Friday, March 31, 2017

Just around the corner…

The owners of the nursery at Wrenbury Frith are up to something across the canal, a nice new white gate has been installed off the towpath and there’re signs of activity in the field. The lift bridge here is normally chained up in the open position, but with all the activity it’s down through the day, although it can be boater-operated as normal. They do lock it open overnight though, after about 3 o’clock. So last afternoon we took advantage of it being up and moved just a few hundred yards to the other side, nearer Wrenbury.

This morning we had another short cruise, a little longer but not much. Two lift bridges and a half of a mile, in fact.

Mags comes through Wrenbury Mill Lift Bridge…

It had started to rain as soon as we set off, and the wind had picked up too. Good job we weren’t going far.

Church Lift Bridge was a bit trickier, with the wind blowing across the cut, but Mags steered through without any problem and cruised on to pull in a little further on while I untangled a lump of briar that Meg had managed to get wrapped around her back legs…

Moored across the fields from Wrenbury Church, just past the lift bridge.IMG_3834

Even after just a 20 minute cruise Meg insists on a post-trip ball session!IMG_3835
Only a few minutes now, though, else she suffers later. But she does enjoy it.

Tomorrow it looks like we’ll be dodging the showers as we head towards Hurleston.

Locks 0, miles 1

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

A good few days, then back among the locks.

What a beautiful weekend that was! With bright sunshine over Saturday and Sunday I barely had to run the engine for power! Of course, come Monday we were back to normal…

Val and John came over on Sunday, bearing gifts for Mags, Val’s “other mother”. Then on Monday we moved the short distance from the Whitchurch Arm to the moorings above Grindley Brook Locks.

Coming out of the Whitchurch Arm.
It’s too tight to turn right here, so to head for the locks you first have to head back “uphill” for a couple of hundred yards to a winding hole where you can turn around.

I took great pains not to disturb this expectant mother near the winding hole.IMG_3813
She opened one bleary eye then went back to sleep. Meanwhile her mate was patrolling the canal hissing at the passing boats.

It was less than a mile to the moorings where we stayed the night. In the morning, Tuesday now, we moved on down to the taps to fill with water and picked up Val and John again. They were joining us for the day to help with the locks.
Boats were on the move by now, and we had a half-hour wait for two coming up before we could make a start.
Traffic was flowing well with two lockies on hand, unlike over the weekend when apparently there was water running down the towpath on a couple of occasions when crews got the levels on the triple staircase wrong!

With plenty of folk with windlasses around, I stayed aboard down the staircase, then Mags took over for the three individual chambers further down.

The lock house, now private

Coming down the triple staircase, Val and John and one of the lockies on the lockside.IMG_3818


…and not just around the gates!

With the staircase done the official assistance came to an end, so I swapped with Mags for the three singles.IMG_3822

Out of the bottom lock, under the old railway bridge and we moored on the end of the visitor moorings a little further on. Home-made soup and fresh bread (Val’s) made a welcome lunch on what was quite a chilly day. Our guests left us to head back home late afternoon. We’re heading further and further away from them now, so opportunities for visits are getting less frequent. There’s a  plan to meet up in Chester in a week or two’s time, though.

This morning the first boats were on the move at just after eight, heading up. We’d had at least half a dozen moored near us last night. The first of the down-hill boats went past at just around half-nine, so we gave them half an hour and set off in pursuit.

Grey and gloomy as we set off

Aren’t sheep funny, they’ve got all that field but they have to stay in line, winding up and over the hill.IMG_3825

We’d timed it well, by the time we’d refilled, entered and were dropping down in Povey’s Lock there were another three boats behind us.

Povey’s Lock, the first of four today

Watersports, mallard style.
He was working hard against the flow coming down the bywash. You’d have thought he’d have just flown up, but maybe he likes a challenge…

Willymoor and Quoisley Locks come soon after, then there’s a bit of a gap before Marbury Lock.

Unusually there are railings along the lock side at MarburyIMG_3830

The canal steadily descends from Grindley Brook to the Shropshire Union Main Line below Hurleston as it heads down to the Cheshire Plain. It drops 135 feet through 19 locks from Whitchurch to Hurleston.

We were tempted to pull in below the lock, but the day was still fine so we pressed on, finally stopping just short of Wrenbury. A little further than planned, but with rain forecast for most of tomorrow we may not be moving far.

Mustn't forget to say hello to Angie and Steve, met as they came down Grindley Brook yesterday afternoon. Have a good trip back, and thanks for the support!

Locks 10, miles 6½ – since last post.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Hotter than Spain!

Or so they reckon, anyway. We’ve had a warm and sunny couple of days, and apparently tomorrow is going to be much the same. We had a sharp frost overnight, but it’s worth it, isn’t it?

Thursday and Friday’s cruises were both short, not more than 90 minutes each, just enough to charge the batteries. Two swing bridges each day to deal with weren’t a problem now that the wind has eased.

