Friday 30 August 2019

Summer Cruise Days 24 and 25 Middlewich to Bates Mill Bridge

We are now on the last two days of our summer cruise. One more leg to complete the Four counties ring to do then its north on the Shroppy for home, so two days in one post today.

The sun was shining when we woke, the relative lack of boats yesterday was certainly made up for it today.  By the time we were ready to get underway at least 10 boats had locked up Wardle lock and were ahead of us.

Our mooring in Middlewich
  As we approached the aqueduct where the breech occured last year we could see a queue at Stanthorne lock, a sign of things to come.  We joined the queue third from the lock and whilst Chris helped at the lock I chatted with the helm of the boat behind.  He was moving the boat to the brokerage at Swanley Marina as the owner had sadly passed away.

A queue had formed at Stanthorne lock

Above the lock we passed these paddlers, we're seeing many more paddlers on the canals these days

These cottages looked great with their hanging baskets.
From Stanthorne lock the branch follows roughly along side the River Weaver down below us in the valley floor,  Glimpses of it could be see as we progressed along the branch.

At Aqueduct marina a familiar boat was holding everyone up whilst it winded.  It was none other than Baked Onboard the Pizza boat.  Paul finally got round and we followed on in the flottila that had now formed behind him.

The Pizza boat winding in the marina entranced
 August is always a busy time for canal boating On the Middlewich branch and this year seems to be busier than ever along the branch.  This section is part of the four counties ring and also the Cheshire ring so is always busy. 

We expected a queue at the next lock, Minshull lock, as is always the case but were taken by surprise at the size of the queue.  We joined it 8 boats behind the first boat and several more joined behind us as we waited. Apparently it was as bad above the lock.

The queue ahead of us.  This was taken 30 minutes into our wait

And the ever growing queue behind us. 
 It took us an hour and a half to reach the head of the queue before we got into the lock.  We don't mind the wait, in fact we quite like it as we get to chat to fellow boaters and swap stories of our journeys.  In fact everyone seemed to enjoy the break and all chatted away whilst lunch and tea/coffee/beer was consumed on many of the waiting boats.

Its then a 20 minute run in an almost straight line to Cholmondeston lock (pronounced Chumsten lock). Surprisingly most of the boats ahead of us had dissapeared, we only passed one, and we found only Paul on the Pizza boat waiting at the lock.  We fully expected another long wait but we were only waiting 20 minutes. 

Cholmondeston Lock is right alongside Venetian marina

Maybe this is why there were no queues, two volockies working the lock.
 At Brabridge Junction we turned left and manage to find the last mooring spot outside the Barbridge Inn.  We like to call in here when we are passing as the food and beer is excellent and good value.  Mooring by the pub means we avoid the Shroppy shelf on the opposite bank.  The concrete shelf is what the concrete walls of the canal sit on and is only 2 feet below the surface, sticking out at least a foot in places.  As a result many boats scrape against this when moored up.  The solution is to float wheelbarrow wheels between the boat and bank to hold the boat away from the shelf.

Our mooring last night
 Today we set off on our final leg of our cruise.  We winded at Hurleston junction a short way on and retraced our steps to Barbridge Junction.  We did not take any photos today as my camera is now playing up.  The shutter is not fully opening as can be seen in the photo of the lockies and has been getting steadily worse.  As we've photographed this section several times and blogged about it we would only be repeating the same thing.

AnyHoo after passing through Bunbury, Tilstone, Beeston Stone Lock , and Beestone Iron lock we arrived at Wharton Lock scene of the recent boat stinking I posted about the other day.  Thankfully this had been recovered yesterday so we could lock down without any problems.  

We arrived back where we started our cruise, The Shady Oak pub at 3pm and moored in our favourite spot on the pub jetty.

Moored at the Shady Oak, almost our second home.
So our summer cruise is over,  we've throughly enjoyed it and hope you have enjoyed following us as well.  Our four counties ring cruise has taken us through Cheshire, Shropshire, West Midlands and Stafordshire.  The Stourbridge section took us through Wolverhampton, Dudley and Strourbridge as new waters for us.

