About Us

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In 1977 we hired our first narrowboat from Anglo Welsh at Market Harborough.From that moment our destiny was set. In 2006 we finally purchased our own brand new 57' narrowboat which we named 'Free Spirit'. Our aim is to travel the length and breadth of all the navigable rivers and canals of the UK. This will be our story as it unfolds.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Metal hazard in the Harecastle tunnel

Smashing start to the day, a tad chilly but the sun was shining and all was well in our world. Setting off early we called in at the facilities for water and loo emptying. Icing came past just as we had finished and took the single lock. It wasn't long before they had ascended and a paddle raised for us by Stephen.

Last two locks of the day were doubles and in no time both FS and Icing were on their way to the Harecastle tunnel entrance.

Coming out of the Macclesfield junction as we were about to exit the locks.
For my non-boater readers, the Harecastle tunnel is 2,414 metres,  1.5 miles long but that's nothing compared to Standage tunnel on the Huddersfield narrow canal which was opened to craft in 1811, at 5039 metres, 3.12 miles it is the longest and deepest on the UK canal system.  Harecastle comprised of two separate and parallel tunnels one built by James Brindley between 1770 and 1777 and the later "Telford" which is used today. Due to the amount of traffic and the slow process of legging, the Harecastle Tunnel had become a major bottleneck on the canal so it was decided to commission a second tunnel to be built by Thomas Telford  which was completed in 1827.  There is also said to be a  Harecastle tunnel ghost thankfully all the times we have travelled through the tunnel nothing had been experienced.  But..... we did see the skeleton.  More of that later.

Arriving when we did two other boats were already waiting for passage through. One way traffic only which could take anything between 30 and 40 minutes and we were told boats were already in the tunnel heading in our direction. Icing managed to tuck in behind the second boat but we had nowhere to go. Then the bow of the boat emerging from the tunnel appeared which forced us the remain before the bridge.

One more was due to exit but before it arrived we managed to breast up with Icing. As I wanted to be last boat (slowing down to look for the skeleton), I caused all sort of problems for the tunnel keeper as he wanted us to go third. The order of boats going through is most important for the tunnel keeper on the Southern side, making sure all boats are present and correct when they arrive. So out comes the tunnel keepers notebook and with a flourish from his pencil he scribbles out our name and changes the order.

Some good-natured banter followed, they are a nice bunch these C&RT tunnel bods. Then suddenly I took notice of the second boat. It was Burnt Oak with John and Martina who we met on the way to Eldonian village last year.  Amazing who one bumps into when your least expecting it. Hopefully, we will meet again next month as both of us are heading toward Leighton Buzzard.

Martina and John

Out the South portal and the tunnel keeper phoned the North tunnel keeper to say we had safely made it through. Took us longer than expected because of the skeleton. Thinking it was about 100 meters in from the northern portal we eventually found it 500 metres in on the left side. The story of this skeleton is a strange one. It appeared one day much to the surprise of the 'then' tunnel keepers. They thought it had been painted by students during rag week and we first came across it in 2011 but it was around well before that.

The tunnel keeper also told of a dangerous piece of metal protruding from the side wall about 100 metres in on the right. He was wrong about that as it was actually about 1300 metres in on the right.  One to keep a wary eye on as could do damage to the boat as well as unsuspecting crew members!

Sad afternoon lay in store as we were to say our farewells to Dennis, Margaret, Stephen and Bonnie at Etruria. We are heading for the Caldon canal and Dennis and Margaret were due to go home for a week. It's been a fabulous month cruising with them during which time we did the Llangollen and part of the Montgomery and look forward to meeting up in December.

Leaving them to go into the marina, we cruised the half mile to make the turn onto the Caldon. Suddenly we were being shouted at by numerous boaters all lined up to descend the Stoke locks who thought we were queue jumping. Great delight to sail past those irate boaters and turn left!

We stopped further along the canal but will post about that tomorrow.

today's wildlife,


Monday, 18 September 2017

My three pet hates!

