Saturday 3rd April
Preston to Churchtown
The route leaves Preston on the Lancaster canal and the takes footpaths to maintain a straighter course than the canal provides.
The Lancaster canal is curious in that its larger intentions were never realised (connecting to Wigan through Preston) but were, at one level, achieved! There was never sufficient money to build the aqueduct over the Ribble so a tramway bridge was created, linking the canal at both ends. Further, though the canal connected to the River Lune via Glasson Dock the connection to the Ribble at Preston (and thus to join national routes which the Wigan section of the canal had with the Leeds and Liverpool canal) did not occur until 2002
Eventually the route crosses the River Brock (Light Ash Bridge) and finishes at Churchtown – known in earlier times as Garstang Churchtown.
Father Andrew issues an invitation
It is Easter Saturday and Father Andrew, being released from a duty of abstinence for Good Friday has determined that there should be a Holy Saturday gathering at his house. This ‘gathering’ is at the start of the day – an opportunity for those whose communion is usually somewhat formal and ritual to break into a different style.
Father Andrew will cook breakfast…. Breakfast for the congregation…. And the pilgrims. So they resort to The Glebe House where there is a sharing of bacon, eggs, tomatoes, hash browns, beans, toast, coffee (or tea for those so inclined). Not just one serving but should it be desired (and it was), two servings.
This pilgrimage – hospitality to excess (acceptable excess, unquestioned excess, grateful excess, thankful excess). It is the ‘spirit’ that matters – but the food that immediately satisfies!
There never is a ‘going back’ but as one writes this, there is a desire to do so.
So, off they go, our wanderers – pushing ever north.
Was this walk becoming a mere ‘ramble’… ceasing to be a ‘peregrination’… did the hospitality and generally shorter length to the days alter the essential nature of it as a pilgrimage?
The pilgrimage moved on – crossing through the town and joining the Lancaster Canal at the point where it finishes to the north of the centre. It once had continued further south – but had never been able to fund the building on an aqueduct across the Ribble (using a tramway linking two separate sections). Now it just starts, on top of an embankment (on the west side) shaped out of a slight rise in the ground to the east. It is a canal that contours and therefore, though the route made considerable use of the waterway from this point, no lock was encountered except where it connected to other waterways.
Canal walking can be pretty tedious but not so in urban areas where houses, often of the inexpensive traditional industrial terraced variety, have gardens running down to the canal. Creativity and opportunity abound and in Preston this results in a wonderful range of interesting developments.
The most amusing was the garden converted into a pseudo Mediterranean style drinking lounge called Lynn’s Bar’.
The canal, being contoured, has some very long bends thus the route diverged, crossed through a housing development on a series of paths and then, for the first time led over a motorway, through a village, into truly open country – a landscape view composed of nothing more than scattered housing and farms.
It was a pleasant sunny day, the ground was level and there was plenty of time to sit at the The Plough at Eaves – a pub claiming to be the oldest on the Fylde.
Beyond the pub (actually sited in the hamlet of Cuddy Hill) the route followed quiet lanes across flat ground. The land will once have been fenland as there are many drainage channels, without which modern farming would be difficult.
At one point the trail, following a track was routed on the remnants of a once significant road – evidenced by the gateposts and stone bridges.
It was a gentle time – the walking was determined but comfortable and as near to being a ‘ramble’ as at any stage thus far.
Churchtown (the civil parish is ‘Kirkland’) was reached over a suspension footbridge crossing the River Wyre. A small attractive settlement, clearly popular as a place to visit as the evening in the Punch Bowl proved.
Sunday 4th April Easter Day
Churchtown To Galgate
Direct to Lancaster canal which forms a large part of the route for the day
The canal is not shown on the above map as it did not exist in 1786, but the tracks and lanes followed from a point near Fowler Hill lane (many still using the same routes as shown on the map) follow closely the line of the Roman Road.
There is a sort of new normality to the start of the day –
St. Helen’s Church is called the ‘Cathedral of the Fylde and contains a variety of interesting details. As with Frodsham (how long ago that seems from this point) the gravestones prove to be interesting. There was clearly a local simple primitive style to them in the C18th and there are one or two stones (including a well-worn recumbent figure) of particular interest.
