memoirs of walking the leeds & liverpool canal (3)

a canal wanderer

memoirs of walking the leeds & liverpool canal


Back in July 2016 our ambition was to walk the whole of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal (in stages of course). I also had planned to walk the Leigh, Rufford and Springs Branches. It was an exciting challenge to have had that opportunity to learn about the industrial and social heritage along the canal and be swept away with the beautiful Pennines countryside.

We completed walking the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in June 2017. Please note the walks aren’t strictly in chronological order as some of the stretches have been walked more than once and not necessarily in order.

Leeds and Liverpool Canal

Leeds and Liverpool Canal is Britain's longest single waterway canal. The 127 miles stretch starts from Leeds, crosses the Pennines and finishes in Liverpool.

It was built in 1816, engineered by John Longbotham (with involvement from James Brindley and Robert Whitworth). The original aim of the canal was to transport goods quickly and economically from city to city. Today the canal is used for leisure purposes such as boating, walking, running and cycling on the towpath.

Further information about the canal can be found here.

Part 3: Continuing from Chorley to Liverpool

Chorley to Wigan - Walk done in December 2016

It was called the “walk of walks” with it being the final one for 2016 and the fact that we are getting nearer to Liverpool and further away from Leeds.

The bus journey from Blackburn to Chorley was a long-winded affair which stopped at all the villages en route. The journey was almost an hour!

We began with glorious weather – what a contrast to our last walk (from Blackburn to Chorley) where rain and wind prevailed! We walked on the canal until we reached Adlington, a village on the outskirts of Chorley, and we had a drink at the White Bear Pub. We had originally planned to have a drink at the Bridge Pub but it wasn’t open (though it was advertised to open at 12 noon) so we went to the other pub. We were thankful for the comfort stop.

We continued walking the Rotary Way on the canal and we passed Worthington, Red Rock and Haigh Hall Country Park. We did stop very briefly by a bridge to have our lunch. There were some parts of the tow path which were very muddy with puddles so it made walking a challenge in order not to fall!

We had planned to make a stop at The Crown pub near Wigan at Bridge 69 but it was closed. Maybe the pub only opened at lunch time and evenings. We walked on and we eventually reached the top lock of the Wigan Flight (21 locks over 2 miles). En route was the Kirkless Hall pub so we popped in for well deserved refreshments.

Knowing it would get dark sooner than later we didn’t stay too long at the pub and descended down the flight. I was saddened to see the amount of litter in the canal pounds between the locks. This spoilt the experience a bit for me and I wished more pride is taken in preserving this magnificent feat of engineering.

It took a good hour or so to reach Lock No. 86 and we decided to finish at Henhurst Bridge. We walked into Wigan town centre to catch our train home – we caught the Huddersfield bound train straight away and our journey was very eventful with some interesting characters onboard (one was rather up to no good with fare dodging and eventually was escorted off the train at Stalybridge). It was a short wait for our connecting train home.

Things to see and do:

  • Rotary Way
  • Haigh Hall Country Park
  • Wigan Flight of Locks

Food and Drink:

  • The White Bear Pub
  • Kirkless Hall Pub

Wigan to Leigh - Walk done in December 2016

I walked on the Leigh Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool during the 2016 Christmas Holidays. I caught a later than planned train to Manchester Victoria and then decided more or less that I’d start the walk in Wigan rather than in Leigh. Getting a train to Wigan is considerably quicker than getting a bus to Leigh as the town doesn’t have a railway station. Besides it was the middle of winter and less daylight hours.

Half an hour later I was at Wigan Wallgate and walked down to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. I started at Lock 86 and soon joined the Leigh Branch at the junction. The branch is approximately seven miles and I walked through some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen on a canal. Seeing the Wigan Flashes in glorious sunshine is a highlight – the blueness of the lakes and the canal’s reflections made the walking enjoyable. It was very cold, however, evident from the ice that was layered on the canal.

I should have swapped to the other side of the canal at Moss Bridge (Bridge No. 2) but I continued on the right hand side until the fence didn’t allow me to go any further. So I had to retrace my steps back to Moss Bridge (probably a mile or so walking back!) and walked on the other side. As far as time was concerned it was a bit of a setback as I only had three hours or so day light and would have probably be still on the canal when it got dark.

Undeterred I walked on until I stopped at Abram for a quick drink and comfort stop at Dover Lock Inn. Very welcomed stops as there are no other canal side pubs or facilities on the Leigh Branch. A pleasant and friendly pub though it was very quiet when I visited. After 20 minutes or so I continued walking via Plank Lift Bridge to Pennington Flash where I stopped for a bit. Seeing the sunset over the lake was a memorable sight and there is nothing better to enjoy the view with than some mulled wine and a mince pie!

