Monday, December 01, 2008

Settling In

As we said before, it was rather strange to stop travelling and move into winter moorings here in Blisworth Marina but, one month on, we have already got quite used to it. Ironically, we had no sooner become static than we became more mobile by borrowing our car back from Adam. Dave got a bus into Northampton and caught a train over to Wolverhampton, where Adam's partner Rachel works, picked up the car from her and drove back. You can just see Zindagi's wind turbine on the left, and the car is parked up behind that to the left. The brick building has loos, showers and washing machine, with rubbish disposal skips next to it. All very well laid out and kept in sparkling order!
Just outside the marina entrance is Gayton Junction, where the Northampton Arm branches north-east off the main line of the Grand Union. You may remember that we went down that way last year, travelling down the River Nene to Peterborough. We didn't have enough time to go any further then, but we are provisionally planning to travel down the Nene again next year and go on through the 'Middle Level' of the Fens to join the Great Ouse and the River Cam. We have the map and guide books and have been looking at the possibilities – all part of the fun of the longer winter evenings, all snug in our little living room and making plans for more cruising!
Back in September, we kick-started the process for Val's knees to get some proper attention, getting X-rays and a referral to the consultant in Barnstaple (North Devon Hospital). Just nicely timed, Val was able to get an appointment to see him on 14th November. So we drove down, spent two nights with Joe and Wendy in Barnstaple and saw the consultant. He was very straightforward and told us that Val definitely needed replacement knee joints. In order to comply with their 'waiting list' rules, she would have to have the first one done by mid-February, so that is all due to happen – Hallelujah! Assuming all goes OK with the first one, then the second one should be scheduled for about 3 months later.
Obviously, our cruising plans will have to fit around these dates, so it probably means that we shall be here into February at least, then maybe away for a bit before mooring up for a while (here again? – who knows?). All being well, by some time in the summer we may well be able to get really mobile on the water again – great!

Meanwhile, as you will have guessed from the pictures, we have been down to see Shireen and Thor in London. As we are so close to the M1 here, it only took us just over 2 hours to get there, and less to get back. Thor is certainly growing, toddling around everywhere and 'talking' in his own language with the occasional English word thrown in! Shireen's friend Chesca has been staying with them and has become part of the family – Thor really loves her! We were with them a few days after his first birthday, and hope we might see them again sometime soon before Shireen and Frankie take off back to Scotland in the New Year. They are planning to move back there long-term, so no doubt we shall be making a few trips north before too long!
Adam went to Australia in early November for work and Rachel joined him a few days ago so that they could enjoy some holiday before flying back together in about a week. Plans include hiring a VW camper (home from home!) and doing some diving near the Great Barrier Reef. Sounds great – hope we see some photos!
Jeremy went off to Chad again today and is due back in about 3 weeks. He will probably come and spend a few days with us after that and we are provisionally planning to go for a little cruise together if the weather permits!
Back here in Blisworth, we have picked up with the friends we made in the local church, and are gradually getting more involved. We are glad we decided to be based here for the winter this year, and have been made really welcome. Hopefully we can make a useful contribution to the fellowship while we are here.
Blog entries will probably be a little sparse for a while as we are not travelling, but we shall try to update you with any important news as it happens.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

A Long Short Cut

Our route out of the east side of Birmingham started to veer northwards and we were soon heading almost due north towards Tamworth. Why were we going this way on our way south? As you know, we usually add together locks and miles and calculate our journeys in 'lock-miles'. If we had gone straight through Birmingham and down the Grand Union, we would have been going down the 21 broad locks at Hatton (near Warwick) and then up 20-odd locks a few miles later. The longer route, north via Tamworth and then south near Coventry and Rugby, certainly had more miles but also substantially less locks, so the 'lock-mile' total was lower. Added to that was the opportunity to explore in Birmingham and revisit parts of the Birmingham & Fazeley and Coventry Canals that we had not visited since 1986, plus all the locks were narrow ones. A detour? Not really – more of a short cut!

Our entry to Fazeley was under the curiously mediƦval-looking footbridge – spiral staicases each side, a simple walkway across. Next to it is a swing bridge which seems little used; probably only for access to the farmer's fields.

