We waved goodbye to the lovely Buttercup meadows of Eynsham
Past Dukes Cut junction where we joined the Thames a few weeks ago, and into Kings lock. Which although it didn’t have any fancy topiary that we’d seen upstream but was appropriately guarded for a king. Kings lock was the last pound lock built by the Thames Conservancy in 1928 when George V was on the throne so I assume it was named for him.
The next lock, at Godstow was the first stone built lock built in 1790. Godstow had been home to an Abbey and nunnery but Henry VIII put paid to that during the resolution of the monasteries, I wonder if that’s where some of the lock stones came from.
Now Godstow is the first of the electro-hydraulic locks we shall meet on our journey downstream. We shared it with a lovely young couple who showed us which buttons to press.
We cruised through Port Meadow and caught our first glimpses of Oxford’s dreaming spires, although the skyline was over dominated by cranes taller that the beautiful buildings we strained to see.
Under the Red Bridge or Medley foot bridge to give it s proper name,
And onto a mooring snuggled into the trees
Where the next day we had a spur of the moment meeting when Amanda stopped off for lunch as she just happened to be driving past.
Port Meadow is a pleasant 20 minute walk into the centre of Oxford, so as we couldnt see any mooring restrictions, we settled down to enjoy a bit of a holiday.
“Where are you this weekend Mum?” ….“Banbury” ….. “I’ll be arriving on the 14:56” …..and so we set off cruising late and only made it as far as Haynes lift bridge on Friday, but at least we had a crew.
It’s a pleasant mooring just beyond Banbury. It gave our city boy son enough fresh air that he slept like a log and we had a lazy start to the weekend. So whilst I waited for the men to wake up, I stuck my head outside to say hello to fellow bloggers on NB Freespirit, who are making the same journey as we are but with a tighter timescale. And I have to say, it has made me smile that we’ve unwittingly snapped very similar photos but we managed to snap Firecrest and Freespirit moored together.
We saw many things that made us smile over the weekend. And whilst seeing a smartly dressed paddle gear made me groan, it was Tim who took the time to read its message….Kings Norton lock
We made sure Tim earnt his keep working the locks for us
But most of the lift bridges on the South Oxford are usually kept open these days
Word had filtered through from boats travelling north that the Chisnell lift bridge was misbehaving in the strong winds so we called it a day and moored up for the night. What could be better than mooring opposite a field of fluffy sheep
As always when Tim comes to visit, (or any other visitors for that matter) I do feel a compulsive need to feed him well and our weekend was punctuated with cooked breakfasts, sumptuous teas and picnics on the go.
But we made sure we walked off our calories when we moored up at the quarry near above Pigeons lock and discovered the woods were full of bluebells.
And we all celebrated when we were able to tick off a significant bridge number. Weve seen plenty of 100’s but its nice to see a 200.
It really has been a lovely weekend, despite some horrible windy moments, its remained dry and the sun has shone most of the time. And the scenery has been lovely
But this was were we had to say goodbye for this visit. There is a good footpath from Pigeons lock up to Tackley train station for Tim to return to his own home.
where we were joined for our adventure by Heather and Ant, and their pet rats, (ok the 5 knitted rats that have an Instagram page if their own, so like to travel)
The weather was so dire that we really thought our crossing was not going to happen. But as luck would have it the rain stopped and the wind dropped so off we set.
Oh boy is it an experience, this Pontycysllte is the longest canal aqueduct at 307m long and the highest at 38m traversing the Dee valley. It is supported by 18 arched stone pillars.
It has a 3.7m wide and 1.6m deep cast iron trough which incorporates a protruding towpath over the water, this allows sufficient space for water displacement not to impede the boats movement. (Cause even the most unscientific of boaters know how frustrating it is when your boat slows down through narrow bridge holes and shallow weedy water). I wonder if Archimedes envisaged he would be enabling people like Telford to design such structures, because unlike road or rail viaducts the load is constant not increased when a boat enters the channel as the equivalent mass of water is moved off the aqueduct.
Provision was made for railings on the off side (not sure I like that term on an aqueduct like this) but they were never erected
It is quite scary looking down from the Towpath side to the River Dee below
But then some scenes are worth it, ok this photo was taken from the footbridge in Trevor basin, but at least if the bride had fallen in she would have been able to parachute to a safe landing.
Once we got into Trevor basin we cruised through the heaving mass of the hire boat centre on change over day
And found ourselves a secluded spot right at the end of navigation, where the planned route would have taken the canal to Chester
It was lovely to see Heather and Ant if only for a few hours
After they left we thought it would be peaceful here but in the 24 hours we were there, several boats came down this short 150m arm expecting to go through the bridge towards Llangollen. Some were quite huffy when we lent out and advised them not to go any further, some had the confidence to reverse back, but one poor family just didn’t know what to do, so Eric helped them. He mentioned the disproportionate number of disoriented boaters to a CRT man, who insisted the route was signed… but not adequately replied Eric. Fortunately non of the lost narrowboats took the footpath and ended up looking up at the aqueduct from the valley.
