Sunday, November 06, 2011

The Ship Inn at Lathom

Today I stopped by the Ship Inn or Blood Tub at Lathom. The pub has been refurbed since my last visit and has had some good reviews of late.
We came here because the Windmill was too busy and had no tables free. But I think fate did us a favour. The Ship was also busy but it's a bigger pub and we found a table. There were six ales on, I had a pint of Tribute, the others were Black Sheep, Nutty Slack, Pendle Witch, a Thwaites and a Ship one whose name escapes me right now.
We were hungry so we got menus and and chose a cheddar baguette and a fish finger barm. We sat next to the real fire which is always nice.
The food came, they brought a very nice looking steak baguette that was supposed to be a cheese one. It looked much nicer than the fish finger one I had to settle for. Soon the right food arrived. The chips were huge and I was forced to leave a few although it broke my heart to see good food go to waste.
Sat in the room by the bar it was a little noisy especially with a baby that seemed to be possessed by the Devil.
Overall it was very nice. There were few negatives, the empty glasses and crisp packets that were on our table when we arrived stayed with us for the meal and the mix up with the order can happen anywhere.
Definitely worth another visit, the real fire make drinking real ale in winter a very pleasant experience.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Halloween Story: The Last Straw

As I stand here in the cold and damp I'm too weary to feel sickened by what I am about to do. I have wrestled with my guilt for sometime now but eventually self-pity and self-preservation have overcome it. I never asked for any of this, I could never have known what would happen to me and what I would have to do. My one consoling thought is that whoever I pass my burden onto will one day feel the peace and contentment that I have been promised awaits when I am finished. It started two months, one week and four days ago. That was when my life was changed forever.

It was a Thursday night and I was walking home from the pub. It wasn't late, I'd had a testing day at work and a steadily building headache had forced me to finish my last pint, give my apologies and head for home. I took my usual route along the towpath on the outskirts of the city, the canal waters dark and still beside me. It was a cold, clear night, and the stars were reflected on the water's surface. Everything was quiet and calm as I approached the crumbling brick bridge that connected the two sides of Tollman Street across the canal. I had on occasion felt a slight apprehension about walking under the bridge at night. Its ceiling hung low and when you passed under the blackness seemed to swallow you for several seconds before spitting you out at the other side. Once or twice I had passed someone walking in the other direction, perhaps with a dog or going for a midnight jog but for the most part the bridge and towpath were deserted whenever I walked along. I was therefore unprepared for the figure that stepped out of the shadows just as I approached.

It was a man in a dark green jacket and flat-cap. His face was drawn and gaunt looking. There were heavy shadows under his bleary red-rimmed eyes and his grey hair stuck out from under his hat in untidy tufts. 
“Excuse me,” I said, motioning that I wanted to pass. He didn't move. “I need to get past.” I said more firmly.
“If you could have one wish what would it be?” He asked me.
I blinked with unease. “Pardon me?”
“If you could have one wish what would it be?” He repeated. I was feeling pretty spooked by him at this point and my head was starting to throb again.
“Look Mister, I really need to get home, if you could just move out of my way-”
He held out his hand to me and said “Pick one.”
I looked down to see that he was holding five straws in his hand. “What? Why?” I asked.
“Pick one.” he said again. “If you pick a long straw then I will grant you a wish.” By now I was convinced that he was completely insane and so I thought that the quickest, safest way to get away from him was to play along.
“So if I pick one then you'll grant me a wish and let me go?”
He nodded.
“Right, ok then.” I selected a straw at random and drew it from his hand. It was a long one.
He small smile played about his lips. “Well done, you picked the long straw. What would you like to wish for?”
I don't know why I replied as I did but all I can think is that I was desperate to get away from him and it was the first thing to come into my head.
“I wish that I didn't have to go into work tomorrow.”
“Done.” he said, then stepped aside allowing me to pass.
I hurried away from the bridge as fast as I could, keen to put as much distance between myself and the strange man as possible. It wasn't long till I reached my front door and it was with some relief that I put my key in the lock and let myself in. As I lay next to my wife in bed that night I couldn't quite shake the feeling of apprehension. The meeting under the bridge had disturbed me, but I had no idea even then what would happen next.

The phone rang early the next morning, just before I was due to get up for work. I was still groggy from sleep so I didn't quite take in what I was being told at first. It took a few minutes for me to realise that I was being told the business had folded and that my job no longer existed. I would not be required in work that day or any day after that. In the shock I felt directly after receiving the news I completely forgot about the man and my wish. It was only after my wife had left for work, banging the door on her way out that I remembered what had happened. Surely it was just a coincidence I told myself. He was just some madman under a bridge talking nonsense. But still, even though I tried to ignore the growing unease inside of me throughout the day something finally made me put my jacket on and retrace my steps back to the bridge.  It came as a shock when I saw that he was stood in the same place as the night before. He watched me as I cautiously approached him. It was as if he had expected me, which of course he had.
“So you came back.” He said.
“Yes.” I had no idea what I was going to say to him but it turned out that I didn't have to say much at all.
“I know why you are back. It is about your wish. It didn't go as you expected?” he looked down at his feet as he said this.
“I didn't expect it to go at all. How did you-”
“Would you like to try again?” he asked. “You're next wish might work out better...” he proffered his hand which now held four straws. I stared down at his hand.
“Why should I?”
He looked me square in the face. “Because you have to finish it.”
I often wonder why I didn't just walk away there and then. I can only say that I was still shell-shocked from the morning and perhaps feeling like I had nothing left to lose. How wrong I was, I still had a lot left to lose at that point. I picked one of the straws offered towards me and pulled it from his hand. It was a long straw. For my second wish I thought long and hard. My wife and I had been trying for a child for some time without luck. It had begun to affect our relationship and I had recently come to wonder if it would be the eventual cause of our breakup. Despite having just lost my job I recklessly decided that with my next wish I would try and fix the problems in my marriage.
“I wish that my wife would fall pregnant, safely pregnant– wait, with a healthy child.”
I raced home, the implications of what I had just done only then beginning to dawn on me. The anxiety built as I neared the front door. I had made sure that the baby would be healthy, that the pregnancy would go safely. Surely that was all that mattered? I found the note taped to the fridge. 'Dear Michael' it began. 'We have been drifting apart for some time now. Our marriage is over, it has been over for some time now, but neither of us were willing to admit it. There is no easy way of telling you this, I'm sorry that I couldn't find the courage to tell you to your face, but I am leaving you for someone else. You don't know him, I met him at a conference in May. I am pregnant with his child. I have taken most of what is mine but I will call back later in the week so that we can discuss the house. I'm so sorry, Amanda.'
I ripped the note off the fridge and scrunched it up into a tight ball. This had to be a joke; everything had to be a joke. I walked into the bedroom. Empty drawers. I checked the bathroom. Shampoos and expensive creams missing. She had even taken a gold picture frame that we had used to display a photograph taken from our trip to Prague. The picture had been discarded on the dresser.
It was at this point that the anger started to build in me. Just who was this man and how did he have control of my life like this? Why did he have control of my life like this? Once again I found myself racing back to the bridge.

