Saturday, April 30, 2011

Middlewich Madness

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, there’s one thing the Royal Family do for us; allow us to show the world how good we are at pomp and ceremony. Wasn’t it a spectacular event yesterday. Not that I watched it, of course…..

I bet there’re a few sore heads this morning, and not just at the Palace!

We intended to get off reasonably early this morning, to avoid the rush of novice boaters leaving the hire bases in Middlewich. But that plan went a bit pear-shaped when I got lost on my morning run. I’d scheduled about 8 miles, including 5 mile splits (where you run a fast mile then have a short recovery, before doing it again another 4 times), but missed a turning on the way back and was nearly in Sandbach before I realised! So my 8 miles turned into over 11, and I was knackered when I got back. That distance, at a good pace, without a drink is not good for the metabolism.

Anyway, so it was nearer 11 than 10 when we got away.

We dropped down Kings Lock, then threaded our way between the boats lined up on the starting grid at Middlewich Boats, before joining a short queue at the top of the 3 Middlewich Locks.

Middlewich LocksThere were no hire boats moving, they were all waiting at base for new crews, so it was just private boats this morning all with the same idea; get through the locks before the hirers set off. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against hirers, we used to do it too. But en masse?

We stopped for water at the old wharf, then pulled around the corner to moor for 30 minutes while I dashed to Tesco.

Then on to Big Lock, which as the name implies, is bigger than the others.

It took us ½ an hour to refill and descend this lock, it’s very slow. No-one else turned up while we were here, so we dropped down in splendid isolation.

In Big Lock.

No, we haven’t contracted leprosy. The white blotches are where I’ve rubbed down scrapes and scratches, then primed them. Though if truth be told there’s more scrapes than sound paint after this winter. I’ll now hand flat the whole gunwale to bring it all level before topcoating again in black. Another couple of days and it’ll be as good as new. For a couple of weeks. Then there's the other side to do.

The reason Big Lock is, well, Big is to allow broad barges access to the town for the salt trade. From here up to the Mersey the canal was built to broad standards. Unfortunately the original stone Croxton Aqueduct just north of the town was replaced in the 1930’s by a narrow steel trough, so Big Lock no longer needs to be big. It does mean that 2 boats can share it, however, which is just as well considering how slow it is….

Crossing the narrow Croxton Aqueduct.

We moored up just around the corner from the aqueduct, and spent the afternoon watching a stream of hire boats heading north. We’ll stay here tomorrow, then move on a bit, probably up to the Flashes.

Here’s another story on the “Three men in a Boat” episode on the Manchester Ship Canal last Sunday. I can’t believe the quote –

“But we want to get across that no matter how deep or inviting it may look you should only go in if it is part of an organised activity.”

Nanny state, or what.

Locks 5, miles 1½

Thursday, April 28, 2011


After emptying and filling the relevant tanks just around the corner from the moorings, we were on the move by about 11:00. We had a very steady cruise, allowing a hire boat to get well ahead of us so we weren’t queueing at the first lock.

The electrified West Coast Main Line crosses the canal near Ettiley Heath.

Procession of overhead cable gantries heading south.

Just along here there was a young Muscovy duck enjoying the sunshine.

And the first moorhen chick I’ve been able to capture on camera this year.

I’ve seen a couple before, but there’re so shy and tiny it’s difficult to get a half decent picture. This one is about the size of an eggcup!

Brine extraction for the salt industry has caused so much subsidence in this area that the canal banks have been raised a couple of times to keep the water in.

Raised banks.

We had to turn Crow’s Nest Lock, but arrived at the top of the pair of Booth Lane Locks just as another boat was leaving.

Booth Lane Top Lock

Meg and I walked to the next, and I’d just opened the top gate when 2 chaps arrived by car, complete with windlass’s. They were waiting for a boat coming up so suggested they work us through.

Needless to say I was back on the tiller before they could change their minds!

It gave me a chance to take a rare picture from in a lock.

In Booth Lane Bottom Lock.

These are very deep, dropping the canal over 28 feet between them.

