Thursday, March 31, 2016

We couldn’t have chosen a better day…

…to drop down the Wigan Locks. Sunny most of the day, hardly any wind, no rain. Excellent.

Our first helper arrived at around 09:00, Paul Balmer had travelled up by train to give us a hand.

We were away soon after, a sharp left turn took us straight into the top lock.IMG_8892

One down, 22 to go!

With Paul closing up and me going ahead to set the locks we made good progress, working from one to another without Mags having to hold off and wait.

Winch assistance for some short balance beams

First view of All Saints, Wigan .

It’s hard to imagine now, but the lock flight was flanked by heavy industry, collieries and steelworks dropping down the slope on the east of the town, cotton mills in and near the centre.

A spoil heap gives a clue…

Jan off NB Waiouru joined us part-way down, and was welcome as Mags was starting to flag. By this time she’d steered through 10 of the locks. So I took over the tiller, leaving Jan with setting up duties.

With a little help from our friends – Jan and Paul at Lock 77IMG_8901

We pulled in for a brew between 77 and 78, then set off on the lower half of the flight. It changes character from here, there’s a cluster of houses around the road crossing at Rose Bridge, then light industry takes over.

Below Rose Bridge
No, I’ve not been cloned. Since the brew-break Paul took the tiller and I resumed with the setting ahead. Meg came off and joined me, but having already spent most of the flight up and down the towpath, she, like her Mum, was feeling the strain. At L82 she sat and refused to follow me down to the next one, only getting up when she realised she’d be left behind!

Tired pooch
She got back aboard and rode the rest of the way.

Lock 85, the last of the Wigan Locks we’ll tackle today, in sight.IMG_8910

It was here we had a bit of a pause, waiting for two boats to come up.IMG_8911
These were the first boats we’d seen, and also the first CRT chap as well!

Down the last lock with a sigh of relief and a brew as we came to the junction at the bottom and turned left onto the Leigh Branch.

Left to Leigh and points south, right to Liverpool.


A little further on we came to the last two locks for some days, at Poolstock.

Poolstock Top Lock, St James’ Church in the backgroundIMG_8918

Quack, quack, quack!


The top lock had been re-gated but the bottom was as leaky as ever, taking all the paddles up put enough water in to counteract the flow out between the bottom gates. But we got there in the end…

Having said goodbye to Jan at the junction, Paul now took his leave, and we set off south between the Wigan flashes, subsidence caused by coal extraction.

Scotsman’s Flash on the right…

…and Pearson’s on the left.

Just over an hour of steady cruising along the wide branch and we arrived at Dover Locks where we called it a day. There are no locks here now, shifts in ground levels due to mining subsidence required a re-alignment of the canal, the locks that were here were moved up to Poolstock.

Cruising through Dover Lock 1

Moored after a long day.
It would have been considerably longer without the assistance of Paul and Jan. Very much appreciated, people!

With the locks out of the way for a while we can make some distance now.

Hiya Sue! Hope we didn't disappoint!

Locks 23, miles 5½

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Ready for the big ‘un

After the Caen Hill flight on the Kennet and Avon Canal, the toughest flight of broad locks on the system has to be the Wigan flight. Over a distance of a little under two miles the Leeds and Liverpool Canal drops 201 feet through 21 locks. There are another two just below the junction, slightly removed from “the thick”, taking the totals up to 215 feet and 23 respectively.
Tomorrow we’ll be tackling the 21, then turning left at Wigan Junction to finish the descent with the two Poolstock Locks. From there we have a long, long level pound, all the way to Middlewich on the Trent and Mersey, 52 miles away. For the purists among you – you can hardly count the diminutive fall at Dutton Stop Lock, can you?

Anyway that’s for the morrow, back to today. Rain met us when we woke up, fairly light but wet nonetheless At least it wasn’t snow...

We weren’t quite ready to go when our locking partners from yesterday turned up, so they set off sharing with another boat that had arrived last night.
This left us as billy-no-mates looking forward to working down the seven Johnson’s Hillock Locks on our own. But just as I’d got the lock filled a hire boat turned up. “Do you want to join us?” I shouted across. “We’ve just got to fill with water”, was the reply. “Do you mind waiting?”  Oh no, not at all!

With Mags on our tiller and a steerer on theirs we still had four crew to work the locks and dropped down easily, clearing the seven locks in 75 minutes. Good do.

The hirers were actually just one couple, the other couple were friends visiting for a few days. I was surprised when they arrived, Silsden hire boats wouldn’t normally get this far but it turned out that this one is out for eight weeks! The couple who’ve hired it are maybe heading for Birmingham, but haven’t any definite plans. Unfortunately they won’t be here at Wigan Locks till Friday or Saturday, it would have been good to share these with them too!

Johnson’s Hillock Locks


We parted company at the bottom of the locks, as they were stopping for a well-earned brew. We pushed on, eating on the hoof.

