A well travelled route

Once we left Manchester we were back on very familiar waters. We headed for one of our favourite moorings on the Trent and Mersey,  a wonderful quiet spot, with views over the river Weaver.

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Spring is a wonderful time to be on the canals, there’s so much new life

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and the floral displays are amazing.

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There are a fair few locks to traverse starting at Middlewich…

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…with the assistance of a hungry heron…

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…up Heartbreak Hill …

…to Red Bull and the junction with the Macclesfield (I love this pimped up shed opposite the Red Bull Services)…

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…before you reach Harecastle Tunnel.

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I remember how intimidating this tunnel was when we first went through it on a hire boat. We’ve been through so many times now that it’s become familiar, but it’s an experience that’s just enough outside your comfort zone to make it exciting each time.

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On the other side of the tunnel we moored at another favourite spot, Westport Lake. On a walk around, we spotted this chap who’d persuaded some passers by to photograph him proudly holding a massive carp that he’d just caught.

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We were heading for a get together with our friends Roly and Bev at Great Haywood so we passed through the industrial landscape of Stoke-on-Trent, stopping off for a night in Stone for a beer or two in the Royal Exchange and The Swan. The next day we passed Aston Marina, where we have overwintered six times now.

Who knows if there’ll be a seventh? We certainly don’t!

 

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A few days exploring

The day after we got into Salford Quays proved to be a bit of an anticlimax. So much planning had gone into the trip across the Mersey and up the Ship Canal; so much anticipation and now it was all done and we were back to reality.  The mooring at Salford Quays is a good one but is underused I think. To get to it you either have to negotiate the Ship Canal, or come down through Pomona Lock. Boats with a Bridgewater Licence can transit Pomona Lock without cost but CRT licensed boats have to pay £30 which puts many people off I think.

We had a wander around the complex and came across the site of the new Marina. It currently holds a large barge and a couple of narrow boats, but according to one of the canal magazines, will soon be expanding.

We also took a trip up the River Irwell past Old Trafford, some serious graffiti, the bizarre Gnome Island and into the centre of Mancester. There’s supposed to be a mooring up there but we didn’t spot it. It turns out that to have moved off our mooring we should have informed Eastham Port Control as they need to be kept aware of all boat movements in the area. Oops. No harm done though, the only other boat moving was the Waxi (water taxi) and he didn’t seem put out by our presence.

On Tuesday at we set off through Pomona Lock at our booked time of 8am and managed to get ourselves a mooring in Castlefield Basin.

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It’s a great base for visiting Manchester but it is really popular so it’s not always possible to find a mooring. We had a great couple of days wandering around. There are some amazing buildings in the middle of Manchester including the Town Hall, the Prince Albert memorial statue and the old Campfield Market Halls. The upper hall is used by the Science and Industry museum to house their aeroplane collection but the lower hall is still empty. Such a waste of a beautiful building.

Near the Castlefield metro station you’ll find the remains of a Roman fort which are worth a look.

After a quick stop off for lunch in a nearby pub, we headed off to the Museum of Science and Industry. I’ve always had a fascination with virtual reality – I’d love it if the Star Trek Holodeck was a reality. For £6 we thought it would be well worth while to visit the Virtual Reality descent to earth from the Space Station narrated by Tim Peake. It was! Lying back in a comfy chair with headphones and a virtual reality headset, you’re treated to a 360 degree tour of the Soyuz space capsule and amazing panoramic views of the earth as the capsule descends from space, through the atmosphere and lands in Kazakhstan. When the experience finished it took me a moment or two to orient myself back to normality again. It was brilliant! It seems to be on in the Science Museum in London as well as in Manchester and we would really recommend a visit.

We didn’t manage to visit the whole of the rest of the museum – we’ll go again when we’re next in Manchester – hopefully in September or so. We did manage to visit the Power Hall with loads of  large steam driven stuff that I really don’t understand – and some trains. Gordon was in his element!

Unfortunately, while we were doing all this (and visiting the odd hostelry) we missed a visit from Doug and James who used to own nb Chance and now have a city pad overlooking the canal in Manchester. Such a shame we missed them but I do hope we can arrange to get together when we visit again later this season. We did manage to have a brief chat with Roger from nb Artu. We met Roger last year when we did the BCN Explorer Cruise and have bumped into him again here and there. Like us, he’s hoping to crew on historic working boats Atlas and Malus for the BCN 24 hour challenge later this month so hopefully we’ll get together again then.

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We left Castlefield on Thursday morning. The trip across the Mersey, up the Ship Canal and into Salford Quays and Castlefield had all been new ground for us but once we got to the junction at Waters Meet we were back on familiar territory.

