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Archive for September, 2009

Photoblog: Anderton Boat Lift

Posted by indigodream on 5 September, 2009

The complete boat lift

The complete boat lift

The approach. Top tip - aim for the OPEN caisson!

The approach. Top tip - aim for the OPEN caisson!

There's plenty of headroom....

There's plenty of headroom....

The space beneath the caisson is dry...

The space beneath the caisson is dry...

Amazing - just one hydraulic 'beam' can lift a whole caisson and its contents

Amazing - just one hydraulic 'beam' can lift a whole caisson and its contents

First they lower the caisson gate....

First they lower the caisson gate....

Then they pump out the water between the caisson gate and the river gate...

Then they pump out the water between the caisson gate and the river gate...

Once the water's been pumped out then great locking 'wedges' are lowered into place and the caisson's ready to move

Once the water's been pumped out then great locking 'wedges' are lowered into place and the caisson's ready to move

On our way - that's the canal gate up ahead

On our way - that's the canal gate up ahead

Almost halfway - that's the opposite caisson coming down on the right

Almost halfway - that's the opposite caisson coming down on the right

Awesome views from almost 50 feet up....

Awesome views from almost 50 feet up....

It's a long way down...

It's a long way down...

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Here we are at the top - the opposite gate looks very precarious from here!

Here we are at the top - the opposite gate looks very precarious from here!

View from the aqueduct

View from the aqueduct

Closing the gates behind us....

Closing the gates behind us....

And opening the canal gate in front of us....

And opening the canal gate in front of us....

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 44

Posted by indigodream on 5 September, 2009

Monday 31st August

Vale Royal to Bridge 209 (Trent & Mersey)

Vale Royal moorings - looking downstream

Vale Royal moorings - looking downstream

There was a little more sense of urgency this morning – whereas the other locks open at 10am and stay open, Vale Royal has a lock downriver at 10am then there’s not another until 12 noon. Richard helped me to untie the boat – the plan was for him to walk the dogs down to the lock and I’d take the boat. Unfortunately I managed to drop one of our 2-way radios into the river – we searched for it with the boathook and the strap emerged once before sinking to the deeps forever. This put us under a little time pressure but I still got to the lock in plenty of time. It’s a little awkward as the horrible plastic pontoon which now forms the lock lay-by isn’t actually in sight of the lock! I cruised down to the lock, fearing that I might be too late, but the lock-keeper waved me back signalling 10am – precision timing, I was 2 minutes too early.

I was quite proud of the reverse manoeuvring that I did to bring the boat neatly into the pontoon. Richard had hoped that the dogs would be able to get back on board at the lock but the lockie won’t let people on/offload so the dogs had to be guided safely down the pontoon – this time without any mishap.

Leaving Vale Royal lock - you can see the 'works' on the right

Leaving Vale Royal lock - you can see the 'works' on the right

The lock-keeper had advised us to give the Anderton boat lift a ring as soon as we were through the lock. Just as well that we did – they had one free slot at 12.15pm – they were otherwise fully booked. Interestingly we could ring and find out about slot and be advised to get there by a certain time without having to pay the £5 booking fee – sweet. This gave us plenty of time to enjoy the stretch from Vale Lock to Hunts lock which was greatly improved by the absence of fishermen and rowers 🙂

We picked up Sue and Ken in Northwich, and we encountered some of the area’s now legendary kindness. Ken and Sue had been asking a local man where they could buy a pint of milk (the latte’s were under threat!) – he’d told them that the nearest place was Sainsbury’s which was too far away in the time that they had before we picked them up – never mind. Then just as they were boarding, the man ran to the boat and gave us a pint of milk from his own supplies – what a nice thing to do.

Northwich Shipyard

Northwich Shipyard

We got to the Anderton boat lift at 11.30am.  The ‘lift-keeper’ came down to talk us through the procedure and assured us that we had time to explore and admire the structure. After his clear explanation we knew exactly what to do and what to expect – that’s always reassuring.

Note: Dogs are not allowed off the boat here – either on the boat-lift moorings or further up on the viewing area.

The whole procedure of lifting/lowering took some time. The trip boat coming down was late, apparently they always are. The boats waiting in the lower caisson must have been there for around 20 minutes before the trip boat came in.  It was well past 12.15 when we got into the caisson and once we were there we had another wait while the boat coming down got into position. It’s impossible to get bored here though – the ‘lift-keeper’ explained the mechanism, we looked up, down and along the structure and took far too many photographs!

The Anderton Boatlift

The Anderton Boatlift

Throughout the process, the ‘lift-keepers’ carefully explained the procedures – it’s interesting at the top because we had to move from the caisson to the aqueduct then wait there while they shut the gate to the lift and opened the gate at the far end of the aqueduct. All stringent precautions to prevent the canal from draining into the river in an emergency! The lift-keeper kindly walked along the aqueduct to act as a lookout – there’s a fair bit of traffic on this stretch of the canal. He gave us the thumbs up and we moved into the winding hole – you can’t turn left out of the aqueduct – you have to turn right into the winding hole, turn, then head back up the canal.

The Trent & Mersey was so busy compared to the Weaver – bit of a shock really. There’s plenty of interest here though, with two tunnels and some stunning views over the Weaver Valley. The Saltersford Tunnel is on a timer – boats can enter from the south for the first 20 minutes past the hour. We arrived at 22 minutes past – what a dilemma! Richard decided to go for it, on the basis that there’d be a  time buffer to allow boats to clear the tunnel before they were allowed in the other way. He was right, though I did feel a bit sorry for the queue of three boats waiting on the other side.

Happy days.......

Happy days.......

We stopped for lunch shortly after the tunnel – there’s a wonderful view down towards Saltersford Lock on the Weaver – it looked like a fantasy land, like something glimpsed through the back of a wardrobe maybe…..

We spent the last bit of the cruise looking out for likely moorings – we’d need to leave the boat for 5 days and we needed to be reasonably close to a road for offloading. We eventually moored between Bridges 109 and 110 – there towpath’s very soft near the bridge but further on there’s a hard edging which made for a secure (we hope!) mooring. It was a bit of a trek back to the bridge. The boatyard kindly let us park our cars in their car park while we got organised – they lock the gates at 5pm-ish but we just made it out before they went home.

