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A 60s day through Northgate Staircase

Flower Power rules!

View Life in the Slow Lane - Canal Barging with Lyn and Chris 2015 on Grete Howard's travel map.

This is the third year we have shared a narrow boat holiday with our friends Lyn and Chris; and dressing up for a day has now become a ritual. The first year we were pirates, last year we dressed as sailors and this year we chose a 1960s hippy theme.


Clothes, wigs, 60s music and posters on the side of the boat – there was no doubt to passing boats and pedestrians that we were having a Flower-Power sort of day as we went about our daily boating tasks.





On the outskirts of Chester, we encounter “The Mad Duck Woman” who is walking around with three carrier bags full of bird food which she doles out to the birds on the waterways, while talking to herself and anyone else who happens to be within earshot. She has a lot of pent up anger towards the boating community as she tells us the sad story of dubious origin about a swan which became stuck in a lock last week and got squashed between two boats and died.


Today we have another experience, where the canal goes over a the A5480 road at the Deva Aqueduct.

At Northgate Staircase, the Chester Canal goes under the railway in a series of three interconnected locks. As we approach the locks, a boat is coming out and shouts across to us: “You are lucky, you can go straight in”. Which we do, with no further ado.


Today's captain is David with Lyn and Chris operating the locks, opening the sluices to let the water out of the top lock for us to go down to the next level. Soon all hell is let loose – there is water everywhere! The middle lock is flooding, spouting out water over the pavement both sides of the locks, down the pedestrian slope and the staircase next to the locks. Chris runs over in a panic: “Dave, there is something terribly wrong...” I shout to the ground crew to close the paddle again, which they duly do. Captain David hands over the reign to Captain Chris and goes off to investigate. He figures out that we should have emptied the bottom two locks before emptying the top one into the middle and the middle lock into the bottom one. It makes perfect sense of course had we stopped to think. In our defence, the previous staircase we encountered had an escape channel to the side, so that when you empty the top lock, the middle lock just overflows naturally to the sides. Not this one, here we flooded the entire area.

The locks here are wide enough for two boats side by side, and we share it with a family of three. The mother-in-law is to one side, taking video of the lock with her iPad. She has to jump to safety as the water flows over the top on the lock gates, over the side of the lock and tries to wash her away down the stairs. We are all very concerned that had there been a frail elderly person, or a young child there, they could easily have been washed into the canal.

You can see the water on the side of the canal in the photo below, even after we lowered the level considerably. The water is still flowing over the top of the gates at this stage.


Once we have it all figured out, the descent runs smoothly and safely, and calm is restored to the boating community yet again.


The other boat – whose captain and crew were not very confident or experienced – did ask us if we would be available to help them on the way back up again on the return journey in a couple of days' time. We find out later that the flooding happens regularly - at least once a week – and no-one has ever been washed into the canal as the water is not powerful enough. Apparently it always happens when a boat comes out of the top lock at the same time as the boat travelling downstream goes straight into the lock (as we did) rather than pull up next to the huge sign with the instructions. Oh well, you live and learn.

There is absolutely nothing glamorous about sitting in the front of the barge as it goes into or out of the locks. The bottom is dark and smelly, with slippery, muddy, mouldy sides that attract molluscs which will spit dirty water at you like a fountain stream! The scenery is not that great either.

We travel past Chester itself to secure a place to moor for the night, but find it quite difficult as the aroma from a sewage farm keeps following us. Eventually we settle down for the evening and actually have a proper dinner (spaghetti bolognaise courtesy of Lyn). Although the boat is very well equipped, and has a four burner cooker, the bottled gas is extremely slow so cooking is a bit of a challenge.

Normal drinking service assumes after dinner, followed by a few card games.

Posted by Grete Howard 02:53 Archived in England

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