Sunday 17th September.

Locking gloves on, waterproofs at the ready and all set for the final push up that Heartbreak Hill flight. One boat had already come past, about 10 minutes before we untied, so I walked on to set the first of the 14 locks we would do today.

The majority of  locks doubled up and it was at the third of the pair that I caught up with that earlier boat and just in time to see it disappearing around the bend with the top gate left open. Now if there are three things that get my goat, (speeding cyclists, not picking up after the dog and leaving exit gates open) it is the latter that gets me most annoyed. So you can imagine I was not best pleased and made my feelings known but the lady helms women gestured something which I thought to mean that there was a boat approaching. I went to check which showed no such thing. Mumbling away to myself I closed the gate and emptied both chambers.

At the very next lock I see a gentleman raising the top paddle for us. It was the chap from that boat! He apologised saying he thought a boat was coming so left the gate open. I suppose I had to give him benefit of doubt but the fact no boat appeared made me wonder if that was just an excuse.

 A boat slipped from their moorings just as we came from around the bend but instead of slowing us down they too became our helpers as they raised paddles and helped close gates.

Pound was a bit low.
Some of the lock paddles on the bottom gates were almost impossible to raise and equally those top gates hard to close. At one point I thought I was giving myself a hernia.

Heave too Stephen

and again

And now Margarets turn!

The filling of those deep locks were a right B as even by raising the paddles slowly, the force of water made FS surge forward. Usually we sit back on the bottom gate but found it much less stressful to let the front button ride up the top gates. Occasionally the amount of water flowing over the bow due to leakage kept my flowers watered nicely!

So what we estimated would take 4.5 hours took only 3.5. But we never made it to Harecastle Tunnel. Instead, we stopped before the facilities so we could have Sunday lunch at Red Bull Hotel.  Tomorrow the last 3 locks and then into the tunnel.  Must look out for that skeleton!

And seen on route, at lock 48 and 47 the derelict second chambers.

Lock 47

Lock 48

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Heartbreak Hill

Saturday 16th September.

We needed diesel and Kings Lock boatyard was just below the next lock and right at the junction. 9 oclock opening so we didn't pull pins until 8.30am. Timing was everything and arriving dead on 9am we thought we got it spot on. But already on the service point was another boat filling the water tank. So I sort of hovered near to the boat in the hopes that he would finish soon. After about 5 minutes and no sign of life from the boater, I pulled onto the opposite bank and dropped Ian off to go investigate. Finally, after another 10 minutes, and with Ian speaking to the chap from the boatyard, he raised the boater from whatever he was doing and said I could bring FS alongside his boat. The diesel hose just about reached and we could finally fill the tank.  120 litres was needed and at 72p litre felt it a reasonable price.

Leaving Middlewich branch for the final lock before turning onto the T& M

Looking back toward the Middlewich junction.
Kings lock boatyard
 Having ascended Kings Lock it was a further 4 locks and 6 miles before we reached Wheelock and what a relief to finally get there. It was definitely a 'phew' moment when we pulled onto the services. A couple of inches to the top....that's what we had to spare. Those of you with proper flushing toilets and with no concern as to where the contents go will have no idea what I'm talking about. But boaters/ caravaners/ campervanners will know exactly what I mean. It's all to do with how much a toilet cassette will hold. We have two and can normally manage for 5 days. Less of course if one's man starts on the beer!! Me I drink wine and it's surprising how the need to P is reduced. Anyway, two cassettes emptied and a much happier Captain (me)

Rumps lock....lovely name for a lock. This lock took no prisoners as I bounced off that jutting brickwork and sent my pictures of the grandchildren crashing to the floor!.
 We had help today, two new crew members arrived on Icing last night. One a very shaggy GSD called Bonnie keeping an eye on proceedings and her owner, Stephen, Dennis and Margarets son, who jollied us along and kept the locking running smoothly. They couldn't have arrived at a better time as today we tackled the Cheshire flight.  More commonly named Heartbreak Hill, 26 locks in 7 miles and, for us, all uphill to reach the summit at Harecastle tunnel. The locks were opened in 1777, but the traffic using the canal got so great that the canal company appointed the engineer Thomas Telford to improve the navigation in 1830. Most have two single locks side by side and with the extra help from Stephen, made for an easy ascent.

