Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The escape from Middlewich

Monday 23rd September - Sunday 29th September

The problem with our gearbox turned out to be more serious than we first thought. After partly bow-hauling Pas Mèche up the last few locks into Middlewich we called in at Kings Lock Chandlery where we were advised by the owner Steve that the gearbox we had was not really worth fixing and the most effective solution was to replace it.

This turned out to be true as after attempting just one more lock to get to a holding mooring while we waited for the necessary parts, the gearbox separated itself from the engine. Steve informed us this was not the first Technodrive separation he had seen!

So we had an enforced stay in Middlewich. This was a little longer than we'd hoped due to some supply problems with the parts we needed.

So what did we get up to? Well, 'Highlights of Middlewich' is a difficult concept as it is not exactly an action packed place to stay. By the end of our week we had to call in entertainment in the shape of Dave's parents to relieve the onset of a serious cabin-fever related condition which we came to call Middlewichitis.

We managed a bike ride to a couple of local marinas, some baking and some of those domestic jobs you've been putting off (in one case for about four years).

It's amazing what passes for entertainment when you're stuck in deepest darkest Cheshire.

Fortunately our mooring at Kings Lock Chandlery was right on the junction of the Trent and Mersey with the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union. This meant plenty of entertainment with people negotiating the turn. Nobody hit Pas Mèche while we were in but there were a few close calls and who knows what happened to her while we were out.

Monday 30th September

By lunchtime on Monday we were really scraping the barrel for things to do in Middlewich. Fortunately the new engine mounts we also needed arrived in the nick of time and Keith from Kings Lock was soon sweet talking our engine into submission and everything was fitted.

With some relief (and a much lighter wallet) we turned away from the boatyard and headed on up the Trent and Mersey. Note the newly purchased Middlewich Duck - a last minute purchase from a charity shop and a reminder of our time here.

The new gearbox is fantastic, Pas Mèche is like a different boat. Conversations inside and out no longer require shouting at each other and the crockery doesn't try and vibrate its way out of the cupboards.

After a week of inactivity we were enjoying boating in relative silence so much we kept going almost until dark.

Tuesday 1st October

Tuesday saw us climb most of the way up the Cheshire locks. These are often called Heartbreak Hill as there are so many of them and they're generally just far enough apart to be a long walk between them but not far enough apart to make it worth stopping the boat to get back on.

Despite this we've loved the flight both times we've done it. The locks are often paired so boats can work up and or down them at the same time. Here we are passing a hireboat going the other way.

We did another long day on Tuesday, the locks are often spaced in mini-flights of three or four locks so that it's easy to say 'just one more set'. We called it a day at about five o'clock in Church Lawton.

Wednesday 2nd October

Our first rainy day in a while. We worked up the remaining six locks and passed the junction with the Macclesfield Canal at Kidsgrove. Here Victoria is passing a 1923 FMC working boat between two sets of paired locks.

This turns off to then pass over the Trent and Mersey lower down on a canal flyover.

Just around the corner you come to the Harecastle Tunnel. At 2926 yards long, this is the longest narrow tunnel we've done in Pas Mèche. Traffic is one way and controlled by tunnel keepers. We had to wait about 20 minutes for a small convoy coming the other way but were entertained by a spot of doom mongering from the tunnel keeper who told us boats had had handrails ripped off by going too slowly and losing control in the tunnel. No pressure then.

Soon enough we were on our way through. Pas Mèche is on the high side for a narrowboat and quite a challenge in confined tunnels. The Harecastle is high and wide at either end but has some incredibly low sections, forcing you to duck right down near roof height. We were glad we'd taken everything down off the roof so we could see better. There are also a couple of obstructions at the waterline to watch out for.

Travelling north to south through the Harecastle means you don't even get a glimpse of daylight at the end - the southern portal is closed with a door to allow extractor fans to suck fumes out of the long tunnel. One boat exited just in front of us as we got close to the end and we saw daylight. It then closed on us and the fans were switched off - a thick fog immediately sprung up meaning we could barely see our tunnel light or the light of the boat behind. After a few moments of blind panic the fans thankfully came back to life and we could see. The doors then opened for us and we found our way out.

We made it through in just over 35 minutes which is quite respectable but the tunnel demands some pretty careful steering and good observation.

Once safely out we stopped for a quick lunch (and a rest!) then carried on to a night stop just outside Stoke on Trent. 

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