Last night I got back to Zulu and initial prospects of re-starting the trip seemed quite good. First of all I went to the winding hole and got round without a problem, whereas last week this would have been virtually impossible with the ice. There was in fact no floating ice below Big Lock either, but the towpaths were virtually unusable with a highly polished ice rink standard surface.
Due to difficulties booking Harecastle Tunnel until the office reopens on 4th January, the first realistic booking I could have made would be 6th Jan, so reluctantly I decided to head down the Shroppie instead, even though this adds more than 20 miles to the journey. It also opens up the option of going through Wolverhampton and Birmingham instead of Fradley – just think of all those extra locks – Wolverhampton 21 up, then Hatton down being just one of the options.
This morning after walking right up the Middlewich Locks I decided it was worth a try, so we set off and very slowly and carefully worked up the now fully re-opened Big Lock and then up the flight of three, where the bottom lock was the most difficult due to being unable to stand up without holding onto something along most of the lock side.
Normally when going up these very deep locks I step off the boat, boathook in hand, leaving the boat to enter the lock itself. I then pick up the front rope with the boat hook and use it to pull the boat all the way in, which avoids having to use the ladder, which on icy days like today is an absolute no go.
The sixth lock, Stanthorne, was a real problem as there was so much ice in the lock that I couldn’t even get in with the engine, let alone with a rope. Stuck solid and wondering what to do next, I reversed back to the lock landing and was very grateful for the appearance of another boat which came down the lock and flushed a lot of ice out, while also offering to work me up the lock. Thanks again if that was you!
The ice was actually a lot worse than I had hoped, with long stretches of thick soupy ice blocks rather than fresh ice to break, but still quite hard going in places. Particularly thick between Church Minshull and Barbridge. The weather was alternately bright but freezing cold, and rain/sleet/wind while also being freezing cold.
Nevertheless I made quite decent progress and am writing this at Barbridge where we are ready to start heading in the right direction in the morning. Although theres still an option of going back if the weather deteriorates this could indeed be farewell Middlewich!
11 miles and 8 locks in 6 hours – not too bad considering the conditions.