Friday, 31 May 2013

Busy, busy, busy

Calveley to Coole Pilate Moorings: 9.5 miles, 2 locks
      Busy this morning:
one crew member showered, washing machine in action, water tank refilled, mint and basil watered, rubbish disposed of, toilet compartments dealt with - and all before breakfast.      Busy on the canal this morning: boats from five different hire boat companies returning to base.
       Busy at Barbridge Junction, boats approaching from the Shropshire Union to the south and the Middlewich Branch. The A51 Nantwich Road was noisy with lorries and cars.   
 “It’s busy at the locks,” called another boater, assuming Cleddau’s progress towards Hurleston Junction indicated a plan to join the Llangollen Canal. At the base of the locks one boater was waiting patiently while another boat had started up the Hurleston flight of four.
      Have to be busy to keep this garden in good order..
      Busy nearing Nantwich, boats moored belonging to the Nantwich and Borders Counties Yacht Club.
Busy have been members of the Shropshire Union Canal Society, installing extra mooring rings along the towpath near the town. The towing horse sculpture is still there.
      Busy was Nantwich Town: queues of traffic at each road junction, long delays for pedestrians to cross, a bustle in the shopping areas. The houses are a delight for the eye, from the wonky medieval buildings
to the Georgian (?) frontage
and the secretive home of a Miss Haversham recluse..
      Busy was the churchyard: lucky the bride who chose this wedding date. The sun was busy shining, eight bells peeled out from the bell tower and wedding guests in their finery were meeting and mingling..
      Back on the boat the canal continues south on an embankment and over an aqueduct.
The towpath was busy with walkers and fishermen.  A bit further on construction equipment was busy at work on a house building site.
      Out into the countryside there were good views eastwards towards higher ground in Staffordshire. A microwave mast and a sign hove into view.
The Cleddau crew cruised this route south to north just once, moored above the Hack Green locks and made a visit.      There are two locks at Hack Green, busy today, boats passing through in both directions. A mile or so more and then a welcome site, the moorings at Coole Pilate. Neatly cut grass, picnic tables and BBQ frames and plenty of mooring rings made this the easiest mooring up session ever!
      A busy day – and a remarkable day: no waterproofs, windows and doors wide open, laundry drying outside in the fresh air – and in an act of faith that summer may be here the table has been moved from its winter port side position (offside from the fire) to starboard, allowing more space in the cabin.
      Tomorrow – will need to be busy with the fifteen Audlem Locks; Market Drayton is on the radar for Sunday afternoon...


Thursday, 30 May 2013

New experience at Bunbury Staircase

Christleton to Calveley: 11.2 miles, 6 locks
        Retracing a route allows views of familiar things from a different angle. Today’s course involved first the eight mile long lock-free pound from the Chester outskirts to Wharton Lock. Whereas on Saturday the route was boated in gentle sunshine, today the morning skies were leaky and the air chilly. Gloves again! The houses in the village of Waverton have those pretty gardens
– and the one with the boathouse.
Slowly the boat cruised past the Golden Nook farm moorings. There was a friendly wave from Juno Jesemla’s owners; he had cheerfully shared locking duties in the heavy rain yesterday. Their boat’s name involves the family’s five names – can you guess them?
On past the mile and more of the moored boats and then the ridge of hills begins to appear.
Through the hedging there are glimpses of the castles, Peckforton (in private hands)
and Beeston (open to the public).
       Then comes the plain, the railway line and Beeston Castle’s sheer rocky outcrop.
       First lock - Wharton’s Lock.
There was a diesel fill-up at Chas Hadarn Boats and then the next lock, Beeston Iron Lock. This was a frustrating experience: the chamber narrows so one boat only is recommended, the current below the lock is pretty fierce – and it was here that a vociferous stranger materialised, one full of opinion and advice, keen to see action with someone else’s boat. Boatwif towpath-trudged up to the next two locks, eager for chance to escape know-all navigators and for a decent walk. To the right was a private fishing lake, a fly fisherman engrossed in his sport.
 To pass through the next two locks with a sane and sensible crew became a pleasurable contrast! On the canal goes, creeping through woodland, the birds in full chorus.
         Bunbury Staircase Locks looked unusually quiet. All the Anglo-Welsh hire boats, bar one, were out on hire. The Captain jumped off – was gone a long time. The skipper from the boat ahead jumped off, tied up, was gone a long time... Just dog  walkers passed by. Eventually water burbled out of the bottom lock and a boat emerged. The skipper ahead reappeared, then moved his boat into the bottom chamber. Boatwif clambered back on board Cleddau and smoothly went in alongside. From the lock side the Captain began to issue instructions, then “You tell her!” he said to other skipper.
        “We’re sharing locks, there’s one coming down... have you got a bow thruster...?” Slowly it dawned: in the lock above was a boat coming down
while below we were two boats going up... No bow thrusters, Cleddau ten feet longer than the partner boat. The plan was formulated: Cleddau would move into lock 2, the partner boat would slide across into Cleddau’s space,  the down-coming boat would slide into lock 2 , Cleddau would slide across lock 1 and the other upcoming boat would then move into lock 1... and the plan worked! New trick – passing in a broad staircase lock and two locks full of water saved!
         Late afternoon and a sunny mooring beckoned. While the Captain tried to rid the engine room of excess rainwater Boatwif baked some boat cakes. Time for supper - some simple (Chester market) venison sausages were on the menu. The Captain produced a bottle of red: “Listen,” he said, reading the details on a bottle of Passero 2011,”’s the perfect wine to enjoy with classic Italian dishes... grilled sausages and a selection of cheeses.”
         Only the rattling past of nb Sloe Mo Shun detracted momentarily from the pleasure of the late evening sunshine
and the triumph of a new trick learned...
         Tomorrow: towards Nantwich.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

