Friday 18 August 2006

Cheshire Ring - Saltersford to Bartington Wharf

Cheshire Ring - Saltersford to Bartington Wharf
18th August 2006
Trent & Mersey Canal

2 Miles
0 Locks
1 Hours

The last day of a hire boat trip is always a serious anti climax - just a short run to have the boat in by 10.00 am.

We arrived within 10 mins of the prescribed time and were the subject of the usual checking out process.

We confessed to three losses, a windlass on the Rochdale "no problem", a tumbler in Bugsworth "normal" and a wife at Sandbach. "Oh, now that is unusual. We havn't had a missing wife for years but don't worry sir, there is no surcharge!".

It was a good week covering an interesting route. It was a shame that we were not on Wand'ring Bark, but all in good time.

I liked the Black Prince boat, it was constructed of very solid steel and would make a good private purchase, if you don't mind the very distinctive Black Prince style. My bit gripe is the rear deck. It is large but with it being flat to the sides there was an ever present danger of coffee cups etc rolling off.

Thursday 17 August 2006

Chshire Ring - Sandbach to Saltersford

Cheshire Ring - Sandbach to Saltersford
17th August 2006
Trent & Mersey Canal

15 Miles
9 Locks
7 Hours

The day started with a walk to Sandbach Station, a 15 minutes from the canal. Belle was off to London so Kiwi was left in the care of Tilly and Jeff whilst the Capt waved her off from the platform. Her departure left an empty hole, reminiscent of the separations when we were courting years ago.

We had a deadline to meet and a boat to return to Black Prince, so we were on our way again by 10.00 am, shortly after Sarah had passed us once more The weather was fine as we crossed the broad open tract of land leading to Middlewich, past various chemical and salt works. The geography changes little after Middlewich, with the next 9 miles passing endless flash lakes caused by the extraction of brine. Most of the length is on a slight embankment, built up at the land has settled down.

We passed the Anderton Boat Lift, which we would have loved to experience or at least look around, but time was against us and so we pressed on initially through the Barnton Tunnel and then the Saltersford. We stopped just after bridge 204 and spent a couple of hours tidying up the boat and then a spot of fishing before a meal and a DVD. The bed seemed very large without Belle.

Wednesday 16 August 2006

Cheshire Ring - Congleton to Sandbach

Cheshire Ring - Congleton to Sandbach
16th August 2006
Macclesfield and Trent & Mersey Canal

14 Miles
27 Locks
9 Hours

Yesterdays thunderstorms cleared away leaving a glorious summer day for the descent of Heartbreak Hill. The final four miles to the Hall Green stop lock passed quickly and uneventfully and we soon found ourselves looking down into the orange water of the T&M from Pool Lock Aqueduct, a structure which is more impressive when viewed from below. Red Bull junction performs its curious circular descent, taking the canal back on itself using the first two locks to lose the necessary height.

As we emerged from lock three, a hire boat made a desperate dash to move off from the waterpoint before we passed, cutting it all so fine we had so apply reverse gear to avoid a collision. Things got interesting when they realised that Tilly had walked ahead and set the lock ready for our entry. I pointed out that it was our lock and after much muttering on their part I politely pointed out that it is very bad form to push into the stream just as another boat was about to pass. Result: more huffing and puffing.

As we descended the lock a self righteous plonker from said boat decided to come and remonstrate with me for criticising them, trying to justify themselves by claiming that they were merely trying to clear the water point for us - how thoughtful! But I has the last laugh. These locks are mostly duplicated so for the next eight I raised a top paddle on the parallel lock to fill the chamber for them before they arrived. It was very amusing to see the result of my "killing with kindness" policy.

By the time we reached the Wheelock flight proper a queue had build up at lock 55 involving 9 boats, which took and hour and a half to clear. Here we had time to catch up with Sarah (2 boats ahead) and avoid contact with Mr Pushy who was behind us.

