Sunday, 16 October 2011

Leeds and Liverpool Canal Path - After

It seems crazy to me that so many Tourist Information Centres (TIC) have closed down – which they have if you hadn’t noticed. I rarely reserve accommodation, preferring the benefit of the freedom to choose, when and where to stay overnight, on arrival. Letting the TIC’s accommodation booking service do their best at the end of my walking day has balanced my luck and has been worthwhile for all concerned; I’m shown room availability matched against personal requirements, the TIC gets a fee (10% of the room tariff) and the inn, a last minute booking (less 10% of tariff). As a last minute booking there’s usually a discount too. TICs are a wealth of local information. So, for me, on The Leeds and Liverpool Canal Towpath walk, TICs were sorely missed. And will be in the future too. RIP TIC.

Finding accommodation was critical on this walk because I wasn’t carrying a tent, sleeping bag, food and cooker. It did feel odd but marvellously light; my pack was a very comfortable 15lbs or so. Prize winning item was the Golite Dome Umbrella. Lightweight (215g), unbelievably strong (bendy) and in strong wind/driving rain it feels indestructible. A backpacker with an umbrella might seem out of place (Hiram Holiday with a rucksack) but it does the business, like the TICs used to.

Would I walk a towpath again? Yes. With a bit more research beforehand – I over relied on chance, even shorter distances perhaps giving time to visit local attractions, and a bed booked in advance as well next time round.

Monday, 10 October 2011

Leeds and Liverpool Canal Walk - Day 6

Blackburn - Chorley (12 miles)

My target today was Bridge 76A. Although just beyond the turn-off point from the canal into Chorley, 76A is special. Apart from it being the likely end of my canal walk, the bridge and I share a name, it being The Cowling Bridge. Something else we shared on the day too - we were both, errr - clean, through to the skin/metal, washed by the constant rain.

It's a twenty minute walk from the canal into Chorley town centre. A decent town centre - modern, with a covered market, an interesting mix of shops, pubs, restaurants, etc, and a Booths supermarket - a quality store in my opinion and a bonus point for Chorley. Things were on the up after the disappointments of Burnley and Blackburn.

It got better though. My B&B for the night, a 10 minute walk from the town centre, is totally excellent. All it says on and more. Plus it is within 200 yards of a great restaurant which has a pub either side of it. Now THIS is what I'm talking about.

I have one scheduled walking day remaining but I'm finishing here - on a high. Wigan became my expected last (canal) port of call (although never my intention, two more days at my pace and I would have reached Liverpool). The relentless rain is taking the fun out of this stroll though.

Luckily for me, Chorley has a direct rail service to south Cumbria where I left my dog and van. I'll blog again on Sunday. I've whinged a bit here so an apology may be in order, plus, I'd like to mention one most excellent item of kit that I carried.

Image: The Cowling Bridge, Chorley.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Leeds and Liverpool Canal Path - Day 5

Burnley - Blackburn (17 miles)

It's not good when I think, "Crumbs, is it only day 4!". So you may already suspect that it hasn't been a cheery day for me. The truth is, that today's walk was a bit of a trudge - head down in the rain with few people out and about.

In wet weather I share the towpath with joggers isolated in their Ipod worlds and the odd (one or two odd, not odd odd) angler, who mostly resolutely stare at the canal, refusing to catch my eye as I glide past, considerately, not wishing to frighten off the fish. "Is it 'cos Ize a backpacker?" I wonder. Or is it their fear perhaps that if they look up to say "Ow do?", (or preferbly a greeting with the letter "u" in it - I like the Lancashire accent) the waiting fish will seize the moment, nick the bait and leg it (or should that be fin it?).

I just checked that; swung head sideways and upward, saying "Ow do?" with the head returning to face make-believe water before completing the word "do". Takes less than a second I reckon. It's just possible to carry out the same exercise but swivelling the eyes, straining at the sockets, to keep watching the water. Hurts a bit though. Looks weird too.

Listening to Blackburn Cathedral bells (as I circle the building, searching but failing to find a good spot to take a photo) lifts my spirits for a while but they sink again slightly when wandering around another familiar-looking town centre, all mall and no soul (searching and failing to find a good pub or restaurant).

What chance the next two days - Chorley then Wigan. I can deal with the rain so fingers crossed for a friendly pint, a hearty meal and quality accommodation.

Image: Entrance, Blackburn Cathedral.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Leeds & Liverpool Canal Path - Day 4

(Near) Barnoldswick - Burnley (9 canal miles)

A reluctant start this morning. Did I really want to watch the England v France Rugby World Cup game or was I looking for a way to delay the inevitable - setting off on a wet, miserable looking morning. After 10 minutes of play, England's prospects didn't look promising to me. I deserted them, creeping away, taking my chances with the weather.

A short walk down the A56, then across some fields and I was back on the towpath. Only for a mile though, as far as the Foulridge Tunnel. It's almost a mile long (1640 yards) but without a towpath so I took to the road, though Foulridge, skirting a reservoir, returning to the canal around Barrowford Locks.

I was at the summit of the canal - 495 feet (18.2m) above mean sea-level. With Lock No. 1 in Leeds at about 100 feet above msl, there'd been about 400 feet of ascent over roughly 40 miles. All downhill now to Liverpool.

My overall surroundings today have been the expected opposite of yesterday's; from peaceful open coutryside to the dreary looking merged towns of Colne, Nelson and Burnley.

My final mile today was along the Burnley Embankment. Known locally as the Straight Mile, it carries the canal 60 feet over the roof tops of Burnley. The Embankment is a remarkable engineering feat, one of the wonders of the waterway. One day, I thought, as I made my way down into town, we may be able to engineer better weather.

