Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Approaching Liverpool

It's pretty flat as you move west and south a bit, with the usual objects to pass under…

or over…

or to wave at.

No locks on this stretch of the canal, but a variety of swing bridges, at which my best beloved disembarks (so much easier from the front)…

and then uses as a substitute for one of those machines in the gym…

unless she's fortunate enough to find it operates, as some of them do, with just a key and a button.

By this time we were close to Aintree, so we looked for the horses…

but these particular nags didn't look as though they were going to win any sort of national.

Eventually we reached the swing bridge beyond which no one passes without CRT permission. So this is where we stay tonight until they let us through in the morning for our passage through some of the more dubious parts of the city. 

We'd made good time, with something nice gently stirring in the slow cooker, so I took the opportunity to walk half a mile to the local Aldi. A bus stopped just behind me, so I turned and got on (the magic of the bus pass!). Only to find it was a school bus! However, the driver took pity on me and took me down to the junction anyway – must have been the shorts that did it! But I had to walk back.

Then it was time to peer down the weed hatch (AKA plastic bag / old carpet / odd bits of string hatch). I'd felt some unevenness during the journey and, sure enough, found enough gubbins to be the cause, which I duly removed. Finally I checked the diesel. While cruising I'd been counting how many days out we were from the last fill-up, and toying with the sums involving engine hours per day and litres per hour. I certainly didn't want to be stranded half-way into Liverpool with no fuel. In the event I was so surprised with how much depth there was in the tank (I measure diesel in centimetres!) that I went to the boat's manual to check the size of the tank. Halfie has posted some info about his fuel consumption, and I'm looking forward to comparing mine with his when we next fill up.

Monday, 29 September 2014

Plan A

It all worked out quite well in the end, returning to our original plan of cruising the Rufford arm of the Leeds and Liverpool canal before going to Liverpool itself. We'd planned to set out around 9, with Jonathan and Heather on NB Mary Penington for company through the seven wide locks – much easier to negotiate those if you do it in pairs. But overnight in Rufford the poo tank light came on. Experience said it would be best to sort it sooner rather than later, so we pootled over to St Mary marina in Rufford, just 100 yards on from where we'd been moored. They, however, are always particularly busy on Monday mornings, and could I come back in a couple of hours.

So I reversed back through the bridge to our overnight mooring and explained the situation to Jonathan and Heather, who left on their own while we waited. Over we went again at 11, and got a good pump-out. Their standard price was already cheaper than a good many other places, but because I had been very cheerful when told we had to wait, he gave it to me for their standard resident moorer's price of £8.50!!! That is the cheapest I have ever had a pump-out. Plan A was working well. (Note to self: Cheerfulness is a Good Thing)

After the first lock we came up behind NB Goosemoor, our companion from Wigan to Purbold. No longer under the direction of Steve and Wendy, but a different couple of members of their boatshare consortium. So we had company up the next two locks, until we decided to stop for a bite.

After that it was by ourselves up the remaining four locks, with their various complicated arrangements of paddles and anti-vandal mechanisms. Then, at the junction with the main line, we turned right towards Liverpool, filled up with water, and came through three swing bridges (power over the traffic!) before tying up for the night at Heatons Bridge, near Scarisbrick Hall. It was a long day's boating, but we made it before the rain. Checked the email, and found that CRT have approved our passage to Liverpool for Wednesday. Plan A marches on.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Pride and joy

Just across the water from last night's mooring, and visible through its grounds as you travel on, is Rufford Old Hall.

It shows signs of a family's pride, and various information sheets refer to the joy that specific members of the Hesketh family down the generations took in living in this place.

The original main hall is intriguing, both inside and out…

and contains a unique, carved wooden screen.

At ceiling level are some carved angels, some with and some without their wings, gazing down on the assembled company.

In the drawing room with the spy hole from which you can photograph the angels stands an 1867 Broadwood piano. It spent many years on Derwent island, and is still getting used to the different conditions here of humidity and temperature. But it offered a reasonable rendering of a couple of English folk tunes, carefully elaborated by the ten fingers that belong to yours truly.

Strictly speaking, no one is allowed to take photographs anywhere in the house except the main hall, because so many of the artefacts don't belong to the National Trust. However, this one was permitted on the grounds that my best beloved was photographing the pianist rather than the piano (and, anyway, this artefact does belong to the NT). I like to get a snap of all the Trust pianos I've got to play!

So, later than usual, we set out for the northern end of this branch of the canal.

At times the reeds and rushes made the fairway rather narrow, but it was an enjoyable day for travelling.

Eventually we reached the terminus at Tarleton, where the bold, provided they've booked far enough in advance, can descend the lock to the River Douglas, and journey onward via the River Ribble to the Lancaster canal.

We, not having all the above qualifications, turned around and came back to Rufford in the pleasant company of Jonathan and Heather on NB Mary Penington. It was good to share the work on the swing bridges with you, guys!

Meanwhile, we can't resist mentioning that Number 3 son (the one who got married in July) is playing with his band tonight for the celebratory knees-up at the Ryder Cup in Gleneagles. Both Europe and his parents have plenty of pride and joy in that!