We have cruised 158 miles in 122 hours or 4 weeks, passing through 177 locks.  So please keep coming back from time to time as we still have more mini cruises planned before winter ends the season.

Total distance:17.43 miles Elapsed time:10h1m4s Locks:9 Bridges:48

Thursday 29 August 2019

Summer Cruise Day 23 Wheelock to Middlewich

We were woken by another early bird passing us at 6am and another at 6:30am. I do wish if people want to travel at silly o'clock they fit decent silencers to their engine, one of them was loud enough to wake the dead. I laid awake in bed until 7:30am then got up.  We were underway by 9am.  A shorter post today I'm afraid as rain put paid to many photos.

Chris wanted to do another wash load so as the water point was close by we stopped to top up and use the washing machine.  There are two water points here, both empty when we pulled up.  A wash load take 30mins so we sat on the water point until the washing had finished and tank full.  I was just getting underway when two boats, one in either direction, arrived wanting water so our timing was perfect.

Water point at Wheelock
The morning felt damp and heavy clouds covered the sky.  It soon started to drizzle and got progressively heavier as the morning went on so the camera was kept in the dry so apologies for the lack of photos.

As we approached the railway bridge we noticed a long freight train and a passenger train both going in the same direction very slowly.  Chris just had time to get this photo before we passed under them.

Two trains on the bridge

By the time we descended the 3 Booth Lane locks the rain was quite heavy and we were soaked through.  The crew of the boat behind did not want to do the locks in the rasin and had stopped.  We, being soaked through, decided to carry on and dry off when we moor in Middlewich. One boat was well ahead of us and they reset the lock as they left for us so it it was ready by the time we got to it.

We find keeping the pram hood up and lowering it for each bridge a pain so now we leave it down and use a golfing umbrella instead.  It doen't keep the back completely dry but it does greatly reduce the wet inside.   

Photo taken sheltering under the umbrella

Even soaked to the Skin Chris can still manage a smile.
Using the golfing umberella works really well and I found I could use it hands free by tucking the handle down the front of my rain coat.  However this backfired when we passed under a very low bridge.  To late to remove the umbrella I had no choice but to crouch right down.  Chris reckons I looked funny and the photo is proof.  We did have a giggle.

Captions on the back of a postcard please

Man that was low!

Rumps lock
 After Rumps lock the rain finally eased off to just a light drizzle.  We descended Kings lock and pulled onto the chandler's wharf for diesel.  It was a bit tight getting in but we got the stern in enough for the hose to reach while the bow rested on the bow of one of their new builds.  They are quite laid back here letting me fill up myself.  They asked how many litres and never checked the pump themselves.

It was gertting busy at the junction so when a boat pulled into Whardle lock I followed and waited in the short pound below.  Once a boat coming down passed AmyJo we locked up and found a mooring between bridges 29 and 30 a short way on from the lock.

We hear so much about how good the Fish & Chips are at Kings Lock chip shop and have been through here several times since we've had Amyo but we have never had the chance to sample the chips here, so tonight its a chippy tea. Can't wait!

Total distance:6.08 miles Elapsed time:5h8m47s Locks:6 Bridges:19 
Average speed:1.18 mph (2.35 lock/mph)

Wednesday 28 August 2019

Summer Cruise Day 22 Rode Heath to Wheelock

I forgot to add yesterday that Chris's camera, that we use for the blog photos, finally gave up the ghost and stopped working.  The zoom lens motor has packed in and now the lens is stuck in the extended, zoomed, position.  We thought something was wrong when some of the photos were coming out blurred over the last few days.  Good job I have a similar camera, though and older version, which we brought out of retirement.

We left at our more usual time of 9;30am continued our descent of heart break hill.  Today would see us descending another 14 locks.  First were the two Thurwood locks, the second of which had one of the pair in our favour.  My apologies for the poor quality of the photos as my camera has lens problems and hence why it was retired.

