This walk had been in my diary for many months. John Bullen had asked me to lead a walk for East Lancs LDWA. I’d offered a variety of venues and he chose one in the heartland of ‘East Lancashire’, which is not exactly my home ground of South Manchester.
So whilst I was nominally ‘leader’, most of the folk who turned up were more familiar than me with this area. But luckily I’d carried out a recce a week earlier, and by pointing Phil in random directions we managed to complete the walk without getting too badly lost, any mishaps being entirely due to Phil’s losses of concentration (he’s getting on a bit, you know).
So the pictures (and some commentary) of this walk may occasionally drift back to a sunny day last week.
Ten of us started on a dull but dry day at 10 am prompt from Yarrow Valley Country Park, escaping from a robin who’d been pecking hopefully at our feet.
A honking car notified us of a latecomer, who caught up with us just in time for the above group photo - L to R: Martin, Peter, Phil, Don, Paul, Chris, Bernard, Dave, Alma, Ken and Heather.
Tufted ducks, coots and great crested grebes foraged in the small lake as we tramped over a thick bed of beech leaves to reach a weir.
When Birkacre Weir was constructed over 100 years ago it blocked the way for sea trout and salmon to reach their traditional spawning grounds in the Pennine foothills. The recent construction of a Fish Pass has enabled sea trout to reach those foothills once more, and recently salmon have also been spotted here for the first time since the weir blocked their route.
Herb Robert is still in flower hereabouts, and whilst the woods in the Yarrow Valley are still showing late signs of autumn, it'll soon be winter here.
In the low light, everyone seemed to be moving quickly!
After a while we escaped from the muddy riverside path to a dryer route through fields where mustard is still in flower.
Pigeons suddenly rose in a bout of collective alarm, and much later in the day a large flock of starlings was seen gathering before heading off to roost.
A grassy lane led past a pond to reach Highfield Farm, where last week Christmas music was blasting from a barn.
Stiles with slippery steps were a feature of the walk at this stage. Later we were to realise that the steps were a bonus.
At Holt Farm we passed a smart dressage area before passing the White Crow PH. Sir Bradley Wiggins flew past on a training ride as we entered Wigan, which Bernard announced proudly was further honoured by way of being his own birthplace.
Thrushes, sparrows and a flapping buzzard ignored us as we struggled over the now stepless stiles.
"Reg would be writing to the footpath officer about these stiles" Don commented.
"The footpath officers have all been sacked" remarked Phil during an athletic vault.
Soon it was time for elevenses on a large stone bench erected in 2011 in memory of Gerald, Joe and Sam Ainscough.
We missed the black swans at Wrennalls Hall due to a characteristic lapse of concentration from Phil.
Worthington Lakes were the next landmark on my itinerary, and luckily we found them. Here some useful stepping stones guided us along a muddy path.
"What sort of walking route do you call this?" enquired Bernard.
Phil was awarded full responsibility as we crossed the River Douglas and headed up through a lovely silver birch wood to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
"Come and look at this" - Phil had spotted a budgerigar (see slideshow).
Field mushrooms beside the towpath of this lovely stretch of canal could have provided an appetising supper.
Ancient gateposts lead to Crawshaw Hall. Mute swans, Canadian geese, crows and black-headed gulls were all busy in (or over) the water.
The approach to Adlington goes through an area of lovely open water that looks like a lake when it’s windy. Bathing mallards and fussing moorhens hold the attention around here.
We didn’t see many people on today’s paths, but here we met a huge party of very wrinkly walkers – more Stumblers than Plodders. I’m sure we all hope they got back safely and managed to avoid any trips into the canal.
Eventually, the rather obvious name for this walk was sussed, as we gained sight of a ‘White Bear’ in the distance.
Fishermen, warblers and canal boats of all shapes and sizes now lined the waterway for some distance.
Soon we came upon a sign for the ‘Adlington Circular’, a 6 mile stroll that would be suitable for a half day or evening walk.
"So we weren't in Lancashire!" - some folk were puzzled when we arrived at this sign on a road bridge over the canal.
Frederick's Ice Cream parlour was reached after 12.6km - at bridge 73.
It was time for lunch at the generously provided picnic tables, but the others ran off after Phil before I could record the occasion!
About a third of the walk (5 miles) enjoyed the benefits of the firm canal towpath.
A slipway on the approach to Chorley struck us as being most unusual. Perhaps there is/was a boatyard nearby.
Sparrows chattered in the hedgerows and Hogweed was still in flower in sunny Chorley.
Despite Phil’s desire to continue on towards Leeds, we left the canal and found a way through Chorley.
"I want a new caravan" was what I thought I heard Bernard say. "No" he corrected me "a new car" - we were in the wrong place. Anyway, after an urban stroll past hundreds of caravans we emerged by a nice looking church.
Some wag had arranged to meet Norman at Chorley's premier hostelry, but he'd apparently got trapped inside – The Swan with Two Necks – ‘Pub of the Season’. He’d been there for some time.
Just next to a predator's office is the splendid entrance to Astley Park, the jewel of Chorley.
We whizzed past the War Memorial, and a Sensory Garden which at this time of year is perhaps not at its best.
Time for Afternoon Tea, an essential element of any LDWA walk. Nobody is sitting down - the bench is wet. But the last drops of tea were strained from our flasks, and the last crumbs of brownie were extracted from my cake tin.
Astley hall and its large fountain came and went, as did the boarded up gatehouse at the Ackhurst Lodge exit. Surely a good use could be found for that.
Himalayan balsam was still in flower at the park exit.
Beyond the firm paths through Astley Park lay the sting in the tail of this walk - the fields around Yarrow Farm.
Three ladies happy in mud and slurry!
As usual, Phil led the way - I was a superfluous leader, he knew the route like the back of Norman's hand.
After all that mud, the grass of Yarrow Valley Golf Course looked enticing, but the delights of the fairway were strictly out of bounds to us plebs, as we were directed down a narrow pathway whose previous visitor had been a cow with diarrhoea.
By mid afternoon light was getting low for a bit of final slithering through woods and alongside the River Yarrow, which finally came in very handy for cleaning the mud off our boots.
AlanR would have enjoyed this walk, though he might have cried at the sight of this sad looking tractor.
We eventually drifted in to the Yarrow Valley car park behind Phil at a very respectable 3.47 pm, after a most enjoyable and very jolly outing on which Norman may have been present ‘in spirit’. “Remember me?” he whispered.
Here’s our route - 24km (14 miles), with 300 metres ascent, taking 5.75 hours.
There’s a full (89 picture!) slideshow here.
Thanks for coming along, everyone, I enjoyed a lovely day out – I hope you did too.