Long Hot Dry Days

We’d have stayed another day and night at the delightful Bramble Cuttings, but the on-going full fridge crisis despite yesterday’s big shop meant that we needed some milk and bread. Reluctantly waving farewell to Bramble Cuttings late in the morning, we tied up in the middle of Middlewich for a quick whizz round Tesco, and then lunch. It isn’t the most salubrious of places, and we knew that the next nice, quiet mooring spots away from main roads were some way out the other side of town, so we expected to cruise on a little later than normal. If only we knew!

Someone came past just as we were preparing to cast off, and were ahead of us as we started up the three locks before the currently useless junction with the Shropshire Union. When we made it up the first lock we knew immediately something was wrong: the water level in the pound was very low. The next one was even worse, and we heard on the towpath telegraph that the chap in front had run seriously aground in the longer pound between the Middlewich 3 locks and Kings Lock, by the junction.

Keeping Song & Dance squarely in the middle of the cut, as we came round the corner and bridge towards the junction we were definitely scraping the bottom a little, but chappie in front had got his back end firmly stuck up against the side of the canal. The best way to unground oneself is usually to put the boat into reverse and apply quite a lot of power. This not only reverses off the problem bit rather than digging in further, but helps by shovelling water under the boat. However, chummy was digging in his rear end using loads of forward power, while trying to snap his bargepole. He waved us past (potential “hooray”), but while preparing to edge past gingerly, he applied even more power, and his front end swung right round across the canal, blocking any possibility of us going past (“bugger”). After a lot of energy expenditure and swearing, he finally managed to get things moving, while crashing around in the boats moored on the other side, and consequently abandoned all ideas of letting us past. (“Damn”).

We thought locking up onto the pound above Kings Lock would improve matters, as it’s a long one, and shouldn’t run out of water just because there’s a lot of traffic. Not only that, under normal circumstances quite a bit of water flows into the canal below Kings Lock from the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union, but with that all sealed off owing to the huge breach, we could understand why things were a bit tricky below the junction. But things were no better… the pound was abysmally low (we even rang CaRT to whinge), and our hero in front not only went aground several times, but picked up a load of rubbish round his prop, too.

Approaching Rumps Lock, about a mile out of Middlewich, a boat came down, and said things were much better above the lock, but he’d had some trouble with one of the gates. Our friend in front went to set the lock up, but one of the bottom gates wouldn’t open more than about six inches, and no matter how hard you try you can’t get a 6ft10in wide narrowboat through a 4ft gap. There was clearly something stuck in the works way down deep. Tried filling the lock and emptying it, to no avail, and with the deepness of the lock we’d no other way of digging around to try and dislodge something, so we called CaRT again. “They’ll be someone with you within an hour”. Right. We began to contemplate staying the night there, right on the main road. It didn’t appeal.

More than an hour later, the couple who lived in the adjacent lock-keeper’s cottage drove up. They said that they had been living there for over 20 years, and until today, they had never seen the sluice/by-wash running through their back garden run dry. The man produced a long plank of wood which we tried sliding down the gate hinge area, and it looked like something like a fender or piece of wood had got firmly wedged in. It seemed to move a bit but we couldn’t dislodge it; we really needed something longer and stronger.

And then, leaning on the balance beam and gently rocking the recalcitrant gate back and forth with no expectation of anything, it suddenly opened. Just like that. So we all finally locked up through Rumps Lock long after Beer-O’Clock, and still with several miles and locks to go to somewhere we’d fancy mooring for the night. We eventually tied up at 20:00, tired and hungry. We’d only done 6.7 miles and 9 locks, but it was hard work and hassle all the way, in hot sunshine.

So as Wednesday dawned bright and sunny again, we were in no hurry to get going, but decided that we ought to make an effort if we were going to get to Harecastle Tunnel in time for our friends to join us. The Cheshire locks (“Heartbreak Hill”) are fairly unrelenting, but the countryside and views are pleasant, and most of the locks are doubled up, so even heavy traffic coming the other way didn’t cause too many delays. But after a hard and hot day’s work, we called it a day at the Broughton Arms at Rode Heath, after 5.5 miles and 14 locks. The moorings were looking a little crowded, but we spotted a perfect place to moor halfway down, only to discover that there was a cunningly disguised winding hole and couldn’t moor there. There’s nothing like reversing a 58ft narrowboat back 200 yards on a stonkingly hot late afternoon when one has already metaphorically tasted the Guinness that was surely awaiting…

Thursday, and we were on schedule, so we pottered up to a favourite spot near Church Lawton. Only half a mile and six locks, we were tied up for lunch and a post prandial snooze. Perfect.

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