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Archive for September, 2009

The Odyssey 2009: Day 53

Posted by indigodream on 30 September, 2009

Friday 25th & September 26th September

Hartshill to Rugby (Newbold Tunnel)

Friday…

The moorings at Bridge 29 - secure and welcoming...

The moorings at Bridge 29 - secure and welcoming...

We did our usual dithering over whether to drive to the boat on Thursday night after work (and get a full day’s cruising on Friday) or have an unhurried drive up on Friday morning, knowing that we’d then only cruise for the afternoon. In the end neither plan quite worked. We decided to drive up on the Friday but first sorted a multitude of little jobs at home (including liberating one of the larger fish in our pond, which had managed to swim onto the top of the net that’s intended to protect them from marauding heron).

We left home at 11am but with the comforting knowledge that we’d missed the rush hour and that we’d be at the boat in a couple of hours. It was not to be – there had been an awful car fire on the M40 (I hope no-one was hurt – the car was totally gutted) so we got stuck at a crawl for an hour, then we got caught in roadworks. We didn’t make it to the boat until 3pm.

Never mind, still time for a quick cruise down into Coventry to moor overnight in the basin. But the fact is that Bridge 29’s a really nice mooring – there’s a real feeling of community here, even though most of the boaters are just transient visitors. We got chatting to the crew of Gentle Jane, then to the crew of Briar Rose – they’re all ‘dog’ people. They persuaded us, almost subliminally, that the last thing we wanted to do was run the gauntlet through Coventry, why not moor here and come to the pub, the dogs are so happy here and the pub allows dogs in the back bar ……

Conical Heaps and holes in the ground....

Conical Heaps and holes in the ground....

So we decided to stay one more night – what a good decision. We wore the dogs out with a good run round the adjacent field (no casualties this time) then we headed off to Nuneaton for provisions and to scout out some parking near the station (Central Avenue). There’s a very good Asda in Nuneatons plus a range of the usual mix of big stores and high street.

As well as all the delights of a large town, the drive to Nuneaton from Hartshill is also fascinating. As you drive along the road into town (which runs roughly parallel to the canal but at a much greater height) you get occasional glimpses of a far off and beautiful view between the trees. You also get that strange attraction caused by a large void – there is a gargantuan quarry hole in the ground here. It seems to suck you in (even though it’s partly obscured by trees) and it’s this cutting away of the hill nearby that gives the wide vistas beyond. Of course, you can’t dig a big hole without creating a big heap and a bit further on there’s a characteristic cone of spoil. I’d say it’s a bit far to walk from the canal but if you happen to be driving that way then watch out for it.

Contented greyhound relaxing on the towpath (there were 2 others behind the boat); the outskirts of Nuneaton don't look too bad from here...

Contented greyhound relaxing on the towpath (there were 2 others behind the boat); the outskirts of Nuneaton don't look too bad from here...

Once we were fully provisioned, we went off to the pub with the dogs – it was still only 7pm and it was nice to eat early (by our standards). The Anchor is full of friendly locals – they made a big fuss of the dogs, though Blue and Lou weren’t as relaxed as usual – probably over-tired and in need of their duvets. We were a bit that way ourselves! The beer was good but our meal wasn’t the most inspiring or perhaps we made bad choices – I think that Sunday’s carvery is better. Nonetheless, the warm welcome means that the Anchor definitely stays on our recommended pub list.  We were back on the boat ready for the last half hour of “Strictly Come Dancing”, which was about as intellectual as our tired brains could manage.

We had a quiet night on the mooring – this is a good spot, even though it’s not very glamorous to look at.

Saturday…..

We had a relatively relaxed start to the day and could easily have spent longer here – Blue and Lou love this spot with its perfect rummaging field. But we had to move on, as the song says “London calling…..” – the chilly evenings and shorter days are prodding us to get back before the stoppages.

Nuneaton - making the best of their canalside location...

Nuneaton - making the best of their canalside location...

There was still time for a long walk with the dogs and an even longer natter with John from nb Briar Rose (a Braidbar boat) who has fascinating tales to tell about his career working in the boating industry. If I understood him rightly, he has recently lost a much beloved Spanish rescue greyhound, though he is now besotted by his adorable springer spaniel (who conned me into throwing her toy down the towpath for quite some time yesterday evening!).

I eventually got the boat away at 10am. Richard had taken the car off to find a parking space on Central Avenue reasonably close to Nuneaton Station.

I was fascinated by the landscape on the stretch approaching Nuneaton. To start off with, it’s rural and inviting, with fine countryside moorings. Then there’s the landscape itself; to the left there are open fields showing the typical autumn patchwork of dusty golden crops and the rich brown of ploughed earth. But to the right there’s the strikingly man-made topography of the quarries – deep excavations, conical spoil heaps, trees and houses seemingly clinging precariously to the edges of these unnatural cliffs. But I believe that the quarries are long gone – on the far side of the road one of the quarries is already being developed for housing. I wondered about how they’d go about filling in and levelling these caverns – as Richard wryly put it “They make money from allowing deep holes to be filled” – so waste can be put to constructive use after all……

Skulls on nb Peace....

Skulls on nb Peace....

Richard cycled back from Nuneaton and I picked him up by Bridge 22. Despite its rough reputation, Nuneaton’s not too bad by water, during the daylight. The canal’s mainly surrounded by sports grounds and long lengths of allotments. It’s been a good growing year if the crops that we saw are anything to go by. We passed two moored boats by Bridge 19A who had three greyhounds between them, lying peacefully on the towpath. Later on we passed nb Nackered Navvy, who we’ve previously met on the K & A. We were bemused by nb Peace who had, in fact, decorated his bow with human skulls (well, models of skulls, we hope!).

There’s a useful boatyard at Boot Wharf in Nuneaton, selling diesel at  66p per litre basic price (114p propulsion). As we passed by we asked them whether the canal through the town was as troublesome as we’d heard. “Not really” was the reply. Shortly afterwards we asked nb Wild Rose whether she’d moored overnight there and whether she’d had any bother – “Yes” came the reply, “We had a drunk who nicked something off the roof”. So, mixed views of whether it’s ok to moor overnight in Nuneaton – we certainly didn’t have any trouble but we did pass through relatively early in the day. Such locals as we met on boats and walking along the towpath were very friendly.

Nuneaton’s contrasts carried on as we passed out of the town – one stretch had very nice canalside houses with positively ostentatious gardens full of statuary; shortly after we were flanked by dismal social housing with mean squares of grass littered with kids’ toys.

Working quarry just outside Nuneaton

Working quarry just outside Nuneaton

Past Nuneaton, the Coventry Canal once again becomes a quiet countrified waterway – it’s been a revelation. We hadn’t been expecting much but it’s actually been fascinating and beautiful in equal measure.

There was an affable little community of boaters by Marston Junction and we admired a neat whippet on nb Northumberland. We were very tempted to turn left at the junction – the Ashby canal looked so enticing – straight, narrow and deserted. But we resisted, after all, we have to leave some unexplored territory for next year’s odyssey.

I’m afraid to report that our toilet tank was a bit whiffy after 2 weeks of no dosing and uninterrupted fermentation so we were after a pump-out today. The first potential was Charity Dock, marked as a boatyard on our Nicholsons. Well, what a place – it must qualify as the most eccentric site on the canal network (and there is some competition). The boatyard itself is a haphazard collection of moored boats, bit of boats,

One view of the unique entity that is Charity Dock.....

One view of the unique entity that is Charity Dock.....

old scrap and lifesize human dummies, like you’d get in shop windows, dressed in a random assortment of clothes and wigs, and arrayed in strange postures. We mistook the only living person at the dock for a dummy until he actually moved. Although the yard apparently sells diesel (£1.44 per gallon said the sign – may be a little out of date!) they didn’t have an obvious pump-out point so we moved on rather gratefully.

The next bit of excitement was Hawkesbury Junction – a complete contrast to Charity Docks. Everything’s neat here – decent moorings (visitor and long term), accessible water points (but no pump-out) and everything cleanly painted and picturesque. The pub on the junction, the Greyhound, was very popular – according to the locals it’s a fine pub which serves a decent pint of Guinness. There are interesting signboards here – I was tickled by the fact that the stop lock has a rise of just over 6 inches, apparently as a result of a setting out error by Brindley or his Clerk of Works! It was also interesting that the Oxford Canal used to run parallel to the Coventry Canal for quite a distance until the canal companies settled their differences and built the ‘new’ junction at Hawkesbury in 1785. The turn at the junction looks tricky but it proved to be easy thanks to a wide entrance.

Note: nb Gentle Jane advised us that when approaching Hawkesbury Junction from Nuneaton take the first mooring that you spot on the towpath side before the junction – apparently it’s quite difficult to get a mooring on the other approaches and, sadly, the pub doesn’t have its own moorings.

The engineers on board were very concerned about the structural integrity of this bridge - we passed under quickly...

The engineers on board were very concerned about the structural integrity of this bridge - we passed under quickly...

We were due to meet our friends Lizzie, Pal, Nathan and Sasha – now old hands at boating, having cruised several times around Birmingham with us. While we were waiting for them we moored up at the water point below the stop lock, filled up with water (good pressure here) and pressure washed the boat. She was filthy – covered in a thick layer of dust, possibly from the quarries, who knows? As she changed colour from grey to blue, it became apparent that giving the paintwork a good polish is so worthwhile. The polished side came up so much cleaner – the dirt doesn’t cling to it in the same way. Having found out how much a re-spray costs there is going to be a determined effort to slap more polish on …

Our guests arrived just as we were finishing our chores and we set off along the Oxford Canal – another new stretch for us. We decided to leave Coventry City for another year.

The North Oxford is a grand waterway – we spent the afternoon enjoying the simple pleasures of fine weather, good company and lovely scenery- who could ask for more?

Richard and Pal took the dogs for a long walk along the footpath which runs from Bridge 16 to Bridge 20 while I cruised along with Lizzie and the kids. Nathan refused to go for a walk – I think he was tempted to walk with the men but he just hates to leave the boat. Once again, the canal runs very close to the railway and Lizzie and I managed to get a freight train driver to beep his horn and give us a wave from his cab. Aah for the days when we’d have got that response because we were hot young babes rather than because we were on the back of a beautiful narrowboat 🙂

Newbold Tunnel - doesn't look very long from here....

Newbold Tunnel - doesn't look very long from here....

In the meantime Richard, Pal and the dogs were having an eventful time. The greyhounds just don’t do stiles – they’re too big to go under and too wussy to jump over. Richard had some heavy lifting to do – Lou protested vigorously! They also safely negotiated a field full of sheep and ended up walking a lot further than they intended because I was looking for our rendezvous at Bridge 20 without realising that it’s an aqueduct not a bridge. I was a bit worried because I’d arrived at Bridge 24, but I hadn’t gone so far – this stretch of the Oxford Canal has been extensively straightened and the bridge numbers often don’t run in sequence – Bridge 24 is the next bridge after 20! When the men came into sight the dogs were trailing far behind them – they’re used to little rummages rather than long walks. They were so relieved to see the boat….

I’ve talked before about the hierarchy of old transport routes, with railways often being put above canal. Well, at the M6 bridge both modes of transport are put in their place with the canal and railway squashed impossibly beneath the vast motorway.

