Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Frosty nights, sunny mornings

The meterologogists metrerologists weathermen were right, these last two nights were pretty cold, I hope you boaters with plants on the roof brought them in…

Tuesday morning, after sleety showers overnight we had ice on the towpath!IMG_4071

It was a beautiful morning, but that north wind was cold. We set off at around half nine, once again intending to avoid the afternoon showers.IMG_4073

Jemima protecting her brood from the large, noisy, smelly thing going past.IMG_4075

We’re seeing more and more young mallards as spring wears on. No cygnets yet though.

That’s the Weaver down there.
It gets about, does the Weaver. Rising in the Peckforton Hills near Beeston it heads south, ducking under the Llangollen Canal at Wrenbury, down to Audlem. Here it changes it’s mind and turns around to go north, crossed by the Shroppie main line just north of the village.
Through Nantwich it goes, collecting water from tributaries on the way, avoiding Crewe (not a bad idea) and being crossed by the Middlewich Branch here near Church Minshull. Winding it’s way past the village it heads through two large flashes, a legacy of brine extraction, just south of Winsford. From here to it’s confluence with the Mersey at Runcorn it loses it’s river identity somewhat, being “canalised” for most of it’s remaining length to form the River Weaver Navigation.
At it’s commercial peak the navigation could take 1000 ton coasters all the way upstream to Winsford.

Pretty Church Minshull nestling in the valley.IMG_4081  
The open, sunny moorings here are tempting, but beware the “Shroppie Shelf”, a ledge that juts out from the cast concrete copings about a foot below the water. Break out the fat fenders!

It’s good to see that The Badger is open again, after being closed for several years. IMG_4084
A good reason for the walk down to the village?

I‘ve never seen Egyptian Geese along here before.IMG_4085

Converted stables and a lengthsman’s cottage.IMG_4086
The Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company employed several fly boats, fast horse-drawn narrowboats that ran to a strict timetable carrying perishable goods and sometimes passengers. Working long hours, the crews had to regularly change horses and these stables were built to accommodate the “remounts”.

We tied up in another spot with wide views over the valley, this time looking out over those two Winsford Flashes I mentioned earlier. IMG_4089
The wind carried heavy clouds over us through the afternoon, bringing showers and in one instance sleet and hail. But the weather calmed down later and the sky cleared, promising another cold night.

The sun, beaming in through the bedroom porthole, woke me at six this morning, but I pulled the covers over my head and managed another hour before getting up. We’d planned to stay put today, so I was soon out propping up the solar panels to take advantage of the early photons. But after Meg’s perambulation and breakfast I checked the local forecast and it promised sunny weather today, but cloudier with showers tomorrow. We’d both rather cruise in sunshine than in rain so by 10 we were on the move.

On Bridge 22…
…yes, we’re about an hour from Middlewich…

Oh, THAT end!

The HS2 rail line is intended to cross between bridges 25 and 26…
…somewhere here.

Our first lock, Stanthorne is just a little further on, and with a boat coming up we only had a couple of minutes to wait.

One for Val – recognise the hat?

Stanthorne Lock

We left the gates for a boat waiting below and carried on, coming into Middlewich and Wardle Lock.IMG_4109

After the lock we emerged onto the Trent and Mersey, turned left but reversed onto the water point below Kings Lock. We’d just got filled when there was a rush of water from under the bridge as Wardle Lock was emptied, and John, Jen and Rusty the dog on NB  appeared.IMG_4110

We’d not met before but knew they were following us down the Branch after Jen dropped a comment on a previous post. We spent a happy half hour chatting before we set off north while they went up Kings Lock, in the opposite direction. Good to meet you all, looking forward to seeing you again when hopefully we’ll have more time.

We had a quick trip down the three Middlewich Locks, a young chap stopped to chat and pushed the gates, then borrowed a windlass to set up the bottom one for us.

