Wednesday 30 August 2017

Welder, Electrician and a Meal Out

Alan, the welder, arrived early this morning with the repaired door. Whilst it fitted on the hinges just fine, it needed a bit more adjustment to close properly. He promised to return this evening  with a revised weld.

Next arrived Steve, the electrician arranged by Beta Marine, primarily to check out that the alternators were working properly, to eliminate one of the possible causes of issues we have with the batteries. He also checked the state of the batteries. Although he discovered that the alternators are putting out just what they should be doing, he also found that two of the batteries are in poor health (only a month old) and another is poor. One of the failed batteries is the starter battery which is charged entirely separately from the domestic bank. As a result we now have to go back up the chain to arrange further investigations. At least the practical evidence is gradually building up to give the experts a better picture.

Mike drove into Burscough whilst Christine completed the clean through, as there a few items needed from a supermarket and also to fill the car with diesel ready for tomorrow's long run back home. Whilst he was in Burscough Bridge he had another wander around the shops and wharf where he discovered a bit more of the local history. (Writing this as we make ready to leave next morning so will add details at a later stage*)

Latter part of the afternoon we sat on the benches at the edge of the marina, basking in warm - even hot - sunshine. The railway line runs just a few metres away at a much higher level. Only the short local trains run along the line but they do so with remarkable punctuality. We have been meaning to include a photo but the train does not announce its arrival until just the last minute, by which time grabbing the camera is usually too late. Just caught something this time.

Alan returned as promised with a revised door hinge which this time fitted at least as well as it did before - this door had always been a bit too stiff for Christine to close at the end of the day. Too say that we were relieved is too much of an understatement!

As a result we felt that we could 'celebrate' by having a meal out this evening. We debated between the Hesketh Arms which is walkable and the Rufford Arms which is a mile away along wither the towpath or the busy main road. Looking at  the menus we had thought that the latter would be the more exciting but in the end baulked at either having to 'go soft' in order to drive there or a long walk back in the dark! So, we went to the Hesketh.

In the end we had a really enjoyable and interesting meal which is well worth recommending.

* Later addition

Soon after the Leeds and Liverpool opened, passenger boats - known as Packet Boats - ran a daily service between Wigan and Liverpool. At Bursough Bridge there was a 'transport interchange'  as it would be called today. This allowed passengers to transfer between the canal and the coach service to places such as Preston.

The pub was originally known as the Bridge Inn but was changed to Packet House Hotel in the 1930's - sadly only shortly before such services came to an end. It later had various other names and reverted to Old Packet House after a recent renovation.

The information board has several other snippets trivia, including this piece about skin darkening, which I had not heard about before.

Also that the two railway lines that crossed over each other just north of Burscough Bridge once had connecting curves so that traffic could pass from one to the other. They no longer exist but the alignment of both can be seen clearly from Google Maps satellite images.

Another comment highlighted a piece of church history that we had not come across before. St John's in Burscough Bridge is said to be a Waterloo Church. This means, it seems, that it was one of a number that were built in the wake of the defeat of Napolean at Waterloo. A Parliamentary grant established a Commission to build a number of churches and to create new parishes. Although the national celebration was perhaps the trigger for this initiative, that lasted around forty years, the church was already facing challenges arising from the impact of the industrial revolution in the 18C. With a major redistribution of the population into large urban and industrial areas, medieval churches were often no longer ideally located. The initial Parliamentary grant funded some 85 churches and a second grant was agreed but this was spread more thinly, demanding greater local participation but it did help over 500 churches.

Tuesday 29 August 2017

Rufford Old Hall

The day began with a big disappointment. We rose early in order to be at Tarleton Boatyard as soon as it opened just after 8. In fact it was about 8:20 before they arrived and alas they declined to do the work on the basis that they were too busy. It might well have been too small a job for them. Back to searching - now somewhat desperately - for a welder. Christine called at St Mary's Marina, on the opposite bank of the canal and they gave her another name. She called him and he agreed to visit later this evening.

Late morning we walked to Rufford Old Hall, about half a mile from the marina. This is now a National Trust property and is an example of a Tudor home, once the family seat of the Heskeths. They originated from Hesketh Bank, about five miles away, but in the 16th century decided that they wanted to move upmarket and have their new home here.

At the entrance is a plot that was sown with a wild flower mix, intended to flower from mid July.

