Sunday 17 June 2018

We awake to the sound of curlews. It’s an evocative cry, or more a whistle; drawn out and melancholic.

The bird life is good, here at Snaygill, even with the A65 just there, on the other side of the canal and hedge. Two pairs of swans with three cygnets each; one pair are good parents; the other much less experienced, we’ve gathered. Lapwings in the fields; and yes, larks as well. We can hear warblers churring away. Yesterday evening there were a good number – at least 30 – swifts wheeling high above, and swallows fast and skillful, alongside as we walked the towpath to Bradley, the next village.

Our mooring is alongside another boat which is painted almost exactly the same colours. We’re looking forward to meeting its owners. One of their friends popped along to have a chat on Friday evening. Once we get to know folk, we think we’ll be happy here. It’s almost exactly 100 miles from Liverpool.IMG_0539

As we arrive, we’re thinking of Hugh and Sammy who are on the other side of the world, visiting Theo and Hsuan in Taiwan. It’s Father’s Day today, and WhatsApp is busy.



With Tilda and Al – we’re blessed.

Skipton is a great town.

We set off from Gargrave on Friday morning early, the wind still significant, but nothing like Hector the day before.

Six locks – this is the last one, number 219 that I’ve gone through, with Viv, or Jenny or Peter’s help –


– and three swing bridges and we were into Skipton, with three more swing bridges, lifting the roads, making cars and people wait.

There was Black Velvet, moored up (Steve and Linda’s boat, that we went up the Wigan Flight with). No sign of them. And lots of other boats. A great atmosphere. We passed the junction of the Springs Branch, which is restricted to boats under 35ft, unless you’re confident you can reverse out avoiding moored craft.

The branch was opened in 1797 (the year Edmund Burke died) to enable Lord Thanet, who lived in Skipton Castle, to load his limestone, brought from the quarries by tramroad, to be taken to Leeds. It runs for half a mile, then becomes a ravine through ravishingly beautiful old woodland, now managed by the Woodland Trust. Peter and I walked up later that afternoon, after we’d enjoyed pies and mushy peas (Skipton is famous for them – the pies, that is. Mushy peas are not necessary something to be famous for).




Then we visited Holy Trinity Church, where once I preached when I was at Bradford, and Adrian Botwright was Rector. The church is lovely. We’ll go back on Sunday morning.


We’d walked into Skipton from Snaygill, once we’d met Sean and moored up, and signed a contract to say we won’t live aboard, or have too many cars in the carpark. He’d directed us to a laundry, tucked away behind the Plaza Cinema, which saw us lugging heavy bags up and down steep streets, until we found the laundry who managed to wash and dry everything in a couple of hours. Giving us time to wander. The Oxfam bookshop was a great place. I managed to find a copy of Lark Rise to Candleford.


It’s been in my mind, to read it again. Horribly sentimental as the TV adaptation, but a really interesting piece of social history – and also, it gives a baseline for biodiversity, then in the 1880s. The introduction by Hugh Massingham worth reading again.

George Monbiot, in his book Feral, explains that the natural world we grow up with is the one we think is normal. That’s the baseline we use to decide whether the natural world around us is degrading or improving. So the baseline Peter and I have is from the 1970s, before farming intensification really set in. Our memory is of species – flycatchers, hawfinches, corn buntings, butterflies – many of which are now rare, or have faded out.

Our children, on the other hand, have no such memory. What they think of as normal is ash die-back, no elm trees, and exotics, like Japanese knotweed. To read Flora Thompson gives another baseline – hers, from the 1880s: ‘stoats crossed the road in front of the children’s feet – swift, silent, stealthy creatures which made them shudder; bands of little blue butterflies flitted here and there or poised themselves with quivering wings on the long grass bents; bees hummed in the white clover blooms, and over all a deep silence brooded’. (p. 35).

Lark Rise to Candleford. Larkrise to Skipton.

I’ve been trying to work out what this blog is really about. It’s been a travelogue, of course – tracing the daily, onward chugging from Prickwillow to Skipton, up through the heart of England, along a route that isn’t the normal one, any more, to get from A to B. Six weeks, and blessed by the weather. It’s been idyllic – the chance to think deeply about my life, and sense of vocation, as Peter and I begin a new chapter in Cumbria.

The canals are a delight – and should be a national park in their own right, dedicated to preserving and developing the biodiversity that flourishes in these corridors of wildlife. You see a different country from them, often high above, or contouring around, the local landscape; or taken directly into the heart of cities, unseen by the traffic and busyness around.

They were built for one purpose, and now have another – which is to provide the opportunity to slow down – whether on a boat, or a cycle, or on foot. The water and the towpaths are extrordinary. They give the chance for a different attention to the world around to grow and be nurtured.

As I’ve travelled with Viv, then Jenny, then Peter, it’s been a personal journey too. I’ve been surprised by my continuing sense of loss, even of lament. Reading Mark Cocker certainly focused my sense of lament for the losses sustained by the natural world around (and how long can that continue?).

But also the loss of an England that has passed – many Englands that have passed – from the 18C when the canals were being built, through their heyday in the 1830s, and then the development of different travel and communications systems, to the world of speed and instantaneity that we rely on today. There’s a loss to that – of care, community – which I believe was expressed significantly as people voted Brexit. I’ve been wondering about the deeply felt yearning for a past England, for different baselines, that motivates people today, who find themselves living either too fast, or too crowded, or too lonely. This isn’t nostalgia. It’s a desire for belonging.

And the Church. The way it offers belonging is so often the old-fashioned sense of rootedness; of living along others; of caring. The Church doesn’t thrive in a world where all is instrumental and contractual. And it’s not found a way to commend its traditions to generations who have not been formed with church-going, choir-singing habits.

The churches we’ve visited have held a sense of the Other, of God – Ely, Wadenhoe, Peterborough, Brinklow, Manchester, Wigan, Blackburn, Accrington, Skipton. It takes attention though, allowing the right hemisphere to soak in the encounter; the left hemisphere to stop analysing, controlling.

Perhaps that’s what I’ve been seeking, as I’ve undertaken this personal voyage. My own re-engagement with what is other to me – in the natural world around; in the different element of water; in the built environment of village, town, city; in the churches I’ve visited, the conversations and people I’ve met.

In Why Rousseau Was Wrong I explored how Roger Scruton explains the importance of a sense of loss. In Gentle Regrets, he describes how he regained his religion, and writes movingly about loss. He concludes the book with his reflections on the Jubilate Deo, Psalm 100. ‘Once we came before God’s presence with a song; now we come before his absence with a sigh’, he laments. What might it be like to lose religion, to lose what the Church of England brings to national life? Scruton writes in his final chapter ‘Regaining my Religion’:

If you see things in that way you will find it difficult to share the view of Enlightenment thinkers that religious decline is no more than the loss of false beliefs; still less will you be able to accept the postmodernist vision of the world now liberated from absolutes, in which each of us constructs guidelines of his own, and that the only agreement that counts is the agreement to differ. The decline of Christianity, I maintain, involves, for many people, not the freedom from religious need, but the loss of concepts that would enable them to assuage it and, by assuaging it, to open their knowledge and their will to the human reality. For them the loss of religion is an epistemological loss – a loss of knowledge. Losing that knowledge is not a liberation but a fall.

In our civilisation, therefore, religion is the force that has enabled us to bear our losses and so to face them as truly ours. The loss of religion makes real loss difficult to bear; hence people begin to flee from loss, to make light of it, or to expel from themselves the feelings that make it inevitable. . . . Modern people pursue not penitence but pleasure, in the hope of achieving a condition in which renunciation is pointless since there is nothing to renounce. Renunciation of love is possible only when you have learned to love. This is why we see emerging a kind of contagious hardness of heart, an assumption on every side that there is no tragedy, no grief, no mourning, for there is nothing to mourn. There is neither love nor happiness – only fun. For us, one might be tempted to suggest, the loss of religion is the loss of loss . . . Except that the loss need not occur. (Scruton, Gentle Regrets, pp. 225–239 passim.)

It’s a passage that’s stayed with me since I first read it. It begins to come close to a constant sense of lament that I feel  – particularly as I contemplate the natural world around under such pressure; but also as I think about the Church and what it has meant, and could offer more, to enable the encounter with what is Other in our lives.

In my next book Full of Character I explore the distinction between autonomy and heteronomy. The engagement with what is other to us is the key. That’s what’s been the main thing I’ve gained from the last six weeks. Letting go of that all-pervasive sense of autonomy that we value so much in Western culture today, and embracing what heteronomy offers – the engagement with otherness.

Friends are the most obvious. Friendship is one of the best places to be.

We celebrated our arrival not with a large gathering, but with six old friends from Lancashire and Yorkshire – Harry and Eth,IMG_0534

whom we’ve met before as they’ve helped with laundry, and opened lock after lock up the Wigan Flight. Harry, bless him, has provided us with a shore to boat electrical line out of one of his four sheds.

Thelma has been a constant friend since we left Bradford, and David and Sally too.

Here’s Thelma and Sally …


Jacquie is the reason we’re at Snaygill. She and her brother have a boat here.

So they all came for lunch on Saturday, and a walk along the towpath. Unfortunately, David, and Jacquie, had to leave straight after lunch. But here’s the rest of us.