Arthur Mee (Lancashire) records ‘Two gravestones in the churchyard have worn carvings of a man and woman at prayer, known to the villagers as Adam and Eve. Another is to a woman who died of the plague 300 years ago, and we were told that another has the names of three men executed in the rebellion of 1715’. None of this was possible to identify.
This was followed for about an hour to a point at which a lane crossed over. This was probably the route of the Roman Rd and was followed (being more direct than the canal) until the canal returned from the right and was followed, once again, to Galgate.
The days of Saturday and Sunday were easier – but with considerably less interest than those which passed through the industrial towns. The land is green and largely pastoral.There were cattle, though most were presumably still confined to sheds. Maybe in a milder winter some more would have been seen – but the extended cold winter had retarded growth – everything relating to this Spring was very ‘late’. There were discussions with two farmers. One had an organic milking herd and had been a member of the cooperative group ‘Dairy Farmers of Britain’ that failed in June 2009. He sounded as if he was struggling – not just the economics: ‘we do all our own maintenance now’ – his son was nearby engaged in welding – but just a general depressed feel. The other, a rather scruffy (clearly a farmer in the middle of mucking a shed or some such activity) but lively chap had developed a camping and caravan site (it seemed full) and after we parted he came dashing back to tell about a cottage ‘your friends might like to hire’. Clearly not someone to miss an opportunity – but it created a good positive feeling.
There were also a few small flocks of sheep – and there was a continual evidence of horses (used for leisure riding). Some houses were of interest but for the most part there was little to distract or slow the pace.
Here there was also a notice warning people about requiring fishing licenses – it having been an issue in many places that some of the new settlers in the UK have not understood that our system is regulated!
There was a welcome to the Methodist Church in Galgate and though not able to arrange a meeting the greetings of the congregation in Runcorn were delivered to one of their previous Ministers who had recently moved and had pastoral care of the Church at Galgate.
A beautiful evening but spent quietly in a pub that had been very busy during the day.
Monday April 5th
Galgate to Overton
The route from Galgate follows the canal – which is a broadly parallel line with the probable Roman route.
At Lancaster the Easter 2010 pilgrimage trail leaves the old routes and heads across the peninsula to Overton, then across the marshy ground (or the footpath if the tide is high) to Sunderland Point and on to the sea marsh alongside which was buried the black ‘servant’ called Sambo.
The route ‘turns aside’ from its lengthier connections. The ‘turning aside’ is significant. Where in Lancaster are the memorials to the origins of its Industrial Age wealth, the ‘trade’ in which it featured as the 4th largest player – ie ‘slavery’. There is no encounter with this past. Lancaster’s position only mirrors the wider British position. Yes – it is retrospective judgement but it is a judgement that people of that time did, in various ways, make – why else did some fight the cause of abolition?
The issue of the outsider, the stranger, those who are ‘different’ – who are of the ‘other’ remains, haunting those who see themselves as ‘settled’ and yet who fear to share.
It was raining – steady and consistently and containing a hint of sleet. There was no avoiding it, thus clad in full waterproofing the pilgrims set off, aim for the canal and maintain a steady pace in the direction of Lancaster. Galgate still retains elements of the industrial buildings – but no longer used as they once were.
Fortunately the rain was driven from the south-west thus they avoided the full force and after while the canal entered a deep cutting which provided some shelter. There were occasional meetings – on such was with a bargee (is that the correct term for the present canal boat owners?) who was moored with other boats. On the tow path was a plastic gazebo shelter – dry underneath… ‘Thats where we had our party last night’ said the bargee…. There was very wet portable barbecue standing by… no-one else appeared, … a cold and wet morning, why bother?
Shortly however the rain eased and then faded away. It was grey and cold but the travellers were able to lift hoods, feel the freshness of the drying air and walk purposely into Lancaster.
There was a brief meeting with supporters in a Sainsbury cafe – no doubt consuming some of that from the store passed at Haydock – then on across the Millenium Bridge following old railway lines and roads towards Overton.
The walk on to Overton takes the pilgrimage away from the Kentigern Exploration. The focus of the pilgrimage, the grave of a black slave, is however one of those elements that could be featured in any detailed description of the longer trail. The site is close and the issue very relevant to the social concerns lying behind the concept of the Kentigern trail. It was pleasing to know that this walk had already prompted one group to make a day visit to Sambo’s Grave and to include within that day other related sites of interest in the area. The issue of slavery was one with a considerable history in this area – especially due to the possible relationship with St. Patrick and his times when coastal raids (exactly parallel to those of the C18th in Africa) produced human product which could be traded in markets.
