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Tuesday 31 October 2017

April locks and bridge, 1.

After we returned to the boat following a spell back in Hull, City of Culture 2017, we had time to kill so from Hawne Basin we headed back to Park Head Junction and up the three locks there.

The Park Head Locks are not really a dead end but in reality they are for us as we are too big to fit through the Dudley Canal Tunnel, according to the gauges at each end that is. At the Park Head Junction where the Dudley Canals 1 and 2 meet they make a nice scene with the canal lock house at the bottom and the blue brick bridge framing the locks. In truth there is a cement factory right next to the Blowers Green lock behind the camera.

The view back down the locks is framed by the rail bridge, unused at the moment but may be brought back to life with a tram of metro link. There is plenty of moorings at the top of the locks in green open space because as well as the canal into the Tunnel there was the Pensett Canal that has a short distance still in water to tie up in as well as the Grazebrook Arm. The C&RT bloke we chatted to on the way down the following day was surprised we had moored up here as there was a big 'council estate' there!? There were plenty of dog walkers but our experience was of a nice quiet mooring in the sun and a great place to kill time.

We later threaded our way back to Birmingham to pick up our guests. Here is another 'when is a bridge not a bridge' puzzle, as this is the Stewart Aqueduct where the Old Main Line crosses over the New Main Line. Right by here is the Chance Glass Works that I must visit one day as it is an industrial museum with a fascinating history. The M5 elevated motorway overshadows the old waterway and even has a leg in the centre of the new line just the other side of the aqueduct.

After Birmingham we headed to Wolverhampton to pick up our visitors. They were straight into the 21 locks of the Wolverhampton flight but we had a great day for it, perfect for lock wheeling really. Helen is just passing under the railway bridge that leads to the engine repair works In the distance is lock 16 and the A449 from Stafford to Wolverhampton. The electrified line also heads to Stafford. This flight is always a pleasure to work as once again the locks are well used and narrow so easily worked. It is even nicer with two extra hands.

We were soon down on to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Mind you we were soon of it again as we turned on to the Shropshire Union at Autherley Junction. The above stop lock mirrors many junction of different companies canal were they jealously guarded their water supplies. The difference in height was just inches but with a hire base just by it it can be a place of delay when new hirers are finding their feet.

 The Shropshire Union strides across the landscape on it's way to Ellesmere Port. There are big embankments followed by deep cuttings as it goes as directly as possible. Here, just south of Brewood is Avenue Bridge. Nearby is Chillington Hall. The new fangled canals were well received by some landowners as it cut an ugly scar in the lands. If you think of the scar that is made when they build a road you can understand why. However they were somewhat mollified by such things as swapping the side the tow path was on and building particularly beautiful bridge like this on to carry the Hall's carriage road over the offending route.

This is very frequently photographed feature on the the 'Shroppie'. It is another deep cutting not far north from Norbury Junction where the Shrewsbury and Newport canal branched off. There is a road on the top the brick second arch was added later to prevent the two sides slipping down together. The canal made, and still make, good routes for communications. In the past it was telegram and telephone lines and the pole can be seen sat on the spreader. These days it is fibre optic cable and electricity/gas under the tow path.

The first locks come at Tyrley and once again they are in a nice setting, with canal workers cottages and services. The middle locks are nice and open but the bottom ones are in a cutting through a sandstone bluff that makes the locks feel claustrophobic and the by washes make the approach difficult at times.

We passed through Market Drayton and Nantwich and left the boat at Venetian Marina for another visit home before continuing the journey later in the month through Middlewich and on to the Trent and Mersey.

We then came across 'Heartbreak Hill' where 26 locks appear in 7 miles and raise the canal up 250'. I must be a little weird as once again these locks are really a pleasure to work. On a nice day the walk is through nice countryside with much to see and the majority of the locks were duplicated in the 1830's and so there is not much hanging about either. After Wheelock, an interesting old place, the locks are frequent but once again as they are narrow ones they do not entail too much walking at the lock as you can cross the gates.

