Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Wigan Wanderers

Blame Lesley; she was a good friend when I was at University and she came from Wigan.  She spoke with a wonderful Wigan accent and told me all about Wigan Pier.  I'm a huge fan of piers both big and small; Bognor, Brighton, Blackpool, Aberystwyth etc. and was fascinated by the idea of a landlocked pier in the middle of an industrial northern town so Wigan Pier became firmly lodged on my "to do" list and was finally crossed off last Sunday.  It wasn't quite what I expected.

Wigan Pier.  All of it.
Our acceptance of an invite to dinner and accompanying room for the night from friends in Wigan came with a proviso from me; could I see the Pier the next day?  "No problem" came the reply and I was set.  Overnight bag packed, including camera, and a vow not to get too intoxicated lest my hangover spoiled the experience.   Following a most enjoyable evening (and an introduction to slow cookers which merits a separate blog all of its own), we awoke bright and early(ish) and ready for our adventure.  After a spectacular breakfast provided by our generous hosts off we set.

We initially headed for downtown Wigan but veered off just before the high street and parked near an old steam museum and converted apartment blocks.  To be fair the stroll along the tow-path to the pier and the surrounding canalside area are nice enough and made for a very pleasant Sunday morning walk, but the pier itself is long gone.  All that remains is a slight hump in the tow-path and the two iron rails you can see in the photo.

She wasn't impressed either.
Apparently this is where the coal was tipped into waiting barges and it used to be considerably larger.  It's reputation has traveled far and wide thanks mainly to the combined efforts of Georges Orwell and Formby making the pier larger in fiction than it is in fact.  Apparently there used to be a museum choc full of the local history but that too is now nothing more than a deserted building, probably the result of cutbacks or a lack of popularity.  Admittedly Wigan Pier isn't the stuff of dreams or thrilling adventures, but it's an important part of the local history and sad to see it so unloved.

The route to the summit.
Leaving our wonderful hosts to enjoy the rest of what was turning out to be a lovely sunny Sunday we headed for nearby Rivington Pike.  If you've ever zoomed past Bolton on the M61 or chuffed though Horwich Parkway station you'll have seen Rivington Pike; it's that big hill with the house on top.  Parking was easy enough to find and, lacking a map of the area, we followed a rather nice walk from the AA website which took in the Pike plus a good dollop of Lever Park.  The park was absolutely heaving with people but the AA route took us along some pleasingly quiet paths as it wound its way past a reservoir and a castle and on to the summit.

Rivington Pike (and fancy camera setting!)
The reservoir has a typical "flooded" village story and these days supplies the good people of Liverpool and the castle was the work of Lord Leverhulme who owned the land and in 1902 donated it to the people of Bolton.  The castle gives a great vantage point over the reservoir and is fab for kids (of all ages!) to run around and explore.  In comparison to our usual weekend excursions this was very straightforward but clearly not everyone is up for the walk to the top, as we passed one family near the castle the guy turned to his lady friend, pointed to the Pike and asked "D'you reckon we could drive up thurr?"

The views from the summit are very lovely but it was the walk back down that we found most interesting.  It weaves its way past a lovely dovecote/ pigeon tower (depending on how posh you are) and down through the remains of Lord Leverhulmes terraced gardens.  I knew nothing of the history of the place beforehand, but since reading up on it for this blog I've become rather fond of Lord Leverhulme; he was the founder of Lever Brothers, was clearly a very wealthy man, and he gave the park (and many other things including a school) to the people of Bolton but he was also everso slightly bonkers, a quality I find utterly endearing.  The gardens are full of intriguing nooks and crannies which would take many years to fully explore; it's just a shame they can't be restored to their full glory.  There's some fabulous pictures and more on the history on this website, definitely worth a look if you're interested in the area.
Dovecote/ Pigeon Tower

As we made our way back towards the car I told Steve that if I won the lottery I'd fix the gardens and make them fabulous again.  His answer suggested that, in his view, Lord Leverhulme was not the only everso slightly bonkers person around.  There's no pleasing some people.