Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here, getting my human to do a bit of typing for me. Yesterday we completed a hike in Merseyside, in an area that we were unfamiliar with. We wanted to stay fairly local again and to not walk up too many strenuous hills. Strenuous, that is, for the big feller. I just take it all in my stride, due to superior fitness levels and the advantage of youth. My dad has his left knee strapped up at the moment because, he says, it is a bit weak! Did I complain when my tail was sore? No, I didn’t. I just got on with stuff. Anyway, off to the countryside at the north of St. Helens we went. Billinge, to be more precise. Thank you to smudge1 for uploading the route to Viewranger. We planned to follow the route but with our usual diversions due to us liking to ‘wing it’.
It was a Sunday morning, in early September, that we hiked this route. The weather forecast was for a mixture of sun and clouds, with the odd light shower. We had been blessed with rain on a few occasions lately so, the footpaths should be muddy in places. You can’t beat a muddy path if you are a mud-seeking Cocker Spaniel. The back seat of our car, where I travel, looks like a muddy puddle itself, at times. My human is always calling me a mucky pup. Pup indeed! I am three years old. The cheek of him!
We parked in a side street, off the A571, close to St. Mary’s Church before we set off, walking south, along the pavement of the main road. After a short gradual downhill walk, we turned right, uphill, along Moss Bank Road. Just as we crested the hill, we turned right along the entrance to Forsters Farm Shop, at a sigh pointing to Crank Caverns. On passing trough a kissing gate at the end of the farm track, we joined a long straight footpath. The footpath was lined by a high hedgerow on our left and a wire fence on our right. The view across the farm fields showed us where we would be walking later. Billinge Hill, with its crowning beacon building, could be seen poking through the trees in the distance.
Over the fields we could see Clay Wood and Fir Wood as we entered a small area of woodland known as High Wood. The trees and bushes formed a tunnel as we walked, with shafts of bright sunlight illuminating our way. As we left the trees, we followed the footpath across open farmland, along the edge of wheat fields. The rain decided to give us a wash as we walked toward Crank Hill. Once we arrived at the top of the hill we turned back and followed a path leading into Rainford Old Delph, passing Delph Cottage on the left.
Within the woodland there is a series of old quarry entrances known as Crank Caverns and the remains of Rainford Delph Quarry. Within the quarry there is an explorable cave and tunnel system. It is a shame that there is so much graffiti and rubbish within the caverns. Sandstone was quarried here as long ago as 1730. Rather than quarrying the sandstone it was latterly mined, producing a network of tunnels. The caverns were utilised as an ammunition store for the nearby Crank anti-aircraft position during World War 2. It has been rumoured that a tunnel connects the caverns to St. Helens town centre some seven miles away. A legend also states that ‘vicious dwarves’ live in the caverns, after three children went missing in the area in the 18th century, with one surviving and saying that their friends were killed by little men with beards. Other stories about human remains being found deep in the cave system give the place an eerie feel.
The dwarf legend was the cue to my human starting to sing again. ‘Hi ho, hi ho, its off to work we go’ was the offending noise. I think that even Grumpy could sing better than him! I suppose that my human looks like a Disney dwarf with his pot belly and grey beard. Maybe a bit too tall but, I think you get my meaning!
We left the woodland to turn left across fields to Alder Lane Farm and then right along Alder Lane. Just before we joined the road, we came across a large ‘bouquet’ of pheasants which I, obviously, wanted to chase. My dad said that I almost ripped his belt off his trousers, as my lead was hooked onto it. It is his fault for bringing me to places like this! And for hooking my lead to his belt!
After a short stretch of road walking, we came to the junction with Rainford Road, where we turned right. This took us along a fifteen minute walk along the pavement at the side of this fast road. There were good views across the farmland as we passed the John Eddleston Fields before coming to a small road on our left. At the junction there is a bench elevated from the roadside where we stopped for our lunch. Cheese and ham rolls were shared between us as I gave my human the puppy dog-eyed look. He is a sucker and always ends up sharing with me if I stare at him and drool.
Once we had rested for ten minutes, we set off along Red Barn Lane, past a farm and a few houses overlooking the fields of wheat. Behind the houses we could see Houghwood Golf Course on the side of the hill. It looked like a nice place for me to chase after those little white balls. The fields were huge and full of wheat, ready to be harvested. Further along the road, the fields were full of maize, rising high above our heads. The road became a track and then, as we reached Red Barn Farm, it became a footpath leading behind the farm buildings. This took us across fields of recently harvested wheat, until we arrived at small areas of woodland. Around another recently harvested field and through a few trees and we were crossing Crank Road.
We crossed the road to enter a track leading alongside Billinge Hall, with its crazy Border Collie dogs barking in the garden. We went through a large wrought iron gate and continued up the lane. Billinge Hall is a Grade II Listed Building built in the 17th century and home of the Billinge family. The area is thought to be the site of the original settlement of the Billa people who came from Europe just after the departure of the Romans. We hiked along the track toward Promised Land Farm (great name), until we turned right along a footpath and over a stile, just before the farm buildings.
This footpath followed the edge of a grassy field where sheep and cows were grazing. My human was horrified when I stood in the largest cow pat you have ever seen. Up to my knees on three legs in cow pate. The steep path took us to another stile, at the top of the hill that my dad made me duck under, because of the stuff on my legs. As we were getting higher up the hill the views made my dad stop to take them in. But, he soon moved on when he realised that one of the cows looked suspiciously like a huge bull. He was happier when we were on the other side of the fence and at Billinge North Top.
We headed along a deeply rutted farm track toward Brownlow Farm as the big feller admired the views and almost fell on his backside because he wasn’t looking where his feet were going. Instead of dropping downhill to the farm we spotted a footpath through the trees. My dad said that the dwarves from Crank Caverns must have made this path as the branches were low and he had to keep ducking. I was fine walking on four paws. I don’t understand why he didn’t. It would have been easier for him. He is not as smart as me!
When we left, we crossed Crank Road again into a garden at the side of a house. We always feel uncomfortable when a public footpath passes through a garden so, we rushed through heading to Billinge Plantation. The woodland is managed by the Woodland Trust and has three heavily used footpaths within its 23 acres. We took the one heading south toward Billinge Hill. After a few minutes in the shelter of the trees we left the wood to head up to ‘The Lump’, as it is known locally.
Billinge Hill is the highest hill in the Merseyside area and is very popular with day trippers. It is famed for its beacon tower which was used for the Millennium celebration. The 18th century structure was constructed for Winstanley Hall as a summerhouse. Within the hill it is believed that a nuclear bunker was constructed to monitor nuclear explosions during the Cold War. The 360 degree views afforded from the summit include Winter Hill, Snowdonia, Manchester, the Peak District, Liverpool Cathedral and Blackpool Tower, on a clear day. The beacon tower is heavily covered in graffiti, much of which has been carved into the stone and over a century old. My human spent some time reading the inscriptions before we walked to the trig point to admire the views.
From the top of the sandstone hill we followed a footpath into Billinge village. This was a slight deviation from the route that we were following but, my human has never visited the place before. We left the footpath and walked along a side street before entering Main Street. In front of us was St. Aiden’s Church, built in 1716 and is Grade II listed. The village has a few nice looking pubs situated on its Main Street. We walked downhill along the pavement until we reached our car and our journey’s end.
We had walked around 7.5 miles with the route details stating 6.37 miles. We do tend to do a bit of exploring on our walks which adds a bit of distance to our plan. The weather had been kind to us with just the one shower. It had been a nice walk in an area unfamiliar to us. Till next time!