Saturday 25 June 2022

Fettlars Wharf

Today's Canal - Rufford Arm

We only had a very short distance to go to the marina but first we had to pass through the final lock for this trip. Unfortunately, only one top ground paddle was operational so it took a little longer to pass through.

The wind was blowing rather strongly so we knew that we would likely have a bit of a tussle getting onto our mooring. When Mike brought the car up last week he was told which pontoon we were booked onto so we headed straight there. As we were lining up to make the reverse turn we realised that the pontoon was already occupied!

So, we went back to the service point - less than easy with the wind! The first attempt was unsuccessful as the wind caught us and left us with insufficient room to turn onto the berth. Second time, now coming in the other way around, and with the help of the marina staff person on duty (Colin?) we positioned ourselves so that the wind did the last part of bringing us sideways.

At this point C said he had no record of our arrival but he would make a phone call. Three marinas are jointly owned and the administrative base is at Furness Vale on the Peak Forest. It turns out that the lady we dealt with is now on sick leave with the dreaded COVID! Eventually, C returned with the news that we could go onto another pontoon close to the first one.

Before moving away from the service berth we opted to fill up with diesel - at that time it was comparatively cheaper that elsewhere but it seems that that was because they had not had a recent delivery and ran out after delivering just 15 litres! A call to the boss revealed how to use the reserve tank but it seem someone else had already had that idea as it added only 4 more litres to the tally!

Now time to moor with the wind strengthening. This time, Mike had learnt from the previous manoeuvres and managed line up and back in almost as well as anywhere! (Fluke - as the wind changed direction half way through the process . . .)

We then loaded up the car, final clean round and we set off back home. Although the traffic was marginally busier that before it did not really hold us up and we were back in good time.

0.1 Miles - 1 Lock

Friday 24 June 2022


Today's Canals - Leeds and Liverpool, Rufford Arm

We set off as usual to complete the section to Lathom Junction where the Rufford Arm goes off towards Tarleton. 

In between comes a swing bridge. As this is a public road it is a powered bridge even if it is a rather minor road.

We wanted to fill up with some water - not quite enough left to let Christine have one more washing load. The easier water point is on the main,one alongside the Junction Bridge but a boat was already occupying it - the owner was washing it as well as filling the tank. Consequently we turned under the bridge to tie up at the other tap. This place used to have a full set of services but all but the water tap was removed in 2007 - not sure why, but there are others a short distance along at Burscough itself but this would have meant us going another twenty minutes to find a winding hole. Elsan and rubbish can wait until we are in the marina tomorrow. However, it is rather awkward access when going down as the hosepipe has to be string across the overflow weir.

The top two locks have had new gates and been renovated recently and the small swing footbridge across the top of the first lock was rather easier to shift than we recalled from past trips.

There are perhaps a couple of dozen cottages scattered around the junction - alongside where we tied for the water point was once a dry dock so we can imagine this being a really busy place with all sorts of craftspeople earning their living from passing boaters. Two of the cottages seem to have had a corner cut back to allow larger wagons to pass that when they were first built.

The top two locks were especially difficult to operate. Each lock has different paddle mechanisms - or rather a choice of four in varying combinations. Here, at lock 2 as well as at lock 5, the top paddles use these wooden lever devices which are more frequent on the remote parts of the main summit.

Lock 2 was especially tedious as the tail bridge was closed off with one of the handrails broken away. Since there is no way across the top gates, it is really only possible to empty the lock using the nearside paddle.

It is also strange that each lock has a different rise and fall, the shallowest perhaps only half of the deepest. Surely this must be wasteful of water?

The more popular paddle design is that above and is used on some top and some bottom gates. Sometimes they turn very easily but others are really demanding.

We stopped below lock 4 for a late coffee but the time led us to turn it into a lunch break instead. When we saw a boat coming down through the lock we set off so that we could share the locks.

