Into The Valley

From Henhurst Bridge No 52 to Chapel Bridge No 7, a distance of 21 miles, 5¼ flg and 12 locks.

We couldn’t make a really early start from Wigan because to conserve water a couple of the locks are locked up overnight so we didn’t actually get under way until after 8am. Although the old BW offices have gone the dry dock is still there and it looks like it’s still usable.

Wigan Dry Dock

Wigan Dry Dock

Going down through Wigan Bottom Lock No 87 was like going back in time in some ways. The site of Wayfarer Narrowboats is still there but its no longer a boatyard and the office building and workshop has been demolished – which is a pity because in the past it was a boat building yard and now all that history is gone.

Wayfarer Narrowboats - as was

Wayfarer Narrowboats – as was

The rest of the “Wigan Pier Quarter” has faired equally badly. In the late 1980s the whole area was derelict – the Pier “Nite Spot” being the only activity in the area. But after the National Rally in 1983 things changed – a museum opened as did a pub and the whole place came alive.

Sadly those days are gone.

The Orwell Pub at Wigan Pier

The Orwell Pub at Wigan Pier

The main warehouse that housed “The Way We Were” is looking pretty run down now.

The Way We Were

The Way We Were

The Way We Were

The Way We Were

Actually “The Way We Were” describes the whole place quite well – it was derelict and now it’s derelict again.

Even the Pier is falling apart.

Looks like the Pier could be condemned

Looks like the Pier could be condemned

I really do not know what Mum would have made of this – I don’t think she and dad had been down to the pier area for years, and maybe in a way that’s a good thing.

Leaving Wigan centre behind the canal starts it’s long journey accompanying the River Douglas towards the sea.

Apparently some sort of sporting team.

Apparently some sort of sporting team.

You can take the sign away but you can't take the name away

You can take the sign away but you can’t take the name away

You leave Wigan behind pretty quickly and by the time you reach Crooke Marina you are pretty much out in the countryside. Crooke was where Mintball was kept for the first  few years of her life and things have really changed there.

The Yellow boat is about where Mintball used to be moored

The Yellow boat is about where Mintball used to be moored

Even the site of the old coal tippler is grown over now although there did seem to be a sign by the edge of the trees which I guess could be an information board.

At Roburite Bend there is no sign of the buildings that were part of the Roburite Explosive works and there is no indication at all that there used to be a narrow gauge viaduct from here across the valley to the railway station where goods were transhipped to and from main line trains.

One thing hasn’t changed and that is the sight of  Gathurst Railway Bridge being dwarfed by the M6 Viaduct as both the railway and the motorway cross the river and the canal.

M6 viaduct and railway line

M6 viaduct and railway line

At Dean Locks No 90 only one of the two locks is now in operation, and it looks like the right hand lock has been out of action for several years now. In many ways the state of the canal now is no better than it was 20 years ago and in many ways it is worse.

It has it all apparently

It has it all apparently

At Appley Lock No 91 the two small locks which used to be derelict but were brought back into use are, once again. abandoned and half the paddles on the deep lock don’t even work which makes passage of it even slower than it was before.

Abandoned small lock at Appley Bridge

Abandoned small lock at Appley Bridge

Leaving Appley Bridge and its tar works behind you continue to follow the River Douglas and at Parbold Aqueduct No 16 the river ducks under the canal as it makes its more direct route towards The River Ribble.

The Windmill at Parbold

The Windmill at Parbold

The canal continues to wind its way down the valley, sticking to the contour line, and manages to avoid just about everywhere it possibly can.

Fish Sculpture on the bank

Fish Sculpture on the bank

We arrived at Lathom Junction just as a boat steamed out of the Rufford Branch and proceeded to go straight into the bank opposite. They seemed totally unphased by seeing us there and didn’t say anything apart from telling us that the swing bridge was a little stiff.

The old Dry Dock, Lathom Junction.

The old Dry Dock, Lathom Junction.

We stopped to fill up with water and then made our way down to just below.Lathom Lock No 2 where we pulled over and went and had a couple of pints in “The Ship” for old time’s sake (we once attended a New Year’s Eve party there) .

