Caught In A Trap

Revisiting Leigh

Leigh is a place we have visited before, without a great deal of pleasure. What it lacks in charm it makes up for in utility, however, with pretty much all the big supermarkets, DIY stores and discount chains represented, as well as any number of fast food outlets and pubs. It doesn't have a great reputation and generally, Leigh seemed to be as run down as before but there were signs that it was trying to recover.  Having spent a few nights here, now, I think we would describe it as "mostly harmless".

Opposite our mooring was the Waterside Inn, which had been up and running in two thousand and nineteen and was probably the most attractive hostelry we saw in Leigh, with its canal side location and the big Aldi store behind it quite hidden from view. This year it turned out to be all closed down, although Google says temporarily. We thought that if you can't make a go of a location like this you are probably in the wrong business.

Our business here was mainly to get supplies, so the afternoon was tracking the big trolley up to the retail park and dragging back the proceeds from Sainsbury's, M&S and Pets At Home. Having recovered from that, it was time to collect an Amazon order, from a location that turned out to be closed and then try the Tesco Extra, unsuccessfully, for some items that had been missing in Sainsbury's.

As Sue had not been in that direction she decided to go up to Tesco for the Sunday morning "preview hour" and found they had magically restocked overnight with just what we were missing. Then it was my turn to try the collection point for our package again. It was still firmly shuttered so we abandoned it there and finally set off about midday for a very short run to the embankment over Pennington Flash, where we found an ideal spot overlooking the lake, with a decent internet signal

Overlooking Pennington Flash

Planning At Pennington

Pennington Flash, another artificial lake created as a result of old mining activity, is a great place with lots of nice walks around its wooded wetlands, a big body of water used for sailing and leisure (but not swimming apparently), a nature reserve and lots of dedicated hides scattered around.  They are having a lavish upgrade to the facilities that is taking eighteen months and will cost one and half million pounds. As well as improved car parking, there is a nice new café, one that is open sensible hours, rather than shutting up shop just as people are ready for tea and it actually does open, whatever the weather and regardless of how many visitors there are. The adventure playground is still a work in progress but it is huge and has all sorts of expensive equipment being installed.

Adventure Playground In Progress

We were moored near a footbridge with a path down to the woods and a straight track eventually led through to the car park on the other side. That was just far enough away that the trading boat, moored right by the bridge and offering barista coffee and ice creams, was doing a brisk trade as people walked up from their cars and arriving in the hot sun, decided they would need refreshment long before they could get back to the café.

The Floating Barista

Boats were able to moor either side of the canal and across the footbridge an open area led down into Plank Lane, a village adjoined to Leigh and running down to meet the lift bridge across the canal. It has a large Spar convenience store, an excellent fish & chip shop and the Nevison Country Inn, a small pub with a good reputation, particularly for its food menu and unusually low prices for its drinks. It was a very humid, hot day, in excess of twenty-eight degrees centigrade, so we decided to walk down into Plank Lane, visit the Nevison Country Inn and over a couple of drinks, make a proper plan, at least for the next few days.

We concluded that we would stay put for the next two nights, then move up to Scotsman's Flash on Tuesday via the water point at the Plank Lane lift bridge. This would put us outside Wigan, itself, but provide a very close start point to go up the two locks at the top of the Leigh Branch and turn right to tackle the Wigan Flight, a set of twenty-one locks with only one mooring spot on the way up and that not recommended as a place to stay. We would go through the flight on Wednesday, use the service facility at the top and moor up at a place called Haigh Hall, just a bit further on. We would stay there for a day and then move on towards Skipton and eventually Leeds, having regard to the locations of the facilities we need, the availability of supermarkets for supplies and trying to avoid undesirable moorings in big towns like Blackburn. To help with that we signed up to a couple of Facebook groups, including the Wigan Flight Crew, which seems to be administered by one of the team of volunteers who often man the flight.

According To Plan

Monday, twelfth June, was another hot, humid, enervating day. We summoned the energy to walk down to Plank Lane bridge and all the way round the Flash in the early part of the day, before it got too hot and took advantage of the tree shade and a slight breeze off the water to finish our walk after a coffee at the café. The sun started to fade in the afternoon and by six o'clock we were experiencing the start of a cycle of heavy rain, lightning and mighty thunderclaps, lasting several hours. Archie, as usual, just took it in his stride.

After the previous evening's rain there was suddenly a lot of standing water around the flash and across the golf course.

Flooding After One Night Of Rain

It all dried out quite quickly, though, in another very hot, dry day on Tuesday, hitting thirty degrees but with a bit more breeze. We spent the morning using the last of our water to do several loads of washing before moving down to the water point at Plank Lane lift bridge. There we found the "Duchess", queued behind a wide beam whose tanks had just finished filling. They had huge capacity and had been nearly empty so "Duchess" had been waiting an hour already. They moved up and we fell into line behind. We had an interesting chat with the owner. She talked about her past history as a pub landlady in south east London and her strong personality and commanding presence soon convinced me that the boat's name was eponymous. We were given a range of tips while we passed the time but the most valuable was the presence of an unofficial Elsan point here at Plank Lane.

