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 😉 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 ðŸ˜‰
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 😉) 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 Mèche.  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 ðŸ˜Š


Brian and Diana on NB Harnser said...

We were moored next to Pas Mèche for a while until he went CCing

Brian and Diana on NB Harnser said...

Broken Cross has changed hands since you were last there

Neil & Karen Payne said...

Yes. I should have mentioned that especially as the food is meant to have improved too!