Thursday, October 31, 2019

Off to Nantwich

We had another fine day yesterday, but last night it was a little milder and today’s early sunshine didn’t last beyond mid-morning.

We weren’t sure how far to go today, but with wet weather due tomorrow and Saturday we wanted to cruise at least part way to Nantwich in the dry. We’re heading there to pick up supplies before turning around, back to Hurleston and up onto the Llangollen on Saturday – or maybe Sunday.

Away from Cholmondeston this morning.

No locks to do today, so Mags stayed inside. With sun in short supply and a brisk breeze it was decidedly chilly. Time to break out the long trousers, I think.

An escapee on the moorings near Bridge 3
His mates were in the field alongside.

Permanent moorings both sides up to Barbridge Junction

I didn’t quite make the turn onto the main line in one, the wind kept pushing the fore end around, bit I didn’t make too much of a mess of it.

Heading south on the Shroppie.

Built in 1779 the Chester Canal was a link from the salt town of Nantwich and the River Dee in Chester. Terminal basins were built at both ends. The Ellesmere Canal, opened 18 years later, linked the Chester end to The Mersey at Ellesmere port, improving the fortunes of the navigation. Facing increasing railway competition in the mid-eighteenth century, the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company was formed in 1846, taking under it’s umbrella the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal from Nantwich to Autherley near Woverhampton, the Chester and Ellesmere Canals, the Llangollen Branch and the Middlewich Branch, among others.
The plan was to build railways on some of the routes, a cheaper option than a totally new line. But luckily this was shelved, and the main line from Ellesmere Port to the Black Country was still profitable well into the last century.

The wide Chester Canal, built to barge standards with wide bridges and a deep and broad channel.

Hurleston Locks, gateway to the Llangollen Canal.

We’ll be heading up there at the weekend. We can’t leave it any later, work starts on the bottom lock on Monday, a full rebuild which will take until Easter.

Coming into Nantwich with the terminal basin of the Chester Canal off to the right and the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal straight ahead. Note the narrow bridges, now.

The embankment moorings, both sides of the aqueduct, were busy, but there was plenty of space where we were headed, around the corner.

We passed Bridge 91, turned around and moored up back a ways.

Definitely stopping here tomorrow, we’ll see how bad the weather actually turns out to be on Saturday before we decide to head back.

Locks 0, miles 6

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Short cruise, long wait

The fuel boat Halsall arrived at our mooring at around 11:00 this morning. Of course, it’s no longer Martin and his dog Sam (I think). He’s now protecting the streets of Manchester as a policeman, apparently. No, the new crew are Lee and Roberta, and very helpful they are too.

The Halsall crew

First thing this morning was a marked contrast to yesterday, bright, crisp and dry instead of misty and damp.

The temperature had dipped below zero for the first time this winter.

So, with a full tank of diesel and several bags of solid fuel on the roof we decided to shove off. Only an hour and a half, I said. We’ll be tied up above Cholmondeston Lock and having lunch by one o’clock, I said. Hah. You know what that chap said about best laid plans…

It started well, although I had to turn the two locks we dealt with today we were toddling along steadily.

Past Aqueduct Marina.

There were a few boats about, but no-one waiting at Minshull Lock. A half hour later saw us passing Venetian Marina, below Cholmondeston Lock.

A boat was just coming down as we arrived, so we were able to take over the empty lock when they left.

We needed to fill the water tank, so expected to be able to get straight onto the water point above the lock. There was a boat there filling as we came up, and another waiting, and another – and another! We joined the end of a three-boat queue! At this time of year!

I’d forgotten that the services at Nantwich are being refurbished and are currently closed, so folk heading this way are waiting to fill up here. The water tap at Barbridge Junction was removed several years ago.

Anyway, we did have lunch above the lock, but not after we tied up for the day as planned.

It was nearly three o’clock by the time we’d filled, and we moved just 100 yards to get moored.

Finally away…

…and tied up minutes later!
We'll stay here tomorrow, head to Nantwich for the weekend then up Hurleston onto the Llangollen on Saturday. That’s the plan, anyway…

Locks 2, miles 2¾ 

Monday, October 28, 2019

Two fine days.

Yesterday we set off from the breach site moorings west of Middlewich. It was a late start; about a quarter to twelve before we were heading up Stanthorne Lock.
The four locks lifting the Branch from the Trent and Mersey to the Shropshire Union Main Line are all deep, all between 10½ and 11½ feet deep.

It was a pleasant afternoon, but cool, hovering around 10°C.

It wasn’t all blue skies though, we did get a short shower from a passing cloud…

Quintessentially Cheshire – black and white cows, black and white farmhouse.

We pulled in after an hour or so, just past Bridge 22 near where Chris and Leslie on Rosie II were moored. We had a catch-up before getting a late lunch.

