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Archive for September 11th, 2009

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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