This walk starts off lovely, quickly turns depressing, then briefly becomes lovely again before sinking in the mud and becoming totally disheartening! Oh well, I didn’t expect too much different, to be honest.
This stretch of the coastal path involves several miles along the side of a very busy dual carriageway, so it was never going to be a delightful stroll in the countryside, but it turned out I had to walk more of it than I expected to.
I decided to get this boring road-walk out of the way today, skipping the nice sections between Southport to Preston for the moment, which I hope to do over the next few weeks with a friend.
I start by driving to Warton, then catch two buses to get back to Preston. I’ve bought a new small rucksack for today so I can take a bit more food and drink. I thought it looked cool in the shop, a glamorous purple, but now in daylight it seems quite a girly dark pink. Its girliness was confirmed later on when I passed a little girl who says to her grandma “Oooh, I want a bag like he’s got“. Oh well, I guess I should just take all the compliments I can!
The walk starts at Liverpool Road bridge, which is a grand old structure spanning the river Ribble. The view downstream from the bridge shows off the wide majestic Ribble.
The path leads along the northern bank of the river (the right hand side in the picture), and snakes its way between the river and a railway line for a mile or so, through lovely wooded copses, following the Preston Guild Wheel – a cycle route around the city – and passing under the A59 road bridge.
A new housing estate overlooks the river. They would have had a beautiful view from their bedroom windows, were it not for a big pile of junk and all the pylons threading their spider-web of cables across the open sky.
By the side of the path is the Preston Sea Cadets clubhouse, with a big poster petitioning for help – and by the look of it they are in desperate need!
The path comes to the entrance to Preston Marina, where a fisherman looks wistfully across the expanse of water. I have a short chat with him – he’d been there twenty minutes and had caught a flounder already. I don’t know what a flounder is so I just nod at him knowingly. I think he sees right through me, because he turns back to his rod and claims he has another bite. There’s not even a ripple in the water. I get the message and quickly move on!
In the distance, four giant electricity pylons deliver their crackling energy to their four sisters on the opposite bank, creating a welcoming arch for ships coming up the navigation.
The path then swings around 180 degrees to pass inland of Preston Marina. An impressive set of lock gates are just closing as I pass, but I’m not standing watching for long until an alarm indicates that the swing bridge I’m standing on is about to move. I love all these boys’ toys!
The path continues along the north bank of the river through semi-industrial landscape but is still quite pleasant. A big anchor sits on a plinth by the side of the path. I’ve never seen one this shape before. Afterwards, I find it’s called a mushroom anchor. Apparently, according to this website, the shape works best in soft bottom waters, where it can create a suction that can be difficult to break. It goes on to say they’re decent for very small boats, but not practical for larger boats, but this one is huge – at least a metre across.
The pylon I pass with the two platforms kindles memories of when I was around 19, working in Chelmsford for Marconi. In the second world war, these towers were used as the radar defence. In 1954 Marconi had one of the towers moved to their research centre in Great Baddow to continue experiments. It’s the only remaining complete tower from WW2. I remember I could see it from my house. In fact, you could see it from most of Chelmsford because it was truly gargantuan – 110 metres tall! It gets me thinking about all those people I met way back then, all those friends, and I realise that I’ve lost touch with every single one of them. That’s sad.
While thinking about those people and times, I’m jolted back into the present as the path comes to an abrupt halt at a dual carriageway, the A583. The path really does just stop, dumping walkers straight onto the busy road with no pavement or continuation of the path anywhere!
And that was the end of the nice part of this walk – almost (see later). The next five or so miles was spent trudging along the pavement at the side of the A583. The most interesting things I found along five whole miles were this vivid coloured plant growing at the side of the pavement, and this old looking farmhouse.
…until I came across a huge wooden sculpture of a bird. It’s quite a lot worse for wear now and is a bit hard to see what it is, but when it was new it looked fantastic. It’s a crow carved by Thompson Dagnall and was made for the waterways trust and placed at the sea lock end of the Ribble Link. Apparently, it is a “literal interpretation of the crow’s-nest on a ship atop the mast, a link between the inland waterways and the anticipation of the open sea. leading the mind out beyond the link on a maritime adventure“.
