Wednesday, 28 October 2015

It’s not the leaving of Liverpool…

An early morning start is not always a bad thing. We had to be at Mann Island Lock in Canning Dock for 8 o’clock on the morning Wednesday 16th September, and it was a beautiful morning.

There was hardly a ripple on the water as we eased off the pontoon, swung the bow around and pointed it in the direction of the exit bridge that led from Salthouse Dock into Albert Dock and beyond. In the early morning sunshine the old warehouses were beautifully reflected.

It was the end of another adventure but the start of a new one.
Mann Island Lock was opened for us by Mike from CRT, who greeted us with a broad smile and a friendly chat. Sometimes these guys just don’t get the recognition that they deserve. Thanks Mike, we appreciate your help!

Tunnels alternate with open cuttings as the canal link took us past the Pier Head, a significant aspect of this world heritage site that includes the majestic Three Graces (locally known as Hope, Faith and Charity) the Port of Liverpool Building – with the monument statue of King Edward VII, the Cunard Building and the Royal Liver Building that makes Liverpool’s waterfront one of the most recognised skylines in the world.

A second new lock lifted us into Princes Dock before we continued on through West Waterloo dock to the central docks channel now named Sid’s Ditch (much to the annoyance of more senior members of CRT) so named as Sid was the first to navigate the newly opened stretch of canal.

As  we turned into Stanley Dock the impressive Tobacco Warehouse loomed over us. Built in 1900, it was the world’s largest brick warehouse and although still empty, this impressive building has been earmarked for renovation and conversion into apartments. Climbing through four locks –still assisted by CRT –we reached the Leeds & Liverpool main line at Eldonian Village Basin which marked the end of one of the newest canal links and the beginning of one of the oldest. 
The rest of the day was uneventful as  we worked our way  along the unattractive  industrial area towards Litherland. Although some factories still have their backs turned to the canal, this area is slowly changing as considerable effort is made to improve access to the canal. Once only used by intrepid navigators,  the canal around Bootle had a bad reputation for vandalism, but now with the help of community pride, CCTV cameras and an obvious police presence, security is much improved. It was here that we met Mike and Kelly, two police officers who stopped to help Ian lug his cases of beer from the supermarket onto the boat. If only I had my camera at the time, what a picture that would have made.
There were several boats moored outside Tesco at Litherland and since the weather was so nice we gathered together and lit a BBQ fire. Probably one of the last of the season but it was great that we could make the most this social opportunity – Sharon and Richard from nb Oakapple, Chris from nb Mary Bet and Colin from nb Aston all contributed to the evening. We did invite Mike and Kelly to join us but sadly they were still on duty. However, Kelly did pop in later to bid us farewell and a safe onward journey.

IMG_3026At mid-day on  Friday 18th September a flotilla of boats left Litherland with us and we made our way to the first of the restricted operational swing bridges. Bridge 6 and 9 can only be opened by CRT personnel at set times of the day, if you are not at the bridge at the right time you cannot continue. Nevertheless, we all arrived, the bridges were opened and with a cheery wave to CRT we all went on our way, winding around the bottom of Aintree Racecourse. We stopped just before Maghull and Chris on nb Mary Bet moored just behind us. The camaraderie of the previous evenings continued, but by this time many of the other boats in the flotilla had continued on their way.We had only a relatively few miles to go over the next 6 weeks so we would be taking things very leisurely.

IMG_3015By Saturday afternoon, we had left the urban sprawl behind but had progressed only as far as the farmland between Haskayne  and Halsall before we found a lovely rural setting and hammered in the mooring pins. No sooner had we settled down to enjoy the sunshine when the peace was shattered by the roar of jet engines as the nine ‘Red Arrows’ swooped overhead en-route to the Southport air show only a couple of miles from our mooring spot. We were close enough to enjoy a fine display of precision air acrobatics but a little too far for good pictures. Later in the evening we sat on the bank side and watched the sun go down, splashing golden scarlet and finally, indigo hues across the sky. Perfect!