We cruised alongside and then under the busy A533 (Booth Lane) when it swapped sides heading into Middlewich.

Rumps Lock was against us, but didn’t take long to fill and descend, then we were on the wide stretch heading for the town.

Looking towards Kings Lock and Middlewich.

We pulled in on the moorings above the lock, with the stern stuck out on mud. After a boat moved off a little nearer the lock we moved into the vacated spot, but are still on the bottom, although nearer the bank. I think we’ll have to lose a little weight…..

As you can see it’s been another fine day, after a cold night. Tomorrow should be cloudier but dry, so I intend to make a start on the gunwale paintwork. It took a bit of a bashing through the winter.

Locks 4, miles 5½

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Into Deepest Cheshire

We shoved across to the wharf at The Canal Centre above Hassall Green Locks at 09:30 this morning. We needed to replace an empty gas bottle and get a couple of bags of solid fuel to tide us over. It’s a handy spot, this, with diesel, solid fuel and gas available, alongside a small general store and café. It was another cool, overcast morning, so I’d laid and lit the fire before we got off.

There was a boat coming up the locks as we finished our business, so the first two of the day were with us.

Out of Hassall Green Bottom Lock, with the M6 running overhead.

I re-boarded for the 10 minutes cruise to the next lock, but from there on there was no point as the locks come comfortably close together.

They were built with speed in mind, so empty and fill rapidly.

Turbulence as Lock 60 empties.

You wouldn’t want to fall in there….

It's not just the ducks that've been busy....

Unfortunately we were following another boat down so had to turn the next 3 or 4 locks, but then started meeting a steady stream of craft so could swap locks as we went.

Below Malkin’s Bank, the Cheshire Plain in the background.

The last 2 chambers, above the village of Wheelock, are very close together, and Mags had to swing wide around the ex- Fellows, Morton and Clayton motorboat Dove as the 2 boats swapped over.

In the last lock above Wheelock, with NB Dove in the lock above.

This was the last of the day, too, as we pulled in on the moorings near the village.

Lighting the fire was a waste of fuel, by the time we’d moored the sun was shining and it was getting quite warm.

I had a walk to Pet Superstore just over the main road and topped up the dog food cupboard, including a bag of tripe sticks which Meg is very fond of. But they don’t half pong!

Tomorrow is another short day into Middlewich. We’re hoping to stop above King’s Lock, and to stay till Saturday. Apparently there’s something on TV on Friday that Mags wants to watch…. I guess it’ll be a trip to the chippy for tea.

Locks 10, miles 2

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Moving on down….

We moved down the last of the Red Bull locks on Sunday after shuffling back to the wharf and topping up the water tank. We didn’t go far, just down three locks and around the corner. It’s a bit quieter there, just as many boats of course, but fewer pedestrians.

Dropping down the Red Bull Locks

Towrope roller below Lock 44.

These were fitted to protect the stonework from gritty ropes.

New gates for Lock 45 south side.

These locks, like a lot of those on “Heartbreak Hill” were duplicated to speed up traffic. This means that maintenance can be carried out on a lock chamber while the navigation remains open.

26 narrow locks in 6½ miles earned this section the nickname, although it must have been quicker when the extra chambers were added.

We watched the boats whizz past on Sunday afternoon and Monday and Meg and I had some good walks around the area.

All Saints Church, Church Lawton


Today we waited for the initial flurry of boats to die down as the early-birds got going, then set off ourselves, at around 10:45.

Down the two Church Locks

The duplicated chambers are clear to see, but unfortunately on both of these locks are not in use.

Hall’s Locks follow, with a fine brick built tail bridge across locks.

Hall’s Lock bridge.

The Lawton Treble Locks follow straight after, then there’s a short reprieve and just time for a brew before the two at Thurlwood are met.

The canal skirts the village of Rode Heath, and here we saw our first “proper” yellow duckling.

Easter chick?

From Thurlwood Bottom Lock there’s just less than a mile before the two closely spaced Pierpoint Locks, then we pulled in above Lock 57 at Hassel Green.

Pierpoint Locks.

