Into Chester And Everything Goes Wrong 1st 2nd February

Cheshire Cat to Tower Wharf

When the weather arrived on Thursday, with the ducks surfing the waves past Oleanna we knew we’d made the right decision to stay put. Only one boat went past us all day and Tilly became an inanimate cat, she really wasn’t enamoured with it here!

Fed up!

At 2.20pm our delivery from Sainsburys arrived with a very jolly driver, Gilly. He chatted away as we unloaded our shopping at the stern, no pressure from him ‘You take your time’. One substitute today which hadn’t been put in a substitute bag, so when I came across flaked almonds we handed them back, as I’d wanted ground. Gilly handed them back to us after scanning them, we’d get a refund and get to keep them, I suspect it takes a bit of time at the end of the day to return things to the store.

So now our stocks were replenished and we had choices of what to eat again. The wine cellar was full with cat food, cereal and some wine.

We pottered away the rest of the day. I had a go at knitting a toe up sock for the first time which was mostly successful once I’d got the gist of the pattern. I think on the second one I’ll do some slight alterations and hopefully improve the finished result.

No grinning cat here

The sun accompanied Friday morning and the wind had died down. We got ourselves ready for our finial approach into Chester. This is when we hoped that our timings would work out as I’d given our friend Sue a time we thought we’d be leaving the Cheshire Cat and when we thought we’d arrive at Northgate Staircase Locks. A message part way through the morning suggested that she’d try to meet us at the staircase as she was working her way through petty cash.

At Christleton Lock a boat was just entering the lock to come up. So I popped down to see if I could help. Having been this way only twice in our earlyish boating days we never really got the hang of how to come up these locks other than very slowly. Using a rope to hold your boat into the side and opening the same side ground paddle works a bit on some of the locks, but not all and your bow can move pretty quickly across the chamber to hit the other side. So when the chap asked for me to open the paddle slowly I did as I was asked and the boat stayed put at the side.

It soon became obvious to us that the couple must be fairly new to boating. Plenty of fenders hanging off their gunnels to get caught and drop off into locks. They thought they had got to the basin in Chester and hadn’t known about the staircase. The next locks were set in our favour, but we soon learnt to check all the paddles were fully down as Greenfield Lock was taking an age to empty. The paddle had been lowered but the last two inches, which is hard to see had been left up.

Tarvin Road LockHoole Lane LockThe buildings by the locks are lovely. The rather grand cottage by Tarvin Road Lock and the interesting buildings by Hoole Lane Lock. No donkeys though today, only duck houses on the off side.

Duckingham PalaceP1220657smThe levels are rather high at the moment, most probably due to all the rain of late. So along one stretch instead of walking I hitched a ride, saving having to paddle. A couple who had recently moved to Chester stopped by the last lock to watch, they had recently moved up from living by the Solent and knew very little about canals and narrowboats, their knowledge being about sailing boats. We both chatted away to them and suggested that they should also walk down towards the basin and visit the museum at Ellesmere Port.

Two hours to Stop and Shop

We were ahead of schedule, so we pulled into the new 2hr Stop and Shop mooring outside the new Waitrose. Here I picked up some ground almonds and stocked up on Verde Lasagne (my favourite which is hard to find anywhere else). Then we were back on our way. There was plenty of space along this stretch where we could moor, but the number of bars here would make for a noisy weekend.

Deep cutting through the stone

The canal bends round and follows the line of the City Walls which sit high above whilst you travel through a deep sheer sided cutting through stone. Then up ahead the staircase.

The top and bottom chambers were full, the middle one empty. So I set about emptying the bottom one whilst Mick brought Oleanna into the top. We disposed of rubbish at the bins here which stalled our descent long enough for Sue to arrive. Sue is a keen sailor back in Scarborough, but also didn’t understand the mechanics of locks, never having to use them. Once the principle was explained it all made sense.

Northgate Staircase

Slowly we worked our way down the three chambers. This time I made sure everything had been set correctly before we started and kept a close eye on proceedings, whilst chatting to Sue. The last time we were here a paddle had been left slightly up on the bottom chamber which hadn’t been spotted by us or our fellow locking partners, more water had to be let down, conversations were too interesting, too much water was let down and we had to wait a long time for levels to equalise! Basically we’d messed it up, got everything wrong! But today all was fine and Sue had just enough time to hop on the back of Oleanna to travel round into the basin with us before having to return to her paperwork.

A rare photo of meFrom the middle to the bottom chambers

We’d heard a week ago that down here was rather full, but as we rounded the bend there were only two boats, plenty of space. So we pulled up on the nearest mooring to the water point. Shame we’d not thought to put a load of washing on earlier in the day as it would have had a good go at drying on the whirligig this afternoon. It’s changed a lot since we were here in 2011, I’ll see if I can find some photos.

Sue and Pip

Please can we go back to Welsh Wales! It was good there. Everywhere in this Chester outside is boring. This one doesn’t even have any trees, just a stupid woman who fed the flying rats right by our boat. You would have thought having all those birds about Tilly would be engrossed, but around a hundred pairs of flapping wings were really quite scary.

Lit up to show the building offStoryhouse conversion of the OdeonThis evening we went along to the Storyhouse. Opened last May in a converted Odeon (sounds familiar) this is a really interesting building. Here is the library, two theatre spaces, a cinema, restaurant and two bars all pretty much intermingled. The old cinema auditorium is now the foyer, library, restaurant and bar space with the original curved ceilings and new walkways added. The 800 seat theatre sits at the back of the 1930’s building in a new purpose built extension. It felt like a mix of the Lowry, HOME and Birmingham Rep and library. A very welcoming space for all, young and old, even the dressing up boxes had clothes for all sizes.

We’d come along to see The Play That Goes Wrong  that Sue is working on. She’d managed to get us two tickets for the show which is playing to sell out audiences across the country. We knew that these were restricted view seats so before making ourselves comfortable we made sure we had a look at stage right of the set so we knew what there was. The show is not High Art, but with that title you’d not expect it to be. But if you want a couple of hours laughing at the sheer slapstick farce of it all then go and see it. Winning the Best New Comedy Olivier Award in 2015 and the set won a Tony it is slick, fast paced and a reminder to any theatre professionals of all their anxiety dreams rolled into one, anything that could go wrong does time and time again!

After the show Sue met us and showed us around back stage seeing all the workings of the set as stage management tidied up. A few drinks in the pub next door with her rounded off a very good day.

The temperatures are forecast to drop in the next few days to below freezing. So we think we’ll stay put for a while by the water point instead of heading off to Ellesmere Port.

8 locks (3 a staircase), 3.24 miles, 0 donkeys, 3 boxes green lasagne, 200grams ground almonds, 1 Sue,  1 pole position mooring, 3 days of pants outsides! 2 comp tickets, 1 new theatre, 1 blank spot, 2 pink pills, 1/3 stage not visible, 1 very physical show, 1 long interval, 2 glasses wine, 1 sunny lovely day.