We were the only ones stood waiting for a bus on the deserted slip road off the busy A590 roundabout but sure enough the 555 appeared and took us back to Holme and bridge 149 on the canal. Driving up the motorway this morning the snow covered Lakeland mountains looked majestic, blue skies and bright sun promised a good day – on the Lancaster Canal not those mountains. I have just realised we are now walking in Cumbria so ignore my tagging of Lancashire, somebody moved the boundaries.
Today’s stretch is along isolated truncated parts of the canal which in its demise suffered at the hands of the road builders, notably the M6. Despite this there were some beautiful stretches of countryside as well as awful noise from the motorway.
The start on the edge of Holme is dominated by Farleton Fell to the East. we could trace defunct tracks used to bring limestone down from quarries to the canalside basins. Over to the west the cliffs of Whitescar were prominent with the Coniston range behind. Soon the canal was blocked by the M6. A diversion through fields alongside the motorway to a crossing meant backtracking, for the sake of completeness, to the point where the canal emerges from a culvert under the road. Swans were starting to nest build on this watery cul-de-sac. I recall the kingfisher that flashed past somewhere back near Galgate, haven’t seen much else but ducks, oh and the odd Heron.
Through Farleton remains of one of the stables used for the ‘fast’ packet boats was passed, horses were changed every 5 to 7 miles to maintain momentum. Remember, as the cars speed by on the M6 and trains on the nearby main line, the 57miles from Preston to Kendal took passengers 8 hours. The industrial haulage was more like a week for the round trip.
A little further on and there was an aqueduct over Farleton Beck, I dropped down to view the structure and found what appeared to be a fish ladder next to the beck, but I think is just an overflow from the canal. Notice the first use of beck, a Norse word for stream used mainly in the north of England.
Another stretch by navigable water ended at a culvert under the A65, we used the underpass and again a short while later at the M6 again. There is no way the Northern Reaches of this canal will be restored. History is littered with bad, short sighted planning decisions. We are still making plenty of them unfortunately. In between on the short section of canal swans glide regardless of the situation.
From here on to Stainton the canal is navigable if you can get a boat into it. The only craft we saw was the Lancaster Canal Trust’s small boat moored at Crooklands. The main canal feeder from Killington Reservoir enters, disappointingly as a mere trickle through a fence bordering an industrial unit. Killington Lake is known to many for its M6 service station on the way south. Up to 17 million gallons of water a day enter the canal here!
There is an aqueduct over the Peasey Beck which supplied the gunpowder factory mentioned below and is interconnected to the Killington supply. In the vicinity we passed a canal side coal wharf and the larger Wakefield’s wharf which was connected by a tram-way to a nearby gunpowder factory at Gatebeck, yet another place to explore. Saltpeter and sulphur came from foreign lands but the charcoal and water power were local.
Lunch was taken at the Canal Trust’s restored packet stables but was interrupted by a short hail storm on an otherwise sunny cold and clear day. Looking back on our meandering route Farleton Fell looked surprisingly close.
The section northwards was through glorious English countryside and would be a joy to canoe.
The semi functioning canal finishes finally at a damn where the water no longer exists. The next length of canal, optimistically named First Furlong, is being cleared and re-puddled with the hope of returning to water. But a few volunteers will be no match for the hundreds of navvies working two centuries ago.
A dry section can be followed to the entrance to Hincaster Tunnel, the only one on the canal, When built to go under the hill there was no towpath so horses had to be taken over on the path we now follow. There is much interesting stonework associated with the canal structures here and the modern railway goes overhead. How often do the railways parallel the canal? Down the otherside is another packet stable.
A short stretch by the dry overgrown canal course is made interesting by installations of models, figures and other artifacts introduced no doubt by some local children who may have been involved in the clearing of the ‘towpath’. A nice touch much appreciated.
The canal has been demolished by the A590 and a lane is taken. Below is the estate of Levens Hall, which is well worth exploring. A short climb brings us up to the course of the canal, now in filled, and a field crossed to the obvious isolated canal bridge,177. We are above the interesting Gothic like Sedgwick Hall which was previously a school and now converted to individual living accommodations.