Day 60 – Going Underground

We start today’s blog with a jellyfish – not something we were expecting to see in Liverpool docks, but here they are, floating along with the weed beside all the narrowboats!

Also not far from where we’re moored, there’s a statue of Billy Fury. He’s popular with narrowboat dog owners, as the closest decent sized patch of grass!

Following a hot tip from Fred and Lisa on nb Chyandour, we were booked on the morning tour of the Old Dock. Our guides Yazz and Danny showed us some sights above ground first, including a series of fountains representing the tide heights, diligently recorded for 29 years by one man, but shown here for a one month period.

Built in 1715, well before any of the UK canals, the old dock was the first commercial wet dock in the world. It revolutionised merchant trade, allowing ships to load and unload their cargoes regardless of the state of the tide as the water was kept in the dock by massive lock-style gates.

The dock is now underneath the modern Liverpool One shopping centre; it was only relatively recently rediscovered and excavated in 2001. So under the shopping centre we went, to find the walls in remarkably good condition for their 300 year age.

Leaving the old dock, Sarah did some shoe shopping (not girlie shoe shopping, waterproof locking shoe shopping!) and then we had some lunch, before heading over to the Western Approaches war museum. This was a top-secret, bomb-proof underground command bunker, the nerve centre for the Battle of the Atlantic. Here they monitored ship movements in the Atlantic ocean and coordinated allied forces against the U-boats.

Communications were critical so they had quite an advanced switchboard for the time. There was a direct line to the war cabinet in London, and they also received a lot of intelligence on enemy movements from the code breakers at Bletchley Park.

After all that excitement, it was back to Oliver for a bit of a rest (well Sarah did some laundry, I put my feet up!), before meeting up with Fred and Lisa for an evening tour around the Queensway Tunnel, one of two road tunnels going under the Mersey.

The original control room is no longer in use, replaced by keyboards and digital screens, but it made for an impressive sight. We also got to see the massive ventilation fans, the emergency refuge stations, the side of the road itself, and the underneath of the roadway, where they’d originally hoped to run a tram. Mersey Ferries were horrified by the thought of having to compete against a tram and managed to put a stop to that idea; now the underside is mainly used for power and communication cables.

We wrapped the day up with some fish and chips – something Sarah had promised to treat herself to at some point on our holiday, and by the sea in Liverpool semeed the perfect place for it!

Day 59 – Ferry Cross The Mersey

Today we’re playing tourist, we started off with a visit to the Royal Liver Building, which is the leftmost building of the ‘Three Graces‘ below. It’s only been open to the public since April, so not that many people have done the tour yet. They had an excellent digitally projected film, not to mention some stunning views!

The clock face is bigger than Big Ben’s, and the minute hand is 14 feet long. The chimes are really really loud when you’re up there – but there’s no bell, it’s all electronic (originally it was silent, the chimes were only added later). The clock mechanisms are still the original though, ticking away nicely.

To the south, (left-hand picture below) you can see the Liverpool Port Building in the foreground, and behind that, the red brick buildings surround Albert Dock. Salthouse Dock (and Oliver) are in the dock to the left of Albert Dock. To the North you can see some of the other docks, which we passed through on our way in. In the background is the new Liverpool2 container port.

It felt obligatory to take the Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey seeing as we’re here. We got on at the pier head (very near to The Royal Liver Building) and were soon whizzed over to Seacombe where there’s a Spaceport attraction. We sadly had to pay the ferryman before we reached the other side.

The spaceport had a lot to see, including a planetarium style cinema short film exploring the possibilities of alien life (not little green men, more little green amoeba!).

I love stuff about space, but even better they also had a Star Wars exhibit, with lots of items from an anonymous private collector.

We then went for lunch at the cafe. Having paid, we then found out we had a 20 minute wait – and the ferry was due to depart in 25 minutes. Luckily, they were able to do a ‘takeaway’, so we took our lunches with us and finished them on the ferry! The next stop was at Woodside, where there’s a U-boat exhibition.

