Monday 23 July 2012

Leeds & Liverpool/Lancaster Canals. Burscough to Preston

Predictably the crossing of the River Ribble didn’t go quite to plan, but we’re pleased to report that the minor hiccups that occurred were not of our doing, and we are now safely moored up on the on the Lancaster Canal, albeit two days later than we expected.

Prior to what we now refer to as “The Tidal Episode”, we’d left Legend near Burscough at the beginning of the Rufford Branch of the Leeds & Liverpool canal to attend the festivities surrounding Frankie & Harry’s stag/hen weekend. Here are just a couple of photos to give you, dear reader, a glimpse of the differences between the sexes.
Blokes having a laugh.
Girls having a laugh.
When we got back to Legend she was perched on the mud and gently listing, but otherwise unharmed. With one of us hanging off the outside and the other one pushing, stability was restored and we set off towards what ten years ago was the limit of navigation for non-seagoing craft. At the end of the Rufford Branch is the little town of Tarleton. It’s a pleasant enough place with a big vegetable processing plant nearby, making it very popular with refrigerated lorry drivers. (No John, it’s the lorries that are refrigerated.) On certain days of the month it’s also very popular with narrow boat owners. (John, once again, it’s the boats….never mind.) On about six days each month, between April and October, when there is a high enough tide the following morning, a flotilla of small boats gather on the visitor moorings. On board each are life jackets, anchors, coastal flares and VHF radios; not the sort of thing you normally associate with the tranquil, sheltered, shallow and above all STILL inland waterways of the UK. This is because Tarleton is the Point Of No Return. In the morning, around 2 hours before high water the intrepid/excited/scared stiff (delete as applicable) crews and boats are ejected in pairs from the sea lock into the Tidal River Douglas.
We arrived at the visitor moorings on schedule on Wednesday afternoon for our crossing on Thursday, only to find it chock-a-block with boats heading for the Riversway Festival in Preston Dock at the weekend. At the same time we got a phone call from BW telling us that the festival flotilla wasn’t going till Thursday because it was too windy, so we’d been put back to Friday. Ok, but we still had no-where to moor. After a bit of a conflab everybody for Preston rafted up and we tucked in on the end.
It was nice to have an extra day, because it meant that on Thursday morning we could go and watch all 16 Preston boats go through the lock and familiarise ourselves with the process,
and watch this beautiful Mersey Flat power it's way out
then in the afternoon we made friends with the two other crews who, like us, now had a Friday crossing.

We’re constantly reminded that the cut is a Small World. Dave & Kate on NB Bosley were moored next to us. Apart from being lovely people and having an equally lovely boat, they’re good friends with Brian and Ann Marie, and their son Paul was the steerer on NB Judith Mary, the restaurant boat at Whaley Bridge that Dave’s sister Judith celebrated her 50th birthday on.

The route to the Ribble Link starts off the same as the one to Preston Docks with a hard push against an incoming tide down the Douglas, a turn into the Ribble at, or near slack water, then another push up the Ribble, this time as the tide goes out. Boats going up onto the Lancaster Canal turn off about a mile before the docks and go through a rotating sea lock (like a little Thames Barrier) into Savick Brook, a twisty turny adventure where it wouldn’t surprise you to see Humphrey Bogart grimly spinning the wheel of the African Queen round every tight bend.

All went well for us, Harry the Lock Keeper came along on Thursday afternoon to give us all a briefing and show us some photos of important landmarks. This was much appreciated as none of the three narrowboat crews booked on our crossing had ever done it before. Harry asked us what engine we had, when we told him it was an Air Cooled Lister he said “Oh dear.” We just love Lancashire humour. The only thing we were a bit apprehensive about was engine power, especially after watching the boats going out that morning, one of which didn’t seem to be making any headway at all.

As it happened we had no need to worry. At our appointed time of 11:30 we arrived at the sea lock. Harry appeared, opened the gates and dropped us down into the river.
Legend was first out followed by Malcolm & Pauline on NB Callum, with NB Bosley in the next locking.

Dave whacked open the throttle and away we went down the river. As we expected, Callum had passed us before the first bend,
with twice the engine capacity and three times as much torque there’d be something wrong if they hadn’t – nevertheless, we were more than satisfied with Legend’s performance. Dave & Kate emerged from the sea lock behind us and kept a steady distance, making us feel very secure.
The push down the Douglas got easier as the river widened and the tide eased so that when we got to the Asland Lamp – a tripod in the middle of the river marking the turn onto the Ribble – we were going at a fair old lick.
Of course it didn’t feel like it as the bank was miles away on either side and behind us the horizon was all Irish Sea. It’s surprising how small a 57foot 17tonne boat can become. We thought we’d feel vulnerable out there but no, maybe because we’re used to our boat and know how it feels, maybe because we knew that we’d been counted out and if there was any danger there were professionals at the ready with a rescue plan, or, more likely, because the conditions were as close to perfect as it gets and coming back will be a completely different kettle of fish. Anyway it was beautiful and even though the heavens opened and we got thouroughly soaked we loved every minute of it.