There aren’t many bits of the system we haven’t seen now and we’re hoping to travel them all before the end of this season. We had hoped to go up the Rochdale 9 on this trip as we’ve not done these locks yet. Unfortunately our route south would have been blocked by continuing problems on the flight of locks up to Marple so we had to abandon that which is why we’ll be returning to Manchester towards the end of the season.

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The Leaving of Liverpool

As everyone who knows me will be aware, I do tend to find a link between just about any event and a song and don’t hesitate to sing it. This song was what was running through my head as we took the boat out of Salthouse Dock and onto the Mersey last Friday. The wind had been too strong on Wednesday, when we had originally intended to leave, but was fine by Friday. The rain, however, was incessant, although not particularly heavy – to begin with anyway.

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The first hurdle is to get through Brunswick Lock out onto the Mersesy.

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This lock is controlled by Liverpool Marina, incurs a charge of £40 for them to operate and needs to be booked in advance. If anyone’s interested in doing this trip I’ll put a list of useful websites and phone numbers at the end of the blog.

We were a touch apprehensive as the flow on the Mersey can be incredibly strong. We had chosen a neap (ish) tide to make the trip – leaving Brunswick Dock a couple of hours before the flood so that the flow of the tide would help us along. Gordon had studied the charts and read up as much as possible and was confident that we could get safely across the river and into the Eastham Channel.

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We’d already contacted Eastham Port Control a couple of days before our departure but had been asked to contact them again when we got out onto the Mersey.  I did panic a touch when he said he might not be able to fit us in! Once you’re out on the tideway in a narrowboat you really don’t want to be hanging about. He told us to come across anyway and contact him again when we got to Eastham. He also let us know that there was a small tanker coming out and we should meet it in the Eastham Channel.

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If you look very carefully you can just about see the tanker in the distance, to the right of the second buoy. Gordon’s job was to get across the river to the far side of the red buoy and make sure that he was close enough to the shore so that we were not in anyone’s way.

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Plenty of room for a little one like us!

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Wouldn’t fancy meeting her on a smaller waterway! There’s always a chance that you’ll meet boats of this size and bigger coming down from Stanlow Oil Refinery but we were lucky on Friday as this was the only boat moving. We thought that the tanker was being particularly thoughtful as he slowed down on our approach. On looking aft there was a large RFA Vessel manoeuvring into the Port of Liverpool and the tanker was, in all likelihood, slowing down to leave time for that. Whatever the reason, his wake did not disturb us at all which was a big plus.

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For those in the know in Newlyn, we passed the shipyard where the Girl Pat III was built.

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It took about forty minutes for us to get to the final buoy before our entrance to Eastham…

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…and we were very relieved that the lock was empty, open and ready for us. As you can see it is a rather large lock, as are they all on the Ship Canal.

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I made a complete pig’s ear of getting the rope to the lock keepers but they were patient and got us safely through and onto the Ship Canal. One of them even posed for a photo as we left the lock.

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Once on the Ship Canal there was a lot less stress – no tides, and no large boat movements.

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We passed Ellesmere Port…

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…the Stanlow Oil Refinery (Gordon in his youth worked on Shell Tankers that landed in Stanlow)…

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…the entrance to the River Weaver…

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…Runcorn Bridge…

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…before getting to Latchford Locks, one of four more we’d be going through before we reached Salford Quays. By this time it was tipping it down and frequent trips below for cups of tea were required (apart from Gordon who stayed manfully at the tiller throughout and had his tea brought to him).

At Thelwall we passed the Penny Ferry which we used to cross the Ship Canal on a sunny day a few years ago…

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…we passed under the Barton Swing Bridge and Aqueduct that we’ve crossed many times on the boat…

…and were very pleased to moor up in Salford Quays as the weather started to improve.

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We set off through Brunswick Lock at around 8.15 am and arrived in Salford Quays at around 6pm – just under 10 hours. Tiring but so worth it!

Information

Liverpool Link – can only be booked on line by logging into your CRT Account, going to the web licencing pages and going to ‘my boats’ then ‘bookings’.

Brunswick Lock – To book passage through Brunswick Lock phone Liverpool Marina on 0151 707 6777 or call into the Marina Office. You’ll need to call into the office to pay for the passage anyway. The cost was £40 when we did it this year.

Manchester Ship Canal – https://www.peelports.com/marine-information?port=manchester-ship-canal   Choose Publications and Forms then Pleasure Craft Induction Pack. This gives you all the information and forms you need to fill in to book your passage. The cost for the journey we took was £199 as we were going all the way up to Salford Quays. If you’re only going to Ellesmere Port or The Weaver it is cheaper. The costs are listed in the Induction Pack. The pack also gives a list of approved MSCC Surveyors. We were going through Middlewich so used Mr B Taylor, Email: b.taylor5@sky.com, Tel: 01606 83668 Mob: 07516 483337 – he was extremely helpful and gave us loads of hints and tips as well as certifying the boat as sound. The cost for this was £45.

