The Bridgewater Proper

Leaving The Arm

On Sunday morning, after some painting and polishing, we crossed the bridge and visited Norton Priory. Following the dissolution, the remaining buildings and estate were purchased and a Tudor style house was built based around the former abbot's lodgings and the west range of the monastery. It was maintained as a country house by the same family for centuries but is now a museum run by an independent trust.

Impressive Visitor Centre and Exhibition Hall Over Norton Priory Undercroft

The foundations of the priory are exposed in the grounds and there are extensive gardens to explore. As well as the gift shop and café, there is a large exhibition hall, with thousands of artefacts on display. It is their proud boast that this is the most excavated monastic site in Europe.

Exposed And Excavated Foundations of Norton Priory

The 12th century undercroft, with it's beautiful vaulted ceiling is there to be explored and is now used for weddings, at times. There is also a huge, twice life-size statue of St. Christopher on display. An audio description plays out at regular intervals and they had not been able to resist engaging Brian Blessed to be the voice of this giant sculpture. Outside in the grounds, through the summer, they were putting on a series of dramatic performances to entertain the visitors and one of these was just kicking off as we left.

An Expectant Audience Waiting For The Drama To Start

We headed off towards the junction at about two o'clock, planning to stop at the only services we could see on the map, just beside Cawley's Bridge. Facilities on the Bridgewater are few and far between and we wonder if they will even be there. In this case, however, they were exactly as reported, always a relief.

As we pulled away "Jus Romin" came out of the Preston Brook Marina entrance and set off ahead of us towards the junction. Not a problem but as we followed them round the turn, it was clear that they were travelling more slowly than our most leisurely comfortable cruising speed. It wasn't too long before they realised the same thing and pulled over to let us past. In the meantime, we had the chance to note the fencing round field after field on the higher ground to the east at Darebury that suggested impending housing development.

Awaiting The Bull Dozers

No doubt it will be claimed as "infill" between the motorway and the science park further north but when you see how beautiful the countryside still is here, you can't help but cry "foul".

We pulled in just past the village of Moore close enough to walk back to the Red Lion in the village for a drink before dinner. The walk up took us past the ground of the Gentlemen Of Moore Rugby Club, which had a nice ring to it. Apparently, they formed in nineteen sixty-eight from a group of like-minded fellows chatting over a beer in the Red Lion, discussing a shared love of Rugby Union. Sadly, it seems they have now dropped the nice, quirky name in favour of Moore Rugby Union Football Club. Rather sad, I think but a sign of the times. I assume the introduction of a ladies side was a factor in the decision.

On the way back we had some lovely views along the towpath in the evening sunlight.

Evening In Moore

and a fine example of expert buttressing shoring up part of Moore Hall

Moore Hall

Out On A Lymm

We set out quite late on Monday morning, heading for Lymm and hoping that, arriving after the weekend, we would find plenty of space to moor. It is a very popular place and we had the impression that weekend boaters would tend to congregate there when the weather was fine. We did find a space, although it was still quite busy and we had to put a pin in for the bow.

I took Archie down to the see the Manchester Ship Canal, as the map showed it being fairly close. It was rather a disappointment, to be honest. There is no path along it and we just arrived at a wooded bank, which allowed us to see a wide stretch of water in front of us but no real wider view to get a sense of the size and scale of it.

Disappointing View Of The Manchester Ship Canal

Lymm is a really nice little village and we stayed for a couple of nights and had a good look round. There are pubs and buildings at the same level as the Bridgewater but much of the village drops away on either side and the canal runs over the 'underbridge', which seems rather like an aqueduct to me but this seems to be a term adopted a lot on the Bridgewater. While the underbridge provides vehicle and pedestrian access from one side to the other at this point, there are more conventional bridges at either end of the village. There are quite a few pubs, bars and restaurants as well as various shops and a small local supermarket. Beyond the village centre, a path leads through The Dingle to the Lymm Dam, a stretch of water created when a turnpike road, bypassing the village, was constructed by building a dam across an existing pool and stream. It now resembles a large lake with woodland walks all around it.

D-day was rather grey and dull all day. We pulled the boat back into a better space, vacated by the boat behind first thing in the morning, then headed off on a circular walk up the canal to the next bridge at Oughtrington and back along the other side into Lymm. On the way we passed plenty of boats from the Lymm Cruising Club. This one is clearly a work in progress.

Low Tide In Lymm

There are a few places to get refreshments but we chose The Terrace, which is a little hidden away between The Cross and a little brook that runs under the canal and down towards the Dam. Hidden away or not, it was very popular, with a very varied menu and plenty of options to sit inside or dine al fresco and with a very active team of waiting staff.

