Sunday, 13 April 2014

Hall Green to Barbridge Junction. Trent and Mersey Canal, Wardle Canal, Shropshire union Canal

It’s all nodding daffodils, gambolling lambs and bloody stupid suicidal ducklings here on the cut, but more of that later.

France was good; lovely and sunny. Good things are happening in Chatanet. Frankie and Harry’s new dog, Iggy, is gorgeous and settling in to his home.
Paul and Harry have concreted the floors and put doors on the barns to create an enviable workshop and spray booth where, as 2CVtech,   they are building virtually new Citroen 2CVs. 

Dave was rather impressed and couldn’t resist getting stuck in with rubbing down and spannering.

We got invited to an evening at one of their neighbour’s houses, which is a weekly thing where both French and English get together and everybody brings some food and something to drink and tries to improve their language skills. Ann-Marie made a plate of cheesy scones. (The word “Scone” doesn’t sound all that glamorous when you’re offering one to a French person.) She then found herself telling everyone our life story, using mostly body language.  Later, after a few cognacs, Dave made a brave effort at a joke about two tortoises that nobody got, but everyone enjoyed the way he told it.
We had a fabulous week and were made to feel very welcome by the Griffiths Brookes household. It is no surprise that their warm hospitality is the main reason visitors to the gites keep coming back.

We had some very sad news when we returned to the UK. Since we had been moored near their house at Woodlesford last summer, our friends John and Gill had become regular visitors to the boat and we’ve got to know them well. We knew Gill had an ongoing illness, but it was still a shock to hear that while we out of the country she’d sadly passed away. We went to offer our support to John at a celebration of Gill’s life which was held at their local tearoom and craft centre in Methley. It was a beautiful occasion; there were lots of their friends there from all walks of life, all with some fond memory of how Gill had touched their lives. We’ll remember the way she lit up the room, the wonderful hats, the twinkling eyes and the warm smile. It’s impossible to think that such a vital life-force has gone and we’re going to miss her a lot.

We’ve done a heap of boating since the last post. We went from Hall Green stop lock at the bottom of the Macclesfield
to Harding’s Wood Junction, turned northwest on the Trent and Mersey down Heartbreak Hill to Middlewich,
then west on the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union to Barbridge Junction, where we are now. The narrow locks on Heartbreak Hill were doubled to speed up passage of working boats. these days some of the pairs are still both in good repair and usable,
but some have just the one in operation with the other one either derelict or non existent.

Norm and Jude, Harry’s mum and dad, came to see us at Wheelock, it was the first time they’d seen the boat and we loved having them on board. At Middlewich Pam and Brian, more first timers, joined us for lunch and a very short lesson in locking; we took them down King’s Lock, round Middlewich Junction and up Wardle Lock before mooring up.
It’s was a trip of less than 100 yards, but it involved five boats coming from all directions and included the entire length of the Wardle Canal passing Auntie Maurine's Lock Cottage so it was full of canal heritage and history. Both couples left with promises to return; Pam’s daughter lives in Chester so we’ll try and organise something there, and Norm and Jude are keen to meet us at the end of the Calden Canal when we get there.

As well as having visitors to our boat we’ve been visiting ourselves. Arthur, who we met last year on the Ouse, has had his boat, Shambles, moored for the winter in a marina at Anderton. We’d been invited to an open meeting at Anderton Visitor Centre with Richard Perry, the new Chief Executive of the CRT, so we thought it would be nice to go and see Arthur and Eve, who we didn’t meet last year, beforehand. There are a number of these meetings being held across the country, the CRT use their database of where boats are permanently moored and where continuous cruisers are at that time to compile a list of customers who are then invited to attend by email. We had lunch on Shambles then walked over to the marquee where, along with Arthur and Eve and about 30 other people, we were supplied with tea and biscuits and invited to ask any questions we liked of Mr Perry.  We were impressed by how well he and his team seemed to listen to everyone and tried to answer everything honestly and not to dodge any of the questions. Although we didn’t have a particular agenda, a lot of the points raised were relevant to us in one way or another so we found the whole experience useful. It was certainly a world apart from BW’s way of doing things. Anyway it was good to finally meet Eve; we’d thought she was Arthur’s imaginary friend, but it turns out she’s very real and very nice and we had a lovely afternoon aboard one of our favourite boats.

