Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Tentatrice trip

Wednesday 18th - Sunday 22nd September

          “You’re honoured guests...but don’t expect this standard of catering every night!” Such were the words from Cleddau’s Relief First Mate, now herself the proud co-owner of nb Tentatrice.  A three course dinner (plus cheese and port) was a great welcome to a first cruise aboard a brand new boat. The route was to be the southern end of the Stratford Canal,
from Wootton Wawen down to Stratford-upon-Avon (and back).

           Laden with winter woollies and serious waterproofs (as advised by the Tentatrice crew - this is boating, isn’t it?) the Cleddau crew arrived part way through Wednesday. The car was parked and all manner of stuff, including a Tesco shopping order, was transferred to the boat. After a check on the met forecast it was decided to grab the dry weather while it was there and go. Go, that is, after a fill of the water tank and a fill of the diesel tank, both carried out while tied up on the Wootton Wawen Aqueduct!
            It’s a familiar stretch, boated on Cleddau only three months ago  and walked eight months ago.  There’s a longish stretch before the sole Bearley Lock, a high level float across the railway lines and road on the Edstone Aqueduct, some more quiet countryside and then the Wilmcote Flight. Eleven locks here (twelve total then on Day 1) and an overnight mooring found.
            Most of us probably have a quick look or adopt a take it or leave it attitude towards weather forecasts but when you’re on a boat Being Prepared is all important. Thursday morning crept on, the combined crew of four (plus Monty the boat dog) waiting, waiting for the promised heavy rain to arrive - and to pass. By mid-morning a “no such thing as wrong weather, only wrong clothes” view was being reached.  Strong boots, gaiters, waterproof jackets and hats were assembled and donned.
Five locks and a couple of miles later the crew felt over-dressed – and rather hot.
              Stratford never fails to offer entertainment: there’s people-watching, many of whom are busy gazing at boats in Bancroft Basin;

there are real shops (go to Lakeland for air-conditioning, boat mats and galley gadgets); there’s the Royal Shakespeare Theatre building to wander through and its costume display to gaze at.
You can take a backstage theatre tour (would you have guessed that during a production’s run 1700 hours will be spent on ironing the costumes?), get tickets for a performance (Candide this time in the Swan Theatre), walk the river bank, explore Holy Trinity Church
and see Shakespeare family graves...
            But this excursion to Stratford was really about the boating. Steering a different boat from one’s own is a rare treat; steering one so spanking new as this a privilege indeed. The tiller arm is shorter than on Cleddau and the steerage initially seems heavier. The Beta 43 engine is gloriously quiet, both on the back deck and when heard from inside the boat. From the steering position there’s a view down into the galley,
very conveniently close to a kettle!  This is a reverse layout boat, galley at the stern, saloon next, then bathroom with the bedroom at the bow end. Tentatrice is built for two with a dinette conversion in the saloon providing an additional double bed. It makes for a very comfortable sleep, but should a guest wish to lurk too long in the morning enthusiastic Monty will provide noisy tail-wagging and elbow-nudging to bring you swiftly to a state of alertness.
Any boat owner will make quiet comparisons when visiting another: oh for a fridge that is so easy to access and doesn’t require a kneeling on the floor position! And that bow locker!  It’s immense, a wonderful place for stowing deck chairs and a picnic table and water hoses and a clothes dryer and all manner of other paraphernalia...
           After two nights moored in Bancroft Basin it was time to depart.  Down through the double lock onto the River Avon, bearing left under the Tramway Bridge and .Clopton head upstream. On a Saturday morning it was a fine obstacle course,
novice rowers, the rowing coach with his megaphone, fast trip boats from two different directions. 
           “Let’s reach the end of the navigation,” Relief First Mate had declared – thus it was. First though the (Cleddau) Captain initiated the Relief Captain into the mysteries of emptying the composting loo solids container. The high walls of the servicing area at the Old Bathing Place
may have hidden the action but boys’ banter and frequent laughter drifted across the wide grassy area as the job was duly done...
             Just downstream from  here came the greatest surprise: on a warm September Saturday afternoon four young men designated the Old Bathing Place as a place for bathing: swimming strokes were apparent,
though swimming trunks may have been absent...
             Saturday evening. There cannot be many more thrilling places to moor than right opposite the theatre in Stratford.
Early evening the pre-show audiences mingle on the terraces, the actors take air from their dressing room balconies, diners are visible high up in the Rooftop Restaurant and auditorium announcements drift across the river.
For both guest and regular crew  the catering standards remained high on nb Tentatrice; before sunset male crew members, mindful of long ago tales of riverside mischief makers, checked the mooring ropes and reinforced them with chains.
              Sunday morning. Ducks, swans, fishermen, scullers, rowers, theatre fire drill announcement, dog walkers, tourists: Stratford had stirred, stretched, woken. Back to Wootton Wawen was the plan. On a balmy morning Tentatrice began her uphill progress. It was a sociable cruise, following a pair of hotel boats and a hen party on a hire boat, being followed by another hire boat, organised by a British grandmother for her Australian family.
Lock flight out of the town, a countryside stretch, the Wilmcote lock flight, Edstone Aqueduct,
Bearley Lock, countryside, Wotton Wawen aqueduct...
                Six hours or so on the end had been reached, Tentatrice was moored up and the Cleddau crew reunited with four wheel transport. Tit for tat? After many shared trips on Cleddau this time hospitality had been aboard a very different, far more modern boat. But visitors be warned: if ever you get an invitation aboard expect to wield a windlass, for this boat is kitted out with a fine collection of them!

