Rivington Pike and the surrounding landscape of the West Pennine Moors have been a feature of my life for as long as I can recall.
As a tot I was taken to the upper and lower barn for treats after long walks around Rivington. By age nine we had moved just down the road and suddenly the Pike was the view from my bedroom window. On summer evenings I would fall asleep looking at this breathtaking vista, not fully appreciating how lucky I was. The Pike and surrounding moors weave a spell on everyone who lives here and it’s fair to say that Rivington is treasured by the people who visit and enjoy walking its hills and valleys.
I have lived all over the world but in the end the invisible pull of the Pike drew me back, and these days the scene from my landing window is an even closer view than the one I enjoyed as a child.
Local legend has it that the Pike was originally a beacon (‘Pike’ derives its name from the Old English hreof plus ing meaning the rough or rugged hill and pic, a pointed eminence). But I have long suspected that the hillock it sits on could be an Iron Age hill fort. In 1954 a walker found a perfectly preserved Bronze Age axe head in a river valley formed by the River Douglas which wends it way around the area. Archaeological excavations undertaken on the moors during the 1950s unearthed further evidence of early settlement. For the last three centuries, the Tower atop the Pike has attracted visitors from across the country.
Lord Leverhulme, of Lever Brothers fame (the soap pioneers), was the son of a Bolton grocer. By the turn of the last century he owned much of Rivington and had Roynton Cottage constructed high on the hills. The cottage was burned to the ground by suffragette Edith Rigby in 1913 and was soon replaced by The Bungalow, a far grander residence. These days the only signs left of this once palatial abode are patches of the black and white floor tiles which poke through moorland undergrowth. Other landscaped features added by Lord Lever have thankfully survived in better condition such the Terraced Gardens, the Pigeon Tower and the Folly on the edge of Lower Rivington reservoir.
On his death Lord Leverhulme bequeathed the surrounding land to the people of the area. Locals continue to be extremely grateful for this and are rightly proud to consider it their own. Rivington is very much a part of people’s lives and the Good Friday walk up the Pike is observed by thousands of folk from miles around. The origins of this tradition are thought to be an Easter custom which started in the 19th century, although its roots probably lie in a far older Spring rite.
Over time responsibility for the land has changed hands on several occasions. After the Second World War it was under the control of Liverpool Water Corporation – later North West Water. Slowly the once great Japanese gardens and terraces fell into disrepair, but rather than diminishing the area’s beauty, the shabbiness created an even more magical air about the place. Nevertheless, in 2014 a heritage lottery fund was awarded to renovate the terraced gardens and work is still being undertaken to restore the grounds to their former glory.
Perhaps naively I believed Rivington was ours just as Lord Lever had planned, making it impossible for anyone to take it from us, develop or desecrate it. Then earlier this year I saw a post on social media about an anti-fracking meeting in Horwich led by a local group. I read a section of the blurb and was horrified to see that fracking was proposed for this area. My partner and I braved a cold and wet Wednesday night to find out more. We quickly discovered that fracking licences had been granted not only for Rivington but huge swathes of the Pennine Moors.
Perhaps most alarming of all I learnt that many of the proposed sites are around former mines. Rivington Moors all the way to Winter Hill are peppered with ancient mine shafts which are largely unmapped and submerged in water. Clearly this greatly increases the chances of the chemicals used in the fracking process seeping into the water table. The effect of this pollution would be catastrophic, particularly when you consider that Rivington’s reservoirs supply drinking water as far afield as Liverpool.
Having read about the horrifying ecological disasters caused by the fracking industry in America and Australia, I felt sick to my stomach. I am not normally an activist and I have never campaigned about anything but when I heard about the licences every fibre of my being screamed NO! I knew I had to do something, try anything, to stop this from happening to our countryside. So on Good Friday, along with almost 200 other anti-frackers, I went out to campaign against fracking on Rivington. As I handed out flyers I discovered that only a small handful of people were even aware that licences had been granted. This is not surprising as licences were issued the week before Christmas when presumably we were all expected to be too busy to notice.
Since Fylde Council voted against fracking in their region, final decisions have been devolved to central government. This does not fill me with confidence. Fracking is a very real danger not only to the eco system, our water supply and our health but to the lives of our children and many more generations to come.
Fracking is a short-sighted quick fix which has understandably been banned in many countries. We all know that oil and gas reserves are running out but surely sustainable energy is the way forward? Shouldn’t we consider hydro, solar or wind power before we cause irrevocable damage to our environment? I would rather have a wind farm on Rivington than lose it to fracking. I want the magic and natural beauty of Rivington to be enjoyed by future generations and I will do whatever I can to make sure that happens.