Born in 1851, the son of a Bolton grocer, William Hesketh Lever became one of the great entrepreneurs, industrialists and philanthropists of his age, making his fortune from the manufacture of soap.
A self-made man
Lever's rise to success was dramatic. He followed his father into the family grocery business, but it wasn't until he was 34 that, with his brother James Darcy, he bought a small soap manufacturing business in Warrington. They joined forces with a Bolton chemist, William Hough Watson, who had created a household soap based on palm oil and glycerine rather than tallow, originally selling it through the family shop. First called Honey Soap, the name was soon changed to Sunlight and, as demand quickly outgrew the Warrington premises, they acquired a site beside the Mersey at Bromborough. Lever also built a model village for his workers, naming it Port Sunlight, which included a school, recreation and social facilities, a cottage hospital and an art gallery. His skill was in marketing and within 10 years, the company was selling soap in 134 countries, with the range expanded to include products such as Vim, Lux and Lifebuoy.
A hillside garden
Although he had houses in Thornton Hough, near Port Sunlight and London, he retained an affection for his home town, and in 1900 Lever bought part of the Rivington Estate. On the hillside above the old hall, he built a wooden bungalow as a weekend retreat, but it was burnt down in 1913 in an arson attack by Edith Rigby, a Suffragette activist. He rebuilt it in stone as his summer residence and developed garden terraces and a Japanese-style lake across the hillside. Although the house was demolished after the war, many of the landscape features remain, including a tall pigeon tower, which incorporated a sewing room from which his wife could look out across the countryside. Down by the reservoir, he replicated the ruins of Liverpool Castle as they then stood. He had intended to gift the park to Bolton, but a legal wrangle resulted in it ending up with Liverpool Corporation, who had constructed the reservoirs.
The park rises to Rivington Pike, a prominent hillock protruding from the flank of Winter Hill. On its summit is a stone tower, erected in 1733 as a lookout and hunting lodge. It occupies the site of a beacon tower, built in 1139 by the Earl of Chester to warn of Scottish raiders. It was still in use 400 years later when the Armada approached. The spot commands a superlative view across the Lancashire plain, with Liverpool and Blackpool Tower readily visible. More distant are the hills of Wales and the Lake District and reputedly, on a really good day, the Isle of Man can be seen. Each Easter the hill is the focus of an exciting fell race, run over 3.25 miles (5.3km) from the park gates and involving 700ft (213m) of ascent. The record up and down is an incredible 15 minutes 53 seconds, set in 1981 by John Wild.
Walk towards Hall Barn and bear right, curving right again in front of the hall to follow the main drive. Cross the road at the bottom of the long avenue and continue along the track opposite past Great House Barn.
At the end, go left. The path dips across a gully, then winds beside railings to run on above the wooded bank of Lower Rivington Reservoir. Further along, a fence ushers you from the water to bypass a conservation area. Where the path forks, keep right back to the lake and carry on to the castle.
Skirt inland beside the castle wall to the entrance and follow a long, straight track away through trees. Approaching a barrier and car park at the end, take a path off left, cutting the corner to the road.
Cross to a path opposite, which rises beside the grounds of Knowle House into woods. At the top, swing left and then immediately right to meet a broad avenue. Follow it a short distance left before doubling back right on a rising bridleway. Reaching a stone-paved track, turn sharp left and carry on climbing across a now-open hillside. At a junction higher up, bend abruptly right, eventually meeting Belmont Road, which contours the upper hill.
Go right and then shortly left to follow a winding track onto Rivington Pike. Pass around the back of the hillock before making an acute left turn for the final ascent to the beacon tower.
Steps drop steeply on the western flank, the path running out to rejoin Belmont Road. Turn right. Just before reaching the Pigeon Tower, take a path back left through gateposts, which winds past the site of Leverhulme's bungalow. Over a crossing path, descend steps and take the left branch at a fork to curve past a fenced balcony. At a junction, go right down more steps and on through an archway. Cross a track and drop past ruins before curving left below them and beside an ornamental lake, once the centrepiece of Leverhulme's Japanese Garden.
Retrace your steps past the lake, but at the end, just beyond a blocked rock archway, climb left over the rise, to a broader path on the other side. Take the path opposite, bending right past an immediate junction to begin a long, steady descent across the wooded hillside. Remain with the main path, which, at the bottom, swings left across a stream to leave the wood. A track leads on across grazing and through a gate into more woodland. At the junction beyond, take the path ahead, which soon curves right. Exit through a final gate and walk forward, joining a track past the side of the Hall Barn back to the car park.
Mostly clear tracks, well-marked paths
Managed woodlands, rougher moors and abandoned formal gardens
Can mostly run free, but be careful crossing Rivington Lane and watch out for sheep on moors
OS Explorer 287 West Pennine Moors
At Hall Barn, in Lever Park
Next to Great House Barn
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Lancashire was at the centre of the British cotton industry in the 19th century, which lead to the urbanization of great tracts of the area. The cotton boom came and went, but the industrial profile remains. Lancashire’s resorts, Blackpool, Southport and Morecambe Bay, were originally developed to meet the leisure needs of the cotton mill town workers. Blackpool is the biggest and brashest, celebrated for it tower, miles of promenade, and the coloured light ‘illuminations’. Amusements are taken very seriously here, day and night, and visitors can be entertained in a thousand different ways.
The former county town, Lancaster, boasts one of the younger English universities, dating from 1964. Other towns built up to accommodate the mill-workers with back-to-back terraced houses, are Burnley, Blackburn, Rochdale and Accrington. To get out of town, you can head for the Pennines, the ‘backbone of England’, a series of hills stretching from the Peak District National Park to the Scottish borders. To the north of the country is the Forest of Bowland, which despite its name is fairly open country, high up, with great views.