Thursday, 28 July 2022

Barrowford to Crooke. Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

   Well Dear Reader, as you probably guessed from the title of this post, we did get down all the Wigan locks before the closure, but as you’ll discover it was very close and very nearly didn’t happen.

   In response to Dave’s email, a very nice man called Jonathan, from CRT North West, called us back and told us when their volunteers would be working the Blackburn and Johnson’s Hillock flights, so if we could get ourselves in the right place at the right time they’d give us a hand. The Wigan flight, however, was still an unknown quantity.

   Luckily our first two moves were lock and swing bridge free, so Ann-Marie could rest her ankle. We stopped at Weaver’s Triangle in Burnley for one night...


...then on to Hapton Bridge, where we drove to Accrington Victoria Community Hospital and had Ann-Marie’s ankle x-rayed. Thankfully it wasn’t broken, but it was still very painful and quite swollen. They told her to carry on with rest and gentle exercise and to keep it elevated as often as possible.

   We found out that Chloe was coming over to Liverpool in a couple of days for a radiography conference. We also found out that Martin and Yvonne on Nb Evolution were going to be in Salthouse Dock in Liverpool at the same time. How perfect! However, before that happened we had to get through Blackburn.

   We managed to get ourselves through the swing bridges on the next bit, past the halfway point at Church...



...and the repaired breach...

The site of the big breach at Rishton which was repaired earlier this year.

...before mooring on the 48s at Rishton Bridge.


   A bit of history here. People often wonder why swing and lift bridges were always built so that the operator has to cross the bridge to open them, meaning that single handers can’t then get back to their boat to get it through the bridge. 

If you are on this side to open the bridge, how do you get back to your boat?

   It seems totally illogical, Captain. The reason is that when the canals were built, the boats had right-of-way. The wonderful new transport system couldn’t be held up, and the swing and lift bridges would have been left in the open position and operated, not by the boat crew, but by the farmer, or whoever else needed to cross, using a chain and a pole. And the reason they opened to the offside? So that they weren’t in the way of the towing rope.

   In recent years a lot of movable bridges have either, in the case of electrified ones, been converted to towpath side operation or, like the ones we came across on that stretch, had moorings built on the off side. They were tricky to get the boat onto, but at least single handed boaters could operate them without having to tie the boat to the bridge and clamber off the front, or cajole a passing cyclist into lending a hand. Ann-Marie was starting to bear weight on her ankle, so she managed to get us through without too much trouble.

   Early the next morning we pulled pins and set off for Blackburn...

The nicely restored wharf in Blackburn. 

...arriving at the top lock about half an hour before the volunteers. They were fabulous and had us down the flight in no time.



The bridge over this lock has been widened and there isn't room for the balance beam, so this crank handle has been added to open the gate.

   At the bottom we tied up for a cuppa, then while Dave went back up to the top and picked the car up, Ann-Marie steered Legend on towards Riley Green. The pub that we remembered being at Riley Green was now a demolition site, but the car park was still there, so Dave parked up and walked back along the towpath to meet Ann-Marie and hop aboard at a convenient bridge.

Moored up at Riley Green.

   After lunch we drove to Magull and caught the train into Liverpool, then walked down to Salthouse Dock and had a lovely reunion with Martin and Yvonne on board Evolution.


   Chloe turned up when her conference was over, she was very impressed with how spacious Evolution was compared to Legend, but as Yvonne pointed out, all their clutter lives in their house. A little while later we said goodbye to our lovely friends and went up into the city with Chloe for a pie dinner in the utterly amazing Philharmonic Dining Rooms. Afterwards we had a bit of a wander round and a coffee before we had to get our train back. A really lovely unexpected day and so brilliant to see everyone.

   The next day was another early start although not a boat moving day. We had to be in National Tyres in Bolton for 9:00 for an MOT on the C3. The weather forecast was a bit dismal, so we thought we’d spend the day with bottomless coffee and free wifi. However, after dropping the keys off we found that Bolton ‘Spoons was closed while it was being refurbished. Disaster! We ended up in the M&S café for a second breakfast, which was nice but didn’t take anywhere near long enough. By 11:00 National Tyres hadn’t rung us and weren’t answering their phone, so a little scurry round the internet revealed the Bolton Museum and Aquarium, so off we went. The aquarium was astonishing and well worth a visit if you find yourselves in the area. It specialises in rare fresh water tropical fish and we spent a good hour in there. There was still no word from National Tyres so we walked back to find that our poor little car had failed. We went off for a cuppa while we formed a plan of action, then went to Todmorden to see Nikki and Rob for a catch up and a meal in the pub.