A tramp round historic Chester

Chester to Christleton: 2.5 miles, 8 locks
       A guided walk – with a tour guide? It seemed like a good idea and indeed it was. At 1030 the little group of UK nationals (and one visitor from Minnesota) congregated outside Chester’s Town Hall for a 90 minute stroll plus commentary around the city.
      In a place like Chester it helps to have some idea of historical era: the city has developed via contributions made by the Romans, Saxons, various medieval kings; there were references to Edward 1 and his castle-building, jibes about the Welsh, stories of Charles 1 and his escape from the Parliamentarians, the Victorian enthusiasm for adding Tudor-look facades... and Chester even had a brief Viking presence too...
       Just round the corner from the Town Hall are the excavated remains of the Roman strong room. Later there was the Roman Garden (not authentically sited but a pleasant arrangement of Chester’s Roman stonework).
Also glimpsed during the tour was the Roman Amphitheatre, discovered in the 1970s during a road-building scheme. Today (photographed from the city walls) a Roman gladiator was coaching children in Roman ways.
Chester’s street plan still follows the original Roman layout. Over the centuries the street level has risen by about six feet, but some shops still are sited on the earlier level (hence the clamber down steps into Cath Kidston’s yesterday! )
       Chester is famed for its Rows,
the upper galleries along the shopping streets, which allow undercover walking and which still have shops on them.
       A street name provides evidence of Viking visits:

      You can stand and gaze at the impressive weir on the River Dee.
Not long after viewing it a Beluga aircraft flew over, transporting wings of the Airbus made near Wrexham which are then transferred to Toulouse for final assembly. The largest aircraft wings (for the A380), too large to go by air, are floated downstream on the Dee by barge and then delivered by sea to a Mediterranean port – so the River Dee’s long history as an important transport route lives on.
       The tour of course pulled in the Eastgate Clock (the second most photographed clock after Big Ben)
and Chester Cathedral, before finishing in front of – Janya,
today’s model elephant, a reference to Chester’s famous zoo and its Asian elephants. `
       Beat the weather became the next mission; after fresh food shopping in the covered market there was a hasty retreat to the boat to start the 8 lock retreat from Chester. The Northgate three lock staircase drew a small crowd; by the time Cleddau reached the top lock a new theatre studies graduate had taken over paddle-winding, her family and another dealt with the gates
while Boatwif fielded questions and delivered an impromptu history of the canals lecture...
Three down, five to go: on round past the ancient city walls and under the Bridge of Sighs...
Another boat shared locks 5 to 8, the rain arrived at 4 o’clock, an open umbrella was spotted at 4.15 and later the Cleddau crew queued to eat at a Harvester pub where, post bank holiday, 16 items on the menu were “off”, replenishments expected tomorrow...

     On balance though, it was a good sort of day!
      Tomorrow, on towards Barbridge Junction.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

An umbrella day

Ellesmere Port to Chester: 8.5 miles, 2 locks
     It was a great day for umbrellas – but less of a good one for boat mooring.
     Get up the two locks early from the lower basin before there was any boat traffic, assemble rubbish for drop off at the bins behind the Visitor Centre, sort laundry for the washing machine, refill with water, proceed to Chester, find a good mooring at Tower Wharf – that was the plan.
     Coming up the locks was straightforward enough, though slow, as one paddle only is to be used to drain the top lock.
In twenty minutes the boat was at the upper level – but unable to move further. The museum trip boat was still moored outside the cafe blocking the lock exit, a second trip boat was manoeuvring to get to the water point,
another boat was moored ahead – another arrived from Chester
and another followed up the locks from an overnight mooring below. “We need to fill up with water,” Boatwif explained. Ropes were passed and tugged and returned; the newer trip boat shuffled forward to load her passengers and that gave Cleddau the best chance yet of a drink from the tap. There still remained the issue of getting the hose pipe over the very high bow of the museum trip boat.
Try throwing a flat hose as if it were a rope... try a second time and that might be more successful.A full ninety minutes after first starting out the boat was ready to continue – away from petro-chemical chimneys and motorway bridges and scrubby grass and back towards Chester. Fine spots of rain began to float down – then drizzle – then steadier rain. The Captain grabbed his favourite large umbrella and continued south.
      At one point the stern of a boat was adrift it seemed in the centre of the canal. It soon became apparent that the efforts of two chaps to install fencing around a drinking hole for stock was being closely supervised by many pairs of eyes...
Back towards Chester - golfing umbrellas in evidence.
Closer to the city – umbrellas along the towpath. The garden elephant was enjoying the rain,
a blue whale too!

