Friday, 30 April 2010

Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal - the new bit

Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal
Restored section

10th April 2010 
Easter 2010 - Part 13

Our schedule around Manchester included an "off boat" day which we planned to use exploring the Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal as far at the M60.

Jeff had his mountain bike and I assembled the folding bike, normally stored on the swim at the rear, and off we went.

 Empty pounds

Finding the entrance to the Manchester Bolton and Bury is easy. From Castlefields you just go to the Science Museum, follow it down the road to the north and then cross over and hey presto, the new River Locks out of the Irwell.

River Lock full of scaffolding

To say I was disappointed is an understatement. After all the hype and articles written about it in the waterways press I was expecting a lot more that I actually got. I didn't expect any boats or anything like that, but I did expect a canal full of water leading to nowhere. Well, I guess I realised half my expectations - it certainly goes nowhere but it was completely dry and to make matters worse the new lock was full of scaffolding and appeared completely inpoperable.

What a sad sight - a bit like an unfinished swimming pool with just a muddy line round the edge to suggest it was ever full at all.

We prowled around the site before moving over the bombsite to see the upper sections. Amidst the desolation stood a solitary portacabin and our approach triggered the exodus of a couple of security guards, who gruffly told us that it was private property and we had to get off. I did my usual "Oh my map reading is terrible and I am so lost, can you help" routine which worked a charm and off we went as best mates - me with half a dozen images in the camera. The developers have gone bust and no one knows when the area will be built - no time soon I guess.

Lock No2 - on a road to nowhere

As it happened, this was the last we were to see of the Manchester Bolton and Bury Canal for a long time, but more of that tomorrow.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Salford Quays, Manchester

Salford Quays, Manchester
April 10th 2010
Easter 2010 Part 12

I had hoped that this hastily rearranged trip to Manchester could include a trip into Salford Quays and the River Irwell but alas it was not to be.

Still waters of Salford Quays

Sculling beneath the swing bridge

A call to the Bridgewater Canal Co informed me that access is only permitted during the cruising season, which starts on 1st May. This was a disappointment but not the end of the world as it offers a reason for a return visit - as if I need one.

A vista worthy of Holland

Whilst a floating exploration was not possible, we embarked on a bike trip which was planned to include the Quays and provided some excellent views of this lovely area. The Quays are huge but to my mind they are of a more human scale to their counterparts in London.

We spent a happy couple of hours having a look at the docks, both those with access to the main waterway and those closed off, till sore bottoms drove is back to the towpath of the Bridgewater Canal and the comforts opf Wand'ring Bark.

Modern Sculpture outside the Quays

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Castlefields Manchester

Manchester Castlefields
9th April
Easter 2010 - Part 11

The iconic Hilton Hotel - so good I saw it twice.

Manchester Castlefields offers rich pickings for night time photography.

A seat for reflective moments

I had a bit of a field day, scampering round the basins and snapping off shot after shot. Mind you, I was a bit disturbed to see a tramp shuffling into the empty Springer behind us.

Tramp steamer

I will let the photos do the talking for this post.

Castlefields Moorings

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Thelwall to Manchester (Castlefields)

Thelwall to Manchester (Castlefields)
Bridgewater Canal
Easter 2020 - part 10
9th April 2010

21 miles - 7 hours

A glorious day, the wamest of the year so far.

Just as I was tentatively stripping down to a tee shirt and replacing my fleece lined trousers with some regular jeans around the corner came a boat complete with a bronzed lady  on the roof clad only in a bikini top and shorts. It's warm, not not that warm.

Barton Swing Aqueduct

Whilst this was a no lock day, the flat Bridgewater Canal does have a plethora of aqueducts and therfore involved numrous stops to capture images for my on line  collection. Actually, they are called underbridges hereabouts which is a very practical and accurate alternative description. I photographed 10 aqueducts in all if you count the Barton Swing aqueduct, to which we made a diversion to pay homage. Our excursion over the Manchester Ship Canal wasnt without incident as I sort of crashed when turning and for some inexplicable reason the Morse control went incredibly stiff. It was near impossible to put the boat into forward or reverse so the assemby was dismantled and engine oil was poured down the cable sheaths. This didnt completely cure the problem but it was loads better and there appeared to be nothing seriously wrong. I suspect that a cable is fraying inside its sheath and that at some point it will fail - time will tell.

