Yarrow Valley Country Park is undoubtedly one of the main contenders for the best park in North West England. The land here was once occupied by printing, bleaching and dyeing works. In the 1980s, following successful grant applications, Chorley Council regenerated the derelict site and transformed it into a great recreational area.
The park is a haven of tranquillity and natural beauty that spans over 700 acres. Its picturesque landscapes brimming with rich biodiversity, make it a favoured destination for those seeking to immerse themselves in the serenity of nature.
Our Visit to the Park
We visited on a sunny day, and we were very impressed indeed. Driving through the entrance on Birkacre Road took us straight to the Main Car Park. Parking was free. It was a good start.
Our first stop was the Treeface Café, also home to the Yarrow Valley Country Park Visitor Centre. We picked up a free map and guide to the park. My daughter wanted to buy ice cream, but I persuaded her to delay the purchase until the end of our visit.
Our first port of call was the playground, just a short walk away. Nestled in a woodland clearing beside the River Yarrow, it enjoys one of the best and most tranquil settings of all the play areas we have visited. The council have done an excellent job here and can be very proud of this facility.
Dragging her from the playground was a struggle, but I eventually managed it after an hour. We walked up to the Big Lodge, a former mill lodge and the park’s centrepiece. We walked along the western bank, admiring the spectacular views. On reaching the southern tip of the lodge, we relaxed on one of the benches and watched the ducks and other waterfowl.
After rest, we took a path south to Top Lodge nature reserve. The reed bed offers cover for birds, such as water rails, kingfishers, and reed buntings.
Heading south took us to the Birkacre Weir, one of the most popular attractions in the park. It was built to raise the water level of the River Yarrow and allow water to flow into the lodges. The guide says it is best to visit after heavy rainfall when the waters thunder. It hadn’t been particularly rainy in the days before our visit, but the weir was still impressive.
There wasn’t much concern for the environment when the Birkacre Weir was built over one hundred years ago. The structure made it impossible for sea trout and salmon to reach their traditional spawning grounds in the Pennine foothills. In 2003 a fish ladder was built by the side of the weir to allow the fish to pass the weir and make their way upstream.
Birkacre Weir was a viewing platform. It allows excellent views for visitors, including those in wheelchairs. To get a perfect photo, we had to climb over the fence and scramble down the bank to reach water level.
We then headed south into Drybones Wood, an ancient woodland with oak and beech trees. We saw the remains of an old coal mine shaft from the woodland pathway, a relic from the site’s industrial past.
We could have continued to Duxbury Woods, but by now, my daughter was yearning for the ice cream I had promised. We decided to head back to the Treehouse Cafe for refreshments. We retraced our steps but took the route along the eastern bank to reach the Big Lodge.
After reaching the northern tip of Big Lodge, we came to Small Lodge. The guide said this was used mainly by fishermen, and indeed there were a couple of guys waiting patiently by their rods. We took a couple of photos and left them in peace, making our way to the cafe just a few yards away.
We bought ice creams at the cafe and ate them at a large picnic table beside the building. Looking at the park map, it became obvious that we hadn’t seen much of it at all. The park is huge and follows the path of the River Yarrow for around six miles.
I could see from the map that the park has four official parking areas. So rather than walk to another park area, we decided to jump in the car and drive to another car park.
We choose to drive to Dob Brow Car Park. The guide didn’t give a postcode, so I just inputted the street name (Dob Brow) into the sat nav. We didn’t find it, so we stopped and asked a local. He told us that the Dob Brow Car Park was more of a layby and gave us directions. We eventually came across it, but our sat nav and Google Maps said it was on Butterworth Brow rather than Dob Brow.
From the car park, we headed north to Dob Brow Pastures, an area of grassland running alongside the River Yarrow. It was a pretty area but was less interesting than those we had visited earlier. Aside from a couple of dog walkers, we were the only people there. We followed the path alongside the river for a mile, returned to our car, and headed home.
