Monday, 12 November 2018

Paddys Wood (not sure they wanted to do that)

I hate to say it but selfishly moored on the lock landing at Big Lock in Middlewich
The strong winds of Friday abated during the night and we awoke to a dry, quiet morning outside the Old Broken Cross; we seemed to have avoided the rain that a lot of the country has had, and it stayed dry all day on Saturday.  I should just mention that Brian & Diana on Hanser pointed out that the pub had changed hands since we were last there.  This is quite true and Darren and his boys told us that the food has greatly improved and I must say we were made very welcome, not that it wasn't that friendly before.

We headed off for Middlewich in the morning; the plan being to arrive at the same time as Judith & Nigel stopped off on their way up the M6 for parental visits to Yorkshire.  Soon after leaving we went through Billinge Green flash, one of our top ten mooring spots, and were surprised to see it had been converted into a marina.

90-berth marina opened in August this year at Billinge Green flash
We were last here two years ago when we took the new boat out for the weekend for a test run before taking her down to the Midlands.  We had stayed at the flash that weekend; it won’t be the same again.

A little further on we went through Whatcroft flash, a favourite mooring spot for many people and consequently usually has boats moored along the towpath but was completely empty today.  I wonder if there are plans to convert this to a marina too πŸ˜‰

Passing through Whatcroft flash
Talking about favourite mooring spots we then went past one of Les’s favourite spots.  I do wonder though how easy it will be to moor there now as the reeds on the opposite bank have somewhat making the passage very narrow.

One of Les Heath’s favourite moorings (just one boat’s length of Armco, so ideal for being isolated)
We stopped for water below Big Lock in Middlewich and Judith & Nigel arrived soon afterwards.  All the Trent & Mersey locks after this one are narrow locks, taking one rather than two boats at a time, until the canal reaches Stenson lock down at the Nottingham end of the canal; hence the name Big Lock.  Judith & Nigel stopped for a cuppa and to help me finish off the fruit cake (Karen has promised an apple cake next).  I mention the cake as I inadvertently said that Nigel’s favourite was fruit but it’s actually apple cake.  They may be popping back into see us on their way back home next Sunday so will there be any left for him?

As Judith & Nigel were leaving, two boats came past and went up Big Lock.  I went up to get the lock set for us, expecting the boaters would have closed the top gates.  A shame, but they hadn’t but one of them, in a sailaway, was mooring up at the lock landing.  I said, a little sarcastically, ‘I’ll close the gates for you’.   They looked at me as if I was mad and I came to the conclusion that they had only just started boating, especially as they were in a sailaway that looked very new (a sailaway is a shell and engine and little else, leaving the owner to fit out inside).  The other boat was a single-hander and I suspect he went off expecting them to close up the lock.

Anyway, I closed the gates, dropped the paddles and set the lock for us.  By the time we came up the lock and were ready to leave we saw the couple were clearly moored up at the lock landing as they had packed away their tiller arm and were padlocking the rear doors.  I politely explained that it’s not the thing to do as people need a place to park their boat while setting the lock or dropping off crew.  Again, they didn’t seem to understand and told me they were just going for a drink in the pub.  I explained that some people get very angry about this sort of thing but it’s their choice.  The girl asked me what they should do, and I just repeated that it’s their choice. [I’m not as bad as Mike, honest Aileen πŸ˜‰]

Looking back at Big Lock - our last broad lock until we hit Braunston in a couple of weeks
We moored up around the corner for lunch and to do the weekly supermarket shopping trip.  We didn’t leave again until about 3.30pm and noticed that the sailaway was still moored on the lock landing; they had obviously gone for more than a drink.  In fact, we bumped into the single hander a bit later, and he told us that they had told him they were finding somewhere safe to leave the boat whilst they went away for a while

We then went up the three locks in the middle of Middlewich and it was so nice to be back in single width locks.  They are so much quicker to operate and we were soon through them heading for Kings Lock, the last lock of the day.

Bottom lock of the Middlewich 3 (they are fairly deep at 12’ each)
When we came out of the top lock, we weren’t prepared to see the pound totally clear of boats.  Usually the pound has permanent boats on the offside and all the Middlewich hire boats on the towpath side.  We had heard they had gone out of business earlier in the year but hadn’t realised that everything had gone already

I wonder how much the Middlewich breach contributed to their woes – many hirers would head off down the Middlewich branch to cruise the Llangollen canal for their holidays which would not have been possible this year due to the tragic breach.  Hopefully a buyer will be found for the boatyard soon.

