I’m the kind of anorak-clad traveler who likes the M6 ââ- at least the section that crosses the northwest. I appreciate his heritage; inaugurated in 1958, it is the oldest motorway in the United Kingdom. I appreciate that James Drake, the visionary Burnley-born engineer who built it, wanted users to enjoy the smooth curves, vivid colors, and gentle climbs, as well as the awe-inspiring landscapes it opened up. I also have fond personal memories: childhood vacations in Blackpool, hitchhiking to the lakes, road trips in Scotland. Whenever I see signs for “The North” I start to enjoy the ride.
It contains some extremely underrated pieces. Take a surprisingly fertile patch of greenery just east of Preston at Junction 31 – a place the travel-weary driver can find fun away from the crowds during this forced national holiday season, as well as a reminder that near some of our most urban environments, natural beauty is on the prowl.
Brockholes is a 250 acre nature reserve managed by the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, which purchased the land in 2006 after a long campaign to prevent a quarry at the site. It is a work in progress and it will take a few more decades to become a true wilderness. But birds, amphibians, insects and even mammals already find refuge among lakes, wetlands, grasslands and dense vegetation.
Boilton Wood, on the northern edge, is Lancashire’s largest expanse of semi-natural forest. In a county where the industry has done its best and its worst, an old growth forest is a blessing. A three-kilometer walk circles the main lake, an important breeding area for wading birds, with skins carefully positioned to provide shade and a sneaky angle on the teeming birdlife. I saw lapwing, swans, gray herons, coots and a diving grebe. Finches and robins flew through the recovering heather and brush, along with many common blue damselflies. In May 2016, Brockholes had the first recorded sighting in Lancashire of the very rare white harrier.
There are places to eat and drink, a section of cycle path, large seating areas where you can relax and soak up the sun, and a play area for small children. Since the M6 ââforms the edge of the reserve, there is a buzz of traffic; but the other border is formed by the Ribble river and deep in the woods I forgot everything.