Sunday, 23 September 2012

Three mills and a return to base

Lyme Green to Higher Poynton: 9.65 miles

Warm sunshine on Saturday: chill wind on Sunday... Yet despite the much colder temperature* joggers, canoeists, cyclists, solitary walkers, anglers, family walking groups and a twenty strong Ramblers Association group were all tow path users today while at Poynton Recreation Ground footballers were playing hard. Perhaps hearing the Met Office forecasts for the coming week had driven folk outdoors for a last gasp of open air for a few days...

The final nine odd miles of “The Cheshire Ring” are pretty familiar: the open section towards Sutton delights, Macc Forest and Tegg’s Nose rising impressively to the right.

Through the bridge hole to Gurnett Aqueduct: “Bore da, Cleddau,” an approaching boater said.

“Well, thank you very much,” replied Boatwif, taken by surprise, and irritated with herself that the more appropriate response of Diolch yn fawr didn’t occur sooner!

An unusual paint livery caught the eye: nb Fools Paradise?  A canoeist passed close to the boat – and a minute later shouted ”Hi”.  He was back, passing at speed, his paddles clunking on the rocks in the shallows close to the bank. High walls and greenery next on both sides for about half a mile before Macclesfield canal side housing appears. Then Mill 1: the Hovis Mill,  a striking looking building.  The canal curves along the contour and little is seen of the town itself. At Hurdsfield, a district on the northern edge of the town, cows were grazing on the pasture, there is an ugly sixties tower block, there are small houses with well-tended gardens that back onto the canal – and a heron masquerading as a teenager in a sulk. On past AstraZeneca to Kerridge, the hills higher now and into Bollington.

Mill 2: Adelphi Mill, once a cotton mill, now provides office space, industrial units and a gym.  Past Bollington Wharf, past the naked lady at the bottom of a garden on Grimshaw Lane (but isn’t she cold?), onto the aqueduct and there is Mill 3, Clarence Mill, a former cotton spinning mill, now reconfigured for apartments, offices and a cheery cafe.

“Are those boaters who are continuous cruisers moving into winter positions?” the Captain pondered. Roofs stacked with timber indicate winter preparation...

Further on two features attracted comment: near Lyme View a large house sits comfortably in its own grounds. Occasionally a helicopter (a Squirrel) sits in the paddock; today there were two helicopters, a Squirrel and a Hughes. “His and hers?” speculated the Captain – or maybe visitors had dropped in for lunch...  Not far away was another one of those circular copse of trees, planted in these parts to denote a disused mineshaft.

2 on the Cheshire Ring clock was reached early this afternoon. For the last time in 2012 Cleddau moored at Bailey’s Trading Post for refuelling – and then there was just the last couple of hundred yards to Victoria Pit Moorings where Cleddau was tied back up beside nb Quackers. Adventure over.

Notes from the Captain’s Log:

Cruise Stats
5 canals

96 miles

92 locks

4 movable bridges


*Temperatures: 52F today (minus wind chill); in San Marcos, Southern California relief today, temperature down to 88F after a sequence of days between 102F and 107F.


            If you’ve been a regular reader this is it for a while – except, except... there may be a one-off blog post early next week...

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Bosley Locks in sunshine

Biddulph Aqueduct to Lyme Green:  7.66 miles, 12 locks

Biddulph Aqueduct this morning was glorious, the sun sparkling over the valley, dog walkers and joggers enjoying the tow path, voices floating up from the pasture below where more dogs and children were being exercised.

 It was mid-morning before Cleddau pulled away from her mooring.  Approaching boaters squinted into the sunshine, brims pulled low over their eyes. It takes about 90 minutes to cruise between the Biddulph Aqueduct and the bottom of Bosley Locks, the canal weaving through pleasant countryside.  Often an old stone bridge crosses the canal: always the proportions are pleasing and in today’s sunlight the curve of the arch often curled into a reflection. Trees filtered the sunlight, creating abstract patterning on the water. On the right, wherever the bank is not masked by hedging or trees, there are views of the Cloud. How this hill mass intrigues: a gentle giant’s chaise longue as you walk beside or cruise the lower canal, a rounded hulk from the lock flight, and in sharp light the old quarry workings appear like jagged teeth.

Just after midday Cleddau cruised through Old Driving Lane Bridge hole, the raised foot path  over the canal spillway  an indication that the bottom of the locks was near.  No other boats lurked along this beautiful stretch where often there are several.  Lock 12. Here began the climb... Ahead a boat was moving up the flight, (“We came up that Heartbreak Hill thingy yesterday,” confided the elderly lady, implying that matters were bound to be better today).  Draining each lock before Cleddau could enter seemed no effort on such a glorious day. At about the half way point one, then another boat came down – and everyone smiled. Did all Cheshire smile today, it’s a weekend day after all, an additional bonus after yesterday’s endless drenching?  Is the joy of a sunny dry day after a wet spell in these parts another explanation for the “grinning like a Cheshire cat” expression?!

