BICC was Prescot, Prescot was BICC, it says on the BICC Memories website. The cable manufacturer's factory complex took an enormous acreage, at the base of the hill on which the town sits. BICC dominated the town as an employer and as a presence, and were major suppliers in the cable industry. Cables made there gave electricity to homes in Canada, Australia and China, to the London Underground and to railway lines in India. When the company began to decline from the late 1980s the factories were flattened and the wasteland stood as a silent but looming witness to BICC's demise and the global changes in manufacturing industry.
I walked through and around this site today. In long-shot (looking across the old Cables site from Prescot railway station) a modest sliver of it is now the Cables Retail Park, with its flagship Tescos and a very busy half-term MacDonalds, and a number of other large stores which each seemed to be trading far better than the shops in Prescot Centre up the hill. Most of the old BICC site, though, remains a vastness, witness to a shrinking city. Whilst constructors mark out a corner of it for housing I sensed that nature was still winning the silent contest to return the major part of this area to green wildness.
Today was a day for following the cables, for my destination was Rainhill, where I have spent numerous significant days and nights at Loyola Hall, the Jesuit retreat centre known for a wonderful, lush, semi-wild garden across which runs a line of enormous overhead power cables. Some guests at Loyola on a silent retreat are wise enough to anticipate that 'silence' will never mean a complete absence of sounds, so they are prepared to spend afternoons sitting peacefully in those wild gardens with a loud buzzing around their ears.
Those same cables originate from a substation at Sutton Manor, yesterday's end point, and after Rainhill cross the M62 (J7) at nearby Rainhill Stoops, famed staple of local radio morning traffic tailback reports. They also branch from Sutton towards Eccleston Park and Prescot, and so (trying to journey without the map) I knew that I would be on an approximately correct course today if I kept the pylons in view.
Following the cables, then, took me through parts of St Helens I'd never seen before (the tidy suburbs and redbrick terraces of Thatto Heath, a road and area called Portico on which sit Our Lady Help Of Christians, and Willowbrook Hospice). Following the cables took me over the Liverpool - Wigan railway line which will continue to be a presence on this walk till the end of the motorway and on into Liverpool city centre. Following the cables got me a bit lost in Eccleston Park and landed me in Whiston Hospital (where I climbed to the top of the new multistorey car park to get the best view of the tremendous redevelopment of that site).
And following the cables then got me on to my intended visit to Prescot, where possibly the very cables I'd been following had originally been created and ravelled, before their lasting employment as carriers of power across the wide Mersey Forest.