Monday 18th August
Nantwich to Bridge 4 (Middlewich arm)
We took a bus into Nantwich bus station, and found the pet shop. They didn’t have any suitable cat litter trays. We wandered round the charity shops looking for a vase. We visited the ancient sandstone church and went to Morrisons. We looked for another pet shop, but found it had closed.
St Mary’s Church at Nantwich
As we were looking at more charity shops, we spotted a bus, so we seized the moment and hopped on. We took the long ramp back up to the embankment as we had our shopping trolley.
We set off to turn round, and we passed Gospel Belle, where Peter and Lin were having lunch with Roger and Mirjana. We went on half a mile to the winding hole, and returned again, with more waves and greetings as we went past.
We paused at Nantwich Marina for fuel, but forgot to refill our 5L can. Next time.
At the facilities block there was a queue for water, so we emptied our cassettes and rubbish and moved on.
Heading north again, we passed the entrance to the Llangollen, and there were no boats moving up or down the locks. When we arrived at Barbridge Junction, we turned the boat round so that we could get the bows near the water tap. We only have one hose. If we had two we could reach to the bows from the stern. The mooring points are a bit sparse at this tap, so we tied on to a post and a railing. There was one boat before us, and one after us.
The water point at Barbridge Junction
We reversed out from the water tap to the junction and went into the Middlewich Arm past Midway Boats. We stopped for the day just past bridge 4 where there was some piling. James walked up to the lock to see who was there. There are rings further up provided once again by the Shropshire Union Canal Society. There was no one we knew, but there were lots of dogs, so it was just as well we had stayed back a little.
0 locks, 6 miles, 2hr25
Tuesday 19th August
Bridge 4 to Middlewich
It was wet to start with, and we had a bit of a lie in. Fiery Elias came past, with Audrey Boston at the helm. We exchanged a few greetings before she moved on.
Eventually the sun came out. It was midday before we set off.
It seemed that most boats were coming towards us, so we didn’t have to wait at locks. We saw a large fox in a field. We see a lot of urban foxes these days, but the ones in the countryside always seem to be in better condition. We also saw a kingfisher.
Then, looking down from Minshull Lock, we could see something moving on the towpath, but couldn’t make out what it was. When the boat came out of the lock there was nowhere for James to get on, so he walked on to the next bridge. When he drew near to the moving object on the path, it turned out to be about six small piglets that had found a way through the hedge and were rummaging in the grass.
Something moving on the path
Piglets near Minshull Lock
We stopped at Middlewich, between bridges 28 and 29. James went for a short walk to see who else was there, and to find which was the best route to the shops. There was a lovely golden sun going down behind the bridge behind us.
A golden evening at Middlewich
Hugo in “Let’s Play” mood
3 locks, 8 miles, 3hr40
Wednesday 20th August
Middlewich to Paddy’s Wood before Bridge 157
We went shopping in Middlewich, and found an extraordinary rambling shop, which seemed to consist of about three houses knocked together with lots of small rooms. They sold greetings cards, pictures, sweets and small items of furniture and antiques. We found one room full of old bottles, jugs, mugs and pots. We chose a small brown pottery pot to use as a vase.
Further up we found Lidl, and did most of our shopping there. We also bought a new hose – the new expanding sort. The rest of the shopping was at Tesco, before returning to the boat. Bridge 29 was not a clever place to join the towpath with our trolley, as there was a stile and then some steps.
Sense of humour at Wardle Lock
We went through Wardle Lock and then turned right onto the Trent and Mersey, going immediately into Kings Lock.
Split bridge at Wardle Lock
We tied temporarily onto the lock bollards above King’s Lock while Hazel went to buy some toilet blue from Kings Lock Chandlery. We also bought some fish and chips and consumed them before moving off.
For the first two miles heading south from Middlewich, the canal is accompanied by a busy main road (A533). There is also a large salt factory. Then road heads into Sandbach, while the canal skirts round to the south.
Salt Factory at Middlewich
We had heard about a problem with one of the locks soon after Wheelock, with long queues of boats waiting, so we wanted to stop before then as we thought the Wheelock moorings would be full.
There is a short section of countryside marked as Paddy’s Wood, where we have stopped before, and thankfully there was space so we moored up. Hugo was very happy to be exploring the hedge. He caught two mice.
Another boat, 3 no trumps, arrived from the opposite direction, and James helped them tie up. They said they hadn’t been able to find a mooring at Wheelock.
Later at about 9pm, a boat went past in the dark, heading for Wheelock. Where they stopped we never found out.
6 locks, 5 miles, 2 mice, 3hr00
Thursday 21st August
Paddy’s Wood to Pierpoint locks
We stopped here on the delivery voyage of our first boat in 1997, and James went for a short walk in the morning. Some guy was shooting the wildlife, and suddenly lots of lead shot fell all around where James was on the towpath!
There was no repeat this morning, and we headed into Wheelock to use the facilities. The sign was missing from the elsan point, but James remembered where it was from previous occasions.
Hazel went to the large pet food store nearby, and bought a new litter tray. The flap on the old one has broken, and we have been unable to get a replacement flap. The old litter tray is obsolete, so we have carefully taken all the measurements of the space into which it needs to fit. We tried the new one, and although it is not such good quality, it fits.
We then went through locks 66 and 65, and joined a line of waiting boats. A CRT man told us they had fixed the leaking lock, but they were now waiting for the pound to fill before any boats could go through.
