Friday, 22 September 2017

Swanley Bridge Marina

Today's Canals - Shropshire Union, Llangollen

It was a really fine morning as we set off, a little earlier than usual as we wanted to beat the traffic to the service block. Although this was just a couple of hundred metres away, we were facing in the wrong direction so we first had to go about a mile southwards, across Nantwich Aqueduct to the nearest winding hole.

Under the first bridge we were able to turn around without anyone in our way. However, as we began the return we encountered a steady stream of boats, some six before we were back where we started.

Although there were some more spaces in the moorings along the embankment that we have seen in the past (this is one of the well-known visitor mooring hot spots) we still had to crawl along, made even slower by the on-coming boats.

About three quarters of an hour after setting off we eventually made it to the service block where a boat was just leaving.Fortunately there was then room both for us and another boat which popped through the adjacent bridge to the north just as we were coming alongside.

After completing the usual full range of services we set off once more and before long were able to turn left at Hurleston to ascend the flight of four. Not only were boats coming down regularly but also a couple of good volunteer lockies were on duty.

As a result we were leaving the top lock, alongside the splendid former lock keeper's cottage just 25 minutes after arriving at the bottom.

Just above the locks is the point at which most of the water that comes down the Llangollen is taken off to fill Hurleston reservoir which provides a local water supply.

Alas, by now cloud was arriving and it was quite grey by the time we turned into the marina at Swanley Bridge. We already knew our allocated mooring so, whilst Christine went to the office to complete the paperwork, Mike took the boat to moor.With very little wind this was easier than some arrivals at an unfamiliar marina - although we have been here once before, last year when we left our previous boat to be sold by the brokerage here. (They did an excellent speedy job as well)

In the afternoon we had a visit from Keith who supplied the Mastervolt electrical system on board, to go through with us in a bit more detail of our experiences to date.

We had already decided that we would eat out tonight and Christine had booked us in at The Dusty Miller, in Wrenbury where we went a couple of times last summer. Another good meal!

5.6 Miles - 4 Locks

Thursday, 21 September 2017

Car Shuffle Day

Today was set aside for collecting the car from Fettlers Wharf. Mike had bought and collected his train tickets yesterday and the first off peak departure was 11:20 from Nantwich.

We both walked into town - Christine was still in search of Red Cheshire. The quality butcher that we found closed yesterday (one of the few shops still keeping half day closing!) was thankfully open this morning. They were able to offer a choice of three but recommended the farmhouse variety. Christine bought a piece for our friend who often talks about it - he once managed a cheese shop - as well as a slice for ourselves.

After she finished shopping, thankfully the rain which suddenly appeared quite heavily, disappeared and the rest of the day was pleasant, if not often sunny. She had also bought herself a pork pie from the butcher and walked back to the boat in time for lunch. This set her up for her programme of cleaning etc which traditionally accompanies car shuffle day.

Mike's journey took him from Nantwich to Crewe, another train to Wigan North Western, a short walk to Wigan Wallgate where he caught the third train to Burscough Bridge. The last stage was by bus but there was around 45 minutes wait so he popped into Tesco for a meal deal which he ate, sitting in almost sunshine at the wharf.

The bus dropped him at the turn to Fettlers Wharf, about ten minutes walk. After a few words to Richard to let him know that we had collected the car, Mike set off to drive back down the motorway to leave the car at Swanley Bridge Marina where we are leaving the boat for the next couple of weeks.

After a short wait at the entrance to the marina for the cows to wander back out from milking to their pasture, Mike checked in at the office and had a brief chat with Andy who was the salesman who we dealt with last year when selling our previous boat.

It was then a nearly two mile walk back by road - fortunately it was level all the way. He passed the grand entrance gates to Dorfold Hall, a fine Jacobean House. The gates came from an even older house in the centre of Nantwich. The lodge looks quite smart as well.

The house and estate is now used for a variety of money-making businesses, including events, a film location and weddings. It is also open to the public one day a week. A showground has been gradually improved and hosts the annual Nantwich Show, one of the largest one-day agricultural shows.

A little further he could see the boat moored on the canal much higher than the road - shortly after the canal goes over Nantwich Aqueduct - and having texted Christine where he was so that she could put the kettle on, they were able to wave to each other across the fields!

By the time he was walking up the the path to the canal, it was only six minutes later than the original ETA! Since the train were generally five minutes behind their published pace - and still count themselves as 'on time' that slight time gap can surely be forgiven!

Wednesday, 20 September 2017


Today's Canals - Middlewich Branch, Shropshire Union

Although rain arrived late in the afternoon, it was pleasantly fine and warm for all of the time that mattered to us!

There was little remarkable as we cruised along to the only Cholmondeson Lock, the only one remaining on the Middlewich. Although there was quite a bit of traffic around, we had no delay. We had to turn the lock but that was compensated by a boat arriving at the top as we were ready to leave.

