David Hymers: Exploring the Lancaster

Published: Monday, 22 June 2015

WE ARE currently exploring the Lancaster Canal, the last piece of the connected system that we have never been on, at least until one of the restoration projects comes to fruition. It is also our furthest North, since it beats Ripon by a couple of miles.

The Ribble Link was a lot less nerve-wracking than I expected, as the weather conditions were good. When ascending Savick Brook I was glad that the traffic was one way; it was far too narrow to pass another boat. The transit of the Ribble was no worse than doing the tidal Trent or Thames, though it was only afterwards that we were told that we only had ten minutes in hand when we got off the river, as the tide was a small one.

I was surprised at the relaxed attitude of the CaRT personnel dispatching us from Tarleton. There were only four boats going and each had been given different information about the departure time—we were told 7am, two boats were told 8am (which was the right time) and one poor boat had 5am—so it was a very long day for them. We were handed a small piece of paper which updated some of the information we had received from the office, but no-one checked the numbers on board or whether we had the obligatory life jackets, all of which is done, for example, at Limehouse.

The men seeing us up Savick Brook were very helpful and assisted at all the locks, especially the staircase which has to be travelled backwards, which is slightly disconcerting.

We duly admired the new sculpture which has replaced the rotten (in both senses) Ribble Piddler and looks as though it might last longer.

On the Lancaster

It's a lovely canal, with some splendid views over Morecambe Bay, towards the Lake District and the Forest of Bowland. It makes a nice change to have no locks to do, though we did go down the branch to Glasson Dock, which involves six of them. Several local boaters told me they had never been down there—"all those locks to do"—they should try Hatton.

The canal is wide and deep in the middle, though the sides tend to be shallow except at official mooring points. The terminus at Tewitfield is very attractive, but virtually on the hard shoulder of the M6. Half a mile away though, the noise level is more acceptable. Roll on the Northern Reaches—there seems to be a well worked-out plan for this, it just needs a lot of money—it must be about time the canals got a slice of lottery funding again.

There are plenty of facilities—at least three pump-outs in 41 miles is a lot better than a good few other canals I could mention. There does seem to be a curious absence of diesel; we were warned by others before we came that there was none, which seems odd as there are plenty of diesel powered boats up here and they must be getting it from somewhere. Apparently most of the former outlets stopped selling diesel when the EU forced the new tax regime on us, not wanting the hassle.

New attraction

On our way to Tarleton we passed the Lion Salt Works, on the Trent and Mersey North of Anderton. This has been undergoing a major operation to turn it into a visitor attraction, it having closed in 1986. It was about to open and they were running guided preview tours, for which we arrived just in time. Fascinating tour and now it is fully open well worth a visit. The pictures show the new opening times which replace the information on the old tank. You can tie up outside—or at least you will be able to once CaRT have moved the continuous moorers and, I would suggest, made some of the space restricted to, say, four hours.

Waste facilities

I was a bit puzzled by Deborah Piekarski's complaint about the 'abuse' of waste facilities. We have only met one that was in a filthy state so far this year, at Burscough Junction, where it is locked away and invisible to anyone who does not know it is there. The reason why most of them have good road access is so that the lorries can get there to empty the skips. Perhaps she can suggest a better solution than a CaRT key—actually few rubbish areas are locked anyway.

As for parish councils dealing with litter etc, I have to disappoint her. Parish councils have no legal power to deal with this, except on their own land, and would be committing an offence if they used taxpayers money for this. It is the district or unitary council which has the power, though in the present climate I doubt if many of them will have the inclination.

David Hymers