Sunday, 26 July 2015

To Africa via Rome on a Narrowboat!

We've had a diversion as the title would suggest but not quite as ambitious as all that.  We arrived in Middlewich a week ago having come down the Cheshire Locks.  There we turned left at the junction and have come across to Chester (one of the three biggest cities in Roman Britain) and had a day at Chester Zoo (hence Africa).  We're now on our way back to Middlewich but it is a horrible wet day so I am taking time out to update the blog.

On Saturday 18th we came down the last 13 locks into Middlewich:

Here are the locks coming down to Wheelock.  There are a pair of narrow locks in the foreground and another pair in the distance by the bridge.

This is the best picture so far this year of a Grey Heron.  Usually they take flight just as you are about to press the shutter, but this one just sat there looking proud.

Cheshire of course is famous for salt production.  This large factory beside the canal on the last mile or two into Middlewich is part of the salt industry.

Here, as we cruised past, you can see a huge pile of salt inside.

Coming into Middlewich you come down a deep lock, King's Lock and below that is the junction with the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal - it goes under the bridge to the left just past 
Pas Mèche (the green boat).  There is often a traffic jam here as there is a lock going up just under the bridge.  Leo was about number 5 in the queue, but as always everyone was very polite and civilised about it.

Here you can see Pas Mèche making the turn.  This is not an easy manouevre but slowly does it.

It rained on Sunday morning, but we have always had rain in Middlewich.  So it was a late start and we only went a short way to a lovely mooring above the village of Church Minshull.
Here is the view of the church in the village seen from the canal.  A footpath leads down and we walked there to find David and Victoria in the Badger Inn, so we joined them for a drink.  Other boaters moored nearby were also in the pub.  David and Victoria had a disturbed night as the other boaters fell out, a heated argument ensued and the police were on the towpath at 2 am.

After four locks on the Middlewich Branch we came to Barbridge Junction.  Here you can turn onto the Shropshire Union Canal, South (left) to Birmingham and North (right) to Chester.  We turned right.  

Here we are approaching Church Minshull Lock on the Middlewich Branch.  All the locks on the Branch are deep ones.  This was 11 feet deep.

The Chester Branch of the Shropshire Union is a wide canal so we were able to share locks with Pas Mèche for the first time for weeks.  Here both boats are in the top chamber of Bunbury Staircase of two locks, ready to go down.

 These are big locks in every sense of the word.  Here we are coming out of the bottom of the staircase.

Further towards Chester is Beeston Iron Lock.  As you can see this structure dates from 1828.  An iron lock was necessary because the loose sand soil meant that the stone lock originally built kept moving and was not stable.

Beeston Castle is on a high hill surrounded by cliffs just a mile or so South of the Canal.  It is quite a sight.  Three years ago we walked up to the castle and, on a clear day, you can see Liverpool from there.

This is Christleton Lock, the first of five locks down to the city of Chester.  As you can see Victoria is in charge!

We spent an afternoon and the following morning looking round Chester.

Chester Cathedral is a fine sandstone church and this view is of the choir.

Some of the carvings are detailed and interesting.  Here an angel is shown carrying a ladder.  I'm not sure what the story is behind this.

The Cathedral, while free to enter, was pushing various ways to raise funds, including contributing to a Lego model of the Cathedral by buying a brick for a £1.  To bring the kids in they were displaying some fine tableaux of Alice in Wonderland, including this one in the refectory of the Mad Hatter's Tea Party.

Much of the 'Rows' in Chester, which are two stories of shops with a street on ground and first floor levels, were heavily restored by the Victorians.  However we think their efforts have probably improved the frontages and the black and white effect is very attractive.

We visited the Grosvenor Museum (free!) which has some interesting Roman tombstones discovered when renovating the city walls.  The Museum also has a series of rooms, furnished in different periods of history.  This is the  Edwardian bathroom.  The shower even has jets that come sideways at you.  Very modern.

The canal cuts through Chester in a deep rock hewn gorge.  Walking along the city walls you look down 50 or 60 feet to the canal below you.