Manchester Ship Canal

Whilst there were very few boats on the move, the spring sun brought the towpath walkers out in droves and the waterside parks in Sale were rammed with pasty white flesh seeking exposure to the first rays of the year.

Worn bollard at Barton Swing Aqueduct

We had hoped to gain access to Salford Quays via Pomona Lock but a call to the Bridgewater Canal Co soon put paid to ths ambition. In short, no we can go into the docks - not till May the 1st at any rate. The cruising season into the docks and the Irwell is limited to May to Sepember with no exceptions, so that is an adventure which will have to wait for another visit.

Itchy Feet at Castlefields

We motored into Castlefields at 5.00pm, passing Alwyn Ogbourn on his "Itchy Feet", a boat we saw being fitted out beside the Hudersfield Narrow Canal last Easter. Alwyn was busy working on the boat and judging by the amount of exposed wiring he was having a few teething problems, in addition to the three tons of ballast he had to add to the bows to get the trim right.

The Manchester Hilton (and Wand'ring Bark)

Castlefields is an excellent city centre mooring and we opted for the well populated southern arm near the Old Grocers Warehouse in preference to the noisier Potato Wharf where "Irwell" runs its generator all evening and its poorly baffled exhaust causes a racket to echo off the railway viaduct arches overhead.

Manchester Castlefields

Whilst I feel fairly safe in Castlefields, there is an ever present threat of having ones ropes untied so, like other boaters, we also padlocked Wand'ring Bark to one of the rings for good measure.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Vale Royal to Thelwall

Vale Royal to Thelwall
Weaver Navigation, Trent and Mersey, Bridgewater
Easter 2010 - part 9
8th April 2010

16 Miles - 4 Locks (and a boat lift) - 10 hours

Whilst the top pound of the Weaver was very quiet, we didn't have it to ourselves. Just as we were making our way to the first emptying of Vale Royal Lock another narrowboat showed up, who had spent the night at the Red Lion Inn. There are rumours of trouble in Winsford,  but they hadn't encountered anything untoward.

Vale Royal Locks

On our approach to Hunts Lock we came up behind a big sea going yacht, which completely filled the smaller of the two locks and caused us to wait. The lock keeper was apologetic but with this delay came a silver lining. All along the navigation we had slipped under huge swing bridges and had been wondering if they still operated. The sight of an 80ft mast sliding serenely down the cut confirmed that they do indeed swing and that a BW employee was at that very moment dashing down the Weaver in his car, racing the yacht to each successive bridge. We were only going as far as Anderton but by following the yacht through Northwich we did get to see the mayhem a boat passage causes. It was a bit worring to her an ambulance siren wailing round the town, trying vainly to find a way across the waterway.

Hunts Lock

Northwich Basin

Northwich Swing Bridge

Now this was a Thursday, the day the lift remians closed for training till 11.00am ,so we were not surprised to be advised that the first passage would be at 12.30. This fitted very well with my need to be included in an 11.00am  confracall with out legal team, which I undertook from the stern of the boat. I thought that my location was unknown till comment was made about the "odd" background noise. I had to come clean and explain why a helicopter was hovering overhead.

This delay also meant I could attend to a mechanical problem which had been getting steadiIy worse. I had thought that the baffles in the exhaust had failed but it transpired that both the end of the flexible exhaust and the skin  fitting had worked loose and were rattling like nobody's business. I didn't have a big spanner with me so made to with twist of string and did a classic botch job.

The lift was in great demand that morning as a small flotilla of boats has arrived from the Easter Working Boats gathering at Ellesmere Port, coming in via the Manchester Ship Canal and Marsh Lock. The skipper of the boat we paired up with advised us that whilst the route has novelty value, the 8 miles on the MSC can best be described as boring.

 Anderton Boat Lift from the Weaver Navigation
Then it was back onto the Trent and Mersey and the paired Barnton / Saltersford tunnels, making the acquauntance of a boater on his way home to the Leeds Liverpool with his new purchase. At first glance this was a scruffy old 55ft boat but a closer look revealed a totally neglected 6 year old craft which had been bought for £10k - yes, thats right ten thousand pounds. Whilst it is is undoubtedly a great bargain, it does come with a lot of work needed. The engine was under water for 6 months but by a miracle roared to life when tweaked. The inside needs a complete strip down and the old gent that owned it seems to have sat in there for 6 years and smoked himself to death, blackening the interior beyond salvage. So really it was a sailaway that need to be stripped - hence the price.

