Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A quiet day.

There’s been a few boats up and down today. Last night there were around half a dozen moored along the towpath here, but by late morning they’d all gone, leaving us on our own for a while. This evening’s visitors have arrived, now.

Meg and I took a walk this morning towards Northwich, and were surprised to see work going on at Billinge Green Flash. Since 2005 various planning applications for a marina here have been rejected, but it looks like the developers have finally got their way.

Digging out the flash.SAM_9220


The derelict boat that has marked the shallows for decades has been removed, and a silt barrier strung along the line of the canal, presumably to stop disturbed mud from the excavation running into the canal.

I can’t find any information on the web about it, and the sign isn’t very informative…SAM_9221

The original application was by a company called Ripple Developments. I think the marina is going to be called Whispering Reeds. The naff name alone would be enough for the council to reject it!

This is nothing to do with the other marina under construction on the towpath side, a half mile further on. This is being built by Travelreign, who run Nantwich Basin and Uplands Marina in Anderton.

On the subject of the sunken boat, the flashes were used by the British Waterways Board to dispose of redundant boats in the 1960s. A lot were recovered by enthusiasts for restoration, but this one appears to have been deliberately anchored to warn of the shallow water.
It is believed it could have been the Brill, a Fish Class wooden boat built in the 1930s for Fellows, Morton and Clayton’s Northern fleet. It finally finished up in the hands of BWB, cut down and used as a maintenance boat.

? NB Brill? taken in 2009…
Billinge Green Flash 2
and in 2011.
Billinge Green Flash

While pottering about I had my camera handy, catching a passing grebe…SAM_9229

…and Ma and Pa taking the kids out.

Hi Graham, I thought about varnish, but I’ve got a can of decking oil I use on the coal platform on the roof, so I gave it two coats of that instead. I know, no chance of either paint or varnish now!
I’m keeping an eye on what you’re up to over the water…

We’ll be toddling on tomorrow, stopping somewhere to sit out Thursday’s rain.

Locks 0, miles 0

Monday, April 28, 2014

Birdsong, blossom and butterflies

What a splendid day today. Warm in the sunshine, and very little wind. As we cruised along above the Dane valley, we were delighted by the smell of blossom, the sight of butterflies flitting through the trees, and a soundtrack of cheeps and chirps, whistles and warbles from the branches above.

But I‘m getting ahead of myself. On Saturday, after visiting Kings Lock Chandlery, we dropped down the four narrow locks through Middlewich.

The first was Kings Lock, sandwiched between the Kings Lock pub on one side and the Kings Lock chippy on the other.

Kings Lock, lock and pub.SAM_9167
I can’t comment on the pub, but the chippy was up to it’s normal, excellent standard.

We topped off the water tank just below the lock, entertained by a long hire boat trying to make the turn from the Wardle Branch towards Kings Lock. It’s a tight turn, and he didn’t start the manoeuvre soon enough, so the brisk wind soon had him pinned to the bank opposite the junction.SAM_9168

Another boat turning into the junction didn’t help, pushing him back over when he’d just got clear…
There was nothing we could do from where we were, and eventually he got enough distance from the bank to complete the turn.

It was busy at the hire bases as we passed through, it being a Saturday and a change-over day.

Past Middlewich Narrowboats.SAM_9171
Since the recent buy-out the boats are in a different livery and look a lot smarter.

The remaining three locks are closely spaced, dropping the canal over 32’.

There was plenty of water coming down the locks, a bit too much for the pound between Locks 72 and 73.

Full pound.

Dropping down the Middlewich LocksSAM_9173

The other hire base, Andersen Boats below the locks.SAM_9174

We pulled in near the small park before Big Lock. Mags took a picture of me tying up with Meg supervising… SAM_9180

It’s handy here for shopping in the town centre, and Meg had an appointment with the vet, just 10 minutes walk away, this morning. There’s no problem, I just wanted her to have a look at Megs arthritis, and give me another prescription for Metacam. She’s certainly doing well on the stuff, and I think the warm weather is helping. She wants to play ball for the first time in a month, so I’ve indulged her, but only for a short session at a time.

I had a walk around the Maker’s Market up in town, local artisans selling food and glassware, pottery and fabrics.

There was also a group of Morris Dancers, jigging about and threatening each other with sticks…
2014-04-26 13.30.45

I came back with some cheese and onion pie for tea, pork pie for me and fudge for Mags.

One of the items I’d bought at the chandlery was a new domestic water pump. I’d mentioned that ours had become noisy and slow, now with a new Jabsco unit fitted we’re back to normal. I got that done on Sunday morning, before we had a visit from Pete and Dawn, out walking Lucy and Maddie.

Pete and Dawn, NB White AtlasSAM_9181

So, back to today. After Meg’s vet visit I walked back towards the top of town, where there’s a foam supplier. Our saloon chairs are getting a bit hard in the seat after getting on for 8 years of bums, so I got a couple of pieces of 30mm thick foam to bolster the seat padding. It’ll make them last a little longer…

Then it was a visit to Tesco for groceries before we were ready to go.

