Wednesday 22 January 2014

Macclesfield Canal. Poynton to Whiteley Green.

You’d be amazed at how much mud an average sized fluffy puppy can acquire in the course of one walk. Paddy, during the two weeks we were looking after him and through no fault of his own, managed to transport a sizable volume of it from the towpath and the adjacent playing field into the boat.
He also brought in a whole load of good times and taught us a great deal about dog ownership. Before Paddy, our walks would be planned; we’d have a rucksack with a packed lunch and flasks of coffee and a route and a map and our pockets would be full of hats and gloves. With Paddy, there would be a helter-skelter to get all three of us out of the boat with wellies and a lead and dog-walking attire (i.e. muddy-from-last-time) with not the slightest idea of where we were going apart from out, and our pockets would be full of doggy treats and poo bags. By the time Chloe came to collect him we knew our way around Poynton like natives and we were dab hands at cleaning furry feet in the well deck. We did love having him, he’s absolutely adorable and so well behaved, but it did make us realise that we are far too set in our ways to have a dog of our own. Not that we didn’t know that already.

Jono and Nicole came over for the day while we were at Poynton. They walked past Braidbar Boats, whose boatyard at Lord Vernon’s Wharf was just behind us, and were very impressed with one of their newly built boats that was just being completed. We agree, they are gorgeous looking craft with beautiful lines and a very high quality fit-out. They’re also eye-wateringly expensive and deservedly so. Never mind Jono, just keep doing the lottery.

The morning that Chloe came to pick him up we took Paddy for a last run round the playing field. There were a bunch of other dogs down there and he got happily worn out chasing them around. Chloe had a quick bite to eat then we packed Paddy and all his paraphernalia into the back of her car and off they went home. In the afternoon we drove over to Chesterfield to say Happy Birthday to Anne and cook dinner for her.

Without a fluffy puppy in it, the boat seemed a bit empty when we got back, but by the time we’d put all the stuff back that we’d stashed in the car boot and moved down to bridge 20 it was like he’d never been there. Bridge 20 on Greenbank Lane was a lovely spot;
just enough room for one boat, a place to park the car and, best of all, an established bird table right outside the window. Instead of having to wait two or three days for them to get used to it, our own bird feeder was inundated as soon as we put it up.
Within an hour, along with blue tits, great tits and a robin we’d been honoured with visits from a chaffinch, a coal tit, two beautiful nut hatches and a squadron of half a dozen long-tailed tits.

A scan of our OS Explorer revealed a hill not too far away called Andrew’s Knob. Well, there was no way we weren’t going up that was there? Despite a steep climb to get there,
it turned out not to be quite as big a tumulus as we were expecting, but we took a photo of it anyway.
The thing in Ann-Marie's hand is a banana. The thing behind her is Andrew's Knob.

On the way back we yet again found ourselves on a section of the lovely Gritstone Trail.
We often use this long distance footpath, along with the Middlewood Way which runs parallel to the canal, as part of a circular walk, with the towpath making up the return part. We’d known that Ann-Marie’s boots were worn out for a while, but we’d been putting off the inevitable search, purchase and wearing-in period of a new pair in the hope that they’d perhaps get better, or something…. Anyway, we can’t really blame the rain or the steep hillside or the wet grass for what happened next. Her lug-free soles unfortunately reached their limit and disappeared from beneath her. She managed to turn round so that, thankfully, she didn’t toboggan to the bottom on her backside, but, with an audible splat, she still did a spectacular belly flop onto the muddy hill.

The next day John and Gill came to see us, which was lovely. They live at Woodlesford on the Aire and Calder and we hadn’t seen them since we boated to Stanley Ferry with them on board. We had a little walk in the afternoon then all went out for a meal in the evening. This life has blessed us with such wonderful friends.

We woke up the next morning with a mission. New Boots for Ann-Marie. Stockport has two or three small independent outdoor clothing shops and a couple of big retailers so we bit the bullet and went round them all. Twice. To cut a long story short she ended up with these.
They’re leather and they’re going to take a bit of breaking in, so since Ann-Marie got them we’ve been going for short-ish hikes and she’s either been taking wellies or her old boots with her as back up.
We left Bridge 20 and moved a little way down to Whiteley Green just before Bollington.
The view from here is terrific; the pimple on the hill in the background is called White Nancy. It’s a monument built to celebrate Nelson’s victory at Waterloo, though why it’s on a hill in Cheshire, God only knows. One of our short-ish hikes included yet another bit of the Gritstone Trail and a climb to the top to see what all the fuss was about.
The views from up there out over the Cheshire Plains, Stockport and Manchester are as good as it gets,
but as an edifice we found it somewhat lacking. There’s no plaque or sign or even a bench to sit on. The walk along the aptly named Saddle of Kerridge was good, and Ann-Marie’s new boots got put to the test on the very muddy and slippery path back down to canal-level.

