Cheshire Ring - April 2011

Circular trip from Acton Bridge

Map of the Cheshire Ring

For this two week trip, we will be starting on the Trent & Mersey Canal at Acton Bridge which is between Preston Brook and the Anderton Boat Lift and then travelling anti-clockwise.

Decided on this direction of travel because the Trent and Mersey from the Harecastle Tunnel (near Stoke on Trent) to Middlewich is the only bit of the route that we know. Thought we would stick to familiar territory while we get used to the boat.

Anderton Boat Lift March 2011

The Anderton Boat Lift

In the first of two recce trips to check out parts of the route for Easter, we attended the IWA North-West Region Annual General Meeting which was held at the Anderton Boat Lift.

A very impressive bit of engineering! Unfortunately, being pre-season the lift wasn't working but we got a tour of the Control Room to see how it worked. If you are thinking lot's of big levers and valve's, think again... All computer controlled these days!

En-route to the Lift we checked out the Black Prince base at Acton Bridge where we will be starting our journey. Also checked out the next-door farm shop which has an impressive range of bottled ciders and real ales. Might need to stock up there before we depart.

While at the meeting, we had the pleasure of meeting Martin Clark who runs the Pennine Waterways website which I have already used in planning the route. Very pleasant guy who is keen to try and dispel old perceptions of bad exepriences on the Cheshire Ring especially in the Manchester area which he say are very outdated. We have another recce trip planned to Manchester for later in the month.

Ashton Canal and Castlefield Basin March 2011

View over the end of Castlefields Basin, Manchester

Our second recce trip was to check out the Ashton Canal from Ashton under Lyne into Manchester. Historically this section has been a rather dodgy experience but apparently has been improving of late...

We first parked up near Castlefield Basin as that is the side of Manchester nearer us. The basin was very quiet (it wasn't so quiet at Easter time!) but looks nice with some interesting architecture.

Several canals intersect at this junction and it took us a while to work out where we would actually arrive in the boat.

By the way, the strange colours on these photos are due to a combination of forgetting the camera so having to use a fairly poor camera on my phone. Also having the wrong colour balance set on the phone didn't help...

End of Castlefields Basin, Manchester

This shot is of the end of this arm of the basin. We ended up turning here a couple of times when we were on the boat at Easter.

New bridge at Castlefields Basin, Manchester

An interesting new bridge crossing the arm which leads to the Deansgate area. This area was absolutely heaving at Easter as people enjoyed the superb weather.

Old brick warehaouse with Hilton Hotel glass tower in background

A good example of the mix of the mix of old and new that you find in this area!

After visiting the basin, we walked across town following the line of the canal to check out the dreaded Rochdale Nine locks. Had lunch at a Chinese buffet restaurant then walked it off by returning along the towpath to Castlefield. We did meet a few "interesting" characters and could certainly see why you would not want to be in the area on a boat at night...

Sign at the entrance of Portland Basin Marina

After arriving back at the car, we drove to the Portland Basin. We parked there and visited the museum. Then had a wander down the canal to see where we might be able to moor up before the push across the top of Manchester on the Ashton Canal. Because, despite improvements in the general environment, the general recommendation is still not to try and moor at night...

So the idea is that we will try and moor up just short of the Portland Basin and try and make it to Castlefield in one day. There is a fallback plan of a basin at Dale Street if we don't make it to the Rochdale Nine before they are locked for the night. Don't much fancy that though as it looks rather exposed... (As it turned out, we made it to Castlefield in one strenuous but trouble-free day at Easter)

Friday 15th April 2011

Acton Bridge to Anderton 4 miles 0 locks 2 tunnels, 1 winding

Narrowboat moored at Acton Bridge base

Arrived at Black Prince's Northwich (Acton Bridge) base at 15:30. By 16:30 we were loaded up, had our training talk and were ready to go. Andrew's first task was to turn around in an unofficial and only-just-big-enough winding hole. The owners paid us the compliment of not doing it for us - and then we were away off east towards Anderton.

Two tunnels to negotiate. Saltersford (424 yards) has a kink so boats are only allowed in from each end at certain times (:30 to :50 for us). Then Barnton (572 yards) just needs a good lookout before entering.

Managed to run aground briefly on a sharp right-hander but got off quickly.