Heartbreak Hill dragged on interminably, as it always does and we paused at Hassall Green for ice creams, provisions and to purchase a copy of Narrow Boat Planning by Graham Booth.

It was a relief to reach the bottom of the flight at 5.30, but Belle had an appointment In London the following day so we pressed on the bridge 160, near Sandbach and about 15 mins walk from the station. The mooring was very secluded and one which we will use again.

Tuesday 15 August 2006

Cheshire Ring - Higher Poynton to Congleton

Cheshire Ring - Higher Poynton to Congleton
15th August 2006
Macclesfield Canal

17 Miles
12 Locks
8 Hours

Today we played tag with nb Sarah, who had been our companion since Manchester. Among her crew was a girl called Emma, who quickly became Tilly's new best friend. The girls swapped back and forth between the boats, ultimately settling for Sarah because of her superior DVD capabilities! At one stage we lost Tilly for over three hours, only to see her plodding up the towpath from the foot of the Bosley locks.

This section is the "Mac" at its best, with open countryside interspersed with small towns. It may be lock free in the main but it certainly isn't without interest. Bollington is passed high up on an embankment complete with aqueduct, providing excellent views of the area. The Middlewood Way also accompanies the canal, providing good walking and cycling potential for those that prefer to move under their own steam.
Next came Macclesfield, complete with the original Hovis Mill, with the hills rising up to our left. Finally we arrived at the top of the Bosley flight, overlooked by the impressive Jodrell Bank radio complex.

All 12 locks (if you exclude the stop lock at Red Bull) on the Macclesfield are grouped into the Bosely flight which drops the canal by 110 ft in about a mile. I decided to test Jeff's boat handling skills by awarding him points out of ten for each lock, with one point deducted for each bump, no matter how slight. He rose to the challenge and was dismayed when he did a double tap on the penultimate chamber, breaking his perfect record and resulting in a score of 118 out of 120. Not bad for a 12 year old and represents a record I am not sure I could achieve myself. This feat of navigation marked his boating coming of age and an acceptance that he really can be trusted at the helm.

Just before Congleton the canal takes a wide sweep to the north before arriving in the town amid a collection of embankments and cuttings. We moored at Congleton Wharf and tramped down the Dog Lane Aqueduct to the Wharf Inn, under an atrocious thunderstorm which soaked us to the skin. Both families shared a table and enjoyed the rather splendid ales offered by the CAMRA pub.

Monday 14 August 2006

Cheshire Ring - Romiley to Higher Poynton

Cheshire Ring - Romiley to Higher Poynton
14th August 2006
Peak Forest Canal and Macclesfield Canals

16 Miles
16 Locks
9 Hours

It was a short run from Romiley, through the Hyde Bank Tunnel and onto the bottom of the spectacular Marple Flight. Running alongside Brabyns Park and then through Marple itself, this is unquestionably one of my favourite flights. The chambers are made of huge blocks of limestone brought down from Bugsworth basins with short, curved intervening pounds, all tucked away in groves of trees. There may be 16 of them but they are such a delight that they pass all too quickly.

During our passage there was a problem with the water levels in some of the short pounds and in one the level was nearly a metre down, rendering navigation almost impossible. Jeff became stuck mid channel and was only able to progress when a lock of water was run through under him. But I could only do this once because of the limited supplies in the next pound up.

After the Marple flight we made our way firstly to the Whaley Bridge terminus, filled with water and then went to explore the Bugsworth Basin complex. As we entered we saw much arm waving and there was nb Susan, who we had accompanied up the Rochdale and Ashton the previous day. We moored up alongside and sampled an excellent pint in the Navigation Inn, before taking a good look at the drained inner basin, and the remains of the inclined plane which once connected the Peak Forest Canal with the the Cromford via the High Peaks Tramway.

