Monday, 10 May 2021

Winding paddles the right way first time

Yesterday we were the last in a procession of boats ascending the Audlem flight: I had to turn nearly every lock. Today we somehow found ourselves following a boat up the last two Audlem locks and the Adderley flight. We did, at least, meet three or four boats.

At one of the locks the top gate foot board had a piece of super-grippy pontoon-type covering rather than the usual strip of sandpaper.
How many locks have I worked in my life so far? Hundreds. How many paddles have I raised? Probably thousands. But it is only today, 10th May 2021, that I have realised that I can turn the paddle spindle the right way first time. How, you ask? By turning towards the pivot point of the pawl. It works on this type of paddle gear, at least, and I venture to suggest that it must work on every type with a pawl and ratchet.

In the case of the paddle gear below, winding anticlockwise raises the paddle.
We came through two or three heavy showers as we made our way back to Market Drayton and the end of this four-week trip. This rain cloud had just passed over.
Back at the mooring I changed the engine oil and filter. I also topped up the Webasto heating header tank and bled the radiators. The header tank took about three pints of antifreeze mixture. Where has all the water gone? (We hardly ever use the Webasto, the prime reason being that it doesn't fire up unless the engine is running to supply the heavy initial load.)

Sunday, 9 May 2021

Strong bywash sucks boat off course

After Zoom church this morning we set off towards the Audlem locks. On the way we passed this boat with three large green barrels at the back.  The barrels have what looks like tyres on top; there are loo roll fenders and no visible sign of propulsion.  Unless that's the front - unfortunately I didn't take any more photos.
Another distinctive boat is Whitefield, which we passed near the bottom of the flight.
Our modus operandi here is that Jan (unusually) sets the lock ahead while I steer, closing the top gate as I leave.
As I positioned Jubilee in the head of one of the locks so I could lower paddles and close the gate, the strong bywash weir pulled the boat into the (off)side. I had to pull it away with the centre line before I could steer into the next lock. When single handing going upstream I always take the precaution of taking a few turns of the stern line round a bollard in case the boat drifts out of reach.
I don't know why so much water comes down this canal from above Tyrley Locks. Especially as it presumably ends up joining the water that comes down the Llangollen Canal from the River Dee. Then I suppose it's downhill all the way through Chester to Ellesmere Port, also down the Middlewich Branch and on down the T&M to Runcorn and Manchester. Perhaps that's why. There's a lot of canal to feed. We tied up with just the top two of the flight to go; we'll do these plus the Adderley five tomorrow and then we'll be back at Market Drayton.

Saturday, 8 May 2021

New lock gate; turning round diesel

Coming down the Lawton Treble Locks on Wednesday there was a new gate loaded into a boat ready to be installed somewhere.
In the background I could see two steel balance beams with what looks like hydraulic lock gear on them.
And next to this, a large rack of stop planks.
We stayed in Nantwich today, having a "day off". I topped up the fuel tank from our spare 20 litre jerry can. This means that we can get back to Market Drayton without the possibility of running out of diesel; also, this ensures that we don't have old diesel lying around. The can will be refilled at the same time as the tank.

Friday, 7 May 2021

Green canal water on Middlewich Branch

Another relatively early start today: we left Sandbach at about 0745. As we arrived in Middlewich we had a very short hail shower but, generally, the precipitation held off. We walked into the town centre and were saddened to see many closed shops. After lunch we set off again, planning to "get ahead" while the weather was fair. Tomorrow the forecast is dire.

We soon crossed the site of the breach of March 2018.  There's new concrete edging, smart towpath and new post and wire fencing, but nothing else to indicate the drama of three years ago.
Shortly afterwards we entered Stanthorne Lock, scene of another - shorter and much more recent - closure.
Above the lock we came upon a boat appearing to try to wind where there wasn't a winding hole. One of its mooring pins had been pulled out and the wind had done the rest.
We approached slowly and I pushed it by hand from our bow. When it was near the bank again I disembarked with a shaft and hooked the dangling mooring rope. Thankfully the mooring pin was still attached so I hammered it back into the bank and we got under way again.

As we approached Minshull Lock I could see a pair of old boats.  The one on the outside is Bargus, which we have seen delivering fuel on the Staffs and Worcs and on the Caldon canals.  I can't remember the name of the boat on the inside.
In the lock itself I was struck by how green the water was; especially visible in the bubbly foam as the lock filled.
The evening got better and better, with full sun and blue skies. It wasn't very warm, but these trees photographed nicely.
We had determined to get to Nantwich; as we neared we passed Mountbatten towing Jellicoe.
We found a space at the second 48 hour moorings beyond the aqueduct. We're planning to stay here during tomorrow's forecast rain - and Sunday morning's rain.

