“Locked out…”

Congleton Wharf to Higher Poynton: 18½ miles, 12 locks, 2 swing bridges

From Congleton the Macclesfield Canal weaves its way towards the Bosley lock flight. On the skyline there are two distinctive features, the huge microwave tower to the north east   and the massive hulk of the Cloud, to the south east of the canal.

Do all regular canal and towpath users glance to the landing stage by the farm, just to check that the painted cow is still comfortable in her position?     The farmhouse on Peover Lane has undergone some restoration and the outbuildings now are encased in scaffolding… 

There is a good length of mooring at Bosley Bottom and the views back to the Cloud are glorious.

Tied up ahead was Chouette   Later her crew would lock up to the pound between Locks 5 and 4, from where the HALOUS operation would be run.   It is a tradition of The Macclesfield Canal Society that on two days of the August Bank Holiday weekend the 12 Bosley locks are manned by society members to make the passage up or down the locks  easier for boaters. Cakes and merchandise for sale plus donation boxes are positioned at Lock 5 to help swell Society funds…

Friday proved a busy day. Boaters approaching the bottom of the flight deserve to be forewarned that there is an event up ahead…  Flags were erected,    bunting was strung and humble Cleddau-baked Welsh cakes created…

There is a philosophy on this boat, borne of years spent living in the north of Scotland, that any opportunity offered is worth seizing, in case such doesn’t occur again. Late on Thursday Cheshire Mum had sent an email suggesting a Friday afternoon concert opportunity in Macclesfield.

The concert is walking distance from the train station but if you have moved on from Congleton then we may be able to collect you.

So on Friday afternoon Boatwif reverted to her ‘Little Granny’ role, walked up the hill from Lock 12 to the nearest road access at Lock 5, and waited for a lift to the seething Macclesfield metropolis.

From tractor country   to the calm interior of the United Reform Church.     Here the Cheshire One performed on percussion at the end of a week’s Orchestra Course.   It was loud, it was rhythmic, it was very good indeed!

Back at the boat the HALOUS check list was double checked: windlasses, life jackets, shelter, chairs, umbrellas, water, refreshments, first aid pack, radios, all readied for the morning trek uphill.

On Saturday morning, minus the two spare radios (stubbornly secreted somewhere out of sight on the boat), but with the four dozen Welsh cakes for the Canal Society stall,  there was an 0930 check in with Patrick, Flight Marshall, up at Lock 5.

The daytime base for the Cleddau crew was Lock 9;    the next lock down (Lock 10)      operated by Cheshire Two and K, the close school friend…

Boat traffic during the morning was steady, boats up bound (heading beyond the blind bridge to Lock 8) and down bound towards Lock 10.

During quieter spells there was the stunning view of the Cloud to gaze upon.     Train a photo lens on the top and you’ll see quarrying scars. Stone from the Cloud     was brought down from the hill to create the Bosley lock chambers – and mason’s individual markings on the millstone grit slabs are easy to see.

As each boat rose or descended there was a brief conversation between crew and lock keepers. Adventures were shared, routes recalled, destinations described.  Often boat names were explained, the best by far being Old Biddy. “Our boat was commissioned by an auctioneer,” said one of the owners, “and if anyone asks who is the ‘old biddy’ we just point at each other…”

“You have the best one of the lot,” said a man from Protea, referring to Lock 9’s stunning view.

There were Australians on nb Endeavour and conversation focused on time zones, a daughter in New York (five hours behind) a son in Australia (eleven hours ahead). There was definite bonding over the issue of accidental text messages pinging in the middle of the night…

When a large old boat emerged from Lock 8 there was a touch of excitement.      How far had it come? Was it a working boat? “Only bought it three hours ago,” said Ivy’s windlass wielder. “Taking it to Alvecote. I’ll be doing the engineering.” Then, gesturing towards the helmsman, who by then was struggling to restart the engine, he added: “‘e’ll do the woodwork.” 

The sun shone: the temperature rose and rose. Down at Lock 10 Cheshire Mum oversaw operations from below the red umbrella.     The Cheshire One and School Friend K shared shade on the seat   until the shade disappeared and they retreated to the hedge on the towpath side.

