Sunday, 30 September 2012

Market Drayton

We drove up from Cornwall yesterday - we had a service in the cathedral at which one of the choirs Mike belongs to was singing - setting off from Truro just before 1 o'clock. We made very good time up the motorway and even felt we could stop for a drink at Strensham. Andrew, who was joining us for this trip, was ahead of us by now and arrived at Nantwich just in time to collect the keys from the office - as well as our invoice for work to the main hatch lining.

By the time we arrived - just after 6 o'clock - there was only enough time to unload before it became dark. In any case, we had to wait until the morning to pay our bill! Fortunately we had brought a cottage pie with us so meal preparation was nil!

This morning we moved the boat down to the end of the basin where we planned to fill up with diesel. there was no one there to serve us but Christine, who had gone to the chandlery office to pay up, discovered that they have a very new diesel point on the main line. By now, there was a delay which they located the person to serve us - turned out that he was in the dock and then was assigned to setting off a hire day boat.

Leaving Nantwich Basin
Meanwhile we took the boat around to the water point - not so easy as it involved an almost 360 hairpin bend at the junction with the main line - only to see another boat just cast off from an overnight mooring and occupying the water point. Since he claimed that he was going to be there for at least 40 minutes we decided to pick up water later on. This almost always a bad decision! However, we eventually filled up with fuel and were on our way.

Wood Sculpture
We spotted a number of wood sculptures along the next stretch, the largest was this horse next to the basin entrance.

Nantwich Aqueduct
The weather was sadly a change from the warm bight sunshine of yesterday: very overcast and occasionally light rain. The wind was blowing and so a bit chilly - definitely autumn is arriving fast.
Immediately ahead was Nantwich Embankment including the substantial aqueduct over the main road.

We did think about making a visit to the Secret Bunker, a relic of the Cold War, but decided that it was rather expensive at £7.50 and only a minuscule discount for concessions! May be another trip . . . (we said that last time was came by!)

Hack Green Lower Lock
There were quite a few boats on the move and by the time we arrived at Hack Green locks we were third in line. However, these locks can be quick to operate although some folks do take an age. At least it gives a chance to chat to other boaters - one of those ahead of us used to live in Redruth.
At the upper lock were former stables - probably a reminder that fast fly boats used to operate this stretch.They achieved their speed by, as well as having priority, changing horses very frequently.

Hack Green Top Lock Stables
Christine was now into soup making mode, happily using a quantity of tomatoes that Andrew had bought from Devizes Market on Thursday but some of which had been squashed in transit, along with a number of peppers from a large job lot. This made a very tasty superior soup.

Former Railway Bridge
One remaining railway line crosses the canal south of Nantwich but several other bridge holes are a reminder of how complex the rail network once was at its peak.

River Weaver
We thought about joining the queue at the next lock and having lunch then but when we arrived the boats that had been ahead of us had either turned into Overwater Marina or also stopped for lunch by the towpath. This meant we too could stop just a short distance from Audlem Bottom Lock, close to a small aqueduct that overlooks the infant River Weaver.

Audlem Lass

Several times we saw the tiny Audlem Lass that operates a half hourly service between Audlem Bottom Lock and Overwater Marina. Sadly on none of these occasions did we see any passengers!
Refreshed by posh soup and sandwiches we tackled the fifteen locks of the Audlem flight.

Audlem Mill Wharf

The first half were set for us by a boat coming down. However, with three of us it was possible to work to a routine with one of us setting the locks. Apart from any delays from boats coming the other way we managed between 6 and 7 minutes a lock, including transit between them. Not bad going! Our only problem was that the water point below Lock 13 was occupied but by the time we had gone up through the lock to the water point above we discovered that it was out of action!

Our provisional trip plan suggested stopping somewhere between Audlem and Adderley flights but Andrew was keen to continue since we were making such good speed. Indeed, we polished off the five Adderley locks in little over half an hour.

Adderley Top Lock

Bridge 77 is a turnover bridge. Although it was a late design, with inclined ramps each side, it is not quite as advanced as those on the Macclesfield where the ramp on one side curls around and underneath so that a horse drawn boat can pass through without having to detach the towing rope.

