Moore 2 Life:Exploring the waterways

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Book:'LIFE WITH A NARROWBOAT' © Chas Moore

Chapter 8: The Pennines, 2002

Cold n icy, Grand Union canal pictures

Braunston. For the first 14 days in January we had ice on the canal. The air temperature had gone down seven degrees centigrade below zero for four nights. At first the ice was quite thin and we were breaking it away from the side of the boat. But it got much thicker by the end of the week. No boats could move. Some poor souls got stuck some way out of town with no facilities. Even Ivor could not do his usual coal delivery round by boat and had to get the wheelbarrow out. We were running short of water and got out our big water container. Using our trolley it took seven trips over a couple of days to fill the tank from quarter to half full. That will be enough for another week. The temperature got above zero during the second week and most of the ice had gone by the end of it.

While at Braunston we got to know Barry on Pulse. He purchased our folding bike and roof box, as we had not used them for some time. Mary and Ray paid us a visit in their campervan. They can park it in the marina and get electric and water. We took them down the South Oxford and gave them lunch on board. It was good to be able to move again. We had ordered filters for our engine in December and once the ice had cleared we were able to get the 1000 hour service done in the Marina.

A small refit

We arranged to meet Mark and Margaret on Knot Normal at Brownsover near Rugby. What with rubbish in the canal, some lack of water, and BWs un-planned stoppage, they had a bad time getting through Birmingham. The canal in the centre of that city is kept clean every day and is very secure but as always it is the edges of town that are the worse for rubbish. Our journey was not as difficult but we travelled through a snowstorm.

Mark spent a week on our boat adding a cabin cupboard unit, sliding bathroom door and making the bed wider with a lift up flap. Not having a door opening into the bathroom has made it seem much bigger. The cabin unit has drop down doors that serve as small tables for our morning coffee. Our wind up radio, some books and medication will now be kept in the cupboards. While in the working party mode we managed to move one of our radiators. Now the table can fit under the gunwale giving more floor space. "Inside the boat gaining an inch or two of space means a lot."

Mark finished his work inside but we continue in working party mode varnishing all the new wood. Then we got a new wider mattress. A tight fit through the four ft. door! We discussed some more changes with Mark and he will be available again later in the year to help. In the meanwhile we get on with more changes ourselves. We have cut off the top half of the saloon cabinet!! It was never used as a drop down table as intended. No screws were used to hold the thing up against the side, which left a clean wall. The only problem was a gap in the ceiling and we noticed that there is room for more polystyrene insulation in the roof lining.

Mess and rubbish

Despite all the signs and regulations designed to keep us safe and healthy we humans seem intent on ignoring them. In order to protect our boat we are obliged to clean up round it, mainly doggy doos on the ground and bottles and cans in the canal. We have used an empty coal bag and filled it with floating rubbish while at Rugby.

Oxford canal, Oxford canal pictures

When the Oxford Canal was first built it followed the contour of the land. Later it was made shorter with deep cuttings and embankments. Some of the unused sections remain in water. The Brownsover arm is near here and provides a good walk along its towpath. A new road bridge has been built over it with sufficient clearance for a boat if ever the arm was to be used again. Brownsover is where Sir Frank Whittle invented the jet engine.

We moved on up the canal to Brinklow and had some fish and chips before continuing to Rose Narrowboats at Stretton. The boat yard provided us with two sheets of polystyrene. We spent the rest of the month cutting it all up and putting it all in place filling many gaps. While at Stretton we explored another arm like the one at Brownsover. A stretch of unused canal left when the Oxford was shortened. There are many hire boats stored there over winter and near the end is the old Wharf. The buildings are now used as workshops for the repair of old working canal boats.

Traveling with friends

Terry and Myra joined us at Rugby and we moved up to Newbold. The canal used to take another course here past the pub and by the church where we found the old unused tunnel half buried under a new road. The new tunnel takes the canal northwest. We decided to turn and go south with them for the rest of the week.

So we got back to Braunston, up the flight of locks and through the tunnel and spent a night at Norton Junction where Ann made dinner for our friends. We are on the Grand Union now with wide locks so both our boats can go in together. We proceeded down the Buckby flight and stopped at Weedon. The weather was not kind. A strong cold wind and some horizontal snow made it a challenge.

Our friends then needed to get back to Ventnor Farm Marina and next day we agreed to part company and continue south to Bugbrooke. It was another windy day but we arrived safely after a testing trip on our own. There is a good Pharmacy and Surgery here and Ann got to see a Nurse for her Asthma check.

We continued with our refit and also had enough polystyrene to cover the water tank, in the hope that it will make it warmer up front. Cutting up polystyrene is a messy business! It gets everywhere. Good job it is white so you can see where it is. Went through the boat several times with the vacuum cleaner. Several of our boating friends are moving south on the G. U. but one couple on Bramble joined us to go up the Buckby locks as we return north to Braunston. It seems that where we go depends on whom we meet!

Braunston

Back at Braunston we visited friends in the marina before catching the bus to Daventry to shop at Tesco. The engine needs a service so was booked it in at the marina again. It was a bit windy and it proved quite tricky backing the boat into the marina. Ian does a good job for us. This time the belt was changed having done over a 1000 hours and was showing its age. The Barrus Shire engine only has one belt! We have learnt to heat the water up using the diesel boiler or engine before using the washing machine. This saves electrical power, which we are short of because the alternator delivers only 70 amps.

