Friday, July 29, 2016

Melling and beyond

Kanatara's suffering from spurious vibrations at the moment. They're not serious, we don't think, but they're not Good Vibrations either. Their not coming from the engine as far as we can tell, but they do occur at a particular engine speed. I suspect it's something in the engine compartment, a pipe or cable perhaps, banging against the hull or the bulkhead. We're staying where we are tomorrow, so I'll use some of that time to trace it, hopefully, and fix it. I need to de-rust and lubricate the steel hinge-lock on our stainless steel ladder-cum-gangplank. I can't fold it in two as it is.

We're about 8 miles and 4 swing bridges further on from our last mooring. The journey was lovely, the countryside and the canal maintaining their rural feel. Maghull's not the grey lump it appears to be on the map. Again, the boater sees tidy housing and neat gardens.

We moored there for lunch, just above Shaw's swing-bridge 14, and a quick visit to Morrison's very close by.

 It's a peaceful haven where we're now moored (apart from the background rumble of some serious roads), on the edge of the urban outskirts of Liverpool - Aintree, Litherland and Bootle being the major towns we'll pass through on Friday on our way to Eldonian Village. We're surrounded by farmland here. The tiny village of Melling is our closest settlement. 

“The village stands on an isolated hillock at a safe distance from the big city”, says our Nicholson Guide.

We're both feeling tired. A quiet, not-too-busy day will be good for us. There are just 10 miles before Eldonian Village, the terminus of the L & L canal, where we'll spend the two nights before being taken down into the docks.

Thursday AM
Well, we thought we'd be spending two nights there, but our plans have changed now. Re-reading the wad of bumph we downloaded from the CRT Liverpool website, we saw a bit that said that two of the swing bridges between here and there have to be operated by CRT staff, and each one inside two, one-hour windows. And the implication is that they'll only allow you through on the day you're scheduled to go into the docks.

They also say that, on that day, there won't be time to stop at Litherland for services, and we really need to.

So this morning I walked down to meet the bridge-keeper at bridge 9, the first of the two. He was, unsurprisingly, very helpful, and the outcome was, “You be here at 1 o'clock this afternoon, and I'll take you down to Litherland.” And there we can stay until Sunday afternoon. He recommended Litherland over Eldonian Village because it's “safer”. And it has full services, which, it seems, the Village doesn't.

It's raining hard as I write, so the prospect of this 2-hour trip is a bit grim. But, hey! We're boaters!

And it rained on us, and we got wet. But we're so glad we did! Though it did mean I took very few photos.

Bridge 9 is about a 20 minute drive from where we were moored. We had a swing bridge to deal with first, fully manual. And that's when the rain started. That is to say, immediately! Arriving at Bridge 9 ten minutes early, I had time to remove a bundle of water-weed from the prop shaft. Then the CRT man arrived. 30 minutes late, but never mind. We're not in any hurry.

It was then that I realised why a CRT man is needed at this bridge. It is controlled electrically, but it has no barriers to bring down across the road at each end of the bridge. And it's a busy road. So there's a risk of danger there that CRT don't want to to expose boaters or motorists to.

I know. It sounds unlikely. But stupidity exists.

So the CRT man was there, and he opened the bridge, and waved us through, calling out to us as we passed that there were three other craft on their way towards us. After that, we'd have the canal to ourselves.

And along came those boats in quick succession (insofar as narrowboats do anything quickly!), and we passed them closely, each of us trying to keep to the not-much-wider-than-two-boats channel between wide swathes of water-lilies, their tiny yellow flowers closed against the dullness of the sky above them.

This route looks very different on the map from how it actually is. Much of it is tree-lined, or has pleasant houses and gardens on one side or the other, not the commercial, industrial scene which greets you as you go into London. Here, the boater gets no real idea of the density of the buildings you see on the map on both sides of the canal for several miles. It's actually a very attractive stretch, though we did comment on the degree to which the whole of the Leeds & Liverpool feels very run-down and unloved. It's very strange, when you consider how many millions of pounds have been spent on the Liverpool Docks development.