I’d got chatting to our stern-to-stern neighbours a couple of times, they’re stuck at then moment with engine trouble, it appears that some sort of blanking plate has fallen off the side of the crankcase, dropping all the oil into the bilge. Not good. All being well the engineer should fix it tomorrow, though.  Hope everything works out OK, John and Judith. Good talking to you.

There was a rush of boats up and down the canal through the morning, but by noon and our departure things had quietened down. We motored around the corner to Big Lock, and  left Mags on the lock landing while I filled the lock. As Mag went in I checked if anyone else was coming to share the broad lock with, but couldn’t  see anyone. I’d just closed up and lifted a bottom paddle when a boat I’d missed appeared, so I put the six inches I’d let out back in and they joined us.

Sharing Big LockSAM_9183
This lock was built to broad-beam standard to allow salt barges to trade between Middlewich and Anderton and Barnton Wharfs. The original aqueduct over the River Dane just outside of the town was also wide, but was damaged during flooding and replaced by a narrow steel structure.

The “new” Croxton Aqueduct

Shortly the first of the flashes, Croxton, is passed. These are shallow depressions caused by subsidence from brine pumping, now filled with water.

Croxton FlashSAM_9186

The design of the bridges along this stretch allows for the subsidence. A flat deck on brick abutments is far easier to raise than the more traditional brick arch when the ground starts to sink.

Bridge 176SAM_9191

Cruising through the trees above the DaneSAM_9193



…and bluebells.

South flash was our destination for today.SAM_9208
It looks very inviting, but many boats have run aground venturing to far from the established channel.

A visitor looking for anything edible

Another job was the assembly of a new short shaft, or boathook. I broke the last one recovering a floating table near Kidsgrove. I’d bought the shaft and brass hook the other day, now it was a matter of fitting them together.

The shaft shaped to fit…

…and the hook fitted.

Not sure whether to varnish or paint the shaft.

We’ll stay put tomorrow, a few more jobs on the agenda.

Locks 5, miles 5

Friday, April 25, 2014

Following the hire boats to Middlewich

Before we set off this morning we were passed by a convoy of hire boats, all heading back to Anderton, presumably for hand-over tomorrow. It must have been busy at Wheelock last night! Mixed in were one or two private boats, too.

There was no rush for us to get going, we didn’t want to get involved in long queues at the locks ahead, the only imperative was to get tied up before the rain started.

By Ettiley Heath there’s a huge housing development going on, it must run for half a mile between the canal and the railway.SAM_9149

Just the other side of Moss Lane is another housing estate, this one now occupying much of the site of Foden’s, the truck manufacturer. The factory was a foundry in the mid-19th century, turning to production of stationary steam engines then developing steam powered commercial vehicles.
They started using diesel power plants in 1932, producing diesel trucks alongside the existing steam wagons. 1935 saw the end of the steam lorry production in favour of internal combustion.

Another company, ERF, was set up in 1933 by Edwin Foden  following a board level disagreement. Edwin was the brother of William, son of the founder, who (William) had retired in 1924. ERF was based nearby in Sandbach.

Both companies prospered through the heyday of the British motor industry, but declined during towards the end of the last century, subsequently bought by MAN, the Sandbach  ERF site was closed in 2002. Foden production, now under the ownership of the American truck company PACCAR, finally ceased in 2006, the last truck off the line delivered to the British Commercial Vehicle Museum in Lancashire.

We’re now entering one of the major centres for salt production in Cheshire, and a legacy of removal of brine from below the surface is subsidence. The canal banks have had to be repeatedly raised to keep the water where it belongs.

Successive layers of concrete raise the canal banksSAM_9152

Our first lock was Crow’s Nest Lock, and we arrived just as a boat was leaving.

Good timing…SAM_9153

Then, a little further on, we had the two Booth Lane Locks to deal with, alongside the busy A533.

Mags cruising between Booth Lane Top and BottomSAM_9154  

A kestrel keeps an eye out for lunch as we approach Rumps LockSAM_9161

Rumps was empty when we arrived and a boat was heading towards us from Middlewich so we waited and brought them up the lock before we went down.

Dropping down Rumps Lock

Above Kings Lock there’s a large population of swans, thriving under the protection of the local people.

Middlewich swansSAM_9165
In fact, the fence which keeps the birds off the road was largely paid for by local subscription.

We just made it, it started to rain as we tied up and it’s not stopped since.

Fish and chips from Kings Lock chippy tonight, shopping at the chandlery tomorrow then move on down the Middlewich Locks.

Locks 4, miles 4¼

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A bit of kerfuffle at Wheelock

As I came back from my run this morning I passed the locks that we were to be descending later. The pound between L65 and L66 was almost dry, apparently quite a common occurrence. I’d helped a hire boat last night who was struggling to get out of L66, coming uphill. We had to drop a couple of lock-fulls of water into the pound to get him across.

By the time I’d showered, had breakfast and was out with Meg a couple of boats had turned up, one above and one below. There was a fair bit of water coming down the by-wash, but they had to open up the sluices at both ends of the upper lock to get some more down.

