Tuesday 26 June 2012

Trent and Mersey Canal/River Weaver. Middlewich to Northwich.

We’re on a RIVER! And as you may gather, are ridiculously excited about it.

Before leaving Middlewich we breasted up alongside Alton, filled up with diesel and took a couple of bags of coal on board. There aren’t any fuel boats where we’re going and we don’t want to be at the mercy of marinas. We also went out and bought an anchor; as rivers and tidal estuaries are going to be part of our life in the near future we thought it might be prudent.
On the way up to the boat lift at Anderton, we had a couple of stops near the flashes on the Trent and Mersey between Middlewich and Northwich. A flash is a wide lagoon off the side of the canal where the land has subsided and filled with water, in this case caused by salt extraction.
They are notoriously shallow no-go areas, and have been used in the past for storing old wooden boats. Apparently if it’s submerged, old wood doesn’t rot anywhere near as fast as if it’s exposed to the air. It must work as they have mostly been removed and brought back to life, the ones that are still there are, for the time being, beyond repair. (We’ve seen that scenario before in the 2CV world; not the underwater bit silly, the beyond repair at the moment bit. Scarcity and affluence play a crucial part in the definition of “Beyond Repair”.) They are not surprisingly a haven for wildlife, as we passed we saw a family of greebs and this little chap.
During that time we had a trip out in the car to a little spot, still on the Trent and Mersey but 12 miles to the south, at the junction with the Macclesfield canal, where John and Jac were moored up. 12 miles isn’t that far, why didn’t we take the boat? Well in the middle of those 12 miles is a little stretch from Wheelock up to Kidsgrove know fondly as Heartbreak Hill; 31 locks in total, raising the canal some 250’. We’d love John and Jac to see all the changes we’ve made to Legend, but there is a limit. So we took the car instead and had a lovely afternoon with them.
We even managed to get outside enough for a barbeque. That’s two this year. Whoo-oo.

Up at the boat lift we had a chat with the very nice lady who takes the bookings then talked to one of the River Weaver lock-keepers at Hunts lock. They both were very helpful and put us at ease, not that we were particularly worried; everyone we’ve talked to about the Weaver has said how tranquil and easy it is. The Northwich River Festival was on the weekend we’d thought about going, which meant that all the down passages were booked, so we changed plans, visited the festival by bicycle,
and went down the lift on the Sunday when everyone else was coming up. This also meant that Anne, Mark and Jordan could come with us. They parked at a pub on the T&M then cycled up the towpath to meet us. We bundled their bikes in the well deck, stopped on the short term moorings just before the lift
and got ourselves on the next passage down. The lift operator gave us a quick briefing, and then we were under the bridge, through the gantry and into the caisson.
Hardly any time for nerves or adrenalin. It is not the first time we’ve been down the Anderton, however the only other time was on Fred & Sadie’s working boat Lynx; we just sat in the hold, admiring the view. This time it was our home we were taking down and we were responsible for it. Big difference; still fun but nerve-wracking.
When the gates opened at the bottom we motored out into what seemed to be a sudden melee of boats going in every direction, but, more by luck than judgement, Dave managed a neat-looking turn up stream. We moored just round the corner from the lift, where our passengers disembarked with their bikes and rode off through Anderton Country Park back to their car. It was only a short visit but we think they enjoyed it. For Jordan’s first trip on a boat it takes some beating. (Anne - if you're reading this, sorry for the lack of pictures of you three, if you have any please send us some.)

