THE popular Meccano Bridge in Little Lever is a unique attraction that stands out in its countryside surroundings — but visitors are struggling to find it.
Dr Paul Hindle, chairman of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Society, which helped to build the bridge in 2012, says due to lack of signposts, the structure is a “hidden gem”.
The bridge, which was funded by Bolton Council, has become a hotspot for visitors due to its striking colour and design, so much so it has been announced as a finalist for a national award.
The £90,000 steelwork structure, designed by Liam Curtin, is up for the art and interpretation category at this year’s Living Waterways Awards, hosted by the Canal and River Trust, which takes place in Leeds in September.
The bridge is part of a huge £120 million restoration project by the society, which formed in 1987, to bring the canal back to a working state after the canal wall at Nob End collapsed in 1926..
Bolton Council has said Dr Hindle can apply for signage himself, however the Canal and Riverside Trust said it is waiting for outstanding work to be completed before signs are necessary.
Dr Hindle said: “We are really pleased to be up for the award, but I think this proves we need are signs up so that people know where it is.
"The bridge is unique and a real spectacle but no one can find it. It’s hidden away, a hidden gem.
“We can’t apply for signs because we don’t own it, we just built it. Bolton Council has refused to put up tourist signs despite us asking them to do so on several occasions.”
The bridge was the first of several projects being carried out by the volunteer-run society to restore the Nob End canal and members hope to get water running under the bridge by next year.
A Canal and River Trust spokesperson said: “We would be delighted to see brown tourism signs on the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal in the future to increase visitors to the canal.
“However, a lot of work still needs to be done to make this happen. We look forward to working with the canal society and Bolton Council on this.”
A council spokesman added: “Tourism signs are granted for visitor attractions if they meet relevant tourism and highways criteria.
"Mr Hindle can apply for a sign but the Canals and River Trust does not want a sign to go up on site at present until outstanding work is completed and highways, and access issues are investigated.”
Dr Hindle said: “There are six locks at Nob End that raised 60 feet. The top three are still visible. Stage one of Nob End was building the Meccano bridge.
"Stage two is to make the locks more accessible and visible to the public so people can see them from the road. We will also put two walkways in so that they can go to the lock.
“Then the third stage is to get the water running back under the Meccano bridge. We have six stages in total but that’s a long way off yet. We can do stage two for a couple of thousand pounds as it’s all volunteer labour. All we have to do is hire out equipment.”
The canal, which used to run through Little Lever down to Salford and up to Bury, has been closed since 1966.
Dr Hindle said: “The Bolton arm of the canal was closed in 1924 after the colliery closed and there was no traffic on the canal. Then there was a big breach and a wall at Nob End collapsed in 1936.
“The damage was never repaired and has since been left to ruin. Then as time went on other parts of the canal closed so there was no reason to restore it.”
In 1987, the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Society was formed. Dr Hindle joined in its first year, and members are finally beginning to see the fruits of their labour.
He said: “We got the first phase done in Salford in 2008 and it cost £6 million, but since the recession now all our sources of money have dried up.
"I think the project will take many years to complete in full and will cost about £120 million, so we need developer investment to help us along.”
The bulk of any money the society receives comes from canal side developers.
Dr Hindle said: “Developers will fund the cost of canal restoration if it means they can build waterside houses and shops.
“So we are currently waiting for the economic climate to improve so these kinds of developments will be funded.
“I am hoping I will be able to see this project through.
“I joined the society in its first year and became chairman three years ago so it is a project close to my heart.
“Also the canal is just a short distance from my home in Ringley, so it would be nice to see water flowing through there once again.”