‘Your local canal is an outdoor gym’

Lock 57, Hassall Green (T&M) to Kidsgrove (Macclesfield Canal), 6 miles and 16 locks

            The motto in the title was spotted a couple of days ago, probably on the side of a British Waterways van. (Sorry, no photographic proof).  What an appropriate summary for today’s exertions! Yes, own goal, our own choice to go down 17 locks from the Stoke summit level to turn round and come back up… but the views of fields and cows was wonderful yesterday (especially after the urban landscape of Stoke-on-Trent) and better still today as we climbed back up towards the hills and ridges of east Cheshire. The meal at Lock 57 last night was as superb as on previous occasions, the comfortable upstairs dining area well insulated from the M6 roar.

            Lulled to sleep by the roar – woken to the roar!

The blustery breezes this morning left us with no illusion that today would offer a calm and restful cruise. Just imagine these ingredients: blustery rather than steady winds, strong outfall swirls of water below most locks, many stretches of water exposed to the strong south westerlies…  For a while early on the sun sparkled on the water ahead, the light and reflections continually changing. However, because of the crosswinds Boatwif surrendered the option to steer for most of the trip – and therefore walked between locks, heaved on heavy paddle gear, clambered over those beams which open at right angles to the pedestrian bridges, shoved and pushed lock gates. A free workout in fresh air.

There was no time to count the cows (but there certainly are hundreds in the fields beside the canal). What was interesting in one area near Church Lawton was “a tree farm” (if that is the right term) where rows and rows of young trees of various species were being grown.

At the Church Locks pair the blasts were at their peak. Remarkably the downcoming boat and Cleddau heading up danced around each other in the shortest pound between locks without a mighty collision.  At the upper lock of the pair willing hands were there to help, a group of eight on a hire boat. On hearing “Emlyn” and a Welsh lilt Boatwif enquired whether any would recognise our origin. “Oh, Cleddau,” said the conversationalist, confidently pronouncing it well.  “Haverfordwest!” In high winds a Monkton Moment* was upon us. The Captain shouted, the boat needed to move. Blust, blow, blown into the towpath, Cleddau’s bowfender kissing the front of their Little Owl. ” Haverfordwest we’re from,” chatted the man on the front, ominously pointing his boathook at Cleddau’s paintwork.

It is polite of course to continue a thread of conversation, so “My sister is a pharmacist at Withybush Hospital,” Boatwif ventured.

“Marks and Spencer’s is next to it,” continued the boathook-bearing man. “I work there!”

The boats were pulled apart, Cleddau taking to the right of the canal, “Haverfordwest” going into the lock behind.

The outdoor gym concept was not lost on the next boat coming towards us. A young man raced down the path to help open a back gate, leapt over a beam to reach a ground paddle at the front, then charged back to attend to his parallel lock.

“Where are you heading?” Boatwif enquired of his mother.

“Oh, Cheshire,” she replied.

“You’re in Cheshire now,” Boatwif informed her.

“Oh, we’ll keep going down there until it is dark.”

Today’s destination was getting closer, just a pause at Red Bull Services, then the last three locks. On the towpath lay two sad and rusty bikes, hauled out by a BW worker, fishing the stretch for debris. As the Captain gave one long blast on the horn to warn of the intended right turn onto the Macc the phone rang, Cheshire Mum, from a train at Waterloo. Amazingly, it was the smoothest, slickest turn ever accomplished.

            Within half an hour Cleddau was moored up on the Red Bull aqueduct. Gymnastics and exertions over for the day…


Tomorrow: to the Dane Aqueduct, below Bosley lock flight.

*Re. Monkton Moment: The occupants of Little Owl (crew of eight) represent the greatest number of Pembrokeshire water-borne exiles yet met!

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