Friday, April 20, 2018

Making a start on the locks.

There are 29 locks on the Shroppie between Hurleston and Autherley Junction. The first two we met were at Hack Green, just about 45 minutes after setting off this morning.

A bit overcast this morning as we got away from Nantwich.DSCF2924

At Bridge 91 there’s a stop gate fitted in the narrows, to be used in the event of a breach on the embankment.
There’s one at the other end too, next to Bridge 92.

This section of the Shropshire Union was opened in 1835, originally the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal. Thomas Telford was appointed Principal Engineer, and he incorporated the latest techniques in the construction. The 18th century canals tended to follow the contours of the land to avoid expensive earthworks and civil engineering, but things had moved on and the B&LJC was built to be as efficient as possible.
Gone were the meandering bends of the Oxford and Trent and Mersey Canals, now the canal made a bold line across the country, with embankments and cuttings going over and through the ridges and valleys encountered on it’s route. Where elevation changes were necessary as the landscape slowly climbed up towards the Black Country, locks were grouped together to make passage quicker.

Long straights are part of the character of the ShroppieDSCF2933


Heading up Hack Green Locks, just two to break us in gently…DSCF2929
We met boats heading down both of the locks, so passage was easy.

Another 40 minutes saw us arrive at the bottom of the Audlem Locks, after passing the large Overwater Marina on the offside.

Overwater Marina

This oyster catcher seemed a little out of place, sat on top of a pile of gravel and screeching at the flock of Canada geese foraging below.

An embankment just south of Audlem is pierced by a tunnel carrying the River Weaver.DSCF2938
At this point it’s turned north after reaching it’s southern limit just west of the village. It’s now wiggling it’s way towards Winsford where it becomes navigable, before finally emptying into the Mersey near Runcorn.

Arriving at Audlem

There was a boat going up Lock 15 as we arrived, so we pulled onto the lock landing. During the season there’s a water-bus service from here to Overwater Marina and back.

We had a fairly slow trip up the first four locks, but pulled in on the moorings below Lock 11 at soon after 1 o’clock.

Lock 15, Audlem Bottom Lock

Lock 13, with the lock cottage, the Shroppie Fly and Audlem Mill on the far side.DSCF2943

We intended to take a day out here tomorrow, but the weather is turning a bit and there’s thundery showers forecast later. They may linger on into Sunday, so we decided to go up the rest of the locks tomorrow, aiming to be done before getting wet. Then we’ll hang about on Sunday instead.

Locks 6, miles 6

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Two fine days take us out onto the Shroppie.

Is it safe to say that Spring has finally arrived? Or am I counting my chickens too early? Well, we’ve two good days, in fact today has been almost summery.

Leaving at around half-nine yesterday morning we toddled our way steadily towards Wrenbury. The day started overcast but brightened up later.DSCF2886

Another brood of ducklings
I wonder what happened to those on we saw near Fron, separated from Mum and Dad….

The lift bridge at Wrenbury Frith, alongside the nursery, was traditionally left in the open position. But now there’s a sign requesting it be closed after passage. Something to do with the holiday home (I think) on the towpath side of the canal, I expect. It actually didn’t make any difference to us; a boat was coming through and they waved us on too.DSCF2890

The mechanised road bridge was passed without incident, as was the manual Church Lift Bridge.

Mags coming under Church Lift Bridge

With the warmer weather nature seems to have finally got into her stride. The hedgerows are bursting out with green, and banks of marsh marigolds, or Kingcup,  are flowering on the damp canal banks.



The blackthorn is in flower too, a white shroud covering those wicked 2 inch-long thorns.DSCF2905

Hawthorn and blackthorn are often mixed in the canal hedgerows, but the blackthorn flowers before producing leaves, whereas the hawthorn works the other way round. And the blackthorn produces edible sloes (much favoured for flavouring gin…), the hawthorn’s small, red berries are unpleasant to the taste. However they have been shown to have health benefits… I particularly like the idea of making them into a tincture with brandy or vodka. Got to make you feel better, eh!

We caught up with a hire boat leaving Wrenbury, going really slowly. Really, REALLY slowly. We were overhauling them on tick-over… However their locking technique was good, so as soon as they’d cleared the top of the Baddiley three locks they didn’t hold us up.

Mags waiting above one of the Baddiley Locks as I fill it up, with the bywash in the foreground.DSCF2899

After the Baddiley Locks our preceding boat pulled in for lunch, so we had the benefit of full locks at Swanley with boats coming up.

We pulled in past Burland, on rings with the left side facing the afternoon sun.DSCF2909
The solar panels made short work of topping off the batteries.

We’d not bothered with the stove all day, and didn’t relight it in the evening, but it was noticeable by it’s absence this morning… At nine o’clock, in the early sun,  it was warmer outside than in!

