Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Just ambling along.

What has it been, a week since the last post? Well, nearly, anyway. Not much has been happening, we’ve just slowly chugged along, short days finishing around lunchtime.

We moved away from the moorings above Grindley Brook Locks on Friday, heading up a mile to pull in just past the Whitchurch Arm to wait out the wet and windy weekend.

New Mills Lift Bridge and the entrance to the Whitchurch Arm

Breakfast for Mum, Dad and the sprogs.

Come Monday the weather had improved again, a fine dry day for a bit of cruising. Not a lot, three lift bridges and about 4½ miles took us to the edge of Whixall Moss.

A beautiful wooded section, full of birdsong, after we’d passed the two Hassels lift bridges.

The canal is a bit winding along here, leaving some blind corners and bridges. Of course, if you can’t see through a bridge there’s bound to be a boat coming…

There was quite a bit of traffic about, probably boats that had stayed put over the weekend like us.

Mags posing after negotiating Tilstock Park Lift Bridge

Moored for the night before Bridge 44, Roundthorn Bridge.
There are more moorings just this side of the bridge, with parking alongside they could be handy for a grocery delivery…

After a quiet and very dark night we woke up to another fine morning, and were on the way soon after 10:00. 

The canal here crosses the ancient peat bogs of Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses. It must have been difficult to seal the navigation on this unstable and soggy terrain. Over the years the edges of the mosses have been drained for agriculture…

…but are still prone to getting waterlogged.

A little further west a large area is still as nature intended, especially now that peat-cutting is banned. It’s an area in which wildlife thrives.

The drying out has resulted in subsidence as the peat shrinks, and the canal is contained within piled sides on the long straight west of Press Junction.

Prees Junction, with the main line on the left, toll-house in the middle and the Prees Branch to the right.

Begun in the early 1800s, the branch was intended to go to Prees, a distance of about 5 miles. But like many of the later construction schemes it ran out of steam before reaching it’s destination. Now it’s only about ¾ of a mile to Whixall Marina, followed by an un-navigable 2 mile long pond which is now a nature reserve. A group of us had a walk up the remains of the branch some time ago…

The long straight west of Prees.

Somewhere along here the canal makes a brief visit into Wales, and the ducks are shy!

The border dips southwest here, down to the village of Northwood before heading back northwest to cross the canal again just west of Bettisfield.

We topped up the the water tank at Bettisfield Bridge, then carried on around a couple of bends onto Hampton Bank where we moored looking out over the flat plain of Shropshire.

A field of rape coming into flower.

Looking south and east from Hampton Bank.

These early finishes on fine days have given me a chance to remove and service the Webasto water heater. While it was out I redesigned the mounting system and de-rusted and painted the swim on that side.

Tomorrow we’ll head into Ellesmere. The weather’s due to turn again so it might be a little damp, unfortunately.

Locks 0, miles 9 since the last post.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Up onto the long pound.

Over the last two days we’ve come up the last of the locks onto the Ellesmere pound, the level stretch of canal that reaches from above Grindley Brook to New Marton, a distance of just under 20 miles. At New Marton the final two locks take the navigation up onto the summit level to Llangollen.

On Sunday night the clear skies and dust in the air gave us one of those red/orange moons as it rose above the horizon.

On Tuesday with the Easter traffic easing a little, we set off, with Quoisley Lock just a mile on. Even though there were fewer boats about, we still had two boats in front of us at the lock.

With crews helping one another we were soon on the way, fifteen minutes to Willeymoor Lock, alongside the pub of the same name.

We were too early for it to be open, but I reckon those tables and chairs would have been full later…

Povey’s Lock was next, not far up the canal, and then we pulled in a bit further on, before Jackson’s Bridge.
There are good moorings below Grindley Brook Locks, but the towpath is wider here and the water flow when the bottom lock is emptied is less noticeable.

After an afternoon spent cramped up in the engine ‘ole re-piping and re-installing the water heater after servicing the beast, I was glad to face the prospect of Grindley Brook Locks this morning.
We timed it well, arriving at the bottom of the three singles soon after a boat had come down.

Grindley Brook Bottom Lock

The by-washes on this flight are notoriously fierce.

With no boats ahead of us we had the single locks set for us, but I thought our luck couldn’t hold at the staircase triple. But it did…! A boat was just leaving the bottom lock as we arrived, and the two volunteer lock-keepers invited us to go straight in.   

Going up the staircase locks.

With such a good run we were up, bottom to top, in less than 45 minutes. You can wait that long to even start the flight sometimes!

