Round the bends – and a couple of rescues

                                              Higher Poynton (Macc Canal) to Milton (Caldon Canal):                                                35 miles, 16 locks,  3 movable bridges, 1 tunnel

Predictability – and unpredictability: these are the dual components of an interesting cruise.

There are habits formed long ago as to what to load on board prior to a boating trip: clothing to cope with the wet and the dry, the cold and the hot; tools; food supplies – and ‘The Green Bag’. This is always the last bag to go in the car before finally leaving the house. It’s a sturdy hessian type shopper, the Green Bag, with Meet Me @The Eagle Bookshop printed on its sides. Last minute things get chucked into The Green Bag, things to do with admin, back copies of newspapers and magazines still to be read and these days face masks and the small mask steriliser unit. Cleddau was still at her mooring at the beginning of the week and in a moment of tidying and sorting enthusiasm Boatwif emptied out the bag’s contents onto the bed and then gave the upended bag a shake out via the open side hatch doors.

A few fragments of dust floated down to the water – and an ominous “plop” was heard. The bag was empty, wasn’t it, so what had fallen out of it … ?

There, tauntingly, floating on top of the water was the distinctive green cover of a cheque book! How could it be retrieved before it sank? The Captain, on his way back from returning the car to the marina car park, deployed fast thinking and longer arms to rescue the sodden thing. “Fetch the fishing net from the front deck,” he instructed – and though no fish have ever been caught via a Cleddau child’s fishing net a cheque book can now be added to previously captured items – crab apples, a shoe, sunhats, footballs various and (in Liverpool) tickets to an important football match…

A few days later, again in unpredictable circumstances, there was a rescue of a different kind. Boat and crew had just set off from Westport Lake, on a mission to liaise with the Cheshire Three at Festival Park’s Carvery. Just round the corner two small girls were concerned that a narrowboat previously moored against the towpath had come untied and was drifting across the canal. Keen to help the Captain stopped the boat, reversed up to it, used a short boat hook to catch and attach the stray boat’s rope, then towed it to the towpath bank.

How was the boat to be secured? No mooring rings could be seen though a bit further along a pair of mooring spikes were spotted. The boat was tied on and the Captain thanked the girls again for being so concerned about a boat being a hazard to others…

Several miles further on along the Trent and Mersey the Captain clapped his forehead: Question: Where was the boathook?

Answer: Left lying on the towpath near the rescued boat…

To the current cruise: in blisteringly hot weather (Tuesday 7th September) Cleddau headed south, through Higher Poynton’s ‘Wide,’   along the Macclesfield Canal. It was a day for taking to the water it seemed, two birthdays being celebrated and one engagement. There were the predictable landmarks (Clarence Mill, at Bollington, White Nancy and Adelphi Mill as well as the unpredictable view of plenty of mooring space on the Macclesfield pontoons (only the case of course when not needed…!)

At Kerridge a young woman had joined the towpath at this bridge   –  she never seemed to alter pace and 3 miles later when Cleddau was being moored up at Gurnett she was still going strong. “Oh, yes, Prestbury, White Nancy, Kerridge, round Sutton Reservoir and back to Prestbury – it takes about 7 hours,” she explained breezily. As if that weren’t impressive enough the following day the Captain exchanged words with a man who was walking to London…

It was a hot and sparkling sort of morning (Wednesday) to be locking down the Bosley Twelve. Veritable activity there was at Lock 3: a large wheelbarrow containing paint pots, a volunteer work party wielding paint brushes at lock beam ends and paddle gear plus a lock keeper trying to keep order…

Further down the flight, at lock 10, there was another gaggle of folk, all gazing downwards. One boat had already emerged from the lock, was there another?

Slowly, slowly a vessel rose in the chamber and slowly, slowly a heavily laden C&RT workboat emerged, delivering grit further up the flight for towpath maintenance. “Sorry to have made it so difficult for you,” said the helmsman courteously, aware that Boatwif had floated about in the pound between the locks and had had to take evasive action…

Onward, ever southbound.

