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Posts Tagged ‘exploring’

Anglezarke Moor

Rivington, in the West Pennines, a popular spot at the best of times, it became a Mecca for urban escapees during the COVID-19 restrictions. But now the nation’s shops and pubs have re-opened, things have become a little quieter, at least mid-week. So it is, this morning, we park with casual impunity and unexpected ease along the Rivington Hall avenue. This would have been impossible a few months ago. Our plan this morning is to head up onto the moor via the terraced gardens, take in Noon Hill, then investigate a lonely old ruin called Coomb.

Rivington is famous for many things, not least among them being the first Viscount Leverhulme’s terraced gardens. They fared poorly after his death in 1925, falling quickly to ruin amid a profusion of rampant ornamental forest. Walking here was always like rediscovering the remains of a lost citadel. There have been several attempts to revive them. The most recent work, undertaken by the Rivington Heritage Trust began in 2016. This has been a most ambitious, well-funded undertaking, and the results are impressive. Previously dangerous structures are now repaired and returned to use. Lawned areas, long overtaken by nature, have been cleared of scrub, and re-seeded. Lakes have been drained, repaired and refilled. Still a work in progress, and a hive of enthusiastic volunteer activity – restrictions permitting – it has been a joy to see it returning to life. I just hope the trolls, or what the gamer community call NPC’s, don’t ruin it.

The kitchen gardener’s hut – Terraced Gardens, Rivington

The gardens occupy a vast area, and include many listed structures. There are also miles and miles of pathways to explore, with spectacular views out over the plain. No wonder it’s a popular venue. But today there’s a relaxed silence about the place, granting us the rare impression we have it all to ourselves.

The beech trees overhanging the terraces are in leaf now, and provide gorgeous cascades of fresh spring green. The oaks look to be about a week behind them, an orangey-redness to their leaves as they begin to swell.

I’m reading a book called “Entangled life” at the moment, basically about fungi. Fungi are one of the most mysterious and ancient forms of life on earth. Amongst many other things, they form vast networks that connect trees, through their root systems – a kind of Wood Wide Web, allowing trees to share information. The fungi trade nutrients with favoured species, in return for carbon. It’s an area of study that suggests we still know very little about the ecology of the earth, what holds it together, and how easily we can make disastrous interventions, destroying whole swathes of life upon which we ultimately depend ourselves. The book has made me look at trees differently.

The lower Summer House – Terraced Gardens, Rivington

Anyway, zig-zagging up the terraces we gradually rise some five hundred feet to the iconic Pigeon tower. From here pilgrims usually turn right, and head on up to the Pike. But today we’re heading left, along the Belmont Road, and onto the moor. This is the old stage-coach route from Bolton. A broad, rough track of uneven stone sets, it’s navigable only by rogue 4x4s, and the occasional fire-engine during the outdoor barbecue season. After a half mile or so there’s an access point to Catter Nab, which allows us to pick our way across the moor, towards Noon Hill.

This area was the scene of ferocious heath fires some years back, with a terrible loss of habitat. Some estimates suggest it will take centuries to recover. The moor is healing of a fashion now, the bare earth being re-colonised, but in ways that appear alien. The grasses are a shorter, greener variety. And there are bright orange mosses growing up and over the scattered grit-stones. The cotton-grass has come back, but with little competition it paints the moors now in prolific waves of bobbing white hares’ tails.

After being without company thus far, we discover to our chagrin the summit of Noon Hill is occupied, by unfriendly men in camo. They have a large, aggressive hound, a bull-lurcher, that takes umbrage at our approach. We’re better giving this dubious party a wide berth, so we head instead towards Winter Hill where we encounter the infamous bog coming off the saddle. I’m looking for a familiar track, down to the Belmont Road, but coming to it from the wrong direction I’m confused by what turns out to be an impromptu beeline cut by bikers under the influence of gravity. Water has found its way into the grooves and is fast eroding the peat, giving the impression of a well walked way.

At the bottom we are separated from the track by a barbed wire fence which has the appearance of being smashed open, then hastily re-jigged with a mad tangle of barbed wire. Its crossing looks tempting, though messy, to say nothing of hazardous in the trouser department, so we take the prudent option and follow the fence north a little, to where the more familiar path grants proper access.

Here we cross the track and venture into a little area of moorland between the Belmont Road and Sheephouse Lane. This is where we find the farm marked on the oldest maps as “Coomb”. Historian and local author, John Rawlinson* tells us the local pronunciation was “Comp”. By the later Victorian period, it was a vacated and unnamed ruin. Very little remains now, and its outlines are difficult to decipher.

Winter Hill, from the ruins of Coomb

The word Comp itself was likely a dialect corruption of “camp”, legend being there was a military camp here in Roman times. Mr Rawlinson also writes of an archaeological dig that yielded artefacts. These were retained by Viscount Levehulme, but the finds were not documented, and were lost on his passing. Time has long erased Coomb or Comp or Camp, certainly from living memory, and pretty much from the written record as well, but this morning at least, it provides us with a decent, if somewhat forlorn, foreground interest for a shot of Winter Hill. Unusually for the lost farms hereabouts, it is without trees, and looks all the more lonely on account of it.

