Saturday, September 15, 2012

Canal Cycle: 4 Canals 1 River and 3 Bridges

Today I finally did a bike ride I have been planning for a while. The plan was to cycle from the river lock at the end of the St Helen's Canal (aka Sankey Brook Canal) in Widnes, over the Mersey to Runcorn, along the Bridgewater Canal, across the Manchester Ship Canal and the Mersey again and then back along the St Helens Canal back to the start point.
I started near the Catalyst Museum and set off to look for the way up to the bridge. The Runcorn - Widnes Bridge or to give its proper name the Silver Jubilee Bridge is big. Usually it is a four lane road bridge with cars going quite fast, not somewhere I wanted to cycle. Today though they were working on the pedestrian footpath so one lane was closed to traffic. This was perfect for me and as I cycled over the bridge taking photos it felt like they had coned off a lane just for me.

Silver Jubilee Bridge

Over the bridge it didn't take long to get down to the basin at the end of the Bridgewater Canal in Runcorn. The basin ends at Waterloo Bridge. Before the Runcorn Widnes Bridge and its approach roads were built there were locks here. The locks have gone now and Waterloo Bridge provides a nice end to the canal.
I set off along the canal towards Preston Brook.
Runcorn Basin

End of the line under Waterloo Bridge

The towpath was good, a mix of tarmac and compact mud/gravel. For some of the way there was a cyclepath alongside the towpath. This was tarmaced but was full of clouds of midges. I had to put my glasses on and put my head down to go through them. The towpath swaps sides a few times along the route. The bridges on this stretch are rather nice brick ones. One had some very nice red sandstone at the base of it.

In no time at all I reached Preston Brook. The Bridgewater Canal splits into two branches here. The one I had just ridden down used to go to the River Mersey at Runcorn. To my right the canal heads to Preston Brook Tunnel and joins the Trent and Mersey Canal. To my left the canal continues on to Worsely and eventually to the Leigh Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

A boat heading towards the Trent and Mersey Canal

I went left and followed the mainline of the canal. It hadn't taken me as long to reach Preston Brook as I had thought so I kept an eye out for the bridge I was to turn off at; I didn't want to miss it and end up in Wigan.
This bit of canal is dominated by the ominous tower of the Daresbury Laboratories. It looks like something from the Tripods or some 1960s sci-fi film. Luckily no death-rays fired out from it today, well it was the weekend.
Who is watching from the tower?

Not long after Daresbury the towpath declined in quality but remained fine for riding. The bridges had signs saying cycling was not allowed. I did my finest impression of Lord Nelson and carried on.

At Red Lane Bridge I left the Bridgewater behind and set off through the streets of  very nice houses in Walton. Heading North I found the Manchester Ship Canal, owned by the same company as the Bridgewater Canal but a bit bigger. I crossed the Ship Canal on Chester Road Swing Bridge which takes a busy road over the Big Ditch.

Manchester Ship Canal

On the other side I found myself cycling alongside what looked like a canal. I have found out this short stretch of water is all that is left of the Runcorn to Latchford Canal which was closed in the 1890s.

River Mersey

After a slight wrong turn I ended up on another bridge over the River Mersey. This one was not quite so impressive and had no traffic at all. Back on the correct side of the river I headed off in search of the St Helens Canal.

The St Helens Canal is largely disused. For long stretches of it there is just high reeds and rushes where the water should be. It does seem to be popular with cyclists though and there were a few of us along here enjoying the sunshine and midges. At Fiddlers Ferry there is some water again and a lock into the River Mersey.

River Lock at Fiddlers Ferry

There is a motley collection of boats and wrecks here. The thought of my picnic lunch kept me going, this is not the most exciting of stretches, stuck as you are between a hedge and a reed filled canal.
There is a canal in there somewhere
I was getting a bit bored so it was nice when the path opened up and I got a lovely view of the Runcorn-Widnes Bridge again. From the viewing platform by the river I could see how far I had peddled. I had by this point realised that I had got my kilometers and miles mixed up so would only be doing about 20 miles not 30. Still the sun was shining nicely now.

I reached the bridge I had walked to last time I was here (see blog). Back at the river lock I had my picnic and a sit down on the lock gates.
Bike & Lock (with picnic)

Today I rode along and over the River Mersey, the Bridgewater Canal, the Manchester Ship Canal, the Runcorn to Latchford Canal, and the St Helens Canal.