An unexpected boat-free pound between Middlewich top lock and Kings lock with the boatyard service point in the distance 
Just before Kings Lock the Middlewich branch heads off right towards the Shropshire Union and Llangollen canals.  No boats will have headed along here for eight months now as the breach happened back in March.

The start of the Middlewich branch
Technically it’s not the start of the Middlewich branch as the very short stretch before the lock in the background is the UK’s shortest canal, the Wardle canal.  It was built by the Trent & Mersey canal company, so they could control the junction with the Middlewich branch which was owned and managed as part of the Shropshire Union.

It was getting quite dark when we went through Kings Lock and by the time we had gone another ¾ mile before mooring below Rumps lock it was even darker.  In fact, it was so dark that you are spared a picture of our Saturday night mooring spot, as a photo wouldn’t have come out.

Instead you can have a picture taken the following morning πŸ˜Š
Sunday started overcast and drizzly but by mid-morning the sun was out, and just after 11.00am we set off towards Wheelock.  We had a short cruise of about three miles through four locks to a mooring spot we always seem to use opposite some allotments about a mile before Wheelock.  It’s an ideal place to moor before tackling the 26 lock Cheshire flight of locks the following day (or vice versa, it’s a good place to moor when you’ve spent all day coming down the locks).

For once we’re going to do the locks over two days rather than one and stop half way up on Monday night.  This is because we are meeting up with Dave & Barbara on Tuesday evening, at Red Bull which is at the top of the flight.

When we set off we were straight into Rumps lock as we had been moored just below it on Saturday night.  We had to keep Buddy on his lead because the cat from the lock cottage was sitting on the lockside which really wound him up.  He would have been on his lead anyway as the lock is right next to the main road from Middlewich to Sandbach.

Leaving Rumps lock with a British Salt factory on the left, Buddy on his lead in the middle and the Sandbach road on the right

Massive pile of salt outside the factory
Judging by the number of bare trees now, autumn is nearly over, and winter is setting in.  Although I must say that now the frosts of a week or so ago have gone it is feeling relatively mild with temperatures reaching double figures.

Trees looking wintry
Cruising in the sun always makes me look for and think about butterflies but I’m afraid we haven’t seen any since returning from France & Italy just over two weeks ago.  I know they are still being seen in the south though with sightings of clouded yellows, small coppers and red admirals which, I suppose, makes me a little envious.

Soon after the British Salt factory and some open farmland we approached the three locks on the Booth Lane flight.  Every time we come through these locks we notice how the housing estates on the far side of the road, which is still alongside, have expanded.

Buddy watching me approach Booth Lane bottom lock past some CRT work boats
There were four working boats tied up at the bottom and it was nice to see one was still in the British Waterways colours of blue and yellow.  

BWB work boat Gailey
The first two locks are typically named Booth Lane Bottom lock and Booth Lane Middle lock but for some reason the top lock is called Crows Nest lock rather than Booth Lane Top lock and I have to admit I prefer Crows Nest.

As we were only cruising for three miles Karen walked Buddy for the journey and as we moored up the skies darkened, and we got a great view of a double rainbow. 

The second rainbow didn’t really come out in the picture
Once again Buddy was interested in some cows and their calves, but they were the other side of the cut, so he couldn’t investigate further.


Moored for the rest of Sunday at Paddys Wood
This weekend we cruised a leisurely ten miles up nine locks.  The next couple of days will be busier as we have 26 locks to get up before we get to Harecastle tunnel where we are booked to go through first thing on Wednesday.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Broken Cross (there's a first time for everything)

We left a little later on Thursday morning as we had to get some admin done. We will be going through Harecastle tunnel next week and as it’s now November we have to book a passage. Boaters have to give notice of at least 48 hours to use the tunnel from November 1st to the end of March so that was one of my admin jobs πŸ˜‰ Passage is only available on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8.30 or 10.30 during those months so I have gone for 8.30 next Wednesday. Eight boats are allowed on each slot and no other boats are booked so it’ll probably be like our previous three passages where we were the only boat going through.

