Audlem – or why do we bother boating?

From Nantwich Aqueduct to Tom's Moorings, a distance of 11 miles, 5½ flg and 22 locks.

It was raining and blowing a gale when we got up – not a good start for the last day of a holiday, or any day to be honest, but it suddenly all cleared off and it was quite sunny by the time we reached Hack Green.

Things seemed quiet and we approached the bottom of Audlem without seeing many other boats. As we approached the bottom lock a boat cast off from the visitor moorings and moved onto the lock moorings. That was bad enough but the people on the boat seemed to be clueless, they sat right in the middle of the lock moorings making it hard for us to get in and their lock working…. hmmmmm.

After they had gone through the first lock a boat came down, seems he knows the boat going up and they are well known for doing what they had done to us.

At the second lock the woman apparently opened one ground paddle and then looked at the other ground paddle and the gate paddle and didn’t know which one to open next… she then claimed she had never seen a gate paddle !!.

Progress was so slow we stopped at the water point below the next lock to put some water in. We dropped about 1 space back in the queue, and were overtaken by a Challenger boat which, just to make a point, turned out to be crewed by people who actually knew what they were doing.

Things got slower from then on – we queued for over 20 minutes for the lock above the wharf and that sort of delay wasn’t usual all the way up. At one point there seemed to be a boat in each lock and one or two in some of the pounds. Someone came up from a couple of boats back and decided to “help” us by winding up the paddles before we had the gates closed, and when we complained she swore at us, claimed she was only helping “close the gates” and told us that we were incompetent. So if you were the woman with the pinkish top on Audlem locks who swears like a navvy.. you’ve just made it into history..

We eventually made it out of the top lock over 4 hours after we went into the bottom lock. The boat that had cut us up at the bottom lock was moored up with its owners sitting on it eating lunch and looking smug.

From then on everything was quite quiet and we made it back to the mooring mid afternoon

Everyone Needs a little Salt in their Diet

From Cow Lane Bridge No 123E to Nantwich Aqueduct, a distance of 18 miles, 7 flg and 11 locks.

None of us were feeling particularly rested when we got up on Sunday morning. The highlight of the rather disturbed night had been a woman saying, rather loudly, “Where do they Pee, Ooh, Ohh, on a canalboat”. Seemed rather odd that someone who had no problem of getting rather drunk finds it necessary to spell out the word poo.. but then again it takes all sorts I guess.

We started the long slow crawl up the locks away from Chester. The locks might have been good for barges and paired up narrow boats but with no gate paddles and really badly positioned ground paddle outlets they aren’t fun at all.

As we worked through Tarvin Lock No 38 a boat moored above the lock cast off in front of us (how original!). As the locks are broad Neil headed off up the canal to make sure the people knew we were behind them.

They were waiting for us at Greenfield Lock No 37. One of the gates doesn’t open all the way and of course they weren’t pulled in behind that one so Nick had to try to get a narrowboat through a gap that wasn’t really wide enough.

So we got the gates closed and Neil was standing by the ground paddle. The woman off the other boat turned to me “Do you think one paddle 1/3 of the way?” I said that with 2 boats I’d suggest both paddles 1/3 to 1/2 way, and that I was going on to the next lock to get it ready.

Neil wound his paddle up half way and the woman looked at him and said something about how opening his paddle only was only “helping” our boat.

They didn’t come through the next lock with us – odd people. I guess its something to do with people with boats from Longport (see the Tyrley Locks Post for more details).

We worked the next lock alone but then another boat (single handed) asked us how far we were going and could he share locks with us – which is fine by us as it makes things so much easier on the locks.

Being Sunday there were lots of fishermen out – trying to outwit the fish, so we had to crawl past them, and then past all those damned linear moorings… still at least the weather was OK and we could stand there and watch the world go by.

Working through Beeston Iron lock was fun as we went through together (naughty, naughty Mintball!) and sharing locks was so much easier. However as Anglo-Welsh was still open we pulled in for a pump-out and a new bottle of gas, but luckily a boat there wanted to go up the locks so the single handed boat was happy. As the locks are a staircase it takes a while to prepare and work through and we had just got the lock ready for us to go through by the time the pump-out was done, so we didn’t lose too much time.

