Sunday, 31 March 2013

Blown away!

Macclesfield to below Bosley Locks, 6.1 miles and 12 locks.
       Ice surrounded the boat again this morning. It was still and calm with few people about as Boatwif trotted down Buxton Road to an early morning Easter service at St Paul’s Church.
Two mini eggs and the Parish News the heavier Boatwif returned to find the Captain ready for action:
         “A hire boat’s just been through, it’s cut us a route through the ice,” he proclaimed. A cup of tea was provided as if to stoke up against the cold.  Then the layers of clothing were assembled in readiness for a chill day...
        Just past Macclesfield marina the canal passes under Black Road Bridge. Last year a small corner site was being excavated and services installed. Now apartments provide neat waterside living.
On the canal goes – the southern outskirts of Macclesfield, Sutton and the Gurnett Aqueduct (popular mooring area) then an open stretch towards Lyme Green.
The wind had an icy blast to it and in unexpected places in gardens and against hedges snow was still piled high.
 The canal weaves on: you might round a bend and slip through the narrow gap that is Broadhurst Swing Bridge – or you might round the corner and find that the bridge is closed. Today the bridge was closed – and another boat was the other side.
Three hearty ladies swung the heavy structure open and onward Cleddau proceeded. A mile or so later came the electrically operated swing bridge at Oakgrove; here four vehicles and a bike had to wait patiently for the boat to slide past. There were more sightings ahead of the snow’s fury, sheltered slopes still snow covered,
 gulleys in valley bottoms still white laced, the microwave mast hill still splashed with snow.
       The top of Bosley locks appeared. While the Captain made haste to empty receptacles and rubbish Boatwif made haste to boil the kettle and to make two cups of soup, survival rations for the crew during their efforts ahead. The Captain hurried on, eager to lock ahead. Patiently Boatwif rode the back deck of the boat while lock 2 was supposedly being filled. Whisk – and away into the murky waters whirled the yellow top of the elderly but faithful Tupperware mug.
           Lock after lock the keen easterly blew – and at lock after lock it was a struggle to keep the boat aligned with the lock entry. At lock 4 an upcoming boat had a large crew. “Let me do that,” said one hefty lad, and he wound up the paddle with ease.
           “Great help, your lads,” the Captain called to their helmsman.
            There was a groan and a sigh: “You should see the food bills!”
      In the field above Lock 6 a flock of sheep grazed; tiny newborn lambs seemed too frail yet to do more than to scuttle after their mothers.
Snow was piled high round the offside of one lock
– and always the Cloud, the massive hulk of gritstone, loomed ahead. The snow emphasises its craggy bulk. How bizarre it was tonight to sit in daylight (British Summer Time) eating supper and gazing up at the very route we climbed last August. Lacking ice-picks and crampons on board there won’t be a second Cloud ascent during this trip.
So it was a “blown away” sort of day: blown away by the warmth of the welcome at St Paul’s Church, a mug lid blown away into the canal, boats blown about in the pounds between locks, the crew blown away by the Arctic blasts that are still making for a largely monochrome landscape...
Onward tomorrow, at least to Ramsdell Hall or maybe further...

Saturday, 30 March 2013


       There was a sense of being in foreign parts today. A landscape and canal route usually familiar looked strangely different...
         It had been a quiet night, high on the aqueduct above Bollington.
There is no traffic noise here and the few ducks about were too hungry to make a racket, unlike the Canada geese at Poynton on Thursday night.  Then there had been frequent outbreaks of goose gabble after dark: “It’s well after lights out in the dorm,” Boatwif had wanted to say, recalling residential field trips when pupils are too excited ... “It’s time to settle down now and let the rest of us sleep.”
           Before departure this Easter Saturday morning the Captain took himself off down into Bollington. Note the word “down”. The canal runs way above most of Bollington, sweeping above steep streets and narrow lanes, playing fields, churches, a viaduct and an Arts Centre.  It’s easy to reach the butcher, baker, post office, library, etc:  just leave the canal embankment at a suitable place and walk downhill (trying not to let your feet run away with you) or find a flight of steps.  There are over forty steep steps up to the canal by Adelphi Mill, and that’s after an uphill climb as well.
Like tall bookends the mill buildings mark the ends of the Bollington canal stretch, Clarence Mill to the north, Adelphi Mill to the south.
It was near Adelphi Mill that that “foreign parts” feeling first occurred.
           “Morning,” Boatwif said to an approaching dog walker.
           “Aye up,” was the northern reply.

