About Me

My photo
After thirty years of hiring, I finally bought my own 50ft boat in 2005, which was built in 2001 by Andicraft at Debdale Wharf. I mostly cruise single handed and have no problem with that, although it does take a little longer than with a crew. My mooring is on the Wey Navigation, so I have a choice of routes on the Wey or the Thames.

Sunday 31 August 2014

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. Long Straight Stretches

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.

Tuesday 26 August 2014

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. The Way Back.

It was a miserable start to the day, with drizzle and wind. I set off just before 9am with one other boat to meet up with the CRT guys at the Mann island lock, so we were the first two in the lock. I had hoped for this, as I wanted help through all those swing bridges that I did by myself on the way into Liverpool and being one of the first, meant that I would not get left behind. All went well on the way out of the docks, apart from the constant rain. There were 8 boats in the convoy and the first one did the swing bridge and let all the others through; they then followed up as Tail End Charlie, but gradually worked their way back up the convoy. Being single handed, I was excused duty, as it would mean holding up the procession, because it would take me too long.  True to form, I did not touch one swing bridge all the way through until the mooring at Haskayne, where I was close to another boat that I knew was going on in the morning. The remainder of the convoy had already moored up at Mersey Motor Boat Club at Skarisbrick. For some inexplicable reason, I felt depressed for the whole day; I don’t think the weather helped, but it may have been a feeling of anticlimax having achieved my goal of reaching Liverpool.

I accompanied this boat the next day through the next two swing bridges into Burscough, where I stopped to shop, but they had moved on when I got back, so I though all was lost. Not so, I even managed to get assistance through the next two swing bridges, much to my surprise. So despite having to do every one of these buggers on the way down, I never touched one on the return trip – how amazing is that? I now felt much better than the day before and had cheered up considerably.

Just below Wigan, I was caught up by a plastic cruiser and offered to wait for them at the next lock, so we did all the locks through Wigan and beyond until we reached Plank Lane bridge, where I moored up for the night after 12 hours cruising. It had been a long day and probably the same was to come.

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. Ferry across the Mersey.

At last the weather changed for the better and the wind had dropped, so it was time to do the ferry and the U-Boat Story on the other side of the river. A very good experience, although I expected to be able to go inside the submarine. However, when I realised what state it was in after 40yrs underwater, I was sympathetic to the way it was presented. Although it had been well preserved in silt that entered the vessel when it was sunk by a depth charge, it was extremely rusty, with dangerous sharp edges and to show it in detail, the ship had been cut into pieces so several sections were on view behind glass screens. Difficult to photograph, as reflections were very evident in the screens.
The Liverpool waterfront.
Stern with rudder and hydroplanes.
Damage from the depth charge.
The electric motor room.
The diesel engine room.
I spent some time in the Albert Dock Welcome Pavilion to be able to upload this blog, as they advertised free Wi-Fi. What they don’t tell you is that it is only free for 30 mins! Anyway, I managed to do all that I wanted in that time.
On the way out, I noticed this......

..........so who would live on the top floor with  only inches of floor space? It is an optical illusion, because what you can't see is the rest of the building behind this fa├žade that retreats in a concave curve on the right hand side.
Back to The Baltic Fleet at the end of the day to upload a bit more blog on unlimited free Wi-Fi. Apparently, this is the only pub with its own brewery and their beers are excellent; I know, ‘coz i have now tried them all!

Sunday 24 August 2014

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. The Metropolitan Cathedral.

It was a very wet start to the day, with heavy showers and I intended going on the Mersey ferry, but not in this, so I dodged the showers and did some essential shopping. I did not have an electrical connector for a hook-up and offered my free10kw card to my neighbour, but he said that a lot of the connections were free and offered his connector for me to use. Sure enough, I had £6 worth on the meter and it remained at that for the rest of my stay here, so I had battery charging, which kept the fridge going and hot water as well – luxury!

The rain eased off at lunchtime, so I decided to take a walk up to the Metropolitan Catholic Cathedral. It was further than I thought, well only one mile, but it was mostly uphill and hot by now. It was well worth the effort, as you will see. I was astounded at the amount of repair work required after completion, which alone cost £7 million; so much for modern materials and new methods of construction. I’ll bet the Anglican Cathedral nearby never had those problems.

Views of the stained glass in the lantern.

Views across the circular nave. The blue lighting is through glass.
After a short recovery time, I ventured out to the Baltic Fleet, which has quite a history.http://www.balticfleetpubliverpool.com/  It is a very old dockside boozer, surrounded by modern developments. Plain floorboards, chairs and tables and a few Cunard posters on the walls, but they brewed their own beer and very good it was too – well worth a visit and I nearly missed it!