   Dave was out with the toolbox the next morning, using the nice flat demolished pub’s car park to good effect. The front wheels were catching on the inner wings on full lock, which was easily rectified by straightening the brackets and re-locating the inner wings. The handbrake wasn’t working on one wheel, which meant stripping the brake and freeing off a seized operating lever. All fairly easy, however it had also failed the emissions test, which wasn’t so easy. We got a new air filter and a bottle of engine cleaner and hoped for the best. In the afternoon Dave stashed all his tools back in the engine room and we moved Legend to the top of the Johnson Hillock flight ready to go down the following day.


   In the morning it was all looking good. A group of volunteers turned up and we thought we’d have an easy trip down the flight. However, no sooner had they arrived than they all left, presumably the message that we needed assistance had got lost in translation, and they all had other roles to play elsewhere. Dave began single handing down the first lock, but just as we were leaving it a crew of three turned up on a little wooden motorboat and asked us to wait. That made things a lot better; Ann-Marie could do a bit and between us we got down the rest of the flight fairly easily. Dave’s main concern was keeping our 20 tonne steel tank away from a very vulnerable looking, but utterly gorgeous, ex-hire motor-launch from Lake Windermere.

   We had one night at the bottom of the flight, then a couple at Adlington where we went for a walk round a bit of Rivington Reservoir...


...and had a famous Fredrick’s ice cream on the way home. The water level was becoming noticeably lower; it was getting difficult to get to the edge in some places and we felt ourselves bumping on the bottom quite a few times. The pound we were in, between Johnson’s Hillock and Wigan is 10 miles long, and a drop of 6-8” is a lot of water. No wonder there were plans for closure.

   From Addlington we took the car for a retest which turned out to be a bit of an ordeal. We expected it to be a ten minute job, but this is National Tyres and things don’t work like that. 3 hours after our booking time it finally got into the test bay. We were completely underwhelmed by their customer service but in the end it passed, so it’s all water under the bridge. We got back to Legend much later than we’d planned, but it was a lovely evening so we decided to boat down to Red Rock, leaving us only a mile or so to get to Wigan Top lock in the morning.


   We’d not heard anything from CRT about volunteer assistance for the Wigan flight, but Ann-Marie was getting more mobile every day, and we knew from the Wigan Flight Crew facebook page that there would be other boats going down in the morning as well. Dave took the car to the top lock and cycled back, stopping to chat with the other people who were already queued up. There were three boats there, Legend made four, and they knew of at least two more that were planning to go as well.

   So, the main event. Wigan 21. The last time we tackled this flight was 9 years ago in December. The entire flight was frozen, we had to ice-break all the way up and it took us two days to get to the top. David and Kate came to help us and we really have no idea why we went ahead with it. We should have all just gone to the pub for the day instead and waited until it thawed, But we were new and naïve and we’d been moored up for 14 days and thought we’d get in trouble if we didn’t go.

   Ok, pay attention because this is where it gets complicated. At the bottom of the Wigan flight there is a T junction. Turning right takes you down the rest of the L&L to Liverpool. Turning left takes you down the Leigh branch towards Manchester. Both directions involve going down locks, so although boats coming down the flight bring some water with them, any boat movement across the junction takes water out of it. The first two locks on the Leigh branch are notoriously leaky and the short pound between them is empty most of the time. With the increasingly lower water levels, and more boat movements than usual because of people trying to get back to their marinas before the closures, the junction pound was becoming un-navigable, and the Wigan lock keeper had closed it the day before to allow it to recover.

   CRT were closing the flight to navigation on the 18th of July, we were going away on the 15th. Today was Tuesday the 12th, so we had a few days in hand, or so we thought. On that morning, Martin and Yvonne on Nb Evolution were going across the junction from right to left on their way out of Liverpool. The Mikes, on board Nb Shanti were going the opposite way across the junction on their way to their marina mooring on the Rufford Branch. M&Y phoned us and said that they’d moor up as soon as they were through and walk up the flight to give us a hand coming down. We talked about postponing our trip till the next day so that they could help us right from the top, but luckily (as you’ll see) we stuck to plan A. So while Shanti and Evolution were crossing bows and struggling with low water levels in the junction basin, we began our descent. We, along with Paul and Jamie on Nb Katie were the second pair going down.




   The most important thing to get right when you’re going down a flight is to preserve the water you’re using. It’s important to not empty the lock the boat is in until the top paddles on the lock below are open. That way the water goes from one lock to the next and not down the bywash.


