This was it – Swallow’s big journey. Emma and I had taken plenty of time off work and we set sail from Golden Nook Farm, just east of Chester on the Shropshire Union Canal, to bring Swallow to her new home in Todmorden.
We had a bed, a porta-potty, a stove for warmth, a camping type gas ring and 12v ceiling lights. We also took a rug which we rolled out every evening to make a cosy living space, a couple of folding chairs and a small rickety table. The boat was still pretty leaky and this was definitely roughing it.
Wednesday 16th October – Golden Nook farm to Bunbury
Shropshire Union Canal
We set off in horrendous weather and had a baptism of fire steering Swallow in high winds and driving rain. We called at Tattenhall Marina – just a couple of miles up the canal – for a bag of coal, which turned out to be a major ordeal in itself just mooring up in the right place – the wind took us all over the place and it was so hard to control the boat – Emma bravely took the tiller and did a brilliant job though. Poor Swallow experienced a few knocks and scrapes, as did Emma and I. It was not a day for photographs.
But we got back on our way (after being heartily laughed at by some warm, dry boaters in the marina cafe) and the weather improved. We spent the night unwittingly squatting in a space we found at what turned out to be private moorings. Hey ho.
Thursday 17th October- Bunbury to Lowstock Gralam, Northwich
Middlewich Branch (Shropshire Union)
We hot-footed it out of our non-permitted mooring and headed off for a leisurely journey along the Middlewich Branch in the sunshine. Leisurely apart from the time we go banked, that is. Swallow got completely stuck a way from the grass bank on a large pile of mud and nothing we did onboard could shift her. We had to take off our jeans and boots and get into the canal to reach the other side, where we poled her and tugged her ropes until she shifted. Passers-by were less than helpful but hopefully they had a good laugh at our expense. Anyway it was pretty warm and we had a good laugh too.
We moored up in Lowstock Gralam, on the outskirts of industrial-looking Northwich, and spent the evening making a bowl of soup and some chips last all evening in a really lovely old pub, the Salt Barge, where we learned about the Cheshire salt mines.
Friday 18th October – Sideline journey by train/car to Blackpool for a friend’s 40th…
Leaving the boat in Lowstock Gralam, where a friendly couple called Roy and Mel moored nearby said they’d keep an eye on Swallow, we headed off on a completely bizarre journey to an alternative universe of jacuzzis, fizzy wine, swimming pools, ginormous kitchens and a sauna. Very strange indeed.
Saturday 19th October- Lowstock Gralam to Dutton
We got back to Swallow earlier than we thought and set off at 2-ish, and got through two tunnels before mooring up at Dutton, a beauty spot Roy and Mel recommended.
Sunday 20th October – Dutton to Grappenhall
We had a problem with the stern gland greaser first thing this morning, but cobbled it together and got through Preston Brook Tunnel and onto the Bridgewater. As we were coming through Grappenhall, though, the engine started to fail and we pulled over.
We managed to fix up the stern gland greaser but this wasn’t the problem. We called Swallow’s engineer, Eric Watson, who talked us through a diagnosis and repair job. It should have been a simple thing, but in the process a fuel injector nut split (something to do with Eric egging Emma on to over-tighten it, but we don’t talk about that). We were well and truly grounded until Eric could get a new nut and pipe and bring it out to us.
Monday 21st October – Grappenhall
We hung out in Grappenhall for two days as Eric didn’t have the part til Tuesday. It’s a posh, friendly village outside Warrington. There are two really nice pubs and we hung out in one for several hours, charging our phones and making a couple of drinks last as long as possible. A very nice chap called Peter gave us the keys to his garage and told us we could go fill up our water bottles and we had the pleasure of reading the Telegraph. These were exciting times.
We also found time for a spot of DIY and window cleaning. I thoroughly enjoyed removing the moss and slime from inside Swallow’s leaky windows, and I also just loved covering the worst ones with bin bags when it got really rainy – a fabulous new look for her.
Tuesday 22nd October – Grappenhall to Lymm
Eric and his mate Jason arrived and fixed us up, and we headed off again. Unfortunately, as we rounded the corner into Lymm about ten miles later, Swallow started to splutter again and we were forced to pull over and call him again!!
We had a nose around Lymm, where, incidentally, my brother used to live. Turns out it’s pretty fancy, with a restaurant (sorry, ‘bistro’) for every type of cuisine and a pretty river and weir in the centre. It also has some hilariously unpleasant kids who shouted abuse at us. Lovely!
Managed to resist the urge to spend a hundred quid on a slap-up dinner and settled for a bottle of wine in a cosy pub. Dog lovers please know – the Bull’s Head in the centre of Lymm is most definitely a Dog Friendly Pub. There must have been ten dogs in there, it was great.
Wednesday 23rd October – Lymm to Sale
Eric and Jason, heroes that they are, turned up again and got us moving, only for us to break down again a mile down the canal at Outringham. (I’ll write more about each breakdown and its solution later on.) They got us going once more and asked us to meet them at a marina a few miles up the way, where there was a slipway so Swallow could nose out of the water a little. Poor Jason had his arm and shoulder down in the water and I spent over £100 on diesel, which was pretty scary. Still, I learned that the tank holds about 100 litres.
The enigmatic Eric
By the time we left the marina, Eric and Jason had been with us for an entire day, poor things, and Swallow had moved all of five miles. We were determined to get a little more distance under our belt, so ploughed on, finally stopping for the night at Sale – a really pretty-looking area (canalside at least) with cool pubs, tree-lined streets and a park with a mini railway. Oh my god – it was a suburb: We had reached Manchester.