The Lancaster Canal: Bilsborrow to Preston

 

The walk described below is a linear one along the Lancaster Canal.

 

The Lancaster Canal is somewhat of an oddity in Britain's Waterway network in that it is not directly connected with the main network at all. It was constructed in the latter years of the 18th century and the start of the 19th to provide a transport link between Preston, Lancaster (at that time a significant port) and Kendal with an aspiration that it would span the Ribble and push out towards the mining and manufacturing areas to the south.

It was a dream not to be fulfilled - probably because of spanning the Ribble with an aqueduct was prohibitively expensive. Instead a tramway was built between Walton Summit and Avenham. When railways came along the tramway ceased to be viable and the Lancaster Canal was left relatively isolated from the main system.
One of the main features of the Lancaster Canal is that thanks to the line it followed there is not a single lock between Preston and Tewitfield - a distance of 42 miles. Locks are the means to allow boats to ascend gradients from one level to another. Ingenious and necessary as locks are they suffer one huge disadvantage - going through them is very time consuming. This fact did for canals when railways came along in the 1830s and 40s. Although in the case of the Lancaster Canal this lock free characteristic allowed it to maintain a commercial edge at the start of the railway age through its packet boat service which could convey passengers from Preston to Lancaster in six hours. In the first decades of the 19th century this was speedy.
Thanks to the work of organisations such as the Lancaster Canal Trust (See www.lctrust.co.uk ) much of the Lancaster Canal as it was in its heyday has been preserved for recreation and enjoyment. The section north of Tewitfield has suffered most from road building which has sliced it into remnants known as the "Northern Reaches". Closer to Kendal the canal has been filled in altogether though it is still possible to follow its route.

 

To the south little has changed on the canal. The Glasson Arm taking a branch from Galgate to Glasson Dock was built in the early days of the waterway. Close to Preston another branch - the Millennium Link provides access to the Ribble and feasibly the national network of waterways via the Rufford Branch of the Leeds - Liverpool Canal at Tarleton. This is the UK's newest waterway.
For the walker the canal offers a fascinating green corridor linking Preston to the north of the county and south Cumbria. Walking it is greatly assisted by good public transport links. Preston, Lancaster and Oxenholme (for Kendal) are all on the main West Coast railway line with regular bus services for places in between. Two more aspects make walking it appealing. Firstly the walking is easy - there are no slopes on the canals. Secondly once on it you can put away the map and follow the tow path making the most of the lovely countryside.
Start: Guy's Thatched Hamlet, Bilsborrow PR3 0RS. If using public transport take the 40 Stagecoach bus to Lancaster from Preston Bus Station.

 

Finish: Ashton Basin, Preston PR2 2SD

 

Distance: 11.4 miles
Time: 4½ - 6 ½ hours
Grade: Excessively easy.
Map: OS Explorer 286 Blackpool & Preston

 

Map by kind permission of Johnston Press 

Directions:

Alighting on the A6 opposite the Roebuck walk back along the road towards Preston turning right onto St Michaels Road. Cross the canal on the road bridge and turn into Guy's Thatched Hamlet. When you reach the towpath turn right. Now keep on walking until you reach Preston. One aspect of the walk to alert you about - in a direct line Bilsborrow is about 6 miles from the Ashton Basin yet the length of canal almost doubles this.

 

As you will note from the map the difference is due to the fact the canal makes a wide loop westwards towards the Fylde created to avoid contours and the need to build locks. As was stated above the canal is a wonderful green corridor providing a haven for wild life especially at this time of year when wild flowers can be seen in profusion. And here is yet another merit for this walk - there are a number of places where refreshments are available - Moon's Bridge, the Hand and Dagger pub

 

and the Final Whistle Café at UCLAN sports arena.