Wednesday, 23 October 2013

La fin

Saturday 19th October

After the previous day's excitement we thought we'd have a lazy start as we didn't have far to go today. But just before 7:00am we heard the siren for the swing bridge and a boat passed us. Looking out of the window it was the narrowboat that had moored in front. 

We rushed out of bed and went to the lock just in time to see the gates of Keadby lock closing before the boat shot out on a rapidly incoming tide. Seeing a narrowboat move sideways at such a speed is something we won't forget....especially as we may do the same next year if we decide to travel south on the Trent. It was so exciting Victoria wanted to go back up the Trent on Pas Mѐche, but that will have to wait until next year. 

So we had a fairly early start, passing through the unique sliding railway bridge to follow the long straight route of the Stainforth & Keadby canal. You have to pip your horn to let the Bridge Master know that you wish to pass through the bridge. We pipped but nothing happened. Dave sent Victoria to wake the bridge master up who we suspected was having a crafty nap. Victoria discovered this was not the case when the bridge crossing locked and the Cleethorpes Express train thundered across. PM could then pass but with Victoria stuck the other side of the bridge. So the Bridge Master does hear you, he just doesn't acknowledge you if a train is coming! After the bridge, this isn't the most interesting of routes but is at least livened up by trains waving at you every few minutes.

We knew we were getting close to Leeds by the number of swing bridges along this canal - these are a real feature of the Leeds & Liverpool canal and it seems you can't escape them east of Leeds either.

We stopped for lunch in Thorne then pressed on past Stainforth as we couldn't find a suitable mooring. The signs near the bridges asking you to call CRT in the event of kids tampering with the bridges was enough to scare us off mooring around here! Also we did pull up and a passing boat shouted to advise us to continue to 'somewhere safer.' Welcome back to Yorkshire. In the end we stopped near the turning for the New Junction Canal near long term moorings which was a fine mooring. 

Sunday 20th October

Another earlyish start that very soon became delayed. Victoria navigated the junction which had plenty of margin for error being such a huge canal although it felt rather small after the mighty river Trent. 

We passed over the River Don Aqueduct. Raising our camera soon scared off the group of kids who were either trying to set fire to the control box or just setting off smoke bombs near it. That aside, it is a very scenic spot. 

We reached Low Lane Swing Bridge. David went off to open it up. Nothing happened. The BW key was stuck fast in the lock. We moored up properly and called CRT's emergency line for them to come and investigate. It didn't take too long for CRT to arrive and the bridge was easily fixed. Turned out to be a fuse, and not the first time this has happened. 

The locks on this stretch are huge!:

We made the turn onto the Aire and Calder Navigation. We were briefly joined by Victoria's Mum and Auntie and we moored in Pollington. Really nice moorings just below the lock. 

Monday 21st October

The weather had turned very wet but we set off leaving our pram hood up when really raining. Quite a challenge to put it up and take down when cruising!! We passed under the East Coast Main Line and waved to commuters on the line above. 

We ploughed on despite the dull weather, joining the River Aire at Ferrybrige before passing the power station. 

We cruised the familiar route to Woodlesford where we moored just above Woodlesford Lock. The river had picked up a little with all the rain we have seen recently although after Castleford Cut you only have the waters of the Aire to face, the Calder joining at Castleford.

Tuesday 22nd October

Again, it rained and rained. We set off in a break of the clouds but it started raining as soon as we had untied. We left the pramhood up. We shared one lock with NB Merlot, hardly noticing him in the vast locks. We retraced the steps of Victoria's old cycling commute into Leeds,although she still got muddled up with where the locks were and how many of them there were! She was a little miffed that more of the towpath is surfaced than used to be -typical when she no longer cycles this stretch. We passed under the M1, passed Thwaite Mills Industrial Museum that seems to have improved its mooring facilities but not sure that we would stop there really. We went up Knostrop lock with the Kirkstall Fly Boat and continued through Knostrop Flood Gates back onto the River Aire. The river was up into orange on the level boards but absolutely fine. 

