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.

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