As I hadn’t gone camping for the bank holiday weekend I took myself and the dogs on a Monday walk round the Barrow Bridge area north of the town and just a few minutes drive from home. Under normal circumstances I would have walked all the way but on the last minute decided I would go further than I originally intended so I changed my starting point and drove there instead.
My walk started at the top car park in Moss Bank Park, much shadier than the car park near the entrance and overlooked by the 262ft tall Barrow Bridge chimney. The chimney was built in 1863 as part of the power system for the nearby Halliwell Bleach Works, originally founded in 1739 by Peter Ainsworth. The bleach works stayed in the Ainsworth family through several generations but was eventually sold and the building taken over in 1968 by Brytallium Castings. In the grounds behind the works was a holy well which gave the Halliwell area its name, though this was filled in and covered over many years ago. Brytallium closed in the late 1970s and the works were eventually demolished and the land flattened; a small estate of modern houses was built there but the chimney was saved and is now a listed building and local landmark.
Several yards away from the car park entrance and across the road is a long row of large detached and semi-detached houses facing one side of the park. The end house is set in a large lawned and terraced garden and with a small lake at the back; with all the new growth on the trees and shrubs it looked so attractive that I couldn’t resist leaning over the wall and getting a photo of it.
Barrow Bridge village itself starts just beyond the row of houses; it’s now a conservation area but was originally created during the Industrial Revolution as a community village for the workers of the mills which were there at the time. The workers’ cottages are set in rows up the hill from the road and accessed by a flight of 35 wide shallow steps; called (not very imaginatively) First, Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Streets, the front of one row faces the back of the next with a row of small gardens in between.
Back down at road level and a bit further along is a bus terminus with a stream, Dean Brook, separating it from the road itself. This was the site of one of the original mills which was sold in 1861 but after the new owner’s death it went out of business, deteriorated and was demolished in 1913. The road narrows at that point and becomes only just wide enough for two cars to pass with care; the first building along there is the now modernised Barrow Bridge Mission belonging to St. Peter’s Parish Church, Halliwell, and this is followed by a small row of very pretty cottages across the brook.
A bit further along still, and on the left, is a large open area which was, at one time, a mill pond but in later years became a very popular boating lake with kiosks, a cafe and childrens’ rides including a carousel and swing boats. I can remember the lake being there in the mid 1960s but due to potential flooding it was eventually filled in and is now a car park and picnic area. Just past there and back across the road are what were once the mill managers’ houses, all with pretty gardens and each accessed by its own bridge across the brook.
Just past the cottages the road took a sharp right turn and went uphill but I turned off there and followed a path alongside the brook, past a shallow waterfall where a child and a dog played and along to the village’s famous ’63 steps’. These stone steps (and yes, there are 63 of them) lead up in the direction of Smithills Moor and would have been used by mill workers to get to and from work in the village and by miners living in the village and working in the coal mines up on the moors
At the top of the steps a narrow tree-shaded path headed a short distance before emerging into open countryside where I could see across the fields to the Winter Hill tv mast up on the moors. After negotiating a stile, which Sophie went through via a hole at the bottom and Poppie climbed over, the path narrowed again and followed a small brook before passing a few farm buildings and emerging onto a B road. A few yards further along I came across a piece of ‘roadside art’ set back in the angle of a wall – there was nothing on it or near it to say what it was or why it was there and no amount of Googling since then has given me an answer so it will have to remain a mystery for now.
From there it was all road walking but the views were good so it was no hardship, and there was at least a pavement of sorts on one side of the road. A distance along, and just before a very sharp bend which also went down and up hill, was a barn which had been converted into a house back in the 60s – the black American singer Lovelace Watkins, who was very popular in Lancashire and northern England during the late 60s and early 70s, lived there for a time and I remembered seeing him in the garden when I walked past many years ago. I don’t know who lives there now but whoever they are they have a lovely garden, and the section bordering the road was well worth a photo. To the left of the bend a large area of open land had been planted with lots of tree saplings as part of the 25-year Northern Forest project – it would be interesting to see what that land looks like in twenty five years’ time.
As I got round the bend the road started going uphill on a steady incline; a cyclist passed me on the way up and it struck me that on such a warm day and wearing all that lycra she must have been absolutely sweltering – I know I would have been. Eventually I got to Colliers Row, two rows of cottages a couple of hundred yards apart built by the Ainsworth family when they owned Smithills Hall a distance away. The first cottages, Old Colliers Row, are built up off the road, are separated from it by a high stone wall and have no real gardens at the front while the second cottages, New Colliers Row, are at road level and have small but pretty gardens. Just past New Colliers Row is the primary school built in 1885; it finally closed its doors as a school in 1971 and is now a private house.
Opposite the old school was a tree-lined lane which would take me back to Barrow Bridge village; I could take that or walk further along the road then take a right and head down the hill into civilisation but that was a really long way round so I chose the lane. It was still quite a distance but eventually I reached the path leading to 63 steps, so all I had to do then was retrace my steps back through the village and past the edge of the park – and as the Barrow Bridge chimney came into view once more I knew I would soon be back at the van.
I’m joining in again with Jo’s Monday Walk where this time she’s on a fascinating walk round an excavated Roman fort in Northumberland – follow the link and join her for a walk through time and some great photos.