Mind Your Ps and Qs

Now that’s what I call a leaky lock

We try not to upset people on the canals, and I’ve got matters of boating etiquette on my mind.

Great Haywood Junction. For once, we aren’t turning right

Earlier we were cruising down the Trent and Mersey past the Shugborough Estate. It was a beautiful morning, bright, sunny and drowsy. If it weren’t for the biting wind it would have been perfect. We were in no hurry, which was a good thing, as there were lots of boats moored up against the banks which made for slow progress. The topic of slowing down for moored boats is a bit of a hot potato in boating circles. I think the official line is to go no faster than 2mph causing as little disturbance to the water as possible. We were taught to crawl past on tick over and that habit is fairly ingrained, even though we privately consider Beau Romer to have the slowest tick over speed ever. This morning a boater leaned out of his hatch and thanked us for going slowly, commenting we were the first today. He also told me he was writing a song about it. I hope I’m not going to get prosecuted under copyright law, but it went something like this:

“Rushing to the queue at the lock, rushing to the queue at the lock

Got a two-week holiday and a three-week itinerary

Rushing to the queue at the lock!”

Just a sleepy day in Staffordshire – High Bridge No 60 – complete with it’s nasty bend

My smugness didn’t last long. As Martyn pulled over at Colwich Lock to let me off with my (brand new and untested) windlass, we spotted a lady opening the paddles to empty it. I was sure she hadn’t seen us approaching to descend, so I beeped the horn. She looked up and stopped what she was doing, moving to the head gates instead. When I got there she told me the lock had been only half full when she started letting the water out. I felt a bit guilty, but vindicated by the time we got through as by then there was a nice little queue of boats waiting to ascend and descend, and no water got wasted. Should I have alerted her, or let her be? Thoughts on a postcard please? We don’t plan to offend.

I can find a good G&T anywhere – even at Wedgwood

Since I last wrote while we were in Stoke on Trent we’ve passed through Barlaston and Stone, and have been on land for a week. We stopped at Wedgwood to visit the factory and thoroughly enjoyed it. Stone was a necessary stopping point because a) I had to work; b) we needed groceries and there’s a Marks & Spencer Food Hall conveniently right next to the canal; and c) secondly it lashed down with rain for a day. On days like that only hire boats move because usually they have somewhere they need to be.

The Armitage Shanks factory in, not surprising, Armitage. They’ve been manufacturing toilets and other sanitary ware here since 1817

Last weekend was the annual Crick Boat Show and even though every year we protest we aren’t going, almost every year we do. It isn’t the lure of the shiny new boats and the stalls with lots of tempting things to buy, it’s the people. We catch up with old friends and make new ones, and the whole thing is over far too quickly. Following Crick we went home for a few days. We’re leaving our car there this summer. Last year the mice got under the bonnet and had a good nibble on some of the insulation; we’re anxious to avoid a repeat.

Shopping for a new sofa at Crick? It’s hard to make up your mind

Can’t Buy Me Love

Nervously waiting to go under Harecastle Hill

Today was Harecastle Tunnel Day. Harecastle is 2,926 yards long. It’s one-way, quite wide, dead straight, pitch black, and gives me the heebie-jeebies. This isn’t anything to do with the skeleton in the alcove about 450 yards from the northern entrance, or that the Kidsgrove Boggart reputedly haunts it – it’s the fans.

The tunnel roof gets lower and lower as you go through, you end up driving in a crouch

There aren’t any ventilation shafts in the tunnel, so when all the boats taking part in a particular passage are safely in and underway they shut the doors behind you and start up the ventilation fans. The closer you are to the southern end, the louder the fans are, it’s like being in front of a jet engine, you can barely hear yourself think. Three things put the wind up me; (no pun intended) tractors, tanks and giant fans.

Tunnel’s end, the Southern entrance. Iron causes the water to look like Heinz Cream of Tomato Soup

We survived the trip, neither of us saw the Boggart and no one was blown away, Martyn gave the tunnel wall a tiny nudge, but honours are even because two years ago, I hit the tunnel as we exited. We are now moored up just a mile from the tunnel on the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trent at Westport Lake. I call it Goosepoo Lake because it’s home to hundreds of Canada Geese (or that’s how it seems to me) and we all know how prolific they are with what they leave behind. There’s a visitor centre and a very nice cafe. I’m working tomorrow and if the torrential rain stops perhaps I’ll send Martyn out to investigate.

