Saturday, 29 November 2014

Settling in for Winter

Wednesday saw us moving down the four Locks through Stone. As we exited the last lock there were three work boats waiting to go up, on their way for the planned maintenance work which starts next week, and which has dictated our timetable over the last few weeks.
It was very damp and murky as we entered Aston Marina and we were thankful to get settled on our pier and plugged into the mains power.
Yesterday we caught the bus into Stafford to collect some train tickets we had ordered online and took the oportunity to do some Xmas. shopping. There are some interesting places dotted around the town. We discovered the old court house which is set up with cardboard figures representing the Judge, Jury, and other court officials. Regular readers may remember I talked about the Rugeley poisoner a while back on our travels. He was not tried in this courthouse because it was thought a local jury would be biased so the trial took place at the Old Bailey, however he was returned to Stafford and hanged outside the Jail here in front of a crowd of 25,000 spectators.
There is also a small lockup, where less serious offenders, (drunks probably), were put overnight. Shame it is not still in use!

Monday, 24 November 2014

Weekend in Stone

Hi readers. Not much to report as we have had a quiet weekend in Stone before moving down the locks to our winter mooring in Aston Marina later this week.
 Stone is a fine old market town which retains much of its character with some interesting buildings, including the Joules Stone Ales brewery facing the canal. It was at an inn here where the Trent and Mersey canal was first planned. There are two boatyards here. The one by yard lock claims to be the oldest hire company on the system. The other further up the locks has a fine collection of ex working boats on its moorings. Unfortunately neither of them showed any interest in looking at our generator (built into our boatmans cabin) which failed last Xmas. Why do boatyards claim to do repairs when they clearly want to pick and choose? Even the Vetus agent at Foxton clearly wasn't interested after seeing the job. Still, we've managed so far without it. On a brighter note, the Xmas decorations strung across the cobbled High Street are looking very festive.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Bottles and Pots

On Thursday morning we left Mow Cop behind and made a slow cruise to Hardings Wood junction, turning right and mooring on the rings outside the Harecastle tunnel ready for our passage on friday.
Bright and early the C&RT boys turned up and after a short delay we were waved into the tunnel.  Harecastle tunnel is 1 3/4 miles long and is narrow with very limited headroom. Going south there is no light at the end of the tunnel! As you aproach the end you can hear a roaring noise (This is a big extractor fan which removes the fumes) and two steel doors open letting you out into, hopefully, the sunshine. On this occasion it was murk. The trip through Stoke on Trent is punctuated with the remains of the pottery industry for which it is famous. There are a few factories still in operation and the bottle kilns, now cold and stark, remind you of past glories.
By mid afternoon we had negotiated the five Stoke locks and the rain had started, so as we aproached Trentham lock it was decided to call a halt, and we moored up as the rain turned to a downpour.
Much brighter this morning for the journey into Stone where we are moored close to the town for the weekend.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Old Man of Mow

Yesterday it was time to turn Oakapple to head towards the Harecastle tunnel for our passage through on Friday. After a last walk into Congleton for supplies the Captain cast loose the ropes and attempted to turn the boat in the wide at the wharf. Unfortunately it is not that deep and the stern got onto the bottom and stuck fast. After a lot of forward and reverse, along with shoving with the pole, we were assisted by NB Saphire who threw us a rope and pulled us off. Thanks guys.
Back on our old mooring by the restored railings, we set off this morning to walk up to Mow Cop. It is quite a climb, but is usually worth it for the views from the top. Unfortunately today has been misty but still worth the effort. The ruin on top is a 'folly', built by a local bigwig to use as a summer house. You can see in the pictures the 'Old Man of Mow', (not the one in the hat, that's the Captain) ,  which is a curious rock formation which looks quite lifelike from certain angles. One thing about climbing up these places, it's so much quicker coming down and we now have our feet up with a cup of tea. Ahhh!

