We’ve been attacked! It’s not too serious but I have a couple of facial injuries and a damaged ankle while Gill got hit on the leg. We aren’t entirely sure how it happened but we think it was probably some kind of biting gnat that got us while we were enjoying the last of the day’s warmth yesterday evening. I have two lumps, one on each temple that are absolutely symmetrical. It was either two gnats flying in formation or one gnat with a severe case of OCD but whatever the cause I now look like I am about to sprout horns. We have also suffered a few afflictions at the hands of inanimate objects recently too. I was attacked by a cheese grater whilst innocently shredding parmesan and we have both been given a good kicking by angry windlasses whilst operating the locks. Fortunately none of these injuries have required anything stronger than a glass of red wine to remedy them and all in all we are in fine fettle and really enjoying the adventure.
We are now well south on the Trent and Mersey canal and clear of an intense stretch of narrow locks and the Harecastle tunnel. The previous twenty miles have been fascinating and challenging but certainly never boring. We approached the Harecastle tunnel with a little trepidation as it was far longer than anything we had been through at one and three quarter miles. Passage is controlled by Canal and River Trust staff and is strictly one way. We arrived shortly after other boats had entered the tunnel from the south and we were kept entertained by the highly amusing member of staff on duty. He asked me if I had ever been through before and when I said I hadn’t he delighted in telling me that there was nothing to worry about but to go and have a strong brew whilst waiting for our turn. Here’s a tip for anybody going through for the first time; don’t look at the faces of the people on the boats emerging and don’t ask them how it was or if they enjoyed it. After a short safety briefing and with lights and horns checked we were off into the longest blackest hole I have ever been in.
It was actually OK once your eyes adjusted and the only concern was the sudden changes in roof height that threatened to decapitate anybody foolishly looking back to see how far they had come. Forty minutes later we popped out of the other end blinking in the sunshine and to the delight of about forty small children on a school trip who gave us a round of applause. Time for a picnic by the beautiful Westport lake.
One other feature of the infrastructure on this section has been the double locks. When somebody mentioned them I imagined locks wide enough to take two boats side by side and as we had used these on the Leeds and Liverpool canal I wasn’t all that excited. In practice they turned out to be amazing pieces of Victorian engineering which are actually two narrow locks side by side and independently operated.
As we were travelling with our new friends Bob and Marie we were like a couple of kids disappearing into the deep, dark, coffin like enclosures alongside each other but out of sight. Gill and Marie would then close the gates on us and begin to fill the locks. The water level would slowly rise lifting our boats up and after a couple of minutes Bob and I would majestically surface into the sunlight like a couple of silly meerkats grinning at each other as if we had just popped out of adjacent burrows. They were also a great opportunity for Gill to get more experience of controlling the boat in them as after managing eight in a row one day she suddenly decided that driving the boat for the next eight locks might not be such a bad idea after all. Needless to say, I am now a lot more experienced at turning a windlass and heaving lock gates open and closed. The physical side of this game is actually really good fun and it has the added bonus of making beer in the late afternoon calorie free.
We have now had a little break in Stone where we have been generously wined and dined by friends there and we will be meeting up once more with Bob and Marie in a couple of days to continue onto the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal. One or two people have asked if I will be updating an online map with our route. I hadn’t thought of doing it but it if helps here is a picture of the area we have travelled so far. If you trace a route from Liverpool via Wigan, west Manchester, Lymm, Middlewich, Stoke and Stone you should be able to get an idea of where we have travelled so far.
Edit: I have now updated the map on the blog so you can see all our stops indicated by the blue boat.
I would write more but I have just noticed that there are about ten million small flies gathered on the inside of the boat windows. I think I recognise one of them and I am off to have a word or two.