Happy days before health and safety

A bogey racing kart just like the ones we made
A bogey racing kart just like the ones we made

Tash Tales with local historian Alf Ridyard...

I have to smile when I see a group of school children walking down the street, all with high-vis jackets on and a minder per five kids.

As a child, our unaccompanied daily lives were as daring as a Bear Grylls TV programme is made out to be.

The five weeks and two days summer holidays were planned like an SAS raid.

Firstly last week in June and first week in July were the local wakes weeks or cotton holidays as they were known, Bolton first week and Atherton and Leigh second week when me and my friends went with family to exotic places such as Blackpool, Rhyl or Prestatyn if you were lucky.

Our own destination was Rainfords camp at Gronant, which in those days was an old camp of wooden chalets with no running water, a stand pipe at the end of the gravel road being your only source of water, the poor man’s Pontins.

It was just across the golf course and was our holiday accommodation for a week, with nostalgic trips to Talacre, St Asaph and Rhyl. We travelled by train from Bag Lane station in Atherton, opened especially for holiday specials, the station by now had closed.

This would be 1957 or 58, and we would change at Chester for Prestatyn and then catch a local bus for the last couple of miles to Gronant which did not have a station but the line ran right past the camp, the trains thundering past all day.

Home after a week and the real holidays began, we had already prepared our bogey (trolley to posher kids) rescuing pram wheels and a suitable plank to sit on, a yard or so of rope nicked from mum’s washing line and tied to the axle either side of our plank as a steering aid.

This was for our attempts on our own Cresta run (Swiss bob sleigh run) down the top field off Hamilton Street (Atherton) a series of hills 200 yards or so long with a brook at the bottom, the challenge was, (A) to complete the run without falling off, as the bogey flew over the undulations, (B) the ability to turn at the end without ending up in the brook, an occurrence that happened quite frequently, bailing out at the last minute and let the bogey hit the brook this was the order of the day.

In all the times we did these runs, we incurred just one serious injury, a broken arm, which slowed the victim down for a day or so.

Our adventures took us further afield from here, down Bee Fold Lane and to a stretch of water known locally as the Red Sea – ochre-coloured water from the Chanters pit with the spoil tips (rucks) hovering over it.

This is where we built rafts, once again a highly dangerous practice by today’s health and safety killjoys standards as we, as you can imagine were not really raft builders.

Once again a few wettings was the worst we had, this orange/red water was notorious for rotting your clothes. A major day’s activities as the weeks went on was a trek to Lilford Park, two jam butties wrapped in grease proof paper and a bottle of corporation pop (water) and as part of our five a day, a quick clandestine raid in the allotments behind Wardour Street and grab a handful of pey swads (pea pods), strawberries (if they were ripe) and off we would go, stopping alongside the railway line down Bee Fold Lane for further health food supplies.

This included blackberries, which grew in abundance on the rail banking.

Next was the crossing of the brook at Langley Platt/Long Causeway, this was done by balancing across the drainage pipe then the most dangerous part of our journey through Atherton private woods on Lord Lilford’s estate, with rumours of a game keeper patrolling with a gun - just a story put about to keep cheeky kids like us out.

This part of the journey was negotiated like a behind-the-enemy-lines SAS operation, as were all of our adventures.

Once in Lilford Woods, we would visit the rope swing which was located in the seven hills/devils hollow, an area well known to locals of Leigh Atherton and Tyldesley, standing on the rim of the hollow.

We would launch ourselves in a sideways motion, this was to avoid colliding with the tree directly in front of us and swing round and upwards arriving back with a push off the said tree at your departure point, deftly hopping off the stout branch that had been our seat on the journey.

Anyone falling off, which happened quite regular, wasn’t met with sympathy but a roar of laughter, today this would put in the category of bullying or humiliating your peers, in our days we called it character building.

The faller got back up, dusted himself down and got back on till he succeeded in completing the task. A visit to the park would also be undertaken for gentler activities, although in some cases no less daring, unless of course the parkie spotted you. We also went there to refill the water bottle at the tap near the then tennis courts, later to be the zoo.

The most dangerous of our escapades was on the Pretoria rucks in Atherton, another of our adventure playgrounds, where we once found an old piece of corrugated tin, curved up at the end, part of an old Anderson shelter roof, discarded after WW2.

The bolt holes were ideal for putting a piece of rope through to make an ill thought out and completely useless steering device, the rucks were about 80metres or so high and at this time planted with young saplings.

This did not stop us dragging our “sled” to the top and three of us sat on it and without fear or hesitation pushed off from the top on a ride that to this day makes me wonder how we are still here, careering down at a great rate of knots flattening saplings along the way, down at the bottom of the ruck across a well-worn footpath it began to rise again as a small hillock, our contraption went flying upwards, depositing its three passengers in a big heap.

What goes up must come down and it certainly did, landing sharp edge first ploughing into the soft rain-sodden rucks some few feet from this pile of human bodies battered and bruised but unbowed. Had it hit us it would have decapitated us.

These are three activities from five weeks of mayhem and fun, we never once sat on a couch exercising our thumbs and the only Blackberry we had, we ate. Still here 60 years later and wishing I could do it all again.