7 June 2018
We pulled up at Withnell Fold, intrigued by what the Nicholson guide had said. It was indeed a village built (around an older farm) in 1843 to support the paper mill that was founded by the side of the canal by Sir Thomas Blinkhorn Parke. Peter wasn’t sure why we were bothering. But as with so many aspects of this voyage, our days and places are full of surprises.
For a start, the old aqueduct (now underground) built to bring water from Thirlmere Reservoir to Manchester, ran through the village.
It’s a 95.9-mile-long water supply system built by the Manchester Corporation Water Works between 1890 and 1925, to carry approximately 55,000,000 imperial gallons per day of water from Thirlmere Reservoir to Manchester. The first water to arrive in Manchester from the Lake District was marked with an official ceremony on 13 October 1894. It is the longest gravity-fed aqueduct in the country, with no pumps along its route. The water flows at a speed of 4 miles per hour and takes just over a day to reach the city. The level of the aqueduct drops by approximately 20 inches per mile of its length. In the Museum, the next day, we saw a picture of Thirlmere.
The horseshoe of cottages that Blinkhorn Parke were built from stone extracted from the ground when he dug the lodges (water reservoirs) needed to supply the paper mill.
Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953) had lived at number nine,
after her marriage to Bert Wilson. She first came to public notice when she lived at Silloth where he was the bank manager, and she won the gold cup at the 1938 Workington Festival. Radio work followed, and her national and international career took off, to be curtailed by her early death from breast cancer. We caught up with her again, later that day, in the Museum in Blackburn.
It hadn’t been a happy marriage. Unconsummated, in fact. Though they kept up appearances until after they were amicably divorced. Kathleen told a friend later that she’d once said to Bert that she’d hope he’d make more fuss of her. He’d replied ‘Why chase a bus when you’ve already caught it?’
Blow the wind southerly, indeed.
Withnell Fold Methodist Chapel was the centre of life in this little village of about 300 residents. We were shown around by Lorna, who explained that Blinkhorn Parke was Methodist, so there was a reading room in the village but no pub.
The reading room is now a private home, so the chapel is used every day for an after school club, and various functions and events. The WI. The AA.
Kathleen Ferrier sang and played the piano there, often, said Lorna. And again, that evening, when we had supper with Jonathan and Emma, Emma told us how her grandmother, Beatrice Livesey, who was a concert pianist, accompanied Kathleen – Klever Kath, as she called herself, KK – often at King George’s Hall, in Blackburn.
Those were days of such musicality within our national life. As Scruton argues, just part of our common culture.
Lorna said how difficult it was to build up the young families even though there is a village school (which used to be Methodist). The staff are really helpful and do as much as they can for the church, but church members have to be very careful about what might be perceived as proselytizing. There were parents who’d chosen the school because it wasn’t a church school.
‘But at least some of the families go past us to the Methodist church in the next village.’ She said there was a Scout troop there, too, at St Paul’s CofE, that had 80 members. It has seen tremendous growth over the last year or so. All the churches were doing well in the next village – the RC, the CofE, the Methodists. But they were going to lose their minister soon – moving on, as Methodist ministers do. She worried he wouldn’t be replaced.
The paper mill stopped work in 1967. The tower has been saved from demolition by the villagers, and there are plans to restore it.
A strange, manufactured place, with soul as long as the chapel lasts, I thought. It seemed that Lorna – and the 12 or so others who worship there every Sunday – held much of the continuity for the rest of the 300 residents of Withnell Fold.
Onwards to Riley Green for the night. Peter and I took it in turns to walk the towpath. We saw a deer
some beautiful fungi
and three men on a boat.
‘Where’s Montmorency?’ Peter asked. Only one of them got it.
Then under the M65.
A visit to Hoghton Tower, the home of the de Hoghton family since the Norman Conquest. It was there, on the hill above, just waiting to be visited.
They were flying my shower curtain.
Peter posed. I couldn’t persuade him to bare his buttocks, though.
The house gave stunning views over the surrounding countryside towards the Wirral. ‘You can see Snowdon when the air is clear. Either when it’s just rained, or just about to,’ an elderly guide told us.
He wanted the Long Walk opened, but it’s too overgrown. Pendle Hill away to the north. Blackburn to come, in the East.
Hay that looked perfect in the warm sunshine, as we walked alongside a wall, a thing of beauty.
A cow lick that no doubt came from Cheshire.
It’s beautiful countryside, this West Lancashire cotton country. The accents change from place to place for those with ears to hear. Walking it at the pace of a narrowboat, and you hear the rhythms, much as you do when you read the psalms slowly. The joggers and cyclists speed by; the fishers find their places to settle for the hours ahead.
Then Peter walks for a bit.
When we walk together, I’m always out in front. ‘I’m worried’, I say to him, ‘that if I slow down to your pace, you’ll slow down even further, and we’ll gradually stop.’ An interesting reflection on our marriage. He lives with his frustration that this is what I do, just as I live with the anxiety. Then, when we read the psalms together at morning prayer, I leave much longer pauses. He’s more likely to cut them short, and hurry on to the next verse. I live with frustration too.
Pace. Rhythm. So important. ‘It feels like I’m finding a different pace and rhythm to my life’, I say to Peter. As he is. We’re learning to walk together after years of walking differently. He has strode the corridors of hospitals at a pace I can barely keep up. I know. I’ve tried. Now he wants to go too slow.
