“Preston Junction”

Early maps of the railways around Preston appear to borrow from primitive drawings of the human circulatory system.Connecting nearby towns with the Industrial powerhouse of the Red Rose County was achieved by way of covering almost every available strip of land with track, ostensibly a result of the numerous rival rail companies battling for the right to serve Preston on their own.

The twisting turning trails of that early map have largely disappeared. Preston was to suffer from consolidation many years before the “Beeching Axe”, with financial pressures crippling early ventures from the start. One such line to suffer from economic hardship decades before Beeching’s report was the direct line to Southport, one I have walked in a two part series elsewhere on this blog. You can find the walk to Walmer Bridge here and the attempted walk from Southport here. (I say “attempted”, it was pretty much successful, just not ending where or when it should.)

Anyhoo, by far the most distinctive part of that early map is the two “pinches” allowing for fairly easy interchange between tracks to the south of the River Ribble. Those form part of the “Preston Junction”, a largely important but now quite forgotten piece of rail infrastructure. Forgive me if any of the images in this post look familiar – every last square inch of the former “Preston Junction” line and its connecting off-shoots have been all but obliterated. What’s left behind – mile after mile of cycle routes and pathways – resemble copy-and-paste levels in cheap computer games, each stretch of tree/weed/mud lined route looking just like the other.

It wouldn’t be in character for me not to try make senseof it all, though, so here goes.

How "Preston Junction" should be advertised....

How “Preston Junction” should be advertised….

And how it really looks...

And how it really looks…

There is no single place at which to start the “Preston Junction ” walk, so maybe I should start in the middle. The complex network of lines can be traced back to just one – the Blackburn-Preston-Farington (Leyland) route constructed in 1846. This would ultimately be consumed into the East Lancashire Railway network that incorporated every route from Liverpool and Ormskirk in the south to the Bury, Burnley and Rawtenstall in the east.

Very little of the Preston elements of this railway remains, as can be seen from the aerial shots on Google Maps, showing the distinctive curves and junctions as tree-lined pathways. The middle of all this for my purposes is the intersection of the railway with the Lancaster Canal Tramroad, remnants of which can be seen in the City Centre itself [anyone who has used the underground subway to the Fishergate Car Park should notice the distinctive brickwork around them; that’ll be Tram Road history,that be.)

Old Tram Road looking towards the 'intersection'

Old Tram Road looking towards the ‘intersection’

Leaving the Tram Route to take its way through the Carrwood Road estate, the right-hand path is the former rail route to Bamber Bridge, with clues to the former use of the path now reduced to rare curiosities such as this. A further three or so minutes along takes you to the Wateringpool Lane “Gas Works Bridge”, which remains in very good nick.

Under the Bridge...

Under the Bridge…

From here it’s another yomp along the path, bordered on both sides by bushes and over-grown greenery. The “Nature Reserve” element of the “Preston Junction Nature Reserve” really is advertising speak for “we’ve not cut back anything leafy or green for twenty-odd years”

It’s certainly the case that this is not so much picturesque as functional

Really, really functional.

Todd Lane/Preston Junction

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This National Cycle Network marker (sounds much better than “National cycle-path”, as I though it was, suggesting a country-wide network of lunatics roaming the streets) is the only plaque/sign/monument to Todd Lane railway station. On the approach to the road itself there are no clues to the former platforms, sidings, track alignment, nothing. Just lots of overgrown “nature reserve” plants and weeds.

To break up the mass/mesh of nature gone back to…nature…there’s a brook of some sort hidden underneath more overgrown plantation.

That word “junction” in “Preston Junction” indicates that something other than a direct route to Bamber Bridge must have been offered by Todd Lane. That something is the curved line through to Lostock Hall, visible on Google Maps. That line can be walked from a small, barely visible, off-shoot to the endless run of pathway-through-greenery. And there’s at least one thing of curiosity to be found along here…

Lostock Hall curve

From the Brownedge Lane bridge, the spur to Todd Lane looks impassable. Not so. The route is clearly underused (if indeed it’s used at all, even with a few clues of human/teenage use as a ground to dump bottles and cans, there was very scant evidence of it being popular). 20130718_145857 20130718_145949

I’m not going to claim knowledge about what exactly this is – a boundary marker of some sort? Or remains of original track? Answers please.

This route takes only a few minutes, is very uneven underfoot – no bland tarmac here, or indeed for that matter anything, just ballast and stones and weeds and mysterious parallel lines.

The walk from this curve to Bamber Bridge is unremarkable, and not just because the destination itself is, well, just that. The route comes to a sudden stop because of the A6 London Way, with the original alignment of the railway surviving as the B5257 roundabout slip-road. Don’t say things get boring around here, folks.