The ride was about 18 miles/30km. The towpath/track was good throughout. I dont think I would bother doing it again but I am glad I did it today.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Kennet Leaving Liverpool

Thursday 16th August the Kennet left Liverpool after spending time in Salthouse Dock. Having nothing better to do I went down to take some photos. Kennet was due through the locks at 9am but I was late so only caught up with them as they were leaving the lock into Princes Dock. The weather wasn't great, not quite raining but threatening to. 

Kennet in Princes Dock

Kennet in Princes Dock
With Kennet on its way to Stanley Dock I went ahead by bike to get photos from the Bascule Bridge. As i was waiting the rain started but it wasnt cold and it was still better than being in work. Kennet came and passed underneath the bridge and into Stanley Dock, then under the road to the locks. I followed on my bike.

Kennet in Salisbury Dock

Kennet at the bottom lock.

Kennet leaving the bottom lock


Kennet under the railway

Kennet in the sunshine

Kennet at the top lock

Kennet leaving the locks
I followed the Kennet up the locks to the main line of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. As it passed under the railway line the sun came out. The Kennet was heading off to Burscough and I headed back home.


Saturday, June 30, 2012

Canal Walk: The East End and Olympic Park

Today I went to London for a towpath trek in the East End of London and a look at the almost finished Olympic Park.

the leaving of Liverpool
 My train from Liverpool Lime Street was at the uncivilized hour of 07:15 so it was an early start for me. Walking past one of my local Tesco's I saw the staff chasing after a local smackhead who had knicked someones phone. For once I got to the station just about on time, usually I am far too early or running down the platform. After buying a paper I bumped into a colleague of mine the very talented local artist Colette Lilley, far too early in the day for conversation though. 

The trip down was fine, I had two Richard Herring podcasts that saw me through the whole trip. In no time at all I was in London. Exciting times in the capitol too with the Olympic Games just weeks away now.

View East End Canal Walk in a larger map

I walked from Euston to Holbourne tube station. The forecast hadn't been great for today but the sun was shining and it was warm already. The weather was forecast to improve throughout the day too. Perfect for a nice stroll by the canal.
I like the London Underground. I like the wind that blows through the stair wells and tunnels. I like the Art Deco style and tiles. I like the flesh eating zombies that live down there. I sat on the train trying not to look too much like a tourist. I would love to be one of the book reading commuters living the cosmopolitan lifestyle. But I am not. I am from the North and I am too impressed by seeing the name "Grange Hill" on the tube map. And the Hammersmith and City Line reminds me of Lean On Me I Wont Fall Over a Carter USM song covered by the Family Cat back in the 1990s. Oyster Cards, Londoners dont know how lucky they are to have them.

It didn't take long to get to Mile End and to be back in the sunshine. The canal is a short walk down the road from the tube station. Without thinking I turned left and headed down the Regents Canal to Limehouse. I had the choice of walking clockwise or anti-clockwise on my route. It was only 500 yards along I realised I was going anti-clockwise. As it turned out this was the best way to go.

a little birdhouse on the canal

It was 2008 when I last walked this bit of canal: see blog here and a lot has changed since then. The weather wasn't as good bad then and I managed to miss Canary Wharf due to the low cloud.  Today there was no missing the landmark building.

the start of the Regents Canal

The towpath was quiet from Mile End to Limehouse Basin, just a couple of walkers and runners. At the basin there were a few more people about. It would be a nice place to run around and there were a few people doing just that. I'm sure if I lived here I could manage to do a few laps of the basin every day. 

In the dock there are a variety of boats, some narrowboats and yachts  but there was one boat you couldn't miss. A huge white gin palace. 
Great White Whale
As well as the great white whale there were a fleet of grey fiberglass taxi boats which will take people from Limehouse up to the Olympic Park. There were some larger boats too that look ready to take the crowds to the Games. It is nice that the canal will be used as transport. Although there have been some downsides for canal users.

Water Taxis

Walking round the basin I arrived at the Limehouse Cut. The Limehouse Cut is a new canal to me, I have never set foot on it and didn't know anything about what the surroundings were like. The area around the basin is made up of new apartment buildings that are well out of my price range. There was also a pill bug walking along the decking looking rather out of place in such a modern area.

