70 or 63 or 43…? and a last boating jaunt

Friday 24th – Saturday 25th September, 2010
Return cruise from Marineville Moorings, Higher Poynton to Bugsworth Basin, High Peak Canal, Derbyshire: 10.62 miles, 4 bridges (2 wind up, 2 swing) each way
    “Don’t come in yet,” said the Techno Son-in-Law to the birthday Captain just after 7 am on Friday. “She’s just finishing your card.” When entry to the kitchen (to boil the kettle for Boatwif’s essential early morning pot of tea) was permitted a visual surprise assaulted the eyes. Bunting, balloons and a flashing badge all proclaimed a 70th birthday!
    ” If I am to wear a badge,” negotiated the Captain, ” then I do insist on accuracy.”  Techno Son-in-Law scurried away, deep into the cellar bowels, appearing soon after with a (still flashing) 63 badge, which the Captain agreed to wear.
    Thursday night had seen the final September childcare duty: the parents had returned from school full of information – PE on Mondays (“Don’t send your girls in tights on Mondays”), French on Tuesdays, Show and Tell and Assembly on Wednesdays, Music on Fridays, handwriting styles, Jolly Phonics, numbers in everyday situations and there had even been school dinner tastings.
    Now we could reclaim our calendar – so why not opt for a last Cleddau cruise? Why not spend the second September birthday going up to Bugsworth?
    You don’t really go “up” to Bugsworth – it just feels as if you do. From Cleddau‘s current mooring the route is roughly four miles north to Marple Junction, then about six in a south-easterly direction to Bugsworth and Whaley Bridge. There are no locks, so you arrive on the same level as you left. Northbound the canal weaves past several areas of moored boats and then reaches High Lane, a strip village along the A6.  Here there seem to have been many garden improvements since last we passed in April, new areas of decking, a good bungalow extension, several end of garden moorings renewed. On the canal weaves, between hedges, then breaking out to views past an old house now converted into apartments down to deer grazing below. On the outskirts of Marple the huge Goyt Mill overpowers the nearby streets and terraces.  Then you reach the end of the “Macc”. A grey stop house fronts a narrowed channel, a turnover bridge is beyond. We were following one boat, another appeared at right angles at the Junction to approach us. The one ahead of us turned left, began to recede from view, then sharply bounced back – as bounced it had into the lock gates at the top of the Marple Flight. The approaching boater muttered about horns (not being used) and Americans (not understanding the rules).
    Soon we were able to make our right turn, onto the spectacular Peak Forest Canal.  It clings to the contour on the western side of the Goyt Valley. Down below are houses (some), roads (a few), a railway line, the tops of trees, fields and occasional dotted buildings. Sweeping away behind are serious hills, the hills of the Dark Peak. The towpath is frequented by walkers and cyclists, all eager to soak up the views and to enjoy the bracing air. And on Friday, the September 24th birthday, biting northerly blasts seemed a foretaste of autumn and winter. Any layers as long as they gave wind protection: on went the mountain cap, on went the gaiters… A boat was behind us; we played leapfrog at each of the wind up and swing bridges so first one operated the bridge while the other cruised past. At New Mills, still high above the valley, the air becomes dense with an almost sickeningly sweet smell and the canal passes the mill where Meltis sweets are made.  A bit further on eyes (and ears) are drawn downwards.  A huge railway viaduct crosses the valley, and trains rattle along it from Buxton to Stockport. There are heavily wooded sections, glimpses of steep paths and even ravines.  Then the eye focuses south, again broad sweeps of high ground, source of the Derbyshire limestone.
    The canal moves past pretty Furness Vale Marina, then about a half hour later comes upon the outskirts of Whaley Bridge.  Just under the modern road bridge the water widens and a signpost points left to Bugsworth Basin.
    Bugsworth Basin is a glory of the canal system: although in comparison, say, to Llangollen’s Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, it’s relatively little known. A huge inland port, built to tranship limestone, lime and gritstone from the high Derbyshire Peaks down to Manchester and into Lancashire, it was too heavily industrialised, dangerous and polluted a site for many records or photographs. By the 1790s 19 limekilns operated around the basin.  About four hundred boats would be used to receive and transport goods onwards. Now it is a scheduled ancient monument, a quiet place, a haven for ducks and geese.  Walls and part-walls, stone sleepers and bridges, mooring docks and archways intrigue any visitor.  The site was totally derelict for forty years but now, after wonderful restoration work the whole area is interpreted by numerous information panels and a large three dimensional model. Space for four hundred boats: on Friday night there were only seven. From here walkers can easily follow the tramway route up into the hills to the limestone quarries.
    No long walks for us this time, just an adjournment to the Navigation Inn for an evening meal.  Once owned by Pat Phoenix (Elsie Tanner of Coronation Street fame) now it is a friendly canal art bedecked place, popular it would seem with locals and boaters accompanied by large but docile dogs. There the Captain dutifully adorned himself with flashing badge to provide photographic evidence for the Cheshire One.
    Saturday dawned blue and dew-heavy. For the first few hours there was no or little wind. Views were even sharper and clearer than on Friday.  Our slow progress was led by the occupants of Brambling, whose very name suggests a rambling ambling sort of pace! It was a good day for day boats, although the first turned back early, thwarted by Brambling’s lack of speed. The second provided two seven year old girls who flew out of their boat, elbowed the Captain out of the way and between them wound up the bridge, and then wound it down again. “We’ve done two other boats already,” one said.  The third day boat was an altogether larger vessel, an adults only drinking party heading down the Macc from Marple.
    The bright but cold day came to an end: the boat was refueled and moored up.  The Captain, 63 and a day now, tied her up, the last jaunt over for this year. 63? But last night from Florida there was an email from the oil tycoon school friend, his birthday just a day later. “Isn’t 63 the new 43?” it had optimistically said…!

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