Canal Adventure #14 – Eldonian Village (Liverpool) to Maghull

Today we completed the west side of the Leeds and Liverpool canal (well nearly, there’s an intentional gap in the middle earmarked for the final run of the project). This was one of our proper adventures involving a drive to Maghull, catching the train to Sandhills, walking a bit to the very start of the canal and then running back. All in, it turned out to be 11.5 miles.

The end of the canal is a bit disappointing. It just ends. There are no statues, fanfares or dancing girls. Just some particularly nowty geese (the one on the right of the photo was spectacularly grumpy).

Guard geese at the start of the canal

Before today, we had done some humming and haaaaaaing about where to start the run. I’d thought that we would end up on the waterfront with all the iconic scenery, but when we peered more closely at the map, we realised that section is an extra bit of canal that is joined to the Leeds and Liverpool by the Stanley Dock Branch. I have nothing against branch canals, but when I started this I decided that they weren’t essential parts of the plan, so I don’t have to run them (yet).

This is the top lock of the Stanley Dock Branch. It is also where things started to go a bit tits up (to use a technical term). After a mere 2 minutes and 37 seconds, I caught my foot on something; there was a bang (from me), a loud expletive (from Ginge) and I lay sprawled across the (nicely maintained and good to run on, but also quite gravelly) towpath. Somehow I had managed to graze my right calf, my right little finger (now sporting a lovely  bruised knuckle), my right elbow and (most bizarrely) my right shoulder. I sat up, slightly dazed and gathered myself together before standing up and nearly fainting (after a number of falls over the past few years, I recognise what’s happening and try my best to stop it). We could have walked back to the station and caught the train home (thank god we had enough money to do that if we wanted), but decided to carry on. If you find yourself in a similar situation and have the option of not running 11.3 miles home, take it – you’ll thank me for it.

The second lock was the scene of my actual and metaphorical downfall

Property prices have rocketed round here

They knew how to make a plaque those Victorians

This was probably the most urban of canal runs that we’ve done (round Blackburn was at the top of the leader board before today). It’s daft to think of the canal as a picturesque rural idyll (even though large sections are rather rural and idyllic) because it was built to link two industrial cities, via various busy, industrial towns. The first few miles were surrounded by residential areas, scrap yards and (mainly abandoned) warehouses, while the  lily pads that grew along the edges of the canal were sifted up with flotsam and jetsam that suggested a very specific type of recreational binge drinking. I didn’t take photos of these (or the dead cat).

But I did take a photo of the sunken shopping trolley

The remains of old industry - boats would have been able to sail into the warehouse through the arch

In the midst of all this, we were slightly surprised to see bee hives on the opposite side of the canal. It turns out that these are community hives installed by British Waterways, Art for Places and local people who have been trained in the art and science of beekeeping.

To bee, or not to bee

The bridges along this section of the canal are all lettered rather than numbered (I even took photos of bridge I, just in case it was bridge 1), but eventually we reached bridge 1.

Bridge 1

Onward we continued, through Bootle and towards Litherland. I had needed the loo before we set off (and hadn’t been helped by my dramatic crash landing), however despite being bordered with bushes, the residential nature of the route meant that any sneaky wee stops would be hidden from the towpath, but would result in me flashing my bum to a whole cul-de-sac. Sensibly, we decided to hop off the canal and have a cheeky comfort stop at Tesco, Litherland (I may not have been a customer today, but I reckon I have enough Clubcard points to entitle me to pee in any of their branches). Whilst avoiding any Tena lady moments, this did mean that we had a break of 15 minutes or so, which messed up our rhythm quite a bit (note to self, don’t take a 15 minute break during the race next week).

The previous milestone had been amended to read "Everton 3 L'Pool 2"

After Litherland, things went much more rural. If nothing else, the route of the canal is a reminder of how much green space we have on our doorsteps round here. We also figured that, despite the litter, the water must be relatively clean to sustain all of the wildlife that you can see along the canal.

