Go to Allan's Page Part 1 - Boston and South Kyme Canals Home Page Part 3 - The Droitwich Canals and Birmingham Go to Deb's Page

Boston, the Manchester Ship Canal, and Droitwich 2011

Part 2 with the Manchester Ship Canal and Gloucester

Our aim of completing the whole Trent & Mersey Canal in one hit was progressing well. The weather was perfect as we reached Stoke on Trent, meeting a small crowd of people who were gathering to enjoy the Etruria festival. We arrived at Harecastle Tunnel just as the keeper was about to shut the doors; he waved us quickly through, completing the necessary paperwork without our even stopping, and we were soon making our way down Heartbreak Hill. For once we had a very easy passage, followed by a hilarious evening moored at Rode Heath where the pub opposite us was having a pirates evening led by a crazy disc-jockey who brought us very much into the entertainment (even keeping us talking while his assistant tied pirate flags to our boat!)

Soon we reached Middlewich where we had a date with a surveyor who would issue us with a "Certificate of Seaworthiness" that would allow us to apply for permission to travel along the Manchester Ship Canal. We sent off the paperwork, and kept our fingers crossed that our plans would work out; we planned only to travel from the mouth of the Weaver as far as Ellesmere Port, which meant we could experience the canal without incurring any of the expensive lock-passage fees that the journey down from Manchester would involve. Instead we planned to travel into Manchester then return to the Anderton Lift and drop down to the Weaver, from which we could join the MSC at Weston Marsh Lock near Runcorn.


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Pottery kilns in Stoke on Trent
We have quite an audience at Etruria
Harecastle tunnel, the north portal
Under the Red Bull aqueduct
A beautiful mooring by one of the Flashes

The trip into Manchester was delightful but uneventful. The weather alternated between hot sunshine and torrential showers, so we avoided the showers and enjoyed the sunshine as we moved from the T&M canal on to the Bridgewater Canal. Turning right at Waters Meet junction we were surprised to see notices declaring the canalside enclosures to be designated areas of Channel ports; the answer of course was that it was an International container depot.

We spent a few days in Castlefield Basin, enjoying all that Manchester could offer us and avoiding some awful weather - it was almost midsummer day but still we needed to light the stove. We revisited the Science museum, went on walking tours, had some superb meals including a feast in Chinatown, and made good use of the free bus service around the city. Our permission to be a Ship on their big Canal came through, and we set off towards the Weaver, pausing to spend a wonderful time at Lymm which is one of the prettiest locations imaginable.


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Containers at the international depot near Manchester
The church at Lymm has a wonderful setting beside the lake
The basin at Nantwich, without the 'Floatel'
Another beautiful mooring, Devils Garden on the Weaver

As usual we had to wait only a short while for passage down the Anderton Lift, and the River Weaver proved again to be the perfect place to while away a lazy week. Northwich had a surprise in store for us, as its river-face has changed dramatically with the demolition of the hideous floating hotel that used to occupy the central basin. It is now an open area which is apparently planned to become a marina. As long as it provides good visitor moorings it will be a real asset to the town, although the initial plans are said to involve the loss of the boatyard facilities there which would be a tragedy.

The Manchester Ship Canal

We made our way back down the river, but just one day before the booked transit of the Ship Canal our plans were suddenly jeopardised by an alternator failure. Luckily our untried spare alternator worked first time, and we were soon back on track to stop overnight at Devils Garden which is the nearest country mooring to Weston Marsh. The previous time we had been there we had had to leave again because the cows were so curious about us that they ended up nose-to-nose with a very noisy Molly-dog through the windows; this time we moored at the other end of the field and let the cows examine the other boats instead. The following morning we made our way down to Weston Marsh Lock to await the arrival of BW staff to let us through, tied up against the new pontoon which is a huge improvement on the blank wall which had greeted us when we stopped there before. While we waited I had a good look out across the Weaver mouth (which flows in from the left) to the Ship Canal. It's a wide expanse of water and I was a little worried that the proper course might not be clearly enough marked, but I soon saw that some new red and green buoys had been put in place to mark the channel. I also noted that if you were approaching the lock from the Ship Canal there is nowhere that you can tie up and wait below the lock, on either side of the approach.


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Waiting for Marsh Lock to be opened
The entrance to Marsh Lock, on the Ship Canal side
The entrance to Marsh Lock, on the Ship Canal side
Looking across to the Ship Canal from Marsh Lock
A close-up view shows the buoyage, old and new

Soon the BW guys arrived by van, and got the lock ready for us. Upon entering the lock I found it surprisingly difficult to stop and it was a few moments before I realised that they had opened the bottom paddles immediately after they had opened the top gates. I do not know why they had done this, but I felt that it was unreasonable of them to be impatient with me for taking a little longer to get my ropes ashore in the circumstances. They then shut the top gates, and the lock immediately emptied itself.

The expanse of water in front of us seemed huge, as we made the wide sweep round into the Ship Canal. We spoke to the traffic controllers at Eastham on the VHF radio, and agreed that we would keep a listening watch as well as giving them regular updates on our position. It was amusing to listen to the maintenance tug that we passed, talking about us to Eastham, obviously not expecting that we would have a radio to be able to hear their comments.


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Leaving Marsh Lock, it all looks different from down here
"Aim between the red and the green buoys"
After turning left, we are on the Ship Canal
An MSC maintenance boat, the only moving traffic that we saw
Steady progress along the MSC

We kept up our tradition of drinking a glass of pink Champagne upon entering new waters, accompanied by smoked salmon sandwiches, and chugged along in the sunshine through the Merseyside country and past the oil refineries. Two of the tankers were making ready to depart but we heard the traffic control tell them to wait until we were not only past them but also off the canal into Ellesmere Port. Soon the lighthouse came into view, marking the entrance to the basin at Ellesmere Port and recalling the era before the Ship canal when the seagoing ships would have been coming in straight from the Mersey estuary.