Narrowboat moored outside Stanley Arms pub

Achieved our first top mooring of this trip when we moored at the foot of the gardens of the Stanley Arms at Anderton. Quite lucky to get a table in the restaurant as it was extremely busy. Very nice meal - Andrew & Marc had black pudding for starters, Alison had tomato and basil soup. Then Marc had steak for main course while Andrew had a rack of ribs and Alison steak and ale pie. Could not manage pudding so rolled back down to the boat.

Had some fun and games assembling Andrew's camp bed but quite comfortable with addition of camping sleep mat. Quiet night after retiring around 20:30.

Saturday 16th April 2011

Anderton to Wheelock 12.5 miles 9 locks 0 tunnels, 0 winding

Derelict sunk narrow boat

After a good night's sleep and breakfast of cereal and tea, got underway around 08:50. Need to find a shoe shop as Marc has only his school shoes with him!! Since Middlewich has relatively few shops, we decide to head into Northwich instead.

Moored up near Bridge 185 around 10:45 and walked around 1.5 miles into town. Good selection of shops including a Shoe Zone where Marc was equipped with trainers, sandals and new school shoes.

Stocked up with health food at Greggs (pasties, pizzas and doughnuts) then into the Penny Black Weatherspoons for coffee. A nice spacious pub with a good selection of beers. Still the coffee was good and prepared us for the walk back to boat via Lidl to buy some new potatoes, onions and, of course, fig rolls.

Narrowboat Bella moored at Wheelock

Resumed journey to Middlewich arriving at Big Lock around 15:20. Topped up with water then into the lock with another boat. Turns out that they have just bought the boat in Northwich to live on while the husband goes to back to university. He is an experienced boater but Big Lock was his wife's first lock!

Pottered on through the Middlewich 3 Locks and on to Kings Lock where we stopped for an early dinner of fish and chips. Around the corner on the Shropshire Union, the Chester branch of the IWA were holding a lock wind - Alison chatted to a member who comes from Abergele! She commented on quiet the canals were considering it's the Easter holidays...

As Alison & Marc worked the Middlewich locks, we swapped drivers and Alison steered towards Wheelock with Andrew and Marc working the locks. Went through Rump's Lock and the first three locks of the Wheelock flight before mooring for the night between Bridges 161 & 160.

Interesting to compare this picture with one of the same stretch in Feb 2005 with the canal frozen

All had very nice showers and then concentrated on the beer, cider & crisps while listening to Dire Straits.

Sunday 17th April 2011

Wheelock to Rode Heath 6.75 miles 14 locks 0 tunnels, 0 winding

Note: We don't seem to have taken any photos today so have included some from the next day. So, please, no pedantic emails pointing out that the pictures don't match the log entries...

Pair of working boats on Trent and Mersey canal

Woke to clear blue skies and thousands of birds shouting their heads off. Cereal and toast then engine on @ 09:27. An energetic morning as we worked our way through 10 locks spaced out through gently rising country.

Hot sunshine and lots of joggers including one whose spaniel picked up Marc's waterbottle and had to be persuaded to hand it back.

Smooth teamwork saw us above Lock 57 by 12:30 in time for lunch and a good sit-down. After a couple of hours we continued through the remaining 4 locks to moor outside the Broughton Arms at Rode Heath by 16:00, thoroughly cooked in non-stop blazing sunshine. In Marc's words - "Pork scratchings didn't have anything on us. Thoroughly cooked was an understatement".

Large red brick stately home

Decided not to moor directly outside the pub as we had done on our previous visit but across the canal. Andrew went to the shop for a few essentials - milk, chutney, pickled onions and 3 Magnums!

Refreshing showers and a couple of rounds of drinks at the pub set us right. A delicious dinner of sausages, beans, fried onions and new potatoes followed by "Brassed Off" on DVD rounded off a very nice evening.

Worn out by all the day's activity we retired around 22.00.

Monday 18th April 2011

Rode Heath to Buglawton 11 miles 13 locks 0 tunnels, 0 winding

Bridge 96 at Junction of Tent and Mersey and Macclesfield canals

Woke to bright sunshine and a fresh breeze for the remainder of Heartbreak Hill and then transferring onto the Macclesfield Canal.

