Tuesday 12 September

Our slim chance didn’t materialise today as the Met Office had just issued another severe weather warning when Steve’s assistant, Chris, came to talk to us this morning.   As we now know we’re not going to enter the Brook before Saturday, we decided to move the two boats out of the basin.

Both boats were going to need water and to charge batteries.  Food stocks were also getting low.   We decided to head back to Bilsborrow where there is a sanitary station for water, the 10 mile cruise would help charge our batteries and there is a carpark beside the canal so we could arrange an internet supermarket delivery.

We’ve been experiencing quite a lot of short burst showers over the last couple of days, but thankfully we had a six hour spell of dry weather today which was long enough for our cruise and also allowed a couple of hours clothes drying time as I’d put on a wash as we left Preston.   We filled up with water before mooring and while the tank was filling we both had a shower to take advantage of the hot water generated by the heat from the engine.

The afternoon was spent shopping on line.  At one point I lost internet connection but it didn’t lose my basket of goods, so this wasn’t as frustrating as it might have been and my shopping is due tomorrow evening at 7.30pm, at a bargain delivery price of £1.50.

Before tea we went across the canal to the newly opened White Bull pub.   The pub was closed when we first explored Bilsborrow and we think it has re-opened under new ownership.  It certainly hasn’t reopened following any refurbishment as it wasn’t the smartest canal-side pub we’ve ever visited but they did serve Wainwright beer so we had no complaints.

We lit the stove before we went out so we came back to a nice cosy boat.



Monday 11 September

We knew we wouldn’t be going anywhere today.  The wind and rain we’d experienced yesterday evening and overnight had taken their toll on the Brook with the water at least a foot above normal and navigable levels.

The swollen beck

Boiling water in the beck

Steve from CRT arrived for a chat and to discuss options for the rest of the week.   There is a slim possibility that the weather may improve tomorrow.   The CRT website suggests that if we don’t leave Preston tomorrow then we’d have to wait two weeks until the tides on the Ribble are high enough and we’d been considering leaving the boat for ten days and catching the train back to Chester.     However, Steve had another suggestion.   The weather forecast for the coming weekend looks more settled.  If by Saturday, the forecast for Sunday looks good, then we would move down the brook to Lock 8, overnight on the pontoon there and Steve would let us out of the sea lock early on Sunday when the tide is right.

This is now a waiting game and rather than sit around, we headed out to Preston Dock.    Mick had done his homework and knew which bus we needed to go straight to the docks.  We caught the bus on Blackpool Road and after a short ride we arrived on the quayside opposite Morrisons – there is a lighthouse in its carpark!  Modern flats overlooked the dock on the opposite side.  If there had been any warehouses, these were long gone.

The dock had only a few boats close to the lock gates where there were rows of pontoons for yachts, cruisers, and the occasional narrowboat; the rest of the dock just a huge expanse of water.   The huge mooring bollards all around the edge were the only indication that Preston must have welcomed some very large boats at one time.

It was breezy but dry as we got off the bus, allowing me to take this photo.

Ten minutes later, this was our view ….

Once the shower had passed, we left the dock behind and followed the quay wall towards the river.    We were glad we weren’t on the river today as it was quite swollen.

We crossed the lock and walked along the north bank of the river a little way to see if we could see any of the rolling stock being restored by the Furness Railway Trust.  The views were limited so we headed back to the dock and called in at at the Dock cafe for refreshments.

By the now the wind had whipped up the waves in the dock.

Sunday 10 September

The alarm was set for 8 this morning but we needn’t have bothered as we were woken instead by our smoke detector alarm.  No smoke but perhaps some condensation had been the trigger!

Once up Storm went to check the water levels in the brook and this had dropped back to normal and with no breeze we were hopeful that the decision would be positive.

Steve, from CRT, arrived at 9.30 am to tell us the bad news – we wouldn’t be going today or even tomorrow, as Harry’s concerned about the strength of the wind on the river forecasted from lunchtime today and through tomorrow.   Oh dear!  We’re to try again on Tuesday.

Steve suggested, that as he’s expecting eight boats to make the crossing on Tuesday, we move our two boats into the lock today to free up room in the basin for the other boats expected later and that will also mean we’ll lead the way when conditions are right.   While we pulled Blackbird backwards into the lock Oleanna went in search of water and when they returned they came and moored up along side us.

