Friday, 25 May 2018

Cracking on to Castlefields

Moore to Manchester
May 2018

Helen has a way of finding people, a process which usually starts with a question like "when will we be in Lymm?". 


Sometimes these questions relate to a location over 100 miles away which can be challenging, but the latest related to a long lost relative called Geoffrey and his wife Phyllis. A long and complicated family story links the two but when it gets to second cousins ten times removed I kind of lose the will. Suffice to say they are distant blood relatives who had never met. Somewhere the family jungle drums had been beating and Geoffrey got in touch to suggest a meeting when we passed their home in Lymm. This meeting duly took place and its always interesting to meet up with relatives like this, and put a bit of flesh of the bones of the Singleton side of the family tree. 

Bustling towpath

We have been blessed with some cracking weather and the sun kept on shining as we completed our trip into Manchester.

Distinctive Bridgewater stop plank cranes

The Bridgewater may be broad and wide but it isn't well blessed with services. I made use of one of the few sanny stations just outside Lymm and then settled in to the task of passing long lines of moored boats. I sometimes think that the raison d'ĂȘtre of the Bridgewater is to attract as many moored boats as possible - link linear car park. It has ever been thus.

Sale straight

The other thing about the canal is its straights, and none more frustrating than the drag through Sale there the canal runs as straight as a die for nearly two miles - which is the better part of an hour at our rate of progress. We broke the tedium with a stop at the visitor moorings, paying both Farm Foods and Sainsburys a visit thus stocking up for the coming weekend when we have visitors to stay.

Sale Boat Club has a "do" on this weekend on a  cowboys and indians theme, and when we called at Stretford Marine Services they assumed we were attending. They couldn't have been more helpful and offered all sorts of inside info on the area, and also provided what I believe is the cleanest and nicest elsan I have ever encountered. 

A lonely MoBike

Then is was on past a whole series of landmarks which make the journey progress nicely. Waters Meeting, Old Trafford, Throstle Bank Bridge, Pamona Lock and then finally, like Birmingham, you pass lots of urban regeneration and you burst onto Castlefields. Another local feature are the Mobikes - you find them everywhere. I saw one miles from anywhere and I was at a  loss to guess why it has been abandoned. A walk along the Rochdale 9 revealed two more which had recently been fished out of the canal. I don't see how this scheme is viable?

Two more rescued from a watery grave

Time has passed since Castlefields was regenerated and whilst some bits are showing signs of wear, the trees are all maturing and it is adopting a softer feel than when we started visiting. Longstanding readers will be aware that I have a particular affection for the wooden boats made by Taylors of Chester and it was therefore pleasing to see another example, Lady Avon, moored in the arm.

Lady Avon - a classic from Taylors of Chester

We moored in Merchants Wharf and when we arrived we had quite a few mooring options, options which were all taken on Thursday after which few slots came free. 

You are nearly there when you see this

Helen took herself off to see her mother in Hull and I was left to mind the boats and occupy myself. Occupying myself included a walk along the Rochdale 9 and not much else beyond reading and generally chilling out. I don't often get an opportunity to do not a lot but somehow, in all that, I still found time to make 24 jars of Raspberry and Rhubarb Jam.

I was a bit concerned to find an request to contact Peel Enforcement attached to the boat on Friday morning, and I was left wondering what we had done wrong. We haven't set up shop, we absolutely have not been speeding!, we haven't overstayed either on the canal or in Castlefields. In the end I figured it was because we are moored to a railing stanchion in the absence of a bollard or ring (crucial ones have disappeared over the years). I duly sent them an e-mail and had a lovely reply from Gill just pointing out that as we are a trade boat we would need a license if we wanted to open and also the supplementary fee applies if we returned from Liverpool within a month. I was aware of both issues, but letting us know in advance was helpful.

Rope Guide wheel at Princes Street Lock

And so we sit in Castlefields awaiting the arrival of our friends. Hopefully the bank holiday celebrations this evening wont be too loud and we will set off for Leigh aiming to trade with the Pirate Boat on Sunday at Pennington Flash. Arrrrr

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Tunnel Vision

Tunnel Vision - Anderton to Moore
May 2018

As you may have gathered from my previous posts, towing through tunnels has proved to be something of a nemesis. Yesterday offered plenty of opportunities to practice with no less than three tunnels between Anderton and the Bridgewater Canal at Preston Brook.