I’m not the fittest or most energetic of people and I’m certainly not sporty, but with one or two exceptions, I love watching live sport on TV. I even watched the penalty shoot out at the Euros. So instead of keeping up to date with our meanderings, I’ve been unpicking the intricacies of cycling competition, modern pentathlon, tennis tournaments and boxing bouts. But in between the joy and despair shared with various athletes and the extremes of British summer weather, we have continued to cruise the Macclesfield and Peak Forest canal.
We moored on the Braidbar spot for a few days, filling in James and Donna with our adventures of the past 4 years, whist asking James for his assistance to channel in some news wiring for our ever increasing Solar panels.
Tim and his friend have taken advantage of our close proximity to their homes and cycled out on several occasions to join us, and to share a birthday cake.
I’ve hopped on the train to visit my mum up in the Lake District
And Eric has dutifully returned back to Suffolk to complete some emergency repairs on our Bricks and Mortar. Leaving me with time to explore the walking trails around New Mills and to reaquaint my friendships with Kate, Annie and Martyn who run the Wiseheart and Wild creative Studio in New Mills, Furnace Vale and Disley.
We’ve worked hard in Bugsworth Basin, where we fixed the last two possible solar panels on to the roof.
And we’ve made friends with many boaters as we have taken the opportunity to moor for several days in the same place.
We had thought we would cruise onto pastures new, by continuing down the Marple flight, and through Manchester onto the Bridgewater canal before heading towards Chester. However there have been on going issues with some of the locks on that route, so we revised that plan and are now heading back south down the Macclesfield Canal and have a coin ready to toss when we get to the next junction.
We were in for a treat, our son Tim had the opportunity to join us for a few days. Ironically the last time we saw him was 8 months ago when he met us at Kidsgrove to travel south. Today he was arriving by bike so we booked our passage through the Harecastle tunnel for an afternoon transit. We said our goodbyes to Westport Lake, (built by the Victorians after a mine collapse)
And set off to wait for him at the south portal. The original Harecastle tunnel was built by James Brindley and completed in 1777 but it was constantly beset by problems. I’m sure the original bargees didn’t like it as it would take them over three hours to leg through the 2630m. They would lie on their backs on the roof of their boats and walk sideways along the walls, not easy and hard work. The children walked the horses over the hill on the aptly named Boathorse Road. 50 years later Thomas Telford built a second, bigger tunnel that included a towpath, which greatly reduced transit time. But it was still a difficult tunnel to pass through. In the 1970’s the Towpath was removed, and now apart from it being long cold and drippy, it’s fairly straightforward. There is an interesting page on Wikipedia about the two tunnels. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harecastle_Tunnel
Although there’s a booking system in place, the tunnel keepers seem to exercise a degree of common sense and as Tim arrived earlier than expected we joined the last morning convoy. We dutifully paid our respects to the boater who didn’t obey the rules.
And emerged after about 45 minutes, in time for a bowl of tomato soup for lunch.
Ok I’m only joking, the canal isn’t really full of tomato soup, it’s the iron ore deposits leaking out of the older tunnel that discolour the water here. It always feels a bit chaotic around Kidsgrove, there are excited boaters waiting to use the tunnel, a lot of long term moorings, and bends and bridges and junctions to negotiate. But we were following the signs and headed south onto the Hall Green Branch on the Macclesfield Canal
Within half a mile we felt like we had emerged into a different world as the Hall Green Branch crosses over the Trent and Mersey on an aqueduct,
and we arrived at the Stop lock. This was a good one for Tim to practice on as the difference is only 6 inches. In the days when companies owned individual canals stop locks were put in place to force the boaters to stop and pay their dues.
3 happy boaters heading north on the Macclesfield Canal
Now that Firecrest has passed through Wigan, we have reached the area I grew up in. For despite my numerous addresses, I’m a Lancashire girl-or was until they redrew the county lines and it became Merseyside. I have fond memories of place names, places we drove through before the motorways made escaping north to the Lake District a more sanitised journey. I still have aunties, uncles and cousins in this area, all wanting to see Firecrest and our alternative lifestyle. So when we got to Parbold, Aunty Avril, Mum and Mike joined us as we cruised from Parbold to Burscough
It was a good day to have company, showing off all the lovely aspects of narrowboating, pretty bridges
And colourful countryside
And me hopping on and off, showing just how capable I am at hauling the boat in and working locks and swing bridges.
We cruised past the Rufford Arm, that’ll be next years route, and moored up in Burscough just in time to enjoy a perfect sunset
Cousin Lynne and her children Reubin and Freya joined us a few days later,
They were keen to join in and help with the swing bridges, and they made a good crew.