We’d intended visiting Preston Dock this afternoon but by the time we were ready it was raining and the wind had got up so we decided it wouldn’t be much fun getting wet and instead lit the stove and spent a quiet Sunday afternoon reading.  At least Harry’s information had been correct!

By the time we’d had dinner, the weather had worsened.  The torrential rain on the roof drowned out the sound of our TV and even on full volume we couldn’t hear anything so we connected our Bose speaker which booms out the sound.    As soon as the rain abated we turned it down again before we got complaints from our neighbours!

Saturday 9 September

The alarm clock was set for 7.30 this morning so we had time to have breakfast and make sure we had everything ready and done all our checks for 9am when the CRT were scheduled to turn up and confirm whether today’s crossing was going to be possible.

There had been heavy rain overnight and a couple of early morning downpours but the skies overhead appeared to be brightening and the forecast for the rest of the morning and early afternoon looked promising.

The CRT guys turned up and announced that the crossing would have to be cancelled today as there was too much water in the brook.  They’d also checked with Harry, the river expert back at Tarleton, and he was concerned about the likelihood of strong winds later in the afternoon.

Savick Brook feeds the Ribble Link and starts way up in the Pennines so after heavy rain the brook floods rendering The Link impassable as the flow is too strong and there is insufficient headroom under bridges.

We knew that the Ribble Link wasn’t going to be straight forward as we’d heard different tales from people who’d made the crossing before.  There are so many conditions to satisfy before a crossing can take place.   We must have hit it lucky last month when crossed at our first attempt.

Anyway, with our plans for today dashed, we asked if any boaters would like a paper and we headed off to the local newsagents with orders for three.   Our walk took us alongside Savick Brook and the water going over the weir was roaring – a sound we’d not heard when we came up the brook last month!   It’s reassuring to know that CRT aren’t willing to take unnecessary risks with us.

In the afternoon we visited the Harris Museum and Art Gallery in the centre of Preston.  From the towpath we walked through Haslam Park to find a bus on Blackpool Road.  This was an under used space with only a few walkers and cyclists enjoying the peaceful surroundings.

As it is Heritage Weekend, we were able to visit the Egyptian Balcony on the third floor of the museum.   This is usually closed to the public.   We joined the queue on the second floor to climb the stairs.  Only a dozen people are allowed up there at a time and we were greeted at the top by a volunteer who was keen to  tell us something about the gallery.   The walls appeared to be covered in murals but were in fact paintings on canvas.  John Somerscales, had been commissioned to visit the pyramids and tombs of Egypt just before the outbreak of WW1 and return to create a number of landscape paintings and illustrations that would be hung in the gallery.

The only criticism we had was  that there was no information about the scenes and we were advised that  we could book on one of the guided tours held at other times.   We recognised the pyramids though as we visited Egypt ourselves in 2005.   The painting doesn’t include the sprawl of Cairo  nor the tourist facilities that would be visible now.  A lot has changed in a hundred years.

Looking down through the building to the cafe below

After we’d walked round the upper balcony and admired the view from the top we returned to the second floor and toured the art gallery that contains fine art from the 18th and 19th centuries and includes works by Dame Laura Knight, Bridget Riley, Magritte and many others.

The building has an impressive central lantern and we headed to the cafe where we could sit and gaze upwards to the glass roof.  Our waitress came to take our order and we had just enough time to order two teas, one decaf and a coffee and before we could draw breath she’d scuttled off and missed our order for four cakes.   She reminded us of Mrs Overall from Acorn Antiques.   Never mind, she saved our waistlines.

We caught a little bus back to the boat which dropped us off beside Savick Brook.  By now the water had gone down quite a bit and the weir was much quieter.  Fingers crossed for tomorrow.

Friday, 8 September

Yesterday morning, when trying to post our blog, I had problems loading the photographs and realised I’d exceeded the WordPress data limit.   I’d wrongly assumed that the data limit would increase year on year when I’d paid them for the privilege of using their host website.   That is not the case.

To free up available data I deleted some photographs from a year ago and this was successful.

