Thursday, 21 July 2016

Wigan to Riley Green

Sun 17th July  Wigan

We walked back down the locks past Trencherfield Mill, and found the church we were looking for: Today’s Community Church.  They have a large modern warehouse, and they are building a 1000 seater building at the back, for church and community use. Apparently Wigan does not have any venues of this size.

Today’s Community Church

We had a warm welcome from a guy called Robbie who introduced us around.  The worship was modern, in a performance style, with coloured lights and a smoke machine. There were some good songs, with one in particular from Hillsongs: “Everything’s changed and I will never be without you”. There is a link here

Worship band

There was a wide range of ages, with kids work going on, Alpha courses, home groups etc.  We couldn’t find any evidence of open air outreach happening.

We went to Trencherfield Mill which is only open on Sundays, and saw the largest working steam engine in the world still in its original setting. Sadly it was not in steam, as it costs a lot to fire it up.  The engine drives a huge pulley wheel which had 54 ropes round it, operating at 68rpm, driving shafts on every floor, from which the spinning machines were operated. This huge mill converted cotton into thread. Bales of cotton were imported via Liverpool, and the cotton thread was sent by barge to places like Manchester to be woven into cotton fabric.

The mill engine

The big rope pulley wheel

Spinning machine

We then found Aldi and ASDA, where we had lunch, and we stocked up on a few things, getting a taxi back to the boat.

James went for a walk to find a boat to share locks with tomorrow, and found two wide beams (Maggie D and Moonshine) and a narrowboat (Blossom) all moored together. We arranged a time of 0800.

Moored by the pipe bridge

No rat shooting tonight. It was quiet.  No boating today.

Mon 18th July  Wigan to Haigh Hall Park

We saw activity on the lock behind us, so we set off to get the locks ready, not knowing whether it would a wide beam or narrow boat that appeared first.

The first lock was ready and open. James went ahead and took up paddle for the second one.  The first boat was Moonshine, one of the wide beams.  We suggested they went ahead and we would wait for the narrow boat. Sure enough Blossom was next, and we shared with them, and Maggie D brought up the rear.

So our convoy was Moonshine (Lynne and Brian), Blossom (Phil and Steph) with Gabriel, Maggie D (Maggie and Steve).  Strangely, the last time we did the Wigan flight in 2009, going down, Moonshine and Maggie D were in front of us!

Sharing the first lock with Blossom

Blossom, Gabriel, Maggie D

Moonshine had some friends join them, which made the lock work easier. Also a friend of Maggie and Steve’s turned up on a bike and helped them. Even so, James was on his own at times working both sides of the lock.

At one point, Moonshine had just left the lock, and the lock above was still emptying. All the other crew had gone forward to the next lock. James, on his own again, closed the gates and started emptying the lock. When the lock was almost empty the lock above opened to reveal a single narrow boat coming down. If he had known he would have left the gates open. The lady was very cross, but despite there being five people at the next lock with windlasses, including a CRT man, no-one had thought to come down and let James know.  With suitable explanations and apologies peace was restored, but we never want to upset other boaters.

There was a TV crew out and about, flying drones up and down over our heads. It turned out it was the BBC’s One Show, filming a canoeist who was traversing the Pennines.  It is due to be shown on 5th October.

BBC One Show drone

At some point Hazel and Phil discovered they both played ukuleles, so there was a bit of jamming going on in the lock. They probably wanted to get on the One Show.


Blossom had no bow thrusters and was pushed around at times by wash from the locks emptying.

A bow thruster would be useful

The weather was very warm and humid, and frequent glasses of water were needed. The flight took 5 hours and 40 minutes – much too long, particularly as we had plenty of crew. The rent-a-crowd friends were doing their best, but there was not enough co-ordination to get the locks set in advance.

Still locking

Our friends were hoping for lunch at one of the pubs at the top. The Commercial Inn had closed down, and the Kirkless Hall was not serving food on a Monday. We continued after using the facilities, and moored on piling by Haigh Hall Country Park.  Bright Angel was there, and the boat behind us had four cats.  Thankfully we had no scrapping in the night.

