Friday, 10th September: Church Minshull Marina (near Nantwich) to Hassall Green near Sandbach (Trent & Mersey Canal): 14.75 miles, 16 locks
In the dark hours last night my mind turned to the need to prepare a Friday Blog. What would I call it? Back on the Cut? or maybe The Cruise Continues? The first is pretty mundane, but yes, we were back on the boat, and we would be back on the canal or "cut". "Cruise" , on the other hand, suggests something calm, tranquil, stress-free. I was definitely in need of "stress-free" after our return to the boat yesterday afternoon. Our road journey to the marina from Macclesfield should have taken about 50 minutes, instead it took 90. The men (the Captain and the Techno son-in-law) both had Satnavs and seemed to be competing with each other to find the fastest route, then the nearest fuel station, then the quirkiest diversion... A major incident on the M6 had brought all of central and south Cheshire to a standstill - even a boat would have been moving faster than a car. In the back of Ketchup (see photo) the Cheshire One added her noise by singing along to rather loud music - but eventually we, and our groceries for the next few days, were safely delivered. Late afternoon there was time for a nostalgic walk around our "5 star" marina accommodation: every need foreseen, cafe, laundry rooms, dog mooring points, emergency ladders, sign-posted jetties, secure parking, floral displays. In addition, the boats moored there often reveal an originality of design or addition. A quiet evening was had - recovery for the Transportation Officer from his early morning drive north from Bedfordshire and for the Grandwif from her childcare duties! Roll on Tranquility.
The warm and balmy afternoon somehow became a morning of gusty winds and squalls of rain. As the engine roared into life at about 8 am up popped Mr Mid-Wales from his boat a little further along the jetty. " Bon voyage!" he called, and continued chattering away about his northwest cruises, even as we tried to reverse out of our berth. Yesterday afternoon he had asked the Captain why the boat was called "Swords" (the literal Welsh translation of "Cleddau"). And how he had talked, this Welsh-speaking gentle character -- he had regaled the Captain with tales of all the members of his family tree (or so it seemed).
Out of the marina it was a sharp right turn back onto the Middlewich Arm, over the River Weaver and on for a couple of hours until two locks down to the Trent and Mersey, a sharp right turn and straight into a lock. Just at the end of the Middlewich Arm comes a mini-canal, all 35 metres in length, extending from Wardle Lock to the Junction by the bridge. It is the Wardle Canal, important as a link for the transportation of coal and dairy produce, agricultural lime and salt. It was at about this point that the scrabbling for rainhats and umbrella began. Torrential rain followed us through Middlewich, the traffic noise from the parallel roads making the transit even less atttractive. But at last the canal (the T & M) bore away to the right, rural scenes appeared and we continued to Wheelock, where tall sunflowers next to the Kingdom Hall relieved the gloom. The towpath was puddled, steps were slippery, gates were saturated and the paddle gear glistened with recent rain. A lack of wildlife it seemed, until the stench from a dead badger, the irritability of a cygnet and the agility of a grey squirrel made us reassess our view. At this point we ate lunch - and also reassessed our plan, realised the great Excel spreadsheet had an in-built error, and set off again for a further 9 locks... In wind but not rain, we left Wheelock, started on the double side by side locks, passed under the M6 and moored up at Lock 57, minutes before the rain began again.
A word or two about Lock 57: it puts one in mind of the Globe at Leighton Buzzard, there is a magnet that draws one to its first floor brasserie for excellent food and wines; four times it has tempted us in... the M6 drone dies away and one relaxes, knowing that the fare will be well-cooked and well-presented. If justification were needed ... 16 locks today, probably 18 tomorrow - and an early birthday dinner for the Captain.
We'll be steadily climbing tomorrow, up to the Macc.