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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!

3 Responses to “The Odyssey 2009: Day 46”

  1. Mike Bray said

    Sounds like a great adventure and glad you enjoyed Marbury Country Park and were intrigued about The Mersey Forest, which in fact isn’t as old as you may have estimated.

    The Mersey Forest began in 1994 and is a network of community woodlands and green spaces being created across Merseyside and North Cheshire, taking in both pre-existing sites like Marbury and also brand new woodlands being planted with local residents.

    You can find out more at: http://www.merseyforest.org.uk

    Also, seeing as you seem to have a taste for expeditions, perhaps our walks, cycle rides and horse riding website might be of interest too:
    http://www.discoverthemerseyforest.co.uk

    All the best,

    Mike Bray,
    The Mersey Forest

  2. Marina said

    Hi Sue/Richard

    I think we’re going to have to stop reading your blog… and maybe cancel the forthcoming holiday too… I think we’re going to like it a bit too much!

    Just hope Dudley doesn’t decide to go swimming…

  3. indigodream said

    Hi Mike

    Thanks for the links and for filling us in on the story of the Mersey Forest. It sounds like a great initiative – I hope it’s used and appreciated. The nature of our boating means that we won’t be back up your way for at least a year but we know where to come now…..

    Hi Marina

    It is nice on the water- we’ve had a wonderful week. Blue and Lou are now worn-out having explored the surroundings of just about every lock on the canal. They’re almost too tired to walk, let alone swim, thankfully! I’m sure that Dudley will have a great time. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the weather – it does make such a difference.

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