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.

Friday 13 July 2012

Bridgewater/Leeds & Liverpool. Manchester to The Rufford Branch.

On the way from Manchester to Leigh there is a wonder of Victorian Engineering. This is the Barton Aqueduct which takes the Bridgwater Canal over the Manchester Ship Canal.
Aqueduct? What’s so unusual about that? Well this one swings.
Then the road bridge next to it swings.
Then the Manchester to Liverpool ferry sails through the pair of them.
We just happened to be there.

We stopped at Worsley, partly because it’s a nice place to be, and partly to have a look at the entrance to the 48 mile labyrinth of underground waterways that were tunnelled into the coal seams around it. These were the Duke of Bridgwater’s mines; to drain the water and to transport the coal from here to Manchester was why this, the first significant canal in the country was built, and why, more or less, all subsequent canals are the size they are. We moored up behind NB Hadar; a beautiful working boat that we’ve been leap-frogging for a couple of weeks, and met her very friendly owners, Jo & Keith.
This is Jo’s blog.  It was one of the blogs we looked at when we were still in the planning stages of what we’re doing now. We learned a lot from other people’s experiences and it was lovely to finally meet someone we feel we’ve known for quite some time. Thank you for your prolific blogs, both of you, and thank you for all the help you unknowingly gave to a pair of wanabe boaters.

We had a night at Astley Green where there is a mining museum, including a massive 3300hp 4 cylinder steam winding engine.
In the centre of Leigh, the Leigh Branch of the Bridgwater Canal ends and the Leigh Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal begins. Just as well that Brindley and Bridgwater put more effort into building canals than naming them.

Just before Wigan we stopped for a couple of nights at Ince Moss.
The towpaths along this part of the L&L are in excellent order and make cycling a breeze.

We’re thinking of being around here for a while before Christmas this year; what with interest rates being diddly squat we need to inject some funds into the coffers and we reckon that Wigan is as nicer place as any to get a bit of temporary employment. The North West Waterways office is here, with visitor moorings and very friendly and helpful staff so as we were passing we went in and got a booking form for the Liverpool Canal Link. This is the exciting new route into Liverpool Docks, passing along the river frontage, in front of the Liver Building and into the re-vitalised south docklands area. It’s an assisted passage and we’ve booked Legend on it in October, a week after we come back from the Lancaster. We’ll be in the basin on a pontoon mooring for a week, so if anyone would like to visit Liverpool in October we’ve got a spare bed in the city centre.

The Leigh Branch ends at Wigan Pier; once a joke in the style of left handed tea cups, spare spirit-level bubbles and long stands, but now a very real restored coal wharf, where it joins the L&L main line. We turned left there as we continue our journey to the most northern part of the system. We stopped at the bottom of Appley locks. Even though you now only go through one (very deep) lock, these are referred to in the plural because hidden away in the undergrowth alongside are two more derelict locks that used to allow traffic to go in both directions at once. Looking at them makes you realise just how close we came to not having a canal system at all.
Further west is Parbold and a delicious ice-cream parlour, followed by three swing bridges, none of which use the same mechanism,
then the right turn through a very majestic bridge into the Rufford Branch.
The junction here has got everything, including yet more different paddle gear.
7 miles further on is Tarleton and the sea lock through which, next week, a lock keeper will open to let us out onto an incoming tide on the River Douglas. Right now Legend is moored up in the pound between locks 2 and 3 on very slack ropes. The pound is a fair size but quite shallow at the edges and we won’t be back for 3 days. This is Frankie & Harry’s hen/stag weekend so we’re going to be elsewhere.

Between Leigh and Wigan there’s a shiny new lift bridge at Plank Lane, but sadly no bridge keeper. These days you hold all the traffic up by yourself. Just before the bridge is a water point; we filled up with water and had a chat with a couple who’ve done the Ribble crossing three times. More useful advice, but with more than a soup├žon of trepidation thrown in. We took their tales of boats run aground and struggling through vegetation with a pinch of salt, but not before we’d made mental notes. We are going to approach our upcoming tidal passage with the utmost care, and with our “Absolute Beginners” hats wedged firmly on our heads.

Friday 6 July 2012

Trent & Mersey Canal. Bridgwater Canal. Northwich to Manchester.

Is this the end? Has God had a word with Noah? We don’t care, we live on a boat.

Whatever, it’s turning into a miserable summer. We’re trying to look on the bright side though; a task made a lot easier when your chosen life-style makes “water, water everywhere” an advantageous state of affairs. The good news is that, apart from the rumour that one reservoir somewhere has only been allowed to be ¼ full, because of a badger’s set in the bank, there seems to be no hint of navigation restrictions due to drought this year. (Said badgers will, no doubt, be culled at some stage to prevent tuberculosis in cattle.)

British Waterways’ jurisdiction extends up the river Weaver to a bridge at Winsford, beyond that you are on your own. The Nicholson guide vaguely says it can be shallow in parts. Helpful - not. Undaunted we went under the bridge, taking Legend out of BW waters for the first time. Straight away there was a twisty narrow bit with trees overhanging both sides that reminded us of Yellow River. We crept through on tick-over, expecting to see a crocodile or hit the bottom at any minute.
After a couple of hundred yards of not hitting the bottom the trees opened out and we found ourselves in Winsford Bottom Flash, which we thought was a chargeable offence, but turned out to be a big lake.
There was a caravan site and several moored boats on the left shore and enough space for a 57’ boat go round in circles. So we did. Because we could.