Windy to Calcutt

We went down to Calcutt junction and intended to go further. But the wind grew to gale force so we stopped and battened down the hatches. Our front cover was blowing out like a balloon so it was tied down with rope. The canal was like a very choppy sea with breaking waves. A few days later it was calm bright and spring like and we planted our old pansies out on the towpath. We often see daffodils and other garden flowers along the towpath. New bulbs were put in our pots and fresh pansies were put in an orange box supplied by the butcher in Braunston. Must get some proper plant pots one day.

Canal or road

There are many working boats still making a living on the canals. Ivor and Mel supply and deliver coal and diesel to many boats found moored along the Oxford canal. It may be interesting to note that a 45 tonne lorry can only carry 25 tonnes of cargo while a barge can carry 300 tonnes, 12 times as much. While the barge travels at 4 miles an hour in one direction the lorry would have to travel there and back 24 times to carry the same amount of cargo and would have to travel at 96 miles an hour to keep up!

Visitors

Terry and Myra came by car from their boat to pay us a visit. They told us they intend selling their boat and are looking for a shorter one. We were saddened by this news. Like ours, their boat is designed to be lived in. But it seems that they were less keen than us to make the waterways their home.

Chris, Tracy and Mum came up to see us and we had lunch at the Old Plough in Braunston. Our son and daughter in law are looking forward to a happy event later in the year. As we all are!

The big trip north

We have planned to travel north over the Pennines this year. So were off heading first for Whaley Bridge in Derbyshire on the Peak Forest Canal. We have decided to go via Market Drayton on the Shropshire Union because we went that way last year. The March winds have blown out and it has been dry and calm making for a pleasant start to our trip.

Coventry canal pictures

We would travel on the Coventry Canal and pass Atherstone which had been known for its felt hats for 300 years but the last factory, Wilson and Stafford, closed in 1999. Rugeley is an ancient market town near Armitage. The Armitage tunnel had its roof removed in 1971 because of mining subsidence. It is very narrow and cut through sandstone. Spode House is near by, the former home of a pottery family. Further on is Great Haywood junction where we would turn left on to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. Continuing north here would get us to Stoke on Trent but we may not get through a very low tunnel created while major road works are in progress.

Shropshire Union canal pictures

So we got to Market Drayton on the Shropshire Canal in 12 days and covered 143 lock miles. Travelling on the North Oxford, Coventry, Trent and Mersey, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. Moving on we continue in discovery mode down several locks to Audlem in Cheshire and on to Barbage Junction where we turned right for Middlewich. It is Easter now and many boats are out and about enjoying the fine weather. While getting water at the junction a boat was seen going straight on and came to a sudden stop on the concrete edge. By going too fast the boat would not turn the corner.

Wild life

On our travels we have heard the sky lark many times but not the cuckoo yet. Various types of duck live on the canals. They seem to come in many different mixtures some not to be found in the book. Canada Geese in their family groups and Brent Geese have been seen. Several swans of course, some quite vicious towards other swans and ducks. Ratty, the water vole is very rarely seen if at all. Herons are majestic when seen taking off and flying past the boat. You have to be quick to see the blue flash of a King Fisher as it flies ahead. A young cormorant has been seen, as have woodpeckers. Snow drops, primroses, violets, trees and bushes in blossom, catkins and pussy willow. "Oh Yes, spring is here."

The Queen Mother

Our dear Queen Mother has just died and we see many flags at half-mast. The nation will miss her smiling face.

Middlewich, Oxford canal pictures

Having travelled every day we stop at Middlewich for a few days rest and found some good shops. It is a good thing that the clocks go forward for we have been getting up too early already. We are in Cheshire, the home of a smiling cat and some nice cheese. Cows are seen enjoying the lush green grass. A coal boat went by and we got some more bags because we still have the fire going.

The Romans found salt here and so did we. Turned right on to the Trent and Mersey and went past the British Salt works. Saxa and Bisto are made here. I think the salt is pumped out with water as brine. "Are you worth your salt?" Part of roman's pay was salt, which is why you earn a salary. They had a camp here called Salinae. The suffix wich indicates a salt town but I don't know how salt came to be under the ground so far from the sea.

Salt, silk and cotton, Macclesfield canal pictures

You get from salt to silk by going from Middlewich to Macclesfield where they manufactured silk in the 18th century. It took us five days. Rising from 90 feet to 380 feet. 42 deep locks got us up Heart break hill and eventually turning on to the Macclesfield canal and tuned into Silk FM on the radio.

The Macclesfield canal, surveyed by Telford in 1825, links Stoke on Trent with Manchester and is a cut and fill canal. It was used to carry coal to and cotton from the big mills at its northern end. The canal has very pretty scenery all the way and breath taking when crossing high aqueducts. Like flying over the trees and rooftops. The canal has good firm but mostly shallow edges so we could not stop to admire the view.

We stopped at Congleton and found the Queens Head pub where we had a meal. Then went shopping. Canal, rail and road cross each other here. The old stone canal bridge is almost lost under the iron railway bridge and the high concrete road bridge dwarfs both. They show some lack of respect for each other. Boseley locks are made of stone blocks and many had the stonemason's marks on them. There are 12 locks in a mile taking the canal up 120 ft. to 500 ft. above the sea providing a grand view of the country.

