Monday 14 November 2022

Scholar Green to Bollington. Macclesfield Canal.

 With Legend moored for more than just one night at Scholar Green, we had the opportunity to do more than just boat and car moves. Dave got a message from Brian saying that Jason on Nb Bargus - one of the Four Counties Fuel Boats - would be single-handing up Heartbreak Hill on the Tuesday morning and would appreciate someone lock wheeling for him if we could spare the time. Dave jumped at the chance. We have developed our own spheres of expertise when it comes to locking. Dave steers the boat and Ann-Marie does the majority of the lock wheeling, which means we get many comments from gongoozlers about Dave loafing about on the back while Ann-Marie does all the hard work. Although that is true, we are perfectly happy with the situation. Ann-Marie gets claustrophobic in the bottom of a lock and loves the chance to chat to people up on the lock side, while Dave is much more at home out of earshot, and he puts his fair share of physical effort in when it comes to firewood.

Incidentally, the term “Lock Wheeling” we think comes not from the act of turning a windlass to open paddles, but from the working boats, when they would use of a bicycle to get back and forth between the locks on a flight, in order to set ahead, close behind and keep the boat moving as swiftly and efficiently as possible. During WWII the “Idle Women” had a crew of three on each pair of boats; one on the motor, one on the butty and one whizzing up and down the towpath on the bike.

Anyway, back to Nb Bargus on Heartbreak Hill. Dave was keen to help because it meant he could get to do the locking for a change, so he was up and six and, windlass in hand, off down the flight to find Jason. As he got further down it became apparent that someone had got their wires crossed as there was no sign of anything moving. Dave phoned Jason a couple of times, but it went to voicemail and he eventually reached Wheelock without finding him. Later that day, he found out that Jason had gone up on the Monday and would indeed have loved having someone to help. Oh well, at least Dave got a nice walk and Ann-Marie got him out of her hair for a while. She turned our Halloween pumpkin into some very nice soup, and we spent the afternoon cosied up with a fire and a film while it got all wet and windy outside.

It was still windy in the morning, but we went out anyway; along part of the Gritstone Trail and up Mow Cop where we nearly got blown off the top.

When we got back, we found out that Chloe had fallen off her horse and broken her collar bone, poor love. From the x-rays it looks like she may need surgery and a plate to put it right, so she'll be in our thoughts for a while.

While we were stopped Dave got the last bit of painting done on the swan neck, when that’s dry he can get the Turk’s heads cleaned up and whitened and the anchor back in its stowage place and we’ll be back to normal.

You won’t see pictures of the visitor moorings in Congleton on a chocolate box or a jigsaw. “Handy for the shops” is about the most glowing anyone has ever got in describing the stretch of canal that sneaks, unnoticed, through a gloomy cutting and below a motley collection of bridges near the railway station. It’s a shame because it’s quite a nice town. We moored just south of it at Henshall’s bridge where we found some marigolds and cape daisies in the hedge, no doubt abandoned by summer cruisers on their way back to their marina. Ann-Marie re-homed them with the nasturtiums which, considering they’d had at least one severe pruning and it was now November, were still looking quite good.  The next day we boated through Congleton and across the aqueduct over the disused railway line to moor up on the offside in an old railway loading branch. We’ve moored there before and love it. It’s quiet and secluded with plenty of space and even a bench. If we’d had more time we’d have stayed for much longer, but with Bosley locks only opening on Friday, Saturday and Monday each week, we had to crack on. The next day was a Sunday, so we had an early start and took the car to the middle of the Bosley flight followed by a lovely walk back along the Dane Valley way and a bit more of the Gritstone Trail which took us up and over The Bosley Cloud. It was fabulous to be up there and although it was a bit hazy, the views from the top were terrific.

We pulled the pins and set off as soon as we got back and almost made it to the bottom of Bosley locks before it started raining, ready for our climb up the flight the next day. The locks were open and manned from nine till four, but we had to go off for an appointment first and didn’t get back to Legend until after eleven o’clock. As we were walking down the flight from the carpark, we met the volunteers who were working Adam on Nb Saramanda up the flight. We had a quick chat with him as we passed and found out that he’d only had his boat for six days and had single handed it from Nantwich. Talk about a steep learning curve! We told Adam that we’d be on our way up soon and we’d see him at the top. One of the volunteers reminded us that the last entry was at one o’clock and they locked up at four, no doubt worried that we might make him late for his tea, but unknowingly laying down a gauntlet. When it comes to boat handling, every day is still very much a school day, but we’ve been at this for quite a while now, and with four thousand-odd locks behind us we’ve got a few slick tricks up our sleeves. So they were a bit surprised when, having done eleven of the twelve locks by ourselves, we popped up behind them just as they were locking the top lock, not long after Saramanda had come out of it.

Entering the bottom lock

Halfway up with The Cloud in the background.

Nearly at the top.

