Days 46 and 47: a busy weekend

August 22nd, 2010

This is the start of a much-overdue series of catch-up posts, as I’ve had a busy week in the North-West!

So, winding the tape back to Friday 13th August, I spent the day in Nantwich, getting the laundry done and buying lots of provisions. Nantwich is a very foody town, with at least one excellent butcher – I didn’t go in the second one as the first one seemed unbeatably good! Mmm, meat products! In the evening I was joined by Dave, Richard, Claire and Steve, and we all piled into the all-you-can-eat Indian buffet restaurant in the old station building before retiring to the boat.

A lot of Saturday morning was absorbed by filling Innocenti’s water tank – to summarise, a large water tank plus low water pressure equals a long wait! After that we motored on, between the showers, and went down a few locks before arriving in Middlewich for the night. I did very little all day apart from making gallons of tea…
Day 46: Nantwich to Middlewich, 15 miles and 7 locks.

Sunday was an altogether different day. We had a short journey from Middlewich to Anderton, along the relatively busy Trent and Mersey canal. We were booked down the lift at Anderton at 3:15, and in fact arrived there just after 2. After mooring up, meeting Mike and Shelley, having yet more tea, biscuits, icecreams etc, it was finally time to go down the lift. The first hazard, though, is to negotiate a tight bend into a narrowish entrance under the towpath footbridge. This I got wrong, and there was a large clunk is 20 tonnes of slowly-moving narrowboat collided with an even greater weight of immovable concrete bank, shortly followed by general squealings from the cabin as the impact had knocked over the milk jug. In the ensuing chaos to mop up the spilled milk (no-one cried, but there was quite a lot of agitated chatter…) my mop got broken and it was discovered that there was no more milk to make tea with. Disaster!

Meanwhile, at the blunt end, I was manoeuvering Innocenti into the long trough-like aqueduct leading from the canal to the lift itself. In order to prevent a lift malfunction from draining the entire T&M pound (which would be somewhat catastrophic as the canal is on the same level all the way to Manchester and Wigan!), there’s a guillotine gate at the entrance to the aqueduct. You go in and stop, and they close the gate behind you. Then the water level is adjusted slightly (the T&M is not necessarily always at the same level as the lift caissons) and the guillotine is opened at the other end into the lift caisson itself. In we went, tied up the stern as instructed and killed the engine. Then we sat and waited while the trip boat was loaded into the other caisson. Once all was secure, the gates close and the lift very slowly begins to move. It’s a genuinely impressive piece of engineering, and all works like clockwork. The lift operator kindly explained what was going on. To start with the boat moves very slowly, and the caisson judders as the hydraulic oil goes through check valves to stop it dropping too fast. Eventually the motion becomes smooth and we drop fifty feet into the basin below. Once the gates were opened, we went out into the River Weaver. In view of the milk situation, I took a decision to nip into Northwich and get some. Northwich is 20 minutes upstream – in the wrong direction from our final destination. We pulled up on the public wharf and Dave, Richard and I went on a milk foray. We found a lot of shut shops, this being 4pm on a Sunday. Aldi had literally just closed as we arrived. As a last-ditch effort, I went into a Costa Coffee and negotiated for a plastic bag of milk and we returned triumphantly to the boat. Now we had a difficult situation – we needed to crack on down river before the lock-keepers closed the locks at 6pm. So, full speed ahead! Unfortunately, after about 30 mins or so, the rev counter suddenly died. “Oh heck”, I thought (or equivalent words to that effect), “the fanbelt’s snapped!” and I removed the deckboard. What I saw was an intact fanbelt and a lot of bilgewater. A brief investigation revealed that Innocenti’s rather poorly-executed weedhatch allows prop wash into the engine bay at speeds exceeding 5mph, a feature I had not previously discovered. On with the bilge pumps and a slower speed. We got to the first lock, at Saltersford, just after 5. The Weaver locks are large – like the Thames ones – and there was a lock-keeper on hand. We asked him what our odds were of getting to the next locks, at Dutton, before closing. He was a bit dubious, but agreed to ring his colleague. We were clear to go, but we needed to get a move on! There followed one of the slowest races against time known to man, as we cracked on down the Weaver towards Dutton at 4mph, all the weedhatch would stand, trailing (clean) bilgewater in our wake and looking at our watches. Fortunately, the engine suffered no damage, the lock-keeper was friendly and we arrived just a few minutes before 6pm. We gave him a bottle of beer to say thankyou for staying late. The real imperative for getting through Dutton was that we’d have missed our booked passage into the Ship Canal the following morning had we been held up.
Anyway, we continued down the lower reaches of the Weaver, enjoying the quiet rural nature of the river and drinking well-earned beers until the wind brought a whiff of petrochemicals and we found ourselves approaching the swing bridge at Frodsham. Here we dropped off Claire to get a train back to Manchester and continued another mile to the lock at Weston, right opposite the chemical works.
This is a funny place – oddly tranquil with no-one about, and with salty sea air coming off the Mersey Estuary. There were also excellent blackberries! We moored for the night on a handy pontoon by the lock, ate our sausages and ratatouille and retired for the night.

Day 47: Middlewich to Weston Marsh Lock, 20 miles, 3 locks and one big boat lift!

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