Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Back to Uplands

It was a damp, drizzly sort of morning but before we set off we walked down to Dutton locks - we had thought about this yesterday evening but it was a bit late and not very pleasant weatherwise.

The path led down the hill across one field to the access road at the bottom which passed over a very new bridge over the weir stream. After taking a look at the locks - only the large one is currently in use and is mechanised - we spent some time chatting to the lock keeper, a retired sea captain! No doubt he would have kept us all day and he certainly had plenty of interest to say about the river, local industry and waterways in general!

He explained the history of the rusting hulk which lies forlornly just above the weir stream. Until the early nineties it was in use as a passenger cruise ship, up and down the river and locally via the Mersey. He had an old brochure showing the layout with five passenger cabins.

However, the company ran into financial difficulties and gradually the ownership of the vessel became unknown and it lay for some time in Western Dock where it was used by the 'ladies of the night' as it was explained to us. In the end the navigation authorities, still unable to dispose of it, moved it up to its present location where it is gradually falling to pieces, thus saving the expense of intentional scrapping!

Back at the canal, looking down on the river, we eventually set off and passed through the two tunnels - at the first we had about 12 minutes to wait for the open time and at the second (which has no specific times) a similar wait whilst one boat came through in the other direction. By the time it had cleared the tunnel there was a queue of four boats waiting to go south!

It was lunch time when we arrived at out planned overnight mooring (just outside Uplands Marina) and close to the bus time for Mike to travel back to Kidsgrove to collect the car. So he took his rolls with him - which he ended up eating on a bench by the bus stop: it was nearer and easier to find that he had allowed for.

The journey involved a bus trip, three train rides and a half hour walk along the canal at the far end (Mike later discovered he could have done the last but by bus!) It only remained to navigate the road network back to the mooring - made a bit easier by having come into the railway station by bus so he could re-trace its steps.

The rest of the evening was then spent in servicing and loading up the car ready for a prompt start in the morning as we have to call at Penkridge to discuss boat painting.

Monday, 16 May 2011


As soon as we were ready we moved the boat into Uplands Marina in order to re-fuel. Unfortunately, Mike came alongside where he had been told to moor last night, only to realise that he was the wrong way around as their hose would not reach to the far end of the boat. Turning in the space available, with quite a breeze blowing, was less than simple!

A feature of this trip has been the number of herons we have seen - as well as plenty of other bird life, especially young chicks and cygnets.

By half past nine we were ready to leave and set off northwards. Before long we moored briefly at Barnton to buy milk at a local shop - no greengrocery (carrots) however, nor a paper. At least we will have hot drinks! We could see back down to one of the chemical works on the Weaver.

Next came Barnton Tunnel - just as we were entering we spotted a light coming the other way - as a result of the alignment, you have to be in the tunnel portal before it is possible to see to the other end. And the same happened again when that boat had passed out! In the end we made it.

A short distance on is Saltersford Tunnel - this one is shorter than Barnton but is too crooked to see through clearly so entrance is restricted to 20 minutes in each hour.

The next section was very pretty and we had occasional glimpses of the River Weaver and landmarks we had seen yesterday, including the pub where we turned around. Just before Bridge 211 the canal opened out and we had a good view of Dutton Locks below us. We also made a note that it would be a good spot to moor on the way back.

A little later we pulled in for a lunch break. By now the weather was beginning to turn continuously wet - although it stayed this way for the rest of the day it was never very heavy rain, more a damp drizzle.

After lunch we continued up to Dutton Stop lock, after which we joined the queue waiting for the next timed slot to enter Preston Brook Tunnel. This is much longer than the previous two and so there is only a ten minute slot each hour.

Safely through the tunnel it was short run to the junction with the Bridgewater Canal where we turned left onto the section up to Runcorn. Along the way we passed an interesting building which appeared to be a conversion of an old canal warehouse into apartments. At least some of the original brickwork had been retained!

The navigation here is much wider than the Trent and Mersey as well as very clear water. We were also surprised that it remained very green almost all the way up to the end, even though several large housing estates were just a few metres away.

We were also surprised, and a tad disappointed, that there is no good view of the Mersey from the canal, or even from the canal terminus at Waterloo Bridge - from here a flight of nine locks once led down to the river level. We had to make do with just the occasional very limited glimpse and a few sightings of the Runcorn Bridge. A couple of unusual mooring bollards are left at what was probably the lock landing.


After a short stop - and seeing nothing! - we set off back the way we came. Our arrival at Preston Brook Tunnel was well timed and we only had about ten minutes to wait, even though there was no-one else coming the other way or waiting to go south.

Eventually we arrived back at Bridge 211 as planned and found that it was indeed a good spot for satellite reception.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Anderton - again

Our overnight mooring had been very pleasant - just before we set off, Christine captured the nearby wildflowers on camera.