Sunday morning treated us to a beautiful sunrise as the scarlet rays of the awakening sun threw the relief of the trees into a midnight black contrast…

IMG_3027…while the mist was drawn tendril by gossamer tendril over the mirror-like surface of the canal. It was too beautiful to leave so we stayed another day – or two.
We hadn’t been entirely idle. As with any home, there are always maintenance jobs to do and Ian busied himself with replacing the glass front to the multi-fuel stove and giving the chimney a long-overdue sweep while I cooked roast duck with all the trimmings for lunch.

It was while we were moored near Haskyne that Ian was finally initiated as a seasoned boatman! While adjusting the mooring lines he slipped on the dew-drenched grass and toppled into the canal. Not only a leg (as was his previous lament)  but right up to the armpits. My initial reaction was one of concern swiftly followed by a gurgle of laughter which I managed to stifle before being faced with the dilemma of running for the camera or helping him out. I helped him out, then scurried off to get him a towel. I certainly wasn’t letting him drip that canal water all over the inside of the boat! Would you?

I was starting to get itchy feet and our fresh water tank was running low – I had, after all, had an extra load of washing to put through the washing machine after Ian’s dunking.  We pulled up the mooring pins and headed off through a flurry of swing bridges to Burscough, just four lock-free miles away, to replenish supplies.
Leaving Burscough behind several days later, we followed the beautiful Douglas valley to Parbold. Ian had heard that there was a great Indian take-away in Parbold so we had to stop so that he could appraise it accurately!
The 27 mile long pound stretching back to Liverpool came to an end at Appley locks followed shortly by Dean Lock near Appley Bridge. The outskirts of Wigan then came into view, with another 3  locks to work before we stopped opposite the CRT offices.
The locks had been few and far between since leaving Liverpool but as we turned away from the Leigh branch leading to the Bridgewater canal and  Manchester, we had the notorious Wigan flight of 21 locks to look forward to.

At the bottom of the Wigan flight we were joined by a hire boat so at least we had some help up the flight. in addition, CRT volunteers were assisting a pair of boats ahead of us and they were emptying the locks for us which made life a lot easier. We made good time and as we reached the half way mark we were joined by Gareth who is a member of  the Wigan Flight Crew and he added his windlass to the back-breaking task of winding locks. By lunchtime we had reached the summit. Good going.
While working the locks, Peter, a local CRT Volunteer regaled us with tales and pointed out interesting landmarks…

Naturally reclaimed (disused) slagheaps from the time of the steel working industry, now popular places of beauty with amazing views…


… this tower that looks like a relic of past industry but is actually a modern construction, purpose built to hide a mobile phone mast.

Tuesday is definitely the best day of the week to traverse the flight as this appears to be the day CRT volunteers are on duty. You will be amazed at how much you may learn!

Only a few miles from the top  of the flight we found a glorious spot opposite Haige Hall Country Park and golf course. With magnificent views over the top of Wigan in the distance and on down into the Douglas valley, we couldn’t help but be aware of the great height we had climbed through those 21 locks. It was a shame not to stay a while… so we did…

… and enjoyed the lovely late summer weather and glorious sunsets.

The canal took us on a nine mile lock-free pound (locally known as the Lancaster Pool) that wound its way along the side of the valley. The bleak hills to the east of us gave a sense of the Pennines that we were to cross – but not just yet!

Side-stepping Adlington to the west, followed by Chorley to the east, the canal passed a picturesque stretch that included Botany Bay, a refurbished textile mill that is now a canal-side themed shopping centre that sprawls over 5 floors. With a sun-drenched afternoon ahead of us, we moored outside Botany Bay and lazily explored the area before moving on to the bottom of the Johnsons’s Hill Locks, where we found mooring for the night.

The beginning of October dawned; a beautifully tranquil day, just perfect for working the 7 Johnson’s Hill locks.

IMG_3095As we locked up towards Higher Wheelton, we had time to enjoy the excellent views that the steep countryside yielded.


A few miles past the locks, we moored near Riley Green. Ian’s daughter Jo brought the children to visit us for an overnight and we spent quality time together, we then stayed for a few extra days .

