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 night by the canal

Our first trip to England since moving back to Scotland in the autumn of 2020 was back to South Cheshire and was our first night in the van since autumn 2019. We are members of Britstops; a list of places which allow you to park a campervan overnight for free. No facilities have to be provided but many are public houses or cafes and benefit from the custom. The Broughton Arms in Rode Heath is one of such venues and sits on the Trent & Mersey Canal. It was close enough to where our son and his partner live so we had arranged to meet them for a meal that evening.

The Trent and Mersey Canal is 93 miles long, has 76 locks and opened in 1771; engineered by James Brindley. The canal runs from Preston Brook and the connection to the Bridgewater Canal down to Trent Lock at Derwent Mouth where it joins the River Trent. The Broughton Arms is situated between Bridge 140

and lock 54. The towpath is accessible from the side of the bridge in front of the pub.

It abuts Rode Heath Rise which used to be the site of a salt works. Brine was pumped up from underground and heated in large pans until the water had evaporated. The salt was transported to the rest of the country via the canal. The salt works were abandoned in 1930 and the land reclaimed for public use in 1980. There are open areas, woodland

and plenty of wildflowers.

Each year on 5th November, a large bonfire is held here. I did wonder if the pile of old beer garden furniture in the corner of the car park was being saved for that. Further east, past the junction with the Macclesfield Canal is the Harecastle Tunnel, constructed to carry coal to the kilns in the Potteries and was one of the longest in the country.

The Macclesfield canal was very close to our home when we first moved down to England. We had to find a building that could house the surgery for my husband’s GP practice and accommodation for us. After four years we could afford to move out to let the practice expand and find our own home. Living so close to the canal was great for a walk but also meant that I made sure that our son learnt to swim. I had just thought ‘what if he runs out of the garden and down to the canal and falls in?’ The gates were open much of the time to provide access to the surgery parking. A few years later, when I was working at the Parent and Baby Day Unit, we had a staff outing which was a day trip on a narrow boat on the Macclesfield canal. We hired it and drove it up towards Congleton, stopping before the locks to have a pub lunch and then returning to base. I have known and still do, several people who love narrow boats and even live on them by choice but that is not for me. I did enjoy seeing some of the Mallard ducks and ducklings.

The following morning we drove to Shropshire to give my Dad his Fathers’ Day present and then headed back north to Scotland.