Tuesday 7th September: Hurleston Junction (Shropshire Union) to Church Minshull Marina (Middlewich Branch): 4.5 miles, 2 locks
Day 31 since leaving Bedford
It had been a wild night, high winds and lashing rain continuing through the evening deep into the night. The weather forecasts for today were for heavy showers at best, heavy rain at worst. So what a surprise it was that the morning was calm, blue, sunny and initially cloudless. " Better than yesterday" and "We weren't expecting this" were the common exchanges of all the boaters we met or passed ... although one did preface his comment with "Hey up!".
The day started with an overlong towpath conversation (continuous cruiser for the past eleven years, born and brought up in Abergavenny, no car now, and so on). Just as we were about to cast off slowly and rhythmically chugged past not one but two full length working boats, making coal deliveries along the canal. They pulled alongside the two boats ahead and passed over bags of coal. We overtook, passed under the bridge - just in time to forewarn a hire boat crew that was about to turn right towards Llangollen. On we cruised northwards in glorious morning sunshine, past the embankment of the Dee-supplied reservoir, past cyclists and dog walkers. A sharp right turn for us then - east onto the Middlewich Arm, the working boats following. Within two miles we arrived at the first lock, Cholmondeston, just above Venetian Marina. The coal boats work out of Wolverhampton, will turn left at Middlewich, down onto the River Weaver they will go, down not via locks but by lift, the Anderton Boat Lift. Look it up if you don't know of it, for it is a seriously impressive piece of Victorian engineering. Then to Manchester, down the Macclesfield, further south, sometimes even to Gloucester.
We passed the delightful canalside picnic site, frames for barbeques provided; then it was with a mixture of regret and anticipation that we reached the second (Church Minshull) Lock, for hereabouts our cruise, for the time being, was to cease. We arrived at the Aqueduct Marina, the familiar line of agricultural sheds ahead, the office buildings and cafe to the right. "Well welcome back," said the man in the Aqueduct named sweatshirt, "I thought I recognised the name, and the name of the boat." For here it was that Cleddau had made her caterpillar to butterfly, her cindersgirl to princess transformation just eleven months before!
A three night mooring booked - then we'll back on the cut, braced for the hard climb up Heartbreak Hill.
So if you have followed these episodes, a daily soap remote from your real life, here must be the cliffhangers:
Does the Captain fall overboard, knocked in by the reckless ropework of the Boatwif?
Or does the Boatwif not return from her daily towpath wander - does she manage to escape the endless boating duties?
But if you see this as a saga then other characters can play their part, the main players having roles in others' lives...
In truth tomorrow the Captain returns (albeit briefly) to Bedford, with the Daughter, to check on domestic and school admin and then return to Macclesfield, asTransportation Officer, on four wheels, by motorway not boat. Boatwif meanwhile becomes Grandwif again, to take and meet the Cheshire One at school, provide the lunch and afternoon occupation.
The journey resumes on Friday...