We set off South, writing ambitious lists of what we were going to achieve when we got home at 8.30pm. Ha Ha!!!

A glimpse of the beautiful Weaver valley from the lofty Ternt & Mersey

A glimpse of the beautiful Weaver valley from the lofty Trent & Mersey

Richard’s car broke down on the M40 (don’t ask). At least we broke down where there was a wide lay-by so we felt safe to sit in the car while we waited almost 2 hours for the RAC to arrive (promised time was 30 minutes). There was also a path off the motorway onto a leafy lane behind – this was a good spot for dog-walking (on-lead). There was a car parked in the lane with a single male occupant – he was very pleasant but I did wonder what he was doing there. I didn’t feel threatened – Blue unexpectedly caught a rabbit in the bushes (even though he was on the lead) and you should have seen the look in the lone man’s eyes when this big dog strutted past proudly with a rabbit dangling from his mouth!

Luckily Richard’s car was fixable, just needed the right tools so we were able to drive home. We didn’t get back until 11.30pm, to a house made messy by building work. I wish I’d stayed on the boat but Blue and Lou were delighted to be back on their ‘proper’ duvets.

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 43

Posted by indigodream on 5 September, 2009

Sunday 30th August

Northwich to Vale Royal

Considering what an eventful weekend we’ve had, today was unusually quiet.

Inside Hunts Lock

Inside Hunts Lock - see that cog mechanism inside the gates

We had a peaceful night in Northwich – it seems to be a very civilised town which makes boaters like us feel very welcome. A good night’s sleep mean that we got up relatively early (by Indigo Dream standards) and the relaxed lock opening hours mean that we had time to loaf around, enjoying our lattes and giving Lou a big fuss (Blue doesn’t go in for that sort of thing – he’s such a boy).

By 10am we were are Hunt’s lock – their first punters of the day. Unlike the other locks, here they use the smaller of the two locks (still enormous!) on the left – it’s pretty obvious when you see the moorings. The dogs had a rummage, there’s plenty of mooring against the wall,  though we were horrified to see yet another plastic pontoon further up – apparently they’ve been recently installed along the length of the Weaver.

Working the lock

Working the lock

It was nice to see the cheerful lady lock-keeper from Dutton Lock on duty here today, along with a muscular male colleague. They were definitely needed as these lock gates are on a huge cog and it takes an immense amount of effort to shift them. Very nice for us to be spectators!

We mentioned the horrible plastic pontoons to the lockies and it seems that they’re not popular – not only are they very slippery but the local kids seem to think that they’re diving platforms and the lockies spend quite a bit of their time chasing them off. We had though of complaining to BW after Lou’s fall yesterday but we thought that they’d dismiss our concerns because ‘dogs shouldn’t be let off lockside’. But the lockies today said that wasn’t right – lots of boaters have dogs and everyone on board should be entitled to use the facilities and to be safe.

Interestingly, the lockie told us that the river didn’t contain any fish below Northwich because of effluent from the salt works – there are only eels. So I guess that does explain the salinity down at Weston Marsh. You can tell that the river has changed because Hunt’s lock is covered with freshwater mussels.

The lockies at Hunt’s lock didn’t think we’d make it to Vale Royal lock in time for the 10.30 locking but they rang ahead anyway to tell them we were on our way. I’ll say it again, the lock-keepers on this river are priceless.

Convoy coming dowstream

Convoy coming downstream

We didn’t think we’d make the next lock either. The stretch from Hunts Lock to Vale Royal Lock was slow and uninviting (though quite beautiful). We had a multitude of fishermen shouting at us from one side and rowers shouting at us from the other – and at 800 revs we couldn’t get away from them!

As we approached Vale Royal lock we saw a whole convoy of boats coming down-river – the 10am lock down – our hearts sank. But as the last boat passed us he told us that the lockies were waiting for us and that we should go straight in – hurrah! This saved us a 2-hour wait and we were so grateful. But the lock-keepers here were as obliging as the rest of their colleagues. It’s a slow old lock and, once again, a massive amount of manual labour is needed to move the lockgates and manoeuvre the hydraulic sluices. There are big building works going on at this lock – Richard’s New Civil Engineer has  this interesting article about what’s being done there.

Immacualately behaved lock keepers dog

One of the immaculately behaved lock keeper's dogs

Mind you, what really slowed the lock was us chatting to the lockie! We mentioned that we’d been shouted at by the fishermen and the rowers and the lock-keeper told us to ignore them – the navigation’s for navigating. It was so nice to have someone on our side at last!

Vale Royal Lock is fascinating because of its hydraulic gear, but it also has a massive swing bridge – hardly necessary with bridges across both lock-gates, but it was still in operation. Maybe it’s there for the lockie’s two immaculately trained black Labradors – the older one lay in the middle of the bridge and seemed to be enjoying the ride as it was swung open!

There’s something very special about the stretch immediately above Vale Royal Lock. Greygal had recommended it to us as a top spot for dogs, and so it proved. There are very fine moorings a little way up from the lock – there were half a dozen narrowboats here when we passed upriver and we were a bit concerned that we might not get a spot on the way back. But we needn’t have worried, they’d all disappeared – presumably for the 12pm lock downriver.

It was no effort to spend the rest of the morning exploring this end of the Weaver. It really is lovely here – quiet and isolated with a fine towpath running through some perfect dog-rummaging country. There were a few walkers around – just enough to make it sociable.

Duck Sue

Duck Sue

Newbridge swingbridge provides a classic boating dilemma – “will we fit under or not”? There is a water level marker by the bridge but that is only useful if you know exactly how high your boat is what with the three main variables of the fullness (or otherwise) of the toilet, water and diesel tanks. We crept up to the bridge and decided that if the bike came off the roof then we’d just about get through. We had a few inches clearance – plenty – though I ducked anyway!