It was with some surprise that we found the same CRT man came to see us through swing-bridge 6, too. Though this time I had no idea why he had to do it, and not me. He gave me advice on operating the next swing bridge, J2, just before mooring at Litherland, and waved us on our way. Only to meet us there, too, and watch as I, aided by an enthusiastic gongoozler, opened the bridge. He then helped us into our mooring, welcomed us to Liverpool, and gave us directions to the very local Tesco, the pubs, fish and chips shop, buses and railway station. He also pointed out the locations of the services, all very close to hand.

It has to be said that this is a very long way from being the most attractive place to moor, but we're really glad to be here. It's a CRT yard and office, and we share the space with piles of bricks, bags of gravel, lengths of timber, and old machinery. But it's clean and tidy, and pretty quiet by urban standards. It's a gated site, and only boaters have the key. There are several other boats here, too, either on their way to or from the docks. Ideal!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

That is some shop!

The village of Hoscar seems to have very little apart from two pubs, one of which is now closes for some time, and a railway station. And it has several farms, one of which has the shop that's the reason for us having stopped here. We walked out to it this morning, to see what they have to offer, to make sure they were worth waiting for till tomorrow. There were several signs up outside the closed shop, suggesting all sorts of food we may well buy tomorrow, before carrying on the next short step towards Liverpool. It looked promising.

photo -
The moorings here confused us a bit when we arrived yesterday. We tied up not far from a sign welcoming us to the 24-hour visitor moorings. In front of us is a yoghurt pot (aka small GRP cruiser) and several narrowboats, all of which bear permanent moorer's licenses. Part-way up this line of craft is another CRT sign announcing that these are, indeed, permanent moorings. Neither of the two notices, however, says how much of the bank's length they refer to. Nowhere does it say visitors stop/permanents start here.

Anyway, we didn't want to outstay our 24-hour welcome at the visitors' bit, so this afternoon we moved a mere 250 yards to a spot immediately after the last of the permanent moorers. Where I disturbed a wasps' nest whilst mooring Kantara. Dozens of the things came at me, obviously pretty angry. It must have been an amusing sight, me running up and down, flapping my arms around me, trying to shoo the wasps away. I was lucky to be stung just once, on the side of my hand. Fortunately for me, I've never reacted badly to insect stings or bites, and this one came to nothing after the initial pain.

We towed the boat a few yards away from the offended nest, and moored again.

I had a Facebook message this morning from Paul. Paul's a friend and ex-colleague from my last school. He's the first person to speak in “Life with our feet under water”.

"I like the line in your blog there's a farm shop close by that we want to visit. But it's Sunday today, and they're not open until Tuesday. So we wait. People don't wait that long for the Harrod's sale!"
And today we stopped waiting, and went to the shop. And it was so worth the wait! 

Taylor's Farm Shop is much bigger than I expected. Looking in through the glass door yesterday gave me no clue as to its size. Most of it was hidden from view. It has pretty much all of the food and drink that you could need. There's a delicatessen counter, a fresh meat counter, fruit and vegetables, bread, cakes and biscuits, wines and ales, soft drinks, dairy products, and freezers and chillers full of packaged sausages, burgers and other meats. They even sell Meal Deals from their stock, at less than £3! Much of the food is produced on the farm, much of the rest is locally sourced, and the whole spread speaks quality. Prices are very good. Such is the range of goods, and the popularity of the shop, that there are around a dozen staff working in the shop. There must be others behind the scenes, preparing the food.

We were amazed. We were delighted. We bought lots, and we'll make sure we stop here on our journey from Liverpool. Boaters, it's a 10-minute walk from the canal. Take lots of bags, because you'll buy more than you went for!

We carried on up the canal, expecting to do a massive nine miles today. Almost immediately, we passed the junction with the Rufford Arm of the canal.

