by Jennifer Rushton

To the north of the busy industrial town of Bolton in Lancashire lies an area of rugged upland, culminating in the well-known mast-topped summit of Winter Hill, which have long provided a recreational opportunity for the citizens of the region. These hills, comprised geologically from the Carboniferous coal measures, topped in places by remnants of millstone grit, they represent the southern flanks of the Forest of Rossendale. However they are today more commonly referred to as the West Pennine Moors, and this name is found in the title of the essential Ordnance Survey sheet in the 1:25,000 Explorer series.

These hills are the source from which arise brooks, the headwaters of the Rivers Tongue and Croal. The valleys of these cut deep into the landscape, and are today dominated by extensive reservoirs which provide crucial drinking water supplies for the thirsty population of Bolton and beyond. These green oases are home to the villages of Egerton and Bromley Cross beside the infant River Croal, and of Belmont astride the Eagley Brook – which lower down becomes the River Tongue. All of these settlements are modern, in that they date mainly from the period of the Industrial Revolution. From them extend modern ‘A’ roads which cross the hills northwards towards Blackburn and Preston. Edgeworth and the ancient settlement of Turton on Bradshaw Brook lie further east, away from the modern roads.

All of the areas described lie within a six mile (c. 10km) radius of Smithills Hall, a Tudor manor house on the outskirts of Bolton. This fact is significant in that it brings them within the defined study and recording area of the Bolton Field Naturalists’ Society – a century-old institution which brings together the natural historians – the botanists, ornithologists, geologists and zoologists of the district, and of which the writer is a member.

It was for this reason that I first came across the present journal, having it drawn to my attention at a meeting of the society. I subsequently made contact with the diarist, and discovered both the fascinating and well-observed natural history records it contains, and the beautiful prose in which it is recorded. The journal was commenced by a schoolgirl who lived in an old farm in one of these valleys, and was kept for a period of ten years or more, through her adolescence and marriage until personal circumstances meant that she had to leave the district. It highlights not only the natural history of the district, but also the joys and problems of living in what for many of us would be a rural and remote corner.

The author has requested that her personal identity be kept private, in part because many of the locations mentioned are on private land, and the present landowners would not welcome incoming naturalists trespassing upon their acres in search of elusive plants or birds. Nor should this be necessary: much of the higher ground is now open under right-to-roam legislation, and access is available to many other botanising grounds and to the reservoir banks by public footpaths and access agreements.

Where conservation measures are essential to protect vulnerable eco-systems within the district then the Wildlife Trust and other bodies do ensure that these are fully recorded and open to scientific study. All readers are urged to get out on foot and explore this fascinating area, but also to respect the countryside code whilst doing so. Some diary entries do record the collecting of plants and flowers, but these were carried out in before modern conservation practices and controls were established, and largely upon the family’s own estates. They should and must not be read as license or encouragement to do likewise. Please take only photographs and leave only footprints.

The full and unedited diary has been studied by natural historians from Bolton Museums, and all records of wider importance extracted. Information on the local plantlife and wildlife is available in published format – see bibliography – from the museum, county trust and the Bolton Field Naturalists’ Society. Please do enjoy this journal, explore the countryside and share with the author the great and lasting pleasure that it provides.

Continued 1978 January