A night by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal

We spent a night in our van at a Brit stop by the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at the Crooke Hall Inn.

The canal is 127 miles long and we were close to bridge 47 which had a notice saying it was 32 miles to Liverpool and just over 95 to Leeds. Crooke sits three miles to the west of Wigan, on the far side of an area known as Standish Lower Ground. It is within the parish boundary of Shevington and situated on the north side of the River Douglas and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The last time I was near this canal was in 2018 on my walk to Edinburgh when I diverted from the road into Wigan along the canal and through the flashes into the town centre.

The history of the village goes back to the 11th century when it was part of Shevington Manor. The Crooke estate was owned by the Catterall family from 1421-1713. Crooke Hall was built in 1608 but no longer exists because of subsidence. It was demolished before the Second World War. From the 1870’s until 1963 Crooke became a vital cog in the coal mining and distribution system along the river and the canal. There is an old tip tub sitting by the canal which was discovered after the mines had closed. It is thought to be 70-100 years old.

Around that time Crooke had more than 550 people living in the village; now the population is around 120. The school closed in 1985 due to falling numbers and the village shops have closed.  It is now a quiet little village which has a one road access off the main road.  There is a total of 65 dwellings, the pub, a Marina, a Chapel and a Nursery.

In 1975, the houses in Crooke were due to be demolished.  This stirred the residents into action and the Crooke Village Co-operative was formed to protect 36 of the 67 properties from definite demolition. It ran from 1978 to 2008.

Thirty-five of the properties are now owned by Adactus, a housing authority and the rest are privately owned. Throughout the year, the chapel organises events for its members which are open to anyone who wish to attend and the pub too have regular events and are ably assisted by the Crooke Village Residents Association. Formed in 2008, it replaced the former Co-operative. This association deals only with the maintenance of pathways, some grass cutting, tree and shrub pruning, litter picking, some bulb planting with a view of keeping the village looking presentable. Thanks to this, Crooke has managed to win one of the top awards in the ‘North West in Bloom’ challenge.

We parked up and waited until the pub opened at 4pm. Thankfully the excessive heat of the previous two days had disappeared. Several barges came past us, some mooring for the night: others heading to the nearby marina which can hold 90 boats.

In the morning the towpath was in use by joggers, dog walkers and an e-scooter. Under the trees in the beer garden two magpies, a wood pigeon and a grey squirrel were hunting for food just like back home.

A few days in London

The last time I was in London was probably sometime in 2019. After 26 years of travelling on the West Coast mainline, it was slightly strange travelling down to Kings Cross from Edinburgh on the East Coast line. We stayed for one night with our friends in Hertfordshire and then returned into London to visit other friends in Kew and see Van Morrison in Kew Gardens.

The following day we were back into central London to stay at the Royal Society of Medicine. We ate in the new rooftop restaurant on the top of the John Lewis building one evening but views were difficult due to the planting all around it. Later on in the week we had a meal on the terrace in their Place to Eat and had a view of the surrounding building works.

On Thursday I had booked to go to the Garden Museum in Lambeth. We walked down there via New Bond Street. I was probably last there in 2009 for the Max Mara sale. Further on we traversed St James’s Park. It covers 90 acres and has a lake so is a bit of a wildlife refuge in the city.

We crossed the water and sat down for a rest. A mute swan nearby was feeding and then had a siesta.

A few years ago, I was here and got a photo of a sleeping Bean Goose.

We passed the Houses of Parliament. As this was the day Boris Johnson was resigning, TV people and journalists everywhere, lots of police and a helicopter hovering above.

After passing the Covid Memorial Wall

we sat down to have our lunch on the Embankment under the London Eye.

The Garden Museum is situated in an old church: St Mary at Lambeth. It was the church of John Tradescant 1580 -1638 who was renowned as the first great gardener in British history. The church has deconsecrated in 1972 and the museum was situated in it in 1977 saving it from demolition. The surrounding gardens were created in 2008.

The current exhibition is of the work of Beatrice Hassell-McCosh entitled ‘Of Silence and Slow Time’. Here is one painting and some of her sketches, drawings and small paintings.

You can also climb the 131 steps to the top of the tower which gives 360-degree views all around.

On our last day we wandered around some shops and then stopped for lunch in Soho Square. Next to us a couple of guys started skipping and then boxing. Lots of starlings were on the grass looking for food, one in front of us staring at us for several minutes. Our last day was at Wimbledon for the women’s final. We arrived early and watched the lines being marked, the nets being raised, the players getting ready and then the match started. It was a great conclusion to a few days away.

Chess Valley Walk

While visiting friends in Hertfordshire it was a warm sunny day, so we had a walk on part of the Chess Valley Walk. Our friend is the vicar at St Lawrence Church in Bovingdon

so, before setting off for the walk we had a wander around the churchyard and I admired the invertebrate hotel which is under construction in the grounds. Mine is very small in comparison and constructed from a six-bottle wine box, not pallets.

The River Chess is a chalk stream. It arises in the Chiltern Hills and flows for 11 miles through Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire in Rickmansworth. We parked near Chenies Manor which was built in 1460 by Sir John Cheyne it soon became the seat of the Dukes of Bedford. It was closed on the day we were there, but you can visit and it is also a wedding venue. The Chess Valley Walk is 10 miles. We walked a section of it along paths and some lanes.

We passed some horses in fields but also saw some ragwort in nearby fields. It is toxic for horses.

The walk passes through Frogmore Meadow which is a nature reserve. There are wildflower meadows

and further on, farmland.

Historically, the water of the River Chess, together with the fertile land, was ideal for growing watercress. This industry flourished in both Chesham and Rickmansworth in the Victorian era and supplied London. It was transported on the newly constructed Metropolitan Railway. Today the only working watercress beds are at Moor Lane, Sarratt which we passed. In 2014, persistent overflows from Chesham Sewage Treatment Works forced the watercress farm to cease sales, and to continue operation the farm now uses well water. We could not see the watercress fields from the path but this was close to them.

After a cold beer in the grounds of a nearby inn we returned to Chenies to pick up the car and return to our friends’ home.