Saturday, 18 May 2019

Onwards into Manchester and the boater unfriendly "Rochdale 9"

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Cath)

(Retrospective post for Saturday18th May)
The really rather lovely "Swan"

The electrical charging system on Flamingo doesn't seem to be performing quite as expected, and having already discovered some slight anomalies by the use of a voltmeter at various points on the system, Alan decided a bit of further investigation needed to be carried out, if only to rule out anything obvious.

This site is being developed - we hope this survives.
Alan thought a large high quality switch in the system was possibly slightly defective, and we had already stopped at a couple of chandleries we passed to see if we could buy a spare, but none had had anything suitable. He therefore decided to remove it and take it apart to check condition.

An unwanted stone attack - fortunately no serious damage done
In the meantime I decided to go for my third run of the week. Following the NHS 'Couch to 5K' programme makes things very easy for me. I listen to the podcast on my phone, I 'run' when I'm told to, I walk when I'm told to. It is easily manageable, and I can't overdo things. Once I've done it, I don't find myself thinking 'I should run further/faster/more often/etc'. When I first took up running, some 34 years ago I spent a lot of time feeling that I ought to be doing more. This takes all that away. I do what I'm told, and I expect that at the end of the programme I'll be able to shuffle along for 30 minutes.

On the "Rochdale 9" some locks are cranked rather than pushed open.
Back at the boat they hadn't identified a problem with the switch - they had been able to get to the internals, and all seemed in good order, so we set off towards Manchester anyway.


Typical of the modern buildings as you climb the Rochdale 9
After my shower, and washing David's wet clothes from falling in the canal a couple of days ago. I did my stint on steering, but then told Alan that if he wanted any lunch he needed to take over again

Attractive rail bridge on the Rochdale 9.
I had just taken Alan's sandwich to the back of the boat, and was sitting down to eat mine when I heard a noise that disturbed me. Rushing out to the back of the boat there were three or four boys lobbing fairly large pieces of railway track ballast at the boat as it came under the bridge at the junction with the Rochdale canal. This is always a hazard in urban areas, but we haven't had it happen very often. Alan had been struck by one of the rocks, but fortunately not on his head, which would have caused quite a lot of damage. I grabbed the camera, but they rushed off and hid. This kind of thing sours the day, but there is nothing that you can do about it.

We carried on to Castlefield Basin, in the hope that we might be able to moor in Central Manchester, but there were no spaces left. There was only one thing for it, up the Rochdale Nine to the Dale Street Basin, which is where we will need to set off from early on Monday morning. 

Arrow marks where thde River Tib asses under the canal (see below)
Slight problem. A very large trip boat had moored in the entrance to the bottom lock, and was boarding a very large hen party. Young women in flimsy clothing and very high heeled shoes were tripping down the cobbled path to coo at each other and kiss the air. The men with the widebeam boat were not wild about us asking them to move so that we could get up the flight.

Eventually we got into the first lock. This is not an easy flight, so we decided that Alan, who is the most experienced steerer, would stay on the boat, and David and I would work the locks. The dogs would need to get off and walk up the flight with us. I tied them up beside the lock and immediately they were surrounded by young women from the bar by the lock who wanted to pet them. This is bliss for the dogs, they can take any amount of fussing.

This building looks impressive on the street side.....
The funny thing about boats, especially historic boats, is that everyone who passes will be an expert about what you need to do. It doesn't seem to occur to them that you might actually have done this before. Our standard practice is to raise the button fender at the front, then take Flamingo up to the gates, having her running in forward gear, with the bows against the gates. This is particularly important going downhill, to prevent her floating back onto the cill - which can be disastrous, and is the most common cause of boats sinking in locks. In this case we were going uphill, but it is still the same, as the boat barely fits into the lock. Alan edged Flamingo up to the upper gates and we shut the lower gates behind the boat. We were just starting to wind the paddles to let water into the lock when a man rushed over to David. "The front of the boat is getting wet, you need to move it backwards." David pointed to the back of the boat at the other end of the lock, "where would you like us to move it back to?" "But the front is getting wet!" said the man. "Yes," agreed David, "it does that."

...........but nothing like as impressive at the back!
The Rochdale 9 are pigging awful. Filthy, with poorly maintained paddles and gates and low water levels. There were piles of needles in corners, and everywhere smells of piss. They really are unpleasant and hard work. To make it worse, you can't even walk between all the locks, so the dogs had to be loaded off and on before and after each lock, as they really wouldn't have enjoyed being banged about in boat in the lock as it filled.