The first passage through Vale Royal Locks is at 10 am and we moved down from the mooring in good time - the holding pontoon only takes one boat! However, as we were waiting, the other boat that had moored at the same place last night came down and had to 'breast up' whilst we waited.

At the appointed hour the lock keeper and his assistant arrived and set about preparing the lock. After a while were allowed in and secured ourselves ready for the twenty minute descent. At least the other locks do not take so long.

Sometimes the River Weaver is disparaged but we found it most pleasant, although there are few facilities. It is best to come prepared for the duration. As it happened, we were close to our normal re-fuelling level - actually this is just below half way but in the wake of last year's disaster, and other difficulties, we try not to run the tank too far in case we draw too much sediment into the fuel supply.

As a result, we felt that we needed to get back to Anderton by the end of the day, even if we had to wait until morning for the next available slot. We continued back down the way we came yesterday - a number of rowing coxed fours and coxless pairs were out practising. Just before Northwich there is a boatyard with a number of larger vessels although it seems unlikely that Proceed will be doing very much of that!

After Hunts Lock - the two friendly staff were on duty again - we stopped at Northwich Services for the usual processes. Christine popped into the town centre for a paper - we failed to find a shop yesterday as as result of the Winsford disappointment. Northwich is much better served and more attractive than Middlewich so we might like to try here again in the future. Many of the houses are timber framed as it was discovered so time back that they withstood the salt subsidence better than other methods of construction. One, near the Town Swing Bridge and now a solicitor's office, was built as late as 1881. Another seems to have had an earlier role as a garage, now a cafe.

After setting off once more we returned to the visitor moorings below Anderton for a lunch break. Another of Christine's soups had been on the brew all morning.

At this stage we decided to go some way down stream, but leaving enough time to make the last lift of the evening - at that stage there was still room. A couple of huge chemical works stand on the river bank just below Anderton, but otherwise it was very pleasant rural scenery.

Saltersford Lock (only one seems to be in use here as well) is mechanised and is another huge affair. As it happened, shortly before we arrived another boat had penned and was almost about to be dropped down when the keeper spotted us arriving and re-opened the gates so that we could travel at the same time.

After about another half an hour we turned around in a wider section of the river just above Acton Swing Bridge and began our return trip. On several occasions, including the return passage through Saltersford, we met up with a hire boat with ten young people out for a birthday celebration weekend. They had been to a fancy dress party just before leaving, dressed as fairies, but only one of the men kept to his costume!

We moored up below Anderton just as the 4:15 lift was loading up. As Mike turned and moored the boat, Christine went to make enquiries and returned with the news that we could travel on the five o'clock lift, the last of the day. She also had pleased the lady who takes the bookings as she remarked that we had met her husband at Hunts Lock where he is one of the seasonal keepers! In fact, it turned out that we were on our own for this ride.

Once the boat is safely tied up inside the caisson and the gates shut, the water between the gates has to be pumped out before the lift can commence. At the top, similarly water is pumped up from the river below to fill the corresponding gap at the other end to release the pressure from the gates. The 2003 restoration - the third form of engineering in the life of the structure - now means that the two caissons can operate independently but this is much more expensive than when they counterbalance each other. However, if one is unavailable for maintenance it does mean that passages can be continued. Both caissons are lowered at night to rest on pads, removing some of the strain on the hydraulic rams. We make no apology for the extra pictures of this structure but it really is amazing and a tribute to the engineering ingenuity of former generations.

By the time we had completed our ascent it was too late to find fuel tonight so we moored at the entrance to Uplands Marina ready for their 8:30 opening in the morning. Alas, trees were between us and the tv satellite!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

River Weaver

The day was generally cool - even cold at times with a sharp wind. Occasional showers could be rather fierce as well.

We set off in reasonable time with a lock-free stretch ahead of us until Anderton. We had no plans beyond there, planning to investigate the lift options when we arrived. Another large flash reminded us that we were in salt country - the semi-submerged abandoned boat a reminder that at one time many of these flashes were where a lot of boats ended their days.

As we approached Northwich, industry returned at, at one stage, the canal passed through a huge chemical works.

We stopped at the service block just before the junction for the usual fill and empty. It was then only a short hop to the holding moorings for the Anderton Lift. Mike was completing the catch for the rear door so Christine went to investigate and returned having booked us in for the 12:50 descent as well as sheaves of instructions to read before the 'trip'. She also spotted The Cheeese Boat and returned from there with three interesting cheeses.

After the operator from the lift had been to check our licence and give us the safety briefing, we were told to move around into the holding trough. The gate closed behind us - another boat was coming down with us but, unlike us, he had done this several times before.

The gates between the holding trough and the movable caissons were then opened and boats boats moved forward. Once ready, we were let slowly down. Today, the impressive gear mechanism which are prominent on the top of the structure do not form part of the operation. Instead, a huge hydraulic ram supports the centre of each caisson and they counter-balance each other so that little force is needed to raise boats from the river level up to the canal.

