Open Country by Erica Hume Niven

Looking into Cox Green Quarry
Looking into Cox Green Quarry

I set off at an unusually late hour to travel down to my sister’s family home. Before reaching Bromley Cross, I drive through Darwen. The Union flag buntings flutter across the streets and in front of buildings. It is dark.

My sister is tired and Jayjay is with me so I make my bed in the lounge because it has a wooden floor. I take an antihistamine and lay a blanket on the floor for my hairy companion.

Walking is not usually on the agenda when I am visiting my sister and her family near Bolton. We are either at the gym or the Trafford Centre, or have a load of errands to run and the girls to pick up and drop off. The need to take the dog walking gives the opportunity to explore a part of the area I had not visited before.

On the first morning, Jessie, the older of my nieces, walks out with me and Jayjay. Not far from the top of Windy Harbour Lane, we turn into a right of way behind The Last Drop. I soon discover that I was in the stronghold of the Bromley Cross teenagers. Jessie takes me to their favourite trees in a small woodland. We visit the climbing tree and the relaxing tree. The latter has a low, strong branch that you can lie on and rock yourself.

We then walk over a large area of mowed grass that is known as The Last Drop field, but I suspect was actually a piece of parkland. At the other side of this I notice that a narrow path follows the line of a low drystone wall and leads out to an expanse of meadowland. Adjacent to the meadow is Turton Golf Course. The two areas of land are separated by a long, straight path lined by trees and another low wall.

Jessie touches the top of a tall green plant loaded with seeds.

“What is this?” she asks me. I feel patronising as I say it is grass, in fact it is purple moor grass. “Is it?” she replies, surprised. I, too, was surprised that my niece, with her glowing school reports, had not been aware that the various shapes and colours of the seed-heads are the natural process of grass maturing.

Each time I walk the dog one of the girls comes with me. Rosie joins us on a very wet Sunday afternoon and we walk round another wood that local schools had planted. Each time I vary the route at some point to explore the area. One morning, Jessie and I reach a small set of wooden steps that take you to the path that follows the perimeter of a huge quarry.

She is reticent, she keeps close by me. Would we get lost, she asks. I start to show her animal tracks in the mud and the breaks in the vegetation where they habitually walked or fled. Every time Jessie comes with me she wants to look for more tracks. Her fear of being lost is abated.

Rosie’s attitude to walking farther was driven by the desire to explore. On Monday morning, when Rosie and I awake to find ourselves home alone, we walk the farthest distance of all. With Jayjay contentedly trotting ahead of us, we march on. He stops at forks in the path to see which one we would take.

On that bright sunny morning, the vegetation glistening from the rain the day before, we find a path that safely leads us into the bowl of the quarry. We discover the buttresses of the old pulley system and a small pool surrounded by birch and willow. The sun is penetrating this space, shattering the dark surface. Jayjay drinks.

Cox Green Quarry, pictured below, was used as a sandstone quarry from 1840. The cliffs that have been created are up to 60 feet high. In 2007 a local 23-year-old man who had just graduated from university and who was also a promising footballer fell to his death. He was spotted on the floor of the quarry the next evening.