Category Archives: General

The Best Laid Plans…

Before committing to the Bosley locks, we thought we’d better just check on the Marple Locks situation… and sure enough, they were closed again. Lock 9 had collapsed last year, and they’d closed and drained the whole flight while major repairs to Lock 9 were made. Took them all winter, and the original scheduled Easter opening slipped to the second May Bank Holiday).  Then – quelle surprise – when the locks were reopened, Lock 11 started falling apart in much the same way, having been de-watered all those months, just as a lot of boaters had predicted. There was talk of limited access, then more boats got stuck, so they closed Lock 11, and said “we’ll let you know what’s happening at the end of the week”.

Not wishing to head all the way up to Marple only to find that the flight still remained closed, we decided to revert to Plan B: going North West before turning back towards Manchester, then crossing the Pennines on the formidable Leeds & Liverpool Canal. A long way round, given we were trying to get to Wakefield for mid-July for Morris Dancing reasons; a route we’d thought we’d come back that way in the autumn,

So, cancelling assorted loose arrangements to meet up with various friends in Macclesfield, Marple and Stockport, on Tuesday morning we tackled the first of the Bosley Locks, turned round in the now properly watered winding hole without problems, and set course for Kidsgrove and the Cheshire Locks.

This long distance boating is nothing if not unpredictable!

Anyway, retracing our steps with a modicum of alacrity, we made our way all the way pretty much back to the junction with the Trent & Mersey Canal at Kidsgrove, moored up and hit the big Tesco store. (Having visited ICL Kidsgrove on several occasions for work reasons in the 70s and 80s, I’d never been into the town itself. What goes round…)

A Walk on The Cloud

Those sad followers of this Blog will know that the plan was to cross the Pennines – probably by the Rochdale Canal, returning by the Leeds and Liverpool. Crucial to this plan was the ability to pass through the Marple flight of locks, which had been closed for months for repairs. The promised Easter opening date had passed and gone, as had the early May bank holiday date; as part of the popular Cheshire Ring, the hire fleet companies were getting cheesed off. The latest opening date was the second, late May bank holiday, and the lock flight was indeed opened to traffic.

We were still suspicious, but decided we’d take CaRT at their word, and left Westport Lakes to transit Harecastle Tunnel then head up the Macclesfield Canal, which goes up to Marple. We ended up mooring at a favourite spot near Little Moreton Hall, a National Trust of some repute. We’d moored here a couple of years ago: a pleasant spot. This time the weather was exceedingly nice, so we actually walked across the fields to Little Moreton Hall to partake of their excellent café; we’d been around the hall itself some years ago when we were having Song & Dance built. And for the first time this year, we actually saw some House Martins… the swallows had been around (and initially freezing) for a while.

It was so nice we chilled out here for another day; on Sunday we moved on through the Congleton outskirts and tied up in another favourite spot by the Dane Aqueduct, just at the bottom of the flight of twelve Bosley Locks. That afternoon, there was some excitement as between the first and seconds locks there is a tight-ish bend, with a winding hole; for some reason the water level in the pound was exceedingly low, and one or two boats were having an epic time sorting themselves up.

Meanwhile, the Chief Sherpa had made it clear that she wanted to upload herself into The Cloud, so preparations were made for an early start on Monday morning.

The Cloud

Unlike the modern usage (for the cynics amongst us “The Cloud” is just a different name for “Someone Else’s Computer”), this The Cloud is a hill just over 1000 feet high just alongside the canal, with – apparently – splendid views over the local area. It’s actually quite a tramp across the fields just to Base Camp, then it starts getting seriously steep for canal travellers.

The CloudThe Cloud, Summit

Actually if we had a car we could have driven pretty nearly all the way up. Mutter, mutter. We made it to the top, though, even if the promised views were disappointing: it was warm and muggy and pretty hazy, so the visibility was less than desirable. And not a Hang Glider in sight.