King Heron

At around 8 miles, I was a bit knackered. There were long stretches of nothingness, half of my body ached from the fall and I found my posture becoming more and more hunched, while my steps became more and more shuffling. I managed to keep up a semblance of pride until we passed Aintree racecourse, but it all went downhill from there.

A distant Aintree. If I was a horse, they would have shot me out of kindness.

We limped on and it was with a huge amount of relief that we found ourselves back at bridge 11b in Maghull. We invested our emergency fiver in some chocolate milk, Oasis and a packet of Jaffa Cakes and drove home with the intention of doing nothing all afternoon but ended up repainting the bedroom.

Miles run = 11.5
Canal miles completed = 11.5
Total canal miles = 86.85/127*
Bridges = C-11b

Canal Adventure #13 – Haigh Hall to Wigan

Where to begin? Since my last post, I have consulted a physio who diagnosed me with both top-down (lopsided pelvis) and bottom-up (over pronating feet) wonkiness resulting in an over-tight iliotibial band on my left side, which causes pain in my right knee. There was a far more technical explanation to all this, which I nodded and mmmmmmed through as if I understood every word (a bit like when a mechanic explains why you’re going to have to pay them a vast amount of money because of what’s wrong with your car). The explanation was technical, the solution was simple – a foam roller. I have been instructed to roll daily, more if I can do, in fact “if you can take three weeks leave and use that to roll, that would be perfect…”.

At the end of three weeks of rolling (next Thursday) I will return to Andy and, if I have better movement, I will be taught some exercises to correct things. The first time I used the roller there was an awful lot of yelping and swearing, my god it hurt. I spent two days looking for bruises (there were none), couldn’t carry my work bag on the left because it hurt too much when it touched and felt like someone had been clubbing my leg with a blunt instrument. However, the pain has now subsided and I can roll with minimal yelping and falling off.

My most important question during the consultation was “when can I run again?”. The best part of the consultation was the look on Andy’s face when I followed this up with the announcement that I was asking because I’m supposed to be doing a half marathon in September. He then asked me a question, which I replied with the answer, “no, September 2011….”. To be fair, he kept a straight face and then told me I’d be alright running as pain allows.

Luckily we’ve had a lot going on, so it was fairly easy to take a whole week off before returning with a three miler on Saturday (alright, set off a bit fast, uphill was uncomfortable but not painful), four miles on Tuesday (brilliant, felt wonderful) and two on Thursday (rubbish, couldn’t get into the swing of it).  The knee has been fine, the hip ok, but the head is annoying me. I’ve lost a bit of confidence in myself and have convinced myself that I can’t run any kind of distance, let alone 13 miles. In an attempt to resolve this, Ginge and I planned to do a stretch of canal running that we’ve been saving.We planned it for Sunday, but then postponed it (twice) and decided to celebrate my birthday with it (I was also taken out for tea, it wasn’t the only thing that we did. I’m not that sad).

We started at Haigh Hall, where the miniature train was running and lots of people seemed to be enjoying the summer holidays, and off we went to tackle the Wigan Flight.

The start and finish - Bridge 60

The Wigan Flight is a series of 21 locks that takes the canal a height of 214ft in less than 2 miles. If nothing else, it dispels the myth that canals are flat. We chose to run down the flight  (we’re not daft) and have a few breathers photo opportunities on the way back up.

Bridge 52 - the turn around

The route takes you past the end of the Leigh Branch canal (linking the Leeds-Liverpool to the Bridgewater canal).

Leigh Branch Canal

Gateway to the Cheshire Ring

The Leigh Branch is 14 miles long and takes you through Leigh town centre and Pennington Flash, annual home of the swimming part of Ironman UK and weekly home to the Pennington Park Run what I did a few weeks ago.

According to my fabulous new Pearson’s canal books (Ginge knows how to pick my birthday pressies well), the Flight takes around six hours to navigate in a boat. Each lock is fantastically complicated, has vandal-deterring locks and British Waterways encourage boats to pass through in pairs in order to save precious water. When we ran through, two BW staff were hard at work coordinating the ascent and descent of several beautiful boats, which we gawped at enviously.

