Bowling along on the flat and level
After descending the Rochdale Nine (the southern end of the Rochdale Canal) Cleddau joined the Bridgewater Canal. This waterway stretches 28 miles between Castlefields at Manchester and Preston Brook (in Cheshire) where it joins the Trent and Mersey Canal.
2 miles west of Manchester at Waters Meeting (lovely name) an unassuming arm leads off northwards for a further 10.8 miles to Leigh where the Bridgewater joins the Leeds and Liverpool Canal.
The Bridgewater is unusual – it’s noted for being the first commercial canal (built by Francis Egerton to convey coal from his Worsley coal mines into Manchester, the first stretch being opened in 1761); it’s noted too as being operated by Peel Holdings with different licensing and transit arrangements from the waterways overseen by Canal and River Trust.
For a boater familiar with the narrow locks and tight squeezes of the Trent and Mersey, the Macclesfield or the Ashton Canals the Bridgewater is a blessed relief, for this canal is wide, deep and lock-free.
Boatwif was put in charge of the tiller while the Captain went below to make some coffee. The canal landscape coming out of the city lacks charm. Sometimes structures are too close and too big to frame in a single photo shot (such as the Man United football ground at Old Trafford); sometimes though artistic endeavour brightens the brickwork…
Here, (2 miles out) un-signposted – or signpost not visible – is the Leigh Branch: go that way to Liverpool. Bridges on the Bridgewater are mostly unnumbered or unnamed, making it sometimes hard to match points on a canal map with what the navigator is seeing…
Stretford, Sale, Altrincham – it’s not easy to tell where one town ends and another starts. Canal side scenery varies: traditional housing terraces, a modern shopping precinct, a solidly built church, modern apartments, the modern incorporating the old industrial facades, hefty Bridgewater cranes built to move stop planks if the canal needs dewatering, graffiti, and frequent glimpses of the Manchester Metro-link trams running in a south west direction.
For the past three days Cleddau and crew had been cruising through Greater Manchester (for the politically aware, that’s through Andy Burnham territory). At a favourite rural spot near Dunham Underbridge (“underbridge” is Bridgewater terminology for an aqueduct) Cleddau was pulled in for an overnight mooring.
Close by is the Dunham Massey National Trust Estate. A brisk walk round the Deer Park was pleasant and frequently sociable. At a point where paths crossed a woman addressed the Captain directly: “Ooh,” she said, “I thought I knew you but you had a different wife…” (What does one say to that?!)
”It was a black boy holding up a sundial,” said some regular visitors (self-confessed Scousers). See a picture here . The statue had been removed last June in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Lymm is an affluent and historic village, sporting estate agents, pubs, restaurants and a couple of art galleries . A gorge slices down through the village. Above it is Lymm Dam, a lake created by the road-building Warrington and Stockport Turnpike Trust in 1824. The circular walk around Lymm Dam offers plenty of seating stops and fishing platforms. A highlight for children though must be the sandstone outcrop on the north side; balance points, squeeze cracks, sliding surfaces – wonderful. “My wife remembers coming here as a child,” said a Dad, on childcare duty while his teacher wife spent Sunday morning doing lesson preparation for her school…
Onward then, further west and looping south. Grappenhall (the bizarre sight of the bus stop beside the canal), Stockton Heath (a man relocating towpath water away from his back gate), forget-me- nots, Moore’s Village Store, , excited families crossing a footbridge to Walton Hall gardens, then, housing left behind, ahead was another Bridgewater stop planks crane and the distinctive tower at Daresbury Research Laboratory.
Miles from Manchester Castlefields to Daresbury: 22¼; locks: 0
Items lost overboard: 1 (left hand ladies’ fingerless glove)