Back in the fast lane. 23rd 24th October

Plank Lane

After a full cooked breakfast with Bridget and Storm we said our farewells and parted company. We are hoping that they will be able to be with us for the launch of NB Oleanna, so our paths will cross again soon despite winter maintenance on the canals.

Then it was time for me to get accustomed to being behind a steering wheel again. I haven’t driven for around two years, today I was going to have no choice as engineering works on the railway meant that it would take me over 7 hours to get to Ipswich! Driving was a better option.


Request stop

First Mick needed dropping off at the nearest station Yorton. Today there would be two trains heading north to Manchester from Yorton and we managed to time it well for the first one 11:40, it was a request stop! Luckily he successfully hailed the driver. To get back to Plank Lane this required him to get a bus to Leigh followed by another one out to the bridge.

Meanwhile I started my drive to Ipswich, 200 miles away. Driving soon came back to me and I did manage to overtake a few lorries! Living your life at 3 to 4mph and 60 ft away from the bow is completely different than having to keep up to speed and only having 6 ft in front. The M6 soon passed followed by much of the A14. My new phone helped in finding the Premiere Inn and once settled I couldn’t help but go and look around the marina and quays.


Neptune Marina

Ipswich is reportedly the oldest continuously inhabited town in England. The modern town took shape in the 7th and 8th Centuries. Situated on the estuary of the River Orwell the port has been important through out much of it’s history. Much of the area around the docks was badly bombed during World War 2 and is now a marina, modern apartments and a  university campus. But some of the original dock buildings are still there.


Mooring pontoon on the move

As the tide was high boats were coming into the marina from the river and sailing straight through the open lock. A large cargo boat had just docked. Two chaps in high vis orange were returning a long pontoon to the lock by pushing it along with a very small cruiser. Not one narrowboat in view, but there was a catamaran version of Lillian.


“A Man Talks About Love” Company. Tessa, Loz, Lynda, Paul, Alice, Steph, Rebekah, Me, Toby, Vanessa, Jo


In the evening I met up with everyone that I would be working with  this week. We had a very nice meal at Pizza Express where I tried my first gluten free pizza and dough balls. The balls were good, the pizza a bit crispy, but still tasty.

We all reconvened in the morning to set up the Research and Development day in association with the New Wolsey Theatre. Several learning disability groups had been invited to join in with the Dark Horse ensemble. A very fulfilling day with lots of games, sampling of noises, movement, touch sessions and small extracts from the play. Normally a designer isn’t part of such things, but I joined in with the hole day and then did my small section.

Image result for ancient house ipswich

Ancient House, image from Wikipedia

Walking back to the hotel to pick up the car I passed a lot of interesting buildings. One in particular jumped out, The Ancient House is a Grade 1 listed building dating from the 15th Century. It has detailed pargeting, a weather proof ornamental plaster, and elaborate wooden carvings around the front of the house. Four panels of pargeting show a Tudor impression of the world,Africa, America, Asia and Europe are all shown, but Australia is missing as it had not been discovered at the time.


Watching the M6 and TV at the same time over a cuppa

My journey back to Lillian was of course mostly in the dark. It took the best part of 2 hours to travel along the A14 to the M6 where I decided that the £5.50 toll would be worth spending as there were so many lorries about. I eventually turned into the car park by Plank Lane Bridge at 11.15pm. It had been a very long day.

Mick had been busy too, checking on our next visit to NB Oleanna. A studied look at the winter stoppages was also done as Bridget had mentioned that the Middlewich Branch would be closing in November, we hadn’t spotted this. Then he set to on the task of trying to see where we can launch NB Oleanna when the time comes. The area for this is vastly reduced from what we had thought, south of Middlewich, north of Harecastle Tunnel, leaving us with what is left of the Trent and Mersey, Macclesfield and Peak Forest Canals. At the moment we have two possibilities and are waiting to hear back about them.

0 locks, 0 miles by boat, 490 miles by car, 1 request stop, 2 buses, 2 pit stops each way, 8 dough balls, 1 crispy pizza, 5 ensemble, 4 dictaphones, 2 aching arms, 1 suitcase needing new items, 2 launch sites, 1 lot of heat logs chopped, 3 hours of towpath exploration, 1 big cuddle when she got home.


