There was a bit of a scramble of boats setting off from the moorings and we were in a queue of boats going up the locks – but they were, for the most part, moderately quick and efficient and we never really had to wait long at any of the locks.
The pound between Audlem Top Lock No 13 and Adderley Bottom Lock No 12 isn’t the longest pound in the world but it seems to do a good job of spreading boats out so that the queues going up Adderley aren’t ever really very long – but the speed of the locks vary wildly so sometimes you end up sitting round for a bit in the middle of the flight.
We got back to the moorings, ate, packed, tidied up the boat and headed off home.
It was wet and miserable when we got up and we made our way slowly up through the locks to Middlewich Junction and onto the Middlewich branch. We had to wait for a bit at Stanthorne Lock No 3 whilst some boats moved around and some rather damp C&RT staff stood around looking miserable – not that you could blame them as it was pretty unpleasant.
It’s just about impossible to shelter from the rain at Minshull Lock No 2 but if the wind is in the right direction then a little bit of shelter can be found by either hiding under the trees on the towpath or squeezing in tight against the wall of the old lock keepers cottage.
The rain just got heavier and heavier and by the time we got to Acton Bridge No 93 it was actually hurting when it hit you in the face. I was all for giving up at Nantwich but we carried on through the rain, which backed off a little bit so by the time we got to Hack Green Bottom Lock No 29 it was only moderately unpleasant. Working those two locks in the rain isn’t fun as you need to take care as the lock sides, especially the offside, are slippery (though not as bad as some of the ones on the Audlem Flight). Strangely enough there weren’t any other boats moving (I wonder why) so when we got to Audlem Bottom Lock No 27 we made good time, even though we were slowed down by the conditions underfoot and we moored up for the night with plenty of time to warm up and dry off before heading off to The Lord Combermere for an excellent final evening meal.
It wasn’t the best of weather when we started off but it actually managed to get a little worse as the day went on which given how the weather had been recently shouldn’t have surprised us one little bit.
There were boats moving round at Stockton Quay Bridge No 15 – including a couple of days boats : I guess if you’ve booked a boat you have to take it no matter how foul the weather gets. I hope they’d stocked up on tea and coffee because they were going to need it!
But apart from that flurry of activity the canal was, once again, pretty much deserted, not even the fishermen were out, and once again Daresbury seemed to be abandoned with not even any lights on.
The rain had backed off a little by the time we exited the tunnel but it was still a pretty miserable day and the run along the side of the Weaver Valley wasn’t unpleasant but it wasn’t anything to write home about.
After mooring we ate on board and then went and did a small pub crawl round Middlewich.
The two week holiday had been planned with quite a bit of slack in it and we didn’t need to get back to the moorings before the weekend so we decided that we’d take a bit of a detour from the planned trip and head over to Lymn – it’s an easy run and the town has some good pubs, so why not?
We were on the first up passage on the Anderton lift. As both caissons are kept at the River Weaver level overnight the first run in the morning is always up from the River (with no matching down) so you end up with one caisson at each level. We shared the lift with another boat and as we wanted to turn in the winding hole we let them out first as they had told us they were heading towards Middlewich. We followed them out and turned in [CP:Anderton Winding Hole|576n]] and then headed off north. Just past Soot Hill Bridge No 200 the canal enters a small wooded area and you immediately feel miles away from Anderton and the chemical works on the banks of the Weaver. This tranquillity doesn’t last long as you soon reach Barnton Road Bridge which sits at a silly angle to the canal, on a bend with the canal narrowing just before you get to it – Joy!
We pulled in at Bartington Wharf and got a pump out where the boatyard cat checked out the boat from the towpath, and then we continued on our way to Dutton Stop Lock No 76 which was a complete pain to operate as the water was flowing over the gates as fast as the paddles let it out. We had to wait for about 10 minutes before we could go into the tunnel – it would have been nice if there hadn’t been two abandoned fibreglass cruisers tied up on the holding moorings but luckily we were the only boat waiting to go through.
The Bridgewater was even quieter than the Trent and Mersey and with very few boats moored up we were able to move at a good speed. The research centre at Daresbury seemed as desolate as ever – there never seems to be anyone there, no-one wandering round, no-one sitting on of the many benches – it’s all very odd.
Lymn was quite quiet in terms of moored boats – not that there was any room on the offside due to very inconsiderate mooring by about 5 boats. We went to Lymm Wharf Winding Hole , turned round and moored up for the night on the towpath. We ate at Grill on the Cross – a Greek restaurant before ending up for the night in the Lymn brewery tap.
