Monday, February 18, 2008

Canal Walk: Johnson’s Hillock to Withnell Fold ~ 4 miles

A cold and frosty February morning is perfect for a towpath trek. It has been a while since I had a decent walk by the canal so this sunny Sunday it was off to Johnson’s Hillock locks to stretch the legs and refresh the lungs. The area around Johnsons Hillock and Withnell Fold is the George Birtill country. In the 1960s George Birtill wrote lots of books about walking around Lancashire and the history of the towns and lanes around Chorley.
We parked on the road opposite the Top Lock pub; there is a large car park for patrons of the pub and, if you are early, ample parking on the road alongside the canal. The pub hadn’t yet opened when we arrived and there were only a couple of cars parked on the road.
Besides the Top Lock is the lock keepers house, a solid stone 2 storey house. The house is for sale, a perfect place to live if you like canals. And not only is it just a few steps from the pub it has a milepost in the garden!
This stretch of canal is one of my favourite bits of the Leeds & Liverpool. The canal is built on the hillside; on one side there is a steep slope down to the valley bottom on the other side is a high cutting. The 7 Locks at Johnsons Hillock are the work of the great John Rennie. The bridges here look to be the work of Rennie too. They are angled up the hillside. These bridges have a chunkier look than other bridges, their arches are higher, you don’t have to duck as much to walk underneath them. A group of shaggy ponies stood on bridge #84 and watched us pass beneath them.
Between Brown House Bridge #86 and Jacksons Bridge #87 is a tall viaduct linking two fields separated by gorge. It’s certainly picturesque though one wonders why those two fields needed such an expensive structure to link them.
The towpath would have been muddy if it hadn’t been frozen, the frost was melting in the sunshine but there was still enough ice on the canal for the ducks to walk on.
At bridge #88 is Withnell Fold an industrial town. This was once the site of a paper mill and now a nature reserve. The sludge ponds are home to all sorts of wildlife. Even though they were frozen over and it is winter we still spotted lots of tiny fish swimming about. The town of Withnell Fold doesn’t look very inviting from the towpath so rather regrettably we didn’t explore it. Birtll informs us that there is a pretty village square surrounded by workers houses. Maybe next time I will find them.
Near to bridge #88 is a half mile post and a milestone with a bench mark carved on top.
We turned around here and headed back to the locks. We just about spotted milepost 49 covered in ivy behind a fence near to Brown House Bridge.
On the walk back to the lock there were more walkers and a couple of cyclists. Back at the pub there were a lot more cars and the tables outside the pub were taken by drinkers and their dogs. We had lunch in the car and then walked down the locks to lock four. Once again I tried to work out the rope marks on the bridge its hook. We left the canal at Fourth Lock Bridge. The farm building is dated 1727 and has the letters P, H and I. I would guess the date and initials mark a marriage. The date is 43 years before the canal was started. I wonder if the couple saw the canal being built.
Further on down the road is the former Navigation Inn, now a private house. The Navigation was once frequented by bargemen working on the Walton Summit branch which came past here. The branch is now filled in and its hard to see where it ran from the road but you can trace its course on google earth. Over the road from the ex-pub is a car park and the surviving quarter of mile of the Summit Branch, complete with quarter mile post.
We walked up to the junction with the mainline. By now the sun was warm so we had a nice sit down on a bench then walked back up the locks to the car.

No comments: