Retracing Our Steps
We woke on Saturday to grey skies and more rain but also a wind strong enough to shred the clouds quite early on, leaving a bright and sunny day. After too much time spent waiting for the rain to stop it was great to get moving again. We had quite a busy (for us) day planned ahead.
We stopped in at Scarisbrick Marina for diesel and made surprisingly neat work of the entry and exit from the basin, even drawing applause from a small group of gongoozlers on the towpath bridge as we left. The strong winds had their fun with the business of turning round in the restricted space inside the marina, however. The wharfman knew exactly how to do it, of course, so I followed his instructions to the letter but ended up much where I started. I did ask him what I had done wrong then, to which he replied: “Nothing. The wind got up” so nobody really has all the answers. We tried a different approach that worked this time and we were soon on our way.
We were now simply retracing our steps up the Leeds & Liverpool towards Wigan. It sounds boring when you say that but even though it is the same land and waterscape you saw on the way down there always seems to be a different perspective as you travel in the opposite direction. We approached Burscough, bracing ourselves for yet another ill-timed encounter with the “Rose of Parbold” somewhere between here and her home mooring. It never came. On further enquiry it seems they only run their charity trips during the week.
We moored up in Burscough for lunch and a side trip to Tesco and, as it happened, a very short sharp shower before continuing on back past the Rufford Arm and on to Parbold itself. Only four swing bridges to negotiate today, as opposed to the nine we had on Thursday, but we were on the move for six and a half hours, which is a long day for us these days. We had a pint at The Windmill and treated ourselves to a Saturday night takeaway from the Chinese chippie by the station. There was nothing much wrong with it but it did remind us of what a Chinese takeaway was like in the seventies, we hadn’t realised how much they had changed down south. We ended up with the dishes we had ordered, which included a special fried rice, but a portion of rice with each dish as well, because that is what they do. A lot of waste, especially with the bag or prawn crackers thrown in but we couldn’t seem to refuse the extra rice and the only alternative on offer was a portion of chips instead.
Welcome Back To Wigan
At last the string of alternating rainy days seemed to have broken as Sunday was a beautiful sunny morning and, despite a couple of very short sprinkles on the way, was largely fine and dry until the evening. Today, we wanted to get past Wigan so it was going to be another fairly long one, with just the one swing bridge but eight troublesome locks in the way.
We set off about nine thirty, just as an army of anglers were assembling in the adjacent car park. We went through the first lock alone but were caught up by “Jabulani” at the next, as we took on water, so had help all the way up to Wigan. As we went in to the first lock after Wigan Pier the owner of “Jabulani” pulled onto a clearly defined landing stage on the right and left his wife to manage the boat. Only after she had pulled away did he find that there was no way through from the landing to the lock. We were all set to do one thing and now had to change plans in mid-stream. We were in luck as someone else appeared at the lock and opened the gates for us to go in while he found a way round in the end.
The guy who had opened the lock was not coming through. He was from “Sapphire” and had come all the way from Leeds, including the twenty one lock Wigan Flight, which they had done that morning, in the company of a single crewed boat heading for Liverpool. Clearly the journey had formed a bond. They were parting ways at the top of the Leigh Branch but he had offered to moor up before the turn and walk down to do the two locks in the middle of Wigan to help him on his way. A nice gesture!
“Jabulani” were meeting friends who were coming the other way so they set off down the Leigh Branch together. We moored up for lunch and services again. We both thought that, from the journey up, we remembered a water point that was certainly shown on one of our maps. Another, increasingly common, false memory, it seems, as there was no sign of it. Why would we need water when we had already filled up in the morning? Well, as it was dry and fine with the engine running all day, it was also a laundry day and that gets through quite a lot very quickly. Fortunately, we weren’t that low and would make it through to the next option tomorrow.
As we rounded the junction and were about to close the Poolstock Top Lock gates behind us “Sapphire” came around the bend. It was good to have the extra hands on these two, the last of the day. While working and chatting we learned that they were pretty keen to get to the pump-out at a place called Plank Bridge. They had tried four possible sites without success on the way and were now, understandably, anxious. I forget all the details but one had too short a hose to reach their outlet on the off-side, another relied on an operator who would not be back until one o’clock, which would have delayed them too long and a third had a tea room and couldn’t operate the pump-out until it closed at four o’clock, for ‘Health & Safety’ reasons. One could use this as an argument for the cassette toilet but to do so would only spark off another round of debate on the huge controversy that dominates any boating discussion eventually.
We moored up for the night at some mooring rings at a site called Dover Locks, which could be considered notable for having no locks. The lock structures are there but are now redundant and there are no gates etc. The Dover Lock Inn is there too, equally abandoned, locked up, unloved and forlorn. For once, perfect timing meant that we were tied up and indoors just before the rain started for the evening.
