Wandering Around Wigan

Embarking on Plan B

With nothing more to go on than that the lock flight would be closed for a while, we initially assumed this just meant a delay in our journey. We were a little disappointed, especially as we had originally debated whether to go up on Tuesday, rather than Wednesday. In the end we were glad we hadn't, as two narrowboats and a wide beam that had embarked on the trip on Tuesday never made it to the top. After a hard day working their way up from Lock 85 they were stuck in the flight overnight and had to turn round and come back down on Wednesday.

We obviously now had time on our hands and we didn't set out until one o'clock on the fourteenth of June, heading up the two locks at the top of the Leigh Branch to reach the junction. For some reason Lock 2 is equipped with a winch to close the lower gate but there was nothing to say why this was thought necessary.

Idiosyncratic Lock Gear On Poolstock No.2

The trip up went quite well, as we found ourselves being helped through the locks by two boats that seemed to be travelling together. We then tried to get them both to go on up round the junction first, as we would need to turn and then reverse all the way up to the lock where the service block was. They didn't seem to understand this, dithered around and rather got in the way as we tried to back up but we all got through it.

Coming back down from the junction again, we carried on towards Pennington Flash. It was only when we were well on our way there that we suddenly remembered that the Plank Lane lift bridge could not be operated during the morning and evening peak times for the road. The start of the evening rush was four-thirty and we could see that, while it would be close, we would be very unlikely to get there in time. Instead we stopped a little way before, by Gerrards Bridge, a nice, isolated spot all on our own.

Gerards Bridge Before the Danglers Arrived

That was until fishermen turned up and set up camp quite close behind us. It didn't make much too difference to us but their lights and voices were a frequent source of alarm for Archie.

On Thursday morning we moved on via the Plank Lane water point to Pennington Flash and moored in the exact spot we had enjoyed at the weekend. Just down the road from the water point there is a Household Recycling centre. As we were now accumulating a lot of black sacks and had not been able to reach the rubbish point at the top of the Wigan flight, as planned, I walked it down there while Sue was filling the tank. They are really not set up for pedestrians there and try to limit use to local residents. I was greeted by one person in Hi-Vis. He spent a good while explaining that they were not supposed to do this, really etc. etc. although agreeing that the last thing they would want was for me to just dump it at the side of a litter bin. At last he felt he had repeated himself sufficiently and I was able to leave. In the meantime, one of his colleagues had long since quietly collected the bag from me and deposited it in the skip.

When I got back to the boat I talked to the owner of "Time To Breathe", a wide beam waiting for us to finish. They have been living on board for five years and I was surprised to hear that he was just now considering switching to a narrowboat. They did like the extra space but he was ready to fully retire now and didn't want to be so restricted in where they could travel.

While we got our old spot back at the Flash we were soon joined by four or five other boats, all in a similar position of having had their plans disrupted but not quite knowing for how long. The evenings were still very light so there were plenty of people about even at eight o'clock, including a couple of cheeky paddleboarders.

All Out For An Evening Paddle

Moving on to Plan C

Thursday proved to be a busy day, as I then walked into Leigh and collected the parcel we had previously decided to abandon. The collection point turned out to be open now and found the package easily enough. I walked around parts of Leigh I hadn't really seen before. There was a small shopping precinct with the Leigh Market beside it. This was an indoor market and in a lot of places these seem to be dying out. We often find them with half the stalls empty and a rather desperate sense of a once vibrant heart of the community clinging on for the sake of it. Here in Leigh, however, the hall was bustling and full of life, with all the stalls seemingly let and most of them open for all kinds of fresh meat, vegetables, cheese, fish, as well as clothes, tools, watch menders and the rest and a very busy greasy spoon café. One thing I did notice was the number of stalls selling pies. Almost every food stall seemed to have pies added to its inventory, usually from one of a couple of fiercely competitive local piemakers and sometimes rather incongruously, such as on the fresh fish stall. I suspect Leigh's contribution to the obesity crisis is above the national average!

Arriving back at the boat for the news of a much longer than anticipated delay and working out what to do about it saw off the evening, which brought with it half an hour or so of kids on motor cycles riding up and down the towpath. It was hot and increasingly humid, which may be what brought them out where we had had no such trouble previously. Eventually they disappeared and thankfully it didn't turn into a regular thing each evening.

Where we can go (in blue)

The map shows, in blue, the range we now had available over around five weeks. Clearly, we had time on our hands and didn't need to rush about, so we stayed put at Pennington Flash for a few days over the weekend.

Footling Round The Flash

The weather had been hot and sunny for a while and now it began to get a bit more humid and even overcast on Saturday.

