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Archive for October 1st, 2011

Boat Blog: To Liverpool with the Greyhound…

Posted by indigodream on 1 October, 2011

Thursday 29th September

Note: I am a week behind with the blog – arrrgh!

Evening cruising......

It’s been quite a week – we’ve been very busy at work (even me!) and Ty hasn’t been very well – he’s carried some anxiety home with him from last weekend’s boating and has a patch of infected skin and two pressure sores on his ‘elbows’ which need antibiotic treatment – this is probably from his rubbing his skin raw trying to hide under the boat sofa! In the meantime, Richard’s mum continues to be unwell, Richard’s car broke down a few weeks ago and has been in the garage awaiting a part then mine also broke down on Tuesday leaving us with no cars and, as it turns out, an enormous repair bill – waaaaaaahhh!

So, our plans for joining Sarah and Andy, on their narrowboat Greyhound, looked bleak. The only possibility of success was if Richard stayed at home with the hounds (he borrowed his mum’s car for emergencies and I’m not insured for it) while I went up to Liverpool. I was very tempted to stay at home and fester in self-pity, but in the end I just leapt on the train and headed north. It was a trip of over four hours to Maghull, where I was to meet them, but it was well worth it. The journey went smoothly and I got some enticing glimpses of some very familiar canals along the way.

I had to change trains at Liverpool Lime Street and was surprised to feel the same frisson that I associate with entering a foreign country! This was reinforced at Liverpool Central Station where I asked the barrier guard for directions to the train to Mag-HULL, or was it MAH-gull – “Magull” he said in a peremptory but not unkind tone – he then proceeded to give me detailed directions to the platform in words suited for the hard of thinking!

I was glad to arrive at Maghull and, supplied with ice-lollies from the station shop, was soon on board nb Greyhound with old friends Sarah and Andy with greyhounds Ranger, Miffy, Henry and Archie – all of my favourites!

Morning at Bridge 9 just outside Aintree...

We cruised along a surprising stretch of canal – we were on the outskirts of Liverpool – on one side were typically neat suburban houses, but the towpath side was flanked by fields and green scrubland. The canal itself was infested with weed which clutched at the prop. Nevertheless it was a pleasant end to the day and we soon reached Bridge 9, where the convoy for the next day’s assisted passage into Liverpool was assembled – two other narrowboats and three widebeams. We walked the hounds, enjoyed the gentle sunset and ate a fine home-made spag bol.

I contentedly reflected that simple pleasures are the best and went to bed on the comfy dinette in better spirits than I’d started the day….

Friday 30th September

We were up early and ready to go by the time the BW crew knocked on the hatch at 9.30am — the first obstacle of the day was Bridge 9 (Hancock swingbridge) – which carries a busy road over the canal. The opening of the bridge to allow the passage of six boats created spitefully satisfying queues of cars on both sides. The BW crew seemed immune to the somewhat hostile stares of the motorists – rather them than me!

There followed a long stretch of weedy suburban canal – but unlike the Slough Arm, the destination is well worth the effort! The towpath is in excellent condition and the few walkers waved cheerfully – I don’t think that many boats pass this way. We had to clear the weedhatch several times – but other than that it’s pleasant stretch of canal. Of course, we had to wonder about whether the greyhounds would fancy a run round the race course at Aintree! A couple of miles later, BW helped us through Netherton swingbridge then there was a long cruise to the visitor moorings and service point just beyond Litherland road bridge. We dropped off some rubbish then overtook the widebeams that had moored up (presumably for a cup of tea) and moved on to the top of the Stanley locks.

The convoy getting underway...

Now, if your copy of Nicholson’s stops here with the caution “here be dragons” then download the skipper’s guide from Waterscape or visit the Liverpool Link page on the British Waterways site!

We had to wait a while for BW here – it was a great opportunity to take in the view and walk the hounds. Although the day was summer fair, a brisk wind had blown up – apparently a common feature here, particularly later on when it swirled between the tall buildings surrounding the new Liverpool link and regenerated docks. We’d expected Stanley locks to be one step from dereliction but they were tremendous – they are deep double locks in very neatly landscaped surroundings – a BW crew work them for you, but they do appreciate help from visiting crews. Andy and I got our windlasses out and worked smoothly with BW to let Sarah and nb Greyhound down the locks. As we descended, the tall grain silo and vast tobacco warehouse seemed to grow – by the time we got to the bottom they dominated the landscape and we were utterly dwarfed – a reminder of just how important Liverpool Docks have been. Of course, they still are important, but judging by the modern cranes on the near horizon, the big ships are now loaded/unloaded on docks that open directly onto the mighty Mersey estuary.

