Thursday, February 25, 2010

In Vindication……

Before reading this, if you haven’t already, go to Sue’s latest post here. Then hit your browser's back button.

OK, done that? Right, you’ll know what I’m talking about now!

We’d arranged to meet up with Sue and Vic at South Flash, 4 or 5 miles north of Middlewich, last night. By the time I’d had my morning run, walked the dog, and visited Kings Lock Chandlery and Tesco’s it was past 11 before we fired up the engine and headed down Wardle Lock, the last (or first, depending on your point of view) on the Middlewich Branch.

Then there were the 3 narrow locks in the town to descend, before we pulled over to take on water at Townbridge Wharf.

Down the Middlewich Locks.
While we were filling a BW workboat came past, with Mike and Yvonne. We’d met them a week or 2 ago at Hack Green on the Shroppie. Greetings were exchanged, and Mike asked if we were going down Big Lock, the broad lock at the edge of the town. He said he’d set up the lock and wait for us there.

We thought that No Problem would have left long since, as the time was now nearly 1 o’clock, but we came around the corner and there were both Moore 2 Life (Chas and Ann) and No Problem on the visitor moorings.

The Gang's all here...
Sue and Vic saw us coming and started untying NP, to join us at the lock, and I had to tell them that we’d already made an arrangement with Mike.

Oh dear. We moved on past to a barrage of light-hearted abuse.
They followed us down and waited while we locked down with Mike.

Middlewich Big Lock

He didn’t help – “They’re fussy who they share locks with”, he told Sue!

Anyhow, I gave them a hand to start the lock, and Ann had come down to the lock as well, so we pushed off, out of the way.

We had an enjoyable cruise to the flashes, through the countryside with the River Dane often running close alongside the canal.

Looking over the Dane Valley
A glimpse of the river.
We arrived at our agreed overnight stop at around 14:30, and NP came round the corner 10 minutes later.

South Flash
In the evening they joined us and we had a good chat over a bottle or 2. We paid compensation in the form of half of one of Mags’ home made ginger cake. So all’s OK now.
We’ve decided to stay put today, but they’ve toddled off this morning up towards Anderton. We’ll catch up again in a couple of weeks.

It’s been a lot milder these last couple of days, but of course it’s also got damper. Overnight rain and some showers this morning have transformed the frozen towpaths into muddy ones, Still, you can’t have everything.

Oh, and the heating’s working like a dream. Thanks Ed.

Locks 5, miles 4½

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Meetings at Middlewich

It felt very cold today. There was ice on the canal again (what’s new?), not as thick as yesterday, but there was a biting wind from the north.
We didn’t have far to go, just down into Middlewich.

At Stanthorne Lock
Two lots of our boating buddies were heading up to the town as well, from the south, so, as soon as we were tied up, Meg and I had a walk along the towpath to meet them.

No Problem comes into Rumps Lock
The dogs haven’t seen each other for some time, and they got pretty excited.

"Hello Meg!"
Sue and Vic below Kings Lock
Chas and Ann from Moore to Life were following, but I had to get back to our boat to meet Ed, who was coming to refit our heating boiler.

He arrived at around 14:45, and soon had the thing up and running again. The radiators get a lot hotter now, so that’s a good job done.

Not very big, is it.
While he was busy with his head down in the bowels of the engine room, Sue and Vic and Chas and Ann arrived, having walked back from where they’ve moored in the town.
Tea and Mags’ home-made chocolate muffins all round, while we caught up with the news and gossip.

No Problem is heading north, same as us, but Moore to Life is going across the Branch to Barbridge.

Locks 1, miles 1½

Monday, February 22, 2010

Winter drags on…..

We woke up on Sunday morning with 3” of snow on the towpath.

Here we go again…
There was also a thin skin of snow covered ice on the water. It was so soft that it folded, like plastic, around the stern when a boat passed.

Bendy Ice

But with a fine, sunny day, both snow and ice were just about all gone by evening.

We had some regular visitors to the bird feeders through the day. One robin had more than his share of the fat ball.

Fat ball, fat robin
No snow this morning, but the very low temperatures overnight had left us with ½” of ice on the canal.