After a hearty brunch we continued our walk by circling the Lymm Dam and coming back around the grounds of Lymm Hall. I suppose we had imagined a grand stately home with extensive grounds and a fine façade. In practice, we walked round a very high, secure fence around what was obviously an extensive re-development of the property, which involved a rancorous dispute with local residents over the siting of the new electricity sub-station needed to meet the power requirements of the new owners planned property. There was nothing attractive to see other than the small common on the other side.

As well as the Sainsbury's Local by the cross in the village centre there was a much larger branch out on the main road about half a mile away. We reckoned this would be our last chance to get a proper supermarket shop before we reached Leigh so Sue went up to start the weekly shop, while I followed on dragging the big trolley to bring it all back again.

Stretford - Waters Meeting

Wednesday morning, seventh June, started rather grey but it soon warmed up and became a pleasant sunny afternoon. We set out for a longer day than usual, heading for a spot just short of the junction with the Leigh branch at Stretford Waters Meeting.

There was an Elsan point just at the next bridge. A strange set up, with just enough space to get the boat in between the bridge and the first moored boat. The place seems as if it is some sort of boatyard but there is no name for the business, no trace of it on google maps and no sign of anyone about. Nevertheless, the Elsan facility was there and open to the public, at least during daylight hours. What there wasn't was any drinking water supply, so we then needed to move on a couple of miles to Bollington Wharf by a pub called "Ye Olde No.3". We weren't the only ones needing water. As we arrived, one boat was close to finishing, while another was waiting to start. There were two taps but both in the same place, so not much use from two boat lengths away. We waited patiently to be able to move close enough but had to move quickly to stake our place in the queue as "Grey Wren", a hire boat full of Australians, turned up just as the space became available. They overshot the water point and ended up broadside on to the canal in their attempts to back up again, so that gave us time to let them know what was happening, which they were fine about. Nevertheless, by the time we had finally filled up and got on our way we had lost over an hour.

We stopped again, briefly, for some lunch before heading into the built up areas of Altrincham and Sale. Stretford, Altrincham and Sale would probably be just one continuous conurbation, if the River Mersey and the M60 didn't create a buffer between Sale and Stretford. Beyond the huge motorway bridge and before the Cut Hole Aqueduct, by the Watch House Cruising Club, is a little area of mooring that we had used before and we found a nice space there for a couple of days, opposite a stretch of private long term moorings. The only down side was that walking along the towpath, particularly during the morning and evening rush hour, was like being caught in the path of the Tour De France. Cycling commuters heading between Manchester and the suburbs, hell bent on shaving off that extra second, would come flying past, sometimes as single spies but often in battalions.

Not long after we moored up, we looked out to see that the unoccupied boat, which went by the name of "Pheonix (Rising From The Hashish)", that had been moored up behind us, was now right across the canal. We went back to see what we could do. It looked as if it had been tied to a railing with a threadbare piece of old blue string, which had parted. There didn't seem to be any decent bit of rope to get hold of and the rotten canvas pram hood made it difficult to get on board from this angle. One of the owners moored opposite was able to push it round against the wind and I scrambled aboard with a boat pole, which Sue could grab hold of so that we could pull it further round into the side. We found a couple of bits of old rope on the back that we tied together to secure it again and the guy opposite told us that this had been going on for a year, they had never seen anyone on board and it didn't seem to have any licence or insurance. I must say, I didn't have much faith in our repair but it stayed tied up all the time we were there.

The no man's land between Altrincham and Stretford enforced by the Mersey provides a great area for walking and any other recreation people want to participate in.

The River Mersey - No Ferry Here

There is a lot of wetland, woods and grassland with paths running everywhere, as well as the designated Sale Water Park with a lake, woodland, meadows, a café and the water sports centre. On Thursday, Sue took the bus to the Trafford Centre to indulge in a day's unfettered retail therapy, while Archie and I went off to explore. One thing we did find is that, for all the land there is to roam on either side, there are surprisingly few points at which you can cross the river. We passed Jackson's Bridge and went on to the next crossing we could see on the map, only to find that it was firmly barricaded on both sides.

Unhelpfully Barricaded Bridge

Faced with an obstacle like this, with the choice to press on or retreat, the instinct is always to advance, so we pressed on to the next crossing on the map but I did wonder if that would also be blocked. Fortunately, this was a straightforward bridge across so the diversion wasn't too far.

The Next, Accessible, Bridge

We came back along the other side but by now, we both needed some refreshment.

The pub by Jackson's Bridge, called Jackson's Boat, wasn't open yet, so we went into the water park and found the Tree Tops Café, which did a great line in bacon baps and coffee, with a bowl of water on the side for Archie.