‘A home is not a home without a dog.’
We’re at the Royal Oak (Riley Green, having just descended from Hoghton Tower), drinking Wainwright.
‘But you won’t be there to look after it. I tell you, if you’re away for more than a couple of nights, it’ll be in the local kennels.’ ‘It’s a great way of getting to know people,’ I say, as we continue this perennial argument. ‘I have in mind a Patterdale terrier’, I say. ‘They are impossible to train’, says Peter. ‘A mature dog’, I say. ‘We can take it for walks. I really miss not having a dog while we walk the towpaths, don’t you? Besides, it’ll keep you company while I’m in Durham’. Peter looks like he knows he’s not going to win this one. But he’s giving it all he’s worth. It’s a peculiar look he has. ‘You loved Phoebe’. The dog who had to be put to sleep last July, aged 17 and a quarter. ‘I loved Phoebe’, Peter conceded. I left it at that. We sat in silence for a while. ‘There’s a buzzard’, said Peter. ‘We could choose it together.’ I said. ‘There’s a swallow.’ Said Peter. ‘Lots of them’, I say. We smile at each other.
The next morning, and we’re at the first lock in Blackburn by nine am. ‘That was a bit of a bugger’, says Peter, as we walk to the next. The paddles were hard to lift. But then we meet another boat coming down the flight of six, and both grin. That means all the other locks will be in our favour – empty. Lock 3 opens as if by magic, while Peter is still behind me, closing the paddles on lock 2. There’s a lock keeper.
I ask him where’s best to moor. ‘Best to go on through Blackburn’, he said. ‘No, we really want to stop in Blackburn for the night’, I explain. ‘That last boat moored up at Eanam Wharf. They had no trouble. There’s nowt else’. He leaned on the gate as the lock filled, and the Lark ascended, slowly, surrounded by muddy water and plastic bottles. I muse on the psalms, and water. Peter catches up, and leans on the other gate. “Where’s a good place to moor?” I heard him ask. I could hear, above the sound of the engine, and the swirling of the water around, ten feet below, the lock keeper repeat what he’d said to me. ‘Eanam Wharf is just beyond bridge 103. You won’t miss it.’
There’s a couple of other boats there, so we moor up right outside the Calypso Restaurant, where we’ve already arranged to meet Jonathan and Emma for a meal. Jonathan is training at Mirfield – end of his first year of three – and Emma is a teacher. She’s Blackburn, born and bred. He was born on a housing estate on the hill over there, now demolished. His father had been a midwife – ‘the only male, but not the only one with a beard’, said Jonathan, repeating what his father used to say. His father is now a priest in Bolton. His mother was a teacher. They’d met on a mission in India. Emma’s grandma – the one who’d played for Kathleen Ferrier – had encouraged her to develop her music. ‘She bought me my first flute’, said Emma. She was a Livesey. Emma and Jonathan now live in the suburb we’ve just passed through, near Livesey Bridge. That’s the same family, said Jonathan.
We have a wonderful platter of Caribbean food laid before us,
and talk of Mirfield, of the seriousness of the life there, its disciplines and routines, its communal life and prayer. Jonathan and Emma have loved their first year.
Emma has noticed things and people, as I have, that you do when you’re on the margins.
We talk about the psalms, and how frustrated Jonathan was to begin with, saying them so slowly. But now, how he loves it. It’s like you chew them over, I say, tucking into jerk chicken.
Jonathan’s on placement in Ribchester. They are both relaxed about where he’ll serve his curacy, though Emma wonders whether she’ll have to find another job. We talk about somewhere people, and nowhere people, and I can’t remember the name of the person who wrote the book last year (The Road to Somewhere, by David Goodhart). We talk about institutions, and how they suffer from a hermeneutic of suspicion, to the extent they are no longer trusted at all. I think of the Methodist Chapel at Withnell Fold. How trustworthy it is, but how it’s not trusted to share its faith. We talk of the Cathedral in Blackburn, and the latest news that’s struck the press.
Earlier, before evening office, Peter and I had caught up with Canon Rowena, who had been a tutor at Mirfield, and is now a Residentiary canon.
She’s settling happily, though straight into a time of difficulty. The new Dean, Peter, will be glad of her as a colleague, I said to Peter. Rowena showed us around the new house she lives in. It’s a bit bizarre as a house. ‘But I’ll make it work,’ said Rowena.
We’ll be back for the Eucharist the next morning, we promised. It’s Bishop Philip presiding, who’s a Residentiary canon too. It’ll be good to catch up with him.
And then, tomorrow at 12 noon, we tell Jonathan and Emma, we’re seeing Lois – another ordinand at Mirfield, who’s going to join us for lunch – as we eat pineapple and banana in a wonderful Jamaica Rum sauce, before returning for tea on the boat. Not far to go. Just over the fence.
‘I must talk to her’, says a rather inebriated young woman, sitting outside the pub. ‘I’ve always wanted a boat like that,’ she slurs. ‘When I grow up, I’m going to get a boat like that’. Her boyfriend encourages her to come along.
We say good night to her and hope she finds her dream. We say our good byes to Jonathan and Emma and descend, closing the hatch doors over our privacy.
More of Blackburn to come. There’s the Cathedral. And the Museum. And a city that’s filling its 4000 holes with much evidence of regeneration and vibrancy.