I leave my car in Tarleton and start road-walking to join the busy A59 and reach the first crossing point over the River Asland (or River Douglas – you have a choice of names!). Thank goodness there is a footpath.
A short time later a signpost tells me I’m entering West Lancashire. It seems an important transition. I’m definitely ‘oop north’ now.
Other walkers say they walked into Preston by following the A59, but I have other plans… which are nearly foiled because the footpath I want to use is hard to spot. The stile is hidden in a hedge, while the signpost leans drunkenly against a wall with its footpath symbol obliterated. Looks like it’s been deliberately scratched off.
After my thwarted attempt to walk down the other side of this river yesterday, I wonder if the damaged sign is a bad omen. The path is overgrown, but passable.
I soon reach the river, where the path turns to run along the raised bank. On the other side I can see Tarleton Lock, a fairly new housing development, and after that there is nothing but grassy banks and trees.
Ahead is a metal bridge and I wonder why it doesn’t feature on my OS map. (If I’d know about it yesterday, perhaps I could have crossed over and missed out some boring road walking.) But as I get nearer, I realise it’s not a proper bridge, just a conduit for a pipeline of some sort, rusty and possibly disused now.
Two young boys are perched on the precarious structure. I wonder if their mums know what they’re up to!
I meet a couple of dog walkers, but otherwise my path is deserted. I’m soon opposite the place where the cattle were standing yesterday. They’re not there today – of course. Is there a way through that fence? I can’t see one. Perhaps it’s just as well I turned back.
Further along and I’m opposite the boatyard. The tide is high now, and the ships are floating properly, no longer marooned in mud as they were yesterday.
It’s a brilliant day. Not a cloud in the sky. Beyond the boatyard I spot some walkers on the far bank, a man and a young boy, but nobody on my side. I’m always surprised to find paths deserted on beautiful days like this one.
Further along, and the other bank becomes congested with a great flock of sheep, although I’m sad to see some of them are limping badly. We used to keep a few sheep, and they don’t like wet pastures. Foot rot, I guess.
On my side of the bank are a couple of dopey cows. Luckily they seem too hot to stand up and they stay sitting – chewing the cud – as I slink past.
Then my pleasant walk beside the river is interrupted by fences which surround a grassy knoll. The footpath turns inland and skirts around the slope of the mound, where I come across a large set of gates and a sign. This is Much Hoole Closed Landfill Site.
The diversion is well signed and pleasant, although punctuated by occasional pipes sticking up through the ground. Is their purpose to release gases from the covered landfill site? And I come across more dopey cows. They’re on the other side of a fence, thank goodness.
A screen of trees has been built around the landfill site. Good in principle. But it presents two competing problems. Firstly, the path will shortly be horribly overgrown, as the trees overshadow the route. Secondly, the planting is predominately ash trees, and these may not live long enough to obstruct the path anyway. (Sadly, ash die back disease has already been confirmed in this area.)
I finish circumnavigating the landfill site, and am back on the bank again. Now the river is some distance away and so it’s a marsh bank, not a river bank. I follow its route as it curves further away from the river, passing through farmland.
Ahead I spot a bench. I’m anticipating a sit down, but two women – an old lady and a younger one – come up to the bank via another footpath and get there before me. They settle down for a picnic. Drat!
The older woman offers to share the bench with me. I politely decline and explain I’m going to eat in the pub.
‘Do you mean the Ship?’ asks the younger woman.
‘I think it’s called the Dolphin.’
She shakes her head as though I’m mad and I wonder if I’ve got the name of the pub wrong, but she doesn’t say anything else, and to make conversation I point to the nearby signpost.
‘Ah, so this is the beginning of the Ribble Way,’ I say.
‘No it’s not,’ says the younger woman.
‘Well, maybe it’s the end then,’ I offer, ‘depending on which way you go.’
But she continues shaking her head at me, despite the fact the nearby signpost clearly says ‘Ribble Way’.
It’s a weird exchange and silly confrontations like this shouldn’t upset me – in fact, it was hardly a confrontation – but I feel oddly unsettled.
Anyway, I head inland along a short footpath towards some nearby houses and end up at the Dolphin Inn, where I enjoy an excellent lunch. (And conduct a telephone interview with a young reporter from the Southport Visitor – who is interested in my coastal walking project.)
