Monday, 17 June 2019

Burscough Bridge

Today's Canal - Leeds and Liverpool

We are now planning to stay in Burascough Bridge for a couple of days as it has transport links and we cannot go much further until Friday. Bridge 20 has been badly damaged, many reports that it was vandalism, but until the control box can be replaced it has to be opened by hand and CaRT only offer to do this at midday on Mondays and Fridays. Perhaps we will find out a but more about the real cause when we eventually pass through but we have heard that the repair is now well advanced but not enough for free movement this week. It may help on the way back.

We had hoped from the weather forecast first thing that we would have a dry day, even if not a lot of sunshine but this hope was dashed when, firstly, heavy rain arrived early and then the forecast was revised (downwards!) Looking at the larger picture and the rainfall radar it seems that there is a narrow band of rain stretching from south west to north east and its movement only has to vary by a small amount for the outcome in any one place to be very different.

Shortly after setting off we arrived at Spencer's Swing Bridge. Christine hopped off to operate it - we knew that it was a powered bridge but the road gates still needed to be operated  by hand and they were a tad reluctant to slip out of the restraining catches which prevent them  from being used until a Watermate Key is inserted.

Eventually the control box sprang into life (or rather shuffled out of its slumber) and Mike was able to bring the boat through. Although the road looked like a lonely country lane, we still bagged 5 waiting cars.

After stopping briefly at the rubbish point by Moss Bridge (fortunately we knew it was there and it is marked on our guides but it is hidden from the canal) we continued on to the second swing bridge just before Burscough Junction. This one is much easier as the barriers are lifted automatically. However, despite being a better bridge and only just off a busy main road, our score here was only nul points.

Burscough Junction is where the Rufford Arm sets off down a short flight of locks on its way to Tarleton and, possibly, to the Ribble Link. We have tried to book a passage but the only dates available do not fit with our other commitments so it will have to wait for yet another year. We are, however, booked for Liverpool.

At one time there was quite a bit of industrial development alongside the canal into Burscough Bridge but that has all now been replaced by identikit housing developments. The only reminder is Ainscough Mill, now converted into numerous apartments. This was originally a steam powered corn mill, built on thee site of a former windmill. Its fortunes were helped by being alongside the Liverpool to Preston railway. It ceased operation in 1998 but it took until around 2014 before the developers moved in.

We pulled onto the service mooring by Burscough Bridge (hence the name of the place) to fill with water and empty the elsan. (As we stopped sun broke through but before we had finished we were again drenched with an unexpected heavy shower) We checked out the options for mooring - not helped by the ambiguity of somewhat dated signs. Eventually we decided to go to the end of the first stretch well beyond and extant signage!

After lunch we walked to Tesco for a medium scale top up - by now the rain had ceased. We had hoped to find a side entrance, indicated on Google Maps, but it has more recently been blocked off. We did spot Martland Mill which has now been converted to a series of serviced offices - you can even rent a virtual office. The original elegance is somewhat spoilt by the telecoms structure on the top.

2.5 Miles - 0 Locks

Sunday, 16 June 2019


Today's Canal - Leeds and Liverpool

At six o'clock, a brief glimpse through the curtains showed a very bright blue sky. Sleep returned but it was a disappointment later to re-awake and find that grey clouds had now arrived! As planned, we set off up the main hill in good time to find the 10:15 service at the village church.

The present building, together with a school and parsonage, were built in the 1980's. In 1897 a small school and mission hall were built close to the canal but by the latter part of the 20th century were becoming in need of extensive renovation. The location is a little odd but was probably dictated by the availability of land - controversial we heard as the then locals did not want an incursion into 'their green belt'! As a result there are but a few houses nearby and quite a gap from the rest of the village. Were it not for the school, the church would perhaps been even less visible to the present generation!

Inside, the building is modern and light - although the ceiling is rather low! On the walls there are a few items that came from the former mission hall. We received a very warm welcome and there was a congregation of nearly fifty including a number of young children. The service was conducted by a Reader and a retired priest that helps with the parish. The words were all shown on a screen.

We were really impressed (even if the chairs gave Christine backache!) and surprised by just how much they are able to achieve. The parish of Appley Bridge is now linked with the nearby parish of Parbold. One thing we did learn was how to pronounce Maghull, the place on the canal just outside Liverpool. We had been putting the stress on the first syllable but, wrong, it should be on the second (making it sound a bit like Magoo)

After the service when we were chatting some other members one kindly offered to give us a lift back down to the canal - how could we refuse! (Even if we had been looking forward to it being downhill after the climb earlier) She pointed out to us where the old school and church had been. Looking at the old maps, the building which is now a private residence was the school and the mission hall has now completely disappeared.