Having managed to get through all three without touching the sides was a bit of a triumph and something which provoked a word of compliment from Helen - and I didn't think she had noticed. The trick is to keep the front of the cabin exactly in the centre of the tunnel as straying even a foot from the mid line courts disaster. This exact approach is made even more  challenging by the sinuous line in two of the thee, caused by the canal builders being wildly out of line in some places. Keeping the bows in the centre means swinging the stern (and butty) to and fro like crazy but with lots of concentration we made it.

Preston Brook tunnel

At each of the timed entry tunnels we were caught up by other boats and rather than subject them to my glacial speed of subterranean transit, let them through in front of us. At least that took the pressure off and they were out and away whilst I was still at the mid point looking at the arrows which point both ways.

The Cut Glass Boat - but no one was home

We have, as you have noticed, been enjoying some cracking weather. I put this all down to the two bags of coal we bought from John Jackson on Roach - and I observed at the time that the purchase virtually guaranteed it wouldn't be needed! Had we passed on the coal we would have been shivering in our waterproofs for the last two weeks - you know I am right...

Waiting for the tunnel

Preston Brook offers a Midand Chandlers outlet and we took the opportunity to buy two extra LED lights to replace the rather puny nine bulb down lighters we installed a few years ago. They are dead easy to fit and offer masses more illumination in both the bedroom and the main cabin. At last I can read in the evenings.

An old strapping post

We hummed and harred about the Runcorn Arm, eventually deciding to spend the time at Anderton, which was very fruitful. Whilst we didn't go far up the Runcorn Arm we did pay it a short visit, at least as far as the water point where we refilled our tank after a big washday extravaganza in the morning. The tap wasn't exactly super fast and was so little used that I had to put in a mooring pin to hold us in place - not something you do too often on CRT waters!

Proof we entered the Runcorn Arm (just)

We spent the night in Moore, just beyond the Daresbury Research Laboratory - hopefully far enough away that the jam does not glow in the dark...

Tuesday saw us undertaking the first making session of the voyage, bottling 48 lots of Wild Garlic Vinegar, which have been infusing away in the butty for the last couple of months. Its good to get the preserve making ball rolling again and Helen is already setting me the task of making Raspberry and Rhubarb Jam whilst she is away and I am left in Castlefields, Manchester for a couple of days.

Smartly presented workboat on the Bridgewater Canal

As we trundled through  Stockton Heath we were busy waving at a little girl on the towpath who did the shy wave back from behind her dad's legs, when he spotted the butty and asked us to stop and tell him what we had on board. One thing led to another and before we knew it he was walking away with 6 jars of preserves he didn't know he wanted. I love flag down sales more than any other.

Our boating movement was limited to the three and a half hours it took us to get to Lymm where, if all goes according to plan, some more of Helen's relatives will seek us out for a flying visit.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Aspirations at Anderton

Anderton Boat Lift
May 2018

Having completed the big push north we can take things a bit easier now, cruising for maybe four or five hours a day with days off from time to time. 

 Tranquil scenes north of Middlewich

We therefore set our sights quite low on leaving Middlewich and aimed to reach Anderton by mid afternoon on Saturday, about 10 miles away. I was amazed how few boats there were on the trip, and no one caught us up. Given the absence of boats I was more than surprised to see a brand new marina nearing completion in the flash near Davenham Road, and doubly surprised as the reasonably well established Orchard Marina just a few hundred yards to the north still stands half empty.

Thinking of "the north" we have been having a debate about exactly where this transition from the midlands is made. Helen's view is that Harecastle Hill represents this particular watershed, but I seem to recall Steve Haywood placing it a bit further north at Preston Brook. Answers on a postcard.....

TATA Chemicals (Brunner Mond)

So, I made the transit in relative solitude, with most people probably staying indoors to watch the royal wedding. By mid afternoon we approached Anderton and with it came a flurry of hire boaters taking control for the first time. My defensive boating skills were tested to the full.

