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.

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