Sunday 5th September: Audlem to Hack Green: 3 miles, 4 locks
Last night a Skype call: California calling. "Where are you?" asks the son. "Audlem Locks - but really Haydn Locks," and I explain how in March, while he and newest son and mother were still making first acquaintance in Downtown San Diego, we had with friends walked this towpath, viewed these locks, lunched at the Shroppie Fly.
The oldest son appears on screen, a Second Grader now, "Six pages of homework every night". His T-shirt, courtesy of webcam, reads something like: Liberty, America and the love of trains. He finds it difficult to accept that we are still afloat on a boat, living in a very narrow space. The Californian father, unafraid of techie wizardry, bids us move the computer, to move the webcam, to give a guided tour. All goes well, while there is sufficient length in the aerial wire - then BLANK. We reconnect, we recall, we see each other again. "What's that?" cries Californian Number One, "Behind you! Is it a train there?" In the gathering gloom a boat slides past, across the pound, down from Lock 11, towards Lock 12. No train - just the magic of world wide communication.
In no great hurry to complete our Shropshire Union cruise - and within about two miles we will reach territory seen last year - we have moved only a short distance. We are moored out in the countryside, one other boat in view, cows and sheep nearby. Yet the reason for choosing this particular place is to do with communication, nation-wide, world-wide. About fifteen miles north of here lies Beeston Castle, an impressive shell high on a sandstone ridge, we climbed up to it last year. We grew up in sight and cycling distance of Norman castles, we visit castles, crawl over fortifications. Today, a different fortification, one of our own time, underground, rather than high above it. The Secret Bunker at Hack Green had been built as a World War II RAF radar station and become designated in the late seventies as a Regional Government Headquarters. It was fitted out with sophisticated tracking and communications equipment, ready to support up to 135 people for up to three months in the case of nuclear attack. It was bound to be chilling. Banks of screens, arrays of maps, teleprinters, telephones and computers of the eighties. One of us knew a great deal about the uniforms, the Soviet memorabilia, the weaponry. The other of us takes in the designated responsibilities in the command room, the broadcasting studio, the sick bay, the dormitory. Siege weapons at medieval castles are far in the past, but this was in our lifetimes.
It stirred two items in the memory: one, a visit to a fire station in the sixties, just post the Cuba Missile crisis, with demonstration of the civil defence early warning sirens; the second was a visit to a West Berlin nuclear shelter, in case of imminent attack open to the the first 1500 people to arrive.
Today's was a visit bound to create sombre thoughts; the rain now pattering on the canvas cratch over the front deck does little to alleviate the mood.
Tomorrow: past Nantwich and onto the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union...