Monday 12th September
Back on Stronghold this afternoon after a seven hour journey, the best part being First Class travel on the Pendolino Virgin Train. Although Standard class gives me a reserved seat, it is nearly always full with little leg room and little choice of which seat, so for another £8.00 I could travel First. At Euston there was a Virgin First Class lounge with free tea, coffee and cookies and somewhere comfortable to sit and wait. On the train, I had my choice of seat, steward service for a light lunch (soup and warm roll, although there was a choice), with a large glass of red wine and more coffee, biscuits and pretzels on offer. There were plenty of empty seats, so no intrusion at all.
Strangely enough, the First Class ticket from Brighton to Victoria was 50p cheaper than Standard Class.
Back on board I found that the boat was listing heavily to the port side, so realised that the water had dropped by a couple of inches during the week leaving me well and truly on the mud. There could be a problem getting off in the morning.
I did some basic shopping and had a pint in the Dog and Partridge, being tempted to have a carvery meal, but feeling that I would not do it justice that early in the evening, so opened a can of chicken curry when I got back later.
Tuesday 13th September.
Sure enough I had a problem getting off the mud this morning. With both mooring lines off, there was no way I could budge the boat bodily, so I started the engine. More problems; it started OK and then died, as though out of fuel, so that was checked and was virtually full. Try again – several times. Although it started, it only ran for a few seconds and died again. Eventually, it ran up to full speed and all was well - now to get off the mud. By rotating the propeller alternately in opposite directions, I managed to scour out the mud until I could get the stern into deep water. Only then could I reverse into midstream and start forward to the winding hole, before making my exit through Bridge 12 and into the main line.
The Macclesfield Canal certainly lives up to its reputation as being very picturesque, with distant views of the high peaks ahead. Having said that, it is also fairly shallow and one has to keep in the centre channel. It was another rare hot day when I could wear shorts again and there haven’t been many of those days on this trip.
After about four hours cruising, I decided to pull over by the aqueduct at Bollington, where there were decent moorings in deep water, within sight of White Nancy on the hill and Clarence Mill with its imposing brick chimney. Not a lot of action this afternoon, just a siesta in the heat, before an early evening thunderstorm to clear the air, which precluded a visit to the pub and the highly recommended Italian restaurant.
Clarence Mill, now converted into retail and business units.
White Nancy on a nearby hill.
Wednesda 14th September.
Having been living out of a tin since getting back, it was time to stock up the fridge at Macclesfield. I was quite amazed at the liberal mooring spaces on the welcoming pontoons just after the winding hole. Not only that, but three days mooring were allowed here.
Three minutes walk away was a Co-Op, so I stocked up with the basic essentials there, before walking the three quarters of a mile to Tesco for the more eclectic items. I was about to run out of prescribed tablets in a couple of weeks and I certainly was not going on another trip home just to get those, so I sought advice of the pharmacist in the store. Strangely enough after looking at the prescription she told me that she used to live there when at university in the town – small world again! The outcome was that she would phone my surgery and ask for a prescription to be faxed back for dispensing in the morning – it was as easy as that!
It was another red hot day and the walk up the hill back to the canal (yes it is at the top of a hill), was a bit of a struggle having bought more than I intended as usual. Catching a bus crossed my mind, but not one appeared in either direction in the thirty minutes it took to walk.
I had a pint in The Puss in Boots across the road, locally known as The Puss! Not a very impressive collection of ales; all being national brands and nothing local – could do better.
Thursday 15th September.
I looked up the trip from Macclesfield to Banbury on Canalplan AC and found that I could get there easily in two weeks by travelling five hours a day, so my estimate of timing was very close to reality. Banbury Canal Day is of course centred around the area of the town where the canal passes through and I have captained one of the water taxis there for quite a few years. Every year that I have been, the weather has been glorious, which draws the crowds in their thousands. Although the taxi day boats are akin to steering a sack of potatoes, I enjoy the atmosphere and camaraderie of other boaters that I know there.
Well, after saying that getting a prescription filled away from home is easy, the opposite appears closer to reality. First of all, the pharmacy would not answer the phone, so I decided to risk it and walked. They seemed to have no idea what I was talking about when I asked at the counter, until someone remembered that the pharmacist I spoke to yesterday, who had a day off, had told someone else that I would be in. Looking on the computer brought no indication that it had been faxed through, so they phoned my surgery again and to my relief it came to light. It would seem that this pharmacy is as well organised as my one at home. Are they all like this I wondered? The whole operation took well over two hours.
The original Hovis Mill.
A turnover bridge, also known as a snake bridge on the Maccy.