Today, Sunday, Peter and I leave for Workington. So the trip is over. I need to get up, now, to go to Church!

Thank you for following the blog thus far. I’m thinking of continuing …

but not from The Lark Ascending, as she now is at rest (for the time being) at Snaygill.




The first day of real wind, as Storm Hector blows across the British isles on Thursday 14 June.

Stein Connelly, Operator Manager for Transport Scotland has said, “The strong winds and rain may lead to difficult driving conditions, particularly for high-sided vehicles.  As always, motorists should take extra time to plan journeys, follow police advice and drive appropriate to conditions.  The strong wind may impact rail, air and ferry services, so travellers should check with operators to see if their journeys will be affected.”

Narrowboats are surprisingly susceptible. You’d think their weight and power would simply plough on through any wind – but it’s easy to be blown off course, and end up on a lee bank. Then it’s very hard, sometimes impossible, to manoeuvre off, with the wind holding you there.

So Thursday dawned with the gale still raging, and we set off from Foulridge northwards towards Barnoldswick – Barlick, as the locals call it – and from there, towards Gargrave, where we thought we’d stay the night. If we got there.

The Met Office has started naming storms. It helps to alert people that they need to be ready for this one.

And it was wild at times – with the trees thrashing around, threatening to drop branches on us as we chugged along. Thankfully not many other boats. Some near misses, as the wind drove us towards moored vessels.

This stretch of the canal is beautiful – perhaps the most beautiful of the whole Leeds Liverpool – so we’ll have to be back to enjoy it without the strain and concentration required, thanks to Hector.


The countryside is green and rolling, with the canal contouring around through fields and villages.


Were we still in Lancashire? It didn’t feel like it, anymore. It felt like Yorkshire. Pendle Hill was still brooding over us behind, but very soon the Yorkshire moors could be seen in the distance before us, and the Pennine Way joined the canal towpath for stretches, on its way to the Scottish borders (or, if you’re Simon Armitage, walking home from Scotland, described in his excellent 2012 book).


We pulled up in Barnoldswick. A bloke with his dog stopped to talk, to commend the town. The Rolls Royce social club was the place to eat, if we were here overnight. There was a real, traditional grocers in town. The dog – a staffy (true, not American, with a lovely smile and boisterousness) fell in the canal as she misjudged the boat distance. He warned her of a shower when they got home. She knew the word.

The town is obviously competing for the ‘town in bloom’ award. Flowers everywhere; local businesses supporting ‘Barlick in Bloom’ – because, of course, the name is shortened (even more than Oswaldtwistle is. (Ossletwistle).) The Civic Hall had it


The local Indian more colloquially.


We wandered, looking for the grocers, and found some delightful shops, and a market square, thriving with life.

The grocers was run by Sikhs, with a range of vegetables – some you’d expect, others not.  Then a coffee at a cake shop.


On our way back to TLA we passed the Rolls Royce works.


Just on the day when cuts of 4,600 jobs are announced. One of the reasons Barlick feels so resilient are the number of businesses we came across. Let’s hope Rolls-Royce here won’t be too affected – it looks like the head office in Derby is going to take the brunt, according to the Lancashire Telegraph.

Back to the boat and the canal has white horses. Never seen that before. The wind is hectoring – a good name. It leaves me tired, disgruntled, irritable. I think of that poem Wedding Wind by Larkin of the wind of disappointment through the wedding joy of a new bride. And also of L M Montgomery’s character Emily, who would imagine the Wind Woman bringing her poetic soul to life, in Emily of New Moon.

L M Montgomery, Emily of New Moon, 1928, p13ff: Emily is talking to her image in the mirror.

She loved the spruce barrens, away at the further end of the long, sloping pasture. That was a place where magic was made. … And the barrens were such a splendid place in which to play hide-and-seek with the Wind Woman. She was so very real there; if you could just spring quickly enough around a little cluster of spruces – only you never could – you would see her as well as feel her and hear her. There she was – that was the sweep of her grey cloak – no, she was laughing up in the very top of the taller trees – and the chase was on again – till, all at once, it seemed as if the Wind Woman were gone – and the evening was bathed in a wonderful silence – and there was a sudden rift in the curdled clouds westward, and a lovely, pale, pinky-green lake of sky with a new moon in it.

And then, for one glorious, supreme moment, came ‘the flash’.

Emily called it that, although she felt that the name didn’t exactly describe it. It couldn’t be described – not even to father, who always seemed a little puzzled by it. Emily never spoke if it to anyone else.

It always seemed to Emily, ever since she could remember, that she was very, very near to a world of wonderful beauty. Between it and herself hung only a thin curtain; she could never draw the curtain aside – but sometimes, just for a moment, a wind fluttered it, and then it was as if she caught a glimpse of the enchanting realm beyond – only a glimpse – and heard a note of unearthly music.

This moment came rarely – went swiftly, leaving her breathless with the inexpressible delight of it. She could never recall it – never summon it – never pretend it; but the wonder of it stayed with her for days. It never came twice with the same thing. Tonight the dark boughs against that far-off sky had given it. It had come with a high, wild note of wind in the night, with a shadow-wave over a ripe field, with a greybird lighting on her window-sill in a storm, with the singing of ‘Holy, holy, holy,’ in church, with a glimpse of the kitchen fire when she had come home on a dark autumn night, with the spirit-like blue of ice palms on a twilit pane, with a felicitous new word when she was writing down a ‘description’ of something. And always when the flash came to her, Emily felt that life was a wonderful, mysterious thing of persistent beauty.

I try to persuade myself this wind is exhilarating.  That it opens up other worlds.

The Lark Ascending looks ready to battle on. The wind doesn’t feel on our side.


After Barlick there are locks – the Greenberfield three,


and then a double-arched bridge at East Marton,


and the locks descending into Gargrave.

We had help with these, from CRT volunteers, who are always keen to talk. It’s dairy country – good to see cows – a dairy herd, with a bull for added measure – out grazing as cows should.


The volunteer had a view. He didn’t rate the local farmers – the ones that weren’t organic. ‘They take a lot of water out of the canal, for a start,’ he said. ‘Then there’s the farmer, locally, who keeps 900 cows in his barn. They never see the grass. The grass is cut into silage and taken to them in the barns. Then the shit they produce is sprayed all over the grass, to make more grass. It doesn’t make sense. The cows never see the grass.’

Many of the bridges along the canal have rope marks. Rather beautiful. Not good for the ropes, though, and not good for the bridges either. So rollers were used. Most of them have gone now, but along this stretch we saw one or two.


And even one around a bend in the canal



Hector means – I fear – the end of the lovely settled weather I’ve enjoyed all trip. I’m reading Mr Lear at the moment, by Jenny Uglow.


She describes how Edward Lear visited the Lake District in 1836, when he was 24. He was already a fine painter of birds; perhaps he could become a landscape artist. A trip to the Lakes, then, was a must for any aspiring artist. But it rained. And rained!


I must read more of Alexandria Harris on weather. Her latest book, Weatherland: Writers and Artists under English Skies is, she says, ‘an exploration of imaginative responses to the weather in England across centuries. I wanted to lie on the grass and watch the sky with Chaucer, with Milton, with Turner’.

I’ll lie with her. The weather is so moody, so powerful an aspect of living in this country, and countryside.

Embracing the rain, after the glorious May we have had, and as we now have left East Anglia with its gentler, sunnier climate, is part of this move up to the north west.

We moored that night, Thursday, over the aqueduct over the river Aire and saw a dipper below. You don’t get dippers in Suffolk. Nor do you get Wainwright beer.


The Other Side

14 June 2018

Foulridge Tunnel is traffic-lighted. We had a green light in our favour as we approached, and followed a hire boat in, that we’d paired up through the Barrowford Locks.

It had been the second tunnel we’d done in two days as higher and higher we’d risen, passing through Gannow Tunnel as we left Hapton and came towards Burnley.

This is Gannow Tunnel, looking back behind us. The light at the other end of the tunnel, with the same distance yet to go.


As we chugged through Burnley and Nelson, the terrain began to feel high country. Foulridge, the second tunnel, didn’t mark the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire (that comes later, after Barnoldswick), but somehow felt as if it did.

This hire boat, from Silsden, towards Keighley, was full of Kiwis – six of them – three couples, all in their 70s and 80s, who had known each other for over forty years. The boat was no bigger than ours – so they were hugger-mugger. The blokes – Ted, Terry and Wayne – had sung together at national and international level, winning awards in a Barber Shop quartet. Barbara, Christine and Sue decided everything, Ted told me.

They’d done this before – come over for a narrowboat holiday. It’d had been the Severn ring last time. Ted, Terry and I – on the boats – talked of Christchurch after the earthquake, and how the city couldn’t decide what to rebuild, and what to leave. We talked of how Ted had come out with his mum and dad, who were following his older brother and sister, who’d emigrated after WW2, and made their life there. Residency was easy then. Now they come back to the UK often, when it’s winter there, summer here.

As soon as we were in the tunnel they chimed up with ‘In Dublin’s Fair City’. The sound echoed around, filling the length of the almost-mile-long tunnel. ‘And her ghost wheeled the barrow, through streets broad and narrow, crying cockles and mussels, alive, alive-o’. Our turn.

