Thursday, October 29, 2009

Town and country

The sun was shining as we set off this morning, promising a good day. And it was, very enjoyable.

We were entering the retail belt surrounding Blackburn pretty well straight away, car dealerships and carpet and furniture superstores all competing for that elusive pound.
Then into more residential areas and older urban industry.
Still not as bad cruise, though.
About an hour saw us arrive at Blackburn Top Lock, the first of 6 dropping through the town.

Blackburn Top Lock, seagulls, a dredger and tugs.
The water up to now had been very dirty, lots of suspended silt and stained plastic and glass bottles. The presence of the dredger explained this.

We caught up with the dredging crew part way down the flight. They were moving the gear to the bottom of the flight to continue with the good work, having done all the bridge ‘oles through the town, and a good stretch above the locks.

The only problem was, the locks are not big enough to accommodate a pan (the unpowered barge used as a floating skip) and a tug at the same time. So each of the pans had to be hauled down the flight by hand. Thankfully they’d emptied them at the top of the flight, otherwise it would have been really hard work!

Bow hauling down the flight.
Understandably this slowed us down a bit, but I had a very interesting chat with the gaffer. He’s an ex boatman who used to run general cargoes on the Grand Union, Nene and North Oxford and Ashby. He came off the water in 1969, as things were getting pretty bad by then, very few loads and the structure of the network falling apart.

Between Locks 55 and 56
Man on bike sculpture outside the Groundwork Trust Office.

Unusual gate gear on the bottom gates of L56.
When the road was widened there was no room for conventional balance beams, so a quadrant shaped rack and pinion arrangement was installed instead. It’s a pity there’re not all like this, they’re a lot easier to use!

We dropped out of the bottom of the flight just before noon.

Out of Blackburn Bottom Lock
The 3 pans are those that have been hauled by manpower down the flight. The crew were heading back up to fetch the dredger next, then the 2 tugs.

Leaving the town the canal passes through residential suburbs, giving us the chance to inspect peoples back gardens.

This chap must collect street furniture….

Then we moved out into the country, under the M65 for the last time as we headed more southerly towards Chorley and Wigan.

Autumn Colour
We pulled over on the VM at Withnell Fold at around 2 o'clock.

Withnell Fold Visitor Moorings, opposite one of the old paper mills.
Opposite is one of the paper mills that used to be dotted about the area, making use of the many streams and rivers coming from the higher ground. The building now houses several industrial units. The old filter beds and sludge lagoons have been adopted by wildlife and are now a nature reserve.

It’s been another fine day, warm in the sunny spells, but with a bit of a breeze developing later. I’ve lost count of the number of people who’ve called from the towpath – “ Very mild isn’t it. You know, it was snowing this time last year….”

The village of Withnell Fold is interesting. Built in 1843 to accommodate workers in the paper mill, it used to have a Co-op, school/chapel and Reading Room. These buildings still exist, though now are residential. The earliest houses were built in the form of a hollow square, with one side missing. Occupying the gap is the village stocks! Cobbles are still in place on most of the streets. The owner and builder of the mill and village went by the wonderful name of Thomas Blinkhorn Parke and came from a Chorley family of cotton mill owners.
There’s a lot of info here.

Withnell Fold and stocks
The distinctive mill chimney was saved from demolition by the villagers.
Locks 6, miles 9½

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