I’ve reached the beginning of the Lancashire Coastal Way and, after checking my map, I’m anticipating an easy stroll along a river bank following a proper waymarked footpath.
Unfortunately, the Way gets off to a bad start as I end up in a ramshackle marina, where I see plenty of ‘Private’, ‘NO ENTRY’, ‘Please Keep to the Path’, and ‘Beware of the Dog’ signs. But where’s the footpath gone?
After wandering about, including making a circuit of somebody’s private garden(!) I manage to find the path again. Somewhat unexpectedly it goes up a slope, and takes me around the back of houses, so I end up walking high above the water, which is now hidden from view.
If this morning’s walk was dominated by a busy road, this afternoon’s walk is going to be dominated by signs.
Below me is woodland. Above me is a fence. Attached to the fence are a number of notices, but the one that takes me by surprise says ‘NO BICYCLES, NO ALCOHOL, NO GUNS’. No guns!? Crikey. What sort of place is this?
At the bottom of this notice it says ‘BY ORDER’. But who gave the order? (Humph. I hate these type of notices that pretend to be official, but clearly aren’t.)
This section of the walk is actually very pleasant. The trees provide some welcome shade from the sun, while a series of rickety bridges carry me safely over streams and muddy ditches.
Somebody decided they needed to attach this sign to a convenient wall. ‘PLEASE DO NOT DUMP YOUR WOOD WASTE ALONG THIS PATHWAY.’ Wood waste? That’s unusual. Who would want to dump wood waste here?
Later, as I continue puzzling over this strange instruction, I realise it was probably aimed at the landowner, whose woodland covers the slope below the path. Who else would carry wood all the way here and then dump it?
Onwards. Through gaps in the vegetation I catch the occasional glimpse of the low lying fields on either side of the river. Is that Preston in the distance?
Although the path is properly signed from here onwards, it looks in need of a bit of TLC. Some of the bridges are decidedly wonky.
And occasionally the route is tortuous, weaving around to avoid private gardens and driveways, with every neighbouring landowner feeling they have to issue instructions. In some case the unofficial signs are misleading.
For example, a ‘PRIVATE – NO PUBLIC ACCESS OR RIGHT OF WAY’ sign dominates this fence (below), and it’s all too easy to miss the little public footpath arrow.
After winding around the perimeter of somebody’s private garden, I emerge onto a piece of open land with a trig point. Finally. I’m back on the River Ribble. At last! Why couldn’t we just have a little footpath along the bank from Preston to here, instead of miles of road walking and difficult navigation through ‘private’ land?
I stop for a rest and to enjoy the view. I can see where the River Asland (or the River Douglas, if you prefer) joins the Ribble. And over there is the bank I walked along yesterday – no, hang on – the day before yesterday! It’s taken me nearly 2 days to travel 1 mile.
Now I can walk down by the river, where I find some official Lancashire Coastal Way signs. Rather nice – a seagull flying above a wave.
This land is well-grazed and very low-lying. Boggy in places. And I come across several items of discarded footwear, implying that several people have been unlucky enough to lose their shoes/boots while trying to navigate this section in the past.
Luckily the sun has baked the surface dry, and I hardly need the wooden walkways to keep me off the ground. No mud today.
Uh-oh. Cattle. A whole gang of them. I take a photo from a safe distance. Luckily, there is plenty of driftwood lying around, because I haven’t brought my poles today. So I pick up a stick from the ground. Two sticks.
I would like to walk around the cows, but I can see the ground nearer the river is too marshy. Cautiously, I keep going. A group of them decide to come closer and begin to circle me.
Suddenly I hear a thud of hooves behind, and I whip around. One of the cows is running towards me. I raise the sticks in both arms and shout. It’s a nasty moment, but it seems to work. The whole herd startles, and then the cows begin to stampede away from me, heading back the way I’ve just come.
I manage to take a blurry photo of their disappearing rumps.
A minute later they’ve charged off the bank, up a slope, and into a field somewhere. I have the marsh to myself.
Good! I feel triumphant. I held my nerve, I held the ground, I showed those cows who’s boss. Veni, vidi, vici, vaccas.