There are two rail lines through Burscough. Although many places, even just villages, once had service like this but very few remain. This line, on its way to Preston (this was the one Mike used last week) crosses the short arm twice.

Our lock companions were very pleasant - they are quite new to canal boating (even if he spent many years in the merchant navy) - and have only had their shiny new boat since this Spring. As it happened, they moor it in the same marina where we are heading but they need to get there tonight as they are then off on a cruise from Liverpool docks around the UK, This was booked for 2020 and it is only now that they are able to fulfil it!

At the next swing bridge we let them go ahead as we needed to find a mooring before the final lock - the marina entrance is immediately below lock 7.

3.3 Miles - 6 Locks

Thursday 23 June 2022

Ring O'Bells, Burscough Junction

Today's Canal - Leeds and Liverpool

We had a target for today to get as far as Burscough Junction, leaving us just the Rufford Arm for tomorrow. However, the morning was allocated to a couple of Zoom sessions, one for Christine in connection with work around dementia and the other for us both with a friend in Wadebridge.

The first call went well - we had checked out that the mobile signal was sufficient before we moored last night. However the second proved a bit less satisfactory - we never worked out what the problem was - and most of the call was just phone but eventually we did get the Zoom session up and running, It then worked rather well.

We eventually cast off just after midday. There were two locks on our schedule for today, the first called Dean Lock. Just before we passed under this railway bridge - no trains running today. This image however is misleading.

From the vantage point of the lock itself you can see how the mighty M6 towers over both the canal and the railway as it crosses the Douglas Valley.

There is more water below the lock than might be expected. Firstly, when the canal was originally built, boats would come up the River Douglas and join the canal via a lock just below this view.

Secondly, the present lock replaced an earlier one whose remains can still be seen alongside. Both locks are now part of a listed structure so, presumably, the old one will not be demolished. It at least has to be maintained so tha tit does not let water out of the upper pound.

We passed through the swing bridge just before the village of Appeley Bridge. It is now always with some relief after the unfortunate experience with the (new) bridge landing during our first expedition with Alchemy. The broken structure that caused the damage has since been repaired but we still avoided using it!

Our other lock, about two miles downstream from the first, is called Appeley Lock. Again, this is a newer lock that replaced two previously. Hence it is unusually deep with heavy gates. Even though they were replaced last year, Mike found one of the bottom gates exceptionally hard to close - it opened willingly.

Below the lock we were rather relieved to find that we could moor up for lunch. Somewhat later than usual, we set off once more for the final part of today's cruise. 

As we came into Parbold there is a sharp bend with this arm providing mooring for just a single boat. Originally, just beyond was a graving dock where boats could come in for maintenance to their hull.

Parbold Windmill dates back to 1794, replacing an earlier one. Since it became redundant as a flour mill in the 1850s since when it has had various uses and now is a picture gallery. See here for more about the windmill's history.

A surprisingly thriving clump of arum lilies, not often seen in the canal itself.

Our final swing bridge of the day has recently been mechanised. However, two boats were just coming through and the lady operating the controls waved us through. A bonus for us but not for the few vehicles waiting for their road to re-open.

We moored just after the Ring O'Bells Bridge. The sloping sides to the towpath on this part of the canal meant that we had a defensive moat for night!

7.1 Miles - 2 Locks

Wednesday 22 June 2022


Today's Canal - Leeds and Liverpool

Plank Lane, just 10 minutes cruising from our overnight mooring, has a mechanised lift bridge that carries a rather busy road - it seems to be a popular short cut. It would seem that in the past there was friction between road and water when long queues built up at rush hours. So now, a time lock prevents the bridge being opened between certain times.

We left Pennington Flash aiming to be at the bridge just as the morning closure came to an end at 9:30. 

The bridge sits alongside the new, but fairly small (its own words) marina that does not allow any residential use. It was formed from a loading basin that was part of Bickerstaff Colliery. 

Christine took the key to the control box and, after being very polite and letting cars through in both directions, pressed the button to raise the  bridge.

