Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Steadily up to Hassall Green.

We stayed at Wheelock yesterday. The weather looked a bit dodgy in the morning, although in fact it turned out OK. It was pretty busy with boats up and down, a mixture of private and hire boats. The moorings were nearly empty at noon, but filled up again later in the afternoon.

I was out on my morning run today, heading back along the towpath in a heavy shower, when I saw a Black Prince hire boat coming the other way. Normally the rear deck is full of crew on these boats, chatting and watching the world go by. Not this morning in a downpour. The steerer was huddled up in a jacket and hat, long shorts and sandals. And looking pretty miserable as he squinted into the wind and rain.
The boat’s windows were all misted up, with the odd wiped circle and a face showing.
Ah, the joys of a UK canal boat holiday….

The thundery showers passed over by late morning, and it took us that long to get going. After my run, shower and breakfast, it was up to the shop for papers and milk, then across to the pet food shop to top up Meg’s supplies. Then reverse around a couple of boats onto the services to top off the water tank, and empty a loo and the rubbish.

While all this was going on, a steady convoy of boats sailed past, heading for the first lock of the Cheshire Locks, just a ¼ mile up the canal. By the time we got there we joined a queue of 4 boats.

Queuing at Lock 66
This is the first of the 26 locks, sometimes called “Heartbreak Hill”, which lifts the navigation 250 feet from the Cheshire plain to the summit level at Harecastle Tunnel. Most of these were duplicated to ease congestion, but of today’s 8, only 3 had both chambers in use.

Into Lock 66 at Wheelock, ¾ of an hour later.

Repairs are ongoing at Lock 64 near Malkins Bank
Upper ground paddle and culvert, exposed now the lock has been emptied.
Lock 63, the first of the “in use” paired locks, at Malkins bank. The canal workers cottages are in the background.

Over the last couple of hundred years, subsidence has caused distortion of some of the deep lock chambers.
At Lock 62, there’s an instruction on the southerly lock advising boats broader than 6’10” to use the other lock.

The problem is, the other lock is temporarily out of use!

Maybe I should explain. Narrowboats were originally built to a 7 foot beam standard. And a lot of the surviving workboats have suffered that common problem of getting older, spreading a bit in the middle. So they can be a tight fit in a chamber that has “slumped” a little.
All boats built recently are made to 6’10” to solve the problem. So size does matter… Andrew Denny has a post here, relating to this issue.

Oh, and he's currently reviewing Steve Haywood's rewritten "Fruit Flies Like a Banana", now renamed "One Man and a Narrowboat". This is one of the classic canal travel books. Steve Haywood also writes in Canal Boat magazine.

(Andy, did I get there first?)

We were following the queue up the flight, so I had to empty each lock as we arrived before we could use it. We only saw one other boat on the way down, and we left a lock ready for them rather than the other way round. Until we got to Lock 59. Both of the locks had boats in, coming down. Just like buses, you don’t see one for hours then 2 arrive together! It was a bit like the Grand National start as the bottom gates of both chambers opened at the same time and the boats started to move out.

And they’re off!
Ok, maybe I’m stretching the comparison a bit there…

Off they go down the back straight. Viking afloat takes an early lead from the private boat. Both chambers are in use at the next lock, but they’ll have to race to be first at the single lock after that…
We moored up on the pound between L59 and L58. We often stop here, breaking the flight up into 3 with another stop at Church Lawton. That might wait until Friday though. The forecast is for rain all day tomorrow. Still, we’ll see.

After the showers cleared through this morning, it’s been fine and dry, even warm out of the wind. But the wind has been steadily rising and was gusting strongly when we pulled in.

Locks 8, miles 1½.

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