We’re always excited by how much there is to see in an area, and saddened by how blinkered we were when we were land based. Usually we don’t feel the need to go beyond walking distance of Firecrest, but Burscough has a train station so I took the opportunity to visit Southport, where my Aunty and cousins lived during my teenage years. Then I’d been interested in cheap fashion and exploring my “new romantic” image, it’s where I saw the first Star wars film and had a crush on Mark Hamill. Now I saw the beautiful Victorian buildings and the covered walkway and arcades along Lord Street. Sadly Southport looked tired and run down, which is such a shame, it’s a high street worth celebrating even though I am no longer a fashionista, (was I ever) Red Rum still stands proudly in Wayfayrers Arcade.
Burscough also is home to Emma Maye, The Wool Boat, yes a whole narrowboat dedicated to selling wool,
Although they were cruising in Cheshire they had returned by road to attend the knit and Natter at the Slipway Pub, and I was able to catch up with them and a super group of knitters, who made me very welcome when I joined them.
There are some gorgeous cottages along the cut
And some “Interesting” homes between here and Liverpool
Now that Firecrest has passed through Wigan, we have reached the area I grew up in. For despite my numerous addresses, I’m a Lancashire girl-or was until they redrew the county lines and it became Merseyside. I have fond memories of place names, places we drove through before the motorways made escaping north to the Lake District a more sanitised journey. I still have aunties, uncles and cousins in this area, all wanting to see Firecrest and our alternative lifestyle. So when we got to Parbold, Aunty Avril, Mum and Mike joined us as we cruised from Parbold to Burscough
It was a good day to have company, showing off all the lovely aspects of narrowboating, pretty bridges
And colourful countryside
And me hopping on and off, showing just how capable I am at hauling the boat in and working locks and swing bridges.
We cruised past the Rufford Arm, that’ll be next years route, and moored up in Burscough just in time to enjoy a perfect sunset
Cousin Lynne and her children Reubin and Freya joined us a few days later,
They were keen to join in and help with the swing bridges, and they made a good crew.
There are a lot of locks on the 127 miles of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, 91 to be precise, and the next 12 miles of our journey was to include 30 of them. We started our week at Johnson’s Locks visitor mooring where the Top Lock pub serves pizza and charges you the time on clock face. So at ten past three we were ready for a very late lunch/early tea and had an acceptable pizza for £3.10
We were well fuelled and geared up for what lay ahead but when Heather and Anthony said they’d like to visit us, we made sure we “just happened” to be at the top of the Wigan flight when they arrived. Knowing I’d have a crew and hopefully some volunteers to feed I made cake and cookies.
But it was the bacon butties that tempted Tim to hop on a train and join us for the day.
The Wigan flight descends 200feet through 21 locks. Sadly these locks are old and leaky and prone to vandalism so they are kept locked and passage is restricted to certain times of the day. We made it to the top lock just in time, before they were fastened shut for the day.
It’s the first time Anthony has been narrowboating but he took to locking like a pro.
It’s always a debate about who has drawn the short straw, the helmsman or the lock labourers, but I knew the Wigan locks are short and leaky and it would be Eric that had to dodge the deluge. I’ll take the dry land any day.
We made it through the bottom lock in 3 hours 2 minutes. And we were all still smiling. We even had enough energy left to walk further along to find the famous Wigan Pier.
It’s thought that Wigan pier became an icon when a train excursion to Southport was delayed and to keep the passengers amused this little coal loading jetty was given an elevated status. That particular “pier” was demolished in the early 1900s, so various protrusions in the location claim the historic title now, this one being the most like the original.
Tim could only stay for the day but Heather and Anthony enjoyed another night on board, if only so they could have a proper boaters breakfast.
And as a final reward for all their efforts, Ant got to prove that he doesn’t just like fast cars but slow boats also have a certain appeal.
We’d better watch out he’s a natural. But we had to say goodbye to our helpers as they had to be at work the day.
Whilst we were travelling through the abandoned industrial heritage of the Lancashire mills, we came across a National Trust Property within walking distance of the canal. Gawthorpe Hall at Hapton.