Sale Water park

Returning through the arches under the aqueduct we heard shouting and came upon our first cycle rage incident. At a guess, it was grandad, grandma, mum and two kids who were out for a ride along the nearby cycle path when a more professional rider hurtled round the bend towards them. Grandad and the Lycra-clad solo rider appeared to have come off, although there was no evidence of injury on either side. I suspect that, as was being claimed, the guy on his own had been riding too fast and without due care. Nevertheless, I couldn't help but begin to feel rather sorry for him. As sometimes happens, the righteously aggrieved, having overcome the first shock, had mounted an escalator of ever rising indignation. He had picked up his bike and was offering no real argument, just wanting to move on. In response, all the adults in the group just crowded in closer and closer, ever louder and more insistent, demanding apologies and eventually even offering the threat of violence by the time he finally managed to extricate himself and pedal away.

On Friday morning, with an expectation of water just around the corner, Sue set about washing everything in sight, while Archie and I went off to explore more of the area on the other side. By eleven-thirty we were ready to set off again for a very short hop to Stretford Marine, where what we didn't need to empty, we would need to fill up. I remember stopping here before and there was a nice woman taking care of things who was very cheerful and pleasant. Today we were met by the a much older man who was quite the dourest and least communicative northerner we had yet met on this trip. He was, nonetheless, efficient overall, and dealt with all our needs. He was a bit too efficient for our liking, in the end, as he made us move round into the marina to finish getting water so that he could get the Anglo Welsh boat, that arrived right behind us, onto the wharf for a pump out. What had been very straightforward became much more awkward with the wind dead against us but we achieved it eventually.

With that done and having reversed out again we set off towards the junction with the Leigh Branch, just around the corner.

Worsley To Leigh

Despite this now being called the Leigh Branch, it was actually the original canal that ran from the Duke of Bridgewater's mines in Worsley across the Irwell to Stretford and then on to Castlefield Basin. The extension south to Runcorn branched off here and created a new junction known as Waters Meet. We had been this way before and it only took about an hour and a half to reach Worsley, where a sharp turn takes the canal on towards its meeting with the CRT waters at Leigh Bridge. A mooring presented itself just as we arrived, so we tied up here for the night and explored a bit more of Worsley.

When we saw it in two thousand and nineteen, there was work in hand to make a visitor display around what is called the Delph, the entrance to the old mine workings that started it all. These had been completed so we crossed the canal on the bridge behind us and walked across the nicely maintained Worsley Green to go and have a look at it. The green, itself, was once the works yard at the heart of the mining operation here. It has a large fountain monument dedicated to the Duke of Bridgewater and a story of how, having found workers still at lunch after one o'clock, the duke enquired as to why they were not back at work. They claimed that they had not heard the clock in the works yard strike one, so the duke ordered that the clock be modified to strike thirteen instead. This tradition continues, with the clock now being located in nearby St Mark’s Church, still striking thirteen.

The display at The Delph isn't huge but has some interesting stories. Behind the Delph there are paths that lead up into the woods and along to a freshwater lake known as the Old Warke Dam, originally built as a private boating and fishing lake in the mid-nineteenth century. It was a nice walk and gave us a calm break before plunging back into the Worsley traffic. There are very busy roads through Worsley and the M60 lies just outside the town so it felt quite oppressive when trying to walk around.

There isn't a huge amount in Worsley but just across the street from our mooring there are a number of pubs, bars and restaurants, including the Leopard Pie Pizza Restaurant, so that settled what was for dinner on Friday night.

Saturday, tenth June, was the end of our seven day booking on the Bridgewater so we headed up to Leigh, a couple of hours away. We had just passed under the big A580 bridge, heading for the services at Butts Bridge, when there was a tremendous clang against the hull on the starboard stern. We didn't see it and it didn't leave a mark but we worked out later that it must have been a stray ball from the "Boomers and Swingers Golf Ball Whacking Field". We hadn't realised but we were passing this golf driving range on that side and even though they had very high netting fences all the way along someone had clearly managed to put in an impressive drive and completely cleared it. It looks a fun place, with tanks and other targets scattered about the grounds for anyone to aim at but we will pass it with care from now on.

The services facility at Butts Bridge was another site that looked incredibly neglected and unpromising but everything we needed was there and functioning. It looks so decrepit and hidden, right beside the bridge, under the trees and inaccessible from the street, that we are not sure anyone else really knows it is there, We certainly didn't get disturbed by anyone else wanting to use them. Leigh Bridge, just up the line, marks the change in ownership from Peel Holdings to CRT and moving on, we found a spot to moor, legally, just past the bridge and securely in CRT territory.

Posted in Archie, Cruises, Long Haul, Parting Shot.

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