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.