We played tag with this boat for a few hours but lost him for a while when we stopped at Black Prince to fill with diesel and water plus have a pumpout. We pressed on down the quiet Bridgewater, eventually mooring up near Thelwall.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Vale Royal - Weaver Navigation

Vale Royal
Weaver Navigation
Easter 2010 - part 8
8th April 2010

I woke early this morning, aware that a frigid draft was playing across my toes which were poking out of the duvet.

A bleary eyed squint at the air vent above was enough to tell me that the first light of a new day was upon us, but that the sun had yet to rise fully. These early morning moments sometimes offer particularly good photo opportunities so I crawled out of my pit and emerged onto the stern armed with my trusty Canon.

Misty Morning on the Weaver Navigation

The night had been clear, which resulted in a sharp frost, coating everything in sparkling white and causing the surface of the water to be covered in wraiths of mist. The sight over to the arched wier was sublime and offered what was undoubtedly the best photo of the whole trip.

It seems a shame to detract from this image so I will restrict this post to the scheme that confronted me.

The reflected sky over the Weaver - before the volcano stopped all air traffic.

I think that this has to go down as one of my all time favourite moorings, one to be used if you ever find yourself spending a night on the top pound of the Weaver Navigation.

Flushed with the success of my photographic expedition I slipped back into my still warm bed and went to sleep for another two hours. It was a holiday after all.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Frodsham Cut to Winsford

Frodsham Cut to Winsford
Easter 2010 - Part 7
7th April 2010

17 Miles - 4 Locks - 7 Hours

Today dawned clear and mild, a light mist hanging over the water as we set off for Dutton Lock. The guidebook tells you to call ahead and warn the lock keeper of your impending arrival so, for once, I did as I was asked. He hummd and harrd and told me that he had a cruiser waiting in the lock and a narrowboat approaching, but he would hold it  for me if I put my foot down and could get to him within 10 mins. 

 Weir stream bridge below Duttons Lock

This seemed like a reasonable challenge to I opened the throttle nearly to the stops and forged ahead pushing a monstrous bow wave before and huge wake behind. You have to remember that this is a big commercial waterway with no moored boats, so it did no harm.

Wreck at Duttons Lock

The Weaver Navigation does a good line in wrecks, with quite a spectacular one in the cut above Dutton Lock. It also hosts a number of restored Weaver Flats (or are they Brunners - I am not sure of the difference). 

Sarah Abbot - a restored Flat / Brunner

All along the route, huge timber wharfs are decaying, slowly fallng into the water along with the bollards and rings designed to hold cosaters tight into their berths. It has a melancholy air about it at times, a feeling that we had arrived just as the action has moved on elsewhere.

Liking backwaters I was intrigued by the Dardenelles, the river channel exiting the main navigation  channel beneath Saltesford Lock. Pearson suggests that this may be navigable but the lock keeper suggested otherwise. "Maybe a shallow draft cruiser could get up there, but you wouldnt get far in that narrowboat". Another plan discarded.

Northwich marina

We left the other craft behing at the boat lift and pressed on upstream into Northwich, a bustling half timbered town and the most significant habitation on the route. It felt as prosperous as Winsford (6 miles to the south) felt poor.

Signals at Hunts Lock

We reached Hunts Lock at 12.15, realising that this was the lock keepers lunch break. No matter, it provided an opportunity to take some photos of the site and also the little used ship lock (they mainly use the small one). Eventually, a lady lock keeper knocked on the roof and invited us to move into the chamber, the sides of which are encrusted with fresh water mussles which squirt water. We were advised that these are a feature of the upper river but couldn't survive in the lower reaches due to the extreme pollution. Maybe that's why our fishing was so unsuccessful last night. It transpired that she used to live at the Black Country Museum, where her daughter was conceived and that she now lives in a cottage beside Dutton Lock, what a life.

Tug "Proceed"

The reach above Hunts Lock is lined with big sea going craft, tugs and sometines even a motor torpedo boat, plus Yarwoods Yard where the now famous Admiral Class of narrowboats were constructed.

After a long sraight section we suddenly turned a corner and there was Vale Royal Lock, nestling in a bed of trees. The lock keeper is something of a twitcher and our 15 min wait on the pontoon with the engine off allowed us to experience the full barage of birdsong, which rings out in the area. At Vale Royal they are obliged to use the big lock, in spite of £7m being spent restoring the less water hungry small one. After all the time out of action, they can't get the cross over bridge to retract so the main lock continues to be used on a timed basis.

