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