We had thought we’d carry on, but after making full use of the services at the top lock we changed our minds and decided to stay put till the morning.  Our next stop was at Gurnett Aqueduct on the outskirts of Macclesfield. We stopped there for a few days while we caught up with all the little jobs on the To-Do list, including an oil change, so there will be fresh oil in the Lister while were not using it. We also went to see Brian and Ann Marie at Bollington Wharf to finalise arrangements for leaving Legend there while we go away. We now just have a huge packing list of stuff to take for seven weeks away - including Christmas and New Year in a foreign country - and another list of things to do to winterise the boat.

So no, Dear Reader, just in case you were wondering, after nearly twelve years of idly messing about on the water, we still haven’t Become Listless.

Our last bit of boating in 2022 was from Macclesfield to Bollington where, with an enormous sense of achievement, we tucked Legend in at the wharf.

Arriving at Bollington.

Legend having a rest for a while.

On more than one occasion, with all that had gone on over the year, we hadn't honestly believed that we'd make it, but here we were. We could go off to stay with Frankie and Harry and our gorgeous grandchildren till the new year and not worry about the boat.

On our final walk back for the car we had a short, sharp climb up White Nancy and along the Saddle of Kerridge in the gorgeous November sunshine..


We're going to put the blog on hold till we get back, so we'll take this opportunity to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. We'll see you in 2023.

Sunday 6 November 2022

Middlewich to Scholar Green. Middlewich Branch, Trent and Mersey Canal, Macclesfield Canal.

The lock keeper at the end of the Middlewich Branch was quite surprised when Ann-Marie told him we were turning right and going up the Trent and Mersey. Every other boat he’d let through that morning had turned left and gone down towards the hire bases and marinas in Middlewich and Anderton. The half term holiday marks the end of “the Season” for a good 90% of boaters, and the difference in the week afterwards is always quite dramatic. All the way to Wheelock and up the Cheshire Locks - affectionally known as Heartbreak Hill – we hardly saw anyone moving.

Heading up the T&M toward Wheelock. We only saw one other moving boat all day.

Sunset at Wheelock.

Dave's favourite bridge. You can see it from a truck on the M6, and he did. Often.

Climbing Heartbreak Hill
Our last lock on the flight.

The Canal Tavern at the top of the locks must have been a welcome sight for many a working boater.

Many years ago, before we left the house, we had a weekend helping our good friend Brian with coal and diesel deliveries on the fuel boat Alton. On that occasion we lock-wheeled all
 of Heartbreak Hill and went through Harecastle Tunnel in one day. This time, with just the two of us and car moves to do, we had a couple of one-night stops on the way up. First, just before Wheelock and then halfway up the locks at Rode Heath. In Kidsgrove we stopped for services, then at the curious Harding’s Wood junction, rather than heading straight on to the tunnel, we turned right, off the T&M, looped round to go parallel to it, then went back over it on an aqueduct and onto the Macclesfield Canal.
Turning off the T&M onto the Mac at Harding's Wood junction.

Harding's Wood. Up the locks, turn right, round the loop and back over the aqueduct.

Modern motorway junctions do this sort of 'loop around' shenanigans all the time, but in its day, Harding’s Wood Junction must have been looked upon in awe. Another of Thomas Telford’s engineering miracles.

We tied up just north of Poole Aqueduct, then moved on to Scholar Green the next day. That night was Halloween, and our 25th "Getting Together” anniversary, so we put a pumpkin on the roof, lit a bunch of candles, smartened ourselves up and went out trick or treating. Well ok, no tricks and just the one treat; a very nice celebratory dinner in the Rifleman’s Arms.

Scholar Green was the first time we’d been able to stop for more than one night since leaving the dry dock. Our mission was to get up Bosley locks, between Congleton and Macclesfield in order to get to Bollington where Brian (you remember Brian with the fuel boat?) now owns and runs Bollington Wharf and had agreed to let us leave Legend there while we went to France for an extended stay. Dave had offered to give Harry a hand in the workshop, he'd be doing the day-to-day and general dog's body stuff so that Harry could get a couple of projects finished. Ann-Marie and Frankie were both looking forward to a lovely long spell with Thibault and Axelle, but the whole thing hinged on getting the boat somewhere safe. The Bosley flight had been closed due to water restrictions since early on in the summer, but CRT had allowed bookings for boats to get back to marinas and winter moorings during half term. We hadn’t been able to get there in time for that, but our hope was that if we got close, and they allowed more passages, we’d be ready. Naturally, although CRT couldn’t commit to any future promises, they were constantly monitoring the situation. After half term, Karma stepped in and had a word with the rain gods, leading CRT to declare that there had indeed been sufficient rainfall to allow for continued passages up and down Bosley, albeit only three days a week. So, Cinderella, you shall go to the ball. Our plans would work, Legend would be safe and sound, and we could have a lovely long family holiday in the south of France.

For the time being though, we could breathe a sigh of relief and slow down long enough for the blue tits to find our bird table.

Wednesday 2 November 2022

Northwich Dry dock to Middlewich. River Weaver, Manchester Ship Canal, Shropshire Union Canal, Middlewich Branch.