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The canal was hacked through solid rock here
Tankers at Stanilow refinery; they waited for us to be well clear before they departed
Pipes at the refinery look more like a church organ
The lighthouse at Ellesmere Port

We had arranged for the lock gates at Ellesmere Port to be unlocked ready for our arrival but it took longer than expected to open them because they had also been secured with a chain and shackle which had been tightened far too much by its last user so that we couldn't undo it without the use of the toolkit - which of course Debbie hadn't taken with her to open the gates. Just after we had got them open, the BW staff whom we had last seen at Marsh lock arrived to find out why we had not been able to get into Ellesmere Port.

After Ellesmere Port we travelled just a few miles and stopped next to Chester Zoo (there is a footpath from bridge 134 which takes you straight to the zoo, less than 10 minutes walk, but the gate from the footpath into the zoo carpark was locked despite being signed as a public footpath and cycleway so we had to climb over the gate to get in). We spent a very very enjoyable day in the zoo and would recommend it to anybody.

We stopped for a couple of days in Chester, taking a couple of walking tours and enjoying the atmosphere of this lovely city. If you moor in the basin, I can definitely recommend the chip-shop that is just a hundred yards walk down South View road. Another quick trip up to Llangollen followed, where our battery supplier came out to us and changed our batteries again as the second set had also failed after about 6 weeks. I had checked our charging system thoroughly, and established that it has no faults, so the reason for these failures remains a complete mystery;  however I must state here that I give the battery supplier ManBat full marks for excellent customer service.

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Our dog Telford was delighted to see a warehouse named after him
The Anchor Inn at High Offley
The full-size Anchor Inn at High Offley
Morris Dancing (Watch the video)

On returning from Llangollen and the Monty we made our way down the Shroppie to High Offley, intending to stop at the Anchor Inn for just a night. This pub is one of our favourites, being completely unspoiled and retaining all the character of an English country pub as well as serving a magnificent pint of beer. They were having a Morris-dancing evening the following day, so we decided to stay for another day and watch them. They danced an energetic set, including one terrifying dance which they had nicknamed 'The Knucklebreaker' because of the way that the sticks were banged together with terrific force right next to each others' knuckles. In fact the captain of the team was unable to take part because he had just a few days before had his knuckles broken while performing that very dance. I took a short video of this dance (see under the picture above)


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Dredging the docks at Gloucester
The dredger is like a large vacuum cleaner
Narrow boat Gort in dry dock at Gloucester
Sula Lightship is now in Gloucester Docks

Now we set off again for Gloucester. The River Severn was extremely low but we were puzzled when we locked down by less than a couple of feet at Upper Lode (Tewkesbury) into a surreal environment of high water with no flow; after a few minutes thought we realised that a really high tide was holding back the water, a diagnosis which was confirmed when the water level rapidly went down again. We had heard that because of the low river levels BW were restricting the number of daily lockings into Gloucester Docks - which seemed odd because that lock actually lets water down into the Severn which would raise its level. The lock-keeper explained to us that ithe reason was actually that they were short of water in the Gloucester-Sharpness canal but were unable to pump water up to the canal because of the low level of the river by the pump inlet. This seemed to make sense until we observed that they were leaving the paddles at both ends of the lock open permanently, running silt-filled water from the Docks dredging work down from the canal into the river; if they could do this, why couldn't they allow boats through?

The dredger worked by sucking mud and water up from the base of the docks, then pumping it out as a slurry. That's fine on a river such as the Severn below the lock where it was originally employed, where the current carries the silt away but useless in the still waters of a dock or canal unless a current is artificially introduced because it will all just settle back on the bed where it came from. The proper solution would be to use a bucket dredger, and BW  happen to have just such an item at the Waterways Museum in Gloucester Docks, but they only use it for demonstrations of dredging in the Docks and not for anything useful.


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There was a beer festival near the Museum
The old Llanthony lock, just below Gloucester
The French Navy gathers at Ashleworth
The entrance to the Droitwich Barge Canal

We had timed our arrival in Gloucester very well (again). This time there was a festival of food and drink beside  the Docks, including a beer festival next door to the Waterways Museum.. Naturally we bought far more food and drink than we had intended to, but it was well worth it, and I walked it off (with the dogs' help) by walking down to the old Llanthony lock below Gloucester, which used to lead out  to the main River Severn. We also visited the Sula Lightship which, now in private ownership, is a static exhibit in the Docks and also provides a range of alternative therapies; Debbie enjoyed a massage the following morning while the owner gave me a detailed tour of the lightship itself.

Leaving Gloucester we travelled to Shepherds Patch where we were joined by a couple of our dearest friends for a couple of nights and a stroll around Sharpness. On returning to Gloucester for one more night we had a delicious meal of lobster thermidor at the Tall Ship pub/restaurant, then the next morning we set off back up the river. Just above the Partings we met a narrow boat that had broken down and was anchored. Amazingly three other boats had passed him without stopping to enquire whether he needed help, so we tied him alongside and took him up to Haw Bridge where we stopped for the night. On the way we passed a strange sight at Ashleworth, where there was a fleet of Victorian rowing/camping boats (think 'Three Men in a Boat' on the Thames) flying the French flag and apparently manned by Frenchmen in striped jerseys. We never did find out what was happening!

And so we arrived in Worcester, where we met two of our friends from Birmingham on their boat, and the next day we travelled a few miles upstream to join the newly-restored Droitwich Canals.


Go to Allan's Page Part 1 - Boston and South Kyme Canals Home Page Part 3 - The Droitwich Canals and Birmingham Go to Deb's Page


All pictures on this site are Allan Jones unless otherwise stated

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