Eastham Port Control – a couple of days before you book your passage up the Ship Canal from Liverpool you need to contact Eastham Port Control on 0151 327 4638 to let them know your plans. In our case they asked us to ring again on the morning we planned to travel and then again just after we entered the Mersey from Brunswick Lock. They will let you know of any other shipping that is likely to be around and will give you a time for going through Eastham Lock. When you leave Eastham Lock you will be asked to phone the contractors who operate Latchford Locks when you reach a certain point. Eastham Control kept in touch with the contractors and contacted us on a regular basis to monitor our progress.  They communicated on VHF Band 14 and also gave us a ring. From Latchford on the contractors phoned ahead to the other lock operators and made sure that the locks were set and ready for us when we arrived.

Mooring Salford Quays –  We emailed Andy.Mullen@urbanvision.org.uk to enquire about this. Moorings there are not bookable but are free and operate on a first come first served basis. I think it’s advisable to let them know you’re planning a stay there though. We were welcomed by a chap from Salford Council who checked that everything was OK for us. There are good facilities to hand including water, pump out and elsan. There is only room for two full length narrowboats up at the end of the central bay beside Holiday Inn Express and the Watersports Centre.

Pomona Lock – Passage through this needs to be booked 72 hours before you plan to go through from Salford Quays to the Bridgewater Canal. We booked it by emailing BridgewaterCanal@Peel.co.uk. They replied giving us a date and time and asking us to pay via a link. They will need to know your craft name, craft length, CRT Index and a mobile telephone number. The cost for this is £30.

 

 

 

 

 

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A week in Liverpool

We were planning on a seven day stay in Liverpool before setting out across the Mersey and up the Ship Canal. The weather decided differently as the wind was going to be too strong on the day we’d originally planned to make the crossing. We ended up with ten days instead. Still, Liverpool is full of stuff to do and see, much of which I’ve written about in previous blogs.

One new thing we found this time was a tour of the Queensway Tunnel led by Ryan and Ja Ching. There are loads of steps involved in this tour, some of them luckily bypassed by lifts for the less fit.

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All in all it was a fascinating trip underground with a look at the massive fans that keep the air in the tunnel breathable, a stop in one of the emergency safety refuges built after the Mont Blanc disaster, a trip out on a platform to peer at the traffic going through the tunnel and some wonderful glimpses into Liverpool as it was before the docks under the Liver Building and the Cunard Building were filled in.

We were also extremely lucky to find that the Terracotta Army Exhibition was in town. We managed to get tickets at the door by going at 10am when the World Museum opened. It was extremely popular and hence was quite crowded. There were loads of horses…

…some tiny, armless naked statues that originally had wooden moveable arms and were dressed in uniforms made of silk and linen.

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… but most importantly six original terracotta figures that could be viewed up close with only a low glass partition between you and them. They were the most popular part of the exhibition and there was a large queue to shuffle past them but nobody was hurrying you along so there was plenty of time to view them at your leisure.

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When my daughter Ellie and her friend Kath turned up we headed off to Crosby Beach to look at Anthony Gormley’s Another Place statues. Gordon and I went the last time we were in Liverpool but this trip was better as the tide was fully out and there were more statues visible. Our previous visit was in the summer and the beach was busy but this time we more or less had it to ourselves.

 

A couple of the statues are now sitting at a jaunty angle but it’s amazing how well they’ve weathered over the years.

We also managed to find a new place for lunch in the middle of the Baltic Triangle. The Baltic Bakehouse sells delicious sourdough breads baked fresh on the premises. It also does a wonderful range of sandwiches and some great coffee.

The Baltic Fleet Pub was a favourite of ours on our last visit and we were pleased to see that it hadn’t changed. It’s a wonderful place to sit and watch the world go by.

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We went there on a Wednesday evening to take part in their quiz. We failed to trouble the scorers I’m afraid, but we did win a spot prize for being the closest to guessing (and it was a guess) the number of Beatles studio albums.

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We’ll probably be eating Swizzles sweets for the next year!

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Off to Liverpool

A couple of weeks ago, for the second time in our boating career, we made the wonderful trip through the Liverpool Link to moor up in Salthouse Dock.