Thickening cloud brought the temperature down for much of the day. Checked in with Laura back home (who had lost a filling over the weekend) - she had managed to arrange an emergency filling so, reassured, we had BLT (Bacon, Lettuce, Tomato) pittas for lunch.

Canal towpath with lots of dandelions

After lunch, facinated by the name of the Robin Hood in at Buglawton, we pushed on. Misreading the map, we were looking for moorings near Bridge 69 when Alison spotted that the target pub was actually south-west of Bridge 61 so we had to push on for another couple of miles. Weather much cooler during the afternoon leaving Andrew slightly regretting his shorts...

Snake bridge on Macclesfield canal

We moored up near Bridges 62 & 61 around 16:45 and after the customary refreshing showers, we headed for the pub. What looked like a minor road on the map was a busy (and fast!) commuter route out of Congleton at rush-hour. We made it to the pub in one piece and had a very nice meal of Combo Starter, steaks for Marc and Andrew and pork steak for Alison. We even managed pudding this time (Marc - chocolate sundae, Alison - melt-in-the-middle chocolate pudding and Andrew - apple pie and custard). All washed down with Marstons ales.

Staggered back to the boat for several episodes of Yes Minister on DVD. Very funny and, unfortunately, still just as relevant 30-odd years on...

Starting to head to bed around 21:00 apart from Andrew sat typing this log!

Tuesday 19th April 2011

Buglawton to Macclesfield 7 miles 12 locks 2 swing bridges 0 tunnels, 0 winding

Pile of weeds taken from a canal lock

Cloudless blue sky again! Leisurely breakfast and away by 09:30.

After an hour's crusing through idyllic countryside we came to the only locks on the Macclesfield canal - all 12 of them (apart from the last one yesterday). Three boats went past in the opposite direction but otherwise we were slowly following another boat up the hill all the way. Some of the lock paddles were very stiff!

Cows standing in water at edge of canal

Once at the top we topped up with water - once the guys ahead of us hasd finished - making lunch? - they seemed in no hurry to move. We stopped a bit further on for ham salad. However while we were relaxing, a Canaltime boat charged past at such a rate that one of our pins was pulled clean out of the ground an into the cut.

We pressed on towards Macclesfield through a couple of swing bridge - one an automated affair and the other a right so-and-so which stuck and had to be sorted out by Andrew. There was a giant bolt which had to go fully up to swing one way and fully down, apparently, to swing the other way: else it would jam. With no instructions available - it jammed. (Andrew's version: Hmmm... The moral of the story is.. If something isn't working, stop doing that and work out what the problem is. Then fix the problem!).

Town walls by canal at Macclesfield

Made it to Macclesfield in time to get a replacement mooring pin and two piling hooks as well, to keep - and to get moored up to go and find Aldi. Sadly, they had sold out of Belgian caramel waffles so we bought some flapjack and muffins as a consolation prize.

Once back aboard and showered, Marc cooked pasta carbonara while Alison chatted with our neighbour - Bryn from Barmouth , now retired and continuously cruising and quite a character.

After dinner, two more episodes of 30 year-old Yes Minister (one episode was about a National Database!) and then an early night.

Wednesday 20th April 2011

Macclesfield to Bugsworth Basin 16 miles 0 locks 2 swing bridges 2 lift bridges 0 tunnels, 0 winding

Restored mill by Macclesfield canal

What should have been around a 5 hour trip (3 hours Macclesfield to Marple Junction then 2 hours to Bugsworth Basin actually took around 9 hours!). There were lots of moored boats and it took a long time to top up with water due to low water pressure at Higher Poynton. We have decided we are going to have to be a little less polite slowing down past moored boats!

We were going to fill up with water before leaving Macclesfield but another boat pulled in just as we were about to move forward to the water point. They then proceeded to move towards filling up with water at such a glacial pace that we decided to leave and fill up later.

Before leaving Andrew used his netbook & 3G dongle to get on the internet to book a train ticket for Marc to return home on Tuesday as he has school work to do! System worked fine till Andrew forgot his debit card verification password...

Very picturesque scenery on the way up to Marple Junction and several very handsome mill conversions. As we approached Higher Poynton's water point we saw a party there busy washing their boat. Silly so and so's we thought...

Restored mill by Macclesfield canal

However chatting with them we found out that the boat was actually a nearly new one lent to them by a friend which they were cleaning before handing it back. So we forgave them as we are kind like that. They lent us their hose to fill up which took ages...

