Arrival at the National Waterways Museum

Chester to Ellesmere Port: 8.5 miles, 2 locks
            It was an extremely quiet Saturday night in Chester and only the crunch of early morning joggers and dog walkers along the gravelled towpath disturbed the crew’s slumber. 
            Prepare for take-off are words very familiar to the jet-flying and TV drama-watching public. Likewise on a boat: check water, check diesel, check oil pressure, check engine. This morning the tank dipping for diesel and the fuel consumption spreadsheet didn’t quite tally. Hence, before venturing further along unknown waters, the Captain purchased 40 litres of diesel from the boatyard opposite, wheeled the jerry cans over the lumpy surface of the pedestrian bridge over the canal and funnelled the extra precious red juice into the diesel tank.

     Then it was off along the last 8 miles or so of previously unexplored Shropshire Union Canal. Back gardens first, a college on one side then a crematorium and a golf course on the other. Pylons were apparent and the canal was passing through a broad but shallow valley.

 Before long hedging seemed to enclose the canal into its own world. Few boats were passed but a pair of cyclists on a Land’s End to John O’Groats mission pedalled by.

“It’s only ten days,” said the slower one (ten more days – or ten days total…?) From the Tower Wharf overnight mooring it took about an hour to get close (within ¼ mile) to Chester Zoo. Though famed for its elephants the only specimen seen today was one perched at the bottom of a garden.

            There were moored boats with garden sheds and piles of “just in case I need it” timber and odd beds of plants and herbs.

 Alongside there was another imaginative form of diversification, land used to store hundreds of caravans and motor homes.

           The canal crept nearer to the Mersey Estuary: under the M53, under the M56 – under the M53 again.

 A whiff of petro-chemicals came on the breeze, tall industrial chimneys hove into view,

and the Cheshire Oaks Retail Outlet Village. The green corridor had a scrubbier feel to it –and then after two last bridges

  there it was – the wide open water at the Ellesmere Port Museum.

Waterways architecture has a distinctive dark red brick look to it: there were buildings either side, parallel locks ahead, with a trip boat and a 70 foot workboat on the move.  Drilled by other boaters to ask for secure moorings Cleddau was ushered down two locks by volunteers and allocated an island… and so this is the crew’s second arrival at the Ellesmere Port Hilton Hotel in eight months! Just as on the day of the aborted Ship Canal Cruise last September a wedding was in full swing.( See here for the full story.)
           The Captain winded the boat and secured the mooring ropes to a background of applause for wedding speeches.

The dining room is opposite, the wedding cake was three tiers high – and the chefs have now finished their break before the evening’s events. After such a quiet Saturday night maybe there’ll be disco music – will the grass outside make a decent dance surface?
The view ahead across the water is of three and four storey modern buildings in canal style. Behind it is the Manchester Ship Canal – and thus afternoon there was this bizarre view…

Tomorrow we shall wander around the Museum site – there are plenty of floating and static exhibits to see. Heard from a museum visitor this afternoon:  “And I asked him in there (museum shop) where they get all this water from  – and he said Wolverhampton!” Surprise and astonishment flooded across the faces of the little group. Perhaps you have to use two feet, two wheels or a boat these days to really appreciate where there are hills… Hm, Cleddau’s journey south will be taking her uphill all the way to the back end of Wolverhampton before a right hand turn and a descent to the Severn…

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