One day the link from the Canal to the River Dee might be restored.  With a lock through the weir you would then be able to access a dozen miles of the Dee upriver or brave the tidal waters downstream.  Here is the bridge over the River Dee.  Just to the right of the bridge a hydro electric plant was built in 1913 and ran until 1939.  There is nothing new under the sun!

Leaving Chester and heading North we descended the 33 feet of the Northgate Staircase triple locks and cruised out of the city a few miles to a mooring within ten minutes walk of Chester Zoo (by bridge 134).  We had a lovely day at the zoo.  Here are some highlights:

There are seven elephants of various ages, most being born at Chester Zoo.

Helen is very fond of the giraffes.

At the door of the giraffe house is a measure that allows you to see just how tall they are.  Here an adult is close to 4 metres (one was 5 metres tall) and a new baby giraffe is about 2 metres tall.  We weren't allowed inside the giraffe house because of the new arrival.  

These black rhinos were peaceably sharing some hay.  An English magpie was cleaning grubs off the back of one of them.  Interesting to see the mapie stepping into the shoes of its African colleagues.

Meerkats are delightful to watch.  How would we compare the market without them?

This is a Village Weaver Bird with its nest below.  They too have adapted to use the leaves from English Willow trees to make their distinctive nests.  

We liked being able to walk through enclosures of butterflies, fruit bats and birds like these where the animals were flying freely around you.  A small bat even landed on Helen's hand!

Since we left the zoo moorings yesterday we've retraced our outward course and we're moored tonight with views of Beeston Castle.

Where we go next we have discussed extensively in the last couple of days because we are not going to be able to do the Ribble Link and the Lancaster Canal.  After a serious breach in the canal near Lancaster has been repaired, we were disappointed to learn that a culvert has collapsed below the canal on the Rufford Branch which is a necessary connection to Tarleton where the Ribble Link begins.  So that trip will have to be postponed yet again and we are probably going to cruise the Huddersfield Narrow again and the pretty East side of the Rochdale Canal before the end of the season.  But before we get there the Anderton Lift and the River Weaver beckon us.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Through a Dark Place and down Heartbreak Hill

We reached the summit level of the Trent and Mersey on Wednesday and, having come through the Harecastle Tunnel, we are on our way down the Cheshire Locks towards Middlewich.

On Tuesday we left Stone where we had stayed while David and Victoria went back to Yorkshire for a couple of days.

Here you can see Leo coming through Stone passing Joules Brewery Warehouse.  Stone is very much a 'canal town' with locals using the towpath regularly.

We came up the pretty Meaford Locks and moored close to the delightful village of Barlaston which even has a useful shop.  Barlaston Hall stands on a hill above the canal with fine views.

Here Helen is opening the bottom gates of the second of four Meaford Locks to let Leo in.

And this is the third lock.  The locks are close together and you get a real sense of climbing into the hills.

Coming into Barlaston we passed this house (called Barlaston Quay) with its own dock with two narrowboats.  Just what we need for Leo and Pas Mèche.

On Wednesday we came up six deep locks to Stoke on Trent.

Leo is waiting in a short queue for Trentham Lock which is the deepest we had come across on the Trent and Mersey this far at 12 feet.

This gives you some idea of the deep and dark hole of Trentham Lock.

This seems an amazingly broad business model.  It covers: "Tackle and Bait, Air Guns, Archery, Boats and Engines, Country and Western and Line Dancing"!!  From the sound of it and another notice nearby there is a shooting range here as well.

Stoke is of course famous for its potteries and bottle kilns, like this one, were once present in their hundreds.  Only a few remain.

And here is another at Middleport Pottery, which is now open to visitors.

We moored on the North side of Stoke at Westport Lake, a fine mooring right by the Lake with plentiful wildlife.  In the picture you can see Pas Mèche arriving at Westport.  Our two boats met here last year.

Here is a team photo at Westport Lake with David, Victoria, Helen and Ian with our two boats behind.

On Thursday we cruised a further mile or so along this summit level of the Trent and Mersey at around 400 feet above sea level.  We then came to Harecastle Tunnel, one of the longest on the system at around a mile and two thirds.

The tunnel goes through the square building and into the hill.  We were one of four boats waiting for a boat coming South through the tunnel which is not wide enough to allow two boats to pass.

