Friday, March 30, 2012

Bottling it…

Yes, I reverted to long trousers again today. Frankly, it was bl***y perishing! That breeze from the north turned a lot colder, and we’ve had no sign of the sun.
Meg and I had a good walk around first thing, up past the church then through the woods near Lawton Hall.

All Saint’s, Church LawtonSAM_0002 All Saint's, Church Lawton The tower is 16c, but the nave is a more recent 18c replacement, the earlier structure being burnt down.

Early bluebells in the woods near Lawton HallSAM_0004 Bluebell
In a couple of weeks this whole area will be awash with colour.

We got away around 10:45, heading around the corner to the first of the Red Bull Locks. Apart from the lock outside the Red Bull pub, the duplicated chambers are still in operation at each of the 6 locks, and are in good condition.

Red Bull LocksSAM_0007 Red Bull Locks 
The ochre colour of the water gets more intense as the canal approaches Kidsgrove and the summit level at Harecastle Tunnel. It’s caused by dissolved iron ore seeping into the canal.

SAM_0010 Red Bull Locks

We stopped to do the tank thing at the services, then ascended the last 3 locks to Hardings Wood Junction.

You can always tell when you’re near a built up area….SAM_0015 Rubbish

View Larger Map  

Hardings WoodSAM_0016 Hardings Wood
Straight on is the main line of the Trent and Mersey, heading to Harecastle Tunnel, Stoke and ultimately the Trent near Shardlow. A right turn under the bridge is the Hardings Wood Branch, to Hall Green Stop Lock. There it makes an end-on connection to the Macclesfield Canal, although these days it’s acceptable to assume that the Maccie starts at the junction.

It’s an odd junction, three right turns takes the navigation back over the main line just below Lock 42, carried on Poole Aqueduct. I think the idea is that the link was made at the summit level, and heading north (left) would have involved a long cutting towards Scholar Green. Ironically, this is the route the railway engineers chose when building the line north from the Kidsgrove Railway Station (Formerly Harecastle Station) to Manchester.

Poole Aqueduct, the T&M mail line below, Hardings Wood Branch above.SAM_0005 Pool Aqueduct

We pulled in just after Poole Aqueduct, and after lunch I split the last of our logs for the fire. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to forage any more this winter….

Locks 6, miles 2

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A change on the way….

First thing this morning was milder but misty. A check of the barometer showed pressure dropping, after it’s been nailed resolutely to 1038mb for the last few days.

Falling pressure…SAM_0022 Falling Pressure

A breeze from the north has also sprung up through the day. It looks like our unseasonable weather is now on the turn. Still, it was good while it lasted.

We pulled pins at around 10:45, the sun had pushed through the haze and it was a fine day, but that breeze was cool.

Pessimistic cowsSAM_0002 Pessimists

Once again the locks have been frequent so I’ve spent more time off the boat than on.

Leaving our first of the day, Lock 54, near Rode HeathSAM_0004 Thurlwood

The left-hand chamber was empty when we arrived, and this set the scene for the day. Most of the locks were ready for us, and we were able to leave the top gates open on a couple of occasions for oncoming boats.

The locks punctuated the trip, so that’s the majority subject of today’s photos.

Into the bottom lock of the Lawton three.SAM_0009

Looking back down Lawton Treble Locks.SAM_0012 Lawton Locks

Double arched bridge over the twin chambers at Lock 49SAM_0011 Lawton Locks

Closest to the camera is the newer chamber, added to improve traffic flow. You can see this difference on the bridge arches; the earlier one has dressed stone blocks, the later, cheaper engineering brick.

Most of the locks that were duplicated had the later chamber built on the offside. At this lock it’s a moot point; the towpath changes sides here anyway.

Mags taking Seyella under the arches of the duplicated Hall’s LockSAM_0014 Lawton Locks

Church Locks are just a little further on, just two here. Both of the later chambers on the offside are derelict.

Church Locks.SAM_0017 Church Locks

Derelict chamber at Lock 47, Church Top LockSAM_0018 Church Locks

We pulled in just around the corner, in view of All Saint’s Church. There has been a place of worship here since 1180.