A few specifics did stand out; the stretch up to Bridge 34 is  a shaded cutting with obvious signs of landslips all along the offside. There’s a BW sign on the towpath side warning boaters not to moor here because of the risk of landslips and falling trees – I was a bit amazed at the number of walkers that were risking the path!

A bit later on we passed some good moorings at Oakwood with a useful canalside car park nearby. Bridge 35 is particularly scenic with an attractive canalside cottage. Bridge 37 is a quirkily pretty (and low) redbrick bridge. As we cruised into the late afternoon we were surrounded by pastoral views washed in gold by the lowering sun.

We stopped at Rose Narrowboats for a really good pump out. Whilst that was happening Pal explored the ice cream fridge and Richard explored the chandlery (having left his order with Pal). The chandlery is very good, excellent range, reasonable prices and knowledgeable service. Fortunately there was a queue forming for the services so Richard could not spend too much time in there …

Our destination for the day were the moorings just beyond the Newbold Tunnel (Pal had thoughtfully left a car here for their return journey) . The tunnel itself is deceptive – from a distance it looks as short as a wide road bridge – 25 metres rather than the 250 written on the map. But the map was right! It is a high wide tunnel with a footpath running through – it was dark when we went through but we found out more about the lighting the following day.

Fire exit blocked by a broom - the Barley Mow doesn't really deliver.....

Fire exit blocked by a broom - the Barley Mow doesn't really deliver.....

We moored immediately after the tunnel as the visitor moorings further along were jam-packed. There are two pubs nearby – the Barley Mow and the Boat. Some passersby told us that the Boat wasn’t doing food so we went to the Barley Mow, which is dog-friendly. I’m afraid to report that the pub was hopeless – the food took over an hour to arrive and there was an interval of around 20 minutes between the first and last meal arriving at the table. The food was ok but nowhere near good enough to justify the wait (Liz’s chilli was the just about the worst she’s ever eaten and the garlic bread was horribly soggy; but at least the dogs’ sausages looked very good). Worryingly the fire exit panic bar is held closed with a broom stick – it would probably break if you were in a panic but that is not a good sign.

The pub’s tardiness made for a late evening. We said a reluctant goodbye to our guests but it was just as well, We barely stayed awake from long enough to see them off! This mooring is very quiet though and we all had a good night’s sleep.

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 52

Posted by indigodream on 21 September, 2009

Sunday 13th September

Atherstone to Hartshill

Services at BW's Hartshill Yard

Services at BW's Hartshill Yard

Our original plan for the week was to stop cruising on Saturday morning and be home ready for a full day of tidying up at home after the builders on Sunday. But the weather’s been too good and life on Indigo Dream is just too tempting. We were musing on whether to cruise a full day on Sunday but the morning’s weather told us to go home. For the first time this week the sky was overcast and it was cold without the prospect of sun to come.

Our plans were therefore dictated by the train timetable – Richard needed to get back to Kidsgrove for the car. He was disconsolate when he found out how few trains there were and that it would take an astounding two and a half hours to get there via Birmingham. I was perplexed – it was only when I overheard him ringing National Rail Enquiries again that I realised that he was asking them for trains to Kidderminster not Kidsgrove!

Distinctive clock-tower at BW's Hartshill Yard

Distinctive clock-tower at BW's Hartshill Yard

The most convenient train to Kidsgrove left Nuneaton at 12.20 or so – plenty of time for Richard to enjoy an hour’s cruise to our final destination.

We needed a secure 14-day mooring and we’d rung the local BW office on Friday for advice. They recommended the mooring between Bridge 28 and 27, near to Valley Cruisers. It sounded fine, but road access looked a bit limited. We headed in that direction with the intention of mooring up sooner if we saw a suitable place. We fancied two mooring spots on the way:

Atherstone – the best moorings are 48-hour; the stretch just beyond the 48-hour moorings is 14-day but near a smelly chemical factory.

BW Yard Hartshill – ideal but they’re only 7-day

We cruised on – despite the cold we made the best of our morning – there was plenty to see, even in this brief stretch. The BW Yard at Hartshill is a thing of beauty – the buildings are very attractive and it felt very homely. We’d have loved to stop here if there had been a 14-day moorings available.

Our mooring - it's not beautiful but it seems to tick all the other boxes....

Our mooring - it's not beautiful but it seems to tick all the other boxes....

The other landmark was a distinctive hill in the distance – too big to be man-made but such a defined shape that it couldn’t possibly be natural.  We read later that it is man-made – one of the area’s famous spoil heaps, left behind from local quarrying. Our guidebooks seem to have different opinions on what was quarried here – we’d assumed coal but it was either granite or sandstone. Apparently the quarries may be deeper than the spoil-heap is tall – it’s hard to believe.

We found our ideal mooring just past Bridge 29. There’s a short stretch of 48-hour moorings then the rest of the sheet piling (with a few mooring rings) is 14-day. Bridge 29 carries a decent B-road for access and has a pub right by the bridge. There were also some very friendly boaters here – nb Gentle Jane were very helpful and reassured us that it was secure to moor here – everyone watches out for each other’s boats and the pub landlord walks his dogs along the towpath twice a day and keeps an eye on all the boats. The crew of the Gentle Jane were very kind – they actually told the pub landlord that we’d be mooring there and he promised to keep an eye on Indigo Dream.

With the boat securely moored, Richard cycled down to Nuneaton in time for his train. I forced myself to pack the boat up and do a deep clean – she was looking a bit lived in after a whole week’s cruising.

We were far enough from the road for Blue to have a rummage (under my watchful eye) – he was very happy to nose around under the disused railway bridge nearby. He was ecstatic when he caught a rabbit there! After that excitement both dogs were happy to settle on the sofa and observe me while I swept and scrubbed.

I eventually got the boat into the required state (i.e. clean enough to host a parent if necessary) and took the dogs for a stroll along the towpath (away from the road bridge). What a surprise – a few boat lengths along, we found a kissing gate into a perfect rummaging field – plenty of grass to run in, small copses of trees to explore and lots of rabbits – Lou caught one this time. For our dogs it is all about the chase, it is very rare that they catch anything particularly when they are inclined to do things like catch up with a rabbit then overtake it and decide to chase the next one.

Blue and Lou had a wonderful time just running around and rummaging – they were so happy – they flattened great swathes of grass with their contentment rolls. It was a joyful thing to see.

Note on rabbits: This field is perfect rummaging for me, Blue and Lou but don’t go there if you’re squeamish. The rabbits here are not well (myxomatosis) and they’re obviously easy prey (and not just for Blue and Lou). The field was littered with rabbit remains at various stages of decay.

The Anchor Inn - dog-friendly and good carvery.....

The Anchor Inn - dog-friendly and good carvery.....

With the dogs well satisfied we got back to the boat shortly before Richard arrived with the car. It was gone 3pm by now so we went off to the pub for a late lunch. Not only does the landlord watch out for the boats but he also does a generous carvery and his pub is dog-friendly. Blue and Lou behaved impeccably, as you’d expect when they’re tired and have their sheepskins to lie on. They had a lot of fuss from the locals and enjoyed the remains of our carvery meat.

Note that there is a pub sign in the right place in Nicholsons but no write up.

After such a big meal there was an almost overwhelming temptation to stay on board, but Richard HAD to work on Monday and, as our parents always used to tell us, holidays have to come to an end sometime.`

We loaded the car and headed off, but we’ve come a long way south on our odyssey so the drive home wasn’t as onerous as we’d feared. We got home by 8.30pm and immediately regretted it – the builders hadn’t finished as promised and the house was indescribably filthy. Just as well that we have the memory of a wonderful week’s cruise to keep us cheerful as we sluice concrete dust off every conceivable surface…..

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 51

Posted by indigodream on 19 September, 2009

Saturday September 12th

Fradley Junction to Atherstone

Fradley by day. Doesn't Indigo Dream look good - Richard's polished that side.....

Fradley by day. Doesn't Indigo Dream look good - Richard's polished that side.....

Well here we are on day 51 of the odyssey – this time last year our odyssey was over – it’s been a tremendous summer.

We decided to set out early today – our mooring was a little close to the junction and we suspected that it would get busy later on. Before we left though, Richard found some excellent dog-walking – head in the direction of Alrewas, cross over the first lock and follow the footpath into some perfect rummaging woods.

With dogs satisfied, Richard got us through the swingbridge and we decided to stop for water at the point immediately after the bridge, which was surprisingly unoccupied. The water pressure wasn’t fantastic so it took a while to fill the tank – just as well. We were joined there by nb Treacle Dolly who have 3 greyhounds on board – Geri, Alice and Bonny. We let our two out and there followed a joyful greyhound bundle with very little commotion from Lou – she does tend to behave when there’s overwhelming odds. Treacle Dolly’s canine crew were

Me and two of Treacle Dolly's canine crew - see what I mean about Geri? The photos of the greyhounds together are blurred for some reason.....

Me and two of Treacle Dolly's canine crew - see what I mean about Geri? The photos of the greyhounds together are blurred for some reason.....

aged 14 years, 11years, and 18 months – they were utterly gorgeous especially the youngster (Geri?) who had a very endearing habit of leaning in for a cuddle.

Our greyhound gathering might have gone on for longer but our water tank filled up and another boat came into the queue so we had to move on. It was delightful meeting though – I hope we run into them again.

Rather than the railway as our close companion today, we picked up the busy Ryknild Street dual carriageway, separated by barely a metre of scrubby verge. I doubt if the speeding drivers even knew we were there.

The Nicholson’s guide suggests that this stretch of canal is somewhat lacklustre, but we disagreed for the most part. We thought that Whittington Wharf had really pleasant mooring spots and we found the rest of the canal to be full of interest and much more congenial than we expected. It must be pleasant canal – there are plenty of boats here, to the point of being a little congested in places.

Our first views of the leafy Coventry Canal

Our first views of the leafy Coventry Canal

We had a more welcome meeting later on when we saw nb Waterways Routes passing the other way – they’re another boat that we met several times on the BCN Challenge. Gratifyingly they recognised us and waved cheerily. We received a complement for them later on in the day – another narrowboat that we met commented on the high level of skill and teamwork that Narrowboat Routes’ crew had shown going through some of the locks in Birmingham.

As we passed by Fazeley junction we felt the familiar pull towards Birmingham but the pull towards undiscovered country on the Coventry Canal was stronger.

Congestion at Streethay Wharf...

Congestion at Streethay Wharf...

The canal continues to be pleasant – maybe not as beautiful as some but well worth a visit. Despite the fact that some of the bridges are graffitied, there are lots of moored boats looking safe and sound. The locals are friendly and Richard noticed a nice ‘slow down’ poem by Bridge 74 which promised smiles for people going at the appropriate speed – so it proved, there were smiles and waves aplenty. The houses make good use of their canalside locations; sadly most of the gardens were far too narrow to moor a 60 footer though in some places some neighbourly negotiations had resulted in some narrowboats overlapping the gardens on either side.

Note: there’s excellent dog-walking around Bridge 68

The moorings around Alvecote are particularly attractive – there’s a basin full of working boats here and the nearby ruined priory and nature reserve looked like a good place to explore. There are also attractive moorings between Alvecote and Polesworth – surrounded by great dog-rummaging woods.

The junction with a short section of the Wyrley and Essington canal - I wish is still connected to the rest of the curly wyrley - now that would be great cruise....

The junction with a short section of the Wyrley and Essington canal - I wish is still connected to the rest of the curly wyrley - now that would be great cruise....

