Situated in Leigh, around 6 miles southeast of Wigan, Pennington Flash is a popular country park and nature reserve. A 70-hectare lake (the ‘Flash’) is at its centre, formed due to mining subsidence and flooding.
The park is famous for its wildlife and is one of the premier birdwatching spots in North West England. Facilities and attractions include a children’s play area, cafe and information centre, golf course, picnic areas, sailing club, and large car park.
Birdwatching is one of the main attractions, drawing enthusiasts from far and wide. The park’s diverse habitats and location on a migratory route make it a hotspot for many bird species. Whether you’re a seasoned birder or a novice, Pennington Flash offers a rewarding birdwatching experience.
Over 200 bird species have been spotted here, making it one of the top birdwatching sites in the region. With its reedbeds and islands, the lake is particularly attractive to water birds. Visitors can expect to see a variety of ducks, geese, swans, and wading birds, such as lapwings and sandpipers. The surrounding woodland and grassland areas also support a range of songbirds, adding to the park’s avian diversity.
The park is not just a haven for resident birds; it’s also an important stopover site for migratory birds. During the migration seasons, the park becomes a temporary home for thousands of birds travelling between their breeding and wintering grounds. This influx of migratory birds brings an exciting array of species to the park, allowing birdwatchers to spot rare and unusual birds.
In 1994 the UK’s first ever Black-faced Bunting was spotted here and attracted more than 6,000 birdwatchers from all over the country.
There are several birdwatching hides around the park, mainly around the smaller lakes at the park’s northern end. These shelters provide excellent views of the water birds and allow visitors to observe them without disturbing them. The hides contain information panels, helping visitors identify the different species. One of the best is the Tom Edmondson Hide. It’s named after a local man who helped transform the area from a wasteland into a country park.
Volunteers and park staff conduct regular bird counts and surveys, providing valuable data on bird populations and trends. This information helps inform conservation efforts, ensuring the reserve remains a bird sanctuary.
More information about birds at the park and birding in Leigh can be found on the Facebook page of the Leigh Ornithological Society.
Walks Around Pennington Flash
One of the park’s key attractions is its network of footpaths and bridleways. These trails wind their way around the lake and the park’s various habitats, offering stunning views and close encounters with wildlife. Whether you’re a keen walker, a casual stroller, or a cyclist, these trails provide an excellent way to explore the park. Horse riding is permitted in certain areas.
The Leeds and Liverpool Canal runs along the northern edge of the park. Visit this area of the park, and you’ll see some incredible sculptures by Thompson Dagnall, Unlock and Greenheart-Northern Soul. It’s possible to walk east along the towpath into Leigh town centre. Walking west would take you to Wigan Pier.
Our walk around Pennington Flash is relatively easy, with established paths and no steep inclines. It starts at the car park and is just under 4 miles. You’ll see the bird hides, glorious water views, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, farms and woodland on the route.
Facilities and Amenities
The park offers a range of amenities and facilities that enhance the visitor experience, making it a perfect destination for a day out in nature.
A new cafe and visitor centre opened in 2023. The Hide Coffee House provides a welcoming ambience and stunning views across the water. The menu includes hot and cold drinks, smoothies, hot snacks and meals, sandwiches, wraps, salads, cakes, and scones. Options for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free diets are offered. The cafe is open every day of the week. Indoor and outdoor seating is available.
The cafe and visitor centre are part of Wigan Council’s multi-million-pound makeover of facilities at the nature reserve, with new accessible toilets installed and upgrades to parking, including electric vehicle charging points.
Play Area – Pennington Flash Adventure Park
A new adventure playground is set to open in 2023. Pennington Flash Adventure Park aims to create an attractive and inclusive space for families to enjoy while visiting the nature reserve.
The play area will include swings, climbing frames, zip lines, and more. It features a dedicated toddler area and wheelchair-accessible equipment.
Accessibility is a key focus at the park. Many of the park’s trails are suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs, and there are accessible toilet facilities at the cafe and visitor centre.
Location of Pennington Flash
The main entrance is just off A572, opposite the Robin Hood pub.
To reach the park by car, you should exit the M6 motorway at Junction 23 and follow the A580 (East Lancashire Road) towards Manchester. After 4 miles, take the A579 and follow the brown tourist signs for the park. Owners of satellite navigation systems should note that the postcode for Pennington Flash is WN7 3PA.
The main car park is on the lake’s northeastern shore, near the playgrounds and most birdwatching hides. The pay-and-display parking machines only accept card payments (no cash).
A free car park is close to the main entrance if you are okay with a short walk.
Buses to the park include:
- 590 Leigh-Lowton circular service – from Leigh Bus Station
- 10 Wigan to Leigh service – runs between Wigan Bus Station and Leigh Bus Station with stops at Marus Bridge, Bryn and Bryn Train Station, Ashton-in-Makerfield, Golbourne, Lowton, and Pennington Flash
There are no train stations within walking distance of the park. One option for getting there by rail would be to take a train to either Wigan Wallgate or Wigan North Western and then get the Wigan to Leigh bus (10 service). Bryn Train Station is also on this bus route.
