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.

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