Wigan (home of northern soul)


We had to have a cruise on Wednesday as we wanted to get to Wigan by Thursday.  We were lucky with the weather, even though rain was forecast for most of the day, as we ended up in sunshine and changing into shorts and tee-shirts. 

Fully prepared, with waterproofs at the ready, before setting out on Wednesday

The section of the Leeds & Liverpool canal we have been travelling along since Leigh is in an area that used to be riddled with coal mines.  The mining caused the canal to subside over its lifetime and each time that happened the banks were built up with pit waste.  This was done to such an extent that the canal now runs on an embankment through the surrounding countryside. 

The surface signs of the mines have long gone, and a lot of work has gone into preserving the areas alongside the canal as nature reserves.  During the day we passed many mosses, meres and flashes; couple those with the meadows and woodlands along the way and it must be an ornithologist’s dream.  Not so good for butterflies though but I did see my first common blue of 2018 when in one of the locks 😉

Talking about the work that has been done on creating the nature reserves, a lot has also been carried out to encourage the towpath walkers, including using old stanking planks as benches:


Several of the original locks were moved to different sites or removed completely to counteract the rebuilding due to subsidence over the last two centuries.  A good example is by the Dover Lock Inn which was named after a pair of locks that were built there when the canal was first commissioned.  
Over the years, the effect of local subsidence and subsequent raising of the canal meant they were no longer needed and the rise/fall was repositioned nearer Wigan by the newer Poolstock locks.

The Dover Lock Inn at Abram – currently closed down

Leaving the remains of Dover lock #2 with the Dover Lock Inn in the background

At our first proper lock of the day we met up with Frank and Doris on their boat Bowland that they live on for six months every year.  We ended up going through several locks with them before we stopped for the day, but they carried on as they were in desperate need of a pump out.  We do hope they got one in time

Entering a lock with Doris and Karen on the gates and a ‘f*ck off’ broadbeam (thanks Aileen 😉) exiting

After the first couple of locks we approached Wigan and the junction with the main line of the Leeds & Liverpool canal; we had been on the Leigh branch that was built later (1832) to join Wigan with the Bridgewater canal at Leigh to provide access to Manchester and the Midlands.

About to turn left towards Liverpool
I have to mention the mileposts on the Leeds & Liverpool canal as they are cast iron rather than the stones we have passed recently on the Peak Forest and Macclesfield canals.  The main line of the canal is 127 ¼ miles long and each post shows the distance from each end of the canal.  The posts were installed at the end of the 19th century using Liverpool as the base point; also installed were smaller posts indicating the intervening quarter miles with ¼, ½ or ¾ embossed on them.

Just one of the posts we passed today

We topped up with water in the centre of Wigan opposite a grade II listed mill called Eckerlsey Mill which reminded me of a work colleague from the past of the same name.  I secretly think he would have been rather proud of such northern heritage.  

Waiting for the tank to fill whilst reminiscing about my working life

Many people know about the irony of the name of Wigan Pier, so I won’t repeat the history here, but I will include a few pictures we took whilst going through town:

Trencherfield Mill complete with its restored and working steam engine powerhouse generating 2,500 hp

Having alluded to music in this blog entry’s title I will expand slightly on our musical tastes.  I prefer prog/acid/heavy rock whilst Karen (being a lot younger of course 😉) leans more to the American soul to ‘70/’80s pop (say Stylistics to Bee Gees).  We do go to each other’s gigs and our tastes coincide with blues and jazz which is probably what we listen to mostly; I know those are broad categories, but we know what we like.

So where does northern soul fit in other than the fact we are in Wigan?  Well, we both really enjoy listening to Craig Charles’ radio shows as he plays a lot of funk and soul and sometimes focuses entirely on northern soul.

Anyway, back to boating: we moored up for the night and, although some rain fell in the evening, it didn’t amount to much.

Plank Lane (ambulance on the lift bridge)

Tuesday promised to be yet another fine day here in the north west.  We walked the mile and a half into Leigh in the morning to have a look around and to stretch Buddy’s legs before we set off for a cruise.

  Speckled wood butterfly on our morning walk  
There don’t appear to be many butterflies in this area and we haven’t seen an orange tip for two days which is really strange considering how abundant they have been elsewhere.  There are a few speckled woods on the wing and they really live up to their name in that they fly along woodland edges and glades in the dappled sunlight.

  The underside of the speckled wood
We set off for the water point at Plank Lane which was about ¾ mile away.  When we got there, Kevin was moored there – we had come down the Ashton with him over the weekend and moored together for the night in Manchester.  He is staying in Plank Lane for a while as he is looking after his daughter’s dog for a few days and doesn’t want to cruise with it in case he loses it 😊

  Setting off on Tuesday morning
The water point is next to a lift bridge carrying quite a busy road.  Whilst we were filling up an ambulance came through with its siren on and reminded me that we have always wondered how awful we would feel if we had a bridge up and an emergency vehicle had to wait

After taking on water we successfully got through the bridge without holding up any emergency vehicles and moored up about ¼ mile further on.  We were moored by Pennington Flash (Penny Flash to the locals) and, after yet another al fresco meal, walked the four miles round the perimeter.  I know it wasn’t far but with the heat of the recent days we feel that four of five miles is far enough as we don’t want to get too knackered before walking up Ben Nevis at the weekend.

