|Volume 5, Number 11 - Summer 2005|
Linking the Sankey: The Skem Road
In previous issues of CUTTINGS (see map) a member of our Executive, Dave Smallshaw, has described some of the alternative routes proposed for the linking of the Sankey to the main waterways network via the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. He describes now the route through Skelmersdale.
There remains just one further alternative link identified as being a possible route for linking the Sankey Canal to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The route however was virtually dismissed by many, including the writer, as being a fantasy of local government optimism and developers' whimsy. The project would entail numerous locks and would actually go through the centre of the unloved Skelmersdale New Town. Good Heavens! Next thing they will be planning a route over the nearby scenic Beacon country park and involve multi-staircase locks, a boatlift, wheel etc. etc.
After completing the third route's walk I smugly considered a good job done and planned forays further afield in such exotic locations as the Peak Forest and Caldon waterways. It was only after sorting through my link project papers and fell upon the multi-route map of possibilities put forward in the earlier studies that I took a closer look at the proposals and decided, for fairness sake, that I should at least examine this final alternative project through the new town and its environment.
The route taken starts at the St Helens Central railway station, which lies in Shaw Street, by which the station was known until fairly recent times. There is plenty parking available in the near vicinity but as the walk is by nature linear then use of the excellent public transport system is recommended - while it is still available!
You have three alternatives to start this trip. For the energetic the way is straight to the canal by turning right out of the station yard and then right again on Corporation Street until you reach the waterway.
For those who know this first section well, the route may be shortened by taking a bus, from the bus station just up the road from the railway station. From here you can board a frequent bus to take you to the end of the water at Gerard's Bridge where you should alight where the old railway bridge crosses Haresfinch Road. (33,36, 352, 362 services, but check at the Enquiry Office).
From Corporation Street the canal towpath is easily found as it passes the Technology Campus on its way to the New Double Locks, which were renovated with a Derelict Land Grant secured by the St. Helens MBC, following initial work by SCARS work parties and IWA's Waterways Recovery Group. The intervening years have seen a natural deterioration of the site and some work will be required soon to bring this asset back to pristine condition in line with the exciting development planned for the waterway as part of the Council's Eastside Project. At the foot of the lock we need to turn right for a short distance to cross the iron footbridge where a turn left will allow us to retrace our steps along the tail of the lock and follow the straight canal line for half a mile or so until its terminus at the landscaped area around Gerard's Bridge.
This is the first major obstacle to any waterway development as the waterway is fed here with water from the Rainford Brook whose course would be canalised for much of its course and the Brook is culverted under the busy arterial road and then winds around the disused glass making plant, through a tunnel, before skirting round Washway Lane to burrow under the East Lancashire Road further on.
To follow the course as best we can we need to turn right at the rail bridge which used to carry the line to Rainford Junction and Ormskirk, on which the "Skem Jazzer" ran on many a Saturday night in years past, and proceed up the road, bearing around Haresfinch Park and into Washway Lane. The road now links up with the Brook again which can be spotted in the wooded land on the left and, as the road approaches the noisy "Lancs", the safest route is to take the new road fashioned out of the old rail tracked and under the busy inter urban racetrack. The alternative is to follow the Brook's route as closely as possible but will entail a hazardous road crossing. Whichever way you take you will end up at the site of the old Moss Bank level crossing and station which were situated by the public house of that name.
The route here takes us straight ahead here and into a quiet residential area until the road dwindles to a footpath and we have finally shaken of the town's environs and will shortly re-acquaint ourselves with the Rainford Brook when we take the left path to cross the stream on Sandy Lane, a leafy path which brings us into Crank Road in a short time. A short walk to the right here will take us to see the ornate road crossing at Dagnall's bridge.
By retracing our steps from the bridge the footpath goes to the right down the side of a residence into the well-used Berrington's Lane, which continues for a good distance and brings us to the fringes of Rainford. The brook runs a little way to the right and, at the end of this path, by the small Hill Foot Farm we hit tarmac again and follow Mill Lane right, over the bridge carrying the road over the brook, past some industrial units until a footpath appears on our left. This path edges the industrial units before arriving at residential property. Having reached the road again we need to bear left and towards the busy by-pass. We must suffer the traffic along here for a little while before we can turn right, crossing the Brook again, and skirting the cricket field to arrive by the village centre and parish church.
