Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Museum of Liverpool

This week the Museum of Liverpool finally opened, just a year late. It is still not yet fully open but it is well worth a visit. There were lots of people there today, this being the first week it has been open to the public. We got badges and a little flag, something for eBay in 20 years time. It was nice to walk into a museum in Liverpool and not know which way to go or where anything was or even what was there. The city's other museums are brilliant but I have been round them a lot.
The view from the Museum of Liverpool (huge photo)
The museum was so busy it was hard to get around and see everything, and we had a pram with us. We managed to see most things I think. I liked the model of Gerard Gardens, being a fan of Art Deco tenements and currently living in one of the surviving examples. 
Gerard Gardens (huge photo)

Inside the Museum of Liverpool
I will be back when the rest is open and its a bit less busy.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sankey Brook Canal

Living in Liverpool my nearest canal is obviously the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, and its my favourite. But there is another canal nearby and one I have never visited, the Sankey Brook or St Helens Canal. The Sankey Canal first opened in 1757 linking St Helens with the River Mersey along the valley of the Sankey Brook. It was built to serve the chemical industries in the area. The canal included branches and extensions at both ends. It was one of these extensions I visited this weekend. In 1830 an Act was passed to extend the canal to the River Mersey at Widnes, this extension opened in 1833. There were plans to build an aqueduct across the Mersey linking the Sankey Brook Canal with the Bridgewater. There were also plans to link the canal to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Leigh. So far these plans have not been implemented. 
Widnes Wharf is close to the Runcorn Widnes Bridge, next to the Catalyst Museum. There is a car park at the museum and one by the boatyard. The cars in the boatyard car park were covered in sunbathing pigeons. It looked like something from a Hitchcock film. I parked up in the museum car park and had some lunch. There was a circus here so it was quite busy. 
At Widnes Wharf there were originally 3 locks on to the river, two on to the canal and one into a basin which served a railway. Today only one of these locks is still in use. I took some photos on my phone, with the thrilling risk of dropping it into the muddy edge of the River Mersey. I had a look at the locks and then walked up the canal to the first bridge and then crossed it and followed the path back round in a circle to the locks again. I ate some reduced price grapes as I did so. The area is popular for people wanting a walk, and the basin is used for fishing. 
One of the main reasons for the visit was to see if the canal was a possible cycle route for me, there did seem to be a lot of cyclists about so it is something I will look into at some point. Having a quick look, this route looks promising
Disused Canal-River Lock

Canal-River Lock at Widnes

Former Entrance to Basin

Basin, along the line of the former lock from the River Mersey

The three locks from the River

The River Lock at Widnes

Swans on the Sankey

The first bridge on the Sankey Brook Canal at Widnes

Monday, July 04, 2011

Canal Cycle: Crooke to Leigh 20 miles

For a few years now the Leigh Branch page on www.towpathtreks.co.uk has been empty. This was because I had not been along it to take any photographs to put on there. It had always been my plan to cycle the 7 miles of this branch, and this weekend I did just that. The Leigh Branch links the mainline of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Wigan directly to the rest of the national canal network at Leigh where it meets the Bridgewater Canal head-on.  

I drove to the canal with the bike on the back of the car. I am worrying less and less about it falling off and causing a horrific car crash and maybe worse scratching my paintwork. I parked on the road by the Crooke Hall Inn pub. There were preparations being made for some sort of village fair. The Leeds & Liverpool Canal Short Boat Kennet was in town for the day too. An added bonus. 

Trencherfield Mill, Wigan

With my bike off the car and loaded with water and wine gums I set off to Wigan. I had a look for the 33 mile post but the undergrowth was too thick to see it. At Pagefield Lock the towpath improves dramatically and is nicely paved. I soon arrived at Wigan Pier, some care has to be taken on the cobbles there. Going towards Leeds at Pottery Changeline Bridge it is possible to stay on your bike, coming the other way most cyclists will have to dismount to negotiate the tight turn and slope. Already there were a few boats about, out enjoying the glorious weather. Henhurst Bridge #52 has been replaced since I was last in Wigan, it looks good as they have tried to give it some of the style you see on other canal bridges while still being a modern concrete bridge. I took a quick photo of milepost 35 and set off to the junction.

The bridge which takes the towpath from the mainline over to the Leigh Branch is a modern footbridge. On the mainline side there is a ramp up to the bridge. On the Leigh side it is a series of long steps. Something I didn't notice, too busy looking at the sign post there. Luckily I had hold of the handle bars albeit by the bar-ends and after a bit of a panicky wobble I found the brakes and slowed down to go down the rest of the steps at a more suitable speed. 
anti-vehicle gate

Due to the subsidence in the area caused by coal mining most of the bridges on the Leigh Branch are relatively new or have been altered. No nice old stone bridges here. Along the Leigh Branch there are some anti-vehicle gates, which while only being a pain for cyclists must effectively ban wheelchair users from the towpath. The towpath is excellent here. I was doing my usual road speed along the towpath, passing boats going through the locks. 

