What’s the alternative?

Anderton to Red Bull Aqueduct: 24¼  miles, 35 locks

Back in the day… (What a tiresome phrase that is. Start again, Boatwif)

Decades ago, indeed almost half a century ago, the Captain was required to do a great deal of flight planning. There are memories of vast paper maps being rearranged over a table or floor space, of a huge ruler and an array of chinagraph pencils. There was always an emphasis on plotting diversions, not alternative dubious entertainments but alternative airfields to land at in case of emergency or poor weather conditions back at the home base.

On Sunday a call to the Anderton Lift booking office produced a disconcerting response: ”The Lift’s not in action at the moment…”

Uum… what if the Lift doesn’t get back into action…? What then? It’s known that plans are being made for a Lift shutdown over two winter maintenance periods and one summer season during which the caissons will be sent to Germany for inspection… What if a really long shutdown was started now…?

The Captain went immediately into mental map planning mode: down the Weaver, out through Weston Marsh Lock, bear LEFT onto the Manchester Ship Canal, back into the canal system at Ellesmere Port … OR: down the Weaver, out through Weston Marsh Lock, turn RIGHT onto the Manchester Ship Canal, proceed to Manchester and use Pomona Lock to get onto the Bridgewater Canal at Salford Docks…

Map derived from “Waterway Routes” an excellent guide to the UK waterways.

Hmm. Either route would take some organising, not least with the Peel Group which oversees movement along the Manchester Ship Canal…

Within a few hours, happily, there was good news: the Lift was back in action (though only one caisson being operated). A booking could be made to ascend from river to canal for 0915 on Monday morning…

Several flag-bedecked boats motored past Anderton on Monday morning, returning to moorings after the upstream Winsford Salt Festival.

The daily Lift checks took time and the 0915 passage became more like an 0950 passage. Up the Lift rose –

and by 1020 Cleddau was heading south along the Trent and Mersey Canal towards Middlewich.

The phone was checked.

There was a stoppage email alert from  Canal and River Trust. Was it believable – navigation along the Macclesfield Canal was closed due to a collapsed towpath above Bosley Locks. What now? What next? Another diversion to plan…

“We’d have to turn round,” said the Captain, “go along the Bridgewater into Manchester, up the Rochdale Nine, up the Ashston (18 Locks) and up the Peak Forest, another 16 locks…” (That’s still less than the planned 47 locks via Red Bull and the Macc!)

  Map derived from “Waterway Routes” an excellent guide to the UK waterways.

Was the clockwise Manchester route an appealing option? Tales of the Rochdale Nine are legendary: no by-washes, water pours over the top gates, the gates are difficult to open, the canal passes through unsavoury inner-city areas.

Cleddau plodded onwards  (anti-clockwise) – best to reach Middlewich and to assess the options once there…

The TATA works at Northwich were noisy, very noisy. Pressure relief valves were sounding off, steam was gushing noisily from various outlets, welding equipment was in use high up on a gantry – and road traffic was continuing along the A530 road.

There’s an odd combination of flags near Broken Cross, a pirate flag and a US confederate flag…

Onwards past the Broken Cross pub,  past boats moored in marinas and in flashes,,,

Conditions across Whatcroft Flash were looking idyllic on Monday.      “Remember not to moor at wide open water,” Boatwif muttered, recalling a very uncomfortable night here in 2012, when wild winds seethed and waves lashed furiously against Cleddau’s hull. As if a night’s broken sleep weren’t bad enough the boat then got lodged, totally stuck, on underwater stone edging… not a happy memory

There was a slow following of Oxford Landing, and then, what was this, at Bridge 178, a steam puffing boat, its fat tall chimney sure to collide with the bridge. Mesmerised, gongoozlers now, the action was watched: a man leapt up on the roof, jiggled with the chimney and then prepared to lower it before it struck the bridge parapet.  It proved a slick and well-rehearsed manoeuvre!

On through reedy territory to Bramble Cuttings, empty of boats and its “beach” empty too of paddlers…

Middlewich – for an overnight stay, a water top up, a grocery top up,  haircuts.

Onwards then on Tuesday just after midday in the hope that the Macclesfield Canal leak is repaired.