The lockie at Vale Royal had told us not to bother with Winsford town – he said it was ‘depressing’. I was expecting another gloomy end to the navigation but actually Winsford’s not really visible from the water and the Red Lion pub, with its convenient mooring pontoon, looked far from depressing. We passed nb Penhale here – I wonder if they visited the pub? We moved on, having decided to go right up to Winsford flash (the lockie had advised us that narrowboats could get up there though it was shallow in places). The approach to the flash is deceptively narrow and overgrown – even though we knew it was there, it was still a surprise to see the expanse of the ‘flash’ itself. We didn’t go far in – the sailing club was enjoying the brisk winds a little further on and we didn’t want to disturb them. We turned by the moored boats and did not get grounded!

More gorgeous scenery just below the flash

More gorgeous scenery just below the flash

We enjoyed the cruise back to the Vale Royal moorings – a 2-way trip isn’t a chore when the surroundings are so lush. We moored well back from the sole boat at the moorings and let the dogs have a rummage. Strangely, they didn’t spend much time off the boat – we’ve got a theory that Blue only likes rummaging if it’s slightly illicit, if its allowed then it’s no fun at all!

It was such a pleasant spot here that we decided to ditch our plans for rushing to the Anderton this evening. It was good to have an early finish – we were all moored up by 1.30pm. The swans and assorted wildfowl who live on the nearby weir soon came to the side-hatch for their lunch – half a loaf of bread (full of high-energy seeds) later and they were showing no signs of going away!

I was glad that we’d decided to moor up for the afternoon – the weather, which had been fine, broke down to torrential squally showers – it was good to be snug inside. With the weather so foul I couldn’t be bothered to explore our surroundings and had a siesta instead – bliss!. Richard was a bit more active – nb Penhale had caught up with us by then (waiting for the afternoon lock downriver). Richard took Blue and Lou to meet their little whippet – much barking ensued, mainly from Lou.

Entering the flash

Entering the flash

He also took the dogs for a long walk between showers; well, almost between showers – they managed to find the smelliest, muddiest path then they got caught in a torrential shower –  predictably they returned to the boat muddy, smelly and soaking.

Once again we closed the hatches and settled in for a snug evening on board. I roused myself to cook supper (in my pyjamas) and we settled down to some more DVDs. Although I’d only got up at 5.30pm I was ready for bed again by 10pm! But the mooring wasn’t quite as quiet as we’d expected – the noise of the fireworks (probably the end-of-music- festival celebrations at Preston Brook), echoed across the water, and the loud strains of heavy metal drifted down the river from the direction of Winsoford – all very curious. It was all over by 10.30pm and a blanket of silence ensured a good night’s sleep for all.

Photoblog

Having ones own fire engine is obviously key boatyard equipment?

Having ones own fire engine is obviously key boatyard equipment?

Big windlasses, funny shaped pieces of wood, you need it all to work this lock!

Big windlasses, funny shaped pieces of wood, you need it all to work this lock! It is a shame that the water turbines now only work on one side

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Working Rock Salt Mine

Working Rock Salt Mine

odd bits of old industry

odd bits of old industry

but such a good cruise

but such a good cruise

Salting his catch?

Salting his catch?

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First a duck comes for some bread ....

First a duck comes for some bread ....

Is that food ?

Is that food ?

need to get in fast

need to get in fast

They are coming in fast

They are coming in fast

in formation

in formation

closer spaced then the planes at Heathrow

closer spaced then the planes at Heathrow

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Look, you have to feed me, I walk on water

Look, you have to feed me, I walk on water

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 42

Posted by indigodream on 4 September, 2009

Saturday 29th August

Acton Swing Bridge to Northwich

A section of the Dutton Viaduct

A section of the Dutton Viaduct

After yesterday’s adventures, the Weaver provided a welcome chance to relax. The locks don’t open until 10am on the weekends so there’s no sense of urgency.

We decided to spend the morning tracking back to Weston Point. We’d rushed through from Weston Marsh yesterday and it would have been a shame not to explore. Our first stop was Dutton Lock. There was a boat coming up so we stopped at the generous upstream moorings where nb Penhale (who we came up the lock with yesterday) spent the night. Richard chatted with the crew while I supervised a dog rummage. Unusually, Lou formed a mini-pack with a resident black labrador cross and they strutted around like the king and queen of the lockside. Blue was off by himself in the undergrowth – typical.

The two tiny cruisers that came out of the enormous lock looked completely out of scale, but their departure meant that we were ready to go. There was a lady lock-keeper on duty – she was very chatty and exceptionally helpful. Being helpful seems to be the culture here – we told her our plans and she advised us to give her a ring when we got within sight of the viaduct just below the lock and she’d set the lock for us. On our way back she even let the next lock know that we were coming so that could be set for us as well.

Dutton Viaduct

Dutton Viaduct

There are some fantastic bridges along this river. Just below Dutton lock, the many-arched railway bridge towers above the canal – it’s a magnificent site. It still carries trains and Richard managed to get a Virgin train to beep – quite an achievement as the boat must have looked like a blue speck so far below the railway.

The Weaver swingbridges are massively built yet strangely delicate with their filigree of iron girders. I think they are all supported on floating pontoons which take most of the weight; this means that relatively little power is needed to swing them. There was no need to swing them on our account – there was plenty of room for a narrowboat.

Greygal very kindly gave us a list of good moorings that they’d used when they came here earlier this year. We passed a top spot on the way down – the Devil’s Garden. It’s  very shallow on the offisde here but the towpath side was very attractive with what looked like perfect dog rummaging. We made a note of it for later, knowing that we’d probably get further than that on our way back.

The entrance to Frodsham Cut

The entrance to Frodsham Cut

We were tempted to slip down the original route down the disused Frodsham cut, but BW obviously know their boaters – there was a boom across the entrance. It’s interesting that ships could once take either the new fangled Weaver Navigation as we know it, or cut down to the River Weaver itself.

The Weaver’s got a lot to offer as a navigation – living and historic industry with all its trappings, cocooned in the most beautiful valley. I’m so glad that we came here.

We soon got back to Weston Marsh and the city-sized polymer works which may have had its own power station – it’s quite a place. There’s not a human being to be seen – the site seems to be made entirely of pipes of different sizes – totally incomprehensible from the outside. I did think that whoever did all of this plumbing must have had quite a headache – just one wrong connection and BOOM!

