Thursday 26 March 2020


Another beautifully sunny day.  We packed up this morning and loaded the car, taking far more off the boat than usual.  We had quite a lot of fresh food on board as we hadn’t been expecting to end the trip so soon, and we raided the can cupboard, taking home lots of staples so we don’t need to try to find them in shops.  We left just after 9, and with the roads being very quiet had a good drive home.  We noticed, though, that the roadworks on the M6 were still being worked on, with apparently no rules on social distancing being observed; if it turns out that transmission rather among construction workers are high, we’ll know why.

It’s been an unusual trip — much shorter than planned, without reaching any of the places we’d planned, and ending in a completely different place from where we’d planned.  With lots of discussions and agonising about what to do and when to turn back, it also hasn’t been as relaxed as usual.  But we have seen a few miles of new waters, and we’ve had some fantastic days of boating in pretty good weather.

When we’ll get back to the boat is anyone’s guess.  It would be nice to think that at some point we’ll be able to make the most of its temporary northern home.

Wednesday 25 March 2020

Northern Exposure: Day 19

Another beautifully sunny day, which got really quite warm later.  It would have been fantastic going across the Pennines in weather like this.  We set off at 7.45.

There are lots of nice mooring places along the Middlewich Arm, and many of them had boats sitting out the lockdown.  At Minshull Lock a grey wagtail posed on the bridge railings.

We passed a hire boat going the other way just above the lock, so sure enough Cholmondeston Lock was in our favour.  Just above it it we paused to have a chat with Pip and Mick on Oleanna — at a safe distance of course.  In fact the distance got safer and safer as we slowly drifted past!  They are in a good place, with quite a few miles of lock-free water for a change of scenery, shopping and services at Nantwich, and three water points.  With the day’s two locks out of the way, we had our final mid-morning hot cross buns of the trip.

There were more lines of moored boats up to the junction, where the Jolly Tar pub has been replaced by new houses.

We turned left onto the Shropshire Union Mainline, and soon reached Hurleston Junction, the start of the Llangollen Canal.  The bottom lock has been rebuilt over the winter as it’s been getting narrower and narrower.  Below the lock we passed the coal boats, Mountbatten and Jellicoe, who told me the lock should open on Friday or Monday.  They used to do the coal run on the Llangollen, but came down the locks some time ago and then couldn’t fit back up.

A boat going on tickover the whole time waved us past, then we soon arrived at the entrance to Nantwich Basin.  We cruised and the guys told us where we could moor.  I turned the boat around and reversed in.

We caught up with Bill (at a safe distance) and he then gave Adrian a lift to Crewe station.  He’d already bought a ticket which was downloaded on his phone so he didn’t have to touch any ticket machines, and after a slight pause at the barrier while he refunded that one and bought one for the correct day (!) he caught a train to Stoke (which went alongside the Cheshire Locks) and then onto Milton Keynes.  A taxi took him to our marina where he picked up the car and drove back to Nantwich, arriving just before 4.30.  We’ll pack up and head home tomorrow.  We’re very grateful to Bill for his help in fitting us in and making the car retrieval so much easier.

8 miles, 2 locks.  (261 miles, 105 locks)n

Tuesday 24 March 2020

Northern Exposure: Day 18

As we watched Boris Johnson lock down the UK last night, we realised we’d be implementing Plan B rather than Plan A: we wouldn’t be able to return to our home marina, and would have to leave the boat up north instead.  Fortunately we’d already been in touch with our good friend Bill who owns the Nantwich Canal Centre, who said he had room for us.  We considered his other marina, Uplands, which is closer, but it’s more difficult to get to a station from there.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we were awake early and set off just before 7am.  It was a beautiful morning.

I thought I’d worked out what time we needed to leave to cut down the waiting time at Preston Brook Tunnel, which only allows southbound from half past for ten minutes.  However, we ended up having to wait for half an hour before going in.

Once inside the tunnel we were back on the Trent and Mersey Canal, and CRT waters.  We were also back the land of mile posts, which reassuringly count your progress.

Saltersford Tunnel is another one which can only be used from half past the hour when heading south, but this time we had just ten minutes to wait.  By the time we set off, there were three boats behind us.