Trip total: 15½ Miles and 36 locks

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Cleddau summer cruise concluded

Gurnett Aqueduct to Higher Poynton: 8.8 miles
              Announcement: the Cleddau 2013 Summer Cruise is over – stats-starved readers see below...
              There’s been a certain amount of aqueduct hopping during this trip up the Macc. As the canal crosses on Poole Aqueduct above the Trent and Mersey locks near Kidsgrove (Saturday) a squirrel darted about on the parapet.
The short Dog Lane Aqueduct at Congleton was quiet on Sunday morning, the usual road traffic underneath more sparse than usual.
  At the Biddulph Aqueduct next, always popular with dog walkers, temptation was resisted: there was no mooring up this time for a walk down into the flower-filled pastures below,
not so in May. Next was Dane Aqueduct (at the bottom of the Bosley Flight, Sunday’s mooring), then Gurnett Aqueduct at Sutton, on the outskirts of Macclesfield (Monday’s mooring).
            There was just one significant Macclesfield Canal aqueduct still to come – Grimshaw Aqueduct at the southern end of the fine embankment in Bollington.
“Let’s stop, let’s go to the cafe in Clarence Mill,” said the Captain this morning. Now mooring in Bollington is not often possible: there can be no space and the edges can be too shallow but today luck was in (except, of course, the delightful cafe is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays!) Still, an hour moored up on Grimshaw Aqueduct provided opportunity to watch some aerial weeding

(steeplejacks at work on Clarence Mill chimney) and to count the steps from street level up to the canal
(47 knee-exercising steps, plus a slope!)

                  What else of today’s  cruise?  Well, an encounter with a boater early on made one think about  - ponytails! Cal Gal, who was visiting the UK in July and early August, sports a fine head of hair. It’s long , white blonde and she wears it either as a single plait or (Pippi Longstocking-style) as a pair of plaits. Often Midlands male boaters sport grey beards, but somehow, further north, there seems to be a preference for non-balding men with grey hair to wear it as a long ponytail...why? Only a few days ago (Great Heywood area?) one chap was spotted with plaited grey hair...
                 To another why – as Cleddau cruised through Macclesfield a mental Spot the Difference game was under way. Why has C&RT moved the water point to Swettenham Wharf,
 installing a barely visible tap in a grey box? 
                 A bit further on, past Hovis Mill, just beyond the Buxton Road Bridge is Buxton Road Wharf. Has it ever seemed so empty? Is there a redevelopment plan afoot...?
                There seems to be an outbreak of smart C&RT padlocked gates in these parts. Several like this have been seen.
They seem to provide gated access to Canal and River Trust access paths: was there a job lot of fences and gates?
                  On the approach to Macclesfield was a new hazard: try weaving your way past a moored cruiser on one side
and a partly sunken cruiser on the other...
               Despite following a slow boat from Bollington, all too soon Higher Poynton was reached. There was the remnant of the Braidbar Boats Open Day,
still some Braidbar Boats moored up. It had been an amazing weekend by all accounts. 
              By mid-afternoon, Cleddau was tied up back on her home mooring.
It’s the last night afloat for a while (although there’s a tantalising invitation to take a trip aboard nb Tentatrice next week...)

