Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Heading south

Into the Preston Brook Tunnel and onto the Trent & Mersey
We are back on a narrow canal and our bows are pointed southwards. After a summer spent largely 'oop north we are finally heading south.
That said, we are still very much in the north, having just exited the Preston Brook Tunnel and emerged onto the top end of the Trent & Mersey canal.
Through a tree lined cutting on the Bridgewater
About to pass a pair of widebeam workboats
Brian enjoys a spot of luxury hiding from the chilly morning weather
Today's run took us from the chic little town of Lymm on a picturesque and largely tree-lined country route broken by the occasional pretty village and the glimpse here and there of some very smart houses. It's a pleasant run though not an especially memorable one: I couldn't recall any of it from our couple of previous trips until, every now and then, a scene stirred a memory – the distant view of a Ship Canal bridge that we walked to on a previous trip; the old canal building of Thorn Marine, now seemingly spared from the threat of demolition; the little hamlet of Moore where canal meets road briefly at a handy little local shop.
Daresbury Laboratories with its 'Keep Away' warnings
Or, standing in starkly modern contrast to the rural nature of the rest of the canal, the ultra-modern buildings of Daresbury Laboratories – spread further still since our last visit – and so many 'No Mooring, No Fishing, No Access' signs you wondered what sort of dangerous or top secret processes were going on there. Disappointingly for the conspiracy theorists and spy novel enthusiasts among us, according to the website it's more high tech than sci-fi, listing computer science, accelerator science, medical technology and electron microscopy among the work that goes on. I still expect armed guards in SWAT paraphenalia to come running if I ever tried to moor there.
Picturesque traditional cranes to handle stop planks are a regular sight
The Bridgewater Canal is generally in good nick: the bridges are sound, the water deep and the towpath perfect. The traditional stop-plank cranes are a regular sight along the canal and presumably practical as well as pretty since they have to close off the water flow in case of a breach or for maintenance.
This is all as it should be – after all the owners – Peel Holdings not Canal & River Trust – have only a couple of canals (this one and the Manchester Ship Canal) to look after among a staggering £6bn of corporate assets, from Salford's Media City to Pinewood Studios. And the Bridgewater doesn't even have any locks to maintain.
The previous day we'd seen stretches of towpath being relaid and today spotted a couple of big work barges clearing offside trees.
The Bridgewater actually runs through to Runcorn where it used to link through to the River Mersey via a flight of now defunct locks but we, like most boaters, veer left under the huge M56 bridge for the final mile down to the tunnel. And here, at the tunnel entrance, the Trent & Mersey officially begins.
Dutton Dry Dock, the attractive hundred year old structure still in busy use
Fifteen minutes later we exited and went through the shallow Dutton Stop Lock where we stopped to say a brief hello to Tim Leech at his dry dock and show him the engine whose assistance in rebuilding the water pump and providing other bits for we are very grateful. A couple of bends later and we tucked up for the night on some quiet moorings in front of a handsome old working boat with the rather less handsome name of 'MSC Co Works Tug No2'. I preferred its original name of Ceres before it was sold to the Manchester Ship Canal Company in the 1940s.
Tomorrow we are hoping for a first for us – a trip on the Anderton Boat Lift.

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