The traffic on the A51 was still as slow as it had been on Friday.. don’t you just love road works! At Barbridge Junction  a Challenger Boat came out of the Middlewich Branch with no sounding of their horn, no person on the front deck keeping lookout, no they just steamed of the junction and then proceeded to move at a snails pace past all the boats. They would speed up slightly in open water but at the first sign of a bridge it was power down to tickover, wobble the tiller back and forth and just about make it through the bridge hole.

We were hoping they would turn up the Llangollen but no such luck and we were stuck behind them until they turned off into Nantwich Basin .

We stopped for the night on the Visitor moorings just before the aqueduct and headed into town for a couple of beers and a curry

Antiqui Colant Antiquum Dierum

From Beeston Stone Lock No 33 to Cow Lane Bridge No 123E, a distance of 11 miles, 2¼ flg and 7 locks.

Beeston Iron lock was totally empty when we got to it the next morning, so we bounced the bottom gates to dislodge anything that might have been stuck between them, and then filled the lock and worked through with no real problems. The bottom gates have a rather large gap when closed and it looks like its been caused by boats clipping the edge of the gate as they go in and out of the lock as the biggest gap is right at the top rubbing strake level – hopefully BW will get it fixed soon as its not going to be long before someone leaving the top gate open will drain the pound.

Some people think linear moorings are “nice” and “interesting” to pass. I suggest they are made to travel the canal between Nixon’s Bridge No 114 and Faulkner’s Bridge No 116 , preferably several times and then say how wonderful it is.

The canal was pretty quiet all the way to Christleton Lock No 36 where we had to wait for a boat ahead of us to go down and a very slow boat to come up – the boat coming up came up on half a paddle.

The locks down into Chester aren’t the fastest and it was early afternoon by the time we had made it to Cow Lane Bridge No 123E , turned in the winding hole and taken up the last 52 foot of the rather short length of visit moorings.

After a quick freshen up we headed out into the City to do a bit of sightseeing. We started walking clockwise round the city walls, taking a slight detour to have a closer look at the amphitheatre and then a walk through the “Roman Garden”, and its collection of fragments of salvaged stone work, to the river. We got back onto the wall and walked round past Northgate Staircase Locks Nos 41 to 43 , over St Martin’s Way (A wonderful example of what Labour were capable of doing in the 1970s), and to Northgate where we came down off the walls and headed into town for a beer or two.

If you are in Chester, and you like your beer, then you must visit the “Old Boot Inn” in EastGate which is a Sam Smiths pub and serves Old Brewery Bitter for a staggering £1.34 a pint. When I bought the 3 drinks and it was £4.02 I thought the barman had made a mistake… but he hadn’t.

So we were forced, from a point of fairness, to do a whole cycle of rounds.

We then wandered off, completed our walk and went back to the boat.

We decided to try the Mill Hotel and Spa as its supposedly a great real ale pub but the whole of Chester seemed to be in there, so we wandered round town and found a Marstons pub to have a lightish evening meal in before heading to the “Bear & Billet” on Lower Bridge St. An Okells “Beers of the World” pub it had a good range of Okells ales, other hand pulled real ales and draught European beers .. How many places in the UK do you know that sell Dark Budweiser Budvar on draught?

We left just after 11 and headed back to the boat. Not sure why we bothered as the drunken sots of Chester stumbled noisily past the boat until the early hours of the morning.

Locks, Stock and Secret Nuclear Bunkers

From Tom's Moorings to Beeston Stone Lock No 33, a distance of 19 miles, 2½ flg and 26 locks.

After an evening checking out some of the pubs in Market Drayton we made a moderately early start. Not a traditional early start (like 6:30 am) but a more sensible 8am.

Things started off quite well but, as with so many things, it was just too good to last.

The 5 locks at Addersley went OK but Audlem was a complete disaster. We arrived at Audlem Top Lock No 13 at 10am and started off down the 15. Progress was slow – there were quite a few boats that were either single handed or only had one person working the locks. Throw into that a smattering of boats with no clue and its a recipe for disaster.

Just above Audlem Wharf we met Huffler No 2 and three other boats out from Braunston. We used to moor on the other side of the jetty to Huffler No 2 so we had a good chat as they worked through. They had been out since March and were obviously having a good time. Two of the boats were single handed but with 4 boats running as a convoy, all using walkie-talkies, and sharing crew they were extremely efficient.