In summary, Yarrow Valley Country Park is one of the best parks in North West England. The playground is superb, and the scenery is fantastic. Chorley Council deserve a lot of credit for transforming the former industrial site. It is well worth a visit.
The park is dog-friendly due to its expansive open spaces, beautiful scenery, and walking trails. It provides a wonderful environment for dogs to explore, exercise, and enjoy the fresh air.
Dogs are welcome throughout the park, but there are a few important rules to follow to ensure a pleasant visit for all:
- Owners are required to clean up after their dogs. Waste bins are conveniently located throughout the park, so it’s easy to dispose of waste.
- Dogs should be kept under control at all times. Dogs should be well-behaved and not cause a disturbance to wildlife, other park users, or park property. Rangers patrol the park and can request that dogs be put on a lead if they are out of control or disturbing others.
- Dogs must be kept on a leash in specific areas in the park. One of these is the area around the play area. In the play area, dogs must be leashed and kept on the main footpath, away from the play space, to ensure a safe and enjoyable environment for all visitors.
Dog owners are encouraged to respect these rules, not just for the benefit of other park users and wildlife but also for the comfort and safety of their pets.
Apart from its walking trails and wildlife, the park provides an ideal setting for various recreational activities, including fishing. Both Big Lodge and Small Lodge provide ample fishing opportunities under the management of the Wigan & District Angling Association (WDAA).
Anglers can expect to catch various fish, including bream, roach, and carp. However, it’s worth noting that fishing is prohibited on the Top Lodge.
Visitor Centre and Treeface Cafe
According to the official guide, the Treeface Cafe is open daily from 9.30 am to 4.30 pm. The waitress said it stays open later if the weather is nice or the park is busy.
There are baby changing and toilet facilities in the centre. It also serves as the base for the ranger service.
An information board details events and other useful information.
Location, Getting There, Opening Times, and Parking
The Main Car Park is situated on Birkacre Road. It’s convenient for destinations such as the Visitor Centre, Treehouse Cafe, Play Area, Big Lodge, Small Lodge, Burgh Wood, Top Lodge, Birkacre Weir, and Drybones Wood. The official guide says the postcode is PR7 3QL. However, this is the postcode for Birkacre Garden Centre. It got us close to the park, but according to the Royal Mail, the official postcode for the Yarrow Valley Country Park Visitor Centre is PR7 3RN.
Those preferring public transport have several options as well. The nearest train station to the park is Chorley, approximately two miles away.
Bus route 362, which runs from Chorley Bus Station to Wigan Bus Station, is the most convenient for reaching the park. The closest bus stop to the park is on Coppull Road. From this stop, it’s a five-minute walk down Birkacre Road directly to the park.
It’s worth noting that Chorley Bus Station is situated opposite Chorley Train Station, making transitions from train to bus travel straightforward for visitors.
The park is open every day of the year. There are no restrictions on entering the park. Entry is free.
The park strives to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for all visitors.
There are disabled spaces in the main car park, ensuring that visitors with mobility impairments can park conveniently close to the park’s major attractions.
Much of the park, including the central and most popular areas, is accessible for wheelchairs and prams. The footpaths here are well-maintained and level, particularly around the Big Lodge and up to Birkacre Weir.
More remote park areas might be challenging for those with mobility issues due to the natural terrain and inclines.
History of Birkacre Mill
The history of Yarrow Valley Country Park is inextricably linked with Birkacre Mill, a site of historical importance located within the park.
Birkacre Mill was established in 1777 by Edward Chadwick. Chadwick leased it to Richard Arkwright.
Arkwright, known for his patented water-spinning frame, equipped it with his machinery. Birkacre was the first such mill in the area and marked the introduction of the factory system to the region.
At that time, textile production was predominantly a domestic industry, with spinning and weaving carried out by hand.
In 1779, following a trade slump that severely impacted home spinners, a mob of hundreds of men descended on Birkacre, driven by an intent to halt the growth of the factory system, which they saw as a threat to their livelihoods. Despite the efforts of a local militia and defenders of the mill, the mob successfully broke in, destroyed the machinery, and set fire to the mill.
