Back on the boat, we left the Weaver on the Friday – it really is a lovely river. We were able to give the engine a go and blow out some of the exhaust soot.
We came up the Anderton Boat Lift at 3pm – we’d booked earlier in the day which was just as well – and then came along one of my favourite parts of the Trent & Mersey: the long pound to Middlewich (if you ignore the Tata chemical works) as it includes the wooded section along the Dane valley –see how it looked in the evening sunlight.
There are those wide 'flashes' caused by salt subsidence – now without the sunken wrecks I recall in the 70s. If you look carefully, you can see the new bit of canal near Marston which was built in the late 50s as subsidence took away the original line – another candidate for a quiz question on one of the latest bits of new canal? We tied that night at Croxton Flash, preferring that to the Big Lock at Middlewich.
Saturday was fine again as we came up the four Middlewich locks, delayed whilst a boat manoeuvred into the dry dock. But at least we were able to get this photo of a heron quietly waiting opposite Andersen’s hire base.
The Middlewich Branch was busy as usual with queues at locks. We were able to see some of the works done by the Shropshire Union Middlewich Branch Adopters. This is a local group of some 25 volunteers which started a little over a year ago and is run by a 70 year old who’s been boating for 50 years.
They have adopted a 5.25 mile section from Barbridge. They reckon this is the longest adopted section on the Trust’s waterways. Minshull Lock in particular looked fine. They don’t just keep locks tidy but carry out minor repairs – those apparently little things which actually make a difference to boaters and other users.
I hope we see lots of other groups starting up. There are already over 100, covering on average a mile each, so there’s a long way to go. We tied for the night just before Hurleston Junction – as always, a busy area.
The Sunday was another fine day. as we worked up the four Hurleston Locks - no queues. But our luck didn't hold and we were third in the queue at Swanley and although boats began to space out, we queued up at Baddiley.
One of my minor gripes about queuing is boaters' behaviour. It always surprises me - maybe it shouldn't - that so many boaters wait until the boat leaving a lock has passed them before they start to untie and think of moving. So, instead of a slick 'one out, one in' there's a prolonged pause.
One of the features of the Llangollen Canal is that the flow of water through the bridges means that scours build up a little downstream of the bridges.
Being deep drafted, HELEN hit some of these - and they went in my book to report to the waterway manager. But the sun was out and the Cheshire countryside was pleasant and we saw few signs of habitation.
We stooped at Wrenbury's 'The Dusty Miller' for a late lunch and had a chat with the SUMBA organiser (who I mentioned in the previous blog). We were now into lift bridge country. We ended the day tied above Willeymoor Lock and ate in the old lockhouse/pub there. Tomorrow we face the Grindley Brook staircase.
Another fine day as we ascended the first three Grindley Brook locks. Then a 30 minutes wait as four boats came down. My son Richard steered HELEN up the staircase with my working the towpath side and the lockkeeepers working the other side.
One was Amy, a seasonal keeper and the other was a volunteer. He regularly helps on Mondays and this is his first year. He was born locally and had come back to Shropshire in retirement. he had found his grandfather had been lockkeepeer at Willeymoor - where we had been the previous night!
We mooted in the Whitchurch Arm and looked at that Trust's plans for an extension into a new basin. Next, we walked into the town as Richard had to get a train back to work. This then left me with three lift bridges to work single-handedly!
Crossing Whixall Moss is always a source of amazement. Each side almost as far as the eye can see, there are the wide open spaces of the peaty scenery - and plenty of nature reserves. You can see from the heavy duty steel piles what has been done to keep the canal above the surrounding land - in one place I swear the towpath walkers' feet were some way below water level.
On the way to tying at Blakemere that night, I picked up David Torrens of the Whitchurch Arm Trust and we talked about their plans. It would be good if they succeed as Whitchurch is one of the larger towns near the canal and needs to do more to attract canal based visitors.
John Dodwell is one of our 10 volunteer trustees, who carry responsibility for the charity’s policies and strategies. He owns Helen, a 51ft old BCN tug/icebreaker which draws 3ft and is based near Stourbridge, West Midlands. His waterways interest goes back to the early 1960s.
John’s been involved in the waterways since the early 1960s and he enjoys all aspects of the waterways. To pick out one oddity, he was pleased and surprised to see about a dozen herons this June around the BCN Main Line, including two under the M6 motorway!See more blogs from John Dodwell