In the next few days, we (like most others in the UK) suffered a blast of wintry weather, when it was a real joy to get into the warmth after the afternoon's cruising had deteriorated into sleet and cold winds. We still enjoy the crisp winter light, especially in the mornings, but setting up the wind turbine and the TV aerial as the light begins to fail and in freezing conditions makes the boat's central heating and coal fire really welcoming!

Past the Alvecote boatyard where we hired a boat back in 1986 (now much expanded!) and on up the Atherstone locks – surprisingly attractive – before plodding through the edges of Nuneaton and Bedworth, where we found ourselves back on familiar territory again as we came to Marston Junction, where the pretty Ashby Canal branches off north-east.

The landscape round here tends to be a mixture of semi-industrial and nondescript edges of housing estates, but there were occasional highlights, especially as we approached Hawkesbury Junction with its iron bridges and quirky layout. Even Hawkesbury is surrounded by electricity stations, but we had a pleasant surprise to find 'Edna May' there with Steve and Lindsay on board. Since meeting them last year on the Stratford-on-Avon Canal, we seem to see each other quite often. The last time had been on the Llangollen only a few weeks ago. So, a slightly longer stop for a cuppa and chat before having lunch and heading south on the Oxford Canal.

Jeremy cycled out to see us at 'Stretton Stop' near Brinklow, stayed the night and cycled straight into work in Leamington the next morning. Good to see him and have the usual long chat into the night!

Only three locks between Hawkesbury and Braunston, then Braunston's own flight of six before plunging through the tunnel to Norton Junction, where we stopped for the night before going down the seven Buckby locks – the last ones before we reached Blisworth! Since Braunston, we were back in broad locks again, and some of those larger lock-gates were certainly heavy after the lighter ones on narrow locks! Coming down Buckby, it was good to be able to share locks with another boat – saves water and shares the work!

About 9 or 10 more miles brought us to Gayton Junction and Blisworth Marina. We had made informal arrangements by phone and email to stay here for 2 or 3 months this winter. When we arrived there was no-one around, so we moored up opposite the entrance ready to make contact the next day.
So here we are, static for the next couple of months, though we may take a few trips out and about. Quite strange not to be moving on – we are starting to get used to it!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The 'Curly Wyrley' Way Round Birmingham

Coming up the 21 Wolverhampton locks was not too bad at all! Last time we came this way was in April last year, when we came up the 21, stopped for lunch and then carried on right into Birmingham until eight at night! Needless to say, we took it a bit more leisurely this time, and simply stopped overnight in the pleasant little basin at the top of the locks. It looks idyllic and was really very quiet and secure, but is actually within easy walking distance of the city centre.

Besides, we had other ideas . . . we were not going to just plunge straight through on one of the 'main lines' from Wolverhampton to Birmingham. We had done that on our last two visits this way. This was time for a little more exploration.

The maps of the BCN (Birmingham Canal Navigations) show miles of little-used waterways in all directions around the city, and one that had taken our interest was the 'Wyrley and Essington' going around the north-east. Affectionately known as the 'Curly Wyrley', this has a reputation for being shallow and weedy but certainly not impassable, so we thought we would try it out!

So we turned off the main line at Horseley Fields Junction and set off northeasterly along the W & E. First stop was to find a Sainsburys to stock up on supplies. Fortunately our trusty 'First Mate Guides' cover even the deeper recesses of the BCN, so we knew there was one coming soon! We moored carefully out of the way of a bridge, so as not to block any other boats. No worries there, but we did find the 'weedy' reputation fulfilled very soon – here is a lump of floating pennywort AFTER we had got through it, and there were more. One disused side arm looked like a very lush field, no water visible! But the most it needed was Dave up the front with a boathook, pushing the thicker bits aside while Val revved the engine a little – being sure to slip into neutral when the propeller was near the weed, to avoid getting tangles! We plodded on . . .

We didn't see any other moving boats and hardly any boats at all until we arrived at Sneyd Junction, where we were made very welcome by Ralph who lives on board his boat there and acts as the warden of the mooring site. Like so much of this canal, here was a quiet little backwater, between the M6 motorway and Bloxwich suburbs, probably unknown to many people who live in the immediate area.