Sarah and Nikki got married 22nd October

Plank Lane


Plank Lane Marina

Yesterday we picked up a hire car in Leigh, we pushed up to a grade B car as I was going to be heading off to work, so we treated ourselves. With our glad rags on, Tilly’s magic food bowl primed, Mick and I set off to Harmer Hill in Shropshire leaving Tilly in charge of Lillian for the night.


Wife and Wife

At the Premier Inn at Harmer Hill we met up with Bridget and Storm from NB Blackbird, we all hopped into one car and then wiggled our way along country lanes to The Inn at Grinshall. Today was the wedding of our friends Nikki and Sarah. Bridget and I both worked with them at Hull Truck for years. I’ve spent many a long day and some nights with them in theatres across the country.

Many of my Hull Truck family were there, a few exceptions as others were at work. A lot to catch up on with everyone, but mostly we were there to share Nikki and Sarah’s day.


Big Congratulations to you both

Beer, fizz, burgers, cheese, cake, dancing, laughter, beaming smiles all round. A lovely lovely day, even if it was a bit chilly later on.

0 locks, 0 miles, 1 grade B Corsa, 4 water gypsys scrubbed up, 1 magic food bowl, 1 surprise breakfast still a surprise! 2 many friends to mention, 1st Premier Inn of the week, 1 gorgeous day, 2 very happy ladies.

And relax! 21st October

Dover Lock to Plank Lane

At last a chance to look at last weekends newspaper after a lie in. Time pressure is off for a bit so we had a very slow start to the day. We had managed to stay ahead of Kennet and yesterday turning down the Leigh Branch means we are now out of the way altogether. A shame we didn’t have chance to see the flotilla, but we really didn’t want to get in their way down Wigan today.


Makings of a stinky bonfire


Only a short distance to do to Plank Lane today. There seems to be a lot of rubbish around this area. Behind the Dover Lock Pub was a huge pile including beds and sofas. This may of course be a collection for a giant bonfire for Guy Fawkes night, but I wouldn’t want to inhale the fumes off that lot! Mountains of empty beer cans are a frequent sight along this stretch.


dscf9215sm-copyWe pulled in just before Plank Lane Lift Bridge, but we couldn’t get into the side, the amount of dog pooh was also off putting so we decided to head through the bridge. At almost midday the traffic wasn’t very busy, but there was a constant trickle of cars from both directions. Plank Lane is a fully automated lift bridge which also has traffic lights to control the one way flow of traffic.

I tried to wait for it to be clear in both directions, then I could hear a siren, was it coming towards the bridge? I just couldn’t tell. So I stood for ages listening, so not wanting to lift the bridge if an ambulance was on it’s way. But the siren disappeared and I pushed the button. Once through we passed the new marina and pulled in. It felt better this side of the bridge. Spying the electric on the pontoons in the marina and plenty of space, Mick called BWML to see if we could moor there for a couple of nights. There are no short term moorings yet and the electric isn’t connected, so there was no point anyway.

Tilly has been out for most of the afternoon being a thug. There are so many dogs being walked I was quite surprised that we didn’t see her for ages. At one point I spied her in the undergrowth with a dog only a couple of feet away. She knew it was there, but it had no idea.

0 locks, 1.88 miles, 1 swing lift bridge, 0 electric, 3 new friends, 1 very tasty one, 1 shopping trip to Sainsburys, 1 new jumper for me, grade 3 hair cut, 4 ambulances across the bridge, 1/2 hour ironing!

The Cavalry. 20th October

Wigan Top Lock to Dover Lock, Leigh Branch

A couple of days ago I had a phone call from Roger who is one of the owners of NB Winding Down, our old shareboat. He follows our blog and as we were around his part of the country he offered us an extra pair of hands to do the Wigan flight.Today was the only day he could help which fitted in perfectly with our plans.

We moved up to the water point to fill up whilst having breakfast. An extra hour in bed this morning felt a bit like a luxury after the last few days. Roger texted from the bottom of the flight to say he was on his way up after parking his car. No other boat had turned up so we’d be on our own to go down.