We were pleased that Clarence Dock was not the wind tunnel it can often be as we climbed our last lock of the season and made the handbrake reverse turn into Pas Mѐche's home for the winter. 

We are sad to be stopping boating at the end of the season. Both of us and the boat get sick when we don't move so much and spend too much time on dry land. But we are glad to be back in Leeds to embark on our next adventure - who knows what the next steps will be. Watch this space for next year's adventures!  

Friday, 18 October 2013

Tidal Trent with a Spring and a bounce

Thursday 17th October

We spent Wednesday in Newark spending some time studying the Tidal Trent Charts (available to buy from Chandlerys, tidal lock keepers and the CRT office in Newark) to make sure we were familiar with signings and the like it being our first trip out on this section of waterway. We studied harder after reading some more horror stories on the internet! We planned to boat from Newark, dropping down onto the tidal section at Cromwell lock and on to Torksey in the one day, then heading for Keadby the following day. We discovered that it was a Spring Tide we were running with. After Victoria understood this to be a big tide and not a tide that only occurs in Spring, we spent time debating whether this was a good or bad thing. You get the picture of how inexperienced we are on tidal waters. We still do not know if it's entirely good or bad. 

Thursday was a life jacket day for sure. VHF radio tuned into channel 74 (advise boaters to have and monitor this at all times). Up early to get ready. We were advised by lock keepers that leaving Newark at 9.30 would fit with leaving Cromwell at 10.30 where you enter onto the Tidal section of the river Trent at high tide to boat out with the flow. Of course, with Dave, we were early leaving Newark with a view to chatting to the lock keeper about the tidal section & river conditions before we set off at 10.30.

We were blessed with beautiful sunshine and a crisp clear almost still day - perfect conditions. We were too early for the lock keeper to be at Newark Nether Lock so Victoria had to work out the controls for herself and negotiate a very large ladder to get back aboard. Just as we pulled away from the downstream lock mooring we saw the lockie arrive at work – good timing. We also think this would have been the helpful person who gave us advice about river levels on the Canalworld forum – thank you! We passed under the East Coast main line railway and the A1, wondering how many times we had passed over both of these bridges unaware that at some point we would be boating along the river underneath.

En route to Cromwell Lock, where you enter the tidal section, we decided to radio the lock keeper on VHF to let him know we would moor prior to going out on the tideway. He replied and said it was OK to go straight through and on to the tideway even though a little early and that he would have the lock ready for us. David was very pleased about this, however, it did mean we did not have lots of time to discuss timings for which we seemed to have received mixed messages from the lock keepers. We had tried to work out the timings but there is so much to consider (how high the tide is to enable you to get over the cill of locks off and on to the river, what is the best tide to go onto on a narrowboat, type of tide (big or small) etc etc). We worked it out to some extent but it made our brains hurt and we were not over sure of our workings!!

The lock keeper confirmed that 8am the following day would be a good time to leave Torksey so we set off happy. The lockie telling a panicking Victoria we would be fine –thank you for the reassurance.
David’s face in the photo below shows the slight nervousness we were experiencing at this point. We did not know what the future held! 

We passed a CRT dredger doing some work on the river. The lock keeper had told them about our exit from the lock via VHF and this caused no problem at all. Following the charts with military precision, David mostly driving and Victoria navigating, we managed to keep to the 1/3 - 2/3 rule.  Keep 1/3 of water on the outside and 2/3 water on the inside of bends and missed the various obstacles that present themselves on this stretch of river.

For example this shallow section on the inside of a bend:

Or the occasional long lost island

The river passes a number of power stations. A clue as to the importance of coal transport by water in times gone by. Victoria taking the helm in the photo below (must have been an easy section). Notice the anchor uncovered and ready for action should the need arise. Fingers crossed not.