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Not ruffled

Rufford, not ruffled. And very nice too. All sorts of things could have ruffled us. Such as the antiquated computers in Burscough library running a very out-of-date Windows and Word 2003 – it even had a post-it note stuck on the front advising you that your first action should be to download Chrome. When it did finally manage to open the Liverpool link application forms emailed me by CRT, it still wouldn't print them. The librarian told me to email them to her for printing – all done in a jiffy, and if we'd tried that first I would have saved half an hour. But she was very helpful – and in what other country could you walk into a local library and immediately be given a free account with internet access? So our application to go down to Liverpool was sent off, and it was time to venture up the Rufford arm.

The first thing you encounter is a swing bridge, the purpose of which seemed doubtful. If you want to cross to the other side there's a hump-back bridge just behind you (see yesterday's post). We weren't ruffled, of course – it swung reasonably easily.

The paddle mechanisms at the first lock were of a type we've never seen before – vertical screws with a windlass handle permanently in place. They weren't difficult – but you had to watch your balance.

They weren't the only oddities we encountered on the set of locks. Most of them had an anti-vandal system of some sort, usually a chain with a lock which opens with a special tool.

Anti-vandal stuff we had met before, but not these paddle mechanisms, with a long wooden lever to had to pull up (if you could) till it had rotated to a vertical position.

Helping newcomers to these systems on the first two locks were Harry and Joan, two CRT volunteers. They weren't ruffled by anything – so they get an honourable mention on this blog.

It wasn't all new stuff, mind you. Some of the paddles were normal windlass-operated types, though even then some of the mechanisms were of the vertical screw type, rather than the usual rack and pinion.

Then it was off through the remainder of the seven locks to Rufford. It's the valley of the River Douglas – wide and open and pretty flat…

except for the occasional hump-backed bridge, most of them rather narrow. They're the honk 'n' hope type. On this occasion the car in the picture just avoided a collision but had to reverse out of the way of something coming in the other direction.

We tied up in an isolated spot for lunch.

Two locks later we met Peter. He had just filled the lock to take a GRP cruiser through, and there wouldn't be room for us as well. But, gentleman that he was, he waved us through first. "I'm in no hurry", he said. Turned out that he'd just bought the cruiser from someone who had let it become quite derelict for the last five years, and was about to have it removed. Peter is now going to restore it – hats off to him. That's something that might ruffle me.

Then it was swing bridge, and on to the last lock of the day where we had an audience.

Probably partly due to this that we failed to notice the previous traveller had carefully used the anti-vandal mechanism to lock a paddle – but had done so with it up. No wonder we couldn't open the bottom gates to exit when it looked as though they should be ready. Grr… Ah well…

And so to Rufford for the night, moored up in the middle of the village, and near an interesting NT property that looks a good visit tomorrow.

Not ruffled at all.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Weekend retreat

We knew we needed water. The first water point was where the Rufford arm leaves the main line of the Leeds and Liverpool canal. We knew we needed more supplies. The first place to buy things was in Burscough Bridge, about half a mile after the Rufford arm junction. But, until now, we'd thought of going up the arm towards the River Ribble before pushing on across to Liverpool.

So we thought about our options as we filled up with water and I took pictures of a boat coming out of the junction with Erin Mae in the background, and of the scene from the bridge looking down the first few locks of the Rufford arm.

As we moved on into the town for those supplies, we realised that it would be difficult to reverse back to the junction. And as we examined the map in more detail, we saw that there are two swing bridges before the first winding hole where we could turn around. It seemed silly to do that stretch three times instead of once, so we decided it would be Liverpool first.

So, after our shopping and a late lunch half a mile further along, I rang CRT to find out the arrangements for staying in Liverpool. That was when we found that (a) there are only two days in the week you can go into Liverpool; (b) you have to make an application on a form that you have physically signed – and without a printer on board that means going back into Burscough and using the local library's facilities; (c) the next day for passage was Sunday, but that meant getting the application approved immediately, and they were about to shut for the weekend. Oh dear!

In the event we decided to retreat up the Rufford arm for the weekend after all, even though that meant going up and back through those swing bridges. We'd get to the library, print the form, photo a signed copy and make the application via email for a passage on Wednesday.

On the way we saw a field with about 2000 geese in it, having their weekend retreat, making a racket we could hear 400 yards away. Then they took off. I wasn't quick enough with the camera, and only got a few in shot, but for a while they looked like one of those crazy flocks of starlings that look like a screen saver in the sky.

Through two swing bridges, winded, came back through the first one – all the time experiencing a complete range of attitudes and facial expressions from the drivers who've had to bide their time.

But, sadly, the second bridge was no longer playing ball. A message on the screen said the power supply had failed. We rang the emergency number, and have been promised an engineer in about 45 minutes. Seemed like a good opportunity to write a blog post…

Thursday, 25 September 2014


Spent most of the day catching up with Wendy, who came to visit. She's a friend who was a student of mine back in the day, and in recent times has shared FaceBook exchanges with my best beloved. She does exciting things in Lancashire to make local community work, and it was really great to have the chance to chat about stuff in more detail. We haven't seen her for at least 15 years.

