The forecast for today was nice but we work up to drizzle which was rather depressing however Richard set off for Johnson’s Hillock Locks. We stopped for water and a cup of coffee at the top and by the time we were ready to set off the drizzle had stopped and blue sky was coming in :-) There are 7 locks in the flight and they weren’t as bad as Blackburn but only by one point on my scale! I’m finding the paddle winding so hard as the gearing is bad and I seem to have to do twice as many turns as on other canals. Also the bottom gates were really hard to close – not too bad to open though which seems strange to me. When we got to the sixth lock we discovered from a boat coming up that the lock had been closed for 2 hours due to paddle failure so we were fortunate to go straight through. At the bottom of the locks is the former Walton Summit branch which runs for nearly half a mile. This was built as the main line of the Lancaster Canal. The link between Walton Summit and Preston was never built, with a tramway carrying goods between the two. The M61 motorway has obliterated part of the canal route.
We soon arrived at Botany Bay – strange I hadn’t realized we had cruised half way round the world! The old mill features 5 floors of shopping, a garden centre, restaurants and coffee bars, and Puddletown Pirates indoor play centre. We had lunch on the top floor then wandered down the stairs and through the floors. It is a strange place with some rather random things for sale and bric-a-brac in-amongst the new stock. However at least this old mill hasn’t gone to wrack and ruin like some we have seen. Canal Mill, as it was originally known, was built in 1855 for Richard Smethurst a pioneer in the Chorley cotton industry. After Smethurst’s death in 1860, the mill was sold to William and Charles Widows who were business associates of the Smethurst family. In the early 1860’s disaster struck the Lancashire cotton industry when “The Cotton Famine”, which was the result of the American Civil War, meant that supplies of raw cotton were not reaching the Lancashire Mills. It appears Canal Mill was no exception as it ceased production in 1861. Various family businesses bought and managed to keep the mill up and running to manufacture various cotton goods until eventually in the very late 1950s the mill eventually closed down due to a general decline of the cotton industry. The old mill spent about 25 years being used as for truck and vehicle repairs before being sold to Tim Knowles in 1994 as a Themed Visitor Attraction.
Our next stop was Frederick’s Ice Cream Parlour. The guide book said that we really shouldn’t pass by without stopping – well that’s what I told Richard! They boast 112 different flavours of ice cream but only had 40 in the shop! The company was established in St Helens by Mattia Federici and his brothers in 1896 when they arrived in England after having to leave Italy to find work and the business is still family run today. They now have 4 parlours as well as doing wholesale, outside catering and parties. An ice-cream party – how wonderful!
We stopped for fuel at White Bear Marina then pulled over about 2 miles short of the Wigan flight.