Dropping the rubbish and recycling, then topping up the water tank took us another half-hour, and then we were tied up before noon. I had to toddle off back down to the small shop at the garage before we had lunch; we’d run out bread. On the way I stopped for a chat with the couple who now own Yarwood, I’m embarrassed to say I’ve forgotten their names. If you read this, I’m so sorry, and the boat we were trying to remember from the Wash trip in 2015 is Panacea.

The weather has now turned back to what you’d expect for late April, with thundery showers moving in this afternoon and more forecast over the next few days. If you’re not actually caught out in them though, these April showers smell wonderful, earthy and sooty, the scent known as Petrichor.

We’re going to play it by ear for a bit, although it smells beautiful we’d rather not get too wet!

Graham from Ingleton got in touch, the glitch on the sat-nav as we headed north last week may have been due to WNRO – Week Number Roll Over, which affects GPS satellites. Something to do with date storage, a proper explanation here. Thanks Graham.

Locks 9, miles 3½

Saturday, April 20, 2019

A short marina stay, then out into the country to watch the boats go by…

On Monday we went into Swanley Bridge Marina, just for three nights so we could head up to Yorkshire. Mags was due a blood test to check that everything was still ok following her bile duct procedure last year, and Meg was visiting the vet at Skipton for an ultrasound scan to make sure there are no issues with her liver or bladder. It was also an opportunity to pick up the mail and see Mags’ son, Howard.

It was a fine but blowy morning as we headed towards the marina. These CRT workboats could have been moored in a more considerate spot…

The fine house with the curly-whirly chimney near Wrexham Road Bridge.

It was a bit interesting try to slot Seyella into our allotted berth, with a cross-wind pushing us all over, but we got in there without touching the adjacent boats.

We went north on Tuesday, an uneventful trip up there and back, apart from the sat-nav having a nervous breakdown on the way. As we passed Preston on the M6 it blinked then shifted our location 16 miles to the west, into Blackpool. Then, as the motorway turned gently to the left, our position crossed the coast and we spent the next half hour in the Irish Sea before landing again in Fleetwood. It lost the plot so much that by the time we’d reached our destination at Bentham it thought we were in Cleveleys… It’s a good job we know the way! It had recovered it’s aplomb by the time we headed home.
We won’t know the results of Mags’ blood test until next week. Meg’s scan showed no abnormalities but there was a trace of blood in her wee again, so that bladder infection she suffered from last year might have returned. Waiting on test results there too. But they’re both in good form, so I don’t think there’s much wrong.

We left the marina on Thursday, turning right and heading towards Wrenbury.

Swanley Bridge Marina, home of the Shiney Boat!

There is a higher proportion of posh boats in here than in any other marina we’ve visited. Not sure how many venture out though…

It’s suddenly got busy out on the water, when we got to Swanley Bottom Lock there was a boat in front of us, and by the time we were in the lock there were another four waiting below!
Chatting to the crews I realised why. With Hurleston Bottom Lock in a somewhat precarious condition, CRT aren’t opening the flight until eight o’clock, and are shepherding boats up. So this was the queue of boats waiting at the bottom first thing this morning.

The convoy broke up somewhat as each boat took a turn up the two Swanley Locks, then reconvened below Baddiley Locks. The bottom lock here has only one top paddle working and is consequently slow to fill, hence the queue.

Once up the bottom lock it was plain sailing, with boats dropping down out of Wrenbury we had empty locks to work with.

Into Wrenbury we thought about stopping before Church Lift Bridge, but it was still early so we pushed on, through this, the first of the Llangollen lift bridges, then past the mechanised one at Wrenbury Mill, and the other manual one at Wrenbury Frith.

Church Lift Bridge, the first of many…

Meg keeps an eye on me as Mags goes through Wrenbury Lift Bridge.

We tied up just past the last.

After a quiet night we headed on again, just a short run to a sunny rural spot between Marbury and Quoisley Locks.

One Man Went to Mow… with his mates!

Good timing at Marbury, our only lock on Friday

Good moorings near Steer Bridge…

…but it’s sunnier around the corner.

That’ll do us till after the weekend.

There’s been quite a few boats buzzing about, a mix of hirers and private, taking advantage of the fine weather. We’ll not be moving till Tuesday, though, to the bottom of Grindley Brook Locks ready to go up on Wednesday.

Locks 6, miles 7¼ since last post.

Friday, April 12, 2019

We get there in the end…

Last summer the plan was to head down to Leeds, across to the Trent, spend a little time on the Soar, then have a gentle amble westward and northward, aiming to join the Llangollen Canal in November. Things didn’t quite work out that way, but we finally got here.

After a day off yesterday we set off this morning in bright sunshine, but it wasn’t to last.

Passing Aqueduct Marina.