As we did the remaining section to Barbridge, Mike opted to prepare tonight's lamb casserole so that it could have a long slow cook in the oven, This left Christine to cope with several traffic jams along the way, mostly at bridges.

A boat ahead of us took some time to negotiate the junction to turn south and as we emerged through the junction bridge another boat arrived from the north wanting to turn into where we were. Both crew and steerer seemed somewhat miffed that they had to back off to let us out! Mind you, we did make the turn without hitting the bank.

We paused only briefly at the so-called services alongside the toll narrows just after the turn. The only facility remaining is the rubbish bin and that took some clout to make the lock work. The boat that turned before us was tied up with the crew looking worried as they consulted their maps and guides. They asked us where the nearest water would be and we replied that we thought that it would be Nantwich - at least that is where we were heading. The problem is that there used to be water here and it is still listed in Nicholsons.

We continued southwards, with by now a bright blue sky.

We passed Hurleston Junction and unusually there were no boats either working through or waiting at the bottom.

Plenty of moored boats on the run in to Nantwich which slowed us a little so it was around 12:30 when we arrived at the service station. It is often busy here and we found ourselves behind (in time) another boat which had been waiting some time for a boat that had been very slow in filling with water. As an ex restaurant boat perhaps it has an extra large tank. Since we were not in immediate need of water, but very keen on emptying our elsan cassettes, both of which were now almost full, as well as securing ourselves a mooring space on the embankment. So Mike carried both of them over the bridge and we were then able to move down to the moorings before the other boats had finished. As it happened there were several s[aces for us to make a choice and a number of other boats left (and arrived) during the afternoon.

Mike booked his train tickets for tomorrow's car shuffle online. They would be ready for collection at the machine at Nantwich station within the hour.

After an unusually long lunch break we walked into town, calling first at the station where indeed the tickets were ready to print out. We walked back through the town to look in the shops although most of our purchases were made at Morrisons, almost next to the station.

Along the way we spotted a building that we had noticed before - with its ornate inscription: Savings Bank and erected in 1846. Looking for a new use . . . (Nobody saves these days, only borrows?)

Back then to the boat and a chance to do not very much for the rest of the day.

Christine took a walk along thew towpath, snapped the aqueduct and discovered that quite a few of thew former long term moorings have been converted to visitor moorings which perhaps explains why there has been a little less pressure today.

6.2 Miles - 1 Lock

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Church Minshull

Today' Canals - Trent and Mersey, Wardle, Middlewich Branch

We awoke to a surprise - we were enveloped in a thick mist. Mike walked to the nearby Tesco Express for a newspaper and on his return took the picture below. How many boats can you see? In fact there were at least three that would have been visible without the mist.

We set off and then debated where to stop for water. As we passed through the next bridge where there is a water point with a good place to pull in (this was once a canal maintenance yard but the buildings have been unsold for some time now) As we were just packing away our hosepipe, a hotel pair, Duke and Duchess came through the bridge and passed us.

We caught up with them at the first lock and followed them for much of the day. They worked through quite efficiently so were no more of a delay than with any other boats.

This is us eventually arriving at the top of the first lock - the only reason for the photo is that Christine wants you to see how smart the black paint on the bow still look! However, she declined to steer the boat into any locks today, wanting Mike to be the first to scratch the new paintwork!

In all it took well over an hour to negotiate the three locks and arrive at the junction with the Wardle Canal (just a few yards long - above the next lock it becomes the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union) By now, as the picture pof the last bridge before the junction behind us shows, the mist had cleared and we were in for a wonderful bright sunny day with no rain at all!

However, there was still a queue, as there often is, to ascend Wardle Lock. The former lock keeper's cottage is now in private hands and is making steady progress towards its full restoration. Having cast off just before 9:30, it was only just a few minutes before noon when we started to leave Middlewich.

One of the houses just above the lock has this pair of birds in the garden.

It is not far to Stanthorne Lock where we caught up with the hotel pair as they worked their way through.

Above the lock and under the next bridge we pulled in for a lunch break.

Only one or two boats passed us but two of them were a pair with the heritage boat Gifford under tow - it belongs to Ellesmere Port Museum so presumably it is on its way back.

We eventually set off once more with a long two hour stretch to Minshull Lock, often another pinch point with long delays. However, we were following a boat just a little slower than we might have been - kept us not much above tickover - but this gave us plenty of time to look backwards and enjoy the beautiful views and scenery.

An inevitable shot of the former stables. At one time, the fastest fly boats changed horses quite frequently and company boats had their stables to supply them. Other boats, especially the independent crews, would have plodded along with just their one horse!

Just before the main bridge at Church Minshull we caught up with the hotel boats. We were a bit puzzled as, although they were stopped alongside the towpath, they were obviously not moored. We drifted slowly past them and they said that they were waiting to meet up with someone. However, as soon as we had overtaken them they set off once more and although we could see them under the bridge, they must have moored up immediately as that was the last we saw of them today.