   Getting that wrong can leave you with a low pound in front of you and a flooded towpath further down. With Ann-Marie setting ahead and Jamie closing up behind, we made good progress. M&Y managed to get to us about two thirds the way down just about the time when Ann-Marie was starting to flag. She got sent indoors with strict instructions to rest (which she promptly ignored and made tea for everyone instead) and with their help we got down to the last lock with no problem.




The view from the bottom lock.

   And that’s where it all came to a halt. We were in the last lock looking down over the bottom gates and watching the two boats in front of us go into the junction basin. The water was quite clearly very low, the mud banks at both sides were exposed and we could see two other boats that had been hoping to come up the flight, but instead had been aground at the side all day. The first of the moving boats disappeared round the corner, but the second one got slower and slower and finally ran aground right in the middle of the channel. So that was that, the basin was un-navigable.


   We had an impromptu picnic on the lock beam while decisions were made...



...then the lock keeper declared the flight closed for a couple of days and put padlocks on the gates in front of us. He told us that the pumps from the river Douglas and the by-wash coming down the flight would refill the junction basin overnight and then us and the other trapped boats would be allowed across it, but no-one else would be coming down the flight.

   The two boats behind us had caught up and were moored on the lock landings, so Legend and Katie had a night in a lock. We’d already been in it for an hour or more and the water hadn’t dropped, so we knew the bottom gates weren’t leaking, but to be on the safe side we tied the top gates open and put very slack lines on to stop us drifting backwards.


   We had a message from the Mikes saying they were moored up near Crooke so we arranged to go and moor with them the next day when we got moving again. We’d invited M&Y over for chilli, but they’d left Evolution in a hurry and wanted to get back and sort her out, so instead we wrapped the pan of chilli in a towel, then packed it, and a bag of Doritos, into Ann-Marie’s bike basket and cycled down the towpath, past the empty pound between the locks...


...to where Evolution was moored, for another fabulous fun evening with our wonderful friends.


   As promised, the water levels recovered overnight, all the grounded boats were refloated and at 9:00 the padlocks were removed. Legend and Katie dropped down into the junction basin where we gingerly chugged round the corner, before dropping down Henhurst lock and out of the danger zone.


   Our second attempt at the Wigan 21 had taken two days as well and we kept reminding ourselves that if everything hadn’t gone to plan over the previous couple of week and we’d lost just one of our ”days in hand” we’d be stuck at the top of the locks waiting for it to rain
. At that point a two day descent would have seemed very desirable. Wigan is our new Nemesis.

   We worked through the next couple of locks with Paul and Jamie, then saw the familiar figure of  Mike R winding the paddles on Ell Meadow. We let Katie go on and breasted up alongside Nb Shanti.


   The last time we saw the Mikes’ boat she was on the River Great Ouse and a sort of faded blue. She was now a lovely bottle green with a new sign writing and covers, and a very impressive solar array on the roof. The boys had been busy and were loving their new life as continuous cruisers. They were heading to a marina up the Rufford branch where they were going to leave Shanti while they returned to the states for a month, and we were off to Liverpool, but before we parted company we had a couple of weeks to do a bit of joint cruising and make the most of each other’s company. We really do love this serendipitous life.

Friday, 22 July 2022

Foulridge to Barrowford Bottom lock. Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

  When we were at Foulridge, we rescued some wooden decking from the skip. There was enough to cover about half of our well-deck floor and with a bit of online research we discovered that it came from Ikea. So, on the way home from Manchester airport we popped in for a matching pack. 


   And a hot dog of course.

   The next morning was Saturday, so Dave drove out to Colne for parkrun, then took the car to Barrowford locks and walked back over the tunnel to Foulridge for a shower and breakfast.

Foulridge Reservoir. It's empty because the top 6' of the retaining wall is being removed due to it becoming unstable. It's planned work, but it means that, combined with the unusually dry weather, the Leeds and Liverpool is desperately short of water .  

   The mile long Foulridge Tunnel has a very simple traffic lights system. The lights at both ends are normally red, and at the east end they switch to green for ten minutes on the hour. It takes about 20 minutes to get through and at the west end they go green for ten minutes on the half hour. We were aiming for the one o’clock east – west passage, so just after midday we moved up to the services and hooked up to the water point. We were just finishing filling when John turned up to join us for the trip. Ann-Marie made a brew, put a load of washing in the machine and we shuffled forward to the tunnel waiting moorings. By the time we’d got all our lights switched on the traffic lights had turned green and we were off. Years ago, when we started boating, Legend had a single tunnel light at the front, which meant we could see where we were going but not much else. We still have that, but nowadays we switch on all the cabin lights which illuminate the walls, and the engine room lights so we can see each other. The best upgrade though, is another headlight on a swivel mag mount at the back. This lights up the roof above our heads, so we can see all the stalactites and other formations. It was the first time John had been through a canal tunnel and he thoroughly enjoyed it. We were expecting it to be drippy, but for the most part it wasn’t; another sign of how dry it had been recently.

