Martin in Gatineau Park - 2018

Martin in Gatineau Park - 2018

Friday, 6 January 2012

Thursday 5 January 2012 – Around Woolston

Gorse (Ulex europaeus) by Manchester Ship Canal
I nipped out yesterday after the wind and rain had passed, for a walk I didn’t think I’d been on before, but it seemed strangely familiar.

I’ve now searched my own blog to find, here, that “a report on the walk that Sue and I enjoyed around Woolston on 18 September (2010)will have to wait, or forever be forgotten.”

Well, until today it was forgotten.  It’s not a particularly inspiring walk anyway, but for the record – and there may be folk local to North Cheshire who may enjoy it – here’s the report on my repeat of the same walk.

It’s just a 15-20 minute drive over the Warburton toll bridge and down the A57 to Weir Lane, on the left just beyond Junction 21 of the M6 motorway.  A stroll down the ever narrower lane leads past a tarted up lock keeper’s house to the River Mersey.  The river used to be the main link between Manchester and the sea, and since the 1700s attempts have been made to adjust its meandering course and make journeys along the river shorter and quicker.  So at the end of the lane is the course of a canal, Woolston New Cut, which has only recently been abandoned and silted up.  Then a bridge took me over the river, which flows due west over a weir (hence ‘Weir Lane’).  This earlier short cut now prevails as the main course of the river. My route took me around a large curve and past a suspension bridge that now merely leads to an uninhabited island due to the shortcut having been dug.

It’s not a good time of year for wild flowers, but there was plenty of Gorse (Ulex europaeus) – pictured above.

The old course of the river leads right next to the embankment of the final solution for navigation to Manchester – the Manchester Ship Canal, dug in the 1890s.  The Mersey feeds into the canal in Salford, but by now has departed again on its parallel journey to the nearby coast.  My route headed alongside the Ship Canal for a while, as far as Latchford Locks, and this view to the west, the bridges in Warrington being either swing bridges or Very High Bridges.  Not many ships venture upstream here nowadays.

Looking down the Ship Canal from Latchford Locks

There’s quite some height in those lock gates – a good 20-30 feet.

Latchford Locks is the scene of much new house building, with just a few terraced cottages remaining from the days when they were probably situated across the road from a factory.

There are playing fields, and pathways strewn with unsightly litter.  The authorities here seem to have given up their losing battle with litter.  Back beside the Mersey, a well protected pipe bridge precedes a near 180 degree bend in the river that leads eventually to Kingsway Bridge, near the centre of Warrington.

Across the bridge, my route took me down the true right bank of the river, with the winter sunshine bathing the scene with unfamiliar light.

The River Mersey at Woolston

I was supposedly following the route of the Mersey Way, a footpath that leads from the east of Warrington for about 35 km to the Mersey Estuary.  Like many things Liverpudlian, this may have been a good idea at the time, with a fair sized budget, but no provision seems to have been for maintenance of the facility.  So nowadays the information boards are blank, the paths are overgrown, signs are missing, benches and picnic tables are rotting, and litter remains uncollected.

However, that hasn’t discouraged the wildlife – perhaps the opposite - there’s lots of it around here, with Woolston Eyes, a major dumping ground near the start of the walk for silt from the Ship Canal, providing artificial marshlands for huge flocks of geese, ducks, waders and gulls.

A family of Tufted Ducks gathered protectively on the river.

Tufted Ducks on the Mersey

After a tricky but avoidable section of path, where recent winds had blown the robust but light and hollow stems of what I assumed had once been Himalayan Balsam across the path, another bend in the river hailed the appearance of the remains of Woolston New Cut, the ‘short cut’ canal mentioned earlier.  My path took me back to Weir Lane via the towpath. 

There’s a bit of water at the western end of the Cut.

Woolston New Cut

Soon an avenue of young trees leads off into the distance, with no sign of any water.  Nor were there many people about.  Despite being near the centre of a large town, I encountered just two dog walkers in over two hours of walking.

The 'towpath' by Woolston New Cut

The water has gone, but the cut has been taken over by several acres of bulrushes as we approach Weir Lane and the end of this short stroll in the sunshine.

Bullrushes in Woolston New Cut

Here’s the route – 12 km with very little ascent, taking 2 to 3 hours.

My route - 12 km with very little ascent in 2.25 hours

There’s a slideshow here, for anyone who wants to learn a little more about this area.

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