As the crow flies

Sunday 1st April 2012 : Anniversary of the founding of the Royal Air Force

            As the crow flies the distance travelled by Cleddau today (from just north of Scholar Green to just before Wheelock) was about 7 miles; for the boat it was 9.04 miles and a drop of 307 feet through 25 locks. The boat’s home mooring is distinctly in the Cheshire highlands but now she is heading down to the Cheshire plain where some fields contained contented cows, out on grass now. In other fields, in such fine weather, tractors were urgently ploughing the red earth.

            Frost still lay on the roof when the engine was started at 8am. This morning low sun glare hid the splendour of Ramsdell Hall from close examination but what a beautiful day it was – from the time cruising started until mooring in late afternoon there were cloudless blue skies and aircraft contrails frequently visible. How comfortable it is to steer with a warming sun on the back of the neck rather than direct in the eyes… It took about an hour to the end of the Macclesfield Canal, from where a sharp left turn was required for the Trent and Mersey. 23 miles to the Anderton Lift says the sign at the canal junction.  At first the canal drops through semi-urban Kidsgrove, then the countryside returns. Many of the locks are paired, allowing boats to rise or fall in either or the same direction.  Trees, even those still leafless, looked stunning against the blue backdrop of the sky. Round about midday a magpie was spotted, making for the top of a tree; swiftly another companionably flew in to join it. Remember the magpie rhyme: “One for Sorrow, two for Joy.”  Certainly this was a day for joy…

 There were stops for water, for rubbish disposal and for newspaper purchase but other than those pauses the boat kept moving, its motion more down than along…! The first dozen or so locks needed filling before usage but then Cleddau’s luck seemed to change. Up Heartbreak Hill were coming frequent hire boats, so some crew effort was saved. And then, at about lock 54, Cleddau found herself the centre of attention as a crowd of walkers gathered to watch the boat enter the lock. “Can we help?” asked someone.

A girl with CHESHIRE NETBALL emblazoned on her sweatshirt struggled with the windlass; a younger girl tackled the other gate. With such an amount of help available there was no more to be done than to jump back on the boat.

“We’ll help at the next lock, if you like, if you give us a lift,” said one hopeful voice. Memories swam back of the time the over-70s one-time Guides and Scouts had hitched a lift along a section of the Kennet and Avon Canal. But today’s spectators were rather more numerous: “Well, there’s twenty of us, and a dog…” continued the voice. As we continued our travel along the Trent and Mersey the walkers shadowed us, helping again and again. 

Curiosity eventually overcame Boatwif:  “Are you all, er, one family?” she enquired of the youngest’s father.

“ No, we’re four or five families. Five of the ladies are physiotherapists together…” Well, well!

Down past Lock 57 we cruised: here at Hassall Green The Romping Donkey pub (closed when last passed in October 2011) is now under demolition – and Lock 57, that mouth-watering brasserie, doesn’t serve on Sunday evenings…

And so we arrived at Malkins Bank and from Lock 64 a sunny mooring place was spotted. Nearby is a section of the Wheelock Rail Trail, a disused railway line now run by Cheshire East for leisure use. The line is straight: how far does it go, as a crow flies? And how far from Heathrow is it  to San Francisco? And from San Francisco to Hawaii? All day the smallness of our world has bubbled in the brain: at 0730 BST an email sat on the laptop – the Captain’s nephew, who lives only a spit from the River Cleddau, is reading the blog, in San Francisco, before proceeding to Hawaii, celebrating his wife’s special birthday!  Another question formulates: do they have crows in California – or Hawaii?

Tomorrow: to Middlewich

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