Friday, 18 June 2021

Bristol, housesitting and days out

On the Cheddar Gorge cliff walk

It seemed a long journey from Lymm to mum’s but wasn’t too bad. We did it in the two hours I’d allotted, two hours to clean and tidy, two hours Lymm to Alvechurch, two hours with mum, two hours to Bev and Iain’s. We got here at 4.05pm having been up at 8am as we were expecting a delivery, so pretty good going really!

It was lovely to be back, the cats were very welcoming and seemed to still know us after nearly 2 years. Mr. Pickles has aged, he’s 20+ and has lost weight. He still jumps and eats though, mostly human food, given the option. As Bev said, he’s gone from not being bothered to having no boundaries about food or the table! He also seems to have gone deaf, but still has great cattitude.

Mr Pickles did want to join in with our mussels and prawn dinner. Not sure where Jackie's going to sit! He did have a few prawn tails and mussel bits which he thoroughly enjoyed!

Outside the ruined St. Peters church, Bristol

We went into Bristol on Tuesday, the bus is so convenient, and the power was going to be off all morning. Yummy food at St. Nicholas market, plus I bought shoes (at last) and Brian had a chat with Trailfinders about India. Not for the near future, but it’s a big place we’ve not been to, Brian has always been keen, and I’ve always not been!

Cheddar Gorge on Wednesday, a really hot day, so not necessarily the best thing, but neither of us had ever been. It was a lovely walk, not long, but up, to get above the Gorge on the south side, down, cross the Gorge and up to walk back on the north side. Still, we felt we’d earned our cream tea!

The route of the cliff-top walk at Cheddar Gorge. It's Britain's largest gorge, formed (it is believed) at the end of the last ice age by torrents of water from melting glaciers. A road runs through the bottom now, but it doesn't detract from the fabulous scenery. From the top it's possible to look right down into the gorge and an amazing panorama of surrounding countryside. It's not a particularly long walk, took us just over two hours to complete the whole route starting and finishing in the village of Cheddar, but well worth the effort. It really is Britain at it's best!

Looking down to the road far below

Thursday the forecast wasn’t so good, so we thought we’d go and look at the SS Great Britain, having checked that we really didn’t go last time we were here. We really hadn’t, so we did. It was well worth the trip and the £18 each. The ship was scuttled in the ‘70’s off the Falkland Islands, so getting it back here, let alone restoring it was a huge task which they’ve done really really well. It’ll never be seaworthy again, but just preventing further breakdown is a challenge. Below the ‘waterline’ a sheet of Perspex with a thin layer of water on, internally and externally, they have two dehumidifiers working constantly drying and warming the air. The cost of that alone must be scary. The volunteers and staff all seemed to thoroughly enjoy their jobs and to be very knowledgeable, which all made for a great visit.

Today we’ve pottered as again the forecast wasn’t great. Bev and Iain are due back from Cornwall at some point, so we are really looking forward to catching up before heading back to The Midlands sometime over the weekend.


Down there is the twisting road snaking through the gorge. The cliffs are home to many nesting birds, including rare Peregrine Falcons and, during nesting times (April to August) many areas are off limits to rock climbers. We have never climbed here as it's a bit to difficult for us (minimum E1 grade I believe), but it is a very popular area for climbing

We stopped and chatted with many people on this walk, it was a lovely, sunny day with almost no wind, almost too hot really and here a very nice couple took our photo. The round lake in the distance is Cheddar reservoir

We didn't know the two girls throwing their arms in the air, but we shouted what a great picture it made so they obliged (Jackie wouldn't walk back there to pose!)

