Taking advantage of the sunshine

We didn’t take into account the full advantages of solar panels when we were designing Firecrest so we didn’t have them incorporated into the build. However Eric did foresee that we might retro fit them so we always had that option available. Last April, we stuck 4 flexible panels to the roof. Here’s what I wrote at the time

Being boaters, cruising took priority. Then a certain amount of fear and trepidation set in as Eric needed to drill holes in the roof in order to wire them in. Consequently that didn’t get done until we were laid up in Liverpool. We decided the best option to get the wires to the battery management system would be through ports drilled either side of the bathroom pancake vent.

Drilling holes in the roof for the solar panel wires

With the wiring channelled out of sight, behind the calorifior and through the dinette seating to the controller under the dinette.

It’s not a difficult job, but clearing up afterwards is.

Ironically as shorepower was included in our mooring fee we didn’t reap the benefit from solar until we started cruising in late June. Eric has promised me and those interested that one day he will share all the facts and figures. Photonic Universe has been incredibly helpful advising and supplying our panels so last month we opted to add a fifth panel.
As all continual cruisers know getting deliveries to a boat needs a little creative thinking and frequently involves helpful family. This time it was my mum’s turn in their camper van to kindly provide an address and onward transport. The huge packaging was manhandled onto the boat and all bode well for us to install a few days later while moored at Appley bridge.

Not sure where we will sleep tonight


The sun was shining, the towpath was wide and our enthusiasm at its peak. We unwrapped our parcel and to our dismay discovered the panel was cracked. And it was a Sunday, no way to contact the company for another 24 hours. This was so frustrating, not so much the delay in fitting a new panel, but knowing we were well over the deadline for reporting a damaged in transit parcel, and when and where we would could organise a replacement.

Only a small crack, but it would seriously undermine the efficiency and might cause delamination

As we have already said Photonics universe is a great company, and after a few photos and a bit of forward planning we realised the advantage of “the closed down canalside pub” … They still have good mooring, postcodes and car parks. Dover Lock Inn, is sadly one of those pubs, and Photonics pulled enough strings to organise both a pick up and drop off on the same day. This time the panel was inspected instantly and found to be in good working order

Big panels need big lorries

Although we had found a more convenient place to store this large panel, the weather was in our favour to stick it onto the roof the next day. We had opted to go for one larger panel rather than a further two more identical ones. The roof and edges of the panel had protective masking tape applied to help us stick it in place accurately.

Careful positioning and marking out.

Although the panel isn’t too heavy, it’s large and flexible so very vulnerable to being damaged. We practiced our manoeuvres several times before Eric was allowed anywhere near the glue. He uses CT1, which although it’s £10 a tube, (and we used 4) it’s waterproof, flexible and incredibly strong.

There’s no way this panel will unstick

Together, we finally lowered the new panel into place, but you’ll have to take my word for that cause I couldn’t take photos at the same time. We spent a lot of time carefully easing out any air gaps and weighting it down with our 20kg boat ballast weights

Phew. We got that bit right

All in all a very satisfying days work. Now I just have to find a CRT rubbish point where I can get rid of a colossal bag of card board. Cause right now it’s living in our shower.

Wonder where the next CRT rubbish bins are….and if they have space for this lot.

Did I say getting rid of the rubbish was all that was left to do. Come back in 12 months to see if this new panel is wired in cause right now it’s just looking pretty and not earning it’s keep.

• Some quick facts.
• Peak power: 350W
• Maximum power voltage: 39.1V
• Maximum power current: 8.7A
• Open circuit voltage: 47.7V
• Short circuit current: 9.0A
• Dimensions: 2024 x 99a1 x 2 mm
• Weight: 6.82 kg

The Leigh Arm


We weren’t sure what to expect from the Leigh Arm of the Leeds and Liverpool canal. It’s only 7.5 miles long and was built to connect the end of the Bridgewater canal at Leigh with the Leeds and Liverpool canal at Wigan. Moving coal and cotton, it was crucial for trading links to Manchester. It’s celebrating its 200th birthday this year as It was completed in 1820 at the cost of £61,419. There’s still the occasional working boat to be seen although this beauty is not a local boat and not trading.

