Sunday 27 March

The Duke of Westminster’s Eaton Hall opens its gardens for just four days each year in aid of charity and today was the first date of 2016.

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We arrived early and paid our dues, in return for which we were handed a map showing what areas were open to the public.  Max came with us as he was allowed so long as he stayed on his lead.

There were quite a number of attractions laid on to entertain the public and it was nice to see the youngsters charging about following the Easter Egg Trail.

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We headed first to the walled kitchen garden and fruit orchard.  I then took a brief detour into the covered glass corridor of the Camelia walk where the flowers were in magnificent full bloom.

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We then walked down by the lake, passing a falconry display and then to the Tea House Garden and the Dragon garden.

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Most of the plants one would expect to see in these areas have yet to appear and so I would suggest that avid horticulturalists don’t attend the first open day and perhaps attend one of the later dates in May, July or August when things should be in full bloom.

However, for those who wish to learn more about the Grosvenor Family history there is plenty to discover in the Family History Room which details over 1000 years of their existence.  This was very detailed and it’s a shame that it is only open four days a year.     In the central open courtyard there were a number of craft stalls and when you’d exhausted all of those there were plenty of  stalls serving refreshments.  It was all very well organised and clearly signed.

We made it back to the boat before the afternoon’s rain arrived which was fairly relentless.   I spent the afternoon packing as we’re going home tomorrow to help prepare for James’ and Ali’s wedding on Friday.  Exciting!

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Saturday 26 March

There was a strong breeze blowing this morning and torrential rain this afternoon so we were really glad we’d made the decision to return to our mooring yesterday as it wouldn’t have been any fun today.

Laura & Marc invited us round for lunch.  Summer told us she’d missed us and that was before we gave her her Easter present.   We’d bought her some Duplo animals which she opened enthusiastically and then gave us each a kiss to say thank you.    She has a huge bag of Easter eggs waiting for her tomorrow!

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We came back to the boat late afternoon having picked up our Saturday papers and spent the afternoon reading and trying to solve the cryptic and general knowledge crosswords.

Friday 25 March – Good Friday

After seeing the weather forecast for the weekend, we decided to make the most of the good weather predicted for today, and head back to our mooring before the wind and rain forecast for tomorrow arrives.

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We woke to sunshine and blue skies and were underway before 9am.  Max and I walked from our overnight mooring site to the two Swanley Locks which we had to fill to make ready.   Well, to be fair, Max ran the distance several times over as he kept running back to check on Storm’s progress and then back to me.    After all his exercise he was quite happy to sunbathe for a while.

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I don’t know whether I have mentioned before that Storm is a member of the Pylon Appreciation Society but he spotted this slightly different one this morning!  (If you join their society, you get a badge!).

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At Hurleston Locks we realised that the sun was encouraging lot of other boats out and most of them seemed to be heading towards us.   Thankfully, this meant that we headed down the locks quite quickly.   As we got to the bottom of the four locks there was something of a log jam, rather than a lock jam, as boats were hovering in the entrance, all trying to get as close to the lock as possible making sure that no-one jumped the queue.

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A beautifully sculpted ploughed field at Hurleston Junction.

Storm struggled to find somewhere to pull in to pick me up but he turned left and he managed a nifty no stopping, bow-in-bow-out to the tow path manouvre at which point I leapt back on!   There was a steady stream of boats heading towards us and we were hoping that the Chester branch would be a bit quieter, seeing as how its a dead end.  No, not today!  Most of the boats though were still heading towards us.

At Bunbury staircase locks we joined a queue of three other boats waiting to do down and six boats waiting to come up.   The queue had formed because there was a guy from the Anglo Welsh hire base at the bottom of the locks trying to ensure his outgoing boat crews were completely confused about how to use a lock as he showed them how to do the ‘Bunbury shuffle’.

I have described the Bunbury Shuffle move before on this blog so I won’t bore you again.

Anyway, after about an hour’s wait we ended up following NB Lock N Roll down through the locks (both of us had gone down alone so that two boats could come up).  We arranged that they would wait for us at the bottom so that we could share the remaining four double locks ahead.  This plan worked well. We even risked sharing Beeston Iron Lock with them, all the while keeping a close eye on the two boats as they went down in the lock to make sure they weren’t left hanging.  Beeston Lock is made of cast iron and its shape is irregular and changes shape depending on the weather apparently.  It is recommended that boats pass through one at a time.  We threw caution to the wind today and passed through together easily with at least six inches of clear water around the boats!  We got several scowls from boats waiting in the queue to come up in the lock as they had been waiting for about two hours for their turn.

The half mile stretch of visitor moorings at the Shady Oak were full – we’ve only ever seen two or three boats moored here before and the pub was doing a roaring trade.  We’ve heard the pub has recently changed hands so that might explain it, or it could just have been the sunshine.

Anyway, we were keen to return to our home mooring and we finally pulled in at about 4pm having done 12 locks and approximately 14 miles.

Thursday 24 March

We lost all phone and internet signal on Tuesday morning as we left Wrenbury and headed towards Wales and we’ve only just picked it up again today on our way back.

I opted to steer on Tuesday and the first challenge was to pass through Wrenbury’s Lift Bridge that carries all the village traffic over the canal.

The approach to the bridge is at an angle and the entrance to it is very narrow, placed just beside the Alvechurch Boat Centre’s hire base which is usually busy with people who  stop what they are doing to watch you pass through, and all this  adds a little to the anxiety levels.