Sutton swingbridge looking a bit the worse for wear (and it's a busy road bridge)

Sutton swingbridge looking a bit the worse for wear (and it's a busy road bridge)

Given the sheer size of the polymer works, and the attendant chemical taint in the air, I was surprised at how clean the water in the Weaver appears to be. It was the same on the Ship Canal, which I expected to have a slick of oil on the surface, but it was also clean. These industries must be very tightly regulated.

We did enjoy our trip past the polymer works – it’s an interesting place and I thought how wonderful it would be if they were to set up a visitor pontoon to offer guided tours around the works. Mind you, the signs warning boaters that “when the lights flash toxic chemicals are being loaded” dampened my enthusiasm a little bit! We saw specific signs warning of corrosive mercury compounds and hydrogen ‘lute’ – what an unsavoury brew that would make.

We were hoping to get all the way to the docks at Weston Point. I’d really hoped to find a spot where we could see across the estuary, but it wasn’t to be. The tiny swingbridge across the river was firmly closed with warning signs that this was the end of the navigation. It was a bit of an ignominious end to the navigation – there’s a lot of demolition going

That's a lot of plumbing! Polymer works at Weston Marsh

That's a lot of plumbing! Polymer works at Weston Marsh

on and it does have that ‘end of the world’ feel that Pearson’s mentions. There was someone on top of one of the asbestos clad sheds working away with an angle grinder so we decided that sneaky exploration was not on.  On our way back, the Dutton Lock-keeper was surprised that the swingbridge was shut – apparently it was still open the week before and you could get right into Weston Dock.

Having gone as far as we could, we turned back with the intention of having a less harried exploration of Weston Marsh lock. There’s a new pontoon there which, from a distance, looked to be a good landing point. Sadly, though, BW have put in pontoons made of hard plastic with a bit of a rippled surface to make them look like wood from a distance. The trouble is that the ‘ripple’ doesn’t do anything for the grip – they’re very slippery, especially for the dogs, their claws just can’t get a grip. Blue hopped off first and went slithering all over the pontoon – he soon came back on board; Lou ventured forth, but just one paw on the horrible plastic convinced her not to go any

The end of the navigation

The end of the navigation

further. But we dragged them off for a rummage anyway – Richard led Blue up the pontoon by his collar, keeping him stable on the slippery surface. I hopped up to the lockside to keep an eye on him and Richard went back for Lou. We then had one of those freak accidents that makes owning our dogs such an adventure. I told Richard to lift Lou over the wall rather than walking on the pontoon; he though I’d said to let her go, which he did, she got spooked and jumped up onto the wall, but unfortunately her back legs slipped from under her on the plastic and she didn’t make it. There she was – her little face and paws just visible over the rim of the wall before she slowly slithered backwards towards the river. Richard, on the pontoon, managed to catch her but not with enough grip to get her to shore, though he did manage to just twist her to a more safe position and into the river she went. Now, our greyhounds can swim, just not very well, and the pontoon was an awkward place to try and retrieve her. We couldn’t get her out where she’d fallen so we had to direct her to the boat side of the pontoon. I then held her collar (to stop her from swimming away from us) while Richard got into position to hoist her up. But I hadn’t realised that he was pushing the boat out slightly to make some room – I was leaning on the boat and started heading for the river myself. You couldn’t make the next bit up – I was holding on to Lou’s collar and Richard was hanging on to mine – don’t ask who was hanging on to him! He managed to pull me from the brink and with a bit of space available he managed to drag Lou out of the water.

Gathering of boaters - as we passed by they were being joined by a curious herd of cows...

Gathering of boaters - as we passed by they were being joined by a curious herd of cows...

After all that drama we still went to explore the lock – Lou didn’t seem any the worse for wear and trotted round the lock quite joyfully. I was a bag of nerves. At least we got back on board with no further drama – Lou spent the rest of the afternoon wrapped in a blanket – she’d been wet to the skin and was cold. A later ‘paw police’ inspection revealed extensive but superficial bruising to her chest and belly where she’d slapped into the wall. Time has proven that no real harm was done (I was looking out for the signs of internal bleeding which I’d learnt when Blue bashed himself a few years ago – “sigh”).

On the way back we stopped for water at the excellent BW services just downstream of Sutton Lock. We also got rid of our refuse here. Despite the busyness of the nearby road, it’s a nice spot and we had lunch here. There are visitor moorings here as well but they’re no good for us; the road’s a little too close and there’s a gap in the hedge which would have been like a magnet for Blue if we’d let him off the boat.

Massive salt works just outside Northwich

Massive salt works just outside Northwich

We made very good time upriver – the opposing flow is negligible. Or was it because Richard had a race with a local canoeist (the canoeist’s idea)! With a lovely bit of a skill the canoeist was almost surfing on our wake, shame we could not get up enough speed for it to work really well.

We enjoyed the cruise back upriver – the railway viaduct just below Dutton has 19 visible arches but only one is navigable – it’s quite a sight.

Thanks to the excellent communication between the lock-keepers we got through Saltersford lock in good time and, once again, the lockie was a mine of useful information. He advised us where to moor in Northwich as well as where to get a decent Chinese takeaway. He also checked our general welfare – had we found the waterpoints etc – how kind.

The Anderton boat lift

The Anderton boat lift

The stretch past Saltersford was new territory for us; except it wasn’t. We kept catching glimpses of things that we’d seen from the road. Indigo Dream was finished off by Olympus Narrowboats near Northwich and we’ve spent a lot of time around here (though without ever guessing that there was this lovely river nearby). This stretch is just what we like – lots of green vistas and a bit of industry in the form of giant salt works – the “Wich” in Northwich. The water where Lou fell in was salty – I’d assumed that it was brackish from the tideway nearby but I guess it could have been effluent from the salt industry – ugh!

I was so busy looking at the salt works I’d almost missed the Anderton boat lift on my left! It’s a wonderful piece of engineering but I’ll keep that for Day 44’s blog when we actually got the lift up to the Trent and Mersey.