On the previous occasion we were assisted through by CRT staff but now you’re left to make the passage on your own. Alterations have been made to bridge 9 – Hancocks swing bridge to make it easier to operate. We were a touch dubious after our experience at Crabtree Swing Bridge which opened without problems, let Gordon take the boat through, but wouldn’t close properly leaving me with my key stuck in the lock. I phoned CRT who said someone would be out in 40 minutes or so. In the meantime there were queues of traffic building up and I was, to say the least, not very popular!

Hancocks, which you can only operate out of peak traffic times, between 9.30 am and 2.00pm and again after 6.00pm, proved to be easy peasy.  Colin from The Wool Boat who acts as a reporter for Towpath Talk, was waiting to get a photograph, so we may well find ourselves in the next issue as we were one of the first boats to go through unassissted.

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The four locks leading down to Stanley Dock are extremely heavy and I was dreading going through them without assistance but I needn’t have worried as Sid, of Sid’s Ditch fame and a full complement of volunteers was on hand to help us through. There was also another boat in the lock awaiting our arrival. All in all it was an extremely easy passage.

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The trip through the docks under the bascule bridge and towards the ‘Dockers’ Clock’ is spectacular.

Then it’s right turn and along ‘Sid’s Ditch’ ……

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….through a couple more locks and a tunnel or two….

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…into Canning Dock

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…and eventually mooring up in Salthouse Dock.

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Comparing the basin to a photograph from our last stay in 2015 the it is completely empty. At one point in our stay we were one of only two visiting boats moored here.

What a truly wonderful spot to moor.

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We were all set up for our stay in Liverpool before heading out across the Mersey and onto the Manchester Ship Canal!

 

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A visit to Spain

No sooner than we got back to the boat from Cornwall, we were off again to Spain, flying out on the wings of the Beast from the East and missing all that appalling weather!

We went back to Mojacar in Almeria and stayed in the same apartment as last year with the same great view over the Playa.

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The weather wasn’t marvellous this year but it was certainly better than the UK. We managed a fair bit of walking. There are hills behind the apartment and we made several early morning treks up there to try to walk off some of the great food and booze we were consuming. It’s a bit of a tough climb but so worth it when you get to the top and enjoy the views.

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There’s also a great coastal walk towards an old watch tower…..

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…through some fascinating geology…

…some of which seems just about ready to land on your head!

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You can climb right to the top of the tower….

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…and are rewarded with a great view.

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In amongst all that healthy walking we did manage to squeeze in some visits to the local restaurants and hostelries with old friends and new.

Jay, who ran the Emerald Isle was moving to pastures new so we managed to get to the last night of the Emerald…

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….and the first night of the Salty Dog…

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…where we wore the polo shirts purchased for the group by Sue and Andy.

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They are emblazoned with the Indalo Man (a local symbol), a narrowboat and the initials MCCC – short for Mojacar Canal Cruising Club. Sue and I had cooked and brought along a load of food. Because we were in uniform, were mistaken for caterers – still didn’t get a tip though!

We presented Jay with a Salty Dog T shirt signed by the ‘boaters’ using the nicknames that he provided.

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We had a couple of lovely days out with our new Canadian mates Joanne and Steve…

…a great catchup with our Cornish pals Marcia and Pete who were staying on a campsite in Aguilas just about an hour away from us…

…got to see our mate Paul who came over for a week or so. He was particularly happy to see his BFF Eva again…

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…had a lovely meal for our wedding anniversary …

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…a bbq with boater friends Richard and Linda…

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…got to watch Ireland rugby team winning the Grand Slam and the Triple Crown on St Patrick’s Day…

…visited the fish auction in Garrucha…

…and had a ‘use up the leftovers’ party on the terrace of the apartment on our last night.

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We certainly seemed to pack a lot into our stay. The four weeks just flew by!

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A working trip to Cornwall

After having worked for a couple of months over the winter when we were moored in Stone, we headed down to Cornwall for February to stay in our old house. Unfortunately this wasn’t just a relaxing break. The tenants, who had been in the house since we started boating in 2010, had decided to move on and get their own place. Time to do a bit of decorating and sort out some new tenants. Gordon spent the majority of his time there with a paintbrush or roller in his hand…..

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…but we did manage a bit of socialising. On a particularly foggy day we headed off to meet my daughter Ellie and our friend Kathryn at Godrevy ….

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…..Monday nights were set aside for Euchre in the Kings Arms in Paul village (and the odd drink or two)….
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……and I managed a trip into Penzance to watch a rehearsal of the choir I used to sing with back in the day.

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It was tough work, although we were given a lot of help from our brilliant neighbours Steve, Irene, Diane and Blaise. In the end the place was looking good and we have managed (with the assistance of Whitlocks Estate Agency) to find yet another set of great tenants. All in all a successful and enjoyable visit.

 

 

 

 

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