At the start of the Limehouse Cut
Once round the first bend the Limehouse Cut is a long straight stretch (over a mile) up to Bow Locks and the tidal Bow Creek. This stretch of canal is perhapse a bit dull for canal fans. The towpath is good and perfect for cyclists. The area has clearly been recently regenerated. I kept imagining that Bootle or Vauxhall could look like this. There were still some old warehouses and signs of industry but most of it was very new apartment and houses. 

the last bit of dereliction

There was a short terrace of modern houses, one on each side of the canal facing each other. This was the first place I had seen anyone who looked like they lived there. Most of the women were Muslims in bright coloured clothes. Two were authentic cockerneys though, they were having a conversation across the canal. As I walked underneath the debate seemed to be about the time it would take to get from A to B via C. The conclusion was "oh for facks sake". 
Past the sweary women I saw something I didnt expect on a canal in London, a Challenger tank. Not just the Challenger but a few scout cars and little tanks. 

Challenger Tank and friends

Armored transport

At the end of the Limehouse Cut is Bow Locks. It was nice to see some canal architecture after the long straight channel so far. The locks have a nice 1930s feel to them, with the little cabin and the concrete bridge over the canal. It can get a bit confusing around here. I had just left the Limehouse Cut, on the right was the Bow Creek. I think I was now following the River Lee Navigation. But not the River Lea. Anyway onwards.

Rail Bridge on the Lee Navigation
There were a few more people around at this point, fishing, walking dogs, looking like they were having an afternoon out in the sunshine. 

At 11:40 I arrived at 3 Mills. At 3 Mills there are two mills, House Mill (1776) and Clock Mill (1817) The missing third mill went in the 16thC but the name has stuck. 
The buildings look like they should be in a nice rural village. The site is now used for television and film production. House Mill is open to visitors on Sundays and is the largest tidal powered mill in the world but the new lock on Prescott Channel mean it has lost its tidal aspect. 

After a bit of a sit down I carried on along the Lee Navigation. beyond 3 Mills I started to see signs of construction and then the first sight of an Olympic building. The ArcelorMittal Orbit observation tower looks like two construction cranes mating, or maybe St Johns Beacon being attacked by a crane. Either way its pretty big, 115metres high.

There were a few working boats, showing that the canal has been used in the construction of the Olympic Park. The whole redevelopment seems to have been very positive for this area.

Bantum Tugs

I had wondered if the towpath on my route would be open during the construction of the Olympic Park, in fact I didn't even know if there was a towpath for some sections. I came to a sign which warned of towpath closures in just 3 days time. I was lucky to have picked this weekend to come and not next. There was a floating roadblock to stop boaters entering the site. 

Soon the towpath was joined by a high wire fence with CCTV cameras at short intervals all the way along it. There were some security guards in hi-viz jackets and the area had the feel of a large event in the waiting. To add to this music from the Olympic Stadium was drifting over towards me. The sort of corporate event music you hear in large events and nowhere else. 

Canal block ready to stop traffic. 

Towpath Closures.

Modified Art

Big Brother is Watching You
At Old Ford Lock the towpath seems very close to the Olympic Stadium. But there is another very important building here. The lock keepers house by Old Ford Lock is the former Big Breakfast house. Now largely hidden by a high hedge, this is where Chris Evans and friends used to entertain 1990s Britain in the morning. The canal was occasionally used in the show for watery features and the area was shown in the opening and closing titles.

Old Ford Lock Keepers Cottages

Not far after Old Ford Lock is junction with the Hertford Union Canal. There were police walking along the towpath searching for bombs. At the bridge where the towpath crosses over to the Hertford Union the towpath ahead along the Lee navigation was closed and more hi-viz jackets were stood around directing people. There was a very heavy duty road block too, and a police man that looked like he was cradling a machine gun. Security will be very high around here.

Gongoozlers looking at the Olympic Park

Crossing over to the Hertford Union Canal the towpath felt a bit calmer. There were some little sculptures on the canal edge. Little men stood looking at the view or relaxing in the sunshine. I like art that has to be discovered. Finding something by accident is always a rewarding surprise. 
There were a few boats moored up here, they looked like boats that people lived on. A lot of boaters have been moved or will have to move because of the Games. Not just for security but also for profit. I can understand why these boaters are unhappy about this but they are at least lucky to live on boats which can move. In other countries people have had their houses demolished to build venues for the Eurovision Song Contest or a Bible Theme Park. Hopefully these boaters, or liveaboards, can move back to an improved environment when the Games are over. 
Not all art is as nice as the little men, some of the graffiti was quite eye-catching if not anatomically correct. 