Not many factory chimneys left here now
David was interested in looking for and finding the arrow on the coping stones in one of the pounds. This marks the trapdoor into the River Tib which is culverted under Manchester. This is one of Manchester's hidden rivers, but from Roman to Medieval times it was a boundary. There is a wooden trapdoor on the bottom of the canal which can be lifted to empty the pound into the river.

There was a brief moment's interlude. Canal Street, that you pass about half way up the flight is Manchester's 'Gay Village'. There is a fairly high wall along the side of the canal, which people passing up and down Canal Street peer over to watch the boats going past. From the canal you can't see much except the tops of people's heads. There was a fairly raucous hen party sitting outside one of the pubs, and they began screeching loudly. David and I were a little surprised, so stood on the lock gates to see if we could work out what was going on. What we could see was the tattooed torso of a male stripper performing for the hen party. "David, you're taller than me, has he got any kecks on?" I asked. "I can't see," replied David, "I suspect not, given the screaming, but I'm not sure that I want to know."

A select area we are passing through!
At the top of the locks is the basin. There were two boats there already, Tasmania, and Saltaire. We chatted to the people on board them, and discussed that it might be noisy, given that it was Saturday night.

One of the last locks is entirely underground
It was. From early evening there were boys and a few girls sitting on the benches smoking weed. A little later a noisy group of young men arrived to play loud rap music, and drink. They ignored the boats, but it was loud. Then suddenly, at about 11 they disappeared. There were small groups of men sitting around, smoking weed and talking until quite a lot later, but no more noise and we managed to sleep quite well.

Lymm to the top of the "Rochdale 9" in Manchester
Miles 14.8, Locks: 9
Total Miles 158.0, Total Locks:98

Friday, 17 May 2019

One very small lock - one rather larger tunnel

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Cath)

(Late post for Friday 17th May)

I was woken by heavy rain in the night, and it was still raining when we got up. We'd thought that it might be cloudy, but we weren't expecting heavy rain. Alan somehow got volunteered to start the steering for the day.

The curious stop lock at Dutton, just before Preston Brook Tunnel
Shortly before Preston Brook Tunnel, near Dutton, we went through the stop lock at Dutton. This is weird, as the lock is wider at one end than the other. Which must restrict the movement of some of the huge brick-like 'widebeam narrowboats' (contradiction in terms) that we have started to see again now that we are out of the narrow canals and locks of the south Midlands. Near to this is a wet dock, that used to be leased by Tim Leech, but since his untimely death a couple of years back this seems unused. It is sad to see places that were once thriving canal businesses unused.

Waiting for a timed passage at Preston Brook.
Preston Brook Tunnel is one-way at a time, so allows entry for only ten minutes every hour - on the hour to ten past going north, from half past going south. We had to tie up and wait for a while, as we had just missed our passage north.

We turned right onto the Bridgewater canal at 'waters meet' but moored at a pleasant spot very soon afterwards for lunch. After that it is lockless miles. The canal is broad, and deep, allowing even Flamingo a fairly easy passage, but there are long sections of on-line moorings, meaning regular slowing to a crawl. People tend to notice Flamingo, not just because she is noisy, so we don't risk upsetting people by thrashing past. 

The miles to Lymm went fairly quickly, with Alan and I taking turns at steering. At Lymm we found a nice mooring and I walked to the local Sainsbury's to go shopping - again. Then I cooked dinner, leaving mine to heat up later, and walked up the hill to the local leisure centre where I went swimming.

Another boat still trading on retail fuel - Liam with Bellatrix
I have a plan to go 'wild swimming' with my brother when we get to Hebden Bridge. Paul lives in Huddersfield, and regularly takes part in local triathlons, so is used to open water swimming. Odin Dogge loves swimming, so we are hoping to take him swimming near to Hebden Bridge - he doesn't yet know that people can swim too. Paul has advised me to buy a wet suit to avoid hypothermia (yes, I have a wet suit on the boat). I've bought the cheapest that I can, since I'm not sure that I will ever go 'wild swimming' again. However, it is several years since I last went swimming anywhere, so I thought that I should try to find a pool to make sure that I can still swim.

Delphinus - a "Small Northwich" like Bellatrix, but with a cabin conversion.
Note by Alan - I am very happy that Cath is now far better equipped to go in the canal than I am should we get a major fouling of the propeller on this trip, that it is not possible to clear by just being on the bank!

Back at the boat I ate my dinner and fell asleep very soon afterwards. I've walked miles today, and I really am not used to swimming.

Further note by Alan - Whilst Cath went swimming, I took both dogs for a fairly extended walk up the towpath, eventually finding some adjoining fields that allowed them to run around considerably more, and to burn off energy.