After an hour we were able to move on again. The boat in front had no name that we could see, but the skipper was a chap called Dave, who moves boats for a living. He was towing a small dinghy. The boat behind was called Frances, and was 29ft long. Eventually they managed to share a lock with Dave. We gave a BCF leaflet and “How do Locks work?” to Dave.
When Frances had moved past us to share with Dave, the boat behind was called Fairest Lady.
These locks were originally all in pairs. Now many of the second locks have been abandoned, so only one lock is working. This causes bottlenecks, because where there are pairs of locks, it is much quicker, but then there is a queue for a single lock.
We passed under the deafening M6, and stopped above the Pierpoint locks 56 and 55, where the noise was less.
Paired locks by the M6, with Dave’s boat on the left
12locks, 4 miles, 3hr50
Friday 22nd August
Pierpoint locks to Kidsgrove
It was colder today, and there were intermittent showers. We set off once more through more of the paired locks. These are sometimes known as heartbreak hill.
We met a lady called Ruth who knows David and Carole Brennand.
We noticed the water getting progressively redder, due to the iron content from the Harecastle Tunnel ahead.
Red water on Heartbreak Hill
We weren’t in a line of boats today. When we had passed Church Lawton and were in lock 46, we saw people moving around on lock 47, so we left our lock open, assuming there was a boat coming down. It turned out it was a volunteer who set the lock for us. Dave from yesterday was also there helping. He said he had read the leaflet, and liked the part where Jesus showed us how to care for one another.
We stopped between locks 42 and 41, where there is a secluded section, with trees and bushes for Hugo. We walked to Tesco and back.
James had a search online for a church for Sunday morning. When we had the mission in Stoke in 2005, it was difficult to find a church within range on the canal. The trouble is that Stoke is made up of five towns, and the canal goes between them, and not through the centre of any of them.
The Swan Bank Methodist in Burslem was one option, but it is nearly a mile walk from Longport, and we had heard stories about bored youths at the mooring at Longport. There is one in the BCF church directory in Hanley, called Hanley Life Changing Ministries. Looking at the website, the latest entry on their blog was in 2011, and there were no events listed. We tried sending them an email, but it was undelivered. Their phone number was unavailable, so we guess they have gone away.
Then we tried searching for certain types of churches, and New Frontiers came up with a church called Grace Church, who meet in a warehouse in an industrial park, not far from the Etruria Bone and Flint museum, at the junction of the Trent and Mersey with the Caldon Canal. We’ll go there.
12 locks, 4 miles, 2hr15
Saturday 23rd August
Kidsgrove to Etruria
It was raining to start with, but then it stopped and the sun came out. Two boats went past as we were putting our hood down, One of which was called Awesome Wonder. James does not need much of a prompt to start him on a song, and for the rest of the morning he was humming “Then sings my soul…”
The final lock before Harecastle Tunnel is a pair, and two boats were coming down so we didn’t have to set the lock. However, the rain started again, so the hood went up again.
Just round the corner was the tunnel, and boats were coming out of it as we arrived. There was a CRT man who was trying to give James a leaflet on health and safety while he was trying to steer Gabriel out of the way of an oncoming sideways hire boat. We have been through this tunnel six times before, but still he had to go through the list of “no smoking”, “no naked flames”, etc.
We never did tie up – we lowered our pram hood and went straight in, third in a line of five. We never had time to look at the leaflet until after we emerged at the other end.
Into the tunnel
Awesome Wonder was first, and seemed to be going very slowly. If you go too slowly, you lose steerage and get sucked in to the sides, so it was a frustrating journey, taking over 45 minutes, instead of the 35 minutes recorded last time. The tunnel is two miles long.
At the other end we put up the pram hood again as the rain was coming down hard.
It is nearly four miles through Stoke to the junction with the Caldon Canal, past fascinating industrial scenery, with bottle kilns and old warehouses and factories. We paused at the facilities to fill the water tank and empty the rubbish and cassettes, before tying onto mooring rings in the small park there by the footbridge, where we moored for the Mission to the Heart in 2005.
Moored by Etruria Industrial Museum
We lit the coal fire to take the chill and damp out of the boat. A boat called Paws for Thought moored in front of us.
1 lock, 6 miles, 1 tunnel, 2hr40
Sunday 24th August
Etruria to Westport
We walked towards Hanley and found Grace Church, in a warehouse. They are a very young church, mostly in their twenties and thirties, with young children. We had a warm welcome. The worship was ably led by Jez, who played guitar, and thumped a bass drum with a foot pedal. There was also a keyboard player and a girl singer, who could have done with being turned up a little. The talk was based on psalm 73.
Jez leading the worship
The church was not there when we had our Mission to the Heart here in 2005. We might have been able to work with them as they have an outreach aspect, with Alpha courses and a food bank.
We walked up the hill into Hanley and explored the shops, before returning via Tesco to the boat. We hadn’t found anywhere for lunch, so we moved the boat back to the Toby Carvery where we had a very nice meal at about 3pm.
We then moved further back to Westport Lake where we plan to sit out the wet day that is forecast for tomorrow. There is also a folk event every Monday at the Packhorse Inn, entitled “The Full English”. Not quite sure what that involves, or if we should take our instruments and participate, or just go along to listen.
Westport Lake moorings
Next week we plan to go up the Caldon Canal and through the very low Froghall Tunnel. Our last boat was too high. Then possibly the Leek Canal, probably returning for church here again, before going south the following week for the BBQ weekend at the Taft near Rugeley. The speed of travel will largely depend on the weather.