Clinging to the contour

Rosehill Cutting to Dukinfield Lift Bridge: 6.5 miles, 2 tunnels

            A short cruise: no locks, but two short tunnels and a safe mooring achieved by lunch time. This stretch of the Peak Forest Canal had been navigated earlier this year during Cleddau’s Huddersfield Narrow expedition so it’s vaguely familiar territory. The canal twists and curves for much of the way through woodland, the tow path mostly edged by old stone walling or a protective fence. Perhaps it’s not the safest canal side walk for toddlers or dogs – a slip could entail a long roll or fall to the River Goyt below or, a bit further on, to the River Tame. There was a brief stop in Romiley, an urban area, where there was an uphill walk to a local newsagent. See its street sign – something unusual in an otherwise uninspiring location.

            Canal bridges on the Macclesfield Canal are uniformly pleasing to the eye; they are stone, well proportioned and some (snake or roving bridges) have sweeping curves as the foot way is crossed over to the other side of the canal. Part way along the Lower Peak Forest Canal it becomes apparent that the bridges come in many shapes and sizes: there’s a vast, very high stone one, there’s an attempt at a Macclesfield roving bridge but it’s very angular on one side, there’s a concrete long motorway bridge (M67) angled awkwardly over the water, there’s a bridge which still shows the marks from the ropes of the horse-pulled boats, railway bridges, a Llangollen style lift bridge – and scaffold bridges. These last are mounted on simple stone pillars and seem to have planking or wooden platforms for the crossing.

            As the morning wore on Boatwif became aware of other life, even though walkers and anglers were few and far between. There was the succession of aircraft lowering from the east on approach to Manchester Airport. Twice mainly white cats squatted on garden fences, just watching, observing. A heron poised on the bank was probably fish-gazing rather than boat-watching. Horses in a field looked up briefly, then continued cropping at the grass. At Denton there is a strange canal-side settlement: chickens in coops, pigeons in lofts, cockatoos in cages and behind them a glimpse of a salvage yard. Some factories are still alive and well: at one place office furniture was being delivered, a man cheerily carrying a desk across the yard, his partner carrying the drawers. At another factory site things were even grimmer than three months ago: a solitary figure was bent over, picking over the pile of rubble, searching for pieces of timber.

            Just before Dukinfield Junction the canal is again tree-lined on either side. A community trip boat approached, its skipper shouting something about soft vegetation. High visibility jackets were in view as Cleddau slowed for the Dukinfield wind-up lift bridge. Repairs going on? Assistance available?  No, just a group of six chaps taking a lunch break in a pretty place before clambering into cars and taking off, presumably back to work.

            Lunch over the Captain went to play down in the weed hatch while Boatwif struck out for the Portland Basin Museum (remember, visited before in July) for advice on the route ahead and where to find a post box.  Bleak small-rise tower blocks and uniformly dull modern houses seem to make up the immediate neighbourhood. Back at the museum a wander through the galleries again refreshed the memory as to why the cotton industry developed here – and what early takeaway food outlets looked like!

            Tomorrow – the 18 Ashton locks, hopefully aided by a third crew member…

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