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.
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.
We walked past Trencherfield Mill, an impressive building.
Then it was on to the canal side proper where we saw the first of those locks.
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.
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!).
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.