Onwards. There’s an airfield ahead. Warton Aerodrome.
The path continues and skirts the aerodrome. Several planes come and go. More notices on the tall fencing remind me that it is a criminal offence to trespass on a licensed aerodrome.
The ground is rough underfoot, the path is often overgrown with brambles and nettles, and I guess few people walk here. I’m beginning to worry I will meet an impassable barrier, or that the path will just disappear altogether. Onwards. Although the fences are a little off-putting, the view over the marshes is lovely.
I’m approaching a place where the path narrows, as it winds through a thicket of trees, and I’m startled by voices ahead. Four young teenagers are walking through the trees towards me. The lead boy turns back to his companions, who struggle some way behind him.
‘Watch out,’ he shouts. ‘There’s a person coming through.’
It amuses me to be called ‘a person’. The three stragglers catch up with the leading boy. They ask how much longer their walk will take them, a question which is hard to answer because it depends where they’re going. I notice the girls are wearing shorts, with bare legs, and sandals. I think of the thistles and nettles I’ve just passed through, but I don’t dampen their good spirits by warning them of the prickles ahead.
‘I don’t see many walkers here,’ the lead boy says, implying he’s been here before.
‘I’m pleased to see you,’ I tell him, ‘because I guess that means I can get through to the other side of the airport?’
‘Oh yes. It’s not far.’
They carry on, and I walk through the grove of trees, enjoying the shade.
After a while, I reach the corner of the aerodrome fencing, and eventually emerge into an open space. Short grass. And some reedy ponds. I check my map. This area is called Warton Brows.
The path is clearer now, and obviously better used. That must mean I’m approaching Warton Bank where there must be a car park – except the parking area has big black boards with crudely-drawn, white lettering: ‘NO PUBLIC PARKING, LDWA’. I wonder who LDWA are.
Beyond the private car park is a track…
… which also carries stern warning signs. These are more sophisticated but the message is the same. NO PARKING. Crikey. They really don’t like visitors in this part of the world.
I carry on down the track, which becomes a road, and a short while later is a dead-end. The track and road are littered with private signs similar to the one above, some threatening legal action, but the worst is yet to come…
… because the gate at the far end is a being used as a notice board – with at least 13 different signs on this side of the gate alone! There are more on the verges, and on the far side of the gate too.
I have a strong urge to create my own signs, on stickers, which I could carry with me. What would my signs say? ‘Please stop telling me what to do.’ Or, ‘No more signs, by order.’
Onwards. The path, finally, looks exactly how I expected it be at the beginning of the afternoon: an easy stroll along a river bank. The sun is bright in my eyes, so I take a photograph looking back the way I’ve come. The yellow poles (in the photo below) carry the warning lights for the nearby aerodrome.
Again, as so often in this part of the country, I get the impression of a retreating sea – or, in this case, retreating estuary waters. The low-lying land on either side of the bank is reclaimed marsh and grazing ground. Luckily I don’t have any more close encounters with cattle.
I reach a fence that bars the way forward. Two more signs. ‘Wrea Brook, Tidal Outfall’ and ‘FOOTPATH RIGHT ->’ Time to turn inland…
… along a private drive. The house (near the bank) seems to be in the process of renovation.
At the end of the drive is the dreadful A584, now jammed up by an endless stream of slow-moving cars. The footpath, mercifully doesn’t follow the road for any distance, but simply crosses over Wrea Brook and heads down the bank on the other side.
But I’m hot, and thirsty, and tired, and a nearby bus stop is just too tempting… I decide it’s time to return to Preston and find my car.
It’s been a disappointing start to the Lancashire Coastal Way. The footpath seems unloved and uncared for, there is too much visual litter (why all the signs, people of Lancashire?) and, as Jon Combe has confirmed, parts of it become a mud bath if the weather is wet.
Ah, well, perhaps things can only get better.
The bus arrives 20 minutes late, held up by the traffic jam, which continues almost all the way to Preston. Takes me nearly 2 hours to get there. Good job I’m not in a hurry.
This walk = 12 miles
Total distance = 2,687 miles
Route: morning in red, afternoon in blue.