Despite the bustle and industry around Northwich we saw several kingfishers – always too late for the camera (though we do have blurred pictures of metallic blue flashes in the reeds).

Our mooring in Northwich

Our mooring in Northwich

We got to Northwich at around 5pm after a fine day’s cruising (Lou’s adventures notwithstanding). There are good moorings just upriver of the town swingbridge – we moored up opposite the marina – just far enough from the roads to be safe for the dogs but not so far that we couldn’t walk into town. There’s plenty to see here – the floating hotel looks boarded up and derelict but it’s a nice idea – I hope it’s refurbished; there are good BW services just downstream of the Town Bridge; the bridge itself is worthy of note and there are useful information boards, there are also some handsome buildings in the town centre.

As it was early, and supplies were low, we headed into town – cross the town swingbridge and turn left at the traffic lights into the shopping precinct – keep walking up the hill and on the left (behind the high street) you’ll catch glimpses of a large Sainsbury’s; the decent Chinese – the Golden Horse, is near the top of the hill next door to the large Weatherspoon’s pub.

It was a bit of a trek back to the boat with our shopping but my ‘old granny’ shopping trolley helped! With the boat well-stocked we shut the hatches and settled down for a comfortable night watching DVD’s – we’re working our way through the TV series “Life on Mars” – it’s brilliant.

Greygal had advised us that the moorings in Northwich were quiet and secure, and so they were…..

Photoblog:

What's this rig doing?

What's this rig doing?

Typical Weaver swingbridge mechanism

Typical Weaver swingbridge mechanism

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Remnants of an old swingbridge - now a stable landing stage for the local rowing club

Remnants of an old swingbridge - now a stable landing stage for the local rowing club

Low flying planes heading for the airport

Low flying planes heading for the airport

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Beyond the end of the navigation - a view towards Weston Docks

Beyond the end of the navigation - a view towards Weston Docks

The derelict entrance lock to the abandoned Runcorn and Weston Canal

The derelict entrance lock to the abandoned Runcorn and Weston Canal

Alarming sign - I wonder if they still load chemicals here - the sign does look a bit battered

Alarming sign - I wonder if they still load chemicals here - the sign does look a bit battered

Flashing lights are obviously bad news in a chemical plant!

Flashing lights are obviously bad news in a chemical plant!

Water point at the chemical works - don't think we'll risk it, thanks.....

Water point at the chemical works - don't think we'll risk it, thanks.....

View from the Weaver onto the MSC

View from the Weaver onto the MSC

Weston Marsh Lock: The navigation notes suggest not using this side

Weston Marsh Lock: The navigation notes suggest not using the jetty this side

The crummy jetty outside Weston Marsh lock

The "good" jetty outside Weston Marsh lock

View up the Weaver from Weston Marsh - conditions are much more benign today

View up the Weaver from Weston Marsh - conditions are much more benign today

Marker posts for ships approaching a now dimantled swingbridge

Marker posts for ships not to approach a (now dismantled) swingbridge until signalled - typical for how the navigation used to be run.

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Photoblog: Manchester Ship Canal

Posted by indigodream on 3 September, 2009

Looking back towards Ellesmere Port

Looking back towards Ellesmere Port

Our first view up the MSC

Our first view up the MSC

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This ship would be following us up the canal, but an hour later....

This ship would be following us up the canal, but an hour later....

The industry's on a different scale here...

The industry's on a different scale here...

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These old warehouses were much more our size....

These old warehouses were much more our size....

The Mersey Fisher - one of the smaller ships that pass this way...

The Mersey Fisher - one of the smaller ships that pass this way...

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The Mersay Fisher's lifeboat - do we need one????

The Mersay Fisher's lifeboat - do we need one????

Oil loading gantry with its giant counterwieghts..

Oil loading gantry with its giant counterwieghts..

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An incentive for people to quit - maybe I should run my stop smoking clinics up here!

An incentive for people to quit - maybe I should run my stop smoking clinics up here!

It never occurred to me that you'd need to warn against tax evasion at this giant refinery...

It never occurred to me that you'd need to warn against tax evasion at this giant refinery...

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Almost rural here.....

Almost rural here.....

A weir, but from where?

A weir, but from where?

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Nice spot for a mooring??

Nice spot for a mooring??

Sandstone cliffs

Sandstone cliffs

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Buffalo on her way down the canal

Buffalo on her way down the canal

One of the many markers along the canal - invaluable for navigation....

One of the many markers along the canal - invaluable for navigation....

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Blue looking for rabbits

Blue looking for rabbits

Distant bridge - shame that you don't get a view of the Mersey from this part of the MSC

Distant bridge - shame that you don't get a view of the Mersey from this part of the MSC

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Broad vistas

Broad flat vistas

Ane the hills we left behind....

And the hills we left behind....

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Lou taking an interest...

Lou taking an interest...

Abandoned lock gates - come on narrowboaters, that timber will kee you warm all winter!

Abandoned lock gates - come on narrowboaters, that timber will keep you warm all winter!

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They've spotted something...

They've spotted something...

Do we need a bit of diesel??

Do we need a bit of diesel??

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Sheep on the left bank...

Sheep on the left bank...

Lou loves Ken - he's very cuddly....

Lou loves Ken - he's very cuddly....

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Approaching Weston Marsh - the green and red buoys int he distance mark the channel to the lock

Approaching Weston Marsh - the green and red buoys in the distance mark the channel to the lock

Marker 130 - when you see this you know you're near the turn for Weston Marsh lock

Marker 130 - when you see this you know you're near the turn for Weston Marsh lock

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The wooden buoy and jetty to the right of the approach to Weston Marsh lock

The wooden buoy and jetty to the right of the approach to Weston Marsh lock

Looking back across Weston Marsh - what looks like a black wall in the distance are the Weaver sluices

Looking back across Weston Marsh - what looks like a black wall in the distance are the Weaver sluices

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Bit choppy.....

Bit choppy.....

The pilings to the left of Weston Marsh Lock - don't try to moor there for the lock - it's shallow apparently)

The pilings to the left of Weston Marsh Lock - don't try to moor there for the lock - it's shallow apparently)

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Bye bye MSC....

