Sunday, 20 May 2018

Aspirations at Anderton

Anderton Boat Lift
May 2018

Having completed the big push north we can take things a bit easier now, cruising for maybe four or five hours a day with days off from time to time. 

 Tranquil scenes north of Middlewich

We therefore set our sights quite low on leaving Middlewich and aimed to reach Anderton by mid afternoon on Saturday, about 10 miles away. I was amazed how few boats there were on the trip, and no one caught us up. Given the absence of boats I was more than surprised to see a brand new marina nearing completion in the flash near Davenham Road, and doubly surprised as the reasonably well established Orchard Marina just a few hundred yards to the north still stands half empty.

Thinking of "the north" we have been having a debate about exactly where this transition from the midlands is made. Helen's view is that Harecastle Hill represents this particular watershed, but I seem to recall Steve Haywood placing it a bit further north at Preston Brook. Answers on a postcard.....

TATA Chemicals (Brunner Mond)

So, I made the transit in relative solitude, with most people probably staying indoors to watch the royal wedding. By mid afternoon we approached Anderton and with it came a flurry of hire boaters taking control for the first time. My defensive boating skills were tested to the full.

Anderton's Insect farm

We rocked up at the top of the boat lift at about 4.00pm and noticed a bit of a kinked mooring was free right by the visitor centre, with a lovely straight bit suitable for the butty. Whats more, the notices in the centre advertised a 10k fun run on Sunday morning and a TVR rally in the afternoon. All this activity suggested footfall, so plans were altered and we decided to stay put for 24 hours. 

Anderton Boat Lift

On Sunday morning I was  having a shower and kind of felt the thud of a familiar engine banging away and, sure enough, there was Mountbatten with Jellicoe in tow. The boat behind us soon moved off letting the working boats in and we both set up shop for what turned out to be a highly successful day. In fact, It was our most successful "non event" towpath trading day and boosted the coffers nicely.

Aunt Margaret pays a visit - and leaves with jam!

The day also became something of a social whirl with Helen's aunt, uncle and cousin paying us a visit in the morning. Helen's aunt is wheelchair bound and the CRT guys marshalling the event couldn't have been more helpful both letting the car come to the waters edge and then allowing them to park it there, next to the race paramedics vehicle. Suzie, Jack, Alice and Robin arrived for a lovely long stay in the afternoon. What with the swans, the ice creams from the visitor centre and the playground in the grounds it was all a big hit.

Big enough to enjoy the playground

... if accompanied by Grandad

In between all this socialising the sun shone and a steady stream of customers came to buy our wares. Not a bad way to spend a summer Sunday.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Downhill from Harecastle Hill

Harecastle to Middlewich
May 2018

We spent a rather cold night on the queue moorings at the mouth of the Harecastle Tunnel.

 Preparing to enter Harecastle Tunnel

The clear night resulted in a sharp frost which coated the grass and the sheeting in a rime of white, explaining why we had felt so cold in bed at night. With a potential 8.00am start I was up and about by 7.15am, munching on my granola wrapped up in four layers of clothing. I was still all wrapped up in the shade during the CRT safety briefing whilst those on the sunny side of the canal were already down to tee shirts.

The last frost of the spring?

There was only one south bound boat waiting which went first and duly emerged just before 9.00am. The tunnel keeper organised us and at the suggestion of the Mountbatten / Jellicoe pair the single boats went ahead and they brought up the rear with just us in front of them.
The two buttys would undoubtedly be the slowest craft so this arrangement made sense.

Mountbatten and Jellicoe bringing up the rear

I have never taken the butty through Harecastle and as each tunnel seems to be different I was more than a bit curious to see if it would throw up anything unusual.

The first boat in was a Canaltime boat steered by a very enthusiastic skipper, a skipper who loved the throttle. As he entered the hoped her up to maximum and the howl of the exhaust note drowned out everything else. The other five boats all entered but by the time we got in the howl from the much abused engine was still present, as was a pall of smoke.

The entrance is onto the left hand side of the tunnel which immediately got the butty hooked onto the side wall and resulted in some quick gymnastics to get motor and butty back out into the centre line. Fortunately I did this rather unauthodox manouver before the yellow light of Mountbatten probed into the portal behind me.  As it turned out, the Harercastle is OK from a towing perspective, providing I kept strictly to the centre line and kept my revs at a modest level. 

I watched the front corners of the boat intently and the vibrations of our engine harmonised with the slow beat of Mountbatten's Armstrong Sidley behind us. To be honest, they could have travelled slightly faster than us as they were obliged to slacken their pace every now and then, but we had already has a chat about optimum towing speeds and I dont think I made too much a nuisance of myself.

Wharf at Red Bull Junction

The instructions suggest a 45 minute transit time and I therefore mentally worked on 60 minutes. It was therefore something of a surprise to emerge at Kidsgrove at 9.45am - just 45 mins after we started.

Rare wooden bridge rollers

Then it was straight through Red Bull Junction and into the start of the descent to Wheelock.
It wasnt long till we caught up with the Canaltime Boat, but now I noticed that its previously pristine white stern band was smothered on black smuts - I wonder how that happened!

