If you go down in the woods….

A few days after my return from the Peak District I took advantage of a break in the miserable weather to get out for a walk through the Plantations. Following one of my regular routes I was surprised to see a large photograph printed on waterproof material hanging from a couple of the beech trees. As I continued along the path I spotted several more,

including a photo of someone I often see walking his little dog when I’m out annd about along the Dougie and in the Plantations.

It transpired that the photographs were an exhibition, displayed as part of the Wigan Arts Festival.

Commissioned by Wigan Council and Open Eye Gallery, the photographs by Mario Popham, a photographer of Japanese and English descent, based in Manchester, are of people he encountered in the Woodland Park. In most cases the protraits are paired with trees, palnts and “found objects”, in some cases the images being blended and merged.

I enjoyed viewing the photographs which added some interest to a familiar walk. And it was good to seesome art, too. It’s been a while.

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!

A walk along the Lanes

One of my favourite walks from my front door that has helped to keep me sane over this last year of Hokey Covid takes me through the bottom of the Plantations and along a couple of lanes that run parrallel to each other running west to east to the north of the Haigh Woodland Park. There are several ways to vary the route, but whichever way I go takes me through a variety of terrain and landscape with, on a clear day, views of “blue remembered hills”.

Last Tuesday started off grey, cold and claggy, but by midday the clag had cleared and it had developed into a fine early Spring afternoon so I decided to take a break from sitting at the computer in my home office and get out for some fresh air.

At the bottom of our street I’m soon into the woodland on the path that runs along the Dougie

and which takes me into Haigh Woodland Park

I climbed onto the higher path that runs parrallel to the river – the lower path is always flooded and extremely muddy these days since they build the dam further down the river as a flood prevention measure

then I climbed up the steps, leaving the woods, up to the old Georgian Alms houses

Known as the Receptacle, they were built in 1772 and are now a listed building. They’ve been converted into threee very desirable residences. This photo in the Wigan Council archive shows the residents who lived in the receptacle in 1889.

I turned on to Hall Lane, passing Rose Cottage

and then turned onto Wingates Road. At the start of the lane, looking down to the left, I could see the remains of Haigh Foundry which used to produce steam engines and other iron castings. It closed in 1884 but there are a number of business located on part of the site, included a small iron foundry.

I carried down the quiet lane

reaching this gated community of posh modern houses. They’re built on the site of Brock Mill which I rember as the location of the printing works for the local paper. Previously it was the site of an forge which had been the subject of some industrial espionage by a Sweedish metalugist back in the mid 18th Century.

Across the road there’s a much more interesting building – the Brock Mill cottages, another listed building, constructed in 1821

Just past the cottages I turned right to head up Sennicar Lane

After passing a small group of houses the lane took me past farmland

I crossed the canal

and carried on uphill along the lane, passing the group of white cottages

At the top of the lane, I turned left and walked a short distance along School Lane.

The daffodils were out – a sure sign of the strat of Spring

I turned left and started to head down Pendlebury Lane. I stopped to look across the fields. On a clear day you can see the Lakeland fells on the horizon – Black Comb, the Coniston fells and the Langdales. Not today, alas. However, something moving on the ground caught my eye – it was a lapwing. I stopped to watch it and was then treated to the sight of a second bird swooping a dancing low in the sky above the field crying out, making it’s characteristic “pee wit” call. It was a joy to watchand lifted my spirits. A definite sign of Spring.

Yesterday I was back walking a variation of this route and again was treated to the sight of lapwings from the other side of the same field.

I carried on down the lane

passing the old converted barns and farmhouse. Expensive houses today but what a great place to live – in the countryside but only 3 miles or so from teh town centre.

Reaching the canal I took a snap back up to the old farmhouse

I crossed the canal just as a barge was emerging from under the bridge

I carried on down the Lane. On Saturday as I walked down here I could hear the distinctive bubbling cry of a curlew. Soon it came closer and two curlews flew over the lane just ahead of me. Another treat!

I walked past the small stables and collection of houses and carried on along the tree lined lane

After a while I was back at the Brock Mill Cottages

I turned right passing the posh house, crossing the Dougie and climbed up the partially cobbled old Brock Mill Lane.