Scotman's Flash
Scotman's Flash is an impressive sight. These flashes or lakes are caused by the land sinking after mining. Scotman's Flash is the largest and was being used by canoeists and yachts as I passed. The towpath and canal are up above the flashes on what now looks like an embankment. It is a popular area for bird watchers, cyclists, dog walkers and fishermen. 

anti-vehicle gate
At Moss Bridge the towpath switches sides. Something that may catch out some as there is a path on both sides for a while. Luckily I had done my homework and was expecting this change over. There is another anti-vehicle gate before Moss Bridge. A little further on the towpath switches sides again at Bamfurlong Bridge which is not a bike friendly bridge. At the Dover Lock Inn there are the remains of two locks. These were replaced by locks in Wigan when subsidence changed the levels . The pub looks quite nice so I will have to return one day to review it. The towpath here looks like it is in the middle of being upgraded. It could be a very good cycle path one day. 
Cabin Cruiser and Converted Lifeboat
Towards Leigh I saw a converted lifeboat that I have seen in Salthouse Dock in Liverpool and more recently at Burscough for their Canal heritage Week. I passed by the famous Plank Lane lift bridge. The area has seen a lot of work in recent times. The Britannia pub has now been demolished and the lift bridge looks either new or refurbished. There is a wide area of water next to the lift bridge which is going to be a marina. At the moment there are no pontoons though, and no obvious way of getting to the water from the bank.  Good to see some development on a stretch of canal that has in the past had a bit of a reputation. 

In the Leigh the sun was still shining brightly. The Waterside Inn was busy with people sat outside drinking. There were a few boats moored there too. While I had a breather and did some tweeting a day hire boat pulled up and a group of studenty types got off. They had got lucky with the weather and I forgave them calling a heron a stork. 

Leigh used to have a couple more canal pubs, the Ellesmere and the Bridge Inn. The Ellesmere is now a shop or clubhouse of Leigh Centurian's rugby club. The town is a rugby town, Leigh RMI RIP. The Bridge Inn gets a good review in my canal guide but is now closed and doesnt look much like reopening ever. 
the Ellesmere

the Bridge Inn
After a quick refuelling of Lucozade and a Marathon (Snickers) I headed back to Wigan. The ride back went well. I didn't feel as tired as I have on some of my usual morning rides in Liverpool. I was however suffering from not having any sun screen on. This left me with white hands and red arms. There was a slight wobble on the towpath that reminded me how close to the water I was, and politeness almost saw me and a fellow cyclist have an embarrassing crash. He was coming the other way and we both left the narrow path to allow the other to pass. In both giving way we both ended up heading towards each other, luckily we sorted ourselves out before we got too close. 

Back in Wigan I saw a headless mill worker, not a ghost but a vandalised statue. Its a shame that some locals have done their best to spoil the recent improvements to the area.
I like the lock keepers house in Wigan, by the bottom lock of the Wigan Flight. It is dwarfed by the huge Trencherfield Mill behind it but looks nice and unaltered. I can remember mooring outside it in 1983.

There are some new flats near Wigan Pier. The area is improving still. It is a world away from what it once was. I hope it can keep the progress up and doesn't slip back. It certainly seemed a popular place for people of Wigan to hand out.

I left Wigan and went back to Crooke. As I approached Crooke Hall Inn I could hear the sound of live electric guitar. Arriving back at the car I found the village fair in full swing. There was a band on and stalls and rides etc. It was all a bit warm for me to enjoy it though. Had I not had the car or bike with me I might have had a quick pint in the Crooke Hall Inn. But as it was I just strapped the bike back up on the car and had a quick wander down to the Kennet with the last of my water and another Snickers (Marathon). On Kennet I said hello to Mike "Mr Leeds & Liverpool Canal" Clarke. He has written every book worth reading on the subject. One day I will find something he doesn't know. 

All in all I would recommend the Leigh Branch to cyclists. If they continue to improve the towpath it will be an excellent ride. I would consider doing a ride from Wigan to Manchester sometime.
Kennet and other boats at Crooke

Ambush and Viktoria

As soon as I can I will get the photographs from my ride on the Leigh Branch Page of towpathtreks. It can take a while to get all the info on there. But they will be here asap: http://www.towpathtreks.co.uk/LLC/leigh_branch.html

Biologic Iphone Mount

I like my phone, I like it so much on the rare occasions that I am actually using it as a telephone I often look around for my phone to play with while I am talking. I dont like being away from my phone. I worry about it and find life is not comprehensible without it passing through the prism of my phone.  While cycling I miss my phone, its hard to hold a £500 phone and use it while you ride a bike one or none handed. So I spent the last of towpathtreks' budget on a iphone mount so I can use my phone while I cycle. 


Iphones aren't cheap so I was not going to get a cheap phone mount to attach it to my bike. I didnt want it dropping off or just being plain useless. Looking around I found an American company BioLogic, who had a snazzy website and a youtube video showing off their new product. Just what I wanted. 
After looking around I found a company in the UK that sold them and made the decision to wipe out towpathtreks bank balance by spending £50 on one. 


 £50 on a piece of plastic sounds like a lot of money but if it was as good as they said then it would be exactly what I want. The case holds the phone nice and securely. It has a double latch down the side so your phone doesnt drop out of the holder. The clip holding it to the handle bars seems secure enough so far. With the phone in the case you can use the touch screen with no problems. You can even plug in headphones etc or power the phone from a dynamo on your bike if you have one. The phone can be rotated so can be used landscape or portrait. 

I ride my bike for two reasons, one to get me where I am going faster than walking, and two to carry things I dont want to carry myself. I therefore have a lot of things attached to my bike. It was a bit of a struggle finding room for the mount but I got it on there. Although I wouldn't really need it I tried it out on the 22 mile ride I did at the weekend, from Crooke to Leigh. I really want the phone holder so I can look at the maps and GPS on it while riding in urban areas. Next to a canal I pretty much know where I am. 
Saturday was a rare sunny day (as my bright red arms will testify). This meant the sun was shining on the screen quite a lot and I had to shade it with my hand to see the screen. But this is the UK so I doubt that will be a common problem. Other than that the mount worked fine. My phone didnt fall off. I went down steps and across bumpy ground with no problems. And I was able to tweet and text without getting my phone out of my pocket all the time. 
My phone did almost let me down, its battery was on the way out after 2 hours of GPS and map display.