We arrived at the bottom lock at 1pm – far from the best time we’ve ever made down the locks.

On the way to Hack Green and its “secret nuclear bunker” we met a Challenger boat heading towards Audlem. This boat was another fine example of the “Challenger Boats are crewed by idiots” theory in that it was, somehow, managing to pull a breaking wash which was the full width of the canal, and by the smell of their exhaust the engine was about as keen on it as the local duck population who were beating a hasty retreat from the tidal wave that threatened to engulf them.

There was a shortish delay at the Hack Green Locks as a boat, which had pulled out in front of us from the Coole Pilate “leisure area” moorings, had to work through and there was a boat coming up.

The visitor moorings at Nantwich were pretty full; apart from the long section where BW removed the visitor moorings because people living in the newly built houses below the canal embankment complained. This sort of behaviour is really annoying : if you buy a house by a canal then don’t complain when a boat moors up outside your windows. I guess the sort of people who make complaints about mooring boats are the sort of sad people who move to the countryside and then complain about church bells or the local cockerel crowing.

By the time we reached Barbridge Junction  people seemed to be mooring up for the night even though it was still relatively early. The A51 was pretty much stationary due to road works and for the distance between the junction and Wardle Hall Bridge No 103 we were actually moving at a higher average speed than vehicles heading the same direction on the road.

Bunbury Locks  were pretty deserted by the time we got there as the boat yard was shutting up for the day and most of the visitors had gone home.

We had the canal to ourselves as we made our way through Tilstone Lock No 32  and down to Beeston Stone Lock . We noticed that Ivor and Mel Bachelor’s working pair were moored up above Beeston Stone but there seemed to be no sign of life on the boats and no indication that they are still selling fuel. It was a surprise to see the boats this far north as we had been regular customers of Ivor’s when we were moored down in Braunston – I hope that it doesn’t mean that another trader has been forced off the waterways.

We decided to stop for the night just below Beeston Stone lock – its not a long walk to the Beeston Castle Hotel but you are not too near the road or the railway line.

After we had moored we noticed the water level was dropping so Neil set off to check no-one had done anything silly at Beeston Iron Lock . He came back a few minutes later saying there was a boat coming up.

A while passed, no boat appeared and the water level continued to drop and by now there was a noticeable flow on the water so I went off to see what was going on; there was a boat in the lock with both top paddles open and the gates shut. They said they were stuck -the bottom gates were leaking (they are worn but something was obviously stuck between the gates) and they couldn’t open the top gates. I tried the top gates and they opened fine – so I guess if I hadn’t gone down they would have sat there until they had drained the pound and the lock had emptied itself.

As the pound was now down by over a foot I told them that I’d go up and get the next lock ready for them. So off I went and worked them through Beeston Stone and then once they were through I dropped the lock into the rather low pound – water was still running over the overflow so it would top itself up in time but…

So we went off to the pub and had several good pints of beer, and by the time we staggered back to the boat the pound was full once more.

Back to the mooring

Kathy got up early and went off bird hunting but there was neither sight nor sound of it and she came back with just a few general scenic shots.

The day had started off sunny but it clouded over and the wind which had been coolish all weekend went noticeably colder. If the weather was good and we didn’t get held up much at Tyrley locks we thought we might head past the moorings and turn at the winding hole at the head of Adderley locks – which of course doomed us on both the weather front and the queues at Tyrley locks.

Tyrley locks had a pretty steady flow of boats in both directions but not evenly balanced which meant that we ended up doing as much lock work, if not more, than we would have done if there had been no other boats around. However there weren’t any clueless fools on the flight which made for a nice change.

We got back to the moorings for a latish lunch and we actually left the boat at about 3:30 and we got home before 5, which might be worth remembering for other bank holiday weekends

To the cutting

The mile of canal from the 48 hour moorings near Hunting Bridge No 7 to the winding hole by Upper Hattons Bridge No 5 has an embankment, a cutting, a couple of bridges, a rather smelly farm, some open fields and a Motorway -its a microcosm of the entire canal.

The winding hole at Upper Hattons is a rather large elongated affair, and considering its the first winding hole north of Wolverhampton Boat Club it is rather silted up and turning round in it produces rather a lot of black silt and unpleasant smells.

