The Cheshire Ring – Part One

  On Thursday, 10th September, we cruised northwards again, passing through the two tunnels, Barnton and Saltersford, and moored after another few miles at Dutton Bridge. I’d remembered seeing a conker tree there before, so Sal and I went off conker scrumping, but the tree was nearly devoid – other boaters (I guess) had got there first! We all like to keep spiders at bay, it seems! I did manage to get a few, though.

On Friday, we continued our journey north and soon came to the Preston Brook Tunnel. We moored up to wait for the passage time and Tony went to open the stop lock gates for a boat coming the other way. I heard one of the ladies on the front of the boat gasp, heard a splash, and turned to see Tony, one leg in the drink up to his knee, kneeling with his other leg on the lock gate walkway and hanging on for dear life – he’d slipped and nearly gone in! He’s not even sure himself how he managed to save himself from fully going in, but manage he did, thank goodness! We had a bit of a strange occurrence in the Preston Brook Tunnel, too. There were two boats waiting to go through when we arrived, and we followed boat number two into the tunnel at 12.06., well within the allowed passage time. (10 minute window going north, on the hour until 10 mins past the hour). The trouble was, though, that the boat in front was going so slowly, that we quickly caught them up, so had to keep going into neutral and coast along – and therefore had no steering – not good at any time but certainly not good in a tunnel!. At one point, near the end, we realised that we were in danger of not exiting the tunnel before the half hour, when boats coming the other way would be wanting to get in. Tony was also having difficulty in keeping the boat straight and we were in danger of scraping the top box on the tunnel sides. I had to use the bow thruster to bring the nose away from the wall, which was daft, so I shouted ahead to the boat in front asking them to speed up a bit. They shouted back that they thought that boats should go through tunnels at tickover!! Despite us yelling that, NO, that wasn’t the case, they insisted on staying in tickover. We exited the tunnel, 25 minutes after entering it (it would normally take about 15 minutes) just about on time to let the boats coming from the other way go through. Having breathed a sigh of relief at being out of the tunnel, at last, we continued our cruise up the Bridgewater canal and onto pastures new. We moored for the night near Moore.

We left the moorings at Moore on Saturday, 12th, and went for only a couple of miles to Stockton Heath as we had another Amazon delivery to collect – some DIY materials for my window liner refurbishment project. There were also several supermarkets there, so we had a good stock up in Aldi. Happily, there was also a fish and chip shop (yes, of course we did) and it was the nicest piece of fish we’d had for a long time!

On Sunday, we had a late start after filling with water and cruised for 5 miles and stopped in Lymm, a lovely little canalside town. It was very hot and there was a pub with a beer garden looking over the canal, which looked very inviting, so we decided to have our second Sunday Roast on the trot. I’ve decided I like the order-on-an-app-and-have-them-bring-it-to-you, although there was no facility in the app to make a white wine into a spritzer, so I had to go inside anyway! Unfortunately, hot weather brings bitey things and I gained several exceedingly itchy bites again!!!!

On Monday, we continued our cruise up the Bridgewater and moored just outside Sale at Dunham Town. We had intended to only stop there to hang out the washing, then move on later, but we decided to stay there, as any further up and we would be in Sale and we weren’t sure we’d easily get a good mooring. It was a lovely spot and the last rural section before we hit the outskirts of Manchester. As it turned out, it was a good call as the towpaths have no rings all through Sale and are not very conducive to banging mooring pins in either! It was exceptionally busy on the towpath, though, and we couldn’t work out where all the people were coming from, or going to! 

On Tuesday, 15th Sept, we set off early with Tony walking Sal. We stopped and I held the boat (solid sides and towpath with no rings) whilst Tony popped to Screwfix, then we pulled over to the offside so that I could go to a local shop to collect an eBay parcel – crystal dehumidifiers to combat the dreaded condensation! We then stopped again to pick up another Amazon parcel! All the shopping stops and pickups went like clockwork – yay! That’s the way we like it! And it was still only 10.00 a.m. (One of the items that we’d picked up in Stockton Heath was a small toolkit  – the container had been in the parcel but it was empty, no tools!! Fortunately, Amazon had refunded so we had reordered but it was the third Amazon order in a row that had been messed up!) We continued on after being told off by a canoeist for stopping too close to a bridge (we hadn’t but Tony was pulling the boat back so that I could get back on when he came through the bridge hole – and it was a very wide bridge hole! – apparently we “rather inconvenienced” him!). We set off and cruised the last remaining few miles, through Sale (absolutely lovely) and Stretford (OK)  turning right at Waters Meeting to go towards Manchester. We passed Old Trafford and could see the Manchester Ship Canal running alongside the canal, and the city ahead. I thought it was great! A lot of regeneration is going on with lovely new blocks of apartments on the canal side. It felt safe and well cared for – not a bit of what I was expecting! We got to Castlefields Basin and squeezed into an inch-perfect mooring, after asking a cruiser if he could shove up a bit! It wasn’t exactly peaceful there, the train and the metro both run overhead and the sound of the water running over the first lock (of the Rochdale 9 that we were tackling the next day) was deafening. Tony went to empty the lock and, happily, that solved the problem. The basin is surrounded by pubs – all jam packed with young folk – why weren’t they at work on a Tuesday afternoon??!! But it is interesting;  a mix of old wharves and buildings, with new builds, footpaths and footbridges surrounding the ancient locks, landings and walls. There were loads of people walking and enjoying the area – it is great to see! We both went on Sal’s walk that afternoon to look at the locks we were doing the next day – they have a terrible reputation for being very hard work! Again, we were surprised how nice the area was – yes, there are some parts where you wouldn’t want to meet someone in the dark, and some parts smelt of wee, but overall, it was well cared for, the locks looked well maintained and the whole area was interesting. An 18th century structure being assimilated into 21st century existence. 

