Day 81 – No Need for Plan B

We set off at 8am this morning – we knew the forecast was pretty dreadful, but felt it gave us the best chance of a moooring in Chester somewhere close to the train station, ready for Sarah’s journey back to Oxford tomorrow. We were both prepared to have to plough on to Christleton and moor up towards the Cheshire Cat, but luckily plan B was never needed.

I cast off the lines, whilst Sarah made tea, coffee and breakfast smoothies.

The staircase was only a short way away, and as we arrived the gate was opened for us – a CRT boat was heading through and one of the crew had gone ahead to set it up, so we joined with them. Sarah only had to do one paddle so we did well out of it! Going up the staircase the rain absolutely wopped it down – Sarah wisely hid under a bridge, and I resorted to getting the brolly out. We paid in kindness with flapjacks, good job we made some more yesterday.

Luck was with us; someone presumably left before we got there and we had a great space towards the back of the moorings in Chester, away from the pubs and not too close to the road either. So we nipped in quick and tied up, before running below from the rain.

Sarah then went to investigate the Abakhan sewing shop that’s just around the corner from us. Having missed out in Liverpool, she wasn’t going to miss out a second time! Needless to say, she loved it 🙂

Sarah then came back to Oliver and we had lunch on board before walking up to Waitrose for some food shopping. All these nice shops nearby is getting expensive!

In case that wasn’t enough shopping for the day, we then had a little meander around the Chester Rows where there are a lot of nice independent shops, as well as some of the bigger names. Sarah bought some new trousers, as the current ones keep falling down; the healthy eating is certainly working! We then had tea and coffee at The Barista’s – I also had some cake, so might need some new (bigger) trousers myself before too long at this rate!

Of course the weather has cleared up now and then sun even threatens to pop out now and then, but we got in where we wanted so we don’t mind that we got a bit wet earlier.

Day 80 – Moomins

We saw the Moomins today – with a little narrowboat in his hands. Bless.

We also liked the name of this little boat…

We bid farewell to Ellesmere Port, turning out from the basin and up the pair of locks to the top. Someone had left the top paddle open on the top lock, which Sarah only realised some time after opening the bottom paddles to get it ready for me. So we left a little flood behind at the bottom lock, oopsy! The canal at the top is just as full of weed as the basin is, if not more so.

The paddles don’t have the usual ratchet-type mechanisms, instead you just jam a little metal strip in between the cogs to hold them up.

We didn’t go far today, mooring up a couple of miles before Chester basin to avoid the rain forecast for the afternoon. With the afternoon to ourselves, it was time for a few jobs. We made flapjacks (a joint effort), and then Sarah cut my hair.

Typical Shroppie style, the sides are a bit shallow where we moored. After a while we got fed up of leaning to one side, so tried to find a slightly deeper spot further up – with limited success.

We saw a total of 8 boats going the other way today – something of a surprise as we hardly saw a soul when we came down this way. Speaking to the last of them, Chester is full of boats at the moment, so looks like we might be mooring at Christleton tomorrow rather than in the centre unless we get lucky with a boat leaving as we arrive.

Note from Sarah – I am still aboard, but Toby doesn’t take any half decent photos of me…..anyone would think he’s a single hander reading the blog!!!

Day 79 – Compare The Meerkats

With the less than perfect weather forecast, we moved to plan C and paid our £4 to stay in Ellesmere Port another night. This meant we could make use of the better weather and we caught the bus to Chester zoo. What we hadn’t bargained on was everyone doing the same! The place was heaving, but once we were on our way, it soon settled down. Below are a selection of the better photos taken on the day.

Day 78 – Soggy Sightseers

We awoke this morning to more rain, it was quite nice to have an enforced lie in as the museum doesn’t open until 10am. I still can’t get used to being moored next to some big boats. Cuddington is a Weaver packet boat built in 1948, and carried chemicals such as soda ash for ICI down the Weaver and Mersey to Liverpool.

There are a row of Porters cottages decorated for different periods, this is the 1950’s cottage, loving the ducks on the wall.

There was an ice breaker boat on display, these boats didn’t have motors, they were pulled by the horse and rocked side to side. Toby had great fun trying out the simulator and rocking backwards and forwards, I think he looks more like a character from the Michael Jackson Thriller song.