Approaching Thurlwood top lock
 Already the morning was heating up even though there was a hazy sun.  Today though the heat felt more humid so made progress quite tiring.  We took it steady and made good use of a newly purchased resealable 1 ltr drinks bottle.  Couple of ice cubes in that and we had a ready supply of cool water to hand all morning which was most welcome.

Our new drinks bottle from Aldi

Approching Thurlwood bottom lock
 Last time we passed through here we talked to a gent who had just bought this lock cottage and was going to renovate and extend it.  Now its finished and looks delightful.  Most of the extending is to the rear and side and tastefully done in keeping with the older part of the cottage.  The grounds are now laid out with a large seating area to watch boats pass by.

Tasteful renovtion and seating area in the foreground
After Thurlwood the locks pass out into the countryside as a grouping of 2 sets of locks each with duplicate locks along side.  As I mentioned sadly more and more of the pairs are becoming single locks as the others are not repaired due to lack of funding.  Such a shame as one rarely sees a queue at these locks.  Mind you its gone very quiet again today as we only passed two boats going the other way and we caught up with a single hander ahead of us. I know the holiday is over but there seems to be fewer boats on the move each day.

Looking back from the middle of a pair of locks
 After passing down Peirpoint locks we then descended the next group of six, Wheelock locks.  These pass through remote countryside and nearby village of Malkins Bank.  Between lock 62 and 63 one sees a side bridge that used to be used by the huge Brunner-Monde works but now used by a boat builder.  The works is long gone and new golf course buries what remains below its greens.  New housing here makes the place look nice and lock side houses have nurtured gardens and the occassional owner watching on with a cheery wave and smile.

These locks are about 10feet deep and the walls stained Orange from the iron oxide leaching out of  Harecastle tunnel
Smudge loves working the locks with Chris rather than staying on the boat and now he is older has gotten to know the routine, so much so he can be left off lead when in out in the country and away from roads whilst we work the lock.  He patrols between Chris and the lock side checking we are both OK and rarely wanders far, though has had the occassional stray and has to be called back.  On this occassion Chris worked AmyJo and I the lock.  Chris got this cracking shot of him checking AmyJo is OK.   Apologies for the blotches in the photo, as I said my old camera was retired and for just this reason when Chris got hers.

Smudge supervising the lock work and making sure all is well
 As mentioned some of the locks are in disrepair and it seems the next lock has been so for some time,  Its been out of service so long its now being used as the by wash.

Old lock now being used as a bywash.

These cottages nestle around the lock.  Perhaps once they were boatmens cottages

Great views of the Cheshire countryside from this lock
 Having descended Church locks, Halls lock, and the Lawton locks we arrived at our last lock of the day.  By now the heat and humidity was getting to all three of us, Chris took a breather sitting on the lock beam whilst it filled.  Unusually, once in the lock, Smudge asked to come aboard and when lifted onto the hatch flopped down and slept the rest of the way.  The heat must have got to him too.

Enjoying a welcome break whilst the lock fills

Another lovely lock keepers cottage.

We found a nice spot to moor up just before the village of Wheelock at 1:30pm  and after a refreshing drink the three of us crashed out and slept the afternoon away.  A short sharp shower brought us to our senses about 4pm but that lasted only a few minutes.  While Chris pottered about I then caught up with the blog.    

Tomorrow we'll be back on more familiar turf as we complete heartbreak hill and swing onto the Middlewich branch to complete the four counties ring.

Total distance:3.70 miles Elapsed time:4h28m58s Locks:14 Bridges:17 
Average speed:0.83 mph (3.95 lock/mph) 

Tuesday 27 August 2019

Summer Cruise Day 21 Red Bull Locks to Rode Heath

A dense mist shrouded the moorings this morning, everything was damp and a cold stillness was in the air.  As we were only 100 feet past the water point I reversed AmyJo to the tap and we managed two wash loads and refill the tank before boats started to arrive.

Heavy mist shrouds the locks ahead
 We got underway about 10am having only seen one boat heading up the locks which put them in our favour.  The crew even left the gate open for us on the lock as they passed us.  After our long run yesterday we are ahead of schedule so a shorter run was planned for today.

