The Midlands March, up the Merry Hill

As we feared the canal was frozen over when we woke, but when I gingerly leaned out the side hatch and poked it, it was obvious, we’d be skating on thin ice, which was thawing rapidly

Thin ice

So when we saw the door of opportunity floating towards us we set off. Turning immediately right onto the Stourbridge Extension canal.

The door of opportunity

Past Delph wharf, which, as the notice says, offered hard standing for boats of all sizes

Really?

Under Black Delph bridge, which marks the start (or end) of the Dudley No 1 canal, part of the Birmingham Canal Navigation and the start (or end) of the Delph flight of 8 locks. As luck would have it, as I set the first lock, we struck gold, not one but 3 CRT gems. Two of whom were volockies, who helped us up the flight in under an hour.

That’s what we like to see, helpers at locks


And we were mightily glad we made good speed because as we emerged from lock 8 (or was it lock 1) there were snow flurries in the air

Leaving the top lock

And 5 minutes later, we were cruising past Merry Hill, the huge retail complex, but although there was lots of mooring, it was very exposed.

Merry Hill

So we rounded the corner to moor at the Waterfront Basin, by the time we finished tying up it was almost blizzard like.

Think we stopped just in time.

We hadn’t intended to go further, so we battoned down the hatches and snuggled up to keep warm, we could have ventured over the bridge to enjoy the delights of Wetherspoons and the shops.

I imagine it is a lot more inviting in the sun


But the thought of catching pneumonia appealed even less than catching that other nasty bug doing the rounds. It did look nice at night though.

Night time sparkle

We travelled 4 miles and did 8 locks

The Midlands March, 16 locks

There wasn’t a lot, but we definitely saw a dusting of snow on the towpath this morning.

Yes that’s snow on the towpath


And with a flight of 16 locks to work through I was a bit worried about slipping on ice. But the sun was shining as we entered the first lock on the stourbridge flight at 10am

Wordsley junction, start of the flight


We passed some lovely old buildings, that probably thrived on canal trade


I wanted to stop at the Red House glass works Museum,

The red house glass cone

but word was starting to filter down that there was a problem ahead….. “The canals been dredged” “the canals empty” “there’s a swan stuck in the mud” ….. I think the walkers thought we were mad to keep going on up the flight, but what else where we to do until we’d seen the problem for ourselves.

Mmm Firecrest won’t be going through that quagmire

And sure enough we got to Swan Bridge winding hole to find it impassible. Did we call CRT or walk up and check the paddles first? We opted to check the paddles hadn’t been left open and then draw some water down to refill the pound. There didn’t seem to be much amiss in the section above, and despite it seeming a large area, the levels had risen sufficiently in just over half an hour to be navigable.

That’s more like it

And typically just as we were breathing a huge sigh of relief a well armed CRT man turned up with his rake. I didn’t pick up if he’d been told about the problem by someone else, but he agreed we had done the right thing. And he also identified the cause of the problem. Something was stopping the ground paddle being fully wound down. And he knew that the last boat on the flight before us was the day before, so there had had been plenty of time to drain the pond. He set too with his rake and after quite some effort, he hauled a child’s scooter and some plastic out thus allowing the paddle to close properly.

I hope that wasn’t a Christmas

We all surmised that the scooter looked new, so we think it must have fallen in rather than been discarded thrown in. The current then sucked it into the paddle channel. So not a deliberate act of vandalism, just a consequence of an unfortunate accident. Sadly though, we are now in an urban area, where there are enough morons who think it acceptable to use the canal as a dumping ground or for sport throwing in shopping trolleys and traffic cones. And for some make their “artistic” presence known.

Graffiti country

Thankfully those people are in the minority and plenty more enjoy the benefits of the canal. It’s not always rubbish that gets pulled out as we saw this enormous Pike being landed

What a whopper

We made it through the top lock 4 hours after we set off. And with CRTs permission we moored on the bollards.