This time I was in no doubt that he would be there. I tore up to him and grabbed him by the scruff of his ragged green jacket and I thrust him against the wall. “Who are you, why are you doing this?” I yelled in his face. He did not seem surprised or even threatened. He looked like he had been expecting this.
“It is not up to me what happens.” he said simply. “I only provide the means to make the wish, I do not determine how it takes effect.”
“Then how do I stop it?” I begged, still holding on the front of his jacket. In answer he held out his clenched fist. Three straws remained. I stared down at his hand for a few anguished moments. Then with a heavy heart I released my grip upon his jacket and drew a straw from his hand. It was a long straw. He looked at me expectantly. I had lost so much in the past day and a half, I had no job and no wife. I had wasted my first wish on something frivolous, I had used my second wish to try and fix something and had ended up breaking it more. I knew that my third wish was bound to go wrong in some unforeseen way no matter how carefully I worded it so I reasoned that I might as well get something out of it.
“I wish for lots of money.”
I was in no rush to return home this time. I knew that something no doubt unpleasant awaited me, perhaps I would find the proceeds form a bank heist in my house and then be arrested for robbery. Perhaps I would be hit by a police car on the way home, lose a leg and then receive a huge compensatory pay out. Of course, I may find a winning lottery ticket in the gutter, I hadn’t totally given up hope.

I heard the fire engines long before I could see my house. Soon I could see the billowing smoke and smell the sharp bitter tang of burning on the air. As I got closer I walked up to the gathered crowd in a trance.
“Gas explosion” I heard people saying.
“Poor bastard. Still the insurance payout should be substantial.”
I gazed up at the flames that were devouring my home. Everything I owned being reduced to ashes drifting down the street, being brushed from people’s eyes. I knew that I should have stayed and spoken to the fire officers and the police. I should have made arrangements and tried to salvage what I could. There was only one place I wanted to go now though.

He was still stood exactly as I had left him not one hour ago. I walked slowly up to him, my shoulders drooping with the weight of all that had happened since we’d first met. I needed no prompting this time.

He offered me his hand with the two straws left and I selected one and pulled it from his fist. It was a short straw. “Thank you.” He said.

I have been standing under this bridge for two months, one week and four days now. It was several days before I could sum up the courage to even ask anyone what they wished for most in the world. I was several more days before anybody took me up on my generous offer. Others have since played along as I did that first night but few ever return except to give me a black eye or to threaten me to never come near them again. I have lost count of how many lives I have ruined so far, how much misery I have brought on strangers. One day, after I had been here a month or so, the man walked past under the bridge. He looked less gaunt than the last time I had seen him, his clothes were no longer ragged and his hair was trimmed and washed. He didn’t stop to speak, but he did slow and nod to me. I think he just wanted me to see him.

It is getting late, I am expecting someone. Someone who won’t be happy to see me. I hold two straws in my hand just now. I pray that my visitor will take one of them and leave me holding the last straw.

by Kirsty Morrison

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Liverpool to Leeds Bike Ride

Riding from Liverpool to Leeds along the canal seems to be increasingly popular. Most recently Adam Hope and the Burnley Boys have ridden from Liverpool to Burnley and then Leeds over two days.
Here is their account of the ride:
They weren't very lucky with the weather or punctures but if the photos are anything to go by they enjoyed themselves. They got in the local papers too:
Just as impressive as the ride itself is the money they raised for cancer charities, if you feel like it why not chuck them a few quid here:
You can also read Adam's and other people's comments on the ride here:

Well done to everyone who has done the ride!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Museum of Liverpool

This week the Museum of Liverpool finally opened, just a year late. It is still not yet fully open but it is well worth a visit. There were lots of people there today, this being the first week it has been open to the public. We got badges and a little flag, something for eBay in 20 years time. It was nice to walk into a museum in Liverpool and not know which way to go or where anything was or even what was there. The city's other museums are brilliant but I have been round them a lot.
The view from the Museum of Liverpool (huge photo)
The museum was so busy it was hard to get around and see everything, and we had a pram with us. We managed to see most things I think. I liked the model of Gerard Gardens, being a fan of Art Deco tenements and currently living in one of the surviving examples. 
Gerard Gardens (huge photo)

Inside the Museum of Liverpool
I will be back when the rest is open and its a bit less busy.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Sankey Brook Canal