Anderton's Insect farm

We rocked up at the top of the boat lift at about 4.00pm and noticed a bit of a kinked mooring was free right by the visitor centre, with a lovely straight bit suitable for the butty. Whats more, the notices in the centre advertised a 10k fun run on Sunday morning and a TVR rally in the afternoon. All this activity suggested footfall, so plans were altered and we decided to stay put for 24 hours. 

Anderton Boat Lift

On Sunday morning I was  having a shower and kind of felt the thud of a familiar engine banging away and, sure enough, there was Mountbatten with Jellicoe in tow. The boat behind us soon moved off letting the working boats in and we both set up shop for what turned out to be a highly successful day. In fact, It was our most successful "non event" towpath trading day and boosted the coffers nicely.

Aunt Margaret pays a visit - and leaves with jam!

The day also became something of a social whirl with Helen's aunt, uncle and cousin paying us a visit in the morning. Helen's aunt is wheelchair bound and the CRT guys marshalling the event couldn't have been more helpful both letting the car come to the waters edge and then allowing them to park it there, next to the race paramedics vehicle. Suzie, Jack, Alice and Robin arrived for a lovely long stay in the afternoon. What with the swans, the ice creams from the visitor centre and the playground in the grounds it was all a big hit.

Big enough to enjoy the playground

... if accompanied by Grandad

In between all this socialising the sun shone and a steady stream of customers came to buy our wares. Not a bad way to spend a summer Sunday.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Downhill from Harecastle Hill

Harecastle to Middlewich
May 2018

We spent a rather cold night on the queue moorings at the mouth of the Harecastle Tunnel.

 Preparing to enter Harecastle Tunnel

The clear night resulted in a sharp frost which coated the grass and the sheeting in a rime of white, explaining why we had felt so cold in bed at night. With a potential 8.00am start I was up and about by 7.15am, munching on my granola wrapped up in four layers of clothing. I was still all wrapped up in the shade during the CRT safety briefing whilst those on the sunny side of the canal were already down to tee shirts.

The last frost of the spring?

There was only one south bound boat waiting which went first and duly emerged just before 9.00am. The tunnel keeper organised us and at the suggestion of the Mountbatten / Jellicoe pair the single boats went ahead and they brought up the rear with just us in front of them.
The two buttys would undoubtedly be the slowest craft so this arrangement made sense.

Mountbatten and Jellicoe bringing up the rear

I have never taken the butty through Harecastle and as each tunnel seems to be different I was more than a bit curious to see if it would throw up anything unusual.

The first boat in was a Canaltime boat steered by a very enthusiastic skipper, a skipper who loved the throttle. As he entered the hoped her up to maximum and the howl of the exhaust note drowned out everything else. The other five boats all entered but by the time we got in the howl from the much abused engine was still present, as was a pall of smoke.

The entrance is onto the left hand side of the tunnel which immediately got the butty hooked onto the side wall and resulted in some quick gymnastics to get motor and butty back out into the centre line. Fortunately I did this rather unauthodox manouver before the yellow light of Mountbatten probed into the portal behind me.  As it turned out, the Harercastle is OK from a towing perspective, providing I kept strictly to the centre line and kept my revs at a modest level. 

I watched the front corners of the boat intently and the vibrations of our engine harmonised with the slow beat of Mountbatten's Armstrong Sidley behind us. To be honest, they could have travelled slightly faster than us as they were obliged to slacken their pace every now and then, but we had already has a chat about optimum towing speeds and I dont think I made too much a nuisance of myself.

Wharf at Red Bull Junction

The instructions suggest a 45 minute transit time and I therefore mentally worked on 60 minutes. It was therefore something of a surprise to emerge at Kidsgrove at 9.45am - just 45 mins after we started.

Rare wooden bridge rollers

Then it was straight through Red Bull Junction and into the start of the descent to Wheelock.
It wasnt long till we caught up with the Canaltime Boat, but now I noticed that its previously pristine white stern band was smothered on black smuts - I wonder how that happened!

Heartbreak Hill has been the bane of boaters for generations. Its not the number of locks but the way they are spaced which get me down. You just cant get into any sort of rhythm. In the end we just plodded on but the advantage of all this stop go progress were the number of preserves we sold, with people coming out of their gardens to buy our wares.