While we were up in this forgotten corner, there were two diversions to explore as well. The first was a dead straight canal known as the Cannock Extension which once connected with the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. We went up it, turned around, had lunch and came back down. Not exciting, perhaps, but interesting. Like this, the Anglesey branch once linked to working coalfields but now comes to a very scenic end at the foot of the Chasewater reservoir. Only the (fairly muffled) hum of the M6 Toll reminds you that you are not miles from anywhere! If you look carefully, you may just see Zindagi in front of the houses.
By the way, did you know that you can 'explore' our route (and any other part of the waterways system) by going to the map via the 'Where Zindagi is now' link and then just moving around on that. Don't be content with seeing where we are; you can look around the whole network!

From the northeasterly corner of the BCN, it was time to start heading south, so we left the Anglesey Branch and took the Daw End Branch to Longwood Junction. We were going to go on, but decided to stay there overnight as the rain was lashing down! So the next day (having passed through no locks since Wolverhampton) we started down the 9 locks of the Rushall Canal, cruised through leafy Walsall suburbs, joined the Tame Valley Canal, had lunch on a high embankment near Perry Barr, then down the 13 Perry Barr locks to Salford Junction, where two canals join from central Birmingham.
The whole junction is totally dwarfed by the whirling concrete lanes of 'Spaghetti Junction' above. Very few motorists will be aware of the canals below and, to the canal boater, the hectic rush of vehicles seems like a different world. The canal seems to slip quietly unnoticed below and gradually leaves the noise behind. By the time we reached Minworth, Birmingham was receding into the distance, though we still had a busy road beside us.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

'Up South' towards Birmingham

From Middlewich southwards to Wolverhampton, the countryside climbs up out of the Cheshire plains but it is a slow rise, so we were a couple of miles south of Nantwich before we came to the first two locks on the 'main line' of the 'Shroppie'. Another 3 miles brought us to Audlem, where we stopped for the night and took a little longer to enjoy the village and the picturesque flight of 15 locks. Last time we came through here was as we travelled down south (rather more quickly!) in April last year. The trees were bare then; this time they were just beginning to turn to autumn colours.

As we went on south, we stayed with the seam of red sandstone rock which extends right up to Chester and down towards Stourport on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. Seeing this rock last year started us comparing the Shroppie with the 'Staffs. and Worcs.' Since then, of course, we have refreshed our memories of the Staffs. and Worcs. by going down to Stourport and back, and there certainly ARE some similarities. Here is 'Zindagi' approaching the bottom lock at Tyrley and you can see the sandstone on the right.

This canal was built by Thomas Telford and one of the things that we have discovered about him is that he preferred to go straight if he could! Not for him the winding, contour-hugging canals by Brindley and others so, when there was no need to do otherwise, he would build a long embankment or cut through a hill. Or rather he would plan the canal that way and his army of 'navigators' (navvies) would shift the vast amounts of rock and earth, mainly using hand tools. At least this red sandstone is fairly soft, but that takes nothing away from their amazing feats! The Shroppie looks very straight on the map, but the frequent change between high embankments and deep wooded cuttings makes it far from monotonous. Just try to imagine the work involved in sinking a cutting like this one through solid rock – and there are several of them!

There are also some lovely villages strung along the canal. At one time, some of them would have been much more centred on the goods being transported along the water, and the pubs would have been vital stopping points for the boat crews. Many of them still do a good trade with the present-day boating crews, usually either families on a hired boat or private owners like us, afloat for anything from a week to several years! The Boat Inn at Gnosall is beautifully situated next to a stone bridge. We didn't stop here, though we normally aim to eat out once a week. (If we stopped at every picturesque canalside pub, we would not only be a lot poorer, but would make even slower progress than we already do!)

Just one solitary lock between Tyrley and the end of the Shropshire Union at Autherley Junction, where the owners of the 'Staffs. and Worcs.' insisted that a stop lock was built to prevent the Shroppie stealing all their water. The water level difference is about six inches, if that!

As we came out from the Shroppie onto the Staffs and Worcs, we kept an eye open for a miniature narrowboat which we had seen last time. Not just a short narrowboat – there are plenty of those around – but smaller and narrower and in proportion. Must be difficult for a normal-size adult to stand up inside!

And then for the really steep climb up into Wolverhampton. 21 locks, raising us 132 feet in 2 miles, right into the centre of the city . . .