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. Off At Last!

I set off with nb Four Goldens just after eight am to get to Bridge 9, where CRT guys held up the traffic on this busy road for us and opened the bridge. Just a short way on and the boat ahead of me came to a halt and ran into the reeds; it appeared that his engine had stopped and would not restart, so I offered him a tow, which he accepted. The next few swing bridges were also opened by the CRT guys and we continued on for about three miles until we reached the service area at Litherland, where he wanted to stop. I was then able to pick up more speed and hopefully catch up the other boats, as the towing severely slowed me down, as well as Four Goldens behind me.


I very nearly passed by the turning into Stanley Locks, as I couldn’t see the other boats until I was upon them. The Pride of Sefton trip boat was there waiting along with another narrow boat at the top lock. We were helped through the four locks by CRT volunteers this time and it was obvious that they were new to the job. At the bottom I passed the enormous Tobacco Warehouse on the left before entering Stanley Dock, Collingwood Dock and Salisbury  Dock, before turning left into Trafalgar Dock and so it went on until we reached the new Princes Dock Lock, manned again for us. We progressed through the 200 yd St Nicholas Tunnel and the Cunard Tunnel, passing the “Three Graces”, the Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building and Port of Liverpool Building and on through Mann Island Lock into Canning Dock, Canning Half Tide Dock, Albert Dock and finally, Salthouse Dock were the mooring pontoons were. It was a good job I was following another boat, who knew the way, otherwise I would have been circling some of those docks looking for a way out. After three attempts, I finally reversed onto my allocated pontoon, much to the amusement of the boaters watching of course. Well, there was a wind, although it was only light at the time, but enough to blow me off course. What a mooring – right in the centre of the old docks and within walking distance of most of the star attractions. The total time had been seven hours to get here today.

To get my bearings, I took a walk around the Waterfront as far as the Pier Head, taking a load of pics,  ending up in The Pumphouse for a well deserved pint. What a day it has been and well worth the waiting.

At the top of Stanley Locks.
Following nb Sharika into the docks.
Famous Victorian clock tower.
The tobacco warehouse - the largest totally brick built building in the world.
If I remove this pic, then they all disappear! How did it get here anyway?
It is time to change to a better system, because Blogger is crap!

First sight of  the Royal Liver Building.

About to go beneath the museum............
............and past the lightship.................
.......to a mooring in Salthouse Dock.
The famous Mersey ferry.

Wednesday 20 August 2014

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. A Race to Wigan.

I got back to BMBC on Tuesday evening after 9 days at home to find Stronghold safe and sound in the arm. After shopping at the town Co-Op, situated in the town centre, just across the cut, I came to the conclusion that Runcorn was such a dismal place, with remnants of the old buildings still remaining and some demolished and barren, with the Brindley Theatre in the midst. Walking back from the station, I realised that most of the area is devoted to the car, with new roads abounding, but little attention paid to the pedestrian. Even the Runcorn locks were blocked off by a link road and this used to be such a busy place for boats. There is talk of a new Mersey crossing here, which would do away with that link road, thus enabling the re-opening of the locks to form a ring route through the Manchester Ship Canal to Ellesmere.

The following morning I phoned CRT to see if it was possible to get a passage into Liverpool docks the following week. There was, but I had to fill in a form and post it back to reserve the place. Being without a printer on board, I was advised to do in the public library, but my thoughts were that it was better to be cruising towards Wigan, where I could fill in the form in the CRT office, rather than fiddling about looking for the library and then posting the thing back to them. Now the race was on to get to Wigan before Friday and do the business as I was now pencilled in to go through the locks into Liverpool the following Friday and return the Monday after, which gave me two clear days in the city.

I left after the phone call on Wednesday and fortunately the route is mostly lock free, which was very easy cruising on the wide and deep Bridgewater. At Waters Meeting I turned left towards the Ship Canal, rather than continue up the Rochdale Canal. I saw very few other boats going either way and approached the Barton Swing Aqueduct around a bend to find two other boats waiting there in the channel, as the aqueduct was open for two ships to pass through – quite a rare event, I later heard.

I waited there for about an hour and watched a ship full of day trippers pass, before a tanker approached from the seaward end – quite a sight to see.

Cranes like this are located at all places where stop planks are avaialble
Eventually the aqueduct was swung back across the canal and the gates opened by a man with a windlass at each end operating a quadrant gear on the hinged gates. The Barton Road Bridge is a little further along the central island, but of course that is all electric and operates far more speedily.
Crossing at last.