We knew nothing of this canal until last May. We drove out from Yelvertoft to Darwen in Lancashire, to see Said the Maiden supporting Fairport Convention. To make the most of the trip, we stayed on for three days, on one of which we visited Old Rufford Hall, alongside which, we were surprised to see, flows a narrow canal. Later, we learned that this is the Rufford Arm, which forms an important link to the Leeds and Liverpool with the Lancaster Canal, via the Ribble Link. We sailed past it today. We do have a bit of time on our hands, but not enough for a decent exploration of the Rufford.

Old mill converted to apartments
We stopped at Burscough Wharf for services. (How do you pronounce “Burscough”? Does it rhyme with cough, through, though, or tough? Or something else I haven't thought of?) The wharf is much smaller than Wigan's, but so much nicer, and, well, alive!

There are shops, caf├ęs and restaurants all very nicely created in the old canal buildings. Live music wafted out of a bar, shoppers perused the shops, a young couple carried a white-painted wardrobe out of an "Emporium", people sat and drank coffee in a pleasant courtyard, and a wool shop sold teas to its patrons. It was alive and purposeful. Wigan missed the trick somehow.

The countryside now takes on a rather different character, The land has become very flat, the woodland has all but disappeared, and there are stretches where the canal is very straight, suggesting to us the drains of the Middle Levels. It's all very beautiful in a stark sort of way.

We moored well short of our expected destination. We'd left Hoscar later than we'd anticipated, and our progress had been slowed by three swing-bridges, and a lot of moored boats (for which it is expected that one slows down). The bank here is sloping, the edge is uneven, and the boats stands out from it a foot or so. Which left me a convenient space to fall into as I stepped backwards off the gunnel onto a bank that simply wasn't there.

Our overnight mooring, Bridge 26 behind us, Halsall to our right.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Sunday, moving on a bit

With our water tank now nearly empty, we were very glad to find that the tap shown on our map at Dean Lock exists – and works! The flow was uncommonly slow, though, so we had plenty of time to make tea, and drink it in a leisurely manner. I wandered around with my camera.

A parallel lock, now unused

An elderly woman passing by complained that our hose, of necessity lying across the towing-path from the tap to the boat, was “dangerous”. I pointed out to her that the hose is a nice bright yellow colour so that it's not difficult to see, and that it's very skinny, so that it's not difficult to step over, but she wasn't impressed. I almost offered to carry her over.

Appley Locks – lovely name! - were interesting. At this point, the canal divides in two. The left branch descends via a 12-foot deep lock, while the other branch disappears behind an island, where it meets two, 6-foot locks. These, however, are now is a state of total disrepair, but there's nothing at the entrance to the branch to say that they're unusable, and it's entirely possible for someone not in the know to take the two-lock option and find that they have to reverse out again.

The lower of the two disused locks
The 12-foot lock has issues, too. One of the top ground paddle mechanisms has a notice on it, handwritten onto the white paint, sating that CRT were aware that it was broken – in April 2014. It is still broken, as is the winding mechanism of one of the bottom paddles. I wonder if they've forgotten?

The scenery is delightful. Fields of barley set against a background of woodland, predominantly oak, that spreads across rolling hills. It rained a bit, on and off, but that did nothing to spoil our enjoyment of this lovely canal.

Our map showed five swing-bridges awaited us along our way today, but three of these were permanently open, having been last used several tens of years ago. The two working ones were well maintained, though, and easy to use – especially the electrically-operated one!

We finished for the day at Ring o' Bells bridge, next to the eponymous pub. Coincidentally, I learned later in the day that fellow Tweeps and bloggers on NB Hobbit had had lunch there earlier. They were, in fact, two of the last to eat there for a while, since the pub is to close from tomorrow, for refurbishing.

We moored here specifically because there's a farm shop close by that we want to visit. But it's Sunday today, and they're not open until Tuesday. So we wait. It's a nice enough spot. A small trip-boat operates from here, taking out up to a dozen or so people for a 90-minute trip accompanied by bread and cheese, grapes, and wine. They're quite merry by the time they get back!