Once at the bottom we emerged into the River Weaver and headed upstream. The river is surprisingly pretty, mostly green and often nearby industry is hidden from view. Half an hour later and we passed through the centre of Northwich and soon after arrived at Hunts Locks.

Only the smaller lock is currently operable, although even this one is large enough to dwarf a narrowboat! The upper edge of the lock is so high above the boats that the lock keepers drop a rope down for us to tie ours onto in order to secure the boat before the lock is filled. In fact it is a very smooth operation but also quite slow. We were amused to see that the signals at either end of the lock are semaphores, not traffic lights, although it did not seem that they are in fact in use.

Vale Royal Locks have only a few timed operations and we arrived at the holding pontoon with half an hour to explore before it was the next time. We were surprised to see that the holding pontoon is only large enough for one boat! only the large lock here is operational and even then only one of the lower gates has a functional mechanism. The keeper here has been in this post since 1980 and is quite vociferous about the waterways!

The gates are operated by hand using a capstan that pulls the gates via a chain below the water. A lever, rather like old hand railway points levers, changes part of the mechanism and a t-shaped handle engages a clutch mechanism. The gates are supposed to be operated by a water-driven motor but this only works for one of the upper gates. Hence the lower gate and the swing bridge across the centre of the lock are hand powered! This is perhaps the largest lock we have ever used. The photo shows only half the lock length.

The next section, passing the Vale Royal mooring is a long straight but returned to bends around the salt works before Winsford. Windsfor Rock Salt Mine - Salt Union - is Britain's oldest working mine (although it did close for some time) There arehuge piles of rock salt on the river bank.

We continued upstream to Winsford as the map from British Waterways that we were given at Anderton indicated a mooring at Winsford and, perhaps we might find an internet connection - there was none at Anderton nor on the river since. But first we had to wind - this was not as easy as we had anticipated and the second bridge proved to be the widest point and only just enough. What a 70 foot boat would do was unclear!

We soon realised that the mooring was not safe to use with a narrow boat - the edge profile was meant for much higher boats so we failed to stop. So no paper and no chance to find a church for tomorrow morning. There was little option but to return downstream. With no usable mooring that we could find at the swing bridge - which might have made it possible to walk into the village of Moulton, it was back to Vale Royal moorings for the night.

Friday, 13 May 2011


We set off around 9:30 and gradually made our way down five locks and about five miles towards Middlewich Junction.

At Booth Lane Lock Christine chatted to a single handed boater coming up. He had a rather splendid belt with adapters for various items such as windlass, handcuff key and Watermate key. It turned out that he makes the belts and sells them as he navigates around. Not only did Christine buy one for Mike she also opted for a second as an early birthday present for Andrew. (If he reads this blog then it will not be a surprise for our next trip when he joins us!)

Much of the large chemical factory just before Middlewich has been razed to the ground although what remains is quite substantial. Judging by the huge piles of plastic bags outside they are still manufacturing something.

There was the usual queue of boats at the junction waiting to go down the Wardle Branch, although we have seen greater numbers!

After descending three locks - a little slow as there are two hire bases here and so quite a number of beginners being show how to work a lock.

By the time we reached the town centre mooring (just under the bridge from the former BW wharf) it was lunch break - another helping of the soup started yesterday - after which we went on a shopping foray into the town. Alas the church was not open so we could not look inside. The town centre - assuming we found it all - is a single street of small shops. At least we did find a butcher (there are two!). We were surprised that they no not normally offer pork shoulder joins - no demand and so they put it all into their sausages! Any way, we did buy a leg joint for Sunday. Off to one side of the main street there was Tesco although, again, slightly disappointingly modest in its range. In any case, we were not in real need of much more than milk!

By the time we set off again, just after three o'clock, rain started to fall. At first it was only an occasional drizzle and it kept dry whilst we waited in a queue to descend Big Lock. This lock is a broad lock but is unusually slow to fill and empty as well as being very heavy both to operate the gates and the paddles. The boat sharing the lock with us had just set off. It was their first experience of canal and they had been show the previous three locks but were now on their own.

Soon after leaving Middlewich a really heavy storm arrived and Mike was rather soaked! It cleared ere long but remained damp and overcast. This stretch is noted for the rural and tree-lined scenery.

We are now in salt country and the canal passes through some of the many flashes created by mining subsidence.

Being wet and rather wet, by the time we arrived at the last open stretch before the built up area of Northwich, we spotted a straight stretch with no trees and decided to halt for the night.

The concrete edging looked quite a good mooring but after we had tied up we realised that it sloped underwater and grated when boats passed. Still it only needed a move on a few metres to find something better. As we moored we were challenged by another swan - not too aggressively this time!