Sunday, 26 July 2015

Chugging through Cheshire

Hardcore blog fans may remember we spent quite a long time stuck in Middlewich a couple of years ago. So it was with a degree of reluctance that we made our way down the final locks of Heartbreak Hill to arrive back in good old Middlewich again.

Here PM is waiting in a queue to turn left onto the Middlewich arm of the Shropshire Union canal (OK, via the Wardle Canal so as not to upset any closet waterways geeks out there). More importantly, she is also moored directly opposite where we were stuck waiting for a new gearbox in 2013.

Fortunately we made it through Middlewich (not a bad place in itself, just we quickly ran out of things to do in 2013!) and stopped on a beautiful peaceful mooring above Church Minshull. This is about the last place in the world you might expect to be woken in the wee small hours by a loud argument outside the boat, followed by a visit from the local constabulary.... but that's exactly what happened. Nothing to do with us you understand but it seems a couple of neighbouring boats spent a little too long in the local pub and things got out of hand. There's never a dull moment on the canals!

The following day was drizzly but that didn't put people off - we were third in a queue of eleven boats waiting for Minshull Lock. All these people trying to get out of Middlewich!

Once we got to the end of the Arm we turned right at Barbridge Junction onto new waters for us on Pas Mèche.

Not far after the junction you arrive at Bunbury staircase locks. This was a busy spot but we were soon on our way down with nb Leo, joining the melée of boats at the bottom - not helped by the local hire firm blocking a lot of the canal. 

The northern Shropshire Union is varied and pretty to begin with, passing the ruins of Beeston Castle after negotiating four wide locks of differing construction to cope with the shifting sands the canal is cut through.

The descent to Chester begins at Christleton and is pleasant all the way through the five locks down into the city.

Chester's waterfront is tidy and welcoming by day but we had been advised against mooring here overnight.

We braved it anyway, although we chose to stop slightly out of the way of the main pub/restaurant area. We stopped below the city walls, opposite a sheltered housing development, reckoning that our neighbours here would be no trouble. It turns out we were right but on our return through Chester we heard more stories of boats cast adrift in the night and people running down roofs of boats moored just under the bridge in this photo when the pubs turned out.

It's a shame the moorings in Chester have a (seemingly deserved) bad reputation as the city itself is well worth a visit. We walked round the city walls (a couple of miles all the way around) which gives a great view of the sights like the race course, the river Dee and the 'Rows' shopping area. Highlight for boaties of course has to be the canal which is cut through solid rock right below the city walls.

The following day we left nb Leo in Chester and headed down the Northgate staircase of three locks. We were heading for Ellesmere Port, which is where the northerly end of the Shropshire Union meets the Manchester Ship Canal. Unfortunately the far end of the canal is a little underused and pretty choked with weed in places so Dave got very friendly with the weedhatch!

Ellesmere Port is home to one of the UK's National Waterways Museums but we found arriving by boat a confusing and unwelcoming experience - we'll be feeding back to CRT about this in the hope that they might start to make more effort for boaters in future.

There are moorings above the basins (where the narrowboat is on the right in the photo below) but the basins are an integral part of the museum and a much nicer place to stop so that's where we headed for, via the narrow locks in the right of this photo (behind the rather unhelpfully moored trip boat almost blocking the locks!).

Lock operators beware the locks into Ellesmere Port basins! If you can see past Middlewich Duck's idiotic grin in the photo below you'll notice the ground around the lock is a bit soggy. Basically if you empty the top lock too quickly it floods the area underneath. This is similar (but different) to a staircase lock but there is no signage or CRT people to warn you about this. Best bet is just to empty the lock very slowly and keep an eye on things below!

So after an eventful couple of locks we arrived in the basins. It's not clear where you're supposed to moor here and rings/bollards are few and far between. After a lap of the basins to check out the options we did the best we could with a mooring at the end of the Holiday Inn car park. We think the moorings in front of PM (by the grassy bank) are where you're supposed to go as they're secure and accessed only via the museum. Still, we had no trouble where we were as Ellesmere Port is pretty quiet.

The Manchester Ship Canal, on the other hand, is anything but quiet around tide-times. We saw quite a few really, properly big ships coming and going. This was about the biggest, being towed/guided in by a tug with another behind for good measure.

We did enjoy the boat museum at Ellesmere Port but as you've probably gathered the overall experience was a little disappointing. At least we understood why nb Leo didn't want to come with us!

After a few more trips down the weedhatch for Dave we met up with nb Leo again at Chester Zoo, which they had visited while we were at the museum. We headed back in to Chester together, passing the other recommended mooring at the basin underneath the staircase locks. This is a short walk out of town but seemed quiet.

With the two boats reunited we climbed the Northgate staircase locks...

... then cruised past the city walls. 

After the stories of ASBO antics we decided not to stop in Chester again, especially with it being a Saturday night, so we went to Christleton for a quiet mooring.

Today we have moved on through the late-July cold, wind and rain and have lit the stove at midday today - where did that summer heatwave get to?

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