Tag Archives: Long Distance Walks

SOUTH PENNINE RING – Manchester to Rochdale.

This was a 12 mile day full of interest with old mills coming at me thick and fast. The Metrolink tram took me to Piccadilly and I quickly found my way onto the canal basin where the Rochdale Canal emerges from the depths having already passed 9 locks since Castlefield. 3 years ago Sir High and I had braved these subterranean passageways on our Cheshire Ring jaunt.

Today my way was blocked by a locked gate meaning I had to retrace my steps and try again on the opposite side. The numbers on the bridges didn’t seem to tally with my map until I realised I was confusing lock numbers with bridges.  Not a good start, you shouldn’t get lost on a canal!

The Ancoats area of Manchester where the Rochdale Canal next passes through is known, tongue in cheek, as The New Islington because of all the new buildings many which utilise the old mills and warehouses in luxurious conversions. Marinas dot the developments. It is good to see this rather than dereliction, vandalism and demolition. The cranes are busy again with city centre living.

Some famous buildings are passed – Brownsfield Mill the old AVRO factory for aircraft manufacture;  the Royal  Mill a rebuilt 20th century cotton mill now under residential use, originally named New Old Mill a plaque commemorates a royal visit in 1942 and hence the name change;  the Beehive a former cotton mill connected with Sankey’s soap at a later date now earmarked for commercial use. There are many more. Names allude to the past – Cotton Fields, Coal Pits Lock etc.

But before long I’m back amongst average housing, urban sprawl and litter. The honking Canada Geese are everywhere fouling the towpath. Even the graffiti is not up to standard. But the sun is shining, there are few people about and I feel glad to be setting off on a new exploration.

To compensate there is the fine 19th century Victoria Mill canal side, a former cotton spinning mill. It was designed as a 6 storey double mill with a shared central chimney. Now office and residential use.

The next area is Newton Heath which had an industrious past associated with the canal – die works, bleach works, a tannery, rope works, glass works, brick works as well as the textile mills. A row of maisonettes is named after one of the young Man United players killed in the Munich air crash, 1958, I wonder if the other 7 are likewise nearby, I wish I’d looked.

I nip up a side street for a morning coffee with toast and jam in a basic cafe frequented by locals lingering over their fried breakfasts. Modest housing fronts onto the canal in contrast to the large Regent Mill whose brickwork is exquisite.It bears the names of Russell Hobbs and Remington and I believe they are still trading there.

Failsworth arrives with Aldi, Lidl, Tesco and KFC, the latter temporarily closed due to lack of chickens which has almost reached a national disaster according to some news outlets. The canal continue obliviously to pass the large Ivy Mill. This cotton mill was converted for aircraft assembly during WW2 and is now office space.A brief stretch of ‘countryside’ was passed through before the canal is squeezed under the M60 without a towpath, an elaborate foot bridge over the motorway reunited me on the other side heading for the Boat and Horses pub. A name recollecting the passage of hundreds of horse drawn cargo boats, it did not look inviting today having become a rotisserie and carvery for roadside travelers. The  nearby J.W. Lees Greengate brewery has produced real ale since 1828 and is still family run. I couldn’t pass through the area without sampling their product so at the next more modest canalside pub, Rose of Lancashire, I had a quick half. This inn opened in the early 1800’s as the canal was being developed and was a haunt of local radicals and reformers trying to influence parliament to improve the lot of the working class. The Peterloo Massacre 1819, in Manchester, was a defining moment in that struggle. The canal winds its way through the outskirts of Oldham with the railway a constant companion. This is the Manchester to Leeds engineered by George Stephenson and opened in 1841, I was to become well acquainted with its course in the next few days.  In the vicinity the railway crosses the canal on a beautiful cast iron bridge.

Over the River Irk, past the open spaces of Chadderton Park before more locks rise at Slattocks.

The next barrier is the M62 where the canal has been diverted under a culvert with an ingenious floating towpath. The original line is a boggy passage to the left. A lad was fishing for pike with a large lure which he expertly cast down the water. A previous fisherman told me that it was too cold for the fish, there was almost a layer of ice on the water.

The way into Castleton was enlivened by a cheery mural from a local primary school.