Never one to miss an opportunity I set off to indulge in a bit of house fantasy. The Hall’s origins were in the 14th century when the pele tower was build to fend off the marauding Scots. As with most old buildings like this, it’s been added to to and renovated many times over as fortunes waxed and wained. What we see now is basically a 16th century Elizabethan country house that’s had a Victorian makeover. The guides were keen to point out that a lot of the internal structure was designed by Pugin, who had a hand in the Houses of Parliament. It was intended to be, and is, all very grand and ornate. My house fantasy prefers something with a few less nooks and crannies that need dusting.
I was however bowled over by the Rachel Shuttleworth textile collection. Rachel was the last of the “family” to live in the hall, she was a great needlewoman, educator and philanthropist. In fact my Aunty spent a lot of time studying lace making in the hall. It was all very inspirational.
The other artifact inside the Hall that caught my eye was the Davy Automatic Fire escape.
It’s gears and braking system ensure a controlled descent. And it reassuringly says “do not hesitate, it is perfectly safe” and that these mechanisms are still for sale today.
I always like to look out of the window and the Gawthorpe Hall garden is bordered by the Lancashire River Calder. The course of this river has been altered several times to enhance to view and to allow opencast coal mining in the fields behind the tree line. There are several Calder Rivers in the UK. The word Calder derives from celtic origins, meaning hard rapid water.
On the other side of the hall, in a drought year, you can look down onto a ghost garden. As the outlines of the old Elizabethan garden emerge through the grass. I’m not sure whether to say luckily or unluckily I didn’t get to see this phenomenon, suffice to say that the Leeds and Liverpool canal has not suffered from water shortages this summer.
We didn’t linger long, as we’d got a break in the weather and set off cruising south towards Blackburn with the Forest of Bowland to our north west.
The next few days took us through some Lancashire mill towns. These places grew and thrived during the industrial revolution, when 1.5 million bales of cotton were imported through Liverpool Docks. Sadly as with so many areas like this, modern technology and cheap labour closer to where cotton is grown has left a lot of derelict buildings which didn’t encourage us to linger
but when the sun shone we certainly had something to reflect upon.
We were very glad when we cruised through Nelson and saw this facility. Eric had just done a service on our generator so we had a few litres of dirty oil looking for a home, a dedicated Canal Users Recycling Point and oil bank made us very excited and between bridges 141b and c has been marked on our map.
We made another stop shortly after this, as the huge Burnley Tesco is conveniently right next to the canal. Although I prefered the view opposite. And as the benches were inhabited by several drunks, not somewhere we wanted to stay overnight.
And the canal kept traversing the M65 motorway, which always makes us smile as we enjoy our snails pace.
And it’s here, by bridge 112, in a small village called Church, near Accrington, we realised that we had reached exactly half way inbetween Leeds and Liverpool. 63 5/8 miles each way. It had taken us 38 days to get this far.
As we were busy looking at the fancy art work we noticed a fire engine parked up and 3 officers throwing a rescue line into the canal.
Thankfully they were just practicing, so we stopped to watch and learn as we have also chosen to have one of these life savers on board in preference to a traditional bulky ring.
Hopefully we’ll never have to use it, but as it lives on the coat hooks at the stern, it’s easily accessible should one of us ever go for an unintentional swim.
Resuming our journey Apologies for quite a lengthy absence, we had a significant family health issue to deal with, which is now fully resolved and not expected to cause any further problem. However the account of our journey to Liverpool is now very behind schedule as we actually reached the big city a month ago now. (You’ll have to wait for photos) When I last wrote, we were in East Marton with its double bridge,
and it had started to rain. To be honest, it’s felt like it’s rained most of the past six weeks and as we were leaving the intense beauty of the Dales a grey drabness enveloped us.
Being true codiwomplers we do have the luxury of time and are able to stay put inside if it rains. But undeterred we dodged the showers and continued up the last few locks at Greenberfield.
And shortly after crossed the border from Yorkshire into Lancashire at bridge 149.
Then came the one way Fouldridge tunnel with its traffic lights. Because of number of widebeams using this canal it’s inappropriate for CRT to ask them to restrict passage to 8am as they do for other one way tunnels. So each direction has an allocated 10 minute time slot per hour in which to enter the tunnel and make it’s minute journey into the darkness. Can you imagine car drivers waiting 50 minutes for the lights to change.
We were now descending the Pennines and our first series of locks at Barrowford didn’t disappoint.
In one sense going down is easier because I can open the paddles fully to empty the lock but on the shorter locks it’s harder to open the gates without the helm getting soaked under the deluge from leaky gates.