Search for ot­ter un­cov­ers many amaz­ing sto­ries

Stockport Times West - - THE LAUGHING BADGER - SEAN WOOD sean.wood

AF­TER a quick mooch around Leighton Moss Re­serve last week­end, and tick­ing off a few of the clas­sics, in­clud­ing bit­tern, bearded tit and marsh har­rier, I thought I’d chance my arm for an ot­ter to make it a straight four.

How­ever, it soon be­came ob­vi­ous I was push­ing my luck, and in twitcher-par­lance, I dipped out. For­tu­nately there is al­ways com­pen­sa­tion if you make the ef­fort, and armed with a map, I came across a beau­ti­ful white-washed cottage, with an old stone chim­ney at­tached at the side. Cu­rios­ity aroused, it turns out the chim­ney is all that re­mains of a pump­ing house built in the early 19th cen­tury to drain the marshes; this project was aban­doned at the end of the First World War and the area has slowly re­verted to a moss, which is of course, is great news for the birds and the num­ber one rea­son why this area is a hot-spot for rar­i­ties such as the av­o­cet and the oc­ca­sional great white egret.

Af­ter the last ice age, the Leighton Moss val­ley floor, known as a ‘polje’, would have been lower and would have ex­pe­ri­enced pe­ri­odic flood­ing of the sea de­posit­ing a layer of im­per­vi­ous clay over the lime­stone val­ley floor. At the same time, wa­ter flow­ing into the val­ley from the sur­round­ing land was un­able to drain away and a large area of marsh de­vel­oped sim­i­lar to salt marsh and mud­flats. The grad­ual rise of the land since the last ice age and the in­ter­ven­tion of man have pro­duced the land­scape you see here.

In 1830, the Gil­low fam­ily of Leighton Hall built a sub­stan­tial em­bank­ment – 1km in length – across the val­ley from the foot of Heald Brow to the base of War­ton Crag, and then in­stalled an en­gine with a pad­dle-wheel pump near Crag Foot, hence the chim­ney.

This pump-drained wa­ter from be­hind the em­bank­ment to pro­vide land for grow­ing crops. Whilst the pump was in op­er­a­tion, the soil proved to be ex­cep­tion­ally fer­tile and large quan­ti­ties of crops were pro­duced and the val­ley earned the ti­tle, ‘Golden Vale’.

The tall chim­ney is the only sur­viv­ing land­mark and the pump be­came re­dun­dant in 1917 be­cause of dif­fi­cul­ties in find­ing fuel sup­plies.

I also dis­cov­ered that the an­ces­tors of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton orig­i­nated from War­ton, and that the fam­ily coat of arms, three mul­lets and two bars, can be found in the church and is said to have in­spired the de­sign of the flag of the US.

A flag was do­nated to the vil­lage af­ter US sol­diers had vis­ited the vil­lage dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and hav­ing re­turned to the US, con­tacted their state se­na­tor about the birth­place of the Wash­ing­ton fam­ily. The do­nated flag was one of which had flown above the Capitol Build­ing in Wash­ing­ton DC, and is now flown ev­ery July 4.

That lit­tle snip­pet may be in­ter­est­ing, but noth­ing com­pared to the ‘find’ of Dar­ren Web­ster in Septem­ber 2011. Af­ter five min­utes of start­ing up his new metal de­tec­tor there was a very clear sig­nal for sil­ver. Two min­utes of fran­tic dig­ging later, and bingo, The Sil­verdale Vik­ing Hoard was dis­cov­ered, a sig­nif­i­cant find con­tain­ing a to­tal of 201 sil­ver ob­jects, and a well-pre­served lead con­tainer.

The hoard con­tained a pre­vi­ously un­recorded coin type, prob­a­bly car­ry­ing the name of an oth­er­wise un­known Vik­ing ruler in north­ern Eng­land. One side of the coin has the words DNS – Domi­nus - REX, ar­ranged in the form of a cross, re­flect­ing the fact that many Vik­ings had con­verted to Chris­tian­ity within a gen­er­a­tion of set­tling in Bri­tain.

The other side has the enig­matic in­scrip­tion ‘Aird­e­conut’, which ap­pears to be an at­tempt to rep­re­sent the Scan­di­na­vian name Harthac­nut.

The de­sign of the coin re­lates to known coins of the kings Siefre­dus and Cnut, who ruled the Vik­ing king­dom of Northum­bria around AD 900. It’s amaz­ing what you can find when look­ing for an ot­ter.

The Sil­verdale Vik­ing Hoard which was found by Dar­ren Web­ster in Septem­ber 2011

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