Bye bye MSC....

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The Odyssey 2009: Day 41

Posted by indigodream on 3 September, 2009

Friday 28th August

Stoak to Acton Swingbridge (River Weaver) via the Manchester Ship Canal

Looking down towards the Ellesmere Port boat museum

Looking down towards the Ellesmere Port boat museum

We had a good night’s sleep on the mooring despite being surrounded by motorways and had quite a leisurely start to the day. Just as well, we had a BIG day ahead and several deadlines to meet.

We had to get to Ellesmere Port and the lock down to the Manchester Ship Canal by 12.30pm – BW have to open the lock, the local council have to swing the bridge over the lock, and Eastham VTS had to authorise our entry onto the Ship Canal (MSC). Richard had done a sterling job of making all the arrangements so we were good to go.

When he was making the arrangements, Richard found that some of the contact numbers in the guide books and websites aren’t accurate so he’ll publish the ones that he found to be most useful (and correct!) in a separate post.

Bridge 138, where we spent the night, is just under 3 miles from Ellesmere Port so we still had an hour’s cruise to get our destination. The weather wasn’t promising – the morning started with a torrential squally shower with associated strong gusty winds – I was worried. But then the squall passed and the sun came out, the wind dropped a little and we

Looking back up the Ellesmere locks - you can see where the canal has flowed over the lockside

Looking back up the Ellesmere locks - you can see where the canal has flowed over the lockside

set off down the increasingly industrial landscape.This last stretch of the Shropshire Union is not the most scenic, though we did see a few kingfishers here – on narrow canal section squeezed between the busy M56 and a giant oil refinery!

Note: There’s something submerged under Bridge 140 – it scraped right along the bottom of the boat and clanged against the counter. Might be worth coasting under this bridge until BW have had a chance to clear whatever it is. We did pick up some debris round the prop between here and the bottom lock so a prop clearance was essential before we ventured onto the ship canal.

The top lock at Ellesmere Port is surrounded by the historic buildings and boats of the fine  museum. There don’t seem to be any moorings at the top lock but there’s a large basin with ample moorings on the left after the second lock.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to explore the museum – we weren’t even sure when it opened – it seemed deserted, as did the whole lock flight.

Part of the basin at Ellesmere Port

Part of the basin at Ellesmere Port

Our Nicholson’s shows three locks down into Ellesmere Port then another onto the Manchester Ship Canal; but there are only three locks. Richard got off at the top lock and worked the first two locks, with some difficulty. Now we know where all the water from Chester has come to – there was too much water in the pound and the lockside was awash, making it very difficult to set the levels and open the lock gates.

Note: there is no easy footpath between the second and third locks – make sure that your lock crew gets on board at the bottom of the second lock for the trip into the basin.

The weather became a feature again as we worked the locks – the winds were gusty were difficult to judge, one minute a gentle breeze, the next a gale, one minute from the West then a swing to the East – very unpredictable.

Not having been here before, we actually approached the bottom lock and regretted it immediately as we dodged the large sunken boat submerged on the right of the approach to the lock – beware – it is a considerable obstruction.

Indigo Dream and Indigo Dawn at Ellesmere Port

Indigo Dream and Indigo Dawn at Ellesmere Port

The third lock leads directly onto a small cut leading to the main ship canal and we realised as we approached that this was where the council-operated swingbridge was. Although there aren’t any lock moorings, I was able to drop Richard ashore to investigate. Just as well, he did a good job on the ropes, keeping Indigo Dream steady as I reversed her right round the corner and into the main basin. The basin’s huge – I reckon you could easily moor 40 or 50 narrowboats here. We shared it with one small narrowboat, though there were a few more boats on the pontoon nearby. A helpful man from a nearby office came out and warned us that the car park adjacent was gated and was locked overnight – useful information as our friend Ken was joining us for the trip and he might otherwise have got his car stuck there.

By now we were a little tense – I was worried about conditions, Richard was worried about the arrangements. Ken’s arrival with a home-made coffee cake did a lot to lighten the atmosphere but nonetheless there was work to be done. Richard has rung Eastham VTS and they’d asked whether we could get onto the canal a little earlier – they had a BIG ship due to come up the canal at 1pm and the earlier we left the less likely we were to encounter the ship. We were happy to oblige! However it did mean checking whether the council and BW could also come earlier to help us through that lock. Luckily they were helpfulness personified and by midday we were descending through the lock, the whole crew donned their lifejackets and we radioed Eastham VTs for permission to join the canal.

The Manchester Chip Canal

The cut leading to the MSC

The cut leading to the MSC

With permission granted, we set off onto the largest canal I’ve ever cruised, looking around for the ‘Buffalo’, a vessel that the VTS warned us that we’d meet a bit later on.

The wind had dropped by now and the sun had come out so we had time to enjoy the sheer scale of the canal. I was on the helm and the ship canal feels more like a tidal river with it sense of constant motion – it’s restless under the rudder. Of course it’s vast, almost like being at sea where it broadens at Weston Marsh. The right hand bank is lined with giant industrial complexes. In places, the air had a flat quality to it, too subtle to be called a smell, more a faint tang of chemicals – alien and unfamiliar. The sense of isolation, of being in a place where we didn’t quite belong, was heightened by substantial left bank which separates the canal from the Mersey Estuary just beyond. There’s no doubt that this is a serious place to be – there are long stretches where you can’t smoke (not that we do anyway) or light the gas because of the risk of fire and explosions at the nearby petrochemical works. It is not pretty but it is interesting and still largely functioning.

Our first view of the MSC (looking towards Eastham). That big ship moored there was what we we were dodging by leaving early!

Our first view of the MSC (looking towards Eastham). That big ship moored there was what we we were dodging by leaving early!

By contrast to the industrial right bank, the left bank is largely grassed over and deserted; though further along there were a few sheep grazing there – we have no idea how they got across the canal.