Peter and I gave ‘I sing you one-o’. All the verses, so plenty of opportunity to give it all they had on ‘Three, three, the rivals’. I mean all they had. The rounded walls, that dripped and ran with water and salts, had a great acoustic. The extended harmonies bounced off water and reverberated, embracing the boat that came behind.

They were off down towards Leeds – for Foulridge tunnel marks the summit of the Leeds Liverpool. The water sheds here, and the flow will be with us, as we make our way down with locks that empty now, the lark descending, through Barnoldswick, through Gargrave, and to our final destination, Skipton.

On Ilkley Moor bar t’hat came next. All verses. Soon worms will come and eat thee up. And we will come and eat up ducks. We sang. As the light at the end grew greater, ‘Should auld acquaintance be forgot’ was their way of saying goodbye.


The idea of a tunnel between Leeds and Preston was first conceived in 1765 by John Stanhope of Calverley, near Leeds. A public meeting in Bradford, the following year, and by 1767 the proposal now was for a canal from Leeds to Liverpool. in 1768 the Lancashire side met, and Liverpool promoters suggested that the canal should pass through Burnley and Blackburn instead of via Whalley. 1770 saw the first Leeds and Liverpool Act passed, authorising a line via Skipton, Gargrave, Colne, Whalley, Walton-le-Dale and Parbold.

In 1773 the canal opened from Bingley to Skipton, and the following year, from Liverpool to Gathurst, and then by Douglas Navigation to Wigan. Skipton to Gargrave opened, and Bradford to Shipley and Bingley. in 1777 the canal from Skipton to Leeds was completed, but all the available capital ran out, so construction ceased on the main line. Meanwhile the canal opened from Gathurst to Wigan in 1780, and the branch canal from Burscough to Rufford and Sollom Lock in 1781.

A second Leeds and Liverpool Canal Act passed in 1783 to raise more money, and a third in 1790, authorising the line to be altered to avoid an aqueduct at Whalley Nab. In 1791 building recommenced west of Gargrave, and a third Leeds and Liverpool Act was passed in 1794, permitting a new line through East Lancashire. In 1796 the Foulridge Tunnel was completed, allowing the canal to reach to Burnley.


In 1799 the Lancaster Canal stretched from Haigh to Wheelton, and in 1801 the Leeds and Liverpool from Burnley to Henfield, and in 1810 to Blackburn. In 1816 the canal was completed, and opened throughout, with the Leigh branch joining to the Bridgewater, in 1820.

We moored up outside Café Cargo, in Foulridge, after a long day of the tunnel, and before that, the locks through Barrowford. Cafe Cargo was booked for a meal that night, and so we walked, back over the route of the tunnel, looking for the three air shafts that illuminated us briefly with light from above as we made our way through. We found two of them, with brick surrounds, on the old towpath which is now a cycle route.


The cycle routes that criss-cross the country are impressive, managed by the charity Sustrans. The old route for the horses, as the boats went through the tunnel, is now route 68.

The flowers are different, now that we’re in mid-June. The elder in full bloom, and the dog roses too.


Peter and I found orange hawkweed in the churchyard of St Michael and All Angels, Foulridge.


Eric and I spoke on the phone – Eric from the other St Michaels, in Workington – about our plans to arrive on Sunday, and await the furniture which should be with us on Tuesday. There’s a new boiler to go in, but basically the house is ready. A week’s time, and the Rectory will be our new home. I need to start to prepare a sermon for Sunday 24 June. Both Peter and I are looking forward now. The trip is almost over.


Back on The Lark Ascending, and we settled down to watch the cruiser moored behind us get ready for a coach from Huddersfield. The care and patience was commendable, that enabled a number of older folk, with their mobility walkers, to negotiate the flagstones of the wharf, and make their way down onto Marton Emperor. Off she went, when they were all seated at their tables, down towards Barnoldswick. ‘Someone saw an otter yesterday’, said Martin, the owner of the boat. He’d wondered if it were a mink, but no, ‘it was too big and brown for that’.

Now I don’t have to work at Peter’s stole – and I’ve embroidered the Christogram from Mirfield on to its reverse side, using the threads that were blessed at the last Mass –


I’ve turned my hand to a rag rug for the boat. So I sat, and tugged strips of rag through hessian, attracting attention from the old ladies. ‘Good to see that’s still happening’, said one.


Peter read aloud Iain McGilchrist’s The Master and his Emissary, from chapters about the Enlightenment and the beginning of Romanticism.

McGilchrist explores how, at different times, Western culture has been dominated by either the left hemisphere or the right hemisphere of the human brain. He’s very clear that this is a metaphorical way of reading cultural history, and it makes a lot of sense to Peter and me. It’s the book we’ve chosen for our book club, which will meet in Skipton, on The Lark Ascending, in a month or so.

When the left hemisphere is dominant, the attention becomes focused on detail and systems. It seeks to control and categorise, to differentiate and manage. When the right hemisphere is in ascendency, culture and the mind is more aware of that which is beyond, and other, and which cannot be grasped, but only encountered. It’s a great book, offering a ground breaking way of seeing the human condition.

It felt strange to leave Lancashire behind. We looked back over the last few days, as we’d climbed steadily from Hapton, near Accrington, onwards. The view of Pendle Hill always with us.


We hadn’t stopped in Burnley – though were impressed by the signs of regeneration, especially of the wonderful great mills and warehouses that line this canal, reminders of the industrial past.


Burnley football ground was on our left, and the bus station painted in claret. Large churches,


terraces of houses, seen from the canal as it makes its way through Burnley –


and the canal with too many shopping trolleys and even derelict boats.


As we filled up with water, there was a boat with a bed base attached to his stern. ‘It’s all around my prop’, he said. ‘It’s burned out the engine and the gear box. It’s too tangled to remove. We’re not going anywhere’, he told us as we chugged past him. What would you do? We wondered. Very glad that wasn’t our fate.

Tuesday evening we’d moored just beyond Reedley marina.

The towpath was beautiful, and used by lots of people. One Asian-heritage man was delighted that we’re growing coriander on the roof.

We’d come on from Hapton as soon as I’d returned from Frodsham, where I had met, overnight, with old friends Heather and Elaine, to plan our revision of Theological Reflection: Methods.

It was great to see them both again. I’d lost touch since moving south. We explored the Church at Frodsham, and had a drink at the Ring O’Bells, and worked hard at each of our chapters, deciding what to leave out; what to include. Since it was published in 2005 much has changed, including our priorities and interests.

Elaine is doing research on the archive of Don Cupitt, which is housed at Gladstone’s library. We talked of the ways the Sea of Faith movement had been significant and Cupitt’s role in it all. I speculated that the questioning of the reality of God might have encouraged the development of a post-truth society. Elaine rejoined that people tend to blame the post-modern condition for the state we’re in, but for her, it’s all economics. ‘But neo-liberalism welcomes philosophical non-realism with open arms’, I claimed. It was good, engaging again.

I’ve travelled in my thinking since Elaine supervised my PhD at Manchester in the late 1990s. I tried to convince them that Edmund Burke, with his hatred of the exercise of arbitrary power, was worth studying for the PhD I’m starting in the Autumn. ‘Chris Insole’, I said, in reply to Elaine’s question of who would supervise.

Heather said to me as I became restless at one point, ‘that’s your wild side coming out’. ‘Wild at heart’, I grinned. ‘Not just your heart’, she said, affectionately. ‘I thought of coming to see you in Suffolk’, she said. ‘But a sign came up in my mind that said ‘Impossible’. She’s based in Glasgow. We’ll see each other more often.

As I sit, moored up at Foulridge on Thursday morning early, with no signal to send the blog, but typing the first draft, there’s a gale blowing outside. The trees are wild; the boat pulling against its lines. We’ve been blessed with so little wind over the last six weeks, it’s strange to feel its force.

Yesterday evening and the meal was lovely at the Cargo Café. We were sorry to have missed


For this is Pendle country, here where Lancashire becomes Yorkshire. It would have been remote in the 17C. Awful roads, where they existed. No canals. A strange and different spirit in the air.

That whole era of the so-called dawn of Enlightenment had far-reaching social, religious and psychological impact.

John Buchan captures it brilliantly in his novel Witchwood, set in remote Scotland.

How the old Catholic order, that seemed so natural, gave way to the forensic puritanism of the new religion, which didn’t know what to do with what it didn’t understand and control. The right hemisphere, taken over by the left. The ‘uncanny’ is born, says McGilchrist, drawing on the work of Terry Castle, and her book The Female Thermometer: Eighteenth-Century Culture and the Invention of the Uncanny.

McGilchrist explains how Castle looks back to Freud’s essay of 1919 on ‘The ”Uncanny”’  as she explores the phantasmagoria, grotesquerie, carnivalesque travesty, hallucinatory reveries, paranoia and nightmarish fantasy that accompanied Enlightenment.  McGilchrist believes that the Enlightenment, its rationalism and culture so left-hemisphere dominated, had no room for the magical, the wild side, the poetic, the strange. (2010: 350)

The same argument applies to that earlier time of the 17C when witches were hunted down as the magical, old rituals became suspect and strange, as Buchan describes so brilliantly. And all around here, in this wild land and brooding hill, witches were uncanny, beyond the ken.