Lots of boats at Middlewich Narrowboats hire base…IMG_4112

…in contrast to that of Andersen Boats below the locks.IMG_4113

Under “Pigeon Bridge”, Bridge 172, living up to it’s nickname.IMG_4115

The blur to the left is one of the denizens taking off.

We pulled in alongside the small park a little further on.IMG_4117

It’s been a fine day, and the wind has dropped significantly so it feels a lot warmer. We’ll be stopping here tomorrow now.

Hi Chas, Anne. It's amazing how much difference a coat or two of paint makes! Glad to see you got out and about over Easter.
Hiya Russ, Elaine. Looks like we're heading in the same direction. We'll look out for you.
John, Jen - Did the fish and chips live up to expectations?

Locks 5, miles 3½

Monday, April 24, 2017

Moving on towards Middlewich

Tescoman arrived early on Friday, but it was still nearly midday before we were squared away and ready to move. I must have been a sight when he turned up with the groceries; I’d been sanding the gunnels with an orbital sander and was covered in fine black dust! Anyway, a shower made me look presentable again, and we reversed to a wider bit of canal, spun around and headed back to Barbridge.

Leaving Henhull Bridge

Nobody on Hurleston Locks

One-legged swans.
How do they do that? More to the point – WHY do they do that?!

Into Barbridge, approaching the right turn under Bridge 1 onto the Middlewich BranchIMG_4052

On the branch.
We made the turn in one, the boat following wasn’t so careful and bounced off the bank as he misjudged the tightness of the corner.

IMG_4054I hope he realises that the bridges are narrow again from this point onwards!

We didn’t go so far, pulling in above Cholmondeston Lock in a sunny spot but sheltered from the pesky wind by a high hedge. We spent the weekend here enjoying the sunshine. Well, mainly. I got the left side gunnels finished as well.

There were a few boats about, some weekenders, some hirers and some returning to base after the Easter week away.

We set off before 10 this morning, not being sure what the weather was going to do and so leaving our destination uncertain. Approaching Cholmondeston Lock I could see a chap in a yellow jacket on the lockside opening the top gate, no boat emerged so we steamed straight in, thanking the volunteer lock-keeper as we did so. I jumped off and closed the gate, lifted the lower paddle on my side then it was suggested I get back on while he finished off dropping us down. My motto has always been “Don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth”, so I didn’t! Saved Mags having to come up anyway.

Moorings above Cholmodeston Lock

Dropping down…

…and ready to leave
Another boat is waiting to come up, so that’ll keep the lockie busy.

We pulled in on Venetian Marina’s wharf. I wanted some solid fuel, if the forecast is anything to go by we’ll be needing it! Their diesel is only 69p at the moment, so we stuffed some of that in the tank too, and I picked up an alternator belt to hold as a spare after swapping out the old one the other day.

Venetian Marina, wharf and chandlery.IMG_4063

The marina is unusual in that it’s based on a broader stretch of canal, rather than being a pool with an entrance off the canal.
I was wondering whether it may have been a transhipment basin, with the Chester to Crewe line running alongside, but there’s no evidence of that and old maps prior to the mid-20th century don’t show it, so I guess it must have been purpose built.

If you’re going to meet a boat…
…it’s usually at a bridge!

Minshull Lock was twenty minutes further on, the wind was starting to pick up and there were some heavy clouds scuttling about…IMG_4066

Passing Aqueduct Marina
More conventional layout here, with a large pond connected to the canal by a narrow entrance. Opened in 2009, the marina has berths for 147 boats. 

The weather was looking more ominous so we pulled in not far beyond the marina, in a breezy but pleasant spot looking over the Weaver Valley. The marina is presumably named after the aqueduct carrying the canal over the river, a little further on.IMG_4069

The hint of blue above soon turned grey, and we had a heavy shower as soon as the kettle was on. A good choice, then, stopping here.

We’ll work around the weather as we head to Middlewich. There’s plenty of pleasant mooring spots on the Middlewich Branch, so we’ll take it as it comes.

Locks 2, miles 5½

Thursday, April 20, 2017

A longer day than planned.

