The Road to Wigan Pier

Back from the South of France and no surprise that the weather didn’t match those dizzy heights of daily sunshine, hot temperatures and blue skies. Rainy, dismal and grey but still determined to get out and about, we ended up in an unlikely place – Wigan Pier. Having found a trail that looked interesting – alongside the Leeds Liverpool Canal and past 23 canal locks up to Top Lock, we packed our rain coats and set off.

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Before this trip my knowledge of Wigan Pier centered around the George Orwell novel, all “filthy slums and slag heaps” and not really painting a great picture of the Industrial North. We started our walk at the famous “pier” – not a pier at all but a coal truck tipping frame. Orwell’s view of this place was just one part of the real story, the town was once a driving force in the region’s economy. Nowadays though Wigan Pier and this whole area just seemed a little sad and a little run down, a shame.

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We walked past Trencherfield Mill, an impressive building.

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Then it was on to the canal side proper where we saw the first of those locks.

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This is quite incredible. Twenty three locks take canal boats from the bottom to the final lock – Top Lock. An impressive feat of engineering by any measure but more so having learnt they were built around 1816. Over the three miles to Top Lock the ground rises 200 feet. Impressive to see the locks anyway, but even better on that Sunday afternoon when there were plenty of boats going through. We did realise what hard work it all entailed. Husband’s dream of a peaceful canal boat holiday took on a bit of a reality check.

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We carried on along the tow path and the scenery changed from urban to much more green and pleasant. We saw a sign for Kirklees Hall – the one time site of the Kirklees Coal and Iron Company but didn’t venture off the track. They once mined cannel here, supposedly a coal type substance. Unlike coal it was very clean and used to make the ladies toilet seats in nearby Haigh Hall – the kind of fact that appeals to me (and Son!).

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A gentle climb up to Top Lock where at last the sun came out, we cracked open our picnic and looked back down over those incredible locks.

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23 thoughts on “The Road to Wigan Pier

  1. This is just lovely to read about my home town! Did you make it to Haigh Hall for a little look there too? Wigan Pier used to be a great tourist attraction and museum but, unfourtnatly, they shut it down. They have the museum in the town centre now instead! Hopefully, it felt different to how Orwell originally described it all of those years ago!

    • We had a great day out here Amy and really enjoyed it – nothing like Orwell’s description!! Didn’t make it quite as far as Haigh Hall but that’s definitely a place we would like to see sometime too. Interesting to know the museum is in the town centre as well – maybe we can combine the two!

  2. So interesting Joy – not a part of the world I know much about and obviously has a lot of historical interest too. I always think canal holidays look so dreamy and relaxing too but that must be if you have someone doing all the lock changes for you!! Glad you managed to get your picnic in too! Hope you have a lovely weekend đŸ™‚

    • It’s not so far from us Rosemary but I had never been before and knew nothing about the area either. My father-in-law saw something about the locks on the news and mentioned it to us so when I found this walking trail it all seemed to go together! The weather was not quite South of France standards but we did manage a picnic with some sunshine. Hope your weekend is a great one too.

      • I looked up the trail as a result of your post Joy and it sounded so interesting! I was a bit confused as I thought Kirklees was in Yorkshire but think Kirklees Hall is nearer Wigan so maybe they aren’t linked? So many locks – must have been quite an engineering feat back in the day! The idea of the toilet seats made out of that coal derivative sounds intriguing too!! Not quite the south of France but as you say at least the sun came out in the end đŸ™‚

    • We are big fans of towpaths too, cycling and walking but never even considered Wigan before even though it’s not so far for us. It was an interesting find though, once you get a little way along the towpath the scenery becomes pretty and those locks are incredible. Worth visiting in the summer on a weekend when plenty of boats go through!

  3. Terry Darlington wrote a charming book entitled “Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier.” It was the third of his books about sailing in a narrow boat with his wife and a whippet. He’s a lovely writer and I recommend all three of his books to you and your readers.

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