Launch: Black Prince, Chirk Marina, Wrexham (Near Acton), England
Places to Stay and Eat: There
are pubs with accomodations nearby. The nearby Leigh Arms has excellent
Comments: A narrowboat cruise on the canals of England is one of life's great treats - a wonderful mixture of history, scenic beauty, urban and country views, and holiday. We heartily recommend the cruise for all who enjoy living aboard and cruising a boat.
HISTORY OF ENGLISH CANALS
-----The Romans built the first canal in Britain, the Foss Dyke, in AD 120, and it is still navigable today. It is 34 miles long and has three locks. Most canals were built during the reign of Elizabeth I until almost 4,500 miles of waterway were developed by 1846 replete with almost 2,800 locks.
-----In those early days, the canals were for commercial purposes. Barges carried much raw materials to mills and towns. The produce of English manufacturing was then shipped in barges to salt water loading docks where the goods were loaded for distant transport. Canals linked most of the major towns and rivers and they were the major avenues of commerce. Horses, treading tow paths beside the canals, pulled the heavy barges with long ropes.
As It Was Then and a Sunken Remnant From The Past
-----The rock structures supporting bridges were grooved and scoured by those taut towropes pulled by straining horses. Those grooves, many over 200 years old, are still evident on the oldest bridges today - momentos of the labor of man and beast, now long gone.
-----Other remnants of the past may be seen from the canals. Huge Cheshire estates sometimes were built, set far back from the laboring crews on the canal, where their agricultural produce and manufactured goods could be easily shipped to market.
Ramsdell Hall 1760
THE BRITISH WATERWAY SYSTEM TODAY
------Today, there are over 3,000 miles of restored navigable waterways in England, and almost 1,800 locks. Canal cruising has become a favorite British holiday and there are perhaps 25,000 boats on the canals. Some of the boats are beautifully restored or newly constructed versions of the narrowboats that carried goods and people for the past 250 years. Most are seven feet wide and equipped like an RV inside. They can accommodate from two to twelve people and are holiday homes for many. Some few live aboard all year - and a very few commute to work from them.Moorings are usually free and range from a tie-up at a town dock to 'pegs' into the grass beside a rural stretch of canal.
------About two thirds of the canals and rivers are under the authority of British Waterways. The agency also oversees over 2,500 structures associated with the waterways and its history. They do a fine job of maintaining. Several locks on our route were in need of repair and Waterways men helped us through while they were doing their repairs.
------The system is divided into three types of waterways:
-----1. Narrow Canals - These canals are primarily in the Midlands and connect England's Rivers. They are built for craft with a maximum width of seven feet and up to 70 feet long.
-----2. Broad Canals - These waterways are built for boats with a greater width. Some are restricted to a width of 14 feet. They can handle variable lengths from 57 feet to 185 feet.
-----3. Rivers - These are natural watercourses, often engineered with locks or dredging. Some are restricted, due to locks or cuts, to a beam of eleven to fourteen feet.
-----There are also canals that are detached from the primary system but are still navigable, oftentimes for only relatively short distances.
----- We chose the Cheshire Ring, a route connecting six canals for a circular route of 97 miles, with 92 hand-operated locks. This is one of England's most scenic and diverse routes, since it traverses scenic countryside through the Pennine Hills, downtown Manchester, the Peak District National Park and Heartbreak Hill. It is a popular route, since it is circular and travels through such a varied landscape. El enjoys circumnavigating so the Cheshire Ring was particularly appealing to her - no two views the same during the week-long cruise.
Inviting, eh? Even in the Rain
-----Our boat was ordered with three 'staterooms' to accomodate the six of us. The Lucy is sixty-nine feet long and seven feet wide. That's one VERY long narrowboat. It would be much easier to cruise the narrow stretches and tight turns of the canal with a shorter boat.
A Big Boat
-----We usually ate out at a pub for one meal a day and fixed breakfast and snacks aboard for the other meals. It was comfortable living and we soon learned to easily walk around past each other.
At Home Aboard
-----Water for the tank is available for free at designated places along the route. Our boat was equipped with two commodious heads and one shower.
