Tuesday, 19 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 25

We had a real treat last night. At 7.30, we were picked up from the bridge just behind our mooring by Bill and Sheila Saner from the Nantwich Canal Centre, and taken to a newly reopened pub where we had a great meal. Excellent company and very good food -- all four of us had something different and we each enjoyed it, and the sharing dessert platter was something else. We can heartily recommend The Boar's Head, even if we don't know exactly where it is (somewhere near Nantwich!)

This morning was very misty, but it didn't stop anyone boating -- three went past before we'd even had breakfast. We set off just after eight, to complete the last two locks of the Audlem flight.

The cottage by the top lock is having a big extension built, which ruins the symetry of the building. How it got planning I have no idea. We carried on through the gloom, with our tunnel light on in case any boats came the other way. Very soon after the top lock we crossed into Shropshire (ten miles later we were through the other side, into Staffordshire; not much of the Shroppie is in Shropshire). It was still very gloomy as we did the five locks of the Adderley flight. At the top lock there's a farm shop stall, from which we bought a pork pie, an apple pie, and some chocolate flapjack. They also sell useful stuff such as milk.

Markey Drayton came next, and the little mooring basin has been greatly improved, with new jetties and power columns. Soon after is the flight of five Tyrley Locks. The by-washes here are aways fierce, but today they seemed particularly bad. A boat coming out of the bottom lock was pushed up against the rock on the offside, and our bow was shoved over there too.

It was a similar story at the second lock, where a downhill boat was pushed straight into the trees. It had been murky when we went into the cutting containing the two bottom locks, but the third lock is in the open and the weather had changed dramatically.

We'd met several boats coming the other way at this flight and the top lock should have been with us too. However, a boat had turned the lock by the time I got up there -- but even when the lock was open and ready for them, the boat was still on the water point with the hose attached. I suggested that as they'd set the lock and we were waiting below, they'd better get on and use it. At least the cottages at the top look better now they're not defaced by anti-EU slogans.

We stopped on the water point and got the washing machine going. The water pressure is terrible, and we got bored before the tank was full, so we set off through the dramatic Woodseaves Cutting, with its high bridges and rock sides.

The Shropshire Union is very familiar because Debdale was based here for a few years, and the long lines of boats moored on the offside haven't changed. But there are fantastic views in the open sections, particularly towards The Wrekin. We stopped at Norbury Wharf for diesel, and put in 114 litres at 59p basic; Norbury Wharf was very good to the Debdale syndicate when OwnerShips collapsed, so we don't mind spending money with them. We also got some engine oil, a bag of coal, and a couple of ice creams. There's no internet or phone at Norbury Junction (still) so we carried on to Gnosal.

19 miles, 12 locks. (308 miles, 172 locks)

Monday, 18 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 24

We slipped away at about 8am to complete the Middlewich Arm. The first lock, just after Aqueduct Marina, has a nice cottage alongside with what looked like a very productive vegetable garden.

These locks are deep, at around 11ft each.

The final lock on the Arm is just after Venetian marina, which is really just a widening of the canal. Then it wasn't long before we reached Barbridge Junction. A boat was reversing across the junction and then turned in; maybe he'd overshot, being unable to see because of the bikes and canoes on his roof.

We turned left at the junction, heading south on the Shroppie. Before long we passed the start of the Llangollen Canal at Hurleston Junction. Before Nantwich I finally managed to get a photo of a kingfisher on this trip. I've seen dozens of them this month, far more than usual. I wonder if they've had a particularly good year for some reason.

Originally at Nantwich the Chester Canal terminated in the arm to the right, which is now the Nantwich Canal Centre; the embankment carrying the canal south had to be built because a landowner didn't want the canal on his land.

By the canal a bit further round at Nantwich there's lots of new housing, with plenty more still being built.

At the two Hack Green Locks, the boat in front said we were the sixth in the procession. We had lunch on the move after the locks, then when we reached Audlem we found lots of boat had moored up so there was no queue for the locks.

We went up the first two lock, then moored so we could go into the village. It's very pleasant, and has a useful Co-op.

We'd decided to stay where we were, partly as we're being picked up by friends later, and partly because the forecast was heavy rain all afternoon. However, the boat on the permanent mooring opposite had its engine running, and the mooring was on a slight bend, so every time the lock was emptied we moved quite a bit. So at 3pm we decided to go up the next eleven locks to the Coxbank moorings whixh are a favourite of ours. There were a few boats coming down, then we caught up with a single hander ahead so had to turn the last few. Even so, we did the eleven in two hours, which is pretty good. Audlem is a very nice flight, and always a pleasure to work -- and the rain never came.

15 miles, 17 locks. (289 miles, 160 locks)

Sunday, 17 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 23

We set off just after 8am on quite a reasonable morning weatherwise. Once out of Anderton, the scenery was quite pretty.

