Thursday, 8 May 2014

Rufford Old Hall

We have decided to journey along the full length of the Rufford Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in case there is any chance of a late cancellation by other craft to undertake the tidal Ribble Link onto the Lancaster Canal.

To do this was our original plan but when we tried to book at Wigan all the dates suitable for our calendar had been taken. There were one or two early convoys we could have joined but then we wouldn’t have been able to return till September, which was far too late for us.

This is a difficult system with which to live since one has to book securely months in advance in order to obtain the spot one requires and all boaters know how difficult this is to predict with any more accuracy than a week either way at that distance in time. So Janis and I are happy to take pot luck and adjust our journey plans if necessary when we arrive at the end of the branch at Tarleton Lock. Always we have the beautiful Pennines to do instead.


Janis with ‘Roots and Wings’ exit-ing Chicken Lock


We left the Leeds and Liverpool proper at Burscough Junction and immediately, after such a long time without, were headily and most unfamiliarly beset by six large locks in close proximity, whose sluices were operated either with strange wooden levers or horizontal winding gear and as usual by the time we became almost used to the new idea we had finished with the locks.

However we’ve been tied up for a few days now close to Rufford Lock, separated from the previous ones by about two miles and near a small village of the same name. Nearby is the National Trust Tudor property called Rufford Old Hall, built and, up until fairly recently, owned by the Hesketh Family of Formula I Grand Prix racing fame in the Seventies.


Rufford Old Hall and  formal gardens



Inside Great Hall showing moveable screen

The day was fine so Janis and I spent the whole of Tuesday visiting the Hall and gardens, both of which were in fine condition and well looked after. Part of the former over the years had been demolished leaving just the medieval Great Hall intact. However the Victorian family added a wing leaving the fine property as it is today. The gardens of course at this time of the year are beginning to look at their best with all the flowers and shrubs coming into their own. In keeping with the rest of the nearby area there are masses of Bluebells in bloom in the wooded area.



Pale Lilac


DSCN0671  Dandelion

Seed pod of the Dandelion





Carpets of Bluebells


DSCN0695  Pink Rhododendron

Pink Rhododendron


Yesterday the weather was not quite as good, as it rained lightly for a lot of the day. We found a bus stop and caught a bus for nearby Southport. It was good to experience this Bournemouth of the north, designed and built during the Nineteenth Century as a holiday resort for the moneyed middle classes of mine and mill owners so they wouldn’t have to mix on the firms annual shutdown with their workers who all went by tradition to Blackpool instead. It was another good day out in spite of the weather and we enjoyed it.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Bluebells and Babies

In the title I use the word ‘Babies’ purely for the sake of alliteration. But more precisely what I refer to is the proliferation this year of Mallard chicks on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and Bluebells along its banks.

Since leaving Liverpool on Thursday 1st May we have seen plenty of the former all through each day; large families of little brown and black furry bundles all scampering about as fast as they can as our boats approach. Mother looks on approvingly but with a certain degree of voluble agitation as she tries to keep them all together. She knows by instinct that the fleet or convoy tactics that ships used during the War affords a better protection against predators than all of the large family being vulnerably separated.


Spanish Bluebell


Native Bluebell




Wild Garlic


DSCN0616  Stinging Nettle

Stinging Nettle. It’s always a good year for that hardy plant


But even at one day old these young have a fully developed swimming technique that enables them to run almost across the surface of the water at great speeds though the little stubby wings, flapping vigorously, are no help at all at this stage. To me they all look completely identical with their distinctive markings and how the families, all vying for the same space, don’t get thoroughly mixed up I’ll never know. But mother seems to be able to tell and to rally her own family on all occasions when necessary.


DSCN0646  Leaving mooring in Salthouse Dock

Leaving Salthouse Dock


DSCN0648  'Kathleen and May'

Wooden Schooner ‘Kathleen and May’ in Canning Dock


DSCN0652  White Lilac time

White Lilac



Pale Lilac


Along this waterway it has been a good Spring for wild flowers also, Red Campion and Bluebells in particular. Just before we arrived at Liverpool the lush green floors of copses and woods were carpeted with our traditional native variety but since leaving Liverpool the banks of the canal have been blanketed abundantly with the upright Spanish version. This has broader leaves and has the bell blossoms growing all round the stem as opposed to the them hanging all on the one side only of our drooping native variety.

Both are beautiful and good to see.

We had enjoyed Liverpool enormously but the time arrived for us to leave on a rather murky depressing day. It rained all morning as we travelled in front of the sparkling white Liver Building and through Waterloo and Stanley docks. Here in contrast the massive old and rotting lock gates that used to be so busy allowing deep sea ships to enter and leave the port were now quiet and looked so forlorn in their neglect. The be-weeded cobbled docksides covered in gull and wild geese droppings, the graffiti-ed walls of the tall warehouses with  their broken glass windows in rusted iron frames were all eerie with the smell of dereliction.

But clear of the four Stanley Locks leading up onto the Leeds and Liverpool Canal everything began to improve. The Sun came out at last and as the area became more rural so did our spirits begin to soar again. Liverpool City life for a few days had been wonderful but we were now re-entering the real paradise that we all do our boating for.