Saturday 29 December 2012

Leeds & Liverpool Canal. Crooke to Appley Bridge

After two weeks at Crooke we thought it would be polite to clear off. The canal is very much overlooked by the local houses so it seemed prudent to keep to the rules and not upset the natives. Just before we left, several of the other boats that had been moored there when we arrived received patrol notices; the waterways equivalent of parking tickets, so someone is obviously quite vigilant. It sort of proves what we said in the last post; in the winter, away from popular spots you’ll get left alone, but you still have to behave at visitor moorings.

So we’re now at Appley Bridge. Yes, back the way we came, although we were at the locks last time and now we’re next to the bridge. We’d have gone back to the locks except for a chemical spill which closed the canal for a week or two. There were blue absorbent barrages across the cut under the bridge and at all the spill weirs after it. When it first happened the whole area smelled of tar, but as the days passed and it continued to rain it seems to have mostly dispersed. Whether the emergency measures have been effective or whether it all got washed into the River Douglas is debatable, but the upshot is that by the 28th of December it was open to navigation again. Or, to put it more accurately; if any navigation had been occurring, its progress would have been unhindered.

We spent the Christmas holidays at Chloe & Shandy’s house, starting with a fabulous Christmas Eve dinner for all the family. In the morning Chloe & Shandy opened Santa's offerings, had breakfast and headed off to Jon & Jo's while we had a very pleasant Christmas day with Frankie & Harry. We resisted the temptation to walk out and leave all the clearing up, indeed C&S got the best deal; when they left there was a mountain of food and Package-Fest was in full swing, on the 29th they’ll come home to a clean house.

On Boxing Day we came back to the boat, lit a fire, hung up the washing, and then went to join Sue & Steve for a lovely evening at Emma & Bill’s at Hesketh Bank.

The following day we drove down to Wrexham to Rob & Tracey’s where we were later joined by Dave’s Auntie Margot and Cousin Philippa. Rob is half way through a yearlong tour in Afghan and was home for Christmas so it was good to be able to get to see them all.

We love Christmas, mainly because it means we get to indulge in our favourite pastime of visiting people. This year, due to being in a different neck of the woods, we’ve been able to share Christmas with a whole other branch of our family and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. Of course it does mean that we’ve spent a good deal of time lounging around and eating too much. There will be a price to pay in the New Year in the form of lots of walking and cycling; let’s hope the weather allows us enough time between deluges to do it.

Talking of rain, we are often asked how the current state of affairs affects us; are we likely to be washed away or left stranded in a field somewhere. The short answer is that as long as we stay on canals and avoid rivers and flood plains we should be ok. There are exceptions, but in general for a canal to flood the adjacent river has to burst its banks and water levels need to rise dramatically, obviously this would cause catastrophic flooding in the local area before there was a problem on the canal. Indeed, aboard a boat in a canal is usually the best place to be when there are flood warnings about. There’s also the added bonus of being off grid to start with, so immune from power cuts and blocked drains. And if the worst should happen, we’re on board to do something about it and we’ve got emergency gear. The boats that appear on the TV news stranded or perched on top of locks would most likely have been unoccupied in the build-up to, and during the occurrence of, their calamity. So thank you for your concern, it’s good to know that you are thinking of us, but touch wood, we’ll be fine.

Thank you, Dear Reader, for sticking with us for another year, we hope you had a good Christmas and we look forward to sharing 2013 with you. Happy New Year.

Monday 10 December 2012

Leeds and Luverpool Canal. Appley Bridge to Crooke.

We were sad to leave Appley Bridge. Being off the main line meant we had a constant stream of birds on our bird table and other wildlife in the trees,
we could leave stuff out on the towpath and it felt very much like home. Crooke, on the other hand is busier, there’s not much of a view and the solar panels aren’t doing a lot. The reason we’ve moved is partly our natural wanderlust combined with a need to get closer to where Ann-Marie is working. We picked a day without ice, filled up with water at Dean Locks,
which would be a perfect canal cottage location if it wasn't for the M6, and tied up just before the Crooke Hall Inn. Very nice pub, apparently. Dave might find out one of these evenings.
Crooke is a pretty little village with a close-knit comunity, however it wasn't always thus. 100 years ago the scene was radically different with up to 20 coal barges a day being loaded from as many as 5 "Tipplers".
This was the last one to be dismantled. There were similar ones at other locations, the most famous being in Wigan. Guess what that was called? It turns out that Wigan Pier wasn't just a music hall joke as we'd thought, but an actual structure. When trade on the canal ceased it was sold for scrap and there is now a replica on the tow-path where it used to be.

