I am worried about today’s walk from Preston to Freckleton. The obvious route – along a major A road – looks unpleasant and potentially dangerous. So I have mapped out a tortuous inland route, involving footpaths that might not exist in reality, and minor roads that may turn out to be not-so-minor.
My walk begins, however, as a pleasant stroll through parkland.
And then I continue along the River Ribble, following a joint cycle/walk way.
A cycling signpost suggests that Freckleton, my planned destination, is only 6 miles if I stick to a cycle route, considerably shorter than my planned itinerary. Excellent! This route is part of the Guild Wheel, a 21 mile greenway forming a circle around Preston.
I meet bevies of cyclists. And the occasional dog walker.
After a while, the cycle route curves to the right, but I continue along the river following a marked footpath that runs behind a housing estate. The river is behind a screen of trees to my left.
I reach Bull Nose point and turn inland to circumnavigate the marina. A swing bridge could take me across the mouth of the docks, but it’s not functioning this morning.
The marina is workmanlike. I walk around the outer dock and use another bridge.
From here the cycle route heads down along the river. This is lovely. I look over at the far bank, where I walked yesterday among the marching pylons.
But all too soon my track joins a road. I’m in an industrial estate. A procession of learner drivers pass me, presumably taking advantage of these quiet roads to practice 3-point turns and emergency stops.
My heart sinks when I realise where the Guild Wheel cycle route is taking me. It joins the busy A road – the road I’d been planning to avoid. Now the cycle track becomes nothing more than a wide pavement, apparently shared by walkers, cyclists and police vehicles!
There is not much to say about this section of the walk, in reality only about 5 miles, but seeming longer. It’s hot. The traffic hurtles by. The scenery is uninteresting. I meet the occasional cyclist, although most people wisely seem to avoid cycling along this route.
A sign tells me it is 4 miles to Freckleton. What? The last mileage indicator was a long way back – before the marina – and it said 6 miles. Surely I’ve walked more than 2 miles?!
A couple of elderly walkers come towards me. They look hot, tired and dispirited – too fatigued even to say hello.
I stop at the entrance to a farm track, where an avenue of trees gives me some shade from the relentless heat, and take some swigs from my water bottle. In a nearby field is a strange carving on a pole. A giant bird. Is it a bird-scaring device? Or just a fun sculpture?
Onwards. I reach the intersection where the A 584 splits off to take the coastal route into Blackpool. Oh good, perhaps this section will be better.
There are more trees here, which is a bonus, but the cycle track becomes a cycle lane running in the road, where I don’t think it’s very safe to walk, as the traffic is fast moving. So I walk on the verge. Sometimes there’s a narrow pavement. Sometimes there isn’t.
Stumbling along an uneven verge, battered by the drafts from passing vehicles, is not a pleasant experience – as every walker knows. [‘Purgatory‘ I wrote on my map afterwards, to remind myself of my suffering!] Imagine my delight, therefore, when I finally reach the beginning of Freckleton and find a welcoming bench surrounded by pretty flowers.
After a much-needed rest, and another drink, I leave the main A road (hooray!) and head down a quiet lane, which becomes a country track, and gradually becomes more and more overgrown with vegetation until it’s hard to tell it’s a road at all. This is much better.
And Freckleton has another little treat for me: a splendid island in the road, covered in a glorious display of summer bedding.
I wander through some empty streets until I find what I’m looking for. The pub!
It’s a sleepy Wednesday, and there are not many people in the bar, although quite a crowd on the patio outside. I’m too hot to sit in the sunshine and I eat inside, next to a bookcase full of interesting old books – which I can’t help picking up and reading extracts from. So my lunch time lasts rather longer than planned.
[to be continued…]