Stepping out for some air last thing, just after midnight, I became aware of music playing. One of the boats further down the mooring was playing his stereo quite loudly. Above it you could hear occasional argumentative shouting, although there only seemed to be one voice. Since the main songs were ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’ and ‘I’ll Never Walk Alone’, I guessed it might be someone local. Inside the boat we hadn’t really noticed it but I’m glad we were no closer and we felt sorry for those that were.
Passing Through Leigh
We had some heavy rain overnight but Monday morning was bright. There was more cloud around and we had a couple of showers in the morning but not the endless downpours of the recent past.
First stop was Plank Bridge, an automated lift bridge across a busy road with a water point just beyond it. Here we found “Sapphire” again, at the one day visitor mooring that is still there beside the water point, even though they have built a marina entrance immediately opposite. They had been keen to get to the self-serve pump out facility just before the bridge and thought that, as it was again on the ‘wrong’ side, they would have to pass through the bridge, turn in the marina entrance, pass back through the bridge to use the pump out and then go back through the bridge a third time but in reverse to be able to turn again. Complicated for them at the end of a long day and annoying for the traffic being stopped three times. They had found they were in luck, however, as the facility had an extra long hose that would pass over the roof of the boat. They had been able to just stop there and then go through once and moor up for the night.
We filled up with water and carried on to Leigh. We had spent two nights here on the way up so knew the lay of the land and where to moor so that Sue could make a run to Sainsbury’s (Tesco simply doesn’t sell some of the things we depend on).
By then it was already lunchtime but the sun was out again so it was a nice cruise through the Leigh Bridge boundary, where the CRT Leeds & Liverpool hands you off to the Bridgewater Canal Company, with no backstop. The difference in practice is barely perceptible, apart from a change in signage. We passed the Bridgewater Marina at Boothstown, where we had checked in to meet the Belling engineer last time, and carried on to Worsley where we tied up about four and began to think seriously about the route ahead.
What About Worsley?
When we were deciding where to head for on Monday we remembered that Worsley had seemed like a nice place when we came through but we were booked in to the marina so we had just carried on. Coming back the other way we thought we should stop and have a quick look around.
A long straight section ducks under the M60 and takes a sharp right hand turn, just beyond which there is a series of mooring rings available to tie up to. As you take the bend the closed channel to the left goes off to the Delph, the entrance to the navigable levels of the Duke of Bridgewater’s mines. This basin is now being redeveloped as a visitor site to explain the history of the mines at Worsley, for which the canal to Salford was originally built.
The houses at this end of town are quite picturesque and the area has the appearance of a very desirable and affluent suburb. We hadn’t appreciated, as we passed through before, just how close it is to the motorway and how busy the road through the town is. The noise and smell of the traffic is quite noticeable. At the same time there are high sides to the cut and there are a lot of large, mature trees that, together, create a rather dark, dank and dingy feel.
At the back of the Bridgewater Hotel, a standard Greene King pub, we found a small courtyard that had a steadily shrinking patch of sunshine where we could enjoy a drink. There was the more upmarket George’s Dining Room & Bar just next door and we passed Tung Fong, a smart Chinese restaurant, as we walked around the Delph. There didn’t seem to be much else in the way of pubs, shops or restaurants that we could see.
All in all, I think we found Worsley a little disappointing when set against our fleeting first impression, or perhaps we just needed to give it more time in better weather.
After a few days of travelling quite a few hours each day, Tuesday was a very short one, just an hour or so from Worsley to cross the Manchester Ship Canal and moor up outside an entrance to the back of the Trafford Centre. There are a few rings here and very little around except some industrial units and a car park for the shopping mall. We had spotted it on the way up and Sue had declared her intention to shop till she dropped on the way back.
The Bridgewater is quite a wide canal but then, of course, there is the Manchester Ship Canal
“Carpe Diem” had left Worseley long before us and was now moored on the rings with a git gap before the little boat “Autumn” on the stretch before the entrance. We were about to start banging in pins behind “Carpe Diem” when Sasha, the owner of “Autumn”, came out to greet us. She told us that there were some more rings just the other side of the entrance, which might be easier, even though they were under some trees but we would need to be forward of the drain immediately outside the centre.
I’m not sure if ‘she’ was the original pronoun but that doesn’t really matter. Far more importantly, Sasha was a mine of information. Little “Autumn” fitted exactly onto a short concrete bank between the first two mooring rings and she moored there a lot as she works in the centre. She could reassure us that it was perfectly safe to moor here overnight as, once the shops closed, it was a mile in either direction along the towpath to get to anywhere, so you never saw anyone. With the lights of the centre security and the CCTV camera right overhead it was pretty secure. She also gave us a run down on where to find different things in this vast expanse of shopping centres, local intelligence on the mooring further down and the bridges to be wary of when going under, an appraisal of the services at Stretford Marine and quite a lengthy account of her life and adventures as a single woman living on her boat around Manchester. Quite a character but really nice and very helpful.