Like the previous day there seemed to be a burst of activity first thing in the morning and then things went quiet. There was a small queue for the lock at Wheaton Aston, but nothing like it had been on Easter Sunday when we had to wait for over an hour to get through. As we needed to water and get rid of some rubbish we pulled in below the lock at the sanitary station and had lunch at the same time.

Kathy had an idea that she might stand a better chance of getting a good photo or three of the bird of prey in Grub Street cutting if we moored over night and she could go and wander round. So we moored up for the night just north of High Bridge – a good mooring in that it was nice and deep up to the edge but it was a pain putting the metal hooks round the piling rail as the rather soft bank had covered over the top of the piling, but some enthusiastic work with a mooring pin soon cleared space. There is another problem with this mooring and that’s the midges – rather nasty ones which cause very large swellings.

Three Mile Post

There is one advantage of heading south on the Shropshire Union and that is that after Tyrley there is only the single lock at Wheaton Aston which means that the day can be spent relaxing, reading, listening to music or just watching the world go by.

There is one disadvantage however : the what feels like endless lines of moored boats on the offside. Still I suppose it does give you even more time to watch the world go by.

During the mad rush on Friday we’d forgotten to take some stuff out of the fridge and we found we had no butter – still thats not a problem we thought, there is a handy little store at Norbury junction so we can just pick some stuff up there when we pull in for a pumpout.

Just before we cast off from the moorings there was a small flurry of traffic and I did wonder if we were going to spend the entire day stuck in a traffic jam – anyone who has boated round Braunston over a bank holiday weekend will know just what I’m talking about. However things went quiet and we found ourselves making our solitary way southwards.

It was a perfect day for canal boating – the sun was shining but there was a slight breeze which stopped things getting too hot.

The Daimler was back by the boats near Grub Street Winding Hole – it seems such an odd juxtapositioning – rather smart classic car and really scruffy boats.

The moorings on the approach to Norbury Junction seemed to be pretty full, which surprised me as the forecast for the weekend was good and its really the last long weekend in the “season” so you’d expect more people to be out and about.

We called in at the boatyard at Norbury Junction for a pump out and a new front fender (which was pretty rotten). The store had everything but butter so we decided to wait until Wheaton Aston and pop to the store there.

Passing through Gnosall we noticed Tyseley moored up on the offside by Coton Mill and signs advertising that Mikron were playing there tonight. I have to say I was surprised to see them there as I’d expected them to be at the IWA National Gathering over at St Ives, but I guess they decided not to go – which in a way is understandable as the way there does involve a lot of rather desolate waterways and if your business is theatre there probably isn’t much financial sense in it.

The shop at Wheaton Aston (a couple of hundred yards up from the garage) had butter and quite a range of supplies so its something worth remembering.

Our “target” for the night was the stretch of 48 hour moorings by the three mile mile post near Hunting Bridge No 7 – primarily because we know we can get Mintball into the side properly on these mooring as they don’t have the rather annoying concrete ledge about a foot under water. I was expecting them to be quite full as the visitor moorings at Brewood were packed, but when we got there we found plenty of space.

What is it about Tyrley Locks?

Well the planned weekend didn’t get off to a good start. Kathy took one of our cats to the vet because she’s been loosing weight (more than she should have been doing). She came out from the vets and the car wouldn’t start. Called the break down people who said it would be an hour before they got there : it was actually more as their driver didn’t seem to be able to find the Park and Ride Car Park at Cheltenham Race Course, and when he did he drove right past Kathy who was standing there by the car with the bonnet up – the car had its bonnet up, not Kathy! Whilst she was wasting here time the vets came out and said the blood test showed that Smokey had Kidney Disease. When we were telling mum about this later she expressed amazement that a vets can do its own blood tests on site and get the results in less than 2 hours when it takes the NHS weeks to do a blood test.

So with all the delays Kathy didn’t get stuff done in the morning that she should have done so packing and loading the car went a bit wonky and some stuff got left behind – but we did have the major items (clothes, food, booze etc.) so that was OK.

The roads were lousy – it took over 1 hour from just south of Kidderminster to Bridgenorth so we got to the boat a bit later than planned, however we soon loaded up and headed off.

