Monthly Archives: September 2016

Beatle Juice Leapfrog and Bosley Bottom Lock

We knew Charlotte, a morris dancer friend of the head gardener, had come oop North to do a boat signwriting course. She liked it so much she stayed, and was apparently living with her partner Jason on a boat on the Caldon Canal. Not far as the crow flies from the Macclesfield Canal, messages about Biggles’ progress had been despatched.

A couple of times over the last few days we’d seen passed the butty Betelgeuse and her tug (who shall apparently remain nameless until a repaint) moored breasted up,  and then passing us late in the day. Setting off late on Wednesday morning after the fog lifted from our mooring at Ramsdell, we passed them once again, heading for Congleton.

Macclesfield CanalElliptical Bridge

The canal here consists of long straight sections (no pansy contouring here) and the frequent bridges have an odd elliptical shape, rather than finishing vertically at ground level, like almost everywhere else. They have a narrow channel, and most have a significant ledge on the non-towpath side just at water level, almost invariably hidden by the undergrowth. This makes them an interesting challenge to pass without hitting anything too hard.

The canal takes a dog-leg route of several long straight sections around Congleton,  bypassing the town centre by more than a mile. But it goes right by the station (actually, pretty much under the station), where there is a decent pub for a lunchtime Guinness, and a convenience store for milk. So by the time we reached the much regarded moorings just below Bosley bottom lock, it was late afternoon. And warm and sunny. With a nice view. So all things considered, we decided to leave tackling the Bosley Lock flight – 12 deep locks in just over a mile, with no possibility of mooring until the top – for another day, and get the deck chairs out. It really is a nice spot, with great views over the River Dane valley, and a local hill known as The Cloud for some reason.

Below Bosley Bottom LockBelow Bosley Bottom LockBosley Bottom Lock

We’d just settled down to dinner when we saw Betelgeuse and tug passing us again, and thought “Gosh – are they really going up the Bosley Locks at this time of day with an unpowered butty? They won’t get finished before dark…”, and a minute later Charlotte stuck her head through our side hatch and said “Ah, it is you!”. Seems Betelgeuse is her and Jason’s boat/home, and they were heading for some kind of boaters meet at Bollington at the weekend. But as they were both working during the day they could only move the two boats in the evening. Turned out she actually worked at Swanley Bridge Marina, where we’d left Song & Dance to go to Sidmouth. Small world.

And with a “Can’t stop! We’ve organised a gang of lockwheelers to help, and left cars at the top of the flight… hope we’ll see you in Bollington over the weekend… there’s music and stuff…”, she was off.

Well that explains why we keep playing Betelgeuse Leapfrog, anyway!

Indian Country Chill Out

The FO learnt to fly on Piper aircraft: a Piper Cherokee Warrior to be precise. Back then they named all their aircraft after Red Indians, and the FO has flown (amongst others) a Twin Comanche, a Seneca, and an Aztec. So when he hears the name Piper, Red Indians spring to mind. Having ] moved on to a Piper boat (a very different company), the name still vaguely conjures up Indian connotations. And as Piper Boat’s factory is only a few miles from where we are: just the other side of Mow Cop, it seems reasonable to consider this as Indian Country. And unsurprisingly, being close to the factory, we see quite a few Piper Boats floating around.

Moon over Mow CopPiper Boats from Mow Cop

Here’s a couple of piccies taken back at the very beginning, when Song & Dance was but a glint her mother’s eye and we were visiting the factory. Piper Boats is one of the white buildings in the middle distance.

A few days ago, in the Aqueduct Marina, we saw Om Shanti – made in 2011 it had just been sold to a new owner, who proudly showed us round. It was quite strange: the outer shell was very like Sir’s boat, apart from a cruiser stern, but inside the layout was different. The actual furnishings were very similar in design and construction, and to quote The Hitchhiker’s Guide it was almost, but not entirely unlike Song & Dance. The proud new owner declined our offer to show her round Biggles’ boat, in case she preferred it!

We’ve also seen Naiad in Nantwich, and immediately opposite our moorings was another Piper boat, without an obvious name. No doubt we’ll see some more as we head up the Macclesfield.