As we got near the chemical works it started to drizzle, and there have been showers all day between spells of sunshine. We made it to Big Lock at Middlewich by 11, and that's when everything slowed down. There were a couple of boats just going in to go up in front of us, and a couple to come down. Once we were up we joined the back of the queue for the three Middlewich locks -- we were sixth in the queue. Adrian stayed with the boat while I went to help out crews ahead, mostly by setting the next lock up. There were far more boats to go up than were coming down. Eventually we were at the front of the queue, and another four boats had joined behind us (a couple of the boats along here were moored).

By the time we were up the three locks it was 1.30. Then we joined the queue to turn into the Middlewich Arm. There was a boat coming down Wardle Lock, then two boats ahead of us to make the turn and go up the lock. It turned out that the next boat to turn at the junction was a Braidbar we recognised as One Day, with Martin and Anna on board. One of the things I recognised was the apple and pear on the bow flash.

Soon it was Adrian's turn to make the turn under the junction bridge -- not easy as the waiting area is at 90 degrees to the bridge. These are new waters for us; strangely, even though Debdale was moored at Norbury Junction for a while, we never did the Middlewich Arm.

The first hundred yards of the Middlewich Arm is actually the Wardle Canal, the shorted canal in England. It was built by the Trent and Mersey Company in order to extract more tolls; the rest of the arm is part of the Shropshire Union.

The lock cottage used to be lived in by a former boat woman called Maureen, who would give crews 'advice' on how they were working the lock. After she died, it's been sold and is being done up although there appears to be some work still to do.

There were a few boats moored in Middlewich but still plenty of room, but we were carrying on. We did one more lock -- another deep one at over 11ft -- and continued through the lovely Cheshire countryside. We passed Rowington, which is Catherine and Nigel's share boat going the other way. Then at a farm, a calf had just been born.

After some really quite warm sunshine there was then a torrential downpour. The sun came out again before we moored after Bridge 13 at Church Minshull, on moorings recommended by Catherine and Nigel. The Shroppie shelf is in evidence below the waterline, meaning the stern is more than a foot out from the bank, but the views across the Weaver Valley are spectacular.

Today has been a day of almost eight and a half hours. But by turning the engine off during the long waits at lock, the engine hours were only six and a half -- which shows how much of a delay we had.

16 miles, 6 locks. (274 miles, 143 locks)

Saturday, 16 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 22

We had a relaxed start to the day as the lock keepers don't arrive until 9.30 on a Saturday. Once the lock was ready we went up with a lovely little river boat.

Above the lock there were rowers and a boat yard, with some big old boats gently rusting away.

There's a big blue road bridge over the river, which I remember driving over a few times, and a high railway viaduct.

The entrance to Vale Royal lock is rather impressive. Like Hunt's, there are two locks, with the smaller one being used. In this case, it's beyond the big lock.

On the approach to Winsford, there's a very impressive looking salt mile, followed by huge piles of salt. Adrian looked up their website, which explains how they mine the salt.

We'd been hoping to poke our nose into Winsford Flash, just to have a look. But the Vale Royal lock keeper had advised that the salt fair was being held there, and the large number of boats attending would make it extremely difficult to turn to get back out again. So we ended up turning by the Red Lion pub, and returned to the lovely Vale Royal moorings for lunch. The towpath there is quite busy, and more than one dog stuck its head through the side hatch.

After lunch we went back through Vale Royal lock, where they currently have a novel way of opening the bottom gates. The mechanism is away being restored, but the gates are too big to move manually, so they fire up a little generator which operates a logging winch. Both lock keepers there were very friendly and chatty -- unlike the one at Hunt's Lock. Once down that one, we carried on to the service block at Northwich. Adrian walked to the nearby Waitrose while I looked after water, washing machine, and the loo. Just along from there, on the opposite side, is a very smart new Odeon cinema.

It was just a short hop to the moorings at Anderton. We were booked on the lift at 5pm, but knew that the one before was a 3.30 so decided to move over to the holding moorings a bit early. We'd just set off when Kevin and Vicky Blick on Harry appeared, so we returned to where we'd been. We had a look at Harry, which was still being worked on last time we saw it, and Kevin and Vicky came on board for a cup of tea. It was really lovely to see them, if only for under an hour.

At 4.30 we set off for the holding moorings, where a CRT staff member told us we could go straight onto the lift.

We had to wait while the trip boat sorted itself out at the top of the lift, during while time there was a torrential downpour including some hailstones. Finally we were on the move, and passengers on the trip boat seemed very excited to see us as we crossed halfway up.

With it being relatively late by the time we were up the lift, we were a bit worried about finding a mooring. As it turned out, there was one immediately after the lift entrance, so we grabbed it, and the sun has come back out.

12 miles, 4 locks. (258 miles, 137 locks)

Friday, 15 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 21

We had a very good meal last night in the Spread Eagle pub in Lymm, with Susan and Peter Mason. Food and company both excellent. This morning we were off at about 8am, heading back south along the Bridgewater Canal. We paused at Thorn Marine in Stockton Heath to buy some logs, in case we relent and light the fire one evening. Once past Moore, the views open up. Things look different going the opposite way. This time there were better views of the Norton Water Tower in Runcorn, the arch of the Runcorn bridge, and the new Mersey Gateway bridge (although I seem to have got only two of the three towers).