We crossed under the M42 today – another indication that we’re really on our way south. Soon after the motorway we passed an unusual canalside teashop – it might have been the Pooley Fields Heritage Centre.

Note: Bridge 48 – watch out for swimmers in the winding hole and canoeists just after the bridge.

We uhmed and aahed over whether to moor in Polesworth or press on up the Atherstone flight. Well, you know us – on we went….

The Atherstone flight was nicely busy – just enough boats coming down to keep the locks set our way and to be sociable. There’s also less pressure here than on many flights as you can moor in the longer pounds – the basic pattern (at the bottom anyway), is to have two closely spaced locks then a long pound. There are particularly nice moorings between locks 10 and 9 with fine views over the open countryside. Unsurprisingly the railway line is close by but the noise doesn’t intrude. The locks are largely rural and the dogs had some good rummaging opportunities though Blue may have over-reached himself – he had a few illicit runs off the towpath and got thoroughly confused – we had to rescue him a couple of times. The bottom of the flight is particularly pleasant and the local people are very friendly; the frantic sound of the church bells being chimed as if to repel the devil himself completed the ambience.

Big sky....

Big sky....

Lock 8 has an interesting side-paddle which takes water from a side-pound – sadly it’s the only one left on the flight though you can still see remnants of the side-pounds at most of the locks. There’s an old adage about the Atherstone flight – ‘slow to fill, fast to empty’ and so it proved.

There was the enticing smell of steak wafting across the canal at Bridge 43 – this is one of the few canalside pubs that is still open in Atherstone and the only one recommended by some local walkers that we spoke to.

Our guidebook mentions that the top lock and basin are beautifully maintained by the lock-keeper. They are very tidy but the weird tableau of two stuffed dummies (one with red painted bloodstains) falling down the well/sluice near the lock was very off-putting – not to our taste that’s for sure. On a more positive note, there are good services at the top lock and a huge canalside coalyard.

We moored a little way up from the top lock in an unassuming but popular spot reassuringly covered by CCTV cameras.

Mellow views from the Atherstone flight

Mellow views from the Atherstone flight

Atherstone’s got a reputation as being a historic market town. A wander around town led me to wonder whether there’s a difference between historic and merely old! I have to say that Atherstone’s not at its best on a Saturday night. We left the dogs on board (they were exhausted) and had a wander around town. There are two canalside pubs on Coleshill Road (Bridge 41) – one is shut and the other isn’t recommended by locals. So we headed into town – it has narrow alleys and an open market square, a town built for horse and carts. But the main shopping street is the A5 – you’d never know by looking. But the shops are run down and many have grilles over the windows; it wasn’t even dark but many of the locals were singing drunk already. The presence of an ambulance with paramedic crew on standby in the high street further persuaded us to ditch the idea of eating out. We did, however find a very good Chinese takeaway – Atherstone House, by the back of the Red Lion hotel. We ordered a blowout takeaway and went back to the boat, where the dogs gave us, and the food, a rapturous welcome.

We spent a peaceful night here – despite our misgivings about the state of the high street, the canal was quiet and we had no bother.

Photoblog:

There are all sorts of businesses on the water....

There are all sorts of businesses on the water....

The sun's breaking through.....

The sun's breaking through.....

Canal users come in many shapes and sizes...

Canal users come in many shapes and sizes...

Pleasant suburban scene

Pleasant suburban scene

At least this sign is on the offside - shame, the woods did look enticing!

At least this sign is on the offside - shame, the woods did look enticing!

I know it's a bit blurred but doesn't nb Waterways Routes look good against this multihued backdrop

I know it's a bit blurred but doesn't nb Waterways Routes look good against this multihued backdrop

I thought that the railway's contempt of the canals would inhibit them from having a boat, but here we are...

I thought that the railway's contempt of the canals would inhibit them from having a boat, but here we are...

Decorative stern design.....

Decorative stern design.....

Fazeley Junction - looking towards Birmingham

Fazeley Junction - looking towards Birmingham

Bye then Lou...

Bye then Lou...

Dodgy parking space!

Dodgy parking space!

Pastoral views from the Atherstone Locks

Pastoral views from the Atherstone Locks

Even Blue has to rest sometimes.....

Even Blue has to rest sometimes.....

That's the old side pound to the right - sadly only one lock now has a working side-paddle

That's the old side pound to the right - sadly only one lock now has a working side-paddle

Working canalside coal yard at Atherstone Top Lock.

Working canalside coal yard at Atherstone Top Lock.

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 50

Posted by indigodream on 18 September, 2009

Friday 11th September

Weston-on-Trent to Fradley Junction

So many beautiful views today...

So many beautiful views today...

The mooring at Weston on Trent was very quiet overnight, despite the passing of fast Pendolino trains nearby – it’s a good spot to wave at trains! The railway has been our constant companion today, as it was yesterday. The juxtaposition of these two rival modes of transport is interesting, we didn’t find the train intrusive.

We had a very relaxed morning, noting the passing of the many boats heading north; a few went south, but not so many as to make us dash off to join the rush.

When we eventually set out we noted that the moorings around Bridge 80 were still pretty full but there are good moorings by Bridge 77, though too far from the pub for us!

The canal was busy from Hoo Mill onwards; it was especially jam-packed with moorings around Hoo Mill Lock, though there were plenty of moorings available below the lock. I wondered why boaters like to cluster together like this, then my brain caught up with my day-dreaming – I may as well ask why do we live in towns and cities!

Ironically, I dropped the camera into the water bowl while photographing 'Wrekin havoc'!

Ironically, I dropped the camera into the water bowl while photographing 'Wrekin havoc'!

I landed myself in the dog-house today when I managed to drop the small camera into the dog bowl, the new one full of water on the back deck! Oops! Unfortunately it’s wrecked, despite our attempts to dry it out; fortunately it is insured.

Soon afterwards we passed by the famous junction at Great Haywood. The service point here was as busy as ever. We resisted the temptation to take a little trip to Tixall Wide just to see if it was as beautiful as we remembered.

We left the River Dane behind today – the canal’s companion is now the River Trent. It’s a distinct contrast; where the Dane was hidden in deep valleys, the Trent runs alongside in a broad and open flood plain. There are stunning views here – the approach to Bridge 70 is particularly scenic. The road bridge over the river (by canal Bridge 70) is massive but the river itself is a shallow stream; I wondered whether the river rises to cover the plain in the winter (or should that be the summer, as we seem to get most of our rainfall in July now). Later on we left the Trent behind and picked up the River Tame. It was good to see the river Tame flowing wide and unfettered under the aqueduct. The last time was saw it was under spaghetti junction, buried unseen and neglected at the bottom of the heap.

The Trent plain makes for wonderful views

The Trent plain makes for wonderful views

There’s good mooring just past Bridge 70 – the canal’s softly shaded here and the river’s on the other side of a shallow  embankment – it’s worth nipping over to get a view of the river. I though the dogs might like a splosh here but although there are numerous paths down to the river’s edge, there’s a foot drop into the water and they won’t jump that far (they’ll only step into shallow water). More adventurous dogs will love a swim here – I just enjoyed the view over the water. I’d suggested mooring here because it was such a beautiful spot with good dog rummaging, but Blue and Lou lost interest immediately and went back to their beds for a sound sleep. I don’t think they sleep properly when we’re on the move – they have to keep one ear open in case they miss something. I reckoned that this would be a good place to moor for the night – it’s tranquil and there’s a pub across the road bridge nearby.

I poached the pears that we were given in Kidsgrove – they were lovely, just perfectly ripe – thanks!

Where we moored for lunch

Where we moored for lunch

The next bit of interest was the town of Rugeley, which is another boating community. We bought a round fender from nb Lynneth – the boss was wielding a pint mug of beer and was a merry soul. He had very good rope fenders though, and a selection of tiller pins, though none as fine as our new greyhound. Rugeley is dominated by its power station – it’s visible for miles and we were surprised at how close the canal comes to it. We were also surprised by the proximity of a tower block which has been one of our landmarks when whizzing along the M6 toll – we hadn’t realised how far South we’d come, or that the canal came so close to the motorway.

We passed the afternoon in a mixed landscape of farmland and suburban gardens – all very pleasant. We were amused by one back garden who’d installed a dummy speed camera pointing at the cut (well, we think it was a dummy!) with a proper Trent & Mersey canal sign. A little further on we got a good view of Hawkesyard Hall, a fanciful construction in red

The fanciful facade of Hawkesyard Hall

The fanciful facade of Hawkesyard Hall

brick, reminiscent of Hampton Court Palace, though on a much smaller scale.

We noticed a lot of boats carrying the Boaters Christian Fellowship (BCF) logo today – has there been a gathering nearby or is it a regular community here?

Note: nb Strait and Narrow says that the water point after Bridge 62 has very good water pressure

We were too busy looking around to pay attention to our map so we were taken aback by the BW sign warning of narrows ahead. The sign advises boaters to send a crew member ahead to warn boats coming the other way to stop. Richard, Blue and Lou volunteered and the dogs had a good rummage (once they were past the road); Blue had a very good time as he found a few illicit paths to keep him happy. The narrows are a remnant of an old tunnel which has had its roof removed at some point; it still retains its tunnel-like atmosphere with high stone walls on one side. The canal opens out at the far end of the narrows, with some useful moorings and a large pub nearby.

The Swan at Fradley - the most photographed pub on the canal apparently. Looks good at sunset...

The Swan at Fradley - the most photographed pub on the canal apparently. Looks good at sunset...

The stretch down to Fradley is surrounded by woods and full of squirrels. The section above Shadehouse lock has 14-day moorings and would be a perfect dog-rummaging spot. But we were heading for the junction – hoping to get a mooring just after the turn onto the Coventry Canal. We were in for a shock – the nearer we got to the junction the busier it became, with a mix of long and short term moorings – all jam-packed. As we turned towards the swing-bridge Richard spotted that there was a 24-hour mooring spot right on the junction on the left just before the ‘narrow’ channel to the swingbridge. We couldn’t believe that it was a mooring, right there on the junction, and that no-one had nicked it! We got in quick! Just as well, we wouldn’t have had to cruise at least a mile down the Coventry canal before finding a free space.

We decided to eat on board – the Swan pub opposite seemed a bit busy and we had plenty of food on board. The dogs relaxed and we got on with a few more chores and watch the world go by. There’s plenty to watch here – the comings and goings by the pub, boats working up the locks, boats turning at the junction, walkers on the paths – it’s a good spot for lounging around. By chance we were moored opposite nb Trundles, a fellow participant on the BCN Challenge.

Luckily for us the sheer busyness of the canal heading towards Alrewas made it easy for us to resist the pull towards Shardlow, though we did regret missing the chance to bump into Sanity who was moored only a few short miles away. We had a quiet night on the moorig – it’s a big boating community and that’s always a good omen.

Photoblog:

A unique garden ornament

A unique garden ornament

Haywood Junction

Haywood Junction

Aah he's just so handsome.....

Aah he's just so handsome.....

More sweeping views

More sweeping views

The railway's never very far away...

The railway's never very far away...

The River Tame....

The River Tame....

What a gruesome tale...

What a gruesome tale...

Fine skewed railway bridge

Fine skewed railway bridge

Rugeley power station dominates

Rugeley power station dominates

Canalside trampoline - how often do they land in the canal?

Canalside trampoline - how often do they land in the canal?

