Have you discovered the wonderful green open space that is the Sankey Valley Linear Park yet? A corridor of natural beauty stretching from St Helens to Warrington with just the occasional road crossing to negotiate, it's a haven for wildlife and a unique recreational facility in an urban landscape that has been shaped by its industrial heritage. If you live in the St Helens or Warrington areas it's right on your doorstep and well worth a visit, you could even become a regular visitor like me. Why not sample its delights with this short cycle ride along the stretch from Carr Mill Dam to the Mucky Mountains in Earlestown, the scenery is very pleasant in summer, you might even want to take a picnic, just be aware though it's also very popular with anglers so you may need to leap the odd fisherman's pole.
The ride itself begins on Liverpool Road (A58) Ashton in Makerfield near the entrance to Ashton Golf Club and its junction with Tithebarn Road grid reference SJ 56027 98705. Move off along Tithebarn Road to the mini island at its junction with Garswood Road and turn left, after approximately 200 yards turn right into Garswood Old Road SJ 54969 98359. Follow the tarmac road for a couple of miles or so to where the road bends left into a field just before the railway bridge. At this point leave the paved road and carry on along the dirt track straight ahead, pass under the bridge, turn left SJ 53019 98199 and continue along the track to exit the woods via the gate SJ 52580 9763.
We're on tarmac again and riding along the eastern shore of Carr Mill Dam, after passing the railway viaduct crossing the Sankey Brook look for the entrance to the Sankey Valley Linear Park SJ 53474 96561 and turn left. The track descends steeply from here passing underneath the railway viaduct through the barriered entrance and underneath the A580 East Lancs Road into the Sankey Valley proper. Along this stretch there are many paths going off to left and right but stay on the main pathway as it winds its way gradually downhill following the course of the Sankey Brook, crossing it at one point by a newly constructed bridge and passing another point further along where it disappears into a circular brick culvert to re-emerge on the other side of the hill. Eventually rounding the duck pond on the approach to the visitor centre and the Ship Inn at Blackbrook we get our first view of the Sankey Canal with St Mary's church in the background. Carr Mill Dam being a header reservoir and Sankey Brook the feeder supply, presumably this is the place where they interconnect. It's worth noting at this point that a short diversion to the left as you approach the duck pond will take you past the site of the old strip mill, the foundations of which have recently been exposed and representations of the original water wheels installed.
When you are ready to move on leave this section of the park, cross West End Road and take the track almost directly opposite on the right hand side of the garage SJ 56187 94999, lift the bike over the gate and continue along the wide track into the second section of the linear park. With the Sankey Canal on your right continue ahead for about three hundred yards to a 90 degree bend to the left where the canal cascades down the hill at the site of a former lock. Follow the track down the hill with the waste water treatment works over to the right on the opposite side of the canal, pass through the barrier and continue along the valley. Despite large sections of the canal having been backfilled the valley has become a fertile haven for diverse vegetation, wildlife and leisure activities with its unrivalled angling opportunities in the sometimes disconnected stretches of retained canal. This section of the valley also has extensive wetland areas supporting reed beds not only enhancing the landscape but providing habitat for wildfowl and other marshland dwellers. The end of the section is marked with a long stretch of canal, a barrier and gate, pass through this, emerge into Common Road, Newton Common SJ 57594 94436 and continue into the third section on the opposite side.
The path follows the perimeter of the school on the left and in a short distance emerges through a barrier onto a small car park at the side of Wharf Road, continue across and follow the path downhill towards the viaduct, pass under it and continue ahead along another long stretch of canal until you reach the green footbridge at the Mucky Mountains SJ 5836794656. Cross the bridge turn right and take the steep tarmac exit road at the far end of the car park to emerge onto Bradlegh Road, turn left to pass the new Cottage Hospital and proceed over the railway bridge to the junction with Wargrave Road and turn left. At the mini roundabout immediately ahead turn right into Park Road South, down the hill past the shops, under the railway line into Park Road North, at the junction with Mercer Street turn left and then first right into Golborne Street and proceed to its junction with High Street Newton le Willows.
Cross High Street into Rob Lane SJ 59068 95743 and continue ahead, under the M6 and up the hill into Newton Road past Haydock Golf Club to the East Lancs Road A580. Cross both carriageways into Park Road opposite and at the right hand bend fifty yards ahead turn left into Sandy Lane at the side of the barrier SJ 59755 97307, cross the extension to Haydock Park Racecourse and turn left onto a footpath where Sandy Lane meets Harvey Lane Golborne SJ 59491 98023.
This footpath follows the boundary of the race course to the site of a partially demolished footbridge over the disused railway line to Ashton and Haydock stations on the edge of Ashton Heath SJ 58709 98488. Pass under the barrier and continue to follow the perimeter fence of the racecourse across Ashton Heath to emerge via Windsor Road into Heath Road, Ashton SJ 58218 98798.
After half a mile or so turn left into Haydock Street and right into Violet Street and continue up the hill to the junction with Warrington Road. Cross over into Vicarage Road, turn right into St Oswald's Road and left into Liverpool Road SJ 57467 98979, it's only a short distance now across the motorway again back to the start point at Ashton Golf Club, it's up hill most of the way but not too bad.
The circuit is approximately fifteen miles long and takes an hour and a half to an hour and three quarters depending on the fitness of the rider, not exactly the Tour de France but it is very enjoyable and makes good use of what is a superb local amenity for an evening or weekend jaunt.
Palfreyman May 2010.