Monthly Archives: September 2016

A Musical Interlude in Happy Valley–Part 2

Seems that as well as the boat gathering, the local folk club had organised a session on Saturday afternoon outside the community cafe at the mill, and a boating songs/shanty session inside on Saturday evening, at which another well known folky and boater Tom Lewis would be singing and the ex canal laureate Jo Bell would be reading her poems. We’d seen Tom recently, and he was excellent, and we’d also spotted his boat moored up, so that wasn’t a surprise. Hence the plan was to try and stay another night locally, presupposing we could get moored somewhere reasonably close. We’d kindly been offered a spot breasted up against another boat, but that one really wouldn’t have been suitable for the Captain to go out in the dark.

Well, we were up at OMG o’clock, showered, breakfasted and ready to roll at 08:00 – no mean feat after a late night – but there was no sign of any CaRT people coming to move their work boat. We eventually decided to move anyway at about 09:15, and as we were casting off saw a posse of CaRT volunteers crossing the bridge. If we’d known, we could have had another hour or more in bed. Mutter, mutter.

Anyway, we found some very nice moorings about half a mile down the cut, in nice countryside, so all was well.


We dropped in on the afternoon session – that’s Charlotte chatting to the head cook rather than playing her fiddle, and Jason on her left.

Bollington AqueductBollington Church

Bollington is an interesting hill town, with a real community spirit, and seems to be known locally as Happy Valley. The aqueduct looks much more impressive from below than it does above, the church has a fine example of one of those octagonal spires that seem to crop up around hereabouts, there’s a decent large Co-Op, a super delicatessen, a frequent bus service to Macclesfield, and plenty of yummy mummies and daddies wheeling their progeny around. Surrounded by lovely views of the peak district, we could see why it was popular.

The Dog HouseBollington Aqueduct

We were a bit puzzled by the house name and wondered what someone had done to deserve that (click on the picture if you can’t read it). And climbing back up to the canal, we took our eyes off the view just long enough to decide that the music score on Punchinello was either by a signwriter who’d just sprayed random musical typography across the stave, or it was a ditty knocked up by Karlheinz Stockhausen on an off day. (Our standards here are high: very early on in Song & Dance’s travels we passed a boat Baker Street, where the side of the boat was correctly decorated with the music for that saxophone break’. We were impressed).

We wandered back for the evening do; the place was mobbed, and the event would have been excellent apart from the fact that the air-conditioning was going full blast – like a Lightning with it’s after burners lit, making it difficult to hear well. Tom Lewis was expectedly good, and – not being poetry fans – Jo Bell was unexpectedly superb. Another late night. And back home quite a long way down a dark towpath: haven’t done much of that for a while. Winter drawers on: must remember a torch next time!

A Musical Interlude in Happy Valley–Part 1

After our gentle amusement at sheep snoring, and the blowout meal, we weren’t terribly early in getting going on Friday morning; we’d decided to take a look at the proceedings at Bollington – not very far away – and maybe stay there overnight. As we approached the town, the first thing we saw was a notice pinned to the fence with a face on it. Half expecting it to be wanted man notice, we nearly ignored it, but on closer examination while passing it said “Bollington Folk Club, Friday 16th September, special guest Pete Coe”. Pete has been a dear friend for rather more years than either of us would care to remember, so the decision to stop the night was a given, really. Particularly when we found out the relevant pub was only five minutes walk from the canal. Such is the serendipitous nature of the waterways. Mind you, ever since Pete and his wife Sue were awarded EFDSS Gold Badges, we are really not worthy to be in his company any more…

Turned out that the Bollington boat meeting was organised by the local towpath society, who’d invited several historic boats, including Betelgeuse and the wooden boat Hazel  (seen below).

 Hazel & CoHazel & Co

Betelgeuse had obviously leapfrogged us on Thursday evening, as she was already there. And Dr. Google suggests she is a historic boat too, but not wooden. We think Charlotte & Jason’s tug may be wooden but didn’t get a close look as it was moored outside Betelgeuse.

Beetle Juice & Friend

As more or less expected – all the moorings on the Aqueduct and by the old mill were taken or reserved for boats attending Saturday’s fun. The Harbour Master said we were welcome to breast up with a work boat that CaRT had carelessly left behind in the middle of the mooring area (left hands and right hands??), but we’d have to move early on Saturday as they were coming to move it at 08:00. Gulp.

Sir was intrigued by breasting up and having to climb over another boat to get ashore, but took it in his stride. There was lots of boats around and “hail fellow, well met” stuff going on, and the towpath was quite busy, so when a large untethered dog came bounding up to investigate, we were surprised that Biggles just stood his ground and bristled a bit, while continuing to keep his head down munching the grass, as cats do. Normally he would just beat a quiet retreat to the safety of Song & Dance – his own territory – and we suspected the work boat was fazing him.

Not a bit of it! On closer examination after canine removal, he appeared to be tucking into a bowl of tinned salmon – clearly much tastier than his usual carefully balanced prescription diet for duff kidneys – and he had absolutely no intention of letting any miserable dog have any. Turned out the occupants of Hazel thought Sir was a skinny, underfed stray (the shame of it) and put down some food for him while we weren’t looking.

Anyway, dinner in The Vale Inn (run by the brewery across the road) was excellent. Pete Coe was on splendid form (we are not worthy…), and the Captain enjoyed the novelty of two boats to wander around at night – one full of puddling clay. So if the Macclesfield Canal develops another leak due to clay contamination, we’ll know who to blame…

Sheep May Safely Snore

As we set off from Bosley to Bollington (that phrase has a From Galway to Gracelands ring about it, doesn’t it?), as already mentioned the first obstacle is the Bosley flight of locks. One odd thing is that – unlike most other locks – the top ends have two mitred gates like those commonly found at the the bottom, rather than the more usual single gate. And there’s no walkway on the top gates, so if you’re light crewed like Song & Dance there’s a lot more walking around the lock chamber to work the boat through. They’re also deep, so the paddles are often stiff, and the gates leak like a sieve, so even if someone had just come down leaving a lock in your favour it didn’t stay that way for long.

So – remembering to hate people who start sentences with “so” – with uninspiring weather and no time for much else, we headed off without camera in hand, and made it to the top by lunchtime rather out of breath. There’s a bit of a gap between the penultimate and ultimate lock, and we saw our friend Betelgeuse and tug stuffed in the reeds and undergrowth. Guess that’s as far as they got before running out of daylight or post work enthusiasm or lockwheeling helpers.

The top lock is something of a CaRT visitor/showcase spot. The gates are all freshly painted, and properly balanced to move easily, the paddles are all greased and easy to operate, and the gates didn’t leak. I guess most visitors don’t walk down to see how decrepit the others locks are. Cynical? Moi?

After lunch, we didn’t go a great deal further, and stopped at the visitor moorings at Gurnett Aqueduct. These look nice and suitable, but the rings are set far too far apart, and the cut there being a concrete trough, banging mooring pins in without running ropes crossing the towpath can be entertaining. Not.

A fellow boater had suggested that Sutton Hall was a good place to eat, and so it proved. An old manor house, convent and one time home of Lord Lucan, it’s now a large pub/restaurant with loads of different rooms, nooks and crannies, and excellent food. The entrance is just off the canal, and approached by quite a long winding drive between two large fields full of sheep.

After a splendid meal, we were walking back down the drive in the dark, wondering what the strange subterranean rumbling sounds that we could hear were coming from. Shining a torch into the field showed several sheep close by the fence, lying on their sides, fast asleep, and to a ewe, snoring gently. Never knew sheep snored: reckon there’s an idea for a Bach Cantata there…

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.