This day started badly, picked up nicely, then deteriorated at the end!
The drive from my home in central Manchester to Tarleton should have been easy, about an hour. I was on the M61 and all was going well until I heard a worrying rumble. Sometimes it can just be the road surface so I pulled out into the middle lane which had a different surface, but the rumble persisted, so I pulled over. Thankfully the Highways Agency hasn’t turned the M61 into a Smart Death Trap yet, so I was able to stop in the relative safety of the hard shoulder. Sure enough, I had a flat on the rear left, and so had to change the wheel.
Although thankfully it was the left hand side of the car, furthest away from the passing traffic, it’s still pretty scary being stuck there down low changing the wheel with traffic thundering past. Many people have been killed sat in their cars on the hard shoulder by sleepy lorry drivers, so I was trying to keep a close eye on the oncoming traffic, ready to dive over the crash barrier if I saw something heading straight for me! So eventually I managed to get the huge wheel off and replace it with the tiny space saver wheel. My poor 20-year old Jaguar XKR frankly looks ridiculous with the space saver wheel on it. Sorry car!
I eventually get to Tarleton and park the comical looking car up in a housing estate, and walk the few hundred yards to the bus stop to catch the number 2 bus to the start of the walk in Banks. This is a journey of about 6 miles, but cost me £5. That’s scandalous! (Please excuse the dirty fingers in the picture, but I had just changed a wheel!)
The bus dumps me on the road where I finished last week, and I walk the half mile along a farm track up to the bank to meet the end of last week’s route. The sun is out, a farmer is working in his field of cabbages, and a gaggle of white geese happily squawk about how cool their swimming pool is. I realise I’m happy again!
I climb up a short slope onto the bank, and off we go. It’s good to be back.
Although the walk is quite monotonous along here – just a dead straight route along the raised bank, I’m really enjoying it. It’s great to get out in the wind and fresh air and take my mind off all the problems I’ve got going on back home and at work.
I pass a couple of swans just sitting on the grass in the middle of a field. It looks weird – I’ve never seen swans do this before. Apologies for the picture quality, it was on my phone which doesn’t have a zoom.
After a couple of miles, the official footpath turns right and heads inland to a road, then comes back out to the bank again, but the track along the bank continues straight on, so I don’t see the point of going out of my way, and continue along it, having to climb over a padlocked gate which is blocking the way.
About a week and a half ago I damaged my heel leaping down the stairwell of my apartment block. I could hardly walk the day after I did it, but it’s been gradually getting better. You heal so much slower when you get older! It hurts a lot more when I’m walking on Tarmac, but here I’m walking on soft bouncy grass which is lovely.
I pass a couple of trailers which seem to be filled with trays of shells, and wonder what these could be – any ideas?
Up ahead I see a flock of four swans flying overhead. The leader veers a little to her left, while the other three veer to the right. A few seconds later she realises that she’s on her own and banks to the right and flaps harder to catch up again! The re-united group take a sharp left turn and fly almost over my head.
An old rotten log by the side of the path adds a splash of golden brown to the vivid blue and green hues.
After a couple of miles, the path drops down to the car park of the Hesketh Out Marsh nature reserve. I’m not sure what this big conical thing is – an old bouy maybe? When the path rejoins the bank, there’s a monument representing an Arctic Tern. It’s OK I suppose.
Shortly I come across a strangely shaped plastic box on a post. Written on the post is “Edge Hill University”. Not sure what this is about, and I couldn’t find anything online when I got home either.
I’ve passed quite a few people in the last few miles of the walk, but this section seems to be much less popular. I look around and realise I’m completely on my own, and a wave of loneliness momentarily sweeps over me.
I’ve been walking North East for the last few miles, parallel to the River Ribble, but now the path swings round to the South East to follow the River Douglas, a tributary to the Ribble. Except it might be the River Asland. It seems to have two names. The OS map says “River Douglas or Asland”. I’ve not encountered a river with two names before.
Along the way are quite a few artificial streams that drain the water from the fields to my right, pass underneath the bank and empty into the river. Several have galvanised steel equipment for something, not sure what. This one looks like a sculpture of a dog!