On Thursday after a night at Congleton Wharf there were four fine men and a guitar (on Daydream) and a vast congregation of Canada geese…

Finally on Friday, after a sharp left at Red Bull Aqueduct and a sharp right at Hardings Wood Junction the Harecastle Tunnel lay ahead. The iron-stained waters were the colour of tomato soup.

There was no boat queue and no boat convoy approaching.

On board the life jackets were at the ready.

“Show me your tunnel light. Let me hear your horn,” said the Tunnel Keeper and he rattled through the necessaries.

Life jackets on Cleddau and crew set off, travelling underground the 1.6 miles between Kidsgrove and Stoke-on-Trent.

There is a Duty Tunnel Keeper at each end of the Harecastle and they communicate with each other by phone.  How chirpy the northern portal Tunnel Keeper had been but when Cleddau emerged at the other end the southern portal Tunnel Keeper was cheerless. “You were fast,” he growled.  “35 minutes…” (Was this to be a permanent black mark on one’s record…?)

“We normally do it in about 40 minutes,” Boatwif said, in an effort to defuse an awkward moment – and Cleddau continued on to moor up 20 minutes later at Westport Lake.

……

“I’ve got to go to the Sax Shack in Stoke on Saturday morning,” Cheshire Mum had declared, “to collect my saxophone.”

The saxophone errand had been expanded into a Plan – and by 1030 on Saturday morning the Cheshire Three were aboard, ready to work their passage for a couple of hours along unfamiliar waters.

From Westport Lake on Saturday morning the canalside sights were very familiar…

Stoke Boats (site of Cleddau‘s 2013 -14 partial refit /)

Middleport Pottery

It wasn’t far to the Cheshire Three’s pickup point at Festival Park and then on to Etruria.

“First lock’s there!” called Techno Son-in-Law, spying Stoke Top Lock straight ahead. But Cleddau was swung round the bend to the left.

There at Etruria on a plinth stands James Brindley, famous canal surveyor and engineer. It can be busy with boats here at Etruria services – but there was noise and a buzzing atmosphere… Doors were open at the Etruria Industrial Museum, there was activity in the forge and from around the corner came steady bursts of hissing steam. What was going on?

An enthusiasts’ Meet of steam powered engines (many pumping water) was spread across the green between the Museum and the Bedford Road Staircase Lock.

The sizzles and smells from a Staffordshire Oatcake Boat drew attention too – and soon, Bilbo Baggins-style, Second Breakfasts were being devoured on the front deck…

Onward – to join the Caldon Canal, to be accessed via the Staircase Lock…

Two deep chambers raise the canal 18 feet 6 inches (5.63 metres) from the Trent and Mersey up to the Caldon level.

 

Onwards again, through the small rise Planet Lock to Hanley. In the middle of a densely populated area a heron had claimed some territory.

A bridge or two further on is Hanley Park, cut through on a curve by the canal. From the left brass band music floated down from the bandstand while on the right bunting and tents, marquees and people denoted an event in progress. It was Victorian Day, celebrating Hanley Park’s refurbishment.

The cruise became a trip through times past: two hundred year old bottle kilns amid the very modern housing: Victorian Day participants in Victorian dress and the long stretch of pottery building (built in 1887) in current use by the Emma Bridgewater Factory.    Here the Cheshire Three disembarked to walk back across the city to their car.

There was a brisk and helpful conversation with the Bosley crew, returning from Cheddleton. Then, with another corner rounded and tight bridge hole negotiated, a small ginger-haired boy scowled. He’d heard the boat horn. “Aren’t you scaring the fish?” he said reproachfully…

Though there are plenty of mooring rings alongside the towpath there’s never a temptation to moor overnight in these parts. Instead, there was a Saturday afternoon cricket match to be glimpsed, gypsy horses to be observed, some more tough bends to be negotiated and then, after the village suburb of Milton, Stoke’s urban sprawl was finally left behind.

Here   the Caldon’s rural nature could be seen above leaky Engine Lock. It wouldn’t be far now to the Staffordshire Moorlands…

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