We even saw some mountain goats

This is round on the North side now and here Jackie is admiring the cliffs on the South side. You can just see people on the top on the other side. That's where the photo of the two of us and of the two girls was taken

We reckoned we'd earned the cream tea afterwards in Cheddar village

We had a bit of rain overnight and here Mr. Pickles is licking the water from the hot tub pump

I was going to delete this photo of Milly cat, but then I thought 'no', actually I think it's a great photo

This is timid little Tinsel cat with her funny eye.. She's a sweet little thing

Mr. Pickles on the hot tub cover

The SS Great Britain in the dry dock at Bristol in which it was originally built in 1843. It was designed and built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and was the first iron ship and also the first to be driven by a screw propeller, both inventions by Brunel. At the time is was the biggest liner in the world and carried people to and from Bristol to New York, then to carry emigrants to Australia. Converted to sail only in 1881 it was badly damaged in a storm trying to round Cape Horn and limped back to the Falkland Islands where it was retired. It was used as a floating warehouse, quarantine ship and coal hulk until finally being scuttled in 1937, where it lay rusting on a beach near Port Stanly. It was finally rescued by roughly patching gaping holes in the hull, floated onto a pontoon and towed back across the Atlantic to it's original dry dock in Bristol where it is now a museum. The story of its salvage is nearly as amazing as it's life as a sea-going ship

A photo in the museum of the SS Great Britain in the Falkland Islands before its rescue

The bow in the dry dock. The 'roof' is a glass ceiling with a layer of water on the top to give the illusion of the ship floating in the dock. In fact serious corrosion was occurring to the lower hull, to the extent that it had to be drained, sealed and air conditioning units installed to keep the humidity below 20%. Apparently at this humidity (desert conditions) corrosion almost stops. The metal ducts either side are blowing dry air constantly over the hull

The recreated screw propeller and rudder

But it'll never float again. You can see plated bolted up this side that patched together a giant crack that appeared right up the side of the hull after it had been scuttled. 

This is inside the bow and has been left as it was to show the box shape of the keel and the way Brunel designed it. The many holes show how much it had deteriorated in the Falklands. It must have been touch and go whether it was capable of being salvaged and towed all that way up the Atlantic

But many parts have been restored to show what life aboard would have been like...

This is the First Class dining room. Very different from the Steerage sections at the back for those with little money for a passage to the New World

And even Isambard was there for a photo!

Mr. Pickles this morning at breakfast. He figured something must to to his liking, little did he know it was just a grape on the spoon!


Sunday, 13 June 2021

Housesitting in Cheshire

An animation of the Anderton Boat lift in action

We had to travel from Ashbourne to Lymm, it seemed daft to go back to Alvechurch, so we’d booked a pub stopover. Not a bad journey cross country, so we were going to be at the pub before we could check in. Brian found a little detour, and it was only a little detour, to the Anderton Boat lift, we knew it was open at the weekend after we walked there from our campsite, in the rain, a couple of weeks ago! We arrived just in time to hear an announcement about a talk, starting now, so off we dashed. It was just us, apparently he’d gone from 16 to 2, not sure why, but definitely our gain. Really interesting and perfectly timed to watch three boats go through. Success, finally, at our third attempt, though admittedly the first was probably 20 years ago! (See Brian's list of historical engineering facts at the end!)

The nerve centre of the Anderton Boat Lift. The hydraulic rams lifting the cassions are controlled from here

View from the top of the lift showing the exit

A pleasant enough pub was our overnight (The Black Swan @ Hollins Green), except for the helicopter hovering overhead for an hour at 04.00! We’d told Julia where we were staying, fortunately, as she’d made the comment we needed 12p for the toll bridge (The Warburton Toll Bridge)! Deciding we could afford 12p I allowed tolls on the Sat Nav. This took us from 9.1 miles and 20 minutes to 2.7 miles and 8 minutes! For 12p it would have been so easy to miss.




Our nights stay at the Black Swan in Hollins Green, just north of Lymm

Good local ales in the pub!

We arrived, on the edge of Lymm, to meet Julia and Adam, old Kitty cat, and the four hens, Chick, Bobbit and Thelma and Louise. The house is full of flowers as they were only two days married, so we’ve really enjoyed them. Kitty is gorgeous but a bit creaky. She is on gabapentine twice a day, and walks in a strangely jerky, clockwork fashion. Poor old thing, she does make us smile. The hens have a lovely house, but like nothing more than to come out and amble round the garden. Given the chance they’d like to amble round the house too! They hate other birds in the garden and rush at them, or do they think they are eating something exciting? I don’t know.

A houseful of wedding flowers!