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

'Pit Stop' at Middlewich

On our way up from Devon to Shrewsbury, we spent a very enjoyable day with Jonny and Sue, who were with us last year when we went up to Leicester and back. Their Somerset home was sort of on our way, so we made sure that Adam could do without the car for another day and stayed the night with them. Great to catch up a bit!

While we had been away, Adam and Rachel had been able to enjoy a weekend on the boat themselves, taking it down 3 locks and 2½ miles (as far as you can go at present), back almost as far as the junction with the Llangollen Canal and then down to Queen's Head again. So, there was 'Zindagi', in exactly the same spot, pointing the same way, but Adam and Rachel had already explored the remaining stretch of the Montgomery Canal. Now it was our turn . . .

The Montgomery Canal is being actively restored, but of course it is a long and costly process. The limit of navigation is currently at Gronwyn Wharf. If you look carefully, you may be able to see that the canal is fenced off under the bridge, though the towpath continues. It runs nearly all the way to Newtown, Powys, 32½ miles from Frankton Junction. The hope is that the whole length of the 'Monty' will eventually be re-opened, but there is a lot of very basic work to be done, as you can see in the picture of the canal bed a little further on from Gronwyn Bridge. Further on again, the canal was very overgrown – even more to be done!
On our way back up the Frankton locks, we found that there were 10 boats booked in to go up them and none to come down, so there was a bit of delay and Colin the lock-keeper was kept very busy. Back on the Llangollen Canal again, and finding our travel rather faster than on the way up, as the flow down from the River Dee makes a substantial difference.

We had originally expected to simply turn south on the Shropshire Union as soon as we left the Llangollen, but now we planned a diversion back to Middlewich to get some work done on the boat. You may remember our occasional battles with our diesel-fired cooker hob. As we have talked with the team at Middlewich Narrowboats since we called in there in April 2007, we knew that they had the same hobs and ovens installed on their hire boats and that they had experienced some similar problems with the hobs sooting up. Recently, though, they had found a solution – running the hobs and ovens on kerosene instead of marine (red) diesel. Their experience (with 18 boats) showed that there was no sooting-up and the units burned much cleaner – and hotter. So we decided to have a kerosene tank fitted and arranged to be back there on Wednesday 8th October to get things started.
Dave the tank maker came and had a look. Yes, he could make a tank to fit in a space next to the diesel tank, but he certainly couldn't find time to fit it. So Middlewich's father and son team, Dave and Joe, would be able to fit it in their own time, as Adam (the boss) simply couldn't spare any of their work time. To cut the story down a bit, the tank was ready by Friday but couldn't be fitted until Monday.

We had a few days to wait, so we headed out northwards on the Trent & Mersey to some 'flashes', where areas of land next to the canal have subsided and made wide lakes. A popular spot for water birds (including several hundred Canada Geese) and apparently also for many local boat owners who often pop out there for the weekend.

We were back in Middlewich on Sunday, ready for Dave (of Middlewich Narrowboats) to fit the tank the next day. He did a very neat job and initial impressions of running the hob on kerosene are certainly favourable – no smoke at all and very little smell, so hopefully no soot either.

So we were able to leave late on Monday afternoon, retracing our route back along the Middlewich arm towards the main line of the 'Shroppie' – heading south at last!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Devon Interlude

So, back to Devon again, staying with Colin and Janet in Lapford this time, while we visited doctor and dentists for annual 'MOT's, and especially to start the process of getting Val's knees seen to. She had keyhole surgery on one of them 10 years ago, with inconclusive results, and they have gone on gradually deteriorating. She has been on anti-inflammatory drugs for quite a while, but even these have not prevented her walking range getting noticeably shorter.

The doctor was understanding and helpful and referred Val to Barnstaple Hospital for X-rays. The results came back nice and quickly and a second visit to the doctor has meant that Val's case is being referred to the consultant. Hopefully she will get an appointment with him/her in the next few weeks or months, and only then will we know whether 'they' think that replacement knee joints will be appropriate – certainly everyone seems to recommend them!

On this visit, we fitted in more visits to friends than we have managed before, but still didn't get to see everyone – sorry!