As we cruised out of the bottom lock we travelled under a deceptively low arched bridge which belied the size of the dock beyond, flanked by huge lock gates leading to other dockyards, the whole surmounted by a tower clock, built in 1864 – what an ambitious piece of infrastructure this must have been in its time. Our channel was clear – a left turn into a straight (of Roman exactitude!) canal  which, in turn, led to a maze of large docks surrounded by a mix of old industrial remnants and modern developments.

Once out of the canal, our channel through the wide docks was clearly marked by buoys and we soon reached Prince’s Dock lock – this was brand new (by canal standards!) self-operated manual lock which allowed us to descend a modest few feet into the next part of the link. I can’t describe to you what a fascinating trip it was – the canal meanders through and below Liverpool with its iconic mix of old and new buildings – the traditional Liver building and Customs House and the architecturally noteworthy museum of Liverpool as well as a plethora of interestingly angular modern buildings whose purpose I haven’t found out yet. The scale of regeneration is awesome and we can see why Liverpool deserved to be a City of Culture.

The view from the middle lock - the vast tobacco warehouse and the derelict grain silo just to the right of it...

But the trip was far from over. We passed through a series of tunnels and saw the two narrowboats moored in front of us. At this point the wind swirling around the culvert and surrounding tall buildings almost spun us right around, but Sarah skilfully manoeuvred us out of trouble and we were soon moored up behind the others. I got off for a wander and got my first proper sight of the mighty Mersey before returning to the boat. At first I thought we’d reached our destination, but we were just waiting for the BW crew to operate the Marin Island lock – the last of the day. The drop was only 6 inches or so and we got our first view of the large Canning dock with it’s disco ship blaring loud music over all. I still couldn’t see any mooring pontoons – we turned right into the next dock – Canning half-tide dock. Dead ahead was the huge gate which separates the dock from the tideway – we crept forward, anxious NOT to take a wrong turn onto the river (another reason that Richard did not come)! But there was the left turn into Albert dock – there were handy pontoons ahead, right next to a Costa coffee shop – “that’s us” I thought, but no, they were long-term moorings. We turned left again and finally arrived at Salthouse dock – it is magnificent, with enough mooring pontoons to accommodate maybe 50 narrowboats. Our reserved space was on the main pontoon (rather than a finger pontoon) near the slipway gate – perfect for hounds. Sarah moored neatly and there we were, in the heart of Liverpool after 6 hours of stunning cruising.

We were moored up by 3.30pm and Sarah started to feel sad that they were booked to return the following day – there’s just so much to see in the city. A quick phonecall to BW and they re-booked their return passage for Monday and guaranteed themselves a fine weekend of exploration. We had several wanders around the waterfront – both with and without the hounds. We visited Costa, watched the tibe ebb away, investigated the ferries, admired the landscape and generally allowed ourselves to be gobsmacked by Liverpool’s lavish reinvention of its waterways.

Later we found a fine chinese restaurant then Sarah and I took the dogs for a last walk – this took some time. The waterfront was buzzing with walkers, most hadn’t seen a retired greyhound before – the hounds got a lot of fuss and drew lots of attention. We ended up educating the people of Liverpool on the characteristics and care of retired greyhounds. Maybe we should take a boatload of hounds up and run a mobile rehoming campaign! Sarah and I sat outside in the balmy evening air with the hounds – it was as perfect an end to a perfect day as I could have imagined…..

Salthouse Dock - come on down, there's plenty of room.....

Saturday 1st October

The loud music from the disco boat stopped at around 11pm last night and I had a refreshing night’s sleep, despite Archie hound’s best efforts to push me out of bed! I’d left the side-hatch partly open and was woken by the softest light filtering across the water at 6.55am. Sarah was up early to take the hounds out for a walk before the crowds descended on the waterfront. For some reason, Archie was really disturbed by the ferris wheel last night – we thought it was because of the lights and movement, but he still didn’t like it this morning when it was still and quiet. By the time Sarah came back I was dressed and we settled down for our first coffee of the day – we had planned to go to Costa but they don’t open until 9am – oh no!!! Luckily the pontoons have water and shore power – we hooked up the supply, inserted a power card (which I happened to have in my purse!) and fired up the Nespresso machine. That coffee animated us enough for the walk to Costa where we got another coffee and some croissants. We ate our breakfast on a bench overlooking the estuary and enjoyed the calm before the storm as walkers and joggers started to emerge.