I emerged on the main A49 road. I crossed over and then made my way through the pleasant residential areas of Whitley and Swinley back towards home.

A walk to Worthington Lakes

Last week I managed to take a day away from the computer when the weather forecast looked reasonable. Time to get out for a walk! I’m still restricting myself to local walks from the doorstep, mainly up through the Plantations or nearby lanes. I fancied a longer route so had a think about where I might go and decided to head up to Worthington Lakes, a chain of small reservoirs. It’s always good to include an amble beside a stretch of water during a walk.

It stayed dry throughout the walk, with some sunny spells, but it was largely a grey day and the light was very flat and not so good for photos. Still,it was good to get out for a long stretch of the old legs.

The first part of my route took me along the Dougie and then through the Lower Plantations

I took the steps up to the Alms Houses

across the field

down Hall Lane and on to Wingates Road

before walking up Sennicar Lane towards the canal – it was starting to cloud over now.

Reaching the canal, I decided to carry up the track

as far School Lane

and then walk back down Pendlebury Lane towards the canal. On a fine day, looking over the fields, you can see as far as the Lake District Fells, but not today.

Just before the canal I truned right and took the path towards Red Rock. I crossed the road and then took the track heading north beside the old house

It’s dated 1734, but has clearly been extended a few times.

Following the narrow Lane I reached an isolated terrace of old cottages

where I stopped for a brief chat with one of the residents – making sure we kept our distance, of course. The small houses were originally miners cottages and, although there’s no evidence of it now in what is a very pleasnt rural area, there were a number of mines around here in the past.

I took a narrow path beside the end cottage and, after a short distance, reached the canal where there was a quay where coal from the nearby pits was loaded onto barges

The path carried on along the canal, crossing a bridge over the disused Whelley Loop Line (now a cyle path) and on through pleasant woodland

I crossed over Arley Bridge

Which took me to Wigan Golf Club – a path crosses the course over to Arley Woods, passing the moated Gothic Revival style house which is now the Clubhouse

Despite a plaque above the elaborate doorway proclaiming a date of 1367, the present house is mainly a Victorian reconstruction. But there has been a house on the site since the 14th Century and the site, with it’s moat, has been designated as a Scheduled Monument.

There were ducks and Black Swans swimming on the water – I took a snap but it didn’t come out that good as I was zooming in with my phone camera

Black Swans are native to South West Australia not South West Lancashire, so they’re clearly not native. But they’ve had Black Swans here for as long as I can remember.

I crossed the course – no need to worry about getting hit with a flying golf ball as it’s closed due to the Lockdown – and entered Arley Wood.

The path down the hill to the Dougie was steep and slippery but I managed to keep my feet

I crossed over the bridge on to the other side of the Dougie, and then it was a short walk up a muddy path to the Reservoirs

The string of three small reservoirs are known as Worthington Lakes and the area is a Country Park. They were constructed between 1860 and 1867 to provide drinking water for Wigan. the water is taken from the River Douglas, although the river itself runs underneath the reservoirs through a tunnel.

I set off and circumnavigated the reservoirs along the lakeside path.

The sun even emerged for a while

The top end of the top lake has been designated as a Nature Reserve, so access is restricted.

have done a full circuit of the lakes I went back into Arley Wood

and then took the path up to the path heading north through fields

with a view over to Rivington Pike, Winter Hill and Anglezarke

After passing a renovated farmhouse and a group of expensive houses, I turned down a path that wound back down to the Dougie

I crossed over the bridge and then took a steep, muddy and slippery path up to the canal

I took the towpath back to Arley bridge and then decided to get off the muddy path and take a diversion down the tarmaced road through the Golf Course

passing Arley Hall again

I followed the road through the course and eventually emerged by the canal at Red Rock. I rejoined the towpath, walking past the boats and narrowboats moored up on the canal bank.

looking backwards along the towpath

At the end of the moorings I carried on along the towpath which was extremely muddy, so I left the canal bank at the next bridge and headed down Pendlebury Lane.

Joining Wingates Road, I passed Brockmill Cottages which were built in 1821 and are Listed Buildings

Just after the cottages I turned right and crossed over the Dougie (yet again!) and took the path up Brock Mill Lane. I reckon this old, partially cobbled path would have been used by workers walking to and from the forge at Brock Mill and Haigh Foundry that used to be located further down Wingates Road.