This enabled the towing horse to change towpaths from one side to the other,
without unhitching the tow line.
Original mile post.
The hill known as "The Cloud"
I moved on a few miles in the afternoon to a very pleasant rural mooring out in the sticks. No road noise, no trains and no planes – idyllic. On the way I came to Royal Oak Swing Bridge, which is used by a minor road, but fairly busy at that time of day. Being all electric, I closed the barriers from the offside, there being a convenient footbridge to cross back to the towpath. At the same time, a white BMW stopped to wait with an attractive blonde lady driver with halo eyes. I asked her if she would like to close the bridge after I had sailed through, which she did and seemed chuffed to be asked, as well as speeding her on her journey.
Shortly after, I spotted nb Alton moored up at their base and so stopped for a pump out by Anne-Marie. We chatted about various boating things and mutual friends we both knew on the cut. She also remembered my boat when refuelling another boat close by at Marple a few days ago.
Friday 16th September.
Bosley Locks were on the list for today – all twelve of them. The rain that was forecast began about 9am, so it was a late start when the rain stopped two hours later. No chance of any help from another boat, as they are single locks, which are quick to fill and empty. There were no footboards across the top pair of gates, so it was not possible to make that “leap of faith” and save the walk around each lock to work the opposite gate. It was a day off for any volunteers too, so it was all down to me and hard on my dodgy hip too. On one or two locks I could bow haul the boat out, close the gates (double gates both ends of each lock), before boarding at the lock tail. Most of them however, did not have anywhere to get back on board at the lock tail and any jetty on the offside was taped off as dangerous, so it was a lock ladder job and every lock was a deep one.
Four hours later I reached Lock 12, the last one. There were good moorings with rings just beyond the lock waiting bollards and that was enough for me for today.
Saturday 17th September.
A very pleasant sunny morning greeted me for a lock free day; well almost, just a one foot stop lock to negotiate near the end of the Maccy.
A better example of a turnover bridge.
Not a lot to report for this trip, but I have to say that the Macclesfield Canal lives up to its reputation of being one of the most attractive the system has to offer. Credit must go to Thomas Telford for the high tech design at the time of all locks in one place and a level stretch of water sustained by cuttings and embankments throughout. The views of the Peak District to the west are splendid and the towns are mostly by-passed, so without a map to show where they are, they are almost invisible.
Arriving at Hardings Wood, which is the southern terminus of the Maccy, I made enquiries of a passer-by if the Bluebell Tavern was open, so with a positive reply, I moored up temporarily to have a pint at this well known inn. When I say well known, that applies to CAMRA aficionados who enjoy a well kept pint or two.
I had stopped here two years ago and know from experience that the pub kept strange hours. It seems that it is under new ownership and is now open from midday from Tuesday to Sunday until eleven pm (closed all day Monday). The collection of real ales on hand pump were both extensive and eclectic and I enjoyed a pint of Church End brewery’s Gravedigger at 3.8%. With the landlord’s permission, I took a couple of photos inside and had a chat with one of the locals about cameras.
The Blue Bell.
Spoilt for choice.
I had looked at the times for traversing Harecastle Tunnel and it appeared that I would be OK to get the last passage through that day. What I missed was that the times change after September 1st, so I was an hour too late. Moorings here are somewhat precarious in nature, being prone to local banditry, so I reversed away from the tunnel entrance and decided to take a chance on a permanent mooring on the offside, opposite the junction. I could be moved on if the owner returned, but it was worth the risk and I was only going to be here for one night. It was also in the setting sunlight, so was extremely attractive.
Sunday 18th September.
A quiet night with no problems and I was awakened by a boat reversing hard as it came out of the Maccy at the junction. A quick cup of tea and on to the tunnel waiting area, where there were three boats ahead of me. After the usual briefing by the tunnel man and some required reading, which he repeated anyway, we were on our way at two minute intervals. An added requirement this time was to have a torch at the back end so that the reductions in roof height could still be seen by the steerer after being shown up by the headlight. I think that this was the problem that caught out the steerer a couple of years ago, who was probably using a headlight only. This meant that after illumination by the headlight, the white marking showing up the reduced headroom becomes invisible to the steerer. It was so low in a few places that I had to duck down from a standing position. I have often seen steerers sitting on bar stools at the stern of the boat and this is asking for trouble even in the open air. I use a powerful 12 volt light plugged into the electrical system on Stronghold, which has saved the back end of the boat striking the tunnel wall on several occasions. I would not like to pass through a tunnel without it.