The Rufford Branch is a delightful little canal which is overlooked by so many people. Each lock is different (different paddle gear) and all of them are quite picturesque, and the view across the open plains to the Pennine Hills are good. It is however a short canal and before long you find yourself at Sollom Lock which is where the Canal used to join the River Douglas for the last couple of miles before the river was moved. The navigation changes so much at this point : it becomes much more winding, is full of reeds and is quite deep and before long you are at Town End Narrows where you have to try to turn your boat because although it says 100 metres to the Winding hole the next sign (which I assume should say 50 metres) has its distance blocked out.. Luckily you can turn a 52 foot boat here, but there is no point in trying to use a boat pole as you won’t find the bottom!

Heading back we encountered a smoke bank at Fearn’s Swing Bridge No 9 caused by a local farmer burning old hay.

Smoke!!!

Smoke!!!

The Rufford Visitor Moorings  just below the bridge are in extremely good condition and we called it a night and walked up to the Hesketh Arms for the evening.

The Road To Wigan Pier

From Grocer's Wharf to Henhurst Bridge No 52, a distance of 20 miles, 7¾ flg and 3 locks.

Overnighting in the city was very different to the previous night out at Little Leigh. You’d expect it to be noisy given where we were but it actually wasn’t that bad at all : it was much lighter obviously – out at Little Leigh it had pretty much been dark but here the street lights meant that even in the middle of the night you could see quite well in the boat. But the biggest thing was hearing the city wake up around you, the sound of rubbish collection trucks, the odd car starting, the bird call and then just a slow but steady increase in background noise.

On the way into Manchester we’d noticed just how many people were using the towpath and as we headed out the traffic was picking up again : people walking in and then the cyclists moving along at quite some speed. ….but just about everyone said hello : a habit we got used to over the next couple of days.

It’s very odd that Hulme Locks Branch Junction – Bridgewater Canal is still in water although the locks were closed off years ago

Hulme lock Junctiokn

Hulme lock Junction

They didn’t even bother removing the gates:

Hulme Lock

Hulme Lock

The new lock at Pomona Lock Branch Junction is, like most of the rest of canal, covered in graffiti and looks like its rarely used

Pomona Lock

Pomona Lock

There used be a large mural on the end wall of one of the warehouses here – now it looks like this:

Anvil Of Industry

Anvil Of Industry

Part of me hopes that the mural is still intact behind the covering – it would be a shame if it has been lost. Making our way back down the canal we met another heron

"Alex" the heron

“Alex” the heron

just next door to Old Trafford

Some sort of sporting team aparently

Some sort of sporting team aparently

Stretford – Waters Meeting junction sneaks up on you and unlike most junctions there aren’t any signposts! Turning towards Worsley the towpath became quieter although Kellog’s obviously use it as a way to work.

Got to protect those Corn Flakes.

Got to protect those Corn Flakes.

The air smells wonderful here – toasting cereal and slightly sweet .. however that all changes at Mosley Road Bridge No 44 because on the other side of the bridge to Kellog’s is a factory using tar and so the nice toasty smell is replaced by the strong acrid smell of phenols, luckily it doesn’t last long and with the canal being so deep you quickly put it behind you.
Like a lot of the canal there is very little to see along here and the Intu Trafford Centre Visitor Moorings are soon passing by.

Just what you've always wanted.

Just what you’ve always wanted.

For such an iconic structure the area round Barton Swing Aqueduct is pretty grim – the house by the end of the bridge is derelict and everything is overgrown which is odd given the amount of work done on the towpath on both sides of the ship canal. Even the aqueduct itself feels a bit neglected and really needs a coat of paint.

The Aqueduct

The Aqueduct

Monton Turn is where Mintball was launched back in 1986 and apart from the big mill being demolished and replaced by housing very little has changed.

Mintball's launch site.

Mintball’s launch site.

although the lighthouse does seem to have been enhanced and tidied up a bit

Monton Turn Lighthouse

Monton Turn Lighthouse

Worsley Delphis as picturesque as ever and the packet house stands proud

The Packet House.

The Packet House.

A few years ago they put in filters to try to stop the iron that leaches from the underground mines here from entering into the canal – by the looks of the water they’ve stopped working, and in a way Worsley wouldn’t be Worlsey without its bright orange water.

