Despite today’s heavy rain forecast, it was a beautiful sunny morning so we headed for Pennington Flash before it changed its mind! The area is basically a flooded coal mine with an abundance of wildlife, walks and play areas for the children. There are bird-watching Hides scattered all around, and in the Visitor Information Centre there’s a list of the variety of feathered friends that have been spotted at one time or another. We only saw a few: Heron, Magpie and Lapwing! The Lapwings were the ones we’d not seen previously, and were very impressive viewed from one of the Hides with some fellow bird-watchers.
View across the 'Flash' which is used for a myriad of activities, including sailing
All sorts of birds seemingly getting on all right together
Of course there were also many ducks and swans around, and Barry got up close and personal with a few of them, teasing them into believing that he had food to share whilst allowing them to peck his fingers as is his want! He even stroked one brave swan’s feathers more than once without it hissing at him; I think he has a bit of a thing for young birds!
Sandra following blindly in a trance, outside one of the Hides
The beautifully coloured Lapwings
Next stop was a visit to Leigh as we’d read that there’s a fine Baroque Town Hall in the Market Place. The town centre was a little tired looking, lots of pubs for sale and derelict buildings, but the Town Hall was indeed an elegant building inside and out.
There we read a series of information boards telling the story of The Spinning Jenny, that was reportedly invented by Thomas Highs of Leigh and NOT James Hargreaves who Sir Richard Arkwright credited with it – Hargreaves improved on Highs’ design that he’d built years before, and it's said he is the true genius of the Industrial Revolution cottontimes.co.uk/hargreaveso.htm
'The Boar's Head' an attractive pub in town
Plenty of flowers scattered round the town centre
Lovely baroque style stairway in the Town Hall
Information boards and tile painting of the original 'Spinning Jenny' on display
The main shopping area in Leigh
The taxi stand must have been designed around the time the 'Jetsons' were on TV
We didn’t prolong our visit to Leigh, and returned to the canal by lunchtime. The water there is so clear you can see the bottom in most places which was quite surreal – it’s probably best not to know what’s down there – we spotted a few bikes, a metal bowl, pushchairs and children’s plastic toys, traffic cones, the springs of a mattress, round wooden tables from the pub across the way and an array of indistinguishable metal objects! A positive aspect was that there were also plenty of small fish swimming around.
The 'stop plank crane' that marks the border between the 'Leeds & Liverpool' and 'Bridgewater' canals at Leigh
The Bridgewater Canal is not ‘owned’ by British Waterways but is run by The Manchester Ship Canal Company and boats with a BW license can use it for a limited period – Nicholson’s suggests only seven days but we haven’t noticed anyone restricting usage so far . The canal was built over 250 years ago and was the brainchild of Francis Egerton, the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater, who’d seen a canal in France and been inspired by the concept (http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/bridgewater/bri2.htm). It took a lot to persuade the powers that be of the merits of a canal, and swallowed a large chunk of his personal fortune, but he persevered and it revolutionised the transport system in the north of England (and he made all his money back and then some!). It was also the first canal that James Brindley worked on, a famous canal engineer whose statue we photographed in Coventry Basin.
One of the great things about this canal is that there are no locks. Unfortunately however, we’re only staying on it as far as Manchester where we’ll encounter more than enough to make up for the break!
Leaving Leigh - plenty of disused or partly used old buildings around here that haven't been turned into apartments yet!
Quite majestic really!
Lovely new housing along this stretch
'Leigh Spinners', the sign across the front of this mill says
A little boat for Monique complete with a set of creatures
Nice to be back with bridges you don't have to swing or lift
Amazing peacock just meandering along the side of the canal as we passed
We moored for lunch at Astley Green so that Barry could visit the Pit Museum there. I tried to get out of it, but after he’d left the boat he called to say he’d left his memory card in the laptop so I had to take it to him and have bit of a look around (as it was free!). Unsurprisingly I was the only female around, apart from the models of the women who were unfortunate enough to have worked in the mines. We think we have life hard today, but boy the women and children of those times must’ve worked so hard as well as the men. One woman’s narrative told of how she’d worked up until the day one of her children; in fact she gave birth in the pit and brought the baby up with her wrapped in her skirt! Luckily she wasn't wearing the handed down male trousers on that day, or it would’ve been a different story! Another told of how she’d given birth to eight children but only four of them were born alive. The children worked in the mines from the age of five or six; it’s inconceivable today isn’t it? Barry will regale you now with tales of big engines …
The main entrance to the colliery which must have been a dreaded sight each morning to the workers
The 'Pit Head'
The ginormous (yes it IS a word, we've checked!) 3300HP Yates & Thom steam winder built in 1912, the largest in Europe, that drove the winch to bring the coal to the surface
Apparently they were able to bring the coal up 800ft in two minutes
Both engines would be able to run if they could get enough steam or compressed air to fill their vast cylinders
Prior to mechanisation, horses, women and children were used to haul huge loads along the tunnels and to the surface. The horses spent their entire working life underground in virtual darkness, never seeing daylight.
It was an interesting little museum with machinery in various states of renovation and free entry, though only open at limited times. agcm.org.uk/museum.shtml
The pub up the road was advertising a quiz night this evening, so we thought we’d stay put. As we approach Manchester we’re aware that we’ll be back in a large city, so want to make the most of the remaining countryside and not rush our journey. We’ve also heard on the radio today that there’s been some gang related problems in Manchester, which is a tad disconcerting!
The quiz night was fun and it was a great little pub (Ross's Arms). Following the quiz there was a game of 'bingo' played unusually with six playing cards, and I won the second game and got 20 quid! Yaay! That paid for our night out. A local trio also had their practice session later on, and sang some tantalising harmonies; they even managed a chorus of 'There'll be bluebells over, the White Cliffs of Dover' on request from Jim!