For stats fans, here is the Captain’s report: 
                Total mileage since 18th May: 469.61
                 Mileage on day trip, return trip Milton Keynes Marina to New Bradwell: 12.77
                Total number of locks: 438
                Number of nights aboard: 68
                Waterways cruised upon: 13

For anyone short of a waterways blog read: nb Erin Mae is making a first cruise north on the Macclesfield, Sanity Again is cruising south after participating in the Braidbar Owners’ Weekend while nb Rock ‘n’ Roll (from where Carol has produced outstanding photographic records of the boat’s travels) is up for sale.

This boat is moored in Macclesfield:
a good description, perhaps, for the crew of this boat!

Monday, 9 September 2013

To the summit in sunshine, downpours later...

Dane Aqueduct to Gurnett Aqueduct : 9.2 miles, 12 locks, 2 swing bridges
             It was cloudless over the Cloud this morning
when Cleddau set off towards Bosley Bottom Lock.
Though the sky was paint box blue at Bottom Lock in the shadow of the trees the air felt chill and dew still covered lock gate handles and paddles. Initially the flight was fairly quiet but then at about half way boats which had set off from the top in what the Captain calls “the ten o’clock rush” began to appear. Two boats travelling together had a spare crew member keen to wield her windlass; another boat had two crew members ashore, one of which decided to investigate Cleddau’s stern deck.  Only a grab on her red collar prevented the shiny black-coated cocker spaniel from sniffing  her way right through someone else’s boat. The sun shone: “The higher you get the hotter it is,” was one person’s summary... There was a flash of memory of a transit down these locks at Easter time, snow making life rather more challenging than today...
               In about an hour and fifty minutes Cleddau and crew were emerging from Top Lock,
assisted by another boater and a volunteer lock keeper.  The boat was now 118 feet higher than it had been last night and the Macc summit of 518 feet above sea level had been reached.  To the east the ground is always higher, a prominent feature being what the Cheshire One used to call “my microwave mast.”  There are online moorings above the Bosley Locks and offside farm moorings a bit further on. The canal narrows,
is shallow and approaching boaters do well to apply caution and patience.
             Two Dalmatians caught the eye
- and several herons,

all unfazed by boats but intent on fish...
              There have been some boat names to ponder upon: going down the Bosley Locks was nb Hard Work! (Why the exclamation mark?) Another boat was nb The Four Boys (an inheritance boat perhaps?) Moored at the top was nb Shebrokeus and then later was tied up a rather long boat:
              As it approaches Oakgrove the canal is a watery passageway hidden between trees and ferns. There’s the electrically operated swing bridge (five vehicles held up today)
and then a mile or so further on is the often tricky Broadhurst swing bridge.
Hefty muscle needed here!
              First time boaters and walkers this way will thrill at the next couple of miles: a bowl of hills spreads out before you,
sweeping from Macclesfield Forest on the left and backing up into the Derbyshire Peaks.
               It is Macclesfield – everyone knows it rains over Macclesfield...  As if on cue a series of sharp showers started.
 There is good mooring at Gurnett Aqueduct, convenient for a Garden Centre browse (Christmas cards on sale already!) and for an important early evening liaison at Sutton Hall pub. Frustrated by yesterday’s lack of aqueduct view here is a glimpse of Gurnett Aqueduct from below
– an unglamorous view of the road running out to Sutton and Langley!
               It’s a bare half mile to Sutton Hall pub, and at 6pm, totally drenched, the Captain and Boatwif paddled and squelched into Sutton Hall pub. There was the Cheshire One, flouncing about in a new dress. There was Techno Son-in-Law in a suit and tie (“I thought I ought, it’s what older people expect on their birthdays!”) and the Cheshire Mum, smart,  just returned from a London meeting. It may have been a week late but it was a good birthday bash!

