Saturday, 8 October 2011

Home moorings

Bollington to Victoria Pit Moorings, Higher Poynton, 4 miles, 0 locks

            The final stretch of the Macclesfield Canal is now familiar. In good weather the hillsides of Lyme Park are green, tempting the walker to stride uphill and breathe the air in deeply. Today, however, it was as if the rise in land height was not there at all, instead it was deeply shrouded in drizzle and low cloud. Cleddau crew members were themselves shrouded in waterproofs and peaked caps, the Captain demonstrating his usual dexterity with tiller and umbrella. For once no low slung bridge maimed the precious umbrella, the purpose of which, the Captain insists, is not to keep the rain off the crew but the engine room dry...

            The occasional well-waterproofed dog walker passed although two lady runners waited until we had passed before pushing their dog into the brown canal waters. Two lads fishing at the Poynton winding hole looked soaked but cheerful and agreed that they were indeed chilly. Meanwhile two small groups of runners, all of middle age and jogging in opposite directions begged “Give us a loan of your umbrella!”

            The canal passes between fields, sometimes between wooded copses. Early on a horse rider crossed one of the bridges prompting a memory of Techno Son-in-Law’s snort that this is indeed North Cheshire horse-field country. Is the private helicopter used by a Manchester-based business person or celebrity footballer...? The pylons marching northwards are a sharp reminder that large populations are not that far away.

Then Cleddau cruised past Lyme View Marina, where for eighteen months her arrivals and departures could be sorely hindered by the cross winds. Smoke rose from the chimneys of a couple of boats, owners seeking comfort on such a dank morning. Then, moored up against the towpath was the tiniest little vessel ever seen in these parts, with no sign of skipper or crew. Through the dense tree-lined sections, on past the carefully tended little memorial garden, past the broad shallow waters and crowded public moorings at Poynton, finally through the bridge hole to home waters.

            But there have been changes since the end of May. At the Trading Post, a small chandlery which serves diesel, ice creams, hot drinks and maps there is a new owner – and a diorama of a canal scene.  And across the canal at one time Marineville (shudder at the name) work has come on fast at what is now Victoria Pit Moorings. The near derelict pontoons were replaced last year. Now landscaping improves the site’s appearance, electricity meters have sprouted at every other pontoon and water taps are being installed. Worth coming back for!

            Collected and driven to Macclesfield this afternoon the challenge is to reacquaint oneself with stairs, since there aren’t that many in a sixty foot narrow boat. “You’re sleeping in the loft, Granny!” (two floors up). “Want to watch a film on the big screen?” (stone steps down to the cellar). But (one floor up) this afternoon the Cheshire One gave a polished performance, reprising a dance routine performed as part of the British Legion 90th Anniversary last weekend. The music: In the navy...

            Is Cleddau tied up now until next Spring? Hopefully not, but she is not being volunteered as Chief Icebreaker for the Macc or the High Peak Canal. There will be time to reflect over the next few weeks and months on next year’s plans... 

            See below for 2011 Cruise Stats (as supplied from the Captain's spreadsheet)


Victoria Pit Moorings via Sharpness to Milton Keynes:  310.35 miIes   234 locks

Trips on the Grand Union Canal whilst at MK Marina:    107.11 miles   66 locks

Milton Keynes via Aylesbury to Victoria Pit Moorings:  280.28 miles   226 locks

                     Grand Total:   697.74 miles        526 locks

Passengers and visitors on board (boarding at Gloucester, Milton Keynes, Branston): 17

The 518ft contour* (and a spot of fishing)

This dispatch refers to Friday 7th October

Bosley to Bollington, 10 miles, 12 locks, 2 swing bridges

Rain, hail, thunder and winds punctuated the tranquillity of last evening’s mooring.  A check this morning on the weather forecasts for Congleton and for Macclesfield revealed two quite different outcomes: sunny intervals for Macclesfield, heavy showers for Congleton. In the event it seemed at 7am that we were firmly in the heavy showers zone. When after nine the rain began to ease preparations for departure could be made: rain hats, gloves, waterproofs, gaiters.  At 0920 Cleddau glided towards Lock 12, the bottom lock of the Bosley flight.

The Bosley locks are set in glorious scenery, it being easy to revel in it and to enjoy the mile long progress up (or down) the hill. Lock connoisseurs, however, will notice the stone built chambers, the unusual shaping of the lock ladders – and the double top gates.  These double gates require endless additional trips around each lock, especially if the boat being moved has a crew of only two. A boater who operates on his own explained he plans on twenty minutes per lock; the Cleddau crew usually manage it in ten.

            Up the boat climbed, aided at Lock 7 when the first down-coming boat was met. In well under two hours the top lock had been reached. There at the top, waiting to come down, was the blue boat Cleddau had followed from Barlaston to Harecastle (the talkative recently retired teacher).  Behind that one were three more boats, including the cheery-looking Sunny Side Up - and the hire boat at the back had asked to queue-jump as “we’re on a schedule”.   Then came a bellow from Cleddau's back deck: “THE RUBBISH!” Here is a services area, built for all manner of boaters’ on and off-loading. But Boatwif wasn’t even on the boat to assemble the refuse.

