Sunday 19 May 2024

Bate's Mill

Today's Canal : Chester Canal

Today being Sunday our plan was to walk across a couple of fields to the nearby parish church of Waverton. We think we previously visited in 2917. After he warmer weather for the past few days, the footpath had largely dried out but it was possible to see just how muddy it had been.

The church was a short walk along the road from the footpath - apart from being able to see where we had to go we were also guided by the sound of the church bells. It is also said that when the church was heavily restored in the 19C, the Duke of Westminster who owns much of the land around here ordered that the tower should have the distinctive pyramid top so that he could keep his bearing whilst out riding.

Although the local bus stop starkly stated that there are no bus services from here, the Old {ost Office at least still has a bright red post box!

The church itself has parts dating back to just after the Norman Conquest and was at first owned by the Abbey in Chester. In modern terms it seems strange that the greater part of the parish population live in the development around Egg Bridge almost a  mile by road to thorth.

There were perhaps 50 people in the congregation, largely older but with a few much younger members. The service took the form of a Service of the Word but elsewhere it was described as a service with hymns. Whilst overall it took it basis from Common Worship quite a few sections borrowed heavily on more traditional material.

By the time we had walked back to the  boat, changed, made and drank coffee it was all but lunch time! 

Our 'plan' had no target for today but we really did want to put Golden Nook behind us so we set off in really hot sunshine, some of the best this year with no cloud at all overhead. We had moored just the other side of the above bridge and the steps up to the footpath are in the shadows to the left.

All too soon we had the slow passage. Various people have claimed that it took an hour to pass from one end to the other so on this occasion we timed it -  32 minutes from first to last. Of course it did feel as if it was hours! It was a relief to see the sign marking the end of the slow down sector.

Now we had a gentle cruise, no locks, a few moorings but a very pleasant Sunday afternoon - just so long as we found a place to stop for the night before the next lock!

This photo was taken to record the winding hole but, cropped down, the scene looks as if it is a store for ideas for the next Doctor Who adventure!

Christine kept an eye on the mobile phone service and she vetoed Mike's first attempt to moor as she could detect no signal. We were alarmingly close to the locks but one space was left on the Visitor Moor before Bate's Mill Bridge. Very pleasant, quiet and with good rings to tie to.

5.7 Miles - 0 Locks

Saturday 18 May 2024


Today's Canal : Chester (Shropshire Union)

Our schedule now for the next four days is quite relaxed. We took our time setting off on what proved to be a really good day weatherwise. There was plenty of sunshine, pleasantly warm, even hot at times, but with a gentle breeze to keep things fresh.

The first of today's two locks was near at  hand - Greenfield Lock. The former lock cottage, now in private hands, is close to a busy road as well as the railway line out of Chester towards Crewe.  However, the line at this point is in a cutting and barely visible from the canal - it goes into a short tunnel through Christleton. Not much can be done about the intrusion of the road, alas.

We were fortunate with both locks -  a boat had recently come down, leaving the first lock empty whilst another was just in the next lock and soon to leave. Timle enough for a chat with the crew before they continued on down towards Chester. We shared our concern that one of the top paddles is not operational - and agreed that it feels as if someone has allowed the paddle to drop heavily. Although old-time boatmen did this regularly it is now heavily deprecated as it can easily damage a strip of wood which is usually fitted to the bottom edge of the paddle itself to help it to close off the flow of water. If it is worn away or broken through inappropriate use then it can - as in this case - allow the ratchet to drop below the winding gear and so not engage when an attempt is made to raise it. A repair is probably not difficult but does f=require a short stoppage with planks inserted to allow the water around the paddle and culvert to be drained away before work can start.

Just above the lock we pulled in to fill up with water - not least as Christine was just starting a load of washing. The North Wales Expressway  looms overhead.

Just after the next bridge the building was once a Harvester pub. However, it seems that we were too hasty a couple of days ago in assuming that the former building had been wholly demolished and replaced by a new one. What now seems more likely is that a range of unsatisfactory add-ons at the rear was demolished (what we saw two years ago) and then the main part totally refurbished. It is now a Drive-Thru Costa which today was very popular. Some people even took their coffee and carried it down to the look to sit and drink.

