Despite a good evening drinking in The Vine, where Nick and I had several pints of some very good pints of Hyde’s and discovered a new brewery in Wigan, which would influence our choice of overnight stops round Wigan, we had a pretty reasonable start and chugged off from the visitor moorings with no particular destination planned.
Just after you’ve passed Nantwich Basin you pass the moorings of a cruising club who have a little mooring basin. The basin contains several fibreglass cruisers and a few narrow boats. There is a notice at the entrance warning you not to attempt to turn there because of “shallow” water. What? its a basin with canal boats in it, how shallow can it be? I fully understand why they don’t want people attempting to turn there and they must get a lot of people coming nose first out of Nantwich basin who want to go south and use the mooring basin as a handy winding hole. But “shallow” water? What sort of pathetic reason is that. It blatantly isn’t shallow because they get their boats in and out of it.
The canal was quiet again, I had really expected more boats on the move, not that there ever seem to be any on the move when you pass the Henhull long term moorings, and we arrived at Hurleston Junction having only had to dodge one mad lunatic who seemed to unaware that the canal actually had other boats on it.
There seemed to be quite a few boats moored up round Barbridge Junction and if I was the owner of the first boat on the towpath mooring on the Middlewhich Branch I think I’d ask for another mooring pretty quickly. It does amaze me how many people just don’t seem to make any attempt to actually navigate this junction and prefer to come steaming out of the Middlewich Branch and, with clouds of exhaust smoke and much waving of hands, slam straight into the concrete edging on the far bank.
The last time I cruised along the Middlewich branch was when we were out for a few days in May 1999 when went from Bunbury to Kidsgrove in one day. It hadn’t changed much and although there were a few boats moving round there still weren’t the numbers I expected given that it was now actually quite a reasonable time of day when you would expect boats to be on the move.
We passed through Minshull Lock No 2 with no real problems. We passed The Canal Shop at Nanneys Bridge No 8 but there was no sign of Pete. We would however get plenty of time to talk to Pete on the way back.
The new marina (Aqueduct Marina ) looks quite impressive and I think it was round here on one of our early hireboat holidays that I lost the mop over board. Don’t ask me how or why, it was a long time ago and I don’t remember it clearly.
One advantage of being out in April is that a lot of the trees haven’t got their full foliage so as you approach Lea Hall Bridge No 22 you get a really good view down onto the Top Flash of the River Weaver. The visitor moorings along here are provided, once again by the Shropshire Union Canal Society.
There was a bit of a delay at Wardle Lock No 4 , not helped by the fact that there were boats moored up on the lock moorings, something which, as we found, seems to be normal practice round here. We worked through the lock and stopped just after Middlewich narrowboats for lunch.
The three Middlwich locks were actually quite busy and the 90 degree bend by the dry dock is fun enough at the best of times, but put a canalboat in there who is really sitting on the wrong side and it gets even more interesting. But we got through the locks with no real issues.
Middlewich Big Lock has changed a lot, well not the lock itself but the surroundings. The pubwhich was looking pretty sorry for itself last time I came through here, which was when we were returning Mintball to Wigan after a summer down in Braunston, was bustling and its had a big extension. The other big change is that the factory next to the lock which was in use when we started boating, but had fallen into dereliction by the last trip through, has gone and has been replaced by new housing. But the signs of the credit crunch are visible even in a new development like this and below the lock there are the half finished foundations for the next block of town houses.
The big feature of the canal heading north from Middlewich is the various flashes causes by subsidence. When we first start boating the late 1970s these flashes were full of half sunken derelict boats. Now most of the boats have gone and the flashes look much less menacing now. When we first went past them on our first holiday you would never had dreamt of attempting to turn a boat there, they just looked too dangerous, now they look tranquil and the submerged fences marking the edges have all but gone and I wonder how many unsuspecting travellers they have lured into their trap?
There is no sign of dereliction at Northwich Chemical Works , corrosion and leaks and lots of steam certainly, but no dereliction.
I’m not quite sure what Colliery Narrowboats think the canal is along here. They seem to think that its their own private property for storing narrowboats on. I have no problem with linear moorings within reason but when they moor them so deep that the canal is no longer wide enough for two boats to pass its really starting to take the piss.
The Lion Salt Works at Marston Bridge No 193 is looking extremely decrepit. I don’t ever really remember it looking in good condition, even when it was open. They are asking for support for “restoration” but to be honest I don’t see how many of those buildings could ever be restored, rebuilt maybe but not restored.
Marbury Woods provides some good moorings on both the towpath and the offside and we stopped for the night just short of Marbury Woods Footbridge