We use Thomas Telford’s tunnel, James Brindley’s original one lies unsafe and abandoned

On the way here we stopped at Middlewich to have some work done to the boat. We had new leisure batteries fitted, which we had planned, and a new bow thruster battery, which we hadn’t. That one battery alone cost over £350 which is painful, especially as we don’t even use the bow thruster that much. It doesn’t mean I’m not glad we have it, but we don’t rely on it in most situations. That got me thinking; one of the questions non-boaters wonder about – and a topic all boaters talk about – is how much it costs to run a boat. So here are our figures for last year:

  • Gold CRT licence from 1 July – 31 December – £602 (Gold because we spent a lot of time on the River Thames) plus about £450 from the 2022/23 licence
  • Insurance – £495
  • Mooring fees £1809 (for our marina and other odd nights in marinas and on the River Thames)
  • Diesel – £982 (ouch!)
  • Coal, logs and kindling – £323
  • Electricity – £150
  • Gas – £170 (I cook a lot)
  • A couple of engine services and some repairs – about £1000
  • The approximate basic cost of our epic 930-mile 2023 journey – £6000
That swan decided we needed to be seen off!

But the value of all that fun, friendship, new experiences and travel – priceless.

It’s all about the smiles per mile

At last!

Just a sunny day in Worsley

2024 cruising has been an awfully long time coming.

Spotted this chap in Wigan!

I’ve been working all winter and have barely seen anything apart from the view out of the window. The plan was to finish working at the end of March and set off to have some fun., but plans don’t always work out. We left the marina on 3 May and I’m still slaving away on my laptop three days each week. We’ll see how long that lasts.

Lord of all he surveys passing through Parbold

We’ve been on a mission for the past week. The canals up here are very familiar to us and the weather has been kind so we’ve been moving when when we can and picking places where we know the internet is good and there’s something for Martyn to do when we can’t. Some of the familiar stops have just been a quick touchdown; like coffee from the Horsebox in Worsley and a swift couple of pints in the Brewery Tap in Lymm. We did meet fellow Bickerstaffe owners Sean and Diane on Alchemist in Stockton Heath and had a most convivial evening over a couple of bottles of wine. There is, sadly, no pictorial evidence.

There are so many cute goslings this year. Canada Geese are honking, pooping machines, but also extremely good parents.

We still get time to stop and have a little nose around. We tried to repin an unmoored boat in Manchester and found a car boot sale in Dunham Massey. It was probably the worst one I’ve ever seen, but it was all for charity so we paid our £1 and went for a nose. We even rescued a party of lady hireboaters who got themselves thoroughly stuck coming out of the Saltersford Tunnel. Sir Martyn the Chivalrous to the rescue!

The advantage of only moving at 3mph is that on a nice day you can walk alongside the boat and admire the canalside art

So today we are sat in the sunshine at Kings Lock in Middlewich, having dodged several historic boats yesterday on their way to a festival in Anderton. We are getting new batteries and having a couple of other boat-related jobs carried out ready for this year’s cruise. You know what the acronym BOAT is, right? Bring Out Another Thousand … If the canal gods are kind to us, and we have the time we have plans this year that include Stratford-upon-Avon, but we’ll see how it all pans out.

Fish and chips and a pint in Middlewich – rude not to

Catching Up

Mooove along there ladies!

I like keeping a blog, really I do. It augments the diary I keep every day and refer back to frequently. Off and on I’ve been a diarist since childhood. Some of my most cherished possessions are a couple of my childhood diaries, from when I was 11 or 12. Through those old pages I’ve met myself at that age and it’s amusing, sobering and surprising all at the same time. But I digress. I like keeping a blog, so why is it so hard to find the time to write it?

I don’t think there’s room for any more flowers on that boat

When last I wrote we had just come through the Harecastle Tunnel, and I was feeling rather pleased with myself for helming the boat through. I didn’t mention it then that emerging into the daylight I made a complete Horlicks of the exit. Better luck next time!

Armitage Cutting, which used to be a tunnel.

