“Cross the Mersey…” Trent and Mersey Canal that is. 13/10/15

Today was another watery day, but not from the sky.

Blog to be posted tomorrow, but with the fickle Internet I’m giving up on posting photos until I get home – that’s if I’m awake enough to do so on Sunday. Otherwise you’ll have to wait until next week.

But you can always go to my Flickr account before then. I’ll try and post the address here when the Internet’s working.

Like now… https://www.flickr.com/photos/purupuss/albums

13 October 2015

I didn’t have any nocturnal visitors last night… That I’m aware of.

But I have got a little bit of a cold and when I put the light out I started coughing – just enough to be annoying. So as I’m sleeping on a bed that converts into a chair on the floor, I “top and tailed” it so my head was raised, and went straight to sleep.

This morning we readied ourselves to set off to Anderton with two goals in mind. But first I rang the St Laurence Parish Church to say that the box I’d bought hadn’t had what I’d really bought in it. They got Pen’s mobile number so they could check it out and ring back, which they did just as we were getting into the car. So we told them we’d collect it tomorrow. We had already decided that we both wanted to check out the castle there, which we’d only seen from beyond the moat (if it has a moat), so we were heading back to Ludlow anyway. Seth’s going to have a dog sitter come and walk him, so we won’t have to worry about leaving him in the car.

Finally underway, we drove north(?) to Anderton, or more precisely the Anderton Boat Lift.

In the Victorian era and before, the canals were the roads of the nation. Then railways came along and provided a quicker way to get goods around the country. Then came the automobile and roads…

But back to canals and the Anderton Boat Lift. South(?) of Liverpool (the Internet’s not working to check) two watercourses ran parallel to each other. The River Weaver and the Trent and Mersey Canal. Industries, such as salt extraction, needed a quick (and in the case of potteries) careful way to get their wares to their markets. The T&M Canal was had a major bottleneck where narrowboats had to pass through tunnels.

Know the saying “Legging it”? That comes from the days when tunnels were too small for horses to walk through, meaning they couldn’t pull the narrowboats. This meant the crew had to lie on the deck and push the boat through with their legs – legging them.

Anyway, tired of the legging process holding up things, the decision was made to join the two waterways together. The problem? The T&M Canal was 50 feet above the River Weaver.

So, in 1875, the decision was made to create a boat lift.

This worked by two huge water tanks called caissons, sealable at each end, being raised and lowered. They were on huge hydraulic pipes filled with water. A little water was released out of the bottom caisson making it lighter than the top one. The weight of the top caisson would push the water out of its hydraulic pipe, across a joining tube, and into the lower caisson’s pipe, pushing the lower boat up and lowering the top boat down.

This counterbalanced operation was simple and effective. Except that the water with its high salinity was very corrosive on the iron parts.

In 1908 the hydraulic system was replaced by a steam-powered electrical one and huge counterweights instead of the seesaw-type arrangement. This worked fine until an inspection in 1983 found it to be unsafe.

It was nearly scrapped.

Fortunately there are people who care about the history of transportation and English waterways and they fought and fundraised to repair the boat lift until it was usable again – this time reverting back to almost its original hydraulic design. This was completed in 2002.

We arrived there and immediately set off on a dog walk to enable Seth to stretch his legs and do what he had to do. Then he was returned to the car and we watched the boat lift in operation. Pen thought that we could try to get on it, but I wanted to ensure that I got exterior photos. The sky was growing dark, something I hadn’t really seen this trip. We saw the wide narrowboat (a 14 footer) exit the boat lift, turn around, unload and reload people and then re-enter the boat lift, but we couldn’t really see any action.

We decided to buy our tickets for the next ride.

“Thank you. That will be at 2.15pm.”

“But it’s 11.30am now.”

There were only two boat lift operations happening today and two river cruises. And we’d missed one. If we were to catch the second trip we’d miss seeing Jodrell Bank.

I thought I’d rather have a ride in a narrowboat and a go on a Victorian boat lift than see a bunch of radio telescopes – even if observatories are interesting.

To make things even more interesting, a school party of 36 children were booked into the afternoon ride. The boat could take 50 odd.

We bought our tickets, had a look at the downstairs museum. Incongruously this is where the control room is and we could see a bank of CCTV screens showing the various parts of the operation.

After that we went and got Seth and had our lunch… And watched an industrious squirrel hunting for acorns. We don’t know if the one it found was its or if it had pinched it from another.

After a quick walk around a track designed to explain about the extraction of salt nearby, I went back to the Anderton Boat Lift shop and Seth and Pen went for another walk.

They had Thunderbirds merchandise for sale. Original Thunderbirds merchandise for sale. (And a Scalextric mug – sorry, Steve.) I quite liked the Thunderbirds alarm clock, but nothing had prices on it and if it’s not priced, I’m not buying.

