Wednesday 31 August 2022


Today's Canal - Lancaster

The day was generally bright and sunny with a fresh breeze - excellent cruising weather. By the time we were looking for an overnight mooring some darker clouds came overhead by sunshine returned once we were tied up.

The first move was just to cross the canal to the service block that was almost directly on the opposite bank. Once we had done the usual 'full service' we moved a boat length onto a 1 day mooring which was handily empty. We had heard that the small village Costcutter was well stocked and indeed it was. Our main aim was to pick up milk so that we did not have to carry it far if we stopped on Garstang where the shops are somewhat further from a mooring. We took a  few more items 'just in case' we did not reach a supermarket today.

We then set off properly. Not long before we crossed John Rennie's Brock Aqueduct. Today, perhaps many boaters crossing over will barely recognise it, but for the plaque. However, in 1797 this was a remarkable undertaking for engineering knowledge of the time.

For some distance the M6 and the West Coast Main Line follow closely the route surveyed for the canal, and here they are about the closest. The A6 is nearby as well.

This image looks as if it came from a sci-fi movie - space invaders have landed! It is actually a highways depot. In the past we have seen that places like this store salt and grit for wintry conditions. Why it is located here is not obvious as it is some distance from a motorway junction, even though the M6 is only a few metres away and the A6 is a couple of miles down country lanes.

At the Calder Aqueduct, some maintenance work seems to be underway but we could not see exactly what. (Well, we all need a break at times!)

We did encounter a couple of wide beam boats - there seem to be many more than when we came here first in 2013, but that is a debate best left to social media!

Nearing Garstang we spotted Greenhalgh Castle on the skyline. We might have stopped to take a close look but before we set off on this trip we discovered that there is no public access.The castle was originally built in 1490 by the Early of Derby to protect his properties nearby but was largely demolished in the Civil War to prevent it from being used for military purposes. Subsequently it is said that many of the stones found there way in numerous local properties!

We moored in Garstang very close to the bridge that is the nearest route to the shops, opposite the basin that contains Th'Owd Tithe Barn pub and restaurant, bating back to the 16C.

The town was at its most prosperous soon after the canal arrived. Alas, the railway ignored the town and it went into decline, further exacerbated by the A6. As a result the main street is narrow with many old buildings still remaining, even if re-purposed, such as the former Temperance Hotel.

We found one or two items in the small shops, including an excellent small pork pie from a butcher, but most had to come from Sainsbury. we returned to the boat, stowed away and had a well deserved late lunch.

It was almost three o'clock by the time we set off,  soon passing under the unmissable Fylde Water Board pipe bridge from 1927. The pipe itself is carried in the trough formed by the two parapets of the bridge, which is generally not accessible.

North of Garstang we found long stretches of online moorings, about 80% small cruisers, some of which were also wide beam. We still felt the need to pass them slowly but did not consider that they merited a photo! Nor did we capture a large mobile home park - here the vans were very close together, unlike one  we saw earlier that was part of the marina development.

Mooring became an issue. Most of the places that were marked on our maps were taken  but did seem good choices for location. (That's why they were taken!) We had or mind on a couple of possibilities just after bridge 78 and indeed they were no boats moored at all. The first would not have had a sat tv signal so we pulled in at the second. At first we thought that, like boats moored at all the previous options, we would come alongside but it was not to be and we had to accept being on a floating island for the night.

We needed the plank whilst mooring but pulled up the drawbridge as soon as possible! At least we were not an obstruction as several boats passed us later (it has been much busier here than on the previous couple pof days) including one which we think was a DIY electric day boat. It is claimed on social media by their proponents that one if the benefits of electric propulsion is so quiet and peaceful compared with noisy diesel engines. Well, if they all  very loud make the high pitched whine that this boat made, cruising would need ear plugs, even for those of us who are hearing challenged!

10.28 Miles - 0 Locks

Tuesday 30 August 2022


Today's Canal - Lancaster

Before setting off Mike took a look at what lay behind the hedges on both sides of the canal.

To the north is yet another large new housing development by Barratts - they have been building extensively on the green land to the south of Cottam. This looks to be the last piece of infill before they look for some other greenfield site to gobble up. The appetite for new homes seems insatiable (we cannot complain as ours was new last year!)