Near Saltersford Tunnel to Lymm (Bridgewater Canal)
Miles 15.3, Locks: 1
Total Miles 143.2, Total Locks:89

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Chemical works, rivers, tunnels and badgers.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Cath)

(Delayed post for Thursday 16th May)

We are no longer in a hurry - at least for a few days - and the mooring in Middlewich was so quiet this morning that we thought that we could have a leisurely breakfast. This was a mistake.

Descending the three narrow locks at Middlewich involves a 90 degree bend.
Just as we started to untie the historic boat Tasmania came around the corner, heading for the lock that lock-keeper was getting ready. No problem, we joined the queue, but before we got to enter the lock there was a growing queue of boats waiting to go down the flight of three.


Always good to see a working fuel boat - this is the Halsall
I deemed it time to do washing again - nice weather; a long, lock-less stretch of canal; and because I didn't know when I will be able to wash again. This meant that Alan had to steer. It's attractive enough countryside, but not spectacular. 


One of the less pretty parts
Once the washing had been finished we stopped for lunch and then I had a stint of steering. This section of canal is much less attractive - passing through the TATA chemical works. The area is still famed for salt production, but the old towns have been decimated by subsidence because of the extraction of 'wild brine' from underneath the land. In recent years there were a lot of collapsed houses in some villages, but these days this seems to have been replaced with large warehouses. We passed close to Northwich, where Flamingo was built by Yarwoods in 1936. As she was on the fleet of the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company on the southern Grand Union we doubt that she has been this far north since she was built.

If we do need to leave, is narrow boat speed adequate?
We kept on past the Anderton Lift - which transports boats vertically between the Trent and Mersey Canal and the River Weaver by means of two caissons lifting 50' - and then into the two tunnels. Barnton Tunnel is not easy to see through, but you have to make sure that it is clear before you head into it. Saltisford Tunnel allows passage in a westerly direction from the hour to 20 past, and from the half hour to 10 to in an easterly direction.

Entering Saltisford Tunnel.

We got to Saltisford Tunnel shortly before 6 pm, and spent a little while deciding whether we could moor in the basin outside - we couldn't, it was too shallow at the bank. The humans could probably have managed to get on and off by means of the plank, but the dogs would have freaked.

Then David fell from the gunwale into the canal as he was putting the plank back on the roof of the boat. He was OK, wet, and a bit bruised, but he had to go and get into the shower as we headed into the tunnel following several other boats. He put his wet clothes into a bucket - more washing at some time soon.

There are larger boats on the River Weaver...
Shortly after the tunnel we found a pleasant mooring. I got ready to go for a run while Alan and David set up the solar panel. As I got back they took the dogs off for a walk.

They were a long time, and they didn't have phones, Alan having left his, and David's still drying out. Not long before 9 pm I was beginning to wonder where they were, so stepped outside onto the 'gap' on Flamingo in the hope that I might see them. I was disturbed by a grunting noise, and saw two badgers on the towpath. One disappeared into a field while the other ran determinedly along the towpath, just feet from me, then up onto the bridge we had moored near, and I saw it still running determinedly across the bridge.

Footnote by Alan

... but currently they can't get through this lock
The reason David and I were gone such a long while was because, apart from the dogs needing a really proper walk, we saw several fascinating things.

We walked down onto the Weaver and past Saltisford lock.  Only when we got there did I recall that it is currently out of action.  I'm not sure exactly what the problem is, but CRT seemed to have huge amounts of boats, equipment and supplies on hand to deal with it.  

The Weaver in the late evening sun.

Curious "valley" over Barnton tunnel, with air shaft at bottom.
Later we walked over the top of Barnton and Saltisford tunnels that we had passed through a few hours before.  The paths over each broadly follow the lines of the tunnels, as can be witnessed by where the air shafts are.  However we were very surprised to find that for much of the length of the Eastern end of Barnton Tunnel there is actually a significant cutting above where the tunnel runs. It looks like something approaching half the depth of ground above the tunnel has been removed, and the air shaft is actually coming up through the bottom of the cutting formed.  I tried some Internet research to try to find the history to this, but it seems a bit uncertain. Possibly when the tunnel was built it was found not to be fully stable, and this material, (and it would have been a great deal of it), was removed to avoid the instability 

On the path OVER Saltisford Tunnel
Part way on the footpath over Saltisford tunnel one encounters one of the Trent and Mersey mile markers.  Someone walking a horse over would have seen it - those travelling through the tunnel by boat would not have!