We are now heading through 26 locks to Middlewich known as heartbreak hill by the old boaters.  After our long day yesterday we did not intend to do more than 10 before stopping.

Looking back up the locks we had just come down
 We made steady progress as most of the locks were in our favour save a few that needed topping up because the bottom gate leaked.  It was quite pleasant working in the overcast sky and cool air.  The mist slowly lifted as we went and the cloudy sky made things more comfortable for working the locks.

Chris chats to passers by whilst waiting for the lock to fill
 At lock 50, Lawton Lock, we descended the lock and when the doors opened we were confronted with a hire boat that had gone in the lock below and was half way up.  The pound between the locks was barely long enough for AmyJo with no room to pass without us moving aside.  As luck would have it I managed to exit our lock and with inches to spare managed to reverse AmyJo into the exit of the defunct lock adjacent to ours.  With Amyo's stern backed up to the derelict bottom gates there was just enough room for the hire boat to pass.  With all the concentration to avoid a bump we did not get any photos except this one.   The derelict lock is the one on the right.

Short pound and the derilict lock we got AmyJo backed up to on the right

A rare occassion, the shorts came out

Next lock down ready for us
 One of the features of this stretch of the Trent and Mersey is that all the locks are duplicated as can be seen below.  Telford's idea was boats could pass each other in either direction without being held up.  For us pleasure boaters its the same, reducing queues, however, it seems as time goes by more and more of the locks are becoming derilict and unusable, leaving only one lock operational.  A sign of the lack of funding C&RT are faced with.  Such a shame.

Both locks work here but the left is easier to negociate
 After Nine locks done and the prospect of another 10 if we could not moor up we decided to stop at Rode Heath.  Just as we finished tying the lines the sun burst through the cloud and the temperature started to climb.

After a brief walk into the village for provisions it was time for refreshments in the Broughton Arms.  Later Chris phoned them to book a table as we could see the pub was very busy.  Having been told they were not taking any more bookings but we could turn up and if a table was free we could be served.  What they didn't tell us until we turned up at 7PM they had stopped serving food 10 minutes earlier.  No choice but to eat onboard.  Beef pasta bake and a bottle of Murdei was had in the cratch.

Our mooring at Rode Heath

Water front houses seen from the bridge

AmhJo seen from the pub.
 Today we heard some very sad news on facebook.  A hire boat has sunk in Wharton Lock which is near where we are heading when we're near home.  Thankfully the crew are safe but the rudder appears to have caught on the lock cill causing it to tip over as the level dropped.  The canal is now closed until the boat can be recovered which may take several days due to the remote location. Just goes to show how easy things can go wrong folks so please do take care and don't be rushed at locks.  Luckily we are a few days away before we reach the lock so hopefully the boat will be recovered by then.  Our thoughts go out to the poor crew who have had their holiday cut short.  

Such a sad sight that happens too often as canals get busier.

Total distance:1.97 miles Elapsed time:2h26m32s Locks:10 Bridges:7 
Average speed:0.51 mph (2.97 lock/mph)

Monday 26 August 2019

Summer Cruise Day 20 Barlaston to Red Bull Services

The alarm went off at 6:30am this morning and we crept off the mooring by 7:30am.  The air was cool and refreshing even though the sun was out.  Its not very often we cruise this early but after the heat of yesterday the cool of the morning was a welcome change.

Leaving our mooring at the Plume of feathers

Beautiful morning sky
Trentham lock was our first lock of the day and a boat was descending as we arrived.  Not often this trip have we had a lock in our favour so we made the most of it.

Trentham Lock
 Next was the village of Hem Heath.  Here it was a bit tight getting through as C&RT were rebuilding the moorings so work boats were moored every where and a little further on holiday boats Duke and Dutchess we breasted up just before a bridge 'ole.

Hem Heath visitor moorings repairs with work boats evertwhere

More tastefull Graffitti
 Soon we were approaching Stoke-on-Trent whose incinerator greets you as you approach the city.  Bridges here are modern and not very interesting, graffitti abounds like most cities though here some of it was quite good.

