Crossing the Barton Swing Aqueduct
|It’s our two year boat-versary today! We have calculated that we have put 931.5 hours on the engine, we have travelled for 1,365.5 miles, we have worked 988 locks and we have operated 118 swing or lift bridges! What an experience! We were going to have a meal out tonight to celebrate but sitting outside in the cold and rain doesn’t float our boat!
Going back though……
On Sunday, 25th April, we left Etruria and cruised the short distance to Westport Lake – a lovely man-made lake on the site of an old clay pit. It must’ve been the site of an old pottery, too, as all round the edge of the water, like pebbles in a normal lake, there are bits of old broken pottery – a teapot lid, a handle from a cup, lots of bits of broken plates. There was a big free car park there, so it was an ideal spot for Rhys and Ash to visit and bring all the mail and parcels which they’d been accumulating for us, which they did on Monday 26th. Amongst all the parcels were items so that Tony could do another engine service, but, unfortunately, the engine oil hadn’t been sent – Rhys had just said “your boat parts” had arrived, so we just assumed that the oil had arrived as part of the boat parts. This resulted in something of a panic as the engine was due a service and there was nowhere locally that we could buy oil. Our next stretch of canal, on leaving Westport Lake, was the Harecastle Tunnel so Tony was keen to do the service before we embarked on the tunnel again. It was a lovely day, so we sat outside and had our lunch, then Rhys took Tony to Kings Lock Chandlery, about a half hour drive away, whilst Ash accompanied Sal and I on a walk around the lake. Crisis averted! It was lovely to see Rhys and Ash in person and to actually be able to have a proper hug!
We stayed at Westport Lake on Tuesday, 27th and Tony did the engine service, then on Wednesday, we set off and headed for the tunnel. Passage doesn’t have to be booked for morning transits, so we arrived, had a cup of coffee, unloaded the top box and took it off the roof, then was waved into the tunnel by the keepers. It took 40 minutes to transit the tunnel and we emerged on the other side and were reminded of how bright orange the water is there, due to the leaching of the iron deposits in the ground around there. We moored temporarily to put the top box on again. There was a hire boat waiting to go through the tunnel and we watched with some consternation as it set off, crashed into the tunnel entrance and could be heard crashing from side to side in the tunnel for some distance! Nothing against hire boaters – we had dislodged a fair chunk of brick when, as hire boaters, we went through the Islington Tunnel, I seem to remember, but now we’re boat owners, the crashing and banging makes you wince a bit!! We then cruised just round the corner, past the junction with the Macclesfield Canal and the Trent and Mersey, (so now onto a stretch of canal new to us), through one lock and then moored up – there was a big new Lidl here right next to the canal, so time for another stock-up shop. We hadn’t been to a Lidl for about 6 months, so we were pleased to get a few Lidl favourites – their Pasteis de Nata – Portuguese custard tarts – yum – amongst them!
So, on Thursday morning, 29th April, I walked the very short distance to Lidl, did a lovely shop, then returned to the boat. Tony had got things ready so that we were able to set off as soon as I got back, but, having checked the receipt, saw that I had been charged for 30 bunches of spring onions!! 😳 Of course, this merited a return visit to get the excess 29 bunches and £13.05 refunded. We set off to cruise the short section between Harding’s Wood junction and the Middlewich junction – 12 ¾ miles and 31 locks – the high density of locks in such a short distance causing it to be known by boaters as “Heartbreak Hill”! The locks are divided into short flights of 5 – 8 locks, though, so we had decided that we were going to take a few days and break it down. As it turned out, it was an excellent decision as it is a lovely rural stretch and far too nice to rush! Consequently, we stopped after only another four locks and one mile.
On Friday, 30th, we cruised for 2 miles and worked 7 locks and stopped on a lovely mooring in the village of Rode Heath. We had an “encounter” with a new boater on the way who, as we were waiting on a lock landing on a bend, completely lost control, spectacularly crashing into us by steering the wrong way. She apologised and said she hadn’t seen the boat as she came round the corner – I wondered exactly how big our boat needed to be before she’d be able to see us! Anyway, no harm done (crashes always sound a lot worse than they are!) other than Sal having a bit of a scare, having been standing on the back of the boat. She also zoomed past us as we were moored later in the day, though – she obviously doesn’t know yet about canal etiquette of slowing down past moored boats either! Someone will shout at her, soon!