Big bird - we didn't catch the species but it looked proud and fierce

Big bird - we didn't catch the species but it looked proud and fierce

This is one of our landmarks on the M6....

This is one of our landmarks on the M6....

That figure int he nightshirt is a model but it oculd have been a real person - you can never tell with some boaters :-)

That figure in the nightshirt is a model but it could have been a real person - you can never tell with some boaters 🙂

Meander....

Meander....

A glimpse of the landscape.....

A glimpse of the landscape.....

King's Bromley Wharf - huge mooring basin...

King's Bromley Wharf - huge mooring basin...

Softly wooded canal - there's lots of squirrels in those woods...

Softly wooded canal - there's lots of squirrels in those woods...

At our mooring in Fradley - it's been a long day....

At our mooring in Fradley - it's been a long day....

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 49

Posted by indigodream on 16 September, 2009

Thursday 10th September

Kidsgrove Junction to Weston on Trent

It's not the best photo but I hope you get an idea of the scale of the new visitor centre at Longport

It's not the best photo but I hope you get an idea of the scale of the new visitor centre at Longport Wharf (now a tremendous nature reserve)

We’ve had a cracking day’s cruising today – not in the doing of great deeds but just enjoying the simple pleasures of a fine stretch of canal.

I was wondering why yesterday’s blog was relatively short, then it occurred to me that we hadn’t actually travelled a great distance – 3 linear miles but 11 deep locks UP. Today’s been quite a bit busier, and a lot more satisfying. I must apologise for our photos – the early morning shots were scuppered by mist on the lens in the cool air; later photos were blanked out by the bright sunshine but we’re not complaining about that!

Our mission for the morning was to get through the first passage of the Harecastle Tunnel. The BW man had told us that if we got there at 7.30am then he could guarantee us passage through. The alarm was duly set – it’s an unnatural time of the day for the Indigo Dreamers!

The first of many bottle kilns - Middleport Potteries

The first of many bottle kilns

Richard got us underway and we arrived at the tunnel just in time – BW let us through first at 7.53am (along with the other boat who hadn’t made it through last night). Richard was on the helm and we got through in 30 minutes – no messing though he did get worried when he had no power just inside the portal but a quick burst of reverse worked to throw off whatever was round the prop. I sat indoors covering the dogs with blankets – it’s chilly in the tunnel, though I noticed that the temperature when we went in was an autumnal 7 degrees, by the time we got out it was around 13 degrees. The day was warming up nicely and we were set for a fine day’s cruising.

The Harecastle Tunnel is an impressive piece of engineering, so straight and perfectly aligned that you can see the pinprick of light at the far end. It is just a pinprick – it’s a long tunnel with somewhat uneven ceilings. There’s plenty of headroom but it’s easy to clang against the sides in the oppressive darkness (not that Richard did – that’s my trick!).  Being the first through, the air was quite clear – it gets a bit fumy later on (especially if you’re following other boats). Water levels seem much lower, we have seen a reference to water levels being 4″ lower because of a leak on the Macc Aqueduct but that still does not equate to Richard’s memory of having to duck right down in the low bit. Also we emerged relatively dry, not soaked as per previous memories and we missed taking a photograph of the skeleton as it is closer to the north portal than we remembered.

Fine old pottery buildings - still standing after all these years...

Fine old pottery buildings - still standing after all these years...

The Southern Portal is normally characterised by almost glowing orange water, but overnight the sediment settles; a local fisherman said that the water clears completely when there have been stoppages on the canal. Richard mentioned that the water was changing colour fast as our propeller stirred the muck at the bottom. The southern portal also gives a good view of the old tunnel opening  lying alongside – the old tunnel’s long lost to subsidence. Shame, with the Shroppie closed I reckon you could keep two tunnels in business here! There are better moorings at the southern portal, should you happen to get stuck overnight, but we were still surprised to see the long queue of boats waiting to go through. That was the pattern of the day – long lines of boats going North and just us going South with a succession of locks set our way – sweet.

There was plenty to see. The first thing of note was Longport Wharf, the reclaimed remnants of an old industrial site now converted into to a large Lakeland wildlife reserve. They’re in the middle of building a new visitor centre there which is perched on stilts and will give panoramic views over the water. There are very good 48-hour moorings here and, from memory, you can walk right around the lake (good dog-rummaging). We stopped a little way down and our two had a mini-rummage on the towpath – the first of many, they’ve been very active today.

Ripe for development - but into what??

Ripe for development - but into what??

I’m trying not to stray too much down memory lane, back to when we came this way on Dragonfly, not least of which because my memory’s very unreliable! We did notice that a huge derelict industrial site (possibly the old Shelton Works) has now been totally levelled – we wondered what would be built there – it’s surrounded by mixed retail/office developments. Of course it had to be Blue that found a gap in the otherwise very secure fencing in order to have a wander round the demolition site. I’m afraid the sound of us yelling “come here Blue” will disturb the peace of every canal in the country by the time we’ve finished cruising 🙂

It’s not all demolition though, the traditional buildings of Middleport Potteries still look very much alive, through it’s not clear whether the industry here is still pottery. You’ll see the first of many bottle kilns here. It’s fortunate for us sightseers that the hard-nosed businessmen that built these industries believed that these shapely kilns were the best way of firing their clay – they wouldn’t be here to grace the landscape otherwise.

The basin at Festival Park

The basin at Festival Park

The Doulton office and factory shop have a fine modern waterfront. It was near here that we passed nb Bounty of Narrowboatworld fame – we saw them at Teddington last year.

We got to Festival Park near Etruria by around 9.30am. This had been our planned destination had the tunnel been open yesterday, but with our early start we actually gained at least half an hour on our planned cruising day! We like Festival Park – there’s a reliable Toby Carvery here and, on previous visits, we’ve been able to persuade the chef to give us bumper parcels of leftover meat (for Indie, our old lurcher). There are also good ‘town’ facilities here, with things like a cinema and bowling alley – useful if you’re out with a family and want a bit of variety.

We had a bit of a challenge at Etruria junction – avoiding the temptation to ‘just’ pop down the Caldon ‘while we’re here’. This will be the first of many such challenges on the way home – we really need to focus on getting back to London before the stoppages start but we’ve already been talking about ‘just’ popping down to Shardlow (so that we’ll have had done the length of Trent & Mersey), and ‘just’ popping

The museum at Etruria Junction - well worth a visit

The museum at Etruria Junction - well worth a visit

down to Coventry to see the city. I think we’re going to find it very hard to stop cruising at the end of the season (not that we will stop really – no doubt we’ll be flitting around London over the winter and we may try to explore the Lee and Stort in March if the stoppages allow ).

After locking up for many miles, the first deep lock down at Etruria is a shocker – it must be all of 13 feet and buried the boat in shade. (Table of lock depths here). There’s plenty of interest here and the china museum is well worth a visit if you have the time. Considering that the locks take the canal down to the depths of Stoke, there’s surprisingly secure dog rummaging here – right down to the fourth lock.

Note: the second lock has a sign telling boaters to shut their side-hatches because of leaky lock walls – make sure that you do – there’s a high pressure water spout about halfway down the lock.

That lock wall really does leak!

That lock wall really does leak!

As we worked down the Stoke 5, we met an oncoming boat with a tale to tell. There was a huge amount of traffic coming up the canal – they’d been stuck in 10-boat queues at some of the locks yesterday. They’d set off at 6.30am today in order to beat the rush. They weren’t joking – I lost count of how many boats we saw coming the other way today – thirty, forty, maybe more…….

Stoke on Trent is vastly improved since we were last here. The canal/road improvement works were in full swing four years ago and we were channelled through a miserable culvert surrounded by the detritus of a major building project. It’s very fancy here today – with magnificent ‘M1’ standard towpaths (particularly for cyclists), generous benches and decorative signage. But when I thought about it, the development is all for towpath users – there are no moorings rings or facilities for boaters. This state of affairs continued right down to Barlaston village. Where there were hard towpaths, there’s weren’t any mooring rings or bollards; where there were ‘soft’ towpaths (for pins) or sheet piling, rocks had been heaped at the edge of the canal to

It may all be for towpath users but it is well done - we thought this bench was very smart

It may all be for towpath users but it is well done - we thought this bench was very smart

prevent boaters from coming close. We would have stopped at the shops at  Trentham or at Barlaston but they just don’t make it easy for boaters to stay.

As I suspect that some of the towpath improvements are part sponsored by the local council I did wonder whether the slogan “boaters are not voters” applied here – why should they put money into boating facilities when it’s the walkers and cyclists that will be paying the local taxes and keeping the local councillors in power. Ah, maybe I’m just getting too cynical….

To be fair, there is good mooring not far on from Barlaston by the famous Wedgewood factory. We weren’t sure whether the factory was still open after Wedgewood went under earlier this year. We asked some locals walking along the towpath – they told us that it the factory was just about clinging on. I don’t know what the future holds but, just in case, try and do the factory tour (if it’s still available) – it’s the best.

Things improved dramatically as we approached Stone. There’s a very pleasant stretch of canal past Barlaston – the woods are at a level with the canal and gave just enough shade to break the unceasing sunshine into sparkles on the

How close is that train??/

How close is that train??/

water. The railway line is uncannily close to the canal here – the trains pass by at head height – quite disconcerting.

As we passed another boat in this section a voice shouted out – “we read your blog” – it was nb Windsong – we read theirs as well!

The Meaford Locks were a perfect opportunity for a bit of dog-rummaging. The second lock down is by a road, but otherwise they’re rural and secure. There were good moorings in the pound between Meaford Road Lock and Meaford House Lock – there’s some particularly fine dog rummaging around Bridge 97 (or so Blue tells me, having explored extensively).

The Meaford flight gave us the first indication that there was a treat ahead. There’s an information point here boldly labelled “STOP AT STONE” – we used our BW key to extract a useful information leaflet enumerating the delights of the town.

What a town - individually lit mooring rings in Stone; apparently it makes the towpath look very pretty at night.

What a town - individually lit mooring rings in Stone; apparently it makes the towpath look very pretty at night.

This is what we’d been waiting for. Stone is a boater’s town through and through – it trumpets its canal heritage at every opportunity and lays on every facility that a boater could possibly need. It was such a brilliant contrast to Stoke and its surrounding villages. There are fine moorings between locks 31 and 30 and the mooring rings on the approach to lock 30 are actually individually lit!

I saw Hadar moored up at the basin here and waved enthusiastically at what I hoped was the crew! They certainly waved back with gusto. We also met Elaine from Fulbourne here – this time on the helm of a different, and rather more modern, boat. She was unmistakable in her traditional boat-woman’s bonnet.

We moored up below Lock 30 in Stone on possibly the only bit of towpath that doesn’t have mooring rings! We got to the high street by walking to the next lock, crossing over the canal then turning second left. Stone has a bustling high street with everything that you might need, including a Costa coffee

The famous (or infamous!) Phyllis May

The famous (or infamous!) Phyllis May

and many tasty looking bakeries. We were taken by the Crown and Anchor pub which does ‘black rock’ cooking – a hot granite stone is bought to your table and you cook your own meat/fish. We’ve only previously come across this in Ghent and it’s a great way to spend an evening. So great, in fact, that we bought our own ‘cooking stone’ in France. Unfortunately we were between servings – too late for lunch, too early for dinner – it’ll be on our list for another time though.