Our only challenge was to see the entrance to Torksey cut. We looked out for the EA Pumping station as advised by seasoned Tidal Trent boater – Cliff from NB Tihso – thanks to him for all his advice. The entrance was very obvious with a huge BW signpost for Lincoln once we got close. Binoculars very handy. The current did strange things as we pulled into the cut. We expected the tide to push us right over but there was a back current that pushed Pas Mèche’s nose the opposite way and we were nearly in the trees. Easily resolved though.  
We turned round and moored on the floating moorings outside the lock.

We were soon joined by NB Truant 2. We had heard over the radio that there was another narrowboat on their way and we were pleased that we would have a partner for the trip from Torksey to Keadby the following day. We had a brief walk down the Fossdyke navigation (that you can enter from Torksey lock but we moored downstream), the countryside is similar to Cambridgeshire, and around the village. Torksey is a quiet village but there are a couple of pubs. David went to bed really early in preparation for the following day but Victoria kept checking the water level gauge with a torch in amazement of how much we were going up and down with the tide!

Friday 18th October

We were up early at 6.30 in time to get everything ready for the off at 8.00. Although Victoria had been outside with a torch at 5.10 to check the water level (!). We knew today was going to be more serious so all breakable things TV etc were wrapped up in the bedding in case we had any sort of collision.
Cliff from NB Truant 2 came to say hello and we agreed a strategy for the trip. Truant 2 would go first, we would stay roughly together and keep in radio contact.
8.02 and we set off. The tide was still on its way in so we were pushing against it for the first part of the trip. It was a grey morning but dry and good visibility.

This is a photo of just leaving the cut at Torksey:

The first part of the trip was uneventful. It was easier to follow NB Truant 2’s course so the charts did not have to be followed with the same military precision as yesterday, although still important to make sure you know where you are on the river. We passed more power stations and the trip was going well.

At around Littleborough the tide turned and we started to speed up. We caught up with NB Truant 2 and started to fly down towards the North Sea. This took some more concentration as the boat was less controllable around the corners with a huge Spring tide pushing you along. The channel was mainly stick to the middle of the river so the 1/3 – 2-3 rule to be followed precisely.

The flow of the river can be seen in this photo of going though Gainsborough Bridge:

This photo was taken at the start of a tight bend near West Stockwith Lock. Victoria driving and the tide pushed Pas Mèche right over into the corner at the left hand side of the photo. Victoria just panicked and shouted for Dave, but you just had to let her run her course (both the boat and Victoria). The 1/3 rule giving her enough room to edge round the corner.

Giddiness was setting in with nerves about Keadby lock as the M180 Bridge came into sight. NB Truant 2 had phoned the lock keeper and we radioed to ensure he was expecting us. All was well.

David’s face says it all as we pass under the railway bridge in Keadby and watch NB Truant 2 make what seems like an impossible move for a narrowboat.

We eased off a little to give Truant 2 time to get into the lock but we were drifting on with the tide. Truant 2 disappeared safely and expertly into the lock and it was our turn. You just have to go for it or you will end up in Hull and in a much worse situation. David slammed Pas Mèche into gear hard and threw the tiller over to the right. We were side on drifting down the river away from the lock. She turned. The wall of the side of the lock came dangerously close but Dave managed to correct this. Pas Mèche drifted backwards with the tide. Dave put power on but we didn’t move.... he put more power on and we still didn’t move. Even more power on and we crept forward against the tide. Neither of us looked at what revs she was at but we could smell diesel smoke everywhere. We thought we had cracked it – just had to inch up the wharf wall and turn into the lock once the bows reached the entrance. Simple. Apart from the back end would not turn because the tide was keeping it straight. The nose of Pas Mèche went slamming into the upstream side of the lock. Apparently this is standard practice for most boaters entering Keadby! We lurched forward then gently bumped again. The two bumps had edged us round into the lock (good job breakables wrapped up in bed). David slammed her into reverse and we slowed and moored alongside our River Trent partners. We are grateful to the crew of NB Truant 2 for boating up with us, for their advice from their Trent experience, and for their radio contact. Much safer with two boats together. We breathed a massive sigh of relief and moored as soon as possible at the moorings directly above the lock and through the road swing bridge.