The trip from Ellesmere Port to Weston Marsh is only a few miles. We made good time with the wind behind us. There was a nasty moment when a squall blew up around halfway into our trip – the gusting wind whipped up little waves and rocked the boat. I was on the helm for the whole trip and now I know why this is not a waterway for the inexperienced. As I adjusted her trim by redistributing the ballast (i.e. asking Ken and Richard to move 🙂 ) and put on the revs to get more helm control I thought “if this had been a few years ago I’d have panicked by now”. I did find myself looking around, wondering whether Eastham VTS would allow us to tie up to the forbidden piers if we got into trouble. Then I stiffened my backbone and carried on – I was borrowing trouble when really I should have been giving all my concentration to the helm.

Passing the Buffalo....

Passing the Buffalo....

We’d been wondering how big the ‘Buffalo’ would be and were reassured when a small dredger came towards us, generating only the slightest bow wave. We’ve seen bigger on the Thames so I relaxed enough to wave cheerily at the crew and carry on with no concerns. Another small boat passed us further along – about the size of a large cruiser – again they didn’t cause any problems. We also waved at a little ferry boat operating between the banks – carrying workers from one part of the vast refinery to the other.

The boater’s guides for the canal are very helpful and we were in no doubt when we arrived at the turn for Weston Marsh Lock:

  • the canal widens to an open and windswept basin reminiscent of the tidal Severn
  • There’s a large wooden ‘buoy’ which marks the centre of the basin
  • There are numbered markers along the whole length of the canal which let you know exactly where you are
  • The schematic “plan” you get from the MSC has all the marker numbers indicated and it does make sense when you are on the canal/
  • There are red and green buoys marking the navigation channel to the lock
  • You turn right off the main channel and you can easily see the lock on your left
Waiting for Weston Marsh Lock to open...

Waiting for Weston Marsh Lock to open...

Unfortunately, as we approached the widening, a squall blew up and conditions became really horrible. The surface of the water was whipped into foaming whitecaps. Indigo Dream handled beautifully but I wouldn’t have wanted a puff more wind. As I pointed out to Ken, conditions were ‘marginal’ – he’ll tease me forever – being a bloke, he just thought it was a big adventure.

I’d hope that Weston March lock would be open for us but there’d been a glitch in communication along the BW chain and the lockies weren’t there. We had no choice but to tie up to a moth eaten wooden jetty to the right of the lock and wait for them.  Luckily the wind was in my favour and pushed the boat onto the jetty. Richard got onto BW – we needed to be off the canal – conditions were getting more unpleasant by the minute and watching the waves beating against the lock gates made me wonder whether I’d actually be able to get the boat into the lock.

The view back from Weston March lock

The view back from Weston March lock

Fortunately the BW lockies turned up within 15 minutes. Contrary to my expectation, I was able to get Indigo Dream off the jetty and in through the far lock gate without too much difficulty. But no force on earth could stop the wind from blowing her back end right across the lock after the lockie had tied the front. So there we were, neatly wedged at an angle across the lock. The boat only budged when the lockies closed the bottom gates and stopped the funnelling wind from pinning us to the wall, allowing Richard to pull us off straight using an extra-long centre rope.

The lockies were a cheerful bunch – Weston March lock is huge and the sheer physical effort needed to operate the paddles and open the gates is awesome. The top gate has to be opened with a trifor winch as the chain has come loose off its fixing. The BW guys said that they were waiting for divers to come in very soon but we suspect that the chain has been off for a while ….  I was just glad to be out of the wind and onto calmer waters.

MSC Musings:

Since our trip up the MSC I’ve had a few days to muse on whether I’d go there again. Here are my conclusions:

  • I see MSC as a means to an end rather than a trip in itself – I would definitely use it to move between the Weaver and the Shropshire Union. I wouldn’t want to go right up to Pomona Docks unless it was essential – it’s a bit far with no stops.
  • I’d want to investigate the weather more thoroughly. Eastham VTS will stop small vessels from travelling if visibility is poor. The visibility was fine but the squally winds were nasty and less than ideal.
  • We did ring BW as we left Ellesmere Port but clearly communications were not perfect perhaps needing another call just before we arrived at Weston March lock – we’d assumed that the lock would be open and it would have been easier if it had been.
  • Eastham VTS are dedicated to the safe movement of boats – I felt that we were in safe hands and that we weren’t in danger from other traffic on the canal.
  • Would I repeat this trip if all the conditions were the same? I was concerned and uncomfortable with the conditions at times but we did arrive safely without as much as a broken teacup. Cancelling would have been awkward and then with the required notice periods, it would have been 2 days before we could have made the next attempt – that would have made life very difficult for us. It’s a tough call.
  • The canal is interesting (especially if you like living industry) – maybe put it on you ‘once in a cruising lifetime’ list. As Richard is having fantasies about getting to Liverpool via the Mersey then I’m sure we’ll be back – we took lots of photos anyway – we’ll pop these in a photoblog.

The River Weaver

Weston Marsh Lock

Weston Marsh Lock

It’s very strange, but the slow-flowing Weaver feels much more like a canal than the MSC! It’s benign currents were a welcome relief.

The lockies at Weston March had warned us that the Weaver locks close early on a Friday and that if we were to get through Dutton Locks (and to the pubs beyond) we needed to hit the gas and ‘don’t spare the horses’. We sped past the city-sized chemical works and soon we were deep into the countryside – enjoying the lovely views.

Although we were on a deadline for the lock, we found time for a stop by Sutton swing bridge to pick Ken’s Sue up and to give the dogs a respite. After an initial joyful run down the towpath, both dogs just lay and rolled in the soft grass, expressing their delight at being off the boat.

Once we picked Sue up, we dashed to Dutton Lock. As it happens we were in plenty of time. I wasn’t quite prepared for the size of the locks on the Weaver – apparently Dutton ship lock can take 18 narrowboats – I can well believe it. The lock-keepers are extremely helpful on the river weaver – possibly the most affable on the whole network.

Change of scenery - the benign and beautiful Weaver

Change of scenery - the benign and beautiful Weaver

For reference, the procedure at the locks it to take the boat in to whatever side indicated by the lockkeeper. They lower a looped rope and you attach your mooring rope to the loop. The lockie pulls your rope up, loops it round the bollard and hands the free end back to you. The locks are really too deep for throwing a rope to the lockie.  The lockies are very cautious about filling the locks in order to avoid turbulence so you get none of the movement that you might expect if you’ve been through a Thames lock, for example.

