Saturday 11th September: Lock 57, Hassall Green (T&M) to Congleton (Macclesfield Canal): 12 miles, 18 locks
"I'd like to go to America again," pronounced the Cheshire One while travelling together in the back of Ketchup (the campervan) the other day, "so I could see 'Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs' again." Her memories of the trip out to Southern California last February to visit the cousins seemed focused on a DVD readily available in this country, one in fact that her family here possesses.
Today nobody seemed to know what the weather was going to do, but everybody felt they would like to know! It had rained hard overnight, hence grass, towpath, lock gates, boat, cratch cover and so on were soaking wet this morning when, at 0742, the Captain cast off. I struggled into boots just as we arrived at the first lock, pushed past the soaking canvas cratch to do my duty, minus watch, minus camera, minus breakfast. Yet the morning soon sparkled, boat and surroundings dried out and we steadily worked our way up Pierpoint Locks, the two Thurlwood Locks, the Lawton Locks, Halls Lock, Church Locks and Red Bull Locks to Hardings Wood Junction. It is here that the Macclesfield peels off and crosses the Trent and Mersey on an impressive stone aqueduct. A s we climbed there were occasional glimpses of a tall and ragged structure, high on a hill above us, the folly built on the top of Mow Cop. We passed pretty lockside cottages, fields of maize on the left and on the right the huge dairy farm where once we had been told there are 500 head of cattle and milking takes eight hours every day. As the morning wore on other boats began to move. Although the locks were built as double locks for a good distance down the the canal, in some places the second lock has been filled in or is under repair. Boat queues can build up in busy times. The climb (or descent) is often referred to as Heartbreak Hill - but we are pleased to report no broken hearts here.
About a mile after the Macclesfield Canal Junction at Hardings Wood there is one, well, baby lock: the change in water level is only about six inches but it marks the official transition between one canal's waters and the other. At this point, Hall Green Stop Lock, the approaching boater asked if I knew the weather forecast, yesterday they had stayed moored up all day rather than boat in the heavy showers. A little further along two figures were seated on the ground, partially under a bridge, rucksack, sandwiches and thermos flask indicators of their pastime. "We're sitting like this so we can get the sun - or shelter from the rain!" one said. As we pulled in on the aqueduct overlooking the SSSI Dane-in-Shaw Pasture to moor up this afternoon another boater passed. "Isn't it lovely?" I said, referring to the expansive views in both directions. He glanced fearfully over his shoulder, then came the rueful reply: " I think I'm safe, togged up to the nines," displaying as he spoke his pale green welly boots and open waterproof jacket. A passerby on the towpath: "I'm either too hot or too wet." Such became the theme of the day. Now here we are, in sight of the Cloud, the lovely hill of over 1,000 feet, that overlooks the area north of Congleton: we've worn the sunglasses, seen the clouds, felt the rain - and even seen the rainbow...
A couple of mentions of Macclesfield Canal specifics: as seen on some other waterways the engineers built "roving" bridges, apparently they are known hereabouts as "spake" bridges. Just below Mow Cop we passed a most gracious looking property, Ramsdell Hall,which overlooks fine gardens - and the canal. Below the canal is a fine rural view. Black and white railings define the towpath edge and these railings are a matter of pride and joy to the Macclesfield Canal Society. Their quarterly magazine always makes earnest reference to them, and as we passed in June a painting party was under way.
This evening's mooring is a favourite spot: it overlooks the Biddulph Valley: we look out towards the viaduct, trains to and from Manchester periodically speed across it. Below, a long way down, winds the River Dane, cows graze peacefully across the slopes and you choose country walks according to incline, steep in the pasture, flat along the Biddulph Valley Way.
Tomorrow we shall be closer still to Macclesfield the town - but first we must make our way up the tough but beautiful Bosley Lock flight of twelve.
For supper tonight? we seem to have eaten the meatballs, so it's the lamb kebabs instead!