Burscough is buoyant - this canalside community just gets better

Head teacher, Mr Chris Hackett, and Burscough Lordsgate CE Primary year 6 schoolchildren Lily Saysel

Head teacher, Mr Chris Hackett, and Burscough Lordsgate CE Primary year 6 schoolchildren Lily Saysell, Sian Flood, Amy Harrison and Liam Johns with Canoe Safari operator Jack Grimsditch at the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust Martin Mere - Credit: Archant

Burscough owes its existence to the canal, and water continues to play a leading role in village life today, as Paul Mackenzie reports Photography by: John Cocks

Burscough Heritage Group members turning back the clock at Burscough Wharf....

Burscough Heritage Group members turning back the clock at Burscough Wharf.... - Credit: Archant

Water has always been important to Lancashire. It falls from the sky quite a lot here and no summer is complete without a paddle on the county’s shore, but in Burscough they know better than most the importance of the wet stuff – the village wouldn’t be there at all without it. The coming of the Leeds/Liverpool canal in the early 1800s was the catalyst for the village’s development and water remains at the heart of the area’s biggest tourist attraction.

Martin Mere is a real feather in the cap of this corner of Lancashire and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust centre is growing all the time. Visitor numbers are this year expected to fly past the 200,000 mark for the first time and new attractions are being added to the site regularly.

Among the latest attractions to open there are a canoe safari and electric boat and this month will see the launch of Weird of Wonderful – WoW – a redeveloped area of the gardens aimed at highlighting and explaining the differences between birds.

Martin Mere spokeswoman Victoria Fellowes said: ‘It’s about using the site as best we can to give people the best experiences and opportunities to get close to nature. The canoes, and particularly the quiet electric boat, are great ways to get close to the water voles we now have.

‘The Weird of Wonderful attraction includes four new enclosures which focus on the adaptations of birds – why that one has a blue bill, why that one makes a squeak rather than a quack. It’s a matter of giving visitors something new but also deepening their understanding.’

The site hosts talks and walks every day and next on the agenda is a new wetlands-themed adventure play area and Victoria added: ‘It’s important to keep developing the site and introducing new things. Over the last couple of years membership has been doing very well – we have had a rise of around 10,000 a year in the numbers of non-paying people through the gates.

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‘Each time they visit they could see different things and have different experiences and in these recessionary times people are really seeing the advantage of that kind of value for money.’

Water is key too, in the work of Mike McCombe, the landlord of the Hop Vine albiet with some special ingredients. He has recently collected the CAMRA West Lancashire pub of the year award for the third year running. Alongside running the pub, Mike runs the Burscough Brewery with Andy Brocken and head brewer John Woodhead. The brewery, which opened in converted stables behind the pub in November 2010, has proved so successful that they are looking at larger premises.

‘The brewery has gone from strength to strength. We simply can’t brew enough beer at the moment, which is a cracking problem to have,’ said Mike, who grew up at The Ship in Lathom and took over the Hop Vine in September 2009.

‘We are waiting to hear if we’ve got the nod on our planning application to create a brewery five times bigger than the current one on a local farm. I’m hoping we could be in before Christmas.’

And while Burscough’s water has been good for wildlife, tourists and industry, it’s now home to Mike Allen who is chairman, secretary and membership secretary of the Burscough Heritage Group.

Mike moved from Manchester almost five years ago and now lives on the canal in a narrow boat, but although he’s relatively new to the village he has a thorough understanding its history.

And for a week at the end of June he and the heritage group’s 15-or-so regular members spent time explaining the importance of that history at the third annual Burscough Heritage Week.

‘We try to give local schoolchildren an idea of the history of their village and to plant the seed that history is not just what is old but what is here now. Will these buildings still be here when the children are my age?

‘Also, we think that if they know the significance of the canal from a young age, when they are a bit older they might be more inclined to have respect for it.

‘It will be ten or 15 years before we’ll know if it has worked, but we had to start somewhere.’

The group is now hoping to work with students from Edge Hill University to edit the interviews that members conducted as part of the Do You Remember When? scheme into a documentary about the village. Through the sister project, Will You Remember When? they hope to create an appreciation of all that Burscough has to offer now and to find the village’s future historians.

The road to Burscough

Where it is: Burscough stands on the A59 a couple of miles north of Ormskirk. There is a free car park at Burscough Wharf and some on street parking around the village. The village is well served by trains, with rail connections to Bolton, Manchester and Southport at Burscough Bridge and Ormskirk and Preston at Burscough Junction.

Shops, food and drink: The village is home to a delightful selection of small independent shops, many of them along the main road and around the wharf. There are also supermarkets and a good range of pubs, cafes and restaurants.

What to do: Take a walk by the canal, soak up the history around the wharf, then get close to nature at Martin Mere.