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