To the south is the extensive sports facilities for the University of Central Lancashire. This organisation began life in 1828 as the Institution for the Diffusion of Knowledge. Later it changed to the Harris College, then a poly until it was given university status in 1992.

We set off around 10 and gradually made our way out of the Preston suburbs - all relatively new housing, industry left well behind us. Before long we passed under another part of the Preston Western Distributor Road - we came under another of its bridges when on Savick Brook on Sunday. this road will link Preston and the Fylde with the M55 motorway to the north as well as a new East-West link road. As well as easing existing congestion, this project is aimed at encouraging men to the north of Preston and to boost the local economy.

We did not manage the best view of the Westinghouse Nuclear Fuels site but only this glimpse from a gap in the hedge. It began as a munitions factory but in 1946 changed to the manufacture of nuclear fuels for the emerging new Magnox power stations. That work is now gradually coming to an end the site is being converted to a Clean Energy Technology Park. Back in time when the nuclear work caused unease, signs were erected along the canal to give boaters due warning. Alas, the text was so dense and small that almost nothing can be read whilst navigating along! We only saw two remaining signs and one of those was almost completely obscure by vegetation.

We passed a large winding hole, wondering why a boat had chosen to moor on the far bank. Christine then heard the chap on board shouting for assistance. He had lost reverse gear and had become wedged there, unable to free himself with just forward motion. Would we tow him out? We backed up, attached his stern line to our t-stud and gradually eased him back sufficiently for him to make progress under his own power.

As we passed a permanent mooring site we lost power ourselves but could still make some progress. Not wanting to risk coming into the bank as it looked too shallow, we limped along to the next bridge where a trip down the weed hatch produced yet another lump of clothing material.

All the way so far we battled against the extensive duck weed. Although we cleared a path, it soon re-formed as a blanket behind us.

We called at Moons Boatyard to fill up with diesel. We still had three quarters but as this is the only known source on the Lancaster we felt it better to keep topped up. They are very friendly here - best to keep on their good side as we may well need to call again before making the return trip across the Ribble. Almost as soon as we came under their bridge the duck weed all but cleared and we then made rather better progress.

This swing bridge is usually marked on boating maps as Normally Left Open. In fact it looks as if some considerable effort would be needed to shut it! Nevertheless, the relentless installation of new blue signs meant that CaRT have put up a complete set of instructions should anyone be mad enough to try and operate it!

Bilsborrow is a popular stopping place. perhaps because it has the only designated visitor moorings for some distance in either direction, perhaps because of the pub and the craft centre! We manage to find a free space - but then found that we would have to settle for a gap between boat and bank. We even deployed the gangplank/ladder.

9.7 Miles - 0 Locks

Monday 29 August 2022

Cottam Hall

Today's Canal - Lancaster

After yesterday's very late finish we had quite a lie-in this morning. Indeed we did not unmoor until nearly midday. Here is the promised picture of how we moored last night!

However, this did give us both, separately, a chance to look around the immediate area, once a very significant mill district.

Looking at old maps, it seems very likely that the houses on the off side of the canal were for the workers in the mills on the opposite side of the road.

We also discovered that just beyond where we moored by the basin entrance was the start of an embankment and aqueduct as the canal made its way along the final, now lost, mile. At the end of the present water the footpath on what was once the towpath, drops steeply down to the next main road.

There is also a footpath across the end of the canal down to the street of terraced houses. The first few in the row but the street is on a gentle hill and very quickly the rest of the properties have their entrances at canal level. 

Most of the houses, modest though they were meant to be, had decorated surrounds to their front doors.  Unlike many such terraces, it seems that with these any back doors only open into their gardens. One nearby street had even more ornate entrances.

Some of the mills have been demolished and replaced with 
new housing although several remain as industrial units including the main factory for Plumbs, an upholstery company. When we moved house last year we opted to have our lounge suite recovered - structurally it was very sound but we were looking for a change in colour scheme. So, our furniture has been all the way up here, been reborn, and  brought back down again!

Christine met with the daughter of the man who originally set up Ashton Basin as a mooring and hire base. The family have long since lost connection with the marina. There are still a few boats here, mainly residential and no hire boats at all.

