Tuesday 19 September

There was mist rising from the canal when we woke this morning and there was a chill in the air, but the sky was blue and by mid morning the sun was out and we were very warm.  The forecast for the rest of the day was good too.

We’d decided that from now on we would try to cover as many miles as possible and that at some point today we would be saying cheerio to Pip, Mick and Tillly with whom we’ve enjoyed six weeks of fun exploring the Lancaster Canal, with plenty of wine, beer and chilled medication along the way.

Both boats left the outskirts of Burscough once Mick had returned from the shop with milk for us and a few other items for them.  I walked Max to the first of today’s swing bridges.  The bridge opened automatically when the key of power was inserted into the console, but I had to manually close the barriers at each end once the console lights blinked at me.

Having waved both boats through I closed the bridge and reopened the barriers, retrieved my key and climbed back on board.   We passed through Parbold ignoring the chilled medication cafe, as it was too early, and instead carried on to Appley Bridge lock.

Here Pip said that this was going to be our last shared lock together as they’d decided to moor just the other side of Appley Bridge and before Dean Lock.   We said our goodbyes and promised that we would stay in touch and share other journeys together in the future.

Cheerio … almost

We pulled away from the lock first and waved to them as we headed out of sight.  However, they’d forgotten that there was another swing bridge before their desired mooring and so we waved them through Finch Mill pedestrian swing bridge that has a key of a power to undo the break on the bridge but after that it requires muscle to push it open and then pull it closed.

After that we followed behind them for a little while but then they pulled in in open countryside and we slowed down as we passed to say another ‘goodbye’ before we headed off towards Dean Lock at Gathurst where the M6 towers overhead.

Dean Locks

M6 towering over Dean Locks

With just one boat in the lock, I only opened one gate and one paddle at the next three locks so filling the locks took slightly longer.

We passed the Crooke Hall Inn pub from where this cruise began six weeks ago and on through Ell Meadow Lock.



As we pulled up at Pagefield Lock a boat was just about to pull away and the skipper came back to ask which way we were heading after Wigan.

Wigan Pier

When I said we were heading for Leigh, he asked if we’d like him to wait for us.  “Yes please”, and so we shared the last four locks of the day.

The excitement wasn’t over though.  At Henhurst Lock we had to wait for two boats to lock out and as they did, one of the skippers was frantically looking around.  I tried to see what he was looking for and then I noticed a large greyhound cowering under the road bridge below the lock.  The bridge is fenced off from the road and lock side to discourage rough sleepers finding their way under the bridge. The only way to reach the dog was to climb across the railings from the canal and risk falling in but you couldn’t rescue the dog that way.  The only way to rescue it was by boat.   The guy could have taken his boat back down the lock but we offered to help instead.  With Max inside ours and the doors closed, we headed under the bridge and the dog’s owner, climbed across the railings.  Thankfully he didn’t fall in.  He lifted his dog onto our front deck and stood with him while we entered and rose up in the lock.  That was our good deed for the day and I think they were both relieved and very grateful.

We continued on our way.  We’d planned to try to reach Plank Lane Lift Bridge at least today.

Looking back at Plank Lane Lift Bridge

They operate restrictions here at rush hour and as we pulled up it was 5.15pm and we weren’t allowed to open the bridge until 6pm.   We had a cup  of tea, laid the fire and prepared dinner.   As Radio 4 sounded the 6pm pips, I turned the key of power in the console, stopping traffic in both directions.  By now there were four boats heading for Leigh and by the time we’d all passed under the bridge there were long lines of traffic stretching away into the distance.  Thankfully no-one tooted or appeared irate this time.  A lot of boaters get grief here.

The Plank Lane Rush Hour Four

We’d decided to carry on until dusk and, having passed through Leigh, we finally stopped near the mining museum at Astley Green having done about 20 miles, eight locks and 3 bridges.

Failing Light

For the next two or three days we’re going to be getting up early and travelling late to get back to our permanent mooring.   Then once we’ve checked in with the grandchildren for a couple of days we’re heading back home to Yorkshire.   This isn’t the end of our canal journey but it is the end of our continual cruising and living aboard and this will be our last blog posting for a while.  If you’d like to journey with us in the future, then please feel free to ‘follow’ and you’ll receive an email the next time we write about our travels.  We hope you’ve enjoyed Blackbird’s story so far and thank you for your interest.


Monday 18 September

The alarms were set for 6.30am.  Max needed his walk before we set out onto the river.  At 7.30 the CRT guys arrived as promised and once they’d done their lock checks, we were beckoned forward.     There would be a total of five lockings at Lock 8 after which we would all make our way down through the final leg of Savick Brook to wait again on the pontoon above the sea lock.

We shared the first locking with NB Elan leaving NB Oleanna behind to share the second locking with one of the other boats.

NB Elan left the lock first.   The brook was shallow and as we left the lock we ran aground at the first left turn and had to reverse to try and get our stern into deeper water.   Then we edged our way slowly forward.    Kingfishers were everywhere and I don’t know how many there were in total but at one time there were three flying off in different directions.   I couldn’t believe my eyes when a silvery line appeared in the water ahead of us and an otter popped its head up to take a look at us before turning and disappearing.

We ran aground a couple of times but we made it to the floating pontoon just above the sea lock and breasted up to NB Elan to wait for the others to join us.   We had a wait of over an hour there before the height of the incoming tide provided enough water in the Brook for us to clear the sea lock which is a vertical rotating door that is not visible when its open as its under the water.

The floating pontoon is very short and NB Oleanna arrived and breasted up to us and then NB Bosley arrived and breasted up to them so we were four narrowboats across the Beck.   Storm checked his weed hatch to make sure we’d not picked anything up on the propellor.  He proudly held aloft this length of rope.

Two more narrowboats arrived and tied up behind us and then we waited anxiously for the two wide beams to arrive.   All narrowboats had encountered similar problems to us and each skipper said they were glad they weren’t trying to steer a wide beam.   The minutes ticked by.  Eventually one appeared.   By the time we got the signal to go though, the second wide beam hadn’t appeared.   We’d had concerns about him before we entered the Brook as his boat was not in the best of health and the skipper had arranged for a boat to meet him and tow him back to Tarleton once out on the river.

Oleanna led the way and as we passed through the sealock. Chris, the CRT guy on duty, said that the final wide beam was stuck and had broken down and he wouldn’t be making the crossing today.   We may never know if and how he escaped.   We just hope he hasn’t blocked the brook to incoming traffic.

Oleanna’s turn onto the Ribble

There was no breeze today and the river was flat calm.

A glimpse of Preston, behind us now

Canada geese were gathering ready for their winter migration and provided Oleanna with their best flying display as they flew overhead and came into land around them .

Our trip  down the River Ribble and up the River Douglas took just about an hour and three quarters.    A sea-going yacht passed us just before we reached the Astland Lamp and as we were ready to start our turn into the Douglas, a Preston bound narrowboat was heading towards us and we both turned at the same time and we gave each other a cheery wave as we passed.  The pilot boat, Gnat, that had come out to tow the missing wide beam came past us and once he realised he wasn’t needed turned round and came past us again, creating quite a bow wave that we had to ride.

Otherwise our journey was thankfully uneventful.  The lock at Tarleton was set ready for us to go straight in.   The lock-keeper asked us what happened to the second wide beam and when we told him he said he’d not be offering to tow him again!  He’d just returned from his trip down river on Gnat!

We didn’t stop in Tarleton, and instead continued on up the Rufford Branch of the Leeds Liverpool Canal.   As we passed through the swing bridges, Oleanna and Blackbird played leap frog as Pip and I took it in turns to open them.  We stopped before Rufford village to fill up with water and Oleanna went to fill up with diesel at St Mary’s Marina.  We met up again at the first of seven wide locks and travelled together through them.

There were signs of activity in the fields as farmers hurried to get their harvest in while the warm, dry weather lasted.

At one lock we met another boat coming towards us and we were asked where we’d come from.  I said we’d come from Preston and we mentioned that we’d been holed up there an extra nine days because of the bad weather.  This was not welcome news to them as they were heading to Tarleton to cross tomorrow and hoping to cross back in about a week’s time as they’d book to go into the docks in Liverpool for the end of September.

The last lock with its swing bridge was the toughest of them all and it took both Pip and I to swing the bridge.

By 4.30 we’d made it to the top of the Rufford Branch and had turned left onto the Leeds Liverpool Canal heading towards Wigan.    We moored up just after Glovers Swing Bridge, showered and headed to the Ship Inn for a lovely meal to celebrate.

We have mixed emotions.  Glad to be heading home, but sad that our holiday is almost over.  We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our five weeks  exploring the Lancaster Canal together.   Thank you CRT for looking after us in the Link.

