HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED
Highway 61 ran right by my baby’s door. That was thirty years ago though, when a motorway was a luxurious country lane with charabancs and roadside cafes.
Nowadays the M61 is a highway from hell and my baby’s door got bulldozed decades ago. How things have changed.
Back in the 70s everything was Ford – Ford Anglia’s, Ford Consuls, Ford Cortinas. Personally, I favoured the Ford Capri with its wooden steering wheel, orange livery and bucket seats.
Each morning I’d pick up my baby from her parent’s end terrace on the edge of the Farnworth slip road, and we‘d roar off to Stockport. Miss Joyce Hunter-Dunn, as she liked to call herself, had legs all the way up to heaven.
The 70s was a strange decade, played tricks on us all, Brotherhood of Man and Brew Ten, Abba and flock wallpaper … Me in my Capri, double declutching in my best Bowie boots, and Joyce Hunter-Dunn (real name Joyce Sapsied), the tele-ad girl in rah-rah skirt and boob tube.
Each evening on the first leg of the homeward journey, we’d take a left and call in for a couple at Worsley Old Hall. Everybody got in there in those days, George Best, Hurricane Higgins, Frank Worthington, Foo Foo Lemar.
Then we’d head off in the direction of Preston.
We’d stop at Egerton House or the Last Drop. Or sometimes we’d call in at Bolton
Wanderers’ barn where Nat Loftus would have a drink with us. Other times we’d use my press card to get into the baroque members bar in the Albert Halls at Bolton Town Hall. Fred Dibnah would be holding court.
Come what may though, we’d end up ‘mur-land poggin’ in the moonlight on Winter Hill.
At midnight I’d drop Joyce off at her parent’s and drive home alone with a chop suey roll and a four pack of Boddington’s.
I really enjoyed my life all those years ago, back and forth, up and down the M61 corridor that had barely reached its fifth year.
Old England went by in flashes, satanic gantries, troubled mills, factory chimneys, country folk scouring the fields.
How things have changed. It‘s death race 2000 out here now. The fields are dirty and the trees have turned brown. The mills and factories have all gone.
A group of modern day entrepreneurs have stepped in to try and make sense of it all. Local hoteliers, including the Holiday Inn, Preston, have formed the M61 Meetings Group. Between them they are spending £6.5m linking the 1,000 bedrooms and the conferencing facilities they own along the 26 miles of the beast.
Some things have remained the same against all the odds though. Bolton town hall burned to the ground in 1981. But it rose again like a baroque clone with electronic loos and internet access. It remains as comfortable as your Gran.
The Last Drop Village, Bromley Cross, is more than 300 years old and as pretty as picture. It’s at least paid lip service to the times – an infinity pool looking out over the quilted West Pennines. The restaurant still serves black pudding and chips.
Then there’s the Egerton House hotel off the Blackburn Road. 30 years ago it was as dark and satanic as the mill that paid for to be built. Today its gardens have a haunted beauty and the house is as gentile as an Edwardian lady.
The most startling change though is at Bolton Wanderers. Way back then it had all the charm of a chicken shack. The roar of the crowd came through the roof like a fug, reeking of hot dogs and fried onions. The turnstiles and corridors were buried under chip papers and beer cans.
Now it’s the Reebok Stadium, Horwich. Millions of pounds worth of high-tech De Vere Whites hotel where almost every room has a rich man’s view of the pitch. And when the boys take their ball home it metamorphoses in to a venue for the likes of Elton John and Oasis.
The M61 comes to a full stop right in front of me. Rush hour, night coming down fast. I remember the pack drill though and hunker down in my seat and turn up Modern Times . Getting out of this car park could take days. I can see the spires of Prestwich across the six lanes. The traffic steams all around me. Then the crawl begins, 2mph …10mph … Stop …
… I slide off at Junction 13 and wind down the window, the noise from the motorway roars in. So, I wind it up again and head in the direction of the Marriott Worsley Park country club.
How things have changed. Not in a bad way, just different. Worsley Old Hall is still a lovely old hall – and by the side of a golf course now. Its a wealth of beams on the inside and a wealth of Beamers on the outside.
And they’ve turned what was left of the Duke of Bridgewater’s estate into the Worsley Park country club and hotel. 200 acres of parkland. The red carpet was down when I arrived. I thought it might be for me but the confetti was a dead giveaway.
Well, that’s the Highway 61 that ran-right-by-my-baby’s-door revisited.
It’s always a bit of a trip going back, you never know what you’ll run in to. Some things haven’t changed you see, like the 14th century Smithills Hall. And Lancashire hotpot.
But other things have gone for ever, like the landscape. And Miss Joyce Hunter-Dunn.