Middlewich to near Saltersford Tunnel
Miles 12.0, Locks:4
Total Miles 127.9, Total Locks: 88

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Most locks in a day so far on this trip.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

About to leave our very rural overnight mooring spot.
Our overnight mooring place didn't really have an identifiable name on the map.  It was nearest to Hassall Green which looks to be a very small place, but was still 3 locks further on, and somewhat more distant from Thurlwood, which we had already passed.  It was actually idyllic, but anybody walking past the boat when I let an oil filter full of used oil slip from my hands last evening, and spread its contents into inaccessible places under the engine might have thought otherwise, given my language!

The borrowed solar panel that David and I had lashed up, professional installed, the previous evening was tried before we left, and even with the sun very low was producing enough charge to be of some use - it was obviously going to perform far better if used in the middle of a sunny day, so is looking quite promising.

My constant compaions whilst working the locks.
We have deliberately planned this trip such that whilst we have to work reasonably hard each day to be sufficiently far ahead, we don't want to be doing very long days.  However this morning we realised that supermarket supplies were getting fairly low, and really needed topping up today.  That was only going to be achievable if we pressed on into Middlewich - not a lot of miles, but at least 17 locks, and possibly 20, to find a suitable mooring, if by any chance it were busy.


Apart from the approaches to Middlewich it is all very attractive.
Cath and I agreed very firmly that we both need to do stuff to increase fitness levels, (particularly if we are about to work locks right over the Pennines in both directions), and should alternate  between steering and lock work.  We have been fairly true to that, but Cath was again starting to work more locks, whilst I was spending rather too long at the tiller.  So today I set off with the dogs, doing the locks, and particularly going ahead on foot to set them up.

Locks like these are surprisingly deep.
For much of today's journey they come thick and fast, particularly the Wheelock flight of 8 locks.  Many are surprisingly deep - not really an issued going downhill, but some care is needed on the paddles with uphill boats, if they are not to get cannoned around in these fast filling locks.

In the end I lock wheeled for I think a dozen locks, before taking up the tiller again, with Cath taking over on lock (and dog) duties.  On arrival at the "top end" of Middlewich, we found it far quieter than we have ever seen it before, and had no problem finding a mooring without having to descend the flight of three Middlewich locks.  Those could wait until the morning, as the next day would involve very few locks at all.

Steerer's view of the lock wheeler.
The one issue with not going down these locks was that the walk to Morrisons, (which we have not used before), proved longer than expected.  It was not too bad going there, but by the time I had carried two fairly heavy bags back to the boat, I knew I had worked harder this day than I had in a while.

Near Pierpopint Locks to Middlewich
Miles 8.9, Locks: 17
Total Miles 115.7, Total Locks: 84

Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Swimming, oil change and solar panel - and still time for fourteen locks.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Cath)

There is absolutely nothin Odin likes better than this.
David and I took Odin to the lake before breakfast, so that he could have a swim. Then we set off towards Harecastle Tunnel, expecting a long wait to be allowed through. Harecastle has one-way working at a time, so that boats are let through in one direction, then the other. In fact, we were the second boat in the queue, and we were told that we would be going through in five minutes - barely time to make sure that Alan, as steerer, had everything he needed.

Much towpath wsalking gets done at the Cheshire Locks.
The tunnel is very low in the middle, because of subsidence - an earlier tunnel sank so much that the tunnel roof is under water - so Alan had to crouch low to be able to steer that section.


Not sure what had caught Cath's interest here.
Then, straight into the 'Cheshire Locks'. Down the first six, and we stopped for lunch - the rest of the oatcakes, then carried on down another eight. By this time I was getting tired after the long day yesterday so we pulled over at about 4 pm. We are moored in the most beautiful countryside, far from houses and roads, and with not even any other boats for company.


At some of the twinned locks one of the pair is derelict.
At about 5:30 I went off for a run, and Alan started the oil change - never an easy or clean job on an old boat.


The left hand lock here has also not operated for many years.
A friend of ours has lent us a 100 watt solar panel for this trip, but we hadn't had the chance to wire it up before, so David and Alan got it connected, albeit as temporary arrangement. It was late enough in the day that the current recorded was minimal, so we have to wait for another day to see what it is capable of.

Alan walks ahead to set up yet another lock.

Plenty of action for dogs!

It never ceases to amaze us how long it can look in some pictures.

The humans are slowing down, but the dogs still going strong.

