Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Canal Walk: Old Roan to Bootle

Today I decided to do a trek I have been meaning to do for a long time, a walk less than 10 miles from where I live. The canal at the Liverpool end is never far from the local railway lines and it is easy for walkers to use them to start and finish a walk. I took the Ormskirk train from Liverpool Central. The underground line passes close to the old canal terminus at Old Hall Street and then, when above ground, over the top of the Stanley dock branch. The train crosses the canal just before it stops at Old Roan station. Exit the station, turn left on the road and then right at the traffic lights next to the Old Roan pub. Old Roan Bridge #7D is a short distance up the road and access to the towpath can be gained here. This is about eight and a half miles from the Pall Mall terminus.
The towpath here is uninspiring but while other sections of the Leeds Liverpool Canal are a treat for the eyes this section I found was one for the ears. There were very few people using the towpath today, there were some dog walkers and a few cyclists but no fishermen and definitely no sign of any boats. It can be a bit strange walking on your own on a towpath like this; it can be a bit lonely in a way that a more rural setting is not. But the benefit of being solo, without an mp3 player to block out the world, is the sounds of the towpath. The hedgerow was full of songbirds in full voice, something I haven’t heard for a long time. There were blackbirds, thrushes, dunnocks and wrens.

On the water the coots and moorhens were feeling the coming of spring. Coots make a clicking/clucking noise, moorhens have their own cry. There were large numbers of coots and moorhens; they outnumbered the mallards on this stretch. There were groups of 15 or 20 coots while the moorhens stayed in pairs. Both coots and moorhens seem to do well on the remainder stretch, they even seem to like the floating rubbish. The coots are narky birds and adopt an aggressive pose before chasing each other across the cut. Moorhens will always make for the water when scared; they drop in with a plop and all the confidence of a non-swimmer. They will also run across the water if they are in a hurry.

Along the trek the sound of children playing carried across to the towpath from the schools along the way. At other times the pylons and electricity substations that follow the canal can be heard crackling and buzzing.

I passed the 8 mile milepost but couldn’t see any sign of the half mile post at Netherton Swing Bridge although there was a swan there. The seven mile milepost was last shown on an OS map in 1927 so I had assumed it was missing, possibly removed for World War Two. But OS maps are not 100% accurate. Painted black like the others at this end of the canal the 7 milepost was not in bad condition. An unexpected find. I walked on passed the six and a half mile post I had photographed on the bike ride I did a few years ago, a 35 mile round trip from Haskayne. Since that ride there have been a few changes. Factories have been demolished, brown field sites have become building sites and the building sites are now apartment blocks. There is a lot of new housing on this section as old houses and industry are cleared and new apartments are built. Some of the new buildings that were there last time I came passed do not look lived in, they are probably all occupied but there was no sign of human habitation. They all look like show apartments.
Milepost six is marked on the most recent OS map and is opposite some buildings which should make it easy to find. After finding number 7, number 6 should be easy. But as is often the case the easy ones are missing and the missing ones are sticking out like a sore thumb. It was while I was looking for the milepost that the old chap on the bike passed me, his radio playing. I tried a nod of greeting but just got a stare in return. Maybe bearded men looking in hedges don’t warrant a smile. Generally people were friendly and responded to a smile or hello.
At bridge 4 my fellow traveller had dismounted and was sat on a bench eating his lunch and listening to the radio. No response from him again as I took some photographs from the footbridge. I left him behind and carried on walking towards Litherland.

I arrived at Litherland and took some photographs of the site of the old lift bridge. It was a popular spot for photographers in its day, but not so popular with the drivers on the road who had to wait for it. The bridge keeper’s cottage is still there and just past it are the Litherland visitor and permanent moorings. These have nice new looking water facilities for boaters. The bankside is well kept; the only thing lacking is boats. To be honest I wouldn’t leave a boat here and would not spend a night here. The only boat I saw all day was the BWB water witch and that was sunk.

