On a glorious spring day masquerading as midsummer, we headed out on our latest 4 ½ mile Jack’s Tracks around Sankey Valley Country Park and the beautiful Carr Mill Dam near St. Helens. Begin at the Sankey Valley Visitor Centre (postcode WA11 0AB), where you’ll find a convenient free car park just behind the Ship Inn off Blackbrook Road/Stanley Bank Way (A58). The visitor centre is also a good place to learn a bit more about the flora and fauna of the park before you head off along the trail.
First, walk onto the old canal tow path, then turn right to make your way up through the country park along the main trail. There are plenty of birds to spot along the way, plus a few monuments to the Sankey Canal’s long and lustrous history by the waterside.
As you reach the northern end of the park, pass under the East Lancashire Road and then the railway viaduct, with Carr Mill Dam in front of you. If you’re lucky, a train might pass by overhead. Continue to follow the path as it slopes gently upwards and to the right, then to the left onto Garswood Road. This is where you’ll find the Toby Carvery pub – walk towards the water’s edge and follow the path around the western side of the reservoir.
If you live locally, it’s easy to forget what a feat of engineering Carr Mill Dam actually is. It was formed by damming Blackbrook Valley, and used to power industrial mills before being enlarged for use as a headwater for the St. Helens Canal in the mid-eighteenth century. Many species of birds make their home at the dam, including Grey Heron, Mute Swan and Kingfisher.
Looping around the dam, you’ll eventually come to the bridge known as Nineteen Arches. What many people don’t know is that the bridge actually serves as an aqueduct, used to shift water from the Rivington reservoirs into Liverpool. Cross it, and head straight up the public footpath on the other side. You’ll emerge onto a farm track, surrounded by greenery on either side, and go right towards a picturesque farm house.
Take the footpath to the left of the house and follow it to the end of the hedgerow, then go straight on through the fields. Follow another farm track through the next field, then turn right to go along the back of the hedgerow.
You’ll be taken out into a wooded area with a footbridge over the brook – take the path to the right. Following it eventually brings you back out onto Garswood Road; continue past the Carr Mill Powerboat Racing Clubhouse before crossing the dam past a steep grass verge. At this point you’ll pick up the path you came along and head back into Sankey Valley Country Park.
Back under the cooler shade of the trees, take the footbridge on the left then head right, following the narrow path back down through the park. As you emerge back out onto the main path, make sure to look out for the monument to the old water wheels at Stanley Iron Slitting Mill before heading back to the car. Built in 1773, the mill used a small canal connected to Carr Forges, and was powered by the water stored in the reservoir. It worked until 1830, when it was replaced by a corn mill which lasted until around 1900.