------For some, canal cruising has become addictive. Some folks we met have been aboard for long stretches every year. Each canal is unique and offers different attractions, so it seems there is always another canal to explore. Many are circle routes or 'rings' that may take a week or longer to circumnavigate.
-----The Cheshire Ring utilizes five British Waterways canals (the Macclesfield Canal, Upper & Lower Peak Forest Canals, the Rochdale Canal, the Ashton Canal, and a part of the Trent and Mersey Canal). A private canal, the Bridgewater, completes the ring. The circle route is almost entirely in Cheshire in the Midlands of central Britain. We began our cruise at Acton Bridge with a rental narrowboat from Black Prince.-
Picking Up Lucy---------------------The Crew---------------------------------Underway (Note Coffee Mug)
LOCKS AND DAMS
------The Cheshire Ring travels through a variety of country and elevations. Consequently, there are almost a hundred locks to lift boats along the canal. The typical lock has two long arms connected to the tall wooden gate. Pushing the arms opens and closes the gates. There are also two sets of hand cranks to open or close paddles that allow water into or out of the lock. Opening top paddles fills the lock, and opening the bottom paddles empties it. Whew!
Some of The Locks are Deep
------The locks are hand operated, with cranks, chains, paddles and wooden gates. It takes considerable effort to open and close some 20 locks a day. Some of the locks are flights, where the locks are closely spaced and those designated 'crankers' can walk the tow path between their chores. Some, like those at Heartbreak Hill, are spaced just far enough apart where it is more time efficient to walk between the locks than to come ashore and pick up the laborers - but those poor folk sure wear out some shoe leather.
Cranking the Paddles
A Shower for the Skipper
-----The tunnels on our route were one boat wide. Some had bends and were almost a mile long! Some had specific times before the hour when boats could enter to allow one-way passage without meeting in the tunnel and having a lengthy 'discussion' as to who would be required to reverse for half a mile or so!
Entering-----------------------Inside-------- ------------------- Light at the End
------Some of the tunnels are haunted. Kit Crewbucket, a shrieking female boggart, haunts Harecastle Tunnel on the Trent and Mersey. Kit was murdered and her headless corpse was dumped in the canal and she roams the tunnels to this day.
------In the days before powered vessels, there was no room for horses to pull the barges through the tunnels. Boatmen had to lie on the their backs on the top of their boats and move their craft through the tunnel by 'walking' their feet against the roof of the tunnel. In such a position the men were particularly vulnerable to poltergeists. Saltersford Tunnel is thought by many to be the most haunted tunnel on the canal system. It had such a sinister reputation that most boatmen feared to tackle it alone. When we entered El kept her fingers crossed and was heard mumbling some incantation.
Oh, Dear! Saltersford Tunnel - What Is that Standing Behind My Shoulder? - Did you hear that noise?? What noise? - Just Me Mumbling a Charm (See the Crossed Fingers?)
-----There were hundreds of bridges along our route on the Ring. One had to 'mind your head' or pay the consequences.
You've Been Warned!
We're Going Under That Office Block?? Low Bridge - Everyone Down
Beautiful Bridges - Some With Cows Walking Overhead
Some had to be Handcranked Up
\Some we Were On
-----One of the great pleasures of cruising, anywhere, is the opportunity for good meals ashore. Nowhere have we found this more readily available than along the canals in England. Pubs are everywhere and meals (and brews) are great!
By Night, By Day, and a Brew By El
-----The Cheshire Ring takes one through one of England's major cities -- Manchester. We tied off for the night on a convenient moorage and walked the town. The canal creates a canyon through office buildings and the locks usually have a fascinated audience of 'walk-to-work' folks. Canal boat watchers are termed 'gongoozlers' by local boaters.
-----One of the joys of being a nomad (even if only in that roaming state for a short time) is afforded by the ever-changing neighbors. On this trip there were interesting boaters and friends flowered, feathered, and bovine.
-----This is a wonderful holiday for anyone, and especially for those who enjoy cruising. Would we go again tomorrow? You bet! What are your plans for tonight?
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