“You’re in luck,” a boater announced as Cleddau approached the bottom of the Middlewich three locks, “there are three lock keepers up there.” Were there? Were there?!   Not until the very slow boat ahead had finally left the top lock and Cleddau was in it did the three lock keepers appear, replete from a splendid lunch break taken inside a hut beside the dry dock. When you’ve helped other boats up and just about reached the final stage yourself, to be slowed down by a lock keeper post his lunch break was rather an irritation…!

There was positive news during the day, the Macclesfield Canal repair had been managed and the canal had been reopened.

Onward: there was work going on at Booth Lane Locks – a handrail for the steep steps from towpath to lock and much groundwork on the bridge above where steps were being cut and battened into the footpath…   Is this part of the gentrification of the area, a deal maybe with the housebuilders across the road?

There are some well recognised superstitions on the waterways: for example, washing a boat brings rain while polishing a boat brings thunderstorms… Making forward plans can bring bad luck, it would seem – just as text conversations were being opened with the Cheshire Three about the next September birthday celebration, in it came, another email C&RT alert:

Please be advised the repair to the leaking culvert has been unsuccessful. Our team were called to site yesterday evening and installed stop planks between Bridge 52, Crowholt Bridge and Bridge 53, Locketts Bridge on the Macclesfield canal.

Navigation will remain closed whilst our team reassess the damage and repair the culvert.

To ensure the safety of our customers and restrict movement in the area, padlocks have been placed on the Bosley Flight, Lock 1 to Lock 11.

An update will be provided this afternoon.”

With no positive news since it was back to “What if” and “What are the alternatives?” if – for the second winter running – passage up Bosley Locks is impossible…


It’s serious uphill work getting back up to the Macclesfield Canal from Middlewich – 8 locks from the salt town to Wheelock, 26 between Wheelock and Harding’s Wood Junction, the turn-off point for the Macc.

After a night moored opposite a very productive garden at Ettiley Heath   Cleddau set off towards Wheelock. There’s the duck house, always a reminder of a very particular political scandal, and a double storey children’s playhouse.

Water leaking ( Wednesday morning) between the gates at Wheelock’s bottom lock suggested there’d be hard work ahead. Up the boat climbed,  passing through 10 locks in 2 miles, underneath the M6, to Hassall Green. Via a zoom lens trained on the hill to the south east the clutter of dwellings around the base of the Mow Cop folly could be seen.

Thursday proved a perfect day for the onward climb up Heartbreak Hill. The air was still, the sky cloudless. Up through the Pierpoint two (56 & 55), past the tree nursery and grass freshly mown for silage. Look across from the top Thurlwood Lock (53) at Rode Heath to see a show jumper in action…

There were crowds of folk at Lock 52, the bottom one of the Lawton four. The place was simply seething with bods (13 counted).  What was happening…?

The towpath side lock is out of action and here C&RT workers were busy installing a new top gate.  Around the offside lock a Thursday work party of volunteers were also busy, sandpapering metal rails, chiselling rotten wood out of the top lock beam and painting the lock arm while two more folk were refurbishing the Lawton Locks sign. It was slow progress getting past such an army of workers intent on their tasks.

Why moor after the day’s intended 10 locks when sunny balmy conditions made boating such a pleasure? Onward then, just another 2½ miles and 6 locks to the Macc…

Word of the Macc’s closure has spread. “Another bulletin expected later this afternoon,” said a volunteer lock keeper. The sun continued to shine beatifically; Cleddau crept up the locks, ducked it would seem below the Red Bull Aqueduct to climb two more locks   and bear right at Hardings Wood Junction to join the Macclesfield Canal. Comfortably moored up late on Thursday afternoon  on the Red Bull Aqueduct the latest leak update arrived at 1619: in brief, be at Lock 11 by 8am on Friday for passage through the affected area. … Navigation will then remain closed until the repair is complete, we anticipate this will take up to 7 days.

Since Cleddau could not have reached Lock 11 before nightfall it’s back to thinking about alternatives again…


2019 Monkton Moments*- 11 

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)


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2 Responses

  1. Jaqueline Biggs says:

    Oh crikey!!! Aston Marina for the forxeea le future???? Xxx

  2. Sue says:

    Hopefully not – fingers crossed and all that…
    Currently we are lurking on the lower Macc (Scholar Green / Congleton/ Dane Aqueduct) willing the repair to be speedy and effective. Apparently there were 23 boats at the top of Bosley at 7.30 on Friday morning waiting to lock down in that short window of opportunity.
    Will keep you posted…

    Sue /Boatwif

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