The first of twenty three

It didn’t take long for us to get into a rhythm. Mick brought Lillian in, gates closed, Roger and I would then lift the bottom paddles and the person on the towpath side would walk down to the next lock to set it and open the gates. The locks are quite short and with leaking gates Mick every now and then was getting a bit wet when he nudged Lillian back so that we could open the gates.

A Lockie came past and gave us a couple of bits of advice. One of the locks has very heavy bottom gates so you shouldn’t open them all the way as you’ll never get them closed again. Two of the locks need a paddle cracking for the top gates to stay closed. With these things in mind we worked our way down. At first every lock was set against us, so there was a slight delay in moving from one lock to the next. Then we came across a boat coming up, which was being followed by a 10 ft wide boat. Luckily the crew from the wide beam were around to help with the very heavy gates at the “Don’t open it all the way” lock. Looking back at them they were having great trouble closing the gates, glad that hadn’t been me on my own!


Nearly half way

One of the chaps had been letting water down into the slightly longer pound between 77 and 78 as it had been quite low. He’d left paddles up, but luckily I spotted them before starting to fill 77!

We pulled in for a well earned cuppa, some sausage rolls and time to catch up on news of NB Winding Down. There are still four of the original owners in the syndicate that we know. The other day we’d been joking about meeting up with Winding Down and doing the flight with someone we knew. Roger must have heard us. Having that extra pair of hands made the experience much better and smoother down the hill to Wigan.

Once we’d rested a while we carried on down the remaining locks. Most of the day had been dry with just a few light showers early on, thank goodness as doing the flight in the rain must be really miserable. At the bottom of the 21 locks we turned left onto the Leigh Branch. Roger helped with the first of the two locks here before heading off for his car. Thank you so much Roger for your help, it was also good to have a catch up and if we do head over the Ribble next year we’ll let you know (he’s done it four times).

Down the last lock of the day on our own. My shoulders ached from all the high paddles and my legs felt like they’d had a good work out. We pootled on for a few more miles and when the brightly painted bollards showed themselves at Dover Lock we pulled in and tied to the last one.

dscf9209sm23 locks, 5.65 miles, 1 right, 1 left, 2 extra hands, 1 mardy cow, 9 sausage rolls, 3 hours 20 to do the flight, 1 big big thank you to Roger, 1.5 hours of towpath freedom!

Ooopps!! 19th October

Cut Bridge to Wigan Top Lock


Steaming canal at first light

Another morning, another alarm clock, well the same clock! With more locks and miles to make up we pushed off at 7.30am again. When are we going to get chance to read last weekends newspaper!?


Beware large submerged object nearby

Today the sun made an appearance which was a relief, but when in the shade it was really quite chilly. Although we’d done a smash and grab at Tescos yesterday, we found we wanted a couple of extra bits. Just by bridge 104A was a Tescos so we went to pull in. But Lillian hit something under the water and rose up, sliding back down into the water. What on earth?!! Something was visible, but not enough to see what it was. It could have been anything a car even! Mick pulled past the obstruction and I hopped off in the bridge hole to do another smash and grab whilst he held onto the centre line.

Another mile and a bit and we were at Blackburn Top Lock. It looked like we’d have to fill all the locks as we went down but at Lock 55 it was full and the gates were open. Mick sailed straight in, he was a bit concerned about water coming over the back gates. So I opened a paddle a small amount thinking that this would slowly lower Lillian and hopefully the water above would lower itself and stop coming over the gates before Mick was directly underneath it.


Below Lock 55 filling up quickly

The bywash was furiously letting water down too, so the level above the lock had to be dropping. When I looked the other way the next pound was filling right up. I went down to top up the next lock and open the gate. Lillian didn’t seem to have dropped much in the lock, so I opened the paddle a bit more. The pound below was now brimming with water, the bywash from it wasn’t getting rid of it quick enough. Before the offices around the pound became paddling pools I went down and opened a paddle on the next lock.