The U-boat was recovered from the seabed, and transported over to Liverpool. It was too big for the largest crane there to handle, but they made some cross-section cuts to split it into smaller pieces, and now you can look through each cross section. Obviously it’s a bit too rusty and fragile to actually walk in, so it seems a good way of letting people see most of it.

Sarah’s uncle Keith used to work on submarines. It looks awfully cramped, and the galley was tiny. I hope his was a bit bigger than this one!

After catching the ferry back to the pier head where we started, we enjoyed a walk back to Oliver around the docks. There’s a lovely looking bakery in Albert dock – I expect you’ll hear more about it in a day or two!!

We then met up with Janet from Pool of Life dragon boat team, who we first met when she joined us for the very first paddle at Oxford Paddlers for Life. She was out on the docks dragon boating with Amathus this evening. We were invited to join in, but the weather wasn’t looking great and we were both quite tired from our adventures, so we settled for taking some photos of them instead 🙂 Janet is at the back of the red boat in the blue T-shirt.

Day 58 – Am I Toby’s Long Haired Lover From Liverpool?

We had an enforced rest this morning with our passage booked in to Liverpool Docks for 1pm. Toby walked to Tesco and picked up a fluffy coffee, and I swept the roof, we both passed the time with the other boaters. We cast off at 11.30 for the short trip to the locks. We weren’t long underway when a dutch barge came past us, he was single handed and had left the docks in the morning.

As we approached the lock flight, the towers of Liverpool could be seen in the distance.

The weed is quite something on this stretch. All three chaps were down the weed hatch clearing the debris before entering the locks.

There were five vlockies (volunteer lock keepers) on duty who helped us all down the flight of four locks. We paid in chocolate brownies which were well received.

After the four locks, one of the vlockies, Stuart, hopped aboard to the next lock, it was like having our own private tour guide. We passed the huge Tobacco Warehouse which is being redeveloped and turned into apartments. It’s the world’s largest brick building, taking some 27 million bricks to build it.

We cruised past the Three Graces – the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building.

We worked our way through the various docks, with me getting my left turns and right turns in a bit of a pickle – good job Toby was chief navigator!

We entered Albert Docks and the huge red brick buildings, then a left turn into Salthouse Basin and the sight of the moored narrowboats – we made it.

We had a booked pontoon (S5). Toby did well reversing us in, I was just pleased there was a boat on the other pontoon as I had visions of stepping off the boat and ending up in the water.

The boat already moored next to us has gone a little over the top with the fenders, I counted 27 along one side. To say he was a little tetchy as we were coming alongside is an understatement.

Toby managed to get the very stuck diesel filter loose using the new tool, we also had a back up plan and a gadget from one of the other boaters. Filling the water tank wasn’t quite so easy as the taps are only every third pontoon, so we had to connect two hoses which worked well. I think that’s one thing I really like about the boating community, everyone helps each other – we paid in kindness with some of Toby’s beer.

Day 57 – Swinging Around

We left at the agreed time of 8.30 with Neil, Christine and woofy Layla on nb Comfortably Numb. There was some urgency today, as we had 9 swing bridges, one of which is only open from 9.30 to 2.30pm and then after 6pm.

We had a good system with each boat taking it in turns to do the swing bridges. Each one was different, some were manually operated, some were completely electric and one half and half. I had the luck of the half and half, I turned my key and the alarms started and the barriers dropped. At that point I’m expecting the swing bridge to open (with a queue of cars on both sides). Nothing happens, I look at Toby on Oliver and say it’s not working, he looks back at me as if to say ‘what do you expect me to do?’, a window then opens fro the house next to the bridge, and a chappie sticks his head out and says ‘it’s a manual lift love, you’ll need to push it’ !!

I just loved these frogs on the roof of a house extension.

