Sunday, April 30, 2006

Canal Walk: Chorley

The rain and drizzle managed to hold off long enough for todays towpath trek. We parked at Botany Bay by the half mile post marking 46.5 miles to Liverpool. We have walked north from here up to Johnsons Hillock before so today we went south as far as Rawlinsons Bridge #71 at the 43 mile mark. A 7 mile round trip was about right given the grey weather.

We spotted the 46.25mile quarter mile post but there was no sign of the 46 mile milepost, it probably went when the motorway was put in.

All along this walk we were never far from the motorways or busy main roads. There were signs of past industry but only one remaining mill. Some places were residential with gardens backing onto the canal. The towpath was popular with cyclists (who had left their manners at home), fishermen and walkers. We saw 5 boats on the move (one of which was going backwards). There were no swans at bridge 77A Froon Street so there was no need to tighten my grip on my walking stick as George Birtill felt he had to on his trek.

Milepost 45 was missing but the half mile (44.5 miles) was there. After Barrack Bridge #75 the area around the canal was wooded and there was less sign of industry. We found milepost 44 which needs a coat of paint.

This section is part of Rennies Lancaster Canal South part so the bridges are his impressive monuments. Bridge 74A is perhaps the most impressive, it is both skewed and twisted over the canal with deep rope cuts and stalagmites. The aqueduct near Cross Hall Bridge #76 is a great work of engineering and design but one few people must see as the view from the aqeduct is as George Birtill said in 1973 one of "one mill in ruins and the yard full of industrial paraphenalia". This river is Black Brook the source of Chorley's industrial power.

43.75 miles quartermile post was spotted as we headed towards the end of our trek. Bewteen Idle Bridge #72 and Rawlinson Bridge #71 there are the remains of a embankment where a mineral railway crossed the canal from the Ellerbeck Colliery.

Mile post 43 is not shown on any map, and is now missing, but under Rawlinson Bridge you can see the milepost shaped mark of where it once was. A sort of trace fossil of the milepost world.

It was too wet to sit on the bench opposite the boatyard so we just turned around and started back. The highlight of the return trip was a big pig in a pen next to the canal.

I doubt I will do this walk again, the towpath was good in places for cyclists but the views cannot compare with the sections either side of this stretch.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Canal Walk: Riley Green to Withnell Fold

We drove from Liverpool and parked at the Boatyard Inn just off junction 3 of the M65, right by Riley Green Bridge #91A. The pub is on the bankside; to get the towpath you pass an attractive ruin. We doubled back under the bridge and walked south west (towards Wigan/Liverpool).

Milepost 51 once was next to this bridge but is no longer there. Not far from the M65 (Brimmicroft Bridge 91AA) we found the 50 mile milestone. As suggested by the 19th century OS maps the milestone had a benchmark carved on to the top. There was no sign of any mile markings though. The milestones on this section are made of a better quality sandstone than their counterparts on the Wigan to Liverpool section.

The three Ollerton Bridges (#91, #90 and #89) as mentioned by George Birtill in his 1970s book Towpath Trek are very picturesque but seemingly overkill as they do not link anything other than fields. The bridges are of the same sturdy build as the bridges on the Lancaster Canal southern part, which was later, incorporated into the Leeds Liverpool canal.

Anyone looking for mileposts and milestones will notice that on this section the mileposts have been painted and have daffodils planted beside them. We found the 50mile milepost and the quarters and half posts associated with it. The first time I have found a mile, quarter, half mile and three quarter mile post in succession.

Withnell Fold was once a centre for paper mills. The former sludge ponds and filter beds are now a nature reserve and an ideal place to stop off for a picnic. They can be reached from Withnell Fold bridge #88 or by climbing over the wall alongside them.

We found the 49-mile milestone which also had a benchmark carved on it. From there it was a short distance to Jacksons bridge #87 (formerly Stony Flat Bridge) and its twin Brown House bridge #86. These bridges are another example of the engineering and architecture of the 19th century. The canal runs along a contour on a steep slope; therefore the bridge has to be at an angle from the towpath side to the bankside.

We soon found milepost 49 which had eluded us on a previous walk from Botany Bay. It was behind a fence and in some brambles it is completely hidden when the hedge is in full leaf.

Having reached the extent of the walk from Botany Bay we turned around and headed back. We took a diversion at bridge #87 to take a closer look at an aqueduct visible from the canal towpath. I assumed it was a railway viaduct but looking at the maps it seems to be just a very impressive way of bridging a small valley.

We went back to the towpath and returned to the Boatyard Inn passing many cyclists and walkers but only one boat on the move.

As we had used the pubs carpark and they had taken the time to put up signs about £100 fines and clamps we thought it was only fair to have a pub lunch. The Boatyard is a modern pub with a good menu, a nice terrace and overnight mooring for customers. It is an ideal place to start or end a day enjoying the canal.

Feeling refreshed and relieved we decided we would have a short walk in the other direction, towards Blackburn. We found milestone 51 and just beyond Finnington bridge #91B an impressive stone wall which used to belong to a Small Pox hospital. The moorers didn’t seem to be concerned that their boats were just feet away from a building that was once home to victims of the pox. After Millfield bridge #92 we found milepost 52 which only had the “75 1/4” left of its Leeds plaque and little more of the Liverpool one. It had been painted and had some canalside daffodils to mark it.

