23 May 2008

Gone but not forgotten

One of the endless fascinations of the canal system in the UK is the ever changing landscape. A landscape that even has the courtesy to look different when you come back the other way. A landscape too that presents a different face according to which season we’re in. This last trip up to Burscough Bridge on the L&L presented us with some of the most unnaturally natural – or should that be most naturally unnatural scenery we’ve seen in a long time.

From Leigh to Wigan you are accompanied by acres of nature reserve, open space, meres and reservoirs, all haunted by the preserved pit head at Astley Green (now a museum) that is the one clue to a darker, dirtier, grittier past. The coal mines have long gone, the land subsiding in sympathy at the loss of another industrial heartland. But their loss is very much the boaters’ gain, with a deep, lock-free cut speeding you on your way to Wigan. You’re conscious though that this is not really how it should be. Today’s ‘leisure amenity’ sits unconvincingly atop the land’s original purpose, still raw, still echoing; the bird calls compete with the hum of the colliery winding gear, the twitchers and dog walkers stroll with proud men dressed in coal dust, glistening eyes staring out of blackened faces. No, the new doesn’t quite exorcise the ghosts of the past but that surely is a good thing.

P.S. On a travel note, if you stop at Worsley at the facilities moorings, then you’ll find the water tap inside the loos, which can be opened with your BW key. Not that obvious so worth passing on. And just across the road, near to the pedestrian crossing, is an excellent coffee and sandwich bar – very friendly service and decent value too.

P.P.S I've been stupid enough to lose all my photos of this part of the trip but there are a few shots on Google Earth that will give you a taste of this unique area

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