Ducks – and a moated house

Biddulph Valley Aqueduct to Ramsdell Hall moorings: 3.09 miles

A sister has requested some photographs of ducks – something to do with a poster competition. Taking photographs of wriggling unpredictable toddlers is difficult: taking pictures of demented ducks is well nigh impossible! They have no sense of facing the front or staying still or that keeping their heads above water would be helpful. No, they just don’t cooperate, unless of course, they are bribed. Hence, efforts to oblige the sister today have cost three expensive slices of bread!

The boat was drawing across the short Congleton Aqueduct this morning when a throng of ducks was espied. The Captain slowed the boat while Boatwif grabbed the camera. “Throw bread out to them,” came advice from the back deck. Two slices of not yet stale wholemeal bread went their way. Two swans hissed up to the bow, scattering the moorhens. Conscience trouble: isn’t it a bad thing these days to feed bread to birds…?  Incident over, the short cruise continued, past the pristine Astbury golf course and onwards out into the country. A small boat approached, Saltie, the day boat from Scholar Green, packed with smiling, well-behaved young ladies, crammed around a table, a cake its centrepiece. Sturdy, attractive stone bridges frequently intersect this section of the canal.

Great efforts have been made by the Macclesfield Canal Society in recent years (see photo) to refurbish the striking black and white Ramsdell Railings . Alongside them at the northern end is is a lovely mooring spot, with open fields both sides. Behind the canal to the east looms Mow Cop (“Mow” to rhyme with “cow”); it’s a hill of about 1100 feet above sea level, topped by a folly built in 1754.  From the tow path a 20 minute walk across fields takes you to Little Moreton Hall. Boatwif had tried to visit this place in March but the place had not then opened for its summer visitors. Today, however, the twenty minute walk across five fields was worthwhile, house and gardens open. Time for a light lunch before joining a guided tour: in the garden, under the shade of a pear tree, obese ducks scavenged and waddled about – splendid for a photo call, although not actually on water…

Little Moreton Hall  is magnificent. It was started in 1505 by the Moreton family. It’s a striking black and white timbered house, built to impress. It stands on what would be marshy land and the complete house and garden is surrounded by a spring-filled moat. The house was extended and the South Range embraces a gatehouse, guest accommodation and a wonderful Long Gallery, built originally for daily exercise and games. The house is breathtakingly pretty and remarkable in that for 250 years the only “improvement” made was the installation of one cold tap! The Moreton family had let the estate to tenant farmers and for hundreds of years much of the house was used as farm storage. Now visitors get a very clear idea of how an Elizabethan household whose owners had high social standing would have been organised. Three pieces of furniture have survived, being listed in an inventory of 1563. One, a refectory table, has a long oak removable board top, probably made from a tree grown over a thousand years ago. The chapel has been restored and is used for a weekly Sunday service during the open season. Visitors may view, but not use, the original garderobe… Outside are gardens, notably an eye-catching symmetrical Knot Garden and a Yew Tunnel, both laid out in 1972. This is a fascinating place, visit it if you can!

Back on the boat late afternoon the Captain sat on the front deck with a mug of tea – more ducks, more photos, more bread!

Tomorrow, through the Harecastle Tunnel and on to the Trent and Mersey Canal.

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