Thursday, 6 May 2021

All hail the British weather!

After breakfast we went for a short walk on Rode Heath Ride, the site of a former salt works. I saw no evidence of the old industry, but there was a pretty river.
I thought the weather was meant to be dry today. It was anything but. I was inside making coffee when Jan steered through a hail shower. She reported that hailstones are not her favourite food.
At Hassall Green we passed under the M6, the stove still going overtime. I don't think it has ever been used so much in May.
We stopped for Jan's Zoom meeting at Wheelock. nb Recalcitrant came past, sporting what looked like scrap metal - but interesting scrap metal - welded to form a barrier round the stern. The cabin looked to be wooden, with intricately carved window frames (not captured in my photo).
By 6pm, with another shower starting, we had had enough. We stopped west of Sandbach, about a mile and a half before Booth Lane Locks. We tied to rings against very "coarse" piling, such that only one fender could work satisfactorily. Hmm. I think I know what's going to go "bump" in the night.

In a gap between showers the sun came out and bathed Jubilee in a yellow glow.
Middlewich tomorrow, and a diesel top-up.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

Cold outside, cold in the tunnel, cold at the pub

As we moved onto the water point at Etruria this morning NB Olinda had just finished and was winding by Brindley's statue.
Olinda is diesel-electric, but I didn't get a chance to ask about the specifics of how that is done. Norman and Linda are fellow BCF members; they were off down the Stoke locks while we turned right to go north towards Middlewich. Norman designed the boat himself, taking inspiration from the Orient Express. He uses the wheel steering on wide waters such as rivers.
It rained as we passed Westport Lake but it had eased off by the time we reached Harecastle Tunnel. We had about 30 minutes to wait for two southbound boats, then we were the first of four boats going north.

The tunnel keeper said it would be cold in there.  I found it hard to believe it could be any colder that the conditions we were experiencing - we had sleet at one point - but he was right.  As soon as we emerged Jan took the helm and I went inside to revitalise the fire, which I had had to damp down before entering the tunnel.
After one lock at Kidsgrove we stopped for lunch and the very convenient new Lidl.

By one of the subsequent locks was what looked like a roasting tray fixed to a post.  What for?  Feeding birds?  Bathing birds?  Anyone know?
Many of the locks on this section are paired, but some of the "extra" locks are unusable, to say the least.
We tied up at Rode Heath, just past the Broughton Arms. After tea on board we met up with (BCF) friends Martin and Buff for a drink in at the pub. Despite overhead electric bar heaters I got cold sitting outside - the steel stools didn't help.  I did have an exceptionally tasty pint of Hobgoblin, though.

Tomorrow we'll see how near to Middlewich we can get, given that Jan has a Zoom meeting at 1500.

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Hunting for oatcakes in Stoke on Trent

I think we made the right decision not to move today, given the frequent showers of both rain and hail together with gusty wind. Hence, again, very few photographs. Indeed, it was only around teatime, when I realised I hadn't actually taken any, that I thought I'd better do something about it.

Jubilee is in the middle here, tied up outside the Etruria Museum at the beginning of the Caldon Canal.
We spent much of the day on Stoke on Trent city centre dodging showers and patronising the City Café. We were on the hunt for hot filled oatcakes and I was asking passers by where the best place was. The first three or four didn't know or didn't speak English; a woman queueing for the bank very helpfully said she would take us there. She left the queue - she was at the back - and we accompanied her a short distance to the oatcake stall outside M&S. Which was closed. Our guide then said we could get freshly made (but cold and unfilled) oatcakes from the indoor market just a few steps away. There we bought some, and some pikelets (which don't appear to be small fish), and asked the friendly woman behind the counter where we could get hot filled oatcakes. She directed us to the City Café where I had a bacon and egg one, while Jan's filling was bacon and mushroom. Jan says the best thing about it was that it was hot, but I think that is more a reflection on the weather - and the fact that we had to eat sitting outside the café - than the quality of the snack. (Thankfully we were under an awning which kept the rain off.)

We returned to the café for lunch as I have a penchant for all day breakfasts.  As you ask, yes, it was good.

After tea on board we went for a short walk up the T&M during a welcome break in the clouds.  Now, as I write this, it is raining again.  Tomorrow looks perhaps more promising weather-wise, so we'll head for Harecastle Tunnel (and dig out our lifejackets).  Bring on the rain, hail, sleet and snow (while we're underground)!