The children were excited to be staying on Grandad’s boat and enjoyed some late blackberry picking even more. Poor Mum, Jo, had the unenviable task of getting the purple blackberry stains out of the children’s clothing – glad it was her  and not me!!


As the navigation continued to wind it’s way eastwards along the Calder valley, the M6 motorway was never far away and we crossed it several times. However, the constant drone of the traffic was mercifully absorbed by the soft countryside.

By the beginning of the second week in October we had reached the open countryside before Hapton. High ground rises on either side of the valley and we could see the summit of the Pendle Hill which reaches a height of 1831ft above sea level.  Since we had time on our hands, we found a beautiful spot and stayed put for a few days. Ian busied himself with some painting and maintenance in-between wonderful walks in the countryside. The scenery was exquisite, and the tranquillity was only slightly marred by the distant drone of the motorway, hidden from sight. 

The dying summer was giving way to Autumn and the warm summer days were being cut short, however,  we were treated to some spectacular sun-rises and sun-sets while we loitered near Hapton. Ian was having to light the fire more frequently to keep the boat cosy.

After investigating an oil leak on the generator, Ian had found a problem that needed spare parts and some aluminium welding to fix. With excellent internet connectivity available he was able to order the parts and have them sent to the marina in Reedly. in addition, with the help of FaceBook we eventually made contact with a craftsman who could weld aluminium AND bring his equipment to the boat.

By mid-October, we had reached the summit of the Leeds & Liverpool canal, but we had to wait a few days for the generator spare parts to be delivered and for Terry (Fred to his friends) to get his welding paraphernalia to the boat. We spent a lovely few days at the top of Barrowford locks near the picturesque Barrowford reservoir before venturing through the Foulridge  tunnel - just short of a mile long and on to Barnoldswick. It was here that we met up with Terry and in no time at all, our trusty generator was back online.

We returned through the Foulridge tunnel to Barrowford where we spend the next few days before taking up our berth at Reedly Marina where the boat will stay for the winter while we fly off to Hong Kong and New Zealand for a few months.

This brings to a close our Winedown Adventure for another year. Here are a few stats of our year… at an average speed of 2.2 MPH, we have journeyed  a modest 482 miles (262 of which were on narrow canals, 211 miles on broad canals and 9 miles on rivers); worked 456 locks; been through 28 tunnels (one of which was the notorious Standedge Tunnel – 3.25 miles long - through the heart of the Pennine countryside); crossed 199 aqueducts and operated 70 movable bridges. We have met up with old friends and made many new friends in this, our hugely successful third year of living on a narrowboat and exploring the English Canal system.

The Canada geese are getting ready to leave – well some of them anyway. By this time, (end of October) many of our boating friends have been similarly closing up their boats and setting off for warmer climates. The sky is quite dark by dinner time now and the sheep in the fields are huddling together for warmth. Above the heather-speckled moors where we will leave Winedown for the winter, the rooks tumble on the wind with raucous cries or quarrel in the denuded branches of the trees.

It is time to turn our attention to bonfire night and shortly after, gather in the holly and ivy and think of friends and family and Christmas festivities!

Happy holidays to you all, our friends, safe travels (whether it be via luxury ocean liner, aircraft, train ferry or car – or a combination) and with luck and good health, we shall see you again in 2016


Thursday, 17 September 2015


As one door closes another one opens - or should I say, 'when one adventure draws to a close, another is waiting right around the corner'. This is certainly true on board nb 'Winedown'

After leaving our friends at Castlefield in Manchester, we set our sights on Liverpool, but first we had to stop at the CRT office in Wigan to book our passage into Salthouse Docks and our berth. Previously, one was able to stay in Salthouse Docs for 14 days but the CRT authorities decided to curb this and we could only get 7 days. We were naturally a bit put out by this, but 'rules is rules'.

Before Wigan, we stopped at Pennington Flash near Plank Lane, on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal. It was a beautiful, if somewhat isolated point to stop, but near enough to a housing estate for there to be a constant stream of people enjoying the late summer evening, dog walkers and cyclists. I was just settling down to read a book when we heard a crash followed by a plaintive, childish wail. A little boy, out with his father and brother had fallen off his bike and grazed his knees, right next to the boat. Ian grabbed a packet of plasters while I got some wet-wipes and a small packet of sweets. In no time at all the boy was patched up and the sweets put a broad smile on his face. With a mouth full of the sweets he waved goodbye and wobbled off down the path with a grateful father close behind.