Dusk at Haigh Hall

3 miles, 21 locks

Tue 19th July   Haigh Hall to Johnson’s Hillock Locks

It was another very hot day as we made our way in a Northerly direction along what was originally intended as part of the Lancaster Canal. Lovely views, and rural scenery. We were trying to occupy the shady side of the canal where possible.

Lovely views and hills ahead

When we arrived at Adlington, we spotted some off-side visitor moorings in the shade and decided to pause until the heat of the day had passed. We went in search of lunch with decent cider, and found that the White Bear and the Spinners Arms were not serving food. They were both nearly empty.  Next door to the Spinners Arms was an establishment called the Retreat, in a converted church. This was serving food, and was almost full.  We had a very nice meal, but the ciders were all gas so James had an apple juice.

Flowers at Adlington

The Retreat

We went to the Co-op for a few items before returning to the boat. The sun had just started to invade the mooring pontoon, so we moved the boat to piling on the other side, which by now was shady.

Moving across to the shade

It was late afternoon when we decided it was cool enough to move on. We passed Chorley, and went under the A6 and the M61, where we found a boat club and a large mill called Botany Bay. We looked for a mooring soon after but we either had road noise from the motorway and access roads, or we couldn’t get into the side as it was shallow.  We ended up at the foot of Johnson’s Hillock Locks.

An ancient barn

The A6

 Botany Bay

It was still very warm, and Hugo brought us a very inactive vole, which ended up having a burial at “sea”. 

There were three other boats there, so we thought we would probably have a boat to share with the next day.

0 locks, 8 miles

Wed 20th July   Johnson’s Hillock Locks to Withnell Fold

We were woken at 4am by Hugo miaowing. He had brought us another present of a bank vole, initially appearing to be dead, but this time it was pretending, and was very much alive. It managed to squeeze under the doors to our guitar cupboard, where there is hardly room to pass a sheet of paper. James managed to catch it in a plastic tub, and went in his dressing gown to release it back into the wild. He put it down in the grass by the hedge, but instead of running into the hedge, it ran across the tow path and plopped into the canal, swimming strongly out towards the opposite bank.

Hugo’s gift

We went back to bed, very tired.  We rose later than planned, and two boats had already gone up the locks.  James went to speak to the third, and found that he was not going until tomorrow as he was refitting his floor.

Meanwhile Hugo had caught yet another mouse!

We wanted to avoid the forecast thunderstorm, and also avoid the heat of the day.  We also wanted an easy journey through the seven locks, so when we saw two boats emerge from the bottom lock, we decided to go, as the locks would be in our favour.

Our mooring at the foot of Johnson’s Hill Locks

More than a third of the way from Liverpool to Leeds

No-one to share with

It was hot work, and we met two other boats coming down.  When we suddenly had a downpour with hail it was actually quite refreshing.

Fly boat Dee, last seen at Worsley

 Heavy rain and hail

At the Top Lock we used the facilities, and moored on the visitor moorings to visit the pub. We had been told they had a good cider, which turned out to be true – Pheasant Plucker. They also had a pear cider which Hazel tried. It was 7.5% and a pint was quite adequate. We had a meal, which was really very good.  James had a cheese and onion pie with chips, peas and gravy. It doesn’t sound cordon bleu, but everything was excellent. Hazel had spaghetti Bolognese which was also exceptional.

Top Lock

Short Boat Kennet

A lot of swallows

After the meal we decided to go to the visitor moorings at Withnell Fold, so we set off.  We came up behind a pair of connected canoes, and they asked us for a tow as their outboard had packed up. It was the same guy who had recommended the cider at the pub, and the mooring at Withnell Fold.  We towed them through two bridges, where they released themselves. He is going to be at the Blackburn Festival at the weekend.

Canoe give us a tow?

We arrived at Withnell Fold, where there was room for us (just) on the short length of mooring.

There was no TV signal, no phone signal, and no Wi-Fi. Otherwise it was a lovely place, with very overgrown nature trails through thick forests of Himalayan Balsam.