Eventually we passed over the Aqueduct over the infant River Weaver and then the entrance to the eponymous Aqueduct Marina - with today's sky this could almost be a promotional photo!

Shorty afterwards we could see Minshull Lock with a queue of three boats waiting to go up! It was almost an hour later that we cleared the top. By this time (5 pm) we decided to moor up just after the lock landing.

These two shots were taken a little later and show how quickly the sun starts to set now.

And then at the end of the day, clouds cleared and the long low sun lot up the lock quite amazingly.

Hopefully, if we make a prompt start tomorrow, we will be at Nantwich by lunch time and hopefully able to find a mooring for the night at the aqueduct. Our plan is then to do the car shuffle on Thursday, collecting the car from Fettlers Wharf back up at Rufford.

7.8 Miles - 6 Locks

Monday, 18 September 2017


Today's Canal - Trent and Mersey

With the forecast looking good for most of the day we set off with a plan. We would cruise down to Middlewich, up the Big Lock, moor to go shopping and then find somewhere to moor an finish of the black paint on the other side of the boat. Well, that was the plan!

In fact the sky was rather grey at first as we almost immediately rounded Wincham Bend.

And then crossed the short aqueduct over Wincham Brook.

Then came the large Tata Soda Ash plant of Lostock. This seems to change hands almost every other time we come here! At one stage it was owned by Brunner Mond but they were bought out by Tata in 2006 but did not change the name here until 2011 or a bit after.

Just after the above photo we noticed that the last building seemed to be rather derelict and wondered whether it was likely to be demolished. Sadly we did not take a picture - only later did we discover that work is just beginning, after almost a decade of planning (and just before Planning permission was about to expire) work has started on constructing a waste to energy power station on this part of the site. It seems that some of the output will probably all go into the adjoining soda ash plant as it  uses a lot of electricity. The remainder will feed into the National Grid as with other waste-to energy plants.

At the next bridge a house has a small boathouse by the canal, together with a patio area on top. We were amused by the number of lifebelts - how many people are they planning losing into the water at any one time?

Then came the new Park Farm Marina. It is gradually being filled with customer's boats but is still far from complete. Only some of the moorings appear to have services to them as yet.

Only a little further south we came to Billinge Green Flash. There are several such open areas of water between here and Middlewich. As they were formed by subsidence they remain privately owned. Here yet another marina is just beginning to be developed. The footings for what will perhaps be a service block, shop or office whilst at the other end piling is underway for the pontoons. A preliminary web site announces that this will be called Oakwood Marina with space for about 90 boats in the first phase. It will be unlike Park Farm (and most other new marinas) in that it will not have a definite entrance. It states that moorings will be available from September 2017 - that does look a tad optimistic. The website also says that their local MP was very instrumental in helping them get a significant Rural Development Grant. That MP? One George Osborne, now turned newspaper editor and government critic!

As we left the flashes behind, the sky was beginning to clear.

Shortly after most of the cloud cleared and we could see this distinctive pattern of con trails in the upper atmosphere.

So far we have seen little sign of autumnal colours in the trees but this house had a lovely backdrop of orange leaves.

So far our day was proceeding according to plan until we approach Bramble Cuttings,once a clay pit that made the puddle lining for the canal. However, in 1998 the Broken Cross Boat Club (Broken Cross is just a little further north than we moored last night) undertook to create this off side rural mooring and picnic site. It looks as if it has had a recent update as well.

As we neared, we both decided that perhaps the bright sunshine and dry weather might not last and with a good firm edge, it might be better to stop now and do the painting. This we did. The first picture shows the bow end before starting painting but after the preparatory sanding done yesterday. The work started and finally this side looked the same as the other side. Well, actually not quite the same as the new paint on the right hand side has already had some of the paint on the rubbing strakes returned to its proper state!

After finishing the painting and clearing up it was time for lunch. When we left we realised that we had done the right thing by stopping now as cloud was already beginning to return.

We arrived at the Big Lock at the start of Middlewich and Christine, going to set the lock, discovered that nb Hallsall, a fuel boat, was finishing topping up a boat just above the lock and so we opted to do likewise once the fuel boat had come down the lock. Doing the operation in the lock made it easier to keep the boats in the right place. As Martin had yet another customer at the moorings below the lock it seems that business is good. We first met him a couple of years ago just after he had started up.

We planned to stop at the moorings in the park just above the lock and we found that there was plenty of room. In the summer it can get quite busy here and space is not always guaranteed.

We walked up to Morrisons - we have been there before and came back well laden. However, by now it was four o'clock and  if we went further it might not be until after 5.30 before we would reach a suitable place to moor after leaving Middlewich and the various locks on the way. So, we stayed put for the night!

The quickly proved a sensible choice as within half an hour we had extended heavy rain.

6.8 Miles - 1 Lock