Onwards through the showers towards Worsley, with its famous Packet House and the entrance to the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines in the Delph. Amazingly, these mines extend for 46 miles into the hillside, where coal has been mined since the 14th C, but are now closed of course. I passed Graham on Hakuna Matata, last seen in Nantwich, but he was engrossed in conversation and did not notice me.
Packet House in Worsley.
The canal passes through very desolate countryside now and it is obvious from the disturbed areas around that this was once heavy coal mining country. One pit head winding gear remains at Astley Green Pit Museum, but I had no time to stop; maybe on the way back though. Next is the town of Leigh, very much a success in the weaving business many years ago, as the red brick mills dominate the town, but being now derelict, I found it to be a depressing place.

I was expecting there to be a keeper in attendance at Plank Lane Lift Bridge, but it was DIY from a pedestal. There were several boats moored on the other side of the bridge, so I asked one of the ladies if she would do the honours, so as not to hold up the traffic more than necessary, which she kindly offered to do. She said that there was a good pub a short distance away and well worth a visit, so I moored up where she suggested, as I was not happy going into Wigan and spending the night there. Well, the pub was not up to my standard as there was no real ale at all, so I had a pint of Guinness at £3.00, which is cheap in my book.

I moved on to Wigan the next day and teamed up with another boat in the next double lock. The steerer knew all the best places to moor up and recommended the best pubs, as well as what to visit in Liverpool – a veritable mine of information. He even waited in the next lock for me while I was in the CRT office for almost an hour.

The people in the CRT office were extremely helpful and my pencilled in place was still open, so I hadn’t travelled all that way just to turn around and go back. The lady sorting me out popped out for a sandwich while I was doing the paperwork, even though I offered to take her out for lunch, I was so delighted! The form was filled in and verified, before I was given a load of informative paperwork on mooring in the docks and the procedure for meeting up and locking through.

I moored briefly in front of The Orwell pub to do some shopping and had a quick pint at £1.65! I asked where Wigan Pier was and to my amazement, it was so insignificant, I could have missed it altogether. I knew that it was a coal loading staithe, but expected something a little more pronounced than that.
Wigan Pier - yes really!

Goodbye to Wigan for a while.

At Pagefield lock I was warned about a top paddle jamming on the next lock and the boater had called CRT out to fix it. There were also boys swimming there, though they were no trouble. When I arrived, the CRT boys were in evidence, but said that the anti-vandal lock had been put on with the paddle in the up position and they had come all the way from Wigan top lock to sort it out, so they were not pleased. However, when I met up with my mine of info friend, he said that was not the case, so who to believe? He was even walking up the towpath to meet me with a knapsack full of shackles and ropes to help me through. I find it amazing how some people will put themselves out to help another boater, but on the other hand so have I when the opportunity has arisen.

The same guy with his wife had moored outside the Crooke Hall Inn, which he had recommended. There was just fifty feet of space in front of his boat and I checked with the landlord that it was OK to moor there. There is a good selection of Allgates Brewery beers on offer here and the menu looked promising. I noted that the beers were from AllGates Brewery and asked if that was the same brewery that owned Ma Pardoes in Netherton, but I have to say he was nonplussed at my question. On researching it later, I found that it was one and the same. I had an excellent meal in there that night.

Wednesday 6 August 2014

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. On to the Bridgewater.

Well, look what I found! Dated March 1949, so that makes me 13 yrs old at the time, not about 8yrs, as I previously said. It is an illustration and not a photograph, as I thought originally. Costing all of 6p, which is 2 ½ p in present money and to buy a copy now would cost about £10 incl p&p. I bet my parents threw them all away when they moved! I think all the old copies of the magazine can now be found on line and read for free. http://pdfmm.free.fr/  Notice the weights on the outside of the structure, which denotes that it was electrically operated at that time. Each weight weighs 14 tons and they now form a maze in the grounds.

It was time to move on from The Salt barge, which was OK as a pub, with lots of memorabilia on the walls, but apart from that nothing to shout about. It had been raining most of the night and I took off during a dry spell, but like yesterday, got caught out again in a downpour. I moored up on 48hr mooring back at Anderton and had a splendid meal in The Stanley Arms accompanied by a splendid pint, or was it two(?) of Lomond Gold at 5%, brewed by the Black Wolf Brewery. http://blackwolfbrewery.com/ On passing by this pub on the canal the following day, I discovered that they had their own 48hr moorings – doh!