Another place we’ve been to on foot while we’ve been moored close enough is Lyme Park. The House itself was used as Pemberley in the BBC version of Pride & Prejudice. Here is what will now and forever be known as Darcey’s Pond with a stern and brooding Darcey look-a-like, who’s just about to go for a swim, methinks.
Here’s Miss Elisabeth Bennett having a rest from all the excitement. Lawks-a-mercy.
It’s a great place to visit, apart from the magnificent house itself there are plenty of signed walks around the estate, a children’s play area, a cafĂ© and a vast deer park. It lies mid-way between the Macclesfield and the Upper Peak Forest canals so over the last couple of months we’ve come at it from all angles, as it were.
For a while now, when we run short, Dave has been making bread. Doing that and using powdered, rather than fresh milk has reduced our supermarket visits considerably. The other day Ann-Marie found a “No Knead” recipe on the web which starts off as a bowl of goop like this
and, after you’ve left it overnight, ends up as a delicious crusty loaf like this with hardly any effort.
To make it all perfect, it was a beautiful, sunny day in the middle of January and we had lunch out in the well-deck.
On the table were home-made rustic bread, home-made chutney and chicken that we’d cooked on the log burner. It’s a hard life.

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Peak Forest and Macclesfield Canals. Furness Vale to Poynton

Happy New Year Dear Reader, welcome to 2014; our third year as live-aboard boaters. We hope you had a good Christmas – we did.

For the week before Christmas we were moored in the first few yards of the Bugsworth Arm on the off-side overlooking Tesco. This proved to be a perfect mooring for Paddy, our temporary pet. He did fit in the boat quite easily once we’d put a table, a trolley and a few bags of other stuff in the boot of the car.
It was also very quiet with no boats going past due to the basin at Bugsworth being de-watered until March.
The towpath was still open so we were able to go and see the basin even though we couldn’t take Legend there. We took Paddy for several walks in that direction, including two up the TramwayTrail; a lovely footpath alongside the river, following the line of the horse-drawn limestone carrying tramway running down to the wharves at Bugsworth from the quarries at Doveholes and Chapel-en-le-Frith.
Being in places like this, once the harsh, noisy, dirty hub of the industrial revolution; now tree lined avenues and pools of calm water, always leaves us feeling privileged. The people who built and worked in these places - the men, women and children in the black and white photos on the pub walls - they never got to see the beauty of it all. We are so lucky to have been born in a time when living on a canal-boat is seen as a dream.

On the day of the Solstice we had a walk into New Mills where, on the side of a hill, there are three standing stones. Quite small standing stones in comparison to other better know edifices, but significant none-the-less. At mid-day the shadow from one big one falls on a mark on the other big one. (On midsummer’s day it falls on a mark on the little one)
We sat on a bench, had a celebratory drink and toasted the winter sun. When we got back to the boat a chap came up from Tesco and asked us if we wanted a broken fence panel as firewood. Silly question. It turned out to be a roll-cage stuffed full of smashed up 8’ high fencing - they must have backed a truck into it or something – and it took Dave two days to get it all chopped up and usable.
It’s all thin bits of cedar, so it burns fast and hot and you have to keep feeding it, but it was free, and we think it was very nice of them to offer it to us. 

The day before Christmas Eve was like changeover day in a B&B. In the morning Shandy came and picked Paddy up, then Kim and Luke came over for a visit and a bit of boat-time in the afternoon. We had a pan of mulled wine on the go, along with chocolate cake and mince pies, so that was nice. After that we moved the boat round the corner and down to the Whaley Bridge visitor moorings. This time we went on the opposite side, in the bit where the Judith Mary moors, which made it much easier for Mum and Dad to get on board when they came to stay.

Christmas Eve was Mum’s birthday. We started off in Marple listening to the Brass Band playing Christmas carols, (and Happy Birthday) then we went to New Mills and showed them the Millennium Walkway. That was followed by a pint in the Navigation at Bugsworth, and in the evening we revisited the Indian in Whaley Bridge. Happy Birthday Mum.