Living in Liverpool my nearest canal is obviously the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, and its my favourite. But there is another canal nearby and one I have never visited, the Sankey Brook or St Helens Canal. The Sankey Canal first opened in 1757 linking St Helens with the River Mersey along the valley of the Sankey Brook. It was built to serve the chemical industries in the area. The canal included branches and extensions at both ends. It was one of these extensions I visited this weekend. In 1830 an Act was passed to extend the canal to the River Mersey at Widnes, this extension opened in 1833. There were plans to build an aqueduct across the Mersey linking the Sankey Brook Canal with the Bridgewater. There were also plans to link the canal to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Leigh. So far these plans have not been implemented. 
Widnes Wharf is close to the Runcorn Widnes Bridge, next to the Catalyst Museum. There is a car park at the museum and one by the boatyard. The cars in the boatyard car park were covered in sunbathing pigeons. It looked like something from a Hitchcock film. I parked up in the museum car park and had some lunch. There was a circus here so it was quite busy. 
At Widnes Wharf there were originally 3 locks on to the river, two on to the canal and one into a basin which served a railway. Today only one of these locks is still in use. I took some photos on my phone, with the thrilling risk of dropping it into the muddy edge of the River Mersey. I had a look at the locks and then walked up the canal to the first bridge and then crossed it and followed the path back round in a circle to the locks again. I ate some reduced price grapes as I did so. The area is popular for people wanting a walk, and the basin is used for fishing. 
One of the main reasons for the visit was to see if the canal was a possible cycle route for me, there did seem to be a lot of cyclists about so it is something I will look into at some point. Having a quick look, this route looks promising
Disused Canal-River Lock

Canal-River Lock at Widnes

Former Entrance to Basin

Basin, along the line of the former lock from the River Mersey

The three locks from the River

The River Lock at Widnes

Swans on the Sankey

The first bridge on the Sankey Brook Canal at Widnes

Monday, July 04, 2011

Canal Cycle: Crooke to Leigh 20 miles

For a few years now the Leigh Branch page on has been empty. This was because I had not been along it to take any photographs to put on there. It had always been my plan to cycle the 7 miles of this branch, and this weekend I did just that. The Leigh Branch links the mainline of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Wigan directly to the rest of the national canal network at Leigh where it meets the Bridgewater Canal head-on.  

I drove to the canal with the bike on the back of the car. I am worrying less and less about it falling off and causing a horrific car crash and maybe worse scratching my paintwork. I parked on the road by the Crooke Hall Inn pub. There were preparations being made for some sort of village fair. The Leeds & Liverpool Canal Short Boat Kennet was in town for the day too. An added bonus. 

Trencherfield Mill, Wigan

With my bike off the car and loaded with water and wine gums I set off to Wigan. I had a look for the 33 mile post but the undergrowth was too thick to see it. At Pagefield Lock the towpath improves dramatically and is nicely paved. I soon arrived at Wigan Pier, some care has to be taken on the cobbles there. Going towards Leeds at Pottery Changeline Bridge it is possible to stay on your bike, coming the other way most cyclists will have to dismount to negotiate the tight turn and slope. Already there were a few boats about, out enjoying the glorious weather. Henhurst Bridge #52 has been replaced since I was last in Wigan, it looks good as they have tried to give it some of the style you see on other canal bridges while still being a modern concrete bridge. I took a quick photo of milepost 35 and set off to the junction.

The bridge which takes the towpath from the mainline over to the Leigh Branch is a modern footbridge. On the mainline side there is a ramp up to the bridge. On the Leigh side it is a series of long steps. Something I didn't notice, too busy looking at the sign post there. Luckily I had hold of the handle bars albeit by the bar-ends and after a bit of a panicky wobble I found the brakes and slowed down to go down the rest of the steps at a more suitable speed. 
anti-vehicle gate

Due to the subsidence in the area caused by coal mining most of the bridges on the Leigh Branch are relatively new or have been altered. No nice old stone bridges here. Along the Leigh Branch there are some anti-vehicle gates, which while only being a pain for cyclists must effectively ban wheelchair users from the towpath. The towpath is excellent here. I was doing my usual road speed along the towpath, passing boats going through the locks. 

Scotman's Flash
Scotman's Flash is an impressive sight. These flashes or lakes are caused by the land sinking after mining. Scotman's Flash is the largest and was being used by canoeists and yachts as I passed. The towpath and canal are up above the flashes on what now looks like an embankment. It is a popular area for bird watchers, cyclists, dog walkers and fishermen. 

anti-vehicle gate
At Moss Bridge the towpath switches sides. Something that may catch out some as there is a path on both sides for a while. Luckily I had done my homework and was expecting this change over. There is another anti-vehicle gate before Moss Bridge. A little further on the towpath switches sides again at Bamfurlong Bridge which is not a bike friendly bridge. At the Dover Lock Inn there are the remains of two locks. These were replaced by locks in Wigan when subsidence changed the levels . The pub looks quite nice so I will have to return one day to review it. The towpath here looks like it is in the middle of being upgraded. It could be a very good cycle path one day. 
Cabin Cruiser and Converted Lifeboat
Towards Leigh I saw a converted lifeboat that I have seen in Salthouse Dock in Liverpool and more recently at Burscough for their Canal heritage Week. I passed by the famous Plank Lane lift bridge. The area has seen a lot of work in recent times. The Britannia pub has now been demolished and the lift bridge looks either new or refurbished. There is a wide area of water next to the lift bridge which is going to be a marina. At the moment there are no pontoons though, and no obvious way of getting to the water from the bank.  Good to see some development on a stretch of canal that has in the past had a bit of a reputation. 

In the Leigh the sun was still shining brightly. The Waterside Inn was busy with people sat outside drinking. There were a few boats moored there too. While I had a breather and did some tweeting a day hire boat pulled up and a group of studenty types got off. They had got lucky with the weather and I forgave them calling a heron a stork. 