That night we moored the boat at Etruria Junction in Stoke on Trent. I’d been dreading Stoke. It gets mentioned a lot on canal Facebook pages and blogs as a place that isn’t really safe to stop overnight, where the youth is feral and the inhabitants snack on their young. That wasn’t our experience at all. We moored opposite some houses with well-tended gardens and had a very peaceful night, except for the towpath being more of an urban clearway with people zipping up and down on bicycles and scooters, both electric and human-powered. We arrived early afternoon, and from then until the evening one of the inhabitants of the houses sat at the end of his garden stoically fishing, catching nothing. As soon as he’d packed up for the night one of his neighbours came out to feed the fish, the water was boiling as they hoovered up the food they’d brought. We did laugh.

The daily heron at Barlaston. A couple of PCSOs on bicycles held back so I could get that shot

On the way down Heartbreak Hill a fellow boater at a lock told me we’d be fine staying overnight at Etruria, but she also said she’d come across a boater who’d been the victim of an opportunistic thief at Barlaston, where we moored up the following night. He’d been asked for a drink of water and while he went into the boat to get it his boat was burgled. So there we were, in the very nice village of Barlaston, post-lunch in the Plume of Feathers (Neil Morrissey’s pub) and a guy wanders by and asked us to fill his water bottle. Mindful of what I’d been told I stammered out an excuse as to why we couldn’t and spent the rest of the evening feeling guilty that the poor chap was dying of dehydration on the towpath. And I’m normally quite a trusting soul …

Penny in Stone. Yet another lock.

From Barleston we cruised through Stone, where we really would have liked to have stopped if only to go and fill our boots in the canalside M&S food hall. Instead we kept going and moored in the pretty hamlet of Burston. Martyn and I went to explore and found a smattering of houses around a duck pond and a rather unremarkable church on the site of a much older one.

Zombie ducks in Burston. They wouldn’t stop following us no matter how many times I told them we had no food.

Food is something of a theme. At Great Haywood Junction we found a fabulous farm shop, highly recommended if you’re ever in the area. We left the Trent and Mersey there and very briefly moored up at Tixall Wide, a mooring I’ve heard lots about because it’s so picturesque. I wish we’d been able to stay there for more than one night. Penny and Andrew chose to wait out the worst of the extreme heatwave there, very sensible, because the breeze across the wide was lovely, but we had to wave goodbye to them there as we were heading for different destinations at this point.

Mooring up at Tixall Wide

We left the boat in Kings Orchard Marina in Lichfield for a few days to travel down to Dorset. We had a funeral and a wedding to attend. Kings Orchard was lovely. I just wish I’d known earlier what we found out on our last day – that they offered a boat valeting service! Never mind, Williams Waterless Wash and Wax is a miracle when your vehicle is 57′ long.

Onto the Coventry Canal at Fradley Junction

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

Don’t ask me which of the endless Cheshire Locks this is

From Anderton we carried on down the Trent and Mersey, stopping off at The Lion Salt Works at Marston for a second visit. As an industrial museum it really makes you think. There are displays and photos of men toiling and sweating over vats of boiling brine, like something out of the industrial revolution. It’s quite sobering to discover the works only closed in 1986, well within our lifetime.

This is a windlass in the Lion Salt Works. Not the sort I’m used to!

We had an unexpected stop before Middlewich. There was a huge limb of an ash tree completely blocking the canal. We didn’t mind the unscheduled overnight stop. We were moored opposite Oakwood Marina and they had a very nice cafe. By the end of the afternoon the CRT had got the canal clear and the next morning we were on our way again.

Fallen ash tree stops play.
The offending tree reduced to a pile of firewood

I’ve written about Middlewich before. It’s one of those places that that most of us have never heard of, a pleasant enough town that punches above its weight on the canals because it has a junction. It also boats a Morrisons and a Lidl. Bonus!

There are no arched bridges around the Salt Towns. Subsidence did for them.

South of Middlewich, you hit the Cheshire Locks, colloquially known as Heartbreak Hill. We descended it last year with Bailey as our crew, this time we were going up. Nearly every lock was set against us and the heat was blistering. Two days on the hill and we were done. So done, that I moored us up in the wrong place at Kidsgrove, one lock too early. No harm, no foul. We were outside a pub!

Duplicated locks on Heartbreak Hill – it isn’t a race!