Looking ahead in more detail, now that we were close to moving back into the unknown, we had decided that we would rather wait to go down the Anderton Boat Lift until after the Bank Holiday. That meant that we would need to slow down and take our time along the Bridgewater main line to avoid arriving at the lift too soon. We would probably stay in one place for more than one night at a time but this should be different from riding out torrential rainstorms. As long as the weather was reasonable we would be able to get out and about or work outside on the boat, quite different from being cooped up inside trying to keep dry.
Breaking New Ground
On Wednesday morning we eventually got going when the sun came out and travelled the short distance past the Kellogg factory to the end of the Leigh Branch and on to the main line, at the junction where we had turned off after coming down through Manchester. Almost as soon as you turn right here there is a small marina basin on the right and a service dock just big enough for one full size boat. Of course, there was one boat already there and one other was just pulling up behind it to wait. We had nowhere to go while we were waiting but for once there was little wind and plenty of sunshine so we were fine just hovering there.
It wasn’t long before we could pull on to the dock and we found that, just as Sasha had said, the lady here was very nice and welcoming. Cheerful and helpful she took our rubbish away for us and filled up the diesel, chatting all the time. Bracken was fed biscuits and allowed off to play with her dog Vinny, as the dock area was quite secure. The facilities were the smartest and cleanest I have ever seen, including the sanitary station and there was a hose reel already connected for the water rather than having to drag out or own, a surprisingly rare phenomenon.
We asked about how safe and easy it was to moor down through Stretford and Sale. She pointed to Steve, who had just pulled up ahead of us, as someone who works locally but has a mooring at Preston Brook. He moors on the towpath round here all the time and has only ever had one minor incident. This was very much in line with what Sasha had told us. Her worst experience had been when moored against a particularly high bank side she had returned to find footprints on her roof but no other damage. Reassured we decided to look for somewhere just a little way down into Stretford.
As it happened Steve set off a little before us. We followed him down to the club house of the Watch House Cruising Club where we could see boats moored outside it but space against the towpath before them. We would just need mooring pins again. As we closed up on the first boat we saw Steve backing up towards us and I walked up to ask if he was intending to come in here. Continuing the theme of really nice, helpful people in this area he said he wasn’t, he was just backing up to tell us that if we carried on a couple of hundred yards to the other side of the boats there were again rings that we could use to save us the trouble. We were amazed that he would go so far out of his way like that and thanks to his advice we found an ideal mooring.
Settled In Stretford
Where we were was by an aqueduct the path under which led to a huge expanse of Sale Water Park and various nature reserves. Apparently the excavations and gravel created from building the M62 was originally planned to a landfill site. Then the local authority decided that it should remain as an overspill area if they ever needed to relieve flood pressure on the surrounding towns and instead a lot of work and investment went in to creating the wetland areas, a huge recreational lake and walks and cycle trails all around it, all with the River Mersey running through it. You can see on the map a real green corridor separating Stretford and much bigger Sale.
On our side of the canal was the Trans-Pennine Trail, The Bridgewater Trail, a big recreation ground, perfect for Bracken to chase a ball, with the houses starting well away from us across the aqueduct. The railway running parallel to the opposite bank was not that busy or noisy and we are well used to the affinity between rail and canal and while we could see the bridge carrying the M62 ahead of us we were far enough short of it to see or hear none of its traffic. We decided at once that this was a nice enough spot to stay for a couple of nights. The only issue turned out to be that the very straight and extremely well surfaced towpath running directly from Sale, through Stretford, straight up to the centre of Manchester or round to the Trafford Centre was a magnet for commuting cyclists. Any time between seven and ten in the morning or between four and seven in the evening it was mayhem out there and you really needed to be on your guard when you stepped outside.
The weather was not yet summer but a definite improvement on recent weeks. It was grey a lot of the time, windy some of the time and we had a couple of daytime rain showers but none too heavy or lasting too long. We had a nice walk along the Trans-Pennine on Wednesday afternoon and a good poke around the Water Park on Thursday.
On the domestic side we took advantage of a laundrette nearby to get a service wash for some of the heavier items, to spare our power and water but also to ensure they would be dried, without having to be draped around the interior of the boat for a few days. We were even able to use their photo booth to get a new digital photo for Sue’s passport renewal, the one we had taken at home having been rather sternly rejected by the Passport Office.
Preparing to move on a little on Friday we had to agree that, although the town itself might be nothing special, Stretford had proved to be a lot nicer than we were expecting.