By the time we returned to the boat, sunshine had broken through and we felt in no hurry to move immediately. After a cup of coffee we deemed it almost lunch time anyway!

The only lock of the day was Dean Lock, only a short distance from our overnight mooring. A family with three young children were eager to watch and were quickly recruited to helpers. It turned out that they had arrived on a hire day boat from Burscough but were about to turn around below the lock. Alas, as we were about half way through emptying the lock a very heavy shower arrived. Hence we managed no photos of the lock itself.

As quickly as it arrived, the rain disappeared as we left the lock and so we did manage a shot of the lower of the two newer locks which were built to duplicate the older single, but very deep, lock. However, it is the older lock that remains in use today.

Around a bend, just as we had passed under a bridge we were 'Ambushed' - or at least we had to manoeuvre around one of the old Liverpool short boats that are still kept in working order. Although looking large and cumbersome, it did seem to be surprisingly able to navigate around restricted spaces.

This stretch of canal, through the Douglas Valley, is very green and remarkably pretty. Just after we passed through Parbold we slowed down for a long line of fishermen, although most were in the process of packing up as their competition had now ended.

A little later we saw this escapee of cultivated lilies - very different from the more common wild ones. Another shower threatened after a few drops of rain so We moored up before the first of the swing bridges into Burscough having made sure that we were facing a gap in the trees that could 'see' the tv satellite. Of course, now the sun came out.

3.7 Miles - 1 Lock

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Appley Bridge

Today's Canal - Leeds and Liverpool

After yesterday's blog was published, Christine went for a walk into the nature reserve and took some pictures of the flora and fauna

The day began dry but with a fresh wind that kept the temperature down. During the morning dampness in the air arrived and in the afternoon there were some quite heavy showers.

Two years ago we had noticed that a new road was being constructed along the r oute of a former railway line, although the canal bridge has been started, everything still seems some way from completion.

At least an hour before we set off, the boat which had also moored at Scotman's Flash overnight set off ahead of us. Alas, we caught him, a single hander, at the first lock, where he was having difficulty as he didn't know about the need to have a handcuff key to open most of the locks!

After we had come through the lower of the Poolstock Two, Christine walked to nearby shop which unfortunately had limited stock of newspapers (especially not ours). Meanwhile, Mike moved the boat slowly to the upper Poolstock where the boat ahead was still trying to full the lock.

There was then a boat waiting to come down  - the raised eyebrows of the crew were enough to tell us of their experience. Turns out that the single hander is on a mission to  collect litter. A worthy ides but he managed to spot things to collect at the most inappropriate times - and nearly rammed a top gate whilst concentrating on picking something out of a lock!

We turned left at the junction - by now we would have been too late for the morning slot to go up the main Wigan flight - a lot of vandalism, especially opening paddles, means that at the present the flight is locked most of the time with just two slots a day each way.

We were grateful to find that the elsan disposal point above the next lock was still there as we had three cassettes to empty. It has been a long time since the last opportunity and we were beginning to stretch our resources!

There are just two of the Wigan locks below the junction, the last one near to the impressive Trencherfield Mill, no longer used for its original purpose but very well restored to new uses. The lock number carved into the wash wall below the lock must have been someone's pride and joy!

The dry dock beside this lock is also still very much in use with a boat having some TLC.

The sharp left turn at The Orwell offers a sadder sight - this former warehouse which has long been a night club, pub or something similar, seems in poor state at the moment. It never seems to have occupiers that last the course!

Wigan Pier is an obligatory photo opportunity but by now the rain had gathered strength so our pictures from here are  little gloomy.

Looking back we could see another former warehouse as well as Trencherfield in the distance.

We moored above the next lock so that Mike could walk to a nearby Asda supermarket for a paper and a few other items. About half way he could almost touch the end of the store but, alas, there is a river in between so, with the estate only designed for cars, it was still quite a bit of the walk to go before Mike could gain entrance. It is an especially huge store so collecting just five items itself took some distance.

After a lunch break we continued and then below the next lock are the remains of a former canal basin. The other side, beyond a railway line, was once a large factory but two years ago there was nothing left to obscure the view. A new housing estate is well advanced.