In fact we’ve seen more moving boats today that pretty much any day of the trip; we reckon a lot of people were caught out by the sudden implementation of the lock down, and are returning home or moving somewhere with good services.  One of the permanent moorers at Acton Bridge summed it up: ‘At least the weather’s nice,’ he said, ‘the world’s gone to sh*t but at least the weather’s nice.’

We made another touch and go visit to the bins at Anderton — the Bridgewater is terrible for services, in fact we haven’t seen a bin since we last came through Anderton.  We had lunch on the move, just before going through the chemical works, which if anything looks even more impressive going this way.

Back out in the countryside, we saw our first kingfishers of the trip — in fact there were two, but only one stayed still long enough for a photo.

We passed a boat shortly before Middlewich, so were hopeful the locks would be in our favour.  They were, largely.  Adrian worked Big Lock, then I took over for the flight.  Andersen Boats at the bottom had lots of boats in, and I guess it will stay that way.

There’s a right angle turn between the middle and top lock.

I walked up to the junction and found a boat about to come down Wardle Lock.  Adrian waited until he was down and had made the turn before bringing the boat through the junction bridge into the lock.

Another boat was waiting at the top of the lock, and another boat arrived below.  A bit further along, we came to Stanthorne Lock, which is more than 11 ft deep.

We carried on until just before Church Minshull.  Last time we spent ages trying to get into the side, so this time we decided to stop where there was a bit of piling to moor against.  It was 5.15 so we’ve done another long day.

25 miles, 7 locks.  (253 miles, 103 locks)

Monday 23 March 2020

Northern Exposure: Day 17

Now that we’ve made the decision that we’re heading home, we seem to have a new sense of purpose — particularly because we have a sneaking suspicion that it may not be long before there’s some sort of lockdown and we’re stopped from cruising at all.  We have a plan, and a plan b.

We set off just before 8, and after a mile stopped at the canalside Aldi in Leigh.  We’d hoped to use the moorings right outside, but other boaters had had the same idea, so we stopped on the other side of the canal and Adrian walked over the bridge.  In under half an hour he was back, with virtually everything that had been on our list.  We set off again, straight back onto the Bridgewater.  With the canal on an embankment for much of the way, there was a great view of the mighty Winter Hill transmitter on our left hand side.

I was a bit surprised to see a tank in a field, but it turned out to be a target at a driving range.  We retraced our steps back through Worsley, where there’s a busy boat yard.

On the approach to Monton, a dog walker alerted me to a mattress in the water — but at least it was floating so I could avoid it, and I could pass the message on to two boats coming the other way.  We re-crossed the Barton Swing Aqueduct — and this time the view is towards Salford and Manchester.

We were soon back on the main line of the Bridgewater, and facing the long long straight section through Sale.  While we’d been going along, Adrian had made some mushroom soup using mushrooms which were perhaps a little past their best — in human years, they would probably have been told to self-isolate.  It was very tasty, and exactly what we needed for lunch.

We made very good progress — the Bridgewater is both wide and deep, so you can go at a decent pace — so we made our intended target of Dunham Massey by 1pm.  We carried on, and stopped at the water point at Little Bollington where we filled the tank and got a load of washing going.  Once we were going again, we went under a bridge at the same time as a tractor went over.

Our next target was Lymm, but we were there at 3pm.  The White House by the bridge is the home of Matthew Corbett, the guardian of Sooty.

So we keep going, through Thelwall, Grappenhall, and Stockton Heath.  At Higher Walton the rhododendron-lined cutting looked lovely in the sinking sunshine.

We stopped at Moore, just before the little shop right by the canal.  It was almost 5pm; I can’t actually remember the last time we put in such a long day, and certainly not when we covered so many miles.  We’ve done a big reverse-C shape — Pennington Flash to Moore is actually only 12 miles by road.

30 miles, 0 locks.  (228 miles, 96 locks)

Sunday 22 March 2020

Northern Exposure: Day 16

A beautiful sunny day, and we set off a little after 8am.  Just around the corner from where we’d been moored in relative peace and quiet, the M60 crosses the canal, along with two slip roads to Junction 13.  At Astley Green there’s a mining museum, of which you can see the pit head above the trees.  From there for the next two miles was a huge fishing match, so it was slow going.  As we got to Leigh, old mills became visible.

At Leigh Bridge, the Bridgewater Canal ends, and the Leigh Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool begins.  The only reason you know is because of the sign.