I looked at the map and saw that the area the other side of Plank Lane, to the north, looked a lot like the area around the Flash, so I took Archie over there for a walk. It soon became obvious how much investment had gone into reclaiming the area around Pennington Flash and turning it into a Country Park. Here, on the other side of the village, it was a bleak post-industrial moonscape.

The Pennington Flash Alternative

Many of the paths that were supposed to be there could not be identified and I was struck by the sheer mass of vehicle parts that were scattered all over the area, from electrical components to body parts, chassis members to engine blocks, it looked as if a breakers yard had been blown up.

A Warning For All Land Rover Discovery Owners to "Drive Within Their Capabilities"

We finally lost our route altogether and Archie ended up running about in a fetid bog while we tried to find a way out and back to civilisation.

The next day we tried another route, leaving the canal at Gerard's Bridge, where we had moored on the way down, to try and loop around inland. We met much the same issues. The paths would start out as expected and then quickly fade out of existence. All waymarks would vanish and as you followed a clearly defined path you would arrive at a field boundary and find the ground beyond was completely overgrown with impenetrable brambles and nettles. On occasion we could even see where we wanted to get to but there would be just no way through. In the end we beat a frustrated retreat to follow a road back into Plank Lane.

We did some small jobs around the boat on Friday and Saturday and that night the weather broke with a thunderstorm at two in the morning, followed by prolonged heavy rain, prompting a mad, confused scramble to get the bedroom portholes back in. Sunday the eighteenth of June was Waterloo Day, of course. Grey & overcast from the start with a light wind and much cooler air. We did a circuit of the Flash while the rain held off and then I set about an engine service that was rather overdue. It took a lot longer than any professional engineer could afford, of course but in the end the job got done with no significant issues found and no disasters or major spillages in the process, a positive triumph! It had stayed grey all day but in the late afternoon the rain started again. Heavy, persistent, sometimes with thunder and lightning, right through the evening up to midnight.

We had to move on Monday, just to get to some services. We made a daring, unlicensed, excursion onto the Bridgewater, to wind the boat further down and come back to the service block at Butts Bridge. There was little likelihood of being challenged, particularly as the heavens opened on the journey and we spent most of the trip in torrential rain. Having made it to the facilities we stayed put until the weather cleared a bit before heading back up, once again, to moor up on the CRT side in Leigh.

The sun returned later in the afternoon after another trip into Leigh. At the end of the week we had ordered some items to collect there, where we previously hadn't thought we would have time. One was from Screwfix who, for some reason, have their site a long way out and on the opposite side of the canal to everyone else. The walk there was through a council estate and then out to the industrial parks, a whole new part of Leigh, although certainly not a more attractive part. Coming back, I took a different route that showed the path following the bank of Pennington Brook. The path was there, if a bit overgrown, leading eventually into the back streets of Leigh. It didn't seem that anyone really used this path and no effort had been made to make anything of it but with thousands of people living right next to it, you would have thought it might have been quite a popular route.

There was more heavy rain overnight and heavy, persistent rain started again at seven o'clock. From that grey, wet, miserable start it continued long and hard until one o'clock when it more or less stopped but stayed grey and gloomy. We had another round of shopping to do and as we left the supermarket, the rain was threatening again so, this time, we called a cab. It had arrived almost before I had hung up the phone, whisked us back to the bridge and cost less than a fiver, so full marks to Leigh's taxi services. Finally, about four-thirty, the sun came out and things dried out for a while.

On Wednesday, twenty-first of June, the longest day, we returned to Pennington Flash to find our favourite spot was free and the rest of the boats there pretty much the same group as before. Listening to the birds singing down by the lake, in the last of the daylight at ten-thirty in the evening, it was a bit of a shock to think the nights would now be drawing in.

Summer Solstice At Pennington Flash

We stayed here until the weekend while we caught up with some of the maintenance, enjoyed walks around the nature reserve and talked to some of our neighbours.

It is always interesting to hear the different ways that people manage their time on the water. We had quite a long chat with Tina from "Itchy Feet". English but living in America, she spends four months over winter in the States, while her partner, Andy, lives on the boat in a marina. The other eight months of the year, she comes to the UK and they tour the canals together. When I asked why she didn't just move back to England she became rather thoughtful, as if she hadn't really confronted that idea before. She has grown up children over there but would not see them any less if she lived here and paid visits to the States.

Summer seemed to have returned at this point, although it was rather less settled and generally cooler and fresher than the previous week. By Friday we were very low on water but the day started quite dull so we twice took a couple of water containers down to the tap at Plank Lane bridge to fetch back forty litres at a time. With a large festival trolley it wasn't that difficult but not an ideal way to fill the tank.