Very little is known about the remains of this wooden boat other than the name Lily and it’s likely to have carried coal with the NVB stamp. It’s unusual in that you can see the nails where the sides of the boat would have been.

We both took a shine to Friendship and the wonderful story of a couple living on the boat for over 50 years delivering coal. It was horsedrawn by Dolly for 40 years until sadly Dolly fell on the ice and into the canal. The owners lived in the small boatman’s cabin.

Lots of steam engines to see too, the boilers reminded us of Crofton Pumping station on the Kennet and Avon canal.

The Gardiner engine is just for you Peter, you speak fondly (and often) of your time there.

Day 77 – Any Port In A Storm

We arrived in Ellesmere Port today. OK, I confess, there’s no storm but it has been raining non-stop since about 9:30 this morning and we were glad to moor up when we got here!

We departed to grey skies and in no time were running alongside the bottom of Chester’s city walls, seeing them today from a very different perspective compared to yesterday. The rusty old bike someone’s pulled out magnet fishing hasn’t endured quite so well as the walls have.

There’s a short 3 lock staircase flight down into the basin at Chester. Sarah checked they were all set correctly and we started our way down. As we entered the second lock, a volunteer lock keeper (aka vlockie) turned up to help – very apologetic that he hadn’t been there to help us through the first lock. We hadn’t expected any help so it was a nice surprise. As with most vlockies, he was paid in flapjack currency. The big gates plus cill of the staircase make me look very small in comparison.

We spied out potential moorings just before Chester for our way back, and were happy to see lots of nice pilings and straight sections so there’s plenty of options for our return leg. The rain then set in, and Sarah and I took turns steering whilst the other went below. I feel a bit guilty that I sat and read the newspaper in my time below, whilst Sarah did all the clothes washing!

We reached Ellesmere Port around lunchtime. You have to pay a small charge to moor in the basin, and there’s not much choice as the only two moorings above the basin look suspiciously like they are in permanent use by two other boats (despite the 48hr mooring limit). The mooring comes with museum entry included too – which makes sense when you realise the basin is all part of the museum! We’re moored just in front of one of the larger boats in their collection. And yes, that is weed in the middle section, not grass!

The carpentry workshop made us think of Sarah’s Dad, Barry, who was a chippy by trade. They had a whole raft of different tools on display, including a rather fine looking hand-cranked drill press. It also had this lovely brass fire extinguisher on the wall.

There’s a good view from the museum, across the locks into the basin, with the Manchester Ship Canal in the middle distance, and the Mersey in the far distance. We’re hoping to see some passing ships on the MSC tomorrow.

Sarah’s been busy plotting the last stages for our adventure; the original plan didn’t take us beyond Birmingham but now I think we’re nearly sorted all the way home – though there are still a few possible variations on how to go through Birmingham! Old Line or New Line? Do we detour down little-used side loops or stick to the main canals? Who knows!? Find out later…

Day 76 – Charming Chester

The weather was lovely this morning, not too hot but not too cold. We said farewell to Neil and Christine and set off, only to reach a huge long line of moored boats to get past at ‘tick over’. It went on far longer than we could show in a photo!

Just a few locks to do today, and they were all doubles. We reached the first just as another boat was about to go down on their own. Despite much tooting on our horn, they allegedly didn’t hear or see us and carried on. By the time we’d caught up they were nearly at the bottom, but they waited for us at the next lock and we went through the rest together.

They are part of the Lymm Cruising Club – we’d met another of their members in the locks yesterday. 16 of then set off from Lymm together on a two-week cruise. We’re not sure how many are still here in Chester, but the moorings are certainly looking pretty full. We managed to fit on the end of a line of boats with our centre and bow lines on rings, but nothing to tie the stern to.

Safely tied up, we had lunch and then walked some of the old city walls.

We then visited the cathedral, which was lovely and cool inside. Sarah lit some candles in memory of family and friends she’s lost.

The cathedral also had a Lego exhibition ‘The Deep’, with more than 80 sea creatures and over 400,000 lego bricks.

We couldn’t resist dressing up, even if it was meant for the kids!

