Sunday, 26 September 2010

70 or 63 or 43...? and a last boating jaunt

Friday 24th - Saturday 25th September, 2010
Return cruise from Marineville Moorings, Higher Poynton to Bugsworth Basin, High Peak Canal, Derbyshire: 10.62 miles, 4 bridges (2 wind up, 2 swing) each way
    "Don't come in yet," said the Techno Son-in-Law to the birthday Captain just after 7 am on Friday. "She's just finishing your card." When entry to the kitchen (to boil the kettle for Boatwif's essential early morning pot of tea) was permitted a visual surprise assaulted the eyes. Bunting, balloons and a flashing badge all proclaimed a 70th birthday!
    " If I am to wear a badge," negotiated the Captain, " then I do insist on accuracy."  Techno Son-in-Law scurried away, deep into the cellar bowels, appearing soon after with a (still flashing) 63 badge, which the Captain agreed to wear.
    Thursday night had seen the final September childcare duty: the parents had returned from school full of information - PE on Mondays ("Don't send your girls in tights on Mondays"), French on Tuesdays, Show and Tell and Assembly on Wednesdays, Music on Fridays, handwriting styles, Jolly Phonics, numbers in everyday situations and there had even been school dinner tastings.
    Now we could reclaim our calendar - so why not opt for a last Cleddau cruise? Why not spend the second September birthday going up to Bugsworth?
    You don't really go "up" to Bugsworth - it just feels as if you do. From Cleddau's current mooring the route is roughly four miles north to Marple Junction, then about six in a south-easterly direction to Bugsworth and Whaley Bridge. There are no locks, so you arrive on the same level as you left. Northbound the canal weaves past several areas of moored boats and then reaches High Lane, a strip village along the A6.  Here there seem to have been many garden improvements since last we passed in April, new areas of decking, a good bungalow extension, several end of garden moorings renewed. On the canal weaves, between hedges, then breaking out to views past an old house now converted into apartments down to deer grazing below. On the outskirts of Marple the huge Goyt Mill overpowers the nearby streets and terraces.  Then you reach the end of the "Macc". A grey stop house fronts a narrowed channel, a turnover bridge is beyond. We were following one boat, another appeared at right angles at the Junction to approach us. The one ahead of us turned left, began to recede from view, then sharply bounced back - as bounced it had into the lock gates at the top of the Marple Flight. The approaching boater muttered about horns (not being used) and Americans (not understanding the rules).
    Soon we were able to make our right turn, onto the spectacular Peak Forest Canal.  It clings to the contour on the western side of the Goyt Valley. Down below are houses (some), roads (a few), a railway line, the tops of trees, fields and occasional dotted buildings. Sweeping away behind are serious hills, the hills of the Dark Peak. The towpath is frequented by walkers and cyclists, all eager to soak up the views and to enjoy the bracing air. And on Friday, the September 24th birthday, biting northerly blasts seemed a foretaste of autumn and winter. Any layers as long as they gave wind protection: on went the mountain cap, on went the gaiters... A boat was behind us; we played leapfrog at each of the wind up and swing bridges so first one operated the bridge while the other cruised past. At New Mills, still high above the valley, the air becomes dense with an almost sickeningly sweet smell and the canal passes the mill where Meltis sweets are made.  A bit further on eyes (and ears) are drawn downwards.  A huge railway viaduct crosses the valley, and trains rattle along it from Buxton to Stockport. There are heavily wooded sections, glimpses of steep paths and even ravines.  Then the eye focuses south, again broad sweeps of high ground, source of the Derbyshire limestone.
    The canal moves past pretty Furness Vale Marina, then about a half hour later comes upon the outskirts of Whaley Bridge.  Just under the modern road bridge the water widens and a signpost points left to Bugsworth Basin.
    Bugsworth Basin is a glory of the canal system: although in comparison, say, to Llangollen's Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, it's relatively little known. A huge inland port, built to tranship limestone, lime and gritstone from the high Derbyshire Peaks down to Manchester and into Lancashire, it was too heavily industrialised, dangerous and polluted a site for many records or photographs. By the 1790s 19 limekilns operated around the basin.  About four hundred boats would be used to receive and transport goods onwards. Now it is a scheduled ancient monument, a quiet place, a haven for ducks and geese.  Walls and part-walls, stone sleepers and bridges, mooring docks and archways intrigue any visitor.  The site was totally derelict for forty years but now, after wonderful restoration work the whole area is interpreted by numerous information panels and a large three dimensional model. Space for four hundred boats: on Friday night there were only seven. From here walkers can easily follow the tramway route up into the hills to the limestone quarries.
    No long walks for us this time, just an adjournment to the Navigation Inn for an evening meal.  Once owned by Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner of Coronation Street fame) now it is a friendly canal art bedecked place, popular it would seem with locals and boaters accompanied by large but docile dogs. There the Captain dutifully adorned himself with flashing badge to provide photographic evidence for the Cheshire One.
    Saturday dawned blue and dew-heavy. For the first few hours there was no or little wind. Views were even sharper and clearer than on Friday.  Our slow progress was led by the occupants of Brambling, whose very name suggests a rambling ambling sort of pace! It was a good day for day boats, although the first turned back early, thwarted by Brambling's lack of speed. The second provided two seven year old girls who flew out of their boat, elbowed the Captain out of the way and between them wound up the bridge, and then wound it down again. "We've done two other boats already," one said.  The third day boat was an altogether larger vessel, an adults only drinking party heading down the Macc from Marple.
    The bright but cold day came to an end: the boat was refueled and moored up.  The Captain, 63 and a day now, tied her up, the last jaunt over for this year. 63? But last night from Florida there was an email from the oil tycoon school friend, his birthday just a day later. "Isn't 63 the new 43?" it had optimistically said...!