To be continued

Sunday 29 October 2017

March by bridge and lock.

One of the features of the canal are the locks and bridges that are regularly encountered. So much so that we generally navigate using them. The bridges are either numbered or sometimes named and the locks are always numbered and usually named too. When conversing with others, often at a lock, it is usual to refer to the bridges and locks to indicate position or progress. I have therefore thought it would be a nice idea to summarize our year using locks and bridges rather than the more normal nice views etc. Mind you some of the pictures are all three!

We started our year from Streethay Wharf after a repaint of the boat. It did look very smart indeed. I'm not sure what you will think at the end of the year.

We sampled a short stretch of the Coventry Canal to Fazeley Junction before heading up the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal. Very soon afterwards you come to the Drayton  Footbridge. It was built in the 1830's. The canal was opened in 1789. It is Grade II Listed. As it wasn't built when the canal cut a sway through the land I wonder why it was installed 50 years later and built by a respected architect Sir Robert Smirke? This may well be the reason it is such a distinctive bridge. It is also next to Drayton Manor and the owner at the time was the MP for the area , Sir Robert Peel, who later became the Prime Minister.

In this modern era I am so pleased that we have not had to succumb to health and safety gone mad. As you can see a uncovered toothed gear is the main moving part on a lock paddle gear. The design must be getting about 225 years old and is good for that again at least I hope. Simple and efficient is what these are and even in a short shower they work fine on the way up the Curdworth Locks.

On this canal the bridges are named. Below to the left is Will Day's Farm Bridge. A very work a day name. Here we are in No.9 lock and running parallel to the M42 with another bridge. It is surprising just how often the canals and motorways inter react as they both take the line of least resistance through the landscape.

Here we are at a spot on the system I love. I'm not sure it would be on too many boaters top 10 places but it is on my list. Salford Junction is one of those places that has been a transport hub for  as well as the flowingever. Four canals meet here, or rather three, the Birmingham and Fazeley, Thame Valley and the Grand union Saltley Cut. Under this horse bridge is the Grand Union, straight on and left would be the Birmingham and Fazeley and then straight on and straight on is the Tame valley. But it is the dark cathedral like arches of the M6 overhead and the many columned roadways of Spaghetti Junction along with the River Tame flowing below all that makes it an ever evolving location.

We turned left up the Saltley Cut. There was a lot of traffic to the power station along here. It has long gone but there is the Star City area there now. The five locks up to Bordesley Junction have been cleaned up immensely over the last few years and they are a joggers route through the industrial area. Most would look at the attendant buildings and see much redundancy and emptiness, but I choose to see industrial archaeology and interest. Mind you it is very rarely that you get through this canal without a visit to the weed hatch!

After you have climbed the locks there is a pretty straight section. At the top lock there are three railways lines that cross, but afterwards it is the road bridges that take place. In this photo you can see six bridges. Even in a place like this at the weekend the fishermen are out in force. I must say that in Brum the anglers usually smile, at the very least, as you pass.

When is a bridge not a bridge? This is called Ashted Tunnel, but I'm not really sure why it is a tunnel as it doesn't need to bore through high ground. I suspect that it was the coming of the railways, or there was something when the canal was built that couldn't be knocked down to make a cutting. At the moment there is just a dual carriageway with plenty of room for expansion. The fact that the 'tunnel' is so narrow may well indicate that the canal was here first and then covered over.

I think that the Farmer's Bridge Locks are a favourite of most users. Well at least the top 10 or 11, as the bottom two are in the Stygian gloom of a road and rail bridge (that could be tunnels!?). You pass almost under the BT Tower and under office buildings. The locks are well maintained and easy to use. The flight has them close together reducing walking and there are always plenty of people around asking you daft questions and willing tom open or close gates as you suggest. You then pop out at Cambrian Wharf to s cene that has hardly changed since it was built, but plenty has all around it.