We were both completing the Cheshire Ring in 6 days, so we didn't spend the night there, though we would have liked to. Instead we returned to the junction at Marple and then moved down the Macclesfield past the impressive Goyt Mill. With evening approaching we pressed on past High Lane and into Higher Poynton, mooring just opposite the shallow flashes and near the excellent Braidbar Boats.

Cheshire Ring - Castlefield to Romily

Cheshire Ring - Castlefield to Romily
14th August 2006
Rochdale, Ashton and Peak Forest Canals

14 Miles
27 Locks
11 Hours

We had been strongly advised to stay in Castlefields for the night and given our late arrival we didn't have a choice. The mooring is surprisingly good for such a central location, and we awoke to the rattle of trains bringing commuters into Piccadilly Station on a fine and sunny Monday morning.

One hears dreadful stories of the Ashton Canal, with yobs running amok on and in boats so we decided on the tried and tested approach of sneaking past early in the morning, before they stir their adolescent a***s out of their beds. We were up with the larks and engaged with the first of the Rochdale Nine by six am. I may have been up but I wasn't really awake, and as a result dropped my first (and so far only) windlass into the lock. It slipped off the paddle gear, bounced off the balance beam, was nearly caught as it tumbled to the ground but took an unlucky bounce and slithered over the concrete and polp! straight into the cut.

Surprisingly, we weren't the first boat out. A "stealth" hire boat had beaten us to it was was already three locks ahead. The Ahab team is an awesome sight when we are moving in full flow and in spite of their efforts to keep ahead we kept making ground on them. Realising that our progress was unstoppable they slowed just below Bridgewater Hall and we continued up working the locks as a pair - which was much easier for all concerned.

The towpath around Canal Street is very obscure at times and as I was working the locks it fell to me to run around the streets and finding access points to the cut. Canal Street is interesting in the day but probably not to my taste at night, if the discarded syringes and prophylactics (used) were anything to go by! Jeff and Tilly are innocent little souls so we suggested that they take a break and manage the boat through this section!

After about 2.5 hours of effort we emerged blinking from the subterranean last lock and intro Ducie Wharf. The Rochdale continues on straight ahead, but we took a right under Ducie Street Bridge, which marks the start of the 7 mile Ashton Canal. This stretch parallels the inner city sections of the BCN, with the combined estates of Ancoats, Clayton and Audenshaw representing the danger zone, which until recently demanded a BW escort. But it was still early and as we ended up in front the the other boat, we set the pace , leaving a bottom sluice open behind us to ensure they could keep close astern. The area is clearly undergoing a massive regeneration, with the tower blocks giving way to the Manchester City Stadium and the National Cycling Centre. Posh flats are being built to the north of the canal, complete with a big new basin and repro drawbridge. It was only as we approached Clayton that the deprivation started to make itself felt, but we didn't see a single gathering of kids till Fairfield Junction, by which time it was too late for them to bother us.

The M60 marks a boundary and the inner city Manchester quickly falls away and is replaced by a much more pleasant Aston Under Lyme and Portland Basin. We were in need of supplies so we entered the bottom of the Huddersfield Narrow, passing under ASDA, which spans the canal and forms a long rectangular tunnel. Belle and Tilly were dropped off at the far end whilst Jeff and I carried on the the winding hole just below lock W1. The little used Huddersfield Narrow was enticing and was identified as a future route for a Wand'ring Bark adventure.

The afternoon was completed by the first 4 lockless miles of the Peak Forest Canal, winding along beside the River Tame, often surrounded by trees. It was immediately apparent that this is a narrow and shallow channel, with progress slowed to little over 2mph. We finally moored Romiley, nearly 12 hours after leaving Castlefield and dined on fish and chips purchased from a shop on the High Street. Jeff had another stab at fishing, but this time without success.

Sunday 13 August 2006

Cheshire Ring - Moore to Castlefield Manchester

Cheshire Ring - Moore to Castlefield Manchester
13th August 2006

23 Miles
0 Locks
8 Hours

The Bridgewater slides along the southern bank of the Manchester Ship Canal, which can be glimpsed form time to time from the canal's lofty 83ft contour. The canal is popular with moorers and boats line the route for mile after mile, slowing progress but adding interest to this lockless waterway.

