Old stomping grounds

From Worsley Footbridge No 51 to Crooke Bridge No 47, a distance of 15 miles, 6½ flg and 6 locks.

It felt odd being in Worsley again. The last time I remember being moored here we were moored behind “Tinkerbelle”, which was the next boat, after Mintball, to be built by Ron Tinker. Worsley has changed a lot, the iron stain in the water is much reduced and the hireboat yards are gone, and one of the big pubs has closed.

It was a very quiet night and we made a moderately early start towards Wigan.

Boothstown Basin  had changed a lot since I last went past it. Last time I came past there wasn’t a marina, there weren’t a lot of houses, there wasn’t a closed up pub, but there was a rather large rubbish tip. Ah, how things change.

A lot had changed along the Leigh Branch. Peel Holdings seem to be taking some of their maintenance responsibilities quite seriously and we had to wait for a bit as they moved a mud hopper out of our way where they had been putting in a new stop plank point.

The approach to Leigh really hasn’t improved at all, the canal feels tired and the town still seems to not really care about what could be a big asset, and when you pass the final Bridgewater stop planks and crane and move onto the Leeds and Liverpool not  a lot changes. The whole place feels sad and neglected which is a pity because the market hall is well worth a visit if you need provisions, and it’s just a couple of minutes walk over the bridge.

The scenery as you leave Leigh has changed a lot, and although you are on a high embankment there is less to see than there used to be. The canal is still sinking and in a couple of places the concrete edge is once again level with the water so your wash splashes over the towpath. One thing that has not changed is just how fast you can go along here and it hardly seems as if any time has passed before you reach Plank Lane Bridge No 8  where your BW licence is checked and you continue past the derelict pub (which was still open last time) and continue across the wasteland towards Dover Lock.

As I said, as lot has changed round here, but the wind has not. When it blows it blows, and it pushes you sideways and Mintball assumed her usually “crab” position.

We stopped for lunch near the pub, not because we wanted a drink but because we knew the moorings were good and as usual the wind did its best to stop us mooring.

It is places like Bamfurlong Bridge No 3  and Ince Moss Railway Bridge No 2A  which really show how the landscape has changed round here since the canal was built, with the towpath feet above the canal and almost above roof level.

As we approached Moss Bridge No 2 we saw a bird of prey hovering on the offside and we must have got to within 10 feet of it before it suddenly swooped away.

Poolstock Bottom Lock No 2  hasn’t really changed at all and the winches and chains used to help pull the gates open still come in handy. Poolstock Top Lock No 1 however, has changed. I remember when it was built of wood and leaked like a sieve.

Westwood Power Station is another thing that has changed, in that its gone, but its memory lives on in the various bridges that cross the canal. There are a couple of new bridges before you reach Wigan Junction and take the sharp left turn towards Liverpool.

Henhurst Lock No 86, or Chapel Lane Lock has changed quite a bit, not the lock itself with its crank operated lower gates, but the bridge beyond it. Henhurst Bridge No 52 used to be a solid iron and stone structure which butted right up to the lock with no towpath under it. Now it’s a much bigger bridge, set back from the tail of the lock and it even has a towpath so you don’t need to risk your life crossing the road.

As we approached Dock Yard Lock I felt a little sad. We were approaching the site of the 1983 IWA Rally and the whole area was looking run down. Trencherfield Mill had smashed windows. The old boat yard where Wayfarer Narrowboats were based, and where I worked for several years, and where we met Ron Tinker, who ended up building Mintball, is all derelict, as are the rest of the buildings on the offside between the lock and Pottery Changeline Bridge. Actually there is an awful lot of dereliction round the whole Pier area. The Orwell has closed, as has “The Way We Were”. I know things move on and times change but this was an area that won awards and was a tourist hot spot. Now its derelict and there seem to be no plans to do anything about it. I suppose the only good thing is that if nothing had been done with all the buildings back in 83 then they would have all been knocked down.

Heading out of Wigan you pass what must be an unofficial secret plastic bottle storage compound at Pagefield Lock No 88. One one side of the canal you have the big sheds of the old Pagefield works and on the other, on the far bank of the river Douglas you have the JJB stadium, home of Wigan Athletic football club and Wigan Rugby League club (I refuse to use the stupid name that they adopted when Sky basically bought the game out),

Crooke Farm and the entrance to Crooke Underground Canal where we used to moor Mintball has changed a lot, with more moorings and proper edgings and storage sheds for each mooring.

We moored for the night at Crooke , directly opposite the Crooke Hall Inn where we enjoyed several pints of beer in the evening

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