Thursday, December 29, 2016

Frosty fields and crispy canals.

The weather has taken one of it’s periodic up-swings, fine sunny days and sub-zero nights. It’s supposed to be turning cloudy and mild again for the weekend…

Both yesterday morning and today we’ve had ice on the canal; yesterday we had early sun too but today the mist was a bit more reluctant to budge.

Taken yesterday morning while out with Meg…

Early mist just lifting over Church Minshull

Frozen canal
It was only a few millimeters thick on the water.

Quite a few boaters are taking advantage of this interlude between Christmas and New Year, and the fine weather, to get out and about. Before we got going today we had four boats go past, two in each direction. At least they broke up the ice for us.

Heading off, hazy sun…

…and frozen ropes.

Two locks today, the first, Minshull Lock, after about 45 minutes.

Minshull Lock.

All four locks on the Middlewich branch are deep, around 11’, so I had to leave the engine in gear to keep the bow fender up against the top gates, rather than using a rope.  Working single-handed again today, I was very careful on the slippery lock-sides.

This one’s for Mags; she reckons she never sees a squirrel!IMG_3121

Beams of sunshine between the trees on a wooded bit.IMG_3122
It was cold enough out of the sun for the canal to start to freeze again between boats.

Heading on the straight towards Venetian Marina and Cholmondeston Lock, and the sun has made an appearance, but it’s not warm enough to melt the ice on the roof yet.

I nearly pulled in at Venetian for solid fuel and diesel, but decided to pick those up at Nantwich tomorrow.

Cholmondeston Lock, still slippery in the shade.

There are long lengths of long-term moorings between here and Barbridge Junction, so it seemed to take a while to cover the mile and a bit to the Shroppie. Turning left under the junction bridge I pulled onto the service wharf to fill with water, only to find that the tap is no longer there!

On the wharf, looking back at the junction. Straight on leads to Chester and Ellesmere Port.IMG_3130

There you go, then.
Looks like we’ll be filling with water at Nantwich, too! The bins are still here though.

We pulled in just after the old gauging lock on the 48 hour moorings.
This is the old Chester Canal, built to wide beam standards to accommodate barges coming in off the Mersey and the Dee. So the locks and bridge-holes are all wide. It connects with what used to be the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal at Nantwich, which was built to narrow gauge, the locks only wide enough for a narrowboat. Of course, it all comes under the umbrella title of the Shropshire Union Canal now.

Locks 2, miles 4½

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

I hope Santa brought what you wanted?

I’m afraid he didn’t do much for us. Top of our wish list was relief from these coughs and colds that have been plaguing us for the past several days. But he mustn’t have been able to get down the chimney ‘cos we’ve still got ‘em!

Apart from the splutters and sniffles we’ve had a quiet Christmas in Middlewich, but decided to move on today. Bright with hazy sunshine, but certainly a lot cooler than over the weekend.

Out of town on the Middlewich Branch

There’s been a few boats about this weekend, and we were lucky to meet one just coming out of Stanthorne Lock as we arrived.

Nice shiny new top gate at Stanthorne
Installed only a couple of weeks ago.

Once you’re clear of Middlewich the branch is splendidly rural, passing through open farmland and small wooded copses. It runs higher than the Weaver valley, giving good views to the north and west.

The Weaver and Winsford Flashes
There are good moorings here, but with the weather so good it seemed a shame not to press on a bit. 

Converted stables and lengthman’s cottage near Wimboldsley.20161227_123959

We pulled in between bridges 12 and 13, looking down over the village of Church Minshull nestled in the valley.20161227_132133

We’ll stay here tomorrow, I reckon, then head for the Shroppie and down to Nantwich for the weekend. That gives us a chance to top up the cupboards before venturing onto the Llangollen early next week. There’s no decent shopping to be had till Whitchurch, and that’s a fair trek from the canal.

Locks 1, miles 5¼

Friday, December 23, 2016

To Middlewich for the weekend.

Yesterday was a lighter day lock-wise, but further than recently in mileage. We stopped to top up the water tank at the Wheelock services, then set off north to Middlewich. It was a fine but cool day, the wind was starting to pick up in preparation for Storm Barbara arriving.

The canal follows the winding valley of the River Wheelock for a mile or so, matching it’s course until the outskirts of Sandbach.

Leaving Wheelock
The sunshine made the muddy boot prints and rope scuffs on the roof very visible.
I keep being surprised at the lack of boats at the old Elton Moss Boat Builders wharf, then remembering that they’ve moved to Middlewich, on the arm behind Kings Lock.
There’s a large residential development just back of us, I wonder if it’s going to extend along here?