We had been watched from ashore by Ian and Helen, David’s parents – we will upload their photos soon. They have NB Leo. We don’t think we scared them off too much. I don’t think I have ever been as pleased to see them.

Although some evidence of industry still remains, Keadby unfortunately is not the busy waterways junction for freight it once was. We did not meet any freight traffic on the river but saw a tug and barge just after we had moored above the lock. We are resting aboard this evening as there is not much going on. To add excitement, every cupboard we open something falls out on top of us. Must have really hit that wall! We will continue up the Stainforth and Keadby canal and turn up the Aire and  Calder, expecting to be back in Leeds in the next few days. 

If you are thinking of doing the Tidal Trent and would like to know more about it please message us. An eventful day, but definitely worth it. 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Northwards to Newark

Friday 11th October

We set off in cold and drizzle. As we entered Stenson Lock a couple having breakfast at the lockside cafe asked us if we minded waiting for them to share the lock. This turned out to be a good move as the locks from this point to the end of the Trent and Mersey are mostly pretty deep and can throw a single boat around.

We shared with nb Sophie and her crew all the way to Shardlow, passing the junction with the currently derelict Derby canal before reaching the very pretty settlement of Shardlow.

The wind made this stretch quite challenging at times and we met a few hirers who were struggling with their boats having just picked them up from Sawley. After dropping down the last lock into Shardlow we moored up and walked down to Derwent Mouth lock and the junction with the River Trent to see what lay in store for tomorrow. This is a big waterways crossroads where the Trent & Mersey Canal meets the River Trent on a corner, and the River Derwent flows into the Trent. Victoria is so shocked at the expanse of water she has chosen to close her eyes in this photo:

Saturday 12th October

Another cold and wet day as we dropped down onto the Trent. This is only a short river section, passing under the M1 before entering Sawley cut.

It was however just long enough for a warning light to come on, which was not great timing on the wide open river. We made it safely onto the canal section and moored up to investigate. Victoria went running while David dived down the engine hole armed with tools, a multimeter and a range of swear words for what turned out to be a completely bogus temperature warning.

With the fault fixed we locked down from Sawley Cut back onto the Trent. We made it to Trent Junction without a single warning light coming on. This is the point where the Erewash canal meets the Trent (brige on the left in the photo below) and the River Soar turns off right near a big weir. We moored right on the junction, which was a great spot to watch other boaters battling through some really heavy rain and winds.

Sunday 13th October

After another brief section of canal through the Cranfleet Cut we were back on the Trent and bracing ourselves against the speed we were travelling at downstream. We clocked ourselves at over 6mph which must surely be illegal in a narrowboat.

At Beeston you once again leave the river, this time joining the Beeston Cut which takes you right through Nottingham. We moored near Castle Marina which seemed a decent spot and close to Sainsbury's for shopping. After drying off we walked into town to meet Martin, David's cousin, for lunch. Hello to our newest blog reader.

Monday 14th October

A late start this morning as it was really raining hard. After stocking up at Sainsbury's we called the first lock keeper down on the Trent to see what the river was doing. After three days of more or less constant rain we were concerned about the level rising and strong stream conditions being an issue. We are perhaps more cautious than most boaters about this after our trip last year when we were stuck on the Thames for 11 days with flooding and then stuck again on the Rochdale canal when the River Calder flooded into the canal. 

Fortunately this time there was nothing to worry about and the lock keeper told us boats had passed through his lock with no reports of problems. So we set off for what is mostly a pleasant cruise through Nottingham to rejoin the Trent.

The river felt huge as we emerged opposite Nottingham Forest FC. We immediately noticed the flow had increased over the weekend as we flew away from Nottingham. We were relieved that the lock keepers haven't yet packed up for winter as the locks here are huge with room for maybe 10 Pas Meche's.

We moored at Gunthorpe on a floating pontoon just downstream of the road bridge. Being on a fast flowing river we decided to do things properly and turned to moor facing upstream. This proved to be a good move as the flow was really quite strong by this point so we made a smooth, controlled approach to the pontoon rather than careering towards it with the flow. I'm sure the owner of the cabin cruiser we shared the pontoon with appreciated this too.