Monday, 13 September 2010

Processions and parades

Monday 13th September: Kerridge to Marineville, Higher Poynton: 4.8 miles, 0 locks
    So, at about midday today Cleddau returned to Adlington and slowly cruised past her home mooring of the past two and a half years. When we had left, on June 15th, conditions were bright but blustery, today they were damp, developing to downpour!
    There was time for a little wander in Bollington this morning - at last I seem to be getting the layout of this twisty, deep small town, known locally as Happy Valley. When you drive through the roads are narrow, not straight for long, not flat for long. But from the canal the impression is very different. The streets and houses, schools and playing fields are mostly far below but the two great mills, Adelphi and Clarence, are right beside the canal and towpath. Long flights of stone steps lead up (or down) from the towpath at various points of the town. I came down from the aqueduct, a massive structure under which the large Remembrance Day procession parades each November to the War Memorial. I passed the sign indicating the walking bus crossing point and came upon the Civic Centre, above the Library, venue for the Cheshire One's Naming Ceremony four years ago, an occasion of great happiness, and drama too, when the Fire Service was called to attend and the Sea Cadets paraded by.
    Clarence Mill is on the northern end of the aqueduct, Adelphi just under a mile further south. Both now house offices, cafes, small businesses, apartments. If you know where to look and if conditions are clear right on the top of a steep hillside overlooking the town is White Nancy, a conical tower with what looks like a knob on the top, built as a summerhouse for the local Gaskell family. Walkers strive to reach it, gasp for breath on attaining it and celebrate with any form of picnic they can muster. Bollington folk are sturdy folk: each year on Christmas morning the town's brass band climbs to this point, there to play  a range of Christmas Carols.
    Back at canal level straight after Clarence Mill the scenery becomes entirely rural - and very green. Towards us this morning was coming a procession, a crocodile of walkers.
"A ladies' health walk," called the Captain. "Do you miss it?" Thirteen ladies (and one man) strode along.  "Ladies do it for the conversation," I replied. A little later a single file of sheep paraded along the offside bank, the grass coarse and tussocky. A final "procession": hire boat, second hire boat, then ourselves, making such slow progress that it was becoming difficult to steer. then a breakthrough: the hire boat in front of us slowed further, waved us on, moved a bit faster, let us pass, its helmsman muttering something about the other crew being fast asleep.
    Since June contractors have thinned and in some cases felled the overhanging trees: fungi is apparent now on the piles of newly chipped wood. Then, just before our final destination the water widens, notices warn that the depth is shallow, the result probably of mining subsidence in the late 1880s from Poynton's many coal mines.
    Then, in not untypical weather, heavy rain, we came to the Trading Post, a small canal side chandlery that sells maps and ice-cream, bottled gas and kindling. We filled the water tank. I asked for gas. Customers ahead were booking the Day Boat for a trip out. "There's no sharks or pirates on this canal...?" enquired the would-be captain. It made me laugh; it made me think: in all our watery wanderings this long summer Sharks no, but Pirates aplenty, many at Bedford River Festival and some again on the Shropshire Union just last week.
    Gas supplied, tank filled, it was time to manoevre into a new mooring. We'd have stayed aboard one last night but a rescue vehicle arrived, Ketchup the Campervan. "Come on Granny, you're sleeping at our house tonight..."
Return Trip: time taken: 37 days
Mileage: 334.14 miles
Locks: 265
Engine Running Hours: 196.3
Fuel consumption: 403 ltrs
Round Trip: total days afloat: 60
Total mileage: 641
Total locks: 405
(Information collated following crew discussion at Peterborough, 15th August, 2010)
Chief Engineer
Comms Officer
i/c Navigation and Planning
Catering Officer
Sanitary Slave
First Mate
Relief Helmsperson
i/c Daytime Catering
i/c Laundry
Lock Slave
Ship's Writer

