Tomato Soup, anyone?

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)

Westport Lake

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

The old 1770’s and the new, 1820’s.


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.

Mr Bones looking a bit shaky today

And emerged after about 45 minutes, in time for a bowl of tomato soup for lunch.

Happy to see daylight again on the north side of the tunnel

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

We’ll be heading towards Whaley Bridge

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,

Looking down from the 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.

We had to look hard to decide whether we were going up or down this lock.

3 happy boaters heading north on the Macclesfield Canal

Tim Eric and Cheryl

A Family Affair

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

Any excuse for a party

It was a good day to have company, showing off all the lovely aspects of narrowboating, pretty bridges

 And colourful countryside

pumpkin patch at Burscough
Pumpkins at Burscough

And me hopping on and off, showing just how capable I am at hauling the boat in and working locks and swing bridges.

Looks like I’m enjoying myself

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

Sunset at Burscough

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.