At the top of the Lane I reached the main road. I walked along past the Cherry Gardens

and then on to the Entrance to the old Haigh Hall estate (now Haigh Woodland Park)

down the drive

and then on along the path above the Dougie through the woods back towards home.

It had been a fair walk – 15 miles in total – through pleasant countryside and with some local industrial history.

The Wigan Mining Monument

WordPress blogger Wednesday’s Child has been very quiet in recent months. Not suprising given that she’s a doctor working in a hospital in Manchester. I hope she’s keeping safe and healthy.

I enjoy reading her posts and particularly like one of her themes – statues and monuments in Manchester, Glasgow and other locations. Wigan, being a bit of a cultural backwater, has rather a dearth of public art works, but in recent years the local council and other organisations have made some effort to install some sculpture and monuments in and around the town centre. The most recent, installed last year celebrates the mining heritage of Wiagn.

Despite Wigan once being the “capital” of the Lancashire coalfield, there was nothing to mark that and celebrate the heritage of an industry that used to dominate the town. It took a group of volunteers -the Wigan Heritage and Mining Monument group, WHAMM – a registered charity formed by two local women Anne Catterall and Sheila Ramsdale, which raised the funds to provide a statue in a prominent location in Wigan town centre.

The project came to fruition last year but, unfortunately, the planned unveiling ceremony couldn’t go ahead due to you know what.

The statue, created by sculptor Steve Winterburn, depicts a man, woman and child, probably a family, all of who worked in the pits. They’re wearing the traditional footwear – wooden clogs with clog irons and as the sculpture doesn’t have base or plinth so that they appear to be walking on the cobbled street.

The woman, carrying a sieve or screen, would have been a “Pit Brow Lass“, one of the women who worked on the surface (women being forbidden to work underground by the Mines and Collieries Act 1842) at the coal screens on the pit bank (or brow) picking stones from the coal after it was hauled to the surface or loading wagons.

Coal has been mined in Wigan from at least the 16th century, and the industry grew to dominate the town, peaking around the end of the nineteenth century. According to local history records, in the 1840’s there were over 1000 pit shafts within a 5 mile radius of Wigan town centre. 

Source: Wigan World

The Northern Mining Research Society has compiled a list of colleries in the area that were opened in the 19 Century. There aren’t any left now – the last pits in the Borough and Lancashire coalfield closed after the big strike of 1984.

Over three centuries, more than 750 million tons of coal were mined from the vast Wigan coalfields, which over time had over 1000 pits, large and small. It would be difficult to overestimate the contribution of the town to the industrial revolution and the wealth it brought to Britain. However, this was achieved at great cost to local people. Hundreds of people died in accidents, and countless thousands were maimed or left with diseases caused by the working conditions. Two huge mining disasters are still remembered and commemorated more than a century after they occurred. In 1908, 75 men lost their lives in the Maypole pit near Abram.

WHAMM Crowdfunder website
Unemployed Wigan miner in the 1930’s Source: Wigan World

There are few traces of the industry around the town these days. So the monument is a very welcome addition to the town to remind us of a proud heritage and tradition, and, more importantly as a tribute to the thousands of local people – men women and children – who laboured in awful conditions in the pits

Winter – In and around the Plantations

So, for the last few months it’s been difficult to get out and about so my walking has largely been restricted to the Plantations and the nearby country lanes. Last Monday we had our first snow fall of the winter and we’ve had a few more since, the last one yesterday. it’s not so cold, so there’s a partial thaw which then freezes overnight and so when the next lot of snow arrives it tends to fall onto ice, which together with ice formed due to compacted snow on the footpaths, can make it a little treacherous underfoot. Care is needed!

There was snowfall yesterday afternoon and this morning it was sunny, cold and frosty, so I wrapped up and set out for a wander.

