Black and white

Church Lawton to Hassall Green, 3.63 miles and 12 locks

            First lock of the day, about 400 yards from the overnight mooring, was lock 47. There never was going to be a great distance travelled today since at Hassall Green, at lock 57, is Lock 57, a favourite brasserie (eatery) and destination for the Captain’s belated birthday celebration.

            Down Cleddau came, dropping down towards the Cheshire Plain. There was a brief retail pause at Rode Heath, the boat moored alongside Rode Heath Rise, a wildflower meadow. Then onwards.  The locks are often grouped in twos and threes, there never being much distance between them. Should you finish a lock and hop back on the boat, you don’t travel far before the tell-tale black and white beams of the next lock are spotted. Sometimes the canal curves closely to rows of small cottages, once or twice to more modern housing. But the predominant impression in these parts is of the great number of fields in which cows graze. Yesterday we had passed a dairy farm where 500 cows are milked twice a day (eight hours a day is spent on milking, we were told). No milking parlours were in sight today, just green fields of cows on both sides of the canal. Initially they were black and white; then there was a field of all black cattle. Next along the way the cows were a gingery colour, quietly resting by the fence. Then more black and whites. Further over was a field of mixed colours, a couple of blacks, a few whites, some tans. Boatwif’s knowledge of cattle is extremely scanty, mainly gained from the dialogue of Radio 4’s Brookfield Farm, so no speculation as to which colour is which breed. There are some who claim climate change is being caused by the west’s insistence on a diet rich in dairy products… no sides will be taken on that issue, but viewing field after field of docile, contented cattle reinforces the tranquillity of this stretch of the canal.

            A flashback: a conversation last night with Baby Sis had touched on her elder daughter (the Recent Bride, see blog of 31st August 2010 ). The daughter, then a nearly four year old, had exercised (like the rest of us) great patience, as for hours Cal Son (then about ten) had thrilled at the sight of a military exercise from a visitors’ viewing platform. Tanks had trundled along abandoned village tracks, helicopters had darted out of the heath land, tank weaponry had rumbled at distant targets. Finally the journey home could begin. Cal Son, exuberant with all his sightings, was keen to lecture all, those who wished to listen – and those who didn’t. The Recent Bride (then aged three and three quarters) spoke up:

“Look, Boy, look – COWS.”  She could not have been more right, more clear, more emphatic… What a putdown!

            So the Cleddau crew ambled on, cows and locks, cows and locks, for quite a while this morning.

 But all was to change. Round about lock 55, those acute of hearing, may become aware of a distant purr, a constant sound, then a persistent roar. Despite its attraction as a building Lock 57 and the moorings nearby can be affected by the noise pollution from the nearby M6. Down lock 57 and out, the Captain at the helm. A tight turn was executed and a return to the lock chamber.

“The gate has swung,” bellowed the Captain from the depths. Two ladies crossing the little lock bridge jumped, unaware of the human life far below. Then came perhaps the least tactful comment of the day from Boatwif: “Would you mind using your bottom against the gate while I start to put the water in?” Surprised at the request, both ladies obliged…

  Once  gazing at cows was done the skies proved an attractive vista: sharp contrails from aircraft indicate the cold dry air at height. How many of these aircraft were outbound from or inbound to Manchester Airport, one wonders.
             In shore garb rather than boating boots the Cleddau crew tonight crossed the lock to the restaurant. The Captain had already scrutinised the online menu for tonight – he’d muttered about “Black bream”. Boatwif, however, was drawn to the “white crab”.

Tomorrow: back uphill, for the Cruise Plan has changed.  After the “involuntary sailing” caused by the high winds between Braunston – Rugby, Rugby – Nuneaton last month the crew feel that that was enough for this season. 30mph winds and heavy rain is forecast for those days we were due to be going down onto the River Weaver so now we will head back up to the Macc, and aim to be tied up on permanent moorings by the weekend. The Anderton Lift and the River Weaver will now move to the 2012 Must Do list…

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