Monday, 6th September: Hack Green to Hurleston Junction (still on the Shropshire Union): 5 miles, 2 locks
Somehow we'd been expecting rain; there'd been rain overnight but today has been a day of high "blust". If you incline to a weekly pattern of domestic work - and if Monday is a designated washday - then this has been your sort of day. The second load of washing (from the little washing machine) is almost dry: how satisfying to be able to turn around socks and underwear, shirts and towels! My drying arrangements have been refined by the use of bungee cords to retain shirts on hangers from flying off, to further attach the blue plastic spinny wheel (brilliant for socks) and to anchor down the A frame standing on the front deck. The two boats moored ahead also display evidence of washday activity, one having a tall rotary clothes line attached to its tiller on the back deck, the other displaying smalls from two window-mounted drying frames.
Today was not going to involve any great distance so breakfast was allowed and a few jobs done before a towpath stroll of a couple of hundred yards to the first of the two Hack Green Locks, an old stables a reminder of the horse-drawn cargo boats. Beyond it after a few more bridges would be Nantwich. This was to be the last stretch of "new water" for Cleddau. A small boat cruised towards us, its roof and front deck laden with clean looking newly chopped wood. By convention boaters can claim fallen wood for fuel - and increasingly I noticed the number of boats already wood-laden for the oncoming winter (or still with reserves from the last.) We passed a field in which there was a huge herd of black and white Friesian cattle, a typical sight on the rich pastures of the Cheshire Plain. Then came a brief air display: swallows dipping and darting over the water, magpies squawking and quarrelling over the bushes and a heron constantly taking off, flying ahead, dropping down, taking off again - until eventually it headed towards a field pond. A shout from the Captain: this winding hole (turning place) is where we turned last year - so, we'd reached the outskirts of Nantwich.
A Post Office was needed, so off I set, along the towpath to the aqueduct, down the steps (47 in all, counted on the way back) and headed for the town. It's a longish walk up Welsh Row towards the centre, past the High School and Sixth Form College, a cacophony of voices indicating lesson change or lunch time. A first impression was of well-kept properties (quite often black and white); people were helpful with directions or service, the accents different again, a hint of northern vowels. The town bustled, a busker strummed on a guitar, flower arrangements were abundant. A hanging curtain of chains had to be fought through to enter a bakery, a queue of shoppers there. So many savouries (What is a "Diddy Pie"?) and such a wide selection of sweet pastries, tarts and cakes. Is this an indicator of the north-west's dietary preferences? Several other fleeting thoughts: towpath grass trimmers a mile or so back had stopped to take a break, a smoking break. Here in this affluent town were three separate women, smoking. There was widespread pedestrianisation - and, it seemed, an unusually large number of wheelchairs and mobility scooters. All shops were open, a few high street brands and a number of select individual shops. Across a green (the original St Mary's churchyard) was a Tourist Information sign: see how the text refers to the town as "she". The large church had tightly closed West Doors, but round the corner, the South Porch beckoned visitors. Inside, against the West Door hung a most magnificent pair of curtains, designed and made for the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977, opened only for weddings and funerals. A further unusual feature was a double set of choir stalls, those nearest the East End ornately carved miserichords.
Meanwhile, back on the boat, the Captain was internet-linked and reverting to School Governor role. Off again, past the impressive wooden horse sculpture, to moor up just two miles further on, before Bridge 97. The canal from Nantwich was originally the Chester Canal, wider, with gentle curves, and broad locks. From the mooring it is easy to walk up to Hurleston Junction, the entry point to the Llangollen Canal. There time for some "gongoozling". There was the woman ("I'm a psychic") who crosses her heart whenever she finds a bird's feather; there was the couple doing the Warwickshire Ring, but diverting for a day or so up the Llangollen ("my wife doesn't do Sprightly"); there was the woman who had lived in Cranfield, has good friends in Wootton, been to Stoke Bruerne and the man who strongly recommends mooring at Castlefields in Manchester, but "Do the Ashton early in the day, 18 locks, some paddles stiff, it will take five hours". At the top of the flight were summer flowers in a planter and the lock lady, her long hair in tight plaits. I looked across the reservoir, its water supplied from the River Dee above Llangollen and stored for users in Crewe and Nantwich.
Full circle - we were here this week last year, but time runs out. There's an appointment with the Daughter and the Cheshire One tomorrow. Besides, I must just go and check on the washing...
There will be a Boatwif Blog tomorrow (Tuesday); check in again on Friday.