“Saving the best canal for last?”
Ruth and I were looking forward to our first ever cruise on the Lancaster Canal, neither of us having ever done it before. The three 4C’s boats left behind in Liverpool – Peru, NowThen, and Unique – were all heading across the Ribble link. Peru and NowThen on the same date, and Unique a couple of weeks later.
This report is the tale of the adventures of Peru & NowThen – sharing the journey with Mel & Chris who were keen to return to the Lancaster for a final cruise before hanging up their windlasses. They had really enjoyed the Lancaster in 2015 having been ‘stuck’ there for several months because of a breach at the Lune aqueduct and later on the Rufford arm. It was while there in 2015 that they met up with, and joined, the 4C’s!
We had a couple of weeks to get from Liverpool to Tarleton (for the Ribble crossing & Link passage), navigation was generally uneventful apart from Ruth managing to trap a car in the barriers at Crabtree swing bridge (they were coming out of the pub and trying to ‘beat the lights’) I suggested to Ruth that she should just continue and swing the bridge with the car (a Merc) still on it, while I took a video! However consensus opinion was that it would not work because of the weight of the car, so she lifted the barriers and let them go! [W/master: Crabtree Lane bridge has been plagued with failures in Aug/Sep – anything Ruth did ??] We did however start on our programme of excursions:-
- train from Litherland to see a lovely sunset from the beach at Formby [W/master: Home of Jan & Ged from Dabbling]
- train from Burscough Bridge to Southport to sit on the promenade, in warm sunshine, and saw Elvis (yes, really!)
- train from Burscough Junction to Morecambe for the kite festival (it was windy and cold!).
We stopped over for a couple of nights (£10/night) at Fettlers Wharf Marina at Rufford and filled with water, and diesel (89p/litre), ready to cross onto the Lancaster. There was some uncertainty about the Ribble crossing because it was quite windy around that time. We were booked on the third day of ‘up’ crossings and the first day was cancelled, on the second day eight boats went in pouring rain, and we were lucky as we went on the third day in sunshine, in a group of only three boats.
The River Douglas/Ribble crossing was much more straightforward than I was expecting. The flow didn’t seem any more than going up ‘the partings’ from Gloucester when the river is up a bit – the Ribble is just a lot wider! After getting over the Ribble there were lots of staff, and volunteers, helping on the locks so it was an easy ride up the Millenium link and onto the Lancaster canal, for our adventure to start.
We passed quite rapidly up the canal, stopping for a day or two at Bilsborrow, Garstang and Cabus Nook, where I took the opportunity to climb up a hill – the first hill easily accessible from the canal – to a Victoria monument cairn with a fabulous view over the Fylde and the Northern hills. I walked up in baking sunshine and almost got back to the boat before a massive thunderstorm started. I had to shelter under a canal bridge for about 30 minutes, and any fears that water levels might be too low for cruising down the Glasson arm were dissipated in that short time!
The trip down the Glasson Branch to Glasson basin was very slow. It is shallow and weedy but we got there eventually and moored up on ‘the wall’ for a couple of nights. The weather was still windy, and Glasson basin is very wide. There were white horses on the water, so it felt rather like we were living in a washing machine for two days!
Lynne & Roger on Unique had told us about a bus that runs from Lancaster to Knott End Ferry (for Fleetwood) via Glasson. So we added an excursion to our itinerary – bus to Fleetwood (for fish & chips!) and tram to Blackpool and ferry/bus back to Glasson. We survived the white knuckle bus ride through country lanes, with Sterling Moss at the wheel, caught the ferry (cash only £2 single per person) just before a tidal STOP (it’s too shallow for the ferry at low tide) had our fish and chips (very nice), caught the tram to Blackpool, and back, and first ferry after the tidal STOP and bus back to Glasson (with a more careful driver!).
We came back up the Glasson Branch slowly (still shallow and weedy) and moored at Galgate, just after turning left at the junction. They are good moorings and it is an easy bus ride into Lancaster from there so we headed off, by bus, to check out the moorings in Lancaster.
We arrived in Lancaster and were fortunate enough to get both Peru & NowThen moored on 7 day moorings (most of the moorings are 2 day, but there is 7 day mooring for about 4 narrowboats just before the Water Witch pub), unfortunately the weather was a bit limiting at that time so we moved on to Hest Bank, Carnforth & Tewitfield (the Northern terminus of the canal) before returning to Lancaster when the weather picked up. The Northern reaches are nice but the real interest for us lay in Lancaster’s fantastic transport links to the Lake District and North Yorkshire and we were lucky enough to get back on the 7 day moorings (and later the towpath moorings, with ‘Armco’ piling to tie to, at Aldcliffe Road, just South of the city moorings, where you can stay 14 days, but the moorings are very shallow. Most boats are about a foot from the side).
The excursions we did were:-
- bus to Windermere, bus to Ullswater, ‘steamer cruise’ all along the lake
- bus to Ambleside, ‘steamer cruise’ all around the lake (Mel & Chris also did the steam train return journey from Lakeside to Haverthwaite)
- train (or bus) to Morecambe
- bus to Ambleside, open top bus to Grasmere
- bus to Ingleton for the (fabulous) waterfalls trail
- bus to Windermere, bus to Dungeon Ghyll, walk down Langdale to Grasmere, bus back from there
- train to Penrith, bus to Keswick, ‘launch’ cruise around Derwentwater, bus back from Keswick
- train to Ravenglass, narrow-gauge steam train trip
Our return trip over the Ribble crossing was, once again, at a time of quite high wind forecasts. The day before our crossing was cancelled because of storm ‘Betty’, but we were lucky because the wind dropped for a day and seven boats, including four from the previous day, had an easy crossing on a sunny day. The following day five more boats, including Lynne & Roger on Unique crossed, in a much stronger wind, and had a bumpy ride!
The highlight of the trip was when one of the seven boats crossing (not a 4C’s member!), messed up at the Asland lamp. It was a lady single-handing who came out, rather slowly, and last, from Savick Brook and proceeded to ‘gun it’ and overtook (on the ‘wrong’ side) all but one of the other boats (which had disappeared into the far distance by the time we got to the turning point at the marker post). With no one to follow, and possibly poor eyesight, she turned 90°, instead of 135°, and headed up a tidal creek for about 100 yards, instead of onto the River Douglas! Fortunately she managed to reverse out again before the tide had fallen too much, so she did not get stuck on a mud bank, but she did arrive at Tarleton lock (off the tide) some time after all the other boats!
The lowlight of the crossing was that we got stuck at Tarleton for four days, along with all of the 12 boats who crossed in the two days, because of a willow tree that had fallen, and blocked the canal during storm ‘Betty’ the day before we crossed. Tarleton is not a bad place to get stuck, hairdresser, shops, take-aways, restaurants, deli, butcher etc. It was suggested that we should organise an impromptu ‘festival’ like we did at St. John’s, Woking, last year, but we had to head off for a couple of days at home instead.
So, did we leave the best canal to last? – The answer is YES! The canal itself is different from any other canal that we have done. It is quiet with only a limited number of ‘passing’ boats (most are hire boats) as only a few can cross the Ribble link each season, and local boats don’t seem to venture away from their marina very much. No-one is in a great hurry to do a ‘ring’ or suchlike, it is rural but passes through nice towns (Lancaster and Garstang in particular), Glasson basin is a unique canal feature. The really outstanding thing, in our opinion though, is that the canal gives great access to interesting and lovely places through the transport links from Lancaster and Carnforth (but to a much lesser extent).
If anyone has any questions, or comments, please feel free to put something on the 4C’s WhatsApp group chat.
Report and images by Peter Powell – nb Peru