So Erin Mae continues to provide us with the opportunities we hoped it would – to link up with family and long-time friends in a way that would probably just not happen otherwise. It was a grey, rainy day until late this afternoon, but somehow we didn't notice.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

No photos of Wigan

Last night's mooring at the Dover Lock Inn was pleasant and quiet enough.

This morning the rain had cleared earlier than expected and we found NB Goosemoor heading up the cut ahead of us, so we decided to follow suit, on the road to Wigan Pier.

The flashes on the way are due to widespread subsidence, but around here it's coal mines that are the cause, rather than the salt mines of the Northwich area. They're put to good use in just the same mix of leisure and sporting activities.

At the first lock, just before Wigan, we caught up Steve and Wendy on their shareboat NB Goosemoor.

Steve had already started to fill it, but he saw us coming and opened it up again for us to join them. Then together we went through all the locks to Parbold. It was really helpful (a) to have two boats sharing the space – you don't bang around half so much, and (b) to have two crew sharing the work on the paddles and gates. So – thanks to them for the all the help, the good chat and the things we learned along the way.

Wigan was a disappointment (to me) at first sight. We wanted to stop off and see the Trencherfield Mill development, and we'd hoped to be able to take in a bit more of Wigan Pier, but there seemed nowhere to moor up. We were busy avoiding stuff in the water, the day was dull and the buildings felt oppressive – so no photos this time around and no visit to the parts which the guide assures us are "attractive". We shall come this way again in October as we travel back to base, but I'm not holding my breath for it to be better value then. However, we are beginning to think in terms of a trip over the Pennines next summer, so maybe we shall catch the town at a more opportune time then, when we turn right to go up the Wigan flight.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Changes and obstructions

All a bit foggy and grey this morning. Maybe it's the time of year, maybe it's the cloud cover, maybe it's the latitude, maybe it's the Labour Party conference just down the road. Sun eventually came out for a while and, after nearly a week, we moved off the Bridgewater canal onto the Leigh branch of the Leeds and Liverpool. Everything from here is new territory.

And here was our first obstruction since coming onto the Bridgewater. A wonderfully sensible lift bridge, which automatically sounds the alarm, changes the traffic lights, drops the barrier and raises the bridge. All you have to do is use your key and then remember to keep your finger on the "Open" button. And, after your boat is through, repeat it all with the "Close" button.

The alternative, of course, is to take your finger off the button with the bridge half up and just let it sit there, but the queues of traffic building up both sides strongly discourage such behaviour!

We came through with NB Dunrushin, and then followed them for a while, before tying up at the Dover Lock Inn (proclaiming that it is under new management) just before the drizzle started. Had a late lunch and listened to Ed Miliband's speech on the radio. As they said, he was speaking to the nation, not just to the conference. It sounded to me as though he is beginning to communicate better some of the ideas he is undoubtedly passionate about. We shall discover in time whether they can avoid being drowned out by the political cat-calling which, unfortunately, is bound to be part of the run-up to the election.

Monday, 22 September 2014


Shortly after getting on to the northern arm of the Bridgewater today we passed the towpath entrance to the Trafford Centre.

I thought it must be a national monument – but it turns out it's just the biggest shopping centre in Europe.

Some of it outside, most of it inside, and the architecture based around classical themes with statues, mermaids, frescos, columns and alcoves.

Even the bridge over the road between the two major centres was done out in the same way – just imagine if this caught on among motorway service stations!

Half way over the bridge was a piano which had been used somewhere by Elton John, merrily playing tunes to itself, controlled by an iPod.

I think this is the most grandiose temple to consumerism that I have ever seen. My best beloved didn't mind it too much, and might have appreciated the opportunity to stay and browse a bit, but I found it all a bit too much (though the toilets were some of the best you'll find outside of a quality country hotel)  – and what did those Roman statues have to do with anything! Anyway, we had an appointment with an aqueduct.

Trusting something that looks like this as you approach it to take you safely over the ship canal might justifiably be thought a bit foolhardy.

However, the rust and the things growing in all the wrong places weren't really noticed as we fired off our cameras again and again to try and capture something of the experience of the crossing.

So we made it safely across and through the more seriously scruffy parts of Salford, appreciating also some of the work of urban regeneration that is going on – even though it must take for ever. And there were some intriguing sights along the way.

Who knows what this lighthouse is doing at Parrin Lane Bridge?

But the reason for these structures in Worsley are more obvious. This is at the entrance to the Duke of Bridgewater's coal mines, and the underground canal network via which they brought the coal out on boats known as "starvationers" because of their looks. It's not hard to trace our contemporary consumerism back to the industrial revolution in which he played a significant role in these parts.

So eventually we came out into more rural parts, and tied up near Boothstown for the night. Don't think the pub will be too noisy on a Monday evening. Any Man U supporters around here will be drowning their sorrows quietly, I suspect.