Morris’ Lift Bridge, just past the Prees Branch Junction, was the first to be tackled.IMG_3783 
It’s hard work to lift this one, over 80 turns of the windlass to get it fully up. Makes you puff a bit…
You can see a couple of boats ahead of us. There were several more going past earlier, in both directions. The canal is starting to get busier.

The long, straight sections across the mosses end at Platt Lane Bridge, then, a few minutes later there’s Tilstock Park Lift Bridge to get through.IMG_3787
Unusually this one is painted green instead of the common waterways scheme of black and white.

The sun had made an appearance now, after an overcast start.IMG_3790

Another mile saw us pulling in on a pleasant bit of mooring between Bridges 37 and 38.IMG_3791
There are two short lengths with rings here, separated by a bit of rough bank with picnic tables and barbecue stands installed by the Shropshire Union Canal Society.

Yesterday we were off at around 10, the weather bright and sunny from the start.

Those picnic tables I spoke about. Bridge 37 in the distance.IMG_3799

Lovely morning…

We’d passed a boat, Pied Wagtail, moored but with the crew preparing to leave, so I wasn’t surprised to see them arrive behind us as we were going through Hassell’s No2 Lift Bridge.

Under the bridge.

They followed Mags through which put them in pole position for Hassell’s No1, just a few minutes away.
They actually drew the short straw; as we went through another boat arrived from the opposite direction so they kept the bridge up for them as well.

We moored just before the Whitchurch Arm Junction, another sunny spot. Got to make use of it while we’ve got it!

With the clear skies we had a good frost, and it was still laying in shaded patches when Meg and I went out around seven-thirty this morning.IMG_3806 

Good views from up there this morning, but I bet it was a bit chilly!IMG_3808

Light and shade up in the woods with Meg.IMG_3809

Most of the moorings on the arm and on the main line were busy last evening, but they’d thinned out a bit by 10 this morning so we moved down onto the arm. We’ve visitors tomorrow and it’s a bit nearer to where they can park.

I’ve got a couple of outstanding jobs done. The ventilation fan on the composting loo had got a bit noisy, so I removed the housing, dismantled it and cleaned out a load of dust that had collected on the fan blades. It’s quieter now but not 100%. It’s a standard 90mm computer fan, so I‘m going to source a super-quiet replacement for when it gets too irritating.
The loo is well designed for maintenance, the fan housing is held in by two thumbscrews, and held together by one bolt and two clips.

A five minute job to dismantle, clean and replace.

The other job, replacing rear brake and chain set cables on the bike didn’t go so smoothly. The brake was fine, but the nipple on the end of the chain-set inner cable was too big, so I had to visit the bike shop first thing this morning. Then it took ages to set it up so that I could engage all three chain wheels in turn. Bottom and middle worked, then middle and top. Finally I got it right. So now, for the first time in ages, John Sage is fully functioning! All 21 gears to play with, and brakes both back and front!

Locks 0, miles 6

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Better than expected.

It was supposed to be wet all day today, but by half-ten the rain seemed to have lost enthusiasm, dwindling then stopping completely. It’s been warmer than of late, too, now that the wind has dropped.

We decided to move along a bit, now we had a window of opportunity. Not too far though.

Leaving our overnight, now it’s dried up.IMG_3777
Still very gloomy, though.

Fine views from the embankment at Hampton Bank.IMG_3779

We stopped for water at Bettisfield Bridge, temporarily back in Wales as there’s a peculiar diversion of the border here, down to Northwood then back up again.

This spur, known as Maelor, was part of the Principality of Chester for a while, then a part of Shropshire, then became an isolated enclave of Flintshire, before being re-attached to Wales in the boundary changes of 1974.

Do we, don’t we? moment at the end of the long straight across Whixall Moss.IMG_3780
We didn’t…

We pulled in at the eastern end of the straight, just before the Prees Branch Junction.IMG_3781

Mags has had it easy since New Marton Locks, but tomorrow she’ll have to shake a leg, we’re coming into lift-bridge country… The first one is just around the corner.

Locks 0, miles 3

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Heading east from Ellesmere

Today we set off from Ellesmere heading towards the main line and the central canal network. We could have moved off yesterday, the morning was grim, wet and windy, but it brightened up in the afternoon. By then inertia had set in though, so we decided to leave it another day. It was a good decision; although it’s been chilly it was a fine sunny morning today, although the wind was a bit of a nuisance at times.

There’s not much to say about the trip, there were a few boats about, a mix of hirers and private,

Chris and Lesley on NB Rosie II were one of those that passed in the other direction. One of those brief conversations ensued, gradually getting louder as the two boats drifted apart…

Meg and I said our goodbyes to the dog owners who we’ve met regularly on our frequent returns to Ellesmere this winter, and after a quick trip to Tesco for perishables we set off, out of the arm and turned left.

A bright start to the day.

Out of Ellesmere Tunnel…

…and through the woods flanking the meres.IMG_3765

Blake Mere

We pulled in after a pleasant 1¾ hour cruise, on the moorings near Hampton Bank between Bridges 50 and 51.