There is a small marina just by the bridge that we find very odd, in that it has essentially no facilities at all, it is seldom open to phone calls, is very expensive for a night's mooring and is unable to guarantee a reliable electricity supply. Yet, it is owned by Aquavista, a very large group that has recently been acquiring marina businesses, large and small, all over the network. Anyone permanently moored here has access to water. Otherwise, if they have a pump-out system, they can rely on coming out to the public pump-out machine by the bridge. If they have a cassette toilet, however, the nearest official chemical disposal point is a long way in either direction for someone who wasn't planning on going anywhere. Seeing the Duchess's partner (probably not known as the Duke) heading off with a couple of cassettes, I asked her where he was taking them. It turns out that, behind a building near the pump out machine, is a large, rectangular manhole leading to a big sewer pipe, which is used as an unofficial disposal point by those in the know. It turns out that a lot of people are in the know, as I lost count of the number of people who tipped me off about this over the coming days.

We took our turn to fill up with water and pressed on to Scotsman's Flash. There was plenty of room to moor and it seemed quite safe. The canal forms an embankment over the flash and there were plenty of people walking along it on a hot, dry day but no adjacent housing and it was rather a long walk for the drugs trade.

Scotsman's Flash

Further along, there were groups of teenagers attempting to injure themselves by performing a running jump into the water, from the embankment, attempting to clear the rock filled shallows at its base. A couple of weeks later I met a guy who was native to the area and had taught at the local school. He told me that over the years they had had several instances of boys breaking their legs trying to do this but despite being well aware that the risk was far from theoretical, successive generations of pupils continue the practice. However stupid, their antics weren't that close to us and they didn't bother us at all. We had a barbecue in the evening and together with Archie, we attracted plenty of passers by who wanted to chat but they were universally friendly and interested in what our life was like on the boat.

BBQ Time At Scotsman's Flash

Not According To Plan

On arriving at Scotsman's Flash in the afternoon, I took a walk up to the junction with the main line, a couple of locks and twenty minutes walk away, to check out the lie of the land and the state of the facilities we would access on our way through on Wednesday. The Poolstock pound seemed a little low but not empty and otherwise, everything seemed as expected. It was disappointing, then, on returning to the boat, to see a post on the Wigan Flight Crew Facebook page reporting a blown cill at Lock 68 and the closure of the whole flight of twenty-one locks heading east towards Skipton and Leeds. Over the next couple of hours an official notice came out from CRT confirming the news and one of the volunteer lockkeepers stopped by the boat to make sure that we were aware.

They did not yet have a timescale for any repair but we started with the assumption that it would be at least a week. With that in mind, we decided to go up to the junction on Wednesday, access the facilities we needed and then come back down and potter about between there and Leigh for a few days.

Two days later we received the official notice from CRT. They had decided that they would bring forward some urgent work on Lock 69, previously scheduled for July and do that at the same time as the repairs to Lock 68. The flight was now expected to be closed for at least three weeks, rather than the one week we had originally guessed. There was nothing for it but to return to the Nevison Country Inn for some more planning.

Reviewing The Situation!

As far as the canals were concerned, we now couldn't go up the Wigan flight to head east on the Leeds Liverpool.

We weren't allowed back on the Bridgewater for another twenty-eight days, other than for a three day return trip. That would get us back to CRT water at Manchester by going up the notorious "Rochdale Nine" locks. We didn't really want to do that and there were already closure notices on those locks, in any case.

We could go west on the Leeds Liverpool but we didn't really want to go all the way down to Liverpool on this trip.

We would be able to reach the Rufford Arm with the Ribble Link and the Lancaster Canal in that direction but even if we could get a booking, we didn't think we could do that justice in the time available.

Some other factors had to be considered. We planned to go home for Nick's fortieth birthday in late July, leaving the boat in a marina while we were away. We had already found it unusually difficult to book a temporary mooring and if we had done we would not have been able to reach it. We also had a mooring booked at an Inland Waterways Association event near to Birmingham for August Bank Holiday, so we needed to get back for that, which would take a little while. Before that, we were possibly going to meet up with Jenny in Chester in the middle of August.

In the end we decided we would have to forget about going across to Leeds this year and would potter around the Wigan area for a while. There was a marina in Rufford that had space later in July. We would leave the boat there for a week and then head towards Chester for the eleventh of August. That should leave enough time to get to the event at Pelsall on the Wyrely & Essington canal by the twenty-fifth of August for our booking there. Not quite the trip we had anticipated.

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

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