As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve spent Lockdown preparing for a couple of days wandering in Warwickshire with my friend Chris as a small section of his hike from Eastbourne to Stoke.
An unexpected benefit of the spending the last five months in Preston has been the opportunity to explore the town where I spent my university years and actually learn more about its history.
Ms Marple’s shed is well placed for a variety of routes – heading along the River Ribble in either direction to the docks or along to the nature reserve; across the fields, through Preston’s town (sorry, city as of 2002) centre or randomly following old tram ways.
So, the next couple of blogs will have a focus on Preston and its history. No, it’s not quite the same as travelling through Southeast Asia, but Lockdown has given me a great chance to explore the local area.
My morning walk – usually stupidly early – started as Lockdown was imposed: a way of exercising when there would be few people out and about. The river Ribble has been a favourite route – not least because of the beautiful tree lined Boulevard that takes me to Avenham Park.
On the edge of Avenham Park is the currently closed Old Tram Bridge. This used to be a key pedestrian route from the South Ribble into Preston.
The Old Tram Bridge is actually a replica of the old timber trestle bridge that crossed the River Ribble allowing the Tram Road to link two canals to the North and South of Preston.
The original bridge lasted longer the tram road. The Tramway was built to link the two portions of the Lancaster Canal across the deep valley of the River Ribble and was opened on 1st June 1803.
In 1794, John Rennie had submitted a design for a stone aqueduct of three arches, each of 116 ft. span and a lofty embankment to carry the canal over the valley, but the estimated cost of £94,979 was considered too high and the tramway was built instead.
The tramway remained in use until 1859, and was not entirely dismantled until 1868 when the railways began to price out the canals.
One of the people I see reasonably regularly along the Ribble has been the metal detecting enthusiast – usually up to his knees, least – in the waters of the river, hopefully searching for treasure.
Apparently, if you stand in the Ribble facing towards Ribchester, (East of Preston) there be treasure and on this particularly morning, the Metal Detectorist was certainly facing the right way.
News of the last big find is as recent as 1840, a mere blink in time, when a hoard of over 8,600 items including silver coins and bullion was discovered on the bend of the river in an area known as Cuerdale, on the outskirts of Preston.
The Hoard was and remains the largest Viking silver hoard found outside Russia and exceeds any discovery made in Scandinavia or other Western areas where the Vikings settled.
The Cuerdale Hoard was found by a group of workmen repairing the embankment of the river. The stash didn’t long remain in the hands of the labourers, ending up with the Duchy of Lancaster who passed it on to the British Museum where the bulk of it can still be found.
It is believed that the coins were buried between 903 and 910AD when the Ribble Valley was an important Viking route between the Irish Sea and the city of York. Looking at the river and the Metal Detecting Enthusiast standing up to his knees in the water, you wouldn’t really guess at this shipping history.
I’m not sure how many longboats used to wend their way along this route.
The presence of large numbers of newly minted Norse coins from York and large amounts of Irish Norse bullion apparently leads experts to conclude that this may have been a war chest belonging to Irish Norse exiles planning to reoccupy Dublin from the Ribble Estuary.
The final bridge on my circuit is the Old Penwortham Bridge at Broadgate. It was built in 1759 to replace the 1755 effort that collapsed in 1756. #Shoddy
And for some people, the thirst needs to be satisfied with a drink on the Avenham Bridge overlooking the river.