At Leigh, we went past a big Tesco Extra, with a queue snaking round the car park; there was also a queue, although smaller, outside Aldi.  Both we still a few minutes from opening.

At Plank Lane there’s a new marina surrounded by new houses.  The continuation of the development is under construction on the other side of the road.

Adrian went to press the buttons to raise the Plank Lane Lift Bridge.  We stopped quite a lot of traffic.

At Dover, there used to be two locks until subsidence made them irrelevant.  The chambers are still there as narrows, and you can see the indentations where the gates used to go.

As we’d been going along, we been discussing what we were going to do.  As we have quite a long time available to us, the main focus of the trip had been to go to Liverpool.  However, a stoppage on the canal on the approach to Liverpool has been extended to the end of the month.  We’d planned to fill the time by taking the L&L up to Skipton — but a stoppage to fix a leak in an aqueduct above the Wigan Locks has also been extended; last week’s update said it was hoped it could be reopened tomorrow — but the word on the ground is that the aqueduct is still leaking, and the stoppage could last several more weeks.  Other routes up here are also problematic.  The Rochdale is closed after flood damage.  We’d also hoped to do the Huddersfield Narrow in order to experience the Standedge Tunnel — but the tunnel passage requires a chaperone on board, and it would be impossible to do without breaking the social distancing guidelines.

The upshot of our discussion was that we decided to turn around, and that we’d do it before Wigan.  The last winding hole before the locks was after the railway bridge at Bamfurlong.  It turned out to be rather overgrown and shallow, but with got round without too much difficulty, although we gained quite a few bits of tree at the bow of the boat.

We retraced our steps as far as Pennington Flash, where we’ve spent the afternoon dozing in the sunshine while hundreds of people use the country park for a walk.  In spite of all the calls for people not to see their elderly relatives, there have been quite a lot of multi-generational family groups out together.  Lots of the, couldn’t resist having a good look into the boat as they passed, and one little lad virtually had his nose pressed up against the window!

Most of the canal up here is on an embankment, due to the surrounding land having subsided because of all the mining which went on.  We have a great view across the flash, and once we thought it had quietened down a bit, we went for a walk down to the water.  We were eventually driven inland a bit by clouds of midges.  Up by the canal, there’s a sculpture made from huge old lock gates.

14 miles, 0 locks.  (198 miles, 96 lock)

Saturday 21 March 2020

Northern Exposure: Day 15

This morning we walked the short distance up the road to Dunham Massey, the National Trust property, where the visitor centre and house are currently closed because of the Coronavirus but the park is open.  We were meeting my sister, her husband, and the kids.  Because of the social distancing measures, there was no hugging, which was odd, but we did have a good walk round the deer park and a good catch up.  My sister is a hospital consultant, so at the forefront of preparing for the virus onslaught.  They walked back to the boat with us, but didn’t come on board — which again felt very strange.  The whole park was very busy.

It was a little before 12 when we set off, and we were very soon into the built up area of Sale.  There are a lot of new houses which were under construction last time we came this way by the old Linotype works, but there’s not much of the original building left.

Through Sale, there’s a stretch where you can see for the best part of two miles because the canal is so straight.  The tow path was very busy, presumably because a lot of people have nothing else to do. There were whole families out for a walk or run or cycle.  One towpath walker shouted to me, ‘You’re in the safest place there!’  In contrast, each of the trams which went by (the track is right by the canal) had only two or three people on board.

The other noticeable thing was the canalside pubs being shut, after the government order last night.  Some were just deserted, but others had staff in doing things such as cleaning.  I wonder if some might be taking the opportunity to redecorate.

At Waters Meeting at Stretford we turned left onto the Leigh Arm, waters we haven’t travelled before.

We’ve been waiting for the annual maintenance on the Barton Swing Aqueduct to be completed.  The due date was yesterday, and we had to assume it was open again as the Bridgewater Canal Company hadn’t posted anything on its website or Facebook.  It was, so we sailed across the Ship Canal; as Andy and Helen Tidy said when we saw them ten days ago, going across the aqueduct is probably the least impressive way of seeing it.

On the other side of the aqueduct the canal runs alongside roads in Patricroft, then at Morton someone has seen fit to build a lighthouse in their garden.