Technically, the younger woman was right of course. The Ribble Way actually starts at the Dolphin Inn, not on the bank! Onwards. I soon come to another signpost warning me about wildfowling.
At this point, the footpath (aka the Ribble Way) dives off the bank towards the right. Basically it goes through a hedge and over a ditch and through another hedge. Two rickety stiles to cross…
… and now I’m in a huge grassy meadow, where I make the mistake of striking off across the field. I’ve walked several hundred yards before I realise I’ve lost the path, and head back. I pace around for a while before, hidden in the hedge, I spot another stile. And a footpath sign.
I climb over this stile (number 3), but I’m not done with stiles yet. After walking through a sheep pen, I must cross three more stiles (numbers 4, 5 and 6)…
… before arriving back almost where I started. There’s the wildfowling sign ahead.
Now the path leads back to the bank – the one I’ve just left – and another stile (number 7), as the path continues beside a field where a harvester is busy at work.
And then a right-angle turn, at the corner of the field, and another stile (number 8) to climb, until I’m walking along the edge of the field itself.
Eight stiles! And I’ve taken a tortuous route to travel maybe a hundred yards, maybe less, as the bird flies. Crazy! I decide the Ribble Way really must get its act together. This is not a good introduction to a 73-mile footpath.
Coming towards me, in a hurry, is a father and his teenage sons. They look hot and bothered and ask if it’s a long way to the pub. Not far, I tell them, but don’t bother crossing the stiles. Stick to the bank instead.
Onwards, and I leave the field behind and join another river bank. This is the River Ribble. The real River Ribble. Only a few more miles and I’ll reach Preston. I pass a graffiti covered building. A storage tank of some sort? Or a sewage plant? In ruins now.
The sun is blistering hot and there is no shade. With nobody about, I slip off my T-shirt and pull on my long-sleeved cycle top, to prevent sunburn.
The bank is wide and the walking is easy, because the grass is cropped short…
… which means either sheep of cows. Oh. Cows! They are interested in my progress, but I stick to the side of the bank and they leave me alone.
I meet a walker coming towards me, complete with rucksack and also wearing a long-sleeved top. He looks like a proper hiker.
I notice how the edges of the river are littered with a tumble of branches and other debris. Presumable the river has flooded in the past, and left this flotsam behind. It looks calm enough today. Peaceful. Ahead – in the far distance – are pylons and houses. Preston?
Then the peace is shattered by revving noises. On the opposite bank I see a huddle of vans, and I realise I’m walking past the spot labelled ‘KARTING’ on my map. Scramble bikes or quad bikes? I’m not sure which because I never get a good view of the actual course.
A hawthorn bush, with its undersides nibbled by cattle, provides a shady umbrella under which I can shelter from the sun and take a break. Time for a drink and a snack. I apply more sun screen, before deciding to wet a tissue and drape it across the back of my neck, which feels wonderful.
While I’m doing all this, the hiker I met previously returns, walking briskly past me. ‘I saw the cows and decided to turn back,’ he says. ‘I managed to make it past without any trouble,’ I tell him. ‘Thought it better not to take risks,’ he says. ‘You hear stories.’ And I nod in complete agreement.
The problem with cows is they are scary and they do injure and even kill people every year. But you can’t avoid them altogether if you are a long-distance walker.
Onwards. Preston is growing closer.
My path becomes narrower and overgrown – no cows here! And I walk under lines of pylons. To my right are fields. To my left the River Ribble.
I walk past the things you often find on the edge of towns. A pumping station, a golf course, a sewage plant (possibly). Then I pass under a road bridge.
I was expecting to find myself in a built up area, knowing I’m on the outskirts of Preston, but instead I’m in a lovely strip of parkland. A wide avenue of trees. I’m grateful for the shade, and meet families with children, a jogger, dog walkers.
At the end of the avenue is a small car park (I make a note of this for my walk tomorrow) and then I hit the A59. It takes me over a bridge and into the heart of Preston. What a change!
I pop into a convenience store to buy a cold drink, and take it drink in the shade of the bus shelter.
My interview is written up here in the Southport Visitor. The spelling of my name is wrong, as is the spelling of my husband’s name – and name of the book. But it was good of the paper to give me a mention.
This walk = 12 miles
Total distance = 2,675 miles