Immediately after the bridge is a narrows that was once a lock. This was replaced, along with the two Dover Locks at Abram, by the wo Poolstock Locks, as a result of the extensive subsidence caused by the mining, the same subsidence that created the numerous flashes alongside the canal. there

Alongside the first of the two Dover Locks there was long a pub called, naturally, Dover Lock Inn. It shut several years ago and its owners have made several failed attempts to gain planning permission to knock it down and replace it with several new houses. Last December there were two fires within a week that have reduced it to a mere shell. It will be interesting to see what happens now to the site.

This is the upper of the two former locks that were replaced.

We passed Scotmans Flash - we have often moored here when passing either way along this canal but Pennington seemed just as good so we now have a choice.

A new Link Road to the south of Wigan has made use of a former rail track that ran across the top end of the flash. It was near completion when we last came here in 2019. It is now well and truly open and seems very popular.

We arrived at the first Poolstock Lock wondering what might face us - they were closed for a day or so last week as the short intermediate pound was too empty to navigate. This is a long known problem, which we ourselves have had to cope with before, but it seems that little has been done. It is popularly supposed to be the result of really excessive leakage through the gates - and visually they do seem to let a lot of water through, but the failure to cure hints at perhaps other factors that are much more expensive to undertake.

Despite meeting two boats just before the lock that had just come through, the lock had already started to fill itself and hence needed emptying before our boat could enter.

Then came the dreaded short pound. Silt and rubbish did not help, added to the very low water level. Christine was working the sometimes difficult locks. She came through very slowly, keeping carefully to the middle, whilst Mike kept a look out for any shopping trolleys and mudbanks he could spot. She almost ground to a halt several times but made it to just below the upper lock which was full. Mike opened one gate paddle and could see that the flow of water was trying to push Christine nearer to the opposite mud bank. However, the other paddle has been locked (not quite sure why) so Mike could not balance out the forces. It did mean that we could get a bow line ashore to help by pulling but to no avail, the boat was well and truly stuck right in the entrance to the lock. 

One of the consequences of the leakage through these two locks is that the next pound, which is the junction pound, also runs low and Mike was reluctant to run water down from there for fear of making that unnavigable, blocking boats on the main line from Leeds through to Liverpool, as well as this Leigh Branch. In the end it seemed the only option but this did enable us to get nearer to the lock but then stuck on the cill. With fingers very much crossed we resorted to another trick - backing out just a little, turning the engine forward as fast as possible and then into neutral just before the lowest part pof the boat reaches the cill. This caused the boat to 'hump' over. The danger with this is that if it does not work then the boat is even more firmly wedged but thankfully we were successful! 

A notice advised to use all four top paddles to counter the leakage - with no means of crossing the top gates this means a lot of extra walking for the lock setter! 

With the junction pound also low, even before we ran a little water down, we had difficulty at the lock landing above the next lock, the last two of the Wigan flight. Fortunately a chap who lives next to the lock was painting his fence but came enthusiastically to give us some help.

On to the second of the two Wigan locks. The bottom gates leaked horrendously and it was with some difficulty, and quite a lit of time, that Christine eventually filled the lock.

We were quite relieved to be able to moor up outside the huge Trencherfield Mill to have lunch and a break to recover!

After we set off again we turned the sharp corner to Wigan Pier. Most of the former canal warehouses here have become all but derelict - the last attempt to make use of one of them was a night club. It does now seem that a real effort is being made and the first, to become town houses, is almost ready for occupation.

The next lock, Pagefield, was around the corner and a group of young people were happily making use of it as a swimming pool. They kindly helped us through and we were soon on our way - no problems!

This and the following Ell Meadow Lock were mid 20C replacements for Crooke Lock, again adjustments to the levels created by subsidence.

At Crooke Marina two more Liverpool Short Boats are kept and preserved in operational condition.

