Mossley to Millbrook: 2.64 miles, 6 locks

            “A man needs some sunshine to feed his soul,” pronounced the Captain this morning, as he gloomily contemplated garbing himself up from top to toe in waterproof gear. It was that fine, silent,   “wetting sort of rain.” The hilltops were shrouded in cloud and the tow paths were deeply puddled. Only 6 locks and very little distance achieved – but still it seemed a hard morning. Of course, it helps to be well prepared at the outset, so black marks to both Boatwif and the Captain for not having picked up any of the four T or anti-vandal keys on board.  A two hundred yard walk ahead to set the first lock (Lock 14W) was to no-one’s advantage when the paddle gear couldn’t be accessed without the T-key…  Strong water flow downhill, stiff paddle gear and extremely muddy areas around the locks gave anyone on the helm a mental workout and anyone on the lock side a physical one!

            Despite the rain (becoming heavier and steadier as the morning wore on) certain outdoor addicts were determined to be out and about on the tow path. Runners, Boatwif noticed, “do it” in running shorts or light weight track suits; walkers do it in boots and gaiters; dog walkers do it in waterproof over-trousers and wellies. Never before have so many waterproof over-trousers been spotted in the course of a few hours…  Then at one lock the boat’s arrival was watched by five or six weather-protected walkers.

            “I do like your cape, I could do with one of those…” said Boatwif to someone enveloped in a sort of tent.

            “And I was thinking the same about your cap,” came the reply from Mrs Cape Wearer, referring to Boatwif’s faithful (bought in Snowdonia many years ago) peaked mountain cap.

            An hour or so later Cleddau was just about down in Lock 9 when a young woman, child in tow, rushed up to the lock. The boy was unimpressed – or shy – but the woman wanted explanation of what was going on.

            “I tell him, my nephew, that when he comes to stay at my ‘ouse he brings his wellies and his waterproofs ‘cos we’ll be going for a walk,” adding then, almost conspiratorially,” spent all last night on ‘is computer games, didn’t want ter come out today…”  The lad helped push the gate. One hoped he found other things to engage his interest during the rest of their walk.

            Umbrellas – when it rains heavily the Captain holds an umbrella aloft, not so much to protect himself but rather to protect the engine room… mopping rainwater from the bowels of the engine space is not glorious fun but neither is steering a boat with one hand and holding an umbrella aloft in the other. The Captain has well-developed umbrella skills, able to collapse one at short notice, and to steer and dodge protruding trees and branches, whereas Boatwif doesn’t really do umbrellas. It’s the Captain who buys them.  It is he who ensures there’s a monster size one in the car boot and at least two on the boat. Last year a fine red umbrella got lost overboard on the North Oxford Canal and last week an even  finer blue one got blown inside out somewhere near Huddersfield. The spare on board, taken from the car, is green, good for a golfer. This morning there were hundreds of new photos sent to the computer via Cal Son – Cal Guy Snr and Cal Girl performing in end of year school concerts and ever smiley Cal Guy Jnr. There were photos of a Legoland trip, of Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts and ice-skating at the rink in Escondido. But one that stuck in mind all morning was of Cal Gal, relaxing with a book in a hammock in a backyard, her head shaded by a very pink umbrella… The Captain is talking of a Stalybridge Tesco shopping list for tomorrow – and, guess what? Umbrellas are on the list! (Not widely known for his fondness for colour coordination nonetheless Boatwif’s bet is on his seeking out umbrellas in either blue or red (or both), Cleddau’s boat colours!) 

    Tomorrow: to Dukinfield Junction, the start of the Peak Forest Canal.

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