Monday, 3 May 2021

Railway/lock crossings

As I was awake early, and as rain and strong wind were forecast for later in the day, I got going at 0730. It was still calm and dry, and stayed that way past Stockton Brook Locks. Here the old railway crosses the tail of the middle lock of the five and, as I think I have already mentioned, is easily accessible. I paused for a moment and pictured a steam train rattling across the bridge in front of me.
I can think of at least two other places where a railway crosses very close to a lock: Lock 37 on the Stoke flight and the Northgate Staircase in Chester.  In fact, I might compile a list of such crossings.  Suggestions welcome.

As we continued the rain gradually started coming down, not too heavily at first so I thought we would just carry on.  Eventually it was time for lunch, by which time we'd made it to Hanley Park.  As we ate the rain stopped.  Let's crack on to Etruria, I said, and the rain started up again.  Planet Lock and Etruria Staircase were with us, but we were both dripping wet by the time we tied up at about 1500.

The rain eased and I walked to Tesco Extra for some supplies.

Not many photos today in the interests of keeping the camera dry.  Tomorrow we might stay put for a day or we might carry on through Harecastle Tunnel.  Watch this space!

Sunday, 2 May 2021

Three ways to get through Froghall Tunnel

We left our lovely quiet - once the geese had stopped honking - pontoon mooring in the basin at Froghall and came up the lock. There we topped up with water and observed a man get into his inflatable craft.
Brian told me he had driven from Derby with his folding bike, now stowed on board with two large bags. He was off up the Churnet to Cheddleton. He would be a lot quicker through Froghall Tunnel than us ...
... as would this paddle boarder.
On leaving the lock we turned right, away from the tunnel, to go to the very end of navigation.
And here's a shot looking back at the wharf buildings, now Hetty's Tearoom.
At about 1230, as arranged, Nev and Rachel (and Leia the dog) arrived to help guide us through the tunnel. As before, they were in the bow and I was at the stern. This time I had loaded the boat even more, with some logs I cut from a fallen branch and some pieces of broken concrete tidied from amongst the trees. I believe the boat didn't touch the tunnel brickwork at all.
Cherry Eye Bridge doesn't look too healthy.
We dropped off Nev and co at the next lock and we had an excellent cruise to Cheddleton/Denford. This really is a superb canal. This is Oakmeadowford Lift Bridge, the only one I didn't photograph on the way down.
Tomorrow we should at least get up the three Hazlehurst Locks before the worst of the weather hits. We will aim for the services at Endon and then, perhaps, stay put for a day.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Froghall Tunnel: would we get through?

Read on to find out how we got on with Froghall Tunnel. This morning we walked up the hill to get a paper. On the way we passed Cheddleton Flint Mill. It and the surrounding buildinngs make a picturesque scene.
Before saying goodbye to our mooring neighbours Jane and John I got them to pose with their recently won trophy from the AWCC.
John and Jane edit the BCF magazine to a very high standard - the award is well deserved.
I guess the covered area before the bridge must have been for loading from the mill. Other boats would have had to wait, I suppose.
I didn't spot Cheddleton Station but there was plenty of rolling stock on the Churnet Valley Railway, which accompanied us all the way to Froghall.
At Oakmeadowford Lock we joined the River Churnet for a fast glide through the trees. There were many pheasants around here (and, disconcertingly, a brace of dead ones under a balance beam at the lock).
We took on water from the high pressure water point by the lime kilns at Consall Forge; below Flint Mill Lock we met up with Nev and Rachel, with Leia the dog, who delivered some post to us. They accepted the invitation of a cup of tea; it didn't take much persuasion for them to climb into the bow to see if we could get through the tunnel, about a mile further on.

And so we arrived.  As before, when my brother and I took Lee Swallow through in 2005, I switched off the engine so we could inch through by hand.
Jan took this photo of Nev guiding us through...
... and this of me looking after the back end.
We made it to the other side with very little damage, despite the extreme lack of clearance most of the way along.  A brass centreline fairlead got slightly scraped, and I shall have to touch up a handrail at one point. Oh, and my leather hat looks a bit rougher now. But it was worth it, and we couldn't have done it without Nev and Rachel's help, so thank you. (And we'll see you tomorrow when you return to help us through the other way.)
So tonight's mooring is down the lock onto the "Uttoxeter Canal" and tied up to a pontoon.
The bonus is that we have mobile phone signal here and I was able to watch F1 qualifying on the laptop!