Moored at Withnell Fold

 Withnell Fold Paper Mill (now closed)

7 locks, 2 miles

Thu 21st July  Withnell Fold to Riley Green

Our mooring at Withnell Green

It was a little cooler this morning, for which we were thankful. We walked across the bridge and up the hill to see the old cottages that had been built to serve the mill. There was a reading room and a school, all built by a Methodist mill owner, so no pub then.

Row of houses dated 1834

A back alley

The reading room

As we set off we spotted Triton John moored up. We last saw them on the Trent and Mersey near Anderton, and we followed them through Barnton and Saltersford Tunnels. No-one about today.

Triton John

Under the M65

We arrived at the visitor moorings at Riley green where we stopped for the rest of the day. One of the reasons for moving was because of the lack of signal at Withnell Fold. At Riley green we could get everything we needed, so we finally were able to bring this blog up to date.

 Moored at Riley Green

Next: Into Blackburn for the canal festival, celebrating 200 years of the Leeds and Liverpool.

Liverpool to Wigan

Mon 11th July  Liverpool to Litherland

It was pouring with rain this morning. If we had the choice we would have stayed moored up, but we had a booking so we had to move.  We set the timelapse camera to record the journey, particularly as we knew it would not be easy to take photos when we were soaking wet.  Sadly due to a wrong setting we recorded nothing.

We had been asked to be at Mann Island Lock at 0800, so we departed at 0745 along with four other boats.  We all then began circling round inside Albert Dock, because the barrier into Canning Dock had not been lowered. 

When the passage was clear, we moved round into Canning Dock. We were paired with R-Gem. In front were Chartwell and Rufford.  Again we were milling around because the lock was not ready.  At last the first two went through the lock, and were told to wait for CRT staff at the foot of the Stanley Locks.  Gabriel and R-Gem followed, through the three tunnels, and locking ourselves through the Prince’s Dock Lock.

It was still raining hard with a strong cross wind as we cruised through the dock system, turning right by Victoria Tower. We had been told we could moor up on the pontoons by the Titanic Hotel, but they were too short for a narrow boat, and the wrong height if we straddled two of them. They would have scraped our walls or broken our windows. We moved on into the small tunnel to wait out of the rain behind the first two boats, who, once again, were waiting for CRT staff before they could proceed.

Shelter from the rain, waiting for CRT

When finally we started up the four locks, James was all ready to leap off with a windlass, but was told “You don’t need to do that – we’ll lock you through.”  They didn’t actually have enough staff to lock everyone through so James made himself useful anyway. It was 1055 when we cleared the top lock.

Sharing locks in the rain with R-Gem

Stanley Top Lock

It seemed to us that the whole operation was very over-administered and inefficient.  If they had one person to set the Mann Island Lock and then lower the barrier, they could have another at the Stanley Locks to have them all empty and ready. The boaters could operate the locks themselves instead of waiting for CRT all the time.  In fact they could have boats going down the locks at the same time as boats coming up, which would be far more efficient in saving water.  The maximum number of six each way seems a bit of an overkill as well, because there was plenty of space in Salthouse Dock.  There should be no need to allocate specific berths either. If one is empty, why not use it?  Less admin in the office.

We moved on to Litherland, where we managed to squeeze in front of Chartwell as they kindly made room for us.  We went to Tesco to get some lunch and to stock up. Later James found a Lidl as well and brought back some pizza slices for the evening. More heavy rain later.

Moored at Litherland

Heavy Rain

Maureen and Peter knocked on the boat to say hello again as they returned to Miss Heliotrope fairly late after being out all day.

6 locks, 6 miles, 3 tunnels

Tue 12th July  Litherland to Maghull

We set off early in order to reach Bridge 6 in plenty of time. (0930 to 1030 was the operating window). First we had the new footbridge to swing, which was easy. The difficulty was in retrieving the key again. There is a technique to this – wobbling the handle as you turn the key. It still took a while.

