Saturday, 31 August 2013

Congleton, Harecastle and Etruria

Today's Canals : Macclesfield, Trent and Mersey

We were off in good time this morning as we needed to do some shopping in Congleton as well as making sure that we arrived in time for entry into Harecastle Tunnel. Although the tunnel is open until 5pm, arrival before 3pm is needed in order to ensure being included in the last passage.

It was a bright and sunny day most of the time and in the middle of the day rather warm. However, towards the end of the day, the temperature dropped sharply - a reminder that it will not be too long before some heating in the evening is called for!

The rest of this canal is level except for the slight drop at Hall Green stop lock just before the end. As a canal built towards the end of the Canal Age, it has many long straight sections with embankments to fill in the gaps. Unlike the Shroppie, there are few notable cuttings - just as well as they have proved in modern times to be the greater headache for maintenance.

Just before the outskirts of Congleton the canal passes over the former Biddulph Valley Railway. Although now closed the trackbed is popular with walkers, joggers and cyclists.

Earlier on the Macclesfield we started to see stones with holes through them as edging to the towpath. We think we have read that they were made this way to take advantage of worn out think cables from the coal mines around Lord Vernon's Wharf, but just right now we cannot locate the reference!

The towpath changes sides just before and after passing Congleton Wharf and each places has an iconic snake bridge. The wharf itself was redeveloped as housing some time ago and one of the older buildings was retained. The canal passes over the main road with ornate railings to the aqueduct.

We moored so that Mike could walk into town for shopping. Christine enquired from two locals walking by about where the best bread could be found - at lunch time we discovered that the advice was spot on! It was about 15 minutes walk and on the way Mike noticed that there is a half hourly bus service so after completing the round of the local shops and a supermarket, he opted for the easy way back - well, what else is a bus pass for?

Off again and lunch was 'on the go' as by now it was mid day and we still had a fair way to go.

A familiar landmark around here is Mow Cop, a Gothic folly built on a hill top. As it happened, this was the only glimpse we recorded today.

We only saw one large country house along the whole of this canal - this one, near Scholar Green, is Ramsdell Hall. Built around 1760, it pre-dated the canal (and later the railway) by a good century. Their web site claims, "It is more than likely that William Baker designed and oversaw the building of it. Yes the same architect who designed Baker Street in London"

At Hall Green is today's only lock which lowers the canal by around 300mm. This is to control the flow of water and ensure that as little as possible flows into the Trent and Mersey (which it joins shortly) nor that the Macclesfield steals any! Interestingly, Wikipedia says that it "was originally built as two chambers end to end, to allow for either canal to be higher. The second chamber fell into disuse when the weir level on the top pound of the Trent and Mersey Canal was permanently lowered after nationalisation to improve the air draft in Harecastle Tunnel"

We crossed the Trent and Mersey on the famous 'flyover' Poole Aqueduct, before joining it a short while later. Just as quickly we reached the entrance to Harecastle Tunnel. Here the canal water is distinctively coloured, full of iron from the tunnel workings.

 The tunnel is narrow and because of the length entry is controlled by tunnel keepers - the one at the southern end also operates the doors which ensure that the fans keep a flow of air through the tunnel to disperse fumes from boat engines. We had about an hour and a half wait as a convoy had not long left and they at had to reach the other end before the next north bound convoy could set off. Only when they were through could we be allowed in. Nevertheless, it was very warm in the sun trap with a pleasant and chatty tunnel keeper. Also, it is surprising how easy it is to have conversations with fellow boaters when forced to tie up alongside each other. The only other boat going through in the same convoy as us was on his way back down to London to resume work, making home adaptations for disabled people.

There were two tunnels in use at one stage but mining subsidence gradually meant that the original one became too long to use - the entrances can still be seen to the west of the one which we use now.

Eventually we were allowed to set off into the tunnel. Our memories - and everyone else's remarks - are all about how narrow and low the tunnel is, not to mention cold and wet. Now, it was only a month ago that we went through Standedge Tunnel, which really is tight, and this time Harecastle seemed quite luxurious! Having been warned that it is better not to take the tunnel too slowly we put on some engine power and were a little surprised that we emerged just 34 minutes later.

From the south portal we continued through the northern part of the Potteries, much of which we have commented on is the blogs of visits in earlier years.

Middleport Pottery, home to Burleigh ceramics, seems to be undergoing extensive renovations.

Not sure if we have told this before, but when we first came this way some 46 years ago, the Shelton Iron and Steel Works was still very much in operation and the canal passed through the main works, close to where hot metal was being worked. It was definitely not an experience to be easily forgotten. However, the works are a thing of the past with this sign about the only reminder.

We continued as far as Etruria Junction with its striking statue of James Brindley. We could not find a space of suitable length to moor at the start of the Caldon Canal (a little prettier) so, after filling up with water, we reversed back onto the main line where there was plenty of room.

