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Archive for September 2nd, 2009

The Odyssey 2009: Day 40

Posted by indigodream on 2 September, 2009

Thursday 27th August     Beeston to Stoak

Lovely view from the mooring above Beeston Iron Lock

Lovely view from the mooring above Beeston Iron Lock

We came back to the boat late on Wednesday evening, knowing that we had a full-on programme for the rest of the weekend. Richard had moored the boat on the 14-day rings between Beeston Stone and Iron locks. It’s a good spot – the views are great, it’s far enough for the road for us not to worry about Blue escaping but close enough to be convenient for loading up. We stopped by the bridge for a quick car offload but the nearest parking is up the hill (just up from the boatyard) at a generous lay-by.

The boat had been fine while we were away – we’re a little bit paranoid after our experiences in Brewood! Although the railway line is very close, the noise of the trains doesn’t really intrude and we enjoyed a quiet night.

We were planning an early start, but in the end we were too contented here. We’d spotted the Lock Cafe near the bridge and we went there for breakfast with the dogs. They do a very good full english for a fiver and the sausage sandwiches got a ‘paws’ up from the dogs. We sat on the cafe’s decking for ages, enjoying the view, the clean air, the food and the sight of a sparrowhawk hunting above the canal –

And the view down towards the Iron Lock and the Lock Cafe

And the view down towards the Iron Lock and the Lock Cafe

highly recommended. There was also the added bonus of the benign River Gowy nearby – a fast-flowing but shallow trickle of water just perfect for dog-sploshing.

We walked back to the canal well-contented. We thought about taking the car and finding a Tesco but we couldn’t be naffed- it was just too nice for shopping.

The Iron lock was busy – BW were on the move with two butties and their tug moving up the lock and another pair working down the stone lock and a few lengthsmen walking the towpath. There were also a few narrowboats around – a few hirers and one private boater who has a serious grudge against BW. He had VIEWS so we were relieved that the signs recommend single-locking through the Iron lock (which apparently has uneven walls which can trap the unwary pair). The boater said we’d be fine but we waved him on – we think that BW do the best with what they’ve got and we’ve generally had positive experiences with the guys on the ground. Give them another £30m and let the technical team have a bit more freedom …. it is good to dream.

Lou's abandoned ship but she's found a new friend already.....

Lou's abandoned ship but she's found a new friend already.....

We moved into the Iron lock, ably assisted by the crew of the BW pair working down Stone lock behind us. The BW man was a cheerful sort – he’d had a lurcher who lived ’til the grand age of 15. He said that a local dog charity had refused to rehome another dog with him because he lived on a boat – how ignorant. Bones had a similar problem and it does make me so angry – boats are fine homes for dogs provided they have a loving owner – luckily Bones has found Boots, a lurcher who’s seems to be having the time of his life. As the BW man told his story I realised we may have met him before – he normally works around Stockton. He was very fond of our greyhounds – Blue was rummaging around the lock and Lou was fast asleep on the grass by the lock moorings – she was comfortable and flat refused to follow the boat, well, not until I’d sunk out of sight in deep lock chamber.

Chas Harden's thoroughly relaxed greyhound

Chas Harden's thoroughly relaxed greyhound

We’ve had a bit of a greyhound day today – one of our fellow greyhound owners, who we’ve ‘met’ via the Greyhoundhomer forum, are hiring a narrowboat from Chas Harden’s Boatyard at Beeston. Chas Harden owns a greyhound himself and we photographed his hound looking very contented, lying on his bed watching the world go by. This is the guy who helped out with taxis the weekend before so sounds like a really good guy. Sadly his shop was shut as we went past.

We’re so grateful to Bruce and Greygal for recommending this stretch of canal, their arguments swayed the decision and just as well – it’s beautiful. The canal is surrounded by softly mounded hills – a gently welcoming land with birds and wildlife aplenty. Beeston Castle seems incongruously hard in this supple landscape – immovably massive on its rocky promontory.

Once we got past the Iron lock, we had the canal to ourselves and it wasn’t raining, so all-in-all a good place to be. Following Neil Coventry’s attention our engine runs noticeably better, not that we thought it was running badly before. There are locks at nicely spaced intervals so dogs had plenty of stimulation. We spotted nb Antlia 8 by Wharton’s Lock – our excellent locking partner from the Hatton flight. My

The rocky ramparts of Beeston Castle

The rocky ramparts of Beeston Castle

goodness, that seems like an eternity ago, it’s been an extraordinary year. Wharton’s lock itself is typical of this stretch – wide, deep, massive – another incongruity on this now rural canal.