Rainford has developed from its agricultural roots to become a thriving residential location by reason of its proximity to the various conurbations it adjoins but yet remains apart from. The centre has shops of all types and fine eating and drinking establishments to cater for all tastes and pockets. The walker may well do worse than to tarry a while in these environs before heading northerly through the town towards the by-passing A570 trunk road, passing the Bridge Inn ‘en route'.
The path so far has been along the course of the Rainford Brook and follows the same line as the projected link to the Leeds & Liverpool at Melling, outlined in a previous exploration but the parting of the two routes will need to be effected before the Brook dives under the trunk road. The way for those on foot is along the B road out of Rainford until the end of the residential property is reached and Dairy Farm Road runs down to the busy dual carriageway. The pavement here crosses to the right and a public footpath branches off to the right about 100 yards further along.
You can look down the slope by here and see that the waterway would need to cross the triangular land on its climb out of the valley and would thread its way roughly along the line of the footpath we need to take. It would then sweep around the field ahead, skirting the line of trees, which lie at the side of the old railway until the single track rail link from Liverpool to Wigan is met. The way is along this footpath, which can get extremely wet underfoot after rain (BIG boots may be needed!), turning right at the first junction and making for the farmstead which, by turning left there will lead you to the well trodden path along the trees and to the old railway crossing on the edge of the settlement of Rainford Junction.
The railway would cause the canal builders a dilemma but traffic is light on this line and suitable bridge works would need to be considered to take the waterway under the track and then skirt the housing, running along the edge of the sports field and turning easterly to cross under the old rail track bed, north of the houses, where it meets the minor road which links the area to the fringes of Skelmersdale over Holland Moss. The walker will need to detour after leaving the sports field and turn right by a local club to meet up with another road at a "T" junction. A recommended detour here is to the right for a short distance where, by the station is the well appointed Junction Inn where, I'm told, you can get both food and good ale. You can also get trains back from here to Merseyside or Wigan if required, though not on Sundays, I'm afraid.
A left turn at the junction into Ferny Knoll Road will, in a short while, take you to a point where the road bends to the right and, if you look left, you will see the gap through which the waterway would appear. The canal would then need to virtually follow this long straight minor, but traffic-busy, road over the open landscape until the first signs of new town development encroach. The mossland agricultural properties line the route as the road gradually now descends and you are afforded a good view from here of the encroaching higher lands of the western Pennine region.
In an attempt to get away from this busy link road which narrows in places and needs considerable care in travelling along by foot, due notice was taken of a footpath which branches off to the left about a mile along the way where the road becomes Nipe Lane and then turns right into Holland Moss Lane, along the front of various residential properties. The path then continues on the map to an underpass under the fast approaching M58, the same route that the canal will have to take to enter the Tawd Valley. At the end of the properties the unmetalled road turns right and the route of the footpath straight on vanishes, the course blocked by heaps of soil. Undeterred, your intrepid explorer pressed ahead, squelching around the piles of earth and gradually reaching a wooded piece of land. This, in fact turned out to be a disguised slagheap of some long past colliery, but no sign of the path. The only way is up, as the song goes, and, after clambering up the steep slope a path was finally found which led down towards the underpass.
Fifty yards from the link up with the road the way is blocked by a newly erected five-barred gate and, on my approach a man, accompanied by two Alsatian dogs, appeared from a small field where horses were being exercised. He politely asked if he could be of assistance and I explained that I was trying to follow the footpath shown as a right of way on the maps. He informed me that the information was wrong, and that the vexed subject of access had been raised with the local authority when he bought the land a short time ago. He had opened a riding school and did not want people coming through his land scaring the horses. He then let me know in passing that he was a fitness fanatic, often took his sports gun into the woodland at the back to hunt whatever and left his dogs on site at all times to guard his property.
I, being a fully paid up member of the Ramblers Association, thought of arguing the toss but having considered that, (a) he did look physically pretty fit (and so did his dogs), and (b) I didn't fancy back tracking all the way back up and down the slag heap, decided to act daft and, whilst not apologising for any trespass, listened to his story and then asked if he wouldn't mind me crossing through on this instance. To be fair the man was at all times polite and reasonable but firm. "To live and fight another day" was brought quickly to mind and I carried on to my intended goal. I will leave the local authority to sort that little lot out but, in the meantime, suggest that anyone following my footsteps should stay on Nipe Lane, brave the traffic, and arrive safely at the underpass under the M58 where I now found myself.