At Macclesfield the original HOVIS mill by the canal no longer makes bread. A sign informed us we could only stay 24 hours and that the town centre is a long way down the hill. Needless to say we did not get to see the Silk Museum. Sadly half sunken boats occupied both water points. Bollington's Clarence Mill was used for cotton spinning in the 1850s. The raw cotton was shipped from Liverpool via canal to the Mill. The cotton thread was then sent to the cotton weavers at Manchester. The old brick building is now used by many different industries. An old coal mine at Higher Pointon caused the canal to subside. The old bridges that collapsed now have flat tops and were built up to maintain clearance for boats to pass under.

Goyt valley, Peak Forest canal pictures

The Macclesfield canal ends at Marple where it joins the Peak Forest Canal. Here locks go down to Manchester but we continue at this level going round to the west side of the hill. Into sunshine and get a glorious view across the Goyt valley to see the foothills of the Pennines. A boat yard at New Mills provided us with a pump out. We have a black tank that stores our effluent and about every month it needs sucking out.

Once that had been done we walked down the hill to find the town and huge stone bridges carrying road and rail over the Goyt river valley. Back on the boat we continued on to the end of the canal at Whaley Bridge, lifting or swinging a few bridges on the way. We are here because the manufacturer has recalled our mains inverter even though we have had no problems with it. The supplier here promised to replace the whole thing. Good to know there are some companies who care for their customers.

Bugsworth

The canal branch off to Bugsworth Canal Basin is closed to boats due to a leak. We walked there and noticed that the water was dark. There are some cottages here called Tea Pot Row. Apparently the original residents used to empty their teapots into the canal! In the 1800s limestone was quarried in the hills here. It was carried down to the canal on a railway where it was burnt in kilns to produce quick lime. Narrowboats were used to deliver coal as fuel for the kilns then left loaded with lime. The protected site is of great interest to industrial archaeologists.

Marple locks

Back at Marple we went down 214 feet through 16 deep locks towards Manchester, all in the space of a mile. Got stuck when waiting to fill one lock due to lack of water. Not unusual in this flight of locks apparently. While waiting to float off another boater passed us and used the lock, which took even more water! Just had to wait for more water to come down from the top. The boat just floated off when the BW men turned up, now in their blue uniforms instead of green.

Evenings

Once we have arrived somewhere we settle down to an evening of entertainment. Stick up the aerial and point it in some direction for best picture. As we passed round Birmingham it usually pointed at the big city and received Carlton or Midlands. Now we are near Manchester we get Granada or North West. But the analogue signal does not always provide a clear picture!

Prepare to pioneer

The Huddersfield Narrow Canal is a waterway link between Manchester in the west and Huddersfield in the east over the Pennine hills and was originally opened in 1811. 30 years ago the canal was an abandoned ditch but was reopened in May 2001. From the west 32 locks climb up to the summit through the Tame Valley. Standedge Tunnel at the summit is Britain's highest at 645 ft. above sea level, the longest at three and a half miles and the deepest at 638 ft. below Marsden Moor. Due to lack of ventilation you are not allowed to drive through. An electric tug tows several boats through. Then 42 locks get the canal down the Colne Valley in Yorkshire on the east to Huddersfield at 100 ft. above sea level. When the canal was built several reservoirs were made at the top to supply the water. British Waterways never dreamt that the canal would ever open and sold them to the Water board. Now they have to pay for the water used by the canal!

Huddersfield narrow, Huddesfield canal pictures

The Huddersfield Canal has only been open a year so we need a full stock of supplies. We shopped at Romiley and got diesel at the next boat yard. We needed gas but they did not have any but should be OK for three months with the one we are now using. We stopped for the night at a park near the end of the Peak Forest Canal that seemed quiet but some yob had to throw an egg at the boat that evening. Why! Perhaps we are too near the big city of Manchester.

At the end of the Peak Forest Canal we turned right on to the Huddersfield canal. It was raining as we faced a huge pile of stones that appeared to block our way to say nothing of the rubbish floating on the water. "Are we meant to proceed?" I wondered. The first two locks were operated hydraulically. The gates had no arms because a road had been built too close to the lock that was surrounded by barbed wire fences. It was hard work winding them open and shut. The first six locks were full of rubbish. At the new shopping centre, rubbish prevented the lock gate from fully opening. It was a Saturday and shoppers were watching our every move and not really helping. These locks are brand new and all made of clean stone blocks. We managed to stop for lunch away from the shoppers.

After removing string and plastic from the prop we leave Manchester behind us. We were looking for somewhere to stop near Mossley but could not get near the edge. This is a feature of this canal. Much of it is waiting to be dredged. It was raining as we went up yet another lock in the hope of finding a deeper edge by the pub. No such luck! Finally stopped near Quick, along side a lonely boater moored three feet from the edge. We had got up 17 locks in five miles on the first long day. At 500 ft. the view across the valley was spectacular.

Uppermill

Lock 21W is approached under a wide road which is close to the lock. So close in fact that one gate has no beam. It is opened with a course rack and pinion gear. Stopped at Uppermill with space to moor against a rocky edge. A trip boat, two hotel boats and us stayed the night. Could have done with a water tap here if nothing else. There are recycling bins in the car park just below the canal.

We are in the district of Saddleworth the original home of the Platt family who were makers of wool and cotton mill machinery. Saw a working Platt machine, which was making stair carpet in the interesting museum. Uppermill is a village with a good range of shops providing great value for cotton products like sheets and towels.

One female duck with ducklings is struggling to keep them fed while fending off the randy males. We counted 20 male ducks here! The situation is so bad that the RSPCA were called to rescue the young family. Apparently several females have disappeared.