Heartbreak Hill has been the bane of boaters for generations. Its not the number of locks but the way they are spaced which get me down. You just cant get into any sort of rhythm. In the end we just plodded on but the advantage of all this stop go progress were the number of preserves we sold, with people coming out of their gardens to buy our wares.

One hiccup happened on our descent, when the butty nudged the back fender and snapped one of the bottle screws on which it was suspended. This was a bottle screw first used as part of the rigging of a sailing dingy I built when I was 18, so at 40 years old I guess it didn't owe me anything. A running repair was achieved with an assortment of shackles and cable ties - which will do till we get to Kings Lock Chandlery in Middlewich.

In the end we reached Wheelock at 4.30pm, and immediately spied Phil Prettyman on Warbler. Phil is part of the Historic Boat Club and also a fellow member of the CRT National Council. He, and several other historic boats, were on their way to the gathering on the Erewash.

Wheelock's little gem is Liz's Plaice, a tiny fish and chip shop which makes to order and only between 5.00pm and 7.00pm. The portions are modest so order a larger, but the quality is excellent - endorsed by the many awards which adorn the walls of her tiny shop. Don't rely on the presence of a convenience shop - it closed years ago!

After yesterdays exertions today was an altogether laid back affair. Helen wasn't feeling 100% so we didn't stir from our pit till 10.00am.

Then the engine was due its 250 hour service so I delved into the engine bay before the sun got hot, changing the oil, oil filter and diesel filter. Its interesting to note the slow changes at these services and its clear the engine is starting to use a little oil. I used to remove exactly 5 litres but these days about 200ml has been lost to piston wear (there are no leaks). This ties in with earlier observations about engine wear. Every year I change the diesel filter and each time I have a good look to see if there is any evidence of diesel bug. Once again it appeared as clean as the day I installed it last May - which is good news. I spun the air filter cartridge round 180 degrees but that unit is good for a few more months.

Blackthorn in bloom

After a late start we did a half days trip through 8 locks to the visitor moorings in Middlewich. We refuelled at Kings Lock Chandlery (81p) and bought shackles to fix the fender. It was a bit sad to move on and see that Middlewich Narrowboats is no more and the associated dry dock is fenced off.The end of an era.

We moored next to the childrens play area just above big lock and paid Lidl a visit, and reflected on the fact that we have just passes through the last narrow lock before the Huddersfiled Narrow Canal in six weeks time.

Up the hill to Stoke

Great Haywood to Harecastle
May 2018

There are a plethora of moody miles between Great Haywood and Stone, long pasture fringed pounds which seem to stretch on endlessly just above the the narrowing upper reaches of the Trent.

Halsall above Hoo Mill

In some ways its a beautiful landscape, especially on a cloudless day such as this but it also a bit, dare I say it, tedious. Each field looks the same and with so few landmarks time stretches on, and on and on. In spite of all the boats at the junction we seemed to be pretty much alone as we crawled slowly from lock to lock, rising step by step to the outskirts of Stone.


Having used a lot of water on wash day we needed to refill only to have a boat slip onto the water point below Star Lock as we approached. Fair dues, he got there first and what is more with him in front of us and another boat behind who we had let pass we secured two new customers and troubled the till once again.

Etruria top lock

With all the moorings below the lock full and a desire to reach Harecastle the next day we moved up through the Stone Locks to the foot of the four at Meaford. The adjacent road does create some noise but not enough to disturb our slumbers.

Wednesday dawned much cooler and we tucked in behind Mountbatten and Jellicoe as they made their way up to Stoke. Their need to double lock certainly slowed progress a bit, but they are a fraction faster on the flat so we pretty much paced each other all day and ended up moored nose to tail at the Herecastle Tunnel portal. 

The route up from Stone to Stoke is much more interesting with areas of abandoned industry all around. I always like the top lock at Etruria which bears the telltale marks of mining subsidence. The original coping stones are about 5 feet down the lock walls and the top two feet of cement, laid in the 70's suggests that the subsidence has ceased. What is more, this part of the canal includes a few steel gates which survive from the 1970's when BW, a nationalised concern, was obliged to used steel from British Steel, another troubled nationalised enterprise.

The section north of Etruria offers some of the finest relics of the buildings which used to line the Trent and Mersey. The areas of Middleport, Newport, Longport and Westport all have their old pottery buildings, most on terminal decay but there and there some remain operational as going concerns.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Chilling in Great Haywood

Great Haywood
May 2018

After the big push up the Severn and Staffs and Worcester Canal we ended up with a day to spare in Great Haywood.

East Bridge at Shugborough

Helen, you see, has been part of a book group for the better part of 20 years and it has become customary to try and host a meeting on the boat before we leave the Midlands. Last year it was in Birmingham and this year the optimum point was at Great Haywood on Monday evening.

