On Friday August 2nd the society held a walk to explore the history and prehistory of the moss situated on the outskirts of Leyland but in atmosphere and scenery seemingly very far away from the bustling, growing conurbation. We were privileged to have the walk led by Dr. David Hunt and Dr. Bill Shannon. At the outset Bill Shannon handed out historical geographical information on the history of the moss since the 16thc. and David Hunt presented pictorial graphs on the conditions which led to the growth of the peat since the climatic optimum c.3200 B.C.
There was a sizeable turn out for this walk, approx. 30 people and it was a perfect summer evening to explore this particular location, sunny, warm and still and with wonderful light conditions. We first crossed the railway and were then immediately in the body of the moss. The moss was formed in a landscape severely ground down by ice in the last ice age which was in places c. 1000ft deep. After the climactic optimum the weather deteriorated becoming wetter and cooler, the conditions which lead to the development of peat. The peat first starts to form in hollows from reeds and from sphagnum moss and carries on accumulating if the right weather conditions persist. The peat hereabouts was eventually 15ft. deep. Sphagnum moss takes all its nutrients from the air and the rain. When it dies it doesn’t rot because of the anaerobic conditions and builds up gradually over time. In exceptional conditions of very heavy rain bog bursts can occur and vegetation can spread for many miles. The output of one such bog burst, Chat Moss in 1526, was said to be traceable as far as the Isle of Man by way of the Mersey. This also happened at Pilling in 1745 and at Solway Moss in 1771.
One of the interesting finds from the peat are the moss stocks which are whole trees swallowed by the peat. Our guide Colin told us that something that always surprises the farm workers is that these stocks always lie in the same direction. It is not known why this should be the case but members suggested possible reasons either flooding or the direction of the formation of peat. No-one is sure of the age of this timber has it has never been carbon dated because of the cost implications. Many of these stocks are of oak but many are also of pine. Historically this wood, of which we saw many examples was used for housebuilding. Dr. Shannon said it would be interesting to carbon date the timbers in old houses in the moss to see if any were of Bronze Age date! These stocks were also said to be used for the production of turpentine and naptha. An interesting aside is on the edge of the moss there is a road still called Naptha Lane. The peat of course was mainly dug for household fuel by farm workers but some was dug for sale in Penwortham and sold in Preston after their local supplies had become exhausted and before coal became economically viable. Peat or turf as it was known locally was still being dug for fuel up until the 1960s. Of course it is still being dug for fuel in the islands of Scotland.
The moss began to be drained in the early 14thc. and this gathered pace until it reached it’s climax in the early 19thc. By this time there were islands of peat. The drained marshland is very good soil and the marshland was succeeded by pasture and then by arable agriculture. We were shown the quality of the deep, black, rich soil.
Our guide Colin led us on a walk over the remaining mossland which is mainly on farm boundaries. During the early 16th. landowners instructed their workers to dig the peat until they met the neighbours’ peat diggings and that then formed the boundaries. We then walked by the side of a wheat field turning gold in the evening sunshine and then into an almost impenetrable wood were it not for the homemade machete that one of or walk guides was wielding would have been impassable! I thought one only needed machetes in jungles! This wood is one of the dump locations for the moss stocks and we were shown many examples. Apparently this bog oak is a very saleable item on Ebay and retails at £75 a chunk mainly for use as garden features.
This walk on such a wonderful evening introduced us to a living landscape on our doorsteps relatively unknown to most of us, which has a fascinating development throughout time and which deserves to be better known and many thanks to our walk leaders and guides.
Words by Jeanette Dobson