THOUSANDS cheered as the Olympic flame lit up the streets of Wigan for the first time in its history.
A borough already renowned for its sporting passion and prowess turned out in force for the once-in-a-lifetime spectacle, defying an annoying and sudden downturn in the weather, to cheer on the epic relay.
From the moment the iconic golden torch was handed over from Warrington to Wigan at the Lowton border, to the moment it was relinquished to our other neighbours in Bolton as it left Hindley two hours and 10 minutes later, the streets were lined with cheering folk.
Numerous events had been laid on along the route which came up from Winwick Island through Lowton, Abram, Spring View and Lower Ince into Wigan for a leisurely lap of the town before heading out to Scholes, Higher Ince and Hindley.
The biggest party was thrown in Wigan town centre itself.
Many thousands had started assembling in the streets long before the procession arrived as a whole carnival of drums, bands, dancers, cheerleaders and other entertainers whipped everyone up into a patriotic fervour.
The sight of folk standing six deep on the pavement may have reminded older residents of those halcyon days of galas and festivals but this was still something beyond that.
Bunting decking out the place for the jubilee, helped to add to the sense of occasion. Many children had been allowed out of school early while dads could be seen with tiny ones aloft on their shoulders, trying to give them the best possible view and hoping that this brief episode would be indelibly printed on their minds. Every vantage point, including upstairs office windows, were used, and a welcoming party of civic and community dignitaries awaited the flame on the steps of Wigan town hall.
Progress reports on the location of the torch were regularly piped through by folk with the latest hand-held gadgetry. And the atmosphere rose several more notches as the first police motorcade swept through, followed by several coaches and floats pumping out music, blaring horns and with various rabble-rousing warm-up acts abroad.
This was uncharted territory for everyone and the torch was expected imminently. But then there was another tantalising lull before a huge Mexican wave of cheers worked its way down Library Street.
Moments before, TV presenter Kirsty Gallacher had handed over to local Scouts luminary Norman Brown on Wallgate. The first that many with restricted views caught of him was of the flame held proudly high above the crowds.
Some folk pushed out into the road as the cavalcade approached but the star attraction’s path was not blocked. As he neared the town hall, scores of cubs, scouts and beavers began chanting Norman’s name and waving proud home-made banners.
And then the next minute he was past and gone, moving off to the next hand-over on Rodney Street.
Jackie Oakes from the 3rd Hindley Scout Group said: “This is a very proud day for us and the whole thing is so uplifting. A lot of schools let our young members out early to get here with their families. It is after all, an unrepeatable event.”
Hawkley Hall mum Louise Holcroft said: “I feel quite emotional. It’s about time this country celebrated things properly. It’s great that the torch procession has dovetailed nicely into the jubilee weekend – and my son James’s birthday too! He’ll never forget this.”
The bosses of two of Wigan’s main shopping centre reported very brisk trade in the run-up to the relay. And Grand Arcade manager John Sanson said: “This is a terrific spectacle and it’s great to see people backing Wigan. We were a bit frightened when we saw the weather forecast for today but, as one famous Wiganer once said, it turned out nice again.”
Richard Paxton from the Galleries added: “This is fantastic for Wigan. I was not sure what to expect as far as turn-out was concerned, but this is obviously a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”