Laura, Marc, Summer, James & Ali and my Mum joined us for a restorative full English breakfast at the Cheshire Cat this morning, where we had a ‘four generations together’ photograph taken.
Feeling slightly flat after all the excitement of the last few days, Storm and I walked down the towpath to Aldi where we strolled the central isles to see what items we didn’t know we needed! Unable to resist a couple of bargains we returned to the boat.
My brother and his two lovely daughters surprised us with a visit at lunch time and we chatted happily for an hour before they headed home.
I tidied the boat and gave the floor a quick wash before James & Ali, with my Mum, arrived to collect us to take us to the party.
My Mum hasn’t been on the boat since Easter 2010 and it was good to welcome them all back on board for a coffee before we all piled into the car with Max and the dishes that I prepared earlier.
Summer’s party was already underway with her looking gorgeous in her polka dot party dress.
About 40 friends and family ranging in age from 1 week to 80ish had a lovely afternoon celebrating Summer’s first year, enjoying the buffet, the cake and watching Summer open all her presents with the help of her two year old cousin Jacob.
Summer had fun and after her dinner and a bath, she collapsed into bed at 7pm without another peep. Then thirteen family members sat down to the evening meal and carried on partying into the evening.
After a cooked breakfast, I packed up some baking stuff and various pots, and delivered Laura’s car back to her without a scratch, leaving Storm and Max on the boat.
While Summer had her morning nap we made party buns and then once she was awake we played with her – it’s a tough life!!
Storm rang to say he was on his way over with Max and he arrived in time for a coffee before it was time for us to head back to the boat. Laura dropped us off in town to catch the bus. However, the bus system in Chester is overly complicated and it took us a while to fathom out where we needed to be as we discovered that not all buses leave from the bus station. After a trek half way across town we finally located bus shelter known as S6F which was opposite M&S. Here we met a couple off a neighbouring boat to us who had also found the bus system confusing – we were reassured by this.
The bus stopped opposite the pub in Christleton – which beckoned as we passed, but it disappointed as it had had a ‘gastro’ makeover and was an eatery with delusions of grandeur rather than a pub! It was probably just as well that we headed home early as I’d promised to provide the evening meal for family members staying over tomorrow and so I spent the rest of the evening preparing these.
Having taken Max for his morning constitutional round Christleton we left him on board while we walked the two miles into Chester to shop for Summer’s birthday present. It was a glorious morning when we set off but my lunchtime it was starting to drizzle so having had a successful shop, and a coffee and a cake in Costa, we caught the bus to Laura’s.
Summer was having her afternoon nap when we arrived but when she woke we got the best welcome ever; a beaming smile and an unsolicited hug, followed later by a couple of wet kisses!
Laura made us a lovely tea and then she leant us her car to drive back to the boat. Max had been really good while we’d been away and when we got back he enjoyed a great game of towpath tag – this is a game we’ve developed where we stand about fifty yards apart and we whistle in turn and Max runs between the two of us, with his ears flying, as fast as he can!
We emptied our rubbish and filled up with water and made our way towards the Bunbury staircase lock. (Two locks together).
From here on into Chester the locks are wide ones (the first we’ve encountered since travelling as “Wasp” in June) and we were delighted to see a boat ahead of us. We’ve travelled this way many times before, usually at the beginning or end of the boating season when few boats are around, and we’ve never seen another boat to share the locks with us.
As we pulled in behind the boat in front of us we overhead the end of a conversation that suggested that the boat ahead of us would be entering the top lock alone as there were two boats in the bottom lock already and they would be performing the “Bunbury Shuffle”.
With that another boat came up behind us and we got chatting and agreed that we would go down through the locks with them. With that a lady from a hire boat below the locks came up to say that there was a boat being towed and that the two boats would be coming up together. When we said that was fine but they would have to wait their turn, we discovered that they’d already entered the bottom lock. By this time a third boat had joined the queue at the top of the locks so the boat behind us agreed that they would wait and go down with the boat behind them.