The following lunchtime (Wednesday 2nd September), as we tied up outside the CRT office, nb 'Indigo Dream' was preparing to leave. After completing the necessary paperwork in the office and filling our fresh water tank, we followed Richard and Sue on nb 'Indigo Dream' who had kindly waited for us so that we could share the locks. This proved to be the start of a whole new adventure and we had no idea just how fortunate we were. Richard and Sue were going into Liverpool too, but their passage was booked for two days before us. As ever, we had time to slow down. We shared locks and swing bridges with Indigo Dream' for the rest of the afternoon before bidding them adieu in Appley Bridge.

Thursday morning and we were looking forward to a leisurely day. We stopped off in Burscough Bridge to pick up some provisions and treated ourselves to tea and cake at a local tearoom before setting off again towards Scarisbrick where we moored for the night. Our passage into Liverpool was booked for Sunday 5th September and we only had 20 miles to go so the next few days was really 'laid-back' boating.

At the appointed place and time (above Stanley Locks) we met a team of CRT personnel. They were there to assist us down the locks, through a series of old working docks and tunnels and into Salthouse Dock, adjacent to Albert Dock, the vibrant heart of Liverpool's historic waterfront.

The next couple of hours was full of chatter, laughter and a history lesson, and by mid-afternoon we were safely berthed - as it happened, just a few slots away from nb 'Indigo Dream'.
Albert Dock - Liverpool

Albert Dock is an amazing place to visit and even more special since we had arrived in this unusual way. With the country's largest group of historical grade II listed buildings, we knew we would find more museums, galleries and a wider variety of venues to eat that we could possible visit in a little over a week. Attractions to suit every taste and shop-till-you-drop opportunities in abundance - wait a minute, I sound like a walking advertisement and Liverpool certainly doesn't need me to tell people what they can do here! We eagerly anticipated an experience packed with sights, sounds and adventure. We were not disappointed.

We were fascinated by the history and the architectural splendour of lofty colonnades that made up the old warehouses surrounding the dock, and even by the jelly fish that seemed to collect in their thousands in some places. Introduced to discourage people swimming in the docks, the jelly fish thrived.
Doug, Sue and Richard with Ian and Cherryl

On Monday morning, we went off for a spot of retail therapy. We were returning to the docks just after lunch when we were surprised to bump into James and Doug from nb 'Chance'. They had their hands full with the greyhounds that live with Richard and Sue on 'Indigo Dream'. Talk about a small world!

Doug and James were in Liverpool to meet Richard and Sue ahead of an epic adventure across the Mersey, along the Manchester Ship canal and onto the River Weaver.

By the end of the afternoon, (and after a cheeky nudge from Doug) we were invited to join the four of them - and the greyhounds - on their adventure. Wow, how lucky we were!

We had to be up early to catch the high tide out of Liverpool's Brunswick Dock. Unfortunately there was a light fog as we left the berth in Salthouse dock and it continued to roll in as we made our way through Wapping Dock, Queens Dock, Coburg Dock. and into Brunswick Dock.

'Into the lock and tie up to the port side pontoon', was the instruction from the lock keeper, and skipper Richard duly obeyed.

Richard and Sue on nb 'Indigo Dream' had secured the services of a maritime pilot as even on a good day this is essential - the river Mersey is used by many commercial shipping lines so only qualified personnel may take a vessel on the river. Stuart was certainly going to 'earn his keep' as we made our way across the Mersey with visibility at only 50 yards.

After Stuart had delivered a safety talk and we had all donned our 'life preservers' we were ready to leave.
Over the radio we heard the warning that the fog was getting thicker. 'No other movement on the river...' warned the disconnected voice on the radio. 'That means there is nothing to bump into...' was Stuart's reply, and then we were off.

