After the exertions of yesterday I had an early night and consequently was ready for an early start to the day's boating, untying at 07.15 on a bright, sunny morning. I was soon at Hack Green locks, the first I'd have to tackle single-handed for many months. They took me half-an-hour to negotiate, but that was largely due to having to wait for two uphill boats. When on-coming boats are just leaving a lock as you approach it speeds things up, but when they are only approaching a lock that is set for them it causes delay as it is good manners to wait. One disadvantage of single-handed boating is that if you want to eat you have to stop, so I tied up at Nantwich, finding a spot on the embankment, for breakfast. When moving the boat, I often prefer to make an early start and stop for breakfast later on when I feel ready for it. By now the cut was getting busier and as two boats came past just before I was ready to set off I arrived at Hurleston Junction at the back of this queue
There was also a fourth and a fifth boat in front occupying the lock landing for Hurleston bottom lock and all of them, thankfully, were heading up towards Llangollen so as soon as this became clear I could overtake them and carry on to Barbridge Junction.
Here, the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union leaves the main line and heads east towards Middlewich, where it joins the Trent and Mersey. The locks on this line have something of a reputation for congestion, probably due to their depth - they are about twice as deep as the average lock elsewhere and consequently take longer to empty and fill, although the fact that the branch is part of several popular cruising routes such as Llangollen and the so-called Four Counties Ring (which only traverses three counties) doesn't exactly help. True to form, at the first lock, Cholmondeston, I became the fifth boat in the queue, leaving the bottom an hour-and-a-quarter after arriving at the top.
Although such hold-ups can be irritating if you are in a hurry, if you're not - and particularly if you are on your own - they do have advantages such as the opportunity for a rest, to make and eat your lunch and enjoy some social contact with other boaters. There was a similar queue at Minshull lock and I received some advice from an oncoming steerer that Middlewich was "choc-a-bloc" and space to tie up likely to be at a premium. There are some visitor moorings on the outskirts of the town and I considered stopping there, but the constant sounding of car horns as they approached the hump-back bridge nearby was driving me mad, so I jumped on my bike and went to check out Middlewich for myself. I found that there was plenty of room on the embankment just below the next lock, so I untied and moved down, finding a pleasant spot just past author and Canal Boat magazine columnist Steve Haywood's boat "Justice". It was only when I commenced to tie up that I discovered my chosen spot was less than ideal as six inches or so below the surface the towpath was rock hard meaning that I couldn't get my mooring pins in anywhere near as securely as I wanted. However, by now it was late afternoon and I decided to just make the best of it.