We were on the move by a quarter to ten, under the last few bridges to the top of Hurleston Locks, where we filled the water tank (slow tap) then dropped down the flight to join the Shropshire Union Main Line.DSCF2913


We met boats coming up so we didn’t have to refill any locks and were down in short order. We knew that Jaq on NB Valerie was knocking about somewhere, so I’d texted her to say we were coming. She was moored below the locks and walked up to meet us and help with the last couple.

One of the two lockies on today and Jaq as we exit the bottom lockDSCF2915 

We swung around to head towards Nantwich, then pulled into a vacant slot behind Valerie. We spent an hour catching up with the news from the last 2 years. We’d not seen her since before she lost her husband, Les. She’s looking well, but is obviously still missing him. I hope we cheered her up a bit…

Two lovely ladies

We said our goodbyes and continued on to Nantwich. This is the old Chester Canal, built in 1779 and connecting Nantwich with the River Dee at Chester. It was built wide to accommodate salt barges coming up off the river.
The original plan called for the connection to be made to Middlewich with a branch to Nantwich, but the Trent and Mersey Canal Company was having none of it, so the route was adjusted.
It ends at the end of the arm now used by the Nantwich Canal Centre, but a connection to the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal was made at Bridge 92, Nantwich Junction Bridge, when that canal was opened in 1835.DSCF2918
The Ellesmere Canal, running north from Chester to reach The Mersey at Netherpool, soon to become Ellesmere Port,  opened in 1796. This was only part of the grand plan to connect the Severn to the Mersey, only disconnected ends of which were realised.

Map from Click to enlarge.

The three canals were merged in 1846 to form the Shropshire Union Railway and Canal Company.
The embankment moorings were fairly full, with just a couple of spaces towards the aqueduct, but there was lots more room south of the road crossing.

Over Nantwich Aqueduct

We pulled in just around the corner, in bright sunshine. The final few % needed to top off the batteries provided by the solar panels before late afternoon.

We’ve been vacillating between routes north for the last few weeks, since the breach at Middlewich effectively cut the easiest way off at the ankles. We’ve finally decided to go the long way round, via Wolverhampton, then Stafford and Stoke. It’d be really good if this weather holds for the next 5 weeks…

Locks 10, miles 12

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

More locks than we’ve seen in a while…

It was fine yesterday, so we decided to make a good day of it. We left the Duddleston Bridge moorings at around a quarter to ten, heading north with the breeze behind us.

There are two lift bridges between where we’d moored and Whitchurch, and we were being followed by a Black Prince hire boat, so I waved them through after Mags. They would open the next one, only a few hundred yards down, and wave us through in turn.  It didn’t quite work that way, a boat coming the other way let them through, then closed it before we got there. But the Black Prince crew pulled in and walked back to open it for us anyway. What a considerate thought.

Passing the hire base at Whitchurch Marina, boats stacked up a bit now the Easter rush is over.DSCF2873

There were a couple of boats waiting to come through New Mills Lift Bridge alongside the Whitchurch Arm, with some confusion as to who was going where, but we got through after a 5 minute delay and headed down to the top of Grindley Brook Locks. The six locks here drop the canal down 41’, with a triple staircase then three single chambers spaced out over a quarter-mile below.

There were a couple of volunteer lock-keepers on the staircase, they’d seen us coming so had set them up for us ready. So as soon as I’d dropped off the rubbish and recycling we were able to drop down.

Grindley Brook Staircase Locks.
Staircase locks, where one chamber drops directly into the next, are an efficient use of space but an inefficient use of water. If there are alternating boats arriving at single chambers they can take turns to use the empty or full chamber as appropriate. But staircase locks take a little more managing. In this case, with three chambers, the middle one needs to be half full for a boat coming down, but full for a boat going up. So if an uphill boat follows a downhill one the middle and top chambers need to be filled before the boat can proceed. In the reverse situation the top chamber will be left ready by the uphill boat, but the middle chamber needs to be half emptied and the bottom one fully emptied else the surplus water overflows onto the towpath. It’s not as complicated as it sounds.
The flights on the Leicester Line at Watford and Foxton use side ponds to store the surplus water, which does make matters a little more interesting…

We met a boat coming up through the top of the singles, then had a clear run to the bottom of the locks.

We passed under the disused railway bridge below the flight at 11:45, so decided to toddle on further. It was such a pleasant day.

Three more locks over the next 3 miles saw us pull in on the pleasant moorings past Quoisley Bridge.

Dropping down Willeymoor Lock

That’ll do for the day.

It was a fine and breezy afternoon, good drying weather for the washing I pegged out on the makeshift clothesline, and the solar panels topped off the batteries nicely too.

