24th June we were finally free to leave Liverpool. Yes we had mixed feelings leaving our sanctuary, but ironically as lockdown eased and people emerged, it didn’t feel as safe, as if the sense of relief at being allowed out had also released all common sense that the virus was still lurking and social distancing was still vitally important. Our little convoy set off up the Leeds and Liverpool canal gradually saying our farewells as we settled into our cruising routine. Our plan was to head onto the Bridgewater canal then head for Cheshire, the Shroppie and the Llangollen, before heading back East into Leicestershire to fulfil a booking made in the summer of 2019, to have the hull blacked at Debdale.
But where do you begin to express the joy of being back out on the cut, we hadn’t seen herons or ducks for 8 months and I’ll never tire of stone bridges or canal side cottages, and wild flowers as CRT pays good money to remind us yes we enjoy our canals.
Whilst we were still in the Northwest our outdoors lifestyle meant we were able to catch up with friends and family that we had missed during Lockdown
When we reached Wigan we turned right onto the Leigh Branch, the first of many firsts for us in. Although it’s essentially a transit arm linking the L&L to the Bridgewater, I can see us making detours down here to enjoy the peaceful open mooring after the mills and backwaters around Wigan.
And then onto the Bridgewater,
July became the month of bridges, possibly the most spectacular, at least from an engineers point of view, was crossing the Barton Swing Aqueduct over the Manchester ship canal.
We didn’t linger around Manchester but continued towards Stockton Heath, and Preston Brook, which is where we discovered Eric’s lineage, Willie actually worked as a canal porter on the wharfs at Preston Brook.
We would have liked longer on the Bridgewater, but unlike the majority of the canals, it’s in private ownership and only permits one weeks free passage per month, so we continued south on the Trent and Mersey, heading for the Shroppie. But who could resist a minor detour onto the Anderton boat lift for a few days on the River Weaver. Not us. Each time we use these awesome feats of victorian engineering we think how lucky we are to be able to enjoy them, fearing of course that one day the funding for their maintenance will run out, or health and safety will dictate their closures.
What we hadn’t anticipated that after just 5 weeks of cruising, it wasn’t the old structures that failed, but Firecrest who suffered a catostophic breakdown. The long and the short of of it was a manufacturing fault in our generator that required a complicated repair. This was the low point of our year, so I won’t dwell on the why’s and wherefores, but the “not all bad bit” was that we broke down very close to Northwich Quay Marina, and Heather the manager, went out of her way to make sure we were safe during a frustrating repair that took nearly 7 weeks
It was now mid September and we knew in order to avoid being on the wrong side of the planned canal maintenance closures, we had to reach Foxton by 1st November, plus we had booked a weeks family holiday in October. That was 144 miles and 88 locks, doable in a fortnight of full days and fair weather, but we don’t enjoy cruising at speed, even if it is only 4 miles an hour. So we abandoned our plans for the Shroppie and set off aiming to do 4 hours a day, vowing to come back and revisit the places we had missed. Heartbreak Hill, with 31 locks in 12 miles certainly got the muscles aching, but we had good weather and enough oncoming boats to make it an enjoyable challenge,
And we even got to see the skeleton in the Harecastle tunnel
We met up with Jo at Great Haywood
Turned right at Fradley
Avoided the storms around Braunston
Socially distanced the locks at Watford
Didn’t quite get all the family together in the Lakes due to travel restrictions.
But we made it into Leicestershire in time for second lockdown in Market Harborough. The highlight being moored opposite the kingfishers favourite perch
And finally got the blacking done at Debdale
What a year 2020 was. The highs were definitely the friendships made during hard times, the lows were loosing 2 friends. But it wasn’t all bad.