On the small parking area opposite, is this a Ford?IMG_3075
A bit of research discovered it’s an American Ford (of course) from the 1940s, a Ford Tudor which would originally have had a 3500cc V8 under that distinctive nose. I wonder what’s under there now?

Crows Nest Lock was the first, about an hour after Wheelock.

Another view of our rather mucky roof.

There are two more locks soon after this, running alongside the busy Booth Lane. We weren’t so lucky with the locks today; I had to fill each one before we could use it. At least there were only four…

The top paddles on Lock 68 were very tight, I think a little lubrication would be in order…

After a bit of a dogleg to go under Booth Lane, the canal approaches Middlewich, flanked on the right by the large salt works.IMG_3082

The suffix –wich as part of a town name normally indicates historical salt production in the vicinity. The earliest method of extracting this valuable commodity was by evaporation of sea water using pans in shallow bays, known in Norse as a wick or wich. The name stuck when inland extraction from brine pits and salt mines became the more normal source.

Middlewich has a large population of swans, looked after by a dedicated group of local people. IMG_3084
There used to be regular deaths of the birds on the road running alongside the canal until the group successfully campaigned for a fence to be erected between the canal and the road.

We moored up above Kings Lock, a bit noisy here but I wanted to check out the mooring situation above Wardle Lock on the Middlewich Branch before committing to going up there.

There is actually plenty of room on the moorings above the lock, but we decided to leave it until today.

Down Kings Lock this morning

You might notice that the roof looks cleaner. I had a go at it in the afternoon.

We topped up with water (again!) just before the junction bridge, then I emptied Wardle Lock, and we turned sharply left under the bridge and onto the Wardle Canal, all 154 feet of it, and up the deep lock.

Wardle Lock and Canal to the junction with the Trent and Mersey.

The Middlewich Branch was built in 1833 to link the Shropshire Union Canal (at that time the Chester Canal) to the Trent and Mersey Canal. But it met with opposition from the T&MCC, who were afraid of losing trade on their canal. They insisted on having control of the junction here, so built the short canal and lock to be able to charge significant tolls to boats using the branch. It’s the route we’ll be taking westward after Christmas.

We moored a little way up the branch, still in the town to be handy for the shops, well in time to avoid the wind and rain brought in on Storm Barbara.

We’d like to wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas.
Don’t get too drunk!
Locks 6, miles 6 (2 days)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

A good road down to Wheelock

That’s what the boatmen called having all the locks in their favour. In today’s case it was an exceptionally good road, a boat came past us last night at around 8 o’clock, and this morning I discovered that he’d left the top gates on 7 out of 10 locks today. Now that’s a good result, but I’d have been considerably miffed had I been going the other way!
Heading to Lock 58 at Hassall Green
That’s the M6 buzzing along (unusually!) just below the lock.
We’d got going earlier than I expected. The weather forecast suggested that we’d have rain this morning, but apart from a dollop overnight we didn’t see any till later. Just 20 minutes after we’d pulled in at Wheelock.
I didn’t take very many pictures today; once again I had my hands full, still single-handing. And today was lock after lock after lock. Seen one you’ve seen ‘em all…
Lock 59, the top one of a cluster of 6 running down past the golf course and Malkins Bank.IMG_3063
The canal-side settlement of Malkins Bank
Last but one, Lock 65 above Wheelock…
…and the last muddy, wet lock chamber for the day.
Unbelievably, with the locks left as they were,  managed the 10 locks and 2 and a bit miles in under 2 hours!
After the lunch-time shower I went to the pet superstore here at Wheelock and bought Meg’s Christmas present, a squeaky elephant, but don’t tell her… She’s been a bit out of sorts these last few days. With coughing and sneezing the background music, and Mags staying inside so she doesn’t know whether to stay onboard or get off, it’s all been a bit too much. Not long now, though. We’ll soon be better and we’re getting a couple of days off at Middlewich.

Hi Chas and Ann, and Naughty-Cal. Thanks for the thoughts. Lemsip with a dash of honey is good and fairly effective, but it’s even better if you stick a large scotch in there too! Only before bedtime, though…
Boat Crash 
Locks 10, miles 2¼

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A landmark event!

Today our reliable Isuzu diesel, affectionately known as Desmond, clocked up 10,000 hours!
That’s just under 1,000 hours per year. Of course, the gearbox hasn’t done anything like that.

I’m afraid the yellow plague flags are still flying, neither of us seem to be improving very fast now. Still coughing and sneezing and Mags is worse, so she’s still confined to quarters while I work us down the Cheshire locks.

The day started out dull and grey, but by late morning we had sunshine. It lifted the spirits, but not the temperature. A chill wind has sprung up making it feel a lot colder.

First locks of the day, the pair of Church Locks just around the corner.IMG_3047
Close enough together to set them both up at once.

