In the second week of the Rugby League Trek, The Independent's Dave Hadfield completes his 220-mile journey to every Super League ground on a sponsored walk for the Outward Bound Trust, which sends young people on the sort of challenges and adventures that can change lives.
Day nine of the itinerary might be described as the land Super League forgot.
Dropping down from Oldham on the road to Manchester, we not only passed Oldham Rugby League club's new premises, but also what is generally agreed to be the best pub name so far - the Smut Inn.
The city centre of Manchester is the first area to display indifference towards the enterprise, as it has towards Rugby League in general, but interest picks up as we go through Salford.
A starting point at Pendlebury Children's Hospital soon sees us deep in the heart of historic Swinton territory and no representative of this newspaper could pass the White Lion, birthplace of the club and home to its Hall of Fame, without paying his respects.
As a highly identifiable Wiganer, Phil Clarke, the Sky analyst, says he always feels uneasy going through Leigh and that is where we encounter our first real taste of encouragement.
On the back of our Outward Bound t-shirts is the legend "I can". "I bet you bloody well can't," comes the shout from a passing car.
Appropriately on a day when three Rugby League players are jailed for violent disorder, we are joined for part of the route by the manager and the coach of the Great Britain Prison Service team. "Don't worry," they say. "We'll keep them fit for you."
Wigan sees the biggest send-off yet, helped by the newly appointed caretaker-coach, Mike Gregory, bringing down his entire first-team squad, each with a £10 note clutched in his hand.
The ultimate Wigan hero, Billy Boston, is there too, but is prevented from walking by his plastic knees. Adrian Lam and Brian Carney, from the current team, had no such excuse for cadging a lift with a local radio journalist rather than striding out manfully.
At Billinge we crossed the invisible divide that separates Wigan and St Helens' spheres of influence and three small children in full Saints kit come out to empty the mountain of copper they have collected into our buckets. Every bit is as welcome as the Wigan lads' tenners.
One impression you can all too easily form on this journey is that everyone in Rugby League is injured, but those are the players that clubs generally send out to join us. Today's walking wounded are Chris Joynt and Paul Sculthorpe, while Ray French also joins us for the full 12 miles into Warrington.
Unfortunately, Ray entered into an ill-advised £1,000 bet with Sky's Mike Stephenson about the momentum rule. A faxed reply to the hotel confirms that such a thing does exist, but Frenchie is let off with a discount in return for a public performance of some of his classic commentary moments in Warrington town centre. All together now: "Why, oh why, oh why..."
Paul Simon wrote "Homeward Bound" at Widnes railway station and since then the town has been making visitors dewy-eyed - mainly through the fumes from the chemical works.
Rarely can it have looked better or its air smelled sweeter than when it doubled as the finishing post for our 220-mile slog.
There are dozens of Warrington supporters walking with us, joined by increasing numbers of Widnes fans from Fiddlers Ferry Power Station onwards.
"You've done something the Rugby League couldn't do," says one elderly lady. "You've merged Warrington and Widnes."
We would have settled for that as an epitaph for there are still a few miles to the Halton Stadium and a reception from Widnes and Castleford fans that might be survivable if you have played in Cup finals and Tests for Great Britain, but which put the sort of lump in my throat that I could have tripped over.
Anyone interested in making a donation on behalf of the Rugby League Trek can contact the Outward Bound Trust on 0207 928 1991.
- More about:
- Newspapers And Magazines
- Rugby League
- Salford City Reds
- Styles And Clothes