We woke to rain again and that pretty much was the weather for the whole of the day. The only good thing about rain on a river is that most of the crew can hide inside and keep dry, leaving just the helmsman looking like a drowned rat.
We gave one of the Lockies at Hunt’s Locks No 2 a lift up to Vale Royal Locks No 1 as they were down a couple of men and he advised us to be back at Vale Royal earlier than normal to ensure that we could get through the locks and back to Northwich for the night. We didn’t see that as a problem as the weather wasn’t exactly the sort that encourages you to dawdle and admire the scenery.
We swung round and pulled onto the visitor moorings in Winsford Marina. We’re not really sure why it’s called that as there seem to be no actual marina facilities – but maybe they are hoping that sometime someone will come along and set some up. We had a good brunch and then cast off, backed up into the flashes and then headed off back down stream.
We pulled in immediately below Winsford Bridge (eastbound) on the moorings for The Red Lion and dashed in for a quick pint, keeping an eye on the time as we knew we had to get back to Vale Royal locks to guarantee that we could get back through Hunt’s lock before they closed for the day.
Although Northwich, and its sister town Middlewich are known for their salt production, and a lot of the buildings in Northwich stand on jacks so they can be lifted as the ground sinks, there is very little sign of the industry that gave the town their names. At Middlewich there are some large salt piles and a processing plant but alongside the Weaver is a fully functional rock salt mine with its winding tower, and large piles of salt of course!
The small streams and feeders into the river were carrying a lot more water than they had when we’d gone upstream even though it had only been a few hours earlier and some of them actually had enough flow on them to affect us as we cruised through them and the river seemed to have come up a bit by the time we arrived at Newbridge Swing Bridge which looked even lower going downstream than it did coming upstream.
The Weaver locks are fine examples of Victorian engineering being both practical and well designed – unlike canal locks which have ladders bolted to the side the Weaver locks have wonderful iron ladder plates, with hand and feet holes in them, built into the lock wall itself
The gates are operated on mechanical cranks, rather than by hand or by hydraulic rams, which are powered by water turbines run off the flow of the water in the river – so they are a great example of “Green” engineering.
The rain had just about stopped by now and the sun was even trying to come out as we cruised down the last couple of miles through Northwich which meant we could actually admire some of the larger boats moored up along the bank.
We pulled up onto the end of the moorings leaving space for a couple of boats in front of us and headed off into town to explore and have a few beers. The moorings are secured by a locked gate so they are quite safe. The new retail development by the river is huge, and pretty much empty – at times it felt like we were walking round the set for a post-apocalypse film. But don’t let this put you off, the town has a lot to offer away from the new development.
We ate at the Bombay Quay and then headed off to Barons Lounge for a last couple of pints before heading back to the boat.
We were booked in on the lift for one of the early slots so this gave us time to back up to the services and fill up with water and use the shower facilities, before moving up onto the lift moorings. We had a bit of time to wander round the lift site before we were told we could go down
I always feel slightly uncomfortable on the lift – I think is that you’re roped up to the side of the caisson and when it starts to move you instinctively feel you need to undo the ropes or you’ll get hung up. Silly I know, but there you go. It’s also slightly dis-concerting when you pass the boat in the other caisson going the other way.
We’d looked at the weather forecast and decided that we’d head down stream first so when we left the lift we opened up the throttle a bit, headed out and took a right turn onto the Weaver.
All the bridges on the Weaver are all either high level bridges or they swing to let boats through. The first bridge down stream from the lift is Winnington Bridge which is bit of an odd bridge in that it has a headroom that isn’t constant – so it’s vitally important to work out which end of the bridge you are heading for and make sure there isn’t another boat coming the other way.
One noticeable thing about the Weaver Navigation is that that the locks are duplicated – but rather than have two locks of one size they are actually different sizes with a “Large” lock and a “Small Lock”. This was obviously done to save water when smaller craft were using the river but the small locks are now out of use ( to reduce maintenance costs) which means that if anything goes wrong with a lock then the navigation is basically closed.
When cruising along the Trent and Mersey near Dutton Horse Bridge No 211 you can look down onto the Weaver and see a derelict boat near Dutton Locks No 4 . I remember seeing her quite soon after she was abandoned and over the years it’s been interesting (in an odd way) to see how she is slowly decaying. The “Chica” was used as a pleasure steamer on the river for a few years before structural defects meant she was beyond economic repair and she was abandoned and left to rot.
