Wednesday, 8 July 2015

A Detour to Old Trafford and then on to Worsley.

Wednesday 8th July, 2015 at Worsley.
We set off early in light drizzle, which was forecast to last for most of the day. One week ago was the hottest day for ten years and Wimbledon organisers were worried about heat exhaustion. Today we were wearing several layers including fleeces, scarves and waterproofs! Our English climate never fails to surprise!
A brief interlude of a rather more rural area after Sale soon gave way to a fairly unattractive industrialised stretch. The tunnel under the M60 seemed endless.
At "Waters Meeting", we met up with the original canal built by the Duke of Bridgewater in 1765 to carry his coal from Worsley (to the left) to Manchester (to the right). This was the original canal, the success of which led to the years of "canal mania" that continued until the arrival of the railways.
Given the significance of this historic junction, it was surprising to see no signpost or sign of any kind at the junction, nor did it live up to its picturesque name! Our route takes us to Worsley, on our way to the Leeds & Liverpool Canal; but given the proximity of a rather well-known local football stadium, we decided to turn right towards Manchester first for a quick detour.
We sailed a couple of miles up the canal to find somewhere where we could turn. This was at a place called Pomona, where there is a lock that leads down on to the Manchester Ship Canal.
Unfortunately, there was work being done on the tram bridge that spans the canal and the lock so the winding hole was severely restricted, but R's exemplary manoeuvring skills enabled us to get round despite the obstructions and the strong wind.
We sailed back down towards the junction and managed to moor up immediately opposite Old Trafford. What a mooring spot!
M had been here before to see a match when Man Utd were playing Panathinaikos, Man Utd won 4-0 with Beckham as Captain (that will date it!); but R had never been - so we couldn't resist going in to have a look. R posed in front of the entrance and "Megastore" under the statue of Sir Matt Busby.
This marvellous tribute to George Best, Dennis Law and Bobby Charlton stands opposite the main entrance.
Round the side is the Sir Alex Ferguson stand, which includes the "Red Cafe" and we went in for a warming drink (it was perishing cold for July!).
Each chair in the restaurant is named for a particular player and from the cafe we could look down on MM below.
Back on board MM, we returned to the junction and turned up towards Worsley. The areas on either side of the canal were still very industrialised including a massive facility owned by Kelloggs. Just think, this is where your cornflakes come from!
As we passed, we saw three employees walking behind the high fence - and each was carrying a box of cereal! Their lunch, we wondered?
At Barton, we crossed the huge swing bridge that carries the canal across the Ship Canal.
These days the swing bridge is very rarely opened as there is not much traffic on the Ship Canal this far north. The road bridge is also a swing bridge, but in the distance you can just see the high bridge constructed for the M60 motorway.
Worsley is our final destination for today and we moored up just a few hundred yards before the "Delph", which is the location of the entrance to the Duke of Bridgewater's coal mine. It has long since been abandoned, but there used to be over forty miles of canals underground to bring the coal out on to the Bridgewater Canal here. At last, the sun put in an appearance!
We had a quick walk around but we will save a proper exploration for when we return.
Tomorrow, we will put MM into the nearby marina and leave her for a couple of weeks as we have to go home for various committments.
Our diary will continue when we return - so please watch this space...
Today: 11 miles, 0 locks and 3.4 hours.
Trip: 135 miles, 53 locks and 79.9 hours.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Detritus on the Propellor and Torrential Rain

Tuesday 7th July, 2015 at Ashton-on-Mersey.
More rain overnight. M remarked rather sourly that it should have been precipitating on our garden back at home instead.
Rather reluctant to leave lovely Lymm, we set off during a brief interlude of sunshine. Almost immediately it was clear that we had something caught on the propellor, so we stopped for R to grope down in the weed hatch to remove it.
It is the first time this year that we have picked something up on the propellor, so we can't really grumble.
Soon after, the forecast rain started in earnest. It became torrential and, although we were sheltering under an umbrella (with both of us holding on to it to stop it blowing away), the water ran off the edge of  the umbrella and on to the seat where M was sitting. Soon she grizzled that her top was dry but she was wet through to her underwear from below!
Normally, if the weather is this bad, we would moor up and not move - but we need to go home for a couple of weeks for various reasons and therefore have booked MM into a marina at Worsley; so, we have to travel rain or shine to get there by Thursday morning. Bum!