I was dreading our next challenge, the Harecastle Tunnel, not being a great fan of long journeys underground. The tunnel is 1.6 miles long and you get shut in. There are no ventilation shafts, so they close the doors behind you and start up some enormous fans to prevent the build up of fumes in the tunnel. Towards the middle the headroom is reduced, and you have to semi-crouch to avoid hitting your head as the roof gets lower and lower. When it came to it, Harecastle wasn’t too bad. It used to have a towpath which was removed, so it’s quite wide. I helmed the boat through and am feeling rather pleased with myself!

Abandon Hope, all Ye who enter here [actually this is the end we came out of)!

TW3 (That Was The Weaver That Was)

View of the River Weaver, taken just outside the entrance to the Saltersford Tunnel

The beautiful River Weaver, that we love so much, is now behind us. But I’m a little premature.

Seren Glas proceeding majestically along the Bridgewater Canal

From Little Bollington, we cruised a short hop into Lymm, a pretty Cheshire Village we’ve stayed in once before. We only intended a quick overnight stop and to take advantage of one of the fish and chip shops, but got a bit more than we bargained for. Poppy the cat went walkabout. She sauntered back to Seren Glas at about 3pm, but by that time we’d given up and spent a most congenial afternoon in the Brewers Arms. Thanks Poppy!

Cheers from The Brewery Tap, Lymm

The next day, the cat glued to the wall, we set off for our third canal, the Trent and Mersey, and Penny and Andrew’s first big challenge, the Preston Brook Tunnel. It’s 1239 yards long, and like most tunnels, has a bit of twist inside. We got through with no problems, and I helmed up through Saltersford and Barnton Tunnels the next day.

Thankfully, there aren’t too many sights like this

The Trent and Mersey isn’t my favourite canal. I find it narrow, overgrown and generally a bit grim. This year it’s growing on me, it seems brighter and more pleasant. I even saw my first kingfisher of the year near Dutton, where the canal breached disastrously in 2012. We’re going to be on it for a good while, so I might end up feeling the same as ever about the Trent and Mercy (as Bailey called it last year) and we’ve got some grim industrial and urban bits to cruise through yet.

The Daniel Adamson moored by Sutton Swing Bridge

At Anderton, we descended the boat lift to the River Weaver for the third year in a row. The boat lift is only operating on one caisson. The ceramic coating on the hydraulic ram is wearing off the other one. It looks like the boat lift is going to be taken out of commission for at least a season for a significant overhaul, but according to one of the fine gentlemen who operate it, not this year or next year, so we should get at least one more go.

Moored up under the Anderton Boat Lift as the sun goes down

I’m not sure what I can say about the River I haven’t said before. It’s a joy. It’s not terribly long, you could probably navigate the entire length in a day and has only four locks, all electric and with lock keepers. The only major town is Northwich, and it’s almost in the middle, with convenient moorings right by the shops. This year was all about giving Penny and Andrew a taster, so we only went in one direction. We moored twice at Barnton Cut, which is super mooring and lets me haul the sheets and the towels a mile uphill to a friendly launderette, and found a new to us spot at Devil’s Garden. You just have to watch out there for visiting cows! The best bit was we hooked up with Paul and Anthony on Morning Star and had a barbecue and a lovely evening with them and Heidi, on the Pirate Boat (who offered us rum and ice cream!). Heidi runs a badge making business, amongst other things, from her boat, The Rum Wench, and it turns out I ordered from her a few weeks ago before I knew who she was. It is, as they say, a small world.

Seren Glas and Morning Star at Dutton Mile

The only incident was descending Dutton Lock. We were the middle boat of three, and it was a bit of squash. The lock keeper started letting the water out and we tilted to the left. We had hung up onto the remains of another lock gate to our starboard side. The couple in the boat behind said they could see our bow coming up, and for a few seconds, which of course seemed like an eternity, it was very scary. We were shouting at the lock keeper but he didn’t hear us. And then, as fast as it happened, the boat came free, lurched violently from side to side a bit and rearranged the interior, but then all was well. No harm, no foul as they say, but I can only imagine the enquiry if the unthinkable had happened and we had sunk in a manned lock. I was glad to see the back of Dutton Lock on the return trip.

Cruising along the river, deep water under our prop

And now we’re back up on the canal heading south. 89 miles behind us so far this year.

Saltersford Lock. The middle cottage is for sale, with a mooring. I’m tempted!

Punting through Poolstock

So here it is, the 2022 boating season.  We got going rather late this year, and have been spending more time than we planned in Dorset and now, at last, we’re Out Out. I ran out of blogging steam last year after the highlight of Standedge Tunnel, so here’s a whistlestop recap of our late summer 2021 exploits.