Leigh used to have a couple more canal pubs, the Ellesmere and the Bridge Inn. The Ellesmere is now a shop or clubhouse of Leigh Centurian's rugby club. The town is a rugby town, Leigh RMI RIP. The Bridge Inn gets a good review in my canal guide but is now closed and doesnt look much like reopening ever. 
the Ellesmere

the Bridge Inn
After a quick refuelling of Lucozade and a Marathon (Snickers) I headed back to Wigan. The ride back went well. I didn't feel as tired as I have on some of my usual morning rides in Liverpool. I was however suffering from not having any sun screen on. This left me with white hands and red arms. There was a slight wobble on the towpath that reminded me how close to the water I was, and politeness almost saw me and a fellow cyclist have an embarrassing crash. He was coming the other way and we both left the narrow path to allow the other to pass. In both giving way we both ended up heading towards each other, luckily we sorted ourselves out before we got too close. 

Back in Wigan I saw a headless mill worker, not a ghost but a vandalised statue. Its a shame that some locals have done their best to spoil the recent improvements to the area.
I like the lock keepers house in Wigan, by the bottom lock of the Wigan Flight. It is dwarfed by the huge Trencherfield Mill behind it but looks nice and unaltered. I can remember mooring outside it in 1983.

There are some new flats near Wigan Pier. The area is improving still. It is a world away from what it once was. I hope it can keep the progress up and doesn't slip back. It certainly seemed a popular place for people of Wigan to hand out.

I left Wigan and went back to Crooke. As I approached Crooke Hall Inn I could hear the sound of live electric guitar. Arriving back at the car I found the village fair in full swing. There was a band on and stalls and rides etc. It was all a bit warm for me to enjoy it though. Had I not had the car or bike with me I might have had a quick pint in the Crooke Hall Inn. But as it was I just strapped the bike back up on the car and had a quick wander down to the Kennet with the last of my water and another Snickers (Marathon). On Kennet I said hello to Mike "Mr Leeds & Liverpool Canal" Clarke. He has written every book worth reading on the subject. One day I will find something he doesn't know. 

All in all I would recommend the Leigh Branch to cyclists. If they continue to improve the towpath it will be an excellent ride. I would consider doing a ride from Wigan to Manchester sometime.
Kennet and other boats at Crooke

Ambush and Viktoria

As soon as I can I will get the photographs from my ride on the Leigh Branch Page of towpathtreks. It can take a while to get all the info on there. But they will be here asap:

Biologic Iphone Mount

I like my phone, I like it so much on the rare occasions that I am actually using it as a telephone I often look around for my phone to play with while I am talking. I dont like being away from my phone. I worry about it and find life is not comprehensible without it passing through the prism of my phone.  While cycling I miss my phone, its hard to hold a £500 phone and use it while you ride a bike one or none handed. So I spent the last of towpathtreks' budget on a iphone mount so I can use my phone while I cycle. 

Iphones aren't cheap so I was not going to get a cheap phone mount to attach it to my bike. I didnt want it dropping off or just being plain useless. Looking around I found an American company BioLogic, who had a snazzy website and a youtube video showing off their new product. Just what I wanted. 
After looking around I found a company in the UK that sold them and made the decision to wipe out towpathtreks bank balance by spending £50 on one. 

 £50 on a piece of plastic sounds like a lot of money but if it was as good as they said then it would be exactly what I want. The case holds the phone nice and securely. It has a double latch down the side so your phone doesnt drop out of the holder. The clip holding it to the handle bars seems secure enough so far. With the phone in the case you can use the touch screen with no problems. You can even plug in headphones etc or power the phone from a dynamo on your bike if you have one. The phone can be rotated so can be used landscape or portrait. 

I ride my bike for two reasons, one to get me where I am going faster than walking, and two to carry things I dont want to carry myself. I therefore have a lot of things attached to my bike. It was a bit of a struggle finding room for the mount but I got it on there. Although I wouldn't really need it I tried it out on the 22 mile ride I did at the weekend, from Crooke to Leigh. I really want the phone holder so I can look at the maps and GPS on it while riding in urban areas. Next to a canal I pretty much know where I am. 
Saturday was a rare sunny day (as my bright red arms will testify). This meant the sun was shining on the screen quite a lot and I had to shade it with my hand to see the screen. But this is the UK so I doubt that will be a common problem. Other than that the mount worked fine. My phone didnt fall off. I went down steps and across bumpy ground with no problems. And I was able to tweet and text without getting my phone out of my pocket all the time. 
My phone did almost let me down, its battery was on the way out after 2 hours of GPS and map display. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Old Photographs from eBay

I buy things on eBay. Mostly crap I don't need or even want that much. Most recently I had terrible trouble getting a hip flask I didnt really want from Royal Mail. I have it now, its fine. It has the crest of the Fleet Air Arm on it. I am not now nor have I ever been in the Fleet Air Arm. My Grandad was though. I also buy canal related things. If there was a Venn Diagram of the 'Crap I Buy' and the 'Canal Stuff I Buy', there would be considerable cross over. 

Mostly I buy postcards, they are generally not crap. At least I don't think so. Proper postcard collectors may not approve of some of them. But who is to say what an interesting postcard is? I also buy paperwork, bills, Acts of Parliament. Stuff like that. Some of it a couple of hundred years old. It all ends up in the same folder, along with Ice Lolly wrappers from the days when we eagerly anticipated the release of the Phantom Menace. 

The latest purchase was a collection of photographs from the 1970's showing the Basingstoke Canal, Birmingham Canal Navigations and the Stroudwater Canal. The Basingstoke and Stroudwater canals were both derelict in the 1970's. The photos are of ruined locks and empty reed filled canals. 

