Friday, 26 October 2012

John Whitehouse RIP

We have just learned that John Whitehouse has died.
We have little information about the circumstances and are too upset to write more.
The blog may be off air for a time.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Back on Track

Today we left Manchester and joined the Bridgewater Canal and after an hour were back on our original route. The diversion from Middlewich has been quite a trek but we have enjoyed it, even the last few days which we had some qualms about beforehand.

As we left Castlefield we took one last look at the Hilton hotel and the annexe for posh ducks.

There is a phenomenon well-known to canal boaters and was propounded as The Law of  Passing Boats viz:  two boats travelling in opposite directions on the same canal will only meet when there is too little space to pass.

We met our first boat at Waters Meeting where they  joined our arm and we joined theirs

We met our second boat at Barton Swing Aqueduct........

As you can see from this picture, we were first ones across.

No trip through  Worsley, the home of the Bridgewater Canal, would be complete without this illustration.

And from the sublime to the  other thing......

Longest Narrowboat Journey in the World

A couple of years ago when visiting our friends Paul and Chris (not forgetting Ivy) on their narrowboat which they live on near Arras we watched a film of the longest narrowboat journey in the world.  This was undertaken by Nick Sanders in a specially prepared narrowboat and butty.  (Were they names Unspoilt by Progress I & II?) Their journey was intended to go from the Black Country to the Black Sea but the butty sank somewhere on the Danube, I think . I believe the butty was eventually raised and joined the motor boat but my mind is a bit hazy on this point.

I have been unable to find a copy of the film but was reminded of it as we passed through Bollington on the Macclesfield Canal last week.

There on the bank was this motor boat with a head poking out of the side hatch.  Unfortunately the head disappeared and I was unable to verify whether this if the original boat or not.

Perhaps someone with a better memory or a copy of the film could clarify this.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Rochdale Nine

For the uninitiated I should explain that the Rochdale Nine, although infamous, are not victims of some miscarriage of justice.  These are the nine broad locks which take the  Rochdale Canal down from Dale Street to Castlefield  within Manchester.
I have only negotiated them once before: it was 1977 when we had to stop at a little wooden hut and buy a day licence for the privilege of subjecting ourselves to the risk of a hernia.

The first couple of locks are underneath buildings. At least some lights have been installed in the last 35 years.

When we last came down here we were walking in six inches of water.

There are no bywashes for excess water to escape so it cascades over the gates and adds to the build up of water which emanates from the leaks.

At some points there is no towpath so access to the locks can only be achieved via the landing stages:  these, too are a novelty to us. Thirty five years ago we had to climb from the bows directly onto the lockside.

At one time access would have been made from the street, via the steps but these are no longer accessible:  they have been blocked off and a glass and steel barrier installed along the wall to prevent any more drunks falling into the canal.

Again, safety of the reckless is more important than that of the  careful.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Bandit Country

We left the Portland Basin Marina at 7.30 this morning and we were not the first boat away.  Another boat breasted up with us last night and they left 30 minutes before us whilst it was still dark. The Ashton Canal from Dukinfield to Manchester Picadilly has a reputation for being unsafe for mooring so boaters tend to traverse this canal in one day.  It is not long -6 miles  - but the  18 locks are slow to operate as every paddle is locked to prevent mischievous operation. As we were following another boat we had to fill every lock.  It was a shame that the preceding boat locked up everything as they left the locks thus doubli ng their work and ours. I am pleased to say that we encountered no bandits and everyone we met was friendly.

The area around Picadilly has been subjected to considerable renovation - most involving demolition.

There are some unusual buildings

But moorings are sparse.

Monday, 22 October 2012

16 down

Unknown demonstrator
The sixteen locks at Marple have some odd characteristics: one is that you cannot operate the bottom gates without descending to a special bridge or, in this case, the road to a group of houses.As we set off at 8.30 this morning we probably made one or two local residents late for work.

There also seems to be a fetish for tunnels.

Here the higher tunnel gives access to the canal at the lock tail for boaters to board or alight.  The lower tunnel passes under the road to join the canal beyond the bridge.

Rob & Lee operating the last lock

Our progress was slow due to the poor condition of the lock mechanism and features such as this collapsed bank.

After negotiating six locks two volunteers arrived and worked us down the remaining locks saving us at least an hour.

Rob & Lee are half-way through a six-week placement and hope to get jobs on the canals next year.

Immediately after desceding the locks we crossed Marple Acqueduct which is accompanied across the valley by the rail viaduct.

Soom after this the rain came and the canal became so shallow that we we continually hitting submerged stones.  At one point the prop jammed between some rocks and we came to a sudden stop.

