We normally take three steady days to “do” the Cheshire Locks, but as we’re on a bit of a mission to make our Ribble Link booking, we decided to push on. The weather being so good was also a factor…
So yesterday we set off from Westport Lake, heading for Harecastle Tunnel.
Twenty minutes took us to the entrance to the tunnel, with no-one waiting on the holding moorings.
Not as good a sign as you’d think. That means that the three boats that passed us earlier were already in. Worse still, after they’d made the passage there were another couple of boats waiting at the other end to come south. So we settled in for a bit of a wait. A bit of pottering about took up the time until the southbound boats emerged, at around 10:20.
We were in 5 minutes later, the doors closed behind us, the fans started up and the mist descended!
The tunnel was built without airshafts, so to prevent a build up of fumes from boat engines a fan-house was constructed at the south end. It draws a steady flow of fresh air from the far end. But it also has the effect of temporarily dropping the air pressure, causing it to reach it’s dew point, when the moisture in the atmosphere is no longer dissolved and is condensed in the form of mist. Thankfully it doesn’t last more than a minute or so, but it’s a bit disorienting!
Clear air and a distant view of the far end.
We popped out into bright sunshine after about 35 minutes, a good run through the 2926 yard-long bore.
This side of the tunnel the water is stained ochre from dissolved iron ore. It also stains lock gates, stonework and freshly blacked boat hulls!
We’re dropping down towards the Cheshire Plain now, with the Cheshire Locks in front of us. Twenty-six to descend over the next 6½ miles between the summit and Wheelock. Not all in one day though…
We made good progress, most of the time a lock was in our favour. These locks were duplicated in the middle of the 19th century to improve traffic flow and they’re just as effective today. Some of the second chambers are no longer in use though, causing occasional bottlenecks. The two Church Locks are a case in point; the later offside chambers are both derelict, although the lower one looks to be in recoverable condition.
There’s not a lot of point in restoring it though, the pound between the two is very short.
Incidentally, to decide which is the earlier, Brindley side of the duplicated locks, look at the tail bridge.
Brindley’s arches are made of engineering brick, Telford’s improvements have stone facings.
A pigeon keeping an eye on us at Lawton Treble Locks.
Coming down the fine Lawton Locks
We ended up for the day at Rode Heath, pulling in at just before two o’clock. First task was to nip to the shop for a well-deserved ice cream each! The forecast was right too, we had showers moving in late afternoon.
By this morning though the sky had cleared ready for us to set off again. Two or three boats had already passed, so we reconciled ourselves to a slower trip than yesterday, having to refill locks before we could go down.
Leaving Rode Heath, the meadow and woodland below used to be the site of a large salt works.
I said we were looking at a slower trip, but I’d reckoned without Richard and Margaret on their boat Perseverance ahead. We caught up with them at the first lock out of Rode Heath, got chatting as you do, which resulted in Richard starting every lock he could for us as they moved down. With no boats coming up this was great. We got into a system on the duplicated chambers; I’d close up after Perseverance while Seyella was dropping down alongside and Richard went down to set up the next pair.
Perseverance on the left, and Richard has readied the offside chamber for us.
A beautiful morning
The system didn’t always work of course, some of the locks are no longer duplicated. The two Pierpoint Locks and Hassall Green Top Lock have lost the extra chambers.
The small shop and Post Office that used to be here was handy for a passing snack. Closed now though.
Ah, an oncoming boat at Hassall Green Bottom Lock. Not seen many of those!
Someone has been industrious with a pot of paint and a brush here. Very nice.
It’s a shame the same attention to detail hadn’t extended to a tub of grease and an oil can.
In fact I‘m disappointed with the condition of the locks. It used to be an easy flight to work, but now a lot of the paddles are very stiff, and the gates heavy.
Mow Cop and Mow Cop Castle way over in the distance…
It’s about 5½ miles away.
Mags in a silly mood…
Down the last lock above Wheelock
Richard and Margaret had pulled over on the Wheelock moorings for something to eat, so we hovered alongside for a few minutes chat before pushing on, finally pulling over opposite the allotments at Paddy’s Wood.
Like yesterday the showers moved in late afternoon, but they’ve stopped again now. We’ll drop down the last four locks to Middlewich tomorrow.
Locks 26, miles 11, two days.