Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here reporting about a rural Runcorn hike. Yes, you read it correctly, a hike of over six miles in Runcorn in the countryside. It was a grey overcast day in July 2020, and it had rained for a few days prior to our walk. This meant that we would be walking through mud and puddles. Bliss! You can’t beat mud and puddles if you are a three year old Cocker Spaniel. My human, on the other paw, wasn’t so chuffed about the conditions under foot. He was waiting for a break in the weather so that we can go to the Peak District. For me though, a walk is a walk. I love to sniff around and investigate anywhere so, Runcorn is good for me, especially if there are muddy trails to run around.
If you have read one of my blogs before, you will have realised that we like to wander around an area without a planned route. Also, that my human likes to sing as we walk. So annoying and embarrassing. Today he was singing ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ by Bruce Springsteen. Probably because we were on the edge of town. I know how his crazy mind works by now. So, this little jaunt was no different, we were to walk wherever our mood took us.
We drove to the small parking area at the top of Keckwick Lane, close to the Daresbury Science Park. We walked along the cycle path along the A56 for a few hundred yards before we climbed the steps, leading into Keckwick Hill and Daresbury Firs. After a short fence lined footpath, alongside a meadow, we entered the woodland. We paused for a few moments while the big feller read the information board. I was eager to run free but, as usual, I had to wait for him to find his glasses. They are always in the last pocket that he looks in so, why doesn’t he look in that one first. Dog logic!
He chose to turn right to head into the broadleafed woodland, which is part of the ancient Mersey Forest. This privately owned woodland isn’t part of the cultivated Daresbury Firs and is left to grow naturally. The first recorded mention of this ancient woodland was in 1329 when the son of Hugh de Dutton supplied timber from here to repair the mill at Keckwick, part of the Norton Priory estate. Many of the trees were felled in 1910 because they had died, allegedly ‘from the foul fumes from Runcorn and Widnes’.
The whole area is a mountain biker’s playground with steep hills and sharp dips to challenge even the best. We passed ancient oaks, sycamores, beeches and birches as we walked along the myriad of, sometimes muddy, paths lined with slippery tree roots. It was fun to zig zag and weave in and out of the trees while my human slipped on some of the steeper climbs. We didn’t follow the obvious footpath, rather we went a bit off-piste. I loved running around this kind of forest, it is so varied, and I could hunt out squirrels and birds. We spotted a sparrowhawk that had its eyes on a mouse or a vole in the ferns. The ferns were dense and large so, I had difficulty running through them but, I tried, getting stuck now and again. My human had to come and rescue me, muttering under his breath about me being a pain.
We were almost back at Keckwick Lane when we found the steep sided remains of Keckwick Quarry, one of three that were originally in the area. It is believed that sandstone was quarried here to be used in building All Saints Church, across the road in Daresbury. After a good mooch around, we turned about face and sort of retraced our steps, as we headed back toward the information board. My human was amazed at the obvious age of some of the ancient oaks in this dark and damp woodland. I was more interested in sticks. I was spoilt for choice as I picked up small sticks and then discarded them for impossibly large tree branches. You can’t beat a good stick, I say!
After another quick read of the information board, my dad said that we should head straight forward into the open woodland. There were a few points along the footpath where my human could see across the fields toward Daresbury. I stretched to see what was so interesting but, I am a lot smaller than the Jolly Grey Giant. I hate to think that I am missing out on anything. We reached the Conservation Area where saplings had been planted, before we headed downhill. This footpath brought us into the coniferous woodland known as Daresbury Firs. This cultivated area has a dramatically different feel to it, when compared to the deciduous woodland, that we had just walked through. The tall straight trunks of the Scots Pines stretched high above us and formed uniform lines, along with the straighter footpaths covered with pine needles, making the walking dryer under paw.
We dropped down the hillside, at the rear of the houses on Delph Lane, once known as Quarry Lane, for obvious reasons. A short length of footpath took us to the hump backed bridge on Delph Lane, over the Bridgewater Canal. We joined the canal towpath and headed in the direction of Preston Brook. Puddles of rain had formed every few yards along the towpath, which was heaven for me, as I zoomed through them getting wet and muddy. My dad gave me the ‘look’ but, I was enjoying myself, so I continued regardless. We passed wheat fields on our right with phone cables stretching across their lengths. I have never seen so many pigeons precariously balanced on cables as we did that day. Trains noisily travelled along the West Coast Main line, running parallel to the canal. We were gifted with views up to Daresbury Business Park on one side and as far as Fiddler’s Ferry on our right. Norton Water Tower and Windmill Hill was visible across the fields as we passed under another humped bridge that led to Crow’s Nest. A bright blue Kingfisher sped under the bridge a few yards in front of us, obviously teasing me!
When we reached Red Brow Lane ‘Aqueduct’, we dropped into the lane, to cross over Keckwick Brook. We immediately crossed the railway line at Norton Crossing at the site of the once Norton Railway Station. The station house remains and is now a residential property.
It was a short road walk before we joined the Bridgewater Canal and turned right along the very wet towpath, toward Runcorn, on the opposite bank to Water’s Edge. I stopped for a few times to have a quick slurp of puddle water, much to my dad’s disgust. Well, he hadn’t brought water out for me. I wouldn’t have been disgusted if he had drunk from a puddle! Shortly, after passing under the railway, we turned right joining a footpath across wet open land. After a few hundred yards we entered Bog Wood with its muddy footpath and overhanging trees.
As we were leaving the woodland, the footpath ran alongside Keckwick Brook. A small wooden footbridge took us over Sandymoor Brook at its confluence with Keckwick Brook. I managed to get even muddier as we walked along this path. After passing through another small wooded area, Brook Wood, we walked along the footpath through Sandymoor, with houses peering through the trees on our left and the noise of construction of a new development on our right. The footpath took us past Sandymoor School, before we reached Keckwick Lane at the junction with Runcorn Road.
We headed up Keckwick Lane, passing under the narrow low railway bridge and past the Riding School. The narrow lane took us over a hump backed road bridge spanning the canal as we entered into Daresbury Science Park. Daresbury Tower dominates the skyline as we passed the Daresbury Laboratories. The area houses many modern office blocks and research facilities. The science park has won many awards for innovation and scientific research since it was opened in 1967 by the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson.
We headed uphill toward the car but not until we spotted another entrance to Daresbury Firs. We were parked only a few yards from this entrance and if we had walked through it, we wouldn’t have had to double back on ourselves earlier. Ah well! It had been fun few hours walking around the outskirts of our town. We had walked for about 6 miles with a bit of zigzagging. It only took us a few minutes to drive home. As soon as we walked through the front door my human told me to get upstairs and into the shower. I was in it like a flash. I love a nice warm shower plus I was a tad mucky after all the mud. Till next time!