As our journey continued, the lilies seem to guide us with a route just big enough for a narrowboat. The conurbations increased, with lots of folk out walking, cycling and enjoying the towpath.

Toby on Oliver, and Neil and Christine on Comfortably Numb waiting in formation for the swing bridge to open.

We moored up at 1.45 at Litherland moorings. There was only one space left so we breasted up. There was a huge Tesco just behind us, so a quick lunch and then it was playtime in the supermarket! We both felt like foreigners with the scouser accent all around us. £80 later (including two tubs of ice cream) and we were back on board.

Tomorrow we head in to Liverpool and through the various docks docks mooring in Salthouse Docks. Toby has read up on the skippers guide, we’re so looking forward to tomorrow.

Day 56 – Tired and Grumpy

We woke up tired after all the excitement of yesterday’s crossing – you can probably tell from the look on our faces!

We weren’t grumpy, but the long line of fishermen having a competition weren’t best pleased when not one but two narrowboats came past. It was even better when a large group on a sponsored bike ride came along – one cyclist was nearly taken out as the fisherman pulled his pole in to avoid us, without looking to see what was coming behind him!

We’d arranged yesterday to go up the locks and through the swing bridges with Neil and Christine on Comfortably Numb. We started off a bit before them, so we had time to do a pump out, fill up with diesel, and replace a gas cylinder. After that, we met up at the first lock and soon got through the flight up the Rufford arm. Some of the side paddles have a corkscrew-type mechanism which is a bit unusual.

We got through the locks without any problems, there were no signs of anybody else moving other than us until we reached the main branch of the Leeds and Liverpool. The sky was gradually brightening, and the drizzle soon gave way to sunshine.

We started looking for somewhere to stop and have some lunch, but everywhere was either full or not so appealing, so we ended up having lunch on the go and eventually found a lovely spot by bridge 27, next to a garden with a jasmine hedge that smells wonderful!

As we were moored up in good time, it was time for some jobs. There’s been a funny smell around the pantry for ages but it’s slowly got worse, so enough was enough! Out came the chest of drawers and it was eventually tracked down to some old waste-water pipes from a dishwasher, long since removed. I gave those a good clean out and taped up the ends; fingers crossed that’s nailed it.

Sarah did some washing and made some chocolate brownies – which gave me a rather nicer job to do, namely cleaning the bowl and spatula. Well someone had to do it!

Day 55 – Ribble-Tastic

WARNING ALERT – Lots of photos….we took over 140 today!

Today was our return journey on the Ribble Link. Our passage was booked for 9.21 with four other boats (three narrow boats – nb Silver Fox, nb Comfortably Numb and nb Knightlow, and one yoghurt pot, Breeze). As we were moored at the front, we went in the locks first with nb Comfortably Numb – with Toby making a text book reverse maneuver into the lock.

The first three locks were a staircase, in any other picture you would think we’re going up as the boats are facing forward, when in fact we’re going down the locks.

Between the locks, the passage can be quite narrow, I stayed at the bow on lookout.

After the last lock, we continued on Savick Brook which was much lower than on our upward journey, but with a rising tide; we were close to running aground a few times. You can see the tide marks on the banks and the difference. Maybe going first wasn’t such a good idea??

We were held on the pontoon ahead of the sea lock until 12.45. Just enough time for some soup and bread and a cuppa. All the boats cast off and this time we were the last. This did play to our advantage, as there is a right turn on to the River Ribble and the oncoming tide, we saw the first boat get pushed back quite a long way. When it was our turn, it was a case of ‘pedal to the metal’ and floor it! Toby did a grand job making the turn.

The view after the turn is quite dramatic, with such a wide expanse of water and low lying ground. It was such fun following the other boats, it’s not often you follow in convoy on a narrowboat.

The video sums up the day for me, I’ve had such a fun day and something I won’t forget.

