16 May 2008

The road to Wigan Pee-er

One of the great joys of narrowboating is ‘the find’. The special mooring, the cracking pub, the top notch butcher, that rarity who understands your electrical system, or just that glorious stretch of canal you come upon for the first time....and know you’ll revisit time and again.

Harking back to the holiday that criminally remained unblogged about, our find was the Leeds and Liverpool as it ran though the Douglas Valley. Don’t tell anyone but we thought it was gorgeous, not just because we had it pretty much to ourselves (“Wow, you’re the first boat we’ve seen all day) but because it was such an unexpected treat, a revelation. We toddled on as far as Lathom junction, where the Rufford Branch heads Douglas and Ribble-wards, and would love to have gone further. One day we surely will, particularly as the Liverpool Link opens next year, offering another incentive with a pioneering cruise under the wing of the Liver Birds. I wonder how much the Link will affect traffic levels? They’ll surely rise, which overall is a great thing, although being a selfish cow for a second, it would be lovely to think that it could remain forever a remote hideaway, spared the old ‘Alrewas throng’. I don’t know whether we just caught it at a good time, which sometime does happen (Fradley moorings empty on a high summer’s evening!!)Maybe it gets busier in July/August but then again, we were up there in half term, and, as soon as we came back through the Narnian wardrobe that is Preston Brook tunnel, we were straight back to three boats an hour, rather than per day.

Some travel tips if you want them. Heading north, Dunham Massey is an excellent place to stop for the night. There’s plenty of good mooring, it’s pretty and quiet and you’re well positioned for the schlep through the Manchester ‘burbs. The next day you can aim for Waters Meeting and either head into the city centre and the safe, plentiful moorings at Castlefield or trek on and out to Worsley (for a shorter day) or on through Leigh to Dover Lock (for a longer day). There’s nothing to worry about particularly. Amongst the urban grot are one or two gems of industrial heritage and the Waterways Wonder that is the Barton Swing Aqueduct. It gave me a small dose of the willies - which doesn’t bode well for the Ponty-wot-not – but the views up and downstream of the MSC were impressive.

At Dover Lock you are then but a short hop to Wigan (stop for a pie and a look around this attractive town). My dogs showed little respect for the iconic Wigan Pier, one cocking his leg with gay abandon, although truth be told, a pair of bent railway sleepers is hardly anything to get excited by. Once past The JJB stadium, it doesn’t take you long at all until you’re into the Douglas Valley proper. With its swaying trees, lush meadows and gently rolling hills, you find yourself in another piece of sylvan heaven. Go, stay, enjoy.

P.S And if you like curry, stop just below Dean Lock and walk back to the M6 bridge. From there, the Baby Elephant Indian is just a couple of minutes’ walk away at the next bridge. Pretty tasty, and once you’re stuffed full of poppadums and pasanda, you can just roll back home along the towpath

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