I reached Leigh around 4.30pm as it was getting dark and caught the bus straight away to Wigan. Had to wait a bit in the town centre before I could catch the first off peak train to Manchester Victoria so I popped into Caffe Nero to kill some time – the café closed at 6.00pm so I had to still hang around Wallgate Station before I was allowed through the barriers to the platform. From Manchester Victoria I caught a Leeds bound train which stopped at every stop!

Things to see and do:

  • Wigan Flashes
  • Pennington Flash

Food and Drink:

  • The Dover Lock Inn, Abram
  • Caffe Nero, Wigan

Wigan to Burscough - Walk done in February 2017

It has been a while since Dad and I last walked on the canal but we got up very early to catch up our train to Wigan, change at Manchester Piccadilly, and to our pleasant surprise we were able to sit together on a rush hour train. On arrival at Wigan Wallgate we had a spot of breakfast at the Station Café across from the station.

We picked up where we left off last time at Henhurst Bridge and started our walk. We walked through the Wigan Pier Quarter and the outskirts of Wigan passing more locks and the JJB stadium, home of Wigan Warriors Rugby League and Wigan Athletic Football teams.

We reached Crooke, a pleasant canal side village and once a busy area for coal mining and we stopped for a short break. The pub wasn’t opened so we sat in the beer garden admiring the ducks and older barges. The barges reminded me of the Leeds and Liverpool Society’s Kennet when it led the flotilla for the canal’s Bicentenary celebrations in October 2016.

We continued and walked alongside the River Douglas where this section once served as a navigation and originally linked to the canal. It’s a scenic area with plenty of walking trails – we saw a number of walkers with their dogs. We passed Gathurst and Wigan and we saw remnants of the original river navigation. A highlight for me was seeing a narrow boat tea room which was unfortunately closed.

It would have been nice to have a cuppa and cake inside but probably only opens during cruising season.

We had a scheduled stop at Appley Bridge where we visited The Boat Inn, an eclectic pub with contrasts ranging from very modern music to old and traditional panelling. The place was very quiet (we were the only customers) and it must have changed hands recently as it used to be called the Sams Country Inn according to our map.

After a drink we sat on a canal bench besides the bridge and we had our lunch. A swan must have known as it was waiting for us! Others joined in but didn’t get much from us! We have been advised not to feed them bread but sweetcorn, peas or seeds instead – I will need to bring a supply of the recommended on my next walk.

Passing the final lock (Lock No. 91 – Appley Locks) we walked through some very scenic West Lancashire countryside before we reached Parbold. Parbold’s noticeable building must be the windmill building which is now an art gallery. The village has a railway station and caters for its villagers, walkers and boaters with its shops, pubs, restaurants and moorings. There is a nice atmosphere about the place but unfortunately we didn’t have the time to explore but we hope to one day in the future.

We noticed a concrete pillar box between Parbold and Burscough which must have been used during the 2nd World War. We by then were ready for our second scheduled stop at the recommended Ring O’Bells pub. The pub didn’t disappoint and we enjoyed having a drink there. It’s a family/dog friendly pub which offers food as well as a wide range of drinks. There are moorings besides the pub which boats can stop, moor up and visit.

It wasn’t far to Burscough (probably just a mile or so or less) so we ambled along the canal passing the junction for the Rufford Branch (another walk I’ve planned). We “signed off” at Burscough Bridge and walked down the main street to the station for our overcrowded train home via Huddersfield. It was a great day out and not long before we reach Liverpool as we have walked over a 100 miles.

Things to see and do:

  • Wigan Pier
  • JJB Stadium
  • Crooke
  • Former River Douglas Navigation (between Wigan and Gathurst)
  • Douglas Valley
  • Parbold
  • Rufford Branch
  • Burscough Wharf

Food and Drink:

  • Station Café, Wigan
  • The Bridge Inn
  • Ring O’Bells

Burscough to Tarleton – March 2017

A beautiful day awaited me for walking the Leeds and Liverpool Canal’s Rufford Branch. With an early start I reached Burscough Bridge Railway Station, changing at Manchester Piccadilly, mid-morning.

At Burscough I had a coffee at one of the café/bars at the wharf before I began the walk. At the beginning of the walk I met some friendly boaters and walkers and one of them told me about the cake sale at the Ship Inn in Lathom, at the junction of the branch. All the proceeds went to Comic Relief and when I reached Lathom I popped in the pub and bought some fruit cake – delicious I must say!

