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
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Nobody on Hurleston Locks
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One-legged swans.
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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.
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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
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Dropping down…
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…and ready to leave
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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.
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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…
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…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
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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.
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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 
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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
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Tilstone Lock
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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
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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 

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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

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Paintwork tidying

After debating whether to stay put at Crow’s Nest Bridge and do some paintwork, or move on up the canal a bit, I decided that we could do both. So we pulled pins on a fine but chilly morning.

Looking out over Tattenhall Marina from the towpath bridgeIMG_4002

Someone’s off on their holidays…
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Moorings outside the Shady Oak at Bridge 109IMG_4011

We only had one lock to deal with today, Wharton’s, and we were joined by another boat that was leaving the moorings near the Shady Oak as we passed.

Wharton’s Lock
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We pulled in above the lock and had lunch, after which I got stuck in with the sander, rubbing out the scrapes and scratches inflicted on the gunnel through the last six month’s cruising.

With the weather being so fine I managed to get two coats of red primer on the bare bits by evening, too!

“Dad, you’ve missed a bit!”
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As soon as the dew had burned off this morning I got the first of two coats of matt black on finishing it off late afternoon.IMG_4019

That’s one side done then. The towpath changes sides at Calverley, so I’ll be able to get at the opposite gunnel in the next couple of days.

Locks 1, miles 2¾

Monday, April 17, 2017

Heading south again

We’ve spent the last several days hanging around Christleton, with one short sojourn to fill up the water tank. We heard on Tuesday evening that Mags’ sister Doris had had a fall, cut her head and was admitted to hospital. After stitching and a couple of nights observation she was released to an intermediate care unit as they didn’t think she was well enough to go home straight away.
We had to see that she was OK, so on Friday I hired a car from Enterprise in Chester, and we went over to Hyde, south of Manchester, to see her.
She’s not too bad, but is likely to be there for a couple of weeks until they’re happy with her condition.

We drove back in heavy showers, making it interesting on the motorway. It struck me, while peering through the spray, that a driver from the 1940’s wouldn’t recognise much of the equipment on a modern car, apart from the basic controls of wheel and pedals. But one thing that would be familiar is the strip of rubber on a stick for clearing rain off the screen! In this age of sophisticated technology there’s still nothing better for the job than a squeegee!

The plan on Saturday was to move down five locks into the city, mooring up for a couple of days above the triple staircase at Northgate. To simplify the hiring arrangements I‘d cycled to Enterprise to collect the car, left the bike there, then cycled back after dropping it off first thing on Saturday. Coming back to Christleton on the towpath gave me a chance to review the mooring situation, and it was dire. All the moorings were chock-a-block, not a space to be had.

So we had to change our minds. We needed water, so headed into town, turned around at the winding hole at Quarry Bridge, then reversed the quarter-mile to the tap to fill up. Then we returned to the moorings near The Cheshire Cat.

Under Quarry Bridge on the way back
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Yesterday we had visitors again, Val and John, and a couple we’d not seen for a couple of years, Mike and Yen. IMG_3990   
We had a good couple of hours chatting before they had to take off again. Them coming was one of the reasons we wanted to be down in Chester; we’d intended to have a walk around the city centre. But it was very wet, heavy showers blowing through regularly so the walk might not have happened anyway.

Today’s forecast was for early rain clearing by lunchtime, so we decided to set off back towards Barbridge. The rain had turned to drizzle by 10, so we pulled pins and got going.

Heading past The Cheshire Cat
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The drizzle turned to rain, then back to drizzle, but showed no sign of stopping. It’s not what we do, cruising in the rain, so I made up my mind that if it hadn’t stopped by the time we reached Tattenhall Marina we’d pull over there.

Victorian-style lamps on Egg Bridge
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Not my idea of a des-res alongside Long Lane, but then it’s probably not the owner’s either…IMG_3995

The tedious 35 minutes of tick-over past the length of the Golden Nook moorings starts a little further along. IMG_3998

Although there’s around 30 miles of broad canal from Nantwich to Ellesmere Port, we’ve only seen one wide-beam boat on the main line.
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Of course, fat boats would either have to be craned in or come up off the Ship Canal at Ellesmere Port, so that probably limits their numbers. There could be more in the marinas, though, just used as accommodation.