We turn south of west now, along the line of the deep, narrow valley which gives birth to Dean Brook and opens out to Flag Delph, at the corner of Sheephouse Lane. Here we pick up the path to Lower House, above Rivington, and finally return to the car, refreshed in spirit and feeling philosophical, wondering what rich trove of stories was also lost with the demise of these upland farms, and what a shame no one thought it important, at the time, to write them down. Mixed weather and cold today – some hail, appropriately enough, on Winter Hill. Just four-and-a bit-miles, up to the twelve hundred foot contour, but apparently there is still plenty of puff left in the old geezer. What am I, nowadays, I wonder? let loose across the moors to muse on trees and fungi, and lost farms? Am I walker? Writer? Blogger? Photographer? Or just a plain old retiree? It matters not how we label it. All I know is, it beats working.

* Mr John Rawlinson was the president and Chairman of the Chorley and District Archaeological Society, also a good, and generous friend to my father, encouraging him in his own researches into the prehistoric remains of the Anglezarke area. His book, About Rivington (1969) is the definitive guide to this area, meticulously researched and containing a wealth of local lore, gleaned from conversation with its then living inhabitants. I remember him as a very kindly old gentleman, when my father and I would visit him at his home on Crown Lane in Horwich in the late 1960’s. He passed away in 1972. His book is sadly out of print now, though still oft-quoted in secondary sources, both on and offline. My father’s copy, padded out with correspondence from Mr Rawlinson is much treasured, and much thumbed.

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on harrock hillAfter a morning of torrential rain and gales, Saturday afternoon cleared to a bright, blustery, blue sky sort of day. It being a weekend, I didn’t fancy a walk anywhere near the honey-pot of the West Pennines. Instead, I kept it local, drove a short way along the little lanes that make up the somewhat dispersed community of Wrightington. Here, I parked up in a secret little lay-by and walked a network of muddy paths from there.

This is deepest, rural Lancashire, home to secret millionaires who live in tastelessly refurbished sandstone piles. They like to film your approach along the public ways with cameras on tall poles. I presume this is in case you’re of a mind to trespass, and make off with their possessions. I return the courtesy by photographing their ostentatious security, strictly for posterity of course. If they can film me without my permission, I can snap them. In a hundred years we’ll either be horrified people ever felt the need for such barbarity, or we’ll be laughing at such a quaint deterrent when they can zap you with lasers instead, and no questions asked.

There were two events of note this weekend, the most important and exciting being I had taken delivery of a second-hand lens for the camera, from Ebay – a longish zoom at a bargain price! It can be dodgy buying from an unknown seller online, so I wanted to try the lens before the two week no-quibble-returns thing ran out. The second event of course was an announcement from Number 10, regarding another, much heralded, national shut down. But as I parked the car amid the fall of leaves, and tied on my boots, the latter was just a rumour. If true, I suspected it would not be so severe as was being reported, especially since Lancashire is already under the most severe restrictions anyway. Personally, I was concerned only that we should have crystal clarity over the extent of our continued liberty to get out and walk.

The pubs and restaurants would be closed this time, I thought, and, thinking further, and with a long head, that would have everyone flocking back up to the West Pennines for something to do, so I’d not be venturing there in a while. I would have to find other venues, closer to home, like Harrock Hill for example, get my mugshot better known on those millionaires’ cameras.

As you move inland from the sea, say from Southport, the first hills you encounter are not the Western Pennines, but Parbold, Highmoor and Harrock, the latter famed for its ruined windmill. The southern loop of the Lancashire way passes by this fine old ruin, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find it, so much has the woodland grown up now and obscured it, obscuring also the views across the plain. It’s still a worthy destination for an afternoon though.

The lens was performing well. Zooming in certainly gives you a different perspective on things, isolating interesting bits of landscape, a stately group of trees for example, eliminating the clutter of telegraph poles and pylons. It’s interesting how we can colour a scene more by what we leave out, than what we leave in.

buzz 1As an older lens it’s a little slow to focus, but landscapes don’t move about much, so it’ll suit me fine. At one point a buzzard took off in a huff at my passing and I managed a shot of it as it slid across the meadow.  The auto-focus tracked it well, so it’s reasonably sharp, but I  fluffed the exposure – dark bird against a bright sky – so I didn’t capture it in all its beauty.

I’m back where I was in my twenties then, carrying a big zoom, having full-circled from the portability of point and shoots. It’s fine – I don’t climb many mountains now – and am older of course, yet the eye seems to be drawn by the same things: by a spill of light under a low sun, by a stand of ancient trees against the blue, by the shape of a hill, and the character expressed in the simple curve of a path.

I’ve lived around here all my life, toured these lanes by bicycle as a kid, by motorbike as a teen, and by car, but there are still nooks and crannies of surprise. The approaches to Harrock are plentiful from any direction, and amenable to circular exploration.

buzz 2I was still making my way down the hill when the PM’s announcement was rumoured to be due, so I thought I might have missed it. But it was delayed several times, and I was able to catch it in the early evening. I’m leaving off the partisanship here. We cannot turn back the clock, and we are where we are.

The bit I was listening for was:

You may only leave home for specific reasons, including: For education; For work, say if you cannot work from home; For exercise and recreation outdoors, with your household or on your own with one person from another household,…

That’s clear enough for me.

As for how far we can travel away from home for exercise – well I’m not sure about that bit. I’m guessing the tier three rules apply, and if not then I’ll apply them anyway, unless otherwise appraised – meaning it’s “advised” I’m confined to Lancashire, until further orders. I’ve no problem with that. Yes, I’m missing the Dales and the Lakes, but there’s still air enough to breathe here, and not that far from my doorstep. 

Think while walking, walk while thinking, and let writing be but the light pause, as the body on a walk rests in contemplation of wide open spaces.

Frédéric Gros

 Goodnight all. Graeme out.

 

 

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