Top lock: lock 1. Here sits a Services block and a water point. Tight manoeuvres are frequently called for here. The boat departing from the water point paused, hesitated; what was the problem? Men with barge poles and boat hooks were prodding the water. Huge floating islands of reeds were clogging the narrow channel. Slowly each one moved, breathed even, but only at its own whim. An approaching boat crawled forward, the reeds being prodded and pushed from the bow. The boat that had followed up the locks passed next – would they get through? As Cleddau was prepared to go a small day boat chugged forward, turning round to face back towards its base. Boathooks to positions, the heavy one for the Captain on the back, the lightweight one within Boatwif’s reach on the bow. Slowly both boats moved off, zigging and zagging to avoid these malevolent obstacles. Five vanloads of reeds have been collected and taken away for disposal in recent days, apparently, far more than usual...

The day boat led – slowly. Seven crew were on board though two lads leapt off on a blackberry hunt. At Oakgrove Swing Bridge Cleddau was waved past, the day boaters keen to work the bridge. The hills and Macclesfield Forest were ahead, breathtaking views. There is a long stretch of good mooring available at Lyme Green: here Cleddau was tied up – and within minutes the day boat caught up, passed wide – and became stuck in shallow waters. Minutes again after it had released itself another boat was stalled in exactly the same place, before wriggling free. The bank slopes gently into the water there, a popular access point. Yes, different neighbours across the canal tonight, not cows, not trains but Canada Geese...

So, 3 on the Cheshire Ring clock reached, the 518 feet contour attained, home mooring now only about a three hour cruise further north. Tomorrow should see Cleddau tied up back at 2, back at Higher Poynton.

Friday, 21 September 2012

Round the bend

Church Lawton to Biddulph Aqueduct: 8.2 miles, 7 locks

            Are you optimistic by nature - or pessimistic? When the rain is so persistent that even the ducks have disappeared into the bank side growth it takes an optimist to see a positive in the day’s weather...

            “Too wet even for the ducks!” called out the Captain at about midday, echoing a conversation he’d overheard earlier.

            “But great for water levels,” cheerily announced a boater from his moored vessel. Cleddau by then was back on the Macc – which is prone to shallow water. From an optimist’s point of view 2012 will have been a good year for water levels, as was today! In steady rain there are those who grit their teeth, pile on the waterproofs and just proceed with their plans. The Captain is a teeth gritter – he gets garbed up in every form of waterproof - but can be known to complain a little about the difficulty of handling sodden ropes, the slipperiness of surfaces, the discomfort of saturated gloves, the misery of feeling cold under a waterproof jacket heavy with rain. ”Everything takes twice as long when it’s so wet,” was heard during the morning casting off routine, and again at Red Bull during the watering, off-loading rubbish and sanitary procedures! During a day of constant rain, mostly of the steady and often heavy variety, thorough pessimists would have been driven round the bend... but the forecast for tomorrow is for a fine day.

            What of the route? Three locks up to Red Bull, and a stop at the Services: would that other service stops had such strong water pressure, bins for general rubbish and for dry recyclables, toilet and shower block plus elsan facilities. Opposite the Services sits a neat little garden summer house, recently painted in patriotic colours. There was absolutely no breeze and the union flag hung dankly from the mast, in appearance nothing like those frantic Jubilee and Olympic flag-waving days! One more lock, this one right beside the pub, deserted mid-morning, but with an optimistically persuasive sign.  Then a brief Tesco stop followed by one last lock in the Red Bull flight before the sharp right turn at Hardings Wood Junction onto the Macclesfield Canal. The rain, a waiting boat, two large work barges and another boat approaching from Harecastle Tunnel made for an interesting turn, but it was managed impeccably! The canal bears right again round a bend, continues for about a quarter of a mile and then there is another sharp right turn, across the aqueduct, the Trent and Mersey locks now below. So, a 270 degree turn to get back on the Macc. (See map.)

            The rain poured. Other boaters operated the Hall Green stop lock while an umbrella-covered crowd gathered at the door of one of the lock cottages. Knitted goods being sold for Macmillan Cancer Appeal was the cause... Mow Cop was shrouded in cloud; cows cowered under hedges; a group of rough shooters walked down the tow path, a pair of pheasants (?) for the pot.  A squirrel darted down a tree and there was movement (made by something white and fluffy) in the hutch on the front of a cruiser. But by and large people were absent from the canal or the tow path...