I get restless when things are too forensic. I begin to wonder what’s being lost.

So much is being lost today, it feels unbearable. I live with a constant restlessness for the loss of abundance, of biodiversity. Canals, with their locks, and tunnels, with their narrow waterways that burgeon all around with wild life, with dereliction and untidiness, are places where loss is all around.

And yet all sorts of people use them today.

They offer the opportunity to discover a wilder side to life.


Accrington Brick

11 June 2018

IMG_0077 (1)

When we lived in Westhoughton, our house was on a housing estate built in the post war period. It was built – the whole estate – of Accrington brick.

It’s a bright, hard, red brick that gives little to the eye, and even less if you want to drill a hole or two in it.

That and the name of the football club – Accrington Stanley – was all I knew about Accrington.

We enjoyed the excitement of the aqueduct over the M65


and then moored up at Church, on the outskirts of Accrington, having appreciated the Canals and Rivers Trust welcome.


Nice to see a secular organisation welcoming folk in such a way. But the church in Church is sad, very sad.


The mooring wasn’t so hot either – given that this is exactly half way between Liverpool and Leeds.


There’s a sculpture to mark the spot.


We litter picked the stretch.

And wandered into town, through terraced streets and tired looking shops of Asian clothing and fabrics, with a great, gleaming mosque in sight from the Blackburn Road. It’s the 8.6 million super mosque that caused so much controversy, and opened its doors in December last year.

We walked down to the viaduct that carried the railway line, and then up again, through terrace after terrace, following my phone’s directions.


One street we walked was full of St George flags.


‘For the world cup’, said Peter. I thought they’d been up since Brexit.

We were looking for the Church of St Mary Magdalen to check the times of services for Sunday. They had a website, but that insisted that we join Facebook, which I don’t want to do. I called the AChurchNearYou number and left a message. Fr Lawrence got back to me later. We said we’d be at the Solemn Mass at 11.

The church was next door to an Aided primary in the middle of steep terraces that ran in parallel down to the town. This was a largely white area, it appeared. We walked past a couple of children, with another inside calling out ‘is that mum come home?’ Perhaps she was the tired women we asked directions, who looked like she held down two or three jobs, and had very little energy for what waited for her at home. Peter surmised her husband, or partner, would be unemployed and depressed, and not much use at all.


There was a kingfisher at the mooring which we watched, fishing, on Saturday evening. We’re reading Iris Murdoch’s The Black Prince out loud to each other – enjoying her irony and characterisation.

Sunday morning before church. Peter met Dan who used to be in the army and now works at Travis Perkins. ‘I used to fish here when I was a kid’, he said, as Peter picked litter around him. He loves wildlife, he said. Often takes his nephew and nieces to learn the different trees, birds and flowers. Most weekends he heads off down the towpath, rambles along the canal. ‘My wife doesn’t come; she doesn’t want to. I’m happy by myself.’ Broad Accrington accent, that’s hard to capture in print. He was thrilled that Peter was collecting the rubbish.

Towpaths are used more than you’d think. Joggers, cyclists, of course. But also families out walking. One woman and her two boys had walked all the way to Rishton and back. Took nearly two hours. Stunning views out over the Calder valley and to the Pennines to the North.


As we came towards Accrington, we saw strange ovens or kilns alongside the canal and wondered what they were. The answer is here.

I thought they might have been old brick kilns. But no.


The bricks were produced on an altogether bigger scale. Accrington brick is often called nori – why? Because the letters IRON were accidentally placed backwards in the brick moulds thus spelling NORI. Well – that’s the story.

They were produced here, at Altham near Accrington, from 1887 to 2008 and – good to know – again from 2015, in response to the need for building materials. The bricks are famed for their strength, and were used for the foundations of the Blackpool Tower and the Empire State Building. The bricks are also acid resistant, so are used for the lining of flues and chimneys.

Why here? At the end of the Ice Age, the River Calder was blocked and formed a large lake in the Accrington area. The sediment from this lake produced the fireclay seams and local coal was available to fire it.

There were four brickyards originally, producing engineering bricks (Enfields, Whinney Hills) and specials. Specials were hand thrown into plaster of paris moulds. They could be extremely decorative.

The site had its own mineral railway connecting with the East Lancashire Line at Huncoat Station, and was once managed by Marshall Clay Products, then bought out by Hanson, a subsidiary of the multi-national Heidelberg Cement group, in 2005. The 2008 recession hit and the factory was mothballed, with the loss of 83 jobs.

Following an upturn in new house building, Hanson reopened the Accrington factory. Production started again in January 2015, with the factory having capacity to produce 45 million bricks a year from the adjoining quarry which has between 30 and 40 years of clay reserves. It’s worth reading this. A BBC report on the re-opening of Hanson, with an explanation of how bricks are made by crushing the clay and mixing with water, to mould into different shapes and sizes, and then firing at a very high temperature to make the product hard and weather-resistant.


Sunday morning, and we made it in plenty of time for church at St Mary Magdalen, finding a faster route through a much newer housing estate. It was the walk of witness that afternoon, we were told, explaining the empty pews. ‘We’ll just have to move around a lot’, said Harry, just in front of us, as he caught up with three women in front of him. The choir of four women sang lustily, holding the tune in the absence of the organist. ‘He’s got the lurgy,’ explained the vicar at the beginning of the liturgy.

The service was serious religion, taken seriously. No fresh messiness here.

But no youngsters either.

As we left, Fr Lawrence was thrilled to hear that Peter had trained at Mirfield. I’m not sure he’d have been as thrilled had he known I was ordained. ‘That’s a pretty dress’, one of the women said to me.


Onwards, as the canal contours around fields along the M65.

Junction 8 was our turning as we drove home from the Lakes, down the A56 to Bury, when we lived there. ‘Do you remember we saw a boat when we were driving along the motorway? How surprised we were there was a canal so high up?’ Said Peter. ‘Who’d have thought we’d be here, now.’ ‘I reckon that car, there, is saying exactly the same about us.’ I conjectured.

Derelict farmhouses, and swing bridges – and swing bridges that were really tough to open – heavy to get to swing, and once swinging, hard to stop.

Onwards, slowly, to Hapton. ‘Best on this mooring’, said Dave (who we’d first met at Botany Bay, giving us a lift into Chorley), as he chugged past. He’d been at the party the night before in Blackburn. ‘There’s gypsies just around the corner’. We had already moored. We were tempted to move, and find that further mooring.

Instead we wandered into town, over the motorway to find the station, and then stopped at the Railway for a pint of Theakston’s on the way home.

I’m off, on Monday, for an overnight session with Heather and Elaine, to revise Theological Reflections: Methods. Elaine lives in Frodsham, so it’ll be a bus back to Accrington, then train to Preston, then to Warrington Bank, and then to Frodsham.

Peter’s looking forward to the peace. But he better not read any more Murdoch until I get back.

The Tale of A Stole

9 June 2018

It’s three weeks to Peter’s ordination, and I have been seriously panicking about his stole.

The usual thing is that this piece of ecclesiastical kit is given to the ordinand as a present, to mark the beginning of their public, ordained ministry. It derives from the towel that a servant would carry over their shoulder in classical times, and for a deacon it’s worn over one shoulder and joined at the waist. When someone is ordained priest, it goes around the neck and hangs down on either side towards the knees.

When I was ordained deacon in 1989 I was given a stole made by Philip Manser. He lived in the Rectory at Westhoughton, where I served my curacy, and made the most beautiful embroidered clerical robes. He made me a chasuble when I was ordained priest in 1994, depicting Mary Magdalene with long red hair, and a whole set of stoles for each of the seasons – green, purple, red, white – which I still have.

Philip had moved to South Africa, and we’d lost touch over the years. I googled him, to see if he was still making them – but couldn’t find any address for him, or sign that he was. I had it in mind that it would be good to give Peter a stole that Philip had made.

When the search came to nothing, I then thought I’d make the stole myself. I had a vague idea of what the design might be, based on a stylised image of grapes that Tilda and I found in a book of William Morris art work. I set to, sewing away.

But to be honest it never really worked in my mind. I kept changing the overall concept. To be honest, there wasn’t an overall concept.

So when it came to the blessing of the stoles at Mirfield after the last Mass a week or so ago, I bought some embroidery threads and gold linen and Fr Peter blessed them, to be incorporated into the eventual stole. Even that didn’t help.

We arrived at Blackburn Cathedral on Friday afternoon, to meet Canon Rowena for tea at 3.30. She showed us around beforehand.

It’s a lovely, airy, light building, with some arresting art work.


Blackburn was carved out of Manchester Diocese in the 1920s. From the 1930s onwards, an extension scheme was devised to turn the former parish church into a Cathedral worthy of the name, including a central tower of Gothic proportions. With funding sources compromised by the Second World War, the plan was simplified to a concrete central corona, designed by the architect Laurence King, with art work by John Hayward.


It was all completed by 1977, when the Cathedral was consecrated to serve Blackburn Diocese as its mother church and the seat of the Bishop’s apostolic ministry.  Canon Rowena’s tour included the artwork that’s all around.