The riots at Birkacre marked a turbulent time in the region’s history. Despite the destruction, Chadwick rebuilt the mill within two years, and operations continued, focusing on textile finishing processes, such as calico printing, dyeing, and bleaching.
In the following years, Birkacre underwent further transformations. A private coal mine was established in 1880 to supply coal to the mill complex. However, by 1889, the bleach and dye works had closed, leading to the demolition of the buildings in the 1950s and the subsequent dereliction of the site.
Today, the legacy of Birkacre lives on in the park’s history and serves as a reminder of the industrial past of this now tranquil and scenic area.
History of Yarrow Valley Country Park
By the 1950s, the mill buildings were demolished. Industrial activity had ended, and the site lay derelict for some 30 years.
The transformation of this area from an industrial wasteland to a green oasis began in the 1980s. Chorley Council acquired the land to preserve and highlight its natural beauty. The council initiated a comprehensive program to rehabilitate the site, restoring wild habitats and introducing facilities for public use.
The former mill lodges, once integral parts of the industrial complex, were at the centre of the restoration efforts. These bodies of water were cleaned and revitalized, transforming them into vibrant habitats for diverse wildlife.
Over the years, the park has grown to encompass over 700 acres of varied terrain. It offers numerous nature trails, picnic areas, and playgrounds, making it a popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts, families, and nature lovers.
In 2003, a visitor centre was built using Heritage Lottery funds. This information centre offers an engaging gateway into the park’s history and ecological significance, enhancing visitors’ understanding and appreciation of the site.
A fantastic new play space opened in 2011.
The visitor centre was refurbished in 2013, and a cafe was added, providing a comfortable spot for visitors to relax and enjoy the park’s serene setting.
Today, while the park stands as a haven of tranquillity and natural beauty, reminders of its industrial past still punctuate the landscape. Landmarks such as Birkacre Weir, Dry Bones Colliery, and various smaller lodges are enduring remnants of a bygone era. These historical relics, combined with the park’s rich biodiversity, make the park a fascinating destination, offering a unique blend of natural beauty and industrial heritage.
The park has been awarded Green Flag status since 2004. The Green Flag Award is an international accreditation given to publicly accessible parks and open spaces that are managed in environmentally sustainable ways
Other Parks in Chorley and Lancashire
Beyond Yarrow Valley, Chorley and Lancashire offer abundant green spaces and parks that visitors and locals can explore. Places to visit include:
- Astley Hall and Park: Located in Chorley, Astley Hall is a museum housed within a Grade I-listed historic house. The park surrounding the hall features beautiful gardens, a lake, woodland, a playground, a petting zoo, and a walled garden.
- Avenham Park and Miller Park: These adjacent parks are located in the heart of Preston. They offer stunning landscapes, a Japanese rock garden, a cafe, and walks along the bank of the River Ribble.
- Beacon Fell Country Park: Set in the Forest of Bowland, it provides a panoramic view of Lancashire. Visitors can enjoy walking trails and a sculpture trail.
- Brockholes: Located in Samlesbury, this nature reserve is known for its floating visitor village. It boasts several trails, wildlife habitats, a children’s playground, and lakes. It is the perfect place for birdwatching and other outdoor activities.
- Stanley Park: This park is in Blackpool. It boasts an Italian garden, boating lake, BMX track, skate park, bowling greens, pitch and put, golf course, tennis courts, sports centre, and a cafe. Blackpool’Model Village is also here.
- Williamson Park: Situated in Lancaster, it is famous for the Ashton Memorial. The iconic structure offers breathtaking views of the surrounding area. Other features include a butterfly house, a mini zoo, and a variety of walking trails.
- Worden Park: Found in Leyland, it features a walled garden, beautiful woodlands, and a miniature railway. It’s a great spot for families with its vast playing fields and playground.
- Wycoller Country Park: Located in Pendle, this park offers a glimpse into the past with several historical features, including a 16th-century ruin. Footpaths lead to The Atom, a sculpture and viewing point with fantastic views of Pendle Hill.