The Plantations in Autumn

It’s been a while since I’ve put a post up on here. Since our holiday in Anglesey back at the beginning of October I’ve not had much opportunity to stray far from home, except for my walk in the Westmoreland Dales. This has been due to a combination of factors. We’ve been back in lock down in England for the past month, which has limited my horizons for walking and has continued to prevent us from getting out and about, visiting museums and galleries etc., and on top of that work has been very busy. This has also meant that I’ve not been keeping up with the posts on the blogs I follow – something I’ll try and remedy in the near future as work goes a little quieter after this week.

The nights drawing in – it’s getting dark now by half past four – has also limited opportunities to get out for a walk after I’ve finished work for the day. Despite this I’ve managed to keep myself from going completely stir crazy by getting out for a wander in the plantations and the country lanes to the north of the town whenever I can.

When the Covid situation first arose, I was worried that I might find it boring wandering around the same territory, but I’ve enjoyed watching the changes taking place as we move through the seasons. I can also vary my route to some extent and have worked out circular routes of between 3 and 8 miles leaving from the front door, mainly keeping to paths through the woods and quiet tracks through the fields. The wet Autumn weather has caused the quieter paths through the woods to get very wet and muddy underfoot which has restricted my options a little of late – time to get some wellies once the shops open up again after Tuesday!

I’ve been snapping photos on my phone during my walks – they illustrate changes over the past couple of months. Here’s a few 🙂

Early October
Mid October on the Leeds Liverpool Canal
Mid October on the Leeds Liverpool Canal
Early November in the Plantations
A few days after Halloween
Early November in the Plantations
A sunny day early November
Mid November – not many leaves left on the trees
View over the fields from Senicar Lane, mid November
View over the fields from Pennington Lane, late afternoon on a fine November day
Late November – the trees are bare now.
A grey late November day on the Leeds Liverpool canal
A foggy Sunday afternoon in the Plantations at the end of November

We come out of lockdown on Tuesday (or is it Wednesday?). Doesn’t really matter as we’re going to be Tier 3 in Greater Manchester and most of Lancashire so I’m going to have to stay local for a while – no wandering up to the Lakes for a walk for a while by the looks of things. I’ll have to keep making the most of the Plantations.

A walk along the canal

When lockdown started way back in March, I was determined to keep exercising and also to keep working towards my 1000 miles challenge target so, as we were allowed out for local walks, I started going out for a wander locally – mainly in the Plantations. Although we’ve been let off the leash now (well, until we have another lockdown which is beginning to look more likely) I still try to get out for a local walk several times a week. In that spirit, the other Saturday I had to go into Wigan town centre to post a parcel and so decided to walk back home via a long route along the Leeds Liverpool canal towpath.

I walked through town, past the train stations on Wallgate and down past Trencherfield Mill to Wigan Pier where I joined the footpath.

Wigan Pier, made famous by George Formby Senior and then George Orwell is a section of the canal, lined with warehouses, where coal used to be loaded onto barges. The area became a tourist attraction back in the 1980’s, centred on The Way We Were Heritage centre and the Orwell pub, but these closed some years ago. However the district is currently being renovated and repurposed.

Renovated buildings at Wigan Pier

I went under the bridge following the footpath in the direction of Leeds – quite a few miles away!

There were several narrowboats moored up on banks.

I passed the old lock keeper’s cottage behind Trencherfield MIll

at Bottom Lock, the start of the Wigan flight of 23 locks which lift the canal up 214 feet over about two and a half miles.

I saw several narrowboats making their way through the locks on my way up the tow path

At one time the baknks of the canal would have been lined with industry. Today there’s some light industry close tot he banks between the town centre and Lower Ince, along with some derelict buildings and waste land.

reaching Lower Ince I passed this tower on the other bank

It looks like some sort of ventilation tower, possibly above an old mine shaft, or it may have been to ventilate an engine of some sort. I’ve never been able to find out exactly what it was for.

After Lower Ince the canal takes on a more rural aspect, even though it’s still running close to residential areas on both sides. No sign of industry until nearer to the Top Lock at New Springs.

But I wasn’t going quite that far. I turned off the canal bank on to the footpath that follows the route of the old Whelley Loop Line. This is the point where I left the canal.

It looks peaceful and rural now but in the past it was the site of the Kirkless Colliery and Iron and Steel Works.

The old railway line has been tarmaced over and converted into a footpath and cycle route.