13.6 miles - 1 lock

Friday, 30 August 2013


Today's Canal : Macclesfield

Rather cooler today but still no rain although it did threaten once or twice. Over lunch time, the sun came out and it was much warmer but it only lasted a couple of hours.

We set off as usual with a morning of largely uninterrupted level cruising ahead of us. A couple of swing bridges, one manual and one hydraulic, came part way through.

But first we passed though Bollington where an oft photographed mill welcomes boaters to the small town. Amongst other office uses, there is a small community radio station.

A little further, the Adelphi Mill has been adapted as apartments.

Apart from the short a stretch through Macclesfield, the canal is very rural in aspect with a succession of bridges, most of which have the same design, but with the occasional turnover bridge for a change (of towpath!).

There are still some brightly coloured wild flowers around to liven up the otherwise very green surroundings.

We made the briefest of stops on the outskirts of Macclesfield at Hurdsfield so that Christine could pop to a nearby shop for a newspaper (the last one in stock). As the bank was shallow and stony, Mike 'hovered' rather than attempt to moor. Whilst he did so, a fuel boat passed by.

The original Hovis factory no longer produces the iconic bread flour but now is an elegant apartment block and even its name seems to have disappeared.

Back out in the country we passed over the Gurnett Aqueduct - it crosses a road but from above there is very little to be seen. Mike was rather disappointed by the view from below, hardly worth the effort of climbing down the steps!

In the distance The Cloud, a prominent hill, started to come into view. We will pass much closer to it later this afternoon.

The manual and the powered swing bridges appeared next. Alas, we only held up a car and caravan at the latter - most disappointing!

Shortly afterwards we passed a converted working boat named St Austell. We are not sure why such craft were given Cornish place names as they are so far from the narrowboat network.

Just a rural scene
After stopping just above the Bosley Flight for lunch we set off into the set of 12 locks. At the first we also made use of the disposal facilities whilst the boat was going down. We could see that there was a steady stream of boats coming up the flight and we were told that there had been a problem with a leak in one of the lower pounds and that they had been prevented from coming up the flight until 11:30.

Horse Hook
We learnt something new about locks features today: in some places, not often, we see small hooks, just above the top gates. They are angled such that it seemed unlikely that they were for holding a boat either going up or down. An adjacent information board explained that these "Horse Hooks were used to reduce the effort need by a horse to pull a boat moving out of the lock . . . gives a 2 to 1 advantage to enable the boat to move more easily".

Side Pond

The flight was previously provided with side ponds to reduce the amount of water used in locking boats through. Sadly these were disabled when the commercial traffic ceased and several are now kept as nature reserves!

Lock 7
With so many boats coming up we made good progress downhill as each lock was left ready for us and within 45 minutes we were at Lock 7. One of the upcoming boats decided to turn the lock ahead of us which meant that Christine had to wait longer than expected. The bank was rather poor so she kept a little back from the lock but, just as the other boat was coming out of the lock Christine found herself wedged on some underwater rocks. As she attempted to reverse away from them, the tiller arm suddenly swung across and forced her over the side of the boat. Luckily, at that moment to crew of the other boat were at that point and pulled her out just as Mike arrived, sensing that something was amiss but had heard nothing!

Largely undamaged apart from several bruises and with lost glasses, Christine was not only soaked through but inevitably quite shaken. (Despite a fleeting temptation, Mike did not succumb and take a photo of a half-drowned Christine!)

However, a lock flight with very short pounds offers no respite and so, as she showered and changed, Mike continued rather more slowly down the locks. A little later Christine was sufficiently recovered at least to drive the boat between the last few locks. amazingly, despite all of this we managed to complete the flight in 1 hour 45 minutes.

The Cloud
The Cloud was now very much closer.

Christine was a little concerned about her ring finger that was bruised, in case it might swell up, so we identified that there is a Minor Injuries Unit in Congleton, open until 6 so we pressed on.

In the end, as we reached the point where we had expected to moor overnight, the finger was showing no signs of swelling although a little bruised so we deferred a visit to Congleton until tomorrow when we can also do our weekend shopping.

12.5 miles - 12 locks

Thursday, 29 August 2013


Today's canals: Peak Forest and Maclesfield
Another pleasant day with some sunshine but more often cloudy. At times it threatened rain but missed us - when we stopped at Poynton they told us that they had just had a heavy shower but fortunately it missed us by a mile (or so!) A better day than forecast.

We set off at our usual time and left Bugsworth Basin - more photos to show further detail. At the entrance to the complex stands the Wharfinger's House alongside the gauging narrows. At this point boats would be measured to determine how much cargo they were carrying and what toll would be levied.

We continued back along the route we came yesterday, passing through Whaley Bridge Junction but not going the arm again! We spotted this tree growing out from the off side of the canal - how did it get that shape?

The scenery through which this canal was constructed is very varied - at times wooded glades and at other times views over the Goyt valley and to the Peak District beyond.

A couple of butterflies took a short rest on our boat roof.

