Woke to another world this morning, calm water, clear sky, sunshine and even a bit of warmth. Passed by Dutton breach and up towards Preston Brook tunnel where a mischievous kind of a goat watched us disappear into the gloom…
At the risk of sounding a bit batty here goes. Last time we went through was the only time I’ve ever felt spooked in a tunnel, Murk barked constantly afterwards and for some reason the photos refused to load that evening – all a bit peculiar. Midway through the tunnel we’d found ourselves under a ventilation shaft with spectacular hexagonal brickwork exploding up towards the air. We’d stopped for a photo opportunity but the camera didn’t register anything in the lens while the phone captured a disappointing picture so today we were on the look out again. All the way through the tunnel we waited and watched and towards the end things got a bit quiet, we hadn’t passed what we saw last time. No spooky feeling in there today, just all a bit odd. Nick is rationalising things along the lines of ‘winter shuttering because there are less fumes due to a lower number of boats passing through’, while I’m all in on the theory that it just wasn’t there…one way or another we agree it wasn’t there today. Next time we’ll look up for the entire trip.
The mysterious tunnel joins two very different worlds. Past the hireboat centre with tens of boats tethered, ram packed with upturned mattresses, waiting for spring to roll round. Pulled in for coal at Midland Chandlers – closed for ‘stock taking’, don’t computers do that these days? So we picked up a ‘sorry we’re closed have 10% off next time you happen to find us open’ leaflet and went on our way.
Stopped while the sun was still shining. Nick got on with engine bay mopping thanks to yesterday’s prop clutter, after one of the many weed hatch inspections the lid wasn’t screwed down in line and the water sploshed it’s way to everywhere. Washed the boat, cleaned the mushrooms, did the daily bit of boat work. A beautiful Bridgewater mooring tonight with crystal clear sky.
We set off along the top of the Trent and Mersey whose beauty managed to shine through the dismal day, it must have been cold as we were both eager to walk the legs off Murk. Other than a six inch stop lock we have a route of seventy-nine miles, two furlongs of lock free water ahead, oh yay.
The wind had chopped up the water and bought down the last of the autumn leaves making for a tricky day prop wise, not helped by a flourescent jacket we picked up somewhere along the way. A text from ‘ma tant’at lunch telling us to listen to Jeremy Vine who was getting right into the narrowboat way of life, asking listeners all sorts of questions that we’d forgotten we wondered too before this all began.
Made it through Barnton tunnel at a snail’s pace – Nick opts for whacking the throttle forward full pelt when this happens and I dither with prop clearing…we agree to disagree, whoever’s got the tiller gets to decide, while the other grinds their teeth. The rain and wind felt like face jabbing pins by the time we moored. A hardcore one from beginning to end. Probably not for everyone.
Drifted round the corner stopped for water, mopped down the back of the boat and stocked up on The Murkster’s brown balls from the pet store just across the road. Drizzly and damp we passed only one boat. Nick did the lock chat – ‘Do you live aboard?’ blar de blar. This couple had been boating on and off since the 1960’s and would love to live aboard but it would be ‘absolutely impossible,’ the conversation was heading towards the usuals: work commitments/family/children; but no no, in this instance ‘it simply wouldn’t work with all the poreclain you see.’ Luckily the man who chucks out literally anything and regards collecting a disease was left speechless and the porcelain couple got away lightly. Judging by the way Mr Porcelain smacked his way out from the lock the porcelain probably wouldn’t last very long.
The washing machine had been on the go all day so we made our way down into Middlewich and stopped for another tank top up. Tea time out on the roof in darkness, heading to a mooring spot that wasn’t quite where we thought. Eventually pulled over to the side in the middle of nowhere and found some very handy rings.
Chicken again. Tesco’s two chickens for £6 is tough going – we’re on day four and there’s plenty still to come.
By 9am Murk had sent a mug of tea flying, his chairy shop ‘friend’ lay disemboweled on the carpet and he sat with ‘Any chance of a walk sometime soon?’ look on his face. He continues to add another dimension.
