Day 39 (13) – The Wigan flight

The hardest day so far. Of course it’s the L&L! 

We are finally back on the Leeds & Liverpool canal albeit the Leigh branch after leaving the Bridgewater canal at Leigh bridge. Our first welcome was the electric lift bridge at Plank lane which was very busy with motorists – we hate being a nuisance. Poor motorists confused by traffic lights which can’t be seen from the bridge control box so it’s impossible for the bridge operator to wait for a break in the traffic to raise the bridge. Nightmare. 

The canal was very pleasant to cruise on going through open countryside that had been transformed from its previous industrial past. The huge old cotton mills were an awesome sight – this place must have been terrible when they were all working.

By around midday we were coming to the outskirts of Wigan and the Poolstock 2 locks. They rivalled the Bosley locks for awfulness especially as from now on they are all broad locks. The Pound between the first and second locks was as low as we have seen anywhere including the Huddersfield Narrow. We only just avoided getting grounded – not helped by a hire boater ahead who had neglected to close the ground paddle after leaving the lock which drained the next pound. 

Anyway, we got through and arrived at Wigan Junction earlier than anticipated when we set off this morning.

So we were now stuck on the horns of a dilemma. It was only 1.30pm, a beautiful sunny day and we didn’t fancy mooring up just yet but we were at the bottom of the Wigan flight – 21 broad locks in less than an ideal state of repair, minimal mooring between the locks, no other boat in sight to pair up with and share the work and the first lock at least was set against us !😩

So in typical WYVERN stubbornness we set off up the flight. If anything it was more difficult and tiring than anticipated as we were following another boat so every lock was against us and it was taking around 30 minutes to go through each one. You don’t need to be Stephen Hawking to do the math – this was going to take an awful long time!

After a couple of locks the boat ahead (really nice couple on a wide beam) became grounded so with “permission” we took their lock and doubled up with another narrow boat for a few more locks. Around 3.30pm we were exhausted having set off at 7.00am and decided it was wise to call a halt between the only 2 locks on the flight with dedicated (safe) mooring. By then we had done 10 locks (8 of the Wigan flight proper) and 16 miles today so not bad going. 

On the last lock today we met a bunch of delightful boys of about 11, swimming in the lock, so gave impromptu lock lesson (with dangers stressed) and exploited them to help open and close the lock. We repaid by retrieving their swimming stuff with the boat hook. Really nice kids. The lockies who turned up later said the locks ahead on the flight are treated as swimming pools by the local kids and it’s locally fine. (?)

Not totally happy with the mooring but it seems ok, just a busy towpath and we are quite tired so traffic noise seems a bit grating. So early supper and early night I think. 

Tomorrow we will be off early to do the remaining 13 locks – it would be really nice if a boat came down tonight to set the locks for us 🀞. It has been a total hard physical slog today. Clothes were binned because they were beyond washing and instead of a glass of wine it was voltarol gel max all round (thanks mum!). 

The weather is on the change this evening, the barometer had dropped and it feels like rain although the weather app says not. We would much prefer tomorrow to be overcast, no sun and no rain. We don’t ask for much πŸ˜‰

Day 38 (12) – Worsley

The longest day so far (10 hours) and raining most of the way! 26 miles, 1 lock & 1 tunnel. We are pretty exhausted. It’s also Sharon’s birthday πŸŽ‰ We set off at 7.00am and were at Preston Brook tunnel by 7.45. Fortuitous timing as we only had to wait 15 minutes to go through. An easy 15 minute passage, the tunnel is straight as an arrow. By now we have been through loads of tunnels and we reckon the long ones make us a bit nauseous. By the time we exited the tunnel and entered the Bridgewater canal it was chucking it down. πŸ’¦

Helpful boaters tip: northbound boats go through on the hour, and southbound boats on the half hour.

A helpful DPD driver directed us to the local SPAR store a few hundred yards from bridge 1 (mooring opposite the hireboat yard) as we were sorely in need of a few basics (more wine)!