We left Garstang mid morning today to begin our 17 mile journey back to Preston.  Good moorings, where you can moor tight up to the side, are scarce and we’ve found that we can only get in at official CRT mooring sites.

The weather was variable;  a mix of sunshine and showers but otherwise a fairly uneventful day.   Now that we’re on our way back we’ve got that ‘holiday nearly over’ feeling and didn’t see anything new to photograph.

From Garstang we decided to head the five miles to Bilsborrow today, stay the night there, visit the sanitary station to take on water and offload rubbish before completing the final 12 miles today.

After heavy rain yesterday afternoon condensation was becoming a bit of a problem.   Searching through Storm’s store of boat stuff, I found a tube of intumescent black goo and so we filled the gap around the stove chimney, waited an hour for it to go off, and then lit the stove.  A snug evening in front of the fire.

In the morning the sun re-appeared, and we made ready to head off again.

Oleanna had visited the services last night before mooring, and they set off for Preston ahead of us.  We intended to cross to the services this morning which were in demand with other boaters and so we pushed across the canal to show our intention and join the queue.

NB Waters Edge, pulled in behind us and they just needed to empty their waste so they were on their way ahead of us.  They told us they were heading back to Preston too, ready for tomorrow.

We followed them a few minutes later, only stopping on the way at Moon Bridge marina for diesel.   We managed to moor the boat very snugly on the diesel pontoon, between a narrowboat and a cruiser, before going in search of someone at the marina to come and fill us up.   The only problem was that the fuel pipe wouldn’t reach our filler cap and so we had to push the bow out, blocking the canal, to bring the stern of the boat closer to the diesel pump.   Storm went forward to fend our boat off the plastic cruiser as we didn’t want to squash it.  The diesel here was about 20p/litre cheaper than at Galgate so we were quite relieved that we’d not managed to get diesel there.  You need cash or cheque at Moon Bridge as they don’t take plastic.

686 Oxide Fuels Complex – Nuclear fuel rods made here.

Once we filled up, we continued on our way, by now expecting to be the third boat into the Savick Link waiting area but when we got there we discovered we were the fourth boat booked to make the crossing tomorrow.  NB Elan was already there.

We moored up parallel to the road, tying up to the rescue steps and a footpath marker as there were no mooring rings, but the space was just 55ft long and so again we were a snug fit.

By this time it was about 1.30 and we’d had lunch on the go, so we put the kettle on for a cuppa.  Pip knocked to say she was walking into town and we asked her to wait a moment so that we could go with her.

We walked along the towpath covering the final 1.5 miles of the Lancaster Canal.   This was much nicer than we’d been led to expect.    The canal terminates just a few yards beyond the Ashton Basin which was a small arm off the main canal.

Ashton Basin

Savick House 1838

We continued on along the road into Preston as Pip was on a mission to Abakan to buy some fabric.  Once her mission was accomplished, we returned arriving just in time to welcome the three boats who’d made the windy crossing from Tarleton today.  Once they’d headed off down the Lancaster Canal to find somewhere to moor for the night, we all went back to our own boats.

As tonight’s meal was going to be leftovers from last night and just needed warming through, I set about making a quiche, sausage rolls and some buns, to make the most of a hot oven.   Finger food for tomorrow’s journey!!


Wednesday 6 September

We were up and about earlier than usual this morning.  Storm took Max for a longer than usual early morning walk and then came back for breakfast.

Today we left Max in charge of the boat while we went back to Blackpool on the No 42 bus from Garstang.   We were heading for Fleetwood on the tram.  The trams run every ten minutes from Stargate, south of Blackpool, to Fleetwood Quays.  We caught it from North Pier and the journey took about half an hour.   Storm couldn’t use his bus pass on the tram and so our return journey cost us £5 each although we could have travelled up and down the tramline all day for that price.

The tramway was built in the 1890’s and Fleetwood is the only town in Britain with trams running the full length of its main street, sharing road-space with cars. Cars have to move out of the way of the trams as the trams cannot veer off their rails.  This seems to make car drivers  a little nervous.

The tram ran beside the sea for much of the way and a stiff breeze was whipping up the waves so there were a lot of white horses.  I hope they’ve died down by Saturday when we’re booked to return down the River Ribble.   We won’t be allowed to cross though unless the water is calm.