Quite unexpectedly a new face appeared. “Give it to me, I’ll take it for you, I’ve just done mine.” She was serious! So we passed through the top lock without pushing a gate, winding a paddle – or even disposing of our own rubbish.

It’s a twisty, often narrow route towards Macclesfield.  After the two swing bridges there should be no more obstacles, apart of course, from the many narrow bridge holes. There are views of fields, sheep and the hills stretching into Derbyshire. The embankment at Sutton presented an enticing mooring, but with the sun shining (then) a gamble was taken to press on... Drenching showers in Macclesfield! Another at Hurdsfield! A wind-wrecked umbrella. We squeezed out past the back of the Astra Zeneca fencing (pharmaceutical plant) and on towards Kerridge. There was the turnover bridge; there were the little quarry workers’cottages up on the hillside. It had been four and a half months since last we passed this way. Bourne Boatbuilders hove into view, new signs now since Cleddau was entrusted to them just a year ago. There too was nb Kerridge, a boat met all those months ago on the Stratford Canal. (, see Conversations and coincidences).

On into Bollington, first past Adelphi Mill, then an attempt made to moor on the Bollington Aqueduct. The views were good, the mooring not. On further now, out into the country, past Sugar Lane Bridge. Here, at last, in sunshine, mooring pins were banged into the ground, ropes were tied and Cleddau and her crew could enjoy the quiet snuffles of the ponies grazing opposite, the sight of an occasional canoeist flashing past or the odd duck sallying forth from the bank.

An hour later came a tap on the window: there, outside, grinning like three Cheshire cats, were the Cheshire Three! Techno Son-in-Law in his sandals, the Cheshire One in school uniform, Cheshire Mum in, well, Cheshire Mum not-in-the-office-clothes. “Fishing,” hissed the Cheshire One, brandishing her gap-toothed grin. She scuttled to the front deck, got down to business with the (pink) fishing net, and success, caught two huge beautiful sycamore leaves!

“Now, you do know you’re beside Tibbs’s Farm, don’t you?” asked Techno Son-in-Law, rhetorically, launching into local history pertinent to the old railway line** which runs just west of the canal. Numerous conversations were started – but not finished.... No matter, there’ll be time to catch up over the weekend.

Tomorrow – to Poynton, back to the Victoria Pit moorings, about 4 miles further north.

 *The upper contour is at 518 feet above sea level,  otherwise 158 metres.

** Disused railway line, known as The Middlewood Way, now a linear country park run by Cheshire East Council.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Alternative solutions

Red Bull Aqueduct to River Dane Aqueduct (bottom of Bosley Locks), 9 miles, 1 lock, 1 breakdown

            Weather forecasters were insistent that gales would prevail by late afternoon. Hence the plan to do the relatively short hop along the lower contour of the Macclesfield today, leaving the flight of twelve until tomorrow. The one lock of the day, about half a mile on from the overnight mooring, is barely a lock, just a 12 inch change in water depth at Hall Green where officially the Trent and Mersey Canal ends and the Macclesfield Canal starts.

Cleddau glided into the cutting before the little lock and Boatwif hopped off with a windlass and wound up the paddle. There was a shout from the Captain (not unusual) although the words were rather disturbing.  “I’m stuck in reverse,” he yelled, “all I can do is go backwards.” And so he was, gliding away from the lock, rather than towards it. Gradually the boat came to a halt. The Captain’s head and torso disappeared from view, in due course to reappear, the boat now going forwards. As it came into the lock the yawning hole of the engine compartment was exposed. More ducking and bending.  Were we to block the lock, two boats ahead waiting to come forward? Was this to be another River and Canal Rescue callout?  A shout (another one) – and the Captain brandished a two feet long tool.  “Always a use for this,” he said. Boatwif re-boarded via the side hatch and away we chugged. Mutterings of “Heritage” were audible ... Just over a mile further on lies the Heritage boatyard and hire base, and on we limped, the Captain manipulating the below floor gear lever with a one-time fire rake.

Negotiations with the boatyard were not promising: one engineer sick, the other on holiday. Then in a light bulb moment the (absolutely non-technical) manager summonsed a name to the forefront of his brain: Tony! Tony, only ten minutes away by road (an hour by boat), Tony who had twice worked on Cleddau’s hull. Soon along came Tony with his tray of tools. The diagnosis of snapped gear cable was correct. The chandlery could not supply a replacement (well, not a replacement red one, only a black one – remember the non-technical manager). So, teas and coffees later the job was done, black gear cable properly connected up, the engine hatch replaced, the spread of tools (and the all important fire rake) tidied away.

The cruise resumed – slowly, following a slow boat, past the famous white painted Ramsdell railings, past miles of farmland to either side,  on and on until the golf course heralds Congleton. From the wharf is a view of a short little aqueduct over a road and also first glimpse of the Cloud, the hill that looms loftily over the town, over the Biddulph Valley and the Dane Valley. On we went, passing one boat, which as a house, might have required planning permission for its rooftop structures.  A couple of hours later today’s destination had been reached - the bottom of Bosley Locks.

