CANAL WALK: RIBBLE RING
A marriage of modern and old as an 18th Century trade route joins a leisure boaters’ link
This month’s walk follows a circuit which takes in parts of two waterways. One was built in the late 18th century and designed for carrying freight; the other is one of the newest in the country, opened as recently as 2002 as a ‘missing link’ for leisure boaters.
Our route begins – as does the Lancaster Canal – on the edge of Preston. But the canal didn’t always start there, and indeed, our walk needn’t, especially for those who are up for a bit of canal archaeology.
In fact, for those arriving by public transport, it makes sense to start at Preston Station, not far from where the canal originally began (As it happens, it was supposed to have begun a lot further south, near Wigan, but that’s another story). From the station, follow Corporation Street as it heads north east and then north, changing its name to Fylde Road and passing the University of Central Lancashire on the left.
Look out for canal-related names among the department names on the University signs (the campus was built on the site of the old basins), see if you can spot a surviving bridge which carried Maudland Road (off to your left) over the canal, and look out for a long thin strip of grass on your left where the canal crossed under Fylde Road.
Fylde Road passes under a railway bridge, following which the second right turn leads into the suspiciously named Aqueduct Street. The missing aqueduct is where the canal now begins. And it’s where the walk begins for whose interest into canals doesn’t extend to snooping around colleges in the hope of finding a Wharf Building or some such name. So find somewhere to park, and head up the footpath on the north side of the road which leads to the towpath.
The canal follows a cutting with back gardens leading down to the water as it heads northwards out of town. A park on the left helps to give the impression that the town is being left behind and an aqueduct crosses a small stream.
It’s only a small structure, but it’s a hint of things to come on a canal that’s noted for its aqueducts (although sadly we don’t cross any major ones on this walk), and it crosses the Savick Brook – note the name for later.
A junction with a towpath bridge indicates where the Ribble Link branches off (again, more of this later), before the canal really does leave Preston behind and heads off into the Fylde, the coastal plain of west Lancashire. The railway line to Blackpool keeps us company a few
hundred yards away to the south, but apart from that it’s quiet countryside, punctuated by some fine stone-built original canal bridges.
Bridge 22 is where we leave the towpath: turn off left, heading south along Lea Lane. After quarter of a mile, turn left by the Smiths Arms (pausing for refreshment if you wish) into Darkinson Lane. Continue for just over half a mile, and on your left (opposite Wards Farm) you will see a gate with a stile alongside it.
Take this, follow the (not very clear) footpath along the edge of the field, bear right by the electricity pylon, and in about half a mile you will reach a footbridge over Britain’s first new waterway of the 21st Century – the Ribble Link.
If you fancy a short detour, turn right and walk down to Lock 8, where the Link becomes semi-tidal and boats may sometimes be seen waiting for the right water level for the tidal passage to the Ribble, the Douglas, and the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. To continue the walk, turn left and follow the Link as it returns towards Preston.
Although it’s a new navigation built less than two decades ago, the waterway was based on an enlargement of the Savick Brook (which we crossed back in Preston), and this is shown in the way that it meanders as it heads towards the town. Locks 7, 6, 5 and 4 are modern steel and concrete structures spread out along the route as it climbs towards the Lancaster Canal, the bridges are equally modern, and a hard-surfaced path accompanies the waterway as it preserves a strip of parkland though the approaching housing estates of the edge of Preston.
The path is squeezed under a railway bridge on brackets from the wall, then briefly leaves the waterway briefly to cross the B6241 Tom Benson Way (there’s a pedestrian crossing). It continues almost opposite: where it splits, take the left turn, and you’ll find yourself crossing the navigation.
This too takes a very sharp left, and climbs via a set of three staircase locks: the top lock used to feature a modern sculpture of a giant figure (one of the less polite nicknames for him was the ‘Ribble Piddler’), but it has been replaced by another modern artwork depicting a boat and the canal builders’ tools.
A sharp right turn at the top leads past a basin to the junction with the Lancaster Canal, for the walk back into Preston.
Heading out of Preston on the Lancaster Canal towpath Our walk joins the Ribble Link via this bridge
We recommend the Ordnance Survey’s Landranger map 102 Preston & Blackpool to accompany this walk. ©Crown copyright 2017 Ordnance Survey. Media 014/17
The Ribble Link climbs via a series of modern steel and concrete locks
The path is squeezed under a rail bridge