After stops to photograph the Halsall Navvy and to buy sandwiches in Burscough town we arrived at the start of our trek and parked at Ship Inn. The Ship Inn or Blood Tub as it is sometimes known is next to the junction between the Leeds Liverpool mainline and the Rufford branch. The Rufford branch is 7.25miles long linking the main line of the Leeds Liverpool with the River Ribble at Tarleton. I have cycled as far as Marsh Meadow Swing bridge before which was no easy task as the towpath is not maintained in the same way as the main line.
Passing the locks at the top of the branch we soon came to bridge 2A a railway bridge with large passageways either side. Looking up as you pass underneath you will see lots of stalactites hanging down from the stonework above.
It wasn’t long before we came to the first of the Rufford branch mileposts, the reason for the trek. Albert Cliffe in Towpath Walks mentions the 2 and 3 mile mileposts and I was interested to know if they were still there and if they were the same as the main line posts. The first mile post, one mile from the junction, confirmed they were the same design as the mainline. This one had neither plaque left on it so the second question, what the plaques looked like, remained unanswered for now.
At the intriguingly named Germans lock, number 5 of 8, we came across a BWB maintenance boat and a stoppage. The boat inside the lock had a cargo of brand new lock gates and balance beams, unpainted. The water level above this stoppage was low, in contrast with the canal below it where the towpath is level or lower than the canal waters.
Carrying on we came to another lock with another interesting name, chicken lock, number 6.
The Rufford branch is very river-like while the River Douglas which runs alongside is straight and looks very much like a man made canal. As we came to the railway which completes the trio of transport we found milepost number two. Again this one was without markings or any paint. The railway bridge itself is interesting. The canal and railway form a X and the bridge is skewed across the canal.
Another mile on and we came to Rufford Lock and the unpromising sign of a large and obviously new wooden fence. In Towpath Walks Albert Cliffe tells how he met a school party having lunch here and showed them a milepost in the hedgerow. The author asks if the reader can find it too. Sadly, the new marina development seems to have robbed this reader of the chance to find the milepost.
There are two marinas below Rufford lock, one on the left the other on the right. The marina on the left, St Mary’s Marina, although full of boats, has only recently been dug out. The mountain of clay still stands next to the water and the buildings are obviously brand new. The marina on the right, the towpath side, has a nice bridge over its entrance. Both these marinas have plenty of narrow boats in them and while we saw a couple of boats on the move on this cold November day I was left mystified where these boats came from and where they go to if they ever do leave their moorings. We turned around here and headed back to Burscough.
On the way back a stone caught my eye, my first thought was that it was a milestone. Closer inspection showed it to have a benchmark on it which reminded me I had seen this on an old OS map simply marked as a stone with a bench mark. With no walls or bridges nearby perhaps the stone is there just to have the benchmark on it, though the nearby milepost does give cause for speculation that it is a milestone.
For the second part of the walk we drove to St. Mary’s Marina and parked at their tea rooms. Back at the canal we crossed Chapel bridge and continued towards Tarleton. The canal passes through woods by Rufford Old Hall which can be seen through the trees. The towpath becomes very muddy and is quite tricky to get across in places. After the woods the landscape opens out and the canal passes through flat wide farm land. There was a floating platform at work putting in pilings at the canal edge. Fearns swing bridge is not as impressive as its goal-scoring namesake. There was no sign of milepost 4 in the hedge but milepost 5 was there with one plaque still attached. At Strand bridge #10 the towpath ends.
There is an old lock here with no gates, just a narrow bit of canal. Two stone gate posts mark out an over grown plot as being the likely site of a lock keepers house. From the bridge we could see the canal following the old course of the river to Tarlton and the River Lock. With the sun setting we headed back to the car.