A traditional boat

We had a few jobs needed doing on the boat so we spent a week mooring in various spots along its route.

Firecrest at Plank Lane

Waking up in the morning to perfect peace.

Early morning mist

This area was rich with coal deposits and consequently was mined heavily. There were several huge collieries within the Wigan coal field each capable of producing a million tonnes per year. Over the years as the seams were exhausted and economics changed, the land suffered from subsidence, and what with the abandoned slag heaps, the countryside was really a no go area until a serious attempt at land reclamation in the 70s and 80s. Apart from the info boards along the Towpath there’s no mining in sight now.

Info boards along the towpath


The rivers and canal overflow filled the depressions and created several lakes known as the flashes and along with new houses for the people, wildlife habitat was also created.

Family outing

The whole area is now a diverse and thriving environment, with nature reserves, outdoor activities and water sports . Much of the area is designated an SSSI with rare flora and fauna to be found in the reedbeds, I think July is the season of pink flowers.

We moored along side the Scotsman’s flash. Fortunately it wasn’t too windy, and whilst I can safely say we weren’t treated to the most spectacular canal scenery, we did see a lot of yellow ragwort, also known as stinking willy…..

Stinking Willy

some of the local youngsters took advantage of the sunshine and water and held their equivalent to a beach party. And away from their gettoblasters, it is a peaceful place to be.

The Scotsman’s flash party

The canal here is long and straight. The banks are wide and the towpaths are very well maintained,

From crankwood bridge

but we chose to walk a little way off the beaten track.

Woods by Westwood Flash

All in all I’d be happy to cruise this way again.

Person’s flash

Reaching for pastures new

With only another 5 miles to Wigan, we were almost upon pastures new for us. We had last cruised this way 10 months ago in September 2019, travelling westward intending to enjoy just one week in Liverpool. Little did we know what was to come. The day promised some sunshine, but we’ve heard that before. So we set off in a spirit of adventure. Passing the Baby Elephant, an Indian Restaurant which closed down some time ago.

The Baby Elephant

It’s sad to see so many canalside venues closed down especially when we see so many people walking the Towpath.

It’s thirsty work seeing a boat through a lock


But this area is coal mining country, so although there’s lots of new development there’s also a lot of run down property. One thing that has made us grimmace chuckle is CRT’s love of signs, including portage notices advising canoes to be taken out of the water at swing bridges and carried through. There might be logic if the bridges were closed but so many swing bridges are permenantly open and completely inoperable. It just strikes us as a complete and utter waste of money and lack of any intelligence.

Canoers should walk past here

However not to spend too long being grumpy, we passed the impressive Wigan pier

Wigan Pier

We wondered what George Orwell would have made of the fancy redevelopment opposite around the wharfs, warehouses and mills.

Recycling at its most profitable

After a stop to fill up with water we rounded the corner and there it was, the Leigh Branch. It’s still technically part of the Leeds and Liverpool canal, but for us, we’re breaking new ground and it feels good.

Turning right, , onto the Leigh Branch

During this section of our journey, we passed by two historic boats, Ambush and Viktoria. Most canals have a specific style to maximise the efficiency and profit of their specific routes. Above Wigan the Liverpool Shortboats, dominated. Ambush and Viktoria were built for the H &R Ainscough Mill in Burscough, they are Liverpool Longboats to carry grain and flour. They are 60’long and 14’wide. nowadays Ambush is still a working boat delivering fuel to boaters between Burscough and Leigh. Canal Junction writes and intersting article about these boats

Ambush and Viktoria

Fairies as far as the eye can see


We haven’t seen hills for months, so now that we have one on our doorstep I thought it time to stretch some dormant muscles. There are two significant local beauty spots with in walking distance of Appley Deep Lock, both involve a climb, Parbold Hill rewards with views for miles and we’d chosen a good day.

