Saturday 8th October
We arrived at Elton Moss at just gone midday on quite a grey day. Ken was down in the engine bay tinkering with things as Adagio was finishing having a pump out along side. Ken was not having a good day, he'd given WD an oil change then went to start her up again and all the electrics were dead! He wasn't sure quite what had happened but was convinced he would sort it, so were we. So we off loaded the car and started to unpack, which is normally a job for when we are underway between locks. At about 1pm the engine started to make hopeful noises when the key was turned. After about another 20mins the engine was purring. We were patient whilst the engine ran for 10 minutes, Ken had hooked the engine starter up to the domestic batteries. Then the moment of truth as he reconnected all as should be and tried again. Hey presto all worked. A 200amp fuse had blown causing the problems, Ken wasn't sure why but all was working and we wouldn't have to spend the week in Arties back garden! We felt sorry for those waiting to be shown around Adagio for their maiden voyage whilst WD was being sorted.
So off we set for Middlewich through Lock 67 (my favourite!) for a rendezvous at Church Minshull with some friends who were heading down from Wrenbury Mill. Only 10 swans above Kings Lock on this occasion, the most we've seen was 42 in March!
We had to wait to turn onto the Middlewich branch for one to come down and to help an old chap with his dog to go up. At Stanthorne Lock we had caught up with the chap ahead, I helped him into the lock at which point he climbed the ladder and said "I've lost my dog. You're in charge" So I was left with a boat in the lock and no one on board. I didn't want to fill the lock with no one in charge of the boat so called Mick to hold the rope. We raised the lock and still no one in sight, Hmmm! Eventually he returned from down the tow path still with no dog, but he did move his boat before shouting "Cracknell" at the top of his voice. We moved through the lock by which time he returned with Cracknell who had decorated her lead with quite a lot of cow pat. It was quite a good way to get out of operating a lock! We carried on with our deadline at dusk in Church Minshull looking like it would be met.
The whole afternoon it drizzled, never quite rain, but drizzle, making you think that just a waterproof coat would do, until you'd clambered over lock gates and got a soggy bum! On approaching bridge 15 a phone call was made to check where NB Blackbird was and was told just past bridge 14 and that the kettle was on. A nice cuppa in front of a lit stove. We then moved onto WD to light our stove and put a large Lasagna in the oven. Four bottles of beer, three bottles of wine, lasagna and pudding later we decided to call it a night.
This was our first ever rendezvous with another NB, lucky the problems with WD got sorted otherwise there'd have been two very hungry people on NB Blackbird!
Day One. 1 broken boat, 1 mended boat, 9 miles, 7 locks, 10 swans, 1 lost dog, 1 rendezvous.
Sunday 9th October
Waking not too early we set about breakfast, Mushrooms on toast and then waved bye bye to Blackbird. Then set off for our next meeting point at Barbridge Junction with a friend from college. We stopped off at Aquaduct Marina to restock with coal and then found that Church Minshull Lock lived up to our name for it (The Waiting Lock), we were fourth in line with as many waiting to come down. So we patiently waited and helped until we got through. At Cholmondeston Lock the queue was a bit longer. We got talking to a chap from NB Ophelia, which turns out that it was an Ownerships boat. They then managed themselves for a year before joining ABC. This couple had a very friendly border collie. I made a new best friend by being a willing stick thrower for some time whilst waiting for our turn. A conversation with my friend I suggested we'd be at Barbridge in an hour but after waiting our turn it was looking more like an hour and a half. But as we arrived two heads popped up from behind the bridge wall and they'd only just got there themselves. With no means for them to get back to their car if they came with us, we decided to break our journey and have Sunday Lunch at The Olde Barbridge Inn with them before waving bye bye and continuing. NB Adagio had caught up with us had a pint in the pub and set off shortly before us in the direction of Chester.
On reaching Bunbury Locks we teamed up with a couple to go through. They had bought their boat in Derbyshire picked it up on wednesday and were heading to Tattenhall Marina to live aboard. They were hoping to get there before night fall, but didn't know quite where it was ( other than knowing you could see Beeston Castle from it ). We tried to help but Nicholsons hasn't Tattenhall marked. We locked through, down to Beeston Stone Lock with them, just catching up with Adagio. NB Ophelia had winded and was heading for home, so we helped them up and I threw sticks again. We waved bye bye to our companions and decided to moor for the night instead of waiting to go through the Iron Lock.
Sunday nights I do online grocery shopping for my Dad but we'd found a spot where not only did we have no internet, we had no phone signal. So I walked about half a mile to get reception to ring my brother to sort the shopping, this took quite sometime! Heading back to the boat I wished I'd taken a torch.
