We are out out. We’ve left the marina and God willing and the creek don’t rise, aren’t planning on returning until the end of this year’s cruising season.
Before we can get anywhere – as I mentioned in an earlier post – we have to travel up the Rufford Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal to the main line at Lathom Junction. That means negotiating seven locks with a curious selection of operating mechanisms. I’d heard somewhere when they dug the Rufford Branch the canal company had run out of money, so they acquired surplus lock mechanisms from other canals. I’ve got no idea whether this is true or not, especially as the Rufford arm, opened in 1781, predates the completion of the mainline in 1816.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the conventional lock apparatus. Pop a windlass on a spindle and wind away until the paddles raise and water gushes in or out.
That’s not good enough for the Rufford Branch. We also have these things where you wind the lever like stirring an enormous cake mix.
And then there are the cloughs.
These are fun, if you like weighlifting.
Once you get the bar to vertical, it drops into a socket which raises the paddle. They are heavy.
We’d only gone through two locks yesterday when I noticed something. There were four rope side fenders on the boat. We should have six. So we moored up, walked back to the marina, bought two more and walked back again. No more cruising for us. We’d done approximately two miles. We found one of the fenders floating in the canal on the way and retrieved it, so at least we have a spare. We attach the fenders with zip ties so they snap off rather than snagging the boat. Even so, if you have any hints and tips on how to keep them on the boat, please let me know.
When you fall off a horse the advice is to get straight back on again. That’s what we did. The day after getting back from our first trip out we booked passage to Liverpool and a berth in Salthouse Dock.
We agreed to leave on Friday 31 July. We weren’t due at the top of the Stanley Lock flight until 1 pm on Monday 3 August. We had plenty of time. But Friday was hot, sunny – and windy. So we moped around the marina bruised by our previous experience until in the end at 3.45 pm when the wind had dropped a little, we went for it. And it was fine. Up the locks we went, and four hours later moored just around the corner from Lathom Junction, close to the Ship.
Wait! I hear you say. That’s the wrong direction for Liverpool. We had a sneaky plan. Kev was out training on The Katie K and we were going to do our best to make sure we passed him. And we did – twice; once on the way to wind at Parbold and again on the way back. We took a lot of flack for the bristling zip ties that were holding our front swag in place too.
That night we moored just before the other Ship pub at Haskayne, opposite some permanent moorings. While we were getting ready to go out and eat there was a tap on the boat. It was Stewart, the manager of the Mersey Motor Boat Club moorings, because that’s what they were. He’d told Kev and Sue one of their offspring had turned up and had moored slap-bang opposite The Katie K’s spot. We had absolutely no idea.
The next day was very chilled. We only cruised from Haskayne to Melling. There were lots of weeds and water lilies on the canal.
On Monday the alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 5.30 am. We pulled pins at 6.30 and raced at 4 miles an hour for Swing Bridge 9, which closes to canal traffic during the rush hour. We made it with 15 minutes to spare which meant we had a leisurely cruise into the city, instead of the mad rush if we’d left it until 9.30. Who wants stress when you live on a boat?
We reached the top of the Stanley Locks just after 1, having refilled the water tank and emptied everything else at Litherland. The lock keepers were really friendly and very complimentary about Beau Romer and Bickerstaffe in general. At the bottom of the locks we were off on our adventure, solo boating past the Tobacco Warehouse and the Titanic Hotel, turning left at the Dockers Clock and into Sid’s Ditch. Now, only we could get lost in the Docks. We missed Pnnces Lock altogether and Martyn was getting really twitchy when he declared he could see the bottom. No harm was done, we were soon through Princes Lock and the tunnels, emerging in front of the Three Graces and going under the Museum of Liverpool. At Mann Island Lock Jules, the lock keeper, was ready for us. Turn right towards the chimney he said, turn right at the chimney, left at the double-decker bus, into Albert Dock, try not to hit anything historic and cross into Salthouse Dock and our berth. Sounds bizarre, but it all made perfect sense.
Salthouse Dock is saltwater, not fresh, and is full of jellyfish, their lazy, pulsing swimming fascinated Martyn. Listening to the anodes fizzing away at night fascinated me.
While we were there despite lockdown we visited the Tate and Walker Art Galleries, enjoyed a Beatles Walking tour, checked out the Anglican Cathedral and ate in a couple of really nice places. I pass on Sue’s recommendation of the Italian Club Fish on Bold Street. It’s casual, and oh, so tasty.
All too soon it was Friday morning and time to leave. After a slight delay and the CRT fixing a problem with the sea lock gate (someone had left a switch set incorrectly) we were off. On the way out we passed Trevor and Marina on Conveyancer, two of our Marina neighbours, and James on On a Whim going in. The delay meant we were likely to be stuck on the wrong side of the swing bridge again, so we hung around at Litherland for a couple of hours and finally got to Melling at 7.30pm.
The worst thing a out going into Liverpool is the rubbish in the canal. At one stage we passed a sofa, a chair and a door complete with handle (I wondered where te rest of the living room was). We counted two Lightning McQueens, and goodness knows how many footballs. On the way out Martyn was down the weed hatch three times, as well as the plentiful weed, I’m assuming caused by the lack of boats this year, he took off a bin bag and some really tough industrial plastic. I sacrificed a kitchen knife to that, I new we should have brought the old bread knife with us. There’s some really interesting grafitti too. Someone really has it in for Adrian Ferris if you read the walls!