One visit we DID make was to pop in on Steve and Lin, our tenants, and see how they were getting on. They were really keen to show us all that they are doing, and we don't know where they find the time to do it all! They are really busy with chickens, turkeys and pigs, on top of growing lots of veg and making chutneys and bread to sell in the shop. This is even more amazing when you realise that Steve goes out to work 2 days a week and Lin has not been well since the early summer! They seem to have done very well with the shop and have an arrangement with the (recently re-opened) Village Store, supplying them with fresh produce as well.

A friend of theirs has even made a new roadside sign which looks good, and we hope to be able to feature some of their produce on our 'Blackberry Lane' website. If you live in or near Lapford, we recommend you to pop in and see what they have available.

As well as this robin in a hedge near Lapford, we really must share a photo of a young hedgehog feeding in Joe and Wendy's garden in Barnstaple. He just went on eating and eating, then wandered away for a very short while before coming back and stuffing himself again! We began to wonder whether he had just sent one of his siblings to take over! All of this in brilliant sunshine at 3.30 in the afternoon!
As well as our personal visits to friends, it was good to see a lot of folk at the Village Harvest Supper on the Friday evening, but it was soon time to drive back up to Shrewsbury, spend another night with Adam and then get back on board. Driving back 'up country', we were reminded how lovely our little bit of mid Devon countryside really is . . . we'll be back sometime, but not just yet . . .

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tying Up Some Loose Ends

We really must apologise for the LONG delay in updating the blog. You will see from the dates in this 'episode' that it is several weeks since we travelled these waterways, but we have found ourselves in areas with very poor internet access, which makes updating the blog a very tediously long-drawn-out process. Anyway, we hope to be able to get you up to date over the next few days, so there will probably be several episodes in quite short succession.

Back southwards up the Trent and Mersey Canal from Anderton, we came to Middlewich on 9th September, turned off onto the Middlewich Arm of the Shropshire Union – and into our first narrow lock since 22nd April! We really enjoyed the summer months, and especially our time on the Leeds and Liverpool, but we do prefer narrow locks, and it was good to be back!

This short (10 mile) arm of the Shropshire Union makes a vital link between the two canals, leading almost directly to where the Llangollen Canal branches off, but we had a 'loose end' to deal with – a trip northwards through Chester and on to Ellesmere Port, where the 'Shroppie' joins the Manchester Ship Canal. We had never been along this stretch before, so here was an ideal opportunity!

Although most of the 'Shroppie' is 'narrow gauge', the stretch from Nantwich to Chester is the old Chester Canal, so we were back on broad locks again! The Iron Lock at Beeston has the whole lock chamber made of flanged cast iron plates because of 'running sand' below it. Apparently the technology for this was developed from the use of similar plates in building the Pontcysyllte aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal. The remains of the 1337 Beeston Castle were within view, but unfortunately not within our walking distance, so we pressed on to Chester amidst spasmodic rain showers.

One of these combined with the late afternoon sunshine to add interest to the lovely old brick-built water tower on the outskirts of the city.
The weather was better next morning, so we decided to walk at least part of the way round the city walls. These are apparently some of the most completely preserved city walls, and it was interesting to compare with our visits to York back in May and June. Apart from anything else, the rich red sandstone of Chester's walls is very different from the cool grey stone of York.

Here are just a few examples . . . King Charles' Tower, on the northeastern corner of the walls, perched above the rock cutting that was originally a moat and was then modified to be part of the canal . . . and then the Victorian clock built above the 1769 arch of the East Gate . . . For lots more information about Chester and its walls, there is a very interesting website to explore.

And then on to Ellesmere Port . . . It is odd to think that this busy industrial town was named as the 'port' for the town of Ellesmere on the Llangollen Canal.

They now seem to be in two completely different worlds!

We really went there just to see what the 'Shroppie' was like on this section, but had a pleasant surprise when we visited the Waterways Museum there – fascinating, with old boats in the water and very informative exhibits. It seems that they are busy with families on holiday but even busier with school visits in term time. Here's a sunset scene looking over one of the old canal basins and towards the Manchester Ship Canal.