It would appear that we are going to be in the Northern Reaches of the inland waterways until the spring. There are three general routes between the North West, where we are, and the Midlands and the South, where we’re going. The easiest way is the one we came by; Bridgwater and Trent & Mersey, but until at least Easter this is impassable due to a big breach near Preston Brook. Alternatively we could turn left in Wigan and continue up the L&L and take the long way round over the Pennines to Leeds then follow the River Trent to Nottingham. We’ve discounted this for a number of reasons, not least of which is that most of the River Trent is tidal. We will go that way at some time but there’s so much to do in that direction that it’ll take us whole year to explore it. The remaining choice, and the way we will eventually go, is via the Bridgewater into Manchester, then the Rochdale, Ashton, Peak Forest, Macclesfield and Trent & Mersey canals. This takes us to lots of lovely places like Bugsworth, Whaley Bridge and Froghall, which we’re looking forward to but, once again, it’s impassable until the maintenance work is finished on the Rochdale in Manchester. The scheduled completion date is 08/03/13, but like everything else is probably going to overrun. So here we are, just to the east of Wigan with nowhere to go. Then next lock - Ell Meadow – is having its bottom gates replaced so we can’t go forwards and we’ll be here in Crooke for Christmas. The water point at Dean Locks is about half an hour behind us, so as long as we keep an eye on the weather and time it right we can survive being iced in for a fortnight without any worries. Ann-Marie is 20 minutes’ walk away from work, and when she finishes in January we’ve decided to turn round and go back to Burscough so that when the weather really gets grim we’re in an ideal spot.

You may wonder how this lack of going anywhere fits in with the CRT rules that apply Continuous Cruisers. We are, after all, limited to 14 days in any one place. We were at Appley Bridge for a month, we’ll be at Crooke for a similar length of time and our presence in both places will, no doubt, be recorded on some database or other. The reason we haven’t been threatened with having our boat impounded and crushed for scrap, or even phoned up with a vague suggestion that we might consider moving at some time, is that in the winter, away from popular spots, on a waterway with hardly any boats moving, you are allowed a certain amount of leeway. That isn’t to say that no-one cares; other boaters pay for winter moorings and if we parked up on visitor rings for months on end we’d expect there to be consequences. But when the maintenance program is in full swing, there’s only 5 hours of daylight a day and there’s ice on the horizon, if not on the canal, you can’t be expected to make the same sort of progress.

Listening to the radio recently, we appear to be in the best place in the country, weather-wise. Everywhere else seems to be having a worse time of it than us, presumably the wheels will turn and we’ll get our fair share of cold. We’re as prepared as we can be and so far we’ve been fine. We spent a very enjoyable ten minutes putting the Christmas decorations up; there’s only so much you can add to an already cluttered 57’ trad and still see outside.

One of our frequently asked questions is how we cope in winter. We now have a stock answer ready; “Well, if we open all the windows and shut the stove down we can sometimes get it below 25˚C.” Boom, tish.

Saturday 1 December 2012

Leeds And Liverpool Canal Appley Bridge to Dean locks and back again.

No-one turned up to mend our lock, but it’s working again anyway. This is due more to whatever is under the gate becoming embedded in it through usage, rather than anything resembling a sensibly planned and executed clearance of said object. You can tell it’s still there by the little geyser spouting up from the bottom of the gate, but all things considered we’re happy to report that Appley Bridge lock is working a lot better than it was and losing considerably less water than a lot of other locks on the L&L, and that navigation through here is perfectly possible. Indeed Derrick, on coal boat Ambush, (a gorgeous Liverpool long boat with a huge 4 cylinder Gardiner) came through at the weekend. Their home base is at Crooke and on their way through they stopped off at our little community to deliver coal and diesel. With Ambush in the lock there was hardly any room for the water, so if they can get through anything can.
We’ve now got half a dozen bags of coal on the roof to go with all the logs.

This week’s been rather busy; as well as a short cruise up to Dean Lock for water
we had a couple of nights away from the boat. First stop was Anne’s in Chesterfield for post. Anne was going to a rag-rugging evening at the community centre so we tagged along; Dave’s had a rag rug on the go for several months (that’ll be about a year then) and it’s sort of stalled just lately, so it was good to get it out and show it to people, so to speak. He got a few new ideas so there’s a good chance it’ll get going again.

The next day we were up early and off to Southam for dentist appointments, after which we dropped in on Chloe & Shandy in Daventry. Their house is looking really homely now and we spent the evening round their table with a very pleasant indian. They’ve invited us for Christmas Eve, and we’re very much looking forward to it.

Thursday was another early start, first to a motor factors for a new battery for the car. (it’s never failed to start first go, but as Ann-Marie is doing lots of short-hop driving in the dark with everything switched on, it seemed sensible to swap it before we had to.) By 9.30 we were at the NEC for a day at the BBC Good Food Show. Ann-Marie has been quite a few times but it was Dave’s first visit. We had a whale of a time; we spent the whole day snacking on free samples and came away laden with booty. Ann-Marie is now working from 6 o-clock each night, leaving Dave on his own in the boat with nothing but a stash of yummy food to keep him company. Oh dear.

We’ve had our first day with ice on the cut this winter, although it’s due to get a bit milder next week so it won’t last. Anne’s coming for the day on Saturday, it’s Dave’s 55th birthday on Sunday, then if the weather looks ok we’re going to move to Crooke on Monday. If we get frozen in, that would be a better place to be. This is idyllic, but not very accessible.

New Haw Lock to Boveney. River Wey. River Thames.

After pulling the pins at New Haw we dropped down the last four locks on the Wey... Cox's Mill Lock Town Lock The final stretch of the W...