Cruising through the desolate potteries was fast in a wide and deep canal, until I passed the Caldon Junction and came to Stoke Locks – single again. Fortunately, I had some assistance through all five and could descend all of them on board the boat. Meaford and Stone Locks were much the same on this busy stretch, but I was on the move from 08.00 to17.00 and am about two miles and seven locks ahead of my schedule to be at Sutton Stop on Saturday.
Moored by a centre line only around a tree on the towpath.
This is so dangerous to towpath users, even with hazard tape on the line. CRT?
Bargees? Who are they?
Moorings in Stone were rare at 5 pm, but another single handed boater offered to move his boat to give me space and then helped me moor up, for which I was very grateful after such a long day.
Monday 19th September.
It was shopping time again, so a visit to Morrison’s was necessary. I stopped on the way back for a bacon and cheese Shropshire oatcake and coffee at the Oatcake Cafe. The chandlery was a walk back towards the lock, so I paid them a visit to browse the inverters – what a disappointment; they only had one. It has to be Midland Chandlers then at Braunston.
I did not set off until 2pm and it took four hours to get to Great Heywood, with a few well spaced locks in between, all of which were all set in my favour as I met boats coming the opposite way and had help passing through at several of them.
Reaching Great Heywood at 6pm, I had a pint at The Clifford Arms, which brought back memories of other happy times there.
Tuesday 20th September.
Only four single locks to do today, so not too strenuous to get to Fradley Junction. Dry weather again, so another lucky day to do five or six hours cruising. I passed nb Dexta, where cheap diesel was to be had, so I checked out the fuel level before getting there and I was still fairly full.
I think that this is the first time that I have ever passed through Rugeley without stopping; there are good moorings here very close to Morrison’s and Tesco, but time was of the essence this week and I had no need of victuals.
Attractive waterside gardens at Rugeley.
And other things to lighten the day..............
........so no speeding!
I had to cope with two of the three locks at Fradley, but had assistance with the third, so got back on board to take Stronghold out. Coming around the junction, I made a decision to stop for the night and have a look at The Swan, which had been taken over by new people a while back and not before time either, as the kitchen was closed down for hygiene reasons when the previous tenants had it. There is a wider choice of ales on hand pump and the menu looked much more tempting than the previous one, so things are looking up. The Swan aka “The Mucky Duck” is known for being the most photographed pub on the waterways, I restrained from taking one, but you can see it here:- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fradley_Junction
Wednesday 21st September.
A later start this morning than intended and mostly a lock free day, apart from the two at Glascote. It was overcast most of the day and sometimes chilly in the wind when there was no tree shelter.
Through Streethay and past the boatyard and workshops, where the A38 traffic roars noisily past, so hardly the best place for a quiet night. It was then through the village of Hopwas with its two pubs, neither of which I have been in so far. Maybe one day.
At Fazeley Junction I came across nb Gabriel moored up and slowed down for a brief word with James, having last met at Saltaire, but no moorings available, so I couldn’t stop.
Eventually The Samuel Barlow came into sight at Alvecote and I pulled in close to the pub, hoping that I could receive their wi-fi signal on board; I was lucky again, so could actually publish the blog after so long in the wilderness.
Thursday 22nd September.
I had a rude awakening this morning at 06.00 with what sounded like gas bubbles from under the boat. This I had heard before when moored over rotting rubbish, but not to the same extent as this. I pulled open the window for a look alongside the boat and there was a duck frantically trying to get out of the water and on to the bank. The problem was that it was trapped in a 6 inch gap between the hull and the piling, caused by my large inflated fenders, which blocked an exit at both ends. It appears that it did extricate itself somehow, because there were now three ducks on the bank, instead of two. How it got there in the first place, I failed to understand – maybe the other two ducks pushed it in the water!
Before slipping the moorings this morning, I phoned Roger Hart, NBT member and Atherstone Locks volunteer, to see if there was the possibility of help up the Atherstone Flight of eleven single locks. He assured me that help was available and got to work making arrangements. Sure enough, a phone call later confirmed that John Radcliffe would take me up the flight, meeting at Bradley Green service point at an appointed time. We both arrived at the same time and Roger introduced me to John. After exchanging a few words and dumping my rubbish, John and I departed for the bottom lock. As always with a stranger, we soon established a rhythm of working and did the flight in 2hrs 20mins. Without John assisting, it would have taken me twice that time, so I was extremely grateful to him.
Strangely enough, nb Pompey Chimes from the Wey Navigations was moored up close to the bottom lock.
John radcliffe, my very helpful Lockie up the Atherstone Flight.
After stopping above the top lock for a bite to eat, I moved on to The Anchor pub, which I had heard had been taken over by new tenants in the last year and had been reflourbished, so I was keen to see what changes had been made.