We took the dogs into town with us and, as usual, they drew a lot of fuss and attention – Stone seems to be a doggie town as well – there were lots of dogs out shopping! There’s a very good pet shop in town so we bought the dogs a new steel water bowl for the back deck. Don’t ask – given a full bowl of clean water indoors they’d much rather drink out of a manky bucket outside! This is our compromise – a decent bowlful of clean water outside – it’s been very popular so far.

There’s a water point immediately below Newcastle Road lock – it has really excellent water pressure but it does share the lock moorings so it was a bit congested there. While I was filling up, Richard visited the wonderful and now famous chandlery but didn’t find the bargains that he was looking for! Instead he need emergency first aid when he saw the price of a chromed cabin hook – £26.

You just can't ask for more...

You just can't ask for more...

Just above Star lock we saw the world-famous nb Phyllis May, immortalised by Terry Darlington (with a rather optimistic poster in the window offering signed copies of his books). We didn’t see Jim the whippet. We’ve always liked Stone but I did wonder whether the ‘narrow dog’ books had given the town’s civic pride a boost.

There are yet more fine moorings below Star Lock – “Stop at Stone”, the sign said, they certainly give you plenty of reasons to do so…..

The canal continues to pass pleasantly through the village of Little Stoke – the locals maintain wonderful canalside gardens and there are some very desirable end-of-garden moorings.

The locks are in relatively good condition along the Trent and Mersey but I was surprised that the top gate at Sandon Lock doesn’t leak at all, not a drop!

Beautiful reflections......

Beautiful reflections......

Richard chatted to the crew of what he called nb ‘Derring Do’ – he told me we’d met them before on the Stratford Canal. I was mystified – the name meant nothing to me until I saw the name written on their boat – ‘Deryn Du’ – welsh for ‘Blackbird’! (ok, you need to be a welsh speaker to get it – my cousin will laugh!). The crew were very genial and we picked their brains about pubs – they weren’t familiar with the area so we fell back on our old strategy – ring around until we find one that does food and is dog-friendly!

We headed for the Saracen’s Head in Weston on Trent. It’s a popular spot – the decent moorings around Bridge 80 were jam-packed so we reversed back a little way until we found a bit of towpath that might hold our pins for a night. The towpath’s soft and rough here (hope that makes sense), with very uneven edges making a torch and some sobriety a must for the walk back from the pub 🙂 (speak for yourself Sue)

We had a very fine meal at the Saracen’s Head – all properly home-cooked. I had the tenderest steak that I’ve ever eaten – yum yum! The dogs were flat out but managed to lift their heads for their customary sausages and for a big fuss from one of the locals…..

Photoblog:

Wouldn't this little branch make a fine mooring....

Wouldn't this little branch make a fine mooring.... Richard wants an office with its own little branch canal

These bottle kilns look as if they've just sidled in alongside these modern housing developments...

These bottle kilns look as if they've just sidled in alongside these modern housing developments...

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Fellow Blogger - nb Mr David from Brimingham

Fellow Blogger - nb Mr David from Birmingham

There's good rummaging at Trentham Lock....

There's good rummaging at Trentham Lock....

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Barlaston Boatyard - the crane is used to hoist the 'stop' planks between the canal and their private arm..

Barlaston Boatyard - the crane is used to hoist the 'stop' planks between the canal and their private arm..

Hello Windsong, hope we meet again soon...

Hello Windsong, hope we meet again soon...

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Lou settling into one of her lock-side sleeping spots

Lou settling into one of her lock-side sleeping spots

Elaine from Fulbourne (sorry, didn't catch this boat's name) - one of many meetings this year, may there be many more...

Elaine from Fulbourne (sorry, didn't catch the name of the boat you were on today)

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They're working hard to get the new (and enormous) Aston Marina ready for opening in October - a bit ambitious maybe....

They're working hard to get the new (and enormous) Aston Marina ready for opening in October - a bit ambitious maybe....

Blue and Lou have spotted some rabbits....

Blue and Lou have spotted some rabbits....

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Blue on the alert....

Blue on the alert....

More beautiful reflections

More beautiful reflections

Bridge 82 is quite handsome with its elaborate brick arch

Bridge 82 is quite handsome with its elaborate brick arch

Weston Hall must have a fine view back over the canal..

Weston Hall must have a fine view back over the canal..

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Brilliant floral display - lovingly maintained - thank you, it's appreciated..

Brilliant floral display, lovingly maintained - thank you, it's appreciated..

Indigo dreaming.....

Indigo dreaming.....

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 48

Posted by indigodream on 15 September, 2009

Wednesday 9th September

Rode Heath to Kidsgrove Junction

A view from the top of Lock 53 - the water's already a strange colour; you can't see it from here but that valley is very deep

A view from the top of Lock 53 - the water's already a strange colour; you can't see it from here but that valley is very deep

The day dawned bright today – both in terms of the weather and of my spirits (especially with the memory of our convivial evening out last night). Well, I say ‘dawned’, after our uncharacteristically late night the crew’s collective name of the ‘Indigo Dreamers’ was well-earned!

We had a relaxed morning, noting how few boats actually slowed down going past us. But despite our ‘tuttings’, Indigo Dream didn’t move an inch – that’s the power of a properly tied mooring!

Once we were up and about we once again divided our labours. Richard took the car off to Kidsgrove but this time he’d have to cycle back to our mooring spot. The locks come thick and fast here and I didn’t fancy single-handing through them. Never mind, it’s only 3 linear miles and it’s downhill! Kidsgrove is a good place for the car – there’s free parking at the station and we had worked out that he should be able to get a train back from our journey’s end on Saturday.

The attractively curved parapet of Snapes aqueduct

The attractively curved parapet of Snapes aqueduct

In the meantime, I walked the dogs up to lock 53 and, by coincidence, found a perfect rummaging spot; head for the derelict buildings below the lock and go through the open gates to the field beyond – there’s a well-worn path (though I’m not sure if it’s an ‘official’ footpath) which winds its way through the field and gives great views to the deep Dane Valley below. Blue and Lou had a great time here, rummaging through the overgrown thistles, looking for rabbits.

I was surprised by how lively the dogs were today – they’ve spent most of the day rummaging around the locks. There’s a certain pattern to their behaviour. If you want to find Blue then look to the next lock – he’s always scouting ahead; if you want to find Lou then look to the lock behind, she’ll be fast asleep in the grass and won’t catch up until she absolutely has to!

The canal finally decided what it wanted to be today – a beautiful and rural waterway well-suited to leisure boaters (and their rummaging greyhounds). The weather was stunning – we’re often lucky at this time of year.

Very scenic around these dramatic deep paired locks

Very scenic around these dramatic deep paired locks

Today’s stretch of the Trent & Mersey was very scenic. There are fine views over to the  distant Mow Cop, rearing dramatically over the landscape in complete contrast to the dusky depths of the Dane Valley nearby.

There were lots of boats on the move today – a nice mix of private and hire boats. We swapped locks with nb Muffin, whose owner was wearing a WRG tee-shirt. I wondered if they were on their way back from the IWA National.

Lou has spent a serious amount of time just lying the grass by each lock today. She seemed strangely reluctant to lie on her sofa. I think she really enjoys the feel of sunshine on her fur. We had to call her at almost every lock – she’d have just stayed at the bottom lock all day if she’d had the chance. It was good to see her bounding joyfully between locks though. The vet said she should be hopping lame with the level of arthritis in her knee – she proved him wrong today. Mind you, I did confine her to the boat later, we do now have to keep an eye on her exercise to get the balance between her having a good life and not putting too much strain on her joints.

The view over to the Mow Cop

The view over to the Mow Cop

We did meet another greyhound couple today – they were on a hire boat coming down at lock 48. Sadly they’ve left their greyhound at home – she’s too keen (i.e. has a high prey drive) and they didn’t trust her not to leap off the boat or down the towpath after little creatures. Fortunately ours aren’t quite so bad though I did keep an eye on them – there are an inordinate number of tiny Yorkshire Terriers along this stretch…..

Note: There are a number of footpaths leading off the towpath into the surrounding countryside around Lock 48

After a solid few hours of locking, we stopped for lunch at Church Lawton – there are moorings here and they seem to be 14-day – a useful spot for the future.

We weren’t plagued by the ‘rural’ aromas today, though we did wonder at nb Mellow, which has a permanent mooring by a large farm and it’s attendant giant tank of slurry. The tank has a ‘skull and crossbones’ warning sign plus a note saying “dangerous gases: do not enter”. Well, maybe the mooring’s very cheap…..

Services and moorings at the BW Yard at Red Bull

Services and moorings at the BW Yard at Red Bull

Note: There’s a lively bywash below Lock 46

We reached the famous Red Bull services by mid-afternoon – there are good 48-hour moorings here as well as the usual services. The moorings are a bit close to the road for our dogs though the yard may be gated at night. There are also mooring rings above Lock 42 – this seemed like a pleasant spot though it’s shallow offside.

We got to the last of the day’s locks and made a dash for the Harecastle Tunnel; we’d estimated that we’d be just in time to get through. But there was a narrowboat and its disgruntled crew waiting at the moorings. It’s a very long story but as of September 1st the tunnel’s on its “normal” opening hours – a few slow boats and a generally unhelpful attitude meant that the boats coming through from the South wouldn’t be out in time for us to start our trip, even though it was only 3.30pm.

That's the Macclesfield Canal being carried above us on this unassuming aqueduct....

That's the Macclesfield Canal being carried above us on this unassuming aqueduct....

Now we’ve heard different things about whether it’s safe to moor overnight at the northern Harecastle portal so we decided not to risk it. It’s not a particularly nice place to stay anyway. Sadly there’s no room to wind at the portal so we reversed back to the junction, reversed onto the Macclesfield and moored up by Bridge 97 (Macclesfield), pointing the right way for the morning.

I was particularly proud of our reversing. The other boat had reversed back before us and within 100 yards had given up on the tiller – the male crew hopped onto the towpath and towed the boat back to the junction while the ‘missus’ fended the front off the bank with an old broom. In the meantime, I neatly reversed Indigo Dream back, with the assistance of Richard as my ‘bow thruster’, using the pole to make adjustments at the front. It was a swanky piece of work. Buoyed by my success in successfully reversing round a 90-degree junction (which I used to be nervous about going forwards in the Dragonfly!) I carried on back down the canal until I heard Richard utter the shocking words that I never thought I’d hear from his mouth –  “Sue, slow down, you’re going too fast…….”

Pleasant moorings above Lock 42, and only a short walk back to the pub at Red Bull

Pleasant moorings above Lock 42, and only a short walk back to the pub at Red Bull

It was very early when we moored up, so we settled down to some chores – Richard did some painting and polishing while I trimmed the deck mats, made the tea and caught up with the blog. He also had an expedition to Tesco – he’d thought it was very nearby, it’s not!

As we’ve moved further north, we’ve noticed that people are getting friendlier and kinder. Today was no exception – we’re moored below some back gardens. One of the locals popped his head over the hedge and offered us some pears – his tree’s had an abundant crops and he’s giving them away. He even delivered a bag to the boat.

Other than that, we’ve only seen one or two people on the towpath. Despite the proximity of the road bridge (and people shouting greetings from above) no-one seems to bother coming down to the towpath. My heart sank at 11.30pm when a mini-motorbike whizzed past the boat (twice) but we didn’t have any bother here at all.