In January 1912, someone bet Jack Judge 5 shillings he couldn’t compose and sing a new song by the next night. He won the bet by performing “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” for the first time in the Grand Theatre in Stalybridge

After spending some time in Uppermill and Stalybridge (StalyVegas as our friend Sean calls it, and we had a Sunday lunch with him there) we turned left off the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and on to the Peak Forest Canal and spent a wonderful couple of weeks there, most of it in Bugsworth Basin. Bugsworth used to be the largest inland port in the country, it’s full of industrial history and atmosphere, and only a short walk into Whaley Bridge, a pleasant market town, now infamous because it was nearly flooded when the dam holding back the Toddbrook Reservoir threatened to breach in 2019.

Sunset over Bugsworth Basin

Next, we hurried (sadly) down to Macclesfield on the canal of the same name where we were joined for a week onboard by Bailey, one of our American relations.  We had a wonderful time, in and out of pubs, eating lots and working her like a dog down the locks of Heartbreak Hill. We also had to cope with a breakdown, but the fantastic Ryan Walker got us going again the same day.  The only flies in the ointment were it barely stopped raining for a week and Martyn developed an infected cyst in his armpit, requiring antibiotics to see it off.  We affectionately christened it Cyril.

Three drowned rats on the stern of a narrowboat

We finished Bailey’s visit with a quick trip down the Anderton Boat lift and on to the River Weaver, met up with Trevor and Jenny and returned as a pair to Fettlers Wharf for the winter on 18th October.

Chugging home along the Bridgewater Canal

Moving on to this year, we left Fettlers on Tuesday, in a bit of a whirl, having only driven up from Dorset on the previous Friday.  We had lots of help from our friends Penny and Andrew and got our pram and cratch covers cleaned and reproofed. That was all the maintenance we’ve had the chance to do. There’s going to be a lot of work done on the hoof this year.

Waiting for the water point at Dean Locks under the M6

I’d forgotten how tough double locks are, especially as I did most of the helming last year and Martyn worked the locks. Now we’ve switched roles.  Thankfully we’re paired up with Penny and Andrew, at least for a while as we have different summer cruising plans.  I’m using the word “plans” rather loosely.  I’ve learned not to make them, so in our case, they are more like “ideas” or “notions” We’ll see where we end up.  The day we left was blistering, and by the time we got to Parbold, we were boiling and exhausted.  There are two swing bridges en route, about a mile apart and it’s my habit to walk between them. This time I had to give up and flag Martyn down for a lift. And I made a real rookie mistake and sunburnt my arms.  The following day none of us got going and we only reached Crooke, on the outskirts of Wigan. Guess what? That day I sunburnt my legs.  Some people never learn.

Getting a visit from Penny and Andrew’s cat, Poppy

Thursday was a war of attrition.  It started so well, everyone was full of enthusiasm and up for it. Again it was really hot, but we got through Wigan with no issues, until that is, we turned right onto the Leigh Branch of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and through the dreaded Poolstock locks.  Poolstock is never easy.  The pound between the two locks is usually shallow and full of debris. This time it was especially taxing.  Water levels on the Northern canals are low this summer following the dry winter and spring.  The Peak Forest and Macclesfield Canals are effectively closed, and even the Leeds and Liverpool is under restrictions and threat of closure if we don’t get significant rainfall. So Poolstock was a dribble.  Martyn and Penny got the boats into the first lock by proceeding very slowly and sticking rigidly to the centre of the channel, but they both got stuck on their way out and in the pound between the locks. Boat poles were employed but to no avail.  Perhaps we should have called CRT (the Canal and River Trust), but we took matters into our own hands and let a little more water down, which allowed the two boats through.  We were all delighted to close the gates and put Poolstock behind us to enjoy the Bridgewater Canal and 40 lock-free miles.

Penny and Andrew on Seren Glas cruising into Worsley

After a breather at Pennington Flash, today we’re on one of our favourite moorings, at Dunham Massey. The plan is to sit here for a couple of days, enjoy a Sunday lunch at the Swan With Two Nicks, and recuperate from the first 40 miles. We need to toughen up a bit to get through the summer!

I thought the Linotype works in Altrincham had been saved from demolition. Seeing the difference between now and last October, I’m not so sure.