An old work friend of Victoria's came to see us - travelling by boat is a great way to catch up with friends all over the country. Nice to see you Gemma.

Tueday 15th October

After more heavy rain overnight the river was really moving as we spun off the pontoon and headed for Gunthorpe lock. The exit from this lock is very close to the weir and we had flashbacks to 'crabbing' across Thames weirs last year as we left the lock sideways with plenty of power on. 

The section of the Trent below Gunthorpe is really very pretty, with a high cliff on one side and wide, flat flood plains the other. Approaching Newark, the river drops over a huge (and alarmingly unprotected) weir and the navigation enters Newark Cut. Through the city's flood gates, we reached Newark Lock which has fantastic views of Newark Castle and the Trent Bridge.

Trent Bridge itself limits the size of boats that can navigate the river and the arches certainly show where people have tried to push those limits. Pas Meche had no problem and even Middlewich Duck made it through unscathed.

There are floating pontoons outside the CRT office in Newark where we had planned to stop but the river is too narrow to turn a long narrowboat here so we carried on downstream to Kings Marina. There was room to turn Pas Meche here so we made the boating equivalent of a handbrake turn in the marina entrance before fighting the current back up (quite slowly) to the moorings.

We have spoken to Cromwell lock which marks the start (or end...) of the tidal section of the Trent and it looks like we will start the tidal passage on Thursday, breaking our journey at Torksey lock before carrying on up to Keadby lock on Friday. If it goes well, we are rewarded with the safety of the canal system. If it doesn't we face a night on the mud at Trent Falls and some close encounters with 600 tonne barges.... no pressure then.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Back to where it all began

Thursday 3rd October

Early start this morning. We boated the three lock-free miles that remained from our mooring by Westport Lake into Stoke and ventured down the Caldon Canal, which was surprisingly busy for moorings at this time of year. On the way we passed lots of evidence of the once renowned pottery works, mostly unfortunately disused now. We moored by the Etruria CRT yard and Museum and walked in to Stoke for supplies. There is a 24hr Tesco within walking distance of the moorings here; probably 10 minutes walk. 

We then descended the five locks down from  Stoke. These locks are very deep. The canal south of Stoke is surprisingly pleasant; at least until it started properly raining. We moored just above Trentham Lock (no35) as the rain started to pour. 

Friday 4th October

Weather brighter this morning. Wished we had continued as nicer moorings can be found below the lock and there were several boats around. We passed the Wedgwood Factory and continued down the very scenic Meaford flight of locks into Stone.

It was busy for moorings in Stone as it was the weekend of the Food Festival. We had not planned our visit to coincide but it did which was nice. We moored alongside NB The Grand Affair until a mooring became available - thank you to her crew. The moorings in the town centre are very nice and the town has excellent boating facilities - pubs restaurants etc with Morrisons and Aldi within walking distance. We stayed in Stone for the Saturday. David visited friends in Manchester  and came back with a two day hangover after an interesting night's sleep. Victoria's parents came to visit - going to the Food Festival and sampling cider and Stone's finest Folk Music! 

Sunday 6th October

David returned from Manchester and we set off with Rob and Sue late morning to head South. We made it to Weston Upon Trent for a mooring for the night. The boys had already organised the logistics of the car being there for the visitors to get home. That evening we were surprised to have a familiar passing boat travelling the other direction. We had previously shared locks with Sirius over a year ago out of Leeds on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. On one of those things called a boating holiday which we used to have when we worked. Sirius have also more recently been boating partners with Ian and Helen (David's parents) on their narrowboat (Leo) on the River Nene. 

Monday 7th October

Continued down the Trent and Mersey, passing Great Haywood, popping into the Marina to have a look around. The canal is very peaceful and not too hilly with easy narrow locks so easy for the lock workers. 

