Thursday, September 06, 2007

Canal Walk: Burscough to Appley Bridge

Today was a day off work and a chance to get to the towpath for a walk. I had thought about going to Yorkshire but in the end settled for a walk closer to home. It’s a walk I have done before many times but one I don’t get tired of. I parked on the road by Burscough Bridge (#32A) and set off towards Wigan. Depending on the weather and how I felt I planned to stop either at Parbold, Appley Bridge or Gathurst and get the train back to the car at Burscough. The towpath was empty. There were a few people messing about with their boats but for most of the walk I had the towpath to myself. There is no need for mp3 players or mobile phones while walking, they just distract you from the things that make a walk worthwhile. What are those things? Every day is different and this is why I had no concern about walking a familiar route.
I was soon over the bridge that takes the towpath over the Rufford Branch and up to the Ring O’ Bells pub. No sign of summer time drinkers today. The sky was cloudy but it was getting warmer with every step. I had started walking at midday so when I came to Moss Bridge #35 I stopped to have lunch and take off a couple of layers. There are some large stone fish here, in a circle, one of the many art instillations along the canal put in place and then forgotten about. I sat on one to eat my sandwiches. On the other side of the canal is a pill box. This is part of the stop line designed to halt the Nazi invasion that never came. There are three concrete pill boxes on this stretch but it was a brick defence I was keen to find today. Just before Spencer’s Swing Bridge #36 there is a low brick wall with pre-cast concrete loopholes. At this time of year if you didn’t know it was there you would never spot it. This and the circular brick pill box near the Halsall Cutting are sites I will have to revisit when the leaves have fallen and the grass and weeds have died down.
Despite the summer warmth there is plenty of sign of autumn colours on the towpath. The hawthorn hedges have bright red berries ad the black elderberries were shining. At Giants Hall I took a diversion down the steps at the side of the aqueduct (37B) which carries the canal over a road. It’s an uninspiring structure, not quite up to the standard of Chirk or the Pontycillet (SP?) but it does its job. Near the aqueduct is milepost 27. It took me quite a few visits to locate it but now I have trimmed back the brambles it is fairly easy to find. I stopped to kick a few errant branches out the way. The milepost is once again green with whatever basic plant life it is that likes it so much. Maybe a new species has developed that is only found on this one milepost. It would look much better given a smart coat of paint.
I decided to carry on past Parbold. The little Spar shop has a To Let sign on it. Before Chapel House Bridge# 39 is milepost 28 which has been recently painted and looks much better than it used to. I went up and onto the bridge to see the WW2 concrete cubes. These cubes can be found at a number of bridges on the canal and were designed to stop the Nazis crossing the canal. There are large, about 5ft square with 4 metal girders sticking out at each corner on the top side. The concrete has a lot of large pieces of stone and looks like it was mixed for quick deployment rather than longevity. Some of the concrete has fallen away from the metal uprights. On Chapel House bridge if you look on the road surface in between the cubes, at the edge of the cobbles you will see two circles. They are what looks like to sections of sewerage or drain pipe set vertically in the ground in concrete. They would have been part of a moveable roadblock. Barriers would have been put into the holes when the road block was in place. I wonder if the men who put these defences in place really thought that German soldiers could be one day trying to cross the canal here.
The next two bridges also have concrete cubes although the ones on Hand Lane Bridge #41 are hidden among the plants growing on the unused road. A narrowboat had just left Appley Deep Lock so it was empty. The overgrown trees and bushes on the island between the locks and to the right of the towpath are all that remain of the backgardens of houses that once stood here. In more than one place on the canal the garden hedges and trees are the only sign that a lock or bridge cottage was once there. Often there is an overgrown section of land, separate from the neighbouring field.

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