The Passion – the story of Christ’s agony, trials, suffering and death – is vividly portrayed in a sequence of figurative Stations of the Cross, painted by Penny Warden and installed in 2005, entitled The Journey. Mary, and Veronica, particularly caught my eye.


John Hayward’s Christ the Worker is above the West Door, suspended on a loom, a reminder of Lancashire’s cotton and weaving past.


There’s a Madonna with child by Josefina de Vasconcellos


and the Resurrected Christ in the Jesus Chapel was modelled on Hayward’s niece.


The seraphim that soar above in the lantern were also designed by John Hayward.


The overall effect is lovely. Feminine too, as befitting a Cathedral dedicated to St Mary the Virgin.

The best thing of all – personally – is that there in the shop were some stoles for sale. Made by Philip Manser.


Peter and I returned for Mass on Saturday morning, and Canon Rowena arranged for the shop to be opened.

Bishop Philip explained how the Cathedral came by them: that a woman from Haslingden had contacted him, saying she had these stoles made by Philip Manser from ages back and perhaps ordinands might want them?


It’s a lovely thought that Peter will be ordained in a stole made by the same person who made mine, all those years ago. And wonderful that Bishop Philip had time to bless it too.


Blackburn museum hosts a great collection of religious icons and manuscripts, collected by Robert Edward Hart (1878-1946). The Blackburn Psalter is there, made in Oxford around 1260, by monks trained in Paris.

Psalm 1, known as Beatus Vir, which begins ‘Blessed is the man who walks not in the ways of the ungodly’ shows the capital B illustrated of King David playing the harp with the judgement of Solomon below.


Those psalms, which Peter and I say together as we pray every morning, have shaped people of faith in the Judeo-Christian tradition since time immemorial.

It’s a blessing to be shaped in that tradition today.


1    Blessed are they who have not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the assembly of the scornful.

2    Their delight is in the law of the Lord and they meditate on his law day and night.

3    Like a tree planted by streams of water bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither, whatever they do, it shall prosper.


We leave Blackburn accompanied by Lois, who will be ordained at Blackburn Cathedral next year. She is training at Mirfield, and we talked of her excitement at the prospect of ministry in Lancashire. She’ll be a great priest.

We left Eanam Wharf and headed east towards Accrington. stopping for lunch on our way. Lois left us, and on we went, through industrial landscape that turned to fields.

Blow the Wind Southerly

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.







Botany Bay

6 June 2018


As you travel up the M61 you know you’re passing Chorley by two distinctive landmarks.

One is the tall spire and imposing church of the Latter Day Saints to your left, called The Preston England Temple.

It was dedicated in 1998, the 52nd such temple across the world, an impressive complex of Olympia white granite from Sardinia and a zinc roof. The site includes a missionary training centre and a family history facility and is the largest Mormon temple in Europe, serving Latter-day Saints from the Midlands and northern parts of England, the whole of Scotland, the Isle of Man, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The other is a converted and restored Canal cotton mill, now a shopping and entertainment complex, called Botany Bay.

The original mill was built in 1855, for Richard Smethurst, a pioneer in the Chorley cotton industry. Despite the Cotton Famine and closure in 1861, the mill continued to manufacture until the end of the 1950s, when it eventually closed for good.

In 1994 a local entrepreneur purchased the mill and after a complete renovation and restoration, Botany Bay opened on the 1st December 1995. It features five floors of shopping, a garden centre, restaurants & coffee bars, and an indoor play centre, which draws people from near and far. Peter’s idea of hell.

Why “Botany Bay”?

There were a number of mills here from the late 18C, as the area developed as the main port for Chorley. As the nearby Lancaster Canal was built (originally to run from Walton Summit to the Bridgewater, but it never happened after a temporary (then permanent) tramroad was built to connect Preston to the rest of the system) Botany Bay was where the Irish navigators, or navvies, lived. The “navigations” – or “eternal navigations” – they built were intended to last forever.

By the 1830s most navvies were building railways.

It’s now recognised that the great majority of navvies in Britain were English, with only 30% Irish – but the prejudice has stuck. Locals saw it as an area to be avoided – much as you’d avoid the penal colony in Australia. Hence the name.

Botany Bay wharf became an important hub for traded cotton, transport and communication with services running to Manchester, Wigan and Liverpool. When the Lancashire Union Railway opened in 1869, it ran through Botany Bay, over a viaduct across the canal, and began to supersede the canal in coal transport between Wigan and Blackburn. The railway, in turn, remained in service until 1968 until demolished for the construction of the M61. Canal, rail, road.

We were given a lift into Chorley by Dave and Judy, and Sue – off to the market for Rufford new potatoes. ‘Just rub them and the skin comes off a treat’, said Dave. He lives aboard with Judy in a widebeam moored just under the motorway. Sue is a cancer care nurse at the Royal Bolton Hospital, and recognises Peter’s name from the time he was there too. She lives aboard her boat too.

‘I couldn’t stand the noise’, said Peter, as we had a pint of Wainwright at the Lock and Quay on our way home. We drank from Wainwright glasses that instructed us to ‘find your mountain’. Alfred’s words were there – the latest manifestation of the marketing phenomenon he has become – ironic, given his churlish misanthropy. ‘You were made to soar, to crash to earth, then to rise and soar again’, the glass told us. This we must have. ‘I didn’t pay for them; why should you?’ responded the publican, as she gave me two clean ones to take away.


The market was on in Chorley – the Flat Iron Market which dates from 1498 (named that either because the weavers used to hold down their wares with flat irons, or because the space it used to occupy was shaped like a flat iron – or both)  – and we wandered through, hoping for some remnant of the haberdashery trade that would provide me with some further material for Peter’s stole. No joy. Hopefully Blackburn will provide. Time’s running short to the ordination on 30 June.

A good book shop, though – one to browse in. Something caught my eye.

One of the reasons – I reckon – that I love being on water is that I went by ship three times from Australia to England when I was little.

I was seven on the third trip in 1966. The three liners we sailed in were the Castel Felice, The Northern Star and the Himalaya.

And here was a book, all about the days of the £10 assisted passage – that took many thousands of folk to Australia in the 1950s and 60s – seeking a new life far away from the austerities and smog of post-war Britain. The voyage took a month.

The 27,955 ton Himalaya was built in Barrow by Vickers Armstrong in 1949, owned by P&O, and from 1958 until 1974 transported migrants and cruised the seas. It must have been the Himalaya that we sailed on the final voyage to England for good in 1996, because it had a swimming pool. I had my birthday on that trip, and remember, while mum and dad were doing their own thing, that I’d have the run of the ship, wandering all over.

I watched the swimmers in the small pool, shaped rather like the locks we’ve been in, with no shallow end and a swell like the sea all around, and thought to myself – ‘people can swim, so there’s no reason why I can’t. If I stick near the side, so I can hold onto the rail if need be, and kick and doggy paddle, I’ll make it from one end to the other.’ Ten yards, maybe. It can’t have been far, but it was certainly out of my depth. I taught myself to swim. No one watching. No one to tell me not to.

The 24,733 ton Northern Star was built in 1962 by Vickers Armstrong in Newcastle owned by Shaw Savill, specifically for the carriage of British migrants. She was plagued by engine problems throughout the 1960s as she settled into a routine of four round-the-world voyages a year. Eventually, in 1975, she was sold to Taiwanese shipbreakers.

The 12,150 ton Castel Felice began her life in 1930 as the Kenya for the British India Line. During the 2WW she was transferred to the Royal Navy for deployment as an infantry landing ship under the name HMS Keren, capable of carrying ten landing craft and up to 1,500 troops. She was then laid up for three years, but broke away from her moorings in Holy Loch, in Scotland during a severe storm. After extensive repairs in Glasgow she was renamed Kenya, then Keren again, and then again, Kenya. She was converted into a cruiser in Falmouth, Antwerp and Genoa and assumed her last name, the Castel Felice, with a new bow, funnel and masts, she saied from Genoa on her maiden voyage in October 1952. With her sister ships, the Fairsea and Fairsky, The Castel Felice belonged to the Italian Sitmar Line – and between them carried migrants from all corners of Britain, to fulfil the Australian government hope of 65,000 migrants a year.

Here’s a blog from someone who did the voyage in 1964. It could have been me, and mum and dad, in these photos.

It would be great if Jen were still here to discuss this. We did talk a bit about Australia and immigration today and its draconian reputation. That’s not always been the case.

Hundreds of thousands of displaced Europeans and over a million ten pound poms immigrated after WWII – when the fear of Japanese invasion stirred the government into a policy of ‘populate or perish’. There was a White Australia policy in place then, until it was repealed in 1966, and Australia began to become the multinational nation it is today. Then all you needed to be was white, of sound health and under 45.

My mum, Pix, remembered the terrible prejudice against the Irish as she grew up in Geelong in the 1940s. That’s all changed, particularly in the cities, where all nationalities are to be found. Now, it’s said, Melbourne is the largest Greek city outside Athens.

In the mid 1960s when our family sailed from Australia to England and back again, we were accompanied by £10 poms off for a new life. It was exciting. I remember the flirtatious charm of the Italian waiters on the Castel Felice; enjoying kippers – and still the taste takes me back; the smell of tinned orange juice, which even now conjures up the other smells of the ship; being dressed up as the Queen of Hearts (I much preferred swimming), and the crossing of the Equator, with a visit from Neptune.

