Delays… diversions… disasters…
Back to the Macc… It’s a simple route really: take a left out of Overwater Marina, go about 5 miles northbound to Barbridge Junction, take a right across the Middlewich Arm to Middlewich, then a right uphill, up the Trent and Mersey to Hardings Wood Junction, then a left back onto the Macclesfield Canal…
Resisting the requirement on Wednesday to turn right at Barbridge Junction, Cleddau cruised on, northwards, still on the Shropshire Union.
Onward then, past two charmingly named boats, Rough Grazing and Meadow Sweet.
There were locks ahead – broad locks, the first since leaving the Grand Union over a year ago. A volunteer lock keeper appeared to help the passage through the Bunbury Staircase Locks. This stretch of canal is heading down to Chester and Ellesmere Port. How big a Shropshire Union broad lock seems, especially when it is empty…
Beeston Iron Lock is a curiosity: single boat passage is advised as the protruding horizontal flanges on the iron plates could cause two boats side by side to jam. (Initially built on “running sand” the lock had collapsed but was later rebuilt by famous canal engineers William Jessop and Thomas Telford using iron as a chamber lining).
The countryside has a different character north of Bunbury: there are some wooded sections and then places when unusually shaped hills appear. “Possibly eskers,” pronounced the Captain. “I remember it from Geography lessons.”
Then came the real visual treat, the sight of Beeston Castle, high, high up on its sandstone outcrop. This was the reason for the diversion (the first one, that is).
Moored ahead, on their return from Chester and Ellesmere Port, were the Tentatrice crew. A dinner together and an expedition up to the castle was the plan. Not that the expedition went completely to plan (delays in getting started due to the stubborn cattle that not even the quad bike-riding farmer could shift, necessary diversions from the walk route -twice – and disasters, a broken shower pump and specs lost overboard preventing the Captain’s participation).
But the effort in climbing so high up to the castle was well worthwhile. You reach the Victorian ticket office – and climb the steep pathway and steps to the outer gatehouse. The outer bailey is extensive and steeply sloped. Part way up, by an arrow slit, a group of pupils was being instructed in medieval warfare. It was a further slog up to the inner gatehouse, across the modern footbridge (no drawbridge now) to gain far-reaching views down towards the boats on the canal,
High winds whipped around the hilltop. It was all but impossible to stand still. (How would the primary school teacher evaluate the success of her lesson plan? Her pupils were tasked with drawing the scene below. “Look, notice the railway line – and the canal,” she urged them, then as one they gasped as their papers took off, like birds on the wing).
It was a fine walk. Four hours after departure the wanderers returned. The shower pump was in working order but the spectacles remained under water…
Friday was to be the last day in the company of the Tentatrice crew. There were six locks ahead and there was a 0915 start. The cows were still blocking the footpath across the fields to Beeston Castle but the skies were blue as the boats rose together in Wharton’s Lock and singly in the Beeston Iron Lock. Thereafter there were delays – delays while a hire boat pulled out ahead to ascend the Beeston Stone Lock, delays while two old full length working boats came down through the Stone Lock and their fenders were jammed behind the gates, delays at Calveley Services while the Captain did a slow motion trip backwards into the bow, taking the operating hosepipe with him, drenching himself and the deck (very much a disaster at the time) – and then came news of a full-blown Delay.
“Going to Middlewich?” called a passing boater. “The Arm is closed, blocked, it’s on the Canal and River Trust website…”
What? The route closed? No way through to Middlewich…? There at Barbridge Junction were hi-vis jacketed volunteers, flagging down approaching boaters. (It was true! Oil pollution had caused a canal closure between Bridges 11 and 18… So whereabouts are they…?) This was Friday – contractors had been summonsed – Environment Agency had been informed – no further news until Monday …
The alternative route, far to the south via Autherley Junction and the Staffs and Worcs Canal, would take some ten days longer. Best to divert again, to dally back at Nantwich and to hope for a swift reopening…
Saturday then saw another Nantwich day, a day to sort out the specs issue and to have lunch again at the delightful bookshop, to find hat heaven
and butter-iced cup cakes in the indoor market, to discover more chic boutiques, a pillory from the past, the Millennium Clock in Cocoa Yard – and come upon a combined musical ensemble in a concert rehearsal.
And how long will the watery route be blocked…? Who knows…?
Written at Nantwich; posted from Clive Green Visitor Moorings, west of Middlewich
Miles, locks and tunnels so far covered since leaving Higher Poynton: 169 miles 6 tunnels, 110 locks.
Monkton Moments* to date: 3 (Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)
Lost overboard: 1 bungee cord; one pair of spectacles
Found on board: the complete set of boat keys (in a fleece jacket pocket)
Missing, presumed stored in either a Cheshire or a Bedfordshire garage: 1 ash can