Shortly after passing under the M6's notorious Thelwell Viaduct (we were travelling faster than the traffic) we passed through Lymm, a pretty town which catered well for a provisioning trip. Then it was on through open country for about four miles before reaching Sale, the M60 and onto Waters Meeting, the arm (was the old main line) leading to the Barton Swing Aqueduct. The section from Sale gets progressively inner city, hemmed in with run down factories and wasteland. I have a liking for this sort of post industrial waterway, all lonely and seemingly unloved.

As we had reached Manchester in good time I convinced Belle that you really can't pass the Barton Swing Aqueduct by on account of it being on the seven wonders of the Waterways (an argument I have used on more than seven occasions!). The run out past the Trafford Centre was quiet in the extreme, with only a handful of fisherman to keep us company. The aqueduct offered fine views up and down the deserted MSC, and we turned in the Worsley Cruising Club's winding hole, returning for a second viewing of this extraordinary structure. With evening approaching we scurried back to the main Bridgewater Canal taking a left past Manchester United'sTrafford Park and the famous Throstle Bridge. We are expert canal football finders and it grieved us sorely that there was a prime MUFC ball in the scrub next to the stadium. Sadly, it was tantalisingly out of reach and had to be left behind.

After good views of Salford Quays we passed Pomona Lock, entry point to the Docks and the Irwell. Another backwater which will have to wait for another year. We finally approached Castlefield Junction in the gathering gloom and ate fish and chips to the accompanyment of skateboarders on the steps opposite. The whole area seemed like one big set from Cold Feet. After we had eaten Jeff and the Captn extracted their rods and did a spot of fishing under the railway viaduct arches. The memorable feature of this evening was Jeff catching his very first fish - it was only a tiddler but I wish I had a camera with me to capture the moment.

Castlefield offers a surprisingly secure and peaceful spot for an overnight stay.

Saturday 12 August 2006

Cheshire Ring - Bartington Wharf to Moore

Cheshire Ring - Bartington Wharf to Moore
12th August 2006
Trent & Mersey and Bridgewater

6 Miles
1 Lock
3 Hours

This is an account of an clockwise circuit of the Cheshire Ring in Black Prince's nb Kiwi. The trip had been booked long before we seriously thought about buying our own boat,and by the time we had we would have lost nearly £600 had we cancelled.

In addition, Wand'ring Bark needed some major internal alterations to accommodate two teenagers and the trip offered access to a relatively remote section, so we went ahead. However, it did seem rather perverse to be taking a hire boat out when our own craft was bobbing at her moorings a mere 80 miles away!

Kiwi was a good 6 berth boat, with a cabin each for Tilly and Jeff. We picked he up from Black Prince's Bartington Wharf base at the northern end of the Trent and Mersey and departed at about 3.00pm, after the necessary but rather frustrating hirer's briefing. In no time at all we were passing through the broad Dutton Stop Lock and making a mad dash to catch up with the short line of boats passing into the Preston Brook Tunnel - before the traffic lights turned red. We very nearly made it and were on the final approach when the colour changed. Never mind, we speeded up a bit and soon caught up with the last of the convoy, emerging long before the lights at the other end turned green.

Just beyond the M56 motorway the Bridgewater splits with the Runcorn Arm on the left and the Bridgewater on the right. We skipped the Runcorn arm - leaving it as a destination for a future trip, and pressed on through open farmland dotted with stands of trees. The canal is broad and deep allowing an easy passage.

We had no plans for a long journey on the first day, we just wanted to have travelled far enough to ensure we could reach Castlefield Basin in central Manchester on the Sunday evening. We therefore stopped at at Moore Bridge, which offers quiet and secluded moorings.