Christine has a Zoom meeting tomorrow morning and so we needed to find somewhere with an adequate mobile signal. Just after the bridge and pub at Crooke seemed OK so we pulled in and tested out the connection, at least as it is tonight. Fingers crossed for the morning.

8.8 Miles - 6 Locks

Tuesday 21 June 2022

Plank Lane

Todays Canals - Bridgewater, Leeds and Liverpool, Leigh Branch

The day started bright and sunny and remained that way throughout. At times there was a gentle cooling breeze but, sheltered and it could be hot for the season.

The sunshine even made the otherwise rather gaudy and deliberately ostentatious Trafford Park Shopping Centre look quite attractive - in its own way!

We had to wait a couple of minutes whilst a boat already crossing the Barton Swing Aqueduct completed its crossing. This gave us chance to notice this derelict building close to the canal. We have not discovered its purpose (it looks like a house or perhaps a couple of semis, but it only appeared on the OS maps early in the twentieth century, after 1907 and before 1927.

Once the way was clear we could make our own crossing.

On the other side the area has had, and still is having, extensive redevelopment of former industrial land. Occasional small moorings are some times the only indication of where a wharf once loaded goods onto boats. One former silk mill (ceased production in 1933) remains here - it survives only just and is part occupied with a gym and a yoga school and a very small number of other units.

The obligatory photo of the quirky Monton Lighthouse. It is owned by a local called Phil Austin who restored a narrowboat in which Queen Victoria had travelled which he moored here. He bought a small parcel of and and then wondered hat to do with it and the lighthouse is the result!

Worsley Dry Dock has a couple of former Leeds and Liverpool fly boats moored here.

The docks themselves, still a family run business, remain in demand for repair and maintenance of all types of canal boats.

The iconic Customs House at the junction with the entrance to the former coal mines (which was the reason for building the Canal in the first place) seems to be undergoing some extensive maintenance.

On the approach to Leigh there are several large former mill buildings that have been preserved and found new uses. This one, completed in 1913, was one of the last of this sort of industrial building. Not long after, the industry rapidly fell into decline, creating problems for much of Lancashire. A preservation trust has converted it into quality offices for a n umber of small local businesses.

Also on the site are Leigh Spinners who started manufacturing commercial carpet in 1967, They later shifted into other non-woven materials especially synthetic turf for landscape, leisure and sport applications, such as bowls.

Several more follow - some in better condition than others. They stand as a reminder of the scale and grandeur of late 19C industrial architecture.

We moored just after Leigh Bridge (which marks the boundary between the Bridgewater Canal and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal) When we have been here before the Waterside Inn has seemed popular and thriving. Sadly, perhaps as the result of COVID, it is currently closed and boarded up.

After lunch we walked into town for a small amount of shopping. In the covered market we saw a small display by the local council who are applying for a Levelling Up grant to improve the market hall. We chatted to a couple of stallholders who had come to see the proposals - we guess that the exhibit is very new. We were led to believe that, perhaps inevitably, there are mixed feelings, not least because it may well involve a lengthy closure, just after they have started to recover from a long shutdown during the pandemic.

We carried on a little further but then realised that we would just have hit the rush hour closure of the lift bridge at Plank Lane and would not be able to go through there until 6 o'clock. It was a pleasant spot close to Pennington Flash so we opted to stay the night here.

Pennington Flash was created at the start of the 20C from subsidence caused by the huge Bickershaw Coal Mine just the other side of Plank Lane. That is where the surface works were built but, of course, the underground mining stretched a considerable distance. 

This area around Pennington Flash is now a very popular country park. The visitor facilities, cafe etc, are on the other side from the canal but we could see some of the extensive walks and paths that have been created, generally very accessible.

Down at the water level is is possible to watch the wild life from a hide.

This view emphasises just how much the level has fallen and the canal banks have had to be built up. This shot was taken still well above the flash itself.

Looking across the canal, with the moors in the distance, the modern houses are also at a much lower level.

10.3 Miles - 0 Lock