We got back to the boat just before 10am and found Andy up and dressed – by now I was ready for a snooze and had to force myself to get up and make tracks. I needed to get back to London so that I could have a full day at home before Monday – I was running a course for 25 people and would need to be fresh. We walked towards the town centre proper and I said goodbye where our paths diverged – they were investigating gadgets at the Apple store and I was off to Lime Street station. I caught the 11.48 train and had an easy trip back to Euston – this time I didn’t do any canal spotting – I was too busy snoozing! London Underground was a hot pit of perspiration and I was pleased to get out to the Surrey countryside. But I missed Liverpool – especially as Sarah had been texting me photos and descriptions of their explorations and answered some questions that we’d speculated on yesterday, such as “what are Liver birds?” The answer is here!

Thanks, Sarah and Andy, for your hospitality and for the opportunity to cruise such a fascinating waterway and explore such a magnificently restored city. I’ll be back – hopefully on Indigo Dream.

If you have the opportunity to go there then do – the Liverpool Link is definitely a ‘must-do’ waterway and the docks are as fine a destination as you’ll come across – a destination well worth the slog through the weeds on the canal above the city. Sarah tells me that the pontoons are used as winter moorings – now there’s a thought…..

Photoblog:

View from Bridge 9 - it's surprisingly rural here.....

View back from Bridge 9 - what a fine morning it was...

The Hancock swingbridge (Bridge 9) closing behind us - see at the next one lads.....

Cruising through Aintree - that weed is a nuisance but as it's a through passage we don't need to push past it in order to moor....

Brested up to the BW workboats at the Litherland services...

View over the adjoining Rimrose Valley country park - an unexpectedly pleasant vista...

Precision parking.....

The view from the top of the Stanley locks....

The convoy assembled at the top of the Stanley locks...

There's certainly plenty to see at the locks....

Tantalising view of what's to come....

nb Greyhound waiting for us to open the next lock.....

This bridge is the deceptively unassuming entrance to the endless network of docks beyond...

The tobacco warehouse casts a considerable shadow...

I think that the narrowboat would fit under the 'struts' of the grain silo....

They didn't need to lift this bridge for us but you do need to mind your head when passing underneath...

Our first glimpse of Collingwood Dock...

Approaching Salisbury Dock and the Victoria Clock tower...

View back along Collingwood Dock - the scale of the historic shipping operations here is hard to take in...

Looking at google streetview, the grey 'castle' is separate from the warehouse behind it but I can't find any reference to it. The tobacco warehouse dominates the dock's history as well as its physical landscape....

The entrance to one of two giant graving docks....

Central Docks channel...

Archie looking in Liverpool - see the iconic Liver building in the distance?

The channel is very obvious when you get there.....

Approaching Princes' Dock lock - there on the right - totally dominated by the architecture....

View back from Princes' Dock lock....

Approaching the Pier Head tunnels...

The canal weaves through some amazing architecture...

Waiting for Marin Island lock...

A view of a small part of the magnificently regenerated waterfront...

A view down to the waiting boats - see the lock to the right....

nb Greyhound - a fine addition to Liverpool's waterscape...

One of the Liver birds....

This traditional building looks good amongst its modern glass and steel companions...

Sneaking into Canning Dock....

Looking back towards Prince's Dock lock...

Now, we have to turn right into the next dock - but where...

Ah, there's our turn....

Our first view of Canning half-tide dock - the huge gate onto the Mersey is dead ahead...

A waterfront skyline....

Shall we go straight on to the Mersey then Skipper?

We'll leave the Mersey for another day - there are more docks to explore....

Nosing into Albert Dock...

The left turn from Albert Dock into Salthouse Dock...

We won't worry about going aground then.....

The extensive visitor moorings at Salthouse Dock...

Salthouse Dock is huge, and look, there's another dock beyond by the looks of it.....

The slipway is used by the 'duck' amphibious tour boat/bus - a familiar but scary sight on the Thames - they always look as if they're only an inch away from sinking!!

nb Greyhound looking good on her mooring...

Happy smiling faces: It was such a thrill to be here - both journey and destination are amazing...

A view of the Mersey (looking downstream) - the tide was going out at this point....

The fab four (hounds...) with the upstream Mersey in the background...

The gate separating Canning half-tide dock from the Mersey tideway - the entrance to the dock is just mud at low tide and the high tide mark looks to be around 5.5 metres - that's a LOT of water considering that the river is almost a mile wide here....

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