Whilst we had lunch, two party boats from Wigan passed us. Later, in the rain, this one had turned around and was on its way back. There was a large group of mainly children on board who waved at us enthusiastically.

Crook Lock was part of the original canal but subsidence led to the building of the first lock below Wigan and the abandonment of Crook.

There seem to be growing numbers of 'fat' boats, here as elsewhere. We encountered this one as we passed moored boats alongside Crooke Marina - its steerer seemed to use the bow thrusters just for 'normal' steering. Must have a good battery as most people report that too frequent use of thrusters doe not do the dedicated battery much good! Faced head on, this was not just a 'fat' boat but something much wider.

The second party boat had an adult group who were totally absorbed in partying and visiting the bar so the only wave we had was from the steerer!

Our last lock today, Dean Lock, was originally the end of the canal. Below here, boats joined the nearby river via another lock for the rest of the journey. Today, it and the former lock keeper's house, are overshadowed by the high level M6 viaduct.

A couple of swing bridges are marked on maps as 'normally left open' but neither seemed to have any potential for being closed anyway! This one, Ranicar's, gave us some trouble in 2013. The farmer had managed to shut the bridge and Mike had considerable difficulty as it refused to open. Fortunately the farmer returned and gave mechanical assistance. We only realised later that he should not have left it closed! This time we wondered if that might have been the last time it was used.

Only a little further and we were at Appley Bridge, our planned overnight stop so that we can walk up the hill in the morning for the local church. But first we had to pass through a working swing bridge. The landing stage to the right of this photo was badly damaged two years ago and, as a result, we badly damaged the side window doors - a saga for the following fortnight, see the 2017 blog! We took no chances this time and Christine dropped Mike off on the towpath side. This bridge is one of the easiest manual bridges we have come across.

Just a little further and we moored for the night. The evening was much brighter - now that we have finished cruising for the day!

6.4 Miles - 7 Locks

Friday, 14 June 2019

Scotman's Flash

Today's Canal - Leeds and Liverpool Leigh Branch

Yesterday we dove up from Cornwall, leaving around 9.30. It was wet almost all the way and for the most part the spray from damp roads was the worst aspect. Traffic was not too heavy although just before Stafford the overhead signs warned of sever delays ahead (over 1 hour at one stage) so we took an alternative off-motorway route which the satnav claimed would save over 20 minutes. At least we were not in a queue (well, not all the time as there was one slow intersection even so). When we re-joined the motorway it was still slow moving but we were soon out of the worst delays. Overall this meant that we arrived at the boat over an hour and a half later than originally scheduled. Good thing we were not in too much of a hurry as we planned on staying on the mooring until morning.

By the time we had unloaded the car the evening improved water-wise and there was even some blue sky over Plank Lane lift bridge.

Today began damp so we did not make a hurried start! We needed to pop into Leigh to visit a supermarket as we decided to do this rather than load the car up from home.

There were quite a few CaRT and EA staff on the bank opposite and the reason was, alas, all too clear. The fish in the canal were suffering a significant lack of oxygen. Apparently this had been first  noticed yesterday evening and some oxygenating material had been added to the water but this did not solve the problem. We did not see any specific action - just a lot of looking, talking and consulting! However, by the time we set off, just before lunch, it did look as if matters were improving.

Local information from marina moorers suggested that it was because of heavy rain rather than a lack of it. This may have brought toxic leachate from the surrounding area which was once highly industrial, mainly coal mining, and has happened before. The official warning notice form CaRT only states 'a pollution incident' and nothing about the cause.

We passed through the lift bridge before continuing until a late lunch stop just before Dover Locks. Those who have looked at the foot of this blog post may be a little puzzled as it says 0 locks today.

Subsidence from coal mining created problems for the original levels of this branch and at one stage two new locks were constructed a little closer to Wigan at Poolstock. The level between them at the two former Dover Locks was lowered and today boats cruise straight through the old lock chambers. The construction was over time as the levels changed - at first only one Poolstock was built and one Dover decommissioned but further work was needed as well as gradually increasing the height of the banks on either side of the canal.

After lunch we pottered for a while closer to Wigan but felt that it was a bit too late to make it through and out into a rural stretch, especially as we will need to stop at the service point.

We passed under the West Coast Main Line - with four tracks it ought to be busy but we did not see any trains at all.

There are several large flashes - lakes caused by subsidence - on either side of the canal. This one, Horrock's Flash, seems to be a favourite of lots of wild fowl - and a few fishermen.