Time To Move On

Saturday was a bright morning but humid and by nine o'clock the ice cream and coffee boat, back in place once more, was doing a roaring trade. We finally left shortly after noon, heading for moorings at the old, abandoned Dover Locks, beside which is a once busy pub, now a burnt out shell having been left empty for a while and succumbing to arson at least twice. "White Bear" pulled away a few yards ahead and just as we would need to stop at the water point to fill up properly, naturally enough, so would he. Just leaving, having finished their own fill was "The Duchess" and we had time to exchange greetings in passing. "White Bear" had a big tank and we waited nearly an hour for our shot, before heading off to arrive at Dover Locks and moor just behind him. After a hot, humid afternoon the air cleared for a really nice evening, perfect to get the barbecue out again.

That night Archie, who normally sleeps through until everyone else has got up, asked to go out three times during the small wee hours and clearly had an upset tummy. We tried setting out for a walk next morning but we didn't get more than a few hundred yards before Archie lay down and refused to go any further. In the end, Sue picked him up and carried him back to the boat, while I carried on with the walk.

To one side of the canal here there is a lot of marsh and open farmland. A road crosses the canal just behind the old locks and starts to climb from the small settlement of Dover up a single long hill, past the Post Office, to the church at the top which is the centre of Abram.

Abram's Impressive Church

My route looped out from Dover and circled round to the high ground called Abram's Brow to come back into Abram from the north. At the top here the town does spread out a little but one long road runs along to the church and then turns steeply downhill to the canal. Both sides of this road are lined with terraced houses, as must have been the case in the coal mining heyday.

Abrams Traditional Terraced Street

However, stretches of this terraced street consists of very recently built properties, which seem to have been designed to look similar to the properties they have replaced.

Modern Houses Built along the same long Street

Abram is a dormitory town now, still thriving because of its position between Leigh, Wigan, Warrington and Manchester but with not much to commend it in terms of appearance or points of interest. One thing I did find, opposite the church, was a monument to John Elisha Grimshaw, born in Abram and awarded a Victoria Cross for his part in the landing at Gallipoli with First Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers in nineteen-fifteen.

One Of The 'Six Before Breakfast' at Gallipoli

The battalion lost nearly six hundred of the thousand men who landed but the bravery shown by Grimshaw and his comrades won them six Victoria Crosses in all, which became known as the 'six VC's before breakfast'.

Farewell To Wigan

On Monday morning, Twenty-Sixth of June, we moved on back up to Scotsman's Flash. It was a very short run and we found only one other boat there and that was just about to leave. It was altogether calmer than our previous visit, given that it was a Monday although quite a crowd came out to promenade in the evening. Archie was still listless and out of sorts. Given that this was probably going to be the easiest place to find a vet for a while, we rang one in Wigan and booked an appointment for the afternoon. They found nothing to be too concerned about, although we did come away with a course of antibiotics and some painkillers.

Later, I went for a walk around the Wigan Flashes on the opposite side of the canal. At some point quite a lot of work had gone in to setting this up as the Wigan Flashes Nature Reserve. It had plenty of paths through the wetlands and information boards and quite an elaborate entrance way. Possibly a bit too elaborate. Just as I worked out the words which, looked at from the right direction, say "Wigan Flashes", a cyclist stopped and told me he came through every day and had never realised what it said before.

Slightly Too Ornate Entry Way To Wigan Flashes

Back at the boat, it got to about eight-thirty and there was a knock on the side. We went out to find two sturdy Lancashire lasses and a cockapoo who wanted to borrow some sort of net to try and rescue a duck. Sue went up and helped remove some fishing line wrapped around the leg of what turned out to be a goose, while Archie and I watched from a safe distance.

We decided to stay one more day while we waited for evidence of Archie's condition. We had a lot of fine, warm rain in the morning, which was an opportunity to put another coat of varnish on the A-frame of the cratch. As that cleared away, since we had, so far, only really seen the area by the canal, we went off to have a look around Wigan town itself. The area round Trencherfield Mill by the canal always looks interesting.

Trencherfield Mill

Although it no longer hosts the Academy Of Live and Recorded Arts (North), which went bust in two thousand and twenty-two.

We found 'Wigan Central', the railway-themed pub, recommended by Mike Fielding but ended up having a sandwich from the 'Hideout', a café bar next door, before heading under the many railway tracks and past the two separate railway stations on opposite sides of Wallgate, the main street up into the town centre.

It seems a pretty standard northern town, with all the usual suspects and some more individual local shops as well as a couple of small shopping precincts.  However, the heart of the town was being completely ripped apart with a huge development project.

Town Centre Improvements In Wigan

Presumably this is part of the 'levelling up' dividend and it is hard to tell how it might look if it is ever finished. Right now, it is best described as a right mess. It certainly isn't a place to attract many visitors in its own right while this is going on, although we did find one or two better looking features along the way.

Smart-looking Wigan Little Theatre in Crompton Street

Posted in Archie, Cruises, Long Haul, Parting Shot.

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