It hadn’t stopped raining by the time we came under Crow’s Nest Bridge, so we pulled in alongside Tattenhall Marina. It was lunchtime so we got the kettle on. By the time we’d eaten, though, the rain had eased, but we decided to stay put anyway.

Not sure what we’re doing tomorrow, it’s supposed to be fine after a cold start so we might shove on a bit, but I’ve got the gunnels to paint. Or at least make a start on them…

Locks 0, miles 5

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Taking it easy.

We cruised into Christleton, on the outskirts of Chester, on Tuesday. An easy trip, no locks to worry about, and with sunny spells. Still cool in the breeze, though.
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I just kept snapping away as we passed this chap. They usually don’t let you get too close…

Wary buzzard…
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…keeping an eye on us!
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The canal passes through flat countryside, hedge-bounded fields being grazed by small herds of dairy cows.IMG_3973

When we last passed this way Tattehhall Marina was unfinished.IMG_3975

Eight years ago…
April 2009 036 Tattenhill Marina B

Tediously slow going past the seemingly endless linear moorings at Golden NookIMG_3977

This rural stretch is interrupted at Waverton, where the unlikely-named Egg Bridge crosses the canal…IMG_3981
…then there’s another green stretch till the canal enters the built-up area at Christleton.

We pulled in just past Bridge 120, Rowton Bridge, within shouting distance of The Cheshire Cat.
We had lunch in the pub with Val and John yesterday, they’d come across with my latest acquisitions, a lump of foam so I could re-upholster Mags seat, and a new rear tyre for John Sage. They’ve been really good to us while we’ve been up here, and lunch was to show our appreciation.

I got those jobs done today, Mags is bouncing about happily on her now-comfy seat, and the bike is sporting a shiny new back tyre. With a bit more meat on it the punctures might not be so frequent… hopefully! (Talking about the bike, not Mags chair!)

Thanks Alf, for the comment on Beeston Iron Lock. A look on Google Earth suggests that the canal ran just slightly to the north, and I think the access to the cottage is on the original bed.

Locks 0, miles 5½

Monday, April 10, 2017

Three locks, two castles.

It took a little longer than planned to do yesterday’s engine and gearbox service. I spilled the old gearbox oil getting the container out from under the engine, so had to clean all the area underneath. It needed it, really, it’s just messy job I’d been putting off.

So this morning we were away with just over half a mile to our first lock.IMG_3944
After two beautiful days we’re back to normal, overcast, breezy and cool. But at least it’s not raining…

Approaching Beeston Stone Lock.
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We were joined by a hire boat in this one, then I told them to go ahead as they were going much further than us today. The second of the Beeston locks is Beeston Iron Lock, it’s distorted and not recommended for two boats side by side.
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IMG_3949The Iron Lock was built to solve a problem with subsidence. The original stone chamber required regular maintenance to prevent leaks, so the engineer Thomas Telford was brought in and had this iron tank constructed. Unfortunately it too has succumbed a little to the unstable nature of the ground, hence the advice.

Apparently it causes problems to boaters through the season, not least because of the bottleneck single boat operation on a broad canal causes. I came across this while I was looking for more information…

Below the lock is Chas Hardern’s hire base and boatyard.IMG_3950
Although not new, the boats here look tidy and well presented.

The two Beeston Locks are only a quarter mile apart, there’s a longer pound of around mile to Wharton’s Lock. From here there’s a fine view of Beeston Crag, with just a glimpse of the remains of the 13th century Beeston Castle sat on top.IMG_3953

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Beeston Crag is the highest point on the sandstone ridge that runs south to north across the Cheshire Plain.
The Peckforton Hills is the next prominence on the ridge to the south, also capped by a fortification but this of a much more recent history. John Tollemarche acquired the estate, including Beeston Crag, in the 19th century, and had the Gothic mansion called Peckforton Castle constructed.

Beeston Castle to the left, Peckforton Castle just visible over the ridge to the right.IMG_3961

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We’re on the long 12 mile pound now to Christleton, where the canal drops sharply down through Chester to the Dee.

The weather started to improve a little after lunch, some sunny spells but that wind was still brisk…
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I started to look for a suitable spot for the night, and a pleasant stretch, just beyond the River Gowy Aqueduct, beckoned.
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A little shallow, but just deep enough.

Tomorrow we’ll head to Rowton Moor, aiming to moor at the Cheshire Cat. We should be meeting Val and John there for lunch on Wednesday.

Locks 3, miles 3½