The delayed departure and changed route
Our original plan was to leave Aylesbury on Mon 2nd or Tue 3rd April. With the extra time needed for Hugo's leg to heal, we now plan to depart on Monday 30th April.
Our first destination we hope will be the Middlewich Folk and Boat Festival (FABFest) in the middle weekend of June. Last time, two years ago, we moored at Middlewich Narrowboats, which was a very central location, and all the facilities were at hand.
The plan was to go from there along the Shropshire Union (Middlewich Branch) to get to Ellesmere on the Llangollen Canal, where we have a mission in July.
Originally proposed route in red
Two problems have arisen which mean our plans will need to change.
The first problem is that Middlewich Narrowboats have ceased trading, and their site is awaiting someone to take over the business. So we can’t book a mooring there at the moment. They also had the only elsan facility in Middlewich, and if that is out of action, many boaters attending the festival will have difficulties.
Our mooring last time at Middlewich Narrowboats
The second problem has happened in the last three weeks. A large hole has appeared in the Middlewich branch, and a major section of the bank and towpath have been washed into the River Wheelock below, stranding about twenty boats. The breach is marked on the map below with a red circle. They have closed the waterway for about a mile between the locks either side of the breach, marked with yellow circles. This section is the route we were going to take after the festival., and the closed section accounts for about half the available public moorings in Middlewich.
The location of the breach
The breach from the air (borrowed from Canal and River Trust - see link here
One alternative is to go back south down the Trent and Mersey Canal, and come north again up the Shropshire union. This involves 84 miles, 102 locks, and 52 hours instead of 10 miles, 4 locks and 5 hours by the original route.
Or we could go via the Anderton Boat Lift, the River Weaver and the Manchester Ship Canal and to come in at Ellesmere Port. This would mean 54 miles, 24 locks and 22 hours. Although the shortest alternative, it involves having a certificate of seaworthiness, and paying fees to the Manchester Ship Canal. We would need to get Weston Marsh Lock opened for us, and going into Ellesmere Port we would have to arrange with Canal and River Trust for the Lock to be unpadlocked, and with the local council for the swing bridge to be operated. It is all a bit preplanned, just for seven miles of the Manchester Ship Canal.
The other effect of the breach is that about half of the moorings for Middlewich have been made unavailable. If we can’t moor at the old Middlewich Narrowboats site, then we will take a different route altogether, up the Shropshire Union instead of the Trent, turn right at Barbridge Junction, and go to Aqueduct Marina for a few nights. From there we can go to the festival using a hire car.
So we wait to see what is happening. Meanwhile we have about five weeks before we need to make the decision, which will depend on what is happening at Middlewich Narrowboats.
After further correspondence with Canal and River Trust, I received this reply on 9th April:
"...it is still too early to say at this point whether the (Middlewich Narrowboats) site will be occupied in time for the event.
Unfortunately at the moment we are unable to guarantee anymore elsan facilities for the event.
Due to the work being planned on the Middlewich branch, it is also too early to be able to guarantee moorings due to work being carried out at the time of the event. We will however try to accommodate boats on the T&M and around the Middlewich area.""