Earlier in our travels we heard that the Trent and Mersey canal has been closed due to a breach near the Anderton Lift. This has caused an increase in boat traffic wanting to use the Huddersfield canal. The Trent and Mersey will be our way back south. BW told us that the canal should reopen in June.

Standedge tunnel

Booked our trip through the Standedge tunnel but our cat and dog cannot go through so Ann will take a taxi. The day before we are booked to go through the tunnel we have to be at lock 24W. Here there is the first water tap, refuse and toilet facilities provided by British Waterways to be seen on this canal. The men in blue arrived to offer advice about our trip through the tunnel. Every thing has to come off the roof. Our front cratch cover, bike and box, flowerpots and rear cover are all removed. Much of it is stowed in the front well. We filled the water tank and put a bag of coal up front to lower the bow as much as possible so it would be less likely to hit the tunnel roof.

The BW men returned the next day to help us up the flight of nine locks to the summit at 645 feet. There was a rush of activity by the team of men who tie the four boats together in a train. They used floating rubber connectors and straps. Large rubber sheets are thrown over to cover and protect the roof and sides of the boat. Gas and electric is turned off so the boat is in total darkness. The taxi arrived for Ann and the animals and took them over the Pennines. I now have half an hour for a bite to eat before the convoy sets off. All the boat owners are to travel in the tug while a BW man is stationed on each boat to help guide it through. They have hard hats with torches, a pole and a fire extinguisher at their feet!

Electric tug

The driver of the tug has to concentrate on not hitting the rock sides by moving at 1 mile an hour. There are two propellers, one at each end of the tug that is controlled by the driver. Some of the tunnel is brick lined but the rest is just rough rock. Building started in 1794 digging and blasting their way through from both ends. It is no wonder there are a few bends in the middle! The tug almost stops as it knocks and bangs its way past the bends. I watched our boat that was the first in line and saw it never touched the side. The train of boats emerged after three hours, in Yorkshire.

Our boat was returned to us undamaged but dirty. We were relieved. It was late afternoon and we had no time to see the visitor centre before it closed. We were too busy putting our boat back together. Next morning the BW men helped the four boats down 11 locks. One of the locks was dry so water had to be flushed down to fill it. Now going down with our own lock full of water, 10 locks and a mile away from Slaithwaite.

Slaithwaite

Near the town we see our first guillotine lock gate. It has to be wound up and the boat goes under it. The next bridge is low and the boat only just gets under it! Then there is the deep lock. It takes the canal below street level and you travel in a narrow trough. You can just see the shops as you move down the street. The Fish and Chip shop is open and they wave as we pass. We go down another lock to moor by the Fire Station. "Must get some fish and chips here!" I said to Ann. BW has not provided any facilities for us boaters here. We did find a full Gas bottle to replace our empty one.

Huddersfield

Just south of Huddersfield there are old mills in the Colne valley. The old millstream is full of stagnant water and weed. "The canal may well have been like that before it was reopened." Another 14 locks in three miles get us down to Huddersfield. One pound was empty because a naughty local had opened a paddle the night before. BW men came to help again by flushing water through the lock while the boat was in it! Eventually we get down past the University and on to the wide canal to moor by Sainsbury's.

In conclusion the canal has two main towns where you can stop to shop, Uppermill in the west and Slaithwaite in the east. One set of BW facilities provided at Dobcross is not enough. But it is early days and if more boaters use the canal it should get better.

Calder and Hebble

Before going on down the Huddersfield Wide canal we got a handspike for use on the Calder and Hebble. It is a 2 ft. long piece of 3 X 2 wood used to operate the paddles. Some locks have been converted to the normal windlass operation. We turned left onto the navigable river Calder heading for Sowerby Bridge. The locks are only 57ft. 6in. long, Just 6in. longer than the boat. Despite being a wide lock we usually went in on our own at an angle almost hitting the front gate to be able to close the gates behind. Going up or down needed our full attention to ensure the front or back does not get caught in the lock. Most locks had ground paddles but some 'kind' boater opened the gate paddle first causing our front well deck getting flooded! While going down, the back often got flooded due to a few leaky gates. The handspike is a bit slow and hard to operate.

Rochdale, Rochdale canal pictures

At Sowerby Bridge we enter the deepest lock in the country at 19ft. 4 1/4in. It marks the start of the Rochdale Canal. We pay the lock keeper for two weeks navigation. BW will soon take over the running of this canal that was restored by the Rochdale Trust. 20 lock miles and we are in Hebden Bridge. Joined the horse trip boat in the lock before town then moored by the chimney. Many new buildings and shops have replaced the old mills.

After a few days we moved on up, past Oxford Street where my brother used to live, and on to Todmorden. The valley is very narrow with river, road, canal and railway squeezing through. The river has been in flood in recent years as it over flows into the canal and then into Todmorden and Hebden Bridge on its way down. Old mills and new factories have restricted the river such that in places is narrower than the canal. The further up we got the harder the lock gear became because the teeth were well worn. Then we saw a sign warning us about lack of water at the summit. In fact BW stopped boats proceeding somewhere past Todmorden. So we turned there.

Got some coal on the way back. One bag left and the fire was still being lit on some cold wet evenings. Had to borrow a wheelbarrow to deliver the bags myself! There were solid concrete towpath edges and no rings that prevented us mooring out of town. Which is a shame because many more boats could stop here. Hebden Bridge is one of those towns we would come back to if only we could.