We now enter the famed mysteries of the Skelmersdale traffic management system and its myriad of huge traffic roundabouts. The proposed waterway will have no problem getting under the motorway as there is ample space underneath but there will be some interesting structural projects to deal with the road pattern before it dives down to meet the River Tawd. The walker needs to follow the road pattern along Whiteledge Road, towards the shopping centre, passing the entrance to the Matalan distribution centre and across two large intersections, named Thorne and Bone Islands, and in to Southway until, under the shadow of a footpath and by a bus stop, Yewdale branches off to the left and a pathway leads off by the side and goes past the Skelmersdale College buildings towards the Yewdale residential area.
By the way, you will have noticed that, whilst in the new town, the roads have no conventional footpaths. The planners probably forgot about people walking in the heady days of the 1960s.
We are now just by the main shopping area of the new town and after passing the school a pathway to the right takes the walker finally down to reach the River Tawd emerging from its culverted path under the traffic systems and into its deep cutting way below the modern landscape. We are now in the secluded area of the Tawd Valley Park and our way here is to simply follow the river on its way deep below the hustle and bustle of urban development for some two miles or so.
The Tawd Valley Park, established by the West Lancashire authority, follows the course of the Tawd and is a pleasant valley of open grassland and established woodland. There are on offer three self-guided trails to help the visitor enjoy different aspects of the Park.
"Wildlife on Your Doorstep" (1¼ miles) takes a route to enable the appreciation of the wildflower meadows, mature trees and hedges and butterflies and insects, whilst "Heritage of the Tawd" (1 mile) looks at some of the remains of the mining history of the valley and "Geographical Discovery" (1 mile) explains how the local landscape has been formed with clues that still exist.
So endeth the commercial. As I mentioned earlier, this walk was undertaken just post Christmas and after a period of pretty heavy rain. The pathway through the park was virtually impassable in places unless you borrow a set of waders from the SCARS work trailer! The proximity to urban life has meant that the pathways of this extremely pleasant valley have been extensively used for the pursuance of motorbike scrambling or whatever the latest model of mini powered bike will do. The paths which have been so carefully created to allow the town's citizens to enjoy a traffic free walk in rural setting have been ground away and it would seem that the authority have given up the maintenance as a bad job and left to conserve other sites were there is less chance of their work being sabotaged.
In saying this, the walk is still well worth it and will be even better when spring arrives and the trees bear their new leaves - but go there when it hasn't rained for a while (that limits things somewhat!) and even then go well shod. For further details you may need to contact the West Lancashire ranger Service on 01695 622794 or look up the park on www.westlancsdc.gov.uk/countryside/index.cfm and for an excellent website on the fascinating history of old Skelmersdale a visit to www.cousto.freeserve.co.uk is highly recommended.
At Cobs Brow tunnel the trail ends and the walker is now on the fringe of the town. The pathway rises up to the right of the tunnel mouth and on to the new arterial road. A right turn up the rising ground will take us up to the roundabout which links up with the older Cobs Brow Lane from Lathom. The stream, meanwhile, emerges from its tunnel just north of the old route and then continues through woodland for another couple of miles through the Lathom Park estate and the campsite of the Merseyside and District Scout Association's Tawd Vale grounds, both regrettably not open to public access.
At the roundabout the way is left, past the Maharishi School on Cobs Brow corner, and along the road, which winds its way to Newburgh. This route is pretty busy with traffic and extreme care needs to be taken here when walking along, as there is no refuge in places for the pedestrian. At Newburgh you will need to bear left on the Ormskirk bound main road until you meet up with the entrance to the Scout Camp and then turn right down a footpath to link up with the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Spencer's Turn Bridge a little way from where the river passes underneath the waterway on its way to a rendezvous with the River Douglas.
The light was fading, however as the writer approached the picturesque village green and the welcoming Red Lion Inn and, after a quick refreshment the decision to abandon the last half mile was unanimously passed and a quick stride down to Parbold and it's rail station with links to Wigan and Southport was the final chore of the now chilling winter's evening.
This really is the final exploration of the possible links for the Sankey to the national waterways network, the four routes taken will lead you through varying landscapes and communities and each has its good and bad points. When the canals were first mooted the choice of a linking route would have been taken based on practicality and trade, nowadays the criterion is mainly on through which area can the developers get the most subsidies to fund the project and for that reason what we may perceive to be the best route may not succeed. Whatever the decision the reader still has four walking routes to enjoy which already link the Leeds and Liverpool with the Sankey Canal.
Site design and content © 2002 - 2009 Sankey Canal Restoration Society