The lockie at Dutton told us that the Weston Marsh lockies should have given us a boater’s guide with the lock times. They hadn’t, apparently they never do and none of the other Weaver lockies had copies to spare. The Dutton lock-keeper did kindly write down the lock times for Vale Royal – vital information – the lock only has FOUR passages each way every day at specified times.

Vale Royal Lock Times:

Monday to Friday

Down: 08.30, 10.30, 12.45, 14.45

Up: 09.00, 11.00, 13.45, 15.15

Saturday, Sunday, Bank Holidays

Down: 10.00, 12.00, 14.30, 16.45
Up: 10.30, 12.30, 15.00, 17.15

Dutton Lock

Dutton Lock

We met up with nb Penhale at Dutton Locks. We cheered up a bit when they expressed admiration at our intrepid spirit. They’d been down to Weston Marsh lock just to have a look at the MSC adn had thought it looked really rough. We met Penhale several times over the weekend – they’re from Bristol and know the Kennet and Avon very well (as do we) so we had a lot of things to talk about.The crew of the Penhale were very pleasant – they have a little whippet as well as a large german shepherd cross.

We were planning to moor up at Acton swingbridge and take advantage of the pubs there. But we got there really quickly and decided it was far too early to moor up. The weather had perked up by now (typical) though there was still the odd shower around and Ken’s Sue had only had a short cruise. So, we explored upriver, as far as Saltersford Locks. They were obviously closed by now but it didn’t matter. The big advantage of being on a broad river is that you can more or less turn wherever you like so it was easy enough to head back to Acton swingbridge.

Note: The Navigation Inn upriver from Acton swingbridge is not dog-friendly. The Leigh Inn, just on the bridge, does allow dogs in the ‘snug’.

Acton swingbridge - good moorings on the left

Acton swingbridge - good moorings on the left

There are good moorings here, though there is a bit of traffic noise from the swingbridge.  The Leigh Inn was very comfortable and the food was excellent. They had a discreet live band playing in the far corner so it was pleasant background music but not so loud that we couldn’t carry on chatting. I feel a bit sorry for musicians sometimes, but the reality is that if you’re meeting friends that you haven’t seen for a year then you just want to talk. When it was time to go home, the barman was particularly helpful in arranging a cab for Ken and Sue to get back to their car – we would really recommend this pub.

It had been a busy day, and no sooner had we waved Ken and Sue off than we were were ready to collapse into our own beds. There was a slight delay while Richard asked the cruiser moored behind us to turn off their rather noisy engine – they did so immediately, embarrassed at being asked. Peace reigned and a quiet night was had by all.

Photoblog (mainly of Blue and Lou – we’ll post the MSC photos separately!):

Weston Marsh Lock - looking towards the Weaver

Weston Marsh Lock - looking towards the Weaver

We're exhausted - the MSC takes a lot of concentration!

We're exhausted - the MSC takes a lot of concentration!

It's so good be back on dry land...

It's so good be back on dry land...

I mean it, this dry land is wonderful stuff....

I mean it, this dry land is wonderful stuff....

Lou thinks it's pretty good too....

Lou thinks it's pretty good too....

You silly hound....

You silly hound....

Blue and Lou at the Leigh Inn - it's been a busy day...

Blue and Lou at the Leigh Inn - it's been a busy day...

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Manchester Ship Canal Notes

Posted by indigodream on 3 September, 2009

Aha, I’ve hijacked the blog from Sue yet again…… There are a succession of people we had to talk to get from the Shroppie up to the River Weaver. Everybody is really helpful so don’t think just because you are not on a 560′ long ship that they won’t talk to you. There are useful guides online, in particular:

First contact should be with the Manchester Ship Canal Company: Colin Chambers 0151 327 1461. According to this  post on CWF, Colin Chambers has retired, the new contact is Huw Jones who can be reached on 0151 327 2038 or by email on Huw.Jones at shipcanal.co.uk.  He will send you an exceedingly useful pack with a form, a list of surveyors and a map which makes no sense at all ’til you are on the canal when it becomes invaluable. You need to have a certificate of seaworthiness signed by one of the MSC’s accredited surveyors though there does seem to be considerable flexibility as to who actually does the survey. We used Brian Taylor (01606 836689) who is nominally retired (but still does MSC surveys) and lives canalside in Middlewich. The survey is not onerous, cost us £30. The form needs to be returned to the Manchester Ship Canal Company at least 2 days before you want to go on the canal with a cheque for £20.63. If you are short of time then talk to Brian or PMF Boat Services 01928 712260 as they have a stock of forms so you can cut out one postal delay. Other than standard boat safety requirements you must have an anchor and life jackets.

VHF radio is desirable but not essential, a mobile phone does well and in our case was the only thing that worked from where we were moored outside Weston Marsh Lock. There is a requirement for 55′ long ropes, you will need these if you go through any of the locks on the MSC but not really required at Ellesmere Port and Weston Marsh.

Once you drop down to Elsemere Port you will see that there is a swing bridge across the final lock. Top gates to that lock are chained up. Very strangely it is the Local Council that swing the bridge. Contact Robbie Bunker on 0151 356 6693 or 07786 277556 to swing the bridge (Update 20th June 2011: According to this post by Allan Jones on CWF, the Council contact is now Rob Taylor on 07799 658814); Contact BW on 01606 723800 to  open the lock; note – their hours are 08:30 to 16:30. A useful BW contact was Judith Brackley on 01606 723821. Note: You need to give everybody at least 48 hours notice.

We did the journey from Ellesmere Port to the River Weaver in about 1 hour. Top Tip: When you are talking to BW make sure that the office are clear as to when you are leaving Ellesmere Port and when you arrive at Weston Marsh. It is not so much of an issue when you are going to Ellesmere Port but if it is windy then it is awkward waiting for BW outside Weston Marsh Lock. Ring BW when you enter the MSC, ring them again when you are waiting outside the lock. Lots of boats make this passage, don’t worry about it too much!

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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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