We were soon heading back south from Ellesmere Port and Chester and on one stretch of canal found ourselves going past a very long line of more than 70 anglers in a contest. Of course, simple courtesy demands that boats slow right down, but for about a mile of anglers? We did, anyway, though we remembered that there was a long line of moored boats coming up – similar length, and immediately after the anglers! We always go slowly past moored boats, as we know from experience how much too much wash can shake a boat around.
And then, back onto narrow locks again on 15th September as we turned off the 'Shroppie' onto the Llangollen Canal. We went there with David and Mary back in April 2007, but that had been a quick 'there and back in a week' and now we had some other plans as well. We needed to get back to Devon for annual doctor and dentist appointments, and so had been looking for somewhere to leave the boat while we did that, as close as possible to Adam in Shrewsbury, so that we could easily get to him to borrow our car back for 10 days. There were moorings at Ellesmere and Chirk where we could leave 'Zindagi' for up to 14 days, so that looked fine, especially as public transport looked good from either.

Then we had a phone call from Peter and Rachel. We knew that they had been planning to take their camper van to Chirk the previous week, but had been rained off, and we were too far away to meet up with them. Now they had arranged to be there a week later – would we be able to meet? Easy, really; we just chugged a little further than usual for a couple of days and so met them at Chirk on 18th September. The weather was pretty good, so we reckoned that we could take them up to Llangollen and back in the day, through the tunnel at Chirk and over the aqueducts there and at Pontcysyllte – that's the really high one over the River Dee. These photos from the BBC give you a good idea of it, and the fact that, on one side of the boat, you are looking straight down 120-odd feet to the river. As we said last time, it feels like the boat is flying! We had a great day together, and treated ourselves to both a pub lunch at Sun Trevor and an Indian meal in Chirk in the evening.

In these few days, we passed the moorings at Ellesmere and Chirk, where we had hoped to leave 'Zindagi'. It was obvious that they would NOT be really suitable after all, mainly because they were in fairly secluded places, and so a little more vulnerable to unseen vandalism. We needed an alternative mooring – where? In conversation with a very helpful British Waterways man at Chirk, he suggested that we could moor safely at Queens Head, on the restored section of the Montgomery Canal. As we had hurried a little to meet Peter and Rachel, we had a couple of days in hand before we needed to leave the boat and head down to Devon. It seemed ideal, and gave us the opportunity to explore another 'loose end', so we set off back to Frankton Junction, making a phone call to British Waterways to book our passage through the locks on the 20th.
After the Llangollen Canal, busy with many hire boats, the 'Monty' seemed quiet and remote as we travelled the few miles down to Queens Head, but the moorings there were just right. Not too busy, but in the public eye enough to deter vandalism. The pub there does a good line in Sunday lunches, so we tempted Adam with the promise of food and he very kindly came and collected us and our luggage, so that we could spend the night at his house in Shrewsbury before heading off to Lapford on the 22nd.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Down the Bridgewater – Stuck on the Weaver!

It has been a long time since our last news, so please accept our apologies . . . and here goes with starting to get you up to date . . .
Our crossing back over the Ribble Link on 20th August went well, despite the fact that the boats that had been due to come the other way the day before had been held back by bad weather. Some of them had diverted to Preston Docks, others had remained at Tarleton. Here are the Tarleton ones coming UP the Ribble estuary as we were going DOWN it – quite interesting!
Another difference was that we had an extra crew member! Chris had contacted us 'out of the blue' a couple of weeks earlier, having followed a link to our blog from another one and really wanting to get some photos of crossing the Ribble Link. After meeting up at Garstang to get to know each other, we had arranged for him to join us on the morning of the 20th, and so we made our way down the locks of the Savick Brook, out into the Ribble and up the Douglas again. Chris certainly made himself useful at the locks and at the tiller, at the same time as taking plenty of photos!

The crossing was as good as the first time, slightly better if anything, with less of a battle against the current and no engine overheating. Just as we were coming into the tidal lock at Tarleton, though, the engine coughed and stalled, but re-started straight away with no difficulty. This had happened a few times recently and Dave had tightened up diesel pipe connections, thinking that air must be getting into the fuel lines. Good job it hadn't failed as we crossed the tidal waters, but what was the problem?
Back up the Rufford Arm of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, we headed back to Wigan, where we turned right onto the Bridgewater Canal towards Leigh and Manchester. Much of this is strange countryside, where the ground has subsided into old coal workings but almost all traces of the coal industry have been removed. The canal is sometimes on its own embankment with flooded pits or wasteland on either side. At Astley Green, near Leigh, we enjoyed visiting the Colliery Museum, with some of the few remaining pieces of pithead machinery, including a massive steam engine (in the brick building).