Beyond Vale Royal the navigation starts to reveal it's industrial heritage, with the UK's sole operating rock salt mine (Salt Union) standing beside the water and spewing out tons of red grit ready for next winter. This white gold once reigned supreme hereabouts, a bit like the coal in the Black Country, the salt has run out and the entrails of it's industry are now quietly decaying into the undergrowth.

Salt Union mine - little Siberia

We passed into Winsford, passing the Red Lion, which marks the end of the BW waters, and followed the narrowing channel out into Winsford Bottom Flash. This is a huge lake casued by subsience into played out brine workings. The depth of this lake is uncertain and there are dire warnings about the perils of getting stuck, so we only ventured in a few hundred yards before turning and mooring at the Red Lion to re stock with provisions.

Winsford is a bit  of a sad town, reminicent in some ways of Brownhills in that it has lost its primary industry and now lives in the deep shadow of its heritage. It was a long walk into the centre, past endless shuttered shops and then into the small shopping centre which carrys the musty odour of too many charity shops. The other growth industry seemes to be pawn shops and gold buyers, but even the pawn shops were independents - Cash Converter has yet to reach Winsford. The redeeming aspect of the centre is Asda, the anchor store which provided all the supplies we could carry (and a Morrisons half a mile to thr east, so I am told).

Vale Royal Lock

There was little to hold us in Winsford so we moved back to overnight at Vale Royal Cut, opposite an impressive arched sluice and probably the most attractive mooring on the upper pound.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Anderton to Weston Point

Anderton to Weston Point
Easter 2010 - part 6
6th April 2010

16 miles - 2 Locks - 5 Hours (plus the Anderton Boat Lift)

Following the excitement of the Anderton Boat Lift we turned downstream past the old mills with their crumbling jetties, aiming to explore Weston Point near Runcorn.

 Saltersford Locks

I had imagined the Weaver to be a river and had half a mind to set up the anchor, but in the event I was glad I didn't bother. The Weaver is part river and part canal, more of a Navigation really! But this is a navigation like none other I have explored. It was built to carry coasters and has locks to match. Quoting dimensions does not do them justice so perhaps it is more helpful to say that the record number of boats held in a single chamber stands at 29, and they were not very tightly packed. Needless to say all these leviathians are lock keeper operated, who work their charges from 8.00 am till 4.15 pm with 45 mins for lunch between 12.00 and 12.45. If you want to pass through a lock you have to arrive by 3.45 pm, which makes for short cruising days and an enforced slow pace. 

 Weston Point Docks

Commercial traffic continued to ply these waters till the 1980's, and their ghosts continue linger directed by peeling signs and tying up to sagging jetties. It's a miracle that the navigation remaied open at all during the 1990's when traffic was reduced to a few river cruisers and sea going yachts seeking winter refuge. But I am so glad BW hung in there, saving an absolute gem of a waterway.

The lock keepers are uniformly helpful and enthusiastic, passing the time of day, recounting stories of the past and offering hints and tips for the future. 

Bridges at end of Weaver Navigation

The Weaver winds its way north through a narrow wooded valley with the broad and deep channel taking up much of the valley floor in places. This woodland comes to an end beyond Frodsham Cut, an obsolete link into the tidal Weaver and it is fair to say that this marks the end of the picturesque. The valley then opens out allowing the westerly winds to whip up the estuary and through the rusting girders of Sutton Swing Bridge. This bridge marks the gateway to the back of beyond, framing the high Railway Viaduct and M56 Motorway Bridge to the north whilst far in the distance the Runcorn Chemical Works glistens in the sun, belching steam and vapour high into the sky.

Runcorn Chemical Works

But before you reach the interminable Chemical Works the flourishing Runcorn Rowing Club is found, it's enthusiastic members racing up and down the Weaver with their emblem "On the Weaver since 1884" proudly displayed in the boathouse.

Mooring at Worlds End

The chemical works are your constant companion for the final mile of the Weaver Navigation to Marsh Lock, the sole operable access point to the Manchester Ship canal. They then continue beside the short Weston Canal which terminates at Weston Point, site of Weston Docks and the bottom end of the abandoned Runcorn and Weston Canal, last navigated in the 1960's.