Breaking ice again.

We had a steady cruise east and north, the ice thinning as we went. I don’t know whether it was just not as thick further on, or it was thawing as the day wore on. It was still cold on the back of the boat, with a breeze from the north.

Leaving Cholmondeston Lock
We passed Church Minshull down in the valley to the north of the canal.

Church Minshull
Tom Rolt spent several weeks here in 1940, with his wife Angela on their converted narrowboat Cressy.

I guess these signs weren’t here then?
His book, Narrow Boat, describing a journey around the then decaying system, has never been out of print since it’s publication in 1944.

Lionel Thomas Caswell Rolt, to give him his full name, was one of the founder members of the Inland Waterways Association. The association was formed to restore and revitalise the canal network, and from painful beginnings (Rolt and Robert Aikman, co-founder, both had strong and often differing opinions) has grown to become a major force in promoting restoration and maintenance of what is now a valuable resource.

He is probably best known for writing Narrow Boat, but has also penned books on railways, cars, industrial history and philosophy. Three autobiographies and several biographies as well as some fictional works, must have kept him very busy. Had he not died in 1974, he would have celebrating his 100th birthday this year. There are several events occurring around the country to honour the man’s achievements.

The official website is here.

After Church Minshull we covered another 3 miles or so, pulling in on rings near Bridge 23.

We’ll be moving down to Middlewich tomorrow, hopefully to meet Ed who will have our serviced and polished Eberspacher heating boiler ready for refitting.

There’s a new website launched today. Canal Boat Classified looks like it could be a useful “one stop shop” as the information develops.

Locks 2, miles 6½

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Snow, frost and sunshine, and the best laid plans……

We’ve a diesel fired central heating boiler running 3 radiators as well as the domestic hot water. It’s not our primary heat source; hot water is also generated from the engine, and the solid fuel stove is far more efficient (and cheaper to run!). But it is handy to run for just an hour first thing in the morning to give us hot water for ablutions and to take the overnight chill off the cabin.
So with it being a little unhealthy recently, I thought we’d better “get a man in”. I rang Ed from Four Counties Marine Services, and he was in the area, so we agreed to meet at Barbridge, where he could remove the unit and return it to us, serviced, on Tuesday.

So instead of a day off yesterday, we had a short cruise down to Barbridge. A bright day, but turning to snow showers later.

More of the white stuff at Barbridge.
Bright sunshine today after a hard frost. We decided to move on from Barbridge, so cruised back up onto the Middlewich Branch via a detour up to the services at Calveley and back.
We didn’t go so far, tying up above Cholmondeston Lock.

Through Barbridge this morning
Moored at Cholmondeston
More snow is forecast overnight and tomorrow, so we’ll probably stay put now till Monday. We have to be in Middlewich by Tuesday to meet up with Ed again to refit the heater.

Plans, plans!
We’d intended to make a bee-line for Liverpool, leaving Anderton in about a fortnight. This would have got us into the city via the new link nicely for my race on the 28th March. Then back down the Trent and Mersey to Northwich for the middle of April where the boat is booked into Orchard Marina for a week for bottom blacking and a few other bits and pieces. From there we would head south to Hardings Wood Junction just above Stoke On Trent, turn onto the Macclesfield Canal and head up to Manchester via the Maccie, Peak Forest and Ashton Canals, which would see us arrive at Castlefield just right for my second race of the season, the Manchester 10k in the middle of May.

Notice that all the above is in the past tense? Intended, would have?

We got a phone call today from the BW office at Wigan. The trip along the Liverpool Link will not be possible till early April. The route would not normally be open till the end of March anyway, apparently. But this year the extreme weather has delayed a stoppage at the Stanley Dock flight, and the works won’t be completed till maybe 2nd April.
So that’s that then. Time for a rethink.

On a positive note for commercial canal carrying, in South and West Yorkshire anyway, these 2 reports are of interest ... Local Government Chronicle here.... and BBC here. Common sense prevails? We can only hope.

Locks 0, miles 8

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Nantwich to Hurleston Junction

We moved on from Nantwich today, heading north again. The larder and fridge are both topped up, as is the water tank and the coal stocks.

