Bolton-le-Sands, a hidden gem in Lancashire

PUBLISHED: 23:06 12 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:39 20 February 2013

Diana Jones and grandson Benjamin Unsworth stroll by the canal

Diana Jones and grandson Benjamin Unsworth stroll by the canal

It may be small but the Lancashire community of Bolton-le-Sands manages to pack a lot in. Roger Borrell reports

IF you've never strayed from the A6 as it zips from Lancaster to Carnforth, then you have missed one of Lancashire's little gems. Away from the thrum of traffic lies a community bordered by marshes that wouldn't have looked out of place as a set for Great Expectations and, on the side, a swathe of beautiful, rolling countryside.

Wedged between is the historic canal side village of Bolton-le-Sands. As well as a wonderful place for a walk and some refreshment, it also contains an impressive array of striking historic houses from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries. The earliest stone built properties show that over the years this has been home to some affluent people.

Its history has been entertainingly charted by Kenneth Entwistle, now retired after many years as head teacher at the village primary school, in his book 'From Bodeltone to Bolton-le-Sands' - a volume which now changes hands for up to 120. The Bodeltone in the title refers to the Anglo-Saxon name which appeared in the Domesday Book.

Since those times, the village has been dominated by farming, fishing, the canal and the railway. It's quite likely that the railway company simply imposed the name Bolton-le-Sands. In times gone by it had at least 15 different titles, and the railway needed to pick one to be able to distinguish it from other Boltons.

Cockling was a big industry with locals using horses and carts on the running tide while others employed nets to trap fish in the Kent estuary. As Kenneth explains, the arrival of the railway in the 19th Century, resulted in a boom in the cockling industry as it meant the shellfish could be sold much further afield via this faster transport link.

More trade meant more money in the pockets of locals, but the impact wasn't entirely positive. An official inquiry pinpointed rampant drunkenness among the adults and an alarmingly high level of child labour used to collect the cockles.

Compulsory education and shifting sands in the estuary eventually put a stop to that and Dr Beeching's plan led to the railway station closing. While the nearest stop is now at Carnforth, the Lancaster Canal, which arrived in the 1790s, is still very much in evidence.

This attractive waterway winds its way through the village and past the imposing, white fronted Packet Boat hotel. While the canal was created to transport the output from the Lancashire coalfield and return with limestone to sweeten the fields, the horse-drawn narrowboats also took passengers and places like the Packet Boat were set up to provide them with accommodation.

Kenneth also solved a little mystery about the canal bridges - one of which has the wonderful name Cinder Oven bridge. Many have the remains of white paint on the arches. This harks back to the days when the leading horse pulling the boats had a rider and the paint was designed as a night-time warning to stop him cracking open his head.

Another interesting canal-side feature is a lovely community woodland cared for by an intrepid group of local men and women, under the guidance of county council countryside officer Steve Edwards.

Part of this was once common land, where locals believed they had a right to graze their beasts. However, it was the subject of many disputes over the years - one Victorian leaseholder was outraged to discover someone had installed a bench there and he retaliated by painting it with tar so no one could use it.

Today, peace reigns. The common has vanished under encroaching trees and shrubs and the adjoining woods were generously given to the village in 1991. Together, these two pieces of land form the 14-acre Thwaite Brow Woods Conservation Project, a picturesque part of the village providing locals with a good walk.

Among the project founders are Cyril and Sheila Pollitt. 'When we started, the land had really been left to nature. It was very overgrown and we have been gradually working with Steve to improve it with new steps, paths and replanting,' said Cyril.

Sheila added that when they held their first public meeting, about 120 villagers were there. 'Today, when we work in the woods we get a dozen on a good day and we are all retired. We really need some younger people to help out.'

The hard work put in by the team is obvious when you take a stroll around the woods with Steve and some of the volunteers. There's a healthy holly population but there are also rarer plants such as white violets, sand leeks, early purple orchids and sparge laurel. Sadly, Dutch elm disease has ravaged the wood but there are signs of some new elm growth and the team have been busy planting hazel saplings.

Secretary of the group is Ron Harrington. 'I moved here in 1996 to be close to my daughter who is a teacher at Heysham,' he said. 'This is a lovely place with a real community spirit.'

Another of their band is writer Robert Swain, who moved to Bolton-le-Sands from Blackpool as a child. He has had ten countryside books published, including walks and local guides.

Colleague Joan Buckley added: 'The community centre is the hub of the village and it's used throughout the day by a huge variety of organisations including the WI, the horticultural society, dance groups and a lunch club. We moved here from Bare in Morecambe and it's the best thing we ever did. After 25 years, I think I'm stopping!'

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