Turnover Bridge
It was now definitely time to look for a mooring and we pulled in a couple of bridges after Adderley. As we started to prepare the evening meal we checked the water tank - the sight tube is not the easiest to use - and reluctantly concluded that we were perilously close to running on empty. A decision was made to move on to Market Drayton where there is the next water point although that is just under an hour away.

Former Warehouse opposite water point
It was still light when we reached the water points (2) and we began the task of filling an almost empty tank. Andrew checked out the visitor moorings signposted just ahead but he reported that they were full for some distance and, in any case, would not permit the use of the TV. So, once we had completed the water stop we reversed a short distance to the main moorings which, in any case, were rather better and did allow TV and mobile connections.

12.8 miles - 22 locks

Tuesday, 4 September 2012


Our last full day for this trip but we wanted to reach our destination by lunchtime as we have made arrangements to moor at the marina and also to meet with an electrician this afternoon. We have had problems with our electrics right from the start and various investigations have not resolved matters. At present, the batteries are providing very little electricity and we cannot have hot water in the morning until the engine has been started.

Before then we had the remainder of the Middlewich Branch to complete followed by a short run down the Shroppie to Nantwich. The Middlewich is a very attractive canal - the only urban area is right at the start but once Middlewich is left behind it is all rural.

Former Bridge
Several bridges have been demolished since the others were numbered - missing numbers reveal the gaps. However, the narrowing of the canal is unchanged and a treap for the unwary!

Weaver Aqueduct
Had our photographer been a bit cleverer the picture of the Weaver Aqueduct might have included the river itself. Truth to tell, we really did not catch a good view from the canal.

Minshull Marina
There are two large marinas on this branch - the latest is at Minshull and looks fairly full already. Pity that there does not seem to have been a corresponding drop in the number of online moorings - several long stretches detract from the other benefiits of this canal.

Minshull Lock
We had just a couple of locks today - at Minshull Lock the cottage lokks down the line of the canal and does not have any windows on the lock side. The locks are also quite deep - 11 feet rise.

Barbridge Junction
We reached Barbridge Junction where we turned south onto the main line of the Shropshire Union.

Former Stop Lock
Just after the junction we passed through the remains of a former stop lock - this time just a pause whilst Christine off loaded our rubbish in to the waiting bins.

The weather, after a short patch of very wet fine drizzle (almost a mist), turned pleasantly warm and sunny.

Hurleston Junction
At Hurleston Junction we were relieved that we were not ehading to LLangollen - there was a queue of three and three more arrived just after we passed by. There were signs of tension when a boat came north through the bridge and a waiting boat was convinced that it was about to steal its place in the waiting line! In fact they were just turning around.

Soon we were almost at the entrance to Nantwich Marina - based in a former arm. At a narrows, just a few metres back from the junction, two boats emerged to come the other way. As we were about to reverse to allow them through there was a sudden and strange sound from the engine and our minimal ability to move out of the way indicated a trip down the weed hatch. We soon established that we had picked up a padded waterproof jacket which was frimly twisted around the prop. Nothing for it but to cut it off piece by piece. In the end it filled two large carrier bags - which we later dumped in a waste skip.

We made contact with the marina staff who sorted out our mooring spot - very good indeed, right alongside a parking spot. It was now so warm that after sitting in the bow setas to eat our lunch it was an weffort to stir ourselves. Cleaning and some maintenance needed to be done - Christine did her usual excellent clean through (mike normally does not see this in action as it usually happens when he is collecting the car) and Mike pumped out water from the engine bilges and also re-adjusted the bow fender. (He is trying to prove to Christine that we do not really need a new one - it came from here in 2009!)

7.9 miles - 2 locks

Monday, 3 September 2012

Church Minshull

It was bright, sunny morning as we set off along the short 'new' section of the canal. When we looked at aerial photos of the area we were still puzzled by where the original line was. We could see the line of the footpath marked on the OS map but there also seemed to be another possible indication of a canal. The photos were taken some while back as they had much less vegetation at the side of the canal. Perhaps sometime we will have the chance to explore the matter in some more detail!