   At the top of Barrowford locks we tied up and took John back to his car, then came back and triple pegged the washing out in the wind.

   This is our new decking. The idea is that as well as looking nice it will save the paint getting worn out and be nicer to stand on in bare feet.


   While we were moored at Barrowford we drove up to Settle for a lovely circular walk up the Ribble valley to Stainforth, then back over the scar taking in the Stainforth Force and Catrigg Foss waterfalls.







Catrigg Foss waterfall. Nowhere near as impressive as it would be after heavy rain, but lovely all the same






   We also went to join a group of our family for a couple of days in Hathersage. Somehow we managed to get the boat and the car half a mile apart just when we needed to tranship all our camping gear from one to the other. Not like us at all, but our trusty little folding sack barrow coped admirably.

Load No.1. There's a Machine Mart folding sack barrow under there somewhere.

   Cat and Ben were over from Hong Kong for a visit, and Anne had hired a house for a week so that all the family could drop in. We found a nice looking campsite close by and booked in for a couple of nights. It was lovely to see everyone and the house was full of food and laughter from start to finish. Thursday was the main event; in the morning Dave went out for an early - and surprisingly hilly - run with Anne and Cat, then us, Anne and Andy went for an arm waving and cairn building walk along the ridge above Mam Tor while the kids went climbing.




 


   In the afternoon we got the food sorted for the evening before all the Foxes turned up. We’d planned a barbecue, but the weather was looking a bit grim and the little grill wouldn’t have coped with the huge amount of food we’d accumulated so we decided to cook it all indoors in the oven instead. The result was a curious production line of various dishes, but it was all very tasty, and there was plenty of wine so no-one minded at all.


   That night the idea of a wet walk back to the tent in the dark seemed less appealing than it had earlier, so we stayed in the house. In the morning, after playing at cleaning fairies and having long goodbye hugs with everyone, we drove back to the campsite to pack our tent up before going for a gentle walk up Stanage Edge.




   It was a great weekend, lovely to see everyone, and as always we all vowed to do it more often.

   Barrowford locks are only a half hour walk from Colne, so the next Saturday we walked to parkrun in the drizzle. Ann-Marie was marshalling and it brightened up by the end so we both dried out a bit on the way home. Just as we arrived back at Legend, Nb Out Of The Blue came round the bend heading for the locks. We asked them to wait for ten minutes while we did a rapid costume change, then got the ropes on, fired up the Lister, and joined Rose and Guy for a slick trip down the flight.



   The L&L was rapidly running of water, and CRT had announced they were closing all the locks between Wigan and Skipton on the 18th of July, which was only a couple of weeks away. Rose and Guy were getting the hell out of dodge and planned to be down the Wigan flight four days later. We’d have really liked to have gone with them, they were lovely people and very efficient through the locks (a quality we greatly admire!), but sadly that was too fast for us, we had an MOT test booked and a road trip into Liverpool planned, so it would be at least a week before we got to Wigan. At the bottom of the flight, just as we were leaving the last lock, Ann-Marie slipped on a badly aligned coping stone and twisted her ankle. We pulled over onto the moorings on the off-side to assess the damage and have the breakfast we’d missed out on before we set off. It was just as well that we stopped, because John turned up just as we were tucking into our Weetabix. We were somewhat ashamed; we’d forgotten we’d told him we were going to be moored there and we were at our worst. After starting off in a rush the boat was a mess, hastily discarded sweaty running gear, breakfast things and general untidiness strewn around, and poor Ann-Marie with her puffy ankle up on a stool in the middle of it all. John was very good about it though, we gave him tea and sandwiches and he went home happy, albeit slightly bemused at our chaotic life.  It was a really nasty sprain and Ann-Marie could hardly walk. Her other knee was just getting better and now this had happened.


   She was beside herself and the timing couldn’t have been worse; we'd only just come down from the summit of the canal, in 12 days CRT were going to shut it and we had 41 locks and 45 miles to go. Dave got on to a couple of Facebook groups asking for help, and also emailed CRT explaining our predicament, and asked when they would have volunteers on the four lock flights ahead of us.

   Would we get down before the closure? Would we be trapped again? Had we jinxed another canal?

   Dear Reader, you will have to wait till the next instalment to find out.

Barrowford to Crooke. Leeds and Liverpool Canal.

   Well Dear Reader, as you probably guessed from the title of this post, we did get down all the Wigan locks before the closure, but as you...