Visitors to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal towpath near Rufford Old Hall in Lancashire could have been forgiven for thinking they had stepped back in time when they were greeted by Lord and Lady Hesketh in full Tudor costume.
The costumed characters were celebrating the completion of a £197,000 project to improve the towpath and encourage tourism by providing an attractive walking and cycling route between Rufford Railway Station and the Old Hall.
Rufford Old Hall is a Grade 1 listed Tudor building, from the 1500s. Steeped in history, it is thought that a young William Shakespeare performed for Lord Hesketh in the Great Hall.
It is hoped will boost the number of visitors who use the rail network and then the canal towpath to visit the Old Hall, as well as improving links to Rufford Marina.
Families, walkers and history buffs will all benefit from the scheme which has been funded by the VISIT Sefton and West Lancashire project, with additional funding from West Lancashire Borough Council and Lancashire County Council.
Councillor John Hodson, portfolio holder for Planning at West Lancashire Borough Council, said: “The works to improve the towpath here make it a very pleasant way of getting to Rufford Old Hall on foot and by bicycle. We are sure that many families, walkers, cyclists, and history buffs will make use of the improved towpath for many years to come and we are very pleased to have been able to support this project.”
The improved towpath runs for half a mile from Chapel Bridge on Station Road to Town Meadow Swing Bridge. It has created an improved walking and cycling route which will link up with other cycling and walking routes in the area.
The Hall was the home to the Hesketh family from construction until it was donated to the National Trust in 1936. Already a popular attraction it is hoped that the towpath improvements will further encourage more visitors to walk to the visitor attraction.
The towpath work included resurfacing, improving the drainage to get rid of puddles in wet weather and rebuilding a short length of the canal bank to prevent water escaping.
Enterprise manager for the Canal & River Trust, Nick Smith said: “Boaters and visitors on the towpath received a real surprise when they were greeted by Lord and Lady Hesketh in full period costume.
“This stretch of towpath was previously in very poor condition and these improvements were much needed – but Lord Hesketh will no longer need to throw down his cloak to save his Lady from the muddy puddles!”
Rufford Old Hall events manager, Catherine Hazley said: “We are delighted that the Canal & River Trust was able to carry out these improvements. It’s important that people can access the Hall via walking and cycling routes – and even the train rather than always relying on cars. We hope that lots of visitors will make the most of the restored path and look forward to welcoming them here.”
Work has also taken place to encourage water voles with 220 metres of coir rolls pre-planted with aquatic plants being laid alongside the canal edge to act as cover and habitat for the protected species.
The picture shows from Left to right: Andy Rowett, Lancashire Environment Trust; Counc John Hodson, West Lancashire Borough Council; Nick Smith, Canal & River Trust and Lord and Lady Hesketh.