Monthly Archives: September 2016

The Cheshire Cat-Part 2: Hard Man Biggles

Having eschewed the delights of Congleton (the town centre is quite some way from the canal), the chief cook decided that we needed some provisions before we hit the delights of Kidsgrove and Stoke on Trent, and suggested we stop at Henshall Bridge, as it was close to a farm shop she fancied checking out.

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It was a good spot to take a picture of a Macclesfield Canal bridge: they’re rather unusual in that instead of the walls dropping vertically from the widest part, they start curving back as though they completed a proper ellipse under the canal. This, coupled with wide towpaths under the bridges, make them appear wide and easy to navigate. Wrong! If anything they’re even more of a challenge than the narrow ones on the Stratford Canal earlier in the summer – there’s a small underwater ledge on the other side to catch you out too.

After lunch aboard, we got chatting to a couple of anglers. One of them remarked that it was nice to see a Piper Boat, and told us that he used to work for them some years ago. As was now his regular practice whenever we started gossiping on the towpath, the Captain came out to join us, sitting in the middle of the towpath. Getting bolder during his travels he’s become almost immune to passing dogs, even if we were a bit surprised how he stood his ground at Bollington.

We were even more surprised when four young whippets came bounding along, two attached to a young lady by leashes, two running loose, and he didn’t even bristle much. He just stood in the centre of the towpath and glared at them… and they slowly took a wide detour round him before carrying on their bouncing progress.

“Blimey” said the angler “that cat of yours is well hard, isn’t he…”

Anyway, after the demonstration of his evil eye, he sloped off and went for his afternoon nap while we headed off for Astbury and the farm shop, which proved even further from the canal than Congleton town centre. Must have words with the shopping planner. Actually, it wasn’t so much a farm shop as “tourist attraction” in its own right, with a petting zoo, café, several art and craft shops and a butcher, as well as selling produce from the farm.

After a lengthy examination of all the shops selling things you never knew you didn’t need, buying some food, and partaking of coffee and cake, the chief cook then announced that we would take a wander around Astbury, which proved a pleasant and picturesque village albeit with the A34 running down the other side.

Astbury ChurchAstbury Church

The church looked interesting, with its bell tower and steeple built off to one side, but it was all locked up so you’re spared any more pictures of ecclesiastical ceilings.

Astbury Church Yew TreeAstbury Church Yew Tree

The yew tree in the churchyard looked even older than the church, although the original trunk was looking a little too well ventilated to provide decent shelter from the elements.

AstburyAstbury Cottage

Madam was most taken with the cottage with the dormer windows, and there were several others that also caught her fancy.

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If you click on the above picture and look at the stone by the path, you can see that this gated passage isn’t just a way of getting to the back yard, it’s a public footpath to somewhere.

AstburyAstbury

Complete with a village green sporting a splendid oak tree to sit under, and a nice looking inn opposite the church, one can’t help suspecting the house prices in Astbury are steep even for Cheshire. Shame about the A34 though.

Anyway, by the time we’d done all this and walked back to the boat, it was too late to cruise on. Guess we’ll just have to open a bottle of something and stay the night.

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The Cheshire Cat – Part 1: Biggles Keeps His Feet Dry

Wednesday morning, and with decidedly better weather Sir decided that we would explore the River Dane Aqueduct before setting off for Congleton and parts south. The aqueduct  – a listed building, it would appear – is pretty high, but not all that long. With CaRT’s outstanding policy on clearing towpath vegetation, you could cruise over it without even noticing it, as we had on the way up. Anyway, now moored just a few yards away, we decided to rectify our omission.

River Dane AqueductRiver Dane Aqueduct

Biggles was quite keen to explore.

River Dane AqueductRiver Dane Aqueduct

It really is quite high above the surrounding countryside, and we couldn’t spot any way down to view it from below without indulging in a significant cross-country expedition. Meanwhile, Biggles was as usual checking out bolt holes should he be beset upon by marauding dogs. Not sure he’d thought this one through, though: there was at least a 60ft drop just there.

River Dane AqueductTired after his exploration

After all that excitement, on return to the boat, Sir decided he would organise the rest of the day’s navigation as we set sail for Congleton.