Thereafter, the rain continued as showers all day. We moored up on the border between Sale and Ashton-on-Mersey, outside a pub called the King's Ransom, converted from a former warehouse.
A walk into the centre of town was mandatory due to the presence of a certain coffee shop.
The centre is pedestrianised and much redeveloped; M declared it to be soulless and decided that rather describing it as the "outskirts" of Manchester, the "underpants" would be a more apposite desription. A bit harsh perhaps? ("No" says M!).
Surprisingly, given the proximity of the busy pub, the road and the tram lines, the mooring was agreeably quiet overnight.
Today: 8 miles, 0 locks and 2.9 hours.
Trip: 124 miles, 53 locks and 76.5 hours.

Monday, 6 July 2015

More Rain and HMS Sexy!

Monday 6th July, 2015 in Lymm.
Awoke to a lovely morning; at 4am the dawn chorus from the woods on either side was a joy.
Despite dark warnings yesterday evening that "everyone round here is a drug dealer, so watch out" from a passing couple, we neither saw nor heard any evidence of nefarious activity unless you count the hopeful hungry passing ducks and swans. On the contrary, the place had a wonderfully quiet and serene atmosphere.
After breakfast, rather reluctant to leave this atmospheric spot, we set off back to the junction with the main line. Unfortunately, the sun deserted us, sending cold air and rain in its place. So, out came the Stobarts' umbrella and the waterproofs.
As we turned north on the Bridgewater, we were once more in virgin territory for us. We've never been this far north before.
Stockton Heath has shops and a Post Office; M needed to get a card weighed to send congratulations to Eva for winning 1st and 2nd places in her school sports day.
We walked through the town to the Manchester Ship Canal, which runs parallel to the canal on the other  side of the town. It's huge!  So are the bridges which span it.
R was very pleased to find a Costa on the way back... ("well, there's a surprise"" thought M).
But M was equally excited to find one of her favourite shops with an irresistible sign in the window... "Sale!"
Unfortunately the shoes that she liked were not comfortable - and so she left disappointed.
It rained heavily in the afternoon and we passed a group of teenagers having a great time despite the weather on a day boat that they had christened "HMS Sexy" complete with its own flag.
They waved cheerfully and blew us many kisses as we passed! We reciprocated, naturally!
At one point R heard a deep aero-engine noise and turned to see a Catalina flying by towards John Lennon Airport. One of only two flying examples in Europe, so a happy chance.
We were glad to reach Lymm and moor up for the day. During a break in the rain, we walked into the town. It's a delight. Very small and pretty with narrow cobbled streets - and it even still had its old stocks! Unfortunately, M had no rotten eggs or squashed tomatoes to hand....
We found an excellent coffee shop and bakery called "Sextons" where we were obliged to take shelter from the rain, which had returned.
Today: 11 miles, 0 locks and 3.9 hours.
Trip: 116 miles, 53 locks and 73.6 hours.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

From Cheshire to Lancashire on Foot.

Sunday 5th July, 2105 at Norton Priory, Castlefields.
This was an idyllic mooring, so peaceful and in the midst of dense woodland.
We set off early to do the two and a half miles to Runcorn. The rural tranquillity gave way to evidence of a built-up area and detritis in the canal including - would you believe - a sofa! However, it was delightful to see that the grass verges on the towpath are a haven for dozens of wild orchids.
The Runcorn Arm meets its Waterloo in the town basin with a road bridge most appropriately named "Waterloo Bridge".
Before the canal was truncated by an road "expressway" in 1970, two parallel flights of 10 locks took the canal down to the Manchester Ship Canal. We walked down along the line of the old flight and some of the lock chamber sides can still be seen.
Apparently the locks were filled in with sand and there is real hope that they can be reinstated one day. At the foot of the flight was a humble little place, built for the Duke of Bridgewater as a "temporary" residence, so that he could watch his canal being completed!
We moved MM a quarter of a mile from the end of the canal and moored her up opposite the centre of Runcorn. It was sad to see the demise of what must have been a vibrant little community in Runcorn. In the 1960's, it was designated as a "New Town" and, in addition to building vast estates of new houses all around it, the original town was dwarfed and carved up by massive expressways which fly over the little streets of red-brick terraced houses; one of these huge roads truncated the canal. The Sixties were certainly the Philistine years for the canals, the railways, town planning and architecture.
We walked through the rather depressing centre of Runcorn down to the Manchester Ship Canal where our imagination was caught by the sight of the huge suspension bridge which spans the Ship Canal and the Mersey and connects Runcorn on the south side to Widnes on the north.
Since our hopes to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Fransisco in 2012 had been dashed by torrential rain, we decided that this was too good an opportunity to miss and so set off to find our way up on to the pedestrian walkway. The views over the Mersey and the Ship Canal, divided by only a stone wall, were spectacular. In the estuary, the tide was out, exposing the sandbanks. Fascinating!
We could truthfully claim that by walking from Runcorn in the south to Widnes in the north, we had walked from Cheshire to Lancashire! The first sight of Lancashire was this very inviting looking pub.
To our surprise, another vista unfolded on the Lancashire side. The familiar sight of many green, red and white trucks could mean only one thing: an Eddie Stobart Depot! Hooray! Whilst we knew that there was a depot in Widnes, we did not realise that it was so close to the bridge. In addition to the truck depot, there is an Eddie Stobart Ports facility and we could see the huge cranes and containers. M posed happily in front of the entrance.
Other spotters were in evidence and one of them, David, very kindly ferried us round in his car to the other side of the main depot where there was a facility for handling new trucks and another for trucks that were being decommissioned - neither of which we could ever have found on foot.
All in all, we "bagged" eighty-five Eddies, an excellent haul!
M was surprised to find this lovely little specimen on one of the banks beside the depot; its a "Common Centaury", but she said it is far too pretty to be designated "common"!
By the time we had walked back across the bridge, we getting decidedly footsore but just as we got back to the canal, the dark clouds which had been gathering brought with them a massive thunderstorm and torrential rain. As the day had started warm and sunny, we were hardly dressed for rain, so we sheltered under a canal bridge in sight of MM and frustratingly only a couple of hundred yards away. We could see her in the distance - so near yet so far!
After half and hour or so, the rain eased off and we made the dash back to MM as fast as we could. We still got wet, but it was worth it as MM was warm, dry and inviting!
By six o'clock the sun came out and we decided to cruise back to the same mooring as last night by Norton Priory, passing this handsome fellow on the way.
It was so nice to back at this beautiful spot with its lovely woodland.
Today: 5 miles, 0 locks and 2.8 hours.
Trip: 105 miles, 53 locks and 69.7 hours.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