Leaving the locks, the Walton Summit Branch on the left.IMG_8869

At the bottom of Johnson’s Hillock Locks the lower end of the Lancaster Canal sets off, heading for Preston. Now known as the Walton Summit Branch of the L&L, it should have crossed the River Ribble on an aqueduct, then joined the northern section of the Lancaster Canal at Preston, connecting it to the main network. But financial restrictions meant that the aqueduct was never built, instead a tramway connected the two ends until the canal fell into disuse. Now even the short 3½ mile branch has been further truncated by the building of the M6 motorway.

The southern end Lancaster Canal was intended to join the Bridgewater Canal near Westhoughton, but an agreement during the construction of the Leeds and Liverpool saw  both canals sharing the stretch we’ve covered this afternoon, from Johnson’s bottom lock to the top of Wigan Locks. The locks here and the Leigh Branch were constructed by the L&LCC, the locks in 1816 and the branch opening in 1820.

We had a steady run along the wide and fairly deep channel, making good time until encountering the long lines of moored craft near Adlington.

Across the fields the the pale grey walls of the Mormon Church north of Chorley stand out in the sunshine.

Dedicated to a different god entirely, the retail outlet of Botany BayIMG_8871 

Fat boats…

…and an extremely narrow boat!

Our first duckling!

The ten or eleven miles to Wigan Locks runs past Chorley and Adlington, neither settlement having much impact on the navigation apart from a boatyard apiece and the inevitable moored boats. The sections of open country are a relief, though.IMG_8875

A last look back at the moors

Arriving at the top of the locks we were surprised not to see that two boats that had preceded us down Johnson’s. Chatting to the lockie after we tied up  was further surprised to hear they’d not gone down. So we must have passed them somewhere without noticing! 

Wigan Top Lock is just around the corner to the right.IMG_8891 
The canal continues ahead, a short, choked length of what was the original Lancaster Canal route. We moored on here, just in front of the blue boat in the distance.

An early night tonight, we’ve a long day tomorrow. But there’s help on the way…

Locks 7, miles 11½

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

An interesting start to a long day.

This morning we’d intended to move at around half-nine, just as the forecasted showers eased, so we’d have a dry spell for Blackburn Locks. But it was a bit of a shock to get up to a blizzard!


By ten it had eased and we even had a glimmer of sunshine, so we pushed off. It was only a glimmer though. Light rain showers dogged us on the way into Blackburn.
Coming into the town by canal is fairly typical of most. First you have the out-of-town retail parks on the fringes, like where we moored. Then the industrial suburbs, with old factories now demolished or converted into small business units.

Imperial cotton spinning mill.


Daisyfield Mill
Built as Apperley’s Corn Mill in 1870, now occupied by small businesses included Granada TV News for the Lancashire region.

The Graham and Brown wallcoverings factory sports a wallpapered phone box!IMG_8820

The final zone is the regeneration band, where earlier housing has given way to modern development.

Snowy rooftops
Those clouds are still full…

Eanam Wharf

We arrived at the top lock in a dry spell, and I changed from heavy jacket to a lighter one, more suitable for lock-work, while the lock was filling.

We were just on the way out of the chamber when another boat arrived behind us, so we waited for them in the second. Sharing the locks on the way down made life a little easier, but I was still busy enough to forget the camera. Hence no pictures till I retrieved it two from the bottom.

In Lock 55, our locking partner below maneuvering to get near the water tap. The work boats moored there don’t help!IMG_8840

Looking back up from L56. There was rubbish all the way down, but it was particularly bad in this one.

Skinny cyclist at the service wharf

A couple of boats appeared coming up, so we had the last lock set in our favour. Then it was the long pound out of Blackburn, past Riley Green and to the top of Johnson's Hillock Locks.

Leaving Blackburn’s bottom

Blue skies for a short while

Riley Green Marina
We pulled in beyond Riley Green Bridge for 20 minutes. Meg and I both needed a comfort break, and since we left the locks the tiller had been vibrating at anything above tick-over, and tick-over itself had reduced our progress to a crawl. A sure sign of a fouled prop.
A bag full of plastic, cloth and weed all bound together with fishing line needed to be removed before it was clean again. The stop also allowed a load of weed from around the sharp end to drift away which would also have hampered our progress.

With Meg and I both emptied, Meg fed and me about to be with a butty and a mug of tea in hand, we set off again.

The left hand, southern bank of the canal starts to rise towards Withnell Fold, the fast running water coming down from Withnell Moor initially providing power for several mills, later converted to steam.

Withnell Fold.

There’s good moorings here for a couple of boats, but it’s a bit gloomy opposite the stone wall of an old mill.

Mum and twins

Don’t guinea fowl look odd…

Arriving at the top of Johnson’s Hillock Locks the long line of moored boats on the towpath side made my heart sink…

…but the visitor moorings are on the offside, just above the lock, and there’s plenty of room.IMG_8859
Phew, we couldn’t have tackled another seven locks today.

We topped up the water tank, then pushed across to moor. It started to rain again, and it’s just stopped. Looks like a clear night ahead.

We seem to have lost our locking partners. We discussed sharing these and maybe Wigan Locks, but they stopped for lunch below Blackburn and we’ve not seen them since! Must have been something I said…

Locks 6, miles 11