On a clear day, you can see forever

To the southeast we could see way beyond Wigan towards Manchester and the peak district beyond. My photo doesn’t do it justice, we could see the M6 crossing the river Douglas and the Heinz factory

To Wigan and beyond

To the southwest we could see the tall cranes along the Mersey docks

That’s where we have come from, Liverpool in the distance

And to the northwest Blackpool tower and a hint of the Lakeland fells behind

If you squint you can see Blackpool tower

Parbold hill has special memories for me as a child. Mum and Dad would lift me and my brother from our beds, wrap us in blankets and put us into to boot of the VWCombi at 6 am on a Saturday morning and we’d drive from our home in Crosby up to the Lake District in time to make Bacon butties in Ambleside for breakfast. Ok I know that would never be allowed to happen now, but just in case you were worried, it was more of a parcel rack than a closed in boot, and I don’t think seatbelts had been invented back in the early 70s. The combi must have chugged and splutterd to get to the top of Parbold Hill, cause we always greeted it with a fanfare.
Those carefree days must have really nurtured my inner hippy and my love of outdoor living. Half a mile down the hill is a trail that leads to the Fairy Glen. A woodland walk that follows the path of Sprodley Brook almost back down to the canal. I did search high and low for the fairies but I think they were practicing social distancing.

I’m sure there’s a fairy in the glen

The path became steeper and more of a scramble, perfect for little waterfalls

Fairy showers


I wanted to skip back to the boat filled with the joy of the day, but oh boy did we ache. 8 months in Liverpool didn’t do our fitness levels any good. Time for tea and cake back on Firecrest

Fairweather cruising


One distinct advantage of being continual cruisers is that we don’t have to cruise continually, (with the proviso that we move on every 14 days in accordance with the rules) So when it rains we stay put, but when the sun shines we make the most of it and enjoy hearing the frequently used phrase “nice day for it”. And we agree, “it’s a hard life but someone’s got to do it”
So onward we meander. Past the bridge that traverses the junction of the Rufford branch of the L&L. Our plans back in April were to have cruised this way so we could cross over the Ribble link onto the Lancaster, however with all the uncertainties we’ve decided to do it another year.

Rufford branch junction

And through Parbold with its lovely old mill, now transformed into James Bartholomew’s art gallery,

The Mill House gallery


I even saw my very first black blackberry of the season, but as it was below knee level, it stayed put.

First blackberry of the season


We settled for a few nights with a view of the hills near Appley deep lock.

Hills


And moored up with view of cow parsley

This is what we see through the round window today

Living by the canal


Once the navvies had built the canals, lots of hands were needed to maintain and work them. So rows of canal cottages were built along side the Cut for the workers and their families. This part of Lancashire, around Burscough has some very des-res cottages. I’m never sure if it’s the cottages or the gardens that appeal to me the most.

A garden to share

Beautiful they may be, I don’t think I could ever imagine raising a family living in a traditional boatsmans cabin on an old working boat

A traditional working boat

Of course not everyone needs a house….

Setttle down children, time for bed

And where you have canals and wharfs you also need watering holes. This Burscough Pub is the “old Packet House” and it has an interesting information board outside, (no, not the one about social distancing etc). Originally called the Bridge Inn, built in 1775 it became a staging post for passengers travelling to and from Liverpool and Wigan, who wanted to use the stage coach, (known as the Union Machine) to get between Ormskirk and Preston. Passengers travelled by Packetboats, (Union Packets) which carried small parcels as opposed to the Flyboats that carried merchandise. It cost 2/- to travel first class from Liverpool and 1/3d second class. They were allowed up to 14lbs luggage. These packet boats were over 60′ long and 9’wide and were drawn by 2 horses, one of which was ridden. They used a bugle to warn waiting passengers of their approach. Sadly we were a day too early to be allowed in.

The Old Packet House, Burscough

Sadly not all canal side pubs thrive even in a good year, as we found when we moored up outside the Ring o Bells.

