Tales of the Unexpected
Middlewich (Trent and Mersey) to Boothstown (Leigh Branch): 43 miles, 3 tunnels, 1 lock
There were songs of praise emanating from a Community Church in a garden opposite the old Middlewich Boat Centre and at St Michael’s Church in the centre of town a congregation was gathering for Family Service.
By midday ropes were untied and Cleddau set off for a less crowded place. After a pause at the very convenient canal side Recycling Centre, Cleddau made gentle progress, past the empty mooring site at Bramble Cuttings, under the railway line at Bridge 180A (has it been refurbished or renewed?) towards the glorious expanse of water at Whatcroft Flash
reeds that rustle in the breeze
a swan and cygnets
clouds reflected on the water
It’s marina land from here on: the flash beyond Whatcroft used to have submerged wrecks of narrowboats that marked the deeper channel, now the flash has been redeveloped as Oakwood Marina. Yards further on is the fairly new Park Farm Marina and beyond that (only a few hundred yards again) is Orchard Marina, currently drained of water, redevelopment evident in a new building on site though as yet there are no replacement pontoons.
First passed years ago the Lion Salt Works looked a dilapidated and no hope sort of place. Then it was included in Griff Rhys Jones’s BBC2 Restoration series (2004) in which heritage projects competed for massive financial support. Though not the overall winner Heritage Lottery funding has since resurrected the site. The Cleddau crew visited the museum in June 2016; but with time in hand before arriving on the Bridgewater Canal (7 days only permitted for C&RT licence holders) another visit was proposed and duly booked.
What a treat it is to arrive at a particular place of interest, to moor up, then to eat and sleep right outside the gates until opening time. The booking was for 1045 (Tuesday 27th July) and the gates were opened well before the 1030 earliest booking time – time then for a quiet wander around the outdoor exhibits before checking in at the Visitor Centre.
1030 – Masks were donned to enter the museum buildings, tickets were bought at the desk and two coffees ordered. While the coffee was being prepared book titles in the retail section attracted the eye … and that was it – VISIT OVER! A manager stated that the Museum had closed due to a Positive Covid notification.
Scuttle, scuttle off the site, £16 the lighter, back to the boat, there to make a pot of good coffee… If the Museum is open when Cleddau passes back this way, well maybe the coffee will still be there and waiting…
On the move again the route was both familiar and visually interesting:
Then, as hoped for, there was space at a preferred mooring. Would it be safe to lay one’s head right by the Dutton breach’s centre line? (It was!)
The tunnel is 1239 yards long. All the way through the tunnel lining seemed to amplify the sound of water lapping against the hull. Then ahead, a hundred yards or so from the northern portal, five dizzy, disorientated moorhens flapped and propelled themselves away from the side of the boat…
In bright moments the sun lit up a power station to the north. Unnoticed before, there’s a building called The Innovation Centre at the Daresbury Science Park. Just beyond the Park neatly rolled haybales sat in a yellowing field.
Then within a few minutes the sky filled with brooding clouds; cold air was pulled down from above, large raindrops puddled on the cabin, the winds blew, lightning flashed and “that big man with heavy boots up in the clouds” stomped about in a huge temper for several hours…
A rainproof selected early morning for tunnel wear and “light showers” (BBC forecast) was no match for the lashings of vicious rain and aggressive hail hurled down over the Bridgewater Canal’s western section… The Captain’s much loved umbrella with its superior carbon fibre struts lifted off, the handle to be grabbed by the owner, the thing a mangled mess..
A crew change for the back deck (Boatwif by then waterproofed, gaitered and gloved) allowed the Captain to go below, climb out of sodden shirt, trousers and jacket and don drier, warmer layers…
The little town gives way to rural Oughtrington and then the lines of boats moored at the boatyards. It was on past NT Dunham Massey (estate building glimpsed just once between the trees) to a quiet rural mooring half a mile before Altrincham.
Friday had become both Target Day and Destination Day. By mid-morning the boat had cruised 4.6 miles,(past a totem pole!) crossed over the juvenile River Mersey and made her Stretford Marine appointment, there to have her “fuel polished” whereby a natty machine agitates the contents of the diesel tank to filter out dirt and debris.
All well and good.
The Barton Swing Aqueduct above the wide Manchester Ship Canal
Here a quick pause to dash across the road to a newspaper shop led to a chance encounter with a bridal party.
“May I use your boat as a backdrop?” asked the very polite photographer. And so for nearly an hour, quite unexpectedly, Cleddau provided a background – and a stage for wedding photographs.
Onward, after the photography was finished, round past the Packet House, seeking glimpses of the newly opened RHS Bridgewater Garden site. This, the recently opened Great Northern Garden, is the Destination, a visit booked for Sunday 1st August…
Cleddau is now nestled on a comfortable mooring at Boothstown, apparently a mere 10 minutes walk or so away. Really…? There’ll be a report in due course!
Outbound cruise totals: home moorings to Boothstown Basin: 81 miles, 49 locks, 3 tunnels, 2 swing bridges