The moorings were most pleasant with their neatly refurbished railings and nice views over to Little Moreton Hall, and the weather initially clement: we spent Tuesday doing not a lot, apart from watching the forecast bad weather slowly close in. By late afternoon the front arrived, and the rain, thunder and lightning were most impressive…

Ramsdell Visitor MooringsRamsdell Visitor Moorings

Wednesday morning dawned with thick fog. We’d vaguely arranged to meet up with an old friend who lives in Macclesfield, but his garden was under water and his roof was leaking, so we took a rain check…

Ramsdell Visitor MooringsRamsdell Visitor Moorings

The fog soon cleared, and we headed off for Congleton and places North.

A Kidsgrove Bypass

In a past life, the navigator had reason to make visits to a factory in Kidsgrove, and had no desire to repeat the experience – too many memories of standing in a corridor or squatting on the floor on the train – shades of Jeremy Corbyn – all the way home to Euston or Watford Junction. But with the Macclesfield Canal joining the Trent & Mersey Canal at Kidsgrove, another visit was impossible to avoid.

Climbing up Heartbreak Hill on the Trent and Mersey one is heading broadly South East; at Kidsgrove the Macclesfield Canal heads off in a North Easterly direction so one might expect to turn Left. But nothing’s that simple. You have to go through Kidsgrove twice. Coming up from the pleasant moorings at Church Lawton on the Monday morning, we were soon locking up the Red Bull Flight (nothing to do with a caffeinated fizzy drink) and passing under Poole Aqueduct, which carries the Macclesfield Canal over the top of the Trent & Mersey.

Nearly Top of Heartbreak Hill: Kidsgrove

After half a mile or so there’s yet another lock, and the junction with the Macclesfield Canal heads off to the right, not the left. Then, quickly making yet another right turn, you head back for half a mile through Kidsgrove with the T&M a few yards on your right, and about twenty feet below, before another tight right turn takes you over Poole Aqueduct, and you can see where you were about an hour beforehand. So you’ve done two locks and all four sides of long thin rectangle, instead of just turning left and climbing onto the Macc from there. The only saving grace is that it’s all pretty heavily wooded, and you don’t actually see much of the delights of Kidsgrove.

Hardings Wood JunctionOver the Top: Poole Aqueduct

Actually, it’s not that simple – canal builders politics. You’re not technically on the Macclesfield Canal yet, you’re on the Hall Green Arm of the Trent and Mersey.

Mow Cop from Macclesfield Canal

After a short trip through some pleasant country with great views of Mow Cop, you finally arrive at Hall Green Lock.

Hall Green LockHall Green LockHall Green Lock

Here is the real junction between the Macc and the T&M: a stop lock to prevent any possibility of water accidentally moving from one canal to another. It looks like there used to be two stop locks for the paranoid, or maybe the other area was for gauging the weight of the boats’ cargo. And two lockkeeper’s cottages (one for each canal authority). Hey ho. Still, it’s a nice atmospheric spot on a sunny afternoon.

Ramsdell Hall

A further short cruise brought us to some lovely rural visitor moorings near Ramsdell Hall. For National Trust groupies, we were also just a short walk from the iconic Little Moreton Hall. Time to chill out…

Heartbreak Hill and The Pussy Puissance

The Trent & Mersey climbs relentlessly from Middlewich to Kidsgrove and Harecastle Tunnel, via 26 deep locks known to the old boatmen as the Cheshire Locks, but more commonly known these days as Heartbreak Hill. They’re not all in one flight so that you can get into a rhythm, but come in several different flights with different distances between. They are also – in many cases – doubled up to enable more traffic up and down.

Leaving the delights of the  British Salt works on Saturday morning, we – or rather Biggles – decided that lunch was in order at Wheelock, just below the first lock. All of us soon found that there was little to keep us there (apart from the pub) so we girded our loins and made a start. The picture is of the two locks at the start of the climb.

Heartbreak Hill

Somewhere along the line, we spotted this canal-side cottage with an interesting arrangement for their master or mistress to get in or out. We came to the conclusion that it was a training course for the Pussy Puissance: there was no room on the window sill for a pussy to perch! Sir declined to have a go.

Puddy Puissance

After 13 of these locks we’d had enough, and moored up by Lock 57: we’d discovered a very nice bistro/cafe/post office there once on a trip north, when we’d had to abandon the M6 due to a major jam round Sandbach and go off piste. Sad to say it was no more, and the cottage was up for sale. We did get a nice sunset, though,

Lock 57 SunsetLock 57 Sunset

Sunday morning, and we did another 10 of the deep locks, before deciding to enjoy the sunshine and have a lazy afternoon at some pleasant moorings near Church Lawton, rather than press on to the “delights” of Kidsgrove.