Almost noon and we untied, ready to turn around to make our way back towards the Ribble Link Junction. It seems that some of the occupiers of the houses opposite the basin entrance have been losing a battle with CaRT to move the winding point a little further towards the end - quite unclear what benefit this would bring. In any event, three of them (all men, of course) came out to hurl abuse at us despite being told that the guides and maps all locate the winding exactly where we were already manoeuvring. (CaRT's website is wholly unambiguous about this). The same experience was had by at least four of the boats that came up the locks last night!

We continued back along the way we came and, with rather more time available to us, we took it a bit gentler, revs right down, and we came though the water without a hitch, despite the blanket of duckweed. We stopped at the Cadley Sani Station - a plastic boat was still camped out and were keen to tell us that they had only been there an hour as the sign indicates! They could have moved 20 m and moored perfectly legit for up to 14 days . . .

We pulled into the Ribble Link basin so that Mike could take photos of the locks - it was not possible yesterday. Mainly these are for his photo library but here is one of a sculpture that stands guard over the high rise staircase. It was officially unveiled in 2014 and replaced an earlier sculpture made of wood that had rotted away. When we came in 2013 neither was here.

We also stayed for lunch but boats for tomorrow's downward were already beginning to arrive (we are actually hidden by the first two)

We continued a little further but after two bridges we arrived at a mooring that one of the arriving boats had just left and who insisted we should consider using it. Indeed, it passes for excellent on the canal so we took it. One of yesterday's boats was already here but they carried on rather later in the afternoon.

2.12 Miles - 0 Locks

Sunday 28 August 2022


Today's Navigations, Rufford Arm, Rivers Douglas and Ribble, Ribble Link, Lancaster

Quite a day, but not very different from what might be expected!  The morning was spent just waiting - we were told yesterday to set off around 11:45, but the other two boats had itchy tillers and so we were all down at the lock at that time. When we arrived, second, the first was already in the lock waiting for us. Even so, the keeper was hesitant to let us out until he judged the tide to be right. This was not easy as the tides, we have been told a couple of times, are being a bit unpredictable, perhaps because of the weather,

In the end, we were released just before midday and, as it happened, we were told to go first - a function of which side we were in the lock. 

At this point, it is full throttle and unquestioning commitment! The tide was running in at about it fastest and at this point the channel narrows so even faster. The exit is deceptive: after exiting at full throttle the boat seemed to be going well and straight but we knew that the temptation to ease back on the power had to be resisted. Moments later it is almost a brick wall as the boat came almost to a standstill in a short space. Until the boat behind reached that point it seemed as if it would overtake us but soon it too was punching thew tide with a vengeance.

We had also been warned that, as well as trying to make best speed (we would found out why later) we also had to beware of overheating. At this stage, anything over 2 mph over the ground seemed a major achievement.

By the time we had passed Douglas Boatyard and yacht moorings, everything had calmed down and we could ease back but still  make 3.5 - 4.0 mph. The landscape changes from a rather deep channel to a much flatter appearance. A few yachts and a rather well worn fishing boat passed us on the way up.

After an hour we could see the main navigation landmark for the junction - straight ahead to the large building at the Wharton airfield.

The River Douglas now makes a long turn to the left (towards the sea) with the main River Ribble (with several yachts navigating downstream) seemingly temptingly close on our right hand. All this to trap the unwary or plain foolhardy as to attempt to cut the very extensive corner is to invite disaster as close to the surface of the water are several training walls and large sand or mud banks.

We stuck to our target until well clear of the Asland Lamp, which marks the point at which it is safe to turn up stream on the Ribble. We made good speed at first, up to 4.5 mph or more even cut back to 1300 revs.

We counted off the mile perches starting from 5 miles (Asland). By the time we had covered about half of the distance to the Savick Brook entrance the tide started to ease back and eventually turn against us. At first we did not notice this but by the time we passed the 3 mile marker we could see just how fast the water was ebbing past the perch.

