Etruria to Wheelock
3rd November 2010
13 miles - 26 locks - 8 hours
Wow, what a stormy night. The wind howled round the Etruria complex with rain coming at us sideways but the morning dawned clear and blue, something of an emerging pattern for this trip.
We hoped we would be able to pass through the Harecastle Tunnel but with the signs indicating limited winter passages we were off heading north by 8.00am, and on the phone to BW by 8.30 am. We needn't have worried - it turned out that BW departments hadn't talked to each other and the 8th November closures were not coincided with the tunnel rostering, which started on the 1st. This clash was solved by the tunnel staff working a full week and boats being given passage on demand as usual.
Autumn colours at Westport
In the event we passed through the Harecastle behind a 'tunnel virgin'. No problem except that they insisted on varying speed and slowing to a near stop at times. Forget tickover, we had to repeatedly cut to neutral which as irritating in the extreme. However - they got into their stride in the end and we managed a steady crawl to the north portal.
Harecastle - The Brindley original
Harecastle - he 'new' tunnel
This slow progress didn't stop with the tunnel. They stopped on exit and again at the railway bridge with 'Pricey' on it. We could see an agonising passage down Wheelock hill but then we got a break. Capt slow (who was actually a lovely charming bloke) opted for the towpath chamber of the first of the duplicate locks. An odd choice as it was empty and the other was full. Hey, its his choice and we didn't need a second bidding - we were in there like a shot and were exiting the bottom gates before he even entered the top. That was the last we saw of him - we raced ahead and within two locks it was just us and the wide open skies.
Amber leaves on ochre water
We had the whole flight, all 26 locks, to ourselves. The rain came and went but the isolation remained, not a soul was moving and Wand'ring Bark was the only boat on the hill. Jeff lockwheeled ahead on his bike taking in 7 or 8 locks ahead in the certain knowledge that he would obstruct no one. There was something rather lovely about working locks on my own and hearing a distant tinkle of paddle gear being wound maybe half a mile away. That tinkle of paddle gear - possibly the most evocative sound on the canal.
BW's Gailey with new lock gates
This sort of boating is a joy, the season is far gone and officially the party is over but, still we danced on - the last party goers who didn't know when to leave.
As we approached Wheelock we did find some boats moving, three BW workboats with nb Gailey carrying new gates down to Middlewich ready for next week. Our overnight mooring was in Wheelock where we took advantage of a very small but very convenient chippy, an easy end to a strenuous day on the windlass. If only all days could be like this.