Attractive setting at Thurlwood
Westport Lake to near Pierpoint Locks
Miles 6.9, Locks: 14
Total Miles 106.8, Total Locks: 67

Monday, 13 May 2019

A brief interlude from this trip for a bit of Flamingo's History

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Alan)

After Flamingo ceased to be a carrying boat when Willow Wren Canal Transport Services was wound up in 1970, it was then sold off, and converted to a trip boat which operated for at least 15 years in the Stoke-on-Trent area.

Most likely general location for trip boat base?
We have just passed up the canal where this business would have operated, and we know specifically that this was near Trentham Lock.  This is probably the first time since it ceased to be a trip boat that it has returned to the area, and this got us thinking about where it must have had its base.  There is one seemingly obvious offside location just above Trentham Lock, and this conveniently has a winding hole right next to it.  There seem to be no other obvious candidate locations, and the housing that stands there now looks post 1986, so this could well have been its base.

Trading as Potteries Canal Cruising Co - Entering Trentham Lock
However studying this postcard image of Flamingo shows it has "Hem Heath Wharf"  painted on the side.  Hem Heath is still a place today, (there is a Hem Heath Cricket Club, for example), but the indications are this area might be slightly North of where this housing is.  However we did not spot a likely alternate location, and this would then make a wharf not next to the winding hole that still exists, so I'm still tempted to think the location is where these new houses now are.

This particular house has piling that is older than the others.
We have been told in the past there were two owners of this business, the first trading as Trent Valley Cruises until about 1978, when new owners changed the name to Potteries Cruising Company.  However someone Cath spoke to on the tow-path knew the boat, and recognised it as a former local trip boat, but neither name she gave for the ownership at the time match those we previously had, so the situation now seems more blurred than we believed it to be.

If anybody reading this can add to the story, is a former owner, or can tell us more about the operations and where exactly based we would love to hear from you.

In the meantime, here is a brochure for Trent Valley Cruises.

An Update!

I have been contacted by Teresa Fuller on this topic, and am now aware that our guess about the location that Flamingo would have operated from is wrong.

It was indeed to the North of the possible location we have identified.  I'm very grateful to Teresa for the additional information supplied, but am not apologetic about publishing speculation that was incorrect - had I not done that we would not have been told the right answer!  Thank you Teresa.

Unfortunately we are now through the area, so can't check out the real location in person.  However here is a great image that Teresa has alerted us to of the area where Flamingo operated from, but taken maybe 80 years earlier.  Hem Heath Wharf was apparently on that offside bank, where the living van is, and the kids are dangling their feet in the water.  So narrow boats used to ferry passengers from here, many decades before Flamingo did. I'm glad I asked, as this is fascinating.

Click on this link

In the end we went much further than we originally planned to.

(Boat Flamingo - posted by Cath)

Still cold enough here to need a coat on.
We agreed that we needed to get to Barlaston, to be at least on schedule. To go further would make it a long day, as there are places that we didn't want to spend a night. We either had to stop at Barlaston, or we had to keep going to get to Etruria in Stoke-on-Trent. We had a plan for Alan to do an oil change at Barlaston.


Unusually David is at the tiller here as we lock through Stone.
The Trent and Mersey canal north of Weston winds through fairly unpopulated countryside with locks well spaced out. The weather was fine, and we made good progress to Stone. At Star Lock, I walked a short distance to the Oatcakes and Milkshakes restaurant, and bought 12 fresh oatcakes.


At Meaford Alan worked the locks and Cath steered.
There were no problems working up through Stone, and we changed steerers afterwards - Alan is keen to do more lock working.


Flamingo was once a trip boat at Trentham - could this be where its base was?
The oatcakes were heated in a frying pan, with a bit of cheese - delicious. We saved half for tomorrow's lunch.


This still makes us chuckle.
We arrived at Barlaston at 2:45, and promptly decided that we would rather keep going - even though we knew that it was at least another 3 hours to Etruria.


Not all of the flight up to Etruria is picturesque!
In fact, we arrived on the dot of 6 pm - and decided that we didn't want to stop at Etruria either. It looked like all the long moorings outside the museum had been taken - we might have been able to fit in one, but it wasn't clear without actually spending ages taking Flamingo into the arm. So we set off again for Westport Lake arriving at 7:25.

The camera dial was mistakenly moved to one of the special effects........

....... but it doesn't seem that inappropriate for these subjects.

It's well worth a longer than usual day to moor up next to this.
The lake is beautiful, so we walked the dogs as the sun was setting, then had dinner, and collapsed into bed. A long day, but we have turned our half a day behind schedule into now being a day in hand.

Weston upon Trent to Westport Lake, Stoke on Trent
Miles 18.2, Locks: 16
Total Miles 99.9, Total Locks: 53