Friday 1 August 2014

Big Cruise Home Day 19 - Visitors and a headless gatekeeper

Last night eldest daughter Amy paid us a visit for a catch up.  After only an hour Amy had chilled, relaxed and mum and daughter had some quality time.

Doing one's nails
Our last visit to Chester by canal in a hire boat was back in 2002 and I so wanted to visit the basin but time did not allow and we winded at Cow Lane bridge just outside Iceland.  With AmyJo we still had a few days in hand so the decision was made, Northgate locks here we come.

We slipped lines at 10am and slid past The Lock Keeper (formerly the Frog and Nightingale).  This pub has had a change of management and is now a pleasant place for a pint despite a few drunks hankering around, the landlord does not abide them.
The renamed Lock Keeper now a much more friendly pub.
As residents of Chester we know the city has a reputation and many now avoid it.  The city does have a Jeckell and Hyde persona.  Visit at weekends and its nightclub central and lager louts and party goers abound.  Visit in the week and Chester's face is one for the tourists, subdued and a delight for those that do venture in.  Our advise is if you plan a visit, avoid the weekends and do the walls as this is the best way to see the town.

The approach to Northgate locks is via another of Telford's nightmares for his navvies.  A Sandstone cutting deep into the stone paves your path to the locks.  Overhead the city walls King Charles tower watches your passing.  Also known as the Phoenix Tower it was, in earlier times, generally known as the Newton Tower, that being the name of the suburb overlooked from the wall at this point, and, more notably, later as the King Charles Tower to commemorate the events of September 1645, during the English Civil War, when King Charles I, together with the mayor, Sir Francis Gamul, stood on the roof and witnessed the rout of his army by Parliamentary forces after the Battle of Rowton Moor (or Rowton Heath). The inscription upon the tower states:


Actually, it would have been impossible to see the field of battle from here - what they probably witnessed was later action on Hoole Heath and fugitives from the fray being pursued and harried through the eastern suburbs.

King Charles Tower
 Next is the famous bridge of sighs.  Here condemned to death prisoners walked the bridge from the goal to their deaths, reputedly sighing as they crossed.  

All that is left of the bridge of sighs.  Portals either end are now walled up.

Passing under the elevated city ring road one enters Northgate top lock.  Here AmyJo waited whilst we lowered the next two chambers for our descent.  Our old friend the pigeon was still there when Adrian and Adam visited last year in Briar Rose (click) and followed us down.

AmyJo waits in the top lock
One cannot help feeling you are descending into the bowels of the earth.

Be reassurance is at hand when the bottom gates open
 Whilst in the middle lock we did a passing shuffle with another boat coming up.  Whilst they ascended in the top lock we descended in the middle lock.  I looked up behind and was faced with a head peering down at me like a headless gatekeeper.

Not a ghost, just the helm of the ascending boat peering over the gate.
 Once down the staircase we passed under the railway into the Tower basin.  We did think of stopping but Chris really wanted to cruise out to Backford and back first.  This stretch was not at all what I expected.  As many boats do not travel beyond the basin I expected to cut to be over grown and shallow.  Seems C&RT have put a lot of effort into the area recently and the canal is clean and tow path in excellent condition.  A new Countess of Chester park area has been created and new sign posts mark the walking routes.  Graffiti on bridges has been painted out ready for a fresh set.  Seems this a new weapon against graffiti.  Paint it out,  let them do fresh work then paint it out again.  Seems to be working too.

The Famous Telford Wharf now a popular trendy bar and restaurant

Taylor's yard now enjoying increasing business in boat repairs etc.

Tower wharf dry dock but too small for AmyJo unfortunately

Modern Deva Aqueduct built in 1992  gives passage for traffic to the now
large retail park here.

Part of the new country park and trail
 One notable feature is bridge 132A known by local boaters as Five Arch Bridge.  Made of Sandstone, presumabley from the canal cuttings, it once carried Ocean liner expresses from Birkenhead to London Paddington but nowadays hosts the electric trains of the Mersery rail's third rail.  We thought we could count Severn arches but five are visible easily.

Bridge 132a and two of the arches on the right.
 At the next bridge 133 we winded AmyJo and returned to Tower Wharf basin for the night.

The local Cheshire regiment garrison have training grounds here.
Some wag has had fun with the wording.

One of many new signs marking the way in the Countess of Chester park

An ultra new looking Chrematorium.

AmyJo's mooring tonight.
We found the last mooring big enough for AmyJo and settled down with a cuppa when there was a knock on the cabin.  Who was paying us a visit?  More in tomorrow's post.

Our route today

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