We continued along the River Ribble looking out for our marker called Asland Lamp which guards the sand bank. We heard a few grumblings from the engine bay which was of some concern, once we rounded Asland Lamp and on to the River Douglas, they disappeared – phew, it must have been the convergence of the currents under the boat.

After the turn on to the River Douglas, the river seemed more gentle and the bank started to creep back in.

We soon reached the sea lock at Tarleton and back on the Leeds and Liverpool canal. Toby exchanged contact details with the other boaters, and his phone hasn’t stopped pinging all evening, I don’t think he can cope with all the replies! We’ve exchanged photos, sadly the ones received were all taken on a phone so the zoom hasn’t worked so well.

Day 54 – Burn Out

We made a relatively early get-away this morning, hoping to get to the moorings for the Ribble Link before everyone else filled up the places. There’s only room in the basin for a couple of boats, and the next nearest moorings have room for another couple, but up to 6 boats can be going down at once.

We didn’t fancy stopping in the danger zone either! This is due to a nearby factory where they manufacture the fuel rods for nuclear power stations. I’m not convinced hiding inside the boat would help us much if there was a problem with it!

We saw Colin from Iteldoo4me again when we were moored at Bilsborrow, and he’d warned us that a boat had recently been set on fire at the moorings before the Ribble Link. It’s now sunk and mostly below water, but there was room behind it for us to get in too. Another burnt out hull has been lifted out and left alongside another bridge further back. Sounds like an arsonist is on the loose, yikes!

We moored up in the remaining space and then I walked up to the basin to see if there was space for us there. All the mooorings were full, but after chatting with the people there they told me they’d be moving off in an hour or two, after their lunch.

We made the most of the time by having lunch and washing down one side of Oliver, and then once the other boats had left the basin we took their place and got the roof and other side washed down too.

We met Ben in the basin, it’s his 3rd day onboard his boat, and tomorrow he’s doing the Ribble Link single-handed in his cruiser (aka yoghurt pot). Very brave! There were also a few of the locals hanging out with their beer cans. They were very friendly and we shared some of Mum’s lovely cookies with them – which went down a treat. Sarah thought they might help soak up some of the booze!

It’s just after 5pm and no more boats have turned up, much to my surprise. We passed the boats ‘Silver Fox’ and ‘Comfortably Numb’ on our way down, who we both believe are doing the link with us tomorrow, so that’s at least four of us.

Tomorrow will see us back on the Leeds and Liverpool. It’ll be sad to say goodbye to the Lancaster as it’s been great fun, but we’re looking forward to new pastures and new adventures as we head for Liverpool.

Day 53 – A Bump To The Head

After yesterday’s unplanned stop and mooring (we were a good two foot away from the bank), we were awoken to passing boats and the boat rocking in the silt. We were soon on our way to blue skies and sunshine.

The scenery still offered views of the rolling hills. Toby was steering on a left hand bend, with a fat boat (widebeam) approaching and no signs of slowing down. The usual practice is for both boats to go into reverse, to slow down and minimise any impact. The fat boat thought he could just put it in to full throttle and, cut the corner and miss us (was he new to boating, or just a class 1 muppet?). Toby was in reverse, so when the fat boat smacked us, he only pushed us further back. I ran up to the front and gave the chap a few choice words, he said he wasn’t going that fast – he was at this time across the canal and in the bushes….karma maybe??

We stopped at Garstang for a few supplies at Sainsbury’s, a few supplies always turns in to more than a few supplies (as in goodies). Garstang has it’s annual scarecrow festival this weekend, the preparations are well under way.

A quick lunch and then we were on our way again. I really, really , really don’t like strangers taking pics of me, so Toby has shown me a new tactic, holding the guidebook up to disturb the shot.

We passed this interesting building by the railway line, no signage, and no reference to it in the guide books or google maps, any ideas?