At the junction itself I came across a dry dock obviously disused now with only a cat in residence! There were facilities for boaters but I did see notices that are no longer in use (since 2007). The Rufford Branch is very rural with open fields and countryside surrounding the area. I didn’t see many walkers at all particularly at the latter stages of the walk - just a handful at Rufford Marina and the Old Rufford Hall, the busiest stretch on the canal.

I visited the Old Hall and had a “Lancashire Tea” in its pleasant tea room. The tea wasn’t really anything special but gave the energy needed for the remainder of the walk. I decided to give exploring the Old Hall a miss but had a little wander in the grounds to take some photos. I diverted through the village passing its noticeable church to enter the grounds and backtracked on the canal afterwards to try and get photos of the Old Hall (the photos didn’t turn out too well unfortunately with the sun and the trees obscuring the building).

Beyond Bridge 10, at Sollom, the canal becomes more of a river with its twists and turns. The part of the canal is known as the “Old Course of the River Douglas”. The field acts as the tow path and I wouldn’t want to walk on that stretch on a rainy day! It has a wild feel to it and there was sense of being in the middle of nowhere with its rural surroundings. I reached “civilisation” at Bridge 11 and rejoined the somewhat muddy towpath at the bridge – the path underneath was flooded. The canal and the River Douglas run side by side.

I reached the final bridge in Tarleton and I was wondering where Tarleton Locks were. I entered via Tarleton Boatyard and despite its number of unwelcoming signs advising visitors of no “unauthorised access”. I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to walk through to reach the final locks but in the end I walked through undeterred, subconsciously telling myself that the canal and its towpath (access to it) should be considered a public right of way, and got to the final locks. I saw where the both the canal and river meets and the course eventually links to the Ribble and eventually the Lancaster Canal.

I had a well deserved comfort stop by the locks before I made my way to the village for a bus back to Burscough. Luckily I only walked a few minutes for a bus (the bus service is hourly and the services in rural Lancashire aren’t the best in the world with regards to frequency) and it was a short bus ride to Burscough Bridge Interchange.

I popped into The Bridge pub for a drink before catching my nightmare return journey to Leeds. Another classic Northern Fail with inconveniently planned engineering works! Nevertheless a beautiful sunny day for a beautiful walk!

Things to see and do:

  • Old Rufford Hall (National Trust)
  • River Douglas
  • Tarleton Locks

Food and Drink:

  • The Ship Inn
  • The Bridge

Burscough to Maghull – April 2017

It was a very early start for our penultimate walk from Burscough to Maghull on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. We picked up where we left off last time at Burscough Bridge. It was a bit chilly out on the canal at the beginning but we got warm walking.

This stretch is predominately rural with a scattering of small villages nearby including Halsall, Haskayne and from Lydiate it was built up as we neared Maghull. It was certainly quiet but peaceful and we didn’t see that many people on the tow path until the final mile or so to Maghull. It was nice to see a few boats cruising on the canal.

We stopped at the lovely tea room at Scarisbrick Marina for refreshments. The marina is big and we saw a lot of narrow boats moored up. We passed a few pubs enroute at the beginning of the walk but being morning they weren’t opened yet.

A mile or so from the marina we reached Halsall Warehouse Bridge and we stopped there for lunch. There were a couple of sculptures including a “navie” depicting the canal’s history along with an information board. It isn’t far where the first digging happened for the Leeds and Liverpool Canal during the 18th Century. The site is known as Halsall Cutting.

We soon stopped for a drink at the Ship Bridge Inn and we chose to stop earlier than later because of the lack of pubs from there to the outskirts of Maghull. The pub is pleasant with its “resident goose” looking inside from the window and it was busy with racing fans following the Grand National’s Ladies Day at Aintree – not far from here.

We were conscious about time so we pushed on passing more flat open countryside until we reached Lydiate – the landscape became urban all of a sudden and reaching Maghull via its town centre including the pretty St Andrew’s Church. We made it to the railway station with very little time to spare for our train to Ormskirk – it only took us several minutes to get there and we waited for our connecting train to Burscough Junction (only a four minute train ride!).

It was bizarre to see a single railway track at Ormskirk Station with one half for the Merseyrail trains and the other half for its Northern equivalents. We felt that we were crossing an international border! I don’t think many trains run regularly from Preston to Ormskirk – a contrast to the Maghull ones!

