Marston (A visit to a salt works at last)

I should have known that when I said we were moored in Barnton, the largest village in England, that I would get some comments.  This is a close up of part of an information sign on the tow path that substantiates my comment:

This is a photo I was sent as one of the comments (thanks Steve!).

Clearly it all depends on how villages are defined so they are all rash statements unless qualified.
Anyway we needed to take on water and also wanted to clean the outside of the boat so set off for the water point at Anderton on Wednesday morning.  It was still pretty windy but not really bad enough to stop us travelling.  We had to take it easy past some works that were being carried out by CRT.

Once we’d taken on water we set about cleaning the roof.  Here’s Karen hosing it down – she always prefers to do this as it gives her a chance to ‘accidently’ spray me with water for some reason.

We continued on to Marston after lunch and moored up outside the salt works museum – see photo at the top.  The large tank used to hold brine that was pumped up from below ground.  This is the pump house that used to drive the ‘nodding donkey’ (on the left) to pump the brine up.

Once the tank was full of brine it was drained into five large lead pans that were then heated up to boil the brine and leave a residue of salt.  Salt works buildings and machinery were often rebuilt as they disintegrated quickly with the steam and other chemicals that burnt off.

This is another of the five pans, the building housing it has been demolished and the pan
is not being restored.

It’s amazing to think that the Romans started extracting brine and rock salt in Cheshire and their methods of extraction and production were little different to those employed into the 1980s when these works finally closed.  The salt towns were called wiches (e.g. Droitwich, Nantwich, Northwich, Middlewich etc.) and suffered terribly from subsidence.  There are many pictures of houses being swallowed up overnight.  This is a picture of an occasion when the Trent & Mersey canal breached through subsidence.  Apparently it only took two weeks to repair this – I dread to think how long it would take these days because of Health & Safety and other bureaucracy.

When subsidence occurred the holes were soon filled with water and the resulting pools are called flashes.  There was one particularly large area of subsidence that apparently caused the River Weaver to run backwards for a short stretch until it was full.  We have spent many a night moored on the side of flashes as they tend to be wide and not canal like.  This exhibit in the museum invites the visitor to look at the view outside because there is a flash on the far side of the canal – it doesn’t mention our washing blowing away in the wind!

There'll be a break in the blog for a couple of days as we're off to help Lauren and Lewis do some decorating in their new home.

Barnton (at least it didn't rain)

True to the forecast we awoke on Tuesday morning to really strong winds but no rain.  As it was set to stay like that all day we knew we wouldn’t be cruising anywhere.  When I took Buddy out for his first morning walk we came across some mini stanking planks; these made me smile because of the comment Ben had made on our blog entry on FaceBook yesterday, “Good to have you back, looking forward to some stanking plank photos. (btw, Google stanking plank, you get the 2nd entry!)”.  It’s true!

We took a walk to Marston in the morning to find out the opening hours of the salt works museum as Marston is the next place we want to moor.  Unlike the other times we have cruised this stretch of the Trent & Mersey we were in luck and the museum would be open on Wednesday.  On the way back to the boat we went past the Anderton boat lift that we took down to the River Weaver last summer.  All was quiet today and very little boat traffic.

We love this time of year on the water as there are few boats on the move and those that are tend to be continuous cruisers or liveaboards like us. Having been up in the North West for a while now we have started to recognise boats and their owners.

Karen started bridge lessons when we were back in Kent in November as she had never had formal training.  After the first week I joined in as bidding systems have moved on in the 30 years since I used to play.  We knew we wouldn’t complete the courses so arranged with the instructor that we receive each week’s handouts and hands by email. We played through a few hands in the afternoon, Karen baked a fruit cake and then went for a circular walk along the canal and back up the river.

It’s a lovely feeling when it’s still light at 5 o’clock and the birds sound like they are in spring song.  We walked down to the River Weaver and caught the last rays of sunshine reflecting on the water.

From Saltersford locks the canal embankment can be seen high above showing the enormity of the task it was to build it without mechanisation.

Walking back along the river to Barnton we thought this looked  a nice quite spot for a mooring in the summer.

I had made a curry on Sunday and we had the last of it this evening - three days on the trot so to speak!