One hiccup happened on our descent, when the butty nudged the back fender and snapped one of the bottle screws on which it was suspended. This was a bottle screw first used as part of the rigging of a sailing dingy I built when I was 18, so at 40 years old I guess it didn't owe me anything. A running repair was achieved with an assortment of shackles and cable ties - which will do till we get to Kings Lock Chandlery in Middlewich.

In the end we reached Wheelock at 4.30pm, and immediately spied Phil Prettyman on Warbler. Phil is part of the Historic Boat Club and also a fellow member of the CRT National Council. He, and several other historic boats, were on their way to the gathering on the Erewash.

Wheelock's little gem is Liz's Plaice, a tiny fish and chip shop which makes to order and only between 5.00pm and 7.00pm. The portions are modest so order a larger, but the quality is excellent - endorsed by the many awards which adorn the walls of her tiny shop. Don't rely on the presence of a convenience shop - it closed years ago!

After yesterdays exertions today was an altogether laid back affair. Helen wasn't feeling 100% so we didn't stir from our pit till 10.00am.

Then the engine was due its 250 hour service so I delved into the engine bay before the sun got hot, changing the oil, oil filter and diesel filter. Its interesting to note the slow changes at these services and its clear the engine is starting to use a little oil. I used to remove exactly 5 litres but these days about 200ml has been lost to piston wear (there are no leaks). This ties in with earlier observations about engine wear. Every year I change the diesel filter and each time I have a good look to see if there is any evidence of diesel bug. Once again it appeared as clean as the day I installed it last May - which is good news. I spun the air filter cartridge round 180 degrees but that unit is good for a few more months.

Blackthorn in bloom

After a late start we did a half days trip through 8 locks to the visitor moorings in Middlewich. We refuelled at Kings Lock Chandlery (81p) and bought shackles to fix the fender. It was a bit sad to move on and see that Middlewich Narrowboats is no more and the associated dry dock is fenced off.The end of an era.

We moored next to the childrens play area just above big lock and paid Lidl a visit, and reflected on the fact that we have just passes through the last narrow lock before the Huddersfiled Narrow Canal in six weeks time.

Up the hill to Stoke

Great Haywood to Harecastle
May 2018

There are a plethora of moody miles between Great Haywood and Stone, long pasture fringed pounds which seem to stretch on endlessly just above the the narrowing upper reaches of the Trent.

Halsall above Hoo Mill

In some ways its a beautiful landscape, especially on a cloudless day such as this but it also a bit, dare I say it, tedious. Each field looks the same and with so few landmarks time stretches on, and on and on. In spite of all the boats at the junction we seemed to be pretty much alone as we crawled slowly from lock to lock, rising step by step to the outskirts of Stone.


Having used a lot of water on wash day we needed to refill only to have a boat slip onto the water point below Star Lock as we approached. Fair dues, he got there first and what is more with him in front of us and another boat behind who we had let pass we secured two new customers and troubled the till once again.

Etruria top lock

With all the moorings below the lock full and a desire to reach Harecastle the next day we moved up through the Stone Locks to the foot of the four at Meaford. The adjacent road does create some noise but not enough to disturb our slumbers.

Wednesday dawned much cooler and we tucked in behind Mountbatten and Jellicoe as they made their way up to Stoke. Their need to double lock certainly slowed progress a bit, but they are a fraction faster on the flat so we pretty much paced each other all day and ended up moored nose to tail at the Herecastle Tunnel portal. 

The route up from Stone to Stoke is much more interesting with areas of abandoned industry all around. I always like the top lock at Etruria which bears the telltale marks of mining subsidence. The original coping stones are about 5 feet down the lock walls and the top two feet of cement, laid in the 70's suggests that the subsidence has ceased. What is more, this part of the canal includes a few steel gates which survive from the 1970's when BW, a nationalised concern, was obliged to used steel from British Steel, another troubled nationalised enterprise.

The section north of Etruria offers some of the finest relics of the buildings which used to line the Trent and Mersey. The areas of Middleport, Newport, Longport and Westport all have their old pottery buildings, most on terminal decay but there and there some remain operational as going concerns.