 Occasionally, the logistics of having a car and being Continuous Cruisers get a little complicated. Most of the time we just move it along a bit then walk back down the tow path and collect the boat, or vice versa. We enjoy the walk, it keeps us fit, we usually incorporate some shopping or a visit to somewhere and it really isn’t an inconvenience. However, when there are big moves involved, especially if they involve rivers, it requires a bit of planning. After leaving the dry dock in Northwich we had to go back down the Weaver, the Manchester Ship Canal, the Shroppie and the Middlewich branch, retracing our steps round the big circle that had got us there. As we would be heading south on the T&M when we got to Middlewich, (rather than north back to Northwich) we couldn’t leave the car behind like we did the last time, so we needed to come up with a different cunning plan. Yes, Dear Reader, it would indeed be ever so easy to get a bus from Middlewich to Northwich, but where’s the challenge in that? It would also mean un-knotting the purse strings, and you know how reluctant we are to do that. We studied the map and found the ideal spot; just round the corner from Screwfix in an industrial estate in Winsford, which was about a mile and a half from the Middlewich branch, and a nice five mile walk back along the riverbank back to Northwich. The 48hr moorings below Hunt’s Lock gave us the perfect opportunity to clean a week’s worth of dust and muck off Legend’s roof, put all our ropes into soak and get the car moved.

And then we were off. First stop was the services on the river in Northwich. There had been a fair bit of rain in the previous couple of days, which was great news for our plans as it meant there was a good chance that the Cheshire locks and the Bosley flight would be open again, allowing us to get up the Macclesfield canal for the winter. However, it also meant that there was a good flow going down the river, making mooring up on the services quite tricky. We’d forgotten how quickly things get exciting on a flowing river, especially as our good ropes were in the wash and we were using our reserves, but we managed to make the turn and moored up pointing into the flow. Going with the river past the boat lift and back down to Runcorn was really speedy.

We stopped at Barnton Cut and Sutton Weaver on the way down, both of which are on canalised lock channels.

On these calm sections there is very little flow, which makes mooring very easy; you don’t have to turn into the stream or any of that
malarkey, but they still go up and down as the flow on the main river increases and decreases. At Sutton Weaver there was a submerged shelf along the bank below the moorings. It only stuck out about six inches, and we didn’t notice it when we tied up because the river was quite high. Later on, as it went down, Legend caught on it, making us lean over. Dave went out in the rain and pushed us off. Then it went down further, the ropes tightened, and we leaned the other way, so he went out again and loosened us off a bit. Predictably, we woke up at about five in the morning back on the shelf again. It felt like the river was playing some childish game.

A bit later that morning, at a more sensible time, we phoned the Ship Canal Harbour Master to make sure they were expecting us and to check on any shipping movements. He gave us the all clear, so with a couple of hours to kill before our booking through Marsh Lock, we had a little cruise past the lock along the rest of the Western Canal.

We thought we’d get to Western Point
Lock right at the end, but just after the junction with the derelict Runcorn and Western Canal we found a low bridge that stopped us.

The old lock gates leading to the derelict Runcorn and Western canal.

It might have been possible to swing the bridge and carry on, but we didn’t have time to find out, so we turned round and went back to Marsh lock where we found two CRT lock keepers waiting to let us out onto the MSC.

The difference in the Ship Canal from the last time was incredible. It was calm and sunny, there were only two big ships on it and they were both tied up in the docks on the Mersey side.

The view of the Mersey Estuary, just over the bank.

A flock of Lapwings kept us entertained with their aerial acrobatics.

The only thing we saw moving was the little crew ferry at Stanlow.

halfway down we heard on the radio that the 2,000-tonne dredger Deo Gloria was coming into Eastham Lock off the Mersey and heading for the QEII dock, we thought we would be crossing bows, but the harbour master very kindly held it back till we were safely in the lock at Ellesmere Port so we didn’t see it.

Heading towards Ellesmere port lock entrance.

Turning in...

...and safely in the lock.

 Ann-Marie caught a glimpse of the dredger going past as we were working up Ellesmere Port locks.  It was a bit bigger than the dredgers we usually come across. 

Working up the locks in the museum.

We got up the Shroppie to the top of the Chester staircase locks by close of play that day, about 20 miles from where we started. It was really lovely going up the staircase; two very nice volunteers and lots of very interested Gongoozlers to chat to.

In the morning we carried on through Chester and up the Shroppie, sharing locks and leapfrogging all the half term hire boats heading back to their bases at Middlewich and Nantwich, making it another chatty friendly day.

We stopped at Calverley for the night and took advantage of the lovely hot shower at the services, then forged ahead in the morning, joining the throng of holiday makers round Barbridge junction and across the Middlewich Branch.

Ann-Marie doing a spot of gardening on the move.

We stopped before the last two locks at Norman’s Bridge. As it was a sunny afternoon Dave got the red bit of the swan neck painted
 and then, with a sense of closure and a job well jobbed, we walked the mile and a half to Screwfix in Winsford to recover the car.

Brentford to New Haw Lock. GU mainline. River Brent. River Thames. Wey and Godalming Navigations.

We had just over a week at Brentford waiting for the Thames strong stream warnings to come down from red to amber, and we made good use of o...