As I leave the suburb of Woolston and reach the centre of Warrington I am surprised to see a tiny remnant of the old town in the form of a church house, church and spire, and Ring ‘o Bells inn linked by a short stretch of old cobbled street. It is a little glimpse of an England now past and yet somehow still lives in its tenacity in the face of the changes around it.
As I turn towards the centre I spot an old black and white cottage and cross the busy road to get a closer look; a plaque on the wall informs me that here Oliver Cromwell spent a night and sent dispatches to parliament telling of his recent victories in Preston and Warrington during the Civil War in 1648.
These small remains are all there is to connect the present day visitor to the roots of this town for once in the pedestrianised centre and completely surrounded by clone shops and the gangs of unemployed skin headed and tattooed men who are roaming the precincts on this Monday morning along with young heavily made up loud mouthed mothers with pushchairs all semblance of connection to anything but money or lack of it; possessions or lack of them; and bravado or lack of it, is lost.
It is an uncomfortable place to be, one I want to get out of as soon as possible but I need a bank and a post office. I ask a policeman, he looks like he stepped straight out of an American movie in his dress and his gait so it is a shock and a relief to hear his directions given in Northern English!
I go about my small errands, pass a young child, no more than 4 years being dragged along on what I can only describe as a leash (& though it is a pretty shell pink colour and maybe has another name in this context, it is a leash nonetheless) tied around his tiny wrist by his mother, heavily made up, dressed as is for a nightclub, accompanied by her partner, and another child being pushed along in a pushchair. I am surprised at why anyone who has so little spare time they cannot afford to take the time to take their child by the hand and talk to them about the things there are to see would choose to have one child let alone two. Another child, maybe 6 years old, is crying; his father threatening
“if you don’t come I’ll drag you”
The shaven and tattoo headed young boy just cries harder. How have we come to this place where these are the parents; the guardians entrusted with our next generation?
I manage to get lost negotiating a roundabout full of major roads but finally end up on the Bridgewater Canal and breathe a sigh of relief; this is not a place I would ever choose to come back to.
I have a beautiful walk south and hope the worst of Cheshire is over. I had always heard, in Lancashire, that Cheshire was a really nice place; they obviously were not thinking of Warrington! The Bridgewater Canal gives way to the Trent & Mersey Canal and I read how the Duke of Bridgewater made lots of money charging for boats to change from one waterway to the next; he had had the first built too narrow for much of the shipping to be able to pass through!
I walk alongside a barge for a time; I had heard the speed limit is 2 miles an hour and yet it still feels strange to be keeping pace with a boat. When I suddenly realise I am walking faster than it I almost feel celebratory; walking isn’t the slowest form of transport after all…then I realise it has stopped. Up ahead is a tunnel and a long narrow one; boats can only pass one by one and there is a time of the hour for each side to be able use it. The path goes over the top – it feels very weird to be walking along a track way knowing that beneath you is an underground water way with boats going through it. It is around a quarter of a mile to the road and then I come to the pub at Dutton where I plan to stop for lunch; it is called the Tunnel Top.
After lunch I walk on; more tunnel top tracking and then rejoining the canal; it is such a funny feeling to see it suddenly pop into view again and then to be walking along it as if it had never been any different.
I find a place to stay the night at Acton Bridge, a small village on the western outskirts of Northwich. The Wall Hill Farm is a converted farm with rooms in a converted barn or stable, though you’d never guess if you saw the decor inside. I have dinner at the Maypole and am thoroughly romanced by its name.
Cheshire, once you are out of the dying towns that must have risen up in the industrial revolution and now reel in its wake, and into the villages, sports pubs with lovely names I haven’t seen anywhere else in the country, perhaps remnants of a time long past.