The incinerator, I guess the colour scheme is to try and make it look less ugly to the eye

Low bridge under the A50

Lots of Tupperware cruisers here

Loved this excentric boat.  Cedar Shingles on the cabin sides and the front looking all the world like an animal
Stoke bottom lock nestles between towering concrete walls.  These New Zealanders seemed to be in savouring evey minute and were thoroughly enjoying the experience.  Chris was uneasy here as the lock cottage garden had a large Rottweiller prowling the fence barking like mad.  It was trying to get over the fence but fortunately did not succeed.  It did not stop barking until we were well away from the lock.

Kiwi's enjoying every minute of their holiday
There are five locks in this group that lead you up to Etruia Junction.  The third lays right next to the Busy A53, in fact the gates are feet away so one waits under the road for the gates to open.  Interestingly the gate beams are kinked in the middle at 45 degrees so they do not fowl the bridge.  It makes it very hard work to open and close the gates.

Holding station under the A53 at the gates are opened
This is the potteries area and these two kilns still remain though now the derelict factories are gone, replaced with apartments.  Such is the passage of time that an area once thriving with industry is now homes for the next generation. 

Old stands side by side with new

This old mill will soon see a new lease of life as a hair dressers, cafe and other shops
As one approaches the summit of the locks you pass  the Etruria industrial museum, whilst the lock still has the stone masons mark engraved in one of the blocks. 
Etruria industrial museum

Masons mark in lock 38
 At the top lock Chris encountered a cheery gent who lives on a boat.  He chatted away with her throughout the time we locked through.  When the lady on the boat behind arrived he included her in his tales as we then carried on.

The gent was quite happy chatting with Chris and the other lady.

Leaving the top lock and passing Etruia junction.  We'll not be doing the Calden this time.

Passing through Middleport the canal writhes round the industrial units and car junk yards until West Port Lake.  It was now 11:30am and we had hoped to stop here but there was little space.   It was really hot now so we decided to press on and savour the coolness inside Harcastle tunnel.

Moorings packed with boats
 We reached Harecastle tunnel south portal at 5 past 12.  We were informed by the tunnel keeper two boats were in the tunnel and there would be a 40 minute wait.  No worries, Chris made some lunch and I had time in hand to check the weed hatch before the boats emerged.

Arriving at the tunnel, the sign on the right states queue here

The boats emerge
 The gent on the boat in front of us would not go above tick over all the way through the tunnel.  At times I had to put AmyJo in reverse as he seemed to keep stopping for no apparent reason.  He was weaving all over the place not quite bouncing off the walls.  I called out politely that if he went a bit faster he would be able to steer better but to no avail, he just ingored me.   It took well over an hour to get through Even the tunnel keeper, when we finally emerged, said they were thinking of sending in a rescue team in case there had been a problem.

This was the fastest he moved all through the tunnel
 Whilst in the tunnel the family on the boat behind were enjoying the echos in the tunnel, whooping and shouting.  The dad started to sing and then stopped.  I sang back at them, Day O and they replied ,between us we got just about got through the song.  Afterwards the kids said they really though it fun and enjoyed the larking about.

At last the North portal beckons

A bit blurred but we did see the Skeleton but no sign of the Boggart.
As he left the tunnel the gent in front suddenly stopped his boat and started taking photos of us behind.  I had to reverse sharply to avoid hitting him, all the time he ignored the fact we were there.  Oblivious of the queue now in convoy behind him he cruised on slowly and stopped to take photos all the way to Hardings Wood Junction.  There he stopped at the entrance to the junction totally blocking the canal whilst taking more photos, still totally ignoring the string of boats he was now holding up.

A large queue had built up waiting to enter the tunnel.
 Finally with duplicate locks ahead we were able to make some progress.  After three more locks we found a nice mooring just passed the Red Bull C&RT offices for the night and walked back to the Red Bull pub for a much needed drink.

Only one of this pair of locks is workable.

Total distance:12.29 miles Elapsed time:7h24m33s Locks:9 Bridges:56 
Average speed:1.66 mph (2.87 lock/mph)