Leaving the Llangollen behind, via the Hurleston Locks, we turned left up the Shropshire Union Canal the short distance to Barbridge Junction and then onto the Middlewich Branch. This stretch of canal to Middlewich is mainly rural allowing peaceful travelling with only 4 locks to navigate. The weather was kind to us and we immersed ourselves in the experience of cruising. Just wonderful.
Our aim was to get to Middlewich and make contact with Chris, the engine specialist who we had contacted to have a look at some “minor problems” with our engine set up. Although he was located at Red Bull – at the junction of the Trent and Mersey Canal with the Macclesfield Canal – he had offered to come to Middlewich to assess the situation prior to us finally arriving in Red Bull. We found good moorings just before the junction and were helped by a man we had met before on the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal a few months ago. Given the close proximity to the shops we took the opportunity to stock up a little while waiting for Chris to arrive on Saturday afternoon. Bron also got the paint and brushes out and started applying a summer coat to the pole, plank and hook as well as touching up some (very few) of the many scratches Celtic Maid had acquired!!
Chris arrived and diagnosed a much needed replacement of the coupling which immediately resulted in a huge decrease in vibration through the drive shaft. Hallelujah!!!! But we still needed to get her down to Red Bull where he arranged for us to moor at his friend Tony’s boatyard – Red Bull Services – at the junction with the Macclesfield Canal. Unfortunately Chris wouldn’t be available to work on Celtic Maid until the following Thursday but we were fortunate in Tony being very accommodating.
With the vibrations decreased and a plan of attack we set off on Sunday morning to experience this stretch of the Trent and Mersey Canal. After conquering King’s Lock we had a long stretch of fishermen to deal with. In the main fishermen along the canals are a serious but accommodating lot who withdraw their fishing poles as you pass and will sometimes say hello or respond to your questions regarding their success. We find it best to approach them all with friendly caution and apologise occasionally for disrupting their peaceful recreational pursuit. We share the canals after all!! A bit like sharing the towpath with cyclists and other walkers when you are moored – a little tolerance and goodwill goes a very long way towards achieving harmony!!!
We also passed a large salt mill. According to Wikipedia :
Wich and wych are names associated (but not exclusively) with brine springs or wells in England. Originally derived from the Latin vicus, meaning “place”, by the 11th century use of the ‘wich’ suffix in placenames was associated with places with a specialised function including that of salt production. Several English places carry the suffix and are historically related to salt, including the four Cheshire ‘witches’ of Middlewich, Nantwich, Northwich and Leftwich (a small village south of Northwich), and Droitwich in Worcestershire. Middlewich, Nantwich, Northwich and Droitwich are known as the “Domesday Wiches” due to their mention in the Domesday Book, “an indication of the significance of the salt-working towns in the economy of the region, and indeed of the country”.
Unknowingly Bron was moved to don her life jacket whilst navigating through this region, only reading later that due to the mining of salt there is much subsidence in the area and the canal is at times very deep with submerged obstacles! Good call though!!!
This section also has a number of paired locks – we came across these at Hillmorton on the North Oxford Canal before. Most were operational giving us a choice but some had broken paddles rendering them inoperable. Bob also got a little help with gates along the way from a lovely young girl whose mother said she would follow us to Red Bull if she could just to do the locks!!!!
We moored for one night at Church Lawton before walking along the towpath to explore where we needed to be and how to get there, arriving at Red Bull Services boatyard just as Tony was talking to Chris about us. We went back and brought Celtic Maid through the remaining locks pausing to use the services provided by CRT before going around the loop and being assisted to reverse into the mooring by the boatyard by Tony. He agreed for us to remain there until we got back from our planned visit to Maldon (to see cousins) and Bob’s eye appointment in London. He also agreed for us to leave our cousin’s hire car there when we returned while we cruised up the Macclesfield with them. A very generous and accomodating man.
Bron took the opportunity of a day out in Nantwich (via train and on her own!) to get a hair cut and go in search of a few obscure items (a new brush or two to sweep the carpets among them!). And then on Thursday Chris arrived to work on the oil leak only to find that because the engine bay had been left with water in it (after we bought her and before we returned from North America and possibly even before that) due to not having an automatic bilge pump, the water had caused rusting to occur and in order to permanently stop the leak would require the engine to be lifted and the offending rust machined off. A complex and time consuming task as well as expensive and not yet necessary. So we agreed to leave it as was until the leak became bad enough to cause us real problems. Bob should worry less now…..
And so we packed up and walked to the train station and headed towards our weekend away with the cousins on The Broads!!