Loading solid fuel from Ivor and Mel’s Mountbatten.
Mel decorates canal wear with traditional “roses and castles” designs. We bought a couple of examples of her work as gifts.
I realised afterwards I should have got a picture of her stock…

Instead here’s the sterns of Mountbatten and Jellicoe.

After the coal it was 100 yards along to the services, arriving just as Jenny Wren was pulling away.

Good timing at Nantwich services.
Then we had a gentle chug along the canal, just over tick-over, enjoying being on the move again. Not for long, though. We pulled over at Hurleston Junction, after only a couple of miles.

At the end of the embankment above Nantwich the canal goes through Bridge 92. This is the last of the narrow bridges heading north.

Bridge 92
This is because the canal from here was originally the Chester Canal, linking up with the Mersey at Ellesmere Port. It was built to wide beam dimensions, so all the locks and bridges are broad, in contrast to those on the Shropshire Union. The arm to the right of the picture, now the base of Nantwich Marina, is the end of the original line.

Spotted a kestrel aiming for it’s lunch on the way.
A rushed shot I’m afraid. I don’t know whether it was successful, I didn’t see it again after it dove (dived?) behind a hedge line.

We’re not in any hurry. I sent an application off to cruise the Liverpool Canal Link yesterday. This is the new section of canal at the end of the Leeds and Liverpool, giving boats access through the docks, along the front of the “Three Graces”, and to moorings at Salthouse Dock.
From there it’s only a short walk to the start (and finish) of the Liverpool Half-Marathon, my first race of the year, at the end of March. So we’ve 5 weeks to get there.

Locks 0, miles 2

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Back to Nantwich

Had a day watching boats go by yesterday. Mostly hire boats, with the odd “privateer” thrown in for good measure. It was fine and dry in the morning, but turned showery later.

This stretch of towpath is part of the Weaver Way, roughly following the Weaver Valley from Audlem to Frodsham. Along the way are interpretation boards, discussing the local area.
The one at Baddington Bridge talks about freshwater mussels that are found in the canal.

Apparently there are 2 types, the painters mussel, and the endangered depressed river mussel. I supposed I’d be depressed if I was an endangered species, too. I wonder what it was called when it was prolific? Elated river mussel? Manic river mussel?

Seriously, the name derives from the flattened shape of the shell, not it’s psychological condition.

We had the day boat out of Nantwich Marina arrive at the locks at 09:30 today. It turned around and moored on the lock landing, then the crew set off up the flight on foot. Odd behaviour which was explained when Meg and I caught up with them. They (Mike, Yvonne and Roamer the dog) had been asked to fetch a broken-down boat from above the locks. It was only a small one, so they’d borrowed the day boat for the job. We had a good long chat about boats, canals and watery things generally, before they set off back to Nantwich.

Mike, Yvonne and Roamer.
Off back to Nantwich
We followed on, about an hour later.

Although the day started grey with a few light flurries of snow, it soon cleared and this afternoon was sunny and warm if you could keep out of the wind.
It was so clear this evening that Mow Cop, 13½ miles away to the east, was visible.

Locks 0 miles 2¾

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy St Valentines Day!

I hope you all got at least one card. For those who didn’t, lets have a big Aaaah. I’ve just thought, that includes me…. Here's one for us, then.
Valentine kiss
Having spent a couple of days in sunny Nantwich, picked up the mail and done a bit of shopping, it was time to move on.

By the time I’d had my run (a long one on Sunday mornings), had breakfast and taken her ladyship for a walk, it was getting on for midday before we were ready to get off. They’ve been a few more boats about this weekend, of course it’s half-term, isn’t it. Seen a few hire boats out of Middlewich and Bunbury.

Over the A534 on the Nantwich aqueduct.
It’s been fairly mild today, after the early mist cleared. We had a touch of ice on the water in sheltered places, but that soon melted. We didn’t go far, just a matter of getting out into the country for a couple of days, so we toddled on down to Hack Green and moored just below the locks.

Typical Shropshire Union Canal.