Once again, we needed to wait for a tools delivery from Switzerland, and had arrived at the delivery place before the parcel did, so we waited a few days and in the process met up with Joe and Mary, local Christians who 'just happened' to be walking along the towpath! We hope to see them again sometime. Meanwhile, we are in e-mail contact and they are probably reading this blog!

As we said last time, we needed to work out whether we were going to re-cross the Pennines via the Rochdale Canal. In the end, it was British Waterways' winter stoppages programme that made our decision for us. If we were to cross the Rochdale, we would have had to hurry southwards on the eastern side of the country to avoid being caught by closed locks very early in November. As we want to do some exploring along that route, we have decided NOT to go that way this time. But, when the weekend loomed and the parcel still hadn't arrived, we decided to go into Manchester, to the starting point of the Rochdale, just for the trip. So we set off to Castlefield Basin for a weekend jaunt, and took the opportunity to take a ride on the Metrolink and visit the Lowry Centre.

When we got back, our parcel was there, so we collected it and set off again on our journey southwards. Through Worsley and over the Barton Swing Aqueduct again, but this time with a difference – the aqueduct was being swung open to let a boat come up the Manchester Ship Canal. We had to wait but had the opportunity to go down to the banks of the Ship Canal to watch. The grey bit in the picture is one end of the aqueduct. A few minutes later, it was closed over the Ship Canal again and we chugged over it. Amazing engineering!

Our own engineering was giving us concern, though. The engine was getting worse; anything more than a slow tickover and it would cough and threaten to stall – no use for quick manoeuvering and so potentially dangerous. Having scoured the manual, we discovered the embarrassingly simple cause – the fuel filter should have been changed a long time ago and was probably causing a blockage. We limped on several miles to a chandlery, bought a new fuel filter (and a spare!) and set to work to fit it. In less than half an hour, we were back to normal running!

Almost immediately, we left the Bridgewater Canal and joined the Trent and Mersey. As this runs along just at the top of the Weaver valley, we thought it would be good to go down the Anderton Boat Lift to the River Weaver again and explore upstream, which we had not been able to do when we visited with Shireen in March. So, down the Lift and up the Weaver, through Northwich and up towards Winsford. Whilst waiting in the (vast) Vale Royal Lock, we asked the lock-keeper about the low swing bridge about a mile upstream – would we be able to get through all right? "Just take your chimneys down", he said, "and you should be OK". We did, and we were! One of the tallest plants on our roof just brushed the bridge, and we saw that the headroom was shown as about 2 metres.

At Winsford, the 'Weaver Navigation' officially ends, but boats are allowed to continue into Winsford Bottom Flash, a large lake caused by subsidence. Mining again, but this time for salt, not coal. The whole area is still dominated by salt and chemical works.

Jeremy had phoned us a few days earlier to say that he would like to join us, and was interested to travel up the Anderton Lift with us. We had arranged to meet in Winsford the next day, so we went back down (under the low bridge again) to moor up in a pleasant remote section above Vale Royal lock – lovely sunset!

It rained in the night, and Dave's morning walk upstream revealed that the headroom under the bridge was a bit less – about 1.9 metres, but still OK for us to pass. It went on raining, and by the time we came back with Jeremy after lunch, the headroom had reduced again, to 1.85 m. We moored back in the remote bit, next to two other boats who were also heading back downstream. In the meanwhile, Adam also made contact and planned to join us up the Lift on Sunday.
During the night, it REALLY rained. The water level was visibly higher, and another walk up to the swing bridge showed a clearance of only 1.6 m. We would not have got under that! The short journey downstream to the lock was fine, but all three crews got a big surprise when the lock-keeper received a phone call while operating the lock, to the effect that the river was now closed to navigation due to flood, and we would have to tie up on the moorings below the lock and wait for the all clear – whenever that came! In the end, we were there for 48 hours, but it was not a bad location, and we got to know Dennis and Pauline on 'Chesterton' and Reece and Di on 'Wandering Whimbrel' – maybe we shall meet again somewhere; it often seems to happen!