Just below Dutton Locks is the extremely impressive Dutton Viaduct which strides across the valley. At 60 feet high and 500 feet long it was a major achievement in engineering when it was built in 1836 and is now a Grade II* Listed structure.
Below Dutton the navigation makes its way slowly towards Runcorn and the Manchester Ship Canal. There are a couple of rather pleasant overnight mooring spots and some pretty views but there isn’t really a lot to see. The river remains remarkably un-industrial until you are past Runcorn Rowing Club where you can see the base of a now removed swing bridge.
The river is quite straight as you pass the ICI Weston Works and Weston Marsh Side Lock comes into view. This lock leads down onto the Manchester Ship canal and it was here that we turned round and headed back up stream
It started to rain again and so we we were quite happy to moor up for the night and walk over to The Leigh Arms
It was raining when we got up, that horrible more than drizzle that seems to soak everything through without even trying and although the sun was shining it was shining in a sky was that depressing uniform grey which gives no indication if things are going to get better or worse.
We’d seen quite a few herons on the holiday but in Sandbach we saw a first.. a heron standing on the top of a building.
We made good progress down the locks as we had the canal to ourselves, there weren’t even any people out walking dogs on the towpath, and we arrived at King’s Lock No 71 before lunch time, and the smell of Sunday lunch was wafting over from the pub but we decided not to stop and instead to push on as we had booked a passage down the Anderton Lift first thing on Monday.
The weather wasn’t getting any better, but for now it wasn’t really getting any worse which was something, so getting held up a little at the three locks below the junction was a lot better than it could have been.
Many things have changed in the years since we started boating but Middlewich Big Lock No 75 is very much like it was the first time we went through it in 1979. Back then the pub was looking tired and was surrounded by derelict and semi-derelict factories. These have now gone and have been replaced by housing and the pub has been extended and seems quite lively. But the lock itself is unchanged : it’s slow, hard to work and the gates have a life of their own.
North of Middlewich the canal wanders through the open countryside as if it can’t quite work out where it’s going, and the large flashes, a reminder of the now gone salt extraction industry, have settled into the landscape and look totally natural now.
We stopped at The Old Broken Cross PH to pick up crew and I made a quick detour to a local garage to pick up some more oil and a little anti-freeze. After a quick couple of pints in the pub we set off again.
The area around Wincham Wharf gets more and more cluttered with boat each time we go through and now there are a small number of wide boats there and with them breasting up there isn’t a lot of spare space so when an idiot in a widebeam comes charging down the canal, wobbling all over the place, there isn’t really anywhere to go. He shouted at us but it was pretty obvious he was intoxicated and also had no idea how to steer the boat he was in charge of.
There were quite a few boats moored round The Salt Barge PH and the museum, as there usually are but we, as we always seem to do, continued past without stopping.
It was obviously a day for idiot boaters because when we got to Anderton Services there was a hireboat moored up right in the middle of the mooring. It was all locked up and there wasn’t space for us on either side. So we continued on and moored up for the night and went off to The Stanley Arms PH where we had some great food and good beer, and a lot of fun playing “identify the song, artist and year” from their piped music – we had to use Shazam a few times but it did confirm that Simon knows a lot of obscure pop music.
Crew Swaps needed to be done at Old Broken Cross on Sunday so we knew that we only needed to be in Sandbach by the end of today – it’s a bit of a walk from the canal but has several very good pubs and places to eat, so that was our target.
The oil leak we’d been experiencing seemed to be getting a little worse. We’d tried running with the oil cap loose in case it was a case of blow past the pistons pressurising the crank case and it blowing too much oil down the air intake. We’d even tried running with the air filter off to see if that made any difference. We didn’t seem to be burning an excessive amount of oil and the two cam covers, which are notorious for leaking, didn’t seem to be very bad at all. So that was something else we planned to look in when we got to Sandbach, knowing that we’d still have some day light left.
As with many of the mornings on this trip it was all rather nondescript weather wise and, like most of the other mornings, we seemed to be the only boat on the move as we made our way back to Hardings Wood Junction and our descent of the “Cheshire Locks”.
A lot has changed on this stretch of canal since Our First Canal Holiday back in the late 1970s. Most of the locks on this section were duplicated, but back in 1979 a lot of them were out of action, now only a few are, but in some places the duplicate has been lost due to things like new bridges etc.
Some of the closed locks seem to be in quite good condition and you wonder why they’ve not been restored, whereas others are obviously beyond repair.