Lyneal Road Bridge and Greaves Bridge in the distanceIMG_3774

It was at Greaves Bridge where the wind caught me unawares and I was blown into the offside shallows while slowly passing a boat that had pulled in to allow us through the bridge first. No harm done though, even though we drifted into the overhanging trees.

$_35It has prompted me to change back to the Moonraker DTV1000 aerial which is more compact and less liable to getting hooked-up under trees than the directional stick aerial we’ve been using, on a long pole, in the border regions.

The Moonraker is generally fine, but does seem to struggle sometimes when the signal strength is poor.

Not sure what we’re doing tomorrow; the forecast is for cold, wet weather. We’ll have to see. We’re in no rush, we’re meeting friends again near Whitchurch early next week.

Locks 0, miles 4 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Frankton Junction and back.

This stretch of canal is getting very familiar. I know every shallow bit, every awkward bridge approach,  every exposed section between Ellesmere and Frankton Junction.

We moved up to the junction on Thursday, mooring above the locks ready to meet Brian with coal, diesel and a gas cylinder to replace the one that ran out on Thursday evening. Good timing or what!

He and Ann-Marie work hard supplying boaters on the Macclesfield and Peak Forest canals from NB Alton, and Brian delivers way out here once a month by road. A lovely couple, their schedule for deliveries can be found on their website.

Bosley Locks, April 2013
SAM_4992 Brian and Ann Marie_thumb[4]

Brian was running a little behind so it wasn’t until about 4 o’clock that he arrived, but he did have time for a brew before he continued on his deliveries.

The weather outlook was grim, we’d had some rain through the day but it had cleared by 5 o’clock so we decided to make a start on the trip back to Ellesmere.
We pulled up near Bridge 63, nicely sheltered from the blustery wind by high banks and hedges.

With rain predicted all day today we made an early start while it was dry this morning, although, as it turned out, we could have left at any time and stayed dry.

Blue sky to the east, but to the west the clouds are heavy with rain.IMG_3744

No rain yet as we turn into the arm

We were back in Ellesmere, tied up in the arm, by half-ten.

We’d had a stowaway, a reptile of some description had joined us for a ride on the gunnel.
I think it’s a common newt, just emerged from his winter hibernation. He didn’t stay long, dropping back into the water and swimming off towards the bank.
I say he, of course it could have been a she. Sexing newts is not something I’m familiar with…


For lunch I decided to try that Nana’s Magic Soup that Tesco have been advertising recently.
It looked all right, but I’m afraid it’s rather bland and insipid. A tablespoon of chilli powder gave it a bit more pizzazz! I don’t think I’ll bother making it again.

At the entrance to the arm there’s a silted up and reed-choked spur, and I’ve wondered what it was for. A little research took me back the the National Library of Scotland’s map archives, and I found this one from 1902…Ellesmere Arm map
Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland –

The spur is labelled “Boat House”, and further digging unearthed that John, and later Richard Tilston who had wharfs further up the arm for timber and building materials, also had a boatbuilding business here, and this was the site.

Looking up the arm from the entrance bridge, the site of the boatbuilder on the right…IMG_3752

…and from across the arm

The canal here was completed at the turn of the 19th century, Beech House opposite the junction, built for the Ellesmere Canal offices was finished in 1805 and the maintenance workshops next door a year later.IMG_3753

Although I can’t find anything to confirm this, it’s likely that the arm was also opened at around this time, bringing trade and prosperity to the town.
On the east side of the arm were several wharfs, that of the Tilston’s I’ve already mentioned, a coal wharf and also a timber wharf belonging to the Duke of Bridgewater, Francis Egerton. The same guy who is arguably hailed as the father of the English canal system, having opened the Bridgewater Canal between Worsley and Manchester in 1761. Although not involved in the construction of the Ellesmere Canal, he later became a shareholder and chair of the management committee.
His influence in the town came from the extensive landholdings in the area that came with the title, hence the name of the foundry at the top of the arm, on the west side.

The Bridgewater Foundry was established in the early 1850’s by William Clay.
From Graces Guide to British Industrial History - “General Engineers and Ironfounders and manufacturers of First Class Prize Portable Steam Engines and Thrashing Machines.”
The Foundry closed soon after WWI and the site was taken over by the Great Western and Metropolitan Dairies.

The dairy in 1986.
From the BBCs Domesday Reloaded website -

The same view today, the site at the head of the arm now occupied by Tesco.IMG_3755
The crane, now preserved, still sits in it’s original position.

Further back down the arm on the west side was the gas works, built in 1832, and using canal transport to supply coal for conversion to town gas. All that area is now cleared, and is up for sale as part of an extensive development.

Behind the old warehouse on the opposite side of the arm is a derelict area that used to be occupied by several buildings, among them a cottage and stables for boat horses. All have been demolished now.

In the season it’s often difficult to find space to moor on the arm, imagine what it must have been like in the middle of the 19th century!

We’ll be here for the weekend, then, depending on the weather, we’ll start heading back to the main network early next week. So this should be our last visit to Ellesmere this trip – maybe!

Locks 0, miles 6