Three days on a southbound heading

Rufford to Pennington Flash: 19¼ miles, 15 locks, 3 swing bridges, 1 lift bridge

The time at Rufford was over. No more delicious meals in the marina brasserie. No more time to wander through the churchyard   or around the marina grounds. No more unlocking and re-locking the padlock that keeps each mooring jetty secure. No more trundling of goods in a wheelbarrow from car boot to the boat. St Mary’s has been a superb marina in a delightful location – but it was good to finally escape that sandwich filling sensation of being squashed between other boats. 

The Tentatrice and Cleddau crews plan to travel together: working wide locks as a solo boat can require tough physical work. Locks on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal and on the Rufford Arm are all of the wide dimension.

On Monday morning off the Tentatrice First Mate set to prepare the first lock (located about a hundred metres from the marina entrance). Cleddau was wiggled away from her pontoon (forward, forward, back a bit, forward, back a bit more, swing to the right, straighten up, then a turn to the left) to reach the marina exit. Then there was another tight turn to the right (wiggle, wiggle, the canal is narrow here, back a bit, swing to the right) and proceed along the Rufford Arm..

Ahead was the first lock (lock 7) of the uphill climb – and just entering the lock was a widebeam boat.  “This is a Viking boat and we are Vikings. We are Swedish,” said the lock side crew member. It was a Viking (manufactured) boat without a team of rowers or a dominant high rising prow. It was a modern liveaboard boat on which the owners live for six months, spending the other half of the year in Sweden.


The climb up the Rufford Arm was slow, strength and dexterity tested by unusual paddles that need winding horizontally  and cloughs that needed pulling upwards from the lock entry.

It’s the height of summer: harvest was well under way,   fields showed healthy growth  and bright swathes of colour swirled beyond the offside hedge.  Up the boat pair climbed, untroubled by the strong crosswinds that had made the downward trip so challenging.

Three locks from the top fishermen made access to the locks tricky. At Lock 2 a volunteer lockkeeper gave advice about the shallow pound ahead.     As the final lock was opened Tentatrice crept forward first. “I’ll test the mud for Cleddau then,” her Captain called back nobly.

“Keep to the middle, where it’s deepest,” advised Cleddau’s Captain from the canal side.

Up then, through the last lock, two hoots made to indicate a left turn at the Junction    – and the boats were back on the main Leeds and Liverpool line.

The second attempt at an overnight mooring (this was Monday night) was more successful than the first – who would have wanted to spend the last few daylight hours next to a now closed down pub (the Ring O’ Bells), an over full dog waste bin – and a wasps’ nest…

Day 2:  This was the plan – 2 locks, 2 swing bridges, a brief stop in Parbold, 7 miles in total – what could go wrong?

It started well, cruising along in open countryside, passing through Spencer’s Swing Bridge, seeing hills in the distance, horses in fields,  a neo-classical temple in a garden, a pretty row of cottages.

At Parbold there were missions to accomplish: downhill from the canal bridge for the Captain to source celery and a newspaper, but over the bridge for Boatwif and the Tentatrice First Mate. It’s becoming a rule for Boatwif: Do not pass through Parbold without dropping into the Mill House Gallery    . The large charming animal prints  and impressive seascapes are displayed attractively in rooms of the Old Mill House and also in the circular spaces of the windmill’s tower.  Any temptations for a big spend were resisted, however, with just a few greetings cards bought…

Onward, past wharf-side building and waterside gardens; past a pick your herbs free point. 

The canal snakes along the Douglas Valley, a beautiful route, the hills greying out in the mizzly rain. Then came Appley Lock, the big one… Here one deep lock has been created, bypassing two disused locks. Driving a boat into its empty cavernous chamber can strike a chill in the heart of anyone at the helm! Twelve feet of water are needed to bring a boat up to the next level…  Within cycling distance of Wigan now, Appley and subsequent locks have fiddly anti-vandal mechanisms to be coped with, as well as hefty gates and gate paddles that require stamina to contend with the low gearing.

Onwards, through Finch Mill Swing Bridge, through stretches of woodland, then open views across the valley bottom.   Then there was Dean Lock, just below a railway line and under the M6’s shadow. Soaked now, there was still half a mile to go to reach  the quiet village of Crooke. The morning’s faint mizzle had upgraded itself to an un-forecast steady downpour. WET! WET! WET!

Day 3: What joy to get through Wednesday without a call for waterproofs! Up four locks on the western side of Wigan, a right turn then onto the Leeds and Liverpool Leigh Branch and down two more locks.

East of Crooke the scene soon takes on a more urban flavour: canal side factories,  the DW Stadium, (described on its website as “A Venue for All Seasons”)  and very soon the distinctive architecture of Wigan Pier. Efforts to revive this area had been partially successful but the 2008 financial crash had a severe impact on this post-industrial area. . Past the Dry Dock,  up through Henhurst Lock, then right at the unmarked junction to the two Poolstock Locks. The lock gear is pretty serious here…    

There was a sense of triumph, even jubilation as the last lock was completed. 6 locks and 3½ miles without a single drop of rain!

From Poolstock locks onwards the canal is deep and wide. Subsidence from old coal workings has caused shallow flashes on either side. Wilderness is engulfing the area and the canal sides now. On and on, for 5 more miles, the mass of green colouring  punctuated by wild daisies, clover,  apples…  There’s an old lock chamber at Dover, the bollards painted as toadstools. A tiny boat was adrift nearby…

Then, suddenly, modern life appears. Plank Lane Lift Bridge is electrically operated but closed to boat movements during peak road traffic periods. Three years ago there was just the bare bones of a marina here, it was a watery space with some empty pontoons.  Nothing else. Now the marina has plenty of boats,  the housing around it is occupied and the neighbourhood is growing fast…

A few hundred yards further on is Pennington Flash, the target for the day and a perfect place for an overnight mooring, especially when there are ready made seats overlooking a wide expanse of water.  

Next: Smoothly onto the Bridgewater Canal

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