It was down to close to zero last night, but was up a bit and damp this morning, the world shrouded in mist. The poor visibility didn’t deter some boaters, though.

It was taking a while to clear, but by 11:00 we decided to set off.

Leslie gave us a wave us we left.

The old stables near Bridge 18 are a legacy of when the company ran fly-boats, fast, horse-drawn boats carrying perishables and sometimes passengers. Horses had to be changed regularly.

The Weaver is in flood, properties in Northwich suffered flood damage over the weekend, and the meadows in the valley near Church Minshull are inundated.

Crossing the river in a tunnel of trees.

It was warm in the sun but the temperature dropped to shivering point in the shade.

Today we pulled in just this side of Aqueduct Marina, early afternoon finish again.

Not sure what we’re doing tomorrow. The coal-boat Halsall is on it’s way and we’ll flag Martin down here. Depending on what time he arrives we’ll either push on and up Minshull and Cholmondeston Locks later in the day or leave them till Wednesday.

Locks 1, miles 6  

Friday, October 25, 2019

No justice for a PC, justice for a dragon with halitosis…

We left the Paddy’s Wood moorings under grey skies yesterday morning, pretty much as expected.The canal skirts Sandbach, between Elworth and Moston.

We passed Richard waving out of the window of Pendle Warter next to Elton Moss Bridge, number 160.

Elton Moss Bridge, sometime known locally as Stabbers Bridge, was the scene of the murder of a policeman in February 1873. PC James Green was out of uniform but on duty, keeping an eye on a local miscreant when he was stabbed to death and dumped in the canal here. The prime suspect was a local farmhand who denied the charge, although bloodstains were found on some of his tools. He claimed that it was pig’s blood, and 19th century forensics couldn’t disprove this. He was acquitted by the jury at his trial, walking away free.
James Green was the first Cheshire police officer to be killed on duty.

Half a mile down the canal we came to out first lock of the day, Crows Nest or Booth Lane Top Lock. A boat was just ready to leave, so that was handy for us both.

Below the lock the canal passes under Stud Green Bridge, named for a nearby hamlet but which carries Dragon’s Lane.

Legend has it that the inhabitants of Moston were plagued by a dragon, one of the red variety out of Wales. This one didn’t breathe fire however, instead it used it’s extremely bad breath to render it’s victims unconscious, dragging them off to a marsh to be consumed at leisure. This went on for a while, until the local Lord of the Manor came along on a tour of his holdings. Sir Thomas Venables was a relative of the king, William I (the conqueror) and a skilled archer. He stalked the beast, putting an arrow through it’s eye and then “with other weapons manfullie slew him”.

The valiant chap then rescued the dragon’s latest victim, a young boy, from the swamp and returned him to his home.
The family crest depicted a dragon with a baby in it’s jaws.

The two locks alongside Booth Lane were both set against us, but at least I could leave the gates open on the bottom lock for a boat heading up.

Wimpey’s large development on the other side of the road is moving on apace. Phase 1 is mostly finished and they’re well on with Phase 2.
It’s called Albion Lock, which puzzled me until I realised that development is on the site of the former Albion Chemical Works.

Rumps Lock was the last to deal with before we moored, just above Kings Lock.

We got tied up just before the rain came, and then enjoyed fish and chips from the chippy across the road.

We hadn’t intended to stay more than one night, although the moorings are handy for the chippy, a local shop and the pub they’re also noisy with traffic close alongside. So this morning we dropped down Kings Lock, paused while a boat came down Wardle Lock, then turned sharp left onto the Middlewich Branch and went up Wardle Lock.

Duck! No, swans…

Kings Lock

Between the Trent and Mersey and the top of the lock, the navigation is known as the Wardle Canal, the shortest on the network at only 154 feet long.
It was built by the Trent and Mersey Canal Company in 1829 to connect to the Shropshire Union-built Middlewich Branch so the former could keep control of the junction. The T&M charged exorbitant tolls for boats using the short canal and lock to get to the newer, faster route south using the Shropshire Union.

Up Wardle Lock and we had another half mile or so before pulling in on the new moorings where the major breach occurred in March 2018.

The new edge incorporates a short run of mooring rings.

It was only a bit damp as we came down and up the locks, but this afternoon the predicted rain has moved in. It’s supposed to continue through tomorrow, so we’ll be staying put.

Locks 6, miles 5¼  

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

That’s them done then…

Over the last two days we’ve dropped down to and through Wheelock, finishing the Cheshire Locks. It used to be known as Heartbreak Hill by the working boatmen, but of course it was only a part of one working day for them, we’ve taken four!

You’re never far away from the next lock on this stretch, and our first yesterday was just around the corner.