The area takes it’s name from the local landowning family. The land was granted to a gamekeeper Adam de Lauton, who saved King John from a wolf after he was thrown from his horse. In gratitude the King gave de Lauton all the land he could walk in a week, starting at the corpse of the wolf. The family coat of arms includes a wolf’s head.

Locks 8,  miles 2½

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

On the Salt Trail

Running parallel to the canal was a branch line of the North Staffordshire Railway, built in 1852. It was constructed to carry salt, limestone and chemicals from the industry around Wheelock and Sandbach to the potteries, returning with coal. This was the Wheelock Branch line, connecting with the NSR at Sandbach Station and running to Stoke on Trent. Passenger services were introduced in 1893, but the line reverted to goods-only in 1930, the branch itself closing in 1970.

The line has now been resurfaced for mixed use as a cycleway (part of SUSTRANS Route 55), footpath and bridleway. The route runs 4 miles from Alsager to Elwood, but has to use the canal  towpath from the M6 crossing till just before Wheelock. The original route disappeared under the greens of Malkin’s Bank Golf Club for a mile.

With a good surface and a slight gradient it’s a good running track, and I wasn’t alone this morning using it for my morning training session. Then, after breakfast, Meg and I took a stroll along.

On the Salt Line SAM_0006 Salt Line

SAM_0009 Salt Line

There’s also a network of footpaths to the north, recently opened up and called the Borrow Pit Meadows. With several streams running into the ponds, Meg enjoyed having a cool down.

Doggy paddlingSAM_0005 Salt Line

Silvery coloured toadstools alongside the footpathSAM_0004 Salt Line
I think it might be the delightfully named Mealy Bigfoot Webcap (Cortinarius caerulescens), but don’t quote me on that…. and don’t eat it!

Hassall Green Church of St Phillip is of pink corrugated iron with a slate roof. An unusual design but I’ve seen another like it recently…. ah yes, Graham and Jill spotted one at Maesbury.

St Phillips at Hassall GreenSAM_0001 Hassall Green Church

The insistent buzz of traffic from the M6 was a bit intrusive at Hassall Green last night, especially with the windows and doors open in such fine weather. So we decided to move a bit further away, not too far, you understand.

The two Pierpoint Locks were just 10 minutes from Hassall Green, and we swapped locks with NB Soulbury coming down.

Pierpoint LocksSAM_0011 Pierrepoint Locks

At some time the bridges have been renumbered, across the tail of L55 sits Bridge 145 by current numbering, but it was built as Bridge 143.

Stone set carrying the original bridge number on B 145SAM_0010 Pierrepoint Locks

We pulled in only 5 minutes above the locks, on pins here rather than rings but it’s an awful lot quieter.

Locks 2, miles ¾

Monday, March 26, 2012

1 up, 33 along.

In feet, that’s today’s trip as we tackled the first of the Cheshire Locks.

These fine days are preceded by cold nights, down to -2° last night. They give us some fine atmospheric shots first thing.

Looking along Wheelock mooringsSAM_0002 Wheelock

Work boats below Lock 65SAM_0004 work on L65

We got away about 10:00, after I’d made a trip to HJ Lea Oakes to top up the dog food cupboard. I swear she’s got more to eat now than we have! I was a bit disappointed, though. She eats Pedigree Chum, and you’d expect that a superstore like this would offer a good discount. In fact, the opposite is true. I could have got the 24 cans at Tesco for £3 less. Still, the Markies were a bit cheaper…

It was only a couple of hundred yards to the bottom of the Wheelock Flight, the first group of locks heading up to the summit.

In Wheelock Bottom Lock No 64. SAM_0006 L64
These locks are or were all paired, the offside one added to relieve congestion. I say were, not all of the chambers are in use.

Offside Lock 65, undergoing repair.SAM_0009 L65

Once, just once, we did the whole of the Cheshire Locks in one go, from Wheelock to Red Bull. It was hard work, now we take a steady three sessions to do the same.

Malkins Bank is a picturesque canal-side settlement, with a row of cottages either side of the locks.

