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.

Brentford to New Haw Lock. GU mainline. River Brent. River Thames. Wey and Godalming Navigations.

We had just over a week at Brentford waiting for the Thames strong stream warnings to come down from red to amber, and we made good use of o...