No prospect of travelling up the Lift on Sunday, but Adam still came to see us and took all four of us out for Sunday lunch in the car. He had to go back later the same day, but not before he had helped Jeremy move HIS car to a place nearer the top of the Lift, as it seemed likely that we would be able to travel again on the Monday.
So, the next day, Jeremy still got his ride in the Anderton Lift and came a little way along the Trent and Mersey with us before heading back home

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Heading Further North

Back in May, we were up in Ripon, which is nearly the northernmost point of the English canal system. In fact, since it was built it was the furthest north that anyone could get on the connected canals and rivers of England and Wales – until 2002! The Lancaster Canal was built from Preston up to Kendal on the edge of the Lake District in the late 1700s, but the 'temporary' tramway that linked Preston to Chorley was never replaced with the intended canal, and was itself eventually abandoned. So the Lancaster Canal remained landlocked all its life until the Ribble Link was built in 2002. By this time, the very northern section from Tewitfield to Kendal had been closed to navigation and culverted under the M6 in several places, but Tewitfield is still slightly further north than Ripon!

Heading north, we began to see some distant hills, but these were the Forest of Bowland, part of the Pennine range, which we had last seen from a different angle near Clayton-le-Moors. The countryside round here is slightly more 'rolling' than south of the Ribble, but generally flattish with hills in the distance. The canal seems to follow the coast fairly closely, and there is even a 2¾ mile arm down to the little port of Glasson on the Lune estuary.

After skirting Lancaster, we crossed the Lune on the impressive stone aqueduct and soon found ourselves almost on the edge of Morecambe Bay with its vast expanse of sand and mud, famous for its shellfish and sadly remembered for the tragedy there in February 2004, when 18 cockle pickers were trapped by the fast rising tide and lost their lives.

We caught a misty glimpse of the Lake District hills in the distance, but the weather closed down and we have had to enjoy the sunny spells whenever they pop up.

A few more miles of chugging and we passed Carnforth and reached the real northernmost point at Tewitfield. There are plans to re-open the canal from Tewitfield up to Kendal, but opinion seems to be divided as to whether it is really likely to happen 'any time soon'. No doubt funding is the major hurdle! The locks at Tewitfield are still in remarkably good order and don't look as though they would take much to get back into use, but there are several places where the canal disappears into pipes under the M6, and those would certainly be very expensive to restore!

Despite the weather, we decided to take advantage of our bus passes and our closeness to the Lake District, and hopped on a bus for a trip into Kendal and Windermere. If the weather had been better earlier in the day, we would have probably have gone on to Keswick. As it was, we enjoyed the ride and (just for a change!) took a trip on a boat on Lake Windermere. The picture gives you some idea of the weather conditions. On the 'outward' journey from Bowness to Ambleside, we sat in the open seats on top of the boat but were glad to be under cover for the return trip!

Needless to say, after the northernmost point, the only way was to head south, back towards the Ribble Link again, but there was an interesting diversion to take down the Glasson Arm, through 6 locks, the only currently functional ones on the Lancaster Canal.

Enjoyable as lock-free cruising can be, it was good to be operating some locks again, working our way down fairly flat countryside to the tiny port of Glasson, which was originally built as a port for Lancaster and still has enough coastal traffic to keep it running. We moored in the enormous (12 acre) basin opposite rows of sea-going yachts and had a little wander around the tiny village. That did not take very long so, after filling up with water and diesel, we made our way back up the locks the following day. An enjoyable little excursion!

On our way up the locks, the sun was shining a little more, enough for this Red Admiral butterfly to pause on the ragwort. We were now really on the 'home run' back to the Ribble Link but were in no hurry as we had allowed ourselves more time than we really needed.
As I write this now, we are moored up in the basin at the top of the Ribble Link, ready to start the return crossing tomorrow morning at about 9:45. We have heard a rumour that today's crossing was cancelled due to high winds, but it seems OK at the moment. We shall just have to see what the British Waterways guys say in the morning!
P.S. We have heard over the last few weeks that the Rochdale Canal has been closed due to a serious pollution incident. News today that it may be re-opened on a trial basis to see whether the pollution has been effectively contained. We have been wondering whether to go that way after all, as there are lots of locks which will not help Val's knees and wrist. We shall need to make a decision in the next few days!