Margaret and Stephen

Ian getting help from Margaret, Stephen and Bonnie

This lock chamber filled in.

Stephen and Bonnie
We called it quits after 10 locks at a place called Hassall Green. Tomorrow the final 16 and if the canal planner is correct, should take about 4 hours. Whether we go through Harecastle tunnel remains to be seen.

And cadging a lift on FS,

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Wow...a man at my feet.

Friday 15th September

Oh dear, seems I also had a brain failure moment. And here was I making fun of Ian yesterday, it was his turn to do the same to me today.

It all started after we left the moorings, stopping first at the facilities to water up. Then onwards to the top lock of the Hurleston flight. Plenty of water in the pounds today so didn't have any of the problems we had when we came up.

By the time I was at the second lock a C&RT guy, complete with clipboard, races past. Didn't see him again until I got into the last lock and there he was bending over the stop planks measuring the thickness. "That looks technical," says I. "Yes" he replied, "It's all to do with measuring the amount of movement in the lock walls and whether the planks will fit in the groove". Now, this bottom lock has a 'pinch point' where some of the brickwork has bulged stopping some boats (mainly historics) from cruising the Llangollen. To read about it click here  He then went on to ask me a favour.. "I need to measure the stop plank grooves at the bottom of the lock to see if they are still the same size and wondered if I could do it from the back of your boat". Well, who am I to refuse such a nice person as him, especially as he did the lock for me. Ian was helping Margaret so by the time I had descended, he had opened the gates, climbed down the lock ladder onto the back deck and I took FS out stopping right by the grooves.

Ian setting the next lock for Margaret.

He then proceeds to lay down and gets his tape measure out. "Could you hold the end against the groove? " says he. Gosh, how could I refuse that!!!! Anyway, it's at this time a boat appears from the junction. What must he have thought!!! A man lying prostrate at my feet!  Anyway, measuring done I drop him on the landing and the boat waiting goes into the lock. Next thing I know the man with the clipboard is on the back of that boat. Turns out he should have measured the depth of water over the cill as well.

Hmmmm...nice bum!

Now you may be wondering what this has to do with my senior moment. Well....Dennis had just descended and pulls out of the bttom lock just as yet another boat appears from the junction. Dennis tells me to set off first and what do I do??? Gets to the junction and turns right instead of left!!! Shouts from Ian, Margaret and Dennis "You're going the wrong way" Oh no...now I'm in a pickle. Dennis behind on Icing, the waiting boat to my left and somehow I have to reverse and swing the bow to face in the correct direction. Much eye-raising from the other boater and a grovelling apology from me for making them do a sudden manoeuvre to the far bank but I eventually get the bow facing in the right direction. Personally, I'm blaming that nice C&RT guy. There's this man lying at my feet getting me all hot and bothered and making me unable to think straight, no wonder I turned the wrong way!

From then on things got better. Thought it best that Ian does the turn into the Middlewich branch from Barbridge (He was threatening to tattoo L and R on my hands and I can't be doing with that). Apart from the first section of the branch with moored boats either side, most of the 10 miles to Middlewich was a joy to cruise, especially as at least three Kingfishers and one Jay was seen on the way. Had a few hold-ups at the locks so took a bit longer than anticipated to reach the moorings between bridge 28 and 29, roughly 4 hours. Met good friends of ours Jim and Annie for coffee. They have the historic boat Elizabeth a beautiful boat built in the 1936. So glad they are coming to our festival next May, Elizabeth is a boat to be admired.

Historic boat Elizabeth.

Clearing the plant growth from the bridge.

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