At Boothstown Basin the pub has once again re-opened and there were plenty of boats in the basin.

Booth's town Basin

Boothstown Basin

The water by now was no longer orange and in fact was so clear you could see the rubbish on the bottom on the canal and it was like that for quite a way.  The outskirts of Leigh soon approach and Leigh Bridge No 11 welcomes you to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The town itself seems to be slowly picking itself up and there’s quite a lot of newish build housing both in the town and on the edge of it.

I remember when all of this was slagheaps.

I remember when all of this was slagheaps.

Indeed at Plank Lane Bridge No 8 the old colliery site has been built over… I wonder how they filled in the shafts that were here.

Not so much a mineshaft in the back garden, more like under the living room

Not so much a mineshaft in the back garden, more like under the living room

There were some problems with the bridge which meant that it has to be operated by C&RT only – it certainly didn’t seem to be opening as far as I remember.

Plank Lane Bridge

Plank Lane Bridge

From Plank Lane through Dover Bridge No 4 and onto Poolstock Bottom Lock No 2 very little has changed – the trees have grown some more hiding even more of the industrial history of the area… and it still feels odd to reachWigan Junction and not see the cooling towers and chimneys of Westwood Power Station. Similarly not having to take your life into your hands crossing  Chapel Lane at Henhurst Bridge No 52 feels a little odd – the new bridge sited a few feet away from the lock with a towpath underneath it is a lot better although it now leaves the wonderful crank operated bottom gates on Henhurst Lock No 86 a bit obsolete if they chose to put full balance beams on.

There are plenty of moorings below the lock and so we stopped there rather than go through the next lock as the towpath is at a much more sensible level.

In to Manchester

[From Willow Green Bridge No 208 to Grocer's Wharf, a distance of 27 miles, 4½ flg and 1 lock.

It rained over night – that wasn’t something that they’d forecast, or if they had we had missed it – but by the time we got up the rain had cleared and things were starting to dry off. It was pretty overcast with some heavy looking clouds that kept the threat of rain all too prominent.

We had a bit of a wait at Preston Brook Tunnel (South end) as we missed the 10 minute slot that northbound traffic gets and it was quite annoying to sit there waiting when you could see right through to the other end of the tunnel and see that there was no-one in it.

Preston Brook Tunnel

Preston Brook Tunnel

I seem to remember the tunnel being wetter than it was – but I’m not sure if that is just me getting tunnels mixed up (well they do all tend to look the same in many ways) or if the drainage has changed.

Exiting the tunnel we went past the “Welcome” notice from Peel Holdings – not so much as a welcome to the Bridgewater canal, more a reminder that they unilaterally changed the reciprocal licensing agreement and that all C&RT boaters will have to buy short term licences if they have the audacity to try to use the canal for any length of time at all (basically up to 7 days but if you leave and come back then that counts as a second visit in 28 days and so they want your money)

Lots of things you're not allowed to do on the Bridgewater Canal

Lots of things you’re not allowed to do on the Bridgewater Canal

Daresbury always struck me as an odd place to put a Nuclear Research facility, but there you go, and although the tower no longer contains the huge Van de Graff Generator they’ve retained the structure which I think is great… although I’m not sure what Lewis Caroll would have thought of it all.

Daresbury Tower

Daresbury Tower

Considering the original purpose of the Bridgewater canal it spends a lot of its time wandering through the countryside on a moderately winding course, skirting round the edge of most places until you get to Lymm where the village sits right by the canal. It’s a very pretty little village with an odd cross and its own mill pond.

Lymm Cross

Lymm Cross

The Mill Pond

The Mill Pond

It also has a very good pub – the Brewery Tap which is home to the Lymm Brewing Company. It’s right by the canal on the offside visitor moorings and just round the corner from the bakery which does good sausage rolls and a very impressive range of cheeses.

Somehow we seemed to lose track of time a bit and so we were a little later leaving Lymm than we planned. However one thing you can say about the Bridgewater canal and that is that it’s deep so you can make good progress along it – which you need as the length through Sale is extremely straight and boring.

We decided to detour into Manchester city centre – its been quite some time since I was last there and things have changed a lot. It used to be full of industrial dereliction and vandalism… now its full of converted warehouses and new blocks of flats… and vandalism.

