Saturday, September 24, 2011

On the up…

Today we made a start on the long climb up from The Cheshire Plain to The Potteries. Thirty-five locks lift the canal around 330 feet from Middlewich to the summit level at Harecastle Hill in less than 14 miles. OK, we didn’t make much of a start, just the first 5 through Middlewich. But hey, you know what Confucious once said:- “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. Or in this case, 5 of them…

We set off this morning under grey skies after a promising start. Just 10 minutes away was Big Lock, named this because it’s…. big! Well, compared to the rest up to the summit, anyway.

Big Lock, Middlewich.

The pub is called The Big Lock, too.

The lock was built to barge width to enable salt barges to trade up to Town Wharf, but the size is now redundant since Croxton Aqueduct, a little further north, was rebuilt to narrow gauge in the 1930’s.

Croxton Aqueduct, now narrow.

As we arrived at the lock a boat was just leaving; as we left another was just arriving. This set the scene for the next three making gate swinging less of a chore. Not that it’s much of one anyway. On the narrow locks the gates are easy to open and close, being half the size of those on the Leeds and Liverpool.

We had a quick stop just after Big Lock so I could make a visit to the local shops, then carried on around the corner to the bottom of the 4 that lift the canal through the town.

Approaching Middlewich Bottom Lock…..

…..And in the chamber.

Anderson Boats, the hire base here, look to be fairly quiet. I expected a bit of a manic scene as returning boats were prepared for the next crews.

In Middlewich Three Locks.

With boats heading down and plenty of crews helping each other, we made good time to Wardle Junction where the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union Canal arrives from the west.
Here Kings Lock was against us, but a boat had just arrived at the top so it was set for them.
After they dropped down we let another boat up ahead of us. They were pressing on towards Stoke, we were only going up the lock then mooring up for the rest of the day.
By the time they were up another had arrived to come down so we had efficient use of the water, no unnecessary emptying or filling required.

A bit busy around Wardle Junction.

The Middlewich Branch comes in under the bridge beneath the road on the left.

We left the lock and moored up alongside Booth Lane. It’s quite a busy road, but does quieten down later. And it’s Sunday tomorrow so the commuters will be staying in bed. One nuisance is the loose manhole (can I still call them that?) lid that rattles every time a vehicle runs over it. Though you tend to tune out the clunk-clunk after a while.
Popped across to the chippy for lunch, still recommended.

We’ll stay here tomorrow, after all we’ve travelled for 2 days on the trot! Anyway, the Singapore Grand Prix is on in the afternoon.

Locks 5, miles 1½    

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