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.