Beautiful comical things
Sleeping or curled
Their head beneath white wings
By water cool …
— From Ducks, by Frank W. Harvey (1888-1957); the rest of the poem is available here.
After leaving the zucchini-laden plots of Babbinswood Farm, I back up to Preston to carry on my walk. I managed to almost-complete another long distance path, in this case the Ribble Way. I missed about five miles from the source to where the Dales Way crossed it and I turned into Ribblesdale proper, but since I managed to get all the way down to the Dolphin Inn where the official beginning is, I count is a mostly-complete.
Preston is not a particularly interesting town to walk through. I went from the bus station down the high street, feeling a little silly with my backpack and walking stick (collapsed down for the purpose), then along the sort of extra bits of lander under power pylons and alongside rivers that cities give over to dogwalkers and long distance walkers. These eventually fed me onto a long field with some cows who took off over the bluff and disappeared from my view while I walked along the Ribble watching the birds and listening to the muted roaring of a dirt bike track on the other side of the river.
I didn’t get quite to the sea here, as the path cuts south before the marshes begin. I angled a fair way back east, to the town of Much Hoole — which is competing with Grimsargh for the best placename of this stretch of the journey — where I stayed the night at a B and B far, far away from where I thought it was going to be, and a further mile along the highway after I’d changed to get to a place for supper. But it was a beautiful day, with autumn in the air.
The next morning, however, it was raining and calling for gale-force winds, so I decided it could be my day in Liverpool, and took the bus into the city. Because the Leeds and Liverpool Canal is abundantly supplied with pubs, I thought it would be easy for accommodation, but this was not the case. I decided after a while to make the youth hostel in Liverpool my base (which also let me leave half my belongings there for ease of walking, which was pleasant), and take the bus and train to and from the stages of my walk.
The day in Liverpool was quite murky, wet, and windy. I dutifully observed the yellow submarine at the Albert Dock and went to the Tate Liverpool. Most of the art there was far too modern for me, but I enjoyed the special exhibit on Chagall and the displays of some Impressionist to Expressionist art. Otherwise I had a happy time in the Waterstones looking at books, and sitting in the hostel with a cup of tea working on my new novel.
I skipped a couple of miles of highway walking from Much Hoole to Tarleton and just got off the bus near Tarleton Bridge, whereupon I picked up the Rufford Branch of the Leeds Liverpool Canal and walked south.
fishermen, dogwalkers, birds galore — you get to go past bits and pieces of south and west Lancashire’s industrial heritage, and there are the aforementioned pubs every couple of miles. There were two in particular I noticed, at neighbouring bridges, one called The Slipway and the other The Farmers’ Arms — obviously aiming at different clientele! There was also one called The Saracen’s Head, which I have to say surprised me considerably that it was still called that. It’s quite close to where the canal cutting first began, curiously enough.
The walk down was easy, as I said, and I was able to finish early enough for my trip to the seashore and Antony Gormley’s sculptures on one day, and on the others have a bit of a wander through Liverpool and work on my story. Liverpool itself was not so much my kind of place — it would have been nice if I were looking for shopping, or more interested in The Beatles or clubbing, but as it was I found myself saying “Ah, yes, some more of Liverpool’s industrial heritage”
and eagerly looking for blackberries along the canal. If anyone fancies some canalside development, Liverpool has some old warehouses begging for conversion into condominiums or modern art installations.
Although actually, Liverpool has quite a lot of public art.
I took the ferry across the Mersey
before a delightful wet jaunt through more of the area’s industrial heritage — in this case, also its current industrial powerhouses.
I am pleased to be able to say that the Wirral Way is so clearly signed one doesn’t need a map at all to follow it; on the other hand, if you choose to go walking there, I’d say avoid the East Wirral section unless you really want to look into the backsides of factories and the like, with oil refineries as your backdrop.
I was fully intending to take a sarcastic picture of Port Sunlight in the rain, but when I got there the sun came out, the birds starting singing, and I found myself in Lord Lever the soap magnate’s William Morris-esque model workers’ village.
I bumbled my way to the exceedingly poorly-signed Lady Lever Art Gallery, where I dried myself off with lunch in the basement café before spending two and a half hours happily wandering around the exhibits. Lord Lever was a collector — of Wedgewood; of Chinese enamelware and Ming vases; of some ancient Greek pottery; of Pre-Raphaelite art; and early 20th century figurative sculpture. He also had a collection of the paintings he’d bought to reproduce for use in his soap advertisements, which I found rather interesting. He just went and bought the paintings and used them — they weren’t commissioned for the purpose, nor did he seem to tell the artists that he was so using them. Apparently only one had any issue with his work being used for advertising soap, which I also found interesting.
The thing that I’d heard about the gallery was that they were having an exhibit of Edward Burne-Jones’ sketches and drawings, which are too delicate to be on regular display. I very much enjoyed these — there were several full-size cartoons for various stained glass windows (though not, alas, the ones I saw in Brampton), for instance, which I found both interesting and beautiful — and when I came out, enjoyed looking around the Arts and Crafts-style community. It was a striking contrast to the mean streets further north in the Wirral (even once I finally got out of the industrial estates), and I thought what a wonderful thing those nineteenth century tycoons did on occasion with their money. Lord Lever built the gallery specifically so he could set up a place to show off his collection to the public, in particular the workers in his soap factories –and here it is, a superb collection today. It made me want to be a business tycoon — or rather, to have the money of one!
I ended up spending so long in the art gallery that even though it was a beautiful afternoon I decided to skip the remaining industrial estates of the Wirral, and when I returned to my walking the next day I took the train to Port Ellesmere and the start of the Shropshire Union Canal, which I followed all the way into Chester. Despite the distant roar of various highways and motorways (some of which I passed under), this was again a lovely walk, leading to a quite remarkable small city, with delightful views along the way.
Chester’s city walls are complete, having been reconstructed in the Georgian period to provide a nice promenade.
I spent a morning carrying on my walk a bit further along the river Dee, then then an afternoon going around the walls and poking around second-hand bookstores (of which Chester has several) looking for a book to read. I had the luxury of being able to get two, in fact, because on Sunday the 22nd of September my Dad picked me up after a lovely service in Chester cathedral and we went to Wales and Ireland for a week. But I’ll write about that, and my subsequent flying visit to Florida, next time.