An enjoyable eight lock drop down into Wheelock where we moored and walked up into Sandbach, passing the Three Bear Inn where it’s rumoured Dick Turpin once stayed.
Days are beginning to feel very short, a world away from late evening summertime travel. Full moorings along this stretch. Quiet was smashed for a while by the sound of the coal boat claxon, doors flung open and hatches slid back as people ventured out into the darkness for a top up of some kind or another. We’ve been a bit trigger happy on the eberspacher button as our diesel top up went on longer than anticipated, another difference from summertime sunshine heating and solar power.
Late yesterday we squeezed into the last mooring at Rode Heath, there was hardly a boat left by the time we set off this morning. Don’t these oldies sleep? A couple of locks on and the symmetry of Heartbreak Hill was broken, just a concrete bridge left over the old steel lock built in an attempt to fight subsidence due to salt mining in the area. Unfortunately operation took forever and it’s adjacent lock was notoriously unreliable, often leading to bottlenecks. The lock was finally cut up for scrap in 1988. which is a shame as it would make Rode Heath more interesting.
Stopped for lunch and somehow didn’t get round to moving again. The mastick gun came out – just icing on the cake as we really seem to have cracked this condensation malarky once and for all, the mushroom vents have suddenly sprung into life, with all other exits blocked the pressure seems to have produced a bit of a fountain effect.
A bit of a clear out meaning the noddy bikes are on their way out. In the beginning we figured supermarkets would usually be a bike ride away but in reality we’ve never used them for that and other than the torturous Cannock Chase German ride we haven’t pedaled for pleasure either. So £500 of bike is currently going for £1.98 on ebay. If anyone is passing and needs a 19″ colour flat(ish) screen TV there’s one of those going free.
Traffic is still streaming along the M6, a long line of light out the window.
Just becoming a little blase with Harecastle when conditions threw a curved ball and the tunnel took an interesting twist. With outside air temperature down near freezing, inside was warmer for once, creating Willo the Wisp tendrils of mist reaching from the tunnel mouth. The doors clanged shut, things seemed much much darker than usual, there was no light at the end of the for a very long time. Around half mid-way the ceiling was tiller pin skimming low, perhaps water levels were higher than usual.
Shivering so much our bones rattled, we moored and jumped in the shower to warm up. Walked up through Kidsgrove and along to Tesco where we loaded up the change counting machine and carefree shopped for pretend free – no thanks to Nick whose finger hovered worryingly over the DONATE TO CHARITY button.
Waited for a while as the dredger scooped bucket after bucket load of sludge and bike and lawn mower and gunk – the stinking slurry was then moved along and re-scooped into a lorry before beginning it’s journey to land fill. Negotiated our way through the gap the guy on the dredger reluctantly left before dropping down onto Heartbreak Hill. A handful of boats were winding their way up meaning locks were generally for us. A beautiful pink sky as the sun went down, temperatures plunged again making ice on the roof by the time we stopped at Rode Heath.
With a crisp of late November ice last night and having barely seen a boat move for two days we set off figuring that other than our shadow, nothing would be following us. It wasn’t long before a boat began to close us down…a stern packed with blue rinses, whose leader stood no taller than five foot but had the ability to wind paddles as though she was spinning candy floss. With Nick jogging on to get ahead, we found a few obstacles to surely shake them from our tail – slow emptying locks/broken paddles, but no sooner were we away and she was teleported and setting the lock. That little lady had something magical pumping through her veins.
The tap had started spurting the last dregs in the tank so we reversed up for a water fill at Etruria, pumped out and had lunch but not in that order. By the time we’d finished the little lady was stood ready to clunk click her hose onto the tap.
Although new stretches of canal are more eye-popping there’s something comforting about recognising bits of graffiti here and there, in the same way landmarks dot to dot the real world. Tied up at Festival Park, basically a retail park with the usuals, stocked up on glue and mastic. The light inched away as we travelled past the potteries, along to West Port Lake where we cooked the Londis chicken and it was good.