Giving up on my long walk unexpectedly at least gave me some more time at home to plan the remainder of this summer’s trips and the long drive we are starting at the end of summer. Our trips in July and August are in the UK but at the end of the month we set off for what will probably be our longest drive. A couple of years ago I found this book in a charity shop:
It was written in 1970 and describes the author’s trip around Australia and planted the idea in my brain. We have done longish drives: 2,500 miles or so on Route 66, 3,500 miles on the transcontinental Lincoln Highway in 2016 and a month driving around New Zealand in 2017 but this will be the longest. There is a Facebook group ‘Planning a lap of Australia’ although the majority of people in it are Australians who will be camping. Some have sold up everything to spend several months or years on the road. I have been to Australia on several occasions, the longest for two months in 2004 when I spent my Churchill Fellowship in Victoria, carrying out some research at a university in Melbourne and discovering some of the state on my weekends off. I stayed for some of the time with a friend in Woodend and on my first weekend, decided to go for a day hike on Mount Macedon. On the drive over there, my first wild koala ambled across the road in front of me and I saw several more on my walk. My city friends in Sydney, who had only seen koalas in reserves and zoos, called me ‘the koala magnet’. Our last trip was in 2011 when I attended a conference in Freemantle, we met up with friends in Perth and then took the Indian Pacific from Perth to Sydney, a four night and three day train journey which crosses the Nullarbor Plain
and then stops at Kalgoorlie, Adelaide and Broken Hill before going through the Blue Mountains (last visited in 1997) and descending into Sydney.
One of the interesting stops on the train is Cook – a former water station only populated by two people and a dog.
So now, we are pretty organised with car hire, accommodation, visas etc all sorted and house-sitting planned. On the way round we have plans to catch up with several friends and family and divert to interesting things.
Having to give upon my walk after only four days and 77 miles was frustrating to say the least but not the most serious curtailment to a journey that I have experienced. Almost eight years ago I was with a group trekking in the Markha Valley in Ladakh, India when we were stranded by the severe floods that the Western Himalayas experienced that summer. After several days, we were rescued by the Indian Air Force and got home safely. Not all trekkers were so fortunate: four died in the gorge we had walked down three days previously. Many of the locals had lost family members and had their homes and livelihoods destroyed.
I had cancelled most of my accommodation reservations but left the one in Penrith as James had been planning to meet me there on his way to Edinburgh. We had a fairly easy run but something I had noticed on the way down a few days earlier still mystifies me. Two years ago, ‘Pies’ was seen on many of the motorways bridges in Cheshire and Merseyside. This related to a Liverpool band who 30 years previously had once been stuck on a bridge on the M57 and written it on there. Their fans have continued to do this periodically since then. This week ‘CANED’ in white was written on several M6 and other bridges in Lancashire. I have not been able to find out what that is about yet.
We arrived in Penrith late morning and visited three of the bookshops in town: the first at Brunswick Yard which has antiques, rugs, Black Hand Wine and a café in addition to secondhand books. Down the hill and past the church is Beckside Books which sells secondhand and antiquarian books and has several comfortable sofas to relax on. St Andrew’s church café was a great spot for lunch. It is staffed by volunteers and has a good range on offer. The Hedgehog Bookshop sells new books. We came out of all three with some finds. Penrith has a large number of independent shops in addition to some familiar high street names. Just out of town near Junction 40 on Skirgill business park is Summerfield Books. The business park is situated on an estate and sheep were grazing outside.
The shop stocks new and secondhand books specialising in natural history, botany and forestry. Penrith has a ruined castle, some standing stones, the site of a Roman Camp and other antiquities. Had I been walking from Shap as planned, I would have passed a cairn. Part of the A66 east of the town was a Roman Road. My inflamed ankle meant that exploring these would have to wait for another visit. Our evening meal at a pub in Carleton was interesting. We arrived just after six and the proprietor asked us to order as quickly as possible. He explained that he hosted a local bingo club on Wednesday and Thursday evenings to try and boost takings and was expecting around 40 people very soon. While we were eating, they all arrived and after a drink, got down to business. At the end of the day, I had hobbled around for only 1.9 miles.