We continued to Worsley, where we moored up opposite the Packet House.

We had a walk around the town, which has lots of information boards explaining the history.  The canal was built by the Duke of Bridgewater because of his coal mines here at Worsely, and behind the Packet House in the Delph, where little boats used to bring out the coal.

Our circular route took us over Alphabet Bridge, put in by the Duke and his family to help literacy, then to the Green,and back to the boat over another little bridge.

12 miles, 0 locks.  (184 miles, 96 locks)

Friday 20 March 2020

Northern Exposure: Day 14

A very sunny day today, but my goodness the wind was cold.  With not far to go today, I reset the loo first thing, and we got a wash load going so it could do the wash part of the cycle before we set off.  We got going around 9.15.  The countryside is rather pretty.

In Stockton Heath, we paused at Thorn Marine to get a couple of bags of logs, then carried on through Grappenhall, where there appears to be a bus stop on the towpath — although closer inspection reveals it’s on the road.

On previous occasions when we’ve wanted to stop in Lymm we’ve struggled to find space.  Today, as we didn’t need to stop (our friends who live there are self isolating) there was loads of room.  There are lines and lines of moored boats after Lymm and through Oughtrington towards Little Bollington, so the couple of miles takes forever.  However, today the views were fantastic — I could see the Winter Hill transmitter up above Bolton which must be 25 miles away, ranks of wind turbines on the moors, and the tower blocks of Manchester.  We stopped at the water point and the tank filled while we had lunch.  We moored up just a mile or so further on, near the under bridge over the road to Dunham Massey.  We are just a few yards inside Greater Manchester.  This afternoon we walked along the towpath a couple of bridges, and went into Dunham village, where a farm shop supplied us with sausages, potatoes, a cabbage, and eggs.

The village is very pretty, with lots of very expensive looking houses, and a little church.

11 miles, 0 locks. (172 miles, 96 locks)

Thursday 19 March 2020

Northern Exposure: Day 13

Dutton is another lovely peaceful mooring, with the only sounds being the distant trains over the viaduct across the valley, and birdsong.  This morning we set off just before 8.15 — knowing that Preston Brook Tunnel is timed entry, which going north is the first ten minutes of the hour.  Just before the tunnel we had the stop lock to negotiate, with its fall of two inches.  Then we had about ten minutes to wait before we could go through the tunnel.

Going through takes about fifteen minutes, and when you come out the other end you’re on the Bridgewater Canal, having switched from the Trent and Mersey.  There’s then nearly a mile before the junction with the Runcorn Arm (although apparently this used to be the mainline, and it was the connection to the T&M which was built as an arm).  We took the left hand turn towards Runcorn, new water for us (the first new water of the trip).

At the start of the arm you cross the railway line on an aqueduct, then get the best view of the water tower.  It was only when I downloaded the photo I realised there was a man on top of the tower.

Most of the arm is bordered by housing, but there are also wooded sections near Norton Priory.  Further into Runcorn there are big road bridges, and you get glimpses of the suspension bridge and the new Mersey Gateway Bridge, with is numerous cables.

We passed the neat base of the Bridgewater Motor Cruising Club, which occupies two arms and the basin at the end of the canal.  The canal comes to an abrupt end at Waterloo Bridge.  We turned and moored up.

We had hoped to follow the course of the locks which used to go from Waterloo Bridge down to the docks and the Ship Canal, but there are massive works going on, seemingly to demolish some of the elevated roads leading to the suspension bridge, and each way we tried we found our way blocked.  Instead we walked into town and followed signs for the Promenade, which gives views of the suspension bridge as it crosses the Ship Canal and the Mersey beyond.

We went to the Co-op in town for some fresh food.  It was quite busy with lots of empty shelves, but we got enough for meals for a few more days.  Back at the boat we had lunch, then set off back down the arm.  Mooring options are few on the arm itself, so as it was early we carried on back to the junction and turned left towards Manchester.  Having been down the arm, you have a whole new perspective on the views over the valley.  Soon we were passing the Daresbury Research lab with its distinctive tower, which we’d been able to see from the arm.

We moored up on the approach to Moore, in a nice open spot next to a stables.  We’ve had to deploy the tyre fenders, as the boat was scraping against the stone bank under the water.

14 miles, 1 lock.  (161 miles, 96 locks)