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Photoblog:

I knew that Lou had overdone it yesterday

I knew that Lou had overdone it yesterday

Lou enjoying the landscape - this is her typical behaviour at locks....

Lou enjoying the landscape - this is her typical behaviour at locks....

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Intriguing footpaths off the towpath - there's plenty of countryside to explore around here

Intriguing footpaths off the towpath - there's plenty of countryside to explore around here

Some of the paired locks need more than a litte maintenance....

Some of the paired locks need more than a little maintenance....

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Seeing dates on the lock structures all adds to the interest - this one is 1895; see how 'rusty' the water is here....

Seeing dates on the lock structures all adds to the interest - this one is 1895; see how 'rusty' the water is here....

Unusual arch supports - reminds me of barrel staves

Unusual arch supports - reminds me of barrel staves

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Fine pack of 3 lurchers. We thought they might be too hot in the car but the owners, enjoying a lock0side pint, assured us that the dogs were ok.....

Fine pack of 3 lurchers. We thought they might be too hot in the car but the owners, enjoying a lockside pint, assured us that the dogs were ok.....

I was worried by the sight of this weed - this pernicious stuff is what's blocking the Wednesdbury Oak Loop on the BCN; Hopefully there are too many boat movements here to let it take hold....

I was worried by the sight of this weed - this pernicious stuff is what's blocking the Wednesdbury Oak Loop on the BCN; Hopefully there are too many boat movements here to let it take hold....

Precision parking.....

Precision parking.....

New boatyard - welcome comfort on the otherwise bleak final approach to the northern portal of the Harecastle tunnel

New boatyard - welcome comfort on the otherwise bleak final approach to the northern portal of the Harecastle tunnel

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Day 47 Photoblog

Posted by indigodream on 14 September, 2009

I’m finally at home and woefully behind with the blog. However, with a good signal here I should soon catch up. The first job is to add a few more photos from Day 47……

What does rummaging mean? First we look around....

The meaning of rummaging (1): First we look around....

The meaning of rummaging (2): then we have a little run back and forth...

The meaning of rummaging (2): then we have a little run back and forth...

The meaning of rummaging (3): Then it's time for another look around..

The meaning of rummaging (3): Then it's time for another look around..

The meaning of rummaging (4): Wassat?

The meaning of rummaging (4): Wassat?

Propping the empty lock is a big job...

Propping the empty lock is a big job...

Pigs on the run....

Pigs on the run....

The M6 passing over the canal...

The M6 passing over the canal...

And the canal being crossed by an altogether quieter bridlepath...

And the canal being crossed by an all together quieter bridlepath...

Lou still busy inspecting those locks...

Lou still busy inspecting those locks...

The merry (very!) crews of Caxton, Matilda Rose and Indigo Dream...

The merry (very!) crews of Caxton, Matilda Rose and Indigo Dream...

And another one of use trying to pose.....

And another one of use trying to pose.....

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 47

Posted by indigodream on 11 September, 2009

Tuesday 8th September

Middlewich to Lock 54 (Rode Heath)

Getting warmed-up for a day's locking - the approach to the top of the Middlewich 3

Getting warmed-up for a day's locking - the approach to the top of the Middlewich 3

We had a very quiet night at the moorings in Middlewich and got going relatively early by our standards. We had a serious number of locks ahead of us and with rain promised for late afternoon it seemed a good idea to get started.

But not before Richard had had a chance to chat to the four lads in the plastic cruiser that we’d met yesterday. They’d moored up behind us and I’m still not sure quite how four strapping lads managed to fit inside the tiny cabin. Don’t even ask about the sanitary arrangements – I’m certain there wasn’t a loo on board! Apparently one of the lads said he’d slept on the towpath as the atmosphere had become a little too ripe inside!

The first locks of the day were the Middlewich 3 – deep narrow locks in complete contrast to the Middlewich Big Lock. The dogs had a wonderful rummage here – there’s a bit of scrubby woodland to one side and there’s relatively little access to the roads. It was a good warm-up for the day’s locking – both for Richard doing the manual labour and for me having to negotiate some tricky angles between the middle and top lock.

Lou the lock supervisor

Lou the lock supervisor

Before we went any further we stopped at Anderton’s Boatyard for a pump-out – they did a good job for £15; we also filled up with water here.

With our chores done we set out on a non-stop locking spree…..

Now, on our previous excursions we’ve always approached Middlewich from the Middlewich Arm and EVERY time have made the mistake of not mooring on the arm, turning right onto the Trent and Mersey, deciding that we didn’t want to moor by the road then locking up the canal until after dark to find the first suitable spot (above Bridge 161 – away from the road but next to the chemical factory!). With these memories in mind we were slightly smug today – we’d moored in exactly the right place last night and, for a change, we were doing these locks in daylight at the start of the day after a good night’s sleep.

The view back down to the junction with the Middlewich Arm

The view back down to the junction with the Middlewich Arm

It didn’t make much difference! This stretch didn’t look any better by day – the road’s right next to the canal so the dogs had to be confined rather than having their usual lock-side rummages. They weren’t happy!

I wasn’t particularly happy either – the weather was dry but overcast and cool with a brisk wind making a nuisance of itself. The weather couldn’t settle on being one thing or the other – neither can the canal here. It’s a bit industrial without being that interesting; it’s a bit rural without being that pretty. The locks are deep and turbulent and awkwardly placed – too far apart to give the convenience of a flight and too close together to give Richard time to make me coffee in-between 🙂

We stopped off at Elton Moss Cottage Wharf for diesel – they sell it for 71p (before duty) and on a 60/40 split we paid £108 for 109 litres. We were interested in this spot because this is where the manager of our old share boat used to live.

Elton Moss Cottage and services

Elton Moss Cottage and services

The canal perks up a bit after Elton Moss with views over a large flash at Bridge 158A and a line of decent moorings overlooking the suitably rural scene of a field of cows. Unfortunately, the moorings were overwhelmed by the smell of a field of cows and their associated slurry. This smell persisted for the rest of the day – the canalside farmers seem to have decided that today was muck-spreading day and they went to it with enthusiasm! The stench at the bottom of some of the locks made me fear for the oxygen levels; I’m certainly glad that I don’t smoke!

Despite the all-pervading smell, the canal did get increasingly scenic as the day went on –there are some interesting twists and turns up to Bridge 157 and there’s decent dog-walking on the playing fields by Bridge 156.

As we cruised along, I wasn’t sure whether I was imagining that the water was gradually changing colour – from a dull earthy brown to a bright tan. I know that it’ll be bright orange by the time we get through Harecastle Tunnel! Pearson’s tells us that the orange water by Harecastle is because of ironstone leaching out of the tunnel into the water. If that’s the only source of the orange water then it’s carried a long way down by the Cheshire Locks.

Useful service point at Wheelock

Useful service point at Wheelock

We stopped off at the busy service point in Wheelock – partly to get rid of our rubbish and partly to visit the nearby ‘Pet Superstore’ to buy two dog-leads. We’ve managed to leave ALL of our dog leads (at least 5) in my car at home. Richard says the pet superstore has everything, including a dog-washing station! He thought it was pricey at £5 for 5 minutes but I can think of times, when they’ve rolled in something unpleasant, when it would seem like a bargain!

We let Blue and Lou off for a rummage at Wheelock bottom lock, thinking they’d be glad to be free after a morning’s confinement. But Blue got straight back on board and Lou just lay in the grass and fell asleep!

Note: Wheelock top lock is particularly turbulent – open the paddles slowly and be prepared to apply some revs in reverse (unless you like being swept into the top gate at speed!).

Lock maintenance - it's a big job

Lock maintenance - it's a big job

We picked up some prop debris today – a mangled hood off an anorak – the filling did a great job of stopping the prop – no wonder I’d had trouble keeping the boat steady in reverse at the back of the locks!

We did have a mini-drama at lock 59 – some pigs had escaped from their enclosure, into the surrounding field and through a large hole in the fence onto the towpath. Blue and Lou were very excited; though Lou very sensibly ran away while Blue thought he’d defend her and, incidentally, bring home the bacon, possibly warmed up from a rabbit encounter at an earlier lock. Blue impressed Richard by stopping when yelled at and the pigs retreated back to their field. I was relieved, we used to keep pigs one the smallholding where I spent my early childhood – they’re big beasts and quite fearsome when roused (well, so it seemed to my 5-year old self).

Many of the locks are paired here though BW maintenance teams were out in force today so that only 1 lock was available at many of the ‘pairs’. We didn’t mind – it was fascinating to have a nose into the empty locks and chat to the workers. Most of the paired locks have an interesting feature – there is a timber panel on the side of bottom lock gate nearest to the paired lock rather than the usual massive stone wall. These are apparently the remnants of old side-paddles which allowed boatmen to fill one lock from the other.

I’m aware of having been less than thrilled by today’s cruise so far, but the canal does acquire a bit of life at Hassall Green. We’ve previously stopped the ‘Lock 57’ café for supplies, and have eaten at the improbably named ‘Romping Donkey’ pub – both are very good.

Locks 56 and 55 are isolated and quiet – peaceful surroundings for a night’s mooring, though still bathed in the all-pervading smell of manure.

Luckily for us, our final destination was in the pleasant suburban development of Rode Heath, above Lock 54. The modern housing seemed to buffer us from the more rural aromas and we found a particularly fine and straight bit of sheet-piling for our mooring.

We moored up at 5pm-ish and Richard cycled off to get the car – we needed it to get to a momentous meeting of the waters, or rather, boaters.

We knew that Caxton and Matilda Rose were in Macclesfield and had hoped that we might meet on the boats as they travelled south. Sadly that wasn’t to be, so we went to meet them by car instead. Lesley and Jill had kindly sussed out a dog-friendly pub (The Old Kings House SK11 0HD) and we arranged to meet there at 7.30pm with the hounds. Having spent the evening there, we can recommend this pub – for the food, the drink and for the atmosphere. But I will warn you that the landlord has a robust (and very dry) sense of humour – don’t be put off!

I’m happy to report that we had the most wonderful evening – Caxton and Matilda Rose’s crews are as warm, welcoming and witty as you’d expect from reading their blogs. Sadly we didn’t get to meet their canine crew – they thought that 6 dogs might just take up too much of the pub’s floor space. This left Blue and Lou to benefit from a fuss from an additional four dog-lovers! We had a great meal here and we stayed up nattering until 11.45pm and even that didn’t seem like enough time to spend with these splendid people. We said goodbye with some regret but now the foundation’s laid for future meetings.

We got back to the boat at 12.15pm – we’ve NEVER stayed up so late on board, even for the BCN Challenge! A good night’s sleep was enjoyed by all…….

Photoblog:

Photos are a bit limited today. Rubbish signal on both vodafone and 3 … so we will add the rest tomorrow, if we have a signal!

In wonder if there's a story behind this cottage's name

In wonder if there's a story behind this cottage's name

I'd be wanting to repaint that A....

I'd be wanting to repaint that A....

The 'top' side of Middlewich isn't quite so attractive.....

The 'top' side of Middlewich isn't quite so attractive.....

This looked like a good business opprtunity - busy road, busy canal, what more do you need to make money from a pub?!!

This looked like a good business opprtunity - busy road, busy canal, what more do you need to make money from a pub?!!

Salt mountain above Midlewich

Salt mountain above Midlewich

Oh dear, Blue's taken up too much of the sofa...