I mentioned the other day how one of our nightmares is worrying about what we would do if we heard an emergency vehicle approaching a bridge whilst we had it open. I was reminded today of another one, well it’s not too bad but it can be a pain. At this time of year canals are covered in fallen leaves and these can easily get wrapped around the propeller. When this happens, the engine starts losing power and then, as the leaves build up, steering becomes difficult. Unlike other things that get wrapped around the prop, leaves can usually be removed without a visit to the weed hatch. Putting the motor in neutral and then into reverse for a few seconds usually releases the leaves.

Pretty but can be a pain
After about seven miles we reached Preston Brook junction where the Bridgewater canal heads right into Runcorn or left for the last mile before it reaches the Trent & Mersey canal.  We went up to Runcorn three years ago, almost to the day, and had a fascinating time seeing where the old locks took the canal down to the tidal River Mersey as a series of five double staircase locks.  When the Manchester Ship Canal was opened in 1894 the locks at Runcorn fed into that instead and after becoming disused were filled in during the 1960s. 

For those interested in the old waterways, the flight became so well used in the early days that a second flight of ten separate locks was built and a one-way system introduced.  Strangely, the remains of the original flight is easy to see but it’s hard to find any trace of the second flight.  (I know I wrote about Runcorn {Click here} when we visited in 2015 but I have only just found out about the second flight).

Preston Brook junction – Runcorn off to the right – M56 over the top
After heading left, I pulled in at Midland Chandlers as I needed a new manual sump pump. It was then off to Preston Brook tunnel which is one way only so has set times for boats to pass.

Passage time sign
We arrived practically at half past the hour so just held the boat for a couple of minutes until the allotted time.  People were moving out of a canal side cottage that had no vehicular access, consequently the removal van had reversed as far as it dared along the towpath.

Heading to the tunnel with removal van on the towpath

Entering the tunnel – note the stanking planks πŸ˜‰
The entrance to the tunnel marks the end of the Bridgewater canal and the start of the Trent & Mersey canal.   Once through the tunnel we came up to Dutton stop lock which was built to overcome the slightly different levels between the two canals.  I must admit that I had always thought stop locks were built to enable tolls to be collected as freight passed from one canal company’s jurisdiction to the next but not so this one apparently.

The rise was only about 3” (looking uphill to Dutton dry dock on the left)
As we came out of the tunnel and approached the lock, we saw a boat was in the lock and heading in our direction.  This meant we could go straight in once they had finished.  For some reason the lock took an age to fill; but we got there in the end.

Karen getting ready to get the other side of the balance beam and put her back into it
The boat that came through the lock before us can be seen in the distance at the tunnel entrance waiting for their allotted passage time.  Just after the lock we passed the first Trent & Mersey mile post.

An original mile post with the date 1819 near the base
The Trent & Mersey canal has mileposts along its 92-mile length from Shardlow (in the south) to Preston Brook.  Mileposts were cast by Rougeley and Dixon in Stone in 1819 and there are still 59 left of which the example above is one.  The other 34 are replacements which have a mark of "T&MCS 1977" near the base.  T&MCS stands for Trent & Mersey Canal Society and these were cast in the mid-1970s in Bognor Regis to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the opening of the canal.  Click here for more information and our pictures of all the Trent & Mersey mileposts.

The canal runs through the 1 ¾ mile long Harecastle tunnel yet, interestingly (to me), it has mileposts either end indicating that it is only a mile long (62-30 and 61-31 miles to Shardlow and Preston Brook respectively).

The Trent & Mersey finishes at Derwent Mouth lock where it meets the Rivers Derwent and Trent.  Derwent Mouth lock is 1 ½ miles further on from Shardlow so the canal is actually 93 ½ miles long.  When Karen reads this, she will be a tad upset as she will be reminded that we (I) accidently left her favourite mug at Derwent Mouth lock a few years ago

We moored up a mile further on (we were by a mile post so knew how far we had travelled πŸ˜‰) on the site of the Dutton breach.  This breach happened in September 2012 and was on a similar scale to the recent/current Middlewich breach.  The canal was closed for seven months to effect the repairs.   Mooring rings were installed on the new banking making it a great place to moor if you like being in the middle of nowhere.