Cleddau crept through Bridge 28 and on towards Kerridge. Snow still lay in the gardens and all was quiet at Kerridge Dry Dock.
 Through bare trees snow could be seen still clinging to the old quarry sites and to the hillside contours. Cleddau slid through the turnover bridge (Bridge 29) where the canal takes on a completely a rural character.
 The towpath banks were piled high with drifted snow.

Bare trees on the offside allowed far greater glimpses than usual of the vast Astra Zeneca manufacturing plant; its companion research arm is sited a couple of miles away and is soon to be relocated to the fen flatlands in Cambridge. This all seemed a sharply different world from last, and previous, trips this way...
On then through Hurdsfield, Macclesfield’s northern suburb.
            Hovis Mill hove into view, a convenient (and not shallow) mooring just opposite it.  So, three mills – and then a mooring!

Macclesfield was displaying a Saturday afternoon buzz today:  a saxophonist was busking mournfully in Church Square and a few souls braved the seating outside the coffee shop.
 On Sunday the Square will be the venue for the monthly bustle of the Treacle Market  , a real treat for anyone who has time, interest and cash.
            Meanwhile, back on the boat, the Captain was hosting foreign visitors: three  Americans (out of Rhode Island and now Florida) had asked questions from the towpath and came aboard to sate their curiosity.

Another short cruise, of 3.35 miles. The total now? “Not a lot!” according to the Captain.
            Tomorrow: towards Bosley – and maybe down the locks...


Friday, 29 March 2013

An Escape

    Ten meeting-less, appointment-free days stared out from the calendar; time then for a cruise... but where to?
From moorings at Higher Poynton to Bugsworth Basin? No, that’s about a 10 hour trip, can manage further than that...
To Uppermill, on the Huddersfield Narrow, and walk up to Standedge Tunnel? No, there have to be long cruises between mooring places on the Huddersfield, and it is still very cold...
To Lock 57, that favourite bistro, down near Sandbach, on the Trent and Mersey Canal?  Yes – then no. Lock 57, provider of delicious food in a quiet contemporary setting, closed down in January, and sold everything off.
To Wheelock then, 9 locks and 2 miles further on, and turn round shortly after.
So that was the decision – to Wheelock. It would entail cruising along the Macclesfield Canal, down the Bosley 12, continuing to Red Bull, bearing left at Hardings Wood Junction, and descending Heartbreak Hill, 32 miles and 39 locks in total... 

It was a good start on Thursday: the Cleddau crew arrived at the boat at 3pm, unloaded their survival rations and more jumpers and fleeces than had ever been on board before, cast off at 3.26pm, arrived at the water tap at 3.34pm and started to fill the tank. But there, moored nearby Bailey’sTrading Post was nb Bosley. Swiftly along the towpath trotted Bosley’s crew for a catch up. First acquaintance had been at Bugsworth in 2011, they awaiting delivery of their new Braidbar-built boat, Cleddau just refitted throughout the front two thirds of the cabin. Next meeting had been a year ago, near Rookery Bridge on the Trent and Mersey. On that occasion there had been  a guided tour of Bosley and tea taken in luxury... The wind sharpened yesterday, so once there was water in the tank the kettle could be boiled, the new stainless steel double-lined chimney installed,
the fire lit and the cake tin raided. There were boating tales to swap, they across the Ribble and up to Lancaster last summer, Cleddau to Huddersfield and through Manchester... Daylight faded, guests departed, and on day one Cleddau had completed just 50 yards of the Easter cruise.

