Chorley: Where People Go to Fight! 09/01/2010Posted by brendan in Avions, Trains et Voitures.
Tags: astley park, astley village, chorley, christmas, england, lancashire, leeds and liverpool canal, rose & crown, snow, the farthings, top lock, travel
The planned community where my friend Pete was born was bequeathed the utterly British moniker The Farthings. Through Astley Park, past the old manor where the sirloin steak was coined, is a village center. Beyond the half-frozen duck pond, across the highschool field and up the hill lies Chorley proper.
A displaced American expatriate who couldn’t return home for the holidays, I made out like a bandit. Pete’s family are welcoming and gracious hosts, a cinematic embodiment of Lancashire charm. When my dietary politics were unearthed I was presented with fish, I was expected to join everyone for Christmas gifts and chocolate overindulgence, and I was shooed away from the kitchen whenever washing up was to be done. The clan’s dynamic is one of good-natured ribbing, thoughtful conversation, and comfort.
Congeniality carries over to Pete’s hometown friends. On Christmas Eve we trudged through the dark park to The Rose & Crown. The pub was a crush of difficult accents, confusing introductions and steam. People who had never met me huddled in the corner to talk or bought, against my will, disgustingly sweet cough-syrup shots. At first I found the scenario odd, a raging party on the cusp of a family holiday, but these were old friends reunited. Midnight karaoke chased the less intent home, and those who remained destroyed “Fairytale of New York” and other yuletide classics.
An hour’s train-ride north from Manchester, Chorley escapes the industrial landscape of Northern England. Driving through the rolling West Pennine Moors, en route to the outskirts of Leeds, someone suggested a hike up to Rivington Pike. At the crest sits a tower constructed in the 1730s, and probably breathless views as well. Days later we opted instead for a less substantial trek, through the uniform streets of Chorley proper and along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Soup and sandwiches while sitting on the locks, then into The Top Lock for a round of pints. A cozy early afternoon locked inside from the freezing world, families occupied spacious booths whiling away the hours.
How do these places exist? Chorley is a market town, surrounded by sheep paddocks and farmlands, grazing cattle and open skies. Catholic martyrs during the Reformation, marauding Jacobites following Bonnie Prince Charlie, rumors of a schoolmaster named Shakespeare, and the footprints of Oliver Cromwell remain. There were coal mines once upon a time, then came cotton during the industrial revolution. The Royal Ordinance Factory worked through World War II, then was taking over by BAE Systems where one of Pete’s friends works now. Soon that will be gone, sold off for more housing.
The region is a collection of council estates, planned communities, village centers and commercial thoroughfares. Originally The Farthings was one end of a vast tract of land committed to a chain of developments, but the scheme failed somewhere along the way. The Astley Village Center is a depressing concrete plaza with shuttered doors, a dusty community center, failed promise. Services accounts for over 70% of the economy, split between the downtown shops, the hospital, the council positions. The largest Morman temple in Europe sits off the motorway.
This does nothing to dampen my week’s stay. Shoveling ice from beneath the car, sliding through the winding lanes, snowball fights in the fields. The nights at The Rose & Crown weren’t nights in some bar, they were a communion of friends making up for lost time. Time spent in The Farthings were filled with laughter, ease and enjoyment. Pete couldn’t have stayed there, it would be too restrictive, but he can cherish every trip home. I understand a little of why.