Around the edge of a winding hole the Triffids had arrived . . .

Clouds gathered over the sweet factory.

There seemed to be many more herons alongside the canal today, but perhaps we just noticed them. It gave us thought to wonder why we never see any heronries? Where do they breed?

We arrived back at Marple Junction where we turned left onto the Macclesfield Canal, leaving the flight of locks ahead. At the service stop we called in and whilst Mike filled and emptied, Christine walked back to the town centre where we went yesterday. As well as picking up a paper she wanted to re-visit the bakery shop where we bought a pork pie yesterday. She bought a delicious loaf of brown sourdough as well as a couple of sweet pastries for later on. When she returned Mike had just finished and we moved the boat across to the opposite bank where a boat was just leaving so that we could fit in. After all, it was time for lunch.

The large Goyt Mill building looms over the canal but only some of it seems to have found a use, including a children's play centre.

Just before Bridge 9 we found an elderly boat across the canal, leaving little room to pass. It was still held by a bow rope but the stern was free. We managed to attach a rope and to pull it to shore. However, it would not come close to the bank and the stern rope seemed to be attchaed to a heavy weight. A passing local came to help and eventually we discovered what was on the end of the rope: it had been tied to a very rusty bar at the top of the bank piling and the force of passing boats had pulled it away and broken off from the rest of the bar, still in place. Let's hope someone comes back soon to fix it properly.

A little further we passed a burnt out boat - the local who had helped us had said that it was very recent and believed to be the work of a group of youngsters. Very sad in so many ways, not least that it was called So-So-Happy.

We stopped at Lord Vernon's Wharf to fill up with diesel and also treated ourselves to farmhouse ice creams. The short arm, used by Braidbar Boats - well known and established boat builders - originally served a mine. Subsidence from its extraction caused problems with the canal just south of here which is now much wider for a short distance. Unfortunately we only read about the history later on so no photos to show!

The remainder of today's cruise runs through rural countryside, with no villages close to the canal. We eventually found a place where we could pull in for the night - other sections looked possible but were too shallow.

13.9 miles - 0 locks

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Bugsworth Basin

After the exertions of yesterday, we opted for a quieter day today! It was a rather cooler morning and the sun rarely managed to break through the thin layer of cloud and mist.

First, we walked into the centre of Marple, a small town which has recently seen off a planning application for a large edge-of-town supermarket in favour of supporting the small shops. The only large shop we could see was a Co-Op store in the centre. Otherwise we suspect that folk have to go over to Stockport for anything bigger. In any event, we found all that we needed and had a pleasant wander - not that it took very long!

Wandering without intent sometimes offers time to notice unusual parts of buildings that betrays a longer history than the smart modern shop front suggests.

Albert School
Other buildings have not yet found such an exalted future.

Marple Junction
Back at the boat it was time for coffee before we set off just after 11 am, leaving Marple Junction behind us. We headed further along the Peak Forest Canal towards Whaley Bridge. Although not exactly busy, there were far more boats moving than on the Huddersfield or even the section below the Marple flight we cruised yesterday. With a sometimes quite narrow channel, we had to be rather more alert than we had become accustomed!

There are four movable bridges on this canal - two lift requiring multiple windlass turns and two swing bridges. The latter two are quite new - we think that they have been installed since we came here before some six years ago. As it happened, a dog walker with lock key opened the first lift bridge and another boat just ahead of us did the other one! Still, we can hope to experience them on the way back!

Strines Aqueduct from below
Christine allowed Mike to alight at Strines Aqueduct and to walk down the steps to the lower level. Not sure what went underneath but it was not a water course and seemed to have been paved.

Gradually the scenery opened out - three separate railway lines share the same valley, but in the distance we could see more of the peak district hills. Somehow, Christine could not move far enough from her seat to eliminate the unnecessary foreground!

There is a long-established sweet factory beside the canal in Disley with the inevitable strong sweet smell.

The elegant, long, high railway viaducts emphasise the advance made in engineering between the canal and railway eras.


After a long lunch break we continued, arriving at the unremarkable junction where the Whaley Bridge arm goes off to the right. Less than a mile in length it ends at a former wharf and transhipment warehouse. Before retracing our steps to the junction we made use of the water point and sani station.

Bob's Seat
The arm to the Bugsworth Basin is only slightly longer - we rather liked this seat, a memorial to Bob (1943-2012) - but the scale of the terminus is very different. In its heyday this was an important and bustling focus for the limestone industry of the Peak District. Product, including lime burnt here on site and also dressed stone, were loaded onto narrowboats for distribution. One of the information boards says that it took just 10 hours to reach the centre of Manchester, which included passage through 34 locks.

It is not easy to convey the scale of the site from a single photo but the lower basin can hold many more boats than were here today. A three dimensional model helped us to understand what each section was created to do.

 We continued around through the Middle Basin to the Upper Basin - as far as we could go - to find our overnight mooring.

7.7 miles - 0 locks