Runcorn and Weston Canal bottom lock

The guide books instruct boaters not to access the dock area, which is privately owned and an active storage site for compost destined for B&Q. Fortunately, we didn't read this page till it was too late so we tied up to the huge old bollards, collected some extra kindling and went exploring.  Whilst we were spotted, no one challenged us as we poked around the docks and took a look at the smoke blackened Weaver Church, locked and folorn, devoid of any congregation.

 Church on Weston Docks

This is a bleak place indeed, running cheek by jowl with the Manchester Ship Canal. It's banks lined with old MSC lock gates leant like giants crennelations against the sea wall repelling any invaders daft enough to try and come this way. Pearson accurately described this place as "not so much the end of a canal journey but actually the end of the world". Visit it for its history and it's atmosphere but don't expect much beauty.

 Lock Gates on Manchester Ship Canal

We retraced our steps into the wooded valley beneath Duttons Lock where we moored in splendid isolation and watched the sun fall off the edge of the world.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Anderton Boat Lift

Anderton Boat Lift
Easter 2010 - part 5
6th April 2010
The plan was to take the first lift down to the Weaver Navigation, not booking and therefore saving the fee.

 Anderton Boat Lift

We were therefore somewhat peturbed to see nb Frankie sliding past us at 8.30am, clearly intent on following the same course of action. I legged it down to the booking office just in time to bag the other 9.30 am slot alongside Frankie. The thing to remember about the lift is that it isn't primarily there for the boats at all - they are merely a necessary extra to bring the spactacle to life for the hoards of visitors that flock to the site. The lift therefore operates to a strict timetable and, a bit like feeding time at the zoo, and the tourists all gather at the appointed hour to witness the miracle of boats being raised and lowered between the Trent and Mersey and the Weaver.

I was rather surprised to discover that this is a thoroughly modern lift dressed in an antique guise, but no less wonderful for that.  What we now see is Anderton Lift mark three, retaining its signature legs and profile, but housing three distinct lifting mechanisms.

Mark 1 was built in 1875 and lasted 29 years before corrosion brought the primitive hydraulics to a grinding halt.

1908 restoration
Mark 2 was completed in 1908 and included the iconic cogs and gearwheels which  form the contemporary lift's crown. This version lasted a creditable 75 years with the cassions balanced in a cats cradle of cables and counterweights, which now comprise the walls of a maze in the grounds. 

 Weighty Maze

Mark 2 also suffered corrosion problems, this time to the antique legs which gave up the ghost in 1983. Curiously, I shared Big Lock in Middlewich with an elderly boater whose craft was the very last one to use the old lift before it was mothballed in 1983. The lift creaked and groaned its way to the top, then burned itself out never to work again.

Mark 3 is a nearly new creation, with the cables and weights replaced by a new hydraulic ram system, with two new cassions sitting  perched atop two 206 ft pistons which  are capable of either lifting a balanced  pair or working independently with a full 256 ton load. These pistons are sheathed in some amazingly resistant coating and have been given a design life of an impressive 100 years.

So what purpose does the old framework serve? Well, apart from the aesthetics, which is a big factor for a Scheduled Ancient Monument, it serves as a guide for the cassions and also supports the western end of the substantial aqueduct which connects the canal to the lift structure.

Anderton Boat Lift Aqueduct

Yes Captain, but what's it like to ride? I hear you cry. I think it's fair to say that the spectacle of the Anderton Boat Lift exceeds the experience of riding it. Peering down from the top cassion to the boats below is impressive but the slow creep up and down is something of an anti climax, with plenty of time to exchange greetings with the rising boats as you pass.

This is no ultra modern boat lift like the Falkirk Wheel, but neither is it a refurbished old structure. Instead it is something of a clever hybrid, combining the reliability and safety of a modern lift with the visage of what went before. It's the same trade off that faces the restorers of the Foxton Inclined Plane. It needs to look authentic, even if the historical aspect is only skin deep. 

 Redundant gearwheels

You would think that riding the Anderton Boat Lift is a deliberate act, but that's not always so. At the time of our visit a boat had rushed onto the last lift down and casually asked the lift keeper if this was the way to Wigan! It appears that they had confused the Anderton Boat Lift with the Barton Swing Aqueduct, which share few similarities apart from a common designer.

This lovely old lift rightly deserves it's continued place as one of the seven wonders of the waterways. Travel on it if you can, but if you can't try and visit.