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Even though the cruising season is in full swing, there are still some stoppages along the canals. We ran into one right at the beginning of the month. It involved actually rebuilding about a fifth of a mile of the Trent & Mersey just before the famous Anderton Lift. Apparently a leak had sprung in the canal and the banks had collapsed. Work had been ongoing for two months and luckily the reopening was scheduled for July 5th, only three days from our arrival. We took the opportunity to explore the area and the Anderton lift as well as do laundry and other mundane chores in the neighboring village of Barnton.
Plenty of boats were double and triple moored at the stoppage, many had waited several weeks and the scene was tense with anticipation and full of gossip whether the canal section would actually be filled with water by Friday the 5th. This was a fairly massive operation, most likely costing a million pounds or more to complete. The original deadline had already been pushed forward a couple of weeks and it was quite possible this could reoccur. Numerous construction crews in hard hats, the ever-present large machinery, and the dried up empty section of the canal did not seem to bode well for imminent use.
Several boaters had taken the time to explore the River Weaver via the Anderton Lift. There is a spanking new exhibition building next to the lift with its history and story about the refurbishment. We enjoyed watching it work and it certainly looks spiffy and cleaned up. It is a tourist attraction for the area and many non-boaters come to visit since there is a tour boat that offers trips on the Anderton for about five pounds per person.
Deadline day arrives and the canal is tentatively pumped half full of water. It holds. By noon the stoppage is literally removed as they take away the sand bags and chain link fence and the repaired section of the canal rejoins the Trent & Mersey. Now a party mood is in the air as we all queue to go through the stoppage area and on to the Barnton Tunnel (572 yards). The construction crews coordinate the flow of boats each way through the tunnel as it is narrow and boats can only go in one direction at a time. OO-LA-LA is on her way by 1:30 PM. The Saltersford Tunnel (424 yards) is next and quite crooked so is a bit of a challenge to maneuver. We could hear the boat behind us bumping on the walls. By now we are tunnel experts and pass through with only the echoes of the motor.
Just after the Preston Brook Tunnel (1239 yards) the Trent and Mersey meets with the Bridgewater Canal that then joins the Leeds & Liverpool. There are some lovely moorings on the Bridgewater. The farming village of Moore is very peaceful, Stockton Heath is a buzzing market town that is great for supplies and Lymm is very popular with boaters.
We are now ready for our trip through the outskirts of Manchester. Having been warned by other boaters that this area is prone to problems for boaters due to ‘yobs’ or mischievous youths we are ready for anything. The trip is extremely varied as we go through industrial areas, ride alongside traffic at times and pass through idyllic towns like Worsley.
At one point three boys eagerly gather rocks in their shirts and run up onto a bridge we are about to pass under. Having spotted them with binoculars, we slow the boat down and talk to them. The camera is also whipped out. “We’ve got your photo” is the phrase that seems to instill fear in their little hearts and they nonchalantly wave as we go by and innocently plop their ammunition into the water after we pass. It’s amusing, they are only about ten years old, but disturbing as well. Even a small rock can hurt if tossed from a dozen feet above your head!
In order to go to Liverpool, the Nicholson’s Guide advises boaters to call British Waterways. They book us to meet at Bell’s Bridge and will ‘escort’ us into the city. This has a fairly ominous sound to it, but we were still determined to go. Worsley is the last beauty spot before going into the industrial parts of the Bridgewater and onto the Leeds and Liverpool. We are prepared for the children out on summer break, bored teenagers, etc. What we were not ready for was that each paddle on each lock (four per lock) has a handcuff key to prevent vandalism. It made working the locks twice as long and laborious in places we really wanted to get through rather quickly. We were also unprepared for the sense of desolation we felt. On a beautiful sunny weekend, we hardly passed a single boat. It gave us an eerie feeling that did not sit right. The difficult decision to make a U-turn was finally made after miles of travel through desolate industrialized land. Never mind seeing a boat, we just didn’t see any people either. The comment was made “didn’t sign up for a hardship cruise”. Sadly, it is not the kind of travel we want to do. Hopefully things will improve one day, but it will take a long time, in our opinion.
So Liverpool will have to wait. With a sigh of relief we returned to the idyllic rolling hills and cheerful towns we knew. As we went through Worsley we enjoyed chatting with locals around the beautiful moorings there. One gentleman, Eric Lamb and his dog Susie offered to bring us to the supermarket just outside town; we accepted. Faith in humanity and the beauty of canal life is restored.
Our path is retraced to the town of Middlewich and we are in new territory as we continue on down the Trent and Mersey.
The next day we meet n/b Adagio at the mouth of Hardcastle Tunnel (2926 yards). This is one of the longest on the system and a tunnel keeper ensures that the profile of the boat does not exceed its dimensions. He also monitors boats that go in and out at each end since this is narrow as well. The approach is very pretty as you pass through the canal town of Wheelock with its stone cottages. Also, for the first time we see double locks – narrow locks side by side instead of a doublewide lock. As we pass through the tunnel we play some music by Talking Heads that reverberates beautifully. You can tell we are really feeling cheeky about tunnel travel now.
On the other side we go through Stoke-on-Trent, an old pottery town. It’s not a great spot to moor, but fascinating scenery since many of the old ‘bottle kilns’, brick furnaces shaped like gigantic bottles 30 feet high, still remain. We continue onto the village of Stone, a real beauty spot that is also highly popular. A mooring is found and we spend time just enjoying ourselves and mixing in with boaters at the pub. The lock is the center of town life and there are gongoozlers galore. There is a lovely Italian restaurant on the lock “La Dolce Vida” that has great atmosphere and food.
Just outside Stone we moor at Great Haywood, near to the magnificent manor of Shugborough Hall. The gardens are very impressive and extensive and we have a lovely walk there.
The next day we turn onto the Coventry Canal where we moor in the village of Hopwas. This town is small but has some fabulous pubs well worth stopping in to see. The Coventry Canal is a great cruise since there are only a few locks and those are quite pleasant and easy to work.
Since we are in the neighborhood, we decide to say hello to Tim Coghlan & company at the Braunston Marina and get the bottom of the boat blacked. It has now been almost eleven months since we started cruising and we are completing a circle as we go down the Coventry Canal onto the Oxford. It’s Saturday night and at the Wheatsheaf Inn we renew our friendship with Pat and Trevor Scott and meet other friends as well. Braunston feels like home base on the canals to us, it is great to return to such a friendly and pretty town that is just as we remember.
on to August......