This morning we left and drove a few miles on the A686 before taking the B6413 to Brampton via the Eden Valley. The road passes through farmland and villages with walls and houses built with red sandstone. One village, Castle Carrock has had an interesting addition to its road sign. No-one appears to know who did it and made it look so professional but it appeared around the time of the annual Music on the Marr festival in 2011 and the following year was put on the festival T shirts.
After a coffee stop in Brampton we headed over to Longtown, Langholm and to Edinburgh via Eskdalemuir, passing the monastery I would have been spending a night as some of this was the route I should have been walking. Descending towards Yarrow we met this group of cattle beside the road.
And had a fleeting glimpse of a red squirrel that shot across the road. All too soon we were in Edinburgh six days before I should have been arriving.
I left my accommodation before eight this morning, picked up some lunch supplies and set off through Preston to join the A6. It was sunny and warm so I soon shed my layers and donned the sunglasses. Near the hospital was a sign announcing that next Sunday the road would be closed for the Carnival. I was so glad that I did not have to do a diversion today. After 2.8 miles I had my first brief rest before crossing the M55 intersection. Unlike the others, this one had a subway for pedestrians and cyclists. There are many villages strung out along the road. My first milestone today was this one:
At one point the A6 was again parallel with the M6 and West Coast Mainline. I even saw a Northern train. This was a surprise as it was a: Sunday and b: they have so many problems with cancellations since they introduced their new timetables. The M6 soon diverts east of Lancaster while the railway enters the city. Several Virgin trains passed me. The old road is now a B road to Garstang while the A6 bypasses it to the west. Just south of Garstang I got my first glimpse of the Pennines.
I was looking forward to seeing the Cumbrian Hills and the Southern Uplands later in my journey. The road crosses the Lancaster Canal and then the River Wyre before entering Garstang, the first Fair Trade town in the world.
I had a cold drink near the market square before finding a bench to eat my lunch on. This was about halfway on today’s walk. After rejoining the A6, I passed through another community known for its service station on the M6: Forton with its Grade II listed tower. It was the second one opened after Charnock Richard. This is not my photo:
What got my attention on this hot day was Hugo’s Ice Cream Parlour which also does breakfast, coffees and light bites. Needless to say, they had 22 flavours but I had vanilla. The walls were decorated with old vinyl LP covers which was a great blast from the past.
After that I had to keep plodding on, resting when there was somewhere to sit down on. Most folks had donned shorts but it was not quite hot enough for the Glaswegian ‘taps aff’. After passing through Galgate and past the University, I popped into a pub for a cold beer. We had a few years ago been driving up to Edinburgh on Hogmanay after James finished work when an accident closed the M6 and we spent three hours crawling through the city before we could rejoin the M6 and get to Edinburgh too late to go out to any festivities. At that point, I remember thinking this would probably be a city to explore but not in this fashion. Sadly, it was not to be on this occasion either. I had only one mile further to walk, downhill to the canal where I was to meet up with James and stay at the Toll House Inn. A historic building that has been renovated two years ago. Disaster struck when suddenly my left ankle became painful and I hobbled down the hill ironically past the Infirmary. I have psoriatic arthritis but have not had an inflamed ankle for 15 years and have been on several walking trips since then so this was a shock. I know that it usually takes 2-3 months for a big joint to settle down (small ones take a few days) so I have had to cancel the remainder of this trip and go home. I must return at some point both to explore Lancaster and finish my walk. I had to content myself with a brief glimpse of the canal and the interior of the hotel.
I was the only person down for breakfast at 7am as most of the other folk staying had been out Friday evening. I set out on a very grey morning which varied from being dry to mizzle and drizzle. A few times I had to stuff the camera away and don my waterproof jacket but later on it did dry up. The A49 northbound was relatively quiet early on a Saturday morning. The first old milestone of the day was spotted on a railway bridge in Standish-Langtree.