Lock 65 / 66 pound this morningSAM_9132

Our mooring was in the longish pound above Lock 65, and of course this is where the water was being drawn from, with inevitable results…

Ooh ‘eck!SAM_9133


We were well stuck, but I had a few jobs to do before we were to get away so was hoping for a few boats coming down to bring water with them. Unfortunately more were going up than coming down, inevitable really when you consider the moorings below the locks at Wheelock.

Finally a boat started coming down from above, I felt the surge of water as he opened the paddles and got the bow pushed out. But the stern was still stuck fast, it took two of us, with Mags stood at the fore-end, to get it clear.

We let the descending boat go first, only fair really, then scraped our way across the still-low pound to wait for a boat coming up, the ex-working boat NB Badger

Swapping locks with NB BadgerSAM_9135

The short pound looks a bit fuller now…SAM_9136

In Lock 66, the bottom of the Wheelock Flight, with a sigh of relief.SAM_9137
It took over an hour to negotiate the two locks…

I hear it’s to do with the new gates on Lock 65, and old ones on Lock 66. The new gates are tight, preventing leaks into the short pound, but the old ones aren’t, so the pound tends to to empty overnight. The old ones are going to get replaced next winter, all being well.

We topped up with water and emptied the loos, then moved through the bridge to moor so I could get some bread and milk from the village shop and dog food from the pet food shop.

Leaving Wheelock Wharf

Shopping done and lunch partaken of we pushed on, through the bendy bits along the River Wheelock valley, and moored at Paddy’s Wood.

Lush fields at this time of year

A fortnight ago the sight of ducklings created a period of excitement. Now they’re getting commonplace…

Another batch of ducklings… yawn.

Moored opposite Yeowood Farm at Paddy’s WoodSAM_9145
I’d checked up on Brian and Anne-Marie’s website last night, and knew they were heading our way today. A flurry of text messages confirmed they were passing us this afternoon, a chance to get fuel stocks topped up.

NB Alton approachesSAM_9146

Diesel and coal transferred, tea and coffee drunk and gossip swapped, and they were on their way.

Anne-Marie just looked away at the wrong time!

This lovely couple work hard to keep boaters supplied. They left Acton Bridge this morning, and will be stopping near Red Bull tonight. Tomorrow they intend to be back at base, Oak Grove on the Macclesfield, to reload for another trip.
That would be 48 locks and 40 miles in two days! It’d take us two weeks…

Locks 2, miles 1½ (more our pace).

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

More locks, less rain.

A bright start this morning, and we managed to get our day’s cruising in without any of the forecasted showers bothering us. We weren’t going far, these days we pace ourselves on the Cheshire Locks, known to generations of working boatmen as “Heartbreak Hill”. If you do them way we do, over two-three easy days, they’re actually very enjoyable.

Meg and I walked along to set the first lock of the day, the top one of the Pierpoint Locks. Several boats had already gone past so I expected to have to fill it, and wasn’t wrong.

Pierpoint LocksSAM_9119

Both of these locks are single, not duplicated. There doesn’t seem to be enough spce for an adjacent chamber on the offside, but there are unnecessarily large entrances to the by-wash culverts. I guess the far side lock wall (on the extreme left) has been completely removed.

The first six locks today came in pairs, Pierpoint, Hassall Green, and a pair between the M6 and Malkins Bank. Meg and I rode the long gaps, walked the short ones.

Hassall Green top lock number 57, and a boat just coming up.SAM_9120
It was breezy today, but not quite the gale that those trees seem to imply…

There used to be be diesel and coal available here, sold from the cafe, but the cafe has closed, and the fuel supply gone with it.

Hassall GreenSAM_9121

We were planning to moor near the golf course at Malkins Bank, but we were going so well and it was a pleasant day, so we pushed on, down another four, to moor near the bridge that used to carry the Salt Line.

Passing C&RT’s heritage boat NB Scorpio
Old working boats like this can have problems on these flights of narrow locks. They were built to a standard 7’ wide, and like the majority of us, tend to get a bit of middle age spread.
The locks, on the other hand, are going the other way. Over the years the ground has settled, pushing the chamber walls inwards. Modern boats are now built at 6’10” to overcome this problem, but this doesn’t help the oldsters… 

In this case, at Lock 63, there’s no choice. The problem has got so bad in the older chamber that it’s been closed.

Malkins Bank, canal settlementSAM_9124

Mags brings Seyella into Lock 64, our last for today

Two pairs of lock gates..SAM_9130

SAM_9131Moored above Lock 65

We had a rash of boats about earlier today, then a quiet spell, now we’ve got the last flurry of hire boats thrashing their way around the Four Counties Ring in a week…

Since we’ve stopped we’ve had a few showers, and the forecast tells us that there’s more to come over the next few days. It is only April, though.

Hi Sue, Carol. Yes, it was a mad moment!

Sue, you can always tell if boats have been up to the tunnel; our weed line is orange! (I hope it’s not rust…)

Locks 10, miles 2