Not being able to afford the land (only to build the house) the then Lord opted to find a rich heiress - and succeeded. A couple of later generations did the same and gradually built up the family fortunes.

Photos can only be taken internally in the Great Hall. At the moment the second phase of a major restoration project that is replacing the wattle and daub of the Tudor section, badly replaced with concrete and other dubious materials when the house was rescued from Death Watch beetle in the early 1950s.

There are some amusing topiary in the gardens - as well as this unusual shaped tree trunk.

A new wing was added in the late 17th century

In the 18th century they decided that they could afford something less pokey and built Rufford New Hall a short distance away.  A son needed somewhere to live so the old hall was renovated and substantially extended so that only a fraction of what we see today is actually Tudor.

After completing the internal tour we joined another talk that took us around the gardens and highlighted a number of trees and plants - often picking up on the detail that is easily overlooked. At the end of the tour we arrived at the Squirrel Garden - so called after two topiary items shaped like squirrels. However, they started off as peacocks but the lack of attention during the last war, after the house had been handed over to the National Trust, meant that it was easier to convert the shape!

It was by then time for a very late lunch in the tea room - we had a rather different soup (pea, lettuce and mint) which was interesting and tasty but was accompanied by rather disappointing supposedly crusty bread that had been turned chewy by a spell in a microwave!

Time then to return back to the boat, keeping our fingers crossed that our latest attempt at fixing the hatch door would be successful. After so many frustrations we were reluctant to be too hopeful and were thinking about contingency plans.

Just when we were wondering how long we could leave it until making a follow up call when the mobile rang and Alan the welder was at the gate and only needed to know where to find us. Most remarkably he was able to straighten the top hinge and took the door and lower hinge away to weld, promising to return at nine tomorrow morning! Wow - what a relief! We might even sleep tonight like we have not since last week.

Monday 28 August 2017

Polishing the Boat

First thing we drove up to Tarleton to see whether the boatyard there was still operational - it seemed so four years ago but things can change. It was very much there but, as it was Bank Holiday Monday, closed for the day. However, a chap working there on his boat did give us encouragement to think that they might be able to help us. They open again tomorrow just after 8.

On the way back we stopped at an excellent DIY store and picked up a hosepipe connector so that we can join both of our hoses together. The tap is a bit too far for the longer one to reach the bow - we are moored stern end nearest the bank.

Later, one of the contacts of a contact at the marina did stop by to say that his person should be in touch tomorrow.

However, the main aim today was to give the boat outside a very good clean and polish. This is not a quick job. Mike started when we returned from Tarleton and continued, apart from a lunch break, until six in the evening. The day, which had started very grey, gradually turned sunny and warm for working in! Still, the boat is now as good as it has looked for some time - this is the first time we have polished it on both sides, bow and stern decks and the tunnel bands!

Sunday 27 August 2017

Church and Mere Sands Wood

This morning we began by walking the very short distance to St Mary's, the local parish church for the service at 9:15 (they had already had another one at eight!).

Although it was rather more high church than we are accustomed to, it was well-led and a number of lay people to active parts. The congregation was around 30 with a couple of teenagers. The hymns were a mixture of 19th and 20th century and the local folk seemed friendly and comfortable. (Apart from the pews, that is, which exacerbated Christine's on-going back trouble!)

We returned to the boat, did not very much until lunch time.

In the afternoon we thought about going to Rufford Old Hall, a National Trust property very nearby. However, despite the back, Christine felt like some exercise so, instead, we walked to Mere Sands Wood Nature Reserve, about a mile and half out of the village.

We visited here four years ago (blog) and our experience this time was little different except that the suggested charge for car parking (still £2!) We walked around the perimeter path through the woodland.

Very much the same all the way except for a few interesting fungi growths on old tree stumps.

We paused at a couple of the hides - almost the only places where it is possible to have a view of the various lakes in this former sand quarry.

We were somewhat concerned about the number of Canada Geese - the only species we saw in any quantity - and wondered how the reserve will manage them and deter them from taking over completely and preventing the space from being a haven for more indigenous species for which the reserve was probably intended.

Again we stopped to read for quite a spell on a comfortable bench seat - and were suitably grateful to the person in whose memory it had been placed here! Alas, the hoped for sunshine rarely emerged and it was only much later after we had returned to the boat that it became brighter again.