Approaching the green 2 mile perch we called in the Ribble Control only to be told that we need to make better speed! Gingerly we turned up the wick and started to pull away from the following boats. All the time we were wondering whether we would make it into the turn before the engine gave up in a cloud of steam! Reader, you can breathe again - we made it! However, the CaRT person standing at the corner gave us another admonishment to get a move on. By now we were in the narrow ditch called Savick Brook which is also quite winding so this was easier said than done.

We were also told that we would not have to wait that the pontoon before the first bridge and go straight on. The first part of the book is still tidal and the level for some distance from the entrance is maintained by a half tide rotating sea lock. Normally this is raised to hold water in, brought up by the preceding tide. The gate is opened only to let boats through and quickly shut as normally the arrival is on a falling tide. However, today the level was dropping quicker that expected so it was a tight thing but all three boats managed to squeeze in before the cut off.

Proceeding as instructed at best speed around the tight bends and not expecting to stop at the pontoon, we were suddenly faced with a group of boats only just untying themselves. We recognised some of the names and realised that this was yesterday's crossing group which had been diverted to Preston Dock. we later learned that only one had made it through and the other four sent on upstream for the night.

The reason for the pause at the pontoon is that when the tidal depth at the sea lock is high, there is insufficient headroom under the first road bridge. Hence, boats have to wait for it to drop somewhat. last time it was perhaps 45 minutes. So it was another indication of close a call it was for us when we saw just how much clearance we now had the bridge.

The first proper lock is also manned - just as well as the lock landing has seen better days and there no way for crew to get to the bank! Some of the previous day's squad were still queuing to go through so we had quite a wait. Whilst the lock keepers were eventually preparing the lock for us the senior keeper had a word and asked if one of us would hold back as they were concerned that the next boater was single handed and it is really not possible to negotiate the next four (unmanned) locks on your own. We volunteered and let the other boat go ahead.

At most of the locks we had very useful help from onlookers, some younger children and some adults, all much intrigued by seeing so many boats all at once, especially as they rarely spot any at all.

At one point we spotted a couple of signs saying Beware Golf Area. We were somewhat puzzled about what we were expected to do!

The final three locks form a very deep staircase and, as a result, are also manned - the CaRT crew get there quicker as they have a van! The staircase is also unusual as when the Ribble Link was created at the start of the Millennium the adjacent railway and road bridges left insufficient room for a proper turning circle. Consequently, boats have to go up (and down) backwards!

At the top the CaRT staff advised against an overnight mooring in the basin - we could have done so with plenty of room, but it is close to a popular walking route. Just for one rare time we wished we had not taken their advice.

Turning down the short arm towards Preston we were led to believe that we should be OK at the Cadley service block which also has a short overnight mooring. Alas, not only were these already taken but also a plastic boat was camping out on the water point!

This section of canal is, at this time of the summer, covered in surface weed. Apart from the rare engine that pumps in its cooling water (most modern boats use skin tanks) this weed does not cause too many problems apart from a loss of speed.

There was no option but to carry on but we found the next bit slow going. We did try the bank once but came nowhere near (this is a characteristic of the Lancaster) and had to push off with our pole in a rare deployment. Alas, at the moment when we were passing under bridge 11A we lost all forward - or backward - motion and guessed we had something around our prop. However, also we spied the other two boats who crossed with us coming the other way. They had already been down to the end of this arm and not found anywhere at all to moor. They were hoping to find space back at Cadley or, failing that (which by now seemed almost a certainty) they would go back to the moorings at the top of the locks. They managed to squeeze past us whilst Mike set about removing the large lump of indistinguishable clothing material that was wrapped around the prop.

We were now somewhat concerned as the light as failing quickly and we still had to get to the end and turn around. Undoubtedly it would be dark well before we made it back to the locks. It was also well past bedtime for the camera so no more pix for today.

Fortunately we did manage to tie up just after the entrance to Ashton Basin (formally a hire boat base but now looking rather forlorn with a few boats long term moored there). The bow came into the side but the stern is well out - almost at the end of the stern mooring rope! We have possibly never moored so far out, except perhaps for our last visit to the Lancaster nine years ago or the Chesterfield which has sections with similar characteristics. However as we are right at the end of the arm (which originally went another mile into the town (as it was) centre, there will be no passing traffic! We are also clear of the winding hole.

13.0 Miles - 10 Locks