16 locks done: 27 to Manchester

Sunday, 21 October 2012

It's All Downhill to Manchester

We are back in Marple tonight and preparing to start the descent to Manchester: 43 locks to Castlefield Basin. As the next three days are going to be long and hard we treated ourselves to dinner at the Ring O' Bells.   Perched on the canal bank by the turnover bridge near the junction, this is a pub for decent food.  So often pubs 'home made' food is courtesy of Brake Bros and the microwave.  I had the tastiest braised leg of mutton.  Yes, you can still get mutton.  Only seven different vegetables but all done to perfection. The gravy had redcurrants and rosemary in which complimented the meat perfectly.  If we had had room for pud we were tempted by the bread and butter pudding and the syrup sponge.  They will have to wait for our next visit. Service was friendly and efficient. (further comment on the waitresses has been deleted by she who must be obeyed)


One of the problems to contend with when living on a canal boat is how to receive the post. If you have a home mooring this is easily resolved but if you travel continually as we do it takes a little more planning.  When we moved onto Gecko we considered using poste restante but this seemed unworkable except for individual communications. So we settled for a Royal Mail PO box . This opened a whole new can of worms as some companies refuse to accept a PO Box as a legitimate address. It was no problem for our bank but we had to relinquish our John Lewis credit card as they insisted on sending our statement to the address they knew we had moved from because "a PO box is not safe"  When I asked them where I should send the settlement cheque as I had stopped the direct debit they replied "PO Box 99, Southend" On informing them that I could not send money to an address they considered insecure they had to dig around to find me a street address. Even more bizarre was the conversation I had when trying to update a driving license.  DVLA could not accept a PO Box because "you have to prove residence."  (I thought one had to prove an ability to drive).  In response to my information that the PO box was our only address Miss DVLA suggested I use the address of a relative, or friend.  She was surprised at my indignance at her suggestion that I give a false address and tried  to back pedal, unsuccessfully.  She then confirmed that I could use any valid street address but to my surprise would not accept 10 Downing Street, London. I finally acceded to her request to give an address that we did not live at, thus, presumably, proving residence to her satisfaction.
We have now decided to abandon the PO box as the cost has increased from £49/year to over £200 in six years which is too much to pay NOT to have our post delivered.
So if you have received a change of address from us it does not signify anything more than that.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Another Rest Day?

Thirty years ago when we travelled the Cheshire Ring in a hire boat we could not come to Bugsworth Basin as it was derelict.  Since then the Inland Waterways Protection Society have restored it to one of the best moorings we have ever encountered.
Bugsworth Canal Basin, the head of navigation of the Peak Forest Canal, was the largest and busiest inland port on Britain's narrow canal system and the only one to survive intact.  
This model reprsents only one third of the site as it was in its heyday.
Canal and tramway engineer, Benjamin Outram, built the 14 mile long Peak Forest Canal from Dukinfield to Bugsworth, although plans to extend to Chapel Milton via Whitehough were never realised. Construction of the six-mile Peak Forest Tramway in 1795-96 linked Bugsworth Basin to the limestone and gritstone quarries in Derbyshire, and the canal linked Bugsworth to Manchester and the trans-Pennine canal network.
With these transport systems in place Bugsworth thrived commercially. However, as early as 1804, experiments using steam locomotives to haul iron were underway in Wales. The ensuing unstoppable advancement in railway technology would, inevitably, lead to the decline and ultimate demise of the canal system.

It closed in 1927  but IWPS has restored much of this site where lime was crushed and burnt and gritstone was transhipped to pave the roads of Lancashire

The full extent of the site is impossible to convey in still photographs: you really must make the effort to visit it personally. The Navigation Inn is worth a visit too.
Beyond this bridge is the upper basin where gritstone was transhipped from the Peak Forest (gravity) Tramway into waiting narrowboats.

The remains of the limestone crusher can be seen here to the left of the picture.


A short stretch of the original tram tracks are preserved: this line brought the limestone to the crusher.


Stone sleepers remain to show where other branches of the Peak Forest Tramway  served the gritstone wharf.

As for a rest day that didn't materialise: we washed and polished one side of the boat.

Friday, 19 October 2012

To Bugsworth Basin

We came this way in the summer of 2010 but the weather was grey and wet so we saw nothing of the countryside.  The canal forks at the end and we took the right-hand branch (do forks have branches?) to Whalley Bridge which confirmed our dismal view of the canal.

Today, in October, the sun shone all day; we took the left prong to Bugsworth Basin and we are in a different world.