No.1 daughter, Amy, came with me after Birmingham and we passed up the New Main line and through Netherton Tunnel (definitely a tunnel). We ran down the Dudley No.2 Canal to it's junction with its big brother, Dudley No.1 at Park Head Junction. Here she is sitting on a checking bollard. I'm not sure what the proper name for it is. I suspect that they were used to slow a boat down before it hits the gate ahead rather than for actual mooring. I suppose a horse rope could be looped round it and heaved back on itself to start the boat out of the lock, going up, too, as the horse wouldn't be able to get a straight pull as the tow path goes round the corner. It is obviously not an old one as there is no wear on it. This is beside Blowers Green Lock which is a 12' rise/fall.

We were soon back at Windmill End Junction, another favourite spot of mine. Straight ahead is back through the Netherton Tunnel but we aren't heading that way just yet. To the right is the Dudley No.2 canal that went to join up with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal at Selly Oak and to the left was also the Dudley No.2 Canal until Telford came along and drove the Tunnel branch through the hill in 1858 and cut off the arm that is now called the Boshboil Arm that formed a loop with what is now called the Bumble Hole Arm. The black and white roving bridges add immensely to the scene and are made of cast iron just down the road  at Tipton by the Horseley Iron Works at Toll End. We turned right.

Monday 16 October 2017

Season Summary.

We have been home for a while now and it has made me realise one of the reasons why we like being away on the boat, we are just so busy when we get home! I have had a look at our cruising for this year though and here is a short summary.

We were only aboard for 108 days which is much less than normal, and all due to, as my regular readers will know, the fact that Hull has been UK City of Culture this year and we have been home a lot to sample the delights of this year in the sun for our city and as volunteers to spread the happiness to all our visitors, old and new. ( Another quick plug as if you haven't been to visit us yet there is still time, and there is still plenty to occupy your time. Many visitors come for the day and can barely scratch the surface. A weekend is much better, but even then many visitors tell us they will come back as there is still much to see and do after a couple of days).

At the start of our years cruising and soon after we had left Streethay Wharf we passed under the Drayton Manor footbridge. It wasn't as sunny as in the past, but it was the beginning of March.

We started the year at Streethay Wharf where the boat had been repainted over the winter and we ended it down the Rufford Arm of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal at Fettler's Wharf Marina. Our route took in the following navigations:-

1.  Coventry Canal                                            21. Peak Forest
2.  Birmingham and Fazeley                             22. Ashton Canal
3.  Grand Union, Saltley Cut                            23. Rochdale
4.  Digbeth Branch                                           24. Calder and Hebble               
5.  Warwick and Birmingham                          25. River Calder
6.  Oozells Loop                                               26. Aire and Calder
7.  Birmingham New Main Line                      27. New Junction Canal
8.  Netherton Tunnel Branch                            28 Stainforth and Keadby
9.  Dudley Canal No.1                                      29 River Trent
10. Dudley Canal No.2                                      30. Humber Estuary             
11. Lord Ward's Canal                                       31. River Hull
12. Birmingham Old Main Line                        32. Beverley Beck
13. Birmingham Canal Navigation?                  33. River Ouse
14. Driffield Navigation                                     34. River Derwent15. Staffordshire and Worcestershire                 35. Selby Canal
16. Shropshire Union                                         36. River Ure
17. Shropshire Union, Middlewich Branch       37. Ripon Canal
18. Wardle Canal                                               38. River Aire
19. Trent and Mersey                                         39. Leeds and Liverpool
20. Macclesfield                                                40. Rufford Branch.

In that lot there were eight rivers so we seem to have done our share this year. Four of those rivers have been tidal, five if you include the Derwent that is 'sort of tidal' with a barrage at the end.

Punching the flood tide we crept down the River Trent passing the ocean going ships moored at Grove Wharf.

Past Trent Falls and into the Humber we wound our way round the Whitton Channel following the buoys and floats, but cutting as many corners as we dared to save time. The wind was more than had been predicted and just after this point there was a bit of a chop, but we were soon in the lee of the south bank again.