What a Tangled Web We Weave

So much for my intention to update this blog twice week. Twice a month seems to be more like it.

This morning’s towpath view – a factory processing soda ash

At the end of the last post we were effectively stuck at Audlem, on the wrong side of a faulty lock at Hack Green, and facing a long slog home around the Four Counties Ring. I’m typing this on a gloomy Sunday morning in Anderton on the Trent and Mersey Canal, overlooking the River Weaver (or more properly, the Weaver Navigation). In the end, we didn’t have to do make the long trek, including Heartbreak Hill and the Harecastle tunnel. The day after I posted we heard on the towpath telegraph the lock was opened for a short window with CRT assisted passage, so we got through on a miserable wet day and returned to Nantwich. I’m still a bit cheesed off we didn’t get a direct notification, especially as we’d been in contact with the Trust and were signed up for updates. The kindness of a fellow boater saved us.

Jenny waiting for Dutton Lock under a magnificent sycamore

We’ve been travelling with Trev and Jenny as a pair of boats for over a month now, and have enjoyed many, many towpath drinks and competitive games evenings. Martyn taught Jen how to play crib! And we celebrated Martyn’s birthday (12 again) in the Leigh Arms at Acton Bridge. On the Middlewich Branch we met up with fellow Bickerstaffe owners Pat and Eileen from Our Narrowboat Quest for a brief towpath chat. We last saw them at Christmas, so that was really nice. And Dave helped us through Cholmondeston Lock again. I might even have made him late for work …

Just what was I supposed to do with these letters?

I think we were in some ways slightly disappointed to have escaped from the broken lock with no drama. With a complete inability to learn what happens if we complicate things, we hatched up another idea. We were going to spend a week on the River Weaver before leaving for home. As this had never been part of anyone’s plan, Trev had to buy an anchor in Middlewich. It’s inadvisable to boat on a river without an anchor to deploy in an emergency. Rivers are deep and have hazards canals don’t, such as weirs and currents.

Our trip down the Anderton Boat lift on a gloriously sunny Sunday

The River Weaver is 50 feet below the Trent and Mersey Canal, and to get to it by boat you have to use the Anderton Boat Lift. This is a remarkable piece of engineering built-in 1875. It is a steel structure with 2 giant buckets filled with water, or caissons (weighing 252 tonnes each!). The system works on hydraulic rams, and when one caisson goes up, the other goes down. Along with the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the boat lift is one of the wonders of our canal and river system and not one we expected to experience this year.

Beau Romer exiting the Anderton Boat Lift onto the River Weaver, and looking very tiny

The River Weaver is beautiful, especially this time of the year, and remarkably quiet. We had countryside moorings mostly to ourselves and enjoyed the peace and quiet, the misty mornings and the scenery. The stretch between Saltersford Locks and the services near the M56 motorway at Sutton Swing Bridge is one of the prettiest we’ve cruised so far. And all the locks are operated by lock keepers. Just as well, because they’re enormous.

A quick meet and greet with an old friend at Hunts Lock, hello Lindsay
Feeling very insignificant in Saltersford Lock

We didn’t need the anchors, but Martyn did slip on a wet pontoon, and nearly took an impromptu dip. Thankfully all he got was a boot full of water!

The beautiful River Weaver and traiiiiin!

Now we’re heading back to our marina. A bit sad to be doing so. Autumn boating is lovely.

We found some of the ventilation shafts for Barnton Tunnel

Salt of the Earth

When you sprinkle salt on your fish and chips do you ever think much about it? I know the word “salary” comes from salt (not that I have a salary any more) but I never considered how salt gets on the table. Here in this part of Cheshire, you can’t get away from salt. Even the names of the local towns reflect the history of salt manufacturing; Nantwich, Northwich and Middlewich. During the Triassic period salt deposits formed, and now wild brine springs bubble up from deep underground. The Romans discovered them and started commercial salt production locally.

Lion Salt Works

Lion Salt Works at Marston on the banks of the Trent and Mersey was the last factory in this country producing salt by evaporating brine in enormous iron pans. The Salt Works is now a museum, and Colin, Debbie, Martyn and I went to investigate. It’s a little ramshackle because all the buildings were made of wood and not designed to last, but it’s fascinating. It must have been hellish working there; men stripped to the waist skimming the salt off the boiling pans, scooping it into moulds and moving heavy blocks around. It was hard, physical work in dangerous conditions with constant heat, steam, and the tang of salt in the air. And the canal carried the finished product to its final destination.