As we left the security of the lock and the land marks faded into the fog, Stuart asked the question of Richard, 'Do you know how to keep your vessel in a straight line? You look over your shoulder and check that the propeller trace is straight.' he answered his own question. Since that too was fading quickly into the fog this should be interesting, I thought.

Sadly, the fog stubbornly refused to lift and all we could see besides the marker buoys were ghostly sights emerging from the gloom as we continued on our way. We didn't get a chance to see where we were going let alone get some great pictures on the crossing that took a little over an hour.

Our route was to cross the Mersey to the west bank then run down the shipping lane, close to the west bank to Eastham.
Eastham Lock

All too soon, Stuart said that the Eastham Lock (connecting the river Mersey to the Manchester Ship Canal) was ahead of us. I couldn't even see it as we moved confidently forward but slowly it become visible. Ten minutes later we moved carefully into the lock. It was so big and the fog was still cutting down the visibility; we couldn't even see the end of it!

Lady Sandals

MSC authorities held us at Eastham Lock for over an hour waiting for the fog to lift and in that time the motor yacht 'Lady Sandals' (owned by Gordon Stewart, chairman and founder of Sandals Resorts International) made the crossing and entered the lock that we had come through. Allowed to continue at last, we let the 'big boys' go first. It took 'Lady Sandals' all of four minutes to pass us , leave us behind and her wake to disappear leaving a mirror-like canal once more! The power of her engines left us stunned. But the fog had lifted and the day just got better.

Half an hour later, we passed Ellesmere port. Ian and I had been to the living museum in Ellesmere Port last year but it was a little strange seeing it from a different perspective. The camera was working overtime as we sailed on past, but there was more to see as we passed commercial ships in docks along the way. They made us feel very very small in comparison!

A little over two hours after the motor launch 'Lady Sandals' had left us behind at Eastham Lock, we were at Marsh lock that connects the River Weaver to the Ship Canal at Runcorn. This was as far down the Manchester Ship Canal as we were going. CRT personnel had the lock ready for us and we sailed in effortlessly, tied up and waited as the lock goats were swung closed behind us and the lock began to fill.

Leaving Marsh Lock brought to an end the first part of our trip and that, oddly, left me with a sad feeling - the most exciting part of the adventure was now behind us, but we still had the River Weaver to navigate up to Anderton.
A little sad it may have been but it was truly exhilarating nonetheless.

We stopped for lunch along the river bank and the four well-behaved greyhounds were allow to stretch their legs for the first time that day.
Sue looking very serious as she confidently took the helm

Stuart the pilot said goodbye to us all after lunch and we continued on up the river. All too soon, the iconic Anderton Boat Lift came into view, bring our boat trip to an end. What a marvellous experience. We wouldn't have missed it for all the world Thank you so much Richard and Sue for taking us with you!

A little over twelve hours after nb 'Indigo Dream' slipped her mooring in Liverpool's Salthouse dock, (and only a ten minute taxi ride followed by a 30 minute train trip) Ian and I were back at Salthouse dock where we had left 'Winedown'. Methinks we will be dining out on that marvellous tale for a long time to come!

The following day (Wednesday)  was almost an anti-climax after the excitement of the day before but I can tell you that we enjoyed a lay-in as we re-lived our Mersey Crossing adventure.

Ferry 'cross the Mersey

A visit to the Maritime Museum, Tate gallery, Liverpool Museum, a ferry trip across the Mersey (would you believe it after our epic adventure earlier in the week) and a full day of hop-on hop-off open-top buss trips around the city were all part of the next few days.

While on the tourist trip across the Mersey I was able to take a photo of the sea lock that we used when we entered the Mersey two days before. Pity we couldn't have taken this picture on the day.

