I had heard of Yarrow Valley Country Park in Lancashire over the years but had never visited, despite it being just over half an hour away. I had also seen photos of kingfishers and field mice inhabiting the reserve so it was obviously a wildlife-rich place. But I often find it’s the places nearest to us that we tend to ignore.
But there’s a first time for everything and there’s certainly a first time for visiting this particular nature reserve, located near Chorley, Lancashire.
Usually nature reserves are maintained by wildlife and environmental charities but the 700-acre Yarrow Valley is actually owned by Chorley Council.
For all its scenic beauty now, the location has had an industrial background, dating back to the 1300s. By the 1400s, there were at least two mills – a cloth and a corn mill – at the site (called Birkacre). Coal mines (coal was found near the surface) were later established in the valley in the 1500s and 1600s.
At the start of the Industrial Revolution, a cotton mill was built at Birkacre. Up to this point, weaving and spinning was done at home – now it would be done in factories. This proved controversial as domestic manufacturers lost business and in 1779, ‘machine breakers’ destroyed the mill during the Birkacre Riots. Maybe new technology has always been a risk to people’s jobs?
The mill was rebuilt and the focus was now on the textile finishing business (for example, bleaching). A private coal mine for the works was opened in 1880 but, by 1939, the mill and mines were closed and became derelict. It was only in the 1980s when the local council stepped in to create the park.
There are three self-guided walking leaflets available. Birkacre History Trail (which shows the main sites of its industrial past) is a mile and a half and, according to the leaflet, takes an hour and 30 minutes to complete. This seems a long time for the mileage but it does include stopping and looking and reading about various points of interest.
The Blue Walk is 4.5 miles long and takes two and a half hours and the Red Walk’s 5.5 miles trail is estimated to take three hours.
We took a combined History Trail/Blue Walk route. The ponds are referred to as ‘lodges’ and at first I kept expecting to see wooden huts! There are three ponds – Small Lodge, Big Lodge and Top Lodge. Big Lodge, which had an array of swans, ducks and gulls, is the largest and is more like a lake than a pond (pictured below).
Top Lodge has a reed bed and I suspect that, in better weather, much wildlife can be seen here.
One of the main sights is Birkacre Weir, this enables the water level of the river to be raised. Channels then allow the water to flow into the ponds. On the side is a fish pass, a ladder to help fish migrate upstream. It was built in 2002.
We visited the park a couple of weeks after Storm Ciara and Storm Dennis and it was possible to see the accumulated rubbish (why can’t people use a bin?) and tree debris in certain parts of the river. But another remnant of the wild weather could be felt by the squelching mud under my feet. Unfortunately, on this occasion, I wore trainers rather than my usual walking boots.
Firstly, it was a country park so I was expecting paths (there are, but there was still mud!). Secondly, I decided to wear my good walking boots, which were in my car boot but then we went in Simon’s car and then…oh, no walking boots. So yes, I missed my walking boots and my trainers were a mucky mess by the time we got back.
I write this a month after our ramble and wish I hadn’t been so preoccupied with the mud! Had I known my freedom would become curtailed by coronavirus, I would have treasured this trek more. A lesson to learn indeed. I hope you are all keeping well during these uncertain times.
Information from Yarrow Valley Country Park: Birkacre History Trail leaflet (by local historian Jack Smith).
Yarrow Valley Country Park can be found off Birkacre Road, Chorley, Lancashire.