Back at Sowerby deep lock we tied up temporally to the fence because there were no bollards or rings. The officious lock keeper came over and kindly told us we could be sued for obstructing the towpath. It was no time to joke about it being an offence to tie to the fence! Cyclists had access to the towpath even at the mooring for the lock! What would happen if a cyclist knocked us into the canal? "We would get wet that's what!"

Down on the river, Calder and Hebble pictures

The engine needs a service and a Barrus agent is at Ledgard Bridge. He could do it tomorrow. "Come on down and moor up over night" he said when we rang. So we did, not realizing that it would be next to the weir. All available ropes were tied to shore. Our map showed another boat yard on the other side that would have been better. Luckily the water level went down over night but it was one of those bad nights on board. Never before seen a duck go by so fast!

Ayre and Calder pictures

We continued on river navigations after the service. Going down the Calder to Castleford and up the Aire to Leeds. The Aire and Calder have huge locks operated by push buttons. During the Queens Jubilee week the lock keepers were not on duty and we did not see any commercial traffic. In the 1700s these navigable rivers were used to transport coal, wool, corn and agricultural produce from the Humber to Leeds. The wide rivers encouraged speed without making a wash so plastic boats tended to pass us.

Old mill products

Stopped at Thwaite Mills just outside Leeds. Two working water wheels each generate 30 horsepower and were originally used for Fulling. It is a process to bind freshly woven cloth using fuller's earth and urine. A family business called Filtrate Oils Ltd. later converted the mill to grinding corn and oil seed but after a fire the mill was converted to stone crushing. China stone and Flint glaze for the local pottery industry. Chalk was crushed and filtered in water to produce whiting which was used in white bread, paint, putty, tooth paste and pills.

Leeds

We moved on up into Clarence Dock in Leeds through the last surprisingly short push button lock and on to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. The dock is in the process of being adapted to a marina. There is plenty of water space but it does not have enough moorings. We arranged to go along side another boat for the night. A new building here contains The Royal Armouries once kept at the Tower of London. This we visited the next day and were treated to a Jousting competition.

We found our way in to the city over a new footbridge by the Tetley Brewery. We have seen a few breweries by canals. Must be the water! Crossed many busy roads and passed cafés but found no shops. Some old streets were strewn with rubbish and broken glass bottles. We never did find the shops and went back to the boat.

Leeds and Liverpool canal, Leeds and Liverpool canal pictures

The Leeds and Liverpool is the longest canal in the country at 127 miles. We set off on up the canal heading for Skipton. Almost the furthest north we can get on this canal. BW provided assistance at the many locks through Leeds. Stopped at Bingley by the Damart clothing factory and got some supplies in the town. Bingley is at the bottom of the locks and the town cannot be seen for concrete walls!

We go up three locks before getting to the famed Bingley Five Rise that is very tidy with a lock keeper in attendance. These locks raise the canal by 90 feet and at the top the view transformed into open countryside. There are many more boats about up here but we have not seen any working boat since we were north of Birmingham. This Brindley canal now follows the contours at about 240ft. for about 16 miles to Gargrave. Rolling hills with dry stone walling of the North Yorkshire Dales reminiscent of Dorset.

Thirty swing bridges between Leeds and Skipton slow our progress, each one having a different mode of operation. Some bridges provide access to fields that you just push to open. Others carry traffic and have barriers and lights. Most are shut to the boater and locked. Some are automatic and some you wind open with a handle. The lock paddles on this canal were also different as some opened sideways!

Skipton

We stayed at Skipton for the shops, post and the vet. Allie's cough is better having taken a course of antibiotics. Now fit enough for an operation to remove a tooth, clean teeth and get claws clipped. She was so floppy afterwards that we got a taxi back to the boat. Then Terry and Myra paid us a visit on their way back from the Lake District. Staying at the local Travel Lodge for the night. Went to the pub for a meal to celebrate the fact that we were together again so far north. They plan to return to their boat and travel north to the Llangollen canal as we progress south. They still want to sell their boat.

After a week in Skipton where it rained a lot, we moved out to Gargrave on a sunny Sunday. No locks but four more swing bridges in as many miles. Would have stayed longer but another boater offered to travel up the next set of locks with us. It does help having two boats in these wide locks. They had booked a passage through the Standedge Tunnel but could not get up the Huddersfield Narrow canal for lack of water! So it seems we were luckier than most. The canal is now up at 400ft. on the summit and going over the Pennines where dry stonewalling follows the canal in this remote location. We stayed a night seeing a glorious sunset. No roads or houses to be seen for miles.

Barnoldswick

Continued to Barnoldswick and found good moorings near the Rolls Royce factory. Found a post office and stayed for our post to arrive. On a calm sunny evening several ducks are seen asleep drifting about in the breeze. The shops were a short walk away and this small town is pretty, well equipped and worth coming back to. The boat yard had a clear pontoon where we got more diesel.

We moved on out into open space and stopped as it was windy and raining. The next morning looked and felt so different. The sunshine is casting light and shade from a different angle. A rough windy evening transformed to a calm quiet morning. Went through Fouldridge tunnel into Lancashire and down the exposed locks at Barrowford. A westerly wind with drizzle on the western side of the Pennines made for an unpleasant trip. Our friend Mark had marked our map book with good moorings and places to avoid, as he had been this way before.

Cities ?