Day two: “We are iced in,” gasped the Captain just after 8am on Friday.
The sun was shining brightly – but not warmly. There were jobs to be done and stuff to be stowed. The morning meandered on until at midday the ropes were untied and the cruise got under way.
Faint birdsong could be heard above the chinking of ice floe sliding under ice floe. A Canada goose scrabbled to move through water, its progress impeded by a slippery plate.
 Snow curled in wonderful formations on the bank side, stubbornly remained in hollows and bushes, lay sprinkled across the hillsides.

 Icicles lurked under Bridge 22 and the temperature refused to rise.
The crew were in thermals and windproofs; horses seemed to be in  double blankets.
 At Clarence Mill on the northern edge of Bollington a chill wind blew. It wasn’t even 2pm – but a rare mooring space on the aqueduct ahead beckoned.
Cleddau was tied up, for lunch, for the afternoon, for the night!
Total cruise distance so far: 4.23 miles.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Ferry boat to Marple

Was it just a dream...?
        Once the current cold spell is over perhaps Cleddau could resume her transport duties – and ferry her crew along the Upper Peak Forest Canal to Bugsworth for a spring weekend...?
       So wrote Boatwif, a couple of weeks ago, following the Isle of Wight escapade. And a miniscule spring cruise has happened – honest!
     After two nights aground in the Macclesfield Loft for the Library in the Landscape Affair (March 16th) Boatwif and the Captain took to the water. 
      Cleddau lay cold and thirsty at her mooring on Sunday morning but after a reverse to the tap near Bailey’s Trading Post, a long wait for another boat to fill up and some thought-provoking conversations with boaters and passers-by*, it was time to cruise.
 Smoke curled from the multi-fuel stove below decks while crew on the stern were neither shivering nor encased in windproof layers, gloves or hats. Hope was in the air, hope of spring at last – and of a pub supper.  
           Many have a quixotic view of canal boat cruising: “Always a pub to stop at,” they say. “No need to cook, just stop at a pub,” they’ll trill. Over the years Cleddau’s crew have had mixed success at seeking canal-side pub food. There is the tale of the four bags (and only four bags) of crisps available on a Bank Holiday evening at a place on the Lower Avon, of pubs closed up, of pubs not serving meals on a Sunday evening, of pubs not serving food at all... Hence any venture ashore to seek a pub meal is usually accompanied by a backward glance into the galley store cupboard: Tin of beans? Tin of curry? Packet of rice?  Some pasta? If all goes to worms the crew should survive the night, goes the theory - and occasionally, the practice...
          On Sunday it was just a three mile or so cruise to Marple Junction where the Ring O’ Bells pub sits just alongside Bridge Number 2. Was food available? There had been a failed attempt here last September when the chef had been sent home early to pack for his holiday. Was history (ie. no food available) to be repeated.  NOT SO!  Eyes alighted on the Specials Board. Who would have thought that prawn and monkfish kebabs served on a bed of rice and accompanied by a small jug of mild curry sauce could be both visually appealing and extremely tasty.  Full marks now to this hospitable eatery!

Monday morning dawned, sunny, bright and clear. A return to moorings was essential but couldn’t there be a slight diversion first? Cleddau crept up to the junction, ready to wind and return to base.
 The temptation was just too great to resist; it was a right hand turn onto the Peak Forest Canal.
It was just a little cruise, just a mile or so, Cleddau ferrying her crew towards, though not to, Whaley Bridge and Bugsworth. Through the bare branches the clean lines of the Peak District hills were visible.
 The air was fresh, puffy clouds floated above, several hens pecked happily in their canal- side enclosure,
riders on horseback trotted along the towpath,
 CRT staff worked on bank side repairs
             and tree reflections shimmered in the water.

