Slowly through Middlewich

Bramble Cuttings to Malkins Bank: 8.22 miles, 11 locks

            Why does the BBC weather site taunt the boater so? Why does it forecast some dark clouds, maybe followed by white skies, only then for the skies to produce a morning of continuous heavy rain with just one or two momentary pauses… ? The Captain is not at his best when encumbered by waterproof over-trousers and early on a fellow boater gently mocked his offer of help while he stood on the stern deck well-protected under his favourite umbrella…!

            Sharing the Boaters Only picnic site last night had been two other rather short boats. There had been no sight nor sound of occupation in either boat and an assumption had developed that these were boats moored up for a while, to be collected later.  Surprise then at 9 o’clock this morning when engines roared into life and both boats left.  A mile or so further they were spotted again, preparing Big Lock (yes, that’s its official name). “What size are you? Will you come through with us?” asked the skipper of one. So, in heavy rain three boats rose in Big Lock, the shorter ones (35’ and 36’ long) roped together, the front one towing the other. Such is their tried and tested technique.

            Middlewich is not a big place but it takes a lot of getting through… There is Big Lock, then straight after the Andersen hire base are three narrow locks cunningly angled around a bend.

Next comes another hire base, the junction to the Middlewich Arm, the King’s Lock chandlery and the next lock. What a boat jam this morning below King’s Lock: combine the small boat moored on the lock landing while its crew went shopping (eek!), the boat trying to pick up its repaired bow thruster (third repair in eight years “Maybe we don’t use it enough,” but as an ex BA pilot perhaps his handling skills are good!), nb Epiphany getting refuelled, plus Cleddau, and then the arrival of another boat from the Middlewich Arm. Meanwhile, above the lock a boater started to fill the lock to descend – even though her boat was at the time moored inside another and pointing the wrong way. Two other boats were waiting and the coal boat Renaissance was delivering supplies and aiming to drop down through the lock as well. Eventually boats nudged their way through – and Cleddau was on her way out of the jam with just three single well-spaced Middlewich locks to do.

It was on the open stretch between King’s Lock and Rumps Lock that the Monkton Moment* occurred. Relieved at last to be through King’s Lock the Captain was multi-tasking, tiller with the left hand, page-turning of the map book with the right. The boat careered somewhat across the canal – as a Black Prince hire boat hove round the bend. Its helmsman visibly gasped: “Are you from Pembrokeshire?” he shouted. Affirmative, Pembroke. “Aargh,” came across the water in a deep lilting Welsh voice, “got a caravan in Angle…” The boats drew further apart and Boatwif saw in her mind’s eye Angle, that westernmost little bay last seen only seven weeks ago. Nostalgia near engulfed her – but Rumps Lock was fast approaching, followed by the pair of Booth Lane Locks and then Crows Nest Lock…

 Until Crows Nest Lock the outskirts of Middlewich are open, salt piled high beside a factory, an open road close by the canal, almost always a wind breezing across the canal. Then, with the prettier name of Crows Nest came prettier weather. The blacker clouds no longer leaked overhead. While the sun occasionally shone it was better to cruise on. Three miles further on lies Wheelock; on its approaches extensive bank reinforcement works are under way. This is quiet Cheshire countryside now, the fields frequently occupied by grazing cattle. While topping up with water some Canadian observers launched a  gentle interrogation: steering positions, fuel options, the extent of the canal system and so on. They would have talked more, but the sun was shining steadily now and it was good weather for cruising! Wheelock Locks: like so many from here onwards, they are paired single locks, most with an elegant footbridge at the lock tail.  Two locks later, just over the hedge from Malkin’s Bank golf course, a suitable mooring was found.

Only 25 more locks to the top of what is often called Heartbreak Hill. Tomorrow’s destination: Church Lawton, just a few locks down from the top…

*Monkton Moment refers to an unexpected spontaneous recognition of a Pembrokeshire place or person (so-called after a long ago incident just outside Windsor).

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