The BCN ones show a Butty (an engineless boat pulled by a boat with an engine) called Hyades. Hyades was built in 1935 and is still around today. Click here to see what she looks like now. While googling her name I found this account of someone who had worked on her back in the day: A lads eye view of the canals

The woman in the photograph appears in a couple of the BCN ones. I had the same thing photographing the canal in Burnley. Some poor old dear was going about her business walking on the towpath and inadvertently got became a feature in my photos. You don't expect paparazzi on the towpath.  

Here are the rest of the photographs, I haven't split them into individual photos after scanning for two very sound reasons, one: I liked the way they looked together and two: I couldn't quite be arsed (I dont get paid for this you know!) 

Here they are: Hopefully I can add some more information to the photos when the good people at Canal World come up with the goods. 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Burscough Canal Heritage Week

Today was the last day of the Burscough Canal Heritage Week. Kennet, the Leeds & Liverpool Canal Short Boat was visiting Burscough, the nearest it has been to Liverpool for a while. So I thought I had better make the effort to get up there and take some photographs.

Kennet at Burscough Bridge
The towpath was busy and there were lots of boats moored at Burscough. I was pleased to see Ribble had joined Kennet and Ambush. The first time I have seen two river class barges in the same place at the same time. Kennet and Ribble are Short Boats, Ambush is a Long Boat. All three are Wide Boats. Ambush used to work for Ainscough Mill in Burscough. All three boats were empty and sit very high out of the water. When full they would swim through the water like whales with only a few inches of boat above the waterline. Kennet has a very snug looking cabin at the front which is quite spacious compared to the Narrow Boats. You would still have to be good friends to share it though. 
Ambush at Burscough
 We walked along the canal to the top lock of the Rufford Branch. On the way we passed a hairy caterpillar crossing the towpath at some speed. It was hot and humid today and got hotter as the day went on. 
Creepy Crawly
Back at Burscough Wharf we had an ice cream and I took some photographs from the bridge. I am very impressed with the redevelopment of the old canal depot. It has been empty for years but now it is full of life. There are shops and a couple of bars and cafes. It is a definite improvement and a big plus for both the canal and the town. I notice that the Waterfront pub nearby is closed and for sale. 

Burscough Wharf

Burscough Wharf
In other news towpathtreks now has a twitter account @towpathtreks for those who do that sort of thing. If anyone has any good suggestions for canal related people or places to follow on Twitter do let me know. And you can still become a fan of towpathtreks on facebook

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Our Day Out to Chester

Working in a university library is hardly stressful but it is always nice to have a day off work and go somewhere different. I feel nothing but contempt for most of my colleagues but there are some who I will willingly spend time with outside of work. So last week, my Louise-Brooks-bobbed colleague Clare and I went for a day trip to Chester.
The original plan was to do a 6 miles walk in West Lancashire calling in at a few pubs. On reflection however I recalled that a couple of the pubs are closed which could leave us with a fair distance to walk without beer or the sort of facilities one needs after beer. In a flash of brilliance I decided to go to Chester, just 40 minutes away on the train and with some of my favourite canal in England.

So on a Wednesday, one that the Met Office said would be the only cloudy day of the week, we arrived in Chester. It's a short walk from Chester station down City Road to the canal. On the bridge I pointed out a few of the local points of interest to my companion: the lead shot tower, the water tower, the canal itself and the mills and warehouses. And of course the first pub: Old Harkers Arms. I have been here once before with towpathtreks' Irish pub reviewer, on race day as I recall and the place was packed with be-suited Scousers getting ready for a day of drinking and obnoxiousness. On this latest occasion though we almost had the place to ourselves. It was half twelve and I wasnt sure what I fancied to drink. We were going to have food so we thought it best to have a bottle of dry white wine, South African I think it was. I am the sort of person who judges wine on its alcohol content and price. Preferably the former is high and the later is low. But the Old Hawkers Arms is a nice place for nice people so I had to act civilized. We were drawn to the end of the pub with the bookshelves. Surprisingly enough although I work in a library I dont see that much of the bookshelves, but we felt at home here. The Hawkers Arms really is nice. Its a big room without feeling like a barn. Its nice and light, you can see boats going past on the canal. There is plenty of decoration but nothing too distracting. And the staff were very nice too. We had lunch, fish finger sandwich and prawn sandwiches, with chips. All very nice. Even the toilets are nice. I could have stayed there drinking all day but I would have probably let myself and my colleague down and done or said something that would preclude me coming back, and I would like to go back.
Outside the weather was improving. The white cloud had patches of blue and it was warm. We walked towards the city centre along the towpath. I past by the Canalside Bar which last time I had walked straight out of. Maybe next time. We past the Frog and Nightingale too. I dont think I will go back there again. Not unless I want to get shitfaced on Fosters with like-minded people.
Under the city walls, in the deep rock cutting, below the Northgate and Bridge of Sighs is a very good place to be. It has the history, the canal, that feeling of peace and seclusion you get on canals even when they are a stones throw from busy roads and towns. We wandered along looking at the sandstone and the ducklings. The ducks were swimming against the current, there were boats locking down the Northgate staircase. Past the locks we walked around the basin stopping to look at the big iron hook for horse drawn boats and the graving lock and dry dock. There are some gorgeous new flats being built. You can tell they are gorgeous because of the big signs saying so on the side.
We arrived at our destination, Telford's Warehouse. This, as the name suggests, is a former warehouse which was built by Thomas Telford in the 1790s. For whatever reason I have never been inside this pub. I know it as a music venue and assumed that during the day it would be empty or shut. But there were people sat outside on the picnic tables and the sun was shining brightly on them. Inside the decor was not what I had imagined, although I dont know what I had imagined it would be like. I liked it, it is sort of modern trendy old fashioned. There is a pretty impressive range of beers on tap, but as it was so sunny I went for a nice cold lager. Ice Cold in Alex. It almost seemed a shame to leave the nice pub but we went and sat outside and enjoyed the sun. A couple of boats went past and some locals were fishing and enjoying some Stella. Much better than being in work.
After our drinks we walked up to the city walls and around to the River Dee. On the way we were engulfed in a tour group from Italy or Germany or some such continental place. Chester is very popular with tourists. Interestingly my colleague was more excited by an old 1980s TSB logo than the mock Tudor or Roman remains. There are also some hideous concrete buildings from the 1970s in Chester. The council must have been desperate for any investment then to allow them to built that stuff.
At the river we got ice creams and went on a boat trip up the Dee. Sadly we were on the Mark Twain not the Lady Diana but it was very nice and I got to see bits of Chester I hadn't seen before. The taped commentary was good, and the boat houses by the river are very swanky.
After the boat ride we went for food and drink (O'Kells) in the Bear and Billet, a favourite of mine. It seems to be popular with the tourists too, some Japanese or Chinese tourists were stood across the road taking photos of the pub. After eating we had one last drink (Spitting Feathers) in the Brewery Tap. The pub is in an old hall parts of which date back to the early 1500s. The main room has some impressive features as did the rather nice barmaid. If you like your real ale and appreciate an old building then this is the place for you.
We walked back to the canal, passing the Frog and Nightingale which was now very loud and busy outside. Soon we were back in Liverpool tired from the fresh air and sunshine. And the booze.
It was a really nice day, the weather was unexpectedly lovely and my colleague was the perfect person to skive off work with in Chester.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Liverpool River Festival