We ran out of fresh fruit and veg a couple of days ago, we need to resupply else face scurvy! (or is it rickets?…). Shopping opportunities are limited until Middlewich, so we decided to have a delivery at Henhull Bridge again, on the way to Nantwich. It means going a little out of our way, but at least we know the Tesco driver can find us!

The delivery is scheduled for late morning tomorrow, but, as Mags pointed out, if we didn’t get there today we may be struggling to moor conveniently. My idea was to stay the night at Barbridge, but I bowed to her better judgement.

On the Sandstone Trail with Meg this morning.
The moorings above Wharton’s Lock are in the middle distance, the bulk of Beeston Crag rises behind and the rest of the sandstone ridge trails off to the north. I wonder why each summit has a gentle slope to the south and a steep drop-off to the north? 

With a fair way to go we set off around half-nine this morning. The first lock was the unusual Beeston Iron Lock, the one designed by Thomas Telford to replace the original subsiding chamber.

Elizabeth outside Chas Hardern’s boatyard.IMG_4025 
Originally a horse boat, then a towed butty, she was sold by Fellows Morton & Clayton in 1929, worked as a gravel boat on the Trent, then converted into a house-boat in 1936. She’s not changed much since.

The two Beeston locks, Iron and Stone, are close together, then there’s a bit of a gap before Tilstone Locks. I reckon this is the most attractive on this stretch.

Lots of ducklings along here too

Tilstone Lock

These locks heading up away from Chester are all deep and have heavy gates. One saving grace though is that they’re not savage fillers. The ground paddle culverts emerge near the upstream cill, so there’s no bashing about from side to side like in some broad locks.

Our last for today was the double staircase at Bunbury.IMG_4036
Note the still-legible lettering on the end of the old warehouse.

In 1844 the proprietors of the Chester Canal, including the Wirral Branch from Chester to Ellesmere Port, amalgamated with the newer Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal Company, running from Nantwich to Autherley in order to reduce costs in the face of increasing railway competition. The Ellesmere and Chester Canal Company, as the joint venture was known, soon was looking to convert the navigations into railways, using the filled in canal bed for the permanent way. An Act of Parliament was obtained to form a new company, the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company to do just that, but luckily for us the plans were dropped in 1849.
The Company’s canals were leased to the London and North Western Railway Company who were quite happy to allow the canal to continue trading and even expanded the water-born operation, to compete with the local railways running under the Great Western Railway Company banner.
The company’s canal assets remained in profit until around 1914, in fact in 1902 they owned 450 narrowboats. But the subsequent decline was swift, the LNWR buying the company outright and in 1921 selling off the majority of the carrying fleet. An Act of Abandonment was granted in 1944, effectively closing the outlying, less profitable branches, and leaving just the main routes open.

A boat had just started down the staircase when we arrived, but another turned up at the top as he left the bottom, so we were able to do the shuffle, crossing over from bottom to top chamber with the descending boat.IMG_4037

I just wish he’d kept a little further over…IMG_4039
On the new paint! It’s been on less than 24 hours!

After the locks we pulled in for water and rubbish at Calverley, then pressed on, past Barbridge Junction and Hurleston Junction, mooring up at Henhull Bridge.

Barbridge Junction
We’ll be back here tomorrow, heading for Middlewich.

I had to make an unscheduled stop just past Hurleston. The engine had developed a ticking, shushing noise just before the junction. I was pretty sure what it was, but pulled in to check.

As suspected, an alternator drive belt just about to break.IMG_4043 

Five minutes later we were rolling again, the spare having been a straightforward swap. A lot of alternator drives are now flat, multi-vee belts, but ours are both conventional fan belts. They’ve done well, this is only the second I’ve had to change. I should be able to get another spare at Venetian or Kings Lock chandlery.

Hi Steve (Amyjo) Thanks for coming breaking off from your paintwork to come across and say hi at Bunbury. Enjoy your week.

Locks 5, miles 8