The closed down Ring o Bells

However the pub car park is still accessible and it made a perfect for mum to drive down from the Lakes for our first post lockdown “hug”

A get together worth waiting for
Perfect cruising day

The Halsall Navvy

A little bit of history.
What were you doing on 5th November 1770, Col Charles Mordaunt was cutting the first turf of the Leeds and Liverpool canal. This was in Halsall, West Lancs. Somewhere, by the bridge, there’s a plaque marking the spot, but I couldn’t find it. However there is a fine stone sculpture known as the Halsall Navvie here. I doubt old Charlie did much more of the hard work, but the information board set me thinking about the Navvies who toiled along the cut.

The information board at Halsall

It’s hard to imagine that these canals were all build by hard manual labour. Originally the workers were known as Cutters. But they soon became known as Navvies abbreviated from Navigator. The canal is still often referred to as the Cut.Contrary to general belief only 30% of the navies were Irish. Over 500 men were involved in building the Leeds and Liverpool canal. Local farm labourers often supplemented their income by joining the workforce until they were needed at harvest time.

The Halsall Navvy by Thomas Dagnall 2004

In 1770 it cost £5048 to build a mile of canal equivalent to around £275 000 today. Locks cost extra. And the total financial cost of the Leeds and Liverpool was £1 250 000, around £50 000 000 today.
I’ve read that an experienced navvy could shift 12 cubic yards of earth a day: that’s the same as digging a trench 3ft wide, 3ft deep and 36ft long every day. Canal boat and Tillergraph magazine have a fascinating piece giving a better insight

We’ve got a lot to be grateful for, cause I doubt Halsall looked as lovely as this 250 years ago

Moored at Halsall

Lancashire living

Lancashire comes into its own along this stretch of the canal. We’re surrounded by rich open farmland full of crops, no uninspiring supermarket, but farm shops in barns selling potatoes that still smell of earth and taste so good you don’t need anything else on your plate, except perhaps a bit of butter.

You dont get this in a supermarket

Of course good crops don’t grow with out that essential element and whilst we are still grinning from ear to ear about being back in the countryside, I was reminded of another reason I’d enjoyed a long winter in Liverpool.

Muddy towpaths


But being surrounded by wild flowers makes up for it.


We’re sometimes asked if not having a permenant base makes canal life lonely, but not at all. It’s amazing what a small world it is, during our few days at Downholland we discovered our neighbour and I had attended the same secondary school, albeit just a few years before me, but never the less we traded names of friends and acquaintances we had in common, and it turned out he had also owned a Braidbar boat for some year.

Mooring at Downholland

So it was a lovely surprise to find our next mooring spot would also become a social occasion-OK, we did know John and Martina on Burnt Oak was cruising in this area so not a total surprise.

Halsall

It didnt take long for Martina and I to grab our fold up chairs, find our fibre and start spinning together

Towpath Twizzlers

Martina is setting up a small business and has a roving traders licence to sell hand dyed yarn and fibre. The first week of a pandemic isn’t the ideal time to launch a new venture, but Jubilee Fibres will be making an appearance at events along the Towpath in the future, but I was lucky to restock my own stash with some lovely kingfisher blue. Martina explained to me why she chose the name and logo Jubilee Fibres. The word Jubilee comes from the Hebrew, to celebrate. And Hebrew celebrations often included the blowing of a rams horn, which looks very similar to a canal bridge. Some great combination of symbolism.

The Joy of being back on the canal

The metropolitan borough of Sefton might not hold the most beautiful section of canal, but after being cooped up for 8 months we smiled at CRTs latest advertising banner.

Sound advice

We woke to a family of goslings cutting across the calm reflection at Litherland, but knowing the forecast was predicted to hit the 30’s we didn’t hang around. And off we set, cruising freely again. Although we weren’t sure if the geese were seeing us off.

Too many to count

And the herons were providing a guard of honour

Nice tho see Herons again

It was a joy to see such a variety of wildlife again

Coots on their nest

Perhaps some was a little stranger than we expected.

Whatever floats your boat

And we’re not sure that exercise suits everyone

On the road to nowhere

One of the events to be cancelled during Lockdown was the Aintree Grand National. I wonder how many of those race goers have any idea what the turn at Canal Corner looks like on the outside of the fence.