We decided to have a look around outside and try to see the boat lift side on. I have to say that, even though I’m not a Star Wars fan, the business end of the boat lift reminded me of those big walking things they have in one of the films. It’s the white control building and the long legs that does it.

The kids were already on the boat when we got there. The crewman who was going to let us and two other adults board gave us a safety briefing before we did. “The first thing to remember…” he begins.

“Is to watch out for the kids,” I finish. He laughed.

Actually they weren’t badly behaved.

The rear of the boat was open topped, but I couldn’t see that bit being open to the public. Nevertheless I asked the crewman, Andrew, and he confirmed it. But he did say that I could stand on the steps so long as I didn’t go past the top one. That was easy to do as he’d put a rope across the entrance anyway.

Once the boat had got underway, with the skipper giving a very good explanation of the boat lift – pitching it so he wasn’t talking down to the adults, but the kids could understand – I went to the rear of the boat so I could get photos unimpeded by the windows.

The actually lifting operation itself is very slow and Andrew talked to me as we rose up – as well as getting me a photo of the two narrowboats in the other caisson. He pointed out the welding and the patches in the steelwork above us – the bit where the 1908 electrical system operated. He said that steel was about an inch and a quarter thick… and during the 1983 inspection, the inspectors discovered that this was so corroded that you could put your finger through it. (Sounds like our chimneys at home.) The patches and welds were to hide the holes. So the top bit is totally unrelated to the workings of the boat lift and could be removed and the operation would continue without issue. It only remains there for historical reasons.

The counterweights that had been used during the days of electrical operation had been put to one side and made into a maze. From a lookout above them, we’d had fun watching a dad and his two young children run around the maze hunting for each other.

They’d had fun too.

The skipper told us that with all the counter balancing the electrical operation was so efficient, that it only used the amount of electricity required to boil a kettle. He also pointed out that the cogs that lifted the lift were a chevron shape – like the logo of the Citroen Car Company. That’s because that kind of design is less likely to slip and is supposedly quieter than regular cogs.

It took about half an hour from the moment that the narrowboat entered the boat lift till when it finally left it. Pen and I had discussed this and she, having had narrowboat holidays, pointed out that time means nothing once you’re on board. As for freight it was still quicker and smoother than travelling by coach or around the coastline to the port requiring the freight.

I asked Andrew why we seemed to be sitting still for so long in the boat lift and he replied that we were actually moving. But the boat lift was so old that they were being cautious. Once upon a time the operator would look at the water level within the caisson, look at it in the lock, think “that’s about right” and release the lock. Nowadays the computer keeps an eye on things and until the water level is only a tenth of a millimetre different, they won’t open the lock gates.

We got dripped on by the lock gates as we passed underneath them.

Andrew pointed out the freshwater mussels growing on the gates. It was a sign that the water was fresh as they were fussy about their environment. They were the same colour as the gates because everything was covered in a very fine silt.

Once the 14’ (as opposed to 7’) narrowboat had moored, we returned to the car and Seth.

Our next stop was Whitchurch – the town famous for clocks it makes – including the one in St Paul’s Cathedral in London. It was a very photographic town, but they really didn’t have to go to the effort, just because I’d arrived, and put bunting up for me.

When Pen went to the supermarket, I had a look around the St Alkmund church. Firstly it was nice because I was the only one there. But it was interesting because there were three complete stained glass windows, but all the rest were plain, paned glass – apart from one that had two crosses in the panes, clearly made from the old windows. According to the Internet they lost the old windows through age.

We bought some baking from a bit of Wonky Tudor that was made in the 1450s and had a new front added in the 1800s.

At the less architecturally interesting supermarket I bought some Thyme flavoured/infused lozenges for my cough. They tasted badly enough that they should have had some effect and they did. My cough sounded much stronger.

After a hot chocolate, we headed for home.

This evening we watched “The Imitation Game” starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Alan Turing. As it was partially set during his time at Bletchley Park, we thought it would be interesting to see what had been filmed there, what was accurate, and what they’d Hollywoodised.

The most obvious change (apart from the fact that Bletchley Park itself had a stunt double) was that the number of code breakers had been condensed into five men plus one woman to represent all the personalities who worked there. Gordon Welchman wasn’t even mentioned, but you could see him portrayed in Benedict Cumberbatch and one other actor’s characters. And the timeline was changed. Plus they used the plot device of Turing, after his arrest for “indecent acts”, telling a cop what he’d done while at Bletchley when the reality was that he was still bound by the official information act and would never have spoken a word to anyone.

What annoyed me was the emphasis placed on Alan Turing’s homosexuality. Yes that was an important part of who he was, and dictated the horrible way that the state treated him after all he’d done during the war at Bletchley, but it had nothing to do with his work, his struggles to get The Bombe working, and the decisions they had to make afterwards. What intercepts did they act on and which did they ignore? They had to rely on statistics to do enough to ensure that the Allies won the war, but not so much that the Germans would realise that the Enigma code had been broken.

But it was still a good movie.

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