A Rarely Visited Canal and a Secret Garden.

Saturday 4th July, 2015 at Norton Priory, Castlefields.
An eventful day! Heavy rain overnight gave way to a bright morning. We felt that a "boater's breakfast" was the order of the day and enjoyed an excellent one in the Anderton Lift Visitors' Centre. Our table had a good view of the lift as a pair of boats went down.
From this point on, the canal was virgin territory for us. We were not disappointed; it was delightful cruising along this densely wooded waterway.
The only disadvantage was that, as a result of the trees, we failed to glimpse the much vaunted views of the River Weaver in its valley below! We did, however, glimpse a very jolly pirate brandishing his cutlass at us.
There are three tunnels on this stretch. Barton comes first, it is only 572 yards long and you can see through to check that it is clear (there is not room to pass inside) and as R disappeared into its portal.....
M took the lovely path over the top......
M just beat him to the other side where he emerged safely.
The next tunnel is Saltersford, which is slightly shorter but has a large kink in the middle so you cannot see through it. This tunnel is controlled by time so northbound boats, like us, can go through for the first 20 minutes of each hour. As we arrived on the hour, we went straight through and M stayed on board.
Before the third tunnel, there is a stop lock, just six inches high, that was designed to stop the Bridgewater Canal from stealing the Trent & Mersey Canal's water. M helped other boats through the lock and spotted an orchid beside the canal.
This tunnel is also timed, and by the time we negotiated the lock it was exactly on the hour so R took MM straight in while M again walked over the top.
The tunnel is 1,239 yards long and the official border between the two canals is - would you believe - in the middle of the tunnel! There was nothing in the tunnel to indicate the junction point, but on the hill above, M found the mile marker that defined the boundary.
Shortly after the tunnel, almost on a whim, we turned on to the Runcorn Arm. This is a five mile canal arm that terminates in Runcorn. It used to have two set of ten locks at the end down on to the Manchester Ship Canal, but these were closed and filled in in the 1960s. As it is a dead-end, very few boats bother to venture down this arm which is very sad because it is beautiful and the water is so clear that we could see the bottom. The water looked green, such a pleasant change from the brown of most of the canals.

We had read about a ruined priory about half way along, so moored up close to it and walked the quarter of a mile to it only to find that unfortunately it was closed for renovations. However, the notice on the gate said that the walled garden was still open about another quarter of a mile further on. We walked there to find an absolute gem.
The garden was probably the finest, most beautiful example we've ever visited.
We got talking to one of the staff, Claire, who told us that the floor of the undercroft of the old priory was subsiding due to a change in the water table and so the floor tiles were being lifted and the area under them excavated by archaeologists. They hoped to have the floor back and the priory reopened sometime next year - so we will have to come back again!
Today: 9 miles, 1 lock and 4.2 hours.
Trip: 100 miles, 53 locks and 66.9 hours.