Dutton Hall to Bramble Cuttings: 12.66 miles, 2 tunnels

“Lovely day, in bits!” called a chap from the tow path near Northwich. He was tall, rather unkempt, a small terrier running in front of him. Probably that was the best summary for a day when it has been warm enough to take off a layer and to grab a sun hat but also cold enough for fleeces, wind-proofs, caps and gloves. There were short sharp showers (and a double rainbow) in the morning, squalls and hail late afternoon, but, in bits, it was very pleasant…

During the initial stretch of the route there were still glimpses down over the hedge to the Weaver Valley. Soon a small Black Prince hire base was passed at Acton Bridge. (For an explanation of how their operation works read the latter part of Retirement No Problem’s blog on passing the Stoke Prior base…) Grass freshly cut on the tow path yesterday had been a nuisance last night as when wet it clings to your footwear; the grass cutters with a tractor, a mower and a strimmer were hard at it again this morning (apart, that is, from the chap just checking his mobile phone).

It was a sparkly morning and the canal began a long creep through a tree-lined channel. Cleddau rounded a corner and came upon Saltersford Tunnel). Again a notice determined access times, for twenty minutes after the half hour. The boat was stopped, was moored, a wait of about ten minutes necessary. One, then another boat pulled up behind – quite a little queue. 10.30 came – the boat was untied and pushed off. The nose was already in the tunnel when a woman came running down the track that is the tow path over the tunnel. “I wouldn’t do that yet, I am just walking my dog but I saw a boat go in at the other end,” she shouted.  Boatwif could now hear the throb of an approaching engine – and then see a tunnel light. The boat was shuffled backwards. Out came the approaching boat, the Captain muttering that its skipper had been “warming the bell”…

Through Saltersford Tunnel (424 yards in length), then a couple of hundred yards later Barnton Tunnel (572 yards). Between the two tunnels an unusual fishing expedition was under way. Wearing a high-vis jacket a chap was repeatedly throwing a wide strap into the canal. His bait was a magnetic hook – he was fishing for metal. “See the oil drum we got up there!” and his mate was heaving it into the scrap metal van.

After Barnton Tunnel the canal swings close again to the ridge line above the Weaver, large industrial structures visible on the opposite bank. And so, at about 1115, Cleddau and crew returned to known waters, seven days of previously unexplored route behind them. Boatwif was landed at the Anderton Boat Lift (justification: cruise photographer and record-keeper) while the Captain proceeded a bit further on to the Services. You cannot visit Anderton without watching the Boat Lift in action. Ignore the sharp breeze off the river, close ears to the jet-shrieking noise of the pressure relief valves at the salt works opposite, just watch the magnificent structure silently lower and lift boats, the trip boat up, a private boat down… Readers of Cleddau’s Weaver cruise in April may remember “Mrs Claus”:  she wasn’t on duty in the booking office today but greetings will be passed on to her tomorrow.

Back on the cruise the canal heads towards Northwich. The Lion Salt Works Museum is now surrounded by security fencing. Is there funding now for this Griff Rhys Jones Restoration? On past the boat sales at Wincham Wharf and more industrial works. Next comes Billinge Green Flash, a wide expanse of water created from salt extraction subsidence, a rusted half sunken boat warning where the main channel is.  Then another flash, this one stirring memories of a wave-slapping night and Cleddau’s rescue from an unplanned grounding…  On the tow path the swan family were busy preening their feathers. The canal has become entirely rural now, as it twists round tight bends and creeps through wind-rustled reeds.  There, bathed in sunlight before the next squall, lay a tempting mooring. Bramble Cutting is inaccessible by road, has room for several boats, has bank side picnic tables and BBQ frame – and a railway line that projects over the water. The photo should tell you why!

So, a day of sharp contrasts – meteorologically and scenically!

Tomorrow: through Middlewich to begin the uphill climb back to the Macclesfield Canal.

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