Fancy House, The CloudFancy House, The Cloud

Car ParkDescent from The Cloud

Cutting across the fields coming down rather than staying on the road, we came across this rather splendid modern house with fabulous views in decent weather. We were, however, somewhat bemused by the car parking arrangements (photo taken from same spot as those of the house).

Thoroughly exhausted, we made it back to Base Camp then across the fields to Song & Dance in time for dinner. One of is jolly glad that – by and large – canals do not travel through mountainous terrain.

An Alarm, and a Chippenham Diversion

The plan soon fell apart. Rachel, the lady who sort of looks after Festival Park Marina, said she’d be in the office at 8:30 on the Monday morning, and we were a bit puzzled at how quiet everything looked when we turned up. Eventually Gavin, the chief engineer and technically the marina manager was located, and claimed to have no knowledge of their promise to put us up for a week or so. Seems Rachel had unexpectedly gone into hospital… And Steve, the chap who looked after all the Black Prince boats said it was quite impossible (read “a lot of hassle”) to put us anywhere where we could hook up the electrics.

Eventually Gavin found a piece of paper, had some discussion with Steve, and all was well. Being out of season most of their boats were in, but with the bank holiday/half term arriving, the place they needed to put Song & Dance to meet our agreed booking meant shuffling all their boats up one. We suspect Rachel’s name was mud, in her absence. But eventually we were tucked up safe and sound.

Anyway, after doing a mound of laundry, a couple of days later we caught a train to Banbury, retrieved the car from Cropredy Marina, and headed home.

We’d got used to fine weather, if somewhat erratic temperatures, and the trip south to catch up with the post, friends, and Chippenham Folk Festival went swimmingly. So swimmingly that you’ll be pleased to know that photos of Morris Dancers have been left out this year.

However, just to prove the Navigator was doing something useful, here’s a picture of (some of) Sheelanagig taken from the back of the main stage, and a chap doing some Mongolian overtone singing up the other end of town…

SheelanagigOvertone Singing

Despite our hassles dragging a car around last year, on return to Song & Dance we decided to leave the car at Festival Park Marina for a few days, while we headed off to Westport Lakes to do some serious planning regarding our hopes for a trans-Pennine cruise. Can’t believe that it’s the last day of May – where are the weeks going?

Royal Weddings and Gas Leaks, China and Charlotte’s Chap

Cooking dinner on Friday night, we’d run out of Calor gas halfway through, so we hassled the chief engineer, who swapped over the gas bottles so the incineration could continue. Saturday morning, on opening the back doors there was a strong smell of gas; a dabble with some diluted Fairy Liquid showed gas leaking out where the “new” gas bottle was connected to the flexible regulator plumbing.

Turning things off, the connection was given a good clean and a serious talking to, and tightened up again, to no avail. So it was off with the gas, and we resigned ourselves to rather limited cooking facilities until we either got another gas bottle or found a gas engineer who could work some magic (the “new”/full gas bottle looked a bit long in the tooth particularly at the valve end, and had perhaps reached its useful life). The connection between the regulator hose and the bottle is a conical brass to brass union that just seems to rely on a tight fit/pressure to work – never understood how that could the job, but there you go.

So, irritatingly starting a sentence with “so”, we set off up Meaford Locks, and as it happened we made better progress than expected, and unfortunately passed Barlaston and The Plume of Feathers (With Neil Morrissey) – as it styles itself – just as things were kicking off back near home. Apparently Harry and Wills had spent the pre-wedding night at the hotel just at the end of our road – glad we were away to miss the undoubted chaos. Anyway, just past the pub was somewhere to tie up (damn!), so the chief cook rushed off to see if they had a suitable television, while muggins moored up, locked up, and subsequently arrived to find a TV (double damn!). Lunch and Guinness were ordered (mutter, mutter!). I must admit that with no sound and erratic subtitles , the preacher chappie was quite amusing. No sign of Neil Morrissey, though (in pub or congregation).

