We’ve never considered that we live in a high risk area for any natural disasters - big or small. There have on occasions been earthquakes – very, very small earthquakes reaching the dizzy heights of 2 or 3 on the Richter scale. I think I remember once that somewhere local had a tiny little tornado which knocked a few bins over, but on the whole we live in a relatively sheltered (by the Pennines) area which probably doesn’t feature highly on any emergency planning list. How strange it has been this week to find one of our local areas propelled to national stardom for what has been declared a ‘major’ incident.
Winter Hill, visible to most people around our end of Lancashire/Greater Manchester and instantly recognisable from the television mast which sits atop it. Popular with walkers, runners and cyclists – families out for day trips, horse riders, dog walkers and if it snows it’s the first place most people go with their sledge! Visit Rivington on any Sunday or bank holiday and you’ll find the car parks of the local barn full of motorbikes old and new. The view from the pike stretches for miles and on a clear day you will not only see the towns of Wigan, Bolton and Chorley but in the distance you will make out familiar landmarks of Manchester city centre, Liverpool, Blackpool and even the hills of Wales. Walk further up to the transmitters and the view is breathtaking, literally, as even on our clear day, it is almost always breezy! Indeed it’s only a couple of months since we ventured up to the masts for one of our Sunday strolls (see below).
2018 has already produced the longest heatwave most of us can remember. Glorious blue skies every day since late May, wall to wall sunshine, high temperatures (stuffy nights…) and as a result parched, dry grass and moorlands posing an ever increasing risk of fire.
During the last week of a June a moorland fire broke out on Saddleworth Moors – about 25 miles East of where we live - visible across most of Manchester and beyond creating a plume of smoke NASA could photograph from space. Before this was under control the already stretched fire services then had to contend with a second fire breaking out on Winter Hill just west of Bolton and which dominates the view from our bedroom window – about 8 miles away. Without any let up in the weather both fires soon grew out of control and both were declared major incidents with hundreds of firefighters and dozens of engines and helicopters involved.
The plumes of smoke from the fires have filled our skies morning and evening for almost a week now. Thankfully for us the wind has never blown the smoke towards us although at times the smell of burning has been overpowering and we have awoken most mornings coughing. And it has been a bit surreal to be able to watch a national news story live from the comfort of your bedroom!
We are at least 8 miles away from Winter Hill and can only imagine the impact the fires are having on the affected areas and particularly on the fire service supported by colleagues from across the country and members of our armed forces. They are working tirelessly to get the situation under control in appalling conditions.
Uncomfortably, the smoke has proven irresistible to photograph. Beautiful and hypnotising- stretching for miles and miles around our local area and when the sun begins to set behind the smoke clouds the colours of the sky are once again breathtaking – purples, reds, yellows and a bright pink sun. We have kept our distance and photographed with a long lens but in this world of people feeling it is their right to get the best shot it has not been surprising that the police have had to issue warnings to drone pilots hampering the helicopters and even had to rescue a member of the public who managed to get close to the fires (after ignoring the Police and Fire Service cordon) then collapsed with smoke inhalation problems!
As this is being written the smoke in our area has disappeared or at least decreased, so maybe the work of the fire crews is beginning to have an impact, but it will need a really good downpour to do the job properly as peat can stay burning under ground for a long time. So whilst we’ve got a proper summer this year I’m sure a lot of people won’t be too sorry to have some rain soon but until then lets be thankful we have dedicated professionals trying to contain the situation and leave them to do what needs to be done.
Social media is full of people demonstrating their ‘wanderlust’ – 50 countries - 12 months, bucket lists of jaw dropping locations, I gave up my job to travel the world… We gaze at their photographs of visits to places most people can only dream of and envy their courage to ‘up sticks’ and travel the world.
Sadly, for most of us life is much more mundane consisting of mortgage repayments, a job that you’ve stayed in too long and of course (let’s not forget!) supporting your kids as they travel through life. Is it possible to achieve ‘wanderlust’ with all of this against you?
Long distance travel to experience different cultures and visit remarkable places is something most of us can only dream of doing, but how many people look at what their local area has to offer? Do you visit your local areas? Research your local history? Take the time to explore what is in and around where you live.
We constantly look for different places to photograph and despite living in and around this area for many, many years we have during the past 12 months discovered all sorts of hidden gems of places to visit – many of which can be visited for nothing!
Although the Parbold Bottle may not inspire you with the same level of excitement as the Taj Mahal or the Great Wall of China - the view from the top of Parbold Hill is stunning stretching out to the Lancashire coastline across a remarkably flat landscape. The walk up to watch the sun go down should be on everyone’s bucket lists – if you are lucky you might even find an ice cream van there!
Despite Standish rapidly disappearing beneath new housing estates, there are still areas of outstanding natural beauty. The walk past the cricket club down to Elnup Woods gives you waterfalls, old buildings, bridges, benches (to rest for a while!) and even a spectacular ravine.
Worthington Lakes is another hidden gem – United Utilities reservoirs offering a 3km walk all the way round with birds and woodland and, if you feel like getting up early, amazing views of the sun rising above nearby Winter Hill.
Wigan itself is steeped in history from our world famous pier to Uncle Joe’s famous mintballs, unbelievable sportsmen and women and even a statue with a lucky foot! I wonder how many people just pass these wonderful places on their way to somewhere else.
So maybe we should all start our quest to achieve ‘wanderlust’ closer to home. Who knows where it may eventually lead?
Life and other