Sunday, 12 September 2010

A bit of splash ...

Sunday 12th September: Congleton to Kerridge: 12.5 miles, 12 locks
    An 0752 start - so as to reach the bottom of Bosley Locks, to be ahead of any queues, to liaise with some extra lock-keepers available only in the morning...
    It was quiet, nothing moving, no road traffic noise, no trains (because it was Sunday?) and the birds, though awake, were still shy of making any appearance. We glided through the stone bridges, at one point almost able to reach out and touch the cows. The Cloud, this area's distinctive hilltop, was lost, shrouded in - cloud... Time to muse on previous ascents of Bosley Locks.
    Our first experience was with full fit crew, five of us. Slowly, so slowly we had wandered along from Congleton, following not two but three other boats. We'd moored up at the bottom, prepared some lunch, ambled along the towpath to see how long we'd have to wait. Tense looks on faces: the two boaters ahead were "single-handing" their craft. Ahead of them was a hire boat, new to boats, new to canals, two crew cowering in the cabin, the other two panic-stricken and bewildered.  Water supply, what to wind and when, completely outfoxed them. Out of the bottom lock they had come, swung right round to enter the next lock, turned completely and got stuck in the bushes. Long-legged Techno Son-In-Law was one of our crew: he had climbed through the trees to rescue them, taken control and got them through the next lock. Things didn't improve. British Waterways arrived to investigate unusual water demands. Staff from the hire company were summonsed to get their boat and its hapless crew to the top, and out of harm's way. Those bushes, that tree, always gets a glance as we pass.
    Then last summer another quite unexpected event: a hijack. Yes, while going about our lawful business of moving a boat up the locks a gaggle of women hijacked the boat.  They were members of a local WI, were out seeking photographic adventure for their 2010 calendar. A boat they needed, the Cloud in the background, a woman at the helm. Cleddau rose in Lock 6, women swarmed around, grabbed windlasses as props, perched on the roof, leant against the gates, all adorned in huge summer hats (and, unlike their Calendar Girls sisters, were fully clothed). A bossy individual issued orders, who was to wiggle her hips, who was to show a knee, who to pull a rope. Readers, last December a brown envelope arrived, a complimentary calendar from Timbersbrook WI, our boat (Boatwif and ladies) appearing as the September page!
    This morning a pot of tea had just been made, a necessary caffeine kick to face the locks, when we arrived at the bottom of the flight.  No other boats were awaiting an ascent so we could proceed, albeit by emptying the bottom lock. These locks are unusual in having two doors or gates at each lock end, and extra effort is required to walk around the chamber to ensure that each gate has been closed after operation. Before too long a dog walker, carrying a massive shovel in his left hand, joined us. He had taken his boat down yesterday, now the dog needed an early morning walk and so he multi-tasked: walked the dog, and with a borrowed windlass emptied four or five locks ahead for us. He turned back downhill just as a convoy of three boats approached us. At that point the first bit of splash. The up ends of the locks (as on the Caldon Canal) have ground paddles, on posts mounted behind the gates.  As a special feature they have a small pressure release cavity, so if the water flowing through is very fierce it splashes upwards - and it did, onto face, and up the right trouser leg. No matter, priority must be given to the safety of the boat, wind and time will dry one out.  A lock or so later our extra lock keepers, Daughter and the Cheshire One, arrived from the top of the flight. A similar occurrence: splash! The Daughter had gained a wet bottom. At Top Lock a downward bound boater (in leather Stetson and horizontal feather), gazed at the Cloud (now visible though much overshadowed) and pronounced the words "We'll get a bit of splash". But before that certain but torrential downpour another splash, indeed a soaking. We refilled the water tank; the Daughter turned the hosepipe off, and in so doing received a full force horizontal gush. She went home in borrowed T-shirt.
    The locks completed the boat was at its highest level, 518 feet above sea level. There was a glimpse of Jodrell Bank to the west and an angling competition near Fool's Nook. From here the canal winds on, green hills to the east, sharp slopes rising to the serious hills of the White Peak. Two swing bridges, tree-lined stretches, open pasture, but always the green. A hundred or more shades of green, for here the landscape is unremittingly, gloriously green, the result of course, of the high amount of vertical "splash" in these parts. Macclesfield Forest is a great dark blob; even above the mills of Macclesfield the hills are there, greens with occasional splashes of grey outcrop or grey stone cottages. Just occasionally an odd splash of colour appeared in garden or hedge. Beyond Macclesfield we wove our way a further three miles to Kerridge, a village separate from but joined to Bollington, the name given to three mill villages which cling together around and in a steep-sided valley.
     We moored up, ready perhaps for a late Sunday afternoon read - or snooze... Noise filled the air: was it a party for which we had no invitation? an unadvertised festival? a roadshow...? Filled with curiosity I followed the sound - and came upon the closing moments of Bollington's Local Day which blended classic vehicles, local produce (including the brewery), a fairground, birds of prey, the Lions Club - and the community radio station.
    Tomorrow we'll move further north to a temporary mooring, from where we must focus on the serious September business of childcare bookings and school meetings. Drop in for a last episode tomorrow.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