Monday, 17 November 2014

Off to the Hall

It is a lovely mooring by the restored railings, with fine views across the fields full of cows. Only thing is; they can be noisy b.........d's. Still, it is the countryside. On Sunday we set off across the fields to Little Morton Hall. I must confess to being nervous of the cows and lagged behind somewhat, but the Captain  kept chivying me along  and we soon reached the hall. Good job we wore our wellies as it was a tad sticky in places. Changing our shoes at the entrance we crossed the moat and had a guided tour of the fantastic Tudor  hall with it's courtyard and black and white timbers. The long gallery has a floor that goes up and down like waves, due to subsidence over the centuries.
After making our way back past the cows we settled down to a Sunday lunch, (cooked by yours truly), and watched the 'strictly results'.
This morning we had a slow chug into Congleton and moored on the wharf. After a gentle stroll down the hill into town we found ourselves in 'Spoons' where I am writing this blog. This pub was the local bank. One part used to be the strong room and has a vaulted iron ceiling, presumably to stop thieves breaking through to the dosh!
We plan to spend a day or so here before making our way back towards Stoke and booking passage through the Harecastle Tunnel.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Facing Heartbreak Hill

Hi readers. It's finally time to leave the Cheshire plain and face the 30 plus locks up to Hardings Wood junction, commonly known as 'heartbreak hill'. I don't really know why as they are reasonably spaced out and fairly quick to operate.
We left the Middlewich branch on Thursday with wind and rain threatened by the forecast. It arrived with a vengeance by mid afternoon and we moored up near Sandbach. To wait it out. It was a wild night. Still raining Friday morning but after a game of Scrabble (Captain only just won by 2 points!) it had eased enough to set out. The sun finally came out and we made good progress as the frequency of the locks built up, eventually stopping for the night at Rode Heath. There are some fine views of Mow Cop to be had as you work your way up the flight.
Most of the locks on this section are paired, which helped speed the old working boats up and down. A lot of the duplicate locks are still in operation giving you a choice of which to use. The occasional one has been turned into a bypass weir,  and some are derelict.
We had an early start this morning to complete the climb to Hardings Wood where we turned onto the Macclesfield canal. It is noticeably shallower but ,taking our time we stopped for the weekend on the moorings near Little Morton Hall, which we plan to visit tomorrow.
As we arrived the Captain spotted a fender floating by. Never one to resist a freebie, he hopped ashore and fished it out with the boathook.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Iron and Stone

This morning we set off from Tattenhall Marina soon after 9.00am. We have been there for a couple of days just relaxing. Although we are self sufficient it is good to be plugged in to the mains and be able to switch things on without the Captain twitching about the state of the batteries.
There was some rain for the first hour or so but it had cleared by the time we reached the first of the two Beeston locks. This one is called iron lock and is constructed from iron plates to overcome the problems caused by the sand it is built on. The Captain pointed out that there are no ladders or handholds built into the sides. Woe betide anyone who falls in!
The second lock is more conventionally built of stone, hence it's name, stone lock. One curiosity is the small round buildings on the locksides. I can only assume they were shelters for the people who worked the locks. By the time we reached Barbridge Junction the sun had come out and we had seen four Kingfishers, two of them sitting together on a fence watching us cruise by.
Turning at the junction towards Middlewich, we cruised on till nearly dusk when we were treated to a glorious sunset over the village of Church Minshull.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Farewell to Chester

We stayed in Chester basin until Sunday morning, mainly because there was a spectacular firework display at the racecourse on Saturday evening. We whiled away the afternoon with a visit to the Cathederal. A very impressive building. One wall is covered with mosaics, showing scenes from the Old Testament. Some of the carvings around the Choir and organ are magnificent. The rain of earlier cleared to a fine evening and we stood out on deck to watch the fireworks, emiting apropriate Ooh's and Ahh's, as the display reached its climax.
8.00am on Sunday we were on our way up the staircase locks out of Chester. Luckily they were mostly set in our favour but still took the best part of an hour's hard work before we were heading out past the old warehouses and the intriguingly named 'Steam Mill', no doubt once a hive of industry.
The sun continued to shine as we ascended the five locks onto the longer pound towards Beeston. The only downside of this stretch is passing the moorings at Golden Nook Farm, or cosy nook as I often call it. They seem to go on for ever. We counted upwards of 125 boats. As they expect you to pass on tickover you could loose the will to carry on. At least our Gardner 2LW sounds like it is ticking over most of the time.
 By early afternoon we reached Tattenhall Marina where we planned to spend a couple of days and catch up with Steve & Chris from NB Amy Jo. The idea was to meet in the marina bar for a drink in the evening but as they had just cashed up we hopped into their car and visited the 'Sportsmans Arms' in Tattenhall instead. There we met up with two of their boating friends and had a great evening comparing our boating adventures. Thanks Guys.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Walking the Wall

