A December boat trip…
– Boating in December? In that cold week? Never!
– Well yes…
– But isn’t your boat out of the water up on hard standing somewhere…?
– Well yes…
Lacking a usable boat of one’s own, the Captain and Boatwif spent two days windlass-wielding, helping a friend navigate her boat down the Trent and Mersey Canal.
From Sunday 10th December snow and ice had caused alarm and chaos across huge swathes of middle England and the Welsh Marches. Road travel was slow, water transport nigh impossible.
By midweek the ice over in Cheshire began to crack.
Jaq, who lives full-time on her boat, had been iced in at Scholar Green at the southern (lower) end of the Macclesfield Canal. With the ice beginning to melt she was able to plan her move. Along the canal she went, meeting boating friends and helpers at the first Cheshire Lock after Harding’s Wood Junction. Down she and nb Valerie went, down 3 miles through 12 locks to moor up at Rode Heath.
Just after dawn (or so it seemed) on Saturday 16th the Captain and Boatwif left Bedfordshire, heading north. M1; M6; M6 Toll; M6; A34. Warnings of serious traffic delays further north led to a diversion through Trent Vale (never heard of it before) and Kidsgrove, then onwards to Rode Heath.
There, moored up in in a very familiar place overlooking the sloping meadows of Rode Heath Rise, was nb Valerie. There was Jaq, just starting the boat’s engine. On board went the blue IKEA bag crammed full of warm and waterproof gear. As if struggling with a cold the boat’s engine coughed, spluttered – and expired. (See Jaq’s account here).
Revived by an engineering angel from RCR (River Canal Rescue) soon after midday the boat was ready to move. Crew to action stations: on went the warm jumper, the thickest fleece, the heaviest waterproof, the gaiters, the lined mountain cap, the non-slip mitts… Then off to the first lock, Thurlwood.
Last time here it was October 9th, Cleddau being moved to Aqueduct Marina. Then the weather was balmy, dry. Now the offside lock side was treacherous with ice – and just below the lock a Royal Mail delivery van had slid inadvertently to a stop…
The locks on this stretch are familiar and a locking routine soon developed, the Captain closing the rear gate, Boatwif winding up the offside paddle before setting off down the towpath to set the next lock.
At Hassall Green there was Lock 57, right beside the one-time shop and upstairs bistro, but for once there was no tying up here. Onward, down through Lock 58, under the M6 motorway bridge, under “the little bridge”, crawling onward in a still frozen landscape.
At 1515 the day’s (boating) mission had been achieved: 4 miles and 14 locks. There was the small matter of securing a taxi ride back up to Rode Heath to collect the car. Blame old model iphones whose batteries don’t like cold temperatures, blame Wheelock as a communications black hole, blame taxi firms who don’t want the trade. Thanks, however, to three young ladies in The Cheshire Cheese pub who raced on their phones to secure a taxi for the Captain, the car issue was resolved (except that is for a £60 parking fine issued by post for the 16 minutes spent on Wheelock Wharf while crew and car were reunited…) From there a satnav-directed mystery tour through the gloom eventually led to an excellent B&B – Hopley House Bed and Breakfast.
Murk, ice floes and heavy rain were the weather conditions for Day 2, the Wheelock to Middlewich leg of 6 miles and 6 locks.There’s a long lock free stretch, past a sewage farm and the Ettisley Heath new housing development. Then came the first lock of the day, Crow’s Nest (such a delightful name). There lurking inside the dry of the car was the Captain. He spent a long morning shadowing the boat, appearing at each lock to man the gates and paddles. A few hardy fishermen provided some light relief and conspiratorial sympathy: who else was mad enough to be outdoors in such conditions…?
Finally Valerie was turned onto the Middlewich Arm and for the first time in two days the boat approached a lock without needing to negotiate ice sheets or steer through driving rain. Smoothly the boat rose in Wardle Lock to be tied up then on safe moorings just beyond Bridge 30.
Day 2’s mission had been achieved – Valerie to Middlewich and the Cleddau crew had survived a weekend’s workout! Over the two days Jaq’s ample and delicious crew rations had kept spirits high and muscles moving. Thank you so much Jaq. (If you haven’t read her blog already do so to gain a far clearer impression of her downhill trip).
To Jaq and to all readers: the Cleddau crew wish you