Weather-wise the last couple of days here have been very cold and frosty, but with clear blue sky and sunshine the opportunity for the first long dog walk of 2017 was too good to miss. With so many nice places to go to locally I’m always spoilt for choice but this time I decided to walk east along a section of the Bolton to Bury canal which I haven’t been to for about fifteen years. I parked the van on the lane at the top of the slope leading down to the upper canal and the remains of the old staircase locks mentioned in a previous post, and my walk started at the Meccano bridge over the old locks.
The locks section of the canal is currently in the slow process of being restored by the local Canal Society and the Meccano bridge was constructed in 2013 to replace the old wooden footbridge which had collapsed many years ago. Designed by a Manchester artist with a love of Meccano and manufactured by two Bolton companies all the 400 parts and 700 nuts and bolts were made in the same style as a toy Meccano set but scaled up to be ten times larger, ten times thicker and a thousand times heavier. The bridge was assembled on site using the old but refurbished bridge supports and after construction the threads on all the bolts were purposely damaged to prevent it from being dismantled. Painted in the same colours as toy Meccano it’s certainly an unusual feature of the local landscape.
From the Meccano bridge quite a long stretch of the canal is filled in and overgrown so it took a few minutes walking before I came to any water. Most of it was clear with a thin layer of ice on top but there were a few parts covered in a layer of green surface weed or so overgrown it was hard to tell if there was any water there at all. A couple of ducks were in one of the green parts; one of them was standing on some ice just under the water and it looked almost like he was actually standing on the surface.
Eventually I came to the old and derelict Mount Sion steam crane which sits at the side of the towpath. Dating from around 1884 it was used to unload heavy coal boxes from barges on the canal and drop them into the yard of the Mount Sion Bleach Works situated down the bank behind the fence. It’s one of the earliest surviving steam cranes in England and was granted Grade Two listed status in 2011.
Not far from the crane there was, at one time, a partially sunken canal dredger lying about halfway between the two banks. I can remember back to one day nearly twenty years ago when my partner, his brother Alan and sister-in-law Louise and myself cycled along the canal path and came across the dredger; it was surrounded by overgrown reeds and tall grasses and a lot of the vegetation was growing up through the rotting hull. My partner and Alan found a couple of planks from somewhere and put them across onto the dredger and once they were on it they proceeded to run around pulling up clumps of reeds and hurling them at each other. Sometimes they missed and something would land on the towpath; Louise and I had to dodge several muddy missiles that day but it was all good fun. There’s no sign of the dredger now so presumably after all these years it’s completely covered and hidden by all the overgrown vegetation in that part of the canal.
Further along still, with the water now clear and weed-free again, I was surprised to see this lovely creature – a Mandarin duck. Although he was with two companions they were both Mallards so he didn’t appear to have a mate unless she was in hiding somewhere. I watched him for several minutes while he swam around then settled on a partially submerged tree branch to preen himself; he was beautiful, and definitely a photo opportunity not to be missed.
After seeing the duck I walked for a little while longer then checked the time; a quick calculation told me I’d walked for two miles and though that wasn’t very far I was beginning to lose the best of the sunlight so it was time for me to turn round and retrace my steps. My walk ended where it began, back at the Meccano bridge, and with the sunlight having lost its earlier glare the bridge and its brick work had taken on a late afternoon glow, so with one final photo I headed back up the slope to the van.
Although much of that section of canal isn’t as scenic as other parts of it I’d had a pleasant couple of hours which had stirred up a few memories and given me a lovely surprise in the form of the Mandarin duck, so I’m glad that after so many years I chose that particular route to walk – and maybe in the spring when the new leaves are on the trees I’ll go back to take some more photos.