Sometimes there is a footpath on both sides of the canal but the next stretch has only one and a special turnover bridge carries it from one side to the other. This one is designed in the manner of later turnover bridges elsewhere in that it allows horses to pass over without the need to unhitch the tow rope.

It has also been rebuilt at some stage. The original wide stone arch is now just a narrow steel girder footpath with only enough room for one way traffic.

Finally we moored at a spot we have used before, alongside Scotman's Flash, the largest. All of these flashes are now being maintained for a variety of environmentally friendly uses. Some are  left as nature reserves whilst Scotman's is popular with water activities, such as sailing. Alas, the weather seems to have put everyone off today!

we are now very nearly at the end of the longest level pound on the canal system - from here back to Dutton Stop Lock, the other end of the Preston Brook Tunnel, there are no locks at all, almost 40 miles.

4.4 Miles  - 0 Locks

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Up and Down We Go

Today's Canal - Leeds and Liverpool

This morning we went to St Mary's Parish Church in the centre of Leigh.

Although there was a tendency to the more formal style of liturgy than we are used to these days the vicar, a Franciscan, had an easy style and was able to include children in his talk. Overall he kept things straightforward and uncomplicated. there were about 50 people - plus two dogs!

At the end of the service the was a short ceremony to crown the Rose Queen for next week's carnival. Afterwards, proud families were keen to take photos!

The only downside was that no-one talked to us and we came and went almost as if we were not there. It did seem to suggest that 'church' is primarily for its members.

We popped into Asda, next door to the church, to get some rolls for tomorrow's homeward journey. As we waked back to the boat we noticed one or two of the buildings along Market Street. Generally all of the buildings, which date back to the turn of the 19th - 20th century are typically solid, almost austere, but definitely built to last. The one above is engraved Turnpike House and dated 1900.

Most of the buildings now have small retail outlets on the ground floor, looking very much at odds with the architecture above. This one appears probably to have been a bank until closure in recent times - it still awaits a new purpose.

We also eventually decided what we would do for the rest of the day. As the water level in our tank was quite low and Christine wanted to process at least one load of washing, we opted to move up to Plank Lane where there is a water point. With luck we could find a mooring that would leave us ready for the marina when the manager arrives to allocate our space. We also had hoped that there might have been an elsan point but although there is a pumpout, but no elsan - there once was.

The plan was for Christine to steer the boat whilst Mike took the car to park it alongside the moorings. After untying the ropes and pushing away from the bank, Mike set off towards the car. He had gone but a few metres when there was a shout - the engine had stalled. We immediately established that was again something around the prop. It seems that another part of the same item that attacked us yesterday had now floated under the boat - only it was at least twice the quantity. This time there was no possibility of keeping on board until we meet a rubbish point (which will not be on this trip as the marina does no have one) so we, alas, had to leave it with some other rubbish that had been pulled out of the water. Our pile was at least a metre across.

We were now able to start Plan A properly. The traffic was so busy, especially at a complicated roundabout alongside the main retail park, that by the time Mike had arrived  (it is only just over a mile along the canal!) Christine was already looking for the water point.

Having assessed the elsan options - the one we last used was 20 minute drive in one direction the two in Wigan a little longer - we opted for Plan B which is to leave the full cassettes on board until next trip when we can empty them in Wigan.

We have discovered that the marina is the southernmost corner of what was once the mighty Bickershaw Colliery. After some prodigious output (becoming a super-pit in 1978)that principally fed the Fiddlers Ferry power station, it was deemed unprofitable in 1992. Almost nothing can be seen now as the area is rapidly being given over to modern housing estates. The overgrown winding hole is what once was the loading point for barges delivering coal.

Plan B was thus to find a pleasant overnight mooring with the potential for satellite tv. This meant turning around (at the marina entrance this was easy) but we had to go back to where we started the day to turn to come back!

The canal is crossed by several footbridges which allow local residents in Leigh to cross over and enjoy the country park around Pennington Flash - itself the product of mining subsidence in the 20 century.

In the end we found where we were hoping for and settled down for the night - the satellite dish was set up but already somewhat windy - this had made mooring a little harder than usual. Alas, a little before dinner time we heard the dish blown over and even with attempts to fasten with rope it was moving about so much in the wind that we cold not lock on to signal.

We will have to make a prompt start tomorrow as we have to move up to the marina and load the car in time for the scheduled arrival of the manager.

4.1 Miles - 0 Locks