There was the occasional lift bridge to negotiate......

...and a few swing bridges.......


......fortunately no breach like the one in 1973.........

.......and a wonderful open space with room for dozens of boats at Bugsworth Basin.

Even the sunset was glorious.

Goodnight Bugsworth !

Thursday, 18 October 2012

(Don't) Miss Marple

Marple is the end of the road as far as the Macclesfield canal is concerned and we have to turn left, descending the sixteen locks, for Manchester.  However we have decided to give ourselves a break and are turning right tomorrow on the Peak Forest Canal out to Bugsworth Basin. Legend has it that Agatha Christie was delayed on a train at Marple station and settled on the name of her lady detective there.

As we passed through Macclesfield we saw Rainbow Lorikeet moored ont he bank.
The scenery along this canal is typical Peak District: steep valleys and lots of hills.  The canal is lock-free for most of its length which is a remarkable achievement in this terrain.  It is achieved by skirting the hills and employing embankments.

Some of the canal architecture is also remarkable.  Most of the numerous bridges are stone built and are interspersed by the abutments of derelict swing bridges

Every time the tow path changes side it is transferred by an elegant turnover bridge.

Twelve miles in six hours but still 39 extra locks to do.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Day 6 is Lyme Green

The celebratory shower this morning was a little disappointing : the water started tepid and cooled off the longer it ran.
Rather a short day today: just three miles to Lyme Green so we could take the bus into Macclesfield to do some grocery shopping.
But not completely uneventful.  At Oak Grove we passed Nutshell and Fulbourne both moored up.   It looks as though Ken  & Christine have not sold Nutshell yet.Fulbourne  often winters in Aylesbury althought the first time we encountered it was back in the 1990s when we were both participating in the BCN Marathon.
The Fool's Nook is closed due to flooding: couldn't see a re-opening date.
Still an extra 39 locks to do

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Well-Behaved Bosleys - Diversion Day 5

Well, I opened the curtains late last night and looked out: I am sure I could see sheep running on a hillside and daffodils under the hedge but I may have been mistaken. We resumed our northerly leg of the diversion this morning intending to get through Congleton and possibly up the only flight of locks on the Macclesfield Canal. 
Bridge 75 in Congleton, however, had a better idea.  Why don't we just sit underneath the railway for the foreseeable future?  After about 30 minutes of ineffective effort we managed to reverse out of the bridge and away from whatever the obstruction was.  She who must be obeyed encouraged an oncoming boat to go through the bridge and when it lurched to one side she was able to locate the obstruction. Armed with this new knowledge our second attempt at negotiating the bridge was now successful and we escaped the clutches of Congleton..
Apart from the stop lock at Scholar Green there is just one flight of twelve locks between Red Bull on the Trent & Mersey and Marple at the other end.  Bosley Locks are the best-behaved locks I have ever encountered.  When ascending a narrow lock the incoming water initially washes you back but then suddenly the undertow drags you forward.   On some canals, particularly the Staffs & Worcs this can be quite vicious but Bosley Locks do not exhibit any desire to drag the boat into the top gates. When we arrived today a boat must have preceded us as every lock was full and required emptying before we could proceed. 

Our reward for all this work is at the top lock: the service block here is smart, well equipped and clean.    
I feel a celebratory shower is called for.
Journey today = 8 miles and 12 locks
Remaining diversion -  39 locks

Monday, 15 October 2012

Diversion Day 4

We finished the southbound leg of the diversion and are now heading north on the Maclesfield Canal.  Still a long way to go but at least the compass looks right at last.
Nicholson's Guide suggests climbing Mow Cop (1100ft) to look at Wales in the dark.  I think I shall open the curtains later tonight and pretend it's Wales.
Journey today - 7 miles and 16 locks
Remaining diversion =  5 miles   51 locks

Lock Cottage FOR SALE

If you don't fancy a tin tabernacle then how about a lock cottage?
Savills is auctioning this one on the Grand Union by Uxbridge Lock

Follow the link below for more details - it's lot 97

Lock Cottage - Denham

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Badgers - TB or not TB?

The badger cull is back in the news accompanied by much emotive argument. Feelings are very strong on either side and I don't intend to add fuel to the fire. It seems clear that we shall not really know if culling badgers will be effective in reducing TB in cattle until it is done, despite all the work done by Krebs.
However one aspect of the situation  I have not heard anyone voice is that we are currently culling about 30,000 cattle a year which have TB whilst the badger is protected from such treatment. Perhaps redressing the balance might be worth the anguish of those who prefer badgers to cattle.