A few photos from the weekend:

my friend Arabel and her drumming friends

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Canal Postcard

Occasionally I will buy a postcard or two from ebay. It's a fairly cheap way to buy canal memorabilia and the photographs are an interesting view of the canals in the past. Most postcards are from around 1910 up to the 1950s, with the modern ones being popular in the 1970s. 
The last two cards I bought were both from the early 20thC. The first is a French postcard showing French soldiers defending a canal during WW1. The second postcard is a fairly standard real photograph of Red Cote Bridge in Armley Leeds, on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Its not a great photograph, the view hasn't changed much over the last 100 years. The bridge is now obscured by a very ugly pipe but it is still there and still surrounded by trees on a nice bit of the canal. The only barge in the photograph is in the distance and just a black blob and the one person is a girl with her back to the camera. 
On the back of the card is a short message in pencil from Jessie to her Grandma, Mrs Ingle of 353 Kirkstall Road, Burnley Mills in Leeds. 

The message reads:

Dear Grandma,
Dada is here from France, mamma wants you to come up on Sunday for tea. Dada is going away Monday
Love from Jessie

The date on the postmark is 4 October 1916. I assume that the Father would be going to France to fight in the war. 1916 was the year of the Battle of the Somme, fought between 1 July and 18 November 1916. There were 1.5 million casualties. 
So the two postcards were linked at least by time and country as well as canal. 
Sometimes the messages on the back are more interesting than the photos on the front. 

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Ellesmere Port Boat Museum

It was the model boat day at the boat museum today so my dad and I went down to look around. I went to see the big boats, he went to see the little ones.
Here are a couple of photographs.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Canal Cycle: Liverpool to Wigan Pier, 34.5 miles

March is my month of rebooting my New Year resolutions and doing lots of things that may not be enjoyable but are good for me. As part of my Big Plan to sort myself out I decided to start biking again. I haven't been out properly for ages. What better way to kick start the cycling habit than a 34.5 mile ride from Liverpool to Wigan? A statement of intent. 

The Start of the Canal in Liverpool

I woke up nice and early and got my bike ready, packed my lunch, stuck a waterproof in as a last minute addition. The streets were quiet and I got to Eldonian Village and the current terminus of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal about 9am ish.  There weren't many people about, a couple of drunks by the locks on the Stanley Dock Branch and a couple of dog walkers. The towpath is great at the Liverpool end, nice new tarmac so I was zooming along. Zooming for me is about 14/15 mph. Not so fast really but fast enough for me. I made good progress and it was only at bridge 7D that I had to stop and dismount to get through a anti-vehicle gate. The ones in the preceding 7 miles had been either open or just wide enough to cycle through. This one was an old one and had to be negotiated on foot.  
On the way I noticed a couple of mileposts I didn't think I had seen before, the 7.25mile quarter post and the 8.5mile half mile post. It didn't seem to take too long to get past Aintree Racecourse and up to Melling, leaving Liverpool behind. As far as The New Running Horses in Maghull the towpath is fine and I could make good time. After a quick stop to check my phone messages I was off again. From Maghull onwards the towpath is not so great. It is either grass or grass with a narrow rut in the middle. I dont know which I hate more. The grass is hard going, it makes my knees ache. The rut allows you to go faster but if you dont pay attention you can come out of the rut and start to wobble, which if you are a foot away from the canal is at times a bit of a wake up. Some bits of the rut were deep enough that my peddles caught on the grass either side. Pretty much from Maghull to Burscough the towpath is grass or grass and mud; about 10 miles. I was only managing 7 mph on the grass, even less on the really manky bits.  
I stopped at Halsall Cutting, 18 miles along the canal for a break, and inadvertently ate half my lunch. It was 11am though so we can call that elevenses .  It had drizzled a bit but by Halsall it cleared up, the wind was cold though and if I stopped too long anywhere I cooled down and my hands got cold. After what seemed like forever I got to Burscough. There was a shameful mile that I got off and walked, lycra clad races sped past casually on the road. If I did this again I would ditch the towpath and take to the roads between Scarisbrick and Burscough. Not with the full on lycra Tour De France get up though. 
Scarisbrick Marina
In Burscough I caught a passing glimpse of the new development in the canal depot. There was some upset at the depot buildings being demolished, but it looked very nice as I passed. There is a bar there too.
There was a fishing competition on, so every five fisherman had to shift his long pole off the towpath to let me past. Luckily they didnt go beyond the railway bridge by Ainscoughs Mill. 
The Rufford Branch
At the Rufford Branch junction I decided to have a proper break and eat the remains of my lunch. I should have rested more but got cold so pressed on. Noticed another new milepost, 25.25miles. After seeing number 27 though I gave up looking for them. My head had, as football commentators say, dropped. I was spending more time looking at the mud than the surrounding scenery. I thought about giving up and getting the train. But I knew the towpath improved towards Wigan so thought I would carry on as far as Parbold and see how I felt there. At Parbold I decided it was less than 10 miles so I may as well carry on. But I did stop for a quick breather at every (full) mile post I saw. The towpath improved again towards Wigan until it finally turned into a proper cycle path again. My speed increased again back up to 12mph. I am never going to break any speed records, but towpaths aren't about that anyway. Thats what I keep telling myself. 
Wigan Pier