I’m almost starting to dread Tyrley locks as they just seem to make boaters do silly things – and this time it started before we even got into the bottom lock. The lock was empty as a boat had left it only a couple of minutes earlier but that didn’t stop someone coming down from the lock above and start filling it without even checking to see if there was a boat coming – I was about 20 feet from the gates and Kathy and Mum and Dad were just about at the bottom gates! The man did drop the paddles and let us through and apologised saying that he just hadn’t seen us.

Now anyone who has done Tyrley will know that the by-wash channels are vicious and cause some nasty side currents so if you are going up stream you need to take the locks at a bit of a dash to get the nose in cleanly. Of course going in like this means you need more reverse and tend to end further up the lock than planned. We’ve found Mintball likes sitting about a foot clear of the bottom gates which avoids any nasty backwards or forwards pulls and surges. So after a completly event free second lock we entered the middle lock of the flight. There was a man on the bank – it turns out he was on Ivy (from Longport) and was coming down. Before we had the gates even half closed and I was actually moving forward he slammed up the top paddles. Voices were raised – it was pointed out that we weren’t actually ready. He said that we “nearly were” and “If you are going to be like that then you can do all the paddles yourself”. He then went off in a sulk – its nice to know that private boaters can be worse than hireboaters.

I’ve previously said things on here about Challenger Stealth Hire boats – well we met one that wasn’t. Ivy had closed the gates on the lock when they were coming down and the people behind them (on a Challenger boat) saw us and actually opened up the gates. We got chatting – it seemed that Ivy had forced them, and another boat going in the oppposite direction, to take evasive action when he pulled out of a mooring (off line marina or arm?) right between them. Hopefully the crew on that Challenger boat will become the norm rather than the exception.

After the madness of Tyrley I was dreading going through Woodseves cutting. In fact we had it to ourselves so we chugged through the green tunnel of trees and ferns and lillies before mooring up for the night on the 48 hour moorings near The Wharf at Goldstone.

Halcyon days

The next morning Kathy (who doesn’t often lie in at the weekends, compared to me who will lie in at the drop of a hat) got up early and took some photos, hoping to catch some atmospheric shots before the canal filled up with boats.

She took several photos which are on her Flickr site but the best one has to be of a heron sitting in Cowley Tunnel:

Heron in Cowley Tunnel

Although we didn’t have a long way to go to get back to the moorings we didn’t really need an early start but Tyrley locks can easil turn into a bottle neck and we did want to get home at a reasonable time.

We were the only boat on the move again – there seemed to be no sign of life on most of the moored boats, curtains were drawn, doors closed, padlocks in place. Hard to believe it was the middle of the summer holidays.

By the time we got to Norbury there were a few more signs of life: dogs on the towpath (blissfully unaware of the squirrel that was scampering along the fence above its head), a few people walking round and a couple of boats on the move. The Cafe at Norbury was open and we nearly pulled in for breakfast but decided to push on.

Kathy really wanted to see if she could get some better pictures of the bird in the cutting so she was on the back deck, camera primed.

I noticed the Kingfisher first – it darted down the canal in front of us which is normal behaviour. Then it went and stood on the bank. As we got closer it seemed to hop round a bit and seemed to be distracted.

Kathy zoomed right in on it using her zoom lens and got the following:

Kingfisher with a fish

The Kingfisher had a fish and seemed to be intent on eating it rather than flying away.

As we went through the cutting we kept a close lookout for the Kestrel. There was no sign of it and the whole cutting was still (even the cat wasn’t lying on the roof of the moored boat).

Just as we approached the end of the cutting the Kestrel zoomed in from overhead and vanished into the trees, and then a minute or so later crossed the canal and vanished again. It was obviously doing it just to spite us 😉

We kept meeting boats coming the other way, but they seemed to come in pulses, small batches of 3-4 boats, which is odd given that the locks would tend to remove grouping and thin the boats out into a regular spaced out stream.

Of course it was a given that we’d meet one of these bursts of boats going through Woodseaves cutting. It was fun but at least it shows that the channel is actually 14 feet wide!

Tyrley locks turned out to be the bottle neck that it can so often be. There were 3 boats in front of us and a few coming up. It didn’t help that some of the boats going down had never seen a lock before in their lives and didn’t have even the basic idea on how to use a lock.

