Sunday, March 25, 2007

Canal Walk Brierfield to Hapton 8 miles

Once again I parked at Blackburn station and got the train to my starting point. There is parking in Burnley but I enjoy the train ride. Today I was sat with a group of bell ringers off for a weekend of bell ringing. As the train followed the canal I saw two boats on the move, one was heading into Gannow Tunnel.
I got off the train at Brierford station which is a short walk past some inbred girls down the hill to the canal at Lob Lane bridge #137. I went up as far as the next bridge Clogger Bridge #138 to see if the 77 mile milepost had emerged from the undergrowth since I was last here. It hadn’t. With the sun shining and the sky blue I turned around and headed towards Burnley. Half a mile on and I did find a milepost that had eluded me on the last visit, 76.5 miles from Pall Mall Liverpool is a half mile post with the top missing. Near to the half mile post is the original milestone in better condition than its metal replacement.
Once past hawks House Bridge #136 I was on new untrekked towpath and with one of the seven wonders of the canal world ahead of me I went on.
Between Heald bridge #133 and the railway ridge 132A there are the remains of a wharf where coal boats once loaded from the mine. The is a photograph of this wharf in use in the Burnley canal walk guide. At Old Hall bridge #132 a friendly Muslim ask if I wanted to take his photograph and hoped I would have a nice time on my journey. There is something about towpath that makes people friendlier. The bridge itself has very high sides, I could only just see over the shelly sandstone parapet.
I took a diversion from the towpath to see the aqueduct which carries the canal over the River Brun from the bottom rather than the top. I was glad I did, it continue on without stopping would be to miss seeing an impressive piece of engineering. Another milepost,number 74, and it was off to find a wonder.
And then there it was. I came around the corner and saw a long straight stretch of canal, 60 ft above the town, Burnley Embankment. Unlike the aqueduct this is a feature best taken from the top. I have been to Burnley before and been within feet of the embankment not paying it any attention it despite its size. From the bottom its an overgrown embankment, from the top you can see the whole city and like Ewood embankment in Blackburn you can see the towns football stadium. There is access for those who can walk to the embankment at the town’s bus station or further along by the large Tescos which has a cafĂ©. I stopped off at Tescos for lunch and noticed my feet were beginning to hurt. I had worn the wrong boots for the job. Much of the towpath on this section has been very recently relaid so trainers would have been a better choice of footwear than brand new Royal Mail DMs. But I was stuck with them so had to carry on. At the other end of the Embankment is Finsley gate bridge #130E which gives a great view along the “straight mile”. Passed the old canal depot are some large mills and in a niche in a wall is milepost 73.
Unfortunately the visitor centre in the old toll house by bridge #130B was shut and not due to open until Easter but I did appreciate how well the warehouses have been renovated. The warehouses and redevelopment are similar to those at Wigan Pier and Eanam Wharf. A bit further on are the unique canal side houses for mill workers. On the bankside and fronting directly onto the canal. Now empty they would be worth a fortune anywhere else. Many of the mills are empty and I saw quite a few that were being demolished.
By the time I reached Gannow Tunnel my feet were hurting quite a lot. It was clear I had some nasty blisters developing on both feet. I had passed up the chance to escape at Mitre bridge #129A and get the train at Burnley Barracks Station. The idea of walking barefoot kept passing through my mind. Approaching Gannow Tunnel you can appreciate why it was needed, in front of you is a steep hill, to a sandgrounder like me it looked like Everest. All the directions I had read on how to walk from one side to the other assumed you were going the opposite way ad were in any case the bottom of my rucksack. Luckily two girls were walking ahead of me and I correctly guessed they were going the same way. Trying not to look like someone from Crime Watch I followed them to the other side of the tunnel. Its not the easiest of routes, via underpasses and across busy roads. I can see why some people get lost at this point. A few sign posts would be a nice idea.
Its about three miles from the tunnel to Hapton. I found milepost 71 though it was in poor condition. The river class barge Kennet was moored by Gannow Bridge. Milepost 70 is not on any maps, and now I know why. It’s under the railway. Its rather buried but it has most of its plaques and was a welcome find showing me I had only one mile to go to Hapton bridge. Even knowing the end was near I could only manage a slow trudge and by the time I got to the Hapton it was a limp. I left the canal at hapton bridge and walked up the hill to the station where I had just 20 minutes to wait for the train back to Blackburn.
I will definitely be going back to Burnley to see the visitor centre and have a look at the culvert under the embankment. This walk means I have now completed the first 89 miles of canal from Liverpool to East Marton.

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