With a day to kill we busied ourselves with the washing (you can see the twin tub on the back of the boat in the blog banner photo) and sampled the delights of the farm shop just across the canal. For the afternoon we took a stroll into the grounds of Shugborough Hall and made use of our soon to expire National Trust membership. We have been to the hall before but had never taken the walk around the island formed by the new course of the River Sow and its old route immediately in front of the hall.

West Bridge at Shugborough

The walk includes two rather lovely bridges and the mock Chinese Temple which was constructed in about 1740 based on drawings brought back from China. Sadly it does not offer any great reflected views of the hall itself, which, if I am completely honest, is not the most beautiful of stately homes.

The National Trust have big plans for the house and grounds and I suspect regular visits will be rewarded. At this time of our visit the daffodils had finished but the rhododendrons were coming into their own, as was the wisteria on the front of the stables.

Lobelia at Shugborough

We passed on the hall itself and instead walked back over Essex Bridge and sampled the coffee and cakes at the farm shop cafe.

Essex Bridge over the River Trent

The book group duly arrived and initially I was consigned to the back cabin and my laptop. However, a chance comment on The Erin Mae blog alerted Martin and Margaret Inchley to our presence and we had a lovely catch up on the stern with the setting sun and the literary murmurings providing a backdrop to our conversation.

The book group arrives

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Completing the Staffs and Worcester

On to Great Haywood
May 2018

As you may have gathered, I am running several days into single blog posts because I really want to catch up and be posting real time. 

Gailey Roundhouse

This post therefore covers three days and territory with which we are very familiar. So familiar that I don't bother with maps but make increasing use of Waterways Routes on line map service on my i-phone. I am coming to love this app (thanks for sorting it out Paul) which lets me carry the entire country's waterways in my pocket and is available at all times together with a GPS marker of our current location. Other boaters talk about distant locations and in a flash I have the app open and we are pinpointing the subject of our discussion. Dare I say I am becoming a bit evangelistic on the subject?

 Botterham and The Bratch

On Friday we made our way up the Staffs and Worcester, passing through the Bratch flight which are always something of an occasion. The afternoon was lovely so we pressed on to the summit pound and arrived at Oxley Marine (Autherley) at just after 5.00pm. Luckily they were still open and supplied both a diesel top up and a quick look see at our engine. Now there is nothing terribly wrong with the engine but it is a little bit more rattly and tappetty than is used to be and I was worried lest something was seriously amiss.

Coal Boat Roach

They gave it a knowing shove, removed the rocker cap and observed that like us, it is getting a bit older and it starting to tire a bit. The pistons are showing signs of wear exhaust gasses are passing the pistons a bit more than they used to. Nothing to worry about but we should expect a very slow decline leading, ultimately, to a new engine. I can't moan because it has already operated for nearly 7,000 hours without missing a beat and for the last five years the little Beta 38 had been pushing both a boat and a butty - and therefore operating a bit warmer than it otherwise would. I will keep changing the oil regularly and treat it gently.

Stemmed up after a botched overtaking manouver!

In the event we moored at the Anchor at Coven, having a lovely meal in the pub and enjoyed what is probably our most used mooring over the years.

Saturday saw us leave after most of the assembled boats, but tailed by one with telltale antifoul indicating a northern origin. He was hanging just off the butty's elum and I called back to overtake on the next straight. He than started to overtake at once, on the wrong side, on a blind bend and unwittingly drove himself at full revs onto a notorious mud bank. Suffice to say it took him a whole hour to catch up with us again.....

 A moment of theatre

As we turned the corner at Calf Heath we came across Kate Staffin and Heather Wastie of the Alarum Theatre Company who were performing at the pub in the evening. I helped Kate with a few stubborn fixes on her boat whilst Heather made use of our ample hot water supply for a morning shower.

Windmills at Gailey

Then it was downhill through Gailey Lock and on to Penkridge where a number of satisfied customers sought us out and replenished their Wild Side stocks. Today was to be a day of lock landing numpties with one boat moored on the bollards below Penkridge lock causing mayhem for both us and the boat coming up. Barely 30 minutes later we were at Park Gate Lock having paid the Chandlery a visit and, as we approached the lock landing a boat jumped off the service bollards at Teddersley Marina and straight across our bows to the lock landing where they wanted to wait for 15 mins till the service bay came free again. They suggested I reverse back 2 boat lengths (with butty) and were more than a bit miffed when I insisted they vacate the lock landing and leave it free for its given purpose. Mooring on lock landings is one of my pet hates - as you can tell.

Then it was on through Acton Trussell and we moored just above Deptmore Lock, near Stafford Boat Club.

Harrier and Lyra at Tixall Wide

Sunday was a more gentle day with very pleasant cruising beside the Penk and then the Sow to Tixall where we met Kerry and Dan aboard Harrier and Lyra who in turn were moored behind Mountbatten and Jellico. It was something of a butty fest.

Mooring at Great Haywood.

We carried on to Haywood Junction which had no mooring spaces available, so instead we turned north and found an excellent 70ft gap just north of the bridge and opposite the farm shop cafe. We will be spending a couple of nights in this spot so more about that another time.