This was a really pleasant walk – first up the eastern bank of the River Douglas, then the south bank of the Ribble, and all the way into Preston.
I’ll feel better psychologically when I’ve completed this walk. It finally joins up the continuous walks I’ve done so far with the one “odd” one from Preston to Warton that I did a couple of weeks back. Leaving a gap feels a bit wrong.
So I drive from Manchester to Preston, this time thankfully with no punctures, and park up just a hundred yards from the endpoint of today’s walk, on the eastern bank of the Ribble at Liverpool Road Bridge. It’s nice when you can park so close to the endpoint. In Southport I had to park about a mile from the endpoint, which was a bit dispiriting when you’re knackered after a long walk. It’s nice to be able to collapse straight into the car at the end. Today, even the bus stop is really close by.
Google Maps is a wonderful tool for planning the public transport part of these walks. Just click on the start and end-points on the map, and it lists all the buses and trains with their timetables, stops, and everything. It even tells you how late your bus is going to be – how cool is that!
I check the weather for today. We’re on the tail-end of Storm Ciara at the moment, and expecting the tooth-end of Storm Dennis any day. I think about how lucky I’ve been to have fitted in six walks in January and February, and not been rained on at all. It’s funny how you think that it rains all the time, but when you do something that gets you out in the open regularly, you realise it’s not really as bad as it seems. The forecast says there’s a 30% chance of rain at 3pm. In my experience it means that it will rain for 30% of the time around that hour. It’s only one raindrop according to the forecast anyway – how wet can one raindrop get me?
Today I’m using my new camera for the first time. Well it’s not new, it was quite a cheap second-hand bargain on eBay actually. It has an amazing 60X zoom on it (for those who care about things like this, it’s a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ72). The good news is that it means I’ll be able to take great Super-Zoom shots of birds that I don’t recognise, rather than them being black dots in the middle of my iPhone pictures. The bad news is that it means I’ll be able to take great Super-Zoom shots of birds that I don’t recognise and stick them on this blog, which could get a bit tedious. I promise I’ll try my best to refrain from too many boring bird pictures!
I am slightly concerned about having it draped around my neck though, swinging from side to side and really annoying me. I guess I’ll just have to see how it goes. I start walking, it starts swinging, and I start getting annoyed by it. Just ignore it Paul!
The first bit of the walk is along the main A59, which crosses the Leeds & Liverpool canal and the River Douglas. The river is full right up to the banks. I guess this is due to a combination of the aftermath of storm Ciara, and that high tide was less than an hour ago, and the river is still tidal at this point.
On my right I spot a tall radio mast and try out my new zoom lens. The mast is on top of Winter Hill about 16 miles away. Wow!
OK, I promise not to take loads of these super-zoom shots, I know they’re boring, but I’m a boy with a new toy and you have to cut me some slack just for today! I pass a lovely windmill, hidden behind the trees, now been turned into a home.
It’s very romatic and idyllic, but perhaps not so much so when you have to use their outside toilet….
While shuddering thinking about having to use that, a strangely familiar smell fills my nostrils. Not altogether unpleasant, but not salivating either, but I can’t quite place it. That’s it – dog biscuits! For me, smells instantly arouse distant memories, seemingly bypassing any conscious thought, projecting those memories directly into the front of my mind, welcome or not. A memory of crunching on dog biscuits usurps my previously contented disposition – an involuntary dare shamefully imposed upon me by my older brother when I was little. Sure enough…. it’s a dog biscuit factory, and a huge one at that!
The path turns off the main road and follows the raised banks along the east bank of the River Douglas. On the other side, I pass several familiar sights from the last section where I was walking southwards on the opposite bank, including the somehow visually appealing pipe-bridge, looking even better today half-submerged in the storm floods.
I come across the site of my “slurry adventure“, and realise what a mess that farm is – no surprise then that the farmer created such a foul pit right on the public footpath, this guy clearly doesn’t give a shit about much!
OK, time for another super-zoom shot you’ll have to forgive me for. I love crows, and spotted this one about 100 feet away (don’t worry, I’ll get bored of this soon).
Right, just for a change from birds, here’s a super-zoom shot of a sheep saying “hello” to me as I pass (it’s probably saying something far ruder, but I’m convinced it likes me).
Storm Ciara has passed, but its effects can still be seen in the fields, which are quite water-logged. I’m getting a bit concerned about my chances of keeping dry feet again today. Are these leeks? Looks like it.
Although the fields here are all surrounded by drainage ditches that pass under the raised bank I’m walking along, when the tide is this high the water often back-flows from the river into the ditches, and I guess that prevents the rainwater from soaking through the saturated soil.
On my last walk I photographed a rickety old jetty perched high above the river, looking ready to tumble down into the water at any moment. It’s now almost completely submerged. On the opposite bank, a new housing development is perched on the hillside. There will be lovely views from these houses.
The power of the tides and storms are brought to life by the size of the debris left strewn by the river bank. It’s hard to gauge scale on this picture, but this trunk is getting on a metre in diameter. It makes it all the more incredible that the rickety jetty is still standing!
The path continues north, past the boatyard I walked through on the last walk, where the once towering boat jetties are now barely above water level, and the huge boat marooned up a side stream from last time is now comfortably floating on its mooring.
The river in flood makes it seem like I’m back at the sea again, but this is still the river estuary. As the Douglas nears the Ribble, it gets wider and wider.
Although I’ve only been walking along the top of the bank, my feet are starting to feel wet. My walking boots are supposed to be waterproof, and I definitely haven’t walked through any deep water yet. After my slurry adventure last time out, I put them in the washing machine. I had to put them through twice with extra washing tablets because they still stank after the first wash! I wonder if the washing machine has destroyed the waterproofness of them somehow. That would be really disappointing, as they weren’t cheap, and if you can’t wash them, how are you meant to get them clean? From slurry! Oh well, not much I can do about it now.