Moored at Hack Green
There are more moorings at the top of the 2 locks, and a little further on at Coole Pilate, but there didn’t seem to be much point in going up the locks just to come back down again. Getting lazy, ain’t we! No, just saving ourselves for later in the year…

Following claims that boaters are avoiding Skipton for fear of vandalism, the Craven Herald carries a story telling us it’s not that bad. “No further trouble for the last couple of weeks.” Hmm, that would be during one of the coldest spells of the last few years, when the kids were at school anyway. Like I already said, it’s half-term, now.

Alf, regarding your comment on stern gland packing on the last post. For advice I went to Tony Brookes excellent website, where he gives a step by step method of repacking the gland (including a dead easy way of getting the old stuff out!). I suspect that a lot of folk put a new ring of packing on top of the old simply because of the difficulty of removing it.

Locks 0, miles 2¾

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Back through Barbridge, on to Nantwich.

Had a pottering about day yesterday. The main task was repacking the stern gland, where the prop shaft exits through the hull. A pretty low-tech solution, this involves removing the old packing, and refitting new. The packing is basically graphite impregnated rope which is cut to make up 3 or 4 rings around the shaft, and which are squeezed into the housing to keep the canal on the outside. I checked the shaft alignment while I was at it, no problems there.

Meg and I had a couple of good walks around the surrounding farmland and along the towpath. She’s usually quite adept at wombling balls while we’re out, but she excelled herself this time.

Meg's treasures
A well chewed rubber pig, and a rubber chicken!

We left them behind when we moved out this morning. That's why she's looking so miserable. But she’s got quite enough toys as it is!

After a very cold night we had ½ an inch of ice on the water this morning. But it was such a beautiful day that it would have been a shame not to be on the move, so away we went.

Stopped briefly at the services at Calverley, just to top up, then toddled gently back to Barbridge.

Barbridge Junction in the sun
This boat has an unusual paint scheme….
There is another major junction just a couple of miles further south, Hurleston which takes the Llangollen Canal over towards Wales.

Hurleston Junction.
4 locks lead off from the junction, lifting the canal 34 feet.

We arrived at Nantwich shortly after 2 o’clock, and moored on the embankment above the town.

Nantwich Basin, marina and chandlery.

Nantwich visitor moorings.
We moored just in front of Ivor and Mel Batchelor’s working pair, Mountbatten and Jellicoe. They sell coal and other “boaty bits” up and down the Shropie.

For the last 5 or so years I’ve used a Vodaphone office card to connect to the internet. This plugs into the PC card slot in my laptop and was originally the mobile internet solution for travelling businessmen. This has since been superseded by the USB dongle, of course.
When I renewed my contract (after a negotiation about the offer) they sent me one of these, which I’ve never used. My laptop is quite old and only has 2 USB ports, one of which has become somewhat unreliable The other has a hub connected for my mouse, camera, PDA, external hard drive etc. Coupled with this was the fact that my card has an aerial socket, plugged into a magnetic base antenna on the roof. I’ve always been able to get a connection, but mostly it has been 2G and quite slow, but reliable.

I’d noticed recently that I’ve been getting a very good 3G signal, so thought I should try the dongle which is supposed to be capable of high speed 3G. (I also wanted to watch Paul Merton in Europe on Demand Five, and the connection isn’t fast enough on the card to stream video).
Wow, what a difference! A reported 3.6 Mbps! That’s nearly 10 times faster than the 3G on the card. The dongle has to be hung in a window to pick up the signal, which makes it untidy. But I can live with that.

It all fell apart at Calverley, though. Very poor 2G on the dongle, and it kept dropping the connection, so I resorted to the old faithful. Still only 2G, but at least it kept working.

I reckon that Vodaphone have been doing some transmitter upgrades in Cheshire, just not as far out as Calverley. But in future I’ll try the dongle first.

Yorkshire’s cricketing hero, Fred Trueman, is being honoured by having an 8 foot bronze statue erected in Skipton, next to the canal basin. I have to disagree with Councillor Green, who reckons that the statue should be sited near a sporting venue. If you want visitors to see it, I reckon that it should be in the most visited area in the town, by the canal.