That meant we entered the lock on our own again and we too performed the Bunbury Shuffle, (well almost – the idea is that the boats shuffle in a circular motion in the locks and one boat moves forward into the space left by the boat shuffling sideways, but the broken down boat couldn’t shuffle sideways so we had to squeeze by and cross over diagonally in the space left.)
The boat ahead of us was nowhere to be seen by the time we cleared the locks and so we locks we met a boat coming up towards us so we didn’t have to empty any before we could enter.
We moored on the outskirts of Chester at Christleton where we will stay until after the party on Saturday.
We left Hassall Green and our day got off to a fairly good start as we met boats coming towards us through the first two locks, although they were very slow in entering and leaving the locks as they were very precious about their paintwork.
We then passed under the M6 motorway and continued our way down “Heartbreak Hill” or the “Cheshire Locks” (as the old boatmen call them), towards Wheelock.
Today was Laura’s first day back at work after a year’s maternity leave and we were just waiting to enter Lock 66 when a car just like Laura’s little yellow mini passed by on the road overhead.
A quick call to her mobile determined it had been her as she was just on her way to see a patient in Sandbach. What a spooky coincidence!
We overtook two hire boats in Wheelock who’d pulled in for water and made our way past Elton Moss and through lock 67 and down towards Middlewich where we counted five swans in total and turned left onto the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal.
At the lock in here we were warned to look out for a blue hire boat ahead of us that was causing problems. We try hard to be kind to hirers as we were once hirers ourselves, but some people just don’t observe the expected courtesies of the canal.
We didn’t catch them up but we think we may have discovered the results of their antics when we got to Cholmondeston Lock (our last lock of the day), when we couldn’t open the bottom gates. Thankfully when going up in a lock the gates open inwards and so we used the power of the engine to help open the gates. We knew something was amiss as soon as the bottom doors closed behind us because the boat began to rise before Storm had opened any of the paddles. As he got to the top paddle he discovered that this had been dropped and the paddle was permanently open allowing water to flow into the lock unabated.
A hire boat wishing to go down in the lock came to speak to us and we offered to help them by lending our weight to the opening of the bottom gate and we were successful so they could continue on their way. We then rang the Canal & River Trust’s emergency number to alert them to the problem.
We moored at Barbridge and treated ourselves to a very welcome steak and ale pie at The Olde Barbridge Inn.
We woke to the sound of raindrops on the roof which didn’t encourage us to rise early. We left Trentham after 9am, clad in full waterproof gear and headed for Stoke on Trent.
You can’t travel along this route without photographing one of the derelict bottle kilns left over from the pottery industry that sit beside the canal. Also whilst Stoke on Trent is a City, it doesn’t really feel like one as it has no actual heart and is made up of five towns; Burslem, Hanley, Fenton, Longton and Tunstall.
We climbed the five locks in Stoke and had to empty the first three before we met two boats coming towards us which meant they left the locks ready for us to move straight into.
The rain eventually stopped and we arrived at the entrance to the Harecastle Tunnel in time to see two boats coming towards us which suggested that we would be able to enter straight after. However the Tunnel Manager came to greet us and announced that our passage would have to be delayed for half an hour while he went off for his lunch. We moored up and enjoyed a sandwhich while we waited.
Half an hour later we were on our way. The tunnel is 2926 yards long and the passage through takes 45 minutes. The tunnel marks the summit of the Trent & Mersey Canal and the locks from hereon will take us downhill towards Middlewich.
We continued through another sixteen locks beyond Kidsgrove and after the first two of these locks we had to fill each lock before we could descend as we didn’t see another boat all afternoon. This was hard work as some of the paddle mechanisms were very stiff and the lock gates heavy.
We stopped at Hassall Green at 6pm having done 10.5 miles, 23 locks and 1 tunnel. About 30 miles and 23 locks still to do this week.