Oh dear, Blue's taken up too much of the sofa...

Lock Supervisor Lou checking my angle of approach.....

Lock Supervisor Lou checking my angle of approach.....

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 46

Posted by indigodream on 9 September, 2009

Monday 7th September

Trent & Mersey Bridge 209 to Middlewich

A nice view.....

A nice view.....

We had a quiet night at the mooring, despite the traffic noise from the nearby roads. As the car was parked here, Richard decided to start the day with the car shuffle. He headed off to Middlewich and I took the boat down the canal.

I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the stretch down to Anderton. The canal clings on to my beloved Weaver Valley and the Saltersford and Barnton tunnels provide a bit of interest. The canal was busy first thing – four boats in a row passed me, heading North for Preston Brook. It’s been a busy day for boats – such a contrast to the Runcorn Arm yesterday.

The police are always saying that the fear of crime exaggerates the actual thing; I looked around for vandals when something clanged loudly onto the boat roof going through a thickly wooded section. The perpetrator was an oak tree, possibly aided and abetted by a squirrel, wilfully lobbing acorns at the boat!

And another nice view - there are lots along here....

And another nice view - there are lots along here....

The Saltersford Tunnels opens for 20 minutes in every hour (on the half-hour going south). I arrived there at 15 past the hour so the dogs had a good rummage while I enjoyed, yet again, the view down to the Weaver. I was joined by nb Madge, who ended up going into the tunnel first as I was slightly delayed by Blue, who was having a wonderful time exploring the woodland above the tunnel portal. I got into the tunnel in plenty of time and found that it wasn’t so bad. I find tunnels rather disorientating, but with a boat in front of me, my tunnel light, navigation lights, stern light and internal lights all on, I had plenty of illumination. The tunnel’s particularly crooked so you lose sight of the entrance about halfway through.

I got out of the tunnel at 11.40am precisely and found a boater waiting rather impatiently at the other side – the tunnel wasn’t due to open in that direction until 12 noon. He asked me whether there was anyone behind me; with some precision I told him that there hadn’t been anyone immediately behind me but that someone may have come through a bit later as the tunnel’s so crooked I couldn’t see. He grunted, got on his boat and went into the tunnel anyway – I listened for a bang …..

Saltersford Tunnel - Blue tells me that there's top rummaging in the woods above the portal...

Saltersford Tunnel - Blue tells me that there's top rummaging in the woods above the portal...

I was quite pleased to have nb Madge in front of me as Barnton Tunnel follows on soon after Saltersford and he took responsibility for working out whether there were any oncoming boats (no ‘opening times for this one). It’s another crooked tunnel so I don’t know how he worked out that it was clear but in he went and I followed. Except I followed rather untidily – Richard had rung me, I was trying to put the phone down, the sun was bright in my eyes and I was so dazzled I couldn’t see the slightly skewed tunnel entrance – BANG! No major damage – just another scrape on the front cabin (to add to the one I acquired in the Ashtead tunnel in Birmingham) and two dogs ringing the RPSCA in fear of their lives! The rest of the tunnel went smoothly – the moral of the tale is don’t try to use your mobile phone while attempting tricky manoeuvres.

If you have the crew, then it’s worth having a lookout on the stretch beyond Barnton Tunnel – there are narrows and bends aplenty here.

The Anderton Tunnel deosn't look like anything special from here!

The Anderton Boat Lift doesn't look like anything special from here!

The Anderton Boat Lift was quiet today – plenty of pedestrian visitors but no boats. However the service point just after Anderton Marina was jam-packed with boats.

If yesterday’s stretch of the Trent and Mersey was a revelation then today’s was, well, an even bigger revelation. There are some truly wonderful stretches between the Anderton and Middlewich. I was particularly taken by Marbury Country Park – the canalside is thickly forested with lots of footpaths just inviting an exploration. Now, what words do you associate with ‘Mersey’ – ‘beat’, ‘ferry’, ‘river’? How about ‘forest’? One signboard said that the woodland here had been a part of the Mersey forest – I wonder what the story is there.

Marbury Country Park looked like a great place to moor if you had supplies on board – I’m sure that Blue and Lou would have appreciated a rummage in the forest. The towpath didn’t look too bad for a pin mooring though there are good mooring rings just past the forested section. If you prefer industry to forestry then there are also good mooring rings past Bridge 192, though it’s nowhere near as scenic here. Alas I don’t have any photos – after the Barnton bash I thought I should pay attention to the helm for a short while 🙂

The once famous Lion Salt Works - it is marked as a museum but I'm not sure of it's open - it looked as if there was a LOT of restoration work going on..

The once famous Lion Salt Works - it is marked as a museum but I'm not sure of it's open - it looked as if there was a LOT of restoration work going on..

While I was enjoying the lush scenery, Richard was busy cycling back from Middlewich to meet me. I eventually got a phone call from Bridge 191 – that’s where his legs had turned to rubber; fortunately I was at Bridge 192 so he was soon recovered!

We passed through Northwich, marvelling at how different the view is from the canal compared to the Weaver. The salt works really dominate here and you get a feel that this is the industrial end of town, though the Weaver carried its fair share of freight.

Of course, Indigo Dream first put a toe in the water in Northwich, albeit before she had any paint or even an engine! We popped into Olympus Narrowboats by bridge 189. These good people finished Indigo Dream off for us after we’d parted with our original boat builder; in the months running up to that point they were always ready with tea and sympathy – they’re good folk. Surprisingly they did remember us and their main man, Mark, was able to give us some advice about our paintwork – it’s cracking in places. He gave us the reassuring news that if we protected our paintwork with a 6-monthly polish and touched up any bare areas against rust, then he thought it would last another couple of years – hurrah! So that seals our winter plans – we’re coming back to London and we’re not staying up North to do the paintwork or blacking.

Monumental works and the entrance to an arm that must once have served them

Monumental works and the entrance to an arm that must once have served them

It’s been strangely painful coming back to this end of Northwich – we have so many frustrating and angry memories of trying to get our boatbuilder to finish Indigo Dream. But the antidote for these feelings is, of course, the Indigo Dream herself – looking beautifully battered after three and a half years of tremendous cruising.

We found a place next to Olympus that does vinyl numbers and roof boxes (signs@mimarine.co.uk). We got excited; we’ve been looking for an under-bed box of very specific dimensions (to store our guest mattress) for years now without much success. I got a quote from one carpenter who could make us a bespoke lidded box (height 12”, depth 24”, width 50”) for £500, in MDF! This box was not lidded but only cost £165 but although it was just about the right height and width, it was too deep. Does anyone out there know where we can get a storage box to these strange dimensions for less than £500??

We moved on from Northwich, content in the knowledge that we wouldn’t be paying out for Indigo Dream to be painted this winter – phew! We did pass Orchard Marina later on who had a big sign up offering blacking from £7.50 a foot; that didn’t sound too bad to us but it would still be a hefty bill.

Sunken boat in Billinge Green Flash - apparently the flashes were once full of wrecks sunk by BW in the 1950s; many have now been recovered.

Sunken boat in Billinge Green Flash - apparently the flashes were once full of wrecks sunk by BW in the 1950s; many have now been recovered.

The area south of Northwich is a maze of pipe-bridges, criss-crossing the canal at regular intervals. The canal cuts through the centre of a working factory (probably another chemical plant) and we found it fascinating.

Later on, we entered a very special stretch of canal that has effectively been created by the local salt industry. At regular intervals, the canal forms generous lakes, or ‘flashes’ – all the product of mining subsidence. They’re beautiful but don’t be tempted to stray from the channels – they’re also shallow and littered with underwater debris. Billinge Green Flash is on the other side of the towpath, separated from the canal by relatively narrow strip of grass. It was strange to see fishermen sitting on the towpath but with their rods facing the other direction!

The flashes are dramatic – they’re scenic places to moor and many had decent towpath moorings – either for pins, or, in some places, with mooring rings.

After the many ‘flashes, the canal narrow dramatically to the width of a single narrowboat – there’s plenty of water on the offside but it’s inhabited by dense thickets of reeds, growing out maybe 20 feet or more from the offside.

48 hours moorings - Bramble Cuttings

48 hours moorings - Bramble Cuttings

Later on we came across Bramble Cuttings – very neat 48-hour moorings with a tidily mown picnic area reminiscent of Coole Pilate on the Shropshire Union.

The next bit of interest was the aqueduct over the river Dane, flowing unseen in a deep cutting below us. Unusually, the aqueduct has a wood decking towpath. It’s very scenic here, as is most of the Dane Valley. It’s interesting to think that this small river is responsible for carrying tons of silt down to the Weaver, necessitating regular dredging in order to keep the navigation alive.

There are very good moorings along the stretch around the aqueduct – a great place to stop for a bit of peace and quiet.

But we were going on to the bustle of Middlewich. The last stretch was a little slow – we got behind a slow boat, though we weren’t anywhere near as frustrated as a group of four lads in a little plastic cruised behind us. They overtook us at the first opportunity, creating great waves in the process, but they never managed to get in front of the next narrowboat so our convoy became even slower. The narrowboat

Croxton Aqueduct taking the canal over the lush Dane Valley

Croxton Aqueduct taking the canal over the lush Dane Valley

and cruiser locks up Middlewich Big Lock in front of us, leaving us to follow efficiently behind them. While I was waiting for the lock I spotted THE local dog-rummaging space so my time was well-spent.

There are ample moorings between Middlewich Big Lock and Bridge 172 – we had no trouble finding a good spot adjacent to a local park. We did have some anxiety as the park seems to have a resident large and fluffy cat – we kept a firm hold on the greyhounds. But they weren’t as vigilant as usual – we took them for a good rummage in the open fields across the canal by Big Lock before we settled down to eat at the “The Big Lock” pub. We were warned that the food wasn’t good, and it really wasn’t – all from the deep freeze and straight into the deep fat fryer; mind you there were lots of leftovers for dogs so they thoroughly approved. Apparently there are much better pubs and restaurants in town – we couldn’t be bothered to walk that far, but we will next time.

It’s been a very special day’s cruising. On our first hire boat, then on Dragonfly, we’d always been in a rush to turn off the Middlewich branch and head south – we’ve never taken the opportunity to explore the northern reaches of the Trent and Mersey. If you have the opportunity then don’t take the easy turn at Middlewich – go North and you’ll be in for a real treat…..

Photoblog:

This sign suggests that the opening times cover both tunnels but I'm pretty certain that the 'opening' times board on the other side just covers Saltersford. It woul dbe really useful if it covered both!

This sign suggests that the opening times cover both tunnels but I'm pretty certain that the 'opening' times board on the other side just covers Saltersford. It would be really useful if it covered both!

Yet another view of the Weaver Valley - you've got to admit that it is stunning

Yet another view of the Weaver Valley - you've got to admit that it is stunning

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Steady on Lou, we don't want to launch another rescue mission!

Steady on Lou, we don't want to launch another rescue mission!

The canal widens attractively between the Saltersford and Barnton tunnels

The canal widens attractively between the Saltersford and Barnton tunnels

A close-up of our new tiller-pin - probably the nearest we'll get to owning a third greyhound :-)

A close-up of our new tiller-pin - probably the nearest we'll get to owning a third greyhound 🙂

Olympus Narrowboats - it may not look like much but this outfit saved our boat!

Olympus Narrowboats - it may not look like much but this outfit saved our boat!