Wharf near CongletonNear Congleton

It’s hard to believe that this old wharf/arm on the outskirts of Congleton used to be a major transport depot/interchange. And barely three minutes later one is sailing high above the kind of pad that you only ever see in the Country Life property porn pages.

Macclesfield Canal run offMacclesfield Canal run off

One minor oddity that caught our eye was this run-off/spill way. You often see places on the cut where lowered concrete banks allow excess water to safely spill over into a culvert or drain, or around a lock. They’re usually on the other side from the towpath, failing which there’s a bridge or metal grid or summat so that if there is any overflow, the towpath users are unaffected. Not here. Cheshire towpath users must be well hard.

Dour & Drizzly Does It

Monday morning and the weather was – how shall we put it? – rubbish. Our friend Tim, (another of the Sidmouth regulars) caught the bus out from Macclesfield, and arrived bearing gifts… some splendid Spearings’ pork pies. They’re a local speciality, quite unlike the normal jelly-filled ones, and quite delicious.

Setting off in the rain, we let Tim steer while we made coffee and so on, and apart from the weather had a pleasant morning’s run down to Macclesfield, where common sense dictated that we moor up at the pontoons just below the Puss in Boots and retire for a warming and protracted lunch. Heading off again, we soon dropped Tim off just below his house, and carried on for a while, finally giving up for the day near Woodhouse Green Narrows (which aren’t).

Unfortunately Tim was unable to join us on the Tuesday, which was a shame – an extra pair of hands would have made the 12 locks of the Bosley flight so much easier. Ah well. We had lunch just above the top lock, then girding our metaphorical loins, we cracked on and got down just before it was time to partake of some medicinal malt whisky – the evenings are definitely cooling down now.

The visitor moorings just below the bottom lock are delightful – there are some pictures here from our trip uphill. We moored just around the corner this time, right by the River Dane Aqueduct, and retired for a well-earned rest after such a tiring day.

Marple Redux & Bollington Bound

Leaving Disley on Saturday morning, we somehow contrived to get to Marple just about lunch time, so we had to go and sample the wares at the All Things Nice deli again. It’s a hard life. Then continuing on down the Macclesfield Canal, we cruised the – by now – familiar but delightful stretch down to Higher Poynton and Lord Vernon’s Wharf. There are several views across towards the Lyme Park estate where we had walked on Friday, The Cage folly in particular.

Another familiar sight was this apparently well known chappie, who we’d seen three times before (each time we’d passed through Marple junction) but failed to get a useable picture. We wanted to know what he was and who was his hairdresser.

Crested DuckCrested Duck

We’d speculated he was a (wild) domestic duck with some kind of genetic anomaly, but no, a Farcebook friend said it was definitely a Crested Duck. However, a quick Google shows that Crested Ducks are basically domestic ducks with a genetic mutation, so there you go.

Overnighting again in Poynton, a Sunday morning walk meant we only made it to Bollington before packing up and going round the Discovery Centre there. A lazy Sunday. Well, it would have been lazy, but we were expecting another visitor on Monday, so the cleaning department was scheduled for a tidy up. It’s all go with visitors this canal!

Fire Drills and Mr. Darcy

Leaving Bugsworth on Thursday morning, we’d intended to visit Whaley Bridge , the other “canal terminus”, for some provisions , but failed miserably: from the junction with the Bugsworth arm it was was wall-to-wall reserved long term moorings, and the few visitor moorings at the terminus/basin were all occupied. So a swift about turn, and quick visit to Tesco at the junction ensued. Much less interesting.

Retracing our steps we braved the warm Love Hearts blow dry at New Mills again, and fibally moored up on the outskirts of Disley. We’d arranged to meet our friends Mon & Phil again, and have another day of reminiscing while visiting Lyme Park, and that was as close as we could get to the entrance. They managed to find Song & Dance without any problems, and by car we were only 5 minutes or less from the entrance to what is a huge estate.

We decided to “do” the house first, and were particularly taken by some Grinling Gibbons woodwork, of which here are but two.

Grinling Gibbons panelGrinling Gibbons panel

In keeping with the unintended “splendid ceilings” theme this year, we were very taken by this one. The long gallery was equally impressive, even if the serried ranks of pictures were actually borrowed from the National Portrait Gallery.

