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The Lancaster Canal and Millenium Ribble Link
Cruising Log part 1

The journey north, Red Bull Basin, Trent and Mersey, Anderton Lift, Bridgewater canal, Leeds and Liverpool canal, Wigan and the Rufford Arm to Tarleton

Friday 29 April - Sunday 29 May
The Journey to Red Bull Basin

This is the start of the extracts from Pauline's daily cruising log and we commence with this brief summary of the journey before the cruise proper started from Red Bull Basin.

We left home on the Thames at the end of April and joined the South Oxford canal at the start of our three month licence period on May 1st. Our route was up the South Oxford and North Oxford and onto the Trent and Mersey with a diversion to the end of the Ashby canal before reaching Red Bull basin. We stayed there for a couple of weeks and were out of the water for Bottom Blacking and extensive maintenance in preparation for the Ribble Link. We also had a Survey which showed the hull `to be in excellent condition and we also took the opportunity to get a new Boat Safety Certificate although ours still had a couple of years to run. We then did a trip up the Macclesfield canal and Peak Forest Canal to check the new gearbox, drive plate, couplings, propeller and the new rudder bearings were OK before we finally left and this log starts.

Bank Holiday Monday 30 May
Red Bull to Paddy's Wood

We enjoy BBQs when the weather is good and our holiday began just 2 miles north of Red Bull at our favourite spot by Ramsdell Hall, looking across the valley towards Little Moreton Hall. The priority of the following morning was to return to The Trent and Mersey canal and begin by mooring at the stretch between locks 41 and 42 for shopping at the nearby Tesco which is open, although only for limited hours, on a Bank Holiday. We continued west and the total of 26 locks today were hard work. We bought diesel at Hassall Green, by Lock 57, at 42p. Looking for moorings we continued to Wheelock then finally moored at Paddy's Wood. Five other boats were moored with us by the end of the evening.

Tuesday 31 May
Paddy's Wood to Middlewich then to Bramble Cuttings.

It was then only two hours to Middlewich. We spent an hour shopping at the chandlery at the junction, and bought two little 85 Amp Hour batteries. For the future, the diesel was cheap (39p for >100 litres). We bought more coal; the bad weather meant we had exhausted our stocks. It was a only a short walk into the town, which had a Somerfield and a very nice golf clothes and embroidery shop where we bought a Millenium cross stitch sampler. Then it was onwards north through the locks. There were queues, both ways, and it took ages, but it meant we had lots of other boaters to chat with. Locals suggested we moor at Bramble Cuttings, an old clay pit on the offside which had been set up as a picnic site with 24hr moorings by the Broken Cross Boating Club. It was empty when we arrived, and we noted nice moorings opposite on the towpath side. As a popular mooring, it was full by evening, including one boat which had helped build the site, and had buried their dog there.

Wednesday 1 June
Bramble Cuttings to Anderton Lift. Then on the River Weaver to Northwich, Hunts Lock and back to Barnton Cut

We left the moorings at 05.15 because Anderton Lift staff had made a mistake with our bookings - we found the telephone message too late to get closer the previous evening. We noted some nice moorings at the "flashes" for the future. We arrived at Anderton Lift at 07.45 to be told they had worked round the booking error and we were OK. The lady responsible was very apologetic and helpful. Wednesday is maintenance day so the first down would normally be at 11.45 but they had put on an extra 'transit' and we were able to go down at 11.00 instead, as the trip boat came up. It was a nice smooth descent compared with our trip down in 2002, but in pouring rain this time.

We turned left at the bottom, and went to Hunts Lock. But it was just 12.00 and lunchtime for lockkeepers, so we turned back to Northwich rather than wait the hour. It was still raining. Mooring under the new flats was difficult, other boats were in the middle of long moorings, and it was shallow. Our partner down the lift, Sharpness, found a place but we decided to moor on the other side, at the wharf at the back of MacDonalds, opposite the RSW point. Then we went shopping. As well as all the normal shops we found an excellent butcher who made a range of sausages and then an even better fishmonger who sold us a beautiful 1.7kg wild brown trout.