For the most part the Bridgewater proved to be really pleasant to cruise even in the rain going through mainly rural countryside. Boaters note that water points and diesel services are few and far between so stock up before entering the canal. Even approaching Manchester through Sale was OK. We needed to take the Leigh Branch of the canal at Waters Meeting in Trafford and from here for several miles the canal passed through unpleasant areas of rundown factories and assorted lots. Certainly not a place you would want to linger let alone moor up! The Trafford centre had some canal side moorings but we weren’t tempted. Shortly after we crossed the Manchester Ship Canal on the Barton Swing Aqueduct – an amazing feat of engineering and great views of the waterway below.

Our plan was to get as far out of Manchester as we could to try and find some safe moorings in open countryside before hitting the urbanisation of Leigh.

Fortune smiled once more when we pootled into Worsley and found some splendid visitors moorings in the village. It had even stopped raining. These are opposite the Delph, the old iron workings which were the original reason the canal was built, to transport the iron ore. There is a beautiful half-timbered building less than a hundred yards from us which looks like it should be a National Trust site. It turns out to be a dental practice!

Tomorrow will see us at Wigan Junction where the flight of 21 locks starts. However, it’s 15 miles (about 5 hours) away and so we may decide to have a half day and tackle them fresh the following morning.

Tonight however will be birthday dinner in a very nice Bistro we have clocked across the road.

Day 37 (11) – Preston Brook (nearly)

A grey overcast day but thankfully no rain. 9 locks 2 tunnels and 18 miles through some of the most varied scenery to date. The canal wound through rolling pasture, wide marshes called flashes where the salt deposits collapsed flooding the fields (several contain hulks of sunken boats), but also are home to Grebes and passed (virtually through) the huge TATA chemical works at Warrington and on past the iconic Anderton boat lift that takes boats from the Trent & Mersey canal down to the River Weaver below and of course vice versa.

A few miles and several locks from our overnight moorings outside Wheelock saw us in Middlewich where the Shropshire Union (Middlewich branch) joins the Trent & Mersey on its way to Barbidge Junction where it joins the mainline and a mile or so to the south is Hurleston Junction and the start of the Llangollen canal.

Middlewich is a busy place but apart from a couple of ignorant hire boaters ( “we are waiting for you to fill our lock and we don’t care if we have a queue behind us”. This is scared speak for “we don’t know what we are doing and we’ve only had the boat for 10 mins but we are not taking advice” ( from 3 boats of liveaboards), and also a family who were very grateful that they were rescued from flooding their cratch because they were too close to the leaking gates and got loads of help. All in the attitude really πŸ˜€) Lockies were called in to sort out the m25 style chaos but an hour in a 3 lock flight? Eeek). It was fine, we escaped and we were able to get a much needed pump out at Middlewich Narrowboats. 

Then onwards through mainly lock-free countryside to Anderton marina for some diesel and the Anderton boat lift. Built in 1875 to connect the Trent & Mersey to the Weaver Navigation 50 feet below by the same engineer responsible for the Manchester Ship Canal. Originally steam powered but now using electricity to power hydraulic rams. 

Shortly afterwards we passed through 2 tunnels. Although not overly long they were quite stressful, (and we have done the Standedge tunnel) especially the second (Saltersford tunnel) as there were no tunnel keepers or timed entry and they were not straight so you couldn’t see all the way to the end to check if anyone else was coming the other way 😱. Fortunately, there wasn’t. Which was quite lucky since on the open stretch between Barnton and Saltersford tunnels we met a convoy of 8 boats coming in the opposite direction. A bit nerve wracking. 

Steve needed to do some engine tinkering so we moored up in open countryside about an hour away from Preston Brook tunnel. Shortly after we pass through this early tomorrow morning we will enter the Bridgewater canal our gateway to the Leeds & Liverpool canal and home. Except for the Wigan Flight.