Back in the 1950’s there were problems with subsidence due to salt mining which caused problems with many of the locks and at Upper Thurlwood Lock No 53 they came up with an interesting solution to the problem – a steel lock sitting in a concrete casement. It never really worked well and by 1979 it was closed off and out of use but apparently still intact (with just a few cog wheels missing). Here is an article about a hire boat using the lock in 1973, but it closed soon afterwards and in 1988 British Waterways took the irrational decision to cut it up and sell it off for scrap arguing that it “wasn’t interesting enough” to save.
So now there is only one lock at Thurlwood and it was as we approached this lock that the oddest encounter of the day happened : as we came down the canal there was a boat getting ready to cast off and they held their ropes as we went past but then cast off immediately behind us and basically tailgated us down to Thurlwood. We pulled over to the towpath and dropped off crew but the other boat just floated around rather messily and then, for some reason, went over to the offside to wait. There were only two people on the boat and although they were on the offside bank one of the crew walked very slowly and very nervously down the left hand side gunwale to the front of the boat where they took the rope and gingerly and clumsily got off the front of the boat and onto the bank. All of the time carrying their windlass in one hand.
They completely blanked us and seemed to be struggling holding the boat against the offside – probably due to the fact that it’s been nicely planted up as it’s outside people’s houses.
We worked through the lock and left them still standing there looking bemused and confused.
Apart from that the day was very quiet – there were very few boats on the move and hardly any people out walking their dogs.
We got to the Visitor moorings at Sandbach mid afternoon and went looking for the oil leak. We found it quite quickly by putting some more oil in and starting the engine and saw a slight oozing round the top of the oil pressure sensor and when we waggled the wire oil came out at a good speed.
So we had a good root round in our boxes of bits and found a bolt that was the same thread as the sensor and with a bit of thread sealant we soon had it blanked off.
So with that job done we headed into town for a few beers at various pubs and a great meal at Kan’s Oriental Restaurant. The Purple Pakora could really learn some lessons from Kan’s…. friendly staff, efficient service, good size portions and extremely good food.
One of the reasons for going up the locks the previous night was that it meant that we didn’t face working three locks immediately after casting off. Instead we could chug along the summit enjoying the views and a mug or two of coffee before we actually had to get off the boat and do anything
We met a C&RT workboat just beyond Norton Green Lift Bridge No 21 and they were having serious problems in getting their boat to go anywhere at all – but oddly enough they didn’t seem to be concerned about the low level of the water. I’m still not sure how we got past them without getting stuck ourselves but we did and we slid over the cill into the lock with no real problems.
As it had been for a lot of the holiday we had the canal to ourselves and it was quite pleasant – the sun had come out although it was a little cold
You can always be guaranteed that you’ll meet a boat at the most awkward spot and we met one at the top of Etruria Staircase Locks Nos 1 and 2 but it didn’t really cause any problems.
We’d carefully planned things so that we would get to Harecastle Tunnel (South end) in time to get a passage through the tunnel and we made it with plenty of time so spent a bit of time touching up some of the paint.
We had to wait a little longer than planned due to a rather slow boat coming south but we did eventually get into the tunnel and chugged our way northbound. It was very cold with the fan house running and rather than having to deal with smoke I think we were boating through a light fog.
As we were the only boat on the last passage of the day the tunnel keeper at the northbound end pulled the workboat into position to block the tunnel off as soon as we had moved out of the portal.
We’d decided to detour to Congleton because we had a couple of hours of daylight left and starting down the locks would have left us really in the middle of nowhere for the night and would have made the timings odd for the next couple of days. Also we’d not been there for ages and it does have some good pubs.
It’s not a bad run up to Congleton and we pulled up on the wharf moorings just as the night really set in.
It’s a bit of a walk down to town but worth it – and we would have drunk more beer than we did if the Purple Pakora had been anywhere near efficient : they were less than half full but it took more than 45 minutes from ordering to our food arriving and the lighting was so low the waiters couldn’t actually read the orders so they were semi guessing which table they needed to deliver food to. The food was good when it arrived but if they concentrated a little less on the mood lighting and style and a little more on service and an environment when you can actually see what you are eating it would be a much better experience.
It was slightly cool and misty when we got up, and the mist was quite a bit heavier than yesterday but you could still see where you were going without too much difficulty.
It was very quiet as we made our way down through Woods Lock No 15 and the mist really added to the atmosphere. Parkhouse Wood Lift Bridge loomed up out of the mist – it looks like it’s basically left open all the time and it looked quite impressive.
The mist had lifted a bit by the time we got to Oak Meadow Ford Lock No 16 and a quick check of the gauge showed that the river was still in the green zone and it was safe to navigate, and as we could actually see a reasonable distance we slipped out of the lock and onto the River Churnet.