Sunday, 17 September

We enjoyed a cooked breakfast while we waited for the CRT.  A guy in CRT colours arrived on a bike and began unlocking the paddles which was the first positive sign that we were going to be heading down the locks today.

Once we were ready he started to empty the lock we were already in.   We inched our way slowly down the staircase of three locks backwards.  The staircase has no lock landings, the locks are deep and CRT operate the paddles and gates for the crews who all remain on board their boats.

Going down!

Long boats need to go in backwards because the turn at the bottom of the staircase is a 90 degree bend with  a tight turning area.

Oleana heading towards the bridges while we wait in the lock

NB Oleanna backed out of the lock first and a look of alarm on Mick’s face suggested that all was not quite as it should be.   Thankfully after a bit of coaxing Oleanna began to swing round to head under the road and rail bridge and then it was our turn.   We went backwards and we too had problems doing the turn.  Our stern was stuck in the mud.  I took the boat pole to the front of the boat and pushed it round which freed the stern as well  so we headed towards the two bridges where the beck kinks round to the left and a protruding bush made a horrible noise as it scraped across our roof.  Thankfully our chimney stayed put.  The brook is quite overgrown and we picked up quite a few leaves and twigs as we continued on our way.

CRT had set the locks ready for us just to go straight in.  Pip and Mick were inspecting the side of their boat as we arrived at Lock 4 and we hoped they hadn’t scratched their new paintwork.   It turned out that they’d lost one of the press-studs from their new cratch cover.   Fortunately  they plan to meet their cover supplier next week and hopefully he’ll be able to fit a replacement stud.

After that Pip and I walked between locks rather than hopping on and off at each lock landing as we had a bit more to do today than usual.  We’d been asked by CRT to open the paddles again after we’d passed through so that they would be full by the time the boats following behind us got there.   We were the front two boats of six narrowboats and 2 wide beams travelling down the Ribble Link today.

Tonight all eight boats are moored on 3 pontoons above lock 8.  We are breasted up between NB Oleanna and NB Elan.  All very cosy.

We’ve been told to be ready for 7.30 am in the morning when CRT will arrive to let us down through Lock 8 and under the low bridge while the tide is out, and then we will wait on the pontoon just above the sea lock until the height of the tide is sufficient for us to head out onto the river.

Saturday 16 September

After our BBQ last night, we only had about 13 miles to travel today to return to the Savick basin in Preston.   We’re hoping to get the green light from CRT tomorrow lunch-time as we’ve had very little rain, quite a lot of sunshine and not a lot of wind since lastTuesday and if we can get down the Brook tomorrow, the forecast looks hopeful for Monday’s trip down the Ribble and up the Douglas.

After a week’s delay, we’ve now seen and done everything on our to do list, plus a few things that weren’t on the list and as nice as the Lancaster Canal is, we’re ready to head for home.

We had a very pleasant pootle back in sunshine.

A final glimpse back at the hills

We didn’t rush as we had all day but after six hours we arrived back to find the basin exactly as we’d left it.  We reversed back into the lock and when Oleanna arrived they too reversed and moored alongside us.   A strong feeling of deja vu!

The brook looked calm compared to last Monday so we’re keeping our fingers and toes crossed for tomorrow.

Last Monday …

Today… at least 18″ less water




Friday 15 September

Pip and Mick came up with the idea of what to do today.  They needed to restock their food cupboards and rather than arrange an on-line delivery, cycle, walk or catch a bus to shop, they decided to take the boat back to Garstang.   As we needed to do a wash, we followed after we’d filled up with water.   The 4.5 mile trip would be just long enough for our washing machine to complete its cycle.

It was forecast to be a nice day.   We headed off in sunshine and moored up in Garstang on the first ring we came to and before the avenue of trees that would have cast the boat into shade.  We put up our whirligig (rotary drier to those who wonder what a whirligig is!) and hoped the sun and light breeze would last long enough to dry the jeans I’d washed.

The bigger plan for the day was that once Pip and Mick had done their shopping, and our washing was dry, we’d untie, wind, and head out back into the countryside and have another BBQ.

I popped to Sainsbury’s while the washing was drying to pick up a couple of things I’d missed off our internet order.  Pip and Mick were already in there and I left them shopping and went back to the boat to make some bread and a new batch of coleslaw.

A couple of unexpected short lived showers mid afternoon kept me busy bringing in washing and then putting it out again but after the second shower I gave and put the, by now nearly dry, jeans over the indoor airer.