While waiting, Andrew checked his text messages to find one advising of a stoppage at Lock 17 of the Ashton Canal due to a broken paddle. The stoppage is due to last two days so should be complete by the time we are trying to go through on Saturday. Fingers crossed!

View of aqueduct

Then back underway to Marple Junction to join the Peak Forest Canal down to Bugsworth Basin. On arrival we were greeted by a chap who is presumably a BW official who pointed us towards the moorings. Apparently a boat club is due here tomorrow so we better make sure we are away sharpish to avoid getting caught in traffic.

The Basin seems to have been extended since the Nicholson map was drawn as we had to go through Bridge 61 (Nicholson only goes up to 59!) to the winding point. We moored at the very furthest point of the canal immediately below the Navigation pub. Another top mooring!

Narrowboat moored at the end of Bugsworth Basin

Finally moored about 19:00 quite tired so had dinner at the Navigation Inn. Steak burger and a bottle of dandelion & burdock for Marc, fish and chips and a pint of Timothy Taylors for Andrew and Chicken and a pint of Ginger Tom for Alison. Then back to the boat for the bread & butter pudding that Alison had prepared earlier. It had got a little dried out but a little milk soon fixed that. Two more episodes of Yes Minister then bed.

Thursday 21st April 2011

Bugsworth Basin to Dukinfield Junction 13 1/4 miles 16 locks 2 tunnels 2 lift bridges 2 swing bridges

Information sign at Bugsworth Basin

Started bright and early: on the waterpoint and then outside Tesco's by 8.10am and away again by 8.30am. A beautiful day, high cloud / haze keeping the worst of the heat off. Andrew checked our speed against GPS and discovered that we'd been cruising pretty slowly. So we upped the engine revs from Eb to somewhere around F# until we achieved breaking wash and hey presto, started making rather better progress back up to Marple, where we plunged into the run of locks.

Beautiful tree-lined setting, lots of gongoozlers - and very heavy paddles; the locking crew had their work cut out. Some excitement when a very cautious crew coming up, refusing to open paddles fully, practically drained the pound we were in so that Bella became grounded on the edge and had to be hurriedly pushed off.

Towpath chat told us that the Ashton Canal had already been re-opened. We carried on cruising towards Dukinfield Junction at Ashton-under-Lyme, on the cusp of the Mancunian Badlands. We stopped a few hundred yards from the junction, with open fields on one side and genteel houses on the other - never a ghost of a problem apart from overly territorial Canada Geese.

Early to bed and a sound night's sleep.

Friday 22nd April 2011

Good Friday 0 miles

Family standing by canal lock

A day for slobbing. Cloudless and hot - we had a lie-in and idled about, finally going into town at 11am or so.

Shopping and lunch at Wetherspoon's, then the afternoon reading and the evening sprawling in front of the telly.

Narrowboat moored in wooded section of canal

Now four boats moored along the towpath and traffic going by: the towpath itself very well used by all sorts. a very enjoyable and restful day.

Saturday 23rd April 2011

Easter Saturday 8 miles 27 locks 1 lift bridge

Canal basin and lock

And St. George's Day too, of course. Up early for the Ashton Dash: on our way at 6.30am in the pearly dawn.

Startled a chap who lived on the wrong side side of the swing bridge: he said that in 16 years living there, this was the first time he'd had to wait for a boat to go through. At the approach to the Portland Basin, we caught up someone's fishing line that they had presumably left overnight, and immediately afterwards lost all steerage. We had to bow-haul the boat through the junction and past a hotel boat before we could investigate. It turned out to be a pair of jeans wrapped around the prop. Marc's size too: but he didn't seem interested.

Pile of wood removed from canal lock

And by this stage we were barely onto the Ashton Canal of dread repute! We then had an event-free breather before we came to the top lock. First on the agenda was to fill the water tank. While waiting, Alison went to inspect the lock and pulled out a 6' length of tree before returning for the boat hook pull out various other lengths of timber, large amounts of reed, sundry plastics...

Narrowboat in lock in industrial setting

And so we engaged with the hill, doors locked, food and water available from the helm, stripped for action.And there were no problems apart from the usual heavy locks etc. A fair amount of rubbish, normal for an urbal canal. But passers-by no more than mildly interested to see a boat on the move, and the landscape increasingly gentrified as Manchester's commuters move ever further out from the centre.