As we ploughed up the Ribble we got a call from the BW guys at Savick Brook telling us that the sea lock wasn’t working and that we should go straight on to Preston Dock, so instead of turning we went straight past. It gave us an opportunity to get a good butcher’s at the turn for when we came back.
We didn’t quite know what was going to happen when we got to Preston as we knew the place was full of boats for the Riversway Festival, but as it turned out it was brilliant. We locked through the massive sea lock at Preston Marina
which is so big that you only realise you’re in it when the automated gates shut behind you, then gently motored out into the dock basin which you can probably see from the moon. Not quite sure where to go we followed Callum past rows of moored boats all decked out with flags and bunting. There was much waving and bonne-homme as we chugged past but no-one seemed to know where we ought to go. We’d almost resigned ourselves to dropping the anchor in the middle of the basin when a very nice chap directed us to the end of the line where we were ably assisted alongside the last two boats and tied up next to the members of the Lymm Boat Club. Bosley tied up next to us and so we found ourselves, quite by accident, in the middle of a boating festival.
Not only that but we got free entry as it wasn’t our fault.

On Saturday morning we joined in with the spirit of the thing and put Legend’s bunting up, then at 12:30, with instructions to “Untie and Hover” we pushed off and swung out into the basin.
We were to join about 20 other boats all crammed into the sea lock; they were all going to turn round and come back in, along with the Fast Patrol Boat which the city has adopted, and we were going to carry on down the Ribble back to the link.
With hindsight it would have been easier if we’d been at the front when the gates opened but of course it didn’t work like that and there was a delicious melee in the river with boats going every which way.
What a lark!

Legend and Bosley made a lovely sight as we went down the river side by side,
this time when we got to the brook the traffic light was a welcoming green
so we tuned in and made our way up the well-marked channel to the little rotating sea lock. It’s a slight disappointment really, having seen the Thames Barrier we were expecting something…. well… grander. Admittedly the important part is under water, and it only needs to be as wide as the boats going through, but still you’d have thought someone would have painted it at the very least. Having passed through that we had to wait at the holding jetty for the tide to go out enough so that we could get under the next bridge. While we were there, five boats turned up behind us that had come from Tarleton that morning, so there were eight of us going up the link.

When the water level was low enough we got the word to go. The locks up the link are wide so you go in pairs; Legend went first with Callum behind us, then twenty minutes later Bosley and Kara, and so on. It is unbelievably twisty, narrow and quite steep sided with willow branches overhanging everywhere.
It’s not that deep either; we ran aground and had to pole off one of the bends, and we had to flush Callum into one of the locks. There are nine locks on the link which get progressively deeper as you go up, with a final flourish at the top with the very impressive but ridiculously awkward three rise staircase. If you’re planning on doing this trip it’s worth looking at the staircase on Google Earth first. As you come out of the brook into a basin the lock entrance is behind you over your left shoulder. The basin isn’t big enough to turn anything longer than about 40’ and to be honest; even then it wouldn’t be worth it. The only logical way is to go in backwards. Luckily we’d been forewarned, and once you’ve got your head round it it’s not that bad. The boat naturally drifts round that way, and we had Legend and Callum in, tied together and leaning on the bottom gates in no time.
The BW guys were there to help us up and it all went like clockwork.
At the top is another basin with a bridge, under which lies the Lancaster canal; left to Lancaster and the North, right to Preston and the canal terminus. Malcolm & Pauline were heading up, we were going down so we said goodbye, although we’ll more than likely see them again before we go back down the link. Unfortunately we didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to Dave & Kate; they were still in the middle of the staircase, hopefully we’ll see them again before long. We turned right out of the basin bridge and after going about half a mile towards the city came across Cadley Moorings, a very well looked after sanitary station on the off-side. Someone has put a lot of effort into making it a nice place to be; there are picnic tables, a barbeque, 14 day paved moorings and best of all for us, parking spaces, all behind a locked gate.
So, on Saturday instead of Thursday, here we are on the “Lanky”. For the first time for a long time we don’t have a boating itinerary. Ever since we booked this crossing in March it has dominated our calendar; not in a bad way, it’s been one of the most exciting things we’ve ever done, but it influenced almost every decision we made this year. Now we’re on a 24 mile long duck pond. There are no locks between here and the other end, and apart from wanting to take Legend from here to there and back again before October we’re back to not having a plan.
Still got a list though.

One thing we’ve crossed off our list just recently is getting the fridge fixed, although we took the rather drastic step of fixing it with a new one. Ever since we bought Legend the fridge hasn’t been working properly; the refrigerant gas has leaked out resulting in food not staying cold despite the compressor running constantly. We’ve been putting off getting a new one as they are eye-wateringly expensive, all the old one was costing us was the odd pint of milk and a litre or so of petrol for battery charging each month and we hoped we’d come across someone who knew how to mend it, but we finally gave up and bit the bullet. We’ve now had the new one in and running for a week. As expected, the milk is significantly colder and the batteries stay charged for longer. To celebrate we put some ice cream in the freezer.

1 comment:

Sarah said...

Enjoy your icecream. Your account brought back memories of a long wide bit on the Norfolk Broads a long time ago, during a boating holiday. Probably not as daunting as yours. x

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