Mooring after the top lock

With a clear sky and a crescent moon it’s quite beautiful

Magical

Less than 2 miles and 16+ locks

A lot more locks, descending Heartbreak Hill


11 months ago, (September 2020) we huffed and puffed our way up Heartbreak Hill, which is the affectionate nickname for the 31 locks on the Trent and Mersey canal between Middlewich junction and Kidsgrove.

September 2020

It’s only a 12 mile stretch, the enthusiastic hire boaters can do it in a day and still call it a holiday. We took three days. Since then we travelled down to Northamptonshire, where we overwintered and locked down around Market Harborough whilst we had our hull zinced and blacked, then made our way back up north via Leicester, the start of the Trent and Mersey, with a pleasant detour onto the Caldon, up the Macclesfield, to Whaley Bridge on the Peak Forest and back down onto the Trent and Mersey. Which is approximately 360 miles and 240 locks and according to ACC canal planner can be done in 26 days……

Screenshot of our travels from ACcanal planner

This time we are descending the flight, and not having a deadline, have taken our time. We started at Kidsgrove by refilling the larder at the newly opened and very convenient canal side Lidl.

Ready to empty the trolly in the lock

Although for the first mile we thought we could feast upon tomato soup directly from the canal, perhaps not, who knows what other contaminants are lurking in that iron stained water.

A lock full of tomato soup

Traffic seemed quite heavy on our first day, and we were lucky enough to benefit from some convenient crossovers.

Practicing for Strictly, dancing between locks

We felt quite sorry for the enthusiastic hire boaters, negotiating the queues and etiquette of these locks on a very damp day. Although it was mainly mild drizzle, I got caught out in proper rain shower whilst Eric sheltered below a bridge waiting for me to set the next lock.

Hmmm not our idea of fun

We had had enough after 3 miles and moored up in Rode Heath. Our next day was drier, but this time Eric was suffering from wind…..

Practicing the “Suez manouver”

So after 2 miles we tied up at Hassal Green and enjoyed a pleasant evening accompanied by the constant hum of the nearby M6.

Hassal Green mooring

It might make for a noisy pair of locks but once we were under the bridge the noise quickly settled and we were back in the countryside.

Under the M6

The section to the next obvious mooring (for fickle snails like ourselves) actually feels like the end of the flight, despite there being another 5 to go. Wheelock bottom lock, lock 66 is the last/first of the twinned locks.

Leaving wheelock bottom lock

Over the past 3 days we might not be heart broken, but we had broken the backbone and had completed 26 locks over 7 miles. That called for a treat, aka a fish and chip supper under a pretty sunset.

Wheelock mooring


I had wanted to walk into Sandbach, but the footpath was so overgrown I gave up as not being entirely safe with the wet ground. Instead I walked south to the Wheelock farm shop and stocked up on some local produce, and a Cheshire farm ice cream.

Lots of locks, the Bosley flight

Shortly after leaving Macclesfield we cruised south across Gurnett Aqueduct, looking over you can see the house where James Brindley had served his apprenticeship (and Bryons Lane is a pretty circular walk around to Sutton with a well stocked village shop and tea room worth noting )

Paying Homage to James Brindley

But we weren’t stopping, the clouds were grey and heavy and we wanted to reach the top of the Bosley Flight before they offloaded, which luckily we did, and they did. Thankfully we woke to reasonable sunshine and set off down the flight.

Number 2 of 12

The flight is 12 rural locks, nicely spaced out over a mile, so it usually is a pleasant experience even if it’s hard work. All but the last three were set against us.

10 of 12

And we exited number 12 just 2 hours later.

Made it, 12/12

There’s plenty of mooring at the bottom on the embankment that overlooks the River Dane Valley and the magnificent rail viaduct to the east.

River Dane Valley

And the local lamdmark “The Cloud” to the south, this is the peak that Eric and Tim climbed 2 months ago. I decreed that the Cloud’s cloud would obliterate the view so I would leave it until “next time” before I considered the climb.

The cloudy Cloud

And of course when we woke to a perfect day, we needed to continue cruising.