Tomorrow: the last few miles to Higher Poynton

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Cow country and an aqueduct quest

Ramsdell Hall Railings to Bosley Locks: 9½ miles
          There’s a comfortable homecoming feel to being “back on the Macc.”  Perhaps it’s the combination of rural and dramatic settings with visually interesting structures that creates such affection for this canal.
          The black and white painstakingly repaired and repainted Ramsdell Hall railings
were clearly visible from last night’s dining position.
After a farewell to them this morning it was straight through one of the many Macc Canal bridges.
Local stone and graceful curved arches give these bridges a certain eye appeal. It is at Congleton that the first of the “snake” or crossover bridges is seen,
these designed to take the towpath from one side of the canal to the other. Just before Hightown was an innovation since last passing this way – some brand new end of garden decking.
Then the canal passes through a cutting; three differently aligned bridges cross the canal
and it is a skilled steerer who can navigate through all three without a scrape on one side of the hull or other!
           Not much further on comes another favourite mooring place, Biddulph Aqueduct above Dane-in-Shaw SSSI pasture.  You can sit on the seat here
and watch the Virgin trains whizz northbound
across a fine viaduct up the West Coast line to Manchester and beyond.
            If as a boater you should tire of aqueducts and bridges beyond Buglawton the canal soon enters a quiet phase. No road noise interrupts the natural sounds. On the left you become aware of the Cloud’s looming presence and if the light is right you can see the quarrying scars upon the hillsides.
The odd cockerel crows and the quietness is punctuated only by birdsong. Today a persistent mewling call came from above a copse of trees; was it a buzzard as the Captain suggests?
             There had been cows in fields on either side of the canal last night and there were more cows as the canal progressed towards Bosley. They gazed incuriously as the boat passed by.
The cows in this area of Cheshire come in several colour combinations, some all black or all rust and some are a mixed colour. The most attractive cow in these parts, of course,
is this one, helpfully immobilised but beautifully painted!
              Foragers have been out in groups of twos or threes or fours.
Some carry plastic boxes for their treasure while others have plastic bags weighing their arms. “Blackberrying?” the Captain called out once today.
             “Well, you’ve got to, haven’t you!” was the smiled reply.
            At Bosley Locks a group of four had somewhere found plump plums: there they were nestled in a container within a wicker basket.
            After three hours or so of lock free cruising Dane Aqueduct was reached. It’s always a pleasant mooring place from which to contemplate tomorrow’s Bosley Twelve.
           The Dane Aqueduct, according to Nicholson’s Guide, “is not very impressive from the boat but superb when viewed from the river.” That sparked this afternoon’s photographic quest. There was a clamber down a steep path through willow herb and fluffy weeds, right to the banks of the River Dane.
Trees in full summer growth blocked all view of the aqueduct (though the fungi were a surprise)
and all attempts at finding a way across to the opposite bank were foiled by lack of access. There is a clear footpath across the opposite field but how is it reached? Back up to canal level and then up the lock flight the aqueduct-deprived pair climbed. There is an awkwardness about patrolling a lock flight with walking poles but no windlasses to offer transiting boaters help at the locks...
            No footpath was found. Resigned today to defeat, the Captain and Boatwif turned downhill.  Could the disused railway line be a route to the river bank? There was a bit of a scramble up to it, no further access from it but a new view down over the bottom locks...
Conclusion: the Dane Aqueduct is a quest to be resumed another day!  
Tomorrow to Gurnett Aqueduct (and Sutton Hall)