I loitered whilst waiting for levels to normalise so that I could drop the paddle.  The bywash from above was calming down, so it wouldn’t be long. There was this distant beeping noise, hopefully I wasn’t flooding somewhere lower down. But then I noticed Mick waving at me frantically, it was Lillian’s horn! I ran as fast I could back up, heart in my mouth. Lillian was fine and still not as low down in the lock as I’d have expected, this was because the top paddles were open! They were quickly closed, but by now the bywash had stopped running and the short pound was looking decidedly low! Ooopps!!!


Lock 56

Lesson learnt, always check that some numpty before you hasn’t left paddles up! Strangely enough at the rest of the locks we double checked the paddles before we started. The short pound should have recovered quite quickly, we hope!

dscf9088smA long pootle til the next locks, Johnson’s Hillock Locks. Neither of us could remember these from two years ago, but then as we rounded the bend memories came back to us. We worked our way down passing another boat mid flight. As we reached the penultimate lock there was another boat coming up in the last one. The pound in between was really quite low, so desperately needed the water from our lock for the boats to get over the cills. Once in the lower lock it looked like the level had dropped by  about a foot as the wet sides gave it away. Maybe a paddle had been left up at the bottom as the previous boat rose. You’d never catch us missing a paddle!

We stopped for a late lunch at Botany Bay before carrying on to the top of Wigan. There seemed to be a lot more moored boats than we’d remembered along this pound which slowed our progress. Lots more bunting for the flotilla that will come through on Friday with Kennet.



dscf9120smAs the sun lowered itself the view from our high vantage point got redder. The already orange trees to the east of us glowed brighter with the sun light, a stunning way to end a long, hard day. Just a shame that when we reached our goal that the mooring situation was not what we expected. Space for two boats on bollards, which were already taken. Just next to the moorings the depth left a lot to be desired, it wasn’t so bad that we would have to get the plank out, but a hop across the gap was certainly needed.

13 locks, 22.47 miles, 1 large obstruction, 2 tescos focaccia, 1 overly full pound, 1 underly full pound, 4 paddles left up, 4 blind eyes, 3 boats passed, 1 Rasta boat, 1 stunning sunset, 6 inches too near the top to moor, 1 schedule caught up.

It’s very dark in tunnels! 18th October

Barrowford Bottom Lock to Cut Bridge

dscf8955smThe alarm was set with the hope that we’d be able to make up some time today. We pushed off at 7.30 am prepared for the cold and the rain. Not much further along the rain started creating a wonderful rainbow with the cut in the centre.


Burnley roof tops

I had some work to do today so stayed in the warm and dry to earn a crust for us as there were no locks for 20 or so miles. Two hours after setting off a familiar sight came past the window, a dry dock that is at the end of the Burnley Embankment. I got myself ready and perfectly timed my hop off the boat to be level with the steps down from the embankment, I was entering the front door of Tescos as Mick was knocking the mooring spikes in. A whirl around to get the things we needed and I was back on board as Mick was finishing a couple of slices of toast. Time today was precious.


Next time we’ll stop. Weavers Triangle

We were off again. Last night we had considered carrying on for a little while, if we had we think that staying in the Weavers Triangle may have been a good place, a mental note has been made for next time. The heavens opened once again and I descended below to carry on with my sketches. I had just started to trace over a sketch when we passed under a bridge, well that’s what I thought! I kept my hands still so as not to move anything out of line, then it got dark, darker, then all I could see was the periodic flashes from the smoke detectors. We had entered Gannow Tunnel!

Tilly wasn’t concerned by the dark and happily munched away on her biscuits as I sat wondering how long the tunnel was. Then a glimmer of light came to the port holes. Once out of the tunnel Mick opened up the hatch to check I was alright, I hadn’t put the cabin into tunnel mode with all the lights on which wasn’t like me.


Mixed emotions

The rain kept coming and the wind was picking up. Another familiar sight brought me outside again as the first of three swing bridges came into view. I hopped off remembering that there was something odd about this bridge, then it came back to me that I needed a windlass to unlock it. Another swing bridge in the sideways rain and it was decided to have a warm up and some lunch.

