Monday, 4 July 2016

Something old, something new

The mystery bridge hidden in the trees at Withnell
Last night we were moored in Withnell Fold, a spot as tranquil as its name suggests. Tonight we are moored in a chemical accident alert zone, looking out at the M65 in the distance and within earshot of the railway.
Nothing is quite what it seems when boating, though. The thickly wooded canalscape around Withnell Fold hides almost entirely from view the evidence of a paper making mill which operated from 1843 until 1967.
Down in the valley below the canal, the filter beds, lagoons and pathways for the mill have largely returned to nature and are now a wildlife reserve. The mill chimney remains and bits of the works that now house various car repairers.
Cobbled steps lead up the hill - to nowhere
All that's left are these huge stone pump mounts

But it's the village itself that fascinates. The mill was built by Thomas Blinkhorn Parke and he built the model village to house its workers. The whole village is pretty as a picture and, to judge by the cars, houses executives rather than workers these days. The sturdy stone terraces are set round three sides of a square (with a village stocks on the fourth!). There's a reading room cum billiard hall cum dance floor - now a large private house - methodist chapel and primary school.
Village stocks look out at the square of cottages
The former 'lodge' or reservoir to supply water to the mill is now a war memorial garden, one of those remembered being Pte James Miller who was awarded a posthumous VC in WWI.
Just before reaching the village we'd spotted a mysterious high arched bridge in among the trees by the canal so we decided to explore. It wasn't exactly a quiet country ramble. On the way we had to negotiate a field of rather overly interested cows and on the way back discovered that the entry to another footpath was guarded by a savage alsatian on a dodgy looking chain. Avoiding him, we then ran the gauntlet of some spitting llamas and finally a field of hefty cob horses who took a particular aversion to Seadog Brian. One even galloped after us down the steep slope towards the canal.
Evading Alsatians, horses, cows and llamas, we near our goal
After all that the walk told us nothing more about the mystery bridge other than how impressive a piece of work it was. Mr Google did, though: it's part of the truly remarkable Thirlmere Aqueduct. This is another of those truly phenomenal Victorian achievements; a 96 mile long aqueduct, part open and part tunnel, that opened in 1897 to bring up to 55m gallons of water a day from Thirlmere Reservoir in the Lake District to Manchester. It is still doing it today.
The once mighty Imperial Mill, now empty and forlorn
Of course not everything from the Victorian age has survived – Blackburn is evidence of that. The canalside is littered with the decaying remains of old mills and industry. None is sadder than the huge, forlorn Imperial Mill - even the name is redolent of past glories - just one of the many cotton mills in a town which had an astonishing 2.5m spinning spindles in the 1870s. But none now.
The good news is that the canal in Blackburn is now far from the rubbish tip we've seen on previous visits. Litter is no worse than in any other urban canal and we didn't see a single floating item of furniture for a change.
You slide smoothly out of the town into the rolling moors of the Pennines and even the M65 in a cutting far below and the distant view of William Blythe Chemicals factory can spoil the peace or the view. Ironically, the chemical works is a Victorian survivor and now a world leader in specialist chemical manufacturing. 'Shut all window and doors if you hear a siren' warns a canalside sign. Don't worry, we will.
A distant view of the Pennines from tonight's mooring

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