Saturday, 31 May 2014

Middlewich to Etruria. Trent & Mersey Canal.

Being moored on the Middlewich arm brought a blur of social activity our way, starting with an IWA volunteer day at Wardle Lock. About 20 people turned up and we all got stuck in with clearing vegetation and painting. Us two spent most of the afternoon in the workboat hacking away at the bushes and trees that were overhanging the off-side, while another little gang uncovered a set of boaters steps that no-one knew existed. The difference we made was astounding and it was all very rewarding.
One of the many boats that passed us during our stay contained Steve and Moira, a couple we’d met at Ellesmere Port. We’d promised to go for a drink with them when we were up there but it never happened, so as they were mooring up near the flash we arranged to meet up at the Big Lock pub later that night. A very entertaining evening ensued with a couple who’ve been boating for years and have seen it all.
A day or two after that Martin and Yvonne, who we met last year on our York and Ripon adventure, turned up and moored next to us for the night. Of course it wasn’t just by chance, a good deal of logistical planning had gone into us getting Legend and Evolution together again, including them boating for 10 hours in the rain and us eking out our dwindling water supply so we didn’t have to leave before they arrived. It was all worth it though, we had a lovely evening aboard Evolution and it was fabulous to see such happy people looking so well. They’ve invited us to stay while they’re at the IWA National Rally at Chester and we’re really looking forward to that. In the morning we helped then through the locks going north out of Middlewich and said our fond farewells…for now.


Then Chloe came to stay for a couple of days; she’s got a job in Rochdale and she’s renting a room which can be a bit lonely. As she had 3 days off she cane to spend them with us, so that was lovely, and to make it even better, Shandy came along for the evening and we got an Indian take-away. Bliss.   
As if that wasn’t enough interaction with the outside world, all this hanging around meant we still hadn’t gone round the junction when Paul and Lindsay on Happydaze came back from their trip up “The Welsh” as us old boaters like to call the Llangollen. More tea and cake then.
After that, and with Chloe still on board, we finally went through the amazingly tidy and expertly painted Wardle Lock and turned south. Actually, due to the wind, we turned 270˚ clockwise and, more by luck than judgment, ended up pointing south.
Unfortunately Chloe wasn’t feeling well so she was laid out on the sofa all the way to Wheelock. She felt better enough to feed the swans and cygnets later on though.
In the morning Dave dragged her out of bed at 6am and they went for a run. The poor girl had hardly eaten the day before so it’s probably the only time he’ll ever manage to keep up with her. Seriously though, they are fairly evenly paced so if they both get a place in the London Marathon next year there’s a good chance they’ll manage to stay together.

As Wheelock has got a dead easy car-park and it’s only moments from the M6, we used it as a base for 2 days working in Manchester doing tram surveys. After that we rattled our way back up the Cheshire locks to Red Bull. This stretch is also known as Heartbreak Hill, not so much because of how many locks there are, (26) but because they’re spread out over about six miles. The trick is to know when to get on and when to walk. We’re getting better and we can get a really good rhythm going when we’re locking these days. We know the old horse-boaters would put us to shame and leave us standing, but even though barging the gates and letting paddles drop are taboo these days (and quite rightly so) we can still be quite slick. Heartbreak Hill locks are all paired singles and, although not all the pairs are working, or even still there, there are enough of them to make it interesting. You can have boats going both ways, or you can overtake another boat if they’re slower than you. There was a hire boat with a crew of 6 in front of us and we almost got past them twice. It’s an exciting life on the cut!

And the socialising continued. Half way up the locks at Rode Heath, Kim and Luke came to visit with baby George. Ann-Marie got lots of cuddles while the rest of us had tea and cake.
They are refreshingly laid back with George; he’s going to be a cool dude.

And there’s more. Frankie, Harry, Janice and Paul had all come over to the UK for a wedding in Stafford. As they were in a camper-van in a field 40 minutes away we went to spend some time with them and brought J&P back to see Legend. Paul used to live right by the L&L near Burscough and has had a fair bit to do with boats, so we were quite chuffed that our lovely little home met with his approval.

After all that we thought we’d better get on with a spot of what we do best.