We now had a straightforward level section, passing to the south of the main Christleton village, back into the countryside for about a mile before reaching Egg Bridge and the main part of Waverton. Our schedule allows for us to walk across a field from Bridge 118 or 119 to the parish church, tomorrow morning for the 10.15 service. As we arrived at the first bridge we could see that the bank provided an excellent mooring (mobile connections not so good but still available) and that decided which of the two bridges we should use! The walk from either is about the same distance - this one on a footpath and the other along a farm track. Time then for lunch and an empty diary for the rest of the day.

2.8 Miles - 2 Locks

Chemistry Lock

For some time we have wondered about the origins of the name Chemistry Lock and failed to find anything on Google - even the Listed Structures entries are not helpful.

However, this morning, at last, something came to light and this post is just to record its reference and a very brief summary to say that it seems to have gained its name (not its original) from an adjacent chemical works that produced acid for tanning from oak apple galls.

We also found that the lock cottage dates from just after 1800 so was either an addition (originally Hoole Lane and Chemistry Locks shared a keeper) or a re-build to 'modern' housing standards. In any event, the lack of space between the canal and the railway may explain - if the dates can be aligned - the odd arrangement of one ground and one gate paddle at the top end, with the cottage walls only about half a metre away from the canal.

The Chester and Crewe Railway was first approved by Act of parliament in 1837 and opened in 1840 as part of the Grand Junction Railway.

Friday 17 May 2024

Tarvin's Lock, Chester

Today's Canal : Chester

Our 'sort-of' plan was to turn around in the winding hole just beyond where we moored last night. This would avoid the necessity of both going down and up the Northgate Staircase which is notoriously heavy work. The three locks are especially deep which in turn means long rods to the paddles that let water from one lock into the next.

However, by yesterday morning we were already on to our third and final elsan cassette and there is nowhere nearer on the way back than Calveley, several days away. There are, however, boater services at the entrance to the Dee Branch and Taylor's Dry Dock at the bottom of the staircase!

It was a pleasant day when we set off just after 9 am.

There was a short run before the locks, mostly in a deep rock cutting at the base of the city walls. Our first glimpse was of the corner with a turret high above us.

In the middle of he deepest part is a bridge that is often called The Bridge of Sighs, inspired by a more famous one elsewhere!

And then, under a more prosaic modern dual carriageway, is the top of the Northgate Staircase.

Before going any further we checked through the new set of instructions in case any advice has changed - still basically as we remembered.

The top lock was already full but before we can start the descent we have to prepare the lower two. The bottom one has to be empty - it was. However, the middle lock has to be filled half way.

Walking down to complete the preparations. Mike passed a small garden, with instructions Do Not Mow! It was built to remember Mike Carter  who died in 2017 after a long time as a volunteer and worker on the canal. Let's hope that someone equally enthusiastic can be found to keep it looking smart.

The marker board in the middle lock is not easily seen from a dista mce so we have put an arrow to show where it is, the level now approaching the central green position when we can begin the descent in earnest.

Once we had started it was quite straightforward but heavy work so we were relieved when we were able to exit at the bottom, underneath the main rail line into Chester station.

Just around the corner is the service point - we did not need water, just the three elsans to empty! We were, shall we say, relieved to find that it was working = we had no Plan B in case it was out of order.

This was once an important junction, with a short arm and three locks down to the River Dee. This connection was very much part of the reason for building the canal as the river was already an important coastal port. Hence the provision of Taylor's Dry Dock, not only for making repairs but also Graving (ie cleaning) the hulls to ensure that they could cruise as smoothly as possible. Unusually we found it empty this time so we could see the workings. 

Once we could set off once more we proceeded to wind (ie turn around) in the large space outside the workshops and stores. There was room to manoeuvre without coming anywhere near moored boats or the banks.

