Thursday, March 01, 2012

Tee shirts and sunglasses…

That’s the dress code for today’s cruise. What a cracking day it’s been, remarkable for this time of year.

View from the galley window this morningSAM_0001 View from Galley

We had a light frost last night, but as soon as the sun came up in the clear blue sky the temperature rose.

I foraged a bit more wood, then we set off, a little earlier than the others as I had that log that George and I had dragged up the embankment to cut up and get on the roof. George, bless him, came and gave me a hand, and we were ready to go as the rest of the convoy appeared around the bend. We slotted in behind Moore2Life and before Rock’n’Roll.

Following M2L on a beautiful morningSAM_0002
Still got the fire lit, though!

Today we’ve seen the Middlewich Branch at it’s very best. Warm sun on the back, the smell of woodsmoke and muck spreading in the air, birdsong in the hedges, and buzzards wheeling against an endless sky.

What a sky!SAM_0005

SAM_0022 Buzzard

We spent last night on one of the good spots on this canal, but there are two more that are equally pleasant.

Above Church Minshull, the River Weaver in the valley below, the village in the distance
SAM_0010 Church Minshull
It was here that Tom and Angela Rolt spent some time, with their converted work-boat Cressy, moored on the canal. They spent a year cruising the midland’s waterways, which were then, in the late 1930’s, in a state of slow decline as commercial carrying moved to rail and road. He wrote of his travels in the iconic book Narrow Boat, first published in 1944.

His description of the village shows a lost way of life –

“From the churchyard gate it was possible to look right and left along the village street, from the Post Office at one end to the smithy and wheelwright’s shop at the other. The post-mistress, white-haired and benevolent, as such a personage should be, supplied the children with the same sticky, vivid sweets as their mothers and grandmothers sucked when they, too, were young. Of an evening, when the menfolk repair to “The Badger” for a glass of mild, the housewives foregather in the post office for a gossip, on the pretext of a stamp or half a pound of tea.”

Well, the church is still in business….

The other fine mooring is high above the Weaver flashes, south of Winsford.

Looking over the Weaver valley and Top FlashSAM_0018 Weaver Flashes

Stanthorne Lock was the first today, we followed M2L down.

Stanthorne LockSAM_0024 stanthorne Lock
Ann’s struggling with one of the lower gate paddles. As these locks are around 11’ deep there’s a lot of water pressure against the paddle face at the bottom of the gate. They get easier as the level drops.

It’s not long after leaving Stanthorne that Middlewich starts to make it’s presence known.

Into Middlewich, all good things must come to an end…SAM_0026 Into Middlewich
Wardle Lock is the last on the Branch. This is the end of the Middlewich Branch, below the lock the 100 or so feet to the junction belonged to the Trent and Mersey. They insisted on building this short link, known as the Wardle Canal, in order to control the lucrative commercial traffic using the connection to the Shropshire Union network.

In Wardle LockSAM_0027 Wardle Lock

Wardle Canal BridgeSAM_0030
The bridge number is another clue to it’s heritage; bridges 167 and 169 are on the T&M…

We made a sharp left turn onto the Trent and Mersey, through the slalom course that is made up boats moored at Middlewich Narrowboats, and arrived at the top of the Middlewich Three Locks.

Middlewich Narrowboats, a bit of a wiggle required here.SAM_0031 Middlewich Boats
Dropping down the Middlewich locks.
SAM_0033 Middlewich Three Locks

SAM_0036 Middlewich Three Locks

Andersen Boats, below the locks,  is another hire base in the town, but seems a bit better organised..

Andersen BoatsSAM_0038 Andersen Boats

We hired a boat from here a lot of years ago, and did the Four Counties Ring in a week! 94 locks over 110 miles in 6 days. Ah, the enthusiasm of youth. Not much chance of that now…

We pulled in past the main road bridge for a mass shopping trip to Tesco, then set off again to get out of town for the night.

Mags waiting for Big Lock to fill.SAM_0041 Big Lock
As a broad lock (the only one at this end of the canal) it’ll take two boats. We got away first to set the lock, I wonder who’ll be next… Ah, yes. It’s Rock’n’Roll!

R’n’R following Seyella out of Big Lock, M2L is waiting for the next “locking”.SAM_0042 Big Lock

We all moored up just before Bridge 175, still in glorious sunshine.

Taken from Bridge 175SAM_0046 Moored nr Br 175

It’s been one of those fantastic cruising days, even better for being completely unexpected. We’ve seen the Middlewich Branch at it’s best, and we’ve not seen another soul on the water all day.
How was it, George? That’s right – EPIC!

I'm glad we took advantage of the good weather, according to tonight's forecast it's downhill all the way from here. Wet and windy, with a chance of wintry showers! I knew yesterday's post title was a mistake...

Locks 6, miles 8

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