Thursday night mooring at the Dutton breach site with new wall, mooring rings and commemorative plaque
Close up of the commemorative plaque that we were moored alongside
Our views across the Weaver valley

Friday was another cruise day as we wanted to get to Broken Cross to meet up for drinks with our boat builder.  Darren and Sarah live on their boat and we were last meant to meet up a few months ago when they were cruising in the same area as us.  Unfortunately, plans changed because of a breach and lock closures on the Macclesfield and Peak Forest canals.  They were stuck in Cheshire and we in Derbyshire.

It was still windy but as there are few if any boats on the move at this time of year, we felt quite happy cruising.  Our first stop was at Saltersford tunnel; like Preston Brook yesterday it's another one that is one way only so has allotted passage times.

Passage allowed between half past and ten to the hour
We arrived with 15 minutes to wait so popped inside for a welcome coffee and a slice of Karen’s latest home baking – a fruit cake.  Fruit cake usually means Judith & Nigel are visiting as it’s his favourite but not so this weekend.  Funnily enough, later in the day I had a text from Judith asking where we are as they may pop in on Saturday 😊

The unusually shaped portal on Saltersford tunnel
The tunnel is one of the very few in the country where the light at the end of the tunnel cannot be seen when you first go in.  Even the longer tunnels, a mile or so long, are built in a dead straight line so a pinprick of light can be seen at the end once the eyes grow accustomed to the dark.  Saltersford tunnel has several bends in it which is quite uncanny.

Pretty soon after coming out we were approaching another one, Barton tunnel.  This one is also one-way, but passage is allowed as long as no lights of an oncoming boat can be seen.  That’s all fine but both entrances are on a tight bend, so the boat has to be taken into the tunnel to see if anything is coming.  Or you park up and walk down to have a look which I couldn't be bothered to do as there wasn't likely to be other boats around.  I gingerly took the boat in and, for the first time ever, I could see a light coming towards me.  I reversed out and waited for the boat to appear.  When they came out, they told me they weren’t being followed so off I went without meeting another boat.

Next, we were in Anderton and going past the famous Anderton boat lift that we used when we were living in our old boat.  The lift was opened in 1875 and drops/lifts boats between the Trent & Mersey canal and the River Weaver 50 feet below.

The top of the lift – a marvellous piece of Victorian engineering
We then pulled into the services at Anderton for a pump out and to get rid of our rubbish and recycling.

The marina behind the services is full of boats all snuggled up for the winter
Next was the Marston salt works museum that we have had many a happy time moored at and visiting in the past.  There were about ten boats moored there; Heidi’s boat, Rum Wench, was at the end of the line and about half way down we saw Pas MΓ¨che.  This was a boat we seriously considered buying from friends before we decided to go for a new build.  David & Victoria gave up living aboard a couple of years ago, so it was good to see their boat is still out and about.  

Could have been our home
The rest of the moored boats were on permanent moorings and we stopped for lunch after the last of the line.   We didn’t have far to go after lunch and were soon passing Wincham Wharf where Chalkhill Blue 2 was fitted out.

The boatbuilders are clearly specialising in wider beamed boats nowadays judging by the number of new ones in the water and in the yard above
Just down from Wincham Wharf is an old ICI chemical works now owned by the massive Indian company, Tata.  Usually there are strong smells and vapour crossing the canal at this point, but all seemed quiet today.

No fumes or vapour today
We were lucky and all the moorings outside the pub at Broken Cross were empty, so we managed to moor right outside.  This was where we were moored for over two weeks in our old boat while waiting for the finishing touches to be done and the new one launched.  I say ‘we’ but Karen was still working in Warwick and staying in B&Bs down there during the week but once we took delivery it didn’t take long to get back to the Midlands.

Couldn’t be closer
We were just going out to have a walk and post a letter when Darren turned up with all his workers from the boat yard, so we ended up going for early drinks and a good old catch up and talk about boats and boating.
The last two days have been really easy as we only covered 10 lock-free miles each day but the locks start again on Saturday as we begin the 35-lock climb to the summit of the Trent & Mersey at Kidsgrove πŸ˜Š

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Thelwall (we were due a soaking)

After spending Monday night at Ince Moss we had 55 miles to go until we get to the next lock.  This means we should have a few days of gentle cruising without any lock wheeling exercise thus giving our backs a rest.  It’s not quite true that the next lock is 55 miles away as there are two locks on the Leigh branch, but they are disused, and also a stop lock on the Trent & Mersey with a fall of 6-12” so we don’t really count that either.