Malkins Bank.SAM_0010 Malkins Bank

Mags concentrating as she lines up for lock 59.SAM_0014

With the locks so close together it’s not worth me getting back on board between them. I think I spent 10 minutes on the tiller all morning, the bulk of the steering falls to Mags in these flights.

At Lock 59 you get a sight of Mow Cop Folly, 5¼ miles away.

Mow Cop on the horizonSAM_0017 Mow Cop
Traffic buzzes along the M6 in the foreground. We’ll be a lot closer as we head up the Macclesfield Canal from Hardings Wood Junction.

Two more locks at Hassel Green and we moored above Lock 57 at 12:30. A pleasant morning’s exercise.

Exploding bywash at Lock 57SAM_0023 L57 Bywash
The bywash runs through the filled in chamber of the offside lock. the channel must airlock as the water flows through causing a geyser-like effect.

Ducktor Who still sits proudly on top of the TV aerial.SAM_0021 Ducktor Who
He was bought for us by Carol (NB Corbiere) after his predecescor got decapitated. He’s a little faded, and used to flash (no, not like that!) but still eagerly shows the way.

Moored above Lock 57SAM_0026 New Moorings at L57
If you’re familiar with this section you’ll see that quite a bit of remedial work has been done here. The bank used to be collapsed and eroded, now it’s dredged, piled and there are mooring rings. As soon as it greens over it’ll be a good mooring.

Not sure if we’re pushing on or not tomorrow, we’ll see how we feel in the morning.

Locks 10, miles 1¾

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The village on the river.

We moved on to Wheelock today, named for the river that runs through it. It’s apparently derived from Old Welsh, and means “winding river”. The inhabitants had a bit of difficulty with the name, it evolved through Hoileck recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, to Quelock, Whelock, Welock and finally Wheelock by 1390.
It doesn’t have much of a claim to fame, but for boaters on the T&M it’s a useful stopping off point. Apart from the sanitary station, there’s a couple of pubs, a restaurant, chippy and a convenience store. Just across the road is an extensive pet supply supermarket. It’s also the last stop before boats heading south and east encounter the Cheshire flight of locks, or “heartbreak hill” as it was known. These 26 locks raise the canal 260 feet in 7 miles, to the summit level at Harecastle Tunnel.

We left Middlewich around 11:00, past the high banks of the slurry lagoons on the offside of the canal.

Retaining walls of the lagoons.SAM_0002 Lagoons
This is just one section of a network of raised bunds which contained the slurry which was a by-product of the salt industry. Now disused, they are dried up, with a sterile grey-white surface. Rich in lime, you’d have thought they could find a use for it.

View Larger Map

Approaching Rumps Lock we saw a boat just coming out, it was NB Ariel, a shortened workboat built in 1935.

Rumps Lock and NB ArielSAM_0003 Rumps and NB Arial

She’s towing an ex BCN butty to Anderton on the way to returning to the Bridgewater. This was waiting above the lock.

BCN joey boat No. 108, built in 1883.SAM_0004 BCN Butty

The remaining three locks today were all against us as we were following a boat out of Middlewich, but it was such a fine day we were in no rush, just enjoying being on the water. I’m surprised there weren’t more boats out and about.

Booth Lane Locks.SAM_0009 Booth Lane Locks

Booth Lane, alongside the canal here, is the main road to Sandbach, and is quite busy. But the canal and road part company just above Lock 68, and it’s quiet again at Crow’s Nest lock.

Crow’s Nest LockSAM_0010 Crows Nest

This was our fourth and last lock of the day, just under three miles to Wheelock from here.

Elton Moss Boatbuilders next to Bridge 160 always seems to be busy. Apart from boatbuilding, they run a shared-ownership fleet from here.

Elton Moss BoatbuildersSAM_0012 Elton Moss

A mile further on and the canal changes character; instead of open views over the post-industrial landscape around Sandbach, it picks up the valley of the River Wheelock, following it’s winding course to the village.

We pulled in at the wharf to do the tanks, then moved around the corner to moor for the rest of the weekend.

Thanks, Val and John. You succeeded in being the first to donate for my run in September. Well done. Now we need a few more….

Locks 4, miles 5½

Friday, March 23, 2012

Locking in the sunshine.