As the rain eased we continued downstream past the Anderton Lift and turned just before Saltersford Lock at 16.15. The lock was closed at 16.15 so we moored in Barnton Cut. These were excellent moorings, with rings, and had been recommended to us.

Thursday 2 June
Barnton Cut to Northwich Bridge then back to Anderton Lift. Continued on T&M to Bridge 206.

Today we wanted to continue the tests on the engine under the speed conditions we would expect on the Rivers Douglas and Ribble. So we ran upstream for 3 miles at an average speed on the GPS of about 5.8 mph which would be about 6.1 mph taking into account the stream. The revs were set to 2000 which required a sandal to be hung on the throttle to prevent it easing back. At the end we pushed the throttle right forwards and found that we could only gain an extra 50 or so rpm so it had been a good check with no signs of stress or overheating. Like on the River Thames, the speed limit on the River Weaver is higher than on the ordinary canals. At 10.30 we were safely moored below the Anderton Lift, and were met by a friend who lives locally and we all spent the day at NT Tatton Hall.

Entering by car, there was a parking charge. Normally that is refunded when a ticket is bought to go into the House, but we all got free entry as NT members or equivalent. The House did not open until 13.00 and so we walked around the gardens first. It was a good time for the rhododendrons, although the recent torrents of rain had damaged the blossom. Then we had a light lunch of a jacket potato in the Stables Restaurant, finishing in time to be at the front door promptly at 13.00. We had to go in early because we needed to get back to the boat by 15.15.

On return, we took the Lift back up at 16.00. The keepers were very careful to check our length was indeed 47 foot, and then added a nice little 23 foot narrowboat, from March, in behind us. On arrival at the top we turned north, going through Barnton Tunnel and Saltersford Tunnel. Both are single width, and not straight, so we had to be careful to check there were no other boats before entering. Indeed we reversed out of the first tunnel on seeing a bright white light, but eventually decided it was the back light of a boat ahead of us, a problem when boats use navigation lights in tunnels.

Friday 3 June
Bridge 206 to Preston Brook, onwards to Waters Meeting then over the Barton Aqueduct to Astley Green.

This was always going to be a long day cruising because the route passed through the outskirts of Manchester and we prefer to stay overnight in the countryside. We left early, at 05.45, because the tunnel at Preston Brook, 1239 yards long, is also single width, and passage north is only allowed between .00 and .10 each hour. We arrived there just before 07.00. It was only 15 minutes to go through the tunnel, which was nice and dry. Most significant tunnels, like the Harecastle Tunnel, are wet.

We were pleasantly surprised by the pleasant countryside and moored at Bollington to collect water. Unfortunately the flow was very slow, not helped by us sharing the outflow with another boat that was being washed. So we abandoned the effort and carried on. Near Bollington is NT Dunham Massey and there is a good view of the house from the canal. We plan to stop and visit it on the way back.

Approaching the Barton Aqueduct we were warned by a fisherman that it was closed, and we joined the end of a queue of 3 boats, waiting for a ship to pass on the Manchester Ship Canal below. Just north of the aqueduct is the Boatyard of Roger Lorentz, who had recently surveyed our boat. By good luck he was there, just about to depart for Manchester on board "Neptune". So we stopped for a few minutes to chat. At Patricroft we were slowed by a wide beam boat trying to get back to its moorings, and got showered with pebbles by local lads. Probably a catapult, we guess. Having been warned not to moor by the Bridgewater Hotel at Worsley, because of problems, we continued to a recommended spot by Bridgewater Marina and Pub at Boothshall Bridge.

In the rain the area looked empty and forlorn, so we decided to continue in the hope of a nicer spot, eventually mooring at Astley Green. There was already one boat moored opposite the BoatHouse Inn, and by the end of the evening another group of boats had arrived behind us. It was still raining. We had a beer at the BoatHouse Inn, and then settled down for dinner back on the boat. It was advertised that there was going to be an Elvis Presley impersonator there at 20.30 so we were not tempted to stay and eat there.