When we navigated up the River Hull we were getting new views of our city. It was great to see signs of the history of the river too.

Whitgift Lighthouse on the River Ouse. The white square with black background is one of the transit boards to ensure that deep drafted vessels stay in the deepest water as they cross from one bank to the other.

In distance we have traveled around 687 miles and passed through 454 locks

Year          Miles          Locks
2013           627            519
2014         1027            764
2015           752            524
2016           776            558
2017           687            454
TOTAL      3869         2819

I wonder if anybody has calculated the average amount of energy used per lock, as it is certainly adding up to a few calories now. I don't really have anything to compare these figures with as everybody cruises in their own way, and speed. but you can see that this year we did less miles than we have done and less locks.

Near the bottom of the Wolverhampton 21 locks. Despite their number they are always a pleasure to work as they are well maintained and quick to fill and empty.

Our plan for this year was always to be 'Up North' to make it easier to get home to participate in Hull's year. This also meant that we would be off the boat a lot more than usual. I have never kept figures of days cruising before but even the 108 days of cruising was only just more than the 106 days we were at home between the start of March and the end of September! If you look at it that way the 687 miles is quite impressive really. 

The lower number of locks completed this year is accounted for by the fewer days aboard but also due to the fact that we were on several river navigations where the locks can be few and far between. Looking at it that way 454 doesn't seem to be too bad at all either.

The Wigan flight certainly were hard work but not the herculean task that required two bowls of porridge for breakfast. The seasonal lock keeper is there to assist normally, but of course it was his day off when we transited, and due to the weather the only boat that was coming up the flight cancelled so we didn't even have the benefit of filled locks for half of the trip.

We have coloured in several parts of the map that we hadn't been to before and it is always nice to explore new ground, but also passed through familiar waters too. I never thought that I would ever convince Helen to take to the Humber estuary and career under the Humber Bridge on a spring tide but we did have a great journey and this year will long live in the memory for the trips around home waters for us.

The furthest north we have been so far Ripon Basin. The trip up to Ripon, via York, on the Rivers Ouse and Ure was very pleasant and I would recommend it to all. The worrisome bit for most would be the leg from Selby to Naburn in the tidal reach but it honestly not nearly as bad as many folk make out. If you choose a neap tide time it is even simpler.

This has also exaggerated the difference with cruising in the Northern reaches to those further south. It is much less busy. There is much less competition for moorings etc, less worries about whether you need to leave early or late, or moor early to make sure of a spot etc. In essence, much more easy going. To counter that is the argument that the northern canals are much harder work eg. The Rochdale, Huddersfield, Leeds and Liverpool, and it is true there are plenty of locks, and occasionally not enough water, but the scenery, oh the scenery, more than makes the effort worth while. It is also countered by the fact that the Sheffield Navigation and the Aire and Calder are largely push button locks. I don't know what I'm saying all this for as the last thing I should be doing is encouraging others to come up this way too. However there is a bit of a 'use it or lose it' thing and if nobody comes no money will be spent on maintenance. One of my other places of pleasurable quire boating is the backwaters of the Birmingham Canal Navigation and there are parts of that system that rarely sees a boat either.

At the summit of the Rochdale canal you could almost mistake the electricity pylons for a ski lift in the summer Alps!

The bucolic views to the west of Skipton are almost reward enough for getting that far, with still plenty more locks, and plenty more scenery to go before the summit.

All in all a wonderful season of boating and despite only being actually aboard for half of the time a trip never to forget.

Thursday 12 October 2017

Another year's cruising gone.

Last week we had a phone call from the C&RT Wigan Office telling us that the temporary fix for the gate on the No1 Rufford Arm lock was underway but it wasn't likely to be completed before the weekend. This was a bit of a downer as we had planned to go up on Sunday and move 'Holderness' down the arm to her winter moorings. However by Friday I was having emails and phone calls saying that the lock would be open for Saturday, so our plans were on again.

