As complete novices, a long weekend aboard Queenie was both daunting and exciting as we arrived for our essential instruction at the Bridgewater Marina. But nerves quickly gave way to confidence and enthusiasm as we yearned to get cracking - such was Hester’s easy-to-understand boating lesson. In fact, she stayed on board through to Worsley village to ensure that all was well and that we didn’t harbour any doubts or concerns. And then she was gone, peddling furiously home on her handy fold-away bike that had been stowed on the boat.
It was a late start, so our Friday afternoon in mid-September was spent getting familiar with canal etiquette and Queenie’s straight-forward controls. We pootled over the Manchester Ship Canal (an amazing sensation, suspended above such a vast stretch of industrial heritage), caught a glimpse of the sprawling Trafford Centre and then waved and called out to various commuters along the Stretford banks.
Light was fading so we moored by The King’s Ransom pub by Sale bridge, post-work pub banter already filling the early evening air. Office blocks and city apartments rose high into the night sky, but don’t be afraid of such berths. One resident called out a welcome as we drove home the metal stakes to make safe the ropes for our first stop-over.
We had wondered if late night revellers would have disturbed our sleep, but these days most seem to respect the privacy of boaters. You’ll find most folk incredibly friendly, but take Hester’s advice about the best places to stop off. We hardly heard a peep and awoke only to Saturday morning stall holders throwing open their doors, and as we took a short walk up and over the canal bridge it was straight onto Sale high street. It was that close; coffee shops and restaurants already filling the air with delicious aromas.
This was our first full day, so with a good caffeine top-up enjoyed we hit the waterways once more. Past handy stop-offs for fuel, water and other supplies, alongside canal maintenance barges and cruising clubs that were tending their vessels. There was even early-morning rowing (of the Olympic kind); crews of two and four burning calories as though their lives depended upon it. We sat by the tiller watching the weekend world go by, cup of tea and croissant prepared in Queenie’s ample kitchen. There was so much to admire, especially Altrincham’s buildings old and new that made you gasp. Gleaming steel and glass offices sat side-by-side the sumptuous red-brick warehouses of yesteryear, while factories towered over towpaths that have seen hard-working horses replaced by joggers.
Then our first drama; another barge on the horizon, a narrow bridge and a gaggle of kids out enjoying a canoe lesson. The youngsters had two and three of their craft lashed together to avoid capsizing. They splashed and paddled but suddenly froze. Luckily, with Queenie put swiftly into reverse, danger was averted. We felt like old hands, wizened sea dogs in charge of the waves. The barges slipped past each other with a knowing nod, and everyone resumed life at four miles per hour or less.
Our destination was the picturesque village of Lymm, which is a must. We moored just before he bridge on the aptly named Canal Bank, on the edge of the village, and walked perhaps three minutes past several pubs, cafes and shops before the rest of the high street opens up around a quaint square. We choose the Golden Fleece to lunch with a friend, beer garden basked in sunshine as we enjoyed real ale and delicious food. The outdoor seating is nestled alongside the canal towpath, with boaters, walkers and cyclists all exchanging pleasantries (and on that note, the boating community is a delight). Later, my mate’s young son fancied a quick trip on Queenie, so we eased down through the village and made use of the first turning circle to attempt a full turn. We survived and impressed all with our throttle work, said our goodbyes, and then headed back looking for somewhere to moor up on the Saturday evening.
Earlier that day we’d noticed Ye Old No. 3 pub (off Lymm Road) and decided to make that our resting point after an hour of picture-postcard countryside. We tied up, just down from the water refuelling point, and a quick pint was taken inside the wooden-beamed pub before we chanced upon a wonderful guy known as “Parrot” Pete (for obvious reasons, although his bird was not perched on his shoulder that evening). He offered advice aplenty and suggested the perfect spot to moor up on Sunday. We finished the day with glasses of wine sat on deck, acknowledging the late travellers who were still enjoying the barmy weather.
Sunday morning was perfect. We’d planned a chilled out day in advance, but with the bedroom door flung wide open we sipped coffee as early-morning mist drifted by, birds sang and a nearby church sounded bells to attract worshipers. The sun flooded in and it was a huge effort hauling ourselves out of Queenie’s sumptuous double bed. So when we finally kick-started the engine, it was just a short hop, through the “narrows” and a handy mooring near to Dunham Massey.
As we tied up we noticed the “Artistic Afloat” barge, a floating gallery showcasing and selling prints done by kids and adults on the autistic spectrum. It was stunning art, and I couldn’t resist buying one to hang at home as a reminder of our fabulous trip. Just ten minutes away was the Dunham country house run by English Heritage; gardens, picnic areas, interactive experiences, a café and shop were all on hand, plus other walking if you fancied venturing further afield. We craved lunch, and Pete’s advice to visit The Vine was spot on. Great food, warm and welcoming staff, and a pint of Sam Smith’s ale for less than £2 a pint. Perfect. We were back on board doing nothing but relax to music by 4pm. The rest of the day slipped by, and with scrabble and nibbles filling our evening as the sun set on the perfect lazy Sunday.
Thankfully, we’d both booked Monday off work. We had to deliver Queenie back to the marina by early afternoon, so we knew an early start was required. It was raining, the first of our mini-break. So jackets and hoods replaced t-shirts and shorts as we took the five-hour journey to retrace our steps, skirting around the Manchester suburbs. With everything in reverse order, you notice so many new wonderful things. The incredible variety of housing that borders the water, craft in varying states of (dis)repair, gardens atop boats, fancy viewing platforms at the bottom of gardens, and of course the crazy juxtaposition of roads, tram lines and waterway all carrying passengers two and from the city and country.
We made great time as the heavens tested us with a steady downpour and by later morning pulled up in Worsley. Handy mooring rings off a safe berth near to several delightful cafes, and we warmed up with tea and scrambled eggs in the Secret Garden no more than fifty yards from the boat. We pulled back into Bridgewater Marina on time, but with a bump. I made perhaps my worse manoeuvre of the weekend, almost end on as we nudged against the jetty. But Hester was on hand to haul us into position, no criticism just a huge smile. I rarely give 10/10 for holidays, but our short weekend boating aboard Queenie was nothing short of perfect.
Jules Hornbrook / Karen Bingham