Locks 0, miles 6

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

On the Shroppie, Main Line

A nice, gentle cruise today. Still fine and dry, threatening the odd bit of sleet but not amounting to anything. That wind is still cold though. Having said that, it’s been a pleasant afternoon with long sunny spells.

We moved off from Cholmondeston Lock late morning, and shortly were running the gauntlet of the long term moorings on both sides of the canal approaching Barbridge.

Barbridge Long Term Moorings.
I’ve always had a chuckle at the name of one of these boats….

We only saw one other boat on the move today, and of course we met it on the junction with the main line….

She gave way to us, which was just as well. Getting A 70 footer round the corner is bad enough, with us in the bridge ‘ole it would have been impossible.

We turned north, running alongside the busy A51

Our fuel is just a tad cheaper…
We filled with water at Calverley before heading up to the next winding hole, turned and came back to moor at Calverley Bridge.

It’s a pleasant spot here. We’ll probably stay put tomorrow, before heading down to Nantwich.

Locks 0, miles 5

Monday, February 08, 2010

Cold on the cut

A cold wind made it a bit parky on the tiller today. Just a few glimpses of a watery sun didn’t do much, but at least we had only a few flakes of snow.

I did a few odds and ends yesterday, the rear hatch now has brass guides front and rear to stop it twisting and make it run a little easier.

We were away at just after 11 today. Just saw a couple of boats on the move today, but there must have been one somewhere ahead of us as Church Minshull Lock was set against us when we arrived.

Reminders of fly-boat days, canalside stables and cottage.

There’s a slope on the offside just below the lock, and it was always planted with flowers.

It’s looking a bit sad at this time of year.
Hoolgrave Bridge is being repaired at the moment.

Bridge 20 on the Trent and Mersey is also undergoing reconstruction after an argument with a farm trailer way back in 2008. It’s being rebuilt using period materials and construction techniques, with a bit of hidden reinforcement in the road bed.
Andrew Denny has an interesting view on whether this is an appropriate use of resources in these financially difficult times.
Me, I’d be asking why the driver’s liability insurance isn’t paying for it. After all, it was his fault, wasn’t it?

We stopped at Venetian Marina for diesel, solid fuel and some blue stuff for the loo, before going up Cholmondeston Lock and mooring shortly after.

There’s a handy bush alongside, so we hung the (repaired) bird feeders up. Our first visitors were a pair of robins.

Locks 2, miles 6

Saturday, February 06, 2010

In the countryside, but we can’t see it!

I received good news last night; I’ve got a place in this year’s Great Manchester Run, the 10k in the city centre in May. I’ve run this 3 times and always enjoy the atmosphere (and the route), but this year, like last, I missed the opening of the entry system in January. Last year I couldn’t get a place, so did the Oxford 10k instead. This year 26,000 of the available 36,000 places were snatched up in 48 hours, so the organisers chose to put the remaining 10,000 up for ballot. I’ve been lucky enough to get one of those places.

We pulled out of Middlewich at around lunchtime today. The day had started promisingly, clear after a frost, but started to get misty in the afternoon and by tea-time visibility was only about 100 yards!

Middlewich Visitor Moorings
Just a short trip today, to spend the weekend out of the way.

Going up Stanthorne Lock I noticed something I’d not spotted before. The locks on the Branch are numbered from Middlewich, Wardle Lock being number 1, Stanthorne number 2 etc.

Stanthorne Lock, No.2

But the bridges are numbered from the other end, at Barbridge Junction. Hence the junction bridge is Bridge 1, counting up to number 32 at the junction with the T&M. I wonder why.

A couple of miles above Stanthorne we pulled over, looking out over Winsford Top Flash. Well, we know it’s there even if we can’t see it.

There’s been a few boats up and down today, probably a few more tomorrow if the weather holds.

I've been sent this link to give an update on the Town(bridge) Wharf sale I mentioned yesterday. It looks interesting. I wonder what the "boating facilities" will consist of?
Thanks Alf. We'll be back up in a couple of weeks, maybe we'll meet up then.

Locks 1, miles 2½