We stopped for lunch on almost the only towpath rings in Piccadilly Village, just below the last of the Ashton locks, and then moved up to the Ducie St. Basin to attack the Rochdale Nine. The Rochdale Canal is widebeam and slips through the centre of Manchester behind and beneath buildings so again it has a notorious name. We were told to 'mind the blood' at one point where someone had been mugged the night before.

Narrowboat in lock with Manchester City stadium visible in background

However, our experience was of being a floating exhibit in a mile-long classroom, with squads of kids all having the locks explained to them by parents / grandparents / guardians / carers. Alison in particular felt terribly underdressed at Canal Street, hot and sweaty in working clothes while being gazed at from above by a frieze of tremendously elegant, impeccably groomed yound men.

Canal with apartment blocks in background

The last lock of all nearly defeated us because it was so very heavy; but finally, with the help of a passing body-builder, we were through and looking for a mooring at Castlefield Basin. In the end we breasted up to a local boat. Engine off at 3pm; not a bad run, doing 8 miles and 27 locks in 8 hours.

Ashton Lock in Manchester

After a couple of hour's recovery time we sallied forth to identify the railway station for Marc's benefit and then to Piccadilly Gardens for coffee (Andrew) and Primark scout (Marc and Alison). By then it was dinner time so we went to the Metro Chinese Buffet where you eat all you can from a self service range of dishes. And after the day we'd had, I believe we did it justice!

We slowly walked our throbbing stomachs back down to Castlefield, which was party central, all the bars doing roaring trade. Once they shut up shop though a quiet night.

Sunday 24th April 2011

Easter Sunday, 24th April 0 miles 0 locks

Narrowboat moored in sunshine in Castlefields Basin

Andrew and Marc had a quiet morning while Alison went to Sung Eucharist at Manchester Cathedral - amazed to see she knew one of the lay clerks - Tim Kennedy. Was not able to spot him afterwards to say hello though.

Then met up with Marc to stroll around the city centre. Most shops closed but pubs all doing well in the beautiful weather. Had lunch at Pizza Hut, much to Andrew's grief when reported to him later.

In the early evening Andrew and Alison went out to one of the many watering holes nearly and got lightly tiddly on Budweisers while Marc cooked dinner (pasta and ready-prepared bolognese sauce from home).

The rest of the night watching some of the many DVDs we brought. Fairly noisy evening settled down eventually.

Monday 25th April 2011

Easter Monday, 25th April 0 miles 0 locks

Woman stood by moored narrowboat with Hilton Hotel Manchester in background

Yet another beautiful day. We wandered into town to do some shopping; Marc and Alison wanting stuff at Primark and some lucky dip at TK Maxx.

Then after lunch at Wetherspoons, moved the boat to the waterpoint and back to our mooring, a lazy afternoon and evening meal at the New Orleans restaurant in The Printworks. Marc ecstatic over his side-of-ribs, Andrew and Alison experimental, with gumbo and blackened chicken respectively, both delicious.

Our last evening as a crew: Marc goes home tomorrow.

Tuesday 26th April 2011

Castlefields Basin to Lymm 12 1/2 miles 0 locks

View from Castlefields Basin with two bridges in background

Confusion! The black water tank, despite the green light on the loo, can take no more. Alison on the phone to Black Prince while Andrew and Marc off to the train station. No pump out facilities anywhere in England's second city; a newly opened marina at Stretford may be able to help. Alison then able to march to the station just in time to say goodbye to Marc, before then meeting up with Andrew and returning to Bella.

Then began the Great Pump Out Saga. The 'Stretford Marina' turned out to be an unmanned private mooring; no signage, no possiblilty of access to pump out. More phoning: Lymm didn't do pump-outs but Thorn Marine at Stockton Heath did.

We pushed on but were clearly not going to get there before closing time as we pressed on through the only rain of the fortnight. Quite heavy at times and a cool wind - ah, proper boating weather at last! Faired up later.

Narrowboat moored outside two storey apartments

But then, mid afternoon just 1/2 mile before Lymm, we saw a Pump Out sign and pulled in with huge relief. We had to wait while the owner had to finish servicing a car - fine, time for tea. the pump access was on the wrong side of the boat so Andrew had to assist, curtseying gingerly on the gunwhale. No matter! It was done and suddenly the strong starboard list was cured - problem sorted.