Just when you thought you’d had enough mills the massive Arrow appears. Cotton has given way to storage. I’m not sure how the canal goes under the M627 but I was diverted through retail parks to meet up with it for the last pleasant mile into Rochdale where I was accompanied by many dog walkers. Well the canal, despite its name, ironically doesn’t go into Rochdale but skirts the town at a discreet distance. Things have changed in Rochdale since the mills closed.

The train journey back on that line to Manchester Victoria only took 15mins.



I can’t get away from canals at present. Family duties will see me down in Manchester for a few days so I decided to look at this circuit which I’ve had on the back boiler for awhile.

The South Pennine Ring is a 71mile circuit north of Manchester combining parts of the Rochdale, Calder & Hebble, Huddersfield Broad and Narrow and Ashton Canals.

Completion of the circuit by boat has only been possible since 2002 with the restoration of the Rochdale and of the Huddersfield Narrow. Enthusiastic and dedicated pressure groups made this feasible but major engineering work was needed, particularly where motorways crossed the defunct system. Money came from many sources and various plaques reflect the Millennium  Lottery Charity funding.There are a large number of locks, needed to cross the Pennines twice, and the highest and longest tunnel [Standedge] in Britain. The original canals played an important role in the area’s industrial and weaving heritage. Several interesting towns are visited and  there are reminders of the past everywhere. Obviously the only canal traffic now is pleasure boats but the towpath gives the additional benefit of a long distance circular walk.

I had previously walked most of the Ashton from Piccadilly to Portland Basin three years ago.  So the plan was to walk the rest in a clockwise direction over a few days using my son’s house in  Stretford as my base, taking public transport at the beginning and end of each day. An economical and fairly practical way of completing the ring. This would be another step towards my fully fit walking rehabilitation since overuse damage to my left hip’s ligaments last year.

An excellent map is available –



LANCASTER CANAL 8. Sedgwick to Kendal.

For our last day the sky was blue, the ground hard with frost and the surroundings covered in snow – magic. Of course this was all planned.

We were soon back up to the line of the canal and making good progress through the fields on the edge of Sedgwick which seemed to have some pleasant housing tucked away from modern hectic life. The village first enlarged due to the nearby gunpowder works on the River Kent, subsequently residential properties have been built in what was probably the estate of Sedgwick Hall mentioned in my last post. The canal crosses a road on a skewed aqueduct in the middle of the village, these were built for strength.

Lovely countryside was traversed with drumlins to our right, isolated bridges and then woodland giving variety.

Looking to the east above St. Marks Church in Natland was an attractive Fell I didn’t recognise, looking on the map it is named The Helm and has an Iron Age Fort [Castlesteads] at its southern end. Yet another place to explore on a return visit.

Onwards under more isolated bridges with the lower Kentmere fells  in the background. This area is well walked being just a stroll out of town.One can see why Kendal is a popular place to live – a lively historic town in beautiful surroundings.

And then we were into the streets and parks of Kendal, the line of the canal still walk-able with frequent signs. A walking cycling corridor out of town. Passing behind the leisure centre the site of old coal wharves has been utilised by local schools to provide environmental studies. 


One renovated bridge had iron work alluding to the history of rope-making  hereabouts.

A crossover bridge is encountered and duly crossed, there have only been three on the whole of the canal. Obvious old mills are passed, the castle is up to the right somewhere. More filled in wharves at Lound, with informative interpretation boards,  and then the main terminal basin is reached, now only identified by warehouses. These are now used for other purposes though some have links back to the past. A small building is signed as being the original ticket office for the packet passenger boats. In the last warehouse, now modernised, is the head quarters of Gilkes manufacturing turbines on this site since 1856. Apparently inside are some original features of the basin.One can only imagine the industry and flow of goods right in the centre of Kendal in the 19th century. A return visit is needed to explore this industrial heritage further.

Below is an old aerial shot of the terminal basin [Stricklandgate House Trust]


Our way across Gooseholme Bridge was closed due to flood damage, so we braved the traffic on a road bridge to reach Baba Ganoush for a welcome bowl of delicious soup. This was followed by the three of us ‘running’ to catch the 555 bus, thanks to the driver for waiting for us.

So my journey up the canal from Preston is completed. It has been a very pleasant stroll helping my hip ligament rehabilitation but more than that has been full of interest and kindled my desire to explore this area further.