Our trip to Burscough went smoothly enough via the motorway system and the East Lancs. Road. When we arrived everything was okay aboard and we soon had the kettle, and the heating on whilst I got everything ready for the move. The day was quite pleasant and with little wind, which would be helpful for our reversing back down to the junction.

The canal is wide beam size so it was easy to swing a naorrowboat through the bridge hole. The Rufford Branch was opened in 1781, but the bridge is dated 1816. I wonder if they had built just a temporary wooden bridge until then. In the distance you can see so canal workers cottages and the corner of the dry dock. The junction is a conservation area and is a very compact little community with the pub too.

This is the before and after shots of the broken heel post. A clever fix that will need a proper job doing in the winter I'm sure. I was a little perplexed by the initial notice of closure when it stated that the damage was sustained by vandalism. It clearly looks like the timber is fairly rotten. Maybe the final straw was somebody hitting the gate with force intentionally or not. I wonder if by calling it vandalism it doesn't count as a stoppage through failure of their equipment, or maybe the cost of repair etc comes out of a different budget for which grants are available. Maybe I'm over thinking it. The good thing is they came up with a good fix quite quickly.

You can see that they have bolted through the gate which has been lifted back to the upright so that it swings properly. The voluntary lock keepers didn't seem to have to put any extra effort in to move the gate so they must have got it just right.

The voluntary lock keepers had been busy on the Saturday, in the pouring rain, as 20+ boats sped down the locks as it was the last day of navigation to cross the Ribble estuary to make for the Lancaster Canal, and several winter moorings I suspect. However I think there had only been a couple other than ourselves on Sunday, and the weather was fine.

The swans were making a good job of providing buoyage to mark the edge of the navigation, and gives the reason why they have long necks, to reach the weed on the bottom!

Once clear of the first set of locks, with a wave and a thank you to the keepers we spotted these colourful beehives. I sign said they were part of the Tree Bees Organisation:- It seems that they carryout bee removals from swarms that have settled in the wrong places. They charge and use the money to re-home them and help preserve bumble bees and honey bees. They also do this by selling items made from the products of the hives, such as honey wax, creams etc. Their on line shop has a good selection at very reasonable prices and they are based in Burscough.

The canal is full and this makes it look more like a river with weed and reeds encroaching on both sides in places and there is a variety of plants that must be quite a sight in spring and summer.

The landscape is reminiscent of Sunk Islan in Holderness, near Hull. That is flat fertile land with low hills in the distance. The tower with the water tank on and the chimney have the look of a WWII structure to me, but it maybe that they were built at that time to assist in food production from the obviously largely derelict glass houses. That is something else in common with Holderness. (Glass houses that is).

The next lock is called 'German's Lock' so I wonder if the WWII structure could have been a Prisoner of War camp at one time. They were used often as labour on the farms, also in Holderness where we had German and Italian camps in the locality. This lock also shows the variety of paddle gear used at the lock with this blade clough, last seen on the Yorkshire side of the Leeds and Liverpool canal.

 At the next lock, Baldwin's, was the more usual ground paddle gear with the fixed handle. Not quite the rickety wooden boxes of other parts of the Leeds/Liverpool.
Burscough has two railway stations as it has two lines. The line from Burscough Bridge station between Southport and Wigan was passed under between lock 3 and 4, and now we come to the line from Liverpool and Ormskirk to Preston railway that was formed in 1846. It became part of the East Lancs. Railway and then in 1859 became part of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. There had been nine deaths following and accident at Burscough Junction Station in 1880. Most of this company's routes are now worked by Northern, and Mersey rail around Liverpool.

The A59 comes close to the canal at the point where you have to navigate March Meadow swing bridge. Like many of the locks they all have anti vandal handcuff locks on them, but most of them are just for show. It seems an unlikely place for people to get up to mischief but the lock keepers assured me that it did happen occasionally. The bridge swung off easily enough.