I did decide to bring my lovely new racing shoes and a spare pair of socks today, after the last walk’s trials, so I can always change later on if I need to. They’re ultra-light (only 200g) and I love them, but I wouldn’t want to get them covered in any more slurry!
The marsh grass waves to me in the wind as I pass, and I admire its colours and texture against the water and sky.
OK, time for another avian super-zoom…. a kestrel stood atop a dung-heap!
I shortly come to a point where the mapping app on my phone (Komoot) chose a route inland, but there’s a signpost saying there’s a footpath straight ahead. I check on another app I have – OutdoorGPS – which includes OS maps for free, and sure enough, the public path continues straight on and over a stream. I wonder if it actually goes over or through the stream, but by this time my feet are soaking anyway, so it doesn’t seem to matter very much. I check Ruth’s blog, and it seems she went straight on too, so I head straight on, while the strangely posh-voiced man on the Komoot app chastises me in his authoritative manner. I’ve never been much good at paying attention to authoritative voices, which accounts for many of my less successful life experiences, so this does little to deter me, in fact, it just encourages me on my way.
The reason I’ve had to skirt inland a little is to pass a landfill site. Landfill sites produce a lot of methane from the rotting rubbish, which some even tap off and sell. Here, it seems to be venting into the atmosphere, which is a terrible idea as methane is thirty times worse as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (landfill produces CO₂ as well). Another reason it’s a terrible idea is the risk of explosion, and they counter this by warning you not to light up!
My guess was right – stuff you Mr Authority-Komoot-Man? – sure enough, the path rejoins the river, where it opens up and joins its big brother Ribble.
After a while the path turns inland again to avoid Hutton Marsh, crossing some farmland. The rain comes sweeping in from the west, creating a spectacular rainbow. I’ve seen a couple of rainbows so far on my walk, but never had “super-zoom” before to reveal them in their most spectacular glory….
The path takes me along the side of a huge industrial-scale field, over a decidedly dodgy looking style (it held my weight, just), and across another grassy field dotted with pretty trees.
Time for another super-zoom! This bird was flying at 27,000 feet according to FlightRadar24….
The path shortly rejoins the south bank of the Ribble, where what might be a derelict pumping station sits forlornly on the bank. Although there are pipes leading in and out of it, there are no sign of pumps, so it’s function remains a mystery to me.
The path then continues east along an impressively wide raised bank, an army of worker-sheep having trimmed the grass to construct an elegant lawned avenue all the way to Preston.
I hear a roar from behind me, and turn to catch sight of a Eurofighter Typhoon banking away from me, growling, with undercarriage down, presumably heading home to Warton aerodrome. Cue another super-zoom! I love this new camera!
Behind me, the sun is dipping lower in the sky as dusk approaches. I still have a few miles to go, so I need to get going and spend less time playing with my new camera. One last shot of the Typhoon against the setting sun….!
On the northern bank, I pass the entrance to the Millenium Ribble Link, which finally joined the Lancaster Canal to the rest of the canal network in 2000, after a period of 200 years.
Shortly I come across the most useless style in Britain. It being completely pointless, and undoubtedly not having been used in years, I feel compelled to climb over it, just to save its feelings.
A mile or so further on, I reach the pylon sisters that I mused about when I walked from Preston to Warton, and the welcome arch they create to incoming ships. In that blog article I described them as delivering their “crackling energy” to their sisters on the opposite bank. From afar I could only guess, but now, as I walk underneath their wide skirts, I can hear them crackling to each other for myself, and so can you on this video.
Personally I love pylons. I can completely understand people who don’t like them – they are often a gross intrusion into a beautiful natural landscape, but I find them so elegant, delicate yet powerful, graceful and statuesque. I feel the same way about wind turbines – they are so majestic, so futuristic, so in tune with their environment yet starkly contrasting with it. They don’t destroy the landscape, they’re just temporary guests in it. One day they will be gone, and nature will swallow up their remnants and ensconce any evidence of their fleeting visit. Much like it will one day to humankind itself. Everything lasts just a tick of a clock on galactic timescales, and everyone is a mere ephemeral visitor to it.
The wide majestic avenue comes to an end and a narrow path then winds its way through bushes and brambles.
A football lies punctured and abandoned by the side of the path, and reminds me of the time when my son was so much smaller and wanted to be a footballer. He has various disabilities which meant he struggled so much to play football, but Manchester City FC had such a wonderful disability children’s programme, and encouraged him, involving him in matches against other teams. He loved it, and it never even occurred to him that he couldn’t become a professional footballer one day, until he was much older. As a parent it was hard, knowing that life would always be harder for Sam than other children. He had a friend who was a good footballer, and Sam once told us that what he wanted more than anything was to win a trophy like his friend had a bounteous collection of. It was heart-breaking. Just the sight of this football brings back all those memories, and momentarily sweeps a wave of sadness over me.
I pull myself together and get on with the walk. The pictures might still look quite bright (I love this camera!) but it really is getting quite dark now. The windy path through the bushes opens out onto the raised bank of the Ribble, strewn with debris from past storms and floods, and then onto a gravel path.
The gravel path becomes a more formal lawn-lined park avenue, dips under the modern A49 road bridge, and leads up to the old Liverpool Road bridge.
One last picture from the old bridge before the light fades completely…. and I’m just a hundred yards from my car.
This walk was completed on 12th February 2020. It was about 10.9 miles long. Here’s the real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around…