  Penny Flash
Penny Flash is well known in the birding community and over 230 different species of bird have been recorded there.  As with most ‘flashes’ this one was also caused by mining subsidence over the years. 

Birders are quite excited at the moment as a Temminck’s stint is present and they are rarely seen in the UK, especially away from coasts.

Of course, we hadn’t realised it was half term so the touristy bit, with all the activities, was packed when we walked through.  Back home we did the usual pottering about consisting of plant re-potting, boat cleaning and painting.

Our mooring on Tuesday night

Oh, and still no rain, even though it clouded over in the evening

Leigh (finally on my parents’ canal)

Crossing the Manchester Ship canal on the Barton swing aqueduct looking down on the Barton Road swing bridge with the M6 Thelwall viaduct in the background

Sunday had seen us moored outside the Trafford Centre and the plan for Monday was to move on to Leigh or Planks Lane on the Leeds & Liverpool canal.  We needed to top up with water but had forgotten that all the water points were removed from the Bridgewater canal a while ago, hence the dash to the Leeds & Liverpool.

Before we left, a lot of boats went past, and we remembered how fast boats travel on the Bridgewater canal.  It’s understandable as it’s broad and deep and also the banks are generally made of concrete so there’s no worries about erosion.  It felt like being on the River Thames, so different to being on a tranquil, quiet, slow canal.

At about 10, a broad(ish) beam moored up behind us, a Liverpudlian couple and their adult son.  The wife came up to have a chat and told me that they had been rammed by a narrowboat earlier as it tried to overtake them with moored boats either side.  I knew exactly which boat she meant as it had nearly hit us as it went past at great speed. She was lovely and friendly but said she had to go as she was going into the Trafford Centre to do some shopping.

Half an hour later I went out to water the plants and saw the father and son were into the red wine already 😉

   Too early for me but I suppose if you’re on holiday…
I went up to have a chat with then and we had a laugh that it didn’t matter if they got into trouble when she got back from shopping as they had already done the damage.  I went back to say goodbye as we were leaving sometime before midday and asked how long their pass was as I imagined the wife would be shopping all day.  He sheepishly said she was back already but when she popped her head of the side hatch we had another good laugh. 

Soon after leaving we were approaching Barton swing aqueduct which takes the canal over the Manchester Ship canal.  It’s an amazing piece of engineering that few people see in operation these days, but it must be brilliant to see it swinging open to let a tall ship pass underneath.  The Barton Road bridge will have to swing at the same time as the canal aqueduct is swung.

The bridge in the far distance in the picture at the top is the M6 which many will recognise as the Thelwall viaduct, either from passing over the Manchester Ship canal on the motorway or hearing road traffic reports of closures in high winds etc.

   Looking the other way back to Manchester

Approaching the end 

Looking back after leaving
Soon after the aqueduct we went past one of the stanking plank cranes and the massive planks that are typical of the Bridgewater canal:

We saw a couple of restored fly boats at a couple of yards during the afternoon.  These boats were built to fit the wide, but short locks of the Leeds & Liverpool canal.  Like elsewhere in the country, e.g. Shropshire Flies or Stockton Flies, they were called fly boats as they were worked 24 hours a day to transport goods.

Strange place to have a lighthouse (just before reaching Worsley)
At Worsley we passed the entrances to the coal mines that were the reason the Bridgewater canal was originally built.

   Heron happily fishing in front of the old mine entrances
The canal used to run underground in the mines, so the boats could ship the coal out to Manchester’s industrial areas.  Many historians regard this canal as being the UK’s first canal, albeit without any locks for its entire length.  

We were soon approaching Astley where there is a coal mining museum.  Seeing the pithead in the distance reminded me of travelling up and down the M1 in Yorkshire thirty or forty years ago when there were still plenty of pitheads to be seen near the motorway.

  The pithead at Astley coal mine museum
I have to admit that we found it a really hot day so had a couple of hours indoors when we moored for lunch and when we set off again Karen found it cooler to hang out of the hatch on the shady side of the boat:

At Leigh we left the Bridgewater canal and joined the Leeds & Liverpool canal:

This was our first time on the canal which is really quite ironic as my parents live at its northernmost point at Gargrave.  When we were on our travels in our previous boat we were too long to fit in the locks, so we had to wait for our new boat before venturing up here (oh, and the small matter of Karen going back to work for two years or so, which kept us in the Midlands 😉).