Lancaster does not seem to put much emphasis on the background to its economic success in the C18th – the issue of the West Indies Trade is mentioned but there is no real sense that the town fully recognises it.
‘Lancaster has never really come to terms with its status as Britain’s fourth largest slave port with over 180 voyages leaving in the mid eighteenth century and the consequent slave trade contributing greatly to the wealth of the city and its inhabitants (Elder 2001). It is not only the direct slave trade, which indicates the interweaving of Lancaster with the slave economy but also its trade in slave produced and harvested goods such as rice, cotton, sugar and particularly mahogany which made the fortune of the Gillows furniture company in the eighteenth century (Sartin 2001).
As in many British slave ports, there is a real amnesia about the slave trade; in Lancaster, for instance, there is no specific memorial to those who were affected by the trade that originated in the city itself (probably at least 5,000 dead and over 30,000 transported). ‘
Given the more ancient examples of the slave trade locally it could be quite a useful issue to explore – a focal point for a form of cultural exploration and tourism that allows the visitor to understand more of an issue that has links throughout history to the present day.
The route from Lancaster followed the converted railway line – but failed to find the comparatively new footpath that skirts the shoreline by the (nearly complete) landfill site. The majority of the walk from there is on minor road and along the estuary – where there was witness to another closed pub, The Golden Ball at Snatchems – vibrant the last time these walkers passed this way.
There was an attempt, a foolish attempt, at experimentation, the ‘trailblazers’ decided to follow a route marked on the map as right of way but which lead to a lane unmarked as such. Was it a good time for such a venture?… One mile, maybe less from the end of the day’s walking… It proved to be an unfortunate decision. The ‘lanes’ were unused and were now land profoundly, deeply ‘poached’ by cattle. Trying to cross this and to reach a point where it could be seen that the lane existed was utterly foolish – it was, anyway, blocked by tin sheeting. The mire increased in-depth, every step, a step into deeper red mud… and into the slough they sank. With a struggle it became possible to avoid sinking to thigh depth and eventually to retreat along the thorny line of a remnant of a boundary hedge. One mile, or less, from the end of the day. How foolish – there was no need to have travelled this way.
There may be no ‘straight and narrow’ but there are sensible and silly options… the choice made on this occasion was not one of the former.
Regaining the asphalt was a relief. This was on a point that for this walk counted as a ‘hill’ – though a very low one. It was the last and almost only, hill. This walk had no hills of any consequence. The high points were at Halton Village in Runcorn and there was a certain amount of undulation along the ridge north of Wigan leading to Preston where Standish probably provided the highest point on the whole route.
This day began with rain and cold… this was accepted, tolerated, endured and overcome – and dismissed. The mire, voluntarily entered, stayed… it continued psychologically, all the way to Overton as the mile – only a mile? – became a series of tedious mind weighted footsteps – a long, slow dreary drag.
Overton is a very satisfying destination on a rise of ground above the estuary of the Lune – ‘a pleasant main street’ says Pevsner…. and from experience, very pleasant welcoming inhabitants who, as on two previous occasions, provided accommodation in the Memorial Hall.
Overton to Sunderland Point & Sambo’s Grave
The highlighting of this grave (which was first made during the Abolition Campaigns of the late C18th) provides for a valuable focal point for a trail that has passed through lands where heavy industry dominated.
It was a time when people were often simply regarded as marketable products – commodified without permission. Though the workers in the mines and mills of Lancashire (and elsewhere) were never enslaved in the manner that Black Africans suffered, the underlying attitudes to the use of human beings a simply ‘trade-able resource’ produced many examples of what would now be regarded as exploitation. The Slave Trade is probably the worst manifestation of what was a socially accepted trade and thus the grave of ‘Sambo’ can be a point – in part because of its isolated barren context – at which any visitor can be a pilgrim, standing, sitting or maybe even kneeling and considering the desolation of humans that was a part of the creation of the modern world.
In the distance can be seen Blackpool Tower – a sign that a journey occurred. Change came (if only, at first, through short vacations) – the Wigan Boat Express eventually went further than the original pier.