Cuddly badger?

or cuddly cattle?

Lock 57 (Diversion day 3)

We had a day off yesterday as we were babysitting the grandchildren.
Returned to Gecko this afternoon and our son helped us up ten locks in 90 minutes which was much better than we would have achieved without him.
We are at Hassell Green tonight near lock 57.  
Last time we were here there was a lovely sunset. see: Sex Change at Tin Tabernacle

We have heard good reports of the restaurant here but can only judge it on the home-made flapjacks which are excellent. 
Remaining diversion = 12  miles &   67 locks

Friday, 12 October 2012

Salt of the Earth

I understand from one of my regular readers that I may not be alone in my interest of industrial history.  This came as  something of a shock as I rather felt I was communing with myself on this blog.
If you are interested in the salt industry around Northwich there is a very interesting booklet written by Colin Edmondson - A Pocket History of the River Weaver.  It is all composed from original sources unlike many of the derivative offerings in the bookshops: it is only some 36 pages but is more informative than books many times its size.  Colin lives on a narrowboat in Cheshire and can be contacted at:
Ask him about the other books he has written, and mention where you found his name.

Diversion Day 1

After Gecko's nose job yesterday we had to stay overnight at Kings Lock.  Down to our last 50 litres of fuel and the boatyard has run out.  The tanker arrived around 11am and we were refuelled and on our way before noon.

Tonight in Wheelock, near Sandbach.....

....where the cows work shifts


6 miles and 5 locks accomplished
Remaining diversion = 14 miles and 77 locks.

Diversion Starts Here

We are leving Middlewich today and heading south on our way to Burnley!
Because of the breach in the canal north of here we have to make a diversion up inot the Peak district and down into Manchester before picking up our original route at Waters Meeting, west of Manchester.
An additional distance of 
21 miles and 82 locks

WADIHS Weekend - part 2

Salt has been an important source of trade in Cheshire for centuries -it was first discovered, even before the Roman occupation,  in brine springs known in Cheshire as wild brine.  The water from these was boiled until a residue of salt was achieved. In Nantwich there is still a brine swimming pool  (claimed to be the only one in Britain)   It is open-air but heated.  It is closed in the winter and the brine is renewed from the spring each spring. How appropriate.
Rock salt, however, was discovered by accident in 1670 when a local dynasty at Marbury near Northwich were looking for coal. It was mined extensively around Northwich and Winsford but scant attention was paid to the consequences of water dissolving underground salt deposits.  The area is now pock-marked with flashes as a result of mines collapsing.
When salt is extracted from underground by dissolving it and pumping out the brine it is impossible to know where it has come from and Northwich in particular has suffered considerably from subsidence caused by such processes. Following the collapse pictured here the Brine Subsidence Compensation fund was established and is still in existence.
Buildings erected after this date were built with a timber frame equipped with jacking points.   In the event of subsidence the building could be jacked up and wedged into position.
The building here must be rare in that the first floor is older than the ground floor.

After jacking it up, a whole new floor was built underneath.

The Bridge Inn used to be next to the Town Bridge.  In the 19th century it was jacked up and moved 185ft to its new location: it weighed 55 tons.

The same principle has been applied more recently using steel girders to form a rigid foundation to hold the house together. In the event of subsidence the house should not collapse but tip like a Lego model.

This area between Chester and Wrexham was also mined for coal, iron ore and lead although all activity has ceased long ago.

At Gresford the mining disaster of 1934 in  which 266 miners died was only one factor in the decline of these industries.

A memorial to those men now stands on the site of the colliery

Nearby at Bersham was the iron works where John Iron Mad Wilkinson perfected his revolutionary technique of boring out canons from solid iron.
These proved their accuracy in the American War of Independance.

In later years the iron was put to more mundane uses.

At the Minera lead processing plant much of the original equipment has been preserved or restored.
This is an open-access site with an informations centre open at certain times.  Walking around amongst the machinery an  impression of how the processes were carried out is much clearer than looking at books.
This contraption is effectively a large sieve in a bath of water.  By bumping the sieve up and down by means of the arms small lumps of lead ore could be separated from the other rock due to its considerable weight.This was known as a Jig and the operator was a Jigger.
On our way back at the end of a very busy day some of us made a detour to Chester as we remembered passing some interesting industrial buildings near the canal as we left there by boat.

A mill - now converted to offices....

....but which used to look like this.......

......A cylindrical water tower currently being restored......

.....a Napoleonic lead shot tower also being restored........

......and a row of cottages which face the canal. This is unusual as they generally face away from the canal.

What a weekend!