Plank Lane to Fishers Swing Bridge 45, Leeds Liverpool Canal
A boat passed us this morning at around 7.20am heading for the bridge. Plank Lane Lift Bridge cannot be operated during busy times, 8-9.30am and 4.30-6pm, due to the amount of traffic on the road. So when we rolled up the curtains on the front windows we were surprised to still see the same boat moored on the bridge landing, they were only just moving off at a little after 10. We signalled to them that we were pulling out but for water, so they operated the bridge just for themselves and we took their place at the water point. Once the tank was topped up I turned the key of power in the bridge console and opened up the navigation.
Near Bamfulong a tree was hanging so far over the cut that we couldn’t see past it. Was there a better side to try to pass it on? No. Our chimney cap is only just balancing on top of the chimney at the moment so I wondered if it would stay put as we had to go through the middle of the branches. Mick slowed us right down and I delved into a locker to pull out our set of sheers. A major bit of pruning was required and we gradually cut an Oleanna sized hole through the tree. Hope it doesn’t grow back before NB Blackbird comes through in about a weeks time. With the cuttings thrown onto the towpath we carried on towards Poolstock Locks.
The two locks were our first for what felt like an age, only four days. A boat had just gone up in front of us and by the time we reached the second lock they were just finishing going up. They said they were turning left at the junction ahead and would wait for us in the next lock. We followed up and turned to join them. They had picked the boat up at Nantwich last Friday and these were their first broad locks ever. They were the boat that had been at the bridge this morning. When they had arrived they didn’t have a key of power to operate it, so one of them had got a cab to the C&RT office in Wigan to buy one and then got a cab back. One expensive key!
They were on a mission and we were peckish so we parted ways after the lock and pulled in outside what used to be the C&RT offices in Wigan for some lunch. The ground floor of the building is currently empty, the water tap still works and a boater has typically left a load of rubbish for someone to collect just because there isn’t a sign saying not to! The gates that used to keep this mooring secure are now even more so as the padlocks on them no longer open with a key of power. So if you pull up there, there is no way into town.
As we pulled into the next lock we could see that a boat was following us, so we waited so that we could share with them. NB Dolly was heading back to Crooke after a short cruise, so we could share the locks out of Wigan with them. The towpath is very high after this lock so I elected to walk to the next bridge where the canal turns a sharp left. The last time we were here this mile pound had been drained overnight and we had to wait for C&RT to let water down from the Wigan flight and close the Poolstock Locks so that every drop would come our way. Today there was no six hour wait to then crawl along the bottom, tripping on traffic cones and getting stuck mid channel. Our passage was very easy.
Approaching Ell Meadow Lock there was a boat in the reeds off side, they didn’t seem to be in trouble so as we passed Mick said that we were being followed by another boat. Most people would have sat and waited for their turn, but no they came out of the reeds and pulled in behind us. One boat was going down another waiting to come up, so there’d be a wait. I hopped off and went to lend a hand. The lady from the boat coming up wasn’t impressed by the boat that had been in the reeds. As they had approached the lock the reed boat closed the gates on them, ‘not enough room for two boats’ she was told! She didn’t know if it was their first time out or if the boat was very new. Whilst she and I worked her boat up I had a chap chatting away to me who had turned up on a bike. I first thought he was lock wheeling for a boat still out of view, but no he was just an enthusiastic gongoozler who wasn’t aware that he was encroaching my personal space! He loved the programme with those two actors, oh and that one with Timothy Spall, they need to have their boat a bit further back in that lock, etc, all as I tried to keep an eye on the boat coming up. In the end I suggested to the lady from the boat that she should hop on and I’d head over to close the paddles thinking that someone from one off the two boats behind us would come forward to help close gates. I was a bit too keen to get away from encroaching man so didn’t drop the paddles before I walked round. The step down was too high for the lady so she ended up walking round, dropping the paddles I’d left and then as still no-one had come to lend a hand she closed that gate behind Mick, who was just climbing up to do it.
I was obviously waiting for the reed boat and he eventually shouted asking if they would fit, ‘YES’. So he stopped bow hauling his boat and jumped on the back bringing it in alongside Oleanna. He and his wife stood on the back of the boat enjoying the experience. One of their fenders dropped into the water as they entered. I pointed it out to them, he fished it out saying that would teach him for leaving them down, lucky for him it floated. I closed the gate behind them and then walked to the bottom gates to open the paddles. There may be a reason that neither of them got off the boat to help, some medical condition that wasn’t obvious perhaps. But when she said to Mick ‘it’s harder work than expected these locks!’as I opened up the second paddle, Mick did his best not to laugh out loud. I had no intention of opening both gates, so conferred in a very loud voice with Mick. They smiled and watched as I crossed over the bridge AGAIN to open the gate in front of them. Well they had no-one to pick up so they might as well go first. They didn’t seem to understand that I’d need picking up, surely I was a lockie, there to make life easy for all. A chap from the boat behind then came and lent a hand with the gates. I just found the hole thing really quite funny, boy are they going to get a shock when everything isn’t done for them.
The M6 passes high over head just before the next lock, Dean Lock. A pretty setting with the bridge curved steps, the bywash and the old disused lock to one side. A fisherman sat by the bywash as two kayaks appeared below. They proceeded to climb out of the cut and haul thier boats up onto land where wheels were added to ease moving them to above the lock. These two chaps are heading to Hull by paddle power. We wondered if they would paddle between the locks up the Wigan flight or just walk up the whole flight.
7 locks, 9.72 miles, 2 hours to get a key, 1 lift, 27 held up, 1 blackbird sized hole, 1 chimney cap still, 1 left, 2 lots of newbies, 1 empty office, 2 bags rubbish, 1 favourite little man, 2 narrowboats will fit, 2 oblivious boaters, 150 plus miles to paddle, 2 hours means 5 right! 1 murder.