DSCF5306Lyme Park Long Gallery

Lyme Park has a very fine clock collection, but while perusing it, the fire alarms went off: the volunteers had the evacuation so well organised, we can only surmise they were expecting a fire drill…

Lyme Park Fire Drill

Rather than go back indoors, we walked along the ridge to “The Cave” (which isn’t, it’s a folly). Great views all round: Welsh mountains, Cheshire Plain, Manchester, Peak District… you can see it from several points further down the Macclesfield Canal.

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Lyme Park: The Cave

There’s also a fine Italian Garden, best seem from above.

Lyme Park: Italian Garden

And of course, the ladies were all a-quiver walking around the lake, in the hope that Mr Darcy/Colin Firth would wade out without many clothes on.

Where's Mr Darcy?Where's Mr Darcy?

After all that excitement, we retired for an early supper at Sasso in Disley, where we had a truly excellent Italian meal, before returning to the boat only slightly guilty at having left the Captain on his own for so long. When we got back to the boat he was – as usual – asleep.

Biggles Goes to Bugsworth

Leaving Marple after lunch on Tuesday, we headed on up the Upper Peak Forest Canal, over 500 feet above sea level. It winds along the side of the Goyt Valley, with splendid views over the valley and the Peak District.

Going through New Mills is a surreal experience: as you approach the Wharf you pass alongside a factory building where all the vent fans seem to be canal-side. You go from being slightly cold to cruising in a very warm breeze, just like standing in a huge hairdryer. And it smells overpoweringly of sherbet. It’s where they make Love Hearts of fond memory.

Just before Whaley Bridge, the canal splits: straight on for Whaley Bridge, or left for Bugsworth Basin. We went left. The basin is an amazing place, a remarkable example of a restored industrial heritage sight; the whole basin is Scheduled Ancient Monument. Somewhat of a misnomer, Bugsworth Basin comprises several basins, and was the biggest inland port on the canal system in it’s day: it was a major interchange between the canal system and the Peak Forest Tramway bringing raw materials down from the High Peak, principally limestone. There were also lime kilns and all the trimmings.

Bugsworth Basin

Sir felt at home immediately, and went off to explore some of the ruined buildings without further ado.

Bugsworth BasinBugsworth Basin

The place is in a splendid setting, with the Peak District all around, and a decent pub right at the basin (incidentally once owned by the Coronation Street actress who played Dot Cotton).

Bugsworth BasinBugsworth Basin

It was such a lovely spot, and such a convenient height wharf, that we spent Wednesday washing and polishing one side of Song & Dance as well as exploring the site. It’s also clearly a very popular spot for boaters to hole up for a few days.

Bugsworth BasinBugsworth Basin

The only downside is the major road/dual carriageway that runs alongside the site. Still, at least they didn’t build the road over the basin… the road is a by-pass for Whaley Bridge and Buxworth – apparently the village renamed itself because they didn’t like “Bugsworth”.

The other minor snag is that you can’t turn the boat round except at the entrance – getting out can involve a significant reversing exercise in cramped conditions. There are times when a bow thruster is really useful.

Leaving on Thursday morning, just as we passed some cottages at the entrance, something small and brown flew across the cut and attached itself to the cottage wall. It didn’t fly quite like any LBJ that came to mind, and we thought it might even have been a large butterfly. On closer inspection by the Binocular Queen, it proved to be a bat. Quite what it was doing out and about in broad daylight, we weren’t sure. Anyhow, it stayed there until we were out of sight. Another little canal cruising mystery.

Marple, Marple

Doesn’t have quite the same ring as New York, New York but never mind. We eventually set off from Bollington on Sunday morning, aiming for Higher Poynton – not all that far away – for two reasons. Firstly there was a water tap and we were running short. Secondly we’d arranged to meet some old friends there with a view to catching up/going boating or whatever.

The water tap is right between two bridges with little room for manoeuvre, especially if there’s someone already there. There was. We tied up loosely to the bridge across Lord Vernon’s Wharf to wait, hoping no one wanted to leave the arm from the boat yard. Just then, the fuel boat Alton arrived: we’d been chatting to the owners the night before, and said to stop if they passed us, as we needed some diesel. They picked their moment. Tying loosely up to us, nobody was going up or down the Macclesfield Canal for a bit as the three of us sprawled across two bridge holes!