I havent been to Wigan for ages but have heard about the redevelopment of the Wigan Pier area. As far as I could see nothing much has changed. The warehouses look a bit tattier and there is an air of abandonment. One new addition is sculpture. On Wigan Pier was what from a distance looked like a hoodie leaning against the wall. But the board next to it explained she was one of the women who sorted coal. There were four statues originally, but 2 were stolen in 2009. They have no scrap value so either the thieves were stupid or they love this sort of art. They didn't do much for me. The Orwell pub has re-opened, so that can go on the pub guide again. 
I left the canal and went to the station and got the train back to Liverpool. I got off at Edge Hill rather than Lime Street so I could free wheel downhill home rather than struggle up it. 
The ride was hard work for me. I really hate riding on grass. It was interesting to see how things change along the canal. There was a change from the hungover individuals in Liverpool to the happy families in Appley Bridge. The accents changed from Scouse Liverpool to old Lancashire. One fisherman informed me that "Gates th'open". It is good that such accents remain. 

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Liverpool Beer Festival 2011

Myself and the towpathtreks official beer taster, Kate, had an afternoon out at the Liverpool Beer Festival today. We had queued in the snow last year for the tickets and now we were here in the crypt of the Metropolitan Cathedral to drink some beers.
To give this day out some sort of canal theme I decided to drink my way along the canal. But before that I had to show my solidarity with fellow sandgrounders and have a Southport Cyclone from the Southport Brewery. That done it was back to the canal and in no particular order I had Southern Cross by Allgates of Wigan, Ringtail Bitter from Burscough, and a Cascade Pale from Saltaire. Also in the canal theme was the Navvy from Phoenix of Heywood.
I had a Carosel from the Southport Brewery, and ended with a Wreckage from the Titanic Brewery, Stoke on Trent.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Canal Pub Reviews: Lancashire

As part of towpathtreks on going mission to visit the pubs of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal  we headed off to Lancashire. The first pub was Crooke Hall Inn in Standish Lower Ground near Wigan. We parked in the large car park behind the pub. On the canal there were a couple of boats on the move. The canal was frozen and the ducks were walking along on the ice. 
The Crooke Hall Inn has its back to the canal. In the car park which lies between the pub and the canal is an evil fibre glass tree for the children to play on and to inspire nightmares later. 
Unfortunately the pub was having a much needed refurb when we got there so we couldn't comment too much on the decor. The Cooke Hall Inn is an Allgate pub, a local Wigan brewers. It also had Phoenix Hop Sack. The lady at the bar was certainly friendly but the pub hadn't warmed up yet in temperature or atmosphere. I think we will have to go back when it has been done up and maybe on a Thursday evening when they have live folk music. 
Next on the list was Waters Edge at Appley Bridge. This is a modern pub with a large carpark. Its on the bankside of the canal with excellent views across the canal and the River Douglas valley.  Sadly I think the view is the best thing about the pub. The outside patio area is very nice, and if I had to come back it would be to sit outside in the sunshine. The inside looks like it hasn't been done up for a decade or two. They are obviously proud of their word processor and laminator; there are signs and notices all over the place. The menu is an impressive A3. The highlight of the visit was seeing Carl Baker on the TV playing for Coventry. We left as a horde of children ran to sit at the table next to us. The beer is nothing to write home about. Greene King.  
On to the next pub. The Ring O'Bells was shut and for sale so we headed straight off to the Slipway in Burscough. On the way through Burscough the Waterfront looked closed. Also the old canal depot buildings have gone and been replaced with a new development. Hard to judge it by just driving by though. 
The Slipway is a one room pub with Thwaites Wainwright on draught amongst others. The match on TV was drawing to a close, so I checked the Southport result and found to my delight we were beating York 4-0. 
We ate here, a steak for about a tenner and gammon for about seven quid. The food was good, nothing special. Nice and hot though. 
Maybe the best thing about the pub is the PacMan game by the door. Old Skool fun. 
Out of today's pubs I think Crooke Hall Inn is the one I would return to.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Canal Pub Review: Botany Bay, Whittle-Le-Woods, Adlington