Once down Rufford Lock, the 7th of the day, we were in sniffing distance of journey's end for this year. I always feel glum on the last day knowing we are ending our cruising for the year. I seem to go slower and slower trying to prolong our time aboard. However as 'time and tide wait for no man' we were soon getting ready to make our entrance into Fettler's Wharf Marina under the white foot bridge on the right. Opposite that entrance is the opening into the St. Mary's Marina.

We soon made our way and moored up alongside the service wharf as we needed fuel to fill up for the winter and leave as little gap for condensation to form as possible. We were met by the owner Richard and Phil to do the honours and welcome us in. I was quite surprised when the tank took 186 litres! As the lower price was 63p it could have been a lot worse. I purchased a couple of bags of Supertherm for £8-50 each for when we come visiting. This is a picture of the marina looking south. It certainly looks like plenty has been spent on doing the place up in the short time under the new ownership. The service area was just about to be knocked down and rebuilt too.

Our winter mooring was to be in the northern section, and we will be next to the green boat in the middle of the picture. Luckily there is just a boat length between the wooden house boat/chalet and the berths and as there was still no wind to speak of we slipped in easily to the mooring. The jetty is 60' long so that made mooring easier and we were helped in by other moorers who all seemed friendly.

Richard gave me a lift back up to the Ship, where I had left the car and we soon had it packed up with the final bits and the boat settled for winter. The solar panels have a good view of the sun and as we are plugged into the mains as well we should remain snug through the winter. We will have to visit occasionally as I have several jobs to do before we are off and running. I am already thinking about where we shall visit next year but before then I will be compiling the cost breakdowns and blogging all the good/bad news on the front, and giving occasional summary blogs about this years adventures. When we add everything up I don't think we will have done as many locks or days aboard as previously, but we may well have done a good number of miles with all the rivers we have been on this year. Thank you for reading and I hope you will watch out for the odd blog over the winter as we get closer to doing it all again next year.

Wednesday 4 October 2017

Out and about.

It started raining as we woke up so we didn't hurry getting out of bed. By the time breakfast was cleared away the rain had stopped, but as it was time for 'The Archers' there was an hour of listening. As soon as it was finished we were off.

The sun was out when we left to walk to Burscough for a paper etc.

The last time we passed this way was in June 2013 and they were just starting work on Aiscough's Mill on the outskirts of Burscough. It was a beautiful building and worth preserving.

Unfortunately I didn't get a picture from the same place but you can see they have made a great job of it, even preserving the canopy irons.

I am pleased to say that they have also preserved the chimney and the engine. The steam engine has gone but it has made a very nice home.

The Old Packet Boat was built at the same time as the canal and was the packet boat staging post. It was called The Bridge at first and it was only towards the end of the packet boat era that it changed to this name. Mind you it has had a few name changes before it has returned to the Old Packet Boat.

We got the paper from Tesco's up by Burscough Bridge Station and then walked back via Burscough Junction station which runs from Liverpool to Preston way. This took my eye as we were wandering back to the swing bridge by the junction.

This is the cause of our problem the gate post has broken at the collar/A frame area so the gate is bent from the vertical. The timber looks rotten. The C&RT notice said that the are making a sleeve for the heel post.

The notice says that the sleeve will take a week to fabricate and then they will have to fit it. However the word on the street is that it could be Thursday or Friday. I hope so so we can get the boat safely stowed for the winter

We decided to go for a pint at the Ship, or the 'Blood Tub as it appears to be better known in these parts. It seems it was so called because a). rival boaters or navvies had punch ups out side the pub regularly but the landlord wouldn't let them in a bloody so they had to wash the blood and gore off in an old tub. b). local farmers would exchange blood for beer as the landlady was a an expert black pudding maker. Take your pick. The beer was very good indeed, but we didn't eat there. The beer was well kept and not too pricey with a good range of real ales too.

The dry dock at the junction hasn't been used for a while but it is still dry.