Today’s forecast was looking a bit dodgy, with rain and wind on the way. We tentatively decided to stay put, which became a firm decision this morning. Although mild there’s a brisk wind and showers of rain keep blowing over too. Much nicer tomorrow, and for the rest of the week. We should be out on the Shroppie main line on Thursday.

Locks 9, miles 6 

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Meres and Mosses

We left Ellesmere yesterday morning after a final bit of shopping for perishables, cruising out of the arm and onto the service wharf for water and to dispose of the rubbish and recycling. On Friday Val and John and Harry the dog had been across to spend the afternoon with us. We’re going to miss them now as we move further away.

Back through the brick-lined bore of Ellesmere Tunnel.DSCF2849

We cruising waters now that we’ve not seen since last December. It seems to have been a very long winter…

The canal threads it’s way between the meres, shallow lakes left behind by the retreat of the ice at the end of the last Ice Age.

Blake Mere to the north…

…and the larger Cole Mere to the south.
That’s a beautiful thatched cottage overlooking the water. Chocolate box.

Oncoming boat at Bridge 55

I was surprised at how light the traffic was, but of course Saturday is traditionally change-over day for the hire bases. It did get busier later in the day.

We left the meres behind as we headed towards Bettisfield, crossing the embankment of Hampton Bank just as the sun broke through the hazy clouds.

Just west of Bettisfield the canal crosses into Wales again. There’s a spur of the Principality  extending south and east into England, known as the Maelor Region, or Maelor Saesneg in Welsh.

The canal cuts across the southern extremity, then skirts the border on the English side until it reaches Whitchurch. The region has been part of several counties in the past, Cheshire, part of Flintshire, and nearly Shropshire. It now comes under Wrexham County Borough Council.

On the long straight across Bettisfield and Whixall Mosses. We cross the border back into England along here somewhere…DSCF2856

At the western end of the region the mosses are wild and uncultivated. DSCF2858

But beyond the Prees Branch junction they’ve been drained for grazing. But they still flood in wet weather…DSCF2861

The Prees Branch goes off to the right, south.DSCF2860

Just past the branch is Morris Lift Bridge, the first of several going this way, and the hardest to lift. It takes 80 turns of the windlass to get the thing up… and another 55 to drop it. I know, I counted them!DSCF2862

We had a bit of luck with a boat coming the other way at Tilstock Park, we were waved through the lift bridge as another boat was coming the other way. Then we had a very pleasant hour in the sunshine before mooring up near Duddleston Bridge.


Today we’ve stayed put, the day has been cooler and we’ve had rain this afternoon. Tomorrow is supposed to be fine. though. Hope so, we’ll be dropping down Grindley Brook Locks in the morning.

Locks 0, miles 10

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Getting busy as we head to Ellesmere…

We didn’t move yesterday; it rained up until mid-afternoon so there was a steady stream of umbrella-holding steerers navigating their boats up and down the canal.

I took down the secondary glazing, cleaned the acrylic panels and stowed them under the bed till next winter, then cleaned the inside of the windows for the first time since November! We can see out a lot better now…

This morning it was gloomy but at least the rain had eased by the time we untied and set off.DSCF2837


I was speaking to a local chap walking his dog this morning. He has contacts among the local farmers who are reporting higher than normal mortality rates among the pregnant ewes and their offspring. The damp, cold weather is to blame, apparently.

It was quiet up until we passed Frankton Junction, then we started meeting boats who’d left Ellesmere earlier. We were following one chap who got into shallow water while avoiding on oncoming boat at Bridge 67.DSCF2840 
The lass on the front of the Anglo-Welsh boat (facing us) had just waved me forward. I declined, pointing out that there was no-where to go!


From here on there was a regular procession of boats, some met at bridges but mostly where we could pass easily. I wasn’t looking forward to those blind, tight bends around Val Hill, but luckily there was a gap in the traffic we slotted in to.

Two hours steady cruising brought us to Ellesmere, there were a couple of boats on the service wharf but there’s room for three so we slotted on the end. It took a while to fill the water tank with the slow tap, but then we turned into the Ellesmere Arm to find somewhere to moor till Saturday. Boats were nose to tail at the upper end of the arm, but there was plenty of space nearer the entrance.DSCF2842

We turned around at the end and came back to moor near the halfway point. Sharing a ring with the boat behind meant that we were making the best of the available space, just as well because the moorings were all full by 4 o’clock. I’ll fill the larder and fridge and freezer while we’re here, before we push on on Saturday. All being well Val and Johnny will come across on Friday for a visit while we’re still reasonably close to their home.

There’s been a cool easterly keeping it fresh today, but it’s supposed to be steadily warming up as we head towards the weekend. Still unsettled though.

Locks 0, miles 5