Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here after a sweaty (for the big feller) walk from The Ship Inn, Blackbrook, St. Helens along the remains of the St. Helens or Sankey Canal, to Carr Mill Dam. We walked this route on a humid and warm Saturday morning in August. It had been a hot day on the previous day and a hot afternoon was forecast for this day so, we wanted to walk in the shade of trees. We have walked in this area on several occasions but, we hadn’t written about it before so, here we go!
We parked in the Stanley Bank car park at the rear of the Ship Inn. We weren’t alone on this occasion as there were a few other cars there already. It is a popular dog walking area and so, I was expecting to meet a few other pooches on the way for a sniff and a chase.
As soon as we left the car the annoying one started singing another one of his obscure songs. ‘The Forest’ by The Cure was the day’s torture. OK, there are a lot of trees in the area but, why do his renditions have to be linked to the place that we are walking? There is a point in the song where the audience clap in time with the music and I thought to myself that if he started to do that at any stage then I would slip my lead and ‘do one!’ Fortunately, this didn’t happen but, the singing was bad enough. He usually stops singing as people approach us and quietly hums the tune. I find this quite embarrassing so, I usually pretend to be sniffing out some imaginary bird or squirrel in the bushes while the moment passes. Anyway, he is annoying, full stop!
At the entrance to Stanley Bank there is a brand new, shiny information board that caught my dad’s eye. He still hasn’t learned that, as soon as we get out of the car, I need to start marking my territory with a pee. I had to drag him away from the board while I found a suitable tree. Job done, now he can start reading stuff. Immediately as we entered Stanley Bank, we came to a pond with swans and their cygnets, ducks, geese and moorhens. The pond was created as the Stanley Bank Canal Wharf on the Blackbrook extension of the St. Helens Canal in the 1700’s. On the side of the wharf are three pieces of sculpture, a Coal Cart, the Wharf Derrick and Marker Stones. The Coal Cart is a representation of a Chaldron Wagon as used in the area in the 1800’s. The Wharf Derrick is a copy of the type of canal crane used to load and unload barges. The Marker Stones were used to show the original width of the basin when it was in its heyday.
We had a quick look on our left at the remains of the canal which is overgrown but still obvious behind the thick vegetation. My dad said that he could imagine that this area would have been very busy when the canal was used to transport coal from the nearby mines to the villages and towns of Cheshire and beyond. Personally, I thought that it was still busy but, with people feeding ducks and walking their yapping pooches.
After a few minutes admiring the wharf area we walked toward Stanley Mill. The Stanley Slitting Mill was built in the late 18th century to split iron rods into thinner strips to eventually produce nails. It was an unsuccessful venture and was later converted to a corn mill, which also didn’t last the test of time. It was demolished in the early 20th century. An archeological dig around the site unearthed the remains of some of the mill buildings and two water wheels stand within the display.
We plodded on through Glass House Close Wood at the back of the mill up a few wooden edged steps and over a footbridge. This took us through the broadleaved woodland to Stanley Bank Meadows. This is a SSSI or a Site of Special Scientific Interest in an area that until the early 20th century, was a woodland. It was cleared to grow crops but, the area turned out to be too wet for cultivation. Because the area had never been drained or fertilised, it became the natural habitat of many native species of plant and wildflowers. Many orchids produce areas of colour around the footpaths that wind their way around the area.
I managed to find a nice cool muddy puddle to flop down into much to my dad’s disdain. We headed back into the shade and cool of the woodland along some lovely muddy sections of footpath. My dad tried his hardest to avoid the soggier sections but, I marched straight into them. They cooled my paws down so, I can’t understand why he doesn’t take his shoes and socks off to join me. We passed a pond that was the remains of a marl pit, dug out, probably in Medieval times, to supply clay for pottery manufacture.
We walked along the rough footpath alongside the drainage ditch from Carr Mill Dam. This raised footpath also runs closely to the Black Brook River that is fed by Carr Mill Dam. We reached an iron footbridge over the river which we crossed and turned right toward the lake.
At the footbridge over the river we turned right, uphill toward Car Mill Dam. Above us was the railway viaduct on the Wigan – St. Helens line. The mid-nineteenth century crossing has been recently restored and crosses the two outflows from the dam. Due to the recent dry spell of weather the overflows from the dam were also dry.
The dam wall has a rough roadway across it leading to the boathouse further along the bank of the lake. We walked along the dam with a few other pooches. It is a really popular area for dogs to exercise their humans.
Carr Mill Dam was formed by damming the Black Brook Valley in the 1750’s to provide water to the Sankey Canal and then to create power for Carr’s Mill. Prior to damming it was a much smaller mill pond. The dam is about to experience a £1m upgrade which will probably increase the areas popularity. It is already very popular with anglers who can be seen at nearly every peg around the lake. Lancashire Powerboat Racing Club have used the lake since 1932 and their boathouse has been hugely refurbished over the years. We walked past the Boathouse with its large marquee in the garden overlooking the lake where people were sheltering from the sun and eating their meals and drinking their pints.
The area is part of the Garswood Estate owned by the Gerrard family and it was by the Boathouse that we joined the disused section of Garswood Old Road. The road is a tree lined rough lane running below and parallel to the railway line. We soon turned left to follow the footpath around the lake. This narrow footpath kept us close to the shore of the lake as we reached The Goyt, a stream that feeds the lake, with its large carved rock marker.
The area was quieter as we walked along this part of the lake until we came across many anglers with massive amounts of fishing equipment along the shores. The undulating path took us along the shore through Caleb’s Rough, until we approached the 19 Arches bridge. The bridge carries the main water pipe from Rivington Reservoir to Prescott Reservoir. At the end of the bridge we turned left to continue along the banks of the lake.
Every few yards there was an angler basking in the sunshine. If you enjoy fishing this is a beautiful spot to indulge your hobby. I was more interested in nicking any unguarded sandwiches that the anglers had brought with them. I briefly met a few of them and they were very nice to me. We had a choice of paths along this side of the lake. There is a well laid straight-ish path and a rougher and more undulating path. We chose the lower more undulating path as it kept closer to the shore line. It is still an easy path to walk with better views across the water. Carr Mill Wood gave us some cool and shaded conditions to walk in. I tried to run into the lake but, my dad stopped me because of the warning notice about the presence of blue-green algae, that can kill dogs!
We emerged from the woodland at the Carr Mill pub, which we passed to join the footpath back into Black Brook Valley. The path dropped sharply into the trees again where we met more dog walkers and people out for a gentle stroll. The noisy East Lancs roadbridge towered above us before we were back in the relative quiet of the Black Brook Valley.
We finally reached the point where we crossed the iron footbridge. Instead of heading along the rough footpath in the woodland, we decided to walk along the wide hard surfaced path alongside the Black Brook River. The footpath is the route that iron would have been transported from Carr Mill Dam to the slitting mill. The river is actually no more than a stream that flows down the valley with a few minor tributaries flowing into it. In places, red staining of the rocks can be seen where the water contains oxidised iron from underground iron ore deposits in the area. The surrounding area suffers regularly from flooding and work is ongoing to improve the situation by utilising the river. The footpath passes a couple of short tunnels that control the water flow. A small pond on the right has a muddy edge to it from when it overflows. This attracted my attention but, my mean dad pulled me away because we were almost back at the car.
A few minutes later we were back at the car. The sun was beating down by this time and it was a relief to jump into it with the air-con on as low as possible. I am not a sun lover, unlike the big feller. Another good walk with the worst singer ever! Till next time!