Formation of Pennington Flash
The formation of Pennington Flash is a fascinating tale of industrial history and natural resilience. The park’s origins can be traced back to the 19th and early 20th centuries when the area was a hub of coal mining activity. The extensive mining operations caused the ground to subside, creating depressions that were filled with water. These bodies of water, known locally as ‘flashes’, gave rise to the park’s distinctive landscape.
Pennington Flash Nature Reserve is the best known of several flashes in the Wigan and Leigh area. Once farmland and susceptible to flooding, the flat terrain on either side of Hey Brook began to face worsening seasonal floods towards the start of the 1900s. As a result, the lake came into being as the land gradually sank, and the area became more saturated with water.
Throughout the 1920s, the lake would vanish and reemerge on occasion. In 1935, Leigh Corporation dumped mining waste into the area to restore the land for agricultural purposes. This action had a negligible effect.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the idea to convert the area to recreational use emerged. Wigan Council officially opened it as a country park in 1981.
The area’s transformation from a mining site to a nature reserve is a testament to nature’s remarkable ability to recover and adapt. Despite the industrial activity that once dominated the area, nature has reclaimed the land, creating a thriving ecosystem where wildlife can flourish.
To ensure the safety and enjoyment of all visitors and to protect the wildlife and natural environment of the reserve, the following rules have been established:
- Open-water swimming is prohibited in the lake for safety reasons. Please respect this rule to ensure your safety and the well-being of the park’s wildlife.
- Dogs are welcome in the park but must be kept on a lead in certain areas, including around the car park, café, and play area. This rule helps to ensure the safety and comfort of all visitors.
- Please keep dogs and other animals out of the water to protect the park’s wildlife and habitats.
- Barbecues are not permitted.
- Gazebos are not allowed. This helps maintain the park’s natural beauty and ensures all visitors can enjoy the open spaces.
- Camping is not allowed.
- Litter can harm wildlife and spoil the natural beauty of the park. Please dispose of all waste in the bins provided. If bins are full, please take your trash home with you.
By adhering to these rules, you can help preserve the park’s natural beauty and tranquillity, ensuring it remains a haven for wildlife and a precious green space for the local community.
The Flashes of Wigan and Leigh
In 2022, Natural England declared the Flashes of Wigan and Leigh, including Pennington Flash, a National Nature Reserve (NNR). This declaration recognizes the incredible transformation of these former industrial sites into a thriving network of species-rich wetlands, meadows, and woodlands.
The Flashes of Wigan and Leigh National Nature Reserve includes the following sites:
- Wigan Flashes
- Low Hall Nature Reserve
- Three Sisters Nature Reserve
- Lightshaw Meadows
- Bickershaw Country Park
- Viridor Wood
- Pennington Flash Country Park
Each of these sites has its own unique identity and range of activities. All are examples of nature reclaiming former coal-mining areas.
The designation of the Flashes as a National Nature Reserve (NNR) is a recognition of their importance in protecting wildlife and natural capital and their recreational value to the community. With a network of footpaths and cycleways, the reserves offer a variety of pursuits, from fishing to cycling, nature walks, and birdwatching. They are expected to provide new opportunities for sustainable tourism and visits from residents and those further afield.
Wigan Council, Lancashire Wildlife Trust, and Forestry England manage them.
The declaration of the Flashes as an NNR is a testament to the power of nature to reclaim and transform landscapes, turning former industrial wastelands into thriving habitats for wildlife. It also highlights the potential of these sites to contribute to nature recovery and climate change mitigation and to provide valuable green spaces for the local community.
Other Activities – Sailing Club and Golf Course
Leigh and Lowton Sailing Club are based here and offer sailing opportunities for both beginners and advanced sailors.
Pennington Golf Course is a 9-hole municipal course located within the park. The course is open to all members of the public, provided you have your clubs and equipment.
Other Parks in Wigan and Leigh
The park is one of several green spaces in the Wigan and Leigh area. Each offers unique attractions and experiences.
- Haigh Woodland Park: This expansive park is a haven for nature lovers, with miles of woodland trails to explore. The park also offers excellent facilities, including golf courses, an adventure playground, a high ropes course, and places to eat and drink. The playground is considered one of the best in the Wigan area, making Haigh Woodland Park a popular destination for families.
- Fairy Glen: Located above the rural village of Appley Bridge, Fairy Glen is a picturesque spot known for its stunning waterfalls and scenic beauty. It’s a perfect place for a peaceful walk in nature, although parking is limited.
- Worthington Lakes: This country park near Standish is home to three reservoirs, offering beautiful waterside views and opportunities for birdwatching. The park’s trails provide a pleasant walk through a variety of habitats.
- Borsdane Wood: This tranquil woodland is rich in biodiversity, offering a serene setting for a walk in nature. While it doesn’t provide facilities like a playground, its natural beauty and tranquillity make it a great place to visit for those seeking a peaceful escape.
- Orrell Water Park: This nature reserve and fishery in Orrell, Wigan, offers a unique combination of natural beauty and recreational fishing. Its trails wind through woodland and around the water, providing a peaceful setting for a walk or a day of fishing.
While each of these parks offers unique attractions, they all share a common goal: to provide a green space for recreation and relaxation, preserve local biodiversity, and offer an opportunity for people to connect with nature. Whether you’re a nature lover, an outdoor adventurer, or a family looking for a fun day out, you’ll find something to enjoy in these parks in Wigan and Leigh.