Leigh was famous for its cotton mills, many of which still stand awaiting preservation.  Here are just some of the mills we passed:

We cruised through Leigh and moored up soon afterwards once we were away from the houses.  We sat outside for the rest of the day enjoying the sunshine and chatting to the odd passer-by.  

Talking about odd passers-by, Heidi came by on her pirate boat where see makes and sells badges, amongst other things.  We hadn’t seen her since the Black Country festival a couple of years ago but have kept in touch on our mutual travels through Facebook.

Moored outside Leigh

We have to move tomorrow to get water, but we may only have to cruise a mile to the water point at Planks Lane and then we can spend the day at the local nature reserve.

Trafford Park (into virgin canal territory)

We popped out to M&S first thing, well 11 o’clock, to pick up Karen’s package and when we got back set off for the day’s cruise.  The plan was to join the Rochdale canal, just around the corner from where we were moored at Piccadilly Village on Saturday night, and go down its final nine locks to where it meets the Bridgewater canal at Castlefield junction.

These last nine locks are known as the Rochdale 9 and have become a little notorious as some of them are hard to operate due to the large volume of water coming down from the Pennines.  Some people don’t like the Rochdale 9 because a lot of down and outs tend to hang around there.  To be honest we always engage in conversation with them or, at the very least catch their eyes so they are given the chance to talk.  Much the same approach as both of us adopt with groups of likely looking youths.  So far, we haven’t had problems and quite often youths, druggies/alchies or the homeless show an interest and want to help out.

  Getting ready to go into the first of the Rochdale 9

To be honest we found the locks a doddle, especially compared with the troubles we had on the Ashton on Saturday.  Yes, some paddles were difficult but there were no end of men wanting to help Karen when they saw she was struggling.  One old guy helped at three locks – he was as happy as Larry, but his wife was getting bored otherwise I think he would have helped Karen the whole way down.

A couple of Karen's helpers

Some of the locks are right underneath offices that have been built over the canal.  Thankfully, the canal wasn’t just filled in when the offices were built.

 Under the offices

Karen was impressed the solar lights came on 😉

Another reason for the notoriety

Water coming over the top gates almost quicker than we could drain it from the lock

Prop foul wasn’t as bad as the previous day and we only had to stop twice.  The second time was to disentangle wire coat hangers that had become wrapped round it.

Back in the weed hatch to remove more rubbish from the prop

I know the sweet peas are on the side lockers but that’s because I needed to get the engine bay cover up.  They normally sit on the cover, so they don’t get caught at bridges or overhanging trees.

I’ve covered the delights and history of the Rochdale 9 before, such as spotting remains of gas lighting at the locks etc.  Suffice to say, the views change from year to year with the amount of redevelopment going on in the city.  When the canal is not in tunnels under offices, it is overlooked by a mixture of restaurants, pubs, offices, warehouses, derelict buildings and apartments.  Here are just a few of the sights from today’s trip down:

Gay quarter
The other issue with Rochdale 9 is young lad died falling in last year, so some locks have unattractive road barriers alongside them:

More road barriers and I'm sure that tall building wasn't there last time

With all the arches full of restaurants it reminds us of one of the moorings we were at in Bristol harbour
In the last lock watched by gongoozlers

Leaving the final lock

We carried straight on when we left the final lock; many people try and find a mooring in the noisy and vibrant Castlefields area but that wasn’t our cup of tea this time.

We were now on the lock-free Bridgewater canal and after a couple of miles were passing Manchester United’s football stadium.


I know I included a picture of Manchester City’s stadium yesterday even though I have no interest in either team, but we do have friends who support both – well they support one or the other if you see what I mean.

After another mile we were at Water’s Meeting, the junction with the main Bridgewater canal that runs from Runcorn and Preston Brook in the east to Leigh in the west, linking the Trent & Mersey with the Leeds & Liverpool.

Coming up to turn right at Water's Meeting

We were turning right to head towards the L&L which was the first time we have been on this bit of canal.  The last time we went on a new bit of canal was on 3rd November 2015 when we went up to Runcorn, also on the Bridgewater.  From now until August, when we have the boat booked in at Skipton (N. Yorks) for French conversion works, we will be on new waters which is a new kind of excitement 😊.  

We haven’t really thought what we’ll do over the winter yet but suspect we may head for the Midlands before we move to France.

Our first new canal for 2½ years
After a couple more miles we moored up outside the Trafford Centre.  I know it sounds awful, but there were no other boats moored there, we couldn’t see it and there were rings, which is unusual for this canal. 

Moored outside the Trafford Centre on Sunday evening
We’ll probably head for Pennington Flash tomorrow which is the other side of Leigh, but you never know 😊

PS.  We had our first rain for a while, around 8.30 on Sunday evening, but it didn’t last long: so far we've avoided the thunderstorms