STOP / GO

Ramsdell Hall Railings to Westport Lake: 6 miles, 1 lock

It was a STOP / GO sort of day: moored-start-stop-start-stop-start-stop-start-stop-start-stop …

Overnight mooring to Heritage Boatyard (map book, diesel, water)

Heritage Boatyard to the Rising Sun, Scholar Green (postbox)

Scholar Green to Harecastle Tunnel (a wait of about an hour and a half before passage permitted)

Harecastle Tunnel to Westport Lake for overnight mooring.

            There was a tinge of regret on drawing away from the mooring at Ramsdell Hall Railings. It is an open rural view undisturbed by cars or trains, close to easy or more demanding walks… but the Cruise Plan had been hatched! Past Ramsdell Hall with its glorious grounds (what a country retreat) and less than a mile ahead is the Heritage boatyard. Just where Cleddau needed to tie up for fuel were two little day boats so the Captain prepared to pull in a little back from them.

“Good morning!” he called to a lady on the back deck of her boat.

“Oh, good morning – or…” she read the boat’s name, ”should I say Bore-da?”

Off jumped her husband – helpful, chatty, very soon discussing boat aerials. Consensus reached: yes, phone signals and internet so much easier to access this year than last – or ever before. Meanwhile, wife was getting restless:  “Want to be off – don’t want to be following day boats…”

            Well-trained husband picked up the hint: “Yes, we’re off to Bosley, to man the locks for the weekend.”

            Boatwif chipped in: “Oh, HALOUS!  Quizzical looks from the boaters.

            “But how do you know about that?”

            “We’re members of the Macclesfield Canal Society, and every quarter they produce a marvellous little magazine…”

At which point the husband bowed his head slightly, indicated his wife, and with a neat flourish said: “Meet Madam Editor!”  (Wow! Last year it was the Hon Sec on the Stratford Canal, now Madam Editor!) A handshake – and off they set, intending to moor in the middle of the lock flight: “We’re the nightwatchmen!”  The annual Have a Lock on Us event over the Bank Holiday weekend both promotes the Macclesfield Canal Society membership and raises funds for canal-related projects.

            The next stop was to find a post box, eventually achieved after a long walk around and through and across Scholar Green, returning to the tow path a mile or so further on… Along Cleddau cruised, past a family, infant in a pushchair, all others fishing. “We’ve caught two crayfish,” said the younger boy gleefully. “Look, they’re in the bucket.”

            Next stop, after the Hall Green stop lock, was on the Trent and Mersey Canal at Harecastle Tunnel.  No other boats were queuing at the north portal, awaiting permission to pass through. The Duty Tunnel Keeper appeared, “You’ll have to wait, about an hour or an hour and a quarter.” So Cleddau and crew were stopped, again.  Time for domestic jobs, photos, lunch.  Lunch?  Whatever, but NOT carrot and orange soup, the canal water here looking even more orange than ever before! (The colouring comes from the iron deposits in the rock).

 Time ticked on.

The Tunnel Keeper reappeared, checked boat details and regaled some tales, then one by one three boats emerged from the tunnel.

 Start the engine, switch on all the lights.

            In Cleddau went, heading south to Stoke-on-Trent through the 2926 yard long tunnel. First impression: how stuffy it was, the result of three diesel boats just through. Second impression: how the acoustics change, as the tunnel shape changes. Third impression: how low the tunnel is getting, here even Boatwif can touch the roof. Fourth impression: how wide the tunnel is (after caving through the Standedge Tunneljust two months ago). Fifth impression:  over half way now, the escape arrows have changed direction.  Sixth impression: is that light at the end of the tunnel…? Seventh impression: how very loud are the fume extraction fans!  Eighth impression: We’re getting closer – but the tunnel doors aren’t open!  Ninth impression: Signs say STOP. We’re locked inside the Harecastle Tunnel!

            Cleddau was slowed to a stop. Behind the closed doors she lurked.

            The fans stopped.

            The doors were opened.  “Sorry,” said the Tunnel Keeper , “ I was busy talking.”  But aboard Cleddau there is a suspicion that maybe, maybe, the speed through the Harecastle was faster than expected…

            On for another mile or so, through a cutting, under pipe bridges, the canal now wide – and the water not at all orange in colour. Westport Lake hove into view, other boats there of course, most sporting anglers from bow or stern.

            Late afternoon Boatwif took her customary stroll. There’s an environmentally friendly Visitor Centre here, providing a park cafe, wildlife habitat information and some tourist details. It was 5pm, closing time, and Boatwif was stopped from browsing through the brochures… Still, the walk round Little Lake and Westport Lake was pleasant.

            Tomorrow: onto the Caldon Canal at Etruria, planning to stop after Milton.

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