Sadly it is the case that large towns and cities have undesirables intent on destruction. So an early start ensures a safe journey of 19 miles through Burnley with its derelict old mills and the usual rubbish in the water to pass by. Had to stop once to clear the prop of plastic bags. There were several safe moorings between the cities where we could stop for the night.

Then we passed through Blackburn the next day. This place has also turned its back on the canal. The back yards of industry face us. The boat lurched as it passed over an unseen large object under water. At one point we did see an old metal bath under the surface, which we missed! Stopped at the top lock having spotted ASDA through a gap in the wall by a bridge. Ann went off on her own while I stayed with the boat. Another boat is here and we both started off down the locks. Out of town was better and it was not long before Ann got back after getting supplies. Well kept back gardens down to the canal edge. Then, further out of town, on the bank in the bushes a young Roe Deer or Mountjack was watching us go by. "Oh deer what a treat to see." Drove for five hours that day so stayed a day and walked round a nature reserve north of Chorley.

Jubilee and football

What a jolly flag waving to be seen in London during Jubilee week in June. The nation appreciates its Queen. She gave us two evenings of music in her back garden one classic, one pop with fireworks and pictures on the palace. The other was the world football. While shopping back in Bingley it was obvious when England scored a goal. Most pubs had a TV! Many boats were decorated with flags though not sure for which event. Ours had some flags as well.

Canal bridges

The original bridges over canals were for horse and cart and are made of brick or stone. We have seen huge lorries go over the bridges and wonder about their strength. These bridges are across the canal and usually provide a clear view for the boater. Cars tend to hoot as they go over the hump. Many new bridges are at an angle to the canal. For the boater the result is a blind bend and sharp corners while cars rush by unaware that they are crossing anything. Quite often the bridges are damaged either by road traffic or canal traffic.

Quiet times

A local boater on the Leeds and Liverpool told us that the canal has never been so quiet. We had noticed the lack of moving boats. Apparently many owners cannot afford to conform to the latest safety requirements. Buying coal or diesel from a boat is unheard of. Coal was the main cargo for narrowboats. Near Wigan the locals used to trawl the canal for coal. The boats were trimmed by shovelling the coal into the canal as they moved along.

The flight of locks at Wigan gets us down 215ft. to about 60ft. and a different landscape. Large lakes have formed where mining has caused subsidence. The canal is very deep with its sides built up using pit waste. It is quite barren with few trees, some bushes and no houses. Astley Green Pit Museum has one of the few pithead winding gear left. But it is not in working condition and little local interest in keeping it. Certainly the only one we have seen. English Heritage may offer money to paint it. The mine itself is flooded and some of the equipment at ground level is in need of looking after. The mine complex is now owned by a trust.

Bridgewater canal, Bridgewater canal pictures

We move on to Worsley, from deep clear water to red ochre in colour at the start of the Bridgewater Canal. The Duke of Bridgewater owned the coalmines and decided to float the coal out in boats called Starvationers that were long and thin. This first canal in England took the coal to Manchester. A boathouse here housed the Royal Barge used by Queen Victoria in 1851. One of the grey horses pulling the barge was frightened by the crowd and jumped into the canal!

A huge swing bridge at Barton takes the canal over the Manchester Ship Canal. We were able to stop to admire the engineering. The bridge with water in its trough rotates to allow huge ships to continue up the Manchester Ship Canal. We went across and passed the industrial heart of Manchester. Kellogg's have been here for a long time. Stopped at safe moorings to shop at Sale. Later we stopped at Dunham Massey, a smart village where the occupants are proud of their gardens. Walked round the estate of Dunham Massey Hall where we saw herds of deer. So tame that we stood within 10ft. of a group of 20 with Allie but had no camera!

Lymm is another pretty village. Shops and flower baskets a lake and seats to admire the view. The canal cuts through one way and a river crosses the other. Lymm Dam made a huge lake to walk round in a wooded landscape. A typical hump back bridge raised the road over the canal hiding the cottages beside it.

Then on to Stockton Heath where a walk down the high street got us to the Manchester Ship Canal to see it again. We walked across a huge swing bridge that carried road traffic. It would have been good to see a ship moving on the canal but it was not to be. Got food at Morrison's before returning to the boat. There is a village further on called MOORE! Its Post Office is right by the canal.

Trent n Mersey, Trent & Mersey canal pictures

We turn on to the Trent and Mersey at Preston Brook. It starts with a tunnel and ends at Shardlow lock 93 miles away. We were there last August. We go through the tunnel at half past the hour as it is one way only. Boaters coming the other way go through on the hour. The next two tunnels are shorter and not timed but you cannot see the other end due to a bend in the middle. We had just entered with our light on when we heard a hooter and backed out. Not easy in the dark. So we sounded our hooter on the way through once the other boat had come out.

The breach, which had closed the canal earlier in the year, is now fixed so we can get to the Anderton lift. This huge machine, now restored, transports, up to four boats at a time, 50 feet between the river Weaver to the canal. The lift is known as the cathedral of the canals. Salt was the main cargo as we are near Northwich and Middlewich. Took a boat trip up the lift on the Edwin Clark named after the designer.

We visited the Lion Salt Works at Marston, now a museum run by a trust. Rock salt was laid down 200 million years ago and lies about 200ft. below ground. Water runs over the deposit and is pumped out as brine. The brine is heated to produce the natural salt. Narrowboats were used to deliver coal and take away the salt.

