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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, May 05, 2006
    A day around Junction 12
    Went to News from Nowhere to pick up my new copy of Around the M60: Manchester's Orbital Motorway. And it was such a nice day that, after a brief consultation involving the book and Landranger 109, I decided to spend some time exploring around Junction 12 - the point where the Liverpool-Hull highway hits Salford and is subsumed into the Orbital for a few miles.

    Like so much of the Warrington - Manchester route this area is a busy mess of old and new transportation. Dead, dismal and dead-expensive railways cross the floodplains of the Mersey; the winding river in more than one place intersects the massive Ship Canal (which, the book tells me, was built to a depth of 26 feet (7.9m) - intentionally the same as the Suez). But the whole area has been since the sixties adulterated by big roads, fast roads.

    Where I leave the M62, the junction (which is J12 of the M62 and of the M60) is a national accident blackspot, 'abetted,' the book says, 'by steep gradients, narrow lanes and a concentration of 'lane weaving' manoeuvres by frustrated motorists. Indeed, peak time shunts are the major form of incident here.' And the A57 at Barton is equally bad-tempered today. I pull completely onto the wide kerb outside someone's house to look on the map for the turn which will take me down to Barton Locks.

    The map shows some routes to the lock but I don't find a way to it. Road entrances closed over by locked gates suggest that the lock keepers want to keep industrial tourists like myself at bay. The closest I get is Makro car park, which offers a tantalising view of the Canal across scrubby fields, and a breathtaking view of the Barton High Level Bridge - the M60 crossing - shining in the clear blue (blimey) Manchester skies.

    So I detour to the other side of the A57, rattle slowly down dusty farm roads which cross the M62, stopping at the bridges to take photos of speeding articulated wagons. And then I take the road towards Eccles, swing into a housing estate (one of those which Alain de Botton has been so disapproving of on TV this week), and find another path to Barton Locks blocked by the canal company. But this time I manage to get canalside and get to take these pictures - above, a rusty old scooter framed with Barton High Level Bridge; below, urban idyll: a swan drifts past beneath the green domes of the Trafford Centre.

    Refuel at Trafford Park, a butty and a flask of tea in the car park of the shining Imperial War Museum, and back to Barton Locks, this time by way of Urmston. Perhaps the other side of the canal bank will offer access. It almost does. Davyhulme Nature Reserve offers an easy ramble down to the Lock side.

    There is no access, but the water company do at least give ramblers the opportunity to get close to the lock, to sit alongside and be able to watch those (fairly rare) occasions when canal craft rise or fall a level through these gigantic gates. This really is a canal like no other; built for ships. Last time I went this way was on a Mersey Ferry cruise, a fine way to appreciate the riches of this 35-mile-long waterway.

    This area's biggest barons, Peel Holdings plc, owners of the Trafford Centre, the Manchester Ship Canal, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Company and Liverpool John Lennon Airport, like to get as many paying customers as they can travelling through their vast portfolio. But any who dare stray off the regulated paths find fences like these at every turn.