Saturday 11th September: Lock 57, Hassall Green (T&M) to Congleton (Macclesfield Canal): 12 miles, 18 locks
    "I'd like to go to America again," pronounced the Cheshire One while travelling together in the back of Ketchup (the campervan) the other day, "so I could see 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' again." Her memories of the trip out to Southern California last February to visit the cousins seemed focused on a DVD readily available in this country, one in fact that her family here possesses.
    Today nobody seemed to know what the weather was going to do, but everybody felt they would like to know! It had rained hard overnight, hence grass, towpath, lock gates, boat, cratch cover and so on were soaking wet this morning when, at 0742, the Captain cast off. I struggled into boots just as we arrived at the first lock, pushed past the soaking canvas cratch to do my duty, minus watch, minus camera, minus breakfast. Yet the morning soon sparkled, boat and surroundings dried out and we steadily worked our way up Pierpoint Locks, the two Thurlwood Locks, the Lawton Locks, Halls Lock, Church Locks and Red Bull Locks to Hardings Wood Junction. It is here that the Macclesfield peels off and crosses the Trent and Mersey on an impressive stone aqueduct. A s we climbed there were occasional glimpses of a tall and ragged structure, high on a hill above us, the folly built on the top of Mow Cop. We passed pretty lockside cottages, fields of maize on the left and on the right the huge dairy farm where once we had been told there are 500 head of cattle and milking takes eight hours every day. As the morning wore on other boats began to move. Although the locks were built as double locks for a good distance down the the canal, in some places the second lock has been filled in or is under repair. Boat queues can build up in busy times. The climb (or descent) is often referred to as Heartbreak Hill - but we are pleased to report no broken hearts here.
    About a mile after the Macclesfield Canal Junction at Hardings Wood there is one, well, baby lock: the change in water level is only about six inches but it marks the official transition between one canal's waters and the other. At this point, Hall Green Stop Lock, the approaching boater asked if I knew the weather forecast, yesterday they had stayed moored up all day rather than boat in the heavy showers.  A little further along two figures were seated on the ground, partially under a bridge, rucksack, sandwiches and thermos flask indicators of their pastime. "We're sitting like this so we can get the sun - or shelter from the rain!" one said. As we pulled in on the aqueduct overlooking the SSSI Dane-in-Shaw Pasture to moor up this afternoon another boater passed. "Isn't it lovely?" I said, referring to the expansive views in both directions. He glanced fearfully over his shoulder, then came the rueful reply: " I think I'm safe, togged up to the nines," displaying as he spoke his pale green welly boots and open waterproof jacket. A passerby on the towpath: "I'm either too hot or too wet." Such became the theme of the day. Now here we are, in sight of the Cloud, the lovely hill of over 1,000 feet, that overlooks the area north of Congleton: we've worn the sunglasses, seen the clouds, felt the rain - and even seen the rainbow... 
    A couple of mentions of Macclesfield Canal specifics: as seen on some other waterways the engineers built "roving" bridges, apparently they are known hereabouts  as "spake" bridges. Just below Mow Cop we passed a most gracious looking property, Ramsdell Hall,which overlooks fine gardens - and the canal. Below the canal is a fine rural view. Black and white railings define the towpath edge and these railings are a matter of pride and joy to the Macclesfield Canal Society. Their quarterly magazine always makes earnest reference to them, and as we passed in June a painting party was under way.
    This evening's mooring is a favourite spot: it overlooks the Biddulph Valley: we look out towards the viaduct, trains to and from Manchester periodically speed across it. Below, a long way down, winds the River Dane, cows graze peacefully across the slopes and you choose country walks according to incline, steep in the pasture, flat along the Biddulph Valley Way.
    Tomorrow we shall be closer still to Macclesfield the town - but first we must make our way up the tough but beautiful Bosley Lock flight of twelve.
    For supper tonight? we seem to have eaten the meatballs, so it's the lamb kebabs instead!