They are followed by Halls, then the three Lawton Locks.IMG_3048

The Lawton Locks replaced a triple staircase that was situated over to the right of the picture. Apart from earthworks there’s nothing left now.

I was working steadily down, fairly quickly as the majority of the locks were full and ready for us. I was just dropping down the last of the Lawton Locks when a boat appeared around the corner below, so I could leave these gates open.

They’re easy to work single-handed, below each chamber there’s a short entry, just right for parking the boat for a quick nip up the steps to close up.

We pulled in at Rode Heath for an early lunch, it was only 11 after getting an early start, but I needed to get some bread and cold remedies from the village shop.

So soon after midday we toddled on again, in the sunshine.

Thurlwood Top Lock

I was contemplating pulling in above the two Pierpoint Locks, but it was still fine so we dropped down those two as well, mooring at Hassall Green above Lock 57.

Pierpoint Locks, the lower lock can be seen beyond the bottom gates of the top one IMG_3059
The little tail-gate bridges have a gap between the two cantilevered halves to allow horse boat’s tow ropes to pass through.

Another reason I wanted to get on a bit today is the weather forecast. It looks like there’s a band of rain and wind passing through overnight, so we might have a later start.

Hi KevinToo. Thanks for the thought, but we're fine. Anyway, you don't want to be anywhere near us at the moment!

Hi Carol, yes the bug is taking a while to shake off. We are heading for the Llangollen, but it'll be after the New Year before we get to Hurleston.

Locks 10, miles 3¼

Monday, December 19, 2016

We could have had another hour in bed!

I was up as the sky just started to lighten, Meg wasn’t too keen on a walk that early either. But needs must; we had to be on the move by 8 as we were booked to go through Harecastle Tunnel at half-past.
Just after 8 and we’ve a red-ish sunrise.

Arrival at the tunnel portal, spot on time…
…but there’s no sign of any CRT chaps.

I dropped the chimney in preparation,  the stove was already out so we were running on the central heating, fitted the LED worklight on the hatch frame to illuminate the back end of the boat, checked the function of the front lamp and horn. And still no sign of anyone. So we filled the water tank and Meg and I had a walk around.

The original tunnel, opened in 1777, took 11 years to complete.IMG_3031
It was a major bottleneck so, 50 years later, Thomas Telford undertook the cutting of a new tunnel alongside. Improvements in techniques over the intervening period meant that this bore took only 3 years to cut. Both tunnels carried traffic, in opposite directions, until early in the 20th century subsidence in the original tunnel caused it to be closed. The “Telford” tunnel started out with a towpath, but horses were reluctant to pull boats through though the 1½-mile hole under the hill, so electric tugs were used, pulling trains of boats, sometimes 20 boats long. At busy periods 200 boat transits per day were recorded!
With the demise of commercial carrying maintaining the electric tugs became uneconomic. By this time almost all boats were diesel powered, and with such a long tunnel without ventilation shafts fumes were a problem. So in the 1950’s the original south portal was extended by the addition of the fan house, containing large fans which draw fresh air through from the northern end.

Anyway, it got to 9 o’clock, so I rang CRT to find out what was happening. Apparently there was a problem at Bosley on the Macclesfield Canal and they’d had to divert resources there. But someone would arrive soon...
They did, around 10:15. Another boat was heading through, coming south, so it would be a little while. I wasn’t ready else I’d have taken a picture, it was John Jackson who sells solid fuel from NB Roach.

So we were in at just before 11, and out the other end at 25 past. No pictures, I was concentrating on making some time up.

Out of the northern portal at Kidsgrove

Another 10 minutes and we arrived at Hardings Wood Junction and Lock 41, which heralds the start of the long descent to the Mersey Valley.IMG_3036


Mags is still barking so was under strict instructions to stay inside, so I worked down the handful of locks past Red Bull to Church Lawton single-handed. With muddy lock ladders miring the ropes and my hands, the camera didn’t get much of an airing, I’m afraid.

Coming out of Lock 44, below Red Bull

Deep tow-rope cuts on the copings at Lock 45

Apart from Roach at the tunnel we’d not seen another boat on the move. So it was a pleasant surprise to see a chap appear on the lockside at Lock 46, windlass in hand. He was off a boat coming up, and invited me to stay on board while he emptied the lock, an offer I accepted with alacrity!

Thanks, guys!

This was the last lock for today, too. We pulled in on the good moorings below Bridge 135, near the church.IMG_3045

While we’re both struggling with this bug we’ll only be doing short days, tomorrow I think we’ll be stopping at Rode Heath. We’d like to be at Middlewich by the weekend, though.

Locks 6, miles 3¾