Half way down the 28 Cheshire Locks, at Hassell Green, we saw our first ducklings this year.
Ahhh! 11 little round bundles of fluff following their mum as if they were tied on with string. Well that was the scene when we walked past in the morning; when we came back later with the boat she only had 3 left. There were two penned in the lock entrance but no sign of any more. Ann-Marie did her best to re-unite them but we still found one in the lock with the boat as we went down. It gallantly swam all the way the down one side while Dave struggled to keep it from being squished by 17 tons of Hancock and Lane’s finest, then he had to lean over the back and scoop it out just before it started its return trip up the other side. By that time the lock was empty so Ann-Marie had to lie down and reach over the edge so Dave could reach up and hand it over.
We know it’s only nature’s way of sorting out the stupid from the survivors, and if they all grew up we’d be overrun with ducks, but you can’t help getting involved. It was the same at Middlewich where we used the chimney brush to shoo a hungry looking swan away from another bunch of ducklings. We don’t know if swans eat ducklings; we’ve seen ducks eat mice so it’s a fair bet and, to be honest, we’d rather not find out while leaning out of our side hatch admiring the view.    
Our heightened rate of progress across the Cheshire Plains towards the Mersey is so that we’ll be at Ellesmere Port by next Wednesday. We’re booked into the basin for the Easter Boat Gathering and Sea Shanty Festival, but before that we’re off down south to take our place at the London Marathon mile 18 marker on the Isle of Dogs to watch Chloe run past. Whoo-ooh! She’s been practicing hard and we’re very proud and quite convinced that she’ll still be running when she gets to us. Paul and Janice are coming over to watch as well although Chloe doesn't know yet. We're all meeting up at Susan and Crispin's in Surbiton afterwards to celebrate. that should be a good do! We’re stopping at Karen’s for the weekend, so we need to get the boat to somewhere where we can leave it for a couple of days. It shouldn’t be a problem, there’s plenty of mooring here on the Shroppie, we just need to find a place we like the look of. With car access. And a phone signal. And a nearby shop. Not that we’re fussy of course. 

Monday, 17 March 2014

Macclesfield Canal. Three Oaks to Henshall's Bridge

In our usual state of fickleness we have once again changed our minds about what the immediate future holds for us. A small email attachment from the IWA caught our attention, we have sent off for a booking form and now, when we get to the Trent and Mersey at Harding’s Wood junction, instead of heading east we are going to go the other way. At Middlewich we’ll go down the Middlewich Branch, then up the Shroppie through Chester and on to the National Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port for the Easter Boat Gathering and Sea ShantyFestival. A similar sort of whimsical departure from The Plan occurred last year when, in Leeds, a chance conversation resulted in us turning left at Castleford instead of right and going up the Ouse to York and Ripon, where we met a bunch of really lovely people and had a whale of a time. We find that very encouraging and we’re looking forward to the Chester trip immensely. We’ve been to boat festivals before but we’ve never had our own boat booked in as part of one. In anticipation of all the attention we’ll be no doubt attracting the Easter bunting will make a re-appearance and there will be a severe tidying-up of roof. We’ve got just over a month to get there, but as it’s a there-and-back-again trip we can take it easy on the return leg. The fact that the route we’re following is less than half of Alton’s coal run and that Brian and Ann Marie are usually back home in 10 days including stopping for all their customers is neither here nor there; in our world, moving five miles every three days is definitely approaching the “speedy” end of the scale.

Two or three of these short hops brought us from Three Oaks through Congleton and on to Henshalls Bridge (80). Our favourite mooring on this bit has to be in the Biddulph Valley Arm just before the Congleton Embankment.
The warehouses that used to surround this little wharf are long gone leaving a secluded cul-de-sac on the off side with its own bench. We had two glorious days sitting outside while the solar panels soaked up the unexpected March sunshine. As it was only a short distance away we had another hike up The Cloud, which reminded us that, although weather-wise it has been fine for a week or so, and the towpaths are finally starting to dry out, it’s going to take a lot more than that for the water-logged fields to recover. The squelchy sucking noise that inevitably accompanies the extraction of a muddy boot from an even muddier hole is getting, to be frank, rather boring now thank you.
On the way up we came across this line of what described itself as Amphibian Fencing,
and this sign.

Just after Congleton Aqueduct there are some 48hr moorings at Congleton Wharfe where we left the boat while we went over to Keighley for the weekend for Kate’s birthday.
While we were there the two Davids took Dylan-the-dog up Ilkley Moor, and yes, they both took their hats off while they were up there. The girleys stayed home and had a crafting session, including some Celtic Knotting which we really like the look of and will be practicing later.