On Christmas Day, after the stockings and breakfast doings, we continued with what is becoming a tradition and did a spot of Christmas Day boating. It was only one lift bridge and about 3 miles to Disley but it was a lovely day and it felt good to be moving. As soon as we'd moored up Ann-Marie produced an amazing seven course Christmas dinner from our little galley.
The original idea was to go on to Marple on Boxing Day, but the view over the valley at Disley, combined with a rather grim weather forecast changed our minds and we stayed put for the rest of the week. Sue, Ann-Marie’s cousin and her husband Steve came over for a visit. We met up in a garden centre near Marple and then they came back to the boat for lunch.
The last time they were on the boat we were up on the Lancaster canal and they lived in Millom on the south Cumbria coast. They now live in Hesketh Bank, near Tarleton, so we’re going to have to pay them a visit before we go too far south.

After 5 very enjoyable days Mum and Dad returned to their home in Fleet and we went over to Anne’s for a “Festive Frazer Frolic”. All her kids plus partners and friends were there and we had a fab evening playing silly games and eating far too much. In the morning, along with Anne’s entire clan, we went for a walk along a very windy Curber edge.
It was good to see them all together and happy.

We finally moved up to Marple on New Year’s Eve. We did a wash-out then moored up opposite the Ring o’ Bells. It was a bit shady, but easy to find in the dark. This was important as we were going to Buxton for New Year and while we were out, Chloe and Shandy were coming to stay for a couple of nights on their way home from Ireland. On New Year’s Day we had the luxury of coming home to a warm boat and in the afternoon we all went for a walk with Paddy to Brabyns Park by the side of Marple locks. The grass was very wet and he got incredibly muddy which, although we didn’t know it at the time, was just a taste of things to come.

The next day we boated to Higher Poynton to a lovely mooring on the side of a flash. A flash is a wide part of the canal where the ground has subsided due, in most cases, to mining. It was a bit open when the wind got up, which it did most of the time we were there, but it was nice to hear the water lapping at the side of the boat; it reminded us of Glasson Dock, one of our favourite moorings. Chloe and Shandy went back to Daventry in the afternoon leaving us in charge of Paddy for 10 days while they went skiing.

We were in the perfect place for puppy sitting; there was a big playing field right next to the mooring where he could run about like a loon and a hundred yards away there was the Middlewood Way, a disused railway line running parallel to the canal for 5 miles in each direction, so we could make endless circular walks. Also there were numerous footpaths between us and Lyme Park. The only little snagette was the mud which Paddy seemed to attract like a squeegee mop. We had a permanently filthy towel hanging in the bathroom.
This was the week when the south of the country was being flooded and torn apart by the wind, so a bit of mud in our boat wasn’t so much of a hardship really, it just felt like it.

On the first Tuesday of 2014 we had our 4 yearly Boat Safety Survey. A very nice man called Martyn turned up and, while being molested by an excited puppy, went through our home with a fine tooth comb.  A BSS has been likened to an MOT for a car, but it’s not a very good simile. It doesn’t matter if your engine doesn’t work or if your boat is actually sea worthy or even afloat; the main concerns are that it’s not going to blow up, catch fire or asphyxiate you. If it comes under the heading of Fuel, Ventilation or Batteries it’s going to get checked and tested, as are all your fire extinguishers, your fire blanket and your escape routes. This might sound a bit over the top until you realise that all flammable gasses are heavier than air and that a boat is nothing more than a bucket with some pretty pictures on the side.

Happily we passed, and as long as we don’t do anything silly in the next 4 years there’s no reason to worry about the next one. One thing that Martyn did bring up that we weren’t aware of, was that on the previous BSS Legend was registered as a 2 berth boat. Which is fine, as most of the time there’s just us and we only have one fixed bed. However we do have a bed-settee and we quite often have people to stay. Even though there is nothing physical we have to change to make it a 4 berth, if our boat has only been declared “safe” as a 2 berth we shouldn’t really have any more than that sleeping on it. So if you’ve been to stay, thank you for not prosecuting us, and if you come to stay in the future you can rest securely in the knowledge that there are now officially 4 berths.

Pangbourne to Sutton Courtenay. River Thames.

Summer ‘24 finally arrived while we were moored at Pangbourne, and boy, did we all know about it. The temperatures rocketed up - along with ...