Walking along I was stopped by a lady looking for an entrance to the Olympic Park. After comparing her map to my Nicholsons we worked out where she should go. Even on my days off I am supporting people with information. 

The Hertford Union Canal borders the rather lovely Victoria Park. The towpath was much busier here and there were a lot of boats moored up with various types of people enjoying the sunshine.
The canal has a nice atmosphere by the park and some visiting Africans looked very impressed with it. 

Along the railings of Victoria Park were notices, Advice Notices, for boater who will be relocated during the Games. Most had had the boaters opinion added to them. There will be a 15 mile zone around the games in which boaters will have to pay quite high mooring fees during the Games. Boaters not wanting to pay will have to move. Some of the people who live on the boats think that the Olympic Games are just a excuse to "socially cleanse" them from this section of canal. I can understand why people who have paid for permanent moorings are upset by having to move. Continuous cruisers should of course spend no longer than 2 weeks in one lace so they should be quite used to moving about. Link to an article about the issue.

I left the Hertford Union Canal, another canal I have walked completely.My original plan was to head back to Mile End, completing the circuit and getting the tube back to the west end. But as the sun was so lovely and I had nothing better to do so I turned right instead of left and headed off to Islington along the Regents Canal.

Samuel House: I am Here
Samuel House by the canal in Haggerston caught my eye. While waiting for its demolition the flats have not been re-let when tenants leave. One by one the windows were boarded up. As a response to this the I Am Here project put pictures of the tenants in the windows to remind everyone that these were and still are peoples homes. 

I am a fan of twitter and one of the accounts I follow is @gusthefox he is a disgusting fox who lives near the canal in London. I was delighted to see a sign pointing out where Gus the fox had bummed a heron. He does that sort of thing. 


The Regents Canal is very nice, it is up there in my top 3 canals. There is very little left from its old industrial days, the slums and the factories and warehouses. What is left has been reused and restored in a sympathetic and modern way. The canal has not been ignored in the areas regeneration and is a very popular environment for people to use. If only all urban canals were so well used. 

Floating bookshop
Nearing Islington I found a floating bookshop with a floating cafe next door to it. By now I was getting a bit hot an weary. And hungry. I hadn't had any lunch and I was starting to think about food. As i trudged along someone called my name. Not what I expected hundreds of miles from home. Especially as the only person I know in London was in Ireland this weekend. But it was nice to bump into a friend and former colleague for the second time today even if after a 10 mile walk in the sun I wasn't quite looking my best. 
A welcome pint of IPA

At Islington the canal goes underground. I went overground and got a surprisingly cheap lunch from a newsagent on the way. On the other side of the tunnel the promise of a pint in the Constitution kept me going. There have been a few changes along the canal since my last trek along here. The towpath around Kings Cross has been done up and looks pretty good now. This seems to be the plan. There is a new bridge and improved access.

Again the canal is improving despite the economic climate. Once a canal is open and available it will get used and the more it is used the better it is for everyone.

At last I was nearing the Constitution. If I hadn't walked 11 miles in the sunshine I probably would have sat out in the beer garden. But the comfy seat inside was perfect. My feet appreciated the rest and the rest of me appreciated the pint.

The Constitution, Camden
After my pint I was ready to carry on to Camden and the end of the line for me. Around Camden the towpath was packed with people enjoying a rare sunny summer day. I walked past the old TV-AM studios and up to Camden high street. The market was even busier. Too busy for me so I didn't even attempt to look around. 

Canal at Camden next to the former TV-Am studios

I walked back down to Euston and then on to the British Museum. I had a mint Magnum and sat in one of Bloomsbury's lovely squares. There in the square the homeless sat alongside the tourists, all enjoying a nice sit down in the sunshine. I couldn't wait to get back on the train and a comfy sit down. Another two podcasts got me back to Liverpool and home. 

It was a good day out. The weather was amazing. I would recommend the East End for a walk, or maybe better as a cycle. I had thought about getting one of  Boris' bikes. They do seem to be popular, quite a few passed me on the towpath. The Olympic Park looks to be a very positive development for that bit of London. There has been enough criticism of the Games but I hope that the legacy for the canal will be positive and last for decades.