We spotted a few odds and ends as we drifted along contentedly – Bridge 109 has a sign warning walkers to “beware – swans nesting on towpath”. They weren’t there when we passed but that must have caused quite a blockage! After Bridge 110 we met a lovely lurcher who obviously belonged to a boat moored nearby. He followed us down the towpath, having a loud barking match with Blue and Lou (on the back deck), who are very brave when there’s a tidy width of water between them and any interlopers! The lurcher reminded me of Blue – he ran down the towpath until he reached some invisible boundary and hared back to his home.

Tattenhall marina - just look at those views...

Tattenhall marina - just look at those views...

We were well impressed with Tattenhall Marina – it’s a glorious spot. It’s a shame it’s so far from home for us, I think this would be a fine home for Indigo Dream if she every decided to lay down some roots and stay in one place for any length of time 🙂

Just past the marina I noticed one of the distinctive signs that we’re on the Welsh border here – the BW boat had bilingual signs – British Waterways and Dyfrffyrdd Prydain (it helps if you know that ‘Y’ is a vowel in Welsh!). You can tell we’re not all the way into Wales because the english title is above the welsh!

We also another version of the dog-proof deck today on nb Kingfisher – a well-fitted high mesh arrangement which was doing a good job of restraining their very large dogs.

The day’s dreamy feel was compounded by the seemingly endless length of online moorings around Bridge 113.

The guppy....

The Airbus Beluga - here's a bit of trivia - you could fit 6 narrowboats into that plane!

Note: it’s narrow after Bridge 114 with moorings on one side and shallows on the other – tight for two passing boats. The road is close to the canal here with lots of gaps in the hedge – dogs would need to be on leads (well, ours would anyway).

Turning my face from the canal, I spotted a very odd looking plane flying low above us. It looked as if someone had stuck two wings on a whale and was the most ungainly thing. Richard reckons it’s an Airbus Beluga – there are very few left in the air and they’re apparently used to transport Airbus wings to the factory in Fflint. I saw the Beluga several times during the day – there’s obviously a busy trade in Airbus wings.

We’d eschewed a trip to Tesco in the morning but our onboard supplies were perilously low (no milk for our lattes, though you’ll be relieved to know that we had plenty of dog-food!) so we planned to stop at Bridge 119 and visit the one-stop shop in Waverton. There’s a lively canalside life here, with lots of walkers and passers-by though there was plenty of room to moor by the bridge. The shop’s a little walk from the canal – cross over the bridge and follow the main road for 500

Neat end-of-garden moorings around Rowton/Christleton

Neat end-of-garden moorings around Rowton/Christleton

yards or so – the shop’s in a little precinct on the right. The One-Stop shop’s very limited but the sandwich bar next door provided us with a very good lunch. It’s unheard of for us to delay our cruising for breakfast AND for lunch but it was nice.

With the boat provisioned we meandered on down the canal, admiring the tidy end-of-garden moorings around Rowton/Christleton. We passed by the Cheshire Cat pub – it looked very fine and Bruce from Sanity recommends it as a mooring spot. But it seemed a little early to stop so we carried on. It would make for an easier Friday and we we were reassured by the lack of trouble as we moved into the Chester suburbs.

Note: Keep your side hatches closed when locking down Tarvin Lock – the lock walls leak!

So, we’d come to Chester and we didn’t have any bother – I’m so pleased we came this way. Mind you, the best I can say is that Chester’s a very strange town from the water. We know that the centre’s beautiful but the canal doesn’t go through that bit! There are some handsome red brick terraces and the towpath was full of friendly walkers.

The outskirts of Chester

The outskirts of Chester

The pounds were seriously low in Chester – I’m not sure why, or was the bottom a bit high? There didn’t seem to be anything amiss but there were a few boats on the move. Fortunately we paired up with nb Merlin for a few of the locks which saved a bit of water.