Sweet, but old, Kitty cat

We’ve done a few walks from the house, it’s ideally situated between an old railway track, and the canal, to get into Lymm, a very pleasant village, with a very yummy Thai restaurant, (amongst other things). We walked down the canal to look at the Manchester ship canal and under the Thelwall viaduct. Very loud with the M6 going overhead!






And four hens to look after

Lymm, a very pleasant town

We then had to go to Barton Swing Aqueduct. The only one of its kind in the world. Brian seems to have gone from trig points to canal engineering, in the blink of an eye. This is an aqueduct, carrying the canal, that swings, full of water allowing big ships to move down the Manchester ship canal, there is also a swing road bridge. No sign of any movement though. This was right by the Trafford Centre, a shopping centre I guessed. Free parking and time for lunch, we stopped in. Not being great shoppers we didn’t buy anything, but as shopping centres go it was quite an experience. Not to mention we really enjoyed our fast food curry.

Our walk along the old Warrington to Stockport railway line, now a cycle and walk way and round the lakes of the Meadow View Fisheries

Then on to the Manchester Ship Canal

We didn’t do so well with our trip to Salford Quays and MediaCity. We went yesterday and although very pleasant it wasn’t buzzing and vibrant as we expected. It was interesting to walk round the Lowry though and see the “Matchstalk cats and dogs” for real. I’m not a great one for art, but I did enjoy this visit.

And under the two  mighty bridges of the Thelwall Viaduct, one engineering marvel carrying the M6 motorway across an earlier engineering marvel, The Manchester Ship Canal. British engineering at its best (bit noisy though)! See my list of interesting engineering facts below

The Barton Swing Aqueduct - unique in the world!

We spent Friday morning at the local bird of prey rescue centre. We’d forgotten that the cleaners came on a Friday morning so legged it out of the house without even any breakfast. Although it’s sad to see big birds of prey in any cage, these were so well looked after and both owners and volunteers were really enthusiastic and full of information. Apparently there is no regulation on buying birds of prey and since Harry Potter, there have been so many barn owls needing care they are really struggling.

Today we had a little trip to Bolton, though we could have been anywhere, where we actually were was Brian’s eldest granddaughter Abbie, and her boyfriend Alex’s, place. It was lovely to see them, and one of their cats and have a nosy around their first home.

Close up of the central ring gear that turns the bridge. Beneath you might just be able to see the giant roller bearings that support the entire 800 tonne bridge

Tomorrow we leave here and go to Bev and Iain, our friends near Bristol and their three cats (4 last time we were there, RIP Shadow). A stop off at mum’s for shopping, lunch or both, it’ll be all go!

A bridge from a bridge! We're on the Barton road swing viaduct and beyond is the swing aqueduct. The brick building between is the control room. The building and bridges stand on a man made island in the middle of the canal and both bridges swing sideways onto the island to open both sides of the canal to big ships 

The Bridgewater canal as it passes through the swing aqueduct over the Manchester Ship Canal below. We think the little hut on the right operates a swing lock that seals the water on the bridge, another lock on the left (yellow railings) swings out to seal the canal water. One both ends. They do this a good half hour before a ship is due, so queue's on the road bridge can really build up

A small part of the Trafford Centre, an amazing building and a very pleasant experience to visit

The grand staircase in the Great Hall of the Trafford Centre

MediaCityUK in Salford dock area of Old Trafford, Manchester. The Studios is where the UK soap Coronation Street is filmed

But it's also a major BBC and ITV site

Although Kitty cat doesn't seem very impressed!