I don’t know where my certificate is now.

We stopped at Columbo, at Mumbai, at Aden, went through the Suez, and at Nice.

I loved being on board ship. Watching the flying fish, the porpoises that accompanied us. Visiting those exotic places, like Aden where we couldn’t go ashore, so the traders came to us, and we bought a table and a leather poof. Watching elephants work in Colombo.

I loved the perpetual motion, the roll and rock at night; the constant power and throb of the engine. Above all, all around the sea, extending to the sky.

To counter her homesickness, mum threw herself into the English countryside. We’d go for blackberries; we’d learn the English birds, trees and flowers. We’d find out-of-the-way spots for picnics, and get lost on walks. She grew to love England almost as much as her native Australia.

Thursday morning early on the canal.


This is the top lock of


So, yesterday, Wednesday, a short distance up seven delightful locks at Johnson’s Hillock.


The bottom lock goes right, as the remains of the Lancaster Canal goes left. Now, to get onto it, you need to continue beyond Parbold, and turn up at Ruffold to the Ribble Link. The link is only open 50 days a year, so the Lancaster is even quieter than the L&L. One day we’ll explore.

The countryside falls steeply away to the left now as the Pennines beginning to climb seriously to the right.


We moor at the Top Lock, where the CRT are supervising Prince’s Trust volunteers to repaint the woodwork and metal of the lock its distinctive black and white.


There’s some good information on this flight about the way the horses worked. One bridge has no towpath, so a hook in the wall enabled the horse to pull in the opposite direction, so the barge came out of the lock. The wear from the rope was there to see.


When the horse was towing out of locks going uphill, the tow line was passed around the shaft of the upper ground paddle. The grooves made by ropes in cast iron are beautiful.


A long afternoon in the sun, and I get on with the revisions for my chapters in Theological Reflection: Methods and then walk with Peter through Wheelton Village and then on in wonderful countryside just under the M61 where a sign for Botany Bay meant we hadn’t travelled as far as it had felt.



The stream below us has nothing in it – no fish, no dippers – which worries us.

There’s a few lapwings in the field, chasing off the crows – so obviously with young.  Swallows and housemartins finding insects on the pounds between locks –

… and an abundance of flowers.


Ragged Robin (not to be confused with campion);


grasses galore …


cuckoo flower …


Meadow vetch …


The may is over; now the elder is in bloom. I used to gather elderflowers when mum made wine.


Blackburn is just around the corner. One of these days Peter and I will do all the Cathedrals we can, by canal or navigable river. This lies before us.



Up the Flight

4 June 2018

‘You going up today?’ Light Mancunian accent.

It was early – dog walking sort of time – and with Peter driving, I was doing the couple of bottom locks in Wigan. We were about to meet Harry and Eth at the large pound (the area of water between locks) at the bottom of the Wigan Flight. They were joining us for the day, to help with the 21 locks other locks that have the reputation for being the hardest in England.


It’s always better to pair up – the locks are large and deep. So Steve was as keen as I was to find each other. He and Linda come from Ashton under Lyme and keep their boat at Scarisbrook. They had just set off to cruise until October. Semi-retired, Steve told me he’d just turned down the first job since 2002. ‘Painting a bloke’s bathroom ceiling. Just the sort of job I like. Brings in the beer money.’

Harry and Eth joined us. They’d met the Canals and Rivers Trust volunteer as they walked down from where they’d parked the car at Rose Bridge, half way up. He’d told them there wasn’t enough water in the pounds – particularly between lock 80 and 81. So we’d have to wait until it filled up when we got there.

The first four locks – 85-82 – went without a hitch. Slowly and carefully, as Harry and Eth were learning from Peter and Linda. Steve and I got to know each other, as we chatted about life. He’d had bowel cancer. Life meant more to him now. He didn’t know quite what to make of Peter’s and my life changes. So we talked of his boat, and of the Marple flight on the Macclesfield canal – one of his favourites; and where they planned to go. Leeds. York. Oxford. Wherever.

When we got to the pound below the empty one, we moored up to have a look. The mud, rocks and weed, and other things that shouldn’t be in a canal, were there for all to see.

Water? Not enough.

The CRT volunteer told us not to go if the level was more than a foot below the overflow. He arrived, and said he reckoned there might be enough. Our risk, of course. When we did go, to stick to the middle where there’s most depth. And if we stuck, to wait until there was enough to float off. Obvious, really.

Steve eventually went first. All well until about half way, then he ran aground. Following behind, I slowed the TLA right down, and so lost steerage, ending up diagonal, with stern and bow in mud. And a nasty sound under the propeller that made me think of shopping trolleys.

Steve pushed on a little further, slewing off to the right. And stuck on something – a rock? this time. There wasn’t much more water at all, but enough for me to come alongside and pass him, into the lock, picking up his bow line as we went, which pulled him off whatever it was and into the lock. We relaxed as the lock began to fill. ‘That’s enough drama for the day’, we agreed. This was number 80.

A number of people told us there were three boats coming down. A singleton, and a pair. Good news, as they bring water with them. The singleton came out as we went into lock 78. Then that sound below that you quickly learn to dread – and don’t expect to hear in a lock, where there’s usually enough water. I put the engine into gear, forward. It stalled. I started it, and into reverse. It stalled. Steve said he could see something white below the rudder. ‘Best not to try and clear it with the engine. You’ll need to go into the weed box.’ I said I hadn’t done that before.

The pair were waiting in the pound – the rest pound between 78 and 77 – so Steve towed me into the next lock. The silence was wonderful, without an engine. I began to imagine the world of horses; the slipping through the water. A horse can pull a ton over the road; it can pull 100 tons through water. The noise of shoe on cobble.

It wouldn’t have been silent here though. Just different sound. The noise of the collieries all around.

The Nicholson guide book tells of this flight as an industrial hub with collieries and ironworks lining the canal.


The Rose Bridge Colliery – just where my engine stalled – and Ince Hall Coal and Cannel Company would have been pumping out noise and sulphur all around us. (Cannel was a dull coal that burned with a smoky, luminous flame – so the guidebook says).

The Wigan Coal and Iron Company were the biggest – employing ten thousand people at their works all alongside the top nine locks (73-65) of the flight. It owned pits all around this area.

It was one of the largest iron works in the country, mining a million tons of coal to produce 125,000 tons of iron a year. The skyline here was dominated by ten blast furnaces, 675 coking ovens and a 339ft high chimney, says Nicholson. There wouldn’t have been much silence, day or night.

Chances are that a hundred years ago, it would have all been just starting up again, after the Whit Weeks. The collieries and works took it in turns to close – in Bolton, Farnworth, Leigh, Wigan – to give the workers two weeks off to cycle, or walk, to Blackpool for the annual holiday. When I was curate in Westhoughton – only a few miles away – it was still fresh memory for the older folk.

The Whit Walks still happened then – though with the closing of the last collieries in the 80s, the dressing up of rose queens, and her bridemaids carrying baskets dressed all in white, the ceremonies were not going to last much longer.

We paused in Lock 77. With Harry, Peter and Steve looking on, I undid the nuts (with my old cycle dog bone spanner) that held the weed box cover in place. The propeller was shrouded in white and black – some fabric or other. I made sure the key was out of the ignition, and gingerly felt down. Tight wound it was – and there was electrical wire there too. Now armed with scissors, I started to cut wherever I could, and gradually it came free. A sturdy black and white striped shower curtain, still with rings. The whole lot came up. Two lengths of cable, and a long gauze bandage, which must have been there for a while.

‘You need a better spanner than that’, said Harry as I tightened the box lid down. ‘I’ll bring one when we meet in Skipton.’ Steve suggested putting the engine on and into gear, to make sure there was no water leakage. All good, and good to go.

I wish I’d taken a picture of that shower curtain from Wigan.

I did of other stuff, later, though, that had been fished out of the canal.

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Once the other boats had passed us downward, and with no more coming down, and with more water in the system gushing down the byflows (the CRT had opened some sluice or other upstream), Eth and Linda were in their stride, opening lock gates way ahead of us. Leaving Harry and Peter to close up behind us, Steve and I took each lock in turn, relaxing into banter as we went.

He said he’d sell up the house tomorrow, but Linda liked her bricks and mortar. Though he was surprised at how well she’d taken to it. 40 years married, they hadn’t any children, but had always had a dog. He was worried that Dolly – 8 months old, and a cavalipoo – was showing signs of attachment anxiety. She’d had a previous owner, who’d paid a mint for her, and who’d kept her in the kitchen cupboard, under the sink. Dogs aren’t accessories, we agreed. (Though Dolly looked like one – pretty, and silly. Linda caught her up into her arms when Diesel came along. Diesel, explained his owner, was an American Staffy. ‘Most owners around here don’t treat them well. Make them aggressive. He’s as soft as anything’, he said. ‘There’s dogs like him that would have that dog before breakfast. But he won’t. He’s as soft as anything’, he repeated. Again and again, reassuring us Diesel wasn’t a pit bull. He was, though.)