We untied, went to wind and followed NB Oleanna back to Bridge 56 where they’d identified a spot where we could get into the side without running aground.

We had a tow path pow-wow about whether the rain would hold off for the rest of the day, and we decided we’d risk it.  We lit the BBQ’s early and made the most of the mid-September daylight.

A beautiful rainbow appeared.  Unfortunately the camera doesn’t do it justice though.  Thankfully the weather behaved itself and we had a lovely evening chatting until the dark, and the cold, ushered us back indoors at 8.30pm.   We lit the stove, just to guarantee that the washing would be completely dry by morning and settled down to watch the telly.

Thursday 14 September

Steve from CRT rang this morning to say he’d come up with another plan.  He would let us into the Brook on Sunday (not Saturday as per his original plan), we’d overnight on the pontoon above lock 8 and then once the tide was high enough he’d let us out of the Brook and we’d be on our way.  He asked if this was alright with us but as he’s the keeper of the keys, so to speak, we have little choice but to go along with his plan.

I went to tell Pip and Mick the news.   Another day to wait.

In the meantime, Storm went down into the engine this morning to check oil and water levels and afterwards he ran the engine for an hour just to make sure all was well as he thinks we may have had some air in the engine cooling system as the water cap had been under quite a bit of pressure.

A reader of Oleanna’s blog had suggested that a visit to Barton Grange Garden Centre was worth the mile or so walk from Bilsborrow.  It was a nice sunny morning so we all went for a look.  It was billed as a “Destination Garden Centre” and seemed to be the destination for lots of drivers judging by the size of the carpark and the distance of the buildings from the road.

The pedestrian route in was not straight forward.

It wasn’t dog friendly either and with only one seat positioned in the shade, Storm was left to wander around in the sunshine.  Surprisingly there was a pet shop area inside the centre though with everything you would need and more for your pet.  We could have bought Max a halloween suit that would have turned him into a walking skeleton if you’d come across him in the dark!

Physically, the garden centre was so big there were many things on sale you wouldn’t expect to find in a garden centre,   It was a ‘house’ than ‘garden’ centre.  They had kitchen gadgets for every conceivable job and even for some jobs that you didn’t realise you needed a gadget!  Prices were generally beyond our budget although we did come away with a couple of stocking fillers.

That took care of the morning.

Pip has been putting me to shame with all her crocheting and knitting so yesterday I got out my box of fabric and started to make a material collage.  This kept me busy all afternoon and I’ll finish it off when I get home to my sewing machine.

Following Storm’s running of the engine we had a tankful of hot water.  I was in need of a hair cut so  Storm set up the hair trimmers and selected the correct comb for a number six all over.   My hairdresser does quite a good job.  Afterwards I needed a shower to wash away the hair trimmings.

This is what happens if you sit still for too long…

After tea we took Max for another stroll around the village and it felt very Autumnal with a real chill in the air.  We came back to the boat, lit the stove, and settled down to watch Film 4’s The Legend, a biopic of the Kray brothers, exploring their rise to power from the point of view of Reggie’s wife Frances, in which Tom Hardy plays both twins.   The stuff of nightmares!

Wednesday 13 September

What to do today?  The only pressing engagement was our grocery delivery drop off between 19.30 hrs and 20.30 hrs.

After a clean through of the boat I set about making some bread and while waiting for this to prove I also made some houmus and some smoked mackerel pate.  Well, we needed something to spread on the bread!

After lunch, needing a walk, we took Max along the bridle path towards Myerscough College campus.  The path takes you past their vast array of sports fields; golf, rugby, football, tennis, their stables and international indoor arena, before taking you past the classrooms and accommodation blocks where finger posts direct you to their plant centre, motorsport area, and many equestrian and animal care courses.

From there we followed the path out onto the road and back along the footpath into the village.   We stopped for an ice-cream before heading back to the boat.

This evening we decided to treat ourselves to fish and chips from the village chippy.  Storm could have treated me to a meal out there but instead he headed off on the bike so he could dash back with them before they got cold.  They were delicious and as there was no skin on the fish, Max didn’t get a look in unfortunately!

Our grocery delivery arrived without any problems mid slot at 8pm.  The van pulled in to Owd Nell’s car park and the guy offered to help us carry the groceries back to the boat but we’d taken the bike down and so once we’d waved him off, we loaded the shopping onto the handlebars and headed back to the boat.