Lion Salt Works - undergoing restoration

hortly after the next bridge we passed the old Lion Salt Works. This former brine plant, which closed in 1986, had been intended to be turned into a museum, preserving a bit of the local industrial history - the part of the country r4emains famous for its salt mining. However, it has taken some time to get off the ground but an £8 million project is now underway and it is hoped that the site will open in 2014.

Approaching  Tata Chemical Works
Passing Tata
At Northwich a large chemical works straddles the canal. It was originally owned by Brunner Mond and designed to manufacture soda ash. It is now owned by Tata, the huge multinational industrial corporation. The works gradually came into sight - our first picture was taken some while before we reached the site itself.

We have already talked about the problems of unchecked vegetation on this canal. We had a couple of occasions today when emergency stops or strong evasive action had to be taken as a result. This photo gives the view of a boat coming the other way and hides a bridge immediately behind the trees on a curve in the canal. The oncoming boat only just saw us in the bridgehole at the last moment.

Billinge Green Flash
The canal passes by several flashes where subsidence has created areas of water that stretch beyond the original banks. This one is popular to photograph because of the stark remains of a sunken boat where the bank should have been.

Here again a section where reeds reduce the width for a long stretch, at times barely enough for one boat to pass through. This is an area where there are numerous hire boats not far from their starting point, often with crews that are still getting to grips with how to handle a boat.

Someone likes the former bank fencing posts!

Croxton Aqueduct
Closing in on Middlewich we passed over the short Croxton Aqueduct.

Middlewich Big Lock
Middlewich Big Lock is aptly named and is the only broad lock on this part of the canal - Dutton stop lock is a strange size, neither broad nor narrow!

Below Lock 74
After stopping for water, where Christine popped to nearby shops in the town centre for a paper and a few other items, we arrived at the first narrow lock. After spending such a long time with broad locks, these seemed rather strange, almost quaint! However, they are generally much easier to operate.

Bridge 168
We turned right at the junction heading for the Middlewich Branch which connects the Trent and Mersey Canal to the Shropshire Union (Shroppie). But first we had to pass along the shortest canal on the system - as the plaque on the bridge over the entrance states. Fulfilling much the same role as a stop lock, it is all of 47m in length stretching from the junction itself to the bottom of Wardle Lock.

Wardle Lock Cottage
The Lock Cottage was for a long time home to Maureen Shaw, famous for her attentiveness to boaters passing through. Sadly she became ill last year and had to move out of the cottage. The cottage was sold at auction by BW last February. It still looks as if it awaits plans for renovation. Sadly, Maureen - born into a boating family and spent much of her life working on canal boats - died a few weeks after the cottage was sold.

Canal Stables
The Middlewich Branch, only some 9 miles in length, is a pleasant canal, built quite wide although the bridges were only made for narrow boats and so cause a sudden slowing down as you pass through them. (OK, if you want to know why, you will just have to ask us!) At one time, fly boats operated a service to many large cities. They needed regular changes of horses and so stables were built at appropriate distances. Fly boats could reach up to 7 mph, almost twice the speed of normal narrowboats. The last fly boat to be built carried cheese from Shropshire and Cheshire to Manchester and the Midlands. They would operate non-stop, travelling through the night.

Weaver valley
Church Minshull

We moored for the night overlooking the Weaver valley and the village of Church Minshull.

13.0 miles - 6 locks

Sunday, 2 September 2012


The day started with a fine drizzle but cleared later to leave us with a generally fine and often warm day. We moored overnight close to the church of St John the Evangelist, parish church of Higher Walton. We understand that it was built as an estate church in the middle of the nineteenth century, together with the model village, to provide for the workers on the estate of one of the founders of Greenalls Brewery. The founder must have either had grand ideas about the future for the 'Diocese' of Walton (the church is almost cathedral sized) or anticipated that his workers would have very large families!

Estate Housing, Higher Walton
Christine had contacted the parish priest by email to check the service time, having with difficulty found some clue as to the time of a service at this church. This, as other churches in the area have not registered their details on or have confusing, out-of-date websites (for this church, the website had not been updated in the past two years) However, Walton church was all of three or four minutes walk from the boat! The parish seems to be largely unpopulated, considerable portions are areas around the ship canal and River Mersey with only the very small village of (Higher) Walton. Nevertheless there was a congregation of around 40 with a good spread in age including a number of children.

