WA­TER­WAY TO SEE THE COUN­TRY

You’ve got a week’s hol­i­day at short no­tice so what do you do? Walk from Liver­pool to Leeds, says NIGEL HEATH

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MANY memorable jour­neys have started from Bri­tain’s great ports, and none more so than from Liver­pool on the banks of the mighty river Mersey. From here in times past, count­less souls have sailed forth, seek­ing new lives over the rain­bow of their dreams. Even to­day, fer­ries sail to Ire­land and cruise ships depart for sun­nier climes.

My walk­ing col­league Peter Gibbs and I were also em­bark­ing on a long jour­ney but we were turn­ing our backs on the Mersey to fol­low the 127-mile-long Liver­pool to Leeds canal, from the old Stan­ley Dock flight of locks in Novem­ber.

Fur­ther on we came across Canal and River Trust volunteers Len Weeks, Joe Har­ri­son and Jim Carr pulling a su­per­mar­ket trol­ley out of the water as part of a rub­bish col­lect­ing and lit­ter pick­ing exercise.

We pic­nicked be­side the canal close to the Prim­rose Val­ley Coun­try Park and then walked on to­wards Ain­tree, the home of the fa­mous race­course, where we were booked in for a night’s B&B.

We were on our way again just as the sun was ris­ing over the water and cast­ing an or­ange au­tum­nal glow, and we knew we’d still be walk­ing when it started to dip to­wards the west.

It wasn’t un­til mid­day that we fi­nally reached open coun­try and felt that Liver­pool and its en­vi­rons were now well and truly be­hind us.

It was ap­proach­ing jour­ney’s end at Burscough when we met a lady dog walker and asked how far it was to our ho­tel.

“Oh that’s a long way away,” came her re­ply. We should walk past the vil­lage un­til we came to the Ruf­ford branch of the canal, and the ho­tel was another four miles along that

branch, she ex­plained. It was ob­vi­ous we’d never reach the ho­tel in day­light but luck­ily a taxi was on hand to take us there. Some­times you have to com­pro­mise. Peter had found our ho­tel with a postal ad­dress of Burscough, and Google Maps had con­firmed it was only a cou­ple of min­utes from the canal – the only prob­lem was that he’d found the wrong canal!

That wouldn’t have done for the of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble for mea­sur­ing the canal, Bri­tain’s long­est sin­gle man-made wa­ter­way. It took more than 40 years to build, and opened in 1816, it was ex­actly 124¼ miles long. Why they didn’t lose that pesky quar­ter rather than hav­ing to in­clude it on ev­ery mile­post along the en­tire route, I sim­ply can’t imag­ine.

Still, it pro­vided an amus­ing topic of con­ver­sa­tion for Peter and I as we set out from Burscough in Jan­uary on the sec­ond stage of our walk.

By flask of cof­fee time we’d reached the West Lan­cashire vil­lage of Par­bold, beyond which we en­tered the Dou­glas Val­ley in com­pany with the River Dou­glas, and fol­lowed it to pass un­der the M6 high on a mas­sive fly­over. What a con­trast, a su­per high­way of the 18th cen­tury meet­ing that of the 20th.

Walk­ing into Wi­gan, it was sad to see that the Wi­gan Pier cul­tural quar­ter, opened by the Queen in 1986, had stalled due to the 2008 fi­nan­cial crash and that the mas­sive Eck­er­s­ley Mill com­plex was still derelict.

But it’s al­most al­ways an ill wind be­cause the site and sur­rounds made a per­fect set­ting for the hit TV drama Peaky Blin­ders!

A mag­nif­i­cent flight of locks on the edge of Wi­gan led the way out of town the fol­low­ing morn­ing at the start of our 10-mile walk to Chor­ley. Soon, the long line of the West Pen­nine moors hoved into view, an ex­cit­ing prospect of more lovely scenery to come.

Here, we met Ann Briscoe, Bar­bara Snape and Doreen Jolly, who were out plan­ning a fu­ture walk for fel­low mem­bers of the Mawdes­ley U3A.

They’d al­ready walked the canal in sec­tions, like we were do­ing, and had en­joyed it.

Old and new: A mo­tor­way soars above the canal

That af­ter­noon, we came upon a red dou­ble-decker bus and were de­lighted to find it had been con­verted into a tea shop by Adam Pope and his busi­ness part­ner Lu­cien Berkhardt who run Eller­beck Nar­row­boats at Heath Charnock.

The temp­ta­tion was too great to re­sist so we climbed aboard for mugs of tea and a Bakewell tart.

“I won­der what adventures we’ll have to­day,” I said as we set out for Black­burn the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

It was tempt­ing fate be­cause, on round­ing a bend, the canal came to a dead end in a jum­ble of reeds. Where had we gone wrong?

Thank­fully, help was at hand when our knock on the door of a nearby house was an­swered by Louise Bir­chall, who ex­plained that we’d sim­ply walked past a side lock fur­ther back.

“Dozens of peo­ple make the same mis­take and on sum­mer week­ends we can have as many as 20 con­fused walk­ers and cy­clists all going around in cir­cles be­fore knock­ing on our door and ask­ing for direc­tions,” she said.

Luck­ily, all we had to do was to walk up the road to the next bridge to re­join the canal.

Now, we were back in lovely open coun­try with a hill ris­ing on one side and a val­ley be­low us on the other.

“How far have you

walked?” asked a lad in a peaked cap as we trudged wearily into Black­burn. “From Chor­ley,” I replied.

“Cor, I wear my shoes out just walk­ing to the job cen­tre!” he re­torted.

We passed several large red­brick re­minders of Black­burn’s industrial past, in­clud­ing one for­merly used as Granada TV stu­dios, as we left the city the fol­low­ing morn­ing – and it was mid­day when we came upon the of­fi­cial halfway point on the Leeds and Liver­pool Canal. The views now opened up as the canal con­toured around the ris­ing lands­cape in a se­ries of wide curves un­til at last we met the M65, which ac­com­pa­nied us to Chor­ley.

We plan to re­turn soon to walk the fi­nal 50 or so miles into Leeds via Skip­ton in the York­shire

Dales. Ann Briscoe, Bar­bara Snape and Doreen Jolly

Beauty along the Leeds and Liver­pool Canal

Time for tea

Nigel Heath and Peter Gibbs reach the halfway point

Canal and River Trust volunteers Len Weeks, Joe Har­ri­son and Jim Carr

Help­ful Louise Bir­chall

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