Once we were in our rhythm, Steve wanted to know why Peter was on the phone. I said we were live aboard now, as it was taking time to sort out our move to Workington before he was ordained. We talked of life changes. That Peter’d been a children’s doctor all around here, based in Bolton, for years. That I was a priest; that I knew Manchester well. That we were both looking forward to Workington. Steve looked doubtful. He nodded, still unconvinced, when I tried to explain how Peter and I felt we wanted to be where we could make a difference. He nodded, again with not much comprehension, as I mentioned coastal town poverty. ‘You’re not far from the Fells, though’, he ressured himself.

By the lock just below the top lock


(which has been recently renovated and looks beautiful, compared with the delapidated state of some we’d been through. If only there were money for the rest. ‘It used to take three days to replace a lock gate’, said Harry, who used to work for the Environment Agency. ‘When there were lots of lock makers and British Waterways were in charge. Now it takes six weeks if you’re lucky.’ Steve grumbled it was now the CRT, ‘but they’d spent too much money on rebranding’). Just before Top Lock was the Kirkless Hall Inn.


‘I’m back there for a pint’ said Steve.

They issue certificates. So of course we had one.


I made haddock fish pie, strawberries and cream for lunch, once we’d moored up. I felt the decades fall away again, as I went to prise Peter, Harry and Eth out of the pub, once it was ready. A fish wife, me.

We walked back with them to the car at Rose Bridge. Marvelling that we hadn’t seen each other for years, but the friendship was as fresh as ever. Walking down that flight, now full of water, took no time at all, compared with the five hours it had taken up the 300 or so feet. Once Peter and I were back, we headed onwards for a mile or two, to Haigh Hall. Somewhere we used to take the kids for a day out in the early 1990s.

It’s a stunning location, with views extending across the Cheshire plain to Runcorn, and beyond to the hills of Wales. Below is Wigan, now surrounded by green woods and fields.


The word comes from an old English word meaning ‘enclosure’. There would have been a timber-framed manor house here, in the late 12C, where the Norreys family lived, originally from Normandy, who held the manors of Haigh and Blackrod. Hugh le Norreys had a daughter, Mabel, who became heiress to the fortune. We moored near Lady Mabel’s Wood. Sir William Bradshaigh married her in 1295. The Bradshaighs held the estate until 1770, when it passed to a niece, 10 year old Elizabeth Dalrymple Bradshaigh, in trust until she married her cousin Alexander Lindsay, 23rd Earl of Crawford, 6th Earl of Balcarres. Alexander sold the Balcarres estate to his younger brother to fund repairs to the hall, which had not been lived in for many years and was damaged by mining subsidence.

The house was rebuilt by his son, creating the building of today, and extensive park lands and gardens. Sandstone was bought from Parbold on the Leeds/Liverpool, and dressed on site.

During the 1860s 40 miles of pathways were built by local Wigan men, many of whom would have been destitute otherwise, plummeted into poverty by volatile cotton markets. I thought of them, as I jogged those same pathways this morning.

The Lancashire Cotton Famine of the early 1860s followed the boom years of 1859 and 1860 and left families in extreme poverty. Overproduction flooded the market with finished goods, while raw cotton was in abundance. The demand fell and prices collapsed, and the market was further complicated by the interruption of baled cotton imports, during the American Civil War.

To their credit, many Lancashire cotton workers, despite the real hardship they suffered, resolved to support the Union in its fight against slavery. In the name of the Working People of Manchester, they wrote to President Abraham Lincoln of their hope that ‘the erasure of that foul blot on civilisation and Christianity – chattel slavery’ would be seen during his presidency. He responded within a few days in January 1863:

I cannot but regard your decisive utterances on the question as an instance of sublime Christian heroism which has not been surpassed in any age or in any country. It is indeed an energetic and re-inspiring assurance of the inherent truth and of the ultimate and universal triumph of justice, humanity and freedom.

There’s a monument in Brazenose Street, Lincoln Square, Manchester, to commemorate.

All around here, throughout Lancashire, workers became unemployed, and went from being the most prosperous workers in Britain to the most impoverished. Many emigrated. My grandmother Lorna’s maternal family came out to Australia from Manchester in the 1860s.

Haigh Hall once housed a magnificent library, the Bibliotheca Lindesiana, which was gifted to the Rylands Library in Manchester. The house was opened as an auxiliary hospital for convalescing soldiers in November 1914. It was sold to Wigan Corporation in 1947 when the Lindsay family returned to their family seat in Fife, Scotland. Now it’s used for weddings, and functions. ‘It’s a sad place’, said Peter, as we wandered around.


The house perhaps; but the woodland around is one of the largest and most ecologically important in Greater Manchester. We saw a toad – the first either of us had seen for years, as we walked down to Sennicar Bridge, canal bridge 61, and home for the night.


Tuesday is St Boniface‘s day. He died this day in 754. He was born Winfrid in the kingdom of Wessex in Anglo-Saxon England, was a leading figure in the Anglo-Saxon mission to the Germanic parts of the Frankish Empire during the 8th century.

There’s an unfortunate story from his life about an oak tree – which, it must be remembered – were ubiquitous then. According to the story of his life, Boniface felled the Donar Oak,  or “Jupiter’s oak,” near the present-day town of Fritzlar in northern Hesse. According to his early biographer Willibald, Boniface started to chop the oak down, when suddenly a great wind, as if by miracle, blew the ancient oak over. When the god did not strike him down, the people were amazed and converted to Christianity. He built a chapel dedicated to Saint Peter from its wood at the site—the chapel was the beginning of the monastery in Fritzlar.

St Boniface will, we trust, accompany us to Chorley, where we’ll be for a couple of nights. He is, we’re sure, past caring about pagan Germans or oak trees. Today’s paganism takes different forms and expressions. Boniface – more likely to plant an oak than chop it down these days.

I’ve work to do on the Theological Reflections book. As with any theology written today, it’s a key question: how does this engage with people?

In Chorley, or wherever?


To Parbold (via Mirfield)

Term’s ended at Mirfield!


So now, what with the removals firm going into liquidation, Peter and I are live aboard. We have no other bed, or hole, or nest to lay our heads. There’s nothing for it but to take our time and enjoy the Leeds & Liverpool over the next week or so, while we wait for the British Association of Removers Advanced Payment Guarantee Scheme to kick in, so another removals firm can do the job of bringing our furniture from a warehouse in Thetford to Workington. The date offered now by the latest firm Peter’s found is 18 June. We’re not anxious.

Many of the other ordinands leaving Mirfield face similar uncertainty about where they are going to live. But they were all in good heart – leavers and returners alike.


Thursday – the final day – was Corpus Christi and the Mass at noon found us worshipping God as Fr George presided, and admitted my friend Mark Howarth into the Society of the Resurrection.


Fine singing from Schola, the choir, and Fr Peter playing Messiaen for the voluntary. The Messiaen was nothing I’d heard before. Sombre, intriguing, unresolved. Fr Peter and I talked afterwards about how Messiaen knew the monastic traditions of chant that have continued – as they do at Mirfield – since the 7C or 8C, and with his inclusion of birdsong, how the influenced helped him as he tried to capture the natural and unself-conscious theology of premodern music and nature. That tension between the conscious intention of a composer since the Enlightenment, and the pre-modern traditions of monastic chant, in which one simply loses oneself in singing that is done to the glory of God, is an ongoing study for Fr Peter. The self, lost and found, in music.


This Christogram is at the foot of the wonderful icon above the altar in Upper Church. I’m going to embroider it onto Peter’s stole. There was a blessing of stoles at the end of the Mass. Peter’s isn’t finished yet, so Fr Peter blessed some embroidery silks, and a fine piece of gold linen. The blessing will permeate the rest. When it’s done.


Peter has made many friends during his short nine months at Mirfield. We left on Friday morning, after a night of dining and dance, carrying many wonderful people in our hearts. Some we will see shortly, as we travel through Chorley, where Lois lives, and on to Blackburn, where we’ll catch up with Emma and Jonathan. Others will come from the South East, we hope, to visit in Workington. Perhaps even to do a placement with us next summer, who knows.

It has been a rich and wonderful year. The Church will be very well served by these curates, who have been prepared in patterns of prayer and the disciplines of holiness.

With hired van packed to the nines, and the car as full, we set off on the M62, then the M6 to Penrith, then the A66 via Keswick to Workington.


Our new home, to be. And St Michael’s Church.


Lorna and Steve met us. Lorna is the parish administrator, Steve, her husband. Together we made light work of unpacking into the garage. We examined the lovely rich colours now on the walls, the newly installed woodburner, and Lorna assured us the carpets would be done in time – whenever the move happens!

Our daughter Tilda joined us for cake and grapes on the back lawn, and we talked and caught up with news as we pulled moss, before Peter and I set off for Wigan.

The Lark Ascending is how we left her, on this Saturday morning.


Peter – bless him! – has come without thought for any clothes or shoes he might need for the next ten days (three weeks?!) or so. The charity shops beckon, and M&S for underpants. We also seem to consume inordinate amounts of ‘data’ with this new dongle, so a visit to the EE shop, too.

And, you know, I’d quite like to try my hand at fishing. There are starter kits at the Go Outdoors mega shop just around the corner. Izaac Walton will be turning in his grave. His Compleat Angler might be there, in the Charity Shops – or Op Shops, as Jenny would have called them (that’s what they are in Australia). So much to read! I would like another lifetime.

