Sunday, April 10, 2016

Up the Cheshire Locks

For the first time in ages, and certainly since I installed the 4G aerial on the roof we were unable to get a reliable internet connection last evening. It was there one minute, gone the next. It must have been a local problem, I don’t recall having trouble at Rode Heath before, and it’s all right again now.
We took a day off at Wheelock, Mags wasn’t 100% and there were a few jobs I needed to do. There was a slight but annoyingly persistent coolant leak on the engine to deal with, the lump was also due an oil and filter change, the bilge needed cleaning out and the stern gland adjusting. Then there was a new seal to fit under the weed-hatch lid. so most of my “day off” I was upside down in the engine ‘ole.
Looking nice and shiny, with new oil, filters and a general spruce up.
Ah well, the time out did Mags good. And she needed to be on form, ahead of us lay the Cheshire Locks, or “Heartbreak Hill” as some wag christened them. Twenty-six narrow locks over a distance of just over 6 miles.

We often do these in three days, but I wanted to get most done, at least up to Red Bull, in two.

We set off yesterday morning, unfortunately just behind another boat which appeared around the corner just as I was sorting out the fenders. Not to worry, I thought, most of the flight are duplicated, so odds are that at least some will be in our favour. And if not there’s likely to be boats coming down and leaving them empty, isn’t there…

Off we go…

It was slow going. The preceding boat had a gearbox problem, mostly it wouldn’t go into reverse, which meant that maneuvering was done extremely carefully – and slowly. They had to rope up in the locks to prevent the boat slamming forward as the lock was filled.They’d already catapulted the microwave across the galley…

A boat was coming down the second of the Wheelock Locks, so we left the (slowly) vacated lock for them, then used the now-emptied lock to follow on.

But it was a very nice day.

Unfortunately this was the only boat we saw all morning. And even with a lock chamber in their favour at every pair, Mr & Mrs gearbox still made painfully slow progress. Of course, every so often one of the paired chambers was either no longer in existence, or under repair.

Lock 63, offside, at Malkins Bank, having new gates installedIMG_9114

Near the golf course
The offside chamber is generally, though not always, the later addition. The canal was so busy by the 1820’s that Thomas Telford was commissioned to advise on improvements. A new tunnel at Harecastle and these duplicated locks are the result.

Finally the gentleman ahead decided to empty the adjacent chamber as he was filling his, so we caught up, and then overtook them just below Hassall Green. As we rose in tandem alongside each other I could see that we were going to fill first. Our uphill locking technique was considerably quicker then theirs. We just lean on the cill, then the gate, with the bow fender as the lock fills. He wasn’t prepared to do this, hence the rope to hold the boat back.
I politely enquired if we might go first? He had already mentioned that they might be stopping for lunch shortly. With a reply in the affirmative we were off like a rat up a drainpipe. The next three locks have only single chambers, you see. Any chance of getting past again would have evaporated. I did lift the paddles on Hassall Green Top Lock for him when we left.

Just around the corner we met another boat, so the next three were empty for us. Result!

Hiya Curly!
The two Pierpoint Locks are close together, and, although there’s evidence of the now filled-in second chambers alongside the working ones, the extension to the bridge to carry it over the entrance to the defunct chamber of Lock 55 has almost completely disappeared. Just a bit of abutment left. Someone must have wanted the bricks…

Pierpoint Locks

A bit of the removed half of the twin bridges…

Another two locks and we were mooring up at Rode Heath, alongside the large open slope that runs down to the river. Meg was straight out with a ball.

Thurlwood Lock, our last for the day
To the right of the remaining lock was the site of an experimental pre-fabricated structure, a steel tank with guillotine gates at the ends. Settlement due to brine extraction had caused the original chamber to be unusable, and the adjustable Thurlwood Steel Lock was the solution. It did work, mostly, although it wasn’t popular. Sadly it was removed and scrapped in the 1988.

Opening ceremony in 1958
Steel Lock opening

Thurlwood Steel Lock  
Photo from

Although bright and sunny, today was noticeably cooler with a brisk breeze. We were away from Rode Heath at around 10, with around half and hour to go before the first lock of the day at Lawton.

Leaving Rode Heath

Aaah, ducklings!
Soon we’ll get blasé about them, but at the moment they’re still a novelty.

Lawton Bottom Lock

The four Lawton Locks are well looked after and close enough together to make it worthwhile to go ahead and set the next then come back to finish off the one you’re currently using. With three of the four still with working duplicates they’re generally quite quick to get through, too.
As originally built, the canal climbed up a triple staircase here. There’s a small winding hole below the bottom lock, on the offside, which was the start of the staircase. It joined the current line below the top lock.
Staircase locks, although enabling the canal to climb steeply, are costly to operate in terms of water and time.
The staircase was replaced by the current flight of paired individual locks as part of Telford’s improvements.

From Lawton Top Lock, the staircase was below and to the right.IMG_9142  

The four Lawton Locks are followed by the two Church Locks, these now with only a single chamber in use although the bottom offside looks in good condition.

Church Bottom Lock

The same can’t be said about the top offside chamber…IMG_9144


The skid plate on the cill of Church Top Lock is a real fender-grabber, best kept away from!

A short half mile, past the good moorings above the locks, takes the canal to the bottom of the Red Bull Locks. These last six locks finish the climb up from the Cheshire Plain and lead to Hardings Wood Junction and the Macclesfield Canal, and the summit level through Harecastle Tunnel and Stoke.

Red Bull Locks

We pulled in after the first three, on the moorings just below the services. That’s enough for today. Another three and the tunnel we’ll keep for tomorrow.

Hi KevinToo. She wasn't impressed, sulked all night!

Hi Tom, I see you got sorted as well. Welcome back home! Give our love to Jan and our thanks again for her assistance the other day.

Locks 23, miles 6


Ade said...

Hello Geoff & Mags,
Just noticed that John Sage is not in his usual position mounted on the stern. I must have missed that explanation ? Care to mention it again.
Good posts as ever.
Cheers for sharing

Mike Todd said...

I can just see in your penultimate pic the location of the points where your bow fender is attached. Any chance of a better pic that I can send to our boatyard to consider for us. We have long had problems with the fender dropping to one side or the other and ober the New Year I experimented with a somewhat ugly solution, pending something better. Yours might just be what we need to do. The problem as it is, is that there is just a single loop right on top of the bow itself.