One the way back we moored outside the Saracens Head at Halsall (yes, we had a couple of pints in the beer garden) and then on Sunday at Burscough. Sumday was lovely. I shopped at the Wool Boat, and then we saw Kev training another pair of Bickerstaffe owners. We got snapped having a chat mid canal, and apparently that photo ended up in the local papers.
Total figures for our Liverpool trip, 63 miles, 3 furlongs, 24 swing bridges and 26 locks.
We launched on a Friday. On Monday Anthony, one of our marina neighbours asked if we’d like to go out on our first trip with him and his grandson. A week after launch day we set off at 11.30 am. Fettlers Wharf, our marina, is on the Rufford Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool canal. There are 7 locks and 2 swing bridges between us and the mainline of the canal. 7 very hard locks. The gates are heavy and every lock seems to have a different operating mechanism. Some are conventional, needing you to turn a windlass to raise the paddles. Some have horizontal handles to wind, and some have torture instruments called cloughs which are basically long wooden levers which have to be raised to vertical and dropped into a socket. Heaving these up is like weight lifting. Every lock has an anti-vandal lock, or handcuff which has to be removed too. I was really glad we weren’t on our own.
To make matters worse, Martyn gave me the tiller when we came out of the first lock. He’d had some practice manoeuvring in and out of the marina on Sunday, but it was the first time I’d been hands-on with the boat. Which is how I came to snap off one of the protective side swags on the side of the lock, in front of an audience. I was mortified. That was the last time I drove the boat that day. By the time we moored up at 6 pm close to the Slipway pub I was done for. Am I getting too old for this lark?
No worries. The next day we turned around to head East, going through a group of disgruntled competition anglers twice in the process. We enjoyed a five-mile cruise to Parbold, a couple of drinks and an excellent portion of fish and chips. Maybe narrow boating wasn’t so bad after all.
On Sunday we went through Deep Lock at Appley Bridge and confronted with yet another lock mechanism I dropped our only handcuff key in. There was a lovely chap on nb Skipton who spent ages fishing for it with a magnet, but in the end he had to give up. We carried on through the same fishermen as the day before to Dean Lock, under the M6. I phoned Bickerstaffe and Ryan brought me a spare couple of keys. Now that’s what you call fantastic service.
We moored up at Appley Bridge where there’s a pub. There’s a theme developing. Monday was a vile day weatherwise. Martyn lost a side fender in Deep Lock but managed to retrieve it. We only got as far as Lathom, but had dinner in the Ship, which is fast becoming one of our favourite pubs.
On Tuesday we headed back to Fettlers Wharf, having met our marina neighbours and shared the locks with them all the way home. It was another horrid, wet and windy day. We knew we should have stayed put but carried on anyway. That was a hard lesson learned. Poor Martyn was bobbing around like a rubber duck in a bath with an overenthusiastic toddler. All I could do was watch as the boat went everywhere he didn’t want it to. The worst bit was getting on to our berth in the marina. It was so windy Martyn was pinned against the boats opposite, and everyone it seemed was out offering helpful advice. Eventually we got the boat moored and retreated to lick our wounds, by this stage, there were only two out of six fenders left on the boat!
17 July 2020, 1pm. That’s when our new life started.
It was 11.45 am. There we were, waiting at the entrance to St Mary’s Marina, Rufford. We heard something heavy driving down the road. And there she was, our new home, narrowboat Beau Romer, perched high up on the transporter. There were tears in my eyes – the one thing I swore wouldn’t happen. The feeling when something you’ve dreamed of, plotted and planned for over 7 years is actually happening in front of you is hard to describe.
We wandered down to the slipway, trying to look all casual and nonchalant and met up with the gang from Bickerstaffe, Kev, Sue, Ryan and Rob. The transporter backed down the slope and steered into position under the crane. Then the slings went on and everything was ready for the lift. The crane took the strain, the lorry drove out from under her and Beau Romer, with all our possessions onboard was hanging suspended in mid-air. This was the moment everyone worries about, but it was fine, she was perfectly balanced. The crane swivelled her around and slowly lowered her into the water. The nerves kicked in again. Would she float? Of course, everything was ok. She sat sweetly on the water as the guys swarmed all over her, checking for leaks, looking for bubbles. Ryan took her out into the marina, performed a few manoeuvres and she was good. Kev was smiling.
We drank Bucks Fizz to celebrate. She was and is beautiful. She changed colour as the light played with her paintwork, from red to brown, through russet to orange. Just for a moment the sun emerged from behind the clouds, and she shimmered.
They left us to the organising, hunting through the cupboards for the things we’d just thrown in. We’d planned to get a takeaway for dinner, but neither of us wanted to leave the boat. So our first dinner on board was cheesy beans on toast topped with a poached egg, washed down with a nice bottle of Barolo.
Later I sat on the bow as the twilight fell. The marina lights came on, the water was calm and still, apart from one solitary duck meandering about. I noticed the reflections in the water and the way the evening light struck the paintwork until Beau Romer glowed. And I thought to myself, what a wonderful day.