Madam wished to carry out yet another investigation of Wedgewood rejects (sorry, “Seconds”) at the factory just up the road, so after the wedding festivities were over, we set off again – it was only about a mile – and mooring at the factory complex and trekked off to examine some overpriced fine china. Managed to get a decent ice cream, though!

Earlier, we’d passed a boat claiming to be an engineering outfit (“wonder if he does gas“, we thought), but it was all shut up. Anyway, just as we were putting the kettle on, said engineering boat puttered gently past, crewed by our Morris dancing, fiddler and boat painter friend Charlotte (who put in an appearance in Bollington a couple of years ago), with her new-ish chap (and now fiancé). Simon is a proper job boat engineer and following a quick conversation said he’d pop back once they’d moored up just under the bridge. Turns out they’d bought a house in Wedgewood Village, and were mooring up to strip out their boat prior to taking it up to Longport to sell it: two homes were too much!

When they wandered down, Simon took a quick look, then said: “if you loosen the connection off a little, then twist the hose to and fro so the two mating faces grind against each other a little, it usually fixes the problem.” It did. A handy life-hack to remember – thanks Simon. Dinner was back on the menu!

We’d arranged to leave Song & Dance in the tender care of Festival Park Marina while we headed down to Chippenham Folk Festival, so waving goodbye to Charlotte & Simon who were up  early and still unloading stuff, we headed off through Stoke-on-Trent and up the Stoke Locks once more to moor outside the Marina, all ready to move in first thing Monday morning. For once things were going to plan.

Stone Me: They’ve Nicked the Co-Op!

Leaving Tixall Wide we were soon back on the Trent & Mersey at Great Heywood Junction. Just under the road bridge, rather than mooring up, the man about the boat held onto the middle rope while the lady of the house nipped across the bridge to raid the huge farm shop. That piece of business sorted, we were off again through familiar (but pleasant territory) and on the Thursday moored out in the boonies somewhere south of Stone, before heading off into the metropolis on Friday, mooring up just before lunch below the Star Inn and locks.

We have always rather liked Stone – a small self-contained market town and very much a canal town. But for how much longer? There’s always been a nice butcher, plus some odd and interesting shops, and a large Co-Op in the pedestrianized High Street which incorporated a post office (and which had posters on the canal offering free delivery to boats). There is also a smallish Morrisons on the ring road, but far enough from the canal to make the Co-Op the favourite stop. But there it was – gone.

Apparently there’s a new out-of-town shopping area (miles out of town) with a big supermarket, and the Co-Op decided they couldn’t compete so shut up shop. Including the Post Office. With no banks (they’d all packed up after training their customers to use the Post Office), no Post Office (and no one wanting to take it on – not even W H Smiths), one wonders how much longer Stone will stay a recognizable town. The council now run a free bus service on Thursday mornings to the nearest Post Office some miles away, presumably so people can go and pick up their pensions and/or benefits.

To add to the town’s woes, there’s a proposed major HS2 development site which will clog up the roads for years, and once complete will become an HS2 / Lorry interchange centre clogging up the roads for ever after. To add to the absurdity, just across the canal from town, by the pub, they’re building what looks like a large glass extension to the sports centre. We thought a new swimming pool maybe, but no, it’s apparently going to be a Marks & Spencer food outlet. It’s a strange world.

Anyway, with a satisfactory visit to the splendid ironmonger shop and some basic provisions acquired, we headed out of town without even stopping for a drink at the Star Inn, and packed up for the night at the bottom of Meaford Locks. It’s a slightly odd spot, as the towpath side is pretty rural but the other side is a new and clearly pretty upmarket housing estate (with a couple or three boats moored there too). We’d met someone earlier in the trip who lived and moored here: they were on their way home but we’d clearly beaten them to it.