A Froggie Would a'Wooing Go

The Chief Gardener was very taken by a little friend she found on the tow path.

The Joy of SUCS

By the time we’d finished all the chores at the Aqueduct Marina, it was late afternoon, but reluctant to stump up another night’s extortionate mooring fee (second only to Upton-on-Severn in our experience) we were determined to be off, and moor up at the first sensible spot. Hopefully near the village of Church Minshull itself, as there were rumours of a good pub to eat at, and although it was a bright sunny afternoon, it was blowing a gale.

Fortunately, just down the canal, there was a SUCS Mooring. Although you can theoretically tie up pretty well anywhere on the tow path side, it’s not always pleasant or practical. On the Shropshire Union Canal, the estimable Shropshire Union Canal Society have sponsored numerous mooring spots. These are usually nicely out in the boonies, with a splendid view, proper mooring rings, and are kept well maintained rather than allowed to get all overgrown. Quite a few have BBQ facilities and/or picnic tables. Originally restricting themselves to the Main Line, we’d noticed – and taken advantage  of – several up the Llangollen Canal (technically the Llangollen Branch of the Shroppy) that had materialised since our last visit. Well done chaps.

SUCS Mooring Church MinshullSUCS Mooring Church Minshull

These moorings above Church Minshull and the River Weaver on the Middlewich Arm were a splendid example of the joys of SUCS moorings; we were soon tied up. Bidding adieu to the Captain we headed down a steep path (part of the River Weaver Way) down through the woods, over the River, and found ourselves at The Badger Inn – an equally splendid spot for our dinner break. After a memorable repast, the climb back up from the River, through the woods, in pitch dark, was an interesting form of post prandial exercise.

Friday morning was less clement, and after a steady but unremarkable run we moored up in Middlewich just before the junction with the Trent & Mersey Canal. The town itself was nothing special, so after a snack lunch, and hitting the nearby Tesco store, we headed off again. Middlewich junction is fascinating, but a horrible bottleneck: the junction is between two locks, and the Arm starts immediately with another one. Put a major boatyard and chandlery in the middle, and a couple of hire bases either side, and the potential for chaos on a Friday afternoon is plenty. With so much going on, stopping for pictures was out of the question.

Never ones to make a decision when procrastination can be enjoyed, we eventually decided at the junction that we would turn Right. The original “plan” had been to turn left, and follow the Cheshire Ring up past the Anderton Lift, through Lymm and Manchester, up to Marple, and then down the Macclesfield Canal to Kidsgrove (back on the Trent and Mersey). However, at the last minute, and given our vague other plan to be back at Cropredy and home by mid/end October, this looked slightly ambitious. So it was a Right turn for Kidsgrove, followed by a return tripup the Macclesfield Canal and the Peak Forest Canal. There is no substitute for forward planning…

Anyway, heading South out of Middlewich, we determined to moor up at the first place that was away from the busy main road. No joy of SUCS here…It had a beautiful view of the salt works, which supplies over half of British salt.

Salt Works

Vampires, Teeth, Visitors and Chores

If it’s Monday it must be Nantwich… and an early phone call provided details of a local dentist who could slot the navigator in for a repair later that morning. Meeting up with the head gardener afterwards, lunch at a charity creperie (a new one on us: food amongst the hand-me-down clothes racks), a wander round the shops and a visit to a local vet to collect some of Sir’s special diet, and the day soon passed.

Our peace and quiet was somewhat rattled by two Vampires in close formation flying low over the boat. T’Interweb suggests there’s only one airworthy example at the moment, so either the FOs aircraft identification skills are getting worse and one of them wasn’t a Vampire, or he’s seeing double. Maybe one was a Venom. Or they’ve got another one flying.

We’d had a communication from the Captain’s favourite standby staff, saying that they were going to be heading from North West Wales back to Windsor on Tuesday, and would like to call in en-route to pay their respects, so we ended up staying another night in Nantwich: technically overstaying, but the CaRT chap we spoke to didn’t seem that bothered.

Our friends duly arrived on Tuesday for a snack lunch at the local marina cafe, before departing late afternoon to do battle with the M6 and M42. Rather them than us.

