Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Trying it for Size

It was a perfect weekend for heading down the Rufford branch so Sunday morning saw us heading firstly in the wrong direction, to turn round. This is referred to as winding (as in the wind that blows) and depending on the length of your boat can be done in various locations as well as marked 'winding holes', which are wider sections of canal specifically for this purpose. Sometimes you can turn where the canal is naturally wider but at 62' long, Mervyn is limited to where we can do this. It took about an hour to navigate the two swing bridges, turn round, do the swing bridges again and get back to where we started. 

A kestrel hunts in the fields alongside the canal as we set off

There are different types of swing bridges, both automated and manual. The two we went through are both operated by a Canal and River Trust key from a station with push button controls and lowered barriers to stop the traffic. The first one requires that you manually push stop barriers shut at either end before opening the bridge, but the second one is more like a level crossing, where lights are activated and the barriers drop down using the controls. On our way to the bridge we passed another boater who shouted across that 'one of the barriers was sticking' but I managed to operate them both perfectly on our first attempt.

Mervyn potters between the swing bridges which are close together

However, on our return at the level crossing style bridge, one of the barriers refused to lift after I had closed the bridge. Confusingly, the barrier on the other side had lifted and although the lights were still flashing, which would indicate that the bridge wasn't ready, the impatient car drivers who had been queuing on that side started to come across the bridge. Sigh. Why do people behave like idiots when it is obvious that someone is having a bit of a problem and just needs a bit of time and understanding?

I thought that it would be an idea to try and lower the other barrier using the controls and try to raise them again, so I managed to convey to the car drivers that they needed to reverse off the bridge. Much hand waving ensued, which I ignored. Then, to my horror, as I started to lower the barrier the driver of the first car decided to to a three point turn using the bridge to reverse onto just as the barrier was coming down! I quickly released the button and waited until everyone had realised that there was actually a problem with the bridge and that I wasn't just playing around for the fun of it. Thankfully, a local resident out cutting his grass had seen my struggle and came over to assist. As I held the 'open' button he gave the barrier a good old clout and bingo, up it went! Apparently, it has been happening on and off for a while and he had perfected this technique whilst helping other boaters. I resolved to report it to CRT the following day.

The first signs of spring, blossom on the trees

A perfectly executed boat 'winding' by Mr F

Coot on the bank

Back where we started at Burscough, passing Derek's boat Viktoria moored at the wharf

A little further on we came to the bridge turn for the Rufford Branch where, almost immediately, is the first or 'top' lock. Although heading north, this branch of the Leeds Liverpool canal is locking downhill. As mentioned in the previous blog, the lock lengths are recorded as suitable for 60' boats, but being double locks this gives you extra room if you go in on a slight angle. We had walked the stretch of locks before and paced them out so we were fairly confident that we would have no problem fitting in. In fact there was plenty room in all but two and we could have even shared with another boat. As this was our first time trying them out for size I was relieved that we didn't have to.

Rufford top lock

Looking down to the second lock

 Heading into lock three

Farmland runs to the east side of the canal most of the way

There are seven locks in total and the first three are close together. The next three are spaced out over a mile or so and then there is a swing bridge followed by the last lock. The branch had been closed for major repairs to Chicken lock, having gates replaced. Also, the run off for excess water in the pounds between the locks has had to be rebuilt as this had collapsed. The work hasn't been completed but the lock is operational restritced to between 9 to 5 as CRT staff would be there to assist. It isn't far between this and the previous lock so I walked ahead. There was a chap in one of the cabins who came to work the lock and although there is fencing all round he was happy for me to operate the paddles on one side. We chatted while we filled the lock and as Mr F appeared into view we were able to open the gates in time for him to come straight in. Soon enough we were ready continue on our way so we thanked our crew helper and set off again

Heading out of Germans Lock on the way to Chicken Lock

Chicken Lock work in progress

 It's beautiful and tranquil up here

Swan on the towpath watches us go by

After the seventh and final lock, there is just one more swing bridge before Sparks Bridge services where we planned to stop. The services are really good here, toilets, showers, water and pump out. The outlet for the pump out on Mervyn is on the right hand side (starboard if you want to get boaty about it) so we needed to turn around once more as we really had to get the pump out sorted as soon as possible. This meant heading past the services a good half a mile and through another swing bridge to a place where we had turned in our previous 50' boat. To be honest we weren't sure if it would be wide enough as it isn't marked on our guide as a winding hole, but it was worth a try as the next place to turn was quite a bit further up. There was just enough room and Mr F turned Merv round like he'd done it there a hundred times as we were gongoozled at by a car driver and an chap on a pushbike from the nearby bridge.

Heading back through the final swing bridge on the last leg

Sparks Bridge, home for the next two weeks

It had been a great days boating and so we pulled onto the services to do the waste tank pump out, our penultimate task of the day, the last one being to retrieve a car from Burscough. Mr F wanted to fit a run in so it was an ideal way to kill the two proverbial birds. We unlocked the pump out station and unrolled the hoses, got a bucket of water to prime the pump and with the thumbs up to start I inserted the card into the reader.... HELP!HELP! said the little display. Oh. Card removed and inserted....CARD EMPTY. Great. Just then one of the boaters on the moorings who we know came by and said that a CRT employee was usually around in the mornings, so we decided we wouldn't be in anyones way if we stayed on the service moorings overnight and tried to sort it in the morning. Mr F went off for the car and I had a lovely (really, really long), shower and prepared evening victuals with a great big smile on my face. A day spent moving the boat always does this to me. The new place, new view from the window and sense of journey no matter how short the distance, is so satisfying.

There was no sign of the CRT chap as I was preparing to leave the following Monday morning so we decided that trip to the Wigan office for another card was the first port of call, in case we had just had a dodgy one. I dropped Mr F off at his car on my way and left him to it. I later found out that after buying two more cards and returning, the same thing happened again so it wasn't a faulty card. After contacting CRT a chap came in about half an hour and turned the pump out on manually so the tank could be emptied. The fault was with the card reader so this would be reported for an engineer to come and look at. The main thing was mission accomplished.

Below are a few pictures I have taken since we have been here. There is hardly any light pollution so the sky is great for star and moon gazing and this morning I awoke to a lovely light frost covering.
It's really peaceful and as I walked back tonight I saw a barn owl hunting in the fields at the side of the boat. I shall enjoy the rest of our stay here and keep my camera on hand.....

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