After the walk along the towpath and having over done it on the thermals I was a bit warm and ready for a drink. We had parked at the Lock & Quay so planned to have lunch there. The pub building has been here a long time but only shows up on the 1920s OS map as a public house. It was once the Railway, a name that has gone along with the railway itself. If you stand on the canal bridge and look towards the Botany Bay mill you can see the remains of the railway bridge by the boatyard. Much of the railway embankment was wiped out by the motorway construction. And yet the canal remains so the pub has taken a more navigational name. 
While the outside of the pub looks like an old cottage the inside is newly refurbished. We went in and were the only customers in there. Last nights karaoke was being packed up, it seems to be popular here on Wednesdays and Saturdays. This was 1:45pm on a Sunday, the pub should be full of diners. We got our drinks and I stripped off a few layers. The only ale available was Bombardier, the rest were off, Black Sheep being one. There were 4 lagers on tap and John Smiths. Some more customers came in only to be told there was no food today. They left and we followed soon after. 
On the way to the Lock&Quay I noticed the Malthouse Farm. More of a restaurant with a travel tavern next door than a traditional pub maybe but worth a visit. The Premier Inn and restaurant are on the site of an old farm house. The outside is very smart, with some very nice patio furniture for sunnier days. Inside it is obviously more of a restaurant than a pub, well at Sunday lunchtimes anyway. We were taken to a table and told it was all table service. The interior is very smart. Like many newly refurbished canal pubs it has the grey wooden panels, brown leather chairs and old canal photographs. It might be a bit artificial but it does look smart and the photos are still interesting. The gents toilets were very nice too! 
Its a chain pub, owned by the "chef and brewer" pub company. The menu is pretty good, most things were between £7.50 and £10. We cheated and just had the starters and desserts. There were some draught ales, the Lancaster Blonde was judged to be very nice. Although the place was packed and the staff were busy they were very nice and friendly. While we were waiting for the food (which arrived very quickly, faster than the drinks in fact) I noticed that my iphone was showing it had a wifi connection. The pub has the Cloud so anyone with access to that can surf for free. And so I did. The pub gets bonus points for playing Frightened Rabbit on their piped music. 
The pub has special weekly food nights, vegetarian on Wednesdays,  curry and quiz nights on Thursdays and fish on Fridays. As chain pubs go it was a lot nicer than other pubs that could only be said to be "fayre" or those in which you might want to "eat beef".  This would be a nice place to stay as part of a canal trip or a good place to have an affair if you were in middle management with a Lexus and a secretary. It would certainly be a lovely place for a summer drink outside.
Adlington is not a million miles from Whittle-le-Woods but the Bridge is as far removed from the corporate class of the Malthouse Farm. The Bridge is a locals pub. It has two doors and we went in the "wrong" one, ending up in the pool room. We had to politely push past all the locals who were watching the Blackburn match on TV and head down to the other end of the pub to the empty room without a TV. Adlington must look to Blackburn for its football rather than Wigan or indeed Chorley. Its a Robinson's pub so can't be too bad, the Unicorn bitter was nice although being the driver I was bought the pinkest soft drink they had. At the end of the room we were in was last nights karaoke machine still set up. Children and dogs were welcome and there were as many sweets on sale at the bar as crisps. Its outside seats weren't as posh as the Malthouse but would be just as welcome on a rare hot summers day by the canal.
The Bridge pub is named after the canal bridge. The canal bridge is named after the White Bear pub. I couldn't find any white bears to ask who they were named after. 
Its hard to judge a pub on one visit but I would have no problem going back to any of today's pubs. The Malthouse Farm is more of a place for a meal than drink maybe.
Review the pubs on the canal pub guide

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Canal Walk: Botany Bay to Bridge 74A

One of the nice things about having my website about the Leeds and Liverpool Canal (and other canals) is the emails I get from people with their own interests. I have had emails from people interested in tunnels, water towersmilestones and World War Two defences. Today I got an email from someone with probably the most specific interest: Skew arch bridges. His interest was in Bridge 74A, a railway bridge between Adlington and Chorley on the former Lancaster Canal Southern Section, now the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Along with a lot of interesting information about skew arch bridges there was a request for a photo of bridge 74A for the wikipedia page. Not a problem. 
Botany Bay
The lucky coincidence was that I was planning to visit some canal pubs today, one in Adlington and a couple by Chorley. While in the area I could walk the mile and a half to bridge 74A and take a few photos. 

We arrived at Botany Bay at lunchtime but after a big breakfast we weren't hungry so what better way to work up an appetite than a walk on the canal. We parked in the car park of the Lock & Quay pub, formerly the Railway. We crossed the bridge and walked down the steep cobbles to the towpath. The towpath mud was still frozen making walking a bit easier.

Not far along we came across a half mile post, 45.5 miles from Pall Mall in Liverpool. I couldn't remember seeing this one before so took a photo. 

There has been a lot of vegetation cleared and trees felled on this section so there was the chance to find lost mileposts. 


By Bridge 77, Workhouse Bridge, there were some brand new houses. They were not here last time we visited this section. Much nicer than the workhouse that gave the bridge its name.  We were passed by the worlds fastest Border Collie, zooming along the towpath at incredible speeds. 

Workhouse Bridge

We crossed the aqueduct near Bridge 76, and soon reached our destination at Bridge 74A. A skewed arch allows a railway to cross a canal at an oblique angle. And bridge 74A certainly does that. 
I took some photos, hoping to get whatever details a skew arch fan would appreciate.  
Bridge 74A

Under a Skew Arch
Next to the bridge was a little steam boat.

little boat

With the bridge well photographed we headed back. On the way back I took a slight detour to photo the aqueduct from below. Its hard to get a decent photo of an aqueduct when you are stood on top of it. 
Canal Aqueduct

There are still some impressive mills in Lancashire, but they are a dying breed heading for extinction. 
Crosse Hall Mill (Cotton)
On the subject of bridges, canal bridges are numbered eg 78. New bridges built between the numbered ones are given a letter eg 78A. If a bridge was built between 78 and 78A it would (I think) be 78AA. And if a bridge was built between 78 and 78AA it would be 78AAA. 
bridge 78aaa
We had almost got back to Botany Bay when I noticed a quarter mile post, almost completely buried. This one is 45.75 miles from Liverpool. So in helping one man's obsession I was rewarded with two examples of my own. We got back to the pub and started to review.