Higher Walton Parish Church
The service was rather long, largely the result of a half hour sermon which could well have done with some drastic sub editor pruning! The points were well made but undue discursive supplementary material, which might have gone well in an academic paper, diluted the impact and made it harder to sustain concentration. The main point of the sermon was to emphasize the importance of lay involvement and leadership - unfortunately we had the impression that most of the opportunities for doing this liturgically in this church seemed to be currently overlooked. We were not made unwelcome but few made any effort to speak to us either before or afterwards.

Bridgewater Stop Plank Crane
We returned to the boat, changed and were off again by midday. Ahead lay the rest of the Bridgewater Canal to its junction with the Trent and Mersey Canal at Preston Brook. A signature feature of the Bridgewater are the frequent small cranes to lift stop planks into position in the case of a breach in the canal banks. Christine asked that we made sure that at least one of them appeared in the blog - so here it is!

We passed Daresbury Laboratory, once an important part of the country's investment into particle physics in the immediate post-war period. As the costs of fundamental research rose to almost astronomical scales (almost a pun on the basis that much of fundamental physics in recent times has been about the origins and mechanics of the universe) it became necessary to establish international collaborations, much of which is based at CERN. However, the laboratory is still the base for some research teams as well as diversifying into supporting a wider innovative community.

Preston Brook Junction
The junction at Preston Brook is with the other part of the Bridgewater that runs through to Runcorn which we visited last year. In fact the Trent and Mersey does not formally begine until the northern portral of the Preston Brook Tunnel.

Preston Brook Tunnel - South Portal
Just after the exit from the southern portal comes Dutton Stop Lock. Stop locks were used by canal companies to control the flow of water from one canal to the other. Water was one of their most important operating costs and any attempt to take water from a competitor by building a junction just a little bit lower would be strongly resisted.

Dutton Stop Lock

The northernmost part of the Trent and Mersey has extensive and seemingly unchecked reed and weed growth. Not only does this reduce the available width for boats, sometimes to single direction working, but creates unnecessary hazards as sightlines at bends and bridge holes are obscured. Several times we only saw an oncoming boat at the last moment. Together with a lot of moored boats, progress was not as simple as it could have been. (The above photo was taken just after Anderton a little later and is a bit unfair but gives some idea of the problems - we were too busy avoiding other boats to take a picture of the worst offenders!)

However, as we neared the two tunnels north of Anderton, the canal hugs the hillside overlooking the River Weaver and is more tree-lined. The tunnels were cut for sections where the lie of the land was just too steep to hold a canal.

Inside Saltersford Tunnel
All three tunnels are crooked and wide enough for only a single narrow boat with no passing. The first two tunnels have time limits on entry to control this situation although it is unclear why the third does not as it has more of a bend in it than the first! It is generally not possible to see both ends of Saltersford Tunnel at the same time.

Barnton Tunnel - South Portal
Upper Entrance to Anderton Lift
After completing Barnton Tunnel it was a short run to Anderton where we passed the famous boat lift without stopping this time (we had a trip down and up last year). We needed the usual services but at the station just after Anderton there was a queue of boats for the water points (the last in the line was rather frustrated by what seemed to be over-long stays by two other boats) Still, our main needs were for rubbish disposal (as we failed in Manchester) and the usual sani station stop. We can leave filling the water tank until tomorrow.

Northern End of New Section
A short final run took us to our planned overnight mooring area close to the village of Marston. Although it was a rather pleasant evening, alas we could not find a mobile phone signal and so this blog - and any emails - will have to wait until another time!

As the sun set, a full moon arose. (Mike's attempts at a photo were not spectacular!) Where we were moored was a half mile stretch that was cut in 1958 when the original line was affected by subsidence from the extensive local salt mining. The OS map appears to show the footpath and right of way along the original line but Mike could find no trace, with Keep Out signs almost as overgrown. The only indication we could see was the irregularity in the edges of the canal at the start of the section and that it is straighter than the rest of the canal in this area.

12.1 miles - 1 lock