Could there be time for a last cruise in 2012? How many days could be squeezed before Meetings filled up the diary again? 14 days… too few to get to Chester and back, too far to Llangollen and back… Then the Cheshire Mum chipped in: “But you’ve still not done the Cheshire Ring!”

    True: four years of mooring on the Macclesfield Canal but never has Cleddau been to Manchester. To be accurate, the waters between Dukinfield Junction east of the city and Anderton near Northwich over to the west remain uncharted. So, that’s about 46 miles and 28 locks of new vistas and exploration – as part of a total 97 miles and 92 locks before (hopefully) tying up again back at Higher Poynton. Think of a clock, Higher Poynton at number 2, the Cheshire Ring route going 1, 12, 11 and so on. (See The Cheshire Ring for further details.)

    To start a cruise first you need a boat. Until Tuesday Cleddau was still in Tim’s capable hands at Bourne Boat Builders, having her hearth extended, a floorboard adjusted and a radiator leak fixed. Up from Bedfordshire the crew drove on Monday evening, where in Macclesfield on Tuesday morning the Cheshire One delivered a 7am history lesson on the Great Fire of London, explained a French game over breakfast toast and skipped into school at 8.45. Then to Kerridge: collect boat, move boat to moorings (5 miles), move car to moorings, sort out boat interior after the repair work, unload car – and set off. 

    By mid-afternoon Cleddau was comfortably moored at Marple, a stone’s throw from the Ring O’ Bells pub, convenient for an evening meal.  Boatwif went off to explore: there are many dark red brick buildings; there is a fascinating horse tunnel underneath the road after Lock 13; the town is much indebted to the Hollis Cotton Mill benefactors, the Carver family; there is a stunning memorial park, where a fine oak tree was planted 60 years ago to mark the Queen’s Coronation. The Pennine hills are visible yet, somewhat incongruously, an American candy store is prominent in the main shopping precinct and a Petanque pitch is set out in the park.

    Later the crew strolled across to the pub for a meal. Awards decorate the walls: Best Live Music Pub in the North West; Best Community Pub… But back to haunt them came the memory of the River Avon pub with only four bags of crisps left after a busy weekend as well as numerous other abortive attempts to find food outlets. “Sorry, the chef has stopped cooking, he’s finished early as he’s off on holiday tomorrow,” said the barmaid. That’s why, despite good supplies on board, another exploration of Marple was required – and a very good Italian restaurant found.

    The Marple Locks, 16 of them, each one about 12 feet deep, each one having heavy gates and stiff  bottom gate paddles when under pressure from a full lock of water are a delight to walk beside and to work. However (remember the words of the Mastermind question master) once you’ve started you must finish. A long time ago, on the Kennet and Avon, an expression arose of “weather doing a Hungerford”. This related to the occasion when a huge crowd of ducks huddled miserably under a bridge, miserable beyond measure because of the incessant rain. “Descending the Marple” seems to bring on a similar effect: three times, Cleddau has done it, each time the crew arriving at the bottom sodden, dripping, saturated! The transit wasn’t without its lighter moments, like the dance duet above Lock 16 when the 70’ New Horizons trip boat really needed all the space that Cleddau was occupying while the top lock was filling, or when the walkers at Lock 12 bid Boatwif “Have a nice descent”. A stressful part? Two Dutch ladies were emptying the lock prepared for Cleddau – and in so doing were emptying the pound that Cleddau was beginning to flounder in. Much shouting, horn blowing and paddle correction eventually sorted that incident out.

    Moored up after about three hours wet-kneed trousers were exchanged for dry ones and the fire lit. Now an even warmth pushes through the length of the boat.

    As if in apprehension of the urban jungle to come Boatwif took a late afternoon stroll: over a stile, down through a damp pasture, gaining a glimpse of the River Goyt at the bottom, only sheep for company. There’s one more rural stretch tomorrow, then new waters…

Stats so far for Cleddau‘s Cheshire Ring cruise:

 Higher Poynton (Macclesfield Canal)  to Rosehill Cutting (Lower Peak Forest Canal): 4.8 miles, 16 locks and a drop of 214 feet

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