Today we were sailing on the Shropshire Union Canal, joining the return trip of the Albatross on its way back from Chester to its home marina in Nantwich. We met the Albatross at Bates Mill Bridge #109. The bridge is typical of the brick bridges on this canal. Next to the bridge is the Shady Oak pub. The pub has a large car park and a caravan site next door. The pub does food and has entertainment, next saturday Elvis will be playing there! On the towpath side of the canal is Bates Mill itself with a mill pond behind Bates Mill Cottage. We set off but only got as far as Wharton Lock where we joined the short queue of boats waiting to go through. One long hire boat crewed by a lot of studenty types would be with us all day.
This canal is the Shropshire Union and the section was origianally the Chester Canal running from Chester to Nantwich. The canal was built to combat the competition Chester had from Liverpool and the Trent and Mersey Canal. It is a wide canal with locks 80ft by 14ft 9inches. The locks have two gates at each end, either wood or metal. The gate paddles on the bottom gates have gears making them easy to wind. Because the locks are wide two boats can use the lock at the same time side by side.
From Wharton Lock you get a good view of Beeston Castle, or rather its remains, high up on a rocky outcrop. There is also a new marker stone here for the Sandstone Trail showing walkers they were 26 km from Frodsham and 29km from Whitchurch. Who chose kilometres over miles? The lock lifted us up 7 feet 8 inches and we set off again. It was about a mile of sailing to the next lock. On the way we past a blue and yellow working boat that had been cutting back the canal side There are some very nice drooping pine trees. The canal shop by Beeston Brook Bridge #107 was always a popular place to stop when we passed by on family hoidays. Beeston Iron Lock is unique in my experience. As its name suggests it is made of iron. The sides of the lock are iron clad and the gates are iron. The lock was constructed in 1828 and looks the height of Industrial Revolution modern design. Rivetted, flanged iron plate was used rather than brick or stone because of the "running sand" which had caused the lock to collapse in 1787. Up another 7 feet and on to the next lock Beeston Stone Lock, taking us up 8 feet 6 inches.
I had forgotten both of my cameras today so had borrowed one from a fellow member of crew. It was while pushing open the gate on the stone lock that I leant on the camera and broke the LCD screen. The camera still takes photos but the screen is blank except for a blurred corner. Not a great way to repay a favour!At the stone lock there is a small round brick building with a central chimney. A charming little building and we are lucky to still have them. There is another at the next lock, Tilstone lock which lifts us up 9 feet 8 inches.Throught the lock and we came to a sunked Dawncraft. its alwas sad to see a sunken boat, especially a little GRP cruiser. These boats were built for days out and weekends of fun on the canals, they lack the pretentions and luxury of the modern narrowboats that are more about flat screen TV and walk in shower rooms than messing about in boats. The locks at Bunbury at a staircase two rise. That is two lock chambers sharing a set of gates in the middle. It takes a bit of thinking about to ensure the water is in the right chamber at the right time. You dont want two locks of water in one lock chamber. To make things interesting we had a boat coming down as we were going up. We passed in the middle and it all went well. The sky was looking greyer but that didnt stop us from having a choc ice from the canal shop by the locks.We passed by some more Dawncraft cruisers that looked like they were on their way to be crushed. Part of the ethnic cleansing of the canals.The temperature dropped and the rain started. I retired inside to look at the scenery in the dry. The good thing about a cruiser is you can sit out and steer in the rain without looking like a drown rat as some narrowboat owners do. We passed one narrowboat that had a very small silly one man rain hood. If you dont like the rain dont buy a narrowboat and sail in England. We passed the junction with the Middlewich Branch, there was a warehouse that crossed over the canal here. There are the remains of a lock here too, maybe it was just for controlling traffic and tolls but there are niches for two sets of gates. Just after the Olde Barbridge Inn(e) we met the studnets trying to accomplish what looked to be a reverse mooring manouver. They had managed to block off the canal and were going no where fast. But on the canal one has to be patient.The rain got worse and by the time we reached the moorings at Nantwich it was proper rain not just the fine rain that soaks you. We drove back to the Barbridge for tea, we had the fish and chips, the chicken curry and 10oz gammon. Big portions and reasonably priced. Then we drove back to the Shady Oak to pick up my car and went home.It was nice to see the canal from a boat for a change and it is good to get back to carrying a windlass and winding some paddles.