Bolton-le-Sands - a place of beauty between coast and canal
PUBLISHED: 23:55 15 September 2012 | UPDATED: 16:32 13 January 2018
This lovely community wedged between coast and canal is a box of delights. Roger Borrell reports Photography: John Cocks
There can’t be many beauty queens who end up running a blacksmith’s business. But for Sheila Modley, a Miss Morecambe in the 1950s and a one-time proud possessor of the title Miss Betting Shop, it was in the blood.
Her grandfather came across the Irish Sea to Bolton-le-Sands almost a century ago and set up a small forge in the pretty north Lancashire village. From there, they developed as wheelwrights and makers of farm machinery and today McGaffigan’s constructs golf trolleys, beautiful ornamental gates as well as selling quad bikes, lawn mowers and a vast array of general hardware.
It’s one of those fine old businesses that you often find off the beaten track. ‘We still have the original old forge,’ says Sheila, whose father-in-law was the popular musical hall comedian Arthur Modley.
‘We still have the bellows and the rope my grandmother pulled to make them work. The forge gets used and we have the tools my grandfather made – you couldn’t go to the shops and buy them in those days. Parties of schoolchildren come around and we fire up the forge so they can see how it used to be done.’
Sheila quit the catwalk for the family business when her father retired. ‘I travelled a lot as a beauty queen – it was my job,’ she says. She appeared on television in the USA in a ‘What’s My Line’ type programme.
‘I was Miss Betting Shop and the Americans didn’t know what a betting shop was!’
Sheila still plays her part but her son, Peter, runs the business and his son is now getting involved, making it the fifth generation at McGaffigan’s. Strolling around the village, you can see the influence the wrought iron makers have had over the years. Sheila, born and bred there, describes it as a ‘wonderful place.’
It’s hard to disagree. On a sunny day it’s a jewellery box full of nooks and crannies with surprises around many a corner. In fact, one of the back lanes is called The Nook and it is the location of a stunning old manor house from the 1660s, very similar to a property down the road at Slyne where Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed.
The village was Bodeltone in the Domesday Book but it has probably had a dozen or more incarnations over the years and the addition of ‘le-Sands’ is likely to have been imposed by the railway company rather than any affectation.
The A6 and the rail line bisect the village, not that you would notice either from the quiet centre, the original part of Bolton. Cross to the western edge and you arrive at a beautiful, broad area of marshland that has wonderful old buildings with names like Wild Duck Hall and exceptional views across the Bay.
This is popular with walkers, horse riders and bird-watchers and its beauty has, ironically, led to caravans for people who want to stop over.
It was this coastal location that earned the people of Bolton-le-Sands a living and cockling continues to this day. The arrival of the railway brought the fish markets much closer and it created a boom in trade.
The village centre has plenty of buzz for a small place. It still has a Post Office, a general dealers, clubs for tennis and bowls, a school and a branch of the famous Potts’ Pies empire, run by some ladies dispenseing delicacies from a tiny shop.
A chap called Tom Dickinson wrote a book after eating a pie at all 92 Football League grounds and he concluded: ‘The best pie, the overwhelming victor, the Tiger Woods of football pastries, was whisked up by Potts’ Pies.’
Like all good investigative reporters, we felt duty bound to sample this for ourselves and while not possessing Tom’s depth of knowledge, we bow to his judgment. There is also a fine church, Holy Trinity, which dates back to the 1500s. It was shut on the day we visited and the church porch had four signs instructing people not to put up signs. On the plus side, someone connected with the church is a very keen gardener.
There are some great views of Morecambe Bay – one of the finest from the bowls club. Member Colin Bowker, whose family has run the village butcher’s shop for almost 60 years, said: ‘The view is so good that sometimes you’re playing a match and everyone has their back to you looking out to the coast!’