Sunday, August 02, 2009

Canal Cruise: Canal Walk Scarisbrick to Melling

As part of the on-going mission to take the Albatross to the Albert Dock today we were going from Heatons bridge at Scarisbrick to Hancocks bridge near Aintree.

My role today was opening the swingbridges. This end of the Leeds & Liverpool is infamous for its swingbridges. Today there were six to get through.

I dropped the captain of the boat off at Heatons Bridge and while the crew sailed on towards Lydiate I drove up to Maghull.

I parked by Dicconsons Bridge and walked towards Coxhead Bridge, where we planned to meet up.

Today was a perfect day for being on the towpath. The sun was shining, the flowers blooming, the fish jumping and the butterflies fluttering by.
The towpath was busy with walkers, cyclists and anglers.

I noticed a small pile of oyster shells by the side of the canal. Clearly something had collected them up and eaten them here. What would do this? Some kind of bird or maybe even an otter!

Oyster Shells

I was approaching Coxheads Albatross was arriving from the other direction. Not only are there too many swing bridges on this canal they are all different. They are all opened in different ways. the trick is to pay attention and read the instructions.

The first bridge was an easy one, all electric. You just put the key in and press a button. The barriers close and the bridge spins round. Once the boat has gone through you press another button and the bridge spins back and the barriers go up. As long as you remember to hold the button down you dont have any problems.

Through the bridge and back on the boat we all headed off to Maghull. The next swing bridge we came to is Bells Swing Bridge by the Running Horses pub (which was open for business). This bridge is electric but the difference with this one is you have to move it yourself. the trick is to pay attention to the display and when it tells you its ready push the bridge open. I am not sure why they couldnt make the bridge move itself like the other one...

Next is Methodist Swing bridge, once blown up by the IRA. This one you need to close the barriers yourself then open the bridge with the key and control panel. It was at this bridge that the local kids found us and subjected us to a barrage of questions. "Eh lad how fast does your boat go?" "Lad, where are you from?" "Have you got a cooker on there?" "Are you going to Liverpool?" "Are you going to Leeds?" "Your boats dead slow, lad"
They followed us up to the next bridge, Shaws Swing Bridge. This bridge is just a foot bridge so there are no barriers to close. You just open the anti-vandal lock with a handcuff key. The kids took great interest in the key, asking where they could get one, whether they could have mine etc They wanted to ride on the bridge when I opened it, I tried to get them to help me open it instead but it was obviously more exciting to ride on it as I pushed it open. Luckily none of them fell off or were squashed.
We left them behind and carried on in peace through Maghull up to Maghull Swing Bridge. This one you have to close the barriers yourself, unlocking them with the handcuff key, then open the bridge using the water mate key and the control panel. I managed to stop a good number of cars here, always satisfying.

Leaving Maghull behind the canal enters the countryside. With the sun still shining you wouldnt think we were heading to Liverpool. This bit of canal is every bit as nice as any on the system (as long as you ignore the floating cans and bottles.

Even with the new canal at the docks in Liverpool there are not many boats on this stretch. This means the canal is quite weedy. Not just weed, whole rafts of yellow water lillies. There was even someone harvesting water cress from the edge of the canal. If you eat water cress in a Liverpool restaurant you know where it comes from!

At the last swing bridge we caught up with another boat heading the same way. They had just gone through the bridge so I still had to open it. This bridge is manual. You have to use the handcuff key to open a guard which then lets you use the watermate key to unlock the handbrake. The instructions say a quarter turn but I eventually found you need to turn it more than that. Once you have undone the two locks and lifted the handbrake you can push the bridge open.

Melling Stone Bridge

We were now 3 miles from my car so rather than carry on to Hancocks Swing bridge where Albatross is spending the night I jumped ship and walked back. On the way back the questioning kids asked for another ride on the bridge, but sadly for them I didnt have my key.

Tomorrow Albatross will go through to Eldonian Village and spend the night there. Tuesday we will be going down the Stanely Dock branch and into the docks, then along the new canal to the south docks for a couple of nights. Then back home to Nantwich.

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