For two mornings last week we were working (if you can call it that) for our survey company, counting passengers alighting from busses in Liverpool. It’s easy as long as you don’t mind standing around in a bus station for hours. When Dave was a teenager he did that for free, so this is money for jam as far as he’s concerned. We've got another two days in a week or so, which is nice; if it stays at that rate it will suit us perfectly.

Mum and Dad were up in this neck of the woods for a committee meeting over the weekend so they came for a couple of days on the boat beforehand. The good weather was still holding out so we had a little trip out to Mow Cop and a walk up to the castle.
This is the last high point on the Gritstone Trail before it ends in Kidsgrove. Because it runs parallel to the Mac down the edge of the Cheshire Plains we’ve been able to walk along a fair bit of this long distance footpath in the past few months and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of it. The steep inclines can be hard work, but the stunning views make every step worthwhile.
We’ll be leaving Legend at Henshall’s bridge while we go to see Frankie and Harry in their new home in Bordeaux.
In fact this blog entry is being written on the plane, waiting for take-off at Luton Airport which, it appears, can’t be said without doing the accent. There will be photos of what we’re sure will be a brilliant week in French France in the next entry.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Macclesfield Canal. Bosley Top Lock to Three Oaks.

The big news for us at the moment is that Chloe and Shandy have sold their house. They’ve got a cash buyer who wants to complete in four weeks so it’s all going to be a bit hectic in Daventry for a while. They plan to bunk up with some mates of theirs until Shandy finishes his college course then move over to Ireland and stay with his mum and dad till they can get themselves sorted.

As we feared, the temptation to ascend Wincle Minn proved too much.
In fact during the two weeks we were at the top of Bosley locks we had another hike up the 400m Croker Hill,
and climbed The Cloud which, although only 360m, feels a lot higher. This is partly because we started from lower down and partly because the path was almost vertical.
Brian and Ann Marie went off on their monthly run to Elsmere Port so we worked the locks for them on their way down.
The Macclesfield canal was built around 1830, about 40 years later than the canals at either end of it, meaning that Thomas Telford could use the working experience of a whole generation of bargees in the design of it. The straight lines across big embankments and aqueducts mean that progress was as rapid as possible and the 120’ descent is made in one flight of 12 locks in just over a mile. The paddles were made big so that the locks emptied fast, but the sluices were designed so there was hardly any turbulence. It really was state of the art high tech stuff, and it means that nearly 200 years later a good crew can drop a fully laden 72’ boat down the whole flight in just over an hour.
These days, at that rate, you bring an awful lot of water with you, but it wasn’t always so. At each lock there used to be a side pond into which, when emptying, half the water could be drained, making it available for the next fill, and saving the lower locks and pounds from overflowing. None of these side ponds are in use anymore; in fact the one next to the top lock has been turned into a garden, but it makes you realise that even at a time when it was all under threat from the railways, canal design was improving and evolving.

Apparently Macclesfield is known as “Treacle Town”. Depending which source you listen to, this is either because of an incident involving a spilt wagon-load of treacle which was scraped off the cobbled streets by the locals, or to commemorate the benevolence of the silk mill owners who gave a barrel of treacle to their workers at Easter. One can only imagine the joy and rapture that must have eclipsed the mill workers upon learning that instead of a pay rise this Easter they were to be presented with a whole barrel of treacle. Whatever, there is now a Treacle Market on the last Sunday of the month.
We heard that the January one was a bit of a disaster with stall-holders hanging onto their gazebos in the teeth of a hurricane, but the last Sunday in February dawned bright and dry so we went along for a gander. There were no end of stalls selling local food and produce; lots of Cheshire Cheese of course, several bakers with delicious looking bread and cakes, hand-made chocolates and petit-fours as well as honey, wine, preserves and pickles of every shape and size. About the only thing we didn’t see for sale was treacle.
At the other end of town there were lots of craft stalls and antique sellers. We very nearly bought loads of stuff, but in the end we were very restrained and came home with a lovely big pork pie. As Dave is so fond of saying; “There’s no meal in the world that can’t be improved by the addition of a pork pie.”

After their run up the T&M Alton came back a week and a bit later and we were on hand again to help them back up. The day after that we took Legend down which meant that we’d walked the flight about ten times altogether.
We moored for one night at the bottom, then moved on a couple of bridges to what we’ve named Three Oaks (for obvious reasons)
for four more nights, most of which we spent in Chesterfield. Anne’s house is now on the market so we had a weekend helping tidy up her garden and doing odd jobs around the place in the hope of attracting more potential buyers. If you’re in the market for a six bedroomed house in Chesterfield with a huge kitchen and a very tidy garden we’d love to hear from you.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Macclesfield Canal. Whitley Green to Bosley Locks.