So here's some interesting facts about the engineering achievements we've seen in and around Lymm and Manchester (in date order):

1. The year 1761: Through Lymm runs the Bridgewater Canal on its way from Runcorn (at one point running from the Irish Sea via the Mersey Estuary) to Manchester. It first opened in 1761 and was Britain's first canal built without following an existing watercourse, becoming the model on which all other canals followed. Named after the Duke of Bridgewater, it is 39 miles long and was originally built to carry coal from the Dukes mines into the industrial areas of Manchester. Following it's completion and opening to the Irish Sea it was used to export goods from Manchester around the world, before the Manchester Ship Canal was opened. Originally a stone aqueduct carried the  canal over the River Irwell, itself an engineering masterpiece, but this was demolished when the Manchester Ship Canal was built and replaced with the Barton Swing Aqueduct. In 1885 the canal was brought by the Manchester Ship Canal Co for £1,710,000. In 1975 a major leak occurred at an aqueduct over a river at Bollin, gushing water into the river below causing water levels in Manchester to drop by 14". Closure of the canal was considered, but eventually it was repaired for £250,000

2. The year 1854: Also running through Lymm was the Warrington to Stockport railway. It too had some modifications when the Manchester Ship Canal was built, being diverted over the Latchford Viaduct. The railway was closed tom passenger trains in 1962 and finally to freight in 1985 after the Latchford Viaduct was found to need major repairs, making it unviable. The track was removed and the route is now a cycleway. The Latchford Viaduct still crossed the canal, but is closed

3. The year 1894: The Manchester Ship Canal opens. It's 36 miles long and connects the Irish Sea to Manchester via the Mersey Estuary. Although freight could be carried from Manchester along both the Bridgewater Canal and the railways it still had to be unloaded from ocean going ships at Liverpool and reloaded onto barges and trains. High costs imposed by the Port of Liverpool forced businessmen to finance the building of the canal as it was cheaper to use the Port of Hull on the other side of the country. Against fierce opposition it eventually was passed by Parliament and built, roughly following the Mersey and Irwell watercourses and with locks to raise ships 60feet to the level of Manchester. It allowed ocean going ships to sail directly into Manchester, 40 miles inland, making it the third busiest Port in the UK. It cost £15m, more than twice it's original £7m estimate, a familiar story even today! The main exports from Manchester were in the cotton and textile industries and, here is another interesting fact: When we were in New Zealand, 9 years ago we were puzzled when watching adverts on TV that referred to Manchester. 'Buy your Manchester here'. 'Best prices and quality, come here for all your Manchester'. We could see pictures of home department stores with beds and furniture. It turns out that Manchester is a general term for home furnishings, bedding, sheets and all cotton textiles. I think they use the term in Australia too and people seemed bemused when we asked what it was. It's Manchester, they said, you know, sheets and blankets. A tribute to the strength of exports from here to around the world, aided in many ways to the Manchester Ship Canal  

4. The year 1893: The Barton Swing Aqueduct. The Chief Engineer was Edward Williams, who also built the Anderton Boat  Lift. The only swing aqueduct in the world. It is 250ft long, 17ft wide, 7ft deep and weighs 800 tonnes. It is still working (although only occasionally) 128 years later. The Barton stone aqueduct, itself an engineering marvel of the 18th century was demolished to make way. The new swing aqueduct was built alongside the still operating stone bridge and was so close, the swing bridge couldn't be operated until the stone bridge was removed. But so confident was Edward Williams that he pressed on with the built sure it would work

5. The year 1875: The Anderton Boat Lift. The same engineer, Edward Williams went on to built this lift just outside Northwich and lifts barges from the River Weaver 15.22m (50feet) up onto the Mersey to Trent Canal. It originally had two hydraulic, water filled rams to lift the two cassions, driven by steam engines using water from the river. By 1900 the rams were very corroded and major repairs were needed so, in 1908 a major refurbishment removed the hydraulic rams and replaced them with an overhead, electrically driven pulley and counterweight system. It operated this way until major corrosion to the structure was found in 1983 and it was closed. There it rotted quietly until funds of £7m were raised to refurbish it in 2001. It is now driven by two oil hydraulic rams, similar to the original design, but the overhead pulley system has been retained, but not used. 

6. The year 1963: The Thelwall Viaduct opens carrying the M6 motorway north over both the Manchester Ship Canal and the River Mersey. It is 4,414feet long (1.345km), the longest span being over the Ship Canal at 336feet

7 The year 1995: A second Thelwall Viaduct bridge is constructed alongside the existing, with the first bridge modified to take all northbound traffic, the new bridge taking southbound traffic. In 2018 over 167,000 vehicles a day went over the crossing