Fleetwood has a fascinating history.  The town was founded in the early 1800’s by Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood who had a desire to develop a holiday resort and port, like he’d seen on the south coast.  He also provided financial support for the construction of a railway line between Preston and Fleetwood that opened in 1840.   Unfortunately he just about bankrupted himself in trying to achieve his vision and by 1847 he’d retired to Brighton, having sold much of his estate.

He hired Decimus Burton, a prominent architect who’d designed Hyde Park Corner, Wellington Arch and who’d worked on Buckingham Palace, to design his new town and construction began in 1836.

Burton’s design was based on a half-wheel street layout, the main residential streets acted as the spokes and the main commerce area of Dock Street was the rim.

The oldest of his buildings is the Dock Office, now the Fleetwood Museum and dates from 1836.

The North Euston Hotel built in 1841 is a fine semi-circular building overlooking Morecambe Bay and the Wyre Estuary.  The hotel was built to serve overnight guests making the railway journey from Euston towards Scotland where they got off the train to catch a steamer to Scotland.  A room cost 59d per night in those days!

However by the mid 1850’s the completion of the western railway link between London and Scotland over Shap Fell rendered Fleetwood’s role as a transport terminus obsolete.

Burton also designed two lighthouses for the town.  Pharos Lighthouse and Beach Lighthouse and both remain fully operational apparently.

Beach Lighthouse

Pharos Lighthouse

From the 1860s Fleetwood expanded its port activities. Steamers began pleasure and commercial services to the Isle of Man, Scotland and Ireland.  800m of stone quays were built along the river front, and the railway line was extended to the steamer pier opposite Queen’s Terrace, where the imposing new railway station was built in 1883.

The port was still mainly a cargo terminal at this time, but the fishing industry began to grow as vessels expanded their catchment area from the Irish Sea fishing grounds first fished in the 1840s, to the haddock grounds of the North Atlantic Ocean.

By the early 1890s, the construction and expansion of rival cargo ports in the North West, such as Liverpool and the building of the Manchester Ship Canal heralded the decline of Fleetwood’s prominence as a cargo port. However, at the same time this was more than offset by a period of rapid expansion of the fishing industry, signalled by the launch in 1891 of the first steam powered trawler, the Lark.

All the other major fishing ports in Britain, Hull, Grimsby and Aberdeen, were on the east coast, so there was a competitive advantage for a west-coast port with good rail links. By the start of the 20th century, Fleetwood’s position as one of the three major fishing ports in England was cemented.

James Marr of Hull brought a fleet of steam trawlers to Fleetwood and actively started to change the port by selectively fishing for hake, which until then had been treated as a much less desirable catch.

We didn’t find any evidence to suggest that James Marr brought workers over to Fleetwood from Hull, but we both thought that the town very much resembled the area of Hull where its fishermen lived, namely the Hessle Road area.

Many of the houses in the old area of town were built in the 1890s. In keeping with the thriving economy, these terraced houses were large for their era. The docks were expanded in 1908 with the construction of the Fish Dock, accessible through Wyre Dock and is still used today for the inshore fleet. Plans for a pier were first made in the 1890s but building did not start until 1909 and it was opened in 1910. It was the last new seaside pier to be built in the UK but unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in the 1980’s.

By the 1920s, the fishing industry was at its height, employing over 9,000 people. Over the next few years, the sea front along the north shore was developed in resort fashion, to encourage visitors for whom the brashness of Blackpool was too daunting. The Marine Hall entertainment complex, golf course and Model Yacht Pond all date from this era.

The first fully automated telephone exchange in Britain was put into operation to serve the town on 15 July 1922.

By the 1960s, however, Fleetwood began to decline economically. The last ferry to the Isle of Man sailed in 1961. The sailings have been revived periodically since. The main railway station was closed in 1966 as a result of the Beeching cuts, and the passenger terminus was moved to Wyre Dock railway station. This in turn was closed in 1970, as the branch line from Poulton was taken out of service. Additional light industry developed along the former railway bed. The rise of package holidays abroad led to fewer visitors generally to British resort towns.