The view from Bamber Bridge station, had I taken it, would have shown where the two parts joined together. The Google Maps friend is back again, as it shows how the Brownedge Road part meets the scrapped railway lines overlooking Irongate, home to Bamber Bridge FC.

In summary then, the route from Preston to Bamber Bridge along Todd Lane has almost no indications of its former route, other than the tucked-away Lostock Hall pathway.

West Lancashire

Now for some cross-blog pollination. The West Lancashire line from Preston to Southport is one I’ve walked and written about before. Here’s how to get from there (ish) to Preston Junction (more or less).

The two junctions at east and west – I suppose “Lancashire Bra Straps” is a bit tasteless but you get the idea – represent the connections needed to link towns to the south of Preston without going over the Ribble and into the town’s central station. Looking at traffic congestion on the roads, let alone the WCML today, it’s sad that these lines were disposed of so easily.

The walk along these curves and junctions begins with a walk towards the grand (if now sadly tumble-down) railway bridge over the Ribble. Lancashire County Council has undertaken a massive regeneration scheme around this bridge, converting the overgrown and abandoned trackbed into a cyclepath, bringing to an end Vicar’s Bridge in the process. Not only has this opened up the path (and removed in situ track), it’s reduced by a factor of hypergazillion the number of dodgy men rubbing themselves against oak trees. Win-win.

This shouldn’t shock you, but crossing the bridge takes you to another nondescript tarmac’d path. At least along this part of the walk, there’s a couple of historic artifacts still in place.

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And that’s it, because to follow the curve around towards Penwortham, it’s back to nondescript tarmac. The “Penwortham Spur”, if that’s the formal name is marked by these bizarre pieces of public art. I’ve no idea what they represent.

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These bendy-metal-eye stalks turn up at the end of the junction, which is otherwise just another stretch of…you guessed it..

The walk to Penwortham uncovers a piece of railway infrastructure – or so I think – on the track which leads onto Middleforth Green, a piece of suburbia on the way to Lostock Hall. (All roads lead to Lostock Hall, you notice). As you can see from the map, the two junctions/interchanges have bridges ‘in situ’, both of which do their best to appear bleak and imposing even at noon.

I honestly don't know.

I honestly don’t know.

There are two final jigsaw pieces to the “Preston Junction” puzzle; the part which connects these two sweeping and swirling rail-lines to the West Lancashire line to Southport (which I followed), and the line attaching Croston to Lostock Hall just south of Longton (which I did not).

The missing segment through Penwortham is now a housing development, and a typical example of the bland rabbit warren estate which is squeezed into any available space. The street doesn’t even have a name related to the former use of the alignment on which it now rests, which seems an opportunity lost.

Mmm, just reach out and touch it

Mmm, just reach out and touch it

Can't get enough of bland paths

Can’t get enough of bland paths

So this is where the railway would have taken passengers to or from Southport/Blackburn, with its bland new build development name.

The road looks out onto very familiar looking brickwork which also provides a great clue to just how substantial the railway infrastructure was before it was closed down. That’s one heck of a size.

The Park Road estate rests in the middle of the “Penwortham Triangle”, where my previous walk began on the opposite side.  The name “Penwortham Triangle” has an echo where the bland pathways are marked by bendy-freaky-metal-glass-alien-art, namely “Whitehouse Triangle” on the maps of the time. You should be able to see that map on the Google image above.

With numerous generations passed since any trains did, it’s little surprise that the conversion of rail to dog walker paradise has stripped so much land of so much history. The lack of many clues to the past beyond aerial photographs reflects the extent to which the past has been truly left behind, leaving only bridges and brick-work as hints to the history and heritage of Lancashire. I would recommend having a mooch around these parts whilst the weather stays good – maybe you could tell me what the modern art things are supposed to represent?

Lea Road – a forgotten station

As eager as I am to blame one man and one man alone for ruining British railways, the case of Lea Road in Preston has no connection to him. For once.

“The Civil Parish of Lea and Cottam” is the long-winded formal way of referring to the north-west parts of the city of Preston. The “Lea” bit is really two communities, one of your actual semi-rural villages right up against the city border, and a compact suburban sprawl. “Cottam” really was one of those “in my day, all this were fields” type of places, where the fields are now mere fringes for numerous new-build estates all constructed to look like glossy-magazine spreads. In an act of daft marketing brainfarts, which blights every new-build estate, the contrived look of a rural village is somewhat ruined by the ever decreasing amount of untouched rural surroundings caused by….new-build developments.