The original plan was to leave the canal at Litherland and get the train back to Liverpool from Seaforth and Litherland station. I was making good time so rather than leave the towpath here I pressed on to Bootle, only a mile and a half away but probably the worst mile and a half on the canal. The industry on this section turned its back on the canal it once needed. There are no new housing developments and while some industrial sites are being cleared their replacements are yet to be built. Some of the brick walls that line the towpath have doorways and gateways in them. They would have been used when unloading coal from the canal barges to the works behind the wall. They have now been bricked up as the door was closed permanently on the canal.

I did find two quarter mile posts: 4¼ and then 3¼. As I reached the end of the trek at the 3 mile milepost by Stanley Road Changeline Bridge #2A the chap on the bike cycled past and I got a wave: third time lucky!
I left the towpath at the changeline bridge which is next to the Strand shopping centre. On the other side of the shopping centre is Bootle New Strand station which has trains to Liverpool and Southport.

Canal Walk: Crooke to Wigan

Last time we came to Crooke the hailstones sent us running back to the car after 5 minutes. Today it was windy and grey but there was no sign of rain. We parked on the street close to where a railway once came down the hillside to canalside. The only sign of this railway now is a gap in the houses where it once ran. Presumably this railway brought coal from the pits at Crooke down to be loaded onto of the railway

We crossed Crooke Bride #47 and set off towards Wigan.
There is now a marina at Crooke where there was once an arm of the canal which went into the coal mines in the hillside. Opposite this arm there was a bridge of some sort from the canal towpath over the River Douglas. All that can be seen now is a raised bit of towpath.
Not far after the marina is the old Crooke lock. This lock was replaced by Pagefield lock after mining subsidence changed the levels of the canal. You can still see where the lock gates once were, the remains of their hinges and recesses they went into when open.
After Martland Mill Bridge #49 I took the opportunity to take a better photograph of a very sad looking milepost, it is still just about possible to see the plaque marking 33 miles to Liverpool.
Two more sets of locks follow, Hell Meadow and Pagefield, both were once duel locks and both now have only one chamber with gates still intact.

There weren’t many people about when we arrived at Wigan pier. The museum and shop looked shut but both were open. We had a look around the shop which always brings back memories of the IWA rally when this site was first redeveloped.
I bought a tin of Uncle Joes Mint Balls. Nice to see sweets with only three ingredients!
The wind was against us. On the return trip the wind was against us but I still managed to find a quarter milepost; one I must have walked past many times before. It marks 33.75 miles to Liverpool. It was so windy there were even waves on the canal, breaking ones at that!

For Sunday lunch we went to the Farmers Arms near Burscough by New Lane Swing Bridge #31. The pub and the carpark were both full of Sunday diners. A reminder not to take a place in a carpark if you are not going to use the pub. Roast lamb for £5.99 and Sherry Triffle (sic) for £2.50.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Canal Drive: Appley Bridge, Crooke, Gathurst

The weather was so changeable today we managed to park by the canal three times in three places inbetween rain and hail showers. At Gathurst I had one shoe off ready to put my wellies on when the heavans opened, so we drove on to Crooke. We did manage to stand on a bridge at Crooke and found how to get there by car and where to park. I plan to return when the weather is better and look for signs of the tunnel. The hail soon sent us back to the car and it was off to Appley bridge. We made it as far as the locks and took some photos before the rain came down again and we headed back to the car and went to Cedar Farm to see the little goats and guinea pigs.
With the sunshining and the hail falling it was no day for towpath treking.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Canal Walk: Farmers Arms to Burscough

After months of grey skies and rain it was nice to wake up to blue skies and sunshine. So it was off to the canal to find the Ribble (the boat not the river) and take some photographs. We parked at the Farmers Arms and headed off to the woodyard where the Ribble is usually moored. My companion for the trek, Halle, set off at pace and we soon got to the Ribble. While Halle investigated a interesting piece of carved sandstone I took photos of the barge.

After taking the pictures we turned around and headed towards Burscough bridge passing the milepost opposite the Farmers Arms which is only visible this tme of year. There were plenty of people out walking on the towpath enjoying the nice weather and for a change there were two boats on the move, Roma and Jules 2. A nice but short walk.