Here you can see 'Mollie' coming out of the tunnel.  Then it was our turn.

Here's Leo going into the dark.  The chains hanging down give an indication of the low parts of the tunnel inside.  Mostly the roof is high, but in places it has subsided so that boaters have to be careful and duck.

Here is Pas Mèche following us into the tunnel.  Once all boats are inside the fans are turned on to suck air from North to South to provide ventilation as there are no vents to the surface as there are in most tunnels.

And here is Pas Mèche coming out of the North Portal around 40 minutes later.  The curious orange colour of the water is characteristic of this part of the Trent and Mersey.

From the summit we came down six locks to Church Lawton.

These locks are called the 'Cheshire Locks' but this is also sometimes called 'Heartbreak Hill' because of the number of locks.  Many of them are in pairs which speeds up the passage of boats.  Here you can see Leo in one lock and Pas Mèche coming into the other.

Here you can see a paired set of locks from below.  Helen is just closing the gates of the left hand lock after Leo has come down.

In the church at Church Lawton (perhaps this is Church Lawton Church!) is this memorial.  It records the death of a 41 year old Assistant Surveyor with the Trent and Mersey Canal Company and says "As a record of his zeal in the discharge of his duties the company have raised this stone".  Perhaps this was an industrial accident and the Company felt partly to blame.  It was interesting that he was a long way from home as he came from Truro.

We had a lovely walk yesterday evening passing Lawton Hall (in the picture) on the way over to the Macclesfield Canal which turns off the Trent and Mersey just beyond the tunnel.

This photo is a bit hazy because it was taken on extreme zoom.  Above the Macclesfield Canal is a very prominent hill called Mow Cop which we can still see from where we are moored this evening.  The hill is topped by a strange folly which you can see in the picture.  We walked up there last year.

Today (Friday) we've come down a further 12 locks and crossed the M6 (there was a bridge).  We are moored near Hassal Green.

In the wall of one of the locks today was this stone recording when the lock was restored.  It's not doing too badly at 120 years since this stone was added.

These pretty cottages are just above Thurlwood Lock.  A red boat is coming up the lock and Leo is waiting patiently for our turn.

We are enjoying these locks and the fine rural Cheshire scenery.  We will continue our descent tomorrow and will soon be in Middlewich where we will turn left towards Chester.  For that Northern part of the Shropshire Union Canal we shall once more be on broad locks and then we will really see the benefit of travelling with two boats as we can share locks.

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Heading up the Trent Valley

I mentioned in the last post that we had not decided which way to go.  The question was whether to go up the Erewash Canal, which Leo has done before, but Pas Mèche hasn't.  Well in the end we decided to start our climb up the Trent and Mersey Canal towards Stoke on Trent.  So, last Saturday, we carried on upstream on the River Trent and soon reached the Southern end of the Trent and Mersey Canal.

Here we are on the River Trent just approaching the start of the Canal.  You can see a tiny channel straight ahead which is the Canal.  To the left is the River Trent flowing in and on the right the River Derwent joins the Trent. Keep the size of the river in mind as you will see it again, much further up the valley.

This  is the sign approaching the junction shown above.  The tree obscures the left turn but you can follow the River Trent to the left for a mile or so to reach a marina at Shardlow.

The canal through Shardlow is very pretty.  This huge warehouse used to hold salt for loading onto narrowboats which could pass under the large arch to fill in the dry.

Here are some very young coots.  As babies they sport a tiny ginger top knot, but this soon grows out to become more like the adult black and white colouring.

On Saturday evening we moored at Weston on Trent (there are two villages in the valley with this name).  The picture shows Weston Church but sadly there are no longer any shops in the village.

On Sunday we came through Swarkestone Lock and just above there is an arm of the canal now used for mooring.  You can see the arm to the left of the picture.  This was once the start of the Derby Canal.

The elegant octagonal house was once a toll house charging boats for using the canal.  It was presumably positioned here to 'catch' the boats coming along the Derby Canal.

On Monday we carried on to Burton on Trent and spent the day there on Tuesday.

For part of the way the canal follows a minor road running alongside.  We liked the road sign that indicates a car slipping off sideways into the canal.  Fortunately none did.

