‘…It’s a boy…’

Time to reflect on some recent ‘firsts’. Even while still in lockdown in March there were small pleasures to be had – these were the first lambs in the field just west of Wootton Church…

When the Prime Minister announced that outdoor gatherings for up to six people were permitted from 29th March plans quickly swung into action.  A first ‘garden party’ since last summer, in sunshine, sleet or snow was prepared for – and to see friendly faces in the flesh rather than via screen, to eat, drink and laugh through an afternoon proved a splendid starter for a return to socialisation…

If not afloat the Cleddau crew crave waterside access. Downstream from Bedford, at Great Barford Bridge on 2nd April, families prepared to get afloat.    A riverside walk towards Willington then seemed a good idea – as was this Christmas tree at a riverside mooring, redefined as an Easter tree.     Sometimes you can be in the right place (Willington Lock) at the right time, the right time that is and the first time in many months to push some lock gates, to wind a paddle  and to discuss boating tales on the Nene and the Great Ouse… 

The wet fields of winter began to dry out: how good it was to make a first foray of the year along a favourite local walk and to see the land prepared for spring.

Six months of living locally – what joy it was then to escape to the next county (Bucks) and picnic beside a lake.    Stowe Landscape Gardens are glorious in any season.  Last visited in October  a different route of exploration was taken during an April visit: here was the Temple of Venus;     here were Stowe School’s boarding quarters,   here was a vista of the Palladian Bridge, the Cobham Monument and the triangular Gothic Temple.

A picnic lunch by water at Stowe – then five days later a BREAKFAST by water.  At 0840 on April 13th the Captain and Boatwif were proud to be recorded as Customer 1 and Customer 2 at Danish Camp as it reopened for business after the third lockdown. First customers – first to download the new Danish Camp app.  Why not on a glorious morning go for the full English breakfast and coffee with dollops of sunshine and blue river views…!

Mid-April: first bluebells in Kempston Wood, celandines too…

After second jabs (administered again at the Gurdwara) there was opportunity for some more ‘Firsts’.

The Cheshire Three had been on board Cleddau to check her post-winter state. “There’s a surprise sort of Easter egg,” Cheshire Mum had warned. “Check your engine room…”  One large Canada goose egg had been laid on the back deck.  

It was good be back afloat, even if being back aboard involved boat washing, deck scrubbing, paint polishing. 

After three nights aboard a mini-cruise was planned – just a quick trip along to the North Cheshire Cruising Club at High Lane to turn the boat round. How lovely it was to be in familiar scenery    and on familiar waters again for the first time in nine months. Not anticipated was the first breakdown of the season, when half way through the boat’s turn reverse thrust failed and the throttles (both of them) were stuck in forward motion. The Captain eased the boat round and gently returned the boat southwards to her mooring. In an engine-less manoeuvre the large barge pole was deployed (for the first time this season) and Cleddau was punted backwards to line up with her pontoon, there to be repaired by Mark, the patient and practical on-site marine engineer…

Boaters will know about the current closure on the Macclesfield Canal caused by the collapse of a culvert that runs below the canal bed just south of Hovis Mill. Between there and Cleddau’s mooring at Higher Poynton are nearly eight miles of navigable canal. Cruising southbound, just as Boatwif handed the helmsman a welcome mug of tea, this boat was passed –   what an apt name!

There was a first sighting this year of the local workboat, Alton in action.  This 1936 boat was en route to Bugsworth Basin on the Upper Peak Forest Canal, delivering coal and fuel to customers old and new.

Lambs are plentiful below the Cheshire East ridge lines, tiny ones feeding, juveniles playing ‘playground tag’…

What a host of Firsts on Saturday – a new lodge visible from the canal just south of Adlington,  first use this year of the onboard washing machine  and the recognisable noises of sport and applause. A mooring space just beyond Clarence Mill on Bollington Aqueduct could not be ignored. From far below cheerful sounds of a football match and of leather ball on willow bat drifted up to the canal. Down to Bollington Recreation Ground  – people, there were people in their dozens, in their hundreds!    Football spectators, tennis courts in use, cricket match spectators, a corner beer garden with plenty of customers, cricket club helpers, families and toddlers, a dog walker, match spectators on the grassy terraces   – and a balloon-bedecked party in full flow. Had everyone in Bollington been vaccinated…? Did rules of six no longer apply…? And who were the baby parents? “It’s a boy. It’s a boy!” a guest called out as escape from the recreation ground was being made. Unwittingly the Cleddau crew had managed to gate-crash their first ever Gender Reveal party…

First family walk for a long time was the focus of Sunday morning:  a towpath stroll from Clarence Mill to Bridge 22, a connecting footpath to the Middlewood Way, there to survey a very particular tree, which as a 5 year old British oak sapling was planted on a 5th wedding anniversary. The tree – and the marriage – are now both 22 years old!   The circular route involved a few steps and a couple of stiles but (unusually for a Techno-led walk) no steep or rugged slopes…

What else? While moored in Bollington a four-legged canoeist and a ukulele minstrel passed by.

Onward on Sunday afternoon – as far as possible. Moored up in Macclesfield there was sporting high jinks again: 14 or so residents from the recently completed retirement apartments were engaged in a rowdy game of pétanque; one man (the referee?) was wielding a steel tape measure to the delight and consternation of the competitors.

Before heading back to Higher Poynton there was one more “first” to achieve – a view of the de-watered canal. From Black Road bridge the familiar townscape was less than a pretty sight.  An emptied channel, a muddy bottom, occasional rubble, a pump and a workboat – when will boats be able to cruise past here again? The next update from Canal and River Trust is due on May 5th, the work due completion by the end of June.

As for the Captain’s plans, well, why not head off the Macc via the northern route and descend to Manchester, via 16 locks at Marple, 18 on the Ashton Canal – and then the Rochdale Nine?. (It’s food for thought, though maybe the crew should put themselves on Popeye rations and fill up on spinach to promote upper arm strength!)

Between Higher Poynton, Macclesfield and the Upper Peak Forest Canal (Bridge 21): 29.4 miles; locks: 0; breakdowns: 1







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1 Response

  1. Jaqueline Biggs says:

    Fantastic to see both of you and the Cheshire Three out for a stroll, and lovely nb Cleddau in the gorgeous spring sunshine! Fingers crossed CRT gets the leak fixed and the canal rewatered soon. Love and Biggs big hugs to you!!
    Jaq xxx

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