Outbound on a mission…
Cleddau and crew are afloat on a mission, the first of several…
First off it was head southbound down the Macclesfield Canal, then north west down (yes, down Heartbreak Hill) on the Trent and Mersey Canal and then south west across the Middlewich Arm. Outbound the trip has involved 42 miles and 46 locks, from Higher Poynton to Church Minshull. The mission? To discuss Project Repaint at Aqueduct Marina, near Nantwich…
But for the Cleddau crew to reach their cruise start point at Higher Poynton first required another of those “Friends of the M1” road trips. A detour to stop at Tamworth (via, for the motorway anoraks amongst you, a trip along the M6 Toll) allowed a catch up with Jaq on nb Valerie . There she was, comfortably moored on the Coventry Canal. A fine lunch was had, lively conversation ensued, interrupted only by a shriek from the Captain: “Patrick, it’s Patrick! Patrick!” he yelled, and he hurled himself, shoeless, out onto Valerie’s bow deck. Nb Chouette’s colourful cratch board was sliding by – and after swiftly tying to a convenient mooring ring the startled Chouette crew and Jaq could be introduced! How satisfying it is to be able to bring together previously unacquainted folk – even if only by a coincidence of timing!
To return to the Cleddau mission. On a mid-August Sunday Cleddau cast off. Boats and boaters were out to play. There were local boaters out for a jaunt, hire boaters on a time schedule and day boaters loosely tied up for picnic breaks…
and how many folk, singly or in pairs or groups, were combing the hedgerows for ripened blackberries. “Shall I throw you one?” called a lady, strolling and blackberrying, on the towpath near Langley. The first line of a poem swam to mind:
‘Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week the blackberries would ripen…’
A half mile further on a litter picker was being used to grab the higher branches – and late afternoon, an elderly couple carefully washed their crop at a water tap alongside the moorings near Bosley Top Lock. As ‘the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ approaches apples find their way onto the towpath or into the water, plums and sloes groan on the branches, acorns are spotted on oak trees and red berries crowd the hedgerows. Cruising, whatever the season, offers such visual delights!
A scarecrow used to be a gaunt figure in Grandad’s old tweed jacket: these days garden and canal side figures are better dressed, sometimes wittily so.
There’s a strange compulsion to photo-capture familiar scenes, the painted cow , the Ramsdell Railings, the rugged shape of Mow Cop… Uninvited there was a companion along the final stretch of the Macc, a tree bough wedged under the bow, its wake a mini tidal wave!
There are 26 locks between the Junction and Wheelock; many of them paired, an addition made in the 1870s to reduce freight carrying delays. Down Cleddau started (three of them on Monday, 23 the next day). A steady flow of upcoming boats meant that lock work was regularly shared. There are favourite moorings at Church Lawton, beyond which are the two Church Locks separated only by a very short length of water. Precise steering is needed to pass in this very short pound.
Wheelock on Tuesday night proved a communications desert…
There was plenty of action, as usual, at King’s Lock Junction: a road traffic queue built up when a works lorry driver stopped for a lunch pick up at the widely known and widely appreciated King’s Lock Fish and Chip Shop. Refuelling with diesel at King’s Lock Chandlery required crew cooperation (strength to hold a rope across two boats when no bollard is available, dodgem skills to avoid boats manoeuvring between King’s Lock, the mainline and the Middlewich Arm).
Once on the Middlewich Arm the realisation dawned that crossing with other boaters offers both social chit-chat and confessional opportunities.
“My wife’s a midwife, she’s had a four day weekend. We’re a four-hander, hop on, we’ll do the lock for you”.
“I broke my front tooth with a windlass that flew off…”
“We were at Llangollen during the International Eisteddfod – sat at the picnic benches and listened to the concerts for free!”
“Lived in Turkey for five years – got too hot in summer (fifties) and too cold in winter, the pool froze over during the last two winters.”
“Bought my boat out of my divorce settlement…”
But it is the fate of the single hander at Wardle Lock that lurks in the mind. He had brought his 66 foot boat under the bridge in front of Wardle Lock. Cleddau was already rising in the chamber. The boater, slippers on feet, hobbled up to the end of the lock. He was clearly unwell. Which came first was not established but an infected bite on his ankle, a dunk in the canal to retrieve something, a spread of infection right up his leg was obviously causing great pain and distress. Boatwif operated the lock for him and insisted that the Captain see him through Stanthorne Lock, a mile further on. A doctor friend was due to meet this unhappy boater a few miles after that to take him to hospital. It was alarming to see how a serious health situation could develop and how difficult it might be to deal with while afloat…
Onwards along the Middlewich Arm, agricultural country. Bullocks (or heifers? Could Pip Archer if she reads this please confirm!) gambolled across the grass, a tractor-sprayer worked methodically across a field and agricultural aromas drifted in the air. The few buildings are attractive, photogenic even.
Early afternoon on Thursday Cleddau arrived outside Aqueduct Marina; nearby on a high embankment the canal has crossed above the River Weaver. “Lovely name,” a hire boater called out, referring to Cleddau. In Boatwif’s opinion the same goes for these craft hereabouts: and . .
So outbound cruise completed, will Cleddau be returning here this winter? Only time will tell…
Higher Poynton (Macclesfield Canal) to Church Minshull (Middlewich Arm): 42 miles, 46 locks