As Blackpool expanded its attractions, fewer day visitors came to Fleetwood, and as transport became more efficient, more overnight visitors became day visitors. The Hillhouse plant was heavily cut back, and was finally closed in 1999. Most serious, however, was the collapse of the fishing industry, which was largely destroyed in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the Cod Wars. As Fleetwood’s trawlers mainly fished the North Atlantic in search of cod, the loss of the fishing grounds hit the town hard. The last deep sea trawler left the town in 1982 and now only inshore fishing boats fish out of the port, although trawlers registered in other places can still be seen taking advantage of the fish market. Fish is still a big industry in the town, though the jobs are mainly in processing rather than fishing. A pair of bronze figures on the promenade by the pier depicts the idea of families welcoming back the fishermen from sea.

In 1973, the area around the old railway station was developed into a container port facility, with P & O operating a container service to Larne in Northern Ireland. In 1975, this became a Roll-on/roll-off service. This development led indirectly to some renewal of the then largely derelict Dock Street area, and improved road access to the town to support the container traffic. Twice-daily container service continued until 2004 when Stena Line bought the route and increased the service to three times a day. In December 2010, Stena Line announced that the service would be withdrawn at the end of 2010, with the loss of 140 jobs.

Since the 1970s there have been several attempts to enhance Fleetwood’s economic profile, In 1995, the now-deserted Wyre Dock was developed into a marina. The derelict dock landing area was developed into Freeport, a retail centre, and housing has been built at the north end of the marina. Most recently, in July 2007, a new “Masterplan” for revitalising the waterfront and town centre was submitted to the Wyre Borough Council.

We could appreciate the wealth that Fleetwood once enjoyed but there are signs of deprivation today suggesting that Fleetwood hasn’t yet started to revitalise the waterfront or town centre.   We didn’t walk as far as the docks on the River Wyre though.

We had a quick bite of lunch at the cafe adjacent to the Euston Hotel before dashing to catch the tram back to Blackpool and the bus back to Garstang.

This evening, we met up with Roger, a friend of Pip and Mick’s, who is hoping to travel with them down the Ribble on Saturday.   We met at The Tythe Barn where we ordered beef burgers which sadly arrived on bread boards, rather than plates.

Tuesday 5 September

Lying in bed listening to rain drops on the roof did little to encourage us to rouse ourselves this morning.  I got up to make  a cup of tea to take back to bed and when I looked out I found it wasn’t raining and the rain drops were old rain coming from the overhead trees.

Once up I took Max for his early morning stroll along the muddy towpath.  Passing Oleanna, Mick opened the window to tell me of their plans for the day which co-incidentally mirrored ours, so after breakfast we untied and headed to Garstang.

There is a definite Autumnal nip in the air this week and breakfast today was a bowl of warming porridge flavoured with bramble jelly and then the big coat and brollies came out in readiness for our slow pootle into Garstang.   Another sign of Autumn was the sight of fields being ploughed and the smell of damp earth.

We met a few boats on the move and one of them was a wide beam.  It was touch and go whether we’d find ourselves aground as we moved over to let them pass.  I don’t know what happens when two wide beams meet head on as the canal isn’t that wide and it gets very shallow at the edges.  They must have a shallower draft than us.

Once moored in Garstang, we went shopping, first for a new clothes airer.  There wasn’t a lot of choice but we chose the one that took up the least space.  It’s quite a bit smaller than our last one and won’t hold as much, but it will do for now.  Storm took it back to the boat while I headed to Sainsburys.

With dog food for Max the shopping weighed quite a bit.  I’d taken the bike with me to be my mule so with a bag loaded on each side of the handlebars, the journey back to the boat was made without difficulty.

Storm had been doing some research on the internet, reading about the benefits of beer to the digestive system and so we headed out before tea to test this.  (I think he’s known about these benefits for a long time!)

One advantage of not having had a clothes airer is that we’ve not been tempted to hang damp clothes to dry creating condensation.   We’re going to need a dry day before we can do a wash.

We can’t light our stove until we’ve bought some intumescent sealer for our flue as the old sealer dropped out when I blacked the stove last week.  We can have the central heating on though if we start to feel the cold, although we’d rather not as this burns diesel – precious commodity on the Lancaster Canal.  It was a good job we filled up before we left the Rufford branch.