It’s been a lot cooler today, and we even had a few spits of rain just after we’d tied up. We had a really good run, every lock was in our favour, with a couple just needing an inch or two of topping up before the gates would open. We’ll be heading down the last 10 of the 26 tomorrow, intending to stop at Wheelock.

I see the "silly season" started early this year.....

Locks 10, miles 3

Friday, April 22, 2011

Up the hill, through the hole and back down the other side.

Good Friday? Oh yes. Another fine day and a very pleasant cruise.

We knew today was going to be quite long so pulled pins and got away before 9 o’clock.

Past the Wedgwood Factory…

Josiah Wedgwood was the driving force behind the construction of the canal. Along with 2 other local businessmen, Erasmus Darwin and Thomas Bentley, he recognised that a canal from the Trent to the Mersey would enable him to ship his pottery products more quickly and safely, as well as bringing coal and raw materials in to the factories.

20 minutes took us to Trentham Lock.

I don’t think that should happen….

There must be quite a large void behind the lock wall….

These are known as “pissers”.

I wonder why?

While we were in Trentham Lock I tried to remove the chimney from roof collar, ready for Harecastle Tunnel. I knew it was a bit dodgy….


That’s why I made a dash into the chandlers yesterday, for a new one. We might need one again, yet.

From the lock the canal cuts through Trentham itself then heads for the southern outskirts of Stoke.

Cock Turkey showing off.

This factory on the side of the canal at Bridge 109 is a common landmark for us.

Not just from the canal; it also stands alongside the A500 link road to the M6 from the east, a route we often used to drive. Don’t know what it makes but I’d guess it’s pottery related.

There are 5 locks through Stoke to the summit level, the last one being the very deep Summit Lock next to the Etruscan Bone and Flint Mill.

Summit Lock, a long way down.

The first time we came up this lock I raised the paddles too quickly, the boat shot forward and stopped with a jolt against the cill. Unfortunately quite a bit of the glassware didn’t….

Needless to say I take it very gently, now.

We’d done well with the locks, either they were in our favour or a boat was on the way down. Often there was another waiting as well, so we didn’t even have to close the top gates.

The canal winds around the cleared area where the extensive Shelton Steelworks once stood.

No more steelworks in Stoke.

In it’s heyday Shelton Bar employed 10,000, and had it’s own collieries and railway system. Closed in 2000, it has now been completely demolished.

Iconic Potteries – restored bottle kilns.

We arrived at the south portal of Harecastle Tunnel just after 1 o’clock, joining a Black Prince hire boat waiting to go through. They’d just picked the boat up from Festival Park Marina, and were taking it around the Four Counties Ring. With 10 on board, they’ve plenty of lock wheelers, anyway!

Waiting at Harecastle.

There were 2 boats in the tunnel heading south, and as it’s one way working controlled by tunnel-keepers, they had to be out before we could go in.

This is the “new” tunnel, completed in 1827 to a design by Thomas Telford. It was needed because the old Brindley tunnel, also being one-way, caused a major bottleneck as the canal got busier. For a time both tunnels were in use, one northbound and one southbound, but in 1914 the old tunnel had to be closed due to a partial collapse, believed to have been caused by vibration from the adjacent railway tunnel.

Brindley’s original 1777 tunnel.

There are two more bores through Harecastle Hill, carrying railways. The first was built in the mid 19th C, and ran parallel to and slightly above the Telford canal tunnel. This was closed in the late 1960’s when the line was diverted around the hill, with just the short 243 yard Kidsgrove Tunnel at the northern end. There’re some pictures and info about the railway tunnels here.

We were in the tunnel after an hour’s wait, and emerged into the sunshine 1¾ miles and 40 minutes later.

Out of the northern portal, boats waiting to head south.

The ochre colour of the water is caused by iron ore deposits in the hill washing out into the tunnel.

We passed Harding’s Wood Junction where the Macclesfield Canal heads off, then dropped down the first 3 locks of the Red Bull flight before pulling over below Lock 43.

Out of Lock 42, with Poole’s Aqueduct carrying the Macclesfield Canal over the Trent and Mersey.