We heated up the remains of Lasagna from last night poured some wine and realised there was no TV reception. We were relieved when we realised that we didn't have to talk to each other all night but could watch a DVD instead.
Day two. 23 Sticks thrown, 1 Sunday Lunch, 9.5 miles, 6 locks, 1 DVD
Monday 10th October
Finished reading the papers in bed had a full cooked breakfast ( Micks speciality ). Then finally set off about 11. Down through Beeston Iron Lock and on towards Chester. We wondered how far the couple we'd locked down with had got the night before, and if they'd reached Tattenhall. It took us nearly two hours to reach the Marina! The day turned into a drizzly one with quite strong winds. The long line of moored boats after bridge 114 took us 35minutes to pass which was tedious. It was obvious that we were following Adagio and no one was coming the other way as every lock was set against us. I don't mind wide locks, but the hydraulic paddles on these locks are tedious beyond belief! It's not heafty work but I think I could end up with repetitive strain in my shoulders and elbows!
The water point by Bridge 122 seemed hard to get to as the side of the tow path seems to have fallen into the canal and is fenced off, so we carried on. At Chemistry Lock I'd remembered a Donkey, but not three, all turned with their backs to the strong wind. We filled up with water at the water point below and carried on, passing Adagio moored in exactly the same spot we'd moored at on our Maiden Voyage two years ago. I just hope that the works going on at the Frog and Nightingale don't keep them awake. Two years ago there was a chap sanding down the pub tables all night at the side of the canal which was quite dusty and noisy! We carried on down to the staircase and found it strangely set for us to go down. Top lock full, the other two chambers empty, surely that's not possible unless there are leaking gates. As I emptied the top lock into the middle chamber, I wasn't sure there'd be enough water to keep WD afloat when the two locks levelled out. There was, I think, just enough! On emptying the middle chamber I saw the level mark which was about 18 inches above the level of the water. Mental note for next time, check for level marks before proceeding. We came down into Tower Wharf with the plan to moor for the night. All the visitors moorings were taken, maybe a little bit selfishly. We decided to moor off side past the British Waterways boats. New flats are being built here and the area may end up looking quite smart. Bit of a building site now though.
We are moored opposite the narrow boat we hired two and a half years ago to do the Cheshire ring. When we passed Elton Moss there was a launch party going on for Jenny Wren. That's when our interest was first sparked and the rest in now history.
Fairly tired from the never ending winding of paddles and the wind we decided to have a night on board and light the stove. Mick cooked kedgeree which was very yummy, tuned the TV which worked and a glass or two of wine.
Day Three. 11.5 miles, 10 locks, 0 dogs, 3 donkeys and 16097263 turns of a windlass!
Tuesday 11th October
Woke this morning when we did. Not early and not late. Whilst finishing my first cuppa of the day a British Waterways man walked up to our boat in quite a jolly manner singing but wondering if he'd be able to get his boat past ours. He and his mate pulled their boat out from where it was moored and pulled it past WD having to walk down the side, occasionally getting caught on something. Only two people are alowed the keys for their boat so therefore they have to pull it. They were working on re-planking a bridge near the new flats.
We had breakfast and showers with the engine running before heading out to catch a bus to Chester Zoo. This was our main aim of this week. On our maiden voyage two years ago to Ellesmere port we'd passed bridge 134 and seen a sign for Chester Zoo. This appealed to me, but we didn't think we'd have time to visit it on that occasion, so put the idea on the back burner. So this time we had planned our trip with a day at the zoo in mind. Last night we checked out Google street view to see what the route from Bridge 133 was like near a winding hole, but this didn't look walker friendly. Bridge 134 would have meant winding at least 2.5 miles further on. So we decided for the first time ever (both on WD and hire boats) not to move the boat at all today. Just before we set off Adagio passed us on the way to Ellesmere Port.
Bus 1 to Liverpool was caught near the big roundabout just above the staircase. 10 /15 mins later we arrived at the Zoo. I haven't been to one in years and was quite childishly excited on seeing the Elephants as we entered. They are such wonderful beasts, large, graceful, caring, and bizarre The £16 was worth spending for a full day there but not worth it if you are en-route and only have a few hours. There is masses to see, Zebra, snakes, giraffe, bears, monkeys, penguins to name just a few. The Tigers were a little disappointing, we think they take it in turns to come out to be oggled at sitting on a raised platform. The Lions were better, two females and one male. The male had been given a large bone and one of the females didn't seem happy with having to wait her turn to see if there was any left. The Orangutans had a great enclosure, as we left this we spotted a really big old orangutan who was shaggy and obviously quite a character As he moved he revealed his long fur even more. As the day went on our feet started to ache and the animals got short listed. We were about to walk past the Butterfly house, but decided to go in. All glasses steamed up and camera lenses. But wow, having huge brightly coloured butterflies swooping around and wanting to land on Mick's head was amazing. The bat enclosure was similar, but a bit scarier as they can swoop by you as you walk through. A couple brushed past my hair, I'm proud that I managed to stop myself from yelping out loud!
