I leave Blackrod and get a feel for the village for the first time now that I am on foot and not in a car; I walk up the steep hill into the old part of the settlement and at once am transported back to the Lancashire I know from childhood. It is incredible how having spent all my visit being in a car had completely removed any sense of place. I walk to Aspull, the next village, a mile or so to the south east. I haven’t had breakfast and arrive famished. I call into a small roadside cafe (R&Rs) for beans on toast. There is a warm welcome there from Richie and Ruth, lots of interest in Transition and in my walk, and a free packed lunch to keep me going! I am also given some advice about a nice route to take me to Warrington from some fellow customers.
I leave heart warmed and take a look around the village; it has a wide village green and a new village clock. I walk on till I come to my old friend the Leeds Liverpool canal. This is the route that has been suggested and, more excitingly, it goes miles further than my OS map has shown because of the new Wigan Flash Nature Reserve meaning I can follow the canal right down to within a mile of Golborne on the Cheshire border.
I have a lovely walk; this old coal mining area has been reclaimed as a bird sanctuary and the wounds caused by mining have been filled with water. Those who had no notion of the history of this land could have been forgiven for thinking these bird filled lakes had always been there. The canal and its tow path run down through the middle of the new lakes, the largest of which, the Scotsman’s Flash, is even hosting sail boats! Teenage Canada geese have taken control of the area and fill the tow path, milling around socialising very much in the way of human adolescents.
It is Sunday and the freshly paved tow path through the reserve is being enjoyed by not only the birds, but dog walkers, lovers, families, kids out on an adventure, fishermen, and cyclists. I feel I have been given the answer to my question the other day when I mused on how we would be able to reconcile the harm done to the earth by industrial action. We cannot restore the land to how it was before we mined for fuel but we can find a way of giving back, and here the birdlife and water edge plant life certainly seem to be appreciating the new landscape.
An information board describes how it is hoped this reserve and others in the region will attract tourists and bring life and vibrancy back to this once unhappy area. I feel warmed by the thought of the men and their families who suffered a difficult life for the sake of the nation’s fuel being able to earn a new living in time that involves connection to nature and people, as planes slowly stop taking us abroad and our feet and bicycles take us to the beautiful places in our own country and remind us of our heritage and culture.
I walk to the end of the reserve and am sitting on the wall perusing the map wondering if the tow path continues or not when a dog walker comes and tells me how far it goes; to the pub at the lock. There is something very lovely about the connection with people that is made when out walking; and something satisfying about not choosing footpaths which inevitably take you through farms and fields where you rarely meet another human.
I enjoy my walk through Golborne and into Warrington; it is residential and quiet, and the different sorts of housing blend effortlessly into one another as the road goes on. I notice how relaxed I am when not confronted with industry or agriculture and how jittery contact with those phenomena make me feel if they are not working on a small scale and blending in with their environment.
I arrive on the outskirts of Warrington and notice how adept I have become at navigating large places with the aid of only an OS map and no A-Z street map. I quickly find the hotel where I am staying, and notice immediately how the original road it sat upon has been superseded by a bypass of the same name and gradually that the hotel itself, the Paddington House Hotel, is a dreadfully ugly modern addition to an originally very old house. There are old stones in the car park that must once have formed garden walls and gateways and the floor creaks beneath modern carpets and there are oak beams here and there, some of them transported to new places as window sills, and some interior walls are crooked and misshapen – I wonder who demolished the old house, if it was the owners like at Clayton Hall in Clayton in the Woods, or if the big corporate has bought it and worked their terrible magic of transforming beautiful aged statements of the past into soulless empty husks for the sake of appeasing the Greed monster?