In a long boat-less period there was time to take a closer look at the surroundings: cows chewing on succulent grass in the field behind,   water draining into the side pond, blackberries  and sloes  suggesting autumn treats to come… On the towpath in front of Lock 8 a C&RT volunteer appeared, pushing hard at a wheelbarrow. Was he going to engage in repair work on this hottest of Saturday afternoons…? No. This was water relief, water bottles being delivered by wheelbarrow carrier to any lock keepers in need.

By 4-30 pm time had been called and the trusty IKEA trolley had been trundled back done the hill to the boat.

Sunday was a seriously boat-busy day. Early on beneath the cloudless blue sky  church bells rang out across the Dane valley. There was no time to retrieve the chairs from the overnight shelter before the windlass work began again. 

The disembodied voice of Chris from Lock 12 warned of upcoming boats. Progress, smooth at first, slowed when two cruisers    began their two-to-a-lock creep up the hill.    Long after they had passed the cruisers’ snail-like journey could be visualised as lock keepers reported their progress via radio.

Lockside banter continued: “Oh, have we reached the beer tent?” joked a down coming boater and Sherborne Prince had a crew of RAF enthusiasts…

There were two boat returners, Corky jouneying back to Macclesfield after a crew foray across the fields to Little Moreton Hall, and Dove going back downhill to moor at Heritage Marina.

There was a spell each on Lock 7 for both Boatwif and the Captain, the gates and paddles easier there but shade sadly lacking.

Mid-afternoon, beaten by the heat, time was called after Bracken’s ascent. Up Bracken rose, transporting the HALOUS signs and other paraphernalia back to HQ.

Back to Cleddau, with shelter et al. Why were there lunch leftovers…? Lunch hadn’t really happened… How soon could a kettle boil for a refreshing cup of tea?   There were flags to be taken down and items to be stowed away.

Was it worth the effort and the fatigue? Of course it was. To spend two whole days in such a stunning setting with plenty of opportunity for boaty chat was a joy and a pleasure… In the siege situation essential supplies had held out, although insect attack on Boatwif was dogged, with 21 itchy bites being sustained…

On Monday morning the Cloud wasn’t there! Disappeared. Autumn mists had thrown a grey cloak around the hill. After locking 39 boats through the Bosley locks over two days the Captain complained that he was “locked out”. Cleddau, however, needed to get to her own home mooring… It was farewell to Chouette and her crew and within minutes Cleddau was rising in Lock 12,   passing the orchard at Lock 11     (“Did you get any damsons?” a Canal Society member had asked), up through Lock 10, on through Lock 9 (the Cloud still mist obscured) and on up the rest of the twelve.

At Top Lock the sun returned, burning away the mist.

By Tuesday the favourite Sutton view,  the three mills (Hovis at Macclesfield,  Adelphi  and Clarence Mills   in Bollington) had been passed and White Nancy had been spied high on the Kerridge Hill ridge line.

There were interesting reflections in the water    and Lyme Park Estate on the horizon – but eventually, just past the Braidbar boatyard arm    there was the home straight…    and Cleddau and crew could claim a little rest.

2019 Monkton Moments*- 9   

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

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3 Responses

  1. Jaqueline Biggs says:

    Welcome back to your home mooring!! Lovely post Sue. I was there with you all the way.
    Love Jaq xxx


    Lovely article. My dad, now in Spain, was the auctioneer who commissioned Old Biddy. Would love to see her again one day xx

  3. Sue Deveson says:

    Hello Simon,
    What a pleasant surprise to receive a comment on a blog post written three and a half years ago!
    I’ve read your comment while back on board Cleddau; it’s March, and the weather conditions are very different from that August hot day when I had used my windlass to help the crew of Old Biddy through Lock 9 on the Bosley Flight! Thank you for your kind words and for stirring memories of a wonderful weekend of HALOUS (Have a Lock On Us, as organised by the Macclesfield Canal Society).

    Sue /Boatwif

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