I was unaware of the existence of a Wainwright Memorial until a friend gave me a copy of a walk from Blackburn’s Witton Park to visit the said memorial.
Alfred Wainwright [1907 – 1991] is famous for his ‘Pictorial Guides to the Lakeland Fells’ and much much more. He spent his early years in Blackburn, leaving school at the age of 13 to work as a clerk in the Town Hall until leaving in 1941 to a job in Kendal’s Treasury Office.
The Wainwright Society aims are to keep alive the fellwalking traditions promoted by Alfred Wainwright through his guidebooks and to keep faith with his vision of introducing a wider audience to fellwalking and caring for the hills. They were responsible for the erection of his Memorial on the outskirts of Blackburn. It is a bronze toposcope with a hollow centre where there is a stone relief carving of Wainwright. The memorial is on a plinth of gritstone set on the Yellow Hills of Pleasington. From here there is a panorama of the surrounding landscape with the plaque indicating near and far hills with a view to the distant Lakeland Fells. The memorial was unveiled on 13th of May 2013.
Today I went to investigate.
I parked on the large carpark of Witton Park which serves the parkland and a sports complex as well as Billinge Hill above the park. £1.50 for the day seemed reasonable. There was an eclectic mix of users; ladies with babies and toddlers, tracksuited youngsters attending the arena, Army cadets, dogwalkers aplenty, some dodgy-looking hooded youths hanging about.
An effort has been made to get people exploring with lots of interpretation boards, maps, adventure parks and coloured trails. One of the trails explores the former grounds of Witton Hall, this was a large house built in the 1800s for the Feilden family, wealthy textile merchants. At its height, 16 servants were employed as well as 60 employees in the grounds, gardens and farm. Little remains today, it was demolished by Blackburn Corporation in 1952. Some of the outbuildings are still used, there is a large lily pond and an ice house.
Anyhow to get back to Wainwright my map showed a route into the park and then paths disappearing up into the woods. To be honest there were paths everywhere. A stiff climb in woods alongside fields soon left the town behind and the crowds. There was only one dog walker in front of me. When we stopped for pleasantries and I told him of my objective he exclaimed that the hill had “the best view inth world!” We parted and I became a little lost in the trees so we met up again at the upper edge of the forest. It had started raining hard so we both sheltered for a while exchanging walking experiences, it was then he mentioned in his broad Lancashire accent that he had “never bin abroad“. What was I to make of his viewpoint now?
We parted once again and I strolled over to an eminence on what is strangely known as The Yellow Hills. [I have since found out that they are named from the abundant gorse that blooms on their flanks.] Here was the impressive Wainwright Memorial and indeed it was an excellent 360degree viewpoint. Today’s visibility was limited so I had to imagine some of the distant hills indicated on the toposcope. Ewood Park, however, was prominent, Alfred had been a founder member of the Blackburn Rovers Supporters’ Association and a life long fan. This sculpture seems to be a fitting memorial to Wainwright’s time in Blackburn and his further walking exploits.
Retracing my steps I narrowly avoided one of the largest group of walkers I’ve seen, not my idea of a walk. My little plan had me following paths into the forest that is Billinge Hill to its summit from where trees obstructed any view. There was however an interesting plaque at the top.
Back on the circuit, I remembered in the past having climbed in a little quarry up here somewhere. After a little exploration, I think I found it, overgrown and strewn with litter from local youths up to no good. It’s in there somewhere…
Leaving the hill my path crossed an old access road to the hall’s grounds and I crossed a couple of fields with more open views once again. Then it was back into the woods again dropping steeply to arrive at a cafe, it was closed.
This visit to Wainwright’s Memorial turned out to be a worthwhile rural walk in new surroundings within a stone’s throw of Blackburn’s busy streets.
It has also set the seeds for a possible journey up Wainwright’s Way from Blackburn to the Lakes.