At Burton we moored across a route followed by a moorhen family.  Undaunted they simply came aboard.  The picture shows two moorhen chicks on the stern by the tiller.  The downside to this familiarity was the bird droppings - piles of the stuff to clean off in the morning.  Having cleaned the back fender, we covered it with a bin bag.  Not very pretty, but practical.

On Tuesday we visited the National Brewery Centre.  Given that the main industry in Burton is brewing, it seemed appropriate.  We had an interesting day with six real ales to try at the end of our tour.  In the picture Victoria is saying hello to 'Jed' a Clydesdale used to pull a brewer's dray, though now to amuse the tourists rather than for deliveries.

This is one of a number of promotional vehicles preserved in the museum.  It reminded us of the publicity caravan that accompanies the Tour de France that we saw in Yorkshire last year.

Having used the first of the narrow locks approaching Burton (only one boat at a time instead of two), we have been climbing an increasing number of locks each day as we come up the Trent Valley, occasionally sighting the river itself.

This is Tattenhill Lock, a very pretty one coming out of Burton.  An old working boat is moored on the right.
 On Wednesday night we moored in Alrewas, a lovely little village with a first class butcher.  Leaving on Thursday morning  you soon come to Bagnall Lock.  This picture gives you a good idea of how tight a fit a narrowboat is into these small locks.  Stopping at the top of the lock for Helen to get back on, Leo refused to come out of reverse gear.  Engine off and pulled Leo over to moor.

We fairly quickly diagnosed the problem as a broken gear control cable.  Fortunately last year we bought a spare, so here you can see Ian working at fitting the new cable.  It took us an hour or so to fit the new cable and then we were off again, with Pas Mèche having caught us up by this time.  It really is worth carrying a spare cable and we will buy a new one as soon as we can.

We had discussed the previous evening how far we would get on Thursday but, with the time spent fixing the gear cable, we decided to stop above Fradley Locks.  There are five locks here and a junction with the Coventry Canal.  It is quite a tourist spot with this as the most famous view of the Swan Pub at the junction.

Here is the sign at the junction.  We had come from Shardlow and were heading for Great Haywood.

Here you can see Pas Mèche in Shade House Lock which is the top one of the five.  We moored just above enjoying the afternoon sunshine and this continued to allow us to have a good barbecue in the evening.

In the last two days we've reached Great Haywood and we are moored tonight at Burston, a tiny village North of Stafford.

At Armitage is a very narrow rock cutting which is definitely only wide enough for one boat at a time.  This was once a tunnel but was opened out in the 1960's because mining subsidence had made it impassable.

Here you can see the view looking back along the 'tunnel'.  It has some fine ferns growing on the rock sides.

Poor Christina Collins took a lift on a canal boat from Liverpool to London in 1839.  Sadly she was murdered by the boatmen carrying her.   Her body was found in the canal by the Aqueduct over the River Trent at Rugeley.  The boatmen were caught and hung, though the cabin boy was let off.

This is Colwich Lock, our last lock on Friday before we moored at Little Haywood, a delightful spot.

This morning (Saturday) we passed Great Haywood Junction.  Under the bridge on the left is the start of the Staffs and Worcs Canal which goes eventually to Stourport and meets the River Severn.  So here we have a meeting of canals that join the Trent, the Mersey and the Severn.

Above Sandon Lock we passed this steam powered narrowboat.  It is not a historic vessel and looks just like any other modern steel narrowboat, except for the huge fat chimney at the stern.  It was belching smoke as we approached the lock but by this time the fire seemed to have died down a little.

In this picture we have finished boating for the day but Ian is removing the remains of a huge pile of reeds that got caught round the propellor in a lock.

Here you can see Leo waiting for the arrival of Pas Mèche, the picture being taken from the bridge nearby.

Burston is a pretty and very quiet village.  This row of cottages looks out over the village pond.

And here, to finish this posting, is a picture of the River Trent as it looks near Burston.  Quite a different river from that a week ago at Shardlow (see above).

In the next few days we will be continuing our climb to Stoke on Trent where we face the excitement of a passage through the Harecastle Tunnel.  Watch this space!