South west for winter: Day 4

Day 4: A numbers sort of day…

Red Bull Services to Hassall Green, 4¼ miles, 13 locks

Lock 44 lay directly ahead this morning.     It has a partner lock beside it. Between Kidsgrove (Lock 41) and Wheelock (Lock 66) many of the locks are paired side by side and during busy periods it is not uncommon to find both locks in a pair in use, one boat ascending, one descending. Today though, on a Monday in term time, boating was mainly for the retired brigade or those on an out of season hire boat break.

While the Captain took an apparent age to release the mooring ropes     Boatwif mused over numbers. The date, 9th October has a significance. It was 14 years ago to the day (well, evening) when the Captain returned from a meeting. “They’ve made me Chairman,” he said. That decision called for a cup of tea…

Kettle on, mugs out.

Then, 10 minutes later, 14 years ago from daytime California, a phone call brought much more exciting news. “Hello Granny, you have a grandson…”  That news called for something sparkly… Kettle off, mugs away and tall glasses out! So Cal Guy Snr is 14 today.

How many locks lay ahead today: well 13

How many years did the Captain retain the Chair? 12*

The date today? 9 October…

Perched on the balance beam of Lock 44 :  hm, 4 + 4 = 8

At about this point the boat arrived in the lock, the descent could begin and Cleddau was lowered through the first three locks of the day. The canal sweeps round a right hand bend, past the huge dairy farm, home of 500 dairy cattle. The silage clamps were full of winter feed     but the surrounding fields and sheds seemed strangely empty of cattle.    Just a very few seemed to be corralled at the rear of one of the milking parlours…

Onward, past the Church Lawton moorings, several boats there, to arrive at the two Church Locks. These locks with the very short pound between top and bottom lock can create a bottle neck. One boat had just emerged from the top, so Cleddau cruised straight into the already prepared lock, ready to descend. Below another boat was preparing to rise.

“Would this be synchronicity?” thought Boatwif, musing on the chamber-swapping aquatic dance that would have to follow. .

The boats arrived at the same level,     both needing to move into the opposite chamber. Cleddau crept forward, further across the pound than the other. Oh, how neat it might have looked, a smooth but deft position change. Alas, a tiny touch on the concrete edge profile as it angled towards Lock 48 became a kiss to the hull of the boat creeping towards Lock 47 – and a synchronised dance routine was no longer possible…

Halls Lock next, a bridge, the Lawton Triples immediately afterwards, 4 in all, some paired, some not. No time to boil a kettle for tea or coffee. The Captain disappeared to wind paddles further down the flight. An upcoming single-hander eventually emerged from a single lock and the boats neatly crossed the pound between the locks. Cleddau then descended the single lock, crept out of the chamber to see 2 boats bearing towards her, a narrow boat and a cruiser, both having ascended the paired locks, now chafing to enter the single lock.     More (successful) boat dancing / hull avoidance.

At Rode Heath there is an excellent strip of mooring alongside the open meadowland of Rode Heath Rise . Time for a newspaper from the village shop and a cup of tea seated at the convenient picnic tables.

The next lock is a single lock and it presented several unusual distractions. Across the valley could be seen a tent encampment.     Cars arrived – were the happy campers on a schools’ project? Was it a tent city created by homeless people? Was it supporting an archaeological dig…? (Answers on a postcard please…)

At the lock itself the boat just emerging from the chamber seemed reluctant to move on…     Then it became clear: behind it, rising in the lock was an unpowered butty AND another small boat behind that!

 

“Erm, if it’s not too personal, could I ask what you carry in your butty?” (A personal question from an inquisitive Boatwif).

“Oh, tools, workshop stuff… it’s cheaper to licence another boat and tow it around than pay for storage.” Boatwif looked on while the re-hooking of the cross straps was made secure and the train of boats eventually pulled away…

A gaze down into the elderly lock beam was the third surprise: there, growing from the splits in the lock beam wood was a fungi crop. There were similar on other lock beams too.

 

The joy of this section of the Trent and Mersey Canal is its rural aspect: attractive rear gardens,     glorious tree tints,    hedgerow colour,    stunning backdrop views. 

And so to an overnight mooring at Hassall Green, front doors closed against the intrusive traffic roar from the M6. This was long a favourite mooring when the now closed Lock 57 was a fine lock side bistro.  A conversation with a local resident seemed to focus on numbers – the number of people who had run the Lock 57 restaurant (6), the number of regular worshippers at the little pink church (8),     the months the M6 bridge underpass will have been closed (9), the number of the bus route currently under threat of closure (78).

As if all those numbers aren’t enough there is news of 2,800 elephants… From the Canal and River Trust fortnightly bulletin comes this snippet:

Elephants 2,800 elephants are being removed from the Macclesfield Canal. Ok, so that’s actually the equivalent weight (17,000 tonnes) of dredgings that we’ll be removing in the first phase of a £1.3million dredging project to make boating easier…

 Onward tomorrow to Wheelock: after Day 4 the destination now lies 16¼ miles and 17 locks ahead…

(12* years the Chair – and Chair again now…)

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