I’ve heard from the publisher that the publication date for Full of Character is to be 21 March next year. I had hoped it would be out in 2018. Never mind. That’s just in time for Easter. I’ve been asked to lead Holy Week at Carlisle Cathedral, so lots to look forward to.

Today we head off towards Liverpool for the day – to Parbold. Not parboiled, as Peter calls it. There we’re going to have tea with Fr Richard Peers, Jamie and their dog Marnie. He’s the Director of Education in Liverpool Diocese, having previously been a very successful head of a large school somewhere in the south. He now blogs beautifully at educationpriest.

It’s lovely having Peter here, getting used to The Lark Ascending. The gentle, almost imperceptible rock and the loveliness of the space holds us with a sense of adventure for what the next days, weeks, months and years hold.


The Canal to Wigan Pier

27-28 May 2018

Saturday Morning.

With Peter and Jenny on board, we left Astley Bridge and three quarters of an hour later were in Leigh.

Our very old friends Harry and Eth joined us, looking younger than ever.


They come from Hart Common, which is a small village near Westhoughton, and have been friends since I served my curacy there in the late ‘80s.

Tilda, Jonty and Theo were always welcome – Jonty used to walk up Harry and somersault over, aged four. This was before Hugh was born. Was there life before Hugh?

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That’s him now. Here’s how they looked then, give or take a year or so.


We approached Wigan past old mine workings now filled with water – called locally ‘flashes’. Pennington Flash, Scotsman’s Flash – ‘Who was the Scotsman?’ I asked Eth.

Catherine (who was 12 when last I saw her) and her husband Andy, with their two children Megan and Lauren, came to view the boat, and generally we caught up on the news.  Stephen, Catherine’s brother, is now a priest in Exeter Diocese. He’d come home to his mum after my confirmation classes, with more questions than answers, and she’d put him right.

At Leigh Bridge the Bridgewater becomes the Leeds & Liverpool Canal.

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We stop the traffic by lifting the road to mark the place.

The LL heads west at Wigan to Liverpool, or east towards Leeds and offers the Wigan flight – twenty one big and heavy locks. Jenny breathes a sigh of relief that these won’t be down to her.

We’re going to leave the boat for a week in Wigan, so we pulled up. Harry and Eth headed off, thrilled to have seen familiar territory from a different perspective. Peter went too, back to Mirfield. I’ll join him on Tuesday.

I bought a handcuff key (anti-vandal key) from the Canals and Rivers Trust man who happened to be passing, and Jen and I settled for the night, surrounded by apartments, with Wigan Pier just around the corner, and Trenterfield Mill looming above us.

Built in 1907 it’s formidable. Like so many other cotton mills around here. Dominating the landscape; dominating people’s lives.


Sunday morning, and I jogged half way up the 21 locks and then we joined the congregation at Wigan Parish Church. They were only just in vacancy, and a past vicar was there to preside. The congregation was elderly, and so friendly – with each other, and with us. The chat was irrepressible – even through the anthem (sung excellently, though the choir was only four).

There’s something irrepressible about Wigan – you see it in the way people dress. It’s confident, up for the world – whether it’s the old-timers that were christened, married and seen out friends and spouses at church, or the younger generations on the streets, as the night life starts to gather momentum.


Eth told me how she’d drop off Catherine as a teenager for a night out on King Street, with fear and trembling. She needn’t have worried. Catherine met her Andy in a pub. He came from a neighbouring village, and Eth said that his parents were as relieved as she was when Catherine and Andy found each other. He works in Manchester as a bio-chemist. She’s at a large secondary school, in charge of safeguarding and pastoral care.

Sunday, after church, and we each took ourselves off for a walk to explore. Jen, off along the canal in the Liverpool direction; me to find a place to eat for that evening.

One of the liveliest pubs, full of people of all ages – which is always a good sign – was The Moon Under Water.


‘You were brave, eating there,’ said Eth, later.

Named this by Wetherspoon’s chairman, Tim Martin, after he heard that George Orwell wrote a London Evening Standard article about his favourite fictional pub – The Moon Under Water.

Orwell visited Wigan in the 1930s, commissioned to write about poverty in northern towns. His 1937 The Road to Wigan Pier received mixed reviews at the time, but has become a classic of social history. This 2011 article from the Guardian, 75 years on, is worth reading.

The great Trenterfield Mill above us; Wigan Pier is just down a lock and under a bridge. It used to be a heritage centre, but is now closed.


That Guardian article:

In fact the “pier” never existed, except in song and laughter. The story goes that day-trippers on the train to Southport, peering out across the blighted landscape in a thick fog, spotted a railway gantry leading to a jetty from which coal was tipped into barges on the canal. “Are we there yet?” asked a passenger, mistaking the ghostly outline for one of Britain’s newly fashionable seaside attractions. “Nay, lad, that’s Wigan Pier tha’ cun see,” replied the railway signalman. True or not, the pier became a music-hall staple of George Formby.


The council are trying to make Trenterfield Mill a heritage centre now. But why would people want to be reminded of the past?


Especially when there’s beer and humour to be had.


There are sad places. The Roman Catholic Church. The door had been broken open, the padlock hanging useless.

Inside made me want to weep.


There was a massive seminary too, which closed in 1992.  I mean, massive. See the photographs.

St Joseph remains, looking over the place. What must he have seen, over the years.


A chasm between the folk in church on Sunday morning, and the folk on the streets as Wigan Parish Church rang out the bell for evensong.


It’s more than being ‘relevant’, or ‘accessible’ – this massive culture chasm.  Does the Parish Church face the same future? The Church of England too?


Bank Holiday Monday, and it’s three weeks on from the party at Prickwillow.

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Jen’s day to head off to London and Morocco. First we walked up the Wigan flight as far as Lock 73 (they’re numbered from Leeds). It’s her last chance to say good bye to the lock gates she has strenuously pushed, pulled and cajoled in so many ways over the last couple of weeks. She does look good on it, though.


Thank you, Jen.

We notice that there are different flowers out now. The elder is in bloom. Dog roses.



There’s a report on the news that there will be more plastic bottles in the sea than fish by 2050. More bags in the trees than flowers, too?


Then, back on TLA, and  the Jam Butty pulls out of the lock, on the way to Liverpool.


Helen emails me later, after I run after her, to get a shot of her business.


We passed you today around Wigan – at least I think it was Wigan, geography is not my strong point!  We were in Wand’ring Bark and The Jam Butty and you took some photos of us after we came out of the lock.

I wish we had had time to stop, moor up and chat but we have to be in Liverpool for Wednesday so we’re on a bit of a time table.  I’ve found your blog, have read a few posts, and will return to read the rest.  Just read about your new hair cut and funnily enough, I noticed how fab your hair is while we were passing!

We are Christians too, C of E to boot.  Our home church is Aldridge Parish which is a short walk from our home in Aldridge.  We live in our house for the winter months and then summer on the boats, making & selling jam to earn a bit of income.  When travelling I spend a lot of time worshipping God in the scenery.  We use the Boaters’ Christian Fellowship website  for the comprehensive list of canal side churches and try to get to services when we can.  We’ve been to a wide variety and it’s lovely to find God in such diversity.

Our jam business has been going for 6 years now following a major detour in my career path.  We love it.  Our website is .

As well as jam, we both write too.  Andy (my husband) earns more than I ever do as he writes for Waterways World, usually publishing about 6 articles a year.  He also blogs at and is way too fond of alliteration for my liking!  I write for myself, mainly.  I blog at which is primarily a breast cancer blog.  I write poetry, mostly bad poetry, but I do love to dabble.

We will be leaving Liverpool docks on Sunday 3rd June and heading along the LL until Leeds so maybe our paths will cross again.  If not, I wish you every success and much happiness in your new post and hope you have a smooth move.

I hope we catch up with them again.

You know true friendship when this returns within a day, washed and dry.


Eth and Harry picked me up for a meal after Jen had gone.

We went down memory lane – my curacy, remember.

Here’s where Jonty and Theo were born. Home deliveries. Both on Sunday mornings. Any excuse to get out of church.

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Here’s where Tilda first went to school.


Here’s the church rebuilt after the Victorian barn of a place burned down in 1990. St Bartholomew’s, Westhoughton.


That was a sight in the middle of the night. I reckon I saved the tower by insisting the fire officers concentrate their water on the base to stop the fire funnelling up.

Simon Tatton-Brown, the Rector at the time, did a great job of rebuilding. It’s lovely inside.

Back to Hart Common for a brew. This house was always welcoming when I needed it.


Then I’m dropped back to The Lark Ascending for my first night alone.

It’s a beautiful full moon over Wigan lock 87.


Tuesday sees me heading back by train for Mirfield. There’s work to be done on the preaching book I’m editing with Richard Sudworth, and on the Theological Reflections: Methods book that Elaine Graham, Heather Walton and I produced in 2005, which needs to be revised.

It’ll be great to see everyone at The College of the Resurrection, as the final week is underway. Folk getting ready to be off to sort out housing; to prepare for ordination services. Peter has nearly finished his essay – the one on Sacramental Theology – that he’s been writing for five weeks now. We need to move stuff out of our rooms and over to Workington, before we return to take The Lark Ascending onwards to Skipton.