On the way back to Anderton we moored up at Vale Royal, just before the lock; another beautiful part of the world, and went for a walk over the lock to where, according to our OS Explorer, we should find the ruins of Vale Royal Abbey. We found a golf course and a posh new housing estate, but it was a nice walk; the footpath took us round it all and back along the river to the lock.

In the morning we were passed by NB Kandahar, so we quickly got going and followed them to the lock. When we got there the keeper was just opening the gates so we both went in and tied up together. Kandahar went out first and we followed them downstream. It was lucky for them that we did; half a mile further on they developed an engine problem and we were able to pull up alongside, tie the boats together and give them a tug to the next lock.
It’s all excitement on a river!

We got back to the lift on Thursday lunchtime; there were no spaces going up in the afternoon, so we had a night on the short term moorings. What with the chemical works on the opposite bank and a sound check going on for the Lift Off 2012 Festival behind us, we thought we wouldn’t get much kip, but with the curtains shut and Legend’s gentle rocking we had nothing to worry about.

By 10:30am on Friday we were in

and back on the T&M. That was when we discovered that the boat lift has a little trick to play on you as a sort of goodbye present; the last guillotine gate is covered in fresh-water mussels
and as you pass under it they all squirt muddy goop on your boat roof.
Oh how we laughed. We turned left onto the canal, which, because the entrance is at an angle, means turning right then turning round, and in our case resulted in three boats doing an elaborate ballet in the middle of the canal. We moored up just before Branton tunnel, washed all the mussel poo of the roof, and then left the boat for the weekend while we went to Chesterfield. The Chesterfield Canal Festival was on at the newly opened Stavley Basin; a dynamic restoration project with enough inertia to have a real chance of being completed in our time on board. As well as supporting a very good cause, it was an ideal opportunity to have a look at a canal that we will probably cruise along at some time, while it is still under construction.
The rain held off and there was a good turn-out for the festival on the Saturday. We were impressed by how much there was there; as well as the usual stalls full of painted buckets or rag rugs or very earnest people from other canal restoration projects, there was a fairground, painting & craft for kids, canoeing in the basin, and boat trips on the new section of canal.
For us it was a good social gathering as well; Anne, along with Mark and his children Jordan & Chloe were there as well as Chloe, Shandy, Frankie & Harry, who were up in Derbyshire for Jon & Jo’s party.
Afterwards we all went back to Anne’s for tea, a big crowd round her big dining room table. Fab.

Back on board Legend we set off up the last bit of the T&M towards Preston Brook. This includes three tunnels in quick succession; Barnton, Saltisford, and Preston Brook, all of which present a challenge. Barnton is straight, but you have to make a sharp left to get in it, while the other two are so kinked you can’t see through them.

At the end of Preston Brook tunnel the T&M ends and the Bridgewater Canal begins. This was the one that started it all. Originally built to drain the mines at Worsely, then extended to ship the coal out to Manchester, it is now owned by the Manchester Ship Canal Company and is very different to BW canals. The first thing you notice is that it’s wider and deeper; you can chug along quite happily and not make a wash. There are stop plank cranes, off-side mooring sites, stone edges and a distinct lack of Armco. It’s very nice.
A BW licence allows you seven consecutive days on the Bridgewater. How anyone enforces that we’re not sure; we didn’t clock in at the beginning, but we’ll be off onto the Leeds and Liverpool before our time is up anyway. So far we’ve moored at Preston Brook, Thelwall, Sale and had two nights right in the middle of Manchester City Centre at Castlefield. From Thelwall we had a walk over to the nearby Manchester Ship Canal, which is a bit bigger.
You can take pleasure craft on here, in fact in these days of containerised shipping there is no freight movement on it anymore, but it would be a daunting prospect to be on a little narrowboat in a lock this size.
The Bridgewater goes west from its junction with the Leigh Branch near Trafford Park and heads past the Kellogs factory and Old Trafford football ground into the city. While all around you the concrete jungle grows denser, the canal remains detached from it all in its green corridor until the last minute.
Then there is a rash of fabulous bridges
followed by the tastefully re-developed Castlefields Basin.
By pure co-incidence we moored up next to Kandahar; the boat we’d given a tow to on the Weaver. We’ve never been to Manchester before, so we were grateful that for one of the two days we were there it didn’t rain and we managed to get a look at it. Our good friend Ian came to see us the first day we were there, and in the evening treated us to a meal in the nearby Wharf restaurant. We had a great time and hopefully he’ll be able to join us for the River Ribble crossing.

Where the Bridgwater Canal ends the Rochdale begins, climbing up through the first nine locks almost under the city centre. Then there is a junction; the Rochdale continues to the left on its way over the Pennines while the Ashton Canal turns off to the right to join the Peak Forest and Huddersfield Canals. We’re not going that way this time; we’re going back out to the Leigh Branch then on to Plank Lane and the western end of the Leeds & Liverpool.

Here’s a glimpse of what we got to see of Manchester in the short time we were there.
Unfortunately the second day was the Friday when the whole country got flooded, so we didn’t get to see much more, but this certainly won't be our last visit.

Pangbourne to Sutton Courtenay. River Thames.

Summer ‘24 finally arrived while we were moored at Pangbourne, and boy, did we all know about it. The temperatures rocketed up - along with ...