Image: Foulridge Tunnel - Leeds side.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Leeds & Liverpool Canal Path - Day 3

Skipton - Barnoldswick (13 miles)

Barnoldswick, known locally as Barlik, is the highest town on The LL Canal. It sits about 490 feet above mean sea-level - the highest point on the canal, which I will clamber over tomorrow, is 5 feet higher.

Three other things about Barnoldswick:
1. It is one of almost longest place names in the UK without repeating any letters (Buckfastleigh in Devon, Buslingthorpe in Leeds and Buslingthorpe in Lincs, with 13 letters, are the longest).
2. There's only one B&B in town.
3. Today it was closed.

So, finding accommodation this evening wasn't so easy. A bit more legwork was required. First stop the cafe for their last portion of home-made meat & potato pie with mushy peas, pickled red cabbage and gravy. Second stop the wine bar (all pubs, none of which do b&b, were closed) for a pint of bitter. And where the barmaid helped me locate a b&b via her friend's Facebook. Third stop, a bench in the town centre where I chat with an elderly lady who didn't know she lived in a town with one of the largest place names etc, but who didn't think Barlik, with six letters, was very long. Fourth stop the taxi rank - had enough of walking (and Barlik) - for a lift to The Old Stone Trough, an inn, 2-3 miles distant.

I have an executive room, reduced to £50 (which includes breakfast). It's in an annex, out of earshot of the main building where a live band will play tonight. Executive class rooms are larger than Club class, have bath and shower, and heating controlled by the occupant. Club class are smaller, have shower only, heating as is, and because they are in the main building, loud music - Oasis sound I'm told.

What else? Oh yes - I walked a bit, today mostly through Dales-like scenery, passing the time of day occasionally with people along the way. Enjoyed a pot of tea at The Dalesman Tea Rooms in Gargrave which is on The Pennine Way, a village I have visited before when walking the aforesaid National Trail, but for the life of me, it's a place that I cannot recall any memory of,

This is not a day I will forget though. It'll be stored in the easily accesible Fond Memories section.

Image: Skipton, heading for Barnoldswick.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Leeds & Liverpool Canal Path - Day 2

Shipley - Skipton (16 miles)

News to me upon starting this walk, but common knowledge to canal users (and well-travelled cyclists) no doubt, that all the locks and bridges are numbered and named. (On The LL Canal the lock/bridge numbers ascend/descend from Leeds.) Moreover, the numbers are clearly displayed on site. With that information on the ground and the same details on the map (Geo Project LL Canal Map, £4.49) that I'm carrying, it's easy to establish my precise location. It's just as I wanted; no Ordnance Survey map, compass or GIS, no whistle in my pocket either come to that.

So far at least, there are milestones (and half mile markers) on the towpath which show distances from/to Leeds/Liverpool. The map has mile markers too and it is those that I am using to calculate my daily mileage. The miles claimed do not include anything walked off the towpath - wandering to, from or near the canal.

Not that I have strayed too far from the canal and when I have done so it has been mainly to find food, drink (nearby pubs are shown on tne map) and, with nothing booked, accommodation. Tonight's is a standard B&B - a welcomed warm, drying-out stopover on a grim (up North) night.

Image 1: Milestone
Image 2: Lock Numbers 25-29, Bingley Five Rise Locks (Takes the canal down by a height of 60 feet/18.5 metres.)

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Leeds & Liverpool Canal Path - Day 1

Leeds - Shipley (13 Miles)

The Leeds and Liverpool Canal starts where it joins the River Aire at Granary Wharfe, Leeds city centre. The canal is 127 miles long so I guess that the tow path is about the same length. If you include branches then the canal, at 141 miles, is the longest in the country. It's part of a through route from the North Sea to the Irish Sea via the Aire & Calder Navigation. Construction of The L&L Canal was begun in 1770 by engineer John Longbotham.

Granary Wharfe, like other areas along the waterfront, has undergone extensive regeneration recently. The Royal Armouries Museum, beside the Aire, is purpose-built and houses an absolutely fabulous collection. (Full body armour actually worn by Henry VIII! Amazing!)

And so, this morning, I set off on my stroll - against the flow of: pedestrians hurrying to work in the city centre, cyclists commuting, morons on bikes biking, (I'll try my best not to moan further about cyclists), the blustery (warm) wind, and, as it happens, the water.

I had lunch at The George & Dragon, Apperley Bridge (8+ miles), a nap beside the canal a mile further on (drowsiness brought on by the lunchtime pint of Bulldog Brown I reckon) and arrived Shipley at 15:30.

I could have walked much further but for the strong complaints being transmitted from soles of feet to brain. Ankles up I'm better than fine.

Image 1: The Royal Armouries Museum.
Image 2: River Lock - The start of The Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

Monday, 3 October 2011


Here’s a picture of my dog, Holly, a 12 year-old border terrier. She is the main reason why I’m heading to Cumbria today (a journey brought forward a day in my impatience to get away). Nowadays, Holly’s ideal “walkies” would be for a distance of about a mile where, among other things, there’s an opportunity to cool down occasionally by getting wet on the outside. My preference would be for a longer route, where there’s the chance to cool down in comfort with something wet on the inside. So she’ll stay with family in Cumbria as I go for walkies on my own. Tomorrow, I travel by train to my start point - Leeds.

Considering where to walk and the time available it became clear that I fancied an easy walk; not too many ups and downs, minimum map reading and the time to stop and stare. My list of routes was whittled down to two; The Dales Way and a walk alongside The Leeds and Liverpool Canal. I’ve chosen the latter and set off from Leeds toward Liverpool on Wednesday.

Note the “toward Liverpool”. It’s not my aim to reach Liverpool although I may. The aim is to stroll along the canal path stopping off at suitable cooling-down points along the way.