Maybe it’s just me.  I’ve seen new-build apartments built with bricked-up windows and pretend delivery doors five floors up, just to give the impression to those paying over £100,000 for their shiny new IKEA playground it’s 17th century olde England. Baffled, I am.

Anyhoo, splitting Lea from Cottam, broadly speaking, are the Preston-Blackpool train line and the Lancaster canal. It’s typical of this country that it’s the latter which is more likely to take local people into Preston.

“Lea Road” runs from the main Blackpool Road in the south to Cottam in the north, running through a patch of well-to-do houses with crunchy gravel gardens and the like, before opening out to a field on one side and UCLAN’s recommissioned Westleigh House on the other. From here the pavement vanishes, homes become more stone than brick, and the distinct waft of a real life, actual working farm flicks over the humped canal bridge. This is the distinct boundary between Preston and….well, not Fulwood, so “not Preston”, where rural central Lancashire penetrates Preston’s solid urban core.

OS Map (Copyright to them) of Lea Road Station

OS Map (Copyright to them) of Lea Road Station

It’s about half-way along, just off a 90s housing boom estate running off Summer Trees Avenue, where the soon to be electrified Preston-Blackpool railway cuts its way through. Alas the nearby pub, latterly known as the Cotty Brook, has been closed for what appears to be a considerable amount of time, the nearside nettles and bracken encroaching in the way which proves the old maxim, “Nature always wins.”

There’s not much at ground level to show where Lea Road station used to be, particularly the old signal box or even so much of an entrance. The “Ashton On Ribble” website provides a snapshot of how it looked from the top and via the invaluable Preston Digital Archive there’s an aerial photograph taken from MARIO that gives some indication of how much the area has changed. The land to the left is still there (albeit FAR messier and over-grown), whilst to the right housing and business units have been built in recent years.

I made my jaunt to Lea Road on an overcast Sunday afternoon, which necessitated meandering through the overgrown and muddy sort-of-not-quite path through Haslam Park, a kind of sedate adventure playground for dog-walkers which uniquely amongst Preston’s parks hasn’t lost (much) of its charm. I found my way to the Millennium Canal Link “thing”, a project infamous for the construction and swift removal of “the Piddler in the River”, a statue ultimately lost for good at the expense of £25,000. That’s a lot for wood nobody thought checking for, say, water damage or, you know, going rotten. AS WOOD TENDS TO DO.

In all truth and honesty, the station probably wouldn’t have survived long after the War which followed its initial closure, particularly as Beeching would have noticed how little housing or even schools existed in walking distance, never mind driving, at the time of the ‘reshaping’ report. Added to that, it would be almost impossible to construct health-and-safety satisfying ramps and what-not today in such a cramped, tight space.

Almost all signs of the station have been long lost. The archways underneath the lines are bricked up, with REDUNDANT SPAN painted in white capitals. One long-lost plan for the station was an impressively ambitious project to link the Blackpool line with the West Coast Main Line at Broughton/Fulwood, enabling the under-strain Preston station to lose some of its stresses. A great “what if” opens up in the mind, as Lea Road would have almost certainly given Beeching something to think about if Blackpool – Scotland traffic justified the lack of construction opportunities around the expanded line.All which remains now are the bricked up arches, suggesting show much about its past whilst showing little.

Unlike in the days of my youth, it’s impossible to walk beside the track itself. (No, really, back in High School, it was quite the done thing to sit around the Blackpool line and…never mind. NOBODY DIED.)  Now there’s a metal fence with the usual warning signs, and a good set of spider webs set for the summer.

Thanks in part to BNFL Springfields (…no, really), the neighbouring Salwick station remains open, for around four trains a day, none on weekends. Alas the fortune was not smiling at Lea Road, for whom the 1930s were not sympathetic or full of promise enough to persuade powers that be to hold on.

By way of a coda, both Lancashire County Council  and Preston City Council support the construction of a new station at Cottam, although the current plans are sketchy at best (literally, one could say, as it depends on the construction of a “Preston Distributor Road” from two points yet to be decided). At least it’s something, albeit 20-odd years out of date, and a rare sign of positive attitudes towards public transport in a city with very little such evidence hitherto.

Advising long lost or forgotten engineers....

Advising long lost or forgotten engineers….

One for the entrance, one reportedly just in case of the Broughton extension

One for the entrance, one reportedly just in case of the Broughton extension

In my day, we'd sit around alongside this. INNOCENT TIMES

In my day, we’d sit around alongside this. INNOCENT TIMES

One way up

The slope on the left now used by engineers

The slope on the left now used by engineers

....there's at least a bus service. The Orbit takes about 3 hours to crawl around the outskirts

….there’s at least a bus service. The Orbit takes about 3 hours to crawl around the outskirts