Around Alsager the farmland is rich Cheshire soil, fertilised by the remains of millenia of sea creatures that drifted to the bottom when we were under water. But just a few miles away wealth came from deeper underground in the coal seams of North Staffordshire.
I set off to ride Route 55 from the old colliery to Sneyd Green. I started near the fine Sustrans-created bridge which is spoiled only by the peculiar two-gate obstacle:
I can understand having a gate, but why two? There must be some reason for this, but after a good mile or so I couldn’t think what it might be. Starting from here one soon passes the rusty and overgrown mineworks that were once producing a million tons of coal a year. The mine has not been dismantled: Four shaftheads are still visible.
The cycle path continues, quite new and well surfaced, a good resource in a run-down area. I came across a little group of boys, eight to ten years old, sitting on the path and pointedly not giving way, glaring at me with hard little faces and trying to be as threatening as they could. In a year or two they will go up to Holden Lane High School, which serves the area, and where I had the misfortune to work in the distant past.
And funnily enough Holden Lane High is where the cycle path leads. When I was there this was a muddy footpath which I mapped in order to run an orienteering event. The school is in the background.
This school, like most in Stoke on Trent, suffered from multiple mergers with others in the interest of ‘efficiency’ as well as drawing many children from homes with absolutely no respect for education, as if the closure of the mines had closed down the expectations and aspirations of the community. Or perhaps it was the years of successful mining that did this, leaving a large workforce with no other strings to their bows and lacking the flexibility to adapt.
So how do you interpret this picture:
Do you see happy children experiencing the freedom of the past in a valley that has been beautifully reclaimed by a caring local authority as part of its regeneration policy? Or do you see good money wasted providing facilities for the feral children of the underclass who will vandalise the swings and strew their litter around the place? Is Britain getting better, or is it getting broker?
My head spinning with such thoughts, I made my way back over this animal bridge:
I have to admit I took a small detour to get a few more pictures of industrial decay, which is always photogenic:
It will one day no doubt be developed as a huge shopping mall. Now would that be a sign of success or failure?