            Past Scholar Green; past Ramsdell’s Railings (why are there glorious mooring places available today but not when needed?), through a rural corridor, eventually to the golf course outside Congleton. At Congleton Wharf the road cuts below a short aqueduct (an underbridge this would be called on the Bridgewater Canal) and with the cloud beginning to lift even The Cloud could be seen.  

Moored up, cows are not Cleddau’s neighbours tonight, but trains! From galley and saloon windows trains can be seen racing across the viaduct towards Macclesfield, Stockport and Manchester.  This beautiful mooring place so invites a walk down into the Dane-in-Shaw Pasture or along the Biddulph Valley Way. A CD to accompany an evening meal was plucked randomly from the shelf tonight: it was Hinterland, Portraits of Preseli – and would you believe it, the first track is called Autumn Rain. That title clearly explains why Boatwif didn’t take a walk this afternoon!

            Tomorrow: up the Bosley 12 locks and onwards towards Macclesfield.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Locks and cows, cows and locks

Malkin’s Bank to Church Lawton: 5 miles, 18 locks

            This is a favourite stretch of the Trent and Mersey Canal for the Cleddau crew: the industries of Northwich and Middlewich are left behind, while the fields, cattle and canal settlements which typify the route are all easy on the eye.  Several times this morning a blaze of colour on a nearby tree came as an unexpected contrast to the green of the fields and the rust brown canal water.

            Early companions were again the boaters on nb Last Flight. Their boat is predominantly grey in colour but has a witty cartoon decoration. Curious, the Captain established that it was indeed the work of Andy Russell (Cleddau’s painter in 2009). When working locks close together you get snatched conversations and though there was no Monkton Moment today it was surprising to reflect on one coincidence: Cheshire Mum lives in Macclesfield ... Last Flight’s helmswoman proclaimed herself “a Macclesfield girl, born and bred”; within five minutes in a different snatched conversation another boater said she was heading back to Lincoln (where Cheshire Mum was born!) Small world, and all that!  Of course, especially as boating is essentially an outdoor activity, these conversations often feature the weather: how right /wrong the forecaster was, how wet the summer, how many layers of clothing worn. “Six layers I’m wearing today,” Mrs Last Flight had said, but throughout the morning conditions improved. Bravely Boatwif took off her waterproof jacket...

After the first three locks of the morning Mow Cop hove into view. This is another reason for enjoying this stretch – looming high above you is the intriguing shape of the Mow Cop folly and the settlement around it. The same thought crossed crew minds: been there, got the ticket! Further on comes lock 58, reached via boating under the M6. The roar of the traffic is constant and you make haste to Lock 57. Aah, Lock 57, a small canal-side shop, but better a lock-side cafe - and even better, a bistro whose evening menus are tasty and imaginative. Far too early for either lunch or dinner as it was passed today!

Onward; up more locks. At lock 54 the Captain turned to wish Good Morning to the gent sitting by the lock in his garden. Closer inspection revealed the gent to be a proud scarecrow. Above the lock two swan parents zealously guarded their sole cygnet, making themselves as large as possible to anyone who dared approach the paddle gear.  Here the canal threads on past pretty cottages and modern housing where all the residents seem to share the same liking for sitting outside and looking at the canal.

Time was allowed for a brief retail pause at Rode Heath (3 apples, a cucumber and a newspaper), a lunch break and then there were only six more locks... It was warm. Now, recklessly Boatwif took off both jumper and gaiters.

A couple of days ago on the Bridgewater Canal cranes had been seen ready to insert huge stop planks to block the channel when the canal needs to be drained. Different on the Trent and Mersey: at a works yard stop planks were lined up on shelves, and “kits of parts” for replacement lock gates. Six more locks to go – and a roll of thunder heralded the first raindrops, raindrops of the very large, very wet variety.  A light jacket grabbed, no time for the gaiters... it was a damp crew which tied the boat up at its intended overnight mooring at Church Lawton.

On a hillock behind the tow path stands Church Lawton’s church, a curious mix of stone and brick. Just a bit further along towards the next locks is Bridge Farm, where eight hours a day, it is said, are spent in milking cows. This afternoon an orderly queue of black and whites was feeding  into the dairy – and not surprisingly it is cows which are nearest neighbours tonight!

Tomorrow: off the Trent and Mersey at Kidsgrove and a turn back onto the Macc. Anyone still interested in what number has been reached on the “Cheshire Ring clock” – well, probably 6.