Within 500 yards of moving on, the engine started screaming: the temperature light was on. Within another 500 yards the radiator was boiling and we moored within sight of Lymm. While things cooled down we checked the weed hatch - large amounts of plastic and a fishing line - and the oil: full and clean. So we threw in 6 litres of so of water, decided to stay where we were overnight to let everything cool down fully.

Into the village for a pint and a meal - at a Turkish restaurant! Relaxing discreet ambiance and delicious food - too filling for pud, and really enjoying the different tastes.

Wednesday 27th April 2011

Lymm to Acton Bridge to Preston Brook 21 miles, 1 lock, 1 tunnel

Canal passing through woodland

Heading south, after a brief pause to fill the radiator with more water when the temperature alarm peeped briefly - we guess, as the water worked through the system and sorted out airlocks etc. Yet again, a lovely day, overcast at first clearing quickly. Decided to head for Runcorn as we had time in hand.

Leafy suburb by canal

A surprisingly leafy experience - almost no boats moving and very little on-line mooring. Pleasant drive down to the terminus, to spin round and moor up by the Brindley Centre. As we did, however, a concerned local advised us not to stay overnight but to move at least 2 miles up the cut.

End of canal at Runcorn with barbed wire

Which we did, and were looking to settle again, when a local boater out of the Marina repeated the dire warning, to say that no-where on the Runcorn Arm is safe overnight - retreat immediately to Preston Brook. Not great news towards the end of a long day, but we submitted and pressed on.

Sign at north end of Preston Brook Tunnel

We realised that with luck we would arrive at the Preston Brook Tunel in time to go through. We arrived with just a few minutes to wait, time to check the weed hatch as a moment or two before we arrived there had been a puff of blacksmoke and a momentary increase in revs - a slipping clutch?. All was clear, however.

Then just as we entered the 1300-yard tunnel - the temperature alarm sounded. Tickover was too slow to progress against the pronounced flow so we were forced to increase revs slightly. A very long 20 minutes, with the engine screaming the whole way.

Narrowboat moored in wooded stretch of canal

Once back out with a towpath, we shut the engine off and hauled her the rest of the way, with the sympathetic help of nb Maisie, behind us in the tunnel. It was a quid pro quo though as the four of us worked the stop lock together, once for each boat.

We then hauled Bella away from the lock and winding hole, to snug down for the night. Tuna rice and sweetcorn, cake, yoghurt, lots of wine, Yes Minister and Tremors combined to soothe our stressed minds.

Thursday 28th April 2011

Preston Brook to Acton Bridge 3 miles 0 locks

Our last full day aboard and a very gentle start. We are only two miles from the marina. Come 11-ish we decided to go for a walk, to check out the evening's moorings, the pub where we were meeting with colleagues of Andrew's in the evening, and then back along the River Weaver before then climbing back up to the cut.

We found a likely spot with handy path leading direct to the pub, and by the time we were there obviously refreshments, and indeed kitchen quality control, were required. The river a seriously impressive size to eyes used to the canals, especially when we saw some narrowboats navigating on it, looking absolutely tiny.

Hot and footsore by the time we returned to Bella, and glad of our shady mooring. After a rest and a cuppa, we then moved Bella past the marina, up to the winding hole, where a frisky breeze gave the helm pause for thought, and back to our intended mooring, where we roosted again before returning to the pub.

There we had a really enjoyable evening with good food and congenial company, before slipping away just before the pub singer got going.

Friday 29th April 2011

Royal Wedding Bank Holiday

Bella due home by 10am so up and doing by 8.30am to finish packing, clearing and tidying. Back to the marina after a few minutes' cruise and waited for ex-Ownerships boat Serenity to finish her unpacking so we could move into her slot.

Had a chat with her owners - they still part-own, and now self manage and having lost a pile of money at the crash, confirm that things are much cheaper for them now at every level. They had just spent a whole month cruising and were enjoying boating as much as ever. Great news!

We then unpacked, checked, paid up, and headed for home listening to the Royal Wedding getting geared up; home in time to watch the whole thing.

What a great holiday it has been!

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