Liking it in Lymm…
Pennington Flash – Lymm: 24 miles, 0 locks
Despite the familiarity some landmarks were subjected again to a quick camera shot: here again is the pithead gear at Astley Green Colliery (disused now but there’s a museum there). This was the view west from the Barton Aqueduct when crossing above the Manchester Ship Canal. and this was the vast Kellogg’s factory at Trafford..
Only a mile or so after Pennington Flash, and totally without ceremony, the Leigh branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal becomes the Bridgewater Canal. Quite unremarkably.
Unlike most of the canal network which is overseen by Canal and River Trust and to whom canal users pay licence fees, the Bridgewater Canal is owned by The Peel Group. Boaters who have a permanent mooring on the Bridgewater Canal must buy a Bridgewater licence which gives very limited cruising options on C&RT waters. For boaters who hold C&RT licences there are restrictions to their usage on the Bridgewater Canal: currently the ruling is that no more than 7 consecutive days in any 28 day period can be spent on the Bridgewater Canal. Any additional stay will cost £40 for a further seven days.
It’s easy cruising on the Bridgewater: in the main the water is deep and wide, the canal being all on the same contour and so there are no locks to contend with. From Preston Brook in the west to Leigh further north the canal is about 40 miles long. There’s a special place in history for the Bridgewater Canal as it was the first canal in Britain to be built without following an existing watercourse. Its opening on 17th July 1761 allowed coal from the Duke of Bridgewater’s coal mines at Worsley to be transported to Manchester by boat, along what was a water-filled ditch dug by navvies.
About 22 miles south and west of Leigh is the pretty village of Lymm. Where’s that? Users of the northern M6 will know the Thelwall Viaduct, a great sweep of motorway which spans the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey very close to Lymm.
The village nowadays presents as an affluent settlement, perhaps a dormitory town for Manchester high-earners. The village centre is dominated by the Cross, around which are several eateries, coffee shops, a good butcher’s shop and a few independent shops. Further uphill from the village substantial old houses exude wealth – and several are now used as care homes. Dig a little deeper though and there are some unexpected findings…
There’s a path down from the canal alongside a brook that runs through a steep-sided sandstone gorge. Here can be found the old remains of a slitting mill. This was where during the 18th century bars of wrought iron were brought in from Russia to be rolled into thin sheets and then cut into narrow sheets for making into a range of objects.
It was in 1767 that the digging of the Bridgewater Canal reached Lymm. In due course cotton cloth was brought from Manchester by boat to the fustian cutters of Lymm. This was a harsh job and the Heritage Centre in Lymm records a widespread strike in 1891 to protest about poor conditions and pay in the industry throughout several Cheshire towns.
Iron sheet making in the 1700s, fustian cotton cutting in the 1800s and then, just into the 21st century, gold leaf beating and gilding was carried out in Lymm. For about a hundred years a Lymm company has been involved in gold leaf beating and gilding .
The Heritage Centre is a good place to find about the village, from breaches that nearly closed the canal for good, to the extraordinary story of Thomas Stevens, a man who cycled round the world from San Francisco to Yokohama, Japan – on a penny-farthing bicycle. In 1885 he passed very close to Lymm as he crossed England from Liverpool to Newhaven…
Another famous traveller celebrated in Lymm was one whose momentous journey was 50 years ago. Here’s a moon walker scarecrow still posing outside a fine house. A walk downhill through the gorge and then back uphill to see Lymm Dam (from the canal you’d never suspect that land round here is pretty steep) deserved refreshment to aid recovery: At Sextons Village Bakery the shop and café is run by the sixth-generation bakery family. “The bakehouse is below: we start work at midnight,” the manageress explained. (The pretty good egg custard tart and an Earl Grey tea were a reminder of those delicious Portuguese tarts that the Biologist is expert at creating…!)
There’d been a festival in the village earlier in the summer and various signs give mileage distances from Lymm Cross. Somehow the signs indicate a sense of humour and of self-confidence in the place.
On a Saturday evening the eateries in Lymm were busy, very busy. Large family groups dominated the Mediterranean restaurant, fashionably dressed clientele were patronising the wine bar and a Rolls Royce swung round the square looking for a parking space…
So that was Lymm. It was interesting to pitch up for a couple of days in a place that has seen several changes of industry – and now seems home for escapees from the Manchester metropolis…
Onward; a few more flat Bridgewater miles remain before the tunnels (Preston Brook, Saltersford and Barnton) are reached… By then the waters belong again to Canal and River Trust and the canal will be the Trent and Mersey.