Saturday 4 June
Astley Green to Crooke Cruising Club

We had arranged by telephone to be met by friends to help us through the Wigan locks, so we left Astley Green at 0715, passing under the Plank Lane Lift Bridge at 08.40. It is controlled by a bridge keeper, and we guess we were his first customers of the morning. The water point is on the south side and there is a pumpout on the north side of the bridge. We needed neither, and were keen to get on, past the moorings at Dover Lock Pub and to Poolstock two locks.

At the junction with the main line we turned towards Liverpool and the two locks at the BW Wigan yard, reaching Wigan Pier at 11.00. Then it was just over an hour to reach our temporary moorings at the Crooke Cruising Club. We were glad to arrive because the last two locks had been difficult in the wind, and our boat had almost turned round by the wind while waiting to enter Hell Meadow Lock. The folk at Crooke Cruising Club welcomed us and we moored alongside our friends who were members of the club.

Monday 6 June
Crooke Cruising Club to Glovers Swing Bridge

The morning was spent loading the boats, shopping at Chadwicks in Standish and then the excellent Tesco Extra in Wigan, and getting water and doing DIY pumpouts. It was our first experience with the DIY method and there was a moment when the side of the boat, and the chaps, got sprayed with brown liquid. This involved a quick shower back on land, and a change of trousers, but no harm was done. Pauline was glad she had gone shopping instead.

There were three boats going to the Lancaster canal, and we were joined by friends Dugald and Lesley who also have a David Piper boat, as well as their friend Malcolm. Malcolm moors at the marina at Crooke. So we all left together just after lunch. Our target was the "Blood Tub" for dinner, at Burscough, just 7 miles and 2 locks. The locks were double width, so it was a nuisance to be an odd number, but with just 2 locks it was an easy journey. The locks had been paired but only one lock was working. The Dean Lock had good moorings on the side on the entry to the derelict duplicated lock. And Appley Lock, at 12 foot deep, had a two shallow locks alongside, also derelict, but possible for mooring on their layby.

There were also 5 swing bridges, one was electric, and 2 were fixed open to the canal. We had to make sure that Malcolm, who was single handed, was organised so that he was travelling with someone who had crew to get off to do the bridges.

At Burscough Junction our route would turn off the main Leeds and Liverpool line for the Rufford Branch, and immediately there are 2 locks, then 2 more within walking distance. So we wanted to moor before the junction. Unfortunately the moorings beyond Glovers Swing Bridge were full so we all reversed back through the swing bridge to the first available gap, much to the surprise of other boaters and waiting cars. We recommend the local Pendle beer and the black pudding at the 'Blood Tub". The nickname of the pub comes from the story that people got a free pint of beer if they delivered a bucket of pigs blood to make the black pudding.

Tuesday 7 June
Glovers Swing Bridge to Burscough then along the Rufford Branch to Tarleton

We left at 09.00 and the locks down the Rufford branch were mostly full. We didn't stop, although we admired NT Rufford Old Hall as we passed by, and intend to visit it on the way back.

We made good time and were moored at Tarleton at 13.30. The 48 hour moorings just beyond the swing bridge are good, and an easy walk to the Spar and the Coop for provisions.

Everyone made the effort to go and look at the sea lock onto the River. We wanted to see what was involved in joining the River Douglas the following morning. We were fortunate to arrive just in time to watch the first boats of the morning arrive from the Ribble link and we had the chance to chat to Harry and other local boaters to gain some valuable intelligence. By the time the boats had arrived there was plenty of height of water and a considerable current.

We returned to look at low tide in the evening and there was very little water below the lock. Contrast the picture above taken close to high tide and the two taken at low tide when it is just a small stream passing the lock. You can also see many obstructions looking downstream which will be close to the surface even at high tide. We noted that there was still much congestion around the James Mayor boatyard which would mean we we would need to moor alongside other boats when gathering for the morning locking down onto the River Douglas. The rest of the day was spent getting everything ready for the journey, and consulting the Millenium Ribble Link Skippers Guide one last time.

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Content revised: 24th July, 2020