Under Starter’s Orders

In 1770 work began on the Leeds and Liverpool canal, at Halsall, where I’m writing this post. We’re moored outside The Saracen’s Head, and full of the excellent meal we’ve just enjoyed there. Alongside the canal by Bridge 25 there’s a statue known as the Halsall Navvy. He stands there in commemoration, emerging from the ground, full of power and stoicism, and really makes you think about the navigation engineers who dug out the canals, cuttings, and tunnels; who constructed the locks and bridges with nothing more than picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, and their own hard labour.

Sorry mate, you’re rather stuck there …

It’s time to think of beginnings and activity after months of loitering. We’ve been out of the marina for a couple of weeks now, embarking on at least 5 months of travel. We had to wait for the boat to come out of the water to have its cutlass bearing replaced (it’s part of the stern gear – we must have hit something underwater that dislodged it). That was a scary day. I didn’t stay on the boat as it was floated onto a dolly and hauled up a ramp behind a tractor. I saved the white knuckle ride and watching the stern go underwater from the stern itself for Martyn.

Martyn riding the bucking bronco

All’s good now, apart from an annoying whine we’re all scratching our heads trying to fix. We took a tentative cruise down to Tarleton but didn’t go through the sea lock on to the Ribble Link. We turned around and cruised familiar waters, to Parbold with friends from our marina, and then into Liverpool for a week.

Jim and Diana’s lovely narrowboat Bleasdale waiting for Beau Romer to join them in the lock. We’ve never gone up the Rufford Flight so efficiently!

We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the cruising season. There were 4 Bickerstaffe boats and crews snuggled up in Salthouse Docks. A small rump of the Bickerstaffe Massive was in town.

One of our Bickerstaffes is missing …

We enjoyed the thrills of a ghost walk, visited the Museum of Liverpool on the day it re-opened post-lockdown, ate too much good food and drank too much good beer (outside!). We were joined by several friends while we were there, made new ones, took a cruise to the dock system’s far end and generally had a brilliant week.

Friends make good times fabulous

At this time of the year the canal is teeming with new life. We’ve seen ducklings, Canada goslings (sad the cute little yellow fluffy things must grow up into noisy antisocial Canada Geese), coots and moorhens on their floating nests with almost identical chicks, and tadpoles basking in the rare sunshine. Even the jellyfish in Salthouse Docks are about a quarter of the size of the ones we saw last year. There’s a feeling of new beginnings and optimism.

Who doesn’t like a cute baby?
I’m so relieved I didn’t hit that nest while mooring

On the way back from Liverpool we made a pitstop at Aintree Racecourse, site of the Grand National. I think I must have walked every inch of the 4 miles, 856 yards of the course itself, for that’s where I got my second Covid-19 vaccination and Google Maps let me down. Every gate to every footpath it tried to make me take was locked, so I took an extremely long route from the banks of the canal to the building where the vaccinations were taking place.

So close, yet so far

To finish this post off, we are known to be more than a little accident-prone. Here’s the list of offerings we have made to the Canal Gods so far since leaving our winter mooring:

  • One mooring chain
  • One handcuff key
  • One LED nightlight
  • One Jacksonville Jaguars baseball cap
  • One side fender

Oh dear!

David Foulkes took this photo. He’s one of the CRT volunteer lock keepers (fine people who we appreciate immensely) on the Stanley Flight that takes you down into the Liverpool Docks. The building on the left is the Tobacco Building, the largest brick-built building in the world. It’s being converted into appartments. I hope they don’t disturb the Peregrine Falcons we saw who nest there.


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.

Still life through the duck hatch in Melling

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.

The Dockers Clock
Cruising Past The Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building – The Three Graces

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.

Beau Romer looking very swish on her mooring in Salthouse Dock
And equally smart in the evening
We wished it had been open

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.

Liverpool, we’ll be back.