So that we didn’t have to find somewhere to park in Stoke, we took the car up to Stockton Brook on the Caldon Canal then walked back to Red Bull. That was quite a hike and took us up the feeder to the beautiful Knipersley Reservoir then over Mow Cop and down the Mac. 

 


It was worth it though as it meant we could crack on through the Harecastle Tunnel, down to Etruria and up the Caldon without having to stop and walk back.

So, at 07:30 on a rainy Wednesday morning, we arrived at the tunnel entrance in order to get the first passage of the day.
We’d taken all the high stuff off the roof before we got to Harecastle, but the tunnel keeper told us it would be a good idea to collapse our big roof box as well, and we were glad we did; it’s really low in the middle where it’s subsided and there are numerous white painted sticky-out bits that you have to avoid. The edges of the big box might not have touched the roof, but we’d have been gutted if they had.
We’ve always found that we get on a lot better in tunnels with all the cabin lights on; it keeps the tunnel walls illuminated after the headlight has gone through, but because we’d heard that bits of Harecastle were exceptionally low Dave had a head-torch on as well so he could see what was coming. That worked really well and we’ll be using head torches for all tunnels from now on.  It was strange to hear the different engine notes as the tunnel profile altered; where it was circular the echo made it really loud but as it became more oval it was as if someone had added another silencer. At the Southern portal there’s a pair of doors that the tunnel keeper doesn’t open until you’re almost there. This is because there are no air vents, so they’ve installed a huge extractor fan at the southern end to suck all the fumes out and if the tunnel mouth was open it wouldn’t work. We were the lead boat in our convoy of five; we tried to maintain a steady 3 mph as instructed but because it was such an alien environment it was hard to know what speed we were doing. We must have been ok though; we got to the other end in about 50 minutes which was bob on what they expected. The noise from the fans got louder and louder as we got nearer the end, then the doors opened, the noise stopped, daylight flooded in and we were out in the rain again.

We stopped at Westport Lake, which was the first decent looking mooring, to dry out and have breakfast then, when the rain eased up, we carried on to Etruria and turned left onto the Caldon.

On our way to the staircase locks we passed quite a few historic boats moored up for the Etruria Canal Festival which was due to take place the following weekend.
We’ll come for a visit, but legend will be up on the Leek branch by then.

It all got a bit uppity at the Etruria staircase.
The boat was in the bottom chamber and the middle paddles were open to equalise the levels, when a woman with a windlass came running towards us shouting “Drop those paddles immediately! You’re doing it all wrong!” When we finally managed to get a word in, we calmly informed her that everything was perfectly ok, and that we did actually know what we were doing, and that if she’d actually looked at the situation before she went off on one she would have realised that we weren’t the hire boat that had been ahead if her and just gone down, but a completely different boat coming up, Love. The stupid thing is, dropping the middle paddles doesn’t cure anything that we can think of, no matter what you’ve done wrong.

We had been advised not to moor anywhere south of Milton once we got on the Caldon, but we usually take stuff like that with a pinch of salt and after bridge 14 it started to look like rain again. We’d already dried out twice so we picked a decent looking bit of Armco and pulled up. There were trees all around, no empty beer cans, graffiti or razor wire in sight, in fact nothing to cause us any concern about stopping the night. So it was something of shock when we found out the following morning that 3 days previously, at almost exactly the same spot, another boat had been attacked by a gang of stone-throwing kids. Windows smashed, paint damaged and the boater himself hit in the face by a stone. That sort of thing we do take seriously. By good fortune we had a really quiet night, but you can bet the farm that we won’t be stopping there on the way back. We’ll do what everyone else does and go straight from Engine Lock on the Caldon to Trentham Lock on the T&M in one go. We are well aware that someone is smiling down on us, but it wouldn’t be wise to push it.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Chester to Middlewich. Shropshire Union Canal.

Although we thought we’d not be long retracing our steps from Chester to Red Bull and Hardings Wood Junction, this has not turned out to be the case. What, us? Not doing what we thought we’d do? Who’d have guessed?
In Chester basin we met a lovely couple called Paul and Lindsay on Nb Happy Daze who we got on really well with.We went up the Chester locks with them and reluctantly said goodbye when we stopped for water at the top.