Kingfisher’s Orf, Dear

Every year, we see loads of wildlife, but the frequency one spots things seems to vary from year to year. One year – loads of Robins. This year – fewer Robins, but loads of Reed Buntings. Another year, hardly any Sparrows, this year loads.

But we still haven’t seen any Kingfishers this year, or Swifts, or House Martins: maybe the latter two are really late in arriving. It’s odd, because we’re already awash with Mallard chicks, and have already seen a few small Cygnets and Goslings, though not many so far.

Having left the delights of Rugeley, we pottered on for a while – this is quite a long section without locks – and eventually decided to moor up for the night at Wolseley Bridge. A pleasant spot with views towards Cannock Chase, even if the first time we moored here back in 2005, we had a hard frost overnight!

Wolseley Bridge Moorings

Just up the road about 500 yards are a decent Vintage Inns pub/restaurant, a highly regarded Indian, a Garden Centre with a cafe, and the HQ of the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust complete with a small reserve.

We’d never investigated either the Indian or the Wildlife Reserve, and the cook was hors de combat, and decided that a restorative curry was in order.

The curry was excellent. But the restaurant had some licensing issues, so Kingfisher was off. So was Cobra. Or even a bottle of Rioja, which we find goes surprisingly well with a curry. One of those days, it would seem…

Let Sleeping Policemen Lie, or A Rough Time in Rugeley

Waving goodbye to the ghosts of pussy-cats past, we set off to find some milk. Actually we needed a lot more than that, and were aiming for Rugeley, where there is not only a huge disused power station but a 24 hour Tesco and a large Morrisons both within a hundred yards of the visitor moorings. It’s not the most prepossessing of towns (to put it mildly) but the approach via Handsacre and Armitage Shanks’ factory, and the departure via the aqueduct over the River Trent are a lot more interesting than one might expect. The visitor moorings are justifiably popular with boaters with the two supermarkets, and town centre all within five minutes walk.

But first we needed some boaty things done somewhat urgently; Kings Bromley Marina is just a few minutes cruising from Wood End lock, but we’d never been in before. It seemed rather a nice marina, although turning and reversing Song & Dance onto the service pontoon was a bit of a challenge – glad there wasn’t any wind to speak of. Mind you, you don’t see another boat for hours, then approaching the entrance, there’s a boat emerging while giving confusing indications regarding his intentions, and one coming down the canal the other way seemingly unwilling to stand off while things got sorted out.

Unusually, it was a woman who appeared to give Song & Dance a much needed pump-out, fill her with diesel and sell us some bits from their chandlery: she seemed to be odd-job-woman and the overall manager of the marina too. Unlike some places, where passing boats wanting pump-outs aren’t always welcomed with open arms, the helpful and friendly welcome were much appreciated. Should we be looking for somewhere to over-winter Song & Dance further north than Cropredy, we reckon Kings Bromley would be high on the list.

Anyway, with everything sorted, we carried on and made Rugeley Visitor Moorings by lunchtime (we got the last convenient one). The quartermaster wanted lunch on board before a proper shopping expedition, so muggins nipped into Tesco for a loaf of bread and a pint of milk, even though we were going back after perusing the delights of Rugeley high street and market. Man plans, God laughs…

Walking across the car-park and service area heading into town, Fran was momentarily distracted, tripped over a sleeping policeman, and went down like a sack of bricks. It was quite a fall, with cuts and grazes on hands and knees, and what subsequently became a truly impressive bruise on the hip. Needing to clean her wounds and sit down to let the shock wear off, we made it to the nearest seat: a handy Costa coffee establishment.

Wounds de-gravelled and cleaned up a bit, with the adrenalin wearing off and the caffeine a poor substitute, we had a quick look round the “Market Hall”, which was pretty much moribund, abandoned the plan to explore the local emporia for groceries, did another quick whizz round Tesco and decided to unwind by cruising out of Rugeley into the countryside a bit.

The moral of this is probably that you shouldn’t kick a sleeping policeman…