I popped out for a stroll on a gloomy Sunday morning. At least the rain kept off, though judging by the motorway spray it could have been chucking it down.
From the deserted car park of the Chapel House pub in the nondescript village of Burtonwood, where lots of smartly dressed middle aged folk were engaged in Remembrance Day activities, I headed across sodden fields towards the M62, beckoned by the distinctive outline of the Burtonwood Services building, and a large ‘IKEA’ sign.
The paths appeared rarely walked and were deserted today. I bimbled on past broken signs and piles of rubbish (being close to Liverpool!), across fields planted with spring crops, eventually emerging from underneath the motorway into Sankey Valley Park. Here, an avenue of birches leads the walker alongside Sankey Brook on the left and past the high fences of one of Warrington’s new industrial estates on the right.
The hedgerows around here were teeming with bird life; a buzzard, gliding between its favourite perches, flocks of starlings, chaffinches and more wary yellowhammers, chattering sparrows, black-headed and black-backed gulls, gaudy jays and distracted blackbirds.
The trees here are looking quite bare, leaving little cover for the birds.
The colours hereabouts reminded me of a car my dad once had - ‘Maestro Bronze’ perhaps? No, I fear it was a rather ugly, mustard coloured Morris Marina. Not my dad’s finest hour!
After crossing a footbridge, I headed alongside the brook, passing bushes laden with berries.
Soon I reached The Sankey Navigation (St Helens Canal), the first canal of the English Canal Age. It opened in 1757, two years before the Bridgewater Canal, and was used mainly to transport coal from St Helens’ collieries and, more recently, sugar from the Sankey Sugar Refinery, to Liverpool for over 200 years.
After its closure in the 1960s it deteriorated rapidly, with some sections being completely filled in. Recently some restoration has taken place, but some sections of the canal are only traceable by the outline of edging stone.
Winwick Dry Dock (below), made from sandstone, with stepped sides and curved ends is the only remaining dry dock on the canal. The sleepers were for the traditional ‘Mersey Flat’ boats to rest on. Once a boat was inside the dock the gates were closed and the water was drained through a culvert – very simple and effective.
Here’s a lock that was filled in but which has recently been ‘restored’.
The ‘winter crops’ (looks like grass to me – a townie) are currently flooded in places in these fields, but look healthy enough.
A winding path led back along a short section of fly-tipped road to a track, past some stables near a kingfisher pond, where a couple of horses were clearly joyous after being liberated from their warm stable into a field, and onto the road that led back to my start point in the centre of Burtonwood village, where the pub was still shut and its car park still empty.
This pleasant 10 km (6 mile) amble took me a leisurely 2¼ hours.
Here’s a brief outline – it’s based on Jen Darling’s ‘Around Sankey’ walk in her book – Walks in North Cheshire. It’s covered by Explorer Map 276, which shows all the paths described.
Park in Burtonwood village and turn left from the front door of Chapel House pub, pass the church, then turn right down a footpath beyond the parish hall.
Soon reach fields and continue on to cross a track to more fields, to reach Tan House Lane. Turn right then immediately left down Burtonwood Road.
Turn left before the road rises to cross the motorway, and head down the lane to Dial Post Farm. Go straight on through the grotty farmyard and follow waymarks by the field edge, keeping to the right of the hedge.
Go straight on at one sign, then after a few metres follow a further sign, bearing right across the field towards a pylon. On reaching the pylon, carry on through a wide gap in the hedge, along a track through the crops towards a lone tree then on to reach the M62.
Turn left, then right, under the motorway and into Sankey Valley Park. Keeping the brook on your left and the industry to your right, continue on pleasant paths until a concrete bridge takes you left and over the brook.
Follow the path alongside the brook for a few hundred metres before leaving it in favour of a gravel track with the remains of the St Helens Canal between you and the railway. Continue along here, appreciating the industrial heritage (information boards) until you come to an old canal building with 1841 written on its side.
Go under the M62 and down a gravel lane to the left of a scrap yard to reach a tarmac lane – Alder Lane. Turn left and stroll past ugly fly-tipping to reach Sankey Brook again. Bear right, and after about 50 metres take a path to the left, following the edge of a field with the hedge on your left.
After a while the path veers round to the right. Continue in this direction briefly, before turning left along a track that leads through a copse and on to a T-junction. Turn right, then immediately left to pass by stables before reaching the lane (Farmers Lane) that leads back into Burtonwood, where a left turn down Chapel Lane takes you back to the Chapel House pub.