Swing bridge at Litherland

An unusual bird we spotted

We reached Netherton Swing bridge (No 6) at 0845 – 45 minutes to spare we thought. Then a CRT man arrived and opened it for us at 0900, by which time Chartwell was following and bringing up the rear.  We were a little quicker than they were and arrived at Bridge 9 five minutes ahead of them. As we pulled in to the side we felt something land on the propeller, and after some groping around we retrieved a piece of sacking or similar.  By then Chartwell had caught up, the CRT guys were there, and we went through.

Hancock’s Swing bridge no 9

We had said to Chartwell that we would open bridge 10, they could go through first, and we would close it as we were mooring there for lunch. In the event, that is what happened, although Chartwell was a long time coming as they also had something on their propeller.

Chartwell leaving bridge 10

We moored up and went for a walk up the hill at the appropriate time to meet BCF friends John and Helen Lloyd. It was good to catch up with them. We first met them in 2005 during the Mission to the Heart in Nottingham.

John and Helen

After lunch we set off once more through four more swing bridges, mooring in Maghull between Methodist and Bell’s swing bridges, where the towpath is not used so much and it is a bit quieter.

We walked back a short way to the Community Association where Maghull Folk Club meets every Tuesday.  We sang Long Way Down, Antiques, Athenry and Low Bridge. Then we were asked to finish off the evening so we sang Banks of the Ohio.  They were a friendly bunch, with a wide range of talent. A good evening.

Maghull Folk Club

0 locks, 9 miles, 7 swing bridges

Wed 13th July  Maghull to Heaton’s Bridge

A sunny morning after a peaceful night. Bridge 16 had automatic barriers but the bridge needed to be pushed manually, and it was heavy. 2 miles further on we came to Bridge 20, Coxhead’s Swing Bridge, which was held open for us, as three boats were coming the other way.

Bell’s Swing Bridge 16

Coxhead’s Swing Bridge 20

WWII fortified buildings

Downholland Hall was interesting to see, probably Tudor in date. At Heaton’s Bridge we spotted some useful visitor moorings and decided to stop for the night.

Downholland Hall

Just by the bridge there is an unusual two storey World War 2 pill box. On checking online, we discovered a web site that detailed the WW11 defences along the line of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. Apparently these are very well preserved and of historical importance. The web site is here

Moored at Heaton’s Bridge

Sunset at Heaton’s Bridge

Sky on fire

0 locks, 7 miles, 2 swing bridges

Thu 14th June  Heaton’s Bridge to Burscough

Heaton’s Bridge two storey pill box

 Old WWII airfield buildings

It was sunny but breezy today as we left Heaton’s Bridge, intending to go to Burscough, and get a taxi to Martin Mere. As we passed through New Lane Swing Bridge we noticed some visitor moorings and decided to stop there instead, as the moorings in Burscough are not guaranteed. We moored opposite the Farmers Arms.

The Farmers Arms, with remains of fortification

We then realised that we were at the closest point to Martin Mere, and there was a footpath starting from our boat, so we decided to walk. This was a mistake as it was further than we anticipated, and by the time we reached the Wetlands Centre we were tired and hungry. We made straight for the cafe where a thick lentil dahl soup went some way to restore us.

There were about ten hides, and we saw a range of birds including dunlin, redshank, a little egret, green sandpipers, Hooper swans, lapwings, oyster catchers, and a large flock of black tailed godwits.  There was also a rat that had squeezed through impossibly small gaps in a wire cage bird feeder.


Rat in a bird feeder

We had done enough walking so we took a taxi back to the Farmers Arms before cruising the final mile into Burscough where we found a mooring on rings with bushes for Hugo. We went to post Amanda’s birthday card, and just caught the post. We researched breakfast venues for the morning, and Hazel found some wool in a useful shop at the Wharf.

We also spotted some cinnabar caterpillars on some ragwort, the first we have seen this year, and the first since 2014. They used to be really common.

Cinnabar caterpillars

0 locks, 3 miles, 2 swing bridges

Fri 15th July  Burscough to Appley Locks

We went for breakfast at Infusions Cafe and Bistro, where everything was presented very well, and it was popular.  Then Hazel went to Tesco while James moved the boat up to the facilities on the wharf and performed the necessary rites.  Hazel returned with the shopping just as the water tank was full, and we set off hoping to avoid the rain that was forecast.