After an hour we put our soggy coats and hats back on to continue. If we weren’t on a mission I suspect we’d have stopped for the day ages ago, or maybe not even moved, but we needed to cover the miles. One more swing bridge, the last before Wigan, and I headed back below. Mick valiantly carried on pushing through the rain and wind for another hour and a half, but with Blackburn looming he made the decision to stop.


Sketches complete

Coats were left in the pram cover to drip dry before being moved indoors to dry out in front of the stove. I really hope we don’t have too long to wait for the covers on NB Oleanna. It is days like today that they are indispensable.


They spend all day moving the outside then they make it wet!

Tilly aborted going ashore three times before she braved the rain fully. But strangely enough she wasn’t out for long!

0 locks, 19.33 miles, 11 miles as the crow flies, 3 swing bridges, 1 hop off to Tescos, 4 sketches in the dry, 1 very very dark tunnel, 5 meetings with M65, 2 wet coats, 4 drip drying gloves, 1 soggy moggy.

Still My Favourite. 18th October

Bank Newton to Barrowford Bottom Lock


Bank Newton Top Lock

Last night we stopped a bit short of where we’d have liked to moor, but the light was fading fast. So this morning we pushed off to do my favourite pound of the network.


If only there was time to sit for hours


Rope roller

Between Bank Newton and the bottom of Greenberfield Locks the canal meanders around the contours, taking it’s time so that you can appreciate the views. The twists and turns are such that one minute you are facing west the next east. One of the bends is so steep that there is even a roller so that the rope from the horses pulling the boats couldn’t cut the corner. This is where we’d have liked to have moored last night, but we have already decided that we’ll be coming back soon to spend more time in the places we’ve not explored as yet.


East Marton 

The wooded stretches are showing their colours, but this means they are dropping their leaves creating leaf porridge that sticks to Lillian’s propeller, a swift burst of reverse solves this until it gets clogged again. Around one bend high above the cut sits the Cross Keys Pub. Many a moon ago Grandpa Lee would take a group of us for his birthday lunch to this pub, back then I didn’t realise how high up it was, let alone that there was a canal below. The busy A59 crosses the cut here, not just on any bridge but a double arched bridge. More tooing and froing brings you to the bottom of the locks at Greenberfield.


Pinned to the side

As I went to open the lock gates the wind picked up. Lillian was well and truly stuck against the side. Mick reversed and tried pushing off, same again, and again, until he reversed so much to be in the lee of the hill when he deployed the stern rope and a reverse Andy did the trick. Good job we didn’t want water as a Silsden widebeam was moored up, no sign of a hose, just a chap reading a paper! This was where our schedule had us moored last night. We were two and a half hours behind, at least we were on the summit pound of the Leeds and Liverpool.




Passing to the other side!

The rain showers came and went, the sun came out, then the rain returned. Through Barnoldswick and Salterforth where the moored boats were getting ready to welcome the bicentenary flotilla. Bunting of two colours was going up. At the east end of the boats was the white rose of Yorkshire, at the west the red of Lancashire. Then we waved goodbye to Yorkshire ourselves as we crossed the county border.



Foulridge west portal.

A near collision with a hire boat gave us hope that the Foulridge Tunnel might be in our favour and as we rounded the bend the lights were green. Phew! No sitting and waiting for the next window wasting cruising time. At the top of Barrowford Locks we pulled over for a bite to eat before descending. This meant that we timed our arrival just as the Lock Keepers were about to do their final checks on the flight. So all the locks got set and opened in front of us which saved me walking back and forth so that Mick could go straight from one to the other thus avoiding been blown in to the side.

When we reached the bottom, the rain set in and with only an hour left of daylight we decided to call it a day. Sadly we hadn’t made up for lost time and with the wind and leaf porridge we’d fallen further behind. Another three or four hours cruising would have had us where we should be, but instead we put more coal on the fire and let Tilly go for a really good climb.

10 locks, 11.56 miles, 1 tunnel, 3 mysterons, 1 county border, 3 miles of porridge, 1 near miss on a hairpin bend, 1 avoided near miss on a straight, 3 hours solid tree climbing! 1 cat out after dark!!