There were three tunnels now on the way to Runcorn, Barnton, Saltersford, and Preston Brook. The first two could be seen through to the other end, but not Preston Brook, which was also one way working. Entry was between the hour and ten minutes past, when travelling north. The one stop lock just before Barnton, had a 6 inch drop and soon a queue of five boats were behind me waiting to enter the tunnel.
The first of five boats coming out of
the southern portal of Barnton Tunnel.
I got through OK, despite the lamp shining too high, but I adjusted it in time for the next tunnel. At the same time my horn failed, due to its own battery running out of charge ( there is a separate battery for the horn, as the cable from the stern will not carry the current for air horns), so that had to be put on charge. I had forgotten about using the secondary lamp on the stern in the tunnels, which makes navigation far easier, as I can see the wall to the side. Without it, I seem to become disorientated and so clipped the wall several times – not good for the paintwork!

A Liverpool Short Boat. Not many of these left!
Shortly after exiting Preston Brook tunnel, I came to Waters Meeting on Bridgewater and turned left onto the Runcorn Branch. The cut here was very wide and deep, but without any other boats moving; most of those following heading for Manchester. It was only four miles to the Bridgewater Motor Boat Club, so I was soon there and met up with Paul, who had heard that I was coming, but was in the dark about where to moor Stronghold. After a phone call or two, he guided me into the arm and I moored up in the corner. Not only were the club grounds secured by a lockable gate, but the arm was too, so I felt doubly secure. I was able to borrow a gate key, so that I could escape in the morning to catch the train and all was well.
Very well appointed Bridgwater Motor Boat Club.
Nicely secured in the corner.

Friday 1 August 2014

The Grand Canal Tour 2014. River Weaver Part 2.

We had moored in a quiet place and sat out on the bank until it turned cold in the wind. Setting off the following day for Winsford at the navigable top end of the river, we passed through Northwich and Hunt’s Lock No.2 (there was no lock no.1) and Vale Royal Locks. Reaching the end of the navigation  and winding in Winsford Bottom Flash, which we had been warned about the lack of depth, which was not a problem if you didn’t go too far into the flash.

I stopped off for a pint at The Red Lion, having breasted up for a while alongside another boat. Not really a noteworthy pub, but the beer was fine. Having rehydrated, I joined the others on another quiet mooring in Vale Royal Cut.

The BBC crew were leaving the Weaver later today, but I decided to stay a little longer in Northwich to have a look around the town museum, which they recommended. Good and plentiful moorings here, close to Waitrose and shops in the town. Baleytwist  and Cranley both needed pump outs and water, but a another boat was moored partly on the water point, which made life somewhat difficult. To add to that, Terry’s expensive (£16.35!) CRT pump out card refused to work, so they both had to operate on Mick’s card. The pump out hose was too short, so boats had to both very quickly exchange places to gain access. Most unsatisfactory.

Good moorings at the confluence of the Weaver and Dane rivers.

I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Weaver’sHall Museum and spent one and a half hours there, with a free cup of coffee thrown in. I was surprised to find that a lot of Northwich is built on old salt mines, which caused considerable subsidence to buildings in the town and was solved by drilling bore holes into the mines and pumping in a mixture of cement, ash, salt and brine, which filled the holes with a porous solidified mixture. Several brick houses had to be demolished, but the wooden framed buildings, built by the Victorians, could be jacked up to a new level.
Victorian timber framed building.
The third Co-Op in the country!

8 acres of Yarwoods boat yard C 1960.
Not a lot left of it today.
I was also surprised to learn more about W J Yarwoods boat building in the town. They were known as principle wood and steel narrow boat builders by most of the narrow boaters today, but they also built sea going vessels and boats for the Admiralty during the 2nd World War. They had a foundry and machine shop and could produce 95% of their boats on site, which extended to 8 acres in size. The works closed in 1965.

I moved on the next day to Anderton, not expecting to go back up that late in the afternoon, but surpisingly, there was a vacancy straight away and so I went up with another boat in the caisson and moored close to the top, where there were plenty of free spaces.
Back into the lift............
..........alongside another boat.

I had time now to have a good look at the museum in the Anderton Visitors Centre, where there were very good descriptive displays of how the lift worked and more about the salt mines and works in the area. There were a few items of painted ware on show by Reg Barnett, Bill Hodgson and Harold Hood, all of the Anderton Company, so all knobstick roses as expected. This style of painting was peculiar to the north east at the time.
Water can painted in 'knobstick style.'

Rain was forecast for Friday and Saturday, but I was only on a 24hr mooring, so had to move off next day and was undecided where to go, but opted to head for The Salt Barge, about two miles further south, as I had plenty of time to spare, not being due into the Bridgewater Boat Club until Sunday. I also wanted a more wide open space to test my suspect TV aerial, because the TV had not picked up a signal for some weeks. Although I set off in rain break, the heavens opened during the trip. My Houdini hatch now had an intense test and Captain Tolley’s  Creeping Crack Cure stood up to the downpour – success at last! The TV worked as well, so delight all round.