We turned into the junction with the Staffs and Worcs Canal to fill up with Diesel at Anglo Welsh boat yard. David made the turn very well despite it looking impossible. The boat yard men were all so relaxed about it of course. 

We moored near the aqueduct at Brindley Bank just short of Rugeley for the night. Nice spot with mooring rings. We walked into Rugeley in the afternoon which is not too far from here. 

Tuesday 8th October

Great weather this morning sun shining very low and Victoria decided to take change and do a lot of steering. 

Until it got too difficult. West of bridge 61 at Armitage narrows you have to walk on and check for oncoming boats as the channel gets very very narrow (it used to be a one way tunnel). 

Weather stayed beautiful all day and we moored at Fradley Junction where we have been before with Pas Meche when we first bought her four years ago. David spent the afternoon down the engine hole swearing at a new gearbox changing the oil for the first time and cursing the fact he wasn't born with ten pairs of hands. 

We ate at The Swan that evening which is a very traditional canalside pub also known as the Mucky Duck. 

Wednesday 9th October

We set off from Fradley, accidently pushing in front of a hire boat who suddenly appeared out of a lock whilst we were already making the turn. Good job we were slicker at locking than them so managed to get out of their way! There are really good facilities at the BW yard in Fradley (toilet, elsan, water, rubbish, recycling) . Moorings for this just under lock 51 but mind out for the hidden shelf just under the water. The back of the boat slips nicely on and off this with water levels changing according to the locks. 

Moored briefly in Alrewas to pop to co-op. 5 min walk from Canal - lovely village and would be nice as an overnight mooring. 

We made our first outing on the River Trent at Alrewas. The river level was not even high enough to be in Green on the Indicator so pretty safe to go onto it. Fingers crossed it stays like this for next time we meet the river.

The canal then follows the A38 for a decent stretch. At one point we were actually going the same speed as the cars..... Some of the bridges looked impossibly narrow - but we did fit honest!  

Nice mooring for the night by Branston Water Park, shown here at sunset between the rain showers. David spent another good few hours down the engine hole, mainly changing the engine oil this time. 

Thursday 10th October

This morning it was absolutely freezing in comparison to weather recently. Winter is coming ... time to head back to the mooring... Freezing but bright clear sky with lovely sunshine. We lit a fire during the day - our first daytime fire of the year. 

We passed through Burton Upon Trent. We have been here on Pas Meche when we first bought her on our trip from Derbyshire to Cambridgshire but we hardly recognised any of the canal. Victoria puts this down to the panic she was enduring at the time; having just bought a boat and not having the faintest clue how to do locks or steer but having to be in Ely in just a week's time! 

Notice the attire is somewhat different to when we boated this stretch in a July heatwave 4 years ago! 

We passed over the River Dove, discussing the fact that it is probably a tributary to the River Trent that we have yet to face on our return to Leeds. Wikipedia confirms this fact as the Dove flows into the Trent just to the south of this photo:

We popped into Mercia Marina, partly to return to the place we bought Pas Meche from four years ago but also to visit Midland Chandlers - there is a Chandlery mooring just as you enter the marina. But only space for one boat really unless you double up as we did. The clouds doing crazy things all afternoon as per this photo. 

We had lunch and then continued to Stenson lock where we went for a quick walk, advising some very tired boaters that they were doing the lock the wrong way round.... filling the lock to come up when their boat was underneath the lock. We discussed the fact that some days boating can be very long...! We had a drink in the pub near the lock - The Bubble Inn. Heading for Shardlow and Nottingham over the next few days, where we will buy charts for the River Trent to study in the hope of making it back to Leeds without being swept out to the North Sea. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

The escape from Middlewich

Monday 23rd September - Sunday 29th September

The problem with our gearbox turned out to be more serious than we first thought. After partly bow-hauling Pas Mèche up the last few locks into Middlewich we called in at Kings Lock Chandlery where we were advised by the owner Steve that the gearbox we had was not really worth fixing and the most effective solution was to replace it.