I do like it a lot though, I like crows. On the car journey here there was a show where one of the guests was asked “What’s your favourite bird?”. There was a stony silence, and I really get that. Not everyone has a favourite bird. I like nature as much as the next guy, but bird watching really doesn’t do it for me. I appreciate a lot of people are fascinated, I guess it’s just a personal thing. But I do like crows. And magpies. Maybe because they’re so intelligent. I’ve seen lots on my coastal walks, and although they never allow you to get too close, you can see the intelligence in their dense black eyes. Some people don’t like magpies – they say they peck lambs’ eyes out. Do they really do that? There’s so many myths about magpies it’s hard to know. They do sit on farm animals backs and peck the lice and ticks off, but that’s a good thing. And if there’s a dead animal they’ll definitely go for that. Apparently crows are as intelligent as a seven year old child, I’m not so sure about that – I’ve had much more enjoyable conversations with children than crows.
My musings on crows and magpies is suddenly interrupted by the excitement of the A584 turning off from the A583 – wow! The pavement is a little nicer, but the A584 is just as depressing.
A huge marshy field on my left is protected by a warning sign about free range cattle. I’ve not come across any cows yet on my walks, maybe because it’s winter, but I’ve read that they can be very dangerous. My inspiration coastal walker, Ruth Livingstone, has had many encounters and is quite rightly cautious, and has even created a blog about it. Even some farmers have been killed by their own cows! As a child growing up in Cornwall I came across lots of cows when playing out and about. I used to wave my arms and shout and run at them to get them to move out the way, and they always seemed to, but now when I read about it I guess I was probably quite lucky!
After what seems like forever, I eventually reach the village of Freckleton, and turn off the devil-road, and into a lovely little lane – Brades Lane – and then into the pleasant village.
A path leads downhill along the side of the strangely named Freckleton Pool. It’s not a pool at all, but a small river, big enough for small yachts to navigate. There’s even a boatyard with numerous fibreglass moulds parked outside, and several newly moulded hulls.
The path passes a pretty little cottage overlooking the river, and rises up a slope to meet the start of the Lancashire Coastal Path.
This is more like it! I’ve finally got onto a proper trail, it should be much more pleasant, and the going should get easier from here. This is lovely! It’s a bit muddy, but not too bad, my walking boots can cope with this.
Then it gets a little bit muddier. Even the sheep seem to be covered in mud…
I slosh about a bit, and have to pick my way carefully across the next field to avoid sinking in the mud. Then a steep path drops down onto the shore of the grand majestic Ribble, and I’m back on the coast, of sorts. The path turns to the right, and I see a whole new expanse…… of mud.
Now I’m in two minds here. The views over the estuary are fantastic. I hear the call of a thousand geese overhead, and look up to see a formation arrowing their way through the sky, calling out to each other for encouragement, excited to be setting out on their long, long journey. It’s quite entrancing.
But then I look down, at my boots sinking into the coastal mud. This is meant to be an official coastal path, but there is no path. It’s just a marsh at the edge of the river. I pick up a sturdy stick to help me pick my way from one raised tussock of grass to another, like a chess player carefully contemplating each move. Half an hour later I’ve made perhaps 600 yards, and I realise I’m in trouble. this section of today’s walk stretches for about 3 miles, and I’ve managed maybe a tenth of that.
Eventually I come to a path on my right leading up out of the quagmire – Pool Lane – and I abandon my trusty stick – it served me well, but the two of us really weren’t up to the job.
The path becomes a track, and the track becomes a lane, the lane a road, running alongside the aerodrome of BAE Systems, Warton.
Threatening signs warn me of the consequences of scaling the fence and taking a sprinted shortcut across the runway, which would have saved me half a mile, but I decide better of it, and take the road instead, around the end of the runway, and into a housing estate.
The housing estate dumps me back onto the A584, and I trudge wearily along a few more miles of its interminable dullness back to my car. I’m shattered. There will be better days!
Here’s the real-time recorded map of my actual route, which you can pan and zoom around…. Komoot tells me it was about 13.7 miles, my furthest so far, woohoo!