Title photo: Green overload - vast difference in 4 weeks.
The last instalment. To get back to Stafford we have about 12 days travel. Once again we are using canal planner to keep us on schedule. There is some leeway as we can always pull a longer day or two. The first 4 or 5 days are a direct back tracking on the way we came but with the scenery enhanced by 5 weeks of growth - conversely it is now a much more confined view as the hedges have filled out and some of the houses and gardens can no longer been seen.
We were able to make good progress on the Bridgewater canal - this canal is one of the earliest canals established by the Duke of B to serve his coal mine. It’s wide and deep and CRT licences only allow you a limited time on the canal without having to pay an extra fee. The Bridgewater takes you over the Manchester Ship Canal on the Barton Swing Bridge. We were somewhat disconcerted to turn the last corner prior to the bridge and find our way barred and the bridge swung to centre of the canal.
Barton Swing bridge - the way ahead is blocked.
Our immediate concern was that there might be some problem and an indeterminate stoppage ahead (and there is no easy alternative route) but we couldn’t find any information online. We tied up and put the kettle on.
Another boat turned up astern of us and tied up too.
I walked up as close to the barrier as possible but it wasn’t easy to get a view of what was going on. The road bridge about 200 yards to seaward was still in place with traffic flowing.
After about 10 mins with the odd sighting of men in high-vis jackets, I was delighted to hear alarms and see lights heralding the closure of the busy road bridge - this surely must mean a ship coming!
The caisson, full of water, is swung perpendicular the canal now lined up in the middle of the ship canal.
Shortly after, a green hulled cargo ship proceeded up the far side of the channel. It was hard to see her from our obscured position until the bridge of the ship appeared above the level of the swung bridge. The road bridge was reopened PDQ, I imagine there was quite a tail back of traffic - it was probably shut for at least 20 mins on busy road.
The caisson was swung back into place and it eventually reopened about 50 mins after we arrived. We were very glad when it all clunked back in place and reopened, even if the formerly dry morning had turned into steady rain by the time it reopened. Unfortunately it appears that I mostly took videos of this epic event - I’ll try and put together a YouTube compilation when I get home!
The caisson is back in place and the gate reopens, the rain is now falling steadily.
One more day after the bridge we were back on CRT waters. It’s marked at Preston Brook with a stop-lock. A stop-lock may only have a change of 1 - 6” but it’s the principle of which companies’ water it is. The width of the canal now drops drastically - the Bridgewater can accommodate wide beam boats but not the T&M.
There were a couple of timed tunnels (where is not possible to see if there is anyone coming), for example one has a ten minute window each hour for north and southbound boats to begin their transit on the hour or half past according to your direction.
As yet un-gentrified canalside warehouse.
We made a special stop to return the anchor and life jackets that we had borrowed from friends (in order to have the right equipment for the Ribble Link), they were unfortunately away from home but very kindly introduced us to their friend who live right on the canal. We hiked up the hill to their home and studio and had a very enjoyable visit.
Once we reached Middlewich we were onto a new-for-this-trip stretch. Which settles into a pretty constant parade of uphill locks. It is lovely to be back to locks again, and luckily it was a dry day when we hit the last 23 in quick succession, almost all set against us (full when we reached them and needing to be emptied before we could go in). There seemed to no traffic about and none coming the other way.
Swans’ eggs are starting to hatch.
We’ve been chugging our way past various potential hold up points, the next significant one being the Harecastle Tunnel 2926 yds long. You are not allowed in unless CRT staff are around. There is a barrier at each end and they park a work boat just inside the entrance just to be sure. The Southern portal has a door which is closed during a transit to ensure more effective ventilation. You can book an afternoon passage or just turn up between 0900 - noon and await instructions. Convoys of boats are sent through in alternate directions. The count you in and out the other end.
Tandem locks to allow passage of two boats at a time, even up or down. This must have been a very busy stretch of canal to qualify for this level of investment.
In the course of doing locks or awaiting tunnels you meet people and having said hello to them at a succession of locks/stoppages you discover some fascinating people. One older couple at the tunnel were on a beautifully loved 83 year boat, all brasses shining, a classic old engine, the painting of roses and castles the finest I’ve ever seen. I also managed to meet up with an IG friend - we’ve corresponded for years on the subject of narrowboats and we meet in the Stoke lock flight - they were ascending and we descending - luckily there was no one on our heels so we hung out and chatted for a while.
Quite a few of the duplicate locks are no longer operational.
We are only a day or two away from our planned marina arrival for the big clean up, wash and handover. Today we found ourself ahead of schedule and instead of staying put for a day, we travelled about 2 miles further to the nearest winding hole, turned around and went back to the winding hole in Stone (a town we transited and visited yesterday), we turned again, tied up for a while and went ashore for a coffee and a visit to the ‘award winning’ butcher - it was a treat, such a charming and enthusiastic butcher - it’s a shame we only needed food for one night.
My flower garden is blooming nicely now - it’s amazing how often we are complimented on them. There is a noticeable difference in response when the flowers are not on the roof. We removed all possible pots before going through the Harecastle, the roof of tunnel gets so low and they don’t aid visibility - normally stood at the helm you can see over or around them but there is no room to stand normally in the tunnel. No one spoke to us until the flowers were back on the deck again!
A civic building in Kidsgrove, no expense spared in the building.
We are running down the stores now and starting to work on our departure plans, first stop Somerset, then Southampton and Heathrow on the 25th.
Looking forward to getting home and kidnapping Max from Holly and Simon, I may have a fight on my hands.
Great Haywood marina where we will hand back Ali.
Tonight we have overshot our destination marina a little to moor in a favourite spot called Tixall Wide for the night. The canals are becoming significantly busier now - but until the last 10 days we had seen very few boats at all.
This is a trip of 585 miles, 7 furlongs and 232 locks from Great Haywood Marina to Great Haywood Marina.