6 hour’s cruising today, but it’s been very enjoyable. A day off tomorrow, though.

Hey, Carol. Never mind what it looks like, how does it taste???

Locks 9, miles 11½

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Barlaston Bound

We got a relatively early start today; with this amount of traffic about we thought we’d try to avoid the queues at the locks.

First of the day, Star Lock

We topped up with water just below the lock, then got away. A couple of early-birds had already gone up, but there was no-one ahead of us as we got through the lock.

After Yard Lock I trotted along to the chandlery at Stone Boatbuilders while Mags brought Seyella along the pound, then we had a short wait while NB Flat Bottomed Girl came down Newcastle Road Lock.

Newcastle Road Lock under the bridge.

The tunnel on the left saves crossing the busy road.

The 4 locks in Stone were the first to be constructed on the Trent and Mersey Canal. Work began in 1766, but it was 11 years before the whole route was open, the last bit being the 1¾ mile long Harecastle Tunnel at the summit. Digging a 9 foot wide tunnel that distance was a considerable achievement with the equipment available at the time.

The last of the 4 locks in Stone is Limekiln, then there’s time for a brew before getting to the bottom of Meaford Locks.

Here we slowed down dramatically with 2 single-handers in the flight ahead of us. So a steady climb up the 4 locks saw us out at the top by 12:30.

In Meaford Flight

Another 3 miles of gentle cruising and we pulled over between Barlaston and Trentham near the Wedgewood factory moorings.

I always envy the owner of this house near Barlaston.

Large gardens, fine house and your own moorings. Bliss.

Moored near Bridge 104.

Locks 8, miles 3¾

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Busy to Stone

Before we set off this morning there seemed to be a continuous stream of boats going past, most of them in the same direction as us!

We dropped into a gap at around 10:30, heading to Weston Lock about 10 minutes away.

Queueing at Weston Lock.

The other side of Weston Upon Trent is the small village of Salt. There was a small salt production industry around here, and I guess that the village is named for that.

South of Weston there’s a hamlet called Shirleywich. Shirley for the family that developed the industry, wich for salt, as in Middlewich and Northwich.

Decorative brickwork at Salt Bridge.

The Trent valley here is delightful, peaceful apart from the occasional intercity whooshing along the nearby West Coast Main Line. It’s a sad fact that canal and railway building both require much the same terrain with shallow gradients. And of course they fulfilled much the same function. So canal and railway can often be found side by side.

The trains didn’t bother these guys enjoying the sunshine…

While the youngsters just chilled.

In a few places along the canal there’s evidence of dismantled bridges, narrow sections with raised banks either side. There must have been a rationalisation programme at some point, renumbering the bridges.

Original Bridge 90, now Bridge 85

After queueing at both Weston and Sandon Locks it was a pleasant surprise to arrive at Aston with no boats waiting. In fact there was a boat in the lock coming down with another above, so it worked out well.

Aston Lock

Aston is the halfway point along the 92 mile canal.

Halfway milepost

From the Trent at Shardlow to the Bridgewater Canal and the link to the Mersey at Preston Brook the canal rises over 300 feet through 40 locks to Kidsgrove, then drops back to around the 80 foot contour through a further 36 locks.

We thought about stopping just above the lock but there was no room, so we toddled on into Stone.

I thought we’d lucked out here as well, with a long row of boats filling the 5 day moorings below Star Lock. But there are 2 spaces just above the winding hole, and one was empty so we dived in there. A bit closer to the road than we’d have liked, but beggars can’t be choosers. The alternative would have been to go through Stone to the moorings near Bridge 96. There are some moorings in the town, but we’ve never seen them empty yet.

Coming into Stone we were set upon by an angry swan. Looking around we could see that his consort was sitting on the nest, so he was just being protective.

First he flew in to attack the bow….

Then set about trying to unravel the stern button.

They’re fearless in defence of their families, but also ruthless. Ducklings and sometimes adult ducks are attacked and drowned if they compete for food and territory.

Locks 3, miles 7½