Storm went off with our waterways key to operate the bridge controls that trigger the traffic lights and the  barrier mechanism before the bridge starts to rise.

The aim is to get through the bridge as quickly as possible without infuriating motorists too much as they are always in a hurry and without making contact with the sides.  I took a wide swing to the right to get a good line of sight and despite there being a bit of a breeze this morning I managed to pass through without incident.

After that we cruised on through another seven locks before arriving at the Grindley Brook Staircase of three locks.  Here there is a resident lock-keeper on duty who controls the flow of boats up and down.   Today we didn’t need to queue and were able to go straight in.   Even with a lock-keeper on duty we were a bit short of water in the middle lock as I heard the bottom scrape over the cill and struggled to move the boat forward but we made it to the top without any problems and moored up.

I took the opportunity to go off and use the CRT sanitary block where I could enjoy a longer than normal shower with lots of hot water.

In the afternoon we continued on, passing the end of the Whitchurch Arm and through four pedestrian-only lift bridges before mooring up in open countryside for the night near Platt Lane.

After a quiet night, we woke to the sound of hire boats on the move.   They always set off early to take advantage of their week’s hire as most of them aim to reach Llangollen and back in the week.

We moved the boat down to the Whixall Moss Roving Bridge and we winded in the mouth of the Prees branch before mooring up again.   We wanted to explore the branch on foot.  It is navigable as far as Whixalll Marina and still in water through the Nature Reserve.

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Here we came across two swans sitting on nests with their mates hovering nearby to guard against intruders.  We also watched a pair of tree creepers scurrying up a tree in search of insects.

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On our walk back we spotted a mink who paused briefly to look at us before scurrying off into a nearby stream.   Their fur is so dark and their is no wonder that it was once in great demand when you see the characteristics of how it ripples as the mink moves.  Sadly it didn’t linger long enough for us to get a photo.

Once back on the boat we began our return journey, followed by another boat, and we played leap frog with them through the various lift bridges.   By the time we arrived at Brindley Brook we were the lead boat and again we didn’t have to queue for the staircase.   John the lock keeper, renowned for not being particularly chatty, was on good form today and he passed the time of day.  We continued on to Willeymoor Lock where we stopped for the night and treated ourselves to a couple of meat pies at the Tavern there.

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This morning, in an attempt to try to beat the forecasted showers, we were up early.  However, we didn’t beat the showers and having donned waterproofs, we headed back to Wrenbury where we moored up for about an hour so we could pop to the shop.   The showers passed over and we continued on as far as Greenfield Bridge before mooring up mid afternoon in open countryside before the rain began again.  It was nice to see that the Hawthorn is starting to leaf up and the horse chestnut trees are starting to bud.

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Monday 21 March

We had a  cooked breakfast before setting off this morning in the hope that it would set us up for the day.  We travelled approximately 7.25miles and through 9 locks today to reach the village of Wrenbury.

We passed Swanley Bridge Marina and we wondered whether the chimney on their Reception was an after thought?

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It was much colder today than yesterday and Storm was glad of his thermals and padded coat as he steered but with nine locks to empty and fill today I was quite warm enough in just my fleece.

We arrived into Wrenbury at 2pm.  One of the advantages of cruising is that our batteries get a good charge and this means I can use my sewing machine more often …

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Sunday 20 March

With a clear diary for the next week and  dry weather forecast, we’ve decided to go out on a cruise and see how far we can get.

We managed to break free from the mud that had gathered under our stern and headed south towards Barbridge Junction.

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Max seemed pleased to be back out  on the canal and helping with locks.

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Wharton’s Lock, Beeston

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Beeston Stone Lock

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Tilstone Lock

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We filled up with diesel for the first time this year at Chas Harden’s Boatyard.  It was worth their while and they offered us some discount!

As usual we met many boats heading toward us and only when we’d cleared the sixth and last broad lock of the day did we catch up with another boat heading in our direction.

After five hours of cruising we moored up outside the Olde Barbridge Inn where I think we may head for a drink later this evening.  (9 miles and six locks).

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Our mooring for this evening

Saturday 19 March

We don’t have much to tell you as we’ve spent the last few days simply pottering, either on the boat or at Laura’s.  We’ve been doing little maintenance jobs, a bit of sewing and some babysitting – nothing too strenuous.

This afternoon we took Max for a longer walk than usual as we felt we needed some exercise.   It was a cold, grey day, but it was easier walking as the ground is much drier since we haven’t had any rain for over a week now.

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On the towpath opposite our mooring, looking South

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The Waverton Institute

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Church Manor

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Estate Farm Cottages

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Waverton Montessouri School

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Another Estate Cottage

We left the boat and walked back down the track to the farm from where we crossed the canal to the towpath and turned north towards Waverton.  After a couple of miles we left the towpath and headed along a public footpath towards the Church.  We came out at the junction near the Institute, the School and Church Manor and also passed one or two of the Westminster Estate’s properties that are rented out to villagers.  The estate’s properties are distinguishable by their red paint.

We strolled round the churchyard before following the road back towards the boat and rejoining the towpath as soon as we could.   A walk of about four miles.

It has been nice to see more boat owners at the moorings this weekend.  There has been a lot of activity as owners check their boats after the winter to get them ready for cruising.