Friday, 10 September 2010

Puddles, Paddles - and Persistence

Friday, 10th September: Church Minshull Marina (near Nantwich) to Hassall Green near Sandbach (Trent & Mersey Canal): 14.75 miles, 16 locks
    In the dark hours last night my mind turned to the need to prepare a Friday Blog.  What would I call it? Back on the Cut? or maybe The Cruise Continues? The first is pretty mundane, but yes, we were back on the boat, and we would be back on the canal or "cut".  "Cruise" , on the other hand, suggests something calm, tranquil, stress-free.  I was definitely in need of "stress-free" after our return to the boat yesterday afternoon. Our road journey to the marina from Macclesfield should have taken about 50 minutes, instead it took 90. The men (the Captain and the Techno son-in-law) both had Satnavs and seemed to be competing with each other to find the fastest route, then the nearest fuel station, then the quirkiest diversion... A major incident on the M6 had brought all of central and south Cheshire to a standstill - even a boat would have been moving faster than a car. In the back of Ketchup (see photo) the Cheshire One added her noise by singing along to rather loud music - but eventually we, and our groceries for the next few days, were safely delivered. Late afternoon there was time for a nostalgic walk around our "5 star" marina accommodation: every need foreseen, cafe, laundry rooms, dog mooring points, emergency ladders, sign-posted jetties, secure parking, floral displays.  In addition, the boats moored there often reveal an originality of design or addition. A quiet evening was had - recovery for the Transportation Officer from his early morning drive north from Bedfordshire and for the Grandwif from her childcare duties!  Roll on Tranquility.
    The warm and balmy afternoon somehow became a morning of gusty winds and squalls of rain. As the engine roared into life at about 8 am up popped Mr Mid-Wales from his boat a little further along the jetty. " Bon voyage!" he called, and continued chattering away about his northwest cruises, even as we tried to reverse out of our berth.  Yesterday afternoon he had asked the Captain why the boat was called "Swords" (the literal Welsh translation of "Cleddau").  And how he had talked, this Welsh-speaking gentle character -- he had regaled the Captain with tales of all the members of his family tree (or so it seemed).
    Out of the marina it was a sharp right turn back onto the Middlewich Arm, over the River Weaver and on for a couple of hours until two locks down to the Trent and Mersey, a sharp right turn and straight into a lock. Just at the end of the Middlewich Arm comes a mini-canal, all 35 metres in length, extending from Wardle Lock to the Junction by the bridge.  It is the Wardle Canal, important as a link for the transportation of coal and dairy produce, agricultural lime and salt.  It was at about this point that the scrabbling for rainhats and umbrella began.  Torrential rain followed us through Middlewich, the traffic noise from the parallel roads making the transit even less atttractive. But at last the canal  (the T & M) bore away to the right, rural scenes appeared and we continued to Wheelock, where tall sunflowers next to the Kingdom Hall relieved the gloom. The towpath was puddled, steps were slippery, gates were saturated and the paddle gear glistened with recent rain.  A lack of wildlife it seemed, until the stench from a dead badger, the irritability of a cygnet and the agility of a grey squirrel made us reassess our view. At this point we ate lunch - and also reassessed our plan, realised the great Excel spreadsheet had an in-built error, and set off again for a further 9 locks... In wind but not rain, we left Wheelock, started on the double side by side locks, passed under the M6 and moored up at Lock 57, minutes before the rain began again.
    A word or two about Lock 57: it puts one in mind of the Globe at Leighton Buzzard, there is a magnet that draws one to its first floor brasserie for excellent food and wines; four times it has tempted us in... the M6 drone dies away and one relaxes, knowing that the fare will be well-cooked and well-presented. If justification were needed ...  16 locks today, probably 18 tomorrow - and an early birthday dinner for the Captain.
    We'll be steadily climbing tomorrow, up to the Macc.