LANCASTER CANAL 7. Holme to Sedgwick.

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.

Wakefield’s Wharf.

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.

Another small feeder comes in and then an aqueduct over Stainton Beck. Storm Desmond two years ago caused serious damage to the stonework and repairs will be costly.

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 infilled, 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.

Our car is not far away leaving us a short section of ‘canal’ to complete into Kendal.

Corniest boat name of the day category. We only saw one boat all today … Waterwitch, it will have to do.



LANCASTER CANAL 6. Carnforth to Holme.

Highlight of the day was a flash of turquoise – the first Kingfisher I’ve seen for a year.

Progress up the canal is being made slowly with my self imposed limit of 8miles flat walking, however there is no deterioration in the hip ligaments which are improving with my phsio exercises. fingers crossed. I have just realised that in 60 years of walking and climbing this was the first time I’d sought the help of a physiotherapist.

Today’s companions were Peter and Denise again. My car was left at Holme and the bus taken back to Carnforth. I’m making good use of my bus pass on this walk, maybe this could be developed into a theme. There is one blogger I’ve come across who ticks off the Wainwrights using only public transport, well not the summits themselves but just getting to the areas.

We meander out of Carnforth with interesting road and railway bridges. The first bridge as we leave the town has been sympathetically widened at some time to accommodate more traffic. Bridges under the motorway are more brutal.

Rural calm returns as we reach the aqueduct over the River Keer, the converted mill below has a restored waterwheel and was coincidentally almost purchased by Peter and Denise when they moved to the area. Looked a bit dark and damp to me. Old milestones are visible along this stretch, 17miles to Kendal!

At nearby Capernwray we were entertained by a tractor trying to manoeuvrer a mammoth caravan down the lane under the railway bridge. The attached holiday site is in an old limestone quarry, Wegber, with cranes still visible and a little further a short canal branch into the quarry area for loading the limestone.

We passed by Borwick Hall, just visible through the trees on the other side, an Elizabethan manor house. And then we were at Tewitfield a significant location on the canal. So far I’ve walked 42 miles dead level on the 70ft contour but today things change and the canal, now defunct, rises 75ft in half a mile. This northern section to Kendal was opened in 1819 and was closed in 1968 with the building of the M6. 8 locks lifted the canal from the basin before level going to Kendal. The basin where the canal navigation now ends is a holiday complex with not particularly well designed apartments.


Creeping alongside the motorway we reach the start of the ascending lock system. Plans have been muted for years to restore this northern section but they have come to very little.

At the top of the lock system the motorway delivers the final ‘coup de grâce’ …

We find a way across the M6 and resume our stroll along the tow path as if nothing had happened. Ahead was the distinctive outline of Farleton Fell, once one of our popular evening climbing venues on less than solid limestone.

Passing the settlement of Holme Mill we saw the mill pond supplying a once industrious linen mill. Flax was grown in the area for the production of linen before King cotton took over.

We didn’t enjoy the boggy stretch of ‘towpath’ ahead…

However there was a final triumphant flourish on arriving in Holme with the appearance of well preserved coke ovens on the far bank. I mentioned these in my last post when we were unable to identify any. The ‘beehive’ ovens were used to produce better firing smokeless fuel from coal for the use of blacksmiths and bakers, and later for iron smelting.

Turned out to be an interesting day. Will be back to bridge 149 as soon as possible to complete the journey.

There were few boats on this section of the canal so my ‘Corniest boat name of the day’ has become corniest boat of the day…

‘Sheds R Us’

LANCASTER CANAL 5. Lancaster to Carnforth.

Another change of personnel today,  JD joined Peter and I on a windy morning. The highlight of the day was crossing the Lune Aqueduct on the edge of Lancaster. The walk from the pedestrian bridge [103] in town was through the rather dull suburbs but by the time we reached the aqueduct open countryside was visible, or at least a golf course. Rennie’s aqueduct opened in 1797, after 5years construction, to much acclaim. There are five arches scanning 70ft 50ft above the Lune. Recently there has been a significant refurbishment with improvements to the lining and the stonework. We should have descended the steps to view the structure from the river bank. Instead  we strolled over the exposed towpath made safer by the ornate balustrade. Lancaster castle was glimpsed downstream. Lunesdale upstream.

