September Ramble – Ashurst Beacon
The valley of the River Douglas lies between Manchester and Liverpool but the area is surprisingly rural and provides a number of good walks, of which this is probably the best.
Our starting point was the car park provided for visitors to the beacon and was the highest point of the walk. From here we headed east, along quiet lanes until we turned off through the grounds of the local cricket club and followed a good, steadily descending path which provided splendid views towards the Pennines, with the huge Heinz factory dominating the foreground. This section of the walk was quite pleasant, with fields that used to be part of a golf course, but now overgrown. Finally, we came out on to the main road and passed St. Josephs College, once a seminary for training Catholic priests and later a College of Theology, but now appears to be closed.
We continued our steady downhill plod until we arrived at the most exciting part of the expedition, Dean Wood. From the open field, the track suddenly dropped down to a steep valley containing a dense, very dark forest. At the valley floor, we crossed the stream over a footbridge and ascended the other bank and back into a field, only to quickly enter the valley again, this time crossing the stream over stepping stones and finally back again over another footbridge. After all this excitement, we followed an easy path to Gathurst, where we joined the canal. This was our lunch stop, but with limited seating, the Bolton group stopped here, but the Longridge contingent carried on to another seat by a lock. This segregation was nothing to do with snobbery! An interesting feature of Gathurst is the seventy feet viaduct of the M6 which crosses the railway, which in turn passes over the canal. Three centuries of communication all meeting at one point.
Whilst we were having lunch, a narrow boat arrived, so some of our party assisted in operating the lock gates. The lady driver impressed us with her skill in navigating this long craft into the lock with only one gate open.
Lunch over, it was now along a beautiful section of the Leeds & Liverpool Canal to Appley Bridge, where we left the canal and followed the River Douglas through a large corn field, at the end of which we turned south along a pair of green lanes, a little muddy in places, followed by a very steep road, which caused much overheating and stripping off. Then it was back into the fields and a final stagger up to the Beacon, with its fabulous views in all directions. After the much needed rest, we descended down to the car park, with a little litter picking on the way.
This walk turned out to be a rather long nine miles and gave us a lot of variety. Good weather conditions prevailed and we all agreed that we must do more walking in this valley in future.
Linda & Eddie Grange