We moored for the night near the Grocer’s warehouse – diagonally opposite where Mintball was moored for the duration of the IWA National Rally in 1988… and its sort of good think that maybe that rally kicked off some of the regeneration that has taken place since then.

Grocers Warehouse, Castlefields

Grocers Warehouse, Castlefields

Beating to the bush

From Prescott Bridge Narrows No 10 to Willow Green Bridge No 208, a distance of 20 miles, ½ flg and 6 locks.

After walking back from the pub through light mist it wasn’t really a surprise to wake up and find that everything was soaked in a very heavy dew and that there was a lot of mist floating round. But along with the mist was a blue sky and the sun. That’s what makes boating in September so enjoyable : the early mornings can be remarkably picturesque, but so many people just sleep through it all.

Morning Mist on the canal

Morning Mist on the canal

Misty Fields

Misty Fields

The plan today was to get Simon to the Old Broken Cross so he could get to Northwich station to get a train and then we’d plan the rest of our day from there.

View across the Weaver valley

View across the Weaver valley

Passing Hoolgrave Bridge No 11 we noticed that The Badger has a sign there pointing out that its 700 metres to the pub… it certainly is a much nicer walk than the one down the road from Eardswick Hall Bridge No 13 and one to remember for the Future.

Minshull Wharf

Minshull Wharf

The sun was starting to burn the mist off by this time and other boats were on the move. We passed one and they saw my camera and asked if I was “Kingfisher Hunting” as there was one or two on this stretch… and they were right.

Kingfisher posing before flying away

Kingfisher posing before flying away

We arrived at Stanthorne Lock No 3 and got through it pretty quickly and a boat arrived just as we were leaving. I asked them how busy it was in Middlewich and they said it wasn’t bad, and they were right – we got to Wardle Lock No 4 and there were two boats in front of us, and one of those was going into the lock. There were no boats to come up and so pretty soon we were through the lock and turning northwards at Middlewich Junction.

The three locks at Middlewich were quiet and we only met one boat and that was as we left the bottom lock.  Middlewich Big Lock No 75 is as slow and as heavy as ever and we had to wait a couple of minutes for a boat to finish coming up.

By now the sun was really shining and it was hard to believe it was September as we made our way through the Cheshire countryside.

We arrived at Broken Cross Bridge No 184 in plenty of time and so we had lunch on board before popping into the pub for a couple of pints to fill the time before Simon headed off to the station.

The Tata Chemical works is still pretty unpleasant but seems to have got rid of most of the leaks (or at least the ones visible from the canal) since I last came through here a few years ago. It’s odd that this one single plant remains when most of the rest of the chemical industry has gone – when we first boated round here in the late 1970’s there was a lot more industry and industrial dereliction… I do sometimes wonder if the people living in the houses at Middlewich know just what was there before their houses.

One legacy of the industry is the depth of the canal and we made pretty good time up to the Lion Salt Works which after many years of dereliction finally seems to be being restored and the museum looked quite interesting.

Things were quite busy in terms of people and boats round the Anderton Lift Junction (Trent and Mersey) and the trip boat was sitting in one of the caissons – we’re planning on doing some of the Weaver navigation on the way back if we have the time.  We got through  Barnton Tunnel with no problems – well apart from the boat in front of us shining a bright torch back down the tunnel at us and returning our horn signals.. so we didn’t know if it was a boat coming towards us or not.  They decided not to do the same going through Saltersford Tunnel but we did have to wait for about 15 minutes as we had missed the north bound time slot.

We stopped for the night on the “long term” moorings near Acton Bridge No 209 – they are usually empty and it is so easy to miss the notice at the end… they really are the most under developed long term moorings we’ve ever seen.  We walked up to the Holly Bush Inn for our evening meal which was very good and the two real ales they had on were in good form too. The pub is about 10 minutes walk away up the main road and although there is a pavement all the way you need to cross the road a couple of times which can be fun given just how fast the A49 is at this point.

Badger or Bust!!

From Tom's Moorings to Prescott Bridge Narrows No 10, a distance of 19 miles, ½ flg and 24 locks.