Time now for Boatwif to demonstrate her own flexible thinking. She is an avid fan of bungee cords, those colourful elasticated lengths, somehow associated with bike shops. How Boatwif can arrange them as drying lines for washing on the front deck, as airing lines in the “glory hole”, as fasteners of picnic table, carpet sweeper and sundry awkward items. With rain forecast Boatwif created yet another criss-cross of bungee arrangement under the cratch on the front deck. The washing is now dry!

Mid-afternoon the mile-long towpath walk to the top of the locks was taken. Word on the towpath yesterday was that “they were chucking water down the locks to help the Trent and Mersey where water was low due to an unidentified breach”. Overflow weirs were splashing and foaming, side ponds were gurgling, water chasing down side channels sounded like waterfalls. So there’s no water shortage up here... here’s hoping nobody is aground below Heartbreak Hill.

Tomorrow to Sutton, just south of Macclesfield.


FOOTNOTE: a reader of yesterday’s blog has e-mailed the following  re. The Monkton Moment: “Said pharmacist is pretty well keeping him (Haverfordwest Man) in employment” (at Marks and Spencer). Or so claims her husband!

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

‘Your local canal is an outdoor gym’

Lock 57, Hassall Green (T&M) to Kidsgrove (Macclesfield Canal), 6 miles and 16 locks

            The motto in the title was spotted a couple of days ago, probably on the side of a British Waterways van. (Sorry, no photographic proof).  What an appropriate summary for today's exertions! Yes, own goal, our own choice to go down 17 locks from the Stoke summit level to turn round and come back up... but the views of fields and cows was wonderful yesterday (especially after the urban landscape of Stoke-on-Trent) and better still today as we climbed back up towards the hills and ridges of east Cheshire. The meal at Lock 57 last night was as superb as on previous occasions, the comfortable upstairs dining area well insulated from the M6 roar.

            Lulled to sleep by the roar – woken to the roar!

The blustery breezes this morning left us with no illusion that today would offer a calm and restful cruise. Just imagine these ingredients: blustery rather than steady winds, strong outfall swirls of water below most locks, many stretches of water exposed to the strong south westerlies...  For a while early on the sun sparkled on the water ahead, the light and reflections continually changing. However, because of the crosswinds Boatwif surrendered the option to steer for most of the trip – and therefore walked between locks, heaved on heavy paddle gear, clambered over those beams which open at right angles to the pedestrian bridges, shoved and pushed lock gates. A free workout in fresh air.

There was no time to count the cows (but there certainly are hundreds in the fields beside the canal). What was interesting in one area near Church Lawton was "a tree farm" (if that is the right term) where rows and rows of young trees of various species were being grown.

At the Church Locks pair the blasts were at their peak. Remarkably the downcoming boat and Cleddau heading up danced around each other in the shortest pound between locks without a mighty collision.  At the upper lock of the pair willing hands were there to help, a group of eight on a hire boat. On hearing "Emlyn" and a Welsh lilt Boatwif enquired whether any would recognise our origin. "Oh, Cleddau," said the conversationalist, confidently pronouncing it well.  "Haverfordwest!" In high winds a Monkton Moment* was upon us. The Captain shouted, the boat needed to move. Blust, blow, blown into the towpath, Cleddau's bowfender kissing the front of their Little Owl. " Haverfordwest we're from," chatted the man on the front, ominously pointing his boathook at Cleddau's paintwork.

It is polite of course to continue a thread of conversation, so "My sister is a pharmacist at Withybush Hospital," Boatwif ventured.

"Marks and Spencer's is next to it," continued the boathook-bearing man. "I work there!"

The boats were pulled apart, Cleddau taking to the right of the canal, "Haverfordwest" going into the lock behind.

The outdoor gym concept was not lost on the next boat coming towards us. A young man raced down the path to help open a back gate, leapt over a beam to reach a ground paddle at the front, then charged back to attend to his parallel lock.

"Where are you heading?" Boatwif enquired of his mother.

"Oh, Cheshire," she replied.

"You're in Cheshire now," Boatwif informed her.

"Oh, we'll keep going down there until it is dark."

Today's destination was getting closer, just a pause at Red Bull Services, then the last three locks. On the towpath lay two sad and rusty bikes, hauled out by a BW worker, fishing the stretch for debris. As the Captain gave one long blast on the horn to warn of the intended right turn onto the Macc the phone rang, Cheshire Mum, from a train at Waterloo. Amazingly, it was the smoothest, slickest turn ever accomplished.

            Within half an hour Cleddau was moored up on the Red Bull aqueduct. Gymnastics and exertions over for the day...


Tomorrow: to the Dane Aqueduct, below Bosley lock flight.

*Re. Monkton Moment: The occupants of Little Owl (crew of eight) represent the greatest number of Pembrokeshire water-borne exiles yet met!