Lock 57, another that has lost it’s partner…
There used to be a Post Office and stores here, but it’s now a private house.

Another boat caught us up here, so, as we worked our way down the locks, I was setting up one for them. When there was one, of course...

Lock 58 takes the canal under the M6, then there’s a half-mile pound until the next two near Malkins Bank Golf Club.

Lock 60’s tail bridge shows the different philosophies of Brindley and Telford. Brindley used dressed stone to form the bridge arch, Telford used red brick on the later addition.

We pulled in alongside the driving range near the winding hole above Lock 61.

Later in the afternoon Richard on Pendle Warter went past and I went down to the next lock to chat while he dropped down.

This morning, with the sun trying to break through the early mist, we followed Pipedream to the next lock.

Two or three boats had already gone past, heading down. We’d left it till after ten in the hope that we’d meet boats coming up out of Wheelock, hope that was misplaced as it turned out.

Lock 62 is a single, the old disused chamber now filled with concrete and used as a bywash. The barrier across the entrance has been run into, I guess.

What goes around comes around, as they say, and from this point on the couple on Pipedream were setting up the locks for us as they went ahead.

The settlement of Malkins Bank, with the nearside Lock 63 set ready for us.

Last one today, Lock 66.

We had to queue for water at Wheelock Wharf services, but it gave me a chance to thank the Pipedream crew. Then, about an hour after the last lock, we were on the move again, following the winding canal as it runs above the River Wheelock. Very pleasant in the warm sunshine.

We stopped for the night at Paddy’s Wood, opposite the allotments of Yeowood Farm. There’re rings here and it’s nice and open.

Richard, this time with wife Linda and on foot went past, and stopped to say hi, having taken the dog for a long walk from where they’d moored a little further on.

Into Middlewich tomorrow.

Locks 10, miles 2½ (2 days)

Monday, October 21, 2019

Where is everyone?

We moved on Saturday, and we moved today, and we’ve only seen one moving boat during both of those trips. There has been a handful going past after we’d tied up, but it’s very quiet.
We set off from near the Red Bull services on Saturday morning, dull and cool but dry at least.

Heading to Lock 44

The locks dropping down onto the Cheshire Plain from Stoke were duplicated during the first half of the nineteenth century to speed up traffic on what was a very busy stretch of canal.

These three locks, 44 to 46 are still paired, but the Lock 45 offside chamber is out of use.

Around the corner are the next two, Church Locks, sometime in the past having lost both of the offside chambers. They are still there, but in a state of dereliction.

Mow Cop Castle finally appears out of the low cloud.

Following the Church Locks there are four on the trot, Halls and then the three Lawton Locks. Lawton Locks were built to replace a triple staircase that ran just to the north of the existing short flight.

The top of the “new” Lawton Locks from the bridge just below Halls Lock.

The wide to the right was the channel leading to the top of the staircase. There’s nothing left there now, apart from this and another at the bottom of the locks.

Of the three Lawton Locks, only one has working duplicate chambers. Lock 50 has recently, and hopefully temporarily, closed, but the towpath chamber of L51 has been filled in.

After dropping down Lock 52 we had a 25 minute cruise to Rode Heath, where we pulled up.
 I did say we were having short days… And they get shorter!

We took yesterday off, a bright sunny start to the day encouraged me to clean down the two roof panels I prepped a couple of weeks ago, mask off the borders and slap a coat of roof paint on. I’d got the paint on by 1 o’clock, and the masking tape should have come off at around four. It’s best to do it after the paint has gone off but before it dries completely.
Unfortunately the rain beat me to it, so I started to strip the masking off in the wet, it didn’t go well… Water-soaked masking tape tends to fall to pieces leaving the glue behind. I got some more off this afternoon but there’s still bits left.

Anyway, another cool, overcast morning greeted us today, but the rain had stopped.

We left Rode Heath at soon after 10:00, heading down to Thurlwood Top Lock.

Towards the end of the 1950s an experimental lock was tried here, of steel construction with guillotine gates.

It was intended to be a solution to subsidence but was unreliable and slow, and most boaters still preferred the conventional lock alongside.
Opened in 1958 it was closed in 1981 and cut up for scrap in 1988, leaving just the original lock. Lots of photos and info here, including the one I borrowed above.

Looking back at Thurlwood Top Lock, with the entrance to the Steel Lock on the right.

A little further on we dropped down Thurlwood Bottom Lock, then had time for a brew as we headed for the two Pierpoint Locks.

These are single chambers, and there’s very little to suggest that they were ever duplicated, apart from the overlarge bywash weirs and a bit of bridge abutment below the top lock.

We stopped just before lunchtime above Lock 57, just before another belt of showers blew through.
Another short day tomorrow.

Locks 9, miles 2¼ (Saturday), 4, 1¾ (today)