Words and images by Chris Slater
Rivers are a great place to sulk, especially as a kid. It’s not so much the gift of perspective, it’s the colossal indifference to your issues that I like. Rivers don’t care much for the past, particularly yours. They hide ugly secrets in tombs of mud and silt, and the lost ports of the River Wyre are proof of this.
Around the back of my parents’ house runs a tiny stream called the Lucas Flash. I still dare myself to cross it via a thin, rusty water pipe, partly to see if I still can, but mostly in case any of my old mates are watching somewhere. The forfeit for non-compliance with the crossing rule involves a childish act in the retirement home window. Without any formal dissolution, I can only presume this ancient law is still in force and recently I even did it in a suit. I am 33 by the way.
From the other side of the Flash, you can follow it down Breck hill, across the golf course, under the roundabout and into the spectral pulse of Skipool Creek.
It’s a weird place, where wooden boats die for amateur photographers, condemned to matchstick jetties by perishing ropes. It always looks the same here, a bleak, metallic panorama, with a purple buzz on its periphery which distorts colour like a knackered TV and filters the long grass into neon greens. Muddy, rarely navigable and always silent. A place for whispers and a home for Boggarts.
This is where the rotting hulk of Good Hope was abandoned. An old shrimper they say once made it to Australia and back. As a teenager I obsessed over it. I sat here during that nineties solar eclipse, eating squares, smoking regal blue and wondering if the world would end. I even tried to get a small mob together to buy it for just £30 each back in 1997. On the initial viewing I stood on the splintered hull like a western medicine man and invited my teenage investors on board, one of whose legs went straight through the decking, gashing it and exposing the shin bone. It was her last chance of salvation and she blew it. Now we just watch each other grow older, with decreasing prospect of rescue.
Apart from the discovery of 12,000 year old local hero Horace The Elk (we now have a ‘spoonies pub named in his honour – the highest local accolade available) not a lot is known about this place. Recently I had to do a little research on it, and it was like discovering your Granddad is Britain’s oldest stalker (who incidentally does currently live in Skipool Creek).
For a time it was one of the busiest ports in the North of England, and it grew rich on smuggling and contraband in the lawless isolation of the Fylde coast. Vessels were unloaded from the territories of the new world, flax and tallow from Russia, African fertiliser, and from Jamaica came rum, tobacco and sugar. In turn we exported a twisted cargo of Lancashire cheese and, shamefully, African slaves. A forgotten stain on the town that has never been recognised as many of the paper records were lost, almost in collusion with the River Wyre’s eradication of any physical evidence.
With the maritime activity came heavy industry, ‘Tomlinson’s Animal Feed’ warehouse and ‘Silcocks Bone Mill’ were located on the site of the present 1970’s yacht club. A busy grind-house, where animal carcasses were crushed into bone powder by drive shafts and mallets, and a factory the workers would never enter alone, as this is where Mr Hornby hung himself. Alone one night, surrounded by death, in a bone mill, on Skipool Creek.
My first teenage job was at the local pub, I’ll not mention the name. Here I peeled endless bags of carrots and endured the steady insults and questionable life counsel from two sweaty, ugly and disturbed cooks. I saw them do things to the food in that kitchen that I never wish to witness again, the ‘backhand wank’ being a particular highlight. This tavern had a very real history of press-ganging local farmers to sea, but personally I remember it for the borderline abuse inside the walk-in-fridge. Beanie had it worse than me, what they did to poor Beanie whilst tied in cling film handcuffs should have put them in jail. Seriously. Eventually I walked out, I couldn’t handle the thought that one day they would make good on their threats of a game of ‘willies’. The owner was petrified I would hit them with another employment tribunal, and even the cooks were quite upset with themselves. Apparently they liked me.