So with novices heading down the locks the last thing you need is arrogant “I’ve been boating for ever” types coming up and stealing locks off people. Chaos – at one point there were 4 boats in the pound between the top and second lock. We got one coming up as we were going down – turns up, opens the paddle on the near side (without checking that we were ready) which meant Kathy had to walk over to the far side of the lock (I usually do that side on the way down to avoid her having to walk over) and then of course she was on the wrong side of the lock so had to walk all the way back round again when she was heading down to the second lock.

Waiting between the 3rd and 4th locks wasn’t exactly fun due to at least two wasps nests in the bank and I don’t think they were too happy to have boats right outside their front doors. Maybe BW could put some notices up saying “Please do not moor outside the Wasps Nests”, they seem all too keen to put similar notices up for people who choose to live in properties that overlook the canal.

The public moorings at Market Drayton weren’t too busy and we were able to turn and back into our moorings with no real difficulty

Geneshale, knows Al !

Despite being moored opposite the long term moorings (a couple of boats had had their engines running into the mid/late evening) it was a very quiet night.

We decided to make an earlish start just in case there was a long queue at the lock, so having pulled up our mooring pins we chugged past the visitor moorings which were probably about 60% full – so we could have moored there but our alternative moorings were as good.

There was no queue at the lock and we were able to cruise straight in. As we were closing the gates a small fibre glass bucket hurtled up the canal at quite some speed, I’m not sure where they thought they were going, but it wasn’t in the lock with us.

It was quite pleasant to work through the lock without having other boaters waiting and actually doing it in the dry with the sun shining.

I’ve always found the shallow cutting through Lapley Wood very picturesque – I think its probably my “favourite” cutting on the canal. The light filters through the trees in a different way to the other cuttings and it adds a lot of depth and character to the banks which makes it an interesting place to steer through.

Again there seemed to be little other traffic moving and so we made our solitary way over the A5 (which also seemed remarkably quiet) and along the embankment towards Brewood.

Brewood is one of those places where the long linear moorings announce the village quite a time before you get there. It was as we chugged slowly past these boats that the fibre glass bucket appeared behind us and proceded to turn round to moor.

As we came through the cutting a hireboat decided that the best time to cast off is right in front of another boat… not a good idea at the best of times but when your stern is stuck on the bottom its certainly foolish.

As we wanted an easy weekend we decided to turn round in the winding hole by bridge 3. The winding hole would seem to be huge and it looks like you could do a U-turn in it… Ha ha ha!. Don’t try it. The canal by the towpath is silted up so your back end snags as you start to turn and the rest of the winding hole is rather shallow which leads to rather a lot of rather smelly mud being stirred up.

We decided that we would head back to Wheaton Aston for lunch and as it was only mid morning this seemed perfectly sensible. Just after we had winded a boat came through bridge 3 and as we approached Brewood it slowly gained on it.

We slowed down for the moorings and held back for a Viking Afloat boat which cast off ahead of us but was heading into Countrywide Cruisers. As we passed the Viking Alfoat boat I was asked if I was Nick or Steve !

The boat behind us was now almost on top of us so I waited until a gap in the moored boats and pulled over and waved them past. The person on the boat claimed that they weren’t pressuring me but that they couldn’t go any slower due to their tickover. Frankly if that was the slowest speed I’d hate to be the boat at the front of any gap he tried to pull into! If people insist on putting high revving modern engines in their boats then they need to look very carefully at the gearbox ratio and the prop size/pitch.

We made our way back to Wheaton Aston and only had to wait a couple of minutes for the lock. We stopped right at the top end of the visitor moorings for lunch.

After lunch we decided to feed the boat so it was off to the Garage for 111 litres of fuel. The tanks are now brim full and it should keep us going for a bit!

After the fun of the fast boat we then got stuck behind a slow boat. I had to keep dropping into neutral to stop us running into them. Their engine seemed to be running quite fast and was smoking but there seemed to be almost no power. The boat kept wobbling all over the canal and they seemed quite unaware of us being there – despite looking at us several times. I eventually got past them at High Onn wharft and winding hole where they pulled in to pick up some people. We kept an eye on them after we had gone past. By the time we reached the next bridge (about a third of a mile) they still hadn’t managed to turn round.

We stopped for the night in the cutting by Cowley Tunnel. There were a couple of other boats there but apart from the people messing round on their bikes in the woods we could have been miles away from civilisation.

Supper was some 21 day aged steak washed down with a couple bottles of Lindauer Brut.