How six Bury villages joined forces to promote walking in the area
- Credit: Archant
Country dwellers who felt they were getting a raw deal stopped moaning and did something. Roger Borrell reports
This used to be known as ‘Black Sheep Country.’ It was nothing to do with local ne’er-do-wells but a reference to the soot from factory and mill chimneys that once settled on the fleeces of nearby stock.
It speaks volumes about a spectacular slice of Lancashire moorland just to the west of its urban neighbours, Ramsbottom and Bury. Here, people live on ‘the edge’ – a place where town meets country with all the problems that entails.
There’s an old northern saying that shy bairns get nowt and that certainly seemed the case here until a group of local people decided they were tired of being treated as second class citizens. People in the countryside have long suspected they get a raw deal compared to their urban cousins, especially investment in services such as schools, libraries, roads, transport and health.
Add to the mix contentious planning issues such as the building of huge wind farms and new housing estates creeping into what’s left of our green spaces and you are in danger of having isolated and disaffected communities. The perception among some in local government is that most living in rural areas are all nicely off, thank you.
Fal Binns, who lives in the glorious village of Holcombe, near Ramsbottom, was one of many conspiracy theorists who felt they didn’t get their fair share. Then it was confirmed by a research document called “On the Edge?” which looked at how money was split between urban and rural areas in Greater Manchester.
‘It proved the rural communities got a really bad deal and that is illegal,’ said Fal. ‘The law requires the authorities to treat us equally and Bury Council had to do something about it. The statistics revealed that villages around here were not properly funded.
‘Against this background, we all knew that you could never get anything done in Holcombe. It was always hard work to get any funding yet they managed to find hundreds of thousands to spend on The Rock shopping centre in Bury.’
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Rather than let the report gather dust, villagers met in their local, the Shoulder of Mutton, and hatched a plan to form a pressure group. Working on the principle there is strength in numbers, they agreed to link the historic villages of Holcombe, Hawkshaw, Affetside, Ainsworth, Greenmount and Nangreaves under the banner, BRIF, the Bury Rural Inequalities Forum.
‘There was a lot of debate over the name but we all agreed the word ‘Inequalities’ should be included because that was what it was all about,’ said Fal, who is the current chairman.
This non-political forum meets bi-monthly and presents a united front to raise issues with council representatives and officials. These have included the state of rural public transport resulting in a door-to-door car service being introduced. They’ve also had chicanes built to slow traffic, fought wind farm applications and campaigned, with the help of the local MP, for better broadband services. At last they feel someone is listening to them.
‘We agreed there was no point just moaning about the situation,’ added Fal, a retired research chemist. ‘There was no funding to help us set up BRIF so we decided to go it alone and since 2008 we have achieved a lot.’
But the story doesn’t end in this victory for the ordinary man and woman. During another conversation in the pub they agreed that it would be good to have something more tangible that demonstrated the links between the six villages.
They came up with village-link.com, a site created by Adam Shackleton of Adshack, hosting details of walks via public footpaths between the communities. It consists of seven sections totalling around 18 miles allowing walkers to do as much or as little as they like. It’s well-illustrated and informative with professionally made maps.
‘We realised it would advertise our villages and join us physically so that people could enjoy themselves in this part of Lancashire. It’s put us on the map,’ said Fal.
Local resident John Ireland agreed to carry out a recce of the route and was helped by Bury’s public rights of way officer, David Chadwick, who said: ‘It was a pleasure to work with such an energetic group of people who are prepared to take things on. I acted as someone to provide the checks on legal issues and insurance, but I really just left them to get on with it.’
A combination of grants – yes, they finally got one – and fundraising meant they could have 360 aluminium waymarks for the route and John not only wrote the detailed descriptions of the walks but had the formidable task of attaching them to posts, walls and fences. ‘The vast majority of people were happy to have them but one chap did ask me if he could get a grant for having one on his building! I’d go out each day with a rucksack and a hammer and it was an enjoyable exercise,’ said the former oil industry executive.
The route, which takes in many landmarks such as the Peel Tower, was dedicated to John Hopkinson, a Bury countryside ranger and supporter of BRIF, who died tragically young. It’s a lasting reminder of someone who loved this part of Lancashire and of what local people can do when roused.
Last words go to Christine Taylor, a keen walker who has spent 25 years looking after Greenmount’s thriving Village Community Centre, The Old School. ‘This area was simply forgotten,’ she said. ‘Years back, when they decided to designate places Areas of Outstanding Beauty, they didn’t give us a second thought.
‘We were still covered in the grime and dust of the Industrial Revolution but now we are back on the map and with a wonderful story to tell.’
Things you might find out about on one of the seven village-link routes:
• A village green and ancient cross whose origins have been lost in the mists of time
• The skull of the man who beheaded Lord Strange in Bolton in 1642
• The tower that was home to the original one and only ‘Steeple-Jack’
• The scars in one village of a Zeppelin bombing raid in September 1916
• The industrial remains of a mill where children under 10 worked 14 hour days
• The folly with gargoyle heads made to look like the next door neighbours
• The farm where thousands of Royalist troops gathered during the English Civil War.