The flashes are wonderfully scenic mooring spots

The flashes are wonderfully scenic mooring spots

These reedy narrows are a nice contrast to the open flashes (provided there aren't any oncoming boats, of course!)

These reedy narrows are a nice contrast to the open flashes (provided there aren't any oncoming boats, of course!)

Strange moorings in the reeds...

Strange moorings in the reeds...

A variation on the built-in dog-proof deck (I wonder if the boat name is a nod to Dylan Thomas...)

A variation on the built-in dog-proof deck (I wonder if the boat name is a nod to Dylan Thomas...)

And another variant of the dog-proof deck - it's the future for narrowboat design!

And another variant of the dog-proof deck - it's the future for narrowboat design!

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 45

Posted by indigodream on 7 September, 2009

Trent & Mersey Bridge 209 to Runcorn (and back again)

Saturday 5th September

View down to Acton Swingbridge

View down to Acton Swingbridge

Aplologies if this post does not display correctly, wordpress is having a bad day. We got back to the boat late on Saturday night with some relief. It’s been a wearing week, in the way that only the last week before the holidays can be. Lou hasn’t been very well (nothing to do with her dunking in the Weaver last weekend!) and we decided to stay at home for an extra day until we were sure we wouldn’t need any more vet visits. She’s fine now, though a little sore – she had a few teeth extracted and an x-ray of her toe and knee has revealed quite extensive arthritis.

We had a great drive up on Saturday afternoon and arrived at Northwich by around 7.30pm. We divided our labours efficiently – I did Tesco while Richard and the dogs went to the boat and moved her down to a more convenient position right by Bridge 209. A local boater had given us the top tip that the long-term moorings just by the bridge were unoccupied (they’re apparently having trouble selling them) so they were fine for an overnight mooring. It felt a bit cheeky but it was a means to an end!

View across the Weaver valley from the Ternt & Mersey

View across the Weaver valley from the Trent & Mersey

Having sorted the boat, Richard indulged in some perfect timing – arriving at the Tesco checkout just in time to pay!

It was late by the time we’d loaded all the shopping and a week’s worth of clothes onto the boat but it was well worth it to give us a full day’s cruising on Sunday.

Sunday 6th September

The mooring by Bridge 209 was fine – there’s quite a bit of traffic noise from the nearby A-roads but there wasn’t a soul on the squishy towpath. We’re not surprised that BW are having trouble selling these moorings- there’s only 1 mooring ring and the ground is distinctly soft for pins.

We had a relaxed morning – Ken and Sue were joining us for the day – it’s been great to have plenty of time to catch up with them.

Beautiful in tis own right - a scenic bend on the Trent & Mersey (the photo doesn't quite do it justice)

Beautiful in tis own right - a scenic bend on the Tenr & Mersey (the photo doesn't quite do it justice)

We lost the men and dogs at Bridge 208 – they’d spotted a moored boat whose front had come adrift so they went off to rescue it while I turned the boat. It was an opportunity to repay, indirectly, the kindness of all the boaters that re-tied us in Brewood! In the meantime, us two Sue’s headed off for the winding hole past Bridge 207. There’s a very fine mooring by the bridge which we suspect is attached to the house opposite. Just as well that the other Sue and I haven’t won the lottery – there’d be no end to the houses that we’d buy!

The northern reaches of the Trent and Mersey canal have been a bit of a revelation. If I’d had to describe the T & M in as few words as possible I’d have said “heartbreak hill, harecastle, orange”. Beautiful certainly wouldn’t have been in the lexicon. But beautiful it is – both in its own right with green and pleasant surroundings and with its magnificent views of the River Weaver far below.

Socialising at Dutton Stop Lock - if you zoom in you can see the northbound opening times for the tunnel

Socialising at Dutton Stop Lock - if you zoom in you can see the opening tome for the tunnel

Of course, the T & M also has plenty of interest, here in the form of Preston Brook Tunnel. The tunnel approach is a bit awkward. There’s a silly stop-lock marking the boundary between the T & M and the Bridgewater canal and the approach is made narrow by moored boats. Funnily enough, the drop of around 2” took ages because the water was overflowing the top gates, even with the bottom paddles wide open – it’s a bizarre thing. Below the lock there’s a winding hole then another narrow stretch just before the tunnel. For information, when waiting for the tunnel (below the lock) do moor in the narrows – boats coming out of the tunnel can just about get past!

Blue and Lou had a good rummage at the stop lock – we had a bit of a wait for the tunnel; there’s only a 10 minute window per hour – it’s not very much but I think that BW have to allow for a certain amount of ‘cheating’

Our third greyhound in the Preston Brook tunnel

Our third greyhound in the Preston Brook tunnel

We had a bit of serendipity here – one of the boats coming out of the tunnel sells tiller-pins. We looked at their display as they went past, without much hope of finding a greyhound pin. But the woman on board said she had some in her store and we have finally got a stunning brass greyhound on our tiller. We had about 3 minutes to spare before we had to go through the tunnel so the woman named her price – a whopping £30. But Ken and Sue kindly bought it for Richard – he’s had a big birthday recently so they felt he needed some comfort!

Anyway, if you’re after a fancy tiller pin then watch out for nb. Pegasus No. 3 crewed by Barbara and Harold Schofield (0779 303 1743 barbara1515 at hotmail.co.uk

Well satisfied, we passed into Preston Brook tunnel just in time. The tunnel itself is dry and has an interesting ventilation shaft about halfway through which vents to the side rather than through the roof. I wondered what the geography was doing above in order make that work. Or was the setting out a bit out?

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Ken has tken this boat out on a cruise with kids from Barnado's - based on his past experience of steering Indigo Dream!

Ken has tken this boat out on a cruise with kids from Barnado's - based on his past experience of steering Indigo Dream!

Beyond Preston Brook there are outstanding views down to the Weaver with Acton swingbridge, Dutton Lock and Dutton viaduct clearly visible. It meant so much more to us having cruised the Weaver, though I never looked up to the canal when I was on the river – next time I will.

The canal got steadily quieter as we cruised along – I get the impression that maybe boaters go no further than Preston Brook. But once we’d turned onto the Runcorn arm we really did have the canal to ourselves. This is a shame, as the Runcorn Arm has many interesting contrasts – maybe you wouldn’t want to moor up for the night here, but as it’s an afternoon’s trip there and back it’s well worth exploring.

The first thing of note is the waterpoint on the canal just by the marina. It’s not marked on our Nicholson’s but it was signed as ‘Bridgewater Canal – Water’ so we filled up here. Sue is very familiar with this area as she works nearby and has to visit homes all around the area. It’s generally an area of high social deprivation but nothing’s clear cut. The houses can look rough but they’re in beautifully green surroundings; in other places, the flats look like a million dollars but they’re all social housing. The canal’s a bit grubby but it is scenic.

Our first view of the Runcorn Arm - that's a water tower in the distance

Our first view of the Runcorn Arm - that's a water tower in the distance

Where it passes through the woodland attached to the Priory it’s as beautiful a stretch as you could hope for. The locals that we met on the towpath, including the fishermen, were cheery souls and such kids as we met were too fascinated by the greyhounds to cause any mischief. The hedgerows were overladen with fruit and in one spot we stopped to pick a box of plump sweet greengage plums for Sue.

There are several boat clubs along this stretch with plenty of moored boats so I don’t this arm is in any danger of dying soon. But I do get the impression that most boaters just pass the junction and carry on straight up the Bridgewater without a sideways glance; I’d encourage you to come and explore.

Because surprisingly the end pays for all – not the basin itself but the nearby Mersey estuary.

The abrupt end of the Runcorn Arm

The abrupt end of the Runcorn Arm

I’d had this fantasy that the terminal basin of the Runcorn Arm would have a panoramic view down towards Weston Dock (at the end of the Weaver), poignantly reaching out but never touching it’s near neighbour. I was disappointed – the Runcorn Arm ends quite abruptly in a sheer wall beneath a road bridge (though there is plenty of room to turn). It’s a lacklustre place, despite the many boats moored offside. But ‘nil desperandum’, we locked the boat up thoroughly, left the dogs on guard and headed down towards the river (there’s a walkway under the giant road bridge). The road and rail bridges across the Manchester Ship Canal and Mersey are each magnificent in their different ways. The stone railway bridge was obviously designed y someone who had ambitions to build a castle, with its crenellated piers. The road bridge is a filigreed steel arch, reminiscent of Wembley, but so much more massive. Interestingly built by the same people as the Sydney Harbour Bridge but 2 decades later

The Manchester Ship Canal (foreground), dwarfed by the Mersey (beyond the 'wall) and it's monumental bridges

The Manchester Ship Canal (foreground), dwarfed by the Mersey (beyond the 'wall) and it's monumental bridges

Just a little to the right of the bridge, the path takes you down to a tiny park with a great viewing platform – it’s this that pays for the trip here. There’s a sweeping view over the Manchester ship canal, which looks narrow in comparison with the mighty Mersey beyond, held back by a solid concrete wall which looks flimsy when you think about the weight of the water it has to withstand. Seeing this view made me wonder whether a cruise right up the MSC to Pomona Docks would be feasible after all – there’s obviously plenty to see; maybe on the right day, when all the big ships are at anchor and the wind’s at rest……

We got back to the boat with mixed feelings. Once upon a time there were locks down to the MSC and the Weaver – what a ‘ring’ that would have made. There’s no sign of them now. Nonetheless, we had a great sense of completion coming here. You see, that’s it – we’re at the furthest point of our odyssey and we were now turning for home. Maybe the lock stoppages are doing us a favour – we’d never stop cruising if we didn’t have that limitation!

The Manchester Ship Canal and the Mersey beyond the wall

The Manchester Ship Canal and the Mersey beyond the wall

We were subdued on our way back to Bridge 209. The rain, which had held off all day, suddenly became as abundant as the autumn berries. Ken and Sue retreated indoors and I went with them – well, they’re our guests, it would have been rude not to, I’d have much preferred to be out on the rainy helm with Richard, of course I would have…..

We got back to our starting point in seemingly no time at all. We said a reluctant ‘goodbye’ to Ken and Sue and I decreed that we’d be spending the evening on board – no way was I walking to the pub in the rain through inches of mud on the squishy towpath. We watched the last two episodes of ‘Life on Mars’ – absolutely brilliant – another satisfying conclusion!

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Photoblog:

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Bold heron on the Runcorn Arm

Bold heron on the Runcorn Arm

Pleasant canalside housing near to Preston Brook Marina

Pleasant canalside housing near to Preston Brook Marina

Fast asleep duck, not at all bothered by the boat

Fast asleep duck, not at all bothered by the boat

Colourful mural on the Runcorn Arm

Colourful mural on the Runcorn Arm

It's greenly scenic on the stretch around Norton Priory (Runcorn Arm)

It's greenly scenic on the stretch around Norton Priory (Runcorn Arm)

The extravagantly turreted Runcorn-Widnes railway bridge

The extravagantly turreted Runcorn-Widnes railway bridge

And the equally extravagant steel arch of the Runcorn-Widnes Road bridge

And the equally extravagant steel arch of the Runcorn-Widnes Road bridge

Saying 'goodbye' to the Weaver Valley in the dramatic dusk light

Saying 'goodbye' to the Weaver Valley in the dramatic dusk light

Sun setting over the Weaver Valley

Sun setting over the Weaver Valley

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