For our roast dinner we had the ham shank that we bought in Leigh at the butcher we had sought out for their pork pies. These were on offer at £2.99 each and there was plenty left for at least another couple of meals for us both. A blackberry crumble, with fruit that Christine had gathered very close to our mooring yesterday completed the menu.

Saturday 26 August 2017

Shopping and Walking

This morning we drove into Burscough to replenish our food stores - not that we need a large amount.

We started by parking alongside the canal at Burscough Bridge. At the entrance was a splendid - and rather large - decorative name stone.

Booths Supermarket is a small chain of just under 30 stores in the North West and aims perhaps at the 'Waitrose' part of the market. It is part of a small retail park opened a year or so ago on what was once HMS Ringtail, a wartime RNAS station but which was finally closed in the late 1950's.

We then also drove back to Tesco for a few further items specifically from there and thence back to the boat.

After lunch we went for a walk from the marina. It was a splendid almost cloudless afternoon with a gentle breeze that kept us from getting too hot.

We began along one side of the River Douglas, beginning at the top end of its tidal reach. The drainage improvements o his area were largely undertaken in the 19th century during which navigation down the river from the river lock at Gathurst was still possible. High banks protect the surrounding agricultural land which are crisscrossed by many other drainage ditches and pumping stations.

After a short distance the footpath veered off to the west and took us on a track through large arable fields. In the distance we had a splendid view of Winter Hill and Rivington Pike.

The track brought us back to the river at Great Hanging Bridge where we were able to cross over to the opposite bank so that we could eventually connect with the canal towpath.

By now the tide was flowing in a some rate - of course it cannot be seen on a still photo but the effect on the water edge vegetation of the twice daily inflow can be seen.

We turned away from the river at Red Bridge. Yes, we know it is green, but that is the name on the map!

We could not see any indication of the structure in place before the Bailey Bridge but a photo can be seen here. Its surface is very noisy when anything crosses over - we could even here a bicycle from some distance away!

A short road length brought us to the canal at Sollom. When the canal was initially constructed it joined the river at this point and a lock was needed to maintain the water level. Although the lock chamber can still be seen, it has long ceased to have this function since it was replaced by the present river lock at Tarleton. Although the net section is the original line of the river, it is now canalised.

We continued along the towpath. About half way we found some seats where we had a break for a dink and time to read.

Eventually we completed the round trip, passing Rufford Old Hall just before leaving the towpath at the road that passes the marina. We could only catch a glimpse of the back of the hall through the trees.

Friday 25 August 2017

Car Shuffle, Cleaning and Almost a Welder

Yesterday booked tickets by train to Thorne so that he could retrieve our car and also a boat key that had been left at Blue Water Marina. When we collected the boat a month ago the office was closed for the day.

He started by catching the 9:44 to Preston from Rufford station just five minutes,if that, from the boat. This is a single track line and, in part, still controlled by the exchange of physical tokens.

The journey continued through Manchester, Sheffield and eventually arrived at Thorne at 14:24! All of the trains had been on time, within a couple of minutes, and so all went according to plan.

After a brief chat with Sarah who runs the marina, the return trip by car began. Apart from making a mistake at the first roundabout out of Thorne, and so missing the quickest access to a motorway, again all went to schedule and he arrived back at Fettlers Wharf within a couple of minutes of the ETA given by Google Maps at the start. However, almost all of the M62 had been tedious and very little was without some form of speed restriction below the normal maximum. There is a certain irony in slow traffic over an extended distance for road works to install so-called 'smart motorways' claimed to improve the traffic flow. In reality, such provision is usually an admission that the motorway is already at capacity for much of the day.

Meanwhile, Christine had been doing a thorough clean of the boat and doing some preliminary packing for our brief return home next week. She also made several attempts to locate someone who can repair the side hatch - the lower hinge will need welding (the easier bit) but also the upper hinge is bent (which is not so easy to deal with). However, the person who came was really interested in doing electrical work - he had heard on the grapevine that this was the reason we had come into the marina yesterday! 'Heavy' engineering is not really his thing. Still, Phil - who looks after the marina when Richard the owner is away - has promised that he will find us someone very soon!