We reached Bilsborrow, our resting place for the night. A yoghurt pot had come adrift before our mooring – at first we thought it must be a very sharp bend in the canal. Toby got off with the mallet and pegged it back in to place. That’s the third one in a week.

We had a wander round, and found the pub selling local Wallings ice cream, on such a lovely day, it would be just wrong to not indulge. I went for a rum and raisin waffle cone, and Toby did the double with chocolate and toffee crunch waffle cone, funnily enough, he didn’t want much dinner!

Day 52 – Too Tyred To Continue

Fresh bread baked, and it was time to explore the delights of the Port of Lancaster Smokehouse. We purchased some smoked fish, cheese and chicken to enjoy over the next week, oh and a pot of Morecambe Bay Potted Shrimps for lunch.

The sea lock was in use today with one boat arriving from Brittany and three boats going out, one for sea trials.

We were soon on our way, back up the six locks. The guide book states you have to leave all the locks empty, so we expected to find the locks empty, but no they were all full. The greasy monkey lock keeper (very nice chap, but so called as he was a little too keen with the grease pot and we’ve all ended up with greasy hands) was working at the second lock so I thought I’d ask, he said the book is incorrect, and you leave the lock as you find it, that saved us having to empty all the locks.

I’ve yet to see a Heron catch anything, they’re always on the look out.

We finished the locks and looked for a mooring, with the intention of having lunch and cleaning Oliver. Something caught round the prop and we lost all steerage, having to use the pole to push us to the bank. A lovely lunch of fresh bread and potted Morecambe shrimps, with me doing the washing up and Toby dealing with the prop. Five mins later, Toby returns to say we may be here a while, as we have a motorbike tyre with a metal edge incasing the prop. We used cutters, a junior hacksaw, a saw, a penknife, a dremmel and even my best sewing scissors, but we just couldn’t get through the metal strip.

By 2.30 we decided to call RCR (The AA of the canals), by 6pm Paul arrived, he was well over 6 foot and it was quite a squeeze in the engine bay. We tied a rope round the tyre and fed it under the boat to the bank, while Toby and I pulled, Paul cut a bit more and eased it over the rudder. After an hour it was free to cheers from the bank side.

Toby had great pleasure in throwing the tyre as far out as possible. Phew – all sorted, not quite what we had planned for today, but it worked out in the end.

Day 51 – Gusty Glasson

We waived goodbye to Lancaster, and headed south. Magnet fishing has really taken off in the last year, with someone finding a wheelchair – I guess the question is, was there a body attached when it went in??

The scenery soon changed from the city to the cutting, with straight stretches in the shade of the trees.

A planned water stop and pump out at Galgate. When we first got the boat, I wasn’t really up for the self pumpout, it does whiff a bit, but after seeing your own waste pass through the clear plastic connector pipe as many times as we have, I’m kinda over it! The water tank filled faster than expected and was overflowing. Rather than waste the water by running the tap, we went over to the towpath side of the canal, and Toby indulged in one of the longest boat showers EVER!

We turned on to the Glasson Arm, and the wind was noticeable. The two pictures below show both sides of the bridge ahead of the first lock. Blimey those rack and pinion lock paddles were tough, Toby was desperate for me to steer but with the wind, I didn’t feel confident that Oliver would end up where I wanted!

The lilies lined the banks of the canal, not quite ready to show off their yellow flowers.

The wind made it interesting for me with slightly longer hair than Toby – Toby just looks like a cool dude all the time!

Oliver tied up on the lock landing waiting for the lock to fill.

Toby had concerns that it was too windy to get in to Glasson Basin, and we’d have to moor on the towpath. The wind was blowing in the right direction, and Toby got us in first time – and with the tyres out so no bumping around in the night.

We had a walk around the basin, the River Lune at low tide. We found the Port of Lancaster Smokehouse, but as it was about to close, we decided to head back tomorrow morning – Morecambe potted shrimps may well be on the menu for lunch onboard chez Oliver!