We knew we were being followed up the locks by a historic pair of boats on their way home from Ellesmere Port, but it was only when they passed us on the water point that we realised that the butty was Saturn.
We’re quite fond of Saturn; we saw her being bow-hauled across the Pontcysylte Aqueduct when the Olympic torch was being handed over from Wales to England, so it was lovely to see her go by. We moored up again at Waverton, where we were re-united with our car and, surprisingly, our doormat which was exactly where we’d left it a fortnight before!

Our next stop was Warton’s lock and we were delighted to see that Nb Happy Daze was tied up just ahead. Paul and Lindsay came aboard Legend in the afternoon and the next morning we had another fond farewell as they were going straight on at Barbridge and heading for Llangollen, whereas we were turning left and heading for the T&M. No doubt our paths will cross again.
We had a very brave duck come and visit the boat.
She came aboard as bold as brass while Dave was sitting in the well deck, then ate a handful of bird seed while her boyfriends swam around quacking like a bunch of old women.

Beeston Castle towers over Warton’s lock; it’s owned by English Heritage so we didn’t go up there but we walked round it on our way back to the car.
Arthur and Eve from Nb Shambles invited us to a ceilidh at Neston, out towards Birkenhead. It was hosted by the Mersey Morris Men whom Arthur is a member of and who Eve plays fiddle for. We had a brilliant evening and joined in with almost every dance. The Morris Men did a turn in the middle and very good they were too.
Spring arrived with a bang in Cheshire; suddenly the banks were covered in bluebells, there was lilac out everywhere, and horse chestnut trees were swathed in candles.

And, just as suddenly, walking in the country involved a trip through a sickly-sweet rape-seed field, or a really hard work-out crossing thigh-high pasture.
After reading that ”Ash die-back disease” is spreading across the UK, we were a bit concerned about the number of these trees that were still bare silhouettes, apart from the ones still festooned in last year’s dead seeds, but they seem to be catching up now with new fronds and tight black buds on most of their branches. Another thing that happens in spring of course is that all the insects get active. We found this charming little place while we were out walking.
 Well it was charming till one of the bees got caught in Ann-Marie's hair and stung her on the head. Dave got the stinger out but the poor little bee was going mad and sending out help messages to all it's brothers. We had to run away before anymore came to the rescue. Then we got nettled and had to squelch our way through a swamp. What a wonderful life we have.

We moored for a couple of nights at Calvely; the first night, just as the sun was setting, we heard the unmistakable sound of a single cylinder Bollinder approaching and looked out to find Spey making her way back to her home mooring.
Fabulous!

The next night Anne came for a visit after attending an interview at Southport, so we had a lovely evening with her. What a wonderful life this is.

Dave has applied to enter the 2015 London Marathon. The reason behind this insane decision is that he’s always had a bit of a hankering to do it and was inspired by Chloe’s shining example this year to get off his bum and do something about it before it’s too late. However, the morning after a night jigging about at a ceilidh was not the best time to go out for his first training run - especially as it was the first time in about 20 years that he’s run anywhere. He spent the next three days making involuntary noises to accompany every movement, but now he’s out first thing in the morning twice a week and is up to 11km.

Then May Day was here, so we picked a couple of sprigs and put them on the roof with the tea pot.
As we said, we’re not really We're getting on with it as quickly as we thought we would. We’re now moored just before Middlewich. We’re going to be here for the full fortnight as we’ve got a few days’ work in Manchester next week; there’s good car access here and we’re happy leaving the boat, so we won’t be moving to Wheelock till next weekend. Also there’s a volunteer working party at Wardle Lock in town on Wednesday when there will be painting, weed clearing and generally tidying up to be done, so hopefully we’ll get involved with that.

John came to see us the other day; it was the first time he’s been to the boat without Gill so it was hard for him, but we had a really nice day and it was great to see him. We all went out for a walk and he’s promised to come again when we’re doing a bit of boating – maybe on our way back up Heartbreak Hill, an extra pair of hands would be most welcome then.