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Posts Tagged ‘terraced gardens’

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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