A largely grey start to the day. At this point the whole pilgrimage felt very strange. Such feeling had gathered itself the previous evening whilst sitting in the Globe Inn. Sunderland Point is just over the protecting sea wall and across the marsh – one and a half miles. What was the point – this was not a first time visit… why bother going any further, it had been an interesting walk, full of discoveries and questions… but why bother with the final section – and why was it not completed during the previous day – there would have been time.
Two people, no supporters or group to join the final section… there was on one, no ‘other’ of any sort or type for whom this walk functioned.
The purpose seemed completely lacking, a false pilgrimage, a charade without any meaning. Utterly pointless – better to go shopping in one of the towns through which the walk has passed – for these two pilgrims live some distance from such material delights and time could usefully be spent in getting and spending – or at least observing those purposefully engaged in the enjoyment of Shopping Malls.
The impetus to finish what had been intended was just strong enough for them to leave the Hall and plod towards the sea wall beyond the Globe, to climb it, to stare at the marsh ahead and to descend onto the muddy tide free road.
And at this point it all changed – everything – they began to walk as if in a strange mystic dreamworld – the wind blew strong and cold from the south west, the sky was grey but lighted to the east with a slight yellow.
Suddenly it all made sense – it was ‘suddenly’ –
the stepping over the grass bank of the sea wall onto the marsh was to move out and to move beyond all that had gone before – the whole walk… this was a different space. Its own world waiting to be explored just for this moment, this time… complete of itself and needing no other connection.
The houses of Sunderland Point were distant and the space between them and the walkers, diminishing quite rapidly, was a complete emptiness where no-one could stay for long – they had watched, from the wall, the lights of a car on the previous evening moving from the Point and then stopping – presumably too late to cross the rising tide.
This spirit continued onto the higher ground, as they passed the few houses, some of which had been originally for storage of imported goods – largely cotton (Sunderland Point claims to have been the first place in which cotton was imported).
Then it was along the rough track that led from the east facing settlement pst the small Mission Church to the shingle and salt marsh towards which which the small enclosure containing Sambo’s grave faced.
No housing, no view of anything other than the grassy sea marsh, the open sea and its distant Wind farm.
What to do here? This is the end of the pilgrimage. The grave of an unknown person in an empty space. A memorial to the waste of lives as part of a process of commercial gain.
The need to cross the empty space of ‘no-land’ – a space which twice a day lacks solidity being only a surface of moving water. The situation: by a beach, which is not’ here’, not ‘there’, a border – a place incapable of any permanence.
These physical aspects, part of the process of arrival, are what created the mood that descended (or rose?) as the pilgrims began their final walk. It felt correct – even the laying of the palm crosses (carried from Chester).
Maybe the performance of such an act is a physical request, made at a specific place in specific time but expressed to a void of emptiness. A reversal of symbol – this religion had no space for this person or his body. Putting the symbol of that religion on the grave is not just ironic – it is a recognition of failure.
Process – that word occurs again and again. The pilgrim process… is it progress? Is it reasonable to view the ‘process of history’ as ‘progress’. Is it reasonable to make sharp harsh judgement on the practices of the C18th – they were after all just a continuation of ancient habits given a modernised industrial efficiency. It might be unfair to make a judgement on ‘then’ from ‘now’ – but for the mood of many people ‘in that time’, that such trade was wrong.
Yet what was occurring (the enforcement of people, against their will and without any advantage to them, to perform tasks for the gain of others) with one set of people occurred with others – for example, orphaned children from London effectively sold as labour to mill owners in the north of England. The mood that changed such actions developed with a recognition of the individual worth of each person.
Progress from process? Or does present society in general still survive on the production of its goods and services from the cheapest possible source, whatever that process may require? Will international economic development be as great a factor for change as it was in the process of removing black slavery in the British colonies?
‘A mute voice speaks, but only as we ventriloquise it and surely that makes the memorialisation successful mainly for ourselves.’ (Rice)
These pilgrims did not go to a traditional pilgrimage site which claims, or claimed, to impart some positive benefit to the faithful. This was more ‘holocaust’ than ‘holy’. There was nothing ‘holy’ about any of this burial site. It was a place of hopelessness, abandonment, discard, rejection, a reminder of horror.
And the setting, simple and reflective – with the morning’s slowly walked crossing of a bleak emptiness, makes the journey to it worthwhile.
We carry without tears a sickness in the chords
And go on without end towards the setting sun
(Lucian Blaga ‘Pelerinii’)