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.
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.
At 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.
By 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…
…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.
As 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