We'd made much better progress than expected, so had to wait about 35 minutes for Preston Brook Tunnel, which can only be entered on between 30 and 40 minutes past the hour going south. After the tunnel is the stop lock, with hardly any noticeable rise.

The weather had cheered up nicely, and it was really quite warm by the time we had lunch on the move.

We had another short pause at Saltersford Tunnel, until we could go through at 1.30. As we were ahead of where we expected to be, Adrian went online to make bookings for the Anderton Boat Lift down to the River Weaver. We had to wait for a couple of boats to come through Barnton Tunnel, which isn't time controlled as you can see the other end -- although not really until you're virtually in there.

We got to Anderton at 2.15, which was our booked time, but we hadn't taken into account that you're supposed to be there half an hour before -- so we moved to the next slot at 3.45. It meant a sit in the sunshine with an ice cream from the gift shop! Soon, though, we were making our way onto the lift and then into the caisson.

The gate dropped behind us to seal the caisson, then ever so smoothly we started to be lowered down. As we went down, the other caisson came up, also with just one boat in it. Eventually we were at the bottom and they were at the top.

Last time we came onto the Weaver we were on a mission. We'd had to rearrange our transit of the Manchester Ship Canal from Western Marsh Lock to Ellesmere Port because of a bad weather forecast, so we turn right and got to Western Marsh in about three hours, and were then straight on the Ship Canal. This time we turned left towards Northwich.

Very shortly afterwards it began to rain, so photos of Northwich will have to wait until we come back tomorrow. I did take one of one of the swing bridges; don't let the blue sky behind fool you, it was still raining.

We got as far as Hunt's Locks, where the Lock Keeper said we didn't have time to get to the next lock, Vale Royal, and anyway there were loads of boats down there because of a festival at Winsford. So we've stopped on the moorings below the lock, and will do the rest of the upstream section tomorrow.

19 miles, 1 lock. (246 miles, 133 locks)

Thursday, 14 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 20

The wind eventually died down last night, and the dock was like a millpond when we untied at 7.30 and picked our way through the floating rubbish. Things look different going the other way, so we had better views of Old Trafford and the Trafford Road Bridge.

When we got to Pomona Lock the guys were already there with the lock open and ready for us. The lock is pretty deep at around 14 feet, but they brought us up very gently.

We turned right, heading south, retracing our steps of the other day through Stretford and Sale, and across the Mersey on an aqueduct. Just after Dunham Massey you cross from Greater Manchester in Cheshire. Soon afterwards we stopped at the water point to fill the tank and get a load of washing on. After that the countryside is pretty without being very dramatic.

We moored up just before Lloyd Bridge and walked into the village of Oughtrington where our friends Nicola and Alex now live. We met their new baby, Megan, and then Ewan came home from school. The village has converted its phone box into a book swap.

It was almost 5 by the time we returned to the boat, and did the short hop into Lymm. It was fairly busy, so we're moored on a bit of a bend on the wrong side for the main part of the village. We have friends coming to meet us later, and we'll go out for dinner.

13 miles, 1 lock. (227 miles, 132 locks)

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

North West Passage: Day 19

We certainly got bashed about last night as Storm Aileen hit. We're moored at the end of a very large expanse of water, and during the night when the winds were at their strongest the waves were hitting the side of the boat, the ropes were creaking, and it was difficult to sleep. It hasn't been much better all day, to be honest, and the promises of the wind dying down haven't come true yet. This was from the galley window this morning.

This morning we went over to Media City UK to meet my Radio 2 and 5live colleague Orna, who does the travel news. She gave us a tour of Quay House and we had tea in the staff cafe on the top floor, overlooking the Coronation Street set which is across the Ship Canal. Then we went to the Imperial War Museum North, spending a couple of hours going round the main exhibition and having lunch. It's a very striking building.

There are some impressive bridges across he Ship Canal. The one by the BBC is a swing bridge.

The other, by the Lowry, is a lift bridge. We assume they do actually swing and lift these bridges occasionally -- maybe when the trip boat comes up from Liverpool.

Adrian dropped his phone yesterday and broke the screen, so while he waited for a mobile repair man to arrive, I walked to the very upmarket Booths supermarket to get some fresh food. On the way back I went to find the Blue Peter garden, complete with the bust of Petra which was moved from Television Centre.

The wind down the dock has brought an incredible amount of rubbish down, and it's all collected in the corner opposite where we're moored. It includes wheels and a gas bottle which we watched making remarkably quick progress down the water.

Tomorrow will be another early start, as we have a booking to go back up Pomona Lock, onto smaller waterways again.

0 miles, 0 locks. (214 miles, 131 locks)