We are completely enchanted by the river. Our first night was downstream from the lift at Branton Cut, a canalised section that until you’ve passed through Saltisford Lock doesn’t even have a noticeable flow.
It was like being moored on a vast mill pond with wooded sides and only the odd Easyjet coming out of Manchester to spoil the tranquillity. In the morning we were passed by a working boat and what we think is a steam tug heading for the next lock.
They must have been to the festival and were now either heading out for the Manchester Ship Canal or doing what we’re doing; messing about on the river. Whatever, we made ourselves ship-shape and set off in their wake. When we phoned the lock to let them know we were on our way the Locky told us to hurry up as there were three boats waiting to go down. Dave put the Lister onto “Full Chat” and off we went. Being on a river is a good opportunity for us to give the boat some welly; you don’t get the chance of flat out cruising on a canal. When we’re on the Ribble Link we’ve got to punch a tidal flow in order to get up the estuary. We need to know that Legend can hack it. We got to the lock to find the gate open, the steam tug and the working boat were waiting inside along with a pretty wooden launch. Once we were safely secured to the sides the huge gates swung shut and out went the water. None of this pushin’ and windin’ lark on a river, it’s all done for you by a chap and some hydraulics. All you have to do is hold onto your rope.
The locks on the Weaver are paired, that means that there is a big one and a (relatively) little one side by side. Saltisford were using the big one; even with four boats in it, it was mostly empty.
When the gates opened we followed the other three out under the railway viaduct.
After the lock the navigation and the river re-join and the flow returns, adding more speed to your journey. Not wanting to keep anyone waiting at Dutton lock we tucked in behind the others and covered the next three miles in about 15 minutes. It is very exciting going fast in a narrowboat. On Brian and Ann Marie’s advice we were heading for the intriguingly named Devil’s Garden, a lovely secluded mooring on a sweeping bend. Now that Frodsham Cut, a cul-de-sac to a disused lock, has been closed, this is the last recognised mooring site before the industrial sprawl of Runcorn starts to intrude on the river. It was just as beautiful as they’d described it; nothing but every shade of green imaginable in every direction.
We did a flow- assisted turn on the bend, and moored up pointing into the current between a couple of hawthorn bushes.
It doesn’t really matter which way you’re pointing in such a gentle stream but it’s good practice and it put us the right way round for setting off in the morning. Ann-Marie did a load of washing and hung it out in a sunny breeze while Dave stripped all the old scruffy non-slip off the back deck and put a coat of black Hammerite on it. The idea is to mask off the edges and fittings and apply new non-slip leaving neat tread pads. We had a walk down to Frodsham in the evening, much to the annoyance of a herd of bullocks. There was a lot of arm waving and yelling, but when they’d finished doing that we all got on splendidly.

It would have been interesting to take the boat further downstream and have a look at the Manchester Ship Canal, but it’s quite a long haul there and back and the river doesn’t get any better than where we were, so the next morning, with the sun shining and rain forecast for the afternoon, we pushed off into the flow and headed for Northwich.

On the way we found out why the locks are so big and why all the bridges swing.
By the afternoon we were through Dutton and Saltisford locks, past the lift and tied up on the town moorings just by Northwich Swing Bridge.
While we were in the locks we breasted up with two more narrowboats and got some very welcome advice about what happens on the Ribble Link from someone who’s done it a couple of times. Very handy.

Over the next few days we’ll be going upstream to Winsford, then back to the lift. The weather forecast is rubbish but if we'd let that influence us this year we'd never have done anything. We’ll be back up on the T&M on Thursday or Friday then up to Preston Brook and the Bridgwater Canal.


Sarah said...

Thanks for the ongoing journey.
Hope you've survived the incredible weather we've had this week.

Dave and Ann-Marie. said...

Thank you for your ongoing support Elizabeth. We've been fortunate; despite the rest of the country being in the grip of awfulness, and ourselves being confined to quarters by torrential rain at times, we've done all our boating in good weather.

Jo Lodge said...

Hi to you both.

We saw you a few times whilst on the Weaver and on the Bridgewater recently, but I did not make the connection until now.
Happy cruising and I hope we get to say hello at some point. Jo

Dave and Ann-Marie. said...

Thanks Jo, your's was one of the blogs I read when we were still in a house and this was all an uncertain future. Hopefully the next time our paths cross it won't be chucking it down!

platsimple said...
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