B words: the Bridgewater to THAT bridge…

Dunham Massey to Lydiate: 47 miles, 8 locks, 7 movable bridges

B words (not swear words, just B-beginning words): Bridgewater, Burscough, bridge, baked beans, baby, birthday…

To back track: eventually, a day later than planned, Cleddau had reached Dunham Massey, and in lieu of the planned “day off” a couple of hours was spent at the Dunham Massey Estate. It was Sunday, it was dry – and it felt a slightly dangerous place, the grounds packed with families and bikes, scooters and dogs. Maybe it was the presence of so many of the above that kept the hundred plus fallow deer well out of view, (See here for previous sightings, June 2016).

The Bridgewater Canal loses its rural character soon after Dunham Massey: as the canal enters the outskirts of Altrincham and on towards Sale. The Robert Bolt Theatre was a surprise,      the name familiar, a famous film…?  Turns out Robert Bolt was a local boy and a pupil at Manchester Grammar School.

Quite often along the Bridgewater Canal are seen cranes like these.  They are used to move and then slot down stop planks when a section of the canal needs to be de-watered. It’s a broad canal and everything from infrastructure to work boats is on a far larger scale than on a narrow canal. When this fat-bottomed work boat   loomed towards Cleddau the Captain paused and hovered until space to pass could be gauged… Full of recovered “treasure” it was!

There’s a lot of rebuilding going on around the old Linotype Works.

On past The Watch House (there are frequent Bridgewater Way information boards alongside the canal, though at 3-4mph cruising speed there is little chance to read them…) And just past The Watch House, now a clubhouse for a boat club, was nb Abigail.  (Birthday greetings, Daughter!)

There was a stroke of luck at Stretford Marine – chance to buy another bag of coal, top up with diesel and with water (and to off-load some rubbish). Success! Service areas for boaters along this canal are sparse – it’s a waterway under the authority of The Peel Group, whose major interest is in the Manchester Ship Canal rather than the adjacent Bridgewater Canal.

There was a left bend under a the A56 bridge after Stretford Marine and then shortly afterwards another left manoeuvre. Waters Meeting, where the Bridgewater Canal’s northbound Leigh line meets the eastbound line to Manchester, is such an evocative name for an unassuming, un-signposted junction.

Soon modern industrial Manchester is being passed: the massive Kellogg’s factory, other industrial units, then the canal side entrance to the large Trafford retail centre.  Suddenly there’s ironwork ahead, a first sighting of an impressive waterway wonder, the Barton Swing Aqueduct that takes the canal high over the Manchester Ship Canal.  Photos: looking back over Barton Swing Aqueduct; Looking from the aqueduct towards Manchester; the Ship Canal towards Liverpool. In the distance is the high level road crossing next to the M60 that partially fell down in 2016…

Onwards, past the inland lighthouse folly at Monton (over 30 miles from the sea).  Visual thrills keep coming: The Duke of Bridgewater’s boathouse,  the Packet House  and the entrance to the coal mines from which coal was first transported by water to Manchester.

Canal history and industrial history are hard to escape along the Bridgewater’s Leigh Branch: there are some silhouetted figures, and the pithead at Astley Green Colliery.  Currently considerable effort is going on into upgrading the towpath, machinery scraping away the existing path to relay it with a  cycle-standard surface.

After Leigh (once a cotton mill town) there is more greenery and the landscape is in recovery after coal extraction. The towpath and multitude of paths around Pennington Flash Country Park are understandably popular with walkers and cyclists.

At Leigh the Bridgewater had become the Leeds and Liverpool Canal (Leigh Branch); it continues without height change until Wigan. Then comes the first of the two Poolstock Locks. Compared to the last lock (the Preston Brook stop lock) these are brutes!   Anti-vandal keys are needed from here on. The gates are heavy and there is a chain winding system to help open and close them. While the boat slowly rose in the chamber an island of rubbish which included a rugby ball and a rucksack bobbed about behind the gates. Great care was taken not to let prop and rubbish get too close together… The gate was open at the second Poolstock Lock and a solo boater was waiting inside. Perhaps he’d have preferred company as he then headed to the right (uphill, over the Pennines to Leeds) whereas Cleddau was turned left for downhill to Liverpool – to within sight of the River Mersey.

Beyond the Wigan Bottom Lock at the old C&RT office is a new pontoon, positioned apparently for users of the Desmond Family Canoe Trail.

On past Wigan Pier (with reference to author George Orwell and his 1937 Road to Wigan Pier)   and once past the stadium (Wigan Athletics)   the canal enters a more rural phase. Several cycling groups were seen in these parts as well as happy anglers…

At Crooke there is good mooring. The village is in the Douglas Valley – it was a surprise though to notice beyond the trees a large shape that is the world’s largest baked bean factory…  A rescued pit truck positioned beside the canal is a reminder of the village’s John Pit colliery past.

Further on along the canal drops down the valley, under railway and motorway bridges, the locks less frequent now. The depth of Appley Lock can astonish though, 12’, created from two shallower, now disused chambers.  The canal, passing through Lancashire now,  is pleasantly varied, gentle hills, canal side cottages,  scarecrows in crops, the old windmill, now a glorious gallery at Parbold, the junction at Burscough. From here the Rufford Arm leads down to the Ribble Estuary.

It was in Burscough (a small West Lancashire town), that a text pinged in on the phone: Baby news! Please check your e mails! This, from Baby Sis, conveyed news of the arrival of Baby H, a boy, for Bristol Niece. Cheshire Mum, today’s  Birthday girl, has welcomed another May babe…

A survival until Liverpool strategy was devised: trips to Burscough’s Tesco to cram cupboards and freezer, an extended hose to a water tap to cram the water tank.  With, eventually, laundry up to date, Cleddau set off to moor within easy striking distance of THAT Bridge, Bridge 20.

On a sunlit evening the neighbours were no bother…

The  bridge that had been put out of action connects a narrow country lane on one side with an even narrower one on the other side. It is a remote location with just a farm nearby.  A light signal had been dislodged and thrown into the canal and the hydraulics cabinet that provides the power for the swing bridge was lying wrecked behind workforce fencing. At midday C&RT staff released the wedges and pushed the bridge open. Seven or eight craft from Liverpool came through first   before the five heading into Liverpool were allowed past.

Lydiate is a very pleasant place for an overnight mooring. Then, in two final stages, (14½ miles, 6 locks, 8 movable bridges and 1 tunnel), Cleddau will progress, almost to sea level, to a designated jetty within Liverpool Docks…

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