We had the two remaining locks on the Middlewich Branch to ascend, the first just 15 minutes away. A boat was on it’s way down as we arrived, so we pulled over to wait for a few minutes before negotiating it ourselves.

Church Minshull Lock

The Middlewich Branch was constructed by the Chester Canal Company, who started building the Chester Canal from Chester to Nantwich in 1772. Part of the enabling Act allowed for a 10 mile link from Barbridge to Middlewich, but the money ran out and the Branch wasn’t opened until 1833. It only got funding then because the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal was approved, joining Nantwich to Autherley near Wolverhampton and a connection to the Trent and Mersey would give access to Manchester and The Potteries. The B&LJC, Chester Canal, Middlewich Branch and what we now know as the Llangollen Canal all came under the umbrella of the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company in 1845.

Another half-hour saw us passing Venetian Marina and approaching Cholmondeston Lock. As before we had a boat on the way down, but this time there was also a handful waiting above. It’s getting busy…

Just over a mile later we were approaching Barbridge Junction, to join the Shroppie Main Line.

Boats line both banks up to Bridge 1 and Barbridge Junction.

Heading south from the junction, looking back towards Chester.

The Chester Canal was built to broad gauge to allow barges to travel up from the Dee to Nantwich to load salt. So the locks are wide, as are the bridges…

We turned off the main line after only 1½ miles, heading up the four Hurleston Locks onto the Llangollen Canal.

Mags waiting for me to set the bottom lock.

We had boats coming down so this was the only one we had to turn. After only half an hour we were leaving the top lock where we filled with water before heading on through the fine countryside.

Hurleston Top Lock

We didn’t go far, pulling in on a quiet bit of bank between bridges 2 and 3.

We’ll be here for the weekend now, then on Monday morning we’ll take up a booked berth in Swanley Bridge Marina, just for three nights. Mags has to visit her GP on Tuesday for a follow-up blood test.

Locks 6, miles 5½

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

A couple of beaufiful day’s cruising.

It’s been sunny and dry, but there’s been a chilly breeze from the north-east keeping the temperature down. But still, it’s not Easter yet. We’ve had snow on Good Friday in the past!
We dropped down the last two locks of the Cheshire Flight yesterday morning, filled up with water at the Wheelock services, then set off on the three-mile pound to the next one on the way to Middlewich.

Locks 65 and 66 at the bottom of the Cheshire Flight

Wheelock Services.

The canal twists and turns as it leaves Wheelock, following the valley of the river for which the village is named.

But after the dismantled Bridge 158 it starts to straighten and head decisively north. The river meanwhile continues westward a while longer before also heading up to Middlewich and joining the River Dane just to the north of the town.

An angling match near Ettiley Heath, but they were mostly amenable as we passed.

After Wheelock the next lock is Crow’s nest Lock, and we arrived just in time…

We’d actually passed another four boats heading up towards Wheelock, so I was pretty sure the locks would be with us.

Booth Lane Locks, 68 and 69, alongside the busy A533 Booth Lane

The last time we came into Middlewich the usually large swan population had been reduced to just one or individuals. But there are more about again now, including a Whooper Swan mixed into the more common Mutes. He was very shy, this was the closest I could get…

Coming into Middlewich, approaching Kings Lock

It was a “shall we, shan’t we” moment, before we decided to pull in above the lock for the night.

This morning, it was bright sunshine again after a chilly night. I was just getting ready to head down to Kings Lock when there was a flurry of activity around the lock as a boat came up. So I held back to let them leave the lock, incidentally ready for us.

While Mags was dropping down I walked around the corner to Wardle Lock, to find it empty and ready for us. So I opened the gates, trotted back to Kings, and then we turned the sharp corner under the bridge and into the lock.

We’re now going uphill, and will be doing so for a while.

Above Wardle Lock

Just before Stanthorne Lock, as the canal leaves the town, is where that major breech occurred on March 16th 2018 which closed the Middlewich Branch for 9 months.  

It’s all looking very solid now, and they’ve even installed a few mooring rings at the Stanthorne Lock end of the reconstruction.

Coming up Stanthorne Lock.

We had a lovely trip through the rolling Cheshire countryside, heading south and west.

At Weaver Bank lies a canal-side cottage and a row of converted stables.

The Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company ran a passenger fly-boat service between Chester and Middlewich, hauled by a team of horses that were regularly changed. This was one of the change-over points. The cottage would have been occupied by the ostler, responsible for ensuring a fit team of horses were always available.

Passing Church Minshull down in the valley, the Weaver is crossed on an embankment, then there are some fine moorings just before Aqueduct Marina, where we pulled in.

We’re going to have a day off tomorrow, before toddling on on Friday to join the Main Line at Barbridge.

Locks 9, miles 12¾ – 2 days.