We rounded off our trip with another visit to see the Elephants who had headed inside to pull hay from a bag hung on a chain hoist from the ceiling. All 5 Elephants of various ages were feeding and were quite mesmerising. I want one, but Mick won't let me!
Headed back to Chester, short visit to Tescos to stock up for breakfast then back to WD. We headed out to The Bouverie which is off side a little way into the houses. it's a kind of wine bar meets local pub which serves home made burgers and pizzas. We had a burger each which were very nice, they also sold Deuchers so we stayed for a couple.
Day four. O miles by canal, 8 miles by tarmac, 1 lock climbed over, 3 lions, 2 tigers, 15 bush dogs, 1 rasta orangutan, 3 zebra, 12 owls, 2 spectacled bears, 3 vultures, 5 Elephants and 2 pints of Deuchars.
Wednesday 12th October
We got up relatively early for us and had had breakfast, not annoyed the BW men (as they had a key this morning) and set off about 9.30. We winded at Tower wharf and we were spotted by another boat wanting to head up the staircase. So we teamed up with NB Serenade, they are another ex-ownerships boat but with BCBM at Nantwich. I walked up to check on the state of play at the staircase, the bottom lock was empty, middle one about 5ft below the level mark and the top one full. So we set about sorting the middle one out. After a while of filling up the bottom lock the boats weren't getting high enough, Mick went to investigate the bottom paddles one of which had been left slightly open, so that was closed and we carried on. Middle lock was then allowed to fill to the level mark, top lock filled. Hooray, sorted. The couple on NB Serenade were lovely and very very chatty, so was a chap on the tow path that lady serenade got chatting with. Into the middle lock and that is when things went slightly awry All I'm going to say is that too much chatting was being done, not enough concentration on the paddles from all four of us and it took an hour for us from bottom to top of the staircase! We were all glad that we were just about finished before the next boat arrived to use the locks.
We then stopped outside what used to be called The Frog and Nightingale, soon to be The Lock Keeper, to head to Tescos to stock up for our last few days. When we returned to WD and had had a cuppa, a Viking afloat hire boat arrived to wind, they said they'd accompany us up the locks, great only half the windlass turns! But as we pulled away they didn't seem to follow us up the cut. So we did Hoole Lane and Chemistry Lane locks by ourselves before two of the chaps from the boat arrived. They apologised, saying that one of their friends had just dropped their camera in the canal and was adamant he'd find it. They had left him as the boat needs to be back at Whitchurch Friday am. So from there on we teamed up with them through the remainder of the locks through Chester. Unfortunately we let them lead out of the final lock and had to saunter along behind them for quite sometime until they decided to pull over to wait for their friend to catch up.
We passed 128 boats moored on line which still took 35 mins to get past! Butties were made and handed to Mick so that we could try and catch up on some of the time we had lost. We decided to moor up just outside The Shady Oak for the evening. As we came into moor five swans came into land in front of us who demanded food. We'd got rations on board so were alright for food, the swans got some of the bread Roger had left on board, we had a very nice chicken stew with new potatoes. We then headed over to check out The Shady Oak. It was open but only had two guest beers, Cheshire Cat and Black Sheep. We were requested to sit in the bar or conservatory if we weren't intending to dine, a little bit odd as apart from the chaps from the Viking Afloat boat we were the only ones in there. On leaving we told the chaps that according to canal plan they still had 13 hours to get back to Whitchurch. They downed their pints swiftly and considered setting off at 7.30am.
Getting back to the boat for another glass of wine we were welcomed by the swans from earlier that had swelled to eight in number. So the rest of Rogers bread came in useful.
Day five. 10 miles, 8 locks, 3 badly done, 0 dogs, 8 swans, Only 10731508 turns of a windlass, 2 pints of Cheshire cat, 1 loaf of bread down
Thursday 13th October
I was only stirred from my sleep a couple of times in the night by swans tapping on the hull and they seemed to have given up by day break. The Viking Afloat boat had left at first light, wonder if they make it back in time?!