We then walked back through town and back to Oliver. A quick trip to Waitrose (right by the side of the canal) to restock supplies and we’re all set ready for tomorrow.

Day 75 – The M25 Of The Canals

Today was forecast to be one of the hottest days of the year, so why we ended up doing one of our longest days I do not know! We didn’t leave until gone 8am as we needed fuel from Venetian Marina which opens at 9am, it looked to be about an hour away on the map. It was boat after boat after boat with slow progress, it wasn’t all bad news though with two sightings of Kingfishers.

Toby did a great job steering with moored boats and moving boats all at the same time. We did the last of the single locks and then a sharp right turn, Toby doesn’t seem to be looking in the direction he should!

We both felt sorry for the chappies cutting the grass today, all that gear including a helmet and a face mask in this heat.

We had to queue at every lock which somewhat caught us out as we weren’t expecting it (and I hope doesn’t continue for the rest of the summer holidays). At one point there were four boats in the queue for one lock. The castle in the background of the second picture is Beeston Castle, we didn’t get a very good shot so you’ll have to wait until our return journey in a couple of weeks.

Iron Lock (sadly no photos as Toby forgot) has iron sides which are somewhat distorted so the advice is to let one boat in at a time, and with only one paddle working, it was slow progress. I went ahead and helped the other boaters going up and down, it was then our turn. The crew belonging to the boat going up after us decided to have a rest (with windlasses in hand) rather than help out. They don’t seem in a rush here, yet didn’t wait for me to get back on board and pushed us to the wrong side of the canal, forcing us to run aground. It must have been bad because Toby had a pop at them saying that wasn’t the done thing – and it wasn’t a hire boat.

We were slowly roasting and getting hotter and hotter, one more lock to go and it started raining with lightening visible, lucky it soon passed but we weren’t hanging about.

We’d agreed to meet Chris, Neil and Layla from nb Comfortably Numb, we saw a blue boat moored and so I tooted our horn, I then saw a guy on the back and said that’s not Neil! I apologised as I went past and he said your friends are round the bend. We moored up about 3.30 and spent the rest of the afternoon/evening with Pimms and Toby’s home brew putting the canal world to rights.

Day 74 – Dark And Stormy

A fabulous sunset last night, with it being so hot we left the front, back, side and roof hatches open, boy did we get a shock at 1.56am with thunder, lightning and heavy rain. It was a mad dash to close everything up. Toby much prefers these dark and stormys.

Toby doesn’t cope very well in the heat and struggled yesterday, so we cast off much earlier than usual at 7.15 to try and avoid the worst of the heat; I steered while Toby made breakfast. We passed this huge industrial site owned by TATA Chemical, it was quite something.

The canal soon narrowed with lots of blind bends to keep Toby on his toes. There were a few flashes, with great views.

This has to be the boat with the most solar panels, the owner said he’s not had to charge his battery from the engine once this year.

Middlewich and our first locks for what seems like an age (Liverpool, some nine days ago). Vlockies helped on site and we paid in kindness with flapjacks, it did the trick as one of the vlockies stayed with us for all three locks – or maybe he felt sorry for me, as he asked me about the sleeve on my arm, his parting shot was ‘a day over ground is better than a day underground’ thanks for that!

We passed the Middlewich breach repair, this stretch was out of action from March to December last year, and cost some £3m to repair. That’s somewhat different to a breach many years ago at The Lion Salt Works which was repaired in two weeks!

The countryside views and the blue skies have been wonderful today and have lifted my spirits. I was feeling a little flat the last day or so thinking that we’d done all the funky bits, how wrong could I be.

We found a perfect shady spot under a big tree, it required pins – these big long pins – and boy did I whack them in!

Toby sat out in the shade with a glass of Pimms and his kindle, he’s much more chilled today.

It was also ‘bone juice day’ and my three monthly injection in my tummy to strengthen by bones. I’ve been looking at the box in the fridge since we started, so it’s good to get it over and done with. Toby was very gentle, I’m hoping there is a bit less belly fat now to find a spot.

