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.


Anonymous said...

I loved the 'walk' and almost felt like I was accompanying you as I KNOW that canal like the proverbial 'back of my hand'. In fact, the photo of Netherton swing bridge with the swan in front? Well that street that trials off in the distance is Eden Vale and I lived there from the twnkle in my dads eye to my 20's. (born 65)

Yes, the area has changed and I'm constantly amazed everytime I return to visit a parent.

I well rember that swing bridge used to be a high sided thing with mesh up the sides and a thick wooden hand rail along each inside. We kids uded to stand on it and get shook up & down and sidways everytime a car went across. :-) (yes, the swing bridge was a place to hang around)

Occasionally, a boat or barge would go down and we'd all run to help the guy unlock all the 'swing' things and help him actually swing the bridge around.. before running on the bridge at the last minute and you'd be cut off from both sides of the land and you'd have 30ft of roadway to yourself paralel to the canal. The ends dropping off into the water!

Ah well... that's enough down memory lane.

I take it your 'walk' was on a bike? Only because your trip was such a long journey. I'd bet it took you the best part of a day if walked?

Anyway, glad there's such wildlife now, I don't recall ever there being that many waterfowl... maybe it was because there was more children then on the estates and we all played outside. (netherton was a place of new familys then, with growing children, the schools all cloded when I reached 15/16)

Anyway, appreciated it.

p.s. I concur about leaving a boat past the liftbridge. It's hardly a agreeable area.


Peter said...

Its only about 5 miles from Old Roan to Bootle, this time I walked though I have cycled before.

The area around the Litherland Lift bridge is getting a massive new tescos store so that will change things...more trolleys in the canal...