Sunday 26 May 2024

Catch Up and Home

After a night in the marina we were (Wednesday) refreshed and ready to start organising the boat ready for its transfer into the painter's shed tomorrow (Thursday). The main task was to bring inside the boat the contents of all the lockers so that they can be accessed by the painters. This was also a chance to throw away some items that we really could not justify keeping any longer!

Late afternoon, Mike drove into Nantwich to charge the car back up to 100% ready for the journey home next day.

On Thursday morning we were awake early as we had been warned by the marina office to be ready by 9 am, although the painter had suggested 10:30, but would that be the time we had to cast off or when it would arrive at Willow Boats?

We transferred to the car what we needed to take home and finalised packing and removing items from shelves. By around 9:15 we were about as ready as we could be but no sign of life from the tractor! We continued to wait until eventually someone came from the office just after 10:45 to say that there had been an emergency call out (unspecified) which meant that the boat would not now be transferred until late afternoon. Realising that for us to stay that long was undesirable as we would be rather late returning home, they agreed to move the boat to the slipway for us when it was needed. We then set off back home, calling at Droitwich Lidl for a top up to the battery and to buy some lunch sandwiches.

Sadly we will not be posting any cruising stories for the next few weeks but if we have any update info before gettig the boat back, we will post here!

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Swanley Bridge Marina

Today's Canals : Chester, Llangollen

Our main aim today was to get to Swanley Bridge Marina im time for a meeting we had arranged with Sally and the other specialists who will be working on our boat over the next few weeks. It was not far but wanted to avoid any rush whilst waiting until the volunteer lockies were on duty to help!

When we arrived both of the lockies were at the top of the flight completing the transit of an earlier boat that had also moored last night at the junction. We started up on our own but by the time we were almost through the first lo ck they came to help us and so Christine was able to steer directly from one lock into the next without having to wait in the short intermediate pounds. We were also well ahead of any downhill traffic so no complications with passing in the pounds. The two volunteers were very pleasant and chatty, giving us real help such that we were up and through in under 40 minutes.

No photos of the flight as it was still a grey morning - even though it started to brighten up as we arrived at the top and turned remarkably warm later on. Just above the top lock is the weir where the flow from the cdanal enters Hurleston Reservoir. This facility is important as the principal source of water supplies to Crewe and the surrounding area. In a way it is also important to boaters: without this strategic role it is quite possible that the canal would have closed in the dark ages for canals bur fortunately has survived and is now one of the most visited  canals on the network.

At Bridge 2 there is an unusual wooden structure added to the towpath underneath the bridger. This was not here two years ago when we last visited - we think it may be a response to too many boats hitting the coping stones and pushing them into the water but we have not seen anything to this effect. Hopefully it is only 'temporary' and will, eventually be replaced by a less intrusive solution.

Just before the marina entrance is a small wharf that is home to Ruth and Richard Chamberlain's fuel boats, including the well known butty called Jellicoe. They have been trading for some years now and a familiar sight to those who live on this and nearby canals. It seems from their website that they are branching out into gifts and chandlery as well.

There are plenty of attractive houses in this rural area - this one has a distinctive chimney!

Soon we reached the entrance to the marina and we paused on the service wharf whilst Christine could pop to the office. We had booked in for tomorrow night (handover day is Thursday when the boat is to be taken out of the water) but on the way we felt that, if possible, we would like to go on a day earlier to give us more time to do whatever sorting out was needed in preparation. Fortunately the space was available and we went straight in - no wind so it was much easier than on some occasions when we have been here! Like almost all marinas, they are an open invitation for any passing wind to set boaters impossible challenges when manoeuvring onto a pontoon!

At 2 o'clock we walked across to Willow Boats where we met with Sally and Martin and Danny, the main poeple involved. We had a good chat through some of the additional items we would like to have done whilst the boat is out of action and out of the water. 

2.1 Miles - 4 Locks

Monday 20 May 2024


Today's Canal : Chester

The first photo was taken at 18:24 last night whilst the second, of the same bridge but from the other side, was just as we were leaving this morning. What a contrast in the weather! 

It remained grey for most of the day and distinctly cooler. However, by the time we moored late afternoon, there was some watery sunshine and a definite increase in the warmth.

As we were casting off a single hander passed us and asked if we could share the locks. Although it adds a bit to the time to pass through a lock, it is very much easier - especially for a single hander. Most of the time we were able to let him stay aboard but at least it means that for both boats they remain less buffeted by the water as it is let in to fill.

Of course, at the second lock, Beeston Iron Lock, we had to go separately but could still help each other. A young lad on a following boat came to ask if he could help and was very useful in keeping our centreline well and truly in place!

Things then became a little busier as we arrived at Bunbury Staircase. Hence a marked lack of photos until after lunch! Our singlehander had caught up with another boat and gone up with them. At first we thought that we would be doing the staircase on our own but by the time we had set the locks (top full - it was because two boats had gone up, bottom had to be emptied) a boat arrived at the top and shortly after yet another. Both were willing to do the Bunbury Shuffle - they seemed especially excited by the rather unusual prospect. We guided everyone through the process.

We were already in the bottom lock and waited whilst the two down boats came into the top lock and settled into position. We  then emptied the top lock into the bottom so that all three boats were now at the same level. There are slight variations on how to arrange the swap but Mike suggested the safer if a little more effort option. One boat moved down into the vacant space in the lower lock, letting the other them move across to the opposite side. This allowed Christine to move forward into the top lock whilst the first boat moved into the space she had just left - it was easier for them as they had bow thrusters. Finally the second boat could move down kin to the lower lock. When the gates in the middle were then shut, everyone could continue as normal!

We continued a short distance to moor for lunch on the VM just before Calveley. We stopped just behind the boat that had come up with the singlehander but were so keen to see the Shuffle that they stayed and helped with great enthusiasm - they are fairly new to boating anyway.

Just as we prepared to leave after lunch, a boat passed us - no problem except that they immediately pulled in to the only vacant space at the service point ahead! In addition, there was nowhere to wait other than keep station in the middle of the canal. At least there was little or no wind. Eventually we could pull in and start a full service. alas the bollards were not well placed for us so the boat moved around on long lines. Mike was not paying close attention and suddenly saw that one of the elsan cassettes was tipped into the water. At least it floated and did not leak but as soon as he tried to wheel it to the disposal point it was obvious that it had lost its wheels in the incident!

Christine tried the nearby little shop and cafe that has a poster to say that it sells bread and groceries as well as Cheshire Cheese. Alas, no bread today and milk was limited but we should survive the gap until we return home on Thursday.

A short cruise, passing Barbridge Junction, brought us to the Visitor Mooring at the bottom of Hurleston where we stopped for the night - with a constant reminder of the Shroppie Shelf especially when another boat passes us!

Whilst Christine was preparing the evening meal, Mike waked across to the Hurleston Locks and walked up to the top and back down again.

7.3 Miles - 6 Locks

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?