It’s so tempting to open up the throttle on river sections and let the boat go at a good speed but the river section is rather attractive so keeping the revs down and enjoying the mist and the light mixing through the trees was the right thing to do, and to be honest it doesn’t take long before you reach Consall Forge where you leave the river and go back onto the canal for the last few miles. The Black Lion Inn looked quite moody in the mist but it was too early to stop so we checked the mooring situation for later.
Once you’ve passed under Churnet Railway Bridge No 50A the canal becomes very narrow as the space between the river and the valley side has to be shared by the canal and the railway, and the space is so small that the platform and the waiting room at Consall Station actually overhang the canal – which makes navigating this section quite interesting.
At Flint Mill Lock Winding Hole there is a notice about Froghall tunnel showing the profile and basically saying if you have a full length boat and your profile is such that you wont fit then you should turn round here and not proceed as the next winding hole which is before the tunnel isn’t big enough for full length boats.
By Flint Mill Lock No 17 the old flint mill has now been turned into a large house – the last time I came down here the mill was abandoned and open to the elements. I think the conversion has shrunk the height of the building but it’s so long ago that I can’t really remember.
As you exit the lock there is a plastic curtain which supposedly matches the profile of Froghall tunnel – if your boat doesn’t fit under it then theoretically you can’t get through the tunnel.. Mintball didn’t fit under it at all!
Below the lock the canal has a couple of very narrow sections with no obvious passing places and of course there are bends so you can’t see if anything is coming the other way. All I can assume is that when the canal was in commercial use they either sent people ahead or they did a sort of batch processing – moving several boats one way and then several the other way.
As with a lot of the canal the final section down to Froghall runs through woodland with very little sign of any industry or any civilisation at all. The strangely named Cherry Eye Bridge No 53, with its rather unique shape, is one of the few bridges on this stretch and the rurality of the canal continues until you reach Froghall Footbridge where the now flattened Froghall works comes along side.
There are some rather odd pipes here – one crosses the canal by the footbridge, runs down the non-towpath side of the canal and then crosses the canal again at Froghall Pipe Bridge and vanishes back into the factory site it first came out of – I’m sure there was some logical reason for it but….
If you can’t make it through the tunnel then it’s vitally important not to miss Froghall Winding Hole because the tunnel is just round the corner.
We slowed right down and eased Mintball’s prow into the tunnel. After about 20 feet I was convinced that the cabin roof at the front was going to hit the roof of the tunnel but we moved crew around and continued our slow progress into the tunnel… there was NOT a lot of head room but apart from one scrape on the front right hand cabin edge we made it through with no issues.
Once you are through the tunnel it is only a few minutes to Froghall Junction where the Uttoxeter Canal leaves the Caldon. We continued past the junction and got the first half of the boat under Froghall Junction Bridge No 55 before we ran out of water – so we backed up and went down Uttoxeter Branch Lock No 1 and moored up in Froghall Basin which has some really nice pontoon moorings (although they are slightly short for a 52 foot boat). We were the only boat in the basin and it’s a pity that more boats can’t make it through the tunnel because the area really is worth visiting.
By now the mist had cleared and it had turned into quite a nice day so we spent a bit of time wandering round the area looking at the old lime kilns and although we were the only people there who had come by boat there were actually a good number of people there and the coffee shop seemed to be doing a good trade.
You can tell that this bit of canal isn’t used much as there is a small garden growing on the walls in the junction lock, and I really hope someone at C&RT has it under control because I saw at least one small tree getting quite well established.
By the time we got back to Consall Station the sun was shining and the station almost looked like a film set.. it just needed a steam train to complete the picture but as this time of year they don’t run any trains mid week.
The moorings at Black Lion Inn were empty so we pulled in and headed over to the pub for a couple of pints. It was extremely pleasant sitting outside in the remarkably warm sunshine drinking some rather strong beer.
We could quite happily have stayed there for the rest of the day – we didn’t actually need to go any further but an evening meal at The Hollybush sounded quite appealing so after a couple of pints we headed back to the boat.
We made our way at a relaxed pace back up the river and then back onto the canal. There was someone at Woods Lock No 15 who was obviously just passing their time helping boats work through the lock… however he’d been there for a couple of hours and we were the first boat he’d actually seen.
It was a bit busy round The HollyBush so we made our way up the locks and then backed onto the moorings at the start of the Leek Branch and then walked down to the pub for the evening.