The Salt Works only closed in 1986, which seems so recent. Or is it just that I’m old?

Something’s wrong here – a pub with no beer! And apparently they’re all smiling

We waved Colin and Debbie off and on their merry way towards Fettlers Wharf and home on Thursday morning.

Au revoir Woody

Then we walked back up the canal towards Anderton to Marbury Country Park. Marbury Hall, the grand house that once stood there, was demolished in 1968 (dry rot apparently), but the grounds are still very tranquil.

Steps leading to a ghost house
Humongous fungus

They built most of the bridges crossing the canal around here with arches. Now they’re nearly all flat-topped because of ground subsidence caused by the salt mining. It’s even worse for houses and other buildings and locally the canal has breached because of it.

Marbury Hall Bridge No 196 – complete with cracks

On Friday we decided three nights in one place was quite enough and set off for Middlewich. On the way we crossed the Croxton Aqueduct. It was just wide enough for the boat. We’re not on broad canals any more! The weird thing was because it was so shallow it affected how much water the propeller could shift, so we went over it at a snail’s pace. I even had time to jump off and take photos.

Breathe in Beau

Last night we moored in Middlewich. It’s a town that’s well-known on the canals and has a branch of the Shropshire Union Canal named after it. So I expected a big urban metropolis and was surprised to discover it’s a quaint little town with one main street. That said, It’s got everything a boater could want; chandlers, supermarkets, water points, pubs, a post office and Amazon hub, and a canal heritage it’s proud of.

Beside the canal
I wish all bridges were so tastefully decorated

Tomorrow we’ll be off again. We’ll be going through our first narrow locks. Wish us luck.

The end of the Bridgewater

There’s very tasty ice cream in Dunham Massey, if you walk 3 miles from the canal to get it.

Don’t ask me why the cone is black

Although we were in a nice spot we had to move. As usual, we needed water. Most of the canals and rivers in England are owned and maintained by the Canal and River Trust. The Bridgwater is privately owned. We don’t have a licence for it, so we can only cruise on it for seven days at a stretch, with no return in 28 days, or we have to pay an additional fee. As we can’t linger on Sunday we pulled out our mooring pins and set off.

Once through urban Manchester, the Bridgewater is very pretty indeed. It’s wide and quite rural. We noticed lots of cabin cruisers buzzing up and down, far more than we’re used to seeing on CRT waters. Sadly a lot of them are a little tatty. Perhaps well-loved is a better description. I was spurred on to give Beau Romer a good wash!

No-one likes to see this

On Sunday night we stayed in Lymm. It’s a pretty village where the houses come right down to the canal. There’s a Sainsburys supermarket there, very useful. It’s also busy and we ended up mooring under a tree. That’s no good for getting solar power to charge the batteries.

Lymm Bridge is very quaint

We were determined to complete our cruise on the Bridgewater on Monday. We braced ourselves for our first tunnel. The Preston Brook Tunnel is 1239 yards long, and it’s the first one-way tunnel we’ve ever come across. Martyn’s an impressive helmsman – he didn’t touch the sides once. I don’t like tunnels. They’re creepy, they drip, and they are never straight.

Emerging triumphant from the gloom

The Trent and Mersey is different from the lovely wide canals we’d been cruising. It’s narrower, twistier, and it has more encroaching vegetation. So far it’s really rural until suddenly it isn’t and there’s a lot of visible industrial activity, especially around the Anderton Boat Lift.

Closing in on a familar vessel

We had a rendezvous with Colin, Debbie and their adorable Chihuahuas, Cyril and Gladys. Their narrowboat, Woody, is another Bickerstaffe boat. They launched Woody in February and have been a great help to us as we get to grips with our new lifestyle. I’m not saying we drank a lot of wine last night, but the evening ended with Martyn flat on his back on the towpath mumbling something about just getting him a pillow and leaving him there!

And I need to make a correction. Wigan isn’t a desert at all. James, the extremely helpful volunteer lockkeeper from the Rufford Branch, (time all ascents and descents for Monday when he’s on duty) sent me a message on Twitter. The water point is just after the CRT pontoon and has now been painted blue. So we’re sorted for the return trip. Thank you James.