 All was well with the world and Cleddau and her crew were afloat and in motion!
           The 60’ 6” of boat was turned where she had never been turned before. It was back to base then, a couple of hours away. Within a mile of the moorings winter was back with stinging raindrops and blustery winds. As Cleddau cruised past The Trading Post work at last was being started to repair the collapsed bank..
Decision time: should all the precious water in the tank stay or go? Could there be further cold weather this late in March?
A week later the UK population sighs – and knows the answer. Snow swirls in Bedfordshire, winds howl in Cheshire; thankfully the water tank was drained – but was that Spring-like cruise last weekend just a fanciful dream...

*Cults, canoes and cruising the Lancaster Canal

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Library in a Landscape

 Saturday 16th March

Boats, books and scenery ‘are a few of my favourite things.’* This blog, however, will make no mention of the first category – but plenty of the second and third...
            Techno Son-in-law mentioned the Library in a Landscape project sometime last autumn. An acquaintance, a fellow parent at the Cheshire One’s school, is a poet and a book lover. She had a vision of a small book lending library located in a beautiful outdoor setting. Though the idea had come to her via a largely urban scheme in the States her vision was for a library which overlooked or was part of a wonderful landscape. Techno Son-in-law, a Countryside Ranger responsible for Tegg’s Nose Countryside Park, outside Macclesfield on the hilly uplands of East Cheshire, identified a suitable site... 
Money was raised online via a crowdfunding website for materials to make the library, Techno’s Dad, a volunteer with the Countryside Rangers, was enlisted to build it, friends donated books of a wide variety of genres and Rangers dug an enormous hole and installed the sturdy pole and box.
       On Saturday afternoon a gathering of 36 folk, some far too young to read though others were readers of many decades, assembled at the  Visitor Centre and set off in procession along the ridge line towards the library site. Tegg’s Nose stands at 380 metres /1247 feet above sea level – and it was dry but chilly. Snow still skulked in the hollows and in shady areas behind the dry stone walls. At first the walk route overlooks Macclesfield town.  Then the path swings up old flagstone steps to the eastern side.  In the distance is the darker smudge of Macclesfield Forest, with the pointed peak of Shutlingsloe (Cheshire’s “Matterhorn”) beyond.
 The group passed the old millstone grit quarry and its array of outdoor machinery. Below lies the sweep of the valley, with neatly demarcated fields and a reservoir.

       It was a twenty minute walk from the car park and Visitor Centre, but then many of the group had only little legs. We arrived above the Library but could not actually see it. Just past an inviting seat overlooking the slopes is a narrow path: this is the Goat Track which descends steeply to the valley bottom. But within fifty metres or so of the top of the Goat Track on a grassy terrace is another viewing seat - and the Library!  There it was, bedecked with a red ribbon and overhung by bunting.

       A few short speeches preceded the untying of the ribbon – and the Library was declared Open!

The eclectic mix of books proved attractive: several children seized a book of their choice and plonked themselves down on the idyllically situated bench.
Books were borrowed for a read at home (return when you can or/and put other volumes in the box).
Guests were urged to sign the Visitors’ Book and then the group meandered back to the Visitor Centre where a wonderful spread of cakes, scones, biscuits and mugs of tea refreshed the walkers. 

       In all it was a most civilised and good humoured affair, a gathering to see an inspirational idea translated into reality. Seek it out if you can, the Library in a Landscape, at Tegg’s Nose Countryside Park, on Buxton Old Road, about 2 miles east and uphill of Macclesfield. Pick up a site leaflet: the map inside will help you find your way and check out the exact location on the large scale map on the wall in the Visitor Centre.
See other photos about the construction and opening of the library on the facebook site.

       As we left the Visitor Centre to drive westwards back to Macclesfield the sun glinted on a great white saucer in the distance.  If you’re in Cheshire you could pop over to Jodrell Bank (there’s plenty to see and do there)
and then pop on up to Tegg’s Nose for some stunning views and a book browsing session!

* Maria’s song in The Sound of Music