I walked as far as the site of the former Whelley Station where I climbed the steps up onto Whelley and made my way to the nearby Greenalgh’s bakery shop to pick up some pies for dinner (that’s the midday meal around here, buy the way!)

Yes, there’s a good reason why Wiganers are known as “Pie eaters”!

Thank Goodness for the Plantations!

So, we’ve been “locked down”, of a sort, for over a month now. I’ve been able to work at home, only very occasionally straying out to pick something up from the shops and one trip into the office to pick up a proper office chair, to try to avoid back problems, and a few odds and ends. Being stuck indoors is not something I’ve ever been fond of to put it mildly – even when I was very young my mother always used to say I was like a caged lion when I had to stay in the house. But we are allowed out for exercise, so long as we maintain “social distancing”, so, with the weather being so fine for most of the lock down so far, I’ve been out most days for a walk. We’re lucky in that, although we live close to the town centre, just a short walk down to the bottom of our street and I’m down by the river in the valley that forms a “green corridor” bisecting the north end of town and leading to the Plantations and Haigh Woodland Park.

Within 10 minutes I’m in very pleasant woodland of beech trees with a proportion of oak, horse chestnut, sycamore, ash and lime and Scots pine, which stretches a couple of miles up to Haigh Hall. Until the mid 19th Century the area was something of an industrial wasteland, damaged by mining. But in the 1860’s the Plantations were created as a means of providing work for cotton workers who had become unemployed due to the Cotton Famine caused by the American Civil War.

Most days I’ve managed to get out for an hour or so wandering through the woods. I’ve walked around the Plantations for many, many years but to add some variety, and also to keep away from the main driveway and maintain “social distancing” rules I’ve been exploring and have discovered several paths I didn’t know where there!

I was worried that I might find it boring wandering around the same territory, but I’ve managed to vary my route and although woodland might seem very “samey” there’s quite a lot of variation and I’ve enjoyed watching the changes taking place as we move through the Springtime. At the start of the lock down the ground was wet and muddy after all the rain we’d had in February, the trees were bare and there was little vegetation, but over time the ground has dried up, the birds are singing and over the past week I’ve seen the bluebells bloom and the leaves open on the trees. A couple of days ago buttercups appeared and other plants are now starting to bloom.

Build me up Buttercup!

The weather looks like it’s starting to change today and I reckon we’ll see some rain later in the week. I’ll still try to get out, though. I’m stuck at a desk most of the day in my home “office” and getting out for a walk in the early evening is helping to take my mind off all the worries and keep me sane.

I don’t know how long this is going to last – there’s no end in sight at the moment. I’m enjoying getting out and walking through the Plantations, but I’m missing being out on the open moors in the Pennines, the Lakeland fells and the Welsh hills and mountains. I’d planned to take a break in the Lake District in May and a trip to Snowdonia in July. We also had a trip to Ireland planned for late in May too. Currently, though, we have to make the most of whatever’s nearby and with the Plantations on my doorstep I’m luckier than many people stuck in city centres. But when this all ends I’m sure I won’t be the only one dashing off to the Lakes.

Autumn in the Plantations

November hasn’t been a great month for getting out an about. The weather has been utterly miserable. We’ve not had the deluge that they’ve been experiencing across the eastern side of the country, but we’ve had more than the normal amount of rain and its been generally grey and miserable. On top of that this time of year is always busy at work and the damp weather brings out the colds and sniffles. So all in all I’ve not been out walking as much as I’d like and when I have been out its mainly been in relatively close vicinity to home. However, I am lucky in that although I live close to the centre of town, just a short walk down to the bottom of our street and I’m down by the river and on my way to the Plantations.

So, during November, I have managed a few walks around the Plantations and have been able to see the leaves change colour and gradually fall to earth, covering the paths through the woods. So here’s a few shots taken during several ambles through the Woodland Park.

The path down towards the Dougie

It’s hard to believe that this was once an industrial wasteland, but the Plantations were laid out in the 1860s to hide the condition of the landscape after being damaged by the mining activity. This provided work for Wiganers made unemployed by the cotton famine caused by the American Civil War. Today they’re a great amenity, an area of woodland within walking distance of the town centre and accessed by a “green corridor” along the River Douglas.