The next landmark was the new ‘milestone’ bridge carrying the M6 relief road to Morecambe.  This was a massive structure compared to the usual arched stone bridges. One of the latter in the vicinity has been widened more sympathetically to accommodate the road, a date of 1921 is visible.

Along side the canal every 6-7 miles or so were stables for the fleet of horses enabling the ‘fast’ passenger boat from Preston to Kendal, done in 8 – 9 hours. The masonry remains of one is next the towpath, easily missed.

Through Hest Bank and Bolton-Le-sands we seemed to hover drone-like above the houses with views across Morecambe Bay. At one time ships would harbour on the Morecambe Bay coast here with goods to be transferred up to the canal, the opening of the Glasson Dock branch in 1826 superseded this. Somewhere between the two villages is a good example of a swing bridge, now leading to private houses. We contemplated on how it would be interesting to withdraw access to unwanted visitors by a swing of this bridge.

I was on the lookout for old coke ovens at two sites into Carnforth, bridges 125 and 127, but disappointed with the outcome. No real sign of the beehive structures across the other bank, the low sun making visibility difficult. The ovens were used to produce better firing smokeless fuel for blacksmiths and bakers and later for iron smelting. They are supposed to look like this,,


The basin to the south of Carnforth was busy with boats and dog walkers but before we knew it we were back in a rural setting before the children’s playground announced bridge 128 on the Kellet road. Time to find a bus back.


Corniest boat name of the day…


LANCASTER CANAL 4. Galgate to Lancaster.


Today Peter’s wife, Denise, joined us for a shorter walk along the canal into Lancaster. It didn’t turn out as short as expected. Having completed our walk we caught an early bus back from Lancaster. As we were leaving the city several police cars, ambulances and a fire engine overtook us with lights flashing and sirens blaring. There was obviously trouble up ahead, possibly on the motorway but soon we were stopped and the A6 closed due to a serious accident. We were going nowhere. Students alighted from the bus and started walking up a side road and cycle path into the University. There was no choice but to follow and soon we were wandering through the extensive campus hoping to bypass the closure and walk into Galgate. This proved an interesting diversion, even getting a close up view of the silk mill there. The Air Ambulance helicopter was in action so I hope those involved in the accident are not seriously injured. Will donate to their charity on the next occasion.

Anyhow to get back to the start. Smoke was drifting up from several residential boats moored in the basin at Galgate. I noticed on a wall a bank of post boxes for the boaters, I suppose you need some sort of address for communication if you are permanently living on a barge. The usual gentle meandering walk took us into the countryside on what was a dull day so views to the hills were limited. Conditions under foot varied. Occasional roundels indicated we were sharing the route with a named walk, A Breath Of Fresh Air, which takes in interesting areas of the Lune, coast and canal around Lancaster. http://soulfulhorwich.org.uk/abofa/index.shtml

After just over a mile we entered the wooded Deep Cutting which takes the canal through glacial deposits to avoid a long detour, quite a contrast to the open land. Apparently this is the place to see kingfishers but not today.

At its northern end the outskirts of Lancaster are reached. On the left at the entrance to a new development, Aldcliffe, the old gate house has been left to rot, shame. On the contrary there are some splendid houses on the other bank. Glimpses of the castle came into view. After passing under the main railway line city centre wharves were  reached. On the right was the converted boat house where packet boats were repaired after being lifted into the upper floor. On the adjoining ex British Waterways yard are new developments with the old crane preserved. The tall chimney is the hospital incinerator. At one point we have to cross over to the other bank for a short distance, the bridge is constructed to allow the horses over without unhitching. Student accommodation has been built alongside the canal and with a few pubs in old warehouses the area has a good ambience. A lot of money has been spent in Lancaster in the last few years and by look of things quite wisely. There is a fine bridge bearing the name of a local blacksmith at the time, 1876, when the bridge was widened.Leaving the canal at a pedestrian bridge, we wander through streets to board the ill fated bus.


The Silk Mill back at Galgate …



Corniest boat name of the day…

The forecast is not good for the next few days so I’m not sure when I’ll be out again for episode 5, anyhow I think my hip needs a rest. I’ll just stick to the exercises my physiotherapist has given me.


And for completeness our homeward detour…