There is no pleasant way to find out your portable toilet is full at 5am in the morning. It’s even less pleasant when you realise that the top and bottom units haven’t been locked together securely so it simply leaks out from the bowl when the trap is shut.

So the first priority on getting up was a quick trip, in the wrong direction, to
Market Drayton Visitor Moorings (Talbot Wharf) so we could drag the rather full tank to the sanitary station. This was not, as you can imagine, a pleasant task so it was a bonus to find that the pump out unit was paused and someone had left quite a bit of time on it so we were able to pump out the main tank and give it a quick flush before starting off on our trip proper

The weather was looking pretty good although it was a little cool which is to be expected at this time of year and we chugged gently through the countryside to Adderley Top Lock No 8.

Green Pastures near Market Drayton

Green Pastures near Market Drayton


There were a few other boats around – I guess they’d all taken the view that as it seemed to be nice day they might as well get out there and enjoy it. We made pretty good time down the locks but by the time we reached Audlem Top Lock No 13 at 09:55 there was a bit of a queue starting to build up. It wasn’t the fastest passage through the locks and it was nearly 12 by the time we got to Audlem Wharf where we filled up with water before backing up and mooring on the offside for bite of brunch.

After brunch we wandered over to The Lord Combermere and sat outside whilst we had a couple of pints before doing a quick shop at the Co-Op and getting back under way. There seemed to be a bit of a lull in the traffic but as we passed Overwater Marina it started getting a bit busy again and by the time we got to Hack Green Top Lock No 28 we were in a small queue of boats. Luckily there were some boats coming the other way too which spaced us out nicely and so we weren’t sitting in a queue all the way to Nantwich Junction Bridge No 92.

Wooden Horse - Nantwich

Wooden Horse – Nantwich

Maybe it’s the moorings but the stretch through Nantwich always seems to take longer than you’d expect – still the sun was shining so it wasn’t too bad.

Progress was a bit hit and miss and so we didn’t stop at The Barbridge Inn for a pint or too… instead we chugged on and had a pint on board as we sailed into the evening.

The setting sun adding a wonderful glow to things

The setting sun adding a wonderful glow to things

The setting sun behind a classic Middlewich Branch Bridge

The setting sun behind a classic Middlewich Branch Bridge

Sunset on the Middlewich Branch

Sunset on the Middlewich Branch

It was starting to get rather dark by the time we approached Minshull Lock No 2 and we were starting to wonder if we’d make it to Church Minshull and The Badger.

We decided to call it a night just after the Weaver Aqueduct and after a good roast chicken supper we walked along the bank to Hoolgrave Bridge No 11 and made our way down the track and across a field – the path bringing us out right by The Badger…

Liverpool – it’s all coming together

We have confirmation of our booking through the Liverpool Link… we’re also probably going to phone and get permission to go through the rest of the docks to Liverpool Marina in Coburg Dock to get some fuel and do a pump out on the Saturday morning.

We’ve just about got the crew sorted out too – people are going to be coming and going throughout the two weeks but there’s lots of places where people can hop on and off.

Liverpool in the Autumn

After failing to get to Liverpool last year due to various circumstances we’re trying again this year.

2016 is the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and its the 30th anniversary of the launch of Mintball

So it seemed sort of good to combine the two events and take Mintball not only back to the waters she was first launched on, and spent her early years exploring, but also to go right down into Liverpool and through the docks on the Liverpool Link.

The proposed route can be found on the trip summary page

Liverpool and Back

This is the planned route but it may well change closer to the time, or even during the holiday as the timing are very easy and we know we’ll be able to do a lot more than this during the two weeks.

Starting at Tom's Moorings and finishing at Tom's Moorings with overnight stops at : Prescott Bridge Narrows No 10, Willow Green Bridge No 208, Grocer's Wharf, Henhurst Bridge No 52, Chapel Bridge No 7, Lydiate Winding Hole, Salthouse Dock, Salthouse Dock, Halsall Warehouse Bridge No 25, Parbold Bridge No 37D, Worsley Visitor Moorings, Dutton Stop Lock No 76, Middlewich Visitor Moorings (Middlewich Branch), Wrenbury Church Visitor Moorings, and Tom's Moorings. A total distance of 270 miles, 5¼ flg and 122 locks.