      Mooring up proved every bit as frustrating as the watering incident earlier in the day: no room in Tower Wharf basin, shallow water along the towpath, finally deeper water but lack of holes onto which to secure mooring ropes. Meanwhile the rain rained harder...
      Against usual practice Boatwif succumbed to weather conditions and took a short blue umbrella on her mission up to the city centre. Without it she would have felt severely under-dressed!
      There’s a Bridge of Sighs over which prisoners used to be taken for their Last Rites before execution: below lurks the canal
Cleddau had passed along on sunny Saturday. Soon Chester’s famous black and white double decker shops were in view.
Chester is a popular destination; a group of American tourists exchanged news of their lunch-time menus while within one shop Welsh (with a North Wales accent) was heard. It’s a prosperous-looking place, although a bridal gallery has closed. Five or six steps down below street level was a Cath Kidston store. Now that’s a successful business, there’s a large warehouse with that name alongside the M1 somewhere in the East Midlands. Just look at the seaside names on this bag: 
emit a sigh, return to the street and push up the umbrella again! Outside on the street there were umbrella gatherings
– and umbrellas in use as rain cover for street traders’ stalls!

       4.25pm: last photo of the day of the fine Eastgate Clock commemorating Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 -
after which the camera was tucked away for its own protection. As for the Roman Amphitheatre – maybe tomorrow...

     (For those readers referring to the outline plan: the gas fridge man has been in contact, he’ll look at the ignition system next Monday - just need to get to Market Drayton first. “That’s quite a lot of locks,” says the Captain...)

Monday, 27 May 2013

Tied up at Ellesmere Port

            10 am on Monday and the Cleddau crew were ready to start their exploration of the National Waterways Museum.
From their mooring behind the Holiday Inn they wove their way off the islands, climbed a steep ramp to top lock level, wandered past a number of old working boats in varying states of restoration, trudged past a building or two and found a bridge across two locks to arrive near the Visitor Entrance.
          “Can you advise us where is best to start? An Introduction?” asked Boatwif.
          There was a shrug of the shoulders. “No, not really, they demolished the building.” Odd... And this was the first of several requests for information to which only very limited responses were given. (More later).
          A pause: “You could go over down there as far away as possible and work back...” Having just come up from “down there” The Captain and Boatwif opted to exit the Visitor Centre, turn right and START. Stables first – a reminder that early working boats were legged in tunnels but drawn by horse along the towpath.
Next to the Power Hall - where engine buffs can drool over operating and static machinery used for a wide variety of uses.
Then the Blacksmith’s Forge, a vast space containing six separate hearths, explanations of anvils, an array of tools and worked metal products.
         Here the buildings backed onto the Manchester Ship Canal – and as if on cue there was a blast from a ship’s horn and mv Stolt Cormorant, an oil /chemical liquid tanker of 5,500 tonnes (thank you internet!) passed, heading towards Liverpool.

         Were you aware that concrete was used for ship-building when steel was a shortage material? This was a concrete barge, used in ports.

        There are boats that can be climbed onto – don’t miss the 70 foot Shad where the tiny boatman’s cabin, with back range and cupboards can be investigated.

       There’s a row of four workers’ cottages worth exploring too. Built for the porters on the docks, visiting each one became backward time travel: there was one laid out in the 1950s,

       another in the 1930s,
the 1900s
and the 1830s.

        There were mangles and dolly tubs – and a bucket and chuck it privy.
        Under cover in the vast Island Warehouse there are more intriguing displays: upstairs pride of place goes to nb Friendship;
the story of this boat, the recorded voices of her remarkable owners and the description of the lives they led is positively moving. Elsewhere the big ditch (the Manchester Ship Canal) and pattern-making (ie wooden moulds for metal canal-side furniture) is displayed.
Downstairs you can get close up to an icebreaker (minus the ice!) and learn vast amounts about the tools and skills needed to build inland waterway boats.

         Verdict: an excellent museum which deserves at least half a day.
          Come by car or public transport, fill in your Feedback card and whisk away back along the motorways.
          Come by boat – and struggle to find facilities: one near invisible tap by the Visitor Centre at the upper level, the trip boat moored in front of it; the well-hidden elsan disposal point accessed across three other moored boats; rubbish disposal in the skip outside the shop, but the site is locked after 5pm; the top lock needs a notice to explain its usage so as to prevent flooding down below. (Only much questioning eventually uncovered the information that some external gates have standard BW C&RT key locks.)
          Tomorrow: a top up of the water supply, if possible, and a three hour trip back to Chester. There’s a Roman Amphitheatre there that at least one of the crew wants to visit...
(One final photo: this is the spiked-topped wall four passengers from mv Daffodil climbed last September

 in their desperate bid to find a taxi to take them back to Manchester – and in so doing gate-crashed photographs being taken of an entire wedding party...)