Day 73 – The Only Way Is Up

It was back up the lift today, but first of all we wanted to explore as far as we could downstream. We left Northwich at about 8am, went passed the boat lift and reached Saltersford lock in good time. Here we had to do an about turn, as the lock is closed for some significant repairs, and then return back towards the lift.

On the way back we passed one of the moorings, and were surprised to see a bull had made its way from the field onto the bank! ‘No way I’d get off there!’, said Sarah.

Bulls aside, the river was lovely and tranquil in the morning sunshine; I could maybe have been tempted into going for a swim if we’d been lingering longer.

We were booked onto the lift for 10:45, but got there at about 9:15 just as another boat was going up on its own. I thought maybe we could join them, but was told it wasn’t possible, so we waited for our slot and nattered with the other waiting boaters. Well, Sarah nattered, I hid inside in the shade!

Unlike our trip down on the lift, there were boats in the other caisson this time too – it was a bit surreal as we passed, them going down as we went up. Sarah did all the helming in and out of the lift, whilst I sat back and enjoyed the ride.

Back on the Trent & Mersey canal, we were only going for 10 minutes before we stopped to fill up the water tank and change the water filter. There was a pump-out there too, but it was out of order. Whilst we were filling the water, a CRT repair guy came along to fix the blockage with the pump-out. ‘You can test it on our boat if you like?!’, said Sarah cheekily. ‘Sure, no problem!’ came the response – so we got a free pump-out. We weren’t even half full, but never say no to a freebie! Well not quite a freebie, he got a home-made flapjack for his efforts.

Water tank full and poo tank empty, we then motored the short hop up to the old Lion Salt Works. We only just squeezed in between two other boats – it seems really busy here but we suspect a lot of the boats haven’t moved for some time; we didn’t see any mooring time restrictions either.

The salt works were well worth the visit, and we timed it perfectly for one of their two daily guided tours which was a spot of luck. The salt was extracted from local brine streams (mostly by pumping the water up from underground, though there are some salt springs in the area too). The brine, which is eight times more concentrated than sea water, is then boiled in massive iron salt pans and the salt crystals scraped up and dried out.

After the tour we had a drink at the cafe, and then walked back to Oliver. I had some ice cream and Sarah had a lolly to cool off from the heat. I fixed a dodgy light switch for the pantry and Sarah cooked some burgers for dinner, which we had with some salad.

Blog nearly done and it’s starting to cool down slightly. We’re sat out in the shade in the front cratch to make the most of any breeze we can get!

Day 72 – Messing About On The River

The forecast today was hot, hot, hot! This is the view of our mooring for last night, we were moored on the right hand side.

One low swing bridge which we fitted under no problem, the same can’t be said for the other boat who were waiting for the lockies to open the swing bridge.

There are a number of salt mines in this area, it made me think of the wild west era, it certainly didn’t look like a modern bit of kit.

Within an hour we had reached the navigable end and ‘The Flashes’, we were told by all the lockies and the guide books not to proceed any further as there are a number of sandbanks, and as it’s not CRT waters, you’re on your own if you get stuck!

Two locks today, both manned. We went through with the same pair of boats as yesterday. It was good fun steering, as neither of the other ladies on board the boats would steer in a lock. This is me giving a thumbs up thank you to the lockies – who we also fed with homemade flapjacks.

Toby seems to like this picture so it’s gone in, I’ve no idea what I’m looking at!

We reached Northwich by lunchtime, the pukka visitor moorings where all full, so we turned and moored on the offside, a better mooring in the end as the buildings have blocked the sun and kept the boat and us cool. We opened the side hatch and we heard a quack quack and then a slightly higher pitched quack quack, how can you not feed a duckling with those hopeful eyes.

Toby wasn’t feeling so good (another headache/possibly migraine), so he stayed on board while I went for a wander. I was drawn to this shoe shop as they sold fitflops (no, not flipflops), although I was quite taken by these shoes although I’d never wear them, blimey I couldn’t even stand up in them! The pair on the right remind me of watermelons, Toby thinks more ladybird……just shows I’m always thinking about food!

Toby’s afternoon sleep and migraine medication seemed to have done the trick, so we’re off to see The Lion King at the cinema across the river. We’ve booked an evening viewing so hopefully no little ones kicking the back of the chair.