We’ve had a cracking two days, starting misty but lovely and warm later on.

Misty start yesterdaySAM_0001 Misty Morn

We stayed put yesterday, a few things to do, laundry to catch up on.

We’d promised ourselves fish and chips this evening, so we moved up through Middlewich today. First, though, I dropped off 4 cans of old engine oil at the recycling centre alongside the canal just beyond Croxton Aqueduct. This carries the canal in steel trough over the River Dane. Originally iron built on stone piers in 1777 and broad to accommodate barge traffic, it was washed away in a flood. The current one was built in the 1930’s and is only 8 feet wide.

Croxton Aqueduct and the River DaneSAM_0001 Croxton Aq

Middlewich Big Lock pub, and Big Lock lockSAM_0004 Big Lock
Big Lock was also built to wide beam standard to allow barges from the Mersey to trade into the town. With the replacement of the aqueduct however, it’s size is now unnecessary.
It takes quite a while to fill and empty, but will take two boats at once. This is the last broad lock on the Trent and Mersey till Stenson, the other side of Burton on Trent and 67 miles away.

Pigeons nest in the nooks and crannies under Bridge 172, they’ve obviously been busy this year….

Pigeon chicksSAM_0006 Pigeon Chicks

The local ducks are trying to catch up, fighting for pecking order.SAM_0007 Duck Brawl

Three narrow locks take the canal up nearly 33 feet, then there’s a quarter mile of congested water with moorings for Middlewich Narrowboats.

Coming up Middlewich LocksSAM_0010 Middlewich Locks

Ooh, white legs!SAM_0012
Passing the entrance to the 110 yard long Wardle Canal and Wardle Lock leading up to the Middlewich Branch of the Shroppie, we waited for a boat to come down Kings Lock before going up and mooring above.

Wardle Junction. Under the bridge to the left takes you west to the Shropshire Union CanalSAM_0016  Wardle Junct

Kings LockSAM_0018 Kings Lock

I had a walk up the branch with Meg after we’d pulled up, to see if Keith and Jo (NB Hadar) were still there, but they must have moved on before we arrived. Another time.

A quiet afternoon, another walk with Meg, then very tasty fish and chips from the chippy on the other side of the road. We’ll move on tomorrow, it’s a bit noisy here for more than one night.

I mentioned a few days ago that I'm running the Great North Run in September to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. I've stuck a widget over on the right that'll take you straight to my Justgiving web page. If you use Google reader or suchlike you'll have to go to my source page , or direct to the fundraising page at

Locks 5, miles 1½

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Birds do it, bees do it….

Even educated fleas do it! And swans too….
Spring is certainly in the air.

Aah, young love….SAM_0004
…young lust….SAM_0006 Young Love
….time for a cigarette.SAM_0007 Young Love

The Canada geese are a little more discreet…

Heading for the bushes.SAM_0022

Dull and cool first thing this morning, but it brightened up considerably later.

We got away around 10:30, with another short day ahead of us.

This chap just wouldn’t stay still for his portrait.SAM_0010

Wot you looking at?

We were tempted to moor at Brambles Cutting, an offside picnic area set up by BW and the Broken Cross Boat Club. It’s a pleasant, quiet spot, but there is no (official) access to the towpath and TV is poor.

Brambles Cutting mooringsSAM_0016 brambles
It used to be a clay-pit, the clay used for lining the canal.

We pulled in just past Croxton Flash, about 15 minutes north of Middlewich Big Lock.

Croxton Flashpano Croxton Flash
During the decline in commercial carrying the fleet operators found they had redundant narrowboats taking up space. The flashes were considered suitable for storage, and several were laid up here. Some have been recovered, but at this time of year before the reed growth gets too thick, the odd bit of cabin or hull side of those that remain can still be seen .
SAM_0023 Croxton Flash

 SAM_0026 Croxton Flash

We’ll stay here tomorrow, then move up through the Middlewich Locks on Friday. A visit to Kings Lock chippy for tea tomorrow beckons…

I’m not especially a lover of cats, but here’s a story that warms the cockles….
If it’d been a dog I reckon it wouldn’t have been lost for more than a week.

Locks 0, miles 3