Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Who ate all the Pies In Wigan

We both to try to eat healthily on the boat, with lots of fruit and salads, but what with so many pubs, fish n’ chip shops and pizza places on or close to the cut, we occasionally stray from the straight and narrow. Now my particular weakness is pork pies. Before anybody starts I know they are full of rubbish but it was one of the few things I really missed when we were in New Zealand, for nobody seems to make them down under. I find this rather surprising as the Kiwis really love their pies, and my pal Vic and my good self try to outdo each other by finding the cheapest and sloppiest pie we can on our travels around NZ, and I can tell you, there’s lot to choose from.

We have been approaching “Pie Central”, aka Wigan, for a few days now, and I have been getting into the spirit, whenever we have passed local butchers offering home-made steak and pork pies. But when we reached Wigan today I was somewhat disappointed. This is the home of the “World Pie-Eating Championship” after all , but on a recky into the city centre this afternoon, only Greggs had any pies in the window. And I still have to see the narrowboat, allegedly moored near Wigan Pier, which has a hand-written sign in the window declaring “No Pies Are Left On This Boat Overnight.”

Wigan Pier hasn’t existed since the late 1920’s, some ten years before George Orwell wrote his famous book, name-checking the place. The pier was only a few yards long in its hey day, used for loading coal. I had read up the pier so wasn’t disappointed. Now, there’s just a pub called, rather obviously “The Orwell”, and opposite is a sculpture of a canal worker looking over the wall towards it. More fun, and far more entertaining was this dog, wearing sunglasses, that we met at one of the locks, below Wigan Pier.
Wigan Pier and statue

Well, he obviously thinks its sunny in Wigan!
Putting pies to one side for now, I don’t know how many people out there on the canal network are continuous cruisers like us and live on their boat for long periods of time. A couple of thousand, I reckon. But it’s amazing how often you pass boats that you know, and remember from a chance encounter at a lock, a shared overnight mooring, or from a night out in the local pub.

To this growing list we can now add “Lady Esther”, and their able crew Dave and Angela from Leicester. We moored opposite them in the delightful town of Lymm, last Thursday and Friday, and when we left, they were a couple of hundred metres in front of us. I don’t know if you were out and about last Saturday morning, but it fell down in buckets across the country and we were not immune up here in the North-West. After a couple of hours cruising, we decided to pull over, and Dave and Angela joined us for lunch in the village pub in Little Bollington for a couple of pints and a snack. But not before presenting us with these (see picture). I’m not sure what to call them. “Mooring Pin Toppers” perhaps. They look like giant condoms and are designed to make your mooring pins distinctive and visible in the dark, so un-suspecting walkers and cyclists do not stumble into them. Angela crochets them from strips of orange “Sainsbury” carrier bags (I kid you not). We currently wrap a Sainsbury’s bag around the top of each of our pins, but these are far more professional.  “Lady Esther” is arriving in Liverpool as we leave, so we hope to see them both again then. We still have a musical soiree to convene.
The busy town of Lymm. We are moored just around the corner, on the right

Our new Mooring Pin Toppers. Thanks to Sainsbury's...  and Angela on "Lady Ester"

When we left Dave & Angela on Sunday morning the swallows were soon swooping around us, catching their breakfast I guess. You can make good progress on the Bridgewater Canal. There are no locks to slow you down and a lot of the navigation is very straight. That was especially true as we approached Sale, a town I had assumed that would be very “urban”, but turned out to be very leafy, and clearly aspirational, from the house prices in the estate agents windows. After our regulation Sunday lunch in the local Wetherspoons it was on into Manchester, and a left turn, out through Trafford Park, which seems to go for ever, passing an entrance to “The Trafford Centre”, just yards from the canal towpath. Then it was time to cross over the Manchester Ship Canal, on the Barton swinging aqueduct, that occasionally opens when tall ships travel these parts. Another great piece of Victorian engineering.

The very straight Bridgewater Canal, near Sale

Who would have thought the outskirts of Manchester would look like this
Barton Swing Aquaduct over the Manchester Ship Canal. (Stock shot)
Our journey across the Swing Aquaduct

We moored up in the village of Worsley, on the western outskirts of the city. It’s a conservation area, full of period properties, and homes around here are as expensive as those in the south-east. It’s famous, and interesting to us, as the place where the Duke of Bridgewater had the entrance to his coal mine. With the help of James Brindley, they built the first of this country’s modern canals, to move the coal into Manchester and Liverpool, and started the canal revolution. We moored just yards from the mine entrance, now a small lagoon, with lily pads and resident heron, right opposite a pub/restaurant called “Georges”. The terrace on the front of the restaurant was full of diners and as we strolled past, I looked across and there was Ryan Giggs and his family, having lunch. Well, it looked just like him, but I thought it probably wasn’t, but I have since discovered he lives in the village and owns “Georges”, so it clearly was. I might have considered popping over the road and asking for a “selfie” if he had been a Fulham player.

Our mooring at Worsley. Mr Giggs and co are seated to the left of the picture
Monday we cruised into Leigh, and got very wet, again. It seems we get one nice day and then one of consistent rain. London and the South-East are getting temperatures of 23 and 24. It’s about 18 here in Wigan, and the rain is threatening again this afternoon. Ay, it’s grim up nooorth!

Tomorrow we cruise just a couple of miles to the outskirts of Wigan, to a highly-rated pub in Crooke, where the Wigan Ukulele Club meets. I found the club on-line, but going through a lock earlier today, we met the club Secretary on a boat. Haven’t played in an ensemble since Wellington in New Zealand, so looking forward to it.
And finally, no self-respecting feline can resist the allure of TCW, as this cheeky fellow shows, at Preston Brook

Toodaloo chums

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