We are now at Middlewich and have done a big circle over the Pennines in both directions. How we miss the hills and valleys, the dry stonewalls and old mills. Got post, pills, pictures and stocked up at Somerfield's.

The Shropshire Union canal, Shropshire Union canal pictures

Turned off the Trent and Mersey on to the Shroppie and arranged to meet Terry and Myra at Church Minshull. They are on their boat up from the Llangollen canal and we travel together again. Decided to head for Chester but stopped first at Beeston Castle. Walked up 500ft. to the castle with grand views of the country. Liverpool, Pennines, Chester and the Welsh mountains can be seen. The castle was a Royalist stronghold that was defeated and destroyed by Parliamentarians in the civil war. Had a meal on board Butty Lark and a game of Mah-Jongg. We continue on to Chester while Terry and Myra return home.

Chester

It turned into a long hot day as we travelled on and on into Chester and stopped by the city wall. Next day we walked round on top of the wall. Took about an hour. Mostly about 10ft. above ground with bridges over roads and rail. Saw the river Dee, racecourse, cathedral, shops, clock tower, roman gardens and King Charles' tower. He watched the defeat of his forces from there. We moved on to the end of the canal at Ellesmere Port. Saw Liverpool across the other side of the Mersey, and one end of the Manchester Ship Canal. Paid a visit to the Boat Museum that maintains and restores old canal boats.

Busy times

August is a busy month with lots of boats out and about. Useful at locks because a boat usually comes out as we go in. Most offer help. We were following a boat that gave way to another at a bridge. He went into the side and got stuck in the mud, typical on the Shropshire Union. You can only get a good mooring at Visitor Moorings. We assisted by pulling the boat off backwards. The skipper was encouraged to help by using his engine as well! While this was going on several boats passed.

As we followed they went under a low hanging tree. A couple of bikes on the roof nearly got dragged off. A crewmember managed to prevent them from falling into the water. She kept going back and forth along the side of the boat. Then fell in. The life buoy got thrown in and the engine stopped. The lady got back on board and we picked up the buoy that had drifted away. On returning the buoy, the skipper found he could not get the engine started. He had left the stop button up! Some times it all happens at once. Their children were getting bored on the trip at first but now are enjoying the excitement.

Market Drayton

We got to Market Drayton and my brother paid us a visit on his way back from Scotland. He had actually seen a new wonder of the canals, the Falkirk Wheel. The worlds first rotating boat lift. Had some quality time while we had a meal on board. It was a damp day with some thunder and Brod went back to Winchester through horrendous rain. It had been dry for a few days earlier and we got some blacking done on at least one lower side of the boat, the towpath providing easy access.

Above the five Tyrley locks the canal passes a long narrow section where trees and rocks make it difficult to pass. We were told of a low hanging tree, which was scraping paintwork. We got our branch lopper out and did some pruning. The cut off branches were thrown as best we could on to the towpath. Just to prove that you cannot please everybody a passenger on the boat behind complained about the branches that had fallen into the water. "Better that than scratched paint," I explained. Contractors not far away were in fact cutting many trees down to clear the way for us.

What a silly time to get by Fradley Junction, Saturday. Took all morning to get down three locks with four boats going down and only one going up. There is a hire fleet operating at the busy junction with three abreast on turn round day. There is just enough space for us to get slowly through and turn on to the Coventry Canal.

Problem at a lock, Coventry canal pictures

While at Atherstone one morning we noticed several boats in the queue for the locks. Soon there were at least ten all hanging on the side of moored boats. We assisted by hanging on to ropes as they progressed along passed us. One boater coming up reported that a gate had got damaged earlier. By lunchtime they had gone. It was sunny and dry so we got on with blacking the other side of our boat. The old hat factory has suffered more broken windows since we were here last. There are plans to convert them into luxury flats but still waiting for an access road. It is built of brick with concrete pillars that have been damaged.

A happy event

We left the boat at Springwood Haven marina and hired a brand new car to get us all down south with our cat and dog. Much to organise, visits to family, friends, Doctors, Agents and to see our first Grandchild.

Travelled to Winchester to stay a night. The very next day JOSHUA arrived in Southampton's Princess Ann's Hospital. He was born on Saturday 21st. September. Got to see him when he was only 12 hours old. Tracy and Chris were tired but happy that Josh had at last arrived safely. We spent the two weeks with Mum and at George and Ann's. We were able to walk to see Joshua and his parents several times when they were at home. Also did some gardening for Mum. Even got to inspect the bungalow with our agent and get things down from the attic for Joshua. Much achieved during the two weeks away from the boat.

Our trip in the car reminded us how hectic the traffic is with many lorries intimidating us as we tried to get into the right lane. Glad to arrive back at the boat early afternoon with time to unpack and return the car the same day. Took a while to settle in. Next day we had time to visit John on At Last who had looked after the flowers on our roof while we were away.

Small refit

We made a major decision to replace our fire. It was next to the food cupboard and made it get hot. The chimney had two sharp bends in it because the builder had cut the hole in the roof in the wrong place! It was difficult to brush out and clean. The new fire is to go between the two windows in the saloon. On our way back to Braunston we managed to get a boat yard to supply a steel sheet for the base. Then moored up outside the chandlery that supplied the fire, flue and assorted bits.

With all the equipment on board we met Mark and Margaret on Knott Normal at Norton Junction. They had got the concrete slabs, wood and fireboard to make the fire place for us. A hole was cut in the roof and a new collar fitted. The old fire was removed. A notice "Fire for Sale" in the window effectively got rid of it the next day. The stovepipe needed cutting to size before we could use it. So we were relying on our diesel boiler and radiators just when autumn switched on with a vengeance.

