Not all Plain sailing…

Middlewich to Church Minshull, 7.4 miles, 5 locks
     A lesson for the day: make your interpretation of a weather forecast – but do not assume your interpretation will be accurate… Heavy rain early this morning led to a decision to delay a start until about midday. The Captain went shopping – got thinking – then said: “It’s not raining now (about 9.30) so if we move now we can sit in the sunshine this afternoon.”
     Off Cleddau set, a few hundred yards to the bottom of the three pretty Middlewich locks. Just as the boat began to rise in the second lock a darkened sky produced even cooler air – and hailstones.

The Captain had disappeared to prepare the third lock. When he returned Boatwif was zipped up, capped and ear-flapped. “Why didn’t you use the umbrella?” he asked, incredulously. (Readers, this was not demonstrating concern for the steerer, rather a concern for keeping the engine room dry…)  To control sixteen tons of steel in a lock in blustery conditions is challenging enough without adding an umbrella in high winds to the task list. On this boat there are three large and two short umbrellas – you can surmise who is the umbrella fan. The hail eased, the two boats slid past each other and swapped locks. Seconds after water began to pour into the top lock to raise Cleddau the stern fender swung to the right and all but disappeared under the water. The rudder was visible, unprotected. Once up at towpath level an adjustment was easily made and the next potentially tricky manoeuvre planned, the turn onto the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union.

      The Branch leads off under a bridge at a sharp right angle, just yards from the busy King’s Lock.

Once under the bridge Wardle Lock is met. In a cottage beside it

for many years lived Maureen Shaw. She used to bustle out, lend a hand and offer advice. Now she is remembered on this fine plaque.

     Up the lock, out through the Middlewich suburbs and on to the Cheshire Plain. It swiftly becomes a rural landscape. Cows graze quietly in large fields,

and the farms have substantial buildings.

There is a total lack of road traffic noise although the Euston-Glasgow main line seems busy enough.

The canal rides along an embankment and there are glimpses of water far below. Winsford Top and Bottom Flashes are the shallow unnavigable waters at the end of the River Weaver Navigation.

To think it was Easter 2012 that Cleddau and crew descended via the Anderton Lift to the Weaver – warmer then than today!
     It was to be about 6 miles to the designated moorings. The Shropshire Union Canal Society provides delightful mooring sites with mooring rings and picnic tables; the Captain had earmarked such an area near Church Minshull. There were showers; there was wind; there was a slow boat in front. Arrival at the blissfully peaceful site was somewhat marred by the wild wind whipping up from the valley and by the shrieking noise of contractors earnestly strimming and grass-cutting the stretch, readying it, presumably for a sunny Bank Holiday(!)

     On a late afternoon walk (wrapped up in winter trousers, hat and snow mitts again), there was wildlife to be spotted

and pet-life from a nearby boat.

Grass and plants were bent by the roaring winds. The Captain had trapped an orange Sainsbury’s bag by the side hatch window, as a draught preventative – or was it a beacon in case snows should fall…!

     Tomorrow: near to (but below) Beeston Castle.

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