I spent time doing some washing as there is a tap nearby, so I started off late and only did 7hrs today through long stretches that I had done previously, so it was boring cruising with no locks to break the monotony. I did stop at Worsley to find the entrance to the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines, where canal mania began in 1765. I find it difficult to comprehend that there are 48 miles of tunnels inside that hill.
Entrance to the mines.
Note the colour of the water due to the iron oxides.
This pic just had to be done!
I reached the outskirts of Lymm and moored up at The Barn Owl pub, which has been converted from a boatyard building, where I had a good meal and Wainright’s bitter.
The following day started with blue skies, but things changed as the day went on until it rained on and off for the remainder of the trip until I reached Middlewich and moored just below the Big Lock.
I had a problem with my bow fender, when a weak link in the chain broke after pushing open a steel gate that had closed in my face after leaving the mooring. I had removed the fender, but knew that I would need it going up Heartbreak Hill the following day. Without the bow fender, I would need to stop in the lock and climb up the ladder with the centre line to hold the boat against the incoming water, which would be more time consuming than my usual method. I had been on the lookout for a CRT workboat that I could use, but none appeared, so I did the business from the bow of the boat – not easy, but there was no other way. I also had to make the bow hatch watertight if I was going right up to the cill, as so many top gates leak like waterfalls and I had had to drain the bow locker twice already on this trip. Let’s see if this works – which it did, I found out later.
A guy approached me at Wheelock with a card advertising a fuel boat called Alton, which used to belong to the Narrow Boat Trust some years ago, so we got into conversation about the Trust and coal runs etc. His name is Brian McGuigan and I bought 80 litres of diesel from him, which he wheeled along the towpath in containers in a wheel barrow. He also advised me on all the best pubs in the area, including the Blue Bell Inn at Harding’s Wood and the safest place to moor.
My usual Birmingham locking method did not work on the Cheshire deep locks, so I had to motor into the lock and leave the boat in gear against the cill before climbing the ladder and working the lock – not a lot of fun, but glad that I refitted the bow fender.
It has been a tough day, with 22 locks now done and four left to do tomorrow. Half of them were against me today, so double the work having to empty each lock and then refill it. Now moored 4 locks above Harding’s Wood Junction for a visit to The Blue Bell, which has unusual opening hours, as I found out when I got there at 6.45 and found that it opened at 7.30pm, so I had to go into the Canal Tavern opposite, which was full of yobs and loud music, so it was a quick one here until The Blue Bell opened. What an excellent beer pub it was too with six ales on tap and the landlord pulled a good half pint out of every pump to make sure each pint was fresh for the first customer of the evening. No music, juke box or pool table – just what a pub should be.
I had four locks to do before Harecastle tunnel, the next day and all was going well until the final lock, when the bow fender caught on something and broke the top chain, so both fenders were nearly in the water. I spent an hour climbing over the bow once again, but this time I could do away with the lower fender, which made things easier as there was less weight to try and support.
I arrived at the tunnel moorings with 45 mins to wait for the northbound boats. There were four boats to go south, one of them being a petrol engine cruiser, so he was allowed to go first as the ventilation fans would pull his exhaust fumes ahead of him. For this reason it is better to go last in a southerly direction and first if going north, so as not to get the fumes from boats ahead of you, as the tail enders will.
One and three quarter miles long.
I was also told about the man who died in the tunnel in May of this year. According to the story teller, the man was knocked off the boat where the tunnel roof changes profile, as it does in several places. Now all the changes in profile are highlighted in white paint, so the guy must have been quite high up on the boat for this to happen – maybe he was sitting on the stern in a high chair, as some boaters do. Not something I would ever do, as you have no control if the tiller swings round unexpectedly and knocks you off. It seems that there was a long gash on his forehead and the storyteller reckons that his wife reversed the boat several times and probably ran over him, causing severe damage from the propeller. He was an experienced boater according to his family.
I moored up outside a Toby Carvery (oh dear) and a boat yard, which is also a Black Prince hire base, but it was a pleasant sunny spot in Stoke-on-Trent.