Back in Braunston we appealed to a busy boat builders better nature and got him to modify our stovepipe. When it was done we fitted it and sealed the joints just in time before it rained. Got inside and lit the new fire. "Grate". Warm and cosy again. The condensation on the windows disappeared rapidly.

Cropredy

In the meantime we decided to meet Terry and Myra who were on their boat at Cropredy on the South Oxford canal. While getting coal and diesel from Ivor Batchelor, John and Jean came by and wanted to hear about our summer trip. So they followed us down on their boat. There is a good shop at Cropredy and we all stayed a few days. Actually found a Chiropractor in the village and Ann booked a session later that day. Her back had been keeping her awake for some time. John showed me his computer hooked up to his mobile phone and demonstrated getting on line to the Internet.

Next day we got the bus into Banbury with Terry and Myra. We went to several mobile phone shops but found that they are not as cheap as they were and Freeserve is not free! So we won't be on line yet especially as we are spending a small fortune on the refit.

Dog rescue

We returned to Napton. The dog jumped off the boat the night before the storm. She disappeared. I had not put her lead on. Get the torch. Cannot see her on the towpath. It was windy; we did not hear the splash. Then Ann spotted Allie in the reeds scrabbling up the opposite bank. How to get her back? It was 10 o'clock and dark. Start the engine, let go the stern rope and get over to the other side with the boat across the narrow canal against a muddy reed bed. Allie is wandering about. She does not hear us shouting. People appear on the towpath with powerful torches. I have wellie boots on and manage to get the plank on to the reed bed and get off somehow. Many torches from boaters light up the field and Allie comes to me. Get the lead on and Ann pulled her up the plank. I crawl up the sloping plank on my own!

Secured the boat back to the mooring with several ropes and tie down the front cover ready for the storm. It came the next day. Many other boats gathered here down from the exposed top lock. Several boaters were actually attempting to move during the storm and getting blown close to the moored boats forcing owners to fend off in the rain. The next day we all moved to Braunston. Some trees had dropped large branches into the canal but not so big to stop us getting through. The BW Office in Braunston suffered a damaged roof.

The new fire

We are getting to know the new fire. Smokeless fuel is very hot, so we mix it with Anthracite that is cooler and produces less ash. We met Mark and Margaret back at Rugby. By the end of the week Mark had made a unit for the computer and all its bits, a drawer for cutlery, a cupboard for crockery and a bookshelf. Quite an upheaval with carpet rolled up and our chairs dismantled to make room to work. Much time is spent rubbing down the woodwork and varnishing. Books and CD's put in the bookshelf, computer equipment put away and crockery unpacked and in the cupboard. So much better, we don't know ourselves.

Helping each other

During this time Dave on Grange asked for help with some plumbing. I volunteered with some success. When Mark had finished and left, we reversed under a bridge to get water. An underwater obstruction managed to lift up and dislodge our rudder so we could not steer! Ann jumped off at the bridge with a rope and pulled the boat over so I could get off as well. We both pulled it back to the water point. Got the tank filled up then tried to lift the rudder back up into position. It was too heavy and asked Dave for help.

After finishing his cup of tea he came with some rope. With the rudder lined up under a handy footbridge Dave tied the rope to the bridge. He was a lorry driver and used a special knot that effectively made a block and tackle. Pulling down on the rope lifted the rudder up and after several attempts we managed to relocate it. Always help others, for you never know when you need help yourself. It is believed that the obstruction was a shopping trolley. Tesco is not far away! If British Waterways pull them out, the owner has to pay for their return.

Clifton, Oxford canal pictures

The start of December finds us at Clifton on the North Oxford Canal. From here we could walk in to Rugby taking 20 minutes. On the way we posted our Christmas cards. Rugby is good for Christmas shopping. That done we moved on to Braunston to collect our post. Checked with British Waterways that a lock on the South Oxford Canal was open, as it had been closed for two weeks for brickwork repair. We said goodbye to our friends on Willow Dreamer as they are going up to the Coventry Canal, leaving their boat in a marina and catching sunshine in Spain.

Family visit

We wanted to go down to Cropredy to meet the family and got there in three days. The canal has many bends in it and at times you don't seem to make much progress. The windmill on Napton hill is visible for miles. It was quite cold and some ice had formed. On the way a BW notice informed us about a lock investigation and had closed it. Not on our list of planned closures. Luckily it was open by the time we got there. The water is leaking into nearby property. They used bright green dye to find the leak. The dye gradually moved down to Cropredy through three locks. The canal had returned to its usual muddy brown by the time our visitors arrived.

Christmas came early for us. Our boat was decorated with fairy lights and a small tree. We had got a couple of cards by then. Chris, Tracy, Josh and Mum came with cards, post and presents. Cropredy is just past Banbury off the motorway and it only took them about two hours from Eling near Southampton. It was good to see and play with Josh again. Obviously growing up and enjoyed seeing the boats through the window. We all enjoyed the day. It had rained hard the night before and the River Cherwell had flooded over the road. Luckily another way through the village got them home.

Christmas

We returned to near Braunston in 2 days. One wet, one dry. Meeting up with Bramble and seeing George and Magie on Christmas Eve. We spent a few days there. Nice for us all to have the company over Christmas on our boats.

Thank you for reading Chapter 8. Return to Book.