Trouble at t’ locks
Harecastle Tunnel (South Portal) to Higher Poynton: 25¼ miles, I tunnel, 13 locks, 2 swing bridges
”Best be ready for quarter to 8…” the Harecastle Tunnel Keeper had said on Thursday afternoon.
The next morning the queue to come through the tunnel from the north was apparently long, so it was the southbound boaters who made the first passage. After eight boats had arrived from the Kidsgrove end the northbound boats could begin to untie their ropes; it was about 9.20 before Cleddau (number 3 in the 8 boat convoy) plunged into the darkness…
Shortly afterwards there was the junction to turn left towards Macclesfield and Manchester.
The Cloud was a steady presence on the starboard side, the fields now in late summer colour.
(The scene as pictured in 2017)
For several months, due to efforts to restrict water usage, the lock flight has been open for limited hours only each day,the padlocked chains at locks 1 and 11 being unlocked at 8.30 each morning.
By 9.30 on Friday none of the boats ahead had moved… What was the delay? Word filtered back. A paddle at one of the locks needed repair or replacement… then, more water needed to be sent down the lock flight.
A good hour later the boat at the head of the waiting line moved off. It was followed by a second boat but then there was a long wait for any further action. The story of the paddle repair and the additional water being sent down was repeated by other folk who had walked up the flight in search of information.
Now the water level in the pound between locks 10 and 9 was very low… the first boat to leave the bottom had become seriously stuck there, unable to move forward or back…
A descending hire boat reached lock 11, its crew (all male) flustered (they said) by a torrent of abuse aimed at them for coming down and affecting the water supply of the upcoming “stuck” boat! Some can shrug off such incidents, while others get distressed by such undeserved vitriol…
Next down was Mow Cop, a 70 ft hire boat, its crew all apprehensive about the tricky bend between locks 12 and 11. When going up the locks on the previous day their boat had got “seriously stuck in the bushes…”
Up lock 11…
The boat ahead seemed to have stopped moving. Nothing was happening.
A volunteer lock keeper passed by, heading down to the bottom to close the locks at 1pm. “There’s a boat stuck in a lock up there,” he said, pointing up the hill. “It’s got jammed because its fenders are down. I told ‘em to cut the fenders off but they wouldn’t listen. Left ‘em to it…”
The Captain wears a watch on his wrist but it’s his stomach which tells him when it is lunchtime… So, here was a first, time to make lunchtime sandwiches and assemble some sides while waiting in a lock, there being time to eat and enjoy that lunch too. Lock 10 proved a pleasant place to spend a lunchtime!
Boaters are mostly aware of how they can help other crews along. By lock 5 the boater ahead had started raising a paddle on the bottom gate to begin dropping the water level for Cleddau coming up behind. Meanwhile the Captain was doing similar for the next in line…
There’s a long stretch between locks 2 and 1 – and in the distance was a flurry of flags as preparations were being made for the North Rode Vintage Vehicle Show in the field below lock 1. A lock keeper at Top Lock had the gates open ready for Cleddau. As the boat passed the lock landing there was a profuse apology offered from a crew member of the boat that had got wedged by its fenders. Their troubles weren’t over as flat on the engine deck, bared to the waist, was a figure, his hands and head deep down the weed hatch. “We’re using the bread knife,” wailed the apologist, “but is there a better way?”
“Use a knife with a curved blade,” the Captain called back, mindful probably of the recent Stoke anorak episode…! (Previous post, here )
There might have been ‘Trouble at Gurnett’, had it not been for the swift action of an approaching boater. A very large tarpaulin slid off the bow of a small cruiser and plunged into the canal – a crew member on the other boat wobbled along its gunwale, grabbed a boat hook and fished and hauled the troublesome item out of the water. That wrapped around a boat propeller would have required several curved blades and a massive amount of effort…
Techno Son-in-Law dropped by the next morning, en route to Tegg’s Nose Country Park.
“Morning!” came his distinctive voice through the side hatch. Chat started, of course. Then along the towpath came an elderly gent, brandishing his walking stick.
“I have a complaint to make,” he said. “All this jollification. You can hear it down past the bridge!”
“I’m sorry,” said Techno Son-in-Law, “I’ve got a loud voice!”
“Aye,” was the swift response “- and a sad face!” It became a four-way chat, until Techno went back to work and for a while the elderly gent continued to entertain…
Cheshire Mum jumped on board later for a cruise to Bollington. She provided apt comment and information on the bow, did steering practice at the stern, mooring practice at Clarence Mill and then made a 100 minute towpath walk back home…
Bridge 15, the trip’s end was in sight. There were purchases made at Bailey’s Trading Post, diesel and small tubs of delicious Cheshire ice-cream, but NO gas cylinder replacements were available. On an idyllic day concern about gas shortages and shallow water levels just ever so slightly pricked the feel-good factor. For liveaboards and continuous cruisers the issues are rather more worrying…
Trip Total: Higher Poynton to Flint Mill Lock (Caldon Canal) and back: 89¼ miles, 2 tunnel passages, 58 locks, 11 moveable bridges
2021 Monkton Moments*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections): total now 12
On this trip 2 recognitions: 1. ‘grew up in Whitland’; 2. ‘I know St Davids’
Lancashire / Yorkshire / Tudor Rose conversations: previously 3, plus several more!