We left The Shady Oak after 11 am and headed up to the locks. As we were leaving Beeston Iron Lock I noticed a boat a little bit behind, so we decided to wait for them in the next lock. It was quite a long wait, but I was looking forward to half the work. As the boat reached the lock they didn't drop off any crew, but a young boy of about 9 was adamant to climb up the ladder as the boat was moving, luckily everyone near him told him to WAIT! We locked up the next two locks with them and then they pulled over for lunch as another boat approached from Bunbury. No pleasantries from them what so ever just quite rude looks, no idea why as gates had been left for them. Just grumpy people.
Up the Bunbury staircase with no glitches and on to Calverley to fill up with water. We pulled up at Barbridge for a late lunch where we were passed by NB Serenade, so we waved them farewell. Then left onto the Middlewich Branch.
At Minshull Lock it was against us and a boat was coming round the corner in the distance, so I opened the gates and waited. It was a chap delivering a boat to Tattenhall Marina, we always seem to meet people delivering boats at this lock on the way home. He was very grateful for the help and got out for a chat whilst the boat was rising. Spotting that his boat was on the move he jumped on the roof and dashed to the throttle, but not in time as it quite majorly whacked the top gate. He wasn't perturbed by this and just carried on. When we left the lock ourselves we considered a change in career to delivering boats with great care! Suspect it's not very well paid, but it would be one way to get more time out on the cut.
On every trip we've had from Elton Moss we have felt that we've been followed by helicopters where ever we go. Until today we had not seen a single helicopter, but today they obviously wanted to make up for it by sending the big boys out, a Chinook!
We've moored for the night near Church Minshull with a fantastic view and sunset this evening, the first of this trip. A boat has just gone by with its head light on in the dark and we think maybe that the view here may not be worth it, because as the boat moves even just slightly we are hitting a ledge below the water line very loudly! But the fire is lit, brass polished, tv tuned, ginger beer consumed and now awaiting Spag Bol.
Day six. 10.5 miles, 8 locks, 0 dogs, 1 chinook, 1 bayleaf left in the spag bol!
Friday 14th October
The boat didn't bump too much in the night, so we got quite a good nights sleep. Breakfast and then off for our final day.
At Stanthorne Lock we helped a boat down, no sign of lost dogs this time. The RAF do seem to have found us as three helicopters flew by taking their time. At least it wasn't three Chinooks! There was also a model airplane swooping over the fields just above the lock. On down to Wardle Lock where a hire boat was coming up, so helped the lady with the paddles and gates, then it was our turn. Just as we were finishing a lady came up with a walkie talkie and said that they were just around the corner having just come down Kings Lock, another boat was at the water point. Very handy information as it saved me the bent double run under the bridge to see what was happening. NB Valentine had been filling with water and was ready to go, so helped them up Kings Lock. I got chatting with the lady and they are friends of someone who used to be with Serendipity who now have their own boat. NB Valentine is an Elton Moss built boat about three years old and looked very nice. They have spent several years finding the right house with a mooring in Stone and relocated from Norfolk so that they can spend at least four months a year on board. I was quite envious, although I wouldn't want to leave Scarborough just for a mooring at the bottom of the garden.
Up we went, 21 swans today, maybe they come out on a Friday waiting for all the uneaten bread, but we still needed ours. On through the last few locks only meeting one hire boat going towards Middlewich. There was a strange thing floating just above the lock and with closer inspection it turned out to be a cat. Poor thing, maybe I'll think twice about bringing our cat on a trip one day.
Lock 67 loomed (nasty lock!) I tried leaving WD at the bottom, pretending to fill the lock, but Mick wasn't having any of it! We have to go home!!!
We pulled up at Elton Moss at around 2.30pm to start the chores. Wash one side, wind then wash the other. We used to always moor a bit away from Elton Moss so that on the final morning we'd still have a bit left to do, but we discovered that we got grumpy, rushing the jobs, running out of day light etc and the last evening of our holiday was becoming less of a pleasure. So on our last trip out we decided to give returning to base in the afternoon a go. We don't get grumpy now, still don't enjoy all the cleaning and washing, but it's more bearable. When we've had enough we then go out for something to eat. We drove into Sandbach and had a curry at Eastern Spices, a little unusual, Nimbo chicken (had to be tried because of its name) and a very different sort of Lamb Jalfrazi than we're used to. If you are heading there take a bottle as it isn't licensed. With far too much to eat we rolled back to the car and headed back to WD. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and a very bright moon, stunning if a little chilly, but a perfect autumn night to end our trip.
Day Seven. 10 miles, 7 locks, 0 dogs, 3 helicopters, 1 swooping model plane, 21 swans, 1 big bright moon, 2 very full bellies!