Picture titles are back! Just hover over the photo.

Our stuttering progress down the Macc continues.

From Whitley Green we went past the very handsome Clarence Mill then over Bollington Aqueduct before mooring up for a few days at Clarkes Lane. That was followed by a short run to Macclesfield during which we took on wood from a very boggy copse at Hurdsfield and pulled in for water opposite the rather uninspiring visitor moorings near Hovis Mill. We stopped for one night between bridges 39 and 40 just after the visitor moorings, before carrying on to the Gurnett Aqueduct.
There are 48hr moorings on the aqueduct at the back of the handy garden centre, but they finish before bridge 44 so we shuffled up and had a week or so there.
Brian and Ann Marie came along on Alton while we were there so we had some coal off them.
They have three boats altogether; Alton, which they use for their regular coal and diesel runs, St Austel which is a butty and occasionally gets towed along for deliveries, and Shirley which they live in when they’re not out delivering. Their base is just down the cut at a fabulous little wharf at Oakgrove where they have a big shed and where they keep their lovely Citroen Acadiane.
The weather brightened up which meant we could get out walking again and there were two rather tempting peaks nearby; an old quarried gritstone outcrop called Tegg’s Nose and Croker Hill, which is the highest thing around here and has a big radio mast on top.
Tegg’s Nose is a very popular country park.

It has a display of old quarry machinery at the top.
Two days later saw us at the top of Croker Hill. It was a long slog getting up there and the view from the top would have been spectacular if the visibility had been better,
but it’s nice to know that for the next few weeks we can look out of a window and say “You see that radio mast? We’ve been up there!”
David and Kate came with Dylan-the-dog to stay for the weekend while we were at Gurnett, so on Friday evening we invited Brian and Ann Marie over for tea. The six of us go way back to when we first joined the 2cv club but David and Kate hadn’t seen Brian and Ann Marie for about ten years, so it was a lovely evening aboard Legend; lots of reminiscing and tales of watery adventures.
It was David’s birthday on the Saturday so as a special treat Dave took him and Dylan-the-dog up Tegg’s Nose while the girlies went to Manchester to a Craft Fayre.
Due to a howling gale and lots of rain forecast for the afternoon the boys got back to the boat first where they stoked up the fire and put a film on.
Our next boat move was less than a mile to Broadhurst Swing Bridge near Lyme Green. It’s a tough call to make when there’re high winds forecast; do you go for shelter so you have a calmer night or do you stay away from the trees in case one comes down on your boat? In the end we went for shelter, and just happened to collect some wood at the same time.
There were a lot of trees brought down that night though, as we found when we set off towards Bosley Locks a couple of days later. As the good citizens that we are, we did our bit and cleared some Hawthorns off the towpath on the way.
It just so happens that Hawthorn is one of our favourite firewoods, but we would have done it anyway.
When we got to Oakgrove Swing Bridge we found this sign.
It Says "Canal closed due to fallen trees." We moored up and went to investigate. After a mile or so we met a chap walking the other way. He said he’d come from Bosley and hadn’t seen anything untoward so off we went again. A round the next bend we found a spot where there had been a tree down, but it had all been cleared up. Further investigation revealed that it had happened the previous Sunday and that the sign hadn’t been taken away. We thought it was all a bit too efficient to be true. Doh!
As we chugged slowly past Brian & Ann Marie’s gaff all of their fleet were at the wharf and they were having a fuel delivery.
We’ll have some of that off them before we leave the Macc and head off east on the Trent and Mersey. It’s very heartening to see such dedicated people determined to keep freight on the canals, providing a dependable regular service come what may and we’re going to miss them when we go.
For the next two weeks we’ll be here.
This is Bosley Top lock; it has a sanitary station and easy parking. The hill in the background is The Cloud which, along with Wincle Minn will, no doubt, feature prominently in future episodes.  As you know by now, we’re suckers for an interestingly named tumult.

Other stuff that's been going on in our lives that isn’t boat related: Chloe and Shandy have decided to move to Northern Ireland as soon as they can sell their house. That was a bit sudden, but not entirely unexpected. Anne is getting her house ready to sell and we’ll be going over to help her with prettying it before the sign goes up sometime in March. Frankie and Harry have got a dog called Iggy; apparently Frankie returned from the rescue centre with said dog after telling Harry she was only going to look. But it’s ok because he’s very sweet and well behaved. So is the dog.