And so back to the staircase once more. This time the preparation required the top two locks to be filled whilst, obviously, the bottom lock had to remain empty. (No other boat had passed through since we came down)

At the top stands the imposing former lock keeper's house. Mike chatted to the occupier who, it transpired, was tidying up after his garden shed had caught fire from a faulty trickle charger at 1 o'clock at night. Fortunately a passing policewoman in a car on the road above spotted sparks, came go investigate and called the fire brigade before going to wake up the sleeping residents! He also told us that the building was here in the time of Nelson! Just as well it did not catch fire. Just beside the bouse, under the dark recesses of the bridge, is the rubbish disposal point we were looking out for (it used to be down at the Dee junction)

And so back alongside the city walls, past our two day mooring and tied up at the Waitrose Stop and Shop two hour mooring. After stocking up, hopefully to the end of this trip next week, we had our lunch including a couple of rolls just purchased. Then it was off to tackle the first three locks up and out of Chester to Christleton.

This site that was once part of the Lead Works and Shot Tower, is the last to be developed and has been acquired by McCarthy Stone who plan to create 56 retirement apartments and other facilities - see here. Should be really attractive.

At the terraced housing we mentioned on the way down we noticed that several were were either for sale or recently sold. Although the properties are quite small - two bedrooms and a bath room on the ground floor - they must make a good starter home and, at a price somewhere around £225,000, more affordable than other places not far away.

Some of the bouses had these plaques built into their walls. We have not found any reference to their origin but we wonder if they were old fire insurance markers, or perhaps denoted a specific housing scheme. Surely at least one of the C's stands for Chester!

Finally, Tarvin's Lock and a pleasant mooring just above where upon we just about collapsed until time to make the evening meal!

2.5 Miles - 9 Locks

Thursday 16 May 2024

Staying in Chester

We had decided to stay in Chester today, wandering around the city centre and visiting the cathedral. The weather was fine at first but the forecast for later in the day included a high probability of rain.

We had been trying to discover the original purpose of the site opposite our mooring. When we came this way two years ago it was clear that it housed a Mecca Bingo hall. All pre-war OS maps show a three-sides-of-a-rectangle building but with no reference to its purpose. The present building occupies the same footprint but with the fourth side added and a roof over the central area. In recent times large scale road works have impacted the area and vehicle and pedestrian access seems limited. All reference to Mecca has been removed.

When we started to walk into the centre we came across an information panel alongside The Lockkeeper pub. This indicates that the building was formed as a Gaumont Palace Cinema  in 1931, seating 1997 people. An interesting short history can be found here. At the time the information panel was erected, it remained a bingo hall. Since the closure of Mecca, it seems that the property has remained unused.

The mooring is close to the shopping streets and we walked around, Christine looked in a number of clothes shops - without finding anything to tempt her - whilst Mike 'people watched'. There is a good supply of benches for sitting. He did, however, find a USB cable suitable to connect his phone to a charging point in our car, a problem that came to light a few days ago.

When we turned around we went up the steps to the upper level of The Rows - much of the traditional shopping area has pedestrian access to separate shops on two levels - an early form of shopping mall! Some of the Rows date back to the 13C. 

A more recent development inserted into The Rows - St Michael's Row - was undertaken by the Duke of Westminster in 1910. Clearly, push back from traditionalists against changes in style are not just a recent problem! However, the specific tiles used for the flooring have been preserved.

We looked in the parish church - its selections of snacks was rather uninteresting - but we were intrigued to see a copy of the famous, even controversial at the time, Breeches Bible. The troublesome verse is hightled by a magnifying glass so that visitors can see it for themselves.

We now headed to the cathedral with time to visit the Refectory for a snack lunch. They have an excellent and varied menu and very pleasant and helpful staff. The prices were market-related but not excessive. We enjoyed our separate choices, finishing just in time to head into the main part of the cathedral for the lunch time organ recital.

The recital was given by Ben Chewter. He is now a leading organist in London but previous was assistant music director here. The organ loft is high above the choir and the organist is only just visible! He played three pieces by Bach, Dupre and Glazunov. The recital was well attended and enthusiastically received.

By the time we left the protection of the cathedral, the forecast persistent rain had definitely arrived but was not too heavy. The walk back to the boat only took us about ten minutes but we did drivert via Tesco for one item. Part of the walk was along the old city wall alongside the immaculately maintained gardens

By the time we had a mug of tea, the rain increased in intensity and remained like that, apart from one short respite, right through into the evening. We had planned to go back to the cathedral for ChoRal Evensong and put off a decision until 5 o'clock. At that time the rain was pouring down and we wimpishly opted to stay put! Where has everyone gone?