Fuel Delivery

It was getting a just a bit chaotic, when our friends arrived hot foot from Bramhall. It was over 15 years since we’d last met up (nearer 30 for the chef), so there was plenty to catch up on. Being a lovely sunny day, and not wishing to get embroiled in the local pub’s Sunday lunch trade, we decided to cruise up to Marple and back, and then look for some sustenance later. With so much to talk about, few photos were taken. It was a delightful cruise: the Bosley locks had climbed us up to 512 feet above sea level, with views over the Peak District on one side, and the Cheshire Plain on the other.

Marple JunctionMarple Junction

We turned the boat around in the junction where the Macclesfield Canal reaches the Peak Forest Canal: there’s one of those nice “snake bridges” where the horse can change sides without unhitching. They’re a feature of the Macclesfield Canal. The return to Higher Poynton passed just as quickly, and a late lunch/early dinner rounded the day off nicely. We’d had such a nice time, we made a loose plan to meet up later in the week and go to Lyme Park, a big National Trust place nearby.

Monday morning we were late starting (surely not!). A phone call to some Marple dwelling friends from the Sidmouth Ceilidh in the Ford Regulars (we stayed in the same B&B for many years), and they downed tools after lunch and started walking down the towpath to meet us. They’re keen walkers and we weren’t hurrying, so they’d come quite a way before our paths crossed. Another pleasant afternoon’s cruise catching up ensued. It’s a hard life.

We managed to moor up in the middle of Marple near the junction, in time to make it to the shops, and decided to stay the night.

At the junction itself, you can turn Left, and immediately dive down the 16 Marple Locks, another of these long flights of deep chambers. This is the Peak Forest Canal, and at the bottom it crosses Marple Aqueduct before heading off round Ashton and through Manchester – it’s a busy route as the passage through Rochdale is now rather more civilised than of old, and it’s part of the Cheshire Ring, a popular hire-boat circuit. Alternatively you can turn Right at the junction onto the Upper Peak Forest Canal, which winds high along the side of the Goyt Valley before ending up at Bugsworth, under the watchful gaze of Kinder Scout.

Hazel: Marple Top Lock/JunctionMarple Junction

Marple Aqueduct was rumoured to be interesting, but rather than taking Song & Dance  down all those 16 locks, only to turn round and come back up, we decided to walk down. The first thing we saw was Hazel and her tug preparing to head down the flight. Although they were seemingly heavy crewed, bow-hauling an unpowered butty is never going to be fast, and we were quite glad we weren’t following them down. And as for Hazel, we’re still not entirely convinced of the authenticity of a wooden boat with wall-to-wall solar panels on the roof…

Marple LocksBoater's TunnelMarple Locks

The flight is quite impressive in a lovely setting, and with some odd quirks, including – on one of the chambers – a strange little tunnel under the lock for the boatman to regain the boat by the bottom gates. The fine old mill has been converted into offices.

Marple AqueductMarple Aqueduct

Marple Aqueduct may be the highest in England (and second in the UK only to the Great Unpronounceable), and very grand from “ground level”, but it isn’t overly impressive from canal level; getting down to the level of the Goyt river looked a challenge too far, given that we were going to have to retrace our steps back up 16 locks.

Marple Viaduct & AqueductMarple Viaduct

The adjacent railway viaduct is equally impressive, and somewhat higher. Shades of Chirk Aqueduct and Viaduct with fine views up the valley.

MarpleMarple Lock Number 4Hazel

Retracing our steps, the head gardener was rather taken by a lock-side cottage halfway up. The adjacent lock leaked from all sorts of places it shouldn’t: wonder how long before it fails completely. And further up, Hazel was making seriously slow progress – the band of helpers seemed to have vaporised into thin air, leaving just the captain bow-hauling and the steerer wielding the barge pole. Really, really glad we’re not following them down…

About three locks from the top we diverted into Marple town centre shops for lunch, and found a splendid cafe/delicatessen/baker that really hit the spot from several sides at once. Think we’ll be coming back here! Wonder what the afternoon will bring!