Barnton (largest village in England)

We spent Monday morning sorting out stuff on the boat as we have had to move a lot of personal items etc. on board.  We then walked to Northwich to give Buddy some much needed exercise.  We walked over the top of Saltersford canal tunnel and passed these two air vents.

By the time we got back and had lunch the wind had got up.  This prompted us to look at the local weather forecast, something we have got out of the habit of doing being back on land.  It seems we have some really strong winds coming over the next few days so thought we would get a quick cruise in even though it was a bit windy.  There was quite a lot of duckweed on the water although nothing like the amount of algae we encountered on the River Lea when we were in London.

The River Lea in London in summer 2014
Karen walked along the towpath with Buddy who is waiting patiently here whilst Karen held onto the boat as I needed to get into the weed hatch to clear the propeller.

As we went through Saltersford tunnel Karen got a shot up one of the air vents we passed in the morning.

There is a sharp right hander coming out of the tunnel as can be seen from our wake.

We then went into an uncharacteristically wide section of canal…

…and then went through Barnton tunnel.  Here we are entering Barnton village having come through the tunnel.

Apparently Barnton is the largest village in England and we moored at the start of the village.  Although from here you can see we overlooked one of the many chemical works in Northwich. 

Northwich, like many towns in this area became famous through salt mining.  Also, like many mining towns, it suffers from subsidence which has even affected parts of the Trent & Mersey canal in the past.

Regular readers may wonder why Karen is not back at work now her 12 month career break is over.  As her break was nearing its end in November there were a round of redundancies but unfortunately she wasn’t on the list so she applied for voluntary redundancy and was lucky enough to be offered it.  She doesn’t feel like it’s time to give up work completely yet so we will look around for a short term contract.  She has always fancied the idea of living on the boat whilst going to work so with such a large canal network there is a lot of choice of where to look for work.

Acton Bridge (the boat is now our only home)

Well, that was a long time!  Two months away from the boat and now we’ve returned it’s like we haven’t been away at all.  Here’s Buddy lording over his stern deck as soon as we got back.

Our friends David and Victoria (on Pas Mèche) recently returned to dry land after six years living on their boat and like us they posted a blog entry most days they were travelling.  Their final entry was made two months after they left the boat and I have to quote their opening paragraph as it made us chuckle, especially as we have been away for two months too:
    It's been exactly two months since our last blog. It's reassuring to know that our loyal blog readers have better things to do than worry about why the blog hasn't been updated. We have been overwhelmed by a wall of silence and precisely zero enquiries along the lines of "Where are you? Have you sunk? Have you been washed out to sea?".
We haven’t stopped for the last two months; firstly there was catching up with friends we haven’t seen for months and then there was Christmas.  We always have our family Christmas on the first weekend of January so we can get all the children and partners together.  As usual, we had a day of curries on the Saturday and played plenty of games (euphemism for drinking in our family).  It is also a family tradition that I have to wear an orange tee shirt all day.

Since Christmas we have:
  • Cleared the house out
  • Moved some of our belongings to Yorkshire, Wendover and Reading
  • Moved the rest into storage in Maidstone
  • Let the house out to a lovely couple who have signed up for at least two years

So letting the house out means our only home is now the boat but looking at our schedule for the next few weeks it seems we won’t be living here continuously for a while.  We are visiting Lauren (my middle daughter) and Lewis in Reading for a couple of nights later this week to help them decorate their new home.  A week later we stay with my youngest brother Richard and his family in Edinburgh as we are seeing the opening six nations game at Murrayfield – we will also take the opportunity to catch up with Joanna (Karen’s youngest) who is at uni up there. We then spend the following week in the Canary Islands as we feel like a break in the sun.  

I have booked our holidays via the internet since it was possible and, like my DIY, always end up with some calamity.  This time I booked our plane tickets to Lanzarote only to find out the following day that the villa I had booked was on a different island!  This is the sort of thing that happens to you when you’re retired – I put it down to lack of time rather than age of course.  But it always makes holidays more fun.

Anyway, today is a planning day as we need to work out where we are cruising to over the next few months but hopefully we’ll get time for a little cruise in the afternoon too.