Canal Corner


There are too many trees for us to see the course properly

The Aintree race course

So we carried on our way. We had been worried that the canal would have become a dumping ground with the council tips closed. To some extent we were right, but although there were a number of big plastic items bobbing around, we only had to stop once to remove the urban jelly fish from the prop. We hadn’t expected our journey to be stopped by a carpet of waterlillies

Are we still on the Canal?

We continued our journey though Maghull and into Lancashire, I’d had to open 7 swing bridges on today’s journey.

Yet another swing bridge

But I was well rewarded with views of fields with yellow rape and red poppies

Fields of gold

And dog daisies growing along the bank.

Dog daisies

Oh the sheer joy of being back on the canal, Anyone would think we hadn’t enjoyed Liverpool, which is wrong, we had made the most of a completely different lifestyle, it had been like being on a good holiday, but we were glad to be back home. One thing remained the constant. Our evening sunset.

Sunset at Downholland Cross

Moving on, Breaking free and setting sail

At long last we’re able to cruise again.
Back in March when the country realised the need to protect ourselves from the looming pandemic, we mulled over how we felt, were we safer or more at risk in a big city like Liverpool. There were pros and cons but on balance we decided safer. With a tall harbour wall protecting the handful of boaters from the general public and a fully serviced pontoon, we only needed to emerge when we chose, the food shops were an easy walk so we considered ourselves very lucky, when CRT made the decision to lock us in. Shortly after, the whole canal system was shut down with only essential travel permitted. Even the towpaths became off limits as well meaning passers by stopped to talk to moored boaters. We knuckled down for an unknown future, even fearing a second winter in Liverpool. I reinstated my nursing registration and volunteered to work at the Nightingale Northwest in Manchester, but thankfully the NHS coped and I wasn’t needed.
Unsure of when we would be allowed to cruise, we lost our first companions in mid May, when they arranged to have their boat craned out and transported by road to where they needed to be.

Cruising to the marina ready to be cranes out


At the end of May, 3 more of our friends made a bid for freedom even though the rules still remained not to use locks.

Nb Buffalo leaving via the Albert Dock

Another 2 followed the week after, we weren’t looking forward to cruising through all that weed and other debris thrown into the canal, whilst council tips remained off limits.

Thwarted only 10 minutes after setting off

By now we were getting weekly phone calls from the CRT office as the guidance was updated. The final 3 boats agreed to go our on June 17th. We weren’t too pleased to get a call on the 16th asking us to stay put another week, but we dutifully complied. And at 8am on 24th June 2020 with huge smiles on our faces, we finally all set off.

Sun’s shining, life jackets on and ready to go

The Green boat, as we affectionately called it cause their name isn’t painted on the side went first

The green boat, clearing the way

We were next

Entering Albert Dock

One of the advantages of travelling in convoy is receiving photos of Firecrest in fantastic places

Getting ready to go through Mann Island Lock

Thankfully the weed had been dispersed as we cruised under the watchful eyes of the Liver birds

Firecrest enjoying a clear run

The reward for waiting an extra week, was that lock keepers were back from furlough, so even though we had enough crew between us we only had to get off the boat to record the day

You’d imagine we’d run out of conversation after 8 months, but no

Sid has been looking after this stretch since it’s creation nearly 20 years ago and in recognition, the narrow channel between West Waterloo Dock and Trafalgar Dock is known as Sid’s Ditch. We had the honour of being accompanied by Sid as he hitched a lift on Bluebell’s bow.

Sid in Sid’s ditch on Bluebell

The volunteers were out in force, all happy to do the hard work to help us through the Stanley flight

We weren’t quite ready to say goodbye to our friends as we all moored up for the night at Litherland. And I was rewarded with another evening sunset

Sunset at Litherland

We all slept well that night.

With many thanks to Andy, Angie, Avril, Becka, Darren, David, Freya, James, Kitti, Little Darren, Mark, Paul, Reuben, Sharon, Sid, Stuart, Tam, the bin men, the checkout assistants, the CRT team the Dock security, the volunteers, and our families and anyone whose name I have missed off by mistake. Thankyou for helping us through Lockdown, stay safe x.