On 1st May, Saturday, we cruised for just over two miles, working 6 locks on the way, and moored overlooking farmland. It was a little showery but we managed to get moored up just in time before it rained in earnest. This whole stretch of canal is really very pleasant with open fields and farmland along both sides of the canal, making for some lovely walks along the towpath with Sally, too.
On Sunday, with the weather forecast for that day and BH Monday being a bit nasty, we cruised only 1 ½ miles but worked 8 locks and moored in the little town of Wheelock. We were delighted to bump into Rob on the way at one of the locks – we’d first met Rob as we were waiting for the restrictions to lift for travel into Wales last July – so it was nice to see him again, if only for a few short minutes.
The weather was pretty horrible for Monday and Tuesday, 3rd & 4th of May, so we just stayed moored up in Wheelock, ready for the last stretch of Heartbreak Hill to Middlewich the next day.
We left Wheelock on Wednesday, 5th May and cruised 6 miles, working 8 locks along the way. The weather was weird – bright sunshine one minute, thunder storms the next! This was the last section of “new to us” canal. When we arrived in Middlewich, we had to decide which side of the junction to moor – we could’ve stopped on the south side of the junction, therefore only working 4 locks, but the canal is right next to a busy road there, so we elected to continue on to the quieter moorings past the junction but through another 4 locks. Besides, we needed a pump out and there are two hire bases, both of which offer pump outs to private boats, but both round the corner past the junction. However, even though it was only 3.30 p.m. when we passed, they had both closed up for the day. We moored up and thought it was odd as there were no other boats – we’d moored in this spot previously, and other boats had always been there. This always makes you wonder if something had happened there and whether it was no longer a wise place to moor! It was ok, though, as within a couple of hours another couple of boats moored up and over the next day, there were lots!
Whilst there, we had something of a problem in that we needed, as well as a pump out, a gas bottle replacement. We weren’t desperate but were mindful that we’d need one before too much longer. Apparently, Calor had furloughed a lot of their staff so the bottles weren’t being refilled, causing a national shortage. We’d checked the two hire bases, with the pump out in mind, and both still appeared to be closed on the Thursday and we assumed that neither of them would be prepared to do a pump out for us on a Friday or Saturday, when their hire boats are coming in and going out again, so this meant that a pump out was a day’s cruise away. We started to phone round to see who had a gas bottle in stock and Kings Lock Chandlery, right on the junction, said that they “hopefully” would have a delivery on Friday, so the conundrum was to wait to see whether a gas delivery happened or whether to get going to get our pump out and hope to find a gas bottle along the way. We phoned every gas supplier we could find within a reasonable radius of our location or within a day’s cruise – nothing! So we decided to wait to see if the delivery materialised at Kings Lock Chandlery as the pump out could wait for a day or two.
So, on Thursday, another trip to the nearby Lidl (no 30 bunches of spring onions this time!) and a rainy walk with Sal was pretty much all that was achieved, and on Friday, 7th May, having called the Chandlery to check they were still expecting the gas delivery, we decided to cruise back up there to wait, through the 3 locks on this side of the junction – a gas bottle is pretty heavy to lug along the towpath so as we had nothing better to do, thought we might as well cruise up there. However, whilst we were in the second lock, the chandlery phoned to say that they’d just heard that the delivery wasn’t happening!! We could do nothing else but carry on, though, no winding hole between the locks, so we went through the third lock with the intention of winding at the junction and returning back. As I was walking from the third lock, past one of the hire bases, though, there was a space in front, they were open and their pump out service sign was out so I asked if they could do us a pump out – no problem was the reply! Great, one thing ticked off! I mentioned, in conversation, that we’d been on our way to the chandlery to get a gas bottle, but that their delivery had been cancelled, and were delighted when he said we could have one of theirs, as we’d stopped for other services! 👍(We had phoned them about the gas but were told that they keep their stock for their hire boats as supply was short – fair enough.) Tony cruised up to the junction and winded and pulled into the space. Tony said “give the man a kiss, no, I’ll give him a kiss” but we settled on giving him a bottle of Tony’s Yellow Tail instead! So, from a wasted journey, no pump out and no gas, we went to “hunky dory” in all departments! 👍🎉 It’s funny how life just takes a little unexpected turn. Having finished at the hire base, and now pointing in the right direction, we worked the three locks again, cruised a little way, stopping enroute to drop off our used engine oil at the recycling plant next to the canal – another thing ticked off the list – and moored in a nice spot just past Croxton Aqueduct. We did think of cruising to Bramble Cuttings, the lovely offside mooring where we’d moored before, but decided against it. It’s no good for dog walks, having no access other than by water, and with the intention of staying that night as well, due to grotty weather being forecast, thought it best to moor elsewhere. It was a picturesque mooring with views over open fields, but there is, apparently, a drug den nearby as there were a lot of comings and goings along the towpath. A local dog walker told us when Tony commented about the number of people walking in the middle of nowhere. They didn’t cause a problem, (other than to themselves, obviously) so it wasn’t an issue but we decided to move that afternoon to somewhere a little less “busy”!! We moved and moored at Bramble Cuttings, after all. I walked with Sal so she’d had her walk for the afternoon and we intended to set off early in the morning so that Tony and Sal could walk – and no drug dealers – result! 👍🤣 After we’d moored, we sat outside on the benches in the rain – you’ve GOT to sit outside at Bramble Cuttings – but Sal got a bit adventurous and took herself off for an exploration – she was gone in a flash! We both went after her calling and whistling and within a few minutes, she re-appeared, all pleased with herself, having had a lovely adventure! We weren’t so keen on her disappearing, though! Another boat turned up but as it was rainy, we didn’t have much chance to talk to them, but the next morning, Sunday, 9th May, whilst the dogs played, we had a good long chat with them. Their dog was called Harry.