She also spotted that the migrating birds are beginning to gather to form the community that will start to fly away again before too long. The boat closest to us seemed to be a popular place for them to line up, the smaller ones still hopeful that their parents will feed them rather than having to go out and forage for themselves. These pictures were taken when they inhabited our roof for a while.

Thursday 24 August 2017


Today's Canals - Leeds and Liverpool, Main Line and Rufford Arm

We set off a bit early this morning for some complicated reasons, which only became more complicated as the day wore on! The initial reason was that last evening, quite late, we had a quick visit from an electrical consultant whom Beta had selected to check out whether there is an issue with our alternator - for some time we have had strange readings regarding the battery charging. Now is not the time to go into details, mainly because we do not at his stage have much of a clue as to whether there is a real problem and if so with what!

In any event, this meant that, having arranged with Fettlers Wharf at Rufford for our mooring during our next trip back home at the end of next week, we further arranged that we could arrive this evening so that the electrical tests can be more easily done from there, in a few days time. (We actually started to make this further arrangement when it might have been possible that the tests were done earlier but the Bank Holiday intervenes.)

We had, in any case, been planning to not go too far in the next few days but retrieve our car from Blue Water at Thorne so that we can perhaps make a few visits 'off canal'. Surprisingly, it takes around four hours to get to Thorne by train (neither end is especially main line!) and over two hours drive back.

It was damp at first but the promised rapid improvement to a pleasant day arrived on schedule and, with some great scenery, it was a very pleasant cruise - almost, but we will come to that in a moment.

Ah, we are back on a canal with plenty of milestones and a stretch where Mike has not collected most of them for his photo library. Bliss!

We had four locks to negotiate on the main line to Burscough Junction - all well spread out. At most of them it is possible to see where new, wider, locks were built at some stage alongside the earlier ones.

The levels of the locks must also have changed as we spotted this former chamber, now just a narrows. The OS map from 1894 shows Crooke Lock at this point. Also, amusingly, the previous lock is named as Hell Meadow - modern guidebooks call it Ell Meadow!

Crooke Marina was originally a longer arm, perhaps a mile long which the 1894 map calls Tunnel Canal. It appears as if it was constructed to service mines to the north.

Just after the marina we passed thew original barge Ambush which passed us after we had moored last night on its way up to Wigan and back.

Below Dean Locks we made use of the all too rare water point to fill our tank. Well, almost as another boat coming down wanted to make use of the same facility. (They caught us up at the next lock having discovered how awkward the water point is and that their hose was not long enough. Thankfully we were able to deploy our extra long one.

Also below the lock there was originally a lock down to the river Douglas - the navigation north from here was only replaced by a canal a bit later. It is far from obvious but the lock was just beyond this very short arm, currently used as the home base for a restaurant/tearoom boat.

At Appley, there were previously two locks but these have been replaced by a single lock alongside. The picture is of below the lower of the two disused locks. The new one is especially deep.

CaRT were recruiting Friends at Parbold - helped they hope with the old barge George which it seems was once used by the National Coal Board. IT was a particular Leeds and Liverpool 'short' boat, built of wood and horse-drawn. See here for some fascinating details of its rescue.

There are a number of swing bridges along this stretch, some are wholly mechanised, and others in between. One of them has metal landings either side, presumably to assist single handers who notoriously have found this type of bridge difficult to negotiate. Alas, this landing has some of the wooden structure, intended to protect boats from the sharp pieces of  the metal structure, seriously damaged and missing. Alas, we caught - but only just - the side of the boat on a less than obvious projection. This was enough to break the weld on the hinge of one of our side hatch doors which will now need a proper repair. Sadly this is party of the experience of boating in the less frequented, and hence perhaps less maintained, northern canals. However - the good news - it looks as if Christine's efforts to track down a welder at Rufford may be fruitful. This was another reason for wanting to make sure we reached Fettlers Wharf tonight. The above photo shows the bridge but we only captured the other side which has, as you can see, an undamaged landing!

We paused just before Burscough Junction to have lunch. By this time our intention of eating 'on the go' had evaporated!

The top lock proved a little tricky. There is a swing footbridge just above the lock and it is not the easiest to shift. Hence our photos only resumed at the next lock!

A couple of the seven locks down the Rufford Arm have this type of top paddle - more frequently found on the higher parts of the main line of the Leeds and Liverpool. Not a design we have encountered elsewhere.