After a couple of miles I reach a boatyard. There’s quite a big boat in a little side arm of the river, and it’s hard to imagine how they managed to get it there – I guess the tidal range here must be quite large to have achieved that.
I browse all the boats in the yard, some old, some new, some ugly, some pretty. Lorinda here used to live in Yarmouth, and has seen much better days. The bank is quite a distance above the water level , so there are quite extensive structures where the boats are moored to allow access down to them.
I pass a pretty little blue boat, which I really love. It reminds me of when I was a child and read Swallows and Amazons, and was captivated by the thought of messing around in boats with my mates all summer long, and sadly reflect that I never got to do that.
The path continues at the other end of the boatyard through a little copse and carries on along the bank. The river banks here are formed from thick clay-mud, several metres thick. A rickety structure on the opposite bank is presumably another pier for accessing boats, but I wouldn’t fancy using that!
It’s at this point, with only a mile or so to go, that my day suddenly gets a lot worse. The path leads into a muddy section where deep hoof marks warn of the possibility of impending cows. However, it isn’t the cows themselves that are the problem, but what comes out of them (no, not milk). The bank narrows as it passes through a gate and into an area where a few feeding troughs are scattered about. The ground underfoot gets squelchy, and is deeply strewn with old rotten vegetables that must have been given to the cattle many weeks ago. And slurry. Lots of slurry.
It was getting deeper, so I jumped up onto the nearest feeding trough. I considered jumping to the next feeding trough, but the contents of the troughs was also quite squelchy itself so I didn’t fancy doing that. A stick to gauge the depth would have really helped here, but I was marooned on this trough-island, and there weren’t any sticks around anyway. I’d just have to go for it.
A single step between the troughs took the level up to the top of my boots. There didn’t appear to be any route beyond this next trough, but I could see what looked like some footprints so guessed someone had previously passed that way, and confidently stepped off the trough. My foot dropped into the slurry and over the top of my boot, which only encouraged me to run quickly forwards to escape its clutches. Unfortunately, it got quite a bit deeper the further I went, until it reached almost up to my knees.
Being knee-deep in cold water on a winter walk isn’t a good place to be. Being knee-deep in cold cow slurry is far worse. Swearing profusely I waded through it and up out the other side. I was pretty seriously pissed off at this point!
The way ahead looks quite muddy, but it doesn’t seem to matter very much now, so I trudge straight through the middle of the muddy pools. I guess this is an occupational hazard for a coastal walker. I’m sure I’ll encounter it several times again in the coming years! Or maybe it’s just me. Some walkers use hiking poles which I could have used to gauge the depth, but I don’t like them much. I don’t like carrying anything in my hands when I’m walking.
Ahead a pipe crosses the river on a bridge all of its own, and beyond that the path leads out to the busy entrance to the Leeds & Liverpool canal at Tarleton lock.
Although I pass several people here, no-one casts a second glance at my unusual appearance. Are people with their lower halves covered in shit normal around here?
In an improbable stroke of luck which I’m quite unaccustomed to, I spot a hosepipe nearby for the boaters to fill up their water tanks, and so I decide to hose myself down, and at least wash most of the slurry off. I have to take off my boots and socks, and roll up my trousers to get to all the nooks and crannies where it is all still hiding. Hosing yourself down with cold water in early February isn’t much fun at all.
Afterwards my boots are absolutely soaking, but there’s not much I can do about that, so I just put them back on and slosh my way onwards. I pass another little boatyard, with a small pretty old tractor, which is still in use. I like tractors.
The path continues along the banks of the canal for a bit, and I eventually arrive at an industrial estate where I have to turn off, up Plox Brow lane and rejoin the main Coe Road. It’s then only a half mile trek along the road to my car.
On the slow journey home (I’m limited to 50mph because of that stupid space-saver spare wheel!) I have the car windows wound right down, because even though I hosed most of the slurry off, the smell is still quite offensive! As soon as I get home, the boots go straight into the washing machine, socks and jeans into a plastic bag ready for the next machine cycle, and I go straight into the shower. Even after a complete wash, my boots still stink slightly of slurry, so back they go into the machine with two washer tablets this time!
This walk was completed on 8th Feb 2020, and is about 8.3 miles long. Here’s the real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around…