“When Harry Met Sally”
They had such a lovely time and it was great to see Sal having fun! She had such a run round that we didn’t think she needed a walk, so we set off and cruised to Anderton, stopping at the service point to top up with water, then cruising to just beyond the lift and mooring up. It was so quiet! When we’d been there previously, boats were moored nose to tail along the whole stretch!
We left Anderton on Monday, 10th, and cruised for 5 miles to Dutton Bank, our last stop on the Trent and Mersey before joining the Bridgewater Canal, passing the landslip just north of Anderton that had been putting our plans to go north or south in question. It was showery, but hot, and it was coat-on-coat off for the entire journey again!
On Tuesday, 11th, we set off and waited for the timings for the Preston Brook Tunnel – passage north is on the hour for a 10 minute window. Another boat pulled in front of us, at our invitation, and we followed them through. The passage took 16 minutes – a bit quicker than the time when we’d got stuck behind a boater at tickover speed! We carried on, once out of the tunnel, and now on the Bridgewater Canal, and moored in the town of Stockton Heath. We were reminded that the Bridgewater is a very pleasant canal – wide and quite rural and scenic. We witnessed a man trying to turn his boat – it wasn’t a proper winding hole and he got stuck in the mud, resulting in him revving the engine and shooting forward and hitting a boat moored on the towpath. No damage was done, though, thankfully, but it was a hell of a whack!
Having visited the town for another quick supermarket shop, we set off and cruised, on Wednesday, 12th, to Lymm, again in showery weather. It was quite busy but we managed to get a mooring in the town.
On Thursday, we cruised to Dunham Town. We had to pull in and moor enroute due to a heavy downpour – we waited for a gap in the showers before we set off again. However, soon after we moored up, black clouds were looming and thunder was rolling, so Sal and I decided to delay our afternoon walk for a bit to allow it to pass – neither of us like walking in thunderstorms!!
On Friday, 14th May, we had a long cruising day ahead. We didn’t want to stop anywhere on the Sale section of the canal – it is hard towpath all the way along with no rings, so we weren’t sure about whether we’d be able to bang pins in, so we’d planned our journey to go straight through there. Beyond Sale and Stretford, the junction on the Bridgewater goes to Manchester one way (we’d gone that way back in September 2020) and towards the Leeds and Liverpool Canal the other way – this was our option and pastures new again for us. We didn’t think it wise to stop near the Trafford City area of Manchester, so we made our way to Worsley where we knew that there were rings and visitor moorings. We passed over the Manchester Ship Canal on the Barton Swing Aqueduct – an amazing piece of engineering, albeit a little tatty and looking uncared for. Of course, it has little call to be operated and swung open now, with so few big ships using the Manchester Ship Canal, so I suppose we have to be grateful that it is maintained enough for it to be used by boats crossing on the canal above.
Today, Friday 15th May, our two year boatversary, and the weather has been rainy all day. Our celebratory meal out won’t happen so dinner on board, as usual!
Looking forward, then, we continue our journey north. Jim and Livv have booked an Airbnb in Burscough for a weekend in June, so that is our next target. Whether we meet them on the way in to Liverpool, or the way out, remains to be seen, but it will be lovely to see them and to meet Zula, their puppy – the reason they aren’t staying on the boat with us! 😂