This turned out to be true as after attempting just one more lock to get to a holding mooring while we waited for the necessary parts, the gearbox separated itself from the engine. Steve informed us this was not the first Technodrive separation he had seen!

So we had an enforced stay in Middlewich. This was a little longer than we'd hoped due to some supply problems with the parts we needed.

So what did we get up to? Well, 'Highlights of Middlewich' is a difficult concept as it is not exactly an action packed place to stay. By the end of our week we had to call in entertainment in the shape of Dave's parents to relieve the onset of a serious cabin-fever related condition which we came to call Middlewichitis.

We managed a bike ride to a couple of local marinas, some baking and some of those domestic jobs you've been putting off (in one case for about four years).

It's amazing what passes for entertainment when you're stuck in deepest darkest Cheshire.

Fortunately our mooring at Kings Lock Chandlery was right on the junction of the Trent and Mersey with the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union. This meant plenty of entertainment with people negotiating the turn. Nobody hit Pas Mèche while we were in but there were a few close calls and who knows what happened to her while we were out.

Monday 30th September

By lunchtime on Monday we were really scraping the barrel for things to do in Middlewich. Fortunately the new engine mounts we also needed arrived in the nick of time and Keith from Kings Lock was soon sweet talking our engine into submission and everything was fitted.

With some relief (and a much lighter wallet) we turned away from the boatyard and headed on up the Trent and Mersey. Note the newly purchased Middlewich Duck - a last minute purchase from a charity shop and a reminder of our time here.

The new gearbox is fantastic, Pas Mèche is like a different boat. Conversations inside and out no longer require shouting at each other and the crockery doesn't try and vibrate its way out of the cupboards.

After a week of inactivity we were enjoying boating in relative silence so much we kept going almost until dark.

Tuesday 1st October

Tuesday saw us climb most of the way up the Cheshire locks. These are often called Heartbreak Hill as there are so many of them and they're generally just far enough apart to be a long walk between them but not far enough apart to make it worth stopping the boat to get back on.

Despite this we've loved the flight both times we've done it. The locks are often paired so boats can work up and or down them at the same time. Here we are passing a hireboat going the other way.

We did another long day on Tuesday, the locks are often spaced in mini-flights of three or four locks so that it's easy to say 'just one more set'. We called it a day at about five o'clock in Church Lawton.

Wednesday 2nd October

Our first rainy day in a while. We worked up the remaining six locks and passed the junction with the Macclesfield Canal at Kidsgrove. Here Victoria is passing a 1923 FMC working boat between two sets of paired locks.

This turns off to then pass over the Trent and Mersey lower down on a canal flyover.

Just around the corner you come to the Harecastle Tunnel. At 2926 yards long, this is the longest narrow tunnel we've done in Pas Mèche. Traffic is one way and controlled by tunnel keepers. We had to wait about 20 minutes for a small convoy coming the other way but were entertained by a spot of doom mongering from the tunnel keeper who told us boats had had handrails ripped off by going too slowly and losing control in the tunnel. No pressure then.

Soon enough we were on our way through. Pas Mèche is on the high side for a narrowboat and quite a challenge in confined tunnels. The Harecastle is high and wide at either end but has some incredibly low sections, forcing you to duck right down near roof height. We were glad we'd taken everything down off the roof so we could see better. There are also a couple of obstructions at the waterline to watch out for.

Travelling north to south through the Harecastle means you don't even get a glimpse of daylight at the end - the southern portal is closed with a door to allow extractor fans to suck fumes out of the long tunnel. One boat exited just in front of us as we got close to the end and we saw daylight. It then closed on us and the fans were switched off - a thick fog immediately sprung up meaning we could barely see our tunnel light or the light of the boat behind. After a few moments of blind panic the fans thankfully came back to life and we could see. The doors then opened for us and we found our way out.

We made it through in just over 35 minutes which is quite respectable but the tunnel demands some pretty careful steering and good observation.

Once safely out we stopped for a quick lunch (and a rest!) then carried on to a night stop just outside Stoke on Trent.