Standish used to have a station on the West Coast Mainline, but it was closed in 1949. A little further on, I stopped for a coffee at the local butcher’s place which also has an adjoining licensed restaurant. I spotted a Pilgrim’s Lane in Standish and after passing through Coppull, a ‘German Lane’ in Charnock Richard. It would be interesting to find out how this came about. Charnock Richard is mostly known for its M6 Service Station, so it was interesting to walk along the old road. This old milestone updated my progress.
As it was Saturday, there were a lot of cyclists out and it must be a popular activity round here as there is a large Cycling Outlet Store by the A49 in Charnock Richard. Much of the traffic leaves for the M6 at Standish so the A49 here is a little quieter. The road begins to descend towards the Ribble Valley and passes through Euxton and past Leyland where it got busier. There is a business park here and new luxury homes being built. At one point the road is sandwiched between the M6 on the left and the West Coast Mainline on the right. I could hear the motorway for most of the time but only one Virgin train passed me today. However, there was still some greenery around.
I took the quieter A5083 and then a B road towards Lostock Hall which is a more direct route to the city centre for walkers or cyclists. From there, the last 2.8 miles were via lanes and footpaths, some of which are unused tramways, south of the Ribble. Part of the area is a Local Nature Reserve.
There are a number of sign-posted routes. Mine passed a cricket pitch where a couple of matches were in progress and I met lots of dog walkers. After crossing the Ribble, it was a short but steep walk through a park to the city and my hotel. 17.5 miles today brings the total so far to 55.5 miles.
I was woken this morning before my alarm by the pub next door throwing all their bottles into the recycling bin. While I had breakfast there a little later, a local radio station was playing and one of their adverts was for ‘Fiona Bruce Solicitors’. She is our local Tory MP and I am definitely not a fan of hers so it spoiled my breakfast a little. The receptionist gave me a great send off when I checked out as she had sussed out by the rucksack and camera that I was not one of the many workers staying there. She said that she was very impressed by my plans and had known an elderly gentleman who had in his youth, walked from Warrington to London. I took the riverside shortcut into town and after waiting for the shops in town to open for supplies, I headed on up the A49 which is lined with retail parks all the way to the M62 interchange. It was pretty warm today so although I had only done just under four miles, I stopped after crossing the motorway for a cold drink at the services.
At Winwick I experienced a bit of a blast from the past seeing a sign for ‘Delph Lane’ and the walls surrounding the grounds of what used to be the psychiatric hospital for the area. I had been there on several occasions years ago before it closed in 1997. The asylum buildings are still there but have been converted into apartments and houses. It was pleasant to be in an old village and I took the quieter road to Golbourne where I could hear the birds singing and enjoy the flowers in the hedgerows. This road name appealed as I feel I am on something of a pilgrimage.
Apparently, there is the site of a battlefield nearby where in the 2nd English Civil War, Oliver Cromwell defeated some Royalist Scots on 16 August 1648, but I did not pass it. The road passes over the M6 which I did for the second time on this walk but will be doing several more times later on. There is a big railway junction just south of Golborne so the road passes under and over several railway bridges including the West Coast Mainline which I have been on more times than I can remember passing through Warrington and Wigan. Several Virgin trains whizzed past me at various points today. In Golborne I found a quiet green space under some trees by a brook to have my lunch.
There was also a poignant memorial to local miners in the town.
At Abram it is possible to leave the road and walk into Wigan via the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. It runs through Wigan Flashes which are large ponds on what was mining country. Further south in Cheshire, many of them are collapsed old salt mines. The Wigan ones are now designated as a Local Nature Reserve. There were many waterfowl on the lakes and some of the paths were closed due to the breeding season. There were some mallard on the towpath, Canada Geese on the canal and someone had been feeding the Bean Geese and their goslings.
Every pedestrian, cyclist and people passing by on barges said hello. One of the things I have enjoyed about living in the North West for the last 28 years is that people are generally very friendly. Some kids who were planning to swim in Scotsman’s Flash asked me if I had any shorts that they could have as some of the girls had only their jeans with them. It may have been 24 degrees, but it usually has to be at least 30 plus before I break out into shorts, so I could not help them. A little further on, I could hop off the towpath into town and find my accommodation.