More of the locks have this type of mechanism, some easier to operate than others

Eventually, almost on time by our estimate when we set off (more good luck than judgement) we came down the seventh lock an immediately into the entrance to Fettlers Wharf. Although this marina once had a 'reputation', under new management, it is quickly gaining a very positive reaction both from existing and new customers. Both in setting up our arrangements and the welcome when we arrived could not have been better and thus far we can only encourage people passing this way to give them a try. Our mooring is very good.

After we had moored, we hooked up to the shore line and also booked tickets for Mike to go over to Thorne tomorrow to collect the car from Blue Water, It will take pretty much all day.

12.5 Miles - 11 Locks

Wednesday 23 August 2017


Today's Canals - Bridgewater, Leeds and Liverpool (Leigh Branch an Main Line)

Initially the day was very grey, almost misty, with some light rain. However, this quickly cleared and by mid morning the promised sunshine had arrived.

This photo not only shows the early greyness but also that the Canal Company have been upgrading many of their stop points, installed in case there is a breach in the canal sides. Originally they were like lock gates, sometimes with a pair facing each way, just in case. Although these have been renewed, the points have also been fitted with new light (ish) weigh stop boards.

After about two miles we came to the end of the Bridgewater and the start of the Leeds and Liverpool. The meeting point, end to end, is at Leigh Bridge where we planned to pull in and do some shopping. We recalled that there were several useful shops as well as stalls at the indoor market. In particular we wanted to check whether the pork pies from a local butcher are still as good as they were last time! Fortunately - and it does not always work out this well - we were as pleased as before. Leigh is not an especially up-market kind of place but its shops are well-stocked (not too many charity shops and pound stores!) and equally well-priced.

Much of the Bridgewater passes through land that has been subject to substantial subsidence in the past. Here, it is possible to see that the canal is at the level of the roofs of the new houses not far away.

We also passed a number of flashes, the first and one of the larger ones is Pennington Flash and Country Park. Nature is taking over well and restoring the otherwise waste ground (or at least until some developer gets the idea that they can now build another block of houses on it). In addition, some parts have been designated as public amenities and do seem to be popular. This one also has a nature reserve. They all result from the effects of former coal mining, which was once extensive in this area.

Alongside the canal is this sculpture made from old lock gates and, perhaps with tongue in cheek, called Unlock.

When we last came this way, a large area of open water had been created alongside Plank Lane lift bridge, apparently as a potential marina, but wit h no-one making any use of it. Now there are pontoons and about half already occupied as well as considerable housing development alongside. It is beginning to look as if it will be rather attractive when complete.

We were fortunate in not having any problems at all with the bridge as we later heard that several boats had been held up this morning with a failure in the operating mechanism.

Dover Lock was once actually a lock but subsidence rendered it unnecessary and so lives on only in the name of the pub. The lock itself was where the narrows are alongside the bridge.

At Scotman Flash, where there are water sports facilities on the far side, we could see a group (they looked like youngsters) have an exercise on the water. It really looked as if they were learning how to walk on water but we presume that there must be a long spit of land just under the surface (spoil sport!)

There are two Poolstock Locks just before the end of the Leigh Branch, on the edge of Wigan. Another boat, with two Australians who spend six months of each year on their canal boat and the other half of the year back home. They were preparing the lock and kindly waited for us to join them.

Shortly after the second lock we arrived at the junction and turned left towards Liverpool. Our guide book promised both water and elsan above the lock but although the latter was there, no sign of a water point.

As a result of the lock having very leaky bottom gates and therefore taking a long time to prepare, we were still able to lock down with the other boat even having made our service stop (if there had been a tap then we would probably have mot made it)

There was no water point below the next point ether (despite what our guide book insists) so we continued through the bridge to make a sharp turn at Wigan Pier. A reminder, should one have forgotten, is engraved on some steps.

Some say that the name applies to a large former warehouse at the junction, now converted into a restaurant. There was also a popular night club in another building since demolished but said to be much lamented!

Others say that it refers to a former tippler where coal was loaded into waiting barges as a small feature suggests. The figure also evokes the hard life that women, especially, endured in the work that they undertook just here, but like so many other places in former industrial areas.

Other stories are available!

We continued just a little further to the edge of the town, close to a sports stadium, but where it seemed sufficiently quiet to make a stopover.

10.7 Miles - 4 Locks