They moored up at the town moorings – there are several lengths of moorings here. We didn’t like the look of the moorings but there was a huddle of narrowboats here so we have to assume that they’re ok. Much more dramatic are the moorings which lie in the shadow of the old city wall. The canal has the feel of a tunnel here with solid rock walls towering above, crossed by delicate footbridges far above.

Note: watch out for the wide restaurant boat hereabouts – they’re very friendly but I met them on a blind bend in the narrows and had to do some nifty reversing to find enough room for both of us. They said “well done” – I felt dead proud; Blue and Lou seemed unimpressed!

Under Chester's ancient city walls

Under Chester's ancient city walls

The massive staircase locks in Chester are a true canal experience; massive doesn’t really capture it, they’re enormous, monumental even.

Note: Blue had a supervised rummage around the staircase – there’s no access to the railway (though he did look for a gap!) and there are no easily accessible roads nearby.

It’s a little surreal here because the railway line passes over the end of the bottom lock in such a way that the boat is at the same level as the railway line. It felt odd. But with Richard on the sluices I soon dropped below the trains. There’s a sudden community of boaters here – it felt like a proper boater’s home though the ‘graveyard’ of old boats were a testament to busier times, when the remnants of the locks here carried freight to the River Dee and the sea beyond. Not this trip, next time …

Northgate Staircase middle lock - see how that railway line's at eye level!

Northgate Staircase middle lock - see how that railway line's at eye level!

We soon left Chester behind and I was pleasantly surprised by how scenic the canal remains given that we were now approaching the giant industrial plants surrounding Ellesmere Port. Bridge 132 was a particularly lovely – a high sandstone railway bridge which was a good contrast to the bland scrubland around it.

We’d been musing on where to stop for the night but fortunately our decision was made for us by our friends Ken and Sue, who live locally. They recommended the pub in Stoak – the Bunbury Arms.  The village is literally surrounded by motorways but we found a peaceful enough mooring spot by Bridge 138. You can’t get away from traffic noise around here but it didn’t keep us awake. Bridge 138 has good footpath access to the pub (cross the canal and walk straight along the path) and the dogs enjoyed a good rummage here.

Our overnight mooring by Bridge 38

Our overnight mooring by Bridge 38

We met Ken and Sue at the pub – it was great to spend some time with them – the last time we’d seen them was at their wedding last year. The pub is dog-friendly and the local people are very welcoming. Dogs are only allowed in the ‘snug’ and very snug it was too. There was barely room to squash in another four people and two great galumphing greyhounds, so the locals moved out! They vacated a large table and made room so that we could eat. The warm welcome, good company and cosy room made me feel much better – it had been very cold on the helm for the last hour of the day’s cruise and I was chilled to the bone. The food was good pub grub and there was plenty of it. Richard wishes it to be known that we only had the odd half for medicinal purposes. We had a wonderful evening and were delighted to find that Ken and Sue had some free time over the weekend to join us for a cruise – brilliant!

Photoblog:

Waiting above Beeston Iron Lock..

Waiting above Beeston Iron Lock..

Clear directions at Beeston Iron Lock

Clear directions at Beeston Iron Lock

The Shroppie is such a beautiful waterway...

The Shroppie is such a beautiful waterway...

Harvest home - whatever summer we've had is fading fast....

Harvest home - whatever summer we've had is fading fast....

Beeston Castle dominates the landscape for miles

Beeston Castle dominates the landscape for miles

And another Castle - this time in the valley below Beeston Castle

And another Castle - this time in the valley below Beeston Castle

Fine old mill on the outskirts of Chester

Fine old mill on the outskirts of Chester

Chisel marks testify to the sheer manual effort that went into the making of this canal.

Chisel marks testify to the sheer manual effort that went into the making of this canal.

Tantalising view over to the Mersey Estuary - from the top of the Northgate Staircase

Tantalising view over to the Mersey Estuary - from the top of the Northgate Staircase

Looking up the monumental Northgate staircase

Looking up the monumental Northgate staircase

Are we that far north already?!

Are we that far north already?!

The locks onto the Dee by the BW yard in Chester - are they still in use?

The locks onto the Dee by the BW yard in Chester - are they still in use?

The countryside below Chester - how lovely is that....

The countryside below Chester - how lovely is that....

The lceaseless industries of Ellesmere Port glowing in the distance

The ceaseless industries of Ellesmere Port glowing in the distance

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