Before Stanworth bridge #93 there are the remains of a quayside and tramway which ran from the paper mill at Feniscowles. There is also a distinctive winding hole which looks like it was once a small arm serving some industry but there hasn’t been anything on the site for the last 150 years.

The paper mill at Fensicolwes keep their privacy with a tall ugly concrete wall which is sited in front of the original stone wall. This Berlin wall has hidden the 52-mile milestone from view. As the M65 came into view beyond the trees and the canal passed over a stream we come to a boundary marker on the border of Chorley and Blackburn and Darwin. We turned around here and went home.
This was one of the nicest and most interesting walks we have done. The abundance of mile markers and the aqueduct added to the landscape views and cute lambs and sheep.

Canal Walk: Burscough

A very short (two mile) walk today but one with a couple of surprises. I parked on the road by the canal at Burscough bridge (32A) and walked west. It had been sunny in the morning but was looking a bit grey by the time I got to the towpath in the afternoon. The first interesting thing I saw were several shiny metallic disks, very X-Files.

I have no idea what they are though...
As I strolled along my second surprise was a half mile post. I hadn't expect to see one there and wasnt particularly looking for it, but there it was. It marks 23.5 miles to Liverpool. Its in good condition but needs a coat of paint; which is more than can be said for my third surprise of the walk...
As I was approaching Crabtree Swing Bridge (#32) by the Slipway pub a couple of boats were passing through. While it is surprising to see boats on the move on this stretch it was not as surprising as seeing a milepost (Liverpool 23 Miles, Leeds 104.25 Miles) that I had looked for on more than one occasion. In fact last time I visited I had a good look, had a OS map from 2005 showing where it should be and took a photo of where I thought it would have been. There was no sign of it at all. Yet with the brambles died down I noticed a very falorn milepost halfway down the side of the embankment. It had brambles over it, a chunk missing from the top, no paint and is in a precarious position. I couldnt reach it but managed to move the brambles enough for a photo.
Happy with my find I turned around at New Lane Swing Bridge (#23) opposite the Farmers Arms and headed back to Burscough to watch the local team play Marine. Marine beat Burscough by 3 goals to nil. I recommend a bit of nonleague football to any boaters passing through.

Canal Walk: Scarisbrick

Another sunny day, it must be a record! Just a small walk to stretch the legs today. I parked at the former wharf by Hulmes Bridge (#26). Again no sign of the half mile post near Weaver's Bridge (27) but there were boats on the move today; one barge, one narrorboat, one cabin cruiser, an inflatable dingy and an inflatable kayak. I walked as far as the next half mile post by the stop lock at Such Hey Wood and then back to Scarisbrick bridge.

Just along the road from the canal is a medieval stone cross. It was once part of two lines of crosses from Scarisbrick Park to Ormskirk and Burscough Priory. Its not much to look at but it is one of the oldest monuments in this area.

Walking back I stepped down into the field alongside the towpath. These fields were fertilised with the waste of Liverpool, brought up by boat from the city. As a result the fields are full of fragments of pottery, glass, stone and metal. No sign of the clay pipes like the ones I have found before but I did find a metal hook and lots of decorated pottery, willow pattern was common. Easy pickings for the (very) amatuer archaeologist.


Canal Walk: Gathurst and Crooke

I had a hangover and some fresh air and sunshine by the canal was the solution. I was going to park at Appley Bridge (#42) and walk up to Crooke but arriving at Appley bridge I found the towpath was closed between Appley Bridge and Ranicars swing bridge(#44). Instead I parked at the Navigation by Gathurst bridge (#46) and walked from there to Crooke bridge (#47). On the way I looked for the 32 mile milestone by the River Douglas but had no luck. There were quite a few people out enjoying the sunshine. I walked up to Crooke and had a look for the 32 miles milepost but if it is there it is hiding very successfully. I turned around and went back to the Navigation and then under Gathurst bridge and down to Dean locks. No sign of the half mile post that is shown on the 2005 OS map but there was a cat sat on the reeds watching ducks. I walked past the dual locks and the former junction with the River Douglas.
Armed with my OS map I managed to find the 31miles milepost, one I have looked for on a few occasions. It was hidden by brambles and not easy to photo. In the trees on the bankside I could here a woodpecker pecking wood. It was just a short walk, only 4 miles, but it did the trick with the hangover.

Canal Walk: Heatons Bridge

This afternoon it was sunny enough to be tempted out to the towpath at Heatons bridge (28). I was looking for some mile stones, today it was 21 and 22. The car park at Heatons bridge was full, a popular pub for a Sunday drink. Walking north to Martin Lane bridge (29) I passed a couple of people on bikes and some dog walkers. The field boundaires were the same as the 1894 OS map but there was no sign of milestone 22. I turned around and walked a mile in the other direction to look for milestone 21. On the way I passed milepost 21 and quite a few mallards sat sunning themselves on the side of the canal. Unfortunately again I was unable to find the milestone even though I could be confident of standing in the right place. Although its only early April it was too warm for my fleece so I turned around again and went back to the car.
On the way home I stopped off at Hulmes bridge (26) to look for the half mile post (19.5miles). I walked south up to Halsall Warehouse Bridge (25) passing milepost 19 then turned around to walk back past Hulmes bridge and on to Weavers bridge (27). There were a few people fishing and Vagabond from Riley Green was heading back north. No sign of the half mile post in the brambles, soon the hedge will be green again and I will have to wait until autumn to look for it again.
No luck with the milestones and mile post spotting but a nice short sunny walk on a day that was predicted to be rain and sleet!