However it served as a useful link for us to return to Burscough Bridge for our eventual train home which took ages with delays and a missed connection at Manchester Piccadilly.

We walked approximately 12.5 miles and my feet were killing me! It was worth for its rural scenery and peacefulness. What was impressive was the rich variety of birds and the stood out water reeds at the side of the canals which blended in the surrounding landscape!

Things to see and do:

  • Halsall Cutting
  • West Lancashire countryside

Food and Drink:

  • Scarisbrick Marina
  • Ship Bridge Inn

Maghull to Liverpool– June 2017

We decided some time ago that we would do an overnight stay when doing the last stretch on the canal and because of logistics Dad chose to drive rather than getting the train. Dad booked accommodation in Brunswick, just outside the city centre, and Mum joined us. We arrived in Liverpool just before rush hour ended. We left Mum behind in the City Centre for a day of relaxing and sightseeing and we caught a train to Maghull (via Liverpool Central) which took us 20 minutes.

We picked up where we left off last time and began our final stretch. We enjoyed the rural stretch at the beginning passing Melling, Wadicar and reaching Aintree. At Aintree we didn’t see the race courses from the canal because of the tall concrete walls were obscuring it! It was there we experienced drizzly rain so the wet gear came out and Dad relied on his faithful brolly! The drizzle and light rain came and went though the weather cleared and brightened later in the day.

We originally planned to stop at the Old Roan Pub and we left the canal near its station but the pub is closed down! It looks like the scaffolding around the closed pub has been there for a long time. Instead we stopped at Cooksons Bridge Pub further on instead for a drink and comfort stop.

On this stretch the highlight must have been seeing the abundance of baby chicks, coots and geese on the canal though they were ferociously guarded by their mums and dads! We were hissed a few times for getting a bit close but cute nonetheless. We also spotted plenty of nests on the cut and they were obviously guarded!

This stretch is residentially built up from Aintree with an interruption of a green belt, Rimrose Valley Country Park in Crosby. We saw a handful of narrow boats passing by however, on this stretch, boaters have to plan ahead for their assisted passage to Liverpool via a couple of swing bridges and the Stanley Dock Branch Locks. We met two friendly CRT volunteers, Len and Mel, in Netherton who were tidying up around the canal and towpath. It’s lovely to see and meet like minded people who care about their canal.

We noted that many of the bridge number plaques were missing and we learnt that some idiots have removed them and sold them as metal for money. Out of Order indeed! It made tracking our progress harder but it did help that a couple of bridges along the way still have numbers/letters plaques on.

We stopped in Litherland for a coffee at Tesco’s. We thought it would be good to stop again not so long after our stop at the pub – there aren’t any other places very near to the canal to stop at before we reached the end.

After our coffee break we walked towards Bootle, then Sandhills and Kirkdale. We admired the buildings on this stretch of which some have been restored but others were still left derelict. We were taken by Bank Hall, a beautiful industrial building built in the 19th Century, and it would be great that the building is given life again.

We made customary photo stops at every mile post; it reminded us that we were near to our goal. It was a good feeling when we reached the Leeds 127 miles post and only just quarter a mile or so to reach Eldonian Basin. We had to cross the bridge of Lock 1 on the Stanley Dock Branch flight of locks where a couple of bored kids were playing with the gates, but we crossed undeterred.

There wasn’t much at Eldonian Basin – just some visitors’ moorings and facilities. Beyond is a residential area with a parade of shops. It wasn’t the end one expects when completing the canal by foot but with the Liverpool Link it’s considered a mooring point. It is considered that the Stanley Dock Branch and Liverpool Link is a “canal continuation” until boaters reach Salthouse Basin adjacent to Albert Dock in the City Centre. We retraced our steps, descended down the locks and walked up the main road to Sandhills for our train back to our hotel.

Though the canal’s towpath ends there and the canal’s current terminus (the canal did continue on for a mile and half into the city centre but has been infilled since the 1960s), we felt a big sense of accomplishment walking the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. This is an adventure which I’ll treasure for the rest of my life and something I recommend anyone to do. A significant day indeed!

Things to see and do:

  • Rimrose Valley Country Park
  • Eldonian Basin
  • Stanley Branch Locks

Food and Drink:

  • Cooksons Bridge Pub
  • Tesco, Litherland

Walking adventures from other canals to continue!

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About Dawn Smallwood

Dawn Smallwood offers us a personal look at canals through a series of walks. She includes some local history, comments on social and industrial landscapes, and gives recommendations for local attractions and places to eat or drink. She also raises a great deal of money for charity.