Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker reporting on another local walk from our front door. Norton used to be a stand-alone village three miles from Runcorn. In the 1960’s Runcorn became a ‘new town’ and Norton village became engulfed in the rapid expansion of the town. Due to the distance from our house we decided to split our walk to the area over two trips. Norton Priory was the aim of our first walk with the village of Norton being our second visit to the area. Norton Priory is closed to the public at the time of writing due to the Covid-19 pandemic but, the area is a pleasant place to visit being surrounded by woodland.
To walk to Norton Priory we used the towpath of the Bridgewater Canal, which is also part of the Bridgewater Way. It is a pleasant 1.5 mile walk along the towpath to the priory, passing under and over a few old hump-backed bridges until we reach Phoenix Park, a community open space. There is a large pond on the right of the canal with angling points at regular intervals. Swans, geese, ducks and moorhens are plentiful on the water. Also plentiful were gnats and other nasty biting insects on the day that we visited. We crossed Greens Bridge and walked along the path along the perimeter of the priory grounds until we arrived at the main entrance to the priory.
Norton Priory was built in the 12th century and continually expanded until the 16th century. The building was given the status of an abbey in 1391 but closed in 1536 when the dissolution of the monasteries took place. In 1545 the remaining building was partly utilised to build a Tudor house. This building was replaced with a Georgian House in the 18th century for Sir Richard Brooke. After the Brooke family left the house in 1921 it was partly demolished and it wasn’t until 1971 that excavations started to reveal the foundations and buried remains of the original priory. It is nowadays a popular tourist and educational attraction. The priory has been used as a location for many television programmes and movies such as Young Dracula, Islands at War and Casanova. Many instances of ghostly activity and hauntings have been reported over the centuries and a Paranormal Night with a Ghost Hunt is planned for August 2020.
We were unable to enter the grounds due to current coronavirus restrictions so my dads photographs are limited in what he could show. Even if it was opened, the priory is not pooch friendly so, we wouldn’t have been allowed inside the grounds. My dad tried to take a couple of photographs through the perimeter fence but, he ended up with anti-vandal sticky black paint on his hands. Hilarious! The area was deserted with only the sound of the birds singing and the leaves of the trees rustling in the cool easterly breeze. Outside of the entrance the ground under the trees was covered in this years wild garlic just starting to flower. The feint whiff if garlic attracted me into the undergrowth but, my dad called me away because it is poisonous for dogs.
We left the quiet of the priory and headed off through Big Wood, a Woodland Trust maintained area. Bluebells carpeted the floor beneath the beeches and birches. We followed a footpath along the side of Manor Park Avenue until we turned east along Manor Farm Road. This is where we came across Red Lodge that was built as an entrance lodge to the priory in 1870 for the Baronet of Norton Priory. It is currently a privately owned house with another area of woodland, called Lodge Plantation, at the rear of the building. We decided to explore the woodland and came across several footpaths running through the trees. It was a welcome relief from the hot sun. There was a small pond with remains of the perimeter walls visible here and there. I had a run around while I chased the grey squirrels.
When we left the plantation behind we walked along Warrington Road, which was once the main route between Runcorn and Warrington. Nowadays, the road winds its way through Manor Park business and industrial areas. To the right of us the Manchester Ship Canal was visible through the trees. After a short while we came to yet another wooded area, Haddocks Wood. We walked through the entrance to the wood before we came to huge playing fields. The area is home to several football pitches but, at the moment, the area was deserted. We usually drive to this park so that I can have a good run and chase balls or frisbies so, it was nice to be off-lead and to have a crazy ten minutes.
The woods are also criss-crossed with footpaths so, we spent some time investigating in the cool of the trees. After crossing a couple of small wooden footbridges, we left at the western edge of the woods to join a disused busway. The busway used to encircle the town but, parts have now been bypassed and the roads are no longer in use. It was time for more off-lead playtime for me as we headed towards the Bridgewater Canal.
As we rejoined the towpath alongside the canal my dad spotted something swimming on the surface and heading our way. Initially, he thought that it was a freshwater turtle but, after he had done a bit of Googling, he thinks that it was a terrapin. Terrapins are commonly discarded in canals, apparently, and grow to quite a large size. It was the size of a dinner plate with blue patches on the side of its head. Unfortunately, he was too slow with his camera and rather than take a distance photo and later zoom in, he tried to get too close. Needless to say, it submerged and swam off. I am not sure whether I believe him or he had been in the sun too long without a hat and his brain was fried. He says that he won’t include a photograph on here because of the poor quality of his shot. More likely that it was an Tesco carrier bag!
As we walked along the towpath we passed some narrow boats that people were living in. It looked like a relaxing way of life, particularly in the lovely weather that we were having. Just then we came across two swans sunning themselves on the canal bank. I had a Mexican Standoff with one of the. Neither of us backed down and neither of us approached the other too closely. I think that I won because my dad dragged me away calling me ‘Pancho Villa’. It went straight over my head.
The walk back along the Bridgewater Canal was a pleasant one with only one or two other people out and about. I was thirsty and leaning toward the water until my dad dragged me away reminding me how I fell in only a week ago. He always brings water out for me on our walks but, the temptation of a slurp from a canal or a muddy puddle is too much for me to resist. This time, however, I had to do as I was told. Spoil sport.
So, off we trundled along the last half a mile to home. We were home in a few minutes where I had to have a lovely warm shower because I was dusty from all the dry paths. My dad said that it made a welcome change from being covered in mud. It’s a shame that we can’t venture further afield but, those times will be back.