Frog march from Froghall

(Dispatched Monday, from Endon, once back in signal range)

Sunday: Cheddleton to Cheddleton: 3.6 miles, 4 locks; Cheddleton to Froghall by train: 5 miles; Froghall to Cheddleton by tow path walk: 5 miles

Confused by the above…? It was down three locks this morning, to discover at the fourth that “the river is in the red”…

 From Cheddleton the canal drops two locks, then weaves towards a third about half a mile further on. After an unpicturesque section where an ugly metal fence guards an industrial estate the valley broadens out. There are clear views across to the Cheddleton shunting yards. Masses of rolling stock can be glimpsed – and, it still being “Day out with Thomas” weekend, there was much pipping of steam whistles drifting across the valley. Once or twice on the canal off-side there were private boat moorings. One, Rose´ and Gin, was wittily named.  Hillsides of unusual shapes lay in the near distance – old industrial waste tips maybe…? On through a third lock, past a lift bridge, to a fourth, Oakmeadow Ford Lock. Here a warning sign urges boaters to check the gauge, for beyond it river and canal share the channel. There had been torrential overnight rain, and yes, the water level was lapping against the red section. Philosophically the Captain declared that in pilot-speak “it’s better to be safe on the ground wishing you were in the air than up in the air wishing you were on the ground.” So, a change of plan was called for: the boat was turned and back up the canal she went, a suitable mooring found quite near the Cheddleton Railway Station.

The urge to see the river section was still strong. Off Boatwif jumped, heading for the station, where clarification was sought on the Special Timetable. Kindly Keith appreciated the problem and allowed a special concession, two one-way tickets and non-participation in the Event. A bolted lunch, a gallop back up the tow path – and tickets were purchased for the 1337 to Froghall on Daisy. What a treat – while gathering breath on Daisy, steaming back into the station came Thomas and his Brake Van! On the platform the most impressive Fat Controller (alias, these days, Sir Topham Hatt) smiled and shook youngsters’ hands, made an announcement (though perhaps he should have used a megaphone rather than a modern radio mike) and then, as Daisy departed he took off his shining top hat and waved the passengers farewell.

The train follows the valley bottom: glimpses of river and canal are frequent. At Consall Forge, where the station platform is cantilevered out over the canal some passengers departed, others boarded. On then to Froghall, there to be greeted by a clown on a seriously small bike.

The return walk to the boat started with a climb up to Froghall Basin. Three boats bobbed at their moorings, each one low enough then to crawl through Froghall Tunnel.

Alerted by the Captain’s shout to “see this boat” Boatwif scanned the water – ducks, ducks, more ducks…but one had a different shape. Being demonstrated was a radio-controlled Lake Windermere steamer, built to a one twelfth scale. The camera was swiftly deployed.

“I have a narrow boat in my car, just there,” indicated the gentle-voiced model-maker. And out of the car came a 52” (that’s 52 inches) of perfectly made narrow boat. Other narrow boaters gathered round, as if to check every last detail. The cabin roof was lifted off and inside, in reverse layout, was perfect four berth provision. Every last detail was there – windlass, pail, ropes, taps, TV and even current licence! Such skill. Nb Heather was launched and from the stern deck the miniature helms woman steered and waved.

            The walk back to the boat needed to happen if Cleddau were to be boarded before dark … past the tunnel entrance, its plastic flaps indicating a boat’s profile that could smoothly proceed through. On past the huge cleared works (what was here before?), under Cherry Eye Bridge, along a deeply muddy tow path… Before Consall Forge there was another distraction, a canal side pottery. When a man wants to talk it’s hard to find his Pause button: in full flow the potter described the gardening, his cooking, his pots, Cumbria, the flooded floor, France, Belgium, the poorly dog… back to the tow path, past Consall Forge Station, past the lime kilns, a mile beside the fast running river, back to Oakmeadow Lock – and now on the route seen twice before today by boat!

            Perhaps not a frog march, more a pleasant muddy meander that somehow saw us back in time for tea!

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