Room for two

As we continued our own ascent, several people helpfully pointed out that it was easier going the other way, which was very kind of them. Reaching Top Lock did require quite a bit of determination (and a little bit of walking. For my knee…) and it was something of a relief to reach Lock 65 (or Lock I in old money), not least because we were both proper hungry by this time and I had presents to open.

Top of the Locks!

Miles run = 6.5
Canal miles completed = 3.25
Total canal miles = 75.35/127*
Bridges = 60-52

Messing about in boats

“Believe me, my young friend, there is NOTHING – absolute nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats. Simply messing,’ he went on dreamily: ‘messing – about – in – boats….’


So said Ratty to Mole in the Wind in the Willows, and that’s what we spent doing today. On Wednesday, me and Ginge will have been married for four years and what better way to celebrate than on the canal? The canal running was the inspiration for the trip (I’ve said  before, I’m not bloody obsessed) because without it, we never would have known about the Foulridge tunnel and we would never have spotted Tigerlily, the hire boat that we borrowed for the day. We ran this section as our first canal/camping adventure at the end of May; it was grey and miserable on the Saturday, and grey, miserable and wet on the Sunday. Luckily, we were blessed with better weather today.

Blue skies were very welcome

It was strange being on the other side of the fence for once, normally it’s me peering at people and saying hello as I plod past them, but today we were the object of people’s greetings and curiosity. It also made a change for there just to be two of us on a boat (we’ve been on narrowboats two years previously, but they’ve been more, ahem, party boats. On one trip, we ended up split into a girls’ boat and a boys boat, and I snuck onto the boys because I will not be defined by gender stereotypes. And the girls’ boat was like a scary floating hen do) and not incurring the wrath of canal dwellers as  a drunken ship of fools passes their moorings.

One mile of darkness...

...being dripped on by stalactites...

...but there was light at the end of the tunnel.

We navigated our way through the mile long tunnel, had a picnic in the sunshine, knitted, listened to Test Match Special, stopped for an ice cream, acquired two head injuries (I’d have to have some kind of helmet if we lived on a boat, I’m short but clumsy) and no one fell in.

Not a bad spot for a picnic

Dinner guests (I always imagine swans to be hollow, but have never tapped one to be sure)

I’ve also had three days knee rest and will be ringing a Twitter recommended physio tomorrow – thank you all for your wise words on my last post.

Juneathon day 19: Canal adventure #12 – Maghull to Halsall

Back on the west side of the canal running today – this wasn’t on the official plan, but events conspired to make it a logistically viable plan. On Friday I ran and ate alone because Ginge went out for food and beers with work. Being the law-abiding souls that we are, he left his car at work and I did a 50 mile round trip through the wilds of Merseyside to retrieve him at the end of the night. A contributing factor to my poor sleep and reluctance to run on Saturday may have been the cement mixer-like snoring that I endured on Friday night, but I couldn’t possibly prove that. With Sunday came the prospect of another 50 mile round trip to collect Ginge’s car. After a bit of head scratching and map consultation, we decided that if I was going to drive that close to the Liverpool end of the canal, we might as well run a bit. Unfortunately, he actually had to do some work, so I sat around and did some work stuff and some knitting (it took me right back to being small and sitting around in hospital staff rooms waiting for my mum to finish being on-call. There was often watery vending machine hot chocolate and colouring-in in those days).

When he’d done what he had to do, we hopped into separate cars and did a convoluted there and back to the beginning and end of the canal route, dropping cars off as we went. Eventually we were assembled at Maghull train station and ready to set off from Bridge 11b.

Bridge 11B

First stop for a photo was Maghull cricket club, where some of the towpath benches face the ground so you can sit and do a sneaky bit of spectating.

Insert weak cricketing pun here

It was a bit warm today, but luckily there was a lot of shady greenery. This didn’t stop me complaining mind you.