We found that a visit to the Anglican cathedral, built on a prominent site overlooking the city was awe inspiring. So many of the buildings in Liverpool are claimed to be the largest, oldest, longest, newest, highest 'in the world', so too the cathedral has its 'first' place. It is claimed to be the longest cathedral in the world, although it 'only' ranks as the fifth-largest in the world and contests with the incomplete Cathedral of Saint John the Devine in New York City for the title of the largest Anglican Church building.(Just a small point to note... there is a church building that is longer than Liverpool Cathedral and that is St Peter's Basilica in Rome, however St Peter's is not a cathedral).
It is also claimed to be one of the world's tallest non-spired buildings. At 67m above floor level, the bells of Liverpool Cathedral are the highest and heaviest (those words again) ringing peal in the world.
Having taken nearly 70 years, the completion of the building was marked by a service of thanksgiving and dedication in October 1978. For all this magnificence, the building is not just 'another cathedral', it is so vast with so much to see, that we missed the last bus back to the docks so our exhausting day of sight-seeing was finished with a long (but not the longest) walk home!

Tony & Jo with Ian

My cousin Tony and Jo joined us for a day. We had planned a trip around the docks on board 'Winedown' but strong winds made us change our minds. Instead we headed to the 'Liverpool Arms' where we heard that they served a good 'Scouse'. Since we were in the home of Scouse, we had to try it, and a few days later we returned to try the Peawack, another Liverpudlian dish.

If you came and visit us on 'Winedown', don't be surprised to find either dish on the menu - we enjoyed both that much.

Another first for Liverpool was the enclosed commercial wet dock designed by Thomas Steer. We took the amazing 'Old Dock Experience' tour from the maritime museum. The old dock is currently below the Liverpool One shopping centre and can only be accessed via the guided tour but I have to say that the archaeologists, Danny and Yass, who conduct the tour are great.

A small corner of the Old Dock
After being buried since 1826, the Old Dock was re-discovered during excavations in 2001 and now for the first time in centuries, the bed of the 'Pool' (the creek that gave Liverpool it's name) can be seen. The Old Dock, constructed in 1715 at the mouth of the Pool paved the way to many decades of dock expansion on both sides of the Mersey and was at the heart of the town's success. The immense impact of this radical structure resulted in a significant loss of trade in London, Bristol and Chester throughout the 18th century, and it contributed largely to Britain's successful trading history that built the Great British Empire.

Thomas Steers Way

When the current shopping complex - Liverpool One - was being built, a pedestrian walkway, 'Thomas Steers Way' was marked out over the centre of the original river inlet to the old doc.

I wonder how many of the hundreds of people who use the walkway each day actually know that they are walking over a part of history that put Liverpool on the world trading map.

Overshadowed little by Thomas Steers and the first enclosed wet dock, was William Hutchinson, an English mariner and privateer who was appointed dockmaster at Liverpool in 1759. William Hutchinson started keeping detailed tide and weather records and these formed a significant part of the data that was used in Holden's Tide Tables,  published in 1770. The fountains that you see here has been designed to represent a full month of high and low tide times, taken from William Hutchinson's diaries.

On a lighter note, a pirate festival came to Albert Dock. On the weekend before we left (12th & 13th September) we enjoyed fun, festivities and live music, not to mention gunfire, cannon fire and a battle re-enactment or two.

We shared our Sunday roast dinner with Keith and Pam from nb 'Primrose' after we had enjoyed a sundowner on the front deck, all the while listening to Blues and Jazz. What could be better than that?

Keith told us about Baltic Fleet, a mid 1800's pub less than a 10 minute walk from Salthouse Dock. The pub boasts four ghosts but more to the point is the only brewery pub in Liverpool. The cellar has been used since 2001 for brewing a host of exceptional ales.

Ian couldn't resist a visit. Unfortunately, they don't do 'take-away' or he would have stocked the beer locker before we left, but he did learn of two tunnels leading from the cellar. One found its way to the docklands while the other went to the red light district of Cornhill. It appears that the Baltic Fleet connected crews of the square rigged ships to two of their fundamental needs, grog and 'ladies of the night'. How romantic! No, just good business.

As the sun set over the Mersey behind the statue of Billy Fury, the 1960's rock-and-roll star, it seemed a fitting end to a fabulous 10 days in Liverpool.

We prepared the boat for an early morning start on our scheduled departure from Salthouse dock, and although my brain couldn't take in much more information from the museums and galleries for the time being,  we are certainly not short of new stories to add to our limited repertoire.

A return visit is definitely on the cards.