Wednesday morning, and we left Nantwich Aqueduct, turned the boat round and headed back up the Shropshire Union; we waved at the Llangollen Canal as we passed Hurlestone Junction again, and  turned Right at Barrbridge Junction onto the Middlewich Branch. We were now back where we’d planned to go, and were on unfamiliar territory. We also hadn’t decided where we were going after that, but never mind.

One thing we had decided was that the laundry mountain was beginning to reach crisis levels, so we’d booked ourselves into the Aqueduct Marina near Church Minshull for the night, to plug in Song & Dance and get some washing done. It really is a lovely spot, and the marina certainly has splendid facilities, including a decent cafe, serious league chandlery, superb showers and so on. It is also eye-wateringly expensive as marinas go, and renowned for it, seemingly. Ah well, never mind. At least we got the washing done, and stocked up on some boat bits.

Mind you, we nearly didn’t make it. At a lock some way before the marina, there was quite a queue, and it was hot and sunny, so while we had lunch on the hoof, moving down the queue, the Captain decided to go walkabout, disappearing down a steep overgrown hedgerow loaded with barbed wire. By the time we’d got to the front of the queue, there was still no sign, so we tied up and waited. And waited. And… about 14:45 he strolled nonchalantly across the towpath, jumped aboard and investigated his food bowl.

As a result, it was actually about 16:30 before we were properly ensconced in the marina. If we were going to make serious inroads on the laundry and make the most of our extortionate overnight mooring fee, we clearly weren’t going anywhere further until quite late on Thursday!

Another Closure

Eating dinner on Friday night, the FO managed to knock a chip off a tooth/filling leaving a sharp edge, and consulting his dental insurance people, it was arranged that we would call them on Sunday evening with our whereabouts, in the hope that they could fix up someone to do a repair on the Monday morning. A consultation with Dr. Google suggested that Nantwich would be the best spot for dentists on their list – not on our planned route, but only wee bit off.

Hence Saturday morning found us heading off smartish through familiar territory, in not altogether pleasant weather. We reached the feared Grindley Brook locks with not another boat in sight, and with the aid of the lockkeeper, whizzed down, grabbed a pint of milk as we passed the garage, and made it to the bottom for a latish lunch. With the rain stopped we pressed on, and ended up tying up just below Marbury Lock. Marbury is a nice village about three-quarters of a mile away, that in the past had a nice pub. The guide book had one phone number, Google and the lock noticeboard another, and neither seemed to work,

Needing the exercise, we walked up anyway, to find the pub heaving with people, but with no food. It was their last night before closing for “improvements” and the landlord & lady were busy packing up. The phone line had been cancelled etc. etc. So after a swift half, we walked back and cooked a rather late dinner.

Wrenbury Mill

Pressing on on Sunday morning found us passing Wrenbury Mill where the chief cook discovered a farm shop in the pub car park, thus replenishing supplies. A quick pit stop at Swanley Bridge Marina stocked up on some of the Captain’s favourite ice cream before heading down Hurlestone Locks, and turning Right rather than the originally planned Left at the junction with the Shropshire Union Canal, after another longish day moored up at Nantwich Aqueduct once again. An early night beckoned.

Whither Whixall

After another brief but pleasant stop over in Ellesmere, variously taking in a manicure, a massage, an art gallery, another cheap Indian restaurant deal and some serious present shopping, we finally started heading back towards “civilisation” on Friday morning. We’d promised ourselves that we would finally (after many, many years) go and have a proper look at the Whixall Moss but it was the middle of the day, and we didn’t really see anything remarkable.

Whixall MossWhixall Moss

It’s very flat – a raised peat bog – with some big skies. Grand dog walking paths, if we had a dog.

Whixall MossWhixall Moss 

The sun came out, and following a wide mown path that looked as though it would take us directly back to the canal, after a mile or so, it got narrower and narrower, until it was barely followable among the high grasses and boggy areas, and we were skipping from wet hag to wet hag. We should really have gone back, but it was a long way. Persevering, and getting wet feet, we ended up back on the main path near to the boat, right by the second photo. The sign – just visible from the main path, says “No Entry – Sensitive Ground Flora”. Ho hum.

After all that exercise, we didn’t go much further, and moored up for the night at what used to be the “Garden Shop”: a shed in a large rural garden run by a couple of old chaps that sold milk, local meat, bread, ice cream and other essentials. Alas, no more, and the once  direct access from the canal into the garden is just a huge overgrown patch of scrubland, bushes and nettles. Sir found plenty to explore but we didn’t.