Wednesday 15 May 2024


Today's Canal : Chester (aka Shropshire Union)

The day started overcast but dry with dire warnings on the weather forecast for rain most of the morning. In the end, apart from 10 seconds of rain drops the day remained dry and the afternoon was reasonably pleasant even if the sun was a bit too shy.

As this photo shows, the canal landscape was quite green even in the dull light. 

We had a quiet cruise for about half an hour to moor just before Egg Bridge in Waverton. The sign was somewhat ambiguous with a mention of mooring for work boats but it did not imply exclusivity nor were there any imminent work boats - we saw the main team positioning itself a couple of days back closer to Beeston.

The reason we wanted to stop here for a short time was to visit the village shop and also a pharmacy. Christine was keen to chat to a pharmacist about the recommended pain killer regime for her bashed ribs. Both were only five minutes away from the canal. Both visits were successful!

A commemorative plaque on the bridge says that it was originally built in 1770 - the canal itself opened to traffic through to Nantwich around 1779. It seems somewhat strange in hindsight and knowledge of how transportation later developed, but it seems that most canals started to carry local traffic as soon as water was available. For some time, much of the traffic remained local and only later fulfilled their investors' ambitions for long distance transport. The original bridge would likely have looked like most of the other accommodation bridges and only took on it present visual character when re-bult for the growing road transport.

As we started to pass the modern housing developments of Christleton, we were reminded of a blog entry two years ago. The imaginative dreams of the developer remain intact but it seems that reality remains as far away as ever!

With a load of washing in the machine we really did need to replenish our tank that was now distinctly below the halfway level on the gauge. Alas, another boat had just pulled in as so we had quite a wait before we could hook up our hose to the tap. Two years ago we also watched a team starting to demolish as rather dilapidated pub, justs the other side of this bridge. A smart replacement is now in place and open for business. Alas, it focussing on the water point we missed the photo opportunity!

Just after mid day we started on the five locks into Chester. Only five but they are less than easy! The first, Christleton, only had one top paddle operational and all had very leaky gates. This meant that it took some time before we could make a level and be able to open a gate. Only good point was that the boat ahead of us at the water point had kindly back set this lock for us.

The lock landings below the locks are miniscule and not easy to access so Mike was 'forced' by the steerer to walk between nearly all of the flight!

As we were about to open the bottom gates at Greenfield Lock, one of the crew on a boat behind asked if they could share the next lock as they were fast approaching.

Tarvin Lock and its cottage are rather attractive as well as the unusual round hut. What the photo does not show is the effort needed to open and shut gates!

Below the next lock we took advantage of a short set of mooring bollards (we have stayed here overnight in the past - OK despite being next to a pub) but this time just to have lunch.

Just before we were ready to leave a wide beam boat passed on its way down. When we caught up with them at Chemistry Lock we heard that they are planning on going to Ellesmere Port and from down onto the Ship Canal and then to Northwich.

A little further and we again admired this row of industrial workers' terraced housing. We have not yet found a source for information about its origins but looking at old maps we see that the group of terraces is squeezed in to a triangular site bounded by the canal to the south, a railway line to the north and then, to the west, a Lead Works. This once manufactured lead shot with the shot tower the only part of the works still remaining. Much has already been developed as housing and the last part has a sign saying that a McCarthy and Stone project is about to start to fill it. Our best intuition (which may well be wrong) is that the terraces were built for lead workers.

Just before the last lock still stands the water tower that formed part of a major public health project in the mid 19C to replace the previous water supply that had become contaminated.

After the last lock we had a shirt run into the centre of Chester. The first three mooring points marked on our maps are a little alarming as they only take one boat apiece and were all full! Were we going to be stranded for the night? (We have had this unfounded fear before!) At this point the next 48hr Visitor Mooring is out of sight but eventually we could see that it was entirely empty and we could choose just which rings to tie to! Our plan at the moment is t5o make use of most of those 48 hours as possible before heading back the way we have just come.

4.9 Miles - 5 Locks