Burscough Bridge

 Viktoria, which used to work between Liverpool and Wigan

 Chimney for sale, includes house

 Rufford Branch

102 miles to Leeds

We passed R-Gem moored a little further on but didn’t see Stuart and Jane.

Glovers Swing Bridge was fully automatic.

 Another interesting boat:  Mersey

Dutton’s Farm has some odd features. There is a druid type stone circle, and a wooden wigwam frame.


Soon after this we came to Spencer’s Swing Bridge (36). As James put the boat into reverse to let Hazel off with a key, there was a thunk noise and the engine stopped.  Fortunately we able to lasso a bollard, and James had a look in the weed hatch.  The propeller was immoveable, and James couldn’t reach the bottom of the lower blade to feel what was there. It was a job for Bargee Bill’s Prop Cleaner. There was evidently something on the end of the blade, and a few hefty thumps with the device helped to dislodge it. Trying the engine again and putting it in gear finally shifted it. We guess it was a log, as happened once on the Stratford Avon. There the water was clear enough to see it.

Meanwhile two boats had been through the swing bridge and the rain had started.  We went through and moored up a little further on to wait for the rain to pass.

Hugo doesn’t seem to mind the rain and was soon off inspecting the undergrowth. We spotted two lapwings in the field nearby.

After four hours the rain had stopped, so we moved on through Parbold, passing the windmill.

Parbold windmill

Less than 100 miles to Leeds

Light rain began again, but we still had the hood up and we carried on to Appley Locks.  The lock here is very slow to fill. One of the ground paddles does not work, and has a sign saying CRT are aware, dated in 2014!

Appley Lock

Just ninety locks to go

Once through the lock, we reversed into the adjacent lock cut and moored on the lock bollards for the old lock. We had the place to ourselves. James went for a walk later and found some cherries that finally were ripe.

The view from Appley Locks

Reflected trees in the Douglas Valley

Beautiful flower

Old lock bollards at Appley Locks

1 lock, 5 miles, 2 swing bridges

Sat 16th July  Appley Locks to Wigan

We made a leisurely start in pleasant sunshine, and headed up the lovely wooded Douglas valley, passing under the M6 at Dean Locks, and through the village of Crooke. 

Finch Mill Swing Bridge

Dean Locks and the M6

The outskirts of Wigan started as we went through Ell Meadow and Pagefield locks. As we passed Robin Park, and the DW Stadium, we noticed at lot of police, some on horseback.

Into Wigan by the Orwell and Trencherfield Mill

As we came further in to Wigan there were lots of people walking towards the stadium, many wearing blue and white striped shirts. It turned out that Wigan were home to Manchester United today. We moored between locks 86 and 87, and went into town. James bought some more boots, and we found a very nice tapas restaurant for lunch.  By the time we had finished, the football match was over and the town was full of people, and so were the pubs.

When we returned to the boat we found a bit of a party going on at a boat the other side of the canal. Loud music and inebriated conversation.  There was another boat, Bright Angel, who were just about to move up one lock to be ready for the locks in the morning. We decided to share the lock with them as we thought it might be quieter there.

Sharing Lock 86 with Bright Angel

Later, when it was dark, we heard some loud talking by the boat, and on looking out we saw two lads climbing up onto the pipe bridge that crosses the canal behind us. They were armed with guns, and there were more lads on the footbridge ahead of us so we phoned the police.  Frustratingly, the police put us through lots of questions about where we were, what the nearest road was called, what buildings we could see, etc. They should have been able to use the GPS on the phone to pinpoint exactly where we were.  They never did send anyone, but it seemed that the lads were not causing any trouble for us, they were shooting rats in the junk yard behind the wall. We kept Hugo in as he might have got shot.

5 locks, 5 miles, 1 swing bridge

Next: Sunday in Wigan, Monday up the Wigan Flight, heading for the Blackburn Festival next weekend.