After a somewhat disturbed night in Castlefields Basin, (Sal was a bit unsettled and doing her pacing and panting routine. We can’t work out why, but she could obviously hear something we couldn’t!) we set off to tackle the Rochdale 9 on Wednesday, 16th. The locks have no bywash, so the excess water from the pound above runs over the top gates. Some of the lower locks have chain operated gates, which, although requiring winding by a windlass, made them easier to open. We were in the second lock as we saw another boat coming up behind us, so we waited for them and went up the remaining 7 with them. This obviously made it a bit quicker as the chaps took it in turns to go ahead and prepare the next lock, leaving the other chap to operate the paddles and gates of the one us girls were in. We got to the top and all agreed that we don’t know why they have the reputation that they do. They certainly aren’t the worst locks we’ve ever been through. Lock 8 of the 9 is under  buildings and obviously some nefarious activity goes on, if the signs on the wall are anything to go by, but we (sadly?) didn’t spot any. The turn at the top leading onto the Ashton Canal was a bit strange, you could easily pass it and miss it, it’s very narrow and goes alongside and very close to a building. We moored in Piccadilly Village, which is a development of flats alongside the canal, and although built in 1990, looked surprisingly new and well maintained. The moorings are secure and once you’re out on foot you can’t get back in again, so when I took Sal for her afternoon walk I had to ring Tony to let me back in. Sal and I walked round the New Islington Marina, which is a lovely open space with parkland, and a very nice area for the city centre residents. Again, this whole area was lovely, as city centres go, with much regeneration and new builds, and is not what we were expecting at all.

On Thursday, we set off early and started to tackle the 18 locks on the Ashton Canal. These are single locks so we couldn’t pair up with our compatriots of the day before, but they followed us up, a couple of locks behind. The first three were OK and the second batch of five were well maintained but we found the gates kept swinging open behind us, so Tony shut the gates and I reversed the boat back to hold the gates shut until he could let a bit of water in. On one of the locks, our anti vandal key wouldn’t fit in the hole, so Tony had to file the key a little to get it to fit. It was fun getting the file up to him! It was a deep lock, so I had to shimmy along the gunwales (not very safe in a lock!) get the fishing net, put the file in the net and pass it up to him. This was after an attempt at me throwing it up, but as I throw like a girl, that was never going to work – good job I caught it after the first failed attempt at throwing! There was a little gap before the next locks, so we stopped for a quick cup of coffee before tackling the next 8. It was my turn to do these ones, but unfortunately, they weren’t as well maintained, so we had a bit more difficulty with those. Some of the anti vandal mechanisms just didn’t work, which meant that we could only use one paddle to fill those locks, meaning slow filling and trouble opening the top gates. One was so hard to open that Tony had to get off the boat and we only just managed, between us, to open it! The lower gates played tricks on us as well, swinging back open just as your back was turned, so there was a fair amount of running back and forth, closing gates more than should have been necessary. We got to the top of the second set of 8, both hot and tired and grumpy. We still had one swing bridge and two locks to complete; fortunately, they were both OK, but we were sad to see a tribute to a young lad on the last lock who’d lost his life earlier this year, in an attempt to jump the lock. We moored at the top for a well earned cup of tea. We probably would’ve stayed there, but Sal still needed her afternoon walk, bless her, she’d been very patient all through the locks! We decided that we may as well carry on for a bit, so I walked with Sal and we cruised until we turned at the junction with the Peak Forest Canal, mooring once again in a rural setting, under trees, about 200 metres along.As we passed through the junction, I spotted Michael and Jo (and George) from Minimalist, we waved at Jo and had a very quick word with Michael as we passed. (We use the Minimalist vlogs as fact finding – if we are unsure about a canal and what we might find, we look at their vlog to get an idea of what might be in store). We soon found out that trees don’t mean peace and quiet, as we experienced more motorbikes and quad bikes on the towpath in that few hours than we’d had for the whole time so far. It was quiet overnight, though, and no trouble at any time apart from the noise, so all was good in the end.

We intended to have a bit of an easy day on Friday after our two days of hard work. We set off quite late as I had just poked my head out of the back door to see Jo and Michael coming along, Jo walking George and Michael steering, as they often do. Michael slowed the boat and Jo stopped walking and we had a good chat with them and found them to be very personable and friendly. Sally went out to meet George but after an initial sniff, seemed completely unimpressed! It is good to meet the people who make the YouTube vlogs, and to thank them for their time in making them. Tony got Jo to sign the two Minimalist maps which hang on our wall, and which we use on a more than daily basis. Jo was a bit embarrassed, but Tony cajoled her into it, joking that they’d be worth a fortune on eBay!! After they went off, we set off and cruised a couple of miles to Hyde, where an Aldi was right next to the canal, picking up a curtain on our prop on the way, and finding the canal quite shallow in places, making steering a little bit tenuous at times. We did our week’s shop, then carried on a little further, mooring beside Haughton Dale Nature Reserve in a rather lovely spot.

So, during the last three days, we have been on the Bridgewater Canal, the Rochdale Canal, the Ashton Canal and the Peak Forest Canal – and completed 27 locks and a swing bridge – phew! No wonder I’m feeling a little weary!