way back hoe through the Bottling Wood and along the Dougie. Time for a brew!