A cloudless Cloud

9 hours crusing for 1 hour generator use


Kidderminster Trip Day 2 – a technical perspective

We cruised for 9 hours and covered 13 miles, and lost 110 feet of altitude.  I was particularly interested to see how the electric propulsion working through the lock flight at Bosley.  12 locks in the space of one mile.

I have to say it was lovely coming down the flight, no noise of engine or exhaust reverberating around the stone lock chambers, no diesel fumes to breath as I wait for the locks to empty, and able to hear Cheryl from the lock side.  I think Cheryl would say it was B#### hard work – the locks gates weigh about a ton each but are surprisingly easy to move for their weigh.  But some of the lock paddles are really hard work to wind up.

We travelled 13 miles and used 198AH (10.4KWhrs) from our batteries, which means we used just under one fifth of our battery capacity cruising today.  That equates to just under 3.5 litres of Diesel and at the price we last paid works out at £2.50 for the whole days cruising.   We can replenish that much power in about 1 hour from our diesel generator.

I measured the power we used during the lock flight itself and in the 1hr 40 minutes it took us to do the 12 locks we used just 16AH (0.8KWhrs) from our batteries, so we used the equivalent of under a quarter litre of diesel to come down the flight.

I am closely monitoring our batteries to see how they perform.  We started the days cruise with the batteries at 52.4 volts and ended it at 52.3 volts.   For people who are used to Lead Acid or almost any other type of battery such a tiny volt drop after using a fifth of the batteries capacity is unheard of.  But our LiFePO4 (Lithium Iron Phosphate) batteries have almost no voltage drop between 20% and 80% state of charge.

Over all I am pleased with how little power we are using to cruise, its is a little less than I had allowed for from all my research and calculations.

Marple locks open day and Middlewood Way

Marple locks are having new gates installed during this year’s winter maintenance program and today Canal And Rivers Trust held an open day to allow the inquisitive the opportunity to descend down onto the floor of the dry lock. We like to think of ourselves as inquisitive so off we set, sadly on foot as we’re still not cruising.

We also took the opportunity to get there by walking along the Middlewood Way, the disused railway line that ran from Marple to Macclesfield. The route was closed down by Beecham in the 70‘s but in the 80‘s the 10mile route was revived as a public right of way for horses cyclists and walkers. And best of all, it’s well maintained and virtually mud free. Although horse riders don’t follow the same rules as dog walkers have to, in clearing up after their animals so we still had to step carefully. Joking aside it was a pleasant walk and we’d like to complete the remaining 6 miles from Poynton to Macclesfield at some point.

Back to Marple locks; these are a flight of 16 locks that descend 210 feet (62m) on the Peak Forest canal.
Along with a lot of other people, we were being shown lock 14. Impressively deep at over 6m, that’s 2m deeper than average.
When in use the water level changes by almost 4m. 44000 gallons of water are needed to lift a boat up to the next level.

There are about 1500 locks being maintained by CART and they are all inspected monthly. Besides emergency work, there’s a planned winter maintenance program to replace those beyond repair. The gates are individually made in the Midlands at the Bradley workshop. They are made out of English Oak (that is grown in France) and each one costs between £25000-£35000. They should last 25 years, but boaters have a tendency to bash into them as we’re swirled about in the filling locks and those carefully fitted snug gates soon begin to leak. Leaking lock gates are boaters equivalent to motorists pot holes, it’s a never ending job to keep them working efficiently. And at least motorists don’t get a cold shower if they drive over a pot hole.
Although the gates need replacing regularly, the stone and brick structure of the lock is still what was originally built 200 years ago. It took 1000’s of navvies 2 years to build the 16 locks at Marple.
To be able to look at the lock from the floor was both humbling and awe inspiring as the precision of and skill of those early engineers is still valued today.

By the time we emerged from the locks we were in desperate need of a bowl of warming soup and we stumbled upon an artisan deli called “All things nice” and too right it was all very nice. It’s made it onto our list of eateries to visit again. We ended up having more than a snack so it’s beans on toast for tea tonight.


All in all a very satisfying day.