No, not like the wall in 'Game of Thrones'. The City walls in Chester are a much more modest affair. They are unique, in that they are complete and you can walk the two miles round the original medieval city.  From the canal basin, going anticlockwise, you pass the castle and then past the racecourse. This is the oldest racecourse in the country, founded by the Mayor in the 1500's. His name was Henry Gee. This is where the nickname, GeeGee for horses comes from! 'Fact'
Moving on you come to the river Dee, and the bridge crossing into Wales. Turning back towards the centre of town you get some fine views of the roman amphitheatre remains, before crossing several of the old city gates and ending up back at the canal, passing the Cathederal on the way.
Yesterday we couldn't resist another visit to the 'Cavern'. There was a Paul McCartney tribute playing Beatles and Wings numbers. Both him and the Lennon act are part of the resident Beatles tribute. If we had gone again today we could have seen the George Harrison member of the band. Almost seeing the Beatles by instalments.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

In Search of the Mersey Beat

On Tuesday we went in search of the bus to Liverpool. An hour later, after a detour round Ellesmere Port, with glimpses of the oil terminal, we plunged through the Mersey tunnel and were deposited in the City centre.
After planning our day over coffee (and cheese cake) in 'spoons' we set off to explore. First stop was the Albert dock. We marvelled at the fine old colonnaded warehouses and admired the preserved sailing ships that are moored there. On to the museum of Liverpool. You could spend all day there but we selected the bits we were interested in, the exhibits relating to the music scene in the 60s and for the Captain, the maritime exhibition. He found a huge steam hooter. I think he could see it mounted on Oakapple! We would never fit back through the Harecastle tunnel.!
By early afternoon we had finished with the docks, with the Mersey ferry and the Liver birds, and headed for the Beatles quarter and the Cavern Club. OK, I know it's not quite the original but it is good enough for us 60s kids. Down the winding stairs we went into the vaulted brick cellars. The place was buzzing. Just about to start was a guitarist/singer who looked and sounded like the young John Lennon. Over a couple of pints we were treated to a whole medley of the early Beatles numbers. Absolute magic. There is live music there every afternoon from 2.00pm and a visit is a must for anyone who remembers the 60's.
As the next act was warming up we reluctantly left for the bus ride back to Chester. In the words of the song; Just a perfect day.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Castle Walls & City Walls

After a rainy Saturday night Sunday dawned bright and clear. We took the footpath through the fields from Wharton lock towards Beeston Castle. Set on its huge rock, it is quite a climb up to the remains of the keep. As things are still in Halloween mode there were spooky guided tours on offer so we tagged along and were treated to 'scary' tales of  the castle's gruesome past. Left to explore the ruins, we marvelled at the stunning views over the countryside. To the north you can see across Ellesmere Port and the Mersey into Liverpool, and to the south and east you can spot the peak district and the Pennines.
A fairly early start today took us into Chester. It was clear but quite cold, however, when we started working the locks down into the city we soon warmed up. They are hard work, the gates heavy and the low gearing on the paddles makes for a lot of winding. After the canal passes the old warehouses it enters a rocky cutting with the old city walls towering above, eventually reaching the three lock staircase which takes you down to Chester basin. For such a fine historic city we found the basin a disappointment. Not a lot of mooring space and building work going on all around, some of which does not seem to have progressed since we were here three years ago. After finding some rings to moor to we are ready to explore.

Saturday, 1 November 2014

To the Secret What?

Leaving Audlem we descended the last four locks and cruised off towards Hurleston junction where the Llangollen canal branches off into north Wales. However before reaching there we made a stop at Hack Green. This is the site of one of several secret nuclear bunkers which were scattered around the country. The idea was that the local bigwigs would go underground there in the event of a nuclear attack, to emerge some weeks later and take control. Dream on!!!!
It is now open as a museum of the cold war and is one of the most chilling places we have ever visited. A testament to mans folly. The only thing about it that raises a smile is the signs pointing to the  'secret nuclear bunker'. Before moving on we had a chat with fellow bloggers, Fred & Lisa on NB Chyandour who were moored behind us. As we descended the two Hack Green locks Lisa appeared to help us on our way. Early afternoon saw us at Nantwich where we topped up our supplies. A fine old town which grew up around the salt industry. Only thing missing was a Wetherspoons.
Heading now towards Chester, we passed through the staircase locks at Bunbury. It was quite busy with boats both up and down, which once again gave us the opportunity to perform the 'shuffle', three boats passing in the locks.
We are now moored at Wharton lock with fine views of Beeston Castle high on its rock overlooking the Cheshire plains. This afternoon we had tea and cake with Steve & Chris from NB Amy Jo. Also fellow bloggers, we hope to catch up again on our way back from Chester.