Another lovely bridge

We spotted some Day of the Triffids style giant hogweed, which we steered well clear of. Giant hogweed was one of my more leftfield childhood fears.

Evil Giant Hogweed

There was a bit of a reminder that we’re in spitting distance of finishing the west side of the project…

So near!

…swing bridges both closed…

Closed swing bridge

and open…

Open swing bridge

…a field of sheep treading their own path of desire…

Sheep: clearly up to something

…and, two miles earlier than we expected (it makes up for my under-estimating last week), Bridge 21A.

Bridge 21A - welcome back to Lancashire

(but I actually had a double caramel Magnum)

Miles run = 5.1
Canal miles completed = 5.1
Total canal miles = 72.1/127*
Bridges = 11B – 21A

Juneathon Day 12: Canal adventure #11 – Gathurst to Wigan

Today’s canal running took us back to bridge 46, the site of the very first adventure.

The start and finish - Bridge 46

It was raining then and it was raining today, the important difference being that the first run was in February and I’m lead to believe that we’re now in June. We’d always planned this to be a tea-time run and (for reasons that we’re not quite sure about) we stuck with that plan, despite the fact that it was lovely and dry this morning, merely drizzling this afternoon and generally peeing down by 5 o’clock. Despite the weather and the fact that he didn’t have to join me (“It’s not my bloody Juneathon…”), Ginge and I duly trekked off to Gathurst to run the towpath to Wigan Pier.

As it was a there and back again, we ran the first half only stopping for one photo. This is the home of Wigan Warriors RLFC and Wigan Athletic and used to be called the JJB Stadium before its owner, Dave Whelan, had a fit of modesty and changed it from the name of his company to his initials (I know it was because there was some changes within his business empire, but he still named the bloody company after himself). In our house, it is merely known as…

...The Pie-dome

There was a lot of puddle dodging and nervous edge running because while I don’t mind getting my feet wet, I prefer not to in the first few yards of a run. Despite this, the first half went pretty quickly and soon we were at the halfway point – Bridge 52.

Half-way - Bridge 52 - the most glamorous bridge we've seen so far

Historical detail on Lock 86

We passed the British Waterways offices (incidentally, BW have denied by tweet that they are involved in a topless calendar, but may consider it in the future. I bloody love Twitter) and the Wigan dry dock…

British Waterways

Well at least something was dry

…before stopping for photos at Wigan Pier.

Gazing out on t'pier

The Pier was made famous by two Georges – Orwell and Formby Sr – and is disappointing if you’re after candy floss and arcades. It was even disappointing to George Orwell, who travelled there in 1936 only to find that it had been sold for scrap (at a price of £34)  in 1929 .

Wigan feels pier pressure when compared with Blackpool

A replica pier was built in 1986 and the area is now being redeveloped as The Wigan Pier Quarter (not The Wigan Pie Quarter as I misread). It is cobbled and as such, a pain in the arse to run on in the rain.

Did I mention that it was raining?

One of the features of canal running is the differences between towpaths – they can be tarmac, unmade paths, cobbles, paved, grassy, meaning that you can end up with a variety of running surfaces on one run. This run took in cobbles, unmade paths, block paving (complete with decorative features)…

East, west, home's best.

…and water.

We were able to run round this on the way out...

By this time, my feet were soaked and I adopted an approach of running straight through anything that didn’t appear deep enough to drown me. On we splashed, taking in this beauty…

Pure Genius

…and what appeared to be an ancient monument to the Gods of Lego.

We've no idea what this is.

I completed the run with a splashtastic sprint finish to the bridge and am now on the look out for a new camera as mine appears to be a little waterlogged. I dried out ok so fingers crossed that it does too and there’s no lasting damage.

Miles run = 6.8
Canal miles completed = 3.4
Total canal miles = 67/127*
Bridges = 46-52

*Officially over halfway there! Which is a little scary as I’m sure I have less than 11 remaining stages planned for completion.