A boater’s nightmare: emergency vehicle approaching a lift or swing bridge
It was a mild but grey morning on Tuesday and for the first few miles we had flashes on either side of the canal.  They must be brilliant places to visit for those who have a particular interest in water fowl as some of them seemed to be covered in birds.  Flashes were formed as coal mine subsidence caused flash floods giving the term to the remaining standing water.  Further south in Cheshire we have been through flashes caused by salt mine subsidence.

Passing Ince Moss, one of the Wigan Flashes

A bit further on we arrived at the outskirts of Abram where there used to be two locks called Dover Locks #1 & #2.  The pub that stands next to #1 is called Dover Locks and is currently abandoned. 

The Dover lock chambers suffered constant problems due to the subsidence caused by a local coal mine. They were eventually replaced by the two Poolstock locks that we stayed at the previous night just outside Wigan. 

The remnants of Dover lock #1 where you can still see where the lock gates and other mechanical bits used to be in the lock narrows

Other than the lock narrows there is nothing much to see of #2 lock (Dover Lock pub on right)
Soon after the Dover locks we arrived at Plank Lane lift bridge which is closed to boaters during rush hours because of the volume of traffic but as it was after 9.30am we could use it.  We have often wondered what we would do if we heard emergency sirens approaching when a bridge is in use and thankfully it has never happened.

When we were mooring up to operate the bridge, two police vans came through with flashing lights and sirens, so we felt pretty secure that the odds of any more were now greatly reduced.

The camera just caught the blue flashing light on the police van as it left the bridge
We took on water after going through the lift bridge and then headed off for Leigh where we joined the Bridgewater canal.  Immediately, we came across a stanking plank crane and accompanying planks that are so typical of the Bridgewater canal.

Welcome to the Bridgewater canal sign
We stopped for lunch at Worsley, a suburb of Salford.  We couldn’t stop here on our way up as all the moorings had been taken, not so today as we were the only boat.

The coalmines at Worsley were the reason the Bridgewater canal was built as the coal was taken away by boat to Manchester's industrial areas.  The canal was opened in 1761 and was the first canal in the UK not to follow an existing water course.  

The entrances to the coalmines at Worsley
Soon after setting off again we went over the Manchester Ship Canal (MSC) on an aqueduct that swings when large ships are using the MSC.

Crossing the MSC and looking towards Manchester
Looking the other way with the Barton road swing bridge in the foreground and the M60 viaduct in the background
There wasn’t much to report on the rest of the journey as we covered the area in some detail when we came along in April/May time.  Also, we passed no other boats on the move other than a restaurant boat at Patricroft… 

…nice autumnal colours though
We moored up outside the Trafford Park shopping centre for the night after having covered 16 miles during the day.

Tuesday night mooring outside the massive Trafford Park shopping centre (on towpath side!)
The forecast rain didn’t come overnight on Tuesday, although it had been very windy.  Despite the wind and the forecast of rain we decided to cruise for the day and donned wet weather gear in case the rain started. 

Looking ominous as we left Trafford Park
After about a mile’s cruising we arrived at a junction known as Waters Meeting.  This is where the Bridgewater main line heads north, a few miles into the centre of Manchester and the other way heads down to the junction with the Trent & Mersey canal at Preston Brook.

Turning right at Waters Meeting
We turned right towards the Trent & Mersey canal.  We haven’t been on this particular stretch of canal for 3 ½ years so we were looking forward to see how things had changed.  We headed through Stretford and Sale and then Karen got off to walk with Buddy and that was when the rain really started so we never really took much notice of our surroundings.

Getting a bit wet
By the time we got to Lymm the rain had practically stopped so we moored up on the visitors’ moorings for lunch.  The rain held off for most of the rest of the day so we carried on a bit and moored up for the night near Thelwall.

Moored for Wednesday night at Thelwall
The Bridgewater canal is wide and relatively deep meaning most boats go a lot faster than on normal canals.  This is because not so much wash is generated and also because the sides are generally lined in concrete so do not get eroded by any wash that does break on there.  We went slightly faster than normal too so made good time and in all we travelled 14 miles in four hours.

The only boat we saw on the move during the day was a hire boat.  The steerer managed a wet wave and a smile but he couldn’t see what we could: the rest of the crew, who were inside, looked to be having a party 😊